When I first started blogging I thought I would have a whole section about food and my diet as someone with IBD and an ostomy. And that is probably one of the most commonly asked questions I receive from readers or generally anyone. But in the 3 years since I first got really ill I haven’t once been able to specifically write about it, because there is no simple answer. My relationship with food is so complex and overwhelming that I haven’t quite been able to articulate, let alone practice what a healthy diet looks like. Until now.
I thought I would first explain why someone with IBD or an ostomy (at least in my own personal experience) has such a difficult relationship with food and why it’s so difficult to explain: Continue reading “My Relationship with Food”→
In 2015 I wrote about my love for the worst year of my life, and the amount of personal growth that year offered me. The universe completely humbled me and reminded me that I do not dictate it’s ultimate plan, but I can control how I handle what it throws at me. In 2016 I wrote about how as healthy as I felt (aside from the 2 weeks from hell in September) my emotional and mental health took a toll as the entire year was spent waiting for my medical drama to be over. My whole life was put on hold the past two years and I watched and cheered my friends on as they lived their best lives, doing all the things you’re supposed to do in your 20s, while I waited. And waited. And waited.
2017 –> 2018
The NYE before my life changed
When I was put in the hospital for the first time, I was there for 2 weeks and forced to drop 3 courses, weeks away from my exams. And I remember crying to my Mom about how this 2 week stint pushed back my “plan” and just threw everything off. It was so frustrating because I had finally made a move to make a change and the universe said “forget it.” But I was so so wrong about what else it had in store for me….
After that initial 2 weeks I was hospitalized 6 more times in the matter of 2 years. A total of 4 times because I was sick, and 3 times because of surgeries. Talk about a plan being thrown off. I spent that 2 years thinking after each admission, I could get back on track with my life. I wouldn’t have to be bedridden (or toilet ridden) recovering, or relying on the financial and emotional support from my parents, take more time off work, worry about accidents or leaks, or being bald. It was just one thing after another that I thought had to happen before I could start living.
But it really wasn’t until February 2017, after my final surgery I started to look a head. No more surgeries, no more medications, no more ostomy, no more UC (although I will say it again and again, that a JPouch is NOT a cure ), no more leave of absences, no more debilitating illness (knock on wood). That’s when I started to make my move. Literally.
Slowly things just fell into place this year. I was potty trained. I had a new apartment. New city. New job. New friends. New car. New hair. New adventures. New opportunities. I said I was going to do all these things after my medical drama was over. And I did. And I’m proud.
Sometimes I find myself still struggling with how “behind” I am compared to my friends (who talk all things engagements, weddings, houses, husbands, in-laws, babies, and more babies). But then I look back at 2017, and what a whirlwind of a year it was and I’m reminded that it’s okay. It’s okay that I was robbed of 2 and a half years but I’m slowly making ground. Also, it’s okay because who really gives a fuck what everyone thinks your life is “supposed” to look like. (Mind you, I love hearing about all things mentioned above because my friends are drop dead gorg. brides and make hella cute babies).
I also look back at this year and realized that in January I never said, “By this date I’m going to buy a new car, “ or “in November I’m going to go to Amsterdam,” or “I’m going to work in Oakville.” Those things just happened. I opened my soul up to the idea of possibilities, and trusted that the universes owed me big time.
Each year I write about my own personal growth, (and hair growth) and how through all that adversity, I learned and persevered, and it’s made me more self aware and reflective. And that’s true to 2017 as well. But now that I’ve checked off so many boxes this year, I come into 2018 with such an open mind it’s terrifying. For the first time, I don’t know how UC, my baggage, my health or how any of the past 2 years will affect the New Year, yet somehow it’s all changed me and is a part of me now, so it will.
2017 was difficult for a lot of people I know. It was a hard, hard year for some of my favourite people and I hate to boast about how wonderful it was for me. Yet I am again humbled because some of my lowest points were also this year (queue panic attacks) but those moments are what make the good ones great. I also think that because my year was so fantastic, I was able to be there for those people better than I could have if I was ill. It was my turn to lend a hand, and I hope I did those people justice.
So for 2017, I wanted to give a big big thank you to the universe for coming back around and repaying me for the shitty times. 2018, I come with such gratitude and candidness that I’m so welcome to whatever comes. It’s exciting, and nerve wracking literally having no plans for the whole year (aside from all the weddings) but that leaves all the more room for opportunity. But please universe, whatever you do, be gentle on me.
With the recent diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis for Georges St. Pierre, my heart goes out for not only him but all newly diagnoses patients and those just beginning to navigate the new world of IBD. It’s proof that IBD strikes those even in peak physical condition and no individual is safe from their own bodies attacking them, which is a really frightening thought.
I then began to read some of the articles published about the UFC update and it became really enlightening as to how many misconceptions there are about IBD and ulcerative colitis. Language like “he came down with colitis,” and “he’ll be out for a minute,” was being used which initially infuriated me. It got even worse when these reports tried to explain (briefly) in laymen’s terms what colitis was, using phrases like “disease of the colon,” “causes minor inflammations,” or, “can cause intestinal damage.” But I also recognize that I have this tiny platform that I may be able to use to correct some of these misconceptions and hopefully redirect some of this inappropriate rhetoric in our community. Continue reading “9 Misconceptions People Have About UC”→
Sometimes the universe can be SUCH an asshole. How can it one moment be so kind and easy on me, and then turn it’s back on someone far more deserving of a warm place to land? I question the universe every day and wonder why one moment it’s being mean and grueling when the next it’s sending butterflies and rainbows. Why one moment it’s coddling me, and the next it’s flipping off my soul sister. Universe…I don’t get ya.
When I was in England I experienced one of the most stressful environments to date. And as I’m sure many IBDers can empathize, high stress environments are notorious for bringing on a flare up. (Big shout out to teachers with IBD because if you’ve never been on the verge of shitting your pants in front of 30 grade 9s, I assure you it’s horrendous). I quickly spiralled into the worst flare ups I had ever had up until that point and unfortunately I was an ocean away from my gastroenterologist. I also only had a total of 4 friends there. 4. (…. Some of who at the time were only just crossing the line between acquaintances and friends and talking about IBD was definitely TMI). So you can imagine how difficult these few but long couple of months were: sick, lonely and very far from home.
But I very distinctly remember being at now very dear friend Kelsey’s house, predrinking one Friday (likely after having some sort of deep fried food at TGIFridays, preparing to go to some club we were far too old to go to) feeling absolutely EXHAUSTED. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, my legs felt heavy, and I couldn’t catch my breath. So I decided I needed to call it in and go home to sleep. I briefly explained that I was having a flare up and I wasn’t feeling good, not expecting anyone to really understand. But Kelsey piped up and said, “Oh don’t worry I totally get it. My best friend at home has Crohn’s and sometimes she can’t go out either for the same reasons.”
I was floored. Rarely had I met someone who knew what I was talking about and be so understanding. But Kelsey went on to explain how her friend was deciding to go with a surgical route and how brave she was and how debilitating the disease could be so she’s decided to take back control. And I remember thinking, “Wow I hope my situation never gets that bad…It won’t though because I have UC and not Crohn’s.”
Fast forward 3 years and there I was, scrolling Instagram while on a medical leave after going the surgical route, looking at beautiful photos probably of Kelsey and Laura exploring all that this big beautiful world has to offer, when I come across this above mentioned friend who was back in the hospital with another flare up. And I thought, you know what, I’m going to take a chance and reach out to this girl. We can swap stories and perhaps I can be of some comfort since I did go through with the surgeries and it seemed like she was still deciding what her next best course of action could be. And if she was a friend of Kelsey’s, she must be pretty fantastic.
One Instagram message later and BAM: Instant friends. Instant soul sisters. Instant support system. I talk about it all the time but somehow IBD has brought this amazing connectivity though social media and this powerful ability to bond people who can compassionately offer a listening ear or perhaps an emoji hug. It really is incredible because just like that, I had this immediate attachment to someone I had never met. And I’m so thankful every day this happened.
Lindsay has brought so much joy to my life in the last year or so (?) that I’ve known her. She is kind, and positive and genuine. She brings a breath of fresh air to that IBD life when she sincerely wants to talk more about how someone else is doing rather than her own struggles. She gets pure delight from watching her friends and family living their best, adventurous lives while nurses poke and scope at her own. She sees this world through eyes of wonder and beauty and shares it with her inner circle so they too can feel inspired.
How often can you connect with someone over the Internet but feel comfortable enough to talk about your bowel movements? Or our energy levels, or medications dosages, or our mental health, or our sex lives, or our self-image, or our jobs, or our perceptions of the world? How often do you meet someone in person for the first time but feel like you’ve known them for years? How often do you snap chat someone from the toilet or send videos to talk because your hand is tied up in an IV and can’t text? How often do you bring snacks to the hospital only to get the stink eye from the crazy roommate and then weeks later dance the night away? Let me tell you…not often.
But maybe this is the universe paying us back. By saying I’m sorry I’ve been such an asshole to you two, but here ya go…you have each other.
I wont go into too much detail about Lindsay’s story because that’s not mine to tell. But I can tell you that she’s now fighting the fight of all fights. After she kicked Crohn’s ass along came PSC, a rare disease that damages and blocks the bile ducts around her liver. Now requiring a liver transplant we spoke about how this is just one more blip in her story but after that surgery we can conquer the world. Until that was put on hold because the big C word has invaded. The universe keeps throwing curve balls at Lindsay but because she’s been so strong and resilient, and in its determination to knock her down he’s thrown in cancer. But I can tell you that it’s not going to work. You will not break her.
Lindsay: you are an absolute inspiration. I thought my baggage was heavy, but here you come along carrying a ton of bricks, with ankle weights on. All with that brilliant smile on your face. If any readers want to know a story of resilience and kick ass determination…it’s this girls. Not mine. You are so loved by so many people and we can’t wait to see you punch the universe right in the face.
Kelsey: Thank you for introducing me to this kind, gentle soul. Thank you for inspiring both of us to be brave and honest by opening up with words and photos. Thank you for showing us what this whole world has to offer, and instilling that love for life in little humans. Thank you for being Lindsay’s best friend and allowing me to take on a small portion of your role while you’re in Spain. I will keep her safe and close in hopes of doing you justice
Cancer knows no race, no age, no religion, no gender. Cancer doesn’t care if you have your whole life a head of you, or if you’ve already enjoyed one long and meaningful. Cancer doesn’t care about your bank account or your weight or your marital status. It doesn’t care how many children you have or how many obstacles you’ve already overcome. It’s the universes ultimate trick and it’s mean. But it’s not without vice.
I’ve been witness to the power the World Wide Web has to offer and how quickly it can bring people together. I’ve asked you time and time again to rally behind me and either offer your own stories, your own words of wisdom, your own time in comfort or even your own wallet in my fundraising efforts. And now I come to you once again with the same request. Read Lindsay’s story. Look at her beautiful photos. Take a moment to find gratitude in your own lives. And reach out to her. It humbles me every time I see how compassionate readers can be in the kind words you’ve offered me in the past, and now I’m graciously asking you to extend that benevolence off to my IBD soul sister.
For the first time in two years I am not missing out on the Fall. For the first time in two years I am not slipping into a darkness anticipating an upcoming surgery, and then kept tucked away inside while I recover. For the first time in two years I’m not saying, “We’ll see how my recovery goes,” before making plans or “Don’t get too attached because I’m going to be out of commission.” For the first time in two years I’m not wrapping my head around yet another hospital admission. And for the first time in two years I’m not drowning in chaos.
In 2015 I was coming to a very real conclusion that I could not battle UC on my own and needed surgical intervention. If you remember we were “celebrating” my birthday with wigs on our heads because I had lost all my hair and somehow convinced everyone that if I had to wear a wig, so did you. And it was also on my very birthday in 2015 that I 100% knew it was time for surgery after cleaning myself up after an accident that happened in my own home, because the proximity from the couch to the toilet was apparently too far. Bella spent her birthday overshadowed by all my mayhem and yet again put on the back-burner. September was spent going back and forth about my decision until October when I finally knew and I was preparing myself, off on another leave of absence. And By Halloween I had an ostomy which was followed by recovery throughout November.
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In 2016 I also wasn’t making plans to tour wineries or carve pumpkins because I knew my second surgery was coming and I would be tied up for another 6 weeks. Little did I know that that surgery would be the worst few weeks of my entire life and that birthday was spent puking at Mount Sinai, recovering from not only an operation but also CDiff and an obstruction. Bella spent her birthday sleeping on a chair in Emerg. Little did I know that that recovery would also be for my emotions and mental health, because my poor brain couldn’t keep up with the beating my body just took. And little did I know that that recovery was still happening a year later when I recognize the magnitude it took on my heart.
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But 2017…2017 is my time to finally embrace the crisp air, changing leaves, cozy blankets, red wine and celebrations. Knowing that I missed out on the season for the past two years, I have a best friend who is outdoing herself to make this year special with celebrating our birthdays for what they actually are. Bella and I are celebrating another year older, not another surgery checked off the list, or putting UC behind us, or the launch of a blog. Just another year older.
I have cards this year that read, “I’m actually thrilled to be writing you a card that has nothing to do with anything but your birthday,” and, “so much to celebrate!” or, “I’m so excited to watch you start your lives here!” Finally I’m not getting birthday cards along side get well cards but instead, housewarming cards. And I’m READY to celebrate, along with this gorgeous season and all it has to offer.
I’m a sucker for a crisp Fall day that brings a feeling of nostalgia, romance, freshness and a new beginning. The teacher in me embraces the Fall as something new as I pack away shorts and tanks and bring out new warm blankets. This year the Fall is bringing a new comfort to a new home, a new confidence to a new job, new eyes on old scars, new tastes of wine, tea or lips, new hairs to comb and maintain, new age of 28 years young, and a new roommate to a new city.
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During my 2016 train wreck of a surgery I very distinctly remember staring at the ceiling at 1:30am, on Day 11 at Sinai thinking, “What if I’m NEVER better? What if this is how my life is. Sick. Painful. Nauseated. Dehydrated. Sad.” This very real fear developed under dark circumstances but actually trickled out into the real world for weeks and perhaps even months. And every once in a while if I don’t catch myself I sometimes find myself slipping back into that fear. But not today. Today I’m dehydrated from drinking too much tequila and happy from a night spent celebrating. Celebrating nothing but birthdays.
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For the first time in two years I’m embracing the Fall. For the first time in two years I’m soaking in the sunlight and breathing in brilliant cool air. For the first time I’m handing over my VISA saying, “Yes, book that AirBnB,” when it comes to making plans or, “when can I see you next?” For the first time in two years I’m wrapping my head around the fact that my baggage is actually rather light. And or the first time in two years I’m seeing the dust settle.
I’ve heard that smells are often a common trigger for memories because they connect to certain areas in the brain responsible for sensations and emotions. When I was last discharged I bid a fair adieu to those foul, antiseptic, nauseating, sterile scents of a hospital and didn’t look back. But I didn’t think I’d experience them again so soon….this time as a visitor.
This past week I experienced first hand what it was like to stand bedside to a loved one. Getting the call that an ambulance was coming and to meet at St. Mikes, we raced against traffic and this time I was the one paying to park (but only once thanks to friends who share their underground parking). I stood while we waited in emergency for X-Ray results and a prognosis, only to feel the stomach churn of bad news and then continue to wait for a bed upstairs.
It’s odd being in this new role, and suddenly I felt a new perspective take on a whole different meaning. I always felt sad for my family and friends who had to endure long waits, uncomfortable chairs, paying to park, searching for the correct room, lugging care packages and being on call for any new developments. But for the first time I REALLY understood that none of that matters. They didn’t care about watching NBA playoffs on a small screen or having to wear a gown and gloves while in isolation. They cared about me.
When then nurse came to tell us they had finished resetting my Dad’s broken bones the first thing she said was, “He’s a little out of it, but he’s funny!” I can only hope that I offered the same comic relief as him from my own hospital admissions. Seeing how friendly he was to the nurses, doctors and roommates I again, only hope I offered the same positivity as him and gracious attitude as you always meet someone who is worse off than you.
I’ve been there Big Guy. I know the struggle of restless nights and a dreary looking recovery ahead. I know feeling of life being put on hold and the “what now?” questions. I know how difficult it is to depend on other people. I know how frustrating is it to feel like something so simple like walking or going to the bathroom can be taken for granted. I know the “why me?” feeling. But it’s just a blip. A small blip in your life, and now I’m strong enough to help carry your baggage too.
A lot of people go through trauma. And we all deal with it differently. I would even argue that my experience with IBD can barely be considered trauma because of how much positivity came from it. But it was. It was traumatic in the sense that it was deeply agonizing and the emotional response was as soul jerking as the physicality.
I didn’t recognize my illness as trauma because it happened over such an extended length of time. And each set back was just the universe chipping away until eventually two years later I realized how much of me was missing (literally an entire organ). But there was this whole shift in my brain, altering my perception of life and resilience. And it’s only now when I can process the magnitude of all of it that I realize how traumatic it really was.
So how are you supposed to just move on? Everything is peachy keen and we just forget about it? Like nothing happened we just go on with life and that’s that? That’s what it feels like. It feels like I have this happy little life and I should be content and calm. But I don’t. Somehow I feel the sadness and grief hitting me like a ton of bricks.
I realized something was wrong when I had two panic attacks in one week. I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail because I’ll likely write about this in a separate post but when you’re jolted awake by pure terror, it’s probably your body saying we have an issue. And it wasn’t until my sister commented, “maybe you have a bit of PTSD,” that I really considered the past two and a half years as real trauma.
From my understanding most people experience trauma as one horrific, catastrophic event that they then deal with after. They have time to process this one event and navigate the pain in a safe place. And in no way do I devalue anyone else’s anguish because I am well aware that my baggage is no heavier than the next guy’s.
But for me it wasn’t just one event, which is why this healing is so confusing. It was 7 hospital admissions. It was talking about surgery for 6 months and doing everything we could to avoid it. And then it was surgery. And another surgery. And another. It was pulling out strands of hair one by one, for months. It was waking up each morning realizing my cheeks were bigger than the day before. It was 2 C-Diff infections. It was puking in emergency room because of a bowel obstruction…on my birthday. It was shitting my pants in my car. It was missing out on fun because I was sleeping. It was falling down the stairs because I lost so much muscle mass in my legs. It was looking in the mirror and not feeling pretty…for years. It was dehydration. It was thousands of dollars spent on ostomy supplies. It was losing friends who didn’t know how to deal. And it was looking at my stomach seeing 7 incision scars. It was chaos.
But each little chip was just a minor event. That just came and went and we dealt with as one little blip after another. But no one calculated that one minor event after another equals real trauma. Real grief and real pain. So here I am in my happy little apartment, when everything is perfect being hit by a truck of distress.
So now what? Well luckily I have a person who will drive me around in the middle of the night during a panic attack, just talking me down. And that person won’t laugh or dismiss how horrendous I feel, while also reaffirming that I don’t need to go to the hospital because I’m not actually having a heart attack. That’s step one.
And from there I take one day at a time. I stretch. I slow down. I write. I sleep. I eat well. I breath. Eventually I will get counsel, because it definitely is at the point where I can’t navigate on my own. But in the mean time I’m reaching out. I can’t possibly be the only one who is dealing with trauma only after everything is supposed to be healing. It’s like feeling sick when you’re in remission. And I know there has got to be IBD people out there who know what I’m talking about. So if you do, please…get at me.
In the mean time….I’m going to have some mimosas.
Happy long weekend lovers!
Since my J-Pouch surgery and my fresh start, I think I give off this perception that everything is “normal” and I have this little happy, healthy life. And for the most part that is true. I don’t feel sick anymore. But there are those days, those days that life just hits you and I can’t help but feel that because of IBD, they hit us a little harder.
I don’t think people yet recognize that those small challenges EVERYONE faces, they seem to be a little bit more difficult for someone with a chronic illness to overcome, especially when your bowel is damaged. I think a lot of IBDers can relate to this but I thought I’d bring a bit of awareness to how our illness continues past a flare up. Don’t confuse this post as a cry for sympathy. Just an explanation that when I say I’m “tired” I don’t mean, “I stayed up too late watching Netflix.”
Life Hits You Harder When You Have….
A Cold/ Flu: When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s defensive mechanism is already out of whack. And since the majority of your immune system lives in your gut (which I have had removed, or for people with IBD, is sick), one can understand how our bodies are a little bit more susceptible to the common cold and flu. I usually do my due diligence by taking my multis and Vitamin C’s, but keep in mind I also work with children (little germ invested munchkins). So I’ve realized I pick up those minor infections and viruses fairly easily. When I do get sick, it seems to really knock me off my feet, and it takes me longer to recover. This could be because I’m not absorbing those Tylenol Cold & Flu pills very well. It also could be because on the very basic level, when you’re sick you need rest and fluids, both of which are difficult for me to get enough of. And if it’s a stomach flu, when ANYONE feels dehydrated, I can assure you I feel that. The last time I had the flu, which was going around at work (shocking) I actually took myself to the emergency room just so I could get an IV.
A Hangover: Speaking of dehydration. When anyone drinks alcohol, your body is depleted of electrolytes and fluid. That’s why we feel like crap waking up with a hangover because we’re dehydrated, and the first thing we reach for is the Gatorade. Your large intestine is responsible for water absorption and feeding it back into your body. When you don’t have a colon, or it’s not working properly, you’re not retaining water and are likely getting dehydrated 30% faster (that number was given to me from my GI). As you can imagine when I drink, even the slightest bit of alcohol, my hangovers are SOOO much worse. I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine and it knocks me out for 2 days. I try and keep up by drinking just as much water and limiting myself….but it’s summer, I love wine and I have no self control.
A rough night’s sleep: I generally get up 1-2 times per night to go to the bathroom, and that’s after taking my Lomotil. But if I eat something upsetting, or it’s too hot, or I’m anxious and I’m having a hard time sleeping anyways, I wake up unrested and absolutely exhausted. I need to be able to sleep in between those bathroom breaks and when my sleep is disrupted even further man does it effect me. I struggle with my energy levels to begin with, partially because of that dehydration aspect and also because of the nutritional absorption, so if I don’t get enough sleep I really really struggle throughout the day. And for people who are in a flare up, it’s likely they’re anemic, feeling ill, up more that 2 times for sure, and are dropping weight like crazy so you can imagine how difficult it is to function.
A Period: (This may be TMI but I’m going to cover this anyways) During a flare up, you’re having diarrhea likely 10+ times a day. And what people don’t usually understand is that it’s not your regular diarrhea. It’s blood. I was literally just pissing blood out of my ass 10+ times a day, which obviously lead to serious anemia. This affects energy levels, heart rates, skin colour, and overall health since you literally don’t have enough blood in your body. So imagine every 28 days when you lose even more. When I was sick sick, my periods absolutely drained me. I think I was napping about 2 times a day, and it eventually got to the point where my body said, “Nope. You can’t have a period anymore,” and they stopped all together.Now that my surgeries are over you’d think my periods would be all normal again. Which for the most part they are. Except again, I struggle with those energy levels and for 4-6 days a month I REALLY struggle. Also, (again TMI) with a J-Pouch I find myself straining sometimes. In turn, I’m actually changing my products more frequently. Just annoying right? And expensive.
A Bad Day: You know those days where you sleep through your alarm, or you get a flat tire, your coworkers are annoying, you fight with your mom or you burn your toast? They happen to us all. But for some reason, us IBDers just FEEL it harder. I carry the extra baggage of trauma and a heavy heart to begin with and then those days hit and I’m like “Really universe?! After everything I’ve been through you couldn’t just let me sip my coffee without spilling it on my white pants?!” I’m just more emotional and sensitive I guess and when the coffee spills I well up in tears and it feels like another mountain to climb.
I’ve connected with so many people with IBD and I always hear how strong we are and how we can overcome anything if we can deal with Crohn’s or colitis. But I actually think it’s the opposite. It’s softened me. It’s made me vulnerable and susceptible. It’s not a bad thing by any means but like I said, things just hit me harder.
I realize this post sounds like a pitty party but it’s not. It’s very simply because I KNOW there are readers who this will resonate with. And on the other side of this, those incredible moments and extraordinary days ALSO hit harder. Those days of sunshine and laughter, warm drinks, cozy evenings, a good book, a hard workout, a new purchase, a drive with the windows down, an upbeat song, a fresh meal, or an accomplished work day. A new apartment, a new puppy or a new vacation. THOSE days hit hard too. Those are the days that are unforgettable because we’re well enough to enjoy them. We savor them and appreciate them. Our baggage is still heavy but in those moments, we’re strong enough to carry it.
I talk a lot about how IBD put my life on hold (see: The Waiting Game) and how it ripped me off of the last 2 years. And it’s partially been my fault for not embracing opportunity more, but rather saying, “When I’m not sick anymore,” or “After my next surgery.” But partially there is truth to that. For a while I was mad at myself for using IBD as an excuse and felt guilty for not being proactive and more ambitious regardless of my circumstances. But then there came a point where I allowed myself to just wait. To accept that taking care of myself was my number one, and ONLY priority, and it was okay to just take the time.
To be more specific, given multiple leave of absences from work, (some unplanned, some scheduled), I felt like I couldn’t really move forward in my career. Where else was I going to find a workplace that was so accommodating or would allow me to keep a full time position, around all these absences? And I also felt like I couldn’t move out of my parents’ house, given these long periods of unemployment where I needed that support from them until I recovered. I also felt like I couldn’t date because it was never the right time, and what if I just sucked someone else into the drama of my medical escapade? So I waited. And I lived the mundane, routine, familiar and comfortable state of my life.
When I returned home from England I don’t think many people realized how truly devastated I really felt. For the first time in my life I didn’t know what my future looked like. This little dream of mine to teach across seas and travel while doing it, completely collapsed and I surrendered to the destruction by returning home with no back-up plan. And it was crushing as I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty.
But then I found Mazo. This little child care centre that took me in immediately, regardless of my lack of experience with early years, and quickly became my second home for the next three years. And this little home of mine kept me safe while I faced a new kind of devastation, and taught me what it really means for ALL of us to carry some sort of baggage.
For the first year I was a Preschool teacher. And I learned about fairy tales, outer space, gardening, jungle animals and celebrations. I learned patience and persistence while facing snowsuits and tantrums and boo boos. I learned that a giant box could be made into a haunted house, a space planetarium, a castle or a school bus. We had tea parties, dance parties, costume parties, graduation parties and goodbye parties. I learned about friendships and imagination and magic. And most importantly I learned the lyrics to every song on the Frozen soundtrack.
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In my second year I went to our School Age Program: my comfort zone, my experienced group, my people. I learned about science experiments, cooking for a restaurant, knitting, gymnastics, and origami. I learned about girl drama, stubbornness and the struggles of not wanting to do homework at the YMCA. We played SPUD, Diamond Smugglers, Capture the Flag, Chess, and Huckle Buckle. We explored the creek and built a massive Lego City. I learned that school agers are harder to please than preschoolers but they are creative and have such enthusiasm for new opportunities to learn. They show confidence, compassion and curiosity. And most importantly I learned how to master a hot seat while tobogganing.
In my second year I became sick. My poor school agers had supply staff and occasional teachers for weeks and months at a time while I was off. I realized how sick I was when I needed to walkie-talkie for someone to cover me for a washroom break. And by the time I came back, (if I even made it in time), I needed to go again. So with tears in my eyes, I told Ana I needed to take a break. I told her I have never been so sick and I don’t know what to do. Her response was, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it work. Take all the time you need.” The next day I was admitted to the hospital for the first time and I was there for 2 weeks. So my school agers made me signs and cards sending well wishes but showed resilience and understanding while facing the inconsistency. And this is when I first experienced a warm welcome back. I was always greeted by hugs and smiles, concern and worry, high-fives and fist pumps.
And then came my third year. My toddlers. My babies. My Dream Team. I learned about colours, frogs, babies, construction, airplanes, food and hot air balloons. I learned to keep it together while facing boogers, diapers and yogurt day. I learned that boxes can be made into boats, houses, pizza ovens or beast caves. We painted feet, drove scooters, took care of our pets, played in slime and made giant bubbles. I learned about diaper cream, which in fact came in handy for my own use in my most recent recovery. I learned about cuddles, kisses, giggles, first words and absolute wonder with the world around us. And most importantly, I learned the lyrics to Shake Your Sillies Out.
These babies also dealt with my sick leaves but again, greeted me with hugs and slobbery kisses upon every return. They made scribbly pictures and handprint cards and provided dandelions or tiny sequins as little signature presents that meant the world coming from tiny humans.
When you work a full time job but are chronically ill, it takes a special kind of workplace to accommodate you. But when your work becomes your home, somehow we just dealt with it. As a team we made it through every leave of absence (for me there were 7), every sick day, every leak, every meltdown and every return. Somehow we made it through laughing while I pulled my hair out (literally) or shit my pants (literally) or potty trained (literally). But I assure you, without this particular group of women at Mazo, it may have been a different story.
To my families: thank you for letting me into your lives. Thank you for allowing me to take a small role in the care of your little humans who hold such a special place in my heart. Thank you for understanding my absences, my fatigue, my scatter-brain. Thank you asking me how I am, for checking in, for asking questions and for showing you care. Thank you for supporting me, encouraging me, and being some of my biggest fans.
To my colleagues, my friends: thank you for teaching me and showing me what it means to be an outstanding educator. Thank you for being my role models and mentors. Thank you for covering for me, picking up my slack (and all of my belongings), or having my back. Thank you for making me care packages, sending cards, visiting in the hospital, and for pizza parties. Thank you for texting me, calling me, sending photos and keeping me updated on those tiny humans. Thank you for being colleagues who turned into friends who turned into family.
Being an ECE is hard. I admire each and every one of you. You come to work with baggage I can’t imagine dealing with, yet put on smiles and sing songs and put your lives on the back burner while you make Mazo the happiest place in the world. Please, continue to take care of yourselves first so you can continue taking care of my Mazo babies. Please, remember to enjoy the sunshine and butterflies and flowers during the summer so when it comes time to deal with snow suits and -30 windchills you’ll still come in with that same positivity ready to make snow men and walk to the North Pole.
To the YMCA in general: Thank you for being an organization that is accommodating, understanding and cooperative. Thank you for taking as much pride in building healthy employees that you do in building healthy communities. Thank you for working with me so I could return for a full 3 years rather than telling me to take a hike. Thank you for teaching me, developing me, and empowering me. And thank you for supporting me in my decision to leave Mazo, for a fresh start. A new beginning.
So now for the second time in my life, I don’t exactly know what my future looks like. But I know it’s bright. Mazo taught me to trust the process. To communicate with your workplace, to stay positive and to LET IT GO (queue Frozen). So here goes nothing….my closure may have just happened but my new beginning is just getting started. And I’m certain I can handle it.