Friday, March 30, 2012

Let - It - Out!

The other week I took a day trip with my mom to go and visit my good friends parents who were dealing with some health issues. It was my friends dad and his battle with Cancer that was the main focal point of the visit as he had been struggling with it for some time already. But I said health issueS because his mom also has had, and still has, her fair share to deal with. She has been living with Diabetes her entire life and throughout the years it has progressed so much so that there have been days she cannot walk; she's doing better now but still has trouble moving around.
We all shared lunch together and talked over looking at photos, but my mom spent most of the visit with her while I talked with him. The conversation started off between the two of us as everyday chit chat about whether, and jobs and such, but slowly moved into a more serious discussion around the big C. As I have known this family for years it was not too difficult for this man to open up to me about how he really felt and the frustrations that grew under his skin.
When dealing with something life threatening it is not too difficult to understand how even past issues can become a current struggle.... because they are part of a life that you may inevitably be losing. We spoke in the basement while the ladies remained upstairs, which ended up working out as a good buffer zone between us all. There was no crying, no yelling, but there was definite frustration! After he had spit, trembled a bit, raised his voice and swore, (fairly often and loudly) he apologized to me. Like most people who want to be polite and kind and not make a big deal, I said, "It's okay, don't worry about it."

On the drive home from that afternoon visit I thought about some of the things that were said and the ranting and venting and swearing. I realized that when I told this man (who was groomed and dressed up pretty well but still looked very tired) "It's okay." I wasn't just being polite or passive, I really wanted him to feel that he could let it out.

I remember back to when I was still living in the big city, finding myself on the subway or bus listening to some stranger (maybe even someone homeless) going on about his or her problems. They had an accident at some point in their life or they got sick and they had to visit the doctor for this medication or go through that treatment. I remember working as a Security Officer at the hospital, or visiting a friend or family member, and some poor fool that I had never seen before telling me their sob story.
I would always be thinking in the back of my mind, "Why the hell are you telling me this?" But I wanted to be polite and kind and not make a big deal.

I'll admit that some people out there go on a little too long, rant or vent when they shouldn't, share too much personal information, go over-the-top with the self-pitying. But ever since that discussion with my friends dad I've been thinking that people really do need to let it out. Keeping things in can sometimes, I think, be worse than the disease or disability itself.
There are two problems to this. One is, some people (a lot even) tend to think the way I once did, "Why the hell are you telling me this?" And that passive, politeness, doesn't necessarily give way to listening. Some can't even be bothered with the politeness and just leave. The second dilemma is that we, including me, (very much so) tend to be afraid of sharing and/or burdening others with our struggles.

I've recently decided to join, or at least  test out, a local Brain Injury support group. We'll see what happens. What I do know though, is that not communicating, trying to resolve issues on your own, (any issues really) and  keeping things bolted up inside, never really do justice to you or anyone else. And just having someone to listen (although helpful) isn't always the trick, you need someone who can also understand......... not always, but sometimes.

There is nothing wrong with every so often letting - it - out. Both givers and receivers need to know this. And by the way, my friends dad was, shortly after that visit, diagnosed Cancer Free! Yay!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Review

So, this is somewhat new territory for me.

Something I really enjoy doing but don't always find the time for, is reading. I like becoming invested in characters, seeing their flaws and talents, and journeying with them through another world; or the very real world that I'm used to, only from a different perspective. Perhaps offering creativity and inspiration. I have offered my opinions from time to time on books and the stories laid out on their pages, but I can't say I've ever really written a review. Though I couldn't really tell you what the difference between a review and opinion is, only that maybe a review is a little more thought out and delivered only when one actually finishes reading a book. I've heard many people offer opinions before finishing even page five of something.
I've enjoyed a lot of books that I could probably have offered formal reviews on but only most recently have I felt compelled to write one. This book was recommended to me by a friend at a group I'm part of called "Creative Reviews" at Goodreads. Thank you Estrella.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Beautifully written and well shared from the point of view by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old girl living with terminal Cancer. I love this story for its honesty, its bravery and its heart. Because everyone has a story, and most of them, even if not "popular" by societies standards, are meaningful.
This book made me laugh, cry, and filled me with thoughts and emotion from the first page to the very end. It made me think about life in general and reflect upon the hardships people can face, even if not inflicted with the horror known as Cancer. I thought about my friends dad who was recently diagnosed Cancer free. I thought about my Opa who passed away after a good life at the age of 82. I thought about my mom's brain injury accident and I thought about what I went through as a child, hospitalized with a brain infection and still battling it on many fronts today. And I thought about what my parents must have gone through at that time.
Reading this book did not give me hope, I have always carried hope in my back pocket. What this book gave to me, and what I'm certain it will give you, is the re-enforcing reminder that life is precious and beautiful and should be lived no matter what. This wonderful book unfolds the message about how life goes on. And when I say that I do not mean how some people will say "life goes on" after someone is lost; I mean "life goes on", period. As in, whatever challenges we face "life goes on", and every minute should be soaked up for what it is worth. I think you'll have to read it to see my meaning; or perhaps, to find your own wonderful, keenly felt, message.
The great thing about this book is it is meaningful and direct, insightful, thought provoking and in-direct all at the same time. This beautifully written story allows you to come to your own conclusion about life, even though the hardships and ugliness life can bring to your table are right there in black and white.

I've met in the pages of books quite a few well developed characters, and this story follows suite with a tremendous cast; but of them all I grew a place in my heart for the sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster. She has an emotional strength and beautiful weakness that guides the reader through the story and life as we live it. Aside from the terminal Cancer thing, those qualities are ones I think we should all posses; or at least want to.
Author John Green has written a 313 page story well deserving of praise. Go do yourself a favour and get this book.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Care for the Giver

So I attended this Brain Injury Caregivers conference the other week and it was nice to see and be involved in a presentation that wasn't just for Doctors or Nurses or Service Providers, Councillors, etc.... but others who were also really in the "caregiver" industry. Not knocking the professionals that are in the business, but sometimes I think it is forgotten about or swept under the carpet the things friends and, mostly family, do. They get stuck, in a way, between what the Therapist or Councillor needs and what the patient (the individual with whatever barrier they may be challenged with) needs. We hear and get inspired by the Doctor who doesn't give up on his or her patients or the person who will not give in to a disability and accomplishes some amazing feats, but only rarely do we hear about the dad or mom, brother or sister, sibling or child, friend, etc.... I say rarely because we do hear stories.

It was interesting to see and listen to the presentation as I had two perspectives to go by, one being that I am a caregiver of my mom and her acquired brain injury, and two, that I myself live with a brain injury.

The two main speakers at this event were a psychologist in the field of brain injuries and a marriage and family therapist. At the end of the day there was a panel discussion with two couples. One husband who had a brain injury and his wife, talked about the burdens they went through as a married couple. The other folks spoke about their son who had a brain injury and how it affected them, their marriage, other family members, and friends.

Quite a few things were discussed over the course of the day but some recurring themes were misunderstanding, frustration, and loss.  Friends are lost by ways of misunderstanding, they don't get it, and I think sometimes that maybe they don't want to. Marriages and families can be torn apart, sometimes instantly or perhaps over time. Employment becomes difficult and jobs or careers may have to be put on hold or given up. Society, as a whole, can become another world, distant and cold.
Dealing with a brain injury, or any disability for that matter, takes a lot of work. Work to be patient and to be understanding. And unfortunately with any type of mental health issue, some folks (even those you felt were closest) tend to be under the impression that if you can't see it or touch it, it doesn't exist. It is very frustrating to hear "oh, he's fine", "nothing is wrong with her", "everyone gets confused and tired at times". That last one gets me to me quite often.

The true caregiver, whether it be family member, friend, therapist, etc.... are in it to simply be in it; to lend a hand or a shoulder. They are in it not to fix it, but to be by that persons side. It is a very admirable quality and some of the things I heard from those two couples on the panel, as well as some of the people in the audience, were, even though a little sad, (because of the problems that would arise) inspiring. Inspiring to know that there are people, lots of them, that really stick it out and go through the battle with that individual who was/is injured.

Life, unfortunately, is full of landslides. Sometimes we can avoid them, most often we cannot. But having a life to live is not really about digging through and clearing away the rocks to get back to the way it was, it's about understanding, helping one another out and moving forward.

It is nice to share kind thoughts with that person who lives with a disability or is sick in some way, but also extend those thoughts to the surrounding people who offer care. And if you are one of those people, pat yourself on the back, you're doing a great job! Because "it's cool to care!" Everyone should know that.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Where it Starts

So, since the beginning of January of 2012 I have been sharing a string of posts in a series called "Tools of Hope". In this series I have talked about some wonderful organizations and groups, like One Voice Network, Kinark, Ontario March of Dimes, Creative Reviews, The Heart & Stroke Foundation, and the York Durham Aphasia Centre. I spoke a little about the Church and what it may mean when being a member. There are piles of organizations too that I didn't mention which I could have; The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Yellow Brick House, Sandgate Women's Shelter, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, the list is endless. I could have also posted something about the Arts being a Tool of Hope. Drawing, painting, writing, dancing, sculpting, playing a musical instrument.

Writing has helped me so much in dealing with my Learning Disability. I feel like I can communicate on paper in ways I cannot accomplish verbally. Writing has allowed me to feel part of something and not just a lonely soul wandering through life feeling, at times, lost and confused.
Music has helped my mom learn how to speak again. Dealing with Aphasia has been difficult to say the least since her accident and music has helped, in many ways, bring her voice back. There are times when singing can be easier than talking

But it doesn't really matter how wonderfully helpful these things are, or how motivating the people that are part of these organizations/groups may be, because if you're not in it as your biggest Tool of Hope, nothing else much matters. Sure, these other things and/or people can take over from a certain point, offer most of the guidance and even do a healthy chunk of the work, but you yourself, is where it starts! It's really just like that line Katy Perry belts out, "Baby, you're a Firework." Only you can can start that spark and keep it going.
It doesn't matter what it is you've gone or are going through, (dealing with a disability, surviving a domestic relationship, overcoming the bullies at school, etc...) right or wrong, big or small, that first step and conscious decision to get help, to improve yourself, to make changes, and to grow with all of it, comes from you.

Family, Friends, Teachers, Caregivers, Employment Specialists, Nurses and Doctors, (the list goes on) are great and can offer so much to individuals in need. Whether it is through the things I mentioned above, or by any other means you can think of, nurturing and helping hands are out there. But not to take anything away from the group of people I just spoke of, they cannot go too far with those outstretched hands of offered hope if there is no one reaching back. Guidance may be theirs to offer, but decisions to take them are yours.
One of the greatest things we have in our personal arsenal is CHOICE. It may be difficult at times, but if you have the right attitude, there is never a wrong time to make a choice. Change can happen whenever and wherever.

I have been through a lot in my life, I've faced many personal Challenging Barriers. But I think I'm doing pretty ok. I'm certain that the path I have journeyed and will continue to follow, forks and all, will bring about still more challenges. But I'm sure I'll do pretty ok. Family, friends who remain and ones that have gone, physicians I've seen, places I've worked and volunteered at, my writing and other hobbies, they have all helped me survive and grow and learn. These things will continue to come and go in my life, bringing new experiences and growth along the way. But I know it all comes done to me, it's where it starts.
I do pretty ok, because, I do pretty ok.