2020 In Review

So. 2020. What a year, right?

What can I say that hasn’t already been said by pretty much everyone, myself included? Given that this is more than two paragraphs long, obviously I have something to say. And since I’ve decided to make this year in review an annual thing, clearly I’m going to go over it.

This has been a crazy year for everyone. A lot of it has been exceedingly difficult. A lot of it has been heart breaking. There’s also no way I’m going to be able to encapsulate everything in this one post. I can’t even hope to cover everything major. It’s been that sort of year. But I’ll cover the things that impacted me the most. And, yes, a lot of it isn’t good. But there is one bright and shining thing that is absolutely wonderful, and I’ll save that for the end because if you read my stuff, you know I like to end on the positive.

It’s funny, in a way. This time last year, I was full of optimism. As a gamer geek, I was particularly enamoured with the number 2020. In D&D, where you roll most things on a 20-sided die, rolling a 20 is a critical success (a really good thing), and I remember saying that this was the year of the double critical success. Sheesh.

I was, of course, peripherally aware of the Corona virus early in the year, as that sad thing that was going on in China. At first, that was it. It was like the sad thing going on in Australia with all those wildfires… it was awful, but didn’t really effect me on a personal level. I felt bad about it, yes, but what could I do about it?

And then it began to spread. Or, to be more precise, I began to hear about it spreading. It hit Europe, especially Italy. Then, it jumped across the ocean. It was in the US. Crap, it was in Canada.

It was in Nova Scotia.

I think it was mid-February when I really got worried. I had family contemplating a trip to Italy. I had a step father travelling to California to visit his daughter and grandkids. I worked in a job that saw me all up close and personal with people. The numbers grew as we entered March.

And then lockdown. I, like so many others, found myself out of work. Everything was closed that could be closed, especially massage therapy. But only for a few weeks, right?

Nope. Weeks dragged on. I barely left the house, aside for going for drives with my mother. I don’t even like going for drives as a general rule, unless it’s just to spend time with people, scenery is lost on me, but those drives got me out of the house. Then those ended, too.

Now. Let me state right here that I consider myself to be very, very lucky. Lucky to live in Canada. Especially lucky to live in Nova Scotia. My provincial and federal government have both been stellar at handling this. Yes, there was a brief time wen I thought I wouldn’t qualify for the emergency funding my nation decided to hand out as I was self-employed, but I was wrong. I was taken care of financially. I also live in a place where there were services such as grocery delivery that I could utilize without having to even come face to face with my delivery person. I am so lucky, and I am so grateful to those people who did the delivering. However, I also couldn’t leave the house. I have to touch too much to just go for a walk.

Then came April, and devastating tragedy. Here in Nova Scotia, a madman who I still flatly refuse to name went on a shooting rampage. Moreover, this happened in a place near and dear to my heart, close to the cottage where I spent every summer and a majority of weekends growing up. Too close for comfort to where my father and step mother lived. Terrifyingly close to where my step brother lives. It was awful, it was senseless, and it’s left scars that that community will bear for a very long time. It was the worst mass shooting Canada has ever seen, and it happened in a place of peace and beauty. To those who lost family or a friend, I grieve with you still.

And then came the news of George Floyd. Not the first black man shot down by police. Not even close. What was it about this one? Was it the straw that broke the camel’s back? I’m not sure. I don’t pretend to understand why it took this many senseless deaths for the world to start paying attention. But we did. Has it been enough? No. Not yet. Do I think things have changed? I’m not sure. It’s changed me, though. I’ve gotten more vocal about my support for black people, which in turn has led me to being more vocal in my support for people of colour, for trans rights, for LGB rights. For disabled rights. I haven’t forgotten. I hope you haven’t, either. These are lessons we need to hold onto.

In June, here in Nova Scotia at least, the lockdown was lifted. This meant a return to work. For me, at least, this came as a simultaneous huge relief and also was a cause of stress. There were a lot of changes to how we did things. More work, with a lot more stringent cleaning, a lot more caution with client intake, wearing a mask all day, making sure that my clients wore masks, making sure we didn’t leave clients waiting out in the lobby for long, different start and end times. Plus, of course, the constant fear not so much of getting sick myself (though I am terrified of that, too) but accidentally passing it on. After all, I spend an hour at atime in a small room, physically touching someone else. It’s stressful. On the other hand, I love my career. I love my clients. Getting back to helping them was fantastic.

So the summer came, and it was odd. I cut back the time I spent with my father at the cottage – which I would have cause to regret, but more on that later – and spent only one weekend there, and then a few hours later on. My sister who lives in England always spends every August here with her two precious girls and – for part of it – her husband. This year, that didn’t happen, and it was hard. I already don’t see them as much as I would like, now I didn’t see them at all.

Then came the fall. And here, we enter the part that is the hardest to write about. My father had been having back and leg pain for a number of years, now. He had been diagnosed with a condition that meant the area of his low back where the sciatic nerve (the one that goes into the leg) exits had narrowed. His pain came and went, but when it was there, it was bad. He’d been waiting on surgery to open this area up. The pain came back in September, and he moved his surgery up to October. It happened, and for the first few days his pain was gone. And then it came back.

And then it got worse. And other symptoms began popping up. Dad had also been battling what seemed like a minor case of cancer of the bladder, in so far as any cancer could be called minor. We thought it was under control. We thought it was being successfully treated. He’d even had an MRI in January and a CT scan in May in preparation for the surgery, both came back clear. Until that pain got bad.

In an MRI to check if what he had was something very different, but still serious, they discovered a large mass on his sacrum (that’s the solid bone just beneath your moveable spine). This was in mid to late October. He had to wait longer than I liked for a biopsy, but in time he got it. In more time it came back. The mass was cancer. The bladder cancer had spread. After that, everything happened fast. So terribly fast. I watched him go from being able to get around and do most of the things he did, albeit with pain, to him hardly able to get out of his chair, to him not being able to get out of bed. We were told it was Stage 4 cancer. We were told there was nothing they could do. We were told that my sister had better come home.

She did. She came home from England and got a compassionate exemption to her two week quarantine. She got to see him (though that was as far as her exemption went, she spent any time she wasn’t with him in full quarantine for the full fourteen days). I got to see him. That final week, we both visited him. We had our last fully coherant conversation on a Tuesday. I saw him twice more. On Friday, November 20, we lost him.

And it all happened so fast. It’s been a month, and there are days I still catch myself thinking things like “Oh, I need to tell Dad this” and “Crap, I haven’t gotten Dad’s Christmas gift yet” and then it all comes back.

Still. I am grateful that my sister got back. Grateful that despite a very abrupt and frightening spike in local Covid cases we were able to make it to the funeral, and so very grateful for the support from family, friends and coworkers. I truly have some wonderful people in my life. Especially the wonderful, compassionate, kick-ass clinic director I am blessed to work with.

Ah, yes, the spike. Nova Scotia had done so well. For awhile, it was one of the safest places in the world. That ended abruptly, especially here in Halifax. Numbers skyrocketed, right around the time we were planning the funeral. They’re coming back down now, but it was scary and the timing couldn’t have been worse, personally. All of this coming at the worst part of the year for me, as I do struggle with seasonal affective disorder even in the best of years.

That was a lot of doom and gloom. Earlier, I said there was one thing that keeps me from considering this year truly, unendingly awful. Given all the above, you would be correct in assuming it would have to be something major, and it is. It also happened, or started, early in the year. I just left it out because, like I said, I want to end this on a good note.

Earlier this year I made an amazing discovery. Prior to now, you will have heard me speak of my sister in the singular. Only it isn’t singular. It’s plural. In February, my father sat me down and told me that I have an older sister. Technically, half-sister, but that is not how I think of her. She is my sister. To say this came as something of a shock is rather an understatement. To some of you, I know that reading this is going to be a bit of a surprise. Imagine how I felt? I was curious. I was also absolutely happy. At no point during any of this have I felt anything but genuine joy. I gave Dad time to tell people about it, immediate family and such, and then I wrote her a letter. I explained who I was, that I had only just found out, and that while I very much wanted contact, it was entirely her choice and that I would abide by her decision. I put that letter in the mail just before lockdown.

And she replied. We began to chat via text on messenger. Slowly and cautiously at first, but with increasing regularity. We spoke via voice. We met. I met my amazing, talented, wonderful nephews.

They are family. They are loved. I am proud of each one of them. I am overjoyed to have them. The only reason I am not outright naming them here is because I try not to do that. Their presence in my life will always keep this year from being sheer awfulness. I will likely write more about them, with their permission, in the future.

And. There you have it. What a roller coaster. 2021 is, of course, right around the corner. I don’t think that the turning of the year will mean that our problems magically disappear, but I am choosing to enter this new year with hope. A vaccine is coming. And perhaps, just perhaps, we’ve all learned over this past year to be a bit more kind and a bit more wise.

Which brings me to my usual closing statement. Please be kind. Be kind to one another, be kind to yourselves, be kind in the comments. We still need as much kindness as we can get.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog.

It’s Still Okay

In many places, restrictions on our lives and movements are being lifted. Many of us who were out of work for months are returning to it. Many of those who worked from home are starting to be phased back into office life. We can go get a haircut, or a massage, or go eat in a restaurant.

Now, I’d never go so far as to say that life is returning to normal. It may never go entirely back to what we used to consider normal, but it is changing.

And hey, maybe we accepted, back in April, that it was okay not to be okay. It was alright if we felt overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, inexplicably cranky or depressed.

But surely, now that things are easing in some areas, we should also be feeling better, right? Wrong.

I’m here to tell you something. Yes, you. You reading this with your very own personal eyeballs. Or your own personal ears, or your own personal fingertips.

It is still okay not to be okay.

If logic helps, then here is some logic: you’ve just been through something you likely weren’t prepared for. Something that impacted your life in extremely personal ways. Perhaps you lost someone, or are friends with someone who has. Perhaps you lost your job. You definitely lost the sort of freedom you took for granted. You can’t just wave away the mental and emotional effects of that.

Also, though restrictions are easing, the grim truth is that this isn’t over. In some places, things aren’t even actually improving even if restrictions are lifting. We might be better prepared for it now than we were in March, and that is a very good thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.

So of course you’re not okay. Of course you feel anxiety and sadness.

Less logically… we’re humans. Our response to grief and stress is not a rational thing, so trying to force yourself to be entirely rational in your emotional reaction is so far from unfair to yourself that it might as well be one of those carnival games that hardly anyone wins.

This obviously doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try for emotional stability. Of course we should. We should make full use of every tool in our toolbox to try to cope, as best as we can, and be on the lookout for some new, shiny tools to tuck away in there. We just shouldn’t kick ourselves for not being entirely okay.

I’m not entirely okay. I’m crankier a lot of the time. I get scared. I get depressed. I have far less patience than I should. I’m doing my best not to let that negatively impact anything else, but I still feel those things, and that’s okay.

If you’re still feeling those things, it’s okay. If you’re not, then hey, please feel free to drop me a message and tell me the ways of your people.

In the meantime, and as always, for god’s sake be kind to yourself. And to others.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday

The Longest Month

I think April of 2020 has been the longest month of my life.

I’ve certainly had other long and difficult months. I’ve spent months at a time in the hospital, often not being allowed to get out of the bed or, sometimes, sit up. Much of that as a child who wanted to go outside and play. I’ve spent months in some very serious pain. I’ve spent months where depression and anxiety kept me away from the world by choice.

But nothing has been like last month for me, and I know I’m not alone.

It’s not just a matter of boredom, though there was some of that. It was the worry, the fear, and eventually the overwhelming grief and confusion.

(Let me put in a warning here. My posts tend towards the positive. This is not going to be a happy post. For those reading when I post it, you may have already taken in more sad and worrisome things than is good for you to handle. I won’t be offended if you stop reading.)

Right now, as I type this, we are in the midst of the pandemic known as Covid-19. It has infected millions, and killed over 200000, it has brought life as we know it to a standstill globally. It is like nothing I have experienced before. We are all stuck where we are. Public gatherings are not happening. Travel has stopped. Public venues are shut down. Grocery stores have arrows on the floor to indicate what direction you are allowed to go in, and taped marks to show where you can stand. We are all staying six feet apart from one another. Many are off of work, more are working from home, and the essential workers still have to go out and brave getting sick to keep us going.

Then, here in Nova Scotia, a maniac whose name I will not include here because it doesn’t deserve to be remembered, went on a rampage in a place near and dear to my heart, perpetrating the worst mass shooting Canada has ever seen, in a tiny little place most had never heard of. A place we can see from the cottage. A place close to family. Too many lives were lost.

The next week, a NATO helicopter crashed off the coast of Greece, costing the lives of six more Canadians.

April was, in many ways, a series of blow after blow. It seemed like when we started to pick ourselves up off the ground, or even start to, something else happened.

I can count on one hand how many days in April didn’t see me crying at some point. From sadness or just because everything got so overwhelming. And, yes, sometimes in joy because there have been some wonderful things people have done to bring us together, too.

So, why am I writing all of this? Many of my readers are in Nova Scotia or have ties to it, you already know all this. Those who aren’t still heard the news.

I’m writing this for myself. I’m writing this because for me, at least, getting it all out and down into words is good for me. Thoughts can get all cluttered up in my brain, sometimes I just need to sit down and type them out. I’m writing this for you guys, as a reminder that while you may be by yourself, you’re not alone in how you feel.

I’m also writing this because I don’t want to forget. I want something out there that I can look back at next year, or in five or ten years. I want to remember, not because these are good memories, but because to forget is to once again take for granted what we have.

And I want to write this down because I want to remind all of you, as well as myself, that it is a new month. Spring is coming (in theory, it did snow last week here). A time of renewal. We’re going to get through this. Nova Scotia is as strong as she is beautiful, and we humans are a resilient folk. And beyond my beloved province, we’re all, as a society, going to weather this storm.

Once again, please be kind to yourselves and to those around you.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

It’s Okay

I’d like to talk to you all about grief.

We are all experiencing it to one degree or another. For those of us here in Nova Scotia, or with ties here, it is unfortunately far stronger now, but the whole world is going through it.

Grief for lost liberties, grief for loss of free movement, for loss of employment, for loss of social interaction, for loss of human touch.

You may not even realize that grief is what you’re feeling, but you are.

The thing is, grief takes some really unpredictable forms, and that makes it harder to recognize sometimes. That outburst you had the other day when your shower turned cold? Grief. The sudden onset of sadness for no reason you can actually name? Grief. A tendency to lose track of time? That’s grief.

The thing is, it’s okay. What you’re feeling is okay. You’re allowed. You know that thought of “but other people have it worse, so I should just suck it up?” That thought is wrong. What you feel is okay.

However, let me tell you what else is okay. Laughter. Joy. Positivity. That funny meme you want to share, but you’re worried you’ll be seen as insensitive for posting it when others are going through so much sorrow? Post it, people need a moment of laughter. That sweet video you saw? Share it. It’s okay for you to enjoy it, and it’s okay for other people to see it. It will help them.

It’s okay to want to enjoy things. It’s okay to want to feel good. You are allowed to feel good, you should try to feel good.

I’ve said this a lot lately in my posts, but let me say it again: be kind to yourself. Those aren’t just empty words I keep tacking onto my posts. I mean it. Be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack here.

It’s okay.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.