Hey, my name is Tanya

Hey, My name is Tanya.

Disclaimer: Trigger warning to those with infertility complications. In this piece I essentially complain about how quickly my husband and I got pregnant – which I know will make me sound like an entitled, privileged, fertile beyatch. I want you to know that I acknowledge this. And I acknowledge you, and your struggles. I apologize in advance for complaining about my privileges.

Also, I integrate humour when I write because I find that it helps me manage my challenges to be able to laugh through them. Please feel welcome to laugh with me. And at me.

***

There’s no way.

I stared at the faintest pink line on my pregnancy test.

My husband and I “tried” for all of ONE weekend. Prior to this we each voiced concerns to each other about potential issues conceiving; we prepared ourselves to be waiting a little while to see the plus sign on the pee-stick.

I should be happy… but I thought I had more time. Time to adjust to the idea of this, time to travel to East Asia with my husband – time to really want this incredible life shift.

I wasn’t happy, I was petrified. I felt blindsided.

And I know. I shouldn’t have felt so gobsmacked. Unprotected sex equals babies; health class had drilled that in pretty hard. And now I’ve learned first hand that it really can only take ONE time. I just wasn’t in any way prepared.

I was almost finished recording my second album – so I was going to have to streamline finishing it off – and get on top of marketing it ASAP.

I can’t invest the time I wanted to… can I still tour? Oh my Lordy… I’m going to look like that WillyWonka blueberry chick when I am performing my last show for this thing. Ugh. This is not how I envisioned this release.

I struggled through my pregnancy with mental health challenges; I tried so hard to visualize what this new version of my life was going to look like. I resented the impact this was already having on my career and life. Pregnancy is a tough gig. Physically, of course; Emotionally, Oh em gee. I really had to battle the impact of the hormones on my already delicate emotional state.

Around month 6 or 7 of pregnancy, I was over being victim to my situation. I wanted to own my space. I refused to go into the birthing experience feeling anxious and disempowered. I practiced specific meditations, I found hypnobirthing (highly recommend), I walked every day – and when I couldn’t walk (SPD – google it, it’s fun) I got on the recumbent bike in our garage.

I knew to expect some emotional challenges in the postpartum period. So I chose to use my emotional trials during pregnancy as the chance to ride the waves before adding the dynamic of a very needy tiny person and sleep deprivation. I decided to see my emotional state through pregnancy as training. I was like some weird pregnant version of Rocky training for the big fight. Game face ON. Get that Eye of the Tiger cranked and watch me WIN birth! Whooo!

And it sort of was like Rocky. But the one where he gets beat to shit.

I was basically the whole Rocky series actually. (I reference this series very generously for how often I’ve actually watched it… which is, I haven’t. Insert sweaty laughing emoji here.)

Birth was the coolest thing I ever did. No lie. I would do that whole thing again in a heartbeat. I felt like the most powerful version of myself, and I carried a solid high for two weeks after.

And then I crashed HARD.

My baby went from being peaceful, quiet, and lovely to full-on scream-crying. He couldn’t be soothed. There was a period there where I was quite certain he was going to destroy my soul simply by existing.

I had so many doubts prior to his arrival – and it was like I received full confirmation that those doubts were absolute truths.

I never should have become a mother. I am terrible with babies. He deserves better than me. I am so overwhelmed. I can’t listen to him cry. I can’t do this. How can I do this? Please someone needs to take him away. He’ll be better off with someone else.

At one point I watched as my baby nursed, he’d smile, and then continue to nurse – I turned to my husband and said blankly:

“Do you think he’s literally sucking all the happiness from me?”

I wish I was joking. But I just felt so crappy.

I had so much support around me. So many people that offered: “If you need anything at all, just call. I’ll be here for you.”

Which would have been so helpful if I had, had the wherewithal to actually call. I never did… I couldn’t string the words together to ask for what I needed. Besides, the rest of humanity had survived motherhood. I felt I just needed to get it together.

The sleep deprivation accumulated and crashed in on my fragile mental state to a point that I no longer recognized myself. My mind was like a weird deserted town… What was once (or so I’d like to think, anyway) a golden metropolis was now empty, abandoned, and eerie. I hated it. I hated that I felt like nothingness.

I am a creative. I am a singer! I hike and practice yoga. I write music, journals, blogs… I play guitar and bass! I’m a good business person, wife, and a friend. Well I… I was.

Everything I identified as turned to past-tense.

I didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t a mother. I was certain of that. In biological terms maybe – but outside of that I did not deserve the title. I was no longer a creative, a singer, writer, musician… I wasn’t clever, witty, funny, insightful… on top of all this, my physical body was unrecognizable to me as well.

Who AM I?

I am nothing.

It was when I bottomed out in this space that a couple of things happened. One – I finally came to terms with the idea that I was really struggling with PPD and that I needed to talk to my doctor. Two, my husband intervened.

He sat me down one evening and told me that he’d made arrangements for Cashton to stay with our friend for the whole night. That I was going to go upstairs and sleep the entire night through.

I stared at him blankly and said pretty dryly: “It’s not going to help. If you think it’s going to help you’re wrong.” I was convinced that all these feelings I was experiencing with very much permanent.

I didn’t object though. They took the baby and all the necessary tools for the evening. I took a Gravol and went to bed at 9pm. I slept straight through until 6am – when I woke up in a puddle. My shirt was soaked through; I pumped and put myself back to sleep until 9:30am.

When I got up I felt really different. Not ‘cured’. Not miraculously my old self again; it didn’t make all the feelings go away. I just felt like I could function. Like my gears had been oiled.

After that, we strategized various ways to ensure I got some sleep (our kid basically didn’t sleep – night or day for 2+ months). I went to the doctor and got a prescription for medication, I went to therapy and joined support groups online. I made much more effort to put time aside for myself to be alone and do something I liked. And even though I had been integrating them all along, I continued to meditate and be physically active.

It was not an overnight process – but gradually the pieces started coming together.

If I could write a letter to past me – I would advise myself to research the various signs and symptoms of PPD so that I could identify it before experiencing it with such severity. I was under this illusion that postpartum depression means you would feel, well, depressed.

I was on the lookout for the depression symptoms I was familiar with. In all my previous experiences with depression, it made me feel empty, sad, lacking value, and I would cry a lot.

In my PPD experience, while I did experience all of that. There were additional (sometimes subtler) symptoms as well. I felt incredibly unfocused and unable to make even small decisions. I had a loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. I felt frequent anger, frustration, and even rage; as well as extremely and inexplicable overwhelm – which was triggered by very minor things.

I felt validated (and much less crazy) when I finally learned that the myriad of emotions I was feeling on any given day was a part of the postpartum depression.

At this point I have more good days than bad. I feel more balanced emotionally, and I can finally joke around and laugh again. Which is a game-changer. And I finally have the capacity to fall in love with my baby, which has also been fun and cool.

I still feel like I’m very much navigating the murky waters of self-identity. I’m reprioritizing what I contribute to the world outside of my mothering duties; and searching for the spaces that I feel I can offer value.

It’s a weird gig this motherhood thing. It’s incredibly overwhelming. And I’m so thankful to have a great network of family and friends around me that helped normalize PPD, and the challenges that some people experience when they’re unable to bond with their baby.

It was grace and love that I needed, and am so grateful for. And it made it (and continues to make it) easier for me to get support to prioritize my mental wellness.


Hi, my name is Paul

Hi, My name is Paul Wagman and I have PTSD stemming from a work-related injury.

Surprisingly enough, when my psychologist told me I had PTSD I didn’t believe him. Even more, I didn’t really know what that meant. I had to do some research after the initial shock wore off and I realized the good doctor was right. After all, he was a highly reputed forensic psychologist that I trusted professionally for years. My immediate thoughts went to the ‘Stigma’ around mental health. For whatever reason, I felt a bit embarrassed to be injured. Like it might be contagious. Like people looking at me saw my injury. Being a 21-year member of the Calgary Police Service in the rank of Detective, I had my own uneducated thoughts on PTSD prior to experiencing it. Having first-hand experience with PTSD has helped me reshape what I thought I knew throughout my career in relation to past experiences and develop further professional and personal understandings of mental health.

In 2008, I responded to a mass homicide, as a Constable. There were kids involved. At the time of the homicide, my first child was nearly a year old, and that was the age of the only living survivor we took out of the homicide scene. It was difficult to observe and wrap your head around what you were seeing. I did not process my trauma in a healthy way, or in any way. Two weeks later I transitioned to working in major crimes, sex crimes, and child abuse homicide as a Detective. During the trauma I experienced, and immediately afterward, I observed people I worked with responded to, and processing the trauma in a variety of ways. Some outcomes were not good. My processing included putting everything in a bag until sleep issues, anger, frustration and many more symptoms of PTSD started to seep to the surface and bubble over.

So, I did the most important thing in my life – I got professional help and followed my psychologist’s advice. I made time to dedicate to my healing and following psychologist, psychiatrist, and other therapists’ orders. Taking a break or stress leave did not make me resilient or lead to healing on its own. While I appeared physically strong, healthy, and quite capable, I was struggling in so many ways. Inside, I was barely hanging on. The psychology support was major! However, there was way, way more that I needed to do to truly be well and to heal that I didn’t know even existed. The secret for me became lots of little things focused on wellness, rather than one big solution. It was a real dedication to overall wellness that helped the big issue of my mental health and building resiliency.

What I will not allow myself to do is let my injury be any part of who I am as a person. I have symptoms of PTSD, I am working and progressing through those symptoms, but I am not my injury.

Navigating ‘the system’ you must face when dealing with a workplace injury can be extremely complicated. I spoke to others who are first responders and military and we share many of the same experiences and long journeys of healing. I wanted to bring these hero’s together to provide a place where peers can provide trusted support to peers. Where they can choose their own path and journey to their own healing, and drop the stigma around mental health entirely. Our wellness should focus on creating resilient responders and military with healthy supportive family units, so they may carry out their critical duties in a healthy way and be mental warriors.

In 2013 I won the Western Legacy award from the Calgary Stampede for founding and creating the charity Camp Carmangay. This honour reflected many years of creating a place and a program to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth have a space to heal and experience programs of growth and impact, while still enjoying being a kid. My successes, partnerships with philanthropists, and charitable people became extremely rewarding in seeing the direct impact that youth would have as a direct result of the work that I had done as a volunteer. I knew I wanted to create something again.

Enter Wayfinders Wellness. Wayfinders is a nonprofit organization established by peers who have experienced a range of mental health-related injuries as a result of their occupations. We have had to navigate our own ways of healing and find direction on our own journeys. Many responder peers are now even service providers and healers in the area of trauma and wellness They are role models of resiliency. Together we are creating Wayfinders Wellness as a physical and online support for first responders, military, and their families healing from trauma and PTSD. Our secret sauce or equation will also be very publicly available for everyone else to observe and follow suit if they so choose. Our modalities of healing collectively are available to everyone, and often supported by healthcare.

Since I have been injured with PTSD, my rule in life has changed so much. Self-care is so important.  I have chosen to share my experiences and difficult journey in order to pave the path and make it easier for others. I experienced a great deal of pain that I do not believe others need to experience, yet they are. A couple of my most proud programs that we look to offer at Wayfinders, include aboriginal healing, sweats, and other Aboriginal ways of knowing offered in partnership with my healing Mentor and friend Chief Lee Crowchild. I was fortunate to have rare, accessible experiences of healing through aboriginal sweets and many more aboriginal ways of healing. It will be an amazing gift to offer this to our wayfinders.

I have a lifetime of experience in equine therapy, owning horses my whole life, and in creating equine programs for my previous charitable endeavor. However, I have partnered with PSEAT, paramedic Jessica Vanderhoek, and our equine therapist Marilyn MacLean to offer very specialized PTSD programs, for all our guests. Access to the healing power of horses can be a huge benefit for a multitude of health issues, especially trauma and PTSD.
That is also why, on-site we will introduce other things that will be accessible such as our expansive nature area, the ability to slow down and meditate, education on breathing techniques that will change your life. We are partnering with a growing list of professional service providers who, through our own experience, provide valuable services.

The only thing I ever heard in my work environment was ‘work-life balance’. I used to think I knew what that meant, now I sure do. It must be noted that there is no magic potion and the journey to recovery and healing post-trauma, certainly with PTSD, can be one of the most difficult things anyone can do. I propose one way to impact the stigma surrounding mental health is to look at the resiliency we build once we choose to take a healthy path of recovery. Like training in the gym, there’s no stigma around becoming fit and resilient. I have been training to become a resilient mental warrior. My training and the practices that we share at Wayfinders, will hopefully create stronger individuals and promote post-traumatic growth.

I am going to continue building the best version of myself I can for not only myself but for my family as well.


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.