Joie de Vivre

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It’s been a while. It’s been nine months, in fact. But what an incredible nine months it’s been.

Many of my past posts have been about trying to figure out my life: finding a Big Girl Job, discovering this amazing city I live in, answering random questions that popped into my head, etc.

I’ll tell you a secret though: I was very close to moving back to Edmonton. There was a point earlier this year where I knew I needed a different job because I was so deeply unhappy; the only things getting me through at that point were my friends, yoga, and books. I had decided that if I did not find a Big Girl Job by August, I would quit my job, go on a fantastic trip, and return (broke) to Edmonton. To placate myself until then, I booked a ticket to Berlin for June, where my sister would be participating in a summer internship.

Everything changed in May: I got a Big Girl Job. And not just any Big Girl Job…an incredible Big Girl Job.

I knew this was the starting point of so many good things to come. It was the validation I needed that my perseverance to stick around Toronto was worth it. You see, even though I had loosely planned moving back to Edmonton at the end of August, it still didn’t feel quite right. Toronto felt right. This whole thought process was validated by a near-death experience (it sounds dramatic, I’ll admit, but it’s true!).

I had worked at my new job for approximately two weeks before I left for Berlin. I could tell at this point that this job was where I was meant to be, and I had to keep pinching myself because a variety of good things were happening all at once. I went off to Berlin almost in a state of shock.

Berlin was incredible. It was the first international sister trip Anna and I had taken together. I got to see family and friends I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was my first time in Berlin as an adult, and I realized that Berlin is basically me as a city.

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Abandoned allied spy tower…now a canvas for visual art.

However, I’ll also never forget this trip because I almost died. As my close friends reading this blog know, I had the worst allergic reaction of my life in Berlin. I’ve had severe anaphylactic allergies my whole life, and I’ve had terrible life-threatening reactions before, but quite literally nothing compares to the reaction I experienced in Berlin.

My sister, cousin and I were eating dinner at a burger restaurant. I chose a vegan option, as vegan food is significantly safer for me to eat with my allergies. While eating the burger, there was a brief moment where it felt like a reaction was about to begin. Strangely, it passed after a couple of minutes, and I assumed that due to my paranoia I was imagining a reaction (which has happened before).

After dinner, the three of us were walking to the nearest tram stop, and I suddenly felt like I had been hit with every possible allergic reaction symptom at once. My throat began constricting without pause. I couldn’t feel my face. My stomach felt like it was turning in on itself. Anna noticed immediately what was happening. I popped two Benadryl and told her I needed water ASAP.

The three of us ran into a bar so I could grab water, but before the bartender had poured the glass, I felt so suddenly ill that I ran into the bathroom located in the basement. Anna ran after me, and so begun a period of time that I have very little recollection of to this day. What I do remember is a constant battle in my brain, debating whether or not I should use my Epi-Pen (note: if this question is ever considered, the correct answer is to always use the Epi-Pen).

But if I use my Epi-Pen, I’ll only have one left for the duration of my trip.

I’ll have to go to the hospital if I take it, and what if my travel insurance provider lied and I have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for emergency care.

I don’t really want to die…I have so much going for me right now. I just started this incredible job. I’m so blessed to have such a caring family. I’m so blessed to have friends that are like family to me.

I’m not exaggerating on that last thought. My brain was so deprived of oxygen that I was literally weighing the options of living out my life or dying in the basement of a bar in Berlin (I hope those of you with a black sense of humor like me can find this part a bit amusing).

Eventually, after Anna persistently telling me to just use my Epi-Pen and asking if I needed an ambulance, I silently reached into my backpack and grabbed the Epi-Pen. After realizing I couldn’t read the instructions (words are hard when your brain is working with significantly less oxygen than it’s used to), I followed my instincts. Looking my sister dead in the eyes, I stabbed myself and whispered, “we should call the ambulance now.” Again, if you have a black sense of humor I hope you can laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment. At this point, I was seriously wondering how much longer I would have before I blacked out, as my vision was starting to darken. This had never happened to me before.

Things seemed to happen quite quickly after that. Germans are known for their efficiency, and emergency services is no exception. After much confusion as to what an Epi-Pen is (they have a totally different name for it in Germany) and after almost having a heart attack (likely due to the Epi-Pen misunderstanding and the administration of God-knows what drug), I was dragged up the stairs of the bar and into an ambulance, which had stopped in the middle of the street, on the tram tracks, during rush hour  (you’re welcome, Berlin). Not everyone can say that they have quite literally stopped traffic in Berlin.

We made it to the hospital with no issues. It was the best hospital experience I’ve ever had (and according to my cousin, it was the best hospital in Germany). Anna was my rock throughout this entire experience, and things would have ended dramatically differently without her. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

Following the reaction, I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I couldn’t think about the events of the situation for a solid week after they occurred. I still don’t remember much of the reaction, and I only know details of the story thanks to Anna.

The day after, I approached life with renewed vigor. Usually after a bad reaction, it takes me two to three days to feel back to normal. Not this time. I had a second shot at life and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I can still remember the look of disbelief on my cousin’s face when we met that day to go see the Berlin wall.

I’ve tried to maintain that joie de vivre since that day (I’ve also tried to be extra cautious when eating out since that day!). I think I’ve succeeded. I hope I keep succeeding, and I hope that you can also find joy in your life without nearly dying in the basement of a grungy bar.

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The day after my allergy attack. And yes, denim on denim is cool in Berlin.

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A Love Letter to Books, the Present, and Myself

My entire adult life, I’ve consistently asked myself one question: where will I be one year from now?

This question leads to a string of follow-up questions: where will I be five years from now? Will I fulfill all of the goals I’ve set for myself? Will my goals change?

Will I fail?

Asking myself that final question, my brain immediately retreats under the comfort of my past accomplishments mixed with the utter denial that failure is possible. However, I then get hit with the reminder that failure is indeed possible, and that I have personally failed many times. I’ve failed as a sister, daughter, friend, student, and in many other capacities as well. I’ve failed to write a blog for the past few months, and have failed to even keep to my initial goal of writing two posts per month. We all fail, and failure is inevitable.

The thing is though, without failing, we are unable to fully understand the importance and excitement of fulfilling our goals. Goal setting can be a very scary prospect because it means that we are acknowledging that we wish to accomplish something, and that we may or may not accomplish it.

I have always been dedicated to goal setting, and I believe this practice has helped me earn a lot of the success I’ve experienced. Excluding the past year of my life, it has been fairly straightforward for me to set goals: they almost always involved school. However, upon the completion of my Master’s degree—and knowing I’m not interesting in pursuing a PhD—I realized that my main source of goal setting and fulfillment was now a chapter of my past.

This realization lead to a tumultuous and at times excruciating process of extracting myself from a formalized education system and into what is often terrifyingly described as “the real world”. Trying to pursue a career in my field has been difficult, as I’ve touched on in past blog posts. Living far away from my family and friends in Alberta was extremely hard right after my schooling was done. I was depressed for several months even as those close to me cheered me on, repeating that ambiguous statement that soon things will get better. To this sentiment, I kept telling myself that success was not happening fast enough. This is not to say I didn’t appreciate encouragement from my friends and family; this is to say that I did not know how to live in a world where I didn’t know where I would be a year from now. Hell, I didn’t even know where I would be in a month or two at the time.

My parents kept telling me to enjoy the present. They promised they wouldn’t let me starve or get evicted, knowing that I was searching for jobs every day. However, I found that I could not accept the present. I was hell-bent on hating the position that I found myself in. As you might imagine, this became tiring. Yet, I didn’t care: the present fucking sucked and no one could make me like it.

Books ended up saving me from my constant state of negativity. I started reading with renewed vigor, trying to provide myself with some sort of escapism. I first escaped to rural Sweden with Stieg Larsson’s thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I continued to read my way through other faraway locales such as Paris and England. What had started out as escapism eventually (over the course of several months) led me to appreciate my own present, and gave me the perspective that I am an actor in my own story. Along with reading, starting my current job, making new friends, and rediscovering yoga continued to help me appreciate the value of the present.

I now try to seek out opportunities to appreciate the present as much as possible. I continue to be inspired by books, and have coincidentally (?) read many books recently that use the present/notion of time as a major theme. These books include A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, Room by Emma Donoghue, The High Mountains of Portugal The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I highly recommend all of these books, and would love to hear your thoughts on them if you’ve read them.

I am proud to say that I’m now more comfortable living in the present, and am more able to appreciate the opportunities that the present affords me. I’ve learned to create more manageable goals that strike a balance between keeping me motivating and not threatening my ability to appreciate my life right now. While I am far from figuring this whole adult thing out, I finally feel like I’m taking control of the pen and writing my next chapter.

Home.

If you had told me at any point in the past that I would work for a financial institution, I would have laughed you out of the room. I’ve never gotten along with numbers no matter how hard I’ve tried; just ask my poor (and extremely patient) high school math teacher.

Perhaps I shouldn’t make my lack of numerical understanding sound so desperate; I am capable of doing social statistics at a graduate level (anything else involving numbers results in my eyes instantly glazing over). I’ve recently started working as a bank teller, which has involved a steep learning curve, but has been going quite well. Since the last blog I’ve written, I’ve worked two jobs at once, have ultimately transitioned to my current position, and have officially convocated from my MA program (YAY!): sadly the regularity of my blog has suffered, as I just have not have enough hours in the day to write a quality blog post.

As I continue to pursue my search for the Big Girl Job (i.e. career job in my field) and get continuously farther away from when I completed my MA coursework back in May, I’ve had two questions in my head pop up with increasing regularity.

What is home? Where is home?

Perhaps you might be questioning how these two questions are related to what I’ve written so far.

Having worked a couple of jobs here now that have nothing to do with my field of interest make me wonder if Toronto is my home. Then I wonder why I didn’t question this inquiry as strongly last year as I am now.

When I think about it, I feel strangely at home (comfortable but lacking something), as opposed to strangely at home (a feeling of immediate and secure comfort). Let me explain. I feel comfortable and safe in Toronto. I love my neighborhood, and I couldn’t ask for a better building to live in. I’ve made some amazing friends. Although these factors are part of what I consider a home to consist of, something is missing, besides my friends and family from back home. However, I know that if I moved back to Alberta, I would miss the excitement of Toronto, particularly the unique food and cocktails, the live music, and the ability to explore such a diverse city. This contradiction has confused my brain immensely the past few months, so I’ve started asking myself more and more: what is home? Where is home?

Many rely on the cliché ‘home is where the heart is’ to answer these two questions. I think this is a valid place to start. Being close with my family and being blessed with a fantastic set of friends, I’ve never doubted that these people have woven a sense of home into my life. Contradicting the idea that home is usually where your family and friends are is the immense sense of ease I felt when moving to Toronto to pursue my masters: I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. While my move to Toronto and tackling graduate studies was no easy feat, I became comfortable with my new city and new friends rather quickly. But still, my brain is confused: why am I feeling less at ease now?

I think I’ve found the answer in a book. Currently I’m reading The High Mountains of Portugal by Canadian author Yann Martel. In the pages I have read so far, Martel suggests that home can be found in the journey to fulfilling our ambitions; it is the focus and dedication we pour into achieving our goals. He also writes “that human life is no more than this: an attempt to feel at home while racing towards oblivion” (p.34). In applying this to my own life, I am reminded to be patient and to trust my journey as I work to fulfill my career goals, despite the frustrations and challenges. I’ve realized that to me, home is not only a place with my friends and family, but also a place where I wholeheartedly pursue my ambitions. This is currently a major challenge for me, which therefore makes me question what and where my home is. Sometimes answers are hidden in places we least expect to find them, yet I would expect nothing less from a book.

If you have made it this far in reading my blog post, thank you for hearing me out. If I annoy you with my babbling, I’m not sorry. I know that many people in my situation—recently graduated, young, little work experience—face similar frustrations. It’s okay to be angry that many job postings ask for entry-level applicants to have over five years of experience. It’s okay to be angry that when you try your hardest, you’re not rewarded for your efforts. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to be passive and let your circumstances define you. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to ensure people in situations similar to mine know that they are not experiencing the same frustrations alone.

If we had everything figured out, life would be boring and we would not have the experiences that make us who we are. Keep on keeping on, my friends.