five stages of grief

I read somewhere that being diagnosed with celiac disease is like going through the grieving process – in that first little while afterwards, you hit all five stages, bam bam bam. You deny that this is the answer to your problems (even though, if you’re like me, this explains e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.); you’re angry that this is “happening” to you – it’s not fair. You consider how maybe if you just cut down on gluten, just for awhile, or maybe if you ate healthier (even if you already had the healthiest diet in the world)… maybe then you’d feel better? For me, stage four, depression, was already there, but I can’t say being diagnosed with celiac disease really helped me to handle my depression. I got sadder, and more frustrated, and feeling more vulnerable and helpless than before.

Then, stage five: acceptance. It took me awhile, but I’m here now, mostly. Celiac disease shapes my life from now on (wow this feels so overdramatic to write – I need to add “talking about chronic illness without sounding like the protagonist of a victorian drama” to my to-do list). It will become second nature, I look forward to that, but in the meantime, it’s certainly easier. And I’m starting to feel better, and that helps a lot. It helps me to accept that this is me, and you know what – it’s not so bad.

I don’t feel so sad about everything I can’t eat, I know this is just my thing and I have to roll with it. I’m working out of town for four days this weekend, my first time away since I officially cut out gluten. We’re at a summer fair in a little town on the water, and you better believe there are food trucks galore. Burgers, Indian food, ice cream trucks, right next to me is a place selling the most delicious smelling burritos… and while I may have been really feeling the unfairness of never getting to try any of this stuff again in my first few weeks of this – now? Now I don’t really care. I don’t wish I was eating that burrito, I’m not sulking I can’t try that garlic naan, and I’m not even craving ice cream (which is shocking to me).

My body seems to be sorting itself out, and my mind is realizing what’s good for it, and gluten just ain’t it. So I don’t want it so much. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I was really anxious before this weekend about what I would eat, and how I would cook in the AirBnB, but one thing worrying does is make you prepared, so I came with lots of packed food and research on what restaurants are “celiac-safe”. Eating out in a non-100% GF restaurant for the first time was a bit nerve-wracking, I must admit. But it went OK, I fed myself, I’m doing my job, and I feel pretty good.

I think I’m on my way to unofficial stage six – embracing it. I’m seeing what great willpower I have. I finally see that it was never my fault I felt bad – I wasn’t eating poorly or too much or too fast, it wasn’t because I was unhealthy – I feel much more empowered in my choices and feel as healthy as I think I should! I know I’m taking care of myself, and feel so grateful that my body is finally reflecting that.

My grieving for what life was and mourning what is lost, however overdramatic it feels to write that out, has been beneficial. I do feel like I’m moving forward, even if only baby steps. Every step forward is a good one.

And you know what’s really getting me through this weekend, and it’s nothing to do with wanting to be back in my own gluten-free kitchen? The most exciting, non-food related news? On Tuesday I start my new job! I’ll be working in a place dedicated to mental health and empowering youth and building strong communities that can support and care for those with mental illness. This is the job I have been waiting for. After months of everything feeling like it was falling apart… it finally feels like little by little, things are coming together again.

Ohhhh life.

-sah

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relief

Now I know why I felt so compelled to write, why I continue to write in journals, and blogs, and notebooks, and everywhere. I always knew, but somehow just realized it, if that makes sense.

It’s to unburden myself, and to reveal myself.

Recently I read something about depression that helped me a lot.

You are not a burden. You have a burden, and you can’t carry it alone.

It made me feel a lot better to distinguish myself as a person from the disease, from the diagnosis of depression. I am no more a “depressed” person than you are a “flu” person or a “broken arm” person. Perhaps being depressed does more to alter ones personality, but all the same, it doesn’t become the personality. I am still me, just with an added burden at the moment.

So thank you to everyone who reached out and shared their own burdens, and their compassion, and just said hi. It helped and it helps and it definitely relieves some of the burden and reminds me who I am.

I’ve always just wanted to feel free, but like most people, have been so concerned of what should I be, what will they think. Outward appearances aside, the mind is a powerful thing and my worst enemy sometimes. But writing makes me feel free. Makes me feel a little bit more a part of the universe.

I’ve struggled so much to fit into one specific idea, one personality, one character, be real, be “true”, and it’s never done me any good. It feels so much better to breathe and expand and be many things, be anything at anytime. What is more true than that?

-sah

chchchchanges

About two months ago, I wrote about how changing our perception of stress can change the impact it has on our bodies. If we don’t think stress is such a bad thing, it won’t be so harmful to us. It will just be another emotion.

At that time, I thought all I was dealing with was stress. I was processing a lot, and was sure that looking for a job, and transitioning to live in a new place, were causing elevated stress levels. And I was sure that that was causing all the health issues I was having, and the blues that kept coming back, more and more frequently.

I’ve been itching to write for awhile, but not been quite sure if I wanted to write about this in particular, despite already blogging on and off for several years, and sharing lots of personal stories… this felt different, talking about health, and struggles. During my time in Jerusalem, I often felt my posts were becoming quite negative, less about exciting travel! food! life is great! and more realistic to what my experience was at the time. And because I didn’t want to share so much negative, I stopped.

I read something recently, though, that changed my mind.

“Negative is covering over your very real emotions with fake positivity. Negativity is NOT speaking about your authentic reality.” I realized I was scared to write about this because I felt like talking about health issues was negative. I want to be clear – no one was calling me negative, just myself. We’re our own worst critics, after all. But I felt that writing about my reality (which is really just cathartic, although I do sometimes feel things about putting it out there on the internet – like, how much do we “need” to share?? I dunno, but I guess whatever feels right, and however much that is is OK?) was too negative, and it’s private and I should keep it to myself.

Not anymore. I’m learning that creativity and inspiration presents itself to you in many forms, and my constant need to write and share and get this experience off my chest is my current muse. So here we are.

Shortly after my 29th birthday, a lot of things came to a head for me. I was diagnosed with depression and celiac disease. While the celiac disease (and endless, and until now thankless, job search (aka searching for meaning and my place in a world that values productivity) probably explains for the most part, the depression, both together pretty much explain everything that I’ve dealt with my whole life. Chronic pain. Issues with food. Low iron. Regular and near constant stomach issues. Recurring blues that won’t shake. Fatigue. Headaches. Things that, listing them like this, I wish I’d paid better attention to and realized I didn’t have to live with all that, that wasn’t “normal”.

The diagnosis of celiac disease was a revelation and a relief and an overwhelming burden all at once. Being depressed doesn’t surprise me, in fact I probably should have dealt with this earlier. But I never thought I had celiac disease. How, I’m not sure, because it’s pretty common (about 1% of North Americans) and explains literally all of my symptoms. What up doctors? I’m a bit let down by the doctors I’ve had in my life, but hopefully that’s changing now. I’m learning to be a better self-advocate, and while I still don’t recommend googling symptoms, it’s never a bad thing to be aware of your body and keep note of what’s going on with it – and then fight for yourself until you find a way to get better.

I’m still grappling with both diagnoses. I am already feeling better mentally, thanks to finally getting help, and I know depression is very, very common – apparently 1 in 10 Canadians will experience a major depressive episode in their lives. I am a very strong believer that mental illness should not be shameful, and if you want to talk about it, you should feel as free to casually mention you’re depressed as you might casually mention you’re on antibiotics, or broke your wrist, or whatever. It’s just a thing, it speaks nothing to who you are, your value, your ability, your worth. Me writing this here is affirming to myself that I can live out my beliefs, walk the walk. Because what’s helped me come to terms with this is hearing about other people’s experiences, and feeling no shame or embarrassment or judgement for them. Now it’s my turn to feel kindness for myself.

The celiac disease will be a bigger hurdle, because it means changing SO MUCH of my life. I have to be always on when it comes to eating, which if you know me, or you’ve read my blog til now, you know is something I LOVE to do and do a lot. But I won’t be able to eat so casually anymore. With celiac disease, you have to be careful of everything you put in your mouth. And that’s a lot to deal with. It also means educating people, because turns out despite how common it is, so few people actually know what it means to have celiac disease (myself included). “Gluten-free” is so trendy, whereas this is a serious auto-immune disease, and the way you approach them is quite different.

Acceptance is the start though. And looking at the way this can change my life for the better is helping. Especially since in the week since I’ve started eating GF, I’ve felt so much better than I have… ever?! My new favourite resource, GlutenDude, had this to say, and it’s exciting to think that when I’m ready, I can see this as a positive challenge, not a burden:

You have to rise to the mental challenge or you will never succeed in going gluten free. A friend of mine recently stated over dinner that my disease must be great for my will-power. It is indeed. Once you get it through your head that you CAN do this, it really gives a jolt to your self-confidence that you can carry over to all aspects of your life.

Getting this all out there on the internet feels like a big step in acceptance and moving forward. I’m not a victim. I’m not embarrassed to talk about “negative” things like mental health or chronic illness. There’s nothing shameful about it, I’m not looking for sympathy – this just happens to be what’s up in my life at the moment. I’ve gotta admit, if anything it does feel a bit like I’m complaining! But that’s bullshit! Because when people talk about negative things in their life, we say they’re complaining, and when they share accomplishments they’re bragging. So I guess our only options are to go back to the good old days of incredibly specific and boring Facebook statuses (hello Facebook statuses of the early 2010s)? Noooo thank you.

So cheers (but not with beer!) to oversharing in order to free us from judgement and get on with our lives! You do you! One step to freedom from SHOULD and just DOING IT.

Thanks for reading 🙂 xo

-sah

stress [should be] your friend

I watched a great TED Talk tonight that, according to the claims of the presenter, could save my life, and maybe yours too.

I’m a pretty stressed out person. I think I actually need to stop typing/saying/thinking this, because what we say and feel over and over becomes reality. So, I’ll rephrase it, and try to remember that for the future: I sometimes experience a lot of stress, perhaps more than the situation warrants. And like many people, I have always thought that stress is BAD for you. It gives you early heart attacks, makes you cranky, probably gives you wrinkles and we allll know how bad those are (to clarify if you can’t read sarcasm, they’re not bad, that’s a superficial society terrified of aging telling you that, but I digress…). Suffice to say, stress = bad for you.

And like many people, who may experience the s-word sometimes, I get doubly afraid because I am also sure my high stress levels will lead to my imminent demise, or at least earlier than Buddha’s. So I’m really thankful that I listened to this TED Talk today that said we have it all wrong.

Now, I didn’t know much about the biology of stress; maybe you did. But I learned that the stress response is in many ways similar to the response we have in times of joy and courage. Stress is actually just our body preparing you to deal with whatever the situation is that is causing you to feel this way. And studies show that those with high stress who don’t think stress is bad for you are actually more inclined to live longer. And, caring for others and being part of your community makes you more resilient! Woah.

Kelly McGonigal, the speaker, does a much better job than I can in explaining it all, so I’ll leave it to you to watch the talk. But basically, we need to change our perspective, our attitude, towards stress. And in doing so, we will actually make ourselves healthier, and better able to deal with more stress. Consider that as you start Monday morning.

-sah

may 23 2018

The sound of the dishwasher is always the sound of the end of the night to me. It means the lights are dimmed right down low, we’re all getting ready for bed, teeth brushed, maybe sitting at the dining room table for a few more quiet minutes, but sleep is imminent.

Back home, and in my current place consisting of only me and my partner, it also usually means it’s been an eventful night, because if there were enough dishes to warrant using the dishwasher, that means there’s been friends and cooking and no energy left for dishes.

Tonight was no exception, and my dishwasher is running noisily away in the kitchen, cleaning up the debris (hopefully) of a lovely evening spent with friends and lively discussion. This is what I came to this city for.

People. Discussion. Book clubs. Books. Making connections and building on interests formed into solid passions in the last few years of change and growth. Nights like this one where there is a confluence of these things, leading to a contented quietness punctuated only by the rushing of water and a recognizable whirring sound.

In about one hour and 25 minutes from writing this, I’ll turn 29. Entering my 30th year. To be honest, I’ve been so overwhelmed with life and anxiety and just every day stuff, some more exciting than the turning of another year, I haven’t thought too much about it this year. So here’s a little note to myself, to mark the passing of time, and all the things that change and all those that stay the same.

I wish for myself in my upcoming year more peace, less anxiety, continued growth, some excitement, new friends and time with old ones, new challenges, time for rest, to learn something new, hopefully many somethings new. And to sit on this eve one year from now and feel good. To feel older and perhaps wiser, if only in knowing how little I know and how little it matters, and to be looking forward to the next year as much as I enjoyed the last.

-sah

words matter

Cross-posting from something I wrote on Facebook today, but really important so I wanted to share.

Read this for context.


When I first got back to Canada, it was very soon after Trump had announced the US planned to move their embassy to Jerusalem. Having just left that very city, we had already witnessed firsthand some of the fallout from this decision – protests, violence, clashes with the Israeli army and police.

We were having dinner with friends, and got on the topic. I was expressing my frustration with this “stunt”, of placing showy politics above people’s lives. One of the people at the dinner said that it’s just words, it means nothing. I disagreed – we had already seen the beginning of what these “words” could do, and I was worried about what would happen should the embassy actually move.

Now we’re seeing it.

“The confluence of events led to split-screen coverage of Monday’s embassy unveiling, with U.S. guests led by President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, smiling and celebrating inside the embassy as, along the Gaza border, black smoke billowed from burning tires and gunshots rang out in what an IDF spokesperson called a day of “unprecedented violence.””

I know it’s not only about the embassy. I also know, as someone who regularly tries to understand the news from other countries, that a lot of people will have a hard time understanding the protests, the violence, have a hard time believing it’s more than “terrorism”. Why can’t people protest peacefully?? Well, what would you do, locked behind walls on your own land? What are your options when the world has forgotten you? I asked myself the same question recently, after reading yet another story of a black woman being assaulted and held for no reason by police in the US… what do you do when the people you’d call for help are the ones inflicting the violence? Have you ever been in a position so completely helpless? I haven’t, and I can’t begin to imagine the reactions this can bring about in people, nor condemn those reactions.

If there’s anything I’ve learned after living for two years in Israel and Palestine, it’s that words matter. Politics are not some faraway thing that don’t affect our lives (we don’t have to look far to see how racist policies and the resulting outcomes affect POC in the US, or women fighting for their rights as governments choose to limit their access to healthcare or jail them for miscarriages, or Indigenous people fighting to be recognized and allowed to live with the same privileges as white people, on their own land, to name a few). Constantly, political power plays in Israel, words that later appear as headlines in international news, shape and take Palestinian lives. Alter the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. Diminish and dismiss thousands and millions of people.

I have no advice, other than to be open and try to learn from those who are different, and use your vote and your voice. But I do hope, if you read this far, you remember that while it can be overwhelming to constantly hear bad news, this bad news is happening to real people. The truth is so much more than headlines, so much more complex and it’s important to try, as much as we can, to understand the reality and not buy into the “words” as mere words we’re reading on a page, but as actions that cause violence, and oppression, and hurt.

-sah

badass women

So into this song.

I’m possibly a little late to the Janelle Monáe bandwagon, but I’m just now starting to click with her music, and the only thing I can say is that at least I’m getting to enjoy all her songs for the first time.

I love the video, the subtext, the fact that it’s highlighting black women, celebrating women (including those with and without vaginas), and just everything about it.

This is my second favourite right now.

“But even back then with the tears in my eyes I always knew I was the shit”.

Thank you Janelle Monáe, you’re amazing – which clearly you already know and don’t need me saying, but thank you all the same.

-sah

ready as I ever was

It’s getting so nice out, and so warm, and I’ve already been to the beach twice (albeit in Israel)… and it’s all lovely and glorious… but it’s also about the time of year to share this sweet image I think. I’ve had this on my desktop for years (last modified September 21, 2014, apparently), transferred to each new computer and opened whenever I’m feeling some self doubt, or if I’m anything less than in love with myself.

sweet-bodies
I don’t know the original artist… searching for it now produces memes but no credit, so if you do know who drew this, please tell me! I’d love to thank them for it, because it always makes me feel good.

Fucking beach body season. Ack. This is just your friendly reminder that whatever body you put in a swimsuit and sit on the beach is a beach body. I follow this lovely woman on Instagram who gives great reminders of this (and promotes beautiful and diverse bodies of all kinds), this recent post being a great example.

So don’t forget you’re amazing.

Also.

When I was thinking about this and seeing horrible magazines telling you how to do 100 crunches a day and you’ll have the abs of [insert name of already thin celebrity with a personal trainer who literally gets paid to train and diet to look society’s-standard of “amazing”] and buy these swimsuits and use this cream and etc etc, it got me thinking about how we are always trying to prepare ourselves, and we so rarely feel like we’re “ready”.

It’s an old refrain, I’m sure you’ve said it, I have, and maybe you’ve heard it referenced in some personal development or self-help field: I’ll be prettier and find a partner when I lose 10 pounds. I’ll sign-up for that run once I’ve bought those shoes. I’ll be happier when I earn more money.

Is that true? Of course not! If you find yourself actually happier/with a partner/doing stuff you never thought you would, it’s not because you’re skinnier/richer/whatever. Something else inside you has changed, perhaps alongside those things, sure, but not only because of them.

So along with my reminder to you that you are ready and ALLOWED and DESERVE to wear whatever you want this summer, wherever you want to (and too bad for all the jerks who think otherwise, go flaunt your amazing self-confidence right in their faces), here’s another reminder:

You (and by you, I kind of mean me here, obviously) may never be truly “ready”. You may not have all the skills, you may not know exactly what to say, you may not feel certain, or be sure if now’s the right time, or or or…

But do it anyways. I am as ready as I’ll ever be in this life, because there is no point where you level up and be ready – not until you tell yourself you are, that is. Make sense?

It seems kind of too easy to be true (or perhaps so ridiculously hard as to be impossible, I feel both depending on the day) but I really believe this. We tell ourselves when we’re ready. Society, marketing, they may try to tell us otherwise. Our friends or families or colleagues or even bloody awful strangers on the beach may tell us otherwise.

So what? You are as ready as you’ll ever be.

Get out there!! 🍑

-sah