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The A-Zed Blues

I had just about a week or so to enjoy the fact that I had received my second vaccination and it was all done. I was officially a double doser. Then the NACI completely spoiled my fun. And, as you well know, there has not been much fun of any kind for a very long time.

In a statement on June 17th, the NCAI, or National Advisory Committee on Immunization said “…an mRNA vaccine is now preferred as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine.”

Now preferred? Now you’re freaking me out.

Both of the doses I had were the AstraZeneca. It’s just mean to encourage us with “you should take the first vaccine you are offered” and then say “Oh, wait, not THAT one.” It’s not like a piece of clothing you bought that you can exchange when you change your mind. “Oh, I prefer THAT jacket.”

No. Now it’s too late.

Not long after that shocker, Bruce Springsteen literally left me dancing in the dark when he decided that those of us who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca wouldn’t be allowed to attend his concerts. He has since changed his mind. But now I’m really wondering what we AstraZeneca double dosers are going to have to face in the coming months. Or as I like to refer to us, the AZeders.

Will we be shunned in other venues? Will they have specialized AZed dog sniffers at the malls causing a commotion when they corner us? Security guards yelling “Put that down, ma’am. Back out of the store slowly and go home.”?

Will border guards be checking our vaccine passports to assure themselves that we’ve taken the “preferred” vaccines? “Eh, zed? Go back to Canada!” How humiliating.

I understand that these are extraordinary times. None of us alive today has been through anything like this before, so we are just feeling our way, especially with the vaccines. And those in authority have the double duty of not only getting the right information out there, but battling all of the MIS-information.

But I also think there is such a thing as too much information. Because a lot of us are not smart enough to know what to do with it anyway. And we’re already over-anxious as it is, so it’s not a great idea to make us even more so.

I have never before thought to ask where my flu vaccine comes from, I just trusted whatever was put in my arm. It would be nice to feel the same way about the COVID vaccine, but it’s already too late for us AZeders. We took what we could get, with only the intention of protecting ourselves and each other.

Our aim was true. So please don’t Astra-cize us.

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You Are Not Alone

This has been a more difficult post to write because, usually, I try to be light about everything. Sometimes it’s not so easy. There have certainly been enough opinion pieces, news, and statistics about anxiety and depression these days because of the pandemic we are experiencing, so who needs more of that? But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.

I didn’t get on an airplane for many years because of my fear of flying. It’s called aerophobia. It started after a flight back from Hawaii on our honeymoon. We hit a bumpy patch during the flight, as often happens, but I was on my way back to my seat from the washroom during one of those drops, and almost got knocked off my feet. Of course, we landed just fine and I didn’t think anything more of it.

What happened in the following months, however, was that I started to have nightmares about planes crashing. Over, and over and over. And I convinced myself that it might be some kind of premonition, so I decided I would no longer set foot on a plane.

And I didn’t. For 20 years. One time I even had the opportunity to go on a free trip to Hawaii. I didn’t go. Instead I got really mad at myself for being so scared. What the heck was the matter with me?

I started to research it a little bit, first of all realizing that a LOT of people have the same fear. Many people take anti-anxiety medications before they fly to counteract it. Some have other forms of treatment like cognitive therapy. And then there are those who never get over it, and stop flying all together.

Me? I turned to one thing I thought might help. I got back into mindful meditation and practiced it as much as I could. Ommmm…

A couple of years later, we took the chance that I might be able to handle a flight, and booked a trip back to Hawaii. It was a celebration of my daughter’s graduation from high school. This would be my big test. Leading up to the trip, I worked really hard to not let those anxious thoughts overwhelm me. It didn’t always work, but I kept at it.

On the day of our flight, I sat in the airport lounge and did a lot of deep breathing and tried to stay calm. I remember the walk onto the ramp and into the plane, trying not to panic. Strapping myself into the seat, I wondered how I would keep myself from screaming for them to let me get off.

On the taxi down the runway, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and clung to it. We finally took off into the clouds. Over the next while, I tried to relax a little bit. It took a couple of hours, but eventually I could smile a little and looked out at the puffs of clouds and the blue water below.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to finally walk barefoot on the sands of Waikiki. The picture you see here is from that first moment. I’m not saying that I overcame my aerophobia in one trip. It took many. But I have had lots of successful, anxious-free flights since.

I’ve been anxious about many things in my life, but that was a major one.

And now anxiety has reared its ugly head again, as it has with so many others during this pandemic. I started worrying about getting sick. Not just from COVID-19, but pretty much anything. Any time I felt a twinge of pain or an upset stomach, I “catastrophized” it, convinced it was a serious illness.

After weeks of this, I decided to tell my immediate family about it, and they have all been wonderful. My daughters have both dealt with anxiety too, and know what it can do to you.

I’ve gotten back into my meditation. I take frequent walks outdoors when I can and remind myself of the “okay” moments. Hey, right now, I’m okay! I tried CBD, or cannabidiol, which is derived from the hemp plant, to help me sleep. Sometimes it works. I have a pretty healthy diet, but apparently certain foods can help with anxiety too, as can staying away from others.

I don’t let myself get sucked into all the negative stuff as much, especially online. Realizing how many stupid people there are out there can drive you crazy! And keeping track of COVID-19 numbers is not a great idea either.

Ultimately, I try to talk about my anxiety more, which is why I’m writing this.

I know there are many, many of you out there going through the same and much worse. Don’t be afraid to tell others. Be gentle with and forgive yourself. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed. Talk about it. It’s been a long, long haul for all of us but we’ll get there. And you are not alone.

(For those of you in the Island Health region, if you need help or you are in crisis, please call 1-888-494-3888 or 1-800-588-8717, any time day or night.)

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A Mended Heart Filled With Gratitude

“Irene!”

What? What happened? I was having such a good dream. I opened my eyes as the nurses were transferring me from the operating table to my hospital bed.

“Just relax, we’ll do all the work!” And before you knew it, I was whipped over to the bed and wheeled back to my parking spot in the Cardiac Short Stay unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

My surgery, an ablation to treat atrial fibrillation, had originally been slated for May 4th. But along with thousands of others across the country who had scheduled elective surgery this year, it was cancelled because of COVID.

I was lucky in that I wasn’t suffering any painful symptoms. Afib usually doesn’t hurt, it just makes you light-headed or dizzy and unable to do anything too physical. Sometimes people pass out or end up in emergency when it doesn’t go away on its own. We’ve all felt heart palpitations before. Afib is like that, only more powerful. And it can go on for hours.

I felt more sorry for anyone who might be in pain waiting to have hip or knee replacement surgery, or anything else like that. We all just had to hang in there until our surgeries could be rescheduled.

When I finally got a new date for my procedure, I was a lot more anxious than I expected to be. I’ve had an ablation before. Twice, actually. But this time was different. I almost had second thoughts about going into a hospital with all this COVID stuff going on.

I kept my eye on the British Columbia COVID Dashboard the whole time, hoping NOT to see any hospitalizations here on the island. And during that time there were none, much to my relief. But I knew that there would be people coming and going from the hospital with potential exposure, and so I didn’t know what to expect.

The day before the surgery, I had to go in to the Jubilee for a number of pre-op tests, so I got a bit of a preview of the set up there. When I arrived, I put on my mask and lined up outside the doors with maybe five or six other people.

There is a COVID “Ambassador” at a desk right at the front entrance who asks you the usual questions; have you been tested for COVID, do you have any of the following symptoms, have you traveled outside of Canada in the last two weeks. We all know the drill by now.

When they are happy with your responses, they ask you to apply some hand sanitizer and you get a little sticker to wear so nurses and staff know that you have been screened.

Once inside, you go to the usual check in desk, which is now behind Plexiglas. Most people inside the hospital are wearing masks, although I saw a few who weren’t. But all of the nurses and technicians that I dealt with wore them. And once my tests were done, I was out of there in a flash. Easy peasy.

I felt a bit better, at least knowing what to expect.

At 7am the next day, I went through the same process. This time I was accompanied by my husband, but he was not allowed in with me. I found my way to the Cardiac Short Stay Unit on my own, and when I checked in there I was screened again, but this time my temperature was also taken. Then it was off to my assigned bed and the prep for my surgery began.

Once the three hour procedure was finished, I had to lay flat for another five hours. That’s the hardest part. I brought my phone with me so I could text my family, letting them know that it was done. Most patients doze off during the five hour period, but not me. My nurse, Crystal, couldn’t believe that I was lying there fully conscious the whole time. We chatted a lot as she checked my incision, my blood pressure and heart rate every 15 minutes, and then every half hour. When I told her it was my third ablation she said “Third time’s a charm!” I hope she’s right.

I tried to read a book that was loaded on my phone, but I just wasn’t in the right head space. So, because my bed was right across from the nurse’s station, I watched their comings and goings instead. They all wore masks and sanitized their hands after every patient check. They pulled on fresh gloves when they were performing anything more extensive. As soon as a patient checked out of the unit, a crew came in and did a thorough cleaning of the bed and surroundings. Anyone who entered the ward had a mask.

Aside from watching all of these activities, I had a lot of time to think. My throat was sore from that tube they thrust down it during surgery, and it made me think about all of those COVID patients on breathing tubes. I’d be getting up eventually and walking out of the hospital, lucky me. At lot of them won’t. I’d have a few days of recovery at home and a bit of discomfort, but that’s about it. Many COVID patients who survive appear to have serious, lingering symptoms, and worse.

Having to lie in bed like that for a long time can give you a lot of perspective.

When the five hours was finally up, I was allowed to rise slowly and encouraged to do some “laps”. And so, decked out in my fancy hospital gown and those weird slippers they give you, I pulled my medical trolley with the saline drip along with me and slowly made my way around the ward. Most of the patients were men, my age or older. A couple of them helped me keep track of my laps, calling out from their beds. One! Four! Seven! At one point, two of them were also up and lapping, so we created a little parade. One fellow, who was rather stocky, said he’d be the parade float. We laughed and made some more smart ass comments, and all was well with the world.

I was eventually allowed to dress, and at 6:30pm my husband arrived to take me home. My nurse Crystal and a student nurse, John, walked me to the exit door. “I hope we never have to see you again!” Crystal laughed. She meant that in the best of ways, of course. My stay in the CSS Unit at the Royal Jubilee was a very positive one, my procedure went smoothly, and the nurses and staff were wonderful.

I walked up to my husband with a smile under my mask and my mended heart filled with gratitude.

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Maybe Later

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. That has pretty much been my mantra most of my life. When I was little, my Dad said I was lazy. But I think a lot of kids are told that. When you’re a child you’re caught up in whatever is fascinating you at the moment. Cleaning your room is not very fascinating.

Here I am, many, many years later, sitting down to write a blog because I don’t feel like cleaning my house. Some things never change.

We procrastinate for many reasons. Or excuses. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to face something. Like doing your taxes. Who wants to do that? And cleaning the toilet. Blech.

Procrastination can also be a sign of anxiety or depression, according to the experts. In that case, I imagine a lot of us are procrastinating right now, in spite of having more time on our hands. Being locked in your house with not much to look forward to, can do that to you. And there goes the excuse that things aren’t getting done because you don’t have enough time.

Not only that, procrastination can actually CAUSE anxiety and depression. Putting off the inevitable for any length of time allows it to hang over us and make us more miserable. And that, in turn, makes us even less likely to do what we need to. It’s a vicious cycle.

But under “normal” circumstances, what causes us to procrastinate? I’ll leave it up to the experts to go into more detail, but to make a long story short, it’s because we’re wired for instant gratification. I can either eat that donut now, or wait and reward myself after I lose 10 pounds. Hmmm.

I married someone who’s a “let’s get ‘er done” kind of guy, so we’ve had some obvious conflicts from time to time over the years. He told me a story about a fellow he worked with early on in his career who would always take the bull by the horns and get things done immediately. My husband respected that determination, so he tried to emulate it, and of course, attempted to get his wife and children to do the same.

And over time, wouldn’t you know? I have become more and more like that too. But not always.

For instance, I’m still sitting here rather than doing the housework. So I’m looking at the clock and giving myself 10 more minutes. I have ten more minutes to do what I enjoy before I have to go and do what I don’t.

Okay 20. Maybe 20 minutes.

As it turns out, we procrastinators are in good company. Leonardo Da Vinci was apparently someone who had trouble staying “focused”. You wouldn’t know it from the body of work he produced. But the story goes that it took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa.

I’ve seen the Mona Lisa painting in person and it’s not very big. 16 years?

And Margaret Atwood, whom we all know for her many novels, short stories and poetry, actually has trouble sitting down to write too. It usually takes her until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get to it. She does that on purpose, apparently. So far, I’d say it’s working.

Which is why I’ve decided I’m waiting until 3pm this afternoon to get my house cleaning done.

Oh, shoot. It’s already after 4. Guess it won’t be today. Now, where’s that donut?

Take A Listening Walk

One of several versions of the painting "...Image via Wikipedia
For those of you who’ve waited with baited breath (not!), I guess it’s been awhile since I last posted here.  My excuse is that it’s summer and I have been out of my routine as well as out of the city for at least part of that time.  I drove my candy apple red Mustang convertible to Banff, Alberta.  Oh, yes, and I took my husband too :-).  It was quite the adventure, and certainly a good way to get to know a new car.  I’m tempted to write a whole blog post just on driving one of these days, but then again, maybe I shouldn’t.  I couldn’t believe some of the drivers I encountered, especially on the stretch between Penticton and Banff!  On the whole, however, it was a wonderful trip.

Instead I want to write about something I have been doing in the last few weeks as a way to counter some anxiety attacks I’ve been having.  This kind of anxiety is new to me…it seems to rise up suddenly out of nowhere and becomes very physical in nature with tightness in the chest and perspiration and an all around fearful feeling.  From what I have read about menopause, anxiety or panic attacks can often be a symptom.

The worst thing to do when you’re having a panic attack or anxiety is to try to push it away.  In my Buddhist readings, I’ve often come across the idea that “aversion” or trying to push something away, is not the way to deal with anything, whether it’s an emotional reaction or an uncomfortable situation.  What that often does is simply magnify the anxiety or discomfort instead of getting rid of it.  What you are taught to do, essentially, is to go through it, feel it fully and then let it go.  Anxiety is one of those things that can be made stronger and more powerful the more you panic about panicking!

So what I have been doing, not as a way to get rid of anxiety, but a way to train myself to be more in the moment, is to go on “listening walks”.  Aside from watching where I am going (which is essential!), my whole attention is on listening, not to the thoughts going through my head, but to the physical sounds of the world around me as I’m walking.  The louder sounds are obviously easy to hear, but what I try to do is listen for the more distant sounds, like a faint hum of the city, or maybe a small plane in the distance, or voices a block or so away.  And as I hear each one, I identify them to myself.  A car door shutting, a baby crying, a crow squawking;  just like that.

It does take some practice, believe it or not, because the mind wants to work things out when the body is in motion.  It wants to plan or organize or evaluate all kinds of things, and it is so tempting to be drawn into those trains of thought.  So the idea, similar to meditation, is to gently bring your attention back to identifying sounds.

Now this may sound mundane and boring, but over time I have gotten better and better at keeping my attention on sounds, with the result being that I give myself almost a half-an-hour of complete calm.  Walking is good anyway, but doing this mental exercise makes it even more beneficial.  So if you’re not into meditation, but you want to find a way to relax your brain…take a listening walk, and I promise you’ll find a new sense of calm.

And I ALSO promise that I will be adding more posts more frequently in the next few months if you’re willing to read ’em. 🙂

IJ

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