Aria Burrell
Aria Burrell Tech dork. Student of Policy and Gender at Mount Royal University. Genealogist. Non-compliant.

2018: The Year of Connection

2018: The Year of Connection

Photo by Pedro Garcia on Unsplash

Content warning: suicide ideation

Passion and Crisis

Those who have known me for many years would likely agree strongly about my mercurial nature. I blast through their lives like a gale-force wind, hellbent on pursuit of whatever my latest passion is, rarely staying on the same path for long, leaving a trail of bewilderment in my wake. I am at times quiet, very introverted, but an eminently passionate person. I started 2018 in an amazing job, serving an amazing community of fellow students, performing work that crossed into my field of study and personal interest areas, severely dispassionate.

For two years prior, to combat a long-standing tic — dermatillomania — I’d been taking a low dose of an anti-psychotic medication which had a known, off-label, effect of suppressing the urge to excoriate my skin. My dose had increased quite gradually in that time, still low, and the medication had worked to some extent, but I’d entered a thick brain fog and unknowingly lost a vital part of who I am along the way: my impulsiveness.

Sure, I had become better at saving money and was perhaps even more sensible than I had a tradition of being, but I had also retreated from the world and pondered the purpose in even persisting. By February, I had finally clued in that the meds I was taking were the cause and, following the assurance of my doctor that at such a low dose it wouldn’t matter if I stopped cold-turkey, I stopped taking Risperidone. Instantly I felt like I woke from a long, restless sleep, and that I could see the world in colour again. I spent the next day completely manic, and once the long-suppressed feelings of the past year started rushing in, I entered a deep depression.

By reading break I found myself cancelling my scheduled suicide prevention training session because I was thinking about ending it all myself. I immediately sought counselling at school and withdrew from my one course of study, both of which helped greatly, and within a couple weeks I started to stabilize.

Through it all, I had a job to do and somehow pulled through it and did amazing work, my senses regained and my responsiveness to crisis finally working at full gear again. I spoke at City Council about secondary suites, I wrapped up a crucial rewrite of advocacy policy for students with disabilities at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, I traveled, advocated, campaigned, created, responded, and succeeded in completing one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs of my life. While I regained my passion by the end, I only wish I had been at my best the whole year.

I can say with no reservation that I could not have gotten through it all without strong supports from my friends, family, peers, co-workers, and school. There were unfortunately moments I wanted to end it all and, whether they were aware or not, the people around me made it possible to keep moving.

Connections kept me here. Connections made my good work happen. Connections made it worth persisting. 💜

Aftermath

I think I may have lost something permanently to the medication. While on it, I felt slow, overwhelmed, and frustrated at my difficulty responding to the world in a timely fashion. Even while simultaneously on the stimulant medication I take for my ADHD, I felt lagged.

Some of that feeling persists in ways I don’t recall feeling prior to taking the medication. I was never socially anxious before a couple years ago but I now experience it more often. Like a pair of scissors, what I’ve been through feels like it’s dulled me when I used to feel sharp. I feel overwhelmed when I used to jump at opportunities without a thought. I’m trying to be kind to myself, but I hope my mind recovers sooner rather than later.

Projects and Regrets

I have always had trouble seeing personal projects to completion and, unfortunately, this year was no exception. I started the summer with great plans and a ton of research and effort for community-oriented projects that I simply wasn’t able to motivate myself to build. I lost the vision of what I wanted from them and when the vision faded so did my passion. Sorry to those whose help I enlisted and then let down. I can’t promise I’ll be any better in 2019 but maybe circumstances will be better or my vision will become clearer.

Pals and Pride

I had the honour of speaking at my school’s raising of the Pride flag and attending both Edmonton Pride and Calgary Pride this year. I got to share in Edmonton Pride with a dear friend who was attending for the first time and, as chill as our hangout was, that was very special to me.

I shared in these events and more with classmates, friends, partners, and lovers who added so much to my life this year. While I’m so often a strange recluse who fails at reaching out, please know that you all mean the world to me 💜.

Secrets and Strategies

For reasons my own (those of you who should know, know already) I didn’t register for classes in the Fall. I was not able to work and so between a lack of income, a lack of bus pass, and the aforementioned feeling of being overwhelmed, I did not see most of my friends as much as I would have liked. 😥

I am so glad I was able to attend the Alberta NDP convention (good friends made it possible) in October, where I was elected Director of Policy for the Gender and Sexual Diversity Caucus. I didn’t expect to run for the position when I decided to attend, but I have no doubts about being the right fit for the volunteer role. There is a lot of good work that can continue to be done in the party regardless of outcomes in the coming election, though I am pleased to stand alongside so many outstanding and compassionate people in working toward an NDP win.

Helices and Trees

When my mom offered to buy me a DNA test at the end of 2017, I was skeptical — fascinated by DNA but unconcerned about family connections. She bought me a test at Ancestry though I’d rather have tested at 23andme for the health information. I’ve done a complete 180° since then.

More as a distraction than anything, at the beginning of the year I started researching my family tree. By mid-year I’d done a significant amount of research on my own and was starting to hit walls that I realized could only be broken down by actually talking to family, and after all, what good was figuring out my family tree if I had no intention of reaching out or letting anyone else know what I’d discovered?

Particularly intrigued by the mysteries surrounding my Jewish side, I started reaching out to cousins. That turned into the creation of family Facebook groups. One of those Facebook groups grew significantly and as it grew so did our collective understanding of the tree and our history. I’m now co-planning a family reunion in Winnipeg next year and contemplating genealogy as a side-business while pursuing my studies.

My interest in genealogy has helped me find common ground with my mom again and I’ve never been this interested in or happy about biological family beyond the immediate. Poring over old records has rekindled an interest in learning the languages use by my ancestors and the people in the places they resided.

Applying a queer lens to genealogy means seeing how family is more than biology and how erasive genealogy is in the hands of those who deny queer and trans people. By owning my tree, I own the narrative on how queerness is represented both for myself and others, and can endeavour to be respectful in ways more traditional genealogists are not. I’m proud to have been able to help a few queer and trans folks to build and take ownership of their trees in spite of rejections by immediate family and alienation from those in their families who gatekeep the information.

Missed Points

A few celebratory items not covered above:

  • Travelled to Fredericton, NB as part of CASA travels — I’ve now been to all but 2 provinces: Saskatchewan and PEI
  • I celebrated 3 years with my partner Quinn, and 10 years with my partner Jodie. Other pursuits have also taken place this year 💜
  • Cannabis legalization has been wonderful. While I had never purchased while it was illegal and only rarely shared in others’ use, during a very stressful time this fall it has made my circumstances far more bearable. It also really helps with my sleep.
  • 9 Cat ears: coping mechanism? Absurdism? Furry? You decide. 🐱

On to 2019

I struggle between wanting to take on all the injustice in the world and wanting to live a calm, quiet, peaceful life. I’m not old, but I’m also not young anymore. Working on genealogy lately has helped me to situate myself in time, across spans of centuries, and to reflect on the scale of the crises we face daily now. Doing research into mysteries of the past has given me a new found appreciation for work that doesn’t involve constant crisis.

I feel tired and increasingly like, especially this coming year, I need to remember to take the time to heal myself. Not “self-care” in the indulgent sense, but healing in that we have all been conditioned by harm, forged by crisis, and need to find constructive ways of repairing the damage. Being an election year and politics being what they are, I’m not sure I’ll be able to sit down when the chairs are on fire, but if I’m going to I had better find myself some flame-retardant pants. Being in crisis all the time is no way to live.

So, let 2019 be a year of healing, both of politics and of ourselves. Be kind to yourself and others. Model respect, pause as needed, take time as needed, and continue to cultivate positive connections.