Rivers, Rapids and Mortality

It’s hard to accept that one day we will die, and that the bodies we have now are fragile. When we are young we see death as something far away, that will happen years from now when we are old and wrinkled in a nursing home. But sometimes it happens so fast we never see it coming. Sometimes we put ourselves in situations where our lives could be snatched from us, saved only by the grace of god or whatever supreme being you believe in. If you don’t believe then you may call it lucky. We survive life threatening experiences without even acknowleding the impact on our mental health, the trauma to our souls.

I had this experience last weekend and now I sit going over the possibilities in my mind.

I enjoy kayaking, I have been sea kayaking in BC, on lakes in farther up north. I am not an expert, my skills are beginner at best, but I love the independence of kayaking, and often fancied a fantasy life of buying a kayak, and venturing out on my own for solitude in nature. But rivers always scared me because that meant rapids.

This weekend after telling multiple people that I had agreed to go kayaking on the grand river, and that there were no rapids just fast moving currents. I was placated and any anxiety that I brought up was quickly calmed by those around me.

Well we did hit rapids, and my kayak tipped. I was then pulled through the current, hitting rocks as I went. I could hardly stand by the end of it, in no way aided by the rounded algae covered rocks. Helped by my rescuers the fellow kayakers on the trip I got to shore, and felt slightly my tears slightly vindicated by my swelling ankle.

I noted later that I had remembered one thing, if your kayak tips hold onto your paddle. It kept my head above water.

A week later I am still dealing with the consequences, thanking my lucky stars that my emergency room stay revealed no broken bones, just tissue damage. Took me about 5 days to be able to walk without a crutch, and many people to drive me around.

The most common reaction I get from those who don’t know me is that I must be very adventurous, and brave to have gone through rapids on a kayak and I assure you I was nothing of the sort, about 7 other people were kayaking with us, only two of us tipped. Don’t picture this waterfall with sharp jagged rocks. I want you to understand that people kayak this river daily. Do they put their lives at risk? Maybe, but we also put our lives at risk when we get in a car, or a plane. It isn’t about bravery, it is about taking risks.

I would not have taken the risk had I known what could happen.

This event paralelled in my mind with the discovery of a young man who went missing 7 years ago, whose mother I met through community social work events as she fought for acknowledgment of the trauma the families of Canada’s missing persons. They found his skull in the Canadian north by a lake, and they believe he injured himself, a skull fracture. He was an experienced kayaker, used to surviving Canada’s harsh northern landscapes.

I don’t compare the situations, only the risks and the saving grace. Why did my head stay above water, but there was no hand of god ending for him. Or maybe it was the paddle.

I won’t stop kayaking. I won’t stop taking risks. But I will think about how lucky I am, how blessed I am, and how divine it is that I am recovering, that I am alive.

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8 Steps to Managing Your Fears

I have worked hard to overcome my fears. I had a lot of fears, as I have anxiety issues, and sometimes things that can seem like an everyday task or part of life seems so overwhelming to someone with anxiety. I have been lucky in that I have found a way to manage it, while also challenging it. I don’t have the more extreme kinds of anxiety, I don’t experience panic attacks (Though I came close once or twice). I do however always have anxiety, it is constant and never fully goes away. I originally was going to title this “overcoming” your fears, but as I was making my list of fears I realized that I am still afraid of all of these things, but I do them anyways.

I was/am afraid of many things. And I am ok with this. I refuse to let it hold me back in life. I chip away at my fears day by day, and I never give up even if it takes me years. My fear of driving kept me from getting my license till I was 25 years old. It held me back. Now I drive all the time, but sometimes I am still scared. But not as scared as I was when I drove the car off the lot at the dealership. Every day gets better.

This is how I manage my fears, hopefully it helps you as well, but don’t feel defeated if it doesn’t work, people have varying levels of anxiety and fear to deal with, and yours may be a bit harder to manage, seek help from a counsellor or a doctor if you can’t manage it on your own!

First a rule, tackle ONE FEAR AT A TIME! This is a lifelong process, not a quick fix.

1. Make sure you want to change

Because it isn’t going to be easy. It will be painful, possibly embarrassing, and at first you will want to run back into your home and pull a blanket over your head. You have to be ready, and this means that you can acknowledge that it is holding you back. There may be some fears that you aren’t ready to challenge, and that’s ok, choose one that you think has the biggest impact in your life, and that makes you feel the least uncomfortable with changing. They will all make you feel uncomfortable, just choose the least uncomfortable.

2. Make a plan

Make it a small one, decide what the first step will be and where you want to end up when you have accomplished a few steps in the right direction.

3. Forgive yourself when you back out at the last second

So many times this happened, but I was making progress. In my book you are awesome for even thinking about making the attempt to manage the fear. It takes a lot of strength and it’s ok to say you know…thinking about it was enough for me today.

4. Be prepared that not everyone is going to understand

They won’t know why their driving terrifies you, or why you can’t go to their party because there’s going to be too many people you don’t know, and they won’t like it. Sometimes they won’t like you because of it. It’s your choice whether you want to hold onto those friendships. Sometimes their insistence that you attend or try can be a motivating factor, but then it could also be emotionally damaging if your attempt fails. When you find someone who tries to understand, encourages you, and is still there when you fail, grab hold tight to those people and never let go! Ever!

6. Make that baby step

Everything can be broken down into smaller steps. Nothing is impossible. If you are afraid of a mountain, climb a hill. If you are afraid of driving take your written test.

7. Evaluate, and Increase or decrease accordingly

Could you handle it? If yes, increase, so climb a bigger hill. If you can’t handle it, if you failed, and you are more scared than ever…take some time to recover. Decrease it even more, so don’t climb a hill, make a pile of sand and step over that. Or wait for another year and re-try because maybe you were not yet ready.

8. Celebrate

You did it, you have become just a little more free. Or if you didn’t celebrate anyways. Take joy in your attempt, and learn from the fail. You can try again after you eat some ice cream and binge watch The Walking Dead.


 

If at any point in this process you have panic attacks, or are generally prone to panic attacks, I would suggest getting the supervision of a doctor or psychiatrist before even attempting to manage your fears.

Making Insurmountable Problems Manageable

This is less of a manual than it is a memoir.

I was in British Columbia for a social work conference, that was mostly research based. I was with academics spouting off facts about homelessness across Canada, and the interventions that were needed to help victims of violence. I felt out of place. I am not what I would label an academic, I was built for field work, I have a way with words and a big heart. Put me in a research setting and I will just bring it back to the people, I have difficulties relating to Macro studies. I thought to myself, don’t give me statistics about homelessness, let’s go talk to some people who have experienced living on the streets. There were people around the corner from my hotel sleeping and living in the bushes.

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You could see blankets and clothes neatly piled inside the shrubbery. They took great care to make it look like home because it was all they had. Instead I was hearing percentages and words upon words about them without them even having a voice. I have nothing against research. The people who fund social work programs want to hear about that stuff, because they find more value in it than the words of a person with lived experience. They want us to prove that giving a homeless man a coat will keep him warm. They want us to prove that giving someone a shower can help them get a job. So thank you, social work researchers, for somehow helping us quantify this information. I don’t know that I will ever fully understand it.

The whole time as we ate the fancy cheese, and discussed the important issues, I was thinking…when am I going to hear something that matters. I came here to this beautiful province with its deep cultural roots in aboriginal culture, and influences of immigrant families and the deep dark swirling ocean that I kept staring into hoping for some kind of answer. I begged the universe as I fed some harbour seals.

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I walked the waterfront countless times.

It was my first vacation, my first time on a plane, and I did it alone. I came from a hardworking family that vacationed by camping in nature, not visiting different parts of the world or country. I was so excited but so scared. I pushed myself to the limits. But I felt like it just wasn’t enough to just go.

After about the third day of presentations, I waited for the bus back to my hotel. When it pulled up, I asked the bus driver to let me know when my stop was coming out. “I am from Ontario.” I said as if in apology. “I don’t know the bus routes.”  As I walked through the bus a woman says “You are from Ontario? What are you doing in B.C.?” I sat down near her and told her about the conference.

The woman was Irish, bright eyes with short curly hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, with stands of it flying out, untamable. , she was small, but animated as she spoke. She wore light blue. She smiled so widely that I instantly felt safe and conversational. “Oh that is interesting, what do you do?”

“I work in Domestic Violence. I am a student still but I will be graduating soon.”

“Wow, that is great that you can do something you love, while helping people, and make a career out of it” She seemed deep in thought for a few minutes, as if there was something she needed to tell me. We spoke for a few minutes about the weather, but I knew if I waited she would talk.

She began to tell me about her life. She grew up in Ireland where she said inequality was steeped in the culture at the time. Before she left that the welfare cheques would only be addressed to the men, and that pubs had a right to cash those cheques, as a result families would go hungry. The men would spend their nights drinking. Where she worked in a factory it was mostly men as well. They would make fun of her and laugh when she used tools like hammers. She said she did it because she had a passion for it, like I had a passion for my work.

“I love helping people” I told her. “It follows me around everywhere, in everything I do. You can’t turn it off. And it is hard sometimes but I like to think that social workers have an infinite hope that keeps us going.”

“That’s what I would have trouble with. When people get into that negative space and can’t get out of it. I know because I have been that person., and you probably have too.” She said.

I tell her “the key is persistence, for people in such a negative space and all you can do is slowly chip away at it until you see the smallest of changes.”

She says “I know something about persistence”. She had decided to go back to University. She faced so many obstacles with this choice, the first of which was that she had been in high school in the 1960’s in Ireland, and they kept no records, written or otherwise. She had to fight and prove herself to be admitted, and she won that battle. Her next barrier was that she had sustained serious injuries, could hardly walk anymore, and had to re-teach herself to read, write, and speak. She told me how hard and depressing it was. Some days she wanted to badly to give up.

“There was no professor who was so discouraging.” She said he was mean and never believed she would succeed.

He asked her how she thought she could complete university when she couldn’t even write properly. She responded “The same way you would eat a whale, one bite at a time”

“There came a day when I lay in bed, and I just couldn’t move. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

She had tears in her eyes as she spoke.”I told myself, if you don’t move, you are going to die. I had a choice to make, move or die.”

“Just move your big toe, I told myself….but that was too hard, so I said…just move it an inch. If you can move your big toe just an inch…” and she did, “After that I just kept moving and didn’t stop.”

I could see clearly the emotional intelligence in the way she had overcome her barriers. “wow that is amazing that you were able to do that. You took a problem that was so big you couldn’t face it, and made it a small as wiggling your big toe. you made it small enough that you could manage it.”

Her face changed, her eyes lit up “You’re right. I did that. I have never thought about it that way before. I took a big problem and made it small.”

“Not many people can do that. it takes a great amount of skill and self-awareness” I said.

The bus came to a stop, I had hardly noticed her pull the cable as she rose to exit the bus. She moved quickly, but in the doorway, she stopped and turned back to me, she took my hand.

“You know…I am so glad you are going to be working in Domestic violence. I wanted to tell you that the injuries I mentioned, my head injuries and the reason I couldn’t walk….was the result of domestic violence.” She released my hand and said a few final words “People need your help much more than you think…”

And she was gone. I never got her name. But she taught me more than I will ever be able to tell her. She helped me to understand my role as a counsellor and how all the strength lays in the people we help, all the goodness and resiliency is in her, as she struggled to build her life after experiencing such a life changing event as violence is. It’s not in us. As social workers all we can do is show them that strength. All we can do is facilitate the movement of that big toe, that bite of the whale.

So I sat for hours in my hotel room crying, processing, hurting for her but also celebrating with her, for how far she had come and the path she had chosen.

 I spent the rest of my trip doing adventurous, terrifying things like sea kayaking and whale watching.

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I watched that beautiful Orca spring up from the water, and dashed under our boat is if to say “I see you there, you tiny humans. I will show you my might.”

Scary and wild, hauntingly beautiful, much like the ocean itself. You float on a tiny kayak and think, this huge ocean could just swallow me whole, fold me into its depths.

It released me to live another day.

Life can swallow us up, but if move with the waves and take things one step at a time we can survive that deep swirling dark mass. If it’s too big to handle, break it down into something smaller that you know you can manage.

For some people all they can manage is just moving an inch, and that’s ok. We just have to keep moving forward. One day we will look back on that moment that we made the choice to try, and see how far we have come.


Thank you for reading this story, I promise you every word is true, even though sometimes looking back on it I think she may have been a ghost, but the reality is that these moments happen in our lives, such surreal moments. Her face will never leave my memory.

Online Dating is Not an Instant Messaging Service

I knew it…as soon as Tinder became a “thing” the entire online dating world would be rocked to the core. Everyone would start to take the easy way out because minimal effort is best…RIGHT?

WRONG! Tinder has brought about the ruin of online dating with its reliance on the idea of instant messaging. You swipe and you pass and deny all those faces, until something catches your eye, and then you send them a “Hey” and they send back a “Hey” and you send back a “how are you?” and so on. It takes the mundane-ness (yes I just made that word up) of life to a new level where people can skip the magic and get right into the awkward talking-as-if-we-are-already-friends point. This is not ok. Where is the magic, the mystery, the old fashioned glory of sending someone a long message, and waiting in anticipation for their reply. Slowly but surely delving into the story telling, heart bearing, words of two people coming to understand and know each other.

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And yes, I concede, some people are on Tinder and they don’t want to date, it is strictly for sex, which is valid and fine, I get it, I still don’t really get it. But the problem is that this attitude has moved beyond Tinder, and into sites like POF and OKCupid. Gone are the days when messages are even a few sentences long. The “belief” in the method of Tinder to find love has ruined us. Technological ease has pacified us into thinking that this is ok.

If you can’t send one page of writing, how on earth are we going to sit down for coffee or dinner and have a REAL conversation. If all you can think to say is “Hey”….hey….hey…where on earth is the rest? Where are YOU in that message. Send me a letter, write me a grammatically correct (or at least the attempt) well thought out letter. Tell me your hopes and dreams, show me that you have things to say, words in your head. No longer do I have the luxury of rejecting someone based on the content of their words, no the standards have been lowered gentleman. See how easy the instant messaging world is going to make it for you, write a letter, and you are already ten steps ahead of everyone else out there. And this is the ONLY platform where length really does matter.

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Maybe this new trend will wear us down, leave us no other choice than to join the mindless instant messaging service type of online dating. But not me, not yet, I am holding out for the hero at the end of the night For that special person that can write me a letter.