*Reality shows like ‘fear factor’ dare contestants to eat bugs or walk across tightropes’ at life threatening heights but in whose world is this ‘reality’? Contestants should get 3 children, an income of 760$ with a rent of 690$, no credit and no family to help. At the end of 30 days if you still have custody of your children and everyone has eaten at least once daily, you win. This is a far truer version of fear factor for many of us over any current ‘reality show’. This was my own reality, not once but twice. The first time faced with this ‘reality’ challenge, I was disastrously unsuccessful, losing to addiction to numb the shame and relieve the stress I was feeling. Pride kept me going for a while then ego shamed me and pride couldn’t protect me anymore. The situation became worse as the addiction hijacked my brain, swallowed my life, spitting me out homeless and hopelessly addicted. I believed I was what I had, so with nothing I must be nothing. I was trapped in this untrue belief and my unhealthy coping behaviors for the next several years.

After my geographical move to Kingston and years of challenging the beliefs I held so tightly which no longer serve me, I am currently living my second ‘reality’ challenge; and winning. Through counselling I have learned new skills and strategies to maintain my mental health through this challenging journey called life. This test of poverty forced me to change the way I live my life, completely. I am no longer in a position to live the way I lived when I had an average income. I must be mindful of every purchase I make, asking myself if it is a necessary purchase or if I am trying to fill an emotional void through consumerism. Companies send unhealthy messages through advertisement which has transformed modern society’s reality. Material things have nothing to do with ones worth yet because of the consumerism today if you don’t have this or that you are ‘less than’ somehow, or not having a big house or fancy car means you somehow deserve less and you are treated that way; anyone living in poverty knows this to be true. This sort of thinking and trying to maintain it mentally broke me the first time. I shamed myself silly for not being able to be the person who deserved the Gucci or Prada. Not being able to stack presents under the tree and around the entire living room for my children at Christmas the way I had known as a child created a feeling of failure and shame. My new insight, through counselling, also lets me see the unhealthy consumerism and the self-worth connection to material things is intergenerational in my family. Mental unwellness normally runs this way. I would use the term ‘mental illness’, like everyone else but the ‘illness’ sounds like such a negative word so I choose to use unwellness since it sounds far more positive and possible to overcome;

And it is.

Today I have very little material things, live very comfortable in housing and feel a deep happiness within I never imagined possible; after being homeless, being comfortable was pretty easy.

My personal goal of obtaining complete health through total wellness has been a challenge, not only to my beliefs but to my skills and pocketbook as well. This test of poverty has been not only spiritual but the greatest teacher of my life to date. I have had to learn things I never knew how to do before like making my own protein powders and vitamin c tablets out of food. Being on such a tight budget, I cannot afford to waste a thing so I have even learned things like, how to use egg shells and coffee grinds to my benefit and will share these sorts of adventures along the way. Hell I even started a garden last year for the first time ever! I will share tips about things in our great city too. I had much help along the way from places like the Saly and food bank to several money saving programs offered by City of Kingston itself. I hope you enjoy learning as much as I do. We are all in this life together and some of its challenges are greater than others. Let’s stick together! XO