Hi, my name is Samantha

Hi, My name is Samantha!

My uncle was an addict for as long as I could remember. The day he died I wasn’t close to him, I was in school and he was in the Calgary hospital. I hadn’t seen him, let alone talked to him, in months. When I was younger he would have good times, when he would work and spend time with us. Time where he would pull himself together for even just a small bit, and as I grew older those times quite quickly became less and less. However, in those times, I grew close to him. He was a good guy, just stuck. Despite this, when I found out he died, I didn’t cry. I really felt almost nothing. It was like those memories were locked in a box without me realizing, and I kept going like nothing had happened.

After he passed, my grandma went into the hospital for gastrointestinal surgery. Her surgery went fine, but during recovery, she got an infection. She stayed in the hospital for a month, and we were all scared for her. Even when she was released, we were still always worried. 

Things started to stack. Everything was fine for a while, as all the struggles were tucked tight behind the mental walls I created. But cracks were starting to show. At first, I called it ‘stress’ when anyone asked, but it soon grew past that point. 

I started struggling in my classes, which is something that I have always cared greatly about. I would doubt myself to the point that I couldn’t do my work, leaving me in tears, or escaping class for a quick ‘bathroom’ break. I fell behind, and although I still managed passing marks that didn’t stop it from affecting me. 

My best friend at the time and I also began getting into arguments. We had been friends for years, so as we began arguing more it put a huge weight in my chest. My anxiety really blew up in this time, I had always been a more anxious person throughout my whole life but it blew out of control. I would have trouble focusing, leaving me all over the place and unorganized. I would always be overthinking about something or trying to escape it, leaving me drained.

The thing is, you can’t wall yourself off and run from it forever; eventually, it will come out. I learned this the hard way. Like a dam breaking, things that were hidden overflowed and my mental walls collapsed, sending me spiraling into a pit. Overwhelmed, drained, and lost, it was all too much for me. Despite having people around, I began to feel so alone, no matter where I was or what I was doing. People were trying to help, and some part of me recognized that, but another part refused to accept it. That’s when I made the decision. I started cutting myself.

It started slowly at first but soon grew into a dangerous daily struggle. I was cutting at least once a day, usually more. As it grew, it began to feel more normal for me. Some part of me knew it was concerning, but another part didn’t really care. Countless times I woke up the next day after passing out on my bedroom floor, a total mess. It scared me, but some part of me still didn’t care. I still don’t know how to explain what I got from doing it. Maybe it was temporary relief, maybe some sense of control, or maybe I felt like I deserved it. It feels like it was most likely bits of each of these and more. Each day just seemed to be another dark day, I would be in so much pain and so drained, with a lack of strength to go on. I began having a bad dissociation problem and would space out at random times. I never have any memories from these chunks of time.

For a short time, I started seeing a therapist. It didn’t seem to work for me, nothing she did helped. I realize now that it wasn’t because of her though, it was because of my mindset. Because, despite what I claimed, I had no reason to try. I would wake up every day with the same pain, and I had no reason to fight it. To do something you need a why, if you don’t then you won’t give it your best shot. If you don’t have a why then even if you have all the strategies in the world the chances of you going to actually try your best are low. That is what I lacked; I felt like I had no reason. After a few months of working with her, my therapist abruptly disappeared from my life for personal reasons. This was hard, despite us only having worked together briefly. I would rarely open up completely to people, and very few knew what I was actually like behind all the masks and acting. I’m great at acting, at being who others need me to be so they don’t leave. Her leaving made my fear of being abandoned intensify.

My eating habits fell apart. I would constantly skip meals or just forget to eat, which my anxiety (and mood, all of it) never reacted well to. I would get mentally and physically drained so fast. I also always was there for people, no matter what I would push my own needs aside to be there for them. I would push myself to my limits and far beyond, which were already drained from my own struggle, to help them. To the point where I would tear myself apart to help them. I would stay up all night to be there for someone, and If I wasn’t doing that, I was either relentlessly overthinking, or staying up trying to avoid overthinking, so my sleep took a dive too.

My self-harming only worsened. Spreading even more around my body, and the cuts became worse. My will to keep fighting only grew dimmer and dimmer, classes only became harder and I started distancing myself from everyone. I was crumbling, barely keeping myself going. I was hurting everyone around me, and I was convinced I didn’t deserve them. I was still so scared of losing them, but also felt like I deserved it. 

My first suicide attempt happened soon after this. The idea was by no means a new thing in my mind, I had thought about it for a while. Ways to just give up, I felt like I had no reason so why was I trying? But I just never acted on those thoughts till then. It was late at night, and everyone was asleep. I don’t remember much of that night, but it was so dark. I remember waking up the next morning on the floor still alive and unnoticed. The pain of having to clean myself up, while completely drained, and go to school to make it seem like nothing was wrong; I had no clue how I was able to do that, or why I was still alive. It wasn’t my last suicide attempt either, I tried twice more after that. Luckily I’m still here.

I had a strong mind; I had been told by someone close to me that they knew I could fight and knew I would get better. (I thought they were crazy) But it wasn’t that I was weak or useless like my internal voices told me; It was that I felt I had no reason. 

Shortly after my third suicide attempt, a wonderful woman came into my life. She is truly amazing and became an important part of my life and my recovery. I started to wake up and want to keep going, to give it my best, and see the good. I stopped seeing every day as a burden and full of negativity, and with more positivity. My eating habits slowly became better, and I stopped purposefully skipping meals. I also decided to give therapy another try, and I’m excited to say that it’s been helping; my therapist has connected me with the strategies I need and I have a reason to keep working at it.

My self-harm slowly started to decrease, reducing from multiple times a day to once. I remember when she found out about my cutting, she was so kind about it. Although she was concerned and wanted me to be safe, it didn’t change how she thought of me. She asked me to promise that I would try as hard as I could to not cut, and stay safe. It was the first promise with my self-harm involved that I gave an honest effort to keep.  Eventually, I made the decision to throw away all harming methods I had, it wasn’t an easy decision and parts of me still tried to go back to it on hard days. Each time something stopped me, however, and I was able to keep away from it. The idea of harming myself again began to scare me more as I distanced myself more from the habit. I remember the one time I got close to doing it, and she found out. I remember how her face fell before she realized I hadn’t cut. I didn’t want to let her down like that. 

Another important part of this whole process was learning that my mental illness and struggles did not define me. I wasn’t my anxiety, it was just a small part of me. I had to learn that it was okay to try to get better, I wasn’t doing anything wrong by asking for the help I needed. That I wasn’t less than anyone else, I was just as important and just as worthy of the help. To ask for help when I was finally ready to accept it wasn’t as easy as it may sound. I had to go against what I had told myself for years, I was scared of not being accepted.

I started to work to improve, not only my cutting but all of it. I had finally found my reason for staying alive and was willing to fight. She helped me believe in myself again. No matter how hard it was going to be, I finally wanted to keep going another day, to do so much with my life. For the first time in what felt like forever, I finally became happy to be alive.

I’ve been clean from cutting for over eight months now.

That doesn’t mean everything is easy. None of this went away overnight. I still have scars. I still have days where the urge to hurt myself surfaces. It’s almost like an instinct, and although I don’t cut anymore, it sometimes shows in other, smaller ways. One thing I still do is pick or scratch at my neck, or arms, and leave bruises. I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Even in the struggle, I see improvements. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m willing to keep challenging these habits and learn to cope better.

I think a lot of people are ashamed of their mental health, and self-harm scars. It’s hard to ask for help and to let go of the dark shame and stigma around it. I had the idea to paint my self-harm scars gold and make them a thing of beauty. I wanted to help myself feel better in my own skin. I hope by sharing some of these images, this idea, I can help shine some light on the problems with how people think of mental health, be able to speak my mind, and hopefully give others courage. I hope to grow this project and empower others, which of course is why I fell in love with Project Nightlight.                                        

My battle is not over, and it may never be. But because I finally have a reason, now I can see all the amazing things and people around me. All the people I care about, all the things I want to do and see. I am starting a new section of my life, opening up so many opportunities. I get to do things like trying to speak out for mental health and what I believe in, to be a part of bigger things. Creating myself as I go along. I found life has so many beautiful parts, and even if it’s hard sometimes, it is worth it to go on.

I hope by sharing my story, you can see it too.


Hi, my name is Tara Victoria

Hi, my name is Tara Victoria. This is a story about a chapter of my life that broke me wide open in some of the most painful ways, allowing me to rebuild a stronger version of myself.

I think about the night I could’ve lost my life a lot. I’ve played that moment over in my head a hundred times. It’s easy to think about the ‘what-if’s’ and to imagine all the different scenarios that could have happened instead of the one that did. The hardest part to accept is that it all could have ended that night by someone else’s hands, someone that I thought I could trust. That’s the part I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully process, regardless of how much therapy, time, or conversations pass by. I know I won’t think about it as often as I have, but I wonder if it will always be there in the back of my head. If 20 years from now out of nowhere, on a sleepless night, it’ll play like an old movie clip and I’ll still question: what if?

It is one of the hardest things to admit that you’re in an abusive relationship. Not only because it’s a hard pill to swallow that another human being could be capable of those things, but because the minute you name your reality, you have to make decisions on what to do next. What seems so simple–questioning whether to stay or leave–can be one of the hardest, scariest, and most traumatic decisions to make. Sometimes, you’re literally risking your life.

In the summer of 2016, I packed up my life and moved to Altanta, Georgia with a man I thought I was in love with and a life I thought I desperately wanted…or was convinced I wanted. But instead of the life I thought I’d be living, it was the most controlling, abusive, and unsafe environment. The situation became one where we worked and lived together, so everything from our finances to my appearance were controlled by him. Everything (and I mean everything) was controlled by him. My work, my dream of being a Designer, quickly became a nightmare. It was used against me and I felt like a prisoner. My insecurities were through the roof, I hated myself, I questioned my reality on a daily basis, but the severity of the ups and downs had me lost in a daze. I quickly became a shell of the woman I am, doing anything I possibly could to survive and to try to keep the peace. I had no idea what gaslighting or trauma bonding were, and was only lightly familiar with forms of emotional abuse from my childhood. I couldn’t see what was happening in front of me. I was completely isolated, away from family and friends, in a city where I didn’t know many people, and every phone call or text message were at risk of being overheard or read. I denied, made excuses for him, and honestly, didn’t want to believe this was my reality. I am also someone who has struggled with severe anxiety since I was very young, so second guessing myself already came so easily. It’s almost second nature with anxiety, then throw psychological abuse into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. 

In the past, I had told myself that “if any man ever laid a hand on me, I was gone.” And then it happened. Psychological abuse can take you so far down, it can blind you to reality so badly that you truly believe someone else physically abusing you was your fault. And so it was my fault, every single time. The last time it happened shook me to my core because, had it gone any differently, I might not have survived. I remember trying to sleep for weeks after with it repaying in my head every time I closed my eyes. It was my subconscious trying to wake me up and to bring myself back to safety. I couldn’t understand how or why or what made me so bad, so unlovable. I didn’t understand why I made him so angry. I just wanted to be good, feel happiness, and be loved. But I was always set up to fail, I could never do the “right” thing. 

I wavered so much before I made any decision to leave, even after things got physical. I had a friend back in Canada who knew tiny pieces of what was going on, but I kept so much from them. I was so far gone, I could barely explain what was happening, but they picked up on things and gently tried to nudge me back to reality. I remember the day they told me they thought I was being gaslit. I had no idea what that meant. So I did a little research, but then things got “good” again(what I know now to be the cycle of trauma bonding). I’d push the thought of it away, convincing myself: “there’s no way he’s doing that to me.” Then things would get bad again and I would read on, stealing as many moments away from him as I could. I’d read after he’d fallen asleep or I’d pretend I needed to use the washroom, just to sit on the bathtub reading my phone. I was so afraid to admit the truth. I doubted myself, I doubted my reality every single day. I felt like I was losing my mind and I knew I needed a neutral third party to confirm what I, deep down, already knew was true. Enter the amazing and incredible therapist that found me and played a massive role in saving my life. 

Initial visits with therapists are typically download sessions, but I felt a sense of urgency in every minute I had with her because I didn’t know how many times I’d be allowed back. I spoke for a little bit about what was going on, but I still kept the physical abuse to myself. I was too afraid to admit it. I remember telling her that I felt like I was losing my mind, that I felt like reality was so far away and I didn’t know what the truth was. I didn’t know what to do, how to unfreeze the fear, or how I could ever get anything right. She looked me right in the eyes and said “that’s because you’ve been being gaslit for two years.” That was all I needed. It sunk in: my new reality. All of the distortions became a little bit clearer. But then I knew I had to make a decision. 

The next few weeks were a living nightmare, even more so than the last two years had been. I was constantly afraid, paranoid beyond belief, and at the same time I felt a level of pain I didn’t know you could feel. I was supposed to build a life with this person, how could this be happening? I knew the answers would come, but my priority was getting to safety. Because my family lived in a different country and I had no where to go in Atlanta that was safe from him, my amazing Mother came to my rescue. My Mom flew in and her, my friend, and I packed up what we could and got my dogs ready to go. My Mom and I flew out the next morning. 

I left the life I had spent two years building with six suitcases, my dogs, and more lessons than I ever thought I’d learn. But the learning had only just begun. 

I have spent the last two years untangling my life to rebuild it. Rebuilding has looked like attending a domestic violence group, therapy, EMDR, energy work, being diagnosed with PTSD from the trauma, grieving, and healing. This chapter of my life holds a lot of pain and trauma, but in those things, I’ve found purpose and unimaginable joy. It’s been my greatest teacher. I’ve learned that the healing process is not linear and it also has no timeline. Often times I think about how this has broken me open in the hardest, but best ways. I can look back knowing how far I’ve come and continue to go every single day. 

If I could sum up the most important things my story with abuse has taught me, it would be strength and resilience. I’ve heard it said that you’re at your strongest at the start of an abusive relationship, then it slowly depletes from there until you’re at your weakest when you leave. Maybe that belief is why people think victims stay (to which I’d counter that they’ve never heard of trauma bonding). I believe it’s the opposite. You’re at your weakest at the start, then all the tiny cuts, all the hurt and pain, build scar tissue–much like weightlifting–until you’re strong enough to name your truth and leave. You’re at your strongest at the end when you choose yourself and leave because that, in my opinion, takes the most strength to do.

Out of my pain and through the process of healing, I’ve been able to reconnect with my purpose: creating art. I’ve been able to connect with people on a new level of empathy and understanding. I’ve seen the positive impact of sharing my story with others. I knew that I wanted to create something out of this, but I wasn’t sure what. I wanted to help others right away as soon as I got home, but I was quickly reminded that you can’t pour from an empty cup. I needed to heal and take care of myself first. My friend, Nicole Meline, said it best to me, exactly as I needed to hear it: “teach from your scars, not from your wounds.” So maybe they’re all not scars yet, but I’m in a place where I can look back on this time in a very different light than before when it was so raw. One where it’s not all about my anger and hurt, and more about my growth, lessons, and healing. Out of those things, I’m working on launching You are the Wolf–an apparel brand that will serve as a reminder of the strength we all have inside of us. Apparel that acts as conversation starters to spark connection and community around healing, trauma, abuse, struggles, mental health, growth, and a reminder that you are not alone. 

So whatever you’re struggling with, whatever you’ve been through, whatever mistakes you’ve made, know that healing is possible, pain is temporary, and that you’re not alone in this weird life. We’re all just trying to figure out as we go. Be proud of your scars, but do not let your pain define you. You are more than your pain. Remember that you’re stronger than you think. You deserve to be loved and most importantly: to feel safe. Your story matters, your experiences matter, your feelings matter, and you matter. Never forget that.

“I believe your tragedies, your losses, your sorrows, your hurt happen for you not to you. And I bless the thing that broke you down and cracked you open because the world needs you open.” – Rebecca Campbell

With so much love and gratitude,

Tara Victoria


Hi, my name is John

 

Hi, my name is John Sheppard, I recently graduated with an addictions counseling and community service degree. I’m currently trying to build my platform to merge with my education so I can shed light on mental health and human services around the city. However, this is just recent and you need to understand what brought me here and why. 

I am a 26-year-old man, in order to understand my story, you have to look backward, it begins when I was 13. Like many others, I struggled to maintain reasonable boundaries around drugs. It started as just a thing with friends and evolved into a life-altering saga of stupidity, self-doubt, and use despite negative consequences. 

I was not your typical small-town kid. I had a dysfunctional home; my father was prescribed Oxycontin after his tragic car accident when I was 5. Our father-son relationship quickly frayed; he wasn’t physically able to do anything with me. My mother did her best to support the family which includes my 3 sisters. Money was tight, we never celebrated birthdays or Christmas and rarely went out to eat. It was difficult to go to school and see all my peers with their brand-new clothes and fancy shoes. I was judged and ostracized for not fitting in and having name brand clothes. Kids use to call me “dumbo” and “satellites” because my ears are bigger than average. Of course, being so young and juvenile I had no understanding of mental health, or the effects this would have on me later in life. 

At the age of 13, I started junior high. I didn’t have many friends, and no one really knew who I was. This quickly changed when a kid started bullying me Infront of the whole school, I’m serious there was probably 200 kids watching. I had enough and I hit him. He dropped to his knees after 1 shot, I continued to knee this kid in the face over and over until a teacher pulled me off. I was subsequently suspended and placed in an anger management course. No one cared I was the victim; I beat the breaks off the kid, so I was the assailant. But now, everyone knew who I was. I couldn’t walk down the hall without hearing the whispers, “that’s the guy that beat up X”. I was a badass overnight, by the next day I had people coming up to me saying nice things to me. It was a shock to have this popularity I secretly craved my whole life.  

Progressing through junior high I quickly rose to “fame”. Everyone knew me, had my number and wanted to be my friend. It was the drug I always craved. Until I was introduced to real drugs that is. My friends and I would constantly get high before school, at break, at lunch, and after school. I loved smoking weed and having that feeling of invincibility. People genuinely feared me, it was fantastic! I didn’t even have to fight anymore I just had to talk louder and more aggressive than everyone else. I assumed the nickname “big boss” was a term of endearment, that meant “we look up to you”. That was just my ego expanding. I began selling drugs as a way to support my habit and make money. Again, living in the moment being so young I thought I had it all figured out. Heading into high school is where all the major changes started to happen. I was a somebody, I was your go-to hook up man. I had it all; money, drugs, friends, I was even dating the cheerleading captain. Life was good. At this point, my relationships at home really started to suffer. My father was off the oxy’s now and my sisters were moved out. My parents saw my rapid ascension into the drug world and were not pleased. I was kicked out. I wasn’t ready to face my mistakes or take responsibility. I secretly blamed them for all my shortcomings, I would say that they were never there for me when I needed them. So, I packed up all my stuff into a black garbage bag and took my ego with me. This was in grade 11, I decided to drop out of school and focus on making money. I got a job at Sears as a salesman, it seemed like a natural fit, I could sell sand to a beach I was that good. I didn’t see my friends much other than to party and do drugs. I was jealous that they were able to maintain a normal life and still party. I compared myself to them incessantly and would hold feelings of disdain towards them, I wanted to have everything and not sacrifice anything. My mental health quickly deteriorated but I still didn’t realize it was an issue.  

Ultimately, despite my drug-induced haze I went back to school for my grade 12 year and had to do two years in one if I wanted to graduate with my friends. At this point I was living with a friend, trying to get my life in order. I knew I needed a diploma if I ever wanted a chance to do something with my life. So, I sat down with my principal who knew me quite well, she suspended me 15 times in my previous stint. She gave me the option of returning but I was not allowed to attend any regular classes or school events. They made a special area just for me to go do my work and have assistance from a TA if I needed it. It was great, I had no distractions or anyone to fool around with. For the first 3 months it was just me, then all of a sudden, my friends started doing bad and getting kicked out of class. So, they all joined me in this “hub” they called it. Now I was back to square 1, all these influences to go back to the way things always were. But I managed to stay focused and bang out 16 courses: a full 2 years in 1. I did all this and yet still did drugs every day, before every class. My attitude quickly grew, I was the guy that was destined to fail. Yet somehow pulled enough together to get it done. 

My relationships after high school all seemed to fizzle out. Everyone seemed to have a plan, whether it was going to work every day or going to college. I just stayed doing the same thing I always did, sold drugs, and partied. I judged my friends for not being like me and started to isolate myself because I was ashamed. I no longer went out socializing I stayed inside hiding in the fear of failure and drowning my pain with cocaine. I overdosed in my bathroom one day, losing consciousness and passing out on the floor. I woke up in a pool of my own blood. Cocaine and alcohol thin your blood and once you start bleeding it takes a long time for your body to form a clot. That’s just 1 story, there’s hundreds of the exact same event. I never learned; it was going to take a casket before I understood the consequences of my actions.  

Now at 20 years old, I finally found something to live for. I somewhat cleaned up my act and laid off the cocaine and booze. I met a girl who I grew up with, we were never friends or spent time together, but we knew who each other were. She changed my life. I cannot overstate the importance of what she has done for me. She and I quickly fell in love, we moved in together after only 7 weeks of seeing each other. She realized fast that I had issues, not the kind of issues that are easy to detect. I was so good at hiding my emotions that no one knew if I was happy or sad. I was just John. It wasn’t until about a year of being together that I discovered I have panic disorder and severe anxiety. I was at a friend’s house just hanging out when this wave of feelings I never felt before came over me. My eyes started to go black, my mouth became dry, I was sweating profusely. I collapsed on my friend’s kitchen floor; I needed an ambulance. 

For months, I was so embarrassed to even talk to them anymore, I just couldn’t find the strength to be a normal human being. I completely withdrew from all social outings and stopped texting or calling my friends. This made everything worse. Other than my girlfriend, who always tried her best, I had no one I could openly talk to about the things going on inside my head. I tried my best to hide everything from my girlfriend I didn’t want her to judge me or think less of me because I’m supposed to be the big tough guy that protects her. 

It wasn’t until she seen my work life really be affected that she urged me to seek help. I battled these feelings for years and one day they all boiled over. We knew I had anxiety and panic disorder, we didn’t know that it was going to take 3 years to figure out. Everything inside of me was shattered, I couldn’t bury the feelings anymore. I stayed home for 6 weeks from work battling my mental health. I would just cry all day and didn’t understand why. I had no friends as I had cut everybody off and rarely spoke to my family. I had a complete mental breakdown; I begged my fiancé to take me to a mental hospital and put me in a straight jacket. I wanted to kill all the feelings inside of me. 

She finally convinced me to go see a psychologist. Even though I had just endured the hardest moments in my life I still was not convinced anything could help me. But I went, and ultimately, I am happy I did. I could finally open up to someone about my entire life, not just the last 3 years where this all happened. He helped me work through my childhood trauma, gave me healthy coping mechanisms I can use when I’m overwhelmed, and instilled confidence in me. I’m not going to lie; it took more effort and work then I have ever given before to build myself back up. It took months of learning to be okay with my thoughts and start to understand my feelings before I was ready to return to work. Only to blow out both of my shoulders shortly after.  

Now before, this would have put me back into the same hole, but this time I was ready. I did my 16 weeks of rehab and physical therapy and was deemed “not fit for duty”. My shoulders were deteriorating rapidly from all the physical labor and I could not continue to have that happen. I was laid off on January 1st, 2019. For the first few months, I just wanted to get another job and jump back into the workforce.  Having no skills other than doing labor jobs really hurt me. I couldn’t find employment to save my life. I had to decide, either I go back to what I always did, and get what I’ve always got, or do something new and hope for the best. And that’s what I did, I went back to school and got my degree. I graduated with honors in January 2020.  

So, there I was with my degree in hand, wondering how I approach my life this time. Except this time, I have a degree of clarity. I have real goals, I have a strong foundation, I have a partner who will do anything to make sure I’m healthy and happy. This time I get to write the chapter of my success. This time I take control and responsibility for my life. This time, I make my dreams come true.  

I am John Sheppard and my failure doesn’t define me.


Hello, my name is Renee

Hello, my name is Renee.

Project Nightlight has always been of interest to me. The obvious reason is that I have been subjected to psychological trauma throughout my career as a paramedic. I don’t disagree that this has had an impact on who I am today but the main reason why I want to share my story is to commend all individuals who have struggled with mental health and have reached out, or published their story. I truly am amazed at the courage and the strength that is exemplified by sharing their stories publicly.

I find myself surrounded by coworkers who are leaving the job because they are no longer able to mentally fulfill their duties. They are drained, depressed, anxious, many have been diagnosed with PTSD. Some are going through a divorce, custody battles.

They’ve devoted their lives to helping others and now, they are too tired to tell their story and they suffer silently. I, on the other hand, often have feelings of guilt and fear. Guilty because they are hurting and I’m not. Fear, because my time may come to get a diagnosis. For me, this is a story about being a paramedic and always wondering when I will be next. When will I get ‘’that’’ call that will just put me over the edge and end my career?

I’ve been in EMS for 17 years. I started my career in Ontario and spent most of it working as an Advanced Care Paramedic in downtown YYC – still do.

From the outside, my life looks like this: I am happily married to my husband Shane who is a firefighter, we have 2x amazing kids, I am fit, both mentally and physically, and I am a successful business owner.

Let me give you a snapshot of what my life actually looks like:

I moved to Alberta from Ontario without a friend, family member, a job, or a place to live. I needed a life overhaul as I was in a funk. I had been a medic for 3 years at that point in Ontario. I went to counseling as I was lost and scared and couldn’t shake this plateau I had reached in my life.

I worked 3x jobs (all shift work) and put myself through school. I went to counseling because I was overwhelmed and broke.

I met my husband and we had our kids. My oldest was diagnosed with 2x rare diseases. That was a huge stressor for our marriage. We spent the first 5 years of her life seeing specialist after specialist. We went to counseling together as we had no idea how to handle any of this.

We do not have any immediate family in the area to support us – It’s just the 4 of us. I went to counseling because I felt isolated as a new mom.

I couldn’t go back to full-time shift work because it wasn’t fair to my kids, my husband, and myself. I fought for 2 years to have a 0.5 position. I almost lost my job in the process but I won. I went to counseling as I was so stressed out, exhausted, and burnout from EMS. I was put on beta-blockers to try and control the shaking.

I did bad call, after bad call. In fact, I am known as the black cloud at work. I go to counseling every time I have those bad calls – the truth is, I can only handle them if I talk about them and let them go.

I was violently assaulted at work by a patient just before the holidays last year. (deep breaths here… I’ve never actually shared that story publicly). I went to counseling because that’s all I could think of rather than enjoying my Christmas holidays with my family.

My husband, who is a firefighter, will come home from work and has a bad call – I listen and validate him. He then goes to counseling as I can’t take on his struggles.

I started my own personal training business out of my home last year and I love every minute of it. I still go to counseling, even though I am happy and well as it always amazes me the stuff that my brain can store without me even realizing it!

I can honestly say that seeing my psychologist time and time again, has saved my life and my marriage. It wasn’t always easy – I did feel shame in the beginning for getting help but that was short-lived as I recognized that I needed it.

The other lifesaver here? Exercise. It changes the chemistry of my brain. Dopamine and serotonin are released, and cortisol drops dramatically. That said, first responders specifically need to be careful with which type of exercise they engage in as we are all so depleted of cortisol and run on “high” all the time. HIIT type training after a night shift, for example, can be detrimental to your health and success in the gym. I often train first responders here in my gym, and this is one of the main topics of discussion.

While I know that everyone’s experience of our complex lives is unique to us, we all need to find our own path. I am certain that this path works for me and my family but I didn’t find it overnight. I wouldn’t be where I am without my past struggles and failures- they have lead me to my successes today. I don’t regret one day in EMS, I regret the days that I chose not to take care of myself and made a promise to ME that I always will make myself a priority.

Listening to everyone’s story has given me the strength to post mine. For this, I thank each and every one of you for your courage as you’ve inspired me to step out of my comfort zone. I wish you well in your journey.

Renee


Good day, my name is Wakefield

Good Day, Greetings & Salutations, Everyone. Warmest Welcome.

My name is Wakefield Brewster.

My family hails from the island of Beautiful Barbados and I grew up in Toronto, Scarborough specifically. I am a Professional Poet and Spoken Word Artist, a Registered Massage Therapist, and a Black Black Belt Tae Kwon Do Practitioner.

My name is Wakefield Brewster.

I am an alcoholic.
I am a substance addict.
I am with Mental Wellness Challenges.

Time for some exposure.
Time for some disclosure.

Some of you may have noticed some changes occurring in me during the past 4 years.

That’s because almost 4 years ago, on June 28, 2016… I stopped drinking.

As aforementioned, I’m an alcoholic and I’m a substance addict. I’ve been dealt a hand (or head as it may be), of Mental Illness Diagnoses and I’ve struggled with risky, addictive, impulsive, compulsive, destructive, dangerous behaviors.

I’ve been professionally diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, PTSD, OCD, SAD, and Depression.

When it came to substance abuse, I would partake in anything except needles. I would eat it, drink it, smoke it, sniff it, pop it, drop it, dab it, huff it,  lick it – but never stick it.

Addict Boundaries. An oxymoron if I ever heard one.

At this time, I wish to inform, enlighten, or remind everyone of a fact that I learned over my years of self-blame, guilt, and shame.

The gateway to addiction is trauma.

My trauma came by way of abuse. My abuse was physical, mental, spiritual, and sexual. That’s how I came to this ‘Land Of The Lost’… by the way of the Four Horsemen.

Throughout the use and abuse of alcohol and substances, I had 6 near-deaths, became suicidal, and was placed on Covert Suicide Watch. I was never, ever so scared of myself, before. I was unable to trust myself to not kill myself.

However, after a very long time and with insurmountable effort…

I stopped smoking cigarettes.
I stopped using substances.
I’m getting a handle on how to behave.
I rediscovered fitness.

I’m still making a lot of mistakes.
Every.
Fucking.
Day.

I‘m still –
Repeating –
Some.

Every.
Fucking.
Day.

However, I started drinking at the age of 8, (I had thought it was 9 until another memory from that time recently resurfaced) – it secured a cement hold on me like a ‘G.I. Joe wit da kung-fu grip’ and stopping has been the hardest thing that I’ve ever done…

In.
My.
Life.

I still want to drink.

Every.
Fucking.
Day.

I’m always ‘thirsty’.

Some of my closer peeps know this information about me and my life on intimate levels. I thank you all for that and I also apologize for that. I have often been very, very difficult.

I know this to be true.
I know this because I live in here.

I barely have a relationship with my Father, which has been all my life. I’m almost at that same point with my older brother.

Ma has never given up. She says she won’t ever.

I have burned through 2 marriages and I am estranged from my two daughters. I have placed enough pain and hurt on my loved ones to deserve abandonment. My unpredictable alcoholic-addict behaviors left me as a loose cannon in other people’s lives and I blasted holes in the hulls of every Love Boat on my turbulent seas.

However, being a public figure who is becoming synonymous with Mental Wellness and Recovery, it’s probably apt to share a little of my journey.

That’s not a lot of it, but that’s a lot of it. I say more about it in my poetry, I speak more upon it in the workshops that I facilitate. I have been able to bring parts of my world to places of peace and healing and Poetry paved my path. I believe this path of Wellness on which I’m currently walking is wide enough for others.

That’s why I teach Poetry. ‘I Can’ write a way to Wellness. ‘You Can’ too. That’s why I teach with a vigor to youth and teenagers and young adults. I started falling down very early. I wish to help early. I’m here to help.

By the way, in the last 3 years, I rediscovered education and I have become a Registered Massage Therapist. I’ve developed a Way with Words. Now, I’m developing a World of Wellness. Stay on the lookout for WakeFull Wellness Registered Massage Therapy and HealingSpace.

“My Heart is in My Hands and My Hands are Here to Help.”

Thank You, to everyone who has helped me. I couldn’t have done this alone. I’m including AA, SMART RECOVERY, Renfrew Recovery Centre, Calgary Adult Addiction Services, Access Mental Health, Alberta Health Services, Distress Centre Calgary, Centre for Suicide Calgary & Natural Health Services for Medical Cannabis – just to mention a few that have helped me through.

I Especially Thank My Partner, My Shannon. She was at the beginning of this journey and she’s still here. I’m still here because Shannon said ‘no’ – and I listened. Thank You, My Shannon. I Love You.

Thank You, All.

And of course…

MadLove.

~w.


Hello, I'm Connor Curran

I’m Connor Curran, co-owner and chief laundry folder of Local Laundry

My WHY goes back to University, High School and Junior High School. It can be a tough and challenging time to figure out how to grow up and where your place in this world is going to be. I knew that I wanted to make my parents and family proud and happy so I was always driven to be successful. I never really knew what success meant or what it really was but I knew I wanted to be it. It can be tough when you aren’t the smartest kid in the world or even your classroom. You aren’t the best athlete or particularly gifted at one thing, you are just kinda mediocre at a bunch of things. 

So throughout all my formative years, I did mediocre at a lot of things. From grades to sports to music I was able to do them all efficiently and at an average level. Average isn’t what gets you to become successful though. So when I left University I was determined to sink my teeth into one thing and really excel at it and become successful in my field. At the time, being from Calgary, if you wanted to become successful in this city you had to go into Oil & Gas. It was no question. Oil was booming, plenty of jobs, plenty of money and I wanted a part of it. I couldn’t wait to put my head down and get to work honing on my skillset. The days of being average were numbered in my eyes. 

In exchange for 40 hours a week I was given a 4×4 cubicle where I was told to sit down, put the toys away and stare at my computer screen and paperwork all day. It was utterly depressing. I looked around the office at my colleagues and it was filled with anxiety, impassion and despair. Nobody wanted to be there. Nobody enjoyed being there. Nobody was passionate about the work they were doing. Everyone was working for 5 PM, the weekend and vacation. I was told time and time again by everyone that that’s what success looked like. I was pointed to the VP’s office where he had done his time, toiled in the trenches and now was on the other side of success. His own corner office, six weeks of vacation a year and a bonus that was twice the amount of my annual salary. 

That particular VP, however, was overweight, divorced and one heart attack away from the grave. If that’s what success looked like, I didn’t want any part of it.  I quickly saw the next forty years of my life working in an environment like this that was soulless, void of any passion and people were just trading their finite time for a few zeros in their bank account. 

Not to say that this is the oil & gas industry-standard or this was what it was like at every organization in the energy business, but this was just my limited experience during my time there. Then in 2014 something hit me up the side of the head that I never saw coming. One day my boss’s boss came into the office and asked me to join him in the conference room. This never happened. What did he want with me? 

He was telling me that they were doing a bunch of layoffs and thank you for all the time and energy I had put into the company but my services were no longer required. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was completely blindsided. I was convinced that if I just did what I was told to do and worked hard that there was no way they could get rid of me. How would I become successful now? I called my parents, I called my wife, I told my friends. It was embarrassing, it was gut-wrenching. How could I be so upset about leaving a place that I didn’t even enjoy being in the first place? 

So I picked up my things and decided I needed to get out of Calgary for a while to really figure out what success to me meant and what I could do to be truly happy. My wife and I decided to move to Sweden. A country where I could study my MBA and we could live together in a world very different from our own to offer up some perspective on what it meant to be happy in life. 

It was there that I spent every day learning, reading and studying various ways to earn a living that could satisfy all my needs for happiness, fulfillment and success. I looked internally and saw my parents, who had moved to this country when they were eighteen and started a small business together and created a successful and happy life. I knew that owning and operating a small business would be the only path towards what I desired the most. The only problem was, what kind of business could I run if I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable or gifted in one area or another. 

So I began to look even deeper into myself and really try to figure out what it was that I was good at. I soon realized that it was people that really drove me. I had a natural curiosity for people, to get to know them, to understand how they tick, to help them, to work together, to create an impact with people. My years of doing so many activities and work, at a mediocre level, allowed me to relate to many different peoples on various levels. 

So I searched for something that I could use as a vehicle to connect with people, build relationships and offer positive impacts and value to everyone I interacted with. I stumbled upon a way to start an online clothing company for little to no investment. I was never particularly drawn to clothing or fashion but as I grew older I really started to understand how people used clothing as a form of expression for themselves, what they believed in and what they cared for. If I could use clothing as a way to connect with other people who felt the same way I did, we could make a connection and ultimately build a community. 

I poured hours and weeks into this passion project that allowed me to be myself but also allowed me to build something that could give back. Right from the very beginning, there was a portion of our profit given right back to charity. I started to become fascinated about how clothing could give back and build community. Was this a viable business model? What if people didn’t like my clothing or my community-driven ideas? What if I wasn’t smart enough to start a business? 

None of that mattered. I was too busy growing the business, meeting incredible people along the way and finding ways to build and lift up the accomplishments of others in the community. To my surprise, people really took to the notion and were quite open to working together to share the story of their passion project that they poured their soul into as well. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if this was making me a lot of money, what mattered the most was, are we having an impact on other people’s lives. That’s what success became for me. How are we using this business to make other people successful in their own right? Don’t get me wrong, we are a business and not a charity or a non-profit, but just because we aim to make a profit doesn’t mean that we can’t do good. Just because we are a small business doesn’t mean we can’t have a large impact. 

All of a sudden that’s what started to drive me forward. The idea of using this business as a way to connect with other passionate people, other small businesses, charities, artists or people who just wanted to create an impact on their community. My idea of success began shifting to more of one of maximizing other people’s success stories. By sharing everyone else’s story, we were actually sharing our story. 

We aren’t going to make millions of dollars off this business, however it now fulfills me in a way that all the money in the oil & gas industry could never. No longer am I a slave to my own wrist, constantly looking to see how many hours are left in the day before I can go home. Now I’m jumping out of bed and foaming at the mouth at the possibility of the next opportunity where I can work with someone from the community and we can create a positive impact together. 

That’s my why. I live every day as if it’s my last, more excited about the next person I meet than I was about the last person I met. I’m thankful for everything this business has given me. It has given me freedom with my time. It has given me a community of amazing people who I can rely on and they can rely on me. I’m not making anywhere near what I was in oil & gas but that’s not what defines success for me anymore and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.


Hi, my name is Kelly

Hi, my name is Kelly.

I’m a 33 year old woman and a long time sufferer of anxiety.

I’ve experienced a lot of friction and role reversal in my family relationships and took on a lot of issues that were not mine. I have had to learn to distance myself from negative situations and recognize when I’m becoming involved in problems that aren’t mine to fix. I’ve had to find a new sense of community and learn how to put myself first and develop healthy habits which allow me to better manage my anxiety.  I’ve also learned the importance of having healthy boundaries with those around me.  My goal in sharing this is to connect and potentially offer hope to anyone who might relate.

I always worried and felt somewhat responsible for my parents and their happiness.  They divorced when I was young and never remarried.  I lived with my mother in my early years and visited my father every other weekend.  In my late childhood and early teens, she was somewhat absentee while in pursuit of a new relationship. At one point an ex would call and hang up daily; this went on for months until I answered and told him to stop. He got into our apartment building and knocked on our door and I looked out to him looking back at me. At night I’d check the windows and doors ensuring they were locked and had a hard time sleeping. I’d hide under the blankets and lie still hoping if anyone came in, they wouldn’t see me. We later moved into a house and rented rooms upstairs for income. The police came by and informed me that one of our tenants was a gang member on parole who had recently beat a man senseless at a local bar. My mother’s more passive and I put on a brave face and addressed these situations.  I had my first anxiety attack around 14 and when I went to her was told “you’re fine”.  She was often away on weekends, so I had the “party house” which was seemingly great as a teen, but I was lonely. I resented feeling unsafe and unheard.  I understand that she did her best with what she knew and for the most part I believe I’ve been able to move past it. She did have me in piano, choir, violin, orchestra and theory classes as a child and I developed an appreciation of music at a young age.  It became my solace throughout these difficult situations and still is to this day. I was angry for a long time and closed myself off to her, but as I’ve been working through things and opened up again, she has been supportive, and our relationship continues to improve.

I moved around during my teens searching for “home” and another family member became a big support system. We had spent summers together when I was a child and were always close.  When my parents argued over money they stepped in and bought me a new winter coat.  I stayed there for some of grade 12 and completed correspondence courses. I felt cared for as they stood up for me and gave me a sense of security. We worked together for many years and although I learned a lot and loved my job, the dynamics were challenging. They could be very unkind, and I took it hard as I had always looked up to them and naturally longed for their approval.  My last employee review was extremely personal; I was not working hard enough; had an attitude I needed to adjust and was referred to as “entitled”.  I can hardly begin to describe how insulted I was.  I worked hard and my territory was beginning to thrive.  I decided to accept a new position in 2017 and we haven’t spoken since September of that year when they referred to me as a “competitor”.  This person had been a pillar of strength in my life and is now even hostile towards anyone associated with me.  As our relationship fell apart over the past 10 years the feelings of “less than”, sadness and loneliness I felt as a teen resurfaced, and I’ve felt lost at times.  I’d like to reconnect and miss hanging out, cooking together, laughing at silly things and enjoying family gatherings.  I think maybe things have changed and although we are much alike in some ways, we see things very differently.

Anyone who knows me knows my father and I have always been close, but the past few years have been challenging as I’ve come to realize I’ve very much been the adult in our relationship.  He has a long standing gambling addiction that has created a lot of friction between us.  I first became aware of this when he took me to a casino on my 18th birthday.  After playing the slots a while, I got bored and recall him frantically putting money into machines as we were leaving. I remember thinking – this is not normal.  For years I’ve listened to financial problems, employment issues and assisted with transportation when he was without a vehicle. He constantly ignores boundaries and has said awful things to me over the past year. He had a key to my condo to look after my dog when I travel for work, but I’ve asked that he not let himself in otherwise. Last summer he did this again while I was napping on the couch covered in a blanket but in only undergarments.  When I asked him to leave, he said “you’re becoming a sick f*ck like your mother”.  When I later attempted to address this, he said a lot of hurtful things like suggesting I get a DNA test and that I don’t deserve my last name as they are all about family.  He then asked me to co-sign a $10,000 loan to help him out. In our last conversation after dinner Christmas eve, he decided I was generally upset due to a lack of exercise and poor diet and that I’m “letting myself go”. These exchanges have felt like a blow to the head and I’ve needed distance to get myself together.  I’ve blocked his number numerous times yet felt guilty because I’m so used to worrying about him. He was always so much fun and I always felt loved by him and am sorting out my identity apart from that. I’ve spoken to counsellors, friends, family, read books and tried different ways of approaching things and am at a loss on how to move forward.  Nobody in my family wants to address it; I think they’re in denial and I was, too.  If anything, they seem to worry about him and forget that I’m also very much affected by this.

Honestly, I’m exhausted from trying to figure it out and sick of thinking and talking about it.  I’m just heartbroken in seeing this man I adored as a sad and pathetic version of himself.  It feels like I’m grieving a death because the father I once knew would never treat me like that.  His addiction runs his life and has completely ruined our relationship.  I plan to attend Gam-Anon meetings and was recently on a podcast about gambling that I reached out to in an attempt to better understand. I’m also writing a song about it and it has been really therapeutic yet bittersweet.  This has been a hard pill to swallow but I’ve been learning a lot about myself in the process.  I’m confident that I’ll come out the other end much stronger.  I hope things improve and I will be there if and when he’s ready to get real about things.  If not, I just have to accept it for what it is and continue to put myself first.

I know people struggle and project and that none of this has been about me, and that I am moving in the right direction. Despite this I have wondered – why don’t they value me? Why don’t they respect me? How could they say such hurtful things?  I loved them unconditionally and I needed them. A quote that really resonated with me in Margales Fjelstad’s book – Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist, How to End the Drama and Get on with Life read “If someone is treating you poorly and you’re allowing it, you’re agreeing with that person’s estimate of your value”. To her point, I feel I can’t both accept this treatment and feel good about myself.  I’ve at times felt it was hard to be happy in my new position and in life as I felt somewhat punished for wanting more for myself. Then I felt as though I was letting them win because they don’t want me to be happy.  I feel like I’ve been walking around mad for a long time. I also think because I was used to the caretaker role, I’d hide my pain and not ask for what I needed from anyone.  Vulnerability makes me rather uncomfortable but I’m working on becoming more comfortable with it as I know it’s necessary.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support from friends as I’ve begun reaching out more. It has truly made my sometimes-heavy heart much lighter.

At times I turned to friends and partying to dull my feelings and “connect”.  Of course, this was temporary relief and never provided the sense of belonging I truly longed for. I want to be clear that although these situations contributed to how I felt, I don’t blame anyone for the ways in which I chose to deal with things; I simply didn’t have the tools to deal in a healthy manner. The past few years I’ve been working on self-love and creating the sense of community I needed. I’ve been journaling, reading, took a solo beach vacation, saw Tony Robbins and Oprah live, attended an investment seminar, took up boxing, exercise regularly, see a wonderful therapist and drink rather infrequently.  I was always wondering who would have my back if I needed it and now, I see it and feel it from the people around me and most of all myself.  I got me.

I recently took a tour of NVRLND and came across Unbound By Sound, Trey Mills recording studio.  We had a great visit and I kept thinking afterwards, I really need to get more involved in music.  I’ve lent my voice to a few songs but never really took it seriously myself.  A friend recently passed away suddenly at the age of 34 and that evening I sent Trey a note to set up a meeting.  I decided I had to explore music and am now almost finished my first single.  I’ve had ideas spilling out of me and it’s amazing to connect with like-minded people on something I’m so passionate about and making art out of pain is pretty badass.

I feel like the spark inside me has been reignited.


Hey, my name is Kat

Hey, my name is Kat.

My first day living alcohol free was November 25th, 2017. To say I ‘gave up’ alcohol would be a lie. What I gave up on was a way of life that just wasn’t serving me anymore and what I gained was so much more in return.

The process of releasing my dependency on alcohol wasn’t just to refrain from drinking actual alcohol, but all the other elements that went into understanding why I drank in the first place. I fought and I fought myself for months after the initial decision was made to never drink again. Because that would mean, for me, I would have to take a real hard look at my life, my behaviors, my trauma, my pain, my relationships & friendships – basically everything that made up “Kat Black” up until that point. Until I was ready to face all of that, I wasn’t ready to release the hold this substance had on me.

Looking back, I started to get symptoms of ‘depression’ around age 14 or 15, just as I was entering high school. Funny enough, that was around the time I started experimenting with alcohol. Coincidence? I think not. That’s also around the time I created my mask, one that I would continue to live under for decades to come. To the outside world I was charming, funny, up for a good time no matter what the cost, resilient, kind, happy. On the inside though, oh on the inside I was so incredibly broken. Dying to just been seen, heard, understood. Many nights were spent alone, fighting between these two completely polar opposite versions of myself, a constant turn on the hamster wheel of life.

My first cry for help was in my early twenties when I decided to take 20 Advil and down a mickey of vodka. Soon after that was my first experience on anti-depressants. If it were possible, they actually made me feel even more disconnected from myself, and that really scared me. So, I stopped taking them within two weeks of being prescribed. It would be another two decades including a second short stint on anti-depressants, continued alcohol dependency, 2 career changes, a devastating breakup, and many more heartbreaking moments before I realized that I needed to find another way to live naturally, or risk dying.

My healing began the day I decided to stop drinking for good. Not the actual day I stopped, the one where I chose life over death. It was about 4 months before my last swig. How was I able to stop drinking in a society where the ‘norm’ is to drink over not drink? I was never one to just have ‘a glass’ of whatever. No, I was the one with no brake pedal. I drank most nights until I blacked out, waking up the next morning with a massive shame spiral the size of a major tornado over my head. To say I took on major shifts & behavioral changes in my life would be an understatement. I had to literally stop living the only way I had known since my teenage years. Messy? Uncomfortable? Um, yeah. I think that’s why many people struggle to maintain living an alcohol-free life. It’s fucking hard. No one, not one person explained to me how bumpy the road would be in relation to picking apart my life and piecing it back together. But the rewards, oh the rewards are greater than anything I could have possibly imagined.

The first few months of living alcohol free were actually focused on truly releasing the poison from my body, organs, tissue, brain, etc. All really on a physical level. When my body started to feel healthy again, that’s when the real work began on my spirit & soul. From there, I got my hands on any book I could possibly find on brain function. I had a need to understand why my brain wanted this poison to coarse through its body when everything else inside was screaming at it to stop. I listened to podcast after podcast on ‘sober’ women and sourced them out on social media and through books they had written. I had a need to know that I was not alone in my struggles. I spoke to a therapist who, for the first time in my life, helped me recognize and dissect past traumas which lead me to start using a substance to protect me from my pain. I had a need to know on a deeper level what the fuck was going on. I created a website, social media site and started to write blog posts to hold myself accountable, and also, allow for others to know they weren’t alone in their struggles. Every single one of us is constantly up against something in our lives that is difficult. I believe it’s crucial to tell my story in hopes to inspire and help others do the same.

I still have some difficult days when I feel as though the world is crashing in around me, and that’s OK. It’s going to happen. And those days are just so much easier to sit with when I’m clear headed & hearted. And to ask myself – What am I to learn from this? What is this teaching me? I also have some pretty epic days where I just feel so appreciative at how far I’ve come, and how lucky I am to be alive.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

  • It’s OK to ask for help. And within that, I have found true love & support.
  • Sitting in my anxiety, fear & doubt is really uncomfortable. But so is living in the comfort & familiar land of denial, repression & falseness. And there are no rewards to living that way. I sit in the shit knowing I have made it through before and will do so again, even stronger and more resilient.
  • Everyone on this planet is struggling in some way or another. I try to find compassion and kindness in my words & actions.
  • Finding my people has been key. Finding those who support me, listen to me, see me, hear me, challenge me, and love me no matter what.
  • The language I use to communicate is immensely important. I have begun to practice with those I care and trust around me as often as I can.
  • Talk about my experience, struggles, joys & triumphs within living alcohol free as often as I can. It takes the charge away from what could be a super intense subject and holds me accountable for my actions.
  • I AM NOT A VICTIM. I accept & take full responsibility for my actions in the past, present & future. I acknowledge & accept my past actions and know they do not make up the present ‘Kat Black’.

And so, what’s next for me? What do I continue to do to add to this beautiful life? I continue to do all I can to help strengthen myself, others & my community. From all of this soul searching, I have found a purpose in life. I am here to inspire other women to realize their best life through the actions that I take. I now live a pretty healthy life mentally, physically & spiritually. I am deep into and trust in the power & community of those who practice meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, and are just on a clean life track. I am a powerful human being with a lot to say and share and am beyond excited for how the next chapters of my life will unfold.


Hi, I'm Peter

Hi, I’m Peter.

Christmas has always been a difficult time of year for me. It’s the time of year when I get a stark reminder of how little quality time I have spent with my family and friends an overwhelming sense of obligation to make up for it with lost time I don’t have or gifts meant to fit into lives I know nothing about. These are, of course, just my negative thoughts but they are persistent and are a yearly reminder of my struggle with self-esteem and self worth. They also force me to confront how I live up to people’s expectations, and my own.

It’s in this backdrop that I can tell this story. Truthfully, I’ve been trying to write this for a year. Now that the season is upon us again, I’m compelled to write again and be open about my experience. My story is long, but it starts with something very short that I wrote 3 years ago.

“Eleanor, 

You may never know how much you mean to me, how much these last 3 months have changed my life forever. But this Christmas, and for every Christmas to come,  I want you to know that I’m here to love you, help you, and protect you. I can’t wait to watch you grow into a beautiful and strong woman.

Merry Christmas, I love you.

-Dad”

Sounds like a nice Christmas Card from a Father to a Daughter, doesn’t it? It was the first card I ever wrote to my daughter. What you’re lacking though, is context. Because to me, it’s a card written knowing that my daughter was the only thing keeping me alive at that moment. It’s a card written not knowing whether it would be the last Christmas card she would ever get from me. It’s a card barely written, as I crumpled over on my living room floor. It’s a card written how I always write them – hiding emotion and the reality of crippling depression behind empty cliches.

That was 2016, and my daughter wasn’t yet 3 months old. So how did I get there?

In hindsight, it was no surprise that I ended up in a dark place at the end of that year. It was a year of big changes that chipped away at my resilience.

The Year

In 2015 my wife and I moved to Calgary from Edmonton for my new job. It was a chance to try something new, and live closer to my wife’s family. Her employer graciously accommodated us moving down there and they made alternate arrangements for her to transition out of her role from Calgary. Things seemed pretty good, so once I had finished settling into the new job, we decided we were ready to have a child.

We weren’t, however, prepared with how quickly we would need to change course and we were still in our rented apartment in early 2016 when we found out a baby would be coming in October. No big deal, we’ll just look for a place to live a little bit earlier. But “No Big Deal” doesn’t really exist in either of our vocabularies, both being prone to anxiety (clinically). But we tried to be calm, roll with the punches, but we were getting ourselves into a fight neither of us was prepared for.

We learned a few things early that year on top of the pregnancy. We learned that my wife would have to change jobs not just once, but twice that year because employers can’t live up to their word. We learned how untrustworthy home sellers and inspectors can be. We also learned early that year that my in-laws were in the process of a divorce. These things happen, right? We could all handle this as adults… right?

I ended up doing what I always do and keeping myself busy and distracted – achieving things – to distract from the stress that was building around us. But I was also trying to keep the pressure and stress off my wife throughout her pregnancy, to make it as comfortable as possible (at least emotionally and mentally).

And so it began – the pressures of a new job, the house hunt, moving out of our apartment with at 7 months pregnant, moving a mother in law out of my wife’s childhood home, building a nursery. I was also trying to shoulder the emotional pressures surrounding a first born child – calming our anxieties of the unknowns in a first pregnancy, trying to stay grounded and not get carried away with societal pressures and norms in preparing. I wasn also trying to bear the brunt of a divorce that wasn’t exactly leaving the kids out of it. I don’t know how successfully, but I navigated through all of this. I dealt with our common anxieties, I worked through my wife’s panic attacks, moved our boxes and furniture, and I tried to stay in between my wife and her parents through the worst of the divorce process.

Through all of this I never once noticed that I was slipping. It took the calm of painting a nursery for my mind to process what was going on, and to let the darkness set in.

There was less than a month left before the due date. The anxiety and self-doubt was peaking. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.  I locked myself in that room for hours at a time, shielding my wife from the paint fumes and shielding myself from the stresses of the outside world. With the calming effect of a paintbrush in my hand, I would let my mind wander and wade through the emotion of the last year. But I ended up wading well beyond the shallows. The impending birth of my child brought back memories of my own childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and it dawned on me how ill-prepared I was to support a child emotionally in this world. And as these thoughts piled on I could feel the depression setting in, as it had so many times before.

The Lead Up 

The first time I remember that depression was on my radar was around grade 6. I always remembered this as an innocent of middle school, but with perspective, it most definitely was not so innocent.

As part of a writing assignment, I was told to “write about something serious”. For most kids, that means “don’t treat this as a joke”. But for me, I thought… suicide is pretty serious. While I knew I was a bit different, struggled to fit in, and had negative thoughts, I really didn’t know anything about it. So I crafted a story around some lyrics on an album I was listening to. This drew some attention, and to the credit of the adults involved, they took it relatively seriously. I don’t have a strong memory for a lot of the details, but I remember the feelings, and it felt a lot like I was getting in trouble. I remember clearly denying that anything was wrong, and let them in on where the inspiration had come from. Nothing more came of it, and it seemed sufficient to blame “the rock music” for this little episode, and on went the age-old battle between parent and child about the objectionable content (and sounds) in music.

But music to me has never been a place to come up with ideas, it’s a place to find peace and solace with the emotions that I’m dealing with, as it is for many of us. And what I wish from that time is that I had the vocabulary and the courage to speak to someone – anyone – about what was going on in my head. I wish my parents and the adults in my life had the knowledge to recognize it, and the courage to speak openly and deal with it in a way that wasn’t confrontational. This might have been the first, but it wasn’t the last time something like this would come up.

Looking back now, I can see distinct cycles of depression popping up every couple of years. It manifested in many different ways through high school and university. There was anger and frustration, there was sadness and exhaustion, there was emptiness and apathy. What was constant is the way that I always struggled to try and fit in and knew I needed to hide it from peers and adults alike – “you should smile more”, “keep your head up”, “don’t get angry, it’s not appropriate”.  So I did, and I soldiered on. I also tried to run from my problems. I had moved around a lot as a child and ended up in a boarding school for high school, which creates its own host of problems. When they inevitably crept up I tried to run from them again and suggested to my parents that I change schools. We had serious conversations about this at home, but I remember most of them as logistical. I only remember feeling that I didn’t know how to think, feel, and act anymore. So I soldiered on again, and tried my best to fit in, and keep myself occupied. And if there’s one thing a boarding school is good at, it’s keeping kids busy, so it worked for a while. I strove to achieve academically – took extra credit, advanced classes. I did sports that would keep me at practice 9 times a week. This kept me level, and no one noticed, or at least no one said anything, despite more signs (and assignments…) that may have raised some caution flags.

As an adult, free to make my own decisions, running away from most of my peers to a university far from home seemed like a good idea again. And it seemed like a good idea two years later when the same problems started cropping up. So I blew up friendships and burned bridges, and started over again.

And then again a few years later, but this time I didn’t run. I don’t know if it was because I made a conscious decision, or because the depression kept getting deeper every time and the exhaustion kicked in, but I sat stayed in the mess that I created. Alone. Fed up. Done with hiding. This time, my family noticed, and despite the obligatory “keep your head up, kiddo” to start the conversation, I was persuaded to get help.

Of course, I was reluctant. I was only really getting to understand that this was, in fact, depression, and not just me. Why would I be depressed? There was nothing I was depressed about, specifically. There was no trauma, no abuse, no hardship. Quite the opposite. I had plenty of opportunities and experiences in school, sports, and culture. There was always food on the table and a nice house to live in. There was always someone to take care of me. But there was something invisible, silent, that left me feeling empty, guilty, and deeply depressed.

The one time I remember laughing about it all during that time was after a doctor’s visit. I had finally gone and done an intake assessment at a psychologist and was directed to a doctor to see if medication would help. I filled out a questionnaire for the Hamilton Depression Rating scale, or something similar and handed it to the doctor. He obviously hadn’t done this very often but diligently tabulated the score and looked at his reference chart. He started saying that, yes I did, in fact, have severe depression. I stopped him before he moved on and in the meekest voice possible let him know that it was a double-sided paper and there was more on the back. I was 23 years old, and it was the first time I admitted to myself that maybe I was being a bit hard on myself.

I went through a lot of therapy (and a few therapists) over the next couple of years and started coming out of the darkness. I got well enough to finish school, I met my wife, and I started getting back on track.

I wish I could have said at that time that it was the end of it and I would be fine. But as you know from the start of the story, that’s not how it went.

The Darkness

The time after my daughter was born was the darkest period of my life. I think it was exacerbated by the fact that I knew it was supposed to be a joyous and transformative time of my life. It was transformative in all the wrong ways. The story of our experience at the hospital is too long to recount here, but it left my wife angry and disillusioned with the medical system, and me acutely aware of my lack of assertiveness, and with reinforced feelings of inadequacy and anxieties about my role as a father – both in a family and society.

Despite some time away from work to help at home. I struggled with these thoughts, mostly alone, as we tried to raise our daughter. And this time, going back to work and keeping busy didn’t help, but aggravated the situation. A general sense of apathy lead to thoughts of despair – and there was little comfort in the outside world, as things seemed to descend into chaos towards the end of 2016. Eventually these led to thoughts of death. The Christmas season came again and I was done trying to live up to anyone’s expectations, least of all my own. I’m honestly not sure what kept me alive during that time – overwhelming love and acceptance from my daughter and wife, an obligation to do right as a father, the pain and burden it would place on my family? Whatever it was, it lasted long enough for me to get help.

Recovery

I wish I could say that this is a happy story where I recovered quickly and the days of depression are behind me. In a sense it is because I’m here to write and tell the story. In reality, the year following was almost as rough as the one before.

Depression takes a toll on those around you. They end up carrying the emotional burden, on top of the physical one for things that are too much to handle. They suffer emotional neglect and bear the brunt of overwhelming negativity and comments and criticisms coloured by the outlook of depression. It was a long recovery for me, and I knew it was too long when I worried what impression I was leaving on an infant and having anxiety about the long-term emotional damage of growing up with a depressed father. I knew it was almost too late when it put my wife into counselling as well, and eventually the hospital.

I didn’t know how at the time, but I somehow needed to try harder. The counselling and the medication were working to keep the worst at bay, but I wasn’t progressing as much as I needed to to keep things together. What that eventually meant was finding things that would give me hope. I found music again, I found photography again – little moments of joy in otherwise routine days. For the long term, I would try to find new work that spoke to my passions and my conscience, not only to give me hope but to set a good example for my daughter.

Ultimately, that’s why I decided it’s important to write this – to be open with my experiences and emotions show my child, our children, and our community that it’s not necessary to struggle alone and in isolation. Though I am doing better now, I still struggle with down days, my inner voice, identifying and dealing with my emotions. But I at least want to have the language to name what I’m feeling and be able to discuss it. I want to be able to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression in my daughter, and I want other parents and caregivers to be able to do the same. Most importantly, I want my daughter to be able to grow up with these skills and know that her emotions don’t need to be “justified” and dealt with in isolation.

That’s why Project Nightlight is more than just a place to share my story. It’s raison d’être touched a nerve for me. It echoed my story and so many of my fears for my own family. But its existence is hope that we can create a strong and supportive community for families, and help ourselves and our kids shape a world that rejects the fear and stigma – and darkness – of mental health.


Hi, my name is Kira

My name is Kira Bronwyn Doyle Dunlop. I’m 23 years old.

My mother is my hero. My father passed away.

The pieces of my childhood fell into place after the fact. When I was 13, when I was 15, when I was 17. When I started asking questions.

My parents got divorced when I was 6. My little brother Dante was 3. My mother doesn’t like to talk about the divorce, but she did let me in on one story that put everything into context;

One day my father locked himself in their bedroom with a 24 pack of Alexander Keith’s. He refused to come out. My mother had two young children, she had work, she had responsibilities. Day in, day out, he stayed in their bedroom, drinking. I have no memory of this. A week passed by, then two weeks. My mother focused on us. On making sure that we were ok. Then, half-way through the third week, my father emerged. My mother was outside in the garden, throwing herself into the physical labour, and he came up to her. She looked up and the first thing he had to say to her was

‘Have the kids eaten?’.

Dumbfounded she responded that she didn’t know.

‘well, you’re their mother… shouldn’t you make sure that they’re not hungry?’

That was the breaking point for my mother. She walked away, and she took us with her.

Three years later my father hung himself off the balcony of his apartment. When the noose broke, he fell to his death. I didn’t find this out until I was 18. I was always told that he had his demons, that he couldn’t handle them. I knew he committed suicide, I just didn’t know how. When I did find out, somehow, I was ok. It was fitting.

See my father was an alcoholic and schizophrenic. He refused treatment for his mental health issues because he would have to give up alcohol. And he couldn’t do that.

After my father’s death, I retreated into myself. I was angry, upset, depressed. I knew it was my fault. I wasn’t a good enough daughter. I realise now, I was in pain. And I didn’t know how to make that pain stop.

As I progressed through adolescence, I found alcohol. And drugs. But mostly alcohol. I was 14 and moving from my hometown of Toronto out to Calgary. My family had already left town, but I had stayed behind with some family friends to finish my exams. I drank ¾ of a bottle of Jack Daniels I had stolen from my paternal grandparents and ended up passing out in a snowbank. A good Samaritan called 911. They had to resuscitate me in the ambulance. My heart had stopped.

I can tell stories of being in bars underage and losing myself to whoever told me I was pretty. I can tell you about being taken advantage of, about screwing up, about hating myself, about wanting to die, about needing a drink to feel cool or special or numb.

Because underneath everything I was in pain. I was lost. I was hurting.

But I was also extremely high functioning. I graduated at the top of my class in high school and was heading to Halifax to start at Dalhousie University. That didn’t work out, so after my first year I moved back to Toronto, where I decided I didn’t want to stay so I moved back to Calgary to go back to school. I completed a semester at the University of Calgary and transferred out to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where, coincidentally, my job was willing to transfer me.

It was in Vancouver that I had a short, painful, heavy romance with cocaine. I would go to school or work and come home, by myself, and snort line after line. Cocaine was my little secret. I was in love with it. I would stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep and then maybe get an hour or two before I went back to school or work. That didn’t last long.

I had a mental break, what I would classify now, as a mental break about a month into the semester. I walked away from school. Didn’t bother even telling them I was dropping out. I continued to go to work, come home, get high, rinse and repeat. After moving out of my living situation, I knew I had to get off coke. I still dabbled frequently, but I wasn’t up all night, every night. I replaced what I was snorting, with heavier and heavier drinking.

Vancouver wasn’t working for me, I decided, so I moved back to Calgary. I was still high functioning. I showed up at work every day. They even promoted me back to the Calgary store. I got my own apartment; I was making decent money. But I was also drinking every day. I was always at the bar if I wasn’t at work. And if I wasn’t at the bar I was drinking at home, by myself. Nothing was changing. The pain I was in wasn’t going away. I was just prolonging my suffering, numbing myself to what I didn’t want to face.

In June 2017, I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror. I knew I was going to die. Not then and there, but one day. I was killing myself. And then I broke down.

I realised that I was a repeating my father’s pattern. And to honour him, I knew I had to break that cycle. Of course, that is easier said than done.

I quit alcohol and drugs and am now 100% clean and sober.

The first year and a half of my sobriety were unbelievably painful. I was white knuckling it through the days. I don’t consider myself an alcoholic or an addict however I know I had a problem and what I had to continue to remind myself was that going back was to die. I had to learn how to feel my emotions. I had to learn how to sit with my pain. I had to learn how to express myself.

Emotionally, every time I felt sad or upset or stressed, my go-to was no longer having a glass of wine. I stopped spending time with my friends when they were going out because the social anxiety, I felt was so uncomfortable. Every occasion that I normally would’ve drank at, I had to find something else to do. When my partner went out, I stayed in and then would pick fights about his drinking. I lived in the extreme discomfort of someone saving them self through isolation.

Then as time progressed, and life continued and I continued to stay sober and started doing the work, it got easier to go out. It got easier to do the things that I used to do. But I was still alone.

Which lead to the thought that I can’t be the only one feeling this way. And from that thought sprung the Boring Little Girls Club, a community of sober women, trans and non-binary folk who get together to have fun without alcohol or drugs. The BLGC has helped me immensely in my path to healing. Being able to share and socialize and support like-minded folks in a world that seems obsessed with alcohol and drugs has given me a purpose.

This is not to say that I am ‘healed’ or ‘better’ or ‘cured’. Including an alcohol problem, I was also diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, for which I take medication. Multiple factors got me to the place that I am today: sobriety, medication, community, self-care, humility, my family, accountability etc. I can’t point to just one and say, ‘that’s why I’m alive’.

What I can say is that I’ve gotten to this point, you can too. I will shout this story from the tallest rooftop if it means that someone reading it will realise they are not alone. You are not alone. You have people to support and love and care for you. And you’ve got this.