A tearful trip to Phoenix, AZ

depression, Health and Wellness Travel, Hiking, Life Lessons, mental health, Prose, United States

“Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”

-Steve Maraboli

My trip to Phoenix, AZ was the first one I’ve ever taken that was not fun. It was hard. But it was necessary.

The day of my departure was relaxing and smile-inducing. I met a friend for lunch and laughs and hung out with my mum for a bit before heading to the airport. With my old, trusty, green pack strapped to my back, I smoothly made it through the craziness of YYZ and sat down with a beer and a book, waiting to board my flight. I was calm. I was happy. And for the first time in my life, this vampire was excited to bask in the glorious sunshine and heat that was waiting for me upon my arrival.

Mellow beginnings

On my first morning, I thought I’d head out bright n’ early to the market for some tasty eats and then do some museum exploring. But, of course, I got chatting over breakfast at my hostel with a really cool entrepreneur trying to make a living in the life coaching space. We exchanged Instagram handles and wished each other good days ahead.

A little seating area in the back of HI Hostel Phoenix

The market gave me some pretty epic hummus and flatbread for lunch and the Art Museum opened my eyes, as art always does. Art inspires art as they say, but I’ll leave those learnings for another post.

The sunshine I was hoping for didn’t quite appear from behind the clouds that day, which was a wee bit disappointing, but I was still happy to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, exploring cacti-covered streets and snapping pics of palm trees.

The Foundre in Phoenix, AZ

By 3PM, I was back at the hostel reading in a hammock, loving life.

But something deep down wasn’t quite right. I was restless. The peaceful feeling I was riding from the day before was quickly evaporating and a tightness was beginning to stitch my stomach lining together. I recognized this feeling all too well. The consuming loneliness of my depression was threatening me, toying with a trip I’d been looking forward to for months.

Floating in worry

I decided that this was probably the perfect time to try one of those float tanks everyone’s talking about these days. From what I had learned thus far, they’re meant to be great at alleviating depression and calming the mind. What better time to seek mental clarity in a dark space than while on desert-y solo spirit quest?

Well, to be honest, as much as the whole thing was relaxing and good for my skin, being trapped in a pitch-black room for 60 minutes really only heightened my anxiety and led me to over think everything that’s happened to me in the last year. I emerged from the tank feeling physically mellow but mentally depleted, and incredibly lonely.

It was around 8:30 by the time I left the float centre, so I decided to take myself for a Mexican feast then get to sleep early to be ready for my big hike in the morning. I was hell-bent on conquering this wave of sadness that had washed over me by staying busy and keeping my chin up.

Climbing a mountain, and crying

That hike was incredible. It was the first of its kind for me, having to scramble up rocks for about 20 minutes near the top of Camelback Mountain. I pushed myself further than I ever had before alone on a hike and was so proud to have accomplished it. My soul felt fulfilled by an abundance of unfamiliar natural surroundings and from the hot sun beating down on me for my hours.

After conquering Camelback, I decided I had plenty of time to consume even more nature, and made my next stop the Desert Botanical Gardens (the part of my trip I was most looking forward to).

This is where emotional shit got real.

Suddenly, while regarding a host of cacti and desert shrubbery, I started to bawl. I left my sunglasses on to keep my tears hidden from the many people around me. But I couldn’t stop crying. Everything I had felt while swinging on the hammock the day before just exploded out of my eyeballs.

 

Desert Botanical Gardens view in Phoenix, AZ

You see, I’ve been working with a therapist the last few months to help me get through a very difficult year. The deeper I dig and further back I remember in these sessions, the more my wounds are opening and the more the tears spill out.

I’ve learned a lot about how I handle unpleasant emotions, especially since moving back to Toronto and being totally out of my happy zone. That is to say, I don’t handle them at all. I use alcohol, and friends, and relationships, and marijuana, and work, and exercise, and even travelling as an escape from ever feeling the bad stuff. The hard shit. Those feelings that actually just make us all human.

I’m finally starting to understand that those feelings, the ones we don’t want to feel, are wholly necessary to feel and to reflect upon.

My therapist said something like: “you need to be able to work through your emotions and face them head on.”

To which I replied: “how does one ‘deal with their feelings’? I have been doing that. Going for walks and exercising and socialising and moving forward. Yet here I am, completely depressed and emotionally fucked.”

She looked surprised and thought about it for a second.

“Tori, you just have to sit with them. You have to be sad. You have to allow yourself to feel hurt and angry and upset. It sucks, but that time to reflect will eventually help you get past them.”

Fuck, I thought to myself. Sitting around, being sad, crying. I had never once been told that those things are healthy. I had been told that my problems aren’t as bad as others’ and to be thankful for that. And I am. I still have a hard time not feeling guilty about being depressed when my life is easier than 99% of peoples’. But it truly is all relative, and the more we push down our negative emotions, the shittier and shittier we feel, and the more our mental health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.

Final days in Phoenix

Really, the rest of my trip consisted of more of the same. I just couldn’t stop crying. But instead of fighting it, or ignoring the tears, I let them flow. This year, I faced a lot of tough shit. Shit that was tougher than I wanted to let myself believe. Everything I had been planning for, the future I had created in my mind, was totally set back by something completely out of my control.

That’s life, though, isn’t it? Nothing ever goes as planned. People come in and out of our lives so quick, steps backward have to be taken to move forward, and bad things need to happen to make us stronger. But instead of fighting against the sadness and darkness that comes with these changes, I’m learning to embrace the emotions. To cry without limits, to give myself days to mourn the loss of a life I thought I’d be living, while simultaneously starting to piece together a new future.

By the time I was packing up my bags to leave the friendly and beautiful Phoenix, I was exhausted. I was depleted. I was low. But I felt better than I had in a long time. Lighter. I felt like the sunshine I was blessed with the majority of my trip. My eyes were heavy, but my heart wasn’t anymore.

So yeah, in the end, my trip to Phoenix wasn’t fun. It was the hardest trip I’ve ever taken in my life. But it was revolutionary for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Tribulations of an over-thinker (and Tantallon Castle)

Life Lessons, Scotland, Toronto

My brain has always worked at a pace I can’t ever get ahold of. Small worries turn into big worries which manifest new worries all together. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. Just now, my heater made a little cracking sound. Instantly, I sat up, looked at it, switched it off, and moved to the other side my bed in case of possible explosion. Which turned into: if it explodes, will I survive? Have I accomplished everything I wanted to up until this point? I haven’t. What a sad death that would be. You know what would be a sadder one? If someone broke in and stole all my things and finished me off before leaving.

As you might’ve guessed, it’s generally negative things I over-think. To a less dramatic extent, let’s say at work, it often goes something like this: Oh no. I told someone I didn’t like their idea. Ugh look at their face. Their smile faded ever so slightly. Are they judging me? Are they upset that I said that? Will they ever enjoy working with me in the future? I hope I didn’t hurt their feelings. I’m worried I’ve made them feel awful.

 I’m hoping by now you get the picture. Not only is it absolutely useless to think in this anxious cycle of negativity, it’s bloody exhausting. Friendships, relationships, all the ships, are so stressful, not in and of themselves, but because my brain makes them that way.

I know, I know. I’m working on it. I really am.

I started seeing a therapist, which I really should’ve done much sooner, who is teaching me a little about acceptance. Acceptance that I am the way that I am, and I can’t do anything to change that fundamental piece of my brain. But I can learn to reprogram those negative thoughts into positive ones, simply by accepting that I am going to feel how I feel but also offering my head a new thought to snowball from. Something more positive.

It’s definitely a process. But I’ve finally had the epiphany that maybe being an over-thinker isn’t bad. It’s just a part of who I am. And there are so many positive facets of my personality that come along with the wheels turning so quickly in my brains. I’ve become more and more empathetic with time, since I think so much about how people are feeling about things. I’m also very good at my job and problem solving because of my innate gift to overanalyze every situation (which is wicked cool because my high school math teachers would argue that problem solving was never my strong suit).

All this thinking about overthinking leads me to remember the time I spent in a cabin by the sea in North Berwick, Scotland, and my visit to Tantallon Castle. I wrote about that adventure in a blog post a while back and it’s helping me to reevaluate myself a bit. What we think of as being flaws in our personality are actually what make us special. Everything we’ve been through in our lives has brought us to the point we are now with our mental health and ability to move forward. And it’s okay to feel broken. Like Tantallon Castle, destroyed in battle to almost complete ruin, it’s our broken bits that make us more beautiful, more unique.

I’m starting to gain a little more clarity on my brokenness, and I’m finding I’m not so broken after all. It’s just a part of who I am. A part that makes me a much more deep, dynamic, and aware person. The trick is, remembering these lessons, no matter how dark it starts to get.

 

How I’m really feeling right now

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Poetry, Toronto

When I left Edinburgh, I cried tears not only for what I had to leave behind but also for everything I came to experience, to love. For all that I gained. But where is that woman I became so proud of overseas? Only remnants of her are left. I feel broken into hundreds of little pieces that I’ve been trying to force fit into a shape which no longer exists.

If a flower isn’t growing how it should, you move it to more favourable conditions for it to flourish. That’s a big lesson I’ve learned, one that seems to cross my mind regularly now, especially after travelling to Halifax and feeling real air, ocean air, salt spitting against my skin. Being so far away from it for so long has left me with a hole in my heart, the depth of which I can’t begin to describe. I know in my soul that there is more adventure and happiness ahead, but oftentimes the big city wares me down to believe I’ve reached my maximum potential and all that’s left is utter stagnancy.

Lately I’ve been afraid of being honest on my blog about how hard it’s been for me in the big city. I’ve tried to maintain an air of positivity about my personal purgatory but sadly, the happiness I feel here appears in small waves stifled by the overwhelming loneliness that comes from living in a place where people are often so disconnected from each other.

I realize it’s all about perspectives. Maybe I just feel this way now because I had a lovely weekend away in a place that has always felt more like home than Toronto. Maybe tomorrow everything will be easier. Depression has a way of doing that to you – suddenly tricking you to believe you’re much less happy than you are in a specific moment.

But the bottom line is, my soul is aching for more than what I think I can find where I’m waiting now, and I reckon it’s only a matter of time before the hundreds of pieces I’ve broken into fly too far away for me to bring back. The pieces that believe in the power of nature, loving everyone and smiling from dusk ‘til dawn every day.

If you’re reading this, I’m okay. Don’t ache for me or anyone else struggling a bit to cope. We’ve made it this far and we’ll continue on. Ache for the experiences you never had because you were too afraid to try. Ache for the people you never got to know because you were too proud to ask for their friendship. Ache for the love you never let yourself feel because anger is easier to bare than the possibility of being hurt. Ache for your life and strive to take the steps you never took before to move forward. That’s all I can do right now. Ache for the life I know would make me happy and strive to make it there as soon as I can.

My partner in crime is about to leave. And while we anticipate this next big step, it’s hard to accept the fact that someone who loves more parts of me than I do won’t be around for a long time. Before we even really got to know each other, he taught me more about myself than anyone ever has – about my propensity to dwell on my imperfections and about the depression that lurks within dark forgotten corners of my mind.

As we struggle to make something work, the romanticism of falling in love with someone from somewhere else has completely faded. The magic from our love has been beaten out of us by arbitrary borders that, from historical evidence, have done nothing but divide us and promote hatred and fear of others. Every time we take a step forward, we fall back several feet into the unforgiving concrete that is thousands of pages of paperwork, all written to keep families apart and force so many to suffer.

This may be the most poetic piece I’ll ever allow anyone to read. I don’t normally write like this, but to be honest, it’s the only way I can really describe what I’ve been feeling. Poetry is overindulgent. It allows writers to brood and extend their verses to anyone willing to listen and feel sympathy. I’ve never been much for producing it, let alone presenting it. But after hearing the pleas of others suffering as I do, as so many do, I’ve granted myself clemency to write freely and put forth the following poem. It’s a snapshot of a hard time from a couple years back. Reading it now and knowing I overcame one of my most prominent roadblocks, gives me hope that I’ll make it through this episode and be fine. It gives me hope that if I overcame my worst, my friends can too. My family can too. My love can too. You can too.

 

Low point

My brain currently thinks and feels in snippets.

Little moments that flash through my mind like lightning.

Quickly bursting and dissipating

leaving me feeling anxious and uncomfortable in my own skin.

I don’t trust myself anymore.

I don’t know myself anymore.

I don’t laugh anymore.

I just feel.

Desperately feel my insides eroding

and my happiness evaporating

and everything I love slipping through my fingers.

My eyes are open but sometimes I can’t focus on anything.

It’s like there’s a glass wall between reality and me

and I’m floating out into nothingness.

Put a Big Bird in a Small Cage

Life Lessons, Prose, Toronto

Since moving back to the hustle and bustle of the big city, I’ve not been doing much blogging. But that’s not to say I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve successfully made a career out of something I both am good at and like to do. And I’m happy about that, for the most part.

You see, that whole annoying belief people have about doing what you love for work seemingly holds some validity. Once you turn something you love into a job, it becomes just that – a job. I’ve not been finding solace in writing for myself anymore, simply because I do it far too often for other people.

I am sad about all this. I miss seeing beautiful things and pouring my heart out in to a notebook. How am I to write poetry and prose about the beauty of nature from behind the walls of a concrete jungle?

Okay, yeah I know, I’m being overdramatic. Really, Toronto’s been good to me. And even though the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and cold, I’ve also met incredible people I’m lucky to call friends and have found a comfort in knowing there’s always something going on.

I’ve just moved to a new area steeped in colours, curious architecture and best of all, interesting and “interesting” people. There’s never a dull moment or dull wall this side of town (see graffiti photos below) and I’m feeling incredibly fortunate to have found such a great wee home.

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Sadly, besides all this greatness, I’m still having trouble coming up with innovative ways to inspire myself creatively. I’ve spent so long drawing inspiration from mountains and oceans and wildlife and inactive volcanoes, finding it in city streets spattered with litter, vomit and all matter of atrocious things has proven difficult.

But I recently felt a spurt of hope after listening to an old favourite tune. It’s called Big Bird in a Small Cage by Patrick Watson (shout out to Mel Lyon for introducing me all those years ago).

The song has always been one that I sing along to but never fully understand.

A line in the chorus goes: “you put a big bird in a small cage and he’ll sing you a song.”

In my mind, the whole song is about the birth of art and how perhaps the most beautiful creations come from a place of perceived suffocation. For the last couple years, my creative periods have occurred during a significant transition or when I have immersed myself in nature. Though big changes and wide-open spaces have played a large role in my soul-searching, I’m realising that being in a place I find small and uncomfortable may in fact lead me to produce more beautiful work than any amount of running space has granted me in the past. Perhaps it’s where we find ourselves least comfortable that we will learn the most.

So friends, I’ve turned a new leaf since deciding that my small cage (Toronto) won’t stop this big bird from writing and singing and blabbering on about things I’m sure you’ve all already figured out. But, you know me. It takes me a long time to come to simple conclusions.

Tori, signing off for now but not for good.

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