On being Erin

Some of you know that I have had some trouble with my arm over the past year and a half, but what I may or may not have divulged is that it’s not just a little thing.

My entire left arm, which happens to be my dominant hand, is affected by what the doctors like to call an Ulnar Neuropathy. They call it that because they don’t know what else to call it. Through X-rays and MRIs, ultrasounds and nerve stimulation studies, they have come up empty handed as to why this is happening to me. I have tried more drugs than I can name, with side effects that have crippled my ability to function.
In the end, I have been left with severe chronic pain that affects my ability to be a mom, partner and human being. Pain that cannot be measured on a scale or quantified in medical imagery. Pain that isn’t good enough for the insurance companies, so I am forced to jump through endless hoops to “prove” that I am worthy of the benefits I am granted through my work, just to be able to pay my rent.
I share this with all of you, because in trying to live my daily life, I want people to know that just because I smile or go to choir or make a joke, that doesn’t mean that I am okay. Those things can be a wonderful distraction from the endless exhaustion, depression and pain that plague my every day. These things make me feel normal when few things these days do.
Least of which is being labelled as having a disability. The first time someone used that word with regard to me, I cried. And the next time, and the next. I was healthy and happy and had a wonderful career, and now I am here. I am 31 and have a disability that prevents me from working or from picking up my son. It means I take forever in the grocery store trying to not wince as I push the tiny grocery cart and use my other arm to pack the bags, while the people behind me sigh that I am taking too long. It means that I cant get my son to school on time, because I am literally exhausted just from getting out of bed and it takes me forever to help him put on his shoes or brush his teeth.
It sucks. There is no way around it, it just does. I have sugar coated it for a long time with people, because its uncomfortable divulging it all to people. I think they won’t believe me, tell me its all in my head, think I am weak or will just tell me that they are sure I’m fine and that it will just go away. Unless you have had a serious illness or long term condition, its hard to understand the level of impact that these things have on not just your body but on your mind.
I recently had a friend talk to me about her medical struggles on a deeper level than we had ever spoken on before, and she told me some things that have really affected me and the way that I am trying to live my life from now on.
She told me not to worry about what other people are thinking or saying. That the people that matter know the whole story, not the people at work, not the people at the grocery store. So if any of them have anything to say, let it go. 
Accept help. I literally cannot do it all anymore, and thats okay. There are people who love and support me and I need to say yes when they ask if they can help, or speak up when I need to get help. No one will think less of me for asking or saying yes. They want to help, I’m not a burden. 
Understand that this is my current situation and accept that, and live within that framework. That doesn’t mean that I can’t hope for better days or ever wish that things were different, but living in a world of endless hope and no reality just sets me up for a huge disappointment.
So this is me now, I am different then before, but still me.
(If you are still reading this and are wondering what to do from here, you can read this article. Its awesome.)

Going Back

When I went back to school in 2007 I thought I had found the career that would take me to retirement and would provide me with the type of fulfillment that I was looking for. I was right, kind of. Being a Pharmacy Technician is certainly something that I am proud of and I could absolutely continue working where I am and have the pensioned retirement that I had planned on. What I hadn’t planned on though, was being introduced to something that would set my mind on fire and pique my interest so much that I would spend the next 7 years reading and researching and wishing for a different career path.

I remember the first time I ever watched the show Intervention, it was a game changer. I couldn’t stop watching, episode after episode, all the facts and information was filling my mind and I couldn’t get enough. I bought Addicted, a book based on the HBO series by the same name. It was full of personal stories, but more importantly with facts and information with regards to the neurological and physiological side of addiction. Teaching me the changes in brain function and chemistry with the use of different substances. It had a chapter in it that had some inclusions by a man named Gabor Maté, a Canadian physician working in Downtown Lower Eastside of Vancouver, a well known area for its drug use and homelessness “problem”. I went to the bookstore and bought his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. It introduced me to the concept of dependance vs. addiction, to the societal consequences of addiction and the fallout from that, including disease and poverty, homelessness and the sex trade, crime and punishment. I learned about inSite, a safe injection site in Vancouver that allows active drug users a safe and supportive environment for them to use as well as access to healthcare providers and addiction support staff.

Over the next few years I did some more reading and research, but focused more on raising my family and on building my career. Never though, did the yearning or passion wane. Sometimes, I felt guilty about the fact that I had already gone back to school for what was supposed to be my career, but I knew that this was not something that was just going to go away.

So here I am, filling out my application for the McMaster University Addiction Careworker Diploma program. I never imagined at this point that I would be able to “go back” to university, but McMaster offers this program which is mostly or all online (depending on the electives that you choose) and it is going to allow me to continue to work and raise my son and follow my dream. I am ecstatic. McMaster University holds a special place in my heart. I have relatives who taught here and when I was younger my plan had been to become a doctor and attend Med School here myself. While that plan obvious has gone by the wayside, this seems to be a serendipitous chance in my life to make my wish of being an Addiction Treatment worker a reality.

I could easily apply to a hundred different programs at career colleges or online schools, but none of those programs seemed right. I want to learn and reciprocate my knowledge at a University level. I want to be among others who are thinking and functioning at my level or beyond. I want to be able to succeed at this career and be a resource for other people. I want my colleagues to value my input, not that they wouldn’t if I didn’t attend University, but I feel like the people with a PhD are going to appreciate and look at staff member with a university level education differently. And lets be honest, having that on a resume certainly isn’t anything but an advantage.

So, let another new chapter begin! (As long as they will have me, of course!)

Family Ties

When I asked for the separation, he wanted it over and done with right away. Over 7 months later, I finally moved into my own place. After the initial emotions were discharged, we came to terms with the fact that separating our home and lives was going to take time and that it was never going to be possible to not be in each others lives due to our son. So, we made the conscious decision to move forward as a team, as co-parents and as friends. I told him that no matter what, we had to put in the effort to either love each other or hate each other and so why not go with love? Its better for everyone and especially for our son.

THIS WAS NOT AN EASY ROAD!

It took a lot of patience and counseling and talking to get to where we are today. The place where we can talk and have lunch together, go to each others homes or see each others families and not have it be awkward or upsetting. But it has been so worth it. When you invest so much of yourself into a marriage, its devastating to think about having to give all of that up – the friends and family, the stability, the partnership and the memories. So we have elected to embrace them.

My new place has maternity photos and wedding photos adorning the walls. It has memories from our home and our times together. They are things that I will never give up thinking about and cherishing. They gave me a wonderful life and brought me my son, I don’t ever want to forget them or resent them. He has come over to help me with my computer and to share dinner as a family, he is a person that I can vent to about my noisy neighbours or to confide in when I am having a tough time with things. I can do this, because he is sharing in all of these changes with me, he is the other side of the equation and I don’t ever forget that.

It takes two people to actively make the choice every day to have a positive relationship and I am incredibly lucky that I have this person who is willing to make that commitment to me and our family every day. Its not been easy for him and we haven’t always received the best response. Its amazing to us to hear people be so negative about it or to tell us to “just wait”, that it will get bad and tempers will flare and its all downhill from there. Its frustrating to have people ask why, if we are able to tolerate each other so well, why we didn’t just stay married.

Marriage isn’t a convenience, its not meant to act as a placeholder. We are no longer the best partners for each other, and that is all. We are allowing each other to find someone who is. But we are also allowing ourselves to embrace a new found appreciation and love for one another, one of family and as parents to this amazing little boy that we call ours. That is what keeps us going every day, the fact that he sees us as his parents, engaged with each other in a happy and healthy relationship and showing him the love and support and encouragement that he deserves. We are a family, they come in many shapes and sizes and this is ours.

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Its Been Awhile

Life has been full of, at times, overwhelming changes in the past few months.

New Job

New Address

New Car

New Legal Marital Status

oh, and my tiny little amazing human is going to school.

So I’m sure a lot of people will think that this means that I would have had plenty to talk about, and there was, but I wasn’t ready to share my inner struggles and outward changes with everyone. I knew that life was going to be an interesting journey this year, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll it was going to take on me or how much I was going to second guess myself.

But here I am, on the other side. I recently (as in, its still peeling and making me itch like I am some kind of crazy person) started another tattoo project to commemorate these changes.

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It was perfectly described by my artist as a bird of light and infinite energy. She is in full flight, graceful, beautiful, loved and powerful. Those are all things that I never accepted as being a part of myself, but this past year has forced me to rethink not only my life, but myself. Its been a year of spectacular growth for me, one that has made me shed more tears, smile more times and grant myself more forgiveness than I have ever allowed myself.

What this really means it that I have lots to say and I am now ready to say it.

Wow, that felt good.

In Transition

Being in the in-between is undoubtably the most difficult place to be. Not knowing what is going to happen next, what you should be doing or saying and the inevitable self doubt that comes from any major life change weighs heavily on your mind.

I am there. I have chosen to be there, but it’s hard. Knowing that you are making decisions that affect the lives of countless people, some of whom you love more than anything in this world. I am acutely aware of the damage that I am causing on a daily basis. I see it in the strained faces and hear it in the distant conversations.

The worst part though, is second guessing myself. Wondering if I am doing the right thing, making the right changes or if I am just ruining everything I have thus far built in my life. Giving up my outwardly perfect world to reset back seems crazy, but I know if I don’t do that I will live as I have been – unfulfilled, unhappy and not being the kind of spouse or parent that my loved ones deserve.

And so, I set off on this journey. One of self discovery and self acceptance. Some days are better than others. There are days when I love who I am and am excited about the new opportunities that I am going to have. And then when I least expect it I become overwhelmed at the prospect of going it alone. Thinking that I will forever be a disappointment, a failure in the eyes of everyone on the outside.

I am incredibly lucky to have a co-parent who is as dedicated to preserving our family unit as I am. Things aren’t perfect, but we are figuring things out as we go. Electing to choose happiness and understanding instead of the hate and negativity that all too often consumes people.

And that is exactly what I have learned through all of this. Life is about choices. You make the conscious choice every moment of every day to be either happy or sad, hateful or joyful. I choose the joy and happiness that I deserve, that my son and his dad and the rest of our families deserve. Not because it’s the easy choice, but because I know it’s the right one.

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