mala on notebook

There are five words that I turn to whenever I’m struggling with inspiration, or feeling overwhelmed by life interfering with my ambitions. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been my own guiding light. Teacher, student, researcher, cheer captain. I drive myself towards my goals without regard to who I knock out of my way and leave behind in the process.

It sounds harsh, but please bare with me when I explain that it was absolutely necessary.

About ten years ago, I went to a co-dependency group therapy program. We talked about using assertive language, setting personal boundaries, honouring yourself, stepping back from micro-managing, and identifying when you’re being taken advantage of.

Some of the advice was simple; if you feel compelled to purchase something from a pushy salesperson and struggle with saying no, turn around and walk back into the dressing room, leave the store, say thanks and continue doing what you’re doing. I used to wear my headphones in public to prevent people from approaching me. They were only playing music half the time, the rest of the time it was simply a ruse. Having other ways to respond helped me not to rely on a disguise, and I still use these methods to this day.

If you don’t want to buy something, then don’t, what’s so hard?

Fear is a difficult thing to combat. Fear is the root of my anxiety. Fear of people, anger, violence, public places, strangers… Lots of parents use fear tactics on their children. It’s been a punch line in after school specials, and some of my favourite movies. In Mambo Italiano there’s a scene from the main character’s childhood, where his parents are in the background saying “they’re not Italian – their food will kill you.” That’s a fear tactic. On TikTok, I saw a woman re-create a conversation with her own mother about when she asked to go see Mean Girls with her friends. “You will get pregnant, and then you will die.” The gist of which being that the mother would kill her if she ended up pregnant. That is also a fear tactic. A few weeks ago, a video went viral of a woman beating up a teddy bear as a means to threaten her child to eat their food without complaining.

I could fill this entire entry with examples of fear used as the underlying threat to enforce expectations for proper behaviour. Those people are fine with those things, and the public circulates it without a second thought about the dark implications.

I understand the need to make light of the experience as a form of coping. Comedians joke about child abuse they’ve experienced. Myself, I prefer writing, but to each their own.

Some of the more difficult topics covered over the weeks we attended therapy, included setting healthy boundaries with members of your family, recognizing signs of stress in your body, acknowledging that saying yes to everything doesn’t make you a good employee (it only burns you out), and that you don’t have to feel guilty when you refuse requests.

I still struggle with all of these.

I set boundaries with my family using what I had learned. I stopped lending my mother money (that would never be repaid). I stopped showing up to manage every crisis. I stopped giving my mother and sister opportunities to leave me in charge of up to eight children while they fucked off to get their nails done and who knows what else for six hours. I stopped answering the barrage of phone calls of various family members seeking to get me “on their side” when they were fighting.

I had to set those boundaries back then because I was in college. I was going to school full time, working three part time jobs, and doing homework in the moments between. I didn’t have $350 to pay to get my mother’s van fixed. I didn’t have time to watch my nieces and nephews so my sister could go out.

These refusals were met with accusations and hostility. You’re so selfish. You have a student loan, don’t you? You never help me. You think you’re so important. Don’t ever ask me for anything.

It was hard. The program was two years long. My sister had her third child right in the middle of it, and I was her birth coach for the third time. I got the call that she was in labour, packed up my study session, took my classmate (now best friend) to the hospital, helped brace my sister’s leg for three hours, then went back to study and do homework until the excitement wore off and I went home to sleep.

They respected my limitations, at least I like to think they did. The requests still came, but the demands were pushed to the next person on their speed dial once I explained my can’ts.

The years after college, the requests ramped up. My mother abandoned everything in favour of her third husband (much like how my father, years earlier, abandoned everything in favour of coming out and pursuing homosexual relationships), and I fought for and won guardianship of my younger siblings. I was living with my father at the time, and was still entry-level at my workplace, so I didn’t think I could take that on. I didn’t own a home to house them, I didn’t have enough of an income to support them. I asked him to help me, to help them, to advocate for me to take them, for him to take them in himself. I was willing to move out so he could have them.

He hemmed and hawed. I don’t think CFS will allow it, because it’s a conflict, I’m a social worker at the same agency. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but this was complete and utter bull shit. My parents had fostered together for years while he worked for the same agency. He was rationalizing his level of participation just as I had. Without outright saying no. By making plausible excuses. Pointing to an outside reason, an external fault. Don’t be angry with me.

In hindsight their decisions make sense, and don’t. My mother advocated hard on behalf of my siblings for years. Seeing her fold was unexpected, and yet foretold. She complained about being a parent the entire time she acted as one. I don’t have to be here. My father… I always knew he was gay. It was so blatantly obvious to me that I was confused when everyone else was upset. He started a whole new life, and wasn’t willing to give that up to be a parent again. Not that he was much of one in the first place. If my parents infidelities were meant to be secret, they failed horribly.

I thought you were going to talk about a mantra?

My family instilled fear in me. My mother wouldn’t let me overnight anywhere, or hang out with any friends for longer than two hours because she was convinced I was going to be molested. You can’t hang out with them, you’ll be raped. 120 minutes: safe to socialize. 121 minutes: the road to sexual exploitation. My father never intervened, or defended us. He was father in namesake, only. He would scoff at my mother’s ludicrous assumptions about the members of our community, but allowed her judgements to stand. He’d say our house wasn’t abusive when we accused them of abuse. He was a social worker, he would know, right?

My older siblings were unstable. A high school drop out that I believed was dead for half a year, and two meth addicts. I try and remember times from our childhood when we were close, but we weren’t. They are more family to me now than they were when we lived under the same roof, and I see far less of them.

These were my role models. These were the guiding principles that were meant to shape my life. These people were supposed to be the influence of my moral compass.

When I talk about my life, people ask me why I didn’t turn out like my family. That question is what I’m asked most often, in varying degrees. If that was all you knew, why didn’t you follow their lead? Can you imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t figure things out for yourself? Do you realize how strong you are for choosing your own path?

I’ve unpacked these questions for the individuals who asked them. I say that I found my heroes in books. I found an escape in writing. I realized that I could teach myself from written resources, and didn’t have to wait to be shown how to do things.

It sounds nicer when I frame it that way, and it’s true. To an extent.

It was easier, for my anxiety, to be my own teacher than to ask how to do something, only to be met with ridicule. My older sister and brother loved calling me “retard.” My mother and father both did not have the patience to offer repeated instructions. My mother would become angry when asked the same question more than once, citing everything from attention span to disrespect as the source for my inability to learn it the first time. My father simply wouldn’t demonstrate a second time. You’ll figure it out. I knew I was on my own from a very young age.

I did read a lot, and found inspiration in the written worlds. Fantasy tropes were a common comfort. Hero child with no family to speak of? Sign me the fuck up. Enriched fantastical adventures with no basis in real world conventions? Please take me away from my life.

I’m surprised more people from adverse backgrounds don’t turn to reading and writing to cope.

That’s where the mantra enters. I’ve always wanted to be for others what books have been to me. Grounding solace. A break from reality. The temporary cure for depression and loneliness.

It started with a simple word. Simplicity contradicts irrationality and insecurity best, in my opinion.


Daydreaming got me in trouble a lot when I was in primary school. Reading wasn’t allowed during instructive periods, even if I’d answered my single allotted participatory question and demonstrated my understanding of the subject.

I would stay up late at night in order to catch up on lost daylight reading hours. I still do most of my dreaming when I’m awake, and I prefer it that way. Daydreaming is one of my favourite activities.


There’s nothing worse than watching the people around you outgrow their imaginations. When we are children, play is guided, or structured. The games have rules, the activities have time limits, everyone get a turn. Then we grow, and time spent on play is diverted to productivity. Personal pursuits are no longer a group effort, they’re hobbies. Cute, and easily dismissed.

I still believe in fairies, and unicorns. I have to, I’m a writer. If I don’t believe, how will my reader? When I write I do so with my whole heart full of trust for the task I’m undertaking.


Never forget the end goal.

I write for the lonely child I used to be. I create worlds for a version of me that still longs for escape from the anxious thoughts and situations that occupied the first half of my life, and continue to plague me.

I don’t think my desire to forge alternatives to reality will ever leave me.


This one is hard, but necessary. Depression tries to rob me of hope. Insecurities tell me that I’m better off dead. I remind myself to wish for the future. I promise myself tomorrow will be better.

Find the light anywhere you can. Celebrate small victories, and the conquering of mundane tasks. Don’t let the darkness win.


If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it, everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be interesting enough to pursue. This is true about many things. Writing, work, learning something new.

Persisting is especially difficult when you feel alone.

I’ve had to step away from many people in pursuit of something more, something safe, something stable, something to call my own. I lost friends when I was learning about metaphysics and the occult. I lost my family when I chose my health over their demands. I’ve lost relationships due to my ambitions. I lost friendships when I chose sobriety.

It is so hard to continue moving forward when you know there will be fewer people standing at your side.

Keep fucking going.

Dream. Believe. Inspire. Hope. Persevere.

Five simple words with a lifetime of meaning. My lighthouse urging me onwards. My mantra.

Why didn’t I turn out like my family?

I did. I have struggled with addictions, I have my father’s anxiety, my mother’s insecurity, my siblings’ distrust and self loathing. I am exactly who my environment sought to make me. I’m a people pleaser, I push myself to unbelievable extents for the sake of others, and don’t know my own limits.

When people ask me why I’m different, or commend me for my strength, I wonder why they don’t see all of the evidence that verifies I am as basic as my blood. To me, it’s irrefutable. I hate it. At the same time, I know without these experiences and mistakes, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t think I’m better than my family, or anyone who is no longer in my life. I only know what is appropriate for myself.

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