Friday, November 25, 2011

Sturm und Drang vs. Faith and Love

My girlfriend from the west coast was in town, so we met for dinner.  I gave her a pad of poopoo paper I'd been saving for her.  Nothing says "I've been thinking of you" like a gift made from real poo.  She was pleased.  I bet her three kids are going to get a kick out of it.

Our conversation centred on health-related topics.  She has just done a 3-week cleanse.  How her parents are doing.  What it was like saying goodbye to her aunt who just died of cancer.  Of course I told her about the goings on and passings on in my life.  We talked about our parents' health, our husbands' health, special diets, who is allergic to what...

It seems to me that sometime during this year I crossed the border into another country without realizing it.  There was no welcome sign, no customs official demanding documentation or a pat-down, no duty-free gift shop.  But I looked up one day and found myself in the Land of Middle Age.  It seems like everyone who wandered in this realm unawares is dealing with health problems, and/or aging parents, and/or they are an aging parent.  I hear myself saying the phrase "my husband's cardiologist" and think that it's too soon for this.  I expected to make it to at least 40, maybe even 45, before I had to worry about the health of my peers.  Granted, my friends tend to be a few years older than me, but still.  Ken isn't even turning 37 for another month.

This isn't a complaint so much as an attempt to get oriented on this new turf.  I mean, it had to happen sooner or later, and the truth is that lots of people have to face the fragility and mortality of themselves and their loved ones much earlier than this.  Yes, I feel a certain amount of dismay and resistance.  That's only human.  I also know that I have to adjust to my new reality.  I must find the courage to stick by my loved ones through hard times as well as good ones.  I want to be a reassuring, uplifting presence in their lives.

My primary goal is to be a channel for faith, love, and joy into the lives of anyone close enough to me to be affected.

Suffering is inescapable.  Faith lies in believing that suffering occurs in the service of a larger plan, one we cannot fully understand, in which suffering leads in the end to something good, something worth it all.  I see how my breakdown led directly to the healing of my relationship with my mother, and I feel that it was well worth it.  I would go through every agonizing minute all over again if I had to, to gain a relationship that I've been grieving my whole life. 

Sometimes it seems that no good will ever come of suffering, but when I think of everyone I know, the people who have been through the darkest times and the most pain are the ones who have turned out to be the most kind, compassionate, and caring people.  Painful experiences break you, and if you have the good fortune to be able to heal, you are reborn with a new heart. 

How do you deal with suffering?

Monday, November 21, 2011


I checked out a new health food store this weekend.  Health food stores have taken on a new importance in my life since I lost the ability to digest wheat.  If I want to have anywhere near the variety of food choices I used to have, my local supermarket will not satisfy.  I need to find my way to a specialty store.

The name of this store is Ambrosia.  It's a bit of a hike from my place.  I had a 15 minute walk to the bus station, a short bus ride to the limit of the Toronto transit grid (Steeles Avenue), and then another 10 minute walk.  I have lived close to this store for 6 years, but because it's not on any of my usual travel routes, I had never been there.

It was worth the trip. I worked in health food retail for four years when I was a student, in a few different stores.  They were all smallish, and some of them very old and grotty.  By comparison, Ambrosia is vast.  They seem to have everything, including foods and product lines I've never heard of.  Supplements, cosmetics and personal care, packaged foods, organic produce, organic meats,  fresh baked goods, bulk foods... It went on and on.  I spent around 45 minutes just making my way slowly through all the aisles, checking everything out.

Highlighted items in no particular order:
Recycled parchment paper (for baking)
Gluten-free dog biscuits
Chocolate-covered kale chips
(For those of you unfamiliar with kale, that's gross.  Kale is a dark, leafy green similar to but tougher than spinach.  I would like to know who buys that product, at $6 for a little bag.)
Organic peanut butter with "fiery hot spices" mixed into the jar (could be good)
A 1.5 oz bag of freeze-dried blueberries for $7.50 (!!!)
Quinoa-milk chocolate beverage (looks delicious but has the potential to be bitterly disappointing)

My rule of thumb if I'm shopping on foot is never use a cart.  Always a basket.  With a basket you have to pay attention to how much weight you're committing to carrying all the way home.  If your arm is tired just carrying it around the store, you'd better put something back.  I loaded up to my maximum carrying capacity.

On the walk back to the bus stop I had to stop and take my sneaker off because there was something in there bugging me, a little stone or something.  I shook out my shoe, and guess what it was?  A grain of organic quinoa.  How fitting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sleepover

This post starts out in a dark place but it has a happy ending, so bear with me...

Since being overtaken by a violent allergic reaction on Monday night, I've been feeling vulnerable.  There's nothing quite like finding yourself completely helpless, your own body out of control, to bring out all your worst fears.  So when Ken announced that he was going to spend a night at a sleep clinic, I relapsed into a panic attack.  What?  Me spend a night alone in my own house?  Are you crazy?  I'm only 39 years old!  Not ready for that kind of independence!

(For the record, I have spent nights alone plenty of times during my adult years.  It's just that Me Sick plus Ken Having Medical Tests looked a little too much like things looked a month ago, during the Very Dark Times.  PTSD trauma flashbacks argh!)

So I did what any self-respecting adult does when feeling fear and doubt.  I called my mother and broke down blubbing.  My lovely mother, who has embodied the very spirit of hospitality lo these past few weeks, did not hesitate to invite me to sleep over.  She didn't need to ask twice.

I showed up at her house after work, wheeling my polka-dot granny buggy.  She cooked a simple dinner and soothed me with plentiful cups of chamomile tea.  We watched Brit-coms and a documentary about an archeological dig in Turkey.  (My step-dad is in Florida playing golf, so we had the house and TV to ourselves.)

It's indicative of how much time I've been spending at my parents' house that their cats have accepted me as part of the family.  Last night was a critical turning point.  They each claimed me in their own way.  Tinker, the tubby one, curled up next to me while we were watching TV, laid his head  in my lap, snuggled up closer, and fell asleep purring.  Doodles took over later, when I went to bed.  He slept next to me, so when I woke in the night I wasn't alone.  What good boys!  (Most of the time.)

Given my state of mind, I hope you won't judge me for admitting that I brought my stuffed toy dog.  He always sits on my bed at home.  I don't cuddle him every night, but if I'm having trouble sleeping sometimes he helps me out.  It just so happens that this doggie is black and white, like my parents' cats.  He's also the same size as the cats, and the markings on his face are almost identical to Tinker's.

I propped the dog up against my pillow while I was getting ready to change into my pj's.  Doodles wandered into the room, hopped up on the bed, caught sight of the dog, and froze.  His eyes dilated and his tail puffed up.  He stared and stared at this creature who looked like his brother, but wasn't his brother.  Was it a cat? Was it friend or foe? The thought bubble over his head said "!!???!!!?"

He started edging closer to the dog very, very slowly and cautiously, not taking his eyes off it.  There was quite a distance to cover between the foot of the bed and the dog on the pillow, so this exaggeratedly careful approach took a while.  When he was 2/3 of the way there, I moved the dog and he jumped back like he was spring-loaded.  Man, it was hysterical.  That was the best laugh I've had in ages.

Doodles finally came around to the fact that the dog was not a threat, although he continued to get a little edgy anytime the dog "moved".  I guess we all have silly fears sometimes.  Even cats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Busy Week

This past week has been full of business, most of it good.

Ken is mostly over a horrible flu that had him out of commission for at least a week.  At one stage, in a fevered delirium, (while I was at work), he shaved off all his hair because "I was too hot".  In the state he was in he couldn't do a very good job of it, so the poor guy ended up  looking kind of like this skinny pig (including the squinting).

It was pretty sad.  Then of course not fifteen minutes later he hit the shivering stage of the fever, so he had to put on my bright turquoise knitted toque to cover up his scruffy, mostly-bald noggin.  He looks nice in that shade of blue.

Fortunately we discovered some unexpired Tylenol in his medicine cabinet, and once that was in his system he felt a lot better.

He got over the worst of the flu just in time to attend his father's memorial service.  There will not be a funeral as Ken's dad donated his body to research.  The memorial was very sweet.  Ken's dad was, among other things, a fairly well-recognized Canadian visual artist.  He worked in watercolour, oils, ink, and pencil.  He painted the most luminous landscapes.  His friends, also artists, read poems they'd written for him and one woman composed a beautiful song in his honour and sang it while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.  Ken seemed to get a lot of good energy from seeing all his family's closest friends and sharing stories about his dad.

It was a weekend for family.  I went out with my mother for a stroll and a cup of tea on Saturday.  I showed her the Nexus S smartphone I bought on Friday evening, and she was suitably impressed.  (I'm a little disappointed because this phone doesn't get network service in my office, but then again I do have an office phone on my desk, two e-mail addresses, and instant messaging at my disposal.  For the great deal I got I'll probably stick with this phone and the carrier at least until my monthly arrangement pays off the handset.)

I also had a dinner with the other side of my family: dad, step-mom, sister, grandmother, and some first cousins once removed (I had to look up "wiki cousins" to make sure I got that right).  That was bonus, because three of the six of us are gluten free, so we had an entirely gluten-free meal, including incredible chocolate cupcakes home-baked by my sister, with choco icing, a slice of strawberry, and coconut sprinkled on top.

Work has been going well too.  I feel that I've been going from strength to strength lately.

Everything was going along tickity-boo until I got tripped up by some digestive upheavals last night.  I'll spare you the details, but picture the worst stomach flu you've ever had and you're probably close.  I'm not sure exactly what caused it.  I ate dinner at home, and within 2 hours I was a very unhappy camper.  Let's just say that I am feeling much better today.  My tum is so sore and inflamed that I haven't been able to eat much, just a little bit of brown rice, but I'll get there.  Maybe one more day to get my eating back online and I can go back to work, I hope.

So, maybe this will be the last crisis for a while?  I really feel like it would be fair to have some smooth sailing for a change.  Thank God, Ken has been saying that his heart arrhythmia seems to be getting better on its own, so maybe he won't have to carry on with trying out scary medications or pursuing surgical options.  I think it was the stress of his dad's suffering that was breaking his heart.  Now that his dad is resting in peace, God willing, his heart can heal.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Create New Post

On Saturday I changed my shower curtain liner.  The old one was getting kind of ratty.  Also, I bought it in a hurry when we moved in, to "match" my sage green cotton shower curtain - in a shade of nasty, dark, garbage-bag green.  It makes the whole showering experience dim and depressing.

My new shower curtain liner has been sitting around for, oh, maybe a year?  I just hadn't gotten around to putting it up.    But this weekend, in the spirit of committing fully to making positive changes in my life at all levels, I finally changed out the old liner for a translucent, colourless one.  My morning showering experience is much improved.

God or The Universe, as you prefer, is meeting me halfway on this New Good Things commitment.

The Toronto public transit system is phasing in brand-new, high-tech subway trains.  The first two were put into service during the summer.  Every time I took the subway I hoped for a new train, but never saw one.  This weekend I had the luck to ride on the new-style trains TWICE. 

The new trains are worth all the hype, in my opinion.  They are pretty, shiny, and full of neat features.  They have maps with a light for each station that changes colour to show which stations are past, which are yet to come, and which one is approaching.  There are additional LED signs showing you the name of the next station and which side the doors will open on, which is an invaluable little detail.  Most impessive is that instead of having separated cars, the whole train is connected by accordion sleeves, meaning you can walk between cars completely unhindered.  The people who seem to enjoy this most are the crazy ones, as it gives them a wider audience for their antics.  I was entertained by a very well-dressed man (pinstripe suit, shined shoes, brown fedora with a little feather in the band) whose pleasure it was to go down the entire train, stopping for each group of passengers and doing a happy little dance, which mainly consisted of shaking his caboose.  He wore a big, wide smile the whole time, and was chuckling to himself, so who could object?

When I got downtown, I found that the Eaton Centre Mall had opened up their brand new Urban Eatery food court.  They transformed the entire basement floor of the mall for this project.  I have to say, I was very impressed.  I've never been wowed by a food court before, but this one is stunning.  It's enormous, and has been meticulously designed.  Even the KFC and the MickyD's outlets look classy.

Later, I met a friend to see Puss In Boots.  We didn't realize until we bought our tickets that it was a 3D presentation.  I've never seen a 3D movie in my life.  I was expecting to get those red and blue glasses of ye olden days, but as you probably know, there is better technology today.  The movie was fun, but the 3D experience was what totally blew me away.  I am now a convert.  I would like to see all my movies in 3D from now on, thanks very much.

So, the New Good Things thing is working for me.  Now I just have to get my learner's driving permit, and then the real work starts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Up from the Darkness

My progress is "miraculous".  This from a medical doctor.  It's as though Glinda the Good Witch of the East touched my brain with her magic wand of calm and contentment.  I may not be quite back to my old self yet, but I'm not far off.  A few more days and I'll find out what happens when I surpass my old self and go even further away from fear, if that's in the cards.

I've always been relatively anxious.  I've fought my fears for as long as I can remember.  Will a day come when it's no longer a struggle?  Could I just relax into acceptance and faith instead of constantly having to talk myself up into deliberate optimism?  A friend told me the other day that sometimes my cheerfulness strikes her as a bit desperate.  She's a perceptive one.

This past week has been busy.  I made some resolutions to boost my confidence in my ability to take care of myself and others, such as learning to cook properly so that I can host people at my home, and spending time every day enriching my supportive relationships.  I have been too introverted for my own good.  I need a bigger dose of quality human contact in my life.

Since Sunday I have:

  • Successfully cooked two kinds of vegetable stew (one based on eggplant, one on butternut squash).
  • Signed up for e-mail updates from the Better Homes and Gardens website, so that I'm constantly being reminded of my resolution to become a hostess with the mostest.  I'm allowing myself to enjoy the creative entertaining and decorating ideas, rather than sneering at them, even if some of them are silly.
  • Spent Hallowe'en with good friends and their 4-year-old son.
  • Had dinner at my parents' house (Ken cooked meatloaf wrapped in bacon with perfect green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy).
  • Returned to work!  I've been able to tolerate it for up to 6 hours at a time.  It's really good to be back.
  • Seen the therapist who works with the psychiatrist I'm seeing, and she was so impressed with my progress and on-the-right-trackness that we agreed there was no need for us to book a series of weekly appointments.  I will call her only when I need some help getting over any roadblocks.

Apparently it takes 6-8 weeks for most people to get back to this much functioning after the kind of breakdown I had.  Can you say "2.5 weeks since I was barely able to get out of bed"?  Ya.  I'm a bouncy one.  Thank God.*

*I mean that literally.  I've been praying lots, and I have felt my old friend JC boosting me up.  It's been a long time since the two of us hung out.  It's a good thing.  There's one more relationship I plan to nurture!