Abstract Thoughts, Adventures in Nature, Dealing with Humanity, Depression Aid, How To, Women In Engineering

Hard Hope: Book Series Announcement & Introduction Chapter

I’m publishing five books this year (2021), and sharing the Introduction chapter here. Updates about their publishing and purchasing will be posted on this page, and I will be sharing quotes and process through my author account.

Thank you to all of my readers for your continued support, it has been an incredible experience to be so vulnerable with a vast internet of strangers – and it has helped me grow into someone I am really glad to be.

1. Introduction

While growing up in a strict religious community in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, there was nothing that couldn’t be cured by repentance and good behaviour.

With everything neatly sorted for me in good and evil by the rules of my parents, I lived life in opposites and extremes. The jungle I grew up in was a hot paradise of only two seasons: flooding or drought, green grass or brown.

But no matter if the sky was blue or deep purple with rain, the giant leaves of vitality always grew bigger, fruit and flowers shared every week of the year. Heat was constant. We were warmed in the incubator of the equator, humidified by the lusciousness of constant growth in the overflowing nature surrounding our home.

Here I was opened to my place in the world through the freedom of a tiny, remote community. We called our adult neighbors “Aunt” and “Uncle” no matter how long we knew them.

The international mission my parents were a part of helped build houses and transcribe languages of indigenous villages, but my favourite thing to do was to explore the jungle surrounding me.

My life was outside in the rain and blistering heat. Our house didn’t have glass windows, just screens with a wide metal lattice so the rain could greet me inside too. Lightning struck the palm tree and I watched it burn in the night rain as a beacon of the enormity of the natural world around me.

I narrowly escaped the bite of snakes and tarantulas whose faces I saw below me in the grass, on the branches beside my head, and in our home. Never wearing shoes meant I had tough tree climbing toes, but also had to accept the bite from a tucandeira ant that swelled for days. I learned the importance of luck and paying constant attention to your environment.

But mostly, I felt the joy of a child free to play with giant kapok trees, leaves the size of umbrellas, and an infinite supply of new insects and plants to learn. I had extremely close friendships with the few kids who lived there too, and we spent our days well.

As a child I was saturated with colour and sound and fresh, hot air.

Sarah Nicholson

But then we migrated[i] to a small Canadian farming town when I was 10, moving out of my peaceful equatorial heaven to the cold industrial plains of Ontario.

Here I learned that the environments of the world weren’t always so welcoming or warm, and that nature was something people could disconnect themselves from. When we arrived off our plane in a freezing spring, we were lucky to be greeted with hugs and coats and a home to go to.

As we left the airport, I glimpsed at the snowy network of roads in Toronto. I was fascinated by the number of lanes on the highway – so many people were moving cohesively among each other that it overwhelmed me.

From that futuristic grey city, we drove to the white country towns that staked their place among colonial farms with pointed black church spires. And it was there that I lost myself for the first time.

Shocked by several childhood traumas, abandonments and the sadness of having to grow up as a “weird” kid in a “normal” place, I struggled with very low moods. But I still never lost the sense that I could make myself better through effort.

I made friends with my bullies and tried to become the best Canadian girl I could. Every day was spent learning new cultural rules and language, most of which didn’t make any sense to me.

Mostly, I learned about enclosure – that every house had glass windows, and strangers weren’t your family.

This containment of life meant that all of the impact of culture shock had to be absorbed by my body, until I became pressurized and overwhelmed. This culture of minding your own business, and always saying “Good!” when people ask how you are, locked up my feelings of youthful insanity.

After several consecutive suicides by teenagers in my high school and surrounding small towns, I first heard the words “mental health.” The shocking grief of being asked to draw the face of my neighbor, my ex’s best friend (and my friend) for a funeral hand out dunked me into a world of despair.

Looking at eyes that used to hold the laughter that we were all hearing in our memories, which were now suddenly closed – I realized how very serious our mental hells could be.

There were many well intentioned movements for awareness on youth suicide, but I still felt that these were coming at me from people who didn’t seem to be feeling what I was feeling. There were some genuine and beautiful people caring for their communities, but there was also a strong resistance to changing the ways of the small town. “I’m here to talk” became a substitute for honest conversation.

A year after high school, I moved to the cement city of Toronto to study mechanical engineering in university. I learned a dissecting and scientific method of letting my feelings out through the graciously offered – but difficult to get – “free” therapy.

I was grateful for the development of my brain over time to complete my frontal lobe[ii] and allow some of my depression to fade. But also for the spiritual and interpersonal development from living in a place with a culture that was more welcoming of who I was. Finally, I found people who wanted to talk about mental health and trauma, and finally, I found others who weren’t “from here.”

After years, I finally heard Portuguese spoken again, I found my home foods in the grocery stores. I began to find myself again in the city.

But I was still searching for the language to talk about what I was experiencing. Here they spoke of depression through a clinical lens that allowed for categorization and flow of people – but still failed to help many. The safety nets were shaped for those that are lucky to find the rope, but many fall through them.

In the fast pace of rent hikes and ambition, depression clothed itself in the suit of the man lying in his final movement on the ground. I walked with a crowd around police tape to ride the subway and try to forget what I’ve seen.

These transitions contoured my perspectives and gave me an education on mental illness – by both giving it to me and exposing me to the high rates of suicide in this big, cold country. As the number of people I live around keeps growing, I learn more and more that I am not unique or different, but there are many of us struggling with transitions and pain.

A year after my friend’s suicide, my search for the words I needed to hear to survive led me to start writing about mental health. I started a blog to send support to my younger sister who lived across the country and was struggling with suicidal ideation and depression. I wrote in desperation – I had to find a way to cope. I had to find a way to keep myself and my family alive.

This book is a mix of memories from these formative times and notes I wrote to myself to get through them. I’ve divided them into themes: Depression (Book I), Identity and Loneliness (Book II), Perfectionism and Work (Book III), Grief and Homelessness (Book IV), and Sexual Abuse and Harassment (Book V). They can be read in any order.

My goal is to bring us closer together – almost too close. To increase the dignity, love, and respect we have for each other, regardless of how different our lives have been. I aim to challenge the culture of calling struggle, poverty, and trauma sketchy[iii] – and then isolating and ignoring these differences.

I want to use my story to show you that those who “have nothing” still have much to offer. That those of us who have been broken beyond repair can still recover. And also to speak about the range of meaning that life offers – in ordinary days, in love, and in loss.

Appendix


[i] Semi-Immigrant

I was born and raised until I was 10 years old in Brazil. I am a dual citizen, and only sort of count as an immigrant to my second country. My mother and father both had Canadian citizenship, so technically for them, we were moving back. I did not have to go through the grueling years of anxiously becoming a permanent resident and dealing with citizen tests. I was a lucky little baby when my parents snapped my picture for my citizenship application. We mostly knew English, and had been taught by an American schooling system in Brazil. We just needed to relearn history, culture, and units of measure when we came to Canada.

For this reason, I am extremely hesitant to say I immigrated, or migrated anywhere – I only experienced a small handful of the challenges that most immigrants face when starting a new life in a country. My brave friends who have come here all on their own to study and succeed in a new language they are learning, deserve distinction and respect far beyond the experience I had of moving to Canada.

[ii] The Frontal Lobe

Apparently, telling kids that their brains are still developing is a way to help them grow up without as much anxiety and depression as those that weren’t told that.

So, maybe that was the reason my mom’s boyfriend, at the time, told me about my frontal lobe when I was a struggling teenager. It did sort of help.

The frontal lobe is the decision-making nugget at the forehead of the brain. It isn’t fully developed until our mid 20s, and until that point, we may struggle with decision making, regulating our emotions, and self-discipline. If you’re under 25, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your brain is still growing. If you’re over 25, don’t be too hard on yourself either.

[iii] Sketchy Shit

Though I technically knew English, I had no idea about most idioms, slang, and cultural references of Canada. “Sketchy” was one of the words I quickly learned as it was widely used by my peers in the small town of Ontario. Roughly, it may mean something or someone that is unstable, dangerous, or odd.

The people that taught me what it meant, used it to describe those in the town who were not in their social circle, but might be lower economically, or different in their lifestyle choice. You didn’t want to be seen as being sketchy.

But being labelled as sketchy happened to me no matter who I was. Due to the economic challenges my family faced moving to a new country, being ‘suspicious outsiders’, and then dealing with divorce in a mostly religious town, I was always one step closer to being sketchy. When these circumstances forced me to live on my own at the age of 16, I was pushed over the edge of it. I felt humiliation and shame for many years after, and suffered with social isolation because of it.

All my life I tried to hide the holes in my second hand clothes and shoes. I’ve lied to butchers saying the waste meat food I was buying was for my ‘dog’, not for me.

I internalized the need to hide my differences and poverty to appear “not sketchy”.

But, like most words, this one is flexible in its definition. When I was able to get over my own internalized classism and bigotry – humbling myself to see my own struggle and worth side by side – I could also get over the need to not be seen as sketchy. We are all fucking humans trying to figure something out, no one is above another.