Life With COVID: How are you?

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

Are you doing okay? I hope so; I think most of us are muddling through this pandemic using whatever coping skills we can. If you’re not okay, here is some contact info to reach out for help:

Crisis Services Canada on the web at or call 1-833-456-4566 24/7 (QC 1-866-277-3553)
Kid’s Help Phone on the web at or call 1-800-668-6868
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online at or call 1-800-273-8255 (United States)
Samaritans online at or call 116 123 (United Kingdom)
Plus you can search here to find more help wherever you are.

My own feelings have been all over the map. So gung-ho the first week the Hubby was home. We were going to motivate each other to eat well, exercise, do good work and be creative. Yeah, not so much!

In week two, I began a slow downward spiral. A family member passed away in the UK. Not COVID, and not really a surprise, although I don’t think we are ever fully prepared for that reality. Seven thousand kilometres was no longer a journey that I chose to make, or not, because of cost or commitments. Now it was a gaping chasm that I was forbidden to cross; a very different feeling. Small things became large, Irritability and sadness won those days, I’m afraid.

Last week was better, as we started to improve arrangements for both of us to be somewhat productive while staying sane and not totally getting on each other’s nerves! This is now the start of week five. There will be at least two more weeks after this one--subject to change, of course. I feel now that we’re rebuilding to a level of acceptance of the situation; this is the way it is, and the way it will be for some time. This is part of what becomes the new normal.

As part of our ‘social distancing’ within the house, we did do this.

We currently live in military housing, so we can’t do anything permanent to the house. The basement has lots of room to work out, but was cold and soulless, so this was our attempt to brighten and cozy it up. So far, so good!

I also bought some new shoes—always guaranteed to cheer me up.

These are from a company called Poppy Barley, a wonderful, ethical Canadian fashion company. Their shoes are a little pricey for me normally, but I got these on a great sale. Do you feel like me, that going forward I’ll be spending what money I can closer to home to support local business? Perhaps globalization will take a back seat while we support our neighbours and community by buying less, choosing well and making it last! (To quote Vivienne Westwood.)

One surprising side-effect of this dire news cycle has been my inability to focus on reading (to focus on anything, really), so I am not one of those people who has run out of books. However, I have just finished a re-read of ‘How Not to Die Alone’. It may seem like a strange choice at the moment, but perhaps the UK title ‘Something to Live For’ offers a better glimpse of the hope contained in its pages.

How Not to Die Alone

It was my favourite book of 2019, as it checked many of my boxes. The main character, Andrew, is quirky, a real odd bod. As the story goes on he reveals himself as funnier and more charming, albeit in a congenitally socially awkward way, than initially expected. The story as a whole is funny in an understated, subtle British way, full of redemption and hope, ultimately with the idea that love can break us, but because of/despite that it can also make us better people. Given some of the storyline, if you currently do live alone, now may not be the time to read this, but I would still recommend adding it to your ‘to be read’ list down the road.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed."
~Kitty O'Meara

Many of you will have seen the poem of which this is the end, the part that focuses on what comes next. So what of the future? Is that something you’re thinking about yet? I can’t seem to form a concrete idea or opinion about how it may look. I know it will be different, and there may well be things that I’m happy to be so. But for now, for me, it is enough to be here and be thankful.

The Holy Golden Anniversary Gift Grail

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This post has been in the works for a while and is part ranty-rant, part scary story, and part comedy of errors. I originally wrote it as therapy, to vent my frustrations and get everything off my chest. It has a happy ending though, so please bear with me!

The Holy Golden Anniversary Gift Grail
The Gift 'Grail' in question--Picture of The Hare and Hounds, Maghull

The Cruise

Last August (2019) my parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary—a monumental milestone—so my brother and I wanted to mark it appropriately. When they celebrated twenty-five years, I planned a party with family and friends; at forty years, we travelled home to see them renew their vows. My folks don’t party much anymore and travel is becoming more difficult as family and friends age, so we decided against a big party this time around. A trip seemed like the best idea.

As we live in the Pacific Northwest, a cruise to Alaska was the first thing that came to mind. It’s close to home, there were no flights for my parents, none of us had ever cruised, and none of us had been to Alaska. Perfect! Book that sucker! (An experience itself I might add, if you’ve never done it before!). However, as we wound our way through all the requirements of travelling to the US, we hit on a problem.

My mother has some health issues, and as part of her ongoing care, her doctor had requested an angiogram. The test was naturally a concern for us, but it also became a sticking point in acquiring the necessary travel insurance. When she finally got her appointment, little more than a month before the cruise, I was relieved. We could put the worry behind us and start looking forward to the trip. However, by the end of test day, our world was shattered by the news that she needed surgery—double by-pass—and she would stay in hospital until they scheduled it. The next two weeks were a blur. Amid the fear of surgery, the worry about recovery, and moments of sheer blind panic, cruise-related concerns did not even register. However, we knew there would be no vacation for my parents.

The Back-Up Plan (Plan B)

Despite everything, though, they still wanted, insisted even, that the rest of us take the cruise. However, given that their gift had gone spectacularly pear-shaped, we needed to find another one suitable for the occasion. I suggested commissioning a picture of the pub where they met and knew of a talented artist on Etsy who did architectural drawings. Several introductory messages later, it seemed a good fit, so I provided a couple of photos for reference, and off I went on the cruise.

At the end of August (three weeks in) he messaged he was beginning the sketches and asked for a deadline. As the anniversary had passed, I naively said ‘ASAP’ (total rookie mistake!). Middle of September I followed up as I had heard nothing more, only to be told that he hadn’t started on my commission at all, that he was getting busy early in the run-up to Christmas and that he doubted he would have it for me anytime soon. I asked him to confirm I would have it for Christmas, then heard nothing for another week. His response when I followed up again was to imply that I, amongst others, were chasing him up for work (!) after he took a whole weekend off. A guilt-trip. A giant hot-button for me!

Several messages followed. I saw his guilt-trip and raised him. I was not rude, but this was probably not my finest hour. His response ‘Seems like you’re trying to make me feel guilty!’ (Duh, dude…!). I took a breath and a step back, explained that we had obviously had some miscommunication, asked if he could provide a definitive time line and some customer service. He could apparently do neither. A total flake! Thankful for the fact I paid him no money, I went in search of another gift or another artist.

The Back-Up to the Back-Up (Plan C?)

A different gift was a non-starter, as nothing matched the picture, so I went back on Etsy to find a new artist and eventually hit success. A more professional approach, a definitive time frame—six to eight weeks—and a confirmation that if I ordered right away (now mid-October), I would have my commission by Christmas, no problem. I happily paid my money and waited.

As we approached the eight-week mark, I followed up, you know, to be on the safe side. It was the beginning of December after all, and the picture was coming from the UK. I also asked for confirmation of the size to get framing quotes. The artist told me my picture would be ready ‘at the end of next week’ (as this was a Sunday, I wasn’t sure if that meant six days hence or thirteen—spoiler, it was neither!) and she would get back to me with the dimensions.

I never got the sizing. Christmas came and went. I was broken-hearted that we still didn’t have the gift, but with the busyness of the season did not follow up again until the beginning of January when I asked for a tracking number on the parcel. She didn’t provide one, but confirmed the work was complete, and she would send me photos of it, once back in her studio.

Ten days later… still no picture, no photos, no sizing, no tracking info—nothing! I’m seeing a pattern that concerns me (to say the least!), so I threaten to report her to Etsy. I never want to be 'that' person, but I was running out of options. At this point she sent me photos and offered me a partial refund on the picture, but honestly, I was happy to pay for the work she had done. All I wanted was a way to trace my picture, lost to the big, wide world, and couldn’t understand why she was so reticent to give it. It seemed so simple.

Finally, with no choice but to provide the number, I learned what the problem was. Despite all the confirmations, the parcel had not shipped until January 5th! Seriously…, if I put this into a work of fiction, an editor would say, ‘Nah, that’s too much. No-one would ever believe it.’

By now, it was the third week in January. The picture left the UK on January 6th, then... radio silence. I honestly believed that the picture was lost, and by this time my brother and I had paid out the equivalent of a down-payment on a small car with precisely zero gifts to show for it. The thought that, after six months, we’d have to start again, with Plan D, was freaking me out. With one gossamer thread of hope left, I contacted the post office.

The Promised Happy Ending!

A chat with Canada Post revealed that they could not help me at all (big surprise!), and that the sender would have to follow up from their end. Based on previous experience, I didn’t hold my breath. However, miracle of miracles, within two days of talking to the respective post offices, my parcel reappeared on the tracker—in Vancouver! Coincidence, you say? Another two days later, I finally had the picture in my hands. After what felt like a quest for the Holy Grail, the relief was tangible.

From this point, the story becomes almost mundane. In defense of the second flaky artist, I will say that her work was beautiful and unusual—just gorgeous. The framing handled, professionally and efficiently, by my friend, Melanie—within budget and on time (thanks, Mel!).

Finally, this past weekend my husband and I used our Leap Year bonus day to deliver this anniversary gift to two special people, who are more than worth all of this effort. Good news, they seemed to like it!

Seven Lessons from a Broken Bone

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I was sorting out my old writing notes recently and came across some old journal entries I had ripped from notebooks that are long gone. This one was a blog post waiting to be written, even before I was a blogger. I actually had all these points numbered in my diary!

Ten years ago this month, I was liberated from a cast on the only bone I have ever broken--my wrist. As accidents go, this one was not serious. I slipped on ice while walking the dog, but got myself up, got us both home and phoned for help. My Hubs will tell you, however, that I was so incoherent he didn’t know who was phoning at first!

After the first few days of pain and drug-induced torpor (this was Christmas time, by the way…!) boredom and frustration set in. I was off work and had lots of time to think about things, and one thing I realized is that I took a lot of things for granted. On the day I was to get my cast off, I wrote in my journal about some of the lessons the previous six weeks had taught me.

#1 The Universe is always listening

This could also be ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. In the fall of 2009, I was working at a community college ordering textbooks for sale in the bookstore—a job with built-in, cyclical deadlines. Because of unfortunate circumstances, we were short-staffed, making those deadlines loom even larger. We distributed the work among the remaining staff, but in a small department that meant considerably more for everyone to do, and an accompanying increase in stress levels.

By December I was exhausted. The extra work and stress played havoc with my MS. Every day, I would tell myself ‘I need a break!’ (You can see where this is going, right?!?) Funny, afterward I realized I always used those same words. It was never ‘I need a rest (or a vacation)’ or ‘I’ll be glad when Christmas comes.’

It was a mild December where we lived, hardly any ice or frosty mornings. Which made my slip—on ice—even more unusual. And comical, apparently, to the staff at the ER who couldn’t believe I’d found the only patch of the stuff in town! The Universe is indeed always listening and can be quite literal!

#2 Don’t wish your life away

This is in response to my ‘I need a break’ mantra. I was doing just that—wishing my precious time away. Things would be better, you know, when Christmas came, or when the new term started, or when our missing staff member returned, or…, or…, or…! No matter what, life is a gift and wishing it away is wrong. The Universe knows this and it will teach you a lesson (see #1!)

#3 Don’t sweat the small stuff

We’ve all heard this, right? Guy wrote a whole book on it. It really doesn’t matter how the undies get folded, nor the tea towel after I’ve finished using it. Or what colour hangers the clothes are on. (As well as a million other details I fret about every single day!) I am that person who borders on compulsion, trying to control things that are beyond control. I learned that the world continues, regardless!

#4 Don’t procrastinate the small stuff either

Seriously! I am the world’s worst procrastinator, and although I know this lesson to be true logically, I can say honestly it has NOT brought about consistent change. But seriously….learn from my mistakes and do it—change that work password right away, sew on the button, rinse through the hand-wash item—then call it all done. These are things that take five minutes to do, maybe less. And they were all waiting for me once I was back to full function. The work password was the kicker. I kept clicking on ‘later’ and then was off work for six weeks, during which time my password expired and I couldn’t get into my own email account! Not just headaches for me; ask the IT guy!

#5 Accept offers of help gracefully

We all need help at times. It is a lesson I’ve learned because of my MS, especially now as I get older. People want to help, and feel needed when they see a loved one struggling. However, our loved ones can also be the ones we lash out at when we’re broken and in pain. It’s good to remember it isn’t their fault (or hopefully it isn’t!) that we’re in a predicament.

#6 Accidents happen at lightning speed

By definition, they are not what we had planned. And in that moment, whether the accident is big or small, it can change your life. Maybe only for a few minutes, or days and weeks, sometimes forever. The point is not to be constantly worried that the worst will happen (sometimes easier said than done!), but to enjoy each day to the fullest. We never know when things could change.

#7 Appreciate the miracle that is your body

Every day our bodies perform simple, yet miraculous functions that we don’t even think about. So often, we take for granted our ability to see, hear, smell, touch, taste (thanks XTC!); to breathe and eat; our hearts pumping. My body does not work properly even without broken bones, and yet still I assume most days that it will go on doing all of these things to some extent. Because of MS, I waiver between despising my poorly functioning central nervous system on one hand, and being so thankful that things are not as bad as they could be on the other. This is a lesson I revisit constantly!

So, despite the greasy grey skin and funky ingrown hairs, when the cast came off that day I was thrilled to learn my wrist had healed nicely. With a brace, and after physiotherapy for a few more weeks, I had all my function back. At the end of my journal entry, I asked for grace to remember these hard-won lessons. As noted, some are easier than others, so I guess I’m still a work-in-progress!

New Year, New Decade: Looking Back, (But Mostly) Looking Forward

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Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay

Happy New Year! I hope that your 2020 has been great so far. Mine is good, but did not start as I intended. So, the cliches I’d planned, about 20/20 vision and so on don’t quite fit my mood as this new decade begins. But, that’s okay, I’ve learned not to get too attached to my plans.

Looking Back

The end/beginning of a decade isn’t an opportunity to waste though. I often find myself caught up in the day-to-day that comprises most of life, to the extent that it feels as though nothing is happening, nothing is changing.

When I looked back with a purposeful eye though, I was astonished at how much had happened, what we had done and accomplished. If you’ve done a decade review, I’m sure you feel the same way too! Briefly my past ten years have included:

- turning 50
- moving across Canada—coast to coast—twice (!)
- living by myself for a year, for work (how understanding is my husband?!)
- almost completing a creative writing certificate (one more course to go!)
- travelling to seven different countries
- getting my first tattoo (and my second, but more on that next week)
- saying an unexpected goodbye to a precious family member, but reconnecting with long-lost               family as well
- saying goodbye to a special spotty dog
- crossing more items off my bucket list than I can keep track of

This is not nothing! Even with the pain and heartbreak of loss, even taking into account that many of these happenings and accomplishments have their good and less-good sides, this shows to me I have a glorious, messy, blessed life. I am luckier by far than I consider myself to be on those day-to-days.

Looking Forward

Although, as mentioned, I’ve learned not to get too attached to long-term plans, the next decade will inevitably bring its own set of changes, challenges, and adventures. All being well, in the next ten years I will turn sixty. My husband will retire from the military, a huge adjustment in itself, but one that will also require us to move. My parents are aging, heck the Hubby and I are aging, which can bring a myriad of health issues in its wake.

Will this all play out as we think or hope? Who knows? We have an outline drawn, and a direction forward; the rest is tentative. Certainly, much of what happened in the last decade was not planned, was not even conceivable, back at the beginning of 2010.

In the immediate term, I have launched another blog (I know… I can barely manage this one! However, I am always the optimist!). It will focus on my novel and short story writing, as well as reading and some book reviews. (It is here if you’d like to check it out, though I confess there isn’t much to see yet.) I hope that it will help me set a consistent writing practice which is something I need and is one of the few things in life I can control.

So, as we head into our New Year’s work, a resolution of sorts for me—to appreciate the present, those quiet daily moments of pleasure and small accomplishments, even as I look forward to some of what the future holds. Oh… and to be grateful for all of it.

Health Reboot: Depression Lessons

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Health Reboot: Depression Lessons

I have written, in the past, about depression, touching on my personal struggle, but mainly trying to raise awareness of mental health issues. I still don’t have the words to write about hitting rock bottom. However, I can share what I’ve learned in my latest struggle with this insidious nemesis.

Depression and Multiple Sclerosis
In the twenty-six years since I was diagnosed with MS, I have come to learn that depression can be an actual symptom of the condition rather than simply a reaction to dealing with a life-altering, incurable disease. Though how I, or my doctor, distinguish ‘MS depression’ from ‘regular depression’ I am not sure. Nor am I sure it matters. However, the idea is a comfort--to believe that, like my other symptoms, this one will go away (or at least diminish) when I feel better.

It’s Not Always Unhappiness
In the past, when depressed, I certainly did feel unhappy, as well as hopeless and desperate; just plain miserable. And I cried—a lot! This time around, there have been (almost) no tears, because I’m not sad. What I am is frustrated, anxious and overwhelmed. Combine this with physical fatigue and it becomes a recipe for inertia.

I feel anxious about time slipping away, wasted; and overwhelmed by the increasing number of things left undone, not all of which are optional. I’m losing ground on the things I want to do--all those fun dreams and hopes. Writing, travelling, just getting out and socializing have all gone by the board at some point in the past year. This takes a toll on family and relationships, including the one with yourself.

Recognizing the Warning Signs
I am always hard on myself for not getting as much done as I would like. It’s one aspect of living with MS that I have a hard time with, and I’m my own worst enemy. My self-worth regularly takes a beating. In the throes of depression though, I have learned that this becomes paranoia. When I started to tell myself that I was completely worthless and that people hated me, I knew that was a warning sign. (As a note, these are my personal red flags and I’m not a doctor so the signs may be different for others. Though, if you feel this way, I would definitely seek out someone, to talk to). So, it was back to the doctor’s office, where after a year of visits, he had come to the same conclusion.

I Have a Medication Bias
He prescribed medication, explained the side effects, and that the drug might take several weeks to show any benefit, and asked to see me after a month. At the follow-up, I was happy to tell him that I was sleeping better, able to focus, and getting some stuff done! Success!

My first question, however, after detailing this improved outlook, was to ask how long I would need to take the pills for. Perhaps forever, came the response. At least for a year. A year I could live with. Forever I wasn’t so sure about.

The idea of taking something ‘artificial’ to keep my body functioning ‘normally’ is one I’ve always had a hard time with. But, when I was prescribed thyroid medication and was told the same news, I accepted it—not completely without question, but accepted it nonetheless. And as my doctor gently and tactfully reminded me, health is health, and help is help. Why wouldn’t I want something that obviously made me feel better?

Because I had ‘cured’ my depression in the past, and that I might not be able to do so again felt like a failure. I realized that, despite being honest about my past depression and the therapy that helped me deal with it, I was still making myself a victim of the stigma around mental health issues with my own bias. I talked a bit about this the last time I wrote about depression. Seems, I still a work-in-progress!

This post was written for Bell Let’s Talk Day ( here in Canada. Please check out their website; there is obviously still work to do, to overcome the stigma. It also has resources if you or someone one you love is dealing with a mental health issue, including crisis line information (in Canada). If you need help elsewhere in the world, please (please!) try one of these numbers.