Archive for January, 2014

Normally, I wouldn’t let more than a month pass between my posts here, but I’ve been more than under the proverbial weather for the last four weeks.  Just when you think you’ve had enough shite over a period of a few months, small things that pile up and irk you, so that you wonder if your physical body isn’t just falling apart at the seams, then the big whirlwind hits.  Bronchitis.  Yeah, I’d heard of it before, but I’d never encountered it on a one-to-one, intimate level. 

See, the thing is, when I get a cold, I get nervous fairly quickly.  I had a wretched lung infection in my early thirties that set me back for a couple of weeks, but ended up with my being diagnosed with adult onset asthma.  Big deal, I thought then.  Asthma, schmasthma.  Then I went to Newfoundland in the summer of 2006 with my friend Christine and tried to walk up Signal Hill.  Other people managed.  I was fit.  I didn’t have problems, except for a staple in my leg that had been there since I was eleven.  No problem, right?  Wrong.  Half way up that hill, I thought I was having a heart attack, couldn’t catch my breath, started sweating without reason or purpose, and had to sit with my head between my legs for a good forty-five minutes.  It wasn’t my physical well being; it was the steepness of the hill, the pitch of the thing, that did me in.  I never forgot my puffer again after that.  It terrified me to the core.  If you can’t breathe, well, you panic…and that doesn’t bode well for anyone, especially yourself.  (Climbing Diamond Head in Hawaii this summer terrified me, too, because it was also steep….and there were moments that the asthma and panic attacks raised up like demons in front of me…but I did it.) 

So, I take vitamins, I walk, I do yoga and meditate.  I sing (when I have a voice and can hear!).  I pray a lot.  I eat well and drink lots of water.  I’ve lost over 50 lbs in the last two years, and I try to balance work with life. When this ‘cold’ started, I thought, ‘This feels different, this feels bad.’  I’m sure a couple of friends thought I was overreacting, but I know my body pretty well…and I know when it’s about to ‘go walkabout’ on me and cause a revolution.  I took two days off, to try and kill it quickly, but by the third day, it was the worst I’ve ever encountered.  One doctor in a clinic said ‘it’s viral’, while another doctor in another clinic said, ‘it’s laryngitis (and geographic tongue).’  What the hell, I thought, is ‘geographic f’n tongue?’  Then, finally, broken and almost driving myself to emergency one night because I couldn’t breathe, I got in to see my doctor who told me it was severe bronchitis.  She gave me antibiotics.  Then there was a reaction to the antibiotics, an ear infection that distorted sounds and still has me mostly deaf with ringing ears, and non-stop coughing.  This was not bronchitis, I thought, but the seventh ring or dimension of hell.  Death, at points, looked tempting. 

I’m not telling you this tale to make you feel sorry for me.  (I already feel sorry enough for myself, thanks…as I cough up a lung on my couch.)  I’m trying to figure out what I need to learn from this situation.  It’s been a hermit-like existence, through one of the most festive times of the year.  I was so excited to be able to go and visit my sister and her boyfriend in Toronto, but had to cancel because I couldn’t leave the house.  Even taking the dogs out to go pee was enough to set me off to sleep for a couple of hours.  It was, for me, the most negative Christmas period I’ve ever had.  Now, here we go…it’s not my best time of year anyway.  I lost both of my parents at Christmas…my mum on Dec 18/08 and my dad on Dec 28/11.  The season is always, now, bookended by grief.  I do my best to run from it, but it always pulls me under, like an undertow, really, that can’t be escaped.  I’ve suffered from and with depression all my life, so this just set me back, too.  When your body is physically affected, well, other systems get depressed.  It’s a fierce cycle and downwards spiral. 

I’ve learned a couple of things….

1)  I have some very good friends.  My sister, Stacy, and my aunt, Cathy, called me every day to see how I was doing.  My friend Lisa brought me soup in a snowstorm.  My friend Trish brought me a beautiful scarf and gave me a hug.  A childhood friend, Frances, brought me soup, tea and honey.  My friend Jane called me every day to be sure that I was still alive (my request because, at the worst of it, I was afraid of not breathing).  My friend Brenda and her husband, Brian, came to shovel my driveway when I couldn’t move out of bed.  My friend Megan, who brought me a jar of her mum’s magic potion (ginger, lemons) to be mixed with Irish whiskey.  My soul sister, Mel, came and sat with tea, the gift of a book, and just let me have a little cry.  I’ve learned, through all of this hell, that I have a few good friends who are steadfast and kind.  My neighbour dug out the end of my driveway.  Others sent kind messages on Facebook, or called to just check on me.  Even those small acts of kindness meant the world to me.  While I felt helpless, and terrified, to be honest, people kept pushing at me to be sure I was all right.  I pull in when I’m not well, physically or mentally, so these good souls know me well enough to push back. As Mel said, “Well, whether you like it or not, whether you’re contagious or not, I’m storming the moat tomorrow at 1pm.”  And she did….and it lifted my spirits.  (If I’ve forgotten someone here, I apologize…you may have visited during the Fever Stage of my withdrawal from society and the world.)

2)  I have learned that I am my most harsh critic, thinking I’m not doing my best, but I actually think I work harder than I even recognize or know.  My body was exhausted.  I’d had other little physical illnesses pop up in the fall, so this last one felt overwhelming…like a series of dominoes that don’t end well.  (I was the one at the end of the row…)  I’m not sure how to deal with this, to be honest.  How do you try to be less efficient, when that’s all you’ve ever been?  I remember always trying to please my parents, my teachers….and now, with my parents gone, well, I’m good at taking care of other people, but really not so practiced when it comes to taking care of myself.  I push myself further than I should, I guess…and now I think I need to figure out ways to carve out more time to relax and find inner peace.  How do we do that, in such a busy world, I wonder? 

3)  I’ve been thinking about what it means to be on a pilgrimage, which is what this feels like to me.  (I have a neighbour who is housebound.  I spoke to her a couple of weeks before I fell ill.  She has just moved northwards from the Waterloo region.  One morning, she said “Well, I’m back in Northern Ontario, with all of this snow.”  I agreed.  Then she said, “I have issues with my health, so I don’t come out in winter much.  That’s okay, though.  I’m a Buddhist, so I’ve been treating it like a retreat.”  What she said stuck with me, even as I got sick and struggled with a smaller burden than hers.)  So, there hasn’t been much of a pilgrimage in my little brick cottage.  It’s been more like a ‘walking through the fire’ test of wills and trust in God.  I couldn’t exactly turn it into a writing retreat when I slept most of the 24 hours in a day.  When you’re having feverish dreams, well, that’s not really a retreat, either.  It’s more like a sweat lodge vision quest, I guess, than anything else. I remember talking to people who are dead…and then once I called out to my sister.  Yeah, she lives in Toronto, so that’s a bit weird.  Fevers are scary creatures in terms of what they do to your mind…and your heart, afterwards.  I thought of the old Irish who journeyed to Station Island, in the middle of Lough Derg in Donegal, to find themselves, or to converse or commune with God or some ancient source.  So where is the journeying here, for me?  I think of the quotation, “The longest journey is the journey inward,” which is attributed to the writer Dag Hammarskjold.  That speaks to me…and I’ll tell you how. 

I’ve often been of the mind and heart that traveling, for me, is about journeying outward to discover more of my ‘inside self,’ or my soul self, or my ‘higher self.’  When I travel, especially with the intent to observe closely or to write poetry, I feel keenly aware of the world around me.  it’s like being in the middle of the technicolour part of the Wizard of Oz.  That is how profoundly travel affects me.  It changes me, every single time. This year, it was holding a koala bear and looking into its eyes, as well as communing with a kangaroo in Australia.  Those two things, along with watching the sun set on Fraser Island, changed me utterly and completely. 

What being so ill has taught me, then, is that you don’t have to physically journey to discover more of yourself.  Sometimes, an illness makes you question your own power.  You realize that you are not in control of your body, even if you’ve taken good care of it, along with your spirit and mind.  Sometimes, I think, we need to be reminded that there is something bigger than us out there.  Our bodies are so fragile and vulnerable.  Being ill teaches you that.  You can want to do something really badly but, if your body isn’t cooperating, well, then, it just isn’t going to happen.  That can be utterly disappointing.  Shattering, even. 

Having so much time alone to ruminate wasn’t all grand, though.  I tend to go into dark spaces when I’m too much on my own, so for me it was dark in a number of ways…physically, mentally, spiritually.  It made me think about what I’m doing with my life, and how short a life it truly is…and it made me think about what I really want out of my life…and whether or not I’m being true to myself in what I’m doing.  (This always leads into darker spaces where I most doubt my own writing…which is the one thing that I hold most dear to my heart.) These are big philosophical issues…and I’m not sure I’ve figured anything out.  More likely, I’ve just begun.  One friend, Violet, wrote me an email in response to an email I had sent her.  I told her I felt like I was losing my mind, losing my faith, and walking through the C.S. Lewis ‘shadowlands.’  She wrote back, “You might be losing your mind, but more likely you are just asking it to scooch over to make room for more soul consciousness.”  Whoah.  She’s a profound poet, my friend Violet. 

Yes, I think Violet is right.  I am walking through the shadowlands.  Maybe I’ve been avoiding them for too long…not grieving or letting things go that need to be let go….so the universe has put me in a place, physically stopped me, where I have to face things I haven’t yet faced.  It’s very possible that’s my lesson.  To stop, feel, and not bottle it up.  To release pain.  To be alone to do that daunting thing. 

So…a long, reflective post tonight.  I apologize if it’s too meandering…but this journeying inwards is the longest journey I’ve been on in a long while…Hardly the easiest.  Might actually be the hardest I’ve yet encountered in my 43 years on the planet, in this lifetime. 

Just trying to breathe through it…and trust my soul’s guidance and wisdom…searching…always searching…hopefully, someday, finding.  That would be nice….



Read Full Post »