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SHIFT STORY project

I see it with every woman I serve - their hand reaching out, in search of assurance & connection.

We are afraid.

We feel insignificant...unqualified. 

Our story seems unimportant. Sharing it would be an imposition.

But, our story has the power to breathe life into another, to connect and inspire, to strengthen and bless.

 

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕁𝕠𝕒𝕟𝕟𝕒 ℤ𝕚𝕤𝕔𝕙𝕝𝕖𝕣 

 

On July 27, 2018, our family went through something we never thought was possible. It was a typical morning and we were at our cottage. My husband, Juergen made strawberry pancakes for breakfast. Our daughter Emily, 5.5 years old at this time, went to her bedroom to lay down in bed. We found her curled up in a ball on her bed crying and saying her tummy hurt. At first we didn’t think much of it... tummy aches are pretty routine. 

 

For months prior she complained of an occasional sore tummy, but once again I did not think much of it and I was going to mention it to our family doctor. The odd thing was, that it came in waves. As the morning went on, she threw up. I suspected a flu bug. As the day went on, I made the choice to take her to the hospital. We carried Emily in and were taken in immediately. Within minutes we were seen by a doctor and sent off to get an ultrasound. Emily continued to scream and curl up in a ball in waves. I lied with her in her bed and she would sleep off and on. We were told that it was not her appendix, but they did see something around her ovary and were on the phone with Sick Kids. The next thing I knew we were in an ambulance with Emily to Sick Kids - lights and sirens all the way. I was so scared but continued to be strong for Emily. She held on to my hand the whole ride up. 

 

We arrived with Emily at Sick Kids with my husband right behind us. We then had to go for an ultrasound again. Emily was still in a lot of pain. We then met Dr. Allan from the gynecology department. Emily had what was called a twisted torsion of her fallopian tube. She needed surgery and we had to sign paperwork, which was incredibly scary. It was not just signing a piece of paper to say please fix our daughter, it was giving permission to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries if needed. 

 

This was my baby girl, who I hoped would become a mom one day. 

 

Emily was finally sleeping and comfortable, so we gave her a kiss and said I love you as they rolled her bed away from us. We waited for what felt like hours when Dr. Allan came out. We went to a quiet room for her to talk to us and were told that everything went well. Her fallopian tube was twisted around 2 times, hence the pain. However, we were also told that her left ovary did not look like a typical ovary. We spent the remainder of the night at Sick Kids. She had stitches at her belly button, and on each side of it. Before we left that day, Emily had to have a hand x-ray to show the age of her bone growth. In less than a week I received our first phone call from Sick Kids with test results. 

 

Emily was producing estrogen. My little girl had her first period within a few weeks of her surgery. We went back and forth to Sick Kids for further tests. She had blood work done a few times, more ultrasounds, full body x-rays, and an MRI. My heart broke for her every time she had a test. We honestly had no idea what was going on. With frequent communication with Sick Kids we learned that Emily had started puberty. She had started to develop breasts, had some vaginal hair and her bone growth was 2 years ahead of her age - she had a large tumor on her left ovary. We were introduced to the ‘hormone’ doctor and between him and Dr. Allan and her team, they felt that the best and only procedure to do was to remove her tumor, left ovary and fallopian tube. We signed the scary papers again. 

 

The day of Emily’s surgery was probably the most anxiety that I had felt. I put on my big girl pants for Emily to show her that she would be fine. I remember her being so scared and snuggling up on me in the bed. Nurses and doctors coming and going. Emily was already to go, but there was no way in hell she was letting go of me. She clung to me so tight. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do as I was trying to hold myself together for her, but tears were coming down my face as I was trying to convince her to go back and lay in her bed so the nurses could take her. Juergen tried and she was not having it. 

 

In that moment, the nurses said that I could go with her, but I had to get changed to go in. I remember putting on the thin paper-like jumper, blue boots, and a hat to cover my hair. Emily then climbed back into my arms and I walked with her to the operating room. I have been in an operating room before but bringing in my little girl was so hard. There were nurses, an anesthesiologist and Dr. Allan. Emily had to put a mask up to her mouth to help her get a little sleepy, but of course did not want anything to do with that and I was not allowed to do it. She had to do this part on her own. Finally, she was able to do this, still in my arms and holding on tight. They had her count and you could hear her starting to get sleepy, but she was still holding on tight. I was able to have her lay down on the bed, still attached to me and they put the IV in. She was finally asleep, and I just stood there watching her. I was reassured she was in good hands and that I could leave her. I gave her a kiss and left with a nurse. 

 

I got back to the waiting room and saw Juergen and I just cried. This was the first time I felt I could let it all out. I know she was in the best hands possible but trying to hold myself together for what felt like forever was so hard. I don’t even remember how long Emily was in there for, but I do remember when Dr. Allan came out and said everything went well and they only had to remove one ovary and her fallopian tube along with a very large tumor of over 8cm. I remember going into the room to go and see her and she was hooked up to so many machines and they were trying to wake her up. When she was stable, we were moved to a room to spend a few nights. Not only did I have to deal with Emily, but I had to deal with the fact that my other 3 children were at home with their grandma. This was the very first time I had ever left them for more than a few hours, let alone a night. I spent the night with her snuggled up in bed while Juergen went to the hotel to get some sleep. He came back and I was able to leave and take a shower, which was incredibly hard to do as I had not left her side. I remember walking quickly and showering as fast as I could to get back. 

 

I could not leave her. I needed and wanted to know she was okay. We celebrated our 18th anniversary in the hospital with our daughter...one we will never forget. We continued with testing and regular check ups with Sick Kids. Not only were we learning, but so were the doctors. This is an incredibly rare thing, so rare that it took two biopsy places to conclude what Emily’s tumor was. I remember getting a call saying we needed to come back to Sick Kids for October 1. That day we learned that our baby girl had cancer called Stromal Tubular Tumor. HAD being the key word. It took everything in me to once again hold myself together, but yes, I did have a few tears going down my face, with Emily not truly understanding. 

 

We were reassured that the tumor was removed and there were no further signs of cancer and no required treatment. She was ok and would continue to live a healthy life and be monitored for a very long time at Sick Kids. Today Emily is a healthy young girl. The estrogen that was produced by the tumor is now gone. Any physical parts that started puberty are visible but are no longer developing.

 

During this time, I had no idea that  my mental health was taking a severe hit. When Emily started back to school, I stayed off work. I had no idea I was going to take a year off. I went into a depression like I had never experienced. When Emily was at school I worried and kept my phone close. I was so afraid of something happening. I just wanted security. The hard part was I could not provide that for her or for my other kids. I remember many days where it was hard to just get the kids ready for school and out the door in the morning. There was so much yelling, no patience and anger. My doctor put me on low dose antidepressants. I was not sleeping and was exhausted. I would sleep a little through the day occasionally, but most of the time I would just lay there. I watched so much TV and ate. I made cookies just to eat the cookie dough. 

 

My doctor suggested that I go and talk to someone. This was a big step as I had never done this before and did not know if I could open up to anyone. A friend recommended a wonderful therapist who welcomed me with open arms. I shared my story and so many more as time went on. She gave me steps to try and find my way back. The problem was I needed to work on me, which also meant finding time for me...and let’s be honest, being a mom of 4 kids makes this incredibly difficult at the best of times.

 

Sleep was impossible. Nothing seemed to help. One day I received a message from an old friend...I am so incredibly grateful for her for reaching out, as we had not talked to in years. She heard I was not well and wanted to help. I did not respond right away. I do not ask for help and do not accept help easily. It came to the point where I felt I had nothing to lose. She was a massage therapist and I truly believe she was part of my healing process. She did her magic and we would talk on a weekly basis. She also introduced me to wild orange essential oil. I used this to help with my depression even though I was skeptical. I tried serenity oil and capsules, vetiver and cedarwood. I still thought she was crazy, but for the first time in months I started to sleep. I was sleeping through the night. I finally understood the power that essential oils had on my body and understood what she was talking about. The sleep may have happened quickly with the oils, but the depression still had a long way to go. As I was dealing with all of this, we were trying to get things started on building a new house, as we had a house fire on a property we owned a week after Emily’s first surgery. Also, I had to fight with long term disability to be covered, which was denied, not just once but three times. I went with no pay for a long time which added additional stress. I always had something I was trying to deal with. Over time I was able to heal and to be able to function as a mom to my children and a wife to my husband...and to be me.

 

Do I ever feel that I am the same as I was before? No, I don’t. When I see an ambulance with lights and sirens I cry instantly. I went up a size or two in clothing during this time and do not feel beautiful most days. I worked so hard to get to a weight and a look that I could love myself physically. This is something that I struggle with daily and continue to always work on. I am so incredibly grateful for a friend that checked in on me daily, and to a husband that was beyond patient and there for me through everything. I have 4 beautiful and healthy children. Do I think twice about tummy pain with any of my kids, yes, I do. But I also look at Emily and realize how lucky we are to have her in our life as things could have been completely different. She is a strong and independent little girl that I admire more every day. I am reminded of what she went through each day, whether I see her large scar or even her beautiful face - but I carry on. 

 

I carry on for my family and for me too. There are good days and bad, but that is ok. I learn more and more about me each day and I will take those learning opportunities to help my children grow into strong adults.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕂𝕚𝕞 ℍ𝕒𝕘𝕝𝕖

Ontario, Canada

I spent the first 40 years of my life hating my body. As a child, I was painfully shy, clumsy and slow. I was the last kid picked for every team at school. I first thought I was fat at the age of 8, when I tried on a bathing suit and my mom and aunt giggled about how I had the “family pooch”. I know they didn’t mean anything by the comment, but it sure grabbed hold at the time.

I spent my childhood, teen years and early adulthood trying to avoid the embarrassment of physical activity and secretly cycling between binge eating and starving. I did my first real diet when I was 22, and the next 18 years was a wash-rinse-repeat cycle. Diet/workout - lose weight - lose willpower - fail - quit-gain weight - hate myself - start again.

After I had my third child, I hired a personal trainer. This was the start of understanding food and exercise in a different way. I got into working out and running and I REALLY loved it - I felt strong and powerful for the first time in my life. learned about clean eating, and thought I had found the ticket to escaping the diet cycle. In 2012 I became a personal trainer and started my schooling in Holistic Nutrition. I was passionate about nutrition and exercise...to a fault. It became an obsession, and all I really cared about was being thin. I got to my lowest weight, a size 2, and everyone praised me for how “good I looked”. But I was MISERABLE!

I felt I had to be perfect all the time because I was a role model to others.

I felt isolated and ashamed and like a complete fraud. When no one was looking I would sneak foods and then go for an extra long run the next day (which I did NOT have time for, but HAD to do). I knew all the things I should do, and I did them - but I was doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

Eventually my body had enough. I started to gain weight and I literally could not control it anymore with food or exercise. I tried dieting again but I couldn’t stick to anything. Over-exercising resulted in a major injury that grounded me for over a year. Not being able to run or exercise was devastating for me - I realized I NEEDED that outlet for my well being, not for weight control. I HAD to change to stay sane.

I worked with a coach and we went deep into my self image. Long story short, I gradually started to improve my relationship with myself, with food and exercise, and eventually my body.

I stopped punishing myself with restriction and over exercise and focused on truly feeling my best. I listened to what my body wanted, I levelled out at a medium sized body, and I broke up with the scale for good.

Through it all, as I’ve shared my experiences, I’ve realized I am not alone. So many women are riding the diet train, believing that if they could just have the “perfect body”, suddenly everything will be better.

I’m here to tell you, happiness isn’t a destination, or a dress size. It’s a mindset; a product of our thoughts, and it’s my mission to help women make the connection between their feelings, thoughts, behaviour and results.

I re-entered the wellness industry healed to help women find freedom around food and their bodies.

Get to know how Kim’s approach is so very beautiful and different by following her on fb @ Radiant Vitality - Empowered Wellness or IG @ Kim Hagle - Radiant Vitality

#shiftstoryproject
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ℕ𝕚𝕔𝕠𝕝𝕖 𝕂𝕚𝕣𝕔𝕙𝕟𝕖𝕣
Ontario, Canada



Question:  Do you like who you live with? 

Now, I’m not talking about your spouse or your kids or even your pets (and let’s face it, in these COVID times, the answer you’d give to that might be a little... influenced right now).

The person I’m talking about is someone who has been with you since day One.  Your inner roommate.  That person whom you share your every thought and feeling with.  The person who is there intently listening and influencing your every move.

I did not like who I was living with for most of my life.

Starting at a relatively early age, my inner roommate was taking precise stock of my shortcomings and wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of when and where I didn’t measure up... in school, in activities, but mainly in my physical appearance. The assault of beratements she’d lay on me left me feeling worthless and empty – an emptiness that I began to fill with food.  Food became my friend, my confidante. It never judged or denied me.  It was just... there.  And as you might imagine, this routine of low self-esteem and worth being muffled by emotional eating patterns only led to (ta-DAH!) weight gain and even lower self-worth.  I kept up this pattern – a habit – all throughout adolescence, which gave my roommate something to talk about.  By this point she could hardly stand me and made her opinion known every chance she could get.

Highschool – which, let’s face it are some of the hardest years to navigate – are the years where we’re trying to figure out not just what we want to do, but WHO we want to become in this world.

And I felt like I was losing myself more and more.

Winding down high school and looking ahead to post-secondary adventures, something inside me clicked.  Maybe it was all the feelings of possibility and change that were on the horizon, but I felt inspired.  I started taking charge of myself and not letting my roommate dictate my every move.  Always the skeptic, she thought she would stand back and let me try this new behaviour out, but carefully waiting in the wings for when it failed and she could tell me, “I told you so!”.  I began exercising. Nothing drastic or overdone, just simple movement.  It began to take the place of comfort for me instead of turning to food, and the weight started to come off.  I felt great... and people noticed.  My inner roommate was doing cartwheels over the attention and was digging on all the external validation this new behaviour was bringing.

And then my roommate got this brilliant idea...If a little is good, a lot must be better. Less food, more exercise.

Restriction must be the key to success. 

Because I was so busy with all the change happening in life, I didn’t hear my roommate plotting her latest takeover.  And to be honest, I liked the newfound attention so I was eager to keep up whatever I needed to in order to make it happen.  It gave me a sense of control – or at least I thought it did.

See, my roommate was a smart and crafty bitch.  She’d quietly done her homework, gained my trust and made a new friend whom she invited to come live with us.

Anorexia.

After that, there was no more calling the shots.  I was tired and they had worn me down.  It was easier for me to not feel anything, and so I let my eating disorder take over.

Fortunately, I have a caring and conscientious support system.  It didn’t take long for my mother to go into full momma bear-mode on my new guest, getting me to see any doctor, therapist or specialist in our area that she could (and in the mid-nineties, lemme tell you there wasn’t much available!).  With her help, and the help of Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, I was able to get the support and treatment I needed to evict anorexia from my life (however she did leave behind a t-shirt to remember her by).

During this time, something else happened.

I met a boy.

And this wasn’t just any boy... he was one of those boys that mothers love and fathers just can’t seem to find any fault in them.  He came into my life when I was messy and broken, and he bravely accepted me in this disastrous state.  He made me feel safe.  He made me feel loved.  He made me FEEL again.  And eventually, he made me his wife.

We were into the ‘roaring twenties’ - that decade of new love, new careers, planning a wedding, buying a house, making a home.  A life.  I was the happiest I could remember being since I was a child.  My inner roommate had been pretty quiet once it became her and I again.  She would speak up every so often with a jab or criticism, but I was just too busy to really pay attention.  Life was happening... I became a mother, a business owner, I began teaching fitness classes and building a tribe of support. 

I was settling into a life that was... comfortable. And then I began to feel an itch.

An old familiar voice that was calling out to me, reminding me that this was not enough, that I was not enough.  My inner roommate had this overwhelming need to change me, and all I kept wondering was, “What’s it going to take?  WHEN WILL I BE ENOUGH??”.

I wished that I could just evict this damn girl - life would be SO much easier if I could.  But wouldn’t you know it, she signed a life lease.  No getting out of that one.  I needed to find a way to make this work.  I gathered myself up and went in search of the next quick fix... but instead found something that ended up being life-altering.  I thought I was getting into a new “diet”, but I ended up in what I call my year of therapy.  I had coaches and support that helped me peel back the onion layers of all my actions, behaviours, habits.  For the first time ever, I took accountability and ownership of my life and my actions.  I stopped being the victim and began being the champion.  I forged a new path with healthy habits that nurtured both my body and my mind.

After 37 years, I had finally done the work and repaired the relationship I had with food, my body and myself.  My roommate and I – we had finally come to a place of mutual respect and admiration.  I had learned how to put my own oxygen mask on first.

And I had done all of these things without the knowledge that my plane was about to go down...

By November 2016, we were facing some tremendous industry challenges and decided to sell our family-run business before more change took place.  It was just the right time and the right decision for us.  Throughout all of the stress that we had encountered, I stayed calm, focused and felt as if I could conquer the world (whereas normally I would be flying off the handle).  I finally felt like my shit was together, neatly filed and colour-coded.

But something was off.  Something was lurking in the shadows and was about to attack.

That something came on November 9, 2016 when in the midst of negotiating the sale of our business, my husband – that boy who so long ago accepted a messy, broken girl – died by suicide.

As this news came to me, and the world beneath my feet gave way and I (literally) crumbled to the ground, I heard a whisper...

“It’s okay.  You will be okay.  I’ve got you now”.

My roommate.  My friend.  She showed up when I needed her the most.  And she helped me to see - in the darkest of dark – all the amazing love and support that we had cultivated in our life.  Instead of anger and panic, I was overcome with gratitude for this life.  For MY life.  For who I had become and for who I could be right then for others, because they couldn’t be there for themselves.  She gave me the strength to carry those that needed to be carried through this, especially our daughter.

This is about as true and raw an illustration of the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first.  It is the power of true self-care and how much we all need it.  This isn’t a luxury, or something to be put off until later.  No, this is a necessity.  A critical life skill that every man, woman and child have stocked in their tool box.  If I have learned anything, it’s that life is happening to us all the time, and happening at a moment’s notice.  The question to ask yourself is... are you (and your inner roommate) ready for it?

It’s been three and a half years since Adrien left us, and I am forever grateful for my roommate’s love and support.  She is still here to help when I need her (which is always), and has been trying to help me navigate the new world that we find ourselves in.  Widowhood comes with it’s own set of challenges, like an IKEA cabinet with no instructions.

But that, my friends, is for another story.

XO,
Nicole

#shiftstoryproject
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ℂ𝕙𝕣𝕪𝕤𝕥𝕒𝕝

Ontario, Canada

 

I grew up as the child of an alcoholic. It had interesting effects on me, the biggest one being that my highly empathetic natural personality was magnified. I became a fixer, a doer and a pleaser. I became a feelings-hider.  No one needed the burden of my feelings when they were dealing with their own. Maybe that’s why it took a lot of encouragement to tell this story.

 

What’s even more interesting is that the alcoholic I grew up with was the one person who was not safe from my feelings. 

 

When I was a teen, I told him exactly what I thought, and no longer played the codependent game with him – for him, I wouldn't be the person to make things ok. I stopped taking his drunk midnight calls. I called him out on inappropriate behaviour. And to this day, we don’t have a relationship. I “don’t approve of his lifestyle” is the overall impression I’ve left. I see him once a year. During that visit, we dance around small talk.

 

Being a pleaser and fixer, I have always attracted men that need that. Angry, abusive men that need me to calm them down and make them happy...I’ve lacked the courage to express what I need in return. I’ve been in relationships with men who lack the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Some I recognized right away...some took longer. 

 

I have had a few relationships, but with long breaks in between to recover. I met a man in my 20’s who I allowed to string me along, and when I found out I was pregnant, he chose not to take part or responsibility. I learned to be really efficient at getting shit done, being a fixer and a doer, and not getting into relationships because my son was more important than anything.

I was fortunate – I’d bought a house with my mother and sister when I was younger, and we lived together. They took such joy in my little boy, and were a great support to me during this time. My son was in the care of my mother the day she passed away at home, at the age of 56. When I arrived home from work in the evening, he was still in his pyjamas, and she was on the floor of the living room, having passed 7 hours earlier. To this day, I have a fear of losing people I’m close to, but at the time I didn't grieve. I put my head down and continued fixing and doing.

 

Fast forward a few years - I met a man. He turned into my best friend, he was good for my soul and he supported and encouraged me in my work and life. We got engaged after a year of dating, bought a house and got married. Then the mask started to slip. He became emotionally abusive, chipping away at my self-worth. I went through days of the silent treatment for no reason, months of withheld physical affection. I got accustomed to little traumas, every single day. I allowed him to isolate me from friends and family. I allowed him to control the finances. Then, everything was wrong, and it was my fault. After 3 years’ marriage, he discarded me.  But in a final act of insult, he first encouraged me to quit a job that I’d been unhappy in, while at the same time he quietly started a new relationship and started to plan his exit. I started my new single life unemployed, with a tiny self-employment income. 

 

I had met the classic narcissist, and had allowed myself to go through the whole process. Idealize. Devalue. Discard. 

 

Being a fixer and a doer, I never recognized my own strengths and achievements during that time, but I see them now as I write this. In quick order, I secured employment, got a mortgage and bought a home. I moved closer to my big, huge supportive family and started a new life, just my boy and I. We worked it out, and despite financial troubles, he enjoyed summer sailing camps and other exciting experiences. I enjoyed very little. I was too busy working hard to make things work, losing sleep over finances, feeling not enough in every way.

 

One day, during a job change, I met a group of people that changed my life. A group so real, so honest and brave, that I was able to be myself, and I was able to magnify my desire to help others in a positive, meaningful way. That has meant the world to me.   

 

Last June, I got sick. Since 2006, I’d had several episodes of Bells Palsy, a nerve condition that causes facial paralysis and a host of other symptoms. This time, it came with debilitating nerve pain and complete exhaustion. It has impacted my life greatly, forcing me to slow down my life to a crawl, forcing me to stay quiet when I’m normally not, forcing me to back up how I connect with others. There hasn’t been much relief, but I’m grateful to say that I’m now connected to a caring neurologist who is on track with testing and scans to see if there’s a cause, and to see if we can find a treatment.

 

The past year has been hard for this fixer and doer. Having dropped a lot of non-necessities, I have had to learn to sit quietly and be alone with my thoughts, for the first time ever.  It’s been a learning experience, not always good, but I’ve had the chance to reflect on what life is all about. 

 

It turns out, life is not all about fixing and doing. I’ve found that the purpose of life is joy, finding it and helping others to find it. It’s the only thing that matters. 

 

Learning to find the joy and learning to recognize it in the little things is my mission now. And yes, sometimes it’s a struggle. But quiet time helps. It helps me to sort out what is important to finding that joy, and what isn’t. It also helps me to see that in the little details, there are little flashes of joy - and these add up to way more than they seem, individually.

 

These days, I find joy in helping others to recognize their own joy. This has been the biggest blessing to me of all.

 

Chrystal xx

#shiftstoryproject
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𝔸𝕤𝕙𝕝𝕖𝕖 ℍ𝕒𝕝𝕝

Ontario,Canada



From Loss to Light

July 9, 2011 was the happiest day of my life. I was marrying the man of my dreams! We had goals, we had plans and we had our future all mapped out. The Game of Life was just beginning for us. We were young, hopelessly in love and couldn’t wait to start our family. I was so excited for Nic to become a dad (as he is truly a big kid himself) and I had always been a mother hen and couldn’t think of anything more I wanted in life then to be called “Mom”.

As the older sibling to a brother 4 years younger and the eldest grandchild of 6 on my moms side, I grew up as the mature, responsible, dependable, over achiever who reached for her goals, excelled and watched over everyone younger than me along the way. My female cousins were my maid of honour and bridesmaid at my wedding and my friends had just started to settle down and make their own “grown up” plans.

When Nic and I started trying for a baby we were filled with the usual emotions - hope, curiosity, anxiety but most of all, excitement. We began thinking about what our life would be like as a family of 3 or 4...
stuffed animals for the nursery, cute names for our children and daydreaming which of our parents would be called Grandma, Nana, Grandmama, Papa or Gramps. It created so much joy for us. We were giddy with the idea of planning my career around being able to spend some time at home, once little ones were underfoot.

Little did we know, about a year after our amazing wedding day, one of the most difficult journeys of our lives would begin. The next 2 years of our marriage were be filled with a miscarriage, months of checking temperatures, fertility treatments, thousands of dollars spent trying to conceive, needles, blood draws and syringes full of medications. We had dozens of out of town trips to the fertility clinic, an early miscarriage of one twin at 8 weeks, followed by many specialist appointments after receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis. I learned that I had extremely low platelets in my blood (without any issues during my childhood or young adult years), which left me wondering “where the hell did this come from?” There were emergency room visits, around the clock monitoring for internal hemorrhages and an emergency surgery after yet another loss at 16 weeks pregnant and my husband being called in the middle of the night by the surgeon telling him that he and my parents that they better get back to the hospital in London ASAP. 

While being rushed into surgery at 2am for a D & C due to the loss of our 3rd baby still inside me, and then yet another loss on the date of our 3rd anniversary, I struggled not knowing how long my husband would stay by my side and in our marriage - as I felt broken, depressed, useless and gut wrenchingly guilty for taking away the one thing I felt he wanted most - children. I remember tearfully asking myself if I would ever be a mom? The short and long answer, we have now come to know and accept…is NO - not in the traditional sense anyway.

My husband Nic is a supportive, kind, happy, easy going, life is great, glass half full kind of guy….who married an extremely loving and nurturing soul but I was a self-conscious, overachiever with an extreme fear of failure…who now had lost 4 of his babies! My self worth was intrinsically tied to my ability to succeed in whatever I wanted…yet, this was something HUGE that I was not able to control, or have the ability to “fix”. The intense planner in me could not “plan” for this upheaval. I could not plan for my stolen dream.

We never would have imagined that our life after all the losses would turn into scheduling specialist appointments, going for weekly blood draws at the lab, Adoption/Foster Parent training every week for 14 weeks, the breakdown of a potential adoptive match (due to a 3rd cousin once removed that finally came forward to take care of the 2 young brothers we were hoping to adopt), a toxic work environment in my management career and 3 job changes for Nic.

We were lost, struggling with why this was happening to our “family plans” and I was in a dark place of high functioning, paired with depression, guilt, loss of self-worth and my once colour-coded, by the book “life plans“ were out the window. My body was tired from the rollercoaster of fertility treatments, lost pregnancies and stress.

The quote “It takes a village” has become a staple in my life over the past 5 years. Usually people refer to this quote when raising a child, but for Nic and I, it took a village to move forward and heal from the trauma we sustained in such a short (felt like forever) timeframe in our twenties. We are so incredibly fortunate to have parents and close friends who have been by our side through every step, especially now that I am living with a chronic blood disorder.

My husband is my rock, and I am thankful every single day that I chose a partner who truly is IN this with me…for the long haul..through sickness and health…through good times and bad. I do not know what I would ever do without him.

Now in my mid-thirties, my close friends and cousins have begun their own families and are entering the world of parenthood, I find myself caught between great excitement and happiness for their new journey and deep seated feelings of resentment, jealousy and envy that they are living the life that I want so bad. How I deal with these feelings has been a turning point for me. I have to constantly remind myself that I am writing a new chapter in my book of life. A life without my own biological children but one filled with many other people that I am able to support, love and nurture.  My plans have had to change…and it has taken me 5 years to be able to say…it’s okay.

Thankfully, and I think what has saved me mentally and emotionally from a dark path, was the birth of my best friends’ little one. We became Auntie and Uncle instantly to this new gorgeous baby and had the fortunate opportunity of providing care for him weekly as we became part of my best friends “village”. With the addition of his younger brother 3 years later, we now have two incredible nephews, who have spent many many days and nights here, over the past many years. We have been able to watch them grow, learn and explore the world and fill part of the void in our hearts that I didn’t think would ever be possible.

I have worked my way through the windy path my life has taken, with all its unplanned and unexpected emotional and medical twists and turns.

The positive side, the light after all the dark, has been the most rewarding journey of it all. I took my emotions and feelings of loss, grief and guilt and have tried to find ways to feel useful, supportive, nurturing and giving to others’ lives. I have become actively involved in numerous charities and boards of directors in my community. I mustered up the courage to leave my toxic career and open my own successful business. I teach dance and mentor young children and teens, raise money for a charity in my town and overseas and have become a self-help book junkie! I work with a transformation coach and have come to learn that I am a work in progress and to try to find joy in the journey. I am sharing my story, not as one of pity and negativity, loss and grief, but one of resiliency, strength and support.

I want others to know that we are all dealing with issues that are not always visible on the outside and that is it okay to talk about what we have been through. I have found my tribe - those people I want to surround myself with, who lift me up, support me and encourage me to keep moving forward. If you are reading this and need someone to join your tribe, add to your village and shine some light into your life, please know I am here to help.

I may never be completely healed, but these days…there is a lot less dark and a heck of a lot more light!

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕂𝕖𝕣𝕣𝕚

Ontario, Canada



While adversity seems to be a constant theme in the pages of my story, I like to think that victory plays just as large, if not a larger part. It is so easy to rest on the negative, to snuggle right down into it and stay there in its warmth. I have found comfort there.

Some of the most significant aspects of my story include trauma from my parents’ divorce, triumph over a long road of failure in academics, an attempt at self-harm as a teen, losing 3 children to miscarriage but having the sheer will and want that lead to the miraculous birth of my three sons, bringing a child, born with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome into the world and growing my acceptance, along with finding myself inside of motherhood.

I no longer view these trials as negatives. I value the tools, strength and resiliency I acquired as a result of enduring them.

Lessons I value from overcoming my trials continue to guide me through life. I find strength in the fact that I was able to crawl out of each and every hardship...even in the darkest of times. I am eternally grateful for the people who stepped up and helped me. My incredibly strong mother and sisters, simply by standing by me and holding my hand, along with extended family, doctors, my husband, my loving children, friends and even strangers.

We simply never know when we are helping others...

It would also seem really odd if I didn't mention my own strength and depth of character - I think is has a lot to do with my success. I’ve grown and matured through every experience.

My parents divorce had long-standing, devastating effects on me which occurred at a very impressionable stage in life. A time when it was natural to blame myself, a time when I needed both of my parents the most, a time when I was trying to figure out who I was...was clouded by what I thought I had done to make my parents break apart. It had a tremendous effect on my academics, which eventually rolled right into my lack of self worth. That lead to a very dark time when leaving everyone I loved behind seems to be the only aspect of my life that made any sense. How I see it is that amazing heroes in my life, along with my want to feel better helped me to rise back up.

I was blessed with tools that helped me to understand that my parents separation had nothing to do with me. That fact alone took away some of the shame for struggling with academics. That feeling as though my family was broken, that I could not learn, that I felt so helpless, was the reason why suicide seemed right. Like a game of dominoes, all just fell into each other.

Every time I have faced misfortune, heartbreak or a blow, I have used the tools that I was given or learned through psychology, growth and life's lessons to wiggle my way out of the dark and back into the light. Admittedly, it does take longer when working out deeper challenges, but I always get there.

On top of that mixed bag of healing power, I have also adopted the philosophy of sharing light with others as absolutely much as I can and with anyone that I feel may need it. I lean into my vulnerable side in order to do this and have found even more purpose there.

I noted above that darkness and negativity can be an odd type of comfort. I think that's true simply because it's easier. But oh how the sun feels when it's shines upon your face. All of the hard work that you have put into yourself is right there in those rays. I have come to love how continuously working on myself, on my marriage and relationships with my children, family and friends is where I love to live life the most!

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕂𝕒𝕣𝕖𝕟 𝔾𝕒𝕣𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕖𝕣

 

Love to Spare

In February 2018, we received a phone call from my husband’s cousin saying that the Children’s Aid Society had given him three weeks to find a permanent placement for his niece or she would be taken into their system. At that time, our family consisted of me, my husband, my 11-year-old kiddo, and a host of small family pets. My husband and I were both full-time teachers and our intelligent, loving, polite, artistic child was enjoying and excelling at school, karate and Guiding. We had a very stable, loving household and no real stressors to contend with. It was a relatively quiet home where disagreements were discussed, a conclusion was come to, and life carried on. We were very content and comfortable. The idea of taking on a three-year-old as we ourselves were hitting the mid 40’s mark, was not something we were going to ponder lightly. The only thing we felt certain of was that we already had an amazing family and love to spare. So, as we had always done, we discussed and debated all the possible scenarios that we could think of (enter foreshadowing) and agreed to accept this little girl as part of our family. 

 

Our family made a few visits to meet Autumn in both her home and doing fun things in her city three hours away from us; we didn’t want to be complete strangers when March Break came and she would come to live with us. This sweet little girl was eager to go with us, complete strangers, and she spent the times with us being as cheerful as ever. Despite the obvious adorableness of this three-year-old, we made some immediate and some gradual observations about this beautiful little girl. Her eyes seemed dull and her hair, it had chunks taken out of it from where she had given herself multiple haircuts, to the scalp. At three years and three months old, she had five baby words in her vocabulary, her name not included. Not only could she not say her name, she didn’t even recognize “Autumn” as her given name. She called herself “baby”. She was not even close to being toilet trained. She could not dress or undress herself. We’d been told she was a picky eater, which turned out later to just have been an aversion to the spoiled food that had been in the fridge in their house. She had dead teeth and despite coming with a box load of electronic toys, she had no toothbrush. This cheerful little girl was not checking many of the boxes on the CDC’s list of developmental milestones. 

 

My husband and I began to realize that we hadn’t been given the whole story prior to committing to a life-changing decision. Despite being cousins, the families weren’t close, and it never entered our heads that our new little one would be lacking in so many basic needs of survival. Very quickly did we realize that this child was unlike any we’d lived or spent quality time with. We moved her in with us during March Break so that the three of us could at least be home together for the week and then my husband took parental leave in order to foster an attachment to our family and home. We were all aware that this must have been a horrifying experience for this little child. She had been taken from the only family she knew, to live with near-strangers...and we, as a family of three, had ventured into this major life change with little more than the notion that “we have love to spare”. 

 

One of the first things we discovered was that this little person didn’t know how to sleep like the rest of us did. She wouldn’t nap during the day and she wouldn’t sleep at night. We worked tirelessly to instill a calming bedtime routine and to get her to sleep at night, only to be woken up shortly thereafter by her screaming. She would get out of bed and yell, make that shriek, for extended periods of time. She had no language to communicate what she wanted or needed, but it was clear that she didn’t want to sleep. Each time, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour per episode, we would eventually get her back in bed only to be awoken again shortly thereafter and go through the whole horror again. One night, she woke up 9 times, each time standing in her doorway or in the hall just shrieking...and it seemed like nothing and no one could calm her down. Even when she would sleep, she had night terrors and nightmares, multiple times a night. EVERY NIGHT! We were exhausted. My husband and I would take turns trying to soothe her and get her back to sleep. Nothing worked consistently and we were losing our minds as quickly as we were losing sleep. Then the daytime tantrums began. These were tantrums the likes of which I had never seen or heard before. A wild animal emerged, screaming, biting, hitting, hissing and throwing absolutely anything she could get her hands on. Once again, my husband and I would alternate trying to calm her down. We resorted to earplugs so that we could be in the same space as her and not suffer hearing damage. We handled each situation in different ways, trying anything and everything we could think of. Nothing seemed to work.

 

The help that this child needed was more than we could give, and it was breaking us down, mentally and emotionally. I tried reaching out for help. I contacted the local counselling programs and put in a referral. I went to our clinic, and put in a referral. I put in referrals for speech therapy and was sent a letter stating that she would see a speech pathologist in 8 months. Eight months???? In the life of a 3-year-old? So, I hired a private speech pathologist who would travel 3 hours to our small town to work with Maggie once a month. I even signed myself up for parenting courses thinking that maybe it was me. In the mean time, we tried our best to survive and to heal this little person. Have you ever read the book, “Have you filled a bucket today?” I equated this tiny human to someone carrying an empty bucket, not just with a hole at the bottom, but with the entire bottom missing.

 

Our new goal was to fix her bucket and to start filling it up as best we could. My husband had been taking her to playgroup every weekday so that she could socialize with other children. They went for walks twice a day. When my big kid and I were home, we would play games, sing songs, read books and dance in the kitchen. My big would play creatively and imaginatively with Autumn and showed her how to take care of a dolly. We tried everything to fill her little bucket and yet the tantrums continued, and the sleep didn’t come. We introduced her to her new extended family where she was embraced with more love and she fell head over heels for her new cousins who adored her just as much. We took her on family trips and tried to give her as many positive experiences as we could think of.

 

We took her sledding, we took her swimming, we praised every single good choice she made. We tried to empower her by giving her choices. We listened to morning positivity videos that repeated the fact that she always tried her best. We put “I Can” posters where she could see them and attempted to give her strategies to use when she was getting angry. Eventually we got in with the pediatrician, and the child psychiatrist from Sick Kids and even a pediatric cardiologist because it turned out that what had killed her mother had been a genetic mutation that stopped her heart, which our little Autumn also has.

 

After almost a year of struggle, not to mention working through custody arrangements and court dates, the psychiatrist labelled her with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, in partial remission. Oh thank heavens! A year after starting, we were finally in partial remission. Our little girl, our daughter, still struggles with emotional regulation. My husband, big kid and I all tense each time we see a regression in sleep habits or tantrums. But despite the odd fit and regressions in sleeping through the night, she is thriving. She loves to learn. She loves to read. She asks questions non-stop and wants to be included in every aspect of our family life. And she is. She adores her family both near and far and we all love her. She has many friends from daycare and her first year in school and even is learning to take care of her own pet chicken named Elsie. I’m often fearful of what the future might look like with my incredibly spirited, volatile, inquisitive and relentless child.

 

I hope every day that we are giving her enough strategies to help her learn to emotionally regulate in the moment, and in the future. I know that we made a choice to disrupt our family comfort and I know that we did a good thing for this child. What I’m also learning is that by disturbing our comfortable existence, that we, as a family of three, have not only given a second chance to a tiny human, but we’ve grown stronger as a family unit and while we’re not out of the woods yet, we are now a family of four with love to spare.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕁𝕚𝕝𝕝 𝔽𝕝𝕠𝕣𝕖𝕟𝕔𝕖

Scotland, UK

 

I think I've always been a positive person and try and see the good in everything but sometimes that just doesn't work and you have to go through immense pain to realise that this is life raw and real.

I met my first husband when I was 21. He was 30. I was pretty besotted! He was my everything. I knew family wasn't part of our plan as he had two kids to a previous marriage but as I approached 28 I realised that 'maybe' I'd changed my mind! After a lot of thought we decided our only option was IVF as he had to have a 'reversal'.
After 7 years and 2 attempts Maxwell was born. Considering we were given a 4% chance of conceiving naturally we were stunned when a year later I was pregnant again and Jack was born!

It was all a bit of a whirlwind and with his long spells of being away offshore for work, I found myself quite lonely and stressed with the 2 boys under 2! We did the expat thing for 5 years and it was all kinda glamorous....Ireland, Spain, Canada and France to name a few. We were happy, or so I thought! I noticed he had changed, he started taking an interest in his appearance, listening to different music and strangely didn't drink coffee with me anymore!! I knew something was wrong.....

To cut a long story short, he was having an affair with a Brazilian woman 20 years younger than himself. He lied, cheated and made me suffer for 2 days till he “decided" what he was going to do.

The boys were 6 and 8. I had a wee part time job at the local playgroup. HOW would I manage? I fought and I fought to keep our home. Promises were broken when he said he wouldn't hurt me anymore. The pain of him leaving was excruciating....it was like someone sawing off my right arm with a blunt knife. I couldn't eat, sleep or function on any level.

Fast forward a year and an old school friend told me about ENJO. A cleaning system from Austria. I wasn't ready to hear about it.
Another year passed and I was open. Instantly I saw something that excited me. The next day, I joined the company - strange considering I was a sceptic! I quickly realised I had purpose again and I felt alive! It was amazing!!
I felt PART of something very special. I was recognised and celebrated which wasn't something I was used to at all. I had a new circle of people and I loved it all.

I had always been in Ian's shadow as he had the overseas job and made good money, but for the first time in my life I felt noticed and worthy. I felt I deserved everything that was coming my way. My first trip which I qualified for was to New Zealand and my lovely boss toasted my success...it was a bittersweet moment. If Ian hadn't left me none of this would have happened. That was 9 years ago.
ENJO has provided for me and my 2 boys. Yes I work hard and I play hard! I've learnt about self development, management and leadership. I love to learn now. This opportunity has made me
always willing to learn and better myself. My kids have learnt so much from me and are both very entrepreneurial themselves!
Maxwell is now at Uni studying chemical engineering in Edinburgh and Jack is almost through to trying out the navy. I am SO proud of them!! They are my world and we have done this on our own. They haven't seen their father in 7 years.
He pays 50p per day per child maintenance so I am doing this solo really. He married the girl and now has twins...

ENJO also allowed me to find my new husband! He loved ENJO and wanted more fibres!! We were born the same week, were in hospital in our cribs together and went through school together! He's so supportive of my job and he's always there to keep me on track!

Life throws things at you. Time does heal. I can't forget stuff that's happened but what I can do is let it go and say it's okay. I'm doing good and I'm very proud of my journey. If there's anything I've learnt it's to follow your gut instinct. See yourself for who you are and don't let anyone take you down. You are enough xx

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕄𝕖𝕘𝕙𝕒𝕟 𝔹𝕠𝕒𝕤𝕥

My journey to having a family is not traditional. At the age of 32, I found myself single, in a new town and after a few failed relationships, wondering if having children would be a life I would have. I was in no rush to meet someone and it felt like time was against me.

Then I met a same sex couple and their son, and a question arose in my mind:  If they can have a family without a man, why can’t I? This started my journey into fertility and becoming a single mom by choice. I found the process ridiculous. The fact that I had to meet with doctors and a social worker to discuss my “readiness” to be a single parent just seemed “off” considering I could have easily chosen a more irresponsible (but definitely more cost-effective!) way of attempting to “get pregnant.”  Do other single moms have to talk to men to get permission?

I began the painful journey of jumping through fertility hoops. It started with a tubal dye test which only proved to be partially successful on my right side, with the left side blocked. The pain was so much that they had to pause the test and the results were inconclusive. This will become important later. I had 6 IUI and two chemical pregnancies, one that looked promising… until it wasn’t. After three failed attempts they suggested laparoscopic surgery to see if there were any blockages. While in surgery, they repeated the tubal dye test to find the same result as before but findings on the LH side were noted as insignificant and I was told I should be able to get pregnant.

I started the gauntlet of fertility medications that made me so sick I unable to sleep for days and when I started seeing tracers, I was quickly taken off the medication and told some women have been known to feel suicidal.

I had to wait for two months to get the medication out of my system. As we ramped back up, the meds gave me painful ovarian cysts - another price to pay for the potential of a baby.  And then in August of 2011 I finally got pregnant on my 7th IUI (medicated).  I was warned it could be twins but luckily there was only one. Being single and very pregnant felt impossible. I had acquaintances and neighbours and strangers ask me (in public!) who the father was. I have never been asked so directly or indirectly who I was sleeping with (or in this case, not) in my life. It felt invasive and exhausting, yet if I said nothing it felt secretive and shameful. It took a lot of time and soul searching and courage to find words to express myself in a way that felt safe. 

 

My daughter’s Birth (Trauma #1)

I arrived at the hospital at 7:10 pm and my girl was born at 8:23 pm. There was no time for an epidural and the pain felt inhumane and without any reprieve.  She was 10 pounds and I only pushed for 20 mins.  I didn’t know at the time, my body and brain processed this event as trauma.

I felt “off” after she was born. I was happy and loved her but I often felt dizzy, unwell and almost like I was watching things happen from outside of my body. I didn’t understand how others seemed to have babies and enjoy their lives simultaneously. I was really struggling. She was needy, didn’t sleep well and I was starting to feel the effects of post-trauma which I believed was just how you feel after having a child. I remember wondering if I had ruined my life but feeling I couldn’t complain about it because I had “chosen this.” Things improved with time, although the fatigue and dizziness didn’t dissipate completely but I learned to manage it and I was able to cope and enjoy parenting more.

Fast forward 10 months to when I started to consider having a second child before I was too old. I tried IUI again and got pregnant the first time. But this time I was very sick.  I went to the doctor twice stating I had back pain. I was told It was just constipation from the pregnancy and was sent home.

That weekend I thought I was going to pass out at Walmart. I assumed I just needed to eat, did so then went home to rest. That Monday I called my fertility doctor and said that I had been to my family doctor twice and he said I am likely fine but I felt something wasn’t. He agreed to see me but since I had been seen by a doctor my ultrasound was booked with him for Thursday, he didn’t do too much. By Thursday could hardly sit because my back hurt so bad. I was crying a bit by the time he did the ultrasound. Then he uttered words I will never forget, “Don’t move, you are very sick.” And then he left the room. 

“Don’t move” ….I was quick to realize he was worried I would bleed out or pass out from the blood loss.  I DROVE to this appointment alone… I was led to believe nothing was wrong. I was taken immediately to emergency surgery and was told I was miscarrying (remember that left tube? I had a ruptured tubal pregnancy) my abdomen was full of blood. I was told they may need to take everything depending on the severity of the damage. I started making calls to be sure someone would pick up my daughter from daycare while nurses were putting in 4 IV’s…. I have had many surgeries with one I - I knew this was serious…

I was at a teaching hospital so I heard the “teaching” of the amount of blood in my abdomen and what could happen under anesthetic. Everything was fast - my phone and earrings were being taken from me in the operating room - there was no time.

I remember thinking, I wonder if I will wake up. I prayed for my life. I told them it was fine to take everything (fallopian tubes/ovaries etc), but I had a daughter and she needed a mom so I just needed to be alive. This was Trauma #2.

After the surgery,  I was so elated to be alive that I didn’t know the trauma of the loss of the pregnancy was lying dormant somewhere in my brain, but months later when a friend lost her baby days before birth, that trauma surfaced. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt horrible that I was making the sadness about me when the loss was hers. I knew then that I couldn’t ignore my own trauma any longer and then I got REALLY sick. I was dizzy all the time out of nowhere. I would bolt awake at night. I felt like I was having a heart attack or like I was going to pass out all the time. I was losing weight fast (I had always struggled with weight gain so this was very odd for me). I lost 66 pounds in 6 months and doctors were trying to find out why. They tested my thyroid, looked at diabetes, a brain tumor and more. I saw specialists and naturopaths and continued to decline. I started to have full blown panic attacks usually in my sleep so then I became afraid to sleep. I was a mess.

I had to move in with my parents; I could no longer take care of myself and my daughter. I spent a lot of time in bed. I was sure I was dying until finally, I was referred to a psychiatrist for a consult who diagnosed me with Post-Partum Panic Disorder. I was medicated and what I refer to as my magic pills literally made me better in less than two weeks! I was back.

Two years later (that miscarriage shook me enough to take a long break) I felt our family wasn’t complete and I decided to try again. They were able to leave one fallopian tube and so we tried two IUI that didn’t work and then now based on my age it was suggested I try IVF.

They implanted two embryos and one stuck. At the age of 40 my second guy arrived (with an epidural!) after only two pushes. He was early and in the NICU but I cannot explain the difference between these two births.

Caring for two children during a pandemic is hard. I did have to take a mental health break from work this year when work, life and the pandemic came crashing in but I will say this: the above sounds harsh, however, it got me here. It was an unknown journey I knew nothing about and at times I felt soul crushingly lonely. 

Here is what I have learned: 

Those who judged my journey or feel that kids need a man in their life don’t know me or my kids. We are good and I teach them love is love and family are those who show up in the good times and the bad. They have so much love in their life and they are happy children.

If you are going through fertility, remember that doctors have a very important repertoire of learned information but only you how you feel and you are your best advocate.

If you don’t feel right after having children go and talk to someone who can help to uncover if you have a post partum diagnosis (which includes after a miscarriage). You are not a failure if you struggle with mental health for any reason including the onset of mental health after any pregnancy, loss and/or birth  (I was diagnosed with Post Partum Panic Disorder that I believe was triggered by the quick, painful birth and solidified by the miscarriage that was life-threatening). You cannot control the chemical response your brain and body creates but you can and should get support.

Finally, I will quote the great Michelle Obama, “When they go low; we go high”. Remove those who do not have the ability to be a part of your tribe in a loving, supportive and respectful manner.  We have worked hard to build a stronger, more loving support system for our family and we are truly living our best life! It was a difficult journey, a steep climb and sometimes I fell but it really is oh so worth it! Me, my kiddos aged 10 and 5 and our three fur babies are a team; we have a special bond and a great life that was and is worth the climb.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕊𝕥𝕖𝕡𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕖 𝕍𝕒𝕟 𝔻𝕖 𝕍𝕖𝕟

 

Owner, Country Spirit Wellness Farm 

www.countryspiritwellnessfarm.ca/

Certified Meditation Teacher

Professional Writer & Blogger 


 

Adopted 40 years ago, I never thought the feelings of abandonment and loneliness would travel with me for so long. Being an only child, raised on a tobacco and horse farm, you'd think it would be every little girl's dream - and for the most part, it was.. except for the loneliness part. 

 

I spent my days and nights riding my BMX bike on the farm, talking to the horses and snuggling kittens on warm bales of freshly cured tobacco. Fresh farm air, acres of property, and a quiet country road with horses and ponies everywhere -- seems dreamy, doesn't it? 

 

I think that's where my introversion started, and where I found my love and passion for peace, belonging, and animals. And while I appreciate this now, back then it was achingly sad for me. I never felt like I fit in - except for when I was with my ponies. I had older parents who gave me everything I needed and more, but didn't understand a lot of the Canadian ways (they are Dutch immigrants) and because we were on the farm, we were so busy that I didn't have the luxury of being able to see my friends all of the time like I wanted to. My parents did their very best, but as a kid it just kind of sucked. And don't even get me started on having the "cool" clothes or shoes. That wasn't a priority on a farm. But, it was for me.

 

And then the bullying started to happen at school. I was made fun of on a regular basis at school. Picked on all the time. I was too small, I was too short, I wasn't popular, I was adopted (yes, I was made fun of for that too) and the list goes on. I became shyer, more introverted, and I just wanted to be with my animals, at home. At least they didn't make fun of me, or hurt me. I never understood why kids were so mean.. I just wanted to go to school and be accepted. It was hard. I cried so much, and thinking about it I could still cry now - these deep wounds are taking a lot of time to heal.

 

As the years carried on, and I grew up just a little more I went to college for Broadcasting (me? the introvert?) Yes! The funny thing was I loved being on TV, and excelled at it. I loved being on the radio, and I could speak in front of thousands. But where I really wanted to be was home, quiet, peaceful and calm with my animals. 

 

I've traveled all over the world. I've worked in corporate settings, I've planned major events globally, I've been on TV, on the radio, and it was only until recently that every little part of my life became clear to me and my broken road (as I like to call it) became smooth. I knew I couldn't hack the corporate life anymore - it was making me sick, unwell, and mentally unstable. 

 

While working for a real estate agent recently, I was visiting a property for my employer to check on the home because it was an empty listing. I had seen the photographs as I was the one marketing the listing, but I'd never gone in. I decided to go take a look and it was as if this place was already mine. From the moment I stepped onto the lush green grass overlooking miles of farmers fields and flanked by gorgeous pine trees I knew it needed to be mine. 

 

I wasn't ready to move, I wasn't prepared to do this and wondered how was I going to afford this financially? I started freaking out but at the same time I knew I would make this happen. That's just me. Find me a problem, and I'll find you a solution - each and every time. I had no money saved, but I knew I needed this house and farm. Every particle of my soul said; Go Get It Girl!

 

In what felt like seconds, the Universe magically aligned everything together for me like perfect puzzle pieces and I trusted the process. All of a sudden my home was sold, and I was moving to my picture-perfect farm just minutes away from Paris Ontario. Before everything was signed I walked through the property one last time and I asked and prayed for a sign because I was scared, excited, nervous, worried and elated! Walking outside the house to the exact same spot I had walked just a few days earlier, there was an old rusty horseshoe facing upward. There it was. My sign. It wasn't there before. I knew it wasn't. And now it was. My lucky horseshoe now sits in my front entrance way to remind me of how lucky I am.


 

A little backstory - I'm a single Mother, and have been for 13 years. I had just finally gotten out of an abusive relationship with a textbook narcissist, and my health was not good- and this was all throughout the thick of COVID. I had just had a huge falling out with a long-time friend, and had surgery, plus my son was battling a horrible situation at school where the entire school board was involved and the stress levels were high to say the least. But everything came together. I am in my house, with my son, and my wonderful dad has been building a horse paddock, and shelter for me and my horse. I've been building my business with offerings like a country picnic experience, Airbnb, retreats, yoga, kids summer camp and more.

 

Soon Spirit, my horse will come home and I'll have everything I've ever wanted and more. 

 

I learned that I am the kinda girl who makes things happen. I'm the manifesting queen! And at Country Spirit Wellness Farm I am so unapologetically me - it's like I never knew myself until just now. This farm is magical, and I have arrived back to me, that happy little farm girl who spent her days with horses and animals and because of it, I'm creating a place of peace for others to heal and recharge as well. It’s so important to me. 

 

There’s no one here to make fun of me, no one here to make me feel unwanted or unloved. It's mine. And I'm building it with love, one 2x4 at a time. I’ve truly never been happier. Funny what a farm can do for your mental health and state of wellness.. 

 

It is my hope that by reading this, you can relate in some way and know that anything you want - absolutely anything - can be yours when you don't give up. 

 

As Dr. Wayne Dyer said: " When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change". 

 

See you at the farm!

XO 

Steph

#shiftstoryproject
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ℂ𝕠𝕣𝕣𝕪𝕟 𝕓𝕒𝕞𝕓𝕖𝕣

This is a story of self-doubt, imposter syndrome. Who did I think I was? A Starving Artist.

 

When I graduated university with my Bachelor's degree of Fine Art and $60K in student debt, my office job who had promised a marketing position said I was meant for better things and gave me 30 days notice after I submitted my application for a marketing team position. The only job available that was paying in my area was a part time minimum wage job at the local art museum. That was not even going to make my minimum payments and although I knew I was talented, the "starving artist" cliche and the imposter syndrome got the best of me and so I plunged into finding other work. 

 

NO WHERE WAS HIRING. If they were, I was over-educated for the positions available. I gave great interviews, but these "entry-level positions" didn’t honour the 3 years of experience I gained from all the jobs I did during school. A friend who had recently started for an insurance company said I should interview, and with only a week until my 30 days was up I went and got the job. I was a 100% commission-based traveling insurance agent suddenly and the world of finance was daunting.

 

Later I found out everyone who was legal to work in Canada got the job, but that didn't stop me from working my butt off. My now spouse, Jon, had worked for years in a factory, we bought a house between my third and fourth year in university and he maintained it. After supporting my passion for 4 years we decided in my second year of working for the insurance company he would quit.

 

100% of our financial security was on me now and I ended up leveraging my experience in finance along with my management skills to obtain a salaried position at TD Bank in Woodstock. But it still wasn't enough so I got second and third jobs and also started advertising that I could create art. 

 

I walked into a local coffee shop, steps from TD called The Burnt Brick. I bought a coffee, asked if they were hiring, and begged them to let me update their chalk menu board. They agreed to both hire me and to let me update the board during my shift! It was my first big project and the first time working with a small business and dammit if it didn't make my heart soar. Early Bird Coffee was the brand poured and sold at the shop, so through word of mouth they reached out to me when they had the amazing plan to open up their own Cafe and Roastery.

 

Creating their window decals and menu boards was such a thrill and I did a good enough job for other small businesses to take notice. By 2020 had shared my artistry with more than 10 local businesses. That’s when Take Wing Artistry was born! Then, BAM, pandemic.

 

My bank branch closed, the world was on fire and no one knew what was happening. I was sent home with no work (but fortunately, TD maintained my pay as a salaried employee) and no longer did I work for the coffee shop. I took this sudden burst of free time and turned it into working with more small businesses that needed attention. The emphasis became on supporting local, and I went from 10 to 15 to over 30 businesses locally that held a piece of work from Take Wing Artistry! 

 

I found various stay-at-home work opportunities for myself through the bank even after they reopened the branch so my time was spent in a home office/art studio all day, everyday. Jon was home too and after being stuck indoors together for a year we figured out we kinda love doing everything together! With the housing market going crazy and a house selling for an insanely high price across the street from us we decided to take a HUGE leap. 

 

We sold our house in 2 weeks, then bought a 20' shipping container and started downsizing! We leased a 2022 Subaru Wilderness, filled an entire U-Got-Junk truck and started giving our things away to family and friends. Everyone thought we were INSANE. To be fair, it was entirely against the normal brick and mortar, 9-5 job, where you work to retire at 65 lifestyle, but we unsubscribed from that brainwashed way of living a long time ago. We wanted to really LIVE on our own terms and see it all without an end date on our travels. We packed up the Subie with our two Australian Shepherds Casper and Skye and hit the road. 

 

We started in northern Ontario. After getting our first vaccine in North Bay we had tragedy strike on some back country overland trails when our dog, Skye impaled herself on a jutting branch she didn't see before leaping. Thank God for the Subaru or she would have died before we got to the emergency vet. When we handed her to them we had traveled a 1.5 hours worth of rough back road terrain in about 45 mins thanks to Jon's amazing driving and navigation skills and a LOT of luck. 

 

She lived but she had no way to heal with us living out of our car. We stayed at a Ramada Inn for a week then packed her up and headed across provincial borders towards my parents place in Ormocto, New Brunswick.

 

While Skye healed with my parents we tipped a kayak in the Bay of Fundy, drove along the coastal trail of New Brunswick, took a bridge to PEI and then a ferry to Nova Scotia and experienced the intended beauty of the Cabot Trail. After a quick hello to Halifax, a month had passed and Skye had healed enough to continue our tour which we were now determined to make it a coast-to-coast affair!

 

Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba & Saskatchewan were quick stops. Unfortunately, the smoke from the BC wildfires had blown as far as the plains of Manitoba. After experiencing our first mountains on the Atlantic Coast we were anticipating some insane views as we entered Alberta and headed out from Calgary, but the satellite view on Google maps showed the mountains covered by smoke. Entire mountain ranges were faint or not visible even while driving directly alongside them. Determined to beat the haze, we headed north to Banff where there were a few days of reprieve from the smoke and we saw our first glimpse of how MASSIVE the mountains were! 

 

Over the next two months we traveled to beat the smoke - from Banff we took the Icefields Parkway into BC and went along the absolutely stunning HWY 99. From gorges to logging trails, we took almost every backroad we could and explored the intense heights of the mountains. Whistler was amazing and when we were again chased out by smoke we headed to Vancouver Island. The dogs loved the ferry rides by this point and we drove from the northern tip of the island to the southernmost tip, then finally to Tofino to dip our toes in the Pacific ocean, signifying the completion of our coast-to-coast tour of Canada. 

 

We both worked remotely throughout the entire trip. It was an incredible opportunity that honestly I wouldn't have been able to experience if COVID-19 hadn't made remote work possible. Even with travel restrictions, getting vaccinated and respecting each province's different precautions and rules we were both fortunate to avoid contracting the virus. 

 

When September chills struck in BC we were still living out of a hatchback SUV with no plans for winter. We had to rethink. For the past two years we had been researching life in Costa Rica. It was either live in BC and pay insane rental costs to be stuck inside after our incredible adventure, or continue it in the tropics. The choice was easy. We headed back across Canada to Ontario, broke our lease on the Subaru and booked flights to Costa Rica.

 

To make sure I could still create artwork for people and for all my small businesses clients, Jon bought me an amazing Wacom artist pad which has become my biggest asset. We have been Costa Rica since October, booking Airbnb's in different areas of the country and enjoying each other. I no longer have to work multiple jobs and I finished the last position I held upon arrival to Costa Rica and finally faced my biggest starving-artist fear and became a full-time artist. 

 

Imposter syndrome happens daily but it’s easier to overcome when I look at what I have created. The number of businesses and the area of southern Ontario I've reached has grown. I am coming back to Ontario for the summer and I look forward to continuing to expand my small business love throughout Oxford and surrounding counties! 

 

I changed my narrative from “Who do I think I am?” to “I'm a thriving artist” and that changed everything.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕊𝕦𝕤𝕚𝕖 𝕊𝕙𝕒𝕡𝕥𝕠𝕟

Health & Wellness Coach

I was never athletic as a kid, and I definitely did not like team sports. As a shy girl who didn’t have a competitive bone in her body I can recall in gym class being so stressed over playing basketball. Trying to get possession of a ball from someone else caused me anxiety. That would require an aggression I just did not possess. Side note – you will still find me cheering for both teams!

Although team sports weren’t for me, in my early 20’s I recognized the importance of living a healthy life, and finding a way to move my body. I had a gym membership that I used. Sometimes. I yo-yo’d in and out of kickboxing, yoga, boot camp and running. I tried all the things, but was never consistent. Having kids in my late 20’s and early 30’s and starting a business with my husband while working full time didn’t leave time for workouts, and I stopped most forms of physical activity.

2 months before having our son in 2007 we lost my Father in Law after his battle with cancer. He was a calm presence and always a voice of reason in our family. This loss devastated us. This was our first go around with cancer, and although we didn’t know it at the time, it wouldn’t be our last.

On October 1 2013, we took my Mom to emerg believing she was having a stroke. Within 5 hours we were told that she had several cancerous lesions on her brain, that had spread from her lungs. The lung cancer was a result of years of smoking. I can remember looking at the doctor s he delivered the news and thinking “This is it. This is the pivotal moment where my life is forever changed.” My Mom and I talked every single day. She had a way of making everything easy, and always making us feel loved and supported. I felt blessed to have her as my Mom. How would our family go on without her? She passed away 8 weeks later.

What seemed like a very fast 5 years after that, my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2018 as a result of smoking. He passed away 6 weeks later. My husband and I genuinely enjoyed being with my parents. My Dad had a great sense of humour and we always had fun with them. My kids loved their Nana and Papa, who equally adored them.

When the realization set in that a daily life decision, a habit, cost both my parents their lives far too early, grief hit differently. It was messy. There were days I would get home from work and lay in bed and cry for hours.

Amidst the grief, I continued to have faith. That faith carried me through once again, when we lost my Mother-in-Law to cancer this past December. I do believe that in the hard, ugly, messy parts of life, and in the healing, there are lessons. I learned that how I treat my body matters. What I put into my body matters. The thoughts I allow into my mind matter. Who I surround myself with matters. It ALL matters.

I made some changes to my own health. I started eating better. For the first time, I remained consistent in my workouts, while honouring when my body needed rest and recovery. That led me to becoming a Health and Wellness Coach. Supporting other women in their health and wellness journeys brings me pure joy! I have learned that there are no guarantees in this life. But I will do my best to not only extend the time I have on this earth, but also to FEEL amazing while I’m here.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝔹𝕒𝕣𝕓 𝕊𝕨𝕒𝕣𝕥𝕫
 

It was 2013 when I finally crashed HARD. I was expected to attend a work meeting in 5 minutes when I emailed my boss and said, “I need to leave” and I never went back. I had a good job in developmental services but my mental health had finally reached a turning point that I couldn’t ignore. I had to decide - was I going to leave this world or stay in it? I was finished.

 

The paradigm I was living at 38 was full of messages of dysfunction and trauma and I didn’t know how to sort through it all, take control, create a paradigm shift.

 

I had a husband, 3 biological kids, 4 step kids and 2 grandchildren at the time. Thankfully they gave me reason to choose to live, without them I would not be here. In fact, there was a time when I was newly married to my second husband that I planned an end for me and my kids. My husband worked away from home all week and I was dealing with one of many major depressive periods; it was time to give up but I couldn’t bear to hurt my kids like that, so the only other option was to take them with me. I was going to start my car and all of us go to sleep on my bed, we would fall asleep together and not wake up. Would have been easy but thankfully something stopped me. Each time I had a plan there was an energy that I can’t explain that stopped me.

 

I was raised in a loving home with both parents and 3 siblings. Our parents provided very well for us and they taught us strong values of loyalty and family. They were young and like all of us, they didn’t have a guidebook for raising kids so they did the best they could with the resources they had. Unfortunately, they lacked the emotional support of parenting. They were busy doing the physical stuff like making money and feeding us. We learned how to cope with all of life’s ups and downs from them, and their strategies were not always healthy. This added to my shit show paradigm.

 

Outside of my family unit, just like everyone, I had other influences. The influence that consumed most of my subconscious mind was my elementary school principal who chose me to add to his group of young girls he was sexually abusing when I entered kindergarten at age 5. This went on until he was removed from the school when I was 8. I knew it wasn’t normal but it’s all I had experienced in school so how was I to know better? This experience of 3 years consumed the next 30 years of my life. I charged him later on in Grade 8 and he went to prison for a short period of time. That didn’t help me feel better. I fought back by suing the principal and school board, I thought out of anger and my right to an apology. I won. That didn’t make me feel better. For those 30 years I grasped at every opportunity to heal including going to college to become a social service worker. I didn’t know I was trying to heal but I was. Honestly, every little step helped a little I realize now.

 

From the time I started the criminal process I started making unhealthy choices and life’s natural events started piling up. I left home at 16 to live with an older boy, got married young to someone I knew would not be my forever but I wanted the wedding and children then got divorced with a 6, 4 and 2 year old under my sole care. My oldest brother died after a 7-month coma in hospital where I visited him most days. My dad had been diagnosed with a cocktail of illnesses that made him seem like a walking time bomb. I was the third child, the caretaker. I could not allow anyone to see that I was losing my shit. I was strong and resilient on the outside and a big puddle of mush on the inside. I didn’t take care of myself.

 

My strength came from my family - my second husband who I married in 2008 and our kids. I knew he saw my puddle of mush and he accepted it and supported me through every depressive period. When I finally crashed I told him “either I am going to leave this world or I am going to find healing”. He encouraged healing, of course, and reminded me of my many blessings and reasons to live.

 

The healing began when I finally acknowledged that my childhood experiences were killing me. I acknowledged that I needed sexual assault specific therapy and I reached out. I spent the next 2 years in therapy every other week, did group therapy and attended therapeutic events with other women like me. I remember during my first therapy session I told the therapist “ I just need to get rid of this, I need it to go away so I can live happily”, her response was “It’s never going to go away, and I can’t help you do that.” I felt so defeated. Why the hell am I here if I can’t get rid of it? She went on to assure me that she could help me build coping skills to manage the triggers and memories as well as other unhealthy coping mechanisms I had. I was willing to give it a try, what’s the alternative? – well death! I committed to turning 40 as a new woman, a healthier woman. I achieved that but didn’t know I would keep going and become the woman I am today.

 

At 47, I am the owner of a successful international business (HSA CANADA) providing training and consultation around person-centred practices in human services. I am a Values Practitioner and a Reiki Practitioner. I practice self-love every single day. During the pandemic I created a program called Creating an EPIC Life and offered it to a small group of women. I will be fine-tuning it and offering it more broadly in the Fall of 2022. I have a beautiful family and all that we could ever need to live comfortably. I keep learning and building on my closet full of coping and self-care strategies. I am shifting my paradigm and just typing that fills me with immense joy and emotion.

 

My passion lies in helping other people live good lives. Take it from me, someone who was on the edge of choosing death, YOU can heal from anything. YOU can live a good life that you choose. YOU can feel the same joy I feel as I reflect on how far I have come. YOU are worth the effort.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕁𝕒𝕞𝕚 𝕊𝕡𝕒𝕣𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕘
𝕋𝕖𝕖𝕟 𝕄𝕠𝕞 - ℙ𝕒𝕣𝕒𝕞𝕖𝕕𝕚𝕔 - 𝔻𝕖𝕤𝕚𝕘𝕟𝕖𝕣 & 𝔼𝕟𝕥𝕣𝕖𝕡𝕣𝕖𝕟𝕖𝕦𝕣

I became a mom at 16 and a single mom at 17, when my son’s father committed suicide (just 12 days before my son’s first birthday). I went from skipping class and pretending that I didn’t enjoy school (due to an abusive relationship), to excelling in my studies. My inner drive was sparked by all the people that expected me to fail and become the stereotypical “teenage mom”. I had other plans.

My grades granted me an academic scholarship, which paid for my first year of college. Out of 1500 applicants, I was accepted into the Paramedic Program in a class of 50 and only 36 graduated. I was hired directly out of school, to the only county I applied to. I was told to never put “all my eggs in one basket”, but I did anyways.

I worked as a Paramedic for 11 years, fully dedicated to helping others, even though it almost cost me everything. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2017 after responding to a traumatic car accident. Although therapy eventually saved my brain, it was a foggy journey along the way.

At the beginning of 2019, the world threw just about everything at me. Here are just a few of the many events: I dealt with the loss of a pregnancy, my mom fell and fractured her skull (just after becoming cancer free), I attended a nursing home on fire with 46 patients, I attended a car accident with parents that were killed on impact and their children orphaned immediately (all with critical injuries themselves). I wasn’t sleeping. I was scared to close my eyes.


My marriage was falling apart, and my kids didn’t have a truly present mom. I was running on autopilot.
My family and I took an impromptu trip and I forced myself to practice self care. With a personal development book and the view from rock bottom (again), I began to see the world differently. I started to see inspirational lives all around me and thought: WHY NOT ME?


I resigned and pursued my dream. Now here we are.

It turns out I wasn’t broken, the lens that I viewed the world with, was. After years of therapy and personal development I have learned that I choose my lens daily, as do you.

#shiftstoryproject
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ℂ𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕪 𝕊𝕨𝕒𝕟 - 𝕎𝕙𝕚𝕤𝕜 & ℝ𝕠𝕝𝕝 𝔹𝕒𝕜𝕖𝕣𝕪

Hey ✌️  

I'm Cheryl! I'm 45, a wife of 30 years (yes, you read that right, I've been with my husband since I was 15 years old!) a mom to 4 amazing, strong children and a grandma to my 2-year-old grand daughter who lights up my world. I'm the woman behind a pretty awesome bakery, Whisk & Roll Bakery, which has been a dream come true.

 

Ever since I can remember I have been glued to the kitchen. I've ways had a passion for feeding people and creating beautiful food. I was a stay at home mom for most of my kids upbringing - they range in age from 14 - 27. I've always worked in the food industry - I love it and it’s the only place I can imagine myself being. It wasn’t until I became a pastry chef for our local fine restaurant that I really wanted to become my own boss. The family I worked for modeled great work ethic, how to work independently and part of a team and helped me to developgreat time management. They also believed in me and supported my dreams, so one cold winter day in 2020 I told them I'm going to open my own bakery. I cried for days; I loved my job… like truly loved it and the people I worked with, they became like family, but I also knew it was time to pursue my own dream. On April 9th, 2021 I opened Whisk & Roll Bakery in Woodstock, Ontario and have never looked back. I gained my passion from my grandmother at a very young age. I knew I had talent growing up but never really did anything with it. I wanted to have babies, get married and stay home until they grew up and became independent which would lead me to??? That time came and I began asking myself “What am I doing?”. I had a calling and I knew I had to do something for myself and I’m so happy I opened my own bakery. I still miss my old job but what it instilled in me was something special I will always hold in my heart. I’ve been open for a while year now and we are starting to expand! I envision a little sit down spot where you can come and sit and enjoy a slice of pie, cake and or dessert with a cup of tea/coffee on your own or to visit with a friend.

 

We now have also started catering and offering daily take-out lunches because I enjoy cooking as much as I love to bake so we just couldn't stop there! I live that locals can now come grab super yummy, healthy options for lunch - daily soups, biscuits and sandwiches have been our biggest hit. 

 

Everything is made in house and from scratch - we are quality over perfection so you'll always be satisfied with wholesome goodness that reminds you of special times growing up. 

 

We are located at 600 Dundas St in Woodstock, Ontario - come visit our little vintage shop! Our community has been so inviting and supportive and we couldn’t have accomplished what we have in a single year without the love and support we have received.

 

Much Love,

Cheryl

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕊𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕟𝕠𝕟 𝔽𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕞𝕒𝕟

I have always been a planner. Let me just say, quite simply, my life is FAR from what I had planned it to be. I am an old school, traditional, communicate, find solutions, work together, move forward, grow, and love type of person. I constantly strive for perfection and am a straight shooter, honest and caring and struggle when someone doesn’t like me without reason. Throughout my story, you will see various quotes; these are quotes that one can often times hear me say, and are all quotes that I live by.

 

Like most, I planned to get married, have children and build a beautiful life. 

 

I got married, and had three handsome little men with my husband…. One Sunday morning, my life was completely turned upside down, when I learned my entire marriage, was fake. I was left hurt, confused, unsure, and lost and yet instantly went into “I have to figure this out, the boys need me” mode. My goal was to leave their lives as untouched as possible despite everything completely changing to no fault of their own, no matter what that meant for myself. I had no idea how to identify in this new life I found myself in, so I remained in the one role that brought me strength, peace and comfort; being a mom. I approached everything “one day at a time”. I constantly reminded myself that “tough times don’t last, tough people do” and I carried on. The hardest part for me was swallowing that I had become a statistic; that I had to admit my marriage failed; that there were situations I knew I would be judged and have to stand there and accept and not say a word. Dealing with hearing what awful and untrue things were being said about the situation I was finding myself in, was hard, because I take so much pride in who I am, how big my heart is and how much I care and would do for other people. Even though I was able to recognize that it was being done for a reaction and to mask reality, it still hurt me. It was all a life lesson to “stay true to me”, and that “I can only control me”. 

 

Fast forward a couple years to meeting a man that swept me off my feet by being absolutely amazing to my boys, by giving them attention and love they so desperately needed and deserved. Early on, I knew he likely wasn’t the best choice for ME; he was lacking in many areas I so desperately needed to feel loved, and the majority of his family didn’t accept myself or my children because of our background and history; but he was good to my kids, and I wanted that so bad for them, so I continued to try and make it work, and hoped for us to grow together. He wanted a child of his own and despite not feeling I was in any place ready for that, along came baby number 4. Oh the anxiety of that pregnancy…. I was still very much in single mom mode, wondering how I would make ends meet, if we would be ok, and constantly trying to swallow having “2 baby dads”. Once our little bundle arrived, the gaps in our relationship exposed themselves more and more. I tried to swallow the fact that not only myself, but my children were negatively judged without anyone even taking the time to get to know us, and having to not let that tear me down, but realize that was a reflection of themselves, not something we could control. The judgements being made couldn’t have been further than the truth, but I was again reminded that “I can only control me” and to “stay true to me”. I was left breaking my own heart, and swallowing that I had to tell the world that I had failed yet again; knowing how my life looked on the outside. Yet, I was proud of myself because I deserve to be happy and loved too; because my kids and I are a package deal and if you don’t love and accept us all, you don’t get any of us. 

 

Fast forward again, to the relationship that took me to my darkest days and my largest self-growth. To the relationship that handed me my largest life lessons. This person came into our lives when I least expected it. I won’t lie and say there weren’t red flags that I ignored or hoped would improve, because there were many. I so badly didn’t want to fail again. I poured every last part of me into this relationship in hopes of it succeeding. Each and every day was filled with lies and false promises to do better, and treat us better. Every time I communicated how I was feeling, it was twisted to somehow be my fault and then filled with excuses. I slowly became a shell of myself, I was so lost. I found myself pregnant (despite using contraceptives). Internally, I was terrified. Not only from my past, but also because I had convinced myself I was done having kids after 4, and this was not on my path. I actually expected him to excited because he had on more than one occasion told me he wanted us to have one child together, and also cried to me more than once, jealous over the fact my ex and I had something him and I never would; a child! When I told him about the pregnancy, he kissed my forehead, went upstairs and went to bed without a word. The next morning, he got up, went to work, and never came home. The following three days resulted in emotional abuse worse than I even care to discuss. Then he ghosted me fully. I lost that child. Shortly after miscarrying our child, he came back around, apologizing for his behaviour and wanting to prove to me how much he wanted our family, and sadly, I cautiously believed him. My days were filled with lies and empty promises no different than before. Also no different than the first time, I ended up pregnant (also using contraceptives). 

 

It was this very moment that was my first moment of clarity. Not only did I know I needed to get my head on straight and find strength in myself and my situation before telling him so I could withstand what would follow, but I also knew what my road was going to look like. It was this moment that was the beginning of my dark days, but also my largest growth and eventually landing me in my biggest light. I knew he would disappear when he found out, I knew the abuse that would follow when I told him, and I knew what he would want me to do in the situation. I spent just over a month trying to find my strength, going through the motions in my relationship (that I knew would be over as soon as I told him about the child growing inside of me), before I caught him on a dating app. It was at that very moment, I found my strength. Whether it be because I knew the relationship would be coming to an end anyway, or that I actually was starting to find my way back to myself, I am not sure, but I got up, took my house key off his key ring and walked out, without ever looking back. A few weeks later he came for Christmas gifts I had bought his family, and that is when I told him about the pregnancy. He pushed hard for abortion, he passed so much guilt that I would ruin his life if I had the baby, that no one would want to be with him if he had another child, called me every name in the book to try and get his way and told me how I would never make it on my own.

I listened and discussed and did my best to understand how he was feeling and acting and also communicated where my head was at, how I was feeling, and shared all my fears; none of which ever once mattered to him. Telling him that I was keeping the child, was greeted with “I want nothing to do with it, so don’t come to me for anything”. I just kept carrying on. It was rough. I didn’t want to tell anyone, as I didn’t feel strong enough to hear “congratulations” when it didn’t feel like a happy time. I didn’t want to answer questions and I certainly didn’t feel strong enough to know I had disappointed anyone again. My kids have always seen me as the rock, that no matter what life threw at me, I was ok. I told them about their new coming sibling at 21 weeks and I was sobbing. The news was welcomed with “mom, why are you crying? A baby is happy news!” (bless their amazing hearts).

That was another turning point, we were going to be ok. How? I wasn’t sure, but we would be ok. Shortly thereafter, the world started opening back up, I wasn’t able to hide forever. Our village started rallying around us without me even asking for them to. Never once throughout this process did I feel like I could answer questions as to how we would make it, but my confidence that we would be fine continued to grow and grow with each passing dark day. Just shy of 7 months pregnant, I ran into his father. It was after that meeting, that he flipped his switch yet again. He asked what we needed, asked how to help, and claimed he wanted to be a family. He talked about how scared he was at the beginning and how he regretted how he acted, and how he needed to grow up, and that he wanted to prove himself to me. I answered his questions. I told him what we needed, I told him how he could help and support. I shared my feelings about what he was saying and said he had a lot to prove. Deep down, I was thrilled for our unborn child that he had seemed to come around, but I also knew at this point, that it was only to get the outcome he wished for, not because he was being genuine. The guilt trips started instantly. He asked why I didn’t want the family back? He constantly said he wanted to be with me but that I obviously didn’t want to be with him; that he wanted our family but I obviously didn’t. 

He never told his family or friends about our child on the way, I had to. I continued to put the work in, to find my strength, to find my way back to me, and to heal from my situations. I learned to lean and ask for help and love when I needed it, from the village of people who truly loved us and wanted us to succeed. 

I had our perfect little bundle with zero support in the delivery room, out of respect for him, so he could meet his child. (That may sound awfully heartbreaking to some, but truthfully, for me, it was the easiest. I am always so worried about everyone else, even while labouring, this was my only delivery, I didn’t have to worry about anyone, other than just myself and then when he arrived, my son). 

The lies and empty promises continued after his birth, whether it be about visiting, being involved in his life, supporting, or buying things we needed…. Nothing was ever done on his part, he has never been involved in any way. If he ran into me in public, he turned on some show in front of everyone to uphold his fake image. I stayed quiet throughout it all, because I didn’t want to destroy how everyone else saw him, and just kept building on my own. It wasn’t until he asked me to hide our son from his new girlfriend because he hadn’t told her about him, that I started to find my voice. In that moment, I knew I didn’t need to keep waiting around. He was just buying time. He didn’t plan to be a father. I applied to court the very next day and he was served the following week. I was absolutely sick that someone could ask a mother to do something of the sort. I felt lost again, but really, it was just a stepping stone in my growth, a BIG one. He then switched to statements of “I know I need to do better” “I could never turn my back on my twin” “go buy what you need and I will send you the money” “We don’t need to go to court, we can do this” “I will be over to visit lots”. I told him I wasn’t dropping court unless he actually proved he would be a man of his word and be a constant in this child’s life, otherwise I needed to protect not only myself, but our child. I ended up having to tell his girlfriend that our son existed.

 

He never showed up to any court date. He quit playing the game entirely and disappeared from our lives completely at the end of October. In December, I was granted full custody of our amazing little boy that he doesn’t even know. He has walked away from anyone and everyone that was mutually involved with us. Despite offering on more than one occasion, and saying the door will always be open for them to be in our son’s life should they choose (of course in a way that is healthy for our son), him nor his family have reached out in any way to see him or ask about him. 

 

2021 is essentially a blur to me but not in a bad way; it was by far the hardest year I have faced to date and filled with many dark days, but it brought me so much love, light and strength. I found myself; I learned strength I never knew was possible; I learned how incredibly amazing people are and that it is ok to lean on others when you need it. I answered many tough questions, I faced many judgements; all while building. It is truly hard to put into words. I found peace. I know me, inside and out. I love with all of my being, I see the good; I trust that people are honest and straight forward. I however, also know my worth. I am worthy of the same level of love and respect that I give. I am worthy of the truth. I am worthy of happiness. I am worthy to be authentically me, without having to worry about it not being good enough. I am an incredible friend and a very involved, loving mother. I am beyond blessed with a village of people who cheer us on and are there when we need them to be. My boys and I make the most amazing team. We have each other’s backs no matter what. I spent so long thinking there were areas in their lives that the boys needed a man to teach them “man things”. I now know that I am enough; that I will raise resilient, independent, honest, loving, caring, men who will know the difference between right and wrong, who will know how to be good humans, great friends, loving and supportive spouses and incredible fathers. 

 

Hearing the “Cole’s notes” version of my life, it may seem crazy, or be easy to judge; I am in a place that I am fine with that, because although my life is far from what I had planned, it is perfectly imperfect, and I needed these paths to get me to the beautiful place I am at now. I now know, I am meant to raise five remarkable men who will “BE the good” that this world has to offer. I am not ashamed of my past; I am no longer worried about judgements. My past is what has got me to where I am today, and I am so proud of it. 

 

“The right thing, is often times, the hardest thing; do it anyway”.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝔼𝕝𝕚𝕒 𝕄𝕒𝕣𝕥𝕚𝕟𝕖𝕫

Hi, I’m Elia Martinez and I am the owner and Lead Home Stager of MC Home Staging & ReDesign.

 

My story, vision and motivation for this business began in beautiful Nicaragua, where I was raised.

 

Growing up in Nicaragua involved strained economic conditions - everything was limited. There was no middle class, either you had money or you were poor. I grew up in very humble beginnings but had hope that one day life would be better. My parents worked hard to build a solid family foundation for myself and my siblings. I was blessed to earn a scholarship to study in an USA university and I graduated with a degree in Economics and Finance. After I finished my studies I went back to Nicaragua and worked in Human Resources. I married my husband Gil who worked as a civil engineer in Nicaragua and as we started reflecting on our future we knew we wanted a better life for the family we would create together. Dramatic deterioration of the country’s economic system, political state and freedom of rights drove us to the very difficult decision to pursue our dream to come to Canada, knowing that it would be a better future for us but would also be difficult.

 

We left Nicaragua and embarked our journey to seek refugee protection in Canada. We came to Canada in Oct 2007, with a lot of hope but only $400 in our pockets. We lived in a one bedroom basement apartment with just a bed and no furniture.

 

This is part of my important mission now - to give hope to all people that they can do more than they think they can do.I’m very passionate about giving back and making a difference in people’s lives. Through sharing my own success story, I hope to inspire others to pursue their dreams and never give up.

 

I am now able to extend my passion for Home Staging & Redesign to homeowners, real estate agents, builders and investors to maximize profits when selling their properties. I am also positioning our business to eventually provide support to those living with less. I would love to hear your story and look forward to connecting with you.

 

Xo

Elia

#shiftstoryproject
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Becoming a mother at 40

 

I didn't plan on becoming a mother at 40, that is just how the cards fell. In fact, like most of my friends who already had children (some are young adults now), I'd hoped to have them someday, so they would grow up together and be best friends. Well, that didn't happen at that time, due to a few missteps on my part, including forming relationships with the wrong men (in hopes that those relationships would work out); the trade-off - giving up the idea of starting a family, as a couple men I'd been in relationships with in my late twenties and early thirties whom already had children early on in their lives and had vasectomies.

 

I had settled. 

 

I met my partner, Sean, late in life - actually, let me back up a bit.  My partner Sean and I met in Grade 7; totally different crowds back then; but did have some classes together.  We’d seen each other here and there over the years, but nothing came of it.  Fast forward to a couple of days ago on May 2nd, and we just celebrated 5 years.

 

After 3 years together, I found out we were expecting.  I have a family medical history of spina bifida and being just over 40 and pregnant, the doctors coined the pregnancy "geriatric", not uncommon for that age.  How dare they!  When I think geriatric, I think over 80 years old. I've read articles (and had agreed "mostly" with that statement until I became a mother) that it is selfish for a woman to start a family after the age of 40, your life quality of life tend to deteriorate. 

 

2020 was both a blessing and a curse for our family; we never really got to process the news of the pregnancy because my partner's 82 year old mother (of 6 children, having had her youngest son, Sean, when she was 42), suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for about 2 weeks before she passed away.  Sean's Dad (in his early seventies at the time) passed away when Sean was almost 15 years old, so my parents (who have both remarried) will be the only grandparents our son will ever know and it makes me sad.

 

I have been a journal writer since my early teens but there was a big gap due to the man I was with for most of my thirties. Picking up a pen again just after my son was born in 2020 felt freeing and scary at the same time.  As soon as my son was born a flood of emotions and tears finally came out of the flood gates. It had been difficult and I'd expressed as much to Sean. My fear was that our lives were now like ticking time bombs - if we didn't do "all of the things" (i.e. giving our son experiences and taking him places) right from the get-go, he would not remember them, or simply forget his parents and how much he meant to us. 

 

Actual journal entry when our son was only a couple months old:

'I've heard people say that motherhood changes you - F***ING RIGHT, IT DOES!  Even before motherhood - pregnancy changes you, not only your body but your mind and your relationships (with your partner, your family and your friends). Change became more significant to me being that I was pregnant and having a baby in the midst of a global pandemic".

 

I struggled so much with the hard realization that I was in my forties, not my twenties or even my thirties when I found out we were expecting our first child, that all of our friends will be grandparents (some of which are, already!); having their grandchildren grow up with our son. I don't regret starting a family, I mourn the timing of it, and how lax and naive I have been about having babies, assuming it would happen by my thirties; and when it didn't, because I hadn't met the right man, I was heartbroken and a bit envious of those who had.

 

My friends, for years, had told me that they couldn't wait for me to be Mum because my heart was so big I needed to share it with my own child(ren) someday and experience parenthood for myself. And when that didn't happen (because of the choices I'd made in relationships), I was silently devastated. I told myself "well, I guess I don't deserve it; and my body would change so much I would never recover from it".  

 

My body has never been where I wanted it to be in the first place, but when I was pregnant with our son, Remington, the insecurities I had about my body dissipated and I just enjoyed being pregnant. Even though there was a whole lot of stress (Sean's Mum's passing, family drama on both sides, local and out of town doctor's appointments (facing the reality that our baby may be born with spina bifida or hydrocephalus (a gene I had hoped would not be carried down) and then dealing with lawyers to ensure our new family would be able to stay in Sean's family home), I wouldn't change a thing now that Remington is here.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝔸𝕝𝕪𝕤𝕤𝕒 𝕋𝕦𝕣𝕟𝕖𝕣

 

"I will never forgive them for this."

I was sitting on the floor of my laundry room, sobbing, my chest tight and each breath restricted. I had just blacked out during a panic attack and had no idea how I'd gotten downstairs. My knuckles were bloody from beating on the door and my mind was chasing the pain around in circles. "I will never forgive them for this." The words came out more like a vow than a simple statement. I could feel them sink down to the deepest, darkest part of my soul and I knew these words would shape the rest of my life if I let them.

So, I paused.

 

My husband had just confessed that he was sleeping with my older sister. I had known that there was an emotional affair going on between them, but I was in denial about the extent of it. Trauma does that - it puts up blinders to the facts right in front of us. Nothing could have prepared me for this pain. 

 

I knew what unforgiveness does to a person...how it completely consumes and devours one's ability to love and be loved. Bitterness sucks all the joy out of life. Wounds this deep fester and grow until all hope withers and dies, and all that is left is cynicism.

 

I didn’t want to become cynical.

 

I thought about my 4 children upstairs, sleeping innocently, oblivious to how their world was just ripped apart. I thought about the little girl growing in my belly. I wouldn't do that to my kids. I wouldn't become a hateful, bitter woman. And in that same instant the fire of determination ignited in my heart, I felt the weight of dread, knowing what that meant about forgiveness. 

 

I would have to forgive them, or spend my whole life trying.

 

For months, I had vivid nightmares of violently tearing the skin from my sister's face, squeezing her throat until she went limp. These dreams scared me. I didn't want the anger inside to grow into violence. So, I got serious about forgiving. I sat down with a picture of my sister in one hand, and a box of Kleenex in the other. At first, I couldn't even look at her face, but I said the words anyway, "I forgive her, God bless her. I forgive her, God bless her. I forgive her, God bless her." Over and over again I said those words. Angry, seething, and then indifferent. I wouldn't stop until I felt genuine compassion for her. And the next day, I'd start all over again, back at the beginning. Angry. Seething. Indifferent. “I forgive her, God bless her”. And finally, compassion.

 

They didn't deserve it. Neither of them had ever asked me to forgive them, but I was slowly learning that my forgiveness wasn’t for them, but for me and my children. I wanted to be free from the pain of hatred; free to love. 

 

Four years later, my divorce is final and I've built a life I can be proud of. I find great joy in raising my kids and giving them all the tools and resources they need to pursue healing and happiness. Our home is not broken, but a place of growth and healing. I know I can't change what was done. I can't undo my husband's affair, or repair what my sister tore apart, but I can choose to create a new story, one full of gratitude and forgiveness. 

 

I often think back to that dark moment on the laundry room floor when I almost sold my soul to the devil. How different my life would be if I had bound myself to the chains of unforgiveness. 

 

Here's the truth I've learned about forgiveness – it can’t erase the past, but it will absolutely change your future.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝔸𝕝𝕪𝕤𝕤𝕒 𝕄𝕒𝕣𝕤𝕙

I had just been broken up with after a 6-year relationship, it was the middle of the pandemic and I hadn’t yet found a stable job... it was safe to say that my situation was a bit less than ideal. A few months after moving to a bigger city with a nice new roommate (who is now good friend!) and being on the dating scene again, I swiped right on someone who would change my life forever. 

 

It’s crazy how one flick of the wrist can change your whole world. Within a few days of chatting online we decided to meet. The only thing was, he just happened to be visiting his parents place but he actually lived 7 hours away. But after meeting we hit it off and we decided the drive was worth it and made our relationship official. 

 

A month later I started to not feel like myself physically and emotionally. I was constantly nauseous, certain foods I used to enjoy repulsed me, I was super irritable, I was tired all the time no matter how much I slept and I was sore everywhere. These symptoms only added up to one thing in my mind so I went out and bought a pregnancy test. 

 

Two pink lines showed up right away and to say I was in shock would be an understatement. 

 

I decided to go through with the pregnancy despite us living so far apart and still basically being strangers as we had only met up in person a handful of times. I was already in love with my little baby and was willing to sacrifice anything. 

 

Since we lived hours apart and the pandemic only allowed one person in for appointments I basically went through everything alone until I finally moved up north with two months left in my pregnancy. Until this point I wasn’t told anything was abnormal from my scans so I never second guessed it until I saw my new OB asked “Were you aware of your baby's cleft lip?” and my world stopped. Fear bubbled up and I couldn’t stop crying. How did this happen? What did I/didn’t I do? Why didn’t I know about this sooner? How is his quality of life going to be? What does this mean? Why my baby? 

 

Up until this point I had no idea what a cleft lip and palate were. I quickly learned everything I could in order to prepare for my baby’s arrival in only a few short weeks. Facebook support groups were a godsend to help answer any questions I had or if I needed to vent and to see others babies born with a cleft.

 

A little info on cleft: around the fourth to sixth week of pregnancy, the lips are formed. A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth. It is one of the most common birth defectswith about 1 in 700 babies born with cleft lip and 1 in 1000 born with a cleft palate. Surgeries are an option for treatment and the first surgery happens around 3 months to correct the lip and then 1 year for the palate, if necessary. 

 

After 40 hours of labour that ended in an emergency c-section our baby boy was born. Jackson was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, jaundice, acid reflux...and the biggest blue eyes you have ever seen. As a first time mom this just added to the amount of stress and new things I had to learn but looking at his sweet little face I knew it would all be okay. 

 

Jackson had to stay in the NICU for a few days to keep an eye on his jaundice and reflux and had to have a feeding tube put in. It broke my heart every hour that he was there. He was the NICU's all star-eater and stole all the nurses' hearts.

 

A few days after he was discharged we made our way to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) where he would be assessed on his cleft. We will be making trips here until he is 18 years old, keeping in contact with all of the amazing departments that will help his overall development. He'll have a plastic surgery team, an orthodontist, hearing team (as it’s normal for babies with cleft to have hearing difficulties due to fluid build up), and speech therapists. 

 

Finding out I was pregnant and learning about his diagnosis, becoming a mom for the first time and being so far away from friends and family was taxing. My mental health has plummeted and I don’t recognize the person in the mirror anymore. I constantly worry about Jackson and his future surgeries and any possible struggles that may come after. I worry about having to do most things on my own now and I worry that I’m not doing the right things most of the time. I don’t take care of myself the way I should, especially after having a c-section and dealing with postpartum, but with each day I slowly regain a new sense of self, the worry lessens and is partially replaced with excitement for all of Jackson’s firsts and all of the memories we are going to share. I know it’s going to be a long road but I also know it’s all going to be okay. I never thought much of being a mom until I became one, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

 

If I could give any advice to new moms it would be this; talk to your partner about responsibilities and how they will be shared between you so one isn’t feeling the pressure of having to do it all on their own. Pack your freezer full of frozen meals, be kind to your body - it goes through hell and back so it’s going to look and feel different for awhile, ask for help when you need to, and stay positive, reminding yourself that you're doing a great job! The days are long but the years are short, so enjoy every moment and all the newborn snuggles as much as possible. 

 

My advice to new moms with babies who have a cleft lip and/or palate: don’t Google it, it’ll just scare you. Instead, join Facebook support groups, as they are full of women who are going through or have been through the same emotional roller coaster as you. Remember that no baby with a cleft is the same - you won’t know 100% of the diagnosis until your baby is born because ultrasounds can only show so much. Be sure to acknowledge your emotions to be valid and real, it’s not something you want to hear but it will all be okay.

 

Once you see your little ones cute face you’ll be so in love and won’t want to fix anything so take a lot of pictures!

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕁𝕒𝕖𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕒 ℍ𝕠𝕝𝕥𝕙𝕠𝕗

I was born in 1990, in Fayetteville, North Carolina on an Army base.  Within a few months, I had become very ill and my parents started taking me to hospitals to try and figure things out. In 1992 I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a devastating illness that doctors told my parents they would one day lose me to. I spent the first 15 years of my life in fear that every year would be my last. I was on multiple medications, with multiple side affects that really just wracked my body.  

 

Between 2000 -2001, my parents split up. Their marriage had been quite volatile and at the time I blamed my dad for their failed marriage. Mom was a saint and could never do anything wrong in my eyes at the time. 

 

In 2005 I was hospitalized with double pneumonia and fluid on my lungs. I spent a couple of weeks in that hospital, having multiple tests done which ended in the doctor calling a meeting with my mom and I. It was the best news I could have imagined. He told my mom and I that my diagnosis had been an error. There was no further evidence of CF on any of my tests, and he suggested that we start looking at options of getting me off the medications so I could start feeling like a normal kid for the first time in my life.

 

This started the beginning of my personal hell.

 

My mom became hysterical. Instead of embracing the news, we left the hospital and she began moving us around the country in search of doctors that would honor the CF diagnosis. I quickly learned that my having CF was integral to my mom's way of life.  Without that diagnosis, we would lose government assistance, not to mention the sympathy of friends and family members.  

 

Despite how blatant this all was, I lived with the wool pulled over my eyes, and went along with everything mom told me to do. Eating extra salt so that my sodium levels would create a positive reading on the CF test. Telling teachers I was sick and in the hospital if I missed school, even though usually it was just because mom was having a bad day and wanted me to stay home and spend time with her.  

 

Shortly after the news that I had been misdiagnosed, I met an older man online.  I was 15.  He was 38.  He became the new sense of security and would give my mom money or buy things for the house in exchange for “spending time with me”. This went on until I was 18.

 

In 2008 I met the man that would change my life forever and it was completely by accident. I’d been talking in a chatroom, seeking some kind of social interaction since my life was so sheltered and this man and I began talking about life. Eventually I just opened up to him and we talked for hours that day. One day turned into every day and eventually we fell head over heels in love.  

 

This man started by helping me see what was going on in my life. With his help, I weaned myself off the medications, began advocating for myself with my mother and started my road to recovery.  The concept of feeling healthy was foreign to me, but little by little as it happened, I cut all ties with the older man who had molested me since I was 15.

 

This was the beginning of Heaven.

 

Within months, I had moved to another country to live with the love of my life.  His name was William. Our life wasn’t easy but it was ours. We were inseparable and very deeply connected.  

 

From the very beginning my William was sick. I knew this from the first day we spoke. Over the next several years his health continued to decline despite our best efforts. He endured blood infections, surgeries, a leg amputation, kidney failure and eventually, heart failure, all due to diabetes.  

 

In the early morning of February 20th, 2019 life threw me back into hell. My sweet Husband had passed in bed beside me. I was distraught - 11 years of bliss crashed around me in an instant. I was convinced this was the end of my life too.

 

At the time I was a restaurant manager for a very large chain of restaurants where I’d worked for almost 7. I was well liked and successful. I thought for sure my bosses would understand my need for the time to grieve my husband’s loss but I was wrong.

 

I went back to work 2 days after my husband's funeral. For weeks after my return I was berated for crying in my office, told I was just a number, and written up for not getting a task done that had been assigned to me the weekend before my husband died. I was broken and furious and disappointed and hurt. But I was fighting to show them I was still the successful woman they all knew. I wasn’t going to let them win!

 

One weekend they brought us to a managers conference and they stood on a stage and told us how much we were valued and needed. They preached at us for hours about work/life balance and taking care of our mental health. I walked out of the auditorium half way through the conference. I couldn’t listen to the lies any longer. I put in my two weeks notice at the end of that weekend.

 

The next two years I worked at another large chain of restaurants who’s corporate office had promised me better treatment and understanding. I was met with very similar circumstances and eventually I left that position too.

 

In the months that followed, my mental health tanked. I had thoughts of giving up and joining my husband but in the back of my head I remembered my promise to him that I would take care of myself. It’s all he wanted for me when we learned his heart was failing. I started reading self help books, threw myself into therapy, and clawed my way out of the dark hole that I’d fallen into.

 

In December of 2021, I received a text message from a friend with a link to a college course to become a full time caregiver in the medical field. It felt like a perfect fit and I immediately applied.  Within just a few months I had graduated, gotten a full time job, and have now started to feel myself again.  I’ve found my purpose.  

 

I’ve realized that I still have so much to give to the world, and that even though the love of my life had to leave me earlier than we expected, he gave me life when all I knew was death. Now I spend my days making the lives of the dying just a little brighter. I care for seniors with dementia and I am currently in school to become a Death Doula. Instead of fearing death as I once did, I have embraced it, hoping to ease the fear and anxiety in those who are really nearing the end of their stories.

 

I am forever grateful for my Angel. He’s brought me from hell to Heaven so many times. And I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure He is forever remembered.

 

Jaelina 

#shiftstoryproject
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𝓢𝓸𝓷𝓲𝓪 𝓑𝓲𝓮𝓱𝓷 -𝒞𝑜𝓃𝒻𝒾𝒹𝑒𝓃𝒸𝑒 𝒞𝑜𝒶𝒸𝒽

Confidence was never something I remember struggling with as a kid. I never remember questioning if I was capable of doing something. I was who I was. That doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with things such as being made fun of or doing well in school. I did have struggles with being teased and I always wanted to do well in school. But my worries were not a hindrance. They didn’t stop me from being me, from doing what I wanted to do, from enjoying life. I was a kid who wore an English School Uniform to school in Grade 5 because I thought it was amazing. 

 

I feel like I can safely say that the relationship I had with confidence carried through most of my life until my early 20s. I found myself in a very unhealthy marriage which took a huge toll on me. I was able to get out of that relationship and felt like I could breathe again. I remembered who I was. 

 

Fast forward a few more years and I was in a healthy marriage with a new baby. Being a mum was one of the best things that happened to me. I remember feeling like this is what I was born to do, to be a mum and stay home and raise my kid. We made the decision that I would stay home once my mat leave was up. I was thrilled! I loved being a stay-at-home-mum. So many times I found myself thinking how unbelievably lucky I was. Then I began to put a lot of pressure and expectations on myself. I wanted to be the perfect stay-at-home-mum. I always wanted to have my house in order, I wanted to make home-cooked meals and I wanted to be sure my son was happy, growing, and thriving. And on top of all that, we were dealing with my son’s eating disorder. I remember one time feeling like something was “off.” I decided to reach out to someone for some guidance but ultimately I wasn’t in a place where I was ready to dig deep and work on myself. I felt guilt about needing to work on myself. How could I need to work on myself? I was living my dream life! I was fine, everything was fine. 

 

The truth is everything was not fine. I was drowning. I was drowning under my unrealistic expectations and the need to be perfect. Perfectionism had taken over my life and my confidence. I didn’t realize I was drowning - not right away. I even remember thinking at times “I used to be so confident! What happened?”.

 

I started working in direct sales, which was one of the best decisions I could have made. I wanted to make my business a success and I knew that to do so, I needed to start with myself. I started reading self-help books, meditating, and listening to podcasts. I knew that to take this journey to the next level I needed to hire a coach. I started working with Jenne Todd @Shift Collective and that is when things in my life started to change. 

 

I remember after one session Jenne reminded me of the changes I had made and I realized that this wasn’t a new version of me. This was a homecoming. I was finding that confident, gutsy girl I used to be. The girl who used to wear a school uniform to school just because she thought it was cool. 

 

I am still not the same confident girl I used to be and that is ok! That version of me is archived.  The essence of her is still with me. I am not 11 years old anymore. I have other things going on in my life now. Other joys, responsibilities, and commitments. However, she is there when I need to remember what it is to be truly daring and myself. She is there to recall via memories when I need her. She is never truly gone, nor will she ever truly resurface again. 

 

Throughout our lives, we will meet so many different versions ourselves. As we grow and change, and as we live each day we are constantly creating new versions of ourselves. We do not have to let go of those versions. We can place them away with care and love in our minds and hearts. We can call on these past versions of ourselves when needed.

 

I am no longer that same drowning woman. I finally feel like after three years I can breathe again. Each breath holds the possibility to bring joy, love, laughter, sorrow, worry, excitement, passion, freedom, and all the other emotions that we are fortunate enough to experience.

#shiftstoryproject
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𝕂𝕖𝕟𝕕𝕣𝕒 ℙ𝕚𝕡𝕖𝕣, ℂ𝔸ℕℕ𝔸 𝔹𝕀ℝℂℍ

It was December 12, 2019.

The day my phone lit up with the word “dad”. The day that would set my entire life course off the rails.

 

It wasn’t normal for my dad to call, we were like oil and vinegar together, and didn’t talk very much. I felt anxiety in my chest as it fluttered. I knew right then something was wrong.

 

I picked up, I don’t remember much of the conversation, I just remember hearing the words “I have stage 4 cancer.” Everything after was a blur.

 

The next time I saw him was at Christmas. After seeing the look in his eyes, I knew it was much worse than he was letting on. During this time I was starting to look for a job again after taking some time off with a work related injury, and being a stay at home parent.

 

I went to a few interviews. I don’t think that I looked like a very good candidate due to the 4 years that were missing on my resume but after every single interview was over something inside of me was screaming “there’s something else out there for you, something bigger!”. I started listening and thankfully, not one person called me back.

 

I had always wanted to start making natural care products. It started in my 20’s after was able to get rid of the hormonal acne that had plagued me for years. I worried that with such a huge market, either I would step on somebody else’s toes or if I started my own business I wouldn’t be successful.

 

I ended up stumbling upon an article for pain relief for cancer patients and saw the words “CBD bath bomb”… something inside of me clicked.

 

I ran the idea by my husband and we started making them for my dad and a woman that worked at my gym who was also battling cancer. The bath bombs helped so much that I knew I needed to get them to more people, and that’s when Canna Birch was born.

 

February 8th, 2020 was the day I bravely announced my new venture on social media. Since then my products have been able to benefit many people.

I’ve also made friendships with some really wonderful people that have been there for me through all of this.

 

I don’t know if any of this would have fallen into place without my dad.

 

As I sit here writing this, I acknowledge that it’s been over two years since he got his diagnosis. He has fought hard to overcome a tumour on his lung, both adrenal glands and on his brain. He’s back in the hospital with the tumour that started all of this in his colon and enduring another brain tumour.

He has made the difficult decision to pursue MAID - medical assistance in dying.

 

If there’s anything I have taken away from all of this, it’s that life is full of uncertainty and there will be times I have to surrender control. I’ve also learned that in times of heartbreak, there can also be beauty and it’s okay to count your wins within your losses.

 

I can’t imagine a world without my dad but I know now that I’m strong enough to face it, and I have some of the most amazing people that will be standing beside me when I do.