witching hour polls and random musings

54433741_581852265628823_1118094465207107584_n.jpgOops. Didn’t mean to leave everyone in suspense with my last post. I certainly chose a dark and gloomy place to leave everyone hanging but … this story will have a happy ending. I promise you that.

Let’s resume the narrative. AWoL part 2. I’ll pick up where I left off.

It was January 1st and I had just decided to go on leave. I’m not gonna lie. Things did feel pretty dark and gloomy at that point. I was entirely overwhelmed – overwhelmed with what was happening to me physically and overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. It felt so HUGE. Although I knew I needed to take a leave (like literally didn’t have a choice), the thought of all of those wide open days was terrifying to me. The only thing that kept me going was a deep stubborn desire to win this battle. I truly felt as though I was fighting for my life. Not fighting for life … but fighting for MY LIFE. The life that I wanted for myself. A life in which I could thrive and not simply survive. A life filled with vibrant energy and happiness. A life in which I could achieve and experience everything that was in my heart and mind. A life in which the best people in my world would get the best of me and not just whatever I had left over after grinding out my days.

I started researching. Everything. Autoimmune conditions, panulcerative colitis, psoriasis, holistic healing, nutrition, fasting, diet, supplements, medication. I read articles, listened to podcasts, trolled on line forums, and reached out to people who know a lot more about this stuff than me. I learned that my condition is not exactly life threatening but that it could definitely shorten my life and could continue to progress in some pretty awful ways unless I took it all very seriously. I also learned that there is no single approach that works for everyone. No “autoimmune handbook”, no “colitis diet”, no “psoriasis solution”. What helps one person will not necessarily help the next. I learned that I would need to find my own way.  So … I took baseline measures of my health and started making little changes to see the impact they would have on that baseline. I documented and recorded. I made notes and evaluated my progress.

Staying in that realm … the realm of logic and discovery … was a (largely subconscious) coping strategy. It kept me on the surface and prevented me from being completely consumed by sadness, despair, and fear. I stayed within that realm of objective investigation for several weeks. I pushed the subjective aside. I suppressed my emotions. I actively resisted letting my brain take me down the “what does it all mean” wormhole until I started to see some progress. Until I had proven to myself that the changes I was making were actually starting to pay off.

By mid-February, I began to notice that the intensity of my symptoms was diminishing. I had more energy. I was sleeping (a bit) better. I was smiling and laughing more. I saw a sparkle returning to my previously lifeless eyes. My skin looked healthier and the dark circles under my eyes had begun to fade. I began to recognize the person I was seeing in the mirror. The progress was slow, but it was undeniable and it was enough to give me hope. Little bit by little bit. Week after week. I felt more myself than I had in months. Only then … when I had found some evidence to be optimistic … did I allow myself to dive more deeply into the meaning of it all.

I am not even close to completing that exercise but I can tell you where I’ve landed for now.

I originally feared that I would have to transform myself completely … that I would have to live in an entirely different way than I have up to this point. I had visions of myself lying in bed in a dimly lit room with the blinds closed and pill bottles by my side (very victorian era melodrama if you must know). I imagined taking naps and drinking tea. Having long bubble baths (THE WORST). I imagined people coming in quietly to visit me … not for too long though … just for a few minutes so that I wouldn’t get too tired. Maybe doing the occasional crossword puzzle or listening to audiobooks.

It was fucking terrifying!

But …

It turns out that I might not need to Emily Bronte my way out of this mess. I (think I) can do this my way. Yes I will need to make some changes but I don’t need throw away my coffee pot or permanently lace up my rollerskates. I need to be quite rigid with my diet (what I eat and when I eat), I need to spend most of my time with good positive people so that my fight or flight response isn’t being constantly triggered, I need to regularly spend time outside (ideally in the sunshine by the ocean), and I need to put boundaries in place so that my schedule is more manageable than it has been for the past few years. For sure.

But …

I have begun to accept that I am someone who absolutely needs to be in motion. Exercising, moving, and exploring. That’s who I have always been, it’s who I am, and who I will continue to be. It will keep me physically and emotionally healthy. It will keep me from sinking into depression and from letting this autoimmune disorder set up camp in my body. My research proves it. I feel better when I exercise. The new twist will be learning to be still … truly still … at peace and fully present … when I am not in motion. I need to provide regular opportunities for my body to truly rest and for my mind to have the space it needs to complete an accurate diagnostic assessment of how I’m doing and to determine what (if any) recalibrations are required.

Also …

I need to step away from some of the distractions in my life … away from the people, places, and things that are not bringing me joy. If it is true that I am not invincible and that I might only have a finite amount of energy to give, I want to make sure that I’m expending that energy wisely. Creating, connecting, and contributing.

That brings us to today. Mid-march. I am preparing to return to work. Very soon. I am planning to take what I have learned with me over the past 3 months and to continue my research. I haven’t yet managed to get my symptoms in remission but I think I can get there. I have a good plan of attack, a lot more awareness, and (most importantly) hope.

I will probably publish one more AWoL post for those of you who are interested in the gory details. As I’ve learned and as I’ve said, there’s no one way to tackle this stuff but I’m happy to share what has been working for me in the hopes that someone out there might find something that helps them too.

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive as I have begun to tackle this. It means so much to me and has kept me on track.



IMG_5480.JPGADVANCE WARNING – This post will be more personal than poetic … more raw than polished. Although a metaphor (or two) might end up weaving its way into the words, this will be accidental rather than intentional. It will be full on rambling narrative and will probably be devoid of any kind of literary structure. There may or may not be wisdom revealed and there may or may not be themes that emerge. We shall see. This post is for me. It is for me to start making sense of everything that has happened over the past few months. I’m sharing here because it will help solidify my thinking and because it’s possible that someone out there will be able to relate and ultimately benefit from my somewhat unhinged freeform musings. I have foreshadowed that this “part 1” as there might be more to come. There usually is. This instalment will cover the events that led up to my decision to take a leave from work.

Let’s begin.

But where? The story has no identifiable beginning … no crystal clear moment in time that can be used as a starting point. So I guess I’ll begin with the diagnosis … a diagnosis with multiple threads that can be followed into the nebulous web of the past as well as threads that will undoubtedly form part of the tapestry of what is yet to come.

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in early December. Yes … that sounds super frustratingly vague to me too. People have asked me “what kind of autoimmune condition?” and I have no answer for them because I’ve been given no answer myself. I think that’s about as good as I’m going to get. As I’ve begun to wrap my head around it all and have begun to poll the “experts” (those with lived experience and those with theoretical knowledge), I have come to understand that this underlying autoimmune dysfunction is creating secondary conditions that have actual names. Names like psoriasis and panulcerative colitis. I have come to understand that there may be more names to add to that list … especially if I don’t start to take things seriously and do something about it.

I have learned that once you have triggered an autoimmune condition you will have it for the rest of your life. It is a disease “in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them. Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body — like your joints or skin — as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells” (healthline.com). Your focus post-diagnosis becomes one of symptom management rather than achieving a cure. The goal is to create conditions within the body that encourage periods of remission. That is my mission right now. It has taken me a while to get here.

Over the past several months, my health has been compromised in a variety of ways that I kept well hidden from pretty much everyone … most determinedly from myself. A little over a year and a half ago, my body stopped working entirely. One friday in october of 2017, I got home from work and collapsed on the couch and literally couldn’t move for the next 48 hours. I had never felt so weak. The low point was when I said to my partner that “I feel like life is leaving my body”. I have written about that before but (to recap), I didn’t mean to be dramatic and I didn’t mean to scare him. I was actually quite relieved to have words to explain how I was feeling. My partner was not relieved. He was terrified. He forced me to call my doctor and make an appointment for monday morning. He drove me there and made me promise to tell her what I had said to him. He threatened to tell her himself if I didn’t. My doctor was incredibly supportive and told me that she wanted me to take a leave from work RIGHT AWAY. I honestly didn’t have a choice so I did. For 2 whole weeks. It felt so dramatic at the time … such a huge decision.

But really? Looking back I realize how ridiculous I was to think that 2 weeks was even close to enough. It was enough to get me back on my feet so that I could keep doing everything I had always done. I even added new things into the mix to really over-compensate … challenging myself to do more than ever before.

Despite my incredibly active denial about the big picture, that leave did put me on the path towards recovery. It triggered my doctor to order a bunch of tests to try to get to the bottom of what was going on with me. Between october 2017 and november 2018, I went through a tonne of blood work and countless other tests. I went through cancer screening – skin, breast, colon. I saw specialists. I did (most of) what I was told … which is definitely a sign that my deepest intuition was trying to be heard over my stubborn creative brain that worked overtime to keep my favourite delusion intact … the delusion that I am invincible and that there are no limits to what I can do physically, mentally, and emotionally.

December 2018.

I was tired. Tired in my bones. I didn’t even recognize the person who would stare back at me on those rare occasions that I actually thought to look in the mirror. There were permanent black circles under my eyes and my body had puffed up with cortisol. There was no sparkle in my eyes. My skin looked dead. My limbs hung weak and my muscles had begun to waste away. I was malnourished and sleeping no more than 1-2 hours a night. I was living on potato chips because it seemed to be the only food my body could digest. And yet … and yet … I continued to work 50+ hours a week in an environment that was not at all conducive to creating / maintaining physical and emotional health. I continued to teach 4 evening yoga classes and to pick up the occasional sub class to help my teaching community. I went to spin classes and practiced yoga. I made a point to visit with my people and remained active in my roles as a partner and as a stepmom. I was doing everything and then some.

Until I couldn’t.

I went to see one of my specialists (a gastroenterologist) in early december. I was expecting her to order more tests as the last ones had disproved her original theory about what was going on. I walked into that appointment with my guard completely down. I was expecting no real news. I was wrong. Instead, she gave me news that would turn my world upside down. She told me that I had an autoimmune condition that had been confirmed by biopsies she had done earlier in the fall. She said I had something called panulcerative colitis and that I would have the condition for the rest of my life. She didn’t pause for even a second to register the look of shock on my face. In fact she didn’t make eye contact with me at all. She scribbled notes in my file without ever looking up from her desk. I was just the latest anonymous person on her conveyor belt. She wrote up a requisition for a chest xray that I had to do as soon as I left her office (to confirm I didn’t have TB?!?!? random?!), a blood work order that I had to complete that same day (10 vials), orders for several other tests, and two separate prescriptions. She asked if I understood. I shrugged my shoulders. That was the end. The whole appointment lasted less than 7 minutes before she ushered me out the door towards her receptionist who booked a follow-up appointment for me to see her again in 4 months.

Then I wandered into the abyss. Alone. In a state of shock. Blinking against the bright winter sun. Shallow breathing. Heart racing. Teetering on full fight or flight mode for the next several hours. I did most of the tests that day and I dropped off the prescriptions. I went through the motions and kept trying to push away the awareness that was tenaciously and relentlessly forcing its way to the surface of my conscious brain. An undeniable fact. The fact that I had done this to myself. I had done this to myself by pushing myself too hard for too long, by never giving myself time to slow down, by avoiding obvious signs that something was amiss, by accepting things that were truly unacceptable for far too long.

I stayed in denial for as long as I could. I kept doing what I had been doing and I pushed aside thoughts of what all this would really mean.

The haze finally lifted when I picked up my prescriptions. I listened numbly to the list of side effects that I could expect when taking the first drug … an old-school steroid that was supposed to fast-track my healing. It was when the pharmacist pulled out the second prescription that my brain screeched “no fucking way! that is NOT me!” It was a giant bottle of giant pills … pills that I would supposedly have to take 4 times a day for the rest of my life. I pictured that bottle on my countertop and I had a full melt down. That pill bottle had nothing to do with how I see myself. It represented everything I am not – old, weak, fragile. A victim. I knew instantly that was not how I was going to tackle this. I knew there had to be a different way. A better way. A more sustainable way than simply managing symptoms with pharmaceuticals. I knew in my heart that I had to find a way to come back to life and to tackle the source of the problem – my autoimmune health.

So … I booked an appointment with my doctor and my naturopath and they agreed. Medication is not the answer or at least does not have to be MY ANSWER. My doctor ordered me to take a leave so that I could get on top of this. After one final failed attempt to reorganize my work life so that I could tackle this without taking time off, I had to officially throw in the towel. With the support of my doctor and my family and my friends, I chose to take a leave.

That was January 1.

What came next will be dished out in the next instalment of AWoL … if I get around to writing it.

IMG_3763_2.JPGSend in the devourers of sadness. Let them creep from the shadows.

Hungrily and cautiously they circle. Clustered together. Whispering strategies. Planning their approach. Sizing up my wounds. Assessing my defences and my strength. Eyes flashing with excitement. Lips parted. Ready for a taste.

But what they don’t know is this. I have lured them with my tears. I know they are here. I am ready. I have set the trap.

I toss bait into the divide between myself and them. A single injury. A little scrap to start. A tasty one though. An offering that has been marinating for weeks. A morsel that is seasoned with betrayal and confusion. It should be enough to draw them closer.

I wait. Holding my breath.

I sense (more than see) the creature slink forward. Head and eyes darting left darting right. Staying close to the ground. Scrambling on all fours. All sinew and bone. Gaunt. It is starvation and desperation more than bravery that has made it the first to move. If it waits it might get nothing as the others will push it aside once the banquet truly begins. Plus this one has a special love for wounds of duplicity. It seizes the scrap that drips with the kind of poison that can only be administered by someone close enough to pour it down your throat. Someone in the inner circle. The creature swallows it whole without hesitation before sprinting back to the pack.

I sigh with relief and allow myself a single moment to feel the delicious absence of that particular toxin. I can already feel healthy cells flooding to reclaim that territory.

The beasts are now bordering on frenzy. They have crept closer and their circles around me are getting tighter and tighter. I offer them more. Carefully selecting appetizers to peak rather than sate their hunger. Building their excitement for the main course. Tiny piece by tiny piece. Scraps of heartbreak, fear, and loss. They are ready.

I am ready.

I close my eyes and feel their cold breath on my skin. They are hushed and waiting. I hear a single moan and I know it is time. I crack open my chest and expose my whole heart. For a moment everything is still. I hear the drip drip drip of my darkest grief landing on the dry unyielding earth. Swirling on the surface. Unabsorbed.

Then they move. All at once. Descending upon me in a swarm of blind desire and pure hunger. Vampirically draining the sadness from my veins. Drinking in the heaviness, the hate, the resentment, the denial. Filling themselves with my most awful memories and my most painful wounds. They drink until there is no darkness left in me. The exsanguination is complete.

One by one they move on. They do not look back as they depart. They feel strong and invincible once more.

I lie still and keep my eyes closed until I am sure they aren’t coming back. Until I know with absolute certainty that my dangerous plan has worked. I scan for scar tissue and open wounds. There are none.

I open my eyes and drag myself to hands and knees. Taking a moment to let my body recalibrate. My head is swirling. I am drunk on the sensation of light that has begun to infuse my body. There is space where there was once solidity and movement where there was once dormancy.

I push myself to stand and take a cautious step forward. Barely touching the ground. I do not look back as I depart. I feel strong and invincible once more.

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 10.09.49 AM.pngON THIS DAY … 5 YEARS AGO

I just stumbled upon this “on this day” flashback on facebook. This photo brings up a lot memories that now lurk mostly beneath the surface of consciousness and many intense feelings that I’d prefer to not relive … it’s almost painful for me to look at it. However, it’s probably the most poignant photo that I have of myself … not because of the picture itself (although Lisa is a pure genius and such a lovely soul – GO SEE HER if you need pics taken) … but because of the moment it captured.

It was taken in May 2013. Exactly one year after my marriage had ended in a swirl of chaos and confusion and deep wounds. I have only one tattoo at this point. The first one I chose. It says “abhaya” which is the sanskrit word for fearlessness. I had it permanently etched on my inner right forearm … my warrior arm … to remind myself that I could handle anything.

I could handle a full-time (and then some) job with a lot of responsibility. I could handle single parenting one of my teenaged stepsons who took a powerful stand with incredible consequences and chose to live with me. I could handle finding ways to support and stay connected to my other teenaged stepson who was the first of us to escape the madness and try to find some stability in his life. I could handle (almost) paying my bills every month despite the mountain of debt that had piled up in my name over 10 years of marriage. I could handle making sure that Sidney (our beautiful dog) had a good life and that I was giving back to him in gratitude for all he had done for the boys and I. I could handle the effort it took to rebuild myself – getting physically healthy, reconnecting with friends, finding pockets of goodness in each and every day, rediscovering my voice and my creativity, shedding layers and layers and layers.

I could handle breathing. That was tricky sometimes. For that first year after my marriage ended … I often felt like I was gasping for air. Literally and metaphorically. I was scrambling into the light after spending much too long in the darkness. This picture is proof that I could do it. My smile is still more of a “fake it til you can make it” smile than the genuine full of happiness smiles that started to come shortly after this was taken. At this point, it still took a lot of effort to smile. It was awkward. I was out of practice.

The photo also allows me to honour all of the people who journeyed with me – sometimes from behind the scenes, sometimes actively by my side, and sometimes leading and dragging me along into possibilities that I didn’t yet know or trust. My family, my friends, and my community. Although the year had been unimaginably hard, it had also been one of the best years of my life. Me, Myles, and Sid living in our sweet little apartment in kits surrounded constantly by good people and good energy … it’s still one of my favourite times. We healed and came back to life. The earth became solid beneath our feet once more and we created lives that fit who we were (separately and together).

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this photo captured a powerful milestone. The milestone of survival and reclamation.

IMG_2111I was assaulted twice in the past week. Yup. On two separate occasions.

First time. I was driving along minding my own business and came to a stop at a red light. I happened to look to the right and noticed the driver of the car staring at me. He flashed a giant smile and waved. I scowled, gripped the steering wheel, and stared straight ahead using all of my jedi mind powers to make the light turn green. A full awkward 75 seconds later, I shot through the intersection and made my escape while nervously checking my mirrors to make sure I wasn’t being followed.

Second time. I was driving along minding my own business and came to a stop at a red light. I happened to look to the right and noticed the driver of the car staring at me. She flashed a giant smile and waved. Yup AGAIN. Same bullshit! I scowled and shook my head in bewilderment at her audacity. I actively avoided making further eye contact and eventually drove away without any further affronts. I felt relieved but shaken.

In the aftermath of these blatant daytime acts of aggression that occurred in full view of vancouver’s rush hour traffic public, I have wondered if there was something I did to invite the attacks. On both occasions, the sun was shining bright and the day was blissfully warm. I had my windows and sunroof wide open. Both incidents occurred at about 630 PM so I can only assume that, like me, my assailants were making their way home at the end of a work day. I had my favourite tunes blasting and was singing along. I was smiling. I looked … happy.

My theory.

My obvious happiness made two other people smile on two separate occasions. The fact that I had found happiness while stuck in gridlock traffic was miraculous enough that it infected a couple of people with whom I was sharing the road on those evenings. It made them smile too.

That part now makes sense.

What still doesn’t make sense is my reaction. I would like to say my response was unusual … for me and for the others who live in this city of mine. Sadly it’s not. In all seriousness, I have been thinking about those incidents and wondering why I didn’t just smile back and wondering why I found their smiles confusing, irritating, odd, and a bit aggressive. I don’t know if this is true in other cities but it’s like vancouverites have been trained for coolness (not the tragically hip kind of cool but in the kind of cool that makes us avoid connection with others). Vancouver is routinely described as an unfriendly place and I know many people who have arrived here with hope in their hearts only to leave a few months later because they found it too hard to find a social niche, too difficult to locate true community, and too damn lonely. This smiling at strangers thing almost never happens which I guess is why it threw me off. We don’t make eye contact with others, we don’t make friendly conversation with people in line-ups or at cafes, and we definitely do not smile at one another.

Honestly? I think that’s one of the main reasons I like to travel. Three of my fave destinations? My home town of St John’s Newfoundland, Venice Beach  / Santa Monica California, and Burning Man @ Black Rock City Nevada. Why? Because people in all of these places are so friendly!!! Not in a weird aggressive in your space kind of way but in a genuine liking of humanity kind of way. I feel welcomed and accepted and part of the community … even if I’m just dropping into the groove for a few days.

As for my two smilers … I doubt they are locals. Certainly not locals who have lived here for any length of time.

I feel like I need to sign up for some sort of retraining program or trauma reentry therapy. I need to learn to accept the smiles of strangers. I need to learn to effortlessly, gracefully, sincerely, warmly initiate and receive them. (I need to reclaim my smile … even if it’s the awkward “I’m in training to smile” version I was trying on in my grade 4 picture above.)

Vancouver … I love you but … we’ve gotta warm this place up a bit.

#smilesformiles #smilingtherevolution #smilesatstrangers

Let’s do this.