Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Your Greatest Love...Part One

I would like to start by thanking all of you who took the time to respond to my questions. Over the past few months - through this blog, my column in Grainews, emails, over vodka-inspired punch bowls and face-to-face encounters in the dark shadowy recesses of back alleys throughout the country – I’ve received over a hundred responses. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve combined all similar responses; for all others, they’ve been included here in their entirety except for any names, which I’ve excluded to further protect anonymity. To the best of my knowledge, the respondents ranged in age from five years old to seventy eight years old. Some chose to answer all questions, others only a few. Some responded simply to say they couldn’t even be that honest with themselves, never mind sharing their deepest, darkest secrets with someone else. That right there is a very brave and honest response in my books – it all starts with self-awareness. Over the course of the coming months, I’ll summarize each topic and then share all of your answers, anonymously as promised.
Now, let’s tuck in shall we? First up: who, or what, is your greatest love? Let’s start by answering the question - what is love? Some say love is the greatest gift, others define it as an unquenchable fire, being consumed by a person or a place, not knowing where you end and the other begins…an unbridled desire to be in their presence for infinity. To these people I say: “Take a breath, grab a crossword – a gin and tonic certainly wouldn’t hurt –and put your feet up. It’s high time you get some oxygen flow to your brain.”

I get it. I’ve been consumed by the fires that rage – some reciprocated, others unrequited. The latter ones hurt, don’t they? Sting. Burn. You can’t for the life of you understand how you can feel so deeply for another person, and they don’t return the favour. That’s a solid WTF. You think, perhaps, they just need a little more time to come around, a little more time to feel it, more time to get to know you better and then, well, how could they possibly not love you back. After all, they’re not made of wood. There’s no harm in throwing down the charm, but sadly it takes more than that. As the earth turns and your planets tumble, souls must connect. Some do, some don’t. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, it’s not always apparent to those submerged in their quest. As the old Irish saying goes: May those we love, love us back. And if they don’t love us back, may God turn their hearts. And if he cannot turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so that we may know them by their limping.

If all of our prayers were answered, I suspect the world would be full of sprained ankles. But hey, God doesn’t make it that easy for us, does he? No. I think he has something else in mind, entirely. Quite simply, I think it’s His tender way of urging us to love ourselves first. The rest will follow. But oh, that’s a tough one for us to wrap our collective heads around, isn’t it? I can already hear the grumbling: “What do you mean exactly, by saying I have to love myself first? Do you have any idea how hard I am to love? Quite frankly, I'm two seconds shy of a rubber room and a bat.” When you think about it though, if you can manage to love yourself, you’ve already won. Once you can see through the tangles and mess of your own heart, and love yourself – deeply and truly – you set your soul free to fly, to connect with others. And when you find that connection? Oh. O.h. O.H. These souls are yet another gift from God – people who, when we are blinded by fear, self-hatred, loathing, pain and doubts – we can stare into their eyes and remember the good. For in their eyes, just beyond our own realization, lies a reflection of who we really are. A person who deserves to be loved – a person who is loved. Sometimes we forget that. God sends them to remind us.

There will come a day for all of us when our time is up. I'm almost certain that's when it'll hit us with blinding clarity - we'll know for certain that the people and places we loved most here on earth, were our heaven, our sacred ground, our all-things-holy. And we’ll pray to God that we treated them right.

Take the time to tell those you love exactly how you feel. Should you tell them every day? Would every minute be too much? Here’s what I think - don’t let the worrying about it being too much, be at the expense of it not being enough. In my humble opinion, spreading or receiving an abundance of love never spoiled a soul – rather, that kind of love creates human beings capable of doing only magnificent things.

It's all they’ll ever know.
And they danced like no one was watching.
This is what we want to teach our children...
to grab hold of their beautiful life...
to own it...
the pain, the joy, the sorrows, the trials...
to always come out on the other side stronger...
with more compassion for others...
more love for themselves...
for others...
for the world...
Here forthwith, are your greatest loves.  Part One.

 My spouse.

My partner.

My beautiful wife, partner and friend who has helped me created this beautiful life.

I would love to have somebody’s name roll off my tongue here, but my greatest love is travel, hands down.

My life.

Tough to pick but it’s my kids. I know I should pick my husband but I keep coming back to my kids, who wouldn’t exist if I didn’t love my husband at least a little bit.

My wife. She is my best friend in everything. This is my second marriage and I never thought I could find, or deserve, someone as wonderful as my wife.

My family.

Northern Ontario.

My husband.

My children.

My kid. After that, music sung by the perfect, purest voice.

My parents.

My childhood home.

It’s a toss-up between my husband and my daughters. My daughters are my life, my love and my greatest accomplishments. My husband is also my life, my love and my soul mate…we were made to be in this life together. I could not live without them, even when they are driving me nuts.

My Mom.

The process of giving birth – the miraculous, magical moment when your child is placed in your arms and you can barely take in the beauty of the moment, so much so that your heart feels like it’s going to burst. Then to be handed your child…such a perfect creature you can barely take it in. That’s love for me.

To be continued.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Postpartum depression...why the shame?

Postpartum depression. I find it surprising that more people don’t talk about it. But I can understand why. I don't recall a lot about the days immediately following the birth of my first child. Even as I write this, my feelings are hard to retrieve, tucked away and hidden in a far-away place. My safe place. My, I-don't-pull-these-memories-out-to-fondly-embrace place. I don't like to share my inadequacies or my fears, or hold these moments up to a harsh, unforgiving light. But I suspect stories don’t flow until they’re ready to be told, and in sharing this, I may help those who feel the same way I once did; those who feel untouchable when it comes to being swallowed whole by consuming sadness.

Back when I was pregnant for the first time, I recall reading about emotional elements that could unfold after childbirth. Mostly, I would skip past these sections, thinking: "I don't get sad. I don't fall prey to feelings of depression and all that crap. And if I do, I'll just count my blessings and bitch-slap myself back to reality."

Big talker, slow walker. The first day home from the hospital, hot tears of shame washed my face, as I inwardly burst over the loss of my old life - my freedom, the relative safety of never exposing my heart in this magnitude, never feeling this raw - all while addressing my feelings of inadequacy and the utter betrayal of maternal instincts. I had expected the weeks following the birth of my baby to be the most joyful of my life, and yet it was as though suddenly I was looking through the lens of a camera, and the world was set to grey. I worried about everything at once, almost as though I had to figure it all out. Right away. How would I know if he was sad? In pain? Was I feeding him enough? Could he feel my love, even though I trembled with fear? Who would teach him how to walk? What if he got in a car accident one day? What if, what if, what if....what if I wasn't good enough to be his Mama? As I cradled this wondrous new being, it dawned on me that I had perhaps forgotten how to love someone that fiercely – I was terrified of being that vulnerable, reluctant to bare my soul that openly at the risk of looking foolish, scared shitless that I didn't have all the answers. Scared to death of letting him down, and we had only just met. I desperately needed my mom; I certainly wasn't ready to become one.

When you have children, your significance is altered. Accepting where you are and what you've become, feeling blessed for what you have, seeing your entire existence reflected back at you through the eyes of a child - absorbing that - completely and utterly understanding that we are just a part of something much bigger than ourselves, well, let’s just say it hit me like a bat upside the head. You know what else I learned? That it's perfectly all right to want time to stand still. Just for a while. To say to those around you, "You go ahead. I'll catch up in a bit." Yes. Sometimes all you need is a moment or two to catch your breath...that moment to find yourself again.

Being in the presence of my children humbly reminds me of how far we drift from our divinity, how our innocence quietly slips away without our noticing, how we forgot what’s truly important, and how we crumble at the feet of true beauty. Could it be that our children grant us an all-access pass to glimpsing eternity? I’d like to think that. I think in staring at a newborn, we catch a glimpse of what we've lost...a reflection of what was once ours. We see our innocence and purity as was intended, and it brings us to our knees. God's so close, it knocks the air right out of you.

Mercifully my foray through the darkness was brief. My dark, twisted sense of humour is usually enough to make light of any situation; normally, I can find humour in the smallest of things. Let it be said though, the amusement of wanting to slam your head in the cupboard door repeatedly, every hour, eventually grows thin. After doing a little research, I learned that a very high percentage of women experience postpartum depression, particularly in the first few weeks following birth. It’s a hormonal imbalance, which I never would have believed to be true. But I get it now. Lesson learned. It's only after we've met the monsters that we grow fearful of the dark.

Incidentally, after hearing my birth story, a close friend of mine (who happens to be male), winced in horror and declared: "I would liken it to post-traumatic stress. I mean really...if you got hit by a semi, and your genitalia got severely mangled, would you not be in shock? I would say it's pretty much the same thing. Only in this case, once it was all over, you were handed a baby." Fair point. Perhaps I fell upon the path where postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress collide. Women of the world, I urge you...feel free to talk about it. It doesn't make you a lesser person. Rather, coming through it gives you a bigger heart. It's mental health week. Let's listen to each other with an open heart, and replace our judgement with compassion.

I don't have a tattoo, but at the ripe old age of 38, pardon me, 27, I'd like to get the following quote inked on my body: (My mother will faint. But not before issuing an oral dissertation on how silly a tattoo will look when I'm 80.)

"Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we’re gone and wonder who we were? How bravely we fought…how fiercely we loved…” from Homer’s Odysseus

As for my children, I won’t be here to witness their entire journey, or see how their story ends. This is as it should be - I can only pray I’ll be gone long before them. But I hope they never forget how deeply they were loved. Because in the end, all ego-related issues will be laid to waste; our pride, our quest to be perfect, our attempts to hide our weaknesses, our fears, our sadness, our pain. In the end, none of this will matter.

I’d like to think all that'll matter is how bravely we fought. And how fiercely we loved.

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