Happy 100th Birthday (the bittersweet edition)

When I was little I thought my grandfather was larger than life and knew everything. I still thought that when he died thirty years later. Harold Dow, was born and raised in Nanaimo, BC when it was a small coal mining town. His father was the accounting clerk in the mine and died far too early from emphysema brought about by mustard gas. Harold was an active kid and it wasn’t uncommon for him to be out from sunup to sundown. He once told me he could go all day and consider himself lucky to see a car once. Talk about a change since then. His beloved companion was his german shepherd King.

Daddy Harold enrolled several times into the Air Force only to be sent back eventually when they realized his age. When he hit the right age he enlisted into the RCAF. At the end of the war they all were given a choice between enough money for a down payment or for full tuition. Most people went for the down payment but my grandfather went for the tuition, he felt it would suit him better. He married his childhood classmate, Kathleen Green. He always said she wasn’t his sweetheart back then because he wasn’t interested in girls at the time, just playing and making mischief. My Mom and her younger brother had their first years in free, retired army barracks and Daddy Harold worked construction to make ends meet.

Daddy Harold graduated with a degree or so in Mechanical Engineering and was this close to a doctorate. He couldn’t see the point in writing a paper that people would read once then stash away never to read again and no one could explain it to him either. He worked for Avro testing jet engines and ended up in Montreal with General Aviation and then working for the Government of Canada in Ottawa with the metric commission. We had a huge map of Canada on our kitchen wall, thanks to him, complete with all the demarcation lines for each stage of conversion to metric.

Daddy Harold and Nana lived just outside of Ottawa in Nepean for most of my life and they were married right up to the day Nana died in 2003. He was a complex man. He was very intelligent and loved to read (mainly non fiction). He also loved a good argument, especially around the dinner table. We’re talking politics and intellectual ideas, not family fights. He was also a skeptic who told me over and over to check my sources and check those sources too. To this day I won’t say, “I don’t think” because his response was always, “That’s because you weren’t thinking”. It was so frustrating and I’m grateful to him for this every day. The world needs critical thinking. Too many people “let their brains fall out” as he also used to say.

Daddy Harold was a devoted husband who was a partner to his wife for decades and then cared for her in her last years. He was an involved father at a time when most fathers were anything but. He stayed active, starting with lacrosse then moving over to soccer when that became a wee bit too strenuous. Then he started coaching, which is what I remember. He could come across as gruff but, if there was a baby in the room, it was soon on his lap. And if there was a dog in the room he was soon on the floor.

It’s been 15 (almost 16) years since you’ve been gone and you’re still so very missed by very many people. I’ve been battling huge clouds of brain fog to write this. I hope I did okay, you deserve a good birthday memorial. And this is one of my grandfather’s favourite poems:

Spring is sprung. 
The grass is riz. 
I wonder where the birdie is? 
The bird is on the wing. 
Now isn’t that absurd? 
I always thought the wing was on the bird!

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Sticks and Stones…

CN: discussion of suicide, no details

I learned the words long before I knew what they meant.

Crazy. Insane. Nuts. Psycho. Lunatic. Schizoid.

I learned the words long before I realized our favourite babysitter Margaret fell into that category. She was our funny babysitter who played the best games. Our quiet babysitter who my Mom urgently said to not make cry. I overheard my parents and their friends complaining to each other how no one else would hire Margaret anymore even though she was at no risk to others. It became moot as she was in the hospital more and more. The one time we went to see her she was still, fragile and motionless, her entire body etched in sadness. Several years later my Mom informed me that Margaret was dead. The hospital she had been staying at was the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, now Ontario Shores. Then it was a cluster of buildings perched beside white cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Margaret had gone on an unsupervised walk and threw herself off one of the cliffs. I asked why, something, of course, that my Mom couldn’t answer.

Years passed and I learned what all those words meant. They meant crazy, or mentally ill as many adults said. The rest said crazy too. Crazy meant yelling on street corners… talking to themselves… screaming at the moon… things normal people wouldn’t do. And jumping to their deaths. Like Margaret.

I was horrified to find out that when someone’s discovered, perched up high, deciding whether to jump (because it’s extremely hard to push past that need to live) people will congregate below and yell for them to jump. As if their lives are meaningless, akin to an 8-bit video game. I couldn’t imagine dying being stared at by indifferent strangers while thinking that everyone hated me. Someone who’s suicidal already feels the absolute worst about themself so this would be like rubbing salt in a wound. I wanted to run around and catch every last jumper. To sit beside them and assure them they’re both wanted and needed, that they have a place in the world.

Then it came my turn to fall under the crazy umbrella and I found myself unable to tell anyone due to the stigma. Our local mall is two storeys high at one end; the top storey is cut out in the centre and edged with a waist high railing. I’d never had any issues with said railing, in fact I’d barely noticed it. But suddely I had this incessant need to yeet myself over the edge and plummet to the floor. This would be painful and humiliating but, almost certainly, not deadly seeing as I’d only fall one floor. This urge went on for several decades, leading me to always walk beside the stores. It’s what’s known as “intrusive thoughts” because it’s an unwanted thought and, while it would cause harm, it was not intended to and wouldn’t cause death.

The next thought was at the bus stop. I’d be waiting for the bus then get this strong urge to jump in front of oncoming traffic. It terrified the crap out of me and I’d stand a body’s length away from the road until the bus approached. At the time I thought both of the nightmares my brain was chucking at me were the same. They aren’t. This one is “suicidal ideation” because even though I didn’t want to die I was standing on the side of a minor highway so my chances of making it out alive were significantly lower. Luckily the solution was the same for both. Unluckily the solution didn’t come until I was properly medicated in my 40’s. This problem started in my teens. Without stigma how much safer would I have felt?

And it’s not just me. I’ve belonged to online groups, in person groups, and zoom groups as well as simply talking to people at the hospital (because when you’ve been admitted talking is one of the only things you can do) and the stigma affects everyone. While there are other groups who have negative terms used against them, I think mental illness is the only one who has their slurs used so often and as such broad descriptions.

“That idea’s so crazy!” someone will say, as if an idea could think.
“You’re insane if you think that will work” when it’s simply a proposal that’s different but not particularly risky.
“She’s nuts,” when they really mean eccentric.
“He’s an absolute lunatic,” says his former partner in an attempt to discredit him.

Everything from the weather to the latest clothing style can be described as crazy. The word (and its cohorts) are like a cross between the Energizer Bunny and a Whack-a-Mole game. They just keep going and going and pop up everywhere. And they’re always negative.

I haven’t kept it a secret that I’m mentally ill. Not because I’m super brave or anything, simply because there’s no real way to hide it. I have major depressive disorder (I can’t remember for how long, too long, it can fuck off now), severe anxiety, agoraphobia, autism, mild cognitive impairment (likely due to depression) and ADD – inattentive. We had our Thanksgiving dinner last night and I spent a good chunk of my time in the living room while everyone else stayed in the kitchen. I just couldn’t go in there. There was ten people and four dogs in there plus bright lights and colour. I could hear everyone just fine so I stayed alone but that is just. not. normal. And it’s something people notice.

If people think I’m at risk of harming them because of my diagnosis, I don’t know what to say. The only one I’ve been at risk of harming is myself and I’ve been working my hardest to learn how to love myself again. Otherwise, I rescue fruit flies from my glass and let them walk around on my arm before they dry off and leave. I rescue worms from the sidewalk before they become baked worms. I try to help bigger beings too, especially if I know what they need.

I guess what I’m trying to say is think before you speak. We have an entire language at our disposal, using slurs isn’t necessary. Stigma hurts and keeps people from accessing help, often for far too long. Just because someone’s different doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Different doesn’t mean dangerous.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to spread awareness about the struggles people face and the successes that people achieve. Most importantly it’s there to help inform someone who might not have had this information before. Maybe that someone is you.

Goodbye Blackie…

She was my little snuggler, cuddling up against me and pushing her head into my armpit. She would burrow alongside me in the morning; a warm, purring ball of contentment under the sheets. She was boundless curiosity, always looking around her, wanting to see everything. She was gentleness, taking Lara under her wing when Lara was a kitten, even letting Lara pretend to breastfeed on her (despite her baffled confusion over where a kitten had come from). And then she was gone. She quietly passed away at her euthanasia appointment on August 29th while Colin pet her, and I entered my payment information in the little machine, and the vet collected the euthanasia solution. I’m so glad Colin was petting her.

Blackie just a smidge over a month before she died

We’d been looking for an adult cat when we adopted her. In fact I’d been following the shelter volunteer to the rear of the cat room to view the older cats when Kait called out to me.

“Mom! Mom! She licked my nose! Can we get her?”

I walked back just in time to see this little fluffball of a black kitten lean against the bars to lick Kait’s nose again and to hear Kait giggle.

“Wait!” the volunteer said as she hurried behind, “those aren’t are senior cats oh-” her voice pitched slightly higher, “you want one of our black cats. Let me get the key.”

And within fifteen minutes we were out the door with Blackie and on our way for her to meet her slightly older sister Angel.

And speaking of which, apparently the blog post that I wrote and deleted (and wrote and deleted) never got finished and posted. Angel, her slightly older sister passed away, in Colin’s arms, on the way to her euthanasia appointment on the last day of May. This post can be for both of them.

Blackie was an absolute sweetheart of a cat. If you wanted a kitty to snuggle, she was your girl. And she’d lick your nose too while she was at it. She loved my days off because she could burrow under the covers and snuggle against my tummy. Meanwhile I lay there thinking –

must . not . squash . the . cat

Of course everyone gets older. Blackie’s eyes fogged, she needed most of her teeth yanked, she started yowling at the shower wall, she lost a bunch of weight. I have laminate flooring so sometimes she’d end up slipping like she was “Bambi on ice”. Through it all she remained alert and cuddly. Then we got to the last weekend in August and everything fell apart. She wasn’t eating or drinking, not even her absolutely favourite food, and when she fell, she wasn’t slipping, she was literally toppling over sideways.

When Blackie yelled in the shower stall I’d cheerfully ask, “Are you yowling into the void again?” because she was fine, there was no fear or pain in her voice. This time I’d just sat down at my computer and she started crying. I bolted to the washroom because she was scared and in pain. I found her lying in a puddle of her own urine at the base of the toilet. I gave her a quick sink bath and put her down as soon as she wanted, then she commenced staggering in a drunken lope without a break, just pacing around and around. By Sunday night she could no longer walk, Monday morning her appointment was made, then Colin packed and headed over. Soon after he arrived he carried her across to the vet and, well, I’ve already written about that.

Angel was only 7 months older than Blackie and a completely spontaneous adoption. We’d gone into the pet supply store across the street for our then cat Pumpkin when the kids saw the play structure full of kittens. They immediately wanted one and, if they pooled their money together, they could afford one. I knew I’d be paying the bulk of money for this cat as they wouldn’t be buying food or kitty litter or paying for vet bills but they were twisting my rubber arm.

Once again it was Kait who found the kitten… or the kitten found her. She was trying to nuzzle and rub against Kait through the mesh of the play structure. At first the cashier was claiming that Angel was a year and a half old queen who’d just weaned a litter of kittens. I looked at the cashier like she’d lost her freaking mind and showed her Angel’s nipples which were hardly bigger than grains of sand. There was no way she’d nursed anyone out of those! A quick phone call confirmed who was who. Soon I was filling out all the paperwork and then Angel was safely home.

I don’t think Angel realized she was a cat, I’m pretty sure she thought she was a person. She didn’t particularly like cats although she managed to tolerate Blackie and Lara. Angel loved her people though. I remember checking in on Kait one night before I went to bed and her pillow was furry and purred. Both Angel and Kait seemed content so I let them be. The next morning Kait sleepily informed me that Angel had wriggled her way under Kait’s head. Angel took snuggling to new levels.

Angel was the softest and floppiest cat I’ve ever seen. I’d pick her up and she’d simply go limp. Colin used to drape her around his shoulders and use her as a scarf. I think she was part ragdoll.

As for me, I called her my little snuggle buddy. She’d cuddle up against me every day and often go to sleep using my hand as a pillow. Losing that was hard, a “something’s missing” moment then a realization of who exactly I’m missing.

When we brought our cats home it was with the idea this was going to be their “forever home”. But that’s impossible, there is no forever home for anyone. In the end we all have to say goodbye. When I’m faced with such innocence, kindness, and unconditional love, I can’t help but wish I could have kept them, healthy and happy, for many years to come.

Goodbye Blackie and Angel. You are always loved and you’ll be forever missed.

This is Angel in May 2022 hoping for treats (which she indeed received)

5 Ways You Can Live Healthier to Unlock Your Full Potential

By Janice Russell
Parenting Disasters

High-achieving women are pros when it comes to reaching their goals. We’re well-versed in the planning process, great at follow-through, and are always ready for the next challenge. However, it’s easy to overlook one major factor along the path to success: ourselves.

Self-care and healthy choices sometimes feel like extras we can add to our routines later when we have the time. Keep your health on the backburner, however, and it will catch up with you eventually. By taking the opportunity to implement self-care as a regular practice, you’ll be amazed how much more you can achieve when you’re not constantly running on empty. Because I’m Fabulous shares five healthy choices you can fit into any schedule that are bound to get results.

1. Take a Multivitamin 

We all like to think we’re eating a healthy diet, but everyone slips up sometimes. If you’re not getting the nutrients your body needs to thrive, you’re not going to feel your best. Even minor vitamin deficiencies can leave you feeling tired, moody, and generally unwell. 

Although you should definitely focus on getting more nutrients through your diet (more on this later), the simplest way to know you’re getting everything you need is to take a daily multivitamin. By adding a supplement to your morning routine, you can be confident you’re giving your body what it needs to thrive. 

2. Treat Sources of Discomfort 

Ask yourself if this scenario sounds familiar: You wake up, and you have some pain and stiffness in your lower back. But you’re busy, so you get dressed and get out the door, pushing the pain into the back of your mind. As the day goes on, however, the pain keeps coming back to the forefront. It’s not that bad, you tell yourself, just ignore it. Despite your best efforts to power through, you spend the whole day periodically distracted. 

Many of us have made a habit out of trying to ignore discomfort, whether it’s muscular pain, menstrual cramps, headaches, what have you. However, it’s in our best interest to pay attention to discomfort and treat it. One way to tackle mild muscular pain and other ailments is to start a yoga practice. Yoga has many benefits, including relieving stress in your body and alleviating chronic pain. As a result, you feel better, and you’re more focused on what you need to do.   

3. Eat More Plants 

Famously, food journalist Michael Pollan began his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” with some extremely simple nutrition advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” We live in a diet-obsessed world where, unfortunately, the “not too much” section of that mantra is the only part most of us hear. In reality, however, increasing our plant consumption is one of the simplest ways we can keep our diets on track. 

Plants are good for us in myriad ways. They give us those vitamins and nutrients we talked about earlier. They’re a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which keeps our digestive systems running at their best. They’re low-calorie, wholesome, and last but certainly not least, they taste great. 

If you’re totally plant averse, start small. Blend some leafy greens into a smoothie or opt for a bowl of strawberries for dessert. You don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan to prioritize plants in your diet – just focus on having some fruits or veggies with every meal, and you’ll get what you need. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Do you drink enough water every day? Statistically speaking, the answer is probably no. Doctors suspect that most adults are mildly dehydrated all the time. It’s easy to see why – we’re busy people, and drinking water can easily slip out of your mind. There’s also a vicious cycle element to the equation. It’s counterintuitive, but when you’re chronically dehydrated, your body gets worse at recognizing thirst. This means you’re even less likely to think about drinking when you need to the most. 

The easiest way to solve this problem is to get a nice, big water bottle and keep it with you (and full!) at all times. The bottle serves as both a visual reminder to drink and a convenient source of H2O. 

5. Meditate Daily 

Mindfulness is an amazing habit that everyone can benefit from building. Not only does it help to reduce stress, but it also makes you happier and healthier in the long run. We spend too much of our time going over past decisions or running through upcoming to-do lists in our head. This distracts us from the moment and prevents us from feeling joyful about our lives. 

The best way to build mindfulness is through a daily meditation practice. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – start small, with just a few minutes a day. Dedicate those few minutes to noticing what’s happening around you. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the present moment. With time, it will become easier and, eventually, it will be second nature. You’ll find yourself less stressed out and more capable of paying full attention to what you’re doing.

It may help to set aside some space inside your home to meditate. However, make sure the space is clutter-free and tidy, as disorganization can cause an increase in stress and anxiety. What’s more, it can often cause your surroundings to trap bad energy, which can have a negative impact on your entire household.

When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to let health fall to the wayside. However, you don’t want your own wellbeing to hold you back. Stay on top of a healthy diet, get plenty of water, and keep your mental health on track. Your body deserves to feel its best; you deserve to see what you can achieve once it does. 

Photo Credit: Pexels

Canaries in a coal mine…

canaries

Picture from PNG EGG

All she wanted was a home. One that was safe. One that wouldn’t make her sick. She got death instead. Sophia* was my age, 51 years old, when she died from assisted suicide done through MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying). She was what they refer to as a “track two” case, meaning there was no foreseeable reason for her to die in the near future. All she had was Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and poverty. Like me, Sophia lived off the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which allows a single person $1,169/m plus an addition $50/m if they require a special diet. Sophia lived in Scarborough. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment there is $2,100/m. The link didn’t say if that included utilities but I know utilities are not usually included here.

Sophia was “lucky” as she got housing through the Salvation Army but, when covid-19 hit things got worse for her. Her neighbours were home more and smoking more, be it cigarettes or pot. The super was cleaning the hallway more. All this led to more odours in her apartment. She retreated to her bedroom, a place she called the dungeon, but there were vents. The room was renovated to block those vents, which helped to a point but the vents had been there for a reason and now Sally Ann refused to do anything to help provide her with heat or air conditioning. They didn’t feel her condition was real. Apparently their medical degrees trumped her doctor’s. I wonder what universities they went to.

Sophia advocated for herself for two years, networking and searching for affordable housing, anything suitable where she could live. Even her doctors pitched in, writing letters in support saying all she needed was housing. It was all in vain.

Track two has a 90 day period where they’re supposed to look and see what other things can be done to make life easier for the person. I don’t know what the people overseeing her case did. Listen to Yanni and learn how to do macramé via You Tube? It doesn’t seem like they did much searching to find her a safe place to live.

In the end she made a video shortly before her death, where she said, “The government sees me as expendable trash, a complainer, useless and a pain in the ass.”

And she’s not a one-off. Thirty-one year old Denise* also lives in Toronto (Scarborough is part of Toronto) and also has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The only differences are Denise’s illness is so severe she needs an EpiPen because she can go into anaphylactic shock around strong odours. And she has a spinal cord injury which has left her using a wheelchair.

Her friends have been paying for her to stay in a hotel on a ravine but that’s a short term solution. Most people can’t afford to pay for someone to live in a hotel. And now around a thousand people have donated tens of thousands of dollars for her so she’s stayed at the hotel even more and is feeling a lot better. But even that’s not a long term solution. She’s keeping her MAiD request in place, just in case.

I think these two women are the canaries in the coal mine. They were the first but more are coming. I think it first started, in Ontario at least, back in 1995 with our then premier Mike Harris. We used to have rent caps that limited the amount the rent could be raised between tenants. Like if the rent was $650/m you could only raise it to $675/m (I have no idea the exact amount). But without the rent cap the rent could be raised to $800. Plus almost every single new apartment building is a luxury building. One person in a group I belong to recently enquired about the units in the building across the street and was informed a one bedroom was $3000/m plus utilities. This is with no amenities in the building.

this was cheap housingAnd then comes the most frustrating of all. I’ve noticed that there are always certain areas and certain buildings that are cheaper. I’m not talking about violent areas, just rough around the edges. I mean I’m asleep at 2am. If you want to pick up tricks in front of my place, be my guest. But, in the past few years, developers have gone from seeing them as eyesores to seeing them as potential money makers. A friend of mine, the daughter of a childhood friend, lived in one of them before moving to a gorgeous house in a small town. Colin bought a computer part (or two or a computer) from someone in that building a short while later. I was floored. The building looked completely different. The guy laughed cynically when I mentioned this to him.

“Yeah, they’re raising all the new rents,” he told me, “and I know they want me to move too so they can raise my rent but I’m not budging. I like it here.” I wish him all the best.

Colin wants to move back to this area but searching is an exercise in disappointment. The picture above is in a crappy part of Oshawa, just south of downtown. It, and several similar buildings, have been known for decades for their cheap rent. It would be even cheaper if you could get the cockroaches to pay their fair share. But it got flipped. To be fair the units are gorgeous in an ultra modern way, all grey paint, reddish wood, long and narrow tiles, and wide greyish laminate but a bachelor is $1750/m (probably before utilities but I’ll leave those out of the equation). As I said above, someone on disability gets $1169/m. That leaves the person short $581 and that’s not even including groceries, phone, internet (Rogers has a $12/m plan for people on disability), hair cut, clothes (as needed), and everyone needs a treat or two in their lives.

On top of that, people on social assistance (aka welfare) only get $733/m. That leaves them short $1017/m for the above apartment. That amount of assistance lets them live where? The average cost for a room for rent in Toronto, according to Zumper, is $738/m. Are they supposed to share a room? People denigrate those on welfare as lazy and “bums”. What they forget is the majority of those people are on assistance for less than a year and the majority of the remainder are single mothers with young/disabled children at home or actual disabled people. I can’t speak for other provinces (or countries) but Ontario has you apply for social assistance before going onto disability. And if you (or your doctor) can’t find a way to explain your disability, you stay on assistance. It often takes people two or three tries before being approved and longer for some. Someone with memory issues, brain fog, and exhaustion could very well give up before then. What they also forget is you can’t find a job if you can’t afford toiletries, fitting clothes, a hair cut, and bus money. If you punish the poor for being poor to the point of being unable to afford to live that gives them no options at all.

Which brings us back to our canaries, Sofia and Denise. They had no money to rent a suitable place to live and no access to an affordable one. For them, all they could see was the one way out that the government offered. And there’s going to be more coming behind them since affordable housing waiting lists are over twenty years long in some areas. If you put your name down for a two bedroom apartment so your newborn will have a clean, safe home to grow up in, chances are they’ll be graduating from college by the time you get that magic call.

Killing off the poor is not the way to reduce the wait list.

Sophia told her friends that her death was a kind of protest against the lack of response received by both she and her doctors from, well, pretty much everyone who could have helped. She hoped that her death would mean something, that it could stop someone (particularly someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) from dying. Please let us not let her, and potentially Denise, die in vain.

*names have been changed

Requiem for the dead

memorial pictureWhat do you do with your Facebook dead? Do you make them their own list? A gruesome one almost nobody wants to join. Do you yeet them off your page entirely? Out of sight, out of mind. Or do they stay there in your list of dozens… hundreds… thousands… casually ignored unless they pop up in an autosuggest box? I’ve been doing the latter but I’m up to five lost friends now. They’re weighing heavy on my heart and I don’t know where to put them.

I joined Facebook back in 2007 (along with about 60% of North America). That was 15 years ago and the year I turned 37 years old. I got busy connecting with my friends and reconnecting with people I’d lost contact with. And some of those people I ended up disconnecting with, finding out we had less in contact than I’d thought. And some of those people really hurt. People I’d talked to for hours on messenger. People I truly thought were friends. And yet…

Lisa Staley was sarcastic enough for four but would do anything for her friends. If she saw that a friend was being treated badly she was right there, keyboard aflame. She stood up for me several times. She’d be right there in person too except she was sick and mostly at home. She told her doctor that something was wrong, but he’d tell her she just needed to lose some weight. Then she suddenly died, in her 30’s. I’m sure she would have felt vindicated. I’m also sure she’d have much rather been alive.

I first met Shelley McPherson through my ex-husband. She was outgoing, funny, and always wearing a thick coat of pancake foundation. She had psoriasis, my ex informed me. Psoriatic arthritis, she informed me, the worst kind you could get. On top of that her psoriasis was forming on her internal organs as well. But she still loved going to the doughnut store then sitting in the parking lot listening to her CB radio with friends. I reconnected with her years later and, well, we meant to get together but she didn’t like to go out anymore now that her face was disfigured from psoriasis. I offered to pick up food and take it to her place, which we’d do once her foot healed. Then a temporary PSW put the wrong bandage on her foot and it burned away her skin right down to the bone. Meanwhile, as it healed, she posted pictures of the sunset (which she took from her bedroom window) and of her cat, who she adored. Then she was at her parents’ house and then she was gone, far too soon. Like still in her 30’s too soon. I wish she had the chance to actually go on vacation and watch the sunset over the ocean. To go hand gliding. My god she would have loved hand gliding. She deserved so much more.

And Mark. Mark Stacy was a retired nurse who loved dachshunds and puttering around. He was who’s referred to as a “people person” and was generally wise. If you had a question to ask, especially about people, Mark was the one to ask. Of course he also had an offbeat sense of humour, anyone I met off the Regretsy* site did. He kept quiet about being sick, with only a few brief mentions of “treatments”, and he was dead shortly afterward. His calm, caring, and compassionate nature led him to have quite a few people who looked up to him and counted on him for support. His loss was deeply felt.

The past 3/4’s of a year has been a double blow to me. First came Topher. He too was in the medical field, but as a psw. He deeply loved helping people, physically or online. He’d had a rough life in many ways. He contracted both HIV and hepatitis as a young adult. Then he managed to track down his father, who was extremely wealthy. Then when his father discovered his son was not only gay but had HIV it went along the lines of “could you please take the servant’s exit so no one sees you”. And he met his boyfriend K and they moved in together and were together for years until Topher escaped and admitted he was being abused. But he had travelled when he was younger (he loved to travel) and he was in the process of converting to Judaism. He loved his new faith and it brought him great comfort. He was in a lot of pain and went in and out of the hospital (and back in again). A hip replacement was scheduled, which would relieve much of his pain and it was a success, at least until the infection set in. Topher always posted before sunset on Friday to say goodnight to his friends then again when he returned. Except this time there was no return message. Then I saw a message in a group he’d set up that started with “Topher” and my first thought was, “No, no… not him! There was so much more living he wanted to do.” One of his very last posts was asking what Oregon was like because he was thinking of living there and thought moving might be like travelling. I don’t believe in heaven but if it exists I hope Topher’s searching rock pools, watching the night sky for shooting stars, and exploring abandoned castles, all with an old fashioned pub nearby for friendly conversation and live music.

I just found out about the last one yesterday. Like Topher, Mark, and Lisa, Robert was from Regretsy. He was sarcastic as hell, cynical, and a total freaking marshmallow. He opened his home to his sister and niece and they’d lived there for pretty much the niece’s whole life. She had him wrapped around her little finger and he loved it. As a gay man**, I don’t think he figured he’d have children of his own and realized helping to raise his niece was the next best option. Whatever the case may be, it worked well for them and his little niece loved him as much as he loved her. He helped me too. Years ago my daughter had an online boyfriend then got concerned that he might not be who he was. I looked at the tiny amount of information she had and knew I was over my head, so I messaged Robert, who dealt with all things computer at his work. He told me he’d love to help and, within an hour, had tracked the man down to a specific address and knew he was 35 years old, married, and had a toddler. Kait was heartbroken that she’d put time into that relationship, furious that she’d been duped, and relieved that she finally had proof and could move on. I was simply grateful to Robert for finding information I had no idea how to search for. His help made a huge difference. Last night I realized I hadn’t seen one of his posts in a while and I missed him. I grumbled to myself about Facebook hiding over half my newsfeed from me then clicked on his page and a drunk driver had got him. There’s a little girl out there who must be devastated.

You know, after looking at all the options, I think I’ll leave things as they are. My friends can continue to rest in my heart. I don’t think I’m ready to let go.

* Regretsy started out as a site to make fun of and/or showcase some of the weirder things on Etsy. So many people were chatting in the comments, April started up forums which were also called Regretsy (I’m referring to these). The “making fun” was mild enough that quite a few of the recipients actually joined the site.

** I just want to reassure people that I’m not outing anyone, even if it’s from beyond the grave. Both Topher and Robert were openly and proudly gay and neither would give a rat’s arse about being referred to as such.

Facing queerphobia…

my cute little face in kindergarten filteredI can’t remember exactly how old I was, probably around five or six, but it was summer and a handful of us girls were on “the circle”, an area of grass at the end of our court. We were trying to think of something to do when one of the girls piped up, “Let’s play wedding!”

I was meh on the whole idea. She only wanted to play wedding because she had a crush on Peter and she could pretend to marry him. Then all she needed was someone to marry them, a bridesmaid, and one or two people to hold down Peter so he couldn’t escape. The rest of us were the audience and simply stood there. This really didn’t seem like much fun to me and a hell of a lot less fun for Peter. Then I came up with a partial solution. Why didn’t she marry one her her friends? That at least took Peter off the hook.

There was a song I loved when I was that age by The Vogues called “Five O’clock World” and, in part, it read:

’cause it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows
No-one owns a piece of my time
And there’s a long-haired girl who waits, I know
To ease my troubled mind, yeah!
In the shelter of her arms everything’s okay
She talks and the world goes slipping away
And I know the reason I can still go on
When every other reason is gone

In my kindergarten mind I knew I was going to grow up someday and need to work but that when I finished work she would be waiting for me and would hug me and ask me about my day. I never said anything about it to anyone but why would I? It was my normal. And then I made my suggestion to the other girls.

The girl with the crush was horrified. “That’s disgusting!” she exclaimed, staring at me in disbelief. “Why would you even say that?”

“Peter doesn’t want to play,” I protested. “And you’re all friends.”

“Girls don’t marry girls. Ever!” she announced firmly. “That’s gross!

I nodded my head. I don’t know if she was the oldest but she felt like the oldest to me and everyone knew the big kids knew more. And it wasn’t like anyone else in the world wanted to hug or marry someone of the same gender, at least not in my world and they’re the same thing at that age. So I packed up my feelings and buried them away. I’ve gotten very good at that over the years, packing thoughts away in places only my nightmares can find.

There were some cracks in my thoughts and feelings over the years but it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s and was friends with someone who was both openly queer and willing to listen that I started unpacking thoughts and memories I’d long forgotten I’d even had. I’m still unpacking. The 80’s were pretty bad. Like, hey, I’m trapped at a school event beside a teacher and fellow students who are laughing and joking about driving to the “Gay Village” of Toronto to throw rocks at the queers because it was so much fun. “And how many have you hit? Did anyone bleed?” My suicidal ideation started around that time.

Then there was yesterday. I woke up all excited and ready to start the day and even put on my ace t-shirt and rainbow socks for International Asexuality Day. Then after my exercise class I got my bundle buggy and headed out the door, determined to get some walking in plus some necessities, which I did. I also picked up a yummy looking chocolate bar, a fresh cinnamon bun for this morning (it was delicious), my favourite peanut butter cups, and four gourmet cupcakes. By the time I went to all 5 stores (two were only for one item) I was wiped and my buggy was heavier than me. I was soon on the little On Demand bus and heading home. The driver even dropped me off at the front door of my building and helped me with my buggy (bonus good mood). And then my neighbour came running out the door to show the driver her cat.

She came back inside while I was still in the lobby and then started to talk. Soon she asked me how I was doing.

“I’m fine,” I replied cheerfully. “It’s International Asexuality Day-

“What?” she replied loudly so I repeated myself, making sure to enunciate each word clearly.

“What?!?”

Okay, obviously it wasn’t a hearing issue. Maybe she’d never heard of asexuality. No big deal but I was feeling a bit grumbly. I’d brought it up as a segue into my yummy cupcakes and a definition plus a possible q&a were going to take up more time than I’d anticipated.

“Asexuality is when you don’t have sexual attraction toward-

“That’s disgusting!” she announced flatly and with finality.

Fury flushed my cheeks. I wasn’t just going to roll over and hide. Not anymore.

“I’m asexual,” I informed her.

“Disgusting!” she replied then she stormed down the hallway the opposite direction from her apartment. I silently wished whoever she was visiting the best of luck then pushed the button for my floor. One I got home I put everything away then logged into Facebook and recounted what had just happened, ending with:

“She better get coal in her stocking this year! Also, these cupcakes are going to be amazing!!!”

I figured I’d get some support (if Facebook didn’t wander off with my post and hide it somewhere) and for the most part I did. But there were a couple of dissenters and, as always, they were a complete surprise. Two women I’ve known online since around 1998-2000. The comments hit like blows.

  • Maybe she was just uncomfortable because I was “discussing my sexuality” by saying what day it was and maybe that made her scared so she reacted.
  • It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know what asexuality is the whole idea of someone announcing their sexuality as a “holiday” can come across rather bluntly and confusing as it should be a personal topic.
  • The whole scenario, if it happened to me, I would be left feeling like a person had no boundaries and overshared details which would leave me feeling very uncomfortable and full of red flags about the person.
  • You are discussing your bedroom with someone who didn’t consent to knowing about your lifestyle.
The platform for awareness is what matters and this was not the time or place to announce you’re preferences for the bedroom.
Then I left the computer for dinner and a much needed break and came back after my lavender and chocolate cupcake (by Sweets from the Earth) and discovered that one of my friends had unfriended me while I was away from my keyboard. I guess I won’t be seeing her sunrise and lake photos this year.
And no, seriously no. Saying three words, International Asexuality Day, is not telling anyone what I prefer in the bedroom nor is it discussing my bedroom.
A “lifestyle” is country vs downtown condo or eclectic vs modern. No one says that being straight is a lifestyle. That’s because sexual orientation is not a lifestyle.
And where’s my consent? Where’s my consent when friends go into uber detail about their dates? Or when eye candy pictures get posted and people talk about dragging him into the bedroom and how hot he’s making them? Straight people discuss their “bedroom” all the time. Who their dating… who they’d like to date… that hot guy on the show… what’s going on with their husband… all of that is fine, normal, and has nothing to do with the bedroom. But I mention a holiday and I suddenly need to bring a clipboard and legal documents to make sure everyone knows exactly what three words they’re about to hear.
In short, there is nothing wrong with announcing that it’s any day, week, or month that belongs to the LGBTQIA community. It does not tell anyone anything about what someone’s doing in their bedroom any more than saying you’re straight tells them what you do.
As my friend Sylvia pointed out, there is a major holiday that celebrates sexuality every single year. I had the same two people deny it but really? They sell frigging red satin lingerie with lace for the occasion. Yes, there’s romance involved but, at the end of the day, the day’s supposed to end in the bedroom with those rose petals and itchy undies. And straight people are totally fine with that because it’s directly marketed to them. International Asexuality Day isn’t marketed toward sex or bedrooms so why is that the one that’s oversharing and overly personal?
Some days I think we’ve moved so far ahead as a society and that maybe, just maybe, it’s safe for me to peek my head out and just be myself.
Other times I realize we’re all just standing in the dust calling anything we don’t understand “gross” while throwing rocks at those we find weird.
And for the love of all you hold dear, can everyone just make enough room to stand and be myself without judgement?

It’s my day!!!

I've got an ace up my sleeve bokeh

Me in my asexual shirt from LookHUMAN

Today is the second annual International Asexuality Day, which means it’s my day (and a bunch of other people’s too but I can share) and it means I’m not broken. I’m not the only one who feels the way I do.

Someone pointed out that asexuality is tricky because puberty doesn’t kickstart anything sexuality wise. Everyone else is discovering new feelings for other people while asexuals are discovering that giraffes have blue tongues.

You notice change. How often do you not notice there wasn’t one? When do you say, “everything’s going on the same way it’s been since I was a baby… there must be something seriously wrong”?

Plus hyperbole is a thing. People exaggerate all the time (like I just did). I can’t speak for every asexual out there but I figured that a lot of sex talk was outright exaggeration, kind of like how someone hauls in a fish not much bigger than a minnow. It slips free and suddenly, when it’s discussed with family and friends, it was at least the size of my arm! People couldn’t simply want to have sex with someone, could they? Especially just because of looks. What was fun or interesting about that? It took literally decades for me to realize these weren’t “fish tales”.

The first time I heard/read the word “asexual” was in a Mercedes Lackey story in the late 80’s. Everything in me perked up when I read the word. Was this the answer to a question I didn’t even know I’d been asking? But sadly it wasn’t. Her character, Tarma, is asexual because of an oath to her deities and she’s described as, “hard, somewhat aloof, and totally asexual” with “her hawklike face, forbidding ice-blue eyes, and nearly sexless body” (The Oathbound). I recall she wrote elsewhere about her being ‘as sexless as a blade’ but I currently can’t find it. She wrote two novels, at least one anthology, and dozens of short stories about this character so I’ll just have to go by memory, either way my reaction was a sad “that’s not me”.

I didn’t hear the word again for decades, not until somewhere around 2014, when my daughter commented that her friend was asexual and explained what it was. And, this time, that was it! It was me! There actually was a label out there, with other people behind it, that fit me. I wasn’t alone.

To put it at it’s simplest, asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction. That’s the building block of the orientation. If everyone else is nearly drooling and saying, “OMG look at that hottie!!!” you’re the one saying, “Oh my goodness, that puppy is wearing a bowtie!!!” You get two asexuals on their honeymoon and they might be having sex (depending on enjoyment and comfort level) but they might also be playing Scrabble. Your mileage may vary. But if they’re having sex, it’s not due to sexual attraction. There are all sorts of reasons to have sex such as physical enjoyment, reciprocal enjoyment, wanting the closeness and attachment, and even simply wanting to conceive children.

Another form of sexuality is demisexuality. This is when someone starts out with no sexual attraction towards someone but becomes sexually attracted to them after forming an emotional bond. You’re friends, then good friends, then start to fall for each other, and bam! you’ve got the feelings!

You can, like me, be demiromantic as well. It works exactly the same as above except you never have sexual attraction all all and start with no romantic attraction until you’re good friends and suddenly there’s that bam! experience but with romance instead.

Then there’s greysexuality, which is when someone does experience sexual attraction but only rarely and/or weakly. This is not the same as having a low libido, which is not part of the asexual umbrella. That’s when you had a sex drive but it’s either faded or gone away; it’s a medical condition, not a sexual orientation.

One thing to remember is there are more attractions than just sexual. Sexual attraction is the need and desire for someone’s body (and them). It’s the love/lust, passion, and physical desire to be with that other person as intimately as possible. Then there’s romantic attraction, which is all the hearts and flowers. Hugging, kissing, snuggling, long walks holding hands, candlelit dinners… these are all romantic. And finally there’s aesthetic attraction as in when you find someone physically attractive. Often people tie this in with sexual attraction but people also find landscapes attractive too and I don’t know anyone who’s sexually attracted to meadows.

Asexuality’s close cousin is aromantic and people often fall between the two categories, like me being asexual and demiromantic. Demiromantic is under the aromantic umbrella. In simple terms, aromantics have little to no romantic attraction but can and do have sexual attraction. While they’re not looking for a life partner of sorts, what they do look for (and need) are close, supportive friends. I had a therapist (now retired) who told me I shouldn’t have any close friends, just superficial friends (like people on a bowling league). I sat there thinking, “I can’t do that. You have no idea how much I can’t do that.”

When it comes to relationships, there’s one that happens in both asexual and aromantic communities and that’s queerplatonic relationships. These are relationships that are not sexual or romantic but, instead, are intensely deep friendships which create a strong and close bond between two or more people. It’s hard to say more because there aren’t really any rules other than the ones each couple/group sets. There are “in words” like “zucchini” or “marshmallow” for a queerplantonic partner or “squish” for a platonic crush.

ace of spades splatterAsexuals have our own names and symbols too. The first one is the nickname of “ace”, which is simply an abbreviation of asexual. This, of course, spread out to the playing cards, the main one being the ace of clubs for all asexuals. Then there’s cake, which is yummy of course, but it was also picked because of the whole “I’d rather have cake” saying when it comes to sex.

One thing that’s slowly gaining recognition is wearing a black ring on your left middle finger – black as a neutral colour and the middle finger because the ring finger is for a wedding ring.

And while I was googling, the question “why do asexuals want to invade Denmark?” popped up as an option. This I have no answer to, I only hope any invasion happens a) in the summer b) uses water balloons and bubble guns as weapons and c) offers popsicles and ice water.

There is tonnes of information available online about asexuality, aromantics, and umbrella terms. I find that Wikipedia and WebMD offer the best definitions.

And that being said, I’m off to have some cake! Happy International Asexuality Day everyone!!!

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.