This Too Shall Pass

Truth be told, I stay away from social media when my mental health goes for shit and, right now, it’s pretty brutal. I have been unable to get through a single day in the last two weeks without having a mini mental breakdown or losing my shit about something.

The Lyme struggle is real—not only physically (EVERY. FUCKING. DAY.), but also mentally…especially mentally. Right now I am in a downward spiral of extremely irrational irritation mixed with uncontrollable manic episodes.

Even LSD microdosing isn’t helping with this level of Jo Is Crazy AF.

It ain’t pretty.

I am not a pleasant person to be around at the moment.

I can’t even stand myself and I have always been able to take myself, even at my worst.

It’s actually that bad.

The only thing that keeps me somewhat chill and borderline happy for any length of time is hanging with my animals, by myself.

The rub here is that I know this will pass and that my treatment will progress. I’ll look back and think, “Phew. That was a doozy! So happy I weathered that shitstorm and I am feeling so much better.”

I know this, intrinsically, and yet, here I am slogging through the shit.

Despite knowing that everything passes and that every shitstorm can be weathered, we still have to feel our way through it WHILE it’s happening. We still have to ride the rollercoaster of bullshit irrationality and seemingly endless sadness in order to learn and grow and strengthen.

This is the entire point of life.

But sometimes—HOLY SHITSNACKS!—life sucks a giant bag of douche nozzles.

Right now, at this stage of my Lyme treatment, my psyche is in two pieces:

One side is rational and clinical. It sits back, observing the other side’s batshit crazy temper tantrums and full-on bullshit crying fits and says shit like, “Oooph. Jo must be killing off some serious bacteria and their toxic waste must be coursing through her system right now. She’s having a rough go of this one. It’s tough for her to stay happy and positive when her body hurts so much and she’s so frustrated and irrationally angry about stupid shit. It’s hard to watch her fall apart when she’s such a strong gal and she’s already made it through so much. Too bad she can’t accept that it’s okay to have crazy shit days like this and that, in the long run, it’s good for her because it gets it out rather than bottling it up.”

My crazy side just says shit like, “AHHHHHHHHHH! I AM SO ANNOYED BY EVERYTHING!”

My rational side sees my crazy side and gets a good giggle out of it, but in the meantime, my crazy side wreaks havoc on my attitude and relationships.

This, too, is something I have heard about Lyme time and again, but it doesn’t make the process easier. It doesn’t make me easily forgive myself when I lose my shit on Greg or others. It doesn’t help me work on self-love when I’m berating myself for not being able to be happy and cheerful and see the upside.

To put it bluntly, it fucking sucks and I feel like I’m flailing like a dandelion seed in the wind—never knowing where I’ll touch down next or if I’ll ruin a perfectly good lawn with my infectious and prolifically invasive roots.

For now, though, I’m sharing my crazy because I know so many others out there are going through similar shit and struggling with themselves. Maybe not because of Lyme Disease, but from other issues that beat you down regularly.

Take heart, kids! This, too, shall pass, and when it does, I’ll still be here, writing about it and high-fiving you for riding out your latest shitstorm too.

Buckle down. You got this!

Lyme Rage & Juxtaposition

Life with Lyme Disease is a constant juxtaposition with moments of pure joy mixed in with pure agony. Lyme Rage is a side effect of treament and it can really knock us on our asses.

Life. It’s all about juxtaposition.

Moments of pure joy filling up my heart while sadness simultaneously tries to empty it. This has been my daily lately—actually, since last October when the Lyme flared up and I started struggling healthwise again—but especially in the past three weeks since the Lyme treatments have really started kicking in.

HOLY TOXIC WASTE DUMP OF EMOTION, BATMAN!

As I’ve finally started to feel a shift in some of my symptoms (less overall skin pain and a reduction in joint pain), I’ve also started to become progressively crazier. I mean, ha ha, I’m always slightly crazy and I definitely have a temper sometimes, but I’m talking CRAZY. As the treatment is killing off massive swaths of bacteria and they are emptying into my system to be flushed out, I am turning into a full-on psycho.

For example, Greg and I were building the back fence last weekend and I tripped over some tomato cages that fell over while I was walking by them and I LOST MY SHIT. I threw down my tools, picked up the cages and LAUNCHED them across the yard with all my strength. If I’d had a sledgehammer handy, I probably would have smashed them into flat, unrecognizable lumps of wire. I may have also let out a guttural screech of pure stabby frustration as well.

Then I calmly picked up my tools and went back to work. What in the actual fuck?

Then, after a week of watching my orange fluffball, OJ, fight for his life after contracting some unknown illness, I lost my shit on my dad without meaning to. The conversation started out fine, we chatted for a bit and then he told me he would be dropping his cat off soon because he and my stepmama were going out of town. I told him that I couldn’t take Roger Flatface because OJ was too sick and it would be too much right now, to which my dad replied, “What did he do to himself now?”

This is where the anger sparked a little. He didn’t even offer sympathy or express concern for the cat, he just acted annoyed, like it was my fault the cat was sick. So I told him that OJ had just stopped eating and drinking and I’d had him back and forth to the vet all week trying to figure out what was going on with him. To which he then said, “Why don’t you just put the cat down and get another one.”

Again, spark spark, sparkity spark spark. I think my face actually started twitching at this point. Caveat: This is my dad. He may actually feel compassion and sympathy, but I’ve seldom seen it because, for whatever reason, he simply does not show it to me. His way with me is to be gruff or disapproving and to offer advice that he thinks will solve the issue. Most of the time I just roll with it and let him say whatever he feels like he needs to say, even though it is usually kind of hurtful and often makes me feel like I’m completely failing at life. Also, I know my dad loves me and I know he means well, so I usually just roll with it.

At this point though, I was starting to feel extremely agitated that my dad would be so callous and just tell me to basically discard one of my kids and replace him with a new model. I’m positive he didn’t see it that way, but I sure as shit did. I told him that I wasn’t going to kill my cat just because he was sick and also pointed out that he wouldn’t do that to his pets either. And, again, for whatever reason and because dad is dad, he got pissed off, told me I couldn’t afford to pay for all these vet visits and then he hung up on me. (Ironically, my eldest brother who has Schizophrenia gets angry and hangs up on my dad ALL THE TIME and dad gets really annoyed by it, but apparently, it’s totally acceptable for dad to do it to people.)

Normally, when my dad says or does things that are extremely hurtful, I let it go. It may annoy me, but it doesn’t make me see red or feel the need to retaliate. As Greg always tells me, “Water off a duck’s back.”

This particular day, however, my body was flushing hot with all the dead bacteria flowing through me and I was completely exhausted. In my head, I thought, “Oh well. There I go doing the wrong thing again by trying to save my furchild with medical attention. What a disappointment I am.”

And then I simply snapped. If I were observing from across the room, I would have seen the top of my head explode with such force it hit the ceiling and my face would have turned a pretty shade of vermillion.

In less than 30 seconds, my thoughts turned extremely dark and spiralled down the shithole. These aren’t even thoughts I normally entertain, so it was just SO out of character. I have been to A LOT of counselling over the years to deal with my shit and I have learned many techniques to calm myself down, let shit go, and keep moving forward (even before my daughter died I had been to many counselling sessions). No. This is a whole different ballgame—one I have no idea how to play. This is Lyme Rage and, from what I hear from so many people, it’s a giant mind fuck. It takes your brain to places that you would never normally even go and on this day, it was instant and overwhelming. It drowned me in a wave of bullshit.

…How DARE he tell me to kill one of my children. The only fucking children I will ever have. How DARE he get pissed off at me because I won’t watch his fucking cat and I’ve been trying to save my cat’s life with medical treatment. Who the FUCK does he think he is, always trying to dictate my life and telling me what to do with my money? Always making me feel like I’m a giant fucking disappointment who has never accomplished anything or done anything in my life worthy of his acceptance or respect? Where the fuck was he when I was growing up? Oh, that’s right, he was ignoring me and tending to his other four children. Me he simply left behind to be raised by a crazy person. In his eyes, I’m the shitty child. I’ve always been the shitty child. I’m the child who always fucks up everything and has never been worthy of his love. That’s why he left when I was five. That’s why he’s always telling me how proud he is of my sister and how she always finishes things she puts her mind to (even though HE never finishes anything and almost never follows through with the plans he makes). My sister who basically lived at home, when she wasn’t away at school, until she was nearly 30 and has never struggled for money or food or to keep a roof over her head. Proud of the sister who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and has no clue what real struggle is like while my dad left me to be raised by a woman who was shitty with money and taught me nothing about living out in the real world, had mental issues, and yelled at me all the fucking time. Not proud of the daughter who got straight As all through school, has two degrees, has fought her way through a lot of death and loss and still manages to keep smiling and loving through all of it. Nope, I’m somehow a burden, a disappointment and an asshole because I refuse to give up on a cat I love more than life…Why do I even let this bother me? Why does his opinion even matter? Why am I always hanging around, seeking his praise when I know it will never come, never has. Fuck this. I’m done. I’m done with allowing myself to be hurt by his words and actions. I’m done with letting him dictate to me or tell me what’s best. He is mean. He is judgemental. He kicks me when I’m down because he doesn’t know how to love. I don’t need this in my life. It is hurting me. It is slowing down my healing. Enough is enough…

And then…I picked up my phone and spewed out a bunch of nasty words, calling my dad out on being cold and cruel and heartless, telling him that I am done with him and telling him to stay out of my life.

Even though my gut was SCREAMING at me to let it go, to walk away, to just take a deep breath and it would pass…I hit SEND.

I HIT SEND. Jesus H. Christ. I HIT SEND.

And then I just sat there wondering what the hell was happening to me, breathing heavily, torrents of tears pouring down my face, gasping for breath, staring at my phone.

For 10 minutes I stayed this way, sobbing, feeling my heart rip open and simultaneously feeling totally justified and like a complete asshole. It didn’t matter that Rational Jo knew that dad did the best he could when we were kids and did what he felt he had to do. It didn’t matter that Rational Jo had already been to counselling for years to deal with all the hurt and resentment she’d felt surrounding her parents and her mom’s death. It didn’t matter that Rational Jo LOVES her siblings and is much too intelligent to blame any of them for any of her shit. It didn’t matter that Rational Jo knew her dad loves her and would never intentionally hurt her feelings or deliberately set out to make her feel like a loser. None of it mattered because Rational Jo wasn’t even present. Rational Jo was pinned into a corner by a thick wall of zombie Lyme bacteria while the rest of the zombie army was penetrating her brain, tapdancing all over her sensibilities.

10 minutes of all-consuming, completely irrational rage and then, like a switch was flicked, back to totally calm and rational.

I was filled with regret, but too tired and too “Johnson Proud” (we have a thing with stubborn pride in our genes that is tough to admit to ourselves…) to do anything about it. I could have picked up the phone, profusely apologized to my Pops and explained what had happened and how much I’ve been struggling with the side effects of treatment, but I just sat there. I could have called him and told him how much I love and appreciate him for all the good things he does and says, but I just sat there. For another hour.
Eventually, I got up and got on with my day and just shoved the episode out of my mind to deal with another day.

Incidentally, I did end up apologizing, after losing sleep for a couple nights and agonizing over all of it. But, really, hurtful words are just that and sometimes even an apology—no matter how sincere—really sounds empty when the words were cruel. So I really have no idea if he will forgive me or not and I’m totally fine if he doesn’t because I’ve forgiven myself. I’ve also forgiven him for his hurtful words. They don’t matter anyway. Kitty has made a full recovery and it was worth every penny.

The point of all this, though, isn’t my baggage or the struggles that relationships go through, it’s about juxtaposition and the fact that there is always going to be a yin and yang flow to life. We are on this earthly plane to learn and grow and we do that with periods of struggle and bliss and everything in between. We are also human and we ALL fuck up, we ALL do shitty things that we regret, we ALL bring light and joy into the world, and we ALL have the capacity to accept this, accept our shit, work to improve ourselves and keep moving forward.

The past two weeks have been a constant juxtaposition for me—fighting the massive bacterial bitch that is Lyme disease, nursing a sick cat back from the brink, and adopting a small bundle of Meximutt craziness who fills my heart with ecstatic joy. I’ve had moments that bring me to tears, both from sheer happiness and utter frustration. Moments that make me belly laugh, both from genuine mirth and stark irony. And moments of quiet, euphoric stillness that remind me that we have to drop in and relish those good times so we have something to boost us and get us through the shitty ones.

Haters Gonna Hate. A word about accepting this and moving on.

Last week, “someone” made a comment on my blog claiming that I exaggerate aspects of my life (namely my roller derby “career” and my “retirement” from professional photography) and advising me to be more honest with my clients about my writing and editing abilities. The comment was, of course, “anonymous” and tied to a fake Gmail address. When I saw the comment, I was surprised by it, but I immediately replied with a message of my own, thanking them for visiting my blog and congratulating them for having the courage to message me from behind the anonymity of their keyboard and screen. #keyboardwarriors #amiright

At first, I assumed that this person wasn’t someone I knew, but as I mulled over their comment, curiosity took hold of me and I wondered why someone I didn’t know would so personally and publicly attack me. My gut tweaked, so I asked a techy friend of mine to trace the IP address attached to the comment. I wasn’t surprised when the IP traced back to an address in Kamloops—one I recognized. Someone I DO know. [People just don’t realize how difficult it is to truly be anonymous these days. I mean, if you’re gonna say nasty shit about people on a public site without having the balls to show your face or name, at least use a VPN…details, details…]

Having discovered who sent the message and being both a bit shocked and also flabbergasted as to why this person would feel the need to throw shade on me, I still did nothing. My curiosity had been satisfied and, even knowing who it was, I still didn’t feel the need to react to it.

And then I sat back and had a huge A-ha moment about my progress in controlling my reactions. Five years ago, I would have lost my shit and felt an immediate need to defend myself and prove my worth or my truth or whatever else. Now, I recognize the futility of that kind of behaviour. There is simply no need to hang onto somebody else’s bullshit. It’s none of my GD business.

My point is this:

In life, you are always going to run into people who throw negative vibes like poisoned spears at your heart. Let them. Your shield is the knowledge that you have the choice to either let that spear pierce and infect you or bounce off you harmlessly because your skin is bullshit proof.

Letting Go Is Always The Best Choice, For Me.

I’m into writing really terrible haikus lately because, well, they MAKE ME BELLY LAUGH like Buddha! This morning, I woke up with this one in my head:

Standing in the storm.
The choice is here before me.
Resist or let go?

Deep in the core of my soul, I knew it was time. Just as I knew it was time to end my marriage years before I actually admitted it to myself, I’ve known for years that I must let go of photography if I want to be a successful full-time writer and editor. If I hadn’t known this, I wouldn’t have returned to university in 2017 to work on my Masters in Publishing. I wouldn’t have completed a Certificate in Editing, despite how time-consuming it was on top of my regular life schedule.

Sure, being a professional photographer is sexy…on the surface. People ask me, “What do you do?” and when I tell them I’m a photographer, their eyebrows shoot up and they say things like, “Oh! Wow!” and “That’s so cool!” The reality of being a photographer though is that there are thousands of us everywhere you look and the old model of “just be you and your ideal clients will find you” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Nowadays, it consists of keeping up with the never-ending demands of social media and keywords and SEO—staying in the spotlight, posting great content, engaging with your fans, posting a few times a week, keeping up with the changes in rules and regulations and WHAT THE FUCK, Facebook! STOP CHANGING YOUR GODDAMNED ALGORITHMS EVERY 10 SECONDS. Da fuck? Who has the time or the mental capacity for that kind of constant upkeep? I certainly don’t. Plus, there is also the totally unglamorous (and physically painful) aspect of the job that is EDITING ENDLESS PHOTOS.

Truth be told, I’m tired of the game. I’m tired of the constant hustle to bring in new clients and maintain relationships with past clients. I’m tired of being on my social media all the time and I’m tired of having to spend time on all that stuff when all I want to do is read, write, and edit. When all I have ever truly wanted to be is a writer and editor. When my guides tell me EVERY DAMN DAY that writing is my life’s purpose and I need to get on it.

The way of life is that shit eventually runs its course and we have to learn to recognize it and let go of it before we waste years beating our heads against a wall and filling up with needless regret. Why didn’t I recognize how unhappy I was? Why did I wait so long to make this change? What am I hanging onto when I know there is nothing left here for me? When I know this no longer feeds my soul?

So, I’m outta here, so-to-speak!

From now on, my “spare” time will be spent hanging out with my family and friends “engaging” in real life relationships with people in my immediate bubble. My days will be filled with a glorious plethora of words and corrections, as well as blushing sheepishly over my own missed typos and grammar faux pas (even great writers have shit moments). And, the best part, is that I can’t wait to write so much and about so many different things that I fly through shit so fast, I make really silly mistakes so others can send me “helpful” emails letting me know of my erroneous ways. LOL.

Bring it on, writing world. I’m so fucking ready for you!

Hitting the Spiritual Wall [Building Self-Awareness]. Part 2.

No! Wait!

You know what that is? That’s fear and the ego trying to make me forget my self-awareness and talk me back into my comfort zone, disguised as a namaste nicety. “Seriously Jo, you should slow down and smell the flowers. You work too hard. You are just fine here, sitting in the grass, holding Greg’s hand and feeling the sun on your face.”

And, yes, it is 100% true that I need to slow down and breathe. We all do. Regularly.

But is that what my life is really about? Have I ever been that person who puts a little effort it and then sits back and says, “Ooooh, I did a great job! Time to just chill for a few years.”?

Uhm, no thanks.

I’ve never been content to just sit and watch the world do its thing. That’s not me. That will NEVER be me. I want more – I will ALWAYS want more – and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, wanting to learn and grow, wanting to improve myself and my surroundings.

I don’t give a shit what spiritual teachings say about letting go of material things and not attaching to anything.

Fuck that noise.

I like my shit and I love my lifestyle and I’m not giving that shit up so I can be more enlightened by breaking my attachments.

What’s NOT okay is burning myself out because I think that I can do it all and have it all in a short time. It’s important to remember that this incarnation – any incarnation, anywhere – is about finding balance and when shit gets unbalanced, everything starts to unravel.

I’ve lost my balance and I’m experiencing that unravelling full force right now and, of course, this is NOT the first time this has happened. My life has been a fairly consistent succession of falling apart and piecing myself back together. It’s my thing. It’s how I learn and grow, how I build my self-awareness. I’ve learned that this is my pattern – periods of pure joy interspersed with periods of kaka, tragedy, pain, and huge spiritual growth spurts.

However, recognizing, accepting, and finally embracing my pattern was not easy (and still isn’t sometimes), but I had help – in fact, I ALWAYS have help. This is where spirit guides and dearly departeds come in. They are our greatest teachers and all we have to do is listen to their guidance.

When I died and hung out with my dearly departed mama, we had a very animated conversation about self-awareness. She said that during those moments in life when we find ourselves figuratively beating our heads against a wall, our guides have been trying to steer us down a different path but we’ve simply been ignoring them – deliberately or subconsciously. We are ignoring our gut instinct (aka our guides) and being stubborn AF, just trying to “power through” or ignoring our well-being.

During these times, when our guides are knocking on our door (aka our intuition is kicking in) and we’re ignoring them, shit starts to unravel. If our self-awareness is present and/or developing, we usually start paying attention before we spiral down too far and really fuck our shit up.

And this happens to all of us. Some of us recognize it quickly enough to learn and grow and become more tuned in to ourselves…and some of us are slow learners and wallow down there in the shit for much too long.

Apparently, I used to just LOVE wallowing down there in the shit, but as the years go by, I’m spending less time down there. Sometimes – during my most aware moments – I’m not reaching the shitpile at all and just the smell of it is enough to snap me into awareness.

Think of a time in your life when you were absolutely miserable, but then you made a change and everything righted itself again.

Perhaps you were in a relationship that was bringing you down or a job that felt like it was sucking your soul away. How long did you stay in that situation? How miserable did you get before you lost your mind and got out of it? Or perhaps you’re still in this situation, waiting for a miracle to get you out of it? (Sorry, kids, that’s a whole ‘nother blog topic for a different day, but I hope this blog might help you a little anyway).

And, when you did get out of it, did you notice that, even though that change created some difficulties and new struggles, it STILL felt better and easier than staying in that situation? When you look back on that, do you feel like smacking yourself in the forehead for staying in that situation for so long?

If the same feelings started cropping up in your life tomorrow, do you think you would stick it out as long as you did last time?

If not, you’re learning and growing your self-awareness. Feels nice, doesn’t it!

My unravelings used to be a lot more epic and knitting myself back together used to be a long, tedious task. Now, each time the threads start to get yanked out of my soul fabric, I notice them quickly and gently tuck them back in before I end up naked, exposed, and covered in the kaka.

This time around, it’s taken me only two months to become aware that I was beginning to fall apart and, once I became aware of it, only a few weeks to evaluate my thoughts, emotions and physical manifestations and make a plan to restore balance.

What I marvel at most these days is how much easier it is for me to take a step back and pinpoint the areas that need to change. I used to get caught up and deeply overwhelmed by the big picture and I could never pinpoint the shit that was causing the issues. Now when it happens, I step back, breathe, focus on the main emotion that keeps cropping up and trace it back to all the areas that cause it. If it’s a negative emotion, I know that I need to make changes in those areas. If it’s positive, I know that I need to keep that shit up. This is what self-awareness is all about to me.

So, yes, I’m unravelling a bit right now because I’m unbalanced – too much work and not enough downtime, exercise, meditation, and activities that fire up my soul – but I see it and I’ve already made a plan to change it up and restore that balance. It will definitely involve more time to just hang out and do the things I love with the people I love, but it will also include a healthy dose of continual learning and growth, work, and ambition.

Balance.

Everything is about balance.

TO READ PART 1 of this post, click here

Are you a good houseguest or a bad houseguest? House Guest Etiquette a la Jo.

I just had the BEST weekend with the BEST houseguests, pretty much ever and it wasn’t just because they were my cousins, it was because they were so respectful of our space. They cooked, they cleaned, they bought (and brought) groceries and they were helpful and fun.

To be honest, we’ve had a few shitty houseguests in the past couple years, so it was so nice to see that my cousins were on the same wavelength as me. I was sad to see them go and, for me, that’s not a common feeling. I’m usually elated to bid our guests adieu, but it’s usually because I’m exhausted from entertaining them, cleaning up after them, and providing everything for their stay.

My idea of what makes a good houseguest stems from a childhood with a mom who had very particular Martha Stewartesque notions when it came to being a guest in someone’s home. She drilled it into me and, when people visit and don’t seem to have any houseguest common sense, I kinda lose my shit.

Here’s what my dearly departed Mama Wendy made sure I understood if I was going to visit somewhere. (Also, I may be paraphrasing a little here):

  1. NEVER be a wanker who overstays your visit. Always ask BEFORE you go for a visit how long your host is willing to put up with you. It’s not rude to ask someone this, it’s polite. It doesn’t matter how much we love our friends and family – everybody has a saturation limit when it comes to houseguests. For example, I’m good for around three to four nights and then my eye starts to twitch and I start to feel a bit stabby. If I tell you that I’d love to have you visit for the weekend, it means I’d love to have you visit FOR THE WEEKEND. If you then decide that you are loving my place so much you want to stay longer, I’m probably going to secretly imagine myself stabbing you in the eye with a fork while I’m politely insisting that I’m okay you extending your stay. News Flash: I’m not okay with it. Nobody is. Get the fuck out and, while you’re at it, make sure you’re gone by mid-afternoon on Sunday and mop the floor before you leave, just for good measure.
  2. Food is fucking expensive, so unless you’re visiting millionaires, don’t be a freeloading asshat. If you’re by yourself and heading to visit someone for a night, it’s usually fine to allow your host to feed you. But bring a gift-dessert or something (or, in my case, bring me ALL THE WINE) just to let them know you appreciate their hospitality. HOWEVER, if you’re bringing more than just yourself OR you plan to be there more than one night, chip the fuck in on food, homie. Bring (or buy) some groceries or, even better, make a plan with your host for meals and offer to either shop with them when you arrive or bring the ingredients for a couple of those meals. This will not only make you the most-appreciated house guest ever, it will also get you sincere invitations to come back. For reals.
  3. Get off your ass and help. Help cook. Help clean up after meals. Help clean up anything that is a mess or dirty. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your shit laying around. Don’t treat your host’s place like it’s a hotel with a maid and room service. Again, that will just make your host stabby and nobody wants any version of Norman Bates for a host.
  4. Clean up your GD room when you leave. Strip the sheets and pillow cases and either put them in the laundry or wash them if your host prefers. Alternatively, if your host is much less anal than me and says it is unnecessary for you to strip the bed, AT LEAST make the bed then. Leave it as you found it. If you slept on the couch, use some common sense – clearly you need to clean up your bedding. Don’t be a fucking slob of a houseguest. This isn’t rocket science, people.
  5. Lastly, have some respect. If your host goes to bed early or you are a night owl, don’t blast the TV or stereo or dial up your buddies and FaceTime at midnight in a drunken stupor with your phone on full blast. Quiet the fuck down and have some GD respect.

Admittedly, when I was younger and didn’t fully appreciate the costs and tasks involved in running my own household, I was most likely NOT a good houseguest. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help the younger versions of me out there turn over a new leaf and start becoming more likeable when you’re visiting.

Peace out, stellar bitches!

Destination Wedding Woes & The Shit We Carry With Us

wedding couple destination wedding cuba
If you know me, you know I’m not afraid to share my thoughts and feelings and, often, after I’ve had some time to process, I need to blog to get it out and forget about it. This one is long, so if you have shit to do, this will probably distract you…
A couple years ago, I had one hell of a shitty experience shooting a destination wedding (due to both my own shit and others’). It was the straw that temporarily broke my wedding-shooting back and I gave up shooting weddings for awhile until I could find my way back to a healthy wedding-photography mindset, which I’m happy to report, I have.
And, ironically, it had zip to do with my ability to shoot a wedding and everything to do with my ability to allow self-sabotaging insecurities creep in and overrun my creativity and talents. Ya’ll know what they say about hindsight, right?
Although this wedding was in Cuba in 2015, the story actually starts wayyy back in high school (think early 90s…yah, I’m getting up there) and it carries on into the present. It’s not pretty or easy to talk about, but I’m going to spit it out here and then let it go.
In high school, my main crowd was made up of what is probably best described as the “In Crowd”. Of course, that’s totally tongue-in-cheek because our graduation class was a whopping 34 people so how many crowds could we actually have? Amiright! Anywho, this crowd was made up of a core group of ladies and, at the head of those ladies was a quintessential Mean Girl. Let’s call her Penelope.
Caveat: High School sees people put up with a lot of shit that our adult counterparts wouldn’t put up with for ten seconds, so try to keep in mind that these days, I wouldn’t keep people like this within a mile of my day-to-day life.
Penelope was pretty and popular and, as these things go, had minions who followed her lead, no matter how shitty and cruel it was. Penelope would, essentially, “allow” the rest of our girl group to like me one day and then shun me the next. I spent my entire high school experience walking around on eggshells around her-always fearful of what I would say or do next that would change my status with her from “friend” to enemy. One day she would laugh when I was being my quirky, outspoken crazy self and everything would be good and the next she would shun me and call me a loser for being the same way. It was a constant roller coaster of being accepted and rejected and I rode that shit for years. Sometimes I would be accepted and allowed to hang out with Penelope and her Posse and sometimes (for months at a time) I would be shunned, ignored, or, even worse, publicly ridiculed. Like that time, for example, in Grade 10 when I was, once again, on the “you’re not cool enough to hang out with us” list. One day after gym class, Penelope and her bosom buddy Petunia (who I will introduce below) and the rest of my so-called friends made fun of the way I pulled up my pants (because, apparently, I did it “weird”), pantomiming (pun-intended) me pulling them up over and over again and laughing hysterically until I left the locker room (and school) in tears. I stayed home for two days, pretending to have the flu so I wouldn’t have to face all those chicks while I was still so hurt by their teasing.  I think it was around the start of Grade 12 that I reached my saturation point and I finally began to activly seek retaliation for Penelope’s mean girl behaviour. I sought out opportunities to undermine her, embarrass her, and hurt her feelings whenever I could and every time I managed to stick it to her, it felt really good.
[NOTE: This was ridiculous and utterly childish vindictive bullshit behaviour, but I was 17 and didn’t understand the world the way I do these days. I did what any kid would do and I fought the pain of being treated like shit by treating her like shit. I felt justified at the time. It seemed only fair that after being shit on for years, I was finally starting to give her a taste of her own pain-inflicting ways. I don’t regret it and I’m not ashamed of it. It was simply how I coped without knowing enough to learn and grow from the life lesson behind it.
Strangely enough, we even hung out for awhile after high school. I can’t tell you why because I didn’t even LIKE Penelope and our relationship was strained and unfriendly a lot of the time, but we did have some good, genuine laughs now and then and perhaps thats why I stuck with it. She finally just phased me out of her life and I was totally okay with it. Kind of relieved, actually. It wasn’t until after she phased me out that I realized how dysfunctional our “friendship” had been and how much easier it was without her in my life, but I learned A LOT from that relationship and learned to recognize my vindictive tendencies. If someone hurt me, I retaliated. I hadn’t yet learned the “just forgive them and forget them” method of living a much happier life, but recognizing my patterns through that relationship helped me to learn it.]
Petunia was another gal in the same crowd and she was, by far, the one who followed Penelope’s lead most often. Petunia has a giant heart and has always wanted to see the best in people, but she’s also really easily led and didn’t even realize how cruel she was to me so often while we were growing up. And, despite all the shit of high school, I’ve always loved her.
In 2014, Petunia called me up and invited me out for lunch and told me she was getting married in Cuba. She wanted me to be part of the wedding and, thinking about Penelope who was going to be the MOH, I politely declined, but said I would definitely attend. We ended up agreeing that I would shoot the wedding so I could still be a part of the day.
However, by this time I was pretty jiggy with my intuition and, from the moment Petunia told me she was getting married, my gut alarm bells started clanging to the tune of, “JO! Stay away from anything to do with this wedding!” And, like the ridiculously stubborn Scorpio I am, I shushed my gut and told it that everything would be great – after all, 20+ years had passed and we were all very different people. It would be a much different experience than high school. We’d all grown up and had some life experience to change us, right?
Nope.
To make matters far worse, Petunia said something like, “Peter (let’s pretend Peter is the name of Petunia’s Fiancé) isn’t going to be super excited about the cost to get you to shoot our wedding, but I’ll convince him that it’ll be worth it.” Great! Can’t wait to rise up and meet that challenge. Ding Ding, gut alarm. Ding Ding, gut alarm.
I tried to psych myself up for a week hanging out with Penelope, Petunia and another friend of ours (let’s call her Poppy) whom I love all the way up to the moon and always have. I figured that if Poppy was there, any shit that happened would be worth it because I would get to hang out with her after so long.
I also invited my Sis-In-Law and another friend to come for the week. I figured that I could hang with my own peeps if I didn’t want to hang with all the wedding guests and it would be a good opportunity to chillax and get some much-needed bestie time in.
Nope again.
Firstly, before I get into the point of this entire post, let me just fully disclose my giant fuck-ups with this wedding.
1) I told Petunia and Peter that I would be happy to shoot them doing other things besides the wedding – if they went on excursions or whatever. What I totally forgot about and didn’t really think through was that I get brutal motion sickness, so when they decided to take a bus tour through Havana and a catamaran tour, I couldn’t go on either. Trying to shoot on a bus would have done me in, but trying to shoot on a boat would have put me where I’ve been too many times (arms wrapped around a rail, supplying a never-ending stream of chum and bile to the happy fishes). When I say I get motion sick, it doesn’t even really describe how brutal it is. I end up feeling like death for days afterward. (I tried to make up for it by shooting a bunch of photos during their stag/stagette night).
2) I completely ignored not only my gut about what a terrible idea it was to even attend the wedding, let alone shoot it but I also ignored the concrete realization that my own marriage was done and I was not in a good mindset to shoot a wedding. My husband and I had been down a long road of shit and heartache and inability to comprehend each other after our daughter died and we were separating. (I tried to ignore that feeling because it was much too late to back out of shooting the wedding and I was trying to pull up my big girl professional panties and do my job).
3) I foolishly believed I had dealt with all the shit feelings I had about Mean Girl Penelope from our younger days and trusted that I was capable of being my usual self –the chick who doesn’t give a fuck what others think of me and who trusts in her creative and artistic talents.
That last fuck up, on top of everything else, is what did me in. I may have believed I had moved on and was fully capable of being my adult self and recognizing and dealing with my insecurities as they reared up, but I had never actually been around Penelope to test that theory and have some practice with it.
Triple nope.
Do ya’ll know what ignoring your intuition and insight gets you? A shitshow, that’s what.
The first night we were all together in Cuba and everyone was drinking it up and having a good time, I let myself relax and thought that it was all going to be all right after all. Everybody was getting along well, we were all laughing about funny things that happened in high school (because despite the emotional roller coaster, I still had some good times), and enjoying ourselves. I woke up feeling happy and excited to do a rad job on Petunia’s wedding, yet still, my gut was not having it. 
The next night there was a stag/stagette and, near the end of the night when she was a bit drunk, Penelope was kind enough to tell me, “Peter really didn’t want you to come to shoot the wedding, but both Petunia and I convinced him it was a good idea and that you will do a great job. I hope you do.” She giggled and walked off and I stood there, feeling a flush creep up my face and insecurity begin washing through me. I fucked off back to my room, put my camera away and journaled the entire night, in an attempt to analyze my feelings and get them under control. (This is what I do when I need to process, I write it all out and analyze it until I find the hidden meanings, the lesson, or the solution).
The following day, I was sitting with Peter, waiting to meet with their wedding coordinator while Petunia was up chatting with some other people, and Peter and I were chatting about weddings and my wedding experience. I mentioned that I had heard that he didn’t want to hire me because I was expensive, but I wanted him to know that I was good at my job and he wouldn’t be disappointed. I was still feeling insecurities creep in from Penelope’s comment the evening before (and, truthfully, journaling about it had not helped take the feeling away) and I was also feeling a bit annoyed because I had already given them a HUGE discount (I halved my regular price, actually) and here I was, dealing with how “expensive” I was, yet again. I was feeling fed up with people not realizing my worth (ah, the Ego eh…) and when Peter made a comment about Petunia mentioning I was thinking of retiring from shooting weddings, I lost my shit for a sec and snapped at him. I told him that weddings were too much stress and too much work (which they aren’t) and I was tired of people bitching about how expensive wedding photography is and being completely ignorant of the amount of time and work that goes into photographing a wedding. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t go over very well with either of us and totally left me looking like an asshat who hated shooting weddings (which I didn’t and still don’t). It wasn’t my best professional moment, although it was a raw and true one, but at that point, my anxiety level was rising about a meter a minute and I was already in danger of drowning.
After that, everything snowballed.
By the morning of the wedding, I was stressed-the-fuck-out. I told my Sis-in-Law at breakfast that I could feel that it was going to be a shitshow and, well…what we focus on, we create. Simple concept. Profound result when we allow shit thoughts to take over.
It was, literally, one thing after another…
It started out, right off the hop, with Penelope telling me what she thought I should and shouldn’t shoot. “Oh, no, don’t get a shot of Petunia brushing her teeth in her wedding dress. That’s just tacky.” “You should get a shot of such and such while they are doing such and such.” This happens to me ALL THE TIME when I shoot weddings and I just smile and nod and, if their idea is good or will fit in with what I’m doing, I’ll happily snap a suggested pic. However, after about the sixth suggestion, I was fucking annoyed that Penelope seemed to think she knew how to shoot a wedding better than I did. (yes, hell again, Ego, fancy seeing you here again so soon…;)) Moreso, though, there were now regular looks being exchanged between Penelope and Petunia and I was picking up on all of them. Looks that said, “Are you seeing this? The photographer is refusing to shoot photos. Can you believe it?”
Here are two of these look moments that stuck out to me and completely unravelled my confidence (even though I knew the shots WOULD NOT work and had proven it by trying it during other weddings and failing):
The wedding party wanted to do pics at the beach, mid-day. I told them that, from my experience, there would be too many people, it would be stiflingly hot, the light was too bright and would cast too many shadows under their eyes, etc. I suggested we shoot at the beach near sunset when the light was good, there would be next to no people, and we could get a lot of good shots in a short time. Penelope gave me “Don’t you think you should taking the kind of photos the bride and groom are asking for?” to which I replied, “She hired me because I know what I’m doing and I hope she trusts me enough to know the reasons I’ve given her are true rather than wasting time at the beach when we could be shooting elsewhere and getting good shots.” And that was followed by “the look” between Penelope and Petunia again.
I was chatting with someone while we were waiting for a few wedding party people to meet us at a room and a sweet moment developed between the Peter and his stepdaughter. I heard Penelope said to Petunia, “You should get Jo to take a pic of them ” and Petunia immediately nudged me and said, “Look at them. Can you take a pic?” but by the time I turned around and brought up my camera, the moment had passed. Petunia asked me to re-create it and I explained that, if I asked them to do it again, it would not have been a genuine shot and it would have shown in the photo. I told them there would definitely be other moments and I would catch one of them. Again, that look. I’ve tried to re-create real moments after the fact and, trust me, they are ingenuine. That’s not me. I’m not going to force a moment just because someone sees me with a camera and tells me I should. There are HUNDREDS of moments during a wedding day and we can’t be expected to capture every single one. We grab the ones we see – the genuine, unscripted ones – and they end up being spectacular.
The rest of the day continued along the same lines…
I realized around dinner time that all the insecurities I had taken away from being around them in high school had come back full-force and that I had completely reverted to that “please just like me” pathetic person I had been back then, willing to put up with any of Penelope’s shit just so I wouldn’t have to be shunned or see her give that fucking look to Petunia. It was at dinner that I finally decided to have a glass of wine and just say, “fuck it” and go with the flow. I don’t normally drink at weddings until the end of the day and, even though I had tried to drink a beer earlier that afternoon, I’d only made it through a few sips before setting it down and forgetting about it. The wine helped a bit and at least relaxed a bit of my anxiety. After dinner, I tried for an hour to wrangle the wedding party to get them down to the beach for sunset photos, but it was like herding cats and, by the time I finally got them down there, we had about 15 minutes of light left and I was completely exhausted after a day of fighting my own shit and theirs. The pics weren’t my usual caliber and I was completely defeated.
In a nutshell, it fucking sucked.
Ironically, during the reception, I somehow found myself standing with Poppy listening to Penelope while she told us about how much her daughter struggled with her little school friends. “One day they like her and the next they tell her they don’t want to play with her. Girls are so mean and it’s so hard to see her struggle like that.” Poppy and I stood there, mouths hanging open, looking at each other in complete disbelief that the Queen of the Kingdom of Mean Girls still didn’t have a fucking clue what a colossal cunt she had been all through school. At that point, which was near the end of the evening, I’d had enough and I didn’t need to be there to shoot anything else, so I packed up my shit, grabbed another glass of wine for the road, and headed back to my room.
I went to bed that night and cried myself quietly to sleep. I was mortified that I had allowed insecurities and anxieties ( from more than 20 years ago) completely rear up and take over. I was frustrated because I knew that the photos of the day were not the amazing, creative, happy quality I usually produced. And, mostly, I was pissed off for allowing my ego to get my back up when faced with a semi-drunk (and a few completely drunk) wedding party peeps who were pushy, didn’t want to hear my advice, and made me feel like I sucked and didn’t know what I was doing.
So how did it all end, you wonder?
No surprises here.
Petunia didn’t like her photos.
Peter wrote me a scathing email about how I was an “amateur masquerading as a professional”, how I’d “misrepresented my abilities and duped his wife into hiring me” and how I’d spent the entire trip in a “tequila-infused stupor” (even though I had only consumed tequila or been drunk on the first and last day of the entire trip and had barely drunk anything for the rest of it). It bothered me that he could say such shitty things, but I was also expecting it from him, so I wasn’t surprised. If a person doesn’t want to hire you from the get-go and you hear it from multiple people, it’s not a stretch to receive an email about how much you sucked.
The one thing, out of the entire email, that yanked my chain and made me feel genuinely angry was that he also said I didn’t make his wife feel beautiful at all during the entire wedding. That one pissed me off. Petunia had been ridiculously insecure about her looks since we were in Elementary school and, during the day of the wedding, I told her (probably 25 times) how ridiculously gorgeous she looked, how she made such a stunning bride, how she chose a perfect dress for her body type, how gorgeous her hair and makeup looked, etc. If there is something I’m going to do while I’m shooting ANY WOMAN, I’m going to make her understand that she is beautiful in as many ways as possible. I purposely sought out opportunities all during the day of shooting to let Petunia know how amazing she looked. So when I read that bit, my head blew off my shoulders and spun in circle like that chick in the Exorcist…for a few minutes anyway. BUT, ironically, looking back, I realized that if a person is focusing on an insecurity, they don’t hear the truth of what’s being said, they hear what they want to hear. Just as I was focusing on my insecurities surrounding high school bullshit, so Petunia was focusing on being uncomfortable with her body and being the center of attention. She probably didn’t hear my words of admiration at all. It also explained why she didn’t like any of her photos, even though she was a fucking knockout in all of them. In the end, I couldn’t change any of it, so I let it all go.
I responded by editing all 300+ photos anyway, refunding all of their money, and sending them a short email that said I was sorry that I didn’t meet their expectations and I hope that they can still look back on and enjoy the photos anyway. I didn’t try to defend myself because, really, they wouldn’t have listened or understood anyhow and it hardly mattered anymore. People believe what they want to believe, so why waste time trying to convince them otherwise. And, obviously, there went that 34-year friendship with Petunia. That stung a bit, but the nature of life is that people come and go.
Then, in a huge dramatic fit, I decided that I was done and I gave up on weddings “forever”, had a slight mental breakdown, and went to a “few” (ahem…nine or so) counselling sessions to learn how to deal with all of the baggage I’d been carrying around since high school. That’s how I learned about “Playing the Victim” and how to prevent myself from ever falling into the trap of giving my power away to someone else by allowing them to dictate my emotional responses. It’s how I learned, for good this time, that people can be assholes and definitely deserve blame for the heinous shit they do to us, but WE are 100% responsible for our reactions to that shit, not them.
So, all in all, it was a rad life lesson about listening to my gut (which I now do regularly), owning my shit (which I do 100% of the time), and forgiving assholes for being assholes and moving on.
And I’ve come to my senses about giving up weddings. I’m good at them. I enjoy them. I’ve come through the grieving process of my own marriage ending and I can look at love with a clear heart again. Time to get back at it. 🙂