#17: A brief conversation with me, myself and I!

Written by a fellow fighter, by whom I’m proud to be called friend. Thank you for this, Tanya. Sharing!

I really (and I mean REALLY) hate hats!

Four months ago today, determined not to miss the Spring season, in the middle of active treatment, I returned full time to the Garden Centre. Working is and always has been such a huge part of who I am and the reconciliation of everything from the last year been a challenge bigger than the treatment itself. A friend reminded me of the good stuff, as I read her blog about returning to a stable routine and an “old” life in an attempt to get to know the new me. I have not written about this, because I have difficulty expressing the optimism with the questions and self doubt. I am happy to be able to work however, the best I can do is share a conversation that goes through my head on an almost daily basis between my old self (OS) and new self (NS):

The only way out is up! The only way out is…

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Ready or not. (Or, the return of the teacher formerly known as Madame Gouthro)

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Ironically, Madame is allergic to apples. But maybe if she gives one a day to the students, the doctor will still stay away.

 

You can never go back. (I know this, and yet I have repeatedly made attempts to do so over the course of my life, never with any good result.) So when I say I am going back to work, well, it doesn’t mean what I think it means. Or what it’s supposed to mean. Or something.

Permission to go back to work. What it really means is permission to attempt to return to some sort of routine. To go back to a familiar place, be surrounded by familiar people, and perform a very familiar job, all as a person with whom I’m not yet really familiar. To leave sick behind, and try to be normal. Or, my favourite, get back to my old self. It means changing my purpose from healing (on a good day) or surviving (on a not-so-good day) to heading a classroom full of spirited, hormone-riddled students and helping them get through this school year and emerge better than they were at the start. These kids very much need for me to be okay. And I will be.

It’s just that when they crowd in for a hug, and say ‘T’es retournée!’ or You’re back!, they don’t necessarily know that it’s not entirely true. The Madame Gouthro they knew is changed. She’s never coming back. There’s a new one, but what’s strange is that I haven’t met her yet. I’ll meet the new Madame when the kids do, and we’ll have to figure it out together.

I practised sitting here today. I found myself holding my breath a lot. Tomorrow, I'll go in and practise breathing at that desk.

I practised sitting here today. I found myself holding my breath a lot. Tomorrow, I’ll go in and practise breathing at that desk.

I have spent time in her space every day this week, and I’ve started to try to make it just the way I think she’d like it. I’ve put out bowls of apples for the students (old Madame did that; they liked it.), cleaned out cupboards and drawers and organized resources for her. I brought a few talismans from home and put them on her desk, because I think she might need a few of these with her in the first few weeks. I’ve tried to choose natural fabrics and calm colours, and I’ve bought her some plants, because I know she’ll want as much green around her as possible. I still have a lot of work to do to get the room ready for her, but it will be done for Tuesday.

I found some great quotes to inspire both her and the students.

I found some great quotes to inspire both her and the students.

 

Twine, burlap and wood. And green. Lots of green.

Twine, burlap and wood. And green. Lots of green.

And then, Wednesday morning, after I leave my house and turn the key in my lock and after I drive to work, after I put my lunch in the fridge, check my mailbox and head upstairs, only when I turn the knob to my classroom and meet all those expectant smiles, will I meet Madame Gouthro.

I think she’ll be okay.

Road-trips, revisits and revelations (Or, how I made up for last summer)

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. It’s just that I’ve been too busy doing the things I want to write about to write about them. Now, summer is coming to a close (the days always seem to speed up at this time of August, don’t they?) and I can sit down, close my eyes and think about how lucky I’ve been, and enjoy that for awhile before launching myself back into the routine of work.

Last summer was spent on the couch, watching everyone else around me hit the road, pitch tents, wander away to far-away places and generally enjoy life while I sat, very much not enjoying life, although that’s not to say I wasn’t grateful for it. I shipped my kids off to day camps so that they’d be occupied, and although I’m sure they were mildly entertained it didn’t touch how we usually spend our summers. I vowed this summer would be different. And it sure has been, although it hasn’t been what I would have expected. I guess, as a friend pointed out, I decided to say yes. To all of the questions to which my answer was no last year, I have tried to answer yes. To the little thoughts that could become big ideas that could become actions, I have also tried to say yes.

Like this, Mom! (I don't ever, ever need to do that again. But that was an amazing moment.)

Like this, Mom! (I don’t ever, ever need to do that again. But that was an amazing moment.)

Let’s start with the little thought that occurred to me a few months ago: I’d like to photograph the desert. Normally, that thought would have been followed by oh yes wouldn’t that be nice, or maybe someday. This time, my next thought was who can I convince to come with me, which prompted a series of phone calls, two refusals, one yes, and then another yes, which followed a bottle of wine and my finger hovering tantalizingly over the purchase ticket button on my air miles site. Two takers, two airline tickets, one very packed truck courtesy of my very well-equipped gear-happy friend in the prairies, and we were off. We said yes.

I was so looking forward to driving that trip. Unfortunately, when my turn came to drive, I learned what one of my triggers is for this anxiety beast I’m currently wrestling (I do think I’m winning, most of the time. But he’s tough.) The unexpected. Being surprised. Blindsided. Something as simple as a phone call I wasn’t expecting was, at the beginning of this summer, leaving me shaking and ‘zappy’ for several hours afterward. On the road trip day in question, the combination of getting very scary news about a dear friend, driving someone else’s vehicle, and those sneaky mountains that spring up around corners when you’re driving through Wyoming woke that anxiety monster up and rattled it, resulting in me trying to drive, and feeling like there were electrical currents (somewhat ironic, given the nature of the emergency concerning the very dear friend) shooting through my body. I tried to breathe my way around turns and up hills, and I gripped the steering wheel with sweat-drenched hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, as one should, but after about two hours of fighting agoraphobia and vertigo and suffering through full-body sweats and yoga-breathing, I had to admit defeat. Which meant that, until we returned to the very-flat landscape of Montana on the last day of our trip, until I had received good news about my friend, and until I had done enough little scary things to make my confidence a bit stronger, my two fellow road-trippers did all of the driving. They did so without judgement, and without complaint, and for that I am eternally grateful. It meant that I got to watch all of the unapologetic beauty that frames the (very long) drive to Goblin Valley State Park, where we were lucky enough to stay for our time in the desert. We set up camp there in the dark, as we had the night before on top of a very high, very cold mountain (it’s very difficult to light a fire when you’re up over 7500 feet!), and woke up to this.

This was right beside our campsite - completely invisible in the desert dark night. This kind of sandstone surrounded us for three glorious, very hot days.

This was right beside our campsite – completely invisible in the desert dark night. This kind of sandstone surrounded us for three glorious, very hot days.

Saying yes. Should I climb the rocks? Yes. Should I risk the road-trip I can’t afford? Yes. Should I zip-line, and let go with arms and legs open wide so that I can see that joy in my kids’ faces? Yes. Should I go swimming? Yes. Should I wander down to the shore in the dark just to look at the moon by myself? Yes. Should I introduce myself to the homeless man I recognize and whose story I’ve always wanted to know, and buy him a beer? Yes. Should I drive the extra six hours to revisit the place where I learned French, and share that place with my kids? Yes. Should I send maple syrup to the man who wrote about honey? Yes. Should I change flights last-minute to sit with the friend whose accident terrified me? Yes. Oh. And should I try driving again before the road-trip ends? Yes. Because I’ll be fine.

 

Should I stop amongst the goblins and do the handstand over and over again, until I get it right? Yes.

Should I stop amongst the goblins and do the handstand over and over again, until I get it right? Yes.

Saying yes this summer is helping me to shake that monster that’s been haunting me since March. He’s not gone; he’s sneaky and he’s very tricky. But he’s learning to keep his distance. Yes scares him off just a little bit. 

You just never know how many opportunities you’re going to get to say yes. My two cents? Say yes now. Don’t wait.