Author: nanilani05

I write about things in various places, and do things with other things.

Bell Let’s Talk Day

In 2012 I witnessed a suicide at work. Most of you know this (and are probably sick of this story. Too bad. The perks of being friends with me is I get to annoy the living shit out of you fuckers.)(you’re welcome!). I talk about it because *I* need to talk about it, but also people need to hear it. I’ve had people, complete strangers, tell me that my talking about it made them second guess their own suicides. They had never considered what their suicide would do to other people. They never considered what their suicide would or could potentially do to a stranger or their families. In essence, my talking about it helped a few people choose life.

I witnessed a suicide at work and it sent me into my own depression and PTSD. It is absolutely terrifying feeling so empty inside, feeling nothing, feeling like you could die and not caring either way. It is terrifying not feeling love, happiness, sadness. It is equally terrifying for loved ones to witness this absolute emptiness. They feel helpless and don’t know how to help.

The worst part of witnessing the suicide, besides the obvious witnessing OF the suicide, was that I worried I was taking too much time off work. I was worried about what my coworkers were thinking and saying about me. I was worried they were thinking I was milking the system. Did they review the cameras and watch me? Did they judge me? Did they laugh? Was my pain amusing to them? Did they have sympathy? How insulting to my own mental health that I even took their opinions into consideration.

After taking 5.5 shifts off work, I went back. While I was off work, only one person contacted me to see if I was ok (besides two lawyers at the firm where she worked). I get it. What the fuck can you possibly say to someone who just watched someone plunge to their death, who watched a life extinguish, who watched one of the worst things happen. How I wished they’d tried. Nothing makes you feel more isolated than having people not reach out to check on you when they know you’re suffering.

The first shift back was the most horrible day at work. I could feel all eyes on me and I felt such an intense pressure. I felt like everyone was judging me. It’s unfair that I thought so negatively of people, my coworkers, some of whom I consider family, but when you ARE so isolated and hurting so horribly, you don’t think logically. Having my two bosses greet me back at work, however, made the day harder in a good way. Having them there to make sure I was ok and that I was ready to return, those fuckers made me cry.

Please please please know that you are not alone. That you are loved. That I need you, if you are considering killing yourself or if you are suffering alone, to take a second and think of me.

*picture included is a week after the suicide. I’d slept just over 20 hours over the course of one week (the average human should get 55-63 hours of sleep a week).

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Double Helix

All at once, I am overwhelmed. I have been so horribly distracted by cancer that I have been able to avoid the coming of this day.

I knew it was coming, it was an inevitability, as time always is. But to be distracted from this day in this way. It’s not how I wanted to be distracted. It’s not how I wanted to not feel this crushing heaviness. And yet it’s been there the whole time, getting heavier and heavier, as it always does, until it finally breaks like a migraine. The pain finally ceases to exist, I can feel more clearly and without weary.

I was doing fine, opening doors, passing windows, seeing faces, and then there it was, so abrupt. Walking up a flight of steps and I couldn’t breathe and you were there. Just there and I could no longer avoid you. I could no longer pretend that we weren’t here, in this place, with these emotions. We were here, as we seemingly always have been.

I stopped to try and catch my breath while the tears fell, my hand on the freezing cold bannister, becoming colder and colder, but I’m so lost in emotions that I barely registered the cold until it became painful. Even then I could barely lift my hand from the rail. I was frozen in place, forced to face emotions I’d not been prepared to deal withd, emotions I knew were down there, emotions I tried to put off, so they were hidden in a box labelled “Stephanie”. I’d been too busy, distracted, worried about other things and so you were stuffed into a box, meant to be dealt with another day, hopefully, possibly much later than today, hopefully, possibly, never having to deal with again. But it always surfaces today. It’s always here. You’re always here. We always are.

No matter how much time passes, no matter how many days go on, no matter where I am, whether I think I’m ok or not. Today I am not ever going to be ok. Today will always be Today. You are still no longer here, I was still your witness, and I am still building walls with my tears, your loss the foundation. Today will always be those things. Your loss, your pain, your life. Today will always be about you and how your life affected me. How your death changed me.

How intertwined our parallels will always be.

Recovering

Sitting here, on the 14th floor in the break room, the wind is pushing against the patio doors. It sounds across between someone is pulling violently on the door to be let in – which is creepy because it’s 4:44 in the morning, and I am alone – and a slam of a body hitting the pavement.

You come back to me when I least expect it. As often as I think of you, willingly, unabashedly, and as easily as I would scratch an itch, it’s the times when sounds and smells remind of your death that I find most shocking. When I’m reading a book and I heard a deafening thud, or walking down the street and it smells like worms, when I see someone who resembles you. Which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Women I encounter and their faces are similar to yours. Bright smile, but sad, as well. I wonder if they, too, have a depression they’re hiding from the world. You come to me in these unexpected moments and it causes my heart to skip a beat. Like I’ve somehow forgotten the past 6 years. (Writing that down makes me pause. Has it only been six years? It feels like much longer. Like I’ve lived with you for the whole of my life)

I am grateful for your sister. I worry that my thoughts and feelings about you, that people don’t want to hear them. That my pain is a burden. That if I were to talk about you, how I feel, how I’m trying to cope, trying to recover, that I’d just be annoying them. That they would listen to me only because they feel guilty for not wanting to listen. And whether they actually feel this way or not, I don’t know. It’s my perception. But I know your sister doesn’t judge me. She’s there for me on a level I can’t even truly put into words. Its something I can’t describe at all. I know that we are forever bonded by you. It’s because of her that I was able to let go of so much pain. I was finally able to breathe when she emailed me. She brought me peace. A peace I never would have found on my own.

I am still recovering but I know that it’s ok. She makes it ok.

Letting Go…

Tattoo Day, in pictures. It was too image heavy to send in an email – I kept trying but it kept freezing up the app.

Sewing on the go train.

My view into the city.

Carbing up in Union Station. You need a good amount of carbs in your system, otherwise your blood sugar levels can crash – essentially you’re putting your body through trauma so it’ll fight what it deems to be an attack on the system. Some people report being extremely healthy after a tattoo session because the body is fighting to protect itself and thus becomes stronger immunity wise.

In the subway for a quick three stop ride. Normally I would’ve walked it but we’re pressed for time here.

Ugh. So much for pressed for time. Construction on Dundas!! That means I’m on a bus and buses make me pukey with how jerky and overheated they are. Also, construction. I hope I’m not late!!

So I didn’t get a shot of the front door. Oops. Also I made it on time!

Here’s what we’re covering up. It’s a 21 year old, poorly applied tattoo. I *could* have had it fixed but … that seems like too much work.

Here’s a panorama of the tattoo shop inside, where the tattoos actually get applied. The front of the shop is not visible in this picture but there are gorgeous plants out there that Ben (co-owner) is a master of taking care of. He’s the plant whisperer!!

Jacqueline’s area is in the corner on the far right, against the wall.

Note how it looks more like an art studio than the typical tattoo shop. It’s clean, friendly, and inviting.

Alright. This is the stencil. We’ve applied it to the leg but she’s realized the entire old Tattoo won’t be covered so she’s going to draw a leaf or petal with a toothpick and then she’ll trace the lines to cover that area.

Meet Jacqueline!! She reminds me of my friend Kate. You spend the day with either of them and they’re like the antidote to a shitty world or a shitty day. You leave there feeling lighter, refreshed, cleansed of the bullshit you don’t realize you’re bogged down with. I could spend all day with J. She’s incredible people. I know you’d love her.

Alright. It’s go time. Are you ready??

Outline of the flower is done. We chose purple because we needed to cover up the blue but we used four different kinds of purples…so it’s got depth and it’s just so pretty.

The flower is done!! You can’t even tell there was a crappy tattoo there before!! Also, her green leaves are incredible. I don’t know if this picture does it justice.

Switch positions and onto the hands, water, and petals. So this is a tender spot and where I start trying to find a way to accurately describe what a tattoo feels like after 6 hours. And I’ve got it. The burn you felt during a vaginal delivery is how a Tattoo feels after 6 hours. Raw. Hot. Sharp. You start attempting each Lamaze breathing exercise you know, and you invent your own, and then you have to remind yourself to continue to breathe.

The hand of the survivors with water flowing through their hands and fingers. Water is cleansing the soul, flowing through the fingers and it represents letting go.

Omg are we done yet ha ha she’s getting more ink for the hand of the one who has passed on. I’m sure my face was hilarious around this time.

Ok, here we go. We’re nearly done. She’s just doing the last of the hand now. The next four pictures are the completed Tattoo.

You can see how swollen my skin is. I don’t bleed much, I hold colour extreeeeeemely well, but I swell up like a balloon as soon as the machine turns on.

A lot of symbolism can’t be seen. The flower petals that have fallen are actually lighter in colour than those ON the flower, representing a loss of life over time, as time passes. The hand that is barely visible represents the hand of the lost loved one, always a reminder that she’s there, in my life, and always a part of me, of us. She unites us, in what was a hard and awful way but is now a beautiful way – there’s love, respect, friendship, and perhaps a need, too. I don’t know what I would’ve done without this friendship. It has made my burden easier to carry.

And so while the Tattoo looks sad, it’s about letting go of that sadness. Recognizing what happened, and not necessarily moving on (because I don’t know that you can), but accepting it for what it is. It will always be there but it doesn’t have to be a burden anymore. At least for me. It’s a transformation. Love, water, life, and death.

The Heaviness of You

I am feeling very empty today. Empty of emotion, empty of cares, empty of desire, empty of motivation. And yet I feel too much, I am over emotional, I am overwrought. I want to cry but I have nothing to give. I want to go to bed but I am not tired. I don’t have a desire to go to bed, and yet I don’t want to stay awake.
I am restless. I am empty of feeling and yet feeling too much, so much that I don’t even know where to begin. I cannot put a physical spoken word to the anxiety, the storm, the calmness, the swell inside me.

It has been six years. I have lived with Your trauma, spliced with my own, for six long and short years. My own trauma rests at the feet of Yours and I sometimes don’t know where one ends and one begins.
I think back to before I knew our pain and it seems a lifetime ago. I think, too, though, that my pain sometimes feels so fresh and new. As if it had only just been mixed in a fragile beaker two weeks ago, ready to implode. Some days it feels like I’ve never known anything else. That it’s like an old scar I’ve learned to ignore but still pains me. Like that time I cut myself sharpening knives. It’s just become a part of me, tender but not fresh. It’s as if I’ve never lived without this pain and trauma, as if it’s as old as I am.
And rarely, I live without You. There are glorious days where I do not fear, where I do not feel, where I just simply exist. They never last. I am always brought to my emotional knees and left gasping for air.
Always, though, I think of You. You are never far from my thoughts. It’s as if You leapt from that ledge and landed in my psyche instead of on the pavement below. You take up space in my head that I didn’t advertise for. You are not a welcome resident and yet, You are not unwelcome.
You exist. Your last few moments on this earth exist because I remember You. I remember the moment You walked in and I remember Your last moment. I was Your witness. You chose that place because it was convenient and easy, You knew You could get the job done, but You had to know as You walked by me, when I acknowledged You, that I would be there, to see it, to see You. To watch as Your soul shattered into a thousand pieces and left me to watch them scatter.

I saw You. And it’s as vivid today as it was then. The sounds, the smells, the deafening silence as I stood up, unable to compute what my eyes and body and soul knew but refused, screamed for me not to believe. Screamed for it to not be real. Screamed for it to be some vivid and horrible dream.
I could not have witnessed Your death, and yet I did. It was unbelievable, traumatic, loud, and it happened. I saw You. I watched You die. I watched You walk before me, 11 minutes, and then I watched You leave and you took a piece of me with You.

And in the weeks afterwards, my mind played games with me. I would dream of standing in nothing, in a black existence, as if on a stage, lit under a spotlight. I was lit, but there was nothing around me. No floor, no ceiling, no walls. I just existed. My mind, protecting me, knew that I could not dream. My mind while awake was torture enough. I did not need to see these images in my sleep and my subconscious knew that. And then when the dreaming started, when my mind could no longer protect me, I dreamt over and over about Your death and I could not protect You. Always, I continued to try and stop You and I never could. I was always too late. And yet still, my mind protected me from the visuals. From the sounds. From the quiet that followed. Instead, it was just the emotional horror of trying to get to You, and never reaching you. My dreams became a Hitchcock movie on a constant loop. Suspenseful thriller, over and over.

***

For the past couple of weeks I have been having panic attacks at night. I have been struggling with questions, thoughts, curiosities that have been too big for me to hold in my mind, too large for my heart and soul to manage, and they cause panic attacks. It feels like I am falling into a rabbit hole that is too deep for me to be able to continue to breathe. It feels as if it’s an ocean of confusing despair and I’m sinking. I try desperately hard to claw my way back out, fearful that each time I won’t make it. That each time may be my last and I’ll drown into a constant state of panic. I am fearful of what that means. But it is January, and so I accept that these are my mind’s slow way of leading up to today’s date. That the heaviness of You is the reason.

I must learn to live around the pain of You but I don’t know how. You are heavy, like a constant, unwanted burden I carry around, and I don’t know how to drop that weight. I don’t know how to let You go and yet I must. I need to leave Your pain at the side of the road. Your baggage has become too much for me.

Death is a heavy burden and one we all struggle not to carry with us. Sometimes we can’t help it. Sometimes we are burdened with things, people, objects that we don’t want. You have become an inheritance. A piece of crystal that has been passed down to me but I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know where to put You and so You just exist with me, within me. I try to coexist with Your pain and my trauma, intermingled. It is forever etched into my soul.

I am bereft.

But what are you

Race was not something I was taught to see. I was not taught to see a persons skin colour but their heart, in front of me. Their worth. Their value. Those could not be found in how much pigment their skin held. Those could not be found in the weight or their height, the size of their bank account or house, where they went to school or where they worked. 

My parents believed in a persons heart and soul. My brother and I were told to not judge based on skin or hair, eyes or mouth. The God they pray to. The partner they lay with. We were taught the most basic of religious preaching. To love. To love your neighbour. Even if he has AIDS. Even if she’s gay. Even if they’re black chinese muslim first nations. 

When I moved to Toronto I was shocked by the number of times I was asked, but what ARE you? What the fuck does that even mean? I’m a woman. Are you blind? No, what are you? 

What are you? 

What are you so I can judge you and classify you and put you in a labelled box because I can’t live in a multicultural international metropolis without putting every person I meet into an ethnic category. I need ethnic order and you need a label so I can understand where you stand on the hierarchy that exists only in my mind. 

And I responded with Human and they didn’t know how to process it. They didn’t understand when I responded, again to their What are you? with Canadian. They didn’t understand why I didn’t live in a white neighbourhood with all the other whites. They didn’t understand why I refused to put myself into their classification, why I refused to accept their ready made labels to stick on my forehead: straight, woman, white – irish, scottish, First Nations.

They couldn’t understand why I didn’t step into their ethnic little box and why I didn’t answer their question. They didn’t understand why I refused to let them label me.  

Because I didn’t see their imaginary labels.

(Originally written in 2015)

Counterbalanced 

They say that everything takes time. Trauma takes time. You just need time. It wasn’t something that I could’ve believed then, though. Hell, I still don’t. Some things there just isn’t enough time for.

In the Aftermath, friends who’d suffered trauma said I just needed time and I didn’t believe them. And I want to ask them, when is enough time enough? How does the soul repair itself when it’s been through hell? And not just a one off moment of trauma but a lifetime of heavy, soul weary, trauma? When does the breath of ones being finally free itself from the binds of hell?

No one has an answer. Those well meaning friends don’t have an answer. The psychiatrist I was sent to could only tell me to read books but the answer I wanted, the answer I still seek, cannot be found in any text – it never heals.

We enter into this world with a soul, one we believe is all shiny and new, freshly polished. Depending on what religion you follow, however, that soul is as old as time or new as the days sunrise.
What baggage has each soul carried with it from previous lives? What do we do to ourselves? What do we continue to put ourselves through? No soul is untarnished and with each passing day, with every little bruise, our souls become stained. With love? Trauma? Pain? Is it weary? Is it hopeful for a new life? A new day?

I have been thinking of you a lot lately. I don’t know if it’s because this is 5 years, if this is date and day, or if I just feel your strong presence because our world is in turmoil and I seek something comfortable that I know. But I feel you and think of you daily. Repeatedly. And then, when I’m alone in a room and doing something, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye and I look and there’s nothing there. Is it you? Someone else I’ve picked up? I spent a childhood with dead people. I had dreams of people before they died. Am I a conduit? If only that were the case. I’d speak with my grandparents again.

I don’t understand your pain but I understand my own. The anger. The absolute rage that I have because I was molested and people would deny that truth. For their own protection? Self preservation? I don’t know. I only know that I see you, your face. I see your pain, your death. I see your rage turned inward and onto yourself.

You beautiful girl. How I wish I could ease your pain.

You are with me every day. We are bound together. The girl who lived and the girl who died.

I sometimes wonder if I don’t purposely hold on to you, your death, the gore. Like a security blanket, it’s something I can cling to for safety. A bit of an oxy moron to those who’ve never suffered but it’s a safe pain. Something you know and understand.

I worry that I’m keeping you with me on purpose. And then for five minutes I’ll forget about you. And for five minutes I’m free. I can breathe. I don’t feel a weight tugging at me, a niggling reminder of my own impending death, my own expiry date. I am a helium balloon and you are a weight. We are counterbalanced.

I used to worry that talking about you and what happened, that people would see it as attention seeking. I would go out of my way to not talk about what happened, to not even mention it. Again, how terrible that I worried more about the comfort and opinions of others instead of myself.

First Nations believe that as long as someone tells the story, nothing is ever dead. And so I will tell my story. Maybe I won’t shout it from the rooftops (an unlikely pun) but a quiet whisper from my heart instead.