Friday, 26 February 2016

Death by a thousand paper cuts....

"Angioedema is a ... type of swelling that affects deeper layers in your skin, often around your eyes and lips." - From www.mayoclinic.org

I had my first allergic reaction as described above when I was 5 years old and my body finally said "no" to Aspirin - baby Aspirin at that! It was the severe kind, where one's tongue and throat swell as well as the lips; and spending most of your life knowing that you can react like that to a common drug gives you a healthy respect for pharmaceuticals.

Conversely, I'm also a huge believer in better living through chemicals, at least if a medical professional is proffering said chemical. While my teen friends were experimenting, I was the poster child for "just say no". But I wimped out on menopause with 6 years of HRT, and agreed instantly to anti-depressants to go along with talk therapy when I needed them.

In the intervening 50 years since the Aspirin incident, I discovered that Ibuprofen was also out of the question following a similar (though less severe) reaction to that. Which left me with the "safe" anti-inflammatory, Naproxen.

For the past week, I have been dealing with my fifth episode of angioedema since October. I can no longer blame Naproxen for it since I haven't had a tablet since January 4th and the pharmacist I talked to on Monday assured me that it would have long ago left my system.

This time around, I swear my lips made me look like the love child of Angelina Jolie and Mick Jagger, though other people said it wasn't that bad. But the corners cracked and the swelling was crooked, as if some untrained plastic surgeon had gone to town on my mouth with a vial of Juvederm! If I wasn't careful, the blood would trickle from the left side and one would think I was a vampire who'd just had lunch.

Have you ever cut your lip while licking an envelope? Imagine that times 12!

Hot beverages are out of the question, they sting too much. I caused many a laugh in my office by putting a straw in my cup of coffee. The natural acids in fruit are painful - every piece went on a fork and placed on my tongue so I could eat anything other than bananas.

The lactose in cream sauce stings, as do salty things - I found myself rubbing the salt off the bag of almonds in my desk drawer in order to have a snack.

Hot meals had to cool, cold meals had to warm....

I've finished a tub of Blistex Medicated, a tub of Aquaphor and most of a tub of Vaseline Lip Therapy. 

9 days out, my lips continue to crack and bleed and I have to soak a washcloth in warm water to exfoliate off the peeling bits twice a day.

There was one upside; a coworker complimented my beautiful full lips when I made a remark about the gorgeous lip gloss she was wearing.

With any luck, some of the fullness will last after the pain recedes; and this will be my last episode of angioedema.
  

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Lonely no more...

In the year since I drew attention to my mental health blog post and my continuing struggles with avoidant personality disorder, a few things have happened to bring more balance and happiness to my life. (http://labellatestarossa.blogspot.ca/2014/10/the-ugly-truth.html)

The first was the number of people who reached out to me to express their support; I can honestly say that it wasn't what I expected. What I thought I would hear is "that's not a real thing". I didn't. (http://psychcentral.com/disorders/avoidant-personality-disorder-symptoms/)

The second is that I took steps in order to deal with some of those things I have been avoiding in order to open my life to more possibilities. With help from the wonderful Amanda Stark, my home is a place where I am able to invite people, and will soon be a place where my friends can gather and my family will be able to celebrate holidays. I may even get a canine companion.

The third is the love I have found with my girls, Laurie Bursch and Shelley Carr. They have provided me an anchor to tie to when my mind wants me to spiral down to depression, and give themselves and their time freely. Individuals with avoidant personality disorder have limited social circles due to the fears built up in their minds; I have been blessed to find two people who were willing to help me break down those barriers. I don't tell them often enough how much I love and appreciate them. Now the whole world knows.

My personal successes with my non-work commitments to Women & Politics and now the SoHo Community Association have shown me that I can make valuable contributions to my community. It's a confidence booster. But not without challenges where I question my ability to do a good job for them. As we used to say in Brownies, "I promise to do my best".

The reappearance of an old friend from high school has certainly been the most unexpected thing of all.

One of the reasons I'm not on Facebook, and that neither this account nor my Twitter account identify me by name, is to help me avoid people from that time in my life when everything bad was happening. I'm smart enough to know that I should stay away from triggers, lest I get trapped in that cycle again. But I was persuaded to put a profile on LinkedIn for professional reasons and was discovered that way.

There are fewer than 10 people from my high school years that I wouldn't mind spending time with again; D is one of them.

Since he made 'first contact' at the beginning of December 2015, we've spent a lot of time via email, text, and phone baring our souls to each other. When you're a teenager, you don't talk about hopes and dreams and fears; and you definitely don't tell people about the darkness in your life, lest you be rejected, ridiculed, and disbelieved.

Now we're well into middle-age and a lot of those hopes and dreams have fallen by the wayside, and, shockingly to both of us, we're discussing ALL of it. Shockingly because we weren't that close all those years ago.

Is it possible to miss someone without knowing it? Because that thought went through my head more than once as we sat in my living room talking a day away recently.

I don't have an answer for that. But I do hope we'll be friends for the next 35 years making up for those we were apart (with any luck).

*****
Every day presents challenges, this doesn't just go away. I continue to find myself mired in self-loathing on a daily basis; there are many, many days when the ugly takes over and the worthlessness moves in.

In her book "Fat Girl Walking", Brittany Gibbons implores those of us dealing with this to:

Remind yourself of all the ways you are beautiful, stop the negative talk... and do what it takes to get comfortable in your skin.

I'm still not sure how to get there. For me, sharing how I feel with the world was a big step. Talking myself into self-love is infinitely more difficult.

But now it feels easier, definitely less lonely; and maybe that will be something that builds over time, allowing me to find some measure of contentment.

Next to True Love & Eternal Happiness that would be the best thing of all.
   

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Heartache tonight...

I was 13 years old when I heard "Desperado" for the first time.

There was something about the plaintive vocal and it's final line about allowing oneself to be found by love that resonated; words that continue to have meaning in my life well over 40 years later.

It was the start of my love for the music of The Eagles, a love that time has not diminished. No other band has captured the pain of heartbreak and loneliness more than they did in only eight studio albums. Yes - 8! All other albums are compilations.

But those eight albums produced some of the most iconic music of the 1970s - no one can deny that. The haunting opening notes of the title track of "Hotel California" are proof enough of the band's ability to catch your ear and hook your heart and take you on a journey to places you never thought you'd go.

Unless you're a single person who knows the words to "Wasted Time" by heart:

"You never thought you'd be alone
This far down the line
And I know what's been on your mind
You're afraid it's all been wasted time"

*****

I only got to see them play live once, on a magical, hot summer night at the amphitheatre at Ontario Place in July 1996. It was the day before I moved to Ottawa.

Despite being two years into the infamous Hell Freezes Over tour, the band were in perfect sync, and the music still held onto your heart. At the end of the encores, as the crowd filed out and my uncle and I remained in our seats, I remarked to him that if my plane crashed the next day, I would die happy because I had finally seen my favourite band play.

Now it will never happen again with the death of Glenn Frey yesterday.

I have few words to describe how much his body of work with The Eagles and as a solo artist have meant in my life, this blog entry just scratches the surface.

The Eagles' website posted the lyrics to Glenn's song "It's Your World Now" that closes out their last studio album Long Road Out of Eden:

"The curtain falls, I take my bow
That's how it's meant to be, it's your world now"


But for me, it's the title of another song from the same album that captures my feelings at the moment:  "What Do I Do With My Heart".




Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Remembrance of things past....

(With apologies to Marcel Proust, because I can never seem to have an original thought!)

In the last federal election held in Canada in 2011, the NDP became the official opposition under the leadership of Jack Layton.  A native Qu├ębecker, he had lived in Toronto for many years, sitting as a city councillor before entering federal politics.

Mr. Layton always spoke of hope - it was central to his message to his party and his country; in his acceptance speech upon becoming the leader of the NDP he said:

"Hope ... is what drives New Democrats."

And it was that message that he left to Canadians in an open letter sent around the world only two days before his death:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the election campaign that my country just went through, it is safe to say that the former ruling Conservative party didn't believe this at all.

But, sadly, Mr. Layton's party also seemed to abandon his ideals and left the hope and optimism to Justin Trudeau.  Whatever it was that Tom Mulcair hoped to accomplish, the message that came through appeared to offer little in the way of traditional NDP values, swerving dangerously far right in a vain attempt to siphon votes away from the Liberals and Conservatives.

Yesterday, my country once again embraced hope and optimism - in the personage of the eldest son of our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.

Justin they called him, over and over again; using his first name alone to belittle him.  "Just not ready," the Conservative attack ads said, over and over, long before the election campaign even started.  The mockery and ridicule were picked up by the NDP in the last weeks, as they saw their support erode, while the Liberals soared.

Mr. Trudeau fils ignored it all and appealed to the better instincts of the Canadian people.

And they responded with hope and optimism.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Taking stock....

It was unseasonably hot in Ottawa in the early fall of 2000. The Sydney Olympics filled the airways as Canadians turned in break-out performances in all kinds of events.

But on the afternoon of September 28, the broadcast was interrupted by the bulletin that our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, had died of cancer at the age of 80.

While it was known that Mr. Trudeau had been ill, in some ways it was still a shock. He had been a larger-than-life figure in Canada for decades - how could he be gone?

That weekend, Mr. Trudeau returned to Parliament to lie in state in the Hall of Honour. Members of the public were invited to pay their respects for several hours on each of September 30 and October 1. But the people of Ottawa and many Canadians from all over our country were having none of that.

By the time the doors to Parliament were thrown open, thousands of people had lined up to honour Mr. Trudeau. My sister and I arrived in the middle of the afternoon. It was hot and sunny and the Mounties at the front gate informed us that there was a minimum 3-hour wait to get to the front of the lines that snaked from the front door to the Centennial Flame and along the driveway on both sides. Rather than risk certain sun burn, we decided to come back after sunset.

When we returned that night shortly before 9:00 p.m., the lines were even longer than before.  As we approached the gates leading to the Hill, the staff on duty informed visitors that the doors would remain open all night.  My sister and I walked across the lawn and joined the line in front of the East Block.  Groups of people continued to join the line behind us.

For the first hour or so, people talked amongst themselves.  But as we shuffled along realizing that it would be hours before we could pay our respects, conversation started between couples and families and groups.

"Where are you from?"  "Why did you decide to come here?"  My sister and I had made a short trek our apartment overlooking the city, but many of our companions had driven from other provinces and cities in order to be here.

There was the family from New Brunswick - a young couple with their baby in a carriage.  They were there to represent their parents, who felt that Mr. Trudeau truly made Francophones equal in Canada.  A group of students from the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa who wanted to honour the man who gave us our Charter of Rights.  A young Sikh couple had driven from Brampton that day; when they lived at home in India, they had seen the prime minister on television and admired him and what Canada stood for; they were grateful for the opportunities that this country had given them and wanted to thank the man they believed responsible.  Another couple behind us mirrored our own family - the wife from Portugal, the husband from Scotland.  Had their families not emigrated, they would not have met each other.  Mr. Trudeau had inspired their parents to come to Canada, too.  A family from northern Quebec felt they just "had to be here"; a young man originally from British Columbia now living in New York brought his American girlfriend for the same reason.

The conversation ebbed and flowed, and after a couple of hours, a small group of us made a run to the nearest Tim Horton's before it closed, hoping to keep our compatriots warm with some coffee.  The place was packed with others who had decided to do the same and with those who had made it through the line and needed sustenance to make their trek home.

Upon our return, our group had made it to the area around the Centennial Flame.  It was here that Canadians had placed their floral tributes to Mr. Trudeau; piles of flowers ringed the fountain, with more surrounding the base.  Someone had brought a beautifully carved canoeing paddle as Mr. Trudeau had been a famous outdoorsman who loved travelling Canada's lakes and rivers by canoe.  We grew silent as we read the notes written in English and French, most of which expressed one simple sentiment - Merci!

As the hours stretched on and we inched closer to the bronze doors, the conversations were shorter, quieter and tinged with tiredness.  I remembered the last time I had stood for hours on the lawn in front of Parliament in April of 1982, as I waited for Prime Minister Trudeau and the Queen to sign our new Constitution into law.  He had looked resplendent in his burgundy tuxedo tails, carrying a top hat as he walked beside Her Majesty, only a foot away from where my sister and I were pressed against a fence.  As the crowd shouted their congratulations to him, he said thank you with a smile so bright it broke the grey morning in two.

It was the first time I felt the total joy of what it meant to be Canadian.

Now it was time for me to say goodbye to the man who helped me to understand this.

It was close to 3 in the morning when my sister and I made it to the front of the line.  We were ushered to the cataflaque with a couple from the other line where we had 15 seconds exactly to say our farewell.

The woman next to me was whispering prayers in French, her husband was crying.  I bowed my head and silently thanked Mr. Trudeau for the feeling I had standing outside that building on that April day almost 20 years before.

A white-gloved usher came to move us away through a curtain to our right.  The woman on my left picked up a corner of the flag draping the casket and kissed it, but my sister patted the flag and said out loud "dors bien, monsieur, merci" before we stepped away.

On the other side of the curtain, books of condolence had been set out on tables for people to sign.  Boxes of tissues were helpfully set there, too.  I sat at one, nodding to one of our groups who were leaving the building.  Today, I can't recall what I wrote; I'm sure it was banal and sounded much like the words so many others had written before me.

I like to think that Justin, Sacha, and Sarah Trudeau read these books at some point, and found comfort in the words of thousands of Canadians who loved and admired their father.

*****

This blog post is obviously related to the federal election taking place next Monday, less than a week away.  It seems likely that Justin Trudeau will follow in his father's footsteps and become the Prime Minister of Canada.  I look at the polling numbers on a riding-by-riding basis and don't see how anyone thinks that the Conservative party can hang on to even a minority government.

Though I also realize that polling numbers have been MAJORLY wrong in the last provincial elections in Ontario and Alberta and anything can happen in a week; I do have a degree in political science, folks.  And while I may not have been a GREAT student, some of that stuff still sticks in my brain 30 years later (after all, I did once make it through to Jeopardy's contestant pool).

Earlier in the election, during a debate, the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, divided our country into "old stock" and "new stock" Canadians.

Many people like to defend the man by saying that this wasn't meant to be a racist statement, but I note that they tend to be white men with easy to pronounce surnames.  As a daughter of two immigrant families with a distinctly Slavic last name, that statement got "my Irish up"!

The Prime Minister didn't include me in "old stock" Canadianism, because, despite the fact that I was born here, I could potentially be deported to another country due to dual citizenship.  He obviously didn't mean my parents, or my grandparents, who fled ahead of and after World War II in order to provide better lives for their children.

This man and the government he heads make me ashamed to be Canadian - everything they stand for is so far away from what thousands of people felt standing on the lawn of Parliament on April 17, 1982.  And it is even further away from the sense of unity and community that brought thousands more to Parliament in September and October of 2000 as we mourned and celebrated and gave thanks for the life of a man who's guidance made this country great over two decades in the spotlight.

I am reminded of some words from the "Joe Canadian Rant" used to great effect by the Montreal brewers Molson as advertising 15 years ago:

I believe in peace keeping, not policing, 
diversity, not assimilation,


We've turned away from that in the past decade, since the (non-progressive) Conservative party came to power.  It's time for those of us who believe in a Canada that is truly equal for all to take stock ourselves and vote for those who will give us that.

Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.
~ Pierre Elliott Trudeau



Monday, 26 January 2015

What becomes a legend...

There is a stereotype of Canadians that we are born wearing skates.

Obviously, this isn't true; but for those of us from the "real" north of this country, we generally learn to skate as soon as we learn to walk.  It's an important skill when the snow is around for 6 months of the year, sometimes 7 (or more, depending on just how far north you're going).

Today, girls and boys both play hockey - but when I was a child, girls were automatically stuck into figure skating.  It was a sport I participated in until I was almost 30.

The earliest winter Olympics I remember took place in 1968.  Like thousands of other young girls in North America, I idolized the American skater Peggy Fleming, though I, of course, rooted for Karen Magnusson.

It was a year later that Toller Cranston made his appearance on the national stage.

For the better part of the next decade, this one skater changed the face of the sport, bringing dance moves and his own, inimitable style to the ice.  He influenced so many other skaters:  his artistic rival British champion John Curry, Russian ice dancers Moiseeva & Minenkov and Bestemianova & Bukin, American Brian Boitano, and fellow Canadians Kurt Browning and Patrick Chan, plus the Canadian brother and sister duo of Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay who represented France on the world stage.

After his retirement from skating (though he did perform in professional competitions from time to time), Toller retreated to his downtown Toronto home to indulge in his other passion - painting.  His bold and colourful works were fanciful and wonderful and beautiful - much like he was.

It was here that my path crossed his - both literally and figuratively.

I moved to my bachelorette pad in the summer of 1984.  A few months later, a friend from university mentioned to me that there were adult skating lessons at the Moss Park arena a short walk from my home.  She and I had skated together at the University of Toronto.  We signed up and spent two evenings a week on the ice, year round.

It was almost a year later that Toller appeared at the rink on a night when the senior skaters were on the ice.  I knew that he sometimes skated there, the arena manager had a photo of himself and Toller on the wall in his office and he mentioned that this might happen.

As difficult as it was, we tried to be cool, not stare, and concentrate on our own skating.

Not an easy task by any means!  How do you ignore your childhood idol, live and in person, sharing the ice with you????

I am right-handed, but when skating, my spins and jumps skewed left - this piece of data is very important to this narrative.  I was trying to make my creaky 25-year-old knees lift me into double rotations, and my coach thought I would be able to do it.

It might have been the third or fourth time that Toller joined us... I was paying attention to my coach, turn, step, pick, leap - crash; or pop the jump and single out.  Which is what happened next...

I stuck the landing, free leg extended behind me in a perfect arc to hold my balance...

When I crashed into another skater doing the same in the opposite direction!

We each whirled around to grab and steady the other and both of us blurted out "sorry" at the same moment.  And to my utmost horror, I found myself holding on to the six time Canadian men's champion - not one of my friends!

I skated over to my coach, who had her mouth hanging open watching the entire exchange, and sat down on the ice beside her, saying "lesson's over!"  She didn't argue.

I carefully avoided Toller whenever he skated with us from that time on.

A couple of months later, I found myself voted onto the board of directors of the skating club as the Carnival chairperson.  Over the next five months, I planned numbers with the teaching staff, found sponsors, wrote advertising materials, designed costumes and the program, and ran around doing all those little things that need to be done to bring a show of 100 skaters together.

The parents had seen Toller coming and going from the arena and they wanted me to ask him to be the guest artist in the show.  Every week at the progress meeting, the rest of the board would quiz me, "did you ask him yet?"  But I was the world's biggest chicken - replaying the accident over and over again in my head.

Shortly after the new year, the arena manager mentioned to me that Toller had asked him about the Carnival - he had seen some of the information posted around the building.  He had hinted that he would be open to appearing in the show if he was asked - it was time to swallow my pride.

Two days later, I got my chance.  I got to the arena early to watch the children's groups rehearsing their numbers, and Toller was standing there rink side (in a giant fur coat) watching them.

"Um, Mr. Cranston...."

He turned to me with a smile and held out his hand and said, "Toller, please".

As we shook hands, I continued: "Brian mentioned to me that you were asking about the show."

His smile got bigger and he said, "I'd be delighted to do a number in your show.  You shouldn't have been afraid to ask me, accidents always happen when you've got groups of skaters on the ice.  Why don't you write down the details for me and we'll work it out?"

Two months later, I stood on the side of the rink and watched Toller Cranston skate yet another mezmerizing performance for a packed house.  Thanks to him, every ticket was sold and we made a profit on the enterprise - we even got press coverage!

As he took his bows to a standing ovation, one of our little soloists skated out to present him with a bouquet of flowers almost as big as she was.  She gave a little curtsey as she handed them over and he gave her a hug to the awwwws of the crowd in attendance.

After the show, he stayed behind until every child who asked got an autograph and/or a photograph with him.  When he was leaving, I went to thank him, and he kissed my hand and said "good job with the show".

I never did get the nerve to speak to him again over the next couple of years, smiles and nods were as close as I got - and I stopped skating after that to pursue music instead.

Toller Cranston died today, too young, too soon.  I'm sure that he had much art yet to be created.

But the indelible image will be of a man gliding across the ice in a pose of striking grace leading into a spin of such breathless speed and elegance that you wanted it to go on forever.


Friday, 10 October 2014

The Ugly Truth...

This is probably the most personal thing I'm going to post on this blog - and I don't know if I will leave it out here...

I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that when other people look at me, they don't see what I see in the mirror.

My reflection is an assemblage of parts, none of them "right".  One eye is smaller than the other, my nose is big, chin is weak, skin is blotchy and my teeth are small, yellow and broken.  Add to that being middle-aged and fat, colouring my hair every 3 weeks to keep the gray away, and the Botox every once in a while to hide that one giant wrinkle across my forehead!  (I frown in my SLEEP!  Who the hell frowns in their sleep???)

I grew up in a home where I was told on a regular basis that I was fat, ugly stupid, lazy, no good and ungrateful.  Put-downs like that occurred on an almost-daily basis for about 6 or 7 years...  The main culprit was my mother's husband - and she sat there and let it happen - until the day she started joining in.

There is a commercial on Canadian television right now about how children absorb the negative things in their life and take them with them everywhere.  One thing that commercial doesn't say is that some of us take those things all the way to adulthood.

Anyone who tells you that you can get past something like that has NO idea how much you internalize such a message!  It goes down to your bones and permeates your soul until it is as black as the hateful words thrown at you.  This isn't a bunch of strangers making you "feel inferior without your consent" (as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said), this is your family telling you are worthless - repeatedly - during the most impressionable time of your life.  These are supposed to be the people who love you and protect you - but they don't.

I'm sure I wear that perception of myself like an invisible cloak that alerts others to my insecurities and vulnerability, and it attracts those who would exploit those feelings to their own ends.

Like my first "serious" boyfriend T.

Of course I was having sex with him; I was 16 and had raging hormones.

About a year after I met him, we were at his best friend's house one summer day.  We had spent too much of the day in the sun and I lay down on the couch in the family room with some cold packs while the guys played pool.   I probably dozed off and I'm sure they thought I was asleep or I wouldn't have overheard the advice that T was giving to J.

"Always date the ugly girls, because they'll be really grateful to you and have sex with you."

That day was almost 40 years ago; and since that day I have never felt or believed that I was anything but ugly.

If I'd had any sense or self-esteem or confidence, that would have been the last time I saw him, but it wasn't.

A few weeks later, he decided to join the navy instead of continuing to work a series of dead-end jobs - did I mention he was a high-school drop-out?  It was a month later that he headed off to Halifax, after extracting a promise from me that I wouldn't date anyone else and that I'd wait for him.

Fast-forward to January, and it was time for me to fill out the applications for university.  Sunday afternoon was the only time I spoke to T, he would call for all of 5 minutes once a week.  During our call that day, I told him about the application process and then asked him if he could find out where he would be assigned that spring after he finished basic training.  He asked why and I said that I would apply to university in Halifax or Victoria based on his assignment.

There was total silence on the phone line for a minute.  And then came the words that finally broke whatever spell it was he held me under:

"You should give up on this crazy idea you have of going to university, you're too stupid to go to university."

I hung up.  And didn't answer when he called back.  Ever again.

I'd like to say that was the day I gained a sense of my self and found confidence and overcame all the horrible behaviour heaped on me (and my sister) by my mother and her husband.  But I never did.

NEVER.

To this day, I wake up every morning loathing myself.  My serious relationships have always been with men who were much like T - the type who use you, but make you feel that you should be grateful for the attention.

One time, I tried to talk to the person I thought was my best friend about these feelings.  She said I was always so negative and insecure that no one wanted to be around me.  I've learned to shut it all away inside me, to never talk about it, to never trust people with my heart.

I'm alone and very, very lonely.

I apologize constantly for things - even those over which I have no control.  Small errors are magnified in my mind, and if I make big mistakes - and I made a REALLY bad one earlier this year - that "good for nothing" phrase bounces around in my head for weeks afterward to the point that I feel I can't face people.  It's probable that the negative self-talk of a lifetime causes me to sabotage my own life.

Somehow, I've even found a way to work for people who treat me that way; including the man who finally sent me on a tailspin into a major depression two decades ago.  He didn't want an assistant, and it was obvious from Day 1 that he disliked me intensely (I learned later that he was having an affair with the woman who had been doing my job, the director's assistant).  Two years into my job, he came into my office one day, closed the door, and told me that all my coworkers hated me and that no one in the office wanted to work with me.  He said there was nothing I could do to change this and that the best solution for everyone would be for me to quit my job.

Over the next few months, I retreated into myself, until another coworker - who obviously DIDN'T hate me - took me to the employee assistance group.  Literally took me.  She booked the appointment and asked me to go for a walk with her one day and walked me in there.

It took 6 months of therapy and Prozac to get me back to an even keel - as even as I could be.  During that time, I took several months off for stress leave.  While I was away, our director left - and I returned from my leave to find a very nasty letter from him saying things about my poor work ethics and bad habit of leaving my coworkers to pick up the pieces of my errors. Instead of taking the letter to the union (I was working for the government at the time), I ripped it up.

Nowadays, my work life is organized with colour-coded files abounding and notebooks filled with details and electronic files laid out by date, location, event, etc.  I come in early and leave late, and I foolishly come in to the office when I'm sick, which only makes things worse.

But my home is a mess, a place where no one comes.  And maybe I keep it that way so that I don't have to invite anyone in - literally and figuratively.  If I know I will have guests, I clean frantically for days, only to revert to slovenliness once they're gone.

Today is World Mental Health Day - time to acknowledge that the demons inside our heads can be as bad as the bacteria and viruses and cancers that attack our bodies.  They don't even have to be as extreme as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression.

I've been writing this post in bits and pieces since the last mental health day a year ago.  If I work on it too long, it sends me back into the black hole that always seems to lurk on the edges of my consciousness.

I would give anything to not feel this way, but every piece of available data I can find on this version of avoidant personality disorder indicates that it worsens with age - which could explain the panic attacks I started having about 5 years ago.  The data also shows that recovery from this disorder is almost impossible, with most doctors recommending coping skills, like breaking a pattern of negative self-talk, to keep the demons at bay.

I foolishly believed for years that maybe when my stepfather died I would feel some sense of release.  But in the four months since his death (and he lived to be almost 90), all the pain has come bubbling up to the surface and the panic attacks have returned worse than before.

The internet is probably the wrong forum for talking about things like this since it seems of late that the hate and trolling is worse than before, but there are also areas of light where one can seek and find solace, comfort, information and kinship with those who share whatever affliction one might have.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Rev. John Watson (aka Ian McLaren), circa 1890