The Connection Project’s third-annual storytelling event around mental health is just over two months away.
To host this type of event, it helps to embrace a willingness to face trial and error and make mistakes along the way. The project’s success is really about collaboration and community. Each year the most incredible speakers with unbelievable stories of courage and triumph bless the stage. Individuals, businesses, and organizations contribute their time, money, and energy with astounding generosity, and the event venue theatre staff always accomodate our every need.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for connection and I appreciate the opportunity to share with others in this way. Many parts of this creation are still quite scary for me. Fears of an empty theatre, not being able to find the right speakers, and countless other wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night panic thoughts arise without fail.
Each year, to support myself in lead-up to the event, I hold a special intention in my heart and it is always this intention that helps me navigate through the uncertainty.
In 2018, my intention was hope. To be honest, there wasn’t much of it, I was terrified. I remember thinking, who on earth wants to talk about depression, anxiety, and suicide? Why would someone purchase a ticket to sit in a dark theatre and listen to stories of pain and suffering? What if these stories stir in others, feelings or memories they cannot cope with? What if the event causes harm? Where was I in all of this and why did I feel the need to share my story?
Approximately a month before the 2018 event, I suffered a frightening four-day “episode.” I felt like a stranger in my own body. I had to say things to myself like, this is an apple, that is your daughter. I felt a strange disconnect from time. I recall thinking, “Who am I to host a storytelling event about mental health? Look at me!” I began to wonder if I would be able to go ahead with it at all.
The four-days were terrifying. I was able to express only a small piece of my experience with my husband and parents. I had calls with friends, energy workers and therapists, but nothing could rid me of what felt like a malevolent evil presence taking over my every thought. At one point, I was in so much pain, taking my own life seemed like the only solution.
On the third day, I heard a voice say, “Your kids will understand…”
How does one process the kind of terror that accompanies a thought like that?
I was really scared.
The feelings of despair and helplessness became overwhelming. I could not voice the words… “I need help. A malevolent evil force is trying to convince me to kill myself.”
On the third night, while lying in bed aching for a glimmer of hope, I began thinking about the Lord of the Rings movies. I remembered the scene from the Fellowship of the Ring, in which Gandalf fights the demon Balrog on the Bridge of Moria. The wizard tells the beast “Go back to the shadow.” Gandalf casts down his staff on the stone bridge, shouting, “YOU, SHALL NOT, PASS!”
This was the exact thing I needed. Although I had incredible supports in my life, it was clear to me I needed to face this demon alone. I would amass all my teachings and glean love from every place imaginable to ‘cast out’ the evil holding its tight grip on my being.
On the fourth day, I went early in the morning to a nearby mountain, ȽÁU, WEȽṈEW̱, Mt. Newton. I hoped that the mountain could bring me closer to God. If I prayed for protection and guidance from atop the mountain, perhaps my prayers would be answered more easily. I would shout from the summit, with every goodness inside me, “YOU WILL LEAVE NOW!”
That was my plan.
Upon arriving at the base of the mountain, I spotted a small chickadee. This incredible bird, became a companion, my dearest protection in my time of need. I spoke gently to the chickadee as I began my ascent. Hello, beautiful bird, thank you for your kindness, thank you. I am so scared. Thank you for being here with me.
Every rock and pebble on the path, helped me emerge into a kind of lightness, each step, easier. Thank you, mountain, for all you are teaching me. Thank you for your benevolence.
The early-morning dew-covered spider webs clung to my heart as I moved through the fear. This path, new to me. Each web, a breaking free. Thank you, spider, thank you for helping me see, even here, the beauty being created. I feel the dew on my face, thank you for sharing that splendour with me today.
Tears poured down my face and danced with the morning dew. The hope emerged stronger in me as I climbed. Even when I stumbled, or felt the aching pull back to fear, the chickadee reminded me of its presence. It hopped from branch to branch, sometimes flying ahead, always within sight. Chickadee envoked in me a sense of hope. I felt it in my heart. I wanted people to know there is always hope, there is always a way.
The Connection Project event was sparked by the tiniest glimmer of hope, that by sharing my story with others, it might reveal a path to the way out.
When I reached the top of the mountain, with chickadee at my side, I sat down, placed my palms on the earth beneath me, and got still. Thank you, Mountain, for holding me up. Thank you, Sky, for the clarity of my answer. Thank you, Spider, for teaching me to create my own path. Thank you, Chickadee, for showing me I am not alone. Thank you for these reminders of hope.
What came next needed to be no louder than a whisper.
Walking out onto that stage just weeks later, I knew everything was going to be okay. I stood with the strength and conviction of a mountain, humbled by the opportunity to convey hope for others, that I myself had almost lost forever.