Was that enough of an info dump for you? Well now you know how I feel

I just had my first session with a new therapist.

This doesn’t mean I’m replacing my beloved current therapist, it’s just another potential option. My therapist is The Best. She’s incredibly perceptive and her style is very complementary to my way of processing. If I could see her on the regular I would. But I can’t. Or rather, I could but it would cost me a lot. She’s not cheap. So while my benefits can currently afford 3 of her sessions per year (which frankly isn’t enough to deal with a lot of things), I don’t want to not have those sessions. I do want to jump further into therapy as a means of finding ways to cope with unhelpful thoughts and patterns. I got a call a few weeks back saying that I’d finally come off the waiting list for an OHIP sponsored therapist. Today was the first of potentially a few sessions.

Introduction sessions with therapists feel kind of weird. There’s protocol and bookkeeping that needs to happen. They’ll tell you of the boundaries in place. Confidentiality is assured, except in a few key circumstances. Primarily this revolves around you being a potential threat to yourself or others. If you have suicidal thoughts that your therapist deems sufficient as a precursor to taking action, they can notify authorities and have you escorted to emergency to gauge whether you’re at risk. If children under your care are potentially at risk, therapists can also alert authorities. If you’re unsafe to drive in any capacity, whether that’s admitting to a habit of drink or drugged driving, being off certain necessary medications (like epilepsy medication. Which is fine to come off, but in that case you should not be driving), etc. If you could harm yourself or others, that is a valid concern. With that out of a way, the session turns over to you.

A therapist is only as good as what they can divine from what they’ve heard. The more they know about you, the wealth of information they can utilise to find ways to help. So they ask questions. It’s kind of like a first date, but a shitty one-sided first date where you’re monopolising the conversation. They keep asking questions, but you don’t get to interject. They’re also jotting down all of your answers too. It’s sort of checklist-y, but with good reason. It’s the most efficient method to get a base of understanding. An intro often happens over a couple of sessions where the therapist will dive into your background and mood.

Today was background. She asked about my upbringing, family structure past and present. She asked about relationships. Was I in one? For how long? At which stage? That kinda thing. She asked about my history of education and employment. What had I done to get to where I was? History of therapy and treating mental illness? Personal struggles? Drinking and drug use? How often? In what quantities? Did I have close friendships and a support network? Was I physically healthy? How did I think cognitive behavioural therapy would work for me? What were my expectations of our sessions?

You’d be surprised how long it can all take. There’s a little probing here and there, perhaps clarifying or asking for further information on something you’ve said. Going back to the first date notion, what the introductory sessions are used for is to see if the relationship of care would be a synergistic fit. Some people’s issues and personality don’t mesh well with particular methods of therapy. You want to find someone whose style complements your own. It’s the most effective way of ensuring the sessions are time spent wisely. If something doesn’t feel quite right, chances are it’s not. Intuition works pretty well with this sort of stuff. If you’re actively looking for therapy, please shop around and find someone who’ll be able to tailor their skills to your issues. Therapy is amazing. It can be life changing when it works. That said, “work” is the important word. It’s a lot on both sides, but it’s so goddamn worth it.

Let’s see how “date two” goes…

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I’m not some garden variety phallustine

To my chagrin I’ve learned that I’ve gained more family followers over the past few days. Come for the heartfelt Montreal sentiments. Stay for the puns and poop jokes. If anything over the past few weeks, I’ve learned they’re ingrained family traits. Here be dragons, you’ve been warned.

Between the solo/partnered time I’ve had here, it’s also held a higher concentration of familial familiarity. Familialrity? I’ve been noticing/recalling patterns, reinterpreting my past and recalibrating for my future. If we’re talking family traits, food is a big part of it all. My family, extended and all, loves food. Food is love. We cook, share and enjoy. We talk about meals we’ve had, where to check out and, for better or worse, what it does to our waistlines. Our family is obsessed with weight, image and all that jazz. We’re constantly encouraged to eat more and more, but there’s a pervasive fear of gaining weight. An “undue” amount, y’know? We talk about how “good” people are looking, how “bad” we are for eating certain things. Applying a moral compass to inanimate objects like dessert, etc. I swear it’s borderline highschool shit.

Having thought about this stuff on end for years, I know know that at least I come by it honestly. I don’t regret any of my proclivities for bold flavours or experimental cuisine. If you’re thinking about the calories over the taste, I figure you’re doing it wrong. Moderation is a personal endeavour, but there’s no weight as severe as the guilt above your head of taking it too far. With lifelong struggles over weight and body image I know full well that society hates the overweight. HATES us. Despite any well-meaning comments and euphemisms, it’s judgement all the way down. It’s bullshit, and so often the judgement comes from a totally clueless place where you don’t understand the struggles of others. Despite what you think, someone else’s weight is none of your fucking business. You have no concept of what’s going on in their lives or what their relationship with food is. Whatever that relationship is, it’s theirs, not yours. If you’re unsure of your relationship with food, as ghastly as it sounds, please be prepared to exercise self-compassion. Cool it with blaming yourself, deciding what you can and can’t wear or do. Your value has nothing to do with whatever a scale might say. Throw it the fuck out and decide what healthy means for you. There are far more important things.

Au contraire, I have reasserted the kind of love that flows freely throughout my lineage. Despite any of the above, people care and are present. So many interactions have cast my mind back to how we were raised. The boundaries instilled in us from a young age. How we were encouraged to take care of the dishes post meal or try as best as possible to be hospitable to others within their own homes. To be kind and considerate, to listen and actually hear what people were saying. To practice compassion and adoration to our partners. To give love in abundance and reaffirm how lucky we are to have them in our lives. I don’t think I’ve had a relationship that’s lasted five years. I can’t imagine how it feels when you’re homing in on 40 years together. How slight annoyances must become points of contention. Irritation morphing into outright contempt. I’m sure it’s so easy. What’s harder then, is embracing the faults of your beloveds. To be slow to anger and quick to understanding. Letting the heat of the moment take you will leave you stranded in a constant state of frustration. If you’re together until one of you dies, you don’t want to spend another 15-20 years stewing in resentment. It’s a rapid route to a living grave.

It’s something my own partner has taught me unbelivably well. That blame is in abundance and leads you nowhere. Flights of unnecessary fury only build walls higher and displace compassion. Being emotionally earnest is a reward in itself, knowing that openness pays back dividends. Having someone you feel free to be yourself with, to embrace one another with fullness, doubles the warmth of that embrace. Owning one’s feelings, faults and failings is unimaginably freeing, and it’s hard not to bring that authenticity back to the relationship. Fuck posturing, be yourself and love who you’re with. If you’re not, why be with them? Set them free and find your bliss.

Who’d’ve thought that “don’t be a dick” would take 700 words to say?

Coughing up dough left, right and cêntre-ville

Eat and sleep, lather rinse repeat. The holiday continues.

Today came the family brunch I’d been low key tentative about. I didn’t know who’d be there, who I’d know and how many people I wouldn’t forgotten. Part of me feared discovering that I had a bigoted or racist streak in my extended family. I still may, but it certainly didn’t surface at brunch. Brunch was nice, actually. A love of food permeates our lineage and, as we’re in Montreal and everything here is bread, there was an abundance of delicious bread. I may have eaten my weight in beer bread, flanked by sharp cheeses and preserves. The wild salads had been harvested at their peak, whether bean, potato and bacon, double tuna, egg or… salad (?) salad. Goddamn tasty is what they were. I ate twice my fill, then out came dessert. Baked apple pie, chocolate cake, scroggin muffins (chocolate chip, pumpkin seed, squash and whatever else fits in a trail mix), two ice creams and a baked blueberry scramble that didn’t manage to find purchase amongst the many other bread based dishes. You can only throw so much bread at people before they burst, Montreal.

It was sweet. I got to see my parents catch up with old friends, hear about mountaineering adventures and the local birdlife. I’m not gonna hazard a guess at what you’d call them in relation to me, but my uncle’s grandchildren were nice kids. The younger one showed me all his garbage can (something like that) toys, the older one had just gotten his D&D player’s handbook/DM guide and told me about the campaigns he was planning. Another of my cousins (?) was in his second year at McGill and loving it. I met my uncle’s ex-wife and heard about her theatre experiences. We all got together for family photos at the end, then my girlfriend and I went home to food coma out in bed.

The trip seems to have been defined by a mix of experiences new and familiar. We had an astoundingly good time last night catching up with friends who’d very, very recently (several days ago) moved to the city. We all got cocktails at Bootleggers L’Authentique and shot the shit. We headed off to Le Majestique Montreal for fries and further drinks. I asked the staff what happened to the toy train that used to run along the higher shelves, only to be informed that there had never been a toy train. It was all in my head. “Toy train, eh?” muttered one of the staff, jotting down notes. Look out for a toy train there next time you visit. There SHOULD be a next time, the bar kicks ass. Trendy for all the right reasons, the cocktails are delicious and the food is immaculately presented. Go there and tell the tale.

As always while on vacation, I feel like someone inside of me emerges. Like I give myself tacit permission to be myself. Living outside of routine, the stresses of appointment oriented existence fade into the background and I can breathe in experiences. It feels like it’s a hard but necessary line we tow. We have shit to do to make it through each day, week, year. Driving ourselves like taskmasters keeps us running to schedule, but at what cost? Concurrently, for all the joy that comes with bring unhinged from demands, I’m not sure Vacation Leon could last forever. The glee is in part because if its transitory nature. It’s special because it’s the exception. If it were to become the rule, would that really “rule” in the 90s sense?

Or would it actually be all kinds of phenomenal, but pretending the alternative makes for a tight little coping mechanism?

Mile like you mean it

Mediocre dispatches from the road.

We just arrived in Quebec. What tipped me off? Was it the assortments of signs en Francais? The general air of je ne sais pas? Or the fact that the gas station sold alcohol? I’ll take all of the above for 300, Pierre. The road has been long, but not altogether too hard. It’s been a good excuse to dig deep and find out more about my parents’ history, upbringing, families and journeys to meet. What was it like for my father to venture from small town New Zealand to the cosmopolitan environs of Montreal? Certainly a more intense route than we took on the 401 from Toronto. Filling in the gaps has definitely given me a wider sense of how my parents’ marriage (and consequently, I) came to be. To think, my Dad bought a ticket to London and stopped off in Canada along the way. If he didn’t, none of us would be in a car to Montreal in 2018. If he didn’t then invite my uncle up to his place for a barbecue, ditto. Little ripples.

We stopped off at one of the aggressively genetic On Route stops. More than a little surprised they don’t just call them En Route in Quebec. I had something I’ve been intrigued to try for some time: The A&W Beyond Meat burger. My vegetarian friends have been raving about it. My batting average with imitation meat isn’t amazing. Most of them are fine, if not unremarkable. I’d heard some buzz, however, about the Beyond Meat patty. I’ve always said that if synthetic meat gets to a point where it’s affordable and basically indistinguishable from the real thing, I’d be happy to jump on board. I ordered one bunless, wrapped in a copse of crunchy lettuce. The verdict? It was decent. I mean, knowing that it wasn’t real meat, I wasn’t fooled. It didn’t quite have the density or succulence of a cow burger, but it wasn’t terribly far off. I’m not a huge fan of fast food in general, but it more than sufficed. It was tasty enough to give me hope that we’re heading in the right direction with lab grown meat. Too bad it wasn’t more average. I could’ve called it meatiocre.

I’m ready to be out of a car. After 5 hours of an Australian GPS trying to pronounce French roads, it’ll be good to trust my own two feet again. Driving has been fun. Dad and I swapped around, with cruise control as our co-pilot. It’s been wet the entire way, our windscreen covered in the backwash of freight trucks. Honestly, it’s been a pretty straightforward (en) route, with a couple of musical interludes. Still, I’ve been on the journey for long enough, I’m ready for the adventure.

Wait, we’re in Quebec now. Let l’aventure commence!

Taking a triptophan with the fam

I’m on holiday! I don’t feel on holiday. I feel tired and grumpy after a day of work.

Tonight is a bunch of spinning plates. I have to cram in writing on the way home from work, get washing done, host an inter-family potluck dinner, drop my girlfriend’s mum off, then pack for a week’s Montreal trip (with the freshly washed clothes) and get to bed so we can leave for Montreal at 6.30am. Egads is all, egads.

The upside of all this, however, is that tomorrow I’ll be a) in Montreal and b) not at work. Montreal is one hell of a city. Every time I’m there it’s a riot. The food is stellar. So many cool bars and attractions. The city is stunning, with a ton of European inspired architecture and awesome street art. It’ll be a family holiday, sure, but as an adult I get to find that balance. I’ll do my share of catching up with relatives, and also have my own time to explore. I’ve never managed to fit in a trip to the Unibroue Brewery, but I’m gonna have a car this time around. It’s fully within my grasp.

I’m very underprepared for my trip. I’m sorta just hoping I remember the city well enough to get around. I think I was last there ten or so months ago. Things won’t have changed much. Of course Four Loko has been stripped from depanneurs, with good reason. I’m sure I’ll be able to find some equivalent mess in a can. I’m overdue a trip to Jean Jean Jean for some decent quality denim. I’ll grab a bunch of bagels to bring back. I’m sure we’ll stop in at a tiki bar or two. There’ll be tons of nice restaurants and streets worth wandering. It’s a treasure to be able to feel like you’ve left the country after a five hour drive.

Most of all I’m just excited to find my vacation pace. Living in a city it’s go go go all the time. Moving away from that is like stepping off a treadmill. Suddenly there’s time to breathe. Abstract thought feels easier to come by and your brain recharges. Well, mine does. I always prefer writing when I’m outside of my 9-5 existence. When I have time to consider rather than forcing it out when I have 30 minutes spare. It’s all kinds of gratifying to disengage and drift, away from the barbaric drudgery of day to day. Plus with everything I’m about to eat, I’m sure I’ll be in a buoyant place, both physically and emotionally.

Tonight though? Well tonight will be quite something. At least we’re having turkey for dinner.

If they’re still standing after all these years, are they more Viagara Falls than anything?

It took under two days of having Mum and Dad around for stuff to get fixed at the house.

Apparently the solution to squeaky door hinges, if you don’t have the catch-all panacea of WD40, is cooking oil spray. Do a quick jot of oil on each hinge, both sides. Open and close the door a bunch of times to work the oil through. Then wipe it down. Dad got gripped by the compulsion to sort out the guest bedroom and took that notion to every other door we have. I dunno, maybe he was planning some twilight espionage and wanted to obfuscate his tracks. He’s in Toronto, I’m not sure what mischief he’d get up to. Most everything shuts at last call. Plus, it’s Dad. If he had his way he’d be in bed for 9.30 each night.

We’ve ixnay’d on the mischief, but we’ve been busy. Lots of food and exploration. I think I’ve had four meals out in the past three days (with another in the next few hours). It’s a lot. I don’t dine out all too commonly under my usual schedule. Mum and Dad are on holiday and I’m pretty sure they have less than zero interest in cooking. *Shrug*. I guess I’ll suffer through restaurants? At the same time it’s exciting to introduce my parents, my globe trotting parents, to all new cuisines. I mentioned the Korean. I’m also super keen to put some Ethiopian in front of them. If you haven’t tried it, Ethiopian is the best. You have a big ol’ piece of injera (spongy bread) covering the plate, with little piles of food. There are assorted vegetable and meat dishes. Exciting new spices and flavours. You tear off a piece of injera with your hand and use it to grab some of the pile, then you shove that into your mouth. No cutlery. It’s a neat experience and I’m deeply in love with most everything served.

It’s interesting trying to figure out what parts of the city are parent appropriate. Not in a my parents are sheltered kind of way. They’re not. They aren’t fussy travellers. Given our drastically different socioeconomic concerns, I’ve been remarkably surprised at how fussy they’re not. That said, we do have different tastes and standards. With the abundance of options in Toronto and limited number of days they’re here, they can only do so much. Or rather, they can only do not much. Are there touristy things they’d enjoy? If we only have a couple of brunches, where should they go? I basically never dine anywhere that requires a reservation. We discovered last night to our chagrin that Saturday evening is a night that almost across the board needs booking in advance. At least for anywhere halfway decent. So we couldn’t get into Ethiopian. Or Persian. Quick, cheap tacos though? El Trompo Tacos deserves a shout out. Unpretentious, tasty and incredibly fast from order to table. It was exactly what we wanted and a crazy cheap meal for four people. I think with drinks it came out to $33. Unreal.

We did hit the height of touristy today and drove out to Niagara Falls. Sure, it’s touristy, but like The Grand Canyon, there’s a reason for it. The falls were a marvel and a half. “The Canadian Falls”, known otherwise as the Horseshoe Falls, were colossal. An unbelievable amount of water flowing. I think one of the announcements mentioned 75,000 gallons of water per second. PER SECOND. Think of every shower you’ve had in your entire life. This is exponentially more water than that. I think. I did zero maths, but I’m trusting my guts on this one. We took one of the little boats out to see them close up. They handed us dainty ponchos with drawstring hoods and we proceeded to get soaked. Awe inspiring would be an appropriate term. As cool as it looked from the top, especially seeing the deep green hues of the water, it had nothing on being at its feet. The force was incredible. We still had some distance, but there’s nothing so humbling as witnessing something that makes you feel entirely insignificant. I thought for one full second about whether or not I’d be able to survive in the churning white water. By the end of that second I’d surmised zero percent chance of survival. The water spray was incredible. It damn near blocked out the sky, pulling you into vision bordering on a white out. The town around the falls themselves was hokey stimulation overload, but holy hell were the falls themselves impressive?

To answer my question, yes. Yes they were.

Colour them surprised

“You’re hard to shop for, because I know you don’t like colours.”
“Nope, I like colours now.”
“But you don’t really wear them out, right?”
“Yeah, I do. I wear colours a lot.”
“But not during the day…”
“My basic dress code is pretty colourful. It’s pretty much some colourful trousers and a colourful shirt on rotation.”
“Well I guess I don’t really know you anymore.”

My parents are here and, by this point in my life, I’ve become my own person. It’s not like I haven’t been an adult around them before, but it feels different this time. They’re in unfamiliar terrain and it happens to be my turf. They’ll always be my parents and have that above me, but it feels the closest to even footing it’s ever been. Which is nice. For all of us, I think. We’re all old enough and ugly enough to take care of ourselves and they no longer need to parent. Their job is done. I mean, it’s not like they’ll ever be able to totally let go of it, but they’re more hobbyist parents now. They do it for their own fulfillment, not obligation.

The best part is that now I’m the one who gets to introduce them to new experiences. Last night they got to try Korean cuisine. They weren’t working from a totally blank palette. New Zealand has a burgeoning Korean population and they both have Korean friends. But they’d tried Korean BBQ, rather than standard Korean fare. I figured starting them off with bibimbap was a safe bet. It’s hard to go wrong with meat, vegetables and rice. I got to enjoy my usual pork bone soup at my favourite place. As always it was an effortless, quick meal (effortless was a weird choice of words. Aren’t most restaurants effortless? Isn’t that the point of *not cooking*? -Ed) with the usual friendly staff. We got to shoot the shit. I heard how their holiday has been going and we kind of caught up. Ish. They’re here for two weeks. There’s no real rush.

We tucked back home to drink and brainstorm on what to do today. Man oh man, is Toronto ever crammed with options. There are places to walk, endless things to look at whether indoors or outdoors. There’s history and newer developments. There are activities and vistas, or activities based on vistas. So many local neighborhoods ooze with flavour. There are infinite restaurants and at least thousands of good ones. The hardest part is just making your mind up. We had a shitter of a time deciding where to brunch, primarily because there are too many appealing spots. We worked out a rough plan of coffee, brunch, a walk around the Scarborough Bluffs, afternoon lunch then maybe recuperating before seeing Chris Gerhard perform in the early evening. By any metric, that’d be a phenomenal Saturday. Even better when I get to show off my home to my parents.

I mean, I’m basically a whole new person for them to meet. I wear colours now and everything.