Microdosing LSD & Chronic Lyme Disease

Toxic people are like a bottle of poison we ingest slowly

Let’s talk about microdosing LSD and the effect it has on mental health issues caused by Chronic Lyme Disease! Hold onto your self-righteous, anti-drug hats, kids! I’m about to extol the virtues of psychedelics as therapeutics.

In April 2019, I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease after suffering through strange symptoms and unexplained illnesses, on and off, for 15 years. Back in 2004, I started having sporadic bouts of (what I believed to be) depression/extreme irritation (aka Bat Shit Crazy RAGE-O-HOLIC and crying episodes). As I’m not a fan of pharmaceuticals with a long list of side effects, I rejected my doctor’s suggestion that I take antidepressants and I did my best to try to control my crazy moods with healthy eating and regular exercise. However, now that I understand that my moods were a symptom of Lyme flare-ups, I realize that most of the time it didn’t matter how healthy I was eating or how hard I was trying to take care of my body. Most of it wasn’t making a difference.

After much research in the past few years (as many other symptoms began popping up in my body and mind), I decided to try to heal myself with food by trying to balance my gut flora. The brain is directly connected to the gut and if your gut flora gets all fucked up, so does your brain, so it made sense that if I healed my gut, my mood swings and down times would disappear. I worked with a nutritionist for months to heal and balance my gut microbiome, but once it was finally firing on all cylinders, I was still suffering from persistent brain fog and unexplained rages and malaise.

I’m kind of “persistent” (aka RELENTLESS), so when I didn’t get the results I expected, I kept searching for answers and a solution.

At the end of 2018, I stumbled upon a 14-part documentary called Psychedelica on Gaia.com and—Boom!—I had my answer.

The “magical” cure for my extreme moodiness and persistent brain fog that I’d been searching for came with microdosing. [As an aside, microdosing is taking tiny, therapeutic doses. The doses are so tiny (micro, in fact 🙄) that they usually have little to no effect on the body. Microdoses are also not to be confused with threshold doses, which open up your third eye and make you trip balls.] I first tried psilocybin (aka Magic Mushrooms) but even the smallest doses left me with a bit of a “body stone” and I couldn’t stand it. I don’t like the feeling of being fucked up or not in control of my faculties, so I gave up on the psilocybin and kept looking. A good friend introduced me to the idea of microdosing LSD and I figured I had nothing to lose so I gave it a try. The irony of using a synthesized drug (essentially, a pharmaceutical) to help my brain was not lost on me, but since all the side effects were actually beneficial, I said fuck it and tried it anyway.

All I can say is WOWZAS!

Psychedelics have removed my moodiness and persistent brain fog and I experience ZERO side effects from them—no physical sensation at all, no strange hallucinations or really much of anything else, except a good feeling. My brain, quite simply, functions better. My moods are stable, I can get all sorts of shit done, stress seems much easier to handle, and I feel happier.

Let me say that again, I feel happier.

Even on extremely tough days—when Lyme is making my body hurt all over, I’m struggling to just move around without wincing in pain, I have a pounding headache, and I’m wrestling with a stressful day or something particularly challenging, I STILL FEEL HAPPY and calm. Where I used to get overwhelmed and anxious, causing Lyme to flare and my symptoms to worsen, my brain now whispers shit like, “Don’t sweat it, girl. It’s just one moment in a lifetime of moments. What you can’t do today, you can do another day or never. It simply doesn’t matter.” And, strangely, I believe my brain’s brilliant pep talks and just skip (often figuratively because it’s too painful to literally do it) through my day.

Microdosing also helps me keep an eye on the upside as I struggle through the painful and Cha Cha nature (one step forward, two steps back) of Lyme Disease.

I’ve been on a new treatment for Lyme for a few months (high doses of Vitamin D3…the subject of another blog I’m currently drating) and this, coupled with the microdosing, has upped my health and wellness factor by 1000. The combo of the two are, for lack of a better description, a GD miracle!

Life has become so much easier that I often can’t wrap my head around it. It boggles my mind that I can take a tiny amount of a drug (without experiencing any detrimental side effects) and it fills my world with rational butterflies and rainbows, productivity, and sense. How is that even legal?

Oh, right! It’s not! Please allow me to digress for a moment…

There’s the rub, right. Pharmaceuticals for ADHD, anxiety, depression, BiPolar Disorder and the like—with DEBILITATING side effects, including heightened thoughts of suicide and DEATH—are highly accepted by society, while truly helpful and life-changing, extremely affordable psychedelics (with no ill side effects from therapeutic doses), are considered “illicit” and “criminal”.

What, the fuck, ever.

Anyway, what was I talking about??? Ah, yes…

Life has changed astronomically for me, even on non-dosing days. The tiny amounts I take have rewired my brain to have better focus and a much better understanding of my thoughts. It helps me to look at all feelings and emotions with logic and easy understanding, so I spend less time overreacting and more time working through shit. It also helps me recognize the stuff I can’t work through and probably never will and allows me to accept it all with grace.

Even without all the shitty symptoms from Lyme disease, microdosing would still be helpful for balancing moods and increasing brain function and productivity. It’s like a friggin’ miracle in a 5 microgram, non-addictive dose. Did I mention that it’s proven that psychedelics are NOT ADDICTIVE…unlike antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. FFS, governments, get your shit together.

If you are looking for more information on microdosing, here are some good links:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-microdoses-of-lsd-change-your-mind/

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.

Everything Happens For A Reason – Jo Johnson Writer

Writing prompt from the weekend. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Admittedly, at first, 64,000 thoughts came to mind, but after 30-45 seconds, only one remained: nothing.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Even if I could, I wouldn’t change anything. Not the deaths of my babies nor anyone else I’ve lost. None of the struggles, the triumphs, nor the challenges. The fact is, every moment of my life—the good, the bad, and the three-ringed shitshow moments—have shaped me and grown me into who I am.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

And I love who I am. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I love all of my light and my shadow, my ever-present sense of humour, and the way I feel too much about certain things and nothing about others. I love my strength and resilience and my vulnerability. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

As much as life has hurt at times, it has always been balanced by periods of growth, usually followed by joy. It’s been a perfect balance and I wouldn’t change any of it.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

The Dragonfly is my Spirit Animal

When I was a little girl, my mom told me that when a dragonfly lands on us it is always one of our deceased loved ones or spirit guides checking in and letting us know they’re around and watching over us. I grew up obsessed with dragonflies—always wondering who was stopping in to say hello when one perched delicately on my hand or shoulder. It wasn’t until I was regularly swarmed by dragonflies after my mom’s death that her story and my obsession really started to wake me up. After a few years of dragonflies following me around and landing on me all the time, I finally figured out that my energy changes with their visits.

After my daughter Cora died, a little blue beauty landed on my leg and hung out for hours through periods of ugly sobbing and total numbness. Lightly perched on my knee, it would look at me, turning its head from side to side like a dog who is trying to figure out what its human is saying. When my sobs shook me too hard, it would flutter up and land on a different part of my body, always looking at me, turning its head. It even rode around on my dog Juno for a little while. On some level, I knew that the moment was significant and that I should pay attention, but I was too exhausted from grief to acknowledge it. Months later, when some of the haze of grief cleared, I remembered the little blue dragonfly and finally recognized it as the first sign Cora had sent me to let me know she was still with me.

Now, nearly nine years after losing Cora (and 20 years after losing my mom), I always recognize the significance of dragonflies. I giggle when they only land on me and follow me, even though there are other people around. I recognize that my vibe jumps instantly when I even see a dragonfly flit by, let alone when one lands on me.

Yesterday while I was outside in the yard, attempting to finish up the ties on our new chain link fence and cursing the pain and lack of strength in my fingers and wrists, I had a quick visit. It’s very early in the season, but a small red dragonfly flew by my face and landed briefly on my gloved hand. The shift was instantaneous. The pain in my joints lessened, my frustration with my body’s limitations right now eased, and I felt sunshine fill my darkest places again.

Believe what you will, but I am 159.6% convinced that dragonflies are my spirit animal…bug…spirit bug? LOL

Letting Go of Photography

“You’re a really good photographer! Why did you stop shooting Boudoir? ”
A good friend of ours asked me that yesterday and I had a really hard time framing my answer. I sputtered out, “After trying to convince women of their beauty for 11 years, I just kind of gave up.”


And, since the first answer that comes to mind is usually the real answer, I realized this is my truth. 

I gave up. It lost its lustre and I lost my passion for it.
However, I didn’t give up in the sense that I failed, more that I realized that in a world where 90% of people we see on social media and in print are filtered, what the fuck is point? Women have to have the presence of mind (or find it through life experience) to realize that they are comparing themselves to bullshit. 

I would often do a shoot with a gal, show her the final result, she would oooh and ahhh and say things like, “I can’t believe that’s me!” or, “I feel so beautiful and more confident than I ever have.” But then I would get, “Can you just tuck in my rolls a bit?” or, “ I don’t like the way my ass looks. Can you lift it up a bit?” Uhm, no. If you want your ass lifted, get off it and go to the gym. Boudoir is not supposed to be about digital nipping and tucking, it’s about seeing your body in a new light and learning accept it and love it, even if you are working hard to change it. Then she would start posting photos on IG or FB that were filtered AF and all I could think was, “Do you actually think that people don’t see that you’ve completely changed your appearance? Why are you so terrified of letting people see the real you? Why isn’t the real you good enough?”

Exerting futile effort is never a good feeling.

I know I did make a difference for some of my clients and it is a beautiful thing, but after so many just reverted to that place of insecurity that has existed for so long within them, I eventually just said, “Fuck it!”
I wanted to feel the passion and satisfaction of creativity running through my veins again, so I moved on to the one thing that has never left me feeling disappointed or burnt out—writing. 

I figure if I can’t reach women with photographic proof of their innate beauty, I’ll reach them with my words.

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!

Soul Guides, Channeling & Change

Do you know that anyone can access their soul guides? All you have to do is practice listening until you get really good at hearing them!

And, Holy Shitsnacks! Do you feel all the turmoil and upheaval and change floating around in the air these days? The energy in the world is swirling and, although it can be heavy and difficult to process at times, it’s also being caused by a major collective shift in consciousness that is leading us all to better times.

At least, that’s what everyone keeps telling me!

A lot of my energy work lately has been consciously calming my tits and constantly reminding myself to breathe through all the crap that I’m feeling – from within and without. It has been a struggle in the past two months, but a productive struggle. Each time I stay calm through a shitty situation and force myself to look at it from more than one angle, I learn something new and add a new coping tool to the ole spiritual toolbox.

And, even though I understand that consciously connecting with universal energy will lead to a deeper connection and strengthen my intuition, I am STILL surprised at how tuned in I am lately and how non-reactive I’m becoming, all due to spending more time connecting to my energy and opening myself to Source. More and more often I feel like I’m letting everything flow through me and allowing myself to sit with it until it passes, rather than freaking out and reacting with primal emotion.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m still a hot-headed cunt sometimes, just not as often as usual! Ha!

The BEST thing about all this conscious energy work is that my connection to my soul guides has amped up and my channeling has progressed so far that I’m sitting back in awe every time it comes through with ease.

Lately, it has been almost daily and all I have to do is close my eyes and breathe for their messages to start flowing. 

After struggling with my Masters for 15 months and fighting the constant stress of an ADHD brain that makes it nearly impossible to handle the pressure of intense courses, I chose to walk away from the program with only six months left. I did enough courses to allow me to take the exam to be a Professional Copy Editor and pass, but after that, it was a daily struggle to get my brain to function, remember, and assimilate all the info being thrown at it. I was always feeling stressed, wrestling with huge feelings of inadequacy (which is NOT like me), and feeling like a failure getting mediocre marks. Yes, I have always been brilliant at English and I was getting passing grades in courses that were all about English. It came down to a choice between struggling every day (to work full-time, find time to fit in my courses AND get my sluggish brain to work for me) or letting it go and finding something that didn’t drain my life away and allowed me room to breathe.

So, I took a deep breath and let it go. Hard as fuck.

Hard as fuck.

This morning, I woke up feeling sad and lost (as I have every day for the past month). I sat and meditated, asking my guides why I’m feeling this way and what I can do to perk myself up.

Here’s what they sent me:

The change of seasons always brings some sadness with it. It is an ending and endings usually cause us to feel somewhat empty. However, they also usher in new energy and growth. You are at another crossroads where big change stands before you and awaits your decision and action. Understandably, you are wary. You are fearful that you won’t be able to make change work for you based on recent events, but you are dwelling on past outcomes and forgetting that every new change is a chance to improve and learn. To grow and develop. Even if this change scares you, there is an opportunity for growth and freedom that comes with it. Remember, as you prepare to step down this new path, we are with you and all you need do is listen to us and follow our signs and we will help. You need to accept and realize you are capable of succeeding at anything. The only thing holding you back is your fear and holding on to past beliefs and outcomes. Let go. Fill yourself with new hope and possibility, and step forward with an open heart.

Wanting to solidify this message, I also pulled out my Ancient Animal Wisdom tarot deck and asked the same question.

tarot cards, labradorite rock, channelingI pulled Wildebeest. Here’s what the message that goes with the card says:

Wildebeest says it’s time to go! It’s time for a clean break, a fresh start or a change in location because abundance and renewal are just around the corner. Perhaps you’ve reached your peak or exhausted your resources in your current position and it’s time to embrace something new. Wildebeest encourages new beginnings on your journey ahead toward renewal. Use your intuition and life desires to guide you on this divine exploration. Your future glows with the potential of the bright days that lie ahead.

Everything I ask from them lately is spot on and makes perfect sense. It’s time for a change and I have the power to make that change work, whatever it is.

It’s funny how we allow fear and shit that has happened in the past to freeze us in place and keep us rooted in situations that are no longer healthy for us. This is a repeating theme in my life and, even though I try to recognize it and consciously work to stop it from happening again, it still sometimes mind fucks me and sets me back a step or two. All part of the dance of life, yo!

In this case, I’m going to listen to my wise ones and trust that the latest big change is going to be exactly what I need. I’m going to trust that it’ll work out and that I’ll continue to learn and grow with the experience.

Enjoy this coming change in season, peeps. Embrace the feelings that come with the change and sit with them until they flow through you and show you what you’re meant to see. Then tell your fear to get bent and take that first step into the unknown. It’s the only way.

Hitting the Spiritual Wall [Building Spiritual Self-Awareness]. Part 1

Last night, while trying to center myself enough to connect with my guide, Linc, without success, I became extremely frustrated my thoughts immediately began to spiral down the rabbit hole…

With all that I do to work toward growing and strengthening my spiritual connection – the meditation; the self awareness; the trust and belief that I can get whatever I want just by believing it already exists for me; the faith in something I cannot see or touch; the hours of visualizing; the readings I do for others; the years of overcoming; and the sheer scope of effort I have put in to take all the tragedy in my life and create something good out of it – what the fuck gives, here? When does this get easier?

When does LIFE get easier?

All I have ever wanted to do is write and reach people with my words, so why, after nearly 40 years of having this goal, am I farther away from it now than I have ever been? Why am I working two jobs (actually, four if I count my one remaining social media client and the editing I’m doing on the side) and NONE of them are full-time writing? Why am I seemingly making choices that are steering me farther away from the one thing my soul has had a lady boner for since I was in 4th grade?

Maybe I’m not supposed to be something greater or different than I am right now. Maybe I’m exactly what I’m supposed to be and letting go of wanting to be more than I am is the key to happiness? What if the idea of manifesting and connecting with Source is all just mumbo-jumbo and all this work to connect with my highest self and my guides and others is just pure bullshit?

What if this moment, right now in my life, is simply as good as it gets and all I have to do to find some peace is to accept it and stop chasing something that keeps leading me in circles?

How would it feel to just work one job with good people – even though it’s not really feeding my creative soul – and then come home to Greg each day and just enjoy his company?

Does it matter that I’m not making a ton of money or that I no longer have the freedom I used to have working for myself? Do we really need more than what we already have? Is it worth this constant, seemingly exhaustive effort to always improve myself in some way and to always keep learning and growing?

Lately, when I try to trust that the universe will bring me what I want by steering me in the right direction and placing my feet on the right path, it feels like I end up walking farther away. It’s a constant battle between my heart and head to trust that what I’m asking for will find its way to me. It’s a constant fight against complete exhaustion as I remind myself that all these extra directions I’m being pulled in are totally necessary to reach my end goal – becoming a well-known, published writer.

But how long do I wait for my guides to help me reach the end game? How long can I stretch myself before I snap into pieces? I’m constantly beating myself up for not getting enough done – not writing enough, not editing photos for clients fast enough, not editing manuscripts for clients fast enough, not getting enough done at work; not working fast enough; not living up to the expectations of others.

And while battling all that, I’m losing the part of myself that shines the brightest – the dreamer with a head full of truth and fiction; the essence of who I have always been – the writer who moves people and feeds her soul with words.

But what can I do? Something’s gotta give.

What if…

What if I just let it all that pressure go?

What if I let go of all those expectations (self-imposed and otherwise) and I just set out to just accept simplicity?

Let go of the idea that I need to create a better life and just enjoy this one.
Let go of the idea that I’m more than this and just be happy with what I am now.
Let go fo the pressure to grow spiritually and just roll with any connection that comes…or doesn’t.
Let go of the constant effort to trust and believe.
Let go of the idea that I need to be anything more than I already am.

What if I just let all that shit go and slowed everything down?

To relish each breath and heartbeat.
To immerse myself in nature.
To enjoy the feeling of Greg’s hand in mine.
To laugh with him and drink him in with the sun on our faces.
To let love flow, if I feel like it, and keep it to myself if I don’t.

What if…

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!

Fool me once. A little introspective reflection on this fine sunny Sunday.

For the past four months, I’ve been diligently writing a book about our daughter, Cora’s, death, so I’ve been too mentally spent to blog much. However, blogging has always been my outlet, my therapy, my chance to get shit off my chest and flush it out and then keep moving forward, so before I fester much longer, I have to get this out and then move on.

Today, after A LOT of introspection and a few candid conversations with some very close friends, I finally find myself calm enough to blog about something that just about made my head explode the other day. I’m going to share it with ya’ll, but before I do, know that I have come out the other end having learned a VERY big life and business lesson and acknowledging my part in the truth of it all. I speak my truth and I don’t mind if it ruffles the odd feather.

A few years ago when I first moved to the Okanagan, before I built a house, I moved into a small walk-in basement suite that was actually an amazing little shooting space. Since it was a new space and a new area for me, I wanted to test it all out before I shot any paying clients there. I could have just hired a model. In hindsight, that would have been the smartest thing to do, but I was chatting with one of my friends about Boudoir and she said it would be fun to try, so I asked if she would be my model for some boudoir images.

The deal was that I would do a shoot with her and, in exchange, she would give me permission to use her photos for promotional material. With paying clients, I never post their pics unless I get their permission and many of them don’t want their photos posted, so I respect their wishes. These particular pics were meant to be my Go-To pics because they were free game.

She agreed without hesitation and we ended up doing two shoots so I could also try out some new techniques I’d been studying. I paid for the hair and makeup for both shoots (a total of $300) and we shot two sessions that are in around the $1500 price range for paying clients (or approximately $3000 for the two sessions). I also gave her twice the number of photos I would normally give to a client who had paid for an equivalent session. We both put a lot of effort, time and fun into the sessions and the pics turned out even better than I thought they would. I ended up with a huge variety of photos, ranging from light and fun to dark and sensual. We were both fairly jacked about the efforts and the results and, after I delivered her pics, she gave me rave reviews and told all her friends about me.

It was, all around, an amazing experience and I was really happy it had worked out for both of us.

Fast forward to approximately a year ago when I got a message from her asking me to remove one of the pics I had posted of her. It was a pic with no face in it, just a sensual black and white shot of her from behind at an angle. It was tasteful and hot and completely anonymous. She said that she didn’t want any of her hubby’s friends to recognize her, so I took it down. Even though she had agreed to give me free license to use the pics, I was understanding and took the pic down. I was a bit irked, but I STILL took the pic down because I love this lady and I didn’t want to upset her.

Six months after that, I posted another shot of her sitting naked in a lake, facing away from the camera, but her face is turned sideways so you can see her profile. Again, she messaged me and asked if I could remove that pic and use another one I’d taken that didn’t show her face. Again, I was totally understanding and, even though I was actually pissed off about it, I STILL removed the pic.

Each time this happened, I received an “I’m really sorry, Jo.” However, there was literally no acknowledgment of the value of our trade OR the fact that I had completely upheld my end of the bargain and she wasn’t reciprocating.

Fast forward to present day.

I have a Boudoir Ad running on FB right now and I have been using a pic of her in the Ad. She’s clothed, but if you look REALLY closely, you can see a bit of her nipple beneath her shirt. 

This week, she sent me another message asking if I could edit the photo so that her nipple wasn’t so visible because she was worried some of her coworkers would see it and wouldn’t be cool with it. She also added in the fact that she was “really sorry, but…”.

I sat there, reading the message a few times and feeling my anger build up steadily. I even tried to take a few deep breaths and drop down into my heart center to calm myself and take the request in stride.

It didn’t work. I was PISSED OFF.

Not only had I given her thousands of dollars worth of my time and work (including paying for the Hair & Makeup artists both times out of my pocket) AND given her extra photos, but I had also spent hours looking through thousands of my boudoir pics to find one that would be accepted by the FB Ad algorithm. Before I had even submitted a pic of her, I had tried 12 or 13 others and that were all rejected by algorithms for being “too suggestive”. When I had finally submitted her pic and it had been accepted, I had actually jumped up and done a happy dance in my office and air high-fived myself. I hadn’t dared touch the Ad since then because I was worried that it wouldn’t be approved a second time if I made any changes (besides retargeting) to it.

So, when I read her message, logical thought eluded me and my head damn near exploded off my shoulders. 

Normally, when a photographer and non-paying client do a trade collaboration, there is a clause in the contract that states that should the “model” require the photographer to remove photos from social media at any time, the model will be required to compensate the photographer for the full amount of the session. I didn’t add that clause to the model release I had her sign because we are friends and I trusted her. That was clearly a gigantic mistake on my part and it just pissed me off more because I was angry with myself for being so trusting and letting that shit slide.

I was sitting there, seething – angry with her and at myself – and I couldn’t calm myself down.

I wanted to say NO. I wanted to remind her of the value of the photos I had given her and how much they would have cost had she paid me to do the shoots. I wanted to tell her that she was being a complete shithead for thinking it was totally okay to continue to shit on our agreement.

But I didn’t.

I took the photo down and reworked the ad (going through the disheartening and frustrating submission process for the second time) because, again, I didn’t want to upset her.

The entire time, I felt frustrated and angry and completely pissed off at myself for being so stupid. So many thoughts were racing through my mind:

  • How can someone who is supposed to be my friend think it’s okay to agree to something and then back out of her end of the agreement after I’ve fully upheld mine?
  • Why can’t I just tell her to stuff it and let her know that I’ll be using the pics as per our agreement and, if she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t have agreed to do the shoots in the first place?
  • Maybe I should just tell her that I’ll be more than happy to remove all the pics of her I have ever used if she pays me the $3000 for both shoots.
  • How can I have made such a rookie mistake by leaving the most important clause out of the Model Release?
  • Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

And then my anger popped in a bubble of “OH SNAP!”

And there it was…Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

Guess what, kids? This is not the first time this has happened. Years ago when I was still in Kamloops, I did the exact same thing with another friend and ended up with the exact same result. [She was going through a divorce and we were spending a lot of time together and I could see that she badly needed a pick-me-up, so I offered to shoot her for free if I could use the pics for promotional purposes. She also wholeheartedly agreed and we did a killer shoot in a natural waterfall and the photos were amazing. Then, a year later, she got a new job and was suddenly worried about her reputation and asked me to take the photos off social media, and I did. And again, I got an “I’m really sorry to ask this but…” and nothing else.]

That first experience left me feeling completely hurt, totally used, undervalued, and disrespected. It made me question my friendship with her (and, honestly, it was never the same for me after that and I have never trusted her since) and question why I would offer someone something so valuable when it was so easy for her to just renege on her end of the deal without a second’s thought for how it would affect me or my business.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that this was the second time I’d allowed this experience to unfold in my life. It immediately brought me to the “fool me once” saying.

This time, though, the anger went POOF the second I realized I basically set myself up to re-live the experience. I immediately let the anger go to focus on the lesson. This time, the motivation to NEVER repeat this mistake again has sparked change in me AND in the way I will be approaching my business from now on.

Not kidding, it was actually a fucking blessing in disguise and it brought to light other instances (too many to count, actually) where I have offered to shoot for free and then been ridiculously disappointed when the people I shoot don’t share my work, thank me, or even leave a simple review on my FB page or Google.

This has made me realize, quite clearly, that I can’t shoot for free and have expectations for reciprocation UNLESS I outline those expectations clearly, in writing, and have people agree to them, in writing. Or, more importantly, shooting for free never seems to end well for me, so I won’t be putting myself in that position anymore.

I may be thick, but I get there eventually.

I’ve learned that it is much safer for my peace of mind and my business if I just hire a professional model when I want to try something new. I’ve learned that I am too generous in certain areas of my life and that, even though I still want to be generous, I need to focus that generosity in ways other than donating my time and energy to shooting friends and family for free. And, most of all, I have learned that I am still allowing myself to react to the shit that others do rather than reminding myself to breathe, take a step back, and put myself in their shoes for a few minutes before reacting.

That last one means more to me than the other two because I want to live my happiest, most-fulfilled life and I can’t do that if I’m allowing anger to cloud my thoughts and clutter up my heart, giving free reign to my ego to point my finger at others and forget to point inward.

Lastly, I love how life brings me these challenges that strip me down to the heart of the matter and show me when I’m a big part of the problem. There’s nothing more motivating and humbling that having my self-awareness smack me across the face.

Joy Should Never Have Guilt Attached To It.

NOTE: Originally posted in January 2017

ritchie-valens-43343I’ve been mostly MIA on my blog for nearly two years, but up until a week ago, I really didn’t know how to explain my absence to anyone. I wasn’t ready…until now.

Let me backtrack a bit:

On June 3, 2010, our beloved newborn, Cora Jane, died after picking up nosocomial pneumonia in the hospital and my life was turned upside down and sideways. The road of grief was long and winding and lasted years for both my husband and me. It fundamentally changed both of us but we eventually found solace on different paths – me in roller derby, he in motorcycle adventures. We lost each other somewhere in the meleeand I never quite found my way back.

On March 14, 2014, nearly four years after losing Cora, the stress of grief and life got to me and became really sick. I died a little bit and had one hell of a wickedly, wickedly, wickedly, awesome Near Death Experience (NDE) where I hung out with my dearly departed mom for an entire day and we chatted about the meaning of life and soul contracts. I learned more about myself in that brief blip in time than I had learned in nearly 40 years.

During that experience, mama told me something that I inherently knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: I was not in love with my husband any longer and our relationship was no longer viable. When she said it, I knew it as truth.

However, when I awoke in the hospital and my husband welcomed me back with a floodgate of tears and love, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept my mom’s revelation.

I was full to the brim with love and peace. My experience had opened up my soul so completely that I couldn’t fathom not loving my husband (and everyone else in my life), so I put those thoughts to the very back of my mind and got to work on loving everything. I spent the following six or seven months living life in a bubble of pure bliss, loving everyone and everything and understanding everything about the world. I was in a state of euphoria and it was the most magical feeling, aside from being dead, that I have ever known.

Then, one day in October 2014, it all crashed down around me when I opened the front door and was blasted by a shock wave of negativity that left me sitting on the floor, panting and panicked. It was the first time in my life I had what would later be described to me as a major anxiety attack, and so began the boomerang of the NDE survivor spectrum, extreme empathy. I began sucking up all the energy around me, especially the negativity.

For months, negativity plagued me. I would feel it everywhere I went and it would just keep building up inside. Anger would “jump ship” from someone else to me as I passed them on the street. Frustration would creep up on me if someone in the vicinity was frustrated about something. Despair, antagonism, fear, worry, stress, anxiety…you name it, I absorbed it. I was a Sham Wow for any kind of crappy feeling or emotion and just kept pulling it all in with no means of wringing it out until I was nearly bursting. It was debilitating. I started staying in the house for long periods of time (sometimes up to two weeks), shutting out the world and completely at a loss as to how to stop it.

I stopped working. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I basically stopped living. I was stressed out and afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two each night and I was so moody that I would erupt like a volcano over nothing on a regular basis.

I actually thought I might be going crazy and I thought I needed meds to bring me back to sanity.

Through all of it, my husband was really understanding and took care of me —working all day and then stopping for groceries, cleaning the house, making excuses for our friends and family for my constantly skipping functions —and the entire time, I felt resentful of him. I resented him for being so nice and kind to me. I resented him for loving me so much. I resented him for being so nice when I was being such a stone cold bitch and didn’t really appreciate any effort he was putting into our relationship. Nothing he did was good enough or, well…enough, period. I couldn’t understand why he was such a huge source of my anger when he was doing everything he could to make me happy. The guilt of it was all-consuming.

I was more despondent than I have ever been in my entire life, even after Cora died, and everything became a downward spiral. I started losing friends because I couldn’t keep up relationships. I lost business because I couldn’t find the energy to shoot anymore. I alienated my husband and kept him at arm’s length at all times. I just shut down.

At the time, I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me and I didn’t know how to clear the energy out of me or block it from getting in, so I just retreated into myself and grew more miserable every day. I was stuck in a dead end and I felt like I was constantly beating my head against a wall.

One night while my husband was on a motorcycle trip to Mexico, I was laying in bed asking my soul guides for help and my mom’s voice came through loud and clear. “Jo, remember what I said? It’s time to stop pretending and get moving.”

And just like that, something clicked. During my NDE, my mom had also told me that those moments in life when we feel like we are at a dead end and are beating our head against a wall are moments when our soul guides are trying to steer our feet onto a new path and we are resisting. She said that when this happens and we continue to resist, life gets harder and harder until our vibration gets so low, nothing but pain and misery get in. Sometimes we find our way back—if we realize what we’re doing and trust our guides to help us out of it—and sometimes we don’t. Laying there, in that moment, I realized that everything I was feeling and experiencing was coming from my own resistance to the truth —I was no longer in love with my husband. I loved him, yes, but only as a friend. I had been forcing my heart, in vain, to find its way back to something that no longer existed. I had denied the truth in my heart and it had finally caught up with me and kicked my ass. My own resistance had backed me into a corner and forced me to face up to my fears or stay lost forever.

And just like that, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. When he called me the following day, even though I knew I was going to hurt him so much, I told him that I was leaving him.

Not only was it an awful feeling, but it was also, remarkably, a great feeling too. The moment I got the words out, I felt the weight of all of that negativity shift and begin to dissipate and I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to save my own sanity. The entire situation sucked moldy ass crackers, but for the first time in a few years, being honest with myself, and him, felt so liberating.

And, suddenly, the world came back to life for me. My vibrations started to rise and I started surfacing from the mire.

Fast forward 20 months to where I’ve gone through some hugely significant changes, all good for me.

I have moved to another city and slowly begun to establish myself here. I have learned how to control the way I take in or block other people’s energy and I no longer get bogged down with it. I also pay close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up within me and I honor and acknowledge all of them.

But up until last week, I wasn’t ready to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around for so long.

I couldn’t shake the guilt of not being able to love my ex the way he wanted me to and of disrupting both of our lives to follow my heart. I knew we were both better off because it is so unfair to pretend you feel something for someone that you don’t, but it was still eating me up inside.

Last week, Greg (my new guy) and I had a conversation about how I seem to keep my life with him on the down low. He also said he thought it was because I was trying really hard to be sensitive to my ex’s feelings. Even though I didn’t actually realize that I was doing that, as soon as he said it, I knew it for truth and I acknowledged and sat with it for a couple days.

I, indeed, stopped blogging about most things in my life because they have involved Greg and I was being sensitive to my ex’s feelings and didn’t want him to think I was throwing my happy moments in his face. It had been 20 months since we officially separated and I was still trying to censor my life to avoid hurting his feelings. I was, in essence, subconsciously suppressing myself because I was unsure if my ex was happy and I didn’t want to hurt him more by admitting to my own happiness.

My ex is a good man and I want him to be happy too, but his happiness isn’t my or anyone else’s responsibility. His happiness depends solely on his outlook. I have been burdening myself with too much guilt for following my heart, something that has brought me great joy and anything that causes a person joy should never have guilt attached to it.

So 
I have only just chosen to forgive myself and embrace my new life and all that it is.

I feel like I am home, in all ways, since I moved to the Okanagan. Back in a small town, living with the guy I fell in love with the moment I laid eyes on him when I was 17 (true story), and happily struggling through the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

Chugging forward with an open heart full of gratitude and newly lightened shoulders, I can’t wait to see what amazing things this year will bring for me, my life, and my relationship with my new guy.

I wish you all dragonflies and let the blogging begin again!

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Letting Go of Toxic People

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I lost my shit yesterday, on one of my long-time friends, over something that was absolutely none of my business and, when I finally came up for air, I realized that I felt a huge sense of relief and no remorse.

It took me all night to process why I didn’t feel awful for saying some really awful shit to someone I love. I tossed and turned all night while I mulled it over. It’s not like me to say hateful things without extreme regret and a profuse apology. It’s not like me to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings and then walk away feeling relieved.

I mean, what kind of friend does that?

This morning, I do feel fairly shitty that I couldn’t just keep my big mouth shut and give her the sympathy and support she was seeking, but I also still feel a huge sense of relief. It was not the right time to say what I said, but when is the right time to ever tell someone any awful truth that we see about them?

Toxic people are like a bottle of poison we ingest slowly

Firstly, I turned quite toxic for awhile after my kid died and I lost quite a few friends because of it. When some of those friends told me I was toxic, I hated hearing it and I resented them for saying it, but I listened to them. Once the initial anger dissipated, I knew that they were speaking the truth and, as much as it hurt, I knew I had to do something about it.  When I’d had enough of feeling shitty, I took their words and used them to make all the changes I needed to climb back up out of the abyss of pain and anger I was wallowing in. Understandably, I hated being told that I was toxic because nobody ever wants to hear that about ourselves-especially while grieving the loss of a child or other loved one- but the stuff that hurts us the most is the undesirable truth and that is the part we need to take in, meditate on, and process. That is the part we need to focus on fixing, for our own well-being.

But some people, no matter what we say or how we say it (nicely or not), just don’t want to hear any of it and they don’t want to learn and grow from it. This is my friend.

She is an energy vampire and a martyr.

funny cartoon about energy vampires

For the past five or so years, she has been sucking the life out of me on a regular basis without even realizing it. I find myself avoiding visits with her when she invites me to visit or she comes to BC because I’m completely drained after only a couple hours with her. When my phone beeps with her text tone, I immediately dread reading the text because I know that, 9 times out of 10, she is going to be complaining, whining, seeking enablement (which she thinks of as support, but just isn’t so. I can have sympathy and support someone, even if I don’t agree with them. What she wants is for people to agree with her, take her side, and tell her that all of her feelings are justified. That’s not supporting, that’s enabling.). In general, every conversation we have is her telling me how difficult her life is and how extremely unhappy she is with it. And, no matter how much positivity and light I try to throw at her, no matter how much I try to be loving and supportive or suggest helpful ways for her to improve her life situation, she balks. She argues with me that she can’t get out of the situation she’s in (when she can). She makes excuses for everything to justify feeling shitty (even though she is creating her own shitty reactions to her situation). She comes up with every reason under the sun why she just can’t fix her unhappiness and it’s never about her. It’s always because someone or something else is preventing her from finding the happiness she longs for.

I figured out last year that she is physically addicted to drama, although she swears she isn’t.

saying goodbye to the Drama Llama
Two words: Drama Llama

Drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins (pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds that ease anxiety and stress). She thrives on drama because the endorphins it creates make her feel good, but when the drama passes, she starts to feel shitty again so she either creates or finds more drama to pick herself back up. It’s an exhaustive, body and soul-depleting cycle, but she has NO idea she is behaving like this and she won’t listen to me or others who have tried to help her.

And so yesterday, when she texted me with a simple, “Broken heart today”, I immediately knew I’d had enough and didn’t really care why she was broken hearted. I was simply exhausted with her perpetual cycle of whining and bullshit and I couldn’t stop myself from telling her what I felt about all of it. In hindsight, I should have just left her text alone, but I always wonder if she is, in fact, in dire straits and if I can do anything to help. Obviously, I’m a bit obtuse sometimes and have been helping to keep the cycle going.

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And so, I lost my shit and told her that I couldn’t deal with her anymore. It was definitely the wrong time and place, as she was genuinely distressed, but I couldn’t bring myself to have sympathy for that situation either. I was just done with all of it.

A sleepless night later and I have asked myself some really soul-searching questions. What is it that makes us hang on to the toxic people in our lives so long, and through so much shit, before we are so depleted that we have to bail to save our own sanity and souls? Why is it I couldn’t find a way to get through to her a long time ago and maybe stop her train of self-pity and soul-destruction in its tracks? What will it take to get her to realize she is constantly creating stress, drama, sadness, and despair for herself and that she’s draining the people around her?

And my conclusion: I have no idea.

Maybe she will never be happy. Maybe she will always be addicted to drama. Maybe this is her path to walk and there is nothing I, nor anyone else can say or do to help her take a different path.

What I do know is that I allow her to bring out the absolute worst in me and I’ve been allowing it for years (as many of my friends and family can attest to). I can be in a fantastic mood and we will have a conversation and it will end with me feeling like a bag of old, unhappy shit. She brings out my tell-it-like-it-is, self-righteous, Judgey McJudgerson side (something I put a lot of effort into ignoring), and I allow her to create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness when we interact. Sometimes I just cry for 20 minutes in frustration that she can’t see how much she wants to remain unhappy. For whatever reason (probably because I love her kids so much), I just can’t seem to let go of her and keep perpetuating the effect she has on me. Who knows, maybe I’ve become addicted to her drama. Whatever the reason, I cannot allow myself to go down that rabbit hole anymore, regardless of how much I actually love her and her family.

I read a quote yesterday that made me finally come to my senses: “At some point, we have to realize that some people can still stay in our hearts, even when they can no longer remain in our lives.”

This is where I am at. I love her and wish her happiness, but I can no longer participate in her toxic cycle and I have to accept that and be okay with it for love of my own sanity.

Lastly, being such an asshole yesterday was a good reason to go within and do a little housecleaning in my “Don’t be a judgmental douchebag” closet and remember that anger and self-righteous bullshit are never the answer – even when we feel totally justified in our beliefs. Although I won’t say that it won’t happen again, it has definitely brought some of my own undesirable behaviors into the forefront of my mind and I will, once again, be a lot more aware of how I’m treating others.

And, like everything challenging that life sends our way, all we can do is choose to learn from it and grow.

Cora’s Would Be 7th Birthday.

NOTE: Repost of a post I wrote on Cora’s 3rd Birthday and then again last year. I just couldn’t write about her this year – something about it hurt a little too much.

Life, like childbirth, can be simultaneously painfully messy and beautifully rewarding.

We walk the paths we are meant to walk, even when they cause astronomical amounts of pain, because those paths lead to growth and new awareness. All we have to do is trust the journey and it will always take us where we are meant to be.

Losing our newborn (only one day after she was born) was definitely not how I imagined I would begin my latest journey of colossal transformation. It’s also not something I would wish on anyone, but the rub of it is I also know how good it can be for people to go through something so devastating. I am always grateful for every lesson I have learned from the experience of losing Cora, finding my way through the epic journey of grief, the mind-blowing number of people she touched and continues to touch, and the incredible people I’ve come into contact with as a result of her death. I’m grateful for the growth of my soul, especially the connection I’ve developed with my dearly departeds (who are always with me) and my soul guides (who are always whispering in my ear).

I honestly wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could, because it shaped me and opened me up to the bigger picture. I always say that her death awakened my soul and it’s absolutely true.

This is a repost from Cora’s 3rd birthday, but it’s still 100% relevant.

I remember everything about you. Your big hands and adorable “Johnson” feet. Your beautiful, huge, squishy lips. I remember how your fingers felt wrapped around my finger and how you felt in my arms. I remember the feel of your soft skin and your silky hair – so much of it and so curly, like your dad’s. I remember the beautiful sound of your tiny, soft cries when you first graced us with your presence and how your little face screwed up in anger when the NICU team was assessing you.

I remember how hot your head and feet were when I would cup them in my hands and sing to you, trying to get your vitals to stabilize. And I remember the one and only time that you opened your eyes and looked up at me while you squeezed my finger. You seemed so strong that I thought nothing would ever take you from us.

I also remember how your eyes became blank and empty a few hours before you left us and how your daddy had to look away until the nurse closed your eyes because he couldn’t bear the thought of you already being gone. I remember looking down at your beautiful, but extremely swollen face as you were dying in my arms and I remember thinking that no person should have to lose two babies in one lifetime. I remember knowing, instinctively, that this time was different and that it was going to change me completely and that my life would never be close to the same again.

I remember absolutely everything about you and our brief time together – all of the pain, beauty, joy, heartbreak, and grief. I remember it all so vividly, but what I remember the most is love. A love so full that it radiated through me – all-encompassing.

If I forget everything else about our experience with you – your hands, your feet, those lips, the feel of your soft skin and cheek against my lips; the pain and all the other emotions of bearing and then losing a miracle child – I’m going to cling to the love forever. That love was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Happy 6th Birthday, baby girl. My gift to you is to love all that I am while I continue to carry all that you are inside my heart.

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Rescuing Animals is Heartbreaking Work.

NOTE: Repost from 2016

Buddhist’s say that the path to all suffering is paved with attachments. The more you attach yourself to something, the more likely you are to suffer if you lose it. So, to avoid suffering, you simply avoid attachments.

What, the fuck, ever.

I love animals more than I’ll ever love people.

I’m abrasive, outspoken, stubborn and opinionated. I see through other people’s bullshit in 2.6 seconds and I call them on it when I see it. It doesn’t make me the most popular gal on the block and it doesn’t win me a lot of friends. My circle of bosom friends is small and tight—limited to those who totally get me and love me for me anyway, as well as call me out on my bullshit when it’s needed.

As a result, my relationships with animals have always been more intimate and intricate than most I have with people. I speak animal. I understand their body language, learn to interpret their sounds and have a mad respect for the fact that they are animals, not people, and will never judge me.

A week ago, when my new guy, Greg, and I were faced with rescuing two abandoned ducklings or leaving them to die in the elements. It was a no-brainer for both of us. We captured them (well, they ran into Greg’s hands), warmed them up, got some food into them and never looked back. I anticipated that I would be giving them round-the-clock care for a few months until I could find a place to send them where they would be cared for by humans who already had ducks. Or, if no place could be found, we would build them an enclosure and I would keep them, free to come and go, but always having a safe place to return, until they died at a happy old age. There was never a moment that I wasn’t committed to the well-being of those tiny, fuzzy, adorable babies.

The weakest one would barely eat and died within a day of being rescued. She was just too weak to eat enough and even body warmth and the heating pad and heat lamp couldn’t keep her warm enough. I was sad, but the other little one was thriving, so I thought that at least I could still focus on raising her sister and giving her everything she needed.

We named her Radish and we kept moving forward, without hesitation. Her care was constant. I had surgery two days after her sister died and Radish’s care still took precedence. We worked her routines into our own, working together to make sure she was always cared for and content.

Raising Radish was a non-stop gig and, although I joked with people about how they could borrow her so I could have a break from her constant peeping, I loved every second-Every. Single. Second- of it, even when she was crapping down my shirt…a few times a day.

Last night, after she’d been doing really well in it during the day, I decided that she was ready to sleep in her cage, under the heat lamp, instead of in her little night box with the heating pad underneath it.

I was wrong.

Despite doing well each time we checked on her, around 3 a.m. I found her cold and wigging out, in shock, after wandering away from her heat lamp, probably in search of a drink of water or us. We tried to warm her up and bring her back, but instead watched her slowly die. For 15 minutes Greg held onto her, while we talked to her and petted her. I even asked my soul guides to help her and willed her to pull through with everything I had. Eventually, though, her pupils became pinpoints before completely dilating as she went limp in Greg’s hands and we lost her…and I lost it.

I made the call; It was totally the wrong one and she paid the price for my ignorance—something I’m sure I’ll eventually come to terms with.

Right now, all I feel is overwhelming sadness that she didn’t make it. Even though, statistically, only 2 out of 10 wild ducklings make it past the first two weeks of life, it’s still killing me that we couldn’t save either Radish or her wee sister.

Funny how attached a person can become to an animal in only a week. I am crushed. Devastated. She was my constant shadow for the past week and she had such a funny little personality—from the way she attacked her food and burrowed her bill into my neck, to the way she jumped at every dandelion in the yard and tried to eat it, no matter how large it was. Just a duck? Not a chance. She was already a member of my animal family and I loved her as much as I love my cats and dog.

It’s been a hell of a rough day. My eyes are puffy from crying every few minutes. My chest feels heavy with her absence. My ears miss the sound of her little peeps and the clickity click of her claws on the floor as she followed me around. Perhaps the fact that it’s three days away from the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death has me a tad more emotional than usual. Perhaps it’s the way that Radish looked to me for all her worldly needs, something I never had the opportunity to provide for Cora. Whatever the reason, it sucks and it hurts.

However, as with anything in this life, there are lessons here that have been slowly revealing themselves all day.

One: Humans, no matter how virtuous our intentions, are seldom a suitable substitute for nature. There’s a reason the circle of life exists and often that circle will complete itself, regardless of how much we try to interfere. We tried and we failed, but I learned A LOT about how hard it is to rescue a wild animal, how much time and energy it takes, and how hard it is to avoid forming an attachment while doing it. I have a hugely newfound respect for those superheroes out there who rescue animals on a regular basis. I can’t even fathom how they continually handle the loss of the creatures they try so hard to care for and rehabilitate.

Two: My heart is strong enough to always find its way back to being whole. After my first baby, Kieran, died (when I was only 23 and 6.5 months along), I thought my heart would stay in pieces forever, but time stitched it back together. When my mom died suddenly only six months later and it was ripped apart again, I was surprised to find it didn’t stay that way. Those losses were followed by other losses and more heartbreak until, finally, the biggest heart-shattering event ever when we lost our beautiful baby girl after only 30 brief hours with her. After that happened, I thought I was done. I thought that my heart could only be shredded so many times before it would refuse to pull itself back together and just give out completely. Yet somehow, time healed it again. And now, here I am, feeling the now familiar weight of grief pressing down on my shoulders and my heart splitting apart once more, but this time, a new awareness is shining through all the heartache. Each time something has broken my heart and it has repaired itself, it has grown a little stronger, until I’ve reached the point that my heart has an infinite capacity to be broken and repaired.  

It sucks, and it hurts like hell, but I have to say that all of the pooping, peeping, snuggles, laughs, stress, worrying, and sleepless nights we put into that tiny duckling only to have it end in tragedy…well, it was all worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

RIP Radish.

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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. 🙂