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

Spring Cleaning

I’ve had an unexpected walk down memory lane lately.

It started with a long coming snap decision. (Yes, I live for oxymorons.)

After nearly 16 years of being dependant on an internet provider, I switched to a company that won’t force me to fake negotiate my subscription terms every year (i.e., negotiate how much I would get financially screwed) because they’re part of an oligopoly.

I put through an online request and then… realized that it meant I would lose a dedicated mailbox filled with many years worth of accumulated emails (!)

Thankfully, due to a snafu from my new internet company (not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship), I was granted 5 extra days (10 instead of 5) to clean it up.

Also thankfully (maybe) I have more time on my hands now, and was able to spend many hours in a row going through them.

It was weird, seeing old emails from lost friends, even some who have passed away. I had to archive work emails (just in case my medical situation became…. complex).

And then there were emails from my only email-friendly relative – my 84-year old dad. Do I flush them all? Keep only the last year? Forward them to my new mailbox or just print them and keep them in a real life box?

Two summers ago I read Hammarskjöld: A Life about the second Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) who’s 1961murder is still unresolved. It’s a huge 760 pages book detailing Hammarskjöld years at the UN and is largely based on his own daily writing and letters with friends and officials. I found the richness of the information enthralling. For most of his life, Hammarskjöld was a simple public servant, who remained unmarried and childless throughout his life (an aspect I found fascinating), but who was also a man with an ever present strong faith in God, a poet, someone who also cherished many deep friendships and professional relationships. The book presented many examples of Hammarskjöld’s writings and correspondence- it made me feel like I got to know so much of the man.

How many paper letters from friends and professional relationships have you accumulated over the years? Do you have any still?

I let go of the paper letters I had accumulated a while back. Even the content of my correspondence with friends has changed now that we write virtually. I don’t really write anything “deep” anymore and when I do, the responses I get are very short, sometimes not even acknowledging what I wrote.

We live fast and a lot of our more private written content has lost meaning. And when we go, the content just stays in the ether… forever? Or until Google deletes the content of inactive accounts? Do they even do that? Does your significant other or a family member have your email passwords? Should they?

How will memoir writers be able to thoroughly research the lives of individuals who impacted this world, if they can no longer have access to their writings? Or if their writings are only transactional and superficial (texts)? Will there even be writings in 20 years or just half texts (no longer named “texts” because they are now only spoken words to an Artificial Intelligence entity… maybe?).

I digress. I know. I was just thinking… and writing… in a medium that can be deleted any minute if I, or others, so decide.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 4

A Sisterhood for Health

My health quest has hit a few bumps over the past weeks. Bumps like nodules on a thyroid found by pure luck. And bumps like the ones on the road that make cars slow down to a crawl, which is a good metaphor of what the medical system is doing to my health recovery process.

Thyroid nodules are almost always benign, so there’s nothing to worry about. What is killing me, is the 8-week wait just to get an appointment for another ultrasound, this one at the hospital. So far, no explanation as to why I need a second ultrasound. The article I linked to above details critical factors affecting ultrasounds so I’m assuming the hospital machine shows more details, but who the heck knows. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

In October, after suffering many different symptoms which could easily be related to my thyroid health, I had an ultrasound to determine what was happening with a swollen lymph node under my jaw.  Since the technician was checking my neck and jaw, I asked if they could check my thyroid gland at the same time. He said no because: “it wasn’t written on the requisition”. Three months later, I had another ultrasound, this time checking the mass on my salivary gland. The technician was a woman in my age bracket and contrary to other technicians, she started the exam by asking me how I was feeling. I told her about my fatigue and my neck feeling swollen all the time so she checked my thyroid along with my salivary gland. And guess what? It wasn’t written on the requisition. 😉

Just before my second ultrasound, I had my 7th blood test in 5 months. The blood technician was also a woman in my age bracket. As we got to talking, she told me she had recently being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, how often in pain she was, how her doctor wasn’t providing her with the help she needed. I told her the only thing helping me with my pain were these exercises. I’ll never know if this bit of information helped, but I tried, and I’m sure she does too.

These experiences reminded me of how often the best health information I’ve heard, came from my women friends and colleagues, and not from medical professionals. If it sounds terrible, it is.

For example, I would never have known that you can get tested for asthma, and the name of these tests without a friend providing me with the information. The Nurse Practitioner and General Practitioner were more than happy to just pimp me asthma medication (yep, I’m still bitter).

I also would not know that contrary to original prescription pills, generic hormone replacement pills can cause painful side effects (as in my friend needing to go to the emergency room painful). She found out from the doctor’s receptionist that it happens more often that prescribing doctors lead you to believe.

I try as much as possible to impart bits of information on my health experiences here and wherever I think it may help.

In honour of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to participate, in your own way, in a Sisterhood for Health.

Feel free to share your experiences here or by email. It may make a difference.

Keeping the Cold Away

I’m looking through my window at the first snowstorm of the year. It’s always so pretty when viewed from a nice warm and dry spot!

It made me want to share the reasonably priced beauty products that help me get through the winter. Due to my health craziness, they’re also all unscented or fragrance free and do not contain ethylhexylglycerin, a preservative which greatly irritates my eyes.

I make efforts to use Canadian products and companies (hence the many Well.ca links), but I draw the line at the lack of effectiveness which is why U.S. companies are also well represented.

Some of My Favourites

Face

Marula and Squalane Oils

Drunk Elephant has a marula oil that retails for CA$50 for 15ml at Sephora Canada, but I use the one from DECIEM The Ordinary retailing at CA$9.90 for 30ml through Well.ca and the company itself. ACURE also offers 30 ml of the oil for CA$22.49 but I haven’t tried it though.

Mixed with my moisturizing lotion, I use the marula oil at night because of its richness (word to the wise, it gave me milia under the eyes so be careful not to overdo it) and squalane oil in the morning, accompanied by one drop of tea tree oil for my rosacea areas. I found out about this trick by listening to this Forever35 podcast featuring Courtney Chiusano.

Lips

I indulge in Clinique Pep-Start Pout Restoring Night Mask before going to bed. It retails for CA$22 at Sephora and in pharmacies. A nice “dupe” for it though is the much cheaper (retails around $7 or$ 8 if I remember correctly) Eucerin Intensive Lip Balm. The tube is less cute, but sometimes small sacrifices need to be made!

When I need less of a goopy feeling on my lips, I love Earth Mama Organics Coconut Smoothie Lip Balm made with coconut oil which melts on your lips and goes for less than CA$5. An American company, Earth Mama also offers a wide range of products for pregnant and nursing ladies.

Before going outside, I just started using the Shea Butter option of Jack Black’s Moisture Therapy Lip Balm SPF25. Not too sticky on the lips, it remains for a while to protect me from the sun as I go out. It’s also reasonably priced at CA$11 for 7 grams.

Cuticles

I had never tried cuticle oil before because I always expected it to be messy, but I was intrigued by the bottle carrying the Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil. It includes a small and precise drop dispenser and has really helped my dry cuticles. Sephora Canada still has it on sale at $17, but I like it enough to spring for the full CA$24 if I have no other choice. Plus a little goes a long way.

Eyes

Moisturizing

More and more I need A LOT of hydration under my eyes. My favourites so far are Clinique Pep-Start Eye Cream (CA$33) and the cheaper (you know me by now!) at around CA$25 but often on sale at a pharmacy near you  Hydra C Eye Contour Gel Cream from Marcelle, a Canadian company. I especially like the metal applicator that gives off a cool feeling and find it slightly more moisturizing than the Clinique option for winter.

Decorating

Right now, you can just look at my eyes and they’ll get irritated so I’ve been looking high and low for a gentle as can be mascara, particularly when it’s time to take it off as I wanted to avoid getting specs in my eyes. I had been hearing a lot of good things about the “tube mascara” called Blinc. [Spoiler – it does not turn into tubes around your lashes as I naively thought, it just creates an easily removable coating]. I finally saw a smaller size one at Sephora for CA$19 (full size price is $30 (!)) but when I tried it, all I could see was that my lashes looked like spider webs.

Thanks to my favourite beauty podcast however, I found out that L’Oreal had a similar product called Double Extend Beauty Tubes Mascara. It has drawbacks, like being available only in the Darkest Black colour and being a 2-step process (first you put on the “liquid paper” like primer coat, then the colour coat) but the fact that it doesn’t smudge on its own (try not to rub your eyes though), doesn’t hurt my eyes and can be taken off just by using warm water seals the deal for me. It’s price of CA$14.99 at Well.ca and the fact that as a drugstore brand it can also go on sale regularly does not hurt either.

Body

In a previous post, I discussed my love of the CeraVe® products you can buy at the drugstore or at Well.ca. In winter, I’m particularly fond of the Renewing SA Cream. The beauty podcasters also like Egyptian Cream, but since it’s almost twice as expensive, I have yet to compare them.

Hair

Carina Organics is a North Vancouver, BC based company launched in 1972 which offers an array of unscented bath and beauty products. For my oily hair, I use their Extra Gentle Shampoo and Daily Light Conditioner and particularly like their Leave In Conditioner, which I can use on my damp and/or dry hair. I will also be trying their Daily Moisturizing Shampoo to compare. All of these products are about CA$15 on Well.ca and even cheaper on the company’s site, depending on shipping costs.

Have you already tried some of these products and would like to share your opinions or offer other options? Don’t be shy!l