June 14, 2015 - People of Victoria - Kelly's story

This is a powerful and moving story, written by my darling friend Kelly. We went to college together, and supported one another in the gruelling program that was Applied Communication at Camosun College, in Victoria, ten years ago.

Kelly has since married and has a two-year old son, Miles. This is Kelly’s story about living through postpartum depression, and like me, rising up to challenge the stigma’s of mental health issues that are so prevalent in our society.

While her experience has been fraught with difficulty and the ever-familiar sense of being alone and feeling isolated, she’s turned it around. Kelly is sharing her difficult story so that others may learn that they too, are not alone.

Since being posted yesterday, it has been seen by thousands of people, and has been shared several hundred times. Based on the comments being left by people reading it, Kelly is helping many strangers to not feel so alone. ‪#‎notastranger‬

People of Victoria - Kelly
“Two years ago I had my son Miles, following a very normal pregnancy. Being pregnant was one of the happiest times of my life - I was actually euphoric! I struggled with breastfeeding and around three weeks the public health nurse convinced me to give him formula. He quickly thrived. We thought the worst of our troubles were over, except they weren’t.

If he started crying inside a store, I felt I couldn’t calm him. I developed anxiety about leaving the house, and began to be inside all day, watching a lot of Netflix or staring at the walls.

One night my husband came home and said, “Go and relax” and I remember sitting in the tub, twiddling my big toe on the edge of the tap thinking, “If I put him down for a nap at four o’clock and then went out to the shed and jimmied up a noose, my husband would get back in time to take care of our son. He wouldn’t be alone for too long.” I’d never had a thought like that before. I scored off the charts on the Edinburgh postpartum depression test with the public health nurse. She referred me to a counselor – who wouldn’t be able to see me for three weeks.

When I saw the counselor, she said I would benefit from medication, but I would need to see a doctor to get a referral to a psychiatrist, because she couldn’t write prescriptions. I didn’t have a GP - mine had retired - so my midwife sent it in. It would take about six weeks to see the specialist. Weeks passed and I never heard from them. The psychiatrist had not received the referral. I was barely hanging on at this point.

I was having so many panic attacks. I hated myself, I was a terrible mom. Then one night, around 4AM, my husband woke up to hear me sobbing uncontrollably over the baby monitor. I couldn’t wait another day, let alone those weeks. He dropped me off at the emergency room at the Jubilee.

I spent all day waiting at the hospital, and by an ironic twist of fate the psychiatrist was the one I was on the wait-list to see. She looked into my eyes, grabbed my hand and said, “We are going to make you better.” What followed was varying dosages, and prescriptions til we got it right. We found I had undiagnosed bipolar disorder which had been triggered by my pregnancy, causing the euphoria and then deep depression as the hormones fell away.

Looking back on it, I feel so sad about those months. I hope my son never remembers that time. It was so dark and traumatic. I began talking to my girlfriends about what had happened and found it liberating to open up. It had not been that idyllic experience, with soft focus and glowy mother and babe time that I had expected. Being honest about it has set me free and it has also made me more empathetic to the struggles of others.”

June 12, 2015 - a simple question

 

It’s funny, I quit my full-time job of over five years, so that I could focus more on The Stranger Project, and my writing. I’m busier now than when I was working 45 hrs a week. It takes time to make enough income to cover rent, food, bills and the basic necessities of life. However, I’m happier and freer than I’ve ever been. Well worth the effort.

 

I wanted to share a quick little incident that just happened to me. I was walking south on Cambie Street, near Broadway. About half a block away, two young guys probably in their mid-late twenties were walking toward me. One was talking on his phone, and the other was just walking down the street. Suddenly, he opened his arms, outstretched wide as if he was walking toward someone he was happy to see. 

 

As we got closer, he and I made eye contact, and I smiled and jokingly asked if he was coming in for a hug. He shrugged his shoulders and in a gruff sounding voice said,

“Ah no man, not for you,” and kept walking, arms out-stretched.

 

No sooner had he said that then he stopped and turned around. He shouted,

“Hey!” at me.

“I’m sorry dude, that’s not what I meant. That sounded rude. Come here, of course I’ve got a hug for you. I had my arms stretched out in appreciation of the mountains. And the city and the sunshine,” he said, wrapping his arms around me, giving me a warm, friendly hug, complete with a good squeeze. I noted there also wasn’t the uncomfortable man-patting or slapping of the back, either. “I love the mountains and that view man. But I love you too. Thanks for the hug!” With that, he turned and walked away, leaving me with a great sense of feeling connected.

 

The answer is always no, if you don’t ask. #notastranger

 

June 12, 2015 - a simple question

June 12, 2015 - a simple question

It’s funny, I quit my full-time job of over five years, so that I could focus more on The Stranger Project, and my writing. I’m busier now than when I was working 45 hrs a week. It takes time to make enough income to cover rent, food, bills and the basic necessities of life. However, I’m happier and freer than I’ve ever been. Well worth the effort.

 

I wanted to share a quick little incident that just happened to me. I was walking south on Cambie Street, near Broadway. About half a block away, two young guys probably in their mid-late twenties were walking toward me. One was talking on his phone, and the other was just walking down the street. Suddenly, he opened his arms, outstretched wide as if he was walking toward someone he was happy to see. 

 

As we got closer, he and I made eye contact, and I smiled and jokingly asked if he was coming in for a hug. He shrugged his shoulders and in a gruff sounding voice said,

“Ah no man, not for you,” and kept walking, arms out-stretched.

 

No sooner had he said that then he stopped and turned around. He shouted,

“Hey!” at me.

“I’m sorry dude, that’s not what I meant. That sounded rude. Come here, of course I’ve got a hug for you. I had my arms stretched out in appreciation of the mountains. And the city and the sunshine,” he said, wrapping his arms around me, giving me a warm, friendly hug, complete with a good squeeze. I noted there also wasn’t the uncomfortable man-patting or slapping of the back, either. “I love the mountains and that view man. But I love you too. Thanks for the hug!” With that, he turned and walked away, leaving me with a great sense of feeling connected.

 

The answer is always no, if you don’t ask. #notastranger

June 07, 2015 - a reminder of humility and grace

June 07, 2015 - a reminder of humility and grace
I take lots of photographs. I’d rather take ten photos of something and hope I like one of them, when I go back and look at them. Better that than only take one picture and feel I missed the shot. The first time I went to New York, I was there for nine days and took sixteen hundred photographs. I recently took an overnight trip to Ladysmith, and snapped off over 250 frames in that twenty-six hour retreat. I usually post five or six images a week to my Instagram account. 

 

Photography is one of those things in which I enjoy all of the process. I like seeing something that I want to capture, and photographing a few different angles or perspectives. I usually don’t look at the photos until I get home, and sometimes it might be a day or two before I get to them. 

 

I always look at what I’ve photographed, on my iPad. I decide on the ones I like. That doesn’t mean I delete all the others. I then enjoy the process of editing, cropping, shifting the light, working the colours. Whatever it takes until the image pleases me. Then I will post my favourite images to Instagram. Occasionally I'll also share some of my photos on Facebook. It’s a satisfying hobby, one that remains something which is just about me. If others like the photos as well, that’s great, of course. But I derive a great deal of pleasure from it for myself.

 

I put thought into the titles or words that describe each image. When other people comment or ‘like’ my images on Instagram, it’s gratifying, and somewhat validating too. I don't think any creative person does everything with all ego removed completely. At least for me, I’m not there. Not yet anyway. I spend time looking at who comments or likes my photos. I’ve discovered some really great photographers and artists through looking at the work of those who like or comment on my photographs. 

 

I posted this photograph, of my shadow on a swing, on my Instagram page on Friday evening. I took the photograph when I was in Ladysmith a few weeks ago. A few hours after posting it, I was checking out the people who had ‘liked’ it, as I do. There was one gentleman that I hadn’t seen before who had liked this photograph. 

 

I went to look at the images that this gentleman had on his Instagram account. I had one of those moments where you see something and it's immediately confusing. So I looked again, looked away, and then looked again. He had copied my photograph, of me on the swing and posted it on his Instagram account, without acknowledging that the photo was in fact, mine.

 

One thing that I’ve learned or enhanced (!) through The Stranger Project, is not to take everything personally. To have greater patience, especially with regard to others reactions. Like comments people might leave on a story. Or the vulnerability that I feel sometimes when speaking about living with depression. There’s definitely a vulnerability in sharing other peoples stories, and with that, I feel protective. 

 

I’ll be perfectly honest though, it pissed me off that someone saw fit to copy my photograph, and seemingly post it as their own image. There was no reference to me, or acknowledgement that this photo was from my Instagram account. 

 

I sat on it for a while - knee-jerk reactions generally, in my humble opinion only set one up for the need to apologize later. Another lesson learned from this project - wait before replying, sometimes. There was a short paragraph written by the guy posting my image, but it was in the Persian language of Farsi. I had no way to translate his words. An hour later, my inner dialogue was at ‘This really burns my ass.’ I felt a need to leave a comment for him on his account, below the post of my photograph.

 

‘HEY! This is MY photograph - not cool, at least credit the photographer you copied it from!’ 

 

In truth, it didn’t make me feel any better. This was the first time it had ever happened to me on Instagram, that I know of anyway. I took a screenshot of what this guy had written below my photo, and sent it to a friend of mine, Ata, who I know speaks and reads Farsi. 
Ironically, I had met Ata when we were both presenting at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood. 

 

I went to bed, not dwelling on it, but still perturbed and somewhat indignant. I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over it though.

 

The next morning, my friend Ata had replied to my request to translate this guy's comment about MY photograph. It was the first thing I saw when I got up, and was the first thing I read. 

 

'Hi dear Colin, it says: 
"It's not always necessary to have a beautiful face... or pleasant voice... a beautiful heart is enough. It's enough to see through your heart beautifully... Having a beautiful heart is enough by itself to attract many people to yourself !! "
I hope it helps. Have a nice weekend. Ata.'

 

My entire perspective shifted so swiftly I’m sure there was a sound of gears grinding in my head. I read the translation again. And then again. I looked at my photograph, and read this man’s poem while seeing the shadow of me, on a swing. Me on a swing while I was away on a retreat. A retreat based in the truest and most wonderful experience of the love of life-long friendships and artistry. Now I felt like the complete ass. Assumption.

 

Not everything is as it appears. We can’t judge a book by the cover, and without knowing all the facts, or backstory, it’s so easy to get it wrong. Some lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again. Some take many years to fully understand. I spoke about humility a few weeks ago, and how I struggled for years to understand what that truly meant, to me. I am not the centre of the universe, and not everything is about me. Far from it.

 

I immediately wanted to apologize to the gentleman who had taken inspiration from my photograph.  He had attached such profoundly beautiful and poetic thought to it. He left a comment below my mad rant. He simply said ‘I am sorry.’ He had also gone in and liked twenty-six more of my photographs. I left an apology, and thanked him for the valuable reminder and lesson of not making assumptions. I thanked him for his gift. 

 

This lesson will stay with me for a very long time. I’m sure I will share this story with friends in the near and distant future. This would never have happened without The Stranger Project. I learned a valuable lesson and was reminded of the spirit of grace, from a stranger that I’ve never even met. 

 

Social media can be pervasive, intrusive, cause isolation and spread stories like wildfire. On the other hand, it can teach valuable lessons. It can bring people closer together, and can give pause for consideration. It can be a wonderfully powerful tool, when used with good intention and thoughtfulness.

 

Tonight while writing this, I thought about leaving another comment for this gentleman, who had reminded me of the ills of presumption. I wanted him to be able to read this story, about what I had learned from him. Sadly, he’s made his Instagram account private, thus preventing me from being able to communicate with him. Who thinks who is an ass now? #notastranger

June 04, 2015 - Taseda & Carl

June 04, 2015 - Taseda & Carl 

I've had people ask, on numerous occasions, "What can I do to make a difference in my community?" when it comes to strangers and connection. I can only share my own personal experiences, and will usually suggest each person has to find a way that they feel comfortable with, in order to connect with others. 

I've never shared anyone else's post here on The Stranger Project. However you may recall, I occasionally like to break my own rules. This story was posted by a good friend of mine, Taseda (pictured left). Today I asked him if it would be alright to share his story here. He replied "Go for it! I think that's awesome." 

It's a wonderful story that illustrates how we don't even necessarily have to go out of our way to make connections, or build friendships in our community. We may already be doing it. All we have to do, to get started is say 'Hello' and be openhearted. 


Taseda Knight
2 June at 17:49 
Seven years ago I moved back to Vancouver.. Carl (the other guy in the pic) would panhandle out front of my place, confined to a wheel chair from years of hard drug abuse. Always a friendly guy to chat with, we would often talk on the corner on my way home from work. He'd tell me about his day and always had a good story. For a guy with a few teeth left in his mouth due to heroin and methadone use he always had a smile on his face. I enjoyed getting to know him, and when he stopped panhandling on the corner a few years ago I figured he had finally succumbed to the demons he had been battling.

Well, thankfully life throws us a curve ball every now and then, and I'm glad I was wrong with what I figured had happened to Carl. Low and behold on my way home from work today was a familiar (but much healthier) looking face! Carl was indeed alive... and well! Two years clean and more amazing, he jumped up off his scooter and showed me he could even walk again. The last time I saw him he was a frail shell of a man, long beard and confined to a chair. Today he's still smiling but full of life. He was simply hanging out on his old corner because he missed the people and the stories. After getting over my initial excitement that he was still alive I realized I kinda missed him on the corner too. I'm so glad Carl has found purpose in his life again. It's not often in this city that we get to see someone come back from the brink. I'm proud of Carl for not giving up, and I'm thankful he stopped by his old corner to say hello.
Sometimes we all need a little inspiration in life, today, Carl was mine.

#notastranger

June 01, 2015 - Clive

June 01, 2015 - Clive (6th person I approached)
Goals, numbers and letting go. Last year, if I hadn’t publicly committed to meeting a stranger every day for a 365 days, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it every single day. 

 

This year, I gave myself permission to take some days off. And there is the slippery slope. One day leads to two. Then the next week two leads to three and before I know it, I’m halfway through the year, and I only wrote two stories last week. 

 

Personally, I’ve been looking at other goals in my life. For the first time ever, I feel out of shape. It has nothing to do with the cookies I eat every day either. Nor the Peanut Butter Cups.  I love peanut butter cups, and the bags of the mini peanut butter cups don’t even have individual wrappers to inhibit my gorging. I digress. The truth of the matter is I need to get more active than I have been. I need to consume less sugar. There, I’ve said it publicly. I need to write more frequently, eat healthier and I need to exercise. Full stop. 

 

Today I had a meeting downtown, and I had to do some banking afterwards. The downtown branch of my bank is in the business district. I’ve been aware that in my random approach of people from all walks of life, I’ve not encountered a lot of business people. This seemed like an opportunity to tackle that.  

 

I decided that, though it might break my record of the most people I’ve had to approach in one day ever (eleven), I was going to find a man in a suit to talk to today. (Note, I have talked to women who are in business, more than men. I do mean specifically men here.) It's a new month, and we're halfway through the year. I've got a flexible approach to numbers, and letting go of wanting to control how many people it takes to meet a stranger. It takes how many it takes to meet the right stranger.

 

I saw Clive coming out of Vancouver’s waterfront convention centre. His suit, shirt and tie caught my attention. Clearly he's a confident man, dressing somewhat boldly, yet he carries it with such ease. I watched him leave the convention centre, walk away from me, and then stop at a crosswalk, waiting for the green light. 

 

I turned off the music I was listening to, removed my earphones, and took off my sunglasses. I approached Clive and told him what I was doing. He listened attentively to everything I had to say, and then, while I waited for him to say yes or no, he replied

“Will it cost me anything?” When I laughed and said no, it wouldn’t cost him a thing other than the time it takes to chat, he said

“Sure, I’ll talk to you.”

 

We crossed the street to where there were some benches. We sat on a bench and chatted for a good twenty minutes or thereabouts.

“I was born right here,” he said.

“Born, raised and lived in West Van all of my life. I still live there.” We high-fived in acknowledgement of Clive being another Vancouverite. 

 

“My father was in advertising and my mother was a stay at home mother. My father did some really great work. You might even be old enough to remember a couple. Have you heard the slogan ‘At Speedy You’re a Somebody?’ Yeah? My Dad wrote that," he said proudly.

"The other one you might know is a jingle that went ‘Wonderful, wonderful, Wonderbra,’” he said, with a lilt in his voice. Of course to show that I knew it, I had to sing it back to Clive.

“Yeah! That’s it,” he exclaimed.

 

“I’m an only child. As a kid, I always wanted to have a brother or sister to talk with and have around. As an adult, I realize that being an only child gave me certain advantages, in life and in business,” Clive told me.

“I learned a specific way in which to be independent. I didn’t need help from other people. The success I have in business today, is because of what I did. And of course the people who work for me. But I learned that I didn’t need to rely on others, to make my own success.” 

 

“Nothing really stands out for me about school. I wasn’t a great student. I became very good at spending time in the Principal’s office. You know, long hair, black leather jacket, jeans,” he said, smiling through his memories. In his late teens, Clive’s life came to a fork in the road. He took the right turn.

 

“I never went to college or university. I got a job as a fishing guide. I liked it, and did that for some time. One of my clients was a successful business man. He knew a lot about the stock market. He told me I should go work for him. But I wasn’t really that interested. Then I thought about it, and decided I didn’t want to be a fishing guide forever. Some of the guys I went to high-school with were working in finance. So I went to work for this client from the fishing guide days. I got one of the lowliest jobs in his company. But he taught me everything he knew about business, finances and about the stock market,” said Clive. 

 

“Over the years I went to work for a number of different companies and continued learning. In around 2000, I started my own company, and then I sold that and started another. I’m an executive of my own company now. I've been doing this all for about twenty-five years now,” he said. I asked Clive if he liked what he does.

“Yeah. After twenty-five years you know, it can get a bit stale. In my business if things are good, then it’s a good business. And it things are bad, then it’s a bad business. It has it’s ups and downs.”

 

A group of business men cross the street and walk in our direction. Clive exchanges a hello and a wave with one of the gentlemen.

“He’s a client of mine. From Germany actually.” The man waves back and continues walking. I ask if Clive knows many people from his school days.

“You know, I do. Most of my very close friends are people I’ve known since then,” he says. 

 

We chat about the comfort of good friends, in a group or individually. There's a level of trust and comfort that comes with long-term friendships.

“I know all sorts of people, from all backgrounds, and in all industries. From ex-drug addicts and sober alcoholics, to wealthy business guys with a couple homes and three cars. They run the gamut. I’m lucky, I have a lot of very good friends.” 

 

“People really need to get back to connection and talking to people. I tell young people ‘Put the phones down and talk.’ I have a good friend and she’s a little obsessed with Instagram. We were out at lunch and she kept picking it up and looking at it. I told her if there was someone that she’d rather be spending time with, I could get up, go, and leave her alone. She apologized and put her phone down,” he said, smiling with a slight shake of his head. 

 

We chatted about technology. I mentioned how I used to get excited to open my front door and see if there was a red blinking light on my answering machine. Or not. His phone rang, and I told him I was in no hurry, to go ahead and take the call.

“I’ll just be minute. I have to take this.” 

 

Clive says hello to the caller, and it’s clear they know each other.

“Listen,” he says.

“Were your ears burning? I was just talking about you. I’ll tell you all about it. But I can’t talk right now, can I call you back in fifteen minutes. No, I can’t right now. Okay, five minutes. How's that? I’ll call you back in five minutes. Okay, yeah. Bye,” he says, with a chuckle.

“That was my friend, the one with Instagram that I was telling you about.”

 

Clive chooses his own clothes and does his own shopping.

“I’m not always dressed like this. Often times it’s a navy blue or dark suit. But it was supposed to be a nice sunny day today, so I thought I’d wear this,” he says. I complemented him on his cufflinks, made from what looked like ancient coins or small medallions.

“That's about it for me then,” he says. “Nothing really that much to tell.”

 

I asked Clive, in one breath, had he ever been married, had a significant relationship, or any children. He looked away, turning his head towards the water of Coal Harbour that was a couple of blocks away. He started to speak, but didn’t say anything. Nothing came out each time he went to speak.

“I, uh.” He stopped. I sat quietly, and didn’t say a word. I sat waiting for him, listening.

“Well, I. Uhm.” 

 

His voice cracked and I could almost hear the lump of emotion he swallowed down.

“I recently broke up with a woman I am absolutely madly in love with,” he managed to sputter out while maintaining his composure.

“And as you can see, it’s not been easy for me,” said Clive. He removed his glasses and wiped away a tear from the outer corner of his right eye. He looked at me, and I just nodded.

 

“We’d been together for twenty-five years. We have four children. It’s been about seven months now,” he said, regaining control of his voice. He wiped at his right eye once again. Clive told me that he had become so involved in his work, that it was somewhat isolating.

“We have lunch still. In fact we’re meeting for lunch today. I’m just coming from a conference and then off to meet (her) for lunch. We still hug and kiss each other hello when we see one another. I had lunch with her last week. It’s also hard because not only is she the nicest, kindest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever met. She’s stunningly beautiful too,” says Clive, reaching for his phone. 

 

He scrolls through a couple of photographs and turns his phone towards me.

“Now go ahead and tell me. Is this not one of the hottest looking woman, that you’ve ever seen?” Indeed, the camera did not lie. She is a radiantly beautiful woman. He looks at the photo again before putting his phone away. While unsure of the outcome, they are working on their relationship. 

 

I ask to take Clive’s photo and then get a message that my phone is full. I have to ask Clive if he can wait while I delete a bunch of older, already backed-up images from my phone. This is one of my constant struggles. Too many photos. 

 

We chat like friends while I’m doing this. We speak of connection and talking to people. And listening. Life lessons, his children, who range in age from seventeen to twenty-five. I manage to clear enough space on my phone to take two pictures. How is that you delete one hundred photos and can only take two more. It’s a modern day, rhetorical question, really.

 

I take Clive’s photo and he stands up, ready to head off to his lunch date. I thank him for his time, and tell Clive where the story will be posted so he can check on it.

“Thank you, Colin. It was really nice speaking with you. Thank you for taking an interest in me. That's what we need to do. Take more of an interest in one another.” 

As I write this, it’s now almost 11pm, and I didn’t go for a run, nor did I actually even walk home from downtown (it was starting to rain after all). I did however, not buy any cookies today. Small steps. Celebrate the five percent. #notastranger