A Holistic Change For The Better Post Diagnosis

A Holistic Change For The Better Post Diagnosis

— Read on savannahwall.wordpress.com/2019/12/26/five-things-i-changed-in-my-health-lifestyle-post-diagnosis/


Matthew 25:40

 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The old man turns and gathers up his excess saliva/snot with a combination snort, gurgle and a contortion of the mouth. He lets it fly with abandon; his lack of concern for the surroundings is utterly complete. The spittle lands with an audible plop on the semi clean linoleum floor beside his cot. A resting place that is a balance between a prison bed and a fold out army cot. Simple and impersonal, well worn blankets that have covered many bodies before.

He groans with every movement. His body feels weaker and stiffer than he can recall. Slowly he shifts his legs to the edge of the cot. He would like to stand up and make the short distance to the washroom that is only a few feet away. But the cot is too low and his legs too weak. He grunts indicipherably to the air. Grunts again louder this time. A young man in a nearby cot is roused by the voice in the semi darkness. “Gotta Pee” in Cree, brings the younger man to action. “I’m coming” “Fuck, Allan it’s too fuckin early!”

He gets up and aids in maneuvering the old man to his feet. Gets the walker positioned so Allan can start shuffling towards his goal. There are times lately when it is just too far and not enough time. It can’t wait for the rest of his body to catch up. There are the diapers that sit in a discreet unmarked box in the nearby washroom. That will be the next step, soon.

The morning discomfort in his joints does not let up. After his business is wrapped up, he slowly shuffles, pushes his walker through the dorm past the rest of the snoring, sniffling, snuffling men who have won a placement in this stark haven of sleeping humanity. These men made the grade. Passed the intoxication test and so made it into the warmth, the security of the inner sanctum. Many do not. they spend the night in the cold foyer trying to sleep on the floor or a hard plastic chair. There is also the ATM vestibules, or huddling by warm airs ducts or even staying up all night and walking the streets to keep warm rather than the alternative; Dead frozen or the police cells.

Allan’s mobility has limited his options. He cant sleep outside any more. His legs wont carry him around the block never mind walking all night. No one snuck him any liquor last night and he is between trustee paydays and so he is not hungover. He thinks he will have to get a drink today, or he will lose it.

He shuffles past the cold foyer door. He can see through the security glass door that some of the regulars have showed up and are passed out or waiting for the doors to open at 8am. He knows most of them. Most are long term street people or some with unstable housing. There’s a million and one stories out there hiding in the hearts of men and women like Allan.

“Good Morning Mr. Moccasin!” breaks the dullness of the morning. The upbeat shelter support worker is nearing the end of a long 12 hour night shift and he is giddy from exhaustion. Allan is not much for niceties in the morning. His pain takes priority and he makes sure the worker knows it. “Give me my pills!” “Hey!, Hey! Wheres my fucking pills.” The worker turns from surfing Facebook and takes in Allan and his request. He responds kindly: “Ok Allan, pills coming right up.” “How did you sleep?”

Allan grunts and waits for his Tylenol to arrive. The support worker quickly delivers pain relief and water. Allan swallows, hopes for quick relief; and turns to walk down hall towards cafe. He passes a woman sleeping on the floor, drool and blood from her nose dried on to her winter parka, toque pulled down over her face. The support worker is keeping an eye on her to make sure she keeps breathing and isn’t seizuring. Allan walks by without a glance. He makes the cafe slowly, turns the walker that is supplied by the shelter around to sit on. He ackwardly pulls himself up to a table, hoping someone is working that will bring him a coffee. Its too early, the dining area is just getting rolling. The smell of coffee are just beginning. Morning or night, it doesnt matter that much anymore. He sleeps anytime, sometimes right at the dinner table, half sleep, half passed out.

A younger Cree is up and about, shuffling around, looking for something. He isnt paying attention to the elder. He doesnt know Allan or obviously traditional treatment of elders because he makes no move to getting Allan his first coffee.

“Hey”, Allan grunts. The stranger comes over. “Coffee”, Allan points to the Bunn percolating in the corner of the dining area. The kid walks away in a fog of meth psychosis, scratching at invisible bugs under his skin, mumbling incoherantly.

“Fucking Indians!” Allan curses in Cree. He flips the kid off as he walks out into the frigid winter chill in the shelter pyjamas; Tshirt and boxer underwear. No respect anymore. The drugs they are doing make them crazy. Allan longs for the old days. The days when a man was a man and a woman a woman, alcohol was the only drug you needed. People werent so crazy.

He is frustrated. He cant just up and leave anymore and do what he chooses. His body has caught up with him. The shelter is not so bad. Could be worse. So many rules though. That new manager is always checking him out and telling him what to do. Allan laughs to himself. “Fucking bald whitey! Lol.” He thinks he is in charge. Big Bossman, some of them call him. Let him think that. If he gets too close, I could still take him out with one punch. I did it to that cop a couple of years ago. Got to spend the winter in jail. Warm and 3 meals a day. Dried out for a bit and everything. Not so bad. Bossman better watch how close he comes.

Oh, fuck. Almost forgot what today is. Some girls from some home are coming again to get together with me. Bossman keeps telling me about like its a big deal. Met them a month ago, signed some papers to go live in a old folks home. Thought it might be good. Tried it for a few days. Was total BS. Too quiet for me. Nice to be around the nurses, but everyone was not just old, they are half dead. Too quiet, they dont take well to me doing what I want. No freedom. Even the smokes are locked up.

Tried to punch one of the nurses, then started banging on locked door. Told them to let me out. Got a cab and went right to park for a drink. I knew shelter would let me in. Bossman is white, but also a Christian. But Jesus I needed to drink!

Made it back to shelter that night. Cant climb those fucking stairs and damn elevator wont work. The boys had to carry me up. Staff just looked at me, like they seen a ghost. “Allan, what are you doing here? You got a new home!”

“Open the fucking door.” They buzz me in. Just gone a few days and the indians greet me like a returning hero from war. They really missed me. But manager couldn’t believe his eyes. Ha Ha! He thought he got rid of me forever!

Bossman asks me to come in the office a couple of days later. Scolds me like a little kid. He looks stressed, bags under his eyes. He heard from old folks home that I wasnt too good. Says something about that he cant take care of me anymore. You need a better place to live than this shelter. You need proper medical care, nurses and food. “We arent set up to take care of you Allan,” “We are going to have you assessed again and an intake done for the home again. If you leave the home again, we cant let you back in the shelter.”

“My money, give me a few bucks. Come on?”

Bossman looks frustrated. He gets me my allowance for the day. I get a kid to buy a bottle and sneak it into shelter. I dont want to think…anymore.

The same girls as last time are here today. They are very nice to me. I sign the papers again. The Bossman doesn’t look any happier after. He and the intake workers are just another long line of do-gooders who want to help the homeless, drunken Indian. I really don’t like that place, the old folks home, Its too clean, too many rules, the others who live there are so out of it. I can always escape again after they get tired of me. I know Bossman will let me in again. He’s a sucker. Those Christians are soft.

Two months later a cab pulls up in front of the homeless shelter. Allan sits in the backseat. The Bossman is alerted. They have been watching for him just in case. The nursing home said this was the last time they would take him back. Allan starts to get out of the cab. The manager meets him at the back door of the cab. They speak.

The manager stands as if to block the door from opening any further. The taxi driver is impatient. Allan’s one leg is outside the cab with his foot on the pavement. His eyes look off far into the distance as he slumps back in the seat.

The Old Man and the Shelter

They respect him. The young ones move quickly to assist him. Bring him coffee, a snack, a plate of food. They will gift him, or rather pay him respect with a smoke or two. In their culture that is honor. Giving tobacco.

Some come to visit him, to talk Cree, to reminisce, to laugh. To those who show this Elder respect he treats well. Unless you are authority. Then, he will fight you. Literally.

Doesn’t matter the time or place. If you are police, government or shelter manager. The Old Man will push back. Amazing that he hasn’t softened after all these years. His physical condition is deteriorating visibly now. Month by month. In retrospect I feel very privileged to know him. To witness his uniqueness, his humanity. Never be another like him.

It would help to speak his native tongue. To be able to connect to his heart, language is vital. He lights up, and talks animatedly when another speaks the language of his youth, his only reality. Without the tongue, we can’t get close to knowing him, to him knowing us, without a common sense of together.

He’s been living homeless, on the street or sleeping rough in the bush for decades. Even in the winter, outside, pan handling on the streets, guarding the treasures from those who would take his sustenance. Now, using a walker, his legs failing, he has to depend on others. Is that hard for him, to have to ask for help, in this severely independent life?

Seeing him visibly weaken, month by month. Many wonder what will become of him. He has out lived many who have “chosen” this life. As his body fails, the options for freedom close in, shut down. He sees it coming at some level.

The lifetime of hand sanitizer, mouthwash, rubbing alcohol, hairspray ingested, occaissional wine, and rare hard liquor ravages his body now. He still must have it to cope, to get up in the morning, to not think, to not feel. Its much harder to consume now, when he is stuck in the shelter, sitting in plain view, just outside the managers door.

He is close to my fathers age. My father who I never got close to is also aging, and body failing. He is a “functioning” alcoholic. Acceptable to society mainly because he stays upright and provides for his family. He achieves numbness daily, inaccessible to his children or wife. I have been angry with him for years, but now I accept the reality of his pain. In my weakness, and in learning from the Old Man at the Shelter, I can better understand, feel for my father.

I reach out to the Old Man in kindness and what I perceive as friendliness or respect. Some days he works with the system, most days its a battle. It must be hard to be in jail for him. His almost yearly visits to the correctional center for assault or disorderly conduct or for some minor offence are often intentional to get out of the cold for the winter. Even when the shelter is available, its hard to stay put, to fit in. It must be hard to have sobriety forced on him in jail. The body will rebel against change.

To work with the Old Man is to have your self torn apart. What you thought was empathy is shattered. To put yourself in his shoes, to feel his feelings, to be kind in the face of his unkindness is what this work is about. To help people who desperately want your help is achievable. To shelter, to feed, to bring the neccessities of life to one who would just as soon harm you physically or verbally is where compassionate humanity is tested.

In retrospect, I consider myself very blessed to have had the opportunity to care for The Old Man. The lessons learned, are life long. His strength, resilience, sense of freedom, his laughter and his pain were transparent for all to see.

Joy and Innocence

Let’s remember the energy and joy of play.

Find a simple activity, alone or with a friend.

Something new or that you did as a child.

Engage with it, fully, completely.

Better yet, if it allows you to touch someone deeply.

Take a few deep breaths and leave your grown up self behind.

Go outside and feel the cold, the heat of the sun.

Watch the chickadees, imagine.

Imagine the wonders all around us.

Together, we discover each other.

What works, what doesn’t.

For a few moments, we forget…

we are in the moment.

Of Love and Communion.

No us and them.

Just Us.

Joyful Being.

Mind Attack: Watching My Sister Melt Down into Suicidal Ideation

My visit home to see my mom was way over due and thus compulsory. Christmas was going to be very different this year. My 86 year old father who had struggled with his health, (addiction, dementia, hydro-encephalitis, parkinson’s) had passed away on Dec.19. As I drove across the flat, dreary, prairie landscape, I slowly came to terms that he had already enjoyed his last Christmas.

I was actually looking forward to doing my duty as the only son. It is much easier for me to take on a task, to go into emergency/crisis mode and deal with the practicalities of the situation. Emotions can be put on hold, and I dont have be as present to the inherant negativities of my family of origin. Because of this and other reasons I don’t often look forward to coming to my hometown. When I moved away 7 years ago it was much overdue and I wished to just move on and leave that part of myself behind. Although I have a lot of good memories of my life in the old hometown, they generally are not positive thoughts about family.

KJ, my little sister has struggled with her mental health in one form or another for most of her life. She was born a slow learner and didnt walk and talk until she was 4 or 5 years old. She did graduate high school in a special ed program. By the time her twenties came to an end, she was diagnosed with OCD, clinical depression, anxiety, binge eating and delusional disorder. She was not able to work, and volunteering even became untenable. She was very overweight and it was effecting her physical abilities. KJ has always been in close relationship with her mental health workers.

She had initially decided to spend Christmas away from family, specifically, my mother. Their relationship fluctuates from highly co-dependent to counter dependence and love avoidance. When she heard I was coming from my home to try to assist with the arrangements arising from the loss of my father she decided to make the effort to visit with me. She came out a couple days before I arrived on Boxing Day.

The first couple of mornings, it became obvious that she was struggling. KJ was having anxiety episodes each morning, which I have learned from my experience with depression can be the worst time. In the morning, the mind can run a little too free, rambling undisciplined in the twilight. I could see instead from her mood that it was difficult for her to move into the light of the emerging day. Instead her broken spirit, her mind, the disease was dragging her back into the dark presence of the night. The very early morning hours, when it is unsure of whether it is day or it is night, and which way to move, when working ones way into full, wakeful, awareness; one’s fragile existence can be dependent on good thoughts, light, words of hope, and the host of chemicals and processes that swirl around in our physical brains and bodies.

We had planned on taking KJ back to her home after a couple days together with my mom and myself. She was already sobbing as we packed up the car. She has a lot of anxiety to do with many things. The last couple of mornings it was to do with her residence. The noisy dog, the noisy room mates, the chaos that worked its way into her brain and would not leave. She could no longer choose to think her own thoughts and the outside dark thoughts would not let her rest.

After a few minutes on the road it became obvious that this was not going to get any better. She was increasingly depressed and her words reflected that. She could not stop the negative thoughts and her anxiety was overwhelming her emotions. She was swearing, (which is very unusual for her) and cursing her life. KJ called out for someone to help her. “Why can no one fix her”, “I just want someone to help me” “I hate my life”. My mother in the back seat sat stoically, as we Raymas’ often do in crises. Trying to remain composed and dignified. Not showing our hearts because that is too risky. If we let the beast out of the cage we might just lose all control.

We were almost halfway to our destination and KJ began to talk about jumping out of the car. Through her tears, and anxiety she said “I just want to jump out in front of this car” and end it all. Stop the pain.

I knew from my recent experiences managing a homeless shelter that those in mental health crises that begin to threaten self harm, not to procrastinate. Its not worth wasting the time to overthink whether to make the call for help or not to make the call. It’s unlikely that the behaviour is going to end anytime soon. Our families recent loss of our father, Christmas stresses, KJ’s relationship with our mom, and just random mental health vagaries that occur, are enough to prompt action.

I called the Mental Health Crisis Center in Brandon. It was the holidays and so we were sent to the Emergency Room so she could be assessed by the on call Mobile Crisis Unit workers. We were lucky it was a surprisingly quiet day in the ER and were seen quickly. As soon as KJ heard the she was possibly going to the crisis unit for a few days she relaxed somewhat. She has experience in this place it provides a place of safety and compassion where all the ramblings, worries and darkness have a chance to subside. Not a healing, but a sabbatical.

After decades of wrestling with her mental health, a cure is not in our hopechest. We are happy to be able to manage her disease. In essence it is harm reduction protocols that her helpers, doctors and family can assist the most with. But…

Is there not still a place for a cure, a miracle, some hope???

We drive her to the Crisis Center in quiet. KJ is quiet and much more peaceful than an hour and a half ago. The home is in an old part of town, a classic century home. A creeky, warm, peaceful place with friendly caregivers that know Kelly and that know mental health crises. We are relieved to leave her there as she seems comforted.

As my mom and me drive away, I feel the weight of the crisis lift. The heaviness of watching and listening to my sister in pain is straining. But the mood is lighter and as we run some errands and visit my moms friends it is obvious that my mom has some peace as well. I have second thoughts that we are being selfish. That I should have been able to help KJ, to stay and suffer alongside her, or to be able to make it right.

But, for the moment, I feel so light. There is much still to be immersed in. My personal grief over losing my father. My mother’s grief and radically changed life to being a widow at 84 years old. My older sister’s mental health struggles and broken family relationships resulting from her anger. Working through my father’s estate and death arrangements that must be taken care of with my mom and sister’s.

The list goes on…

I must take care of myself. The chaos can bring the darkness to life for me.

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos”; Stephen Sondheim

I don’t want anyone to suffer. But, that is not for this reality. I am grateful for all opportunities to grow, transform, and to discover. I seek the light for myself, but also to be able to walk in light and hope with those around me.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The grief of imperfect Love

“Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”
― Dean Koontz, Odd Hours

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬