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I just happened to be at the hospital yesterday when one of my clients, who has Down Syndrome, was there as well.  As I was in the hall at one point, two paramedics with another patient passed me and I heard one say “[her name] is still here, we brought her yesterday” and the other said “who?” and he said “platypus” and they laughed.  It was only a fleeting moment but it hurt me so much for her sake.  No one else heard, and they had no chance of knowing I would pick up on what they said, but I still felt like, no way, not ever, should you call my dear friend and client that name.  It was clear from their laughter that it was meant in a derogatory way and not an endearing way.

I wish I had turned around and said “I know who you are talking about, I care about her very much, please don’t use hurtful nicknames for individuals with Down Syndrome, or really anyone, even when you think no one is listening.”

And if I could have I would have said “you can refer to her as the woman with Down Syndrome, or by a physical description that is not demeaning, or even better her name.”

Sometimes we say these hurtful things because we don’t know how to talk about, or connect to, someone else’s difference.  For the record, it is okay to say “the person with Down Syndrome” it is not okay to say “the down syndrome” or any other version that belittles her exist as a HUMAN to a DIAGNOSIS. Down Syndrome is an accurate feature of her identity, it’s not an insult, but it’s also not her whole identity. Recognize this.

But I didn’t say any of this. I felt shocked and sad and kept walking and then the moment was passed, but the feeling has lingered.

I’m sure we all have moments like this. The world doesn’t always understand how to treat people who are different and “don’t fit” or why we love them the way we do (and sometimes even we forget and need a helpful reminder).  We may not relate and we may not understand, but that is not an excuse to be cruel.

So this is a reminder: please let’s try to speak up when you witness someone being hurtful about another person (even if that person is not present) and for **** sake, don’t be the one to mock or hurt someone for their difference, whatever it is, even if you think no one can hear you.

All of this made me think of a seventeen year old girl I met in the spring, named Renate Gritter, who shared this incredibly powerful spoken word poem about having Asperger’s Syndrome, and the way the world has treated her.  I realize it’s not the same as what happened with my friend and client but it is related, so please watch this and feel the same joy and fierce allyship I felt when I first heard it! (and forgive that it is sideways).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjNkPR2VheM

 

Five years ago, I was trying to decide if I should wear heels or sneakers on my first date with Kathryn.

I opted for sneakers because it was raining, I was taking the bus, and above all I wanted her to know I was a sensible girl.

Five years later, and I still catch my breath when she smiles.

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 find 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 read an article today that wiggled its way into my head and has swirled around ever since.  It wasn’t even a significant article but what it triggered in me has stirred up emotions planted by other things and left to grow roots.  In it, the author wrote about a relationship of eight years ending and the beginning of a new one.  She talked about how she felt at the beginning of that first relationship, the all-encompassing love, the sense of belonging, the hope she felt that it would be bliss forever.  She didn’t say very much about why or how it ended other than to say that she had met someone else who stole her heart away.  She goes on in the article to write about how this new person is her true soul mate, the one she was always meant to be with, “when you know, you just know.”

My first thought was how absurd.  On what basis does this woman think she can know for certain in a very new relationship that it is meant to be, especially having just admitted that she thought the same thing at the beginning of her previous relationship. It’s true that I don’t know her, or either of the partners she wrote about. I don’t know what this new relationship is like, what’s its built on, or (obviously) whether it really will last. I didn’t want to judge her, but I found myself thinking – how delusional, how stupid, how naïve.

But the more I thought about it, I began to wonder if she is not so alone in her experience.  So many of us promise our forever to someone. Sometimes relationships last through both joys and challenges. Other times it seems it was always destined to fall apart. I tried to justify thinking maybe there were red flags in her first relationship that she just didn’t notice.  Maybe if she was willing to look more honestly she would see the gaps in their “forever” that existed all along.

They say that love blinds us.  Does love blind us?  My wife read a quote recently that said “love is blind, marriage is the eye opener” and we laughed but I started to wonder what those words mean.

Kathryn and I have promised to choose each other above all else everyday for the rest of our lives.  We made those vows on our wedding day and we try to renew them each day in our words and actions toward each other.

Here’s where fear has started to take root.  I think the reason I wanted to know if there were red flags in that author’s first relationship was because I too feel like this love I have with Kathryn is meant to be forever. I can’t imagine meeting someone else who I feel this intensely drawn to or who sees me so completely, even in moments when I can sometimes barely see myself.

And my head starts to spin. What if she meets someone else?  What if life gets hard and we forget to be kind to each other or we start to take each other for granted or we just become bored?  She has told me so many times that she believes being committed to love is a choice that is made everyday, in every action, and that if she ever felt like she was unhappy she would communicate that to me. But I wouldn’t want her to stay in an unhappy relationship just because she had made a promise.

In a tv show that I watch, one of the main characters (who is married) was kissed by someone else and she wrestles with whether she should tell her spouse or not.  I asked Kathryn what she would do in that situation and she said she would tell me.  And I believe her.

But then that fear spins faster and I wonder.  Would she really tell me?  She might be afraid of hurting me.  She might be afraid I’d be angry.  It’s possible she might even wonder…

It’s a hypothetical situation and yet my eyes have begun to water.  So many times when I’ve struggled with my mental and emotional health I’ve feared that my behaviour in those moments will push her away.  I’ve been so afraid that my fear will ruin the good in our relationship.

Fear has a way of corroding everything in its path, of causing questioning, spinning, circling, wondering – causing yet more fear.

And when this kind of fear spins me in circles, I have tried to remind myself that I choose to love.  I choose to motivate my life based on love and not fear.  The only way to keep fear from corroding what is good is to bring it into the light.

I can’t control the future.  I don’t control Kathryn’s feelings and actions. And worrying about losing Kathryn – whether it’s to another person, or to the breakdown of our ability to communicate, or even to death – won’t make it more or less likely to happen.  What will affect our future is the choices I make today to motivate my life based on love and not fear.

And the possibility of these things happening doesn’t change the good that exists today. It doesn’t change the choice we make today to honour each other, to love and respect one another.

I don’t know if our “forever” will be forever.  I want it to be.  I believe Kathryn when she says she wants it to be.  And I know forever is not easy, that sometimes forever will be difficult choices, to love despite pain, to love in the face of fear.  To remember in small moments to appreciate what we have now.  To tell each other that regardless of forever I choose you in this moment.

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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Sometimes I treat the one who matters most, as if she doesn’t matter at all.

I was having a hard time coming up with a new year’s resolution, I don’t really like the concept (likely because I think change is a process, not an overnight decision). But each year I do try to choose a phrase to guide my behaviour through the year. Last year’s was “new life.” The year before was “striving for physical, mental and emotional health.”

This year: “My love for her matters most.” My hope is this sentence will help remind me that my love comes before any emotional reaction to a situation. I want her to know through my words and actions, that she is so much more important than whatever conflict we are experiencing at that moment.

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 a confession.  I am an addict.  I deeply crave sugar.  White, refined, sweet, toxic sugar.  This addiction is fed by a multitude of sources, from breads and pastries, to sweet treats and chocolate.  Even my store-bought pasta sauce and soups contain more sugar than I should be consuming on a daily basis!  My body suffers from this addiction, as does my mental health.  And equally, my relationships.  I have been unkind and impatient when I am without this addictive substance.

Kathryn and I have committed ourselves this year to one goal: working towards physical, emotional and financial health.  My addiction to sugar directly contradicts each of these three facets of my life.  My body is unhealthy, my emotions are easily triggered, and we waste far too much money on junk that we simply do not need.

And yet we claim we don’t have enough money to buy wholesome, organic or local veggies and fruit.  Today at the grocery store we felt the need to limit the fresh produce we put in our cart in order to stay on budget.  And yet I bought an Iced Capp on the way home.  An Iced Capp Supreme!  With whipped cream and a shot of (sugar-filled) mint flavouring.

But this is not my only addiction.  I am also addicted to self-criticism.  I fill my body with these processed junk foods and then loathe my appearance.  My skin is frequently irritated because it does not receive enough hydration or proper nutrients from healthy fats.  My joints ache from carrying excess weight.  I am still young and yet at times I feel old.  And I fear the future for Kathryn and I (and our children) if we cannot learn to love ourselves and love our bodies.

I also berate myself for the choices I make on a daily basis, from letting the laundry pile up to reacting negatively to stress and emotional triggers.  I judge myself by harsh, impossible standards.  If I spoke to any of my friends the way I regularly speak to myself, our friendship would likely dissolve.

I know I am not alone in these weaknesses.  At the recommendation of my therapist, Kathryn and I have been reading Self Compassion, in which Kristen Neff explores the causes of our society’s unhealthy addiction to self-criticism and outlines an alternative path.  In order to learn to love ourselves, and our bodies, we do not first need to change our appearance, physical health or financial status.  First, we must learn to respond to our inner critics with self-kindness, mindfulness of our pain, and acceptance.

And so Kathryn and I have taken a step towards a new journey.  We have decided to finally invest in our health and our local agricultural community by purchasing a CSA-Share from Plan B Organic Farm, located in Flamborough.  We have committed ourselves to replacing the items we crave with other equally delicious and far more satisfying options (like the coconut Kathryn just cracked open with her drill).

And we have agreed to begin and end each day with our own self-compassion mantra, “I accept myself just as I am today, full of strength and weakness, beauty and brokenness.”  We have discovered that the key to unlocking our hoped-for future is in the way we treat ourselves right now, including the thoughts we dwell on and the foods we consume.  Today we choose to journey away from addiction and towards wholeness.

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