You ought to be grateful…

I was on Facebook recently, just browsing and relaxing after dinner. One woman in my local community group posted that she was fed up with “such and such” location of major fast food chain. The lines are always overly long and her food is usually completely cold. Several people agreed and even more recommended different fast food locations with better service. And then a poster arrived with all her righteous judgement and proclaimed, “You should be grateful that your biggest complaint is cold food. You could be in Ukraine right now, running for your life!”

Cue the screeching brakes. What? How do these two even connect? Did she order her burger in Kyiv? Are the Ukrainians stopping for bags of cold fast food on their way to Poland? How did this even become a comparison? Besides, gratitude doesn’t work like that.

We all know what gratitude means, right? Probably? Anytime I’m predominantly using a word in a post (or in general) I look it up because most of the time we’re just mostly right. The definition starts out with what we’d likely expect, “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful” but then comes a bit of surprise because it also means, “appreciative of benefits received affording pleasure or contentment and/or pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated”. So gratitude is a two way street. You feel thankful but the other person (or people) has to provide something for you to be thankful for that’s above what you already had.

The woman in question had no reason to be grateful no matter what’s happening in Europe. She bought and paid for a fast food meal and got food that was worth less than the value of what she paid. Less than is not gratitude. However, let’s take an identical meal at an identical store and have it sitting to the side because the customer drove off. It’s been a while, they’re not coming back. But there’s someone digging through the trash outside, looking for food. You bring that bag of clean, nicely wrapped, untouched food to the person and ask if they want it. Maybe you even include a cup of water. Are they going to feel gratitude? Most definitely! Cold and clean is a huge step up from cold, half eaten, and dirty. It’s the same product but they’re in completely different situations.

Or another scenario. I live in a small subsidized apartment in a fairly small town. There’s pretty much no storage space and it’s been described, more than once, as a bachelor apartment with a bedroom. Flip side is I’ve got large windows, 10ft high ceilings, white walls, and blonde laminate floors so it looks a bit more spacious. Rent prices are horrific around here to the point where most rooms are priced too high for someone on disability and I’m on disability. The best Colin and I could find was a one bedroom for $999/m in a crappy section of town and the reviews are so bad they’d be in the negatives if that were an option. As far as I can tell the bedbugs and the cockroaches are having a turf war. But finding a hazmat suit wasn’t necessary since paying bills and rent left no food money and eating’s a bit important. So you can imagine how grateful I was to get a clean, safe apartment in a clean, safe neighbourhood that still allowed me money for groceries and bills plus some treats and a few trips to Dollarama.

However, picture someone who was doing well but their circumstances changed, be it job loss, health, divorce, addiction, or a combination of the above. They’re used to a house or a big condo. What do you mean there’s no bathtub? Where’s the heated floor? Why don’t I have a balcony? How come there’s no pool or gym or rooftop patio with barbecues? Where’s the night life? Wait… there is no night life? The apartment I’m grateful for could very well be their white cell, complete with bars on the window.

gratitude page

One of my gratitude journal pages

Our society is very big on gratitude journals these days. I get told in various groups that we should be writing down one… or two… or five things we should be grateful for every single day. And I tried, I really did. I managed to write 65 consecutive entries, each one with a different reason to be grateful but then I stalled. Do I start repeating my gratitudes? How many times can I say I’m grateful for my family? For my cats? For my friends? And some days I honestly don’t feel grateful at all. I just feel tired. I couldn’t imagine coming up with five things to be grateful for every day. That might sound ungrateful but, honestly, after the first week’s done and you’ve been grateful for your partner, your children and/or fur babies, your family members (the decent ones, you don’t have to be grateful for Aunt Gertrude who stole your candy and said you’d always be the ugly one of the family), whatever stability you have in your life, that beautiful sunrise/sunset, how lucky you are to have this food and/or water, and you can insert a few more here… then what? Five gratitude entries a day are going to have you sitting in bed at 9:45pm saying, “Crap, can I be grateful I don’t have hairy toes?” I mean there’s only so much stuff in our lives.

Do we have to be grateful all the time? Can we not save grateful for those times when our life actually has been improved and we’ve received pleasure in some way? We have so many other positive emotions to share and embrace, like happiness, joy, kindness, love, and friendship, we need to think about those too. Just not every single day, five times a day. They say everything in moderation for a reason and that I can be grateful for.

Sixteen more days…

insert me here

Photo by Kate O’Rourke

It was the end of November when my Mom casually said, during an evening call, “We’re all going to Cuba. Would you like to come too?” Of course I said yes. Who turns down a week long tropical vacation with family? That being said, it didn’t feel very real. My parents were halfway across the country, we were facing who knew what restrictions with covid, and it was freaking cold and dark. It’s hard to picture warm, sandy beaches and feeling comfortable in shorts while picking out what gloves and toque to wear.

And the snow came. And the temperature plummeted. And the sun hid herself away. And reality started to jar with my feelings. Sure, it felt like nothing could ever be warm again but the plane tickets and resort accommodations had been booked and paid for. I was visiting my parents and sister a couple of weeks ago and my Mom mentioned my sister had bought her health insurance the day before. I sat on the couch, while my Mom sat beside the fire chatting about insurance and, with a few questions, I bought mine. Mom was more than a bit surprised that I’d purchased it right there, on the phone. But the days have gone since we took everything to a travel agent.

Years ago I read a biography by a woman who wrote about her childhood in Toronto during the depression. It was a memorable book and I read it a few times (although I apparently forgot to read the title). At one point she went to a pool near the beach because, when it came time to drain the pool to clean it, they let the children swim for free until the water was gone. What she remembered was all these children flailing about in a desperate search of water until they all lay tangled on the bottom of the pool. That’s how I feel, flailing about trying to figure out what to do and when. I need my passport but what if I put it into my purse now and get my purse stolen? I’m 51 years old and have never had my purse stolen but that doesn’t stop me worrying. Flip side is what if I forget it? My passport is right. in. front. of. me. What if I don’t have enough clothes? Unless they have speed eating moths in Cuba I think I’m fine. Forget the moths, will there be something for me to eat as a vegan? According to everything I’ve read there’s a bunch of restaurants, snack bars, and a buffet, I’m sure I’ll manage. What if I get my period? Okay, this one’s valid. I’m in perimenopause and my body’s currently using a roulette wheel to decide when to get things started. So I might not get it for another half year (if at all) or I might get it tomorrow. Only fate and my endometrium can say. The rest is up to planning.

I’ve got three friends coming to take care of the cats (not all at the same time). I’ve got my medications planned because they’re really freaking important. I have quiet music bought and downloaded for the plane and for stressful times. I’ve got several books bought and downloaded onto my phone. I’ve got a battery bank bought for my phone. I mean how else am I going to take 368 photos? I need the power! I’ve even got a neck pillow for the plane, which is really important because we’re getting up at 2am to leave for the airport. I don’t do 2am, exhaustion is the major trigger for my migraines, and the only pain medication I can take with my medicine is regular strength acetaminophen. I’m sure you can all see the problem here.

Cuba tipsThe last thing I’ve been planning is tips. I’ve been told by a few people that Cuba is really struggling between the 50 year old embargo and covid-19. It’s hard for them to get most products. So I’ve been picking up items for tips. This is what I’ve got. Hopefully this is enough. The Canadian bracelets in the corner are for children and the lettering book could be for a child or an adult. I was also told that many Cubans love the Toronto Blue Jays. I couldn’t find much but I did find these bumper stickers which, presumably, will stick to any hard surface.

I’ve got my countdown list to keep me occupied and the above picture to keep me calm. No wonder so many therapists and counsellors recommend visualizing a beach while relaxing. My brain will be like, “The cats are all going to die while you’re gone and you’re going to end up with permanent liver damage from eating pineapple off the buffet” then I look at that beach photo and all it can manage is, “Aww… so pretty…” Which is amazing because I really do need a shut up button for my brain sometimes. But I digress.

I think the best reminder this trip will bring is that winter is not forever. There is green grass coiled in the roots under the snow and mud. Those trees might look barren but, hidden under every branch are tiny leaves and buds simply waiting for the warmth. The vernal equinox is five days after we get back and the cats, my healthy liver, and I will all be there to enjoy it! The inevitable snowstorm we’ll get afterwards is merely a bump in the road.

But alternative news said…

“Hi there long time”

The message came at 1:06am, startling me from my sleep. I didn’t bother reading it until the morning and was surprised to see it was from a very emotionally fragile friend I used to chat with on occasion years ago. The last message he’d sent me (and the second last message) was November 15, 2015. That was a month before my ex-fiancé asked me out. So very much has happened since then and he was interested in none of it. He certainly had tonnes to say about the “truckers”, covid-19, and vaccinations though. And I immediately noticed the same thing I’ve noticed for several decades.

There’s a group of people who simply don’t think, or at least they don’t think very much. Let me explain. Years ago I had a friend that I met while briefly running our community group. She was easy going and had a good sense of humour. Later I discovered she was a rabid antivaxxer and after that, on Facebook, I realized the depths of her hatred and distrust of all things science and medical. One day she tagged me in yet another post containing a link to an article. I read the article and was surprised to see the author had provided three sources, all of which were reputable papers. Sources weren’t exactly a common site on these pages. Then I clicked on the links and every single one of them went to an article that said the exact opposite of what the author had claimed. The author knew their audience and knew no one was going to check sources. Which is so patronizing and insulting when you think about it. The author was basically saying, “I know my article is wrong and here are three articles that prove me wrong but I know none of you will bother to look or think to question me so here it is.”

mercolaI find it ironic this crowd calls everyone who disagrees with them “sheep” for blindly following the mainstream media and “big pharma”. They scornfully claim that Reuters can’t be trusted but will totally believe everything written on a small page with no credentials or corresponding education. They claim that Big Pharma (as if every doctor, nurse, pharmacist, lab technician, and so on are a conglomerate) is only in it for the money unlike alternative medicine. Umm, yeah, about that. See the photo above? That’s Mercola’s mansion in Florida. Alternative medication’s not cheap and he’s reaping all the benefits – one hand shoveling in the money while the other hand forming a trumpet around his mouth as he yells, “Big Pharma only wants your money!” And they move on over, in herd formation, because what’s being sold is natural. Forgetting that nature kills quite regularly. Shelling out money for plain water because it has “memories” of poison. Water doesn’t have a brain, it has no memories. It has cells and if those changed it would cease being water. Besides, if water could remember everything it came in contact with, we’d be drowning in frigging memories every time we had a glass. But someone said it’s true and who needs evidence.

Then there’s the broken telephone news where bits of information are passed around and around (and around again) without anyone questioning whether it’s true. It must be true! So-and-so just told them! And so I cycle back to the friend I mentioned in the beginning who informed me that he’s seen “many times” that the pamphlets that come with the vaccines are blank. Of course I’m like “what pamphlet?” because I’ve never got one and I’m sure someone in my family would have said something if they’d been given a blank folded sheet of paper when they got vaccinated. Then he claimed it was in the package and I was still all ??? because I never got a package either. Finally he told me it was the insert that came with the vial and the pharmacist got it. So if the pharmacist got it how did he see many of them? Does he sit in the pharmacy only area with all the meds and watch? I didn’t even bother to ask. Instead I went onto Google and did a quick search. The information popped up right away. As usual, there was a slight grain of truth buried inside a ball of misinformation. Yes, Johnson & Johnson put in blank inserts… nearly blank inserts. They had a QR code at the bottom of the page. That way people could scan the code and get the most up to date information, which was the exact opposite as the rumour claimed. I’ve watched the Instagram video (the middle link in the article I shared) and the woman looks younger than me. I have no idea why she doesn’t know what a QR code is, let alone how it works. You’d think she’d be curious enough to scan it.

I was a precocious child, reading the paper and the Reader’s Digest when I was maybe a smidge into being a preteen. Most adults were impressed by my reading habits. My grandfather wasn’t one of them.

“Watch what you read,” he’d warn me. “Just because someone says something’s true doesn’t mean it is.”

“You’ve got to watch the Reader’s Digest,” he’d continue. “They publish that medical section and make everything sound like medicine that will be out tomorrow instead of research that might not be out for another decade or so. They set people up for a huge disappointment. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“Don’t take anything at face value,” he’d say. “Check the sources and check their sources if you can. Anyone can make a mistake.”

I wish everyone had a grandfather like him.

The flight, the wind, and then nothing…

TW seriously TRIGGER WARNING this post discusses my worst night when it came to suicidal depression. If you are suicidal or easily triggered, please do not read this post. Also, I have a whole slew of phone numbers, text lines, and websites on my resources. If you need one (or more) please use it.

I wrote this post for my storytelling group and shared it with them today. I’d meant to post this here in January for Mental Health Month but life, aka depression, got the best of me. I’m only ten-ish days late. And so, here it is. I hope this helps and makes at least one of you feel less alone…

hardest thingI stood at the patio door and stared into the distance, my hands leaving sweaty prints on the glass. The space between the door and railing was empty and beyond that there was nothing but air between me and the ground seven stories down. Eight if you included the slope to the basement. Who knew however many feet down down to the pavement… or the dumpster if I aimed well enough. And if I hit the dumpster no one would have to do anything with me at all, they’d just take me away with the trash. That’s all I was, wasn’t I? And this would make me a bit less of a burden. No fuss, no funeral.

I couldn’t see the ground below but I knew it well enough. The dumpsters. The cracks travelling toward the sewer. The random tossing of what Colin and I figured was white paint. Whatever it was never washed away although we couldn’t figure out why anyone would throw paint there in the first place.

Colin. He was off at youth group, on the other side of a copse of trees, and wouldn’t be home for another hour. That’s why I’d picked now, I didn’t want him to be the one to find me. But… I pictured him coming home from group all cheerful and wanting to talk about what happened and discovering an empty apartment. He knew how I was feeling. What if he went to the balcony to check and found me anyway? Or found me as he came through the back door from his group? My family loved him but didn’t understand him. They’d take him in but would it be a good fit? ‘Maybe they’d do better,’ a small voice inside me whispered. ‘It’s not like you’re a particularly good Mom, maybe they’ll get him succeeding at school and making more friends. Maybe you’re holding him back’ the voice continued.

I thought about the dumpsters again and figured they were close enough… but they held mostly garbage bags, which were a lot softer than pavement.

I backed away carefully. Was it far enough of a drop considering the relative softness of the bags? I figured it was but what if it wasn’t? I didn’t want to end up a quadriplegic, unable to try again.

Was it or wasn’t it?

Meanwhile I pictured jumping over and over; the flight, the wind, and then nothing.

My feet inched another step back and another until I was in the corner of my room, as far away from my balcony  door as I could and then I reached for my phone. I immediately went on Facebook and searched through my friend’s list for anyone who could help and M showed up right at the top of the list.

M is a mental health friend of mine who has paranoid schizophrenia. While I don’t think she’s struggled with depression, she knows too well the feeling of being out of control in her own mind and was more than willing to chat about inconsequential things until Colin got home. I have no idea what we talked about. I’m not sure I even knew while we were messaging, but she stayed online until Colin was safely inside the apartment and that was what mattered.

Then I told him what happened. And then he pulled my bookcase in front of the balcony door. And then he tucked me into bed and called me his pocket sized Mom. And I slowly drifted off to sleep with my biggest stuffy, scared but with no tears. I’d promised myself I’d never cry again a few months earlier.

The next morning I got up and carefully packed a bag full of safe items, plus a handful of quarters for the payphones on the fourth floor. Then I went to the hospital, by bus, to be involuntarily committed. They were pretty damn concerned about me, right to the point of parking me in front of the nursing station before I got to see the doctor and get that Form 42. Then they kept me in the back part of the ER until the psychiatrist arrived. And then I went upstairs where there’s nowhere comfortable to sit, nothing to do except colour with crayons, where talking to my Mom costs 50 cents (and if she calls the payphone someone has to come hollering down the hall for me), and there’s that all time favourite meal time task of buttering cold toast with a spoon. I stayed for a week, I’ve stayed for a week in all my five or six stays. And then I went home.

I ostensibly got better but I wasn’t really. I was simply auditing my life. I had one foot out the door and, if things went south, I was gone. I’d made a new plan and was all set. Life was going okay so far but I always felt like something awful was waiting around the corner. And I was ready.

Life came back in the weirdest of ways. Our local Pet Valu had two white kittens and I’d always wanted a white cat. I wasn’t worried about finances at the time, for obvious reasons, so decided now was the time. Colin couldn’t imagine the second kitten being left alone without her sister and begged for us to get her too. So we did. But the Humane Society only took cash and we didn’t have $200 between the two of us. So we ran around withdrawing money from my credit card and buying pack after pack of gum so we could get the maximum cash back at the grocery store. Then we finally had enough and took them home. Colin fussed over them but it was me who dealt with all the tiny details. I kitten proofed my balcony to the point where they couldn’t escape even if they took up pole vaulting, and supervised them outside playing every 5am.

Both kittens were tiny and still had an intense urge to nurse. Smudge on my stuffed lamb Rufus and Lara on our then 10 year old cat Blackie. I was the one who kept them in my room at night and woke to them sucking frantically. Who moved them to their food and water bowls and made sure they ate and drank. They gave me a focus and a sense of purpose. And then one night I woke suddenly just as Smudge, who was playing near my head, rolled off the side of my bed… and I somehow managed to reach out and grab her.

I was a bit shaken. That was a big drop for such a little kitten. But she was calm, staring peacefully into my eyes. She knew I was going to catch her. That I always was going to catch her. I was the centre of her world. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t kill myself. People could talk to each other and comfort each other but she’d never know. The centre of her world would simply disappear. And I couldn’t do that to her.

There are many reasons why people decide against suicide. As for me, I did it for a cat.

Uniting Canada…

It was an event that united the country. Thousands of families thronged highway overpasses, cheering and waving signs of support. The media coverage was intense. The year was 1980 and Terry Fox was half jogging/half hopping through Ontario in an attempt to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. He didn’t make it out of Ontario. The bone cancer (osteosarcoma) that took his leg in 1977, spread to his lungs by the time he reached Thunder Bay. But he still unites. There are statues of him all over the country and umpteen thousand Terry Fox Runs held each fall in his honour.

Forty-two years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought into law a rule that states truck drivers must be triple vaccinated for covid-19 before they can cross the border. It should have been a non-issue considering that US President Joe Biden is making the exact same mandate. It wasn’t. A small minority of truck drivers, and supporters in their cars, took to the road in protest. The truck rally (aka the Freedom Convoy 2022) was organized, in part, by Patrick King who’s known for his ties to a racist Alberta party, now renamed. He also protests at anti-racism rallies and spreads blatant misinformation about covid-19 (like we don’t already have enough of that flying around). I’m going to share the link to Wikipedia just because there’s more information and there’s no point in me rephrasing it all when they did the research and deserve the credit.

So we’ve got the truckers, plus their friends in cars, all steadily driving toward Ottawa. We’ve got families thronging the overpasses, cheering them on and waving signs of support. We’ve got media coverage. The Toronto Sun was all, “They’ve got 50 thousand trucks and are going to win a world’s record”. The actual trucking organizations were all, “We don’t know these people. Please make this go away.” A group of people were cheering and saying, “This is going to unite our country” while wearing “f*ck Trudeau” hats. Because nothing unites the country more than wearing an accessory that is that blatantly FU to the country’s leader.

Dear TruckersAnd then they arrived in Ottawa. Anyone could have told them that was a mistake. I mean I love the city but it rolls up and goes to sleep at 5pm. Who are they going to protest to? The pigeons?

Several of my friends posted posted this widely shared post to much amusement but the reality was a lot less humorous. They couldn’t find a place to eat, not sure if they were unmasked or if the shops were closed. Either way they descended on a small soup kitchen called The Good Shepherd and demanded they get fed, and before their patrons too. For free. Because we all know soup kitchens have a large budget and a huge stock of available food. And they found a place to poop. That would be the snowbanks, in front of everyone.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was turned into a party place by these so-called Patriots. They drank and danced on top of it and several pissed on it too (I’ve seen the picture). They drew swastikas on the Canadian flag and someone with the IQ of a grilled cheese sandwich flew a Confederate flag. Buddy, not only did your side lose but you’re way off in the wrong country! And of course they had to let that racist side show up by appropriating First Nations drumming while drinking beer and chanting “yabadabadoo” and “f*ck Trudeau”. There were even some throwing rocks at an ambulance while yelling racist slurs at the paramedics. I wonder if this was while the paramedics were attending to their drunk buddies, of which there were quite a few.

And it’s still going on. These truckers claimed they were indispensable and that they grocery store shelves were going to be bare without them. Nada. The only thing I couldn’t buy was my favourite garlic infused olive oil and that routinely sells out. In fact, when I picked up my Silk creamy maple almond creamer (buy it, it’s so good) they were so stocked up the cartons were stacked on top of each other. I think the truckers forget that their rally isn’t very big. Big enough to be a pain in the arse but not big enough to kneecap the country. There are plenty of fully vaccinated truck drivers still working hard and doing the job. Speaking of which, how are these people managing? They must have homes and bills at home to pay for plus accommodations and food here, and I doubt anyone’s paying them to piss on the Statue of the Unknown Soldier and leave an upside down Canadian Flag in the arms of the Terry Fox statue. And there’s over 200 of them still hanging on.

The residents of Ottawa are fed up with the rabble and the mess and wish they’d all just leave. They insist they’re staying until they see Justin Trudeau (who’s wisely steering clear of them) or their demands are met. The Mayor of Ottawa is talking about suing. I think for the Go Fund Me funds. It couldn’t be the truckers because I doubt they have any money left and, if they do it’s more, “I have $20 left on my Visa” and not, “I’ve still got $150 in savings”. Hopefully they’ll have enough gas money to get home because I doubt a single person in Ottawa wants them to stay.

I am sure that someday, hopefully soon, there will be something else… someone else, beyond Terry Fox or Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity on the ISS, who unites this country. But this wasn’t it. You can’t try to unite while dividing the country by racism or by desecrating monuments. You can’t try to unite when your whole stance is “I don’t want to do something and I don’t care if it will help others – it’s me first!” We need to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable. Terry Fox ran so that the people who came after him would have a better chance of survival even if the treatment wasn’t in time to help him. The truckers are protesting because they don’t want to have a vaccine or wear a mask, so what if it might help protect cancer patients and the elderly. And that makes all the difference.