Day 27 - *Dee (1st person I approached)
January 27, 2015 - Halfway through our conversation, I knew this wasn’t going to one person’s story. The lines got blurred, the situation echoed some of my own thoughts, and tears were shed. No one asked me to blur or darken the photo. I arrived at that decision some time after midnight, hours after our conversation. This is about two people having a conversation. It's universal. This is that moment when you encounter someone, some thing or some situation, that stops you in your tracks and you take a closer look. This is stopping to smell the coffee.
I started my day with an early morning meeting. Another interview for that project I’m willing to tease you about, but not ready to share yet. And coffee. Afterwards, I headed to a different coffee shop. One of my favourite places that sits on the edge between the Gastown neighbourhood, and the Downtown Eastside.
It's where suits and shopping buggies weave and trundle by one another. A quiet coexistence, a balance, even though perhaps, only on the surface. What lurks beneath the surface is a fascinating investigation for me, personally. Who are these suits? What’s that person got in that buggy? It may be their only possessions, and if so, why those items?
As a self described ‘deep thinker,’ I tend to go inwards whether there are highs or lows. We hit our Indiegogo fundraising campaign target, several hours before it closed at midnight on Monday. Our documentary is really going to happen. Kate, the producer/director and I, were sending messages back and forth. We each sat quietly in our own homes, while screaming out loud internally. Updating each other on what we knew the other person had already seen. It was magical, surreal and humbling. It was a feeling of deep gratitude, of great emotional fortune, a wealth of moral support, encouragement and, love. So much love. No words, really.
So while I went about my day today, I was buoyed by this. I had a great meeting, even better than I could have hoped for. I wanted to go to my favourite coffee shop and write. No real agenda. I stopped in for a quick visit at a friend’s workplace on my way. I went out of my way, crossing the street to take a few pictures of something I saw.
Arriving at the coffee shop, there was a table right at the front, in the window. It’s like scoring the best box at the theatre. Front row seats to the watch the world passing by. I messaged another friend who lives nearby. He dropped in to have a coffee and a catch-up. I sat for a good hour after he left, sending thank you messages to people for the overwhelming support and feedback I've received in the past 24hrs. I truly felt like a writer. Dare I say, a creative person even. I struggle to allow myself these monikers. The smell of freshly ground coffee intertwines with the aroma of fresh baked bread
Gathering my belongings to head home, I was vibrating from the grand total of three strong coffees I had consumed this morning. I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’ve been fortunate to have something that started as a little idea of mine, bloom and grow into a passion for me. It’s taken a life form of it’s own. It became a form of therapy, far beyond my personal goal of just getting me out of the house. I was feeling elated, inspired and on the right track.
My ongoing journey of working through major depression. Finally getting to a place where I can talk about it, openly, and even publicly. I have, for the most part, broken out of the chains of my own stigma. This allows me to be better equipped to deal with other’s inhibitions and stigma. Whether I work to change their perception, or feel strong enough to not care what someone else thinks. I control my reaction, not theirs.
As I left the coffee shop, I saw Dee, sitting alone, at a small cafe table on the edge of the sidewalk. I asked if we could chat. Dee thought the premise of my project is incredible.
“I’m not sure that I can talk about myself though. And if I did, I don’t know that I’d want my picture taken. I could only talk if I were going to be honest, that’s important. Sometimes my truth is too much for others to hear. Let me think about it for a moment.” I sat, allowing time, watching Dee’s face and body language. The internal weighing-up of the decision, what happens either way.
“Ok, I’m good with it. If there’s something that I don’t want to talk about, will that be okay?” Dee asked. That has always been a ‘yes’ for me with this project.
I listened as Dee talked about being born at Grace Hospital, is the second of four children, and was not so happy in school.
“Going to a private, Catholic school really harmed me. The uniforms, the rules, the conformity, the restrictions. I wanted to take art, which was offered. But only in a technical aspect. There was no room for creativity.”
Feeling like an outsider, Dee turned inward.
“I worked hard trying to form who I thought other people wanted me to be. So that I could be accepted. I wanted everyone to like me. I wasn’t able to allow myself to be me. I struggled with anxiety and insecurity. When I did make a friend, sooner or later, they would turn away from me. I was so concerned about being who and what I thought that friend wanted me to be, that I exhausted them. They never really knew me at all.”
Dee travelled to Central America soon after turning nineteen years old. There’s a school of thought about travel to foreign locations. Some believe that immersing oneself in an environment completely unfamiliar has a unique effect. New surroundings, different culture, non-verbal communication and an unfamiliar diet. This can all lead to heighten the senses of the mind. One reads tone, and body language and gestures, in an effort to interpret anything that might be familiar. Alone in a crowd. It can be a frightening experience, yet Dee stayed for two months.
We talked about the exploration of healing, finding what fits best. Pharmaceutical companies push out pills with labels that talk of being the latest and greatest concoctions. More and more people are exploring viable alternatives. Plant remedies, ancient practises, and the wisdom of centuries-old medicines. Looking inward, to be able to break out.
Meeting Dee, at that exact spot, our paths had just crossed. We both had that amount of time. We had no agenda to talk about our deeper, most personal internal dialogue. Given advanced notice, I’d likely put up barriers to avoid talking about some of my innermost thoughts and emotions. To bare all, to be brave. I have a therapist for that. Still, the universe unfolds just as it’s meant to.
Sharing intimate fears, with another person, and to not feel the need to run. To be comfortable in an open exchange, a conversation, about what can sometimes be almost unbearable. And yet, I forgot about my caffeine jitters. I didn’t give thought to the life-changing decisions that are before me. And I felt at ease. I felt privileged. There’s a safety with strangers. A strength comes forth, and a kind of bond happens. When you hit that spot in the exchange that maybe isn’t a direct part of your past or present, but it’s similar enough, that you get it. You each understand. You have and give respect freely, and without question or reservation. You acknowledge the moment shared. Unexpected gratitude permeates.
For many people, comfortable means not looking inward. It’s adapting to a perceived "normal," or fitting in. Some people can push things down, and drift through the day without thought of the deeper questions. Denial repackaged as acceptance. I’m glad that’s not me.
For all the pain, the discomfort, all the questioning and uncertainty, I am who I am, because of the questions I’ve asked. And the answers I’ve found. Good and not so good. We can’t learn if we don’t make mistakes.
As I write this, some twelve hours later, I realize by this point in the conversation with Dee, I was oblivious to everything else. I wasn’t aware of anything going on around us. It’s just Dee and myself. I can only assume that the world just kept passing by.
Dee is moving forward.
“I’m going to live in Scotland. I leave in six weeks. I figured that if I feel alone in the city I’m from, and it feels odd, perhaps it will feel better if I am somewhere that I truly am alone. I feel that it will drive me to make connections.” Walking through the difficulty, rather than around it.
For me, the conversation represented balance. A good day. The excitement of raising the funding for the documentary. Marching forward against the grain to pursue what I have become passionate about. In no small way, yet again, the result of talking with a complete stranger was profound.
Unwittingly, when strangers are willing to share their stories, it helps me to look at my own. I could just be goofy, elated and mindlessly happy today. But, I’d rather understand every nuance, every nook and cranny, and all the emotions that have carried me to this point.
There's an amazing community building around The Stranger Project. We’ve joined together and are creating something magical. Connection and community. I am filled with gratitude, and know, that I’ll sleep well tonight. #notastranger
*Dee - not this person's real name