Vacation time!

Hello!  I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that I will be taking a little hiatus this week to enjoy a much-needed visit with my boyfriend.  I will be resuming my posting schedule next Tuesday (March 27, 2018).  I hope you all have a wonderful week and thank you for taking the time to read my blog when you can.  If you have a chance, please let me know what you think!  Your feedback means a lot to me!

Take care and see you next week!


Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.

February Goal Review

A new month means it’s time for goal review!

1. Survive Chemotherapy

I’m making decent progress on my goals which, as I said last month, are all really in service of my goal of surviving chemotherapy.  My third chemo cycle (treatments 5 and 6 of 12) were much easier than my second cycle and I have physically and mentally been feeling much better.  Of course, I have been a bit overwhelmed by caring for our new puppy, but that has had many positive effects on my life as well.

2. Write as much as possible

I’ve still been writing as much as I had planned to do at the beginning of the year and recently, due to the new puppy, I have been much more efficient in my writing process.  I spent some time researching topics, which I will definitely do at least once in March as well, and I found some that inspire me.  Because I’ve had less free time, I’ve worked writing into my new schedule as much as I can and I’ve been successfully managing everything as intended.  I haven’t quite been sticking to my schedule of writing one full week ahead, but I’ve been getting pretty close, which is fantastic.

I’m a little afraid that I will run out of content for my Media Round-up posts.  I don’t have a lot of time to read and watch things right now, but if I have to skip those every once in awhile, I’ll just write a regular post in their place.

3. Develop a healthy nighttime routine

Results for this have been mixed.  Since we brought Frankie home, I have adapted to a new sleep schedule and have been going to bed early and getting up early.  The routine I wanted to develop had to change drastically and has been simplified a great deal, but I have been doing a better job at a lot of the basics.  In order to decompress after managing Frankie, I’ve had to start listening to sleep meditations and that is helping me get to sleep a little easier than before.

4. Be financially responsible

My spending freeze was wildly successful all through February and continues to be going well as we move into March.  I did receive a gift card for my birthday and was able to buy a few books, but apart from that I spent very little money in February.  I did make a small clothing purchase at the beginning of March (a sweater that I had been eyeing for months), but I’m hoping to keep this going for as long as possible.  Right now it looks like I won’t have any further income until some time in April, if my long term disability application is approved.

5. Take care of myself physically

Since we brought Frankie home there has been a tremendous improvement in my physical health.  I’ve adopted a healthier sleeping schedule and I’ve been eating well and getting more physical activity.  I’m feeling physically stronger and more mobile.  The new schedule has also helped me to ensure that I’m keeping up with the personal hygiene habits and routines that can be a bit tricky for me when I’m not feeling well.  Huge wins here in February.

6. Take care of myself mentally

This has been a little tricky since the puppy forced me to rearrange my life.  I haven’t been using my journals at all, which is probably better for the neuropathy in my hands, but I would like to get back into gratitude journaling again, as I think it will help me when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Frankie has, essentially, served as a fantastic distraction.  I haven’t had much time to feel sorry for myself because I’ve had to worry about keeping her from peeing in the house and crying in her crate and training her to do things.  I’m not gonna lie, though, she’s been difficult and I’ve been struggling a bit.  There is no remedy for this other than time and patience, however, so I will stick with it and let her be what I need her to be in my life right now.

7. Learn something new

Success here has been mixed as well and my focus for this goal has, by necessity, had to shift a bit.  I was completely blindsided by how difficult Frankie was to manage.  We had been terribly spoiled by Daisy and how easy she was to house train and I thought I knew what I was doing.  It turns out, I had no idea.  I’ve had to do a lot of research and reading to help us get through some of the obstacles that have come our way.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about dog training over the past few weeks, but I haven’t had the time to learn new skills that will help me move toward a new career path.

8. Keep things tidier and work on decluttering projects

My success here continued in February.  I purchased a basic printer/scanner, scanned my important documents, and put the originals away in a safe place.  I also sorted through my physical collection of books and donated all over half of them to a fundraiser at a local elementary school.  Since Frankie came along, I haven’t had time to make my office very messy and, since I’ve had to be more organized about laundry, I’ve been doing a great job of keeping my bedroom tidier.

9. Leave the house to work at least once per week

For now I am going to put a hold on this goal.  Unfortunately, one of the main side effects of many chemo protocols is gastrointestinal issues and those have been keeping me in the house a little more often than I would like.  I’ve been feeling a little cooped up over the past two weeks, but this is mostly due to self-imposed puppy isolation.  Prior to the arrival of Frankie, I was feeling okay about just working at home and my productivity hasn’t suffered.  I may revisit this if the issues clear up, but for now it’s just a little too uncomfortable for me to spend too many hours without convenient access to a bathroom.

Overall, I’m pleased with my progress.  Frankie has changed a few of my priorities, but I’m plugging away and doing the best that I can!  Are you making progress on your goals for the year?  Message me and tell me all about it!  I’d love to hear about how you’re doing!

4 things I love about blogging

As a follow-up to last week’s post on 4 reasons why I hate personal blogging, I wanted to spend some time discussing why I love personal blogging.  Just for fun, here’s another listicle where the items are much longer than they should be.

1. I love to write

I’ve always loved writing and, for the most part, I’ve always written.  As I said in last week’s post, I’ve kept some sort of personal blog for over 20 years now.  Aside from that, I have written in many other formats: research papers, school newspaper articles, legal reports for probate courts, archival finding aids, essays, literary criticism, short stories, tip sheets and training materials, marketing materials, project plans, correspondence, and policies and procedures.  There are probably a few more items in there, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Whether for personal, academic, or professional tasks, I have written a great deal over the course of my life.  Writing is, without doubt, my preferred means of communication.  Of course, some of that writing has been less fun to slog through, but if I’m working on a project that requires writing, that will probably be my favourite part.  Essay and report writing, in particular, have always been the most fun types of writing for me.  Though I have tried, I’ve never much liked writing fiction or poetry — I’ve never seen myself as a person with a great creative imagination.  I’m best at reporting what I know, whether it be through research or personal experience.

2. Blogging allows me to keep my skills fresh and make improvements in my style

To be good at writing, you need to practice.  My current job is quite writing heavy, as I need to produce some kind of reporting product for most of my research files; however, those reports are heavily templated and rigid in terms of language and formatting.  Keeping a personal blog allows me to continue writing in a way that helps me get out of the formats I need to stick with at work.  Personal blogging has also helped me to clean up some of my bad habits over the years.  For example, I will probably always be a rambler and I will always use too many adverbs, but proofreading my blogs over the years has stopped me from writing “really” every few sentences (or more).

3. It provides me with a place to express my views and opinions, while providing me with a record of myself and my feelings during a particular time.

Even if reading through old posts later on often makes me cringe.

4. Blogging has helped me to become a more adaptable writer

At my current job, I have seen firsthand that many smart university graduates can struggle with transitioning their writing from a style that works for academia into a style that works in a professional setting.  This has never been a problem for me, because I’ve always written outside of what was required of me at school.  Even if it was just to rant about hassles or drama in my personal life, being able to structure and write something informal that wasn’t a research paper has always been useful.

I also believe that the more often you write and the more different types of writing projects you take on, the less attached you are to one particular style.  Of course, all writers will have their own preferences in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure (hopefully they have a good grasp on both), but the best writers, in my opinion, are able to relax their own preferences and adapt to the task at hand.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this miniseries on what I love and hate about blogging.  Do you enjoy writing in your free time?  Is it one of your least favourite things to do?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing or blogging!


4 things I hate about blogging

In my next two regular posts I want to spend some time discussing what I like and dislike about personal blogging. Since I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment with the new puppy at home, I’d like to vent a few of my frustrations before focusing on the positive aspects of what I’m doing and why I enjoy it so much. I’d like to just quickly note that, for the purposes of my next two posts, the type of blogging that I’m going to be talking about is personal, hobbyist blogging: i.e. blogging with little or no intention to monetize or market a business.

1. Choosing topics

If you have a blog about something in particular, topics can be quite easy. If you want to have a blog about video games, for example, you can probably generate at least a few post topics per week, because you can write about gaming news stories, gaming culture or about games that you’ve been playing recently. For me, writing a personal blog that is just about me and my life, without a real topical focus, is a little challenging.

Part of this problem is that I have lots of options for topics, but they’re not always things that I’m ready or willing to discuss publicly. I want to choose topics that are of interest to me, but that also might be of interest to the audience I’m communicating with, even if I’m not wholly certain of who that audience might be. The public at large doesn’t need to know that my mother and I had an argument on Tuesday or that I had a crappy week at work. Finding topics that allow me to express my thoughts and feelings without being too personal can be a bit tricky at times, especially since I’m currently trying to write two essay length posts per week.

2. Listicles

Did you notice the clever title of this blog? Does it sound like anything you’ve read before? I’m sure it does. The listicle has permeated our culture and online vernacular: it is ubiquitous. We are all guilty of reading them and now I am finally guilty of writing one. I can understand why they’re so popular from the perspective of both readers and writers: they’re easy. It requires very little effort or skill to write 1 or 2 sentences about pretty well anything and even less effort or skill to read and analyze 10 bullet points.

I read just as many listicles as anyone reading this (probably more) and, for me, they make personal, essay-style blogging a bit difficult for a few reasons:

  • They are so easy to write that I actively have to discourage myself from writing them (I’m trying to challenge myself to be at least a bit succinct in a formal, paragraphed style).
  • They’ve had a hand in lowering the internet’s attention span, thus making it more challenging to get eyes on long form, paragraphed content.
  • Most blogging prompt resources have nothing but listicle prompts because they are geared toward monetized, professional blogs, where listicles belong.

3. Narcissism, or the appearance of narcissism

Obviously, I believe that personal blogging is valuable and I enjoy doing it, but sometimes you just get sick of yourself and you worry about your readers getting sick of you as well.

4. Privacy concerns

I’ve been blogging for roughly 20 years. I’ve been thinking about writing, and may still write, about my relationship with blogging and how it has changed over the course of my adult life. The internet has changed so much during that time and the blog I started with was nothing like the blog I have today. I built a website using Netscape Composer and would post essays that I had written, some for fun and some for my high school newspaper. Since those humble beginnings, I have had at least 5 other blogs.

I’ve never shared any of those blogs with people in my offline life. My blogs have always been a part of my online life, which, for the past 20 years I have generally kept separate from my life offline. For the most part, this allowed me to remain anonymous, which provided me with a great deal of freedom. I could write about whatever I wanted, complain about whatever I wanted, contemplate out loud whatever I wanted, without worrying about hurting any feelings or offending my family or offline friends.

These days, things aren’t that simple. The emergence of social media has meant that my online and offline lives have been blurred together in ways that have often made me uncomfortable. I’ve grown accustomed to hiding significant aspects of myself from the two disparate halves of my life over the years and now that I am actually sharing my personal writing on Facebook, the stakes have become even higher. I don’t feel like I need to censor myself too much, but I do feel the need to be more careful about my writing than I have in the past.

Personal blogging certainly does have its challenges and I’m sure that I will run into further frustrations down the road, but as I mentioned above, I do enjoy it. On Tuesday I will be exploring some of the reasons why I keep a personal blog and why I have loved doing it for so many years. Please look forward to it!

Cancer/life update: struggling at the halfway point

This Friday (March 2, 2018) I will be having my sixth chemotherapy treatment, which means that I will be halfway through my original treatment plan.  My second chemo cycle (one cycle is two treatments) was difficult.  The neuropathy in my hands became less uncomfortable due to the lowering of my Vinblastine dosage, but those two treatments just made me feel sicker: more nausea, more fatigue, more gastrointestinal upset, heart palpitations and anxiety.  I was worried that I was going to feel progressively worse after every treatment.

Fortunately, the first treatment of my third cycle wasn’t as bad.  I was able to leave my house on the Monday after, which is pretty rare for me, to pick up our new puppy, Frankie.  Since then, symptom-wise, I’ve had one of the best periods between treatments since I started chemo in December.  During my last visit with my oncologist, I even received the news that if my next PET scan (now scheduled for April 7) doesn’t show any remaining active disease, two drugs will be removed from my protocol: Bleomycin and the steroid that goes along with it.  This would be fantastic, since Bleomycin has the nastiest long term side effects and the steroid I am given to prevent me from having an allergic reaction to Bleomycin raises my blood sugar and is the most likely cause of my heart palpitations post-treatment.

With all this great news, I should be feeling awesome, especially since I have a new puppy in the house, but I am struggling: mostly with Frankie.

My mother and I haven’t had a puppy for 15 years and, needless to say, we had completely forgotten how difficult it is to raise one.  It doesn’t help that we were a little spoiled with our last dog, Daisy.  For example, she was at least partially crate trained before she came home with us, she had excellent bladder control, and, being a terrier, she was smart and easy to train.  We kinda took it for granted that we knew what we were doing.  Frankie had only ever been in an activity pen and had only been outside a few times before we brought her home.  She had accidents in her crate nearly every night because she had no idea it was her bed and we figured we would toss her in there and she would just understand how it worked, exactly the same way Daisy had.

We are definitely doing the best that we can and the strategies that we are now using to crate train and house train are working, but it’s been very stressful for me.  I keep worrying that I’m going to make mistakes that will give her bad behavioural habits and every time she has an accident inside, I feel as though I’ve failed her somehow.  The guilt is also difficult.  Whenever you get frustrated at your puppy, you feel terribly guilty about it, because we all feel like we need to love and adore them all the time.

I also have other worries about the logistics of managing everything during chemo weekends, since my mother’s mobility issues are worsening recently.  I won’t go into any detail about this, but it’s made sleeping difficult: I am so worried about chemo, my mother, and Frankie that I haven’t been sleeping well.  Over the past 2 nights, I’ve probably only gotten about 7 hours, which isn’t great for a person who is undergoing chemotherapy.  I’ve been laying awake in bed worrying and feeling anxious.

Sleep deprivation + worries about raising a puppy + cancer and chemo = stressful combination.  Up until now, I have managed the stress and emotional difficulties of cancer and chemotherapy quite well, but the addition of everything else has made me hit a wall — it’s all catching up with me at once.  I’ve started reading an ebook that I think will help me to process the puppy stress, but I think it’s going to take me awhile to get used to everything and get over the guilt.

Update: I wrote this on Monday, February 26.  It’s now Tuesday the 27 and I had a great sleep last night.  I’m feeling a bit better about things, but we have a long way to go.


Me and Prufrock’s Love Song

I love T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s been one of my favourite works of literature since I first heard it read on my first day of university in the fall of 1999. My English 101: Introduction to Poetry professor (whose name I don’t remember anymore) played us a recording of T. S. Eliot reading the poem himself. His accent was odd and his reading plodding, but I fell in love with it and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

I’m not really a nostalgic person. I don’t watch movies or read books from my childhood or even think about them particularly often. I know that many point to the books they read as a child and speak about how important they were in the formation of their adult selves, but that has never clicked with me. I look back at those books and movies and TV shows with some fondness, but I have little interest in revisiting them. I don’t really consider them to be particularly important in my development as a person, even though I did enjoy them heartily at the time. I would say that this is partly because I believe I have changed significantly over the course of my life and also because I like to move on to new things: keep learning, keep evolving, keep sucking up new knowledge.

But I have lugged Prufrock around with me for nearly 20 years now. It’s really almost humorous, because for many years I spent very little time thinking about what the poem might actually mean. I liked letting the words be what they were. I became remarkably skilled at reading Prufrock aloud (mostly to impress men I was interested in), but didn’t really understand what I was saying. I’m not sure we can ever know what any poem truly means unless we ask the poets themselves and they deign to tell us. We can interpret and guess, but I always believed inferring authorial intent to be a little dangerous. These days I do have my opinions about what T. S. Eliot might be getting at, or at least what the words suggest to me.

Prufrock is a rambling and contemplative journey where a person is exposing and then accepting various truths about themselves. I did some reading online a few weeks ago and it seems that the central debate about Prufrock revolves around the “overwhelming question”:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

Whenever Eliot mentions this overwhelming question, it always seems to be something that the narrator is working up to, something that the story is moving toward. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the overwhelming question is a marriage proposal or confession of love. It seems simple, but it makes sense to me based on how the the concept appears throughout the poem.

Regardless of what the overwhelming question might be, the poem has many powerful moments that I think can speak to any of us, no matter where we might be in our lives. My personal favourite excerpt, which has been a great companion over the years and which has taken on a great deal of new meaning recently is:

“But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.”
While I have spent a good amount of time in my life being a self-important asshole, this stanza has always reminded me that, while my life may be of great importance to me and those who love me, my existence, in the grand scheme of things, is not particularly important. This is not to say that I am powerless and that individuals can’t accomplish things on their own, because I wholeheartedly believe that that is not the case. But it is a reminder of the importance of humility and that, even when you experience great hardship, the world will continue to turn without you: I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter.
Do you have a favourite poem? Is there a fictional work that is a constant companion for you? I’d love to hear all about it! Post a comment below or let me know on Facebook or Twitter!