Tristen: Finding strength in a bundle of love
Resilience is the foundation for positive mental health and well-being. It allows us to confront difficult experiences and challenges in a more meaningful and productive way, enabling us to learn, grow, and become stronger from them.
Research shows that it’s not just what we go through that affects us, but it’s also the story that we tell ourselves. And if we stop and make meaning of life’s most difficult moments, they can actually help us develop a sense of purpose, take appropriate risks and create positive relationships with others.
Everything in life, both good and bad, can teach us something if we’re willing to learn from it. With resilience, we can turn obstacles into advantages and use them to create a life of greater meaning.
Here’s how Tristen’s experience with resilience has improved her mental well-being.
When you travel across Canada as we do for months at a time, lugging and unpacking your belongings at a new location every day, you get very particular about what you bring with you.
These are the essentials:
- Jumbo-size pack of deodorant (because you know it gets stanky living out of a truck!)
- Fast food coupons (it’s like $20 for a burger nowadays, so gotta have these).
- Stuffed animal – maybe a weird one, but I tried to fit my 20-year-old cat Cutie in my backpack, but she was all hiss and claws when I tried to stuff her in, so I took this instead.
More important than my backpack, though, is what I like to call my bundle. My bundle is the people and the lessons that I carry with me as I go through life.
My grandma Marnie, my Koko, is one of those people.
The life and legacy of my Koko
Growing up, every Sunday night was a family dinner at my KoKo’s house and she would always make my favourite: hangover soup. This consisted of macaroni, tomatoes and hamburger, and was always served with a scone on the side.
Now the reason it was called hangover soup is because on the weekends, my parents would drink all weekend and would head over to my grandparents on Sunday for their delicious medley of hangover remedies.
But at the end of the night, I was always scared to leave because this partying at home was too much.
I still remember laying in bed when I was six years old. My parents were drinking and screaming at each other so loudly. I reached over, snuck the phone under the covers and dialled 911. I was terrified someone was going to get hurt.
I always wanted to stay with my Koko, because that’s where I felt safe. In the Anishnaabe Clan System, my Koko was a part of the Bear clan, which represents healing and protection. Every Easter, you would her find her dressed up as the Easter bunny going door to door and handing out Easter baskets. She was the connector in the community; she brought healing and love with her everywhere she went.
But when I was 8 years old, I remember walking into my Koko’s house and seeing boxes and boxes of dialysis equipment laying around. Her diabetes had quickly taken a turn for the worse, and she was fighting for her life.
The next morning, they called us to come and say goodbye. She had passed away in the middle of the night.
I remember walking into her room and seeing her lying there. I had just lost the most important person in my life, but I refused to cry because I thought it was something that you don’t do in front of people. I just held it all in.
My Koko was the glue that held our family together and soon the family dinners stopped. Eventually, everyone drifted in their own direction and for many that direction was addiction. It was a very difficult path for me as well without her, and I struggled greatly with depression and anxiety throughout high school.
I remember hitting a low point, when the hurt felt like too much. But I had a dream that night about my Koko, and she said to me, “If you ever need me, come to my favourite spot.” There was this place at the waterfront in our community that she loved so much that they named Marnie’s Hill. So I cancelled my shift at work, got in my car and drove all the way from Toronto to be there.
Driving there, I felt a little foolish; I was going to all this trouble just because of some dream. But when I went and stood down by the water, this snapping turtle swam to the edge of the water. It popped its head up and just stared at me. Then I watched as an eagle came down and soared over the surface of the water. In that moment, I felt a sense of home. I knew I wasn’t alone, that my Koko and everything she taught me about love and community was still with me as a part of my bundle.
I had no idea how much I was going to need that lesson.
Adding to my bundle
Things had begun to change and improve in my life. I was engaged to the love of my life, Sebastian. We were getting married that October, and I was excited about my first week in my new job as a road team leader for LiveDifferent.
I had just flown out to Winnipeg to drive our team’s truck back to Ontario. I was driving the truck when I saw a call from my friend in Toronto. I pull over to answer the call: my friend told me that my fiancé, Sebastian, had died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 26 years old.
The night that Sebastian passed away, I had another dream; this time about a mother black bear watching over her cub. I didn’t understand what it meant, but what I did know was everything that I thought my life was going to be, all my hopes and expectations, were shattered in an instant.
This time, I knew I couldn’t keep it inside. I had to let myself grieve.
I flew back to my community and let them support me. The future I hoped for, the life I had pictured, everything had turned upside-down. I had to let myself feel that loss and fully grieve it.
When I met with Sebsastian’s mom, she started telling me how she always called him her “little bear,” and at that moment, I knew that he and my beloved Koko were together.
I realized that the kindness and strength he had taught me were now another part of the bundle that I carry in life. It’s the idea that all the people and experiences in my life, both the good and the bad, are there for a reason. They are there to teach me something so that I might be able to give back and add to other people’s bundles.
And I hope, that even in a small way, my story might add something to your bundle.
Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being.
LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.
Want to join people like Tristen and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!