On May 3, 2016 the city of Fort McMurray was evacuated due to a forest fire, I was one of those residents and I have told my “evacuation” story many times. What I have never discussed is how I felt during all of it.
In the initial 24 hours I was scared, shocked and in emergency mode. I got things done: ensured my employees got to where they needed to be, fulfilled my duties as a forester and packed up my dog, cat and myself. Where things fell apart for me was the drive to Edmonton on May 4, 2016. I have always bought into the idea of success. Go to university, get a good job, buy a house etc. I had this checklist of things in my head that I needed to do in order to be happy and in my mind I was doing them. But the drive to Edmonton where I thought all of my belongings were gone and I would never be able to go back Mcmurray made me realize that I was extremely lonely and incredibly unhappy.
I had more than a decade being dishonest about who I was, filling my life with “success” and chasing that dream of one day being happy. It’s sad and selfish but it wasn’t until I realized that all of the material things in my life might be gone that I recognized nothing material had ever made me happy. Hiding my sexual orientation had isolated me from my feelings, lying to my friends and family had made it seemingly impossible to connect with people in a real and significant way.
I was sitting on a road driving away from everything safe and secure to me; into a future where I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was frustrated and angry with myself for failing to change my sexual orientation. I was furious that I was alone. I was angry at my parents for not supporting me more, I was mad at my sisters for not understanding me, I was frustrated with my friends for not knowing what I needed and I was irate with myself for failing so hard in life. The truth of this moment is I was the common denominator in the dysfunction, to my family I had sent the message of “stay away from me” to my friends they thought, “everything is fine”. My loneliness and isolation was of my own creation.
On that drive, I was having feelings, open and honest feelings and I didn’t know how to deal with them. A large part of therapy up to this point has been learning how to articulate and identify feelings. It has been like learning a whole new language. One in which I have started to use and have seen major improvements in my life.
A fully functioning adult with capable feelings would have gotten to Edmonton and fallen apart, asked for help, said they needed to be supported. At the time, I was not a fully functioning adult. I had a mental illness but I was also arrogant, proud and selfish. What I wish I had said to my mother when I pulled into her driveway was: “Mom, I’m scared. I don’t know what is happening,. I am so lonely that I feel like I am falling into a black hole that I won’t be able to crawl out of. My world is ending, I don’t want to be alone, I am so scared when I am alone, I see fire when I am alone. Please help me.”
But instead of asking for help, instead of being vulnerable and humble what did I do?
I arrogantly stated: “I’m Fine”