When going back to bed doesn’t work: sometimes “sad” is code for something more.

I miss when I was little and going to bed for a while or taking a bath was enough to reset. I am realizing though, that it probably wasn’t. I’ve had (at least internalized) anxieties and phobias as long as I can remember.

I used to ask my mom bizarre questions when we were travelling about falling off the side of the highway to our death, or the moon crashing into earth and killing us. I used to turn off my bedroom lights and run to my bed—even until age 16.

I’ve always obsessed and replayed traumatic events in my mind and reacted in outbursts from fear that presented as anger.

Today was no different. There was a moment where I had a very real fear of being t-boned by a car that was travelling too fast as we were driving. When we got to the parking lot I instantly wanted to cry, but shoved it down. Then as we walked through the store I was increasingly irritable, and almost had a melt down at the checkout for “no reason”.

When we got into the car, the only way I could articulate how I was feeling was, “I’m sad. And I don’t like it.” 

I’ve been “sad” for a while. I don’t like it. I’m “working” on it. Reality is, most people with mental illnesses learn to manage but don’t “get better”. I’m having a hard time grappling with this idea. I take more naps than I ever did before, but wake exhausted and weepy most days.

I’ve restructured my nutrition to remove refined sugars and empty carbs and replaced all that crap with stuff that grows in dirt or on trees. I’ve noticed a difference for sure, but still feel incredibly sad most of the time.

Sad is the only way I can describe it concisely. I am on edge, on the verge of tears, suffer from headaches and stomach issues related to anxiety. I continually have muscle spasms from holding my neck, shoulders, and legs in tension without thinking about it. I have excessive jaw pain caused by a dental condition that is exacerbated by clenched teeth when I sleep.

I am often afraid to sleep because I relive traumas with incredible vividness that I “forgot” had happened. I feel disconnected when I remember something and share it with my partner and then feel guilt and shame for bringing it up when I see the hurt in her eyes. I know intellectually that she is hurting because I am hurting and she cannot fix it, but emotionally I feel like letting her in harms her in some way. So I tell her I’m sad instead of how bad the storm in my brain is.

It’s true what the majority of articles say about support being the number one factor in living with mental illness. Without the support of a few key friends and my loving partner, I wouldn’t be here. In a city, and likely a country, where mental health and addictions are treated by the same branch of government and share the same funding, those of us who are high-functioning fall through the cracks. People like me are aware of our illness in intense detail. We are emotionally detached, not in recovery, because it’s the only way to survive.

We go to the physician or emergency services and calmly tell them we’re at the end of ourselves only to be turned away. The most common advice I receive from healthcare professionals is to “practice self-compassion”. When will invisible illness be taken seriously? Why do people have to “have a plan” to be considered at risk for suicide? Is thinking about it more than daily not troubling enough?

It is not troubling enough to make my partner get out of bed because I heard a noise at 3am and think that someone is most definitely in my house trying to kill me? Is it not troubling enough that I either cannot sleep or sleep 15+ hours in a day? Is it not troubling enough that I feel like crying for literal months but cannot manage a tear? Is it not troubling enough that I get such anxiety when we arrive at events I used to love that we have to leave right then?

For now, I just tell people I’m sad. I’m hoping one day, that a doctor will listen enough to how that plays out in my life to actually do something about it. Until then, I’ll be with Olivia and my cat.

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Breaking the Silence: The Resistance.

I’ve been trying to think of what to say in the wake of events over the past six weeks. The world is a messy place right now. At times it can feel overwhelming and even pointless to add to the volume of dissenting voices.

It can feel like the sound of my objections, my values and my heartache will be drowned out by the rhetoric of hate. Yet, I speak, I write and I march.

Maybe this is you.

Perhaps you’ve been scrolling through social media and noticed people you’ve loved and respected are telling you to quiet down. Perhaps they’ve posted “let’s make Facebook cuter” posts to draw attention away from the horrors happening around them. Don’t let their denial discourage you.

I hear your voice. The world hears your voice. If you’ve any comfort at all that you make a difference, look to The Women’s March. Worldwide women, men and gender non-binary folks stood side by side in solidarity with those losing their rights and freedoms. They marched for the voiceless. They marched in mourning for democracy. They marched. They weren’t passive.

Again, in light of the terror attack in Quebec City against Muslims peacefully worshipping, we march. This hate, it needs to end. We must not ignore it. I refuse to lose myself in cute cat videos, in personality quizzes, in Netflix binging. I also refuse to lose myself in engaging in comment wars. Protest is not about fighting the opinions of others on social media, it’s about action.

Put your mind and body into action however you can. Don’t feed the trolls but don’t let them silence you. If you have a story to tell, and nowhere to tell it, I am here for you. Visit the contact us page and tell me your story. Your story of hurt or your story of hope. Stories move people. They fuel revolutions. Welcome to the resistance. We’ve got your back.

2017: Will It Be a Good Year?

I suppose any year where I make it to the next year unscathed can be counted a success.

I don’t know about you, but there are a few things I see happening this year that only a year like 2016 could’ve initiated.

On January 21st, people around the world are taking to the streets marching in solidarity and protest of Trump’s inauguration. His presidency is likely to set back freedoms and human rights of marginalized people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, women and immigrants to worse than 25 years ago.

What can I do about it as a Canadian? I can create space for one. If you need a platform to be heard from, take mine.

I can listen, empathize and fight for the freedoms I’ve long taken for granted. Reach out to our neighbours south of us. I’d be naive to think that this new leadership will not effect my life. Already, racial and gender based hate crimes in Canada have increased.

Reactively, minority groups have begun to band together in support of one another. People have become more generous where others have pulled back. It seems that collectively we are bracing for something volatile but what?

Reading Twitter battles between Trump and, well, anyone–I am fearful for what will occur at the hands of someone so hot-headed. At the same time, I am hopeful for those watching from behind relatively safe borders to open their hearts and homes to the wave of disillusioned voters and political refugees that we are certain to see.

For anyone who is doubting this, take a minute right now and review the immigration numbers of Americans to Canada after Bush was elected, and then remind yourself of all the internet memes depicted Trump as worse. There’s a reason the Canada Immigration Site crashed for over 24 hours after the election closed.

Now is not the time for the world to be silent, but we have to be careful that our voices don’t turn into another bully chant. Let’s be preservers of human dignity. Let’s feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and love the broken-hearted. Only then will it be a good year.

When Thursday is a Monday

We’ve all been there before. Doing something that makes us sigh at our humanity. It keeps us humble and reminds us that sometimes we just don’t have it all together.

The holidays are a hard time for me. It’s dark out almost the whole say, thanks Canada. I am far away from my family that I haven’t seen in going on three years, even more than that for my brother–whom I’d like to say was my childhood best friend and I do not take that for granted. I don’t have the ability to be as generous as I would like to. My brain is exhausted from school and all the work I put in to be my best.

Needless to say when I pour the unground beans into the coffee filter making coffee this morning, I let out a sigh and almost cried. My exasperation was heard by my roommate on the other side of our modest apartment–and I poured the beans from the filter to the grinder and mumbled “I obviously need coffee more than I thought”.

I’ve lost the ambition to clean my house, because I don’t have the finances to host anyone. Showering and putting on pants today was my victory.

During this time of year, it’s easy to forget in all the fun and events those among us who have aching hearts. I miss my son whom was taken from me before his life got to start. I miss the mountains of my childhood, the children that call me auntie, and the familiarness of a place called home.

To cheer myself up, I started to think of all the things I am thankful for. I urge you to give it a try. Here’s my list:

  1. A Warm House– This might seem trivial. Lately, it’s been colder than normal on Canada’s West Coast. I have a warm house, with a warm bed, and a cupboard full of tea. There are many in Nanaimo who are trying to get by this winter on the street. They are literally freezing. I am thankful for enough support to remain housed and I’m thankful.
  2. My Roommate– Our friendship is deeper than that of most roommates. Part of it is that we are both followers of Jesus, but there’s more. We take care of one another. We allow space for brokenness as we both struggle through life with mental illness and trying to function in a world that isn’t kind to those who cannot work full-time and go to school. She blesses me more than anyone I’ve ever lived with, and in less than a year we’ve become family and I’m thankful.
  3. The LGBTQ+ Community– They accept my contradictory nature. I love Jesus; many of my rainbow friends have been deeply hurt in the name of Christ and I am no exception. Yet, they do not fault me for my faith. There is a deep respect in this family of misfits and I do not take it for granted. The group here in Nanaimo holds some of my greatest champions. They help me to get out of bed some days and give me an outlet for my creative side and I’m thankful.
  4. Young Adult’s Group– I attend a very open, accepting and loving Young Adult’s Group that is groundbreaking in their inclusion of myself as a LGBTQ+ person of faith. I’ve never been judged or limited in my ministry by them. The leaders of the group have endeavoured to create a safe place for me, including a no-tolerance of abuse mandate. I will never take for granted the bravery to stand with me when many church leaders do not and I’m thankful.
  5. Outreach– There are pastors and friends in the community whom build me up emotionally, spiritually and even financially. They’ve helped me through a very dark period of my faith journey. It would’ve been easy for me to give up on the church after some of the abusive actions toward me. These folks have reminded me that we are all human, we all fail at loving one another, but grace allows for a better way and I’m thankful.
  6. My Family– Though we are a total mess, though there are not many of us that are even speaking to one another, my mom and brother have helped me in this past year. It speaks to the healing that comes with maturing over time. We are there for one another as best as we can be and I’m thankful.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it sure takes the blow out of the silly humbling things I do each day. It reminds me to look forward and not dwell on the little tedious circumstances that threaten to steal my joy. What about you? What are you thankful for?

~Cheryl

My First Queer Church

Do you know what it’s like to be in a church where there’s only one heterosexual couple? If you’re like most of us, you don’t.

What you probably can relate to is being excluded by the church. Like me, you’ve been refused communion, been refused the opportunity to use your gifts, and just generally not invited to church functions that are not outreach oriented.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend The Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship. I was insecure, skeptical as to what everyone being welcome meant, and was so hurt and broken by the Body of Christ that it seemed easier to avoid new things than take a chance. My friend Tori, a trans woman not that it matters….but let’s face it, it does, invited me for the weekend.img_1434

I was housed by her friend Jack, a trans man who has hand written scripture verses as artwork hanging all over the house. I was able to decompress from the past decade of suppressing my sexuality, be validated and be cared for.

On Sunday, we went for brunch like a bunch of cliche LGBTQ friends….but no, I did not have mimosas.  Then we went to help set up for church. Church happens in an old banquet hall at 4pm every Sunday. It’s a place where the motto is “Everyone is Welcome, and we mean it!”. This phrase is displayed on the overhead projector for all to see, and they really do mean it! There’s people from all walks of life, pets and an online church following. No one singles you out but everyone makes you feel welcome. There’s hugging, worship, prayer and communion.img_1439

Two things from my time at this church brought me to tears and healed my wounded heart for the first time in a very long time.

First, I was invited to play the piano after soundcheck was completed. See, my friend Tori that I mentioned before knew that I used to be a worship leader. She knew that I had been missing that part of my life within the church, and we got there early specifically so that I’d have that opportunity. At first, I felt awkward, and then something beautiful happened. I let my guard down. I played like I hadn’t had a two year break from the piano. I sang from the depth of my soul–from my pain, from my joy of belonging, from my burden of being one of the marginalized at the edge of the church. In those moments, I felt close to God again, I felt his love, I felt that my calling had not changed, and I felt at home.

Second, after listening to Sarah (a trans woman) bring a glorious truth filled word about God’s generosity and obedience in giving–we had communion. As the helpers passed out the wafer and the juice, I watched in awe as there was zero trace of pretence and awkwardness–as we sometimes notice in Contemporary Church. Each member of the congregation was keenly aware of the preciousness of those around them. I began to tear up. Each one of these folks believes that I am perfect as made and perfect in Christ. At no time were we asked to examine our hearts before taking communion. At no time were pet sins mentioned requiring repentance before God as a preemptive deed leading up to the Eucharist.

We were covered by grace, created in the image of God and therefore invited to remember how that good news happened. It was the first time I was invited to participate in communion since April. I didn’t realize how important those rituals, of remembering Jesus together with other believers, were. I didn’t realize how much I was in survival mode. Mostly, I just didn’t realize.

I’m going to go back.

More importantly, I am going to help the same thing to happen here.img_1430