Happy Strokeversary, Dad

Eight years ago today, I was waiting for my dad to die. Hoping, praying, and pleading that he wouldn’t, but waiting for that phone call all the same. 

It was early in the morning, and 16 year old me was getting ready for school. Something felt ‘off’; not immediately, but the feeling was gaining traction steadily. I went into my parent’s bedroom to say good morning, and my dad was sitting on the edge of the bed. His head was in his hands, and he was clearly agitated. Asking him what was wrong, he made some brusque reply, clearly not wanting me to worry, but also clearly worried about his well-being. He stood up, momentarily paced, and literally ran downstairs to shower. Looking back, I know he was trying to attach himself to some feeling of normalcy to distract himself from the multitude of sensations he was experiencing. 

I looked at my mom: “he’s having a stroke.”

She knew it too. She called 911 immediately. 

I had recently completed my lifeguard training. There are two situations taught in lifeguard training where, unless you’re a doctor with a plethora of medical resources at your disposal, you’re truly fucked (besides calling 911 and treating for shock). Those two situations are heart attacks and strokes. 

I ran after my dad and tried to convince him to sit down so I could treat him for shock before the ambulance arrived. He refused. I remember sitting on a chair in the living room, looking at my mom and saying, “he won’t let me help him.” We looked at each other for a brief moment, but that moment expressed every fear we had. I can’t quite summarize that instant. My mom ran after my dad. 

Madness. That’s how my dad describes how he felt from the moment he woke up that morning. We wouldn’t have the conversation about how he felt that morning for months because he lost most of his ability to speak. After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance arrived, and my little sister and I were left to our own devices.

 My sister was 13, and being the protective person I am, I tried to maintain my composure for her sake. What do you do after you see your parents at one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives? Anna and I just looked at each other, and commenced our longest Sims marathon to date (12 hours straight, if you’re curious). When I look back on this day, I think of three things: helplessness, endless hours of waiting, and playing The Sims.

Eventually, Anna and I learned that Dad was still alive, but even learning this offered little comfort. How would Dad be able to recover from a stroke, if at all? At the time he was in his early 40s. Would his age help him? Mom was a stay-at-home mom…how would Dad be able to continue working? There were so many questions, so little information, and no answers. 

I was re-introduced to my dad approximately three days later. I say re-introduced because outwardly, his personality had almost completely changed. Dad had great difficulty formulating his thoughts and pronouncing words. He also lost his ability to read. It was incredibly hard for him to communicate, but he still looked the same: no physical effects were present that most people associate with stroke victims. I can’t quite describe what it’s like to meet a man with the body of your dad, but the “scrambled brain” (his words) of a stroke victim. Towards the end of my visit, however, I realized there was one thing my dad hadn’t lost: his sense of humour. He was making fun of his inability to pronounce certain words by quoting the movie Highlander.

We were told my dad’s recovery process would take years. Although we knew it, it was a hard truth. Dad had to relearn speech, writing, and reading; his brain basically had to rewire itself with skills that most of us take for granted on a daily basis. As a journalist by trade, this was incredibly frustrating for him. My family was quickly surrounded by those who truly cared about our wellbeing, and we will be forever indebted to those people (believe it or not, some people will disappear when they hear the words ‘stroke victim’). 

The recovery process did indeed take years. However, thanks to recent efforts to reduce the impact of strokes by Alberta Health Services, my dad got incredibly quick care. He made a recovery that is quite literally miraculous. If you were to meet my dad today, you would not be able to tell that he had a stroke. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. 

Eight years later, my dad regularly makes stroke jokes about his “fried noodle”. Not only has he relearned the skills and abilities he lost, he regularly uses them to promote stroke awareness. Literally one year post-stroke, he was advocating to improve the provincial stroke response strategy. He speaks about strokes. He wrote a feature in the Edmonton Journal about strokes (thanks PressReader for cutting me out of the family photograph). He also has his own blog where he writes about brain health and stroke awareness. My dad’s latest blog post is incredibly uplifting and indicative of his positive attitude post-stroke; go check it out. 

Today is indeed a celebration. Happy Strokeversary, Dad. You’re truly an inspiration. 

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International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

I love International Women’s Day. It makes me so damn happy that March 8th is marked as a day to celebrate and validate women. On the other hand, it makes me so damn sad that there is a need to set aside one day per year to celebrate women. One. Day. Per. Year.

I recently watched “Seeing Allred”, which chronicles the — highly impressive and incredibly inspiring — life of American women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred (if you didn’t know she existed prior to reading my blog, she’s the lawyer representing the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault). Approximately halfway through watching the documentary, it hit me: it’s 2018, and we are still fighting for women’s rights. In my lifetime, it is doubtful that women will experience true equality to men. The human race is capable of shooting a Tesla into space, yet somehow it is not capable of acknowledging that women are equal to men (I hope you are simultaneously laughing and crying with me here).

(Note: while I definitely recommend watching “Seeing Allred”, I have to say that the point of view portrayed in this documentary is arguably very white and heteronormative; however, it is indeed the biography of a white, heterosexual woman. But seriously though, how are there documentaries about feminism that barely touch on intersectional feminism?)

When trying to decide what to write about for my International Women’s Day blog, I automatically gravitated towards sharing personal stories of how I have been mistreated as a woman. Every woman has these stories, and it’s infuriating.

But….

…it’s HAPPY International Women’s Day. So let’s fucking celebrate women.

Feminism is a powerful word. It scares people. It makes them uncomfortable, and in certain circumstances — such as the realization that there is a disparity between genders — it should be an uncomfortable word. But to me, it is also a happy word. The existence of the word ‘feminism’ shows that there is hope for change both now and in the future. It’s a word that women can stand behind and support each other with.

Celebrating your fellow woman doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. For example, my friend Hillary and I took a dance class to learn the choreography to Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ (I know, I know, I’m rolling my eyes along with you- but trust me when I say it was SO much fun). Hillary and I took the class because we love to dance, and because we just wanted to have a fun girls’ night. We went into the class with no skills whatsoever, and encouraged each other each time we learned something new. We boosted each other’s confidence into the damn sky. The best part was when one of the other students came over to us, and told us that she adored our friendship, and how encouraging we were to each other. That was such a great moment.

Some really incredible ‘grand’ feminist moments can be found in this BBC article. There are certain movements that catch a lot of media attention, such as #MeToo, but there are so many more happening internationally that I was personally unaware of.

I could quite literally talk about feminism all day, and if you ever want to pick my brain, I will gladly oblige. For now though, I should probably finish up this post before I start rambling. So, again…

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY.

We are awesome.

S*** Magnet

I am known by one of my friend groups as a  “shit magnet”. Pardon the French.

At first I was a little taken aback. Me, a shit magnet? After thinking about it, I realized they mean it as 1) a term of endearment 2) a term of pity based on some of the stories I tell them. Following this train of thought, I have to admit that they are not wrong. I’m not saying I am a walking accident waiting to happen. I’m just saying that I may have almost started a massive electrical fire the other day (more on this incident later).

Even if the phrase “shit magnet” is a bit harsh, I must admit weird things to tend to happen to me. Take, for instance, my very first blog post on WordPress: “That Time I Accidentally Went on a Date With a Nazi Sympathizer”. How did a date like that happen in real life? How does someone born, raised, and educated in Canada sympathize with Nazis? These are questions I still ask myself. I must say though, this story does trump most first terrible date stories I have been told.

In my attempt to plan out this blog post, I was (over)thinking which of my weird stories would be the funniest. The most memorable. The most likely to make you think, “wow, Kristina has such an incredible blog.” In this train of thought, I began to think more deeply about the impact that stories make on people, and the role that storytelling plays in relationship-building. For example, when I go home to Alberta, one of the most important things I do to connect with my friends–especially those I haven’t talked to for a while–is to tell stories. Vice versa, when I come home to Toronto, I reconnect and catch up with my friends here using stories about my adventures in Alberta.

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Edmonton’s newest bridge looking all fancy against the cityscape.

One thing I realized is that I prioritize telling the ‘big’, exciting stories; I think it’s fair to say that most people do. ‘Big’ stories have that punch effect, and increase your chances of a captive and empathetic audience; it especially makes sense to tell these stories if you’re catching someone up on the last six-odd months of your life.

On the other hand, ‘little’ stories get lost in the shuffle. By little stories, I’m referring to the stories you tell your friends and/or loved ones when you get home from work; the stories about how a random act of kindness made your day, or how your day was so terrible that all you could do was laugh and cry simultaneously. I find that telling and listening to these little stories is what truly helps build and maintain relationships, and is an indicator of a closer relationship. They allow for more detail, and more clearly display the storyteller’s values and opinions.

While I–presumably like many others–love to hear about the crazy ‘big’ stories in my friends’ lives, I also love to hear about the little, meaningful ones. I thought a lot about this when I went to Alberta for Christmas, as for some reason it became quite obvious to me that I’ve lived away from home for a while now (two and a half years, in fact). I ultimately realized a large part of this feeling was due to just how much I miss hearing the ‘little’ stories from my friends. Thankfully, I have some really incredible friends who I can pick up with right where we left off.

To reward you for reading this far, here are a few of my own ‘little’/weird/random stories from the past few months, in no particular order:

  1. I accidentally attended a rave in November. If you know me even just a little bit, this sentence probably confuses you. I am not the rave type: I don’t use drugs, and I am not a fan of any form of EDM. How, then, did I attend a rave? A coworker knows the owner of a large club in Toronto, and offered to get us into the club for free. My sister was coming to visit, and I thought she would enjoy the big city club experience. My friends, sister, and I roll up to the club and see a MASSIVE line outside. Long story short, it was a rave night with a fairly famous headliner. Tickets were over $100. Technically (and unknowingly) my coworker did us a huge favour. After wandering around not knowing what to do with ourselves, we eventually were invited to (and ultimately took over) a VIP booth. Even I can handle EDM music perched on a couch with freebies.

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    The sister and I during her visit to Toronto.  No rave sister picture was taken, as the multitude of flashing lights barely allowed me to walk straight, let alone operate my phone’s camera.

  2. Metro has it out for me. For those reading this unfamiliar with Metro, it is a grocery store chain here in Ontario. Last week, my coworker and I went to Metro to grab lunch. I happened to find a microwave lunch without any of my allergens, hurrah! This is a very rare occurrence. Back at the office, I excitedly followed the instructions on the packaging. Breaded chicken and rice, here I come. Back at my desk, I cut into the chicken. It is so raw that it would fit in with the other uncooked chicken in the meat aisle at Metro. I attempted to call the company that makes these microwave meals, only to find out that they do not speak English and that they do not have a dedicated customer service representative. I then discovered that I was charged twice at Metro for this meal. Because the customer service at this particular Metro is terrible, I emailed them to complain. I received a call from them saying I need to actually go into the store to get reimbursed. Long story short, no delicious chicken lunch and no $8 reimbursement for Kristina.
  3. I almost started a massive electrical fire. One of my friends very kindly got me an Instant Pot for Christmas (if you are not on the IP train, it is a pressure cooker/crockpot and it will change your life). Although ill-advised in the owner’s manual, I keep my IP on my stovetop as I use it regularly and have no counter space. I was frying fish on my stovetop, and noticed some smoke coming from the direction of my IP. Thinking I had somehow turned it on, I lifted the lid: nothing. I then lifted the entire IP up, only to discover that I had somehow turned on the element my IP was resting on. The entire bottom of the IP had melted onto my stove. Magically, none of the wiring was harmed, and I am tempted to (extremely carefully) see if it can still be used. Apparently my brain was turned off that entire day, because later on I washed my hands with mouthwash at the gym. I only noticed after drying my hands because it suddenly smelled overwhelmingly like a dentist’s office.

Hopefully these stories can provide you with a little laughter today. As cliche as it is, remember that the little things do, in fact, matter.

 

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.