Certificate of Survival

Jenn / SunnyDazzled /Flickr
Ghost Train

An antique engine still haunts the yard from the collection at The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg.
Happy Halloween!
This train goes between cities, further  
between nightmares and dreams, it travels
on track laid by dying
men that form the body nightmares.

Familiar faces, human, leave
our darkening world,
shadows answering no cries in the fog.

Do we forget who ride the empty boxcars
still searching for places to live in
a dream country for their own sons,

We travel with their souls, here in the dining car,
distinctly uncomfortable
with the smell of broiled lobster and sizzling steaks.

Have we the right to say or the guts to whisper:
You have it all WRONG
and can we take the pervasive laughing
clacking of the tracks

I wrote the poem above when I was in second year university, many years ago, influenced mostly by my experiences working on the Canadian National Railway. In the poem I am present to the existence of the thousands of workers imported into Canada to build the railways, and how many of them died in the process.

Many of the construction and railway workers were sent back home, mostly back to China, where they reunited with their families. Many, however, ended up staying in Canada, effectively separating them from their wives and children forever.

It is easy to forget that modern civilization was built on the backs of indentured and enslaved people, who still are denied any recognition for their real lives and losses.

In the current era, in a Canada now highly ethnically and racially diverse, these ancestors can finally have a say in who we are as a people. Acknowledging these people also opens the way to rediscover the indigenous peoples who have always been here. Long before European settlement the first nations were already here.

Before we can truly be the civilization we could be, we need to see and acknowledged these people, as well as the part of ourselves still enriched by their sacrifice.

Letting go doesn’t hurt, either.

Egmong, BC – Museum

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving Day. This is the day when I’m supposed to be grateful for all the good things in my life, and emotionally let go of whatever negative things are holding me back from a happy and productive life.

All of that is good. In theory.

But it’s hard to do. It’s a lot easier to list the things I’m mad about, or for which I’m resentful, than to account for all the good things in my life, for which I’m grateful. That’s not to say that I’m not, that is, not grateful.

I’m grateful for the people in my life who go out of their way to make my life better, of which there are any number, including my domestic partner who puts up with my frustrations and anxieties, and continues with me in her life, despite no longer wanting to be married to me, or believing that there is any romantic future for us. She’s probably right but still has simply accepted me as I am, despite my faults. So the two of us struggle to go forward in this fundamentally undefinable relationship and cause each other, and ourselves, the least emotional damage possible. And although this relationship isn’t what either of us imagined forty years ago, it continues to sustain me in the present. She still inspires me with her generosity of spirit towards.

I am grateful to my family, including my kids and my siblings, trying not to let resentment fill my heart for all the things I’d hoped would be, but are not. When people love me its hard when its not exactly the way I’d like to be loved. But who am I kidding? The fact that they are willing to be a part of my life is what is important, and I am appreciative when they do spend some time with me.

I’m also happy with my progress towards a healthy future. Intermittent fasting and lifestyle changes I’ve already made are making a real difference in my health, even just a few months into the process began with my decision last spring to reevaluate my medications and side effects. My son’s consistent input about carbs and sugar has encouraged me to stick to my guns when comes to fasting, and has helped me to lose 35 pounds. I do feel better, and I’m grateful for that.

But I still have a hard time not being angry about the things I’m facing in the future. It doesn’t matter really if they are a direct result of my own actions, or not. Chronic pain is very difficult to ignore, especially when it is quite severe, most of the time. I’m taking it on faith that losing weight will improve matters a little, but I’m not counting on it. Pain has become my constant companion, and it’s damned hard not to complain about it. Not that it does any good, but saying something does relieve some of the pressure of feeling so isolated and alone in the pain. Sometimes people think that I resent them because they don’t really express much sympathy, or even really seem to understand what the hell I’m talking about. Actually I don’t resent them, what I resent is the pain itself, and the fact that nothing really helps.

I’m also really resentful about the total destruction of my business and professional career, as a result of having made some stupendously stupid mistakes which cost me everything, including putting limits on my future I’m not quite sure how to endure. It doesn’t actually help to know that there were things I could have done differently that might have made all the difference. I didn’t do those things, so here I am. I’m critically broke, impoverished by the consequences of these mistakes. I also resent being ashamed of my mistakes and lack of better judgment. How can I be sure that I’ll do any better in the future?

International Symbol of gratitude

But today is Thanksgiving Day, so I’ve thought a lot about those things that matter to me. There is a better future ahead, even if I’m not quite sure how to get there. I’m still alive, and I’m in better health than for a long time, and have more energy than for probably ten years. So I grateful for that.

I’m also grateful for my blog. Expressing my deepest feelings helps me come to terms with them. So I’m also grateful for my faithful readers, who have been so encouraging to me as I have been on this fasting journey. Thank you.

How to improve your health when your blood sugars are out of control.

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  • Healthy people are proactive about our health
  • Healthy people seek out more information
  • Healthy people consult professionals before implementing significant changes in our medications or lifestyle choices
  • Healthy people are patient and persistent in overcoming health or lifestyle challenges.
  • Healthy people accept total accountability for our own health, without taking on blame for things beyond our control.

What can you do to improve your AIC when you’re feeling terrible from a variety of symptoms and conditions, many of which are either a direct result of your diabetes, or at least are indirectly impacted by persistent high blood sugars.

There are any number of things you need to deal with in order to make real change. The most important of these things is probably NOT your diabetes. At least not directly.

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I’ve been a type two diabetic for many years. Diabetes probably started with me in my twenties although my first symptoms didn’t start to show up until I was nearly forty. I’m now in my sixties and I’ve been on insulin for more than fifteen years. That means I’ve been pricking my finger at least once a day since I was fifty years old, and injecting myself with insulin ever since.

The one thing I can say about my diabetes is that it has progressed in a predictable way, gradually causing negative effects to my body. All the way along the road various doctors have given me a lot of prescription medications, as well as a lot of advice. I’ve been to diabetic clinics where nurses and dieticians have attempted to teach me how to control my blood sugars through diet and exercise.

Why Me?

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I even received counselling, to try to make sense of Why Me? I think everyone feels victimized by negative health conditions, whether it’s COPD, Heart Disease or Cancer. The answers to Why Me? are both existential and practical.

There are two parts to the answer. First, there is the part of Why Me? over which you have no control, never did, never will have and makes no difference anyway. Whether it’s fate, God, a cruel universe, DNA or the conditions of your life (including a bad diet, smoking, poor or no exercise, etc.) leading up to becoming diabetic none of them actually matter in coming to terms with the emotional fallout of Why Me?

Truthfully, there are many things I could have done differently in the past that might have made a huge difference in my experience of diabetes now and in the future. But for whatever reasons I had, or gave myself, I did what I thought was within my capacity to change in my habits and behaviors.

You can check your blood sugars regularly with you meter tests, get your AIC blood work done in the lab and consult with your doctor as often as she thinks is useful or necessary. You may make changes in your diet and exercise program, and do your best to lose weight and keep it within certain boundaries. And if you do all these things from the beginning, your diabetes will be stable and you will reduce the consequences of this disease.

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For most of us, however, no matter how much we say we care about our health, we’re not really willing to do whatever is necessary to fundamentally change our outcomes. We do some of it, maybe ever some of it every day with serious intentions.

This is the Second Part to Why Me?

This is the part of Why Me? you can control if you choose to do so. So how do you change what you do and how you act, to have a real impact on your own health? This goes back to me saying that it’s not actually about diabetes, or even about your physical health.

It’s really about becoming conscious about who and what you want to be in your own life. We’ve all been beat-up by life along the way. Parents, friends, lovers, partners and even strangers have both positive and negative impacts on our self esteem. Why is that? Why do we let anyone else impact how we feel about ourselves, and how we make positive or negative choices about our lives, including those choices about dealing with negative health outcomes resulting from poor choices.

I hate to say this but “Who cares?” It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, or how you allowed yourself to be negatively influenced regarding healthy living. It really doesn’t matter, but only if there is some way you can turn your life around and ultimately take control of those things that you can control.

How to take control and like it.

The first thing is to understand what it is you need to do to make things better. If you don’t know what you need to do, it’s pretty hard to decide what to do. So find out. See you doctors. Read everything you can find out about current treatment alternatives, and inquire from other people their experiences. Read blogs. Get new referrals to diabetic clinics and resources. Talk over alternatives with your specialist. Make a plan of action with on a few, specific steps, done regularly and persistently.

Don’t try to do everything all at once. Set limited goals with realistic objectives. For example: Don’t try to lose a lot of weight in a week or even a month. Lose weight in amounts that can actually be achieved. If you find it too hard to do by yourself, join a club or a weight loss program which comes with monitoring and emotional support. But don’t blame the program if your weight loss isn’t happening. Be totally honest with yourself, and reset your goals. Weight loss is fundamental to improved diabetic outcomes and lowering blood sugar.

Don’t hang around waiting for someone else to improve your health.

If it isn’t happening, then look elsewhere for support, but don’t give up on necessary change. Remember that whatever happened yesterday is no longer relevant unless it results in change today. Guilt is useless unless it is accompanies by a renewed sense of personal accountability.

When I graduated many years ago from UBC my school motto was TU UM EST. What I didn’t realize was how powerful an idea that really is.

TU UM EST!

Frustrated

by bureaucratic delivery of medical devices and services

Two nights ago I went to my local Shoppers Drug Mart in Walnut Grove, Langley to submit my prescription for my new type of FreeStyle Libre sensor and meter, as well as my two new types of insulin. It was a frustrating day yesterday sorting it all out, without yet having received anything… once I come up with the necessary funds. All told about $268.00 out of pocket, with $178.00 eventually refundable from Blue Cross once I send in the receipt showing that I’ve paid it.

My new insulin prescriptions are 85% covered by Blue Cross unlike my previous prescription for insulin which was covered entirely, once my initial 100 deductible is paid for the year. I don’t know why this is so, but is probably a result of this being newer technology and newer method of managing diabetes in BC and, for the moment, is grudgingly covered by Blue Cross under the agreement with my wife’s employer, and then only to 85% of the cost of the newer medications.

Money required for medications and equipment causes a lot of anxiety as money is particularly tight on my government pension, and I’m counting the days to the next pension check for when I’ll have any money to spend, pretty much on anything.

I’m don’t mean to be grumbling about my current financial situation. First of all its mostly my own fault. Secondly, the only person who can do anything about it is me, so there’s not a lot of point in getting angry about it. Still, coming up with an extra $300 all at once, halfway through the month is going to take some doing.

Assuming that I can figure out how to get the money together, it looks like I’ll be starting my new insulin regime tomorrow or the next day, and will start using my new sensor soon. I am both excited and anxious about it.

Encyclopedic Curiosity

cropped-donald-b-wilson-youth-portrait-square-pp-pe-bw.jpgFiguring out where I want to go from here, what I want to do and even who I want to be is far more complicated that I ever imagined it to be.  Especially now that I’m sixty-five years old.

I’ll admit to having experienced this state of fugue from time to time in my past.  When I attended university at UBC in Vancouver starting in 1971, I enrolled in a Music Education program, thinking that I might like to become a high school music teacher.  I had been singing in choirs and playing musical instruments since junior high school, and I fancied that I might actually be a good enough musician that I could make a living both as a musician and as a teacher of music.

Teaching and music both run in my family.

My mom and her father were both  teachers, and they both had successful careers, she largely as an English teaching with the Vancouver School Board for many years and later a Lecturer in Sociology in the Faculty of Education at UBC, and he as an itinerant teacher and school administrator across much of Canada’s north country, ending up as the Principal of Thunder Bay College, and later staying on as the first President of Lakehead University, both in Thunder Bay.

My very earliest memories were of listening to my mom sing lullabies when tucking me in as a young child at night, and of sitting on the piano bench next to my grandfather singing a Swedish Stilla natt, heliga natt! (Silent Night, Holy Night) along with him on one of his magical Christmas visits to our home.

Stilla natt, heliga natt!
Allt är tyst. Klart och glatt
Skiner stjärnan på stallets strå
Och de korade helgon två,
Som kring Guds Son hålla vakt
Som kring Guds Son hålla vakt.

My childhood home was often filled with music, as all of my siblings and I learned to sing early, and often.  Other wonderful memories of childhood include singing around the many campfires of family camping trips, to fantastic destinations like the Cariboo Trail, the Calgary Stampede, and the family homestead in Comstock, Saskatchewan where my grandfather and my mom both had their roots.

So becoming a music teacher seemed like a good idea at the time.  At UBC, in the Faculty of Music, I joined the University Singers, while also singing with the BC Boy’s Choir, which toured Europe one summer.  I also took several music education courses, and the standard required Humanities English 100 and a history course, French Canadian History, a survey course.

And, of course, I joined the UBYSSEY, the student newspaper,  as a greenhorn reporter and photographer.  During that year I wrote reviews of classical concerts and attended many operatic and symphonic events as a writer with Press Pass.  I shot news photographs and learned to work the dark room, and it’s many secrets.

There were a couple of things that went wrong in that first year, that threw my plan to become a teacher into the garbage bin.  Around Christmas I was involved in an electrical fire in my mother’s car, which destroyed the engine, and more importantly, led to serious smoke damage to my throat, vocal chords and quite possibly to my lungs, which may very well partially account for the fact that I  now suffer from serious COPD, and forced me to withdraw from the University Singers, and stop singing with the Boys Choir.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible. The more familiar terms ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ’emphysema’ are no longer used, but are now included within the COPD diagnosis. WHO | COPD: Definition  http://www.who.int/respiratory/copd/definition/en/

The second, and much more important than the temporary loss of my voice was my failure to thrive in my education course work.  One of my professors told me point blank that he would be willing to give me a passing grade, only if I agreed to drop out of the Faculty of Education, and never take another education course.  For whatever reason, true or not, he had reached a conclusion about my unsuitability to becoming a teacher.  His comments to me were couched as gently as he could, but he stated that he believed that I didn’t belong in a classroom as a teacher because I was emotionally wrong for the job.  He felt that my unlimited energy and wild enthusiasm, as well as mercurial  temper and periods of depression made me highly unsuitable as a trustee for young children, or even teenagers.

I was stuck down, destroyed in my ambition to be a teacher, and took to heart this professor’s judgment.  The loss of my voice seemed trivial against the far greater loss of a potential career I’d always thought I’d follow.  So at the end of my first year at university I completed my arts courses, English and French Canadian History which were all I could take with me into the Faculty of Arts in the fall of the next year.

As it turned out, I ended up with an English degree since it was the only second year course I could take, and I was invited to participate in the Honours program in English literature by the Faculty Adviser supervising my first year English course.  In a way, the English Department chose me, rather than me choosing them.  My choice in an academic degree was large a default decision, rather than a purposeful one.  It didn’t seem too off base, after all I am the son of an English teacher, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that English was a pretty easy alternative to my preferred choice of music.

The choice of an academic career by default, is in many way, symptomatic of the choices I’ve made in the rest of my life.  As someone with a supposedly high intelligence quotient, the ability to read copiously as a result of reading extremely fast, and with the ability to do well in any scholarly pursuit, if I put my mind and heart into it, made school seem like a natural path, even if I actually was pretty much indifferent to the content of my education.  I love reading, but not literature per se.  I’d have been just as happy to have done my degree in Economic or History, or for that matter, Astrophysics.

If I have any dominant characteristic, common to me as a child, an adolescent, an adult and now, as a senior, it is encyclopedic curiosity.  I don’t claim to know much about anything in particular, but I’m interested in almost everything under the sun. I continue to be thrilled to discover new things, new inventions, new way of thinking and doing.

This characteristic has many good aspects to it, and a couple not so great.  It means that I have had, and continue to have, some difficult in choosing what to do with my time.  Everything looks interesting, and generally I’ve pretty much always been able to handle the challenges thrown up by any of my endeavors, except in one, simple, but fundamental way.  It’s tough to choose, and even tougher to stay the course.    My threshold of boredom is really low, and my curiosity and boredom with everyday duties have made me singularly less than as financially successful as I should have been, if only I could have stuck to one thing, and truly made it my own.  With my raw abilities I should have mounted to the top of whatever career I choose, instead of ending up mediocre in all of them, having failed to really commit to any of them.

 

 

 

Wonderland?

Sometimes I feel as if I have fallen down the rabbit hole into an alternate universe, one in which I’m no longer a person.  The world has also changed, seemingly irretrievably, into a place without any kind of safety, security, and surety.

Mum used to complain to me, from time to time, when she was retired from teaching, that she felt invisible, of no consequence, and therefore, of no value to anyone, including to herself.  I remember telling her that, of course, she had meaning and value, at least to her children, and that we value her for her wisdom and accumulated life experience.  I believe now that my comments were, at best, well-meaning but false.

Feelings are not facts, although they weigh us down as if they are real.  I am going to be celebrating my sixty-fifth birthday in less than a month.  Supposedly this means that I should be enjoying the opportunity to retire from active working life, and into a pleasant meander down the road of a new journey, not so bound up in ambition or goals.

Instead, I head into retirement with serious complications of diabetes and COPD, chronically exhausted, in constant arthritic and neuropathic pain.  My professional life is in disgrace, and my finances are completely destroyed.  My marriage is a shambles, a mere shadow of meaning and purpose I believed it to be. Whatever self-esteem I once enjoyed has been systematically eroded to the point where I have become self-effacing and ashamed.

Accomplishments once achieved with pride, are now rued as pointless, as they were not sustained, nor followed up with long-term success.  Professional competence and pride in my knowledge and skills are now the pathetic memories of a fallen champion.

I have crashed and burned before, and arose from the ashes to take on new challenges and build a life again. I’m told by professionals that I need to let go of the past, forget my shortcomings, and learn to live with my current life and health circumstances.  In short, I need to refocus on a new future.  Build again a life worth living,  a life into which joy and laughter can once again be a part.

There is still much of value in my life, and turning to those people who continue to befriend me and support me is a part of that future.  Gratitude for what I have now will be a good start.

Still, it is difficult to look around me and see a landscape filled with characters I don’t recognize and don’t think I really want to get to know.  What would be even more helpful would be if I could find a mirror that shows me the man I once thought I was.  The mirrors in Wonderland show me a person I scarcely recognize, and who I really don’t want to be.