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breathe, write, repeat

A thirty something's attempt at being human

Spread Kindness to the Quiet Moments

I was shocked at how many people “like me” there were as I participated in the women’s march. All around me were real, beautiful, passionate people. People with kids, with babies. People in tuques and winter coats and painted faces. People with signs, people without. Some signs were about feminism, some about LGBTQ rights, some about migrants, some against inequality and others just about love. Everybody was standing up for someone. They were trying to protect themselves, their loved ones and other fellow humans from hate.

The mood at the march was downright joyous. Everyone was chanting, chatting, smiling. People were taking photos. We stepped aside in from the march a few times, just to stand back and take it all in. We were in awe of the turnout. I couldn’t see the front of the march and I couldn’t see the back. As far as I could see there just people expressing their love. People spending their Saturday saying that they don’t believe in sexist, or racism, or homophobia or ableism. It was people saying that they love humanity in whatever form that takes. I was happy. It was incredibly uplifting. I was also surprised by how…fun it was. Doing the right thing doesn’t have to be unpleasant. The things people were fighting against were so horrible, so painful, that I was surprised by the atmosphere of lightness and easy comradery.

The joy of the march got me thinking – where is this kindness the rest of the time? Why do I spent so much of my time putting up a guard to protect myself from the verbal injuries of colleagues, fellow transit riders, misogynistic men at bars? There are clearly many, many people who believe in love, who believe in kindness, who are willing to go out of their way to stand up for humanity. Why do I feel like the rest of the time it’s so hard to connect with other people? And if everyone is feeling hurt by sexism and prejudice, then why doesn’t this collective pain feel lighter? They say that shared pain is half pain and share joy in double joy. Whey then, does the hurt of being a woman not feel any less? Why do my female colleagues gossip about me and try to bring me down? If everyone knows about the pay gap and 50% of the population experience it, why does it still exist? Why is it so damn hard to be taken seriously as a young woman? Why do I feel like I have 50% of the self-esteem as men?

They say the personal is political and that when you connect individual experiences with larger patterns, it’s easier to see that problems are systemic, not individual. The reason my male colleagues get more respect is a systemic problem, it’s not about me. But it feels that way. When I go through life and am not treated with kindness and fairness, I feel hurt. It helps to know that there are so many good people who go to marches and show up for humanity by chanting and wearing pink tuques. I just wish they would show up the rest of the time too. I need these people when I’m crying in the bathroom. I need these people on hiring committees. I need these people to help me survive life.

Let’s bring kindness to the workplace. Let’s bring it to our transit rides and our bars. Let’s show up for each other in the quiet moments between marches .

Tears Between Emails

Whenever I thought about people who couldn’t conceive I wondered how they survived. I thought Facebook must be excruciating but that everyday life wouldn’t be much better. After all, the babies that end up on Facebook are also walking down the street. They’re also in colleagues’ homes and the stories they tell you at lunch hour. They’re at the swimming pool and the gym abs the grocery store. You can’t survive without coming across children and parents. Because of this, I was surprised that that I could generally still handle kids once we started our fertility testing. My friends’ kids, kids in Facebook, kids in the grocery isle.

That ended today. We had cake at work for a colleague’s newborn. He gave a speech and showed pictures. As I ate my cake another colleague said ‘you next’. He proceeded to tell me how having a child isn’t an experience he’d want anyone to miss out on. He told me about how female friends of his generation had waited too long. Waited too long till they couldn’t have kids once the were ready. He told me this in kindness. He wasn’t trying to be mean. He was explaining how much he loved his daughter.

But now I’ve been crying in the bathroom. Then I went for a walk and the tears came back. They continued over my sandwich. Now my lunch break is over and I don’t know if I can go back to work. Back to pretending and nodding and smiling and deflecting.

Why Writing Scares the Crap Out of Me

I’ve been reading a lot about writing lately. I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” about the creative process and incorporating art into your life. I’m also reading Glennnon Doyle Melton’s “Love Warrior” where she essentially attributes starting a blog to saving her life. My friend bought me a book on creating the right environment to be able to write. I signed up for a coaching program through a creative writing company. I also started, and promptly dropped out of, an online writing course through the university of Iowa. But I haven’t actually been writing much. What’s going on? I have developed a deep enthusiasm for writing, yet it seems like it might just be the idea of writing rather than the actual act.

Writing comes to me best when I am alone and feeling spiritual. This combination doesn’t happen very often. Sometimes it has hit me on lunch breaks or when my husband is sleeping in on weekends. But for some reason I can’t write when my husband is around. I feel intensely private about it. I want to be in my bubble. I don’t want to share my work until it’s done, if then. I don’t want my zone to be disrupted.

I also find that writing comes more easily to me when I’m not in my regular routine. The best is when I’m in between places – on a greyhound bus, on a ferry, in an airport, waiting to kill time in a coffee shop. Writing while travelling is the best. Life is more vivid when you’re not at home. Even if I’m just travelling back to BC, I find the feeling of being outside my life – out of the normal work, TV, gym routine to be conducive to writing.  I wrote my favourite blog post on my iPhone on a bus from Pemberton to Vancouver. I think being outside the routine is good for the mind, it gets me thinking – my wandering promotes wondering.

However, as I write this, I realize they are all excuses. If I really wanted to write more I could lock myself in a room or I could go to a coffee shop. I could make time for it instead of surfing the web and scrolling on Facebook. The real reason I don’t write more is because it scares me. I feel like I tap into a deeper me. A more profound, sad, scared, contemplative, wise me. Writing is emotional and emotions are scary. I also feel like I enter another realm. It takes a little while to get there but then I am in another dimension. It’s a good dimension, but again scary, and often disorienting. After writing, I often feel like dizzy. It’s the feeling of waking up after what was supposed to be a quick nap but ended up being deep REM sleep in the middle of the day. I don’t feel refreshed afterwards; I feel satisfied but vulnerable. I even feel a tinge of guilt. I wonder if I revealed too much. I feel like writing is a clandestine act – like it’s weird that I just escape into myself and contemplate my thoughts for an hour.

Often writing is downright upsetting as well. I wrote one of these blog posts, the first one I think, where I just felt like I threw up my whole life’s worries onto the page. I felt a satisfied after writing it, but I did it right before bed and I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for hours because my mind was racing. Writing brings up pain, it brings up unresolved issues, we don’t write about the clean and tidy parts of our lives. I heard one writer say “we write about what haunts us”. Indeed, writing feels like therapy – difficult, unpleasant, but necessary. It doesn’t stop the pain, but it manages it, if incredibly uncomfortably.

All these feelings and traveling between “realms” and visiting different selves only happen when I write for myself. When I write creatively, so to speak, even though I never write fiction. I can write at work with my eyes closed. Writing my Master’s thesis was certainly not cathartic. I didn’t enter a spiritual state citing social scientists. It’s only when I do this type of journal-style writing.  The fear, the emotional roller coaster, the never ending wheels turning in head stop me from writing more often. Sometimes I wonder if writing really is a good thing if it upsets me this much. Are these types of essays just navel-gazing? Would it improve my mood more to get outside myself – to see friends, exercise, party – to be a part of the world instead of just observing it from a distance? I don’t know. I do know that writing feels real though. It feels like the opposite of Facebook. It’s not curated, there aren’t sound bites; I have to concentrate on one thing for a long time instead of scrolling through different posts. I can’t multitask when I write. I have to be with my thoughts, exposed and alone, until I’ve run out of things to say. I wouldn’t say that writing reveals the true me because I think we have multiple selves that are all authentic, but it does bring out the serious and spiritual side of me. I’m not “on” when I’m writing. I’m not trying to be likeable and smart. I’m trying to dig – to dig deep and unearth a self who does not get to see daylight very often.

 

 

The Space in Between – When Life Doesn’t Fit

My meditation app has phrase that describes breath as having a beginning, a middle, a space in between and an end. A space in between. A pause. I feel like I’m in that space right now. Like I’m having an outer body experience and looking at my life from afar. Looking at it from so far away that it’s blurry. It’s confusing it doesn’t make sense to me. Then that moment comes when I ask myself, “wow. Is this really me? Is this really my life?” and I feel nauseous and dizzy. Not nauseous with disdain but sick because I feel so uncentered, so lost. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get back news but you know the worst is yet to come. When you are just waiting for the fall out and you have no idea how anything else will unfold.

This feeling is like a panic attack – dizzying, terrifying, throat-tightening. Except that it doesn’t happen in a specific moment, but over months. Last time it happened, last time I felt that I was in that space in-between rather than cozied up to the swing of my life, was a few months after my parents divorced. Then, as now I was experiencing anxiety. Then, as now, I had no idea what the future would hold. I had been fine with their divorce when the news broke. I went into action mode – comforting both parents, readying myself for the onslaught of emotions. I was okay with my parents getting divorced because I saw it as an event with a beginning and an end. I thought that people go through divorces and then they’re over. But that’s not how families experience divorce. There’s fall out. Big fall out. It means watching your dad start dating, watching your mom develop an eating disorder. It means lonely Christmases and awkward wedding guest lists. It means curating your answer when the other asks “how’s mom?” or “how’s dad?”. Somehow though, even with that new reality, I stopped getting vertigo when I looked at my own life. It started to fit again.

Now I feel once again like I’m in the space in between. Now that we’re getting fertility help, I feel that my life-vertigo is understandable. Waiting to conceive is very clearly a time in-between. But the truth is that I had it before we even started trying. When I tried to imagine myself as a mother, when I tried to imagine kids in our apartment, when I tried to imagine happily ever after. I felt like it was something made for other people. That I couldn’t do it or it wouldn’t happen for us. And now, seeing a fertility doctor, I wonder if I jinxed myself or if it was intuition, if it really won’t happen. Is this a time in-between or is it a new reality I have to accept? Am I in the middle of something or at the start of a something new? I don’t know if I am waiting for the fall out or waiting for relief.

When I friend of mine was having trouble with her job-search, she told me that she was trying to remember that “sometimes God puts you in waiting rooms”. That’s a nice thought, God. In some ways, these painful times do feel more spiritual than happy ones. These slow times when you are waiting for the new version of your life to start making sense. Time slows down. Time doesn’t fly when you’re not having fun. I feel wiser and more worldly at times like these. I look at my happy friends with smugness. They don’t understand, they don’t know what life is really like yet. Anxiety makes you feel like you’re going to die and who could be wiser than someone on their deathbed?

My therapist asks me if I think my anxiety will last forever. I tell her no, that I don’t think it will, even if it feels that way in the moment. I don’t think I will always be looking like a seasick voyage across a choppy ocean. I think it will come back to me. My life, it will start to make sense again. At least I hope it will. I like always being at the beginning, the middle or the end. The space in between, that pause before your next breath – that part is hard.

Yesterday was Kristina’s birthday. If it wasn’t her birthday I would have held off calling her for who knows how long. The last time we spoke the conversation went something like this – (me) So how’s your new job going? (her) Great I just asked for a ten thousand dollar raise and I got it. (me) yeah, I just asked for a raise too, my boss didn’t give me an answer.

I did end up getting the raise. A three thousand dollar one and a new title. I was hoping for more than that. I didn’t even tell Kristina about the promotion because it felt so pathetic. Even with my raise she now made over twenty thousand dollars more than me. I felt like this was “it”. This was the end of a very predictable story – Kristina had always been very focused on money, she’s an accountant after all. I had always been the “save the world” hippie working at non-profits. I backpacked, she hoteled. When we were eighteen we traveled around Europe together. We fought over what was worth spending money on – I wanted to eat baguettes but pay for museums, she wanted to try nice restaurants. Yet, we’ve been friends for about twenty-five years now, so I guess our yin and yang worked.

I didn’t think I cared about money. But I have realized that I do, I care a whole lot about having money. Not having money to put into savings at the end of the month makes me anxious. It makes me feel like I have no control over my life and that the ground could fall from under me at any moment. I am extremely debt-adverse. I also care that I don’t have the things a lot of my friends do – namely, big houses, or any property at all. Renting an apartment at thirty-three makes me feel like a failure. It symbolizes how I do not have it together. I don’t have the kids and the house and the well paid job. I haven’t “made it”. Renting means that I am not good enough.

So when Kristina told me that she now made twenty-two thousand dollars more than me – well it highlighted all my insecurities, all the ways I’ve construed money to symbolize success. I felt shitty for days after that phone call. I replayed the conversation in my mind, each time with more spite, more self-loathing. This is how the story ends. I am a pathetic excuse for an adult who just can’t hack it. Kristina wins. I lose.

I realized of course that I couldn’t stay mad at Kristina forever. And of course, that I wasn’t actually mad at her, I was mad at myself. Furthermore, I couldn’t unfriend anyone who earned a better pay cheque than I did. I’d have no friends left. What if all my single friends unfriended me because I have a loving husband? Objectively, I acknowledge the reality that there will always be people who have more than you and always people who have less – whether this is in wealth, health, love, friendships. Overall, I have won the life lottery. But I still refused to call Kristina.

Ultimately, I got over my self-pity to give her a birthday call. She was away at a retreat for the weekend. My thoughts spun. Of course she’s at some expensive retreat I could never afford. Did I know how much it cost? No. But my spiteful self-narration continued. Kristina texted when she was back from the retreat. It was 10pm my time.

Hey are you still awake? Have time to talk?

I saw the text and thought Hell no. I did my part trying to call her on her birthday. Her birthday’s over. It’s 10pm, I’m lying on the couch watching the Simpsons. My defenses are down. I can’t take another kick in the gut like our last conversation. So I didn’t reply to the text. I’ll just pretend I am asleep, I thought. I’ll call her back when I’m in a better mood. When I’m “on”, when I can roll with the punches.

Then she called. Okay…well ignoring a text is one thing but ignoring a phone call when I’m lying on the couch staring at my phone is another. So I answered. I asked her about her retreat. She talked about how great it was to make closer friendships with some of the women there because at this age, it’s hard to make good friends. I told her about how work wasn’t going well for me and I might have to find another job. She empathized. She told me how talented she thought I was and that I could always call her when I needed a pep talk in my job search. She said that I should look out for what’s best for me whether it’s at this job or another.

She was a friend. Her raise had not made her any less of a friend. And I was glad I didn’t screen her call.

The Burden of Optimism: Just Let Me Be Sad

When I went to the doctor after months of trying to conceive she referred me to a specialist. I had actually thought she would tell me to chill out, that nothing was wrong and I was just being neurotic. But no, she didn’t tell me that it’s common for it to take a long time or that I had nothing to worry about. She thought I should seek help. 

When I told my friend about this she just piped back “well that’s good she’s being so proactive”. Yes, it was true. It was good that my doctor had taken me seriously and that I had resources at my disposal to get help. But in that moment, I was sad and all I wanted was to be sad. I didn’t want to have to put on a happy face and count my blessings. I didn’t want to see the glass half full. That could come later. But for one day, I just wanted to mope about my situation. I just wanted to be irrational and bitch and moan about how nobody else seems to have these problems. I needed some time to realign my expectations that things would happen easily to the possible reality of visits to fertility clinics, sperm samples, IVF – who knows what. But my friend just tried to cheer me up. Damn her. 

A few days later I visited another friend. I vented about the situation. How it was hard to trust that it can take a long time when you haven’t had any children. You don’t know if it’s you or just the way it works. She told me that I should stop stressing about it, that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by being stressed because stress isn’t good for conception. I was shooting myself in the foot by worrying about this. Fair enough. Stress is not good for health, nevermind pre-conception health. But you can’t just tell someone who is stressed out to stop stressing. By pointing out that their worries may be damaging you give them even more reason to worry. 

When I’m in a bad mood I screen my calls when some friends call me. Especially people I haven’t spoke to in awhile.  I know they don’t want to hear my negativity. When I do answe, it can take a lot of energy to spin my life. How’s everything Going? Great. How’s work? Good. It’s hard to hold a conversation with someone who is a dead weight. “My job is boring as hell and I can’t get pregnant” just isn’t fun. People don’t like negative people. I don’t like negative people.  But once in a while I need to be that mopey wet blanket who can’t see the bright side. Tomorrow I’ll be peppy. Today it takes to much energy.

Today I just need to be. 

The Monet effect of long distance friends – Everybody’s life is a little bit shit

Living in Toronto, I don’t get to see my friends in BC very often. The updates I do get are largely from Facebook.  Photos and camping, big houses and children. Having long distance friends means that you also often only get a phone call when big life events happen – people get married, get pregnant, get new jobs and so on. These updates are coupled with the North American infatuation with positivity. You might hear about some of the trying life moments but it’s quickly followed by “but it’s okay. Things are getting better. Onward and upwards!”

Sometimes when people present their lives in a glass half full manner it ends up just sounding like their life is not just half full but overflowing with greatness. I do this too. When someone asks me what I’ve been up to I don’t say “oh actually I’ve been wallowing in self-pity about how I don’t like my job but I’m too depressed to do anything about it” or “actually I’ve been lonely as hell and getting panic attacks, thanks for asking”. Instead I gloss over the bad and tell them how l went to a spa for my anniversary and saw Pittbull in concert. Because of the distance and our addiction to positivity, all my long distance friends’ lives seem perfect. And of course when I’m feeling shitty about my job I don’t want to call up my friend with the new awesome job to vent about it. Just like I avoid talking to my BC friends in March when they tell me about how their hiking trips and I’m stuck in a winter wonderland.

Yet, when I visit my friends I often realize that their lives are like Monets – beautiful from a distance but messier up close. The friends with kids and big houses complain about home repairs and feeling like inadequate parents. The friend with the awesome new job stresses about her student debt. These are of course, first world problems and in the long term are not actual tragedies – just everyday worries. But the friend who up close really does have it all – the house, the kids, the good job – she still worries. Her complaints are not legitimate – by any standards she has an enviable life. But the stressing and worrying and trying to juggle it all – those emotions are real.

People are much more honest in person. It’s also harder to hide shit. There’s also alcohol as a conversational lubricant. Alcohol doesn’t quite work the same way on a long-distance FaceTime chat as it does in person. Sober or not, it’s easier to draw people out in person.

The last time my most perfect-life friend called me in Toronto I didn’t call back. Dealing with fertility problems, I knew she was trying to have a child as well and suspected that much like her life, her uterus was perfect. When I visited her in person, my suspicion was confirmed. Within minutes of arriving, she told me she was expecting. I spent the next two days hanging out with her as she vented about her worries about parenthood and tried diligently to talk me out of my negative it’s never gonna happen for me mindset.

Up close, It’s a lot easier to see your friends lives for what they are – blessed but imperfect. It’s also a whole lot easier to empathize and a whole lot harder to begrudge their fortune. At the end of the day, everybody has something to be envious of something going on that warrants compassion. I’ll try to remember that the next time I FaceTime my oh so perfect friends.

Worry: advice from future me

I wonder how I will look back on this time. The common wisdom is that we don’t appreciate our blessings until it’s too late, that later in life we look back and think about how good we had it and how much better life would have been if we had only come to this realization sooner. If we only knew in the moment “Yes, this is it. This is my happy time”.

I read a study about the regrets that seniors have. The biggest regret wasn’t the things they had or hadn’t done. Their biggest regret was that they worried too much when time and health was on their side. They wished they could have that time back – the good times that they had poisoned with worry.

I remember sitting at a bar with a friend when I was 25 and lamenting my singledom. I was worried that I would never find someone. I was worried that I wasn’t capable of being in a relationship – my longest relationship up to that point had been six months. My friend had met her now husband in university. She had found her one. She said that while she was grateful to have found her “person” she wished it had happened later in life. It’s harder to do some things when you are in a relationship. If she’d met him later in life it would have been easier to travel, move around, date, explore.

For me, I think that I did generally, enjoy my single years. In fact I think I may have enjoyed them more than the situation warranted. I did travel, I did move around, I dated, I explored. I thought I was very happy – I just wanted to meet someone. Now I look back at that time when less rose-coloured glasses.  I am impressed at how my younger self fended off loneliness with one move after another – finding new friends and routines in different cities. I am amazed with how well I bounced back after bad dates and mini-relationships. I look back at some of those dates – evenings that at the time I thought made “good stories” and thank God that I escaped some very precarious situations.  When I think back to my worries – my fear that I would never find someone, my fear that I did not possess the innate qualities to successfully sustain a long-term relationship – I don’t think I was being silly. I feel compassion for my younger self. Under the circumstances, those fears were well-founded. I had been dating a lot men that didn’t weren’t well suited for my personality. I had been dismissing potential relationships before they had a chance to grow. How was I to know that soon I would find the man who was right for me and that that person would have the skills to make me reassess my quick-flight behaviour. I couldn’t have known that in terms of my love life I would turn out to be one of the luckiest people I know. There was no way I could have known the fortune that lay ahead for me. So my worrying, while wasteful, wasn’t stupid. I can’t blame younger, single me for worrying about her romantic future at that time.

Now I wonder how I will look back at this time. How I look back on it will, of course depend on how everything “turns out”. When, God willing, we do have kids, will I look back at my childless days as being the time of my life? Will I look back bitterly as most of my friends with kids do now, on a time when I could reflect, journal, leave the house without strollers or babysitters, go on date nights, to have “time for myself”? Will I think back to this time – my cozy rental apartment, my boring job, my unlimited time for whatever I choose to do; and think those were the days? Why did I poison those glory days with anxiety over the future, when we can’t control what comes ahead anyways? Will I be like those seniors in the study and wish I hadn’t worried too much. Yet if, in the worst case scenario, we can’t have kids, how will I look back on this time? Likely, I’ll look back at my worries with envy. Look back to a time when there was still hope, a time before I had gotten bad news, a time when I thought that my worries were just me being silly.

I don’t know if it is possible to eradicate worry. I don’t know if it is possible for me to stop comparing myself to others – like I did with my married friend when I was single, and now how I do when she has everything I want – a good job, a house and a couple kids. Will I look back at my anxieties now and shake my head at how wasteful it was to spend glorious, healthy days fretting over whether or not I will ever have children? Or will I look back at my now-self, the future younger-self, with compassion? Will I think, yeah that was tough. It’s hard not knowing. It’s normal have good days and bad days. I wish I could go back and tell that person, that no matter what happens, everything will be alright.

Every day I think about death

Most days I think about death. And by death I mean my own mortality. I am not one of those people who insists they are only worried about their loved ones dying. Obviously I am concerned  about that but when I say that I think about death it’s that I think about myself disappearing.  It’s not a constantly on my thoughts about once everyday it crosses my mind.

Usually, I assume like most people, this thought fills me with anguish. When I think about passing away at even a healthy old age it feels like it will happen tomorrow. My breathing becomes shallow and I can feel my throat constrict. I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife so for me death just means that I will disappear. And not being anymore. Not mattering, not existing, not being heard, leaving my husband. These are all terrifying thoughts. Most people would argue that it doesn’t matter since well, you’re not there anymore but it does to me. It matters to me.

I remember visiting my grandmother a few days before her death. She wasn’t fully conscious. But she was talking, fretting, clutching onto my hand. She starting convulsing. I don’t know what was going through her mind but she was clearly gripped with terror. And who wouldn’t be? For all the ways that society paints death as something poetic, peaceful, natural – the circle of life and so on. Death is messy business. It’s scary. It’s hard for those watching and it’s hard for those going through it.  Watching my grandmother dying confirmed my suspicion that my fear of death is rational. It’s not fun.

Sometimes after thinking about death  I feel soulful, energized and determined to live life to the fullest. What exactly that means is harder to determine. Everyday I go to work, make dinner, do chores. These things are not really optional. Even though working all day staring at a computer screen isn’t exactly carpedium, not having the money to survive hardly is either. I try to do things that make me slow down through the daily grind – go for a walk, write, read, meditate. And I try to do things that break the monotony of daily life, that make time seem longer – go on trips, have sex, go to concerts, party. These things all help but time still passes. I am 33 and I find myself envious of 20 year old since they have more time ahead of them. I have had a lot of good times in my life so far. I’ve traveled a lot, lived abroad, earned a couple degrees, fallen passionately in love with my now husband. But I know a lot of these special moments are memories. They are in the past and I have fewer years ahead of me than I used to. Of course, God willing, I have many many more years ahead and I do keep on making new good memories as well. But at 33, I realize that I am not that far off from middle age. In another 33 years I’ll be 66.  Sixty-six year olds can still be active and lead meaningful lives. Most 66 year olds in Canada still have plenty of time ahead of them. But it’s also not an unusual age to pass away. It’s young, but it’s not extremely unusual.

This year my husband and I visited Uganda. There the average age is around 30. It’s a young country where there is a dearth of seniors. To grow old is a luxury. It’s a fortune most people don’t have. We went on a tour with a woman in her mid-twenties who had started her own tourism company. She seemed young and hip and very westernized. I was impressed with how entrepreneurial she was and accomplished for someone that young. But the thing is, she wasn’t actually that young by Ugandan standards. Her parents had passed away and she had seven younger siblings to supper. Of course she was entrepreneurial, she had to be to survive and for her family to survive. My ruminations about death and the fear of my own mortality are first world problems. Most of the world is too busy surviving to worry about the inevitable parts of life.

Some time ago I felt pain in my chest, difficulty breathing, dizziness and a type of outer body-type feeling. I thought I should get my chest checked out. But the feeling was pretty fleeting, it passed pretty quickly so I wasn’t in a rush to see the doctor. My therapist told me I was having panic stacks. She said that the physical sensations were real but that they were precipitated by psychological factors. She described panic attacks as the body getting the wrong cue from our surroundings and  reacting as if we were going to die as a response. That the heart rate and the breathing were part of our fight and flight response from times when humans needed more blood circulation to do things like running away from bears. She said that in contemporary society this reaction can come up when we’re not running away from bears but in my case doing completely safe things like picking out a colouring book or sitting up at night feeling lonely. Her explanation was logical – the body freaks out when it thinks about dying. But by her description, the body’s fear of death in everyday situations seems misplaced and illogical. I find that fear of death is often cast as ‘crazy’. My friend makes fun of me because whenever I have a chocking fit I look like I think I’m going to die or because I overreact to health problems instead of just taking it in stride. When I got an irregular Pap test she reminded me that this doesn’t mean I was going to die. She said that getting bad news early was good since it helps you to be proactive about your health. The therapist and my friend are both right. Panic attacks won’t kill me and neither will having a cold. Yet, I am still going to die some day. That is not  an irrational thing to say. It’s not an overreaction. It is reality. I am allowed to be scared of that without my feelings being trivialized.

My mom talks about death more than I think about it. Last time I visited her she asked me to euthanize her. Not now but “when the time comes”. She is an extremely healthy 70 year old but she talks as if she is going to croak tomorrow. It’s very upsetting to hear someone you love talk In this way. It infuriates me that she doesn’t do what mothers are supposed to do, and protect me from upsetting things. I guess since I’m an adult she doesn’t feel I need protecting from her upsetting diatribe about death. Or maybe she just hasn’t thought through how her words affect those around her. I hope that my thoughts about mortality don’t escalate to her level when I’m older. I can see that her focus on death isn’t doing her life any favours.

My husband has a much more refreshing approach to death. He doesn’t think about death very often and when he does, it doesn’t fill him with fear. He is a man of faith. He believes in a higher power. He believe that everything will be okay and that even if it isn’t, it’s God’s will. He told me that religion makes him a lot more stable. He doesn’t need therapists like I do like or some of his other atheist friends. When he is feeling down he goes to a beach and talks to God. After that, he says, he feels like a weight has been lifted and that he is reassured about the state and the world and the path of his life. I wish I had that. Unlike a lot of atheists who see religious people as naive and unintelligent, I admire faith. I think having faith is a great asset when doing the tricky business of living.

This is the point in the essay where I tell the reader how I have grown and how now I have a different perspective on death that has helped me lead a healthier, more meaningful life. I tell you how I have found God. Or that I’ve stopped having panic attacks and that my mother’s mental health problems have magically melted away from my newfound wisdom. But I don’t have a solution to this.  I still feel scared. The life expectancy is Uganda is still low. My musings haven’t in fact solved anything.

I will just keep doing those profane everyday things that help me.  I read novels that make me feel more connected to humanity, I go for walks in the forest or by the ocean and take in the beauty of nature, I have wine with friends and talk about life, I plan trips and outings when I can afford it, I listen to music seeped in emotion, I kiss my husband and hope that I can absorb some of his conviction  and I write. I write to untangle my feelings, find peace and connect with other humans. I will die one day. In the meantime I will try to honour my fear as a reminder that my everyday efforts to find beauty in the mundane will one day end. Because one day I won’t have any more days to get through.

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