by Laura Bain
“Just a bunch of short trees and big rocks.” My exact words to Jocelyn, my first friend in Yellowknife, when she asked me what I thought about it up here. She said people either loved it or hated it. This was the summer of 2012. I had just moved into my aunt and uncle’s house and it was May and gross. I was working for a landscaping company, picking up cigarette butts and Listerine bottles. I had been a gardener for the past three summers in Vancouver, my hometown, born and raised. May in Vancouver is springtime. It isn’t break up or melt down. Just spring. Yellowknife May was a big adjustment.
My aunt and uncle were down visiting the Christmas prior to my big move and had asked me what I was going to do after I finished my fancy-schmancy biology degree. I had no idea. I had (have) an obscene amount of student debt and a deep longing to travel and explore. Their solution: Yellowknife.
I confess that I was such a typical southerner. I pulled out a map to see where this place was in Canada. It wasn’t in the Yukon I realized, or next to the Arctic Ocean, it was in the middle. So I graduated (barely), gave away most of my things and stored the rest in my parent’s basement and took my bike and my bag north.
This story is a common one.
My certainties were that I would have a warm bed to sleep in and my aunt assured me that I would find a job in no time. As soon as I arrived I became depressed. This mental state wasn’t new for me, and wasn’t just situational. I’d been living diagnosed with bipolar type 2 rapid cycling for four years. My medications at this time were all out of whack. All my supports were in Vancouver and I was feeling lonely and unsure about my decision to move here. My aunt was persistent and dragged me out of bed to drop off resumes around town.
I got two jobs in two weeks. I worked landscaping and driving a water truck during the week and served breakfast in Old Town on the weekends. It got better. I made some great friends that summer and even fell in love. Then I left. I was heading back down south to do something practical with my degree and I accepted my invitation to nursing school.
Fast forward two years and even more student debt – I’m back baby! And this time I knew the ropes and had my northern partner, Pablo, to keep me on track. I arrived in May 2014. I was so ready to rekindle friendships and dance my hardest at Folk On The Rocks…and then I was hit with a period of depression for most of the smoky summer and spent my days in bed or on the couch, unwilling and unable to make friends or be social. I had taken the summer off to rest my brain from forced learning. So I read and I slept and my Pablo graciously fed and hugged me.
I faked happiness in public and I never asked for a friend. Pablo had introduced me to our neighbour Laurie, and she just knew I needed one.
Quickly she became my soul sister and I affectionately called her my “YK Momma.” Together we biked, paddled and talked about our love for the subtle but intricate beauty of the North. During my summer lows, she was infectious in her joy and persistent with her invitations. I told her about my ongoing cycles through highs and lows and she accepted me and made a safe space, a sense of reprieve from feeling stuck.
Then came my second friend, Little Laura (I’m Long Laura, 6 feet). Pablo had been trying to set us up for a while. I wasn’t convinced at first. She seemed to be friends with all of Yellowknife so I didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer. We started to get to know each other and she was honest and raw and real with me in a way that I could respect and relate to. Then one night, we took it to the next level. I was home alone and feeling hopeless. My depression was lingering for longer than expected. Normally I cycled every two weeks between depression and hypo-mania, but I was now going into my third straight month of lassitude and darkness. I called my friends back in Vancouver and they were loving and sweet – but I knew I needed to reach out to someone here. I called Laura and left a lame message. She called me back immediately and said, “Where are you? I am coming to give you a hug.” She arrived shortly thereafter and hugged me as I cried on her head.
She took me for a walk outside and listened to my depressed mind relay all the negative thoughts and struggles. She didn’t try to fix anything, she just listened and loved me. It was transformative. Laura became friend number two.
And so it goes. Slowly but surely I am adding friends to my roster here in Yellowknife. I now have at least four who I could call and they would come give me hugs (or vice versa). I am lucky and loved.
Living with a mental illness, it’s so valuable to have a few core friends who know you and who stick with you through thick and thin. It gives me a sense of stability here to know that there’s people I can be honest with, be real with…be my true self.
Now when I talk about Yellowknife I say, “Look at those trees! So small and old! Look at the rocks!
What beautiful lichen, textures and striations!” I see the pictures of cherry blossoms in a Vancouver spring and while I do still miss them, I love it here.
This feels like home.
Laura snowboarding in Whistler last winter. Photo courtesy Laura Bain