Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

How I Learned to Have Boundaries Written by: David Sutcliffe

“I used to have a hard time saying no. And being direct about what I wanted.

I often found myself accommodating others, doing things I didn’t want to do. This would lead to lingering resentment, and if it persisted, an explosion of blame and victimization.

If I finally confronted someone the response was usually, “Well, why didn’t you say something?!”

It’s a good point. People are not mind readers, nor should we expect them to be.

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Cancer Battle

Learning to Fly While Falling

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Leonardo da Vinci

I had just come to the end of an exceptionally traumatic year. Circumstances beyond my control had thrown my world upside down and I was forced to work through the emotionally exhausting work of repairing my life. The feeling like I had absolutely no control over my life was both angering and frightening.

It was a beautiful day in late August. The journey was long, but the anticipation was more than a distraction. At first I thought our GPS had taken us down a wrong turn because it looked like we were in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario, but driving a little further down the dirt country road and we saw the sign that told us we had arrived. The air was still, the sun was warm and there were beautiful fluffy white clouds dotting the sky as far as the eye could see. We were early but I figured if I showed up early, maybe they would take me sooner. I had wanted to do this for a long time but indecision was my driving force behind complacency. It was only when my world had come crashing down that I was prompted to act.  And today was the day, I was finally going to jump out of an airplane.

If I was going to be put into a situation where I felt out-of-control I wanted to be the one who put myself in that position rather than what I had experienced over the past twelve months.

I walked into the trailer adjacent the airport hangar where I was greeted by a youthful young woman. She had me fill out the necessary paperwork, including the waiver releasing them from liability in the event that I died, and then I was instructed to wait.

We waited for three hours.

Others were ahead of me. Dozens of brave, crazy, and enigmatic people were all waiting to be take up into the sky just to free-fall back toward the earth. My excitement was palpable and I could feel the rush of adrenaline before I was even hooked into my harness.

My son, in an attempt to disarm me, had told me in the days before about a woman who had gone sky diving on her birthday, she was seventy or something, and she had fallen out of her harness while in free-fall. I looked up the video online and sure enough, that actually happened. She survived but note to self: don’t loosen harness. When the airport owner took us all aside to instruct us on the finer points of safety and what we needed to know I was immediately reassured. I would be strapped to a qualified and certified jumper who was going to do all of the hard work. All I had to do was keep my head back, feet held back between his legs, and jump when he says jump!

The ride in the little two prop plane was bumpy, and we were all packed in like happy sardines. The men and women who had jumped a thousand times before were raucous and care-free, I liked them all immediately. I wanted to be like them.

At an elevation of approximately 17, 000 feet the plane hatch was opened and it was time for us to go. Looking down all I could see was white. The jump out of the airplane was seamless; it looked like all we had done was leap into a layer of freshly fallen snow. I was damp, my hair was wind-whipped and my ears needed to be popped but the rush of falling at exceptionally fast speed—faster than any motor vehicle on land—was amazingly liberating.  Descending through the clouds and eventually seeing the ground come into view propelled my line of sight across a vast landscape of farmland and shoreline approaching at an alarmingly quick pace.

Once we pulled our chute we were jerked immediately into a slow descent and my tandem jumper estimated we were then at an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet. The lack of sound at that height was mesmerizing. I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat as we gracefully floated down toward the waiting earth below. It was the first time I had experienced peace since my world had been torn apart and my urge to sob in gratuitous response surged through my body. This is what it must feel like to fly. I didn’t want my feet to find solid ground.

But we did land. I didn’t die. And life moved forward. My emotions began to heal and my anger ebbed away.

I couldn’t control the circumstances that turned my world upside down, but it didn’t kill me. If I can survive jumping from an airplane then I could survive anything.

A year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world again had been ripped from beneath my feet, but it hasn’t killed me yet. And I am still here, still living and breathing and still remembering what it was like to fly.

Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

#CanadaStrong and Mighty

Media is releasing the names of the victims of a senseless attack that occurred on the streets of Toronto, ON Canada on April 23, 2018. 24 hours later and the world is learning the names of the 10 people, and 15 injured after a mid-day attack on a busy street in the heart of one of Canada’s most diverse cities.  The impact of such a tragedy is being felt around my country. These things are not the norm for us Canadians. We don’t have experience with this level of sadness and loss. Not when it was intentional, callous and with discriminatory intent.

Our instinct is to try to make sense of what can’t be rationalized. Our instinct is to point a finger and provide an explanation that fits what we are comfortable with. Because the alternative is a world that is chaotic and frightening. It’s a world where the unimaginable can happen, at any time and in any place to anyone.

Public response was immediate. Conclusions had been drawn before law enforcement could conduct a thorough investigation. And the preliminary assumptions were formulated around two theories that are predominant in our rationalizations of violence: terrorism or mental instability.

The nuanced assessments—even by seasoned professionals—about the perpetrator of any mass casualty event, cause damage to the mental health community.  When they immediately assume that the crime was motivated by a person who was mentally ill, they spark a discussion. They tout past record of instability, inability to connect with others, past history of mental break downs, history of medications, and history of violence—all in an effort to lend credibility to the theory that mental health was the mitigating factor behind a senseless tragedy. And in that context, the attempt to thwart the stigma of mental health issues in our Western culture takes a giant leap backward.

In the aftermath of such tragic events, anyone taking medications like Cymbalta or Celexa, Risperdal or Ativan, are viewed with suspicion and fear. Anyone who is brave enough to own their anxiety or depression is judged as if to suggest they are seeking attention or being lazy. The ones who suffer with the debilitating mental health diseases such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder are deemed unsafe for society. Anyone hospitalized or formed are stigmatized as crazy or nuts. The correlation between uncontrollable mental health disorders and violence are no longer up for debate, they are now a concrete reality in the editorializing of steadfast pundits. And every time another occurrence of violence disrupts our civilized society, the same arguments are touted over and over again until that mantra is cemented into the minds of our culture.

I spent the better part of my weekend on Twitter in a heated debate on an unrelated topic. And even when discussion broke down into insults and abusive assaults on my character, the reason mental health is still so stigmatized was staring me right in the face. We use harsh and sometimes prejudicial remarks about someone’s mental state when attempting to disparage them. Even though i attempted to remain above the fray and refrain from using insults and cursing to establish my narrative, I did at one point say “Are you off your meds?” It didn’t strike me as wrong until a day later when I watched as users on Twitter did the same thing when debating the motivation behind a young man driving a white rental van down a sidewalk filled with pedestrians. It was horrifying for multiple reasons, not the least of which was a reopening of further prejudice against anyone and everyone who has ever suffered from mild, emotional distress to a full blown psychotic breakdown. And I propagated the stigma. I contributed to the  ignorance.

Stigma and fear don’t need a propellant in order to enact their wounds. We need to begin reassessing how our culture examines tragedy without immediately casting dispersions toward an entire group of people. And mental health does not discriminate. It affects all ages, races, genders and professions. And it begins by making a conscious effort to understand all of the motivations behind premeditated violence, whether it be mass shootings, attacks using motor vehicles, or even bombings. When mental health is instantly attributed to the accused, all discussion shuts down and the truth matters little.

When these events take place in our communities and our nations, we can begin by having discussions among the people around us; families, friends, co-workers and neighbours. We need to ask ourselves if these kinds of generalizations make us sad, for more then the reasons apparent. Do the accusations thrown around so mindlessly make us stop to think? Do the discussions around mental health make us feel like we need to hide the daily struggles each of us face? Is mental health the underlying mitigating factor to senseless violence, or is there something we’re missing?

Mental health issues do not correlate to violent acts. Millions suffer with mental disorders on a daily basis and they don’t resort to committing mass murder. So we as a society need to do something. We need to change the conversation. We need to change the beliefs. And if we are successful, the stigma can end.