Goodbyes

I don’t like goodbyes.

I can’t imagine that anyone enjoys them. Saying goodbye is like staring directly into the sun, facing the finality of a situation, and trying desperately to come up with the right words.

They’re painful, emotional, and awkward, and somehow always take you by surprise.

But, as awful as goodbyes are, I have spent all week saying them, often multiple a day.

I’ve gone on lovely outings with friends. I finally made it to the Aquarium, and I walked along the Seawall. I went through Stanley Park and took in lots of Vancouver’s stunning weather and scenery. I went to one of my favourite restaurants. And I’ve had friends over to my place and sat and talked and completely forgot about the time ticking by. And it was all wonderful.

But then, the end came. And suddenly, that end had to be acknowledged.

Because I’m moving across the country on Wednesday and it’s not a drive away. It’s an expensive, 5 hour plane ride. And going on these lovely outings will not be possible anymore.

Every goodbye was different, but they all had similar themes. I felt sad during them all. I also felt  like I couldn’t say exactly what I wanted to. I felt put on the spot. I wanted to express how much these people mean to me, what incredible friends they are, what an important and valuable part of my life, but I also felt a desperate need for the bright light to be turned off and for the goodbye to be over.

I expected the sadness. I also expected the discomfort. But what I didn’t expect was an underlying feeling that ran through all of my lovely visits, that made me burst out mid-conversation, and then try to change the subject. A feeling that flared up every time I turned my back to a friend and walked away for the last time, for a while at least.

A feeling of panic.

Of course, it’s natural to feel a little anxious, perhaps more than a little, when undergoing a change. And I’m not only changing my location, I’m also taking a step to change my career. I am entering a program that is completely different from everything I’ve been working towards since the age of 10. And that is, quite frankly, terrifying.

But the panic seems to go beyond that. The thought of a fresh start, while unnerving and scary, holds an element of excitement. It is filled with space and potential.

This feeling is so vast that it has numbed me. When I think of the future, of my time in Ottawa, I don’t feel excitement, or worry, I feel nothing, see nothing. I try to come up with plans, but I cannot formulate them, or imagine them. But as I try I become very conscious of that underlying sense of desperation.

For some reason, I feel almost claustrophobic. And I don’t think it has to do with the unknown, but rather the idea of the previously known, but changed.

After all, I am not moving somewhere that I’ve never lived before. I’m moving back to my hometown. The place that I grew up in.

And I would like that to only make things better.

But so much has changed in the last three years. I don’t want to go back to my previous life, to slip back in to my previous relationships and habits. I have changed. And I’m sure others have too.

And as scary as starting anew can be, I seem to be finding it even more daunting to create a fresh start where a previous framework used to exist, and perhaps still does.

I fear that it will be easy for me to forget some of the things that I learned here. I fear that I will slip back into what’s comfortable. I fear that I will start to see myself for what I used to be, rather than for what I have become.

As I say goodbye to my friends, to the people who know the me who’s edges have been sculpted here in Vancouver, I fear that I am not only saying goodbye to them, but to part of myself as well.

But then again, even if I wanted to slip into an old persona, even if I tried, I can’t. On the most basic level, my body won’t let me. It serves as a constant reminder, sometimes a much needed reminder, that I have to do things differently. That I am different from what I once was.

Goodbyes are hard. Regardless of what is beginning on the other side of the door, it is difficult to leave a beautiful and happy room.

Change is also hard. It can be scary when so much is uncertain.

But I know that I can’t stay stagnant. I made the decision that I was ready to go back to school, and decided what and where I wanted to study.

And as overwhelmed as I feel, as sad, as uncertain, and as emotional, there really is no reason to feel panicked.

I am not moving back home. I am embarking on a new adventure. And I am lucky enough that as I explore there will be some familiar faces and street corners around me.

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Family

I spent this past week visiting with family. Some that I had not seen in 4 months, some for 8, some for longer, but all were wonderful to see and catch up with.

But of course, with family, or at least my family, no visit is ever simply nice. Rather, no visit is ever simple.

Contrary to my confidant optimism in my previous post, my body decided to crack a little. More than a little. I ended up dislocating a number of joints, and dealt with some heart rate and blood pressure issues among other exciting surprises.

And I was disappointed. I always am when I feel betrayed my my body, when it gets in the way of my plans. And I was worried. Some of the symptoms I experienced were much more severe than usual.

But I knew how to handle my disappointment and worry. The feelings are old friends, the kind that you’d rather avoid, but constantly end up bumping into, and I’ve learned to live my life in spite of their presence.

I also knew how to handle the pain. I retreated, searching for quiet within myself and the space around me, and waited for the waves to pass.

As normal as this abnormal situation was to me, a situation with new symptoms that require extraordinary measures above those that I use on a daily basis, it most certainly wasn’t normal to my family.

They know about my condition, of course, and they read this blog. They are aware of the various diagnoses and theories floating around. And they know that this is something I live with, that I have lived with for years now.

But they are not used to seeing it. They are not used to seeing me fall, how quickly it happens, how dramatically. They have not yet understood that so many aspects of this life are outside of my control.

When they first greeted me, many members of my family complimented me on my miraculous progress over however long it had been since they’d last seen me. Each individual attributed this progress to something different, but the compliment always circled back to what I personally have been able to achieve.

And it’s true. My baseline, my day to day living, has improved significantly over the past year.

But for some reason, getting these compliments on my ‘achievements’, in terms of my health made me very uncomfortable. They made me defensive.

At first I couldn’t figure out why. After all, I have worked incredibly hard, every day, to increase my strength and stamina. I have put a staggering amount of time and effort into tracking my symptoms on various treatment plans, making charts, and experimenting with various lifestyle modifications.

But still, receiving praise for the results of the work felt wrong. Not that it isn’t something to celebrate, because it is. And not that I don’t wish to acknowledge the effort that I have put in.

By placing the entire success, or even the majority of the success on my shoulders, it makes me responsible, not only for the work that I put in, but for the results of that work. And it makes me equally responsible for the failures. If my fortitude is what has pulled me out of the mobility scooter, then what does it say for those times when I crash and lose my ability to walk? When I am curled up in pain, exhausted?

Sometimes, no matter how hard I work, I still experience flares. My body still revolts. And I refuse to claim personal, mental, or emotional responsibility for that. There are simply too many factors involved.

This week, I experienced one of those flares. It was not the worst I’ve experienced, nor was it the easiest. And it had a new twist, as all the best falls do.

As I huddled under blankets with ice packs and heating pads, I witnessed my family search desperately for the cause. Something had to be at fault, and there had to be a solution.

Even my beautiful 5 year old cousin grew upset with me when I didn’t eat the fruit she offered, certain that it would make me healthy.

And I could delve into the various ways this struggle presented itself. I could analyze how it made me feel. I could wonder at why it made me feel that way. And I could try to come up with solutions.

But when it comes down to it, witnessing this is still new for my family. My progress is startlingly new to them, as are my flares. They are trying to adjust, to understand, to accept, and to figure out their own equilibrium.

And, all things considered, it is simply nice to have people in my life that love and care about me enough to struggle with this path my life has taken.

I spent this week frustrated and loved, stressed and cared for. In short, a typical visit with family.

Spontaneity

This past week was a vibrantly coloured blur. A whirlwind of spontaneous activity.

Some of the spontaneity was upsetting, or if not upsetting, then at least difficult. Stressful. My computer cord sprouted an exposed wire and burst into a lights show. There was trouble with my current landlord. My phone rang constantly, with strangers wanting to see my apartment. The gate for my flight was switched to another terminal after I had already walked to the first.

But some spur of the moment occurrences were absolutely wonderful. A last minute tea date with some beautiful friends. A trip to West Van to find the perfect view of Vancouver. A walk to the Olympic Cauldron, and then a half hour walk all the way home – just because I felt like I could.

This week I galloped from one activity to the next, some planned, some not, and while I was certainly frazzled, I also felt exhilarated. It was a roller coaster, going too fast to be fully in my control, but I knew that my fall would be caught at the end.

And that, truly, was great. Regardless of how I felt during the week itself, the certainty that I could prevent a crash was a new feeling. A semblance of slight control, whether accurate or not, that allowed me to have a ‘crazy’ week, and be spontaneous.

But there has been a darker side to this frenzied pace of life. While I have just managed to cling on to the edges of control, and, apart from a few extra migraines and achy joints, have experienced no severe physical flare ups, the thrilling race has come at a cost.

The cost became overwhelmingly clear while I was showing my apartment, and a lady asked whether I used the mobility scooter because of injury, or illness. Now, there are many things that could cause me to react the way I did. The question was phrased quite bluntly, I was in a realty frame of mind, trying desperately to smooth over any issues, and truly, it’s a bit of a complicated question. My use of the mobility scooter came as the result of an illness compounded by an injury.

But I don’t think any of those reasons were why I stuttered, unable to answer. I think that I had been moving so quickly, I ended up losing a bit of my grounding. I was so swept up by all of the things that I had to do, and that I wanted to do, that there was simply no room for anything else.

After all, I do not have unlimited amounts of energy. I still have a chronic illness that takes its toll on my body.

As my physical strength returns, it is getting easier direct that limited energy towards walking and talking, to activities and excursions. And that’s exciting. Because I haven’t had a choice for a long time. The choice to say yes when someone asks me to do something that very day, or the next.

But as I said laughingly to a friend in an entirely different context a couple of days ago, just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. And if I redirect all of my energy towards doing, what do I sacrifice?

This week I found myself repeating complaints and frustrations, over and over again, reaching no solution and gaining no insight. I was stilted, unable to work through my problems, because I was too busy. I did not have the time, space, or energy to think.

And that is something I am simply not willing to sacrifice. I am not willing to ignore the positive lessons that this experience has taught me. I am not willing to be swept up again into a whirlwind, with no opportunity to get my bearings.

At the same time, does that mean that I cannot have this exhilaration that comes with doing something unplanned and unexpected? This pride and joy that I feel in myself, this excitement? Do I have to choose between sitting back and observing, or experiencing?

Sitting in the airport, waiting for my plane to board yesterday, I finally had some time to reflect. I watched the endless swirl of movement, people rushing to and from their gates, and knew that before I had sat down, I myself had been hurrying about, searching for my gate, and soon I would be active again, boarding the plane and getting settled. But for that minute, while I sat there, I could breathe. I could think.

I guess it all goes back to balance. A different kind of balance. A balance between structure and spontaneity. A schedule with room for flexibility.

Maybe it’s time to readjust my recipe.

A Shift

Every time I glance at my calendar my breath stutters.

Next weekend I will fly over the Rockies for a week long visit with family. And ten days later, I will return to the airport with a one way ticket in hand that will remove me from Vancouver, this beautiful city that has been my home for 3 years.

I have 16 days left on this coast. And yet, I have neglected to tell some of my closest friends that I am leaving.

I tell myself that it’s due to the overwhelming uncertainty in my plans. It seems foolish to make an announcement when I’m not sure what exactly I am announcing. I do not know which school I will be attending next year. I do not know where exactly I will be living. I do not have plans for the summer.

But I do have a ticket for April 30th. I am certain that I am leaving Vancouver. And my friends should know that.

I’ve left many places before. Growing up, I switched schools every couple of years. I lived on two different continents. I devoted myself to performance, my entire social life consisting of cast mates, only to immediately lose touch after a run ended.

And while endings are always sad, they have never struck me as overly distressing. I did not cry at graduation. At my summer camp’s closing circle I bit the inside of my cheek, trying desperately to fit in, but all I felt was a sad acceptance.

Now, however, everything is different. I am looking forwards to new possibilities, but day after day I sit on the bus, staring out the window, with tears crowding the corners of my eyes.

And I am reluctant to tell my friends.

I never loved the city I grew up in. I loved certain things that I did, and people in my life, but I had no feelings for the city itself.

Somehow, I fell in love with Vancouver. The dark skies relieving my sensitive eyes, the delicate cherry blossoms, the sparkling water, and the mountains, towering over the metropolis and teaching me humility.

I love specific places too – restaurants, shops, venues, street corners – but I recognize their direct connection to memories. To people.

And those people are not permanent fixtures of this city. They will move on, whether this year, the next, or the one after. They will follow their own paths just as I am, and I can only hope that the two will geographically cross in the future.

Yet, even knowing this, knowing that it was always going to be this way, I still refrain from speaking the words. I can’t bear to make it real.

Perhaps this time is different because my friends here have weathered so much with me. When I was first beginning my hospital visits I felt like an earthquake was tearing through my life, ripping people away from me. It felt like such a violent loss, but the shifting left me with an incredibly solid foundation. A foundation that takes about an hour to notice whether or not I’m wearing my tinted glasses. Or using my walking poles. A foundation that sees me. Only me and always me.

And leaving that is heartbreaking. Because as much as we claim that we’ll stay in touch, I know that some of us won’t. At least not enough to be part of each other’s lives.

I am excited to venture out into the unknown, and cautiously hopeful for the people I will meet. But with any any shift, no matter how positive, comes a loss. And it is a loss that I don’t want to come to terms with or accept.

So I have delayed. I have delayed making it real. I have delayed saying goodbye to my friends and to my city.

But I have 16 days left. And it’s time to use them.