Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

 And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

 And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

 Ah, the Sounds of Silence.

Simon & Garfunkel’s haunting ode to the darkness & the light is ghostly & beautiful. Throughout the song, two seemingly opposing forces that work together to build deep foundations in the heart of a busy, urban loneliness. Every time I hear this song I get chills.

Every.
Damn.
Time.

I can remember the first time I heard this song. The way goose-bumps crawled down my neck & into my soul. These lyrics weren’t jaunty, twangy or trite. Pop music this was not. The words that threaded together to build a world in my mind seemed to be holding onto the remnants of deep-longing & hurt. That, with a dash of sweetness found in soft voices, helped to cut the bitter taste of it all.

Deep in my little girl’s soul, after hearing this song, I understood completely that becoming life-long friends with darkness would be a beautiful, sometimes wild, ride. So, I did what any buckled up.

And, though I could never put my finger on it, from a young age I dove into finding & exploring the yin & the yang of my being. Through this searching, I learned inner-strength that allowed me to smile through times that usually called for rage or sadness. I also learned to relish in the different ways in which one human could interpret silence.

Diving into language, melodies, & dreams of darkness became an escape for me. A meditative one (though I didn’t have the words to explain it as such until recently.)  For my entire life, I’ve chased the promise of stillness & silence. This chase, unlike others I purposefully lace-up for, is one I’ve always known to be futile – but worthwhile, & beautiful.

Finding Beauty in Uncertainty

Bliss. Living near the edges of doubt & change means that you can see the perfection in the imperfect. You’re able to taste the bitter & the sweet. And, you’re able to accept yourself as whole – even when you’re at your most broken.

All of the elements of personal-fulfilment I’ve chased during 37 trips around the sun have been imperfect. Much like me. Darkness, stillness, sunshine, rainbows. They all coexist in me as a fairly well functioning community. They all have the power to both heal & destroy me in equal measure. Sometimes they do both at the same time. Fulfilment has always been a tug-o-war between healing & destruction. A roll of the dice, even. All taking place in the here and now.

Call it what you will but the two sides of the same coin that I flip to wish upon are really more like vacation destinations that I’ve been to a million times before. When I call “heads!” or “tails!” I’m choosing from two different realities that look the same. They’re both home. And, they’re as familiar as anything. But, they feel completely different.

These are my retreats.

Retreats of the soul.

One of these retreats is a place where I find rest & calm. A place where the morning hustle to get kids to school (only to dive headlong into traffic) is okay. The rush is do-able. Nothing’s really a hassle. My thoughts don’t act as weights that pull me down or scream out at me “BUT YOU COULD BE DOING SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS!” In this place, I can handle anything life throws at me.

This first retreat is where I spend the majority of my time. There’s no laundry pile too tall to break me, no responsibilities too overwhelming to steal my smile, no anger, no doubts, no Mom-guilt, & no rush. This place is basically a forever spa treatment. In this place, the idea & fear of being busy all of the time doesn’t exist. Worries drop away as the sounds of gentle, flowing streams fill my head.

I stretch out on a massage table. Muscles, mind, & soul relax. I can smell special oils. Ah, special oils! Along with the flowing water, I hear the gentle gongs of spiritual music. I breathe in the inviting warmth of glowing candles, drink in the sweetness of human touch, & relish in a pleasurable pain as all of my muscles are worked over.

I love this place. This place heals me. This place empowers & lifts me. Rooms filled with kindness, forgiveness, self-confidence, others willing & able to give freely. If I could, I’d spend quite a lot of time here. Heck, I might just stay on forever. I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

Unfortunately, there’s only ever limited time in the first retreat.

The Dark Side of Retreat

Another place, similar – yet very different to the first – exists in me too. This is a place where I need to steel myself upon entering.  Instead of feeling welcomed or relaxed, I tense up as I open the door to step across a shadowy threshold. The silence, darkness, & stillness work to haunt instead of welcome me. My feelings of inadequacy chase me here, running circles around my most tempered thoughts. The end goal of the ghosts that live here? To exhaust me – or even break me – completely. Sometimes, I think they might.

The calming relaxation of my first retreat shifts into a literal low-gear here. Gears grinding, hearts breaking, time standing still. In this place, I cannot focus. I’m unable to see or feel anything other than fear, brokenness, & hopelessness. My vulnerabilities become Kryptonite injected directly into my bloodstream. I am lost, confused, & frightened here.

All of the strength I’ve built up over a lifetime of wins & losses & learning disappears, dissipates in every waking moment. Who needs contentment built through adversity & joy when there’s a place inside of yourself that works quickly & without warning to undo all of the good stuff?

How is it that these two places offer such similar experiences – yet cause such disparate emotions in me? One is my place of healing. The other silently tears me to shreds one negative thought at a time.

Depression is a real shitter.

Call it what you will, the darkness of depression is a real shitter. It’s hard to put into words how one moment you feel fine – good even – & the next you’re not sure you feel anything at all. You teleport without reason or warning from your first retreat to the second. You’re off balance & off course. And, you know it, too. You just don’t know how to fix it.

It’s hard. It’s so, so hard to explain what’s happening inside yourself when you don’t understand it. Speaking to loved ones can be frustrating & feel counterintuitive. I get embarrassed when I can’t find words with ample enough impact to explain the inexplicable emotions that sometimes render me powerless. I feel even dumber not being able to simply share the numbness, the powerlessness, the empty spaces.

So, when we step it up a notch & try to talk to strangers about what we’re feeling (when we still can’t find words good enough to say to those we love most), it’s no wonder so many mental health issues go unspoken about or illnesses left untreated a lot of the time.

There’s this kind of a tug-o-war that happens in my mind sometimes where I know for a fact that I’m not in a space that will allow me to be my best self. Most of the time, I can even say to myself “Self, you’re down & you’re anxious. Don’t make decisions now. Be present. Be kind.” My inner-dialogue whispers “Cass, ride this wave out.”

Unfortunately, these kind internal whispers are quite often drowned out by the din of my even louder inner voice that shouts things like “You’re useless!” over  & over until I start to believe it. And thus, the struggle goes on.

Finding Peace & Riding Waves

I used to think I could weather every storm alone. Blame it on ego, on self-reliance kicked into over-drive, or on a simple overshooting of my own abilities – but what I know beyond the shadow of a doubt now is this: we all need other people at some point to help us get better.

Most of the time, our loved ones will stand steadfast in our corners – ready to fight our demons for us. But they can’t fight our demons for us, can they? That’s not how it works. We all have to suit up, hop in the water, & learn to ride the waves that break near shore. For me, hopping in the water meant seeing my GP & talking to a therapist regularly. Learning how to manage my own negative self-talk & building foundations on which to move forward have been instrumental in me kicking depression.

What I have found helpful over time too is recognising that some of the people we love most jump right in next to us – paddling in tandem to ride the wave together, differently. At the same time, others will stand on the pier next to you cheering you on & pointing out the best waves to ride. Others still will realize that they don’t know much about the surfing you’re doing, so they wait on shore with a warm, dry towel to comfort you once your back on terra firma.

These people are legends. And, they’re doing their best to help.

In opening up & being as genuinely truthful as we can be, our beloveds are armed with the knowledge of how to best coax us out of stormy seas & into calmer waters. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them to listen to us as we fumble to find ways to explain how we feel. Other times, it’s just sitting with us while we whimper in a corner. 

Ask & You Shall Receive

As I get older, I find that the easiest way to make peace with darkness has always been to light a fire of honesty. To speak simply & to be heard without needing to be fixed. Opening up is scary. Admitting you need help but that you’re not sure exactly why is scary, too. But, it’s necessary.

If you or someone you know is struggling with getting lost in the vortex that is the second retreat, please ask for help. Asking is scary, but necessary to build your crew around you to see you through the rougher seas that we’ll all be faced with in life. Finding beauty in silence & darkness is like retraining your brain to love what you’re supposed to shun.

Depression? It sucks.
But, there’s more to life than the darkness.

Hold on & hold out.
And, bring your surf board along with you.
You’ll catch that next wave to shore.

Where to get help 

The below resources are some that I found on an article from The Spinoff looking to #endthestigma around talking about depression & suicide here in Aotearoa. Please, if you need help, reach out. It’s scary & brave at the same time – facing the unknown. But there are so many people who are here to help. 24/7/365.

As with many folks, I am here to talk should you ever need to reach out. It is okay to not be okay. Each day is a new start, & I’m positive we can get through it together.

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.

Outline –  0800 688 5463 (10am – 9pm weekdays, 6pm – 9pm weekends)

Samaritans – 0800 726 666.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). Open 24/7

Depression Helpline  – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202. This service is staffed 24/7 by trained counsellors

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Counselling for children and young people

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz

The Day That Changed Everything

I recorded my first vlog last Thursday (New Zealand time.) It’d been a long time coming. A reaaaaaallllllllllllllllllly long time.

You see, I’ve been writing long-form and short-form blogs on topics ranging from fitness, to parenthood, to leadership, to feminism, to Dad Jokes for nigh on a decade now (yes, I am THAT old). So it just made sense that vlogging would be the next step for me when it comes to embracing the tickle of creativity in new forms and channels.

That said, there’s always been a little hitch in my proverbial get-along when it comes to posting a vlog. Writing has always come naturally, almost easily, to me. Words are comforting. In them I find routine, familiarity, and power. Discovering new words and marrying them together with those I’ve written a million times over to form a rhythmic sentence is a joyful experience. Blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, and Tumblr posts are malleable, editable. And, they allow me the freedom to re-jig a sentence or a paragraph if the first version wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined. In short: even though I can am fearless behind a camera, and in facing a blank page that yearns to be filled with emotions and dreams and pain… I am shit-scared of looking down the lens of a camera and opening up.

I’ve got all of the whiz-bang gear that any self-respecting Youtuber in the making needs. A sharp DSLR camera. Lighting rig. Heavy-duty tripods all around. And an opinion on most things (with, unlike many young content creators, decades of experience to back up said opinions.) That said, it took something big, frightening, and altogether maddening to get me into the DOING the doing. The only way I was truly going to allow myself to feel vulnerable, unprotected, and open to criticism, was in speaking up for others more vulnerable than me.

That’s why I had to do it Thursday.

Thursday was the day that the President of the United States decided to strike out at a brave community of already marginalized people. He, in a series of hateful tweets, tried to crush the aspirations and professional journeys of 15,000 trans Americans serving in our military back home. I know that this was a diversionary tactic meant to distract from his other criminal behaviors. But, this time he picked on the wrong people. At the wrong time. On the wrong platform. I for one had finally had enough.

From the moment I woke up to Trump’s idiotic, bombastic tweets I actually felt a both a physical and emotional response in myself. My eyes cried angry tears. My next blushed red with anger. And, I felt completely hopefully to do anything to help anyone. Being so far from home, I couldn’t join in the marches, or help the cause on the ground with my physical presence. And, I didn’t think something as simple as words on a page would be enough to let our trans brothers and sisters across the world know that they’re not alone. That I’m here for them. That they’re burdens on no one.

And then it hit me, this was the time. I needed to give those who feel like they don’t have a one, a voice – by using mine. For the first time ever, I needed to make a stand and speak up.

Trans people are not a burden.
They are brave.
They are strong.
They are worthy.

When simply leaving the house in the morning is an act of defiance, then I could face an unquestioning camera in an empty room and add my voice to their fight. Thursday (and, for that matter, every day) was as good a day as any to reaffirm the beauty in our differences. All of us. In my vlog, I ask my fellow Americans – as well as other global allies and citizens –  to stand with me in protecting our most vulnerable.

It was touch-and-go there for a moment when I thought I might break down into tears. Or spout expletives in rage. But, for those without a voice, I tried to use mine in the most respectful way I thought possible at the time.

Below is the video I made. Please watch it, and if you’d like, share it. If only one person watches it and sees that there’s help and love in the world for them – and they realize that others will stand with them and help carry the weight of their world – then I’ve done my job.

Our country was founded on the acceptance of difference. On different-ness.  Creed, race, religion… all of it. We need to go back to celebrating that which both binds us and makes us unique. We need to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves.

Kindness first, always.

#NotMyPresident #TransRightsAreHumanRights

Who Stole My Zen?


The world is fast. Beautiful. Broken. Uplifting. Harsh. Everything at once. It can build us up & tear us down quickly. All it takes is one interaction – one word, one Tweet, one text, one fleeting moment to change the course of a day or a life.

If I think about the world & my place in it too much, things (sometimes) can feel overwhelming – in a beautiful way, mostly.

Mother. Partner. Daughter. Aunt. Friend. Colleague. Boss. Ex. Bestie. Stranger.

Most days I ask myself: Which part of me will I strengthen today?  And, inversely, which part will I allow to crumble – if even just a little bit?  Because, let’s face it, when you focus on one area of life, others can slip. And, I’m completely cool with that.

When it comes to making decisions though, I find that, sometimes, the best way to decide is not to decide on anything at all.

Huh?

Practicing silence, stillness, and focusing on the present is a great way to just “be”. Whether it be relationships at work, at home, or in the abstract – when moments arise where everything seems too much, I find a quiet space, a silent moment & look for my personal zen.

Personal zen? It’s that special, untouchable thing that helps me return to a calm, content, happy & driven being with an end goal of staring in wild wonder at the beauty of the world around me.

Over the years, I’ve learned (mostly through falling, failing & getting back up again) that balance is always achievable if you take the time to do you. To work on & build your inner resolve. Time, effort, & introspection are all integral to getting there with the balance thing.

But where does one start? I reckon a little bit of practice daily, & one big decision to take ownership of your own zen could look something like this:

  • PRIORITIZE
    Put yourself first. Seriously, do it. Because, weirdly enough, being your own Number-One is really hard for a lot of people – specifically working women. We’re taught from day-dot to make others happy. And that we can only ever be successful if we look the part while playing by rules written not in our own hand. Throw that bull$hit out the door & put yourself first. Find what makes you happy – be it exercise, time to reflect, or even meditation. Do you. First.
  • WORK, FAMILY, FUN
    Work & family are all intermingled these days, aren’t they? Shutting off is damn hard. So, finding a profession that you love & working with people you love mean that you’re able to find zen in the very place that pays the bills. Personally, my team at work are my family. While we might not share blood, we share laughs, love, kindness, drive, & shared objectives. Having fun is a must – & this means coming home is just as amazing as heading to the office on a Monday. #winning
  • AMBITION
    Don’t be afraid to kick butt & be good at what you do! As an American living in New Zealand, I do sometimes still struggle with the “tall poppy syndrome.” I was always taught that you’re not a great leader until you create other great leaders. Personally, I find so much joy in seeing my team at work, my child, & my loved ones succeed. Celebrating the success of others, & actively helping others to grow themselves is the best work any of us can do. My advice? Never, ever be afraid to be proud of your achievements. And, in the same vein, always let others know when you’re proud of their successes too!
  • MOVE YOUR BODY
    Exercise. It’s basically magic. The best kind of magic human beings could ever hope to master. When you’re feeling low, when your confidence is lacking… hit the road, the gym, or the pool. We humans were made to move. So, make time to do just that. Lose yourself in the sound of your beating heart. Make being comfortable with the state of feeling uncomfortable your new norm. And, if you can remember one thing about fitness let it be this: it’s easier to stay fit, than to get fit! So, make a habit of fitness. Mind, body, soul. Start moving. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you find your zen.
  • GET INTO THE GROOVE
    Music. It’s a common language across all of humanity. Minor chords, variations of the majors. They work to lift us up & bring us spiraling back down to earth. Find your groove, own it, & lose yourself in the words & chords that make you feel like yourself. Whether you’re blasting out Ryan Adams, swooning to Joe Jonas, or find yourself rolling through Cam Country… music heals, uplifts, & help us all find our center. Turn it on, turn it up, & do you.

Balance, confidence, & zen. However you find them…make your life your own. And, enjoy every breath you’re blessed with.

And, feel free to leave your tips on finding your zen in the comments. I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

 

Cass