Scarred, Not Broken Has Teamed Up

Just over a year ago, I started my Facebook page, Scarred, Not Broken. It grew into Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and this blog site. The reason I felt that I needed to start Scarred, Not Broken is because I once was a very broken soul. I felt so alone, scared, hurt. The worst of these was the feeling of being alone.

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For most of my life, I felt like no one understood what it was like to be a burn survivor…except other burn survivors. Scarred, Not Broken was intended to bring love, understanding and acceptance to any one who is or has struggled with a traumatic or life altering event.

I became so passionate about helping others. It’s all I can think about most days – how can I help more people?

When my friend Jerry, who created Humans of Edmonton Experience, reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to join a team of once lost and broken souls, to do exactly what I was trying to do on my own – I jumped at the opportunity. One person can help a lot of people if they really try – but just imagine how many people a team can help. This team is probably the best team there could ever be. We come from diverse backgrounds and struggles, but the one thing we have in common is we’ve all been judged and felt lonely in our darkest hour. Because of this, we’re the last ones to lay judgement – we know how it feels.

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“Each of the four of us has our own story and struggle. We are survivors of homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, discrimination, bullying, and poverty. We have been brought together to help bring awareness, acceptance and to give a voice to those that need to be heard.

Our mission is to feature real people with real stories that are raw, honest and inspiring by photographing, interviewing and sharing their personal experiences with care, compassion and acceptance.” – Humans of Edmonton Experience

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Being part of this team means so much to me – I’m  not alone in my mission to help those who struggle with acceptance and love. We’re in this together, and together we will change the world.

For those who do not follow on Facebook, the next four blog posts will be introducing the members of this team. I hope you’ll support and follow our journey in helping others. This is going to be life changing for so many people – and it’s going to be huge. You’ll want to be part of it, trust me.

You can follow Humans of Edmonton Experience on Facebook by clicking here.

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November 11: Why We Shouldn’t Remember…

November 11. We all know what today symbolizes. It’s been drilled into us since we were kids. Why do we remember today? “At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”. World War I ended. But why do we only remember today? Why don’t we remember every day? And not just World War I, but any and all wars in which those who sacrificed EVERYTHING to fight for our freedom, either died or walked away a different and scarred person. Or for those who are still fighting.

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Now don’t get me wrong – of course I understand why November 11 is so important. I understand why it’s so important to have a moment of silence at 11 am on November 11. I have yet to attend a Remembrance Day celebration in which I don’t tear up. I have not been a witness to war, thank God. But I do know how lucky I am. How lucky my family is. We are able to live the lives we have, enjoy the FREEDOM we have, thanks to veterans who fought for us.

My point is, we shouldn’t just remember today, on November 11. We should remember EVERY DAY. Every day you see a veteran, thank them. Hug them if you want. But at the very least give them a handshake. They made the ultimate sacrifice. For YOU. A complete stranger.

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My heart is filled with so much love, respect and gratitude for the men and women who have fought or are still fighting for us. I hate war. I wish we could all just get along. But that’s obviously wishful thinking. I can and will continue to pray for and wish for world peace. And when that happens, I will still always thank and respect our veterans. Those who passed away while serving, or from old age. Those who came home, not the same person that left.

Imagine what soldiers who serve in active duty see. We all know what PTSD means. It affects people because of various different traumas, but veterans, in my opinion, have it the worst. Having to shoot someone, seeing children die right before your eyes, seeing women and children raped and murdered, seeing your friend die from the enemy’s bullets. This doesn’t just go away when these soldiers come home. It stays with them. Forever. Every time they close their eyes, they’re brought back to the hell they witnessed.

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This is why we need to remember EVERYDAY. This is why we need to show love and respect to our veterans EVERYDAY. Not just on November 11. While we’re enjoying our freedom, they’re still suffering. They made the ultimate sacrifice, for us. Not only did they risk their lives (too many lost their lives) but they risked their mental health. And more than not suffer from PTSD. We need to take care of our veterans. Without them and their sacrifice, you wouldn’t be who you are today. The world would be a much different, scarier place. Thank a veteran today, tomorrow, every day you see one. If you know one, make sure they know that you are there for them. Take care of them. They are suffering and probably hiding it well. Don’t let them feel like they’re alone.

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I don’t know any other band that is so supportive of veterans than Five Finger Death Punch. Even if you’re not a fan of the band, I encourage you to watch the two music videos below. They are emotional. I can’t get through either of them without crying. And I’ve watched them a million times. This band shows more love and respect for veterans and it is simply beautiful. They employ veterans in their crew. At every concert, EVERY concert, they recognize the veterans that are in the crowd. They dedicate so much to them.

Wrong Side of Heaven – Five Finger Death Punch

Remember Everything – Five Finger Death Punch

This morning I dropped my oldest daughter off at Sea Cadets so she can attend a Remembrance Day celebration with her fellow cadets.  We listened to these songs on the drive. She teared up. She knows why she’s standing tall and proud this morning. She knows what today is about. She knows the sacrifice veterans have made for us. For her. Educate your children if you haven’t already. And remember – to ALWAYS remember the sacrifice made for you.

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In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.   Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

 

 

Why I cry at concerts…yeah, I’m THAT person

Music saved my life. On more than one occasion. I know how ridiculous that may sound to some people, but it’s true. I’ll be dedicating a different blog post to how one band/musician especially saved my life. This blog is about concerts and why I have cried at some, and once, almost peed my pants a little. (TMI?? Sorry)

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I don’t like music or musicians because they’re on the top 20 list and everyone else likes them. In fact, most (not all) of the musicians I love are bands that haven’t been heard of by the local radio stations (and most of my friends), some are bands that scare my mom (sorry mom) and some are bands that are no longer together but their music lives on. So what makes me a fan of these bands?

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Bif Naked Photo: Joy Zylstra

It’s because of who they are. What they’ve been through. What their songs mean to them, and how I interpret them. How their songs make me feel. I don’t listen to music just for the beat or because it’s a good song. I listen to music because of what it brings up inside me. Sometimes, these songs bring back memories and feelings (both sad and happy) from my past.

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The musicians that I love the most, are people who have suffered. Survived. Been hurt. They sing about this pain that they felt or still feel, and I relate instantly. My childhood was stolen from me when I lit the lighter that caused the explosion when I was nine years old. I have little to no memory of my life before my accident. After my accident, my life was far from normal and even further from easy or happy. I was a very angry teenager. I felt judged, like a freak, a loner, and so alone.

Music was my escape. Escape from life. Escape from pain. Escape from feeling alone. What I found in music, I was unable to find anywhere else. The lyrics spoke to me. The agony in the musicians voice as he/she sang their songs touched my heart and soul. I felt like these musicians understood me. Knew what I was feeling. Understood the feeling of being alone, scared and hurting. They understood the feeling of being judged and an outcast. They understood me, when I felt like no one else did.

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These musicians become more than a part of my CD collection (yes, I still buy CD’s and I always will). They become part of my heart. They give me the escape I need in life, still today. They get me, even though we’ve never met. I feel like I owe these musicians so much – I have so much gratitude in my heart for these musicians who have written songs that have saved my life. Because of the songs they write, because of the experiences they have gone through, or simply because they understand what life is like as an outcast – I no longer feel like I can’t get through life. There was a time when I was a teenager that I felt life was too hard. I tried to end my life three times. But then, I turned to my music. My bands.  They got me. They understood me. They saved me. I haven’t thought about suicide or anything even close to that in over 15 years. Thanks to music.

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Because of how much music affects me so deeply in my life, getting the opportunity to see these bands live in concert is a feeling that I don’t know how to fully describe. I’m not obsessed with these bands. I don’t have their posters all over my room (although I did when I was teen). I don’t stalk them (although I’m certain I was a groupie in a past life). But I am a fan through and through. I just feel like I owe them so much. As mentioned, I am forever grateful for them giving me an escape and saving me. So when I see these musicians in person, my emotions, all my emotions, come rushing forward in the form of tears. The pain I’ve felt, the feeling of not being alone anymore, the understanding I feel from their music, the love I feel for these musicians and from these musicians. It all comes rushing up and I can’t help it. I cry. Tears of gratitude and happiness. Concerts are my happy place – and when I can see one of my favorite bands in concert, I am on cloud nine. I can’t control my emotions. It’s also not just the band that gives me such a high and wonderful feeling at concerts. It’s the other fans. Being in a room full of people who love the same band as I do, possibly for different reasons as well as the same reasons, is such a beautiful and incredible experience. We look out for each other, we share emotions with each other; for those couple hours we become family. We carry each other. Literally and figuratively.

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Photo: Joy Zylstra

 

Now, I’ve been to a ton of concerts (I’ve lost count) and I haven’t cried at all of them. There’s just a handful of bands that have brought that emotion to me in the moment. There was one concert where I was so grateful towards the band that when they came out on stage, I not only cried in excitement and gratitude, but I also almost peed my pants – I know. TMI. Sorry. But it’s true. I was so excited to see them. I’m sure you’ve been so excited and happy about something that you’ve had to cross your legs too to avoid an embarrassing situation (come on – admit it…don’t leave me hanging alone here). This band reciprocated the appreciation – during the two hour concert, they thanked their fans and showed so much love towards us, more than a dozen times. It was very clear that we, the fans, mean as much to them as they mean to us. The band? Five Finger Death Punch.

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I’ve never made a sign for a concert. Until I was seeing Five Finger Death Punch for the second time. Their music has impacted me so much, I needed them to know. The lead singer, Ivan Moody, signed the sign for me to show his appreciation.
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Five Finger Death Punch Photo: Joy Zylstra

When a band has earned me as a fan, I’m a fan for life. Their music will always mean more to me than they can ever possibly know.

I’ve included links to two songs from two of my favorite bands that mean so much to me, so maybe you’ll be able to understand a bit more of why I cry at concerts. They get me. It almost feels like these songs were written specifically for me, even though I know that’s not true. But it brings so many feelings inside my heart that these bands have earned my love and respect. Always. Because I owe them my life.

Five Finger Death Punch – Lift Me Up

In This Moment – The Fighter

Do you have a band or musician that makes you cry? What is your escape from the hard things life throws at you?

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Dear Homeless People: Why Don’t You Just Go Get a Job??

“Why don’t you just go get a job you bum?”

“I’m not giving you any money. You’re just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol you dumb drunk.”

“Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. You’re just a lazy beggar.”

“Get off our streets. You’re a waste of skin you dumb welfare junkie.”

Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience
“Nobody dreams of growing up to be an alcoholic, an addict, a divorcee, broken, and depressed. Bad things do happen to good people, and it’s the good people, the broken ones, that always seem to have vacancy in their hearts for those who would not even give them a room in theirs.” ~LM Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Imagine not having eaten in days. Imagine having slept on a cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you. Imagine going weeks without a positive human contact experience. Without a smile from a stranger. Without a hug. Without any sense of compassion. Imagine being literally spit on when you ask a stranger for some change so you can buy a hot meal. Imagine strangers looking at you like you’re no better than the dirt on the bottom of their shoes. Imagine not owning a pair of shoes. Can’t imagine it? It’s hard, I know. It’s hard if you’ve never been there, walked a mile in those shoes.  How about we go for a walk, right now, a virtual one. One where you’ll be wearing the shoes of a homeless person, in many cases, you’re lucky if you have a pair of socks to walk in, let alone shoes. If you are one of the people who has said the things (or something similar) above, to a homeless person or about a homeless person, then my hope is that by the end of this blog, those words will be turned into care and compassion. And understanding.

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Don’t judge me because as far as I know I haven’t let you borrow my shoes to walk in… Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

This morning you probably woke up when your alarm went off and even though you didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of your bed you crawled out anyway because life calls. You grudgingly walked to your kitchen to put on the coffee and then went to the bathroom to begin your morning ritual. You hopped in your nice hot shower, same as you do every morning, and you washed your hair and did everything else you normally take care of in the shower. After your shower you looked through your closet and tried to decide what to wear. But first you checked the weather app on your phone to see what will be appropriate to stay warm/cool throughout the day. After you dressed you went to make a cup of coffee; the smell of it wafting through the house is so delicious you couldn’t wait another second to get your hands around a mug. You sat down for a few minutes enjoying your coffee and the few minutes of silence in your house before everyone else woke up. You woke your kids up, told them what the weather is going to be like, so they knew how to dress, then they came to the kitchen and you fed them a full, hearty breakfast. While they ate their breakfast, you made their lunches for school. You opened your fridge and gave the kids options of what kind of fruit and vegetable they want. There were so many options.

After breakfast, the kids took a few minutes trying to decide what jacket and shoes would match their outfit of the day. You all walked out of your house, you set your alarm and got to your vehicle, which has been running to warm up so you and the kids could have a comfortable ride. With the kids safely at school, you headed off to work.

Does that sound like your morning? Give or take a couple kids or a couple steps? Here’s where this walk we’re on may go off from your usual daily path…

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You get to work and your boss calls you into their office. When you get there, a representative from the Human Resources department is there as well. This can’t be good. They explain to you that they just don’t have a position for you anymore. They have no choice but to let you go. All of a sudden, without any warning, you don’t have a job.

It doesn’t immediately hit you how big of a deal this is. You go through many emotions. Anger, sadness, confusion. You were a hard worker, you hardly ever called in sick, you didn’t take extra long lunch breaks. You worked hard. Why you? Why did this happen to you?

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Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Soon, reality hits. You no longer have an income. Your partner doesn’t make enough money to sustain the house on their own. Worse, your partner’s hours got cut back, or they also lost their job. Or were you the sole income earner of your house? A single parent, or single person taking care of yourself. How are you going to do that now? The economy isn’t good. No one seems to be hiring.

Months pass. Unemployment Insurance gets cut back even more than the little you’re already getting. It’s not enough. Not enough to pay the rent/mortgage, bills, food. Before you know it, you’re hitting up the food bank to help put food on your table. But the bills keep piling up. You have to move. But where? You can’t afford the rent anywhere with no job and a bank won’t even look at you for a mortgage with no job. Soon, you find yourself knocking on the door of one of the shelters in the city. Your kids are put in foster care until you get back on your feet. But what if everything that just happened to you is too much to deal with. You have a mental breakdown. You turn to alcohol or drugs to mend the pain that keeps growing. Soon you find yourself somewhere you never imagined you’d ever be – tonight you had to sleep on the cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you.

 

You still don’t think this could happen to you, right? What if I told you that this is exactly how a good number of Edmonton’s homeless population became homeless? Remember the Fort McMurray fire a couple years ago? So many people’s homes burned to the ground. Most had insurance that would eventually pay for them to have a new house built, and in the meantime they stayed with friends or family. Would you believe me if I told you that there were some people whose house burned down and they didn’t have insurance, or family to turn to so they are now spending another winter on the streets.

I’ve heard so many people, too many, ask of a homeless person “why don’t they just go get a job?”. Think about that for a second. Some of our homeless are wearing the same set of clothes for weeks or even years on end. Never washed. Some of our homeless don’t even remember the last time they had the luxury of even a cold shower, let alone a hot one. Their hair could be crawling with lice. Some, yes, some, are struggling with addiction. But not all. Some are just struggling to survive.  Some don’t have bank accounts to receive pay from a job. And all of them, don’t have an address to list on the job application. So for those of you who wonder why the homeless don’t just “go and get a job”, answer me this: would you hire someone who hasn’t showered, is wearing dirty clothes, probably stinks due to no access to a shower, and who has no bank account or stable address? If you answer yes, please contact me ASAP – I have a lot of people who I’d like you to offer a job to. If you answer no, please show some compassion and understanding the next time you see a homeless person. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to. You could buy them a coffee or hot chocolate. Give them the apple left over from your lunch. But at the very least, the one thing you could give them that would mean the world to them and doesn’t cost you a thing is – a smile. Respect. Compassion.

A lot of people think that most people who live on the streets are aboriginals, drunks and/or drug addicts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you took the time to talk to some of our homeless people, which I have done, you’d learn that a lot of the homeless aboriginals are still struggling from what happened to them at the Residential Schools (look it up if you haven’t heard about those). They weren’t offered any help to learn to heal from the abuse they endured. They don’t know how to deal with it.

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“I just need that one chance. That one opportunity to have something good in my life. Sometimes I wish I could go back in life. Not to change anything but to learn from my mistakes.” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Some of our homeless population are kids who fled from abusive parents. Yup, you read that right. Kids. Living on the streets. Kids who were being abused or rejected by their own family. Kids who didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

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“I’ve been living on the streets for years. I’m seventeen but I tell people I’m twenty. Since I was little we bounced around from couch to couch, house to house. Every time my parents fought because of my dad’s drinking we ended up trying to find somewhere to sleep…” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Others are people who got into an accident and didn’t have insurance or coverage to help take care of their bills while they healed. Bills piled up. Collectors started calling. Eventually the bank took their home back. Notice how banks and bill collectors don’t really care what’s going on in your life? They have a business to run too – they just want their money. A lot of people who live on the streets are people who couldn’t stop falling behind while healing from an injury that prevented them from working.

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Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

There’s one homeless man who I met a couple years ago. He’s around the same age as me. He’s from the east. He had a wife and two kids. Losing his job hit him hard. He was the bread winner. It was his job to take care of his family. He fell into a depression. He ended up using some drugs to ease the pain. It worked, temporarily. Soon, he was addicted. And still depressed. His wife left him and took the kids. He ended up living on the streets. When I met him, his fingers were black. Frost bite from sleeping on the streets in our bitter cold winters. He’s still addicted to drugs. Still homeless. Still depressed. He misses his wife. He’s aching to see his kids. But he feels stuck. He’s afraid he’ll die on the streets. The sad reality is, he probably will.

I’ve met many homeless people over the years. I have yet to meet one who has chosen to be homeless. Many choose to stay living on the streets because they’ve been there so long that it’s their comfort zone. They don’t want the responsibility of paying bills. They’re content. But they didn’t initially choose to be there. And most of our homeless population would give anything to be in your shoes right now. I hope this walk in someone else’s shoes has helped to open your eyes if they were closed to this epidemic. I hope that you’ll find a way to help those less fortunate than you. Even if it is just a smile. A smile will last a lifetime. At the very least, we need to change the way the general population looks at and treats our homeless population. They’re people too. They deserve respect. They deserve love. They deserve to be treated like a human.

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“I don’t make too many wishes these days. The outside is my house. The sky is my window and where I do most of my watching. “What are you watching for? “My life.. I look up at the sky and God above gives me direction.” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

My daughter’s school is in the inner city. Where many homeless people live. Every day for a couple weeks we would drive by this homeless camp. She felt the urge to befriend the homeless man who was living inside. His name was Bruce. She would bring him some food every morning. Until one day we drove by, and his camp was gone. It happens all the time. Homeless camps are forced to be taken down about a week or so after they’ve set up their new “home”. Just as they start to get comfortable in their home. Their HOME. A tarp and cardboard box. A shopping cart with all their belongings. This is what people don’t see happening. Yeah sure there’s shelters – but they can only house so many people. Not near all our homeless population. And many homeless people do want a sense of home when they lay their heads down to sleep. But they’re denied that every time they’re forced to destroy their home and set up elsewhere.

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My daughter giving her homeless friend, Bruce, some food in his home.

 

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Yesterday when we drove by Bruce’s home, it was torn down. No sign of Bruce. This broke my daughter’s heart.

So I hope I’ve dragged up lots of emotions within your heart by now. I’ve been experiencing so many while writing this. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written because my heart just aches for those less fortunate. Those lost souls who just want to feel loved. I hope you’ll show them some love. How? There’s so many ways.

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Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

As mentioned earlier, a simple smile when walking past goes a long way. Spare change if you have – it doesn’t always go to drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, often, it goes to a meal or coffee. Food is also always welcome. But mostly love. Give love.

My daughter and I are arranging our 3rd annual Christmas Warmth on the Streets. We will be putting together care packages and handing them out to many of our homeless on December 22. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to give one to every homeless person, but we’d like to help as many as possible. You can help with that too if you’d like. The link to donate to the GoFundMe campaign is below but you can also contact me directly if you’d rather donate items. I will be sharing a list of items needed for the care packages on Scarred, Not Broken’s Facebook page.

2017 Christmas Warmth on the Streets – GoFundMe Campaign

At the very least, if nothing else, please just show your compassion by giving a smile instead of ignoring our homeless.

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“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.” ~M.Y Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

When You Grow Away From Your Friends

We’ve all experienced growing apart from some of our friends. Friends you may have gone to school with, or friends you met later in life. You just ended up taking different paths and lost touch. It happens. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking; sometimes it’s because life needed to teach you something from that friendship. A friendship that served a purpose, and not a lifetime. But when you have friends that you grow away from, it’s so special, beautiful, and something only the strongest friendships can survive. We’ve all heard it: some friends are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

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When I hit junior high, I met friends that I’d eventually grow away from, not apart from. I just didn’t know it yet. Because of my scars, I felt like a major outcast. I had a hard time making friends. Lots of kids were nice to me. No one bullied me to my face. But I wanted friends. Real friends.

In grade seven it all began. I started hanging out with a group of kids who were considered the outcasts. This is where I felt like I fit in. I felt loved, accepted and like I’d found my forever friends. I always felt, and still do feel, that these friends will always have my back. More on that in a minute.

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We hung out together all throughout school up until graduation. Some of us ended up going to different high schools and this is where the growing away from each other started. Although at the time, it felt like we were just growing apart. We knew it was bound to happen.

I didn’t stay in touch with any of these friends after high school. It wasn’t until three years after graduating that I realized these friends, were lifelong friends. I had received a call from a friend from this group. I hadn’t talked to her in six years – we were just living different lives. But she was calling to tell me that a mutual friend of ours from school had passed away. His name was Alex. I was extremely close to Alex throughout junior high. The friend who had called me to tell me about his death, Andrea, did not know my number or where I lived. But she happened to remember my parents phone number which is how she found me. We were both so devastated over Alex’s death. Nobody got to say goodbye. He was so young. And the first in our group to pass away. We were in our early 20s – too young. Andrea and I talked a lot after this. We decided that our friendship was too important, life was too short and could be over in a second, so we made a vow to never let anything make us grow apart from each other again. Almost 13 years from that devastating call about Alex, she is my best friend. She is my confidant, my sister, my soul-friend. And we are very much in each other’s lives, even though our lives are so different. We are not growing away or apart from each other anymore.

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Andrea and I heading to a concert – our favorite thing to do

Although Andrea and I talk practically every day and see each other as often as possible, there are more people in this group from school who I feel lucky enough to call lifelong friends. I don’t talk to them everyday, and sometimes I only see them once a year (if that), but thanks to social media we can stay caught up with each other’s lives. So how does that make them more than just acquaintances?

Again, it took the death of a friend we all knew and loved, and we all grew away from him before he died, to show me what the meaning of friends forever meant. Alex didn’t get a funeral. So all of his friends from junior high and high school got together one night in our home town, and we partied. We celebrated Alex’s life. We shared stories and memories. We shared tears and laughs. The next day, we all went our separate ways, back to our own lives.

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The night of the party for Alex. This was almost 10 years ago and I still love all of these guys so much

But over the years it’s been obvious that we’ll be there for each other when needed. Although we may not get together for coffee dates or nights out anymore, when one of us is in need or hurting, we drop what we’re doing and go be with our forever friends. Some of us have lost a parent or husband over the years. And you can bet we were all there to support our grieving friend at the funeral. We’re also there for happier times; weddings, babies, college graduations. We’re there to support and show our love. Even though we aren’t actively in each other’s lives (social media doesn’t count). I feel so blessed to have this group of friends that I know I can call on if/when I need. I hold them all close to my heart, and I strive to make sure they know it, before it’s too late. So, my forever friends, you know you who are. I hope you know how much I love you. I’m always here for you. Always. If you didn’t know it before, I hope you know it now.

I feel like Alex’s death served a lot of purpose in our childhood friendships. His death reminded us how close we all were when we were kids. His death taught us the value of true friends. Today, October 25, 2017, Alex would have turned 35. I miss him every day and although he’s gone, I can still feel him. He knows how much he’s missed and loved. I hope he does anyway. I wish I was more apart of his life at the time of his death. So that he would have known before he died how much he was cared about.

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Alex. The tattoo is what Andrea and I each got in his memory and for our everlasting friendship. RIP Alex. Happy Birthday.

Do you have forever friends that you grow away from, but love with all your heart? Tell them you love them, even if you aren’t in each other’s lives actively. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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Photo: Fine Art America

What If I’m Not Grateful For Anything?

Did your parents, or grandparents, tell you often to “count your blessings”? This was something I didn’t understand at all as a kid. But is there a kid who does? When you’re a kid, the world is all about you. You don’t have the maturity to think about others outside your circle. Everything you need is given to you. So it made it harder to count your blessings, and easier to take things for granted.

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I was in a propane explosion when I was nine years old. Although this almost killed me, and left me with scars all over my body, as a kid and teenager I didn’t think I was lucky. Sure I was glad I didn’t die, but I didn’t consider surviving a blessing. I mean, I had scars all over my body. I looked like and felt like a freak. What the heck did I have to be grateful for? I remember crying in the hospital and after going home asking why did this happen to me? I was in so much pain. Physical, emotional, mental. Everything hurt…I had nothing to be grateful for.

But then I grew up. I realized the explosion was quite serious and I could have very easily died or been blown into a wall and hurt even more than I already was. I’ve met burn survivors who lost fingers, noses, ears. Burn survivors who can’t walk or talk very well anymore. I got away with having scar tissue. For this I am grateful.

Enough about me for a second. We live in a sometimes greedy, selfish, egotistical world (not all the time, but more and more). What if, every day, we took the time and gave something that we’re grateful to have, to someone who doesn’t have much? I’m not talking about giving money or goods away all the time. I’m talking about things like giving someone a smile who looks like they’re not having a good day. A smile is something so simple, and I bet you that it’ll make someone’s day – and they’ll be able to turn around and be grateful for that.

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Seeing a parent struggle with kids and the grocery cart in the parking lot. Why not offer 5 min of your time and offer to help load the groceries in their vehicle for them. I’m certain that parent will go home and re-think about what you just did and they’ll be grateful for your kindness.

If you just can’t make someone else’s day, and give something that you may take for granted to someone who would be thankful for it, then we need to at least count our blessings more often. I try to count my blessings every day. I am SO blessed! I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, clothes on my back, three amazing kids, a loving and supportive husband, and an incredible family. But I’m far from perfect – I know there are some things that I have that I take for granted.

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So, with that said, I would like to propose the following: Thankful Thursday. Every Thursday I will post a status, or photo, or video about something I am thankful for that day. Or maybe something I’m grateful for earlier that week. Or last year. Or 10 years ago. It doesn’t matter when or what it is – as long as we take the time to appreciate all that we have, and if/when possible, share with someone a little less fortunate.

Every one is going through something at one time or another. Take a minute. Pause. Breath. And just remember, that there is someone in the world fighting to survive. So at the very least, you can be thankful that you have breath in your lungs. One breath at a time.

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What Happens When a Mental Illness Goes Untreated

Mental illness. It comes in so many forms. Too many forms. It affects more people than you probably realize. Guaranteed you know someone whose suffered from a mental illness, or still is suffering. Mental illness isn’t a disease that always has symptoms or side effects obvious on the outside. They’re mostly inside. Not just the brain, but the heart too. So many people who suffer from mental illness suffer alone. Why is that? I’m a 33-year-old woman and I’ve suffered from mental illness for most of my life. Alone. For too long. Here’s my story of suffering, and how I finally became “ok”.

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Mental Illness as a Teenager

I’ve been suffering with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a teen, it went un-diagnosed. It seemed like I was just a regular, angry, rebellious teen. However due to a propane explosion I was in when I was nine years old, I was forced to live life with skin graft scars all over my body. I looked so different from everyone else in our town. I looked like a freak. I felt like a freak. So understandably, inside I was suffering. I remember crying myself to sleep more nights than not. I remember praying to God while scratching at the scars on my face to make me wake up looking normal. No more scars. Little did I know at the time, the internal scars were what was causing my pain. The external scars were just a mask.

I was suffering. Likely from PTSD as well as depression. I saw counselors, but never for what I was feeling deep down. Never for what I was suffering in my brain and heart. Counselors were there to mend my dying relationship with my parents (which is now fine), to help me to stop being so rebellious (which didn’t work). But nobody ever asked me how I FELT. How I felt to be such an obvious outcast. How I felt about being a burn survivor. How I felt when I looked in the mirror. I was scared to say anything too. The last thing I ever wanted was for anyone to think I was feeling sorry for myself or looking for attention.

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So how did I deal with my depression as a teen? I smoked cigarettes to fit in with other kids. I drank alcohol to fit in and to numb the pain inside. I took drugs so I would look “cool” with all the other “cool” kids. But I was still hurting inside. In fact, because of my “self-medication” I hurt even more. But I was just a kid. I didn’t know that I was suffering from a mental illness. Despite crying everyday, sometimes multiple times a day (usually to myself), I thought it was normal. Probably because I so badly wanted to be normal, and because depression just wasn’t talked about.

I also attempted suicide three times as a teenager. I don’t think I wanted to die. I just wanted the pain to end. I was tired. Tired of crying so much. Tired of the ache in my heart I felt daily, all day. Tired of feeling so alone in this big world. As a teenager, you don’t think of the future. You don’t think that it could be ok one day. You think that what you feel now, is what life is really like. It seems like there is no end to the pain and you’ll suffer forever, if you don’t end it.

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IF YOU’RE A TEENAGER READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

 

Mental Illness as a Young Adult

I became a mom at 20 years old. I wasn’t in a good relationship. I had no self esteem and didn’t think I deserved to be with someone who truly cared for me and took care of me – this is another side effect to mental illness. I was still suffering from depression and anxiety; because I never got help for it. The thing about mental illness is when you have it, it takes over your entire mind. 24/7. No days off. Sure some days you feel happier than others, but the pain always seems to come back. When you have anxiety your mind doesn’t shut off. Your brain with anxiety, doesn’t allow you to think rationally. You have completely irrational thoughts that you think make sense, even though the scenarios you play out in your mind never really happen.

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The man I was with when I got pregnant was not a good guy. He was mentally abusive (which is damaging in and of itself but especially when you’re suffering from mental illnesses). He didn’t really love me. I didn’t think I could do better. My mind told me I couldn’t. Not just that I couldn’t do better but that I didn’t deserve better. My friends and family despised him. They saw how he treated me. They also knew that I deserved better. But I wouldn’t listen to them. Because I didn’t want to be alone. I stayed with him for three years. Until all of a sudden, I was responsible for another human being – I may not have cared about myself enough to leave. But I would have done anything for the little girl I was holding in my arms.

I left this man when my daughter was only three months old. I was scared to be a single mom, but I was more scared of him making her feel as worthless as he made me feel. Being a single mom is HARD. Of course, because I still hadn’t sought help, I was still suffering from depression and anxiety. More so now than before. Now I had to deal with if I was being a good enough mom. I was dealing with being alone again. I wasn’t ok. I didn’t know that it was ok to not be ok. I didn’t know that I could ask for help.  So I continued to suffer; and self medicate.

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As a young mom, I went to the bars often, looking for someone or something to cure my pain. I was looking for a cure in the form of alcohol, sex (sometimes with complete strangers) and harder drugs. Now, please know that although I was young, dumb, suffering and in a very bad place in my own mind, my daughter never suffered. I always made sure she was taken care of. Diapers came before cigarettes and booze. She always came before men and drugs. But that didn’t help anything. It just meant my daughter wasn’t suffering too. With that said, I know I wasn’t there for her as much as I could have been; should have been. I know I wasn’t the mom she deserved. Although I’d have given everything for her, I was still suffering in silence.

When my daughter was 2.5 I finally decided to go see a doctor. I couldn’t stop crying. All day, all night. I was crying over everything big and small. I finally received an official diagnosis – sort of. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed and given a prescription for anti-depressants. I still suffered from anxiety and likely PTSD (this would never be officially diagnosed, but all the signs and symptoms were there – I did blow up a cabin after all).

The meds helped. But then, again I was young and thought I knew better, so I decided after a year of being on the meds to take myself off them. I didn’t seek a doctor’s advice on it. I didn’t want to have to depend on a pill to make me happy. And I felt better. Boy was I wrong.

IF YOU’RE A YOUNG ADULT/PARENT READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

Mental Illness as a Wife and Mom

Fast forward a number of years. I’m now a married woman to a wonderful man. A man who not only treats me like a queen, but makes me feel like one too – daily. We have three amazing children together. He legally adopted my daughter and we’re one happy family. Or so it seemed…on the outside.

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Before I got pregnant with our youngest child, I was still suffering. I just didn’t know it. I was done with the drugs many years ago, but I was still finding ways to self-medicate, mostly with cigarettes and alcohol. I wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but I would have a drink or two every evening to relieve the stress; a.k.a. self medicate.

I would lash out at my husband and kids over the smallest things. Someone didn’t flush the toilet – and I would lose my mind – you’d think someone had instead flushed my wedding ring down the toilet. When I say lose my mind, it’s exactly what you’re picturing. Hours of me being so angry. Yelling. Screaming. Swearing. My kids were scared of me (talk about the worst feeling in the world). My husband felt like he was always walking on egg shells around me, scared to set me off. I thought it was normal. But I was miserable. I was so sad, so angry and I didn’t know why.

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At one point, I was planning on leaving my husband. I had no real reason why. He honestly is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He’s never abused me or the kids in any way. He works so hard for us and provides for us. He supports me in everything I do. He’s tried to help me when I’ve had my melt downs. But I was convinced I had to leave. Now, today, I believe it was because I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I didn’t deserve this wonderful life that was right in front of me. This was the mental illness talking to me. I was still suffering – from depression and anxiety.

Mothers Day 2017. My kids and husband doted on me and spoiled me. They made me feel as special as possible – or at least they tried. I had the ultimate break down. I can’t even tell you what it was over because I don’t know. I was yelling and crying and just plain old miserable. To this day I still feel so awful for the way I treated my family. They did absolutely nothing wrong but I still felt like I needed to take the pain I was feeling inside out on them by yelling and not allowing us to have a good day as a family. This was my rock bottom.

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The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. I explained to him what had happened the day before and what was going on inside my head and my heart. Finally, after almost 25 years of suffering, I received the proper diagnosis. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. And I was prescribed medication that we hoped would help – it did. So much. So much so that my kids have noticed a difference. They tell me that I seem happier. That I don’t yell as much. That I let the little things go and I don’t focus on them anymore. My husband and I are so much happier. Our marriage is healthy. Our family is healthy. I am healthy.

Medication isn’t the answer for everyone suffering from mental illnesses. Every person is different. Every brain is different. Every mental illness is different. Every form of treatment is different.

The point I’m trying to get across is to ASK FOR HELP. Don’t be ashamed in asking for help if you’re suffering inside. Don’t think people will think you’re just looking for attention or feeling sorry for yourself – that’s the mental illness destroying you. People who care about you want you to be happy. To be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to take medications prescribed to you by a doctor if they’re working. If you’re no longer suffering. Trust me, asking for help is the best thing you can do for your loved ones but mostly for yourself. It is OK to not be OK. But you also deserve to be OK. And you will be. You’re not alone. Mental illness is very real, very common and very scary. You need to be the one to ask for help for yourself. Put yourself first.

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And always remember that on those bad days that might creep up – just take one breath at a time. It will be OK. You will be OK.

IF YOU’RE A HUMAN READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

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This is a tattoo I got for myself after my breakdown on Mother’s Day. It’s a reminder that I am a survivor of mental illness, that I deserve to be OK, that my story isn’t over yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Love – Living Life as a Paraplegic

Imagine just for a minute 🤔 – imagine going through your day-to-day life, going through ordinary everyday tasks like walking 🚶 to work/school, riding a bike 🚵, running around with your kids, even just simply going to the bathroom 🚽 when your body tells you it’s time. Now imagine waking up one day, in a hospital 🏥, and you can’t feel your legs. You can’t tell when you need to go to the bathroom anymore. You can’t walk anymore. 🚷🚳 Everything you knew, everything you took for granted, is gone. 🛑 You feel helpless. This happened to Brittney when she was just 14 years old. She became a paraplegic from a tragic accident and wasn’t able to anything from the chest down anymore. But now, almost 20 years later, she’s completely independent. The wheelchair ♿ is just another accessory. She doesn’t rely on anyone to help her with anything. She’s a mom (yes she was able to give birth despite being paralyzed), she’s a wife, she’s a friend – she may be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but she is far from handicapped. 💪💖
Share her story so others who are forced to live life in a wheelchair can be inspired by Brittney. She is truly one of the strongest people I know. I remember the day I got the call about her accident. I was so scared she was going to die. I didn’t even consider the possibility that she’d never walk again. I truly admire and look up to Brittney. She is someone I’m proud to call a friend, and someone I look up to and respect so much.

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My very personal review of the book, “Wonder” by RJ. Palacio

Freak. Monster. Alien. Ugly. Dirty. – My Review of the Book, “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

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I stole the book “Wonder” from my daughter, because it was just collecting dust on her book shelf and I’d been told by numerous people that I need to read it (she’s not much of a reader, but I am trying to convert her). I saw the preview for the movie “Wonder”, and I couldn’t get through the preview without bawling my eyes out. Not only is it emotional to watch a child struggle through life, but it hit me hard because…I was that child.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book – if you haven’t read it yet, you should. But I was able to relate so much to the main character that I found it hard to put down, and not cry the entire time.

I wasn’t born disfigured. I was burned in a propane explosion when I was nine years old. The explosion left me with scars to 45% of my body – which included my face. In the book the main character, Auggie, was born with numerous birth defects. Some of which made his face look like he’d been burned. In fact, that’s what I thought had happened to him when I’d only seen the preview for the movie and hadn’t read the book yet. Some other characters in the book also assume he’s been burned when they first see him. This is probably part of the reason I bawled the entire time. He was a little burned kid entering school – that’s what it looked like anyway.

Even though he wasn’t burned, I found I was able to relate to Auggie in many ways. Besides the obvious – living life looking so much different than the rest of the world; Auggie also struggled with learning the answer to “why”. Why was he born like this? Why was I burned? It was a question that I struggled with for too many years. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned the answer and embraced it. The book ends before Auggie becomes an adult – in fact it’s only a year in his life, but I like to think that he too grows to find the answer as to why.

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Auggie had a hard time making friends. He held his head down a lot. He covered his face with a helmet or a hood or even with his hair. Here, I was unable to relate to him, but I was able to sympathize. Kids are mean. Adults are too. He was called numerous names. I was called names such as alien, monster, dirty, and the one that hurt the most was freak. Always by strangers. Kids or adults that I didn’t know. Who didn’t know me. The same was true of Auggie. Although most of the name calling and bullying occurred for Auggie directly in his school. I didn’t have to endure that, thankfully. I was surrounded by kids who knew what I had gone through, and even though I lost some friends and didn’t make others, the friends I did have had my back – no matter what. In Wonder, Auggie struggles making friends at first, but then when he finds himself in a bad situation with kids not from his school, he finds that kids who he didn’t realize were his friends, or even cared for him – also had his back. And the friendships started. And Auggie bloomed.

I loved that he would make jokes about his situation. Joke about how he looked. I did and still do, the same thing. I would make jokes with the nurses in the hospital. I joke about “blowing shit up”. You’ll hear me joke about my accident and scars before you’ll see me cry about them. Laughter is the best medicine. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, then how in the world will you handle when people laugh at you? Turn it around, and they’ll learn to laugh with you. And love you too.

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The end of the book did make me choke up. I won’t give away the ending (like I said, if you haven’t read it, you need to). The principal of Auggie’s school is giving a speech. And he quotes J.M. Barrie, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” The principal goes on to say, “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed…”

It is simply beautiful. And simple. And needed. The principal continues to explain what it being kind means and how do you know you’ve been kind. He quotes Christopher Nolan, “It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him, it glowed in their keenness, it hinted in their caring, indeed it caressed in their gaze.” He goes on to say (and this part really hit me), “Such a simple thing, kindness. Such a simple thing. A nice word of encouragement given when needed. An act of friendship. A passing smile.”

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So will I be going to see the movie? No. I will not be going to a theatre to see it. Why after such a raving review of the book would I say no to the movie? Well, I’m not saying I won’t watch it. I’m saying I won’t go to a theatre to watch it. I look forward to watching it in the comfort of my own home, with my kids surrounding me watching with me, and a box of Kleenex beside me waiting for the inevitable tears.

I do have one complaint about this book. It is written from the point of view of Auggie, his sister, and friends. I wish there was a couple chapters from the point of view of his parents. What kind of emotions and struggles did the parents experience? Hearing my dad tell the story about my accident is pretty incredible, he tells it with such pride. Pride that his daughter survived something so insane. Hearing what my mom experienced brings me to tears every time. Mostly as a mom myself but who really likes hearing that their mom is hurting or scared? I think having the parents point of view in Auggie’s story would have been very powerful. But maybe that’s just me. Sometimes, I like crying.

I highly recommend reading this book, and encouraging your kids to read it as well. And your adult friends. I’d like to wish adult Auggie all the best. Maybe there’ll be a sequel to this book of adult Auggie conquering the world and moving mountains. Because I know he will. He has the same stubborn attitude I have. And I’ve only begun moving mountains.

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Part two: One Breath at a time..

Part two: One Breath at a time..

“The mask. I wish it was as cool as the mask Jim Carrey got to wear. Because I had 3rd degree burns, I had to wear pressure garments on my legs, torso and hands…those were uncomfortable, hot and so tight. But the mask I had to wear on my face. It was uncomfortable, hot, tight, hard to breathe in, looked awful…and I hated it. I was stared at so much for the years I had to wear it. I felt like it put me on display. The freak. I remember my parents using it as a reward if I did well in school or other good behaviours. I worked towards not having to wear it for half an hour. Half an hour. That’s not a long time. But when you’re having to live life in that mask, a half an hour without it was the best reward ever. I had 4 masks in total. Made specially to fit my face as I grew. When I was able to eat more solid foods a new mask was made to make the mouth opening a little bigger. I don’t remember the day I was told I didn’t have to wear it anymore. But I’ll never forget how wearing it made me feel. The mask and garments were necessary to make sure my new grafted skin healed properly and as smoothly as possible. I’m grateful to my parents for seeing the big picture and knowing that even though I was miserable with the mask, it was helping me in the long run. If they had let me take it off and not wear it, I wouldn’t look like I do today. I’m afraid I’d still look at myself and see a freak. I wouldn’t be who I am today. I most definitely wouldn’t have the self esteem I have today. Or the love for my scars I have today. Sometimes those things that you hate in life, can be the best thing for you. One breath at a time.”

#yeg #ScarredNotBroken #Inspire #Oprah #humansof #themask#onebreathatatime

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