Let me start out by introducing myself.
My name is Lindsay Coulter and I’m a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Waterloo.
I’ve always been a happy person. Each report card ever sent home to my parents used words like bubbly, energetic, joyful. I felt grateful for the cushy, “normal” life I had been blessed with. Sure, I worked hard, but I was also very aware that I was lucky. I had two parents who loved me, had completed university, gotten a cat, a dog and had a fiance who loved me. Honestly, everything was falling in to place like some kind of hollywood script. I’m sure I had normal bumps in the road just like anyone else, but really my life was good. I’m sure you’re wondering when the shoe drops, because as my naive self learned, it always does.
In December of 2016 my whole world fell apart. My best friend of 25 years, Kristen, passed away suddenly. I had just gotten home from a Christmas trip to New York with my fiance Taylor, and opened my laptop to a message from a friend of hers in Australia (where she was living) looking for Kristen’s parent’s phone number. My heart sank. I knew that it wasn’t going to be good news. I sat on the couch frozen, unable to type.
Finally a few moments without breathing later I responded and asked her to just tell me what was going on. Kristen and I were like sisters; we had grown up in each other’s homes, we met at daycare when we were less than 2 years old, and had been practically inseparable ever since. Although it was selfish, I just wanted to know she was okay, so I could go on with giving her their number. Eventually they connected, but I knew whatever it was I didn't want to find out over the phone. So Taylor and I drove straight to her parents house.
When we got there, they told us she had died.
That was it.
The world froze.
I went through the many phases of grief - denial, anger, erratic behaviour, sadness, anxiety, extreme fear of losing anyone else, guilt… the books about grieving really had it right.
But what the books about grieving don’t really tell you is how to come out on the other side of it.
I was incredibly grateful for my self-employment in those next few weeks, so I could take some time to process. To be totally honest, I went through a cycle of sleeping, crying, and drinking for a few weeks. It was really strange, it didn’t matter how much I drank, I still felt sober. It was almost like nothing was going to cut through the reality of this loss.
Luckily for my health and my relationships, that phase only lasted a few weeks. Once I stopped that cycle and realized I needed to continue working and getting up each day, I became numb. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t smile. The only jokes I could make were morbid, and I’m fairly certain most of my friends and family thought I had totally lost my mind. How I kept my business going in 2016, while trying to plan a wedding is nothing short of a miracle. I have no doubt that Kristen was asking the universe to help me out during that time.
After about 3 months of just merely existing, I decided to go see my doctor. I told her “I don’t have time to feel like this, I need to get back to normal”. (As if anyone has time for this). My doctor gave me a couple of prescriptions, and also referred me to a counsellor. I was happy to have medication to take for when panic attacks took over, but I knew I needed to speak to someone in order to fully move on.
When a 25 year old dies, they don’t leave a neat and tidy package.
They leave a path of pain and destruction and 5 million unanswered questions.
I knew a pill wasn’t going to help.
So I went to a counsellor. I asked her if I would get myself back. I wanted to know if the happy person I once was would ever come back, to which her answer was “Maybe, maybe not. This might just be your new reality”. *Note, if you’re a counsellor dealing with someone with severe depression, telling someone there’s maybe no way out of this, is definitely not the answer. At our next appointment, she told me I probably just needed to take more naps and drink more water. She obviously hadn’t listened when I told her I was sleeping 8+ hours a day. So I got up in the middle of our session, told her I needed to go for lunch, and never went back.
It was a weird time.
Finally, the light came.
Near the end of 2016 I had agreed to trade services with a personal trainer in the area. She was pregnant with her second daughter, and wanted maternity photos. She knew I had a wedding coming up and wanted to get in shape, so it was the perfect fit. Her baby arrived in May of 2017, and we started training together a few weeks after. She brought Baby T to all of my workouts for the first few months, and her little face was all I needed on the hardest of days. For the first time in 5 months, I was moving. I was getting out of bed at 7, I was putting on clean clothes, and I was seeing progress. Not just physically, but emotionally.
I worked through my fears of having a wedding without her by my side, of losing another loved one, or dealing with any other kind of tragedy.
I had no idea that lifting weights and running would be all the therapy I would need.
I had been a yoga instructor throughout university, so I knew there was power in movement, but yoga wasn’t calling to me this time. I needed to feel strong. I needed to believe in my body. I needed to appreciate my health and not take it for granted like I had been. I needed to feel connected to the shell that carried me around- since the trauma of losing Kristen it had felt like a foreign entity.
I listened to my body, and forced my mind to play along.
Alicia and I trained together 2-3 times a week, every week, and we haven’t stopped since. What started as something I wanted to do to look nice in a wedding dress became something I needed to do to be a great partner to my now-husband, a better friend, and effective business owner. My clients needed me to show up to their wedding as the joyful, bubbly, happy person they hired a year and a half before, and I needed that girl back too.
The idea of not only losing Kristen but losing myself was something I couldn’t manage. I couldn’t control Kristen’s death, but I could fight to get myself back.
And so I did. That was the beginning of finding myself, not the previous version but a newer version of myself. This new version of me still cries almost daily, and misses her girl like crazy. But this new version is also grateful with a new sense of awareness.
Before I was grateful for the life I had, but now I’m grateful having known loss, and having fought through it.
In December Kristen will have been gone for two years, and it still feels like it was just a few months ago. I will not pretend to know the answers to loss or trauma, but I will say that the advice given to me over and over again “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” is exactly what got me through.