2019 is forever going down as the year I thought I had hit rock bottom…then realized I had further yet to go.
Grab a cuppa and settle down, I can’t summarize this into a Too Long Didn’t Read (TLDR) summary. You’ll either make the time or you won’t.
Please be aware I am about to discuss items related to sensitive topics which may upset some readers. I am sharing from a place of experience, with supporting resources if readers would like to explore further but I do not wish to be perceived as providing advice as every individual’s situation is unique to them and their own personal experiences.
It has been a year of character-building and soul-destroying ‘milestones’–a roller coaster ride–and we still have two months to go. 🎢
Just as we wrapped up the first half of an amazing start to 2019…BAM! The fun house ride began. But this was no theme park full of positivity, celebrations and feel-good vibes 24/7.
Complete with twists and turns, unpredictable corners, uneven footing, doors which didn’t open, windows we couldn’t close and a very large volume of mirrors at every stop along the way forcing us to…slow down. Stop. Pause and reflect. Whether I wanted to or not.
We took our children on our first overseas trip to Europe, travelling with two kids under age three. The upside of international family life! The kids travelled better than we did, there were no tears in transit and we even managed to squeeze our car seats and luggage in the rental. Just not the stroller. 😂
I hosted my first ‘Babies, Business + Breakfast’ events, complete with guest speakers, while growing an amazing community of parents interested in professional development. It has been heartwarming, encouraging, empowering, a big learning curve but always, always completely worth it.
I solo parented (with lots of help from Grandparents) while my husband was on a business trip in China and in the same week, spoke at a crowded sold-out CreativeMornings event and on a panel alongside our children. It gave me the opportunity to put myself out there, speak my truth, deliver a message I believe in and get real feedback…even if I was sweating the whole time while juggling two kids, trying to remember my points and uncertain of the response.
My kids didn’t make strange or have meltdowns and to be honest, I received great feedback from lovely people I would not have met otherwise. It’s something I would do all over again if asked and further affirmed why failing forward is always a good choice for me.
I spoke to different audiences over the summer about bringing children into business settings and advised organizations on integrating pop-up childcare into their events. It has been humbling and encouraging to see concepts and ideas I have been sharing over the years enacted in real life. These ideas aren’t exclusively my own: they are a combination of things I’ve seen, created and participated in while living overseas, read about from afar and experimented with in my own personal and professional life over the years.
Even if all involved were doing it as a bit of an unknown trial, the curiosity sparked with the willingness to try something different brought home the importance of continuing to put yourself out there. The speaking engagements and pop-up childcare went really well and it has been so good to see what can happen when the power of different ideas is met with inspired action, to result in social change.
People started approaching me, saying they had heard of my work around creating more parent-friendly business spaces and events, offering to get involved, help and/or participate. As above, you may not think anyone is listening, or that you’re repeating yourself, being too much or asking too many questions. But, trust me on this one: you never know who needs and wants to hear your message–for the first time or the fifth time–who’s impacted by you showing up as you are, in all your glory or whose response will set a series of changes in motion.
I started practicing Tarot and began reading for friends, family and complete strangers. This one may seem a bit out-of-the-blue but it’s been a long time coming. When my clients ask me how long I’ve been reading for, I tell them I’ve been doing it for years…without the cards!
Tarot has given me a framework and container to speak with strangers about their unique experiences and discuss ways of dealing with what they’re going through. It helps others tap into their inner wisdom and turns the dial up on what they already know to be true but maybe haven’t been actively listening to lately.
My background in journalism and communications helps with the questions I pose and the storytelling aspect, while my experiences abroad have provided me with a better understanding of my own abilities…as well as the useful skill of getting to know complete strangers in 30 minutes or less. Now, my questions, comments and observations don’t freak people out as much because I can let the cards do more of the talking.
We made many new connections, friends and started feeling at home in Ottawa. This has been a combination of time, putting ourselves out there and letting things unfold as they will, following the breadcrumbs along the way.
We are feeling really lucky to have good networks professionally and personally in the fourth city and country we have called home in the past 10 years.
The first half of 2019 can be summed up as: Gratitude. Awe. Life-changing moments. Feelings of joy, celebration and achievement all gloriously streaming in.
I have been feeling the love all year…followed closely by discomfort, vulnerability, humiliation and flat-out despair.
I have always been a bit of a ‘The show must go on! Reclaim your power! Embrace the awkward! Use this experience as fuel/motivation to keep going!‘ type of person.
But halfway through 2019, even I had to throw ice cold water on my face, snap myself out of it and stop to process things first.
I have been *this close* to saying, fuck it. Wrap it up. Cut the lights. Throw out the script. These moments are too offside. Unpredictable. Unrepeatable. Unspeakable.
I have no desire to replicate them. Predict them. Repeat them. Speak them.
But I can write them.
For now, that’s all I can do.
And I am going to do so in hopes that if you’re going through a similar shitstorm, revelation, experience…you will feel less alone.
I realized I was being followed for a period of time – by someone I had previously been in a relationship with but had not seen in almost a decade – when I was alone with my children, in the neighbourhood we live in.
Once it dawned on me, shit got as you might say ‘real‘.
Now, let’s take a moment to pause and let this first one really sink in for a bit.
While alone with my (at the time) one and three-year-old boys.
In our neighbourhood.
Where we live.
This experience has dramatically altered things in my day-to-day life, routines and overall feelings of safety and wellbeing.
As a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, community organizer and person who is showing up in public spaces as part of my work and speaking at events.
Police said it wasn’t ‘stalking’ as defined by legislation but moreso repeated ‘following’. However, victim support networks and other professionals disagreed and believe I am a victim of harassment/stalking.
To be completely transparent, I didn’t actually report anything to the police until one week after the incident in which I realized I was being followed. I spent seven days speaking with close family and friends, researching and deciding what to do, crying, doubting and blaming myself, before I took action to seek outside help.
And after I took action, I was told that while it had been dealt with at that moment in time, I shouldn’t be surprised if it happens again. All I could do was to be very self-aware going forward and try to go back to my ‘regular’ life.
What helped me through each step of the way were the complete strangers working at victims support and with the police telling me the facts of my story and experience were not unique to me. These incidents were patterns they had seen before. My emotional responses were ones many victims shared. And I had a right to feel concerned.
They reassured me I had done the right thing and thanked me for reaching out. Unfortunately, many people tell their close friends and families, then get deterred from taking further action.
For anyone who has been a victim of following, harassment and/or stalking, I am so sorry. It is a terrible, anxiety-inducing realization and one which I hope you can seek out professional support for immediately.
I was sent this Canadian resource by a professional victim support worker and it speaks volumes. In this country, women make up 76 percent of victims of Criminal Harassment, with 58 percent of them stalked by a former partner:
The things I did, in order of doing, were as follows:
Week 1 – In the moment of realization:
1. Ensured my children and I were safely in our car, while getting my mobile phone and taking a picture from a distance. Noted the license plate details mentally as I drove away and called my husband to record them.
2. Once my children and I were home safely, I called my neighbour–who is a police officer–for advice and options which were: record everything and if I choose to, report it to the police.
3. Told my parents, as they also knew of the person who was following me. Cried a lot. Got angry. Blamed myself. Thought about abandoning ship in Ottawa and moving my family to Toronto or Vancouver. Then also considered moves back to Ireland or Australia for extra distance.
4. Typed a record of the incidents I could remember but did not realize were coincidental. Added the photos I had taken and the more detailed information from the day I realized what was actually happening.
5. Searched Victim Support Service Info in Canada and spoke with two very kind and reassuring representatives who made me feel less angry at myself for moving back to Ottawa, told me it wasn’t my fault, shared the fact this happens to many people (women especially), advised me to contact the police straight away, do not blame yourself, do not contact the follower and please, please, please always stay safe.*
6. Spoke with our daycare provider, whom we informed of the incidents, character profile, license plate and vehicle information of the follower, in order to brief their staff.
7. Told my oldest son what to do if I tell him to go back into the daycare. We have also tried to teach him a code word which means, “Stop, freeze, listen very carefully to Mommy/Daddy, we need your help right now.”
8. Spent lots of time with my family and friends, became a bit of a hermit, read many books, listened to podcasts, did more writing on two books and practiced Tarot.
9. Texted my husband every time I came and went as recommended by the victim support workers. I also called a friend for support and advice who had been a victim of crime and also knew of the person who was following me.
Week 2 – After the realization, researching and reporting:
1. Contacted the police during my baby’s naptime, who had me explain the situation to a dispatcher, who then had me re-explain it to an on-duty police officer over the phone. Once they asserted it was related to a previous relationship, they paused, asked if I was home at that moment and confirmed they would send someone to my house straight away. They don’t do those types of reports over the phone and only take them in person.
2. Completed a third recount of my record of incidents with the police officer who came to my home in person, referring to my notes, who confirmed next steps and told me she’d be in touch over the next week or so. Then she called me back within three hours to share what the follower’s response had been and instructed me on what to expect next, what to do in the event of other things happening, how to remain safe and stay in contact with their team.
3. Told some people close to me about what was happening. Had similar shocked reactions from those who knew me and the person following me (some helpful, some not so much, but all well meaning), then promptly decided to tell less people. Started doing my hermit thing a bit more.
4. Considered cancelling the upcoming events I would be speaking at and hosting but after speaking with the victim support staff and event contacts, realized I would be giving my power away, allowing myself to be influenced by someone else, staying small and changing my life too much. So, I went ahead with them all and I must say I was scared shitless 99 percent of the time and none of it was related to my usual stage fright.
5. Became hyper-aware when driving, in parking lots and in general as I went about my daily life. Enquired about upcoming self-defence workshops at local City of Ottawa community centres (these are few and far between), so then took out some library books to make myself feel better informed.
6. Continued to spend lots of time with my family. Cried at random moments (like during yoga with a friend, when asking strangers for advice), blamed myself, felt threatened, then pissed off about having the blame and threatening feelings, went into internal feminist rants and decided it’s ok to be emo…safety and well being were my main priorities and what I was aiming for.
Weeks 3 until now – After the reporting, I am continuing to:
1. Update my notes as I see incidents and report them to the police and our daycare.
2. Talk with family and friends about it as I see fit.
3. Tell my husband and friends about my whereabouts day-to-day, depending on who I am meeting and where I am going.
4. Check the parking lot and car before driving anywhere and continue to be more aware as I go about my daily life.
5. Teach our children about safety when we’re out and about in public places.
6. Speak with women’s and victim support services to ensure I am doing the best I can to deal with this new occurrence and remain proactive.
7. Regularly see and speak with our neighbour who is also a police officer.
8. Try to keep living as normally as possible, be open to new opportunities and participate in life as I would if nothing had happened (sometimes easier said than done).
9. Ensure our passports are up-to-date in case we decide to up sticks and leave. (Slightly joking on this one but not really…sorry Mom and Dad, if you’re reading, we will get a place with a spare bedroom/in law suite, promise).
You can call the Victim Support Line 24/7 toll-free at 1-888-579-2888 or at 416-314-2447 if you’re in the Toronto area.
If you get disconnected as I did over two days until I could finally get through on Monday morning, please don’t give up. Keep trying as on weekends or evenings (often when you may need help the most) some services may have less staff available.
We experienced loss in our extended families both in Canada and Ireland.
Whether you’re near or far, loss is never an easy process to go through and over the years, we have experienced it many different ways.
Disconnection from loved ones or the inability to travel quickly enough, have made the realities of being an international family all the more real again.
I don’t believe there is an easy remedy for this one.
We will always live life in a place where one of us (and sometimes both of us) are removed from close family and friends. You can’t always be where you want to be, when you want to be there.
We try to be present for our loved ones when we are with them and to offer them support, assistance and compassion when we can’t physically be there.
It is easier said than done and you feel as though there is always more you could do.
I have never been a huge pray-er. But I am a believe-r. In things larger than myself and the often inexplicable. Spirit. Guides. The Otherworld. The Universe. Fate. Serendipity. Superstition. Signs. To me, they have always felt present at different times in my life.
I can tell you I thought about all of those things and more over the past year.
What was the lesson here?
What was the message?
Why was it happening this way?
2019 has been wonderful and miserable. Character building and soul destroying. Joyful and woeful. Awe-inspiring and terrifying. Brimming with love, closely followed by fear. Full of life, shadowed by death.
I have even more respect for the resilience people have both during and after experiencing life events which are completely out of their control.
You can’t make this shit up.
As I am still processing what has been happening over the past year, I am in no place to offer advice or guidance.
I am sharing my highs and lows in this candid post in hopes of showing that it’s not all about kicking goals.
Sometimes all you can do is cancel plans, rest, regroup and reset.
On that note, hold on, buckle up and prepare for some changes to take place as we head into 2020 because the places I’ve been to lately…I simply cannot go back to. Will not. Flat out refuse to.
I am still here, I will keep showing up but the show doesn’t always have to go on.