Without darkness, Nothing comes to birth, As without light, Nothing flowers.

May Sarton

It has taken me a long time to recognize that darkness is an essential element for personal growth. No matter how many ‘right things.’ I do, darkness will still come unannounced and uninvited because it is an essential part of life. Without darkness I cannot become the person I was meant to be.

Joyce Rupp, Little Pieces of Light

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Love and Play as Therapy

Friends have cooked dinner in honor of my husband’s birthday. I take my currently vulnerable self, resolving (uselessly, it turns out) to smile and laugh in honor of my husband. I realize within minutes of arriving that my resolve will not be enough. We sit at their kitchen table, and they baptize us in love, literally—a parade of gourmet foods and some very special wine, conversation, and homemade caramel chocolate cheesecake. Oh, and with their tears for me. Pure awesomeness. How often do we go there, into the raw emotion that might exist between us as human beings, into full expression of the love and empathy we often genuinely feel for one another?

Eventually, perhaps an hour before midnight, they turn the music up a little, maybe a lot, and coax us onto our feet, and we dance, as we often have, in their living room, which just happens to be hardwood, and which I love under my bare feet. For a couple of hours we play. We move and sing, laugh, embrace, and, in my case, every time my husband holds me close, cry some more. I feel alive, even though I no longer do much of anything past 10 pm, and even though it’s been many months since I’ve felt enough joy to dance.

I have blisters the size of dimes under my two big toes this morning. But I have skin on the rest of me again.

I thought this was really, really good, and I liked the Erin Majors quote (A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.) What do you all think? Why are we sometimes so reserved and prone to conserving and hiding, a little resistant to emotional generosity and unreserved engagement?

Brigitte's Banter

I’ve been in the blogging world for almost four months now, so I don’t claim to be an expert at this way we find ourselves communicating in the 21st century.  I do, however, consider myself a gracious and nice human being and try to extend courtesies when someone takes the time to acknowledge my work.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few tips that I believe all bloggers should keep in mind when they have something to say, whether that be from their own writing or when they comment on others.

1.  Find other blogs that you like and comment

I’ve found those blogs by exploring, sometimes through Freshly Pressed blogs, friends’ blogs or just by accident.  If I find one that I think is interesting, funny or inspiring, I make a comment.  I figure if they’ve taken the time to write something, I can do…

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Co-operation central to being human

Co-operation, science has now shown, is at our very core as human beings. Not all the time of course, and not all of us—some are tramplers and climbers more often than they are team players—but still, it’s there. I had my own little personal taste of it this week.

A new-to-me friend recently suggested that I might enjoy a visit with a friend of hers, and put us in touch via Facebook. We met at Starbucks today. Thanks to Facebook we don’t need to wear carnations or any such thing; I recognize her immediately, and we jump right in, swapping cancer experiences.

Hers is different from mine, but even with the differences, the same in so many ways. When she was diagnosed, she went almost overnight from the word cancer hardly being part of her vocabulary, to being told she was stage four, and that it would take her life. Not that it might, that it would, definitely. Nine sites, sites that included lymph and bone. No chemo or radiation at all at this point, maybe as a palliative measure down the road, they tell her. I want to smack the people who told her this, literally, and the way they’ve done it.

No matter what stage we’re at, there should always be room for hope, at least a little.

She goes for a couple of surgeries—she’s not ready to give up as quickly as they are—and then, against the advice of the experts and naysayers, and since they have nothing else to offer at this point, she takes things into her own hands. She sends her records to a doctor using DCA (dichloroacetic acid) with cancer patients. It is as yet still largely untested and, here in Alberta at least, highly controversial for this application. She has little to lose though, and jumps in with both feet.

Her doctors tell her it will kill her, which is odd since they’ve just told her that her cancer will kill her. Whatever. Her cancer is now down to two sites from nine, and she looks great. Really great.

Though this is our first meeting and it is one in the afternoon and we have had nothing but coffee to drink, we share the most intimate of details, and feel understood.  She understands the risks of repressing emotion, and of not repressing it. She understands the words post traumatic stress, and the metallic taste that can come with every follow-up visit to the Cross. She’s told her fiancée that this is not what he signed up for, and that he’s free to leave if he wants, and I understand this completely. I talk about feeling insecure and like a burden in the same breath, and she understands this too.

We move from cancer to our histories, our respective divorces, our families, friends. She’s a biker, I’m an artsy writer-wanna-be sort, but though we’re different we’re bonded now, and I’m thankful for this coffee visit, made possible by the co-operation and generosity of another.

Weekly Photo Callenge: Blue. Or: Not Having an office job to go to

What I love, what I hate about not having an office to go to: a dozen of each. 

I can’t keep office hours right now. I’m working part-time, but it’s editorial assistance work I can log into and do from my kitchen table.

What I love about this arrangement:

1) Deep and calm sleep, and waking when my body wants to, not when the clock says I must.

2) Being able to see the surface of my desk.

3) Flexibility. My days are as busy as I want them to be, and if I want to have an extended morning coffee on the couch by the fire with my iPad, I can. If I want to wear leggings 3000 days in a row, I can. If I want to fit my exercise in before I dress for the day, I don’t have to get up extra early to do so.

4) Never running out of clean socks, t-shirts or towels.

5) Having time for hobby writing.

6) Fifty-cent lunches that include healing organic chicken broth I have time to make myself.

7) Having a yard that looks lived-in, quack-grass and dandelions that are mostly under six inches in height, and not having to fit the home and garden in when I would really rather be relaxing at the end of a long day.

8) Having to-do lists that I might complete this century.

9) Having time to breathe, to take at least three or four Scrabble turns in a day, to read at least one news story, and to read the writing of some amazing bloggers out there. (I’m still working on choosing my favorites for that Kreativ Blogger Award.)

10) Being the only one who never has to miss Book Club.

11) Not having to choose between a lunch break and, say, a hair appointment.

12) Being flexible enough to bend around almost everyone else’s schedule. You want to catch up over lunch but can only make it on Wednesday, week after next, at 11:33, in the far northeast end of town? No problem.

What I hate about this arrangement:

1) Not having any colleagues to exchange the quotidian with.

2) Not having any colleagues to have lunch with.

3) Not having the gratification that comes with professional respect.

4) The income.

5) The isolation and what feels to me at times like desperate, choking loneliness.

6) Not getting a lot of professional gratification or respect. (Have I already mentioned that?)

7) Feeling like, since everyone else in the family has more on their plate than I do, it’s up to me to do the grunt work, all of it.

8) Feeling like the entire world is on speed, and that I alone maintain a normal marathon pace.

9) Feeling like an anachronism, like I belong back in the 50s, like I’m the only one with a clean shower and no life, though my shower isn’t actually even clean.

10) Feeling trivial for posting entirely self-absorbed blog posts such as this one.

11) Being vaguely aware of envy in place of empathy emanating from my friends. I love you all dearly, and it’s a nice arrangement in many ways, and I’m thankful for it. But my experience of the past 18 months and the new fibromyalgia-riddled, energy-reduced, fresh-out-of-estrogen me hasn’t exactly been a picnic either. Don’t underestimate the freedom and pleasures of good health, or the satisfaction and self-esteem and power employment brings.

12) Feeling trivial for playing at hobby photography (though I now prefer to think of it as Miksang, or Contemplative Photography, thanks to Louise over at The Sacred Cove, and for taking part in things like the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. (Blue, this week, which suits the mood I’ve worn for several months now, but which made me think of the colour blue in a photo I took on a lovely vacation we took a number of years ago, and which I have included above, even though it has nothing to do with this post.)



CDC Director Gerberding Gives Green Light to G...

CDC Director Gerberding Gives Green Light to Gardasil then Goes to Work for Merck (g1a2d0049c1) (Photo credit: watchingfrogsboil)

Gardasil. Our doctors and health officials, including Alberta’s chief medical officer Andre Corriveau, say it’s safe, it’s free, just do it. Those who have been harmed by it, and a number of vaccine researchers whose work has found the vaccine to be problematic and who have had the courage to be honest, say think carefully before you comply.

I understand what scientific consensus is. I understand the whole risk/benefit balance, both on the individual and collective level, personal risk for the greater good. But I also understand that science and the media have become corporatized. I’ve heard some of the stories of censorship and dried-up funding first-hand, from both journalists and scientists, and I know how too many missing pieces of the puzzle can change the entire picture.

If you trust our health authorities, great, it’ll be an easy decision for you to get your Gardasil shot. If you don’t, you’ll likely be faced with some condescending judgment about how silly you are not to “be on board with the science”. To that, I’d just like to say this: I am on the side of science, and while the voices of dissent on this issue are kept pretty quiet as far as our media goes, these voices are the voices of scientists also.

I had this conversation last week with Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons on her Facebook wall, and I find the “case closed” mentality on the topic disturbing. She is of course entitled to feel that Albertans ignoring their HPV vaccine are slightly paranoid and poorly informed, but does she mean to imply that the doctors and scientists who disagree with her position are also unduly paranoid and poorly informed?

Vaccine researcher Diane Harper, international HPV expert, professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School—clearly not an “anti-vaxer” as dissenting voices are so often referred to—has expressed a number of reservations about Gardasil. In a phone conversation with me a few years ago, she told me that she’s not at all comfortable with Gardasil being offered to young women under the age of 15, as the safety research was done in women over the age of 15. Speaking at the Fourth International Public Conference on Vaccination several years ago, she told her audience that the rate of serious adverse events is in fact a major concern. She also said that the threat of cervical cancer has been exaggerated, that incidence in the developed world is low, with four out of five cases occurring in the developing world. In an interview with the Huffington Post, she said “pap smears alone prevent more cervical cancers than can the vaccines alone,” and “if Gardasil is given to 11 year olds, and the vaccine does not last at least fifteen years, then there is no benefit—and only risk—for the young girl”.

The reason for her honesty, she said, is that she needs to be able to sleep at night. Can somebody please tell me how she isn’t a credible source, and how taking her seriously can possibly be labeled as paranoia?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists cervical cancer as a rare disease. In Canada, it is responsible for about one percent of all cancer deaths. What we have here is a vaccine that offers some temporary protection against two of many possible factors associated with a rare disease that in fact has many causes, and that may or may not strike decades later. It is a vaccine that protects against just two strains of a virus that actually only very rarely go on to cause cancer—ninety-five percent of HPV infections are cleared spontaneously by our immune systems, and of the remaining five percent, only a small number go on to develop into cervical cancer.

Yes, I’m aware that these two strains are associated with the majority of cervical cancers, but that isn’t the same as a direct line between the two all the time, or even most of the time. There are in fact many factors involved, as an August 2009 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reminded us. Other significant risk factors that rarely get discussed include smoking, long-term use of the birth control pill, unprotected promiscuous sex, poverty, and inadequate nutrition.

This temporary protection against two of the factors linked to cervical cancer happens to come with some rare but extremely serious adverse effects that have struck down too many young women on the cusp of their adult lives.

As to Simons’ reference to an “insidious international anti-vaccination movement” that “sees vaccines of all sorts as a Big Pharma plot,” I’ll say this: It’s not a plot, but the fact is that vaccines are business. Merck, as reported by CNN Money a few years ago, needed Gardasil to climb out of the financial hole left by Vioxx and the millions they’d been ordered to pay out in injury compensation. “We have high expectations for Gardasil,” Tim Anderson of Prudential Equity Group had written in an analyst’s note.

They had high expectations, and went to work. In a New York Times piece in August of 2009, Diane Harper had this to say about the influence of business interests: “Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politician, and went directly to the people—it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now.”

It appears, as Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine has put it, that the pharmaceutical industry has co-opted “every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

So we have an exaggerated threat coming from those with vested interests, and we have a vaccine that offers limited protection and has been plagued by some significant rates of serious adverse events. Would this not make caution before jumping on board prudent?

As to the horrors of cancer that are so often trotted out, and were cited by Andre Corriveau, I know them. I’ve had cancer. But this vaccine is not the protection we’re led to believe it is. And when things do go wrong with a vaccine, the horrors too often match those of cancer. Dr. Scott Ratner told CBS his daughter was so ill with the autoimmune disease that came in the wake of her first Gardasil shot that she’d have been better off getting cervical cancer than the vaccine.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s becoming harder and harder to feel like the corporate media is doing the job it’s supposed to be doing.

Managing the Morning Mood with a Mower

I’ve found yet another solution to my waking up a ray of sunshine: mow the lawn before getting to my desk. I want my old bouncy morning self back, the one that, for decades, was pretty consistently more annoying to others first thing in the morning than it was annoyed, and I should never have taken that perky optimistic morning self for granted.

But I’ve found a cure for the less perky one. Not one that works for most of the year, granted (I will hopefully have outgrown this stage by next winter), but seriously, mowing, with my good ol’ reel mower in the fresh morning breeze and sunshine works well to break out of that left brain chatter and into right brain awareness and calm.

It’s one of many tools we have to shift our brain activity from the logical left side to the more intuitive and creative right side for a while, the side that facilitates hope and the healing of our bruised selves. Music, meditation, yoga, art, sex, massage, acupuncture, Qi Gong are all effective too. But my new favorite, simply because it’s been a very, very long winter, is mowing the lawn.

Being present in the right brain is important not just for our own pleasure and our own healing, but for being human. Our world values technology and productivity above art, but art and creativity are actually the prerequisite to technology. Creativity is the essence of life, and more primary than technology. It is the engine that drives the rest.

As blogger Kristin Lamb reminds us, here, Mary Shelley intuited the human body as bioelectric long before scientists did. George Eliot knew of the brain’s power to regenerate long before Dr. Elizabeth Gould understood and explained it scientifically. Much as stating clearly our personal goals moves us in the direction of realizing them, our imaginations expressed as art moves us as a society in the direction of the possible.

When I was undergoing cancer treatment last year, a friend sent me a TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor. By some miracle, given my despair at the time, her eloquent and passionate words captured my attention. We humans are the light-force power of the universe with manual dexterity, she said. The potential in this thought was staggering to me. I longed to escape the chatter of my left brain to expand my consciousness again, to feel connected to the energy of the universe, to be creative and productive, to feel empathy, to be compassionate and understanding and hopeful.

Being stuck in our left brains restricts our ability to be those things, both with others and ourselves, the latter kind of being a prerequisite for the former. It also makes us more defensive in the face of critical feedback—that wonderful but sometimes uncomfortable thing that helps us grow—as left brain logic is too loud to permit us to remain present and mine the good in the words of others. Our left brains, as essential and valuable as they are, are not the whole story, and sometimes simply get in the way of our being better human beings and building a better world.

Teaching is one of our society’s many undervalued arts, and so is healing. By healing, I don’t mean medicine, which is essential and facilitates healing but is highly valued and rewarded. The healing I mean here are the other kinds, the kinds that are viewed as non-essential, even flakey and dreamy, the kind done by the world’s intuitives and artists, those who listen closely and empathize, those who do energy body work and acupuncture and other holistic and complementary kinds of healing.

The visual arts, song, dance, theatre, the healing arts, writing—all of these, though often undervalued, are utterly essential to the health and progress of a society. They are what express our essence, our soul; they nourish our collective hope.