2018: Self-Care & A Safe Space

I’ve been trying to write this for about a week now.

But every time I try to finish, life and work seem to interrupt … which, I suppose, is part of the theme of this post.

So if you’ll indulge me for a bit, let me get this out of my system — and I am a bit cranky, so you’ve been warned.

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed for the past week and half.

December — which, if you celebrate the holidays, can be a stressful time for anyone — just felt more exhausting than usual.

For starters, my workplace has been going through considerable changes over the past few months. What I originally thought could be a chance to take on a little more work and improve my skills, has become a frustrating grind. It’s a struggle to keep up at times, and occasionally I’m finding it tricky to concentrate on multiple tasks at once. This could just be a bumpy adjustment period which still could turn out to be positive. But right now, it doesn’t feel that way.

I was also psyching myself up for Christmas … but when I wasn’t procrastinating, I was  rushing around and running errands. And it was also holiday party season, so I felt like I was pushing myself to be social – even on days when I wasn’t in the mood and preoccupied with all the tasks I had to get done before Christmas.

Then, add several days of jury selection to the mix. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it definitely threw me off schedule.

So I’m currently having a bit of mental fatigue. I’m genuinely wondering if I’m mildly burned out.

In an ideal world, I’d take some sort of leave of absence. But as a household of one, and with the cost of living continuing to rise, the economics to do so isn’t really in my favour.

So, how to deal?

Well … I wanted to start the year with a self-imposed social moratorium (excluding a previous commitment) for a week or two — just to collect my thoughts, rest and recharge, and re-organize. I need to start taking care of myself again, so I can get my act together. Perhaps this might be something I’ll have to do more than once this year. But we’ll see how this month goes.

Speaking of re-organizing …

From time to time, people ask me from time to time how my apartment is. I mean, it’s still in a good location, and it serves its function by giving me shelter and the things I need on days I don’t have to go out into the world. But when I look around, my surroundings aren’t exactly inspiring. A more fitting word would be “underwhelming”.

Recently I came across this skit (on one of my favourite late-night programs), and it’s giving me a bit of inspiration:

I like the idea of a safe space, of being able to escape the harsh, tiresome world — in real life or online — by turning my apartment key and opening the door to my own little oasis.

If you think about it, that’s what your living quarters should be – not just the space that holds your crap but your home and, what’s more, a safe space or an oasis.

Of course, part of having an oasis or refuge is having a space that’s relatively clean. I started 2018 with my apartment looking like this:

If cluttered spaces denote cluttered minds and cause stress, then it’s no wonder my apartment looks like what happens when mild anxiety vomits up Christmas.

Currently, it looks something like this:

Slightly less crap, but still very much a bit of a hot mess.

I’m not looking to redecorate (yet), but I think de-cluttering and purging, a bit at a time over the next little while, would be a practical start in helping me decompress.

Even putting on my big girl pants, getting on my knees and scrubbing my oven and fridge would probably make a world of difference.

If I’m going to be a little less stressed, then perhaps coming home to a cleaner space would help me decompress.

Baby steps.

 

 

My Father, The First.

I can’t believe it’s almost mid-May.

The weather here in town is finally getting warmer, and the air is – for the time being – a bit fresher.

We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day.

A month from now, it will be Father’s Day.

But this one will be different. And it’s the reason it’s taken me so long to write this.

**************************************

Mid-February. Valentine’s Day, to be precise.

I’ve been at work for perhaps an hour, at most. I’ve just left my desk to get my morning snack, when I look at my phone and notice my younger brother has called.

He pretty much never calls me.

I don’t automatically think anything is amiss. I just assume maybe he needs some sort of favour.

I dial, and my brother picks up. All he says is “Hi.” But his voice sounds … strange. I can’t tell if the line is strained, or if it’s him.

But the next voice I hear is my mother’s.

My dad isn’t doing well. He’s in the emergency room at the hospital.

My mom explains he was at a self-service car wash, when his heart stopped. He fell and hit his head. A fellow customer found him – on cold, wet, soapy concrete – and started performing CPR until an ambulance arrived.

I hear myself say, “Oh, no.” But it sounds … like it’s someone else doing the talking? It sounds much too calm for it to be me.

But as soon as I’m able, I’ve left work and am on my way to a hospital in the north-east end of town.

*********************************************

I’ve heard it said by other people, that your father is the first man who will ever love you.

In his quiet, awkward way, I can’t dispute that he has.

He was the one who would come home from work, and whose voice would soothe me, after I’d been crying in my playpen for most of the afternoon (and driving my mom nuts).

He was so good to my brother and me. When it wasn’t our caregiver, he’d look after us in the evenings, when our mom was at work. I especially looked forward to the summer, when he would take us on bike rides around our community.

I recall him helping me with my first big science project in second grade. Although, it was painfully obvious that there was no way an 8-year-old could accurate reconstruct electric transmission towers, nor properly explain the concept of electricity, without a lot of adult input.

He took us everywhere – to skating lessons, softball practice, piano lessons, anywhere we needed to be dropped off.

He bought us pets. Helped us with multiplication tables. Taught us to drive (he was an excellent driver, but a terribly impatient teacher). And, on the odd occasion when we were frustrated with school, he’d listen and help us talk things through.

He helped me move back and forth between home and school in Ottawa during university.

He helped me move into my current apartment.

And he continued to help me, whenever I needed it.

Dad was never the kind of person with whom you’d had long conversations. At least, not with me. I try to call my parents’ house every other day or so. Sometimes my mom wasn’t there, and I’d say hi to Dad. A good conversation was one that lasted more than 90 seconds.

Whenever I’d go to visit, he would drive me home. He never said he wouldn’t.

The last time I saw him was at the end of January – just days after my 37th birthday.

As a birthday present – as he felt he had to get me something for my birthday – he got me a WaxVac Ear Cleaner (“as seen on TV”). Truth be told, I was annoyed. But I knew that he meant well. He always did.

**************************************

I arrive at the hospital, where my brother is camped out in the waiting room with various other people.

Eventually, my mom appears, and explains to me what she knows. She wasn’t with him when it happened. She was at home, waiting for him to return with the car so she could go grocery shopping. When she hadn’t, she’d gotten annoyed and left him a voice mail on his cell phone, asking where he was.

The next phone call she got was from an emergency room doctor.

Shortly after that, the doorbell rang, and she came face-to-face with two police officers, who came to identify my dad, and took her to the hospital in their cruiser.

She takes me to see him, but warns me beforehand there are a lot of tubes and the like surrounding my dad.

And she’s not kidding.

Tubes. Machines. At least one IV drip. And my dad. Motionless.

As hours progress, they change his sedation when he starts moving around. They do a scan to see if there’s any sort of brain damage (he hit the back of his head when he collapsed). They eventually move him into intensive care, put him on a cooling pad when he spikes a fever.

The next 72 hours are worrying. Heart-wrenching. We all have our moments where we break down and cry. Family and friends stop by to keep us company. But we try to remain cautiously, quietly, optimistic. We keep watch for a sign – any sign – he’s going to improve.

But despite all the various drips keeping him medicated, hydrated and fed, he doesn’t get better. He doesn’t even squeeze anybody’s hand when they talk to him. All he starts to do is bloat from all the fluid.

So we have to meet with a doctor, to decide whether to keep going a bit longer or let him go.

Just after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, February 18th, we request to the staff to start removing tubes, but to keep him sedated.

We want to give him a dressing gown and socks to put on him – my mom says if he could see himself, he would be a bit mortified and want to look a bit more dignified. And especially have his feet covered – he wore socks most of the time and didn’t like people touching his feet. I don’t recall if we got very far with either request. Maybe the socks.

My brother is taking it really hard, so he spends a lot of time in the cafeteria or the chapel. But my mother sits to father’s right, and me to his left, each holding a bloated, motionless hand, getting up every once in a while. When we’re not looking at him or each other, we’re glancing at the machines monitoring his breathing and heartbeat.

Late afternoon/early evening, the nurse on duty swabs out his mouth and cleans him up a bit. You can hear the noisiness of his breathing as he attempts to inhale and exhale with all that mucus.

And then – sometime between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. – he breathes. Stops. Takes another delayed breath. Then just … stops.

This feels like I’ve just witnessed someone else’s dad pass away. Not mine.

I know exactly what’s happened. But it doesn’t fully register for another seven or eight minutes.

**************************************

It’s been almost three months.

The raw wound of grief is presently scabbed-over, intermittently throbbing at its source.

Some days, I’m fine, and go about my business. Some moments, all it takes is a thought. A flashback from the hospital, or from the visitation before the funeral. And then the lump forms in my throat, my eyes start to water, or my nostrils start to sting.

And now when I look in the mirror, I’ll see my missing family member in my face, for the rest of my ife.

Even when I laugh at someone’s jokes or try acting like myself, I obviously won’t feel like myself, and don’t expect to for a long time. The melancholy is holding on and lingering.

I’m a bit frustrated at all the things I’m trying to learn how to do, because when my dad was here, he would insist on doing it for me. He’d never show me how. He’d just do it.

I look at my mom and worry. I worry when she gets upset. Even more when she tells me she’s had another sleepless night, and has tried a number of remedies, with zero result. Wonder how much time she has left with us. Wonder how much time I have left.

I know this happens to everyone. I knew it was going to happen one day. Prior to all this, I’d only recently found myself wondering, how much longer will he get to stick around? A couple more years? Five more?

I honestly can’t explain why. I wasn’t wishing him ill will. But the thought was there.

I just didn’t think I’d get the answer so soon.

My dad was a lot of things. Quiet. Gruff. Generous in time and spirit. A complainer. For all his good qualities, he had his foibles and failings.

But he had a huge role in making me the person that I am. For that, I’m thankful to him. For everything.

And right now, I’m missing him terribly.

Adjusting and Adapting

It’s been a reeeeeally long three and a half weeks.

But I’ve finally moved.

I know I should be excited and doing cartwheels.

But I have to admit, I feel weird. A bit uneasy. And a bit overwhelmed.

I’m trying to undo years of old suburban habits and get used to being within walking distance of EVERYTHING for the first time in my post-university adult life.

And I’m adjusting to being by myself.

Technically I’ve only been in my new place a week. But it’s been a huge adjustment … and admittedly, a little bit lonely.

I’ve seen very few people from my building, and I haven’t met any of my neighbours, so it’s been a bit isolating.

Inside my apartment, the number of boxes have diminished. But it still feels a bit empty and incomplete, despite buying a bunch of things. (My freezer’s got more stuff in it than my actual fridge.)

I’ve got no TV or Internet yet. So when I’m not sleeping, eating, cleaning or playing Angry Birds on my phone, I’m out (mostly going into stores and trying to figure out whether something’s overpriced). 

Yes, I lead an exciting, single life.

I know I’m starting at “the beginning”. I know things will get better.

I just wish that sense of “home” would come a bit sooner.

The Search … Resumes.

I could hardly believe my eyes.

Through the window, I could see the sunlight glinting off of Lake Ontario below. A lone hot dog stand sat close to the water’s edge. Next to it, cars whizzed down Lake Shore Boulevard.

To the left of the building, cars and trucks sped along the Gardiner Expressway. Just beyond it was a smaller body of water – likely Grenadier Pond.

I was standing in a condo that was up for sale, on the 7th floor of a building that had been registered for a year.

You entered by way of key card – not a key. There were hardwood floors and double closets. The kitchen, bathroom and bedroom was a decent size for one person. It had a small balcony. Even the size of the living space wasn’t terribly tiny.

It was, quite literally, the nicest unit I’d seen so far, since resuming my real estate search a month ago.

Yep, you heard me.

That talk back in January about sucking it up and getting on with it? Well, I guess I was lying to myself. Again.

I HAD been looking at rental listings, trying to get a feel for I could expect for less than three zeroes. In fact, I still am.

But it was a phone call in March, to an agent I’d spoken to last fall, which set the wheels in motion again.

So, about the nice condo near the water: it was close, but no cigar. I did seriously consider it. But the location was the issue. If I was a driver with a car, there’d be no problem. But as a pedestrian, commuting would be a bit awkward. Plus the only thing immediately in the area was the low-rise hotel next door. And as a single woman, I had my reservations, especially travelling after dark. So my search continues.

I’ve been at this newest attempt for just over a month. I’ve seen eight units so far this time around. Not surprisingly, the prices of properties have jumped in the six months I took a break, and they continue to climb.

I fully realize what I’m getting into – a seller’s market, where people are listing and selling for as much money as they can get. So “tiny” now applies to square footage, not cost. I’m not kidding myself by any stretch of the imagination.

Do I think I’ll be successful this time? I’ve got absolutely no clue. But I’m trying to prescribe to a slightly different philosophy.

I’m trying to be more proactive in telling my agents which units I’m interested in looking at. But I’m trying to treat this as the search for my first place as an adult, rather than an investment. Perhaps that’s a foolhardy way to look at it. But that’s frankly how people are treating their houses and condos – as investment properties that are used to try and make large monetary gains.

And prices aren’t going to be like this forever – they’ll take a drop. But then again, experts of all stripes have been saying that for at least the last six years.

And frankly, I really don’t want to spend the remainder of my young adulthood, living with Mom and Dad, waiting for this to happen.

Yes, I could rent. But I’d rather give this option another spin of the wheel than putting this quest on hold.

The truth is, I’m cautiously optimistic at best, realistic/pessimistic at worst. I’m keeping my expectations very low and give this latest go-round until June or July. And then I’ll re-evaluate.

But for now, I’ll put the condo near the water out of my mind, continue to exercise some patience … and hope that when the time is right, I’ll pounce and hit my target.

What’s Behind Door # 3?

As I mention repeatedly, I commute between my place of work downtown and my home (with my parents) in the suburbs. And I’m not going to lie – lately, it’s really been getting to me.

In January, I made moving out one of the things I wanted to accomplish on my yearly wish list.  

So I started scouring the MLS listings. I’d go through the weekend condo sections in my newspaper. I’d pick up those free condo guides … and the resale home guides. And I’d look. At the houses … and the prices. And I’d sigh.

And then I’d look at some of the online listings for rentals. And I’d look at the prices. And I’d sigh again.

Last week, it really stressed me out. 

I’d already been putting pressure on myself because of the declaration I made on New Year’s Eve. And the commutes as of late had been taking a toll. On top of that, my friends have constantly been saying, “You’re going to move out this summer.” Trying to make the case for renting. Adding to the pressure I’ve already been putting on myself.

This past week, it was almost too much. I was talking with a co-worker, who is always kind enough to give me a lift halfway home, and I just blurted out how tired I was and how I was thinking of just sucking it up and renting a place. Understandably, she said why that wasn’t a good idea. I almost had a meltdown in the van.

That was when she suggested I should really sit down and talk with someone with financial expertise, to try and figure something out.

So yesterday, that’s what I did. I went to see a mortgage broker to have some questions answered, and finally get some hard numbers to determine if I could make goal # 6 happen this year, once and for all. 

The good news? I have awesome credit.

The not-so-good news? I cannot buy this year.

And the not-much-better-news: I could move out. But if I did, I’d probably be paying the equivalent of the mortgage I can not yet afford. And do I really want to move out, only to move back home six months from now because I can’t afford rent, utilities, food, etc.?

Friends – do you know what’s more “humiliating” than living at home with parents at the age of 31? Moving out because the pressure is too great, and then moving back home within a year because I can’t manage my money and pay the bills.

There is nothing wrong with renting. I went away to school, and although for shorter periods of time, I’ve lived in three apartments in two cities. (It was also cheaper than it is here in Toronto.)

But moving into an apartment, when I’m stressed and frustrated, would probably be the worst decision for me to make right now. I’d be even more frustrated and constantly worried.

(And it doesn’t matter how money you make. There are people out there with salaries in the high-five-figures, even six figures, who are practically bankrupt because they’re financially irresponsible. Moving out and renting will not instantly make me fiscally responsible. You have to be like that going in. If you’re not really good with money going in, that’s not going to immediately reverse itself when you get yourself a landlord.)

The mortgage broker did suggest one other option, one I’ve been staunchly opposed to: 

Learn to drive. Buy a car.

Anyone who knows me knows that I haaaaate driving.

I am the person who did not wake up on her 16th birthday and run out to the Ministry of Transportation to write the learner’s permit test for her 365.

I am also the person who, when everyone found out about the impending graduated licensing program in 1994 and ran out to get their full licenses before the deadline, didn’t bother to run with the crowd. 

Oh yeah – did I also mention that I’m the person who (a) failed her computerized testing once before getting her G1, (b) waited until almost a month before said G1 expired to take the exit test and passed by the skin of her teeth, (c) did the same thing almost three summers ago, went to take her G2 exit test, only to fail, and then by the same stroke of luck got the exact same examiner on her second attempt, and really failed?

That is the history between me and driving. Since my spectacular, humiliating failure, I’ve never again gotten behind the steering wheel.

However my pride is starting to make me pay.

Actually it started last year, when I kept looking at my expired licence (which still can be used as ID, so long as the Ministry of Transportation lovingly affixes a “official ID only” sticker onto the card before they hand it back to you). Back then, I was still getting by as a pedestrian. But that sticker was getting on my last nerve. So I thought, maybe I’ll just get a new one, just in case I do decide to give this driving thing another go.

So last June, I read my old-and-falling apart driver’s handbook, took a couple buses down to the Ministry, did my multiple-choice written test (they’re back to pencils and paper, folks) and got my ID. I thought that would do for now.

But in the last six months, Life decided to up the ante.

The number of transportation situations in which I’ve ended up saying to myself, “I could have avoided this, if I had a car”, have been multiplying. Transit that doesn’t work. Friends having functions in suburbs I never travel to.

And it’s really annoying me big-time.

Okay, people who have been saying to me, “learn to drive” … you were right. Okay? You were right. Consider this the first and last time you read me saying this, because it won’t happen again for a long time.

(I guess the only silver lining from failing my driving tests is that I wouldn’t have to wait a year to take my G1 exit test.) 

I’m still not entirely convinced yet that buying a car will be the remedy to the situation.

Amid all these thoughts swimming in my head, I’ve been reminded of the conversation a couple weekends back that I was having with a  pro-renting friend. She told me about friends who, like me, were also saying that they’d stay home and save money, until they could buy. And she said something to the effect of:

“They say that. But where’s the money going? It has to be going somewhere.”

That’s what I have to figure out. This is what is fueling my frustrating decision.

So in the meantime, I now have to set my goal and develop my plan. Crunch some numbers. Then take a deep breath … 

And suck it the hell up.