Saturday, 25 February 2012

On a happier note ...

A while ago one of my friends commented on Facebook that she missed my gratitude posts.

Last year I posted one thing I was grateful for, every day for 30 days.

So here are a few things I'm grateful for right now:

  • that I finally remembered where I'd written down the password (that I wrote down because I knew I'd forget it) so I could post a new blog. I keep telling people, I can cover the roots but the grey moments still happen.
  • that my cats are so curious and well-educated. I came home one night last week to find 138 windows of GoogleChrome open on my monitor. Think of what they must have learned! And just this morning I discovered they'd converted my keyboard to French characters again. I don't know who they're corresponding with en francais but I'm impressed by their ability to do so. (Of course, it makes it difficult to email anyone who's not already in my contact list, since I now get a star instead of an "at" symbol when I hit that key.) 
This is Mika, one of the world's most educated cats thanks to GoogleChrome, who also thinks he can drive a tractor but hasn't succeeded in getting it out of the driveway. Yet.
  • my ability (which some may describe as closer to an attention deficit disorder) to notice random interesting things in everyday life. Like walking past the checkout lines in the supermarket and seeing a toddler who'd reached behind himself into the shopping cart and was contentedly munching on a bulb of garlic while his mother unloaded groceries onto the checkout belt. She didn't smile when I commented, "No fear of vampires in your house!" But then I've been grocery shopping with toddlers and it's not usually a smiling affair.
  • another random item: I saw a truck last week that was XX Gutters (gutters meaning eavestroughs for those who grew up in the same time/language continuum as I did), but what really got me was the line underneath: "For people who care." Sorry, but that sounds like a tagline for an ethical investment firm or an assisted living residence, or maybe even a funeral home. But for eavestroughs? Put it in perspective, XX Gutters!
  • that the abscess, reaction to antibiotic, root canal and crown installation are all now in the (recent) past. Who knew that getting the crown would leave my face sorer than getting the root canal did?
  • that said root canal and crown weren't located further back in my mouth - I don't think I could have stretched my jaw open even a fraction more! Although you can't tell it by the volume of words coming out of my mouth, I actually have a smaller-than-average jaw. Dentists are not my friends right now.
  • sales at clothing stores. Sales in grocery stores are just part of strategic shopping on a budget, but sales at clothing stores are a big-time BONUS! (If you live in or near Vancouver, BC, be sure to check out the closing-out sale at Babs Studio Boutique, before this amazing designer moves to online and shopping channel sales only. And say hi to Jemma, Babs's dog, who likes to play tug-of-war with her rope and a customer on the other end of it.)
  • an honest friend who tells me what I don't want to admit the mirror is telling me about the really-cool-but-not-necessarily-flattering-to-me clothes I try on in my sale state of mind. 
  • that the toddlers who used to make grocery shopping hell have grown into mostly (we all have our moments) mature and responsible adults . And that they're my friends as well as my children.
What are you grateful for?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Call it what it is, so we can deal with it

Feb. 8 came and went this week, and with it Bell Canada's campaign about mental health. For every text or long distance call made on its network that day, it donated a specified amount of money to mental health services (although, to be honest, I couldn’t tell that’s what it was doing from the ads, but that’s another blog on the topic of clear language!).

The ads featured Clara Hughes, a Canadian multi-medal winner at both summer and winter Olympics, talking about having suffered from depression and ending with, “On February 8, let’s talk.”

I say let’s talk about it every day. Let’s make it a common topic, so there’s no more judgement or stigma to “She’s mentally ill” than there is to “He has cancer.”

Recently someone from a previous generation was telling me about a friend with a recurring illness. “He’s had trouble with his nerves for years,” she said. “Now he’s hearing the voices again.”

I’m sorry, but hearing voices isn’t just “nerves.” She doesn’t want to say he’s crazy, and in her mind, those are the only two options, “nerves” or “crazy.” No acknowledgement of the breadth and depth (and boy, does it have depth) and power of mental illness.

The Canadian Institute of Health Research says one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lives, although many of them are afraid to talk to anyone about it. The Depression Awareness Community, an online support group for people suffering from mental illness, including depression, puts that number at one in three. I believe it.

I like this quote from their Facebook page: 

"Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT signs of weakness.
  They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I appreciate their recognition of the struggle. It reminds me of a question I’ve often pondered: how do you define a mental breakdown? Does a person have to pull out their hair and run screaming into the night to have suffered a nervous breakdown?

So I finally looked it up; Wikipedia says it’s “a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors.”

Oh, “time-limited.” So all the people who long to run screaming away from their lives but can’t because their spouses, their kids, their parents, their pets, etc. all depend on them too much for them to give up, don’t qualify as having mental or nervous breakdowns because their condition lasts too long.

So they suffer longer, and even if they're willing to talk about it, they often don’t even get the recognition of being ill. That sucks.

Just like mental illness sucks. Let’s just say so, and then try to do something about it. It's not an easy job, and it takes more than one day to deal with it, as anyone who's lived with it can attest. 

But it starts with acknowledging it as a legitimate illness, something we can do every day.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Now THAT's a wonder

“How are you feeling?” The question was more than a standard greeting; I was talking to a friend who’s in the last stages of a three-year battle with a fatal disease.

Her answer was stilted, as her speech had been affected by either the disease or the treatment a year or two ago. “I ... feel ... wonderful!” The last word came out in a rush, the exclamation point evident in her delivery even over the phone.

That she can go from days when she wonders “Is this it?” to “Wonderful!” in the same week astounds me. Her determination to control her own medications and treatment, her surroundings and her attitude are as courageous as any act I’ve witnessed.

We had a good chat in the visit that resulted from the phone call. She confided that things were changing fast; she realized that in spite of her many rebounds over the past few years, it wouldn’t happen this time. She’s talked to those of her children who are willing to hear and has made her peace.

She will stay off heavy painkillers as long as she can, because once you start taking them, in her words, “you just drift away. You’re not YOU any more.”

In the meantime, she is still teaching her early-20s son how to cook, him chopping and sautéing in the kitchen, her calling out orders from her full-time bed in the living room, and examining things with a critical eye (only one, the second now being covered with a patch because the tumour has caused double vision in it) when he brings the pot or pan in for her inspection.

“Fold … the … pastry … over … more,” and she’ll try to do it herself with swollen and splitting fingers.

Or, “That’s done,” with a nod of approval.

On a good day, she’ll entertain visitors like me and other friends until she’s forced to take the relatively mild 
painkillers she’s allowing herself. We’ll bring things for her kitchen – because her mind is still the excellent cook she’s always been – and we’ll talk.

Another good day, she and a friend might drive to the beach and eat lunch in the car with the windows open. She can’t get out and walk along the sand or on the grass, and the short outing will exhaust her, but she can breathe in fresh air, smell the sea and watch other people playing or strolling in the park.

And it will make her feel wonderful.

It makes me think that we need to re-examine our personal requirements for wonderful, and figure out what really are the wonders in our lives.