Archive for the ‘Health’ Tag

What hallelujah means to me

I’ve been listening to “Hallelujah” incessantly lately – not from Handel’s Messiah, but rather The Good Lovelies‘ cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

It’s ethereal, mesmerizing, uplifting, soul-searching. A prayer, a plea, a homage – it’s pain and pleasure and very, very human.

I went hunting for Leonard Cohen’s original, and came across an interview he gave where he talks about depression, and its impact on his music. He said something that struck me: “Suffering doesn’t produce good work – good work is produced in spite of suffering, as a response, as a victory over suffering.”

A victory over suffering.

As I sing to Hibou, to teach her, to please her, to distract her, to soothe her, sometimes just to overpower her penetrating complaints, I think about this. About how we must celebrate. We MUST celebrate. We must acknowledge victory over suffering, we must capture and rejoice in the beauty, the awe of life. Because it’s too hard not to. Life is too hard when we don’t.

Cohen is right – it’s a cold, a lonely, a broken hallelujah. But it’s still a hallelujah. When we praise, no matter what, no matter how, it’s still praising. It’s still acknowledging, celebrating – even when we’re on our knees and begging, face covered in tears and pressed against the floor.

Anyone who’s been there – wet, cold, huddled, terrified, alone – if you’ve been there, then you know that there is always an after. An after when it gets better. An after when we can get up, when we can sing, when we can celebrate. When we can produce good work.

They’re both human, you see. The broken moments, and the whole.

A good friend of mine is discovering what it is to see the middle of the night with a new baby. To see night after night, sore and tired and lonely. My husband is struggling with seeing the middle of the day with a busy but boring job, chores and whining and more work to come home to. To see day after day, frustrated and angry and overwhelmed.

And I – I am grateful. I am grateful, in as many moments as I can notice, of how I’ve been there. And now I’m not. I may be again, but now, now I’m not.

I’ll sing a different Hallelujah in a few days, my annual Messiah practice and community concert coming up. It’s so very different, such a different form of praise – yet, to me, the same. It reaches the same place within, where the dark and the light are one and the same.

“I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I told the truth; I didn’t come to fool you. And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

We all pass that way, or this, somehow. Some of us less, some of us more. Some of us celebrating just a little harder, a little louder than others, recognizing the victory for what it is. All of us trying our best. Some of us singing hallelujah.


Hope springs eternal

The pieces of me are slowly drifting back together. Not quite, like my hip chafing in its socket, but a closer fit than I’ve had in over a year.

I feel whole. Jumbled, perhaps, with some grinding and grating and shifting, but whole. Strongly myself.

Bonhomme was in Iqaluit with our family, these past couple of weeks, leaving Dearest and I to rediscover ourselves as new parents again, just us and the baby. We still feel a touch guilty for enjoying it quite so much, this vacation from our son. But it made me realize how with Bonhomme gone, a very large part of me was missing. Only once he was back home did I feel complete, secure in the world again.

This is what our children do to us. They enter our lives squalling, their vibrations shaking us apart at the seams, and then rebuild us, redesign us until we barely recognize our own new shapes. Filled with their noise, their needs, we lump around until it all settles into some sort of recognizable new structure, now needing to be loved and squeezed and lived in by tenants other than just ourselves.

I never knew myself until I knew my children.

The days are brighter now, the sun warmer on my comfortably worn skin. I delight in this fresh growing season, the spring green surprising me each day. Now every spring will be shared. Completely.

Baby Steps

The sun is warm on my back.
I am out, navigating shoals of snow and melting ice, walking for the first time in three weeks.
The flu, bronchitis and a fractured rib – on top of third trimester pregnancy – made this Christmas one to remember.
I’ve never been so sick.
The ruts of tired snow, iced layers of tracks and slush, make this walk around the block more of an adventure than I care to admit.
I walk carefully, oh so carefully, balancing my battered ribs against my abused abdominal muscles, back straining to counteract Baby’s sloshing weight.
I will heal just a couple of weeks ahead of the next onslaught, torn rib muscles and pressure fracture racing against a planned C-section.
This walk will be a victory then too.
Water drips from every roof, every branch, syncopated to my coughing.
Hatless heads and bare hands are an Ottawan measure of warmth on this bright January afternoon.
I turn the corner, and the sun warms my face.
The sky is smiling.
Slow, shuffling, faltering, still –
my steps walk to the beat of poetry.


I’ve not been writing for a while, I know.
It’s been odd. I’m so used to expressing myself that way that I feel like I should feel lost without it – but I don’t.
Instead, I’ve had unending visions of art dancing through my head.
I can think of nothing but colour, and form, and contrast.
I think this is Baby’s influence – for those to whom this is news.
I am four months pregnant, past the early weeks worry zone, and doing really well.
Not perfect, of course – I’d never expect that!
There’s a lot of headaches, the aches and pains are starting, and sundry other little discomforts. But, and for this I am indescribably thankful, I am myself. My mood has been amazing, and my brain, my emotional self, has not been highjacked.
This, as you know, has been my great fear. To find out otherwise, to have Baby on my side, helping me, is an untold blessing.
I’ve not been writing for another reason, as well. It’s not just that I don’t feel the draw right now – it’s also that this blog hasn’t felt like a safe space right now.
Given both my miscarriage and the interpersonal strain that happened after it last winter, I just don’t feel quite right writing here at this time.
So, since writing is an outlet for me, a way of safely expressing and sharing, I’m not going to try to force it when it just doesn’t feel right.
I’ll be taking a break for a while.
I don’t know how long – I imagine I’ll have all sorts of things to write about once Baby arrives, and hopefully before then.
But for now, I’m going to enjoy the peace and quiet, and think artistic thoughts.
Talk to you soon.

The Grind

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front for a goodly number of months now. Yes, I’ve been struggling to have enough energy, stamina, to write – but that’s not really it. Really, it’s that I’ve been pulling my punches. I’ve been avoiding going within too much, delving too deep. Writing forces me to turn a pretty glaring light on sometimes – and I’ve not liked the sight every time I’ve flicked the switch lately.

Doc called me on something, at our last visit. His argument:

“How come you feel that it would be OK, it would be justifiable, to choose to postpone pregnancy, or forgo it altogether, if you had a physical illness – such as a uterine problem, or severe anemia – because you recognize that you would never choose to knowingly potentially endanger a fetus; and yet you don’t feel that it’s OK, it’s acceptable, to do the same due to a mental illness? That a pregnant mother experiencing chronic sleep disruption, poor appetite, debilitating mood swings, anxiety-induced breathing difficulties doesn’t pose the same level of potential danger to the unborn? How come you can come to terms with having a physical illness affect your reproductive choices, but not a mental illness?”



So, it turns out, that I carry that mental-illness-does-not-equal-real-illness stigma after all.

I’ve been so doggedly determined to not let my depression get the upper hand for so many years now, that I’ve delegitimized my needs.

The session ended with Doc wresting a promise from me to consider putting my next potential pregnancy on hold, just for a while, a month or three or six, until I felt that my mental health was stable enough not to unduly affect my physical health.

I fear this.

I fear this time of waiting. What if that delicate balance never comes? I don’t fear another difficult pregnancy (just an unhealthy one); I don’t fear having another four years of early childhood being as demanding as the last half-decade has been. I fear waking up twenty years from now and not being able to forgive myself for having only one child because I wasn’t strong enough to have more.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Yes, I have what’s called major clinical chronic depression – but I’m not impaired by it. I’m highly functional. Having a sister who isn’t really brings home to me what that truly means. It means that my depression does not get the best of me. It does get the worst of me – it gets my punctuality, it gets my attention span, it gets my even keel, it gets my sleep and my peace. Sometimes, many times, it gets the better of me. But it does not get my words. Or my painting. Or my voice, or my love for my son, or my sheer get-through-it-despite-it-all grit. Depression does not get my soul.

And so, I tell you, as I’ve told all the well-meaning and caring people who have tried to offer me fixes in the past few months, especially immediately surrounding my recent miscarriage: I am not broken.

It enrages me that depressives have to fight this fight, while bearing the burden of our disease, in a way that very few others do. If you were in a wheelchair without the use of your legs, we would not encourage, chivvy, or outright order you to get up and walk. Grow new legs. We would not admonish you to stop being such a useless lump. Or to take better care of yourself. We would descend down in righteous wrath upon anyone who made you feel guilty or inferior or incapacitated for not having the use of your legs. We would demand wheelchair access entry for every building, boycott en masse those inaccessible entrances and hallways and bathrooms, renovate for you, and stand, sit or shout in solidarity for your challenges. And yet, when it comes to depression, and all mental illnesses – where inaccessibility is invisible – that wrath is private. It is silent. We do not wear mental illness proudly on our sleeves. Depressives run marathons, yes – it’s called making it through the day. But there aren’t any cheering masses.

The last few months have been eventful. Yes, of course, I’ve gone through the hormonal, physical and emotional demands of a constantly changing body, first due a couple of months of early pregnancy and second due to the sad end to it. Throughout both experiences, I’ve had the additional burden of a chemically unbalanced mind, as my hormonally-triggered chronic depression has ridden the resulting waves. But it’s actually been talking about depression that has been the biggest burden.

Through one of those wacky turns that social media brings us, my mother learned about both my pregnancy and my miscarriage in the space of about a week, through a friend, rather than in person from me. These things happen to those who blog. It gave my mom and I the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart, which ended up centering around depression. But it was a struggle for me, because despite the fact that I’ve been battling diagnosed depression since adolescence, and despite the fact that my eldest sister was also diagnosed at the same age with a much fiercer, and debilitating, permutation of the disease, and despite the fact that I’ve been both proactive in addressing and open about depression, my illness was news to my mom. It’s not that I hadn’t told her, many, many times in many, many ways – it’s that it hadn’t gotten through.

Now it has.

And by extension, it’s gotten through to her closest friends, as she reaches out to them to help her find solace. They, in turn, flooded me with well-intended advice, right about the time when I was struggling to breathe due to weeks of sustained blood loss.

I think this is a battle everyone with depression faces. We get to be educators, advocates, defenders and truth-tellers – all while also living with the disease.

Luckily, many people who have a brush with depression have it once. Maybe twice. This is called episodic depression – often due to life events, such as losing a loved one, losing a job, moving to a new city, serious stressors. It’s still depression, and it’s still serious. It requires the full range of treatment options and support. It can be life-changing. I say luckily only because for those people who suffer episodic depression, it can come – and it can go.

And then there’s chronic depression. Chronic depression differs from episodic not necessarily in terms of intensity – both hurt. But it does differ in terms of frequency and duration, and these can lead to more severe outcomes and combinations with other disorders. Treatment isn’t just about treating the depression when it occurs, it’s also about treating the depression when it’s not occurring, to prevent or lessen relapses. Think about it like cancer. When you have cancer, you are either in remission or you are not – but you always have cancer regardless of its current state, and you are always treating it whether symptoms are present or absent.

Chronic depression gets diagnosed as such once you’ve had multiple episodes – you go through one to get to the other.

To be honest, I can’t even tell these days whether I’m in the midst of, or recovering from, a depressive episode, or if I’m just plain burned out. Work is an exhausting conveyor belt of short deadlines, constant reading and research, little to no feedback, fast footwork and political messaging, and increasingly, soothing frayed tempers. Home is a series of scheduled visits and errands and chores, little to no feedback, and even more frayed tempers. In neither place do I feel like I’m achieving anything. This is what they call the grind.

And just like a ground stone, tiny pieces of me are flying off and dying little deaths every day. What’s left is simply trying to survive – let alone trying to shape my life into the kind of space and structure that I would need if I were to actively try to manage and prevent recurrences of depression.

I feel the overwhelming urge to take a vacation from my life.

Which brings us full circle, to Doc asking me whether now is really the right time to keep trying to have another baby. I cannot express how much it hurts, the jackhammer that this is inside my core, to have to accept that after all this time, after all this effort – to have come this far battling my depression, to have struggled so to regain some health, to have left the best job I have ever had, to have nursed my husband back onto two legs, to have seen the other side of four years of not-sleeping-through-the-night, to have finished my Master’s degree, to have tried and failed to have another child, after all this and more – it’s still not enough. I am still not healthy, nor stable enough to have another baby. I cannot will my way through this.

So, I guess what I need is someone to picket that rampless restaurant. I need someone to boycott that conveyor belt. I need some solidarity.

I am not broken.

I am still lucky, in my way, in many ways.

But I am also very, very tired.

I know – oh, how I know – that the best of me is the only part of me that matters. And I still have the best of me. Even if it’s not enough, not right now, to make another baby. There is still enough left of me to wait, to try to recover, to try again eventually.

There’s enough of me left to punch back.

And then there was me

Baby is gone.
I’m left, hollowed out.
Gone without so much as a murmur,
no sweet loving goodbye.
Just a trickle, and then a flood of blood,
enough to land me in the hospital for a while.
Baby’s gone, and all answers too.
Instead, I’ve got a muddle of feelings, questions, and long awkward silences.
We’ll try again, inevitably, although we both know that there is a limit to how many times.
How many times I can go through this –
This being left.
Left behind.

Oh. My. 2013’s going to be a wowzer.

“Momma, what’s a wezolution?”
“A resolution. It’s like a promise we make to ourselves, to try to do something for a long time. The tradition is that on New Year’s Day, we make a resolution that we try to keep for the whole year, until next New Year’s Day.”
“For a whole year?”
“Well, that’s what we try for, anyway. So, last year, I said that for me, it was my year of health. I made a resolution to put my health first, and I’ve made some pretty big decisions this last year to make that happen. I’ve kept my promise pretty well, this year.”
“Like how?”
“Well, I got a new job, remember?”
“Yeah, and now you work in Daddy’s building!”
“Yes I do, and the best part is that I get to walk to work every day, which keeps me healthy – and the work itself is a lot better for me too. That was a really big change, and a really, really hard decision, but it was the right thing to do. And it was a decision I made because I made that resolution last New Year’s.”
“So you kept your promise!”
“Yeah! And now, this year, my promise to myself is going to be to try to maintain a state of grace all year.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Well, for me, that means that I’m going to try really hard not to lose my temper, and to stay in a good mood as much as possible – and that when I am starting to lose my temper, to take a deep breath and count to five, and not let my bad mood get the better of me. I think I’ll probably break that promise to myself lots of times, but the important thing is that I’m going to keep trying, every day, for a whole year.”
“Wow, that’s a really big promise, Momma.”
“Yup. I’m a little intimidated by it – but I’ve got last year’s success to live up to, you know. So. What do you think you could choose as a resolution? What could this be a year of, for you?”
“Ummmm…. the year of guns! I could shoot my guns every day!”
“Yeah, I bet you wouldn’t have any trouble keeping that promise.”
“Pow! Pa pow pa pow POW!”
“You know what I think this could be the year of for you? This could be your year of French. I bet that you’ll be fluently bilingual by next Christmas.”
“Or, you know what? I’ve got an even better idea. This could be your year of reading. You could learn to read by next Christmas.”
“I dunno. That sounds hard.”
“But just imagine! Whole worlds will open up to you! Reading is so exciting!”
“It sounds like work. Not fun.”
“You could choose your own books at the library, and do your own searches!”
“Could I google?”
“Yes! You could learn to google on your own! But I’d sit beside you and we’d read the results together, OK?”
“But, Momma? Could I learn to read just in English?
“Yes, Love, how about we try one language at a time for reading.”
“But, I’m learning some reading in French at school already! A, avion, A! A, airplane, A!”
“Tres bien, Bonhomme! Bravo!”
“But, Momma?”
“Yes, Love?”
“My penguins? They really want to learn Chinese.”
“Your penguins do?”
“Um, OK. Sounds good. I think maybe we want to master French first, though. And then maybe you and I could learn Spanish together, and teach the penguins that. And then, maybe, Chinese. In a few years. Like when you’re ten or so. Whadya say?”
“No! That’s too long! My penguins will already know Chinese by then, and I won’t, and they’ll say all sorts of things about me and I won’t understand them! And then I’ll just say bad words!”
“I have to learn Chinese, I have to!”
“Um, Buddy, Sweetheart. Maybe you should try out my state of grace thing, and take a deep breath.”
“NOOOOooooooo! I’m never going to know Chinese, and I’m never going to read, and I don’t understand Madame sometimes at school, and I always get in trouble for saying bad words, and my penguins won’t want to cuddle with me anymore! Waaahhhhhh…..”
“Okaaaayyy… Maybe, do you think, we’re taking resolutions a little bit too seriously here? Perhaps we could scale this back a little? I was thinking, like, One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish. In English, not Mandarin or Cantonese, or any other dialect. To be clear.”
“Oh, I know that book! And I know which one is the red fish, and the blue fish!”
“That’s more like it.”
“OK, Momma, this can be the YEAR of READing!”
“Excellent! Way to go!”
“But next year, Momma?”
“Yes, Love?”

October 10 = World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Here’s some facts:
– Mental health can be described as an inner state of psychological bliss and well-being; mental illness is an absence of that state, not an absence of a specific diagnosed mental disorder or disease
– the estimated rate of mental illness in Canada is 1 in 5; the World Health Organization thinks the world rate may be closer to 1 in 3
– mental illness costs jobs, it costs taxpayers, it costs lives
– mental illness doesn’t discriminate – it hits rich, poor, young, old, every culture, every education level, every body and brain type
– we do discriminate against the mentally ill
– the stigma experienced by people with a mental illness adds to the suffering, and for some, can be more destructive than the illness itself

And here’s some flavour:
– unrelenting loneliness, doubt, fear, and worry
– body aching, heart aching
– slow drip of hope, swirling away down the drain
– every day just one more to get through
“don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, don’t bother me, don’t touch me, for God’s sake don’t bump into me, leave me alone, just please go away…”
– muting of colour, amplification of sound
– sinking quietly into the deep

In the end, we all struggle, some more, some less.
But we all struggle, and we all flounder.
In my experience with mental health, and mental illness, I’ve found that no matter what, where, how, and how often we struggle –
it’s better to flounder together.

Mental illness can be treated.
All mental illnesses.
But not if we don’t talk about it.
Happy World Mental Health Day.

Inner Space

As I’m getting back into yoga, downshifting, self-injecting some quiet back in, I see how much I’ve been avoiding myself.
Case in point: Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, faced with the perfect opportunity to put pen to page, all my hands want to do is flip through a magazine that my head has absolutely no interest in. All my legs want to do is find a bathroom that my bladder has zero interest in. All my eyes want to do is stroke the buttery texture of the leather coat hanging next to my polyester blend. All my voice wants to do is call my daycare provider to warn her that I may be late (when I know full well that I won’t be).
Yoga is all about noticing. Paying attention to the breath, floating above the thoughts, settling into the stretch. Yoga doesn’t judge. It acknowledges pain, effort, but it implores you to accept it, and move on. Move beyond. Yoga is very patient.
I am not.
I keep looking for my feet. In yoga, when walking, when thinking. (I’m always thinking.) They’re still attached, but I keep stumbling. I’ve lost the knack of stepping boldly, knowing they’ll be there to land on. I’ve had more good days than bad recently, but the bad ones are a force to be reckoned with. My highs are higher, but my lows are also lower. Not good for someone seeking balance, resilience. However, for someone engaged in strength-training, recognizing the need to rebuild from the ground up, maybe not so bad. It could be that it isn’t my feet that are stumbling, but the ground that is shifting. In that case, looking for my feet would be a rather good strategy. Stubbed toes are good teachers, after all.
Follow my limping toes up, a puzzle piece at a time, and you find my head, and my heart. Upside down, juxtaposed, and falling apart. Until the weight of gravity pulls them back down, rights them, and my whole overstretched elastic soul bounces back from outer space and reverberates into place.
And so I bend, breathe, listen to my heart beat.
I try to settle into the corners of my feet.
I let time and my self meet.

The ravelled sleeve of care

Head pulsing, ribs sighing.
Hip aching.
We are durable creatures, but tender.
And I am more bruised than usual.
My body bears the weight of my psychological strain, complaining.
Knee creaking, wrists burning.
Chest heaving.
It’s really not much to take note of, considering.
But the body has a way of amplifying discomfort until it is heard.
And so, ibuprofen, bath, book, bed.
And wait –
to see what tomorrow brings.
Sleep veils many things.