Updated: Jul 3
Before you begin to read part 3, I wanted to say thank you to Courtney for being incredibly brave and vulnerable through this series. I know some of you have been waiting for part 3. If you haven't read part one, Don't look for me, it is a must-read.
Part two, The Colour Green, is also available to read.
We believe that being vulnerable is a weakness but it takes tremendous bravery to share a story that is life-altering. Now I hope you are ready for part three. You will be moved to tears. Here it is.
Have you ever stood in the middle of a room, with your eyes closed, and wanted nothing more than to go home? You’ll stand there, amongst the noise, movement, and smells of your space-eyes closed. You will fight the need to silently cry, and let the tears slip down your cheeks. You’ll want to go home, and you know you can’t. Because some part of you, some instinct deep in your chest will be yelling, everything is about to change. You can’t stop it. You’ll never go to that home again. The walls and floors haven’t changed. The nicks and dents are the exact same as they were a day ago. The paint the same colour. But your soul, in pain from its human experience-will want to go home.
We’ve been home from the Mental Health Unit for weeks now. The memories of those three weeks are vivid, and life-altering. The first three days, were tense, and tear-filled. Nic, in his anger of being hospitalized, didn’t speak to me. For three days, I drove to the city, counting my breaths, hoping and praying the magical fix had been found. Pain radiated from Nic, sitting next to him was like pressing against a bed of nails.
For three days, I sat and talked as if we were going for coffee. For three days, we sat on vinyl couches and walked hallways with forced joyful messages on the walls. The only voice echoing is my own. Three days, I was determined to show Nic, it didn’t matter the circumstance, I was there. Always there. I love you. The words caused him to recoil like he’d been kicked, and he couldn’t trust ever again. I saw myself in his reactions. I knew where they came from. He wasn’t capable of crying right now. The reigns so tightly wound on his emotions. For three days I wanted to yell, I UNDERSTAND, PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T DO WHAT I DID. However, all he knew is what he saw, all he knew was what was explained to him so many years ago, during my own hospital visit. So, for three days, I sat by him, with only my ramblings to soundtrack our visit.
I’m watching him now, play with his siblings; I’m taken back to my own memory. I’m 38 weeks pregnant. 250 lbs of determination, driving a minivan to a hospital in Calgary. I had, at this point been living with years of depression. Depression that had finally hit its limit. I knew if I had the baby with my husband present, I wouldn’t be able to complete my plan; so, I drove myself to the hospital that day. I take the elevator three floors up, to labour and delivery. I calmly stand in line at a triage desk. I have one hand on my belly, my hair is down to my waist, and tucked behind me under a toque. I’m surrounded by excited moms, nervous dads, and busy staff. I’m sweating with baby weight, and winter gear, I don’t notice. It's my turn, and I’m feeling nothing.
"Can I help you?” The nurse is in a little bit of a rush, and her annoyance is apparent. I’m not in labour and she can tell.
“You need to induce me. Today. And when he’s here-you're going to wait until I leave before you call his father.” It’s the determination, and monotone voice that catches her attention. She’s no longer looking at paperwork, but me. She’s unblinking, and still.
“Pardon? I need you to elaborate, and tell me exactly what is going on.” I can tell she’s going to give me a hard time. My plan is already unravelling. I’m shaking now, hard enough she can see it under my winter coat. My eyes fill with tears, and something is stuck in my chest. I’m only capable of whispering now. “Please, please. Just let me do this.” Only she can hear my begging. She nods and takes me through to a small room with a monitor. One bed is positioned in the middle in a place of honour. Tucked beside the bed, one chair-a chair that will remain empty. The lights are low, and she tells me to lay down and hands me one, two, three blankets. My shivering isn’t from the cold, she knows this. She’s hoping the weight will keep me calm long enough to get a Doctor in the room.
What follows is numerous evaluations. My whispered thoughts and fears are sketched down in shorthand on a note pad. I’m being admitted. But not for an induction. I don’t actually remember much. I remember electronic locks and a hard bed. I remember medication and sleeping. For five days, I lived behind a locked door, learning how to set up my own resources. Alone. It took me three days to realize, no one was coming. Three days, that’s all. No one came, and on the afternoon of day five-I drove home with a to-do list and a prescription. I don’t know what was told to my children. I do know my life was never the same. My stay was never spoken about among my family other than in hushed words and brushed off in flippancy. I never spoke of it again.
Part of me is jealous, as I think of the day a team of doctors, nurses, and councillors work to bring Nic enough peace to come home. It’s a “family meeting” I’m thinking of. I’m alone on one side of the room, facing a woman who loves her job, and isn’t paid enough. Two men, who are clearly younger than me, and haven’t seen what I have, other than in a clinical setting. One of them blushes every time I address him directly. The other who is tall and lanky has his legs crossed and is clicking a pen in perceived impatience. Its anxiety; the one-foot bouncing keeps catching my attention. All I’m thinking is I hate men’s socks, why do they look like that? I mentally make the choice to ask him how much they cost, and where he got them. No reason other than part of me wants to be astounded by it.
“The real work Courtney is at home. The hardest part is coming home.” This filters through as I stare at argyle pink socks and brown shoes. I’m tired of the hard parts; and my body is just realizing, they’re just starting. “I’m aware.” I straighten up, uncross my legs, and put both feet on the ground. I’m hoping she doesn’t see the terror in my muscles. The two young men keep looking at note pads.
“We have to have a plan, a coping plan. Something someone can reference should the need arise. But what I need from you-” my fucking soul maybe? “-is to lock all the medication, knives, rope, cords, and anything he can hurt himself with. You need to be the only one with a key. I cannot stress this enough you HAVE to lock it all up. I want to tell you this is over-” It’s not over “-But it isn’t over. It may never be over. Your home NEEDS to change. How you deal with stress NEEDS to change.” She’s a beautiful woman, giant brown eyes, and long brown curly hair. She looks like a cross between a helpful aunt, and a gypsy. The gypsy woman is now blurred as I blink back tears, this is feeling like a mountain. And I’m not ready for it.
What follows is a flurry of activity at home, bedrooms have been moved around, lockboxes purchased. Conversations with siblings, grandparents, and friends closely vetted by me. On that day, when Nic came home to stay-the the rules are set into stone, and I was their keeper. If I’m honest with myself the rigid stance isn’t for Nic, it’s for me. I’m terrified of waking up and not finding him. At least at the hospital, there were locks, guards, and cameras.
At home-there is me, and my brother. We are trying to keep every human in our house accounted for. My brain is now constantly counting one, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five. Five chairs, five cups, five plates, five heads. One, two, three, four, five. My life is now being accounted for by increments of five.
Two weeks in, Nic and I throw out the paperwork with all the plans. Its making both him and me crazy. Nothing in the past six months is going according to plan, and both of us are relearning how to live with all our newfound selves. The kid is moving forward like a rock star. We’ve put him into a different class with new students, a new teacher, and a fresh start. He’s being allowed to be who he is now. I’m checking obsessively with the school, every day-phone calls, emails, and I’m even stopping by unannounced. He’s moving forward and I’m the one standing still in fear now. The world around us has hit its refresh button, and I haven’t stepped out of the shadow of his hell.
I didn’t want to be there. My entire body is hurting, I’m tense from fear. I wanted to turn around, walk back to where I didn’t feel afraid, and vulnerable. I didn’t want to walk through this uncharted territory of self-discovery and healing. I’m hanging on to anger with one hand, and hope in the other. As if the momentum of one will catapult me to the other. Something in my soul is whispering, it's singing in a tone so low It would be easy to ignore, but it never stops. Anger is heavy, it weighs us down, it’s a vampire of health, and it was really destroying the fragile hope I was holding so close to it. It starts slipping through my fingers, like the slime you make to gross kids out.
As the final sticky piece of anger slides away, the whispering is yelling at me now. He's not the only one. Don't let him go alone, he isn’t the only one. Watch him teach you. You too. You too. It was time for me to admit I was needed in this raging shit storm called transition. If I didn’t drop everything, I thought I knew our lives would combust, and go down in flames. It was time to move forward with my son, and my family.
The last six months of our lives-January to June- have completely changed. Everything set into motion was to set up a new future for our home. We are all coming out of a mourning period. My family is stepping foot into a new space in our lives. One where we are learning to walk with our ghosts, hand in hand. To speak their truth is to own our stories. My kids and I call them our origin stories because, in our darkness, we fought pain, fear, doubt.
For a few weeks, our family was scattered and disjointed. We found love, on the outskirts of what we thought we knew. It was only through this I saw my son smile again in excitement; I heard my kids fight over who gets the next turn on the video game. When one wrong move, our lives would have been one voice quieter. One smile short, and memories of happy blue eyes would have ended at the age of 12. One choice, one determination to let him know he is never alone, brought him home.
I don’t know how Nic’s story is going to end. It’s not really mine to mould. I’m merely an observer and cheerleader. Nothing will ever be the same again, I know that much. It's terrifying, but it is on the other side of fear, greatness happens. It is on the other side of terror, that origin stories are built. It is the scarred, bruised, cracked, and broken that makes the impossible-possible. Whether they are laying a foundation, breaking down doors, or yelling for those who can’t speak; it is the rebuilt person that will lead.
Leaders are made through trial and failure. They see tears of pain; they witness and experience pieces of inhumanity. Leaders cry so much more than I ever realized. I do know-Nic is capable of leading, more so than ever before. He can pull himself out of the dark, and can now express injustice better than most adults. That’s MY son. And this was his origin story.