Blonde Again

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On my last blog, I explained that I was going back to Scotland to celebrate turning 60 because I did the trip to mark my 50th birthday.

For months I’ve also been remembering what and who I was when I turned 40. Funny how big birthdays can get you reminiscing about the past. In 1998 I was just retired from my full time job at the ad agency and making my way with a new career. I was dealing with people and my surroundings in a different way. I was evolving into an adult.

Part of the shift was becoming a personal trainer that would opt to shave her head to support a client going through chemo. Why not? It was only hair and a perfect way to make a mark about how I wanted to support my clients and how I wanted to live my life.

Years later I wrote a story about the experience.

 

Bald

Today I am a forty year old bald woman.

Yesterday I had long black hair down to my shoulders.

Today I notice my ears are too big for my face.

Yesterday I looked like everyone else.

Today the wind on my bare scalp chills me to the bone.

Yesterday I still had all my hair to hide behind.

Today people stare at me.

Yesterday I walked into my hairdressers and had my head shaved.

The first step was to cut the bulk of my long hair with scissors.  I was spellbound sitting there watching my reflection as my cherished locks fell away.  The next step came as he used the electric razor for a close crop.  You could now see the shape of my head.  Thank God I had no strange lumps and bumps.  That would have been too much!  Then finally the razor blade to finish the job. There were no tears, just the reflection of a forty year old bald woman looking back at me.

Today I visited my bald client with breast cancer.  She is bald from the chemo and was excited about my gesture to shave my own head to support her journey.  Today she quietly tells me she can’t stand to look at me because it reminds her how sick she is.  She doesn’t want to look at the face of another bald woman.  I am banished.  She tells me to leave and not come back.

Yesterday I was a person embarking on a symbolic gift for a friend.

Today I am a forty year old bald woman.

This piece not only told the story, but helped me find a way to share my life and experiences.

I became a writer. I found my voice.

If I wanted to say something, I would tell you a little tale.

So there was no better way to explain to you the reason why I look like this today.

It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise to the people that know me best.

And face it, there’s something cathartic to reflect about what it means to turn 60. What I’ve learned, what I care about, and what doesn’t matter at all.

Doing this while being blonde just makes me laugh.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

 

Return to Scotland

Ten years ago I made the decision to walk Scotland’s West Highland Way and Great Glen Way to celebrate my 50th birthday. The half-century celebration was a 297km solo trek through the Highlands. Starting near Glasgow, and ending in Inverness.

overlooking Loch Lomond

The walk took 13 days, then I headed to Aberdeen to meet some very distant relatives. It was a first for me… actual blood relations! A joy few adopted people get to experience.

distant distant distant relatives

My goal in going to Scotland was to dig deeper into my roots. To go and find out more about who I am.

Luckily all that happened and my 50th was a complete success.

This year I turn sixty and plan to once more make the journey.

Even now I still think back to the day before I left Vancouver.

Dad was slipping fast. His mind was faltering. He knew I had opened my adoption papers, had found my birth family and was heading to Scotland to discover more. He wanted to help. He promised to pay for my flight. It’s one of the main reasons I was able to go.

Two things happened on the last day I saw him before I left. Actually three things happened.

I showed him my itinerary and the messages from some of the Third family clan in Aberdeen. I talked to him about my plans and the excitement.

As I talked about meeting these people he got teary eyed and said, “Remember you will always be my daughter. I will always be your father.” Up until that point I hadn’t realized the distraught this trip could carry for him. I told him he was my Dad and that would never change. I hope he believed me.

Then I showed him the bill for the flight and reminded him in the gentlest way of his promise to pay for it. He said of course, and went to his den. I waited. He came back and said his wife wouldn’t give him the money. He handed me his wallet and said I should take all the money inside to help pay for the trip. I opened it and found 23 cents. My heart broke.

I told him I’d already paid for the flight and he needed to keep his money to buy some coffee. Dad laughed, he loved cups of coffee. I lie very well.

As I left his home I told his wife what happened. She offered nothing.

I headed back to work and my last client before the trip.  He was a kind man with a very successful business in West Vancouver. His father had recently passed. We were pretty sure our Dad’s knew each other from years ago. There was a connection.

I told him what had happened. I was relying on Dad’s help and that had now disappeared. I cried. He seemed to understand. He was a very kind man.

As we finished the session, I was packing up my gear and he disappeared into the other room. He came out and handed me a cheque for the full amount of the airfare. He said my Dad wanted me to have financial help with the trip and he was in a position to make it happen.

I cried again. He hugged me and told me to have the best birthday celebration.

I did. And I never forgot how I got there.

 

 

The Dance Continues…

This is a re-post of my blog from March last year. (I’ve revised some of the photos.) It seemed the appropriate piece for this day, January 31, 2018, when depression is in the spotlight with the incredible @BellLetsTalk Campaign.

The Depression Dance

I battle depression but it’s not always a fight…

Sometimes it’s a negotiation.

Sometimes even a partnership.

Lately there has been some give and take.

Life changes, the disease changes and I’ve certainly changed.

I believe the trick is to live a life where you can learn what can help.

Luckily it’s 2017 and the concept of depression is becoming widely known. The Bell Let’s Talk campaign is brilliant for getting the word out and rallying the troops. I give credit to each person that suffers and is brave enough to come forward and confront the stigma.

You see, depression is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care what colour you are or what religion you follow. It doesn’t care where you were born or who you like to have sex with. Rich, poor, famous or a no-name; depression can climb inside anyone. It can strike at any time.

I’ve been inspired by a local writer, Owen Laukkanen, and the way he’s transparent about his struggles. I’m guessing Owen has been a beacon of hope for many in his huge fan base.

Owen is one of the reasons I started to put more effort into my photography.

As more people share their stories I embrace the fact that I’m part of a huge community.  Even better? Some of these people are pretty cool. It’s like an elite club with a harsh entry fee. But once you’re in and look around you wonder at the incredible people who share your journey.

Lately, to ease my mind and give the semblance of moving forward, I’ve been walking at least 10k a day. It wasn’t a plan and I wasn’t in distress but the concept seemed right. Having a fitbit has helped to keep me honest. To make the hours I spend out there a little more interesting, I started taking pictures. It’s odd how your mind can be consumed with looking for a perfect shot to post on social media. There’s nothing like that type of one-pointed concentration to positively focus the mind.

And the extra added bonus… When reaction to the picture is positive the endeavour comes full circle. Motivation, meditation, magic. It’s rewarding to share the moment.

So this blog is to thank each and every one that has liked or loved

So this blog is to thank each and every one that has liked or loved or commented on one of my “walking” pictures.

As for my long standing dance with depression…

There’s no guarantee who will be the ultimate winner. A fighting chance is all I can ask for.

Happy Birthday to Me

If you’ve ever received a birthday wish from me I bet I added in the line “Today you should celebrate yourself!”

I believe most of us adults are prone to play down how we should act on the day.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I will heed my own advice.

Why not celebrate turning 59? Why not celebrate me?

Why not, indeed?

OK, I can see why my friends smirk when I write it in their birthday cards. It’s tough to celebrate yourself.

But I’ll give it a try.

This past year has had some drastic ups and downs. And to be honest, most of the “ups” were just that I survived the big “downs”.

The joy of being an optimistic person is that my glass is always more than half full so I tend to have a good cry when things go bad, then carry on. And when I say carry on, I don’t mean put on a stoic face and just move forward. I mean get up off the ground, search out where happiness is and claim it.

So with that in mind,  I’ve been thinking about what I loved most about the past year.

There is no question that my time with the kids rates as number one!

And the last couple of hours have been the best reminder of what makes me truly happy. I’ve tried to write this blog and been constantly waylaid by texting with my best girlfriend. She’s away right now but we keep chatting. Time with her makes everything better and I’m blessed to have her in my life! Then another friend called and 30 minutes slipped away. He makes me laugh. Back to writing and my brother phones me! Of course I have time to talk… you’re my brother! And even now the birthday messages are starting to come in. Hell, I think I’ll cheat and open up the cards I’ve gotten! Why wait until tomorrow?

Then it dawns on me. Someone once told me this weird saying.

Tomorrow I am going to celebrate the person I think my true friends think I am.

And that’s going to make for a very good day.

 

 

The Karmapa Effect

The last 12 days have been a blur of joy and frenzy. This is what happens when His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, visits Vancouver.

Just this morning I was at Thrangu Monastery and there was a line of people waiting to receive a blessing from His Holiness. The look of blissful anticipation and some nervousness was overflowing in each of their faces.

None of us can really conceive his reach, his impact or his power. But as one person so perfectly said to me, “He is a king.” And I agree, there is no better way to describe His Holiness.

The media has done a good job on who the Karmapa is and his future role in the Tibetan Buddhist world. I especially like the CBC interview. (Link to interview) It covers so many aspects of who this man is and what he means to my religion.

In short, The 17th Karmapa will most likely be the person taking over when the 14th Dalai Lama leaves us.

Karmapa is the leader of the Karma Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism. This is the lineage I follow and His Holiness has a special place in my heart.

During this visit I have seen him seven times.

I hope you can imagine the shock of waiting for his arrival at the Chan Centre on Thursday night and seeing my image appear on the large screen as they ran a video of the Official Welcoming Ceremony at Thrangu Monastery.

The pageantry was over the top and so appropriate for the arrival in Vancouver.

It was at the teaching at Palpung Phende Kunkyab temple that the opportunity arose to speak with His Holiness in private. It was only for a few moments but he answered a looming question and gave me hope for the future. I had been wrestling with a health issue for five months and never thought I would be able to seek such advice and compassion. It was beyond any sane expectation.

A dear sweet man made the moment happen. The next day I caught up with him and thanked him for the kindness in pushing the meeting forward. He was the reason I got my blessing.

Bob made it happen

I also got the chance to reconnect with Khempo Choephel. He was translating for His Holiness and went above and beyond to make my blessing with Karmapa complete.

Yes, seven times I saw His Holiness and still it’s not enough. Part of me wanted to see him just one more time.  I’m guessing that feeling will never go away.

I wish someone had taken a picture as I spoke with him even though the moment could never be captured as well as it has been imprinted on my heart. I only have to look inside myself to be reminded of Karmapa’s prediction and blessing.

I believe His Holiness would agree.

 

13 Reasons Why

When my friend told me to watch the new Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why I asked him for one reason why I should. He told me it was the best thing he’d ever watched. When a 16 year old says that you need to listen.

His brief summary sold me, “A girl makes 13 tapes and sends them to the people that are responsible for her suicide.”

A few days later, a friend and extensive reader said, “The Netflix show is really good, but the book was better.”

Nothing more was required; I sat down for a 13 hour binge.

As I watched the closing credits I sent my friends each a thank you note. They were right.

13 Reasons Why has restored my faith that people can make shows that matter. This Is Us, the NBC show that debuted this year, gave me hope that we would go back to making shows that didn’t rely on fluff. 13 Reasons Why crossed the finish line.

The story covers many topics as it delves into why Hannah would make the ultimate decision. Bullying, rape, the social media frenzy, neglect, words left unspoken. I think most people can see a glimmer of themselves in one of the 13 scenarios. It’s hard to watch. Yes, devastating in places, but I have recommended it to everyone I know.

What shocked me were the media reports about the Vancouver School Board coming out with a warning about the series. The airwaves were filled with experts talking about how the show glamorized suicide. I yelled at the radio, “Have you even watched it?” I could tell most of them hadn’t. I read the VSB message to parents; it said the show should be a part of a conversation. Talk to the young people around you. Watch the show together. Talk about the Reasons Why.

The show reminded me what is was like to be 16 years old again. Did my parents know anything I was doing? The big difference between then and now, when I was young we had no social media. There was everything else, but we had no way to flame the fire into an unstoppable frenzy.

Thank God. I may not have survived.

Here are 13 reasons why I want you to watch…

1.  The writing is perfect.

2.  The actors become the characters. You will never forget them.

3.  The simple devise to indicate the flashbacks is clever and pure genius.

4.  This is happening with teenagers right now.

5.  The violence is not gratuitous.

6.  You can watch the series and then read the book.

7.  You can read the book and then watch the series.

8.  My young friend will know his opinion matters and I’ve told everyone.

9.  The soundtrack is brilliant.

10.  The characters are diverse without trumpeting the fact.

11.  You never know what will change someone’s mind.

12.  Because kids are dying and we can do something about it.

13.  Stop reading this blog, go watch the show, then talk to someone.

It Was Funny

It made her laugh.

The only good thing about the lead up to today’s colonoscopy was that it made a good story to tell my dear client that had just been put into a care home.

Anne has Alzheimer’s and I’ve worked with her for ten years.  I’ve seen the steady decline. But I’ve also seen that our shared strange sense of humour has remained. We laugh at the same things and most of the time they’re ridiculous.

Settling someone into a care home can be difficult. But it’s the best decision for Anne’s well-being and I wanted to help with the transition. Dementia and change don’t mix well. It causes confusion to run rampant.

So I sat with Anne in her new little room, held her hand, and hugged her close when she cried.

Through the tears she’d ask me what she was doing here. I told her about her mild heart attack and the care she needed. When she asked if I could stay with her for dinner, I told her I wasn’t able to because I was going to have a colonoscopy the next day.

“What’s that?”

I laughed and said, “They stick a camera up your bum!”

This made Anne giggle. “That’s ridiculous!”

I would stand up, bend over, point to my bum, and we would laugh even harder.

Laughing opened the door to better things to chat about.

But in less than ten minutes she would start to cry and ask what she was doing in this strange room.

I would repeat my same answers. We would both end up laughing.

The cycle happened again and again.

My only concern was to make my voice sound like this was the first time I was answering the question. I would keep at it as long as it made Anne laugh.

Anne’s son was in and out of the room trying to organize things and get the move sorted.

An hour into my visit he had had enough, “Are you telling Mom that stupid story again?”

#1 Yes I am.

#2 It is a stupid story.

#3 It makes her laugh.

#4 I will tell it for as long as it’s needed.

No doubt the look I gave him conveyed all this information.

I’ve been asked if it takes a great deal of patience to do this for someone with dementia. That’s never been an issue for me. No patience is required when you get to tell a joke that makes someone laugh.

It all comes down to intent.

And as for that colonoscopy? Three years ago the same procedure left me buckled over in pain and rushed to the ER. (It made a very good story for a blog) This time the doctor and staff were more than ready to make sure things went smoothly. I was nervous as hell, but hoped for the best.

Three hours later I was back at home feeling more blessed than I’ve been in a long time.

Then the sun came out and I got in my daily 10k walk.

Life really is good.

my walk today was filled with happy and a few flowers

 

 

 

Glass Half Full

Really… 2016 is the worst year ever? Really?

It’s not only the media spouting the mantra but most everyone I chat with.

This leads me to think I either have a very sheltered life, or I’m a little bit too “glass half full.”

I’m just not buying into the 2016 negative hype.

My life isn’t perfect, but I do have the tendency of looking at the bright side.  Or maybe when you’re like me and battle with depression, you appreciate the good days. When you’re often at the bottom of a hole you can enjoy the smallest bit on sunlight that shines down. It’s all in the perspective.

A few times this year, when a tweet has appeared about another celebrity death, I’ve said, “Oh no, how sad!” Then I’ve read the onslaught of condolences and memories. I’m a quasi fan-girl and know how the frenzy can get out of hand. But quickly my interest dies. I’m old and people are passing. It’s just a fact.

Good people die every year.

I do hope 2016 will be a wake-up call to the horrors of drug abuse.

If you’ve been devastated by a hero’s passing in 2016, I highly recommend you look through your movie and music collection and write a letter to all the people you love. Thank them for the joy they’ve given you. Tell them what their music has meant to you. Explain how a movie changed your life.

Let 2016 be the time when you started a share your thoughts with people before they die.

Then do the same thing for all the people around you that you love and cherish.

Start today. Start in 2016.

And yes, I know about 2016 and the whole Trump, Aleppo, pipelines… everything we’ve been shocked about this year. But they will all be here in 2017. 2016 is not to blame.

As for my view on 2016…

Two of my favourite clients died this year. I miss them dearly. But I find comfort knowing I was part of the team that made their last month’s endurable and even enjoyable.

I will remember 2016 as the year I became better at helping people when they needed me most.

Another client was rushed to the hospital today. She may not survive. It’s not 2016’s fault. Her time is approaching. 2016 has been the best year for all the hours we’ve spent laughing together.

2016 was the year I was diagnosed with cancer. But then again, 2016 was also the year I beat cancer.

2016 was the year I finally realized I’ll never be considered part of my Dad’s second family. Luckily, 2016 was the year I reconnected with my little brother and had the joy of spending Christmas with him and his family.

Give 2016 a break.

It’s not the year, it’s only a state of mind.

 

Life is short

Do you have one of those special friends?

No matter how long you’ve been apart, once you reconnect the rapport takes minutes to revive. Year’s slip away. Conversations continue without hesitation. There’s an agreement we don’t need to explain.

The phenomenon is close to magic and maybe even a little bit spooky. In my world it’s a belief in past lives and karmic connections. Others might think there’s just an underlying bond.

However you define it, if you experience this, don’t take it for granted.

Cherish each time it happens.

That’s how I felt when I saw Pete last week. Even though it had been 6 years since our last coffee chat, we fell into our relaxed patter. A comfortable ease.

OK, it’s a little freaky how alike we are. I won’t list the attributes, but trust me; it’s weird in a very cool way. I will admit Pete is probably the better writer, and for sure the better coach if you want help to run a marathon.

2016-11-19-12-15-37

In complete agreement on how to spend the day.

Over the last few days I’ve asked people if they have this type of friend. The answer’s usually yes.  And when they start to talk about it I swear their whole being changes. Their voice softens, a smile appears and then I hear the stories.

It’s tougher when you’re the opposite sex. People’s assumptions of “dating” are boring and a waste of time. That path is well tread and there’s no need to retrace the steps.

Could it be that I’m now old enough to appreciate the joy of a really good friend? Or maybe I’m just tired of the crap that can fill a day. I’ve been edging towards a purge of relationships that don’t bring happiness.

Being around Pete reminds me this is a wise pursuit.

These days I often repeat the mantra “Life is good.”

Pete is always quick to add “Life is short.”

He’s right.

Speak Up

I will never fully recover from being sexually abused and that’s OK.

It’s given me empathy.

I’m not bitter or mad, but after November 8th I’m afraid.

Allowing Trump to exist says we are abandoning all those that need our help. Collectively they’ve been thrown under the bus.

It seems America has said they will no longer stand up, step up and speak up for those in need.

So now it comes back to us. You and me.

Here’s why I know this.

When I told my mother that my step-father had been sexually abusing me for three years she said not to worry, she would make sure I was never alone with him again. Unfortunately this is a typical reaction of not confronting the abuser but sidestepping the problem. Other family members viewed my allegations as trumped up lies and innuendo. They bought his deceit and claims of innocence. He lied well. Everyone wanted to believe him. If we could just all get along everything would be OK.

In the end I was abandoned.

The bully won. The sexual abuser won. The con man won.

ross-blog

my step father

Is this starting to sound familiar?

donald_trump_6522122

the other guy

Now think about some fifteen year old gay kid living in South Dakota. Or the young Muslim from Chicago. Or that disabled child in Indianapolis.

All they’re seeing is that a bully will now be running the show and making up rules that can hurt them. He will have that power and people are following his lead.

The masses believe his lies about being great again. Fear is not great.

So now it’s our turn to step up. It’s our obligation.

You see, my fifteen year old self became convinced I was wrong to tell the truth. I was worthless. The people in charge didn’t care. During those dark days I thought no one cared.

It doesn’t have to be this way… If someone speaks up things can change.

Years later, my 20 year old self was having an after work beer with some office mates. These friends knew my story. Our boss started to tell us what he would do if he ever met my step-father. He was from Glasgow and only someone with that accent could describe a grisly death in such a comical way.

We all laughed and my heart was mended.

Finally someone was saying “I will stand up for you.”

It’s what every child needs.

stand-up-2