As Alta prepares for annual student registration on September 8 and 9 at libraries across Trinidad, we revisit the message of our anti-stigma campaign: No shame. Go brave.
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Out of the maze comes Spirit Love
“It is never too late to be what you might have been,”—George Eliot Joan Chisholm always wanted to be a writer. Married for 28 years and the mother of two sons, Chisholm was unsure what stopped her from pursuing her dream, especially as she writes: “Lit was all I thought about doing every day of my adult life.” It was only when faced with the end of her marriage, and forced to focus attention on her life and her dreams, that Chisholm realised she had been deeply unhappy for a long time and was able to connect the unhappiness to “not pursuing [her] long-held dream of being a writer.” Now 68, Chisholm has published her first book, Spirit Love—A memoir of How I Found the Meaning of my Life. Written like a collection of journal entries, Spirit Love describes the journey Chisholm makes through the maze of low self-esteem, fear of failure and fear of success, and the limiting beliefs about her identity as a woman, wife and mother which were incongruous with life as a writer. “I had to overcome a range of fears, things I wasn’t conscious of,” says Chisholm. “Initially I had no energy to do it. I had to face everything from being a people-pleaser to my fear of failure.”
Achieving her most deeply held dream, Chisholm, who was born in Marabella in 1946, has returned to T&T for an extended stay, her first since she migrated 40 years ago to Canada. “It has been a journey of finding myself,” says Chisholm, who explains that she “always felt estranged” from Trinidad and like she “didn’t belong.” But having developed the courage to be the one thing she had not allowed herself to be—a writer—she has also been able to turn her attention again to her mother country, and, like the love she found for herself, find a deep emotional connection to the place. “Having a career at age 68 feels fantastic,” enthuses Chisholm. “Writing could go on forever. I get up in the morning and I am totally happy.” This is a million miles away from where Chisholm found herself some years before, when, as she writes in Spirit Love, “Routines of the day seemed boring, and each morning loomed as a challenge to my happiness.” Believing herself then to be only living half of her life, Chisholm writes, “I placed all of my creative energy into the job of being a wife and mother.”
Although Chisholm didn’t completely give up on her desire to write, by taking courses and completing writing assignments, she was stymied by the belief that she had to choose between being a homemaker and a writer. Chisholm was mired in depression and confusion. Her sons, Graham and Michael, would ask her why she wasn’t writing. Her husband did not know how to help her when she seemed so unhappy, and says Chisholm, it helped to push their relationship to breaking point. The motivation came, however, when her husband declared their marriage over. His business was on the verge of collapse and, forced to sell the family home they had bought in 1978, Peter Chisholm decided that he wanted a separation. “I noticed that he wasn’t looking for places [to move to],” says Chisholm and she asked him why. She was unprepared for his reply: “I am not moving with you.”
Chisholm grows emotional. “It was serious,” she says, speaking of the loss of her husband’s business. “It decimated us financially. We ended up with no money at all. When it happened, I heard my husband tell the children that it was all over.” But she did not realise at that point that he was speaking about their marriage as well. “It was a total shock...It was a crisis of separation and a crisis of writing,” says Chisholm, explaining that the two things almost felt like one. Feeling more lost than ever, Chisholm decided to seek help. The help was unorthodox. Her first plea was to something bigger than herself.
One night “drained by anguish” and unable to see the larger view of her future, she begged of the “no one in particular: I need help; please help me." A voice answered with the words, "I am your angel, and I'm with you." "I felt comforted knowing that I was not alone," she says, explaining that the encounter with her "personal angel" encouraged her to investigate a spiritual world she had always felt existed but was unsure how to find. She also sought the help of friends in finding a counsellor, but did not explain why she wanted one. “They thought I needed to speak about the separation,” she says. But somehow one of her friends suggested just the kind of counsellor that Chisholm was looking for, a spiritual counsellor, who says Chisholm "had the gift to connect her with spiritual guides." Advising on everything from the colours she should wear to how to arrange her desk to feel inspired, Chisholm's "spirit guides" encouraged her most of all to love herself. "The information I received over 15 months from the three sessions with my spiritual guides allowed me to know and accept myself completely through the perspective of love," writes Chisholm. She was able to write the first draft of Spirit Love in four months, just before her house was sold and her marriage ended and her husband returned to Scotland.
She had helped in his environmental inspection company, but that had been ten years before. “I was 54 and looking for a job,” she says.
Having sold their home and split the proceeds, Chisholm bought a condo, which she shared with her younger son, but found she could not afford it. She spent the next two years moving between the homes of friends and places she would rent, but inevitably be unable to afford. Her only income was from part-time jobs doing everything from working in a doctor’s office and bookstore to selling wine retail. She took community college courses for those out of work and in need of retraining and was supported by her son Michael, who would attend her small graduation ceremonies. But, says Chisholm, the guidance she received from her spirit guides had become central to her life. The rituals of meditation, asking her guides for assistance (which now comes in the form of inspiration), thanking them and saying a prayer before bed, became the regulating principles of her life. “I didn’t like to be regulated,” she says, “but the whole process made me more aware of loving myself and others.”
This eventually led to reconciliation with her husband. One of her sons suggested she should go to Tobago for a while, and she stayed there i for four months, swimming twice a day and allowing herself to heal. While there she sent her husband an e-mail on his birthday, which overwhelmed him with its love and warmth. He had returned to Canada himself some months before and they began speaking every weekend on her return. Eventually they started going out on dates. “I didn’t give an ultimatum,” says Chisholm, “but I asked him what he was doing.” Her husband said he wanted her back. She moved into his apartment and although life continued to be tough, they kept love as focus, says Chisholm. When one of her husband’s small, high-risk investments paid off, Chisholm was able to look again to her book Spirit Love and was eventually able to self-publish using the publish-by-demand model. She was only able to publish ten copies initially for family and friends, but set up a Web site to sell it—www.joanchisholm.com/spiritlove.
Chisholm says that the most important thing for others who feel unable to pursue their dreams to know is that they are not alone. "We are all afraid that we are alone. It's about loving yourself. I would tell people to find out who they are and to do the thing that person wants to do." Chisholm's life speaks volumes for that perspective. Her newfound love for herself not only means that she was able to start and complete Spirit Love, but that she gained the support of others, like her brother, who has bought copies of her book and distributes them to people to whom he feels it will make a difference. In Trinidad with her husband, Chisholm says, "We are having an incredible time." She is finding inspiration for her new project—a collection of children's books—in the "music and happiness" around her. She has sent a copy of her book to RIK and has left one at the National Library, where she has been asked to submit a biography. She has also set up a small publishing company, The Write Milieu, through which she will publish her other books and, she hopes, the work of others. “I want to be a lightning rod,” she says enthusiastically, “emanating love and doing always those things I am inspired to do.”
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