Love Is Love

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This is our story, written with love, by Natalie Harris and Christine Newman

Nat:

Love is like a big piece of chocolate cake with a tall glass of cold milk. It’s like a cool river washing over your feet on a hot August day. It’s like waking up early only to realize that it’s Saturday and that you can roll back over and return to your dream about David Beckham. Okay, well, maybe that example is more of MY idea of love, but overall what I’m trying to get at is that love is gratifying, soothing, and amazingly dreamy. What love looks like to me will probably be different from what it looks like for you … and isn’t that so amazing?! Isn’t it great that we get to choose who we love and why we love them? I sure think so.

Christine:

Love is the desire to see the people you care deeply about succeed in everything they do. Love is rocking a young child and they fall asleep almost instantly (I have a loud heartbeat). Love is when you think of that special person every day when you wake up, and before you go to sleep at night, and you hope that they have the most amazing day ever. Love is not only missing someone when you are sad, but wishing they were with you in your happiest moments, too. Love is the moment where the simplest thing will have you dreamily floating on air. Love is the moment that you recall, because of how you felt when your soul was alive with music. Love is choosing someone because they choose you, too.

Nat:

I am a firm believer in extending my family tree by choice, on one condition – that I love the person who is being added very much. That I connect with them on a level that is cellular … that’s even out of this universe. I have to admire their heart and passions, and feel that I would risk my life for them. I have to genuinely care about their wellbeing and deeply concern myself with their happiness. They just have to be AMAZING – no biggie – no pressure. But they just have to ROCK.

Enter into my life Christine Newman. Via Twitter, through a mutual friend, we meet and click right away. We get each other and laugh together until our cheeks hurt. It doesn’t take long to realize that we are both Empaths and can sense each other’s energies. And almost immediately I knew that she belonged in my family. She was my sister … my chosen sister, and I can’t thank the universe enough for putting her in my life.

Christine:

We all have a past, and mine causes me to take time before I have a comfort/trust level with someone before I would ever allow them to get past my defences, to get close, to know the real me, not what I show to the world. They must be a person who can engage my heart, mind, and soul. There must be love, before anything else. If their biggest passion is to make a difference for all people, they are somebody that I really need in my life, to be part of my family.

Enter into my life Natalie Harris. Wait, I’m not sure that’s the best description. Nat exploded through the door bringing light, laughter, and infinite love! Our mutual friend, Laurie McCann, had reached out to me in the late summer of 2016. Christine, you MUST connect with my friend Natalie Harris! She is @ParamedicNat1 on Twitter. Before you do another thing, make sure you go and follow her right now! Listen my friend, I really, and I mean REALLY, want you two gals to connect and get to know each other. You both work in the same areas of Mental Health, and your personalities and humour are identical.

It’s true, our connection was instantaneous, like we had known each other forever, through every lifetime. Nat regularly tells me that we are one soul, one heart, one mind, shared between two people. We just get each other. We have laughed until we cried; we have shared our thoughts, hopes and dreams; we have shared secrets with each other that no other living soul knew; we just are each other. We have had the same battles with mental health, we have been through hell and are still standing. I know that when I need her, she will always be there, and when she needs me, I will never leave her side, ever.

Nat:

The peer support program I had founded, Wings of Change, was really showing results for people who participated, and there was interest in creating more chapters in other cities. I was also working with my publisher, Heather, on getting my first book, Save-My-Life School, the story of my personal mental health journey, ready for publication very soon. I was speaking to paramedic programs at colleges, and speaking to other groups about mental health. I was part of the group supporting Cheri DiNovo’s bill to get PTSD coverage for first responders. I had a lot happening!

And even with all that, I looked forward to our daily conversations. I am not comfortable spending time on the telephone, so we texted, messaged, e-mailed, and more. Sometimes well into the overnight hours, because we were sharing ourselves with each other, and man oh man, did we laugh! Laurie was right, we are so much alike, it is like we have been connected for many lifetimes. We both love keeping busy, it keeps our brains from going down some dark paths, and we thrive on making a difference for other people.

When my book was released, we had a book launch and signing in Barrie. I know Christine was disappointed that she could not be there, but was checking the iBooks store multiple times per day so that she could buy a copy to read the moment it was available. She texted to let me know that it was available for purchase, and she was about to download a copy and start reading. Funny, of all the people in my life, I wanted most to know what she thought of my writing. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I texted her, “How is the book? What do you think? Honestly.” “Nat, the only way to say this is, you were in my mind, looking around. Section 1 of your book, you were telling my story, too.”

Christine:

I call Nat my kid sister. People think it’s a blood connection … it’s better! We chose each other, we adopted each other, we declared ourselves to be sisters, and we never hesitate to give voice to how much we love each other. It also explains our Empath connection, we literally feel everything the other is experiencing. If one of us is having a rough day, guaranteed the other sister will send a message to check in, and just be with each other, not always having to talk, just knowing we have got each other, always.

I know when she needs a good laugh, and will do my best to make it happen, because I love the sound of her laugh. I have heard her cry, and the pain in her tears is so heartbreaking. I want to see her succeed and soar to new heights, because she is what the world needs more of.

I dove into Save-My-Life School as soon as I downloaded it. I didn’t tell Nat that I had messaged my editor, that I would be reviewing her book for the magazine as soon as I could get my hands on a copy (print copies FLEW off the shelves, local stores were always sold out). I always read reviewed books twice, the first time for content, the second time for style. The second read was almost complete when Nat texted me. There were tears each time I read her story. Those moments when you wish you were the only one to know the hell of mental illness, and how your heart aches when you find out that those whom you love the most have experienced it, too. What I found most inspirational about Nat’s story, is that every time she emerged from the fires of the hell that is PTSD, she was carrying buckets of water for everyone else still battling. I had the spark of an idea, but I wouldn’t say anything to her just yet.

To my surprise and delight, the senior editor at the magazine was reading my column as each page uploaded in our publishing software. I thought I would have a nice surprise after the weekend; yet, within minutes, I had received the e-mail notification, the column was already published, it was live on the website and the links had already been posted on social media. I sent the link to Nat, “Hey Sis, surprise! Read this and let me know what you think.”

Nat:

I was truly honoured. We had not even met in person, and she wrote this amazing review of my book and how much it meant to her. In a magazine. Online. It was everywhere instantly. I was smiling from ear to ear as I read each sentence. Then she totally surprised me in the last paragraph. She spoke of something she has said in lectures, that coming out is a lifelong process. Not just about who you are attracted to (she says, “who you snuggle up to at night”), but in every area of your life.

I never knew that this was a whole new conversation for her, that for years of her published writing, she had never mentioned this. Christine came out to her readers about her own mental health issues. About battling PTSD, depression, and anxiety. About surviving suicide attempts, and so much more. She wrote that I had inspired her to be at the same level of openness, that the only way to end the stigma was to have all voices heard. I was so proud of her! And I was moved to tears, to think that somehow I could inspire that to happen.

In the coming months, we talked about everything possible. I knew she had a series of lectures coming up, and on one of those dates, I would be across the road for a book signing that evening. She invited our whole crew, Heather, Kim, and myself, to sit in and watch a few hours of teaching hearts and minds. A few days before, she said, “I thought of this when I was reviewing your book, Sis. I cannot pass up the opportunity to introduce my students to one of my greatest heroes, my source of inspiration … would you be willing to get up and speak as part of the lecture?”

OMG yes! It was going to be a significant day for both of us. This was her first time delivering a lecture in a huge theatre instead of a classroom or lecture hall, and I could not wait to get there so we could finally hug, talk, and more. I was getting anxious in the car on the drive down to the city, I did not want to be late, and I could not wait to finally meet her in person!!

Christine:

That day was memorable on every possible level. I arrived extra early, I wanted to map out a few different routes to get from the theatre to the bookstore. I know how much I appreciate it when the organizer of an event thinks ahead, and finds me the best route to get from place to place. I had found three different ways to get there, and was back in the lobby waiting for Nat, Kim, and Heather to arrive.

I saw a sudden flash of movement in the corner of my eye, and there was Nat, running from the door to where I was standing! We were bursting with excitement, hugging, and talking as fast as possible to say everything we wanted to say while making up for time missed!

I still remember going up into the seats to bring Nat to the front for the Q&A session with the students, taking her by the hand so I could ensure she didn’t trip on the cables, and her exclamation as we walked quickly to the stage …

Nat:

“OMG Christine, you’re holding my hand … I love you!!”

There are times that I am still amazed at how our connection was so instant, a sudden spark, and has only grown deeper since that first time we spoke.

It was a difficult summer, with so much happening, a nasty roller coaster ride. Yet, true to our word, any time we needed each other, we just knew and were there without delay.

I love this quote so much,

Choose people who choose you.

We choose each other, with lots of love, every single day.

And on those days when I needed it most, when I was sobbing uncontrollably, she would send me a message, we’d talk, she would make me laugh, break the hold that depression had me in, and erasing the sadness I was feeling, too. That rope ladder made from turkey twine still makes me laugh!

Christine:

We were attending an event together at Toronto Police Headquarters. We had both had a rough few days, and we really needed to lean on each other that day.

We had not realized that our friend, Kim, had taken a photo of us, sharing a quiet moment together, which she would send to us later that day. Kim told us,

Whenever the two of you are together, we all know that we need to give you some time alone, to quietly connect and just be with each other without interruptions. Today, when I saw this moment and it lasted for a few minutes, I knew I had to capture a photo of it to share with you. I think it speaks volumes about the two of you, don’t you?

It does! That photo radiates love, and we shared it with all of our friends and networks.

That evening, I saw Laurie online, and I sent her the photo with this comment, “You, my friend, are totally responsible for this.”

Nat:

We still receive notes from friends who work as first responders, “I have just had a shift from hell. Would you please find a reason to post the photo again. I really need a reminder that love and hope still exist.”

Both of us will share the photo again, to give them that boost.

Christine said that they felt this wave of love all throughout headquarters on that ice cold November day. Some of you know the photo, we were having a quiet moment, we were hanging on for dear life in a soul-rebooting hug, with waves of love shared, and that moment meant everything. The two of us, together, with an abundance of love, was the only safe place on the planet that day.

Christine:

Last Spring, I was out of town attending a dinner with some really amazing women, and I could not wait to get home to tell Nat every single detail. I love that thought. Any time something good happens, my first thought is, “I can’t wait to tell Nat about this!”

As we wrapped up our conversation that evening, Nat said to me, “I’ll love you forever and a million days more.”

I was speechless briefly, and then replied, “I’ll love you forever and a million days more, too.”

We posted our promise to each other on social media that night before we went to sleep.

Now, it is how we always end our conversations. It’s so perfect. It is who we are.

Nat:

We made a little change to the lullaby from the book Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch. This is our version …

I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, for as long as I’m living, and a million days more.

Christine:

I remind my Sis often: I choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.

A few years ago, I asked my wise friend, Joie, “Sisbro, I’m worried. You know I have this whole conversation stuck in my head about being “damaged goods.” Is it possible to love and be loved when you are broken? What does your Buddhist spirit say?”

“Sis, my Buddhist spirit says the same thing that my cousin Lin-Manuel said at the Tony Awards, Love is Love is Love, and that’s all that matters. If you love each other, everything else will fit perfectly. Just enjoy the beauty of your relationship.”

Nat:

I LOVE that speech!

We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger; We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer; and LOVE is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE and LOVE cannot be killed or swept aside; I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story, now fill the world with music, love, and pride.

Nat and Christine:

I PROMISE, I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND A MILLION DAYS MORE.

I’m eternally proud of you, Sis.

For us, it is quite simple … Love Is Love.

*This work had its debut performance on stage for Goddess Day at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre in honour of International Women’s Day 2019.

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What activities are planned for 2019

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It has been a while since I have posted much online. I have been busily working away, and now is the perfect opportunity to sit down and tell you what’s up.

The book signings are ongoing for Brainstorm Revolution. (Available from Chapters in Canada, Amazon US and Amazon UK.) After an amazing launch last November in Barrie, the calendar is starting to show book signings happening throughout the province. Yes, I know, I do hear all of you who have been filling my Messenger inbox and e-mail inbox, and I promise we will get something in Toronto soon … conversations are ongoing at a few locations, downtown, midtown, uptown. As soon as there are confirmed bookings, I’ll share the event with you. Not every author is at every signing, I know I will be missing a number of them for the next while, and you’ll find out why as you read on.

As well, the first stage production from the stories in the book is coming up on Valentine’s Day in Barrie. Unconventional Love Stories will be the first of a number of events to happen throughout the province in various venues, with a mix of authors and themes for each event (If you went to each and every one, you would hear from all of the inspirational contributors in the book!). If you are looking for a fun night out in the theatre that will leave you touched, moved, and inspired, don’t miss out, buy your tickets now ($18 per person), and join us for the evening.

Katherine and I will be back in the classroom again in the coming semesters. Currently pencilled in are Humber College Lakeshore, University of Guelph-Humber, Ryerson University, University of Toronto, and more conversations that are taking place. Everyone is anxious to see the new lecture series on Victimization, Trauma, and Mental Health, along with bits of the previous series on the LGBTQ community and policing. We will be adding and subtracting from each series as we go, there’s always room for tweaking the materials, and, sometimes we are totally surprised by what content a professor will ask to have included in our lecture. As well, we have ongoing work with first responder organizations outside of Toronto, and educational work with TBTB and Serving With Pride.

While all this is happening, my sister-bestie-sidekick and I will be taping an hour for Rainbow Country on CIUT 89.5 FM. We will be talking about Katherine’s work as the National Program Administrator for Wings of Change Peer Support, my work as a Director and LGBTQ Liaison for the National Women in Law Enforcement Association, our education work with organizations and post-secondary institutions, and we will be discussing Brainstorm Revolution.

Katherine and I have been working diligently on a new project since last fall. All I can tell you is that we are partnering with the top experts in the field, and once we have completed this project and are ready to roll it out, it will be the first of it’s kind ever. It’s quite exciting really, we do so enjoy the people we are working with, and we cannot wait until it is ready for beta testing.

In the interim, things are really picking up with the National Women in Law Enforcement Association. Many new projects are being worked on currently, and we will be rolling them out as they are ready. I am keeping my fingers crossed for one big project, as it will definitely get conversations happening when it gets the green light. I must admit, it did seem odd the very first time I saw my title with the organization in print, “Director and LGBTQ Liaison”. Takes me a bit of time to get accustomed to these things, I’ve spent decades out of sight working behind the scenes, and it is still new for me to be out there more than before.

At the start of the new year, I did agree to take on an Advisor role for the Voice For Mental Health Collective, who will continue the conversations to end the stigma around mental health.

I’ve been working on my Professor Kitty look as there are a number of bigger events coming this year. (I still think it’s the glasses). It may prove useful for a webinar tentatively pencilled in for a group of facilitators this year.

Our trio of women with big hearts are going to be presenting a seminar for Toronto Beyond The Blue. Our working title is “Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Children.” A full day of information, personal stories, questions and answers, education and eye-opening facts. Giselle, Katherine, and I will be leading this program, for parents of trans kids, allies, and other service organizations and providers.

Taking on another new experience in June of this year, delivering two back to back breakout session workshops at a large conference in Toronto. The topic/title is Motivation and Mental Health. And, the best part will be having my SBS back again as part of the event. We’re one of the afternoon breakout session selections after lunch.

I will be back into writing soon, once more of the coursework is complete for upcoming lectures and presentations/seminars this year. I typically shut down near the end of the year, and if you know me well enough, you know why, I don’t need to spell it out here. I have had a laugh to myself when some folks ask why there are not more posts or more regular posts on my blog or elsewhere. Simple, really. When I have a teachable moment or something worth sharing, I’ll write it up and post it on the blog. At some point I will put pen to paper, and then fingers to keyboard, and publish the Year In Review post for 2018.

Work on the book/memoirs came to a screeching halt. I will pick it up again at some point, but it is that constant battle against that yappy twit in the back of my mind who just will not shut up some days. The one who takes great pleasure in pointing out, “You don’t belong here … you don’t fit in … nobody is interested … you’re not good enough … you’re an outsider … etc.” It’s one flavour of Impostor Syndrome, and I’ve fought it for decades. Throw it into the mix with PTSD, and you get an idea why some days it is difficult to string a sentence together. That’s why there are times I may know all kinds of fascinating information about a topic being discussed, but will go totally mute and shut down. Some people feed it, some take away from it. When it’s quiet I get things done … when it’s chattering away non-stop, things come to a total standstill. I’m still tempted to write the book, call it complete, and shove it in a drawer and not publish it. Things may change, it’s fluid, but it’s why I am at my most effective behind the scenes and out of sight.

I think that brings you up to speed with all that’s happening here.

Hugs and love to all!

Christine ♥️♥️

20th Annual TDOR Remarks

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I recently had the honour and privilege of speaking at Durham Regional Police Service’s TDOR observance and flag-raising. This year marks the 20th annual observance. I had a number of requests to publish my remarks from yesterday’s event, here they are for you to read. Many thanks to my best friend and mentor, Inspector Cathy Bawden, for inviting me to be part of their observance.

Good morning.

Before I begin my planned remarks for this 20th annual observance of the Trans Day Of Remembrance, I feel that I need to address the elephant in the space.

We are all aware of the resolution passed by the Conservative party on Saturday, seeking to erase gender identity, and thereby, erasing transgender people. The extreme elements of that party would also like to have the government use the notwithstanding clause to erase hard-fought rights over the next few years.

We MUST, we MUST, we MUST, remain vigilant. When the government of the day can erase your rights with the stroke of a pen, as we are witnessing happen with increasing frequency south of the border in the United States, then we must be prepared, and we must stay alert. That is the issue with our rights, they can be taken away. And given the ever rising rate of murder of transgender people globally year upon year, there are numerous issues that need to be addressed, before any sense of safety could ever hope to prevail.

As I reminded people last year:

“The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to stand up for equal rights as I have been doing for the past 35 years, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered and that we continue to fight for justice.”

Little did I know …

Stay alert folks, because we will need our allies more than ever in the coming months and years.

Now for what I had originally planned …

I’m a writer, and an educator. In both areas, the folks we speak to have one request of us, Tell Me A Story. I will tell you a story today, that I hope will prove useful to you.

I detest labels. I loathe them. Hate them. Cannot stand them. We label people to control them. ALL labels are for control.

Think of the labels you hear assigned to people on a daily basis. We do it ourselves, it’s an automatic thing. Next time you are on transit, notice how fast you have a judgement, and have assigned a label, to every person boarding the bus or train. We all do it. The difference is that some of us have distinguished it and notice when we do it, and can discard the assigned label.

Over this past year, we have seen reported murders of 418 transgender people around the world. Is it accurate? No. It will never be accurate until we dispose of labels. When I look at the statistics tables for the previous ten years, I know where people are mislabeled, where they are misgendered, where they are treated, even in death, as less than human. When you live in this existence, you know that the real numbers are higher. Between three and ten times higher. Reported deaths show over 3,000 for the past decade. We know, by counting those who are no longer present, that number is closer to 20,000.

If we included those who died by suicide in those numbers, you can easily double the numbers reported.

What causes these numbers? I lay the blame squarely on labels.

Let me take you back over 30 years and tell you about a woman who was a friend of our family. Joanne had been in a documentary about sex workers some years before we met, she saved every penny she could, and flew herself to Europe and transitioned to her true self. Joanne returned to Canada, and settled in Toronto. We always had a fun evening in store when she would come over for dinner, and then we would sit around the table playing cards, or a game, or telling jokes and laughing until our sides ached. She was in hairdressing school at the time, and when she graduated and had her licence, she traveled the entire city looking for work.

What got in her way? LABELS.

Tranny. Freak. Half and half. SheMale. LadyBoy. IT.

The boyfriend she lived with demanded she start bringing home money, or he would put her to work on the street. After months of looking, he forced her to work the street. She did not last the night. She overdosed and died. We were in shock. To this day, I remember my Mom, trying not to cry and failing, and all she said was, If only she would have said something, I would have gladly taken her in and she could have lived with us until something came through for her. For the past 20 years, she is always the first face I see on this day.

Labels did that. The labels hung on her by society. When you label anyone, you negate them. You erase their humanity. You eliminate the person, the heart, the mind, the soul. They exist only as a label, and rarely is it something complimentary.

When you label me, you negate me. It’s that simple.

One more quick lesson, I am a teacher after all, and then I will wrap up.

Let’s delve into language, my author side. I am a word nerd, I admit it freely.

Trans people do not have preferred pronouns. We have pronouns. Simple. My pronouns are she and her.

Trans people do not IDENTIFY as a gender. We ARE the gender that we know ourselves to be. Science has shown that the brains of transgender people are a match for their innate gender, not their physical appearance. Who they know themselves to be.

How will we change the increasing number of murders each year? How will we eliminate or prevent violence against trans people in any city or community across this country? By having conversations. By talking with each other instead of talking AT each other. We have spent years building bridges between our communities and our local police. I encourage you to meet them, to sit with them, to talk to them. Cathy and her team are truly amazing, warm, and loving people. Things have changed from the past, and while it is not perfect yet, in every city that I have regular contact with, those meetings, those conversations, they always start with education. That education leads to understanding. Then that understanding leads to Acceptance. And eventually that acceptance will simply become love.

Until we stand together, we shall fall separately.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Maya Angelou. I have used this in my classes, talks, and lectures for years, and I always finish with it. This is where you get to participate.

Her quote reads: “I think that a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

You have listened to our words today, we have shared our hearts and souls with you, in the hope you will understand, or find acceptance within you.

If you believe that you can be that hero, that person intent on making this a better place for everyone, raise your hand.

Look around you, you have just declared yourselves heroes.

There is ONLY ONE label that matters.

Just one.

Not two.

Just one.

Want to know what it is?

Cathy, if you will join me … I’ll share it with all of you now.

This is my best friend, her name is Cathy, my name is Christine and we have the same label.

HUMAN.

Thank you.

The Last Narration

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First time in years I will post something on this date. I prefer to avoid it as best as I can. I wrote something years ago, but have no idea where it went. So, rather than answer the question dozens of times today, sit back with a coffee and I’ll tell you a story, and it will be the absolute last time I will share this.

The pictures are a few that I had without people in the foreground. Those folks are memories that are mine only.

I had a new camera, it was the 90s, and this fancy-arsed bit of gear could take photos in three different sizes by flipping a switch on the bottom of the camera. Film was in a sealed container, you put it in the camera, pressed a button, everything auto-loaded. The negatives were still in the container when you got your prints back, you had a 3×5 print with thumbnails of the photos on that roll. Pretty nifty technology for the times, considering digital photography was still some ways off, and cell phones made phone calls and that was all they did.

It’s why I avoid the 24 hour constant drumbeat of the various things today, that will flood the media and online sites.

I used to work in Tower 1, and had actually been there the week prior to 9/11 because of a last minute change in scheduling, otherwise I would have been making my way that morning from the World Trade Centre Marriott, out for a coffee and a cigarette with the usual crew, and then heading upstairs to get busy. It was one of two companies that I worked for at that time.

Liked the corner we had, if I leaned back in my chair at the right angle, I could look out the window, through the gap between two other buildings, and watch the ships in the river.

That fountain, I recall it being put in a park after the attacks, as a place for people to meet up and check in. It’s where we would gather for lunch or breaks, or if working late enough, dinner, and enjoy the sights and sounds and the multitude of languages that sounded like a chorus in the area. And always the space for all of us smokers (we were many more in that era!) to gather and laugh and could spare a light and a cig for someone who came out without theirs.

Or the guy behind the counter at a local deli, at the old offices in Murray Hill, saying to my friend Tas, “c’mon sweetheart, I ain’t here for my good looks, pick up the pace!” That typical New York ‘tude. Little did he know that she could give as good as she got, and they became fast buddies and would razz each other mercilessly when we popped in for a bagel and a coffee. The move to the WTC was such a big thing for everyone, bright sparkly new office space, all new furniture and equipment. You know the drill.

This morning, 9/11/01, nice sunny day, clear skies, into the office in the financial district at home extra early, had a technician from one of my vendors in, and we were hard at it in the computer room from early in the morning.

I had popped out to get something out of my desk drawer, and my phone was ringing, and saw it was Mom’s office number. I answered, and she said, “is there a radio near you?” No, nothing like that, open concept. “How about a television?” Lunch room beside the computer room, it should be on by now. “Good, go put CNN on and call me right back!!”

I walked into the lunch room as the second plane hit, live on the news.

DAFUQ??!!

Immediately, my thought was, what the hell are they running some SciFi movie at this time of the morning for??

Then they replayed the first plane strike and the fireball, then the second, then the first again.

If anyone wonders, when they share pictures of the planes exploding into the towers … that’s triggering as hell.

I went back to my desk and was just reaching for the phone when my vendor’s tech came out and said, they were just paged, everybody to evacuate downtown and return to the offices north of the city. Sent him on his way and called Mom back. “When are you leaving? I’ll meet you at the train.” They haven’t said shit about anyone leaving yet… far as I know, we’re still working today. “Fuck!! Okay, the second they let you go, call me and I’ll meet you at the train!” Mom’s offices had moved from near the airport out to the very west end of Mississauga in those years.

Some people said bollocks, and weren’t going to wait for management to get their finger outta their asses, packed up and split. Just to be sure, we had a quick meeting for the key peeps in I.T. to go over having to do a rapid shutdown of the computer room. Called up to the call centre and told them to re-record the panic button announcement. As I would discover in the next hour, they all split without doing it, and put up the standard holiday announcement. UGH!!! By this point, there are a handful of I.T. folks still in the offices, as we start the orderly shutdown of all the gear.

At one point, we figured, we may be quite a while, may as well split into shifts and go downstairs and grab some lunch. They had just renovated the food courts and had these fancy-arsed new flat screen televisions and we could see what the hell was going on while we wolfed down some food. We were startled by people running at top speed while screaming at full volume, through the PATH system towards transit stations. Really? Likely too much mania and misinformation on the media causing it.

By this point, back upstairs, spot the developers manager, ask him to stand by me and listen, I’m going to record an emergency closed announcement for the phone systems, main number and call centre, soon as I finish, I’ll pass you the receiver, say what I just said, only in French. Another crisis handled. Oy! Working in I.T. on Bay Street for a few decades, you get used to speaking in a dull monotone while dealing with shit happening all around you.

Then an e-mail hits every computer in every office worldwide. A storefront office of ours near the WTC has sent a message to GROUP: ALL.

Is there anyone still alive? We have a class of grade 1 kids and their teacher locked in the store with us. What do we do? Is there anyone there? Help!

Even now, that memory sends chills throughout me. Cellphones are down, voice lines are jammed, data circuits are sketchy… much of NYC ran through the WTC site. Because our systems had redundancies built upon redundancies, we had multiple back-ups. Reply sent from the UK head office, “Stay in place, NYPD or NYFD will come and get you and the children… we will get a message to them. Stay safe. London out.”

Computer room brought down, ready to leave. The two of us remaining walk through the building lobby heading for Bay and King Streets. We get outside, and there is NOT A SOUND. The streets are empty. The only thing we see are police cars parked on angle in the intersections, and officers with long guns in hand. That’s when things got weird, because you just don’t ever see that in Canada, at least, at that time.

Union Station is a complete madhouse. We both are on the same line going west, and they post a train on the board. Probably wise that we waited, it took some time to get crews in to get the trains rolling again. Call Mom and let her know we’re due to leave downtown.

Meet her at the station, we head home, and between answering my pagers, making phone calls, and dialling in through the lock and key modems to wake up the phone system, you just sit stunned and watch things unfold.

And the media played those scenes over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Finally crash around 3 when the phones and pagers go quiet. Up at 5, back on the road downtown, have already started a remote power up and boot process, should be just about finished when I get to the office, fire up the UNIX systems, and we’re good to go… and remember to talk to the call centre manager about the epic clusterfuck from the day before.

We were due to launch a new teleconferencing and video system that week. Call from US law enforcement, can we use your servers? Absolutely, I’ll call the vendor, they’re yours for as long as you need. Calls from our east coast offices, we have plane people, can we get approval for expenses for necessities. Yup! All the big brass (aka mahogany row) were overseas for meetings, so, we did a lot on our own initiative from Toronto (because it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after).

Three weeks after the attack, a few of our folks had not returned to work, there was no word on their missing family member who had worked in the upper 20 floors of Tower 2. And then, the new owners, with 9/11 as their excuse, laid off 85% of the staff in Toronto and New York.

Talk about a corporate rogering, and we never even got kissed first.

Snapped up by a headhunter a few months later, on the promise, sworn oath, that I would not have to travel. No, only once a year at most.

I was on a frigging plane every other week. Until SARS hit. Then they canned any staff under quarantine who could not travel. Grandma was declining rapidly and was on death’s doorstep. Paramedics scooped and ran with her multiple times until the hospital finally admitted her, and we were quarantined in case of SARS-related illnesses. So much for that job, but at least no more flying for me.

Two French brothers were making a documentary and were in the midst of all of it. Watched it twice when it aired. That was enough. That desk in the lobby, I recall laughing with the security guard there. The church where they took Father Judge after the first collapse. Have sat in there in quiet thought. Twice was enough, no more.

I recall meeting the wife and daughter of a gentleman lost in the towers that day, all from Toronto, and his wife’s words have stuck with me to this day. As soon as we start to get past this nightmare, the annual grief orgy comes up again, and we are stuck reliving every single horror of that day, while people obsess over every detail.

I get it. She had a good cry, and we had a few laughs, and went our separate ways, and her words have stayed with me ever since.

So, that’s why I don’t write about this, this is totally making an exception, and I will never hash it out at length again. I will have my memories from there with me always, and we remember those lost on that day, and in the intervening years from the most horrendous illnesses from working on “the pile”.

I haven’t set foot down there since. Had a message from a treasured friend this morning, “The Girl Tribe will take you back when you’re ready.”

Those who are silent today, are reliving memories, and still dealing with stuff. Give them space, they’ll be back to themselves tomorrow. Trust me on that. One long-time friend relives the moment as the second tower collapse was happening, running away from the growing dark cloud. They prefer not to have to relive it constantly either.

With love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams, and, in memory of those no longer present in this realm.

Christine 🙏🏼💙💙

On Being a Survivor

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This will not be an easy read, kittens. Let’s get that out there right up front.

Before I begin, I must give you multiple TRIGGER WARNINGS.

This post will discuss violence, sexual assault, trauma, rape, bullying, and, suicide. If any of this might trigger you, I would strongly suggest that you close your browser window or scroll past quickly to another post.

If you have ever sat in any of my lectures, at colleges and universities, you will be familiar with much of what I am about to discuss here. Why publish it now? Because some people need to hear this to be able to understand. Some to understand that they are not alone and that I, and my soul sisters, we get it, and as much as we wish the club would never add another member, we know that it does multiple times per hour. Some to understand that violence causes trauma which in turn can cause other issues, and people will act or react in certain ways because of it.

There are certain aspects and things from my past that I have never discussed and likely never would in any environment. Literally I have one or two people (thank you Katherine 💙💙) who I feel comfortable with discussing those things because they’ve been there too.

Before digging in, again, I’m reminding you of the TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Let us begin.

Let’s drop in the first slide for discussion…

From the first day of school until I graduated from grade 13, bullying was a constant. Daily, hourly, without end. I dreaded school, hated every single second of it. It was due to this that between the ages of 9 and 10 I was diagnosed with anxiety. My memory is not what it used to be, so if you want the term used in the 70s, feel free to hit Google. High Strung. Nervous. “Sensitive”. Ugh. Add in a diagnosis of depression in my teens. When I look over the top of my glasses at some “expert” it’s usually because I’m thinking, “listen cleverarse, I’ve been living with this for fucking near 40 years now… been there, done that, didn’t want the fucking t-shirt, ‘k?” Was there any peace at home? No. This was a time when my Mum was working 2 jobs and she never knew what went on until many, many, years later. What one teacher did discover, for years, the ring leader behind it had been my sister, egged on by her father (he had a psychotic hatred of both Mum and me). They offered to move me to another school to finish grade 13. Hardly worth it by that time… just get to June, give me my diploma, and I’ll never darken the bloody halls of this place ever again.

Oh, the anxiety and depression? Treated, but not really successfully at all. Other physical issues began to show up over the years. More on that later. Suffice it to say, being physically ill before having to leave for school was a daily thing. And the thought of it on Sunday nights would cause multiple issues.

There was the usual nonsense over the years, and one evening in my 30s, the anxiety went off the charts without warning, and I was gasping for air. I didn’t know it in the moment, but I was having a full-blown panic attack. I literally felt like I was about to die. I’m used to them now, if there is such a thing as becoming used to that, but, I have tools to manage them now that I never had access to then. What would lay you out on the floor curled in a ball, I may get a slight twitch in one eye while I’m talking myself through it.

8 years ago, January 2010, Mum had been sick, but couldn’t figure out what. Waking up to her paralyzed down her right side one morning set off a cascade of events. Two weeks later those words. “You have terminal brain cancer. You have 6 weeks to live. Unless you sign up for this experimental program, you should go home and get your affairs in order.”

It had always been just the two of us, and that’s how she would slip away quietly in July of that year, just the two of us in her room, I was holding her hand, she gave it a squeeze and she was gone. I still have all those what if’s in my mind, and the if only’s. Mum wanted to die at home… could not do that for her, by May she was beyond what I could manage for her medically at home, with a visiting nurse in every day. I spent days and nights with her in Palliative Care, as my voice was the only one she would respond to. While I was busy taking care of her and hoping she would have an easy path to the next life, I never knew that family were busily emptying her accounts and stripping anything of value from the apartment. I had to stop working to look after her, and once she slipped away quietly after midnight, I went into automatic mode.

My friend of many years said he was surprised I was so emotionless throughout it all. I had to be. It was my natural state of being functional, I turned all that off in my childhood. Mum would say I was 40 since I was 5, and 50 since I was 20. It’s true. Experiences over the years pushed me further and further back into my shell, and it’s rare that anyone caught a glimpse of me, let alone see behind the defences I had been constructing for years to keep people at a safe distance. I had learned, if you let them in, you will get hurt, and not just a bruise, but fucked up in multiple ways. The people who are close to me now, who have seen behind the mask, behind the walls, they are indeed special for me to let them get that close. That’s the emotionless part, the being “terribly English, stiff upper lip and all that…” and the rest of the assorted sillybuggers that goes with it. I needed to function and get things done, that was what mattered. I could have a meltdown later when there was nobody around to see or hear me.

By the time I had wrapped up the estate, I had been out of work for over a year, and people forget you exist quickly in my old career field. There was no fast way back to making a buck, and I ended up losing our apartment. Where we had lived for 35 years. The place Mom had begged me to promise her that no matter what I would stay there. Yeah. Stellar. First suicide attempt. Ended up on the street with a bag of clothes and my cat. Family stood on the sidelines and watched it happen and never made a move. But I hear they had a field day when they could take the remaining contents and made a big show out of dumping photos in the garbage dumpsters out back.

After a couple of nights out on the street, make it to a shelter where I can keep my cat with me… she’s all I have left, adopted her at 6 weeks old, and she’s 8 at this time. Then I discovered the hell on earth that is our city’s shelter system. Violence is a daily fact of life. Street drugs were everywhere and used openly in front of staff who just didn’t care. Being assaulted in the bathrooms was standard procedure. And there is no easy way to couch this, so I’ll just drop in the next slide here…

I was raped. At knifepoint. By somebody wrecked on drugs. I reported it to the office the morning after. They did everything shy of laugh about it. What I was told though, “You can call the police if you like, but you’ll lose your bed, and your cat will go to the Humane Society.”

I said nothing. Did nothing.

After the third time being raped that week, I stopped caring. I could not safely sleep in my room, and I would sit up all night long in the common area. I knew there was no help from the staff. After being awake for almost 72 hours, I took an overdose. Suicide attempt #2. I was apparently discovered convulsing on my bed. Taken to hospital, and they did whatever they had to do, and once I could stand up, I was given a bus token and discharged and sent back. Without shoes. In a rainstorm.

I shut down completely.

I stopped talking, functioning, eating. I was so full of medications prescribed by ER doctors from recent panic attacks, I was like a zombie. It was the only way to get through it, I knew there was zero help available from staff, I just kept looking for a place to escape there. Even my cat was not spared abuse. And again, taking her to the office, missing her fur and skin above her right eye was not enough for them to do anything. Her vet made an emergency appointment when I sent them an e-mail, and she took pictures and reported it to the OSPCA. Staff didn’t want to believe that one of their frequent flyers would do this. My vet confirmed it.

Finally find a place, but would need a roommate to cover the rent. Fine, don’t care, just let me out of this hellhole. By the time the fourth roommate had moved in during the first year (they didn’t last too long, either new girlfriend and move in together, or in one case I asked one to leave, and two others skipped with unpaid rent). Roomie #4 was “entertaining” one evening, and I had gone to a local coffee shop to wait it out. The coffee shop employees decided they were going to close up early because the owner wasn’t around. Go for a walk to wait for a text message that all is clear, I can go home. Not fully paying attention to what was around me, never heard somebody come up behind me… and here’s where another slide goes…

I don’t have much memory of it, beyond being hauled down to the sidewalk from behind by my purse strap… I had during this, dissociated, from what my therapist told me. The incident was enough to turn off, step outside of myself and watch it from a distance. I managed to make it home that night, and within a day or so was bruised from shoulder to hips down one side. I was getting pressured to report it, but, without much detail to work from, why bother? I already had the seeds planted from before that you can’t report this, or else. (Goes back much further than I’ve ever told before.) And as many times as I was urged to file a report, I literally had next to no memory of it, beyond the bruising and a few little snippets here and there. Of course, in the interim, any Canadian woman can say one name to you, and when you hear it, will instantly understand why reporting is dismal — Ghomeshi. Reference that case and see why reporting doesn’t happen.

And yet, here I stand, 4 years later, still functioning, still teaching, still lecturing, still writing, still doing the work I do best with the people I enjoy being around most. Know what? They all wear uniforms. Of all my experiences in 55 years on the planet, the one place that I have consistently been welcomed with open arms has been where I spend my time and energy working to make change happen.

And one more thing, I was able to be weaned off all the medications I was on at that time. Over 30 pills a day to just get through another 24 hours. I was lucky, I had an amazing therapist, who wanted to help out before she retired. If not for her, I am sure there would have been a third suicide attempt. Also where I was diagnosed with PTSD (later on Complex PTSD as well, but I just use PTSD, it’s simpler). And after years of zero success in managing all the various physical ailments on top of anxiety and depression, once we started treating PTSD, the physical issues went away, and the anxiety and depression became manageable. Do I still struggle some days? Absolutely. But, my chosen sister, my soul sister, Natalie, has helped so much (love you forever and a million days more, Sis). She encouraged me to speak about all of this, not just the highlights, but the ups and downs and the struggles, to lay myself bare to help another. She battles PTSD, as does our other sister. And we are all still standing, still battling, and we all fight the same battles every day. We are still here. We are winning. We are survivors. We are warriors.

I love this graphic, the Survivor Psalm.

I have used it in lectures, seminars, and talks.

It helps me to distinguish the difference between victim and survivor.

I have friends who have been through similar hells on earth. And I know exactly what moment that something has triggered their traumas and they have gone from survivor back to victim. And we gather and lift them up until they can move forward as a survivor again.

Please, I’m asking you, never refer to me as a victim. I have seen hell and made it to the other side. I’m a survivor, and don’t you forget it.

For those whom I hoped would see this and be able to make it through to here: I see you, I honour you, I understand you. I am proud of your bravery. You are a survivor too. You can get there, I know you can. It seems impossible now, but persist, I can promise you, it is better when you can claim your survivor status proudly.

For the rest of you, kittens, I send my love, hugs, and a hope that you can take something from this and make the world a better place.

The one thing all humans want is to make a difference. I hope somebody gets that from this post.

I love you. Stay safe. Spread some kindness and happiness around, ‘k?

Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.

Christine 🙏🏼💙💙