A few years ago, Jan Falkowski, a man in his 50s, arrived at my Re-Write Your Life program. He was just starting to come out of a long darkness after the death of his beloved daughter, Jessica.
Jessica was only 19 years old when she died. As a high school graduation gift, Jan’s sister and brother-in-law took Jessica to Australia. After a couple of weeks seeing the sights, Jessica’s aunt and uncle returned to Victoria. Jessica stayed on because her best friend, Erin was flying in to accompany her. They intended to enjoy a summer of adventure before returning to university in the fall.
Erin arrived only to learn that the evening before Jess had been in a serious car accident and was lying in a coma in hospital.
Jess had been at a party. She left with a male friend who, unbeknownst to her, had been drinking excessively. Their car crashed.
Upon hearing the news, Jan caught the next flight to Australia. He arrived at the hospital to find his beloved daughter hooked up to life support machines. He was informed by the doctors that Jess would not likely become conscious again and, even if she did, her brain was damaged beyond repair and it would be a life-less life.
Jan left the hospital and took a long torturous walk. When he returned, he made the unimaginable and unbearable decision to take Jess off life supports and donate her organs to others.
Six years later Jan joined my group . . . six years that he described were filled with rage, hatred, alcoholism and a spirit that had died along with Jess. Guilt pervaded his every day as he had a 13-year-old daughter to take care of.
Sixteen years before this latest tragedy, Jan had lost his wife after a long battle with cancer, leaving him to raise their girls alone.
After attending Re-Write Your Life and applying the principles and receiving the love that is present in a sacred circle from each of the participants, Jan, for the first time in six years, began to feel a sense of hope, of new possibilities.
One day he came to class and read a letter to Nick, the man who was responsible for the death of his daughter. It was a letter of unconditional forgiveness. In this letter he expressed a desire to one day meet, put closure on the pain they were both feeling and move on with their lives.
Within a couple of weeks he put the letter in the post. Nick, still in prison, responded with deep and unabashed gratitude. Since that time there has been a string of letters between them.
How awesome is that?
We can all heal our lives from past wounds. We just need to be willing. And why wouldn’t we be? Our life depends on it.
Tapestry, a CBC Radio program, featured a 20-minute documentary with Theresa O’Leary on Jan’s healing journey back to life.
You can also watch and listen to Jan reading part of this letter on The Daily in an interview with Karen Elgersma.
On Wednesday, I put out a Facebook post asking for unconditional love because it was the first day in as long as I could remember where I didn’t want to get out of bed and face the day.
The outpouring of love and kindness I received was beyond what I could have ever imagined. I learned again that the energy of love, prayer, and kindness travels unseen from the hearts of those who send it directly into the hearts of those who are ready to receive these blessings.
My heart was fully open and receptive and I am blessed beyond measure. My well of gratitude knows no bounds. Here are some of the things I was reminded of and I hope they will, in turn, serve you.
First, it was essential to take the day off for my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Mental — I gave my mind a mental break by choosing not to engage in the dozens of projects I have on the go. When thoughts of ‘must do’ came up, I consciously replaced them with ‘not now. I will come back, I promise.’ Acknowledging that I will return to those tasks allowed my critical mind to feel reassured and to soften. I gave that part of me (my ego) an official break as well. It didn’t need to stand on guard endlessly reminding me that this and that are awaiting my attention.
Emotional — My heart was heaving with grief and sorrow. The sudden passing of my dear friend, Joseph Martin, triggered anguish that has been sitting in my cells seemingly forever. I was feeling grief not only about those who have passed, but also about the dangers threatening our world today, from a man like Donald Trump who disrespects everything that upholds truth and justice and equality, to the state of our beloved Mother Earth, the air, waters, the animal kingdom, our plants, our inhumanity towards one another, wars that don’t end. I found myself ruminating on the lyrics to Where Have All the Flowers Gone? My heart felt like it was being split open as I recited the Ho-‘opono’pono prayer, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
I also let the tears fall freely as different people appeared sporadically throughout the day on the screen of my mind. Some have left the earth plane, some have left because of disputes, family members who I thought would be the closest have been the furthest away, and others have left and never told me why. The last two were the catalyst for my deepest sense of heartbreak, triggering memories of abandonment from my earliest days.
As each memory arose, or even when it was simply a felt sense with no memory attached, I offered up what I, myself, was asking for—unconditional love. I also wrote a letter of apology to someone whose heart I hurt last week through hurried, unconscious behaviour. I asked Joseph’s spirit before I went to sleep the night before to write the letter for me. I know he would have done so with a full and open heart. I listened and the words spilled onto the pages of my journal which I transcribed verbatim into an email which evoked a heart-felt response in return.
My day and night ran the gambit of love and fear. Of aloneness and yearning, intermingled with acceptance, gratitude, and long sought out peace.
Physical — I allowed my body to rest. To meditate. To sleep. To eat comfort food. To listen to soothing music. To walk to the beach in the early evening without my phone. I felt blissfully at peace as I sat upon the rocks allowing the ocean winds and waves to cleanse and heal the melancholy that inhabited my body and mind.
I had an instinct to take my gaze away from the mesmerizing sway of the waves and look up. Directly above me was an eagle swooping unusually close. I felt like he was waiting for me to notice him and when I did, he soared and circled above me for a very long time. I was captivated by this gift, this miracle, this totem of freedom that came into my life at this exact moment. I laughed out loud and gleefully shouted out, ‘Thank You. Thank You! Namaste! Thank You’.
Then, I practically skipped home, stopping only once along the way to buy epsom salts to add to my long, luxurious bath of lavender. I settled for popcorn and a movie instead. Go figure! Then, just before turning out the light, I read another chapter, from Wayne Dyer’s book, I Can See Clearly Now. The book I have been savouring since he died.
Spiritual — Every breath, every thought, word, and action is spiritual, is it not? How can it not be since the omnipotent and omniscient presence of Love is always here? God is present in the pain and the glory. I knew I was being held in the arms a divine presence while I cried out my tears, just as I knew God’s hand was at play when the eagle soared above me, inviting me to hop on his wings of freedom. In fact, a part of me has always known I am never alone and never have been.
A perceived sense of separation is part of human existential yearning to go back to the garden. I have felt since I was a young child that the earth was not my real home. But I also know now what a privilege it is to dance on top of the earth and there’s no place I’d rather be.
In summary, I can say that I am happy I was able to reach out on Facebook and tell my truth. It took a lot of courage, I must say, to have reached out publicly in that way.
I also believe even if I hadn’t reached out, reaching inside, asking God (or whatever name you wish to give that which gave us Life) for guidance, or calling a friend, or reaching for that one book that is a touchstone to our spirit—that can be the salve we need to heal our melancholy.
There so many ways to look after ourselves. And it’s essential that we do. Please see the writing exercise at the bottom of the page and tell us what yours are.
I am reminded that feelings come and go. That nothing stays the same. And that I need not be alarmed when they come up in wells and swells so deep and I wonder, ‘how can this be? Haven’t I dealt with this many times before? ’ And the answer is, ‘Yes, I have’. And this is simply another layer and it doesn’t take days, weeks, or months to process. It moves through so much faster when I just honour what is and let go.
How well did you love, how well did you live, how well did you learn to let go?
I have a tapestry hanging in my hallway. Embroidered upon it are these words, ‘In the end, what matters most is, how well did you love, how well did you live, how well did you learn to let go?’ On Wednesday, I did it all. I just need to remember to repeat it on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and every day, to the best of my ability. One precious day at a time.
Thank you for sharing in my journey. May you have the most awesome day and for all the days and nights that follow, may you be blessed. Love, Junie.
Re-Write Your Life
Most of the time it’s better to let people say things in their own words rather than trying to paraphrase and explain.
Please watch these videos to learn about the profound transformations that completely liberated these people as a result of participating in my Re-Write Your Life signature program.
You will hear Jan Falkowski share his riveting story of how he went from blind rage to being able to fully forgive the man who caused the car accident where his daughter was killed.
Next watch Annie Lavack as she talks about her fears and insecurities of not knowing what she wanted to do in her life. She states that it was the processes that she learned in Re-Write Your Life that enabled her to reclaim her voice. Today she is the Minister of the Centre for Inspired Living in Victoria.
The next video that Shaw TV filmed some years ago will show you what happens in a real group setting.
The program hasn’t changed, nor have the results. What has changed are the people who have made the commitment to go forward with their life in this way.
After watching the videos, take some time, then ask inside whether you too are ready to re-write the painful storms of the past and make peace with them. Every story, no matter how painful, can become the elixir of healing, transformation, and ultimately joy!
Above: Jan Falkowski’s experience with Re-Write Your Life
Above: Annie Lavack’s experience with Re-Write Your Life
Above: Shaw TV’s The Daily visited a Re-Write Your Life class
and interviewed participants
Re-Write Your Life
An 8-Week Workshop That Will Transform
Early Bird Price extended to Monday, May 23rd!
Wednesday evenings 6:15 – 8:45 pm NEW:Beginning June 8th
Early Bird: $345
Write a list, or better still, draw a mind map, about the different ways you do or can take care of yourself when you are feeling sad, lonely, loss, grief, or despair. Then write about a time you did take action using one or more of these tools and what the outcome was. I just wrote about mine. Your turn!
I met Teya in 2005. It was approximately one year after her close to fatal car crash where she’d had to learn to walk all over again, something the doctors weren’t sure she’d be able to do.
What I can tell you for certain about Teya is: don’t ever tell her there is something she can’t do. She’ll say, “Oh yeah, watch me!” And seriously, you should watch her. On a dance floor! It didn’t take long after she started walking again that she was dancing. This woman has an indomitable spirit stemming, no doubt, from her Francophone roots. I’d even go as far as saying she has an obsession to be healthy and happy and her joie de vivre is infectious.
This is what she said about that time.
“Totally committed to regaining full use of my hand and body, I found the creative process of making jewelry to be a very effective tool on my healing journey. My heartfelt desire is to inspire other people to never give up and use their own personal artistic expressions as a medium for their own healing and recovery!”
You can find Teya at Victoria’s Bastion Square Public Market from May to September where she has been a jewelry artisan for the past seven years. Look for the woman with the big infectious smile standing behind her booth called, Dangles—Simply Elegant Jewelry. And tell her Junie sent you!
Here is Teya’s story about how she did whatever it took to walk, be productive, continue being an amazing single mom, and change her career from massage therapist to jewelry maker:
An Almost Fatal Car Crash That Changed My Life Forever
by Teya Danel (excerpted from Junie Swadron’s book, Re-Write Your Life)
I’m floating in space and all of a sudden find myself in a restaurant I worked in. Everything is twilight and surreal. I step into the restaurant and see one of my former coworkers. There is a sudden understanding that I cannot possibly be there physically. I see lots of flashes of bright light and they seem to swirl and twirl around me moving in and out of consciousness. Where am I? What is this place? I drift back into unconsciousness.
My eyes are closed and I start to stir slowly. Again, where am I? Everything is hazy and I can’t move my body. A sudden paralyzing fear hits me: Oh my GOD, I think to myself, where’s Daved? What’s happened to him? Is he alive? My heart is aching and beating hard. I become full of apprehension. I vaguely remember him being with me but cannot place my finger on it.
The realization that something really terrible has happened slowly enters my mind. As I open my eyes the first thing I see is a railing on the side of my bed with a photo of my eight-year-old boy taped onto it. He is sitting in a hospital bed surrounded by my relatives and I see a big smile on his face. Huge relief flows through my body. He’s okay. He made it. I take a deep breath and I start to cry with relief and gratefulness—he’s okay, we’re okay. I’m still here. Where exactly is here? Where am I? I look down my body and I see contraptions on my legs. My whole body feels numb and I recognize that I’m in a hospital and I’m sensing I had a car accident. I wonder how long I’ve been here. I can hardly believe the state I’m in.
It’s August 6, 2004 and I’ trying to make sense of my condition. All I know is that I’m lying in a hospital bed just about broken to pieces and very high on morphine. I’m in very rough shape and my face is all swollen and I look like death warmed over. Thank God for modern technology and pain relieving drugs. I can’t imagine what kind of pain I would be in if I could feel my body.
I learn that I’ve had a very close call and in fact, it is a miracle that I’m still here. I’ve just been through a 14-hour tandem operation with surgeons working on saving both my legs and my left arm. There is so much damage that they can’t deal with it all at once. More surgery is scheduled. I’m in ICU and fade in and out of consciousness. It turns out that there are multiple breakages in both my legs. They went through the floorboards of my car and my right leg is off by 10 degrees. My left elbow has splintered like chicken bones, a number of ribs on my right side have been broken and the right side of my face, which hit the steering wheel, is caved in and black and blue. I’m lucky that I still have my eye.
I find out later that on my way to Nanaimo to pick up my older son, I went through an intersection, up and over an island and straight into a post that scrunched my car on the driver’s side. Much later when I get to see the pictures, I can hardly believe that I’ve come out of there alive. I’ll never really know what happened that afternoon; I have no memory of it whatsoever. In fact all I can remember is leaving the house. The rest is blank.
But there I was sprawled over the steering wheel in deep shock and not even conscious. However, the mothering bond is so incredibly powerful that even in the midst of such incredible trauma, I managed to somehow inform the police that I have a 14-year-old son arriving at the ferry terminal. Don’t ask me how I do that. I ask him a year later about his experience that day and he tells me that when he heard his name on the speaker at the ferry he intuitively knew something was terribly wrong. The policewoman takes him to the hospital in Nanaimo where he sees me and his brother in pretty bad shape. I’m screaming and have not stopped since they pulled me out of the car. I can imagine how horrifying it is for a young 14-year-old to witness his mother and brother in such an unbelievable condition.
He ends up being taken under the wings of a woman who runs a volunteer organization called Victims Services, which I’ve never even heard of. When I hear the story of his journey I say a prayer of thanks to that woman who took my son home with her, gave him a bed that night and money the next morning so he could board the ferry back to his father who is here in Canada to enjoy a holiday on the Sunshine Coast.
Meanwhile, back in the hospital, my sister Mona comes to visit every single day. She takes good care of me. She makes sure I’m comfortable and washes my hair every few days in a special little basin that sits snuggly under my head. Having lived in Vancouver, I still have a good number of friends there and they start to file in and offer support in whatever ways they can. My adopted mom luckily lives only a few blocks from the hospital and she visits me almost daily. Having my friends and family around me offers me much comfort, courage and hope that I’ll make it through all this.
Will I ever lead a normal life again? Will I ever walk? I cannot even bend the middle finger of my left hand and am unable to feed myself easily as my one hand does not reach my face. I was born a left-handed and learned, with my grandmother’s prompting, to write with my right hand in the days when it was not proper to use the left hand. Anyway, I’m grateful for my ambidextrous skills now, because I’m going to need them to feed myself. It’s about the only thing I can do for myself at this time. Being unable to take care of my basic needs is quite humbling, to say the least.
I feel a very strong sense of determination and commitment to do whatever I need to get back my life and heal my body. I believe that I can and I hold on to that thought with all my heart and soul, even though a small part of me has huge doubts given the nature and extent of my injuries. The mere thought of spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair is completely overwhelming. I begin the long journey of rehabilitation and healing and there are no guarantees being offered as to what the outcome will be.
I end up spending a month in Vancouver General, and when I am well enough to make the journey I ask to be transferred back to Victoria where the Royal Jubilee Hospital will be my home for the next two months. The surgeon who is taking over my case, a fine man by the name of Michael O’Neill, informs me upon arrival that I’m a very lucky woman. He says to me “not that long ago, you wouldn’t have made it” and I know in my heart that that is the truth. As I lie in my bed, day in and day out, I am astounded at how strong and grounded I feel. I can barely move and yet I feel totally powerful instead of powerless, which one would kind of expect, given my circumstances. My spirit is strong and my will to live and heal is just as strong. I make peace with my situation, totally surrender to it and accept what is.
Every day I get better and better. Even the pain and the long sleepless nights seem somehow manageable. As I start to get stronger I learn to shuffle my butt slowly as I inch my away across my bed and into my electric wheelchair, which offers much me mobility and a change of scenery.
Every day I am working out in the rehab section of the ward named RP2. I remember being taken into the rehab section one day and with the help of three therapists I was able to grab onto a pole and stand up on my good leg. My right leg was damaged the most and I’ve been told that I cannot put any weight on it for at least three months. So here I am standing on one leg, holding onto the pole and having a realization that there is yet some hope for me to walk. Before too long I graduate to a walker and make great progress, one day at a time. I come to realize how much of my daily life I’d taken for granted and in my present state, I truly begin to appreciate every small thing that I can accomplish on my own. You have no idea how humbling it is to have to have your bum wiped for six weeks—to not even be able to take care of the basics.
I’ve learned that out of so much adversity, so many gifts have come. The biggest one being a deepening of the bond between my sister and I. I learned, big time, not to sweat the small stuff and to be grateful every day for my life and my healing abilities. I know now that I’m going to be okay. I can see that I am an inspiration to many of my friends and acquaintances. They tell me they feel strengthened by my courage. I acknowledge myself for having reclaimed my life and my body.
Now, 3 ½ years later, I’m waiting for my last small surgery, which is an implant in my face and after that, it’s clear sailing. I am astounded by the progress I’ve made and pretty soon you won’t even be able to tell that I had a broken body. I will never look at a disabled person in a wheelchair or scooter ever again in the same way. I’ve been there done that, and my compassion and love for people has taken on a whole new dimension.
I am free and standing tall and so very thankful for who I am. I know in my heart that sharing my experience will help a lot of people. I really believe there are no accidents in life. I was meant to have this experience, to get through it and learn so much from it. It has been a huge gift, the importance of which I am only now able to even fathom. I see life very differently now and have learned to never, ever again take anything in my life for granted. I am excited and await all the new adventures that are coming my way with great anticipation and joy. I have a new appreciation for life and intend on living it to the fullest from now on.
One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.
What does this quote from Helen Keller conjure up in you?
How do you feel when you think about your mom? Is it warm and tender or is it something else?
Every child craves a loving and nurturing relationship with the person who carried them in her womb and gave them life. Yet, as no two mothers are alike, we may fit somewhere in the spectrum from almost never to almost always having our needs to be loved and cherished met and satisfied.
If we were truly blessed, we grew up feeling treasured, respected, and adored. We knew we could come to our parents, and for the purposes of this article, our moms, for anything and she was always there for us. She listened, she dried our tears, offered encouragement, and was our champion along the path.
Yet many people had a mother who was unable to go beyond her own wounds to show affection and may have unwittingly projected her fear and anger onto her children instead. Children do not know that the way they are treated has nothing to do with them. They only know how painful it to be ignored or ridiculed or something else that causes hurt or shame.
Fast forward to adulthood
If you were one of those children who was left to your own devices to figure out how to feel safe in the world, it’s likely, if you have not healed your heartbreak, you could still be harbouring feelings of regret, hurt and confusion. You may feel angry and tired, depressed or empty. And you may be projecting those unhealed wounds onto your own children or in other relationships in your life. I hope not, but you will know if this rings true for you.
There is a strong correlation between the way we feel about ourselves and behave in the world and the way we were raised.
Choose change before the universe chooses it for you!
Sometimes, it’s not until life becomes unbearable that we either open ourselves up to change, or in many cases, life circumstances force us to. I know that was certainly true for me. After being in psychiatric hospitals time and again because of circumstances related to my bi-polar illness, I decided not to let that spoil my life. Specifically, I did not want the labels attached to my name to identify who I am. I knew I would have to re-write that story of mental illness if I were to go on and have a meaningful, productive life.
What it could cost not to change
It was my desperate need to stop the drama, my willingness to reach out, and my earnest wish to heal the pain from the past, no matter what that took, that brought me to the teachers that helped me transform my life in healthy ways. I instinctively knew what it would cost me if I didn’t do whatever it took to turn things around. It was simple, really. I saw myself remaining in unhealthy relationships, making poor choices, being in and out of psychiatric wards, having to start all over again, feeling hopeless and unworthy of love.
Thankfully, I listened to the voice of my inner spirit, even though it was only a whisper, and even though my ego was loud and enticing. I chose a path of inner peace. And when I stumble and fall, I know how to find my way back. I simply brush myself off and keep going, but with more insight in my toolkit.
Living a life you love
Today, and for many years, I have been living a life that I love. I also no longer regret the past. Those stories not only shaped me, but offered gifts of strength, insight and wisdom that I couldn’t have learned any other way. This allows me to confidently and compassionately share what I have learned with others.
I am not stating that it was a picnic climbing the ladder. It was bloody hard at times. I wanted to give up and did many times. The hardest story to find peace with was the one with my mother.
Back to mothers
I know my mother loved me. She showed me time and time again with hugs and kisses, with loving talks and was my number one champion when my bi-polar illness took hold. Unfortunately, she also shared my illness but was undiagnosed. So I grew up in a home where we never knew if mom was going to be in one of her loving moods or raging ones.
In my path of healing, I forgave my mother long ago. In fact, I love her to pieces and tell her so often, even though she passed away seven years ago. I was able to remove the label and role of “mother” and see her as a woman on her own path, often a heartbreaking one, and she did not have the know-how to make it better. That still saddens me. It hurts me to the core. She was an amazing woman, but she just didn’t know it. Her insecurities, which she used as ammunition sometimes, simply didn’t allow her to go beyond the camouflage of comfort she hid behind.
I feel like telling again, right now. Mom, if you can hear me from Heaven, I love you to the moon and back and I pray that you are at peace.
Folks, soon it will be Mother’s Day. Let your mom know how much you love her. If she wasn’t or isn’t the kind of mom you would have asked for, take the high road anyway. She deserves more love, not less. And so do you. Find it in your heart to forgive her for any transgressions and make this the happiest Mother’s day you have had up until now.
What words of love would you want to tell your mother today? And if you don’t feel loving toward her, write a pretend dialogue between you and your mom. Tell her everything you have always wanted to say. Imagine her listening to you in a way that she never has before, and that she answers you through the wisdom of her Higher Self, the part of her that loves you unconditionally.
Today I am featuring two women whose stories are in my book, Re-Write Your Life. You will be touched as you read the stories of their inner journeys with their mothers in the most poignant, real, and beautiful ways.
by Judy McIllmoyl
When I heard of our topic for this writing, I knew I had to write of you. I don’t even know your name. My eyes have never been blessed by the sight of your face. I long to know you—a longing deeper perhaps than I have an understanding of. You are my link to the past. To the love that brought me into being. You have a legacy that I will never know. What made you dance with joy? What were you most passionate about? What did you fear most, in the depths of your despair? When you awakened in the morning what were your first thoughts? When you caught your reflection in a shop window, did you ever catch your breath and think of me?
Many years went by when I did not let my thoughts come to rest on you. That wasn’t allowed. Everything was as it should be. I was with parents who loved me. Enough said. But was it enough? While never given permission to mourn the loss of the living you, you were lost to me. Where were you when I was so alone and so afraid? Is my fear your legacy to me? Is it my gifts, my deep love for nature and all things delicate and tender and easily broken?
As time leaves its etchings on me, I look in my eyes and wonder who you are. I do long to know you…as one soul knows another; not by name or even a shared past, but by an honouring of each other’s presence here on earth. You gave me life. I was once a part of you and I still am; as you are still a part of me, even though I don’t even know your name.
Masks, by Sharon Pocock
I step out of the shower and do the things that women do. Towel dry, moisturize, put products in my hair that promise the Hollywood look and god knows it could do with a little help. Wash my face, then comes toner and more moisturizer. Do I really believe I need a separate cream or gel for under my eyes? I’ve no idea but the package was cute and the jar looks elegant on the washstand, promising its own patented fountain of youth. I dry my hair and then the real work begins.
Concealer, just a touch under the eyes and hey, if I need it there, it kind of suggests the eye cream is the snake oil I always suspected. A little foundation, not all over, just on the bits that need it. Hmm, maybe it should be all over. A little eyeliner, maybe olive, or grey, or burgundy, or black if I’m in a Dusty Springfield mood. A little blush, just a touch, a suggestion of heat and then the final touch – lipstick. When I was younger it was bold colours, making a statement in a too pale face, but now in my more somber, if not more sober years, I’m safe in natural, and taupe, and suede and all the other names the marketing men created to mean the same shade of dull. It’s taken me years to hone these skills. To know which colour to hide behind, what creates the desired mask of the moment. But it wasn’t always the case.
I think back to a small, shy girl, tongue-tied in the face of boys. More at home on horseback than at a teenage party. I didn’t know the code words. Couldn’t crack the body language and the secret handshakes that make the closed world of a popular teenager go round. I remember standing, self-conscious in a pair of sage green dungarees that I’d coveted for the longest time. I thought I was the bee’s knees. I thought I was the kick. I walked into the party and thought that I would die.
The room was wall to wall with tight jeans and tighter tops. With hair styled within an inch of its life and lipstick in every rainbow colour. I stood there in my token flash of blue eyeshadow, clutching at my coke and wondering if I could pluck up the nerve to speak to the boy I liked. Finally I took my courage in both hands and made the move and he smiled and talked about our homework and then he walked away, leaving me stranded in the middle of the floor. I know that people watched and people whispered and probably laughed, but I didn’t hear them as I stood frozen, locked in my own humiliation. But I didn’t blame him. He was a teenage boy and that’s how they were. I blamed you.
I blamed you for not teaching me the language, not teaching me the code I would need to open this new door. I blamed you for not talking about lipstick and blush, powder and eyeliner. I blamed you for letting me think that my prized dungarees were suitable armour for a teenage party. I blamed you for all these things – for not giving me the weapons I needed to survive in shark infested waters. I was your daughter and you were my mum and I loved you so much, but I blamed you for not helping me become a woman. For not helping me understand.
I made so many mistakes in those black years; fell over my feet in so many ways. I look back and shiver and think of the deep pools I almost drowned in – putting myself in positions where the worst might have happened because I didn’t understand the subtext.
That was then and I grieve for the skinny girl, so unsure in her own skin, desperate to understand and be understood. Desperate for entrée into this adult world of sophistication and sexual knowledge. But this is now and I finally see the girl for what she was. And I see you in the same blinding light.
I was fifteen when he went away and you were drowning, clutching at straws to keep you afloat and I was your anchor in that long turbulent year. Your love had turned his back and found new pastures and my brother didn’t want to know. What nineteen-year-old boy wants to admit that the father he worshipped had feet of clay? So he withdrew into the strange dark world that teenage boys inhabit and left us two to cope.
We floated in our homemade life raft, keeping each other warm. I cooked and cleaned and I shopped and played housekeeper and counsellor and nursemaid. And by default you became the child in that time and I became the adult. I put away childish things and entered the adult world. The year passed and after more false starts than I can count, he came back, cap in hand and you finally smiled again. But I continued to cook and shop and be your sounding board because I was now an equal in your eyes.
Looking back, that was the root of the problem. In that long year I grew up, concentrating on the mundane struggle of getting through the day. At the end I had crossed the Rubicon and couldn’t cross back. My childhood, my teenage years of growth and learning and experimentation had gone—disappeared without ever really being explored, every unanswered question buried in a shallow grave with a sprig of rue on top.
I couldn’t go back, so I walked forward into life, ill-equipped to deal with the nuances of this strange, new world. But it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t realize that I hadn’t asked the questions. You’d been lost and I bridged the gap and when you looked again you saw a woman, an adult and I allowed you the deception.
So I stand here and look in the mirror. Picking up cleanser and tissues I start to wipe away the mask. Stroke by stroke, bit by bit, the walls come down and then tissue is dirty with beige and red and black. I stand and stare into the mirror, my face clean and bare and finally, I see myself with all my flaws and faults and I’m happy with the reflection. And as I look, I see you too. I finally see the person—not the mother or the wife, but I see the woman, with all your fears and insecurities and joys. I see you and know you did the best you could and I don’t blame you anymore.
This week it is my joy and privilege to feature Andrea Paquette, most often referred to as Bipolar Babe. If you live in Victoria and you travel in the mental health circles, you will have undoubtedly come upon her name, especially in the fields of youth, mental health, and recovery.
Andrea and I met about seven years ago when a mutual friend suggested we meet. I invited Andrea to my home and we shared some of our “war stories” from earlier years from the perspective of self-compassion with an exclamation of “Good for us, look how far we’ve come!”
Together we watched the DVD of my play, Madness, Masks and Miracles, a play to dispel myths and stigmas about mental illness, and immediately shared an unspoken agreement to become friends.
Soon thereafter, Andrea joined my 10-week Re-Write Your Life workshop, and currently she is engaging in my one-to-one author mentorship program. She is writing the stories that shaped her, some of which have never been publicly told.
Her soon-to-be-published book demonstrates her profound transformation from harrowing experiences which threatened her life, hospitalizations as a result of psychosis, and depression leading to wanting to die and making a serious suicide attempt, to becoming a genuine heroine and gift to the planet.
In spite of her painful (to say the least) past, Andrea is an award winning mental health activist, educator, facilitator, writer, speaker, and—Executive Director of the charity she founded, the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia.
Andrea is the named 2015 Courage To Come Back Award Winner in the category of Mental Health given by Coast Mental Health
She won the 2013 Mel Cooper Citizen of the Year in Victoria Award
She is also the Winner of the 2013 Award for Mentorship from the National Council for Behavioral Health in Washington, DC.
Andrea was born to a mother with a kind and gentle nature but her bipolar illness caused out of control behaviour which resulted in frequent hospitalizations. Her parents separated when she was only eight, and she was also separated from her best friend (her sister). Andrea went to live with her father and her sister stayed with her mom.
In her teens, she dropped out of school, did drugs, drank alcohol daily, and hung out with a criminal crowd. After just one too many harrowing experiences, she decided to turn her life around.
She moved to BC from Ontario and attended the University of Victoria on a scholarship and immediately fell in love with political science. By age 25, she was approached by a federal party to run for nomination for Member of Parliament. Although she lost, the taste of politics gave her the impetus to sell everything she owned and drive to Ottawa in her 1996 Neon, hoping to become an MP’s assistant.
From Hope to Devastation
It was then that everything came crashing down. Her bipolar illness started to manifest itself. First as hypo-mania, which included a crushing psychosis leading to unrelenting depression.
In her hypo-manic state, Andrea wrote an election strategy: a 33-page document that poised her to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.
Her illness escalated to a higher stage of mania and psychosis and after a series of painful events she was admitted to the psychiatric ward in Ottawa. After her release, she had no money, job, or friends, and her roommates kicked her out. Even her political contacts failed to answer her pleas for help.
“We treat broken minds and broken bones differently in our society.”
She felt stigmatized. She felt that if she had had a physical ailment, she would have been able to get help and compassion from others. Andrea often shares that “We treat broken minds and broken bones differently in our society.”
Although she was finally able to rent a room in a home with kind people who made her dinners and was eventually able to get work, she was paranoid now and stopped taking her meds. She left Ottawa feeling broken.
Back in BC, she suffered the other pole of the disease — severe depression and anxiety. Andrea could not even pick out food in a grocery store, and the smallest chores and tasks such as taking a shower felt like building her own house. During one of her darkest days, she attempted suicide. This hospital admission brought her face to face with a caring psychiatrist who helped her apply a new regime of wellness.
Andrea chose to teach in South Korea for two years and upon her return she secured a job with the BC government and made a decision to better her life in every way possible.
The first time she was invited to speak to a group about having bipolar disorder, she realized that she did not have to be ashamed and it became her mission in life to share her story to help others.
Bipolar Disorder Society
of British Columbia
Andrea launched her blog and the Bipolar Babes website, which gives people a place to connect, find valuable information and support.
She is now the Executive Director of the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia and speaks to students, non-profits, doctors, businesses, and other groups on a regular basis. She shares her personal story of struggle and triumph since her diagnosis in 2005.
Andrea is passionate about educating today’s youth on the stigma surrounding mental health and additional societal stigmas that negatively affect people’s perceptions of themselves and others.
In five short years, this extraordinary woman has presented her story at over 150 schools, workplaces,community organizations and events, reaching more than 12,000 people.
Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes
in Greater Vancouver
In January 2016, Andrea launched a new and exciting Classroom Presentations Program called the “Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes” in Greater Vancouver with the collaboration of co-founder Dave Richardson, President, Octaform Systems Inc.
As mentioned earlier, Andrea hired me as her writing coach, excited to share her personal memoirs, including some of the most intimate details of her life.
No Matter What Our Challenges,
We Can All Live Extraordinary Lives
In her powerful message, she encapsulates that “No matter what our challenges, we can all live extraordinary lives.”
If anyone can live up to that truth and be a mentor for all people affected by mental illness, it’s my special friend, Andrea Paquette.
Andrea, bless you for your extraordinary contributions to the world.
Write about a time in your life that you knew you had to change the circumstances you were in because it was too painful or too destructive to stay where you were. The idea of making a change scared you but you did it anyway. What did you do to turn the circumstances around? Looking back at it from distance, what did this time in your life teach you about yourself? Describe the details.
It was written over 6 years ago and it’s about what happens when the symptoms of my bi-polar illness kick in. Luckily, since the time of writing, the poem you see at the end has become truer for me.
I see the value in all of it, and these days I can quickly turn things around . . . by simply not sweating the small stuff, loving what arises in me, and using my newest tool—a free app called Mindfulness Bell (Thich Nhat Hanh).
It rings periodically and when it does, I put my hand on my heart and tell that little girl in me, “I love you, Junie”.She’s becoming quite accustomed to hearing it and becomes really insistent when she doesn’t hear it enough! I invite you to download this app and join the “I Love Myself Revolution”. After all, the more we can do this for ourselves, the more it spills over to everyone else!
Here’s my story (and I’m probably not sticking to it)!
I have lost count of the times when I couldn’t feel my heart—neither to love myself, another, or especially to receive love. I also couldn’t understand how someone could love me when I felt like I was giving nothing back—those times when despair and hopelessness crippled my days and nights. Such is the peril of bi-polar affective disorder. And sometimes that’s what frightens me the most.
The fact that even when I’m well and I believe the anxiety and debilitating depressions won’t return, they still do. I used to be smug because years could go by without an episode and I would think I was out of the woods. But then, seemingly without warning, the old foreboding would show up. I’d wake up with it. It’s a frightening and shameful place to be when I come from the philosophical outlook that I create my own reality . . . create it by the thoughts I think.
Talking to myself
So believe me when I say, that in those times, I talk to myself overtime to re-create the positive ones but sometimes in vain. Both my ego and my brain chemistry have their own force and often win out. During those times I even forget that my soul has chosen this experience before I incarnated in order to assist me in my spiritual evolution. Instead, at best I am grasping at the tools I have honed just to get me through another day, minute by minute.
Right now I’m in one of my good places. A place where optimism reigns high. I am loving my work, my friends, my choir, my writing, my pets, my just-about-everything. For the majority of this calendar year I have felt grounded, relaxed, happy, motivated, confident and in good spirits. My groups and therapy clients help to ground me and keep me honest and sane. I love what I do. I believe I am living my life’s purpose. I’m in one of those places where I am filled with gratitude for being so abundantly blessed.
Taking ourselves less seriously
It’s during times like this that I take myself less seriously and can relate to a poem I wrote years ago. I wrote it to help me through one of those dark times and it became a song that was performed in Madness, Masks and Miracles. I thought about all the phobias and fears that we all seem to have—me, my clients—the world! As much as I honour and respect the feelings that come up for me and others when the fear and panic takes over, from this perspective, you just have to laugh!
Fear of dying and afraid of life
Fear of flying and afraid of strife
Fear of losing and afraid to win
Goodness-gracious where does one begin!
Claustrophobia, agoraphobia and phobias we can’t spell
Pathophobia, xenophobia, hydrophobia, zoophobia
We know ‘em well.
Now what would Freud or Jung say
If they were in this room
Their likely fear would be to get out of here
In case they caught the gloom!
Are we crazy; no we’re not,
We’re simply concerned by what we’ve got
Fear of hunger, afraid of fat
Fear of wars, chores and doors
Can you imagine that!
Fear of Satan and afraid of God
Is there anything here we’re not afraid of?
Between our birth and dying,
We have so much to fear
Was God, do you think, in His right mind
To ever have put us here!
Fear of cats and afraid of snakes
Fear of laughter for goodness sakes
Fear of aging or growing too tall
Face it. If it’s not worth fearing, is it worth it at all?
Afraid of getting out of bed, a fear of eternal sin
Afraid of germs afraid of worms, afraid of your own kin!
Afraid of black, afraid of white, afraid of in-between
Afraid of going out alone, afraid of being seen
Are we crazy, well maybe yes
You decide. It’s anyone’s guess
Are we crazy, well maybe not
Isn’t it something that everyone’s got?
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” (Wayne Dyer). Write about a time that this was true for you—or is there something happening in your life today that you can look at differently? (In other words, re-write that life story)
Do you think your negative beliefs and attitudes toward writing
can’t change in a few hours? Yes, they can!
Do you think life affirming transformation can’t happen in a day?
Yes, it can!
Come, let me show you how to come home to your heart through the joy
Writing has the power to stop time, cut through the extraneous and take us
home to our heart. This absolutely fun experience will engage the writer within
and may surprise you by eliciting prose, poetry, song lyrics or simply stream of
consciousness writing in “no apparent form”. You will learn the fundamentals of
moving past the head and into the heart of writing.
You will be led gently into story and into the soul’s inner landscape where
clarity, creativity, passion, originality and truth are revealed. With
encouragement, safety and the freedom to jump in, you will open to the joy of
where writing can take you.
The sweet whisperings of your soul meet you on the page and something shifts.
You strengthen. You begin to stand taller and one day you notice that your voice
on the page has become your voice in the world.
For those who have never experienced my 8-week writing workshops called, Sacred Writing Circles, also known as “Write Where You Are” or Re-Write Your Life, this will give you an excellent opportunity to be introduced to the experience.
“When I arrived here I was completely stuck. I felt self-conscious,
worried, couldn’t even think about reading out loud to the group. By the time I
left at the end of the day, words were pouring onto the paper like years of
uncried tears. I read out loud to the group and felt proud of the things I had
written after it was received so warmly by the group. What a personal
transformation in 1 day!”
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Time: 9:30am – 5pm
Church of Truth
Community of Conscious Living
111 Superior Street
Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1T3
In my last newsletter, the tip I offered was to buy yourself a special journal.
Today, being the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I’m going to share some personal entries that I wrote in my journal on September 11th, 2001.
I had set that day aside to write an article for Vancouver’s Common Ground magazine. The theme for October was WRITING and the deadline was approaching fast.
I believe what you will read below will demonstrate the reliable and undeniable value of putting pen to paper when your heart is flooded with emotion.
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” –Ray Bradbury
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
I woke up with good intentions today to write an article about how writing can be used as a profound therapeutic tool—how it can help us move from pain to catharsis. It’s something I know well. I’ve been using writing to help me work things out since I was given my first diary at age 8. Over four decades ago, journaling wasn’t in vogue like it is today, so I learned of its value through usage. Also, I have been eyewitness to the many transformations borne out of this medium through facilitating creative/cathartic writing groups for over 10 years. I also frequently use it as a relevant tool with my psychotherapy clients. It’s a subject I know well and feel confident to write about. Not today.
Instead I have spent this day like thousands of others—in shock. I woke early this morning—day eleven on my newly acquired piece of paradise—in a cottage set in the spacious woods of Bowen Island and overlooking the gulf islands, mountains and ocean.
In these several days I have watched eagles flying gracefully over my home, herons resting on my dock; earlier today, a hummingbird came to visit my hanging geranium and a bluebird began singing to me from the fir tree next to my bedroom window.
And from this peace and paradise, still I woke with a heavy heart. I wasn’t sure of its origin but knew I needed to connect with someone—someone very close to me. I called my friend Dale who instantly and sensitively revealed to me what was going. I let the tears flow as she described the gruesome details. The very next thing I did was e-mail my partner, who just a week ago, flew to Korea, to take a contract there. I needed to tell him of my horror and how grateful I am that he has landed safely and is not on a plane en route. I spent the rest of the day in silent prayer, grief, fury and questioning God. Why? But I haven’t heard any answers. And so I didn’t come to the computer to write that article, which has a close deadline, and I’m not writing it now—at least not the way I thought I would. Instead I do what I do when I need to release. I write what is there in front of me—I simply tell the truth…
I was on my dock a little while ago. I took a candle and the meditation prayer that was e-mailed to me earlier in the day by the people who put on the Prophet’s Conference. They asked that we join them in a unified prayer—to pray for those who passed on, for their families and friends and for us all upon earth; to pray for those who orchestrated this event, so that they are filled with peace instead of fear and anger and to pray for the politicians—that they act from divine wisdom and not revenge. This is a time to move away from blame and seek to understand cause. Caesar, my black cat and the most affectionate and wise creature I have ever known, followed me down to the dock to bring his energy into the fold. Together we meditated for world peace.
I don’t think I wanted to blame. I wanted to help—to make a contribution to the lives of those who are suffering. Here I am in this incredible God given sanctuary while at the very same time, thousands of people have just died, perhaps are still dying—being buried under rubble—and thousands of families and friends of these people are in grief and disbelief.
I remembered years ago during the Gulf War how isolated I felt—how alone while watching television from my living room and watching bombs flying through the air ready to land on who knows what target. A decade earlier I had spent the year in Israel, arriving there during the Yom Kippur War. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something now, today. I called people to hold a vigil at my house at sundown. They will arrive shortly. Perhaps our unified prayers will help. They will help me, I know.
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
A week has passed since I originally came to my computer to write about writing. I have been unable to until now. I have been involved with my world—walking around numb, anxious, strong, vulnerable, and above all, once again grateful to feel – to be alive. I have been e-mailing back and forth to many friends. I have been the recipient of dozens of e-mails sent by spiritual leaders. Each message holds the same Divine Truth—we must elevate our energy to our highest self at this time—and not be seduced into fear.
And these writings and my own journal have once again, served as my best friend. My partner and I are 15 hours apart and thousands of miles away and we can’t speak in real time very often. My journal is there right now, when I need it—a constant and reliable companion. It plays witness to my tears, remorse, anguish, uncertainly, and to my gratitude. It has seen it all. It judges nothing. How does it work? It works because I tell the truth. It works because I release what needs expression.
Sometimes I think it’s too simple. But then I realize that’s exactly why it’s so powerful. Writing from where we are right now puts us in the state of being authentic, which frees the energy to move. It is liberating to express ourselves. It is a letting go process that allows us to breathe ourselves back home.
As we spill onto the pages what is pertinent in the moment, neither embellishing, nor denying, simply stating it the way it is, we free ourselves from confusion and false voices. We may be flooded with emotion as we impart our truth onto the page—sadness, grief, rage, excitement, love, joy. Allow it all to unfold, to gently come forth. Don’t force it—it’s there. You needn’t strive—it’s there. Just allow the words to come. Don’t judge. Don’t go into your head and say this sounds too awful, this doesn’t make sense, what if someone sees it; just write. Edit later if you must. But for now, just be kind to yourself and do not stop the flow. Do it that way and you’ll be astounded by the results. It’s the energy of now that carries the might. Even when you’re writing about something that happened twenty years ago—it’s your relationship to it at this very moment that matters. And your writing will show you what matters even when you yourself are not sure because the truth will always emerge as you ask your ego to step out of the way.
I believe each of us needs a private place where we can express ourselves without censorship, without judgment, without someone telling us it’s wrong, impolite, unforgiving or anything else. Each of us needs somewhere to state our truth at any given moment and know it’s completely safe to do so. And to express the written word without fear of doing it wrong—a place to put all the old grammar books away.
Still the most common element I have seen over the years in my writing classes is the lack of confidence people have in themselves. Their fear of doing it wrong and saying it wrong surfaces again and again. They qualify their writing.—“Well, I was tired, so I don’t really think it’s very good.” “I was confused and…” or “I had a terrible day today and…” Then they are encouraged to read it anyway, and are often astounded by what they wrote. So if you find yourself criticizing yourself, don’t get discouraged. It’s normal. Just keep your pen moving across the page. Eventually you won’t care if it’s good or bad, right or wrong, you will just write. You will stop being attached to the outcome. You simply write. And that’s when it becomes a meditation. That’s when it becomes a way of life. That’s when it becomes as natural as getting up and brushing your teeth. And when writing is that for you, you will notice a shift in your life. You will notice that things are working out better. You will observe that the voice on the page becomes your voice in the world. Even if you change your mind about what you say a few days later and a new truth emerges, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what happens when we write from our authenticity. The truth sets us free. We move the energy around instead of staying stuck in it. We find a healthier, newer way to relate to the situation. Clarity emerges. Life energy emerges. Strength, confidence and self-love emerge and as you continue to write, you will begin to achieve things that you never thought possible. Your journals can and will be the starting-off point to poems, plays, song lyrics whatever. But mostly you will have your voice. And that… is worth every word.”
And ten years later, my journal is still my best friend. I never know what will emerge on the page. But what I do know is when I allow myself to go naked, my soul feels reborn.
Please do not miss the opportunity of joining me and like-minded others on Saturday September 17th, for a fabulous one-day writing retreat! BY DONATION.
Have you ever considered writing your life stories but then have stopped yourself because there are things you’d just rather not remember let alone write about?
What if there was a way of returning to those same stories that when you thought of them, you felt empowered rather than disturbed? A way that would transform how you felt about yourself as well as certain people and events from your past?
For many years I have been a student and teacher of Julia Cameron’s life-changing book, The Artist’s Way. If you are not already familiar with The Artist’s Way please read on because you are in for a major treat. If you already know of it and even if you have worked through the 12 chapters, you might not know that Julia is now offering something new and very special. Continue Reading