Monday, November 26, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 3. Week 2

1 week down on bathing daily with a sponge... rotating my cyro cuff throughout the day.. almost daily trips into town for physio or massage appointments (and gingerbread lattes from Starbucks)... naps.. reading by the fire... hobbled walks down to the water... home cooked meals from mum... it was a lifestyle so distant from any of my normal routine... and for the most part, I was loving it! As the week went on, however, I expected this to be a long haul... (hence the "trying to be positive" photo... the counter to my facebook profile pic).

I had an appointment with my surgeon on the 7th day following my surgery.. a Friday. I was pretty excited actually as I wanted to hear what he had to say... I was hoping he'd fall over in amazement when he realized that wolverine really was real.. but also I sooo wanted my dressings removed so I could shower with something other than a face cloth and a sink full of water. Sadly, I never made it to that appointment. Half way down to Toronto, mid-conversation my dad went silent.. "Hmm" he said "I just pushed the brake and it went all the way to the floor and nothing happened..." at least he didn't panic! Anyway, it was not something you mess around with. So we stopped at a gas station, he checked the brakes.. did a few tweaks... and we decided to keep going. It was less than 5 minutes on the highway before that happened again. Worried for both our lives, we turned around and proceeded cautiously home. Fortunately we made it, no problems.

Anyway, I had to wait another 4 days to see him.

In the meantime, things were going well. My physio said I could start riding my exercise bike.. "do little half circles" she said, just to try to start the stretch and try to go all around when you can. And you know what? That night I went home... managed to go all the way around in 2 minutes and spent the next 20 minutes on the bike. It felt soooo great! And I've been biking 30 minutes a day since :)

The splint.. also referred to as my "roboleg" ...was becoming more of a nuisance.. that was probably the biggest hinderance. You have to velcro this long metal tube pretty much to your leg, that keeps it straight all the time. You're left no choice but to hobble. It slides down persistently which is sooo annoying! Going for a walk is not easy more because the splint won't stay up than because of the knee pain! Anyway, I was told it would be 6 weeks until the brace comes off so I bit my tongue and summoned patience.. and started to think of ways I could MacGyver something to hold it up.

I had my surgeon appointment mid week.. at this point it was 12 days post surgery. Well past the 5-7 days he prefers. My dad and I drove down to Toronto again, this time with the brakes fixed, and sadly got a speeding ticket on the way (funny, it's like the universe didn't want me to see him for some reason!).. but I finally saw him. I walked in with my splint and optimism, got excellent feedback from him and my progress, and walked out holding the splint in my arms - I was "free-walking" again! (very wobbly mind you.. but I was freeee!) News was great... knee flexion was well beyond the 90 degrees they need within the first few weeks... wounds healing... I could even start swimming at the end of the second week!! He had done a great job and I was motivated.

Anyway, since... I've just finished my 2nd week and have started into my 3rd. I have to say, at this point I feel great. It's such a rush to learn to walk again after you've been deprived... humbling. I have an appreciation for something so basic.. something so fundamental.. something I had never given a second thought and it feels amazing. Incredibly enlightening. I also feel a strange special connection with my body.. like I've stepped into a damaged temple and my only job is to protect and rebuild it. Crazy huh! It's like everything outside doesn't matter other than my body and getting it back functioning. In thinking of day to day life where we place so much energy worrying about the things we can't control, it's nice to be in a place where the energy and worries are placed on something we can.

The physical feeling is pretty good too. Knee is tight still... it feels like you have duct tape over your knee and you're trying to stretch it. Yet with each day it gives a bit more. Walking.. for a while it feels like you're still wearing a phantom splint... for the first bit I walked the same without the splint as I did with. It's recommended to wear the splint at night every night for another week.. as you can't control how you move when you sleep - so night times are still a bit tough.. hard to sleep. 2 more days and no more splint in bed though :) It's strange every day brings new pains and new strengths... parts of you are sore that aren't even close to the knee! My glutes in particular are sore pretty regularly with exercise now.

In hindsight, I definitely think pre-hab is just as much or even more-so important than rehab. To be able to do the exercises, as well as just manoeuvre the tasks of life like going the washroom... arm strength is key to be able to push your body up off the floor... leg strength is essential... as every trip to the bathroom involves 2 one-legged squats!

It's also interesting that the mental / cognitive functioning aspect definitely suffers. Post drugs... and with the pain.. I have noticed it incredibly difficult to connect thoughts... or even carry on conversation. I feel much quieter than usual. Don't have much to say. Recently, thanks to a great friend, I learned there are actually links between pain and language - it's common that as physical pain dominates language diminishes temporarily (See Private Language Argument). Interesting. And it's so true! I feel so brain dead. And to this day.. I'm still feeling it big time. You'll probably notice too in there are most likely many spelling mistakes / grammatical errors in my write-up!

Anyway, I'll wrap up for this week. Everyone told me it is so tough going in... and I was prepared (well not so prepared) but I have to say.. so far it's been totally fine and I've loved the opportunity it has created for life to slow down and take a breath. Stay tuned for the update end of week 3 - hopefully the spirits are still high.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 2. Post-Op / Week 1

So, I made it through... safe and sound.

I won't deny I wasn't crying like a baby going into the hospital.. because I was. The anticipation was literally killing me. I pictured getting doughy.. hobbling around ...knocking things over in my path.. being a burden to everyone.. everything being so difficult..

But! In reality? The picture I had in my mind compared to the what I'm actually living now.. is drastically different.

The pre-operation period went incredibly smooth. No long waits. No rude nurses or hair-brained doctors. I was incredibly impressed. I passed along the assembly line of the hospital from running shoes to slippers, greeted and cared for by friendly face after friendly face along the way.

It was two hours before my parents and I split ways and I entered the symbolic "do not enter" misty windows doors to enter the operating room area. The experience was to be expected I suppose.  ...waiting in the stretcher up against the wall hearing the bustle of the medical team between operating rooms... simultaneously dreading and hoping that the doctor would approach shortly to take me through the final stages...then finally when he does he tells me that there was going to be a delay and proceeds to hands me a newspaper. Waiting. Waiting. Trying to enjoy the article on beard competitions meanwhile distracted by the unknown of the moments to come.. then the nurse comes.. checks me twice.. then the surgeon comes... autographs my knee for operation.. and then pulls down the stretcher bars and instructs me to follow him into the operating room. I walk behind him and enter THE ROOM. Then there you are... IN the operating room. The green walls. The big lights. The surgical masks and the cold.. sterile.. equipment. Instructed to take off my outer gown and feeling the cold brush of air against my backside as it was exposed to the room. Lying down and covered with a heated blanket, strangers hands sticking electrodes on my body... my neck.. my ribs. The anesthetist enters the room, introduces himself, and makes a dry joke. The sedation begins. Lying in silence watching the team prep themselves for their work to come. Waiting. Waiting for the feeling to come.. waiting... then starting to feel it.. "Wow" I said "It hits fast." "Yes" the anesthetist said. And then I woke up.

It all happened so fast. The next thing I remembered was waking up in recovery to a man vomiting uncontrollably across from me. It felt like the deepest sleep I'd had in ages.

The process post-operation in the hospital was pretty smooth. The nurses were incredibly kind and helpful and I had a big window to look out of. Morphine, that was a nice touch. The food? Not such a nice touch.

I had a roommate who cried uncontrollably for the first hour I was there. Claiming that she was bipolar and sometimes just cried... so she cried, a lot. The rest of the time she moaned in pain. Poor woman.

I dozed in and out pressing the morphine button anytime I approached consciousness.

In the middle of the night, however, the machine malfunctioned. Each time I pushed the button the machine would beep to say I received the injection but then default into error and beep non-stop. Each time I had to call the nurse, they'd come and unplug and plug it in... over and over. This went on for hours. I felt more pain, and more like a high maintenance patient needing ongoing assistance. At the end of the night, however, another nurse finally came and uncovered that problem - there was a clasp blocking my IV tube! Meaning.. I had not been receiving morphine ALL NIGHT! What a gyp.

Nonetheless, in the morning I felt pretty great. The physio came, I did all the exercises with ease. I could wiggle my toes and move my ankles. I could lift my leg even! I got to see the dressing change and was nicely surprised to see 4 little incision holes instead of a sight resemblant to a scene in a SAW movie.

I felt so good in fact that when we returned back to my parents home town we did errands around town.. for hours. I hobbled around on crutches and felt great.. for a while! We got my pain killers.. and I decided I wasn't going to take them until I needed them. I AM wolverine I thought. We continued around town.. until it started to hurt a bit more. I pushed it. It started to hurt more. Pushed it. Hurt more. Ok, it was time to go home and time for the meds.

Bad BAD idea not taking it easy that day and not taking my meds 4 hours after I should have. I was in excruciating pain until 2 in the morning. Lesson learned... (after I phoned Telehealth Ontario) when you miss a dose of pain killers... you have to play catchup when you need to startup again. The pain killers take a lot longer to kick in this way. Seems simple really. I felt stupid. I also was slightly disappointed that I wasn't wolverine.

Anyway, since! the recovery has been coming along great! I'm doing my exercises regularly.. resting lots... catching up on movies and books. I've been able to walk the last few days without crutches! I have pain only when I move certain ways. I've been going for short walks around the neighbourhood and they feel "slowly" great. My knee bends almost to 90 degrees with assistance. I still have to sleep with a splint every night for the first while (docs orders), so that part kind of sucks. I'm using a cryo cuff  (circulating ice knee cuff device) which really helps with the inflammation! I've seen physio and had a massage already (the massage was glorious).  I learned that if you lie on a heating pad under your hips, the liquid moves upwards away from the site and gives relief.

All in all, I'm feeling positive and driven while also feeling relaxed and sleepy... which is a nice change of pace from life.

Let's see what week 2 brings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 1. Pre-Operation

So it was approximately 10 months ago where I experienced the thrill of a complete ACL tear. It was amidst a soccer game where I got tackled from the side, heard a snap and went down like a push button toy.

The only difference was that I didn't spring back and hit the pitch again minutes later.

After delaying the surgery... twice... the time has come for me to brave it out and do the ACL reconstruction. My surgery is on Friday November 9th, two days away, and I've decided after the experience of going through the motions trying to anticipate exactly what to expect that I would blog about the whole experience... treat my journey as a case study. Although I can't deny writing will have cathartic benefits, I wanted to offer my story to the ACL veterans wishing reminisce their way down memory lane and to ACL up-comers looking to demystify the process.

So, the lead up?  ...I must admit it has been emotional.

When it happened it was painful. But! I was able to walk off the field by the time the game ended, and within a few months I was running again. I was determined that I could "will my way" to a fully healed knee. And now, here I am, almost a year later... and I'm running, cycling and swimming regularly. In fact, I might be in the best shape (or close to it) I've ever been!

...So, why have the surgery? Because I can't play any pivoting sports... pivoting...?! really? Had you ever thought before how many sports involve pivoting? Almost ALL of them! Anyway, I decided to have the surgery to get "back to normal."

Since making the decision, it has been a roller coaster.

There are the good days where I think - oh wow! I'll be able to play soccer again!... squash!! ....snowboard!! ...I'll be able to run and not experience pain in my hip after half an hour!!

But then there are bad days where I'm overwhelmed with the pending isolation that awaits, the lack of independence, the frustration with a body that "doesn't work like it used to" and the lack of motivation that I'm assuming is accompanied with rehab.

In many ways I feel like I'm approaching an abyss where it's impossible to emotionally and physically prepare myself for something I have no idea how to relate to. Not having experienced surgery before, I can say, however, that it's quite something to experience your body break and realize that it's not going to miraculously heal itself like wolverine... the youthful dream of invincibility dies pretty quick.

It's also quite something to be going about your daily life before hand.. and realize the things you're doing at this moment you won't be able to do for the next 6 months. Simple things like going for a run, biking to school... I went for a swim this morning and couldn't help but think.. it would be a while till I would be in that pool again. Tough. Hopefully all worth it though.

Two more sleeps and then the big day - and I'm as ready as I'm going to be. I have crutches booked for rental (way cheaper than buying), my brand new splint awaiting its unveiling from the box, an exercise bike, cryocuff (cold water circulating unit) borrowed from a friend.. and books... a couple of them. Apparently it's a long wait in the hospital before... and after. They also make you stay over night just in case.

On the day leading up.. I can eat until midnight tomorrow night and then the day of no food or water prior to the surgery, no gum as well. Apparently you need to get there two hours before your surgery for all the prep. I'll be reading Stumbling on Happiness through the process... I was inspired by his TED Talk.

Cheers to smooth sailing. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Therapist That Handed Me The Noose

So... after an extensive break from blogging regularly of exhaustion, life events, and a summer sun that just won't allow me to escape it's glorious grasps... I have decided to try and start writing again. The inspiration? An experience that rendered me speechless at the time that now leaves me bursting to express my recent encounter with a therapist that would put Dr. Kevorkian out of work.

Now, to give a bit of history, since I've arrived in this city my quest for a therapist has been far from a easy.

My first attempt to find a therapist put my on a waiting list at school and a backup option of participating in a volunteer experiment where doctors in training provide unofficial therapy sessions. In reality this was an opportunity for doctors to use people seeking help and support as guinea pigs mainly as an outlet to build their bedside manners. Although the woman I saw was nice at the time, I provided her more coaching on how to conduct a therapy session than the should provide me support. A dangerous venture in my opinion.

The second experience, I tried a woman recommended by my doctor. I spend an hour trying to explain why I had come to her while consistently trying to shift my gaze and look comfortable while trying to understand her "trained approach" of starting me down in silence. Argh. It was so bad I emailed her, told her how unhappy I was with the session and tried to negotiate paying her half of what I owed her. I broke down and had to pay the whole thing.

The third experience, a man this time, left me feeling like I'd come out of a first date. When I expressed myself, he would say things like "oh, I like that" or "oooh, that's a very special quality"...the room was tense, he rarely made eye contact and when he did it was "hungry"... I later email him also and told him I could not continue sessions as I felt like our meeting was like a first date. He responded with a swift "good luck in the future." Had to pay him too.

It wasn't until this most recent experience, however, that I reached my tipping point and decided to write. This time it is a about a teary eyed PhD student seeking support and counsellor who evidently should give up the chair.

I arrived to the counselling office to be her first patient of the day. It was 10:00 by the time I sat down to wait for her. Around 10:15 a tall woman came around the corner to call my name. She was slightly overweight, medium length frizzy black hair, and slightly awkward. She peered over her glasses and introduced herself and apologized for being so late. A bit surprised she was running so late, I tried to think nothing of it. I stood up to shake her hand and introduce myself but she turned and started walking down the hall leading the way to her office. I put my hand down and followed her.

When I got into her office we both sat down, and she asked my about why I am at the University. I began to explain my schooling.. my dept.. the usual story when you first meet someone. As I explained my academic history (somewhat irrelevant given she was already 15 minutes late for a 45 minute session) she started moving around the office. Turned to the filing cabinet and started looking for papers. She went to her purse and fumbled around. The whole time half listening and half asking me questions. At one point she said, what did you do before here? And I explained my undergrad and masters... "I have a Masters in Education Technology" I said.. she asked what school I went to here, and I said "OISE" ...her response "don't you have to have a masters in education or something?

"Hmmm.... something isn't right here" I thought.

Then she cut straight to the wound... "So why are you here?" Now, first of all, a good therapist eases into the conversation. But they ALSO don't make you feel like they're distracted settling into their office, half listening, and not spending any time to tune into your energy or where you might be coming from. Nope! No tact.

Swallowing my shock I started to explain a bit of what brought me there.. but as I was doing so she was typing on her computer... fiddling with the mouse. "Odd" I thought, "this isn't right?!" So I'd say a bit.. pause... say a bit... pause.. nothing. So, eventually I cut off mid sentence just to see if she was listening and no response from her end. She was still screwing around on her computer.

So, I shut up and sat there. Sat there in silence. Waiting. Waiting. She just kept fiddling away on her computer.. typing.. squinting through her tiny little glasses at the keys... two finger typing.. odd. I continued to wait and started to get annoyed. About ten minutes later, still not having said a word to me about what was going on.. she picks up the phone "Hi there" she says "I can't seem to log into my computer, can you give me the number for tech support?" Ooooh man, I was not NOT impressed. She hangs up the phone and calls tech support, has to leave a message. She was helpless, just kept trying her password over and over again. I was getting more and more angry and also very disappointed at the same time. "Why can't this woman just pickup a goddamn piece of paper and take notes manually for this session and deal with the computer later?" I thought to myself. I am a techie, there's no doubt about that, but in this case? there was no need for technology. And in fact, I don't think that therapy sessions are the place for technology.

Nonetheless,  the non-confrontational, patient, optimistic person that I am.. I kept waiting. I tried to help her log into her computer, but no luck. And her response?  She just kept trying.

There was maybe one apology during this time.. but she didn't make any efforts to come up with a plan b.

It was about 10:40 maybe at this point and tech support finally calls. They spend maybe five to ten minutes on the phone troubleshooting while I continue to wait. I am not happy at this point. But, she finally gets off the phone and lets out a sigh of relief that she was able to get into the system. She opens up my file from my pre-screening I'd had done over the phone when I first contacted the clinic in the fall and was placed on a waiting list.

She starts into "ok, let's go a bit deeper into why you're here." Trying so desperately to be optimistic that this woman could provide a bit of help on a day where I could barely keep myself together, I responded with trying to explain more. As I did so, she faced the computer... reading on the screen. I continued.. and she interrupted me to tell me what the notes said and that I was there for that. Explaining the notes no longer applied to my situation and what I was going through was relatively different than before, she insisted on telling my why I was there.. all the answers were in the notes apparently rather than in the actual words that were coming out of my mouth.

Anyway, I kept correcting her to tell her the situation was different.. what she was reading no longer applied. She finally stopped.

And so I explained a bit more, she started typing. She asked a question, again half listening, and I responded.. hesitantly as she typed. As I kept talking she was completely unresponsive, and so, again I stopped mid sentence. No response from her. Just typing. At this point I might add, tears had welt up because I was so upset about what I was going through.. and she hadn't even turned to look at me to notice. She kept typing. I sat there in silence feeling increasing humiliated and frustrated.

She speaks up again "ok, so tell me about your family.." "What?!!" I thought to myself? She just totally changed the subject - didn't ask anything about what I was talking about, take the time to try to listen, nothing. In complete shock, I stumbled and started explaining a bit. She asked if I had issues with family, etc.. all standard therapy questions, which are relevant I get that, but given the context of our meeting so far she'd not heard anything yet to relate this history too. Grrr. Anyway, I began to explain. And AGAIN she kept typing... and stopped listening. I stopped mid sentence again. No response. Waited. Waited.

Finally, she spoke again "ok, so let's try and get more to the bottom of things so we can give you a bit of help in leaving today." Of the mindset that there is always something positive that can be taken from every meeting, I thought "Ok, at least!! At least let me take something away from this!" She asked me to explain more about what I was feeling and why. I started to explain more of my history.. which I know is very VERY important information for her.. I got very teary as I started to get into it. At first she listened, defended my side as I went along, but turned again and started writing. I kept telling the story (as it's a good one).. but given her response, or lack thereof (again).. I stopped midway through my story. She kept typing and typing. Didn't respond.

That's it I thought. I'm never seeing this woman again. I felt so exasperated... so objectified... my emotions so trivial... this woman took me when I was incredibly down and just kicked me further. I thought to myself "you know? if I was suicidal? after this meeting - today... today would be the day. And this, this is the hour!"

She kept typing.. and then spoke again "Ok, so if you want to book another session, I'm free wednesdays..." I thought to myself "should I lose it with her and tell her how disappointed and unimpressed I am with her?" Oh boy, I so wanted to lose it.. but I was so overwhelmed with emotion I knew I'd blow.. so I told her I'd have to think about it. She gave my a piece of paper and told me to look up Mindfullness-Based Cognitive Therapy classes. I took the paper and left. It was 11:20, approximately 35 minutes after we were supposed to finish

Immediately I went to the front desk, told them the session did not go well, and placed myself back on the waiting list for another therapist. I subsequently biked home, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me and more alone than before I walked into her office. I came home, sat down on my bed and cried. To feel pain is one thing but when the very source that is supposed to give you support makes you feel embarrassed or guilty about your pain... suddenly the escape seems more distant, and you're left feeling hopeless and helpless.

This, this is how this woman made me feel.

I saw another therapist a few weeks later.. the one referred to me next on the waiting list. The session was ok, but she definitely "wouldn't get a second date." I think it was her starting off the session by reading out loud why I was there off her computer screen instead of just asking me. The funny thing? She was reading me the notes from the previous therapist. And what did these notes entail per se? Given the amount of typing she did in my session, I expected a volumes. But as the therapist read out the notes, I was summed up in five sentences...... grr.

Now?! All I can do I shake my head, keep my chin up and my running shoes running for my sanity.. and keep trying. In many ways find a therapist truly is like dating. You have to find someone you truly connect with, and much like a first date.. you know in minutes. And so I keep searching. There is another one coming up in a couple weeks. Hopefully, this time.. this will be the one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Looking Everywhere But At Each Other

Today's post will be a short one. I just wanted to share an observation I've been thinking about lately.

It was late night in a local pub, we were the last ones in the bar, empty beer glasses around the table, and conversation was winding down following heavy political debate. Then, however, the topic of relationships came up. Some of us new, and some of us old friends, everyone "told their story" about the state of their heart.

Sadly, every single person (either in relationships or not) was in love with someone they were not with.

The first one, still longed for a relationship he had to leave because of timing. He now found himself in place where she'd moved on with someone else, and he could do nothing about it. He's currently in a relationship with someone else but unable to let go of the hope of this other woman.

Another, longed for the woman he dated only recently that, he claimed, was the first time he'd really been in love with. He too had to end things because of timing.  Now in a place of regret, however, he emailed her to see if they could rekindle things, and was rejected. He has resorted to online dating, as a means to get over her. Sadly, his focus is still on her and he hasn't met anyone.

These stories are not one-offs like you might think. In fact, I would have to say that it's pretty common lately that people I know are either not in relationships and still in love with someone else, or people are in relationships but in love with someone else. The worst part is that most of them seem helpless to doing anything about it.

So, how does this manifest in relationships? In many ways it almost seems like many of us are consistently looking at someone other than the one who looks back at us.

As an example, a friend of mine started a relationship recently. They'd met and instantly hit it off. They started texting like crazy from the day the met. He was unreliable in his communication and time with her though, and it triggered her. "How come he doesn't see how great I am" she said... and the more we talked about it, it became apparent that he wasn't actually "seeing" her. He had no idea who she really was. Is it coincidence he just got out of a long term relationship lately?

If this is truly the state of affairs, it's sad really. When we are constantly looking at someone else do we feel like no one ever sees us? Not an easy head space to overcome. If this is the case, it seems to me that if we don't act on these feelings in one way or another we will all remain too busy looking away from one another, and in turn never truly see each other.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Teaching the Barfly a Lesson in Picking Up

So it’s a Friday night out with a few girls and we find ourselves at this little alternative bar in discussion around a candle lit table. Looking around the room there is an unusual proportion of men, and reading the body language of some of them, they appear to be mobilizing to approach us. Two men in particular looked particularly hungry.

A tall, average build, clean cut brown hair, average looking man, pulls his friend over and interrupts our conversation “Hey Ladies” he says, “My friend here is a really good kisser.” My friends and I look at each other unimpressed. He continues to say “ahh, you’re probably going to ask me how I know… well, I may have tried in high school…” We said very little. He then explains how he promised his friend he wouldn't leave alone tonight and proceeds to try and sell us on his friend. We respond indirectly expressing our disinterest and then return to our conversation. They continue to stand there, for a while.

As time passes, they are still standing there. A few of the girls leave, and it's myself and a friend remaining. The man pipes in again, and raising his eyebrows in attempt to entice us he says "You know, making out between four people is pretty gross huh." He makes a circle motion with his finger grouping us together. My friend and I looked at eachother in disgust and shook our head out of embarrassment for him. Then he said "I would happily make out with either of you though... " again with the raised eyebrows. "No thanks" we both said. And again, we returned to our conversation. His friend left shortly after, but like a bee around honey he continued to stand there.

The night went on, he finally left as the girls in my group came and went, discussions with different men infiltrated the table, and lack of attention was paid to this guy. I thought he was gone for good.

It was until a bit later, however, where seemingly all the girls I was with had paired off with a guy around the bar that I was temporarily alone at the table. Guess who shows up. He comes over and says "I bet you want to go home with me don't you" and I said "Sorry, no. And I don't do that sort of thing. I'm not a pickup / one night stand type person." He took a step back, furrowed his brow and said "Ppppft! Yeah, whatever. You want to go home with me." I responded a bit more assertively this time. "Actually, no, NO, I don't. Like I said, I'm not interested and I'm not into that." It was like the wheels in his brain had temporarily jammed and I'd just said something that did not align with the way he understood the world. Silenced, only temporarily I'm afraid, he responded eventually with "Well, I'm not going to let you go home with me" I responded "I don't want to go home with you" he responded "yes, you do" I responded "No, I don't" he responded "Yes, you do." 

Gah! I was so exasperated I said "you know, you gotta work on your game dude" He responded and said "You? You are telling me I need to work on my game?" I responded "YES! You know you're not a bad looking guy, you're going about it totally the wrong way!" He responded "I can't believe you're telling me how I should operate" I said "Look, if you want to meet women you need to come up and talk to them about real stuff... Jesus! I should go around with you and show you how to do it" I almost ate my shoe when his eyes perked up after my saying that "Really? You'd go around and help me pickup a chick tonight? Oh man, I'm so in for that" I tried to eat my shoe. 

I revoked my offer and said "Ok, I'm not going to do that.. but ok... let's try. Ok, tell me something I don't know" He stepped back, slightly, actually very uncomfortable about my request and said "wow, I can't believe you're telling me how to meet women..." and then said "I don't know you, there are heaps of things you don't know." I responded and said "Ok, well tell me something then!" He shook his head, looked down deep in thought, and then hesitantly said "I like football. How about football? Do you like football?" Completely unimpressed that THIS is what he pulled out I responded "Football! Gah! No! I don't like football. Try something else!" 

Frustrated still at the fact that he was being coached by this random girl in a bar on how to speak to women, he stood up and stepped back again out of frustration. "I don't have to do this... I don't have to listen to you." I responded with "that's totally fine" And then he returned to the table, placed his head in his hands and struggled with this task like he was trying to solve the problem of world peace. After a short moment, he raised his head and said "Ok, I like The Smiths. Do you like The Smiths?" This time my eyebrows raised. "Progress!" I thought. "Yes, I like The Smiths" I said with a smile, "Good, now that's good! Why do you like The Smiths?" He returned to frustration mode, shook his head at having to answer me, and returned his head to his heads to think again. "I guess I like them because of the contrast between the dark lyrics and upbeat melody" Very excited about this progress, I said "Wow! That's great! Keep going... tell me more..."

It was at this point, that one of the girls interrupted my conversation with him to talk about a man she'd just been talking to. While this conversation went on, the man I'd been speaking with eventually left.  I didn't see him for the rest of the night.

Although, we never got to finish our conversation, I chuckled about it when I left the bar as it reminded me over other times I'd had similar conversations with men. The first time in particular was a guy that was so clueless that he failed to realize women actively turned the other way if they saw him, and made fun of him in their whispers to his face. Admittedly, he made me feel very uncomfortable, and I didn't care too much for him. Eventually, however, I spoke to him about his impact on women as I couldn't tolerate how uncomfortable he was making both myself and my friends feel, and how he seemingly didn't seem aware of it. As it turns out? He was complete shocked to learn that he had this impact on women, and felt terrible about it! He sincerely had no idea. The more we talked it came out that he just didn't know how to act around women. He was just incredibly sad and lonely, had a lot of love to give, and desperately wanted to have a woman in his life. His coping mechanism was to overcompensate and try too hard. I think I learned more from him than he learned from me that night, and I took a lot from that conversation. I vowed that if I see a similar situation emerge in the future, I would do the same thing and try to help instead of avoid that person.

I have had many of these conversations since, and much like Friday night, the men I have spoken with have been very receptive to hearing about how their actions affect how they are perceived ...especially when it comes to trying to form relationships. Perhaps I'll be proven wrong one of these times, but until then, it's actually pretty cool to transform a situation that is incredible uncomfortable to incredibly intimate within a few sentences. It's incredibly fulfilling to be able to step outside a situation with someone, be honest about their impact on you, and enter a space for discussion where you can look to help them make a change even in the smallest form. Each time, I think they have changed a small part of me too.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011: Looking Back, Forward & In Between

- spent new years day hungover and unable to keep anything down until mid afternoon
- new years day, learned the magical cure to a horrendous hangover, the big mac



Argh! As I sit here staring at the flashing cursor on the blank white of my word document, I decided to write.

If asked to recall 20 major things that happened in your life in 2011 could you do it? In 5 minutes do you think you could come up with the list? Would it be an accurate depiction of your year? It may seem like a mighty question to ask, but really out of 365 days, and over 500, 000 minutes in a year, it should be a simple task, no? Well, if you're like me, it's not easy. Every year, I struggle with these questions, and every year, I fail miserably to not only recall the key moments of my life over the one year time span, but also to create an accurate depiction of the year. Often times as I spend time reflecting I will realize that my perception of the year that has just passed is actually very different from the reality  when I dig down to the details.

It is my tradition every New Years day to lock myself away from the world and spend the day with time, both past, present and future, documenting this experience with my computer and a word document. Yes, it's isolating and cerebral. That being said, however, I generally find this day to be one of my most productive, cathartic, painful and yet enlightening days of the year. On this day I write, and write, and write, about everything that has happened in the past year, my lessons learned, and the goals and insight I wish to bring along with me as I traverse through the new year.

In the past I have written with the aim to keep it to a few pages. I've created different frameworks and filled them in...

2008 - Happy Moments, Sad Moments, Scary Moments, etc..
2009 - Successes, Failures, Oddities & Funny Stories
2010 - The three pillars of life: Love, Health, Career

And every, EVERY, single year what happens? What starts out small ends up snowballing to the point I could write a three part trilogy. And thus, sadly, I have yet to actually finish a full year review. This year, however, I decided to do it a little differently. I decided to do a timeline - so at least I would have the year documented. And depending on time, I could then write a summary section - Lessons Learned, Highlights, Love. Either way I'd have something documented before the next year seems to distract me.

Although this strategy seemed great, sitting down to a blank word document containing only the months and white space seemed daunting. I slowly started filling in things in my life that happened over the year into their corresponding month as I could think of them. But the more I tried to remember the more I realized I had forgotten. The task was easy for the recent months, and the list seemed endless, but as I moved further and further into the previous year, things became more fuzzy. After a while, I had some things about January, and absolutely nothing NOTHING from February to September! How, how could this happen? Every moment seems so vivid when we live it, so how is it that we can not only forget days, or weeks, but months? and spans of months? I actually find this realization rather horrific personally. And I bet you I'm not alone on this. Just try it! Can you remember 5 things that happened last April? How about February? May?

Ashamed at the poor performance of my memory, I decided to resort to my email for guidance. Now for those of you whom have adopted an effective email management strategy, this is one of the rare occasions where the email pack rat wins. In looking back at the 27000+ emails in my inbox, I realized these emails were the script to my life in 2011 and for once was thankful that I wasn't more proactive at prioritizing email deletion. What was even better about this was that I was not only reflecting on my past year by going through my emails but also cleaning out my inbox. A rather cathartic process really.

As I went through this process, I couldn't believe how much HOW MUCH we forget, and looking back at these moments I remembered at the time being so convinced this state of being was never going to change. Take my dogs passing for example. Those moments where my brother and I had to put our dog down, where we held her in our arms and watched in tears as she went limp from the injection - I forgot? I was hurt for weeks! I could barely get out of bed the next day, I had headaches, could barely eat, had nothing to say for quite a while... this pain, this heartache, it felt so real, so big and overwhelming, and SO permanent! Yet, that blank cursor under the month of July did not trigger me to remember. I forgot! How HOW could I forget?

As another example, when I looked at February, I remembered the cold, work, and routine. But what did the emails remind me? That was the month I moved apartments, I got accepted to my PhD and decided to embark on the PhD. The move was a huge ordeal, and the PhD was on my mind all the time for weeks. And, again, I forgot?

Pretty scary isn't it? That we can be so consumed in something at the time and complete COMPLETELY forget about it mere months later?

Eventually, I had sorted a years worth of emails, and simplified one year of my life down to 4 pages. Imagine a whole year summarized in bullet form, odd in some ways. And in line with my comment earlier, this list was very different than my original perception of the year. In fact it was much more textured and colourful than I could have come up with if left alone with the recesses of my mind.

Unlike the past years, I finished this list feeling slightly uneasy. Triggered most likely because I'd taken a different approach this year, I was floored at how much we forget, and also at the chaotic things we remember. Why did I forget my dog passing but remember I had a big mac on New Years day last year? Sure it was a moment of bliss, but in the big picture it was nothing in comparison to Izzy. And I had other big macs last year... so why did I remember this one.. oh, actually, I do remember the other ones... delicious (every vegetarian has their weakness, and mine just so happens to be big macs and hot dogs, neither of which are real meat).

Anyway, I suppose I now come out of this experience... with mixed emotion. I watched a TED talk earlier this year by Daniel Kehnman, the author of recently published book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" The talk was titled "The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory" and talks a lot about this very issue. He addresses the sensation of a 2 week vacation feeling just as long as 1 week and explains it's due to the way our memory stores experience. He talks about the idea of recency and the way an event ends often tends to influence the way we remember the whole experience. In many ways this talk explains exactly what I'm talking about, the inability to remember the experiences that construct our lives. And he poses a very important question,  would you take a two week vacation if you knew at the end of it all your memories would be erased? Well funny enough, our memories actually do sort of get erased.

Thus begs the question, if we don't remember the things we do, why do we do them? or not do them? Is it laziness or fear? But what are we so afraid of? In thinking of fear alone, it's rather funny to think that fear holds us back from doing so many things, but once we surpass that fear we forget it existed in the first place. Just thinking back at my experiences this year, embarking on this PhD was a choice I found simply terrifying. I was faced with picking up my life and leaving behind some amazing friends, a band with undoubtable potential, and a job that many would die for. And the result of this choice meant I had to move to a city where I new hardly anyone, live below the poverty line, and attempt to test the validity of something I don't only value most but also possess the most insecurity about, my intelligence. I'd be faced with me (my perceived capacity of what I can do) with me (my actual capacity of what I can do). I know I was terrified for months, about every thing I was leaving behind, and the potential failure and isolation I was potentially about to be faced with. But I chose to do it. And now? Now that I am here,  that fear seems like I read about it in a book, or watched in a movie; it's like I never lived it. And in fact, it was within a week that I began to forget the reasons that would have held me back in the first place.

I don't know about you, but when I really think about these moments or slices in time... even like the time I'm consuming to write this.. it's hard to believe, it's almost unfathomable in fact, to truly grasp how that the things that feel so immediately important and just minor details mere days later sometimes... and also how so many moments are gone forever in the blink of an eye, and many never to resurface. This, I guess is why it's so important that we live not to collect memories but live to live.

It is at this point I'm reminded of the talk by Steve Jobs that went viral earlier this year after his passing. It's funny isn't it? That so often people get recognized and appreciated more when they're no longer around to witness these outcomes in their honour? Anyway, Steve's Commencement Speech, in my opinion, really sheds some light on my concept of "living to live." If you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend watching it, and if you've seen it, I recommend watching it again. A very inspiring talk with some inspiring quotes:

"The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do" 

"I've always asked myself: If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I'm about to do today... and whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something" 

"Remembering that you are going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose"

"You are already naked, there is no reason why not to follow your heart"

"Death is, very likely, the single best invention of life"

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone elses life" "Don't lose faith" "Don't settle" "Stay hungry and stay foolish"

There is actually a song by AzR that was made using this speech. Made only with apple sounds and this speech, it's quite well done I think. Reminds me a bit of Baz Luhrmans, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

So, what can we take from all of this? The fact that we'll remember the things we thought we never would.. and forget the things we thought we never would. And what can be taken from Steve's talk? In my personal reflection, I suppose the desire to live without regret seems more important than anything. Why did I choose regret of all things? It was through the following story where all these questions I've expressed in this post dissipated the second the idea of living with regret seemed so vivid. It was a story told to me by my grandfather this past Christmas.

Standing in front of the fireplace, my back absorbing the warmth, I stood there alone looking at the gentle glow of Christmas tree. Lost in the ambience of the music, the smells of christmas baking, and the bustle in the background, I found myself, for once, in the moment. 

My grandfather entered the room and sat down on the couch. It was this year, over others, that he seemed particularly quiet. He asked me a few questions about school, and I gave him my generalist versus specialist dilemma, we talked a bit about his new religion, and then, we got to the reason for his melancholy... this Christmas he was missing his wife. She passed away recently. 

I indulged him and asked him a bit about how he's doing, and despite his efforts, he revealed a very deep sadness but also regret. A regret that spanned his whole life. This was the first time he really told me the story.

She passed away almost two years ago, and she was the love of his life. She was not, however, the mother of his children in his first marriage, nor the second, she was the girl he dated before both of his wives, the girl he dated in university.

Deeply fond of each other,  I understand them to have been together for a while and have an idyllic relationship. As they started to get more serious, however, so did the state of the relationship; and eventually she was ready for marriage. My grandfather, on the other hand, was not. In the meantime, she had another fellow that had been pursuing her diligently for quite some time, and the day finally came the he asked her to marry her. Still in love with my grandfather, she returned to him and told him that this other man had asked her to marry her. She then asked him if he was willing to commit to her in the same way. My grandfather, just beginning school, refused. He said the timing wasn't right and that he had to focus on school. At that point she accepted his words, turned away, and married the other man.

They both went on to live their lives, separately. She remained married to this man his whole life, and had many wonderful children. They had a happy family (from what I gather) but he was away a lot and she spent a lot of time alone. She did great things with that independence mind you, but she was alone. My grandfather, on the other hand, married my grandmother after he finished school. They had four beautiful girls, and a solid marriage that ended by the time my mother was pregnant with me. He later remarried again, had two more wonderful children, girls, and had another great marriage. 

Beneath these marriages and families, and their careers, my grandfather and his first love never forgot each other. Although they did not keep in touch, they both knew where each other were at all points of life, where they were living, how many children they had, and so forth. He even dragged my grandmother to see a play of the same name as this woman he was in love with. In love, in love, for their entire life but not together. 

It was 50 years later, after her husband died and my grandfathers second marriage had ended, that he decided to phone her. When she picked up the phone, the first words that came out of her mouth were "I almost fell over when the phone rang... as I knew it was you."

From that point on, they began this next phase of their life together again; and physically and mentally made each other feel like they were both in their 20s again. They had many wonderful years together, I think I saw my grandfather that happiest I've ever seen him, and a mutual love I'd never seen in his previous marriages. It was truly like they just fit. 

She died eventually after a courageous struggle with cancer, with a smile on her face and a positive spirit that lifted those around her. He is now alone and lost in his thoughts of her.

We returned to talking about their youths again, and he told me that he'd gone to the trouble of finding out where and when her wedding was back when he was young. He wanted to stop the wedding but in the end, he didn't have the guts. He muttered under his breath "I wish I stopped the wedding"

It was at this point, I asked him... "do you regret not spending your life with her?" He went on to explain he'd married some amazing women, and had beautiful children... and that she'd had a successful life... and I cut him off "Yes, grandpa, but you would have had great children no matter whom you married... so, the question is, do you regret it?"  The look in his eyes said everything. A quiet "yes" escaped his lips.

We got called for dinner shortly after, and our talk came to an abrupt ending.

This story made a huge impact on me this Christmas, imagine a whole life wishing you'd missed out on something that you cannot change. What held him back? The mindset that he "had to" place his priorities on school... when really the only person that was telling him he "had to" do that was himself. He had a choice and the control, and yet he opted to leave his fate in the hands of time instead of his own. Also, he eventually made the realization that he'd made a mistake. But what held him back then? Fear and probably perception. And sadly, these trivial emotion led to decisions that left consequences that spanned the rest of his life.

I feel many things from this story. Primarily, I am incredibly sad about this story. Still of the mindset I'm at the start of my life, I find it daunting to imagine an entire life longing for something you could have had. Second, I feel grateful to have heard this story. I feel I have a more intimate perspective of regret, and think the key to living without regret is to achieve a mindset where the fear of regret exceeds the fears that lead to regret. Looking at this story if he'd done so, he'd probably have stopped that wedding; or maybe taken an extra year at school or experienced a slight drop in his marks and said "yes" in the first place. All potential hindrances that would have seemed huge at the time, look so trivial when you look back at the big picture of life and the repercussions of this decision. Third, I feel a sense of immediacy. People say "life is short," a good friend of mine says "life is the longest thing you'll ever know"...whatever way you look at it, it's never too late to take control.

This New Years day, I did manage to document my year in the past, but obligations pulled me away (yet again) from being able to identify and transfer my lessons to this upcoming year. In writing this article, however, I think I came to that realization naturally.  If living life is not about collecting memories or experience even, it's about living. Surrounding yourself with positivity, doing the things you always put off to tomorrow and doing them today... and striving to never miss out on the things you'll regret. Regrets, for some reason, are the things that do stick in the memory banks.. and sadly, they're the memories we try hardest to forget.

I declare this the year of no regrets (or at least an attempt).