WHO AM I? be real.

I asked my mom for my first diary when I was 11 years old. We were at The Eaton's Centre, a huge shopping mall downtown we often visited on weekends, and she said I could buy one thing from the Disney store that day.

I deliberated for ages. Did I want a stuffy? No, I was too old for that. A costume? No, too big. What could I get?

And then I saw it: a turquoise, pink and purple Lion King diary with young Simba and Nala on the cover. I just knew.

In my first entry, dated April 9th '95, I wrote about missing a place called Kearney, Ontario that borders Algonquin Park (I'd been on a class trip earlier in the school year and it was my first real experience with the great outdoors and the very first time I'd slept in cabin!). I also wrote about having a crush on a boy in my class named Aaron Bird, but I just wasn't brave enough to tell him, or anyone for that matter, about it yet. I said that my cousin was supposed to pick me up that weekend and that I was meant to stay with her, but she never showed up and it made me really sad (come to think of it, that could be why my mom took me shopping? to cheer me up? Looks like I learned two of my future coping methods that weekend ). Finally, I wrote that my friend, let's call her Sharna, was not very nice to me, or, frankly, any of the girls at school.

"Talking about things helps," I signed off, followed by a signature I'd practised on a separate piece of paper.

April 9, 1995. Do you know what that means? My 25th writing anniversary just passed! 25 years ago, I put pen to paper –not because I had to for school but because I *wanted* to– for the very first time. It's where it all began.

I won't lie, there have been some times over those 25 years where I wasn't so loyal to my beloved journals. But here we are.

I think this is all of them. Every journal I've ever had. They have helped create and shape me. Scrawled across their pages you'll find all the love I have ever felt, all the betrayal I have endured, all of my hopes and dreams, all of my fears and anxieties, the shiniest memories and darkest days and even the mundane moments in between, everything is right here. The fact that I have built a life and career out of something that started in a Lion King Diary is nothing short of miraculous.

Another miracle? I am who I'd once set out to be.

In 2006 I was really struggling. At 22, I'd just started seeing a therapist for the first time, and I would often jot down notes from our sessions, alongside other revelations that occurred to me afterward. Here's one of my favourite pages:

"Ana's Goals

Help myself

Help the world"

Pretty lofty eh? It goes on:

"Scared of being rejected

? -> scared of losing life I've built"

"->scared of ppl not wanting me for who I am"

Aww I want to give this woman a hug. Then in big, bold letters that are underlined twice:


And then, smaller and not even capitalized:

"be real."

I love the quiet resolve there. "be real."

And so, I was.

I mean, I am.

Seeing the dreams I wrote in those journals (so many of which have come true) and seeing goals focused on what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be that are my current reality, not only does it give me so much hope for the future, for the ever-evolving list of dreams and goals I hold dear, it also puts my present into the clearest focus and perspective; I appreciate so much the life I have created. Hard work, purpose and intention carried me here, and it all began with what I wrote on those pages. Damn, girl. You did it.

Yesterday was one month exactly since I landed in Toronto. It was a hard day for a whole host of reasons, but it got a little better by the end.

My problems will work out. They always do. I can't spend my life consumed with situations I can't control. And what is in my control, I need to find the courage to, well, control it.

Sometimes courage is not loud and attention seeking. Sometimes it's just a quiet voice, a resolve within you telling you to be honest about who you are and what you want, despite all the barriers before you. Sometimes courage is simply the act of being true to yourself. Of being real.

For me, I'm sure for all of us, the current state of the world can feel endless and hopeless sometimes, but it is neither of those things. It will end, at some point. I'll be the first to admit, though, how hard it can be some days not focusing on 1. all the new shit we have to deal with, plus 2. all of our pre-existing problems, big or small, that probably feel a whole lot bigger now. Yeah, I don't think adversity got the memo that things are on pause rn.

Deep breath in. And out.

So I need to continually be mindful of what is in my control and what is not. I need to take deep breaths, I need to move my body, engage my mind, and connect with people I love. I am so grateful to the people I love. I'm grateful for my support system, for snacks, for books and for streaming content online, for sunsets over the park, and for my habit of writing down all the love I have ever felt, all the betrayal I have endured, all of my hopes and dreams, all of my fears and anxieties, the shiniest memories and darkest days and even the mundane moments in between.

As young Ana would say, "talking about things helps."

Now more than ever we need to be mindful of our mental health. ***If you or a loved one suffer from suicidal thoughts, visit suicideprevention.ca to find a local number in Canada. Outside Canada, here's a list of international suicide hotlines in 35 countries, and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.***

And if you are able, please consider donating to your local food bank in this time of crisis. The Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto needs ongoing help to ensure uninterrupted food delivery to our neighbours in need. $1 = 1 healthy meal

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