Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keep Calm

Here's a recipe for an interesting night:

1) Insomnia;

2) Forget to take meds;

3) ...yeah, that's pretty much all it takes.

Optional: give moral scrupulosity free rein; replay creepiest scenes from The Empty Child on a loop inside your head; start hallucinating just a bit around the corners of your vision so you can't quite be totally sure it really is missed-meds-induced hallucination and not that frelling kid in the gas mask finally coming to destroy you.

Fear.  The racing heart, the tensed muscles, the asthmatic sense of impending suffocation.  It's so irrational, so purposeless and senseless.  Something happens that makes your brain decide, usually unnecessarily, that death or physical injury of some kind is imminent; your brain sends the message on to your body, which enthusiastically agrees; and you're left to try and pick up the pieces, to wrestle your lungs and heart and nerves back like so many energetic dragons on a leash, till they quiet enough to be controlled, to lay off with the fire and smoke show, and to send their new message back to the brain: it's all right, you're not dying this time.

Sometimes it's a breathing exercise that focuses my body and calms me down.  Sometimes it's a song--The Last Rose of Summer is like a lifeline to me.  Sometimes a tuna sandwich is enough, or an episode of Farscape, or a hug from someone I love.  Sometimes it's prayer.

Often it takes (prescribed, legitimate) drugs to get past the hurricane in my head, and I am not ashamed of my reliance on them.

Fear is, quite literally, the scariest thing out there.

And the way I see it, if you live with fear--if you have to rein in the dragons five or six or twenty times a day because they're that headstrong, and huge, and hyperactive; if your good days are the days when you sit on the doorstep of terror rather than in its claustrophobic living room; and if you don't give up even though you know you're probably going to have to fight the same stupid, senseless, irrational fight every day of your life--

Then you are brave.

And you deserve every break you can get.  

Meds aren't a band-aid.  They're your frelling sword.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Such As

I went upstairs, gripping the rail, shaking a bit because I hadn't been out of bed in twenty-four hours and somehow that ten-day hospital stay seems to have siphoned off all the hard-earned hiking muscle in my legs.

I'd slept all day, almost right through the feast of my favourite saint, and missed taking my meds which doesn't help with the shaking, and watched far, far too many episodes of my current medical drama on Netflix because my brain and body were refusing to do much else.  I felt pathetic and cynical and everything was stupid.  So stupid.

My Dad was showing my three youngest siblings, grouped around the kitchen for a pre-bedtime snack-and-kitten-cuddling-session, a video on his phone.  A calm voice discussed the different theories on when human life begins (at conception? with the heartbeat? at birth?) and science's findings on each, relative to the abortion debate.  The video ended, and everyone had thoughts and opinions and ideas about what the voice had said.  Somehow that led into a discussion of evolution vs. creationism, literal vs. metaphorical interpretations of the Bible, and what Church council was it that determined the canon of scripture?  Neither my Dad nor I could remember.  Everybody was teaching and learning from each other, and these kids are only nine and twelve and fifteen, but they're thinking about the Big Questions every day, asking about the meaning of life before bed over kittens and mango ice cream, and dear God I'm just in awe but I hope I can be half as amazing a parent as my parents are, if I get the chance, that I can teach my kids to think about life before bed.

Everyone went up to brush their teeth, and my fifteen-year-old brother (in his too-small pyjamas riding halfway to the knee) cornered me on the stairs to confide that today he had finally paid off all his debt, but now he was broke.

"Yes," he said with that innocent, otherworldly smile far too big for his face, tugging at his pyjama cuff.  "I had this huge thirty-dollar debt to Mom, but I finally paid it off today and I'm so relieved."

I told him good for him, and confessed that I owe a lot more than thirty dollars--wishing (privately) that I could spare a few for his happy broke self.

"Oh, that's okay," he said.  "Money is kind of worthless.  When I'm grown-up, as long as I have enough money to eat, I don't think I really need any more than that.  I think it's good not to have too much money."

He went off to bed, and left me thinking.

Isn't everything like that?  Money, possessions, energy, health, mango ice cream and hiking muscles.  As long as you have enough to get by, now, in this moment, this space, this point where time meets eternity, does all the rest matter?

I went on a two-month hiking pilgrimage once, with no money, just my toothbrush and dulcimer and a pair of black socks.  The point was to do without.  But there are bigger things to learn to do without than cash.  Maybe, for me right now, independence is one of them.

Maybe right now, my pilgrimage is a shaky one up the stairs to the kitchen, gripping the rail.

Maybe my shrine is kittens and ice cream and a bunch of Big Questions with my little brothers and sister before bed.

Maybe they're my saints, these funny little people with their small pyjamas and their big thoughts.

I love you, little saints.  Keep thinking.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Getting Better

It started three months ago, in April.

I (foolishly, it transpires) went on a road trip to Ontario for a friend's wedding.  It was a great trip, if a little taxing, and I felt really proud of myself for getting through it with equanimity and only one or two major panic attacks.  I was tired, I was anxious, but I managed, and it was the biggest thing I'd been able to handle in a couple of years, so yes, I felt pretty good about myself.

Two days after I got back, my Gramma died.  The week after that, my sister got married, and the week after that, I starred in two separate plays on two separate nights in the same theatre festival.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, my body abruptly decided it had had enough with this whole functioning properly business, and I got sick.  My throat and head throbbed to the point that I couldn't get out of bed.  My Mom stopped by with ginger ale and eventually dragged me to the doctor, who diagnosed strep and prescribed antibiotics.  I got better just in time to be a bridesmaid, though my sister's wedding pictures show me with fever blisters around my mouth, too big and painful to hide with makeup.

May was miserable.  I was too exhausted to fix meals for myself.  Depression resurfaced with a vengeance, I stopped being able to keep up with my job, only left my flat when my boyfriend persuaded me out on a walk around town, and only washed my hair when it reeked.

Finally, in June, for about a week, I started to feel better.

Then things really fell apart.

When my throat randomly swelled up again to the point that the doctor at the walk-in clinic couldn't see down it to tell what was wrong, I got sent to the hospital.  Strep again?  Mono?  They settled on mono but medicated me for both, hydrated me by IV (I couldn't swallow), prescribed steroids to reduce the swelling, and sent me home the next morning.  My doctor warned me to cancel plans for a while.  Foolishly (again), I decided I could still manage the BC provincial theatre festival two weeks later. I was wrong, and ended up in hospital in Kamloops for ten days.  Apparently the antibiotics they had prescribed for strep can wreck your intestinal flora and give you colitis.  Oops.

So now I'm on more antibiotics, stronger ones, and because I've got to seriously rest for a good long while in order to get better, which means no work, which means no money, I'm going to be living at my parents' house for a few months, and giving up my flat.

I've been trying to be chill about the whole thing.  To be happy, to be content.  It is what it is, everything works together for good, que sera sera, etc.  Tonight, though, I'm cranky, I can't sleep, I miss my bed, and I'm kind of royally irritated with God.

Because this wasn't my plan.  I don't want this.  I liked the little life I'd been building up for myself over the shops in the bustling metropolis of Duncan, with my cat.  I'm not ready to give it up.  And I had a lot planned for this summer--working, directing, acting, hiking--; I don't want to be sitting in bed in my parents' spare room at four in the morning writing stupid, bitchy blog posts about the state of my guts.


I should be grateful that things aren't worse, I know.  That I have a family to move in with, that I live in Canada where my medical bills are covered, that I managed to avoid the threat of surgery, that morphine is a thing that exists.  There is so much to be grateful for, and most of the time, I can keep that in mind.

Not this minute, though.

It's funny how feeling wretched exposes your weaknesses.  Crankiness, impatience, sloth, ingratitude, have been rearing their ugly heads since I left the hospital.  I feel like Oscar the Grouch, but less green and more pimply, with a spare bed instead of a garbage can.

I guess I have some more growing to do.  Maybe I'd done all I could in the flat over the shops, and had to have things change in order to keep becoming the person I'm meant to become--to get better, not just physically but in all ways.

At least, I really really hope so, because I don't want it to be for no reason.  Please, God, don't let all this be for no reason.

Help me get better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wait For Sunrise

I gave up watching television series on Netflix for Lent.

It's been a good thing so far, mostly, but it does mean that when I'm awake at three in the morning I have to find other things to do, which means that you, my readers, must suffer more long and rambling three-in-the-morning posts.  I apologize for the imposition.

Today was a good day.  So was yesterday, and so was the day before.  There have been so many good days recently that I begin to worry I won't know what to do with a bad one when it eventually comes along.  

But then there are the three o' clock nights to keep me humble.

A little less than a year ago I wrote this post.  It's incredible how much has changed since then, really.  I have a job I love, teaching online classes to nerdy homeschoolers.  I have a beautiful black marshmallow cat whose favorite thing in the world is to jump up on my lap whenever I sit down, curl up with her nose in the crook of my arm, and purr.  The classics degree is still a distant dream, but my flat is cleaner than it's been in months, and now there's a guy.  I won't say more about that just now--only that I feel and am so very, very blessed, these days.

But there are still the three o' clock nights.

Dragons don't really go away.  

I'm not being pessimistic, I'm not being cynical.  If there were no dragons there would be no excitement, no honor, no thrill of danger and no glory of conquest.  I wouldn't really know the good days if there were no bad ones; I wouldn't cherish the nights full of sleep if it weren't for this three o' clock.  

I want my dragons.  I want my three o' clock nights.  I want the hours of darkness, because they let me see, from my gutter, the stars.  

Gethsemane, the most beautiful place in the world, is all around us.  This is my hour to watch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Here's A Bad Theological Analogy For You

She has always been called just Puff, but it sounds ever so much more elegant in the Latin, so I'm christening her Aura for the time being.

I've been meaning to get a cat for ages now.  Aren't single women who live in apartments and write poetry on the internet supposed to have them?  For Christmas my family teamed up to help meet some of the initial costs of kitty-ownership I couldn't cover, which was so lovely of them it nearly made me cry.  Then there was the tremendous decision of whether to adopt a kitten from a shelter, wait till summer when there are usually a few local farms with litters needing to be homed, or just take one of my family's outdoor cats.

They've had more cats than I can count over the years, mainly for the purpose of keeping the barn rodent-free.  Some of them have had kittens, and then the kittens have grown up and had kittens of their own, creating whole feline dynasties whose complicated interrelationships only the brave dare attempt to tabulate.  Rainy, the grey-haired matriarch of the clan, was for many years the only one allowed indoors, as she could, like any good queen, be counted upon to behave with civility and dignity.

She was basically the cat version of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.

Most of the cats, including Her Majesty, have been of the sleek, slight, shorthaired variety which suits itself to barn life.  One of the kittens a few litters back, though, must have got something different in her genetic makeup, because when my younger siblings were going through their Obvious Name Phase of pet ownership (Googly Eyes, White Face, and Mister Tabby are some mementos of that age), she got called simply Puff, and Puff has remained ever since.

She looks like nothing so much as a large black marshmallow with a tail tacked on one end and two green eyes on the other.

She never did well as a barn cat.  Her long fur was always clumped and matted, with twigs and burrs clinging to it, and she had a sort of frantic, troubled air, as if perpetually on the edge of a nervous breakdown.  Since she wasn't allowed inside, she spent most of her time by the front door, alternately skittering away or mewing for attention whenever someone opened it.  Every spring, the marshmallow fur would start to fall out, not gradually but all at once, whole carpets of snarls and lumps hanging away from the skin, which looked very odd and not a little disturbing, and seemed to make her even more unbalanced than usual.

I brought her to my place tonight.  She was most distressed to be locked up in a crate, and mewed quite tragically all the way home.  When I let her out into my flat she seemed afraid of everything and hid under my bed for the first twenty minutes.  Then it dawned on her that she was indoors, a place she had never been allowed before, and she went a little crazy, rolling about, rubbing her face on the doorframes and kneading the carpet frantically, and crawling up on my lap again and again to be petted.

It reminded me of Corduroy the bear: "I think I've always wanted to live in a palace!"

Presently she calmed down a bit, curled up in a corner and began working some of those everlasting knots from her fur, something I hadn't seen her bother with in a long time.

I think this is a bit like how God must feel when someone dies and He gets to bring them into heaven.  For Him it's a tired and wounded soul, for me it's a black marshmallow cat.  Dying, getting stuffed in a crate.  Heaven, a flat with junk everywhere and a kitchen full of dirty dishes.  Sin, a bunch of burrs in your fur.  You even get a new name.

I think we're going to get along, Aura and I.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


These are days when even the smallest of accomplishments, like brushing my teeth, or making the epic trek to the coffee shop for a spot of breakfast and human interaction, are worth celebrating.

My Mom says I think in black and white.  It would be perhaps more accurate to say I think in superlatives.  Things are either the best or the worst, thrilling or excruciating or wondrous or harrowing--never just goodish or okay.  And when I do something, whether it's thinking or writing or teaching or hiking or crocheting an afghan, I always want to do it more or further or differently than anyone has before.  I want to find something new, make something astonishing, be something brave.

Perhaps it comes of having a large vocabulary.  Average is such a boring word.

But in these days, these short dark days of midwinter when brain and body rebel against the lack of warmth and sun, my superlatives work against me.  The Pit of Despair is far too ready a cliche--and though I don't mind cliches as a rule, I'd rather not live in one.  So pitlike and despairy, with no running water or anything.

Just makes it that much harder to brush my teeth.

So I try to lay aside the superlatives, at least a little, and to be content (another boring word) with the reality of accomplishing very little things, in very short spurts and with many rests.  More than that, to congratulate myself for doing so.  To celebrate it.  Because I have made the effort.  I have kept on trying.  I haven't given up or given in.

Perhaps the superlatives are useful these days after all.

I mean, suppose I were to judge the things I do, not on their impact on the world at large (who cares about that anyway) but on what goes into them?

If the amount of effort spent on a task were reflected in its impressiveness, I've probably climbed Mount Everest at least once this winter.  I've definitely slain a few dragons.  Maybe written a novel or two.  Probably gone whitewater rafting, and ballooning, and to Mars.

I can live with that.  I can live with a trip to Mars.

The folks there know just how I take my coffee.  It's great.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Can't Hurry Love

Every year, between Christmas and New Year, my family organizes a ball with all our friends and acquaintances from under The Hill and over The Hill and across The Water.  A playlist to end all playlists is made, there's a chocolate fountain, and we dance for five or six hours straight, starting with formal-ish waltz and jive which slowly morph into a raucous freestyle by the end of the night.  It's wonderful.

My one sister is going with her fiance and my other sister is going with her boyfriend of a year and a half and I'm half-ashamed to admit that I so, so want someone to go with, not just anyone, but someone obvious like that, someone to make silly inside jokes with and laugh till our stomachs hurt, and mess up the dance steps but not care because we're having too much fun, and cuddle in the corner and take smiling formalwear photos with and kiss goodbye at the end of the night.

Some years I don't go because I want those things so badly and it hurts that I don't have them, and I am ashamed of that too.

Because I know: that thing I want, it's not the most important thing.  I don't need it in order to love God, or fulfill my duties, or be a wonderful, learned, joyful, fascinating, interesting, holy person.  It's not my time yet, and it may never be my time, and that's okay.

But I want it, and I want it so badly that sometimes I can't think about anything else, and sometimes I can't hang out with my sisters and their fiances and boyfriends because being the third (or fifth) wheel all the time makes me want to cry, and sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me, if I am really so awkward or ugly or off-putting that no one will ever want to miss the steps with me, and if maybe I'll die alone in a flat that smells of cats, and sometimes I am angry with a God who has the divine gall to think He can decide the state of my love life and never mind what I think about it.

Sometimes I feel as if I can't possibly be whole as long as I am on my own.  Or as if it is all my fault because I didn't try hard enough, or did the wrong thing somehow without intending it.

I'm going to the ball this year.  I'm going to put on my prettiest dress and do my hair and nails and makeup, and I'm going to dance alone if I have to, and mess up the steps and laugh and joke with my sisters, and let my little brother try to do a lighthouse spin even though he's too short to twirl me under his arm.  I'm going to have fun.

Then I'm going to come home and put on my comfy jammies, and make a mug of tea, and pray or watch Buffy or cry, whichever helps.

And wait.