Absent Imaginary Friends

“Oh! I thought you had someone in here with you,” Gram said. And then, after a puzzled silence, “What are you doing?”

What I was doing, hours after my official bedtime, in the dark, was acting out one of my countless dramas with my collection of stuffed animals. This was a frequent occurrence for child me, after I reckoned that everyone was asleep and I could safely open Kristene’s Nighttime Theater. I was writer, director, star, and audience in these productions. In later years, Nighttime Theater would give way to books, then to a combination of reading and writing. But no matter the materials, the common thread was always…stories.

What I now call my Story Brain was relentless. It hated everything that got in its way, including sleep. Insomnia was a constant companion in my youth and into young adulthood. Story Brain needed either to be consuming stories or creating them. The longer it was deprived, the more it would keep me awake at night to vent. 

I didn’t call it Story Brain back then because I’d never experienced life without it. To me, it was simply “my brain”, my thoughts, my personality. I was sometimes lonely but never truly alone because there were always stories locked in my brain, dying to get out. Too many stories, at times. Even the events of my life became fodder, going into my brain as banal facts and coming out as high drama.

Working with Fred, on the jobsite, where I was supposed to be focused on the very physical labour in front of me, Story Brain would take over. “What chapter are you on now?” Fred would often call, to snap me out of my daydream.

As much as Story Brain interfered with daily life, and sleep, it was also an unappreciated blessing. I would learn this the hard way.

I’ve never understood people who can’t be alone. Yes, there have been some times in my life when I’ve been sad on my own but that was always because of external events—a breakup, a financial disaster, a death, the loss of a friend, etc. When everything was good in my life, and I had time alone, I was perfectly fine. In fact, I loved those times! Story Brain would be let off the leash and whether I was writing, reading, or just cleaning the house, I was free to let all those voices in my head whisper, talk, scream, and sing all they wanted. Eating alone in a restaurant? No problem! I’d bring a book or eavesdrop on other conversations (more fodder for the stories).

Once Fred and I had solidified our relationship and were cohabitating full time, I certainly missed him when he’d go away for work or for short trips with his buddies, but I never sulked or protested his leaving. That was my chance to indulge in all the movies or TV shows he didn’t like, read books uninterrupted for hours and hours, write, take life at my own pace, and spend lots of quality time with Story Brain. Oh, and I usually had real life friends to spend time with, too… just in case I’ve painted myself as an anti-social hermit, which I am most definitely not.

I never imagined a day when I would not enjoy, or at the very least tolerate admirably, time on my own.

Until this year.

Since 2020, Fred and I have had to rethink our vacations. First it was Covid that changed the rules and kept us at home. Then, I got a job that I loved, which also meant a limited amount of time away from home per year. When we were fully vaccinated and cleared to fly in 2021, we sucked up the cost and annoyance of the Covid tests and planned two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. By renting a condo with a full kitchen, in a place where we could be outside and safely distanced from others, we figured we could mitigate the risks. Two weeks was a far cry from the two to three months we usually spent south of the border in California and/or Mexico but after two years of isolation it was better than nothing and we counted ourselves very lucky for the privilege.

For 2022, we planned a return to the same remote cays in the Bahamas where we had lived and worked 20 years earlier. Due to the expense of renting a house and boat (yes, you need a boat in that part of the world, trust me), we were once again down to only two weeks away. We flew east with high hopes.

The vacation was…okay. We got to spend time with some good friends, which was amazing, but the wind made boating less than fun most days, and boating is pretty much all that you do in the Abacos. My new constant friend, anxiety, made the unpleasant conditions even worse. Fred did his best to be the kind and understanding partner he has been since my mental health took its own vacation three years ago, but this was supposed to be his fun and adventure time after a season of incredibly hard work, and I was a human wet blanket. The kind of ocean conditions that would barely faze me ten year ago, now leave me a panicked mess. Yay.

So, after that trip, back home again, in the middle of winter, in the darkest, coldest, and most depressing time of the year (no, we don’t ski anymore and we’re not going to start again so just leave that whole “go skiing!” advice right there), with nothing to do and half our few local  friends off on their winter getaways, Fred said that he was going to head south for a few weeks to stay with friends, play tennis, play some poker, get some sun, etc. I had to work and care for the cats (we’d already blown the budget on cat sitting for a week in November), so I would man the fort while he was gone. No big deal. I mean, as mentioned, I’ve always been fine on my own, no matter the weather. We booked his flight and rental car, and he was on his way.

It took less than 24 hours for me to realize how drastically things had changed since 2019.

We moved to Campbell River in 2021, at the height of the pandemic. There was no opportunity to get out and socialize in our new community. I still work on Quadra Island, which means all my work friends and other connections are…on Quadra Island. Oh, and I have only just begun to feel “normal” again, with my mental health, so that hasn’t exactly engendered a ton (any) new friends or acquaintances outside of work. My one available local friend had just completed her move to Quadra Island and was knee deep in unpacking and organizing. I did the math and what it showed me was that I have exactly zero friends where I live now.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

Story Brain? Vanished. The ever-present voices in my head? Silent. The imaginary friends I have lived with since before I can remember? Absent.

For the first time I can recall, I was utterly and completely alone.  

I want to tell you I was brave and found an inner strength I didn’t know I possessed but that would be a lie. I fell apart. My anxiety and depression hit like a hurricane. I spiralled. I didn’t sleep. I cried. A lot. I cancelled the few commitments I’d made and retreated into a well of self-pity and despair. I forbade Fred from returning home early—it was the least I could do after raining on his Bahamas parade and it would only have made me feel worse—but those two weeks stretched until it felt like months.

The silence ate me alive. Silence…how strange, how unnerving. My whole life has been a cacophony of interior conversations, story ideas, character voices, writing plans, and fully realized “movies” created by Story Brain. I’ve never known actual silence.

A few flesh-and-blood friends sensed my unhappiness (thanks, Facebook) and checked in on me by phone or internet, but I was lost in loss yet again. I thought I had grieved the loss of my desire to write but this was something else. This was the difference between a phone call to let you know a loved one has died and staring at their corpse right in front of you.

I did seek out medication to calm myself and eventually Fred returned. I have settled down and as depressing as the darkness and cold and rain continue to be, at least there are other voices in this house besides my own.

I’m not sure what to do next but I decided to write this post as a way to perhaps, somehow, through some remaining dregs of magic, remind myself of the voices that were, and of the imaginary friends that may return someday…if I don’t stop believing and if I’m lucky. I know that this year I need to focus on meeting real people in the place where I live. I need to continue building on my strengths to keep my head above water. I also need a Plan B, C, D, E and even F, in case I find myself alone again.

To quote Mark Watney from The Martian:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

I have problems to solve. It’s time to begin.

Posted in Friends, Grief and Mourning, Life, Mental Health, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Switch Flipped

“You wouldn’t give up the bottle,” my dad said. “We tried everything. You’d scream bloody murder if any of us tried to take it from you. And then, one night…”

His eyes twinkled mischievously. I loved this about my dad’s well-worn stories—the shifts. No one did it better than him. Serious to whimsical, right on cue.

“We were all sitting in the kitchen, your mom, Kelly, and me,” he continued. “You came in wearing your pajamas, with your bottle, walked over to the garbage, and threw it in. And that was that, babe, you never drank from a bottle again.”

This story always made me laugh but, decades later, it has also shown me a pattern of behaviour that has followed me through my life: no matter how attached I am to something, when my brain says I’m done…I’m done.

Why did toddler me decide that was the night I was finished with drinking from a bottle? Who knows but the switch in my brain flipped from “yes” to “no”, as it has done on everything from dance lessons to boyfriends, over the years, with seemingly no reason or schedule.

The problem I’m facing now is what happens when the switch flips on something you love deeply, something that defines and sustains you, something that has created a community for you, something that once promised to make a small living for you?

What happens when your brain says no—after almost two decades of hard work and hustle—to writing?


January 2020 couldn’t have been more perfect. Winter travel plans kept changing due to events beyond our control and our usually fast-paced sojourn to the back country of Baja California, Mexico, became a languid stroll with plenty of time to catch up with old friends, make new friends, and re-explore old haunts on the Bahia de Concepcion and points beyond.

When one of your spouse’s nicknames is “Fast Freddy”, and for good reason, you get used to a certain pace. But there we were, sleeping in late every day and then going out for breakfast every day because it was so cheap; lazily skimming along the bahia in our little tin boat just to take photos or play with dolphins or fish; hanging out and chatting with friends for hours because why not; having the kind of meaningful husband and wife conversations that time never seems to allow anymore; cuddling up in our trailer with our cats and watching movies. It was, in a word, heaven.

Best of all, though, Fred had plenty to occupy him at every stop, which meant I had plenty of quiet time to write and read. I was in a state of creative feast. I had a solo novel manuscript on the go (ironically about a pandemic); I was working with my Warpworld partner, Josh, on a new “hopepunk” type manuscript that we were both excited about; and I was writing short stories when I needed a change of pace. My brain was electrified. It was all I could do to capture a handful of the never-ending stream of ideas that ran through my brain. And, unexpectedly, things got even better.

In mid-January, while we camped at our beloved Estero Coyote, a job opportunity that seemed custom made for me appeared in my inbox. This would be a one-year contract, with great pay, to report the news on tiny Quadra Island through an award-winning, online national news platform. When I was shortlisted for the job, we decided to cut our trip a month short and head home so that I could prepare…just in case.

Through all this, Fred had been monitoring the news, and was growing increasingly concerned about stories of a virus that was rapidly spreading in China.

I was too happy to be worried.

On the road, I found out that I did not get the job but I wasn’t too disappointed. After all, I had my other writing projects and Fred and I had talked seriously about buying a home of our own in the next three to five years. We were optimistic and energized.

Here’s where we utter the obligatory: What could possibly go wrong?

We all know what the pandemic did to the world. In my little corner, things were perhaps as safe as they could be. We had abundant space to distance from each other, our government listened to scientists and medical professionals and acted accordingly, most people followed the rules and did whatever they could to protect themselves and each other. And, yet, every morning I watched the daily global death count shoot up and up and was overcome with feelings of helplessness.  

My sudden disinterest in working on any of my manuscripts or short stories, I chalked up to this radical upending of the global status quo. Once things returned to normal, I would get right back to it.

As my depression and anxiety slowly took hold of me beneath the surface, I threw myself into volunteerism and community outreach. I turned my writing skills to a more practical use—keeping my fellow islanders updated on the situation in our community and organizing help for those who needed it. I even found a new job with a non-profit organization, which further fulfilled my growing need to serve my community.

The time Josh and I would usually spend writing, we now spent talking or messaging about life and politics and the damned virus. Neither of us felt the urge to hit the keyboard, though we assured each other we would after this was all over. Things would get better!

Except they didn’t. In early 2021, Fred and I got the news that our secure living situation was…not. My already fragile mental health imploded. Fred took on the Herculean task of caring for me and scrambling to organize our finances and find a place for us to buy (there were no rentals), in the middle of a pandemic, when the paltry handful of houses available for sale were laughably overpriced.

By this point, it was all I could do to make it through a day. Writing of any kind was a hazy daydream. I was lost in loss.

My miracle worker husband came through with flying colours. Soon we had a home of our own. We moved in and I told myself that once I was mentally fit again, I would get back to my works of fiction in progress. In the meantime, I wrote some of these Chronicles as therapy.

Bit by bit, things improved. In September 2021 I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to attend my first in-person science fiction and fantasy/writing event in three years. I was going to reconnect with my squad, I was going to immerse myself in all things creative, I was going to come home inspired and get back to work!

I came home from Dragoncon with gratitude for my friends, great memories, a moderate case of Covid, and not much else. The creative well remained dry. I despaired.

What was wrong with me? Ideas flitted and teased but every time I grabbed one my brain’s response was, “Why bother?” 

It would come back. Wouldn’t it? Sure, I was out of practice but if I just forced myself to sit in the chair the old fire would return. It had to. Of everything I had lost since my sister and dad died so suddenly back in 2015, writing was the one thing I could always depend on. It couldn’t be gone. It couldn’t. Who would I even be without my writing?

About a month later, I found myself in Las Vegas for a convention related to Fred’s business. Coincidentally, the popular “20 Books to 50K” convention was also on at the same time, and a writing friend of mine was going to be there, just down the street, selling her books on the last day of the event. I popped in to say hi and, while I was there, I checked out the rows and rows of mostly indie authors selling their wares. Once more, I waited for inspiration.

What I found was exhaustion.

As much as the act of writing had eluded me these past three years, the idea of selling and marketing and promoting my writing hit me like a boot to the guts. All I could think was, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore! I’m done!”

The switch had flipped.

Truthfully, it had probably flipped in 2020 but I refused to believe it. Now, my body’s visceral reaction made denial impossible. I didn’t want to sell my fiction and if I didn’t want to sell it then why write it? Hadn’t that always been what drove me, the thought of people reading my stories? Without readers, what is the point of stories? Would my dad’s endearing story about the day toddler Kristene had given up the baby bottle have meant anything without an audience?

Which leads me to the biggest and scariest question of all: Now what?


Transitions are a bitch.

Leaving my first husband in 1995 wasn’t just about the end of a marriage, it was about me facing adulthood at long last. I spent three tumultuous years shedding the skin of a selfish, self-centered, self-destructive, naïve, irresponsible young brat. I have written of that time in my life that I was “broke and broken”. I’ve endured other transitions but, until now, that was the big one.

Here I am again except this time I’m shedding a skin I love, with no idea what the new me’s final form will be.

I have become the work in progress.

My writing community may just become my “community”, I guess. There are a lot of unknowns. What I do know is that I won’t force myself to write and I sure as hell won’t force myself to sell my writing. Whatever creative path I follow must be one that makes me happy. I have some ideas but I’m waiting to see which ones stick around for the long haul before I commit.

Even this Chronicle was an effort, though one I wanted to make. If for no other reason than to force myself to face the truth. And what is the truth?

I don’t want to write fiction. Not now. Maybe never again? (Ouch). I absolutely do not want to hustle and promote and sell my fiction. I’m both completely fine and utterly gutted by these truths.


If that’s what I don’t want, what do I want?

I want to remain in the creative community, even if I’m not sure what my role will now be in that space.

I want to support my author friends. I will always respect the hustle.

I want to try new art forms. This is equal parts exciting and terrifying.

I want to be a good person. I want to bring good things into the world. I want to listen more and talk less. 

I want to build a new community in my new home. The thought of this is kind of exhausting—starting over is something I’m used to but is not nearly as easy or fun as it used to be.

I want to be healthier.

I want to forgive myself.

I want to keep learning and challenging myself.

I want to be okay with not always being okay.

I want to live honestly, even if that’s painful at times.

The switch has flipped. My brain has made an executive decision and I am tired of fighting my brain. What comes next is a mystery but one I’m finally willing to share and embrace.

Posted in Friends, Grief and Mourning, Health and wellness, Mental Health, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Earned Smiles Only

A lot of times, the world wants the smile of a woman, especially black women…and I wanted to make sure everyone she comes across in this show has to earn her smile. You’re not going to just get it.”

~ Actress Dominique Fishback on her character in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.

“The way you speak, the way you act, you’re very…measured,” my counsellor commented during one of our sessions last year. She went on to explain that I wasn’t fake or dishonest, merely that the way I put myself out to the world was controlled and considered, even in that safest of spaces where I was expressly permitted to let down my guard.

I could only agree. And with my agreement came regret.

“You know,” I said, “after my sister and my dad died, I was heartbroken but also, in a strange way, liberated. I had a legitimate reason to be sad, to not be my usual upbeat and optimistic self, and it was like a crushing weight lifted from my shoulders. I could walk through the grocery store with tears running down my cheeks and I didn’t care. For the first time in a long time, I could just feel what I wanted to and didn’t feel guilty about letting it show. There’s this mask I have, and I’m used to wearing it to make the people around me feel good, but it’s exhausting sometimes.”

I suspect some of you—likely women of a certain age—may be nodding your head at that last sentence. Whether it’s nature, nurture, or a combination of both, there are those of us who are hardwired to want everyone to be happy, who avoid conflict, who have a smile-mask they can put on when the real smile just won’t show up. And for those of us smile-mask wearers, learning to be okay with not being okay usually feels like more work than it’s worth.

While it’s true that almost all of us paint on smiles now and then, and almost all of us understand that functioning in society means we don’t always get to express exactly how we feel at any given time, there is a small percentage of us who feel like showing any of the less-than-shiny parts of ourselves makes us failures.

To combat this, at least in the virtual space, I’ve tried to share as many lows as highs on social media. I’ve tried to show myself as I really am—wrinkles and messy hair and sweatpants and bad lighting—and to write honestly about bad times as well as good. Even if it feels a little awkward and occasionally like I’m sharing too much, it’s important to me to do what I often can’t do face-to-face, and that is simply to be a real person with a variety of moods and emotions.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Why can’t you be that way all the time, Kristene?”

Good question, reader.

Well, as I find myself slowly coming out of almost seven years of varying degrees of depression and a year of anxiety as the cherry on top, what I’ve learned is that we modern day humans are not good with negative emotions. On the few occasions where I’ve worked up the courage to express my pain or have run out of the energy to hide it, reactions from the people around me were frequently unhelpful and sometimes made the pain worse.

Dismissal (You’re blowing things out of proportion), denial (How you feel isn’t how things really are), anger (Stop feeling sad and moping around), frustration (Why can’t you just get over it), distraction (Look at all the good things you have and all the reasons to be happy), and advice (Get out and do something fun) are common reactions. Hell, I’m guilty of all these with my own reactions to pain and sorrow from others.

We’ve somehow become a culture that is unwilling to sit with sadness, with grief, with hurt and loss. If we feel those emotions, then we must fix ourselves, or fix the situation, or slap on the smile-mask and jump back in the joy pool. But what is wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the full range of human emotions and to step away from the constant happiness for a while to process difficult feelings?

My grief, my sadness, and my hurt have made me a better person. As awful as they have been to live with at times, they’ve also offered me new perspectives and have gifted me with empathy and patience. In those moments when I took off the smile-mask and stuffed it in a drawer, a new world appeared before me. This world was slower, somber, filled with obstacles and pitfalls that I could not see from behind that suffocating mask. It’s a world that demands attention and caution, a more considered step and less frantic carriage. In this world, there’s beauty in the cracks and hidden spaces, and the beauty of that other world is revealed as a façade, a trick of light, a fairy tale with a promised happily-ever-after dangling like a carrot above a pool of quicksand.

In this maskless, despairing world, the true happy-ever-after is merely connection. It’s that moment when you look into another person’s eyes and really see and accept each other, flaws and all. The nod of a head, a twitch of the lips, the released breath that says, “Why don’t you sit a while and feel what you need to feel”…without a word spoken. It’s knowing there’s space for all of you, not just the happy parts, the positive parts, the busy-making, striving, go-getter parts. It’s acknowledging the darkness without the need to shine a light. It’s silence, reflection, and stillness and, when necessary, shuddering howls and primal screams. And tears.

We need that other world. We need it so much.  

So here I am. Returning to the world of light and movement and busyness, looking at that old mask and wondering what to do. I like my happy self. I naturally gravitate toward laughter and music, and I enjoy the pride of working toward worthy goals. But I don’t want to fall back into those old patterns, I don’t want to end up trapped behind that mask because I’m afraid of how other people will react. 

I want to smile but I want those smiles to be real, to be earned. And if I’m sad, I want the right to be sad, to sit with that feeling whether or not those around me feel I have the right to it, and no matter how uncomfortable it may make them feel.

So, let’s make a pact, you and me. Earned smiles only, going forward. You feel sad, be sad. I’ll make room for your hurt, and you do the same for me. Let’s do the same for everyone. Let’s leave our smile-masks for emergencies only.

Can you do that? Can I?


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Tapping My Way Home

Ooooooooo, Roxy Roller.

When I hear those lyrics in my mind, I am transported to my friend Tania’s basement in the late 1970’s. Her parents had not finished their basement, so the plywood floors became our roller rink. We cranked disco music and skated circles around the billiard table—the only furniture in the room. We laughed as we zoomed around and around with our crappy metal skates that pinched our feet and cut off our circulation if we tightened the straps too much.

Music permeates most of my happy memories. Even the lamentations of The Cure or The The can instantly and happily transport me to my best friend Trina’s red MG–cruising, singing, feeling the kinship of round pegs in a world of square holes. Charley Pride’s version of The Green, Green Grass of Home takes me home to my own Mama and Papa, listening to 8-tracks in our truck and camper, on our way to some campground and the promise of adventure. And, of course, Roam by the B52’s will always be the official “Heading to Baja” anthem, as Fred and I blasted it every time we pulled out of the driveway in the winter.

In short, I love music. Truly, deeply, madly, love music.

So, when I tell you that, for the past year, I found no joy in music, perhaps you can understand how low I felt. A song would come on the radio, and I’d think, I used to love that song, but when I searched for that feeling…nothing. Where there had once been elation, or despair, or motivation, there was only a flat, grey landscape of meaningless sounds. I didn’t feel happy, or sad, or angry, I simply felt nothing. I didn’t care about music. I didn’t care about anything. I faked it for myself and others but I felt nothing.

More than anything, this was how I knew I’d fallen deeply enough into depression that I needed serious help. If music cannot make me feel something, what can? 

This was also how I knew I was healing, when one day, without realizing it, I suddenly noticed that I was tapping my foot along to a song on the radio as Fred and I were driving. Such a tiny miracle: a tapping foot. But, oh how my heart lifted. I’m enjoying a song! My body is responding to music again!  

It is these small victories that I have come to appreciate. Actually, it is all the small things that I now see through new eyes.  

I went for a walk!

I did my yoga again!

I felt excited about something!

I finished a book!

I went an entire day without falling into a fixation loop!

It has been nearly a year since I fell apart. For the first time since then, I can honestly say that I feel hope and joy, that I honestly want to wake up in the morning and that a day is not merely something to endure but something to savour.  

At the same time, I have learned to move slowly. I’ve let go of old me and her rigid standards. If I feel tired, I rest, without guilt. If I walk for 30 minutes, instead of berating myself for not running for 30 minutes, I celebrate. I’ve accepted that only gentleness and kindness will get me through this. Something as unremarkable as a tapping foot might as well be fireworks to me now.

When you lose almost every good part of yourself, gaining the smallest thing back makes you want to shout from the rooftops. I feel like George Bailey coming back to reality except instead of “My mouth’s bleeding, Bert! My mouth’s bleeding!” I’m shouting “My foot’s tapping, world! My foot’s tapping!”

I suspect that there will still be down days ahead but feeling something about anything fills me with hope that I can find my way home. I will be a different person when I get there but I think I will be a better person, a person who understands suffering and sadness more profoundly and who will listen more closely to those who have yet to find their feet tapping again and will not judge them for it. A person who knows how it feels to be lost and how it feels to find their way home.

Yes, they’ll all come to meet me. Arms reaching, smiling sweetly. It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home

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Two Cats: This is not about cats

I have two cats, Serenity and Ripley. They are sisters, from the litter I fostered five years ago. These two cats have been with me since they were five weeks old. Their lives have been identical, but they are not.

They eat the same food, receive the same care and love, live in the same environment, and yet they are very different cats. We call Ripley “The Ambassador” because she loves to meet strangers and will gleefully walk up and introduce herself. Serenity, on the other hand, disappears when new people come around and can often be found hiding under a blanket or in a closet. Ripley cuddles infrequently and on her own terms. Serenity’s nickname is “The Parasite” because she needs constant physical contact with me. Serenity is highly agile and thin; Ripley is a little clumsy and thick. Etcetera, etcetera.

These two cats are both wonderful in their own unique way and one is not better than the other.

These two cats have helped me understand humans a little better and their differences are helping me come to terms with the fact that I need to be on medication for depression. How? Glad you asked.

Almost from the moment I started taking medication for depression and anxiety, my goal was to get off it. I was going to do the work, heal, and then get back to “normal”. At one point, I thought I was ready. I had stopped taking my anxiety meds, I felt mostly good, and under my doctor’s guidance I halved my dosage of citalopram for depression. Hooray! I was on my way!

And then I melted down in the middle of spin class and ended up a sobbing, anxious mess in my car in the parking lot.

Back onto the regular dose again. Back to the counselor.

But even that wasn’t cutting it. As I said, I felt “mostly” good, but I also carried a constant, cold, tummy-tightening ball of anxiety inside me that refused to leave. I used all my new tools, and nothing worked. It wasn’t debilitating anxiety, most of the time, but was ever-present and uncomfortable. It interfered with everything I did and sucked the enjoyment out of any happy moments.

Back to the doctor. This time, I increased my dose of anti-depressants. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t a failure. I was not convinced.

It has been several weeks since the increase and…sweet valley high, I feel better! The constant anxiety is a shadow of a shadow. The feeling of failure has been a different story though.

That’s where the cats come in.

Also, society and North American culture.

Time for a side story.

When I was twenty, I worked at a fitness center. The center had a small spa in it, with a tiny but mighty Austrian woman named Irmi who ran the show. As staff, I was allowed some free treatments to help me sell the spa to customers. This was the first time I’d had a professional massage, a facial, and reflexology—it was all AAAAAMAZING! This was when I also learned that other countries do things differently. In Austria, Irmi explained, six weeks vacation was standard and for at least one of those weeks many companies would send their employees to a spa to relax and rejuvenate. Spa time was not a luxury there, it was part of maintaining good mental and physical health.

I envied the Austrians.

The culture I grew up in was about work. Work, work, work! Hustle, make money, get rich or die trying! If you’re not working hard, you’re a leech, a loser, a drain on society. Be thankful for your two weeks off and if you work REALLY hard for decades then maybe you can have three or four weeks off per year. Relaxation must be earned, don’t forget that!

I drank that Kool-Aid for decades. The belief that I am only as good as my productivity and my finances seeped into the marrow of my bones like a cancer. Rest, healing, self-care, these are luxuries, and the goal should always be to get back to your hardest working, most productive self.

Naturally, in my current state, I see myself as weak, a leech, lazy, sub-standard. I need to get off these meds and back in the game!  I mean, look at all these other hard working, successful, driven people. I should be like them, right?

Or maybe I’m just a different kind of cat?  

I don’t pass moral judgements on my cats. I don’t think Ripley’s better because she’s social or Serenity’s better because she’s cuddly. I can clearly recognize that their differences are beautiful and interesting and, most importantly, not a choice. They are who they are. It’s not up to me to change them but to learn how to give them a life that meets their individual needs.

I’m a different cat. I’ve never been great at hustling. I love to work hard…but only at things I care about. I have always valued rest and relaxation, and the chance to let my brain run wild and create stories. It’s not my job to fit into what society says I should be, it’s my job to be me. I didn’t choose who I am any more than my cats chose to be who they are. The failing is not that I don’t live up to society’s standards, the failing is that society demands we conform to an ideal that few of us can, or even want, to achieve.

In the words of Ted Lasso, “All people are different people.”

I am a person who needs an antidepressant to get through life right now and in the foreseeable future. I take longer to process big changes and emotions than other people. Things that other people can shrug off, I can’t. What may seem minor to others can be traumatic to me. And I need to keep reminding myself that all this is just fine. Serenity isn’t hurting anyone when she seeks the shelter of a warm blanket to hide from newcomers, and I’m not hurting anyone by taking medication and moving through life a little more gently.

I have two cats I love dearly not despite their differences but because of them. I hope I can learn to love myself the same way.

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Letters to Myself: Give Up on Your Goals

Dear Kristene,

You are a planner. You got that from your mom, your adopted mom, who would spend the better part of a year planning a summer vacation. Remember the stacks of folded clothes on the basement table, months before you actually left for your destination? Planning well is a handy skill to have, sure, but also a weight around your neck if you’re not careful.

Planning and goals have defined your life for more than two decades now. The ever-present white board detailing by week, month, year, lists upon lists of tasks to be completed and deadlines to do so. When you were healthy and energetic, it was the means by which you controlled and directed the fire inside you.

And it all started to crumble after Kelly died. More so after Dad died. It was like one of those earthquake disaster movies where the hero watches the road before them crack open and fall in on itself, stranding them amid the danger. You spent the better part of five years trying to rebuild that road, trying to summon the fire inside you, which was barely a flickering flame. You tried and you almost succeeded. Then, 2020 arrived and cleared your whiteboard with one infectious swipe.

So here you are. No lists. No grand plans. No energy to do more than stand and gaze upon the rubble. This isn’t the first time you’ve failed, in fact, you’ve always embraced failure as a challenge. But this time is different, isn’t it? This time it feels permanent and personal. This time you’re angry at yourself and frustrated that the part of you that always got back up and kept fighting has been KO’d. You’re fragile; a single word could break you. Without your precious goals, who even are you?

Painful but true, yes?

Okay, kiddo, let’s get real. You didn’t start writing stories all those many decades ago because you wanted to be a published, professional author. You wrote because you loved it, because it was fun, because there was magic in stories and you wanted to learn and master that magic.

Guess what? There’s still magic. Lots. You haven’t even scratched the surface. 

What if—hear me out now—what if you just wrote for fun, for you, with no thought of what the writing should be or where you could sell it or who would read it or all the RULES of good writing? What if you simply wrote to make yourself happy?

Because, my friend, that’s the real goal, to seize as much happiness as we can. Life is too short and unpredictable as hell. You’ve seen that with your own eyes. Remember how Mom said that when she retired she was going to golf? When she died, at the age of 57, her clubs remained, untouched, in the closet. Why did she wait? I’ll tell you why. Because she made a plan and plans must be followed! Think of all those summer vacations and Mom’s inevitable meltdown once you all returned home. Not because the vacation was over but because it did not align perfectly with her meticulous planning.

Plans and goals are great… and they are also traps.

You’re standing in front of that road that has cracked open and fallen in upon itself and all you can do is stare and grieve. Maybe it’s time to leave that road, no matter where you think it leads. Maybe it’s time to look for a new route. It may be a winding country path or an underground tunnel or perhaps a giant bird will land and you can hop on and fly out of here. Whatever you choose is fine as long as it makes you happy deep down in your bones.

That’s the goal, friend, the only goal worth pursuing, the only plan worth making: happiness.



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Letters to Myself: The Problem With Nice

Dear Kristene,

At the risk of slaughtering your sacred cow, let’s talk about your dad. He was, as you know, awesome at so many things and you are perfectly right to admire his gentle, fun-loving, easy-going nature. He was hard working, but he loved his family and perfectly demonstrated how to balance whimsy with responsibility. Most importantly, he encouraged your crazy dreams. I know you’ve tried, consciously or otherwise, to emulate him but there’s a piece you keep skipping over. Your dad was just as bad at modelling conflict resolution skills as your mom, in fact, he’s the one who showed you how to roll over and let people step on your voice and take away your power.

Ouch. Sorry.

I know you want to hold him up as a hero, but he was human and humans are flawed. Your mother’s silent treatments and guilt trips were as traumatic as if she had yelled at you or slapped you, and how many times did you see your dad stand up for you and protect you? Once? Twice maybe?

Oh, he gave you some comforting words on the sly, “You know how your mother is, babe.” Yes, you knew how your mother was, she punished you and everyone else by withholding and withdrawing. I see the scars on you to this day, in your obsessive need to make other people happy, the way you become instantly anxious if the people you love go quiet. How many nights have you lain awake worrying if you did or said something wrong and that someone you care about is upset with you? (Answer: Waaaaaaaay too many)

Parents aren’t perfect. Your mom was a product of abuse and poverty and she lived at a time when the stigma around mental health might as well have been a flashing neon sign. She did the best with what she had. All the same, she hurt you. You loved your dad so much because he was the “nice” parent, right? And isn’t that what you’ve strived to be for so long? “Nice”? Nice, friendly, easy-going, quick with a smile and a laugh, “no worries”, considerate, and thoughtful?

So, honey, what happens when you get angry or upset? How do you express yourself? What happens when you have a not-nice emotion and every right to have your feelings heard and respected?

What’s that?

A little louder?

Oh, yes, you shove those feelings down and swallow them, or you do what your mom did and go silent to punish the people who hurt you. And how’s that working out for you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Well, kiddo, there’s a new sheriff in town…a sheriff who is fair but maybe not always “nice”.

We’re going to start working on speaking up in the moment, or as soon after the moment as we can. We’re going to think about our healthy boundaries and what we’ll do when people violate them.

We’re also going to practice accepting that we have no control over other people’s reactions. You may not get the response you want but that’s not the point. The point is to use your voice—that’s your right and stop letting other people convince you otherwise.

By all means, hang onto all the good qualities your dad taught you. Laugh often, love deeply, work hard but not at the expense of your happiness or good nature. His spirit lives in you, and that is a gift. But own the flaws he gave you too. Pick up where he left off, work on fixing the bits that aren’t working for you (and never have), believe you are worthy…because you are.

I’m not going to lie, this is going to be hard for you. You will be frustrated. You will want to fall back into old habits—and you will from time to time—but you’ve overcome worse than this.

Have the kind of faith in yourself that your dad always had in you.



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Letters to Myself: This is Not a Competition

Dear Kristene,

Stop grinding your teeth, drop your shoulders, take a deep breath. And, yes, I know you’ll do what I tell you and then forget ten minutes later but what you really need to know is that you’ve been stuck in a state of trauma for almost a year now. Your mind and body are fixed in survival mode. Along with all the nasty physical and mental side effects (yo, we can’t afford to lose any more teeth to your stress!), it’s also put a big feckin’ cork in your Bottle of Creativity.

You’ve been given a few tools from your counselor, please remember to use them. And for the love all holy hedgehogs, be kinder to yourself. Just because someone else’s life is more difficult and challenging than yours doesn’t mean your challenges and your pain don’t matter. It sucks that someone made a point of telling you that your life was easy and carefree compared to another, and that those words have become the quicksand that you sink into a little deeper every day, but you are also surrounded by many more compassionate and kind people tossing ropes of words to pull you out. Use that, hang onto the love of friends and family for dear life.

Life isn’t the Suffering Olympics. Someone will always have it better than you and someone will always have it worse. There’s no trophy at the end for the person who endured the most pain with the least complaining.

Listen to me. Seriously. Close Facebook. Close out the rest of the world and other people’s opinions and listen to me you beautiful, golden-haired sea creature! You’ve been dealing with menopause and all that shit, which is awful enough on its own, and you have also watched every member of the family you grew up with die. You moved away from a community of good friends and fellow artists and had to start from scratch…again. You had barely begun to recover from your grief when the pandemic hit (and it was adorable how you thought you would be fine and unaffected by a global crisis, you crack me up). Your living situation disintegrated with no warning, and you were powerless to do anything about it except finally and utterly fall apart. Nothing like finding yourself homeless in the middle of a pandemic when there are no rentals and the housing market has lost its damned mind and you are having a mental health crisis, huh? Good times. And here you are, starting over and building a new life and home for the billionth time. I’m exhausted just writing all that!




Repeat after me: I am allowed to be hurt and sad and in pain. I am allowed to call this state “trauma”. I am allowed to do what it takes to heal. I am allowed to be kind to myself.

Now, go do some breathing exercises, pet your cats, take a walk and enjoy the sunshine on your face.



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Kickers vs Huggers

The phrase “tough love” is believed to have originated from the title of Bill Milliken’s book “Tough Love”, in 1968. It has since become a catch phrase for any kind of stern, blunt, cold, punitive, and even harmful way of handling someone’s actions—a departure from, and misinterpretation of, the author’s original concept. Tough love can be effective, when used correctly in the right situations. Used incorrectly, in the wrong situation, tough love is simply abuse and comes with all the same long-lasting negative impacts.

I used to be a fan of “tough love”. My reasoning was that a kick in the butt had really helped me a few times, so it had to be a good, right? And it wasn’t like I wanted to hurt anyone (or did I?), I was trying to help them, that’s the “love” part.

I was wrong.

Also, I was mean and kind of jerk.

Oh, you want an example? Very well.

A little more than a decade ago, I was an active member of an internet forum. Members came from all walks of life and discussions were lively. Topics ranged from ridiculous to profound, and I loved having such an interesting virtual hangout since I was so far from home and my friends. One of the forum members, who I will call Rose, was in an emotionally abusive relationship. From what she wrote, I recognized all the signs, including the cycle of “abuse—apology—forgiveness—honeymoon phase—more abuse”. There might as well have been red flag emojis instead of words in her post.

I liked Rose and I ached every time I read that she was heading back into the arms of the abuser, but I never commented on those posts because of the “huggers”. Every time she would share the latest terrible thing her partner had done—and they were terrible—she was flooded with support and virtual hugs. “Oh my gosh, Rose, I’m so sorry this happened. I hope you’re taking care of yourself. (((((HUGS))))).” It was always a hugfest and all I could think is, You’re not helping her!

Then, one day, I snapped. If no one else was going to be the asshole and be honest with Rose, I would do it. (Excuse me while I pat myself on the back). I can’t recall my exact words but it was something like, “Rose, you are a sweetheart but you’re starting to sound like a broken record. You keep telling us about all these terrible things your partner does and then you keep going back to them. You need to take a good look at this pattern because it’s not going to change.”

There! I had used the power of Honesty! And now she would see the truth and take steps to change.


Rose left the forum that day and never returned. I reached out to her in a personal message, but I never heard back. The unanimous opinion of the huggers was that I was a jerk. “But I was only trying to help her! It was just tough love!”

I think of Rose a lot. I hope she broke out of that relationship but I’m no longer deluded or foolish enough to believe it would be because of anything I told her. I worry that she remained in the abusive relationship and that I cut off one of the few places she had for comfort and support. I worry that she might have been so hurt by my words that she harmed herself. I am haunted by my irresponsibility and reckless use of “tough love”. I wish I could take it back.

That is one example. It shames me to admit there are others.

The irony is that, in those moments, I genuinely believed I was being kind, that I was doing the right thing, that I was motivating someone through honesty, and that I was bravely risking their opinion of me in order to save them. I was wrong. I was wrong every time.

And, occasionally, I still slip and make the same mistake.

What is it about kicking someone’s butt when we believe they are doing something wrong that is so much more appealing than hugging them and just being there for them?

I’m not a psychologist but I can tell you that, for me, it felt like action versus acceptance. I didn’t see the results of the huggers—building trust, creating a safe place for the other person to speak, creating a sense of community, getting to know and understand the other person more deeply—I only saw that the undesirable behaviour was not changing, and I wanted to fix it…NOW! I wrongly assumed that because the huggers weren’t being bluntly honest with Rose then that meant they were okay with her behaviour.

There was an element of ego in there as well, “Look at me, I’m willing to be hated to help this person! Aren’t I brave?” Gold stars!

At the darkest end of the spectrum, let’s be honest, humans want to see bad behaviour punished. We can wrap it up in all the fancy words we want but the fact remains that there are limitless ways to deliver the truth and when we choose the fastest, bluntest, and least compassionate way, we know it is going to hurt and we want it to. We don’t think we do, we fool ourselves into believing our motivation is pure, but punishment is satisfying on a primal level. When someone’s actions hurt us, either directly or indirectly, we want to punish them for it. Watching Rose making all the same, painful mistakes I had made, reminded me of my own failures and that hurt. I’d be lying if I said a microscopic part of me didn’t want to punish her for that.

I’m not suggesting that we should never be honest, especially with those closest to us, I am saying that we need to be careful about how and when we are honest. There’s a reason people don’t go to one therapy session and walk out cured. Humans are complex and the “truth” can be even more so.

So, what about the people who kicked my butt and helped me change? Well…that’s complicated too.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that some of those folks didn’t actually help me. In one case, a woman from my Karate dojo dropped an honestly bomb on me a few months before I married my first husband. She told me I was making a huge mistake, that I was too young, I wasn’t thinking clearly, he wasn’t good for me, etc, etc, etc. Folks, she was right, but the way her words were delivered made me angry, made me double down on my commitment to get married, made me dislike and distrust her, made me feel bad about myself, and basically made everything worse. Could she have helped me or helped me change my mind? Perhaps not in that moment, but she could have made herself someone I trusted and felt safe with, someone I could have talked to when things got bad (well, worse) and I needed a friend.

Some of the butt kickers did help me but in each case it was because we were extremely close friends, they understood the situation in all it’s complexity, we had built trust between us, they delivered the butt kicking with obvious love and concern, and they made it clear that they would support me no matter what. Another important element is that it was clear they valued what I thought of them and did not want to risk our relationship. They made me feel supported instead of ashamed.

I think more carefully when I navigate other people’s undesirable actions now. I can’t say that I won’t mess up, but I think I’m more likely to apologize when I do. I will use tough love, but mostly as a tool for setting healthy boundaries. “I love you but I do not love this behaviour/action, so here are my boundaries…”

I still strive, often unsuccessfully, to be a hugger, but it is the huggers who have made the biggest, longest lasting, and most profoundly positive changes in my life. These are the people who inspire me to be better, simply by watching how they move so kindly and compassionately through the world. You can kick anyone’s butt if you’re foolish or stupid enough but hugging requires you face the person head on, open yourself up, and make yourself vulnerable—and that is true bravery.

I hope to be that brave.

And if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of my boot, I am deeply sorry.

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It’s a Flying Shame

What are you ashamed of?  

What words do you struggle to say aloud? What thoughts make you cringe? What truth about yourself would devastate you if it were made public?

I was raised by a mother who, because of her traumatic past, dished out guilt and shame like she was an ice cream shop owner during a weeklong power outage in the middle of an August heat wave. I’ve had no shortage of shame in my life. I wrestle with it constantly and I suspect I will be fighting that particular battle for years to come.

Before you suggest it, yes, I have watched the Brene Brown Ted Talk, read her books, listened to her lecture series. I understand the concept of vulnerability and whole heartedness. Great in theory, difficult to put into practice.

My last Chronicle dealt, metaphorically, with anxiety and mental illness. I will talk about that later but first I want to put you on a plane that’s falling out of the sky.

I’ve told the story of my terrifying plane ride, from Tokyo to Los Angeles, more times than I can count because it’s exciting and full of all kinds of perfect story elements. The truth is less fun. I was on a 747 that, due to pilot error, dropped a long way down and everyone was screaming and we all thought we were going to die. As happy as I was to not crash and die, that flight ruined my love of flying. For someone who loves to travel, that’s torture.

After that near-death experience, every flight I took was a war with my brain. I figured if I just toughed it out long enough, my brain would eventually remember that air travel is statistically safe and I would no longer suffer silent terror from take-off to landing. My brain did not get that memo. My brain hated every flight. It made my heart pound, my palms sweat, and filled me with anxiety with every tiny noise and bump. Bad turbulence was sheer hell.

I knew that some people took medication to help with their fear of flying but I wasn’t one of “those” people. Heck, I used to laugh during turbulence. Take-offs and landings had been my favourite part of the ride. I wasn’t weak, nuh uh. I’d had a bad experience, sure, but I would keep getting back on that damn horse and learn to love flying again if it killed me!

Then, in 2007, staring down the barrel of a lengthy flight to the Cook Islands, where Fred and I would meet our new employer, I finally broke down and went to see my doctor. “Um, I, uh, had this this really terrible flight in 1993 and ever since I get really scared when I fly, and, um, I feel stupid but, um, my flight to the Cook Islands is going to be super long and I want to be able to sleep and relax. Is there maybe some kind of medication I can take? Just for this one flight?”

My doctor stared at me for a moment, then he smiled and grabbed his prescription pad. “1993? Why did you wait so long?” He scribbled out a prescription for the generic equivalent of Ativan and gave me instructions to use it. He even explained that I could use it to help with jet lag and to get onto the local time when I arrived.

The flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga was a dream! No sweaty palms, no pounding heart! I slept for hours and arrived in Rarotonga rested and relieved. Why did I wait so long to get help? I wondered. Fourteen years of terror for what? For the pride of feeling… “tough”? Pffft, screw that, I want to enjoy air travel.

My new chill pills have accompanied me on every flight since then. And here’s the best part: I don’t need them anymore. Yep, after years of actually feeling relaxed in the air again, my brain has learned to re-associate airplanes with fun and happiness—and it took far less than fourteen years to get to that place. The pills tricked my brain and it worked.

So why did I wait so long?

The short answer is: shame.

Society did an excellent job of making me believe that taking medication for anything related to the brain was a weakness. Medication for any other physical ailment was fine—I have been on Synthroid for my underactive thyroid glands since I was thirteen years old and I’ve never thought twice about it—but the brain, the mind, that was something else. Start down that road and the next thing you know you’ll be in Riverview in a padded room. Since childhood, I had been taught that any form of mental illness, even trauma-related anxiety, was something to be ashamed of, and I bought into that belief at the cost of my own well-being.

It’s almost as if we don’t see the brain as a part of our body. Funny, considering the entire point of our bodies is to carry our amazing brains around.

Of course, there is physical shame too and lots of it. Shame around sex and everyday bodily functions. I was in my twenties before I could say, “I have my period” to my boyfriend. I had a long list of euphemisms or I would simply say, “It’s that time”, while cringing and wanting to climb in a hole. And ask my boyfriend, or anyone else, to buy tampons for me? Are you kidding? I could barely buy them myself and was mortified if the cashier put them in a bag that didn’t completely hide my disgusting feminine products! And just when I got over that shame, it was time for menopause and all kinds of new shame. Whee!

Beyond the body, we get into financial shame, romantic shame, intellectual shame, cultural shame, and so on and so on. If there is a way society can make us feel bad about ourselves, it will.  And while Brene Brown may be right about living whole-heartedly, those moments when we make ourselves vulnerable and it backfires, and we are hurt more deeply or our shame is weaponized, make the transition seem impossible and, frankly, undesirable.

I write these Chronicles for a number of reasons, one of which is to make myself vulnerable in the way I feel comfortable doing so—in writing—and to share some of my struggles so that maybe other folks out there will not feel so alone. 

With that in mind, let me talk about the “bees” and my shame around them.

I have been coping with varying degrees of depression for a while now. 2015 was a major low after the deaths of my dad and my sister, our move away from Nelson and my robust network of friends and fellow writers, and the ensuing financial uncertainty of relocating. I thought about therapy or counselling, but it was too pricey and our insurance didn’t cover it. A friend offered his services but I was too embarrassed. I muddled through it with a combination of exercise, artistic endeavours, and employment at a job I enjoyed. Because I obviously learned nothing from my fear of flying, I did not seek help from a doctor or ask about medication.

I suffered silently for the next five years.

Then it got worse.

I thought I handled the pandemic pretty well, early in 2020. I mean, didn’t I leap in almost immediately, and start volunteering and helping my community? Fred turned out to have plenty of work and I kept busy in the garden and baking and other…stuff. It’s true I stopped writing and was waking up every night at 3am in a panic and couldn’t sleep at all without melatonin or some other OTC assistance, and I cried at the drop of a hat and often felt sick to my stomach and stressed over every small detail and frequently questioned the point of existing at all, but I was doing okay, wasn’t I?

I was not. Unbeknownst to me, along with my ongoing depression, I was now experiencing increasing levels of anxiety.

I’m going to skip ahead to the breaking point. Because there was a breaking point and it was awful. In early February, I had what amounts to a nervous breakdown. The next day, Fred went with me to my doctor. We three had a long discussion and, at the end, (along with instructions to REST, REST, REST and let my brain heal), decided that anti-anxiety meds were needed in the short term, and anti-depression meds for a slightly longer period. It felt weird, and if I hadn’t been in such a low place, I would have been humiliated. I also emailed a counselor and made my first appointment.

Friends, it was the plane thing all over again. It was years of “toughing it out” on my own, then getting the right medication for my suffering brain, and then wondering why the hell I had waited so long to do it! Oh wait, I know why, because of crap like this:

It’s been 28 years since that fateful flight from Tokyo and the harmful attitudes about the human brain and mental health persist. Even after the amazing results I had with the anti-anxiety meds to overcome the trauma of that experience, I am still ashamed to need medication for my brain.

But the medication works. It is working now. And I am going to tell you some of my experience and what I’ve learned as part of my microscopic effort to push back against the stigmas and the bad information out there.

There are different medications and dosages for depression. I am taking Citalopram, which is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). SSRIs increase levels of serotonin in the brain—serotonin is the hormone that makes us feel happy, stabilizes our mood, and helps with a feeling of well-being.

SSRIs don’t work right away. They can take 1-4 weeks to really get into the system and make a noticeable difference. Conversely, the side effects, if any, will be worse at first and gradually wane. The first 2-3 weeks I was tired, fuzzy-headed, and had constant low-level nausea but now I have no side effects.

You also should not stop SSRIs right away as there’s a very real chance of relapse or of the original symptoms worsening. Usually, you stay on the medication for 3-6 months and then, if you’re feeling better, gradually wean off. I am pleased to say that I am feeling better and when this prescription runs its course I will start weaning off. Hooray!

Interestingly, Citalopram is also the medication doctors prescribe for some symptoms of menopause.

For my anxiety, I was given the exact same medication that I use for flying. The anti-anxiety meds were more of an instant assistance. For the first two weeks I took one every day, sometimes two a day if I was feeling extra anxious. (Remember, the anti-depressants take a while to kick in so the anti-anxiety meds had to handle the whole problem). These pills made me REALLY sleepy, which was fine because I was trying to rest. Unlike SSRIs the goal is to quickly wean off this medication, which I have done. I have a small supply that I keep for emergencies but otherwise I am done with those…hooray!

It has been about 6 weeks since I started the medication. I am not 100% back to myself but I am almost there. What the medication did that helped so much is that it brought me back to a neutral state. There are lots of things we can do on our own to control or prevent depression and anxiety—exercise, getting a full night’s sleep, eating well, socializing, being creative, getting out in nature, etc—but when we are overwhelmed even the simplest of tasks becomes impossible. For the first two weeks after my meltdown, I basically slept, watched Disney movies, and coloured in an adult colouring book and that was absolutely all I could do. The few work meetings I had scheduled for that time (via Zoom thank goodness) were exhausting, stressful, and required taking anti-anxiety meds beforehand.

Along with the medication, the things that helped me were:

My husband. I literally do not know how I would have made it through without him. He was my nurse, my cook, my house cleaner, my cheering squad, my confidant, and my best friend.

My closest friends, some of whom had been through the same thing, all of whom have been unbelievably kind and supportive.

My counselor, who was compassion incarnate and helped lift the veil of my emotions to get at the truth.

My doctor, who, like my doctor in Nelson, helped me see that it’s okay to accept help from the world of modern medicine, even for your brain.

My manager, who didn’t hesitate to give me the time I needed to heal and was considerate beyond measure.

My cats, for obvious reasons.

And, of course, recognizing the causes of my anxiety and taking steps to address or remove them.

Everyone’s brain is different, everyone’s situation is different, but if I can get one message out to anyone who is struggling it is simply this: Do not be ashamed to get whatever help you need.  

To the folks sharing crappy memes and uneducated opinions, please stop. You are harming, not helping.

How are things for me now? I am writing again after a year-long dry spell! I have been working outside in the sun! I feel hopeful for my future! I have highs and lows, but more middles, which is awesome! I sleep through the night 90% of the time with no chemical assistance for the first time in close to a decade! I still wrestle with the shame of my brain problem but mostly I’m just happy that I finally have tools to fix it.

And I’m dreaming of flying again.

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