The Conversation Continues…

A year. A lot can change in a year.

A year ago, for Bell Let’s Talk Day, I told my story. It was long, rambling, discombobulated, and inconclusive – in other words, it was an accurate representation of my life. I don’t know if it actually helped anyone, but at the very least it allowed me to express things that I had been feeling and dealing with for a very long time. More than that, however, it managed to change the course of my life and set me down the path I’m on today. As to whether or not that’s a good thing, well… the jury’s still out. On my mental health journey, it seems that every “answer” is accompanied by a load of new questions. I’ll warn you right up front – this year’s entry doesn’t have any more of a conclusion than last year’s. A lot can change in a year, but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The piece I wrote last year was met with overwhelmingly positive response and I was pleased to find that it struck a chord with some who read it. Afterward, a number of people reached out to me, and in typical Andrew fashion, I read what they had to say and then never replied (this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for me). If you were one of those people, I’m sorry. Know that I appreciated what you had to say and that it was never my intention to ignore you. It’s just something I do now. To everybody.

And now, before we continue, a short detour, because I want you to have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works – it is currently 2:42 AM. I have typed roughly 250 words and I started this piece over an hour ago. I’m having trouble focusing, and when I do focus, I can feel my perfectionism creeping in. I have to pause after typing out every single sentence to go back over what I just typed in order to add or remove words in order to help elucidate my thoughts. I literally just did it. I just added the word “just” into “what I just typed”. I’m now currently reading back over this entire paragraph. I just changed “because this is an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works” to “because I want you have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works”. I am not making this up. This is what it’s like for me to write things. It is driving me crazy, but I’m determined to get this written. If you notice any instances of odd pacing or sentence structure from here on out, know that it’s because I’m actively fighting my instincts to get this piece finished so that I can go to sleep. I have now read over this paragraph four times. I am not fucking kidding. But I digress…

A short while after writing the piece, I was contacted by my uncle, who happens to be a psychologist. He wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday. My parents told me that they had forwarded him my story, so I was aware that it would most likely be a conversation topic at dinner. What I didn’t expect was for him to ask me whether or not I had ever considered that maybe my depression stemmed from other underlying issues – namely, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Of course I had never considered that, because ADHD is that thing that every kid I went to school with was over-diagnosed with, right? Kid won’t stop talking in class, so you pump him full of Ritalin, right? It seems like I was woefully misinformed on the topic. ADHD is most commonly associated with children, but it’s also present in many adults. It’s often first diagnosed when a child is struggling in school, but I had never really struggled in school, so why would my parents have suspected anything? I mean, sure, I was a hyperactive kid who never shut up, particularly when I was supposed to be listening in class, but schoolwork was never a problem, at least not in any way that affected my grades. And yet all throughout my life, the thing I heard over and over again was, “If you just applied yourself, think of what you could do”. Because here’s the thing – sometimes, symptoms of ADHD can be masked by intelligence. This may seem like a humble brag, but trust me, it’s not. My entire life, throughout all of grade school and university, I was able to get by by doing, well, the least amount possible. Because it’s true – I WASN’T applying myself. And I never really understood what that meant. I always had a hard time studying and getting my work done, but the stuff I WAS able to do was always good enough. Which means that yeah, I’m smart. It also means that in my entire life, I have most likely never lived up to my potential. Nothing I have ever done has been as good as it COULD have been. And I think that a part of me knew this, and I think that part of me attributed it to a lack of effort on my part. And don’t you think that you might get depressed and develop crippling anxiety and self-esteem issues if, deep down, there was a part of you that thought that you had never truly tried and succeeded at anything? Every failure in your life, every bad grade, every bad job, every lost friend – it was always because you didn’t “apply yourself”, because you didn’t try hard enough. Unmet potential. Lack of fulfillment. Inability to complete tasks to the best of your abilities. It all seemed like a surefire recipe for depression to me.

As my uncle and I continued to talk, and I learned about more of the symptoms of ADHD, I saw myself in them. There were so many things that I had just accepted as part of myself – fidgeting, restlessness, lack of focus, short attention span, difficulty making decisions, difficulty starting things, difficulty finishing things, difficulty controlling emotions, wandering thoughts, divergent conversations, forgetfulness, poor time management, poor money management, excessive talking, constant interruptions, chronic procrastination – the list goes on and on. And ADHD often presents alongside depression or anxiety. It fit. After years of wondering what was wrong with me (and, frankly, hoping there WAS something wrong with me), it seemed like I had unlocked another piece of the puzzle. My uncle told me that ADHD ran in his side of the family and that he had always suspected that I had it. When he brought it up to my parents, their response was basically, “You know, now that you mention it…” I must confess, it felt good to once again feel like I had an answer, but I was wary of getting my hopes up, because every other time I felt like I finally had my answer, I ended up more lost than when I began. At the time, I couldn’t have predicted how right I’d be. This was just the first step in a long, frustration journey.

About a month later, in April, I had made plans to return to Calgary for Easter. I wanted to stay for a while to enjoy the Calgary Flames in the playoffs (lol, R.I.P.), and my parents made an appointment for me to see a doctor that had been recommended to them. The appointment, of course, wasn’t until the end of the month. I don’t know why I thought that any part of this would be simple or easy. Even after all I had been through, I was naive. I thought I’d go into the doctor, he’d confirm that I had ADHD, he’d give me some meds, and I’d be on my way, back to Langley in May to continue my burgeoning career in standing in the corner of a TV set pretending to do something while a C-tier actor solved a crime (for the record, I absolutely loved working as a background actor and would encourage anyone else to do it). I would end up never returning to BC, apart from a brief trip over the Canada Day weekend to pack up my belongings.

My first appointment with my doctor was a letdown, because it was my first indication that things weren’t going to move as quickly and definitively as I was hoping (Once again, I have no idea why I thought that this was something that could be handled quickly and easily. That is not the way anything involving mental health ever works. Sorry.). I explained my situation to the doctor and before doing anything else, he wanted me to get blood tests done. Which I did. I filled out questionnaires and forms pertaining to ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I was tentatively diagnosed with ADHD and mild-moderate anxiety and depression (apparently an official ADHD diagnosis is a long, difficult, expensive process), and I was eventually put on the lowest dosage of Concerta. Eventually, the dosage was bumped up. Eventually it was bumped up again. And again. And again. I attempted to make lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, drinking more water, eating better, and sleeping better. I even bought a FitBit. Some areas improved. Others stayed the same. I started seeing a free counselor at my doctor’s clinic. Throughout all of this, I had never once felt any different from the Concerta, and it was my understanding that when ADHD meds kick in, they KICK IN. At one point my doctor and counselor decided to shift to treating my depression rather than my ADHD (which may or may not have been real, since I had never received an official diagnosis from a clinical psychiatrist). It seemed to me that the theory was that maybe I merely had symptoms resembling ADHD that stemmed from my depression and anxiety. My doctor started me on Escitalopram, in conjunction with the Concerta (of which I was now taking what I was told was the maximum dose). Days passed. Weeks passed. MONTHS PASSED. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

By June, it was evident that this was something that was not going to have a quick or easy fix. It was decided that it would be best if I moved home for the duration of this process (my things had been sitting untouched in my room in Langley for almost 3 months by this point). So off to Langley we went. Drove up Friday, packed up Saturday, drove back Sunday. It was a shitty weekend (To all of my friends in BC that I haven’t spoken to in 7 months, I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to you. I hope you’re doing well. Love, Andrew). Upon returning home to Calgary, I continued to take my medication, and drink my water, and walk, and sleep, and eat. And yet, a funny thing happens when you do a bunch of stuff and see literally no results – you stop doing them. I didn’t have much money. My EI ran out in May and I used up my final cheques from background jobs. I was regularly paying for high doses of medication that wasn’t doing anything. I was going longer and longer between visits to my doctor. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I had basically given up my whole life to pursue this treatment. I left friends and work behind to get “better”, and what did I have to show for it. I eventually discovered that if I missed taking my medication, it didn’t affect me at all. So I stopped. Cold turkey.

I returned to the doctor a week or two later. I told him that I stopped taking my meds. He told me he didn’t want to prescribe me anything further until they had a better grasp on what was actually wrong with me. They put in a request for me to see a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis and encouraged me to continue seeking counseling. I did. For one session. On a good day, motivation is… hard to come by for me. When nothing is working, motivation is… well, it’s non-existent. It was now August, and here was, living at home, broke, unemployed, and no closer to finding a solution to any of my problems. If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, imagine what it feels like to BE that broken record. I think by this point, I had even begun to doubt that I had ADHD. Once again, it felt like I was simply looking for an excuse to explain my own personal inadequacies. And then I ran out of money.

There’s this thing called car insurance. How it works is that I don’t know how it works I’m not an adult all I know is you can’t drive without it and one day my payment didn’t come out of my account because there was no money in my account and now I had to borrow money from my parents so that I could drive again. I needed money and I needed it fast. So guess what happened? Can you guess? I called my old Starbucks and asked if they needed help. I had officially hit my version of rock bottom. After graduating from high school, I had worked for a Safeway Starbucks, quit, worked for a real Starbucks, quit, worked for another Starbucks, quit, worked for a third Starbucks, transferred to a fourth Starbucks, and then quit that one. Now here I was, asking for my old job back, the same job that I had quit on THREE. SEPERATE. OCCASIONS! 30 years old, with a diploma, living with my parents, working at Starbucks for a fourth time. It was the most depressed I had been in quite a while. For the record, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with working for Starbucks, just that I felt like there was something wrong with ME working for Starbucks, again, at this point in my life. It was humiliating and frustrating and seemed symbolic of so much in my life. Starbucks, to me, had come to represent failure. Failure as a university graduate. Failure as a part of the work force. Failure as a person. If you work at Starbucks and you’re reading this, this is not a judgment on you. It was a judgment on myself. And it sucked.

The days were long and boring, yet somehow stressful. If you’ve ever worked at Starbucks, you know that there’s always drama, and my Starbucks was no exception. We were in the midst of a change in management, and things were not transitioning smoothly. Furthermore, I found that in light of my newfound knowledge, working at Starbucks this time seemed to make glaringly obvious the ways in which my ADHD inhibited me. I was slower than everyone else. I found myself jumping from task to task while leaving each one in an unfinished state. I would hyperfocus on certain things, unable to let them go. I was constantly double-checking things, unable to trust my own memory, or my counting. None of this was new. This was how I always was as a barista previously, it’s just that this time, I felt like there might be a reason why.

It was around this time that I started seeing a psychologist, at the urging of my parents, in an attempt to get at some of the root causes of my issues. I also returned to my doctor, to check back in on things. I was told that the psychiatrist I had been referred to had declined to work with me until I had what they considered a “normal sleep schedule”. Unfortunately for them (and me), I was now working at Starbucks again, which meant that I would never again have a “normal” sleep schedule for as long as I live (it is currently 5:04 AM). At the urging of my psychologist (who DID believe that I had ADHD), however, I talked to my doctor about getting put on some new meds and I was prescribed Adderall. At first, I didn’t notice anything. Then one day, I took 30mg, and… something? Maybe? If I had to explain it, it was like… I had a good day. It wasn’t the mind-blowing experience that some people have on Adderall or other stimulants. It wasn’t definitive or drastic. It was subtle, but it was there. It was like I was finally able to get through the day without too much hassle. Up until this point, every single day I had ever worked at Starbucks, the time flowed like molasses. I used to struggle to make it through 5-hour shifts. Every second seemed to ddddrrrrrraaaaaagggggggg oooooonnnnnnn fooooooorrrrrreeeeevvvveeerrrrrrrrrrrr. For the first time, I understood what someone meant when they said “this day has gone by quickly”. Is this what everyone else felt when they worked a shift at Starbucks? Is this what people were talking about when they said things like “the busier it gets, the faster the day goes by”? Because I had never in my life found that to be true. It wasn’t necessarily the result I was hoping for out of the medication, but it was enough. I was encouraged.

Unfortunately, it never really got better than that. Since then, my dosage has been increased twice and I haven’t really noticed any other effects. To be truthful, I was hoping for a lot more, but as literally everyone has reminded me, the point of the medication isn’t to give me super powers (although I’m so jealous of the people who get them), it’s to level the playing field so that I’m at the same place as everyone else. So maybe this is all I can expect from any medication. I still find myself struggling with many things on a day-to-day basis, it’s just that now the day is a bit easier to get through. At least, they were.

In December, after a combined four years of experience as a barista, I finally made the jump to shift supervisor. Higher pay, more responsibility, and a boost to my resume. I figured it was about time. I figured that it would be a fairly easy transition. I could not have been more wrong. I have worked 22 shifts as a supervisor, and every single one of them has been a struggle. I find myself hyperfocusing on tasks I don’t need to do, while forgetting about tasks I do. From the start of my shift to the end, I’m constantly juggling multiple different tasks and responsibilities, and I’ll often have difficulty prioritizing which ones are most important and need to get done first. I find myself getting overwhelmed on a daily basis. My perfectionism kicks in and I’m unable to let go of a task until it’s done to my standards, and I have difficulty delegating tasks for fear (or certainty) that they won’t be done to my standards. I have this innate need for things to be counted properly and for all the numbers to “match up”. I’ve been known to recount entire tills because they were 5 cents over or under. I frequently find myself counting and recounting inventory, because I don’t trust myself to do it right the first time. I’m overly precise when sorting through our weekly tips, to the point where I find myself unable to proceed if my calculations aren’t exact enough. I find it difficult to move on with my shift if the freezer isn’t organized in an efficient and logical way. All of that stuff is bad, but worst of all are my time management abilities. I’ve seen it described as “time blindness” – “According to the experts, people with ADHD are fundamentally bad at understanding the passage of time. They easily lose track of time, underestimate how long stuff will take, or try to do just one more thing before they get out of the door. They call this ‘time blindness,’ and it can also be due to problems with willpower.” (Buzzfeed, of all places, has a really good, if simple, article on what living with ADHD is like). I’m constantly finding myself showing up to work a few minutes late because I lose track of time when I’m in the shower, or I underestimate how long it’ll take me to drive to work. Even when I draw up a plan for my shift, I find myself running behind on my tasks and sending people for breaks late (if I remember to send them at all). I frequently find myself starting tasks that I don’t have time to complete, thinking that they won’t take me as long as they obviously will. I have never finished a closing shift on time, some nights staying as late as 70 minutes after close. I was always slow as a barista. I’m even slower as a shift supervisor. It is incredibly frustrating and stressful, and I feel like I come close to panicking every single day. And the reason I don’t talk about it is because I’m embarrassed and ashamed. I feel like I’m making excuses. “It’s not me, it’s the ADHD. I swear!” But honestly, at times, it really feels that way. It’s like I have this compulsion that I have no control over. Which brings me to…

The fact that some of the things that I just described in the above paragraph aren’t necessarily symptoms of ADHD. More and more, I’m realizing that I have obsessive compulsive tendencies. I always have, but I attributed them to “I’m just particular”. And yet there I am, counting tills out by hand because I know that our cash counter isn’t calibrated properly and I can’t stand the fact that our tills might not actually be balanced properly. That’s not a common behavior for someone with ADHD. It IS a common behavior for someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is separate from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Symptoms of OCPD include an excessive need for perfectionism and control, preoccupation with details and lists, excessive devotion to work, an inability to get rid of items without value, difficulty making decisions for fear of making the wrong one, inability to delegate because another might perform a task incorrectly, and a belief that one’s way of doing things is the only correct way. SOUND FAMILIAR?! But wait, it gets better. I also exhibit some minor OCD symptoms, including almost every single Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior that they have a name for. For those unfamiliar, BFRB’s are impulse control behaviors that involve compulsively damaging one’s own body and appearance. Dermatillomania (skin picking)? Check. Dermatophagia (skin nibbling)? Check. Morsicatio labiorum (inner lip biting)? Check. Onychophagia (nail biting)? Check. Onychotillomania (nail picking)? Check. Trichotillomania (hair pulling)? Check. Not enough for you? Here’s the kicker – all of those BFRB’s are also linked to ADHD, and OCPD and OCD are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, and while I have way more OCPD symptoms than I do OCD ones, one of the major things separating OCPD from OCD is the fact that people with OCPD often don’t see anything wrong with their behaviors, whereas people with OCD are fully aware that their obsessive compulsions don’t make sense! Furthermore, stimulants meant to help with ADHD can actually exacerbate symptoms of OCD and OCPD, and while there are studies saying that all these disorders are linked, there are also studies saying that they’re more different than we realize, and here I am, presenting with possibly one, two, or maybe some degree of all three of them! Or maybe none of them! I don’t know! Nobody knows! Aren’t mental health disorders fun?!!?!?!

Sorry. That last paragraph kind of went off the rails. It’s 6:24 AM and I’m starting to ramble. Maybe I’m being too open and honest here and I’ll regret all of this when I wake up later today. Here’s my point:

A year ago, I was a slightly depressed, overly anxious 29-year old living in a condo in Langley, BC, working (sporadically) as a background actor. Today, I’m a 30-year old shift supervisor at Starbucks, living in my parent’s house in Calgary, AB, struggling with ADHD and all manner of obsessive compulsive tics and tendencies. My living situation has changed drastically, yet it doesn’t really feel like anything else has. I may be farther along than I was before, but all of the problems I had a year ago still exist – I’m just now more aware of the ways in which they manifest themselves, or at least I think I am. All of the weird habits and impulses I’ve had my entire life simply have new names now, which I suppose is progress, in a sense. But am I any closer to having definitive answers? Am I any closer to a solution? Will I ever feel “normal”? Will I ever feel properly equipped to succeed in life? Will I ever even feel properly equipped just to get by in life? I honestly don’t know. In the last 6 years, I’ve seen 3 doctors, spoken to 5 mental health professionals, and taken 4 medications, and I feel like I’m still no closer to any sort of definitive answer as to what’s wrong with me (if anything). I have been told that I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and I’ve also been told that I don’t have those things. I have exhibited symptoms of all 3 and I think there is a good case to be made for at least an OCPD diagnosis, if not an OCD diagnosis. There is nothing fast or easy about any of this. It is a daily, life-long struggle and I have no idea when, or if, I will ever have any of this under control. As I sit here, right now, writing this, I can feel myself losing hope. The lack of answers, the dead ends, the constant circular motion that this journey seems to take… it’s exhausting and frustrating and most days, I just don’t want to think about it or deal with it. I’m tired. I am exhausted. And it feels like it will never end. Much like this blog post.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “No. There’s absolutely no way this is how he ends it. Where is the HOPE?! Where’s the INSPIRATION!? It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day for crying out loud!” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is all I have to give. Truth. Honesty. I’m sure for some, Bell Let’s Talk Day is about hope and inspiration, but for me, it’s about stigma. It’s about all of these things that we, as a society, feel we can’t talk about. It’s about all of these things that are left unsaid or unexplored, due to fear or shame. I’ll admit it – I’m ashamed of ALL of this, but maybe by sharing, someone will see something in here that they recognize, and it’ll encourage them to talk to someone about it, and maybe in a hundred years, enough people will have shared and talked about mental health enough to fully eliminate the stigma. I don’t know. But one can hope. There. THERE’S YOUR HOPE! Enjoy it. It’s all you’re getting from me tonight. I’m going to sleep.

P.S. And if you want to talk to me, you can. Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – my DM’s are open. I promise that I’ll try to do a better job of responding this time.  


Drew Stew’s Definitive Ranking of Taylor Swift’s “Reputation”

Listen, I love Taylor Swift as much as the next guy, but sometimes she is just so irritating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater – I genuinely love pop music. I WANT Taylor Swift’s albums to be good, but after hearing the first single off Reputation, it was hard for me to remain optimistic. “Look What You Made Me Do” is legitimately awful; bad enough to make me, a guy who paid to see her in concert, not want to listen to Reputation. I was genuinely expecting a disaster of epic proportions. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded – the album is nowhere near as bad as “Look What You Made Me Do” would have you believe. It’s actually quite good in fact, but make no mistake – there are some duds on there. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to provide this handy ranking for Reputation skeptics, starting with the worst song on the album and working on down to the best. Enjoy.


  1. Look What You Made Me Do

It’s so awful. What was she thinking? I know that artists like to stretch themselves and try new things, which would be fine if the new thing didn’t sound like a bad cover of “I’m Too Sexy”. This song is what the next song is actually about.

  1. I Did Something Bad

Get it? The bad thing she did was write “Look What You Made Me Do”. Or maybe it’s autobiographical, because this song is also trash. I don’t like the lyrics, I don’t like the production, I don’t like Swift’s vocals. It’s actually a miracle that this isn’t the worst song on the album. Maybe if it had been released as the first single instead of “Look What You Made Me Do”, I’d hate it more. Hard to say.

  1. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I know that feuds have been a part of music for as long as music has existed, but I feel like there’s a proper way to address those things in your music – this is not that way. The three worst songs on Reputation all have something in common – they’re petty, and I can’t stand the pettiness. They’re filled with juvenile lyrics relating to Kanye, Kim, and probably Katy Perry as well. They’re whiney and overly produced. They’re filled with Swift’s signature “this is the part where the song stops and I make a snarky comment” thing. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is the best of the three, but they’re all infuriating to listen to. Like, get over it. Focus on what you’re good at, which is… not whatever this is. These three songs are Reputation’s “Bad Blood”, except all 3 of them are worse than “Bad Blood”.

  1. …Ready For It?

I wouldn’t call this a good song, as a good 50% of it is pure garbage, but I actually think that the chorus is pretty catchy. It’s a shame it’s surrounded by this weird, thumping, electronic, beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on something like Yeezus. I don’t think it suits Swift, nor does it complement her voice, and it just ruins what would otherwise be a decent song. Still, as the album’s second single, it’s a step up over “Look What You Made Me Do”.

  1. Don’t Blame Me

I’ve heard this song described as Taylor Swift’s “Take Me To Church”, and now I can’t get that description out of my head. It sounds like something that would be featured in the trailer for “The Great Gatsby”. Don’t ask me where that came from. It doesn’t particularly sound like “Love Is Blindness”, but that’s what comes to mind when I listen to it. There’s nothing wrong with this song, per se, I just think it’s kind of… there. Whatever.

  1. End Game

I should hate this song. Everybody else seems to hate this song. I just… can’t. I actually like the “big reputation” part of the song. It’s different, but it works. It’s a better different than “Look What You Made Me Do”. I could take or leave Future’s verse, but I actually… think that… uh… the Ed Sheeran rapping… is… it’s uh… it’s alright? Like, I don’t hate it. I know I’m supposed to. But It’s… totally fine. I dunno, maybe my expectations are just screwed up because of some of the other songs featured in the first six tracks of Reputation.

  1. Gorgeous

I actually think these next nine songs, starting with “Gorgeous”, are all good. Each one of them could have been slotted into 1989, and that’s a good thing, considering the overall quality of Swift’s last album. This is what saves Reputation – five of the first six songs on the album are not great, but the back nine are strong enough to make up for it. “Gorgeous” is my least favorite of those back nine (not counting “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” of course), but it’s still pretty catchy and it gets even better if you subscribe to theory that the song was actually written about Karlie Kloss (more on that later).

  1. Call It What You Want

This song is pretty good. It’s a solid Taylor Swift song. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It’s good. Just good.

  1. King Of My Heart

I initially liked this song a lot more than this, but as I listened to more and more of the album, it’s gradually fell down the list. I still really like it. It’s my favorite of the more “dance-flavoured” songs on the album. Once again, if more of the album had been like this, I probably would have appreciated it. I just don’t think those grungy EDM beats fit Taylor’s vocals. This is as far as I’d want her to go. Does this make any sense? It’s probably telling that my favorite part of the song is when the acoustic guitar peeks through the electro-cloud.

  1. Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Okay, I take it back. THIS is my favorite of the more “dance-flavoured” song on the album. I honestly have no idea what I’m talking about. I keep saying “dance-flavoured” as if means anything. I’m not at all against electronic pop music, I just prefer it to be, you know, electronic pop music, and not “Taylor Swift attempts to rap over dubstep”. Whatever. This is a good song. Get off my back.

  1. So It Goes…

Love the chorus on this one. LOVE the chorus. It could arguably be higher, but I’ve got a soft spot for “Delicate” and “Dress”, and I’m unwilling to dethrone my top two tracks. But yeah, this is my jam. I love the production on this one.

  1. Delicate

I love this one. I’ve debated as to whether or not it’s better than “Dress”, but I don’t think it is. I don’t THINK. But I really like this side aspect of Taylor’s voice. It’s the lone bright spot in those first six album tracks.

  1. Dress

This song is very good. That falsetto chorus accompanying the synth is heavenly. And this song is TOTALLY about Karlie Kloss. There’s a contingent of Taylor Swift fans who profusely believe that Taylor is in love with Karlie, either consciously or subconsciously. There are two distinctly different ways to read the line “I don’t want you like a best friend, only bought this dress so you could take it off”. See, if you’re going to make coy songs about unnamed people, THIS is how you do it. Not the obvious Kanye references on “Look What You Made Me Do” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. If you want people talking and theorizing, THIS is how you do it. It’s mysterious, sexy, and most importantly, not petty.

  1. Getaway Car

This song is almost the best. ALMOST. I actually think that the subject matter and lyrics are kind of laughable, but the song works. It’s totally goofy and silly, but this is Taylor Swift we’re talking about. This song is Reputation’s “Out of the Woods”, but better. I’m going to have this song stuck in my head for a long time.

  1. New Year’s Day

Initially, “Getaway Car” was my favorite song on the album, but “New Year’s Day” is just so damn good. It’s the most classic Taylor Swift song we’ve received in years. It’s not quite country and it’s not quite pop. It’s completely stripped down and softer than anything else on this album (or 1989), and I love it. It’s super cheesy, but that’s kind of Taylor Swift’s bread and butter. After this foray into a darker, more electronic sound, I’d be completely fine with an entire album of this. In fact, I’d be overjoyed.


So there you have it. If I was going to put this album together, I’d scrap “Look What You Made Me Do”, “I Did Something Bad”, and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” entirely. Out with the petty. It would make for a more mature, balanced album, and it would also cut away some of the bloat. Then I’d structure it like this:

  1. …Ready For It?
  2. Getaway Car
  3. Gorgeous
  4. End Game
  5. Don’t Blame Me
  6. King Of My Heart
  7. Dancing With Our Hands Tied
  8. So It Goes…
  9. Call It What You Want
  10. Delicate
  11. Dress
  12. New Year’s Day

For the record, I have no idea how to put together an album. Whenever I make my own playlists, I tend to favour slotting similar songs together. I’d rather have an album take me on a sonic journey with smooth ups and downs than to bounce around between tonally incompatible songs. It’s why I hate Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” so much – it has no place on a mellow, haunting album like Ghost Stories. It’s jarring. No more jars.

“…Ready For It?” is up first because I honestly can’t think of any other way to open the album. It’s probably the most questionable entry on this list, but honestly, none of the other songs sound right as an album opener. I don’t LOVE “…Ready For It?” but it serves a purpose. From there, I decided to keep things relatively upbeat and “dance-y”. With “Getaway Car”, I wanted to put one of the album’s best songs right up front, since the actual first third of Reputation is such a slog to get through. While I initially had “Gorgeous” showing up much later, I decided to bump it up since it’s too upbeat and cute for the latter half of the album. I ended this first third of the album with “End Game”, as it signals the end of the “fun” songs.

I envisioned my Reputation in thirds – upbeat and fun tunes, followed by darker ballads, and ending with the more stripped down, sensual songs on the album. “Don’t Blame Me”, which many have compared to “Take Me To Church” signals the beginning of the darker, more somber songs on the album. At this point you’re probably thinking that 1) I’ve put too much thought into this and 2) that the songs I’m picking don’t necessarily fit under the descriptions I’m using. “King Of My Heart”, for instance, isn’t necessarily a somber song. Honestly though, I just don’t pay enough attention to lyrics. More than anything else, I’m constructing this track listing around how the songs make ME feel. So “King Of My Heart”, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”, and “So It Goes…” round out this third.

Finally, we reach the last four tracks. “Call It What You Want”, which is noticeably slower than the previous three songs, starts us off. From there we move onto “Delicate” and “Dress”, two songs which I think complement each other well. I think that “Dress” would actually make a good album closer, but that last song has to be “New Year’s Day”. Think of it as a coda. Maybe I’d even throw it in as a hidden track, so that both it and “Dress” can sort of serve as album closers. “New Year’s Day” actually doesn’t sound like anything else on the album and it feels kind of out of place, but it’s also the best song, so… it makes the most sense right at the end. If “Dress” is the denouement of our journey, “New Year’s Day” is the post-credits stinger.

Anyway, I just typed over two thousand words about an album I didn’t even think I’d like. How’d you spend your weekend?


It Was 4-1


It was 4-1.

It doesn’t feel any better this morning than it did the night before.

It was 4-1.

I knew going in that beating the Ducks was a long shot. I would have felt more comfortable facing anybody else – Edmonton, San Jose, even Chicago – anybody but the Ducks. The Ducks are not the best team in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination, but they have this effect on the Flames that can’t really be described. Other teams can beat Anaheim – Calgary cannot. It defies all logic. It just is what it is. So I knew our chances going in. I tried not to get my hopes up. My only wish was that the Flames didn’t embarrass themselves and get swept 4 games to none. Well, what can I say other than

It was 4-1.

It hasn’t been all bad. For 40-50 minutes each game, the Flames weren’t an embarrassment. Elliott has made some great saves. The Flames have become more disciplined as the series has gone on. They’ve shown more composure and made fewer mistakes. Monahan, Versteeg, Bennett, and Ferland have really stepped it up. They’ve hung in there with the Ducks in a way I think very few people were expecting. They’ve shown that they’re good enough to compete and honestly, they should be winning this series 2-1 right now. But they’re not. Because for all of the good things they’ve shown, for all of the positive takeaways, there’s the fact that

It was 4-1.

In Game 1, they played great, apart from an inexcusably awful line-change that lead to a 3-0 rush for Anaheim and the fact that they took 7 penalties. In Game 2, they played great again, apart from, once more, stupid penalties. In Game 3, they played great and controlled the game for 50 minutes before allowing a bunch of soft goals to let Anaheim tie the game and win it in overtime. Has the reffing in this series been awful? Yes, for both sides. Has every penalty that has been called been a good penalty? Absolutely not. Have the refs missed a ton of blatant infractions? Of course. Has a goal review gone the Flames way all season? Nope. But guess what? It’s not the refs fault we’re losing. It’s not the fault of Hockey Operations in Toronto, or Gary Bettman, or the NHL. It’s not Anaheim’s fault, or the curse of the Honda Center. It is the Calgary Flames’ fault they are down 3-0. They made the line-change that lead to the 3-0. They took stupid penalties when they knew the refs were calling all kinds of bullshit. They let their foot off the gas when they were up by 3 goals. They didn’t push back. Elliott has played poorly. Gaudreau has been invisible. Hamilton has been a liability. Tkachuk hasn’t been the force people were expecting, nor have Backlund and Frolik. It would be generous to say that even half the team is playing to their potential. They’ve shown that they have the talent to win, but not the experience, the drive, or the maturity. Blame the refs, blame the NHL, blame the Ponda curse and the hockey gods, but blame the Flames most of all, because

It was 4-1.

And now it’s 3-0. It doesn’t get much worse than that.


Let’s Keep Talking

Every January, Bell Canada hosts “Bell Let’s Talk Day” – a day to raise awareness for mental illness in an effort to end the stigma surrounding it. This is done through the use of the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on various social media networks, which is meant to facilitate conversation. For every mention or interaction with this hashtag, Bell donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives across Canada. Yesterday, with 131,705,010 interactions, Bell and the people who participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day raised $6,585,250 for mental health in Canada. It’s a great day in which people come together to share their own stories and spread awareness of mental health issues. While Bell Let’s Talk Day is undoubtedly a force for good, it’s not without its problems. Some see it as a cynical publicity stunt, and while they’re not wrong, I see it as more of a win-win: it’s a brilliant PR move for Bell, and it’s also great cause. The way I see it, there’s a bigger problem with Bell Let’s Talk Day – it’s only a day. As I said, it’s a great day, where people feel more free to talk about these issues, but it’s still just a day. We talk for 24 hours, and then we stop.

So let’s put an end to that.

I’ve been miserable for a very long time. I can’t tell you exactly how long, but I remember feeling this way as far back as Grade 10 (that was 2003, for those trying to do the math). I remember one night, where I was talking to one of my friends on the phone. It was late, and I was in my basement, and I was explaining to her everything I had been feeling at school that year. I remember feeling lonely and lost. I remember feeling like there was this darkness that just followed me around. She asked me if I had considered talking to a counsellor about the way I was feeling. I said no. I wasn’t “depressed”, I was just sad. It would go away on its own. That was the start of a trend. Every few years, I would be talking to someone else, and they’d make the same suggestion – “You should talk to a professional about this”. I brushed it off, continuously. I often used the word “depressed”, but I don’t think I really understood what it meant to be “depressed”. The way I saw it, I was just sad. Sad that I was out of shape. Sad that I wasn’t particularly good at anything. Sad that I had no friends. Sad that everything always seemed to get worse instead of better.

I was always a nostalgic child. The past was where my mind resided. Terrified of the future and never fully able to appreciate the present. The problem with living in the past is that it’s gone. By the time I came around to appreciating something, it was out of my grasp. This isn’t a great state of mind for someone who’s already sad all the time, because it just makes things sadder. All I ever wanted was to go back in time – to live in the past, because everything was better in the past. So it was all throughout my childhood, and so it was when I graduated. While everyone else rejoiced to be finished with school, I cried in my room. By my Grade 12 year, I finally felt like I was making progress – I had stepped outside of my bubble and started to flourish. Things began to look up, and just as soon as they did, they were gone. Once again, the present had passed me by and all I had left was the past.

Life continued. I continued to live, never really content with the way things were. Life was merely serviceable. I moved through different jobs, completely indifferent to them all (except for my belief that whatever job I currently had wasn’t as good as any that I had previously left). I spent a year at university, taking random courses and accomplishing nothing. I applied to Ryerson University and got put on a waitlist. I ended up attending Trinity Western for no real reason other than that they actually accepted me.

As much as I dreaded going to Trinity, there was a small part of me that felt hopeful – my life had been in a holding pattern for 3 years, but it felt like there was finally some momentum. I was moving forward. And that hope was rewarded with brief moments of happiness over the next 4 years, but those moments were fleeting, to the point where I’m convinced that happiness only exists in those brief moments. I fell into many a dark hole over those 4 years – some that were pretty obvious to those around me and some that I did a better job of hiding. I’d whine and complain for hours on end to my closest friends, but I’d put on a happy face for everyone else. I became “friends” with everyone I met, laughing and joking and hugging and high fiving. I created this loveable character that everybody knew and I felt completely alone. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been more lonely in life than I was at Trinity, despite being constantly surrounded by people.

It got worse as time went on. I found these periods of darkness began lasting longer and longer. No matter my circumstances, I was never happy. I drove many a friend away, and losing friends is not something that comes easy to me. I tend to hold onto people, and even now, it still hurts to think about people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years.

By my fourth year, I felt more lost than ever. I had already given up on my education and I told myself that I was just at Trinity to have a good time. I roamed the halls day and night, looking for people to spend time with. Whenever I found people, I felt alright about myself. Whenever I didn’t, I was convinced it was because nobody liked me. I’d spend entire days wandering the campus, searching for people to distract me from my thoughts. When I failed, my mind would swirl down into a pit of self-loathing and hate. I knew everybody hated me and I hated myself. I had hated myself for a very, very long time.

Things got pretty bad towards the end of the semester. Exams were ending. Graduation loomed. The mood on campus was jubilant. I felt only despair. One night, I reached out to one friend and met her in the recording studio. I unloaded on her – everything that I had been feeling all year came tumbling out. Whenever I had tried to talk to any of my other friends about how I felt, they were dismissive. I don’t blame them for that – I’m a negative person. I’m draining to be around. I complain constantly, and I don’t listen to any advice that people provide. I tire people out. I exhaust their goodwill. I’m like a parasite, moving from one well-meaning person to another until they’re too tired to listen anymore. They’d heard it all a thousand times before. But this person hadn’t, and when I spoke with them, I didn’t see dismissal – I saw recognition. She nodded as I explained the way I felt. She knew. She had felt it all too. The relief I felt in that moment was incredible. To talk to someone else and to have them understand. It was freeing. She told me that I should look into getting professional help. She wasn’t the first person who had told me that, but I decided that it was finally time to listen.

On my last day in BC, I made an appointment with one of the counsellors at Trinity. It was a silly thing to do, because counselling is not a one-day process, but it felt like a step in the right direction, and it was free (counselling is very expensive). We spoke for an hour. He told me that I might suffer from dysthymia, which is a persistent, mild form of depression. I could finally put a name to it. Things were finally beginning to look up.


I didn’t see a counsellor again that year. I spent the summer working at a job I hated, and in the fall I went to the Laurentian Leadership Center in Ottawa. That was probably a mistake. I didn’t actually want to attend, it was simply a last ditch effort to regain some of what I felt I lost when I left Trinity. Remember that whole nostalgia thing? Despite being miserable for most of my 4 years at Trinity, by the end, it felt like home. I didn’t want to leave the campus or my friends. I didn’t want to face the real world, so I prolonged my schooling for no other reason than to prolong my schooling. I strived for a way to remain in the past, as I had my entire life.

Ottawa was a terrible experience. Every negative emotion that I had felt at Trinity was amplified in Ottawa. I felt like an outcast. I was an outcast. The nature of my internship kept me from keeping the same schedule as everyone else. I was around during the day while everyone else was gone. I was gone evenings and weekends. I missed dinners and social gatherings. Things got worse and worse, and for a number of reasons I won’t get into here, I fell into a deep depression. I spent whole days sitting in the same spot, not talking to anyone. I’d spend hours sitting in the dark by myself. Life just piled on and by the time December rolled around, I couldn’t wait to leave. The one positive thing that happened in Ottawa was I opened up about my depression. Despite feeling it for years, I had never labeled it as depression, so this was the first time I was able to talk about it with anyone other than my closest friends. Later that month, before returning home for Christmas, I did one of the hardest things I had had to do – I told my family about it for the first time. They were supportive, and the next year I got on medication and started counselling.

The end.


There was a part of me that was relieved that I was officially “depressed”. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me. And not in a “depression is a sickness” way. I mean, I felt like there was something wrong with ME. As a person. In my soul or in my heart. No matter what I did, I felt like I couldn’t change. I could never make any progress. Things only ever got worse (or at least it felt that way). To know that all of this was false? It was incredibly freeing. And then I went to see the doctor. I explained how I felt. I explained my thought processes. I told him that I thought I might have dysthymia. And he smirked. He told me that I didn’t have dysthymia. He told me that I wasn’t depressed. He told me that there was nothing medically wrong with me. What he said was that everything I had described was normal. He feels the way I do. Everyone feels the way I do. I just wasn’t good at coping with the small things that everyone else copes with on a day-to-day basis. He told me that counselling might help with that, but other than a lack of coping mechanisms, I was perfectly fine.

After years and years of feeling lost, and hurt, and hopeless, I had finally found an answer. I wasn’t a broken person. I was sick. I had finally found an answer, and then in one moment, that answer was taken away from me. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t depressed. I was just bad at living. You see, the problem was that if I wasn’t sick, then it meant that I felt the way I did… for no reason. If it wasn’t mental illness, then it was just… me. And that meant that there was no solution. That meant that this was just the way that I was, and this is the way that I would always be. That stuck with me. It still sticks with me. I don’t agree with that doctor’s diagnosis, but I can’t shake the feeling that he was right.

I eventually found a doctor who would prescribe me medication. I stayed on it for about 3 months. I never felt any different. I took blood tests, but nothing in them indicated that I was clinically depressed. I saw a counsellor for 6 weeks, up until I made the decision to move to Langley (another mistake). I convinced myself that I was moving forward, taking a step in the right direction, but all I was doing was taking a step backwards. I didn’t actually want to live in Langley, I just wanted to be near Trinity again, surrounded by my friends (who, for the most part, have moved on). It may have been the worst thing for me. It furthered this delusion that the past was within my reach. I was unable to give up on this dream I had of returning to Langley and having everything be the way it was when I left. Even after I failed to find work and moved home with my tail between my legs, I kept thinking of returning to Langley. I eventually did. It’s where I’m writing this right now. I’d like to say that I moved back here for a better reason this time, but that would be a lie.

I never saw another doctor. I never tried another medication. I never saw another counsellor. I honestly don’t know if I’m depressed. If I have dysthymia or if I’m just broken. I sometimes go a long time without feeling depressed, at least in the way that I did when I went through really dark times, but I’m rarely ever happy. I know that I’ve developed crippling anxiety when it comes to issues relating to finances and employment. I know that sometimes I can’t sleep because of how stressed out and anxious I am about every single thing. I know that sometimes I lay in bed for hours after waking up. I know that sometimes I go days without leaving the house. I know that I’m terrified of meeting new people. I know that I’m incapable of making even the simplest decisions. I know that I am able to “defeat” any advice that anyone provides. I know that I’m able to talk myself out of doing literally anything. I know that I have self-destructive tendencies that perpetuate, even though I know they’re destructive. Does that make me sick? Or am I just a screw up? I genuinely don’t know.

What I know is that I FEEL depressed, but I don’t know that I feel as depressed as people who are actually clinically depressed. Using the word “depression” makes me feel like a fraud, like I’m simply making up an excuse as to why I am the way I am, because it’s easier than facing the truth. I talk about mental illness as if I have some sort of personal experience with it, but I don’t know that that’s true. Surely many, many others have it much, much worse. So who am I to sit here and write thousands of words about my “struggle”?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if I ever will. But maybe something in this mess of text will resonant with someone, and maybe they’ll seek their own answers, and maybe they’ll actually find some. That’s a lot of maybes, but maybe is all I can provide right now.

Bell Let’s Talk Day will come around again next January, but let’s make sure that in the meantime, we don’t stop talking. Keep the conversation going 365 days a year, because you never know who needs to talk.

The Mourning After

I don’t really know what to say right now.

I usually don’t write this kind of stuff. I like to write about Marvel movies, and TV pilots, and Big Brother. People come to me for entertainment news and Twitter memes, and I am very good at those two things. I am not good at political discourse. I am not good at being emotionally honest online. But here we are.

Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States of America. Even now, I can’t believe I’m typing that. It feels like a dream. I had prepared myself for this early on, but the sheer confidence of the Democrats in the last couple months assuaged any fears I might have had. I watched Hillary Clinton win 3 debates while Trump dug himself into a deeper hole. I believe that at one point, I actually made a Facebook post along the lines of “I’m so glad Donald Trump will never be President.” I woke up this morning curious as to whether or not Trump would ultimately concede. I never saw it coming. The Democrats never saw it coming. The media never saw it coming. I’m almost convinced that even Trump himself didn’t see it coming. We were all so wrong. I’ve never seen such a large group of people be so wrong about anything this significant in my entire life.

It dawned on me tonight that Donald Trump was always going to win this election. Despite what all of the polls said, despite what everyone anticipated, this election had been decided months ago. There is nothing the Clinton campaign could have done. The white, American public was done with politicians, and they were never going to elect one. If only the Democrats had anticipated that years ago. Alas, what’s done is done. Trump is the President now, and no amount of looking back and wondering what went wrong is going to change that. It’s time to look forward, but what do we look forward to?

I grew up in a very conservative, evangelical home. I have blindly voted for the Conservative Party in almost all Canadian elections in which I was eligible to do so (full disclosure – I did not vote in 2015 as I did not get my absentee ballot submitted in time, although I don’t know who I would have voted for even if I had). I’m not a great citizen. I am woefully uninformed and uninvolved. I’m not a great person. I was unaware of my privilege and my own prejudice and intolerance for most of my life. I’m not a great Christian either. I regularly question my faith – arguably too much – but nothing has made me question my faith more than seeing the amount of bigotry and hatred spewed by those who claim to be followers of Christ. I’m pretty sure it’s always been there, I was just blind to it, convinced that what I believed was right – it had to be right. I was taught that the Bible was black and white and that there was no wiggle room. I’ve come to question that belief. I’ve come to question a lot of beliefs. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you what I believe anymore, but the one Christian principle I’ve clung to is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Does anything else really matter? Jesus said “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The Bible tells us that “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?” Why then is there so much judgement and hate, particularly among Christians, who are called to love their neighbors? “Love your enemies”! Repeatedly, all throughout scripture, we are told again and again that we are not here to judge, that we are here to love, and yet – AND YET – 80% of white Evangelicals voted for someone who ran a platform built on hate, fear, and judgement. How can you reconcile that? What does that say about us?

I’ve already established that I’m not a great person, but I honestly want to offer up an apology to anyone of another gender, orientation, or ethnicity who I have hurt, either directly or indirectly (ignorance can hurt just as much as hate). I’m sorry that it took me so long to realize that I need to be a better man, one who stands up for the marginalized in my life. I’m sorry if I haven’t been there for you when you needed someone. I’m sorry if I never believed or understood your struggles because they are so different from mine. I’m sorry if I ever discounted your opinion or made you feel unsafe or unwanted in any way. This may not mean much, but I’m trying to be better.

Tonight, my heart goes out to everybody in America who will be affected negatively by a Trump presidency.

I think of the women; the survivors of sexual abuse who see their abusers walk free and the overqualified who are overlooked because of their sex.

I think of the LGBTQ community, who want to be seen and recognized, and who want to love one another while enjoying the same rights and privileges as everyone else.

I think of the religious minorities; the Muslims and the Jewish people who fear deportation, discrimination, and violence.

I think of the African American communities who are afraid of their nation’s police forces, who now must live under a president endorsed by the KKK

I think of the Latin American community, who are perceived as criminals and rapists and told to go home to a country they aren’t even from.

I think of the immigrants and the refugees who just want a safe place to call home and not be branded terrorists.

I think of all the marginalized; the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.

I think of all these and more and I am afraid of what might happen to them in a country that doesn’t seem to want them. I think of the great divide that exists in America today and I honestly do not see a path to reconciliation. Maybe that’s a failing on my part. Maybe I give up too easily. I certainly give up too easily. That’s a personal weakness of mine. I’m negative. I’m pessimistic. I’m depressed. Hope feels like an evanescent dream, always fluttering just out of reach.

I see my largely Democratic Twitter feed in mourning tonight, as people of all races and religions fear for what tomorrow will bring, but alongside the mourners, I see those who continue to hope. Yes, they mourn, but they are stronger than their grief. I see their calls to stand strong, to support and uplift one another, to remember that people are stronger together than they are apart. I envy them their strength. I envy them their resolve. I envy their desire to do better, to see good done in the world, and to enact positive change in their country. I envy them because right now, I’m not there. I am tired. I am scared. I am angry. I see their grace and their strength and I envy it, because it’s grace and strength that I lack. Grace and strength that I, an evangelical white male, lack. I’m negative. I’m pessimistic. I’m depressed. Hope feels like an evanescent dream, always fluttering just out of reach, but if the broken-hearted, weary minorities of America can find hope, then maybe there’s hope for me as well.

Keep struggling. Keep fighting. Keep loving one another. Don’t lose hope, even when everyone else has. You’re the strength that America needs right now. You’re the strength that we all need right now. God bless you. And God bless America.

The Calgary Flames and a City Ignited

The LA net is empty. The clock ticks down slowly. 60 seconds. 59 seconds. Agony. 58 seconds. Gaudreau has the puck. 57 seconds. Gaudreau passes to Monahan. 56 seconds. Monahan passes to Hudler. 55 seconds. Hudler shoots. The puck is in. The stadium goes wild. Flames. Sirens. Lights. Screams. 3-1. The Calgary Flames have done it. They’ve eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings. They’ve clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 6 years. Finally. The Calgary Flames are returning to the playoffs.

Calgary Flames Playoffs Hartley Celebrates

I remember how the city felt in 2004. It was electric. There was this energy in the air, this jubilant belief that anything could happen, that miracles were real. It carried on for weeks, until that final, fateful game that sealed the Flames’ fate. Tampa Bay had won. The Flames had lost. After weeks and weeks of excruciating defeats and breathtaking wins, the magic was over. And yet we still celebrated. We knew our team were champions, even though they had no cup to lift. They had done the impossible. They had surpassed every single expectation. They had made their city proud, even in defeat.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this past season has felt a lot like that. This was a Flames club that nobody expected anything of. Everyone pegged us as a bottom dweller, a team that would sit at the bottom of the standings, vying for the right to draft Connor McDavid. Who could blame them? This was a team that finished 27th overall in the first year of their rebuild after losing franchise mainstays Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. To make matters worse, shortly before the season began, the Flames found out that their star draft pick, Sam Bennett, would need to undergo shoulder surgery and would be unable to play this season. Despite the fact that the Flames had a surprisingly decent season the year before (even though they finished near the bottom of the league), things were looking bleak. We all thought that they’d get worse before they got better. How wrong we were.

The Flames went 17-8-2 in the first 27 games of the season. They survived a potentially season-ending road trip at the start of the year against teams like the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks. They went 6-2-0 against divisional rivals. They were in a playoff spot. The fans were in nirvana. And then December happened, and the Flames spiralled down with an 8-game losing streak. All of the hope, all of the optimism, vanished. The pundits reminded us that they knew the Flames momentum was unsustainable. It had been a fun ride, but it had to end sometime. At least, that’s what they said.

Calgary Flames Never Quit

When you’re playing a divisional rival like the Vancouver Canucks and you score upon yourself during a delayed penalty call because your own net is empty, it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse. Two days later, the Flames found themselves down 3-0 to another divisional rival, the Los Angeles Kings. The Flames hadn’t seen a win in over two weeks. I had given up on them. Thankfully, the team hadn’t given up on itself. Inexplicably, Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau got his first NHL-career hat trick, scoring 3 times to tie the game 3-3. What’s more surprising is that 2 of those goals came in the last few minutes of play with the Calgary goalie pulled. The 3rd goal came with mere seconds left on the clock. My friends and I went crazy. The Flames would go on to take the game in overtime, snagging their first win in 9 games. It has become known as the Christmas Miracle. Suddenly, the city began to believe in miracles again.

The rest of the season played out a lot like that game. Time and time again, against all odds, the Calgary Flames found ways to win. When Flames captain and potential Norris Trophy-candidate Mark Giordano was injured on February 25th, many, myself included, thought that was the end. 20 games later, the Flames have gone 12-5-3. Unbelievable. Statistically, they should be a bad team. Analysts will tell you again and again that on paper, this Flames team should not have made the playoffs. That’s because there’s no real way to quantify things like “heart” and “hard work”. Sometimes the victory just goes to the team that wants it more, the team that fights harder, the team that believes. I don’t say this to discredit the amazing accomplishments the players have had this season – Monahan and Gaudreau are shining young stars, some of the best the franchise has seen since Jarome Iginla joined the team; the Norris-worthy defensive pairing of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are a huge part of the reason why the Flames are where they are; Jiri Hudler was the NHL’s second star for the month of March and has arguably become one of the most underrated players in the league; goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have stood on their heads throughout the season, ensuring that the Flames always had a chance to win every night; unsung heroes like Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, David Jones, Matt Stajan, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, and others ensured that even when the Flames’ stars weren’t at their best, the team still had a chance to win. My point is that despite all of this talent, the Flames still shouldn’t have been as good as they’ve been. What separates the Flames from other teams in the league is that they never gave up. They never stopped working. They never quit. They never stopped believing. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the obstacles, they always fought. That’s why the Flames are in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That old feeling is back again. I felt it last Thursday, even before the game began. That energy. That belief that anything could happen. That’s how I knew that the Flames would win. I could feel that playoff hockey had returned to Calgary. I had bet against the Flames too many times this season and been proven wrong. I wasn’t going to let it happen again. Sure enough, the Flames did not disappoint, and here we are, on the brink of another incredibly improbable playoff run. We face Vancouver tonight in the first round. We’ve struggled against Vancouver in the past. Maybe, statistically speaking, we don’t have much of a chance. Maybe the Flames aren’t the smart pick to win. But I’ve been here before, and so have the Flames. We beat them in 2004, and we can do it again this year. I’ve learned my lesson about doubting this team. I’ve seen them do the impossible time and time again. In the words of Jay-Z, “difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week”. Or, in this case, 7 games. I believe they can do it, I believe that anything is possible, and I think that the rest of Calgary would agree with me.


Calgary Flames Playoffs 2015

Halfway Out of the Dark

And with that, 2012 is over.

You’ll have to forgive me for not updating this blog these last few months. I was distracted by my duties and my experience at the LLC and I had more pressing concerns. If I’m being completely truthful, it was a very difficult semester for me.

Those who really know me will tell you that I’m not a very happy person. I’ve grown accustomed to putting on a happy face and joking around all of the time, but that very rarely reflects how I feel on the inside. I’ve been struggling with depression for quite some time now. I’ve left it unchecked for years, but it has never affected me as greatly as it has in the last 24 months. 2013 is a very dark prospect for me, because I’ve lost hope. At least it feels that way. I think that 2013 is a very dark prospect for me because I haven’t lost all hope, at least not yet. As Bane explains in The Dark Knight Rises:

“There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth… Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy… So simple… […] I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope.”

I’m miserable most of the time, and while I tell myself that I don’t really see any way that that will change, I know that it can. Every morning, however, it’s a struggle just to wake up, and every night I feel like I’m losing the fight.

There’s a long-running British show called Doctor Who that I’m quite fond of. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Every year they release a Christmas special, and in 2010, they released a Doctor Who version of A Christmas Carol. The episode described Christmas in this way:

“On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark’.”

Halfway Out of the Dark

Later in the episode, The Doctor is speaking to Kazran Sardick, who is this Christmas carol’s stand in for “Scrooge”. Kazran has just stopped himself from slapping a child, and the following exchange occurs:

The Doctor: Merry Christmas, Mr. Sardick.
Kazran Sardick: I despise Christmas!
The Doctor: You shouldn’t. It’s very you.
Kazran Sardick: It’s what? What do you mean?
The Doctor: Halfway out of the dark.

Halfway out of the dark. I love this description of Christmas. This description encapsulates not only the natural occurrences of the season, but also the true, Christian meaning behind the holiday. I love the idea that Christmas is the celebration that occurs once the darkness begins to recede, both literally and metaphorically. Our lives are filled with darkness, but at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came as a light unto that darkness; Jesus came into the world to bring it halfway out of the dark. To be halfway out of the dark is to have hope that the darkness is fading and that you’re emerging into the light. It was my wish this season that Christmas would be able to describe me – “Halfway out of the dark”. I so badly wanted that to be me. I so badly wanted people to say “It’s very you”. It’s not though. From where I’m sitting, the darkness is thicker than ever, and hope is in short supply.

2012 was the 50th anniversary of the character of Spider-Man, whose first appearance came in August 1962. Along with the 50th anniversary, everyone’s favorite wall-crawler saw another milestone – the 700th (and final) issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. The 104-page issue contained not only a fantastic story, but also a moving letters page in which Spider-Man fans wrote in sharing what the character of Spider-Man had meant to them over the last 50 years. The character has been an inspiration to many, and for good reason. Peter Parker is relatable. He’s the everyman. He’s awkward, poor, and bad with women. His life is full of hardships, more so than most. There are times when it feels like he has it all together, whether he’s working at a dream job or married to a supermodel wife, but it never lasts. Things fall apart. Life is full of ups and downs, and Peter Parker’s downs are lower than most. But there is something that sets him apart. You see it in every Spider-Man story worth it’s webs – Spider-Man, despite all of the odds stacked against him, never gives up. He doesn’t always win, but he never gives up. In the face of literally every darkness imaginable – failure, misfortune, hopelessness, anger, death, pain, loss, heartbreak – he perseveres. Without spoiling the issue, there is a moment in Amazing Spider-Man #700 when another character experiences what it’s like to have Peter Parker’s life. His words are “Please. No more. It’s too much. I can’t… can’t go on.” Peter replies “Yes, you can. You’d be surprised how much you can do. How many things are worth fighting for.”

Amazing Spider-Man 655

We don’t all have great power like Spider-Man’s, but we DO have a choice – we can give up or we can continue to fight. Even if it hurts. Even if it feels like we’ll never win. There is always a choice. Sometimes it’s the hardest choice in the world. Sometimes we lose sight of it. Sometimes we become blinded by the darkness, the seeming hopelessness, the pain. Yet the choice remains. It waits for us. We can choose to remain in the darkness, or we can choose to fight for the light. We can fight for Christmas, to be halfway out of the dark. It’s not an easy choice. It never will be. But the choice is ours.

I’ve realized that halfway out of the dark isn’t something that you can just be – it is a choice. No one is going to come up to me and say “It’s very you – halfway out of the dark”. If I’m going to be halfway out of the dark, then I need to choose to be halfway out of the dark. It’s not an easy choice to make. You’d think it would be, but it’s not. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt like giving up. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve actually given up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve prayed the words “Please. No more.. It’s too much. I can’t… can’t go on.” When you live every day in despair, it becomes easy to give up. Hope is hard. Halfway out of the dark is hard.

I worry that this message will come off as disingenuous. This isn’t meant to be my grand declaration that I’m done with living in darkness. I can say with certainty right now that I don’t want to fight. I want to give up. Fighting is hard. Giving up is easy. This is how I feel right now. And yet… I think of the Doctor, the eternal optimist who has never, in 900 years of time and space, met someone who wasn’t important. I think of Spider-Man, who, against every conceivable odd, never gave up. They’re just characters in stories, but it’s amazing the power that stories have. I guess that’s why I’ve always been so drawn to them. Stories are meaningful. They can inspire you to make a choice. They can give you the strength to fight another day. And maybe, just maybe, they can even restore your hope.

It didn’t happen for me in 2012…

But maybe in 2013.