Nerves and Privilege

I have watched the BLM riots in the US (and our own protests here in Canada) through a haze of pain. I fought the dandelions this weekend, and while my back lawn is dandelion free, my sciatic nerve declared enough. When this happens, the nerve feels like it is on fire, from your hip to your heel, and then in bizarre sort of sympathy, every muscle in your leg spasms. I woke up on Monday and had to crawl to the bathroom. After several hours of that, in which I could not sit, stand, or walk, I called an ambulance. I crawled down my stairs, they more or less carried me out my front door, and we proceeded to the Emergency Room.

Eventually (In a period that was really very brief, but did not feel brief) the doctor came into my room. He poked and prodded a bit, then chuckled knowingly. It turns out that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who have had sciatic pain and know that it is crippling, and those that haven’t and have no idea how a nerve could cause so much pain.

The doctor was the first kind – he told me what happened to him when his sciatica acts up. Twenty minutes later a very nice nurse was plunging a large needle of morphine and gravol into my arm. She was handing me a bottle with Percocet, and a prescription for a bunch of muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories and pain killers.

Which takes me to the privileged bit. As much as J. thought I was a bit crazy for going to the hospital (He’s in that second, no idea what sciatica is like, group), neither of us thought for a minute that it would be unsafe. I may have looked like absolute hell, but I had the colour of my skin and an educated woman’s voice. The system was built for my kind of person. I knew I would be treated kindly and equally.

As I lay on that bed, scrolling through twitter, I thought about what an Indigenous woman in my position might experience. Would she be treated with kindness?

When I very firmly insisted that I needed a wheelchair to move, I was given one. When I told them that no, I needed some help getting undressed, the nurse checked with me as she touched me. When I told them that I do the exercises and this was brought on by gardening, I was believed. No one thought I was an addict. There was no question of drug-seeking behaviour. When I made a joke about solving this with an amputation, no one contemplated sterilizing me at the same time.

Those are the benefits I know about. Those are the things that marginalized voices have told me I am privileged in. I am privileged in other ways, ways I do not ever see because this world was designed for me. I don’t have to see or live the hard way. I was in pain, and a system designed for me fixed it.

There are those who cannot breathe. They cannot breathe from the weight of colonization, the weight of prejudice, the weight of systemic oppression, and abuse. They cannot breathe in the tiny bit of crappy space we gave them on reserves. They cannot breathe because we stole their parents and grandparents and tried to “kill the Indian in the child”.

I have no answers. I should have no answers. I should have the kindness and mercy to move back so that they have space to breathe. And I should listen to what they say when they can.

Posted in This I believe | 3 Comments

Bit by Bit

I continue to survive. I say this because I had a bit of a break down on Friday.

Leaving aside the bit where my nephew died and his wife had to sort out funeral arrangements and manage things on her own, absent the part where I went to Andy’s funeral in shorts and a t-shirt, and the funeral home used facebook live which was a nightmare for everyone over the age of 60 to use, they muted all the music to avoid takedowns, and then it cut out after exactly an hour after it started – which was right in the middle of someone’s eulogy. . . .

Leaving aside the fact that I largely live alone and the people I love – especially the nieces and nephews are spread across this wide world and I worry that everyone I love is going to die. Alone. Which is what I am mostly. I thrive on connection and touch and however hard I try, online meetings don’t do it.

Leaving aside existential angst about the economy in general, what my particular provincial government is doing and what the madman in the White house is not doing to keep American’s safe.

Leaving aside the fact that exiting my house seems like entering a germ laden war space, and the fact that I must remember my mask and to sanitize my hands and I pull on doors clearly marked push, so how do you think following arrows in the grocery store is going for me?

Leaving aside all of that. . . .

Every Friday I finish the week still employed. Exhausted from somehow eking out enough work on various little bits of things to figure out how to charge 40 hours to something other than the “I have nothing to do” code. It’s not billable work, which would keep me safe as houses, but it’s something. I suppose. Every week I hit Friday a still employed management consultant.

And I sit and wonder whether that will be the case a week.

Some of it is surely that no one knows what is going on. Some of it is that my new boss is the sort of person who considers people to be widgets. I don’t think it would occur to him that this is hard. I’m trying to ignore the fact that it is equally likely he is aware that it’s hard and actually doesn’t care. Some of it depends on the fact that so much of my identity (dare I say it, too much?) of my identity is tied up in my job.

All of it is exhausting. I don’t know if I will have a job, which means I don’t know if I will have drug insurance, which means I don’t know if I will be able to pay for my drugs. That makes me worry about the ability to work, which is also a problem because I won’t have short term or long term disability if I’m unemployed.

Bit by bit, I get through. I call each week a victory. Tell myself that nothing can last forever. Nothing good and nothing bad. It is getting harder, I will allow.

Posted in Pandemic | 2 Comments

No End Date

When the Alberta Covid-19 social distancing measures started, way back on the 13th of March (which was more or less 10 weeks ago, if you were counting), I set up a zoom meeting with friends and former colleagues each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Originally, I set the recurrence until the middle of April. Then to the May long weekend. This morning I just changed it to “no end date”.

I am largely fortunate. I could not be with my family for Andy’s death and funeral, but I have a comfortable home, an income (for now, I may well be furloughed before this is over), a loving partner, friends, pets, a garden to work in. I have some savings and groceries in my cupboards. I have the internet, which allows me to both work and play. I have more wool than I could ever knit in my lifetime.

In short, if I have to do this (and I believe we do), then I am reasonably well positioned to do it. Even if I lose my job, there will be government benefits, and existential angst aside, it will not be glamourous but I can keep body and soul together while unemployed.

Still. I live in a constant form of dread. Always a doom-laden soundtrack. It is mostly quiet, and I can mostly breathe through the times it gets loud.

But there’s no end in sight.

Posted in Pandemic | 3 Comments

It Passes

The day passed. It was harder than many: it was cold and rainy, with the sort of overnight temperatures that make planting bedding plants unwise. The garden I spread my mum’s ashes in remains closed, so I could not go and sit on her bench and tell her about the winter that was.

Which left me with the coping mechanisms of staying off social media and being thankful for the friends who texted me to tell me that they knew this was a hard day for me.

It was not a good day. I suppose, and this is what matters, is that it wasn’t a bad day either. I keep wanting to say that it gets better or it gets easier or something. In truth, I think I get better at making it easier.

I also think that maybe we should start handing out badges for this sort of thing.

Posted in Baby Loss | 1 Comment

Dear Andy

Last Wednesday Christie called me to tell me that Andy was failing. In another world, a world without COVID, that would have been the point where I dropped what I was doing, went home and grabbed the bag that has been packed in my closet since December, and grabbed my passport and started driving. I would have slipped 4 ouzo candies into his pocket before the cremation. A reminder and a promise about a magical night.

Instead, I wrote him a letter. Andy left us about 10 am on Friday May 8th.

Dear Andy:

We said goodbye in October, although you didn’t realize it. What I said back then was right – my life was better because you were in it. It was better because you came crashing in at a wedding, having downed a bottle of ouzo and I removed your IV line and I guess that’s what makes family.

My life is better because you taught me to make bacon in the oven and now every time I do this, I will think of you.

My life is better because you taught me to be less serious, to be a bit less proper and a bit more open minded. I really won’t die if someone puts salt on bread and butter. (It was close. I need you to know that. It was so very close).

My life is better because you taught me about steadfastness. You taught me about what it means to do the work put in front of you, to do your best for your family and to be the person who watched out for others. On that note, I spoke to my financial planner. I can start putting money away for the kids’ college fund. I know you’ll be as annoyed as I am that I don’t get a tax receipt for this.

My life is better because I heard you when you called us to tell us that Ben was born, and I was fortunate to witness joy like we so rarely see in this world.

Your work here is done. I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s fair, and I have been so filled with rage since I found out that there are no words. But no one asked me and eventually you have to stop raging. It happened sometime in January, when I realized that Christie had always had a spine of iron. She just needed to realize it. She has now. I promise you, she will be fine and she will not be alone.

You will be missed every moment of every day. We will tell the kids about you. We will watch over Christie. And we will remember you. We will remember your fart jokes and love of feeding people. We will remember how much you loved a good deal. We will tell the children how much you loved them, that the best of you will live in them.  It will not be the same as having you here, but it will not be nothing either.

This still isn’t a final goodbye. I won’t see you and touch you and we won’t drink coffee in a quiet house; but I’ll hold your memory. So, put the coffee on. Try not to shoot anything important. Try and remember, even though salt won’t matter, you should taste your food before you salt it. I’ll try and remember to look for sales.

I love you. Go cuddle the babies in heaven. I’ll watch over the ones here.

Posted in The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 6 Comments

Love in the Time of Covid

(Still no nickname for J. It’s on my list. No, I don’t know why it’s taking so long either, it’s not as if I have a ton of stuff to do.)

For the first bit, we went back and forth between houses. I stayed at his, he stayed at mine and we both avoided everyone else. It worked, mostly. Eventually, our Chief Medical Officer of Health suggested that it was unwise. Stopping the virus mostly depends on staying at home as much as possible, not moving between houses.

So too is the problem of his kids. His girls are with their mum and can’t move. His university-aged son hasn’t seen his girlfriend in forever, and there I was, moving back and forth. We might reasonably argue that a 41-year-old woman is more responsible, but fairness is often more about optics than procedure-ality. I can be a grown-up, and so can he.

So you live a relationship of doorway drop-offs. Cookies and a pigs’ ear for Charlie. Coffee beans for me.

I drop off his easter basket early on Easter morning, with what I got in the US before this started, with what I could order from Amazon, dig up from online grocery ordering. From him, it was chocolate and dinner and a nonleaking french press and 5 kilos of flour (the flour was the true gift).

It’s a world of face time calls where we watch mindless TV. Lately, it’s been Tiny House Nation. Neither of us would ever buy one, but we enjoy critiquing the design choices.

We had coffee last night, appropriately socially distanced. I told him I couldn’t do that again, it’s too hard to walk away without hugging him.

It’s a lot of emoji’s and I miss you. Photos of our day, sent back and forth.

And every single thing about this sucks.

Posted in Pandemic | 2 Comments

Radical Self Acceptance

I keep seeing this meme on Facebook and Twitter about now not being the time to learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, start a new side business (and I’m sorry, but I am so done with the idea that a second job is called a side hustle.)

Now is the time for radical self acceptance.

I sit at my desk at home, no makeup. I’m neatly dressed, my house is more or less tidy, I have a small to-do list for the day next to me. I’m largely ok. I am not feeding fear, at least most days, but I still feel fear. I guess, the good news, the upside of down, is that I know fear. I have lived with it before, in the ten days between my diagnosis and Gabe’s birth. In the time my mother lay dying. Every moment of every day since Andy was diagnosed. I am not going to be blithe and say that fear is a friend. It isn’t, it never will be. Somewhere in the last few years I’ve learned a bit of what Peema Chodron talks about when she advocates leaning into fear.

I had a panic attack on Saturday night. It was a bad one. I’ve had bad ones before, but I think the last one like this was probably the night of Gabe’s funeral. It lasted for a good 45 minutes, I wound up having to have a shower after, given that I started to vomit in the middle.

Everyone has a breaking point. Saturday was mine.

I’m not good at radical self acceptance. I’m not ok with the fact I broke that badly. It seems like at least the start of this might be to be honest.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Feeding Fear

I was so careful when I was pregnant. Never mind having quit smoking months before I conceived; I gave up lunch meat and fish and soft cheese; rare steak and peanuts. I wore gardening gloves to garden and refused to go within 15 feet of the cat litter. I avoided sick people, got my flu shot the day they came out. Not just alcohol, I gave up communion grape juice (but made sure I was at church every Sunday). I refused Tums and slept sitting up when the heartburn got bad. I lost 15 pounds in the first three months from ‘morning’ sickness but refused to take Diclectin, which has been prescribed since 1957 and is safe as houses.

I gave up coffee. (let that sink in for a minute).

I figured you couldn’t be too careful.

The night that my blood pressure hit 210/160, the night they told me I had to give birth even though Gabriel was going to die, there was a woman in the bed across from me. She was, oh, probably somewhere between 35-37 weeks pregnant. She didn’t know how far along she really was. She’d had no prenatal care. She didn’t take the vitamins because she didn’t like the way they tasted. And would they hurry up and take the fetal monitor off her, because she really wanted to go and have a smoke.

She went home with a healthy baby, you know.

I’ve told you about how I held my son in my arms and sang him lullabies while he gasped for breath and suffocated to death. I’ve told you that there is no fear after that. There is nothing the world could do to me that would hurt more. There is no other way to break me. When you put back the pieces after something like that, you live without fear.

Up until that moment, I had done everything out of fear.

The Cree, the Ojibwe, the Salteaux, they talk about this creature they call the Wendigo. It’s a sort of folklore monster that comes out in times of famine and strife. It’s a cannibal, but no matter how much it eats, it’s still hungry and lean. However much you feed it, it cannot be satiated. I think the Wendigo also eats fear.

You give up fish and cheese and lunch meat. You will do everything in the pregnancy books and add in edicts from a few more random old wive’s tales besides. You will feed fear. The Wendigo will stay hungry. Your mother will still carry her only grandson down the morgue. The baby that you did everything right for. It was not the things that you were frightened of anyway.

I wear my seatbelt. I care about triglycerides and A1Cs. In these days of a pandemic, I wash my hands and practice social distancing. But when Facebook tells me that it plans to hide its basement? When Twitter tells me it sanitizes boxes before allowing them in the house? When Instagram tells me it sterilizes its clothes with a flamethrower? When I hear the muttering of old wives’ tales and the murmurs that you can’t be too careful?

I see the Wendigo behind you.

You still can’t feed it enough.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 1 Comment

The Lessons of 20-Year-Olds

Because I’m worried about my job (I think I’m going to be laid off in the next 2-4 weeks), the general state of the world, an uncle in congestive heart failure and a nephew who is dying, and I will not be able to get to him**, I am teary.

Bread is a soothing sort of thing. It reminds me of how much I love cooking for others, how much it connects me to the people I love. I made bread for J’s. son, who reminds me so much of Travis that it sometimes takes my breath away.

So universe, if you are listening. I know Travis and David won’t talk to me anymore. I know that when they returned a wedding gift, I was never going to be told what I had done. I know whatever it was, I’m likely very sorry for it.

But Universe – they are still my nephews. They will always be my nephews. They get included in the total count and always will be. I can’t bake bread or make mashed potatoes or knit for them. So universe, if you would keep an eye on them – deal gently with them? I’d appreciate that.

*Does this work as a nickname? He was J. in my phone for quite a while, while I hoped things would work because I liked him, but wasn’t sure.

**Update to Sit Rep – The border has not been militarized, but no one official on the Canadian side is recommending travel. They aren’t sure if I would be allowed in, or at what points I could enter and they have been very clear that if I catch Covid 19 and die, no one from Canada and our socialized healthcare is coming to get me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Downside of Up

I have been trying to stick to a routine in these days of social distancing. I have been trying to get up at about the same time, go to bed at the same time, get dressed, put on makeup, walk the dog, take a lunch break. I have set up a coffee meeting with friends and colleagues three times a week. I have a little list of people I text on a regular basis. I see the boyfriend (He does not have a nickname. He needs a blog nickname. I’ll work on this) because we (and his lovely oldest son) are not really ever seeing anyone else, so we count as some sort of isolation buddies. I’ve done all the things that should be assuring me some form of mental health protection. Nope.

The downside of up, or the upside of down is this: it’s hard to scare me after the universe made me hold my baby in my arms while he suffocated to death and died. Really, what else could you do to me? What more is there? You can’t threaten me with the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow and near death, so I’m not worried about getting sick and dying. I should be, what with the MS. I should be at least a little bit worried. I’m not. I’m worried I am going to lose my job, that I shall become homeless and Gracie and the cats and I shall have to go and live in a cardboard box.

What makes me panic is randomness. When the universe took away the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow, it left me with an ironclad sense that the world is not fair. The world is not just, it is not reasonable and it does not care whether or not you are a nice person. Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to meh people. Bad things happen. You cannot predict them, you cannot stop them, you cannot even hedge against them.

I tell myself that we are all panicking. Indeed, I would question the mental health of anyone who wasn’t worried. This is a time of panic.

Still. It’s exhausting.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments