Nine months ago, I opened this space. I ripped off the wrapping, and left it to grow. Under the guise of co-op, it received a little love. Then two back-to-back school terms arrived and I couldn’t find a moment to catch my breath. The moments not filled with homework were stolen in sleep (and netflix). I can make all the excuses I want, and yes, there are many (weddings! one as maid of honour! midterms! finals! a whirlwind trip around North America! the busiest school term I’ve ever seen! getting a job in Switzerland! did I mention Switzerland! oh my god, I’m moving to Switzerland! for 8 whole months!), but when it comes down to it, I didn’t write. I didn’t sit, and take the time to fill this page.
And yet, there is so much that I want to remember from this time. Stories, friendships, life. Emotions, understanding, change. Because, oh so much has happened. And sometimes the photos say more than I ever could.
New hobbies included the unlikely activity of axe-throwing. (As their slogan says, “like darts, but with axes”). It’s such great fun, and we’ve met so many wonderful people.
My dearest friend married her love. It was crazy and beautiful and hilarious.
My uncle played Massey Hall. It was the best show I’ve been to. Such energy, such joy. They were welcomed on stage with a standing ovation. Everyone sang along to their biggest song. Love filled that space.
The Jays filled the nights. On Canada day, that meant going to the game. In the months after, it meant nail-biters and cheering them onto the playoffs.
I got to visit home, for a short bit of time. This guy doesn’t do phones, so seeing him is all there is.
Nothing means home like the mountains, like this place. Those Rocky Mountain lakes, buried way up high.
My brother shared his Louisiana with me. It was beautiful. The quiet in-between moments meant the most though.
On what felt like the first (only) almost-relaxed weekend of the semester, we picked pumpkins and carved them. They made it outside just moments before our first trick-or-treaters.
Everything comes back to food. This week, with friends and galettes, we laughed into the night.
Twenty-two. There are so many things I hope for you. Two weeks ago, you arrived. You’re here. I’m there. Then I blinked, and all of a sudden so much had changed.
An April birthday didn’t used to mark any sort of change. It wasn’t a change of seasons. It wasn’t a change of pace. It wasn’t a change in me, any more than any other day.
This year, twenty-two, you brought something new. Nothing clear enough to write. Just a change, this subtle shift. You brought the sun, and the oh-so-belated spring. You brought the flurry of S’s bachelorette. You brought exhaustion. You brought the end of this co-op term. You brought a quiet clarity. You brought realizations in this is how I think, this is how I work. And today, you bring a new term. Just as soon as work finished, school starts. Such is twenty-two.
I was hoping to project big things onto you, twenty-two. There are a few things. There are the weddings of some of our dearest. There will be love. There will be school, and all of the learning, comradery, and craziness that comes with that. With any luck, there will be a move to an as-yet-undetermined faraway place. There will be laughter. There will be more than I could ever expect.
Be gentle, twenty-two. You’re a special number to me, so you’re sure to be memorable. I’m looking forward to our adventures together.
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.)
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.
This winter break, I dug up my Nana’s jewelry box. Not the box filled with fantastic (and fantastically hilarious) sixties costume jewelry, but the good one. The reeeally good one. Velvet lined and swimming with chain necklaces, it houses her beloved jewelry. As with every other time I’ve opened this box, I inevitably tried on all of the rings, and at least one of the necklaces. This time, something was different. All of her rings fit. Not just “oh hey! I can squeeze it on”, but a true fit.
Nana was a tall, eternally thin woman, and her hands were no exception. As the family legends go, she was 126 lbs her whole life (and 5’8”!), and she walked out of the hospital after giving birth in her pre-pregnancy jeans. She was delicate yet fierce. She was a woman that I would have loved to know as an adult. She passed away 7 years ago- just months shy of my celiac diagnosis. Why is that relevant? Well, it’s one of the handful of things (that we believe) I inherited from her. I have her height (and then some!), her blood (including the special anemia), and of course, her hands. Her engagement ring looks like it was made for me, sitting oh-so-naturally on my hand. All the wear from the 51 years it lived on her hand makes it not just broken in, but comfortable.
I keep looking at it. First, it was to try to clean it. More and more, it is to try to find a piece of her in it. What did she see when she looked at it? Did she use it to play with the light? How did it change over the decades of wear?
Writing in a form like this has always been a way for me to look within, and simultaneously craft who I become. It’s been a method of answering those streams of questions for my future self. Who was I in this moment? What was important to me at that age? What was hard? What was great? What did I feel needed to be shared? What were the little moments? What was I focussed on?
Blogging does more than that though. It pushes, driving exploration. At 15, I began writing a website entitled Celiac Teen. It was my online home for many years, where I both created and learned about myself. I fell more and more in love with food because of it, along with photography. It brewed passions and drove me into a community which fostered friendships. Nearly 7 years later, I’ve phased out of it. The name came with an expiration date: one that I accepted and welcomed as my life grew in other ways. As much as I adore what that site holds, from the recipes to the insights into my teenage psyche, I have grown out of it.
So, with that in mind, I want to welcome you here. Like a new home, it’s a little bit bare, waiting to be unboxed and filled with life. I want to fill this space with as many words as it will hold. I want to slowly grow it with stories, and build it with moments. I want it to be an online memory box. One with community and conversation, in that unique mix that only a blog can have. From that headspace, hello! Whether we’ve been friends since Grade 2, or have never met, I hope you’ll grab a cup of tea and stay awhile.