Home For Mom

Photo: Rob Bye
Photo: Rob Bye

While I lived in Ontario for a year, I came back home every month. It was not for a boy, but rather for my mom. She has terminal lung cancer. She won’t do chemotherapy. At the point where she was, there was no use- it could have killed her rather than saved her. Yes, her slow demise is really painful, and it’s been on my mind every day for more than a year.

I learned that my mom was sick in February 2014. Even before that, I had a feeling that the news would probably be gloomy because my mom warned me that she was going through a series of tests.

I was also worried because in December 2013, we went for a four-day trip in Quebec City and I realized that she was more tired than usual. She was dragging. She needed more coffee breaks.

I was fearing the worst while hoping that it would not be lung cancer. I’ve had the intuition that she was going to die from lung cancer for years. It was not a death wish but rather a strong intuition. I also have an amazing yet disturbing intuition, and it’s mostly right- precisely what makes it disturbing.

My mother smoked cigarettes for years. When we lived together, she would go outside, mostly, or smoke under the hood to mask odours. Sometimes, when I would come back from my dad’s place, she would have had opened all the doors and windows to ventilate the apartment. She would also often try to hide this because she knew that smoking in the apartment, and in general, was not a good idea. Still, she kept doing it, despite my many pleas. I even made no smoking signs in a heart-shape, imitating a Health Canada campaign from the 1990s.

When my mother told me about her illness, I was devastated. I kept it inside and went to my father’s place to pick something up. It was towards the end of the afternoon that I started crying and I couldn’t stop. At the same moment, my father and his girlfriend came back. They were shocked, but not as much as I was. They dropped me off to yoga class. I went because I thought that it would change my mind. I spent half the class crying, to finally breathe. 

A couple of days after this, I got a call: I was accepted in the master of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.

I felt guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother in Montreal, yet I knew I had to go. One of my dreams was coming true. It was my second and last attempt to get into one of the few master of journalism programs in the country.  Again, my intuition was kicking in, this time telling me that I had no choice but to go.

Discussing it with my dad, he understood my dilemma. ‘‘There are times in life where you don’t know what is waiting for you, but you know that you have to go,’’ he said.

My mom wanted me to go, telling me that I had to. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. That being said, I also always felt that I had to be back as often as possible to Montreal to visit, and I wanted to. 

In February 2014, the doctors gave my mother six months to a year. I did feel guilty at times for choosing my future over my mom, yet I didn’t choose. I managed to give as much as I could to both. It was not easy because it required tremendous energy. I often felt discouraged, anxious, angry or sad, but I did it.

In the months prior to graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs all around the country, not knowing what was coming up. I would have loved to move to a new city, probably Toronto, get a high-paying job, find a new apartment and buy new clothes. I would have loved to start anew. I would have loved to become a real adult, to enter middle class, to reap the fruits of my labour. 

Despite my lofty goals, it’s not what life has in the cards for me right now.

On Easter, I had breakfast with my mom and she told me the result of her last scan: she has six months left to live. While she has exceeded her original life expectancy, I know that she won’t this time. It’s more or less six months.

Over coffee, my mother told me that it was fundamental that I’m there for the end of her life. I knew it, but it confirmed it. Time is finite and life happens and then it’s done or as Nas would say, ”life’s a bitch and then you die.” Time with loved ones is precious and it’s probably the most important thing in the world. It’s something that can easily be forgotten in this individualistic and workaholic society.

I’m my mother’s only child and closest family member. While the responsibility can be a burden, it’s also an opportunity to prioritize what is really important. In a nutshell, life and death. In a word, love.

My mother is not the easiest person to take care of. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, which means that emotions are heightened and days unpredictable. Add to that the physical suffering that is worsening as days go by.

As she outlived her life expectancy, she stayed seemingly healthy for months, although inside she was losing every day. She doesn’t seem as healthy anymore. She coughs constantly, and it is harder for her to go to public spaces or to walk outside.

On Mother’s Day, we were walking on Blvd St.Laurent and she was coughing so much that a 20-something guy gave me a concerned glance. I will have to get used to those glances now.

As much as I love my mom, I hate life for giving me such a hard time. My favourite aunt (her sister) already died from cancer in 2005. Why is it happening all over again?

I want my family to be healthy and I want to get on with my life. But then, I’m conscious life is not only about me and the most important thing right now is to take care of my mom.

I find the situation increasingly difficult as her health is disintegrating. I have a guy friend who went through a similar situation with his mother and he told me that despite it being the hardest thing, it is very important to be there constantly, especially in the last moments.

It is fucking painful. I want my mom to revert back to a healthier state. Instead, I’m seeing her lose strength as the days go by. She is scared, she is sad, she is constantly living the full spectrum of human emotions.

I’m trying to ease her pain and help her out as much as I can. I help her clean, I bring her food, I listen to her talk, I record her voice so I can keep memory files.

It’s difficult to know that for me, my mother will disappear soon.

I will never see her become an old lady with a full head of grey hair. She will never meet my future children. That is one of the hardest realizations to have.

Also, the worst is that everyone wants to believe that things are looking up, that she will heal. She will not. She will lose all of her energy. She will die. So many people ask me dumb questions about her state, about whether or not she is doing chemotherapy. People hope for the best. I understand. But the best doesn’t always happen. 

My mother’s illness has made me realize everything that she has given to me, everything that she passed down to me in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be as smart, critical, funny, sensitive and artsy if I had another mom. Despite her difficult childhood, she gave me everything that she did not have. She worked hard at being a mom. She worked hard at being an artist. She gave me everything. The list is infinite.

I will never forget that. I will never forget her. And when I eventually have children, I will make sure to tell them who their grandmother was.


I Was Sexually Assaulted On 420

bonfireI feel like most people’s stories of experimentation seem to have happened at earlier times in their lives, but I’m not really like anyone else, and my experience was more than the ordinary 420 situation.

It was a Friday and one of the last few days of my first year of college. Things were so exciting. I was acting, writing, doing everything I wanted to. I felt like things couldn’t get any better. I was even attracting the attention of a boy who I thought to be pretty darn special. I was charmed by his wit, and wowed by his acting resume. It’s amazing how naïve we allow ourselves to be.

That night I had planned an end of year dinner with my classmates. My best friend picked me up after my rehearsal and we walked along the campus together. It was a beautiful campus with a dark past that I somehow always felt connected to. It was a mental hospital turned college. It went from housing the dark and twisted minds to shaping the future minds of tomorrow.

I got a text from that guy telling me to meet him and for a ride down to the lake before my dinner. We’d have to be quick, he said, because he had to head up north.

Innocently, I thought he was going to take me for a romantic walk on the beach. I was wrong. I got into his truck, but something didn’t really feel right. He said he put the seats down and brought a blanket for us, and couldn’t wait to kiss me. We parked in a busy parking lot. I could see a guy walking his wiener dog toward the beach from the window.

When we parked, he crawled in the back. I followed and he started kissing me. He was bad at it, but I liked him so I kept going. He started taking my shirt and bra off. I started panicking. I knew where it was going and I didn’t want it. Not Like this. Not when I could clearly watch a family unload their strollers from a minivan. He was on top of me and he was fully erect and I said, “I can’t.”

“I’m on my period,” I claimed, trying to grab bra and top, he grabbed them first. My cellphone started ringing. It was my Mom. He grabbed my phone too. His dick was exposed. He told me to suck it. He told me he’d give my stuff back once I did that. I considered it, but I had never given a blow job before, and I really didn’t want to.

“I don’t want to, I really just wanna go.” It was my way of attempting to free us both from becoming another college campus statistic. Sadly, instead he aggressively grabbed me by the hair and started forcing my head toward his crotch. I wanted to cry, but I was in denial. This wasn’t sexual assault, I told myself. If it was, then it was my fault. I asked for it. I just gave in. I didn’t want to be a victim. My logic in that moment was really fucked up. How could this person who 30 minutes ago was lighting up my life, be this kind of person? How could I be so wrong?

I was late for my dinner. I thought he was going to at least drive me to my dinner, Instead. He dumped me off at a bus stop.

I called my best friend and told her everything. Neither of us knew what to do. Or make of it. So we just went to dinner as planned. I told her I felt like it was my fault and that we could tell no one. Of course it wasn’t my fault, but I didn’t know that then.

Remembering that Sex and the City Episode where Carrie smoked a joint, I said, “Let’s make this the day I smoke weed!” As it was one of the last days of school, there was a beach bonfire after dinner. We all met up with our classmates at the beach include this one guy. Let’s call him Frank. He was a classmate who also dealt “the good stuff”. I wouldn’t know how to roll a joint, so luckily Frank had this pretty blue pipe. He got it started and asked why I was smoking. He had never seen me do it before.

I wanted to tell him, but he could see he was prying. He told me he just lost his virginity to a guy. The guy finished and called him a fag, saying he wasn’t even gay. He handed me the pipe and I took a hit. I coughed so much. My mouth was dry, but I was calm.

I watched the guys from the film program dance around the fire like crazy people. More friends showed. They were so excited to finally get high with me. We hugged out our year, and experiences. I was so grateful that that was the way that day ended and that it would forever be the first time I smoked weed.

As for the dink from the beginning of the story, well he’s out there somewhere. It was one of the last times I ever saw him. He tried to contact me multiple times after, but I just couldn’t. He set me up for shame and ridicule by bragging to his friends about what he “thinks” happened. Villians don’t always know they’re villains, do they?

I guess that campus was still housing at least one twisted mind.

This story was submitted anonymously. 

School’s Out

The ladies of #thelastmaj at Western University
The ladies of #thelastmaj at Western University

Having been in school for most of my life with a few delays, I have trouble believing that this is my last week of school, ever. Well, that is unless I choose to do a Ph.D., but I highly doubt it at this point. This is the last time that I’m bound to an academic institution, one where professors grade my work and where I have to hand in assignments.

There’s a folder on my desktop titled ”Journalism” that now contains countless articles, essays, pictures, scripts, slides and Pdfs. It makes me realize the exhaustive body of work that I’ve accomplished over this past year.

I’ve been on deadline so many times for a number of reasons, and while it was stressful, it was also a constant thrill. I can’t count the hours spent writing, transcribing, interviewing, hosting, reporting, shot listing, editing, producing and other similar tasks.

This one-year program was the most intensive one that I have ever done. It was grueling yet life-changing. It gave me the skills that I wanted to have, yet I’m conscious that there is always more to learn. This program gave me wonderful opportunities and learning experiences that I could not have had otherwise.

It’s the end of an era in my life. It all started in May 2014 when I first moved to London, Ont., and met all the people I would see most days for a year.

Over the months, we got closer. In a few days, everybody will go their own way, and it will be a while since we reunite as a group.

I’m very excited to leave London and to get on with my life but at the same time, I know I’ll miss this. I have been part of many groups throughout my life and once they break, I miss seeing everyone united as a group even if in the process they can get on my nerves.

There will be things that I’ll miss about school, such as the mentorship, the time that teachers spend to help with assignments and to generally give good advice. In the working world, people don’t always have that kind of time.

I’ll miss having a space to learn, grow and make mistakes.
I’ll miss the student lifestyle although I won’t miss the low income that goes along with it.

Being in this journalism program has really helped me to carry through with my ideas and to work efficiently under pressure. The fact that I was constantly working, producing and getting results got me farther than I could have imagined. It has also set a pace for my future. I am more disciplined than ever, which is a great thing, considering that I will keep that quality going forward. I feel especially proud of myself because even as a CEGEP dropout, I managed to finish my master (well, almost). I am looking forward to producing more work in the months and the years to come.

I have trouble realizing that it’s the last week. It hit me in the head yesterday when my professor got us all beer and pizza after class to celebrate. Earlier today, everyone was showing their final projects in the television studio and the table was full of snacks and coffee pots.

One thing that makes me realize that it’s the last week too is that I’m exhausted and I still have work to do. It’s not time to celebrate quite yet.

As my yoga teacher/friend told me tonight after his yoga class, ”you don’t taste anything anymore at the end of the semester, and music doesn’t feel as good.” True that. Things are more difficult because fatigue and stress take over.

Time spent for cooking seems like time lost, and don’t even get me started about cleaning.
My room is so messy right now that I don’t want to step in it unless I have to change or sleep. It is hard to walk. There are newspapers, magazines, books, clothes, bags, pieces of papers and beauty products scattered everywhere.

At the end of the semester, I can often be found in a café or at the library so I can escape my self-created mess and focus on the task at hand.

Unlike when I finished my undergraduate degree, now I feel fully ready to go into the real world and to leave school for good.

I know that it won’t be easy. I suffered from anxiety in the last months. I worked hard on dozens of job applications and despite putting my heart and soul into them, I heard nothing but radio silence. That being said, I did find a part-time job and I know that I will find something else eventually. In the meantime, I can relearn how to be a human being again and not only a stressed-out performing machine.

I’m ready to be out there in the real world. Freedom is of utmost importance to me and I’m looking forward to claiming it back.

Right now though, I’m on the line. I feel the adrenaline rush that comes with a lot of hard work but I’m also starting to see the end of it.

I’m really looking forward to sleep for days and to listen to Alice Cooper’s song over and over again. For now though, I’ve got to get back to my final assignments.

Lili Monette is finishing her master of arts in journalism this week. Watch this space.

The Last Time

drunk girl

The last time I touched cocaine was January 31st. Had I have known it would be my last time, I probably would have done things differently. I would have picked up an eight ball instead of a half and stayed awake all weekend. I would have thrown some sort of epic going away party for the dirty little habit that had taken up much of my twenties.

I had quit before, but was easily seduced back into its familiar arms. Cocaine promised to take me somewhere better than where I was, to a version of reality where I was happier, where I could forget about the depression and anxiety that plagued me, the things that robbed me of my confidence and grace. I wasn’t as sad as I used to be, or at least I didn’t think I was, but I still had this shadow that followed me around. Cocaine was like sunshine in comparison, and so I always returned. But something felt different this time.

It wasn’t so much that I was sick of the drug. There’s a reason I liked it for so long, a reason I was late for so many parties, and then, once I got to those parties, why I was always one of the last ones to leave. There’s a reason I spent way too much money on it over the years, an amount I don’t particularly care to calculate. I was just sick of me being on drugs and I thought about this as I put on my shoes and headed to the party. But later, after a few bumps in the bathroom, I pushed the thought away and my night turned into a blur like all the others before it.

I woke up on February 1st and, as I began putting the pieces together from the night before, I realized I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I replayed the night’s events over in my head thinking, was I the only girl high at the party? There used to be more of us. But over the years, people trickled off. Some quit. Some went to rehab. Some disappeared. It used to be that cocaine was everywhere—or at least it felt that way. Sometimes when I was trying to do less I would tell myself I’d only do it if someone offered it to me, knowing that it would indeed be offered to me a some point in the night. Life felt glamorous like that. I felt like a woman from a rock and roll memoir, a wild child. I felt like I had a secret that made me interesting, which is such a cokehead thing to believe, that doing coke makes you interesting. It doesn’t.

If it was a rock bottom, it was a quiet one. There were worse lows scattered across the half a decade I spent dancing that line between a bad habit and an addiction. There were nights that ended with intense fights, and others with minor interventions. There were nights I don’t remember, and scars I don’t have stories for. I have been high in the presence of people I should not have been high around in situations I should not have been high in. On occasion, I bought the drug instead of doing something more responsible like paying bills or buying food. Once or twice, I found a baggie in my purse at work and did just the tiniest little bit, to even out. One time I rubbed it on my teeth as my boyfriend sped down the highway. I just wanted to feel alive, you know? And coke made me feel alive.

Plus, aside from this, it didn’t really cause that many problems in my life. I held down a job and progressed in my career. The friends who did coke with me also had 9-5s. They were artists and teachers and engineers. We paid for our drugs with pay cheques earned the good old-fashioned way, at corporate jobs or through freelance gigs. We looked after each other. We had fun. We laughed a lot. We danced. No one got arrested. No one died. And no one seemed to mind that I was high all the time, so I didn’t really mind either.

In fact, I looked forward to it. When I first started doing cocaine I didn’t want it to become a problem, so I’d make myself wait until 10 p.m. on Friday night before I did my first line. I thought this little ritual proved that I had willpower and restraint. But after a while, I stopped waiting for 10 p.m. Then I stopped waiting for Fridays. After a little while longer, I had three dealers’ numbers saved in my top 10. I was hooked. I loved doing a quick line before I went out. I loved the way it felt riding the streetcar high through the city. I loved a quick bump before a quick fuck. I loved doing it while I was getting ready to go out somewhere, with the record player spinning as I put on some eyeliner, stopping to do bumps between drinks. It was one of my favourite routines, the act of getting ready. The act in itself.

I didn’t realize it had become such a crutch, filling a void alcohol didn’t fill anymore. I was used to coke, and I felt more like myself when I was on coke, or at least more of the self I wanted to be. I felt confident, sexy and smart. It made me social and outgoing. I thought it made me fun! This is exactly how I used to feel about alcohol. Except I didn’t realize that it had taken the place of alcohol, because the alcohol never stopped either.

I’ve been playing the part of the party girl, though perfectly cast, for far too long. Coke was helping me to maintain an image I’m not so sure I want to maintain anymore. When I came to that February morning, I knew it was time to stop hiding under a veil of powdered confidence and liquid courage. It was time to say good-bye.

In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s how this felt to me. And maybe this means my story is a happy one and that I got out before things got too bad. Still, it’s been harder than I expected. I crave it almost every weekend, talk about it too much, and find myself yearning for it, especially after a few drinks. I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to delete the numbers in my phone, though I have stopped responding to text messages from business-savvy dealers. I’m aware that temptation is a dangerous mistress. While I have no intention of indulging, there is comfort in knowing she’s just 10 digits away. Like the ex-smoker with a pack of cigarettes on the top shelf of the pantry, I keep it just out of reach. Just for now. Just in case.

Talking Trash


‘’I say too much sometimes…’’-Lindsay Lohan

In one of my classes, we all sit in a rectangular shape, with the dozen or so students staring at each other from across the table. This class focuses on feature writing and is taught by one of the most engaging and funny (not to mention stylish) professors that I’ve ever had the chance to encounter.

In total, there are 25 students in the professional master program that I am in. That means that by now, everybody knows everyone pretty well and we tend to debate and joke around a lot in class.

In one feature writing class last week, we were commenting on a sublime piece of writing about depression. My colleague who was facilitating the conversation paused on a passage, which for me as for others seemed out of place in the story. I was the first to comment, and I said the first thing that crossed my mind.

Bear in mind that I was born in 1980s Quebec, where feminism was strong and religious beliefs dwindling. My parents grew up with the Catholic religion and then grew out of it. Because of their experience that was transmitted to me and of the fact that I’m an atheist, I don’t innately understand religious beliefs. That being said, I respect and admire people who have a strong faith and a great relationship to religion.

Anyhow, what I said was an inappropriate comment about that passage. Before I was going to say it, I said, out loud, ”I can’t, it’s offensive.”

‘’Oh, go ahead!’’ My professor said.

So I said, half laughing nervously and half looking at my Christian colleague with one eye, ‘‘it was, for me, the Jesus Freak part of the story, if you will.’’

While I was pronouncing the first sentence, I saw my Christian classmate rolling his eyes.
I realized that I had gone a little too far.

My colleagues laughed, but then I explained further (and smarter) that the excerpt seemed out of place. It took me out of the story because I could not relate to it and the tone drastically differed from the rest of the piece.

When it was his turn to speak, my colleague explained to me, and the others who commented on the religious aspect of that excerpt, that he really hated when people looked down on religion, because it was really important for him and really helped him to strive when he was struggling. What he said was so powerful, the whole room went silent.

I remember last summer, when the same professor was in grief, he would sometimes be in a very weird mood. He taught a very intense class about the odds of getting ill. He was quite aggressive, saying that we will die one day and explaining the odds of getting cancer.

As I have a close relative who currently suffers from the illness, it was too much to bear for me on a weekday morning. And this happened twice. So I stormed out of class. My Christian friend was one of the few friends to check on me and give me a hug.

As I was thinking about that, I felt ill. The incident left a bad taste in my mouth. That night, as I was walking to yoga, I felt that I had disrespected him and that I had not thought enough about what I was going to say before I said it. I texted him, apologizing for my words. He thanked me for doing that.

Everybody comes from a different background, and it’s not because I grew up with a mother who has a very sarcastic, third-degree sense of humour that everybody gets the joke.

As I was leaving a friend’s place for dinner later that night with my boyfriend, I explained what had happened to him. I told him that I tend to over-share rather than under-share.

That being said, I’m pretty outspoken and I believe that it is important to share and to foster conversations. I pride myself on being a good communicator and a critical thinker. A presentation I did on Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons this week reinforced the point that freedom of expression and independence of thought is not only important, it’s necessary.

The problem with being bold is to own your statements.

A few days ago, my dad was telling me that he was going to read all of my stories on this very website.
”I don’t know how I stumbled into this…’’ he began.
‘‘Probably Facebook,’’ I said.
‘’Ah, maybe.’’
‘’I don’t want you to read all of my articles dad… There are some I wrote about boys and stuff.’’
‘‘Well if it’s there, I’ll read it. Freedom of expression. It’s all good, Lili,’’ he said.

And it made me realize that it was all good. If somebody does not agree with me, they can tell me that. I don’t need to be afraid of their opinions, but rather open to their feedback.

Recently, my boyfriend pointed out that I was saying ‘‘f*** off’’ a lot. The other day while grocery shopping, I was tired and impatient. I was trying to find a certain product, and when I realized that I couldn’t find it, I said ‘‘f*** off!’’ loud and clear. As I turned my head, I saw a kid looking at me, wide-eyed.

In this case and in the other one in class, I felt terrible. I am a well-educated woman, and I know that there is a wide array of words to choose from, and swear words are not necessarily the best to get to the point. Once in a while, it feels good to let it go, to be open, and to swear (especially when tired, stressed or sick), but it shouldn’t become the norm.

That being said, life is absurd and real and humans are not robots. It is important to have honest conversations. At the same time, I need to take a breath and think about what I’m gonna say before I say it sometimes. I’m very spontaneous, which is both a blessing and a curse.

As careful as I am, sometimes I’m oblivious to swearing or saying it like it is. No filter.

Photo: Ellen von Unwerth, 1996

Lili Monette is a creative spirit and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Hurting a Friend to Learn

Capture d’écran 2015-03-17 à 12.37.05

I don’t like keeping secrets. Sure, I have my little garden of personal information that I wish to keep private, but keeping things that would be best shared with those concerned is another story.

See, I believe that I am an intrinsically good person. Why do I dare affirm that? Because all my life I dreaded to tell a simple lie. Living while knowing that I have hurt someone is unbearable to me.

It was very unpleasant to have to tell my parents that I was going to some girlfriend’s house and then having to tell them a made-up scenario for our activities, while the truth was that I went out to a church basement party or to a gay boy’s house, as for my social sake I couldn’t have missed the event. My parents would have thought that for sure I would’ve gotten pregnant.

All I wish for is to always live in my truth. With all the liars and pretenders out there, I want to make a point that I can be trusted and that I do live in transparency.

Well, oops, I made a mistake. Some mistakes can definitely be worse than others, like driving drunk and killing someone must be pretty harsh on one’s conscience. Some are smaller incidents, but all mistakes have in common that they were done, and they are part of the past so they cannot be undone.

I was recently re-reading Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. One section was very enlightening. While elaborating on the prosecutions that followed the Russian communism invasion, he was saying that many people who were responsible for many deaths kept claiming: ‘‘I didn’t know, I am innocent.’’

Yes, before the events and as they were going on, many people weren’t disclosed sufficient information to know exactly what the impact of their actions was going to be. But as it happened and after, they were forced to face the repercussions and that is where a change in attitude became necessary. At first, they didn’t know, but then they knew. So now what? How will they react as they now know what consequences their actions had?

It is not so important as to whether the person was innocent in the first place, as what matters from this point of view is how the individual will take responsibility for what has been done.

Like my friend V. was saying, ‘‘Sometimes, you have to commit harm to someone you love to learn from the mistake.’’ Oh, I did learn indeed.

See, interpersonal relationships can be complicated, as most people have varying boundaries of what they find acceptable or not. Where is the line that should not be crossed? I have had as many exclusive relationships as I was involved with couples who were open. I am very much used to feeling free in my friendships.

So I had a nap for a couple of hours at the end of a night with a friend of mine, who also happened to be… my friend’s boyfriend. Oh, and I wasn’t a bachelorette myself. But I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, we shared some healing massages, yes, there was proximity, but clothes were kept on and no spooning occurred. My soul was clear and honest. There was no sexual tension within me in this whole act! I have no trouble in having a sensual moment and in controlling my animalistic impulses to not let a drop of desire shape within me.

But who cares? How can my friend check whether or not that was true? However clear I am within me, she won’t get a lie detector to verify what I am saying.

The most important thing I learned in that incident is how sacred the bed now seems to me. The bed is a place of intimacy for lust and sleep, two things I normally don’t share with just about anyone.

From that moment on, even if someone just wanted to nap in my bed I felt like saying: ‘‘Sorry, it ain’t your territory, a male already peed all around it.’’ I wouldn’t share my underwear with anyone, well I’ll keep my bed private too!

Great, Vanessa, you learned a lesson, that’s what life is: experiencing stuff and evolving through it. But when the male with whom I shared that pleasant nap said: ‘We won’t be saying this to our partners, right? F***, no one else in this world understands how these beautiful healing moments can be shared without making it sexual or a betrayal,’’ I totally agreed. ‘‘Of course, naturally, I wasn’t going to shout it out.’’ That’s when I had a reality check and thought: ‘‘F***. Now I have a secret. Oh no, oh no…’’

Right then is when the real mistake started. Instead of facing what I had done and being honest to my loved ones, I felt ashamed that I crossed a boundary that I didn’t initially realized existed. I kept it in and told no one.

I thought the event in itself was insignificant enough for the harm that it could do, as the other partners were jealousy-prone types. I thought that by learning properly from the experience and never doing such thing again, it would make it okay.

Like V. continued saying: ‘‘It is not humble to believe that you can decide for others what they should or shouldn’t know. By not telling the truth, you kept from them the tools that would enable them to take decisions for their own lives. Only they know what is or not acceptable for themselves.’’ Right on, so well said.

My friendship with the girl continued to grow, but I guess that there was always a distance maintained by the gap caused by this secret. The night that I slept over at her boyfriend’s house, clever as she is, she had a dream that we had intercourse. When she wanted to be reassured that we didn’t do such a thing I would say ‘‘no, no, that didn’t happen.’’ I didn’t lie, but I didn’t completely say the truth when she offered me a chance to do so.

Months later, she learned that her partner had actually fully cheated on her. She asked one more time if something ever happened between me and him. I was tired of feeling like such a hypocrite as I wanted to help her feel better in her break-up. Instead, I was perpetrating harm and adding to her pain.

Wasn’t I doing exactly what he did to her by not being honest? So I told her the whole story. I feel extremely sad for contributing to her sorrow and for losing her as a friend, but so relieved to not be holding on to any information anymore.

It did put me in a weird place to extract these old skeletons from the closet, to put myself back in that past moment and to remember how my own relationship was crumbling apart.

I don’t want to clean up something after leaving it dirty for so long. The dirt solidifies. It’s so much better to just deal one thing at the time and keep none for later. So for now, I have done what was most appropriate, there is nothing more I can do. I guess I just have to wait and see if she’ll forgive me. I hope so, for I promise that I won’t do it again!

Photomontage of Element by Stephen Crosby, Tears of Change by Rose-Lynn Fisher and illustrations by Vanessa Serhan.

Vanessa Serhan is a brunette multi-disciplinary artist working and designing in Montreal.

Staring at Pain Killers


I was about 16 years old. Perhaps a year younger or a year older. I was home alone, a rare commodity amongst my large family. I had just gotten into an argument with my parents, the subject of which is no longer important enough for me to remember. I had convinced myself that I was unloved. More importantly, I thought I was unlovable.

As a teenager, I was deeply unhappy. There was no real cause for my unhappiness. I had a great childhood. A good group of friends. I didn’t do too badly in school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. But my unhappiness grew to be the only thing I could really see. Some days, I knew that things would eventually get better, that it wouldn’t always be like this; I looked forward to those days. On other days, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. All I could see was darkness. On these days, I allowed my demons to control me.

I remember feeling a sense of calm, but I also felt manic. I walked around the house looking for pill bottles, painkillers that I hoped would subside a hurt that went far beyond the physical. I purposefully left alone any prescription medications my parents or grandmother might need. I didn’t want anyone to suffer because of me. I gathered a collection of capsules in a dish and stared.

I don’t think I ever truly wanted to not be alive. The issue was that I wanted to feel alive, to feel as though I was really living. And if I wasn’t, if i was constantly succumbing to those darker places, what was the point? Without a real purpose, I wasn’t able to grasp why I should continue living. I felt as though I was a burden, as though my unhappiness was causing my family to become unhappy. And it was my fault.

I don’t remember crying. I don’t think I did. I was shaking, though. And it wasn’t long before I realized that I was about to do something that I didn’t actually want to do. I knew I didn’t want to die. I picked up the phone and called my friend. She conveniently lived next door. I asked her to come over and she was at my doorstep less than a minute later. She could hear in my voice that something was wrong.

It’s only now at almost 30 years old, that I am starting to face what I have spent more than a decade trying to ignore. Depression. It’s the word I’ve always been afraid to use. I was afraid of the stigma and afraid of what that meant of me. It doesn’t mean that I’m weak, it doesn’t mean that I’m a lesser person. It means that I’m human. And on my most anxiety-ridden days, I have to remind myself of these things.

My friend sat with me on the couch. We didn’t say much to each other. We didn’t have to. I just needed her there to sit with me. She eventually ventured into the kitchen and found my collection of pain killers. “What were you planning to do with this?” she asked, not expecting an answer. She quietly and calmly returned the pills to their respective bottles, cleaned out the dish and returned it to its place in the cupboard. We never again spoke about that day. And when my family returned home, all signs of my panic had disappeared. It was as though it never happened.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if she didn’t come over, if she didn’t answer her phone. Would I have taken the pills out of sheer desperation? It’s clear that I didn’t actually want to kill myself. But I’m not sure that I knew that then.

This is just a small piece of my story, and I’m not telling it because I want people to pity me, or look at me through sorrowful eyes. I’m telling it because it has taken me many, many years to come to terms with what I have been battling for so long, and I’m finally ready to start talking about it. And we should talk about it. We should all tell our stories, whatever they might be. Because mental health needs to be discussed. Because there are other teenagers out there staring at bowls full of painkillers. And maybe if we talk about it, maybe if I start to tell my story, I can finally stop hiding and start healing.

Narrative Of An Invisible Disease

3b6f33f2 copyI suffer from an invisible disease. I often look put together and function well, but inside my reproductive organs are fighting a battle every day. This is endometriosis.

If I don’t discuss it, people generally have no idea that when I go to work I often have lower back and leg pain so intense I have to breathe through it. Or when I go to school I sit through seminars and hope the pressure that feels like a tiny bowling ball pushing down on my uterus subsides so that I can participate. Or if I’m out with my friends I have to avoid alcohol because the side effects are non negotiable to my reproductive system and the organs that surround it.

Generally it doesn’t come up in conversation. There are many women who are told by their family, friends and even doctors that they’re hypochondriacs or that they’re crazy because the pain we deal with can’t be seen. But it’s important to explain it, and then explain it again until we’re heard.


It began when I was 14. I was at school and felt so sick that I was convinced I had the stomach flu. After several months of feeling this way and one too many absent days on my report card, I went to my family doctor. He told me the pain; the nausea and the cramps, was most likely endometriosis and that there is no cure. He told me the pain could be minimalized with the birth control pill. There are many parents that would have refused to allow their 14-year-old daughter to take birth control. I was lucky enough to have a mom that could see my future. If she refused that course of treatment I would have struggled to make it through high school, potentially have failed to achieve grades high enough to go to university and certainly never would have been accepted into graduate school, where I am now.

Unfortunately the use of birth control as treatment is not perfect. I spent most of high school and my undergraduate alternating brands and visiting my family doctor. But it kept the pain at bay until I was 24, when I realized this could not be my version of normal anymore.

There is a reason the average age of diagnosis of endometriosis is 25. The tissue most women get rid of when they have their period builds in us for several years. Unfortunately allowing it to build often means by your mid 20’s it has spread to your ovaries, outside of your uterus, your bladder or your bowel. Once it gets to this stage the pain is so bad that it abides by no timeline; you are often either in stage three or four of endometriosis. I was in stage three. PMS was a week before my period (which actually is how PMS is defined, not when you have your period), followed by the pain of the period then wrapped up with the pain of ovulation. By the time the pain has subsided the glimmer of hope was in the potential of the solid week before it starts again. Most of my time was spent waiting for the pain to return. A few days of living without was is my victory.

I was 25 when I had my first laparoscopy, but it won’t be my last. Five months after my surgery the pain returned, not as debilitating as before but on the same scale of intensity. My gynecologist told me I would need another surgery in 5 years, barely enough time for the scars from the first surgery to heal. I will likely have a hysterectomy by the time I’m in my mid 30’s. Unfortunately after that there still won’t be any pain free guarantees.

There is a label on endometriosis that it is a fertility issue, and stands alone as a fertility issue. But it is a disease that affects all women that are diagnosed, not simply those looking to get pregnant. This disease affects young women long before child bearing is a thought in their mind. In that sense, it is ironic that the organs that are meant to carry a baby cause many infertile women the most physical pain. As if we need a constant reminder that this pain will not offer any reward to some of us.

I will admit the possibility of infertility doesn’t concern me. I don’t say this to undermine women that battle infertility as a result of endometriosis, their voices are important. But the voices of those of us not concerned with conceiving have been drowned out. As a single 26-year-old woman, I am constantly preoccupied thinking about how I will manage my pain and work full time. I also think about how it will affect future relationships. Explaining endometriosis to a man can be difficult, but hopefully to the right one it won’t be. Most of all, I concern myself with my day-to-day life. There are days endometriosis relates to diseases similar to Crohn’s or Colitis, other days it feels like mild flu symptoms. It is a fluid disease that uses women’s most powerful organs – the reproductive ones – against them. I have to strike a balance between taking care of my body and maintaining a social life that I won’t feel I missed once my 20’s have passed me by.


I want to be a powerful woman, with a great job and sometimes the toughest battle is the psychological one; silencing the voice inside me that says this disease will dictate how I live my life. So I’ve adapted. I have had to strike a negotiation with the non- negotiable parts of my body essentially deciding it’s one for me and one for you. If I go out on a weekend and have one or two drinks, I have to compensate that with two or three months of avoiding alcohol or else the flare up will last for weeks. On the plus side, I believe I have the purest liver of any 26-year-old on Earth. Regardless of what I negotiate, there is always pain. And for the foreseeable future, it’s not going away. I simply call the shots on what I am willing to sacrifice.

As is the case with most diseases, the narration of my story isn’t meant for recognition or pity, but maybe a little bit of insight. It’s to let you know that many of us fight invisible battles every day, and we will fight like hell to win them.

Leanne McAdams is a Master of Arts Candidate in Political Science. Her research and writing interests include women’s political participation, reproductive rights and gender equality.

My Guilt-Ridden Journey to Being a Mom

photo-1414432548815-900106408037 copyIt’s a dark and lonely journey sometimes. The one leading from the day you have a child to the day you become a parent. “It’ll come,” they said. “It’s all natural,” they shushed.

It didn’t feel natural.

I ignored it, basking in the surrounding warmth. My mom was there to help me, a welcome breath in the blur of new parenthood. I rarely got to have her around, so it was lovely to have her by my side. I was surrounded by helpful and positive souls. That helped. Helped me forget there was a problem. Helped me sweep it under the rug.

“It’s just baby blues. It’ll go away,” I told myself.

Baby blues! That even sounds ‘cute’. And dismissible.

So I dismissed it.

That mommyhood ‘glow’ was not something that happened to me. I’d had a C-section. My body was struggling, not because anything went wrong, but because someone had to cut through seven layers of me to get to a baby, only to sew me back up and send me away, tasked with the care of said baby.

I call her Murphyskid. She was born in distress and had infant reflux. She never slept for more than 40 minutes at a stretch, and when she did, it was sprawled out across my chest.

This is the stuff you’re unprepared for. The stuff no beautifully presented prenatal class or book tells you.

Three months of lovely, helpful guests, having meals cooked for me, and endless helping hands later, my mom left. I remember her trying to prop me up a few days before. She’d pretend the baby wouldn’t settle with her and hand her over to me (having done most of the heavy lifting first) and when she did fall asleep, I’d get big smiles of,”Look how good you’ve gotten at this.” God bless that woman. She is my hero. No matter what your relationship is with your mother, make it work. Fix it; shine it. You’re going to need her (or the closest equivalent thereof) if you plan to do this baby thing.

The night before my mom left, I lay in bed crying. I could not imagine doing this without her.

She left and I had no choice but to cope. My husband and I lived in Dubai at the time and we had access to some household help. My in-laws came to visit. They were all great with the baby, but I still felt like something wasn’t right.

Was it normal to only feel fine when the baby wasn’t with me? It sounded wrong. It made me feel guilty. So I ignored these vague wonderings, grabbed a footing and hung on for dear life. All the while, I was feeling nothing for my child but mild curiosity. Cue more guilt.

Then the rug was pulled out from under my feet when we moved to Toronto. That in itself is a task of mighty proportions, but add in a sick, cranky baby and it was almost unbearable.

Symptoms got worse with the baby. Unknown to us, she had a dairy allergy, one that took the doctors (two different competent ones on two different continents) 11 months to figure out. Allergies often have associated pain. And when they are too young to tell you, they cry, and gripe and cling. In our case, Murphyskid did all of those. For nearly the whole first year of her life, when she was awake, she sat on the back of the couch, behind me, hanging on to my hair. She only slept with me beside her, holding my hair. I’d stay still and not breathe, in case I woke her and we had to do it all again.

Personal space was gone. I felt claustrophobic and angry all the time. Completely out of control. And guilty. I felt so guilty.

I fantasized about ending something. “We’ll put her up for adoption,” I said. “Lots of people want babies. She’s young enough that she can forget us.” Or we could move to someplace where we have a bit more help. Or, at worst, I thought I could just kill myself.

My husband, M, listened quietly, helplessly, desperately trying to help take the operational burden off me, so I could breathe on my own. That helped a bit, but still it was so much easier for me to just sit there and feel sorry for myself. So I did. And I was passive aggressive about it. Even malicious. I hugged too hard. Pushed too far. Yelled too loud. Cried too often. Maybe if I did that enough she’d stop wanting to be so close? Maybe then I’d have more space and that would make me happy?

That’s when M and my cousin suggested that I look into the resources available for mommy depression. “You cant be the only one,” he said.

I dragged myself to our family doctor, and I say “dragged” because it was such an effort. Shower, get out of pyjamas, and go out? That’s got to be more than I can take. Why cant I just stay here and sleep? I did a lot of that at the time…sleep. And feel guilty. My typical day involved: Wake, ineffectually cope, feel guilty, sleep, overeat, cry, cope, sleep, feel guilty, feel guilty… you get my drift.

The physician was great. He was matter of fact, and empathetic. He suggested self help as the first line of attack, primarily because we didn’t have insurance to cover rounds of psychotherapy, and secondly because he is a fan of cognitive therapy. In normal speak that means being aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing; trying to establish patterns that will help you find the sticky areas, which hopefully you can work on fixing by being less negative. It’s heavily reliant on your action and that’s exactly what I needed. Control. Not in a bad way, but in a, “I need to be responsible for stopping my life from spinning out of control” way.

It was an investment of time. I had to read a book he recommended. I had to fill out exercise sheets with how I was feeling, when and what triggered it. I had to quantify emotions. What a load of crap, I thought. How can this possibly help? I hated my life, I hated my child; how could the way I felt at 7:30 am this morning possibly help me figure this out?

But then I surprised myself. I found those patterns. M helped me distance myself from some of the situations that aggravated my anger and helplessness. Even today he does more bedtimes than me because that was one of the things that undid me. My claustrophobia would come out to play when I was trapped in a dark room with her climbing all over me because she didn’t want to sleep.

Soon I needed less and less logging. My mind found clarity. We paid to take Murphyskid to a naturopathic doctor for holistic help. The dairy allergy was found. A switch to soy and three days later she was a new person. The wasted time and effort of it all could’ve driven me on a downward spiral, but instead I felt relieved. Like a mom would. It was a sign of wellness.

The doctor also put me on B vitamins, which were responsible for the functioning of the central nervous system. She told me carve out a portion of the day for myself. Have a few drinks with a friend once a week. Exercise.

I can’t say I did all of those things. But I did some. And it helped. Oh, how it helped!

Yes there is a happy ending to my story. I am now 3.5 years into my relationship with a walking, talking, feeling, intelligent little person whom I love from the bottom of my being. We could’ve got there a lot quicker if I had had the right expectation. If that default screen saver image of what motherhood should look like hadn’t been planted in there to mess with my head.

I am respectful of the mind now. It’s not all about thinking, it about feeling. It’s about making deeper, more meaningful connections. It’s about letting myself love, both myself and those around me. It’s about learning coping mechanisms for when life becomes overwhelming. It’s about talking to people. And most important of all, it’s about taking it one day at a time.

Susan Diaz is a writer and independent communicator. She lives in the mad bustle of downtown Toronto with her husband and challenging 3 year old who drives her to blog most days! In her blog Carrots and Peace, she offers a humorous perspective on the things close to her heart – food, no holds barred parenting and musings on just about anything else in-between. She’s on twitter @susandiaztweets.

On Feeling Older


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.