COVID and My Depression

Like so many others, I wake up in the middle of the night.
Sometimes I get up and write.
Lately my depression has been filling my 3am thoughts.

COVID and My Depression

My depression has been waiting on the sideline.
Waiting for the chance to step up.
Waiting for my guard to drop down.
Waiting for the moment to step in.
Waiting to take over and rule the day.
Waiting.

My depression is patient and bides it’s time.
It plays a very long game.

Covid gave my depression a battering ram.
But I’m pushing back as hard as I can.
Covid gave my depression keys to the door.
I’m struggling to keep it shut.
Covid gave my depression all the passwords.

I’m fighting.
I’m giving it all I’ve got.
Right now there’s a 50/50 chance I won’t win.
Every day is a battle.
The door’s barricaded and I’m searching for another way out.
What happens if depression gets past my defenses?
What then?
I’m looking for the exit sign.
Where is that way out?
Fuck, did a window just break?
Do I stand my ground?
Can I hide until it disappears?
Do I call for help?
Can I outrun it?
Will it always find me?

In the end, I get to decide…

 

 

Elaine

She had the grace and elegance that made you think of women from another time. She was a force and hard to ignore.

When the cardio doctor asked me questions about her I said she could be brittle. He laughed and said, “Yes she can be.” I explained that came because she could barely see and was hard of hearing. “That makes sense” he replied.

I felt it was my duty to speak up for her. It was the last thing I would do for Elaine.

She lived downstairs and we would often cross paths in the laundry room. It’s a small apartment building so you got to know the other tenants. She was surprised to hear I was running in the civic election. She donated to my campaign and was thrilled when I won. I was thrilled with the joy it gave her.

We didn’t know each other well but always said hello in the hall.

Then one day she asked for my help. That day cemented a friendship. I never knew her well, never really knew anything about her, but she grew to know that if she called I could be down at her place in minutes.

Fix a toilet, write a cheque, talk to the landlord. Just little things. But it always ended with a joke and a laugh.

Tibetan Buddhism reminds us that true generosity is giving what is required.

I will keep reminding you that I didn’t really know Elaine. But we always giggled at life’s crazy ways. She had the best laugh!

Elaine called in a panic two weeks ago. I raced down to her place and called 911. I held her hand and told her not to worry because I would take care of things. It was the last thing I would say to her. She passed away four days later.

The truth is that I’ve learned more about Elaine since she’s been gone. She left a big imprint.

Why am I telling you this? Maybe it’s to remind myself that we all might need help one day.

And maybe even more important, I wish you could have heard Elaine’s incredible laugh.

 

 

Respect and Dignity

In a world gone mad, we could all use a little respect and dignity.

If your world has fallen apart, respect and dignity can sometimes make you feel yourself again.

This week I went for a walk with one of my favourite clients. It was the day before he was moving from his beloved home, where he and his wife had lived for years, to a care home. I pushed his wheelchair around the False Creek seawall and we took in some of Vancouver’s familiar places. We chatted about everything and nothing. For long stretches he was quiet and I can only imagine how he thought his life was about to change.

And it was.

I’ve worked with him for years. A very accomplished man but for privacy reasons I won’t give you his name or title. He’s funny and clever and has suffered from Parkinson’s for decades.

The next day, when he arrived at that care home, the staff were at the door to greet him.

They welcomed him and used his title and last name. And in that moment he was not just an old man in a wheelchair that needed help, he was a valued human being that had lived a life.

With that gesture they showed him respect and treated him with dignity.

He smiled.

I imagine they give everyone that comes through their door that same benefit.

And it makes a world of difference.

Life is often unfair. Getting to the end of your journey here on earth can be devastating and embarrassing and downright soul crushing. Being seen and treated as a person, and not just another decrepit old man in need of care, can make your time bearable.

But bearable isn’t enough. We should be making people happy.

That should always be our goal. In a perfect world we should treat everyone with that aim. But we don’t. These people have given us their years… let’s try to give a little back.

It’s the least we can do.

Respect and dignity.

Falling Through The Cracks

It’s easy to fall through the cracks during a worldwide pandemic. So much is based on the big picture. Governments move with the majority. Concerns are for the many. People in charge are responsible for overall numbers.

I’m worried about the ones that get lost. Sometimes they fall so far behind we forget they were even here.

When I tell people I’ve lost my day job and am having trouble paying rent the usual response is quick. “Well Trudeau announced that they have CERB, you can sign up for that.” “There’s rent money available.” “Have you gone to the bank?”

Do you really think I would lose my job and not hustle to source any available dollars out there to help? I know the advice is well meaning, but sometimes we need more than words.

Still, I fell through the cracks and then started to look around to see who was here with me.

It seems there are many of us.

And it’s not just on the financial side, but on every aspect of life. All the little details that keep the wheels turning are now misaligned. We are wavering. You are supposed to have back-up plans but really, who actually has them?

Luckily, most of us will pull through.

Then a ray of hope; almost a redemption. The spotlight turned and focused on our disadvantaged seniors. We can no longer deny they have been falling through the cracks long before COVID-19. Most of us have been ignoring them for years. These are the people without a voice and it’s easy to keep them quiet. Devastatingly easy.

If we learn one thing from this pandemic, let it be that we stop ignoring our compromised elders. Stop hiding them behind closed and locked doors.

Even if the spotlight focuses on the next tragedy, let’s not fall backwards and forget.

As the days and weeks and months of social change merge together, let’s take what we have learned and keep pushing to make things better. Let’s make amends.

This can’t happen again.

And as Desmond Tutu so wisely said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

But for now…If you see someone falling through the cracks reach out and grab their hand.

Pull them back to the boat. Don’t let them drift away.

Today there are plenty of people putting on masks and gloves and holding many hands.

Tomorrow we’ll need to look around to make sure no one else is missing.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start filling those cracks so we don’t keep repeating the chaos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Sadness

My depression had been taking a respite for about 2.5 years. I knew it wasn’t gone but I was enjoying the vacation from the torment. I was enjoying the space to weather bad days without a wrecking ball crashing through. I was enjoying the quiet.

Then COVID-19 hit.

It brought along my depression.

The creep was slow but relentless. I watched the shadows appear. I felt the dread manifest. It was a constant drip that turned into a tsunami.

My trick is to stand away from myself and watch. This has pluses and minuses. It’s easier to meditate and practice non-attachment, but also tosses aside compassion for myself.

Finding the balance can save my life.

A little aside, I’m not writing this as a plea for help. That’s not the intent. My point is to remind everyone that we never know what’s going on inside someone’s head. You can see a smiling face and there are tears behind the mask. A mad growl can be hiding fear. We just never know. People lie all the time.

On a bad day last week I sent out a tweet as I headed out for a walk. Yes, sometimes I take my depression out for a walk. The tweet was offhand, sent without an agenda.

During that walk I thought nothing mattered anymore. Nothing. What was the use?

When I got back home I read the responses from the tweet and was floored.

There were over 11,000 impressions. Many direct messages. All unexpected.

The next morning I woke up and the depression was still hovering. Still there, but manageable. Still there, but set aside enough for me to get on with my day.

I’m sharing this story because everything matters. You matter. And clearly your actions matter.

It takes an army to keep depression at bay. You never know if you’re one of the soldiers that’s helping fight the fight and fortifying the defenses.

To all those people that liked the tweet, sent a note, even just took a second to read my words.

Thank you.

Everything matters and kindness can make the difference.

 

 

Timing is Everything

Timing is everything.

Photography is often finding the perfect moment to take the shot. A sunrise, a gesture, a wave on the ocean, a deserted bridge. Sometimes you have to be patient to wait for the moment and sometimes you turn around and there it is.

Life’s like that, timing is everything.

We can be running out of time and don’t even know it. Randomness can be in your favour, or not.

COVD-19 has that power. Maybe that’s what makes it so scary, we can’t see it, but we know it’s lurking.

The best advice I can give people these days is what I’ve always encouraged my clients to do. I’ve helped people that are terminally ill with their bucket lists. Then at some point, as we get closer to the end, a few things become inherently more important.

And what most often becomes critical? Have you said everything you want to say to those you hold dear?

The time comes to reach out and tell everyone you know how you feel about them. Pretend it’s the last time you’ll hold someone’s hand, hear their voice or see them smile.

It might be awkward as hell. We humans aren’t built to say the obvious. But just this once, for this moment in time, ignore the fear and just do it.

Living under this COVID-19 fog, we never know when the next hammer will drop. The best way to be prepared is to say the words before it’s too late…

Go make that call, write that note, compose the text, zoom away. And don’t forget the person sitting next to you. Tell them how much you care. Don’t wait. Do it today.

If you say those things now you’ll hold that picture in your heart and it will keep you warm.

Timing is everything. Too late is too late. Regrets can destroy you.

Words can be soul saving…

They are everything.

And the time is now.

 

 

 

I’m Not Dead; Only Sleeping

Last month I promised to get back to my writing.  The subject matter is usually memoir. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about my younger years. Based on the conversations I’ve had over the last couple of days I thought this might be the one to share.

We rarely know someone’s story.

 

I’m Not Dead; Only Sleeping

Camping isn’t fun.

If we hadn’t slipped into Canada I would’ve been warm and comfortable. But just how comfortable can you be living in a car with three other people?

We’re at the Banff National Park. It’s known as a tourist destination and famous for providing guests with a taste of wilderness in the Canadian Rockies. I couldn’t have cared less. We were only passing through, a pit-stop of our life on the lam. Probably on the move to dodge the police or debt collectors. It was my childhood norm. Every step we made back then was based on how close the authorities were and how visible we had become. This time, we’d snuck out of Boise and were winding our way back to Vancouver. Crossing state lines was good, but crossing the US/Canadian border was a better way to disappear. Years ago, passports weren’t required and few questions were asked. I was happy to be heading back to my real home. Everything and nothing was better in Vancouver.

I thought of it as a cold safety net.

Winter months and living in a car is best if you’re in California or maybe Texas. You can sleep outside. I remember the joy of stretching out on the car hood. Florida wasn’t ever a good option. Hot, humid and too many bugs. Miami insects feast on sweat. Homelessness in Florida has no redemptive qualities. Everything smells. Food stored in the trunk rots, and ice doesn’t exist. Even parking next to Disneyworld didn’t make Florida better. Goofy and his friends weren’t going to help us.

Our old Cadillac was parked close to the campfire. Tourist season was over and no one cared that we were there. The plan was for me and my little brother to sleep around the fire so my mom and step-dad could be in the car alone. This scheme had worked well in the past. I remember watching the fire burn down, knowing it was too cold. There were no sleeping bags to zip up around us, and only layers of the few clothes we still owned.

Night noises are scary. You have no idea what was lurking out there in the forest. Every sound was a wolf or bear or beast that would pounce if we fell asleep. We were children with imaginations and fears. Why were we expected to sleep outside and fend for ourselves? Why were our parents special and able to stretch out and be warm? Sure, they needed to be on top of their game tomorrow. This life required nerve and compromise.

And maybe just a good night’s sleep.

I made the decision to knock on the car window. Most of me wanted to stay by the fire. Sleeping inside a car with three other people was chaotic and stifling. The noise was bad, my step-father snored, and all the other breathing sounds drove me crazy. It always became too stuffy. People fart. There was no easy answer.

My brother followed my lead. He was small and had no voice. The car and life on the run was his norm. He wasn’t haunted by abuse, but he did know hunger. This was all he knew. I never minded sleeping next to him, and I know he huddled close to me for warmth. We all craved a good night. But most of me just wanted to be away from these people.

I would’ve given anything to be alone.

I don’t make any noise when I sleep; breathing so shallow that I hardly move. An old boyfriend said he often thought I was dead. My stillness scared him. Back then neither of us knew I learned this trick when I was young. It was a way to be invisible and hide.

I wanted to be alone but knew that’s where the real threat was

Sometimes my step-father’s cons went well and jobs panned out. We didn’t always need to live in a car.

That’s when my step-father would sneak into my room at night. He’d crawl into my bed. I wasn’t able to hide. It didn’t matter that I pretended I was dead. He plotted his perversion so well. I would’ve rather faced any forest creature ready to pounce and maim. Against them I had a chance. Against my step-father I was helpless. Alone in a bedroom I had no defense.

The only thing that saved me was my hate.

How can we make someone decide where safety is? And where the dangers hide? Outside, on the edge of a forest, or inside a family home? The answer to a safe haven should never ever be a car or the street. We should be better than this.

There was no easy answer back then. Eating, sleeping, being cold, and surviving. It was our reality. My norm. We have a way of adapting to the worst circumstances. Everything is relative. Listening to my step-father’s snores in the car was much better than hearing him open my bedroom door.

Sleeping outside in Banff would have been so much better. I remember looking out the car window at the dying fire and thinking a normal family would be having fun singing campfire songs and cooking hotdogs and s’mores. A normal family would be happy.

I didn’t sleep that night but I wasn’t cold.

The next day the sun was shining and we carried on our way. During the light of day I could pretend the next night would be in a hotel and include a warm meal. We even laughed during the day and my brother and I played road trip games. I spy with my little eye. I fantasized about buying a Winnebago where I could seemingly have the best of both worlds; a way to flee the police and never be touched.

A childhood dream. A childhood fantasy. All make-believe.

Now I’m old and have survived. I love Disneyland and even Disneyworld. I love going for long drives. I love the sound and smell of campfires. I hate people that snore. I’m often cold, but know I can put on a warm sweater and turn up the heat.

Today I’m happy to sleep alone, with the door locked, and my demons dead.

I barely breathe at night, and if you lay next to me, you might think I’m dead.

I’m only sleeping.

 

 

Be Creative

My boss inspired people. He genuinely thought the people around him could come up with good ideas. He expected us to step up. It was not an option.

I remember the day he told me to think of four ideas that could be made into Kokanee Beer radio commercials. He gave me the weekend to think. On Monday morning I gave him the list and was shocked that by the end of the week one of those little ideas was now a script and soon became a commercial and was heard on the radio.

When a creative genius has faith in you, well, you start to believe in yourself. My boss taught me not to be afraid of those little ideas in my head. I got to spend almost 20 years of him expecting me to be creative.

Last week I watched an old Kokanee television commercial. One of the little known spots from the year we traveled the province filming unusual people that drank Kokanee.

We spent one day in Victoria following a garbage man.

Me and the Labatt Beer client “on set”

Weeks later, back in the edit suite, we started to pull together shots to make some sense of what the commercial could be. It’s a lengthy process. Luckily I was the producer and was a part of every step of the production. I sat in the edit suite along with the creatives.

For some reason… and most likely because we were driven to “be creative”, I started to sing the old “Spiderman” cartoon song and replacing the word spiderman with garbageman. It was funny. It made us laugh. My boss liked the idea. Kokanee and Labatts liked the idea.

Very quickly the music rights were bought, recording studio booked, musicians and singers hired, and then finally the spot was finished and aired. (A little bit of a producer’s nightmare, but I was used to the process back then. It was my job and I loved it.)

Kokanee Commercial

My boss inspired people. He changed my life.

my boss

He taught me to never be afraid of that little voice inside your head.

You never know what it might become.

you never know

 

What’s next?

It was a year ago today. I sat at my desk and wondered what the hell I would do now. For two years I had chased after a dream and that had ended in failure. I lost out and wasn’t picked for a board position I’d coveted for a very long time.

Sitting at my desk and writing my goals for 2018 left me with only one thought….

What now? Or more to the point, what’s next?

Little did I know what 2018 would bring?

I’m not one into platitudes and the old “when one door closes…” doesn’t sit well with me. I take more of the stance that if something goes wrong you’re allowed to feel like crap. You are allowed to crumble. I’ve been there and was certainly feeling that way a year ago.

My trick is to sit with the loss and wait. You don’t have to be still. You don’t have to give up. But you might need to be very patient.

Wait and listen. Contemplate. Sometimes when you are still the best ideas appear.

And you all know what happened next…

It only took two months for the idea to be handed to me. It was a very big idea. Something I had never dreamed of. It was daunting, but I gave it all my heart, followed the best advice, worked my ass off with the help of a ton of people and won.

What a difference a year makes.

So how did your 2018 pan out? Hoping for something better in 2019? Trust me when I say you have no idea what the future will hold.

Whatever you do, stick with what makes you happy. If something inspires you; stretch out. But don’t ever compromise your best side. Make sure that you always carry your integrity with you. And don’t sell yourself short.

You never know what will happen. You never know what’s next.

And that leads me to my most impactful part of 2018.

I met some pretty incredible people during that eight month campaign. Smart, funny, powerful, humble and with hearts bigger than you could ever imagine. New friends that I would never had crossed paths with if not for that crushing defeat a year ago. New friends that have my back and helped push me forward. New friends that picked me.

These people have been the best reward.

What’s next? I can only imagine.

 

A Legacy

It’s been months since I’ve posted a blog…

Lately I’ve been thinking about legacies. This might be because I heard a great deal about political legacies during the latest civic election. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Harry Leslie Smith’s twitter feed. Harry’s son wrote about his father’s last days and is now carrying on with Harry’s message.

Most likely I’m thinking about legacies because Dec. 6, 2018 was ten years since my Dad passed away.

Dr. Art Barker’s legacy inspires me and I’ve been wondering what inspired him.

Who inspires you? What inspires you?  Are you inspired? I’ve come to believe it’s so much easier to go through life when you’re following a worthwhile legacy.

I had planned to go for a walk to mark the anniversary of Dad’s passing. To be alone with my thoughts and take some time out of this busy life to settle my heart. I had done my traditional Salvation Army Santa Shuffle and dedicated the race and donation to him. Thursday night, the exact time of his passing, I would be silent. It’s been one hell of a year and I wanted the time to contemplate my next step.

Then I heard Dad’s voice. His message was loud and clear. “Step up, you’ve got a job to do.”

So instead of a walk I attended the Vancouver Park Board meeting at the Killarney Seniors Centre to meet with the Presidents of all the local Community Centres. It was a good evening with valuable conversations about the future and where we wanted to go.

I know it’s what Dad would have expected from me.

Maybe more important, I realize it’s what I expect from me.

And that might be the legacy.

Dad’s life wasn’t perfect. He made lots of mistakes. But at his core he was a kind man and cared about the patients. I watched him pay special attention to the seniors around him. I know he was their advocate. I watched him make them smile.

The last time I saw Dad I made him smile… maybe he was passing the torch.

A worthwhile legacy we could all follow.