On Chopping Off My Hair

This weekend I did something I thought I’d never do: I chopped off my long hair. I went from having somewhat mermaid-like hair to a textured cut that falls just above my shoulders.

I’ve wanted to cut my hair for a long time, but it had become such a part of my identity that I feared losing an aspect of myself in the process. Long blonde hair was my signature look. It took me forever to grow it as long as it was, and it had become as true a part of me as the green in my eyes or the paleness of my skin. But unlike those other two characteristics, my hair was something I could change. And I thought about changing it often. I’d find myself using bobby pins to see what I’d look like with it short. I had been pinning pictures of women with short hair for months, sending pictures of different cuts to my friends and family members. I imagine I was getting pretty annoying by the end of it, looking for affirmation while being too scared to make a decision I already knew the answer to. The thing about decisions is you always already know what you want; the challenge is coming to terms with it.

My hair represented a version of myself that was now transitioning into someone else. Just as I could feel myself shedding other characteristics of my youth—my penchant for partying, oversleeping on the weekends, eating too much cheese—I began to wonder if my hair too was holding me back. Was it a shield protecting me from revealing my true self? I felt like there was something more to me that maybe my hair was preventing me from reaching.

So I did my research. I started talking to women I knew with short hair about their choice. I wanted to know how it make them feel, if they missed their long hair, and what the change was like. Did they feel different? Did they feel reborn? How did it affect their confidence? Their sexuality? Did they feel feminine and sexy? Did they feel cute? The last thing I wanted was to go through such a big change and end up looking cute, which at 28 is not the look I sought to achieve. I wanted confidence, a confidence my long hair wasn’t giving me anymore.

Women told me different things. One girl told me the experience of cutting her hair forced her to become more confident because she no longer had a “layer of vanity” to hide behind. Another told me the cut had little to no impact on her confidence, but dying her hair its signature colour did. Even my hairdresser, Jesse, a woman my age with hair a little shorter than mine, told me people are more likely to notice the colour than the cut—as long as the cut is good. A discussion about cut frequently turned into a discussion about colour. Briefly, I contemplating changing my hair to a more natural hue, but as soon as I sat in the chair I immediately decided against it. I feel like me when I’m blonde.

Jesse put my hair in a ponytail and held it up to me. “Are you ready?” she asked. Yes, I was. I was ready to truly embrace the change I’d been feeling. I was ready to try something new.

before and afterThe scariest part was chopping off the ponytail. The rest was easy, if not exhilarating. Once the ponytail was gone and my hair naturally fell to about my shoulders, I was surprised by how much I loved it. I had been worried I’d go home and cry, instantly regretting my decision. But I didn’t regret it at all. In fact, my confidence immediately increased. I felt like my new hair really suited me, and this new version of me. I felt like I had the hair I was meant to have at this moment as I feel myself entering a new stage in my life.

Before, I could only really wear my hair two ways: wavy and straight, and I didn’t so much like the latter anymore. It’s not that I didn’t love my long hair. There are many reasons why I kept it that way for so long. My long hair gave me a confidence nothing else could. It made me feel sexy and womanly, and I thought it was bold and attractive. I liked it. Men liked it. It made me feel beautiful. But I’d become uninspired by it, and bored. I found myself throwing it up in a ponytail more often that I used to. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to style it. I had run out of ways to play with it.

Having short hair unlocked a whole new world of different style possibilities for me. Jesse showed me a few different ways to style it before we settled on a classic-inspired wave that made me feel like Marilyn Monroe. The next day, when I straightened it and sprayed a texturizer into it, I felt like Deborah Harry. Channeling these women and being able to change my hair according to my mood is something I didn’t realize I was missing.

Of course, chopping it off has been an interesting experiment in how others interpret different versions of our selves. Some people love my new hair, while others clearly do not. Some people have asked me if I regret it. I do not. This might have bothered me before, but now I could care less. I didn’t cut my hair to prove anything to anyone, to make a statement or to get attention. I cut my hair because it was time for a change and because I am changing. I wanted to celebrate and commemorate that.

I never expected to find the empowerment I have found in cutting my hair. But clearly I underestimated the power of a good makeover.

On Feeling Older

sunset-hair

I feel older these days. There are times when I love this. I feel confident and as though I am truly growing into myself and becoming the woman I am meant to be. Sometimes I feel so proud of how far I’ve come over the past few years, impressed by how I’ve navigated certain situations with the grace and the maturity of someone much more experienced. I respect that I’ve made some tough decisions, and I have done so with strength. I am pleased with the direction in which my life is going.

But then there are days like today, where I just notice that I’m not as young as I used to be. Everything around me feels different, and everyone around me looks younger. When I look in the mirror, I look tired. There are bags under my eyes. It takes more energy than it should to get up in the morning. I wonder if my hair has always been this thin. I wonder if I look older. Things aren’t as easy as they used to be.

My mother likes to remind me that I’m “almost 30,” as if I am unaware of the demise of my own youth, something I used to think was eternal, but lately feels fleeting. I notice my age everywhere. On the faces of the girls wearing thin tights and torn jeans despite the winter weather, in the lopsided oversized hats only 16-year-olds can pull off. I see it in my friends, the ones getting married and buying houses and having babies. I see it in the clothing draped on mannequins as I walk down Queen Street West, gazing through the windows. They do not reflect my style or my desires anymore.

I see it in all the dreams I had, the things I said I’d do by 25, by 27, and now by the looming 30. I try not to become angry with myself for not meeting expectations I set for myself when I was younger, ambitions decided before I knew how the world really worked. It’s just that these are things I thought I’d do, that I’d have done by now. The movie version is playing out differently than the fiction I imagined.

***

Many summers ago, some friends and I would drink and dance in bars before stumbling over to afterhours clubs, one in particular, every single weekend, and we’d laugh and stay up until well after the sun came up, splitting cabs and dragging ourselves back to our respective apartments, passing tired baristas as they unlocked cafes around us. I felt so alive and young then. I felt like things would feel that way forever.

But they didn’t, of course. The summer ended and so did the parties. When fall rolled around, life took on a chameleon-like form and we all returned to our normal routines, whatever our normal was then.

I met up with those friends again this past weekend. It had been a while, too long actually, and we were reminiscing about things when the topic of that summer came up. We realized that five years had passed. It weighed down on me, thinking about how long it had been, how things can simultaneously change and stay the same. How there I was with the same group of people, but we were being civil and philosophical, our conversations had depth and meaning, and not a single person asked me if I wanted to do a shot.

And maybe that’s when this whole thing started, when I started thinking about my past self as the somewhat wild, young 20-something who lived life without fear and trusted that everything would just work out somehow. I was carefree, but I was also careless. I did not have the same boundaries as I do now. I did not understand the flaws in my character. The things I thought made me charming or endearing then, I’d never allow now. But still I miss her sometimes, the version of me who didn’t worry as much. And maybe sometimes I wish I could return to that era of innocence and ignorance, traits erased by age.

I’m not scared of getting older, but I am scared of life passing me by. And maybe that’s why I panic slightly when a milestone age comes and goes and I haven’t yet created some magnum opus that solidifies my place in history and justifies my struggles, the bane of a writer’s existence. Maybe it feels like time is passing by too fast.

But then I need to remind myself that I’m only 28, and while yes that is “almost 30,” it’s also not 30. I’ve become a different person over the past two years, and I’ll be different still another two years from now. I get conflicted dancing on this line between youth and womanhood, but I’m starting to learn the moves (I could never really hold the beat before anyway). And you know what, I may be getting older. But I’m also becoming a much better dancer.

In Defence Of Mental Wellness

there's more to mental health than mental illness

I don’t like the way we talk about mental health, mostly because the conversation is usually framed around “mental illness.” Mental health is so much more complex than that. There’s this entire other side to the equation, one we don’t talk about as much or often enough, and that is mental wellness. When we forget about wellness, we remove not only the element of hope that is so crucial when you are depressed or anxious or angry or lost, but also the opportunity for things to get better.

I’ve written a lot in my life, and on occasion I’ve even gathered up the courage to put something out there that is really personal. It is terrifying to admit to the world that you are flawed, that you have complexes, that sometimes the things you do or think are not normal. I’ve shied away from talking about my own battles with depression and anxiety because I too fall victim to the stigma. But I’m starting to care less about what people think these days. Depression and anxiety may be a part of my life, but they do not define it.

I started shifting my thinking about this late last year. I realized that I had a problem with how I viewed my own mental health. My perspective mirrored society’s. I too looked at my condition as a mental illness and I forgot about my own mental wellness.

It’s easy to do that when you are sick. But after a while, I became sick of being sick. I was sick of feeling sorry for myself, sick of being sad, sick of crying all the time, sick of feeling like nothing was ever going to get better, sick of talking to people, sick of taking pills, sick of drinking too much, sick of feeling the way I felt, sick of being tired all the time, sick of fighting it. I cycled through years of this and every time it felt just as bad as the last.It felt like things would never improve, like I was destined to live in this cloud of darkness.

I read memoirs about other people’s struggles with depression and even the ones I cherished, most notably Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, didn’t do much to make me feel better, even if I felt less alone. At some point, I accepted depression and anxiety as part of who I was, and that was a dangerous thing for me to do. With acceptance comes comfort and once you’re comfortable, what desire do you have to ever change things?

It’s not like I didn’t try. I spent a lot of time getting referred from one place to the next and listening to one person’s opinion then another. I worked hard on my career, determined not to let my sickness bring me down and even though it did at times, I was further determined not to let anyone know that this sickness existed. I got pretty good at it too. My reputation for being social and bubbly and hard working never faded. But it was not a very effective method for me because at the end of every day I still felt sad, this deep crushing sadness that made me question everything in my life, including my value and my worth. I wondered if people thought I was talented. I wondered if people loved me. I wondered, when they told me that they did, what they could possibly see in me, a shell of a girl.

Then I started thinking about it and I realized I was actually just sick of thinking of myself as mentally ill. How I hated that term. I’m not mentally ill! I shouted from the inside out. There’s so much more to me than that. I’m ambitious, I’m funny, I’m loving, I’m fun. I like to plan events and parties and talk to people and travel places and take pictures and document life and try new things and take chances. I realized it’s not that I was mentally ill, it’s that I wasn’t mentally well.

This idea of wellness seemed new to me. I hadn’t quite looked at things through that lens before and this changed things. I started to recognize that I really did need to learn how to shift my thinking patterns, and I realized this would take time and effort. I stopped thinking about the things that made me sick and instead concentrated on the things that could make me better. I sat down to write a list of 25 things that made me happy and before I knew it I had 47, then 60, then 82. I had a totally new perspective on my own mental wellbeing and I knew it was up to me to make some changes.

I decided to embrace mind over matter and I stopped looking at myself as sick and started looking at myself as someone who had the power to be well. I started embracing the very idea of wellness. All these things that were contributing to my depression and anxiety, I realized I could change them. And if I couldn’t change them, I realized I had to let them go. Maybe I’ll always struggle with my mental health to some extent, as I still do now, but I’ve realized I have a responsibility to myself to not make it any worse. I have a responsibility to myself to make it better.

Everything is going to be okay because what other option is there? ~ Me

In order to become okay, I had to put work into myself, a different kind of work than I was doing before. I had to be proactive and less passive. I had to decide what was worthy of occupying what I call my mental real estate, the places in your mind where all your thoughts, fears, and dreams live. I had to decide to be okay.

After so many years of feeling trapped and running in the big fat hamster wheel that is depression and anxiety, realizing I have the power to open the door was a huge discovery for me. And being ready to open that door was life changing.

I Was Raised On Rock ‘n’ Roll

Raised on AC/DC

I had just started working a new job in a new office and they were still doing renovations. I spent my first day building my own desk, which I should have taken as a sign, but that’s another story.

I started work at 9 a.m. At 9:55 a.m., I asked the renovators if they could put a pause on their construction while I made a very important phone call to my mother. It’s easy to get people to do what you want when you mention your mother, but little did they know the matter at stake was the pending on-sale of AC/DC concert tickets. This may not seem like some significant family matter, but that is a matter of perspective. For us, it was crucial we get these tickets. My mother had raised me on a steady diet of hair metal, heavy metal, and rock’n’roll, and from a young age I knew AC/DC like my abcd’s. So when it was announced AC/DC would be rolling through town, there was an unspoken understanding that my mother and I would go see them. We would both try to get tickets to double our chances.

The workers sat idly by as I dialed my mother. They drank from Gatorade bottles and chatted quietly, though not quiet enough that I couldn’t hear them wonder aloud about what could possibly be so important that this 20-something blonde girl would request they stop working entirely. (At least they were getting paid, they kept saying). It’s not like I needed it to be noise free, it’s just the anticipation was almost too much to handle. I felt nervous. Would we be able to get tickets? What if we couldn’t? Would we risk it and buy them online? We were looking for four, a hard number in concert ticket sale land, especially when you’re hoping for good seats. My anxiety ran rampant.

We both loaded our Ticketmaster screens and watched the seconds ticking up from 9:59:01. As soon as 10 a.m. struck the search was on. Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours as we waited anxiously for one of our browsers to load.

Mine loaded first.

“Mom! I got some! Section 200, row 19!”

“Get them!” She said, demanded. We knew there was no chance of us getting better seats let alone four of them. I began to process the order.

“Wait,” she gasped. “Mine just loaded. Row C.”

“C?” I asked. A letter? “What section?”

“Floor. Sheena, this is third row.”

We couldn’t believe it and squealed with excitement from our respective work places as my mother processed and confirmed the order. When the tickets were officially ours, the renovators got back to work and I left my newly built desk to giddily tell my new coworkers the exciting news. Now, the waiting game began.

***

I was an early adopter of rock. At three, I would adorn a headband and tell people I wanted to be Axl Rose when I grew up. When “Sweet Child Of Mine” came on, I would sway at the hips, close my eyes, and dance. It was the earliest proof that I am my mother’s daughter.

My mom got married at 20 and had me a little over a year later at 21. When I was seven and she’d sleep past 10 a.m. I found what could only be attributed to her young age to be a rather annoying trait. I had usually been up for hours by the time she reared her sleep head. But as we got older, I was forever grateful that we weren’t too far off in age, especially when it came to music. She taught me the classics, sang me Styx and Meatloaf songs as lullabies, and took me to my first concerts. We listened to it all, but there were two bands in particular that really solidified our bond: Def Leppard and AC/DC.

She would lament me with stories of her late teens and early 20s, seeing Def Leppard, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, and many other bands from the 80s and early 90s perform in iconic venues like the late Maple Leaf Gardens. I saw photos of her in tight denim and t-shirts, hair sky high and teased to the max. I idolized her life, imagined what it would be like if her and I had grown up together in that era and gone to concerts as friends. I imagined how much fun we would have had, partying together and drooling over men in too tight pants.

Not that we didn’t have fun and do this anyway. Every time Def Leppard performed in Toronto (and, one time, in Hamilton), we went. Once or twice we had too many margaritas. We saw them perform alongside Billy Idol, Poison, Heart and many others. I think I’ve seen them more than 10 times, and only once without her.

But we had never seen AC/DC together. Wouldn’t that be the day? We’d dream.

***

It took forever for the concert to come around. When the day finally arrived, I was disappointed we didn’t get hard tickets because I always liked collecting the stubs, looking through them later and reflecting on them like photo albums. They were trying out a new technology, paperless tickets, but we ended up getting lanyards instead, which I suppose was kind of cool, making the affair feel very VIP.

When we got to the stadium and proceeded to walk down the aisles towards our seats, I felt a thrill every time we were granted permission to go a little closer to the stage. As we approached our seats, we were shocked to discover there was no row A. We were actually second row! This couldn’t be real! A massive black curtain hid what was on the stage, and we waited with great anticipation for the show to start. The opening band got held up at the border, so the show was delayed. And when it had been decided that the band would never arrive, the curtain finally opened and a huge train that shot out fire revealed itself, as did each member of the band.

When Angus Young appeared, I couldn’t help but scream. He was one of my guitar idols. As a player myself, I admired his talent (and Malcolm’s too) and aspired to achieve his skillset. One Halloween I even dressed like him in my best boyish schoolgirl outfit, but unfortunately everyone thought I was Hermione from Harry Potter.

The show epitomized rock’n’roll. There were flames and explosives, giant blow up dolls, and more than two hours of blaring guitars, loud drums, and that infamous vocal growl. It was a family affair, for not only was I there with the woman who introduced this music into my world, but also my sister and my stepdad too. It is for reasons like this that music and family have such an entangled meaning for me. When I was growing up, music always had a way of bringing us together. There were the concerts we went to together, the ones they drove me to all across Ontario (and there were many), the ones I dragged my little sister to, and the ones I couldn’t ever stop talking about. I picture rolling the windows down and blasting rock and hair metal albums while driving down the highway on road trips. I picture the support everyone gave me when I decided to learn guitar, and for the four years after as I lent my life to the instrument, convinced that I too could be some big rockstar one day.

This didn’t happen. But still, music has always been all around me. From before I could walk to after I moved out on my own, it has been there with me, guiding me, helping me take that next step forward.

“Your Ovary Looks Like A Bagel” and Other Stories About My Uterus

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When it happened, the pain was so severe I couldn’t move or speak. It felt as though something had violently burst inside of me, tearing my insides to shreds. I couldn’t explain to my boyfriend why suddenly in the middle of the night I was first screaming then saying nothing, rendered unable to communicate to him what was happening. I couldn’t even cry, I almost couldn’t breathe, barely able to mouth the words, “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

I barely remember getting into the cab, checking into the hospital, or waiting in the waiting room, though all three of these things must have happened. The pain disoriented me, left me unable to process what was going on. By the time a doctor came to see me it was 6:30 in the morning and I was so exhausted, my eyes were barely open. Unable to explain the situation, the doctor told me to come back at nine for an ultrasound.

I went home but didn’t sleep, only to return to the hospital a couple hours later. The ultrasound was uncomfortable, and I was concerned, increasingly so as the technician kept returning to one spot in particular. I became anxious. What could she see?

“I’m going to get the doctor,” the technician said. “Stay here.”

I lay on the table, my heart racing, and I waited for the doctor to come tell me what was wrong. “You had an ovarian cyst rupture,” he explained. “Your ovary looks like a bagel, but it should go back to normal soon. You will be fine.”

A bagel? Fine? He sent me home, but I wasn’t fine. In addition to worrying about my now bread-shaped reproductive organ, the pain never fully went away. Months before the incident, I had started experiencing crippling, sudden pains that were so severe I would have to stop whatever I was doing and remain perfectly still. I had gone to the doctor about it, but they told me, again, that everything was fine. The pain was becoming much more frequent, happening several times a day.

I went back to the doctor, but nobody seemed concerned. Nobody was willing to listen to my stories about the “phantom” pains I was experiencing. I knew something was wrong and I wanted answers.

A former classmate of mine had endometriosis and was seeing a specialist about it. I asked for her doctor’s name, and then promptly got a referral from my own doctor. If he wouldn’t listen to me, I wanted to talk to someone who would. This was in October and it was just starting to get cold outside. It is customary to have to wait for a specialist appointment, so I started counting down the days to January.

When I finally saw the specialist, she ordered a new set of ultrasounds. She didn’t take long to call me back, requesting I return to her office only a few days later. “You appear to have something blocking us from being able to fully see what’s going on inside of you,” she said. “I recommend exploratory surgery to determine the cause.”

Surgery? This sinking feeling began to overtake me. I was scared. What was inside of me? Did I have cancer? Did I have endometriosis? Would I ever be able to have children? You don’t realize how bad you want children until there’s a possibility you might not be able to. At 22, it was a luxury I assumed would be afforded to me and now I felt like it was being taken away.

I agreed to the surgery. For the next month, the world looked different to me. I imagined a different life for myself than the one I assumed I’d have, the eventual home, a husband, and two kids. I wondered how this would affect my relationship. Would he eventually leave me because I was infertile? In those nights when I worried, he held me and promised he wouldn’t. My sister and a friend offered to carry a baby for me. I cried into their arms, overwhelmed by the kindness of their offers. I felt so close to them, these people who came through for me in a confusing and difficult time. I met other women who were going through the same thing as me. I’m not sure how the conversations ever happened, how we ever discovered we shared this connection, but somehow the stars aligned and I found support in strangers. Together we mourned the children we were not sure we’d ever have.

These thoughts plagued me until I was able to undergo a small day surgery called a laparoscopy.

My specialist called me back in shortly after. She went straight to the point as she pulled out a diagram. “You have a large uterine fibroid the size of a grapefruit attached to your uterus,” she said, once again my reproductive organs were compared to a breakfast food. She took out a pen and drew a giant fibroid beside the pre-printed uterus to give me perspective. Uterine fibroids are usually benign, she explained, and I was beyond grateful to learn a biopsy showed mine was too. Fibroids have been linked to infertility when they grow inside of the uterus. Luckily, she said, mine was outside. It’s unlikely my fertility down the road would be affected.

I breathed a sigh of relief. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I would be able to have children. Even though I was still in pain and my journey was ongoing, hearing that made me feel like I was allowed to be 22 again.

My specialist told me I should undergo another surgery to have it removed right away. I agreed, and less than a month later I found myself in the operating room once again.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how none of the other doctors or technicians had noticed this before. How did something so large go undetected? Fibroids are actually more common than people think, affecting as many as one in five women in their childbearing years. Many women never even know they have them. In fact, the reason mine was likely causing problems is that it was actually attached to my uterus by what’s called a stalk. The fibroid would twist causing the stalk to get pinched, shooting sharp pains through my body.

Laying on the operating table cloaked in hospital light, I was less afraid this time even though the surgery was a more complex procedure. It would four leave tiny scars, a permanent reminder that nothing is in this life is ever guaranteed. But I felt so much more at ease. I was no longer worried about whether or not I was dying, or if I’d be able to have children of my own one day. For the first time in months I had answers.

It felt like I had lived so many lives during that time, forced to think about my life in its entirely in ways I hadn’t really considered before. For a while everything changed. And now, just one more surgery and it would all be back to normal again. I’d heal and go back to my job. My social life would resume. I would be okay. Everything finally would be fine. So I closed my eyes and counted down from 10.

Doing Yoga With Dave Moffatt

Doing yoga with Dave Moffatt

“Thank you for coming to practice,” he says, adjusting the volume on his headset to make sure everybody can hear him. It hums as he fiddles with it, but I barely notice. I am too busy concentrating on the sound of his voice, the familiarity of it.

How is it possible life has come full circle like this? It perplexes and intrigues me how this version of my past could collide with my present in such a way. I imagine going back in time 15 years to tell a younger version of myself that this would be happening. I never would have believed it. I can barely believe it now.

But there he is: Dave Moffatt of the 1990s/early 2000s Canadian band the Moffatts, leading a free yoga class at Toronto’s Mountain Equipment Coop of all places. This is somebody I saw perform sold out concerts at some of the city’s biggest venues more than a decade ago. Friends of mine had scribbled his name in black Sharpie on neon posters from the dollar store, and although my favourite member (as it is customary to have a favourite member when you are a preteen-aged young woman) was the lead singer, I am still a little star struck being in the presence of somebody who helped define so much of my adolescence.

The Moffatts were my band. While my peers were drawn to choreographed pop stars like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I was taken by how the quartet of brothers played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. I liked the topics the Moffatts explored: first, young love and innocence; and later, in their best and final album, more complex issues such as sex and depression, matters not often associated with a band best known for a bubbly ballad called “I Miss You Like Crazy.”

But more than that, the Moffatts were my first introduction to a community that made me feel like I was finally part of something. Music made up for all the holes in my real life, the void other girls filled with boys, parties and other things I knew little of. The Moffatts brought a richness to my life. They were a catalyst for new friendships, some of which became life long, and they were the foundation of the quintessential preteen fantasy that boys like that could write songs about girls like me. But eventually this faded. My heart turned to real boys, new bands, and a growing circle of friends, and I no longer needed the Moffatts the way I once did. Yet seeing Dave in the flesh brings some of these feelings and memories back, and they come with a sort of sadness, filling me with this sinking awareness of how things that once seemed necessary can end.

***

It is a Sunday morning in mid November and it is snowing ever so lightly outside. By this point I am starting to get used to waking up at sunrise to go to yoga classes on weekends. In the months leading up to Dave’s class, I had started trading in late nights at the bar for early mornings at the studio in an attempt to introduce more balance into my life. I arrive to class eager and early, so I find myself drinking coffee in Starbucks and staring out the window down Spadina to pass the time.

As we ready for class a little later, I can’t help but almost stare at Dave. He is smaller than I imagined he would be, tiny and bendy. I watch as he contorts his body into inhuman shapes. I have been practicing yoga for just over eight months and am amazed by what my own body has learned to do. I wonder if mine too will be able to shape shift like that once I have the experience he has.

The previous night, I had been out celebrating my friend Erin’s birthday when I saw a guy who reminded me of Dave Moffatt. I hadn’t really thought about the Moffatts in a long time and I wondered what Dave looked like now. I Googled it, and as I began typing his name, “Dave Moffatt Yoga” came up.

My heart skipped a beat. That couldn’t be the Dave Moffatt could it? I knew he lived in Toronto. A friend had spotted him twice in her neighbourhood, once at the post office and another time while walking down the street. As the page loaded, my doubts quickly disintegrated: the keyboardist of a band I was once admittedly obsessed with was indeed now teaching yoga classes in my city. As fluke would have it, he had tweeted about a class taking place the very next day. “Are you teaching?” I giddily tweeted at him. He responded shortly after with a yes, you should come. Erin and I agreed to part ways and reconvene for class in the morning.

It takes all of my energy to not burst into laughter at how surreal everything feels the next day. I cannot make eye contact with Erin for it would surely push me over the edge and at times I can barely even look at Dave himself. But I get into the class, as you always do with yoga, and for a while I forget it is Dave teaching. I become lost in the flow, no longer even in the room but in another realm entirely. Just like with music. It only comes back to me when he adjusts me, repositioning my body just slightly. As he walks away I can’t help but mouth to Erin, “He touched me.”

The feeling is enough to make me aware once again of the strange nature of the situation. As the session winds down and we rise from savasana, he begins to chant melodically. Singing and chanting are not part of my usual yoga practice, but it feels almost right in that moment. Of course he has to sing.

When class ends I have to talk to him. Something inside of me needs him to acknowledge that this is real.

“Hi Dave,” I say as I stagger up to him. “Thanks for the great class.”

“Sheena, right?” He responds, surprising me. “I recognize you from Twitter. It’s nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too,” I say, as if I hadn’t before. No teenybopper can go through her teenybopper career without the compulsory experience of at least one crazed autograph signing.

I smile. Nothing about this makes sense and yet somehow everything does. The coincidence forces me to truly reflect on where my life is now and on how much has changed since I last saw the Moffatts perform on stage. I am not the same girl I once was.

Yoga is powerful like that. It grounds you and makes you come to terms with things in the most meaningful way. The practice comes with an awareness and acceptance of your self and the things around you in a manner that is both internal and infinite. Something feels different as I walk away from class. I am aware of each snowflake, in awe of how beautiful everything looks in its dusting of white, and conscious of just how calm the world can be on a sleepy Sunday morning. Everything is in its place, and I feel exactly where I need to be.

***

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Image from Tribe Fitness.

How My Vanity Helps Fight My Depression

Lipstick-in-mirror

I like to look good, but I admit I don’t always dress the part. On occasion my hair is a disaster and in need of a good washing, and sometimes my outfits are a little on the questionable side. What can I say, my depression gets the better of me sometimes, and it makes getting dressed and doing my hair feel like climbing mountains. I know this because I climbed a mountain once in the heat of the Vancouver sun. I thought I wouldn’t, but I made it to the top.

Depression itself is a lot like climbing a mountain. You just keep going and going looking for the light, the break in the trees, the place where it all levels out. The summer I climbed Grouse Mountain I started paying attention to the details, and perhaps it is for this reason I still remember the signs warning climbers of mountain lions in the area, of the possibility of imminent danger. This is also what depression feels like: that at any moment something could just come out of nowhere and take you out without warning. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to live on this edge, this divide between beauty and the beast.

When I got to the top of Grouse Mountain I looked like shit. I know this because I took a before and after photo and my straight platinum blonde hair had turned into strings that dangled from my head like pieces of rope. Despite the accomplishment, I was ashamed of my appearance and of the sweat that told the story of my struggle up the mountain and how even when I came out on top, literally, I didn’t look at the top of my game. This bothered me. I never showed the photo to anyone. If Instagram had existed then, no filter would have salvaged my confidence.

A big part of my life since the depression started seeping in has been keeping up the illusion that my depression does not exist. I have my vanity to thank in part for that. Appearances have become quite important to me, and looking good has become my best defence in this battle. I have found solace and strength in the deception—and I have found a special kind of hope that comes from looking after yourself. Keeping up appearances has prevented me from plummeting to new lows because it proves to me that I still love myself enough to care.

Eye shadows and red lipsticks have become my weapons in this war. Strokes of smoky purples and dark eyeliners have become my armour, and a crisp chiffon shirt or a tight black dress (worn with pumps or a good pair of boots), my uniform. Maintaining my roots and upgrading my wardrobe have given me the confidence to fight this battle. These are the tools in which I use to combat my depression. They may not be the most noble, but they work.

Women do these little things everyday, but it is these little things precisely that make the difference when you’re depressed. When you put the time into your appearance you feel better, and feeling better is the ultimate weapon in this struggle. Feeling better gives you the strength to put your brave face on and persevere. When you’re feeling better you look better and this makes you more approachable. It allows you to maintain relationships with your coworkers, to hold down jobs, and find success in your endeavours.

If I let myself go, which is rather tempting at times but never an option, I know I would become much sicker. I would fall back into the depths of depression and I would feel ten times worse. There are other tools in this fight—medication and therapy, mostly—but I have found neither to be quite as immediately effective as taking the time to inject self-love back into your daily routine.

Self-love comes in many forms. For me it also comes in working on my body in healthy ways. I go to the gym, ride my bike to and from places, and practice yoga. Being active encourages me to eat healthier, both of which are proven to help lessen depression. Not only does this make me feel better mentally and physically, but it encourages me to work on myself, which ultimately assists in other areas of my life as well. It makes me more accountable and dedicated, and forces me to set goals and work towards them. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is yet another tool in this battle. These small things, even though they stem from a place of vanity, have helped me push forward even when it’s felt unbearable.

Depression is a brutal and debilitating illness that makes doing any of the above feel impossible at times. I am not always able to put on the mask. But it has taught me how important it is to take an active role in your recovery, and to take advantage of any methods that work for you. Depression can make you feel stuck and the best thing to do when that happens is move. I love the excitement that comes with the physical act of getting ready to go somewhere. It indicates that I am moving—and movement, as they say, is life. When I’m feeling really low and I need to shake it, I just get up, put some music on, curl some waves into my hair, and slap a little lipstick on. Depression may not be pretty, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be.

Beyond the Grain

saint john

The art affected me almost instantly. We went to the gallery to support Adrienne, a Toronto-based artist who was exhibiting the work she completed after spending a few months in Syracuse, New York. She left to take part in the artist residency program and came back with a large body of work, most were pieces painted on wood bearing feminist and lesbian messaging, the lines in some designed to look like vaginas. Some of the pieces were colourful and abstract, while others were subdued and sad, exuding a feeling of loneliness and loss.

It was the latter that inspired us to buy a piece, our first real art. As we stood in the gallery two summers ago tipsy off complimentary wine, another friend offered to give us a tour. She was familiar with the work and had a way of describing the paintings in a manner that made you fall in love with each one. Not that the work wasn’t great in and of itself, but the stories played a quintessential role in our decision to buy the art. There were these intricate details behind each of the works that resonated deep within me. Story after story, I felt myself admiring each piece in a new way.

But when we came to the one we would buy something stopped both of us. The piece contains five pieces of wood, each one found somewhere in Syracuse, assembled in such a fashion to create one larger work. At first glance, all you see if the five pieces of wood, but upon further inspection it is clear the grain is actually painted on and stained. It is a work of five paintings of wood, painted on wood, against the grain. It is an illusion and a lie. It is control and chaos. It is beautiful and dark. It is haunting.

I loved it before I knew the story, but I loved it after I knew the story more. Adrienne felt a deep isolation in Syracuse. A college town, she was there on off months when almost everything was closed and no one was around. The town, my friend described, was broken and lonely, a series of abandoned homes with nobody to love them. Adrienne was staying in a room in a house that was shoddy at best. One night, she noticed a perplexing repair. It was painted wood, maybe along a floorboard, but whoever painted it had done so against the grain. Adrienne couldn’t understand why someone would do that; make such an obvious mistake. She felt like it summed up her trip perfectly.

TJ and I had just returned from a trip our selves. We had left Toronto for Saint John, New Brunswick in a hurry upon news that a dear friend of mine had been in a horrible accident. The ATV she was a passenger on had flipped and landed on top of her, crushing her beneath it. She was alive, but the accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. When I heard the news I was devastated. I could not stop crying and I called everyone in tears, TJ, my mother. It was hard for me to breathe. Shyla and I had been friends since middle school and she was like a sister to me. I felt like I was mourning her. I felt like she was dead. The news hit me so hard I had to keep reminding myself that she was alive.

Seeing her meant going to Saint John, a town that sounds to be much like Syracuse. On the way to New Brunswick we got delayed at the airport in Montreal. I cried into TJ’s lap for what felt like hours, devastated that we would arrive in Saint John too late to visit Shyla in the hospital. I hated the airline. I hated the feeling I felt in my stomach, this horrible knot of despair that turned and coiled until I felt so sick inside I thought I could die.

By the time we made it to Saint John it was pouring rain and midnight. The cab driver asked what we were doing in town and when we told him, he already knew of the accident. It had been all over the news. The scenario of seeing her in the hospital played out in my head over and over like a broken film reel with missing frames. The emotions were so strong they overrode the images. I couldn’t see her smiling in my visions. I couldn’t see me smiling in my visions. I saw only unparalleled sadness. I felt this sense of complete and utter loss even though she was alive.

Visiting hours were over and so TJ and I had little else to do but waste time in Saint John until we could see her in the morning. We grabbed an umbrella and decided to check out area. It was so late and we were exhausted, but we thought we’d better grab a drink somewhere down by the water and experience a taste of the town while we were there. We were also hungry, but nothing was open. Saint John is a port town, a place for cruise ships to stop through. But it felt like a ghost town, the rain sinking inside our bones and forcing us to confront the shiver we felt inside.

We weren’t able to see Shyla in the morning. She had a rough night and barely slept, finally resting her eyes some time after the sun had come up. So TJ and I decided to explore Saint John in the daytime. Even in the sunlight, the town felt desperate. The buildings and houses were so old and evidence of a fire that wiped out half the town many years before still remained. Nobody was around. In a coin and collectibles shop, old men talked about wars of the past. We walked down streets that were so empty we could hear our footsteps on concrete. It was a place without many sounds. As a city girl used to the noise of the streets, the silence disturbed me. I don’t remember hearing any birds.

When we finally saw Shyla, the experience was hardly the depressing scene I had been imagining and instead she possessed this unworldly acceptance of the accident, of her fate. I never saw her cry and she never once looked like she might. Everyone else, including me, was a total mess, but Shyla was calm. She knew something we didn’t yet. She knew that everything, including her, would be okay.

Back at the gallery, our experience in Saint John still haunted us. While our visits with Shyla turned out to be beautiful, the town itself had left scars on our souls. It felt like the painting knew this, that it recognized this inherent confusion, this suffering and intensity that we had experienced in the days leading up to our visit to Saint John, and the kaleidoscope of emotions that came with it. Some people don’t understand why we purchased art that reminds us of something so depressing, but the work continues to speak to us each day, forever its meaning just slightly evolving. These days when I look at it, it reminds me not to take things for granted, that everything can be taken away from you. Whether it’s in a minute or gradually over the span of a few months, you can lose things you never knew you could lose.

But more importantly, it tells of the power of turning something painful into something meaningful, and of seeing the beauty beyond the grain. It inspires me. It reminds me that everything is going to be okay.

The Love of a Good Man

sheenatkmic

He came to me when I least expected it. Love is so funny like that. It comes up in the most unusual places, hidden out in the open at crowded bars, appearing seemingly out of nowhere like a magic trick, a magician on the run. Just like that love can appear and disappear, which is why I tell my friends when you have the love of a good man to hold on to it so tight and to keep it close to your heart, to fight for it and cherish it and to never let it go. The love of a good man is hard to find, I know this. I never for a minute forget how lucky I am that I have it.

I had love once before, but it was a different kind of love, a youthful love, one that doesn’t know the bounds love asks of its believers. It was a love reserved for the young, a sweet, short romance that gave me everything I needed it to give me. It taught me how to care endlessly for another person. It taught me how to open up, how to be honest with myself and accountable to another human being. It taught me how to share secrets and feelings and emotions so strong it’s easier to leave them in the pages of old diaries, but more rewarding to talk them out. Most importantly, it taught me love comes in and out like the seasons and that it doesn’t always stay. You can have this whirlwind romance and it can end just like that. Those feelings can change and there are reasons known and reasons unknown for these things, but it won’t stop anything from happening. It taught me that some love does have an expiry date, a rest in peace sign, a cross marked at the intersection of youth and womanhood.

My new love is different. At the beginning, it seemed, it was destined not for greatness but instead a summer romance, a taste of excitement breathing between university semesters that would end when September came and the leaves changed colours. But I quickly learned that nothing is ever as it seems, things either are or they aren’t something. This love was meant for something more.

We met at a bar on Bloor Street in 2007, a defining year if there ever was one. This was the year I moved from Etobicoke back home again and eventually, finally, to the city. This was the year my first love ended and my new love began and between them a few bad stories for good measure. This was the year I became me.

It was also the year we became us. I noticed him right away and it caught me off guard when he approached me shortly after and asked to buy me a drink. I was drinking Tom Collins in those days because I was 20. He was 26. He was older and had sexy hair and a good job and a Guns N Roses belt buckle that pressed into me as we danced into the night. He was messy and the night was messy and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to make mistakes. I wanted to be wild and reckless and so did he. We saw each other at the time as a taste of the good life, but our definitions of the good life were flawed. Both relatively fresh out of long-term relationships, we saw each other as attractive distractions to our everyday lives, which were sadder on the inside than we showed on the outside. We were sadder, but we were never sad when we were together.

We met early in April and by May I knew I loved him, a love that made my heart beat so hard I thought it just might tear from my chest and escape someplace far away. I didn’t know it was possible to love somebody so hard so quickly, but I did and I loved him with every part of my being in a way I had never experienced before. It was passionate and raw. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to be in love like this, it was foreign and I didn’t know how to navigate those waters. I thought I had sailed before but this was different. I was scared of what was happening to me. All my thoughts returned to him, all my nights went to him, my heart went to him, my body went to him, I just let this love wash over me and even if I had tried I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. By the end of May we ended all our phone calls with “I love you.”

This was almost seven years ago now and many people ask me how I have spent the entirety of my 20s with one man and I have told them that when you find the love of a good man it is as though time vaporizes. There is never quite enough. He is such a part of me that I feel his presence in my bones. When he aches, I ache. When he bleeds, I bleed. When he’s happy, I’m happy. He is the kind of man who will make me homemade chicken noodle soup at my earliest inclination of feeling sick. He is the kind of man who treats my nieces and nephews with such love I can’t help but imagine him as the father of my future babies. He is the kind of man who knows everything about me and loves me anyway, loves me even though I can be hard to deal with, hard to live with. He is the kind of man who showers me in this love, whose hugs and kisses embrace my entire body, whose jokes make me laugh, whose touch drives me wild, whose voice makes the world feel alright, who makes me feel alive.

There have been hard times, oh yes, bruises on our hearts from times we were not our best selves, our best us. There were times we would look at each other and feel only despair. But we worked through those times because we recognize that sometimes you have to work for love, you have to fight for love, you have to try and try and try again to make things right because there is nothing more magical, nothing more beautiful, than a love worth fighting for. A good love takes work, it takes dedication, it takes determination and it takes time. It takes effort. When people ask me how we’ve survived for so long, how we still show such affection and compassion for each other, it’s because we make the effort to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, for ourselves and for each other. We put in the effort to do things that couples do when they’re first starting to fall in love. We go on dates, we go on trips, we cook new recipes for each other and we try new wines. We laugh. We touch. We kiss. We care. Our secret is that we try.

When you find the love a good man, appreciate it. Love it. Take a minute each day to soak in its rays. Tell him you love him. Show him you love him. Hold him close like he holds you. Protect it and work for it and don’t be afraid of it. It wouldn’t be worth it if it didn’t make your heart race. Nothing is.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

One More Dime

sisters

I don’t know why it surprises me sometimes when we look so much alike in photos. Despite being born of the same X and Y-chromosomes, in many ways my sister and I couldn’t be more unalike. She, the younger one, is very much the country mouse to my city mouse. At 23, her idea of a good time is getting lost in the wilderness on horseback, following only your tracks back to the barn. She prefers the company of animals and has a way with them that echoes a Disney princess. She is truly a whisperer. At 23, my days were spent serving tables at a restaurant in the tourist part of downtown Toronto while dreaming of becoming a fulltime writer. My nights, lost to boys and bars.

Families are funny things. The dynamics and the roles can shift, but the direct relationships will remain the same. My sister and I have always been sisters. We haven’t always been friends. When we were young and small we did everything together. When we became our own people, we no longer understood each other in the same fashion. Things began to change. Our thoughts and ambitions no longer aligned. We didn’t share a secret language or a code anymore. We never called each other late at night after I moved away from home. I longed for our sisterhood to be as strong as our cousins, two sisters as close as one could ever dream. My heart broke every time I realized it wasn’t.

There were times when I would cry myself to sleep over this. The fractured dynamic of our relationship as sisters haunted me, forcing me to find in myself flaws where there shouldn’t be. I questioned my own character and my own dedication as a sister and a friend. I wondered if I as the older one am more responsible than she is, because I know what life’s like to not have a sister, while she does not. Sometimes she says she’ll call and when she doesn’t, I have allowed myself to remain sad instead of calling her myself. I have wondered, at times, if we are not closer because I am not trying hard enough. How different can we really be? Our eyes are the same and we both have dimples in our chins. Our stories are intertwined.

***

At our cousin’s wedding, we Googled the lyrics to Joan Jett’s cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll” just to make sure we had all the words right. If you wanted the bride and groom to kiss, you had to interrupt the evening by addressing the gathering and singing a song with the word “love” in it. I was drunk because I am sick and drink too much sometimes to cope with it. My sister was not drunk because so is she.

We decided on Joan Jett because it’s one of the songs we have sang together before, driving down the highway as teenagers. We chose it because we wanted to do something together that we both enjoyed. The wedding had brought us closer together and reestablished a bond that had been long missing. As bridesmaids, we went from spending minimal time together to seeing each other every other weekend. We went dress shopping and planned showers. We danced the night away at the bachelorette party and laughed later as we carried the drunk bride-to-be back to the hotel. We danced in the middle of the dance floor and roared until we cried when the same guy hit on us both, separately. We were acting like sisters and it was beautiful and meaningful.

We also chose the song because we thought it would be a funny departure from the love ballads other drunks had been serenating us with all night long. We wanted something that represented our newfound sisterhood. We knew this but we did not say this. We practiced the lines and then sang it to the bride and groom. They kissed. Everyone cheered. We were, for a moment, invincible.

***

When I was in high school, I bought her Metric tickets for Christmas or her birthday and we drove to Kitchener to watch the band perform at a venue that had cages in it, usually reserved for dancers. There were no dancers the night of the concert. I was 17 and the proud owner of a new driver’s license. My mom let us borrow the car, a white Neon, as long as we called her when we got there. We did. Before we left, we bought Doritos at the grocery store and left them in the car for after. It was January. To this day we both agree they taste better cold.

***

My sister and I have an understanding and appreciation of each other that we didn’t have before the wedding. I don’t think we knew before how to manage our differences, focusing instead too much on the variables rather than finding beauty in them. Our DNA may be tangled, but we are different people and as we get older we are starting to recognize that this is what makes our relationship so special. At four years apart, our lives have not always aligned. When she was entering high school, I was moving away to university. In many ways I wasn’t there for her in the ways she likely needed, and it has taken a long time for her to feel confident in seeking advice from me, in recognizing my own experiences as potentially valuable to her own. In the same light, I must remember she is younger, that she is still learning things I have already learned. Yet in many ways, she continues to teach me new things about myself and the way relationships—and families—change; how they flex in and out, how they breathe and mature and evolve.

When we were little girls, we would sit by the window in the kitchen, sun beaming down upon us, and we would draw for hours. We would draw everything—from puppies to sceneries, from portraits of our family to cartoon characters. We shared this love of drawing passionately and it became integral to our understanding of each other. It was something we had together. It was a foundation.

Now that we’re older, now that we’re entering new phases of our lives and learning and growing as people, it is important to remind myself that these foundations still exist. We can look out into the world and see different versions of the same picture, we can experience different narratives of the same story, and of our own stories, but the significance of this parallel is something I finally am beginning to understand. I love her for who she is in her entirety and while I may not always understand her, and she definitely may not always understand me, I will cherish how it is both our differences and our similarities that comprise the fabric of our relationship, of our sisterhood. I will put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde as well as the Toronto editor. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

Image from Home of the Vein. View complete work here.