Help Me Make My Dream Come True…Please!!

A month from today I will be on a plane heading back from my vacation in Los Angeles. I will barely be able to sit still in my seat because I’m going to be too excited to get home. Yes you read that right – I’ll be too excited to come home…from vacation…in LA. I’m not crazy, I swear. I’m a dreamer. A big dreamer. And I have a dream…a big dream. Giant. Life changing – and one that is going to come true. My dream is going to begin to come true while I’m in LA, next month.

If you follow Scarred, Not Broken on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or here, you know that I celebrated my 25 year burn anniversary this past summer. July 25, 1993 my life was changed by the flick of a lighter when I was only nine years old. (See previous blog post I’ll Always Remember… for more on what happened when the cabin I was in exploded). I’ve celebrated (and sometimes dreaded) the anniversary of my accident (also explained more in I’ll Always Remember…) but 25 years is a quarter of a century…that’s a long time. I decided I was going to do something big to commemorate 25 years of surviving being burned.

Dad, Tom, and Janelle visiting
Me at nine years old in the hospital with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body

I decided that I was going to go on a trip, by myself, to LA. Why LA when I could have picked almost anywhere else? Because LA is the city where dreams come true…and my dream is going to come true when I’m there. I’m also a big believer that what you put out into the universe comes back to you…so I’m keeping positive and reminding the universe that I have a dream…

Walking for the first time 2
Learning how to walk again – despite the fact my legs and arms were covered in burns.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy. I do know that there is a chance that my dream won’t come true while I’m in LA – but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do everything I can to make it happen…it also means that IF it doesn’t come true next month, it doesn’t mean it will never come true.

So what’s my dream? Well. I can’t tell you. Not yet. Not until someone else hears it first.  One thing I can tell you about it…is it was formed the day that cabin exploded (I just didn’t know it then). I’d always known I was burned for a purpose – I may not have been born for this dream but I was burned for it.

I believe in my dream so much, that I am certain that if I get the chance to share it with the one and only Ellen DeGeneres, she’ll believe in it as much as I do.

Why Ellen? Because she’s Ellen, first of all. She lives for making dreams come true for others. And my dream is all about love, acceptance, understanding – and I know it will change the world, for the better. All things Ellen stands for.

Mask
I hated that mask so much…had to wear it all day and night for a year. Photo credit: Jerry Cordeiro

I’ve had this dream for awhile, and I’ve been working hard to make it come true. But I can’t do it alone – it’s that big. Although that hasn’t stopped me from working towards it. I’ve sent emails, letters (yes typed and snail mailed), made calls – I just haven’t reached the right person yet.

For my 25 year burn anniversary, my family surprised me with tickets to see Ellen when she came to Calgary earlier this year. I was blown away and wanted to keep pinching myself when she walked into the auditorium. I was in the same room as Ellen freaking DeGeneres (never mind the thousands of others that were there). I took that opportunity to try and see if she’d read my dream. I’d never been to a Q&A with a celebrity before so I didn’t know what to expect – so my kids and I made a giant sign to see if that’d work. I had my dream printed out and clutched in my hand ready to give her.

Kids and dream
My kids all pitched in and made a sign for me to bring to the show.

It didn’t happen. Obviously. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it did. But I still didn’t give up. Everything Ellen had to say that day struck me to the core. And further confirmed for me that I cannot give up on my dream. See my previous post, Dear Ellen…, to read how she did this.

One thing Ellen talked about that day, was how Johnny Carson gave her a chance, believed in her and helped make her dream come true. Ellen is my Johnny Carson. I truly believe that when she hears my dream, she’ll want to help make it happen.

25 years 4
I also wanted to do a photo shoot that portrayed how strong I’ve become since my accident. To show that I didn’t let something so horrible and painful destroy my life. Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

So I’m headed to LA. I leave November 8 and come home November 16 (hopefully – I’m flying stand by so it can be tricky). I do not have tickets to Ellen’s show. I tried. But they go so fast. But I’m going to try my chances at calling the number for day-of tickets every day I’m in LA, with my fingers, toes, and eyes crossed (I don’t know how to cross my eyes but that’s not important).

But that’s not all I’m going to do. I’m going to ask for your help too. So many of you helped me when I tried to get Ellen’s attention before I saw her in Calgary (see Help Me Get Ellen’s Attention!! Please!). That blog post was, and still is, the most shared post I’ve ever had. Sure it didn’t work then but I’m not giving up! You never know…it could work this time!

25 years 1
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

I am going to LA and I’m going to get tickets to the Ellen show, somehow. I don’t need to be on stage, even just in the audience would be beyond amazing. But when I do go, I still need Ellen’s attention – because I will have my dream printed out and in my hand, ready to give to her, just like I hoped for in Calgary.

So please, share this. Tag Ellen. Email her. Call her. Text her…if we’re friends and you’re that close to Ellen that you can do that, then we need to talk….why hadn’t you told me sooner?! LOL. Come with me on this dream of mine and help be part of the reason it comes true.

One day, I will share my dream with the world. Not just because it’s going to come true and you’ll have no choice, but also because it’s what the world needs right now. Love. Acceptance. Understanding. Even though you don’t know (yet) what the dream is, those three words describe it, perfectly.

25 years 3
It was my decision to include a propane bottle in my 25 year anniversary photo shoot. I needed it there…because it almost killed me once, I wanted to show everyone that I am not afraid. And I stood proudly for this photo. Proud of who I am and how far I’ve come in 25 years. Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your support, always. I want my dream to be yours too. Ok, I have a trip to plan now!!! I know the first thing I’ll be packing…

Dear Ellen

 

Much love,

Joy Zylstra

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Ellen…

You don’t know me (yet), but I was one of the thousands of people in the room laughing with you, crying because it’s you, and cheering at almost everything you said when you were in Calgary, AB this past weekend. I know you likely won’t actually see this, but I feel putting it out there into the universe can’t hurt.

Being able to see you and go to your show was a dream of mine. A couple of weeks prior to the show, my entire family (there’s a lot of us. Like, almost-need-to-rent-a-hall-for-family-get-together’s, a lot) , my husband and members of his family, surprised me with a beautiful hand-made card and two tickets for your Calgary show. I was shocked. Excited. And so incredibly happy.

Grateful
This is just after I received the tickets. I was overwhelmed with so much love.

July 25, 2018 will mark 25 years since the day my life changed forever. I was only nine years old and in a propane explosion on July 25, 1993. With 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body, I was forced to live the rest of my life with scars. To celebrate my 25 year anniversary this year, I had decided to go to LA at some point this year and try my luck with getting tickets to your show. Although I still plan to do that, those who gave me the tickets to your Calgary appearance knew that would be just as amazing. They all made that dream come true for me. I will be forever grateful to each and every single one of them.

So you’d think with so many amazing people in my life I’d have a tough time choosing who to bring with me to the show. As much as I wanted to take each and every one of them, plus some others, it was a no brainer for me who I was going take. 25 years ago this summer my mom’s worst nightmare came true when the cabin I was in exploded. From the day she first became a mom (eventually there would be 7 of us kids in total), my mom’s first fear came to her – she never wanted any of her kids to get burned. She witnessed the horrible physical and emotional pain a burn survivor can go through when she was just a kid. Kids she grew up with next door were burned when someone threw a fire cracker into their tent. It scarred her in a different way, for life. I’m a mom now to three amazing kids, and I ache when they stub their toe. Despite her heart breaking, she stayed with me in the hospital. Her and my dad were by my side for every tear, every painful procedure, every laugh. Not once did I see my mom cry or show any signs of weakness. Years later when I became a mom and felt what unconditional love truly was, I asked her how she stayed so strong while I was healing. She looked at me and said, “Joy, you didn’t see me in my room before I went to bed”. That broke my heart. Of course, the explosion was 100% an accident. But that didn’t stop me from hurting for what my mom went through. And not just my mom – my entire family.  Their lives changed forever on July 25, 1993 as well. But that’s for a whole other blog – coming July 2018. I knew that my mom was the one who needed to be by my side when my dream of seeing you live came true.

Mom and me
My mom brushing my hair just before the surgery to graft my face – the doctors had to shave my head to take skin from my scalp for that grafting

So finally the day came. I dropped my kids off at my sisters, picked my mom up and we were off to Calgary. Part of me was still thinking that maybe this was all still a dream. I couldn’t actually be going to see Ellen DeGeneres, was I??

Kids and dream
My kids all pitched in and made a sign for me to bring to the show.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I’m a crier. So it’s no surprise to them that I cried a few times that night. I wish I could say that the first tear I shed that evening was when you came out on stage. But that wouldn’t be true. Although you brought on the tears a few times with certain things you said, the first set of tears came during the last song that the Tenors sang just before you came out. I can’t remember what the song was called, but it was all about dreams. Believing in your dreams. It was beautiful – because I’m a HUGE believer in my dreams and working to making them come true.

So to the point of this blog/letter to you – I wanted to thank you. First, for coming to Canada and so close to my hometown. Considering it was your only Canadian show, I feel so incredibly lucky that I was able to go.  Second, thank you for being you. From the second you walked out on stage with a hockey stick in hand in tribute to the Humboldt Broncos and kissed it before you put it down, it was obvious to everyone in that stadium that you really do care about everyone, even those you’ve never met.

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Photo credit: Calgary Herald

There wasn’t a second of the show I didn’t enjoy. It was easily one of the best nights of my life, and I was so happy to have shared it with my mom. My only regret – not bringing a pen and paper. With almost everything you said that night, I was inspired even more to just keep chasing my dream (aka just keep swimming).  You are my inspiration.

Ellen in calgary
I only took two photos while you were being interviewed. I was too busy taking mental notes

So Ellen, I will see you later this year at some point. I’m going to let myself be greedy and see you twice in one year; I will still be planning a trip to LA to come see your talk show. It’s my gift to myself for surviving 25 years ago and living positively every day since that explosion, despite all the challenges I’ve faced having to live a “scarred” but beautiful life.

Me in calgary

 

 

Help Me Get Ellen’s Attention!! Please!

This summer, July 25, 2018 will mark 25 years of me being a burn survivor. For the past 10 years or so, I realized that I was burned for a reason – to help others. OK, my accident WAS an accident. A freak accident. I wasn’t supposed to get burned. No one is. I learned I couldn’t dwell in self misery and pity my whole life. Instead, I wear my scars with pride and hold my head up high. And with this being 25 years, I can’t help but feel like this is the year my dream will come true…

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I devote my life now to helping others, in many ways. However, I decided that I was going to do something for me this year to celebrate my 25 year burn anniversary. Out of everything I could do, I ultimately decided a couple years ago that I would go to LA at some point this year and try and get tickets to the Ellen show; my gift to myself.

I haven’t made it to LA…yet. The  year is just started. That’s not the point of this blog, or why I need you to help me get Ellen’s attention. Ellen is coming to Calgary (which is only 3.5 hours from  my home) this Saturday, April 21, 2018 for a moderated Q&A, “A Conversation With Ellen”. When I realized she was coming, I wanted to go so bad. But having three kids on a single income, it didn’t seem like it’d happen as there was not enough time to save money for the tickets. But then, at Easter, my entire family and members of my husband’s family presented me with a beautiful card and two tickets to see Ellen in Calgary this weekend. It was their gift to me for my burn anniversary later this year. I still can’t believe I’m going. I’M GOING TO SEE ELLEN!!!!! The woman who thrives on making dreams come true…I’m getting closer to how you can help me….closer to my dream coming true…I hope.

giphy

On July 25, 1993 my mom’s worst nightmare came true when the cabin I was in exploded. Her 9 year old little girl was burned with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of her body and I was scarred forever. For this reason, and also because she is my mom and the strongest woman I know, she will be the one sitting next to me this Saturday when we go see Ellen. I made her worst fear come true the day I got burned (obviously not on purpose) so I feel it’s only right that she’s there with me when my dream comes true. My mom hasn’t left my side in my 34 years on earth, and especially not in my 25 years as a burn survivor. She’s dried every tear and held me when she couldn’t end the pain. She’s cheered me on in every endeavor I’ve taken, and she too believes in my dream. She believes in me. My whole family does.

Mom
My mom brushing my hair just before it was to be shaved off for my face graft

I’ve called and researched and asked – how does a moderated Q&A work? I’ve only ever been to concerts so I’m a newbie at this. How do we submit questions for Ellen to answer? Turns out, no one really knows. My mom and I will be sitting in the front row of section 219 (FYI Ellen) and I hope she’ll see my hand waving in the air. I’ll probably make a sign in hopes she’ll see that too. I will do everything (non crazy) to try and get Ellen to hear my question. Which is ultimately, to hear my dream.

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Easter was 3 weeks ago – and I haven’t stopped thinking about what question I’d like to ask Ellen. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I need to make it count. It needs to be perfect. I have ONE chance. My chance could slip away…but not if I can help it. I’m known to be a dreamer, and a doer. If I want something bad enough, I’ll work my butt off to make it happen. So that brings me to the point of this blog and why I need YOU to help me get Ellen’s attention. All I need you to do, is share this blog. You never know if she or someone she knows will see it! The internet is a wonderful creation – and has been the gateway to making dreams come true. I have a dream – a big one. A good one. A beautiful one. A dream I’ve been working on and towards for years – a dream that answers the question I yearned to know the answer to, “why did I get burned?”.

Everything is lining up perfectly in my dream – well, almost perfectly. It hasn’t come true, yet. But I truly believe that if Ellen could hear it, she’d believe in it as much as I do – it’s that good. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll help me make my dream come true.

This world is in need of a lot more love, acceptance and understanding. For too long, I felt alone as a burn survivor. Like no one understood what I was going thru – not even other burn survivors. I felt scared, sad, angry. I would pray asking God, “why? Why me?” for so long. Well, he finally showed me why. I was burned because he knew I could handle it – OK wait. Not quite. I don’t believe God planned for me to get burned. But it did happen, so he helped me thru it and he is now answering my question as to why –  I want to help others who have been thru a traumatic experience at some point in their lives. I want to help people like me, so they too can not feel alone in their pain. Not just burn survivors. Anyone who has an incredible story of survival.  I want to help others to rise above their traumatic experience and live their life holding their heads high with pride for what they went thru – and survived. Like I did. I don’t cover or hide my scars. I never have. I’m proud of them. They tell my story.

Me and Julene on her bday
Me in the hospital, just over a week after my accident.

My dream is to help others in a new way. A big way. I’ve worked so hard on this dream, I believe in it, and I truly believe it will happen one day. Because it’s exactly what the world needs. It may not be what I was born for, but I truly believe it was what I was burned for. My dream is too big for a simple blog or for me to read to her on Saturday if I’m given the opportunity; but I will have it printed out and ready to hand to Ellen for her to read when she has time. So, my question for Ellen is this:

Ellen, can I hand my dream to you? I’m not a musician or actress – but handing out audition tapes or head shots is how so many people make their dreams come true. So I figured that this isn’t really any different – I have my dream and the background with me today – can I give it to you? All I need is someone to believe in it as much as I do, and I think you could be that person. You resemble love, acceptance and you have proven that dreams do come true. If you could read it in your own time, that alone is a dream come true.

25 years

 

Introducing the last member of the new Humans of Edmonton Experience team – the man who started it all: Jerry

Introducing the last member of our team: Jerry

As a kid there are few defining moments in your life that can alter the course of your existence. Mine was when my father abandoned us. I will never forget it. He left when I was 8 years old and to be honest, good riddance but that still doesn’t make it any better. He terrorized my mother and caused her such heartache. The WIN House was a place we called home for awhile.

After he left, my mother, grandmother and myself had to learn to fend for ourselves. I was so angry with my father for leaving and often blamed my mother. A boy should have his father and he abandoned us. I didn’t understand any of it. I had to grow up quickly because my mother spoke very little English and I had to become the man of the house and help her. I learned how to do the banking, pay bills, cook, clean, and grocery shop.

Now being raised by a single mom, we often used the services that were offered. We survived on social assistance, the food bank and the generosity of friends. I suddenly was shifted into a world where I got used to what hungry felt like.

Growing up wasn’t easy, I was angry and wasn’t an easy kid to deal with and my mother didn’t know how to help me. I suddenly had no rules and more freedom than I knew what to do with.

Jerry
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

When I was 12 years old I would sneak out at night and roam the streets. I ended up talking to the ladies of the night while they were waiting for their next customer with tears in their eyes. I would bring snacks and talk to the homeless, I was never afraid for some reason, just very curious about people and why they were in the situation they were in. I think this is why I can do what I do today. I would learn from people, their body language and facial expressions, how they wore masks and tried to be someone they never really were. This is where I started to learn compassion for the broken and lost souls of humanity.

During high school, one thing that distracted me from wrecking havoc on my life was the love of sports. I was really good at basketball and I loved it. Nothing would or could stop me from playing but I got in with the wrong crowd and things changed for me.

I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol and found myself creating a character to help with the anxiety and sadness I would feel most of the time. This character was fun and fearless and I found myself liking him more and more.

People wanted to be around me because I made them laugh, little did they know and I was more comfortable playing him than I was the real me. This led me to eventually be out of control and rely heavily on drugs and alcohol. For over a span of 10 years, drugs and alcohol was my main existence. My life was a huge contradiction. By day I was working with kids and adults with disabilities and by night I was partying like there was no tomorrow. I didn’t care, I loved the high and I wasn’t afraid. Eventually I realized I needed help because I was so out of control and the coming down from the high was excruciating, I lost everything.

I knew I needed help and couldn’t do it on my own so I admitted myself into rehab. I have to admit, I ended up going back a few different times because I would slip up and be right back where I started but I have to be honest with you, rehab taught me a lot about myself and I realized why I was doing what I was doing to myself. I also realized I was good at helping others and that started my journey to finding my purpose in life.

I picked up a camera and I can actually say photography saved my life. It gave me a purpose and a reason to do what I love and that is sitting down with the broken and forgotten humans that are so often passed by without a glance. The first time I took the first photo, I was hooked. I spent all my spare time practicing and learning about photography. I studied all the great photographers and knew I wanted to be one of them.

Jerry 1
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

It’s funny with all the photos I have taken and I have taken thousands, you will never get to see my best photos because I have never taken them. More often than not when I sit down with someone and ask them, “how are you today”, they can look at me with such pain in their eyes that it takes my breath away but I understand it. I sit down and I listen. I have no desire to take those photos, because not all pain needs to be documented.

I feel more comfortable with the souls of the street than I do with any other type of people. They are my people and I feel at home with them. They trust me now and know I have their best interest at heart. Through my photography, I am raising awareness for the way they live and creating change in the hearts of the people who follow my work.

Jerry 2
Photo: Jerry

At times I receive messages from family members of someone I have posted and they are so thankful their father is alive because they haven’t seen them in 5 years or someone I have posted has passed away and they message me asking if they could use my photo for the funeral.

I am not driven by wealth or material possessions. I’ve been there, done that and it didn’t do anything for me, it actually complicated my life so much that I never want to go back to that lifestyle again. I am a simple man with simple needs and live an hour out of the city to get away from the hustle and bustle. For 10 years I didn’t have access to the Internet or even have a cell phone.

One day, a friend of mine told me I should check out Humans of New York and out of curiosity I did. I realized, that is exactly what I have been doing all along and could share my photos with other people in the same way so I created Humans of Edmonton Experience and the rest as they say, is history.

With all of this being said, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find myself, to find my purpose in life. I have to admit, I used to look back on my life and wonder what if things were different, I could’ve been this or I should have been that but then I shake my head and realize, this is exactly who I am supposed to be.

Thank you for joining me on this incredible ride.

The Team
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

#ScarredNotBroken #IheartEdmonton #HumansofEdmontonExperience #bekindtooneanother

Introducing the third team member of the new Humans of Edmonton Experience…Neil

Introducing to the team: Neil Kennedy…

Neil
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

I learned the true meaning of hard work at a very young age. My folks made sure we had food on the table, a roof over our heads but more importantly a loving family.

Living on the farm we learned the true meaning of hard work. We were part of a small community and we all contributed to each other’s livelihood. We all trusted each other even when strangers came around, they were treated like family. But I soon learnt that trusting someone doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.

There was a stranger who would frequently visit the farm. He was always kind to the kids, giving out treats and making us laugh but I learned later he was a monster. He sexually abused me and stole my innocence. I knew I should tell my mom, but I didn’t want to burden her because she was going through hell of her own. My dad was killed in a hunting accident and she lost the love of her life. That man finally stopped coming around. I don’t know what ended up happening to him but growing up I always hoped to see him again one day to settle the score.

My whole family had to relocate to Edmonton. We had no money for a home of our own so we relied on the generosity of family and friends. We all ended up going our separate ways, just trying to survive the best we could.

We were all broken kids, we lost our home, our dad, we just lost all hope. I saw my sister take her last breath. I was losing everyone that I loved. I had so much anger inside of me and no way of understanding how to deal with all of the pain, I turned it into learning how to live on the streets. I turned to drugs and alcohol because I didn’t want to feel anymore. I was homeless for years and my new home was the inner city and my new family were it’s people. I came to rely on the Bissell Centre and the The Mustard Seed for my basic needs like food, clothing and a hot cup of coffee.

One day while I was at the The Mustard Seed centre, I thought, I could help out. What my parents taught me still stayed with me and I wanted to give back to the organization that was there for me. I asked the staff if I could volunteer and that is the day my life started to take a turn. It felt good to give back, it felt good to have a purpose and help those who became my family. I cleaned the tables and did whatever was needed. I volunteered at Bissell Centre centre as well and as much as I could and realized helping gave me back purpose and a direction that has carried me through to this day. I ended up being hired on at the Bissell centre and have volunteered and worked there for over 20 years.

I have moved on from there and now I dedicate my time and my life in helping out in the inner city and those who are less fortunate. They are my family and I work to ensure we have what we need everyday.

To the Humans of Edmonton Experience, I bring over 40 years of experience in the inner city. I will be doing inner city walks to show people what it’s like to live on the streets and explain what the different agencies in the city do to help with homelessness. One of the biggest reasons I want to give back is because I owe it to myself to be kind to all those have help me and to show my son and daughter that I have not seen in years what I have become.

My strength is my compassion and to always strive to make a difference in this world. I am very proud of where I have come from to where I am now, life couldn’t have been a lot different.

I received the Diamond Jubilee Award from the Queen for recognition for volunteering in my country, a plaque from the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in Recognition of Human Rights, the Human Rights Award nominated by Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta’s Promise Award for my commitment to youth and children, Outstanding Service of an Individual from the Bissell Centre, 2006 Volunteer of the year from the Bissell Centre and the Commitment to Volunteerism.

When I was born I had no clothing and no pockets and that’s the way I’m going out.

Neil 2
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

#Scarrednotbroken #IheartEdmonton #humansofedmontonexperience

Introducing the second team member of the new Humans Of Edmonton Experience…yours truly!

Introducing next on the team… Joy

My name is Joy Zylstra. I was born and raised in Camrose, AB by two loving parents. I am the middle child, of seven kids. Five sisters and one lucky brother. My childhood was not a normal one, to say the very least.
When I was nine years old my family and I were visiting with my aunt and uncle at their cabin in Boston Bar, B.C. Two of my older sisters and I were staying in the guest cabin while everyone else slept in the main cabin.

On Sunday July 25, 1993 everyone was sitting outside the main cabin, chatting and relaxing. But I was bored. I went to the guest cabin where all my stuff was to play with my Barbie’s. To this day, I remember having this weird feeling in my stomach as I walked to the cabin. We had just had lunch, so I knew I wasn’t hungry. So, I ignored it. Now, looking back, I firmly believe that it was God telling me to turn around; to not go into that cabin.

I walked into the cabin anyway and I smelled something strange. I looked around and saw that the propane stove was on, but nothing was cooking. Thinking nothing of it, I turned the burner off. The cabin didn’t have any electricity, so the only source of light was a candle. I grabbed the lighter to light the candle so I could find my toys. The next thing I remember was opening my eyes and seeing millions of sparks all over the floor. I screamed.

Mess inside after explosion
The cabin after the explosion

My family had all heard the explosion. But at first, they didn’t know what it was. They thought a semi truck had fallen off the mountain. But then they heard my screams coming from the guest cabin. My uncle and dad came running to me.
Long story short, the cabin was filled with propane. Just the spark from the lighter caused it to explode. The logs lifted and came back down, trapping my sister’s sleeping bag in-between; the roof lifted and came back down sideways; shelves fell; and I was burned. Badly.

Sleeping bag through wall
My sister’s sleeping bag was blown in between the separated logs and trapped when the logs came back down.

After the doctors realized I was going to survive, they told my parents that I suffered from 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body. This meant I would have skin grafting which would result in scars, to almost half my body – for the rest of the life. I was in a lot of pain while in the hospital. But nothing could prepare me for the pain I would have being forced to live life looking like a “freak” and “monster”.
I was only 9 years old. In the hospital, I was determined to remain positive, happy – I would tell jokes often. But I had no idea what was coming. When I returned to school just 5 weeks after the explosion, all my old friends (except one) wouldn’t come near me. I don’t blame them – we were just kids. And I looked awful. Bloody, purple skin; garments on my torso, hands and legs; a mask on my face and a bald head.
Teenage years were the hardest. While all my friends were starting to get boyfriends, I realized quickly that no guy wanted to date me. I was ugly. One guy even told me that he didn’t want to be my boyfriend because of my scars. I was severely depressed. Depression would follow me for the rest of my life. At 16 I attempted suicide three times. I would cry myself to sleep every night praying to God to take my scars away. I just wanted to be normal. Pretty.

Smiling...before face graft
Me just before getting my face grafted

As a teenager and young adult, I thought the only way to numb the pain was with drugs, alcohol and sex. I thought if I slept with a guy then he could eventually learn to love me, scars and all. Drugs and alcohol didn’t numb the pain, it made it worse. I was so lost. So scared. So sad.
Then, I became a mom at the age of 20. I’ll never forget looking into my daughter’s eyes and refusing to let her feel about herself the way I felt about myself. The birth of my daughter was the start of my healing process.
I left her father as it was not a healthy relationship and embarked on the single mom life. I moved us to Edmonton where I put myself through college, got a good career with a big company and bought my daughter and I our first home. And while doing this, I would look in the mirror and tell myself that I was beautiful – scars and all. Eventually, it worked. But I was still depressed.

It was just my daughter and I for the first seven years of her life. I was so lonely, but now I had self worth. I knew I deserved a good man – but where was he? Most men still looked at my scars and wouldn’t even think about a relationship. I was about to give up on finding my soul mate, thought maybe the single mom life was for me. But then I met him. My husband. He tells me that the first thing he noticed about me when we first met was my smile. Not my scars. We married 5 years ago. He adopted my daughter and we now have three beautiful children together. But I was still depressed, I just didn’t know it (or maybe want to admit it).
For years I knew my accident happened for a reason, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I started going to schools and giving burn awareness presentations to help avoid any one else going through what I went through. I volunteer at the same burn unit I was treated in almost 25 years ago to help those burn survivors know that they’re not alone – and that it can and will be ok eventually. The depression though, never left. I just buried it. It eventually creeped back up earlier this year, and this time I didn’t ignore it. I sought help with it and have accepted that it could be there for life, as long as I take care of it though, it won’t take over my life.

A year ago I started my own page, Scarred, Not Broken to showcase hope. I started interviewing other survivors of tragic and life challenging events. I want people who are going through a hard time to know that they’re not alone. Because that was the hardest part for me – although I was never physically alone, I felt so alone. Like no one knew what I was going through. I’m determined to help others, not just burn survivors – survivors of anything, know that they’re not alone. I dream of one day having my own talk show. One that has guests who share their story of survival and hope. Their stories deserve to be heard – and need to be heard by others who are going through something similar.

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Which brings me to why I am so excited, proud and humbled to have been asked to join Humans of Edmonton Experience. The four of us have such diverse backgrounds, which makes us the perfect team. I look forward to the lives we’re going to help, to the changes we’re going to make in the world, to the love and acceptance we’re going to help spread. Being part of this team is the beginning of my dream coming true.

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#Scarrednotbroken #IHeartEdmonton #HumansofEdmontonExperience
#bekindtooneanother

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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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.