I miss my dad

I had no idea what to expect when my dad died. I’ve read a lot about grief but it’s something that is deeply unique to the one experiencing it and something you simply cannot understand until you experience it. I’ve read that it comes in waves, that time does heal, that eventually you adapt to your life without them and move forward. I’ve also read that it never really goes away, that there is no “getting over” the death of a loved one. I like to imagine that the grief gets smaller and smaller still, so that you can carry it with you instead of being consumed by its infinitely vast void.

The truth is, it’s hard to say where I am in my grief right now. It just happened a few weeks ago, not that there’s a timetable for grief. In the immediate days after he was gone, it was surreal. I told those who asked how I was doing that it felt like it wasn’t real life: this is something that happens to other people, not us, not yet.

It was as if my family and I were suspended in a sort of protective bubble, floating above our bodies on earth, our bodies who were going about the business of…what you do when someone dies. We busied ourselves with all the details of making arrangements and decisions about how to celebrate my dad’s life in the midst of a worldwide pandemic – you know, the usual.

We were (and still are) experiencing our loss personally while also rallying around our mom and each other because it’s a collective, shared loss, of course. Being together helps. Loving each other helps, crying together helps, talking about dad helps. I suspect it always will. I’ve never been more grateful to have heard dad’s stories a million times over the course of my life. We can all recite them pretty much verbatim. We teased him, mercilessly sometimes, about repeating the same stories to us over and over. Now we understand that it’s a gift he gave to us.

How we decided to honour my dad, both privately and publicly, was beautiful and perfect and the exact right thing. And yet, it feels like it’s not enough.

Well, of course it’s not enough. Enough would be having him here with us. It was too soon, it wasn’t his time yet. But the universe had other plans for dad whether we were ready or not. And there’s nothing to be done. He is gone, and there is a giant hole in our family.

I’m surrounded by him everywhere in my home, in my memories, in my experiences. It’s both comforting and devastating. I’m trying to focus on the comforting, but I do feel the devastation too. When I was cleaning up some stuff on my balcony the other day, I looked up and saw the lattice partition dad made for me just this summer. When I was reorganizing my kitchen, I re-discovered the hole he had drilled right through the drywall when he was mounting the shelf he made for me. That one made me laugh – we laughed a lot when it happened. I remember telling him that whenever I looked at that hole I would always think of him. I was right.

I recently put together a bar cart I ordered. Putting furniture together is not my forte. But I was determined to do it by myself – I’m not sure why. To prove that I could do it? To feel like I accomplished something? I hadn’t had that feeling in a long time, so maybe that was it.

It took me three hours. The instructions said it should take about 30 minutes. There was some swearing, lots of talking to myself, some laughing at myself and my total ineptitude at this particular task. And there were tears. Probably five or six times, I got frustrated and wanted to give up and I burst into tears just wishing my dad was there to help me.

I miss my dad. I wish he was here. But his sweet moment has come and gone and I will carry him in my heart for the rest of my life, until my sweet moment in this world ends.

It’s all decided for us, this world has only one sweet moment set aside for us.

– Queen, ‘Who wants to live forever’

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun

I don’t yet have my own words, so for now I’ll defer to W.H. Auden. My heart is broken and it hasn’t yet sunk in. Maybe it never will. I don’t know, this is uncharted territory. A piece of me is missing. A piece of my family is missing and we are lesser for it.

Funeral Blues – W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I’m a fake, apparently

I’m 41, almost 42. I live on my own in Toronto, in an apartment which I love. I’m single and I have no children. No pets, just plants. I have a great family who I love deeply, but none of whom live where I live. I have a close circle of friends who have proven themselves over and over and over again to be the most caring, loving, supportive and consistent people I have ever known. I have a secure job, which I (mostly) like. I make a decent salary; I have excellent benefits for which I’ve been very grateful over the last couple of years – I don’t pay for any of my meds, of which there are many. I can, for the most part, put food on my table and pay my bills (even though some of them are sometimes past due).

And yet.

And yet I struggle. I live paycheque to paycheque right down to the cent. The thing is, I don’t think I’ve had a ridiculously hard life. There are many who would scoff at my use of the word ‘struggle.’ Case in point: I’m not out on the streets, I’m not starving (most of the time), I have a roof over my head, I have electricity and I have a phone and clothes and shoes, etc. I get it.

I don’t come from money. Of my high school friends (who, again, are some of the most wonderful, amazing people I know), I had the least privilege. And that was relative. I worked from a young age – babysitting since I was 10 or 11, and then full-time summer babysitting gigs in my early teens. I started working in the restaurant industry when I was 17, and I’ve been working every day since.

I went away to university and after one year, realized that my parents couldn’t help me financially anymore, and it was up to me and OSAP. So, I got a job. It was the same restaurant chain I started at in Peterborough, and I fit right in. I quickly proved myself to be a good worker, and subsequently got lots of hours.

My bank is clearly broken 😦

Eventually I became a person who was less a “student who works” and more a young adult who worked full time and just happened to also be completing her bachelor’s degree. I worked full-time during my university years. I even took a fifth year to complete my degree so that I could work full-time and be a part-time student the last two years. I don’t regret any of it – went from almost failing out (or possibly quitting) to graduating with honours. One of the biggest accomplishments of my life thus far 🙂

Fast forward to 2008. I got out of dodge as fast as I could when I landed a job in Toronto. 2020: here I am now living and working here for 12 years and counting.

I don’t want this brief history of my path here to be interpreted as me whining about my terrible, challenging, awful life. Of course I don’t believe that. In some ways, my life has been charmed.

I suppose my point in revealing all this detail, willfully humiliating myself, as it were, is not to elicit sympathy or even pity. It’s to just come clean, if you will, about the fact that it’s f-ing hard to navigate life alone, especially when you are underpaid, occupying a mid-level role in a big company.

I cannot express this clearly enough: being on your own – living alone, paying all your own bills, footing the whole bill for everything while the coupled people around you share the load, is hard.

Again, I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. Not even a little bit. And I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to be totally honest about my reality and the reality for many of us.

I entered the world after university graduation with a shit-ton of debt and no real clue about what to do next. I was so busy working and earning enough money to support myself, pay my rent and bills, not to mention my tuition and books during those integral university years, I guess I just forgot to really come up with a plan to start my career. All I could see was the goal in front of me – make it through and graduate.

I’ll spare you all the other details that have led me to this place in life and just get to the point, which is this: it was pointed out to me recently that perhaps the reason a few of my friends (those who I consider very close friends and who have seen me through all kinds of difficult things in the past and vice versa) have just sort of stopped talking to me. Apparently, this is because a) I’m too much ‘drama’ and they don’t fully believe the things I tell them that are going on in my life, and/or b) I never have money and they’re tired of ‘footing the bill’ for me.

Follow me here – I try very hard not to be a Debbie Downer. I’m generally/historically a positive, optimistic person, and despite all my challenges (including clinical depression), I really do try to be there for my friends in a meaningful way. I very consciously put my shit aside and do not center myself in the conversation when a friend comes to me for support or advice.

The truth is that shitty stuff happens to me. Or if not to me, shitty things happen around me in my life that affect me in a shitty, painful, stressful way.

In addition to my own mental illness, which has been tested to the limits during this pandemic, it seems like it’s just one shitty thing after another – family members in crisis, a sick parent, the loss of a trusted therapist, money issues, a break-up, followed by an ambivalent entanglement with said ex, followed by another, final, heartbreaking break-up, work stress and oh! an apartment fire two doors down from me, among other things (yes, unbelievably, there are more things).

Again, I’m not asking for sympathy or pity.

Everyone has issues…let’s just accept them and move on 🙂

I’m trying to give you a sense of the shitstorm I’ve been dealing with for months, and, as was pointed out to me recently, is perhaps the reason certain friends are ‘over’ me: because they don’t believe me.

Perhaps they think that I’m making this stuff up, or that I’m exaggerating, or otherwise trying to create drama. And they are tired of me, they’ve had enough, and so when I relay the news that my dad almost died (twice) and there were big family talks about DNRs and other awful, scary things, they simply didn’t believe me. And thus have not spoken to me or reached out to me for over a month.

I feel a little self-conscious about feeling hurt by this. I mean, is this me centering myself in the story? Am I really too much for some people? The aforementioned boyfriend has actually told me more than once I am in fact ‘too much – too much everything – I talk too much, I’m too sensitive, I’m too emotional, I’m too intense, I expect too much, I want too much.’

Are people, even my friends, my best friends, tired of me? Rather than hear one shitty update after another from me, are some of my friends ignoring me away?

I suppose, on one hand, I kind of get it. I haven’t exactly been a barrel of laughs the last couple of years. It’s been a struggle (and you, dear reader, know all about that struggle if you’ve been following along with my story). It’s been intense to say the least. It’s been scary, with real, raw moments of life and death and unearthing deeply hidden secrets and damage, and not everyone is equipped to handle that. I get it, I really do.

I have empathy for everyone. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and I definitely don’t want to be a harbinger of darkness and negativity.

But I assure you, I’m not being dramatic. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not making stuff up, and I’m certainly not lying to get attention. There is a difference between needing to be the center of attention and simply not being a wallflower. Let me be clear: I don’t mind attention, I don’t mind all eyes on me – but I certainly don’t seek it out, especially by using sad, difficult or traumatic elements of my REAL GODDAMN LIFE!!!!!!!

In addition to me being too sad or dramatic or ‘fake,’ there’s the issue of being a broke ass. I’m proud of my accomplishments, and I know I’m way farther ahead in life than a huge swath of people. Please know I think about that every day. The fact that I’m financially challenged has simply been a fact of my whole adult life – well, at least since I left the restaurant industry. When I was managing and serving, I was completely comfortable financially. But I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. And going from that to an entry level admin role making a salary so small that I worked 3 other jobs to make ends meet, was a shocking adjustment.

I suppose I had secretly been thinking this for years, that my friends resent that I never have money to do stuff. I can’t to get my shit together it would seem, and so they feel sorry for me and pay for dinners here and there, or loan me money for this or that. My therapist (who I miss dearly) used to tell me all the time that I had to stop feeling guilty that my friends were helping me out so much. He would constantly remind me that they wouldn’t be stepping up like that if they didn’t feel they got something in return. He would turn it around and ask if the roles were reversed, would I be there for any of them the way they had been for me?, and of course the answer was an emphatic yes. Without question. But, for some reason, I always, and still do apparently, have a hard time believing it when it comes to me.

So, I guess this is the summary, the thesis, as it were of what I’m trying to get across: my friends/peers are resentful that I never have money, and I therefore can not be relied upon to contribute to group dinners/hangouts etc. Also, we can conclude that I’m and Debbie Downer and people, aka friends, are tired of hearing about my shitty life. They’re so tired of hearing it, they actually have questioned the validity of what I say. So, following that logic, there are certain people in my life who might actually think that I would lie and/or exaggerate about the state of my dad’s health for…what? Attention? Sympathy? A handout?

Let me assure you, I ask for nothing. My pain is real, I came *this close* to losing my dad (twice), my (ex) boyfriend thinks I’m ‘too much,’ I vacillate between insomnia (like right now) and sleeping for 15 hours straight. I scrape together ‘meals’ so I don’t starve, plotting my grocery list for my next pay day (which is impossibly far away and never seems to come), and I grapple with what to share with whom every day.

I’m in a weird place. And I don’t see a clear path forward, nor do I hear any brilliant answers being whispered to me by the universe.

I’m going to go lie down in my bed and stare at the ceiling. Hopefully I’ll fall asleep soon and I’ll wake up to my alarm so I can make it to my 8:30am meeting. I can do it.

Hang in there, friends. It has to get better than this, right?

From my balcony

From my balcony, I can see a fragment of life in the city. Any city, really, mine just happens to be Toronto. Leaning over the railing, raspberry ginger cider in hand, I watch as people mill about, living their lives. Couples walking hand in hand, carrying bags of produce from one of the markets around here. Another couple, gleefully decked out in their rainbowiest of rainbow attire – so delightful. And yet another couple, the woman very pregnant, shuffling up the sidewalk, her leaning into him for support, him bracing her arm and back as if that’s his only purpose on this earth.

A father and son walking their beautiful (and very large!) husky, three little kids, probably siblings, racing each other on their scooters down the middle of the almost-empty street. I think the father/son/husky family live in my building – I don’t forget a pup’s face as beautiful as that one. There are cars coming and going, of course, but at a much slower frequency than usual. Although, I must say, I’m losing my frame of reference for what ‘usual’ actually is – or was.

There’s a slight breeze, just enough to dance with the leaves on the trees and to make my balcony floor come to life with patterns of light and shadow, suggesting a play being acted by invisible marionettes. My big spider plant, at first greedily sunbathing in the sun’s generous warmth, is now wrapped in the coolness of its shade. The smell of burgers on a grill waft up to me from someone else’s balcony from below, instantly making me long for BBQs with friends and family, and bonfires. I love a good bonfire. I feel homesick for it.

In the slow-motion bustle of my once-animated street, I can still hear the whispers of our stories, it’s just more subdued now and somehow – more telling. People dutifully wear their masks, or don’t, making quite a comical effort to distance themselves when passing each other on the sidewalk. I know; I almost face-planted the other day trying to social distance from a very tiny elderly woman with her very tiny dog.

There is some commerce happening around here, but not much. There are more people than there are places to go. The Wine Rack, just around the corner from me is open and back to full operating hours after a brief closure earlier in the year – thank goodness! It’s a good thing I was already all about cheap Canadian wine, so it’s not an adjustment for me. The number of eggplant-y plum-coloured plastic bags I see dangling from peoples’ hands has seen a significant spike in recent months.

I close my eyes and listen. The sounds of my street, my neighbourhood, my city.

It’s quiet uptown.  

This isn’t my sunrise, but my own photos don’t do it justice.

It’s a Saturday night in mid- June, and I’m standing on my balcony, luxuriating in the sun’s last appearance for the day. I welcome it to warm my face and my chest, reminding me that I’m here.

I. Am. Here. We are here.

Life goes on. There is still uncertainty, and fear, but inevitably, we all seem to just go on. It may be a little faint, but I can still feel the pulse of my city. I saw the sun rise this morning, and I get to see it go down tonight. The colours are dumbfounding. And, even though the monstrosity of a condo building directly across the street from me blocks a big portion of ‘my’ sky, I still get to have the sun greet me and bid me adieu. There’s a certain beauty to that, I think. like bookends. I like the bookendedness of it.

I’m going to savor these moments on my balcony, with my neighbours, even if they don’t know they’re sharing anything with me. I must capitalize on this perfect weather window while I can. Soon it will be too hot to spend much time out there. I hope not (but who am I kidding?).

I vow to continue to watch and witness as my neighbourhood, my city, gets on with it. I’ll take notice of the couples and families and best friends and drunk buddies who traverse my outdoors, albeit, more distanced and conscientiously than before. I vow to close my eyes and soak up the sun’s last drops of gold when I can, and just breathe.

I’ll breathe in and I’ll breathe out and in and out. And comforted by the sounds and scents and pulse of my home, eventually, I’ll be able to breathe in and out without even thinking about it.

Notes from the valley floor

So, I’ve hit a wall, guys, an emotional and mental wall. My nerves are fried, my emotions, an exposed nerve. As if living through an historic worldwide pandemic isn’t enough, I’ve been experiencing shitty life stuff, one shitty thing after another. I just can’t take it. I mean, I’m a strong person. I think I’m strong, anyway. I’ve been through a lot of shit. I’ve come out of some pretty awful, terrible things and I always seem to be able to keep moving forward.

But because I know what awaits me on the other side of my (managed, for now) depression, I’m not ashamed to admit that the steps I’m taking to take care of myself right now are motivated by fear. I’m afraid to sink back into that familiar darkness. I’m afraid that if I do, I might not get back to the light this time. This feels urgent, vital, like everything is on the line.

So, here I am, finally with the clarity to write about this because I kind of staged an intervention on myself. Something had to give, I needed to do something if I wanted to protect my mental wellbeing because if I didn’t, I was going to break. And I mean for real this time.

I took a couple of weeks off work and got outta dodge. I’ve basically been holed up alone in my apartment for the last three months, barely leaving, except to take walks and pick up stuff from the store occasionally. I was losing touch with reality a bit, and suffering from the lack of human interaction. Phone calls and video chats just don’t do it for me anymore.

I’m spending the week with a friend (don’t worry – we’re both COVID-free and being very careful). I cannot express how much better I feel having stepped outside of my life for just a few days now. I can breathe, I feel lighter, I have slept well.

As we know, it’s not just the pandemic that’s causing so much pain right now, but I can’t write about that yet. There’s too much to process about the state of humanity for me to articulate into words. I will, but I need some time.

Instead, right now, I want to share some of my thoughts about the effect of the pandemic on my mental health, on our mental health, universally.

Please know that it’s OK for you to not be OK right now.

The whole world is hurting. Everything has been turned inside out and upside down, and while there are plenty of wonderful, heartwarming and inspiring things to focus on (and we should!), we also need to recognize the universal sense of despair we’re experiencing as a collective.

Some of us are navigating this strange terrain while balancing work, children, partners, pets, and/or elderly dependents. Some of us live alone and are grappling with an isolation never before faced, feeling alone with our fears and worries.

But we have to put our own oxygen masks on first. We need to prioritize our mental health above all else, otherwise we cease to be productive, engaged, empathetic, and flexible. Our ability to cope and be resilient, both for ourselves and for those around us, is paramount.  

It’s OK.

It’s entirely OK to feel what we’re feeling, to struggle to process our individual circumstances and to not feel like ourselves right now.

Remember: there’s no precedent for this. No one, not even the experts, definitively knows the right thing to do. We’re all just winging it, trying to focus on the day-to-day of our lives, while not dwelling on what’s to come, because the fact is that we have no idea what’s to come.

Easier said than done, right? The truth is that the mountain peaks seem impossibly far away when you’re withering on the valley floor.

But here are some scientific, physiological explanations for how we’re all coping with this worldwide pandemic that might help us make our way out of that valley.

Do you feel flaky and inconsistent?

That’s because your brain doesn’t know what to brace for next. There is so much uncertainty, and your brain is simply reacting to that.

Do you get tired easily?

That’s because your brain is burning your energy 10 TIMES faster than it usually does, in a perpetual state of fight or flight.

Are you having a hard time staying focused?

To protect you, your brain has temporarily shut down some functionality in the prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for complex thinking and planning. Your brain is simply trying to help you survive, to keep you alive – it’s a perfectly normal stress response.

Do you feel creatively blocked?

Your brain is temporarily diverting all its creativity (the ability to problem-solve) to simply keep you alive. Seriously! Your brain is in a state of a sort of slow-burn fight or flight, trying to keep you focused on not dying during this pandemic.

Do you suddenly not care about things?

It’s hard to care about goals and plans when you don’t know what’s coming next. We are in a constantly evolving situation, and whether it’s a work project or a future vacation you don’t know if you should cancel, your feelings of ambivalence about those things now is your brain’s way of coping. Your brain knows that being short-sighted is the safest way to think right now.

Give yourself (and your brain) a break and remember that this won’t last forever.

Stop feeling guilty for not working the way you did before (in the office or not), for simply not being the way you were before. This pandemic is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and we must take care of ourselves – physically, emotionally and mentally – in order to make it to the finish line.

And we simply must do what we must to stay healthy and, in my case anyway, alive. There are no rules, this is uncharted territory for everyone. Do what you need to do.

I am, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that I’m certain that I’m saving my life.

angestories

Ange’s take on: spring

Well, spring has sprung! Apparently. I mean, officially, as of March 20, the season shifted from winter to spring.

Strange self-isolating times aside, people generally have strong feelings about this time of year. We talk about spring in terms of newness, rebirth, fresh starts, the earth coming to life. And while all of that is true, I think, I have a very strong feeling about spring.

I hate it.

Unpopular opinion? Probably. But hear me out.

The time spanning the end of March to the end of June are not great in terms of weather. This time of year, the weather is, in scientific terms, all over the f-ing place. It’s rainy, it’s snowy, it’s windy, it’s 0 degrees, the next day it’s 17 degrees. It’s sunny, it’s cloudy, it’s cold, it’s warm, it’s thunder-storming, oh look, there’s hail!

See what I mean? Aside from never really knowing what to wear, which shoes are appropriate and constantly having to remember where you left your umbrella, for me, the constant and drastic shifts in the barometric pressure give me splitting headaches that last for a week at a time, and worst of all, migraines.

Sidebar: for those of you who need a quick education on the torment that is migraine – they are NOT headaches. I mean, yes, obviously, that’s the main component, but they are a wholly different beast than their cousin, the headache. Not to say that headaches can’t be awful. Headaches can be really painful, making it hard to concentrate but they go away with some ibuprofen and maybe some water. With migraines however, people experience all kinds of symptoms including, but not limited to; nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, seeing an aura, feeling dizzy, vomiting, feeling faint, feeling very warm, feeling very cold, loss of appetite, belly pain, upset stomach, and pale skin. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Sorry for the sidebar rant. I’ve suffered migraines since I was a kid – I can remember getting them as early as 7 or 8 and I had no idea what was going on. I remember even having to go lie down in my BFF’s parents’ bed during her 10th birthday party because I was so sick. I missed the whole thing. And it was a pool party.

So, suffice it to say, I get super annoyed when people say they have a migraine when what they mean is that they have a headache. I get those too, so I know the difference! In fact, when I was in my early twenties, they got so bad I went to the clinic and was diagnosed with both chronic headaches and migraine. TWO. DIFFERENT. THINGS.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that sorted…one of my strongest triggers (there are lots of them, and I personally experience many) is sudden shifts in the weather/barometric pressure. This happens almost daily during the spring, hence my disdain for it.

Also, during the spring months, the world is generally grey and dirty and barren, at least for the better part of the season. Everything is always wet or damp, there are no leaves on the trees, no flowers blooming yet, everything is dull.

Until, of course, it’s not, and the weather finally shifts (for good). Something in the air changes, leaves and grass start their rebirth, and you start to hear birds chirping. You start to realize that there are more sunny days than not. And then one day you wake up and suddenly there is colour outside again! Of course it’s been happening for months, but you always seem to notice it all at once and it’s as if, overnight, the season has changed.

So, maybe I’m being a little hard on spring. After all, it’s just the first part that I hate. It does get better. The headaches lesson, the migraines retreat (for the most part), the smell in the air reminds me that summer is just around the corner. And I start to feel hopeful.

I retract my earlier statement – I don’t hate spring. It’s still my least favourite season, but she always wins me over in the end, it seems.

So, happy spring everyone! I hope that even though we’re confined to our homes right now, living life on the inside and adjusting to our “new normal” for the foreseeable future, we can still somehow invite spring into our homes and our lives.

After all, the season really is about rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings. And I think we all could use a little of that right now.

angestories

Ange’s take on: the best ways to drink a Coke

I would venture a guess that there aren’t many moments in life when you pause to consider the most mundane, ordinary things that happen to and around you. And I bet there are even fewer moments when you might, having given those mundane, ordinary things thought by way of ranking or reviewing or deciding a preference of that thing, decide to share these thoughts with another human.

I am such a human. And I have a strong suspicion that there might be others out there like me who give time and energy to these types of thoughts.

One such thought I’ve had and shared, via an actual fully formed conversation was with my best friend. It came about because she was at my place and I offered her a Coke to drink, as you do. She remarked that the diminutive size of my smaller-than-normal Cokes were “cute.” Because they most definitely could not have been the most economical choice to purchase, there must have been some sort of witchcraft at play when I decided to buy them – I blame the tiny, adorable bottles that seemed to be crafted to fit perfectly in my tiny hands – see? Witchcraft. Or, marketing. Potato, potAHto. This was the catalyst to our very detailed, thoroughly serious discussion about the ways in which we enjoy consuming Coca Cola in the form of a ranked list.

This really happened. We are adults.

I should include a little bit of context before revealing the fruits of our conversation: I grew up in a “pop” house; meaning we had soft drinks around and were allowed to drink them (except with dinner – that was strictly a milk occasion). So, it’s not like Coke was forbidden to me.

I’ve spent most of my adult life drinking pop, particularly Coke (except for those restaurant industry days when I was forced to drink Pepsi – gasp! – because our restaurant was owned by Pepsi. It’s a period I don’t like to talk about much).

Anyway, over the last six years or so, I cut pop out – cold turkey! I just stopped drinking cola and pop of any kind and primarily just drank water, coffee and wine, (when the occasion called for it). I would only ever allow myself the very occasional Coke – usually if it was being offered, if I was at a restaurant, or visiting my parents. In other words, I stopped buying pop because if it was in my fridge, I’d drink it, and in case you haven’t heard, it’s not so good for you (which is disappointing).

I consume Coke a bit more often these days, but suffice it to say, it’s still very much a treat. So, when I talk about the best ways to drink a Coke, trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

So, herewith, my official ranking (as corroborated by my BFF) of the best ways to enjoy the fizzy beverage of champions. Champions of what, I have no idea, but it seemed like the most appropriate description of this liquid gold we call Coca Cola.

Best ways to enjoy a coke, ranked worst to best:

13. In a glass, flat and warm, no ice

12. From a can, flat and warm

11. From a bottle, flat and warm

10. Fountain coke, no ice

9. From a bottle, warm

8. Directly from a can, warm

7. In a glass, warm

6. Directly from a bottle, cold

5. Directly from the can, cold

4. In a glass, cold, no ice, poured from a bottle

3. In a glass, cold, no ice, poured from a can (it really does taste different from a bottle, I’m not making this up!)

2. Fountain Coke, lots of ice (especially when you’re after that distinct sugary hit of the syrup that can raise your blood sugar in 0.03 seconds)

And…the number one, absolute best, most delicious way to drink a Coke:

1. In a glass, cold, lots of ice, poured from a can or bottle, preferably a 2L bottle as opposed to any of the smaller sizes. It tastes different, it just does. I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV, but it’s just the truth. That is simply the best. It’s blissful, it’s serene, it’s thirst-quenching and satisfying. Worthy of taking a moment to enjoy the glory of the act of consumption.

So there you have it, my definitive review of how best to enjoy a Coke.

Go forth and enjoy your Coke with a smile – a smug smile knowing that you’re doing it right.

Nice girls don’t get angry

an·ger
/ˈaNGɡər/
noun
noun: anger; plural noun: angers
a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

We’re taught to control our anger, aren’t we? We’re taught to avoid becoming angered in the first place, and if you can’t ‘control’ your emotions and deign to allow yourself to become angry, you must squelch it as quickly as possible. Anger is an ugly emotion, we’re told. Anger is not acceptable, we’re told. Don’t let anyone see your anger, girls are told. And whatever you do, don’t you DARE cry. Crying is weakness, crying is giving in to your emotions, and you should never do that – push your emotions down, all the way down to the Mariana’s Trench of your soul – no one needs to see that, it’s not befitting your feminine temperament. You, dear girl, especially, are not allowed to be angry.

I call bullshit. I don’t think anger is ugly or bad or wrong or shameful. It takes on many forms and serves many purposes, but for it not to be appreciated for what it really is, is to miss the whole point of it – and by extension – emotions in general. I don’t know about you, but I really detest being told I am too emotional.

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?

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I’m pretty sure that as human beings, emotion is sort of part of the package, non? I mean, it kind of differentiates us from most other life forms. And, being the sentient creatures we are, it sure as shit follows that if you’re human, you experience emotion. Ipso facto, we are all emotional.

So, the tendency to characterize being emotional as equivalent to being without restraint, weak, sensitive, dramatic, intense, or any other adjective that people sling around with a decidedly negative connotation, is frankly, offensive to me. It’s dismissive and reductive.

I have been told over and over and over that I am emotional. Well, duh, last time I checked, I’m human (see above’s ipso facto). But I’m certain that the qualifier ‘overly’ is implied in that declaration. But is there such a thing? It’s very unlikely that I have more emotion than you, as if it’s quantifiable in the first place. Spoiler: it’s not. And even if it were possible, why is that necessarily a negative characteristic of mine? Trust me, there are others to choose from. Does being ‘too emotional’ make me a bad person? Or hard to love? As it turns out, for some people the answer to that last question is yes.

Emotion scares people. All the emotions – happy and, for lack of a better distinction, not happy – are seen to be, in most contexts, that which should not be expressed. It’s better to just keep that all inside, for yourself, for your physical body and the waves of energy that comprise what we understand to be you, a human being, to absorb. You know, because that doesn’t do anything to us, when we prevent ourselves from fully feeling an emotion, no matter what it is, let alone express it. You’ll be FINE.

anger

I’m a crier. I’m not ashamed. I cry very easily, quite often actually. Not always out of sadness or frustration, sometimes out of happiness. But most often it’s the former. I’ve always explained it this way: it’s not that I’m overly emotional or intensely emotional, or even dramatic, (again, if there even is such a thing) it’s that I just happen to be a person who, when feeling an emotion, can easily identify exactly what that emotion is (harder than you might think) and who can (and does) clearly articulate and communicate to others what that emotion is.

I tell people that my emotions are simply very accessible to me (I imagine them as living just beneath my skin) and I happen to be a gifted communicator. The combination of those facts means that expressing myself and expressing myself well, comes very naturally to me.

I. Am. Angry.

Well, I am a jumble of several emotions currently, but anger is emerging as the frontrunner. I’m fucking pissed.

But I don’t want to push it aside, I don’t want to swallow it down and absorb it into myself, and I don’t care if it’s ugly or not acceptable and I sure as hell will NOT STOP MYSELF FROM CRYING. See how I used all-caps there? Because I’m angry.

My anger, like every other emotion I ever experience, is valuable and deserves its spotlight. You might think it’s a futile, damaging or even pointless emotion, but I don’t see it that way. We may not like seeing people (especially women) angry – which, by the way, WHYYYYYYYYYYYY???? I’m so sick of that shit – but it happens. It’s like a lot of other things about women that we don’t like to talk about, like periods and abortions.

But I’m not going to hide my anger. In fact, I’m going to put it right out there, I might even display it, and most assuredly, I’m going to use it. I am going to use it fuel me. I’m going to ride this groundswell of hot, thick, thorny anger right on into my next chapter. Turns out finally embracing my anger and letting go of that ‘nice girl’ façade is exactly the inertia I needed.

It’s time we all, especially women, re-frame how we regard anger. I’m telling you; it has its advantages. To quote my homies (I never use the word homies, but for some reason it feels right here), the Dixie Chicks:

“I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price, and I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should”

Trying to boil the ocean

I can’t do it all. No one can. But I’ve noticed that I feel a ridiculous, irrational need to accomplish every single thing I set out to do, and to do it to (near) perfection. No matter the task, I find myself in a state of devastating self-flagellation if I miss the mark or fail all together, especially when I feel like I let someone down. That’s the worst.

I need to point out here that I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist. That I am or might be I suppose is debatable, depending on who you ask. I mean, I am a Virgo after all, and if astrology is to be believed, I’m ‘supposed’ to be a perfectionist.

But what does that even mean? I’m far from perfect. Like FAR. Like, really far, far away from perfect. Like if perfect were the North Pole, I’m somewhere near Uruguay. But perhaps being a perfectionist has little to do with actual perfection?

I think, and I could be wrong of course, that regardless of how something turns out, it is the pursuit of this elusive thing called perfection that makes one a perfectionist. For me, it’s related to achieving. I’ve always held onto a belief that I am an over-achiever (in most things) because I developed the trait as a child in order to stand out. Being part of a big family with lots of competing personalities and two working parents, I have often described myself as a young person as having done anything and everything to stand out. To an almost comical degree. I had to differentiate myself, you see.

Who knows? Maybe that’s just the way I see it through the prism of my memory, or maybe it’s true. All I can say is, thank goodness I chose to stand out in the ways I did, and not in ways that might have ruined my life. I excelled in school, got straight A’s, was on the honour roll, won public speaking contests, placed first place in many a music festival, thought outside the box (I still do that) and marched to the beat of my own drum, etc.

My parents did notice me, of course, and always supported my many interests and talents, and they still do! Sidebar: I am the only grown woman I know who still sends her parents emails about any kind of praise or accolades sent my way. Sometimes, when I’m particularly proud of an article I’ve written, I send it to them. Pathetic, I know. But, see how ingrained it is in me? Sigh.

My parents raised four children through periods of unemployment, sometimes precarious careers, and the general ups and downs of raising said four children. Looking back, I’d say they did an exceptional job. And, of course they noticed me. They noticed all of us equally.

1gMQJ

But, my point is that I developed this need in me a long, long time ago to excel at everything. When I was working my ass off in the restaurant industry, I had to get to the top! I had to be the best server, the most well-liked manager, the most respected, trustworthy, reliable and beloved employee ever. And when I fell down, and failed at those things sometimes, because of course I did because that’s an impossible bar for anyone to meet, I would beat myself up. I mean, really get down on myself. I would hang onto the failure (which by the way, was probably not failure in anyone’s eyes except mine most of the time) and let it destroy me from the inside out. I think at times, I even willed it to. I felt that’s all I deserved.

As I’ve gotten older and am an actual grown-up now (that’s what they tell me, anyway), the urge to achieve perfection has only become stronger. Which is ironic, of course, because in adulthood, the challenges are more difficult, the stakes higher, the goals and achievements bigger and more important, so failure is more inevitable. So, if my urge for perfection has gotten stronger, while the chances of failure have increased in frequency and scale, the chasm only grows larger and more implausible. Perfection becomes even more unattainable for me, and therefore makes weathering the near-misses, not to mention the catastrophic misses, only more devastating.

Whoa, that got dark real fast! Sorry.

As I was saying…basically I have issues with failure. As you might know, I’ve been going to battle with depression every day for about two years now (officially that is – I would argue it’s been stalking me for quite some time). I’ve noticed that I am very hard on myself. Really, very hard on myself. It’s part of the negative thought spirals I get caught in. I screw something up, like I don’t know, I miss a deadline, I’m late for work (like, really late), or I don’t budget properly and end up in very sticky, stressful situations, and the self-flagellation begins in earnest. Sometimes it happens even when I set the goal for myself! That’s the toughest, to be honest.

The end of last year was pretty good for me in terms of my mental health. But I was still having some issues at work. I’m telling you guys, coping with mental illness in the workplace is hard. Not insurmountable, but just hard. Anyway, because I’m very open and honest with my manager about my struggles, and she happens to be extraordinarily compassionate and reasonable, we worked out a schedule to help me cope and not set myself up for (what I perceived as) failure – for the last couple of months of the year, I was able to work from home more often, my hours were shifted so that I could start later, and I used up some vacation days to have shorter weeks. It really did help. It made a tangible difference. I am so grateful to my manager for that gift. I’m telling you, I won the manager lottery.

So, now that it’s the new year and I’m working with a clean slate so to speak, I set a goal for myself last week, which was to go into the office every day. I know that sounds ludicrous, like why is that so hard, Ange? You’re doing so much better, aren’t you back to ‘normal’ yet? Trust me, it was a challenge.

And, I did it!! I made it into the office every day for five days in a row! The last two days I was late, but we’re not concentrating on that. It was a little victory and it made me feel good about myself and gave me some momentum going into this week.

Well, I set a different goal for this week, and by Tuesday I had fucked it up. And man did I crash. I crashed hard.

Listen, some days it truly is a victory for me to simply get out of bed. For real. And some days (more days than not, I’m happy to report), I feel like I’m rockin’ my life! I have productive days, when I feel good, I do good, creative work, and I feel like myself. But I still have bad days and I know it takes some people in my life by surprise because they have gotten used to ‘healed, cured Ange.’ I can hear the surprise in my mom’s voice when I tearfully tell her that it’s not a good day and can’t really explain why. I cancel plans with friends and opt to stay in alone and do nothing but sleep, cry and watch movies and don’t tell anyone lest they think, resentfully, that they have to take care of me. Or when I start crying for no real reason with my boyfriend and he is understandably concerned and confused. And so, the battle continues.

Which brings me to this idea of perfection. I don’t feel like I consciously strive for perfection, I really don’t. But when I fail, or feel like I fail, I’m really hard on myself. I always just do my best. And it just so happens that sometimes my best is amazing! And sometimes my best is just physically getting to work, and sometimes my best is everything in between. But the last couple of days I’ve been really hard on myself. I’ve been berating myself in my mind, telling myself that I suck, I’m a failure, I don’t deserve anything good, I’m pathetic, unlovable and no one should have to ‘deal with’ me and my stupid mental illness. You can see how quickly and drastically the thought spiral can get out of control.

This all started because I couldn’t get out of bed one day this week. Well, I did eventually get out of bed and made it into the office to get my laptop so that I could go back home and work there. But, the point is that I had a very difficult time just getting out of bed to face the world. That’s it! It happens to mentally healthy people sometimes! Especially in January! We are currently experiencing the most depressing time of the year. I’m not any better or worse than any other human trying to just live life.

And yet.

I’m still learning every day to be patient with myself, to forgive myself for my mess-ups, and to be kinder to myself. It’s the only way I’m going to continue to get better. I can’t do it all, and I certainly can’t do it all at once. I can’t boil the ocean.

I’m not really a ‘resolutions’ type of person, but this year, I did write out a list of things that I want to remind myself of as I live out 2020 (and going forward in general). One thing on that list reads ‘don’t seek perfection, but growth.’ Apropos of this post, and for context, the other top three are:

  • Be more patient with myself
  • Ask for help when I need it
  • Continue to share my mental health journey

Resolution or not, I think those are good guidelines for anyone. Even though it’s still really hard some days, and even after all my growth and healing and progress, there are still times when I’m knocked on my ass. The key, I’m learning, is to just gather the little bit of strength that’s left in me, pick myself up and put those coping skills I’ve learned to use.

I’ll share this secret with you: I have a mantra that I’ve just recently started repeating to myself when I’m feeling the pull of darkness, and it’s this – the self-doubt and negative self-talk are a lie my illness whispers to me. It’s all a lie, and I know the truth. I am strong and I will be healthy again.

Here’s to us making it out of January (and the rest of winter) unscathed! And please, take it from a master in the art of self-flagellation, you are doing a great job at life. You are strong and worthy and loved.

Ooooooh, I think I just stumbled upon my new mantra!

Don’t worry, I don’t mind sharing 😊

worthy

 

 

The end of an era: turning the page on the next chapter

The end of the year is drawing near, things are slow at work, the streets are busy with bustling deal-seeking shoppers and it’s a time for reflection. Not only is the year ending, but a decade is ending, and new one is upon us.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, as one is wont to do at this time of year. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are familiar with the kind of year I’ve had. To sum up, in the most succinct way I can muster, 2019 has been…challenging.

It’s quite remarkable to think about where I started the year, and where I’m ending it. And by where, I mean where I am in terms of my health and where I am along my journey with depression.

I’ll be honest – last Christmas was hard. To put it mildly, I was a mess. My poor family had no way of preparing for how fragile I was. I knew I was being watched, and fussed over and worried about, and I felt bad that I was setting such a somber tone for what was usually a pretty raucous time. But I was and still am eternally grateful for their care and kindness. I don’t know that I’d felt more cared for by my family than last Christmas.

The rest of the winter was full of sweeping ebbs and flows, hard work, lots of therapy, many doctor visits and medication adjustments, and many, many big conversations with myself. I was practically a recluse, allowing the unrelenting winter to keep me locked away safely in my apartment, hiding from the world and hiding from my pain and the reality of my waning health.

Fireworks

But, as the snow melted away, and Spring began to peak through the bare branches outside my windows, things started to shift. Or maybe it was that I realized that things had shifted. My medical leave from work was coming to an end, and whether I was ready or not (I was not), I was going back to work. Back to work, where I had been for 11 years, but also where, during the time I was off, had changed dramatically. I didn’t know what to expect – I had new leaders, a new, but undefined role, I was part of a new global organization, a new team with only a couple of people that I knew, and physically was in a new desk on a different floor.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a person who honestly, earnestly embraces change! But, given everything that I had been through, walking back into the “known unknown” was utterly overwhelming.

I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say the adjustment to going back to work was difficult. It was nothing like I expected; it was challenging, frustrating, draining, confusing, and a little frightening, to be honest.

It took much longer for me to acclimate back into the workplace than I had anticipated. The good news is, I was surrounded by love and the most supportive leaders and colleagues a girl could be lucky to have. Not to mention, I continued to get the most generous and heartfelt support from my friends and family and therapist. I cannot tell you how many tearful conversations I had with colleagues and friends over those months.

But, by mid-summer, I had hit a stride. I had carved out a new role within my new team which afforded me the opportunity to finally flex my talents and feel motivated to produce the best work I could. I was writing every day, I was getting positive feedback in a way that I had never experienced at work before, and things felt like they were finally falling into place.

Well, it turns out I was wrong. Well, not wrong, but perhaps a bit too hopeful and naïve, maybe? I suffered some periods of significant backsliding into that all too familiar darkness. And it started effecting my work, my physical health, and most devastatingly, my sense of self-worth. All I wanted was to be of value to my workplace, to my team. I didn’t feel like I was. I kind of had a bit of an existential crisis, to be honest.

What was strange to me, was that while this backsliding was going on in late-August, early fall, at the same time, I had met an extraordinary man who was lighting my life on fire. In the good way. It’s so surprising how those two realities can be true at the same time, but they were. They are.

Now, at the year’s end, as I look back on the last 12 months, I feel like there are fathoms between who I was then and who I am now. I’m healthy, guys. I can say, for the first time in a very long time, I feel really good. All the physical symptoms of my depression and hypothyroidism are gone; I’m not in pain, I’m more agile, more flexible, I have improved digestion, fewer headaches and migraines, and am less tired. I’ve lost weight, I have colour back in my face, and the thing people comment on the most emphatically, is that I have life and light in my eyes again. This is the best (and my favourite) compliment anyone can pay me. I feel alive for the first time in years, and I’m so thrilled that it’s evident to others.

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My mental health is good right now. I feel like myself, but an even better self. I feel hopeful and optimistic. I enjoy the things that depression took away from me – music, reading, socializing, writing. I’m fun to be around again! I’m engaged and present and sometimes even a little funny (I think).

And the thing I’m most proud of, the thing I remind myself of when I have those moments of doubt, those dark times when I start to feel myself slip into the shadows, is that, perhaps for the first time in my life, I truly know my worth. I feel worthy of the love I have in my life, I feel worthy of the praise I get for my writing and my work, and worthy of the accolades people give me for all the hard work I’ve done to improve my mental heath. But it’s the praise I receive for sharing my story which is the most satisfying.

I finally feel worthy of my family’s and my friends’ love and support, and I feel worthy of a healthy, fulfilling relationship with my beau. He’s a wonderful man, guys. He has quickly become one of my very favourite people. I’m happy, I feel adored and respected and cared for by him. And I feel like he truly sees and accepts me for who I am, scars and all. And the best part, the thing that’s new for me and is the most exciting, is that I feel worthy of his attention. I’m a catch! And it’s the first time in my adult life (or maybe even ever) that I truly believe that.

It’s been a year.

So many things have changed, and so many things have gotten better. But I know that nothing is guaranteed, and my depression, hypothyroidism and general mental health is something that I will have to manage for the rest of my life. As one of my leaders at work told me, it’s impressive that I can even get out of bed everyday and make it to work, let alone add value with the work I produce. And I can attest: there have been many, many days since I’ve been back to work, when I didn’t make it out of bed. This will be a lifelong fight.

But I feel like I’ve done the work; I’ve faced my demons, I’ve opened myself up to the right people, and I’ve stared my depression down and gone to battle.

I know it’s a long war, but I’ve won this battle, and that’s enough to give me the momentum to shape this coming year, and this next decade, into my best yet.

fresh start