This wasn't where I planned to go.
My high school class was the last group to go through OAC, the fifth year in Ontario high schools. Even after five years of high school, I still didn't know what I was doing beyond that. It had never really come up. You were either one of the smart, successful students...or you weren't. I was poor, kept from the advanced classes in subjects that would have boosted me towards more post-secondary options (that I later turned out to be awesome, but that's a whole other story), and nobody had thought to give my future much thought. So I didn't either.
But then it was time to send out applications to college. Everyone was rushing around to get letters of recommendation and narrowing down their long lists of programs. So I followed. I knew that social sciences were where I excelled. I had always taken them a year ahead of the recommendation and aced all the tests and projects, so that is where I looked towards and found one program that stood out: the Assaulted Women's and Children's Advocate/Counsellor Program at George Brown College in Toronto. It sounded impressive, was entirely feminist based, and had exciting classes listed. I immediately applied. I added two other general social work programs, but they were filler for the two other spaces you were allotted for the single fee and it felt wasteful to leave the spaces blank. I knew that this was the one and I really didn't care if I was accepted to the space-fillers.
I was accepted early.
After my first year living away from my family and in such a heavy program, I felt so lost. I was lonely and floundering and exhausted. I didn't even know if I really wanted to be in that line of work anyways. I mean, if I did, wouldn't I be happier? More motivated? I had to be on the wrong path, so I moved back home to regroup...and I fell in love.
I didn't expect that. It was someone that I had known in high school, a little younger, but always in the tech room and a part of my group. I took classes at St. Lawrence College and started to feel a little more at peace with life, though perhaps still not as clear on who I was or where I was going. Maybe my first real life regret was that I didn't keep leaning into just living, but my life up to that point had been to try and be better than I was. More impressive. More successful. Despite my college sociology professor pulling me aside before one of my last classes with her that year and asking me what my plans were (she really wanted me to consider going back into a social work based program), I chose to follow the person I loved when he went to Toronto for film school.
Looking back, I should have known that something was wrong. All that year people had been asking me if my dad was alright. His hair, normally salt and pepper, had gone quite white. I was more shocked by his sudden shaving of his beard, which he had kept my whole life. Before I left for Toronto, I had been checking something in the living room when he came into the room behind me. I could hear him grab the back of his fluffy chair and then he started to cough. Not just a normal cough or a smoker's cough, but something total beyond that. He coughed and coughed and then it was like a ticker tape at the stock market running through my head. It said "This is it".
But I had plans and this was a very dramatic thing to think, so I brushed it away. When I arrived in Toronto to stay with my friend, Pam, she noticed the change in my father and later commented that she had cried after he left that day.
It was only a month or two later when my mother casually mentioned that when my father shaved his beard that summer he had found a lump in his jaw. Several dentists had treated him for an abscess when one told him that it couldn't be an abscess. He would have been in too much pain after all that time...and he wasn't. So he was scheduled for a biopsy. She sounded so unworried, but I knew deep down that this really was it. I had known in that deep down way since high school that my father was going to die before he reached 60.
I waited for my boyfriend to arrive after his class was over for the day and then I cried. A lot. And then I didn't cry again for a very long time. He had his biopsy that fall and it came back just before Christmas that the lump was small cell carcinoma. It was lung cancer that had spread to several areas of his body and there would a noticeable ticking clock from then on. It was loud and we didn't know when it would stop, but it would and the silence would be more deafening than anything.
That is probably the most alone I've ever felt and the most desperate. I was only 21, still trying to fill the gaps in my own sense of self, and the one person I knew that truly believed in me and was proud of me no matter what was going to die. His death sent what little I had built up into ruins. I was numb, but angry. Sad, but wanted to be alone. Lonely, but didn't want anyone near. It hurt so much, but I wanted it to hurt. That was the last connection I had with him, the pain that was left. It was mine and I clung onto it.
The time afterward was a mess of a breakup that lead into a toxic and abusive on-again-off-again relationship with my boyfriend from that time. I kept trying to do what I thought people expected of me and kept failing until I realized...it wasn't going to work. So I decided to just do the basics. I would get up, shower, go to work, come home, have dinner, go to bed, and then repeat until things worked out. I would just live until I learned how to do that.
And so that's just what I did. I worked at Tim Hortons and hung out with my best friend and just kept practicing living. I had been doing that for a while when one night, on the midnight shift, a commercial came on over the radio.
Now, you have to know that the same radio station wasn't always on. To change the station you had to climb up to the ceiling and move a tile to reach the radio that had been wired into the speaker system in the kitchen. The bakers were having a war over what station was playing, so depending on who felt the strongest about the music that day it might be country or it might be rock. That night it was rock and if it hadn't been, I never would have heard this commercial. Trillium College, a career college in the area, was having a holiday giveaway for one full tuition to any of their programs. All you had to do was call this number, sign up, and write an essay on why you deserved this chance. As I cut blocks of cream cheese for the morning staff I thought...I could do that. I could call a number and I write a wicked essay, though my essay was about how I didn't probably deserve it, but I would use the chance to do something so that I did deserve it.
I won. And the program I picked? Community Worker.
Now, you may have noticed that I had thought that maybe I hated that line of work. So did I, until I had to help someone who was very precious to me during a hospital visit after a sexual assault. I ended up using all of what I had learned back during that first college program to explain what would be happening during that visit before it happened and I held space (before I even knew what that was). By morning, I knew that I had been wrong all those years before. This was exactly what I needed to do. It was horrible what had happened, but it was where I needed to be: holding someone's hand while they faced huge life moments.
So I went back to school and finally felt like I was doing what I needed to be doing. I graduated with a 98% GPA, found work in peer support (which ended up being a revelation of its own), made a new best friend there, and life was pretty great for a while. Everything was on track, even when I ended up moving on from that job and started working at Target, I still felt like I was heading in the right direction...even if I didn't know where that really was.
Then we got the news that Target was closing. I had an offer from St. Lawrence for the Child and Youth Worker program, but no guarantee of funding, so I did what I thought was fair and gave my spot to someone who could really use it...but now what? It was fall and everyone had gone back to school and my path seemed to have come to a stop. I still felt like I had been on track, but how do you keep moving when there doesn't seem to be anywhere to step forward to?
That's when two things happened.
1: I got a surprise payment from the government due to a mistake with my taxes.
2: I came across a website that I had passed by back when it was announced that Target was closing. It was for Doula training.
The found-money was almost the same amount of the training. So, with a little encouragement from my bestie Sadie over in England, I filled out the online form and sent in my magic-money.
I thought that was that. I was going to change things up and be a Doula and help pregnant people. No more community work. No more mental health work. No more addiction work.
Except that isn't what happened. I struggled to find clients and so I decided to offer no-cost Doula care to clients from local mental health and addictions organizations, since that was an area I was comfortable in and I did need the practice. It turns out that it was the best decision I ever made. I knew right away that clients with histories of mental health and addiction challenges not only benefit from having a Doula, but need a Doula during times when they are made even more vulnerable than they are during their daily lives.
And now I am the Director of Programming for Doula Support Foundation where my biggest project is developing program for exactly that group of clients and training for Doulas who want to support them. I'm also trained in providing support to people experiencing pregnancy loss, infant loss, and pregnancy terminations. I hope to extend my training to end of life support.
The thing that I've realized lately is that I wouldn't have been here if I hadn't followed what felt like a scattered, chaotic path. If I hadn't risked seeming undisiplined and flakey. If I had given into the pressure to settle down and do any job for the sake of doing a job. If I had let people's opinions of me stop me. If I hadn't insisted on being who I am and not before I was ready.
If I hadn't left a program I wasn't ready for, but valued what I learned.
If I hadn't gone through the most devastating loss I had ever felt and really experienced the worst of it.
If I hadn't lived when living was called for.
If I hadn't been there when someone needed me.
If I hadn't been listening when I was asked to make a phone call.
If I had let my past opinions stop me from something that I am truly great at.
If I hadn't trusted my instincts because someone told me that they weren't worth anything.
If I hadn't taken a leap of faith.
If I hadn't used every bit of my life experiences to not only create something great, but to pave the road ahead.
I didn't know then. I didn't know in those moments, but I do now. It's startling how my whole life has had meaning and purpose. The things I went through were building a ladder, the rigging, that I would use to climb towards where I am today.
My choices and the moments where I felt like I was being blown about and beaten down have given me the tools I need to do the things I am passionate about and to help other people who are going through difficult experiences.
It has brought me to the places I've been, the things I have lived through, and the people I have met.
Every bit of education, experience, joy, pain, awe, bewilderment, sadness, love...and I think that is amazing.