Thursday, November 2, 2023

Every picture tells a story, sometimes a story you don't expect

I want to share a few photos with you that tell stories that you would never know about, unless you took the photo. I am sharing these photos, some seen before, to illustrate a point. I have often sought refuge trackside amid the storms of my life. And when I mention storms, I'm not talking necessarily about tough times. Yes, we all go through tough times. I'm talking about the mental health struggles that I experience when some of these tough times pop up in my life.

Exhibit A is this photo I took of Via Train 59 last night in the dying daylight around 6 p.m. It was taken from the Hunt Club Road overpass. 

I have been taking a photo of this train each Wednesday for months. Most evenings in the summer, it was something to do while I waited for my daughter's dance class to finish. I intend to share all the different styles and angles I employed over the course of this year at a later date.

But last night, I allowed myself to think about the people riding that train. Were they happy? Were they going to see loved ones? Was their journey bittersweet as they might have been leaving family? Were they headed toward some exciting adventure in Toronto? Were they getting off at one of the stops in between? 

In many ways, the train is a microcosm of our society. There are so many stories being told on each train that takes people from Point A to Point B. The stories lie in the why. Why are people going where they're going? Why are they taking the train? Why this train? Why the evening? 

I had a similar moment like this in 2016 when I was a father for the second time and I was driving around my baby daughter to get her to relax a little bit. She didn't like me all that much and was not too happy when Mom went to work and she was stuck with me, a person who couldn't feed her. 

So, we went for drives in the country and one time, I took this shot near Twin Elm, which is one of my favourite shots of all time. I thought about the people in that train at that moment, and wondered about their stories and the welcome they would receive when they reached their final stop.

Here's one final image to share that is connected to the first two. In each case, merely seeing a train coming down the track has allowed me to leave my everyday worries, if only for a minute, and become a kid again, marvelling at this massive machine thundering toward me. That sense of awe has never really left me. 

This final image is from Sarnia in 2014, when I caught a train heading west into the St. Clair Tunnel. You can see it going downgrade pretty fast in the shot.

In each case, catching these trains and watching them offered me a break from everyday life. In the case of the image just above, I can clearly remember how much I was struggling with my mental health when I took some time for myself and went hunting down trains before meeting my friend for lunch. At this moment, I remember struggling with the effects of my antidepressants, which were wreaking havoc on my body. I remember hardly being able to hear my friend at lunch, since the medication was making my ears ring or buzz. This was the in the initial stages of a long process where I realized I had to stop taking certain medications to preserve my hearing. Now, nearly 10 years after taking this shot, I have surgery coming up to repair my hearing, which has been affected by medication and a rare hearing disease. I am hearing impaired, which I don't often admit.

In the case of the second image of the Via near Twin Elm, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety since life with a newborn is tough, especially when you're an insomniac, like I am. Another symptom of my anxiety disorder. At that moment, I recall how tired I was when I took that shot, but how much relief I felt in getting a cool image that made me happy and allowed me to share something compelling with my railway friends online.

The first photo, taken last night, is the hardest for me describe, because I am going through an extremely difficult time right now. My family has had to make use of the Ottawa Police to protect us from someone in our neighbourhood who is intimidating us and guests to our home. This week, we were successful in getting the police to warn this individual to leave us alone, which was met with a half-hearted agreement. We also have initiated the process to seek a peace bond against this person. 

We have spoken to the police far too many times since September 12, when this mess began. I won't get into too many details, but my family is now in the process of considering moving, as we don't feel safe in our own home. We had to resort to calling 911 last week, which was met with my wife being put on hold for 45 minutes before she was told there would be no response. That resulted in me filing an official complaint through the Ontario body that polices the police.

I was not at home when this last incident happened, which was awful for me, as I had to rush home, with two crying daughters, hoping and praying that my wife was okay.

Things have cooled off since last week, but everything in my life that should either be a priority or should bring me joy, is taking a back seat to this awful situation. My first priority is to ensure my family's well-being. This blog has not been on schedule as of late, due to this ever-present threat and my debilitating anxiety.

So last night's photo allowed me to think about something pleasant, if only for a few moments. That's why railways will always be a part of me. Ever since I was a kid, trains have made me happy. It's something that is in short supply right now. We really need to cling to things that bring us joy in life. 

This November, the Movember movement has expanded its mission to also focus on men's mental health, suicide prevention mainly. Men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women. That's a staggering statistic. I ask that if you know of anyone raising Movember funds this month, please consider a donation. 

And keep doing what you love. You never know how important the little things might become.


Steve Boyko said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and troubles, so openly, Michael. I’m really sorry that you are going through this awful situation with the individual in your neighbourhood. I know I would be a hyper anxious wreck.

“Keep doing what you love” - excellent advice. I would add “stop doing what you don’t love” but sometimes we can’t do that. We can try.

I hope your surgery helps your hearing, and I hope your neighbourhood situation improves. Nobody needs that in their life.

Michael said...

Thanks Steve. It's a moment by moment existence right now, as we try to figure out how to calm everything. My point by sharing this is to show how simple things, like watching trains, are not wastes of time. Also, I wanted to stress that we all have an opportunity to help each other out, simply by talking about it.