Why we blog, and A Taste of Summer

I took this at The Enjoy Centre this morning, on our way in to brunch with an unlikely but wonderful little group of friends we meet with once a month. It’s the most enormous greenhouse I’ve ever been in, gorgeous, and permits Edmontonians little tastes of summer and virtual patio-dining long before summer actually arrives here in Alberta.

I took it because my eyes are hungry for beauty at this time of year. We’re well into spring, by the calendar, but the ice has been off the lake for just a week or so, and the trees are mostly still bare.

Over my Reuben, one of my friends, Millie, suggested my blog functions kind of like a journal for me. She’s right, though of course there’s much I’d put into a journal but not publish. But it got me thinking about why I—why any of us—blog.

Bloggers blog for all kinds of reasons, from what I can see—reasons that range from therapeutic ones, to growing their business, to a generous sharing of ideas and information, to just being addicted to the keyboard. Many of us write just for the sake of writing.

I do write as therapy; Millie’s quite right. I’m in need of all things therapeutic at this post-cancer, menopausal (not-quite-ready-to-work-tons-but-often-lonely-and-not-quite-ready-to-retire) point in my life. I write to organize and clarify my thoughts and feelings, to share with others what I’ve learned or experienced or discovered, to talk to others who may have  had similar thoughts or experiences or points of view, and because I miss the community of readers I had when I was writing a health column a couple of years ago. Those conversations honed my thinking, and expanded it, and gratified me in many ways, and one of my goals is to rebuild a little of that community.

I also write because I’m one of those with itchy fingers; I just need to write. I sometimes write because I need a break from what I’m doing, and have nobody in the next office or cubicle to exchange a hello with. I often write to finish unfinished conversations too, hence the tagline of the site. (I almost always have afterthoughts in the wake of social interactions, and it’s a nice way to tidy up the loose ends.)

So there it is. I’m one of hundreds of thousands out there doing it. I follow bloggers who offer me the kind of information I’m after, fresh insights, and—maybe most important to me—those who offer me their humanity. And, for right now at least, I’m enjoying adding my own little melody to the vast and fascinating symphony of sound out there.

It’s not for everyone of course—some people don’t like to write, most are far too busy with more concretely productive ventures, and many are too private for it. But I’ve found amazing connections through writing in the past—met wonderful people, some of whom have become wonderful friends.

Why do you blog, or not? Chime in, please, it’ll be fun.

On Generosity of Spirit

As those who know me well already know, I can be as cranky and insecure and afraid and needy as anyone. It’s just that I try not to let that make me an unkind and ungracious person, not even with that one safe lightening-rod individual that so many look for, and find, and then routinely treat with disrespect.

It’s come to me again, both through an experience I had last week, and through the character of Olive in Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful and darkly true-to-life Olive Kitteridge, that some of us, no matter how much grace we’ve been extended, are apparently unable to say the words “thank-you” or “I’m really sorry”.

To my friends: if you’re reading this and wondering if I’m talking about you, you can relax, I’m not. If you were chronically unable to say thank-you or I’m sorry where it’s appropriate, you’d no longer be my friend.

I don’t believe this inability to express gratitude or remorse is as much a sign of malice as it is of deficiency—it requires a reasonable sense of self not to be threatened by giving credit where credit is due. It requires a feeling of adequacy rather than inadequacy to be generous in this way, an internal fortitude that comes with knowing you won’t be diminished by it. And some people apparently just don’t have enough of a self to risk it.

So, I understand feelings of deficiency (I experience plenty of my own), but I also think it’s possible to rise above them. Either way, when significant people in your life can’t rise above them, when a little gratitude or humility or apology is perpetually elusive, it can be hurtful, and feeling hurt is, for me at least, always a temptation to stoop to behaviour I know isn’t truly me. Thankfully, I’ve resisted, this time at least (which hasn’t always been the case). Because even cranky and ungenerous people—and maybe especially cranky ungenerous people?—need grace extended their way.

It can’t hurt to extend grace; I’m a huge, huge believer in this. But along with being understanding and gracious in the face of disrespect or ungracious attitudes, it’s always a good idea to keep plenty of distance between ourselves and those who would focus exclusively on how wonderfully reliable and generous they’ve been, rather than acknowledge your contributions even once.

So thanks to Elizabeth Strout for reminding me of what drives ungracious people, and to my friends for extending endless grace my way, and to the universe for the miracle of fresh sources of abundance that restore in a million ways the holes left by those unable to offer the simplest words of affirmation. 




Weekly Photo Challenge: Sun (Sunshine Materialized)

April is the Canadian Cancer Society’s daffodil month. I took this photo last April, in the middle of undergoing cancer treatment. My thought was that it was materialized sunshine, and that daffodils are perfect to represent our fight against cancer, our quest for health. The human body seems to me to be sunshine materialized also. Energy. I’m more a dreamer than a scientist, but doesn’t it resonate somehow?

For the love of Tui Na

The idea of post-traumatic stress being applicable to how I’ve been feeling for some time now never really occurred to me until this past weekend, at least not in any way that really registered.

I’d spent the entire afternoon and most of the evening visiting with a friend in town just for the day, talking, talking, talking. We’ve known each other since earliest childhood, so it’s one of those friendships that picks up anywhere, anytime, and because the backdrop is so familiar and deeply understood, we go deep from the start gate no matter how long it has been since we’ve spoken.

Within the first half hour, talking more than eating lunch really, I’m tearing up, and feeling silly, and saying I don’t understand my depression, and why I feel traumatized. “But you have been traumatized,” my friend says, and all talk of needing to keep a positive outlook suddenly fades into the background. Her words resonate, and it is clear to me that the downward spiral I’ve been on needs stronger intervention.

I don’t want to imply that my trauma is in any way unique or more traumatic than anyone else’s. I know a number of people who have lost far more to their cancer, or to someone else’s cancer for that matter, than I have to mine. But the strength of our spirit—or as they say in Chinese Medicine, our Shen—reflects the sum of our experiences, and I’ve been gathering those for five and a half decades now.

For my chosen intervention at this juncture, and at my daughter’s recommendation, I take my depleted self to a place of Traditional Chinese Medicine called Bethune, where I’m hoping to leave with some traditional Chinese herbal medicine in my hands. I end up leaving with much more.

The doctor does some Chinese diagnostics, and something else (I don’t know what), and leaves me—to relax for a few minutes, he says. Right. For reasons I don’t understand, I’m crying before he even makes it to the door. Profusely. Embarrassingly so. When he returns, the storm is still raging. He promises the acupuncture (this I’m familiar with and eager for), but first, he ushers me, figuratively, to a warm and sunny shore, and tells me it is his job to bring my energy back, and to make me laugh.

Making fish-like swimming motions with his hands and arms, he instructs me to watch the fish that have come to the shallows, and allow them to bring me the energy of the ocean. This, his gesturing, makes me laugh, but also for some reason, vibrate. Literally. He turns me into a pincushion, and then leaves the room again. I lie in the warm water (figuratively), still vibrating, and they, the fish, swim to me, around me, over me. They come up close, and offer me their energy. The warm current washes away the polluted one that had come my way earlier in the day. I stop vibrating.

He returns, removes the needles, and tells me I’m ready for Tui Na, which I’ve never had done before, and let me tell you: it’s intense, to put it mildly.

Two hours later this amazing doctor looks into my eyes and is satisfied that my Shen is adequately present again. I leave Bethune knowing this: the seas have been stormy for a long time now, and I have become very, very tired, and had all but quit paddling.

I’m paddling again now. And I remember again that everything has two sides: one that sparkles with beauty, one that is dark. Once again, I shift my focus to the sparkling side.

Once again I understand that sometimes we need more than what is considered a normal amount of help and support, and I accept this. One day, I will know only that my experience with cancer was a good thing.

Integrated Therapies and Lamb Stew

Many thanks to Jacob, for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger Award. He’s the doctor affirming me (definitely not a doctor) on my first timid return to a few tiny bits of health writing since my cancer diagnosis, and I very much appreciate the respect he’s given me. The mention also significantly increased traffic to my fledgling site, and I’d like to pay it forward.

Which I will do, just as soon I can decide on which blogs to nominate.

In the meantime, a quick post that might be of interest to other cancer survivors, or, for that matter, anyone dealing with damaged mitochondria for any reason.

First, April in Edmonton tends to be chilly, dusty, and dogged with snow-mold-laden winds, and it is, for me, the worst month of the year. But despite that, and perhaps strangely, I love it here. It’s where I have lived my adult life of marriage and children, successes and failures. It has the best river valley, friends, restaurants, and arts scene. My husband and I take in plays and concerts and music festivals enough to bring joy to the sorest of hearts, which is supremely important to me right now in my continual quest for health and joy.

This morning, as I have done weekly over the past year, through snow, spring rain, summer warmth, crisp fall sunshine, snow yet again, and now those chilly spring winds, I trotted off yet again to see my acupuncturist/massage therapist. The endorphin-producing magic generated by combination therapy like this is quite something, really, almost enough to help me forget completely last night’s insecurities. And if, as I’ve also written a little about recently, healing depends as much on psychological state as it does on nutrition and the mitigation of toxic factors—if endorphins and the presence of joy instead of pain are essential ingredients to healing—then my addiction to this weekly appointment (and to our arts scene, for that matter), is a good thing.

My persistent craving for lamb stew is a good thing too, it turns out, I see now that I’ve finally gone to the trouble to check out exactly what it is I’m craving. Thanks to The Weston Price Foundation, I’ve learned that it is loaded with nutrients necessary for mitochondrial repair—the right fats, b vitamins, and carnitine. Carnitine, of note to vegetarians with mitochondrial damage, isn’t found in vegetable foods. And the gelatin present in the soups and stews I’ve been making is high in amino acids (glycine and proline) that reduce susceptibility to stress, improve sleep, fight tumors, and improve thyroid function, all of which are commonly desired goals among cancer survivors.

I’ll keep chasing health and happiness, in another bowl of lamb stew, in writing, in a listening ear, being heard and understood and affirmed, and yes, in that weekly appointment at Integrated Therapies. Quality of life is everything.

A Time for Vipassana, A Time for Indulging

I read about the value of grueling Vipassana retreats yesterday, here, and while I’m sure they have value, and while I admire the self-discipline it would take, what I can’t shake is this: Isn’t the suffering inherent in the everyday enough to remind us that to live is to suffer? Do we need to add to it the pain of a ten-day retreat of silent, seated, bone-bending meditation? Doesn’t every week of ordinary and ubiquitous garden-variety pain provide ample opportunity for ecstatic highs and excruciating lows, and a coming back to balance, endurance, perspective and perseverance?

Or is that just me, being melodramatic? I realize that my perspective has been altered some over the past decade, with the crises coming in like clockwork, the most recent being learning how to live with lingering and persistent post-chemo neuralgia and fibromyalgia. Still, I think it’s pretty universal to feel like our plates of pain our full, if we’re going to be honest.

Which reminds me: I wanted to add a little to last week’s post on stress and illness, but focus more on the biochemistry of it for a moment, or, in plain English, on why I’ve put on weight and still feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out.

Stress hormones, inflammatory chemicals, lactic acid production and fat synthesis are all connected, they say. How they are connected is boring, so I won’t get into it, but they are. The thing for me and my fellow fibromyalgia/neuralgia sufferers to remember is what counters them: laughter, deep sleep, B vitamins, normal levels of thyroid hormones (which require a healthy liver and glucose for conversion), plenty of dietary protein that includes gelatin, and (this one I’m not sure about), sugar and salt to counter cortisol and adrenaline.

Why do I care about these biochemical chains? Not to be a princess, but I still have a highly sensitized stress response. Even a single restorative yoga class leaves me with enough lactic acid to sour an entire universe of cheese, yogurt and sourdough bread.

To achieve a reduction in inflammatory chemicals, lactic acid, and fat synthesis, the new rules for the older and hopefully wiser me are these: Don’t work too much. Don’t repress emotion. Don’t exercise too much, and never before breakfast. No strict dieting, and no skipping meals, or any macronutrients. (Which should make me cheer, except that I really, really, really want to get back into my old jeans.) And no Vipassana retreats. Not if I want my cells to heal at the deepest level.

All of those directly trigger the production of stress hormones, lactate and other toxins that damage mitochondrial cell respiration, which is the last thing I want. Damaged mitochondria spell trouble, and I’ve had my fill of that, thanks very much. So, in order of importance: patience, deep cellular healing, and then the jeans.