Sitting poolside in south west Mexico dreaming of buying a wee little apartment. Just a two bedroom in a nice spot. We could leave our house to our grown son or let it out for six months of the year. What a tidy little life we would have now that we are both retired, hubby and I. We would go to the beach every morning to do a bit of yoga. Swim. Eat tons of guacamole and ceviche. The odd margarita. Mmmmm. A tidy, little life.
Ah, but there’s a wrinkle in said plan.
If I’m not absolutely careful with medications, (yes, plural) sleep, sun, frivolity, bloodwork and following up with both medical and psychiatric doctors as well as talk therapy with a social worker. If I’m not on top of this thing, I could easily be poolside talking to an invisible Virgin Mary. You see, mental illness is not tidy. Nor is it little. But, it is life.
I am blessed in many ways and some have told me that I ‘have it all’. If by that you mean waking up out of a dead sleep in the grips of a panic attack with lifelike apparitions about, then, yes. I do have it all. Or being amped up such that sleep is just impossible. Then yes. I do. You see, the amped up aspect means hypo-mania. Hypo-mania is dangerous as it makes me lose my sense of judgment. I also just get downright pushy and annoying.
Let’s touch on another true danger. Suicidal thoughts and plans can occupy my racing mind when hypo-mania settles into my tidy little life. In order to combat the situation I second and third guess everything I do and say. I will often get quiet and sensitive and will overthink even the tiniest of decisions. Should I have a coffee or not. Maybe I should never have coffee again. Ok. Maybe I’ll only have coffee every other day but only if it’s sunny and definitely only if it’s before noon and only if a squirrel is peering at me while she quickly cheeks another nut. And on and on it goes. Yes, shades of Rainman.
From hypo to full on mania is just a step away. Maybe a few sleepless, lonely, frustrating and scary nights. With full on mania I talk to and touch everyone. I call folks at 3 in the morning repeatedly. When talking to complete strangers in the street or in a shop I take hold of their hand and tell them about their life and what to do with it.
The next step after mania is psychosis. Straight-jacket thrown into a rubber room psychosis. Injected with an embarrassing amount of sedative that usually needs repeating to be at all effective. I’ve been psychotic twice. I was unrecognizable even to myself. I escaped the locked psych ward of our area hospital and with a johnny coat flapping, knee socks and Birkenstocks I was running home. It was February. It was dark and minus 20 Celsius but, see, no judgement. Two old ladies encouraged me to get into their warm car then they called 911. I have no idea who they were but they likely saved my life that night.
Folks, if you know someone with mental illness and they are behaving unlike their usual selves, tell someone who loves them or call the cops and ask for a wellness check on them.
When psychosis is in full swing it is in no way tidy. It is in no way little but, it is in every way life.
Humour me folks. This is what I’m fairly obsessed with these days. Maybe you can tell??? I have found a lovely English YouTuber to ‘paint along’ with. Her name is Lois Davidson. It’s a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. Turning a white piece of paper into an art work. See for yourself!
I’m thankful for my great-nephew Asher who asked for a bit of art instruction including how to ‘do’ snow in watercolour. The method involves using negative space. In other words, the unpainted part of the paper is the snow. The mysteries of art being revealed over time and with some perseverance. Pretty cool.
We spent two-weeks in Portugal having arrived into Lisbon and then immediately grabbed a taxi to our rented apartment one hour north in a small town called Caldas da Rainha. From the moment we arrived we could feel the happy vibes of Portugal. We immediately found the people to be kind, helpful, and lovely. Almost everyone smokes, but that is the by far the worst of the attributes of this culture, in my opinion.
We took ourselves out for a wee stroll around the area and found a small place to have a bite to eat. The fish soup I ordered was delicious. Afterwards we made our way back to our apartment and it wasn’t long after a hot shower that my eyes were closing indicating the need for some sleep. Well, we fell asleep around 6 pm and did not rise again until 10 am the next day!
This would be the moment we experienced breakfast in Portugal which consisted of a mouth-watering fresher than fresh pastry coupled with a delicious double espresso-type coffee in a small-ish porcelain cup (sorry folks, no plastic-lidded disposable cups in Portugal. In fact we encountered very little use of disposable products at all. Thank heavens. The tap water is perfectly safe too and truthfully, I have always preferred the use of real China, porcelain, ceramic, glass. Everything tastes better that way.) We paid about .85 euro per coffee and .85 euro per pastry. A real bargain was realized as we sat on the cobble-stone patio and savoured the delicious-ness of our first meal after many hours.
After that we headed toward Obidos, a medieval village and World UNESCO site which is incredibly well preserved. A taxi stopped for us and our lovely driver said his name was ‘Cliff’ and channelling dad from me came, ‘my name’s Cliff. Drop over.’ He didn’t get it. Oh well. He chatted away in English as we just marvelled at it all. We spent a few hours climbing up ancient stone steps and along ancient stone walls. We marveled at the ceramics for sale and stepped into and out of little boutiques where not a soul touted us to buy a thing.
Then, feeling completely wonderful with the day’s experiences, we walked the 5 km back to our little, well equipped apartment.
The highlight of the next day was grabbing a taxi and heading out to see Fatima (where it is believed that in 1917 St. Mary appeared to three peasant children.). The area is now a huge and well maintained shrine for the millions of visitors it received annually.
Following that, we asked our driver to take us to the beach community of Nazare, which of course was breathtaking. We started with a large view from a cliff overlooking the beach then we walked down to sea level with burning thighs. Later, the same driver came to take us back to our awaiting hot showers and beds.
It was time then to move on to our next little home. We used an Uber to get to Aveiro (the Venice of Portugal) and found our reserved apartment which was all new and gorgeous with a view of the river we would later have a tour of.
I had absolutely loved our previous locations but I think Aveiro had just become my favourite place to stay. (Hubby had brought a small laptop along and we were able to easier make apartment bookings online with certain key filters like distance from centre, air conditioning, wifi and configuration of beds vs bedrooms and bathrooms (as Hubby’s sister was along with us).
The next day we grabbed a taxi and went to see Costa Nova, also nearby. This beach nearly made me cry with it’s beauty. It has a kilometers long perfectly preserved board walk which we traversed for about 8 km or so. It helps to preserve the beach due to keeping folks off the dunes. We also walked the couple of clicks out to the two lighthouses and marveled at the many fish swimming near the sea wall.
After Aviero, we made our way by train to Porto where we once again found ourselves in a gorgeous 16 foot high ceilinged new apartment with all the bells and whistles to ensure our stay was comfortable.
Porto was extremely gorgeous as it is a city built on a steep hill overlooking the gorgeous Douro River.
There are several bridges leading to Gaia, a twin city with a large monastery watching over all. We walked and walked and walked and ate and ate and ate.. The hilly cobblestone streets were fascinating, colourful and thought-provoking. Most of the housing and apartment buildings had clotheslines outside of windows with colourful clothing flapping in the breeze. We rode on a boat and we crossed the bridge to Gaia. At one point I had a bit of panic attack due to the crowds in the late afternoon but hubby helped to calm me down and we got back to our apartment and then could just relax and let the day slip away.
Our next destination found us in Coimbra which is the home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe, founded in wait for it, 1290. Yikes. Again, built on a hill, we climbed some seriously inclined cobblestone streets in order to get up to the campus and see the view. While walking, I realized that many women wear sneakers, even with nice dresses. This would be due to the challenging surfaces of their streets, I would imagine.
If given the opportunity I will certainly return to explore more of this incredible country which completely stole my heart.
If you dim the lights and squint, you can just about see this beautiful place I have attempted to depict. I have used a bit of creative licence in not including every last dwelling and vessel. I hope you can forgive me my shortcomings. I love you Newfoundland. You are truly breathtaking.
Myself and six others were eager art students of artist and published author, the lovely Emma Fitzgerald through the extremely well managed and friendly Chester Art Centre. Location of classroom: the Chester waterfront, farmer’s market, library garden and museum. This was sketching and water colours en plein air. It was my first attempt and I am happy to report that I was challenged by it but also that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once again I felt completely lifted up and at ease with Emma who was a gracious instructor- always finding the place in my art where I had most clearly expressed myself. One time telling me, “I think that one is done” and when I looked, of course it was! Also, the concept of leaving white space was reinforced as a technique which anchors the painting. Who knew?
Folks, if you have ever looked at a piece of art and wondered if you could express yourself with paint (or something) on paper (or something), I would encourage you to give it a try. Remembering that I started this journey with watercolour two months ago and I am thoroughly enjoying it!
I have never walked out into the day without looking north to see the sea. Of its own volition, my head turns and smile erupts to witness today’s colour and tidal height. An implant from Upper Canada, the salt water view and distant hills are still pure joy even after twenty years here!
This pretty and incredible place is found not far from my front door. It is one of my favourite places to stroll and to contemplate. There are several of these pretty inlets that reduce to red mud as the tide ebbs. It is a peaceful place which is abuzz with pollinators and a flutter with birds.
What is it about an abandoned railroad track? It is just so walkable and inviting. The smell of the creosote and the echo from the boards, the crunch of the gravel… All of it bringing back childhood memories of skipping from board to board along with grasshoppers and butterflies. I sometimes imagine the days before highways when the train transported folks to their destinations, soldiers to their training camps, goods to the various shops in town. Will those days return when fuel for vehicles is no longer feasible?
Folks, thanks for taking a wee look at my latest art. Remember, this is a new thing to me (age 56) and I am learning a ton! I’m so very much enjoying this form of hobby. Take a moment to make a comment! I love them.
I went to Chester Nova Scotia for an art lesson with the lovely Emma Fitzgerald, artist and author of several books. I picked up so many cool tips and encouragements. Let the art come out. Talk to yourself like a friend. Don’t worry too much about perspective. (In fact I’m pretty sure Emma said to ignore perspective.) I loved to hear these gentle encouragements. I felt completely comfortable in this class. Unjudged. Unhurried. Lifted up.
Here are some simple works I have done since.
Thanks for joining me on this little adventure into watercolour and ink.
We certainly are not in Canada anymore. We finally managed to get on another trip regardless of COVID-19 and we find ourselves on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica once again. (We were here in 2004 – twice. Again in 2019 and again now in 2022). We love this little country in which it is so easy to find calm.
Last night at sunset, we walked the dirt laneway to the beach in order to see the colour of the sky. It was gorgeous shades of orange and pink. Just shortly thereafter, the switch flipped and on came the cicadas. Yikes. No kidding, my initial thought was to look for the coming dirt bike and prepare to dive into the ditch.
One of the truisms of travel is the pleasure of meeting folks who happen to be out and about in the world too. Fanny and her mother were two of those incredible people who most certainly have good messages which will now be in my toolbox going forward. Here are quotes: “if you were bringing something ‘just in case’, leave it at home”. So very true. Fanny said you will be able to buy things wherever you go and, she said, on the Camino de Santiago (a 30-day walk or pilgrimage in Spain) I learned that I would be given something I am missing and she went on to highlight examples of this. The conversation about being provided for totally reminded me of my post Yo Universe! Thanks Again.
Later, the mom added, as we were talking about going into retirement, wanting to travel more and longer and not sure about the house as well as not being in love with the work involved in the yard and snow maintenance. Her answer “hire a gardner and a snow clearing company!” She says it’s better to keep the house. She doesn’t trust condo politics and fees (nor do we) as well as we may not know anyone on the condo board. Also they are small and don’t offer easy access to nature. In your house she says, just open the door and you’re outside. Also, you are in control of your expenses and maintenance bills like when to sink money into a large project – your roof for example. With your own home, when you spend money on something that’s up to you.
I have just practised yoga on the dark golden sand of Jaco beach, late afternoon. I did headstands while watching the crashing surf upside down with the odd barefooted beach walkers passing by. We arrived here yesterday by taxi from Samara. We are reluctant to rent a car although many travellers do so. It’s a pleasure to be chauffeured and so we simply enjoy it. Without a rental car, we alleviate the worry of damage to the vehicle, taking the wrong turns, finding gas stations, parking spots and service stations. It just feels a whole lot freer but also a bit more adventurous to travel without a car. And, I have heard the opposite from folks who rent a car. So, as always, it’s up to you.
I am inserting a few tips on what to pack for your travels. I get asked questions about this stuff and so I will insert ideas for you. (WTP= what to pack.) Remembering that travelling without checking a bag can mean decisions need to be made on every item you bring in your carryon luggage. Why not check a bag, you ask? Mainly to not give the airlines a chance to lose your bag which then causes delays and claim headaches. So, planning and judiciousness is key when choosing the items to bring with. Almost like the funny song by Monty Python: Every Sperm is Sacred, well every item going into your carryon is sacred. (And ever frugally, we buy most clothing items second hand.)
Just saw a squadron of pelicans float by in formation then breakneck speed diving for their breakfast. It’s hard to tear my eyes away from their precision flying.
Today we arrived to the village of Atenas, Costa Rica which is known for its favourable climate, being in the highlands at 800m above sea level. Of course when I read that elevation my mind flitted back to 1994 when we arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal having flown from Australia where we had been travelling and working on a farm for two months. We had no idea how chilly it would be in Kathmandu and found ourselves wearing woollen toques to bed in the Kathmandu Guesthouse. We had tippy-toed passed the staff of twenty young men wrapped in blankets sleeping on their sides on woven mats in the great room where we had read our novels and swapped stories with other travellers earlier that day. When we eventually made our way to Pokhora, Nepal, at sea level, we sighed at the relative warmth. Much later, after 30 days trekking in the Annapurnas, we found ourselves in the tropics of Royal Chitwan National Park where we fondly remember the entrepreneurs all along the arid dusty roadway selling FREEZING COLD drinks – these were highly sought after by us and were quite the feat to proffer.
I digress. We have a cool bungalow surrounded by majorly huge house plants (grin).
The biodiversity abounds in this country. Iguanas (which when by the pool, you must not feed apparently – ok, where am I?), birds of all sorts, monkeys, sloth, some sort of raccoon that ambled across our path one evening, geckos, marine life and a gazillion insects. One evening in Samara, a grasshopper the size of a well fed nuthatch flitted into the open-walled dining room and landed then froze on a chair. Ok. I was frozen too except for my hands which were waving and my mouth which was shrieking. A waiter calmly palmed it like it happens all the time and gently released it to the jungle just beyond the non-wall. That was a relief. That thing was huge. I had failed to see the comparable size of myself to it. No wonder he/she froze!
WTP: guys – light weight linen collared, button-up long sleeve shirt. Best to cover up in the tropical sun especially starting from bright white winter skin á la Canada.
So, it was a fabulous trip but you must know that Costa Rica is far! It’s no direct flight to say Cancun or anything. It’s a wonderful place to visit and the people are lovely and kind. Enjoy! We sure did!
1. I stopped working. That is, I retired from the work-a-day work force. I’m not going to lie, it has been a bit of an adjustment but I am quite certain I can make this retirement thing work. I have a list of daily tasks, reading and learning (currently Spanish on the free amazing app Duolingo), exercise, communication with friends and family and meditative walks plus meal planning, groceries, laundry and doodle care. These things shape my days during this pandemic while I dream of world travel once return to Canada testing requirements lift. (There has been a rumour that the restrictions will lift April 1!!!!!) Oh my goodness. Can’t wait!
2. I stopped avoiding stairs folks due to dropping about 50 pounds! Obviously had to climb up before heading down (in both cases, actually). This is hubby ahead of me in St. John’s, Newfoundland. These days I enjoy stairs and getting back into good physical condition. It is an epiphany to witness the body getting stronger and more fit.
3. I stopped social media (is blogging considered social media? Hope not.) This on the heals of watching a documentary called ‘The Social Dilemma’ and now understand the reason social media are free. If a product from massive technology companies are free, it means WE, the USERS and our ATTENTION, are the product. Keeping our attention is the purpose so that their advertisements get more time to normalize into our awareness and become that item we recognize and eventually buy. Our attention is their aim. Sadly, their tactics for keeping our attention can take us down myriad wormholes – wormholes that they provide to us through their algorithms! The top idea to get away from some of the social media pressure is to simply turn off notifications. Simple. Here’s an article out of Syracuse University with further recommendations for you: https://launchpad.syr.edu/3-things-we-learned-about-social-media-from-netflixs-the-social-dilemma/
4. I stopped drinking alcohol. I felt backed into a corner first by peri-menopause and then by full-on menopause along with, lets not forget, mental illness. I found that imbibing begets more imbibing. If I don’t drink, I usually don’t miss it. There are all these new non-alcoholic beverages on the market and at some restaurants which make this an easy choice. Hubby brought home zero percent alcohol coronas baby! So with a wedge of lime, we were feeling tropical. Today was above zero so, there’s that.
5. I stopped wearing makeup. To be fair, I haven’t worn much makeup since the 80s. I’ve always wondered why I sometimes feel obliged to paint my face? Do men feel obligated to put daily colour and chemicals on their faces and eyelashes? So, I’ll keep it to the light pink barely-there Burt’s Bees lip balm and nothing more. (for a funny story on (not pink) lip balm read: ‘Trying Something New‘).
Ok, if I was going to a fancy thang, I might apply a very little bit of makeup. I’m not a fanatic.
6. I stopped hating being alone thanks to the pandemic forcing the issue. But, the sun is coming up folks! This is a pretty morning sunrise on one of my solo (with doodle-dog) walks around a pair of ponds just up the trail from my house.
7. I stopped rolling up my yoga mat. Instead, now it lies in a ribbon until I flick it into place and get on it. Or, it can sometimes be found laying in wait for me, all set to go. I am incrementally building strength, flexibility and balance. It takes time but not nearly as much time as I thought, because I’m doing it daily. I’m back into my fluid, intuitive daily arm-balance and inverted yoga practice. I still love being upside-down, it seems. Several people have asked me what I include in a typical daily practice. Here’s an example.
8. I stopped wearing my hair long and I stopped the perpetual hair band on my wrist. One day I lost the love for my long tresses. It was dragging me down. I put my washed wet hair into a slick ponytail and asked Hubby to lob it off. I later went to a hairstylist and she made it look sweet. It is short. It’s just easier. Fresher. More up to date. (Not saying I hate long hair, it’s just a break from 30 years of the same relative hairstyle which was born of the fear of a loss of femininity should I cut it.)
9.I stopped long enough to enjoy this view, and many others. This is the gorgeous Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. We love this place!
10. I stopped not using snail mail and now I have a five year-old pen pal. She is an incredible communicator getting to the brass tacks in each colourful letter: have you ever seen a puffin bird? Even though people do not look the same on the outside, they are the same on the inside. I like talking with my friends a lot. What do you like? And, what is your favourite pet animal?
11. I stopped sleeping well due to facing past trauma, though it’s important to do so, with professional support, when ready. So, then I stopped trying not to take a sleeping pill. I hate them but I also hate 3 hours of sleep at night. I had written a post about how to get a good nights sleep by taking a health supplement. For me, that lasted about three weeks and then back to insomnia and the dread, loneliness and hopelessness that comes with it. I have sought help and was recommended to do a self-study of this program found at mysleepwell.ca* out of Nova Scotia’s own Dalhousie University. Now I am doing myriad things to aid in the normalizing of a decent night’s sleep. Here’s some of the programs’ recommendations: only sleep in the bed (for example, no reading in bed). That was huge. So, reading in a chair until I’m sleepy for bed. The thinking is to associate your bed with sleep only.
There is much more to it like keeping a sleep diary. Sleep hygiene (clean up you sleep act) like: no screens in the bedroom – don’t use your cell phone for a clock. (I picked up a travel clock for under $20); dim lighting, full darkness at night which may mean better curtains or blinds or a sleep mask, no pets allowed in who would disturb you or other humans who snore. If there is a chronic snorer, or twitchy-legged partner? Try to find a bedroom and a bed that can be made quiet with a tightly closing door and/or a hallway door that closes too. The double door stops you being awaken by the cat. The very one who used to jump on your face at 4 am wanting to be fed or cuddled. We’ve all been there. Feed your cat at night. We have big brains but sometimes these simple little tricks elude us. I know.
Sleep needs to be your sanctuary.
These measures and a few more (caffeine only in the morning; less or no alcohol; dim lighting; cool room, no heart racing exercise a few hours before bed) are to be done for a while until you’re habitually sleeping soundly for seven to nine hours per night without any sleep medications (and if you’re on sleep medications there are instructions on how to wean yourself off of them for good but, it must be done slowly to stick).
I am very hopeful that this system will work for me. Hubby got me a new sleep mask to help with this project (such a sweetie!). It works very well – not letting any ambient light in. Inky blackness is all I see if I open my eyes in it. Find it by searching for zizwe sleep mask. I also wear earplugs that are suited to my female, smaller ear canals. They come from a Swedish brand called happy ears and are very effective. So basically, I put my mask on and my ear plugs in to help block out unnecessary light and sound.
12. I stopped wearing underwires. ‘Nuff said. Good riddance.
13. I stopped taking my good fortune for granted. OK, to be fair I’ve always been really good at counting my blessings but now I really count them.
Well folks, what have you stopped in this year 2022 or in the last year? Leave me a comment. I love ’em!
*Sleepwell is led by Drs. David Gardner & Andrea Murphy from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and contributed to by psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, pharmacists, people who live with insomnia, researchers, and sleep experts to make sure that our recommendations and content are accurate and practical.Funding: Drug Evaluation Alliance of Nova Scotia, Government of Nova Scotia.
As a child I did gymnastics and recall the happiness I found in moving my body into various positions. Balancing and stretching, inverting, tumbling and focusing. Twenty years later, I was fortunate to find yoga due to my new friend who was known to be an extraordinary yoga teacher. She invited me to join her beginner class. I recall fondly my very first practise with her and the joy I felt moving back into my body to feel every muscle. Breathing and feeling blessed. I was in tears of thankfulness during her led savasana (final relaxation) her soft accent nudged me further into comfort and reminded me to let go and just be. The chanting of om* while sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, the walls of the room humming with our combined voices, then my palms together, nodding, peace.
My yoga sequence is organic in nature, unconventional. It works for me as I concentrate on doing my favourite postures which reveal themselves to me as I practise. This is just an example of one of my practices which is almost always oriented to inversions (head lower than heart). What to do on the mat comes with practise, like anything else. Start by taking a few classes then take action. Start slowly and build. Stand in mountain. Tree. Sit in easy-seat. Kneel in hero. Roll. Even a ten minute practise is something. It will come. As another fabulous teacher used to say to me: Any amount. Any amount.
I come to the mat on my knees, creases of ankles flat to mat, glutes on heels, hero pose, virasana, prayer hands, breathing. Tuck toes under and sit on heels, breath. Hands flat to mat, all fours alternating cat and cow back arches with inhales and deep rounds with exhales then into down-ward facing dog, up dog, down dog then one leg kicks up and over my back for three-legged dog, switch legs. From there to easy seat, sukhasana, with one leg in front then the other. Then butterfly seat. Five breaths. Knees together hands under bent knees, round spine rolling back on spine from tailbone to neck. Five rolls which massage spine. Hands on mat behind me, feet to mat into reverse table, I alternate lifting and lowering hips until triceps zing. Flip over. Prone on elbows for plank for 25 breaths or more. Cobra. Plank for a few breaths. Cobra. Flipping over and lying on my back, corpse pose, savasana. Breathe. Pointed toes now flexed now pointed, raise straight legs up and over my head. Plow, halasana. Five deep breaths. Knees rest just above face. Then bent knees rest gently on forehead. Thankful. Ankles and toes symmetrical. Grasp large toes, straddle legs over head, round spine, rock to seated vee toe-hold on sits bones, ubhaya padangusthasana. Legs together, roll to back for 60 elbow-to-opposite-knee crunches. Hands to small of back, elbows on floor roll back and up into shoulder stand, sarvangasana, toes pointed in air, glutes tight. Split legs, arch back and reach with one leg to mat then other leg comes down arch into bridge, setu bandashana. Bend one knee and push off the mat with other foot back up into shoulder stand and again. Roll down. Taking a foot in each hand, Happy baby. Rocking side to side bringing first the side of one ankle to the floor the over to the other ankle. Focus is at my feet thanking them for each journey they allow. Bring feet flat to the mat, edges of each foot to each edge of mat, back on mat. Bend elbows to place hands under each shoulder to take full wheel, urdva dhanurasana, three times, five breaths each. Flipping over into crow, kakasana, slowly bending elbows lowering my crown to the mat into headstand, sirsana, 15 breaths, pressing into hands and with focus lifting back into crow. Feet spread on edges of mat deep squat with prayer hands, malasana. Hands on mat. Bring feet in front of each hand. Wrap legs around arms drop seat into arm balance with ankles hooked, bhujapidasana. Move mat to wall. Forearm stand, pincha mayurasana, at the wall. Child, balasana. Handstand, adho mukha vrksasana, at the wall. Forward fold into sun salutations, surya namaskar. Grateful. Blessed. Savasana. Namaste.
*Om is a sound thought to be the original sound of the Universe. Om is chanted to promote relaxation and focus. Om, pronounced ah-uu-mm is considered an unlimited or eternal sound. It is a deep humming sound made while expelling breath.
I have had another episode. Geez, I did not see this one coming. It started innocently enough with me needing to take an antibiotic for two weeks due to a stomach bug I had. Well, the stomach bug has gone and that is good but, the antibiotic left some detritus in its wake and for three weeks I have been reeling from the flotsam and jetsam of it. I have been stable and solid for five years. One gets used to not having an episode. So, when one arrives starting with a lovely little piece of hypo-mania, well it is hard to detect.
The first thing that happened was my appetite completely changed. I had almost no appetite for several days. I was putting that to the antibiotic. Then, my garden became a perfect place of unbelievable beauty. I was noticing so much. It was so pretty. The muted colours were brilliant. The brilliant colours were just bursting. The bees were little miracles. I couldn’t get enough. Didn’t want the day to end out there.
Then the numbers started: Leo was 22, I was 33 when he was born, I am 55, I was born in 66, Dean and I met in 88, Leo was born in 99. These numbers would roll through my brain over and over again. I checked the time and it was 4:44. Randomly, later I checked the time and it was 5:55. This just HAD to mean something.
After a couple days like this I told my hubby that something was coming down the pike. I didn’t really believe it. Nor did he. Five years of wellness. How could this be? It was a Wednesday and I told him that he better get his office stuff and work from home for Thursday and Friday. I was going to need supervision. Adult supervision.
That night, middle of the night, I awoke. My insides were roiling. My head was spinning. Into the blackness of our room I called out to my husband Dean. A blessed heavy-sleeper. ‘Dean. Oh no. No! No! No! Something is happening. Dean!!!’
I sat up. I could not feel my lower body. It was numb. I couldn’t leave the bed.
Now I was wailing at the top of my lungs. Dean was clutching me and smoothing my back. Cooing “It’s okay, it’s okay!”
“There is so much pain in the world, I said. So much pain in my family. So many people are so hurt. So many of my friends have such a hard life. I can’t take it, Dean. I can’t take it. My heart.” I wailed.
M, I am going to get the phone and get Leo in here (our 22 year old son).
Leo came to our bedroom door in his housecoat and sized up the situation. He had been fast asleep. He quickly saw that I was in complete distress. This was not pretend pain. This pain I was speaking of was real for me.
My hands clutched my chest. I was rocking and wailing, “No! No! No!” I asked him to help me.
“How can I help you Mom? What can I do?” he asked, his eyebrows stitched together in concern.
“Just sit here with me. Give me your arm to hold,” I said with desperation in my voice. “Talk to me.”
Now I was gripping his strong arm thru his fleece robe. It was helping. But I was still feeling the pain of the people I love.
“My heart is broken and it is going to open wide. This is going to be bad, Leo,” I stated.
Leo answered with calm, strong words. “Mom, you are having an episode. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain which is causing you to feel like this right now. Dad and I are here to help you. Try to let it dissipate.” He was so grown up now. So manly and mature. I loved him hugely for these words and everything else about him. This is my child. I am blessed.
Dean was running around trying to find the number for emergency mental health. Throwing items in a bag so we could get out the door to the emergency department of our area hospital.
Leo continued to tell me I was okay. But then it happened. A large hand, within a back glove and with pointy finger tips placed itself between my shoulder blades of my back. Words were whispered into my ear,
“Go into the bathroom,” it ordered. “Lock the door and take all the Tylenol. Go now!”
When Dean came back into the room, I told him about the words that had been in my head, somehow not my own words. His face showed his fear. Leo told me not to listen to that voice. He said I should try my best to connect with him now and ground myself. Those things were being filtered through my mental illness. “They need to be ignored,” he said. (Meanwhile Dean ran and hid the Tylenol bottle).
Then I saw the entity in the dim part of my bedroom. He was standing there in a trench coat and a hat. Collar up, hat pulled down low. It was the calm spirit of my father. He was pleased that I had figured out the riddle. I had been sexually abused because he had been sexually abused. I had figured this out because of the press about private schools which he had attended. All boys’ schools could be (not always, but often) horribly dysfunctional and abusive places. Not only that, but he had died with CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy- due to the incredible number of head trauma that he had received through sport – hockey and football. The CTE had caused his rage-a-holism. Riddle solved. Understanding him would allow for compassion. “Find the compassion,” he said.
By this time, I was ready and willing to go to the hospital because, thanks to Dean and Leo I was aware of the danger of my situation. It is a fact that suicide happens to a lot of folks with mental illness.
At emerg, a friend of mine, who is also an ER Doc, told me that suicide ideation is on the laundry list of items that happen to some folks during a panic attack. Who would have thought? He set me up with a psychiatrist for the next day and she was awesome. I feel like I am in very good hands. No black gloves. No pointy fingers.
Five years ago I entered what is known as perimenopause and the shit basically hit the fan with regard to my body size (and sleeping – NOT). I was doing all my normal stuff, like big walks and ‘watching’ what I ate, for the most part, but the pounds were coming on anyway. I was beating myself up about weight gain, heading up to the 135 mark from my usual 130 was like never-never land to me back then. Well folks, you can then imagine what hitting the 180 mark felt like when I was weighed at a doctor’s appointment. Hell. I also felt completely bloated, toxic, hot flashes and, as stated, was not sleeping well. Many would attribute this to symptoms of perimenopause. This could go on for ten years, I was told. Holy sweet jesus.
Last summer, hubby and I went away for a week to the sweet little village of St Andrews By The Sea, New Brunswick. We had some free nights on points at the Algonquin. Dean and I, at that time, liked to raise a glass with a craft beer to quaff together. We would have a nice lunch somewhere and each have a beer. Then we would do a long, long walk and come supper time, we again would have a beer or even some wine as well. Basically, my clothes were getting tighter and needed replacing and I wasn’t sleeping. It was upon returning from this trip that I weighed 180 and I nearly died with that. I had gone from a size 4 to size 16.
I spent a lot of effort hiding my size. Certain t-shirts masked the belly rolls and were long enough to cover my bum. I thought of my new bras as ‘machinery’ and with a price tag in the triple digits in order to keep the girls supported. These pieces of fine engineering were extremely well made and were lacey and pretty but they were so uncomfortable it was unbearable. I would remove my bra as soon as possible upon getting home. Another thing that happened which is cringe-worthy and perhaps TMI, is my upper inner legs would rub together with the added weight. I can not state emphatically enough how much I hated this. I had to wear spandex shorts under dresses and skirts in order to avoid chaffing. While visiting Cuba just before the pandemic hit, I was perturbed by incessant chaffing due to the added ingredients of salt water and fine sand and had to buy diaper cream in order to combat this problem. Ok. This really spoke to me. Hellooooo. Diaper cream!!!!! Jysus!
Because of not sleeping and then feeling completely bloated and toxic while on our sweet little away trip, to New Brunswick, I shook up my routine enough and was uncomfortable enough to see that I had to make a change. I was not happy with how I looked nor how I felt.
The decision I made was to stop drinking alcohol of any sort. Almost immediately I peed out about ten pounds of water, folks. (I do have another complicating factor: I take lithium to stabilize bipolar disorder. So not only perimenopause but also lithium in the works.)
A few weeks later I had dropped another five to ten pounds and I was feeling better and better. Sleep was not nearly as elusive and I was actually having the odd night of sleeping right through to morning. What a gift.
I had thought fasting was an extreme and nutty behaviour but, the way she explained it, it sounded perfect for me and had added health benefits. I learned that WHEN you eat is more important than WHAT you eat. I stopped eating after having a good supper meal and didn’t eat again until mid-morning the next day. Because I was having a morning coffee, I didn’t feel hungry and I was never a huge fan of breakfast anyhow.
This was key to dropping the remainder of the weight. Please understand: I DID NOT STARVE MYSELF. If ever I felt hungry, really hungry, I would eat something with high protein like a couple of eggs / a handful of nuts / peanuts / a piece of cheese / a pepperoni stick. In this way I reduced carbs. For me, reducing carbs, like bread, rice, pasta was key. Also, I would reach for an apple or a pear sometimes. Even at night I will sometimes have a crispy cold apple if I’m feeling a nagging hunger that just won’t stop.
I lost about five pounds per month, so a safe amount to lose, and am now back to 125. On me, 125 actually looks and feels good and I am happy.
Key things I did:
stopped eating at night after supper;
when sitting for a show or movie I keep my hands busy with playing scrabble or a card game or something on my ipad. This helps me to not want snack foods while viewing;
the majority of the time I ate only from mid-morning to mid-evening and therefore had 14 to 18 hours of fasting. That is, no food or beverages other than water after supper from 7 pm. And, black coffee in the morning. Although sometimes I would have an apple, some nuts or a small piece of cheese in the evening if my stomach was rumbling;
walked 5 to 10 km per day;
pretty much eliminated desserts and empty carb foods (I was not going to be that person who says no to a piece of birthday cake or to a piece of home-made pie. I just didn’t eat it often);
cut back on carbs like bread, cereal, buns, potatoes, rice, pasta, nacho chips, wraps and would choose high-protein foods instead like sliced meats, nuts, fish;
between meal snacks would be high protein or a piece of fruit;
I weighed myself on the same day each week. I didn’t own a scale initially but was visiting family and they had one. Digital scales are now widely available even at your local pharmacy for under $30. Worth it. But, I recommend once per week weight measuring, same time each week wearing about the same outfit and write it down so that you can see your progress.
So many people have asked me what exactly I did to lose the weight, especially during lockdown when most people were putting a few pounds ON. Simple things. Besides this, I would take time each day to mentally thank my strong healthy body for all it does for me. If extra weight doesn’t bother you, well, then don’t do anything different. For me, it DID bother me. I felt like carrying around an extra fifty pounds was quite torturous for me. I mean, this was over FIVE years. It took 4 years of dedication to put that much weight on and it took 9 months of dedication to take it off. I am back to size 4. Size 4 feels good.
Before I began my downward journey I was eating a treat (cookie, chips, ice-cream) almost every night. I was also, as stated, drinking an alcohol drink or two almost every day. That’s a lot of excess on a 5’5″ frame. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. Perhaps I was in complete denial. But, in hindsight I realize that the toxicity of daily alcohol was likely what was causing the cravings for junk food.
I will never again take my trimness for granted. As I cover ground during the day, usually with my furry friend, Jack, I really pay attention to how much easier it is to move. How much easier it is to climb a hill. How much more balance I have in the winter with the trail is slippery. How much easier it is to get down on my knee to pick something up or to sit on the floor to play with my little grand-niece and grand-nephew. I give myself a nod for finding the method that truly worked for me to lose the excess weight. For me, that fifty pounds was a real thing that made my life less sweet. I’m glad it is gone.
I welcome your questions folks. Bottom line: if you want to shed weight and you’re in good health – GO FOR IT. If you want to shed weight and you have a health issue – check in with your doc first to ensure you are doing things safely. Lose the weight slowly. A few pounds per month. Be patient. Walk. Be mindful. Take good care of your Earth Suit with healthful fresh foods. It will come off.
Gordon Lightfoot’s song was playing while I shuffled around my kitchen trying to simplify my thoughts and push down the anxiety. God Damed Anxiety is back. It puts this tight clamp on my spine where the cortisol moves in and stirs up feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, uselessness. All those wonderful wonderful feelings to carry like a monkey through the days.
In 1999, in postpartum after the birth of my one child, I was flung into a psychosis which turned into a straight-jacket and a rubber room experience. Haldol and all. (Locked up in D.C.). I was then, at the age of 33, diagnosed Bipolar. I had never had any symptoms prior to that. But you see, I am Military Martha. My whole family of six siblings call me that. I am the sensible one. The rule-follower. List maker (thank’s Annie). The one who solves problems. I am definitely NOT the one who ends up in a Johnny coat running for my life out the hospital doors at -20 Celsius with my undies on show. (Crazy Train 2011)
But this is mental illness folks. It takes all that you know and turns it upside down. It makes that positive side of me disappear. It makes it nearly impossible to reach out to friends and family (unless it turns into mania and then it is impossible to NOT reach out to friends and family and just about anyone else, and even at 3 in the morning).
Even the simplest of tasks cause me to turn in circles and not know where to begin. I need adult supervision. Thanks Uncle Buck. My husband of 28 years becomes the one person who knows me so well. He takes my hand and leads me along through the cloud. He will encourage me with a simple tasks to focus on and accomplish, telling me all the other stuff can wait. It’s not going to be a problem if it all just waits, he says.
Yesterday I was trying to explain the anxiety to my sister on the phone, three provinces away. It is like I know cerebrally that the task is not important but even knowing that, I feel like I am swimming in goop and am finding it hard to keep my head above it. Couple that with the feeling of a huge alligator clamp on my lower spine and that everything I look at is somehow wrong: not good enough, out of order, messy, needs fixing…AHHH! It becomes just overwhelming.
I was explaining how some things seem to help. Letting things go until a better time, cancel, reschedule, forego, cross it off the list. Listening to up and happy music. Walking in nature. Holding hands with my husband and quietly talking and walking. Simple tasks: peeling potatoes, hanging laundry, watering the garden, weeding, sweeping the floor, scraping the paint on the house with a warm sun on my back…all seem to help, if I can get out of my own way to do them.
This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio. The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life. So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future. It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far. I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
Besides my first language of English, I can communicate somewhat in French, German, Spanish and American Sign-language;
Studied dance for several years as a girl and still love to dance;
Was a gymnast in elementary school and won a silver medal in a competition for the county;
Have traveled by jet, helicopter, ferry, ship, sail boat, canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board, car, truck, bus (both inside and on top of!) and train, including a train across most of Canada for days and into the heart of Australia on the Gahn and in Northern India;
Have read a friend’s manuscript and helped with some edits;
Am currently living in the 2020 / 2021 COVID-19 world pandemic 😷
These are comments from the best leader I encountered while in the Canadian Army. Colonel (retired) Gordon Grant Says:
“I have read the entire blog and will use this opportunity to make some summary comments. First, unlike your readers, I was with you for a small part of your journey. You and Dean were lieutenants under my command in Germany. I watched your personal relationship grow as well as your professional development. This gave me a reference point on which to gauge your stories. I found myself constantly comparing the lives of M and Dean as I understood them, against the reality check provided in your stories. Your blog confirmed (and reinforced) my good opinion of you both. But I had no idea that you were in constant crisis. And I am gobsmacked at the challenges you faced and overcame. You and Dean are strong, compassionate and committed partners, parents and citizens. Your travels have armed you with a mature appreciation of other cultures. You showed tremendous courage in writing this blog. You presented a frank and transparent presentation of your life. It is well written and takes us to euphoric heights and the depth of your despair. Your willingness to address the most intimate details will help others with their struggles. You are a talented writer. You combine humour with a no-holds-bared approach to describing your journey. You need to keep writing for two reasons: a. Writing is your cathartic release. It is an important coping tool in your tool box; and b. There are countless people who face similar challenges and would benefit from your shared experiences. It provides a desperately needed hope. Well done, M, well done, indeed.
(picture of view from top of Gros Morne Mountain is from google images…thank you)