Tag Archives: mental health

Lori and Val | Home of the Brave

While lying on my back in a beginners Yin yoga class recently, the instructor asked us to “surrender to our mats.” She wasn’t asking us to give up (to raise a white flag), she was encouraging us to let go.

Normally I would visualize releasing a balloon into the bright blue sky whenever someone had asked me to “just let go.” But in my yoga class that day, instead of envisioning a floating balloon, I felt myself (for the first time ever) letting go and falling into a net. “Is this what it feels like to surrender?” I remember asking myself, followed by “I wonder what surrender actually looks like?

When I asked Lori to choose her sanctuary for her Home of the Brave portrait without hesitation she replied, “my sister Val.”

I grew up with Lori and Val in our hometown of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I don’t see them as often as I should these days but I couldn’t count the number of times we have been in each other’s company at house warming parties, birthday parties, class reunions and celebratory Friday beers.

These days Lori and Val publish a weekly humour blog called Sangria Sisters where they write about an impossibly diverse range of topics from ‘80s fashion trends to The Top 10 Reasons Women Love Wine! The Sisters have also been busy volunteering for the non-profit aid society Mealshare whose mission is to end youth malnutrition and hunger.

Right now, at this exact moment two of their posts stand out for me: their beautiful, poetic description of depression and a touching Father’s Day card to their father Don and to Lori’s husband Scott who is bravely fighting a recent cancer diagnosis.

When I took Lori and Val’s portrait this past July two things stood out for me. First, I had suddenly realized I had never been alone with the Sisters before and second, how humbled I felt by their spontaneous, unconditional love and acceptance of one another. Taking their portrait was effortless as they moved into each pose with tenderness, humour and grace.

So this is what surrender looks like! Emotional and physical honesty in the presence of unconditional love.

To feel safe enough to cry when we are sad, and laugh when we need it the most.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

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Bruce | Home of the Brave

In Bruce Masterman’s recently published book One Last Cast: Reflections of an Outdoor Life, there is a line that reads “After helping set up his 5-year-old partner on the riverbank overlooking a deep hole full of promise, he started casting his own line a few yards away.”

For those of us who don’t fly fish, the phrase “overlooking a deep hole full of promise” might seem a contradiction. Some might ask, “How can a deep hole possibly hold promise? How can a deep hole be anything but dark, dangerous and threatening?”

You would be forgiven if you thought One Last Cast (Bruce’s third published book) was written for outdoor enthusiasts only. As much as this book joyfully describes a life spent outdoors with family and friends, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, it remains a testament to the enduring power of hope.

In the chapter, Into the Light Bruce writes that he “self medicates” to manage his symptoms of depression. “I prescribe for myself generous regular doses of the outdoors whenever I’m feeling down. Being in nature helps level out my emotional peaks and valleys … Whether it’s for an hour or a day, I always go home feeling better, more energized, more hopeful.”

The words hope, healing, hopeful and blessed are generously sprinkled throughout the pages of One Last Cast like the wildflowers growing in the mountain meadows of Bruce’s “Not-So-Secret Place.” For me the magic found within these pages is the message that hope can be found (and cultivated) anywhere.

When I asked Bruce if he might consider participating in Home of the Brave, he seemed genuinely puzzled. I had found him in one of his classrooms during the last week of the winter semester. His students were exuberant and chatty as their first year of studying Journalism at SAIT was quickly drawing to a close.

“Yes, but why me? I just want to know – why me?” Bruce had replied in response to my invitation.

“Because you would be perfect! I said with a conviction that surprised us both.

We agreed to continue our discussion later, over a coffee, but I remember leaving Bruce’s classroom thinking …

“Man, I sure hope his answer is yes.”

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400


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John | Home of the Brave

I had thought writing this post to accompany John’s portrait was going to be relatively easy. John had provided me with his notes from a recent public speaking engagement and I had read his book Sick to Death of the Silence, Stories to break down the stigma of mental illness.

I had done my research, all I had to do now was to sit back, relax and let the post write itself.


My first draft began with a sound bite from a speech President Obama delivered recently in Montreal. The sound bite included the phrase, “falling into the comforts of the tribe.” I wanted to acknowledge that membership within a tribe (community) clearly has its advantages, but membership renewal often depends on one’s ability to conform to its identity and meet its expectations.

I was hoping such an introduction would describe how difficult it must have been for John (a corporate lawyer) to reach out to a colleague and talk about his addiction to cocaine.

Yet I was conflicted. I knew John would be the first to tell me the pressure to conform within a community of lawyers may not be any greater than the pressure someone else might experience within their own family. I could hear John say, “Everyone’s experience is different. It depends on the community. It depends on the person.”

My second draft began with a definition of the word stigma, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” It’s the main reason after all, many of us find it so difficult to open up about personal problems like mental illness or a drug addiction. John’s reluctance to reach out was directly related to his fear of appearing vulnerable and weak within a community of lawyers who are paid for “solving other people’s problems.”

But my second draft was reading like a word salad. I was rushing to summarize what I believed to be John’s central message as a mental health advocate. Talking about our mental health is the first step in our recovery. No matter how austere our communities – be it our families, friends or colleagues – we must reach out for help. We must overcome the stigma and talk about our mental health in order to receive the support and healing we all deserve.

I wanted to conclude the post by acknowledging the resilience and courage required for someone to share such a personal story involving drug addiction, recovery and hope. I wanted John to know that by sharing his story, he had inspired me to continue to share my own.

Relatively easy? What in the world was I thinking!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

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Rob | Home of the Brave

I met Rob through his ATB colleague and writing partner Todd. Todd mentioned he had a friend who would really like to participate in Home of the Brave. “He would be perfect.” Todd had told me, smiling.

Richard Avedon said, “My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” As hard as I’ve tried to make HOB about its participants, I must admit that working with Rob has taught me a lot about myself. Specifically, how much work I have yet to do in terms of promoting mental health through advocacy and sharing my story beyond the safe, nurturing and empathetic atmosphere of HOB.

During our initial meeting Rob and I exchanged our stories. I explained my motivation for starting this project and Rob told me how important he felt it was to sustain a dialogue around mental health and its associated stigma.

“I’m really lucky because I have learned to accept my mental health challenges as part of who I am.” Rob said. “That acceptance came as an enormous relief! I was finally able to experience some peace. Now, I’m really open about my mental health – even with complete strangers. When I’m on an airplane, for example, I have no problem telling the person sitting next to me I have anxiety. It gets people talking and I really believe that is a good thing.”

Until I met Rob, I have always envisioned advocacy as a singular event, a public speaking engagement with an invested, motivated audience. I’ve never considered “living” my advocacy – daily – through everything I say and do.

I am truly grateful that Rob has shown me the value of numerous, small victories, that complacency must turn into advocacy and that every day is another opportunity to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400



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