I don't know why I hold out on my own blog. My own website. Having paid for my own name on a website url that the whole world can access and know is mine should establish my little corner of the internet as a safe space for me, without question. Yet I update it less often than I really want to, because I'm often waiting for my thoughts to fully percolate. It's like I want to give a silent world of strangers something perfect. Yet, that can't be more ironic, because as soon as you start reading ANY one of my posts, it's evident that I am far from perfect. This site is a celebration of my own brand of brokenness; or, rather, the makeup of my flaws. There is still an undertone of shame there which I want to shed a bright light on tonight. The truth is, I do know why I hold out.
I hold out because I've lived my life being told to behave in certain ways to please other people. I've had to hold back my opinions, my ideas, and my voice in order to satisfy other people's temporary needs. The people in my life have behaved inconsistently, erratically, exhibiting unpredictable moods and behaviour and didn't portray themselves to me, or anyone else around us, that they could be relied on. Yet I didn't have a choice. These people were my parents. My siblings. I am the youngest child of four with a twelve-year age gap to my closest brother. I grew up in a broken home. Domestic violence was the norm, and mental illness was a longstanding member of our family before any doctor ever read our last name on a case file. My father served my mother with official divorce papers when I was thirteen; he died, unexpectedly, from cancer two years later, six months after a Stage IV diagnosis. I was devastated. The rest of my family was not. Things were different with me, which made me different from them. I grew up never feeling like I belonged with anyone I was supposed to trust. I grew up feeling guilty for affection given to me, and therefore believing I was unworthy of attention and love. Unconditional love was not something I was shown nor made to believe truly exists. My models for healthy relationships, including boundaries, trust, and open communication were nonexistent. I learned love by obligation. I learned the illusion of attention and value by having to prove I was worth anyone's time. And it never worked.
It's been a really difficult couple of weeks since I came back home. It wouldn't have been possible had I not gone to Montreal and Toronto for ten days almost immediately after, granting me the opportunity and space to decompress. There is a group of friends I met during my one and only semester at the University of Waterloo, winter 2011, who live in Toronto and the GTA. They are my family. I don't get to see them often, but I did get to spend a considerable amount of time with them over the course of my last visit, and it made all the difference. It drove home a lot of the heavy realizations I'd made while traveling abroad, namely one in particular: seeing them reaffirmed my position that yes, I needed to move out of Calgary immediately, but at this point in time, I, myself, could not move to Toronto. This epiphany had occurred to me while I was in Tokyo, days before I was to fly back to Canada. I was overrun with stress and anxiety about coming home. Unfortunately, this is not new to me. Without fail, anytime I travel anywhere - whether it's as far away as Japan or as close as Banff - I get upset at the prospect of returning to Calgary. My feelings in Tokyo were crippling, and I worried about everything. I had planned to apply for a youth mobility visa to the UK as soon as I got to Toronto, so I could move there for two years. Brexit had happened while I was in Hong Kong, and the stories I read in the news and on social media about the newly-emboldened racism all over the country had me ready to axe the entire plan. But in my eyes, I was fucked. I didn't know where else to go. The economy in Alberta has been declining steady for the last two years and isn't projected to improve until 2020, and either way, I knew I couldn't stay in Alberta. But where could I go?
I was on an Asiana flight to Seattle when I was scribbling through a notebook. I was writing poetry - very good poetry - when I should have been sleeping. I was traveling between time zones and was readying for an eight-hour layover in Seattle, on a sunny Saturday at the end of July. I wanted to be a tourist and I wouldn't have the option of passing out anywhere for the day (although if I wanted that layover to be heavily-caffeinated, Seattle was the right city to be in). None of that would be an option if I had stayed awake, manic, writing words that no one else will understand. Yet I had to. I was possessed to commit some of my most vivid imagery and striking language to paper, 38,000 feet up in the air, because it had all finally dawned on me: I needed to stop and take time for myself. Over the last eight months, I had learned a lot about myself. My dreams and goals. What I wanted to go back to school for. How I really felt about marriage and kids. The kind of place I wanted to live, and with whom. I also was able to answer, without any hesitation, questions about what I didn't want. Yet I was completely disregarding my own number-one rule, the one piece of advice I summarize the whole of my experiences on, and the advice I give to others. Just like the safety demonstrations, I needed to put my own mask on first. This meant that no, I couldn't go to Toronto. I couldn't go back to school this year (even if I had gotten in to UoGH when I applied in the winter). couldn't even attain a working holiday visa and move abroad for experience. Of course, I could do these things. I had the money, the time, the passport, and the able physicality to handle it. But it would all be in vain, because I would inevitably run out of money and crash and burn, mentally and emotionally, isolated from any kind of stability or support system. (The latter wouldn't have been true for Toronto, as the biggest and most reliable support system I have happens to live there, but more on why I chose against Toronto later on.) Ultimately my decision was far simpler than the details entailing money or personal development. It made very easy sense to me. I had spent my entire life being held back for other people. I was denied opportunities because other people, and I gave up the opportunities that I had because the people in my life were not supportive of them. I was thinking of my last relationship with Marko, my ex who missed his pathway to permanent residency in Canada and had to leave the country. This had led to me turning down an offer to return to college last September (which was also given to me hastily, as I was convinced I wouldn't be admitted for the year, and I harboured many second-thoughts as accepting the offer would mean having to live in Calgary permanently for at least four more years). Before I met him, I had moved to Canmore with my ex before, Devin, in support of a move in his career. It was here that I learned how much I hate small towns, and especially small towns in the mountains. (Or maybe I just hate the Rocky Mountains.) When we split that following summer, I returned to Calgary at what felt like the lowest point in my life. I was hospitalized for stress, at 23. Things continued to snowball for me until I got fired from what would be my last (hopefully anyway) retail management job that I had come to despise with every bone in my body. Eleven weeks of unemployment later, I became a hostess. Met Marko. Then five months down the line, he was, in a word, deported. I had to start over, again.
In any case, I would glaze over all the no-regrets bullshit like everyone else does. And I'd be lying if I said every detour I've taken in my life hasn't made for a great story, or collection of stories. But I won't pretend that I didn't want things to be different. I wanted to finish school in 2011. I wanted to stay in Ontario, and I wish I had known then just how much of an impact that group of friends would have had on me, had I been more stubborn and trusting in my new environment to allow it to lift me out of my negative world. I was afraid my degree would leave me in a massive hole of debt and that I would never be able to use it. And months after I returned to Calgary and things took a turn for the very, VERY worst, I looked back on that decision and thought, I would have completely lost it, out there, with nobody. My own complete mental health collapse around Thanksgiving 2011 was completely inevitable, the culmination of all my years of depression, anxiety, neglect, and severe trauma. My completely burnt-out, 20 year-old mind elevated by a suffering body was a very intricate house of cards. In October of that year, I, the house of cards, collided with a snowblower at full blast. In truth, I did go through it alone here. In Calgary, my hometown. A city of 1.4 million people where my entire living immediately family and both sides of my extended family live. And nearly five whole years after that terrifying ordeal, when I truly did not believe I would live to get out of the tunnel, it does not surprise me at all that this place is no longer home for me. It hasn't felt like home in years, if it ever did. It makes perfect sense to me that I have not just a yearning, nor even a desperation to leave this city behind - I have a responsibility to my own wellbeing and self-respect to make myself a new home. To survive.
I've never been deployed. I don't know what it's like to actually go to war, watching people you love get blown up right in front of you, constantly running for your life. Yet I live with similar symptoms. I have for decades. And when I came back from a ten-week, solo soul-searching trip around the world a month ago, I changed. In some ways I'll always be the same, but without a doubt, I changed, and not everyone is okay with that. Even when people don't want to admit it. Even when people deny it. I'm realizing I'll never be the person I was before I got on that first plane to Amsterdam. I've said variations of this before. The point of this variation is to tell you all that I can't unsee the things I've seen or take back some of the difficult conversations I had to have. Even when I relay some of those difficult conversations in my mind, and the memories are splittingly painful, just as they were in the moment, any story I retell doesn't allow my audience to feel what I feel. It doesn't bring them back to that room with lizards crawling up the wall or heat ready to melt my entire body down like a bar of gold. The mere sensory aspect of the experience is so, SO intense. And so it's no wonder that I don't have patience for anyone and their bullshit anymore. Maybe I never thought it was bullshit. But after being in the rooms I have, with the people I have. After seeing my life, the lives of my family members, and the lives of complete strangers in total unbiased colour, I cannot go back. My patience for pleasantries is gone. I will not save anyone's face. I will not be quiet any longer about the things that are important to me. And I sure as hell will not physically hold myself back, either, from anywhere I need to be or from doing anything I need to do.
This is my fucking website. I'm not holding out for anyone.
* * *