- by Alyson Shane
Plus a day, but who's counting.
By this time next week John and I will be in Belize, on our way to the island of Caye Caulker.
We've been there before
but this time we'll be joined by 34 of our nearest and dearest because omg we're finally getting married. I just finished writing my vows and
I think I nailed it.
Getting married has been a weird experience, because even though we're doing an unconventional destination wedding those "traditions" find a way of sneaking in and making me realize
oh, right, my father isn't walking me down the aisle
oh, right, I won't be needing photos with my relatives because none of them are coming
which makes me either really sad or really relieved, depending on how I'm feeling when it comes up.
On Sunday I'm writing letters to all my relatives who won't be there. My therapist suggested it as a way of "putting down" my feelings, so I'm gonna write a bunch of letters that I won't send, probably cry a lot, then run a bath and make chicken parm and watch a movie and take time to just
sit with these disappointed feelings for a while before letting them go
because there's so many positive things I want to focus on instead.
Like how seriously Adam is taking officiating our ceremony
how Katrina has put some much time and energy into sewing my wedding dress from scratch
the number of times Kim has checked in to see how I'm doing
all our friends and family who've messaged us to say how excited they are
how excited I am to share such an amazing, beautiful place with them
and how much lobster I'm gonna eat.
In a way if feels like I've been preparing for this moment for years. Readying myself for the day when I allow myself to be accepted into a family who want me, and love me, and who choose me just like I choose them.
A few weeks ago my little brother stopped by. We were talking about the wedding, and he said "as far as I'm concened, once you get married you're not one of us anymore"
which came across harsher than I think he meant, but it didn't hurt my feelings
because maybe he's right
and maybe that's not so bad, after all.
- by Alyson Shane
It's odd to be in a calm, happy place.
I don't feel this way very often, so I try and enjoy it when I can.
Usually I feel all wound-up inside, at least to some degree, with a worry or a nagging feeling or an anxiety I'm figuring out how to put down. But every so often I find myself in a place where I can
feeling the air filling my lungs and really being present.
I struggle with that sometimes.
Tomorrow's the last day of work before the holidays. Our offices are both closed until January 2nd and I'm really looking forward to spending a few days relaxing and recharging with friends and family and writing and painting and playing Final Fantasy VII.
I've been burning the candle at both ends since September and yr girl needs a break, which is why I'm staying in tonight.
John's at the Complex Games holiday party and I'm sitting in a the kitchen with a glass of wine surrounded by the smell of the oranges I'm drying in the oven to make Christmas ornaments.
Once I'm finished writing this I'll make some mushroom soup
(Campbell's brand, my guilty pleasure)
and a grilled cheese with the dark brown rye bread our upstairs neighbour gave us and watch the Dem Debate.
Maybe I'll get more work done after that, but I'm in the home stretch of fine-tuning and reviewing and making sure everything is in order as we move into the new year, and I need to draw up a contract for a new client Starling just landed, but that's it really.
My fellow business owners know the relief of having all your ducks in a row before you go on vacation, and that's the vibe I'm feeling right now.
Tomorrow I need to go to The Bay downtown and shop in that big, old department store that I love. I need to find a bodysuit and skirt for my wedding dress
before heading down to work from Forth until John and I meet up after work. We're going to the local legion to cheers under the glow of the rainbow Christmas lights that looked so charming as we walked by along McDermot last night.
It gets dark so early these days and I can't wait to look at the man I love under the glow of all those cheesy festive lights and honestly
it's nice to have a second to breathe and get excited about that.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go interrupt my calm, serene silence by watching a bunch of grown adults yell at each in front of a million plus viewers
(you bet I'm watching the Dem Debate)
Happy holidays, my loves.
- by Alyson Shane
A few weeks ago John and I performed an original song we wrote at the Rainbow Trout Music Festival open mic.
It's called "Manitobae" and it's about a particular kind of Manitoban man
many of whom were clearly sitting around Carpet Beach listening to us sing, by the sound of the cheers and clapping.
I don't have a great singing voice, and I sounded raspy af, but I'm really proud of our song and of our little band. This is Big Trouble in Little Wolseley's 3rd year performing!
I've experienced a few losses recently and I haven't been feeling the same connection to my community as I typically do.
But this video is a good reminder that there are like-minded folks out there, and instead of focusing on the weird, negative feelings still swirling around inside of me.
I'd like to share this moment in time with you because it makes me happy.
I hope it makes you happy, too.
- by Alyson Shane
You never know when yr last conversation with someone is going to be.
I have an Old Grandma so I think about that a lot.
It's why I try not to go to bed without saying "I love you"
or end a phone call without saying the same
but people fight and have disagreements and not everything can end on a positive or constructive note every single time.
People are people, after all.
Which is why it's important to say those things when you mean it
like when you feel like you could burst because you're so happy to be talking to someone, and you're sure they can hear how happy you are in the excited pitch of your voice
- or at least, you hope they do -
and you know in that moment: this is fleeting.
That these are the best days of your lives
because they're spent together.
It's hard to remember that sometimes
until it isn't.
So consider this yr reminder to hug everyone you love real tight tonight.
And tell the people you love that you love them.
(I love you.)
- by Alyson Shane
I wasn't at my best over the weekend.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and from the minute I got up everything felt overwhelming, negative, and frustrating. I snapped at John and I snapped at my friends and I posted some dumb shit to Twitter that I later deleted because I looked at what I'd said and realized that even though it felt good to call out some shitty behaviour I'd been made aware of in the moment, imitating that toxic behaviour didn't actually make me feel any better or help the situation at all.
We were planning to go to Electric Six on Sunday night and I spent most of the day in an anxious panic worrying that I wouldn't be able to handle being in a crowded public space trying to focus on a band I like and would spend the whole time
standing with that tingling, tight feeling in my face and stomach and throat
kind of like the numbness that hits you just before you throw up or when you get some really bad news
and I kept saying "I can't, I can't, I can't" because I believed it.
Luckily John is an understanding and patient person and he said "babe if you need to stay home that's okay, but I want you to know I was really looking forward to seeing the show together"
which was hard for me to accept because of the baggage I have from years of having my feelings and needs invalidated and thrown in my face
but I wanted to try
so I said "let's go to dinner instead of hanging around the house" and we went to Elephant & Castle and I had a really good burger with bacon and BBQ sauce and we laughed and talked about our super-secret project over pints of Guinness.
We talked to some ladies in town from Calgary sat down next to us and started chatting with us which seems to happen every time John and I go somewhere
and I deleted all the dumb shit I said online and reflected on it publicly
(because it's good to 'fess up to when you're being a tit, I think, which I was)
and maybe it was the beer or maybe the music but when I started dancing in the crowd at Electric Six the numb feeling that was sitting in my gut and throat and face started to melt away, and it was nice to have a break from that feeling for a little while.
- by Alyson Shane
which is a weird thing to ask someone who just publicly admitted to being depressed but what else do you ask someone in my position?
"Hey, still feeling like a human dumpster fire today?" isn't a great opening line.
The answer is Fine, I Guess.
As Fine as I can be, I suppose.
I saw a new therapist last week and she's very into these visualization techniques that psychotherapists use to help people who have experienced traumas like PTSD overcome their issues, which I'm down to try but to be honest makes me feel a bit silly.
She had me picture a jar with a lid and had me describe the jar in crazy detail, then she told me to talk about an upsetting experience I'd had recently and how it made me feel, and to feel my feelings and allow myself to cry, which I did.
Then she told me Put your feelings in that jar and close the lid so you can't feel them anymore. So I did.
And you know what. I felt better.
Not one hundred percent better, but a bit better.
That's how it works, my therapist said.
So there's that and we'll see how it goes.
I spent the weekend taking it easy and working a bit and last night John and I went to this dive bar in our neighbourhood and ordered some local craft beer and a slice of lasagna to share
and we talked about the future and the things we wanted and the people we know and the things we're hopeful for, and the place was bathed in the glow of some hockey game on TV nobody was actually watching and everyone was wearing toques and comfortable sweaters and looking very Canadian.
It was very familiar and comforting and it was nice to feel that way.
We stayed for two beers and burnt our mouths a little on the hot cheese because we can never wait for the lasagna to cool, and today we spent some time planning the garden and working on projects, and I've been trying to catch up on the mountain of emails and DMs and text messages I've been receiving since Thursday.
It's been humbling and strange to receive such an outpouring of support and what's funny is that for a person who never shuts up and writes for a living, figuring out what to say back is really hard
so if I haven't replied to you I'm sorry and I'm working on it
but I see you and I appreciate you
and I appreciate that you keep asking.
- by Alyson Shane
I've been staring at this blank screen like a page waiting to be filled and I have this pit in my stomach, round like an avocado pit and heavy-feeling, dragging me down into my chair and the floor and the ground. I wish the earth would swallow me whole.
People ask me to talk and I have nothing to say. My words are like ash in my mouth and they feel caked on my tongue. Nothing I say has value. Makes a difference. Matters.
I wake up in the morning and I want to go back to sleep so I don't have to feel this way and so I don't have to fake being happy and smile and be loud and enthusiastic and pretend like I don't have this
hole in me
that keeps growing larger no matter what I do.
It got real bad after VoteOpen but this lack of feeling has been there for a while, or maybe it never really went away and I was just covering it up. Like a hole in the floor that you put a piece of wood over, and then you put a really thick rug on the wood so when you walk over it you don't feel the emptiness underneath your feet. Or at least you pretend you don't.
I regret being involved with that campaign. The city ground me down and I saw an ugly side of it that I can't unsee and I don't know how to love the place that I used to love
anymore because I don't feel connected to it. I've lost my sense of place, and with it a portion of my identity that was so, so important to me, and it feels like that hole is getting bigger and deeper and more complex and I'm losing myself in it more every day.
In the winter I needed to hustle so I could take time off so I barely had time to acknowledge it. I poured myself into my work and hauled ass and accomplished a lot but I did it so I could have an escape from my life and pretend like I was fine for a little while
and I felt fine in Thailand. Most of the time, anyway.
But then we came back and at first I tried to chalk it up to being incredibly jet-lagged, then being incredibly sick, then one thing and another thing and then another thing but the truth of the matter is that
I don't feel much of anything these days.
Just a hollow ashy feeling in-between bouts of profound sadness and red-hot anger. I yo-yo between being angry at everything and everyone, to feeling so sad I can barely get out of bed, and in-between I feel numb. I walk and I talk and I feel myself going through the motions of living my life but it's like watching a movie because the things that are happening have no meaning. They just happen. They don't matter.
John asked today me if I was excited about anything. Folk Fest. Rainbow Trout. Summer and gardening and riding our bikes. Our wedding. Any of the dozens of things going on in my life that I ought to be excited and happy about.
But I'm not. There's that hole in my chest where my feelings should be and it's deep and dark and grey and it feels like if I stare into it for too long I may lose myself and fall in and never come out. I could get lost in it like a series of hallways that lead nowhere but go on forever, empty and dark and endless.
If I were someone else I'd tell me to talk to someone. Anyone. That's what John tells me to do.
"See a therapist" he says "get some help."
So I'm getting help.
Tomorrow I'm seeing a new therapist and maybe that will make a difference but I'm nervous and scared, because the last time I saw a therapist it was to manage the emotional baggage I was carrying around from my relationship with my parents and for some reason I'm okay being a victim of abuse but I'm absolutely terrified of being depressed even though that must be what this is, right?
Is this what depression feels like?
Am I depressed?
I don't want to be. I want to be someone who overcame some shit and maybe still has some anxiety, but is pretty okay now and working on it but can do normal things like talk to their friends and partner about their feelings and get excited about getting married and the future and all the amazing, positive, special things in my life that should be making me feel anything but exactly how I feel right now.
But I'm not okay
and I need to do something about it before this hole in me eats me up and there's nothing left.
Wish me luck.
- by Alyson Shane
Well, John is. I'm blogging because he's in the process of editing a photo of the island of Caye Caulker, Belizem with little notes and arrows and Xes like
X <-- The Split
X <-- Wish Willy's
X <-- Wedding
and watching him is the most charming thing.
As it turns out, John is very good at wedding planning because he
is an A-type, and we both like to take charge of a situation.
We have very specific and well-researched and strong opinions, so it's good we agree on most things. Like:
waffles are better than pancakes
wet cold is better than dry cold (but no cold is best)
inequality and climate change are the two most pressing issues of our time
new Weezer sucks.
the best way to decorate is with plants and books
dogs are superior to cats (sorry T and BJ)
steaks should only be eaten rare
punk's not dead.
Y'know, the important stuff.
It's also good that we agree on wedding stuff because I don't want to fight about our wedding.
I once dated a guy whose brother and his fiancée nearly broke off their wedding because they had an argument about the colour of the candles they wanted to have on the tables at the reception.
But I get it. Weddings are stressful and expensive and that shit gets to ya.
So I'm thankful we haven't had a dumb wedding fight yet, though this hasn't been a stressful experience so far.
The wheels are in motion, and now that we're back from Thailand we're shifting our future-planning, A-type attention to this
the next big thing.
One of the Biggest Things.
I know it'll be different than what I expect, so I'm trying not to expect anything specific.
We're gonna get to the island, get off the plane, and it'll all work itself out. Even if the weather is trash or someone sprains an ankle or I cry so hard that I can't wear my contact lenses.
It'll work itself out.
I'm still nervous, but that's more because our buddy Adam is officiating the ceremony
and I know he's gonna steal the show like he always does.
I should really go see if John needs help with those maps.
- by Alyson Shane
but I'm indoors and cozy underneath a warm blanket with my cats nearby
and a glass of wine
and a couple of dried figs
and a big 'ol mason jar of water
(gotta stay hydrated for our flight)
listening to ASMR videos and reading Hacker News articles.
Even though I'm pumped to leave on an adventure tomorrow
it's nice to be home curled up with our cats in the living room
hearing John laugh every once in a while from the kitchen
(he's on the phone with his mom; they are talking about dog breeds)
maybe with a slight buzz, lulling myself to sleep for our 3AM wake-up time.
(Send thoughts and prayers, folks.)
Tomorrow we have a 24-hour travel day to get to the other side of the world
but for now I'm happy to be safe and warm here in my winter city
feeling excited for what's to come.
- by Alyson Shane
There comes a time in every person's life when they experience a fundamental shift in how they view their parents. A moment when the veneer is peeled away, revealing the flawed, real people our parents are underneath all the assumptions we make about them as their child.
In the most recent episode of Hidden Brain (a great NPR podcast I can't recommend enough) the host was interviewing a woman whose view of her father changed when she was twelve years old.
Someone had called the house looking for her dad, and she answered the phone to say he wasn't around. She remembers that the caller sounded old; his voice shaky. He was upset. He said:
"Your father stole my life savings! Your father is a crook!"
Those few words fundamentally changed her relationship with her dad. She no longer saw him as a charismatic, charming artist. She saw him for who he really was: a liar, a con man, and - it seemed - a thief.
My moment of reckoning with my own father didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. I was going back through some old emails, looking for something I'd intended to reference at my next therapy session, I think, and I came across an email exchange from July of 2010.
My dad was upset that I was quitting my government job to attend university. Over the course of several he emails made it clear that he was angry at my decision, and took issue with my reply, where I told him (in so many words) "I'm an adult and you need to respect my decisions and not speak to me so disrespectfully."
Seeing his response, which follows, shook me to my core:
Wow, in nut shell, write me off. You never contact me unless you want something from me. You've forgotten my birthdays, never see me on father's day, etc.* You obviously are very self absorbed and unless I serve some purpose you have nothing to do with me. When was the last time you called to see how I was doing. Can't remember can you. How is my back, don't know do you. Don't care do you, typical.**
I include the text above because, until that moment, I hadn't been presented with an example of how my dad handled conflicts in our relationship. Sure, I had memories of angry emails, and of him hanging up on me when he got worked up, but I'd never been faced with real evidence of how my father treated me and spoke to me since we'd become estranged a few years earlier.
Until I rediscovered that email I'd been under the impression that I was in therapy largely due to my relationship with my mom. That it was her abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation of everyone around her that was the primary contributing factor to why I had severe anxiety and extremely low self-worth.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode, seeing those words changed how I viewed my father.
Until then I'd always viewed him as a tragic hero. A guy who got married too young, was tricked into having too many kids too young, and was trying to do the best he could in a marriage where his spouse would routinely brag to her kids that "your dad can never leave me because I'll take everything."
The idea of my dad as a tragic hero was the prevailing impression I'd gotten from talking to our family, and the impression I developed as I became the target of my mom's anger as a teenager and my dad tried, again and again, to stand up to how she treated me.
Until I read that email I'd assumed that my dad was, at worst, a cowardly hero.
Someone who tried and failed to do the right thing. A man who got stuck in a bad situation and was trying to make the best of it because he didn't have the willpower to man up and leave.
I remembered my dad as someone funny and kind. With a temper, sure, but as someone who was more likely to start crying during an argument than to hurl insults and lash out angrily.
Despite everything that had happened, the teenage years spent largely in the counsellor's office because I was to distressed with my home life to go to class; his inability to convince my mom to let me move home so I could attend university and not sink into debt; and even the estrangement because he refused to have a relationship with me where my mom wasn't physically present... I still saw my dad as a hero.
Maybe a tragic, or cowardly one, but a hero nonetheless. Because he did the best he could to be supportive and to help me become a happy, well-adjusted person.
At least, that's what I'd told myself and fully believed until I discovered this series of emails.
The last time I communicated with my father was earlier this year. My mom had decided to run for school trustee in the recent civic election and my dad was struggling with the basics of setting up a website, social media profiles, etc. - so he reached out to me.
"Not as my dad, but as a potential client."
I don't want to go deep into my feelings on this issue, but suffice it to say that my mom is about as unqualified to hold public office as they come, and I had no interest in helping her.
So I wrote him back.
I wrote long email explaining how I felt, reiterated the situation that had caused us to become estranged in the first place, and laid out the things that needed to happen for me to feel comfortable re-engaging in a relationship again.
I ran it past John and a few people whose opinions I respect, who told me I sounded reasonable. Firm, but reasonable.
My dad, for what it's worth, never wrote back.
What I've learned in the years since I found those emails is the ugly truth that every child eventually discovers about their parents: that they aren't perfect, and they're just as capable of being petty and mean and immature as anyone else.
I obsessed over the 2010 emails for a while. I read them and re-read them, almost unable to comprehend that the person I had believed in and loved unconditionally could also be the same person accusing me of not caring about them and being self-centered because I pushed back and asked for respect and boundaries.
I brought the emails to therapy and I cried like I was in mourning.
Which I suppose I was, in a way. I was mourning the loss of the idea of my father. The loss of the idea that he was the person who always believed in me and stood up for me, and who respected me and wanted me to be happy.
As kids, we idolize our parents. We look up to them. We believe them to be infallible, and when the ugly truth of who our parents really are comes crashing down on us it's our responsibility to grapple with those feelings.
It becomes our job, as their children and as adults, to make sense of the contradiction between who we believed they were, and the person our parents really are.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode I had to come to terms with the fact that my dad, like most people and most parents, was not who I believed him to be.
In the episode, the daughter eventually reunites with her father, though their relationship is strained. They only talk by phone, and after her dad suffers a fall and winds up in an assisted living facility, she visits him only once before he dies.
During their last meeting he tells her "I'm sorry for all the things I've done" and the daughter is left wishing she'd asked her dad: "what things? What were you sorry for?" before he died.
When she recalls this to the host, she sounds distressed. Like there's something nagging at her; something unresolved lurking beneath the surface. She's struggling with the fact that her dad is gone forever, and all she's left with are the remnants of who she thought he was, who he turned out to be, and a series of items and leftovers from his life that she must piece together to start to fill in the blanks.
I know these feelings. My dad is middle-aged; his health has never been great. He has back problems and high blood pressure and high cholesterol and drinks and smokes too much. I'm acutely aware that he could have a heart attack or a stroke at any time, leaving me with only the scraps of his life to glue and stitch together to create an image of who he really was.
Sometimes, when I find myself becoming consumed with this looming reality, I feel an urge to pick up the phone and say:
"What are you sorry for, Dad?"
But maybe I don't want to hear his answer after all.
*I forgot one birthday/Father's Day when I was 16 and not living at home because of conflicts with my mom.
** What my dad stated here is also untrue; I regularly called and emailed him, and we went out for lunch together every so often right up until we stopped speaking.