It’s early morning, the husband is away visiting family, and I’m seeing if I can find words for the jumble of chaos clogging my mind lately. Always with the disclaimer that I’m not sure any of it makes any sense outside of my own sphere of experience, and again I wonder how to satisfy my need to communicate candidly and somewhat anonymously in pursuit of catharsis without it verging on “blogging”. And maybe I actually just don’t care.

Yesterday I spent three hours wandering a botanical garden with my camera slung on my shoulder. The site is maintained by volunteers, most of whom appear to be seniors. The lady manning the gift shop gently appealed to me to volunteer after I gushed about how incredible my experience was, explaining they’ve lost a large number of people as a result of the pandemic (I truthfully wasn’t sure if she meant they’d quit to protect their health, or the much more dismal alternative). It broke my heart to tell her I live almost two hours away, and how very much I would love to offer my time if only I were closer.

I arrived at the gardens just after opening. It was Canada Day, and I wasn’t sure if I should expect crowds of visitors looking for a way to spend their day off, but it turns out I was only the third guest after the elderly couple ahead of me. That’s why I was brave enough to sneak a covert toke off a joint on my walk through the woods leading to the gardens.

I’ll often have a small toke of cannabis when I’m immersed in nature, and particularly when I’ve got my camera in hand. It always helps me find the pause and tune my senses into my surroundings — the monochromatic yellow-orange of the summer-dry forest floor, the dimpled undersides of the ripening salal berries, the sunlight filtering through the paper-thin petals of a fragrant wild rose.

I’m also still extremely sensitive to the effects of weed, and am not exaggerating whatsoever when I say that one toke held a smidgeon too long can easily nudge me from peaceful wonderment to heart racing discomfort.

I’ve also noticed but tried to deny the fact that the last few times I’ve indulged in a toke, I’m winding up on the heart racing discomfort side of the coin. I’ve nearly finished the flower I saved from the plants I grew last summer, and started instead smoking a supply received from a friend. I’ve developed a pretty intimate relationship with my own garden-grown cannabis, and so I’m not especially accustomed to that from elsewhere. I figured this must be in part why I’ve wound up more anxious lately than not.

Nonetheless, I suppose I figured the risk was worth the gamble, and so snuck my secret little toke as I ventured down the woodland path. There was the typical moment of, “I’m not really feeling anything, might have to have another puff”, to all of a sudden realizing “I’m way too fucking high to chance an encounter with another human being.”

And that is why I spent what felt like 45 minutes (though I’m not totally sure) perched on a wooden viewing platform with my back pressed against the trunk of a cedar, navigating the rollercoaster of panic I’d subjected myself to.

I’m in the process currently of reading Seth Rogen’s “Yearbook”, and really appreciated his brief but poignant explanation of why he smokes cannabis. He talks about all the time he’s spent contemplating his weed consumption before arriving at the simple fact that it enriches his journey of life on Earth. He argues that footwear, too, is a tool that enriches our journey by changing our reality, and yet we don’t spend countless hours brooding over the moral dilemma of shoes.

I think it’s natural and healthy as a weed smoker to have an ongoing dialogue with ourselves about our relationship to weed, but without the need to chastise and punish ourselves for having it be part of our existence.

And what I realized as I sat alone in the woods yesterday, praying some unsuspecting visitor wouldn’t stumble upon me clutching my beating chest while I rode the waves of anxiety, is that I’ve been neglecting to partake in this dialogue as of late.

Let’s be honest: the world feels pretty fucking unstable these days. The pandemic brought to light so very many realizations on both a personal and global scale. As we transition back to our former sense of “normal”, I can’t just suddenly shut out the insights and experiences of these past 18 months.

And while the devastating effects of the pandemic are finally waning with the continued rollout of vaccines — at least where I am, in a first world North American country — there remain other immediate tragedies that feel more heightened than ever in the wake of the trauma left by COVID. Like the fever dream of an unprecedented 45-degree-Celsius heatwave last week, the ongoing decimation of our region’s old growth forests, and the fact that the graves of now 1,505 Indigenous residential school children have been unearthed in the past weeks as our nation is finally forced to face its own brutal act of genocide.

There’s global grief, and then the sorrow that tinges our own day-to-day existence as a result of these events…like feeling isolated from my closest friends because their views on these events differ so very much from my own.

Time and time again, I’m always forced round the same spiral of recognition: slow (the fuck) down.

What I mean is that just over two years ago, I badly injured my foot with an axe while cutting wood because, in my usual fashion, I was only half in my body while my head buzzed with the things that needed doing. The three months I spent immobile, recovering on the couch, were a hard and fast lesson in slow (the fuck) down, and I thought, yes, here it is, I finally understand the importance of slowing (the fuck) down. So much so that a year later, I had an axe tattooed on my leg with the words slow down.

But even such a sudden and devastating event couldn’t automatically repair old ways, and I continue to face the effects of my inability to slow my pace, even when I suffer as a result. I’ve spent the past year feeling stretched thin while getting through my herbal program, and then decided to take the summer off before delving into my final project. Naturally, the space I’d made for a “break” was quickly filled by other projects — writing, crafting, the idea mill that pours unceasingly from my mind (“I should do this” and “I should do that”, and the sense that I can’t ever keep up with all the things I should do).

So it’s no wonder that as I turn to my relationship with cannabis to help force a pause amid the constant doing and processing and trying to make sense of my world, that it got to the point of, “Nuh-uh, girl. You’ve gotta manage this one on your own.”

Which is why, as I sat in the woods yesterday seeking a weed-induced reprieve from all the thoughts and feelings and doing, I was instead slammed by the awareness that I need, once again, to slow (the fuck) down. Like really and truly be present with myself, quiet the mind, ease the tension from my body. And that until I can make the space for such a practice, the weed will only serve to amplify the frenzied pace that’s been saturating my day-to-day being.

I did eventually and thankfully muster the courage to continue my forest walk, though not without needing to stop at least half a dozen times to calm my racing heart by focusing on a tree or planting my feet on the earth.

And after navigating the terrible initial effects of my clandestine toke, I was able to fully soak in the incredible beauty of my surroundings, appreciating that as uncomfortable as I feel about myself sometimes and the world at large, I also have moments of feeling like the most authentically me version of myself than I ever have before. It’s a strange dichotomy that I can’t quite explain, much as I can’t explain how a day can be filled with so very much beauty and joy as my heart aches heavy with grief.

With hubs out of town these next couple nights, there was talk of having my girlfriends sleep over. We haven’t connected on plans yet, and I keep going back and forth, back and forth on how I feel about it. I love my friends so very, very much, and yet there are things I’m finding particularly challenging right now about our dynamic. I alternate between whether the tensions I’m sensing are in fact real, or if I’m simply reinforcing feelings of isolation by fixating on made-up-by-me stories.

I’m trying to work through the origins of these emotions, and it’s hard. COVID has been especially difficult for me in terms of our relationship. I acknowledge that certainly I tend towards worry and fear, and the pandemic sure brought a whole lot of that to the surface — not just the impacts of the virus itself, but the entire landscape that emerged as a result of a global crisis. The divisiveness that continues to permeate all aspects of life.

How do I explain what I’m trying to get at? Earlier I described how heavy my heart is with grief over the state of the world. I sat on the beach yesterday after my visit to the gardens and watched as two kids splashed among the incoming waves, and I thought, I’m so very worried for the children of the people I love. I’m so very worried for us as a species.

I’m fortunate to be able to talk at length about these thoughts with my amazing husband, whose own rational processes and grounded-ness goes a great distance at keeping me rooted.

I wish I could have the same type of conversations with my three closest friends, which is I suppose what I’m trying to say. I’ve talked previously about the way the pandemic prompted questions for me regarding so much of what had helped define my identity previously, in terms of the new age and wellness spheres. I continue to navigate the fallout of those realizations, paring away what no longer has meaning and getting to the core of what I really value.

I so very badly want to talk about these things with my friends, given how our relationship was originally built on our mutual curiosity in all things new age and wellness related. I want to us to have a critical, thoughtful dialogue about what it all means in the wake of the pandemic, what are our thoughts, and can we lean on each other to cope with (for me) a shattering of what I thought I knew to be true.

But that’s not how it’s going. I feel, for one, that I’m having a majorly difficult time communicating my feelings, to the point where I’ve remained elusive for so fucking long, anything I say now that appears to contradict our so-called collective point-of-view is immediately dismissed. Not even challenged, because I would uncomfortably but willingly invite a kind of discourse on why we feel differently about a situation. Rather, dismissed altogether, in that my calling to question something that doesn’t align with the majority’s perspective is quickly overridden.

I think that’s where the feelings of isolation are starting to grow, and a sense of resentment along with it. I’m so very challenged in attempting to communicate my concerns that any attempt I make now is perceived as left-field combativeness.

I’ve mentioned to my friends now on three separate occasions my being vaccinated. Not a single time have I been asked about my thoughts and experience involving my decision. I can’t tell if I’m being hypersensitive, but I get the sense that they don’t even want to so much as engage me on the topic, because it doesn’t align with their own feelings on the matter. It’s surprising (but maybe not) how hurt I feel because of this.

When my back is turned (as it was last Monday, though I remained in hearing distance), the story is how despicable the thought of getting a vaccine is, and I would never, and I’m struggling so very much to wrap my head around the disgust that is not necessarily directed at me, but in a way, very much is.

I don’t know. I just do not know. The world feels so very precarious on the macro, and equally precarious at the micro, and there’s just so much to process and navigate right now, and I’m trying, I really am. And I also know I can do better: at pausing, at being, at expressing, at communicating.

And I also know there is no shame in existing as I am, and accepting that this journey of mine is unique and exceptional, and that there is indeed so much beauty and joy worth celebrating, if I can simply slow down.

30-something elder millennial writing from the heart.