A month ago, Blake and I packed up our home of seven years, loaded up our kids and headed across the country.
We left behind the only house our kids had ever known, our supports, our kids’ friends, my medical community, my job, our easy, our knowns, our predictable life.
We drove across the country to a new community, a new start, a new adventure and a chance to reconnect as a family. Towards the mountains, our caravan of cars and trailer navigated. Towards a hopeful change, a happier family life, rest and rejuvenation, putting thousands of kilometers between us and our stressors and anxieties.
Moving our family West wasn’t an easy decision. As COVID had halted our home building plans on the 36 acres of undeveloped land sitting quietly at the foot of the NorWester mountains in Thunder Bay, we had grown tired of treading water. Sioux Lookout had been a five-year plan and we had run over our end date by two full years. With the heaviness of work catching up to me, the kids entering an age where options for decent education and after-school activities suddenly mattered much more and with Blake’s happiness plummeting by the year, it was clear we had to make a change.
A deep privilege to be able to uproot and land wherever we chose, we considered our options; from Thunder Bay to New Zealand before finally deciding on the small, mountain town of Kimberely, BC.
In my mind, Kimberley became the promised land for our family. I imagined Blake, each day, along with his equally bearded, new-found rugged mountain comrades, out adventuring, exploring, pushing the boundaries of his physical limits then collapsing contentedly in bed each nigh. Mood light, troubles lifted, worries replaced by mountain vistas.
I imagined our relationship stabilizing, each of us pulled closer by our shared joy in recreating together in the outdoors. I imagined our kids in swimming classes, piano lessons, ballet and parkour, bursting with joy over each new opportunity. I thought of our family traipsing carefree in mountains, biking and hiking through the Kootenay ranges connecting happily over a picnic lunch along the trail.
It could be everything we needed. A light in the ongoing pandemic darkness. A spark of excitement that would uplift us, shake us out of old routines and carry us forward into a better life.
And so we purged and we packed and I maniacally scrubbed seven years of grime off of our walls, prepping our house for our new tenants. I signed up for a women’s mountain biking course in Kimberley and enrolled our kids in all of the activities possible.
I painfully said goodbye to my close-knit core of girlfriends and colleagues and left a deeply challenging, yet rewarding job. I began to let go of my identity as the full-scope rural doc, toiling away in the wilderness, advocating for my patients, fighting like hell to survive. I kept telling myself that this massive upheaval to our family’s life and my working life would all be worth it.
Finally getting to the mountains!
But, here is the thing. After a month in Kimberley, despite my daily pleas, the toilet seat is still left up; gaping, ugly, revealing a bowl begging to be cleaned.
What fresh hell is this? Where is the magical transformation of my husband, my kids, of myself that I had be desperately longing for?
So, here we are. After a month in Kimberley, still participating in military-level negotiation tactics with our kids at dinner-time, still arguing over who left their shoes in the middle of the entranceway (Blake, always) and who cleaned up someone’s breakfast while they were in the middle of eating it (Celia, always), still swimming upstream against the torrent of laundry, meal prep and dishes, still struggling in ‘if only land’.
‘If only land’.
‘If only land’ and the perpetual longing for true contentment. A universal human experience of ‘the grass is always greener’. If only I lived in sunny California, if only I had a new car, if only my kids were older, if only I had a different job… This very confusing idea of happiness; where does it exist and how in God’s name do we get there?
We all fall prey to this mythical thinking; the couple that spends more time planning a lavish wedding than attending relationship counselling to deal with their struggles, the empty-nesters that go on an extravagant vacation to push away the grief that permeates their foreign relationship with each other, the new baby that will supposedly bring partners closer, the late-night online frenzy of purchases meant to fill a void of loneliness.
The past few weeks have been hard. Although our family has been welcomed to Kimberley with open arms (literally EVERYONE waves and says hello!) and we have been incredibly fortunate to get out and explore the area, I just couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t skipping through my days here in BC with a perpetual stream of sunshine beaming down on me until I sat down recently with my therapist.
With her help, I realized, ‘Oh yes, here is Grief. Grief over the loss of my closest supports and my identity as a rural doc working for marginalized communities. Ah yes, here is Resentment. Resentment towards Blake for feeling like I am suffering through a new job ‘for nothing’ because he hasn’t miraculously and instantaneously transformed into a light-hearted mountain man. Oh indeed, here is Disappointment, the heaviest of them all. Disappointment, because despite the kilometers we’ve travelled, we can never escape ourselves, our histories and our pre-conceived ideas of what happiness ‘should‘ look like. Here is Disappointment, because ‘if only land’ is a never-ending glance toward the future, skipping right over the present, regardless of where physically you may end up. Disappointment, because I thought that if we all could just slap on rose-coloured glasses, we could escape Life.
Laughably, prior to my counselling session, I honestly had thought that the reason for my melancholy was my lack of a Gratitude Journal, preferably one with a fancy set of glitter pens and multi-coloured stickers. But, as you may have already figured out, the answer to the age-old pursuit of happiness isn’t as straight forward. Well, perhaps it is straightforward, it’s just not that easy. And although I may think (and I do on a weekly basis) that divorcing Blake is the only conceivable universal answer to all of my problems, it is in fact NOT the only answer!*
*Please note: Although this comment is made in jest, spousal separation is one that is deeply layered and non-comical. I apologize if this is an offensive comment to others.
Ah, so what is the answer. Unfortunately, it always circles back to the work of mindfulness practice. Bummer, eh? It’s like the patient that keeps coming back to the family medicine clinic in search of a magical answer for weight loss. It’s just the work, just doing the work.
So this piece is one of reflection and acknowledgement of the never-ending idea and universal experience of ‘if only land’. It is about laying down the groundwork, to make space for the acknowledgement that life is simply hard and full of suffering. Although that seems like a grim way to walk through our one and only precious existence on this planet, in fact, by giving this idea space, it truly becomes an instantly lighter load to carry.
I’ll end this blog with a quick anecdote that hopefully will give some food for thought.
At the end our my counselling session, when I was complaining about how difficult it is to be present with my emotions and to engage in mindfulness practice when all I want to do is scream at my husband because his rear-end is embedded in the couch, the kids are fighting and I have a mountain of paperwork from the day’s clinic to complete, my physician laughingly agreed. But, she then said this: “It’s like when you’re in the middle of making dinner and your friend texts you and needs to talk. You don’t blow her off. You are a kind and loving friend and you want to be there for her in the fullest capacity that you can. So you make note of her text and tell yourself you will call her after the kids are in bed to give her your full attention – to give her what she needs. So, in those moments of overwhelm, stay grounded, don’t get swept away, do your best to stay present, notice your surroundings, your emotions then shelve your feelings and revisit them when the environment allows.”
So here is to texting yourself when life is hard, overwhelming, confusing and shitty. Text yourself that you need to chat. Text yourself when you feel like you’re drowning in it all. Then, like the decent, loving and kind friend that you are, make note of that text and give yourself a call when the chaos eases up. Make space. Listen. Acknowledge the ‘if only’s’ and carry forward with self-compassion. No glitter pens needed.