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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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Halloween 2020

Pictured here is Sam. Sam Boney. He’s looking a little perplexed because he isn’t really sure how to carve his pumpkin this year. Should he go for his usual scary face? Or maybe something a little bit more friendly? I mean, 2020 has been scary enough.

A lot of people are not really sure how to handle Halloween this year, but others are trying to be creative. At our house, we’ve already built a candy chute for the kids. A little PVC piping and some orange tape and lights to wrap around it, and voila! They just have to stand at the bottom of the steps, open their bags or buckets and we’ll send their candy down the chute. Perfect.

It has also been suggested that you can use tongs to hand candy out, or put the candy in individual bags. I can understand, though, how some people might not be comfortable handing out candy this Halloween.

We get an average of about 70 kids at our house every year. I really enjoy the tiniest trick-or-treaters the most. Sometimes you answer the door and they just stand there and stare at you with no idea what is going on. Some see the open door and start to walk right in. Others try to say “trick or treat” with little or no success. One time I opened the door to a little girl who simply said “Candy?” And their little costumes are the most adorable just because THEY are.

Then there are the “kids” who are a little past their expiry date. I mean, once your voice changes and you’re taller than me, maybe it’s time to move on. I actually had that attitude for years until a friend said “At least they’re out trick or treating instead of somewhere else causing trouble!” That gave me a new perspective. I now welcome kids of all sizes.

Sam and I are wondering how many there will be this year. I mean, we’re lucky in that Halloween isn’t outright cancelled, as it is in Los Angeles County, for instance. No gatherings, no haunted houses to visit. Now THAT would make Halloween night pretty eerie to me. You’re allowed to watch a scary movie at a drive thru, or decorate your yard, but no trick-or-treating whatsoever.

In BC, with some new protocols in place, we’ve managed to hold a provincial election without too many hiccups. So even if it looks a little bit different this year, I think those of us who want to can manage Halloween one way or another. At least I hope so.

Oh, and Sam Boney finally settled on a face for his pumpkin this year. It will be a happy face.

Grey skies are going to clear up
Put on a happy face!
Brush off the clouds and cheer up 
Put on a happy face!
Spread sunshine all over the place
And put on a happy face!
~ From Bye Bye Birdie, Lyrics by Lee Adams, Music by Charles Strouse

To all the kids and parents heading out there this Saturday, have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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“Dinner’s Going To Be Late!” And Other Turkey Tales

The first time that I was invited for Christmas dinner at my boyfriend’s parent’s house many years ago, they had just bought this new fangled thing called a microwave oven. They were very excited about it. A microwave was supposed to cook things a lot faster than a conventional oven, so they figured why not cook the turkey in it? Brilliant!

Well, to begin with, the turkey was far too big to fit in the microwave. They ended up having to chop it up and cook it in pieces, one or two at a time. And oddly enough, the turkey didn’t turn brown as it cooked, but instead came out a hot, sickly white colour. In the end they had to stick all the parts in the oven to brown them anyway. Needless to say, as the evening progressed, the voices drifting from the kitchen rose in pitch as the discussion became more heated.

The rest of us just sat in the living room and kept our mouths shut. We knew better than to say anything, even though a giggle would occasionally escape our lips.

We didn’t eat until 9 or 10pm and, from what I remember, the table conversation was rather subdued. I don’t think anybody was even hungry by then, but we obediently ate what we could.

I was so very proud of the first turkey I baked just a few years later. It was a dark, dark brown, just like all the pictures. But when I stuck the knife into it, it more or less exploded like the Griswold turkey in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. My Dad was too polite to say anything, but nearly choked to death on his first bite. In my defense, the cookbook I was using never mentioned that you should cover the turkey for most of its cooking time. The bird was dry as a bone.

A few years back, I was just putting our Thanksgiving meal on the table when the lights went out. A power outage. We pulled out a few extra candles, lit them, and enjoyed a cozy turkey dinner by candlelight. It was actually quite wonderful. By the time we were ready to do the dishes, the lights came back on again. Great timing.

We were the lucky ones, however. We found out later that a lot of people hadn’t finished cooking their turkey meal by the time the power went out, which threw their dinner into chaos. Half cooked turkeys, raw vegetables, cold pies. And no gravy, I’ll bet.

Maybe a few of them found creative ways to use their barbeques and fire pits to finish cooking their meals. “Dinner’s going to be late everyone!”

A couple of years back we bought a used mini freezer and a mini fridge to have just in case we needed back ups for our regular fridge. We kept the two units in the basement, unplugged most of the time to save power.

When it came around to Thanksgiving last year, I bought the usual turkey and trimmings for our dinner. Our regular fridge was pretty full, so I thought I’d be really clever and I threw the turkey, which was frozen, the vegetables, dinner rolls and everything into the mini fridge.

Except there was one small problem. You’re thinking that I forgot to plug it in, aren’t you? Nope, I plugged it in alright.

No, the problem was that I had actually put the all of the food in the mini freezer, not the fridge. By the time I pulled everything out, the vegetables, potatoes, everything except the turkey was ruined. Rock solid frozen. And we were having guests too.

I panicked at first, but in the end, I went out and bought all new groceries again. The dinner went without a hitch. Phew.

I’m sure many of us have turkey tales, whether from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe something went horribly wrong, or amazingly well. A surprise guest might have shown up, or a new family member joined you for the first time. Trying something new turned out to be a huge hit. Or a catastrophic failure.

Thanksgiving 2020 will force many of us to find new ways to be together while trying to stay far enough apart. There will be very different Turkey Tales this year.

In my little family, we have a Thanksgiving ritual. Before we eat our meal, we go around the table and take turns telling each other what we’re thankful for. This year, I think we will be most thankful just to be able to be together.

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The Winds of Change

I was wide awake in bed at about 2am the other night, as I often am these days. I was listening to the wind and thinking about this state we’re in. This whole new world.

It occurred to me that I really dislike the phrase “new normal”. The old normal was just fine, thank you very much. Some days were ordinary, even boring. But I was okay with that. Sigh.

Neither am I a big fan of change. I mean, certain kinds of changes can be really exciting, like a new car or better paying job. The birth of a child. Other, more pro-active changes can make you feel better about yourself; committing to a healthier lifestyle or working at having a more positive attitude. There are a lot of healthy, happy changes.

And then there are the life altering changes that are thrust upon you with little or no warning. Like the loss of someone or something, or a sudden illness. Or a pandemic. It’s when you feel at your most vulnerable, and you become very aware of how little power you actually have over many things.

We are shifting into a change of seasons now with autumn blowing in. The first of the rainstorms has hit, the air is a little crisper, and the leaves are starting to turn. We don our sweaters and light jackets. We think about bringing an umbrella if we go out for a walk. Soon we may turn the heat on in our homes for the first time in many months, and cover up the patio furniture. A change of seasons is something we are familiar with and know how to adjust to.

But how do we deal with a new and very different world we are also shifting into? This dreaded new normal? Thanksgiving will not look the same for many of us this year. Never mind Halloween and Christmas.

Well, we do what we’ve always done. We adapt, we adjust. It might not be as simple an adjustment as putting on a heavier sweater or grabbing the umbrella. But since we first roamed this earth, humans have had to learn how to adapt to all kinds of changes, big and small. And that ability is what has helped us survive as a species.

We’re lucky that we’ve had smart people to lead us safely through this pandemic and show us what changes we need to make. So far we’ve learned that there are many things we can do to keep ourselves healthy and hold this virus at bay.

Well, some of us have learned. There will always be those few who will refuse to behave differently, who will rant and rail against any small changes they have to make. I mean, as I said, I don’t like change either. But the way I see it, refusing to adapt to the threat of this virus is like purposely walking off a cliff.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

There is nothing we can do to stop the winds of change. Even if it blows.

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Paging Dr. Jackson!

Since my recent surgery went so well, I was pretty much prepared for smooth sailing back into my regular life. That is, until I realized that I needed a follow up exam from my GP.

You see, I no longer have a GP. Our family doctor retired at the end of August. He was in his 70’s, and with COVID-19 making its way through the population, he was convinced that it was time to go. Many other patients have found themselves in the same situation in the last few years. Their doctors have retired with no one willing to take over the practice.

So I was pretty much left on my own to try and figure out what to do. I took my paperwork for a follow up ECG and bloodwork to a local medical lab and got that done. And after a few anxious phone calls and emails, I found a doctor at a clinic who agreed to give me an appointment to go over the results with me. Phew.

Still, having given it some serious thought, I’ve decided that the obvious thing for me to do is to open up my own practice. Dr. Jackson has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Just to be clear, I will be my one and only patient. I wouldn’t be able to afford the malpractice insurance.

I would need a stethoscope and a white coat, but I think I’ve seen them both online through Walmart. I mean, you first have to LOOK the part, no? That and a little Dr. Kildare swagger, and I’ll have it down.

Sorry. Dr. Kildare is a reference that probably only makes sense to those of us who’ve seen a black and white TV. In person.

For so many of us, this is what it has come down to. We are shifting away from being able to entrust our health and our medical history to one person, to having to become our own health advocates instead.

One positive is that there is new technology now to help us deal with these changes. Babylon Health is an app you can download that matches you up with a BC licensed doctor via a video call. You can renew prescriptions or discuss symptoms and even get referrals through them.

LifeLabs has an app that helps you to find any openings at their local labs, and even book a time to get any testing that you need done. There is also my ehealth which is essentially an electronic health information service. When you sign up for an account, you can access the results of any tests you have done, from blood tests to ECGs, to mammogram results.

And, of course, there are still the walk in clinics. It’s just that they’re not as easy to “walk in” to these days because of COVID-19 restrictions, and because they’re just so darn busy.

But for many of us, there is no Overseer. No one to say, hey, we haven’t taken a stool sample or blood tests, or performed a prostate exam for awhile. Let’s get that done. There is no one who knows you and your family really well because they’ve pretty much seen you through every illness, pregnancy, or broken leg in your life. That person just doesn’t exist anymore.

Nurse practitioners may become the GPs of the future. They are nurses, but with added education and experience that enable them to diagnose and treat illnesses, interpret test results and even perform some medical procedures. There is a new nurse practitioner office opening up on Yates here in Victoria soon. I applied for my husband and myself to get in there, but no call so far.

So I am left on my own to diagnose and follow up, and do whatever else I need to do to maintain my health. I have ordered a digital copy of my medical records, downloaded all the medical apps, and signed up for an ehealth account. I will resist the temptation to Google my symptoms, but I’ve made lots of notes. I’ve got a blood pressure monitor, Pepto Bismal, and bandaids. I’m all set.

It’s just that I can’t read my writing.