« Née pour un petit pain »

Mes parents, grands-parents et arrière-grands parents n’ont jamais fait assez d’argent pour s’acheter une maison.

Ma mère et ma grand-mère maternelle ont eu des problèmes de santé physique similaires, qui les ont reléguées beaucoup trop tôt à l’arrière-plan de leur vie. Ma mère a dû quitter l’école après sa 6e année pour s’occuper de sa mère malade. Cette dernière n’avait alors que 44 ans. Elle a vécu 25 ans, essentiellement enfermée dans un logement.

Malgré un grand amour de la lecture, ma mère a souffert toute sa vie de ce manque d’éducation et je me demande maintenant si cette absence de stimulation cognitive a un jeune âge, n’a pas contribué à la démence dont elle souffre depuis quelques années.

Mon père vient d’une large famille pauvre qui avait à sa tête un père alcoolique et violent. À 18 ans, bien nanti de son cours classique, il trouve refuge au sein de la compagnie où Il avait décroché un emploi de balayeur, puis de représentant à commission.

Il a bénéficié quelques temps d’un salaire élevé pour le temps, mais vendre de la quincaillerie à commission, ce n’est pas fabuleux. À force de faillites et de reprise d’affaire en liquidation de la compagnie pour laquelle il voulait tellement continuer à travailler, il a basculé lentement mais sûrement vers le seuil de la pauvreté, nous amenant avec lui.

À toutes les semaines, il me montrait son chèque de paie et me disait de combien il avait diminué. La précarité financière, je l’ai comprise très tôt.

Malgré tout, j’ai cru pouvoir faire mon chemin en oubliant mes antécédents.

Erreur majeure.

« Né pour un petit pain » est, selon moi, l’expression la plus déprimante de la langue québécoise. Essentiellement, elle veut dire que ceux nés pauvres et sans statut social vont finir pauvres et sans statut social. Aucun espoir d’améliorer sa situation.

Depuis mon enfance, j’ai détesté ce concept. Encouragée par la télé américaine et la capacité de ce pays de croire que tout le monde peut réaliser ses rêves, j’ai continué d’y croire.

J’ai fait de l’amélioration continue mon champ de bataille au niveau personnel et professionnel.

La belle affaire.

Je ne savais pas, à l’époque, que les meilleurs déterminants de succès d’un enfant (mobilité sociale verticale) étaient le niveau d’éducation et le revenu de ses parents. Avec la 6e année d’éducation de ma mère et le secondaire de mon père, la base n’était pas solide.

Je ne l’ai compris que beaucoup plus tard, avec le traumatisme psychologique et ses répercussions dans la vie de tous les jours.

J’étais fière de faire partie de la première génération de mes deux familles (avec un cousin qui ne me côtoie pas) à décrocher une maîtrise. Pourtant, cet accomplissement n’a jamais effacé le fait que mon bac m’a pris 13 ans, avec une pause de 10 ans suivant mon burnout à 22 ans. Mon père utilisait mon succès scolaire pour bien paraître devant ses pairs, mais ne voulait pas payer mes études. Travailler et étudier à temps plein, cela m’a coûté très, très cher.

Ce sont des choses qui arrivent quand tu manques de soutien moral et financier, mais là encore, je n’y voyais rien et me trouvais seulement faible et pourrie pour gérer mes affaires.

J’ai continué de travailler très fort pour atteindre un statut qui, je le croyais bêtement, m’offrirait une protection financière pour le reste de mes jours, quitte à travailler septuagénaire. Mais plus que tout, je croyais trouver au fil des succès professionnels, une porte vers des gens qui me comprendraient et me trouveraient acceptable.

Je vous laisse deviner comment le tout s’est terminé.

Je savais bien sûr que le sort peut t’enlever pleins de choses en une fraction de seconde, mais je ne m’étais jamais imaginée que mon corps allait flancher, tout seul et assez, pour que je ne puisse plus gagner ma vie. Ça, même en ayant vu ma mère et ma grand‑mère souffrir.

C’est fort, le déni.

Et l’arrogance.

Mon corps me force à tirer ma révérence de la scène professionnelle. Sans remerciements, sans fête, ma carrière est prématurément et abruptement terminée. Avec elle, mes espoirs de vivre assez protégée et entourée.

J’espère encore éviter le seuil de la pauvreté, mais en vieillissant, avec peu d’espoir d’arrondir mes fins de mois, ce n’est pas hors du possible.

« Née pour un petit pain » englobe tellement plus que jamais je le croyais. Oui, le bagage socio‑économique, mais aussi génétique et psychologique.

Avoir su.

Et ben, je savais, mais ne voulais pas voir.

Je veux croire que mieux s’en vient, mais après avoir vécu la pandémie et vu le haussement des barrières protectives isoler les moins bien nantis, ceux‑qui manquent de santé, d’argent, de pouvoir et/ou de liens sociaux. L’inconnu me fait très peur.

Et la démence.

J’ai vu comment la société dispose des personnes malades et/ou âgées, particulièrement lorsqu’elles n’ont pas d’alliés. Le changement climatique amène avec lui des tonnes de pertes et les plus chanceux crient « après moi le déluge, bandes d’idiots ! ».

Les films américains ne se terminaient pas comme ça, jadis.

Renewal

It’s spring. The time of year when nature wakes up and transforms.

We see it as beautiful, but I wonder if this transformation is difficult for the seedlings, the burgeoning flowers, the tree leaves.

Were they lulled into winter comfort and fear the big changes coming?

Do they even know what’s ahead?

As humans, more often than not, we fear transformation and changes.

It’s my spring too.

I see life changing transformation ahead.

And I fear big time.

Because, just like seedlings, flowers and trees, most of what’s to come is completely out of my control.

My health, my income, my relationships have transformed.

More radical changes are coming.

Instead of hostile pathogens, my body is fighting itself. How much of that fight can I slow down?

No one knows yet.

This week, I had to give up my job.

A heartbreaking decision because as much as I wanted to return, I knew my body could never support again what I did before.

My livelihood is now solely in the hands of dysfunctional systems. Beyond scared.

I’m down to a minimum of relationships, most of them long distance.

Not easy for others to see me as a different person, with different needs.

I did play “well enough” for so very long.

Now a little goes a long way.

Words of support can thankfully come in many different ways to warm your heart, but…

Lifts to hospital appointments, trips to grocery stores, seeing another person’s half face as you walk together have been rare.

You can blame the pandemic, but that type of support is family support.

You don’t have one, you don’t get to have it. Lonely.

And…

One way or another, in mind or in body, I will lose my mom this year.

She’s slowly walking away and there’s nothing either of us can do to stop it.

Change is coming.

Is there better ahead?

We can hope.

It’s spring after all.

My Heart

A decade ago, I was listening to a colleague sharing her feelings about her mom’s passing. “She lived a good, long life, she said, but it still hurts so much…”

“That’s understandable I responded, your mom, is your heart” I responded on instinct.

My heart is breaking. My mom is breaking.

She’s slowly walking into a world where she’ll remember nothing.

She’s not there yet, but she’s incredibly scared.

She often talks to me sounding like a little girl. The little girl who was unjustly forced to leave school in 6th grade, to take care of her own sick mom.

The pandemic deconditioned her and precipitated this state.

“I’m not suffering”, she told me in a moment of lucidity.

But then cried her heart out when she missed the window to get her Covid vaccine at her seniors’ residence. The story of how that happened, is murky.

The pandemic has kept me away from her for a year now, on top of the 18 months my illness forced me to be away.

It’s early 2021 and I don’t know if I’ll make it back in time for her to recognize me.

More often than not, she forgets how long it’s been since she last time she saw me. Her forgetting me would be a blessing. For her.

For me, it would be just one more area of life where I no longer exist, but I will survive that if it means less pain for her.

One day soon, she’ll move from being happy to hear my voice, to bluntly wonder who the hell I am.

I’ll never be able to prepare enough for that.

Each time, is a bit more shared, a bit longer.

Until…

Getting Rid of 2020

How have you been? Did the soon-to-be-over year treat you well, considering?

Considering a global pandemic, darn it!

Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

2020 started well for me. I turned an even age number – I always prefer those to odd numbers. And after 19 months, I finally thought my medication was helping me get back on track and then… early March test results showed anomalies and my struggles with the medical system re-started.

Then the entire world closed.

Dystopian, really.

Healthcare workers at the forefront, meagre salary earners thrown on the front lines of pharmacies and grocery and liquor stores. Others losing their jobs or their livelihood, often permanently.

People losing so many loved ones, unable to see them one last time as all visitors were forbidden entry to long-term care residences and hospitals. Others having their surgery and cancer treatments cancelled, then having to go through them without support, experiencing pregnancy losses alone.

Parents struggling to perform at work and take care of their children all day, every day.

So much pain and hardship.

Then fatigue set in, summer arrived, more things opened up and we all thought the worst was being us.

Well, you know me, I rarely think the worst is behind me. 😉

Fall required teachers to go back to often unsafe classrooms, more fatalities, more hospitalisations, many of sick remaining sick long after the medical system declared them cured of the virus and struggling to earn a living.

By then however, the world’s compassion and empathy, already in short supply, withered to nothing.

If everyone is hurting, no one is there to offer solace.

How have you fared? Are you still healthy and relatively wealthy, looking forward to going back to travelling? Happy to have gotten more time with your household near and dear? Spent your summer golfing and swimming at the cottage?

Lucky you. I mean it.

I hope you see it too.

My health challenges continue to this day, but they completely pale in comparison to others in the world who have been so gravely wounded morally, financially and physically.

2021 will offer many of us a light with vaccines coming out. Distribution will be challenging even for rich countries. Some may not get their hands on them before 2022 and beyond. If ever.

We’re there yet.

Coming upon us is Christmas, with many wanting to see family members they love and who love them back in person.

Lucky you.

Maybe some of you anticipate a last Christmas with someone who’s health is fragile. What a choice – to see them in person or not.

My remaining family is three people in their late eighties. Due to my ill health, I haven’t seen them in over two years. I know I’m not alone in this predicament. This year, as they live in elderly care residences, I can’t risk for them or for me. I’ll just have to cross my fingers.

So back to in person celebrations. You’ll do want you want to do, of course. And if you do, don’t tell me because I’ll judge. 😉

May I just mention that amongst your many blessings, spreading a bit of compassion and empathy, even if it means digging deeper than ever before, could go a long way in the coming months?

For the others who haven’t been so lucky in 2020.

Desperately Clinging to Normal

In a liquor store, tired of following pandemic arrows to nowhere, I say:

“I’m looking for a dry Riesling…”

“Well, I don’t drink it.”

“But isn’t your job…

“What?!”

“… to help people with their wine selection?”

“Well, we don’t have tastings during the pandemic.”

Finally, she points at a dry Riesling bottle.

“Thank you.”

Moving to the cash, I’m asked:

“How are you doing?”

It’s the familiar routine. I understand. But who wants to answer that question right now? Who wants to keep lying?

I’m being melodramatic.

OK.

I answer that I’d rather not answer that question, and follow up with: “how are you doing?

“Not great in this place.”

All three of us are not doing well. Clearly. And we certainly did not make each feel better this morning.

But there’s noting out there to make us think we’re not alone feeling this.

It’s still all “look at all the many beautiful places I can drive to”, “look at the great meal I made”, “I sew masks”.

Every once in a while, you see a “number to call for your mental health”. Would you call?

Of course not. That’s for people who have no one.

It reminds me of my dad who drove his entire life and kept telling me it was just great to have to take the bus.

There are special activities for children, the elderly, students…

If you don’t fit in these categories… you’re out of luck.

Schools will open this fall. There will be no patios, no parks to sit in for any amount of time (I think the city even removes most benches).

We’re to think that all is normal.

It won’t be. It will be quite different, not likely good different because everything is still seen through the “normal” lens.

There is no innovation, no creativity from any level of government.

Schools, hospitals, clinics, etc. are to make do with the same amount of money in facing never seen in over a 100 years challenges.

The media sphere (social and not) is still filled with “all in this together” when at this point, most of us have seen that we’re on our own come hell or high water.

Personally, come October, I will not be seeing any of the 3 friends who have been “brave?” enough to see me in a park over the summer.

I spent 3 months (March to June) not seeing anyone I knew outside of a video call. I’m now facing many more months, including holidays like this.

I’m not alone.

Our voice just isn’t out there. Everyone else is too busy clinging to normal or fighting against those who do.

At the best of times, dark winter makes us want to scream at the top of our lungs.

People are already tired, resentful, fearful and lonely. How will the next months amplify this?

There is nothing there for most of us to hang on to.

The only governmental refrain is filled with “getting the economy going” and “keeping businesses open” and gibberish about schools.

But small and medium size business owners are super stressed, their employees bearing the brunt of their bosses and customers’ worries.

It’s not enough.

We need creative solutions to the issues will be facing.

But we can’t have solutions until we admit there are festering problems, identify them, and start talking.

Politicians can’t figure it out? Not surprising, like the heads of public service organisations, they are the winners of the current normal.

Then, crowdsource for the love of all that is good.

Stop hiding your head in the sand.

Invest in something else than construction and businesses.

Municipal councillors are the closest to their population. How about setting up some social distancing park meetings while the getting is good? Then virtual town halls, leveraging social institutions’ help – not everyone has access to a computer and wifi. Still.

Better equipped people than me, with a terrain view could come up with much more viable ideas.

There just isn’t a platform for them to be heard.

Governments need to invest in a different way of life.

We’re running out of time.

Anger

Beyond angry.
Beware.
I haven’t forgiven.
I will not forget.

Everything you took away from me.
Everyone who left.
World destroyed.

You, who only paid lip service to my plight.
In passing conversations.
Toes dipped and quickly retrieved.

I haven’t forgiven.
I will not forget.

Charlatans, fairweather spectres.
Blood suckers.
I gave you everything and received nothing.

I haven’t forgiven.
I will not forget.

Obscene advice from the tip of your tongue.
No time spent understanding.
Leaving me drained and helpless.

I haven’t forgiven.
I will not forget.

Not until I’ve regained EVERYTHING.
And gotten so much MORE.

Go away.
You don’t exist for me anymore.
Did you ever?

Scales. Fallen.

Done.

Getting Back to Normal

The nice weather is here and, as usual, people who have been cooped up for months while bad weather raged on, spread out to finally enjoy it.

But the current public health rules have advised against going to cottages. The malls and patios are closed, and most public places no longer offer access to bathrooms.

What’s a decent person to do?

Running a quick errand yesterday I realized that wearing a mask in 30 C weather is a chore. Most people I encountered thought it was so much of an issue that they didn’t even bother wearing one. And social distancing on a main street and construction sites (they’re everywhere) was completely absent.

It seems that everyone is craving to go back to normal. Summertime normal. Fun times normal.

I can so relate.

I spent close to two years chasing my normal, desperate to avoid a diagnosis that would mean nothing further could be done – this is as good as it’s going to get.

I did this, because there are very few sentences that scared me more than: “your new normal”.

When it comes to health, the “new normal” essentially means something worse than before, something you need to adapt to, because there is no other option.

When it comes to the world we live in however; it doesn’t have to mean worse. It could just be different or maybe, just maybe, better.

Our communities could be opening up to brand new possibilities and options. If only we open ourselves up to better.

But it won’t be easy.

I was just on Twitter exchanging with a researcher studying pain who says that his colleagues have avoided including a 50-50 female to male rodent ratio in their research experiments until 2019, due to nothing else but inertia. (We can discuss animal experimentation in other writings.)

Inertia.

Whatever went on before is fine, after all, it’s been going on forever.

In another exchange, a journalist told me I was wrong in saying a test centre didn’t offer easy access because it was open evenings and weekends. I had clearly put in my tweet that the centre wasn’t easily accessible to non-drivers.

We first see how things affect us, but not always how they affect others because it’s too far from our own reality – “who the hell doesn’t drive a car?” My words here, not hers.

I’m sure a disabled person would see access from a different point of view too.

Do I trust our city, province and country health and political leaders to have enough foresight, imagination and energy to change things for the better? Of course not!

What I’m saying is that we should make sure they know we’re watching and share our high expectations. And whatever you, as a unique person, can do to change things for the better please do, no matter at what level.

Life has been hard for many in ways we can’t imagine because they’re too far from our reality. Some of us would like to talk about it.

All of us, should listen.

We need each other’s help in making the new normal better.

Keeping Sane in an Insane World

We interrupt your journey to health with a pandemic.

(Sigh.)

How are you? Really?

I went to bed at 11 pm, woke up a few hours later after dreaming of strangling a man that looked suspiciously like the pope, using a big painting.

In my defence, I had just watched two episodes of a documentary about the wonders of Italian art. More on that later…

Finally got up at 5h30 am to have tea and homemade carrot cake.

Don’t be too envious.

I hadn’t made carrot cake in years and seem to have added too much baking soda which left a strange taste with each mouthful. Either that or my baking soda was expired. Baking soda does expire. At some point. I’m afraid to look. Hard to access baking soda right now.

Anyhoo, the stress of impending doom is ruining my sleep, but it’s allowing me time to share some fun things that are taking my mind off of current affairs.

A Book Series (of course)

The Parasol Protectorate

If you need to be taken to a completely different world and be wildly entertained, this series delivers. A courageous heroine, vampires, werewolves, a deadly parasol – what’s not to like?

Streaming Services

I got bored with Netflix and looked for different streaming options.

If you don’t mind subtitles or understand a European (outside of English) or Scandinavian language, you will love:

Mhz Choice (Available in U.S. and Canada)

Offering a multitude of TV series some old, some recent. I’m particularly fond of the documentary series Meraviglie: A Tour of Italy’s Wonders as well as the A Night In (Florence, Pompeii, St. Peter’s…) series showing these well-known places in a (literally) different light.

Hoopla

Available through most public libraries (U.S. and Canada), this service offers a wide array of movies and TV shows. Currently watching the excellent U.K. show Good Karma Hospital filmed in South India. We can all use some sunshine and beautiful sceneries in our lives right now.

YouTube Vids

The late shows are Working From Home (WFH). My favourite so far (cuteness during the intro tune, left screen, upper corner):

Jokes Seth Can’t Tell

Warning: Short snippet that gets less and less funny as it goes on but my standards have lowered drastically over the week.

What’s keeping you sane right now?

If a Tree Falls in the Forest and No One Hears It… Is It Even a Tree?

I took another break from writing. You may have noticed.

I was waiting for my feel good movie ending.

So many decades on this earth and all my Hollywood brainwashed brain still wants, is a feel good conclusion, showing that all my trials and tribulations were worthwhile.

Slowly, I’ve seen some positive incremental changes to my health situation, but nothing earth-shattering. No game changer. Yet.

This doesn’t mean that nothing happened. Over the past 16 months, I saw my emotionless GP and a nice nurse practitioner many times, than an ear nose and throat specialist, an internal medicine doctor (useless), a gynecologist, and a cardiologist (both wonderful).

I suffered through two biopsies, an MRI, five ultrasounds, multiple cardiac tests, two asthma tests, a few Xrays, one mammography, a regular PAP test, and seven blood tests. I discontinued seven medications and started two new ones. I was kept busily worried.

It was great to know that many chronic and acute illnesses were eliminated, but the whole experience left me drained and dispirited.

And then there were all the wellness industry visits: functional medical doctor (charlatan), herbalist (charlatan), acupuncture (didn’t take), naturopath (didn’t hurt/didn’t help) reflexology (really relaxing, but expensive), chiropractor (helped for some body pains, made others worse), massage therapy (above all, the best therapy, especially for my ligament issues). Many of these = kaching galore $$$!!

I didn’t want to use this blog to drone on about the detailed research I gathered, especially considering the lack of sustainable progress over more than a year spent desperately trying to get better enough. Enough to be found normal. Enough to feel present in the world. Enough to stabilize my financial future. Enough to feel true joy again.

I never pussyfoot around expectations. My expectations, for everything, are BIG.

I had to learn to dim my life and my expectations in the hope that doing less and expecting less will help me recover, without losing my soul.

But I am a woman of great expectations.

The world… rarely delivers.

As I said, instead of writing paragraph after paragraph about my health related experiences, I decided to list songs echoing some of the emotions I’ve felt, songs that tell a part of my story. They’re not a perfect retelling of course, I would need to write my own songs for that…. someday.

Here we go.

This Is Me (lyrics) – Keala Settle

Les uns contre les autresPatsy Gallant

I Love Myself TodayBif Naked

Never SurrenderCorey Hart [You can take the girl out of Montreal, but you can’t take Montreal out of the girl.]

SoulmateLizzo [My Queen!!]

In My BloodShawn Mendes

Survivor2WEI [Sorry Destiny’s Child, I do everything slower nowadays…]

Life’s About to Get GoodShania Twain [Hope for the future…]

Did I miss any? I was going to had the theme to Rocky (Gonna Fly Now), but that was too cheesy even for me. 😉

 

December 6th

I don’t think about it very often.

Just every December.

I don’t think about it very often.

Just every time I hear .”girls on one side; boys on the other”.

I don’t think about it very often.

Just anytime I hear a reference to “La Polytechnique” even if it refers to a different school, a continent away.

And I wasn’t even there.

I was attending a 5:30 pm class that Thursday, but because I sucked at science, I was in another university in Montreal.

Friends of mine, young men and young women, were there. They survived physically, but were never again the same.

It was the first time I encountered pure and deadly hatred. Hatred of young women just like me, only brighter, and with the courage to work in a field where few had succeeded before them.

I got to live; and my sisters didn’t.

No rime, no reason.

They were robbed of all that was good, all that could’ve been. Every year, I cry and rage about it.

Then I move on telling myself that in living well, I honour their memory.

But do I really…

30 years and counting.

All I can do is remember them.

Dec6VictimsMonument

From: The Canadian Encyclopedia