Monday, April 24, 2017

project serve toronto team lead slash fundraiser. guest experience leader. barista. volunteer. leader. friend. sister. aunt. roommate. these are the hats that i wear on any given day.(though i do my best to make sure that none of these hats define me, because they don't. and neither do yours).

it isn't uncommon for someone to ask me how i have so much energy, or if 'i'm always like this', in fact, a handful of people ask me this each week during my overnight shift at sick kids alone. and the answer to that question is no, no i'm not always 'like this'; i can be really, really, moody on mondays.

monday is my catch up on sleep (and sometimes TV) day. i often feel worn out and am not always pleasant. i hibernate, rarely make plans, and talk to a minimal amount of people. and sometimes, i even blog. I DO WHATEVER I WANT TO DO, because, well, it's PAULAday, and PAULAdays are crucial for my survival (and for my relationships).

if there is one thing i have learned through my parents' passing, it's this: life is fragile and is meant to be lived to its full (and we can't live life to its full if we're not taking care of ourselves in the midst of its crazy demands).

in the spirit of 'do whatever i want to do mondays', here are just a few things i do to take care of myself:

1. as mentioned above, i have a 'me' day once a week, which helps me focus, rejuvenate, and keeps me (relatively) sane.

2. i do things that i enjoy; i sit in coffee shops and read or write, and i watch baseball. religiously.

3. i keep my bucket list up to date (to ensure that i don't kick the bucket quite yet) and try new things, like exploring a new city or restaurant, or flying an airplane.

4. i eat fruits and vegetables like they're going out of style (or at least going bad), and drink a lot of H to the O.

5. i surround myself with really good people.

6. i encourage others, practice hospitality, and 'give back' to my community, which proves to be more life-giving than anything else on this list.

except for #7, that is: nurturing my relationship with Christ. i study the Bible, sing my little heart out, and keep the communication lines open, which in my opinion is the most important one of all, because, well, without number seven, numbers one to six wouldn't be nearly as fruitful.

what do you do to take care of YOU?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

i closed my eyes and saw a tree; a big, beautiful, and full tree. only this wasn't just any tree. this particular tree symbolized something.

the trunk represented the pain i was feeling at the time, having just found that my mom was going to lose her battle with cancer.

the branches represented my thought process through it all; the fear, the worry, the what ifs, the compassion i felt towards my mom, and the unfillable void i knew i would feel once she passed away.

and yet, my eyes were drawn to the roots.

at first glance, i saw the strong and unshakeable root from which i draw life and strength from: my relationship with Jesus, my anchor, the One who keeps me going in life, and keeps me grounded.

upon my second glance, i saw the few (unhealthy) things which i let take root in my life; seeds of insecurity that derived from my life-long battle with depression, my fear of abandonment, and the most crippling one of all, my unrealistic expectation of others.

and here's what all of this taught me.

there's a time to focus on our pain and a time process what we're feeling and experiencing because of it, but there's also a time for uprooting, because, well, no matter what your source of pain is at any given time, each root has its way of breaking through the soil and rearing its ugly head in the most inconvenient and unattractive way.

but how do i start digging, i wondered? and how do you?

by picking up the tools - in this case, a shovel - and putting in the work.

for me that meant finding a good counselor, retraining my brain to focus on the positive, saturating myself in the truth, reminding myself that people can only do so much, acting accordingly, and praying (a lot) to the One who can reach even the deepest part of pain, loves me even at my worst, and promises to never leave me nor forsake me.

and you know something? though it took a lot of hard work (and still requires work to this day), i really dig this whole digging thing, because it works!

i expect less from my friends, i no longer live in fear that people will leave me, and thankfully, even though my depression episodes are less frequent and less intense these days, i've come to accept the fact that this, too, is part of my journey.

today, a beautiful tree sits on the dresser in my room as a reminder of my healing process, the time i closed my eyes and first saw the tree and what each part of it represented, and all of the work i have had to put in to become a healthier me. only now when i look at this tree, i don't just see a big, beautiful, and full tree, i see a big, beautiful, and full life, and a heck of a lot of growth.

Monday, February 27, 2017

i don't have a stable career, or a house of my own. i don't have a car or even my license [which is on my bucket list this year], a full bank account or even a lot of spending money. i don't have a husband, any kids, or a golden retriever, either.

but i do have a roof over my head, a TV to watch my blue jays on [priorities, people], food in my belly, an understanding housemate, a great church, people who love and adore me, and so much more.

now, let me ask you this, which list did you prefer to read? the 'i don't' list, or the 'i do' one?

the i do one, obviously. and truth be told, i preferred writing it.

the i don't list made me feel ungrateful, worried, and sad.

the i do list, however, made me feel happy, confident, and rich.

so why do i spend time thinking about my dont's? why do you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

i'm a christian, but i've been hurt by the church.

i watched as what i call an 'extreme christian' prevent my dad from ever entering a church again by showing up at our house, speaking out of turn, and scaring him off.

i witnessed church leadership call my brother a loser for rollerblading to the service, followed by weeks of verbal abuse, to the point where he never rollerbladed to the church again, or accepted a ride, either, and still hasn't over two decades later.

i had one lady 'rebuke me' [whatever that means] because she heard i 'swore at school', people judge me or the choices i made, others take advantage of me, some backstab me, a few overlook me, and a heck of a lot of people fail to follow through with their promise or commitment.

maybe you've been here, too. maybe, you, like me, thought [or think] that 'church is full of a bunch of judgemental hypocrites'.

truthfully, it took me a long time to get over all of these things. a really long time, actually.

in fact, for a year and a half, i built a wall around my heart in the name of protection and stopped going to church because of it. i knew my life was lacking something - i really did - but the risk of going back seemed too great; the less hypocrites i had in my life, the better.

but all of this changed when i stepped foot into the church in regent park a few short months a go.

i looked around and saw people of different cultures and race, backgrounds and class.

in one chair, a new immigrant sits. in another, a woman born in toronto.

one person has a job, another doesn't.

one man wears a dress shirt, another, a ripped - or shall i say 'holy' - one.

and my absolute fave, an intoxicated man sitting at the back, who decides to stand up in the middle of the sermon and serenade us with the best rendition of O Canada that i've heard in a very long time.

but get this - the pastor doesn't stop to yell at him. no usher ushers him out; he is welcome at the church in regent park. i am welcome at the church of regent park, and it took me all of five seconds to see how well i fit here.

i missed three weeks last month due to travel, sickness, and financial reasons, and i had countless people tell me they 'missed me the past three weeks'. like they noticed how many weeks i was gone, and missed me.

leadership thank me for coming and serving every single chance they get.

one girl, whom i just connected with this week, gave me enough cash to cover my transit next weekend to ensure that i wouldn't miss another week of church.

my pastors [who are also my dear friends] make me want to know christ more by the way they emulate him; they drive me to the GO station every week, hang out with me, and invest in me. even this weekend, we hung out for a few hours after church after they ever so kindly handed me a gift card to cover my groceries this week.

needless to say, i leave church feeling encouraged, supported, and closer to the reason we gather together every week, and hope that others leave the same way because of me.

all that to say this: christians are flawed [including me]; there will always be churches who 'don't get it' and people in each congregation [and everywhere, really] who say and do dumb things, but if we stick around long enough, we may just find treasures amidst them; treasures like those i have found in the church in regent park.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

i'm not a mac fan, i'm 'adele' fan [some of you will get that later], and here's just a few of the many reasons why.

a minute into her tribute to george michael, adele stopped live television like only adele can, and asked for a do-over. "i'm sorry for swearing", she said. "i'm sorry, but i can't mess this up for him. i just can't" as she motioned for the band to start again.

i don't know about you, but i could relate to her in that moment.

sure, i've never been asked to sing in someone's honour, and i certainly haven't stopped live television in the middle of the most watched award show on TV, but i have made mistakes before. many of them, in fact. and so have you.

sometimes, as adele reminded us last week, things don't go as rehearsed. sometimes, just sometimes, things get messy and we could use a do-over.

sometimes, we can all use a dose of humility, too.

imagine having adele's resume; a powerful voice. millions of songs and albums sold. the ability to pack venues. award after award, including five of them in one night, and the list goes on.

now imagine having enough humility to admit that even a dynamic resume doesn't prevent you from making a mistake, admitting it, and starting over on live television.

truth be told, most wouldn't have even noticed that her first time was a little rocky - not even george michael - but she did, and that was enough for her; she had to make things right.

and if that wasn't a big enough dose of humility for one night, she then 'pulled a kanye' on herself.

years a go, as taylor swift was accepting her award for best video, the infamous kanye west jumped up on stage and told the world in so many words that 'beyonce' should have won that award, causing a lot of controversy, and giving TSwift enough ammo to do what she does best: write another song about a guy who hurt her feelings. [i don't know much about her dating life, but what he did that night was horrible].

kanye wasn't there this year, but kanye didn't need to be; adele so humbly told the world herself that beyonce deserved at least one of the three grammys that she won over her, stating that beyonce's album lemonade was brilliant, and 'showed another side to her'.

and right before that, she honoured greg kurstin, the one who wrote 'hello', by letting him accept the grammy for album of the year since he was so rudely cut off during his thank you speech an award earlier. ironically, the writer of hello didn't have time to say hello here.

but, thanks to adele, he got a chance to later, and in doing so, they both said hello to two things that all of us ought to say hello to: humility and honour.

"do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" [philippians 2:3-4]

Monday, February 6, 2017

i had a few hours to kill before i had to [wanted to] serve dinner in regent park with my church. i had a book in my bag, as i often do, and truthfully, i just wanted to be able to sit in a coffee shop and read it more than anything. but where? tims is cheap, i thought, but it's not necessarily the best atmosphere to sit down, relax, and read a book in. second cup is hands down my fave when it comes to their coffee selection, but i didn't know of any close enough to my church and feared that i may get too caught up in my book to make it in time. there was, however, a starbucks close by, but i really had to think about whether or not i could justify spending money on a latte when i haven't been working, and so i just sat there contemplating what i was going to do when my bus reached the big city.

what seemed to be less than a minute later, my phone made a ding, informing me that i had received an email.

"adam gilfillan had given you the gift of starbucks", it read. i tell you no lies; as i was sitting on the bus wrestling with whether or not i could afford a coffee, my friend was sitting in ottawa emailing me a starbucks card.

God knows our thoughts, and cares about even the 'little' things in life.

a week a go, i was sitting on the couch feeling lonely - like the deep, unshakeable kind of lonely. most days, i can force myself to snap out of it and dwell on the things i have to be thankful for, but i found it especially hard to do so this particular day. i was thinking about how much i missed my parents and how not having them around made me an orphan [i put this word in on purpose - keep reading], how i'm not married and don't have kids, how many friends i've lost over the years due to my brokenness or due to the fact that people [and seasons] change, all of which have the ability to make you isolate yourself even further.

BUT

my phone dinged once again. only this time, it was a text from my friend kari that said, "i've got youtube videos playing in my office while i work. this one popped up and as she prophesied over loneliness, i felt like it's a word for you".

i opened the link she sent me and began to weep. at the 4 minute and 38 second mark, the singer, amanda cook, began singing "this is the year your loneliness ends" over and over, followed by - get this - "he sets the orphans in families", a word that had been playing in my head all day. after a few more bars, she began praying a powerful prayer that i believe was for me in that very moment, and i felt a peace come over me. [for those of you who understand the loneliness i'm talking about here, i've included the link at the bottom of my blog for you to copy and paste in hope that it will encourage you also].

God not only knows our thoughts, but He cares about the state of our hearts, too.

i had this excruciating earache this week, and because of my past experience with this, i was terrified to go to the doctors. the first time this happened, the doctor - i warn you, this may get gruesome - grabbed not one, but two sharp objects - broke the cyst in my ear, and spent the next few minutes draining it as my mom held my hand. i bled for hours.

the second time, the doctor used a needle. A NEEDLE. he jabbed that big up thing in my ear and suctioned all of the stuff - i'll say stuff here in case you're eating as you read this - out, and i squeezed my friend's hand so hard that she needed an xray before we left ;)

SO
MUCH
PAIN.

so you can appreciate how petrified i was to go to the doctors this time [and why i would consider an ear transplant if there were such a thing].

in that very moment - again, i tell you no lies - i get a message on twitter from a friend i've lost touch with over the years, asking for my phone number. i gave it to him, and seconds later, he sent me a text.

"God says ... do not be afraid".

I CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, PEOPLE.

here i was, scared to death to get some huge needle stuck in my ear [and no hand to squeeze during it], and BOOM - another message.

needless to say, i jumped up right away while i had the courage, got dressed, and walked across the street to the walk in clinic, where a very hot [and i assume very rich] doctor looked into my ear, poked around a bit, whispered sweet nothings in my ear [at least i think he did, i couldn't really hear him], and prescribed me antibiotics. no sharp objects, no needle, nothing. just medicine.

do not be afraid.

i can't help but think about one of my favourite passages of scripture, psalm 139, as i sit here and reflect on the past few weeks:

you have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
you know when i sit and when i rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
you discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
[verses one through four].

he knew i was worrying about my finances when he put me on my friend's heart, he knew i was feeling lonely when my friend was listening to that song in her office that day, and how scared i was about going to the doctors last week when my friend sent me that text, and he knows which thoughts i'm wrestling with today, too.

as the above psalm clearly points out, he perceives our thoughts from afar!
our thoughts - not just mine, but yours, too!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2O5DbYppwk

Friday, February 3, 2017

twelve short months a go, i held my my mom's hand for the last time as her strong and courageous spirit departed from her cancer stricken body.

there were a lot of lasts that happened that day,
and a lot of firsts for me ever since;
365 days worth of firsts, to be exact.

the first time i woke up and realized she was gone.
her first birthday, a measly nine days later.
my first mother's day, thanksgiving, and christmas.
my first new years without a phone call from her at midnight.
the first time i wanted to call her, but couldn't.
the first time i really needed her.
the first time i was sick.

...and the list goes on.

suffice it to say, it's been a year of adjustment.

i once heard a grieving father draw a parallel between different weather patterns and the unpredictability of the grieving process, which resonated with me more than any other analogy i had heard before, or have heard since.

most days feel like winter, you see. you spend the little energy you have hoping for a snow day so you don't have to go outside and face the bitter cold. some days, you get your snow day; you cuddle up on the couch with some wine and a blanket, or, better yet, stay in bed, wrap yourself up in your covers, and distract yourself with some netflix.

but other days, you have no choice but to face the cold; you slowly get up, get dressed, shovel your driveway, scrape the ice off of your windshield, and face the day. the truth is, winter requires effort, and a whole lot of work.

but then there's the summer - the beaming hot sun and the pretty blue skies - both of which feel like a breath of fresh air to you, and something you don't take for granted.

these are the days where you jump out of bed, pack a lunch, and head to the beach with your friends. here, you tan, swim, laugh, and, maybe, if you're ambitious enough, throw a frisbee or two around.

but even on those days, the waves have their way of creeping up on you.

you notice a mother playing with her daughter. a friend says something that triggers you. your mind wanders during frisbee. whatever. SO MANY THINGS REMIND YOU OF HER.

and suddenly, right there in the sand, it feels like winter all over again.

the odd thing, though? as unpredictable as the waves can be, and as bitter as the winter can feel, you don't want a life free of either in fear that your memories will fade along with them.

the grief process is the weirdest thing! so is time; each day pulls me further and further away my mom's existence here on earth, yet has its way of gently pushing me closer to the hope i have of spending an eternity with her in heaven.

but for now, all i can do it try and keep my balance during the waves, do my best to brave the long winter months, and enjoy the sun when it decides to come out and shine.

miss you, mom. even though you're not with us anymore, you'll always be a part of my every day. xo

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a year a go yesterday, my gut told me that i needed to make my way to ottawa.

the next morning, i made the trek. little did i know at the time, my gut was right; the day i landed would turn out to be the last full day that my mom was alive.

below is a recount of that incredibly hard, yet beautiful day.

my sister picked me up at the airport with tear filled eyes. word had it that palliative care planned on taking my mom off of all of her meds [outside of morphine], and that mom, in her words, was out of it, and unresponsive.

driving there, i prepared for the worst.

those of you who know my mom won't be the least bit surprised when i tell you that she was waving at me as i walked into her hospital room a half an hour later.

"hi paula!" she said, with excitement.

all of a sudden i was having flashbacks of the time just before christmas when the doctors called us in to say goodbye to her for good. after an excruciating five hour drive, i arrived only to see my mom sitting up and smiling. "i refuse to die in december", she said, and she meant it.

but it was february now, and my mom wasn't doing well.

one of my sisters was flying in a few hours after me, and the other had a previously booked a tattoo appointment [which just so happened to be for my mom], so i had the chance to snag a little alone time in the meantime. she slept most of it, mind you, but i sat there holding her hand and letting her know how much i loved her. somewhere in there, i 'gave her permission' to go, assured her that i [we] would be okay [although i had to convince myself of the same thing], and let her know how proud i was of her, and of how well she fought.

moments later, she woke up gasping for air.

s-c-a-r-i-e-s-t moment of my life.

her hands clinched my chest as she took these long and drawn out gasps, and her eyes stared at me in fear, begging me to do something.

i yelled [in true paula fashion] for the nurse. my mom was suffocating - or at least felt like she was - and though somehow i was able to remain calm on the outside, i felt like i was, too.

what seemed like hours later, my mom was back to sleeping peacefully, and i was back to holding her hand.

fast forward to 9:30p.m.

the five of us were gathered around her bed when my mom woke up. she looked around, smiled, and grabbed all of our hands.

"there's so much castrucci love in this room", she said over and over before looking at her watch [which is something she had been doing consistently ever since my dad appeared in one of her dreams the night before].

i sat there soaking it all in, thanking God that i was there for that beautiful moment. so much castrucci love indeed.

little did i know, that was one of the last things my mom would ever say to me.

she died peacefully the next morning.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

some see the fact that i have experience, talent, and skill as a threat, others see it as being 'over qualified', but a good chunk of employers see the complete opposite. the latter immediately scroll to the education section of my resume and see that i don't have a degree, or any letters behind my name. i tell them that castrucci is long enough, but they don't buy it. instead, they move on to a more educated applicant.

the thing is, though i see the value in education, there are other ways to learn, too. life experience being the greatest teacher in my opinion, and i, for one, have a lot of that. [don't we all?].

i've applied to countless leadership roles in hospitals, coffee shops, book stores [who wouldn't want a discount?], airlines [see cover letter below], youth organizations, and the list goes on, but at this point i've only received two calls back. both, coincidentally, being in the youth department. my favourite.

i'm in the process of interviewing for a position that fits me 'to a T' - in fact, this very job description matches the non-profit that i've been working on creating. i filled out an application, sent my resume in along with the required five [yes, five] references, had a pre-interview coffee with the director, and am currently awaiting an email with the date of my upcoming two hour interview as i write this. things are looking good.

the other job i interviewed for was for a child and youth worker position in regent park, a community i feel 'called' to. i just, however, received a phone call moments a go letting me know that though she was 'certain the job was mine because i interviewed so well', she decided to give it an applicant who was, as she put it, 'more qualified than her'. she did, however, ask that i interview for a similar position that just opened up, but due to the fact that it starts at the end of march, i kindly turned her offer down. i have a lot of bills to pay in between now and then.

that being said, i have a lot of time on my hands, and maybe you don't. need help around the house? babysitting? painting? writing? speaking? want me to entertain you? holla for paula. i'll even give you a discount - if you're lucky ;)[i'm also happy to help you out for free if you need that, too].

now if you'll excuse me, i should make like a basketball and bounce, but before you do the same, enjoy this very clever [and humorous] cover letter i wrote a few weeks a go:

Hey West Jet!

I've been on 68 flights in the past decade - not including the perfectly good one I jumped out of last summer - and I must say, West Jet is hands down my favourite Airline to fly with, and one that I would be honored to work alongside.

I also, as you may have noticed, get bored on flights and deem 'counting how many flights I have been on' as a good way to the pass time from one city to another =)

I imagine, however, that nothing cures inflight boredom quite like taking care of people as they fly. I'm really good at taking care of people on the ground, and am confident that the same can be said of me in the air.

The only downfall, I must admit, is though I am an incredible communicator in my native tongue [English], I don't speak much French, Spanish, or any of the other languages you listed in your Ad. I am, however, fluent in sarcasm [the funny kind, not the hurtful kind], and am really good at speaking the language of love, which, as I have learned throughout my travels, transcends any other language. So does genuine care.

That child in 2B who's crying? I have a plethora of silly faces to distract him/her. 
That exhausted woman in West Jet Plus? I will make sure she gets plenty of rest, or coffee if she prefers. 
That nervous flyer in 10C? Being an experienced flyer myself, I'm just as comforting as the blankets you sell ;)

All 'kidding' aside, distraught guests or not, I'll do what it takes to make sure that every single person who flies West Jet sees no choice but to fly West Jet from that flight on, just like you do.

Besides, I look really good in blue and teal ;) Please hire me!

I've attached my Resume for your viewing and look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached by phone [I AM NOT PUTTING THIS ON MY BLOG] or by email [THIS EITHER] at your earliest convenience.

Thanks so much,

Paula

just for the record, i would never send this kind of cover letter to a company that didn't have a sense of humour.

ps. for those of you wondering, west jet didn't even humour me; the only thing i got back from west jet was a rejection letter. HA.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

i've been thinking about the importance of job culture as i've been sending off countless cover letters and resumes these past few weeks [all the while praying that the next job i land isn't as toxic as more recent ones have been]. and really, for me, most of the problems i've encountered along the way have come down to poor leadership. below are three key observations i've made as a manager, and an employee, over the years.

1) you get what you pay for.

i once got paid $0.25 more than minimum wage to manage a coffee shop. my staff's role? make coffee, and serve it. my role? the same + manage the staff we had during the daytime, count the tills and make the bank deposit, receive and put away coffee and food orders, address customer complaints, and so forth. realizing the weight of my responsibility compared to others, i asked my boss for a raise, to which he replied, "i can give you a $0.10 raise, sure". needless to say, i made like a baby and head out.

i couldn't help but think of this as i was hunting for a job today. it floored me when i'd come across someone looking to fill a management position yet only willing to pay $12/hour [which is only $0.60 above minimum wage, and $0.60 more than every other staff would get]. and even worse, i came across a detailed ad describing all of the employer's expectations of their future employee - and the list was many - followed by a "we pay $10/hour". $10.00 an hour? isn't that illegal?!

managers, owners, leaders, respectively, listen up - salary should be based on job description, education, and/or experience. good leaders pay their staff accordingly.

2) your staff don't listen to what you say as much as they watch what you do.

years a go, my boss was doing everything she could to get rid of one of my fellow staff members and would write her up for the most ridiculous things. one day, while i was in the office, i overheard her telling other staff that she was going to fire this certain someone today because, get this, she was wearing blue socks, not black ones as per our dress code. the truth is, my manager didn't even wear black socks - most people didn't - in fact, i had white socks on that particular day. i did what anyone else would have done [okay, maybe just what i would have done]; i pulled my pant leg up, showed her my clean, fresh, white socks and said, "i'm not wearing black socks, either, so if you're going to write ____ up, you can go ahead and write me up too". [for the record, no one got written up that day].

whether it's as small of an issue as following dress code, or bigger ones like being on time and possessing a strong work ethic, good leaders lead by example.

3) a thank you goes a long, long way.

encouraging others comes naturally to me. if you need a pat on a back, a 'you got this', or a 'thank you', i'm your girl.

that being said, i realize that it doesn't come as naturally to other people, but, and there's a big but, that doesn't change how vital appreciation is to your company's growth, and to those you lead.

at the risk of sounding too urban, happy staff create a good vibe, a good vibe = happy guests/customers/clients, which, in turn means, more of them, which, get this, in most cases = more money, which means, happy YOU. it's really not rocket science. we all win.

but what often happens is, we forget to show our appreciation. public acknowledgement. a pay raise. staff christmas party or dinner outing. THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO SAY THANK YOU, and so many benefits of doing so. good leaders appreciate their staff.

of course, being a good leader isn't limited to the above three things. there are other things that contribute - checking in with your team, understanding work-life balance, giving constructive feedback, allowing room for growth etc. - but these are the three that are dear to my heart, and this is my blog, so, well, you get what's dear to my heart.

until next time, friends.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

yesterday, we talked, but today, we still need to.

in 2008, i walked into a psych ward. i had to. my mind was going crazy and wouldn't shut off, so out of desperation, i walked into the hospital in edmonton, spent every ounce of energy i had left checking off boxes and filling out piles of paperwork, and sat there, alone, for hours, wondering what 'help' was going to look like.

what seemed like hours later, my name was called. i followed a lady down a long, bright hall to a room where two counselors sat across from me. i remember feeling such a sense of relief when i entered that room; i was finally getting the help i needed.

only, i never did.

the senior counselor, who sat in that room and stared at me, laughed at me and told me that i wasn't depressed, i was 'just unemployed'. so off i went an hour later, without any help, and still just as 'unemployed'.

somehow, i made it through. unfortunately, not all do.

i found a really great counselor out west, who helped me process everything i was feeling and assured me that i was 'normal'. thankfully, i had benefits to cover the costs. some don't.

i moved back home shortly after, but my depression followed. at times, it was circumstantial - other times, it wasn't - but both carried the same weight; both felt like a dark, suffocating cloud.

i tried the med route, and the counselor route again, but i couldn't seem to get the right fit with either. so i battled it alone. the truth is, a lot of people battle it alone.

after losing my dad in 2011, i put myself on a six month waiting list with an organization that offered free counseling because i couldn't afford to pay for it. waiting felt like forever, yet at the same time, gave me a reason to hang on. it didn't take me long to realize, however, that the man i was assigned to wasn't qualified to help me process my grief - something he willingly admitted after our first session - so again, i was left to battle my depression alone.

but somehow, i made it 'through'. again.

i gave counseling another chance a few years later, only to have one counselor, during my first session, tell me that the reason i wasn't in a committed relationship [which is not why i went to see him] is because i'm a lesbian [which i'm not], and the next one didn't know how to handle a client who didn't 'fit in a box', and i certainly didn't fit in his box.

and so i was forced to take ahold of my own life, something that unfortunately not everyone with a mental illness is able to do.

over time, i was able to come up with some tools to conquer my mental illness. there are days even now where i battle it, especially since my mother passed away, but thanks to these tools [a better diet, getting fresh air, doing things that occupy my brain and make me feel alive, finding a good counselor etc], my bouts of depression are less frequent and less intense these days.

but i remember them as if they were yesterday, which is why days like yesterday hit close to home for me.

thanks to bell's generous initiative, all of the their customers who sent texts yesterday, and all of YOU who included the hashtag #BellLetsTalk throughout social media, a grand total of $6,585,250.50 was raised for mental health funding - which is absolutely incredible - but let's not stop there.

while education and awareness play a vital role in any healing process, action is what paves the way for change.

education leads to understanding.
understanding --> compassion,
compassion --> action [or compACTION as i like to call it]
and action, change.

so ... let's be people who act! let's keep the conversation going. reach out to someone you know who is struggling. accompany a friend to the doctor's office. connect them to a much needed resource. help them search for a counselor, or better yet, help them pay for one if you're able to. [someone did that for me once, and i'll never forget it].

while ultimately it's up to the one struggling to get help [no one can help someone if they don't want it], we can all play a part.

moved about the stories you heard yesterday? let that which moved [and moves] your heart activate your hands.

bell, let's act.

Monday, January 16, 2017

my mind used to go crazy, you see – and not the ‘i’m going to hurt myself or anyone else' kind of crazy – but the isolated kind; no matter how many people i had in my life, how many people told me they loved me, or showed me, i made myself believe that i was alone, and because of that, i projected this particular thought pattern into all of my relationships. [we project what we believe].

so this is why i feel the 'need' to say hello to anyone who makes eye contact with me each day. it's my way of saying, "i see you".

we, north americans, live in a very 'image based' culture. we waste so much time searching for the right instagram filters [i know i'm not the only one] or picking out the right outfit. we spend money upgrading a phone we were happy with last week when there wasn't a newer model, or maxing out our credit to make sure we have the biggest house on the block or the best car in the driveway, and, on a smaller scale, we put a smile on our face when we're falling apart on the inside. whether you resonate with any of these examples or not, you fall into the image trap somewhere. we all do.

i was strolling through toronto this morning when i stopped to say hey to a fella sitting on the cold sidewalk. we didn't exchange much more than a few smiles and a few "have a great day"s, but we acknowledged each other, and sometimes, that's all one needs. sometimes, acknowledging a fellow human being is enough.

people often ask me why i have such a heart for the marginalized, and really, my answer is simple, and twofold: 1) because God does, and 2) because i can relate on a certain level. i do not, for the life of me, understand what it's like to lay my head down at night on a heating vent, or even a mat, nor do i know what it's like to sit on a cold and brittle sidewalk and rely on people's leftover change, but i do understand - whether my my mind played tricks on me at times or not - what it's like to feel overlooked and isolated.

our stories [what we go through and the pain we feel] connect to more people than we realize. how does your story connect with the people in your life? your family? coworkers? the strangers you pass each day? we may not get to have a heart to heart with everyone [who has time for that?], but we can, at the very least, take our eyes off of our phone, make eye contact, and say hey to each other once in a while.

i see you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! [or, in mariah carey's case, a not so happy one].

with the exception of my beautiful mother passing away, 2016 was really good to me. i knocked 11/12 things off of my bucket list; i conquered my fear of karaoke [i hate mics] and driving tests, watched the jays play in different parks, sat on a beach in the dominican, let my picasso out during paint nite, saw garth brooks live, and the list goes on.

in a weird way, i didn't want to say good bye to 2016. not because i feared this year wouldn't be as fun [it certainly will be], but because my mom was a part of it. [i realize i carry her with me everywhere i go, but it's different, ya know?]

i also realize that time is just an illusion, but changing a year - or a day, month, whatever - makes it seem more ... i don't know ... real? it's as if our lives are measured in markers and milestones, and time.

i can't wait for this year to be over.
tomorrow will be better.
this week sucks, and so forth.

but the truth is, time is just time; it keeps moving, and it certainly doesn't change because the date does. [how's that for encouragement?].

but, if we let it, it can be useful. and full of hope. but it's not the ticking of the clock that makes it meaningful, it's the way we spend it. the thoughts we think. the choices we make. the people we hang out with.

i started 2017 off on the right foot by quitting my job. [some of you may call that the wrong foot lol, but it was a long time coming]. after months of persevering and a moment of clear direction, i made the courageous decision to leave. i've since spent my time job hunting [i have an exciting lead and meeting on monday], singing, dancing, reading, studying poverty and homelessness, and hanging out in used book stores without a care in the world. seriously, i don't remember a time where i felt this happy or at peace.

do you have some changes you need to make in your life 'this year'? why not start today? because, well, the even crazier thing about time is that it's not guaranteed. not for you and not for me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

my hotel phone rang hella early. "room service", they said. only 'they' was my brother trying to prank me. "i'll get him back", i thought. only i didn't. i was too wrapped up in the beauty of the day that i had forgotten how it started. [he is so lucky].

before i knew my brother was coming to see me on christmas day, i had made a list of things i wanted to do to honour my mom and dad. the night before, as mentioned in my previous blog, i served christmas dinner in regent park in honour of my dad. he loved food and family more than anything else, after all. but today? today was about my mom.

i remember it as if it were yesterday. i arrived at princess margaret cancer centre to have dinner with my mom one night when she was undergoing radiation and she began telling me how she cried that day. my mother never cried - at least not admittedly - so she had my full attention when she began telling me how she saw a 'homeless man' scurrying through the garbage that day, and eating anything he could find. "could you imagine?!!", she said. without hesitation she opened up her favourite spider-man wallet and handed him a crisp $5 bill.

my mom, who was battling cancer and had every right to be selfish, wasn't selfish. instead, she was compassionate and generous.

so you can see why i decided to dedicate my 'operation hydration' to her this christmas. and it was extra meaningful to have my brother come along for the ride.

"let my humanitarian career begin!" he said, as we got out of his truck. oh how he makes me laugh.

we walked around toronto for a good few hours, talking to anyone who made eye contact, and handing out water and socks to anyone who wanted some. we weren't alone either; dozens of people were out doing the same thing. vans full of people, in fact. my heart was in a good place. so much christmas cheer.

everyone was so grateful and chatty. a man was in tears because he saw my brother's dog and missed his. a deaf guy started talking to me when i handed him a pair of socks. i had no idea what he was saying, and yet i walked away thinking about how beautiful our conversation was. our whole day was beautiful. even when my brother feared for his life and asked me where i was taking him. [did i mention that he makes me laugh?].

jeff and i went for lunch after, which was nice, before he dropped me off at home, where i was surrounded by love, too. 'auntie b' filled a stocking - my stocking - with good cheer. 'grandma robson' gave me a gift card, the kids spoiled me with a cool journal, and cards that i can send to my peeps, my neighbour bought me a rad puzzle, and my housemate sharon bought me a flying lesson at the brampton flying club because she knows how much i love airplanes and saw how excited i was when her son dan flew one. i felt so loved and taken care of. God really does put the lonely in families. [psalm 68:6]

i couldn't help but smile when i sat down at the dinner table and saw the ever so popular "christmas cracker' sitting on my plate. unbeknownst to sharon, these were my mom's favourite and a tradition in my house growing up. as i cracked mine, memories flooded in as if my mom and dad were right there with me.

presents are great - especially thoughtful ones - but presence is better. thanks to everyone who made my Christmas so meaningful. my church, the community at regent park, my brother, the people that stopped to talk to us downtown, the robsons, and especially, God. i'm so very thankful. xo

Thursday, January 5, 2017

check in was at 3:00, so naturally i, punctual paula, arrived ten minutes prior. i had somewhere important to be at 4, after all.

at 3:10, i was told by the man at the front desk that i "should go down the street and stay at the hotel that accepts cash".

you see, days prior to this, i had put just enough money on my pre-paid credit card to cover two hotels; one in toronto on christmas eve, and the other in brampton on christmas day.

only, i didn't account for the $250 incidental fee [which so happens to be more expensive than my room was] that was required at check in, and truth be told, they couldn't use my card any ways has i loaded it because there would be no way of putting the money back on my pre-paid card when they realized i was a responsible adult and didn't break anything.

look, i understand policies [or paulaC's as i like to call them], i really do, but i don't understand why he couldn't give me the room i already paid for, and be mean about it, especially at christmas, and especially because i had enough cash in my wallet [baller] to cover the fee. his solution? either call someone who, on christmas eve, had time to print out [and fill out] an authorization form, and send it back to him, or, as i mentioned above, "go down the street and stay at the hotel that accepts cash".

i ended up walking out 40 minutes later without a room and with tears in my eyes. here i was trying to be intentional about enjoying a christmas that could have potentially knocked me off of my feet, but instead left feeling stressed and upset. i took a deep breath and made a few phone calls, and thanks to a great friend having the time to fill out that stupid form, checked into my hotel just under two hours after i had stepped foot in front of the check in line the first time.

i looked around, threw my stuff into my room, and rushed to regent park, where i was expected an hour earlier to help serve dinner.

thankfully, it didn't take long for things to turn around. church - well, this church - is my happy place. i come alive when when i'm there and feel like i belong.

a few hours later, i stood at the back of the church and belted out some christmas carols with tears rolling down my face. come let us adore him. immanuel, God with us. frosty the snowman. just kidding.

but seriously, these songs have a way of into my heart, reminding me that God is ever-present in my life, and throughout my grief.

sometimes, he 'shows up' through the lyrics of a song - or through a tug on my heart - or, through one of my personal favourites, people.

shortly after the service ended, my friends, who just so happen to be the pastors of the church i go to, hung out with me for a bit, showered me with gifts, and bought me groceries for my hotel before dropping me off at the room i almost lost hours before.

but you know something? my day may have started off rough, but i sat in my bed that night with a sense that everything was going to be 'okay' this christmas. and it was.

stay tuned: part two coming at you soon.