On Grief and Loss

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Greece. He grew up in a small village, survived a war, married my grandmother, and moved his family from Europe to Toronto in search of a better quality of life and opportunity.

Before I moved to Canada permanently, I’d stay with my grandparents during every visit. While his English wasn’t perfect and my Greek was basically non-existent, we forged a bond between papou and grandson that was cut way too short about eight years ago.

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Papou manning the grill.

I lost my grandfather in the middle of what should have been my final exam period in university, and got the call that he had passed right before walking into an exam room. While I knew that he wasn’t doing well, I don’t think I would have ever really been prepared to lose someone close.

Needless to say, I never took the exam. Still reeling, I was forced to essentially re-live his loss every time I had to talk to a professor, ask for a death certificate, or apply for some sort of extension allowing me more time to get things done academically. In the end, I would spend an extra semester in school making up for classes and exams that I just could not get myself to sit through. I still dream about my grandfather, and there are days when – even though it’s been years – I still feel the loss deeply.

Grief doesn’t always occur with a death. It can happen with a breakup or divorce, loss of a job, death of a pet, or even financial hardship. Sometimes, the loss doesn’t even have to be your own.

Around a year ago, a friend of mine lost their mother. I had met her in person only once, well over a decade ago when I was still new to Canada. It was a cold fall night, and I boarded a GO bus from York University to Streetsville, Mississauga (which might as well have been a flight to China – I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and nothing looked familiar) to visit my friend at her house.

If you’ve followed my posts so far, you’d know that that period of my life was complicated to say the least. While I was still struggling externally with adjusting to a new country, and still battling with an internal need to belong, a woman invited her daughter’s friend into her home with a large smile and open arms. I don’t remember many of the other details of that night minus a grand tour of the house and a hot meal, but what stuck with me was the way I felt there – welcomed. To see and experience that sort of kindness, offered to a complete stranger…that’s something that, for me, would be very hard to forget. I can only imagine how her loss must have affected (and still affects) that family, and they’re in my thoughts and prayers.

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Papou and I, early 90’s.

Everything you read in life about grief and loss will probably tell you that losing someone you love is one of life’s biggest and most difficult challenges. Most sources may even tell you what the symptoms of grief are, or that there are several steps involved in the process of grieving, or that there’s professional help for that sort of thing. What you may never read, but definitely may experience at some point in life, is just how long it takes to get to the other side of grief. Sometimes, you may even feel fine for a while – even years – and then that one song plays or someone brings up that thing you used to do together, and you’re back to where you were before.

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

That being said, if you’ve got someone in your life that you love and appreciate…don’t wait until they’re gone to show them that you do.

Until next time,

Phil.

 

Continue reading “On Grief and Loss”

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10 Things I (Sometimes) Hate About Me

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate.

I initially had a longer and more emotional post lined up for this week, but I’ve been having a rougher-than-usual last few days (even by my standards). That being said, I decided to post something with a bit of a lighter mood.

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate. I may make a “Part 2” sometime. Maybe.

  • Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Like…do you actually want to know about my day? Because I accidentally spread a mask on my toothbrush this morning instead of toothpaste…Clarins tastes like shit.
  • Are we still talking or can I, you know, just walk away now. No? OK cool I’ll just stand here. Wait, was I supposed to say “You too!” or just “Thank you.”? Fuck!
  • I really love dogs and every one I ever dog-sit becomes my child. Sorry my son peed on your hydrangeas Kathy.giphy[1]
  • Being a neat freak and caring for animals is an interesting mix. I love dog sitting but do not love cleaning enough hair out of my vacuum to stuff a decorative pillow. Wait, do people do that? *Googles ‘can I stuff a pillow with my dog’s hair’*
  • I used to be a morning person. Then I became a night person. Some days it’s debatable if I’m even a person at all and I need a coffee IV to function like a human being.
  • One of my fears in life is not having a future or making a terrible decision and ending up alone and homeless and never being able to make beautiful, emotionally-and-financially-supported mixed babies.
  • Sometimes the most anxious moment of my week doesn’t have anything to do with my future, but ma’am you are ringing in that guy’s groceries way too fast and I can’t pack mine fast enough aaaahhhhh…
  • Ma’am I really do have two dimes just give me a second *shuffles in pocket* – NO it’s not OK I have it I really do just give a second *awkwardly places condoms on counter* – What? Yes I have an optimum card.
  • I’m usually very good at eating healthy, but sometimes I have a setback emotionally, can’t be bothered, binge eat, and immediately hate myself. #OxfordComma
  • I quit drinking for 4 months earlier this year. I lost a bunch of weight and it really helped the pockets. Since then, I don’t drink heavily or regularly…but will have a beer or a rum here and there.
  • After an eight-month layoff due to various personal ills, I finally made it back to the gym last week. Now I just have to make it back.
  • As of late, most of my depressive days have been manageable. Some days though, I just want to go home and hop into bed for an eternity. Sometimes, instead of bed, I make a blanket fort in my kitchen by draping a duvet over the bar and hiding under it.
  • Managing my medication and activity have been pretty good as well. Some days though, I forget and I’m just a mess the next day…which is a struggle. The recently-increased dosage isn’t helping the cause either, I’m sure.
  • Sometimes I leave my mom’s voicemail messages on my phone longer than usual…just in case I ever need someone to tell me I’m handsome.
  • Sometimes I use my sister’s Instagram account to check up on people I no longer am in contact with. Not because I’m stuck in the past or am holding onto something I shouldn’t…sometimes I care more than I probably should and am always back and forth on how I feel about that.
  • Most of my closer friends are a significant distance (e.g. a plane ride) away and sometimes it sucks (Hi Hanna). 
  • I think it’s cool that more and more people are opening up about mental illness, especially men. I hope this trend continues.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my life, and the blog as a whole so far if you’ve been following.

Until next time,

xoxo (my love is very special),

Phil

 

Why I Took a Break from Social Media (Or Blocked You, Or Whatever…Sorry)

I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.

On or around March 30, 2017 I took an extended break from Facebook and various other social media outlets. After a short-winded post about me needing a leave of absence, I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter apps, and stopped posting to Snapchat. I had always toyed with the idea of taking a break, going offline for a while, and reconnecting with people, places, and activities that were important to me and my goals…but the circumstances I found myself in leading up to that day forced me over the edge (no pun intended).

Let’s be frank. I wasn’t in a good place. I was anxious and moody on good days, broken on the not-so-good days…and on the worse days, forgetting my medication (or taking too much) and drinking way more than I should have been. If depression, anxiety, and other darker things were all wrapped up in some sort of explosive package…the bomb had dropped, and I was at ground zero. It was my deepest, darkest depressive episode yet (I’ll save more on this for another time), and social media wasn’t helping.

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My Facebook post.

You see the thing about social media that hits home the most, especially for someone that’s struggling, is that no one ever really posts the bad stuff. The poster’s world – from someone looking in – is perfect, happy, and free from whatever might be ailing the other person in front of the screen. This “grass is greener” concept is especially harmful for users already experiencing depression and other forms of mental illness, and I was no different. I became tired of the happy couples posting engagement photos (congrats, though), expectant mothers posting pregnancy announcements (congrats again), and posts from friends and others at events I either wasn’t invited to or couldn’t gather enough energy and motivation to attend.  I ended up stuck in a debilitating cycle of comparing myself to others, beating myself down for not being in places I wanted to be, and struggling with a near-constant fear of missing out (FOMO). These things, combined with the daily battle with depression, were just too much for me to handle…and I opted outº.

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Bye social media!

Leaving social media – albeit difficult to do – was almost immediately relieving. With every press of those little X’s as I deleted apps, I felt more and more pressure lifted off of me. I didn’t have to check in anywhere, keep up-to-date on any news feeds, or browse any timelines. Better yet, I wasn’t bombarded by images of friends that never ever seemed to have problems, wasn’t tempted to lurk around other people’s pages (especially exes or mutual friends of exes), and was free to continue to focus on issues that were present in my actual, offline life. Not only that, but as time went on (I spent just over two months away), I began to experience other benefits that helped me deal with these issues. My sleep was better (probably because I wasn’t up at odd hours scrolling through my phone). My relationships with friends and family got better, as I had more time to spend working on communication and spent less time on the phone or tablet glued to an app. I had effectively put all my “online-only”, half-assed, and superficial relationships on hold and invested more time and energy into real, meaningful ones. I became way more productive at work. Better still, I put myself on a path for having a better quality of life by giving myself time to spend working on myself.

Eventually, I returned to social media – but with a different mindset. Now I try to remember that not everyone is perfect, and while the images and content people post may suggest otherwise, everyone has their ups and downs. While I still struggle with issues I’ve already mentioned, it’s getting easier and easier to pull back and focus on myself. I know I may have to leave again or make some other changes (sorry for blocking or unfollowing you), and I hope this post helps myself and others understand why it’s needed.

Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media and go on a deleting spree. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.

 

º Side note. Just wanted to shout out everyone that took the time to reach out back then and now. I hope everyone could take the time out to check on people they care about, especially your friends that seem like they have everything going for them. More often than not, your “strong” friend is the one hurting the most.

Until next time,

Phil xo

Somewhere I Belong: Music, Mental Health, and Me

I wasn’t sure who I was or was becoming, but I was sure that whatever it is I was going through, whoever wrote this music understood.

Your teenage years can be some of the most difficult yet rewarding times of your life. A time of huge physical and mental transition, you begin to question yourself, think abstractly, compare yourself to others, and otherwise try to find your place within the rest of the world.

One of the most difficult parts of developing during this time is the angst and paranoia of “fitting in”, of becoming part of a larger whole – something I’ve always struggled with even in my adult years. That, coupled with the challenges of developing and realizing one’s own self-identity, makes for a very interesting decade-plus in the life of any young person. Let’s not even get into puberty and body issues!

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Creed – Weathered (2001)

One of the traits that develops during adolescence is musical preference and taste. According to Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise (McGill University), the age of fourteen is a “sort of magic age” for the development of these tastes. The music a fourteen-year-old listens to will help shape and guide the boundaries of themselves and their peer groups. There have even been studies that attempt to quantify and anticipate an individual’s musical preferences based solely on personality traits. Nuts, right?

Growing up in a Caribbean society, I was exposed to many forms of urban music including Rap, R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca – all forms of music I still love today. I’ve always felt at-home listening to these genres of music, and even had a short stint (in my late teens) producing Hip-Hop beats and Dancehall tracks for local artists. However, it wasn’t until a chance meeting with another set of genres that I began to experience a shift in musical taste. It became a pivotal point in my life, as it was really a shift in how I understood, approached, and appreciated life in general.

 

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Linkin Park – Meteora (2003)

It was March of 2003, and coincidentally enough, I had just turned fourteen years old the February before. I don’t recall if it was MTV or another music outlet, but after flipping through channels I stopped on a music video being played on the station. The song started with four eerie chords, undoubtedly reversed and processed electronically in some way for effect. My hair stood on end, and a chill swept its way across my body. Before I could process what was happening, the chorus of electric guitars hit, and I – for lack of better words – lost my shit. The song – “Somewhere I Belong” by Linkin Park.

I’d heard of the band a few times before (I had sheet music for “In The End” – another great song), but it wasn’t until Meteora was released that I really began to appreciate alternative and progressive metal/rock music. I would later expand my interests to include electric guitar (a guitar you can plug in? What?!), rock drumming, and learning more about rock music. Bands like Audioslave, Blink-182, Coheed, Creed, and Fuel started to replace some of the edgier, more gangster music previously cluttering my Zune (bet you haven’t heard that in a while). More importantly, the music I was into became less about partying and having a good time and more about angst, feelings, and questioning yourself. It was about struggles with faith, fitting in, spirituality, sexuality, and even conflicts in relationships – themes that matched exactly what I was going through as a fourteen-year-old male. I wasn’t sure who I was or was becoming, but I was sure that whatever it is I was going through, whoever wrote this music understood.

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Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave)

My teenage years would pass, and my adult life would begin.  I still keep many of the same bands and music in my playlists (now you can stream the stuff – thanks Spotify), and I routinely go back to those times, through music, where I was figuring myself out. I still struggle with self-identity and my mental health in a lot of ways, however it’s this music that really helps to get me through. Whenever I have a rough day (trust me, it happens a lot), I always go back to that collection of music that really captures how I’m feeling in that exact moment.

Sadly, though, too many of the artists I listened to then and now are dyingº, becoming victims of substance abuse and/or mental illness leading to overdose and suicide – preventable issues if only we reach out, if only we recognize the signs in others. If you or someone you know is suffering, even silently, please make the effort. If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. If you know someone who really needs it, reach out and show them that you’re there for them. Show them that life is worth living. Show them this life is somewhere they belong.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Somewhere I Belong: Music, Mental Health, and Me”

My Experiences with Race, ‘Blackness’, and Self-Identification

While I am also Canadian, this is one thing I’ll never say sorry for.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at a table at a restaurant for a friend’s birthday. I was among the first to arrive, so I sat within a small group of open chairs and waited for the others. Eventually the chair to my right was the only spot open, and a tall, black male with dreadlocks walked in and was invited to it. Someone in the group made a comment along the lines of “Alright, let’s keep all the black people together!” to a few chuckles. The comment was lighthearted in nature and intent, but the experience got me thinking. Was I OK with the comment? Was I offended? I honestly wasn’t sure.

I first learned about race (and racism) at a very young age. My parents, a black Bahamian father and white Canadian (of Greek descent) mother, had and raised my sister and I in The Bahamas – a predominantly black, Christian nation. Here, I would first learn that I was “mulatto”, a term used to describe a person of mixed white and black ancestry. I knew I was different in that sense but, in my eyes, I didn’t really look or feel different. I was “black”, or so I thought.

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Fam-jam, circa 1998.

Things would change one day while I was sitting at my desk in grade 2 or 3, flipping through my composition notebook. I had accidentally left it behind the day before, and was surprised at what I found. Many of the pages had been defaced in black ink, with terms like “Phillip is a bitch”, “sissy ass”, and “white boy Hatcher”º scribbled all over them.  I remember being more concerned at the time that I was running out of pages (I was a studious kid), rather than feeling upset or offended over the slurs. The event did, however, leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. Was this genuine hate? Or was it just some child taking the piss because he/she had to stay behind after school? Was it because I was mixed and lighter-skinned than them? Or was it simply a rebellious act with no hate or evil intent behind it? I couldn’t be sure, but the events would lead me to question my identity for some time.

High school would come and go, and it wasn’t until I moved to Canada in 2006 that I had my first real tastes of the racism and stereotypes that I had previously only seen in the media or read about in books. I enrolled in an Engineering program, studying Computer Engineering at York University from 2006-2011, and was frequently the only student of black descent in my courses (in fact, I was one of two black Caribbean-born students graduating from the program in my year – shout out to Leonard Lewis). It was also around this time of my life that I learned that a black man could be turned away from professional and academic opportunities, not for lack of qualifications, but simply for being black. This is something I still struggle to wrap my head around today. It is extremely difficult for me to accept that, not in 1817 or 1917, but in 2017 this fact remains true.

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High school grad., 2005

Being the only black face in an academic or professional setting can be daunting, and makes for some pretty interesting experiences. I remember walking into the first day of a third year Calculus class early and having the professor ask me if I was sure I was in the right room. As a joke (and partly to avoid awkwardness), I said “Oh wait, this isn’t Contemporary Black and Urban Music for Non-Majors?” (not sure if that course actually exists, it should though). I followed that up with “Nah, Vector Calc’ right? I’m good.” I am sure the professor was just trying to be helpful – we actually got along very well after that and I did fairly well in the course – but the incident would leave a sour taste in my mouth for a while.

A few months after I graduated, I started my current job. The following day or so after a department wing night, one of my coworkers said in a huddle, “Did you know Phil talks white at work?” – in reference to my tendency to speak more naturally (I have a Bahamian accent, especially after a few drinks) outside of a professional setting. I wasn’t offended by this comment (in fact, I think the term ‘talking white’ is hilarious because I don’t really know why “white” means “professional”), I just thought it was an interesting way to phrase that I was being articulate and well-spoken in the office.

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Me, 2016.

My experiences with racism and stereotypes didn’t stop at university, unfortunately, and were not just limited to corporate meeting rooms. Once, I joined a soccer team in my neighborhood in an effort to get back into sports. I ran track, swam, and played several other sports in school, and had always enjoyed being active. One game after a breakaway in which I scored, someone on the other team made a comment along the lines of “Wow, that guy’s fast.” A teammate of his then said “Come on, he’s black…he’s supposed to be.” I wasn’t sure how to react, so I didn’t. Yes, it’s true, black people tend to be more predisposed to being athletic. To me, though, I wasn’t fast just because I was black. I was fast because I spent hours on the track and in the gym, and that comment seriously undermined the work I put in to get there.

One time after that, I was having a discussion with a friend about a topic I can’t remember, and it got a bit heated. I ended up raising my voice and moving my hands in efforts to hammer my points home, and was met with “Alright, now you’re getting all black on me.”

“That’s interesting, so the minute I get passionate and expressive about something I believe in…I’m too black for you.”, I responded. I was tired of not being able to react, to be emotional, to be outspoken without it being attributed solely to my being black. Their response was “I’m sorry, I’m just not used to it. You understand.”

No, I don’t.

On another unfortunate occasion, I was texting back and forth with a friend in a Whatsapp group, and he mentioned a female friend of his “liked black guys”. Already taken aback (I’m usually very wary when someone says this), but keeping the mood light – I responded with “Sure lol, send her a pic I guess.” Her response both angered and surprised me.

“Oh no. I like classy black, like Michael Ealy or Jessie Williams black.”

Oh, alright. So you “like black guys”, but only if they’re lighter-skinned, lighter-eyed, soft-spoken, non-threatening heartthrobs. Sounds a lot like American media, right? Noted. I don’t remember what her background was, but she wasn’t that attractive, anyway *Kanye shrug*.

If you’ve been following me so far, that means I’ve been black, too-black, not-black-enough, and also not “classy black” – which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a thing.  If it was, I’d be classy black as fuck…just ask my coworkers 🙂

You can also add one more thing to that list, and that’s being unapologetically black. While I have struggled with my sense of self-identity in the past, I love being black and of black descent, and that won’t change anytime soon. While I am also Canadian, being black is one thing I’ll never say sorry for. You understand.

 

Continue reading “My Experiences with Race, ‘Blackness’, and Self-Identification”