Monday, November 25, 2013

books are my friends

I have struggled with insomnia occasionally in my adult years and much more frequently since my first cancer diagnosis. I don't know if it's my age, the years of chemotherapy and side effects, my old bed or things that go bump in the night but I very often wake up between 3:00 and 4:00 and can't get back to sleep, no matter how much I toss and turn.

I've learned not to look at my phone or turn on my computer. There is something about the back-lit screens that jolt me further awake, making it impossible to get back to sleep before dawn. And lying in bed, trying to will myself back to sleep just adds to my frustration.

I've started to keep a book-light on top of whatever novel I'm currently reading by the side of my bed. When I sense that sleep is temporarily hopeless, I read until I feel that it's worth it to take another crack at sleeping. Sometimes this is a couple of chapters. Sometimes it's a couple of hundred pages.

Reading is so soothing. It distracts me from worries of inadequate sleep and doesn't let me indulge the fear and anxiety that thrives in the middle of the night. And when I read at night, I feel none of the guilt that can accompany daytime reading that voice that says I really ought to be doing something more productive.

Last night, I read "Saints of the Shadow Bible" by Ian Rankin. I started it before bed last night. I'm now on page 150. I know it would be better to be sleeping more. I've cut out afternoon caffeine. We're trying to figure out how to afford a new bed, after 17 years.

I could write a book on what to do to cut down on insomnia. For now, though, I'll just appreciate the joy of reading one.

Friday, November 15, 2013

learning to breathe

Last year, when I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and went through surgery, I was fine.
I mean, the surgery was brutal and recovery was excruciating but emotionally, I was mostly OK.

A year later, except for the back of my head (which is a little bit sensitive), I'm fine physically but the emotional part has become more of a challenge. In the last few months, it's become clear to me that I'm only going to work through it all with a little outside help.

So, I'm seeing a therapist. I know it's the right thing to do and I like and instinctively trust the woman I'm working with but it's not easy at all. 

We've talked about how all my life, I've been pretty good at getting along by stuffing a lot of my fear and anger into an emotional closet. This has, for the most part, been a remarkable coping mechanism. However, no door is completely effective at shutting out the bad stuff and, when it leaks out through the cracks, it manifests itself in ways that can take a very large toll on the body and spirit. At this point in my life, my emotional closet is so full of anger and fear that the door is in danger of bursting wide open. 

I'm afraid of losing control.

I'm embarrassed and ashamed that some of it is so ugly.

I'm scared of taking my darkest thoughts and holding them up to the light.

But I think it needs to happen.

I've also been thinking a lot about how I live most of my life in my head, to the point that I'm really quite disconnected from my own body. At my very first session with my new therapist, she pointed out that when I talk about my fear of another tumour or about certain things from my past, I hyperventilate. And I don't even notice.

She spent most of the second session interrupting me and telling me to take deep breaths, hold them and then exhale slowly. She asked me how I was feeling and I said "Impatient."

What I thought was "I'm paying all this money per hour, so I can sit here and breathe? I can do that at home."

Except that I don't. So she's given me homework. I have to spend two minutes a day, twice a day concentrating on my breathing (we started with four minutes but it felt like an eternity).



Just taking in oxygen. It's so basic. Yet here I am, 46 years old and learning to breathe.

Monday, November 11, 2013


photo: Benoit Aubry, Ottawa (Wikimedia Commons)

Across Canada today, people are attending events, watching ceremonies and wearing poppies in remembrance of those who lost their lives and lived through war around the world.

It's a time of gratitude for willing sacrifice and for melancholy remembrance of all that has been lost.

This year, there was a fair bit of controversy over those who would replace the traditional red poppies with white, to symbolize a commitment to peace. In my view, there has been far too much hyperbole on both sides of the issue. Those who advocate change, accuse those who wear red as glorifying war. Those who love the traditional red poppy have called the white "disrespectful rubbish" and those who advocate for them "morons."

Personally, I think it matters little what colour poppy you wear.

So many young men and women have given their lives in Canada's military. So many more have come home grievously injured in ways that are visible and some that are not. We should remember their sacrifice and work to make sure that medical and psychological services are in place for those who return. Providing a decent pension and access to education and employment is a genuine way to thank a soldier for his or her service.

Some who fought in Canada's "Great Wars" were children who lied (while the military recruiters turned a blind eye) so they could fight for their country and so that they could be employed. All over the world, there are child soldiers being recruited through enticements and threats. On Remembrance Day, I think of all the young people who's future is eradicated or greatly compromised because of the scourge of war.

Thousands of men and women have suffered at the hands of there own brothers and sisters in the military. Since the WW1 and before, soldiers have died because of bad decisions at the top or at the political whim of government. Many have been sexually assaulted, only to face silence and retribution if they have spoken out. The military has been slow to address violence and mental illness within its own ranks. We must take a moment to remember those who have suffered and to celebrate those brave soldiers who've had the courage to speak out and to advocate for change.

You don't have to believe that every battle or even every war was just in order to be grateful. It takes nothing away from veterans to say that we need to do more for those who have come home. It's not disrespectful to remember war while calling for peace. And I know there are many veterans who would agree with me.

Monday, November 04, 2013

"let's hear it for November!"

I get really (and somewhat irrationally) nervous at this time of year. 

I found the lump in my breast on December 2, 2005.

I was diagnosed with liver metastasis on November 24, 2006.

And last November, was all about trying to decide what to do with my brain tumour. I had surgery on November 27.

This is not my favourite time of year.

But Katherine O'Brien left a comment in yesterday's post and linked to this new video that she made. One very good reason to embrace November is that it's no longer Pinktober!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Hallowe'en re-cap

A few days before Hallowe'en, parents received an email stating that, while dressing up on October 31st was encouraged, costumes could not include "weapons or blood." This was Daniel's quick solution.

Apparently, everyone at the school was fine.

Every Hallowe'en at our house begins with carving.

Our pumpkin wore a knight's helmet, to complement the evening's costume.

Don't let the serious face fool you. He was thrilled.

And I got to bemoan the fact that I had my child's "blood on my hands."

Even Lucy got in on the fun, albeit reluctantly.

And the biggest news of all?