The Narrow Path
Before I get started — I want to let you all in on a big thing a pal of mine is doing. I rarely do anything like this. But, I thought I’d make an exception in this case.
She’s walking across the island of Newfoundland.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador — it’s ginormous.
But Gemma Hickey isn’t scared.
She’s walking to raise both money and awareness for The Pathways Foundation — an organization she started to help those who have suffered abuse at the hands of religious institutions.
Gemma, a survivor herself, has always been supportive of me. From time to time I’d get little messages from her quoting a character I used to play in the Dance Party of Newfoundland — a sketch comedy group I was in. His name was Bayrone — a loveable moron with a simple, yet eloquent tagline:
You can learn more or make a donation at http://www.pathways-foundation.com.
“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” – William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
Part of my week has been spent reflecting on the journey up to this point.
My biggest source of pride comes from my ability to step back and look at things in a pragmatic way. I’m not always perfect in this, it’s something that has taken quite a long time to develop.
In the early days I would let anxiety and panic get the better of me. Not just for one day, or a week — but for months, possibly years at a time.
All the while with the mistaken belief that people had no clue.
I’d cast the odd smile to give folks the indication that all was well — that I “had it covered”.
Clearly, i didn’t.
I’ve taken time to think this week about the people who stepped in to help.
They came from all walks of life. They were teachers, doctors, parents, friends, and partners.
And they were all met with a shrug of the shoulder, or my usual “it’ll be ok once ‘such-and-such’ is over”.
Truth is, such-and-such was never over.
In fact, there was no such thing as such-and-such.
There was just living.
That doesn’t mean their attempts were in vain. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
The memory of their caring has woven itself into a net that now holds me high above my moments of anxiety. It allows me to see things from 30,000 feet so that I can view the bigger picture of what is happening.
I’ve got a lengthy history of food binging, drug taking, and any other thing that I can do that is counter productive to happiness.
All of these “phases” I’ve gone through in my life served one purpose — to punish. From my perspective, that’s what people who struggle with excessive shame and low body image do. They punish themselves in order to eradicate the thought of happiness from ever creeping in, or if it does mistakenly poke its head through the door, that door is immediately shut.
And so, these days I have to be vigilant. I have to be able to spot the signs and then act on them — or in most cases, refuse to act on them.
It takes a lot of self-discipline and awareness to get to that point. And, I still have imperfect days. For example, staying up for hours on end, when I know — I know — that it’s not going to help at all.
So, how does any of this help you if you’re out there trying to help somebody.
That’s all you can do. Let them know they are loved, and that they deserve to be happy.
Because they do.
In so many cases, the person suffering needs to become their own advocate. That’s what I had to do.
Which is unfair.
It’s like asking a caterpillar to shed everything it knows about being a caterpillar and become a butterfly.
It’s almost absurd in its gravity.
To all the teachers, parents, friends, and lovers that dangle and twirl in the uncertain space cleared away by mental illness — you may not know it now, but eventually the cumulative effect of your thoughts will make a difference.