This week, most of my free moments were spent with All the Light We Cannot See in my hands. Lunch hours, waiting for the bus, at breakfast. All the in-between moments were spent reading it. The book centres upon two individuals during the second world war. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl, and Werner is a smart German orphan, recruited by the Nazis. Their stories weave together in coincidences. It was beautifully written, with lovely lines like: “From afar, the smoke appears strangely solid, as though carved from luminous wood.” and “There is only chance in this world, chance and physics.” The book’s short chapters (usually 2-3 pages each) made for a incredibly readable book, perfect for the in-between parts of my day.
My second thing, is this lovely song by Genevieve, which has been on repeat this week.
The past few months, I’ve been devouring podcasts. They’re an excellent thing to have on in the background as I work. One that I really fell for (and am noticeably missing now that they’re on break!) is Invisibilia. It’s a podcast about all the invisible things in our lives. Be from fear to quantum entanglement, they cover a lot. The stories were diverse and human. I’m looking forward to when they return.
Alexandra Franzen always makes me reflect with her posts. Her latest, Hard is not a reason, was just that. One of those little seeds, to plant in the back of my head, that will show up when I need it.
Every five minutes, I’m back in the washroom. My abdomen seems to be conspiring against me. I pace between the kitchen and the washroom, as if the other room holds the answers. The nausea is so thick that I don’t dare leave the sight of a bowl (toilet or otherwise). Nothing helps matters.
I take Tums for comfort, but their effect is non-existent. It isn’t acid reflux. I take Advil for the pain, which helps me calm. The pain remains, but I relax ever so slightly. It’s just enough to tuck into bed again.
Sleep helps. My body continues to weave through its gastric pain, but sleep allows me to miss out on a few hours of it. For a few moments, I might even think that whatever was plaguing me has gone away.
It certainly couldn’t be gluten. It couldn’t be. I’ve ordered from that pizza place before. It couldn’t be.
I start to feel a touch better. I sit up, and the nausea slowly seeps in. A walk will help, surely. Perhaps it’s muscular, and some gentle movement will help. The fresh air tricks me for a spell. It wasn’t gluten. It couldn’t be. The nausea must be something else. The one glass of wine I had last night? Perhaps the meat was off? It couldn’t be gluten.
Monday comes, sleep having done me well. Breakfast doesn’t hold its regular appeal. Walking into the lab, I attempt to convince myself that I can manage. The nausea is only minor. The nausea is only minor. The nausea is only minor. Focus on the work, Lauren. Forget about the rise in my throat. That slow rise, resulting in nothing. Pure nausea, without the relief of actually throwing up. I just want to throw up. If only I could. If only it would help. Focus on the work, Lauren. Just do this experiment. I won’t throw up. It’s only nausea. Focus on the work, Lauren. Maybe it would help if I lied down. Perhaps if I just sat, this would go away. Focus on the work, Lauren. It’s not gluten. It couldn’t be. My hands barely seem like my own. The nausea fills every moment completely. What was I doing? It’s not the gluten. It couldn’t be.
I submit to it. I’ll go home. I’ll rest. This will fix whatever it is. “It wasn’t gluten, was it?” “Oh no, I must be coming down with something. I don’t think it was gluten.” It couldn’t be. I’m picked up and delivered home. I crawl into bed, and sleep.
When I wake, a few moments of relief come. Perhaps that was all I needed. So, I rise. I start to make some food. And the nausea trickles back in. Once my lunch is ready, I can barely stomach looking at it. It’s not gluten. It couldn’t be. I eat some, and lie down once more. Pulling out my laptop, I try to watch something. It’s a blur. I can’t focus. The rise in my throat consumes me.
It’s not gluten. It couldn’t be. Right? It’s not gluten. It couldn’t be. I couldn’t have let that happen. I couldn’t. I’m so careful. Right? I couldn’t have made that mistake. I only had that pizza, from the place I regularly go. Have I ever asked if they use the same pizza-cutter? Have I ever checked how they cook it? Not in ages. It couldn’t be. I’ve never been sick from them before. Not until now.
I try to distract myself, but in the gluten fog, my brain takes its leave. The days float by with this seemingly endless nausea. The intensity ebbs and flows, and days later, I make it to work. It seems as though the nausea will always be here. I forget about it for a little while, only to have it return.
The gluten’s legacy doesn’t easily end. My body continues the self-attack. After those initial few days, the attacks are less. The waves are smaller. My body is doing its job, stamping out the threat. However, it makes a simple mistake. It acts as though I am the threat, rather than the gluten.
A week since the pizza, and I’m still weak and caught in nauseous waves. The light is there though. I know that this will end, and that my routine will slip back into place. This incident makes three. Three times glutened in my seven celiac years. I do my best, but sometimes mistakes are made. I trust the wrong place, someone doesn’t understand the seriousness of gluten-free or I read the ingredients incorrectly.
Tonight, I will go out for dinner. I will trust someone else to cook for me. I will live, not in fear.
I called my mom last week. Okay, maybe not exactly. I texted her, asking her to call me, and she did (as per our usual arrangement). She told me about all sorts of people that are reading this.
She told me how one of my aunts read my first post to my other aunt.
She told me how she spread and yet around to a number of friends.
She told me how her friend saw her own health in that post.
She told me of the ripples, the light touch, that this space has already spread.
All these moments I caused, but never see.
We all do this- though perhaps even more so in this time of online living.
As much as we project, there is so much that no one ever sees. Dear reader, you don’t see me open this word document. You don’t see it start as a few random thoughts. You don’t see the rapid click-click-click of the delete button. You don’t see the trepidation as I press publish. You don’t see me duck into the kitchen for a cookie (or two). You don’t see the little smile creep onto my face as I see that people have opened this website.
Then I don’t see you, as you open this page. I don’t see if it quickly gets closed- a mistaken click. I don’t see if you leave it in your browser for a few days. I don’t see if you read every word. I don’t see if it stays with you.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
It sounds so negative. This perceived lack, as if you needed to see the awkwardness unfurling as I write. As if I needed to sit over your shoulder and see how my words fell with you.
There is a special freedom with the internet. Unlike an in person interaction, each of us is able to make each step on our own terms. I can pour out these words, re-arrange and adjust each of them, until they are just how I want them to be. I don’t have to share the awkwardness. I can wait exactly as long as I want. I get those moments, as my own. The product is what is sent out. The process belongs to me.
Then the same freedom is awarded to you, dear reader. You can read this, if you happen upon it. You can skim, you can read it over, you can share it, you can forget about it. Those moments will be yours. The moments I never see.
Sometimes, one of you will leave a note, letting me in on an effect of one of those moments. Even then, the moments themselves are still yours. The memories are true instead of stories conveyed. Other times, these moments will be entirely your own, unspoken.
The internet is full of these unseen moments. Be it a status update, an email, a news article, a blog post. Someone is (nearly) always on the other side. Sometimes, they are looking for a response or a sharing of moments. Sometimes they do not want anything. Other times, it is open and equal. As freely as the writer is to post as they wish, the receiver is free to respond. Or not.
Moments shared, moments saved. Moments spent crafting, providing something just so. They all become moments that no one else sees. Your story might breed an image in my mind, creating a moment of my own. It is in the subtle details and the unspoken constants that we form our truths. In the unspoken bits, our lives emerge. I don’t know if I would have it any other way.
The ball is in your court, dear reader, free to stay and free to throw back. Among the moments we’ll never see.
(Top photo of my grandmother, in a decade I never saw. Scanned & cleaned up by mom, in a moment I never saw. Second photo from my phone, in a moment alone in the kitchen at work, admiring the morning light.)
This weekend, I had the pleasure of cooking for my guy’s family for the first time. Him and I did it together, making a lovely roast beef. It was soft enough for his grandparents both to eat, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the meal, while everyone else cleared out, I sat and talked with his grandmother. Her dementia is slipping in, so all stories recur. You watch her joy, sadness, and pride cycle with each story. Each telling adds different details, glacially introducing new stories. She lights up each time she tells me about her grandchildren. She halts each time she mentions deaths, honouring that sadness and those lost. She smirks recounting funny moments of decades past. The stories fill out in my mind, as each iteration brings forth a new emphasis or detail. Slowly, she shares herself, and what she cares about (in a word: family).
As they’re leaving, she holds my hand. Pointing to my guy, her eyes light with mischief and she tells me “he’s in love with you” like it’s a secret and it’s her turn to scream it from the rooftops.
This week, there was nothing big I felt needed to be shared. Just little moments, like the one above. In the same vein, of sharing food with those you love, this post by Shauna Ahern has been one I keep coming back to. She writes about the reintroduction of ritual into their family meals. Friday Pizza Night, Sushi Sunday, Meat & Potatoes Monday. How a plan for each day breeds creativity, while also adding comfort and eliminating waste.
Today, I happened upon two posts, with no real relation between them. The first, from the incredible Cheryl Sternman-Rule, reminds of the magic of home. The value of fresh eyes, and how easy it is to miss the wonder right in front of us. Her post, I know a place where everything’s amazing, was lovely, and had me missing home a little bit! (Which, is why this post’s photo is one I took a few years ago, in our living room. Oh, how I loved to dance on those floors.)
The second piece is a little bit more on the news-y side of things. It’s also decidedly on the science side of things. You see, researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne created the first image of light behaving as both a particle and a wave. On EPFL’s site, they have a sweet little video to explain it all, too! And, if you’re interested in the quantum and nano aspects of it all, the paper is in Nature Communications. I study nanotechnology (and a little bit of quantum mechanics) in school, so it’s fascinating to learn how they did it. Light has long been understood to behave as both a particle and a wave, but this was the first time the duality has been imaged!
I run for the bus. My heart rises in my chest, my breathing thickens. A mere hundred metres, but it stays with me for much more. My heart beats, pounding out its protests. Why did I move so fast? My body wasn’t ready. It forgot how to be ready, nearly a decade ago.
Listening to the tick-tock, feeling my chest. The bus pulls up, and after stepping in and sitting down, the pounding slowly fades into the song filling my headphones. My mind fills, and shame floods in. I’m out of shape. If only I moved more. If only I could. If only I could do it right. And yet.
My stamina packed up and left the day I got pneumonia, at thirteen. The illness, and all of the conditions it would reveal, wiped out any trace of strength from my body. Then, more recently, an unfortunate medical mistake left me incapable of- well, anything, for months.
So, instead, I claim that I get my exercise from life. You know, the day to day. From walking, simple movement, stairs. Nothing extreme. No stress, no strain, nothing that could hurt. And yet.
My health is never more than an hour or two from my mind. Even if it’s just a simple did I take my meds yet?, it’s always there. This ever-present thing. It is an all-encompassing bubble. The one whose labels and statistics, whose missteps and triumphs I claim to know so well. And yet.
In two minutes of explaining some of my health issues to colleagues, they saw something I never had. The fresh eyes, the biochemistry and engineering approach, it all came together in a simple sentiment. Low hemoglobin means low oxygen. Do you have trouble with high altitudes?
Even though I know I get dizzy if I push too hard. Even though I barely remember the last time I worked out without paying a steep price. There was that time in first year, when a single, not-actually-that-hard workout led to such prolonged weakness that I didn’t trust myself to walk on my own for weeks. Where the wooziness was so complete that even lying in bed, I felt as though I was about to fall. Where my hands and feet turned purplish.
That time skiing, when I had such trouble that they took me in, to the ski patrol hut. To sit and wait it out, allowing time for my body to work. There was no colour in my face, and nothing but cold in my hands. That small hike last summer, made even shorter when I couldn’t catch my breath. The camera glued to my hand, as both a passion and a reason to stop moving. And yet.
I see it in my hands sometimes. My nails turn purple. It happens just often enough that I shy away from painting my nails, incase I need to be able to see them. And yet.
I try to move. Even knowing that doing more than walking or low-impact activity has always ended badly. And yet.
I can’t help but feeling that there is something I could do. Some way I could help it. There must be. So I fall into the age-old path of looking up my disease online. And everyone’s story plays like mine. Low energy, shortness of breath. I have always been very tired. No hiking or mountain climbing. I can’t run for long. This. This is me. I love to hike, but my chest protests. I loved exercise, until it meant feeling worse. I miss it, yet I’m terrified of it.
I find myself stuck. Every other part of my health question has a fix. Take this medication, don’t eat that, have more salt (yes, really).
And so, I run for the bus. I feel the exhaustion. I take my exercise in walks. I err on the side of caution.