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Having Borderline Personality Disorder sucks a lot. The struggle and pain of it all is so intense sometimes.

But I’m also discovering the gifts of highly sensitive emotional people.

  • We are naturally empathetic and compassionate
  • We are able to have deep and authentic relationships
  • Our joy is contagious and can be found in the simplest of things
  • We can’t ignore the pain and injustice we see around us
  • We make great artists and storytellers.

I’m glad I’m still myself with BPD and that having intense emotions isn’t inherently a bad thing. Emotions are signals that help us understand what is important to us, what we need in each moment, and how we relate to the world around us. I’m grateful for my emotions, even the sometimes really painful ones, because of who they make me.

Kathryn and I have committed to reading an Advent reflection each night before bed.  We both long for spiritual connection and a sense of meaning.  We long to be connected to the earth, to our fellow creatures and humans, and to the vast universe.  We both grew up with religion as a central principle on which to base behaviour.  And we both now question that foundation and long to understand and to really know Truth.

The Advent reflections we are reading are a collection of writings by Henri Nouwen, a man I’ve grown to respect for his insight into the spiritual richness of life in community with individuals marginalized by society (particularly through his experience with L’Arche).

In tonight’s reflection, Nouwen writes, “Jesus is the source of all peace… There is peace to be found in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken… Right where we are most vulnerable, the peace that is not of this world is mysteriously hidden.”

This is certainly not the first time this concept has been presented to me.  And without examining my internal thoughts and feelings, I would likely agree that this statement holds an element of truth.  But tonight as Kathryn read the words aloud, my heart broke and anger rose within me.  Where is this peace?  The last couple of days have been particularly difficult and follow a long pattern of struggle that doesn’t seem to be responding to any of my efforts to move towards recovery.

So I am left questioning the validity of this “Jesus is peace” mantra.  I am left wondering what basis I have for believing in Scripture, for basing my life on the assumption that there is truth to be found in placing my hope in Jesus.  Are we being taught to believe in a fairy tale?  Are we being lulled into a faith that simply makes it easier to cope with existence, but has no basis in reality?  If God is peace, and that peace is found in my brokenness, then where is God in my struggle for mental wellness?

Like Nouwen, perhaps some spiritual truth could be approached by reflecting on my experiences living in community with individuals with severe intellectual and physical disabilities.  I think back to walking along Cape Breton roads with a man living with a severe form of autism.  I remember pausing under a tree with him as he listened carefully to the rustling of leaves.  I remember the stillness in holding an elderly woman’s hand, the serenity she experienced in a simple gesture.  I remember finding hope in our weekly chapel routine, the lighting of candles, the words of the songs, and especially, hearing the individual prayers of each community member. One of my friends who is non-verbal takes the time every week to make the sign for each person and thing for which he is thankful.

Despite the pain this week has contained, there have been small amounts of life-giving hope, of simple joy for which I truly am grateful.  Watching ducks dive under water in the stream near our hiking trail, feeling joy as countless chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers trusted me enough to land on my hand for seed, feeling wonder as we contemplate the intricate beauty of the natural world around us.  Both Gus and Elliot, our two cats, have come to me for daily snuggles and affection, and have shown appreciation for the nurturing life we’ve provided them.  Every time I walk through my kitchen, I see a picture of each of my nieces on our fridge and I am grateful for the love that wells up within me.  I am thankful for the privilege of reading and the opportunities I have to explore literature.  My grandmother’s piano, given to me by my parents, provides an emotional release like no other.  And I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support given by my family and friends, so many of whom inspire me to live well.  Perhaps in these moments, I experience a drop of the peace that Nouwen describes.

And above all of this, I am blessed in my relationship with Kathryn.  For her, I feel a gratitude I can’t express.  If God is the source of peace, hope, love and joy, then she is the embodiment that brings these gifts to my soul.  Everyday she shows me the light of Christ and in my darkest moments, she empowers me to shelter and nourish the flicker of hope that burns within me.

I want to tell you part of my story. An intersection of stories really. Today my 14 year old niece and I saw The Fault in Our Stars along with my wife. In an effort to buy less stuff, and shape a little reader, I have been giving my books to her since she was little and only last Christmas realized how capable she was of reading good literature, analyzing it, talking about it and sharing a love for it. It’s as if she has suddenly stopped being a kid in my eyes and become (albeit a very young) little adult. So the latest book I gave her was The Fault in Our Stars and we both knew it was completely necessary to see the film together.

She lives just over an hour away from me, with my brother and sister-in-law (her parents, of course). We see each other often enough, I suppose, at family gatherings once every two or three months. I have always, instantly, loved her from the day I met her and will continue to do so whoever she becomes as she grows and changes. This is not an experience I have had with love for anyone else but her, I fall in love (both romantically and otherwise) slowly. But she was so new and so pure and so full of potential and even though I am one of her many aunts, she is special in my life as the only kid in our family (for now).

I was seventeen when my brother married her mom. She was two. I was in the midst of a struggle with depression and mental illness that would only worsen before I found a way to recovery. In a world that I saw as very dark, she was this bright, pure, sometimes cranky and whiny, but altogether wonderful little light. I held onto that light when despair was closest to me, she saved me in ways she’ll never know.

Two years ago, my parents, two brothers, sisters-in-law, my wife, myself and my niece gathered together for what I expected would be a typical hilarious and energetic weekend away together at a cottage. I did not know that we were all together because my brother and his wife needed to tell us that his doctors had recommended he begin the lengthy process that leads up to a double lung transplant surgery. He has Cystic Fibrosis and being my older brother, I have never known life without knowing that he may not live as long as any of us want him to. He is ridiculous and hilarious and loving in all the ways an older brother should be and has taught me so much about living in this present moment. Sometimes I believe him to be a superhero, at other times I realize he’s just my brother and there is nothing more remarkable about him than most people.

But this is about my niece, not my brother. On the afternoon that he told us, the childhood fear I knew too well rose within me and I was scared. Somewhat scared for him, but to be honest (and this might sound selfish) I was mostly scared for us. His wife, my niece, our parents, my second brother, and me. If he died, when he dies (as with any one of us), it will be the pain felt by those still here on Earth that will cause my heart to swell and strain.

I watched my niece as my brother and sister-in-law described the details and next steps involved, the potential risks and benefits of undergoing a massive surgery. I wanted to ask her how she was doing. I wanted to tell her I love her. I wanted to somehow take a tiny bit of pain from her, knowing I would never know what she feels and will feel being his daughter. I knew I couldn’t find words, so I simply leaned forward and kissed the top of her head.

While he was in the hospital at one point, my wife and I invited my niece to hang out with us for the day instead of sitting around for another rather uneventful day at the hospital with her parents, and off we went to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. My niece has always loved animals and has found a way to connect to the vast universe through that love. As I watched her feeding goats and sheep at the fair, I put my arm around her shoulders, another gesture that I hoped contained all the words I could not speak.

Today, as we sat in the theatre, as tears rolled down my cheeks and I could hear the sounds of a room full of strangers crying in silence, I realized we were crying because of the story, but we were also crying because we too know that fear, that pain and that love. It matters to us because we can understand the emotions even if we haven’t lived the story. This is true of all stories that connect us and make us care about someone else’s story. “The miracle of non-literal communication.” As I saw my niece wipe tears from her cheek, I reached over to her knee and just let my hand sit there for a minute.  A gesture containing a thousand words.

Today, our family is well. My brother had his transplant surgery in January and is doing very well and we are all grateful to God and his donor’s family and the doctors and all else that played a role. I don’t worry about my niece the way I did that first day my brother told us. I have seen that she and her parents are surrounded by strong, caring people. There are many adults and friends of all ages that are shaping her life, and I am just one of them, one who plays a relatively minor role, but I love her fiercely and even if she doesn’t hear all the words I am trying to say through these gestures, I hope her soul understands.

On Sunday night I sat on my team’s hockey bench, sucking in air after a long shift. I cursed my body for the poor choices I’ve made when I’ve given in to the addiction of sugar, and the laziness of screens.  I love the game of hockey – the thrill of chasing the puck, confronting an opponent, and being part of the team.  But at times my body holds me back, and at that moment I felt like quitting for not being as fast, as strong or as skilled as some of the other players.

And then I remembered my brother.  And what he would give for lungs that could play hockey, for the chance to be sucking wind on the bench after a tough shift.  I took notice of my breath, of the relief of air entering lungs, and felt my pounding heart slow down and my energy return.

Later that night I lit a candle as a prayer for my brother’s health.  I pictured him playing with his dog, and skating with my niece, and swimming at the cottage.  I cannot wait to see him run.

As gratitude for my body, I wrote these words:

This body is not perfect.

She is marred with scars and stretch marks.

At times she creaks and groans.

I hide her from the lens of cameras and the eyes of others under layers of cloth and shield.

This body is not perfect.

She is not as fast, as swift, as graceful.

At times she huffs and puffs.

I conceal her fatigue and weariness with silent gasps for air, for life.

And yet this body moves.

This body breathes and digests and regenerates.

She can run and play and jump.

She makes rhythm, song and dance.

This body tastes and hears and smells.

She feels my lover’s embrace.

These eyes seek out beauty in its endless forms.

These muscles and bones are strong and able.

These lungs take in air and give oxygen to this blood.

This heart circulates life to each cell.

This body is blessed with health.

She deserves love over judgement, movement over idleness, food over filler.

This body deserves kindness.

This body sustains Life.

They say there’s no such thing as an original idea.

The name for this blog was something I stole from my oldest brother many years ago. He was using it as an online name long before I ever started my first blog back in high school. As years pass, I stick with One Deep Breath because it reminds me to take each moment in stride, to live fully present and to let my roots grow deep.

For my brother, one deep breath has a more literal meaning. He is living one breath at a time while he awaits his double lung transplant.

He is living. He is not merely waiting.

This weekend he’s participating in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (the 5km portion) with his best friend and a few of our family members.

There was a period of time in my teen years when I used to wonder how to separate myself from his remarkable story. Everyone who knows him knows the journey he’s been through and how his faith in God has been his rock through periods of sickness and health. Everyone who meets him is charmed by his charisma, passion and humour. So many of the things I love – camping, kayaking, swimming, hockey, guitar – he modelled for me first.

For awhile, I didn’t know how to tell my own story without telling his. But none of us can tell our story without telling the story of our family. We come from roots entwined, from the same beginnings. Our stories overlap.

From my first memories of Rob’s illness to this day, he has inspired me to live with hope. And now as he preps for his 5km, he takes inspiration from another CF survivor who has raced with an oxygen tank, and he sparks that same hope for others.

See a small part of his story here on CTV, here on CBC and here in the Toronto Star. And register to be an organ donor at beadonor.ca.

“While I breath, I hope.”

I know I am one of the lucky few people who has found a career that fills my life with hope and meaning.  I can’t begin to describe how much my life has been shaped by the wisdom and grace of the men and women I support.  People often think that supporting adults with developmental disabilities must be challenging or requires a lot of patience, and yet they fail to see the depth of reward that comes from these relationships.  My friends from L’arche, and the clients I work with now, are constantly teaching me about grace, patience and identity.

A few months ago, a client saw my wedding ring and asked me about my husband. When I told him I married a woman, he reacted with surprise saying “Why would you do that?”  It was clear that the idea of same-gender marriage was not something he was familiar with encountering.

I responded by saying, “that’s just who I fell in love with.”

And without missing a beat, he raised his shoulders and said, “well, you gotta marry the one you love.”

I wish he could explain this to so many others who think the love that two men or two women share is somehow different than the love between a man and a woman.

Same love.

We move towards grace.

At times the progress is sufferingly slow.  Yet, even in our most painful moments, we stumble forward.

When I came out over two years ago, my world was different than it is today.  The changes in my life (and the lives of those around me) are part of a greater process. We both influence and are influenced by this process.

When I came out, my dad struggled to accept what he called “a life-changing choice.”  He was hurt and angry.  In our first conversation about my orientation, I came to see the root of fear in homophobia.

When my wife came out to her extended family, it sparked conflict that, while the foundations have existed for decades, suddenly centred on her orientation and her choice to share the love she and I had found together with her relatives.

When my dear friend came out, his family believed reparative therapy (or ex-gay ministry) was the only choice he had.

Today, I look at the picture of my father walking me down the aisle to marry my bride, I see the look of sheer joy and pride in his eyes, and I am filled with gratitude for the grace in our lives.

Today, I hopefully anticipate the first family gathering Kathryn and I will attend together, knowing many of her extended relatives feel as broken by the family conflict as we do.

Today, I celebrate as Exodus International, the largest ex-gay ministry in North America, announces its closure and the head of the organization issues a heart-felt apology to those who have been hurt by its existence.

If you don’t already know, being gay is not a choice.  The only choice we have is how we live our lives.  We choose to live towards grace.

I just want to say this: I really love my life.

It might seem odd that I feel the need to boast about this fact, but it’s true.  Not too long ago, I never could have imagined being so down-right content with the life I’m growing.  I regularly felt stuck in patterns of instability, discontent with the choices I was making and the options I felt were available to me.  I wanted to be someone else.  I wished I could live someone else’s life.

But this morning, as I lay in bed slowly waking up next to my beautiful wife and with our cats snuggled beside us, I began thinking about how that really is no longer the case.  Of course, there are things about my life I would still love to change.  Kathryn and I have decided to focus on being healthier this year, physically, emotionally and financially. We want to be more intentional about the foods we choose, the money we spend, and the way we communicate and cope in moments of stress.  We want to spend more time outdoors and being active, and less time sitting at our computers or on the couch.

But if you asked me if I wanted to trade lives with someone else, my answer is no longer the same.  I wouldn’t give up what I have to be anyone else.

It’s easy in moments of difficulty to forget how happy I am everyday, how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had and the people in my life.  So today, I am taking inventory.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the aspects of my life I am truly grateful for today, the things that are life-giving.

Work: I know I am blessed to have found a career that fulfills me.  From my days volunteering in a nursing home, to working in group homes and now studying autism and behaviour science, I am constantly learning from the people I work with and am privileged to share life with them.  As my program comes to a close in the next two months, I am looking forward to the new opportunities ahead.  I have found meaningful work and I am so grateful.

City: I love living in Hamilton.  It’s true that the city has a crappy reputation, but like so many aspects of life, the beauty of this place is all around if you care enough to look for it.  I love that I can get to school and work without being stuck in rush hour traffic.  I love that we can walk to our favourite restaurants and cafes.  I love the diversity of the buildings and the people and the opportunities.  I love that I can get to the Bruce Trail or countless waterfalls in a few short minutes, even though I don’t go nearly often enough.

Family: Kathryn and I have both said how much we appreciate that we each get along with the other’s family.  Becoming part of her family has been so wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with her sisters, their boyfriends and her parents.  Her family is caring and competitive and funny, and I enjoy seeing the traits I love in her reflected in them too.  And, I couldn’t be more grateful to my own family for embracing Kathryn.  Having passed through the young adult stage of developing my own independence by pulling away from family, I am happy to be back living closer to everyone and fostering our connections.  I really look forward to get-togethers with my parents, brothers and their partners, and my wonderful niece, and I am grateful for how they’ve helped to shape who I’ve become.

Cats: When we got our two kittens, Elliot and Gus, nearly two years ago, I swore I would not be the kind of pet owner that treated my cats like children.  But the truth is, Kathryn and I love to spoil them.  Because we’ve had them from day one, they are so well socialized and regularly curl up with us on the couch or bed.  Elliot even insists on laying on a chair right next to Kathryn when she’s working at the computer.  I’ve always said I want to have cats with dog personalities, and these boys definitely do.  They are entertaining and adorable and bring me small joys every day.

Kathryn: I could never have imagined that loving someone would be like this.  She fills me with joy and gratitude and hope every single day.  When we moved in together we both figured there would be days we just wouldn’t want to be around each other, everyone needs a break from time to time.  But we really just love to be together.  I love that she is competitive and playful and intelligent and compassionate and funny.  I love washing dishes with her, and cuddling on the couch with her, and working through tough moments with her, and planning our future together.  From the day I met her to this moment, her smile still takes my breath away.  I love the life we are building together and I am so excited to see what comes next.

Kathryn and I have been meandering our way through this book over the past few months.  In it, Gretchin Rubin shares her ideas, adventures and projects about making her life “Happier at Home.”  We take it slow, absorbing a small piece of it at a time, often just before falling asleep.  Kathryn falls asleep in nano-seconds after the light is turned off; it takes me a bit longer.  So I lay awake dreaming of all the ways we could change our home, not just the physical objects and layout (though that is part of it), but also the way we manage our home together, the activities we engage in, the frequency of dishwashing, or the way we budget our income.

We have been trying to take small steps towards our own ‘happier at home’ projects.  I replanted our terrarium two weeks ago, and we finally put some objects on the shelves in our living room that have been empty for nearly two months.  Today we decided to set up my ipod speakers in the bedroom so that we can wake up to music in the morning, instead of blaring alarms.  But there was no plug on the wall where our bed and nightstands were, so we ended up rearranging furniture.

Our bed is now on a different wall, and while I enjoy the new layout and space we’ve created, laying on the bed felt disorienting.  We tried switching sides and in the end, I opted for the spot closer to the window.   We lay together, content in the effort it took to be happier at home.

But as we lay there I began to feel guilty.  Had I taken the prime sleeping spot from Kathryn, leaving her with the inferior nighttime location?  How many times in our relationship does she give something to me at a cost to herself?

I brought this up with her and we ended up having a good conversation about what it means to give and take in a relationship.  The reality is that because Kathryn is such a good sleeper it really doesn’t matter to her what side of the bed she sleeps on, and because I have so much trouble falling asleep, she wants me to choose the place where I feel most comfortable and am most likely to get a better night’s rest.

Still, knowing this, I can’t seem to shake this sense of guilt I feel for having the better sleeping spot.  It’s not just that, but in so many aspects of our relationship, I find myself feeling immediately guilty for asking for something.  It can be as small as asking her to pick up milk on her way home, to as big as asking her to stay with me as I struggle to find my balance in difficult moments.

I think it comes down to this: “we accept the love we think we deserve.”  At times, when I feel shame about my choices or my emotions or the way I process through difficult situations, I feel like the love she has for me is unwarranted.  I know she loves me, but I often don’t know why.  And perhaps that’s the mystery of love.  I don’t know how we found each other, or why we fell in love, or what draws me to her even when she is driving me nuts.  She is not perfect, and yet I love her wholly.  And she feels the same way about me.  It’s hard for me to accept this, but I am learning in small moments and small ways to accept the love she offers me and to remember the ways I can give it to her in return.

It’s six thirty in the morning, and it’s raining outside.

Every so often, it seems necessary for me to have a sleepless night in order to gain perspective on the daylight.  The best nights are usually the ones that end with a sunrise.  So sometime last night, upon realizing I had been up for most of the night, I decided today would be a good morning to watch the sun gradually wake my city.

A few blocks from my house there is a bike path that climbs its way up the escarpment.  For the first week or two after I discovered this trail I would routinely head up there after work.  I love the long, slow climb contrasted with the invigorating ride back down.  But like most things in my life, my best intentions faded away into half-hearted excuses and plain old laziness, and I haven’t biked up there in a few weeks.

Still, the early morning promised to be a good chance to revisit this old friend and see the sunrise from a great vantage point.  I didn’t even let the low rumblings of distant thunder around four thirty discourage me.  After all, clouds only make the sunrise more dramatic, yes?  And with the heat wave and humidity we’ve been having, a little rain might even be welcomed.

So at five o’clock this morning I was rolling my bike out of the garage under the first few drops of rain, undeterred.  A few drops slowly became a steady downpour and by the time I returned from the ride I was thoroughly soaked.

And I didn’t see the sunrise.  From the top of the escarpment all I could see was mist and gray.

But I am still thankful for the experience.  It turns out I needed the rain as much as the gardens.

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