Wednesday 18 May 2016

5 Reasons Babies are Awesome

This post was originally featured on the most fabulous blog, Grumbling Grace.  Do check it out!

Hey, man, babies are hard.  Being a parent is a 24-hour job, and it’s not always awesome.  There are a lot of meltdowns, tears, and you’ll find yourself saying things like “is this my life now? Is this it for me?” in the middle of the night when you’re running on empty and your child won’t latch properly for the 20th time that day (or night? Wait, what time is it even?? What day is it again?) and you’re not sure when you last showered.  Netflix might not even be able to keep you sane at that point.

But people keep having them, so there are obviously some awesome things about babies too! I’ve only been a mother for 5.5 months, and there have definitely been some moments where my expectations have been brutally crushed by reality, and I still have a lot to learn, but there are also wonderful perks that come along with a newborn that help make the already awesome job of being a parent even better.

1. Tiny. Adorable. Portable.

Sure, maybe on the way out, babies feel like you’re pushing out a bowling ball for giants, but most babies are generally pretty tiny.  Ani was 7 lbs 11 oz and I couldn’t stop marvelling at how impossibly small she was.  While a baby is, like, the BIGGEST and HEAVIEST responsibility in the world, they sure begin their lives tiny and light - perfect for getting around and travelling.  I’d plop Ani in her stroller and tour the mall for a couple hours while she slept. She was also a fabulous international traveller when we decided to take a trip to Washington, D.C., New York, and Hamilton because she stayed wherever we put her and knew she wasn’t going to crawl away on us! 

You might not feel like it right away, but newborns are perfectly portable - take advantage of it and try to get out as much as you can when you’re feeling up to it! I hear when they reach toddler-age, travelling with kids can be akin to herding cats in the dark.  During a tornado.

Somewhere in this snowsuit is a baby.

2. Best. Excuse. Ever.

Don’t feel like going to that dinner event? Trying to get out of another Tupperware/Jamberry/Arbonne/Yonique (what is that even?)/etc. party?  Want to get out of a social event a bit earlier? Newborns are the best excuse ever! You’ve got a brand new human being here - that YOU created and pushed out of you (or if you're in my case, had pulled out of you!). Maybe you’re exhausted because your baby is colicky and doesn’t sleep at night, maybe your baby really needs your attention right now, or maybe you’re all down with the sniffles and you don’t want to expose everyone else to your rhinovirus.  

None of these things need to be true, of course (though let’s be honest, likely they will be) - but no one needs to know that ;) The best part is - no one is going to argue with you. Babies trump everything. 

**Critical note: I’m not saying that I use Anika as an excuse to get out of things - I’m actually so desperate for social interaction/getting out of the house that I’m more than happy to haul my child everywhere with me. Knowing I can play the baby card whenever I need to is kind of nice, though. 

But I don’t.  Just so we’re clear. 

I guess we're staying home today. 

3. Teeny. Tiny. Clothes. 

Cute outfits become cuter the tinier they are; I’m pretty sure that's a scientific fact.  Most days, Anika wears sleepers and bodysuits with the snaps on the bum, because of course she does - it’s the most efficient when we're changing a billion diapers a day.  But sometimes when we go out and get to see people, it’s fun to put on an actual outfit with, like, pants and cute boots and stuff.  I also like to dress Anika in something cute too.

Babies are basically completely helpless. They literally can’t do anything for themselves except cry in order to get you to do pretty much everything for them.  They can’t even dress themselves, so it’s up to you to pick out their outfits.  Babies can wear the silliest and frilliest outfits, and who’s not going to love them? No one, that’s who! So go on, put your kid in that cute little nike aerobics outfit with the leg warmers and sweatband before they’re old enough to tear them off in protest and defiance.

First Officer Spock Jr. - Live Long and Prosper.

4. Thinking. Growing. Learning.

Babies are little scientists.  Ani is always watching how something works, feels, tastes…a lot of tasting going on in our house.  As a parent it is incredibly rewarding to watch your child figure something out, and you’ll be amazed at how much you celebrate the things they do for the first time that are now completely mundane to you, like lifting their heads up during tummy time, or rolling onto their side for the first time.  They even have to learn how to fart, you guys.  TO FART.  It’s a major achievement and relief for EVERYONE in the house when they do figure it out - less grunting in the night!

The first smile, the first laugh, the first grasp, the first roll-over - enjoy these and other moments and celebrate them - they’re amazing for you, but just think about how MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOME it is for your baby who just realized, “holy eff! I can roll over now! My world has completely opened up to new opportunities! Just think of all the things I can shove into my mouth! Good thing I’ve been practising my grasping!”  (This is what I imagine Anika’s internal dialogue to be on a day-to-day basis.)

Ha ha! I can lift my head! Next step - try to take over the world!!

5. Snuggles. Cuddles. Love.

I’ve heard tell that one does not truly know love until one has a child.  Sure, I always would suppose, that makes sense I guess.  Now that I have one, I can guarantee that you will never know just how deeply and genuinely you can love someone until you have a child.  Even after all the tears, inconsolable screams, poopsplosions,  and cracked nipples from hourly feedings, nothing beats the joy you get from a tuckered out newborn baby sound asleep while snuggled up in your arms.  That’s a baby at peace - everything is right  and perfect in their world, and lucky you - you get to be a part of that. And in the end, even when it might seem exhausting that your baby wants/needs to be with you all of the time for food, a new diaper, or cuddles, it’s kind of nice to be wanted/needed that much, isn’t it?

I think so. 

Tuesday 11 November 2014

About Those Pesky Triggers.

Hey, what's up?

It's been awhile since the last post, and for good reason too.  After being out of the teaching biz for a year, I had forgotten just how busy the school year can be (like, go to work at 7:30 AM and get home at 5 PM, eat some food, do more work from 6 PM to 10 PM.  Repeat. I must be doing something wrong - how are other teachers so efficient?).   Add to that some mental health issues, such as the depression and anxiety that accompany PTSD, therapy, and, oh yes, a personal life - well, you get the point.  I mean, I probably shouldn't even be writing this.  I should be doing some marking or planning or something.  Or probably sleeping.

This post is about triggers.  As I write this, selfishly, for my own personal therapy, I also write this for others who have experiences similar to mine in the hopes that they, too, can maybe find a little comfort knowing they're not alone, and that their feelings are 100% a normal response to what has happened to them.

A trigger, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is anything - an event, a smell, an image,  a sound, a phrase, ANYTHING - that causes someone who has experienced trauma to relive or remember a traumatic memory, causing (at least, in my case) a heightened physical and emotional response and a desire to GTFO of where ever I currently am.  Basically, a panic attack. Trigger events are sometimes obvious, but are other times more subtle and surprising.  They can happen any time, and any where.  As for me, I do not only experience triggers of my rape, but also of the invasion of mine and my family/friends' home by three scumbags with armed weapons in the dark.

The forefront of my healing and of my therapy was tackling the big personal triggers that I would likely face; hearing the sound of a belt unbuckling, having my arm grabbed, or my neck touched, for example. I had read early on how important it was to recognize the triggers when they happened, and rather than avoid them, embrace them for what they are, and basically tell them to eff off, because I am stronger than they are (I also had a lot of help and encouragement from the most incredible person in the world - my husband).  For the most part, that worked for the obvious triggers I was able to identify, which is fantastic.  I've also become incredibly good at not letting my triggers overtake me; I can outwardly appear calm, even when I feel like I'm exploding inwardly (this is mostly to avoid freaking other people out. It'd be pretty awkward otherwise).  Other triggers took me by surprise, but made sense - hearing unfamiliar sounds at night, muffled talking outside of our kitchen window.  I'm still trying to cope with these on a daily basis - it's emotionally and physically exhausting work.

As the school year began, I tried to anticipate the things that might trigger me in the hopes that I could confront them productively early on. Really, the only thing I identified as a potential trigger was lockdown drills.  Nothing says "trigger" like practising hiding in a room imagining someone with a gun walking around the building.  The mere thought of sitting quietly in my room in the dark while people checked to ensure all classroom doors were locked was enough to make me sick.  I'm fortunate enough to have an incredibly understanding and accommodating administration, who gave me leave to be out of the building while the lockdown occurred in my prep period.  I've promised myself that next time we have a lockdown drill, I'll stay and confront the trigger. (Wish me luck!)

Other triggers came unexpectedly and unanticipated. One morning, I was working with my students when I heard a shriek come from the hallway.  Normal, non-PTSD Jo, would have shrugged it off, attributing the noise to a rambunctious student in the hallway.  Non-PTSD Jo would have either ignored it, or requested the source of the sound to "take the noise-level down a notch, we're trying to work in here." Instead, my heart rate shot up, my mouth became dry, and I felt the same terror I felt on June 11th at VOTOLandia in Kumasi when Caroline screamed as three cowards forced their way into our home.  Not wanting to alarm my students, I stood up from where I was, pretended to get a tissue and blow my nose, and quietly shut my already-locked classroom door while I discarded the tissue into the dustbin.  A couple of students expressed some concern regarding the shriek - "It's probably one of the grade nines - nothing to worry about." I reassured them. Every fibre of me wanted to turn off the lights and gather my students into a safe nook in the room. I managed to outwardly keep my cool for a solid fifteen minutes, until the bell finally rang, signalling the end of class.  My heart rate didn't settle down until well into fourth period, about four hours later.

Another time, I was attending a professional development session.  The previous night had been a fitful sleep, punctuated by nightmares and flashbacks, so I was already a bit sensitive and jumpy.  In an objectively good activity to illustrate the concept of cultural perspective, a presenter asked us to take different physical positions in the room (standing on a chair, crouching on the floor, etc.) and reflect on how our visual perspectives change each time.  I liked the activity; it broke us from the monotony of sitting in our chairs, while making us reflect on our personal cultural perspectives. It was cool.  What I did not expect was when we were all crouched on the floor and being asked to take notice of what we saw, all I could see were faces of people I love and care about  - Sean, Caroline, Albert, Suhyini, Zair, and Mark - with guns pointed at their heads.  Logically, I told myself that this was not the reality.  What I was really looking at were the smiling faces of colleagues and professionals engaging in an activity for professional development.  However, that wasn't what I saw.  The familiar physiological responses returned, and I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to calm down.  This trigger was truly unexpected and the most illogical of them all.

So, yeah. Triggers - predictable, and at the same time, unpredictable bastards.  I've only mentioned a few instances where I've been triggered, particularly in the public space, but the actual number of instances where I've had to cope with triggers is way higher.  I think the biggest thing for me beyond identifying triggers is learning how to cope with them when they happen, because they can happen at any time - or not at all; one really perplexing thing about triggers is that a potential trigger doesn't always trigger anything at all.  I can watch a violent scene in one film and not be affected at all, while a similar scene in another film might cause a physiological response.  It's totally weird, and since I don't always know when to expect them, learning strategies to cope with them seems to be the best course of action so far.

I realize these things may sound silly to those who do not suffer from any kind of trauma.  I know that I'm a logical human being.  I know that I can rationally tell myself that I am safe, that I am only in a lockdown drill, that nothing that is currently happening is threatening;  sometimes, though, my body begs to differ.  My pulse will tell me otherwise, and my throat closing in is my body's way of completely disagreeing with my logic.  It's like having a drop-down menu with a number of options, but the "chill out" option is gray and non-selectable.  It totally sucks, but I'm working on it one day at a time with the help of awesome family and friends.

Thanks for reading :)


Tuesday 16 September 2014

Dealing with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety

In my last post, I mentioned that I would continue to write about my experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of my attack in Ghana, and the things I'm learning about recovery.  This is extremely difficult to do, but I find it therapeutic somehow; I'm also doing this in the hopes that other survivors might stumble upon this little blog and not feel alone.  I don't know exactly where I'll be going with all of this, but I hope it helps someone.  For this post, I merely want to write about my personal experiences with this whole PTSD thing, and how it's been impacting my life.  Spoiler alert:  living with PTSD and its accompanying depression and anxiety totally sucks, logic and emotions don't always play nicely, but it's not all bad, and it can be managed.

Today I had such a great day.  My period one students seemed to be genuinely interested in the semester-long project we began today, my students in my other classes were (mostly) productive, and for the first time in a long time, I didn't feel completely overwhelmed and anxious about the pile of work I usually have on a daily basis.  When I got home,  I made a crazy delicious egg and vegetable scramble for supper (I never cook, so this is a big deal for me), and actually felt motivated to get some marking done.  My rabbit exhibited what I can only describe as affection towards me for the first time since we got her back, and I got to chat with my phenomenal husband, who is currently back in Ghana. It was cool to feel this particular level of happy!

I don't have many of these days. I mean, I'm not always unhappy, but my happiness gauge was reading much higher today than it usually does.  Then, suddenly, my day became empty and sad.  I'm having a bad night, and I have no idea why.  It just crept up on me, as it always seems to do. Up until actually writing this post, I spent the past hour sitting on my couch, staring at a piece of writing that a student submitted, feeling nothing and doing nothing. I didn't even let the time-suck that is the internet distract me.  I just did nothing. And I felt nothing about it.

I haven't had a night like this for a while.  Since the attack, times of emptiness and detachment had been constant and daily, and with some therapy, started to become fewer in their occurrences.  Just when I think I'm making solid progress, I have a night like this and it knocks me on my behind.  I know it'll get better.  I'll go to sleep and see my students in the morning, and I'll feel great while I'm teaching them. It just sucks in this current period of time.

Since our attack and return to Canada, the past three months have been filled with a polarizing combination of utter sadness in dealing with PTSD, and extreme joy in seeing friends/family and getting married, and I am absolutely worn down and exhausted as a result.  I think people experience trauma and depression differently, so here's a snapshot of what the last three months have been like for me:

1. Extreme forgetfulness. I think I've always been a bit absent-minded, but never like this. I can't seem to retain very much or remember anything unless I put about 20,000 reminders or notes in my phone (and even then, it's not a guarantee that I'll remember whatever it is I'm supposed to remember).

2. A superior lack of concentration and a completely deteriorated attention span. You know that dog, Doug, from that Pixar film Up?  That's me.  Just doin' my best to-SQUIRREL!.

...Sorry.  Anyway, this is apparently another common symptom of PTSD and depression, so I guess it makes sense for me why it's happening.  But it sucks. A lot. It makes me mad that I know I should be able to focus, and that I am capable of it, but my brain is not on board. This doesn't just impact me at meetings or during interactions with others, but it also has made my prep for work a bit more difficult.  I just can't seem to sit down and focus the way I used to, which makes lesson planning and preparation a more frustrating task.

3. Avoidance of most responsibilities.  Probably a result of a decrease in focus and motivation, as well as a general feeling of detachment and nothingness, I find that I often want to shirk my responsibilities as an adult and professional. I don't, generally.  I just want to.  Mostly I force myself to do the things I'm supposed to do. For example, doing dishes seems like a monumental task, so I often avoid cooking or doing anything to dirty my dishes so that I don't have to wash them.  That's messed up, right?

4. The desire to sleep ALL of the time. Not only because I'm just plain tired, worn down, and generally lethargic, but also because it would just be easier not to get out of bed some days.  Once we came home to Canada, I wanted more than anything to just sleep.  I slept in until noon.  I took four-hour naps.  Sleeping is pretty much all I want to do.  I just can't because now I go to work everyday (which is totally a good thing, as I love my job when I'm there. Also, routines. Routines are good. Also, making a difference. Hopefully.).

5. Escape plans. Escape plans everywhere. I guess this is called "hypervigilance" in the psychology world.  Basically, wherever I am at any given moment, I am mentally preparing myself for danger. At school, I look for potential hiding places or escape routes should there ever be a threat in the building. In the staff room, I wonder how fast it would take me to run through the kitchen to the delivery door and into the parking lot to get away from danger.  Or maybe it would just be better to hide in the freezer, because maybe the threat is outside. My classroom door, while often left open, is always locked in case of an emergency lock down, because I know how precious the few seconds are that it takes to lock the door. Whenever I walk to my car, even during broad daylight with dozens of people in the area, I walk to my car or house with my keys jutting out between my fingers in case I need to defend myself.  Even in our own basement suite, our home, I find that I'm constantly checking the windows and wondering if I could realistically fit through them if someone forced their way into the house, and how fast my escape would be.  The door is always locked. The blinds are always down.

Objectively, I know this is some pretty crazy behaviour. I'm working on it. I have a really good counselor.

6. Headaches. In the last few years, I've started to get migraines during period of high stress.  They're just way more frequent now.  It sucks, and usually results in a lot more sleeping.

7. Flashbacks.  A huge defining trait of PTSD is the replaying of a traumatic event for an extended period of time.  It's been three months since the attack, and there hasn't been a day where my brain doesn't get stuck in a seemingly endless loop where I relive what happened in my mind.  The replays happen at any time, always unannounced (trauma is so rude that way), and vary in their intensity and vividness.  I could be enjoying lunch with colleagues, teaching a lesson, working one-on-one with a student, or deciding which soaps to buy from Bath and Body Works - it never goes away. I think I'm just getting better at letting it pass and not letting it affect me outwardly.  It's like that little preview box that you see on your TV screen when flipping through the channels to see what else is on.  The big picture is on the screen, but that little box is there, in the corner.  My big picture is my daily life, and that little box is where the flashbacks are.

8. Apathy and detachment.  Not in  everything. But for a lot of things. Again, it's one of those things that logically, I know that, deep down, I do care about specific things, but I just can't feel it.  I can't find that feeling, and so I don't feel anything.

9. Random, crazy anxiety and flipping out.  My poor husband. He's really the only one that sees this part of me.  There are days when the most minute, insignificant decisions or tasks cause something to snap in my brain, and I completely shut down.  This summer, Mark and I were working on the blasted bathroom renovations in our suite, when. Mark asked me to cut some 2x4's into smaller pieces using a chop saw.  I have never used a chop saw.  Pre-attack Jo would have said "Cool, I don't know how to use that, though.  Can you show me?" and all would be well.  Post-attack Jo did the following: said nothing, looked unbearably sad, and burst into tears, complete with ugly-face crying and shuddering. Mark, being the wonderful partner he always is, simply took me by the hand and walked me upstairs and showed me how to use the woodcutting contraption.  I felt like a 5 year old, and probably looked it too. I'm so thankful for such an amazing partner

That's been my last three months overall.

Logically, my brain knows that all of these thoughts and feelings, or lack thereof, are not useful or productive. I think that's been the most frustrating thing about dealing with PTSD, depression, and anxiety - knowing on a rational level the things that make me happy and make me feel good, but having the complete absence of will power or motivation to actually do them.  When I do find the strength to do something, it's like running a marathon mentally and physically, and I feel great when I do it.  It's just getting there that's the hard part.

So far, recovery is weird, frustrating, and non-linear.  Recovery doesn't mean that each day gets easier and happier.  It's about having the tools to cope when you have the days that knock you off of your feet. It takes so much energy, mentally and emotionally - even three months later, there are days that feel like I've completely regressed, and I'm barely functioning at a minimum efficiency. Generally, however, I'm getting by, and I'm doing all I can for the things that really matter - things for my family, including my amazing husband and my awesome mom, things for my close friends, and things for the students in my classroom. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.

+Jo Boots



Monday 4 August 2014

I'm Sharing This Here.

Trigger Warning up ahead.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and say it.

I was raped this summer. 

I was raped by a stranger with mask and a gun.

It was violent, terrifying, and at one point, I didn’t think I’d be alive to share this with people today.  

There’s no need for a lot of details, but basically one night in June in Kumasi, myself, Mark, and all of our housemates (about 12 of us in total) were settling in for the night after an awesome day of hanging out, swimming, and enjoying supper together.  At roughly 10 PM, three armed cowards forced their way into our home, and for (what I think was) 30-40 minutes, terrorized me and my friends while they took whatever electronics and money they could find.  

Most of my friends and family in the house were being held downstairs by two of the robbers on the main floor at gunpoint, kneeling on the ground while the two men rifled through the office.  Upstairs, I was paraded from bedroom to bedroom with a gun at my back, while the third robber filled the backpack he’d found with whatever he felt worth taking. As far as he knew, I was the only person upstairs.  I knew otherwise - two people had successfully locked their bedroom doors and were quiet as mice, and three of my other friends, I knew, were hiding somewhere.  It wasn’t until after the three men had left that I learned my three friends had been hiding under the bed on which I was raped.  EDIT: Some people have asked me about this last particular detail, so I'd like to clarify. There was a gun to my head. The man had a gun in his hand.  A gun. With bullets. I know my friends wanted to do nothing more than crawl out from other the bed and stop what was happening, but they were powerless.  Doing so could have risked my life and/or their lives.  Furthermore, there were still two men with guns downstairs with all of our friends and family.  Who knows how things could have escalated.  I am glad my friends made the decision to stay hidden.  We are all alive because of it.

I will never know this person’s reasons for what he did.  It was perhaps opportunistic - as far as he knew, he and I were the only people on the second floor, and he had a gun. Or maybe this is his thing that he does in every house he robs.  Some have suggested that it’s because I’m white, though I honestly think it had mostly to do with the fact that I’m a woman, and he had a gun.  I don’t really know, and it really doesn’t matter.  All I know is that this pathetic human being used his position of power to do what he could only do forcibly.  And he did some serious wrong.

Why didn’t I fight? I really wish I could have. I consider myself a fighter, but I’m not stupid either.  Even the strongest of people will cave when there is a loaded gun pressed against their heads.  I wish I could have stopped it;  I replay things every day in my head to search for a different action, for a faster decision, but it all comes to the same conclusion: there was literally nothing I could have done differently if I didn’t want to die that night, or worse, cause someone else to get hurt in the process. 

It only took him less than two minutes, but this scumbag has caused me months, if not years of psychological, mental, and emotional damage.  What was less than two minutes for him has resulted in an ongoing battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression for me (which I am getting help for).  It resulted in a month of nausea, anxiety, and fatigue as I went for a number of blood tests and consumed 10 pills a day as a preventative measure against a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - thankfully, the hospital staff in Ghana was nothing but thorough, professional, and compassionate through all of the aftermath, and I am so grateful for everyone who worked with me there. This event has cost me many sleepless nights and days where all I can think about is whether or not my HIV test will come back positive, and whether or not Mark and I will be able to start a family any time soon. (my first test came back negative, in case you were wondering! I have two more to know for sure.) My attacker still hasn’t been caught, but I have been incredibly impressed with the non-stop efforts of the Kumasi police, who have caught one of the armed men, and a handful of people associated with the robbery.  There is still hope!

So why am I sharing this here? Why not just keep this to myself and my close friends and family?

I’m sharing this here because I don’t believe that there is any shame attached to this, just like there isn’t any shame attached to anyone who has been raped.  The only place shame, blame, and guilt should exist in any case of rape is with the attacker, and no one else.  As such, there’s no shame in sharing this.  

I’m sharing this here because though I am not ashamed, it is incredibly difficult and awkward to share something so personal and traumatic in everyday conversation - even with people I am close with.  There’s no bigger downer in a conversation than sharing the fact that you’ve been raped.  It’s hard on people.  Heck, even my own doctor needed to step out of the examination room and collect herself when I told her what happened. If you’re my friend, family member, or colleague, and this is how you’re finding out, please know it’s not because I don’t trust you, or that I felt I must hide this from you.  

I’m sharing this here because though I am not ashamed, I relive the event each time I share it, and that is mentally and emotionally exhausting (some days it’s even physically taxing, if you can believe it).  I don’t mind talking about the consequences of my rape, or sharing with you how my recovery is going, but reliving the actual event itself is more difficult than you might know. Therefore, I’m going with a whole general-sharing method to limit my exhaustion. 

I’m sharing this here because I want you to know that now you know this, you can be normal around me. Seriously, don’t act differently towards me or skirt the issue.  I’m not damaged or delicate - I’m a tough girl, and I bounce back quite easily. If you want to ask me questions, then ask me questions.  I would be more than happy to engage in a dialogue with you and share my thoughts with you.  

I’m sharing this here because through sharing it, I have been horrified to learn that an alarmingly large number of people in my life, all women, have also been raped, and it was only until I shared my story with them that they shared theirs with me.  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO SO MANY PEOPLE? This raises a whole set of issues and concerns too great for this post, but I want to share my experience as a way to encourage other women and men who have been raped to speak out as well. This is a largely silent and invisible epidemic, and it can only stop if we all can feel empowered and courageous enough to stand up to it and speak out against it. I want to be one less silent voice in this.

I’m sharing this here because I really, truly believe that healing begins with reaching out and creating networks of support.  Sexual assault can (understandably) really confuse and mess people up and make them want to withdraw into themselves - hearing other experiences can create an atmosphere of vulnerability and openness, where people can feel safe sharing their own stories.  Not long after we returned to Canada, I read One Hour in Paris by Karyn Freedman, which is a harrowing personal account of rape and survival.  Though it was terribly difficult to read, Freedman’s book actually gave me the courage and inspiration to talk about my own experience and think about my own healing path.  If other rape survivors can benefit and find their own courage from hearing about my attack and recovery, then I consider it a service of love and encouragement on my part. I hope to write more posts about my recovery and the steps I have been taking to slay this dragon of trauma, so if you know someone who is also battling trauma and depression as a result of rape, and you think it would be helpful for that person to read this, please don’t hesitate to share this with him or her.  If I can help even one person, then I will be happy.

Finally, I’m sharing this here because this is a part of who I am now.  It will shape how I see things in the future, and how I act and feel about some things, but it doesn’t make me broken, or damaged.  I have merely suffered an (invisible) injury, which is well on its way to healing.   I am not anything different from who I was before, but this is nevertheless a part of me, and one that I must accept - to deny it would be to deny a part of myself.

So now you know. I am a survivor, unbeatable and unbreakable. This pathetic, despicable, waste-of-space of an individual has not defeated me or stolen my future joy.  I have an incredible will and an even stronger self-worth, and with the amazing support of my spectacular husband (That’s right! We got married! Details in later, less depressing blog posts!), and my loving family and friends, I will continue to enjoy a life full of happiness, opportunity, and love.  

Until next time, 

Jo Boots <—See? I’m married! I get a new last name!)

PS. Here is a photo of kittens to cheer you up.


Saturday 10 May 2014

Moms = Very, Very Important.

Tomorrow is Sunday, May 11th, 2014. In case you missed the mass marketing in department and stationery stores and pretty much EVERYWHERE YOU GO, it also happens to be Mother's Day. I've been thinking a lot about moms lately, mostly because I'm excited to see mine in just over a month, I get a new mom-in-law in July,  and also partly because we have a soon-to-be mom here at VOTOlandia.  That's right. Nkrumeow is pregnant.  It finally happened.  Anybody want a kitten?

Baby bump!!!

Seriously.  We will be giving away kittens.  If you're in Ghana, please take one.  


Like I was saying, I've been thinking a lot about moms lately: how wonderful they are, how much strength and sacrifice it takes to be a parent, how much we take our parents for granted, and how lucky I actually am to have a mom who is still around.  And, also, tomorrow is Mother's Day. Being on an entirely different continent than my mom, it's a bit tricky to celebrate with her.  I could send flowers, but they're just going to die anyway.  I will call her, but I can call her anytime.  So I thought this time, instead of chocolates, flowers, candles that my mom probably doesn't need, I'd really open up and let her (and the world) know just how important she is.

Dear Mom, 

Today I Googled "mother" and got this:  

noun: mother; plural noun: mothers
1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth.
* a female animal in relation to its offspring.
I also found this, which I highly enjoyed:
* an extreme example or very large specimen of something.
"I got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams"  synonyms: informal - humdinger, dilly, doozy, lulu, whopper

I thought that was pretty silly.  When people ask me about you, I don't say "Oh, my mom? She's just the woman in relation to me, to whom she has given birth. She is the female human in relation to me, her offspring" I mean, technically, you did grow me and give birth to me, but you are not just the vessel in which I lived my parasitic fetus-life until I was big enough to come into this world. Because this definition of "mother" comes nowhere close to defining how important you are, I thought I'd add to it.  Here are some of the things that I would include in my definition of you:

Wise, Intelligent, and Knowledgeable

Most adolescents and teens sometimes think they REALLY DO know everything.  Not shockingly, I was one such teen.  It's easy to feel all-knowing and unbreakable at that age, but most of the things I have learned came not from my friends, not from my teachers, but from you, Mom!  

You helped me think through the big and little things - from the most recent Math assignment Mr. Wolfe would send us home with, to the bigger life experiences, especially those really awkward transitiony ages between 12-14 when I had no social graces and was going through a number of changes that typically come with those awkward transitiony ages. 

You knew when to involve yourself in my affairs (even if I didn't appreciate them at the time), and when to let me figure things out on my own.  Even if I wanted to be on my own, you always made yourself available for counsel, just in case! I know that I have much, much more to learn from you yet, especially as I embark on a journey into marriage and parenthood in the future, and I am more than happy to listen to any advice and wisdom you may have for me in the future.

Unconditionally Loving

I highly doubt I was an easy child to love (according to the horror stories that have been recounted by other family members), but somehow, you still managed to love me, completely unconditionally, even when I almost drove your car into a post that one time.

I don't know how you did that, but I really appreciate all of the times you've shown me love without judgement or (non-constructive) criticism , even when I'm sobbing my eyes out over a breakup from a two-week old relationship in high-school ("my life is so over now!"), or belting it out, pretending to be one of the Spice Girls while singing along to "Say You'll be There" on repeat (over and over and over and over again).  

It's this type of love that allowed me the space to express myself, be creative, and explore my interests, and allowed me to grow into someone whole loves to learn, and who (tries to) accept people for who they are, despite their faults or vices, because hey, we all have them.


Mom, you're tough.  I'm not talking physically tough - I'm talking about that emotional toughness that comes from a lifetime of experiences and from raising children.  The kind of tough that you probably didn't realize you had until Rob was born, when you now not only had to take care of yourself, but you had to take care of a SECOND human life, beyond just keeping it alive.  That's a lot to take on.  Sure enough, Ric came into the world not to long after Rob, and now you had two boys on your plate.  Two very strong, energetic boys. 

Then, to top it off, 15 or 16 years later, when the boys could more or less take care of themselves, you were probably thinking that you'd soon get a break, and that soon you'd get to focus on you again.

But then I came along.

...Sorry about that, by the way.  Though really,  to be fair, I feel like it's Dad's fault. It's totally your and Dad's fault.  I retract my apology. Way to go, guys.

You really did need a lot of strength to take care of me.  Not only was I (as everyone in our family is wont to remind me) the mother of all terrible children, with frequent tantrums, meltdowns, and other selfish acts, but you had to deal with me after Dad passed away soon after I was born. Sure, you had help from the boys and family, but it was all on you from that point forward.

You've dealt with the loss of a husband, both parents, and a child.  These are incredible losses.  These are the kinds of things that leave permanent holes in our souls.  And yet, through all of this, you've managed to fill those empty spaces with love, happiness, and resilience.  When I see you, I see someone full of life, joy, self-sufficiency, someone I look up to, and one doozy of a tough lady!

Tough Lovin'

Though you were probably easier on me than Dad might have been, you still didn't go easy on me.  And even though, much to your frustration, other people gave into my whims (I assume to mostly get me to stop crying), I'm glad you didn't cave when I screamed my head off because you wouldn't buy me a toy that I so desperately wanted (besides, Ric would just buy it for me later anyway).  I'm glad that you (literally) dragged me out of the mall when I wouldn't stop tantruming (I'm making "tantrum" a verb now.  I'm verbing the noun.) in the mall.  

I'm glad that you never let me get away with doing things I (probably knew I) shouldn't be doing, and I'm glad that you were always straight with me when I was being a brat.  Because of this, I feel as though I've turned out to be a pretty cool human being who is grateful for everything in my life. Thanks for setting me on the straight and narrow.


Mom, you're one of the most selfless people I know.  When I think back on my life, there are so many instances in which you've gone out of your way to make myself or others feel good.  In fact, there are too many to list here, but you always made sure that "Santa" wrote back to me each Christmas, and that he ate the cookies we left out for him.  I'll never forget the Easter when you made (I mean, when the Easter Bunny made...) bunny paw prints track throughout the house to a number of Easter goodies (including ALL 4 Ninja Turtle action figures!! Yessssss!).  You always took, what I now realize as an adult, your very precious and limited time to sit through the probably-not-as-funny-as-we-thought skits and made up commercials that Lindsay Smithson and I would prepare for you after school.  That, truly, is an act of selflessness. Thanks for letting us be creative in your kitchen!

Even in times of grief and sadness, you think about everyone else and put others' needs first.  I'll always remember what a shining example of selflessness you demonstrated when Ric passed away Christmas morning almost ten years ago.  Even though you were going through something a parent should never have to go through, you still made Christmas dinner and prepared dessert so that your grandchildren could have a (relatively) happy Christmas Day.  I don't even know how you did that, but I do know that my level of respect and admiration for you shot up even higher that day.  

Best Friend (awwww)

I have a good amount of friends, all whom I'd describe as a best friend in one way or another, but you, Mom, are the bestest best friend I could ever have.  To rip-off Josh Ritter, if all my best friends are stars, you're the northern lights. Who else would voluntarily wear matching jackets covered in hideous orange, black, and purple geometric shapes when I was a child, or learn how to do a french-braid just for me? Or sit with me and laugh ourselves silly at the not-really-that-funny videos of America's Funniest Home Videos?

Thanks for always being there to listen to my "problems" and summaries of the latest, awesomest movie I just saw, and for binge watching shows like 24, Lost, and Six Feet Under with me while we gorged ourselves on popcorn. Thanks for helping me make plastic canvas Christmas ornaments, for showing me how to make beeswax candles, and for teaching me how to be crafty in the church-bazaar kind of way. I can't wait to develop an even deeper friendship with you as we get older!

Love you, Mom <3

There's a dilly of other amazing things about you, mom, but I would break the internet with a content-overload so I'll leave it at that.  Simply put, you're a whopper of a mom, and I'm so thankful and grateful that you're MY mom! 


But Wait, There's More!

There are a number of other mothers in my life, all of whom have taught me something here and there along the way, and I couldn't end this post without briefly thanking those other amazing women:

My grandmother: My last remaining grandparent, and as tough as adamantium.  Thanks, Bonnie, for always making sure I'd had enough to eat before going out of the house, for sharing your wisdom with me, for always making time for me, and for teaching me to be kind to others and kind to myself. And though I never picked it up, thanks for attempting to teach me how to knit.  I'm sure I'll get it one day. Can't wait to see you in June!

Love you, Bonnie! <3

Lorna Chappell, Godmother-extroadinare: My mom's best friend, and wisdom imparter.  Thanks, Lorna, for teaching me to love the finer aspects of music, crafting, and for showing me the secrets of painting and drawing! Thanks for endless nights of Careers, Contract Rummy, and Spite and Malice, and for sharing your love of Star Trek.  Also, thanks for letting me and Jessica make a mess of your kitchen with poorly executed cinnamon buns and purple icing - I know how much patience that must have taken!

Love you, Lorna! <3 (The awesome dude in this photo is my equally amazing Godfather, Winston! Love you, Winston! <3)

All of the moms in my family, like my sister-in-law, aunties and my cousins, with honourable mention to Vicky Ayotte -, who not only took me off of my mom's hands in the summer time, but gave me a humdinger of a spanking that finally set me straight for good.  (My mom thanks you, too!)

All my friends' moms I've ever known, most notably Shelly Rayner, Carmen Milenkovic, Donna Smithson, Anita DeGoede, Judy Hume, and Lesya Nahachewsky, to name a few, for raising really awesome friends for me to hang out with, for sharing your cooking with me, and for letting me stay at your house to hang out for hours with said awesome friends, and for putting up with our crazy antics! They say you're only as awesome as the company you keep.  I keep some pretty incredible company, but I really have to thank their moms who raised them to be awesome too!

All my friends and colleagues who are moms themselves: Oriana Watt, Jenn Chevrier, Jen Bond, Sharon Harvey, Shannon Welch, to name a few - thanks for sharing your infinite wisdom and experiences on parenting with me, and for also being awesome friends to boot!

To all the moms in the world: You go, girls.  Mad props.

And, lastly, but certainly not least(ly?), Rosalie Boots, my very soon to be mother-in-law - thank you for your warmth and kindness (and baking!!!) every time we meet, and for raising a son who is the most loving, thoughtful, intelligent, caring, ambitious, driven, and most amazing person I could ever know and love.  You've done very well, indeed, and I'm so thankful that you are in this world!

So to my mom, to my mother-figures, and to all the moms in the world - Happy Mother's Day! This is for you:

TL;DR: I love my mom. My mom rocks. Other moms rock too. Boyz II Men video.