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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 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.

 

 

 

Goodbye Bob

There was an old world charm about him. Decent, respectful and kind.  He spoke and thought in measured tones. You don’t see this type of man around much anymore. Old school, pragmatic and honourable to the core.

And his best quality? Bob Calder loved his family.

And hockey, Bob loved hockey.

He wore a plaid shirt many Tuesdays and Fridays. I know this because those were the days we trained together and waged a war against the Parkinson’s that tried to control Bob’s life. When I’d comment on the tartan, Bob would give a little nod. It touched my heart to think he wore something Scottish for me.

I followed the Canucks so we could chat about the team during our workouts. Bob knew I wasn’t really a fan. I couldn’t wait to discuss the latest Olympic Russian doping scam with him! We had plans to compete at the 2018 Winter Games (that crazy story is covered in this previous blog Olympic Gold Medal). No doubt Bob would have had something profound to say about the Olympic committee. I bought an Olympic Bobsled t-shirt from the Whistler Slide Centre as a Christmas gift for Bob. He would have called me an idiot but I think he would have loved it.

Bob passed away on Thursday. When his wife, Florence, called with the news, I cried.

This was not supposed to happen.  Bob was winning.

I will miss him. Our time was precious and I wanted more.

A couple months ago I thought of taking a selfie of us. Then quickly realized no picture could ever capture the joyful glint in Bob’s eyes. I’ve never seen someone laugh so much with their eyes. I promised myself to always remember that magical little sparkle.

I wish you’d had the chance to meet Bob. I bet you would have liked him as much as I did.

A true gentleman.

Later that evening, after getting the devastating news and trying to come to terms that I would never see Bob again, I made a trek through the snow to Canuck Place. I thought he would approve. It was a long, cold walk and gave me time to think. I found solace in the magical sparkle.

At the end of each training session, Florence and Bob would walk me to the door. She would say “bye bye” and Bob would give me a wave.

Just like my Dad.

 

Leo and the Hole

The US election has made me long for the good old days of the “West Wing.” It’s still my favourite show and once a year I binge watch the first four seasons. Those are the episodes written by Aaron Sorkin.

This week a post on my Facebook feed had the famous Leo quote.

Link to the video

I’ve kept a copy of those words in my wallet for years. They’re with me all the time. Aaron Sorkin is probably the only writer that could make you believe the White House Chief of Staff could be this type of man. Substance, integrity, and honour.

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he can’t get out.  A doctor passes by and the guy yells up, “Hey, can you help me out?”  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts out, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?”  The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a friend walks by.  “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” and the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, “Are you stupid, now we’re both down here.”  The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

Reading this again got me thinking. But first I’ll give you a little background. Leo is a recovering alcoholic and Josh, the guy he’s talking to, has just discovered he’s suffering. Leo vows to be there for Josh, to help him out. Leo has his back.

You see, I’ve been fat, homeless, sexually abused, fired. My heart has been crushed and now I’ve battled cancer. Bla bla bla… none of that matters.

Honestly.   NONE.  OF.  THAT.  MATTERS.

Well, not unless I gained some empathy and maybe a bit of motivation.

Even better, if you come out the other side of crap, get a hold of yourself, make sure you’re OK, then jump back into that hole to see if you can show someone else the way out.

Don’t be righteous, don’t preach, don’t preen and for god’s sake don’t answer an unasked question.

And if the only way you can help is to support the people that are helping others, that’s a good thing.

Most people have a story that will break your heart.

Don’t we all want to know someone who knows the way out of the hole?

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Seaforth Highlanders

I wanted blog about how the Seaforth Highlanders held a huge celebration this past Saturday to mark their return to the Seaforth Armoury.

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Instead, I spent most of the day mulling over the juxtaposition this held for me. The world is crazy right now.  So many places where guns are causing havoc. And here I am, a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, celebrating the military.

Life is strange.

But for me, life is all about the people you cross paths with and their intent. What’s in their heart?

The Highlanders have been at the Jericho base for four years waiting for the massive reconstruction of the 80 year old Armoury to be completed.

Saturday was the Homecoming.

I got to attend the event as President of the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society. Being part of the Society has made me keenly aware of Vancouver’s history, and to be more precise, Vancouver’s Scottish history. Add in my love of pipe bands and it’s easy to see why I have a special place in my heart for the Seaforth Highlanders.  They were established on November 24, 1910 by a group of Vancouverites of Scottish decent. The Armoury was opened on August 26, 1936.

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For years I lived two blocks away and passed it on my way to work. The building and it’s inhabitants have always been a part of the Kitsilano neighbourhood. I remember hearing the pipes being played there decades before I knew I had Scottish blood in me.

Saturday was a day to marvel at this historical place.

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I loved seeing all the military personnel with their uniforms and rows of medals on their chests. The comradery was everywhere.

Saturday was a day to hear the Chor Leoni Men’s Choir sing with the 15th Field Brass and Reed Band and watch the Shot of Scotch dance! It was a day to see old and new friends.

Saturday was a day to hear some of Vancouver’s best pipe bands play their hearts out. I have a special love for the Vancouver Police Pipe Band!

Before the singing and dancing there was a formal ceremony when the Regiment officially marched past the dignitaries and invited guests.. The command of “face right” had been given. From my seat up front I could look right into these people’s eyes. Each so poised and dignified. I was overwhelmed to think of what some might have seen over their years of service. I feared what might be in store for others. I was filled with respect and admiration.

I hoped as they marched past they could see my tears of gratitude.

As the ceremony continued I slipped away to have a view from a high staircase.

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Many people took brilliant pictures of the day. I highly recommend you check out the Seaforth Highlanders Twitter feed if you want to see some of them.

I’ll leave you with the final march past.

Please take a few moments to look at all these amazing people.

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD

PTSD is another silent killer.

You might be suffering from it right now and don’t even know it.

Thank goodness Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is attracting attention and the focus of the latest viral social media campaign. It’s also putting the spotlight on one group that is falling victim to this in horrendous numbers.

I know a guy who’s out there making this point and making a commotion.

This is Mike MacDonald…

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… and he’s doing it all with some very perfect pushups!

The deal is to do 22 pushups for 22 days and each day nominate someone else to start.

Why 22? Well, 22 combat veterans commit suicide every day. PTSD is killing them. And we need to do something about it.

Mike is doing his part and one hell of a good job, but then again, Mike is one hell of a guy.

I asked Mike why he got involved and here’s what he said, “I’m the Vice President of the BC Provincial Command of ANAVETS. I have a friend that was wounded in Afghanistan and was diagnosed with PTSD. So when I was nominated by a fellow officer in Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces, I thought that I could do some good by bringing attention to the cause. If it saves one life, or even improves someone’s situation, then it was a success. If not, at least it opened people’s eyes to the fact that PTSD is a legitimate issue.”

Here’s a recap of what he did.

LINK to Mike’s Facebook page where you will find all his 22 Days!

And here’s a video of my favourite group that took up Mike’s challenge! The Vancouver Police Pipe Band was performing at the Edinburgh Tattoo and they had all the pipers take part!

LINK to VPPB’s Facebook videos where you will find their pushups!

Chris Gailis, of Global News, just took up Mike’s challenge but so far PM Trudeau hasn’t responded. (And here I thought Justin loved doing push-ups…)

I love that Mike always finished the 22 pushups and then did “One for the Queen.”

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had been a part of my life for years. Thankfully I’ve had the help and support of a great counselor, Denise Grams. Without her I would have been just another tragic statistic.

Luckily I know the signs.

My step-father kept repeating one word while he abused me and for years that word haunted me. It threw me back into the horrors that had been my childhood.

Now I hear the word and can smile. I’m on the other side. Treatment for PTSD saved my life.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t quick, but it worked. I only hope that all our combat vets are as lucky.

Reach out and get help before it’s too late.

If watching someone do 22 push-ups raises awareness and starts a discussion then let’s all do a few.

It’s the least we can do.

 

 

Music, Signs and Pumpkin Spice

It’s been a week when the commotion of going back to school and work has caused chaos for most of the people I come into contact with.

In the frenzy there have been little bits and pieces that have caught my eye.

Pumpkin spice is here and there is no turning back once the first scone has been consumed!

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Rob Thomas, the amazing lead singer of MatchBox 20, is as handsome and talented as you could hope for. And a throwback to attend a concert with general admission is a reminder to how we would crowd the stage at concerts all those decades ago!

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Rob embraced us all with his voice and proved again just how “Smooth” he really is.

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Click here to see the YouTube Video I shot

 

Speaking of throwbacks… to see the Monkees play live at the Pacific National Exhibition was a not-so-gentle reminder of the aging process. The hits were hummable, but I spent more time watching the huge screens with clips from the old TV shows than I spent watching the stage. Mickey and Peter were not so smooth but extremely enthusiastic! My memory of being eight years old and lovingly staring at their iconic album cover for hours will stay with me longer than this night.

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Hugs and kisses, XXX and OOO’s. I was chatting with a friend about this and how we casually use these as a sign-offs. A little crazy actually. They’re not in my repertoire. But as I left her that night I turned and made a hand gesture. It was supposed to be a last nod to the silliness of XXXOOO’s. Later, and it might have come from the amount of whisky consumed, I thought how much I love that sign. It’s not a kiss, it’s not a cockeyed plus sign, not even a stop sign… it’s multiply. Then I remembered it’s not new and actually the name of Ed Sheeran’s last album. Oh how it all comes back to the music I love.

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One last thing… one very important last thing.

Amid all the chaos something happened that took me by complete surprise.

Never have I been so shocked and overwhelmed. Never have I been so touched by an act of kindness. A pure generosity.

Two people changed my life in a way I will never forget.

I was left speechless.

I was reminded that all is not lost and I am not alone.

 

 

The Melanoma Word

It’s pretty weird. Once you buy something, or think about something, it seems to be everywhere. Test-drive a red car and you see all the red cars on the road. Buy tartan Converse and everyone’s wearing them.

Get diagnosed with Melanoma and you start to hear the word in too many conversations.

I’m sure it’s just a fluky trick your mind gets to play.

I’ve heard some bad stories in the last month when people didn’t know about my predicament. It’s scary that many were, “His son died of melanoma.” “It was melanoma that killed her, they caught it too late.”

I don’t jump in and say, “Hey, I’ve got the disease and you’re not making me feel great.”

No, mostly I’m just listening.

Of course when I tell someone I have melanoma I always hear, “Oh, no biggie, I/my friend/that famous actor had it and everything was OK.”

However well meaning, it’s the typical response.

I’ve got my surgery booked and this time next week those cancerous cells will be gone.

The last two months have reminded me of 2007 when during a routine mammogram the doctor saw something and our amazing medical system took over. I was booked for surgery and had to wait about the same amount of time as for this cancer scare. During those weeks I ate tubs and tubs of ice cream in an effort to calm my fears. I got fat.

Funny how my weight and the sales at my local Dairy Queen have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. I am so predictable. Clearly I eat when I’m afraid.

Back in 2007 I also decided to say “Fuck You” to cancer. It wasn’t the best timing, in fact it was bad timing, but I was registered to run a half marathon four days after the surgery. Without telling the doctors or race director, I decided that no matter what, I would compete in the race. “Yeah cancer, you don’t get to be the boss of me!” I hauled my fat ass to the start line, checked to see that my stitches were firmly in place and walked those 21 kilometers. I came in last. My time sucked. But I finished. When my doctor found out he was pissed. The race director said he would have banned me.

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Crossing the finish line made me stupidly happy.

“You are not the boss of me.”

So what will I do this time?

I don’t have a race to run.

But I do have a life to live.

Most likely I’ll just start to notice people that have ugly scars on their legs.

And that’s OK.

 

 

Faith

My goal this week is to write about nothing. The ridiculous concept we Tibetan Buddhists endlessly chase after.

The dilemma is, “nothing means nothing.”

What I learnt on Sunday is that faith in nothing is the answer.

And that’s the conundrum.

Luckily I had a very wise man attempt to explain this to me.

Luckily I have faith in him.

Luckily he explained it in a way that gave a glimmer of what the answer is.

Faith is a tough one. Trust follows a close second.

Six weeks ago my doctor said I had nothing to worry about. Four weeks ago he called back, said he was wrong and told me there’s a problem.

Two weeks ago I had a stable place to call home. Five days ago that concept evaporated.

Four days ago Lotsawa David Karma Choephel gave a teaching on impermanence and faith at the Thrangu Monastery.

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I grasped his every word.

One of the rare times when you believe a message was designed for that perfect moment.

It gave me faith in this fickle world.

Lotsawa David is a translator for some of the highest teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist world. He’s also a longtime and learned practitioner with endless credentials. It’s obvious he has absorbed a great deal of wisdom along the way. He is a patient man. That helps when attempting to explain the dharma to someone like me.

The Buddhist teachings on emptiness really makes no sense when you put a western twist on the concept. The hard part is to put aside your habitual way of thinking and trust there is something more. A great teacher can be the impetus to dig through your habitual crap. Luckily I live in a time and place where I’m surrounded by people to help with the journey.

Faith is something we believe in but can’t prove. The concept is impossible. How do you carry on when your faith has been shaken? You can’t always dodge the facts.

Life is easier if you have faith in impermanence. Trust that everything is going to change.

Everything.

I carry on with knowing I don’t know. This serves me well.

It leaves me with faith in nothing… and this means I have hope.

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60 Years Old

“Soon I’ll be 60 years old …”

That’s a line in the song I’ve been listening to lately.

I started this blog three years ago and commented on the merits and drawbacks of turning 55. Nothing could foretell I would be here again, on my birthday, writing another week’s blog.

And before you jump in with comments about me not looking my age, let’s just agree that this is what a 58 year old looks like.

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I can prove it with my driver’s license (which if you saw it makes me look like a 68 year old convict.)

I believe people can’t guess my age because of my immature actions and style.

But I digress.

Or maybe not.

Back to the song.

It’s Lukas Graham’s 7 YEARS  (you can watch it here)

My favourite line is, “I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once.”

I don’t know who Lukas was thinking about but I love the way he throws the line in and then moves on.

Have you ever done this, written a letter just to make someone happy? And the trick is; the letter doesn’t have to be to that person. It could be written on their behalf. It could right a wrong. It could change a mind. Or maybe make up a mind.

Here’s an idea… if you want to do something for me to celebrate my birthday, write a letter to make someone happy. I don’t mean write a letter to me, though that would be nice. Write one to make someone else happy.

It’s simple to do. I am confident you will do it well.

All this talk has made me think about my most popular blogs. They are always the ones that tell someone else’s story.

Sometimes the story will make you cry.

I hope most of them make someone happy.

In the end that’s all that matters because…

“Soon I’ll be 60 years old.”

 

Behind The Smile

I just got back from the doctor’s office. His last words to me were, “Now you can stop worrying.” Dr. Ho knew I had been going crazy with the stress of “what if…”  Dr. Ho can sometimes read my mind.

I hadn’t shared my health scare with the people around me. Right now it seems that everyone is dealing with some sort of loss, so there was no sense in adding in my little issue.

But this did remind me of a blog I wrote a couple years ago… and since I’m sore from today’s very minor medical procedure, I thought I would just re-post one of my favourite blogs…

Raise Your Hand

The only good thing about a loss is what it might teach you. I hate that we are meant to look for the lesson when things go bad. Fuck that. When things go bad there is nothing good to say. Bad is bad.

While you wallow, it might dawn on you how much crap there is all around us. There is pain behind so many smiles. People go through shit all the time. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with and sometimes the pain will cripple forever.

I watch myself cry each day. And I’ve done that for the last 97 days. No one else knows. The world only sees me carry on. I work, I play, I write, I even laugh. Then when I least expect it there is a flash of what I’ve lost and the tears come. My grief has become a silent pursuit. It’s not that I believe no one cares but I believe no one needs to be a witness. My story has become boring and not worth the counsel or examination people offered three months ago.

I inwardly cringe when asked how I am. There is no need to tell the truth. Lying is the way to cover the grief. On my worst days I feel anger at having to carry on and pretend all is fine. Quit asking me questions and forcing me to lie to you. Please stop. My wave of self-pity can easily turn to thoughts of hate and revenge.

When is the line, “I will never be happy again” not a cry for help but a simple statement?

So what am I learning? I am not alone. At least I’m not alone in what I’m going through. Now when I look at people I try to grasp what devastation is behind their smiling face. I can’t stop taking the extra second to search for a glimmer of truth of what is really going on inside each person I meet. What pain are you hiding? Have you had to cry today? Is your heart so broken you may never be whole? Is your loss stealing every ounce of joy? How are you surviving? And what the hell do you answer when asked “How are you today?”

One day I’ll ask for a show of hands of who is hiding their pain.

Behind the Smile Blog