Adventures in Hysterectomies

Friday it will have been four weeks since I had my open hysterectomy. So far my recovery has gone fairly smoothly, all things considered. The road to get to this surgery has been rocky at the very least. Aside from the last few years of me feeling terrible every day, by the time I was told in March that this would finally happen, some major changes were made.

First I was told I needed to lose some weight before surgery. I was initially put on a liquid diet, and it was insanely strict. I was consuming about 900-1000 calories a day, drinking 4 protein shakes. I was allowed two cups of certain vegetables and broth, but it was very restrictive. I can’t speak for anyone here, but I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t particularly pleasant to be around. This is where my phony infomercial voice kicks in-but wait! There’s more!

During this time, somehow I ended up hit with my first ever bout of sciatica. I ended up in the emergency room after my hip started bothering me and I was getting shooting pain down my leg. The doctor gave me morphine and toradol, and ordered an ultrasound. When ultrasound called me, initially I was going to have to wait six weeks to get in. The type that I needed, we only have one tech in our town that does them, and that’s how far out he was booking. I was basically devastated. I was in so much pain day to day, and I wasn’t even telling the closest people to me how bad it really was.

Since I was little, I’ve been able to tolerate pain. Like…when I say tolerate, I mean when I was five years old, I got a skull fracture at school, and stayed for the rest of the day. I’d hit my head on the monkey bars, and dented my forehead. Didn’t cry, didn’t make a big fuss. Told them they didn’t need to call my mom, I was cool. They sent me home, and told me I needed to tell my mom I’d hit my head, which is what I did. She asked me if I was ok, and I said I was fine. The teacher called later to check on me, and my mom told the teacher that I’d told her I hit my head, but seemed to be ok. And the teacher said that she just wanted to check, because my forehead had gotten dented. When my mom moved my hair off my forehead, sure enough. We went to the hospital, and I had a skull fracture and a concussion. So, pain I’ve been able to take, generally speaking.

This bout of sciatica, is the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Nerve pain is a whole other beast. A trip to the kitchen would leave me out of breath, in tears, it was so painful. I didn’t have six weeks. The receptionist did offer a cancelation list, and I crossed my fingers. I didn’t know how likely it was that would happen, but it was something. Wouldn’t you know it, a few days later she called with an appointment that was just a few days after that. I was struggling like mad every day just to do basic things, so I was ecstatic.

I had the ultrasound, and the diagnosis was that I had tendonitis in two spots in my hip that was causing nerve pain down my leg, and I needed to start physio. My doctor gave me anti-inflammatories and toradol, but those weren’t really doing much to combat the pain. One day, while doing my physio exercises at home, something seized up on me. I ended up ugly crying on my bedroom floor and my mom had to pick me up to take me back to the emergency room.

That day, the doctor decided to give me gabapentin for the nerve pain. It took a few days to kick in, but that was what ended up helping the nerve pain in the end, with the physio exercises. It’s not to 100% at this point, but it’s so much better than it was-and I was so determined to get to this surgery that all I knew is I needed to get to a point that I could have the hysterectomy, and get through recovery well enough.

Through all of this, I was struggling hard with the diet, and I was pretty miserable. My doctor that I was working with at the weight loss clinic at the Royal Alexandra was extremely supportive, and after close to two months she let me incorporate some food back into my diet so that I wasn’t completely starving as well as in a ton of pain on top of everything else. So I started eating a little in conjunction with my shakes, and continued to lose. Even though I wasn’t able to be terribly active through this period, by the time surgery came, I was down about 50lbs in three and a half months. My doctors were happy with this, and so was I.

Cue the infomercial voice again-but wait, there’s more yet! My pre-op appointment was scheduled the day before surgery, when usually it would be a few days or a week before. But since I was an out of town patient, this was how it had to be. My surgery was booked for July 15th at 10:45am, and my pre-op was on July 14th at 1:45. They warned me on the phone that pre-op was to be a 3-4 hour appointment, and that I would see several people during that time. Nurses, a pharmacist, an internist, and possibly my anesthesiologist. They’d also take blood and go over results.

I talked to the pharmacist first, who went over all my medications very thoroughly. Then a nurse, who went through my whole medical and family history. While she was with me, a lab tech came in to take my blood. Another nurse was with me after that to go through more history with me. Then the internist came to talk with me and do an exam. During his visit, the results of my bloodwork came back. There was something of concern that came up. My creatinine level was unusually high, and when they went back in my history, it was the first time it had come up that way. So for some reason, my kidney function didn’t look right at the moment, and we needed to fix that asap. The head of internal medicine was sitting in with us at this point to come up with a plan.

The internist said that he could send me off that night and tell me to chug water all night, but that might not do the trick. They wanted to send me to emergency for IV fluids. Now…for someone who is small town and has been immunocompromised through a pandemic, I did not love this plan. Internal panic set in at the idea of having to go to a city emergency room. I bit down hard on my tongue, trying not to cry. I asked if it was possible that I could get the fluids there at the pre-op clinic. That wasn’t an option. The doctor could see that I had become agitated, and he asked me what my concern was. I told him. He assured me that I was going to be fine. He gave me no reason not to trust him, but my anxiety was through the roof.

They were going to arrange things ahead of time, let the emergency department know that I was coming. My mom had been there with me the whole time, always my rock. I was nervous, my limbs moving constantly, I was unable to control my fidgeting. We waited for at least half an hour before we were given the all clear to be sent over to emergency, and off we went. By that time, it was nearing 6pm.

We were walked through a back hallway, around outside, and came up to the glass doors of the emergency department at the Royal Alexandra, and I got my first look inside. I stopped dead in my tracks.

Me:

“Oh fuck. OH FUCK. Nope. Nope, nope, NOPE. I can’t, I’m not going in there.”

Mom:

“You don’t have a choice, this has to happen. Come on.”

So, I’m going to have to straight-up plead hick here, but I swear to God it was right out of an episode of ER. The emergency room department in my hometown is nothing like what was before me at the Royal Alex. My mom grabbed me by the arm, and that’s it, we were going in. I was told that my mom could only stay with me while I was in the triage line, and then once I got a bed. While I was in the waiting room, she couldn’t be with me. This was not what I wanted to be hearing, but not much could be done about it. As we were in line, I told mom to go get something to eat and try to lie down in the car at least for a while. I had no idea how long it could take for me to get a bed.

The triage line alone took more than an hour. I’m not sure if it was the banana muffin I had during my pre-op appointment, or my anxiety, but I lost my place in line to go throw up at one point. So in all fairness triage took a little longer than maybe it could have. It was hot, and I was nauseous and miserable when I finally went to sit down. I had no idea how long the people who were there had been waiting already. I only waited about half an hour before I was called. I felt the eyes on me as I stood up. The glares of “why is she being called already?” I waited for loud booing and for maybe something to be thrown at me as I walked out of the waiting room, but thankfully that didn’t happen.

I was taken back into a curtained room and told to put on a gown. A nurse immediately started putting the nodes on me to do an ECG. “Just a precaution.” she told me. I was a little alarmed, I thought I was only there to get some fluids and be on my merry way. I texted my mom to let her know that I got a bed, and she could come find me as the nurse flitted around doing my vitals. My blood pressure was alarmingly high, no big surprise. “Can your head pop off from high blood pressure?” The thought ran through my mind briefly.

The nurse left after my vitals were all taken, and shortly after, my nausea reared up again and my head was in the trash can. It reeked of alcohol and God only knows what was in there. I saw something with blood on it, and I quickly closed my eyes and chose not to investigate. I was starting to get a sinking feeling at that point.

That night is kind of a blur overall. I went in for my pre-op appointment at at 1:45 on Thursday, and never left the hospital. We were there all night. I went through triage at about 7pm, got put into a bed by 8pm, and didn’t see a doctor until 2am. I had been called in ahead, they knew I was coming. That’s how busy it was in emergency. I was given 3 litres of fluids via IV overnight. That’s how severely dehydrated I was, and what caused my creatinine to elevate so much.

I usually drink 2-3 litres of water a day, and live in AC in the summer all the time, and had come to the city where over a couple of days had barely had any water to drink and been in the heat. I joked about it when I got home “Princess lives in AC all the time and literally sweat herself nearly into kidney failure” but it was almost true. What I do remember vividly from that night, was at one point saying to my mom “What if this is a sign? Should I not do this?”

The doctor who treated me was very no-nonsense. She was determined that she was getting me to surgery, and she’d just keep me there overnight if that’s what it was going to take. I appreciated her approach, it was what I needed at the time. I had no time for wishy-washy. So, I was wheeled from emergency up to my surgical floor in the morning, beyond exhausted.

The surgical ward was an entirely different world from the emergency department. It was bright, and looked much newer. My nurse went through all of the history that was done in my pre-op the day before. It felt like I’d been at the hospital for a week by then.

There was really only one major concern my mom and I had, there’s a history of blood clots in my family. My grandfather died from a blood clot after a brain surgery when I was 13. Last summer, my dad randomly had blood clots in his lungs. A few years ago, my dad’s sister had a blood clot in her arm that caused blockages up into her neck. Now that I’ve done some research, Eastern European bloodlines can carry a condition called Hughes Syndrome, or “sticky blood.” My dad’s side of the family is full Ukrainian, and this isn’t uncommon. So we were sure to bring this up. They administer drugs to combat this anyway, but I wanted to make sure that this was known ahead of time.

We went through everything, and I was given medications I’d need ahead of surgery, and then I was all set. Then we were just to wait until it was my turn. So we waited. And waited. We were told my surgery was going to be delayed. At first we didn’t know by how long. I was scheduled for 10:45. At 1:45, we were told that there were some major complications before me, and mine would be at 3:45. If I wasn’t so exhausted at that point, I might have bolted out the door. But I was there, so I might as well have gone through with it, right?

Finally, it was go time. They were wheeling me to the OR. Once there, I was greeted by a nurse. Once again, we went through my history. She asked me some questions, and then told me that someone from the anesthesiology team was going to come talk to me. He came next, asked me a few more questions. My surgeon came to talk to me briefly while he was there, to confirm what was going to be happening, and she went on her way. Then the anesthesiologist came as well.

Him: Do you want the police baton or the cro bar to knock you out?

Me: Is the cast iron frying pan on the Monopoly board of anesthesi-options?

Him: Oh, you’re good.

I liked my team, they were warm and funny, and put me at ease. When I was wheeled into the OR, they put my bed up to the table I was going to be operated on and told me to scoot over on to it. The resident anesthesiologist was on the other side, and the nurse said “Careful, it’s a bit narrow” and as I slid over I said “I’m going to fall off!” and he said to me “I won’t let you fall.” I believed him.

I laid down, and then the anesthesiologist was at my head, upside down, looking down at me. He smiled at me behind his mask. “All good?” I nodded. “It’s going to be ok, I promise.” He explained that they were going to give me a sedative into my IV, but they’d also give me gas in the mask. He slid it onto my face, and told me to take deep breaths. “Oh yeah, this one’s a good breather.” I laughed. I was out seconds later.

The first thing I remember is my mom coming into my hospital room saying “Hi honey! You did it! It’s over!” And then…relief. Just this complete and utter sense of relief washed over me in a way I didn’t expect. I was too tired to cry, but the emotion was there that I wanted to. The complete exhaustion just wouldn’t let me. Mom sat with me for a while, and the nurse that was with me that morning came in to take blood and check in. Everything went perfectly. They got everything that needed to come out. I was finally free of the things that had turned my body against me.

Over the next two days in the hospital, I slept a lot. Most of the time, in fact. The nurses came in often to take my vitals and administer meds, and sometimes my mom was there. But I slept the majority of the time. For someone who doesn’t sleep much in general, honestly it was pretty glorious. After what I’d been through with the whole pre-op/emergency debacle, and then the stress of my surgery being pushed back by hours, the exhaustion was beyond absolute. My body had already been through so much because of what was going on inside of it for so long as it was, and now the trauma of surgery had taken its toll. I deserved the rest.

On day one in the hospital, the nurses alternated giving me Advil and Tylenol with dilaudid. After the first day, I asked if I could try going without the dilaudid, and from there on out all I took was Advil and Tylenol for my pain. One of my nurses told me that I was handling it better than most people who go through laparoscopic surgeries. But like I said earlier in this post, pain I tend to tolerate fairly well for the most part aside from blinding nerve pain. Even my mom commented that she was surprised at how well I was moving so early on, but they wanted me to be able to move and get up as soon as possible. I was very careful about it of course, but I was determined to get moving as soon as they wanted me to.

I’d had a preconceived notion about what my hospital room would be like, and I was absolutely wrong. I was surprised that there was only one other bed in my room, I had expected that there would be at least two, if not three. One nurse made a comment that I was in the “bougie” section of the hospital, and I can’t say that I was disappointed about that. My other experiences with family being in the hospital in the city were very different, where sometimes there were 3 or 4 people in one room, and the units were noisier. I consider myself lucky to have been where I was.

For everything I went through, for as big a deal as this surgery was, there’s one thing I need to make crystal clear. Our health care system is in a world of hurt, we all know this. Staff are stretched thin, and doing the best they can with what they have to work with. But I couldn’t give the staff at the Royal Alexandra a more glowing review. Every doctor, nurse, tech, and admin staff treated me with respect and care that was exemplary, and I’m so grateful for the team of people I had taking care of me through this journey. From the weight loss clinic to my surgical staff, to the pre-op, emergency and after care, everyone was absolutely fantastic. Our health care workers are overworked, but they still care about us. And it shows.

After I was released from the hospital, my mom and I stayed with a cousin in the city for a couple of days before coming home, just in case there were any complications. Not to mention I didn’t think I was going to be ready to sit in a car with a seat belt for 3+ hours the day I was released with an abdominal incision. So we chilled out for two more days, I managed to get in a visit with a bestie, and then we headed for home, where I would come to stay with my mom and dad while I recovered.

Recovery has gone fairly smoothly for an open hysterectomy, all things considered. The majority of them are done laparoscopically now, so there’s definitely more scarring involved than with most, but it’s all for the greater good. My incision is probably a good ten or twelve inches, and I had a total of 32 staples holding it together. When I went in to have them taken out, part of my incision was a little infected. I was put on antibiotics, but it’s healing now and should be fine. I just need to remind myself to take this seriously and not push things too much, that’s the advice I keep being given. My body has been through a lot, and it’s just going to take time. Luckily, I got a call from my surgeon about the large cyst that they were unable to biopsy before. It was benign, and I am all clear! I will not need further treatment after this surgery on this tired body of mine.

I’m grateful to be staying with my parents through this time, as I didn’t really know how much help I was going to need. I’m lucky that I not only love my parents, but I genuinely like being with them. So it’s not hard to spend time here. This is extra time I wouldn’t normally get with them, and that’s not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. And I gotta say, the food doesn’t suck here! They’re taking very good care of me. As they always have.

There’s one reality that’s fully set in now, and it’s not one I’ve really talked about out loud yet. The hard realization that after all of this struggle, all of these obstacles…the polycystic ovarian syndrome, the cyst, the uterine fibroids, the cervical cysts, the heartbreak in my 30’s, the discovery of how expensive adoption is…that there’s not ever going to be a child. I mean, I knew before, but this is really…it’s final. There’s no accident, no miracle to happen now. I thought I made my peace with it. I may have been wrong about that. Sometimes things are the way they are for a reason, and we don’t get to know why. In this case, I’m always going to wonder.

I can’t stay focused on what hasn’t happened, or what wasn’t meant to be. It’s counterproductive. For now, I need to be working on healing, and feeling better. I am feeling better by the day overall, and the last thing left to do is get on hormone replacement therapy, and see how I feel from that going forward. My body has been through a lot in the last five years, and it’s just going to take time to get back to a healthy place, physically and mentally. I owe it to myself and the people who love me to put the work in. There’s a part of this journey that’s just beginning.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It always feels like every time I sit down to write a post, a lot has happened in a short amount of time. This entry is no different.

Just over two months ago, I quit smoking. Y’know how bitter and unpleasant I am in general, anyway? Well multiply that by a hundred, and you’d still be a ways off from how miserable I was for the first couple of weeks. I kid. It wasn’t actually that bad. I did find myself gritting my teeth a little here and there, that’s absolutely true. Wanting to break something for a split second before realizing I was acting like a crazy person. I caught it, and it didn’t last too long thankfully, but it was definitely there.

The truly crazy thing is I picked up smoking at 39. Yes, you read that right. Thirty-fucking-nine years old, and you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you how it happened in the first place. Oh alright, I’ll tell you. But I promise you, this is the most ridiculous thing you’ll have heard in the last while.

I won’t name names for this part, but someone close to me is a smoker, and I’d been trying to get them to quit for a long time. This already sounds stupid in my head all over again. Wait for it. We were going to be taking a trip to see family in Calgary for Easter that year, and I got the bright idea that I was going to pretend to take up smoking. That way, when they found out, I could make a deal…if they quit, I would, too. So I figured I needed to ‘practice’ beforehand to make it look real. I’d never been a smoker before, you see.

I choked and coughed for three days ‘practicing.’ But I was committed at that point. Then, there was a huge blizzard, and we didn’t end up going to Calgary. And guess what? By then, I was just a smoker. What did I tell you? Pure ridiculousness. I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my life, (ie: “Hey! We’re super drunk, we should go swimming!”) but that tops the list. I’m just glad I’ve quit now, and while it hasn’t been easy, I can put it in my rearview mirror.

Since my last entry, my other half has also had covid. It was particularly stressful considering I’m immunocompromised, and even though I’m fully vaccinated, I have to be fairly careful. He felt terrible, (and not just physically) and luckily I managed to stay negative. We lived on separate floors for two weeks. You do what you have to.

I’ve also had an appointment in Edmonton after a referral from my gynecologist here in Cold Lake and my most recent pelvic ultrasound. The larger cyst on my right ovary is going to become a problem because of where it is, and how it’s growing, so it needs to come out. But, I was referred to an OB-GYN at the Cross Cancer Institute. The thing about that, is they don’t give you much information to go on when they refer you there. I knew I was going for a surgery consult, but I didn’t know exactly why after my last scan.

If you’ve never read my blog before, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, as well as the larger cyst on my right ovary, uterine fibroids, and cervical cysts. I did a fairly lengthy phone call with an admin person ahead of time to answer questions about medications and medical history, but they weren’t allowed to answer many of the questions I myself had about this upcoming appointment. I was in contact with my own doctor as well, but even she wasn’t entirely sure why I was referred to this surgeon at the Cross. So while I had weeks to think about this, I was pretty unnerved by the time the appointment rolled around. My mom went with me, and was there for every step so that I wasn’t alone, and the information didn’t get lost in translation. I wasn’t necessarily concerned I would forget things, but I knew there was going to be a lot to take in at once. I didn’t want to be the only one taking it in, and I knew there was no way my mom was staying behind anyway. I was entirely on board with this plan.

I’d never been to the Cross before. Even during a pandemic, the thing that struck me about it was that there was entirely too much activity there for my liking. A global pandemic does not mean cancer stops. It was an eye opener. I got registered, and a volunteer escorted us to the wing we needed to be in. There was paperwork I needed to fill out, and then they had me change into a gown and robe…and then come back and wait in the big hallway area where all the people were. It was a bit of an odd setup, but it’s what we were all doing. There we were, us patients sitting there out in the open with loved ones in gowns waiting for our turns looking like we were on day passes or something.

My turn was called, and I went into one of the exam rooms with a nurse first. She went over my medications, took a brief medical history, and took my blood pressure. Then she told me that my mom could come in with me for the surgeon’s portion of my visit. I called her in, and we waited a couple of minutes for her.

To say that my surgeon, Dr. Helen Steed, is an impressive woman is a staggering understatement. She walked in wearing a navy power suit and killer nude snakeskin heels, and I was immediately in awe. I had looked her up before my appointment, and I’d found information about her online and her use of robotics in gynecological cancer surgeries to make them less invasive. But above and beyond that, her bedside manner was a breath of fresh air compared to some doctors we’ve dealt with in other cases with family and medical issues. She’s smart, but she explains things in a way that you understand them while still being warm and making you feel like she cares. The trifecta of surgeons.

She was quick to explain that they didn’t think my larger cyst was cancerous. They can’t biopsy it, because once you stick a needle into it and pull it back out, cells can then spill out of it-that’s bad, in the off chance that it IS malignant. I thought my mom would turn into a puddle right there on the bench we sat on at this news, I think she’d been holding her breath from the second we stepped into the Cross. She may not have been breathing for a month from what I felt off her in that moment. But the more Dr. Steed talked, and the more she explained, we realized she wasn’t just any surgeon.

With all things considered with this cyst, where it is, the size of it now, the surgery won’t be an easy one. It can’t be done laparoscopically. I’ll need to be tilted up on the table to get at it. And now, there’s some of this that’s being left up to me. Because I’ve got cysts in both ovaries and uterine fibroids, it’s my decision if everything gets taken out now with this surgery. It’s daunting, to say the very least. I’m 45 this year, and I’m nearing menopausal age, yes…but this would still mean years of hormone therapy if I get a full hysterectomy.

It’s also very…final. I don’t have children, and I wish that I’d been able to have even just one. By the time all of these issues started to get figured out, I was already in my 40s and to start thinking about fertility treatments that might not work after going through miscarriages just wasn’t something I was ready to put myself through. The way things have gone with my health since then, I’m positive it just wasn’t meant to be. I rarely talk about it, because it’s not an easy subject for me. I’ve come to terms that it’s the way it is, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

For my health going forward, there’s not really a whole lot of thinking to be done. If I could end up having more problems in the future and the possibility of more surgery, it’s better if I just have the full hysterectomy now. It seems the most logical choice, and makes the most sense.

So, they want to schedule me for surgery in July. In the meantime, they referred me to the weight loss clinic at the Royal Alex to lose some weight between now and then. Because it’s an abdominal surgery and they’re going to be opening me right up, if I drop some weight the risks are lower. This part caught us off guard, but it’s certainly not a bad thing. They sent me home with a packet full of info about surgery and what was to happen going forward, and we left with our heads full of information and a whole new outlook on my situation.

Last week, I had my appointments via phone with the weight loss clinic at the RA. For my initial appointment, I first talked to the nurse, who took a list of medications and some info ahead of time, and then I talked to the doctor. I liked her right away. She sounded young, and was easy to talk to. I had filled out and e-mailed in a questionnaire ahead of time for them to go over, and she wanted to go through it with me as she had some questions about my answers. We also talked a little bit about the diet itself.

She had a six-page questionnaire, and had spent about 20 minutes on the phone with me. The questions I answered were all medical history and mental health related, and mostly check boxes for your answers kind of thing. This woman barely knew me. But one of her questions cut right to the bone-and caught me completely by surprise.

“Tell me a little bit about why you don’t like the attention that weight loss brings.”

I was dead silent for…I’m not even sure, but many seconds. “Ahh, I’ve hit on something, haven’t I?” She finally said. I agreed, because I knew that she was right. I’ve had substantial weight losses in the past, and while I always know that it’s a good thing for my health, and that I feel better overall, the attention makes me feel weird. And I absolutely, unequivocally know that people mean no harm in commenting on it and actually want to be supportive, I think I’m just a person who prefers to fade into the background. I don’t want to draw attention for any reason, positive or negative. I’d rather not be noticed at all.

I’m certainly no psychologist, but I’d bet the farm that this goes back a long way, and is tied to two things. A) The fact that I started getting attention in a way I didn’t want from a young age because I developed early, and 2) getting negative attention from people about the way I look (most times from people I don’t know) when I’m out in public. People suck, it’s true. But I can recount an abundance of stories for you, where I just wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend I didn’t exist. Why a person has to go out of their way to make comments of the negative variety about you, when all you want is to be left alone is beyond me.

The priority right now, though, is my health. And that’s what I have to keep in mind. The third call from the RA came from the dietician, and she broke down everything about my plan until July. It’s pretty simple. They’ve put me on Optifast, which is pretty much an all liquid diet. It’s 4 shakes a day, with broth and two cups of very specific vegetables in a day if I need. All told, it adds up to maybe 1000 calories a day, so it’s very restrictive. They’ll check in with me every week. The dietician also told me that I’ll be able to stay on as a patient after surgery if I’d like further help maintaining or to continue losing after surgery, which is awesome. This was a resource I didn’t expect with this surgery, but it’s one I’ll gladly accept.

Yesterday was day one on Optifast, and I’m not gonna lie…it was rough. Today is going similarly so far, I’m quite hungry. I just need to remind myself that these first few days are going to be the hardest, just like when I quit smoking. This will not be easy. But it is necessary, and nothing good comes easy. My mom reminded me last night that this is my path to health, and that’s what I need to keep focused on. Eyes on the prize. All I want is to feel better, I’ve been tired and unwell for such a long time now.

So, wish me luck…I may need it!

A Real Life Pandemic Story

I’ve held my tongue about a lot of things of late, but I’m going to lay it all out for you here. It might not be pretty, and you might not agree with it, but this is my absolute reality-whether you like it or not. I won’t ever tell another what to believe, but you won’t change my mind about anything I’m about to tell you, either. Not when it comes to this.

Today I went to get my third Pfizer dose. It’s bitterly cold, and I forgot my mittens. My hands were freezing. I went in, got registered and waited my turn. I got to the nurse, sat down, and the questions started.

Nurse: How are you?

Me: How long does gangrene take to set in? After I know that, I’ll tell you how I am. (She laughed quite hard.)

Nurse: Any allergies?

Me: Not that I’m aware of.

Nurse: Any health conditions?

Me: Anemia, PCOS, chronic fatigue, hormone imbalance, cervical cysts, uterine fibroids…(this is where she put down her pen and cut me off)

Nurse: This is all going on right now?

Me: Yes.

Nurse: And there’s more?

Me: Yes.

Nurse: Have you had covid?

Me: No.

Nurse: Are you working?

Me: No, I haven’t been able to for a while now.

Nurse: (She sighed heavily) I really wish more people were considerate of people like you when thinking about this pandemic.

Me: I wish people were thinking about everyone else, not just me.

She looked at me hard for a few seconds.

Nurse: It’s pretty obvious you get it, but you need to look after yourself and be careful.

Me: I promise, I am.

She went over the paperwork, and we got down to business. She gave me my shot, and I thanked her. I thanked her for getting me done, and I thanked her for all that she’s doing. She said “I’m really just doing my job.” But I made a point of telling her “No, this is more than that, I promise.” I told her to have a great day, she wished me the same, and I went to sit in the designated area to wait the 15 minutes before I could leave.

What does the above all mean? To the average person, probably nothing. But to me, this pandemic has, at times, felt like torture. Doing the right thing, has been utter misery for me, because I don’t have a choice. And don’t worry, I’ll make that choice every single time, because I don’t just care about myself. I care about others, too. Ultimately, though, I have to protect myself. So I’ll run down for you what that’s meant for me.

I have a lot of health issues going on, and have for a while now. Some of it has been figured out, but I’m still in the process of doctors, tests, and specialists to get some things resolved. I’m exhausted all the time, but I can’t sleep. Chronically tired, but can’t get any relief from this worn-out state. PCOS and anemia contribute to this, and possibly something else that hasn’t been pinned down yet. I literally can’t remember a day when I felt good. That’s frustrating enough in itself, because all I want is to feel better.

The state of my health, combined with this pandemic, has meant that I can’t work. My other half works two jobs, but he did before all this…and so did I. For a lot of years, I was a worker bee. I worked really hard to build a business that I sustained pretty well for a single person running it myself. But the pandemic hit, and things went sideways…I wasn’t the only casualty, that’s for sure. It was a big hit, and it was hard on me. Harder than I ever let on. I worked so hard for 17 years, for it to just be gone…poof. Like that. Now, though, we’re barely scraping by. If we even are. Cue the high-stress music.

So, while the other half is working two jobs to the tune of about 75 hours a week, I’m alone pretty much all the time. I have no children. I don’t see friends or family very often. When numbers are bad, I need to be extra careful. Most of the time, I’m ok being on my own. But it does get to me.

isolation

ahy-suhley-shuhn,

noun an act or instance of isolating.

the state of being isolated.

The complete separation from others of a person suffering from contagious or infectious disease; quarantine.

The complete separation of others. That’s exactly what it feels like. It’s lonely, and I don’t always love it. But this is what I have to do. Sounds like I’m just whining, right? This has been months on end for me. Because of my health, I rarely see people. I don’t do the shopping. I might see friends every few months, when numbers have been down. I don’t spend time with people who aren’t vaccinated. So for any person who wants to say “If you’re that scared, stay home.” Well, I do. I’m home. All. The. Time.

By all means, call me chicken. Sheep. Whatever barnyard animal you’d like to compare me to. But the reality is, while so many want to squawk about freedoms because of a piece of fabric and vaccinations they’re somehow likening to the holocaust, that they forget that not everyone else is in the same boat. There are people with pre-existing health conditions who can’t be vaccinated that are particularly vulnerable. It’s not just about me. This is so much bigger than that.

What’s happening now, is that people in my life that I love are getting sick. Young, strong, healthy, vaccinated people I care about. This is what happens when vaccination rates aren’t where they should be, and viruses mutate. People who are vaccinated will still get sick, and for every person who wants to say “It’s just a cold now” I have news for you. It just fucking isn’t. Family and friends who have contracted this recently have been knocked on their asses for over a week. They still aren’t over it. If they hadn’t been vaccinated, I shudder to think what would have happened to them. All I’ve wanted through this whole pandemic is that my people would stay healthy and safe, but that pretty, shiny bubble is bursting.

Friends of my parents have a son a year younger than my brother, 40 years old. Staunchly anti-vax while the rest of his family got vaccinated. He got covid, and ended up intubated and has spent about a month hospitalized. My parents have checked in with his folks often, because even when you don’t agree with the decision the kid made not to get vaccinated, no one wants this outcome. No one. His parents have been in agony, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through. No matter what, you can’t force a grown child into doing anything they don’t want to do. In this case, the consequence was severe. The long-term effects are yet to be known for him, and he’s got a rough road ahead. He made it through, and he’s lucky. He’s got a wife and children who need him.

Think what you want about all of this. That’s your absolute right. I’m not spewing misinformation, and I’m not trying to be preachy on my high horse of indignation. Perception is reality in a lot of situations. If you want to talk about masks being some kind of oppression, that’s a perception. A mask isn’t an unjust imposition, and if you think it is then you don’t know what actual oppression truly is. An adult tantrum of “You can’t tell me what to do!” is what it comes down to. And that…that is not reality. The reality of all of this, is the fact that two years in, we’re still debating this at all. If everyone were listening to the advice of people way smarter than the rest of us are (myself included,) we could be a lot closer to being out of this than we are.

In the meantime, my reality remains the same. It’s not a perception. My harsh truth, is that in the state that I’m currently in with my health, if I get this beast of a virus I don’t know what it will do to me. Young, strong, healthy people are getting sick and it’s hammering the hell out of them. “It’s just a cold,” my lily white ass. Maybe for some people it is, but for others it certainly isn’t. I can’t and won’t take that risk. And for that reason, all I have to say in closing is this:

Bock-bock-bock-b’gooock! Baa-aaa-aaa!

Much love and stay well. XO

Overwhelmed is an Understatement

I always find it funny when someone tells me that I’m a person who seems very “together.” Because the reality is, behind the curtain, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And lately, even less than usual. I’m what you’d call your garden variety heated mess.

The last couple of months has been a blur of doctor’s appointments, tests, and stress. When I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome a few years ago, some things fell into place in my head and started to make sense. It can affect women in different ways, and my doctor and I have tried to manage with medication to prevent further cysts from forming and try to keep my hormones in check. But it’s definitely affected how I feel day to day.

Because of that, I’ve had to have ultrasounds to check up and see where I’ve been at with my cysts, and the one I had a year and a half ago showed a cyst of a different type on my right ovary that’s larger. In early October, I had an appointment with my doctor to refill prescriptions and get recs to follow up with another ultrasound and routine bloodwork to check in on everything. Over the last year, I’ve been feeling progressively worse as time has gone on, and I’ve known that something more has been going on. Within a week and a half, the ultrasound and bloodwork were done, and I was getting calls from my doctor’s office about results. I have the MyHealth app on my phone, so I’d already cheated and looked at my bloodwork, and I knew that there were some issues already before I knew anything about the ultrasound.

I’ve had problems with low iron in the past. A healthy ferritin range for a woman is 35-44, and anything under 26 is considered low. My ferritin is 4. My doctor’s actual words to me? “In my medical career, I’ve never seen numbers this low in someone who wasn’t bleeding internally.” But don’t worry, she’s a young doctor. There’s still time. But if anyone wants to write about me for a medical journal or something, I’ll be over here. That does explain a lot, though. Being insanely tired all the time, bruising if you breathe on me. Unfortunately though, with everything going on in our health care system right now, our hospital isn’t currently doing iron infusions. So I’m having to take supplements three times a day, while they’re ruining my stomach and causing digestive issues. But, it’s a necessary evil.

My doctor had also pointed out that there were things in my bloodwork a year and a half ago that were concerning that had been missed. I’m not sure if it was because at that time the larger cyst had been found and that was the focus, but it didn’t make me feel very good that there were things that had been overlooked. Those tests were re-ordered, and the results were contradictory to what they’d been the last time, so I’m set to do them again this week.

We discussed the ultrasound results, and there were more surprises that came up. Not only had the larger cyst grown, but new things were found. It also came up that I’ve got uterine fibroids and cysts on my cervix, so my lady parts are pretty much a choose your own adventure. She decided to send me for an MRI to get a clearer picture of everything, and referred me to the gynecologist.

Fast forward to now, and I’m dealing with scary tests with words like “cancer markers” and I’m just tired of being poked and prodded and I just want to know exactly what I’m dealing with. Most of all, I just want to feel better. It’s entirely possible that the low iron could be making me feel this bad, but without infusions it’s going to take time for my numbers to come up. I just can’t remember a day where I felt good. I’m so tired.

Add to all of this the financial stresses of the pandemic, me not feeling well enough to work, and the daily anxiety of all of it combined, I’m so depleted physically and emotionally that it’s hard to breathe. It feels like it’s been months since I’ve really taken a deep breath.

A few months ago, I wanted to be focusing on my mental health and get my mind right. There’s much in my past that I need to deal with, that I’ve put off for too long. These physical health setbacks have put all of that on the back burner and made it so that I’ve internalized again, and I’m not sure that’s good. It’s currently the necessity, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for me. There’s no way I could have predicted all of this to happen, so I’ll deal with what’s in front of me right now and go from here. It’s like a domino effect, I have to knock down the first one before I can get to the next.

Really it just goes to show, though. That you never really know what someone is going through, what their journey is. I pretend I’m fine, like nothing is wrong. I haven’t been anywhere close to fine. And the line of fine isn’t just blurry, I can’t even see it. My sense of humor still seems to be in tact, so I’ll start to worry for real when that goes. What I also know, is that everyone has problems of their own that they’re dealing with. And I try to keep that in mind, too. The more I pay attention, the more I realize that no one’s path is particularly easy. The why doesn’t really matter, I just have to remind myself sometimes that on some level, we’re all human.

If it weren’t for our families and friends, we wouldn’t be getting through all of this. That’s the truth, and I know it. I’m eternally grateful for the people we have in our lives that help us in so many ways, me especially…I don’t know what I did to deserve the love and help that we’ve gotten. And for those who have stuck by me no matter what, even when I’m at my worst, my mom, dad, brother, husband, my husband’s family, and my closest friends…I just don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you for being here, for choosing me, for being the people that you are. For seeing me through. I love you all more than I could ever express.

I Got 99 Problems and Most of Them Are Fiction

Y’know, I’d love to say that boredom is a natural state for me, but it just isn’t. I might not have a lot on my plate these days, but I’m still far from bored. The reason for that, is that my brain just never stops. As soon as my worry about one thing, one person, one problem stops, I just shift it to the next worry. Sounds fun, right? Not that long ago I was talking to a friend about something, and mentioned how something was eating at me for a week, and they asked me this:

“What good did all that worrying do?”

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? My dad is like that, always has been. On my mom’s side insomnia runs in the family. She inherited it from my grandma, and my brother and I are both cursed with it. My dad? His head hits a pillow, and he’s out in under a minute. And for that, I could smother him with that pillow. I wish. He’s tried to talk to me about my sleep issues. He’ll say “Honey, just go to sleep.” And I just laugh. “Oh! That’s what I’m supposed to do! Flick that light switch in my head. I forgot, thanks papa!” He chuckles at me, but I know he worries, too. In his own way. But he’s got a way of turning it off somehow, something that I just don’t know how to do. And I’m honestly fascinated by it, while also being envious, the idea that here I am, half my DNA is his. And in some ways, I am very much his daughter. But in others, we’re wired in a completely different way. And mama’s DNA just steamrolls right over his.

This may be why my brother and I understand each other as well as we do, because we’re both plagued with these afflictions. The lack of sleep, the worrying for the sake of worrying about every little thing. I feel a bit bad for our parents, truth be told. Even now, we may be a lot of work. But there’s glimmers of things that amuse them about us, still. It wasn’t all that long ago that my mother told me that she was paying more attention to how the two of us talk to each other when we’re together. Apparently it’s like we have our own language, and others aren’t likely to understand most of what we talk about. On my birthday last month, he called while I was at my folks place, and mom was listening while I was on the phone with him. Afterward, she said that to listen to one side of a conversation between us, it’s next to impossible to tell what the hell we’re talking about at all. I can’t lie…I kinda like that. That no one quite gets us the way that we get each other. While we had some rocky times to get here as siblings do, it was all worth it to end up where we are now.

That said, of course it makes me worry about him, too. I probably worry about him more than anything else. He’d hate knowing that, but that’s just what a big sister does. I make jokes, like how the only thing in life I’ve loved longer than Bon Jovi are my parents, because I wasn’t even sold on him yet as I’ve been a fan since I was 8. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. From the day he came home, I set my sights on being his protector, his partner in crime with the big ideas, even his voice for the longest time. According to our mother, I was talking at 11 months, but him? He barely said a word until he was 4, because I did all his talking for him. Mom, he wants lunch. Mom, he wants some milk. I can remember my mom saying to me “Tara, let him tell me.” and I’d look at her blankly “Why? I just told you what he wants.” It’s no wonder he’s so much quieter than I am to this day.

Knowing how well his mind works, there’s sometimes things I can’t tell him in advance, because he’ll worry even more than I will about them. So I haven’t told him that I’m going through medical tests right now. Because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, I generally need to keep on top of things like bloodwork, and have ultrasounds done every now and again to check on things. I recently had an appointment with my doctor to get recs to do my routine follow ups.

Going back 4 years or so, ultrasound was conclusive of the PCOS, but the last ultrasound I had found a larger cyst of a different type. I went through further testing with that one, and while it wasn’t cancerous, it was just over the size of a lemon. It’s never caused me any pain, but it’s still a bit unnerving to know that you’ve got this mass in you that’s just…there. So, that was to be followed up on again, we talked about that during this doctor’s appointment. Then we moved on to talk about bloodwork, because I haven’t been feeling great in general for a while. She asked me some questions about my medications, asked about some things being followed up on after my last round of routine tests. I told her no, that this was the first I was hearing about any of this. From my last set of routine bloodwork, there were no less than two things that should have been followed up on. My thyroid levels were off, and she mentioned another test she wanted to run again for something I’d never heard of. I purposely haven’t looked it up or done any research because I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I mentioned it to my mom, and she did. I didn’t want her to tell me much, but doesn’t sound to be life threatening…but could explain why I still haven’t felt up to par for a long time. Between that, and my thyroid.

Yesterday, I had my routine ultrasound. A good portion of it was internal, super fun times! It wasn’t actually that bad, it’s just odd. The tech was a girl I’ve known for years, which for me actually makes it better and not worse. This morning I went for my bloodwork, and while the lab called me about it on Friday, and we discussed it yesterday while I was there for my ultrasound…it was not brought to my attention that one of the tests I needed to do had to be done by 9am. The one I just happened to need to take a prescription for last night. So, I had to call my clinic, and beg for the prescription again so I can go back and re-do that test earlier in the morning. It’s a first world problem, but I wanted to get everything out of the way all at once so we could get to results sooner. Not to mention, my doctor is a busy woman. I don’t like bothering her with something that could have easily been avoided.

Either way, now I have to go back, and wait a bit longer. The less time I have to spend in our hospital these days, the better, but it can’t be helped. This test needs to be done, so back I’ll go. I try to be proactive when it comes to my health, so rather than just say “fuck it” and forget about that test, it needs to be done. It’s one that my doctor mentioned should have been followed up on the last time, of course. The one that I purposely haven’t done any research on. I’ve surprised myself by not looking up anything about it. But I know how my brain works, and I just don’t want cause myself stress ahead of time before these tests come back. If there was cause for concern last time and it wasn’t followed up, I imagine it’s at the very least going to come back the same…so I’m choosing to wait until we follow up with results to know for sure what all of it means. It’s what’s best for my sanity right now.

Speaking of sanity, the other thing we discussed was mental health resources. I’ve seen psychiatrists to monitor medications, and mental health professionals at different stages of life to deal with various issues. Going back as far as my teen years I’ve talked to counselors and touched on my anxiety, depression, and was diagnosed with an eating disorder. So I’m not foreign to using mental health resources in the past, I just wasn’t sure what would be available to me right now with the pandemic. I wanted to talk about a referral to possibly see someone here, but my doctor explained that for the most part right now local mental health resources were being used for critical care. She went on to say that there were other options in Alberta for telehealth appointments with other government programs, and put in a referral to a facility out of Calgary for me.

With everything that’s gone on in Alberta through this pandemic and the way it’s been handled by our government, my doctor said something to me that I found surprising. It surprised me, because it was a lot more candid than I expected her to be. It’s no secret that our health care system is stretched within an inch of it’s life right now, and it’s workers are well beyond overworked-I’m not sure there’s even a word that properly represents the strain. But, the frustration is definitely showing on all levels. I live in a very rural area, it’s not like we’re in a huge city with hundreds of thousands of people, but my doctor made it very clear how she feels about how things are going. She was putting this referral in, but made a point of telling me “This program is government funded. It’s available now, but I don’t trust this government with much of anything at this point.”

‘Nuff said.

I was e-mailed an intake form after my appointment with my doctor from the resource center, and now I wait to be contacted about an appointment. I manage okay-ish…okay adjacent, as I like to say, for the most part. I honestly have no idea what my head space would be like if I wasn’t medicated. I also have a good support system, my family and friends take good care of me. I know that I could be doing a lot better, though, and that there’s things I need to make my way through. I wrote a fair bit about it in my last post. I spend so much of my time worrying about others, worrying about things that might be, things that haven’t even happened yet, that I avoid dealing with the things I really need to. And if I’m going to get to a place that I feel better all the way around, I’m going to need to deal with everything. Not just physical, but mental.

The way I look at struggle, is it’s not a constant. It’s a variable. There may be things that I “struggle” with every day, but the degree of that struggle changes day to day. None of it is absolute, and I don’t see it as having to be absolute. The black and white doesn’t have to exist, it’s all just shades of grey. I don’t say that to make it sound somber, like a gloomy, overcast day that never ends. But that some days there’s more light than dark, and vice versa. But there’s pieces of both, it isn’t all or nothing. Just this morning, I was annoyed, in a bit of a mood due to all the mix-ups with the lab. And then, like magic, my friends in my group chat came to the rescue and I was laughing and in a better mood in no time. It’s never all bad.

I’ll choose to land on that for the day.

The Bell Jar

My last blog entry was a heavy one. I’m not sorry I wrote it in any way, because my assault is something I’ve been hanging on to for too long, but it’s gotten me thinking a lot about why I do the things that I do. It’s made me realize some things that I needed to, but now I’m left holding all of this anger. I wish I could tell you it’s all that I’m holding on to. I wish I could tell you that.

The truth is, what I’ve come to figure out, is that long before covid I went out of my way to keep myself busy on purpose. I worked as a nail technician for 17 years, starting out in a salon doing on-the-job training. From there I went to a spa where I spent six years building a clientele. I might have been the busiest nail tech in our town. I was working 11 hour days, squeezing 8 clients into a day with no lunch or breaks. I had a waiting list to get in to see me, and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t even take on new clients. I was good at what I did, and generally really enjoyed my job.

But, as time went on working for someone else on commission, I came to the conclusion there wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go where I was. I only had two hands, after all. And only so many hours in the day. I was working as much as was physically possible for me to do already, so there wasn’t any way for me to advance financially. So I decided to branch out on my own and start my own business, and rented a room out of a local chiropractor’s office. I was still working a lot of hours, but at least it was on my own terms. I made my own schedule, and the decisions were all mine. My clients followed, even though I left it up to them. For two years, it was a good solution, a transition period for what I ultimately wanted.

Eventually, my husband and I built a house. A room in the basement was designated as my office, and I wanted to work from home. The house we’d lived in before only had one bathroom, and there were health and safety rules that didn’t fit the guidelines. Once our house was built, I moved my business home. It was the ideal, and it worked very well. For a while, anyway. After a few years at home, the oil economy took a dive, and I started to slow down over time. Clients lost jobs, had husbands who lost jobs, some moved away. So for financial reasons, I took on second jobs.

At first I worked for a client/friend at her convenience store part time. That meant working until 11pm 3-4 nights a week as well as seeing my clients. After about a year and a half, I saw an ad come up one summer for school bus driving. I applied and had an interview and got hired. I did my training and got my Class 2 license, and I was ready to go by fall. My first route I was given was actually in a town a half hour away to start. I was up at 4:30am, back from my route around 9:30am, did clients until around 2pm, then headed back to the bus depot to do my afternoon route. Then home to see at least one client, sometimes two. After two years, I gave it up. It was a much more stressful job than I’d ever anticipated. And while there were things about it that I loved, the stress far outweighed the rest unfortunately. So I focused on the clients I had, and smaller side jobs I’d taken on. And then, the pandemic hit.

Covid has turned life upside down for everyone in so many different ways. It’s affected day to day life, the way we see the world. For me, I had time on my hands that I just didn’t before. I had no idea what that was going to mean. It brought new stressors and anxieties, like it did for everyone. What I didn’t expect, was the long-term emotional toll it was going to take. Suddenly I was living in my own head like never before, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve always been overly analytical, it’s how I’m wired. But this was a whole new level of mental gymnastics that I haven’t experienced before, because I was so busy for such a long time. I’m living it every day, with too much time to think.

The trash can of pain that I’ve absent-mindedly been piling things into and then climbing inside to step on, pack it down, was now looking like an endless landfill. Garbage as far as the eye can see, and here I am, void of a compactor. I’ve held on to so much, internalized so many things, that I’ve come to realize there’s no one person that knows everything. That’s by my design. You can only be so broken, and have someone still accept you as whole, right? At least that’s what I’ve told myself. I’ve tried so hard to appear strong, as though I can handle anything. In reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, I wasn’t handling anything at all.

It’s not just the assault, either. That happened over 20 years ago, and I shoved that down so far, disassociated and compartmentalized as best I could just to get through it. I drifted through my 20’s, and then my 30’s were almost unbearable. In the span of the last decade, I’ve lost two of my best friends in the world. Two soul mates in life. Both of my grandmothers, who I grew up with in my life every day when I was young. I was close to them both, one more than the other, but they were both a huge influence in my life and still are. Two miscarriages, followed by a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome. By the time the diagnosis came and it was all figured out, my age was a factor and I knew that the ship had sailed on children. That…has not been easy for me to accept, but I’ve had no choice. All of that loss kept chipping away at me, and I kept stuffing it down. If I ignored it, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so real. The people that I love the most in the world, when they go, a piece of my heart goes with them.

My PCOS diagnosis had some other things make sense, like the fact that I don’t feel physically well most of the time. It affects women differently, it really just depends on the woman. It can wreak havoc on your hormones, though, and cause all kinds of problems with anxiety, depression, weight, skin issues, chronic fatigue. Later in life there are higher risks of things like diabetes and heart disease, among other things. So while there are much worse things to have, down the line there are some things that are potentially worrisome. I just need to keep on top of my annual physicals and ultrasounds to be safe.

There’s another big part of my story that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write about. I would, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I can’t. I can’t, because it’s not just my story to tell. It’s also someone else’s story, one of the people I love more than my own life. As long as I don’t have their permission to do it, I won’t. What I can say about it, is that it’s the part of the puzzle that is my life that’s left me far and away the most tormented. If I think about the things that have truly been parts of my construct up to now, other than the people that have shaped me into who I am, I can’t deny that this puzzle piece has been instrumental in some ways.

Now that I’ve had all this time over these however many months to live inside my head and evaluate, there’s a clarity of some things that I didn’t have before. And it’s funny, how storybook my life has looked from the outside. People assume things are perfect, when they’re anything but. Some aspects of my life have been amazing, this I know. Fantastic family. Parents that loved us, always putting us first. Both sets of grandparents where we lived growing up, who were all these larger than life people in their own ways. And my God, did they adore us. My parents made a very good living, and we lacked nothing. I’m the one, though. Living proof. I can sit here writing this, and I can tell you that money doesn’t buy you happy. Material things don’t mean that happiness is automatic, that life gets to be perfect all the time. But people assume, and sometimes even hold it against you. They just didn’t know.

They didn’t know that I developed an eating disorder in my early teens, and I’ve used food to punish myself ever since. They didn’t know I went to see the school counselor because a teacher took a special interest, my peers just thought I was weird for being so withdrawn. They didn’t know that my smile was pasted on my face, that most of the time it wasn’t real. They didn’t know how good an actress I became. They didn’t know that while the people closest to me I was so very lucky to have, that it seemed like any time I was left out in the world, there was something to tear me to shreds in one way or another. Or someone. They just didn’t know.

So here’s the thing. I’ve stuffed so many things down that I just never dealt with before the next thing came along, that I don’t even know where to begin. Abuse, loss, anguish, all of this that I don’t know what to do with, this tidal wave of agony. I can’t do it alone. I have a difficult time asking for help, but I’m so fucking exhausted I can barely see straight. I need to see my doctor soon anyway, so I’m going to ask about referrals. The first being either a gynecologist or endocrinologist for my PCOS. I haven’t seen a specialist yet, and I’d like to. The second, for a mental health referral. I’ve gone in the past, and it has helped. It’s time to revisit that option again, because some of what I’ve got clogging up my brain I never have talked to a professional about. I know I need to.

There’s too much darkness. I can’t help but feel like I deserve some light. If you’re reading this, and you can relate? Listen to me when I say this…you deserve light, too. I promise.

The Double Standard Between Women and Men

I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer, and an apology. The disclaimer is that there’s going to be content that is not pleasant to read, and for some it could be a trigger. So I wanted to warn ahead of time, in case there’s any trauma in your past, I would hate to be the reason for that without you knowing in advance there’s going to be sensitive subject matter to come in this blog post. There will also be some less than ladylike language, but I’m going to tell these stories exactly as they happened. So my apologies for that.

To any of my friends, or my family reading this…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had reasons for not telling you, and they made sense at the time. My bad habit of shouldering things alone is not a trait I’m particularly proud of. It ends up being to my own detriment a lot of the time, and I’m not sure I even know how to fix it.

The reason I’m writing this particular piece, is because the weather has turned blazing hot. We’re about to see scorching temperatures in Alberta, maybe hotter than we’ve seen in a while. A dear friend tweeted about how she felt uncomfortable on her own patio wearing a bathing suit top and skirt, because a man leered at her from the street. This brought out some interesting conversation, to say the least. It brought out support from many, but it also brought out some responses of “well maybe you shouldn’t dress like that”. It also brought comments about how it’s a double standard, that women can treat men the same, and somehow that’s fine. But here’s the thing: no matter what, it isn’t the same. It isn’t the same, at all. And I’m about to tell you why.

I’ll start at the beginning of my story. My long, sordid history with men. We’re going back in time more than 30 years. It all started because I developed really young. By the time I was 12, I was already wearing a DD bra. I never asked for that, and I promise you I’ve never wanted it. You always want what you don’t have, right? If you talk to any woman who was born flat-chested, they’ll likely tell you they’ve always wanted a more voluptuous body. For me, from the get go, it’s caused me nothing but mental anguish on top of physical pain in the form of neck tension, back problems, headaches, and permanent dents in my shoulders from bra straps. And from 12, my chest didn’t get smaller.

From that age, I covered up. I started wearing clothes that were a size or two too big in an attempt to hide, as if I could. You can cover up, but let’s face it, people know. It’s inevitable. And it started right away. Around 11, the looks. The comments. Boys snapping your bra in school. And every time, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. A couple of years went by, and more and more things kept happening, and I kept retreating into myself. I was becoming this shell of a girl, with the body of a woman. Only, I wasn’t one yet. I wasn’t even close. And I had no idea how to handle it. Grown men older than my father were leering at me, and making lewd comments, and I had no idea what to do when it would happen. I was still a child, after all. You start to think it’s normal, that’s just how things are.

I was uncomfortable all the time. I didn’t like the attention it got me. I remember a specific instance where I was helping out at my grandparent’s hotel, my dad had taken me with him while he worked a Christmas party in the lounge with my grandpa, and I was behind the bar having just picked up some empty glasses off some tables. I knew how to make some drinks, pour beer off the tap. A man came up to the bar, and I was the only one back there at that moment. I asked him if I could help him. He said “Yes, but I don’t think your mother would approve.” My aunt swooped in from behind me somewhere like a swallow diving at a nest, and pushed in front of me, blocking me from him. She’d somehow heard what he said. She threw some nasty words at him and told him to get out. He left, and she wanted to tell my dad. I pleaded with her not to, because then he might tell grandpa and God only knows what might have happened then. I could still see the man outside. The patriarch of our family was a very giving and generous man-but you wouldn’t have dared come at his first born granddaughter like that in his bar if you had any idea who Ivan Krook was. Forget if my father had gotten his hands on him. This guy wouldn’t have had a prayer, and I didn’t want to make a scene.

One night some years later, I was out with some friends at a bar. We were standing in line at a shooter bar, and we were talking. Three of us. There were three guys standing in front of us, doing some shots. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I was in the middle of a sentence when one of the guys turned around and interrupted me. He says “Did you just say that you’re a guy?” And I said “I’m sorry, what?” He went on “I thought I just heard you say that you’re a guy, which can’t be true since you’ve got the biggest tits I’ve ever seen.” One of my girlfriends said “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” as he’s just laughing. I was dumbfounded, that a guy I’d never met could just casually say something like that to me as if he’d just asked me the time. I mumbled something along the lines of “let’s just get out of here” to my girlfriends, and we left.

Just a few years ago, I took a trip to Edmonton with my folks. I had a medical appointment, and we ended up going to the mall to check some stores out. My mom and I were walking along, and we went by some of those kiosks you always see with the people who are trying to get you to stop and see what they have to offer. I always ignore, and try not to make eye contact. We had specific places we wanted to hit, and not a lot of time. The mall was quite busy that day, and there were a lot of people milling about. We were trying to get through that area and make our way amongst the people going by the kiosks, and my mom had ended up getting a little ways ahead of me because of the crowd of people. I looked to see where she was, and happened to turn my head toward this one kiosk where I made eye contact with the man working there. He looked directly at me, and made a gesture with his hands symbolizing big boobs while nodding, and then motioned for me to come over. I stopped dead in my tracks, and without even thinking said rather loudly “Are you fucking kidding me?”

He was maybe 15-20 feet away from me, and even with the sounds of people chattering, and general mall noise, he heard me loud and clear. Because once I said that, he suddenly looked terrified. Or maybe it was the rage on my face, I’m not sure. Several people threw me a look, and I heard my mother from up ahead say “Tara!” in admonishment, but she had no idea what had just transpired. It was a cell phone kiosk. I walked over, staring at him. He looked like he was about to bolt. I didn’t say a word, though. After my first exclamation. I walked over, I grabbed his card off the counter. I looked him dead in the eye, and I walked away. I went to my mom, who asked what was wrong with me for yelling like that in the middle of a mall. And then I explained what had just happened, and she wanted to go back. I never did do anything with his card, but I do think I gave him a good scare. That’s the difference in how I handle this now, compared to how I handled it when I was young.

My hometown has a military base. Growing up with it, you’re used to seeing men around in uniforms. It’s the norm. When I was younger, for many, many years we had an annual training exercise that took place for six to eight weeks through May and June called Maple Flag. Military members from other countries, mostly from the US would come in two week intervals for training. 99% of them male. There would be an influx of men in town during that time, hordes of them. And everyone knew that when they were here, they were here for a good time.

I didn’t know until I was older, why my mom kept a tighter leash on me during that time of year. I understood it better once I was legal drinking age, and could go out. My friends and I, we were out all the time after we were legal, we were at our local bar (well, we had two, but really only went to one) all the time. Always Friday/Saturday, and usually Wednesday for wing night, sometimes Thursdays if something was going on. My best friend from the time I was 12 was the manager at the bar we frequented. So sometimes we were going just to hang out with her. In small town Alberta, there isn’t a whole lot else to do. During Maple Flag, though, if you go out, the men that came into town assumed you were on the prowl. They didn’t know you were still sitting in that bar every weekend in November. And until we experienced it, we just didn’t know.

They didn’t even try to hide that they were checking you out. Not just in the bar, though. At the movies, in restaurants, the grocery store. And lucky for us, they traveled in packs. By all means, note my sarcasm here. It was daunting, our home being overrun by these groups of men while we felt like we were under microscopes. And of course, it wasn’t all of them. Some of them were very polite, and quite nice. One of my best friends ended up married to a guy she met one year, after keeping in touch afterward and several visits. But after one night, and one overall experience later, my view of Maple Flag and a whole lot else would be forever changed.

Within my group of friends, I got the most attention in a negative way. But I wasn’t getting much in the way of positive attention to balance that out. I’ve never been a thin girl, and while my friends were getting flowers and asked out on dates, that didn’t really come for me. And it just was what it was, I wasn’t dwelling on it. I had a great family, I had supportive friends, and really I was ok on my own. If men were going to treat me the way that they generally did, I didn’t want much to do with it, anyway. Single suited me fine. When we’d go out as a group of girls, and get approached by guys, it usually went one of two ways: I either just faded into the background, which is what I was comfortable with, or, I’d get hit with “Hey! How are you? Can I buy you a drink? So, who’s your friend?”

The night in question started out uneventfully. It was a weeknight, Wednesday. I was with two of my best friends, and it was wing night. It had been busy earlier that night, but it had died down and there weren’t many people left in the bar. A few groups of people, but that was it. The three of us were just sitting around a table talking, like we usually did. There was a table of four guys a couple of tables away, and they’d been there for a while like we had. They bought us a round, but I hadn’t been drinking that night, so I didn’t have one. One of them came over and stood at the table and chatted us up a bit, and seemed nice enough. He asked if they could move a table over, join us. We looked at each other, but said ok. Worst case scenario, in that situation, we just leave. We had signals and everything. So they came over, and they talked to us for a while. I didn’t usually engage much when that would happen, just for the pure fact that they usually weren’t very interested in talking to me. But two of them seemed to be more interested in engaging me over the other two, which wasn’t the norm, but I was polite enough. The other two were quite taken with my two friends. A friend of ours was DJing that night, and at one point I got up saying I was going to go talk to him for a few minutes, and then go to the bathroom, and I’d be back. I went and chatted with my friend in the booth for a couple of minutes, and headed to the bathroom, which was way at the back.

That end of the bar was empty, you had to pass pool tables and go down a back hallway to get to the bathroom. I went in, did what I needed to do, and was coming out of a stall when the door opened. I looked up, and two of the guys that had come to sit at our table walked into the bathroom. I looked at them a bit bewildered, it took me a second to register seeing them walking into the women’s room in the first place. They looked at each other, and walked toward me. It all happened so fast, but before I knew it, they’d backed me into a stall. One of them had their hand over my mouth, and my back hit the tile wall. It was the farthest stall, the biggest one. I could hear how loud the music was outside the door, and how far we were from the other end of the bar where people were…even if I could have yelled, no one would have heard me.

When my back hit the tile, I pushed back. I tried to use my legs for leverage. I’m built strong by nature. Had it been one, maybe I might have had a chance. As I struggled, one of them said “Come on, sweetheart. How often is a girl like you going to get an opportunity like this?” And then, I was livid. I knew exactly what he meant. I wriggled one of my arms free and clawed one of them in the eye. He yelled out and called me a bitch, while the other was trying to pin me back against the wall. The other regained his composure and punched me in the ribs hard enough to knock the wind right out of me, and that was it. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely see. They did what they wanted, I’d lost. What felt like an eternity at the time, I’m sure only lasted a couple of minutes. They wasted no time. And then, I was broken and alone, on a dirty bar bathroom floor. And all that was running through my head was “You need to get out of here. Now.”

I put the clothes that had been taken off me back on, and splashed water on my face. When I went back to my girlfriends, all the guys were gone. They’d left. I told them I’d gotten sick in the bathroom, it must have been something I ate. While I stood there, I thought for sure they’d be able to see it. That I was shaking, shattered. I needed to go home, so if they wanted me to drive them, I needed to leave. We all left, and I went home. I told no one.

The next day, I went to go to the police station to report it. Because it had been men that were here for Maple Flag, they took a statement, and sent me to Military Police to proceed from there. The MP I dealt with was young, but compassionate. He took a detailed statement, and then we went to the military hospital for me to be examined. I’d also been in some pain from the one punching me, and they sent me for an x-ray. As it turned out, two of my ribs were cracked. The MP kept urging me to call someone, and I refused. I couldn’t do it. I was terrified. I was anxious. I was ashamed. I was damaged goods.

The MP promised to be in touch once he did some digging on his end, and he’d call me. I actually expected that I wouldn’t hear from him again, but sure enough, just as he’d promised, a couple of days later he called. He wanted me to come in to talk some more about my incident. That was the word he used, which made me feel like a walking car wreck. I was now an incident. He had no intention of that, I know. This was all in my head.

When he’d taken my statement, he’d commended my memory. We had only gotten first names, of course, but I remembered details about what their trades and ranks were, and where they were from. They’d talked too much. My memory is a blessing and a curse. This much, I know. But in this case, it served me well, because the MP had been able to find them. I was going to have to go in and verify that the two he’d dug up, were the ones I’d given details about. I wasn’t going to have to see them just yet, but identify via photos to start. I still wasn’t sure how I felt, I was scared, but there was also something else. There was this hollow feeling, I was in a complete haze. But I agreed to go in, because I was also determined. I’d end up feeling really stupid for that.

I still didn’t tell anyone. I had given my statement to RCMP. I had recounted my story to the MP. But I could not bring myself to form the words of what was going on to anyone who loved me. I couldn’t even bear the thought. I got to the base to make the ID. The MP showed me photos. He’d found them, alright. I sat in a chair in front of his desk, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if my violent shaking was making the whole building quake. I bit down on my tongue to keep from crying. I would not break.

Part of the time I was staring at him, he was talking, and I zoned out. I didn’t hear a word he said once I’d seen the photos, the ringing in my ears was too loud. But then he said “Are you ready to do that right now?” and I shook my head a little, snapped out of it. I think I said “I’m sorry, what?” He explained that their boss was there. He wanted to speak to me. The MP looked suddenly nervous, feeding off my energy. He told me I didn’t have to, but that the CO had come to the office, hoping I’d be willing to have a conversation before things proceeded. I agreed, and he led me to another room, where the officer was waiting.

He was too pleasant, and it unnerved me immediately. He shook my hand, I sat down. He explained that he was there to talk to me, so that maybe we could come to some sort of resolution that everyone could be happy with. I looked over at the MP, who looked confused. It was clear to me that he had no idea exactly what this conversation would entail, and suddenly I felt sick. The CO broke it down for me. These two men were both married, with families. Should I decide to go forward, and press charges, their careers would be over.

I was in shock. This man was sitting there, basically telling me that it was me that would be ruining their lives. Not the other way around.

If I chose not to press charges formally, they would be reprimanded and possibly demoted. They were being sent home either way. What I didn’t know until then, was that as soon as they were questioned, the one whose eye I’d clawed obviously couldn’t hide that I’d injured him, he’d had no explanation for that. He’d cracked. Once he told the truth, the other really had no choice but to follow suit. His story lined up with mine, it was game over for them. But really, it wasn’t. As I sat there in that chair, the CO condescending to me like a child when I was 22 years old, about how I had a choice to make and he knew I’d “do the right thing after thinking about it”, I already knew my mind was made up. This guy wasn’t there to have a conversation. He was there to talk me out of moving forward.

He shook my hand again, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. The MP followed me out of the room, and I walked as fast as I could out of that building and into the parking lot. I needed air. I felt like my lungs were collapsing in on themselves. By the time I got outside, my lungs were burning. I ran around to the side of the building and doubled over, dry heaving. Nothing would come up, but it didn’t stop. Tears streaming silently down my face. I heard the MP calling my name, and he came around the side of the building. He saw me, and he’s saying my name. Asking if I’m ok. Was I ok? Was I ok. No, I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t ok at all. He’s apologizing to me, he didn’t know. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but the last thing I wanted was a male anywhere near me at that moment. I told him I would call him the next day. I just wanted to go home.

I called the MP the next day, and explained that I couldn’t go forward. He asked me if I was sure, and if I wanted to come and talk to him more about it. I said no, I just wanted to put it behind me. He said he would be in touch with updates, and I thanked him for his help, and hung up the phone. He called several times after that and left messages, and I couldn’t bring myself to call him back. I went to work, and came home, and that’s all I could do for a while. I didn’t go out. I barely saw my friends. I made excuses. I just couldn’t deal for a while. So I didn’t. Eventually, I swept it all under my proverbial rug, like I do. And I carried on.

Here’s the thing about all of what I’ve told you. I’ve never been one to dress in a revealing manner. My assault happened on a night that I wasn’t drinking. I should be able to walk through a mall and shop without having to worry about who is going to do or say what to or about me. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like it was me ruining someone else’s life, for what was done to me. As a child, I shouldn’t have had to be put in an awkward situation by an adult man. But here’s what’s really scary about all of this…these are just a few examples. There’s many more to go along with these. And these are just mine.

Every single one of my female friends can tell you stories similar to these. Stories where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m not saying that males are never objectified, because that simply isn’t true. The difference with us, is we can never know for sure if a leer is going to turn into a situation that’s dangerous for us. If you’ll openly leer in public, what else might you try?

Someone said to me on Twitter, “You need to call people out on it more, not complain about it on Twitter because that does nothing.” Well, since you put it that way. Just today, Bill Cosby was released from prison after only two years. Sixty women came forward against him. Sixty. He drugged and assaulted women for years, and because of a failed judicial system, his lawyers get him off on a technicality. I know how we can be made to feel when it comes to this. How are we supposed to feel like we’re being taken seriously, when these are the things that happen? It’s MADNESS. And if things of this caliber aren’t taken seriously, it’s hard for us to feel like we can speak up about much of anything. And you want to come at me about a double standard. I’m fucking tired. Us women, we’re tired.

Please, don’t apologize to me. Don’t be sorry, I can’t take it. Just be better. That’s all I ask.

I know. I know that it’s not all men. I know this, because the men that I have in my life that I love, have more than made up for this. They’ve loved me, and allowed me to be me. And that’s as much as I could possibly ask for. To each of you, and you know who you are…thank you. I love you, fiercely.

The Way That Loss Changes You

I’ll remember the details of that morning for as long as I live. It was Sunday, Mother’s Day. My husband and I had just picked up a couple of things at the grocery store on our way to my folks place for brunch. We got into the car to head over, and my phone rang. It was my dad, and I thought that was strange, because we were on our way. I thought that maybe he needed me to grab something else from the store before we went. I had no idea. I had no idea, that phone call would change my life forever.

His voice was different. Something wasn’t right. “Honey…Don passed away.” My head started spinning. This couldn’t be real. I started sputtering, unable to really form a sentence. He told me my cousin had called, who was also one of Donnie’s best friends, and that he couldn’t bring himself to call me and tell me. So he called my parents so they could tell me this news. My dad told me to just get to the house, and we went.

There was no warning, it was an accident. Donnie’s rec hockey team had played in a tournament that weekend, and they’d gone out after playing Saturday night. He’d forgotten his phone in his car at the rink, and he’d been drinking. So he was walking to go call his wife to come and pick him up. While he was walking, he was hit by a woman who it turned out was texting while she was driving. He’d never had a chance, and his mother lost her only child on Mother’s Day.

Donnie and I met through a mutual friend when we were teenagers. He was 14, I was 15. I had seen him before, and truth be told, I thought he was cute and I had a bit of a crush from a distance. The day we actually really met though, was at an all day outdoor concert. I was there with my best friend Jenn, and he was there with one of our other best friends Trent, and another friend of theirs. There were six bands that day, with Def Leppard being the headliner on Canada Day in Camrose, 1993. There were thousands and thousands of people there, and somehow we all managed to find each other. He didn’t say much all day, he was pretty quiet. But through the day I ended up sunburned on the top of my head, and was complaining to Jenn about it. He heard me, and plunked his hat on my head and just said “Here, wear this.” For a 14 year old boy to think that way, he showed me exactly who he was that day. And the crush may have grown a little.

That was the summer between grade 10 and 11 for me, and he came to the high school in the fall, a grade below me. We shared a lot of the same friends, and I ended up with quite the little crush going. Typical teenage girl. One weekend early in the school year, there was a party that I missed out on. I came to school Monday, and drama ensued. I found out that one of my closest friends had made out with him at this party, and I was absolutely devastated. I thought that would be the end of it, but did you ever have that friend…you know, the one that purposely pursued the boys you liked? As soon as you mentioned someone you had a crush on, there she was, passing him notes. Sure enough, she went after Donnie something fierce. And wouldn’t you know it, they got together. They actually dated until we graduated. I got over it pretty quickly, like you do with crushes when you’re young. And we kept a tight circle back then, our little group.

It’s funny, when I think about it. The girl he dated, we went to school together from the time we were in preschool. And we were good friends before high school already. So during that time she dated Donnie in high school, there were a bunch of us that spent a lot of time together. Going to parties, dances, spending weekends at one of our friends parent’s lake lot. We were tight. Our high school experience overall was actually really good compared to what a lot of people go through. And after what junior high was like for me, I reveled in it. I came out of my shell, and my high school friends were friends I made for life. I didn’t realize that for some, it would be cut shorter than I would have ever wanted or hoped.

Graduation came. Donnie and my other friend broke up when she went to university, and I stayed back a year and upgraded a couple of my classes. He was in grade 12 that year. After their breakup, I didn’t really know what to expect. And with many of our mutual friends having moved on that year, it almost didn’t make sense for us to stay friends. And yet, our bond became stronger that year. We’d had our bond formed within a group, but after that was gone, we developed something that was entirely different. We started to figure out all the things that we had in common that we never even knew were there, because we never got the chance to really get to know one another on our own. He never had any siblings, so that’s how he viewed his closest friends. That year I decided to upgrade some high school classes, turned out to be one of the best things I ever did, and I didn’t even know it at the time. But, hindsight and all that.

The year after that, was the year we both moved to Edmonton. He lived alone, and I was living with one of my best friends from home. We spent a lot of time together that year. Cheap drinks in bars with our friends. He’d call me to shop for clothes, wanting my opinion, and then never take my advice. He dragged me to wait at West Edmonton Mall for five hours to meet wrestler Bret Hart, only for the line to get cut off ten people in front of us and we didn’t get an autograph. He was livid over that one. I begged the security guy to take just a few more people, to no avail. Donnie was so disappointed, I had to try. To me, that day wasn’t wasted. It was a Saturday afternoon spent talking about everything and nothing, people-watching while we did it. He bought me dinner after agreeing to even wait in line with him that long, while I tried to convince him that Bret Hart was probably a dick and didn’t deserve to meet us anyway.

Over the years following, he ended up in Calgary, and I ended up back home in Cold Lake. I got married and settled down first. He finally found a girl who not only accepted me, but developed her own friendship with me. Life happens and you don’t get to see each other as often, and the texts and emails have to suffice in between. What I wouldn’t give to get another one of his random Simpsons quotes in a text, that would turn into a whole day’s worth of quotes exchanged.

My brother traveled with me to the funeral. I was glad not to go alone. Seeing our friends was hard enough, but having to see Donnie’s mom was harder. I’ve always had a good relationship with her. In high school, she even gave me my first job working as a clerk at a drop-off depot for the drycleaner she worked for. We got a chance to have a moment together after the service, and while it wasn’t easy, I’m glad we had it. She hugged me so tight, and for as much pain as I know she was in at the time, she made sure to tell me how much Donnie loved me. She asked me “What am I going to do now?” I didn’t have an answer, because I didn’t know myself. I just told her she could call me any time.

We were heading home to Cold Lake right after the service, a six hour drive. It had been an overcast day, grey and somber. It fit the tone. But as my brother and I walked out into the parking lot, it started to drizzle. We got into the car, and by the time we got out of Calgary, it was pouring rain. It was a very quiet drive home, we were both lost in thought. All I could think about, was how unfair life was. How angry I was, that this is how things worked sometimes. Usually I find rain very soothing, but on that day, it was unwelcome. In my head, I was searching for some kind of answer, knowing I couldn’t possibly come up with one that would make any sense. When we were about an hour out of the city, something happened.

I can’t explain this any other way than how I choose to see it, so I’ll just tell it as I experienced it. These things don’t usually work like this for me, but on that day…that day, it did. I’d had my eyes closed for a minute. I wasn’t sleeping, as exhausted as I was physically and emotionally depleted, there was no way I could. My head was back against the headrest, and I was just listening to the rain pound against the windows. There’d been so many things going through my brain already since we left. In my head, I begged. I pleaded. Give me a sign. Show me you’re here, now.

The drive between Calgary and Cold Lake is 6-6.5 hours. As I mentioned before, it started to drizzle right as we were leaving the service. We’d stopped at a mall, to hit up a food court to grab something to eat quickly, and left. By the time we were out of Calgary, it was pouring. It poured buckets the whole way home, the entire six hours. But for one moment. One single moment, the whole drive home. As I finished that thought in my head, for Donnie to show me a sign…right at that moment, there was a flash of sun. Driving, on the road, you could see exactly where the rain stopped, where the pavement was dry, and the line where it began again. As if it had been drawn by a crayon that was a darker shade of grey. Six solid hours of driving, maybe a little more, without even stopping for a bathroom break, because we just wanted to be home already. And only in that very moment was there ever a glimpse of sun, or a lack of rain. You do with it what you will, but I know what I know.

I changed just a little, the day he left this world. There’s people you find in life that do that. They change who you are, in the best ways. My closest friends, the friends that I’ve considered family, they came into my world and made it different somehow. These are also the ones that came around, and never left by choice. No matter how hard I pushed, no matter how hard I tried to be unlovable, they always saw through the walls I was so desperately trying to put up. And they loved me anyway. They’ve always seen me, for me.

In the time that Donnie’s been gone, I’ve struggled with a lot of anger and bitterness. It was something that could have easily been prevented, and that’s difficult. With no warning, no possibility of goodbye, there’s always the “why?” of it all that lingers. I’m sure it always will. The day after his funeral, Donnie’s wife found out that she was pregnant. He would have been such a great father. At the same time, there’s this little piece of him left behind. He looks so much like his dad.

A few years later, I lost another of my closest friends, another soul mate in life. But that’s another story for another day. All I know is that in my 30s, that’s not what I was expecting from life. This last year with the pandemic, and having a lot more time on my hands, a lot of this has come to the surface in a way I also couldn’t have predicted. These ‘anniversaries’ are hitting me harder, because I have less to distract me. This last week I’ve been in a bit of a fog, and it won’t seem to lift. I think I have to let it do what it needs to, because I’ve been avoiding it up until now. It’s what I do, hoping it will just go away. This won’t, though. And I shouldn’t let it.

The friends that I’ve made in my life, the ones that came in and challenged me, and make me a better human…to all of you, thank you. Thank you for putting up with my crazy, and listening to my ridiculous theories on, well, everything. Thank you for loving the things that I love, and showing me new things to love at the same time. Thank you for making me laugh, and letting me cry if I need to. Thank you for loving me, even when I’ve been at my ugliest. I’m fully aware that you’re the ones that choose to be here. And my gratefulness can’t even be put into words. There are none that can describe how thankful I am for the people I’ve found, who have chosen me, as I’ve chosen them in return to share this crazy life with. My friends are the family that I’ve hand picked. And my heart is full.

People say that grief gets easier over time. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I find it just changes as the years go by. It morphs into something else. What starts out as anger and shock, turns into sadness, and you do venture into territory of some version of acceptance. But the pain still remains. Yes, I changed a little the day Donnie left. I changed, because the people that I truly let in, that somehow manage to climb or break down these brick walls, they get a piece of my heart. And the ones that have gone, that piece goes with them. I’m ok with that, because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that it belonged to them all along. That piece, was meant for them in the first place.

Brave Face

A few nights ago, I watched a movie on Netflix called I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. It didn’t have anything to do with current events, but the title has stuck with me. That’s not to say that I have any designs on leaving this world, that’s not what I mean in any capacity, so please don’t worry about that. It’s just that increasingly over the last couple of years, the place that I’ve always called home, has felt less and less like the home I’ve always loved.

Feeling out of place isn’t something that’s new to me, though. I’ve written in the past about struggles with not fitting in with my peers at some points in my life, but this is different. I feel…displaced. Like I fundamentally don’t belong anymore. My province, and my hometown seem to be so opposite to how my values and beliefs line up, and my frustration is at an all time high. And now, I have reasons to believe that I’m not even the person that I thought I was.

I’m finding myself saying and doing things I shouldn’t. I used to be able to control myself better, and keep my snark in check when I needed to. I have no excuses for the way I’ve conducted myself lately, and I’m not going to make any. Something came out of me recently that I’m not proud of. At all. We all have our people, our safe spaces, and I violated that space without thinking it through completely. And it bit me, and I deserved it. I haven’t thought about much else since. I don’t even have the words to express how sorry I am, and how bad I feel. I’m taking responsibility for my actions, because that’s what an adult should do.

I came to an epiphany of sorts recently, too. Until the pandemic hit, I was a worker bee. For a lot of years, I worked and worked and worked some more. Sometimes working 11 hours a day, sometimes two jobs. I filled my time with work, and not a whole lot else. At the time, I didn’t even realize what I was doing. I worked until I literally made myself sick at one time, I was severely anemic and exhausted. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and it showed. I was doing 8 or 9 nail clients a day, no lunch, no breaks. I’d start at 9am, and work until 7 or 8pm straight through, without stopping. It was like I was just this zombie on auto-pilot, a drone hunched over a desk, chained to a daily grind.

I’ve always been someone who would rather deal with what’s going on with everyone around me, rather than what’s happening with me. I’ve always known that could be to my own detriment, but I pushed things down, stuffed them away, because it was easier than facing them head on. Now that in the last year I’ve had a lot of extra time on my hands, it’s forced a lot of that to the surface where I haven’t had a choice but to look at it. It’s been staring me right in the face, a mental game of chicken.

How it’s felt for years, is like I’ve been a caged animal internally. But now? Now, due to this pandemic, I’m also literally feeling like a caged animal. Feral. Is that why my teeth are bared, and my claws are coming out more often? It’s my best guess. It still excuses nothing. All of these demons that I haven’t faced, they’ll eat me alive if I don’t find some way through them. I’ve spent so much time pretending to be fine, that for a long time I may have convinced myself that I was. I know that it hasn’t been fair to the people that love me. We’ve had our hands full for so long with another family member, that I never wanted to take the focus off of that. At the end of the day, I’ve always managed to power through, and keep going.

I once had a conversation with my cousin’s wife. We were discussing said family member, and some things going on. I mentioned that I had all the same issues, just not to the same degree, and that they manifest a little differently in me. She was shocked, and told me that of all the people she knew, she saw me as one of the most “together”. I told her that when it comes to me, I always like to use the duck analogy. She hadn’t heard this analogy before, so I explained. “Say you see a duck swimming out on a pond. What you see on the surface is just a calm duck, moving along. But under the water, it’s legs and feet are kicking like mad to swim.”

I can’t help but feel that the more time goes by, the harder I’m having to kick. I have no one to blame but myself for that, and for pushing things down as long as I have. How I’m going to navigate what I need to, I haven’t quite figured out yet. I’ve been in counseling at different points in my life, and I’m going to look at going back. One of the things I need to find my way through, though…I’m not sure there really is a way through it completely. The reason being that it’s not just about me, it also affects someone I love very much. And it’s not just my story to tell.

One day, I hope to be able to tell it. I can’t be sure that will happen, because it will mean some painful and difficult conversations. It also means that all that kicking may finally be on the surface of the water, and there’s others that could get splashed in the process. My instinct to this point was to always protect the people around me, keep some glass walls around me so that no one caught the aftermath. In this case, forget the duck. We’re talking full on Shamu out of the water, and my loved ones are in the splash zone. I’ve got some work to do on my own before any of it could possibly happen. I just hope I have the strength to do it.

No matter what happens now, I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other. I always do. For my family, for the people that love me, I know I have to. And that’s always in the back of my mind. Everything I do, is for them. Brave face, game on.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

My grandpa brought baseball to our town. Cold Lake certainly isn’t a big city now, but it was a tiny little town in the 50’s. When my dad was 4, he brought a man named Tom Murphy to play on his team, the Cold Lake Cardinals. He was from San Francisco, and he was a good ball player. He couldn’t have possibly known then, who this man would become to our family over the decades to come. He came to play ball, and then, he just stayed. For a long time. Eventually he moved back to the Bay area, but he lived and worked in Cold Lake for many years, and we considered him family.

He was a friend to my grandparents, a sort of uncle and friend to my dad and his siblings. Eventually he became my brother’s Godfather. My brother and I both played ball when we were young, and he’d come for dinner and hit balls to us in the back yard. He’d attempt to take us to church on the odd Sunday, after our mom had tried and failed to get us to keep going. He’d bribe us with breakfast out, waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. It still didn’t work out for either one of us, but he had to try.

Tom was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He was goofy, but sharp. Always quick with a joke, making us laugh constantly. Sometimes, he’d come to our house to do laundry. One afternoon when I was in high school, I come home to see his car parked outside. I go into the house, and I walk into our living room to see him lying on the floor. Sheer panic took over me, and I started calling his name. “Tom. Tom? TOM!” And I’m really starting to freak out. “TOM!!!” and finally “What?!” I started breathing again, and I walk over and help him up. “I thought you were dead!” And he says to me “I’m not dead, I’m just lazy!” He had fallen asleep on the couch while doing his laundry, fallen off the couch during the course of his nap, and was too damn lazy to get back up on the couch and just continued his nap on the floor.

He has a niece in San Francisco, who came to visit when I was in grade 10, and stayed with us at our house. As a gift for graduation, my parents sent me to visit her and her mom on my own at 17 for ten days. The first time I’d ever traveled by myself. They took me to do some amazing things on that trip. Pier 39, the Museum of Modern Art, Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, shopping in Sausalito. I saw my last movie at a drive-in there, and by God wasn’t it Pulp Fiction. My mom was not impressed with me that I came home with rolls and rolls of film, and had all of one picture that I was actually in, but five pictures of places where the Zodiac Killer dumped bodies. Priorities.

One day, they took me to the zoo. It was an impressive facility, as zoos go. I had lagged behind in an area for a minute, and my family friends had gone on ahead of me at one point. We were in the big cat exhibit, and there was an area I was walking through that was a boardwalk that had two high fences on either side, and trees among the fences. They were doing some work within the exhibit at that time, but people were still allowed through. I was walking along the boardwalk alone, when I heard rustling above me in the trees. I looked up, to see a beautiful black panther starting down at me. With nothing in between us. I froze, terrified. Before I knew it, though, a park employee came out of nowhere, and shot it with a tranquilizer. They explained to us after, that someone had forgotten to put some of the chain netting back in one area, and they’d lost this cat. Well, it found me, anyway. We got our admission refunded, and free t-shirts. It’s still a very surreal thing when I think about it, that it actually happened.

I’ve also spent family vacations in the Bay area. Even as an adult, when Tom moved back after spending many years in Cold Lake. Now I’m lucky that I not only love my family, but I genuinely like them as people, and what this means is that in our travels come some funny stories. The last trip we took out to California, we flew out through Vancouver. My mother makes no secret out of the fact that she does not like to fly. The running joke with her is that she used take drugs to fly, now she flies to take drugs. And it’s true, she has to take sedatives, she’s that scared. She’s got it down to a science now.

Our layover this time was around lunchtime, and we had a couple of hours to kill in the airport, and where our gate was there was a food court like you see often. The boys went in several different directions, and my mom and I decided to get Chinese food and a coffee from Starbucks, and we’d all meet back near our gate to eat together. We got all our food and such, and my mom is ambulatory and everything, but a tad loopy from the drugs. We’re all eating and quiet for a couple of minutes, and out of the blue she says “this is the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.” My dad was sitting across from me, and we look at each other, and I kind of look at him and then turn to my mom and go “Oh really?” and she goes “Yup, best Chinese food ever.” And I’m laughing to myself, because believe me when I say that food was mediocre at best. I’d equate it to mall Chinese food, and it was fine, but it was nowhere near the best ever. I moved across the aisle to tell my dad this and we chuckled together. We got on our connection, and got to San Francisco later that afternoon.

That evening, Tom came to meet us at our hotel for dinner. We order, and my mom got some crab cakes as an appetizer. She’s eating them, and says “My God, these crab cakes are so good” and my dad says “As good as the best Chinese food you ever had?” And I start laughing. Mom says to him “What Chinese food?” and then I interject. “The Chinese food from the airport at lunch.” And she says to me “I didn’t have any Chinese food today.” And I’m laughing harder now. So I tell her about the layover, how we got the Chinese food and how she said it was the best she’d ever had, and how it truly wasn’t that great. She had no recollection of the food, or the layover, because of the sedatives, and then was choked she couldn’t even remember this food she’d praised so much.

The next day on that trip, we didn’t really have anything planned. I was craving pancakes, and the husband and I drove to a nearby Denny’s to get lunch. We got inside and got seated, the waitress poured us some coffee, and came to tell us a minute later that the power was going to be out for a few minutes due to some outside work, and either we could wait the few minutes, or drink the coffee we’d gotten on the house and head out if we wanted. We decided to wait. But several minutes later she came back to tell us that it was going to take longer than expected, and alas, no pancakes for me. There was a Taco Bell right across the street, so we just decided to grab something there. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, because I ended up with violent food poisoning on vacation, and lost nearly three days on that trip. Well played Taco Bell, lesson learned.

We drove out to Pebble Beach to check things out. I can’t say that I’ve seen many golf courses, but it was beautiful. My dad, who rarely complains about anything, was furious it costed $10 just to drive onto the grounds. We walked around a bit, and I had to wrangle my parents off of a green before they got hit by flying golf balls. My brother, ever the classy one, peed in some bushes because he didn’t know if he was allowed to go in the clubhouse if he wasn’t a member. I stood ready with my phone, and snapped a picture of him coming out of them. I’m a great sister.

We drove out to Half Moon Bay, where there’s a restaurant called Sam’s Chowder House, which my dad kept insisting on calling “Sam’s Crab Shack” (“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” was his classic response every time I corrected him) which the Today Show had featured their Lobster Roll in the top 5 sandwiches in the US. Well I had it, and let me tell you, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Where that restaurant is situated is nothing short of breathtaking, as well.

We went to watch the Giants play, because baseball is in our blood. I’m not one to watch it on TV, but I do like to go to a game. It’s cool that you can see water from the park, we could right from our seats. The Giants lost that game, but it was still nice to be at a game there. We went to Alcatraz on that trip, too. We’d already been, but the husband had never gone, and it’s still a cool thing to do anyway. That day I still wasn’t feeling very well, but we’d booked the tickets with my credit card in advance, so if I wasn’t there with my card, then no one was going. So off I went, on a boat, stomach churning. I swear I must have actually looked green. I eventually parked my ass on a bench and just said “I’ll be here” and contemplated lying down on it until my family was done. Eventually, my brother came barreling down the ramp from where you head up to the prison itself. He doesn’t know I know this, but my mom later told me they were up there, and he kept saying “Should she be down there by herself? Someone should check on her.” And so he did.

A drive out to San Jose had us take a visit to the Winchester House, which was something I really wanted to see. If you’re not familiar with the story, Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. She lost everyone she loved, and thought she was cursed. A spiritualist in Boston told her that vengeful spirits taken by the family’s rifles were taking their revenge on her, and that she needed to move to the east and buy a house. He instructed that she needed to maintain constant construction on that house to keep the spirits away. The house she bought was worked on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from 1866, until she died in 1922. There are 160 rooms, and within it there are staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that just have walls behind them, and gorgeous stained glass pieces in areas that get no sun. Things that make no sense, supposedly to confuse any spirits that come calling, to chase them away. You can’t take pictures inside, but I remember intricate flooring, trim, and ceiling treatments, unlike people had ever seen in those days.

This trip was close to mother’s day, and as a treat, I booked my mom and I a spa day at the Fairmont Mission Inn in Sonoma. We took a day trip out there, the men went wine tasting while we got spoiled. The fact that it’s an old Mission to start with is very cool, and the architecture itself is beautiful. There’s terracotta flooring and ceiling tiles, and it has that hacienda type feel. But it’s also built on a natural spring, and before your services they have you do a bathing ritual in their whirlpools, which is the spring water brought up from the ground. Between all of that, and the quality of the services, it was a fabulous day.

One of the services I booked for us was called a Vanilla Float. It was a full body scrub, and whatever a “float” was, which I had no idea what to expect. When I walked into that room, there was a chair, and a giant rectangle covered in a sheet, which almost resembled a coffin. She asked me if I was claustrophobic at all. I said no, but I was suddenly slightly frightened. She had me lie on top of the sheet on this rectangle, which just felt like a piece of furniture once I got up on it. She scrubbed me from head to toe with this amazing vanilla scented body scrub, and wrapped me up in the sheet. Then I could see under the sheet was another blanket she wrapped me in. She walked around to the other side of the table, hit a button, and WHOOSH I sunk into the table! Inside, it was like a waterbed, where I was suspended, floating there in water, but I wasn’t wet. Once I figured out what had happened, I completely relaxed. My head was still above at the one end, as were my feet. She then gave me a head massage, and I was in complete heaven. It was, hands down, the coolest spa service I’ve ever had done to date.

It feels like travel may never happen again right now. And I miss traveling with my family, especially. San Francisco is always going to have a special place in my heart thanks to Tom. He was so special to our family, and the time we spent there is a reminder of what he was to us. Family isn’t always blood, sometimes people come along in life that choose to be there, and they become your family. I’m lucky enough to have a family that I want to spend time with, but I’m so grateful to have friends that are like my family, too. I don’t take any one of them for granted, not for one second. Tom is passed away now, and I’ve tragically lost friends along the way. You really never do know what life is going to throw at you. Hold your people close to you, and make sure to tell them you love them. Tomorrow is never a guarantee, and we need to stick together now more than ever. Much love.