Damaged Goods

Once upon a time

There lived a young woman who’s heart was growing on the outside

You may have heard similar stories of babies born like this

But this young lady’s story was unique

You see, she was born with her heart perfectly intact and enclosed inside her body

But when she was 7 years old, her dad left her and her mom for good

She cried herself to sleep

Every night for a month

She missed him terribly

One morning she woke up and felt a lump under her pjs

It felt like it was moving!

She ran to her moms room

Her mom jumped out of bed and ran to her side

She saw the lump moving with her own eyes

It looked like it had a heart beat

She tore off the young girls shirt

And there her heart sat

Exposed and thumping away

Doctors and hospitals and so many tests

Nobody knew what was going on

All tests showed that the girl was perfectly healthy

Her heart was strong

Except for the strange occurrence of her heart being on the outside

As the young girl began to grow into a teenager

Her heart grew with her

When she experienced emotional pain

Like when another birthday passed, with no word from her dad

Her heart throbbed and little cracks started to form at the edges

Every time it beat, she felt a searing pain and a small rip would appear

It would go away for awhile

And then something else would happen

Like the time she saw her mom crying in the kitchen

Her heart would scream its pain so loud she couldn’t sleep

And her heart ripped apart a little more

It was really bad when she turned 18 and started having panic attacks

She was so worried that her heart would completely rip apart and she would die

And her mom would be all alone

She would wake up in a sweat

Crying and her raw red heart ripping in all the wrong places

This young woman and her mom decided to try to follow the advice of a new doctor

Who recommended that every time a rip would appear

The girl or her mom should get a sewing needle and some thread made out of twine and simply sew it up

This reminded the girl of a time when her cabbage patch lost her arm and her dad sewed her back up

Good as new but with a little scar that showed someone had loved her enough to fix her

They were shocked that this seemed to help

Every time something bad would happen

Her heart would rip a little more

And she or her mom would rush to get their needle and thread

And sew it a little more

Soon, her heart looked like battered war-torn soldiers clothing

All stitched together with black twine

Crissing and crossing all over her heart and in a hundred different directions

She felt even more fragile than she ever had

The only thing keeping her intact

Were haphazardly sewn together stitches

She felt like these stitches were somehow holding her whole life together

To keep her from falling apart any further

She wondered what would be the ultimate thing that would finally pull the stitches apart and leave her heart in pieces

She knew she was damaged goods

Maybe she always had been

Broken, cracked and irreparable

Too damaged to be helped

Like the cabbage patch doll who, after her dad left, suffered too many rips and tears to be put back together

There just wasn’t enough of her heart left to piece together

So she did the only thing she could

She hid the needle and thread and found her dad’s phone number

She sat on her bed and called him up

He picked up and she felt like maybe everything would be okay

She spoke to him for a minute or two

He sounded rushed and annoyed

Suddenly she heard yelling in the background

It sounded like a young boy

He was calling for his dad, telling him dinner was ready

She felt the familiar twinge of her heart ripping apart

Her father told her he was busy and said he would call her some other time and hung up

She sat back and let her heart fall apart

One last time

Later that day her mom found her laying on her perfectly made bed

Her eyes open and lifeless with her broken and bruised

Damaged heart

Hope and all that could have been

What is hope?

When I read the following definition,

‘The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best’

It sounds far too subjective

A feeling

Wanting

Turn out for the best

If this was a gambling game

Who would take odds

Based on nothing more than feelings

Feelings impacted by beliefs, moods, opinions

And with an outcome that could turn out to be any which way

No guarantees

I don’t know

Maybe I’m too skeptical

Too cynical

Jaded

For hope

Or maybe

Hope is too vague

Too unrealistic

Too wishy-washy

For the likes of me

As hard as defining hope is,

Even harder is picturing it

What does hope look like?

I tried conjuring images of different things

Nothing exemplified what hope stands for

It all seemed too cheesy

Blue skies

Green pastures

None of which inspire

Feelings of hope

I guess if I try hard enough

I would say hope looks something like…

Eyes closed

Jaw slack

Relaxed posture

No tension in her body or features

Like she’s found peace

Or at least

Knows it’s coming to her

Calm

Serene

Confident

In knowing

That hope is tangible

And what she has hoped for more anything

Is hers for the taking

Maybe

One day

I will be able to close my eyes

And in a moment

Feel the tension leave my body

My breaths full

And Effortless

The racing thoughts fading away

The dull heaviness of depression being lifted

I wonder who that woman will be?

When everything weighing her down

Is finally gone

And it’s just her

The her that might have been

If life hadn’t turned her into someone else….

‘I used to be somebody’- NIN

I’ve been off of work for two years

On long term disability

Every day the probability of returning to my old job felt further away

Yesterday I received an email from my employer

Officially terminating my employment

It hit me hard

You might think it’s no big deal since I’ve been off work for so long

You’d be wrong

I felt like I couldn’t breathe

I reread the email so many times

The words blended together

Floating on the screen

They didn’t make sense anymore

I worked there for 6 years

I’ve been working in this field for over 12 years

Now it’s over

Officially I guess

I’m no longer a youth worker

I don’t know what I am

My name is Angela and I used to be a youth worker

I woke up thinking about my nonna

I don’t know why…

So I’d like to share with you a little about my nonna Concetta

She wore black for like 50 years after my grandfather passed away

She used to have really long hair

I remember being a kid and watching her in wonderment comb it and then put in a bun

She never wore it down so I felt like I had gotten a peak behind the wall

She took care of me during the school week

My cousins and I would go home for lunch and she’d be always be ready for us

It’s funny to me now

But back then she never missed a lunch

She always sat with us

She didn’t eat

I don’t know when she ate her lunch

But during our lunch time as we spoke to each other in English

She sat with us

Just being with us

I remember once my cousin was telling a story and said the word ‘stupid’ to describe someone

And she backhanded him lightening fast

Because she thought he had called her stupid

I remember hiding a grin and a laugh

One time my cousins and I took our time returning after school

We approached with a big group of friends

She was waiting on the veranda

Yelling and screaming in Italian

Putting her hand in between her teeth

I can’t explain it

It’s an Italian thing

Anyway

My cousin was so embarrassed in front of his non Italian friends

That he told everyone our nonna was a witch and had just put a spell on everyone

When no one was around she would sit on the couch and play cards on her lap

But as soon as someone showed up at the door

She’d sweep the evidence under the couch cushion

I don’t know why she didn’t want to be caught playing cards

But it always bothered me

Maybe she felt she’d be judged

I don’t know

As I got older I didn’t see her as much

I didn’t speak to her as much when I did see her

Embarrassed by my broken Italian that I had once spoken well

I’d say the usual greeting and whatnot

But didn’t really talk to her like I once had

We’d go visit her and my cousins would be there

We would sit at the table and laugh and tell stories in English

Reminiscing

And she would sit there

Like old times

Just smiling

Being with us

She got sick and older and frail

I went to the hospital to visit her

It was late at night

My cousin left to get us something from Tim’s

My nonna looked scared

I got up and went by her bed

She looked up at me and I whispered

‘Ti amo tanto Nonna’

She smiled weakly

Eventually she got better

She went home

I visited again

I got a text from my cousin

Saying la nonna had died

It actually autocorrected to the nonna had died

That stood out then

Like she was the only one

She passed away at home

I went to see her one last time

I went to her room

Where she laid in her bed

She looked so small

So frail

So unlike the strong woman I’d looked up to my whole life

There was so much I wanted to say

So much I wanted to thank her for

Time had run out

But it didn’t matter

She knew

I just didn’t realize no words were needed for her to understand

She always did

Ti amo tante e per sempre

The world, tomorrow

Its not the same world that I wake up to everyday

Some days

I wake up

And the world is a cold scary place

People use you and forget you

Even the ones that are supposed to love you

Sometimes I wake up

And it’s a stressful world

Filled with risks

And people I don’t trust

Sometimes I wake up

And it’s a lonely world

With no one around

There is one world I like waking up to most of all

On those days

I wake up

And it’s a beautiful world

Filled with kind people

And compassion

The colours around me are more vivid

The music I hear is perfect

The art I create comes easily

So I go to sleep

Every night

Not knowing which world I’ll find when I awake

It’s this big gamble

On the good days

I don’t want to close my eyes

In hopes that this world can last forever

On the dark days

I can’t wait to fall asleep

And

Hope hope hope

That tomorrow the world is beautiful again

That is what a life with mental illness is like

A hope

A gamble

A fear

A despair

And then doing it all over again

Me, the virus and a whole lot of free time…

It’s been awhile since I last wrote

There’s been a lot to process and adjust to

I was advised pretty early on to stay home

Which I’ve done

I’ve been home for 43 days

Every day I’ve struggled with anxiety and/or depression

It’s been one thing or another

As someone with mild agoraphobia I find it pretty ironic that being cooped up has me feeling anxious

Now all I want to do is go out and see people

I’ve had a few meltdowns

I feel afraid that if I do catch this virus, I’ll be one of the people that doesn’t make it through

I’m afraid that if it comes down to it

And we’ve run out of ventilators

I’ll be cast aside for a healthy persons survival

I’ve often thought and regretted having done my Lemtrada treatment

Which has made me extra vulnerable at this time

I keep thinking that if I hadn’t done it

Then maybe I wouldn’t have to be so cautious

I wouldn’t have the added worry of the blood disorder that I got as a side effect

There’s a whole lot of what ifs and coulda beens

It’s the lack of control that is particularly anxiety provoking

Which I’m sure is the case for many people

Who are not anxiety sufferers

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kids and youth who aren’t in school

I feel sorry that they’re stuck at home and I worry about the impact this will have on their mental health even when this is over

I keep thinking that the repercussions of this will be felt for many years to come

Economically, socially, emotionally…

And well

We’ve been pretty lucky thus far

We’ve been spoiled

Living in a society and part of the world where we don’t have to worry as much as others

So I’m not really sure I have a handle on how to adapt to this weird new ‘normal’

I’m not sure anyone does

I know that I can only take it day by day

Minute by minute

I can only focus on the right now

I can’t worry about tomorrow because it’s not here yet

I am grateful for being able to make art

I am grateful to have my partner being my contact with the outside world (for groceries and meds and etc)

I am happy that my family is still healthy and safe

And more than anything

I am so fucking grateful that Covid-19 didn’t happen last year amidst losing my mind and all that 😬

Stay safe everyone

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep…’

I don’t know if humans are really equipped to face their own mortality

It’s just such a foreign concept

It’s the opposite of what we know

We breathe without thinking

It’s automatic

To think of our own deaths

Seems just wrong

With MS I don’t really have to think about it

It’s a lot of things

But it’s not fatal

When I was diagnosed with ITP (rare blood disorder) this past summer

It seemed surreal

I could die if I got cut

If I fell

The slightest thing would mean I could bleed to death

I remember when I was still unsure what was going on

Feeling certain that I was gonna die

It was scary and unknown

Clearly

I survived

But every time I find a bruise…

Every time I get my bloodwork done

I’m faced with that same thought

Have my platelets have dropped dangerously low?

It’s sort of become a scary new reality

And not entirely unknown

However this whole COVID-19 is different

I knew I was at a heightened risk

I’m immuno compromised

I have two autoimmune diseases and a rare blood disorder

Plus the treatment I underwent for my MS weakened my immune system

Seems like the odds are stacked against me

So I’ve been practicing self isolation since March 15

I won’t lie

I’ve been scared

I keep hearing about the people dying have preexisting heath conditions

As if that makes it more palatable

Like it makes it ok

I got an email from my super amazing hematologist

She reaffirmed what I already sorta knew

I’m at an increased risk for infection

Because of the MS related treatment and ITP

Now I’m scared all over again

I’m doing the best I can

Not leaving home

Taking care of myself and my sanity

But I can’t help but feel afraid

What if this time I don’t escape death?

What if this time it catches up to me?

What if

What if

What if

I know I can’t live my life based on what ifs

But I can’t pretend they don’t exist either

So I’m caught in this weird limbo

Between focusing on what’s happening right now

This tv show

This art piece

This blog

And

The world of what ifs

What if I catch this virus?

What if death catches me?

I’m not ready to face death

I’m not ready to face the mere thought of death

‘I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.’

Kid, I hope you’ve finally found some peace

I started working with youth in 2008

Up until that point

I sort of dabbled in working with different populations

At a youth shelter, I found my place

It just felt right

Since then

I had worked exclusively with youth

Mostly homeless and/or at risk youth

Eventually I worked out of Mississauga as an outreach worker

Anyway

I have this thing that I do

I read the paper in the mornings or at night

If a headline catches my eye

That something happened in one of the areas that I worked in

I read it

Sometimes it’s about a young person who was a victim of crime

Or a perpetrator

Sometimes it’s about no one I know

Today

It was about someone I think I may have known

His name immediately caught my eye

And while it was spelled incorrectly

His age adds up to who I remembered

He was killed in a violet crime

He was of no fixed address

It all adds up

But all I keep thinking about

Are his vivid blue eyes

And the protective way he took care of his little brother

Sure I remember other things

Like taking him to court and working through his anger with him

Being upset that he got arrested again

Or something else

But I remember more about the long stretches his mother would leave him and his little brother home alone to fend for themselves

While she went to Florida with her boyfriend

With no food in the house

Under the guise that his grandma was watching them

I remember his dysfunctional mother calling me

Alternating between crying and yelling at me

That she couldn’t handle him

Wanted him to move out

I remember when I had two clients scheduled for court on the same day and time

So I figured I’d just drive them both home

No biggie

Until they told me to drop them off at the same location and went off together

If it’s you that was in the paper

If it’s you whose life was snuffed out far too early and much too violently

I’m sorry I couldn’t have done more to help you

I’m sorry that I couldn’t prepare you better for what was coming next

I’m sorry that life treated you unfairly from the beginning

I’m just sorry

And I promise to remember you

With your vivid blue eyes

And the way you wanted to protect your little brother

Rest In Peace, kid

You deserve to finally have some peace

The Perfect Storm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately

Thinking about people…society

Thinking about being a ‘sick person’

About having a mental illness

I struggled long before my MS diagnosis

I struggled for years because of anxiety and depression

Even with treatment, I still struggled

Like MS, there is no cure for my mental illness

There is no quick fix

Even the medical treatments for both come with explicit warnings and precautions

So it seems like there a lot of similarities

Except for one major difference between my mental health and MS:

The way society perceives both

While many people don’t understand or really know what MS is all about

There is more empathy for people with MS than there is for mental heath sufferers

People seem to acknowledge that nobody would choose to have MS

However with mental health, people place a huge amount of responsibility on the individuals shoulders

Especially with mood disorders like mine

‘Snap out of it’

‘Be positive’

‘Exercise..it’ll make you feel better’

I’m sure I could fill countless pages with similar pieces of unsolicited advice

Not just from friends and family

But also from the medical field

It’s almost funny how after I found out about the MS

There was a certain credibility that I was awarded

My mental illness wasn’t enough to warrant unbiased compassion

But MS…

That’s different

Or maybe it’s the combination

Like your mom’s handwritten recipe for human compassion

While I’m grateful it’s awarded me more understanding in some avenues of my life

Something about it also strikes me

It must mean that I’ve become something like the perfect storm

The time the internet turned against me..

So I nonchalantly commented on a Vice Canada article about whether or not Don Cherry should be fired for his xenophobic comments.

My comment was solely on the story and agreed that Don Cherry has gotten away with this behaviour for too long and should be fired.

The amount of hate I got was a little startling.

I’m a lot older than the typical person who gets cyber bullied so I’m a little removed from this sort of thing.

People immediately went after me

They went after my appearance firstly.

They stereotyped me for my hair colour.

They called me fat.

Said I was dumb, stupid and so much more.

Instantly, I wanted to hit back.

After all, that’s what you do when you’ve been attacked.

But I quickly learned it was getting me nowhere other than infuriated.

I deleted my comment.

Not because I don’t stand by it (because I do)

Not because I can’t handle the criticism (because I can)

But because this war behind a computer or a phone or whatever

Is not one I can win.

That anyone can win.

People become so brave they will literally say anything or do anything.

Frankly, it makes me afraid of the world we live in.

How scary is it when you can’t even risk speaking your opinion for fear of retribution?

This speaks to something so much bigger than internet trolls out for blood.

This is a not a liberated society.

This is totalitarian.

If you dare to step out of line you risk facing the wrath of the legions of people willing to do and say whatever it takes to make their mark.

While I can handle the criticisms, I can’t handle the anger and anxiety that explodes inside of me as a result of such an encounter.

I was so angry at the words they were tossing around.

Not because I’m hurt by them but because someone else might be.

Some teenager might be reading along in agreement and see the inflamed ego it caused and the hurled insults and bullying that ensued.

They might not have the self security to hold strong to their own beliefs.

And that is the biggest tragedy of all.