TBT – A Place of My Own

In the second installment of my Throw Back Thursday endeavor I chose a picture of my son sitting on the stairs in the townhouse we lived in for five years. It’s not the only picture of that time, or of that place, but somehow it always takes me back there.

everett on the stairs

When my son was three months old, I left my husband. I lived with my parents for six months but the reality was that I needed to start over and that meant finding my own place. With the help of a real estate agent I looked at, what seemed like, hundreds of apartments and condos on the North Shore of Vancouver. I loved this place as soon as I walked in. It was roomy and bright and just felt good. My son did not have such a great first impression. As we were leaving I had sat him down on the first step going up from the foyer. I was standing in front of him while I put my shoes on but somehow he worked his way around my legs and fell head first onto the tiled entryway floor. He cried non stop for the next hour. I bought it anyway.

When we first moved in I had very little of anything. I had borrowed a crib and a change table from my sister. I had a mattress and a side table in my bedroom. The kitchen had a folding table, four folding chairs and a high chair. The living/dining room had a cardboard box with a borrowed black and white TV on top of it. A few weeks after I moved in my brother bought me a love seat for the living room. So basically I had a lot of empty space. With a nine month old boy just starting to pull up and walk it was actually great. Lots of play space and room for building block cities and hot wheels race tracks. Great when he was there. Empty and lonely when he was not.

Part of the reason that I chose this townhouse was how close it was to everything that I would need. I could walk to stores, restaurants and a great park just down the street. That first year was made so much better with green space to enjoy a couple of blocks away. On the weekends I would put my son in the stroller at nap time and he would have a nice long sleep while I got some much-needed exercise exploring the neighborhood. The townhouse also had a great patio off the living room that my son could crawl out onto and not get into any trouble. We planted flowers in a big half barrel that year and spent lots of time chasing each other around it and enjoying the sun.

Every wall in the townhouse was white when I first moved in. Boring yes, but also a blank canvas. Coming out of a very controlling relationship, I can remember how great it was to be able to decide on whatever I wanted to do with this blank canvas. I could put up any artwork I wanted to and paint walls any colour I wanted. Freedom. Exhilarating, heady freedom. I couldn’t afford a lot but I bought what I liked and hung it wherever I wanted to. Some of the art was even hung a bit crooked. I loved it. And I didn’t have to ask anybody what they thought. A very new concept for me. And I bought fresh flowers every week. Just because I wanted to.

It was a difficult time for sure but after a few months I met someone and eventually he helped my son and I fill up all the empty space in the townhouse. I no longer needed to buy flowers to cheer myself up and welcomed a second opinion on where to hang the artwork. The Best Thing in Life is new beginnings.

Pumpkin Patch

There is No Upside to Brain Damage

brain

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could experience The Best Things in Life all the time? In a world of unicorns, rainbows and free wine that might be true. But the reality is that we don’t live in that world. Our world is much harsher than that. In fact, the best things in life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

I first met Jane at the local rec centre when our girls were babies. I knew I would always remember her name because my mom’s name is Jane and my daughter’s middle name is Jane. Also Jane is from England. Ipswich to be more specific. Another reason to remember her is that my granny lived near Ipswich. We stayed in touch through mutual friends, sports and eventually school as our girls grew up. Our daughters both love soccer and ended up on the same team and in the same Kindergarten class. Jane was active and I often ran into her with her kids on the local trails or at the park. Then her life changed.

Three years ago this month Jane was experiencing the life of a normal mother, wife and Software Program Director. It wasn’t a particularly stressful day and things were pretty quiet at the office, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling of being a bit “off”. Sitting at her desk, she remembers wheeling over to a co-worker in her desk chair and telling her that she didn’t feel right and wasn’t sure what to do. “You don’t look very good. You should lie down” they told her. That’s the last thing she remembers. She had a massive seizure and lost consciousness. The EMTs came and she was taken to the hospital in and out of consciousness. After eight hours they couldn’t tell her anything about her condition so her husband came to pick her up. All she can remember is thinking that they were driving home from the hospital with their newborn son who was in fact, already two years old.

Eight months went by as doctor after doctor tried to figure out what had happened. She was told not to work and her days were spent at hospitals and doctors offices hooked up to machines as they flashed light in her eyes, taped her eyes shut and tracked her brain activity. One doctor even told her that it was a just a tension headache and she should try Tylenol. “Really? I lost the feeling in my left arm. I think it’s a bit more than a headache” She endured rounds of heavy duty drugs. One round she discovered was LSD based and caused an alarmingly bad trip. At least she can tick that of her list of things never to do again. After that, they put her on amphetamines to improve her brain function. The drugs left her hazy, tired and well, drugged.

After a recommendation from somebody on-line, Jane requested neuropsychological testing. The result. A diagnosis of encephalitis. Because a spinal tap was not done when her first seizure happened, they can not say of it was viral or bacterial. Regardless, the prognosis was not good. Permanent brain damage showed up in an MRI. The list of things she can no longer (ever) do is long. When the doctor told her she would never work again she was shocked, but what really hit her hard was when he told her that she would never snowboard or ski again. For an active, outdoorsy person this was devastating.

As the question came out of my mouth I realized how stupid it was.  But I asked it anyway.  “Has there been any upside?” No, there is no upside to brain damage. She often has to check a book out of the library multiple times as she forgets she’s read it or even what it is about. If she stay up late to bake for her kids school carnival she needs to take it easy for a few days afterwards to ward off more seizures. She dreams in German. She hasn’t given up gluten because it’s trendy. She’s done it because gluten is a known neurotoxin and increases the probability of seizures. She is judged. She doesn’t look sick but it is often a struggle to walk the few blocks to school to pick up her kids. She can’t count backwards.

She tries not to think about the future because she just doesn’t know what it holds and that in itself is very scary. She does feel that she is a better mother and wife than before. She literally can only focus on one thing at a time so if she is with her kids they have her complete attention. How many if us can always say that? Her husband has been so helpful and patient with her and for that she is eternally grateful. Their relationship is probably even stronger now that they can spend more time together. She has discovered pottery can be very therapeutic and has produced some beautiful pieces.

Janes Pottery

What struck me the most as I walked home from our chat at the local juice bar was Jane’s sense of empathy for anybody else experiencing difficulty in their life. She’s not bitter, or angry or resentful at all. I can’t say that I would be the same given her condition. I can’t help but admire her ability to go on with life on a day to day basis. “I don’t have an option”. She says as I tell her I think she’s doing great. And she’s right. She is making the best of a really crappy situation. I know it’s cliché, but if our chat reinforced anything it is to enjoy The Best Things in Life every day because you just can’t predict what may happen tomorrow.