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Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – My Own Story

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This is the first instalment of the series. You can read the introductory post here.

I struggle writing about someone else’s mental illness because it’s just that, someone else’s.

Mental illness, unlike the more visible ailments (for good or bad) feels more personal and private. After all, it’s his life, not mine. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just his life, it’s our life.

But I’m still not interested in sharing his experience (even though when we have a good story to tell, he always lets me tell it).

My husband Dane doesn’t just “get all OCD” about this or that, he actually has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He doesn’t just “worry a lot and get sad sometimes,” he battles with anxiety and depression every single day. Yet, most people would never guess it because in some ways he’s got this mental illness thing figured out. Dane’s medicated, supported, loved, fairly open about it. Not to mention he has an excellent sense of humor.

But in other ways, it’s not that easy for him, or me. I worry about his depression getting worse (as we know it can do) and how hard that would be for him (and our family). I worry about the inevitable day he will have to change his medication. I worry about whether or not our boys will inherit Dane’s mental health like they inherited our fair skin and love of macaroni and cheese. But most days I try to focus on who is right in front of me.

You see, unlike the title of this blog series, I don’t actually live with someone else’s mental illness, I live with someone who is mentally ill.

This diagnosis is intrinsically part of the man I married. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse — these marital quips never feel as real they do in the midst of a panic attack. I’m married all of him and he’s all I’ve got. And the fact that his mental illness is all of him is the trickiest part for me.

Where does the mental illness begin and end? How can I tell if his behaviour is ‘him’ or if it’s his mental illness. If Dane had a perfectly typical or “normal” chemical make up in his brain, would he still sleep way more than me and would he still have trouble getting up everyday? Perhaps. Would he still incessantly worry about the safety of our kids? Possibly. Would he have trouble trying new food or eating in dark spaces? Maybe.

So am I allowed to be stark raving mad after the fifth attempt to get him up? Should I resent the fact we can’t just eat at any restaurant? I don’t know.  I can’t tell where it begins and ends because it is completely enmeshed in who he is.

And this is bang-your-head against the wall frustrating some days. Am I justified in my frustration? Should I blame Dane or blame his mental illness?

I don’t know, but what I have to keep asking myself is does it really matter?

I didn’t marry the mental illness, I married Dane. I don’t love OCD or depression but I love Dane. I may get frustrated or discouraged by the way he acts, but it is all part of who he is. It doesn’t matter which part of his brain is causing this behavior because I love all of him. Yes, it can be maddening at times but I would rather have the mentally ill Dane than anyone else. Talk about perspective!

There is no one else I would rather be with and I will gladly take OCD alongside generosity, faithfulness and a rather prolonged obsession with all things Sylvester Stallone. 

There are even parts of his mental illness that make my life better.  Let’s be honest, sometimes I wish his OCD caused him to clean the house more. Why can’t he obsess over dust bunnies or soap scum? But one of the things Dane’s brain causes us (read: me) to do is slow down.  And by slow down I mean do about half of what I would normally try to cram into a weekend.

And for this, I’m (mostly) grateful. I watch families go from soccer practice to a birthday party to some festival downtown and back home to host friends for dinner on a single Saturday and it exhausts me to watch.

I know that will never be my life, yet it might have been if it weren’t for Dane.  This pace of life means we can’t be doing something every night of the week. We can’t go to every interesting lecture or every church event. It’s means sometimes our son skips soccer practice or we miss someone’s birthday.

It means we have to be home with each other, trying to eat dinner slowly, reading books, playing lego and cleaning up the dust bunnies.

But when we do have friends over, who makes them feel incredibly special and cared for? Who offers them a beer before they even get their coat off? Who has inside jokes with people that make them feel known and loved? Who dubbed 2012, “The year of Jane’s vocational wholeness” because he was on a mission to see me love my work? Who? The guy I love (with the mental illness).

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A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

Living With Someone Else’s Mental Illness – GUEST BLOG SERIES

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A few months ago, just after the death of Robin Williams, I read this intriguing tweet by Luke Harms:

Hey friends. Let’s start a conversation about the intersection of faith and mental illness. It’s obviously needed. How about ?

I then read the hundreds of follow up here is one of my favourites) of people sharing their experiences of mental health and faith. Some people were incredibly hurt by the church and many felt silenced by the stigma of mental illness.  A few offered hope in the help and love they received. As I continued to read I did what I often do, I thought about my own story.

My story is that I live with someone else’s mental illness.

It’s mainly an untold story because it feels like it’s not mine to tell. But those of us who live with someone else’s mental illness have our own stories of the experience that need to be told.

It’s easy to minimize our experience  because, after all, we’re not the one with the diagnosis! We’re not the one on medication! We’re not the one who regularly battles getting out of bed etc.  And for these things we’re grateful.

However, without minimizing the others’ struggles, we still live with our own story of how the mental illness affects us.  We’ve been affected by it, we’ve struggled in our own way and we often keep it to ourselves. As hard as it is, I think it’s time we share some of our own stories.

By sharing our stories we offer support and hope for those who finds themselves in a similar way. We also help to de-stigmatize mental health by courageously sharing our experience of living with, loving and supporting those who are struggling.

After stewing over my own story and avoiding the deep down nudging to write about it,  I took a deep breath, asked my husband if it was ok with him for me to share my experience of his mental illness. Even though it’s my experience, I knew I needed to ask him. He agreed and I began to find other people who have journeyed down a similar road.

Thus this series was born: Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness.

For the next several Mondays, my blog will be a place for people living with someone else’s mental illness to share their stories. Some posts will be anonymous, others will share current or past realities. We won’t be speaking for those with whom we live (or lived) but we will be sharing our own experiences.

I hope you will join us here each week and support the writers who are bravely telling this part of their life. Trust me, we need it.

Don’t miss a post by adding your email below.


The Dinner “Hour”

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My family could very easily sit down, consume our dinner, and clear the table within eight minutes. The kids inhale food (or protest the menu), conversation is quick, and then we move on to the next thing. Like many families with small children, dinner time can be both hilarious and frustrating. But we are committed to this crazy table time, and right now, albeit may be fleeting, things are going surprisingly well.  Therefore I’ve decided to branch out from my regular genre and write about this rare moment. We have not mastered dinner time (and never will) but here are a few things that keep us sane.

Eight ideas to help make the dinner hour with small kids more enjoyable (and last longer than eight minutes).

1. We meal plan. My lovely friend Julianne got me going on this. She found a few friends who eat similarly and set up a simple google doc and calendar. Every six weeks I am responsible to post 3 complete dinner recipes and corresponding grocery lists. The other five weeks I have the benefit of other people’s ideas. It’s been a life saver because even with the internet, cookbooks, and mac and cheese, somedays I still need inspiration! Meal planning helps me stay less stressed from the very beginning.

2. That being said, we often repeat the winning meals.  There are a few things my kids LOVE and I am not ashamed to re-purpose them in a variety of forms.  For example, we often have “Mexican Monday” and I make this beans and rice dish and serve it ten different ways. We have it in bowls with toppings, in tacos, baked in tortillas, alongside quesadillas, etc.

3. We always begin by lighting a candle and saying one thing we are thankful for. Insert cheesy music if you must but for us, we are reminded of Christ’s presence when we light the candle and it gives us a moment to actually “start” the meal. Following our eight minutes plus, we take turns blowing it out and saying one thing we would like to change in the world. It is a quiet way to pray and remind our kids that, in the midst of it all, we have hope for the world. I first shared this tradition last Advent.

4. Everyone helps. Both my kids help with dinner prep in someway. As long as I give them (and their Pokemon cards) fair warning, they’re usually hungry enough to help expedite preparations. Warning: having a 3 year old set the table can end up like this.

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Watch out Emily Post

 

5. We decide when and what we are eating and our kids decide how much they want to eat.  I read this nugget in a waiting room once and have stuck to it ever since. I will confess, for the most part, my kids are not picky eaters.  But there are enough struggles in the world, making my kids finish every last bite is not one I am going to fight. I do, however, give them reasonable portions know they may ask for seconds.

6. Each person asks one interesting question during dinner. This is the latest addition to operation-extend-dinner-past-8-minutes. Everyone has to ask one question that we could all potentially answer. For example, last night’s question was “If you could only eat one kind of fruit for the rest of your life what would it be?” With a completely serious look, Ben, who is 6 ½ leans in and says, “Um, can there be a dip?”  As in, if he picks apples can he have peanut butter for dipping?  We’ve also learned that Ben wants to win a free trip to LA and Sam wants to be a zebra for the day.

7. We stay at the table slightly longer than anyone really wants to. This isn’t an attempt at torture (although it feels like it sometimes). I have found that if my kids don’t like their dinner, (for reasons like it’s not on the green plate or they just want pretzels), they have trouble sitting at the table. But if we can keep them entertained (see number 6) for a bit longer they often just keep eating without even realizing it.

8. If I ever get around the making dessert (not often), I do it on a day when I’m not that confident my kids will like the food because: bribery.

What works to keep you sane during dinner with kids? Leave a comment!

(Feature photo credit C. Flanders)

 

What I’m into October 2014 – The “Halloweenia” Edition

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Well clearly blogging is not something I’ve been into in October! I can’t believe it is the end of month. I’m feeling a bit embarrassed that my last blog post was “What I’m into Sept 2014“! Here I am linking up with Leigh Kramer again (white-sox pumpkin, just for you…and all my die hard sox fan in-laws)

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Photo credit (probably) goes to Andrew Stock.

Big News: I’m a wedding officiant again! For those who don’t know, being able to officiate weddings in Canada is tricky. There are no “online” certificates like there are in the US.  But I found a group that serves as an umbrella for people in ministry, non-denominational pastors etc. It is a bit of a stretch theologically but they were lovely, accepting and I’m glad to be part of them. In this regard, I’m back as an officiant and a relationship coach for Young Hip & Married.

I’m thrilled to be doing weddings again because it’s something I absolutely love.

Work News: My lovely Springboard Workshop partner Amy had a big baby boy last week!  Therefore we will be not doing any more workshops until the new year.  I’m also working on a promotion to connect my blogging/twitter community with my coaching practice. This will all be revealed very soon! Stay tuned.

 More Big News: We also traveled to Victoria for Thanksgiving and Dane and I ran an 8k race.  It was quite a milestone for us considering I hadn’t run a race since I was pregnant with Ben (and got a blood clot that prevented me from running) and Dane fractured his back about 18 months ago.  I was struck by the miracle of it all when I passed the halfway point. It was about ten years ago that I ran my first marathon at that same race. And let me tell you, the 8K felt as equal of an accomplishment, all things considered. To top it off, we both ran faster than expected and enjoyed donuts at the end. Does a donut ever taste as good as at the end of a running race?

Post race glow

Post race (and donuts) glow

Family News: There has been much anticipation about Halloween or as Sam (who is 3/12) relentlessly calls it, “Halloweenia.”  Much to my amazement my kids chose their costumes weeks ago and have not changed their minds!

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Fiercest zebra & ninja on the block! (Don’t worry they will probably be in bed by 8)

Reading News:  We joined a small group through our church and they have agreed to read Slow Church after my recommendation.  I was roomates with one of the author’s wives years ago and I anticipated the release of te book. It received excellent reviews/endorsements from all sort of crazy famous people like Walter Brueggemann. So far, so great!  Speaking of church…

Church News: One of my favorite events of the year just happened: the Harvest feast. We harvest produce from the church/community garden and cook up a bunch of delicious soups for dinner. Home made bread, salad and fruit crisps are brought in and we all dine together in celebration of God’s abundance and our love of food. I’ve been a soup chef for this occasion foryears and I continue to enjoy cooking with friends and feasting with the whole church and neighbourhood friends.

Art work by Fiona Moes-Pel

Art work by Fiona Moes-Pel

 

Listening News: As you may recall I’m a big radio nerd and thus am obsessed with the new This American Life Spin off podcast called Serial.  Serial follows true life crime story with a new episode each week.  I can’t recommend it enough. I may have listened to the first four episodes twice because I didn’t want to miss anything.

Boring (yet enjoyable) News: I continue my obsession with the Good Wife. That is all.

Shopping News: I rarely have shopping news. I am a horrible shopper. However, I live in a rain forest and was thrilled to find these beauties. Little rain boots. I have worn them everyday.IMG_2314

Lastly, I want to remind you that Listening to the Marginalized Challenge is starting Nov 1. It’s an opportunity to hear voices of marginalized people that you may not have heard before. It is an effort to help us take the posture of listening in order to learn an grow.  You can read my intro post about it and/or sign up here.

 

What were you into this month? Any other serial fans? 

What I’m Into – September 2014

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I thought I’d ease my way back into blogging with a “What I’m Into” link up post with Leigh Kramer again. These are always easy and fun to write. To capture it in a few words: Teachers! Ira Glass! Books! Bathing Suits!  Back to blogging has been a long time coming, mainly because of the teacher strike here in BC. Yes, for you non-local readers, our teachers were on an unpaid strike for the last two weeks of school in June and the first three weeks of this school year.

What I’m into: teachers (and not just the one I’m married to).  During the strike, many of us visited our local school teachers on the picket lines and protested the governments actions against them. I joined many parents and citizens by asking the government to give our teachers’ a fair deal. We rallied for them because we are so grateful for their work.  If anything good came out of the strike (for me), it was this photo of Ben that my mom captured when she took him to the driving range (first time golfing!).IMG_2295

What I watched:  You may recall when I obsessively burned through the first two seasons of The Good Wife and then had to take a break (and regain my evenings!). Now if I have some laundry to fold etc. I am re-watching/making sure I didn’t miss any of The Mindy Project as the new season is starting.

Remarkably I did see a movie (or two) this month. I watched the La grande séduction  and then the remake starring, none-other than, TIM RIGGINS (i.e. Taylor Kitsch from Friday Night Lights). Not only did I enjoy them both, I thought the remake was fairly accurate. A small, struggling harbour town in Eastern Canada tries to seduce a doctor into moving to their town in order to meet the requirements of a new factory and thus “save the town.” It was brilliant, quirky, funny and uplifting.

What I listened to:  What’s up all you This American Life Fans! I went to “An Evening with Ira Glass” this weekend. For someone who doesn’t thrive on live music, this was my kind of affair.  It was better than I could have imagined. He talked about the show, public vs. commercial radio and my favourite: the importance of joy and humour in the midst of tragedy.  It rang so true to me, especially in light of this experience. It was radio nerdery at its finest.

What else I wrote:  Here is a guest post I did for DoJustice. The project I’m introducing is fantastic. I encourage you to sign up to hear voices of the marginalized in November.

What Museum I went to: Haha! Can you imagine if I was cool enough to have this section every month? I’m not. But I did see an ad for an exhibit that caught my eye: Babes & Bathers: History of the Swimsuit. As a life long swimmer/beach goer I was so intrigued by this. So naturally I gathered a few of my swimming friends and we headed out to see it. It was so fascinating to see things like the evolution of the swim suit and what the Vancouver lifeguards wore in the 60’s. These were a few of my favourite suites (from the 40’s and 50’s). It’s on display through November 2.

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What I read: Due to the aforementioned Good Wife obsession, I haven’t read much. I’m currently “enjoying” Little Bee by Chris Cleave. It is a great read but not exactly a light topic. I also read The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (one of my favorite authors). I just realized she has the same last name as Mindy (what??).  Lahiri always seems to produce gripping characters that you care for immensely. Although this wasn’t my favourite by her, I would recommend it. I’ve also got Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest, Learning to Walk in the Dark, on the nightstand.

Speaking of books I would recommend. I saw quite a few “Name 10 books that have stuck with you over the years-but don’t think too hard about it” lists on Facebook.  I thought I’d share mine here. Seriously people, I these books are good.

 

 

I Couldn’t Keep it to Myself Edited by Wally Lamb

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Lullaby for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neil

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Rebecca by Daphe Du Maurier

Bel Canto  by Ann Patchett

What I ate: Nothing too exciting – however, my meal planning group is back in action.  I’m in a group with four others and every Friday one person plans 3 or 4 dinners and puts a link to the recipe (or the actual recipe) plus the grocery list and recommended sides in a google doc. Bam! All my problems are solved. Ok, not really but I totally appreciate this and love getting new recipes from friends.

What’s Next: Well October always starts off with my birthday, quickly followed by Thanksgiving (it is early here in Canada).  Smushed between those too lovely ‘holidays’ is a quick road trip with a friend and then a visit by two lovely out-of-town friends. I’m looking forward to the month. And now that school is in session and Sam is settled in his new day care, I shall be working again!

Listening to the Marginalized

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I’m super excited to share my latest post with you all because it is has to do with a topic I’m passionate about. Not only do I love listening to people share their stories and their lives (I do this for a living as a coach), but I love encouraging others to listen. During my time at Jacob’s Well I had the privilege of listening to a lot of different voices and am so thankful for them all. This is a great opportunity for all of us to listen at the margins.  The following is an introduction to a post that is on Momentum (a blog I regularly write for), as well as, a blog that I’m so glad I discovered: Do Justice.

As people, we naturally gravitate toward those similar to ourselves. It’s simple, easy and it’s comfortable. We gain friendship, empathy and encouragement from such relationships but a problem ensues when we solely hang around those similar to us – we end up only listening to like-minded voices.

We often don’t realize how enveloped we are in like-mindedness until our beliefs are challenged in an abrupt fashion. Perhaps we see a tweet that jars us or a guest preacher stirs something up at church. “What? People believe that!” or “I have never heard scripture interpreted that way!” We are forced to deal with the dissonance that sometimes comes with new ideas.

Keep reading here or here (triple post!)

 

 

I Jumped on the Bucket Wagon to RAISE $500

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Confession: I wasn’t that into the whole ALS Bucket Challenge but my cousin Kirk challenged me to do it because “Jane likes water.” This is a true.

I’ve watched a few of these ice water dumps online and saw a live one this weekend. Frankly, my first thought was the same as many:  I’m all about raising awareness but we need to keep raising funds too.  A bucket of ice water or donating money, I don’t know which is preferable –  but I think we should do both!

I donated and set up a fund to raise $500 for the ALS Association. You can too!

My goal is to continue to raise awareness AND money.  As someone who worked in the non-profit world for ten years, I know that raising money is not that easy or fun.

Please join the party and donate here!  Ben Affleck and I both did.

And I challenged my lovely neighbour Lisa, my do-gooder hair dresser Lisa and my crazy uncle Jim to do the same: DUMP and DONATE!

When I Can’t Get Anything Done

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I’m suppose to be writing a post for a friend’s blog about my experience with patriarchy and the church.  Yes, I’ve experienced it. Yes, I have things to say. But I have to confess, it is not at the forefront of my mind lately.

My mind and heart are weighed down by news around the world. I find myself avoiding the internet, yet simultaneously being compelled to constantly scroll through.  I’m grasping for order in my home because the world feels so chaotic. Now that my kids’ dresser drawers are sorted and all the lego in put away I sit down to write but still feel overwhelmed.

The words and phrases flash through my twitter feed, blare through kitchen radio, pop up in prayer requests at church.  Syrian refugees…ISIS…Mike Brown… Sudan… Ebola… Gaza…. hostages…suicide…a missing plane…a shot down plane  It is not letting up, like rain in February – constant flooding – overwhelming waters.

I know the world is never completely at peace but some weeks feel heavier than others. I seem to have cracked with the story of a stranger.  The news of Mike Brown’s death sounded like a horrible story from 1961.  But no. Unarmed, young African-American men are being gunned down by police in 2014.   I could not feel more helpless. It is one thing to feel helpless about something like a missing plane but it is another to see events unfold like those in Ferguson, Missouri.  I’m speechless.

I’m usually someone who tackles things head on but this makes me want to hide.  I’m known for being a direct communicator and as someone who deals with things right away. But last night after a quick read through my twitter feed, I found myself wanting to hide.  

I didn’t want to “feel” and I definitely didn’t want talk about anything. My husband was awake and at home but I couldn’t even bring myself to find him. I just wanted to hide from all that was going on in the world. I wanted to curl up on the couch and watch countless episodes of my new netflix discovery, The Good Wife and eat bowls full of honey-nut cheerios.

This all happened in the wake of Robin William’s suicide and the outpouring of writing/tweets on mental health. I am feeling overwhelmed this week but many people live like this everyday. Lord have mercy.

For brief moments, seconds really, throughout the day, I would go back to the communion table.  This week, our pastor used a liturgy for communion – joining with people around the world who eat and drink together. He prefaced our liturgy with something like, “You of great faith or you of little faith are welcome to the table. For it is not me who invites you, but Christ himself.”  The liturgy, read in unison, reminded me of the global Church. I thought about my brothers and sisters around the world, many suffering greatly, but all of us trying to hold on to the hope at the table.

Slowly I began to eat, drink, remember and believe.  

Although hiding with Julianna Margulies and cereal has been helpful, one day soon I hope to come to the surface of this flood. I want to stay a little longer at table and face the overwhelming waters from there.

 

 

5 Ways to Empower People Under 40 in Your Church

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Today I’m over at Momentum. Here’s a preview of what I wrote!

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Here at YALT we know that people often read our blog because they’re looking for ways to better engage young people in their church. And now that you’ve ALL read about the 40 Under 40 in the CRC and RCA, you may be thinking, “How can my church empower young leaders?”  Here are five quick and helpful tips. But wait! Are you one of those young people? Keep reading to find out how you can help implement some of these ideas yourself, and add your thoughts (or more ideas) in the comments.

1. Make sure you actually have a variety of people under 40 in your congregation. Your church needs the voices of the next generation because, not only are they the future of the church, their voices are unlike any other generation.  No other people group has grown up in the church at the same time as these folks. No one else comes to the table with the same experience. It is a unique perspective you must harvest! Singles, marrieds, young parents etc. you need them all! If you don’t have the future of the church in your church, you might want to check with YALT’s great resources here.

2. Be mindful and considerate of single people without kids. Just because someone doesn’t have typical family responsibilities, doesn’t mean they have all the time in the world. This group of young adults should not automatically ‘do’ everything.  This demographic might have different availability options than parents but they shouldn’t be relied on solely because they ‘appear’ to have more time.

Likewise, remember that being single doesn’t make someone unqualified for ministry. The church has an unfortunate history of elevating marriage and married people beyond reason in the church. Those without a partner also bring their own perspective and are equal to serve the church as married people.

To read the rest of the article click here!

I Almost Died, So Why Am I Laughing?

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Did you know a lot of bloggers take the month of June off?  Who knew? Not me.  I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened.  Now that we are well into July I thought I better get cracking. Yet, I didn’t want to just write another post for the sake of having something to put up.  Snore.

Instead I am sharing my recent East Van Talk.  Once a month, my church hosts a Ted-talk-like evening where two people share a 15 minute talk on any topic.  We don’t have fancy screens and laser pointers but we manage. When my friend Dena, the host of East Van Talks, approached me about giving one, a million ideas ran through my mind.  I went around and around and then decided I need to share a story, my life-changing story.

Many of you reading this blog lived this story with me. You were the people who were invited to Ben’s one-year-old birthday where we did not really celebrate his birthday but the fact that Dane, Ben and I survived his first year of life because of all of you. It was a thank you party.

This talk is 15 minutes with about 10 minutes of questions. It could have easily been an hour. I cut and paired and edited until I had the highlights,  lowlights and the funny bits in between.  I hope you “enjoy” it. Feel free to leave a comment – bloggers love (most) comments. If you’d rather just read it, you can do that here.