the penultimate* day of July

I must have blinked once or twice; July is almost over. Classes are over I haven’t written anything remotely academic for two weeks. I’ve been learning new skills and engaging in almost daily new challenges. I volunteer for the Crisis Text Line once a week. I have psychotherapy clients over phone or video through my internship. I’ve been practicing juggling for the theology class that ended <time has lost meaning> months or weeks or ten years ago. I get afraid the new skills won’t stick – I’ll forget to write a paper when I try to write the juggling / spirit / community paper.

My puppy Valentine has been learning new tricks as well. Some of them are not entirely welcome; he has recently learned the trick of barking incredibly loudly without stopping at anyone who stops by to visit in the backyard. But he has also learned to jump through a hoop!

Look at that focus!
Look at that focus!

Which is to say I taught him to jump through a hoop, meaning I learned how to teach my dog to jump through a hoop. When the hoop and the kibble come out, he concentrates his energy on waiting for the command and then jumping through the hoop, and then getting his reward of kibble and praise. Nothing else matters. He’s a dog of course – what else could matter? I find I learn best of perform best when I can get into that single minded focus. When everything else drops away and nothing else matters and the essence of my mind and being is aligned with my purpose. Since COVID, and the requirement to learn and achieve all things in the same space, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to get that keen focus. That Mind of Dog. In the juggling, in my classes, in my job, internship, and volunteering; it is so hard to prevent the stressful elements of one from distracting me while I try to engage in another. I need a hoop and some kibble I guess.

What I need is community, and not online. I need a variety of spaces to live my life in again. We all need these things, to differing degrees. I find that this is another area where spirit and community are entangled. As community recedes, it is easy for spirits to fade. In our course we learned that for many cultures, community was needed to fully engage with the Divine, as each community perceived the Divine to be. Maybe this is true for reaching transcendent states in learning or arts or psychotherapy. Maybe we can’t always do our best work alone. We need someone to hold the hoop for us, so we can focus on the jumping.

*I wrote this last night but was so tired I forgot to hit publish twice!

Thud, Thud

I’ve taken in another instructional video and I continue to practice throwing the juggling balls to the appropriate height, and having them land <thudthud> in my hands. The videos are at a two-ball cascade right now; I tested my three-ball cascade to see if it has improved through my efforts. It has not. I’m OK with that. My life continues to be busy with counseling clients in my internship, getting back to working my actual job, and volunteering for the Crisis Text Line. Throwing and catching balls <thudthud> is a rhythmic escape.

I’ve been wondering if this academic adventure was going to skew more to Spirit or to Community. I honestly suspected community, as there is an active and vibrant juggling community. My daughter engages with her juggling and circus communities at least weekly online. For me though, the throwing and catching of balls <thudthud> blends well with isolation. I mostly prefer to spend the bulk of my time alone; I’m adept at entertaining myself.

I’m generally also skilled at keeping my spirit buoyed. This pandemic is challenging. Increasingly, clients are having panic attacks. People call in not knowing if they are angry or depressed; their emotions are confusing and scary. The ambiguous loss of not knowing when we will hug our friends again has gone to a more threatening despondency of accepting we might never. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I am angry, or frustrated, or hopeless. I’ll have a good flow happening, keeping my spirit up and pressing onward, throwing and catching my ambitions and intentions and then <thudthud> one fumble and they tumble to the ground.

In the instructional videos, to perfect the throws, you deliberately let the balls land on the ground. The placement of dropped balls gives you information of how they were thrown, and the transit they took before falling. When our spirits drop, can we learn from how they fall and where they land? Tracing their path from their drop spots, we might see what tripped us up; perfectionism perhaps, or maybe a tendency to doubt ourselves. “I should be exercising more with this free time” “They probably wouldn’t pick me for that job anyway.” <thudthud>

We can pick those balls back up. We can try again. We’ll drop them again. We can keep trying.

It might not be the Holy Spirit, but it’s sure the human spirit – and by my reckoning, that’s divinity enough.

Fat or COVID?

It’s not the COVID, it’s the humidity

When I was recovering from COVID in April, I was keenly aware of my health. There’s no way to know for sure when you’re done having COVID, and the symptoms are so diverse.

Out of breath walking the dog – is it still active COVID? Are my lungs permanently scarred? Or am I just out of shape? I started thinking of these questions as “Fat or COVID”.

As April fades to memory, my dog walks are getting longer so either my lungs are healing or I’m getting into better shape. On days when I feel that asthmatic hitch and cough, I wonder again – is the COVID back? People can get sick more than once. Maybe it never did go away. I was so sick with it. I probably shouldn’t have been alone the whole time, there are gaps of time I don’t recall because I’d sort of collapse on the couch with exhaustion and low oxygen. My chest hurt more than it ever has with bronchitis. Every breath felt like I was 14 years old and trying smoking for the first time. I do not want to go through that again – and that was mild.

Some reasons I might feel breathless aside from succumbing to a novel and deadly virus: extreme humidity, seasonal allergies, anxiety, and exercising outside of my cardio capacity. Some more adult minded readers might come up with others but I am writing this in the pandemic and I live alone.

I have found it best to treat the breathlessness as if it has arisen from one of these more mundane causes. Drink water and find a cool place to be still. Take antihistamine and wait and see – COVID won’t respond to allergy pills. Take grounding breaths and centre myself to fight anxiety (and medicate if needed).

The combination of breathlessness and exhaustion for most of the month of April reminded me of how I feel the week after donating blood. Iron deficiency can cause both symptoms, and with the drastic change in my shopping habits, I only occasionally had meat in the house; rarely red meat. I don’t think we give enough credit to the influence our diet has on our day to day health, including mental health. Taking iron supplements once I twigged to the connection helped resolve some of the brain fog and weary breathlessness.

My exhaustion could be because I, along with literally everybody else, am living through the isolation and anxiety of a global pandemic. Going through a ‘normal’ day of completing tasks such as preparing and consuming food, bathing and dressing, walking the dog, and sweeping the floor is just very tiring right now. Personally I’ve added on top of that attempting a graduate degree term remotely over a novel delivery system, and commencing an internship placement where I cooperate with people I haven’t met over software I’ve never used. I am so tired, COVID notwithstanding. We all are I think.

My exhaustion could be mostly from recovering from a disease. I’m STILL healing. While the virus vacates the body in its two to three weeks, symptoms can continue for months. I still nap more days than not, and not planned naps but rather ‘my body is shutting down for a wee bit’ type naps. My lungs don’t function like they used to. Every once in a while my temperature goes up a degree and a bit and I worry; I cough and I worry.

The other day I had a novel symptom – the mottled discolouring of legs; my worried turned to alarm. How could I have a new symptom? The discolouring lasted for less than two hours – had I had this before but not noticed? Or…. is it back? Luckily, Ontario is finally letting anyone be tested for COVID. I got my result online within 48 hours.

It feels like a clean slate, a new starting point. No, I won’t be physically joining a protest. Yes, I will be wearing a mask if I need to enter a building. And I will continue to do so for the months that it will take for medical science to make the world feel safe again. Allergies and anxiety I can handle, but I never want to see COVID again.

Hugging Meditation

For those who live alone, with nary a human about, can you remember the last five people you touched? On March 12th, I went to see Hamilton in Toronto at Mirvish with my daughter. Things had not yet shut down; in fact, this turned out to be the second last performance of Hamilton in Toronto. We knew the virus was coming, but I wasn’t carrying hand-sanitizer yet.

We ran into hometown friends while we were there. Did I hug them? Or was my caution level high enough not to – we saw them in the evening after a long day of hanging out on the York campus watching news reports roll in. If I did hug them, it was so casual and automatic that I don’t even remember if it happened. How could I be so complacent about this now rare commodity – hugs?

I hugged my daughter, certainly. I don’t recall that hug specifically but I can’t see spending all day with my daughter and not hugging her. Surely I did.

A friend of mine had stayed at my house to take care of my new puppy while I was in the city. I got home at 1AM so he stayed over on the couch. Seeing as how isolation was in place overnight, and given that I had a cough so if I was sick, he was already exposed – I suggested he stay for a few days. He left on March 17th and I haven’t touched a human since.

Who are the last five people I hugged? My dog-sitting friend. My daughter. Maybe a couple from our hometown? A friend who visited the Saturday before this prolonged intermission?

I don’t remember when I last hugged my son. That hurts.

There are a lot of motivational posters and greeting cards extolling the advice “Live Each Day As If It Is Your Last.” Many of us are more keenly aware of the fragility and impermanence of life now. For over three thousand Canadians that last day was written by COVID-19. How many of their loved ones are sitting in their isolation, pained because in addition to their grief, they cannot remember when they last hugged the departed?

My motivational poster for the After will be “Give each hug as if it is your last.” I want to be present for the hugs of the After. I want to remember them. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk, teaches a practice called “Hugging Meditation“. Though it’s going to be awkward for my friends and family, these hugs include being “aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.”

Who are the last five people you remember hugging?

Who will be the next five people you hug?

Pandemic Puppy

I am adorable. Love me.

I wonder sometimes if Valentine thinks he’s a ghost puppy. It’s like maybe people see him, but he’s obviously adorable and yet nobody pets him. Squirrels see him though, and they’re scared of him and this pleases him 🙂

On our walk today we passed a house with loads of decorations and statues in the front yard. One statue near the middle of them all was a really realistic one of a duck. There was a real squirrel, sitting on the fence, and as Valentine stepped toward it, the duck statue quacked and flew away. Startled us both!

On CBC they talked today about profs who used to bring their dogs to school so students could get dog therapy back in the Beforetimes when people were near to each other. Then we all went to our houses and didn’t come out again and the students missed their dog friends. So the profs set up dog office hours online so the students could watch their friends sleep or dig holes or do whatever the dogs chose to do on camera.

It got me thinking, maybe that’s how I can help. I can’t nurse or doctor, and I’m only very recently recovered from COVID symptoms myself. I haven’t quite been granted the right to practice psychotherapy. BUT! I do have an adorable puppy.

Thinking I’ll try to do a daily live stream of him being a puppy. It’s hard because he’s not too fond of my being on my phone and I don’t think I’ll get him to understand that he is the focus of the screen time! But my friends who don’t have puppies can get puppy time, right? And once I’m certain it’s OK within guidelines, I’ll start offering puppy play time to friends where they can play with Valentine in the backyard. I’ll be present, a safe 2-3 meters away until I get confirmation that I’m immune and not contagious. So no children until then, because I wouldn’t want to have to intervene – Valentine doesn’t know any children yet.

What do you think? Would you enjoy a puppy live stream? He IS adorable 🙂

Covid-19

Everything has stopped and everything is still going. I still have just as much work to do but I feel like I don’t because I am no longer going to the places where the work lives. It feels like I’m outside of everything but actually, the expectations and obligations are the same. Social distancing when you’re not really sick is weird, it’s hard but a really easy kind of hard. I have food and wifi and credit cards if I need to order more of anything and friends and family and I really like being at home. But this dissonance. SHOULD I stay home? Should I go out and spend money in the community (but not cash money, that’s gross). Should I see people and do things now before the enforced isolation is mandated? Is it true that I am being helpful and doing the right thing by staying in? I feel anxiety over not knowing what I should be doing and thinking it’s probably a lot but then doing none of it.

I also have the strangest FOMO. I’ve done so much less in my social life and hobbies lately because of grad school. I didn’t miss the things much, at least not after I adjusted to their absence, because I was busy being a grad student. Now I am getting emails from every organisation or business I’ve ever brushed up against and experiencing something like FOMO, like being reminded of absent lovers I had forgotten I was missing. “It’s been months, I know, but I just wanted to reach out and let you know you can’t see me.”

What day is it? What time is it? Is there a Zoom I should be on? When did Zoom become the go to video conferencing app? Did I feed the dog? It’s just a surprisingly bewildering time.