Who am I? Hmmm… that’s a loaded question. For anyone, I guess. First of all, my shy, self-conscious side says, “who cares?” Does anyone really want to know the details? I know I always do, which is why I hate small talk. Don’t talk about the weather, give me the real skinny, give me the details. But people are reluctant, which I totally understand, we all have our walls, and maybe everyone worries the same thing I do: “who cares?” Then, there’s the issue of how to define yourself beyond the normal parameters of how people usually describe themselves. Well, maybe before going beyond, I should start there. Okay, here are my labels, all of which I wear proudly, I just take exception with being identified solely by the traditional definitions of those labels, if you know what I mean. No? Oh well, here goes anyway.
I am a wife, mother of three, daughter, daughter-in-law, (granddaughter, granddaughter-in-law – assuming one gets to keep the label even after those people have passed on), sister, sister-in-law, stepdaughter, stepdaughter-in-law, stepsister, stepsister-in-law, aunt, cousin, second cousin, niece, teacher, French-speaker, reader, writer(???), dancer, MS warrior, DIYer, crafter, gardener, hiker, beachcomber. And now I can add the label blogger as well -yay!
Without going into too much detail, let me personalize the most important of those labels. First, I have been married for twenty-one years to my amazing soulmate, which may sound really cheesy but it’s true, who I met at the tender age of fifteen, although it took much longer before we were ready for each other. We have three incredible children: a daughter 17, an accomplished singer and director who is planning to study education; a son 15, a brown belt in karate and an avid trumpeter; and a daughter 8, dancer, singer, actress, director and all-around whirling dervish. Am I bragging? Yes. The fact that we have built this happy, connected family, with teenagers who are so much better behaved than I ever was, that actually enjoy spending time with us, blows my mind every single day.
The hobby labels don’t need further explanation but the three that are outside the family realm but equally important for me as an individual because they shape my life every day are those of dancer, teacher and MS warrior.
I grew up doing ballet and gymnastics like many little girls. I adored gymnastics and frequently dreamed of going to the Olympics, though I was never nearly talented or self-disciplined enough. I loved dance as well, especially ballet, and was lucky enough to successfully audition into the Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede for three years, which was an amazing opportunity to be exposed to all sorts of dance, acrobatics and performance opportunities. Ballet has always been my first passion though and I pursued my exams in each grade level until I went off to boarding school in grade ten. Sadly, that was the end of any quality dance training until I began university. No regrets for going to boarding school though, since that’s where I met my husband! Oh, and I kind of did get to go to the Olympics, after all, when I danced at the Opening Ceremonies in Calgary in 1988. (Oh the costume – it was mortifying!)
After completing my B.A. in French Language and Literature, I went on a soul-changing four and a half month road trip through the States and Mexico, partially solo, then lived in Paris for six months before travelling around Europe with my soon-to-be-husband, who had just come back into my life before I left for Paris. It was during these two trips that I had the first two episodes of the bizarre illnesses that no doctor could or would diagnose for twenty-four years. The first time I laid alone in the back of my orange Westfalia on the streets of Puebla for three days, peeing in the sink. Lovely. The second time hit me just as we were checking out of a beautiful resort in Lagos where we had stayed for two weeks for free thanks to a family connection, and checking into a dusty campground surrounded by ten foot high cinder-block walls. The silver lining was that I knew my future husband really loved me after surviving three days in a tent with me too ill to walk to the bathroom so I was peeing in bottles, often not very accurately (ewwww…) with his assistance. Now that’s commitment!
On returning to Canada, I began studies in secondary education, unfortunately having another episode of full-body meltdown during my second practicum. I eventually ended up getting my first job at my old boarding school, which was a very strange but wonderful experience, before we moved to Christchurch, New Zealand for three years with our one month old baby for my husband to do his PhD. Nothing like moving halfway around the world to solidify a marriage! It was a truly fantastic experience and we met some wonderful people, though sadly we haven’t kept in touch.
Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to try teaching elementary and finally found the sweet spot in teaching grade one French immersion. So for eight years I dedicated myself to building the best program I could, taking Master’s classes and getting hooked on Pinterest for tips and lessons, and truly loving the direction my career had taken. Unfortunately the bizarre episodes returned during this time after having been dormant for fifteen years or so, and returned with a frighteningly cyclical regularity, every six months or so. The trigger was either the stress of full-time teaching or the birth of our third child, or both, we’ll never know. Doctors had all sorts of dismissive diagnoses; exhaustion syndrome, depression, ‘just a virus’, and finally, ‘idiopathic’ meaning no known illness or reason for illness, but none of them ever really listened and connected all the dots. It was a naturopath that solved the mystery and first mentioned that it might be relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis confirmed when I finally got in to see the neurologist nine months later. Welcome to Canadian health care. Free but absurd.
Before getting what was obviously a life-changing diagnosis however, I had a different kind of relapse in December 2014, one that basically ended life as I knew it, at the risk of sounding melodramatic. Luckily I had the best class of my entire career and the program was already set up and running smoothly so I was able to continue working, although taking many more sick days than I would have liked and constantly aware that I wasn’t able to do my job as well as possible. So, for the last year and a half I have been on disability, trying to heal my body through food and lifestyle changes, and here I am. I don’t know if my body and/or brain will ever return to even a reasonable facsimile of my previous incarnation in order to be able to teach again, so I’m trying to appreciate that I have this time to explore different facets of my personality. Hence, this blog. And, I’ve returned to dance class, which is difficult when my body doesn’t want to cooperate, but amazing.
So, that’s me. I never expected to find myself unable to work at forty-five years of age, and the last eighteen months have required a lot of soul-searching (the occasional pity party too, to be honest) but ultimately I’ve decided that there are so many ways to live a life, even for the same person. And, for me, that mantra works to flip any perception around. Life is amazing. I am so blessed. I am so grateful.