Alive within my Mind

On November 30th, my dad posted on Facebook that my brother Dean told a nurse he was not afraid to die, but he feared the impact it would have on his family: thoughtful words from a twenty year old diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor four and a half years prior.

I was thirteen when Dean was diagnosed. On his sixteenth birthday, he developed a headache in the back of his head. He thought it was the result of partying with friends the night before, and he did not want Mom and Dad to get mad at him, so he did not say anything. Our family drove from our home in Leduc to Edmonton with plans of going on the new roller coaster at the mall. As we were buying tickets, Dean backed out, confessing his headache and stating he couldn’t handle it because he had pressure on his head. I was shocked that he backed out because this was my brother who skied black diamonds with me. Why would he let a headache and some pressure on his head stop him from riding the Mindbender?

Over the next few days, his headache and the pressure became more severe, prompting my parents to take him to the University of Alberta Hospital.

The diagnosis was encephalitis, and he was immediately operated on to insert a shunt for fluid regulation. Over the next four and a half years, he had surgery at least once a year to replace the shunt, and that often led to infection, increasing his hospital stay. Every time, my grandmother raved to him about how good he looked with a shaved head. She was right; the look suited him, and I always thought the staples closing his surgical cuts looked cool.

After the diagnosis of encephalitis, the doctors ran tests to figure out what was causing fluid to build up in his brain, and that led to the discovery of his tumor.

My brother’s tumor was benign, so it would not go into his lymph nodes and spread to other parts of his body; however, during a surgery in an attempt to remove it, the doctors discovered the tumor intertwined with his spinal cord, and there was no way to remove it cleanly, making it cancerous in its location. In addition, the mere act of opening him up caused surgical damage: his right leg became partially paralyzed, and he spent several months in a wheelchair. When he was able to walk again, he needed a cane and a brace for his leg, but over the years, he became strong due to his faithful workout regime.

After his surgery for his spinal cord, my brother went for radiation treatments, and it did not cure him.

But he never gave up hope. And he maintained his sense of humor by constantly telling me to pray for a miracle. He wasn’t religious, but I was fanatically so at the time, and he enjoyed making fun me.

The saddest day of my life, other than the day he died, was when he woke up from his last surgery. At that point, his tumor grew into his brainstem, and the surgery was to buy him some time. I remember him looking at me with hope in his eyes, and when I could not reciprocate his hope, he looked away, and I knew he knew.

A few days after his surgery, he talked about dying, but still occasionally threw in the odd “pray for a miracle.” The ICU allowed us to sneak in our dog, Nova, for a visit, and for the last week, my mom and dad slept on chairs in his room while I slept on the floor. We occasionally went home to shower, and I walked across the street to attend my first year classes at the University of Alberta. I am grateful I had that time to be with him, as well as all the other time I had with him.

As for the impact of my brother’s death, I still get emotional in November, and I always look for the relief December brings. This year, I was so busy with work and my kids that I didn’t think about the anniversary of my brother’s death until the actual day, and then it hit me hard, causing me to not handle it too well. I am thankful for friends and family who posted condolences and for a friend of mine who stayed up late with me to chat on the phone to cheer me up. It meant a lot to me.

I can look back on my life and think things could have been different if Dean would not have gotten sick and died, but I could never know for sure. While I haven’t lived a happily ever after life, I am living a happy and fulfilled life.

And I have wonderful memories.

After Dean recovered from his spinal cord surgery, my dad got him an adapter for his car, so he could drive with his left foot, and we often went into the city to go shopping and have lunch. In Leduc, we went for a lot of walks, and we enjoyed hanging out at home listening to music, watching videos, and playing video games, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit. Above all, I enjoyed talking with him, especially about his two favorite subjects: history and politics.

One of my fears is that time will erase him, and I do not want that to happen. As painful as November can be, I am happy I still feel emotion because it keeps my brother alive within my mind.

 

 

Silenced by Fear

In “Cling to this Life,” I wrote about a negative voice inside my head; fortunately, I also have positive voices, and I have learned not to question them, because they always push me beyond my comfort zone into unchartered areas of growth.

My blog is a good example.

The concept, title, and ninety percent of my first blog came to me during a forty-five minute drive to work.

“All right,” I said to myself. “I am going to do this.”

In all fairness, there were three friends who planted seeds in my mind. A few weeks prior, one of them told me about someone he knows who works as a blogger and how that might be good for me because I am an English teacher and I like to write. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

Earlier in the week before the birth of my blog, another friend told me that people should always do what they love, and never do anything for money. That made complete sense to me. I have a great job that provides a great life, and I am free to pursue artistic endeavors just because I want to.

Also earlier in that week, a friend made a comment to me. I cannot remember the exact words, but I do remember initially interpreting them to mean that I was boring and did not have much in my head. Naturally, I was pissed off and thought he was a jerk. Then I thought about it, and I think he meant that I don’t always say what is on my mind, and it’s true. It’s part of being an introvert and analyzing everything to death before I say anything. I don’t have that problem when I write.

So, seeds were planted: It was possible to become a blogger, I needed to do what I love (writing), and I do have a lot swarming around in my mind.

If I would have taken a day or two to think about my blog some more, I would have given it a different domain name. Yes, it is about my fears, but there is more to me than being a single mom. I should not have defined myself that way because some people get the impression that hey, I am single and I want to hook up with people.

That’s not what I am about.

But if I would have taken a few days to come up with a better domain name for my blog, I would have talked myself out of it, and that would have been a mistake.

So, let me redefine what it means to be a single mom. For me, it means I have taken on more duties such as shoveling the driveway, keeping the kitchen clean, and singing lullabies to my kids. It also means that I am free to go out with friends and have fun. And, I am free to make my own decisions and not mold myself to someone else’s world. This is my life, and I can experience it the way I want.

Contrary to what my haters have expressed to me, I am not writing my blog to seek validation. After all, one of the prevalent themes throughout has been living life to the fullest without giving a fuck what people think.

I am fully aware that this blog goes out to anyone who wants to take the time to read it, so I am careful with my words. Still, haters have dissected my words and taken them out of context because they do not understand literary concepts such as persona, mood, metaphor, and subtext. So, they attempt to shame and silence me, which is sad because the other prevalent theme in my writing is optimism.

Overall, I am happy I created my blog.

It has allowed me to connect with people I did not know that well, and people who have known me for a long time have told me they have gotten to know me better. It has provided me with a platform to write about issues important to me, and it is an outlet for expression which has helped me to open up more while talking to people. In addition, it is an opportunity to share my writing which I am able to place on query letters in an attempt to have a novel I have been working on for over two years published. Above all, it is fun, and I enjoy doing it.

So, I will continue to write and to listen to those positive voices in my head. And for those haters who do not understand, positive voices are a metaphor for inspiration. They do not mean that I am crazy; however, if it gets interpreted that way, I will embrace it, because it’s better than being silenced by fear.

 

 

Unapologetically

Before my separation, I did not care about social media because I had my insular life, and the world beyond did not matter that much to me.

After my separation, I had a strong urge to feel connected to other people, so I turned to social media, specifically Facebook, and it was exhilarating.

I enjoyed chatting with people, sending and receiving likes and loves, checking statuses, and posting the occasional selfie, always with a self-deprecating comment to prove that I’m really not that into myself.

It was all in good fun.

Then something happened. I felt the allure more and more and I could no longer contain myself: I was obsessed, and Facebook had taken over my life.

I really didn’t think I had a problem, but of course, I was too busy walking in the wonderful clouds of Facebook to notice.

Then Friday morning hit, and my older daughters began an intervention. It started with a note with a checklist of things I needed to do on my day off. It included simple things like cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the living room, and shoveling the driveway. But towards the end, it included some questions for me: Have you been exercising every day? Have you been taking care of yourself? Have you sent off any query letters for your novel?

I couldn’t honestly answer all three questions with a yes. Then at the bottom of the page, they wrote, “We love you!”

I set the note aside, and I laughed, thinking it was cute that my older girls cared for me, but clearly, they were overreacting.

Throughout the day, I found myself pulled back to Facebook: checking, always checking, and not really too sure what for. Then at supper, my daughters and I went to a restaurant, and as we waited for the food, I checked in some more.

It was at that point that I realized, yes, I did have a bit of a problem.

So, I agreed to go 48 hours without social media.

The first few hours were tough because I still felt that urge to check in, but I resisted, and it got easier.

I filled my time visiting friends face to face, reading, playing Beethoven on the piano, teaching my younger kids to play the piano, grocery shopping, buying thermoses so my kids could have better lunches, cleaning and organizing my house from top to bottom, shredding old documents, creating a budget after discovering I had accidentally overpaid one of my credit cards, planning meals with my older daughters, creating a chore chart with all my kids, exercising, writing query letters, getting caught up on all my laundry including hand washing my nylons to rid them of red wine stains from a week ago, binge watching Black Mirror, and correcting the poor bedtime behavior of my six year old daughter Sophia by offering the reward of going to see Moana and not giving in Saturday morning when she chose not to behave.

I also devoted my time to some introspection and being present in the moment. I laughed while watching Elf with my kids, and I listened intently when my eight year old daughter Olivia told me her Harry Potter name and that she took the quiz for who would be her Harry Potter boyfriend three times so the answer would be Harry Potter. In addition, I took my kids for hot chocolate after having fun outside, and after a stress-free bedtime on Saturday night, I rewarded them with seeing Moana the next day.

Now it’s Sunday night.

The younger kids are in bed, the older kids are doing their thing, and my self-imposed ban from social media is over.

And you know what?

I’m bored.

So, I will return to social media, and I will do so unapologetically. Only this time, I will be more discreet, and I will not allow its intoxicating feel to overpower me.

At least for now.