Can’t make everyone happy.

One of the ways I’ve coped with trauma in my life is to try to make everyone happy all the time.  When I was a child I thought my role was to “be nice” and to “be a good friend” and to take care of others, pay attention to my friends’ feelings, be considerate, be polite and do well in school always.  Essentially to be perfect all of the time.

I took this to such an extreme that I thought it was my responsibility to save, fix and adapt to my abusers.  Somewhere along the way I did not learn that it’s okay to be mean to protect myself.  It’s okay not to be nice to abusive people.  It’s okay to say NO, even to scream it and it’s not something to feel guilty for.  As an adult I STILL struggle with internalizing this.

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure out what part of all my traumas is my fault.   What could I have done differently?  How could I have seen it coming?  Maybe if I’d been a better friend, she wouldn’t have died.  What if?  Maybe people are mad at me?  Maybe I made a horrible mistake at work and everyone blames me.   A good portion of my internal dialogue is convinced that somehow I’m a terrible mistake.  I’m not really a good person.  If only everyone could see!  Then they’d know the truth.

So as an adult, in most areas of my life I try to be the peacemaker.  I try to listen to everyone’s side of the story.  I try to minimize or avoid conflict at all cost.  I feel incredibly uncomfortable, even panicky when people around me are angry.  And if there is a conflict, you can bet it’s somehow my fault and I will feel guilty about it.

The irony, is I support survivors of violence every day.  I’ve told over a hundred or more women that what happened to them isn’t their fault.  I’ve told friends, I’ve told family members.  Heck, I’ve even told my abusers that things that happened to them weren’t their faults.  You were a child!   You couldn’t have known!   You did everything you could to protect yourself!   You aren’t to blame, he’s an abusive person.   You were in the wrong place and the wrong time.  You couldn’t have prevented it.  Your are doing what you can to take care of yourself.  It’s not your fault.  I believe you.

But at the end of the day, I treat myself with contempt and blame.  I feel like literally everything is my fault.  Always.  I try to depersonalize.  I know intellectually that most people aren’t even thinking about me, let alone blaming me for things that go wrong.  But deep down, I fear that I’m just a flawed person and I feel panicky when I realize I can’t keep everyone happy all the time with sacrificing myself.  And even if I do sacrifice myself, people around me have their own feelings and can be mad, hurt, angry and scared and there is not a connection to me.

A lot of women grew up with the message to “be good” and not to show anger.  Angry girls get labeled bitches.  Assertive girls get labeled bossy or rude.  Angry girls are judged.  People like calm, pretty, patient and loving girls.  We are surrounded by this covert and overt messaging from birth.  The labels put on us almost before we take our first breaths.

Why do so many girls and women feel such intense guilt and even shame around saying no?  Why do so many girls and women feel that anger is an unacceptable emotion and that they are bad for having it?  Why do I feel this way?  How do I make room for myself without feeling guilty?  How to say no without feeling afraid and ashamed?

These days, the world has become a scary place.  I’ve had to take breaks from social media and the news because I’m so devastated by the hatred and violence I see.  I feel the urge to isolate myself, connect less, spend more time alone.  Because I don’t feel very safe in the world anymore.  It’s rare that I feel truly safe.  As a survivor of violence, living with PTSD I feel scared most of the time.  But current events have triggered a different level of fear.

And sadness.  Because all the caring in the world can’t fix this mess.  I could be the best person in the world and I couldn’t make all my friends feel safe.  I want everyone to be in a bubble where they feel safe and protected.

I am a good person. I genuinely help people because I care about them and I want to.  It’s not because it’s an obligation or how I was raised.  It’s not just the expectation placed on me.  I think I was always this empathetic person. I always cared deeply, perhaps too deeply.  And it’s always hurt me.

But right now it hurts too much.  I just want to say NO MORE TRAUMA and hide from the world.  My brain feels overwhelmed with conflict.  I’m afraid about everything I do, that it will somehow make things worse.  When I’m alone at least I can think and I only have to monitor myself and my environment, not other people and their reactions.  Sometimes the guilt feels too much and I just don’t want to make a mistake or let someone down.  I’m also terribly afraid of being hurt or betrayed by someone else.  Sadly, this is a lonely way to live.  I just want to be in a bubble and feel safe and protected too.

Being lonely feels safer right now.  Because I can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t make anyone happy, ever.

I can’t even make myself happy.

Alternative Facts.

It’s difficult to put into words exactly how triggering recent political events have been for me as a survivor of sexual violence.  It’s been difficult to know how to write about my feelings.  I’ve been reading the news, my feeds are covered in tweets, blogs, posts and comments related to the election.  But honestly, I can’t even look at his face without feeling nauseous and dizzy.  I don’t even want to type his name into my blog.

Why am I so triggered by this?  Some people around me have said, “it’s not our country, you have to just let it go.”  But that is a comment made from a place of privilege.  One that I’m not able to occupy because this election impacts me personally.  No, it isn’t my  country.  No, he isn’t my president.  But the fact that the democratic country to the south, has elected a man who has openly admitted to sexually assaulting women, is just too much to bear.  They say that accusing a man of rape will ruin his reputation. I think this is proof that that is a complete and utter lie.  Actually, it will make him leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

I’ve watched and heard snippets of news over the last few days.  I try to limit any viewing of the man himself, but I’ve gathered some important facts.  I’ve seen a new phrase being tossed around: “alternative facts.”

Quite frankly, this is terrifying to me.  I am very familiar with “alternative facts.”  The word I use for them is gaslighting.  I’ve already blogged about my experiences with gaslighting, but to refresh your memory, here is the Wikipedia definition of gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

I experienced “alternative facts” when my abuser told me that I was responsible for the abuse he was perpetrating.  When he told me that if I was a “normal woman” I’d be okay with what he was doing.  I experienced “alternative facts” when he told me that the reason I didn’t like being assaulted in my sleep was because I already had PTSD.   I then experienced “alternative facts” when he claimed in court that I’d made up all the allegations of abuse, including the ones from my childhood, the ones he’d used to as an excuse for my discomfort.  I experienced “alternative facts” when my first abuser told me he would commit suicide if I ended the relationship.   I experienced “alternative facts”  when my ex-husband spread rumors about my mental health to all the health care professionals and school professionals involved with helping me and my children.   I experienced “alternative facts”  when the family law system told me that my disclosures of abuse were just “allegations” and were “irrelevant” to the determination of custody of my children.   I experience “alternative facts” dealing with Children’s Aid, when workers accuse me of coaching my children, and accuse my children of not being truthful.  I experienced “alternative facts” when the police officer who investigated my sexual assault told me he had tried to contact me multiple times and then closed the case (it was proved he never contacted me).

I’ve experienced systemic gaslighting in attempts by multiple people and institutions to silence me, to discredit me, to paint me as insane, to transform my self advocacy into “creating conflict” and to dismiss my feminist principles as extreme.

I am not alone.  Women and gender non-conforming folks who come forward with disclosures of their experiences of sexual violence face “alternative facts” at every turn.  Male survivors of sexual assault are gaslighted too, within a culture which tells them that men can’t be raped. Survivors are no strangers to gaslighting.  We are no strangers to having our ideas dismissed as hysteria.  We are no strangers to attempts to control us, our bodies, our minds and our souls.

I believe this is why millions of women marched on Washington and in cities and towns all over the world.  Women marched because they are tired of “alternative facts” and they have no interest in being gaslighted by anyone (least of all their government) anymore.

I marched because I didn’t want to surrender to a feeling of hopelessness.  I marched to show solidarity with those women who are less privileged then I am.  I marched to break the feeling of isolation that I’m experiencing.  I marched to know that I am not alone.  It was not my first protest, it was not my first march and it won’t be my last.

I know that marginalized groups have experienced oppression and “alternative facts” for centuries.  This is not a new phenomenon.  I know that and I acknowledge it.

But there is something incredibly unsettling and downright terrifying about someone who does it so publicly, so obviously and so without shame.

There is something deeply sickening about knowing that someone who hates the majority of people I care about (My LGBTQ+ friends, my Women of Colour friends, my friends who came here as refugees, my friends who live with disabilities, my trans friends, my own child, and all of my friends who are survivors of violence) has risen to power in such a way.

When I look at him, I see a reflection of all the perpetrators I have known.  I see privilege unchecked and unrecognized.  I see destructiveness, ignorance and hate.  I see all the things I fight against and oppose in my day to day life.

I see you.  I see your alternative facts.  But I call them gaslighting lies.  And they disgust me.

Blue Monday.


Some pseudo-scientific research has shown that the 3rd Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year.  It was even given a name: Blue Monday.

There isn’t any actual research behind this, and of course depression isn’t just caused en masse by a specific date on the calendar.  But, evidence aside, I’m tempted to agree; mid-January is an extremely depressing time of year!  Especially for folks who already live with depression, and even more so for those of us whose depression is seasonally affected (made worse by the darker winter days).

It was a stressful week, the holidays ended too soon and I’m tempted to curl up in bed and stay there until the snow melts in April.

It’s so hard to be cheerful when there isn’t any hope of seeing any green living plants for another 3 months!  It’s hard to be cheerful when it’s – 1 000 000 degrees outside every day and the roads and sidewalks are covered in ice.

I took two weeks off over Christmas.  I was burnt out and exhausted.  I was grateful to have the time off, but it wasn’t enough.  It’s very difficult to relax on demand.  During the second week of the holiday break I took a vacation on my own.  While I was away I walked for hours every day, as much as 20 km per day.  I took photographs of all the beautiful green plants and I stood by the ocean.  I walked and walked and walked to clear my head.  It seemed amazing that plants, flowers and trees were growing and blooming in January and that the air was warm instead of freezing my face.

Since I came back I’ve been struggling.  Work has been stressful and I don’t have any more certainty or answers in my personal life.  I’ve been having a lot of memories, flashbacks and PTSD symptoms.  A year ago this week my family law trial started and my PTSD has always been very sensitive to anniversaries of traumatic events.

Since I stepped out of the airport last weekend, into the -25 C air, whenever I’ve felt overwhelmed I’ve been thinking of the images from my vacation.  Specifically, the lemon trees.  Inside my head I’ve been saying to myself, “lemon tree, lemon tree, lemon tree”  like a mantra.  Visualizing the yellow fruit and the succulent plants surrounding it.  Trying to bring back the warmth into this frozen, cold, blue world.

I’ve never been particularly good at positive imagery.  My mind is exceptionally skilled at recreating negative, scary or traumatic imagery!  But something about this lemon tree seems to be working for me.

It’s a grounding technique I’ve taught to my service users at work, but one I’m not good at using myself.

So if you are feeling blue this week, dark and hopeless about the world.  Maybe try imagining a time or a place in your life when you felt safe.  An image from a vacation, a childhood memory, your favourite place to relax.  Breathe deeply and slowly and visualize that safe, happy place.  Try to imagine yourself there.  Escape, just for a moment.

Because I have a feeling this is going to be a difficult week for a lot of us.

Sending out much love and support to you all.


It’s not for attention, it’s a serious mental illness.


As we approach National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 1-7), I’ve been thinking a lot about my own eating disorder.  I’ve also been thinking about some of the common misconceptions there are about eating disorders.

One of the myths surrounding eating disorders, that I will discuss in this post, has two parts.  The first part is that eating disorders are  the same as dieting and are about being thin.  The second part follows, that they are about getting attention and meeting societies/media ideals of beauty.

I’ve struggled with anorexia for 20 years.  In my own experience, anorexia bears no resemblance to “normal” dieting that most people engage in at some points in their lives.  It is a serious mental illness, with severe physical and psychological impacts and side effects.   In my experience, anorexia was not about being thin, at least not at the beginning.   It certainly was not about getting attention, or competing with media ideals.  A good portion of anorexia was about disappearing, taking up as little space as possible and was fueled by intense shame and embarrassment, NOT the desire for others to notice me.

I went to, and go to, great lengths to hide my anorexia from others.  In fact, there are large aspects of my eating disorder I’ve never spoken about to anyone.  I rarely talk about it in therapy, I almost never disclose details to friends and family and I tend to keep it secret mainly due to shame and guilt and fears that others will view me as stark, raving mad…if they really knew.

After struggling with anorexia for 20 year, I have osteopenia.  This means that I have low bone density for my age.  I had low bone density before I was 30 years old. This is a common physical impact of eating disorders.  I’ve struggled with low iron levels which causes low energy, dizziness and fatigue.   As I age, I find I have less tolerance for restricting food.  I get dizzy, tired and have trouble focusing.  Symptoms I didn’t experience as a teenager.

But I’m lucky.  I have friends who have had heart attacks, passed out daily due to low potassium levels, lost all their teeth due to purging, have had broken bones due to osteoporosis and those who have lost their lives.  Eating disorders kill.  These people didn’t die because they wanted to look like the models in magazines and the stars in Hollywood.  They died because they couldn’t escape from a serious mental illness.

People who have eating disorders aren’t vain.  They aren’t making a choice.  Anorexia isn’t a lifestyle choice.  It’s a serious mental illness.  It’s often a coping reaction to experiencing abuse, trauma or extremely stressful life circumstances.

Anorexia isn’t about getting attention.  When I was at my sickest, I would rarely eat around other people.  This led to social isolation, rather than attention seeking.  I saw friends and family less, I spent a lot of time alone in my room. I would eat either before my family got up, or after they had finished in the kitchen.  I avoided social occasions where food was involved (in other words ALL social events).

I was deeply ashamed about the majority of my eating disorder behaviours.  I still am.  When I look back on those years, I feel the need to apologize to everyone I knew back then.  I want to apologize to them for making them look at 85 pound me.  A skeleton in a skirt, drifting through the halls of our high school like a shadow.  I feel embarrassed.  I know that I looked awful and that I scared a lot of people.  People who cared about me and were worried that I might die.  But quite honestly, I didn’t even really believe that I was sick.

I felt like I was living on autopilot.  I felt driven and I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t slow down.  I didn’t exercise at the gym, but I used to walk long distances.   With the amount I was eating even daily activities were over exertions.  I had so many rituals it was amazing I could keep track of them all.  I would measure my food, eat certain foods only on certain days, eat or drink certain things only at certain times of days.  I drank a lot of coffee, tea, water and diet coke.  I drank fluids to avoid eating, but I was later told that staying hydrated was probably a good part of why I had so few negative side effects at my lowest weight.

If you had asked me, I probably wouldn’t have identified myself as someone with an eating disorder. I was confused.  I didn’t even know what I was doing or why.  All I knew was that suddenly food was my enemy and I felt that I could survive on almost nothing.   The anorexia always had an obsessive compulsive quality to it, the rituals were designed to keep me safe, not to alter my weight or physical appearance.  I was never trying to lose weight.  I was trying to control my trauma, my body and to numb out my feelings.

In the warped and bizarre world I lived in, slicing my half a banana into exactly 11 slices on my 1 cup of cereal kept me safe.  In that world, I could buy a cookie on Tuesday and Thursday only. I had to break that cookie into exactly 4 pieces which I would eat at specific times over the course of that day.

I used to go to the library sometimes after school and read books.  I remember one day my willpower failed and my hunger won. I ate my whole cookie at once.  I panicked.  Extreme panic.  I don’t know exactly what I thought was going to happen, but it was terrible and  I couldn’t undo it.  I knew from reading books that bulimia existed.  It was something I’d never explored, I never really ate more than a small amount at a time.  But somehow on that day, that cookie felt like a binge. I felt like the world was going to fall apart because I’d broken my ritual.  I went into the washroom at the library and tried desperately to make myself sick.  I wasn’t able to. I never have been able to (probably a good thing).   I remember crying and panicking and not knowing what to do.  Eventually I must have just gone home.  I remember feeling so very alone.

I’ve never told anyone about that, because of the intense shame I feel about behaving so strangely, in a way that I can objectively see makes very little sense.  This is why I don’t believe that anorexia is a cry for help, or a plea  for attention, because the majority of it happens in secret.   Sometimes I’ve been reluctant to share details about my eating disorder because I don’t want to trigger others or give people who are not in recovery ideas about behaviours.

Objectively, I can see that anorexia doesn’t make sense.  I can see that my obsessive compulsive habits, rituals, and rules don’t make sense.  I can see that they don’t make me safer or protect me. I can intellectually understand the health risks of not taking care of my body.  In my mind, I know that eating normally and being at a healthy weight would improve my mental health and that nothing bad would happen to me.

But Ana, spins a different web of lies in my head.  The fear of what could happen, the anxiety drives the OCD cycle of obsessive thoughts leading to ritualistic behaviour related to food.

I actually see Ana (my eating disorder voice) as a separate person.  I have a visual image of her in my head.  I experience her telling me things and I feel I have to listen.  She’s angry.  I know she isn’t a good friend and the majority of what she tells me (if not everything) is a lie.  But I feel some strange loyalty and attachment to her.  It’s hard to let her go.  I sometimes feel like I’d be lonely without her.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses.  You don’t have to fully understand my experience, in a way, I’m glad if you can’t understand it, because it means you haven’t lived through something similar.  But the stigma and myths about anorexia and other eating disorders need to be challenged.  People with eating disorders need your compassion and they need specialized, accessible and trauma informed treatment options in their own cities.  There is a woeful lack of eating disorder treatment available and people die while waiting for treatment.  Ending the stigma and increasing public education about these serious illnesses can help change this situation.





If depression were treated like a physical illness

The holidays can be a difficult time for people struggling with invisible illness such as mental illness or chronic pain.  During the holidays we are “supposed” to be happy.  We “should” relax and have fun.  We are “meant” to connect with friends and family.  It’s happiest time of the year, right?

But what if you aren’t happy?  What if you want to be happy and connected more than anything else, but you can’t be?  What if depression is stealing the happy, the relaxing, the fun and the connection right out of your holidays?

People all around me have been cancelling plans due to the flu, a cold and other winter illnesses.  This is acceptable and even expected in the winter time.   It’s even considered polite and good manners to stay home and keep your germs to yourself.  It’s understood that you aren’t feeling your best and that you have no energy when you have the flu. It’s okay to stay in bed and eat soup and sleep for hours.  People are sympathetic and nobody expects you to just “cheer up.”

I can’t even tell people that I’m sick. I can’t cancel plans.  I can’t stay in bed.   I feel disapproving looks from people around me when I’m not smiling and when I sit quietly or lose my temper  more easily that usual.  I’m exhausted, and I won’t feel better after a few days in bed.  Even if I could spend a few days there.

It’s Christmas time and I’m living with depression and anxiety.

Yes.  I’m sick.  I’m more severely depressed and anxious than I’ve been in a long time.

I want to call in sick to life.  I’m not even suicidal, I don’t want to die.  I just want to give up on “acting normal” and “keeping up appearances.”  I can’t imagine going back to work next Monday, the thought makes me panicky almost to the point of tears.  I have fantasies about developing some serious physical illness…nothing TOO serious, just enough to get me about a month off work with no questions ask, but not SO serious that I’d be in the hospital.  I want someone to take care of everything and take all the stress away.

This is what happens when society doesn’t acknowledge mental illness in the same way it does physical illness.  People who are depressed are lowered to the point of imagining horrible illness as a reason to be “justified” in taking sick leave, or even just taking the day off to rest.

Because when you are depressed you get treated like a misbehaving, whining child when you are not happy and not feeling connected.   When you are depressed you feel like a shitty parent when you don’t want to play with your kids, or you can’t enjoy your time with them.  When you are anxious and don’t want to leave the house you have to push yourself through it, even when you don’t enjoy a single minute of the activity you are doing.

When you are depressed, a “good night’s sleep” won’t fix it.  When you are depressed, “just cheering” up won’t work.

When you are depressed, you can’t just “lighten up” or “just relax.”

Believe me.  I WANT to relax.  I WANT to lighten up.  I want to laugh with my children.  I WANT to have fun with you.  I WANT to feel connected.  I WANT to feel like more than an empty shell marching through the tasks of the day.  I WANT to have energy.  I’m fully aware that I’m not acting normally and I’m terribly self conscious about it.  I feel guilty all the time about how depression impacts me and those around me.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than you asked for that cold, flu or stomach bug.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than anyone ever ASKS to be ill.

I don’t need to be fixed.  I don’t need suggestions on how I can help myself.  I don’t need to be told to look on the bright side.  (by the way neither do people dealing with chronic physical illnesses!)

I need you to keep me company while I shuffle through this dark period.  I need you to be there for me and to not judge me.  I need you to remember that I’m sick and not malingering or misbehaving or ungrateful or lazy.  I need you to remember that I’m trying my best and sometimes MORE than my best just to get through each day.  I’m using every ounce of energy to hide the depression from you, from my kids, from everyone.

I’m in pain.  I’m tired.  I don’t feel hopeful.  The world seems like a dark place and I can’t see the end of it because my thoughts aren’t clear.  Just as a runny nose and cough are symptoms of a cold,  depression makes me think that everyone hates me, that I’m worthless and that I don’t deserve basic things.   Just as a flu causes a high fever and aches, anxiety causes me to imagine horrible things and obsessive irrational thoughts.

These are symptoms.   It’s not a choice.

I’m depressed and anxious.  I’m sick and that is not a choice.

I had the best holidays I could, while not feeling well or happy.