April 03, 2016 - The toughest story, perhaps

April 03, 2016 - This is probably the toughest story I've written, in quite a long time. Most of it is about me. Except for the powerful parts where I've learned from others. Isn't that how it happens? (Rhetorical question...)

Not everything is ‘just like riding a bike’. I can only speak for myself when I say there are lessons I’ve learned, that I seem to enjoy repeating. Even if I didn't enjoy the lesson the first time around. Some lessons that are so mammoth, you’d think I’d learn that first time around. Nope. While this has weighed me down lately, I’ve come to recognize that I am ready now, to learn more. The next stage. Another fork in the road.

There are good days, and there are not so good days. Sometimes, it applies to weeks, and others, it goes for months. In reflection, it’s a historical pattern. In 2014 I was determined to practise yoga, as a part of my well-being and self care. Once I started, I was hooked. I even challenged myself to go ninety, yes 90 days consecutively. A few times I even did TWO classes in one day. I went ninety days in a row. I haven’t been back since.

“We thought we could find, an easier, softer way.” I learned this in AA meeting rooms. And yet, here I am. The work for me, truly to stay on a path that keeps me well, is this project. Meeting strangers and connecting with them. Hearing their stories. Listening. While I still meet people frequently, I’ve not consciously gone out with the intention of meeting a stranger, in a long time. It’s a working tool in my life, that for me, I know is one of the most beneficial. Yet, I've been resisting it.

In some ways, right here, right now, I feel like it’s Day One, all over again. In some ways, it always is, or can be. Like new, and fresh. The difference being the knowledge, experience and growth that I’ve gained through this project.

The vast number of experiences it’s brought me to. This connection. The difference being that sitting on my ass doesn’t get it done. The difference being that I know this. Occasionally, I want to ignore what I already know. The difference here being that I’m not foggy like I was three years ago. Once again, I am my biggest obstacle.

Two very dear friends were recently visiting from out of town for a week. They paid for all of our meals out, everyday, for their entire trip. While I absolutely know they are more than happy to have me join them, and I know they can afford it, it left me feeling uncomfortable. It was my discomfort, not my friend's.

A few weeks later, I was having coffee with another close friend, a life coach, and I told her about feeling uncomfortable that they paid for everything. I felt uncomfortable that I didn’t have the means to pay for anything. I made myself feel 'less than'. In her response, she asked “I wonder when you’ll start to value yourself, and know your worth.” I'm still ruminating over that one.

The curse of being a people pleaser?

My truth is that I have chosen to do what I can, to follow my passion, and my heart; continuing with The Stranger Project - est. 2014 (TSP2014).

By following this passion, and to be a voice for those who might not otherwise be heard, has continued to feed my soul. The ripple effect drives me.

I quit my 'job' to do this. It's that important to me. The reality of that, is that I choose to live frugally, and most times I can’t join friends in doing all the things they want me to. Yes, there are plenty of ways to have fun without having to spend lots of money, I know. Which is good, because I have none.

I’ve never wanted to be cash rich; I’m beyond happy having a roof over my head, enough food to eat, and to pay the bills of life. I already am rich, beyond my wildest dreams.

I’ve been fortunate to have incredible friends, and complete strangers supporting my endeavours. It has enabled me to feed my soul and continue with what is my passion project. My work. My purpose.

I’ve fallen off my purpose.

Once again, I’ve wondered off track. This is where my learning happens. The variables being: how long I stay off track, how long I resist seeing the lesson, and how much I resist by trying to find that easier, softer way.

Asking for help is hard.

Sometimes we don’t know how bad a storm is until the rain stops, and the sun breaks out again.

The next steps.

I have one story that I've been carrying around for months, that I still want to finish. Then, I’m heading back out to connect with strangers again. It’s like a muscle, it needs to be exercised, or it retreats… I’m aiming to gather at least three stories a week, and see how that goes for me.

My website needs some serious love and attention.

I have two monologues I want to write, after them living in my head for years.

I want to write a book, a collection of personal short stories.

I want to put a collection of TSP2014 stories into a book. The story of my growth, the falls, the stumbles and yes, the amazing opportunities that have been presented through all of this.

I want to broaden the reach of my personal story, about how I'm learning to live with depression. If sharing my story, of my own mental health considerations, empowers someone else to find their way out of the darkness, then I want to be heard, loud and clear.

I’m looking at various support partnerships, funding and grants to allow me to continue what I’m doing, and dedicating myself to my passions, full-time. Money is not a measure of success for me. I’m richer in my life now than I ever dreamed of being. I also need to survive. Life costs money.

For the past few months, I’ve survived on the kindness of people who believe in what I’m doing, and who have made generous donations. I’m challenged by this, of course. I’m working toward accepting the offers of kindness and support. They are another way of continuing this circle of connection and community, and to keep this growing.

I am humbled.

This past week has shown me that I’m still on the right path. Not ironically, that's based on a few things that have come from connecting with strangers. Listening to how their stories have been impacted by mine. We all grow from sharing our personal stories. This is how we overcome stigma.

On Tuesday, I received an email from a gentleman I’ve never met or spoken with. Five sentences that I have read over and over again. He shared that he too lives with depression. He wanted to thank me for making a difference.

Last October, I wrote about a young man, McKenzie, who had contacted me. He wanted to ask a few questions about a project he planned for school. He heard of TSP2014 from his mother.

He took my suggestion to let his project become whatever it would, and to be open to it unfolding along the way. McKenzie’s project, ‘My People Experience’ grew organically.

This resulted in amazing stories, and not only from strangers. McKenzie included people he knew; a long time neighbour, even his own grandfather. He had never before intentionally asked them to share about their lives.

I can’t imagine being comfortable in approaching strangers when I was 15! Certainly not with the intention of chatting with them about their lives! Edit - at 15, I was too busy being Ziggy Stardust!

McKenzie even recorded a video interview with me, to include in his final presentation. The project culminated in an exhibition at school, where the students shared their completed projects. This all stems from that ripple effect that I cherish and feel so blessed by. Although, truth be told, McKenzie took a ripple, and created his own circle of change.

I treasure words. Yet I feel a lacking of any that capture just how proud I am of McKenzie’s work. He has charm, determination, drive, and a willingness to feel uncomfortable, in the spirit of learning. McKenzie also has wisdom beyond his years, that allows him to stand out and lead by example.

I’ve met with McKenzie and his Mum for tea. I’ve had dinner with McKenzie and his parents, who I feel have also become personal friends. (Yes, his father paid.) McKenzie also celebrated turning the BIG sixteen recently, too! He instills me with faith and hope for humanity!

I was at an event on Friday morning, and a young woman came over and introduced herself to me. Ninon said that she had been following TSP2014 every day, and that she was inspired by the project. Ninon has started her own project, ‘Smiling at Strangers’ and asked if she could take a photo with me, and write about us meeting! It was delightful, and odd and lovely and so tender. Ninon warmed my heart, and lifted my spirit. We never know just how important, a few simple words might mean to another human.

Sure enough, later that afternoon, I got an email from Ninon with a link to her blog! Another ripple coming back full circle, to enfold my heart.

Prior to this, at the very same event, a charming gentleman stood by and waited for me to finishing a conversation I was having with someone about depression. He introduced himself, telling me he had seen a presentation I did last year, at Interesting Vancouver. Jordan is new to town and wondered if he could buy me coffee and chat about strangers and projects and art. Three of my favourite things! And coffee! He also emailed me that afternoon to make arrangements to meet. 

Life really is beautiful when we need it to be. It really always is beautiful, if I look for it. Again, another repeat lesson. Stop. Breathe. Gratitude.

There is no softer, gentler way. Living with depression. It’s work. Every day. It becomes second nature, and the growth builds, layering strength upon strength. In order for that to happen, I have to continue doing the work that feeds me. Or I become complacent, and slowly start to retreat. Bit by bit. Then it starts to get grey, and the storms role in. I isolate. And repeat.

I can make difference. I have already made a difference in my life, and apparently, in the lives of some others as well. I’m challenged acknowledging that. Sometimes it feels boastful. I believe in quiet, anonymous random acts of kindness. I’m a people pleaser. I get a thrill from helping others, making people laugh, listening, sharing a trouble, being the one that friends turn to for advice, for comfort, for solace. It's easy for me to give. So very difficult to accept.

Accepting it's okay to ask for help, when I need it. 

People want to help.

If you’re wearing a really nice sweater, I have no problem asking if you’ll give it to me, ‘cause we all know it’s not likely going to happen. Surprisingly, it has worked twice! I still have one of the sweaters to prove it! So I’ll keep on asking.

It’s easy to ask for that which we think we’ve no chance of ever getting. It's what we actually need, that is apparently harder to ask for. I’d sooner go hungry though, than ask for help.

Why do we feel awkward asking for real help? This is something I’m going to start asking the strangers I connect with. I want to get a sense of other people’s feelings and perspective around asking for help, financial, emotional or otherwise.

That next BIG step: Learning to be comfortable asking for and accepting offers of help and support. #notastranger