An evening with Dr. Roberta Bondar

Some days, it’s hard to get out of bed and do stuff. Some days I just lack inspiration to do life stuff.

Maybe I want to do things, I wish I had the motivation, or I just get upset with myself for not doing all the things on my to-do list. But it’s too hard.

A few days ago was one of those days in a string of a number of very similar days. Feeling drowsy, lazy… and generally dissatisfied with the fact that I feel that way.

Days like that, I watch Japanese videos online and pretend it’s language practice (sometimes it genuinely is), I’ll watch documentaries on history, nature, science, wildlife, I’ll watch political commentary videos – if nothing else, to at least feel like I’ve done something with my day. I try to fold laundry, or tidy the house a bit while I do this.

Sometimes though, I feel a rush of motivation, of inspiration, of energy to do all the things I want to, and make a positive change in the lives of other people on earth.

Listening to Dr. Roberta Bondar speak was like riding on a shimmering wave of positivity and inspiration. She is Canada’s first female astronaut, and the first neurologist in space. She has degrees in zoology, agriculture, experimental pathology, neuroscience, and medicine. She’s a gifted photographer, researcher, traveler, author, and environmentalist. She has her own foundation, a charity that educates about the environment in creative and exciting ways. Oh, and by the way, she’s also an amazing presenter and speaker.

What a trooper.

I left the event completely enthralled. Her photographs were beautiful, her storytelling captivating, her passion contagious.

I felt like a child: I want grow up and be like her! For the first time in my life, I almost wanted to travel to space.

Even though I have days where I don’t have the energy to converse with many humans and I’m too much of a blob to do much of anything, I still hope that one day I can be an inspiration to someone. That some young human will look at me, and find motivation to follow their passion.

My hobby is learning things.

My life goal is to make positive change for those around me, and to one day, be someone’s role model.

It’s a challenge, but that’s okay. I am me, and will be me forever. Even on rough days, I just need to remember who I am and where I’m going.

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“Me too”

Have you seen this yet?

Me too.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.”

I struggle with this. I don’t think this is something we should hide or be wary to share. It’s so ridiculously common. Yet, I also understand why some of us may not want to “advertise” that we have experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. I often fall into the category of not wanting to say much about it. (Yes, I realize I’m a bit of a hypocrite, since I’m here writing about it.)

But perhaps what stands out for me most is my automatic, cynical response: Who hasn’t!?

When I started feeling comfortable enough to share my story and tell others about what happened, I was surprised and saddened by how many of my female friends and acquaintances had experienced something similar. I shared my story, and in turn, they shared theirs. No details are even necessary, we get it. We understand what’s hidden between the lines, and even between the words. It creates a form of camaraderie, of mutual understanding. But think about it – even one person having experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual assault is one too many.

We talk about violence against women. Who is it about? Women. Who does it exclude? The perpetrators. Who are they? Most likely men and boys.

We talk about rape. Who is it about? Those who experience the rape – almost always girls and women. Who does it exclude? The male perpetrators.

We teach girls and women how to defend themselves. What to do when they experience harassment and/or assault. …Where is the part where we teach boys and men how not to harass and assault?

In talking about sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, we focus on those who experience it, the victims. Most often the victims are girls and women, but there are many in the LGBTQ communities who also experience it, as well as some boys and men. Even some is too many.

How we talk about it is one of the many problems that surrounds this “difficult” topic. It shouldn’t be difficult, but we perceive it to be. We make it difficult for ourselves (as a global society). It really shouldn’t be this much of a challenge. Why is it so difficult to humans to respect one another?

Will “me too” actually make a difference? Who knows. I’m a bit skeptical. But – perhaps for some idiots out there, it’s a chance for them to open their eyes.

More importantly, when will the questions change from “Have you ever experienced sexual harassment/assault?” to “Have you ever sexually harassed/assaulted someone?”  and from “What happened to you?” to “What did you do to them?” Sexual harassment and sexual assault are such wide-spread cultural problems that a change in attitude needs to include how we talk about it.

Should we not all be taking ownership of our actions and experiences? Sexual harassment and sexual assault are never the victim’s fault. And yet here we are, with all of our “me too”s. Perpetrators, abusers, the anger in me asks you, Will you ever own up? Will you ever stop?

Online Screening: Here to Help

Welcome to Here to Help’s online screening for depression, anxiety and risky drinking. Your answers are completely anonymous–we won’t record anything that can identify you.

It doesn’t take very long to go through, which is convenient. I tried it out, but found the lack of options a bit difficult to determine which of my answers was the most accurate. It also seems to assume the person who is answering the questions works full- or part-time, and there was to be no option for “not applicable” which may be the case for some.

Online screenings and questionnaires are great – they allow for a wider variety of people to have much easier access to information… but I sometimes wonder, how accurate are they? Of course, some are more in-depth and come from reputable sources, and are therefore more likely to be accurate. Some, however… are probably less so.

The end of this particular screening tool provides you with a summary, well-being screening results, depression screening results, anxiety screening results, and a risky drinking ‘checkup’ (not sure why this was labelled as being a ‘checkup’ rather than a result, like the others were). Each category had a list for next steps, tips and facts, personal stories, and other ways to help get more information and understand the results better.

Here to Help is one of multiple free online screening options, for those of us who are seeking help and guidance, or are maybe just curious. It seemed like a reasonably accurate tool to me, but I’m also wondering what others think about these tools and resources. Also, it’ll be my homework someday to look into how these test were developed, and the expected accuracy of results, according to those to created them. Ideally, of course, the developers would have this information easily accessible to the public.

Here are a few alternative screening tests:

http://www.test4depression.com/english

https://www.patienttools.com/index.php/screening-interview/

https://depression.org.nz/is-it-depression-anxiety/self-test/

https://adaa.org/iving-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/screenings/screening-depression

Maya Angelou: Quotes & thoughts

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   ~Maya Angelou

Last night, I went to a free public lecture at the university I used to attend. Toward the end, this quote was shared.

Usually, we tend to interpret quotes like this in a positive light. That’s the purpose, isn’t it? I, for one, used to. But yesterday, in a epiphanic flash, I saw how true this is for all interactions – positive and negative. The lion came for a sudden visit, bringing with him a colourful, heavy splash of emotions. Everything except my body abandoned the lecture all together – but just for a moment. I came back because the lecture was interesting. The lion lingered, but at a distance.

Later, I looked up Maya Angelou quotes. Some I’m not sure if I like or dislike, but I see the depth of truth they hold for me now, which I would not have seen a few years ago. Others I’m forced to question, because of my life experiences.

Here are a few that resonate with truth and hope:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

And three that bring with them baggage and many questions:

“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination of hope.”

But – what does it mean to be wise? How do we develop the strength to refuse victimhood? What is a victim? And what does it mean to be defeated?

What is love, really? Sure, love gives us unmistakable strength to do, say, and accept a lot. Perhaps too much, in some situations. Does love always have hope? What is hope, anyway? Is hope the destination, or is it the path? Or is it both? Is it a black and white situation, where we know this is what love is, or is this what we feel love should be?

未来は

「未来は明るいのだよ!」

今日、父に言ってみた。

「いや、ココロが言うとな…」父は首を傾げ、食事を続けた。

私が小学生の頃、前向きだったのかもしれない(覚えていない)けど、だいぶ前に変わった。外から見れば私は多分前向きに見えるのかもしれない…しかし、本当は違う。皮肉なことを言うし、あまり希望があるとは言えない。それを知ってる父に急にこんなことを言っても信じてくれないのは当たり前…

正確に言えば、周りの人の未来を想像すると希望もあるし、楽しみも沢山ある。他の人を思うと結構ポジティブになる。応援したくなる。人類や地球の未来はともかく、彼ら一人一人の未来は明るく見える。

しかし、自分のこととなると全然違う。好きなこと、やりたいことは沢山あるし、人にあったり、旅をする楽しみもあるけど自分の未来を明るいと思ったことはあるのだろうか?自分の未来を想像するのは無理に近い状態がもう何年も続いてる…

ライオンから離れる前から芯まで悲しく、苦しく、「いつかは変わるのかな?」と考えることすらほとんどなかった。でも、離れて時間がすぎるうちに楽しみが少しづつ増え、笑顔も戻りつつある。

しかし、嬉しい気持ちはあっても「幸せを感じてる」とは言えない。

今日、気づいた。ライオンに出会って三年が過ぎてしまった。あれから本当に色々あったな。時が過ぎるのは早いわ…

ここ数ヶ月、たまに不思議なことが起こるようになった。

ふと、自分の未来が遠くでキラっと…一瞬だけ光る。え、何?これ。

嬉しいのかな?怖い。くすぐったい。緊張する。変なの。あまり期待はしたくない。でも、この説明できない気持ちは少しの間、心に残る…

今日一日生きることを必死に頑張っていたこの私の未来でもふと光るのは凄いことだね。人ごとのように思わないと素直に感心できない。

決して「明るい」とは言えないけど、全然輝かない、真っ暗闇に囲まれる未来よりは良いかな。

いつも輝いて欲しいとは思わない。たまに「ここにいるよ」と思い出させてくれるかのようにキラッと、遠くでも良い、光ってくれたら十分です。

そこまで自分のことをポジティブに思うことが大変なんだけどね…

 

 

Le vin les portera

His favourite wine is Gigondas.

When he came to Japan in September 2014, he brought with him a bottle that he shared with me about a month later. We had proper demi-sel butter, cheese that he approved of, and his precious bottle of Ogier Duc de Mayreuil Gigondas 2011. It was the first weekend we were together, back when things were still in an uncertain, fluttering butterfly stage. 

That stage lasted just a few days, but I could never get rid of the empty bottle. It was a symbol of something special for me, even if that something special had never happened.

I learned to like red wine because of the lion. I still do like it, especially Côtes du Rhône.

While we were together, I searched high and low for his favourite wine, to give him for his birthday, for Valentine’s Day… but never found it.

After I left him, I knew I’d be leaving Japan to return to my parents’ place in Canada. I had to downsize. I carefully removed the label from the bottle that symbolized that something I now knew with 100% certainty that I would never have. I recycled the bottle, and glued the label into my journal – the little book that I was petrified he would one day find. The little book I was almost never able to write in while we were together because I couldn’t reflect on my life and what was happening at the time.

I started writing again when possible, after I left him. It helps me to see, read, and understand my progress. My little companion that faithfully holds my memories and feelings, drawings and cut-outs, and allows me to reflect whenever I want, never commenting, never complaining.

On September 15th, 2016, the lion’s two year postdoctoral fellowship in Japan ended and he left the country, flying back to France. It was an important day for me. It symbolized many things. I felt relieved and sad, free and heavy, cathartic… On the other side of the world from where he was, I was a murky mess of emotions.

I’d searched for Gigondas in Toronto to drink by myself. It was something I needed to do. It marked the beginning and the end. I bought the only one I could find, took a photo, and began drinking at 14:00. I continued to drink until perhaps around 21:00 or 22:00. I’ve never been much of a drinker, so even just a couple of glasses affect me, but I drank about 3/4 of the bottle. I was properly drunk for what may have been the first time in my life (previously my body just expelled alcohol from it’s entry point when it’d had enough).

The lion had introduced me to Noir Désir while we were together, and my favourite song by them was (and still is) Le Vent Nous Portera. I did a play on words and posted along with a black and white photo on my Facebook wall:

Le vin les portera🎶

Although I wrote nothing else in that post, it was an extremely important thing for me to do. I knew that those who needed to know what it meant, would know. Part of me wanted him to see it. I wanted him to see it, and to think… I don’t know, something.

Before or after that flight back to France, he deleted me off Facebook. Until then, we had been connected, but hadn’t conversed in months.

It’s now been a year since he left Japan. I’ve rarely touched alcohol during this time. I’ve just not been interested.

Today, again, I commemorate September 15th. It’s not a celebration. This day, and a few other important days, mark my milestones. They are for me, for my sanity. For my mental health. For me to reflect. To foster my desire to live, to recover, to enjoy life, and to move on. They’re like bookmarks, in a book that is my life.

I count the months, the years away from him. I’m supposed to be happy and proud of my recovery. Maybe one day I will celebrate a September 15th, but today, I am again sad for him, for me, for us, for everyone else that was directly or indirectly affected by all that happened.

Here I am, thinking about getting a cake to have with my favourite Côtes du Rhône… to cry, to enjoy, to hurt, to stare into the abyss that is my mind…

It’s going to be okay. Last year it was his favourite wine, but this year, my favourite wine that’ll carry it all away.

Santé

‘Til the siren come calling

The lion introduced me to a lot of new music – singers and groups I knew, but had never been interested in listening to, and also ones I’d never heard of before.

I now listen to a lot of these groups and songs. In most cases, it’s because I genuinely enjoy their music. It’s often been really painful because of the associations I have, though. There was a time when I couldn’t listen to any of the music he’d introduced me to. But I practiced (a topic I’ll cover another day), and now I’m often able to listen without flashbacks or too much pain.

There’s one particular song that I listened to the other day, and it brought back a lot (to be fair, this song often does). I don’t run away from it though, I’m almost always able to just feel the emotions and sit in the memories. I let them do what they need to, let myself feel what I need to, and after a while it passes. Until then, I cradle the ache around until it’s run its course. And that’s okay.

Are you my family?
Can I stay with you a while?
Can I stop off in your bed tonight
I could make you smile

In the morning I’ll make you breakfast
In the evening I’ll warm the bed
And I’ll always be happy to kiss you
Promise I’ll never get sad

I hear myself in these words. I hear him in these words. He wanted me around to do stuff for and with him, and I was happy to. He had never felt like his mother showed him any affection as a child and I think that has been a deep, unresolved issue within him, that has resulted in him wanting his female partners to fill that void. That was okay with me; I wanted him to overcome this, and besides, looking after others is second nature to me (this tendency has clearly shown its pros and cons).

He’d sometimes prepare a luxurious breakfast for us on Sundays, a thing neither of us had grown up with.

Till the siren come calling calling
It’s driving me evil, evil
I was a heart breaker I loved you
The same way I do
But I’ve got so much wickedness and sin

My name is Pearl
And I’ll love you the best way I know how
My blonde curls slice through your heart
And the siren come calling
In the night till the light

When things were good, they were great. I enjoyed a lot of the things we did together. The things he did for me, the things I did for him. But when things were bad… they could get really bad. And almost all of those things happened at night, when the sun was down. When the sun was up, things were often better, and work was a distraction, a break from it all.

By his standards, I was not showing him enough love, enough dedication; but he knew I was doing my best. He tried to help me get better and learn from my mistakes and wrongdoings. I blamed myself a lot for anything that went wrong. But the thing was, he had a lot of pain and unresolved issues from his own past. He loved me the best way he could. He once told me about some stuff that happened when he was younger; among other things, how he used words to tear apart someone and this person ended up attempting suicide or something? (This wasn’t too far from what he did to me, and probably others too, even though after that particular incident, he had decided not to use his ‘skills’.) I had my ‘sins’, and he had his.

I tried to be everything he could want. He wanted that of me, too. But of course, it was impossible; requests and requirements would change and I couldn’t keep up.

Today, of course, I have no idea what was really true. Maybe he never loved me at all (I remember very clearly Kei texting me saying that he never did). Maybe he had no idea what he was doing to me, or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, and it was all on purpose. I don’t know what his real mental state is like, or what it was like when we were together. I only have clues that can help me guess.

There’s something about Siren Song by Bat For Lashes that has been resonating with me since the first time I listened to it, because he wanted to share his favourite music. It’s sad, but it’s beautiful. It makes me cry. It makes me feel all the things I used to. It allows me to mourn the loss of all the things I escaped.

It’s heavy, and yet it’s also freeing.

“You’re so lucky”

Recently, I’ve been doing quite well – even though I’ve been stressed and annoyed by a variety of things. The fact that I can even be annoyed is a good sign. It means I’m doing much better than I was a year ago.

My youngest sister has been having her own issues – mostly relating to stress, anxiety, and I think some depression too, all negatively impacting her physical health (which happens to us all – I just think it’s more obvious/prominent for some). She’s been on anxiety meds for almost a year I think.

My mother’s family is fairly Christian, fairly conservative/”traditional”. For that reason (and probably others), they know about my sister’s problems, but not mine. No one knows I was living with the lion, no one knows what happened between him and I, no one knows why I left Japan and moved back into my parents’ house in Toronto, no one knows why I haven’t worked for a year. No one knows my pain, heartache, heartbreak, mental health problems, physical health problems. No one knows, and no one can know.

Why? Because it’s not proper for a young lady to be involved with a man when they’re not married (to each other). Because sex before marriage is bad. Because co-habitation between unwed partners is bad. Because it would hurt my 94 year-old grandfather who’s beliefs are so very different from mine. Because it would raise many questions, and probably embarrass my mother.

I bite my tongue, smile, avoid, pretend, give answers that tell only a fraction of the story. I do this to keep them from knowing. To protect my mother too, I guess (if you can even call it ‘protecting’). I’ve been doing this for about 2 years and counting.

My parents have been great. They allow me to live in their house for free, and they don’t charge me for food either. I do my best to pay them back, through doing things around the house and making sure everyone is looked after as best as possible.

This entire system though, it takes a toll on me.

Neither parent knows what to do, or how, to help me out (and they never have, when it’s come to relationship stuff). I know they care, and they want what’s best for me, but it just… hasn’t worked that way.

My sister, don’t get me wrong, she’s had some tough times. But people know what her issues are. Relatives, friends, neighbours offer to help her and ask how she’s doing. People are extra kind (or try to be) to her. Doctors know what to do, what possible meds to suggest.

There’ve been times when I’m grateful no one knows, because they all leave me alone. No one knows, so no one’s nosy.

Today, she was telling us about some of the things that had happened recently (she was at home on her own for a week, during a pretty rough patch), and I heard myself saying to her in my head, “You’re so lucky people know.” I didn’t say this with compassion and patience. I was (and still am, though it’s dying down) hurt, sad, frustrated, annoyed. Everybody, including me, is so concerned, so sympathetic. The aches that this brings me leads to temporary anger. She doesn’t do it on purpose. She’s just cute and small and fragile and vulnerable, and so people want to protect and help her. It’s always been that way. She knows how to get attention (and I don’t mean that in a bad way).

When times are tough for her, she asks for help, she gets cuddly, she tells people about her meds and problems. She cries. She tells people that she cries, that she’s lonely, that she’s stressed, that she wants hugs and cuddles.

Me?

Nah, I’m just here… apparently pretending like nothing shitty happened. Hey, I haven’t worked in a year. I’ve travelled a lot. Don’t you think I’m lucky? How do you think I manage it all?

Being at home is great for some things, but sometimes it’s the least helpful thing I can do for myself. And so… on the road I go, whenever possible, where I can build confidence in myself, learn all the things I want, be free, and heal – for real. I can look after me, instead of spending my precious energy constantly making sure everyone else is well looked after.

On the stall door. 

Not long ago, I was at an international airport in southwestern U.S. There, in the women’s washroom, I found this sign on the inside of the stall door.

Oh, nice.

Wait – what?

I wasn’t sure if I felt safer or in danger. I suppose I felt both.

Two thoughts simultaneously passed through my mind: That’s great that there’s enough awareness to warrant this. But is it really so much of a problem here that they need this?

Does human trafficking happen more often here than other places? Or are people just trying to ensure as much safety as possible? It is great though, that this service is available.

Later, I wondered if the same sign existed in the men’s washroom. Both men and women – and children, of course – can be victims of human trafficking, but it probably happens to women more than men. If the perpetrator is a man, could it be dangerous for him to see the same helpline? But then again, maybe he would already know about this resource centre.

For the helpline to really be serious, there should probably be a phone in the women’s washroom. What are the chances of a victim of human trafficking carrying their own cellphone or having access to any phone at all? Presumably the perpetrator would be aware that the victim would try to call for help and/or escape – depending on the circumstances of the victim, of course… I for one, know that I didn’t call or ask for help in my own (very different) situation.

Long after leaving the washroom, I kept thinking about the sign. I was a backpacking, female, solo traveler. Suddenly I felt less safe, and more aware of my surroundings. A familiar feeling, unfortunately.

I felt sad and angry about the need of having such a sign, and yet also optimistic that there at least seemed to be some awareness and help for those who need it.

Later, I looked it up and found out that of the calls made in 2015, 18.3% of calls were from California, and 1.4% were from Nevada, where I was, so the next question would be – Are these signs found more often in California? But that’s for another time.

Important Resources (just a few of many):

Polaris

National Human Trafficking Resource Centre, Data Breakdown, United States Report, 2015

Guardian Group

Stop the Traffik

Birthday 

Today, somewhere out there, he turns 39.

His one birthday we had together wasn’t a pleasant one – and neither were the days before and after it. They were pretty bad.

I sometimes used to sing The Carpenter’s “Top of the World” to him; although looking back, I definitely wasn’t on the top of the world.

I’m not sure if I’d be able to honestly wish him a happy birthday, but I don’t wish a miserable birthday for him either.

It’s just… his birthday.

I just entered my 30’s this year, and he’s starting his last year in his 30’s.

It’s just another day, but it is his birthday… wherever he is, whatever he’s doing.