Almost Like Old Times

I had leftover pizza for lunch today. Leftover pizza can be a nice thing. And when it’s leftover from a spontaneous late evening dinner on my patio with one of my oldest and dearest friends, it’s even better.

Yesterday my friend M, who I’ve known forever, sent me a text message at the end of his work day to see what I was up to for the evening. As I wrote then, my mood was quite low on top of my pain level being quite high, but instead of telling him that I asked what he had in mind. He asked if I was up for a visit or if I wanted to go out to get a bite to eat. I didn’t want to do either, but I wrote back asking what his preference was and reminded him that we could get some food and eat on my patio. He thought that was a perfect idea and called me so we could decide what to eat. We quickly decided on a pizza with hot wings on the side, which I ordered while he drove to my place.

Within an hour, we were sitting in the dim evening light on my patio eating pizza and laughing almost like old times. Except that in the past, after receiving his text message or call, I would have thrown on some clothes, he’d come by to pick me up, and then we would drive until we decided what was good to eat in whichever direction the car was heading. I miss those days a lot. Life’s spontaneity is no longer something to which I can surrender. Every moment of my life that requires a large output of energy requires planning. I have to map how long it takes to get ready, whether someone will pick me up or I’ll schedule a ride (a taxi or Über), how long I’ll be able to stand if seats aren’t available, whether available seats are comfortable enough to sit in for the duration of the event, and how long I may need for recovery when it’s all over.

Nonetheless, my friends do their best to understand. Even though they know I might have to cancel at the last-minute, they try to do all they can to make my life feel normal. The latest accommodation they are willing to make is bringing the fun to my home, which thankfully is what happened last night. As blue as I felt yesterday about living through another summer trapped indoors by pain; my friend M lifted much of that mood. Him touching base with me at the end of the day to see what I was up to doing, as he often did in the past, brought me back to feeling what things used to be like for a few short hours, before my pain forced its way back to center stage.

 

Today I’m Reminded…

Today – and most days –, I’m reminded of a woman who I was fortunate to know in my lifetime: She was my Great Aunt M and she was one of the most kind and loving people I’ve ever known. Today is the day she was born and I prefer remembering it than dwelling on the day I witnessed her passing away. Even though I live thousands of miles away from where she once lived, and can’t place yellow flowers on her grave, I pay homage to her memory as often as I can because I learned so much about compassion and unconditional love from her.

She was the kind of person who, although quiet, was strong. Not everyone can survive being put on a ship alone as a young adult and sent thousands of miles away from your family to make your mark in the world. Not everyone would have been able to thrive in a place where they knew no one, but had to prove themselves knowledgeable and capable of saving lives from the very first moment they reported to a new job, but she did. Every person whose life she touched, in even the smallest way, still remembers her. The goodwill of her deeds still lives on in the community where she lived, eventually married, and raised her children.

I’ve been the beneficiary of that goodwill each time I’ve visited her small town and someone has made the connection between who she was and who I am. The pride felt in those moments is overwhelming, and added to the love and respect I already felt for the woman who loved me my whole life. It also made me feel more fortunate that what I know of her came to me, not from her professional life, but from moments that are more intimate. Times where I was fed favourite meals by her, walking with her through the streets of her town on cool summer mornings, sharing cups of tea with her dearest friends after shopping in the local market, or receiving small gifts that always arrived in time for my birthday.

Her memory keeps me positive because every time I think of her I know that somewhere inside me lives the things she taught simply by living her life. I know that I can be strong and survive anything life throws my way. When I am fearful, I know that the courage I need to overcome whatever I’m facing is within me. I know a smile and words of kindness can go a long way to make another person’s day or life better. When I am sad, I have wonderful happy memories in which she lives that I can recall. I know the value of doing good in the world because her work and its legacy live on. Most importantly, I know what it is to be loved unconditionally and what can come of giving love in the same way.

Today I honour the memory of my Great Aunt M and I am grateful I had the opportunity to know her.

 

 

When Someone Shows You Who They Are…

“I don’t trust you,” she said coldly. The same person I recently held in my arms while she cried and told me her troubles said those words to me.

I’m never going to forget being told those words because I have the kind of memory that stores information with great detail and rarely dislodges any of it. My earliest memories were created when I was a toddler and I still see the things, people and places in them as if I interacted with them yesterday – much like I can see this person on the playground of our elementary school. Sometimes I wish my memory didn’t work this way but at other times, now for instance, I’m glad I rarely ever forget. I’m glad because it ensures that I won’t allow myself to be caught in another web of deceit like the one made by a person who chose to abuse my friendship and trust.

As an adult, I’ve been accused many times of being naïve and too trusting of people, especially those I allow into private areas of my life, and with whom I share the most intimate parts of who I am. That characterization may not be too far off, but I prefer to look at it from the perspective of trusting until I’m given a reason not to trust. I approach life that way because it takes too much energy to walk around suspecting that every person one engages with is going to harm you in some way. The never-ending hypervigilance and suspicion would surely make it impossible to enjoy one’s life, and could, quite possibly drain you of your will to live.

Besides, when someone betrays or deliberately hurts you, it’s the unmasking of who they are. Therefore, it has no bearing on your character. Furthermore, when that same person has the audacity to mockingly ask, “What are you going to do about it?” in relation to the action they have taken against you; or “Who do you think you are?” after you call her or him out on their vile behaviour; it’s further evidence that they were never worthy of your friendship. Words and behaviour like this also makes one realize that the air of toughness someone might have projected for years, is just the lack of a conscience and the inability for her or him to form genuine human connections.

In the end, one must decide what bearing such a betrayal is likely to have on any kind of relationship continuing to exist. In my experience, that chance arcs sharply towards zero, because in all likelihood, there may be nothing to salvage. After all, it would be more than naïve to allow any person who treats you so poorly to get that close to you again. And if there’s any doubt about this decision there are always these wise words from Maya Angelou to remember, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

When Someone Shows You Who They Are

 

Mood Soothing Blooms

Yesterday I was having a tough day, with respect to pain and mood. Of course, in my case, one feeds the other and sends me into a downward spiral of agony. The day had started reasonably well – even though I hadn’t slept much the night before – then an abrupt about-face came because I was angered by something someone said to me. I know that becoming angry doesn’t work in my favour – it never has –, but controlling one’s temper isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

With the hope that it might pull me out of my prickly mood, I practiced a guided iRest meditation, but my mind kept skipping out to engage with other thoughts and memories. I had, however, committed at the beginning of the meditation to accept whatever might show up during my practice so I didn’t stop before the end of the recording. When it finished I was grateful that I worked through it because, as I usually do, I felt sleepy. I was able to fall off to sleep for about an hour until my slumber was interrupted; first by a phone call from my pharmacy and then immediately after hanging up, by a heavy knock at my door.

My annoyance was elevated again because the short sleep hadn’t helped to reduce my pain, so walking to my front door was more than uncomfortable. I was further annoyed when the person hammering my door refused to identify himself until I opened it. When I did open the door, he asked me my name from behind what appeared to be a box overflowing with shocking pink and white tissue paper that he handed to me. Because I was still somewhat foggy with sleep, I almost lost my balance when the weight of the box shifted to my hands. When I shut the door, I was a bit confused by what had just happened because I wasn’t expecting any deliveries.

Mood Soothing Blooms

The overstuffed box of tissue paper turned out to be a beautiful bouquet of a dozen assorted roses. The timing of their arrival couldn’t have been planned more accurately. I knew who sent them as soon as I ripped off the paper and saw each beautiful bright bloom and I was so grateful they arrived when they did. The flowers lifted my mood and proved to be a welcome gift of distraction from what I was feeling physically and emotionally. I know they were meant to be a Valentine’s Day gift, but they delivered a more meaningful message by arriving a day early. They remind me that even though others might engage in negative behaviours, which I sometimes allow to affect me too deeply, there are always those who love and value me for who I am.

Thank you B!

 

Blogiversary: 2 Years & 200 Posts

I received two unexpected notifications this week from the WordPress staff. I’ve been writing in this space for two years and I’ve written 200 posts. When I started this blog, I did it with the aim of unburdening myself of all the stress and emotional and psychological pain my illness causes me. I needed a space separate from the judgement and input of my family and friends. A space where I could be completely honest about what I am living with, while hoping to connect with other people who could empathize and truly understand what I’m living with. I’ve gotten that and so much more from this small corner of the interwebs that I’ve turned into my own.

This past year I started sharing my writing with some of my friends and family. I did that because they still have a hard time wrapping their heads around what is happening to me and how I cope with this illness every day. I hadn’t shared my writings about my illness with them before because I was anxious about exposing myself and the raw truth of my experiences and emotions; and I worried that I might have to become less candid with what I write. However, the feedback I received from some of them made me realize that I had no reason to fear what they might think.

In fact, my anxiety was unwarranted. The friends and family, with whom I shared my writing, were all incredibly compassionate. Some expressed disbelief that I’ve managed to hold myself together all this time while living with the level of pain I do daily. They couldn’t understand how I manage to maintain such an upbeat outlook even with the many failed procedures and pain medications that often don’t manage my pain as they should. Others just enjoyed reading my writing and were surprised with the level of detail I retain about my experiences and how vividly I convey what is happening to me.

This made me feel closer to them, which was completely unexpected. I never thought it could be possible to appreciate and love them more – let alone feel closer to them. Because of this, when I sit down to write I don’t worry anymore. I don’t feel the need to consider that I might express something that may be upsetting to them because they have made it clear that the support they extend to me and the love they hold for me is not conditional on what I might need to vent. They see this space as an opportunity to tap into the truth I might not fully share otherwise.

Two years into writing this blog and almost four years into living with my illness, I continue to learn about the people in my life and myself. Obviously, I don’t know what to expect in the coming year. My hope is to continue with the same determination to cope with my illness and to share what I’m living through with others who might connect with something I post. Writing has always been an important part of my life and even though I started this blog on a whim, it’s become an invaluable tool to help me – and now people I’m close to – cope with and better understand my life.

Blogiversary Bouquet

 

To Date (Or Not) With Chronic Pain

Some months ago, a friend I’ve known since junior high school had a very pointed conversation with me about dating and intimate relationships. He caught me off guard with his questions about my romantic life or lack of one. He was curious to know why, since becoming ill just over three years ago, I haven’t dated at all. His concern was that I am allowing my illness to define me and overtake my entire life. He pointed out that I am more than my illness and pain and that people with more severe disabilities and/or debilitating health conditions still manage to engage in fulfilling intimate relationships.

In our conversation, I told him I couldn’t get into a relationship because I was focusing on my health and all I need to do to restore it. In return, he asked how long I planned to focus on my health alone since almost three years had already passed. Would five years be enough or maybe ten? What would happen if I let all those years pass without any improvement to my health and never taking the time to explore the possibilities of sharing my life, even with an illness, with someone?

Interestingly, he didn’t talk about what I might gain from dating or being in a long-term relationship. He talked instead about what I have to offer. It was embarrassing to hear him describe me so positively, especially at a time when I don’t usually feel attractive, engaging, and bright – the brightness of my intellect is often dulled by pain and pain medications – nor do I feel particularly sexy. Feeling sexy is hard when pajamas and sweats have become my standard wardrobe staples.

Nonetheless, I promised him I would think about all he had said to me. And think I did. The first thing I thought about was the person I had started dating a couple of weeks before becoming ill and how uncomfortable I was being so vulnerable with someone I’d known for barely two weeks. As he called the ambulance, stayed with me in the emergency room, and visited me practically every day for the first week of my hospital stay, I was grateful for his support and kindness. However, having someone I hardly knew see me that way was overwhelming in the context of so much unknown. It didn’t feel right to move forward with a relationship. It felt unfair to burden him with that level of responsibility when we didn’t even know each other’s favourite colour or foods.

Thinking about that conversation with my friend led me to deciding I would give online dating a chance. I set up a profile detailing my interests and what I look for in a partner, I posted recent pictures of myself where I look happy and healthy, and then I waited for interested prospects to contact me. I wait instead of initiating contact with anyone who piques my interest because I’m still uncertain about how to explain my current life circumstances. The thought of telling a potential partner about my daily struggle with pain still causes me great anxiety. Although my hope is that those feelings will soon change.

However, being online and exchanging written messages about my interests and who I am, as a lead up to deciding whether to meet in person, has been helpful. It gives me a chance to sort through and figure out who, of all those I communicate with, might be the type of person who would not be phased by what is happening in my life now. It’s also a chance to rediscover the part of myself I’ve neglected because of my pain and better understand how I’ve changed in recent years. Being online also provides a way for me to manage the pace of the process, while making sure I don’t feel too overwhelmed.

I have to admit that, with my friend’s urging, I am opening myself up to the possibilities of what my life could be like, even if I’m never pain-free. I know that not everyone I meet will be as compassionate and open to my situation as the friend I’ve known since I was a child, but now I’m hopeful for the chance to meet someone who is.

Red (Maybe) Tulips Sketch

 

Keep Safe Old Friend

Today is the birthday of a friend of mine from high school. I haven’t seen her in years, but I never forget that this day is her birthday. As many do, our paths diverged after high school: I went to university; she went right to work then soon became pregnant with her first child. Being from a religious family, they made her choices for her. She would marry the boy she barely loved, or knew well, and raise a family. That boy became an abusive husband and father, who beat her during both her pregnancies and whenever else it suited him; facts she hid from me for a long time.

When she first told me, I felt outraged and wanted to do everything in my power to punish him and to change her situation: she and her children could stay with me as long as necessary so she could figure out what she needed and wanted to do for herself, for them. She never left him because both families and her religion forbade it. Family elders and their priests counselled them, but the abuse never ended. It evolved, becoming the thing that controlled her life, isolated her, made her ill, and a shadow of the vibrant person she once was.

All these years later, I still become overwhelmed with grief and anger, and well up with tears when I think of the smart beautiful funny girl she was and the hopeless woman she became. There is nothing I wouldn’t have done to help her leave him and nothing I wouldn’t do now. On the odd occasion when we talk on the phone because he’s not lurking somewhere nearby, the topic and the possibilities of how she could leave still arise, but the fear she feels for herself and her children outweighs all else. So, I tell her to keep herself safe and reluctantly hang up and wait for the next time she calls.

I don’t know if she received the birthday message I sent to her by text this morning. I didn’t get a reply. I can only hope she did receive it and believe that telling her I love her makes a difference in her day, and in this fraction of her life. When you love someone that’s what you want for them: goodness and the best of everything. Even when you know, the chances of that happening are slim. Nevertheless, just in case, I’ll send another birthday wish into the universe for my old friend with all the love in my heart, and I’ll pray that she’s keeping safe.

 

Elton John – Friends