Well, the inevitable came. Snow. Way too early, but I live in Alberta…it was coming. It’s the middle of September and as I’m sitting here writing this, there’s a bunch of white crap falling from the sky onto my lawn that desperately needed a mow and rake (that’ll be fun 🙄). My kids have been back at school now for just over a week – and I’ve been thrilled to be back into routine…but man do I ever miss summer.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for three summers now. This past one being my third. The first two summers I was bound and determined to make them the best summers ever for my kids (Ciara and Paxton had previously spent every summer of their lives in daycare).
That was my first mistake…focusing so much on making it a great summer just for my kids…and forgetting about me. I matter too. I deserve a good summer too, with more than just my kids in the memories. I love my kids more than anything – but they’re not my entire life. I would die for them – but I also want to live. So before the haters start hating let me just say this…
…and let me do me.
So how was this summer the best? I spent time with people who make me laugh, make me feel good. Good people. This is everyone from family, my kids, my husband, and of course my friends. I’ve made my circle. I made choices on what to do this summer, based solely on what I want to do with those in my circle. I didn’t revolve summer plans around just my kids.
I can feel it – the judgy moms are judging! But hear me out…my kids are the biggest part of my circle. I didn’t put them in camps, or sports this past summer. We just lived each day as it came and made plans on the fly most of the time. We made memories, without feeling like we HAD to. If you were to ask my kids if they enjoyed summer, each of them will say they had. They spent time with their friends, family and we even had some days where we just laid around and did nothing…and it was wonderful. I know…it felt wrong at first to me too.
My husband had to work most of the summer, with just a few hours at home at any given time. But we made sure to use every second of his time at home by spending time together as a family – and making sure all of our buckets were full before he had to leave again. We cherished every minute together, because we had no idea when the next one would be or if it’d be even shorter. It is thanks to my husband working so hard that I was able to enjoy summer so much.
My kids aren’t the only ones I wanted to make memories with. I spent time away from the kids; laughing and making memories with other adults. Some of these friends aren’t parents so some of those nights weren’t even filled with kid talk! Some of these memories are so great that I can’t remember them all unless reminded…
Not only did I make sure to make time and memories with my friends, but I was also careful with who I choose to spend time with. Let’s face it – summer is always too short. There’s never enough of it. I wanted to be sure to spend time with people who lifted me up, made me feel good and the less drama the better! The past few years I’ve made note of how I felt when leaving a get together with someone – did I feel drained or full?
I spent time with those people in my life who make me feel full – and because of that, my memories this summer are full of love, laughter, and in some cases, new friendships were formed.
Now again – summer is short. And I am blessed to have many positive, up-lifting, good people in my life. I did not get the chance to spend as much time with some people as I had wanted – but that’s just because life got in the way and summer is short! But that doesn’t mean I love you any less! If anything I love you even more – because our friendship/relationship doesn’t suffer if we only get a chance to see each other once in awhile.
Did I mention, summer is short? Short but oh so sweet. But just because my favorite season is over, doesn’t mean I can’t make this the best winter ever (apparently mother nature just wants to skip over Fall this year). And then the best Spring and then before I know it, it’ll be Summer again and next summer will be even better than this one. And without realizing it – all of a sudden I’m living the best life I could have ever hoped for (still some dreams floating out there).
Live in the moment. And cherish your moments. Give value to yourself and your time. Choose your circle based on who makes you feel good – and then love them hard. Summer isn’t the only thing that’s short – so is life. Make it your best life.
Ahh, Mother’s Day. What a day. Some people really relish in the day and get spoiled. Others are aching extra hard today because their mom is either passed on or not part of their life for various reasons. Some feel like it’s just another “hallmark holiday”. I have three amazing children and an incredible mom who is very much a part of my life. So why the complicated relationship? Well, let me tell you.
NEWS FLASH!!! Being a mom is hard. Heart breaking. Stressful. Complicated. Confusing. Did I say hard?
The Single Mom Life
I had my first child when I was 20. She wasn’t planned at all. I was born in a Catholic home and we were raised to believe that you don’t have sex, therefore children, until you’re married. Well, I was the first (and so far only) child of my parent’s kids (they have seven) who got pregnant out of wed-lock. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the man I got pregnant with was not a good man. I won’t go into those details but lets just say my entire family knew he was no good for me, let alone a child too. Therefore, it wasn’t a happy pregnancy. Full of guilt. So much guilt. Full of sadness. And so much fear. There wasn’t any baby bump photos. There wasn’t any comparing my fetus size to a fruit each month. Although this pregnancy wasn’t planned, and this child was going to be born into an unhealthy relationship, I still wanted her. Abortion was never an option. Neither was adoption. She was meant to be mine. That was 13 years ago. And it’s been a hard 13 years. When my oldest was born, I left her “dad” when she was only three months old. Once I had another life to take care of, I saw what everyone else saw – he wasn’t just no good for me – he wasn’t good for her either. He wasn’t going to help give her the best life she deserved. So, I choose to be a single parent. Since the day I left, my ex proved that I made the right choice.
I was a single mom for 7 years. Just me and Ciara. I had to deal with all the challenges that come with parenthood by myself. My ex was not supportive in any way. But I made sure she felt loved. Every day. Even on the bad days when I had no idea what I was doing. I know I did good. How? She tells me. She loves her life now, but she mentions sometimes how she misses the days when it was just her and I. We did everything together. I remember booking her first day of kindergarten off work so I could just sit and cry after dropping her off. How did my baby grow up so fast? Don’t even get me started on how she’s almost done grade 7 already…
I didn’t feel like I was a good mom. I made mistakes. Many. Too many. I doubted everything I did. And although I’ve now given her the family she so badly deserves, I still feel like I haven’t done good enough. She deserves the world. All my kids do. My husband legally adopted her. Her “real dad” is more of a distant uncle to her. My husband, her REAL DAD, shows her every day what a dad is supposed to be like. But some days, I still worry that I haven’t done enough for her.
Step-mom to a child with special needs
When I met my husband, he was a single dad to a 1 year old boy. He had his son most of the time. His mom was in and out. And now, she’s mostly out. He lives with us full-time and sees his real mom a couple times a year. I treat Paxton no different than if I gave birth to him myself. I’ve been in his life since he was one, and I’ve been his mom since he was three. I don’t feel like I’m enough for him. Although his real mom isn’t really around, I see the pain he feels everyday, missing her. I know he loves me. He calls me mom. He respects me as his mom. But I’m not his real mom. He aches for her all the time. That makes me ache for a few reasons: 1. He’s hurting. Which in turn makes me hurt for him. 2. I know I’ll never have that motherly bond with him that most moms get when they carry their child in their womb for nine months. 3. I know that no matter what I do, I’ll never be his “real” mom, even though I consider him my real son.
I don’t try and “compete” with his birth mom. I know I’ll never replace her, and I don’t want to. I know he loves me like a mom. But I so badly just want his pain to end. My son, has had a rough life…and he’s only nine. When he was five, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD). I knew when he was three that something wasn’t quite right. He struggled daily. He would have meltdowns that would last for HOURS. During these meltdowns, he’d get almost like a super-human strength. He’d hurt anyone who was in the line of fire. And it seemed he didn’t care who he hurt or how badly. But he did care eventually. He has the biggest heart of any little boy I know – and when he lets that show, he is so loving. He just didn’t know how to handle what was going on in his brain. He still doesn’t. Maybe he never will. He’s scared, lonely and in pain every day. I hold him when he’s crying. I try and be as patient as I can be when he’s having a melt down. But I fail at that too. Having a child with ADHD and ODD is HARD. Challenging. Exhausting. That combined with not being his real mom, makes parenting him extra hard. Extra heart breaking when he has bad days. More tears flow from my eyes and heart for him than I ever imagined possible. I just want him to be happy. To feel loved. And even though I do everything I can to make him feel this way, sometimes I really feel like I’m not doing enough. His heart has been broken since he was a baby. And I’m doing everything I can to mend it for him.
Having a child in the NICU
My husband and I got married in 2012. My daughter and his son (now they’re both OURS) were our flower girl and ring bearer. It was a perfect day. Immediately after our honeymoon, we started trying for one together. We both wanted to have a child “the proper way”. A child that was planned. We finally got pregnant in 2014. We were overjoyed. It was a rough pregnancy though. I had gestational diabetes and everything swelled up and hurt. It was a long nine months. I was so happy to be having this child with my husband; but I felt like I was already letting my unborn child down – although I did everything to take care of myself during the pregnancy, it wasn’t good enough. The odds seemed stacked up against me; and therefore our child.
Our daughter came into the world exactly 10 years and 2 min to the day of our first daughter (just a little fun fact). I’d given birth once already so I knew how it goes. But when Sahtaysha came into the world, instead of them handing her directly to me like they had with Ciara, she was taken away from me. Because of my gestational diabetes, she was having a hard time breathing on her own. My husband and doctor tried to distract me but I could see the nurses putting a little oxygen mask on my baby. I kept asking what was wrong but no one would tell me. Soon, they took her out of the room. I didn’t even get to see her. My husband, torn with the decision to stay with me or go with our baby girl, was scared but being so strong for me. I told him to go with her. When it was decided that she needed to go to the NICU for treatment and to be monitored, he begged them to let me at least see her. They brought her into my room and I was able to finally lay my eyes on this new human who I already loved with every bone in my body. It would be another four hours before I’d be able to go up to the NICU and hold her.
She spent five days in the NICU. Nothing compared to most of the babies in there. She was the healthiest baby in there at the time. One baby passed away in another pod during our stay. It was the longest five days of my life. I’d rather go through my accident all over again than have to sit in a NICU, feeling completely helpless and scared.
I want a crystal ball
I worry about my kids Every. Single. Day. All day long. I worry that they’re getting bullied at school, or that they might be the bully. I worry that they’ll fall into the wrong crowd and get into drugs, sex and alcohol. I worry that they won’t follow their dreams. I worry that they won’t have a dream at all. I worry that because of mistakes I’ve made being their parent, that I will have screwed them up. I worry that all the times I’ve yelled at them or screwed up some other way that I’ve imprinted a permanent scar on their hearts.
If I could have a crystal ball, not to see the winning lotto numbers (that’d be cool too though) but just to see if they’re going to be OK when they’re adults. Will they be kind, caring, professional adults? Will they be good parents one day? Or will they be sitting on a therapist’s couch talking about me? I think I could relax a bit more, and just enjoy each day with them to the absolute fullest, without any guilt or fear, if I could know that they will be OK.
For so long I felt like I was a bad mom. Sometimes, I still do. I know that I am the best mom I can be and I am learning more every day on how to be better. They are loved, so much. I tell them that every day. And they tell me the same. Sometimes multiple times a day.
So why the love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day?
My husband and kids always go out of their way to make me feel like mom of the year on mother’s day. Although I have my doubts on if I’m doing everything I possibly can for my kids, the love they shower me with removes those doubts for a little while at least.
From the day I first became a mom over 13 years ago, I’ve always felt that it’s the most painful (and rewarding) experience a person can go thru. Sending my kids out into the world means I’m sending my heart out there too. It’s been trampled as they’ve experienced unpleasant things in life. And it’ll continue to be trampled and broken as they get older, until the day I die. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just love them so darn much. I suppose all I can do is be sure they know I’ll always be there to mend their hearts back together.
Now to the hard part. Mother’s Day is impossible to forget. It’s plastered all over the tv, social media, and in every store for weeks leading up to the day. What about those who have lost their moms? What about those whose mom chooses to not be in their lives? What about those who so badly want to be a mom, but can’t for whatever reason? What about those who have lost a child or children? What does Mother’s Day mean to them? I ache for these people.
I lost one child, before I even knew I was pregnant. I didn’t really grieve as most do when they miscarry – I was sad of course, but I didn’t even know I was pregnant so I didn’t bond or fall in love with the child who died. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it is to lose a child in any stage – whether it’s before they are born or after. Whether they pass on when they’re children or adults. The pain of losing a child is one I hope I never have to endure – but my heart still hurts for those who have. Especially on Mother’s Day.
So, the day after Mother’s Day, I’d like to say this to anyone who hurts on Mother’s Day for whatever reason – you are loved. Your pain is recognized. Your loss is recognized. Your loneliness is recognized. I wish for you, a crystal ball too. So you can see that you too will be OK. For whatever loss you are feeling every day but especially on Mother’s Day, I am so sorry. If I could give you all a hug, even though I may not know you, I would.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Freak. Monster. Alien. Ugly. Dirty. – My Review of the Book, “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
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.
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.
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.”
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.