Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slave to the Rhythm

I’m unwinding.

My naturopath would like to take all the credit. He’s got me on a new remedy, one that’s supposed to nurture one’s faith. It’s called “Star-of-Bethlehem”. If fear is the opposite of faith, then it’s working. I’ve been less anxious over the past few weeks.

I’ve always had a rigid morning routine. Wake up at 6:30 am, shower, yoga, breakfast, dress, always in the same order, always on the same schedule.

While I was recovering from the flu, I couldn’t keep my schedule. I was too tired. I’d turn off my alarm clock and go back to sleep, then rush around trying to get out the door on time. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. If I was a few minutes late for work, too bad, so sad. I don’t have a boss on site, so there was no one to chastise me. If I needed more time at the end of the day, I stayed late.

Now the flu is over, but I haven’t gone back to my morning schedule. I set my alarm for the latest time I can get away with getting up. Then I go to bed whenever I’m tired, and wake up when I’m ready to wake up, usually before the alarm goes off. (It’s a lot easier to get to bed on time now that I don’t have cable TV, hooking me in to a show that I simply MUST see the end of.)

I love being on this new non-schedule. It’s like sleeping in every morning. Sometimes I have to hustle to get out the door, but that’s OK. I’m so well-rested that I can deal with being a bit rushed.

I’ve been letting go of other things too, like making plans. I’ve always been the type to want to plan ahead in detail. What will I eat for dinner tomorrow night? What outfit am I going to wear tomorrow morning? I had it all set in my mind ahead of time. These days I’m more likely to wing it. Sometimes that means we end up eating odd dinners, from whatever we can find in the refrigerator, but whatever. I’m not picky.

I’ve even let go of my attachment to practicing the violin. Performance time has been postponed indefinitely. It’s a heck of an instrument to master. It requires muscles and body postures that are not used for any other purpose, therefore without constant practice I find I lose my ability to play well quite quickly.

Sleeping upwards of 9 hours per night requires that I spend less time doing things in my spare time. If I have to chose between calling my mom and practicing the violin, I’ll call my mom. Spending time with my husband, family, or friends vs. the violin? My loved ones win every time. Time relaxing with a movie vs. the violin? At this time, I’m choosing to relax. I like this new, less uptight self. I don’t want to get myself caught up in a project that’s going to re-activate my inner over-achiever.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I spent too much time trying to get things done. Just like they say that no one, on their deathbed, ever regrets that they didn’t spend more time at the office, I doubt that anyone wishes they spent more time practicing violin. Maybe I’ll find time for it again at some point, but right now, I have other priorities.

Don't be a slave to your schedule. Be a slave to the rhythm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ai Ai Eyes

Warning: this post contains details of an eye exam, and profanity. LL Cool Joe, I'll see you later. Anyone else who finds eyes disgusting, leave now.

Relatively speaking, I'm cool as a cucumber at the eye doctor. He tells me that some people faint during the exam. My brave husband Ken screamed when Dr. Eye shone a bright light in his eyes. "It was SO bright!" Wow. I may faint at the sight of blood, and cry when I get a needle, but at the eye doctor, I am solid as a rock. I get to pretend I'm a toughie.

My least favourite procedure is the one that tests the pressure in your eye. You put your head into a frame to hold it steady. Then they position a little air nozzle aiming directly into your pupil. You wait for what seems like an eternity, until suddenly a strong, sharp burst of air blasts your eyeball. This elicits an irrepressible startle reflex. Your whole body jerks spastically. Then they want to do the other eye. It's all kinds of fun.

The rest of it's usually no biggie. I don't mind having bright lights shone in my face. If Dr. Eye feels the need to peel back my eyelids and search around underneath them, he's welcome to do so. I take eyedrops like a champ - no flinching. Or always have done. The ones he gives to dilate my pupils so he can examine the retinas usually sting a little, but I can deal.

Well, this time, he gave me the drops. Instructed me to keep my eyes closed for a full minute. We chatted about his summer vacation. Then he said "OK, open your eyes." And...

You know that horrible feeling that sends shivers all down your body when you drag your fingernails down a blackboard?

Imagine feeling that in your eyes, multiplied by 1,000, times Massive Stinging Pain.

An appropriate response would have been to holler "MOTHERF*CK!" and then go on a mad rampage around the examining room, roaring like an angry bull and trashing all the expensive equipment.

Instead, I lowered my head, sucked air in through my teeth, and then uttered quietly, through a clenched jaw: "Ow." Tears poured into my lap from my poor, suffering eyes, as they tried to wash out the corrosive poison.

"Come on, you can take it. I do this every year," said Dr. Eye.

"This is worse than usual," I said.

"Oh well, I'm using the phenol-blah-blah instead of the other-something drops. I want to make sure I can see all the way in. You have long eyes."

Just what every woman wants to hear. I don't have long hair, long legs, or long eyelashes. I have long eyes. So sexy.

Truly, Dr. Eye has told me before that my eyes are shaped like footballs instead of spheres. This is the cause of my near-sightedness. It puts a lot of strain on the retinas at the rear, because they are stretched to their breaking point.

Fortunately the sting wore off in a minute or so, for the most part. Then Dr. Eye was able to do his exam, during which he jovially told me that my retinas were thinning a little more this year, and if that little spot started to tear we'd have to laser it around the edges to make sure it doesn't spread, but not to worry because there are no pain receptors in the retina, so it won't hurt. Jolly good. Thank God for modern technology.

He finally let me out of there, with my pupils dilated to the max and pink, puffy eyelids. So attractive, I'm sure. That, and the squinting.

Then I went home and sat in the dark, because my eyes wouldn't focus at all and every light was painful. The double-strong drops really did their work. I had my annual Pity Party about the fact that I am at high risk for a detached retina and may very well go blind when I'm old, like my grandfather. I'm allowed to cry about that once a year, because it sucks.

The rest of the time, I try to just be grateful for every day that I can see.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Full of Should

How do you know if something is good or bad?

There are easy answers. Chocolate cake is good. Getting your tooth drilled for a filling is bad. But then again, chocolate cake isn't so good if you're diabetic. And getting your tooth drilled is a blessing compared to having it rot painfully because you have no access to dental care.

In the past I would have said, in theory, that there are some things at the ends of the spectrum that are purely good or purely bad. For example, love is all good, and violence is all bad. Right? Except, even pure love is bad when it's unrequited. If you love someone who doesn't care for you, your suffering is bottomless. And violence has a place in protecting the helpless from bullies. So where do we draw the line?

Is there anything that's all good or all bad?

I don't think so anymore. I've always been a Shades of Grey person, but I held on to the idea that this earthly plane did have some examples of 100% goodness and pure evil. I can't maintain that belief anymore. Everything I look at has two sides to it. For example, even the worst abuses I've suffered in my life have contributed to making me who I am today, and I like who I am. Even though those experiences seemed 100% bad when they were happening, at this point I wouldn't chose to time travel back and undo them.

I've been thinking about this in connection with the beliefs of organized religion. What's really got me hooked is the idea of an idol. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, an idol is

1 : a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly : a false god

Boiling it down to essentials, I understand it to mean that anytime we worship a Thing instead of God him/her/itself, we are worshipping an idol. An obvious example: if I decide my pot scrubber has supernatural powers and I start bowing before it and making sacrifices (burning a few cookies would probably do nicely) to win its favour, I am worshipping an idol.

Speaking more broadly, I have heard it said and I agree that church itself can become an idol. If I believe that I can only access God in a certain building, dressed a certain way and reciting a script in the form of accepted prayers, then I am worshipping an idol just as much as when I was kissing the counter my pot scrubber sits on.

Idolatry tries to limit God. It says "we know how God works, and therefore you have to follow our recipe if you want to get in contact with him". God, by any definition, is not limited. If he wants to get a message to you while you're wandering around your apartment wearing dirty underwear, listening to industrial goth rock, then He will do it.*

*This particular scenario is not one of my personal experiences.

The same people who like to hold forth on the right and proper way to connect with God are often the same people who figure they know what's Right and Wrong. Purely right, and purely wrong, to be clear. And they're more than willing to boss you around in that regard, for your own good, of course.

Much as I appreciate their intentions, I don't buy their theology. Anytime we figure we've got it all nailed down, that we know the rules, that's when we start believing we have some control over God. And we just don't. Not even a little.

The best way to connect with God, in my admittedly limited experience, is to be fully present in This Moment, because that's where He is.

If you're with someone, you can't love them in the past. You can't love them in the future. Saying "I loved you last week" or "I'll get around to loving you by St. Patrick's day" is useless. You can only love them right now, in this very instant. God is one of the someones that applies to.

You also can't be truly intimate with someone if you're always worried about the rules. If you're fearful: What if I said the wrong thing? What if I'm wearing the wrong clothes? Does my breath smell? Some folks approach God like they're going on a terrifying first date. It's really silly, because if you actually really believe that God is omniscient, you'd know that He's not just with you on Sundays at church. He's always there. He sees you at your worst no matter how hard you try to hide.

(On a tangent, it bugs me every time I hear someone end a prayer like they're hanging up the God Phone. "God, I can haz cheezeburger? KTHXBAI!" It's like they believe He stops listening when the official prayer is over. That makes no sense to me.)

Anyway, what's my point? My point is that we can be trapped by rules and formulas. And while there is a place for the majesty of ritual in spiritual life, there is also so much more beyond the rituals. If we are approaching God with a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, we're already doing the wrong thing, by feeling fearful.

That was my best effort at putting a huge, tangled thought ball into a linear format. Did I make any sense?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bright Blue September Skies

This weekend was just what the doctor ordered. I slept plenty; I enjoyed the company of good humans; I had not a care in the world.

Yes, the virus is still affecting me. But I can be happy and tired at the same time. I'm putting my foot down. I refuse to let it define how I see my life.

Saturday, I went on a Prayer Walk. I joined other members of my church for an hour-long stroll, during which we prayed together for the people who live along our route.

This was the first time I've been on a Prayer Walk. In fact, I've only been to one prayer meeting in the past year of church membership. I'm pretty shy about praying out loud in front of other people.

But I really wanted to participate. There was a shooting recently just two blocks from my home. I've read that communities that are prayed for regularly by prayer walkers actually have measurably reduced levels of crime. Some churches even cooperate with local police authorities to find out which areas need prayer the most. If I have an opportunity to help, I need to step up and take it.

The weather was, if you'll excuse the pun, heavenly. Being up early on the weekend, strolling in the fresh air under bright blue September skies, with friends, was a treat. And when we had finished our walks, we gathered back at the church for a BBQ. Flat burgers, rippled potato chips, neon pink cream soda, emeralds of relish. The sharp smell of yellow mustard. Crumbly chocolate chip cookies on paper plates. We ran out of burgers, but everyone was offered seconds of cookies.


On Sunday I celebrated a special wedding anniversary of my father and step-mum.

The family split up into several vehicles so that the drivers could accommodate the non-drivers and the carless. I was assigned to ride with my father and grandmother (his mother). I settled into the back seat and we headed out onto the highway to Ancaster, an hour away from Toronto.

To me, hanging out in the back seat of a car, just looking out the window, is a pleasant, relaxing experience. I don't have to do anything, just be. It's especially nice when the front seats are occupied by people I love, who are having a conversation that's interesting to listen in on, with no obligation for me to participate or keep silent. One week from today I'll be turning 37, but this afternoon I may as well have been ten years old, feeling safe in the care of two trusted parental figures.

Like I've always done since I was a kid, I revelled in the wind from the open window blowing on my face. I watched clouds drifting in the sunny sky, and admired the endless banks of wildflowers in brilliant shades of yellow and violet that lined the highway. Trees turned up the silver undersides of their leaves in the breeze. I could have happily sat back and let myself be driven around all day.

We did eventually arrive at a very special location, to enjoy a very special brunch buffet. I would go on about the food, but then you'd all be compelled to drive to Ancaster for brunch next Sunday, and some of you live so far away that it might inconvenience you quite a lot. I'll just say that it was lovely and decadent, and leave it there.

I sat across from my sister, which gave us a chance to catch up on this and that. It had been far too long since I saw her last. Other family members who I don't often see were also there. Many heartfelt hugs were shared. I got tipsy on champagne with orange juice* and talked and talked and talked.

*Just one glass. It doesn't take much booze to make me loquacious.


As for the virus... My biggest challenge right now is getting enough sleep. Even when I go to bed very early, I can't seem to get up when my alarm clock goes off. I'll sleep late and then end up rushing and struggling to get ready on time. This week I have perfected the art of getting dressed for work in between bites of oatmeal. I tried to figure out a way for me to brush my teeth with one hand and put my contact lenses in with the other, but the thought of getting toothpaste in my eye ix-nayed that plan.

In any case, if that's my worst complaint, I'm still ten times better off than I have been for most of the last six weeks. Maybe it's even good for me, to get shaken up out of my admittedly rigid morning routine, to be forced to ad lib a little. Anyway, I figured out why they call it Swine Flu. It's a real pig, gobbling energy and time.

But enough of that. This weekend was a shining gem, and that's what I want to remember.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good:

On Monday I went to a girlfriend's house to be spoiled. She had been to an organic farm the day before, picking veggies with her own hands. I sat on a wooden chair and we chatted as she washed, peeled, and chopped. Before long the kitchen was filled with the scent of fresh rice and vegetarian green curry.

We lounged in her bed-sitting room, which is full of pillows, silk scarves draped over things, and little fairy lights strung across the ceiling and over the window frame. Her cats snuggled up to me and covered me with the fur of their affection. We talked about all the things good friends talk about. It was splendid.

The Bad:

This week I have had troubling news of two ill relatives.

One beloved of mine had some very troubling test results, and is facing the possibility of surgery. I am sending her big hugs (I think she may be reading this - Hello!) and big love. The news is mainly hopeful, but it's still been a very scary and uncomfortable experience for her and her close family.

Yesterday I had news that someone on the other side of my family is headed on a steep downward slope towards a nervous breakdown. She is to the point where she's not eating consistently, not bathing, and not able to keep her home clean. This side of the family has always been strangled by strict No Talk rules. I.e. there are very few real things that they will actually communicate on at any relevant level. We will have to break some of the No Talk rules to save my beloved relative, if she's willing to be saved. So far she's rejected all helpful suggestions of therapists, vacations, medications, or even company for a cup of tea. It's a bad situation.

I'm praying for both of my loved ones with all my heart.

The Ugly:

(LL Cool Joe: Grossness warning!! Avert your eyes!)

This morning I coughed up an unspeakably nasty phlegm demon. At first I thought this was a bad sign: The infection is upon me! I'm getting worse again! Hustle for some antibiotics!

But then I felt so much better within the hour that I now believe it was an exorcism. My throat hasn't tickled and I've barely coughed all day. My pathetic-o-meter rating is falling as I write! (By which I mean - I am becoming tangibly less pathetic before your very eyes!)

Once it had left my body, the phlegm demon scuttled off and down into the sewer system. I heard the echoes of its evil laughter retreating. So look out. Beware of the drains. It's looking for its next victim.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Thanks everybody for the love, support, and suggestions. It helps a lot to know that all y'all are out there, caring and sending me healing thoughts and prayers.

In answer to a couple of comments: I take a multivitamin with a B-complex every day, but it's not a "high" dose. 25 mg of each of the Big B's. It would be a good idea to add a little extra. Next time I'm out shopping I'll see if I can find an additional B complex take on top of the multi for the time being.

I have a couple of options if I'm desperate to sleep and not having any luck. I can take a herbal helper, or sometimes I'll go find Ken, who stays up late, and he'll mix me up a medicinal drink. I'm not even a social drinker, so it doesn't take much to unwind me. Booze works better and faster than the herbs, but for obvious reasons I don't want to overdo that route. Either option usually leaves me feeling much more drowsy than usual in the morning. Neither is much help if the insomnia comes at 3:30 am. I can't take a pill or a drink if I'm supposed to wake up and go to work in 3 hours.

As for other pharmaceutical options, I'm taking a "wait and see" approach. If there were such a thing as a short-term anti-depressant, I'd be thrilled to take it. The thing is, most of them take 4 - 6 months to kick in, and then they're hard to stop. I'm hoping that I can at least count on feeling better by 3 months from now! If I don't, well, whatever, I'd let them stick horse tranquilizers into my veins by that point.

I want to make it clear that while I have my dark moments, especially in the wee hours of the morning, I'm not just flopping down on the floor and giving myself over to despair. The horrible anxiety episodes tend to come at night. In the daytime, as long as I'm not ridiculously tired I can get myself dressed, put on makeup, and be almost normal.

Yesterday I went to church, which, while I have complained bitterly about some of the church politics here lately, was an uplifting, comforting experience. What I think about the church and what I feel in my heart while I'm there are often two very different stories.

Ken and I went for lunch at a favourite restaurant downtown. It's casual, cheap, healthy, and has a good view of a major intersection out the front and side windows, making for excellent people-watching. The University of Toronto Engineering frosh were up to some shenanigans on the street corner, making a lot of noise and hassling passers-by for donations to the Sick Children's hospital as part of their orientation/hazing. On our way out I dropped a Toonie into their collection hard-hat. All 12 or so students in the group pointed at me and chanted "This lady rocks! This lady rocks! This lady rocks!" which was the silliest thing that's happened to me in a long time. I mean that in a good way.

The weather was perfect. Blue skies, not too warm, the epitome of a lovely summer day. We were close enough to the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds that the jet planes from the air show flew over us as they looped back from their demonstration runs. For the next hour or so as we strolled along Queen St., at intervals the air would begin to tremble, then shake, then rip apart as yet another specimen of Canadian or American Air Force muscle burned a streak across the high, blue sky. Sometimes the planes were so close that we could see the details of their paint jobs as they tore overhead. Other times the entire world would fill with their vibrations, echoing off tall buildings and all around, but the planes themselves would be out of view behind a stand of trees or something, and the noise seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

The air show is an end-of-summer ritual that always cheers me up. It's fun, it's predictable, and yet always exciting. I have been to see it from down at the fairgrounds, where you can hear announcements over a wobbly P.A. system describing what type of planes are being flown and by whom, but it's actually more fun to be out somewhere random in the city when suddenly nine Snowbirds shoot past overhead in tight formation, and you're clenching your jaws to keep all the fillings from vibrating out of your teeth.

I hear they have a special clean-up crew at the CNE for after they air show. They go around with soft brooms and micro-accurate vacuum cleaners, collecting the shreds of blown-out eardrums that collect in drifts against the bleacher supports thanks to the breeze off the lake.

We stopped in a bakery for treats, and then window-shopped, swigging Perrier out of small, green-glass bottles.

We strolled through the lushly green grounds of Trinity-Bellwoods park amongst young people working on their tans and/or showing off their ink.

Despite being a little more tired than "normal" (whatever "normal" is - it's getting difficult to remember at this stage), I relaxed and enjoyed the day.

Of course I still couldn't fall asleep at night. After tossing and turning for two hours with frustrated adrenaline building up to toxic levels in my bloodstream, I went back out into the living room and let Ken get me tipsy on orange juice mixed with vodka and Disaronno. We watched Ghost World, or at least Ken watched the whole thing and I watched until my drunky eyelids started drooping and I got back into my bed and passed out. At least I got to sleep in this morning.

If I didn't have to work, it might almost be fun to live like this: stay up late with Ken every night, sipping mixed drinks and watching indie films together. Ah well. Better luck tonight, perhaps. *fingers crossed*

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I have a good life, and I know it. But right now, I'm struggling.

All last week I had just enough energy to work for around 6 hours each day, and then come home and crash out. Except the one day I came home at 4pm, had a nap for 45 minutes, then glued my contact lenses back onto my tired eyeballs and went out for an evening work event. All I had to do was sit around, eat a nice dinner, and make pleasant conversation. How could that be tiring? I don't know. But it was.

Saturday was my catch-up-on-rest day. I slept for twelve hours on Friday night, and then had a long nap on Saturday afternoon. I had made a deal with myself that I would be feeling good by Sunday. I could feel my energy returning, and I knew that it would just take one good rest to get back to myself. I was looking forward to that as my reward for suffering patiently all month with the stupid virus.

My energy did come back, but not how I wanted it to. For the two weeks before I caught the virus, I had anxiety and insomnia. It came back during the brief break between when I initially got sick and when I got re-sick. And now, you guessed it, it's back again.

Last night I woke up at 4:15 am. It wasn't just one of those jet-laggy wake-ups that happen when you've been sleeping too much during the day. It was a full-on stomach-clenching, eye-squeezing, tearful, lengthy anxiety attack. I won't say panic attack - it wasn't that severe. But it was pretty freaking uncomfortable. And unpleasantly familiar.

Great. I finally get over my illness. Now I have enough energy to go back to having anxiety and insomnia. Perfect.

I know, I know. Maybe it's just a one-off. Maybe I'm just re-adjusting to normality. I shouldn't catastrophize and assume that this is how it's going to be for the rest of the week/month/my whole pitiful life. (Yes, I am feeling a little sorry for myself.) But it's getting harder and harder to pick my chin up off the ground and keep going. The boundary between my dark thoughts and my conscious control is getting mightily thin.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


First, a health update: I turned the corner today. I am no longer a walking zombie, and have officially declared myself healthy again.

*kazoo fanfare*

Meanwhile, there's not much news to tell of. How much can happen in your life when you've only been at most half-awake for a full week? I don't know. Maybe lots happened and I didn't notice.

I've been reading this book on trees. My mom bought it for me. I heard that it was filled to the brim with amazing facts about trees that you never could have imagined in your wildest dreams. For example, there's one type of tree that's able to warm up its blossoms, to encourage beetles to crawl into them on chilly nights. The beetles mate in the blossoms, thus covering themselves with pollen, and thereby assuring that the trees are pollinated. Trees that survive by acting as cheap, sleazy beetle sex motels! Who knew?

(Yes, that is actually in the book.)

Unfortunately the really cool facts are few and far between. Most of the book is an overview of every single notable type of tree that exists, complete with long, Latin names which I dutifully sound out but will never remember. There's just enough interest in it to keep me plodding through, so far. We'll see if I make it through the entire 400 pages.

Other interesting things I have learned about are Screw Pines, stinkwood, and bum seeds (a.k.a coco de mer).

Sorry for the links instead of uploaded pictures. Either Blogger is pitching a fit, or my internet connection is dicey, because the image thing just isn't happening.

There you go. A brief peek into my currently uneventful life. No news is good news! Now go read something interesting.