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Three years ago, I wrote a piece called Through the Screen Door. It was written from a hospital bed, during a long admission that seemed to have no end in sight. Hope felt next to non-existent. I didn’t believe that I would ever get better, or be able to build the life with Kathryn that I had imagined.

That post was about picturing kids playing in our backyard, knowing that some day Kathryn and I would be raising those kids together. It was about imagining a time when mental illness wasn’t the driving force in our daily life, and about using all we had learned through my illness to teach little ones to live with hope deep within them.

We had gone to a fertility clinic earlier that year for an initial consult. We had also spent long hours researching and talking about the pros and cons of anonymous vs known donor sperm. We had not set a specific timeline in motion, but we were well on our way to beginning to grow our family. I remember Friday nights spent wondering how much sperm was being tossed away in houses all around us.

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was little. Probably since I knew that babies came from mommies’ tummies. I was the girl eager to babysit the neighbours’ kids, always volunteering in the nursery at church, enraptured by the pregnant women and babies that seemed to constantly flow through our community. I remember my grade one teacher, who had gone on maternity leave, bringing in her newborn infant for the class to meet and trying to get as close as I could to see the tiny one’s eyes, her lips and fingers. I was the little girl that imagined my wedding and picked out my kids’ names long before a healthy relationship was ever a reality in my life.

So when Kathryn came along and we got married, it seemed logical to start planning for kids almost immediately. I had a new motivation too – I desperately wanted to see her be a mother, and see aspects of her reflected in our children. I was in love with this woman, and couldn’t wait to nurture her through pregnancy and care for a child together. I probably would have agreed to pregnancy on the honeymoon if she was up for it. It’s a good thing she’s more practical about these matters.

But she was on board with planning for kids within a couple years of the wedding. She had never imagined getting married before she met me, and couldn’t imagine herself as a parent until I showed her what I saw in her. She developed a unique bond early in our relationship with my then ten year old niece. As more friends began having children, she too started to catch the baby bug. It was incredible to watch how children were drawn to her very laid-back approach. Even kids deemed timid eventually found their way into her lap.

And when that long year of hospitalizations came in 2014 and interrupted all our plans, it was painful for both of us. When our second niece was born that fall, my heart simultaneously burst and broke each time I watched Kathryn hold her, care for her, play with her and teach her things. I was so amazed (and still am!) at all the potential in her small body, at everything she had learned each time we saw her – to lift her head, or make eye contact, or roll over. The first time she said our names my heart melted.

But it wasn’t our time. I was ill, and getting better was the priority, and although it was the wisest thing to put off pregnancy-planning, it was still painful. So we actively imagined the future in order to build hope, we put the building blocks together piece by piece so that one day, it would be our turn. We bought a onesie and a teether together as a promise to each other that although the time was not yet, it would be.

Those items have been sitting in our cabinet next to my childhood stuffed bear and Kathryn’s stuffed lion for three years now.

And this spring, after a lot of processing with Kathryn and my therapist, we made the decision to let go of that promise. With the recent relapse of my illness came a realization that we may not ever be able to promise each other the stability that raising children would require.

A few people we have talked to have said, “you’re still young, you will change your minds.” Others have assured us that I won’t always struggle this way, that we can and should look forward to long periods of wellness. It’s also true that lots of people parent, and parent well, with mental illness.

There are a lot of reasons why we’ve made this choice, but here’s the key – even if I could guarantee five years or ten years of stability, the chances that at some point a deep struggle with suicidal ideation will re-emerge seems very likely. I’ve been dealing with suicidal thinking since middle school. And it seems that every time I finally begin to say I am free of the torment, it comes rushing back in to defeat me. I am not willing to put a child in a position where suicide is introduced to them as a way to cope or escape. It’s so fucking hard to reroute that neural pathway. And the stakes are way too high.

In some ways Kathryn has had an easier time accepting this new reality. Of course she has grieved through this process as well. But her world didn’t shatter the way mine initially did. It’s possible that part of the reason is because she had begun to question our plans earlier than I had. She says that her only desire is to have a fulfilling life with me, and that she’s spent a lot less time defining what that means to her. She also didn’t spend her teenage years imagining nursery colours or reading parenting books.

The message of a woman’s role as mother has bombarded me daily through this entire emotional process. The movies we watch, commercials on television, comments from others, and our own damn hormones all seem to reinforce motherhood as the ultimate definition and purpose of womanhood. I weep with all of you who have been accosted and accused by these messages. You aren’t alone in your grief, for whatever your reasons. We’re learning to sit with it too.

I don’t expect others to fully understand our decision. It’s true that things may change in the future, this isn’t written in stone. For now, for us, we decided we had to get to a point where we were okay with not being mothers, that our lives would not be defined by that role. And accepting that has been its own step toward hope. We’ve had to reimagine our future together. We’ve had to take apart all those pieces in order to find out what we have left to rebuild a new life.

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My sweet wife carries scars that are not hers. When the monster of mental illness grows strong within me, all too often Kathryn becomes its target. When I can barely keep myself alive, the monster feeds on her to destroy us both.

And still, she is here. Firmly by my side as the monster rages and whispers and crawls inside my skin. For the life of me I don’t understand why she stays. Her stated reason, “because I love you,” sounds like a foreign language, an echo I remember was once native to my own tongue.

She could wake from this nightmare, break free and leave the monster and me to live or die alone. But she stays, endlessly spinning the monster’s battles into a dance, a painful turning, full of the fear of losing me to the monster, the guilt of not always knowing the steps, and the worry that she’ll say or do something to make the monster hungry again.

The dance is slow, dizzying and lurching, our feet falling from under us. But she keeps dancing, pulls me into her, gathering my ragged emotions to her chest, my restless hands to her hips, my screaming and racing mind to her neck.

And for a few moments I forget to fear the monster. I forget the terror to flee and find instead the safety of embrace. A soft rhythm moves from her hips through my bones and together we sway like the river grasses against the coming storm’s wind. And maybe, for a fleeting second, I remember the distant call of playfulness, of silly laughter and simple gratitude and quiet peace. And I remember to breathe.

I remember to believe. With two hearts and eight limbs, our insightful minds, and abounding love, we will keep dancing through the panic till our blistered feet, aching bodies, and pounding skulls carry us away from the monster’s reach to a place where we can rest tangled in each other’s skin, waiting to learn whatever music comes to us next.

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Painting by Karis Kazuko Taylor

*”Dancing through the panic” is a reference to Leonard Cohen’s song Dance Me to the End of Love.

 

Tonight, she is the moon.
She is the light on my horizon.
She loves with her whole soul and reminds me to breathe.
I am more wholly me because of her love.

Tonight, she is depth.
She is the northern lights.
She finds beauty in pain and hopes with abandon.
This love persists beyond fear.

Tonight, she carries flowers.
She is early signs of spring.
She warms my heart with her touch and steals my breath with her smile.
Home is wherever I’m with her.

We live these sacred moments.
Whatever happens, this is.

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I’m not an American.

Same sex marriage has been legal, nationwide, in my country for close to ten years.

My wife and I have been married for nearly three years, and are surrounded by friends and family that love and support us.

But today’s landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court fills me with joy and hope and even tears.

(Why am I not in a crowded pub celebrating right now? Oh right, it’s not even 11am.)

How do I tell you about the hope and fear that swirled within me as I awaited news of this historic day?

How do I show you the surge of gratitude I feel, knowing I celebrate my marriage every day even though I did not fight for it?

How do I explain to you the pounding in my chest when the words “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex” first appeared on my screen?

How do I describe the restlessness that rushes through me as I sit alone in my living room, unable to share this elation with anyone?

A few months ago, Kathryn and I stumbled across a pro-gay wedding celebration card in Home Outfitters, with two grooms on the front. We smiled, then our eyes watered, then she kissed my hand. We celebrated because we live somewhere where being gay doesn’t have to be a secret. And we lamented for those who do not.

Today represents a shift that has been long and slow and built on the back of suffering caused by hatred and fear and ignorance. Today represents the swell of people – families and religious leaders and friends and politicians – who are telling their gay loved ones “you are no different.” There is no reason to feel shame, to feel secretive. Companies were tripping over each other to show their support on social media as the news of the Supreme Court’s decision rolled out. Because of today, it won’t be so surprising to find a pro-gay wedding card amidst a sea of brides with their grooms.

Today I watched a promotional video in which a man who is about to marry his spouse said through tears “I remember [thinking] why me? What will I do? Will anyone love me? I’ll never get married.”  The video brought me to tears because I once felt this too. Before I met Kathryn, I remember thinking “Okay, so I’m gay. I guess that means I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.” I didn’t know anyone who had married a same sex partner, I had barely seen gay relationships portrayed in the media. Now, for a kid who is ten or twenty or even fifty years old, coming to realize he or she is gay, there is a torrential river of media that says “Yes, you can find love. Yes, you can get married. Yes, you can have a family.”

I can’t just sit here and do nothing as this moment passes. I feel an inner pulling to mark this moment, to set a ceremonial cairn in this place, to light a candle.

Yes, I will light a candle, “to tell everyone,” as the poet Ben Okri wrote, “that history, though unjust, can yield wiser outcomes, and out of bloodiness can come love, that the future is yet unmade.”

Yes, I will light a candle.

I will remember the pain of all the people, whose names I will never know, who stood up for love at great cost so that it would be easier for me to stand here today.

I will remember the courage and honesty of four individuals, Kristen, Jay, Lorena, and Dan, whose own coming out stories directly influenced mine, and I will strive to live as courageously and honestly as I can.

I will envision a world where every beautiful person has the right to marry the one they love, and can share that love without fear.

And I will make room for love in my own heart where fear, ignorance, and even hatred, toward those who are different than me still lingers in dark corners.

“It gets better” has become an anthem against the oppression and marginalization of people based on their sexuality or gender identity. But it does not just get better. We make it better. We make it great.

There is a little more room for love in the world today.

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This week I put my family through the ringer with my struggle to be well.

Their response has been to speak words of life over me, telling me they see me as beautiful, peaceful, joyful, hopeful, kind, full of life and laughter.

They have called me strong and brave and a fighter.

They have told me I will be well again and have infused hope into our conversations.

And I can’t say enough how loving and supportive and strong and compassionate and incredible my sweet darling wife is, how lucky I am to be with her every day.

She told me today that I am not my illness and I believed her.

She is my guiding light.

Today when I looked within, I found wellness, and I know these steps are precarious and that I still need the support of my medical team and family, but my story is not over.

“So you’re the Spiritual Care Guy, right? The one with the answers?” “Yeah…” he says with a grin. He knows by now that conversations with me aren’t often easy. “So where is God in all of this?” I ask. His grin disappears, and as tears fill my eyes, he responds, “My honest answer? I don’t know.”

We meet about once per week to talk about life here in the hospital. This is our hardest conversation yet. I have to fight to keep from ugly crying. “I overdosed a few days ago,” I tell him, though he probably already knows. I had a chance to spend a few days relaxing at a cottage – swimming, playing games, enjoying good food – and I threw it away. One minute the pills were in the bottle, the next minute they were in my stomach. It only took about twenty minutes for the sedating effects to kick in. The next thirty-six hours are a blurry haze.

“Do you remember our conversation from last week?” the Spiritual Care Guy asks. I draw a blank. He reminds me how we talked about self-sabotage and the impulse to self-destruct. I laugh at this twisted predictor of the events that occurred mere days ago. But the laughter doesn’t last. With tears running down my cheeks, I beg him for an answer to my need. I need to understand why I am so hell-bent on self-destruction, why 99% of the time I can be focused on healing and growth, fostering peace and resiliency; and the other 1% of the time, I throw it all aside.

His tactic tends to be asking questions rather than answering them and he asks me, “what gives you hope?” I stay quiet, waiting for an answer to surface. The only one that comes is love. Wild love. Untamed, organic, unabashed, illogical love. Love for my niece (and the one on the way!), my parents, my brothers and their wives, my dear friends and of course, Kathryn. Love for her, above all else.

And yet she is the one most hurt when I am emotionally dysregulated. “I WISH I HAD NEVER MET YOU!” I screamed this at her, turning my anger outward. I was angry that she wasn’t with me, that she wasn’t meeting my current need. Mostly, I was angry that she was at the cottage and I was stuck at the hospital. How is this love? How is this the way I choose to treat the woman I say I’d give my life for? In what reality do I think these words are okay?

The answer is that they are not ever okay. She deserves the best of what I have to offer. And now my instinct is to turn this anger inward, berate myself for the way I behave. “She deserves better,” I say. “She’d be better off without me.” I try to assess what I bring to the relationship and all I come up with is pain. But this too is an unhealthy road and does not lead to me loving her well.

I tell Spiritual Care Guy all of this, and he tells me about addiction and how those who are addicts must admit they have lost control in order to begin regaining it. It’s this way with mental illness too, really any type of illness. I must admit the areas of my life that I have lost to mental illness in order to begin rebuilding them. And I must acknowledge my strengths, the places in my life where my illness has not beaten me.

It’s a great mystery – love. The love Kathryn has for me. My parents’ unending support. The love of Immanuel. Love is where God is in all of this. I will never understand these gifts, but I can choose to cherish them and in each new moment, offer love in return.

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.

I have these sleepless nights at times. I sit awake on my computer, or alone in the dark, as my wife sleeps next to me or in another room.

I stumble from one thought to another, avoiding the thing within that keeps me awake. I ponder days and weeks and months, even years past, my mistakes, or what could have been. I ponder the days to come, the conversations that may be had, the tasks that should be done. Or I mindlessly click from one mind-numbing internet page to another, trying to dull myself to sleep.

I avoid looking deep within, avoid confronting that which steals my sleep. That ache.

Or at least I try to. But inevitably, something draws me toward it. Somehow I ended up at a friend’s blog the other night. Somehow I ended up at this poem about the life and death within us.

Today love was trampled and neglected.
Today love was simply asked for and freely given.
Today power was abused and vulnerability wounded.
Today there was connection, and tenderness, and healing.

I am a lover and hater, hurter and healer, bully and friend.
I am control-freak one moment, carefree singing the next.
I am light and dark, good and evil, hidden and revealed.
Driven at times by an inner force of injury and rage,
Love rises at others to turn my small choices to good.

– Rachael Barham, 2009.

I want to share this experience of being both full of life and full of death. Having Borderline Personality Disorder has ripped me open. And from that, I have grown. I love intensely, but at times, I also wound intensely.

My wife, my dear beloved darling, my love, she bears a cross that is not hers. She stands beside me on my difficult days, as I move from one emotion to another. From joyful song to hopeless despair. On these days, she doesn’t know from one moment to the next what awaits her within me.

And yet she loves me.

And yet I love her.

How can this be?

How can I be both lover and hater, hurter and healer, bully and friend?

How can this be?

We move. We move towards healing. We work and work and work at learning to be more whole. I set goals and track progress and take pills and try to focus on what small choices I have in each moment to choose life not death. But is that enough?

Is it enough to love and love and love again?

It’s hard to know where to begin because it’s a story that encompasses my whole life and is still evolving.  There is so much that still has to grow and take root and develop.  It feels both healthy and risky to share this piece of my story, to risk myself personally, knowing I still have uncertainties and fears in the dusty corners of my mind.  I still have stuff to figure out.

I am a twenty-five year old woman, living in Ontario, Canada.  I was raised in a Pentecostal church, attended a Christian liberal arts university, and now work for a Christian organization.  Despite all that, I spent large parts of my teenage and young adult years struggling to call myself a Christian.  Even now I use the term with trepidation.

I know some gay people who say they have known since childhood that they were attracted to the same gender.  This was not my experience.  A gay orientation was so far removed from my experience of ‘normal’ that I wouldn’t have considered it for a second as something that might apply to me.  I had crushes on boys, and even dated a little bit, fully expecting to grow up and fall in love with a man and have at least a dozen babies.  But from an early age I couldn’t understand my relationships with some of my closest female friends.  I still don’t know how to describe what I felt other than a strong desire for more of whatever ‘good’ existed in the friendship.  My friendships with girls would inevitably get too complicated and painful and fall apart because of this tension, so I learned to play with the boys and built my closest friendships with them (which still felt confusing because I felt pressure to attract a guy and get him to fall in love with me).

I don’t remember ever being told explicitly that being gay was a one-way ticket to eternal fire, and at that time I had no label for what I now recognize as same gender attraction, but I know that I believed from my early teen years that something was deeply wrong with me.  Relating to a God that was supposed to be simultaneously all-loving and our eternal judge was confusing and left me feeling like God’s love wasn’t enough to save me from myself.  At times, I would have panic attacks believing that God’s presence would kill me, like Ananias and Sapphira, because of my sinfulness and my inability to change the parts of me that I thought were not whole.  The self-hatred that brewed within me as I realized I could not change myself only fed this fear.

Accepting myself, and healing this self-hatred and fear, has been a long (and not yet finished) journey.  Coming out as a gay person is a very complicated, delicate process.  It is not just one conversation.  And it always begins first with coming out to yourself.  It’s different for everyone, but for me it’s been 5-6 years of intentionally wrestling through my own questions of faith and sexuality, slowly coming out first to myself (which was by far the hardest step) and a few gay friends before I was ever able to tell a straight person, let alone my family and closest friends.  Being so immersed in a Christian context, I couldn’t imagine being gay and being a Christian.  I thought for sure I would have to choose one or the other.  It has only been in the last year that I have accepted that being gay and being a Christian does not have to be mutually exclusive, and within the last four months that I have finally taken the step of telling my friends and family.

In admitting that I am gay, I have finally felt accepted by God.  I have gradually stopped fearing God’s wrath and judgment, and stopped hating His creation (me).  Regardless of whether homosexuality is or is not ‘sinful’, I can now say “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”  In realizing I don’t have to change who I am, I am more whole, happy, at peace.  And way less afraid of God smiting me, which makes it easier to want to include Him in my daily life.

I still have dusty corners of my mind where the question lingers of whether loving another woman is wrong, or against God and nature.  What I do know is that my growing love for Kathryn is no less flawed or beautiful than any other relationship between two people.  No less full of sin at times (pride, resentment, selfishness) and no less full of beauty (grace, selflessness, growth).

These sins, for any of us, don’t stop us from coming near God.  That is the whole reason Jesus lived and died and was resurrected.

What if how we treat people is more important than the rules we do or do not follow, or the way we translate and interpret Greek and Hebrew passages?  Jesus hung out with beggars, hookers and junkies – and didn’t particularly like religious folk.  What if the motivations of our hearts matter more to God than our outward actions?  He did not exclude those who did not have all their spiritual ducks in a row.  What if LOVE is the most important thing?

Love is.  Nothing else matters.

I realize I haven’t actually written very much this month.  The truth is I feel like I’ve hardly been in the house at all, barely begun to know the core members and assistants with whom I now live.  A week into my new role at Cornerstone House, I developed what might be an allergy to something, or might be a skin infection… no one is really sure.  Needless to say, for a while sleep did not come easy.  So I was off sick and then back for a bit and then off again and back for three days, and then suddenly it was time for my vacation to begin.

This past Wednesday, the L’arche Hamilton community gathered for our weekly prayer time with a special focus.  Earlier we had been given sheets of paper with questions about what it means to belong to community.  Core members and assistants alike were asked to come prepared to share stories, thoughts, art or music that reflected times of struggle in community, our hopes for our future in L’arche and what specific things help us to grow and participate more fully.

As I sat with Charlie, Beverley, David, Casey, Laurence and Brian (my Cornerstone family) reflecting on these questions, I realized that being off sick was not the only thing that has kept me from writing since I moved.  When I began at Sherman House in May I expected to be there for a while and spent a considerable amount of time intentionally rooting myself in my relationships with Alice, David, Richard, Doris and Attila.  The move unsettled me.  I still see the members of Sherman House on a regular basis but nothing can replace the depth of relationship that is shared when people live in the same house.  I miss those moments – resting on the couch with Alice, grocery shopping with Attila, the moment Richard came downstairs each morning smiling, Doris’ voice when she was excited, or David’s wit.  (I have a habit of drumming on the steering wheel while driving and David frequently scolded me for the behaviour.  Once when I claimed I couldn’t help it because I had ants in my pants, he quickly responded “I think you have ants in your brain!”)

I’m still finding these moments of grace with my new housemates too, when Charlie tells a joke, or Brian holds my hand, when I greet Laurence in the mornings and Bev tells me secrets and smiles mischievously.  But in general, I have felt so much less present.  As we talked on Wednesday afternoon about what we would share at prayer, I realized what has held me back – I am afraid that I will be asked to move again.  The uprooting from Sherman has left me a little more hesitant to nurture deep relationships, to risk love.  I desire stability for my future with L’arche.  Rootedness.  To be settled and home for a significant period of time.  I know nothing is permanent and my path will likely wind down different roads at some point, but to be at Cornerstone for now, present to those I live with, I have to be able to risk love.

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