Tag Archives: hope

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

My friend Sean Cranbury shared an article on Facebook earlier, and a comment debate ensued. Here’s my takeaway.


In my youth, I was a huge U2 fan. For a long time, my listening trifecta were Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, and Achtung Baby. That was my “era” of U2.

One song I played a lot back then was “Acrobat.” Something about it spoke to me, because I knew I was an angry person. I was angry then, I’m still a brand of angry now.

And you can swallow or you can spit
You can throw it up, or choke on it
And you can dream, so dream out loud
You know that your time is coming round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down.

I wanted to live a life where the bastards didn’t grind me down, but I also wanted to be of those who shouted at the wind to evoke change.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, it did grind me down. I lost my soul for a while. I was angry about everything. I was the trodden. I was the one looking for the crumbs of hope and choking on any I dared to swallow.

I’m 41 now. I’m tired of being angry. I’ve learned something along the way — nothing will ever be perfect. Nothing will ever make us all happy. Whatever victories lift me up are the same that leave others crestfallen.

We live in an imperfect world. That’s just the way it goes. There are no flawless heroes. No perfect souls we can hold up as an example to all.

But every now and then, we have a great day. Like when marriage equality was finally doled out by the Supreme Court in the USA. That was a fine, glorious day.

Then someone turns around and says “But we need more! There are injustices left! Don’t stop! Don’t breathe! Keep going! Fight, fight, fight!”

Here’s the thing, though.

In the United States, more than half of the states still have being gay as a fireable offense. Show up to work gay and you can be fired for it. Really. “Sorry, Bob, we’re in a no rainbow zone here. Pack your knives and go.”

And yet, in plenty of those states, gays lined up for the opportunity to put their love on display and get married on the least-subtle day EVER to be married in gay history. Some said, well, the strange thing is, I can get married today but on Monday I could be fired for celebrating a right given to me over the weekend by SCOTUS.

But still they married. Why?

Because Monday would be a new battle. This weekend? It was for joy. It was for celebrating. It was for saying that in one brief moment we all had a little more love, equality, and hope in our lives.

Those moments — they’re truly rare. That instant of glorious togetherness, where we don’t have to sing “We shall overcome,” because we overcame. In my life, there are a handful. Berlin Wall toppling. The Quiet Revolution in Egypt. Obama’s Inauguration.

I’m 41 and I’m struggling to remember more moments of true joy, laced with the feeling that comes from witnessing change in the making. The good change.

If you don’t stop to enjoy the feeling of victory, then what is it that sustains you? It’s certainly not hope for a better day, because you just had one and you didn’t savour it. No, what sustains you is anger and frustration.

I can’t hate like that. I can’t be angry all the time.

Love wins.

Love wins.

Choosing your moments

Do you know what I did on the night that thousands died on September 11th, 2001?

After a day spent in horror and fear and lost in the coverage on TV, I went for a bike ride. I wanted to find a moment in time somewhere that reminded me what life was like before planes crashed into two buildings that morning and killed so many.

Remember that first night? We knew over 50,000 people worked there. We didn’t know how many were killed. I’d thought over 10,000, easy.

But I went cycling. I found some kids playing in the street. I stood there and watched them battling out over street hockey supremacy, laughing and giggling and shouting and disputing each others’ goals.

For just a moment, I was in a world that hadn’t changed beyond recognition. I was terrified of the loss of innocence we’d had as a continent just hours before. I guess, like me, these children’s parents were trying to make sense of that loss and death and hate, and they’d not yet spoken to their kids about it. I’m grateful they took a pause because that laughter helped me sleep that night and for many thereafter.

Whatever else the terrorists took that day, they didn’t take my hope that we’d one day move past it.

For one brief, beautiful time, this happened. Did you enjoy it? Or did it pass you by because you were too busy worrying about Monday?

For one brief, beautiful time, this happened. Did you enjoy it? Or did it pass you by because you were too busy worrying about Monday?

All this and so much more

The world is filled at once with unending beauty and undeniable evil. We hate, we love. We contain multitudes.

I guarantee you: On every good day you ever have, there are horrors happening elsewhere. Not just bad things, true horrors. They happen daily. This is humanity, for good or ill. It’s nature, too. Animals eat their young. They kill the weak. We are not so different. We are nature too.

Moments. That’s all life is. Snippets joined together. Vignettes.

The good times, they won’t last. Your righteous rage does you much wrong if it robs you of the ability to find joy and celebrate the small victories that punctuate our banal and fleeting lives.

I, for one, would rather have my world and my values cobbled together by those who can see great moments when they come, not those who brush aside victory because the world is not yet perfect.

All I want from the world I live in is more good than bad. I want leaders who call out injustices but jump to ring the bell of victory the loudest when the good wins pour in.

Tomorrow is Monday. We will have stories of those fired for embracing their love. We will have a new fight. But this weekend, I chose love. I chose gratitude. I chose to sleep in with the warm fuzziness of knowing there was one less injustice in the world this weekend.

And tomorrow, my rage will rise in support of those who show us that there is a new day to fight for. Either way, I won’t let the bastards grind me down.

I Fought Depression & Won. I Was Lucky.

It’s #BellLetsTalk day and while I hate giving free advertising to a company, it’s a day that does inspire a lot of conversation, and for that reason I feel obligated to say my part.

My feeling “obligated” to share my mental illness battles stems from being someone who’s been through both biological and situational depressions and who knows first-hand how hard it is to climb out of that, but that it’s possible (for some).

These days, I still get angry at people who suggest depression is a matter of discipline and keeping your appointments. “Oh, do X, Y, Z, and talk about crap with a professional, and you’ll be tickety-boo.” Right. As if.

Sunset in a cemetery.

Sunset in a cemetery. By Me.

Sometimes There’s A Reason

I know now, from this early-greying side of 40, that many of my mental issues probably stem from the fact that I had four concussions in the decade prior to a traumatic brain injury. I don’t know that I’ll ever walk away from anxiety and mood-swings completely. Maybe that’s a part of me now. It’s been 11 years since my head injury, but I’ve had leg bruises take 6 months to heal, so who knows about the brain, right?

I do know that I’ve overcome the worst of it. It’s like finding your legs at sea –a new normal can be found where one realizes their ups/downs and the triggers thereof.

Sayings like “knowing is half the battle” become truisms for a reason. Knowledge changes everything, particularly in the mental health battle.

It was life-changing the day I learned that some 80% of TBI sufferers go on to experience serious depressions in the decade following their traumatic brain injury. It really was life-changing, on a #BellLetsTalk day, no less. Two years ago.

In Good Will Hunting, here’s a scene where Matt Damon keeps getting told by Robin Williams that “it’s not your fault,” and Damon doesn’t get it until he “gets it,” and then he breaks down in tears.

This wasn’t quite like that, but finding out there was probably a physical cause for how I got so very fucked up, it was so empowering and disarming. It wasn’t my fault. I was “injured.” Until then, I didn’t realize how much I had always blamed myself for my depression.

But it really isn’t my fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not our fault that science can’t explain these things better, or that we’re only really now studying the brain and making advances.

What if There’s Always Been a Cause?

I’ve seen news recently too where medical experts are beginning to wonder if there can be a bacterial cause or infectious disease behind the growing spectre of depression. There is evidence that this is potentially true. What if it’s a “bug” you caught as a kid that’s made you depressed all your life? What if it really can be “cured”? This is an amazing idea.

It’s also a dangerous one to latch onto. Depression is such an insidious beast that easy antidotes are a cruel tease. False hope can literally be a killer.

For me, I know now to expect lethargy, anxiety, depression, overeating, overdrinking, and every other negative under the sun when I’m enduring the short days of a Canadian winter. I’m one of the 20% for whom “SAD” could be a very serious affliction. So much so that my heart sings at the idea of being a nomad next winter and taking off to the south of Spain in January. Oh, yes. Positively giddy concept, that.

The Road Back

Reprieve will always excite me, even if it’s just me running away to a Spanish winter.

I’ve been through hell and back on the inside of my brain. It’s just a thing. That’s depression for you. For those of us who’ve come through to the other side, life is a surreal and powerful experience. Sometimes overcoming depression can be as simple as a decision, but those are the lucky and the few who enjoy that choice.

I often have moments when I look around the world and know it’s largely the same when I’m happy as when I’m depressed, and I’m all too aware of just how dramatically differently your brain can process things, and sometimes by fluke of chemistry or just seasonal weather. It’s astonishing once you see both sides.

For most, the road back from depression is an inexplicably personal journey, one that cannot be replicated, faked, or mass produced. For most, there is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all trick. For most, it is a grueling, tiresome, troubling, exhausting journey where two steps forward come with one step back, but eventually, if lucky, they succeed.

Happiness, it turns out, is a process of elimination in which one of many factors is simply luck.

And if folks don’t succeed on their “road back,” they sometimes end up like Robin Williams, at the wrong end of a rope.

That’s depression for you.

Use Your Words

Whatever it is we don’t understand about the brain and its chemistry, the one thing we do know is that, for some baffling reason, just using your words, opening your mouth, and saying something to someone, anyone, can sometimes be the thing that saves your life.

It saved mine in August, 2006 when I called a psychiatrist and said I was scared for what I might do to myself that day. Because I was terrified of the “what if” that afternoon.

Since then, I’ve never again felt that kind of hopelessness. Never again. Never, really.

And I think that’s a potential outcome for many people who today might feel there is no future or hope. Maybe they just need to open up and admit they’ve never been lower than now, to tell someone, anyone, and start that journey. Maybe that’s all it will require.

“Hey, it’s a start” has never had as much potential as it does when you put a name to the unthinkable beast that’s been keeping you down.

Trust me. Knowing really is half the battle. Put a name to your beast. Then get your fight on. You can do this. I did.

What to Learn from Unemployment

I woke up with a smile this morning. I woke up unemployed.

It’s not permanent… yet. They have three months to hire me back. If they can’t, I get severance then. If they do, tickety-boo.  Just not for a while, please.

I’m so fuckin’ tired from runnin’ so fuckin’ long.

I need to stop. I need to breathe. I need to be.  I need to remember small things, simple moments, big dreams, little lessons, and good times. I need this.

Can’t afford this. But I need this.

I used to find stillness often. I’m that person who has literally sat still and watched light change on a landscape (during some midnight summer sun in the Yukon, a religious experience if you’re into that kinda thing). I used to know I could stop, just stand somewhere, just stare, just be.

Be someone doing nothing someplace for some time. Sometimes, it’s everything.

Then I got on a hamster wheel and just started running.

In the last year, I’ve finally forced myself to pull back — a lot. But my downtime has been nothing but fraud. Downtime? Not so much. Just… distraction. I was doing THIS, not that.

Years ago, I was hanging by the window on a ferry ride home, dreading that moment when I stepped off that boat and transcended island time right back into my rat race. This guy, I guess, saw something of that in me, and we got into this conversation. He commented that cities were built to distract us — “Hey, look at the shiny toy! You’re not unhappy at all! You don’t hate your job! Your boss isn’t a fucking prick! Your commute doesn’t suck balls! Hey, there’s a new nightclub — let’s go drink and pretend we’re anywhere but here!”

The city life, we’re all so busy rushing from the job to this to that and fitting him in while squeezing that in, and saving the date in case that other thing falls through, which depends on her contract panning out and —

Oh, Jesus. There are days I just want to stand on the sidewalk and shout at everyone “FUCKING STOP! Doesn’t it get TIRED? Aren’t you SICK of this endless shit? NOTHING EVER CHANGES. It just comes with new toys!”

But then I wonder if it’s just me, and I’m tired of checking into the same plastic neighbourhood and seeing all the same people with their shiny toys and lives of distraction, where nothing real gets said and everything’s all wink-and-nod.

Yeah. I woke up with a smile this morning. Yes, it’ll be hard.

But I’ve been wise to that distraction for so long. I see the veneer of happiness so many people wear every day, the air of lies and fakery that exude as people try to convince themselves that, YES, when they were six and daydreaming before Saturday morning cartoons, that THIS was a life they’d be happy to live — tied to a smart phone and plugging in detail of every single day, microprocessing life and yet never really ever stopping to remember what simply sitting still in a moment feels like. It’s all there in the subtle sighs and sunken shoulders, the trancelike moments where they fall away for just a — and then snap right back into this.

I think we’re all sucked into a “Is this all there is?” moment every now and then. Sure, we convince ourselves this is a pretty good gig, but sometimes the bigness of the world just magnifies the smallness of our lives, emphasizing how stupid it is that our daily grind should seem so immensely important when we know that 15 years from now all these stupid fucking appointments this week will mean jack shit.

I’m unemployed.

It’s time to recalibrate.

It’s time to break the hamster wheel.

There’s a gift, you know, in poverty.

Desperation can be a beautiful thing if you know how to channel it. Being forced to enjoy the simple and the free can remind one just how little it takes to enjoy a moment.

Yes, you might love the chef’s tasting menu at West and the flight of wine you had, but I imagine some sunsets with beer and buck-slice pizza, spent on a log at the beach, would blow your fancy-ass meal out of the water. The laughter, the comfort, the trust, the beauty… True ease.

You can’t buy that. You can trick yourself that it is up for grabs, but… you can’t buy that. It’s not for sale. Only the appearance of it is for sale.

I’ve had simple barbecues, a few good friends, an afternoon with no end pin-pointed, that have left every person there thinking “Yeah, no one’s enjoying their place or moment more than I am right here, right now. It’s this beer, that hot dog, this place, those people, and this feeling of weightlessness and grounding that comes with.”

I wrote once that I want the trappings of success but not the trap. You can keep your microscheduled, nanoprogrammed life of pace and panic. If it means you get the $80 meals and the lights and pizzazz, so be it.

I’m fuckin’ done, Martha.

I need me some time. I need me some mornings when I can roll over with a dopey grin and grumble into my pillow as I try to decide if I get up now and nap later, or sleep another hour, knowing the only other pressing conundrum is when to brew some coffee or start to write.

Other people have money, get to leave town, leave the country, find their fuckin’ selves. Well, some of us are stuck here, broke, hangin’ on a dime and a prayer, clasping at any five minutes we get without obligation.

I’m fine with that. I’m stuck here, broke, nothing but a vague sense I can get by and a will to write the best hardcover memoir you’ll read in 2012.

It’s like Ken Kesey once commented, something to the effect that, if you can’t find God in your backyard in Kansas, he ain’t gonna be found at the Egyptian pyramids, either.

In fact, I think “soul-searching” done abroad in fancy healing retreats may not be as beneficial as tackling those mysteries while trapped in your life. I think you have to earn it harder, you have to want it more, you have to dig for greater meaning. I think it’s too easy when you’re off at some yoga retreat. When you’re here, in your life, you need to make other people understand your search, you have to value yourself to do the work, and you have to balance the life you lead with the life you want.

It’s not easy and it ain’t for chumps.

Find your soul at home and you won’t have to worry about it falling away from you when you “return” to life.

This summer, I find my soul. I catch up with it. I figure out what the beginning after this end is supposed to be. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it better this time.

My life is a gift, man. My adversity is my opportunity.

It’s times like these I call upon this much-loved Bruce Chatwin quote I’ve posted on so many occasions:

“A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise.

They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

Yeah. That’s right. I woke up with a smile. And you?

And Then It Was Over: Election 2008

This waiting has been insufferable. I dread a bad election day. I fear problems. But I anticipate an Obama victory. As far back as March I was saying, deep down, I thought Obama might take this election by a landslide. I believed then. I believe now.

It doesn’t mean I’m not scared. Shit happens. In 36 hours I’ll probably feel a lot better than I am.

But then again, my whole life right now is waiting — waiting to sign papers for the loan I’ve been approved for, waiting for the bed I’ve chosen and put a deposit on to be delivered next weekend, waiting for my back to heal, but most of all, waiting for a leader of the free world who wants to inspire hope, not fear, who wants to work with others, not drive a wedge between them, and who thinks dreaming a bigger dream isn’t the mark of a fool, but rather the mark of greatness.

In short, I’m waiting. I’ve waited a lifetime for a leader to inspire me like Obama does. I’ve waited a lifetime for a country to lead the way and say, globally, that dreaming of better days isn’t just for yesterday anymore. Continue reading

WHEW! A Better State of the Steffs, & Schoolgirl Kilts!

Yesterday became increasingly dark for me, even though I kept my good humour alive on Twitter in an attempt to keep my mind off things, so when my aunt called me in the evening to see how I was doing, I suddenly broke into the biggest cry I’ve had in a while.

I tried to downplay my financial worries and my fears, tried to be a bit more of a “man” about things, but it didn’t work out very well. I got off the phone and literally wailed, “I want my mommy!” It wasn’t one of my finest moments.

This morning she rang me. Her and my uncle are sending me a gift of cash to tie me over, as I’ve only ever been this desperate once before. I was so relieved I flat-out bawled yet again.

But yay for me. Yay for seeing that little light in the tunnel. Yay for my back feeling a bit better. Yay for maybe turning the page on the darkest part of my recent trials. Continue reading

A Little Political Round-Up: Good News!

I definitely get into the politics on this blog but you wouldn’t believe how much I’m often restraining myself.

Lordy, have I got me some opinions.

But tonight I’m going to bed with this odd little thing. It’s there, niggling. Deep, deep down, burrowed in the base of my belly, there it is: Possibility. A little thing called hope.

Here, in one of the darkest political weeks I can recall, like, ever, a niggle of hope. Maybe even a wiggle?

The Washington Post has announced, for the first time since Clinton’s win for the White House, a Democratic candidate has broached the 50% mark in polls in the weeks leading up to the election. Obama has snatched a considerable lead — nine points — over McCain. 52% to 43%. Continue reading