the canadian chronicles

observations of a South African émigré

Deep thots

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I was reminded that 11 years ago today, I resigned from a full-time teaching job, with no back up plan and on the very direct advice of my (ironically paid for by my employer at the time through an EAP program) therapist.

It was terrifying, but her pointed comments of “your mental health is worth more than this job,” “just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it” and “you already know what you want to do, I’m just giving you permission” have stuck with me ever since.

I had grossly underestimated the insanity of moving back and forth between two countries (and emigration), the change of getting married (after an insanely short courtship, if you will) and moving house about 7 times in 2 years, being dumped by a best friend, and working a crazy job and the toll it’d take on me.

After a lot of struggle, I started a business in a recession, spent a lot of time trying to figure out WTF was going on in my head, and survived-ish. It’s been an ongoing process of learning, self-care, medication, more therapy, opening up and patience, and that work doesn’t end.

But I guess the moral of my story is… always get work to pay for your therapy so you can quit the job right : )

A snippet

think again of that day when you knew you’d live forever and the sun shone on your hair; when the wind sang and the sea filled the air


I may have to namastmurder them.

Ah crap.

Just when you think you’re sort of getting a handle on this whole being a grown up, self care, daily life, being an ok human thing, depression rears its ugly mofo head again.

What’s so frustrating and debilitating about it is that it can have no particular source, no particular trigger, no particular fucking REASON for showing up. It’s just there, smirking at you, robbing you of joy, and making getting out of bed a challenge. If only there was an easy off switch (the on switch seems to come on by itself no problem).

And if anyone tells me to just “do yoga”, I may have to namastmurder them.

sarah anderson

‘And I don’t like/What you got me hanging from’

Chris Cornell of SoundgardenFuck.

Chris Cornell? Really?

Waking up to the news that one of your icons is gone sucks big hairy ones. And having the news be that it was at his own hand sucks even more… I mean with songs like “Pretty Noose,” “Fell On Black Days”,”Like Suicide” and “Rusty Cage”… maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise, and yet it is so fucking sad.

Because it’s one thing to be taken by physical illness and another by mental illness…

What’s eerie is that just a couple of days ago, I grabbed Louder Than Love and popped it into the car stereo because I hadn’t listened to it or any other Soundgarden album in ages.  I was feeling nostalgic, thinking about finally seeing them in concert** when I moved to Vancouver and they’d got back together to tour (I also saw Chris Cornell on a solo tour once and playing a few songs with Pearl Jam at one of their concerts) . It made me think, too, about all those nights of being a teenager, listening to Superunknown and Badmotorfinger and feeling transported into a world that I felt like I knew intimately and yet was simultaneously so alien to me. Feeling my world shrink and grow at the same time.

(I had a massive poster in my bedroom of Pearl Jam performing at Magnuson Park in Seattle and it felt like it was on another planet and yet I could imagine myself as being in the crowd… now I live a few hours away from there)

Listening to words that put my own jumbled, adolescent, laughably “deep” thoughts into more eloquent packages…. That was what these songs were for me.  A way to make sense of things. A way to not feel so alone. ( I mean let’s face it – most teenagers feel like no one understands them, so this was like finding a friend who just “got it”). Listening to angsty, loud, but non-threatening stuff like grunge was a way to cry or rage or hate everything with impunity… Of course I also developed my taste in men based on the likes of Cornell and Vedder…  and ja, maybe listening to bands like Soundgarden or Temple of the Dog or Pearl Jam was also a way to even to feel a little bit cool, because grunge wasn’t something most people in South Africa were in to at the time…

So ja. What can I say, except this fucking sucks.

And it reminds me of what I’ve said in a previous post after Robin Williams died: if someone with all the resources, support, money, admiration (as evidenced by the outpouring of love and grief upon his death) feels he has no other option than to self destruct, it becomes even more evident how much more we need to talk about depression and share our experiences.

Because nothing should be louder than love.


** Bizarrely, too, the “On this Day” feature on Facebook showed me that on this exact day in 2011, I was lamenting that my S.O. had ruined his own birthday surprise by wanting to buy tickets to Soundgarden when I’d already got them

The Inevitable


When you’ve stayed up late doing your income taxes, and then you’re freaking out about how much you owe the CRA, and then you choke on a piece of apple and your husband is just about to give you the Heimlich and then you throw up and nearly pass out…

That’s when you realise it really is just all about death and taxes.

All Aboard the Guilt Train


Here’s something they don’t tell you: there’s enormous guilt in trying to live creatively.

Maybe it’s because we’re continuously told all artists will starve; therefore, if we aren’t sacrificing our mental health and bank accounts on the altar of creativity, we aren’t real artists. We start to make lists: “But look at ________ and _________ and that other guy. They are successful and rich and were able to quit their day jobs.” And then we make other lists, “But I guess we forgot about Mozart/William Blake/Poe/Sammy Davis Jr.”

So we try to bolster ourselves with reading inspiring works on living artistically. And then we can start to really believe that if we aren’t being our “best selves” or “living true creative lives”, then we are just being oxygen thieves. Then, we start to feel guilty because we have a day job, and we aren’t dedicating ourselves to our craft like (that very dangerous) Everybody Else. We can self-flagellate if we aren’t NaNoWriMo-ing or doing daily practice or taking semi-annual artist retreats or being “recognised.” But then we can also feel guilty if we do make/take time to do those things, because then we’re not focusing on other, more important Life things.

And round and round we go on the Guilt and Pressure Train.

But what does it mean to live creatively? Here’s the rub: we all have different versions of what that means. So we can’t compare ourselves to William or Wolfgang, because their creative living is not our creative living. One person might have to move to the Andes and take up ayahuasca and beading skirts. Another might start a painting class and drop out half way. Another might finally do that PhD in Creative Writing.

Really, though, all we can try to do is hop off at the right station for our own specific destination. And if we happen to get distracted and miss our stop, we need to remember not to beat ourselves up about it, because that stop will come around again.

Sometimes That Hamster is Under My Control


Anxiety is just plain weird. It just is. It’s like your brain decides that it’s not enough to hamster wheel, it has to cause uncomfortable physiological responses, which then sets the hamster wheel racing even faster. This interferes with sleep, work, socializing… And then it’s even more frustrating when you know the various things that help to make you feel better, but you can’t break out of the wheel to go and do those things that make you feel better. The same goes for depression, though to me this feels different in that it’s like the hamster wheel broke, but you’re still trying to turn it anyway (albeit rather sluggishly). (Maybe this is why I am averse to hamsters?)

I’ve written before about what my experiences with depression have been (and “coming out” about it too). This seems to have been my lot as an adult, more than anxiety, but when I look back over my life, I realise that I have actually always been quite an anxious/fearful person. A “worry wort”, as it was described to (and of) me, when I was young. I’d be the kid worrying about everyone else (are they okay? did they lose something? will they get into trouble? are they late? am I late? – it also didn’t help having a mother who is always late, including quite often for picking me up from school). It didn’t help that I was bullied, either, especially as I was also hyper sensitive. Or that I went to a hyper draconian private school, where the fear of fucking up and thereby being kicked out, costing parentals oodles of $ at a time where they were broke caused major anxiety. I remember that for large portions of time living with that yucky, prickly feeling in me, and not knowing what to do about it either. So some was irrational worry, some was based on experience and reality. How does one know the difference?

Simultaneously, I have also always been silly, quick to laugh, and funny (if I may say so myself). I like to think I’m good at cheering up other people, and just as much as I feel the bad deeply, I am able to feel the good deeply too. It’s a strange dichotomy. It’s also what makes A&D so frustrating. They are good at robbing the joy from the world for me, even though I fight hard to not let them. A&D, to me, feel like opposite ends of a wonky spectrum in terms of how they affect my energy (restless vs. listless), and yet it’s weird how often one causes the other and how they intertwine. Fortunately I have learned, over time, some ways to cope, but it’s never easy to turn to those solutions when you can’t get up off the couch.

Moving to Canada was an interesting part of this journey. The first year I came here (12 years ago!!!) was revolutionary. Not only had I been recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and started treatment (making the world of difference to my energy and mood!), but I was also free!! Free from expectations, agendas, studying, and the familiar. It was exciting and terrifying in equal measure, but the anxiety was less in some ways, especially after my initial “wtf have I done” freak out after landing. It was a whirlwind. I met someone. Got married. And then there was the stress of moving back when I was feeling really settled here, followed by the stress of immigration when the call came through that we had to return to Canada by a certain date. That early euphoria passed and suddenly it was reality – I had moved away to another country, almost as far as I could go from my home. I had a new job, new responsibilities, new worries. I had a friendship go south because I “wasn’t the way I was before” (yeah? fuck you too). I had some health issues. It was weird. I got help, I made some decisions (to quit my job, take a break). There was a lot of great things, and a lot of worry. Hamster, hamster. Sometimes calm, sometimes furious, sometimes numb.  I began to work seriously hard to mend, feel better, push “play” on my life again. And it has helped, a lot.

So I have to remind myself that sometimes that hamster is under my control, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a complete dick, and other times it’s all fuzzy and cuddly.

All I can do is ensure that I clean out the sawdust, replenish the food and water, and grease the wheel when I can.


99c Pizza Must Be Code for Free Botulism, Right?

20161010_181118It’s 12 years ago to the day since I stepped off the plane at YVR, after spending a very entertaining 10 days in London that included a lovely boy from Tunisia and a trip to Brighton, and thought “WTF was I thinking?”

It was a whirl of emotions (excitement, terror) and a flurry of finding the right transportation downtown to the backpackers that was part of my visa deal. I think by the time I’d chosen my bunk and sat down, I felt like weeping. And then I began to explore.

Those first few days are a blur, but certain things pop out for me:

  • seeing a sign that said zero degrees and thinking they might find my frozen corpse underneath said sign
  • marvelling at the girl at the backpackers who had already got 2 tattoos and a piercing in her first week
  • thinking that 99c pizza must be code for free botulism and that 25c peep shows* were rather expensive in Rand terms
  • buying a very large muffin and making it stretch out for several meals to save money
  • meeting a lovely Aussie (who is still a friend today) and going out for a very good beer and a burger
  • walking down the road and feeling… free? which sparked a joyousness
  • pausing at the Sails at the Convention Centre, seeing snow dusting the mountains, and Japanese maple leaves on the ground and hearing a loud voice bubbling up from my insides saying “It will be okay. You will be okay.”

I feel that it’s important for me to remember my Canuckaversary and celebrate it every year. Because it reminds me of that person who, despite her fears, went all the way to the other side of the world on her own, and took charge of her life. It reminds me of that feeling of being more competent than I’d ever thought. It reminds me that I can take risks and they will pay off (sometimes in unexpected ways). And it reminds me of how far I still have to go.

*this was when Granville street was significantly less chachi than it is now!


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