speak gently

The anxiety started about a week ago. It was a bit unsurprising. When I was laid off, I was reasonably convinced I would start September with a job. That gave me the summer off, which I had savings for, and then job in the fall. For this to work, I needed to have a job in hand by the middle of August.

It has not worked this way. It turns out that the universe did not get my message. My employer had promised me a top-up to my EI benefits, and while that has never materialized, a part-time position at the university that will stretch until the end of December will allow me to continue to function until December without the top-up from my employer. I’ll keep applying for jobs.

I passed an imaginary deadline and started to panic. I managed, bit by bit. A dose of Ativan, distraction, exercise. The days continued and so did the anxiety.

And finally one morning, reassurance. To myself. I lay in bed and reminded myself of all of the times that I have fixed things, figured things out. All of the things in the universe that have tried to break me, tried to kill me.

I told myself that it was ok to be tired. It was ok to be scared. It was ok to be terrified. It was ok to be overwhelmed. I didn’t have to fix everything. I just had to survive long enough to eventually be able to fix things.

It’s better with that.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Pandemic | 3 Comments

Not Me

I’ve been on a few dates with a guy. We’ll call him Mr. Ice Cream. (Yes, dating during a pandemic is weird.)

He was at my house last night, eating dinner. In the corner of my dining room is a shelf. Gabriel’s picture, a stuffed animal, and the urn of Gabriel’s ashes. Mr. Ice Cream had been looking around at photos, as one is wont to do. I watched his eyes track to Gabe.

He asked if it was a baby photo of me.

13 years on I have a series of polite and smooth answers, at least most of the time. I have learned, where polite and smooth answers will not work, to divert and distract. To answer one question with another, avoiding bringing the terrible and tragic into the pleasant and the mundane.

I do not know what to call that full and terrible moment between the question and the answer.

If Mr. Ice Cream sticks around long enough, I will tell him about the baby, about how I am a sort of mother, if not exactly. I will tell him that I stare off into the stars sometimes and I am sad.

But for now?

No, I said. That’s not me. But if you look at the photo of my dad over there in that other corner, you can see how much I look like my parents.

Posted in Adult Dating, Baby Loss, Pandemic | 4 Comments

Thank you for your Patience

One of the things that happened earlier in July was that the university hired me as part of a team that provides remote teaching support to instructors for the fall (My university is doing very little in the way of in-person classes.) I got a random email and realized that I had been “hired”. It took the person running it and I about 3 conversations and 2 days to realize that he had never managed a project and I had, so I introduced him to the concept of a project co-ordinator. He’s thrilled, he gets someone who keeps things organized and working and my ‘rather wounded by being dumped and then laid off in 36 hours’ self-esteem gets a boost.

I’m meant to work about 12 hours a week doing this. It’s enough to supplement my EI and while it puts me a very tiny amount over the allowable earnings, it’s not enough to cause mass consternation. It means that I haven’t had to dip into my savings yet, which is lovely. (The job market continues to be slow. While my employer is looking for work, I’m not sure that there is any to be had). That’s the useful backstory I needed to give you.

It’s been a bit of a scramble, figuring out an approach on the fly, organizing 13 people. The last few weeks have been more than 12 hours of work a week and I’m fine with that. There are still a few things outstanding. At the end of yesterday, as I sent out an update email, I was about to start apologizing (profusely) for not having something done.

Then I remembered something I had read. Something about giving away power and taking too much on. About not apologizing when you don’t mean it.

I’ve put in something like 20 hours this week and while that task needed to get done, it was nowhere near critical. I did the tasks that were critical, the tasks that keep things moving, that were going to make the project work. I used a certain amount of judgment and I acknowledged that as someone who has managed far larger and far more complex projects, this particular task could slide.

I didn’t apologize. I simply thanked my colleagues for their patience while I worked through a pile of things.

I got a note back that said “no worries.”

I cannot describe how much “thanks for being patient” made me feel. I wasn’t a screw up or a failure. I was a busy person, trying her best.

So amazing.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 2 Comments

The Smell of Memory

I don’t know what it is for you. For me, the smell of truck exhaust brings me back to a horse stable. Summer is the smell of rain, but also the smell of hot rubber and newly mown grass. Discordant perhaps, but since they are individual connections, does it really matter to anyone that diesel exhaust brings me back to horse stables?

Moving away from smell, there are moments in my current routine when I go back to other parts of my life. Sunny days when I work on my back deck at the work I am doing for the U or at learning python or stats, or just the process of applying for jobs, when I think back to other summers.

In the summer before I went in to grade 6 we lived in an apartment on the top floor of a building and it was hotter than hades. I took to staying up half the night and sleeping on the balcony in a lounge chair. I would wake up to the blazing heat and the sounds of construction from the freeway below me.

I think the summer I was 15 I watched a family friend’s daughter. I remember days at the outside pool where I was there in a sort of overwatch way, but really I did little to earn my paycheque. I could swear that was the summer I read both Fear of Flying and Gone with the Wind – I remember sunburn and shimmering chlorine and trying to understand exactly what Erica Jong was trying to get across.

Perhaps what comes to mind most, and why those memories are so old is that they were the last times I had hours and days and weeks of empty time, with virtually no one and nothing to fill it.

Pacing is a challenge. There is so little concrete in my life right now. I have two meetings a week for the University (both on Wednesday) and then there is a sense that I could vanish from this world until the following Wednesday and no one would notice. My brain lies to me and tells me I am alone, I spend a certain amount of time reminding myself that friends do reach out and I do see people and my vanishing would be noticed.

I am working on connecting with the mundane. The satisfaction of a list of things checked off. The taste of a coffee and a cooky at 3 pm. The delight of clean sheets. The smell of the air after rain. That moment when I am sitting in my office at home working on something and I can sense, by a brightening in the room, that the sun is starting to peek out of the clouds. I am working at grounding myself, connecting myself to what is – not what could be or what was or what might be.

I’m not good at it. I suppose the nice thing about remembering a summer when I was 12 and a summer when I was 15 is that if I stop and think, I can imagine all the things I didn’t know and wasn’t good at those years.

Maybe, it occurs to me that 30 years from now I will think back to this summer. It’s an interesting thought.

Posted in Pandemic | 2 Comments

In Our Hands

This year I could not get out to the garden where we spread my mum’s ashes for Mother’s day. At the end of June, when we would normally go out for her birthday, I was incapacitated. Limited in my ability to walk from sciatica and plantar fasciitis, limited in my ability to think, to plan, to move from one moment to the next. My mother’s birthday passed. It is past the middle of July and I have not made it out to the garden. The irises, which were the reason we spread her ashes where we did, are long past bloom. Like so many things this year, I was not there when I ought to have been.

“Covid”, we murmur. Half apologetically, with a sense of frustration. Sometimes it is probably more of a yell, strangled behind the weight of fear and worry and exhaustion from planning trips from our homes which are more tactical strikes instead of runs to the grocery store for milk and dish soap.

And still, my mother is with me. I made pastry this morning for a quiche later in the day. A meal to thank a friend who will clamber up on a ladder with $20 worth of supplies and fix what is only occasionally and in very particular circumstances, a leak in my house. I stared at my hands, freckled from all the sun I have gotten. I started at the blunt fingers and too short nails. I stared at the ring I bought myself when Owen left. I stared at an area of new pink skin, left behind when I scratched a mosquito bite one too many times.

I see my mother in my writing. Not what I write here, but in the loops of my cursive/non cursive blend. I see it in my compulsive lists and scrawled notes. I see the work of her hands still in parts of my gardens. The plants are new, changed, transformed, but I can stand to left and down from the rhubarb and hear her jokes about putting rhubarb and strawberry plants and calling it the pie patch.

I see her in what she was not, what I am not. In the pie plate filled with a light and flaky pastry. My mother’s pastry landed heavy, sodden. It sat uncomfortably in the middle of your being. I see it in my attempts to be kind, to be gracious and the careful thought about where and when and why I fail at this. I see it in my honesty about my current fragility.

I don’t know if I will get to the botanical garden, sit on her bench and tell her what has happened. I don’t know if I will climb up the stairs to the bell in the Japanese garden, pull back the log and let it swing forward. I don’t know if I will hear the bell ring out, summoning my mother, an accoustic reminder that I marked something beyond standard holidays.

And I don’t know if it matters. Perhaps I summon her as well when I stare at marks and freckles on my hands.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Deal Gently

Humans, if you were wondering, share about 60% of their DNA with a banana. (This explains a great many interactions, I think). We are a bit more than 60% water. The cost to remake a human, using elements purchased on the open market is about $160.00. Most of that cost is in potassium. (It must be the shared genetic material with bananas). None of what I have just described is complicated or fragile.

Indeed, I’m not what you might call fragile. I was not raised to be fragile, I was not educated to be fragile, you might even argue that I am temperamentally unsuited to be fragile.

And yet, here I am.


But also, slowly, learning to stand up for myself. I have, twice in the last week, asked to not talk about my job hunt or why things ended with J. I have enough mental energy to apply for jobs, do some networking, check in with recruiters, do interview prep when required. I do not have enough energy to tell you all the things I am doing. The fact that I am unemployed consumes rather a lot of mental energy. I’d rather not talk about it.

And J? I feel a bit blunt and mean, but the guy who ghosted me and then dumped me in a text message after 5 months of I love, sex and meeting his family? He’s not worth either of our time.

I turned down a visit with someone, largely because they manage to make their visits all about them. My life has fallen apart around my ears. I may be sorry for your struggles, but I do not have the emotional energy to dedicate to listening.

And finally this- I speak to myself gently. It’s a struggle to get up in the morning, mostly because there is no point. Every day is the same. Do some stuff about finding a job. Work on python, statistics, read Foucault. Do things around the house. Stretch, get some exercise. Take the dog for a short walk. Read novels, watch TV, knit. Try and remember to eat veggies. I can easily go a week or more without seeing another person. I have not been touched by another person in 6 weeks and it is very likely I will not be touched by another person for 6 months.

There isn’t really any reason to get up in the morning, save the dog. My alarm goes off and I start talking gently. Reminding myself that now is not forever, now is not now. I am fragile now.

It will pass.

Posted in Pandemic | 5 Comments

What Can I Tell You

Let’s see:

I have an obscure sort of leak from the corner of my house, which only leaks when it rains really hard and the wind comes from a particular direction. Mostly what is frustrating is that this is going to be a bugger to solve, especially as I have a feeling it will involve a number of people up ladders and small bits of flashing and caulking guns.

I had a job interview on Wed, did not get the job. Onward.

Finally, it will be sunny all weekend. So there’s that.

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There is no Rhyme

After almost a week of no anxiety, it reared its head last week.


If you are me, you try and reason your way out of it. You try and sort out what it is that triggered the anxiety and then you try and talk yourself down and use logic and breathe. You try and point out all of the things that you are doing to find a job, you remind yourself that you have enough money to get by for now, that you are not going to be homeless, that the world will not end.

You remind yourself that you are not a burden, that people still care about you, that they reach out. You try and substitute fact for feeling. It’s not a completely bad strategy. You eat, you go for a bike ride, you meditate. When your brain lies and tells you that you will become unemployed and homeless because you really aren’t good at anything, you remind yourself of all the reasons that’s not true.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes you manage the anxiety with an Ativan and Nutella eaten straight from the jar.

The anxiety? It’s not reasonable. It’s not a thing to be reasoned with. Nor seemingly is there any rhyme to it. Anxiety, it turns out is a feeling and not a fact.

Posted in Learning Life | 2 Comments

But Not that Kind of Cyclist

When asked about my bike, I tell people that she is a pleasing shade of teal, with a clever wicker basket that I can take into the grocery store and clip back on to the front of my bike. She has a very wide and padded seat and my bike helmet, which I wear faithfully is exactly the same shade of teal as my bike.

When bike people* ask me for more detail, say information about brands, or the type of shocks or how many speeds she has, I look at them over my glasses and smarten up my cardigan and tell them that my bike is named Lois. It stops the conversation in its tracks, which is exactly what I intended. There is not much you can say to a middle-aged spinster who named her bike Lois.

It’s a curious thing – I have a great many friends who are *bike people. They are the sort of people who own bikes worth more than my first car. I have a friend who is a family of 3 and, no word of a lie, the last time I counted, there were 15 bikes in his garage. I have friends who bike to work in snowstorms, exhorting the benefits of healthy exercise and bracing cold. I have friends who have bikes for various purposes, I think perhaps like I have seven different frying pans, because they do different things. Still, while I understand the theory of bikes for different purposes, Lois and I go to the Italian Centre (the small size of the basket limits cheese impulse purchasing), the drug store, and the library. Sometimes we bike to neighbourhood events, but only if it’s not going to rain, or we won’t be out after dark. Lois is not the sort of brave bike that has lights for after dark. She is the modest companion of a modest spinster.

All of this to say, she turned 10 today. I need to go to the drug store to mail a birthday card, so I think I’ll take her for a spin.

If you wanted, you can read about the day I got her here: The Wind in Your Hair

Posted in It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighbourhood | 1 Comment

Connected to All the Other Parts

I get an MRI every spring and at the end of each spring neurology appointment, my neurologist offers to show me my scans. Honestly, I don’t especially care. It was cool the first few times, but there are only so many times you can stare at your brain, which, with the contrast is mostly dark since there is limited evidence of disease activity in my brain these days. I look at the scans mostly because my Neuro looks so excited to be able to show them to me and I think it makes him happy to be able to take me on the (same) guided tour of my brain.

This time I asked for a detour. We started flipping through scans, my brain getting larger and smaller, contorting and flipping through vague images until I asked if he could show me my basal ganglia. He paused, told me he needed to change the view, clicked around a few times. In an instant, he was reciting the names of all of them. Caudate, putamen.

The Scotch was right. They are in the centre of your brain, connected to everything else. I did not say it, but I imagine a sort of sadness played across my face. In my own brain imaging I saw the inevitability of Andy’s death.

Today I did a bunch of yard work, some laundry. I read a bit, watched Hamilton. As the day waned, as it gets dark and time turns toward when the US will have fireworks, I thought of 2014. Owen and I went down for the holiday, Andy’s brother Matt was there. We all sat at a dive bar called Jack’s, which was in a town so small I don’t think I could find it on a Map. I’m not sure my GPS knew where it was. Ben was 3, Emma was just shy of her 1st Birthday. It was the trip I became Aunty Smarties.

It was the last time we were all together for a happy thing. I told myself today, as my thoughts turned to that holiday that the cancer would not have been in Andy’s brain. We would not have known that marriages would end, that cancer would take Andy.

And yet.

Basal ganglia hold more than one secret. Everything is connected to everything else.

Posted in The language of families | 1 Comment