"It's a big responsibility, living."
My mum said that.
And it stuck.
Firstly, because she was the one to say it. My mum isn’t known for her love of tough conversations. Small talk she can do. But for her to go deep like this, to risk opening the conversation up to the stuff that she’d usually avoid like a hot coal on bare hands was a huge deal.
And the second reason it stuck? She was just so undeniably right; it is a big responsibility, living.
I was a child who was beaten, a teenager who was bullied and raped, a 20-something who struggled with substance abuse and a toxic relationship. Pretty much a textbook case for psychiatry.
As an adult, I lost a sister to suicide. My mum lost a daughter. She’d nearly lost me too...that time in my 20s when I tried. There’s a long history of trauma in my family.
So yes, she knows — and I know — that living is a huge responsibility. That it can feel like a burden. That it can be beyond painful at times.
And yet…here I am, so passionately alive.
My own suicide attempt, and living through it, was THE MOMENT for me. Waking up with charcoal vomit all over my face (from having my stomach pumped), fifteen stitches in my wrist, and my family staring back at me utterly dismayed — that was my defining moment.
But it wasn’t just the moment I decided I didn’t want to die. It's the moment I decided I wanted to live. REALLY live.
And that takes guts. It took guts for me. And it’ll take guts for you too.
Because bad things will happen. Life will be fucking hard. Things, people, certainties you thought you could rely on will turn to smoke. But believe me when I say, you can tend to yourself, and find out how to stand up straight in the midst of it. Every day you can decide you want to live, passionately, fully, freely.
In my case, the thing that destroyed me was also the thing that set me free. Twice. The first time, I tried to destroy myself…and it set me free. My sister’s suicide destroyed me, before it set me on another path.
I want this process to be easier for you.
So I want to acknowledge — right now — the guts it took you to get out of bed this morning. I love you for those guts. I love you for being yourself. I love you as you are.
Because you already know who you are. Who you’re meant to be. You already know what you want to do.
And through it all, I will be your beacon. And if I'm the only one, I will still be here. If I can keep you alive, and if I'm the only one who can, I will be here.
So make your art. Create music. Write poetry. Paint houses. Fix cars. Whatever it is. Forget who the world wants you to be, because it’s undoubtedly wrong. What the world really needs is for you to be…you.
It is a big responsibility — living. It takes guts. And that’s exactly what you have.
I write about all this stuff and more in my book grief & loss & love & sex. From January 28 to February 28, 2021, $2 from every copy sold at Indigo, Chapters and Coles locations, and on indigo.ca, will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association, a national community mental health organization.*
I really do love your guts.
* No part of the purchase price may be deducted as a charitable contribution.