It’s okay

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I know myself. I know I will feel this global crisis at a molecular level because that’s how I feel everything. I’ve been called an empath but, regardless of labels, I can only say I suffer from the human condition very deeply. I am a minuscule fragment of the blanket that covers us all and that blanket seems to be unraveling when it should be binding itself tighter than ever.

Over the last week, I have done my best to follow the guidelines of social distancing and self-isolation. Sadly, the one thing I did not do was to ignore social media. Although there are so many positive posts and people sending uplifting messages of hope, there are countless people who Just. Don’t. Get it. This is MY forum and, for those who DO get it, I want to tell you it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. The world is closing down around us and the sudden onset of panic is inevitable. Those who embrace the steps we need to take to flatten the curve will welcome the closure of all non-essential services. Those who don’t grasp the significance of those steps will continue to spew nonsense and put the rest of us in jeopardy.

It’s okay to feel emotional. I went for a forty-minute walk today, with musical theatre tunes blaring in my ears (thank you, Collabro), and I cried for the duration of my walk. I cried for those who have already succumbed to Covid-19. I cried for those who will still fall victim to this new pandemic. And I cried for the people who think those of us who are taking this so seriously are misinformed.

It’s okay to be scared. I’m petrified. I’m not so scared about the disease itself, but I’m truly frightened for the result that will come because of the ones who choose to believe that their actions will not have a harmful effect on others. They will. Your inability to see the larger picture is utterly disheartening and inevitably harmful.

It’s okay to be mad at people who just don’t get it. Not everyone thinks the same way but, as my mother used to say, we need to take the higher road. For all of you who choose to think this is nothing, think again. Communities, cities and provinces are shutting down to thwart the spread of this disease. Put yourself aside and think of the bigger picture. You could prevent dozens of people getting sick by staying home. By simply not going out in public and potentially spreading this virus, you can prevent the influx of people gathering in our hospital waiting rooms and reducing the number of fatalities by lessening the amount of human contact. Sure, you think you may not be infected but what if you are asymptomatic and spreading the virus without even knowing.

It’s okay to be silly. I’ve put my Christmas lights back on. It may be a ridiculous gesture but, to me, it’s a symbol of happiness. This small, albeit frivolous act gives me a ray of hope that everything, one day, will really be okay.

My first encounter with anxiety

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This post is raw, for me, and somewhat poignant, but writing is my catharsis and words are my crutches when I feel crippled.

I have many friends who deal with anxiety on a daily basis but, although I send messages of encouragement and love, I have never had any real idea of what they go through being trapped as a passenger on a debilitating emotional roller coaster. Recently, that changed.

I am a woman of a certain age. This is a time in my life when everything I once put faith in, in terms of knowing myself and my moods, flies out the window. I can honestly say, over the last two months I have had to look in the mirror several times to make sure the reflection I saw was mine. I wouldn’t call it an out of body experience but there have certainly been occasions when I was so far from being myself, it scared me. I’ve had moments I didn’t want to leave my house. I’ve had times when simply doing the dishes seemed like such an arduous task I let them sit for a few days until I could collect enough of myself to get the job done. I can’t describe the panic any other way than to say I was the polar opposite of who I have been my entire life. Last weekend, it took every ounce of strength I had to get out of my fleece onesie and conduct myself like I have done every day of my life.

My first reaction was to not talk about it, to internalize the feelings that I felt were too awkward to discuss, and weather the storm by myself. I eventually shared my feelings with my family but it almost felt like I was making a mountain out of a molehill. To those who have never had to deal with anxiety, that molehill very quickly became Mount Everest and I still felt like I was facing that daunting slope on my own.

Anxiety gripped me with such a force that it shook me more than anything else I have faced in my past, and I have faced innumerable challenges in my fifty years on this earth. I felt out of control, a victim to some foreign emotion I have never had to confront and I was unprepared for this new enemy.

Round one has come to its conclusion and, thankfully, I feel like myself again. But I know this is not a one-off and I am dreading the next time my hormones cast me into a churning sea that threatens to pull me under its encumbering tide. The only positive thing I take from this experience is that I know there are people who will listen, people who may not completely understand but are willing to just hear my words and offer a shoulder to lean on. Unless they truly understand anxiety, they will never know exactly how I feel, but they continue to be a ray of hope for me.

Trust in your family and friends. They have your back even if they can’t put themselves in your shoes. I offer my ears and my shoulders to those who face this demon on a daily basis. I have only glimpsed what you see so much more frequently than I have seen and I can offer nothing more than my embrace and my ability to listen. Only now do I have a tiny window to be able to see into a world you face each day and I applaud you for your courage to tackle each day with a renewed strength.

 

 

 

 

 

When you just have to sing show tunes

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Musical theatre was a big part of my childhood. Once upon a time, our tiny community centre was host to many fantastic productions of popular musicals and, in my teens, my friends and I could be found in the front row, hanging on every word and every note of those shows. We became such a part of the production that we were welcomed into the rooms below the theatre each night after the show had ended to hang out with the performers we came to know and love.

Music has always been a focal point in my life. My dad had a wonderful voice and my mom, although she admittedly could not carry much of a tune, also embraced the sounds that were able to transport her into another world. I easily followed in their footsteps. There is nothing more magical than being able to lose yourself in the arrangements of a musical soundtrack that can send you to a place where simple words have no meaning unless they are delivered in a four-part harmony.

This year did not start well for me. Every creative outlet I had turned its back on me and I struggled to return to a place of happiness after suffering a devastating loss. The light that held out its hand to me, the light that pulled me out of the darkness, was music. I began to listen to familiar songs that held a special place in my heart. Musicals that had long-since buried themselves in my past came rushing back and made me remember the joy I felt when those notes awakened my senses.

After spending many hours on YouTube, replaying songs from musicals I could sing in my sleep, I found Collabro. Five, now four, very talented young British voices that echo my love of musical theatre took me from a place of innate sadness to a place where joy still lives, and that joy has now cultivated a seed that has been given a chance to grow and thrive. Songs I knew so well, and songs I am now discovering, are taking me from the depth of despair to a place where life has been given new breath all because I am, once again, finding myself in a place where I found such great comfort.

Cradle your contentment. Sing show tunes. Embrace those things that may make others look at you sideways but bring you joy. Judgement is subjective. Happiness should be indestructible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll have the large ego with a side of narcissism

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I can’t be specific about the details that led me to post this story but I could not let this one slide. The human condition influences everyone and it is how we choose to accept and live with that condition that defines us. Our choices create a finite map of the paths our lives will follow. They establish the moral compass we abide by and we are afforded the wisdom to comprehend the moments that are best left alone without comment or judgment. The choice made by one particular individual adhered to none of those things.

I was presented with a question following a series of emails that had gone back and forth. I answered the question with a succinct and honest response and was shocked, but more than that I was perversely amused, by the six paragraph diatribe that followed my response. Contained in those six paragraphs were lines of self-flattery, condescending comments made to provoke a response and an overall lack of understanding for the reason the conversation began in the first place.

Being a writer and loving the opportunity to embrace each moment I am able to use my words, I wisely declined to comment on this onslaught of nonsense and I took the higher road. I’m sure my lack of response will have more of an effect on this person’s psyche than any string of phrases I could ever write in reaction to his mindless observations. But being a writer also means I am adept at doing research online and I spent some time attempting to find any corroborating evidence of his claims. I found nothing.

In the age of being present online to sell yourself and expound on your abilities and achievements, especially for a narcissist, the crickets chirped louder with each questioning line I typed into the Google search engine. This person, the man who expounded on his many great accomplishments in his field, wasn’t even a blip on the radar that is so keen to share prolific details of any public success. He is a ghost.

The precious moments of time I spent disproving his claims may be seen as impractical but I needed that vindication. I am unable to walk away from a situation, even something as petty as this, without knowing I gave him every benefit of the doubt. This case is now closed and he, his ego and his narcissism can all live happily ever after.

 

 

 

Memories

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Our lives consist of many moving parts. New experiences pummel our daily lives but nothing can keep us attached to our true selves as much as our memories. As I write this post, I am eating a piece of rye toast for dinner, one that has been crusted with a few pieces of processed cheese toasted on top of that rye bread in a toaster oven. This is not a meal I make on a regular basis but one that takes me back to a place that makes me happy.

I love to look back on the stages of my life that have had a significant impact on me, to reflect on the moments that have helped shape the person I am today. Those snippets of my past that have woven their way into the blanket of my reality are the threads of my true soul. Each chapter of my life has helped to create a strong connection from the person I was to the person I have become.

To ignore my past would be a great injustice to the person I am now. Every phase of my life, every triumph, every failure, has brought me to my here and now. I could not express my sentiments about grief and pain if I had not felt those feelings with every fiber of my being. And I could not expound on my successes if I devalued my achievements in any way. Every bit of my past has brought me to where I am now and, although I think about how things could have been different, I would not change a single thing.

I am who I am because of my past. Good or bad, I am where I need to be. I have learned many lessons from my achievements as well as my deficiencies. I have become well-versed on striving for success but I am able to accept the worst if it presents itself. And I have become extremely proficient at quickly moving on to Plan B at a moment’s notice.

These memories, these blueprints of my original design, have sculpted the mold for the formidable structure I am today. And while many of my tender memories lay exposed in the foundation of my life, I protect the bricks of that foundation with the impassioned determination to defend the sanctity of my history while I am embroiled in my current reality.

My past is a rudimentary sketch of who I am now. It is the mere stick figure of the three-dimensional character I am able to call me.  And today, my memories are as much a part of me as the things that happen in my day-to-day reality and I hope that will never change.

Memories are the things that shape us and give us an anchor in the churning sea of our existence. I just hope we can all have faith in that anchor to hold us in the present but never forget the past.

 

 

 

I knew the day would come

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One of my worst memories after the death of each of my parents was gathering the strength to go through their belongings and decide what to keep and what to donate to charity. It is hard to discard anything that once belonged to someone we loved so much. It felt like a betrayal, throwing out the things, even the ugly 80’s sweaters, that were so much a part of our every day life.

For the first time since saying goodbye to Callaway, I vacuumed my house on Saturday. It may sound like a strange thing to struggle with but I couldn’t bear to not see her hair on my floor. It didn’t matter what the season, my dog could shed like an Olympic champion if shedding were a category, and I had moments where my grief was so raw that I thought I might leave that hair on my floor forever.

But grief is a fickle thing. It can be debilitating and then one day it becomes different, not easier just different. I still greet her when I come home and say goodbye to her and tell her I love her when I leave. I’m sure that, too, will change over time but I find comfort in knowing wherever she is on the other side of that rainbow bridge, she can still hear me.

Before I vacuumed, I rolled up the three runner carpets I had put down in my kitchen when she began to have difficulty on hardwood and linoleum floors. Her golf-themed dog dish that had always claimed its place on that same kitchen floor has been carefully stored away but her dog bed will stay in its fixed spot in my living room. The pieces of carpet that were picked loose when she stretched in the morning will remain tattered strings to remind me of the best and funniest parts of her.

The window in my bedroom will be the last chore. It was the place she loved to spend her time while I was gone and those nose prints are going to be a hard thing to wash away. Every day I take more steps without her and every day I try to change my habits so my day-to-day life isn’t saturated with her absence. It will eventually get easier, but embracing the overwhelming sense of loss only reminds me of how special she was.

When I find myself in times of trouble

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I love to be in my kitchen. On occasion, I still make cakes and each time I bake a chocolate cake from scratch, the smell from the oven eventually permeates my home and I always say out loud, “it smells like my house”. It is a strange thing to do, but a habit I cannot seem to break, nor do I want to.

I have always loved to be fixed comfortably in front of a mixing bowl or a cutting board. This is my refuge and a place I find the most contentment when I am dealing with emotions that are too big for me to process. I lose myself in the pleasure of chopping and blending, mixing and pouring, and it gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find anywhere else, with the exception of my writing.

I remember the moment twenty years ago when I was looking for a place to rent after returning from out of province. I had been told about a house that had not yet been advertised and my parents and I drove to this house, parked at the end of the driveway and awkwardly trudged through snow up to our mid-thighs to get a better look. The snow was piled so high around the house that it was easy to peer into the windows to see the layout. The kitchen was the biggest room in the six-hundred square foot home and I knew it was meant to be mine. Before the house had even been advertised as being for rent, I had signed a lease with the landlady and moved in on April first.

Even though I was only renting, I knew this was my forever place. Four years after being a tenant, I ultimately wore my landlady down and convinced her to sell me the property I called home. This haven I am able to call my own will never make the cover of any magazines, but it is mine and it is the place that cradles the memories, good and bad, I have made over the past twenty years.

I have been single, married and divorced while living here. I have lost my best college friend, both of my parents and my furry companion of twelve and a half years while living here. And while nervously standing on the batter’s box staring down the many curve balls life has thrown at me, I have been living here. The roof and the walls of this home wrap me in a protective shield and I am indestructible here.

So, when I find myself in times of trouble, I will seek asylum in this tiny shelter with my feet firmly planted in my kitchen. I am afforded the dignity of dealing with my reality while being protected by this small fortress in the middle of nowhere and I can’t, in the foreseeable future, picture myself anywhere else. I am going to let my kitchen work its magic, embrace the words of wisdom these walls have to offer and just let it be.