Darkness? It’s Me, Krista

I don’t like where my mind goes at night. Those deep, dark hours after midnight when I’m still lying in bed, exhausted but unable to drift off. That’s the time when it always strikes me: the irrational thoughts and anxious fear.

I fight them off, one at a time. Usually it is a terrible fate befalling someone I love – more often than not involving my dear Grunt. Opening my eyes, taking in my surroundings, consciously breathing through it, repeating “Not real, not real” aloud, only really alleviates the current thought spiral. As soon as I close my eyes it’s back down another rabbit hole filled with great and awful things, grabbing at me with their tentacles of persuasion.

The only thing that stops them is getting up, getting out of bed and forcing myself to move and think in the now. My first stop is always Grunt’s room, to place a hand on his back and feel him breathe. He is safe again – he always is. Next I head downstairs to boil the kettle and find some sleepy time tea. It doesn’t really help, but it’s warm and the act of drinking it is calming, so I steep it twice. Wrapping myself in my warmest couch blanket, I hop onto my computer for at least a two-hour Pinterest session. I have to keep my mind of off anything remotely important, and Pinterest certainly has a way of sucking you into a world of DIY you love but will never do, and adorable fan art drawings of your favourite Disney characters. Add some of whatever snack food is in my pantry and there’s my remedy for insomnia.

I can usually get to sleep after this, snuggling in against MiniSir to warm up after being out of bed. But when he’s not home, it’s harder to get past that sleep threshold. Bunnydict Carrotpatch doesn’t talk much, and though his ears are velvety soft, stroking them still doesn’t soothe me the way a shifting-in-his-sleep-to-hold-you husband would.

I remember nearly flipping my sleep schedule when MiniSir was deployed to the Alberta floods a few years ago – up all night, sleeping only when daylight peeked into the bedroom so I could see that there were no fears hiding in the shadows. Now I’m a mummy, and I don’t have that luxury any more; there is a tiny person that needs my help growing into the best big person he can be. So the scant few hours of sleep I manage have to do, at least until nap time when we can both lie down again. For the same reason, I hesitate to take that extra dose of medication my psychiatrist said I could safely take, as it makes me very dopey and thus it is harder to wake up with the baby in the mornings. Alcohol and the pills make it even worse – even with one beer at dinner, I find I have difficulty hearing the baby at all, which isn’t good for me, or for Grunt, who still wakes at least once or twice a night.

And so I drink tea. And eat Jammy Dodgers. And “pin” journal ideas and knitting patterns and artistic inspiration for things I’ll never draw because I don’t think I’m good enough to even try them. And then maybe, just maybe, I may have quieted the demons enough to get some sleep.


Doctor! I Smell BO!

A lot of people may not realize this, but PTSD messes with your brain. I know, I know, but give me a second to elaborate.

It re-wires it. Permanently. Again, I hear you say you knew that already. But I’m not talking about emotions or flashbacks or unexplained anxiety. I am talking about your senses.

That’s right: Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing, Touch. The five things you rely on every day to help you determine the state of the world around you. In particular, PTSD survivors most often report a complete rewiring in their sense of Smell.

This ‘weird yet true’ fact is something I live with constantly. MiniSir endures me “do you smell that?” questions without comment, and attributes it as more evidence that I am in fact a Wolverine-esque mutant. (And since I completely healed myself without need of surgery or medical intervention after the accident, he has a point.)

But honestly, living like this sucks. Or rather, it stinks. Three days ago I had MiniSir smell the kitchen garbage can because I thought it smelled like cigarette butts. It didn’t, apparently. I swore the blind in the baby’s room smelled like really strong male body odour, and I believed it so strongly that I eventually asked that we moved the baby into the spare room instead. When we make tacos, I am grateful that I enjoy the taste because the house fills with the smell of feet.

I don’t understand why this occurs, but it does, particularly if the trauma causing the PTSD has been severe. And I wish I could at least explain why I smell the noxious odours that I do – repressed memories from the scene would make it much easier to bear. But the truth is that when we survivors smell weird things, it is probably just that: a weird thing with no reason behind it at all.

I am also sensitive to other smells: poop, vomit, etc., but I don’t smell them often like I smell the others and they are always attributable to an actual cause. Don’t know why, but living with the smell of strong body odour, feet, and snuffed out cigarettes in your home when they aren’t truly present is something I have had to get used to.

So if you visit, and the house smells just a little *too* much like vanilla candles, let me know. I will gladly tone it down – it’s just that I can’t tell over the smell of phantom cigarettes.

Another Dirty Word

Something weird happened to me yesterday. I sat down, slouching into the soft couch, to watch one of Grunt’s favourite shows with him. At one point, he climbed into my lap and I looked down to make sure he was going to get comfortable in a way that wouldn’t hurt me either.

And then I realized: I can see my legs. Not just my legs, but the tops of them. And not just the tops, but I can the rest of my body underneath my tummy. Somewhere along the way of losing weight and getting more active, I actually got thinner than I remember being in a long time.

This is an important milestone for several reasons. Since puberty, I have had this annoying large stomach that protruded over my lower abdomen, the tell-tale mark of someone with PCOS. It has only gotten more prominent since having Grunt, as I carried him very high. And since my accident, I have had a much larger behind, thanks to all that fluid that stuck around the injured areas because of the nerve damage done. So, when I look in the mirror sideways, all I see are these two problem areas; my torso gets lost somewhere in the middle.

In 2015, MiniSir and I decided we were going to get healthy – lose weight, eat better, take care of ourselves a little more. The previous 4 years had been a cluster of serious, terrible, and exciting things; a time in our lives we could not forget even if we wanted to. But 2015 we chose to start fresh, and give Grunt positive role models right at home. We purchased pedometers, started counting calories, watching portion sizes, and intensely meal planning. MiniSir started exercising right away, and his weight melted off. He has since managed to successfully lose over 50 pounds. Exercise has always left a dirty taste in my mouth, so I focused on being active with Grunt and trying to hit my 10000 steps a day. It was easier said than done, but by the end of the year, I had lost nearly 40 pounds.

We found as we got doing it that it felt good. We enjoyed it, and it helped us keep our grocery costs and food waste to a minimum. Helping ourselves and helping the planet? Okay! We decided to purchase home exercise equipment for our joint Christmas gift – we had a friend looking to off-load his and we were given a great price. So now we have a treadmill and a recumbent bike, and since MiniSir is a runner, you can guess which one was for me.

I was reluctant to start seriously exercising – what if I hurt something, what if I made it worse, what if what if. Finally, I made up my mind to try without judgment, and I got on the recumbent bike and pedalled. The next day, I got on it again. And the next. Throw in a little yoga once or twice a week, and suddenly you know how I’ve been spending my time while Grunt naps since the start of the year.

Some days I just can’t even, and I still get on the bike. Today, for example. I’m biking and writing this blog. I have no qualms about multi-tasking, and if this helps me feel better about time I spend on me, then it’s a win-win. I can only bike for about a half hour before my back and pelvis tell me I’ve done enough, but I can work up a sweat in that time which tells me I have indeed done what I came to do.

I’m hungrier, downright starving some days. Last week I ate supper and then an hour later I had a bowl of oatmeal and almond milk. But I feel good when I’m hungry – it means I need the fuel.

So maybe exercise still sounds like a dirty word to me. And maybe I hide my scale in my closet so I don’t obsess over my weight. Maybe I’m taking anti-depressants still to help me sleep.

But you know what else I am doing? I’m kicking that bulletproof, armoured bank truck right in the ass.

You can’t beat me, truck. What didn’t kill me has made me infinitely stronger: physically, mentally, emotionally.

Bring it.

Ghosts That We Knew (4 Years On)

I cried last night. It’s been 4 years today. And I cried openly while listening to music.IMG_0401 Don’t get me wrong – it was moving. MiniSir and I treated ourselves to our first concert as a couple. We went to see Mumford & Sons, the band that has pretty much been the musical accompaniment of our life together. We courted to their first album, had the first dance at our wedding to a song from the second, and celebrated the birth of our son with the third – not many people have timing that good. So we made out a little to “Lover of the Light”, our dance song, and I thought that was as emotional as I was going to get. Then they played “Ghosts That We Knew”, and the audience looked like this.

It was magical. It was a moment out of time. And it was the combination of being there, in that moment, and listening to these words being sung as though they were directed at me, that started the tears streaming down my face:

You saw my pain washed out in the rain
Broken glass, saw the blood run from my veins
But you saw no fault, no cracks in my heart
And you knelt beside my hope torn apart

But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
We’ll live a long life

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
‘Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we’ll be alright

And as MiniSir held me, and I wept, I felt almost whole again. It has taken four years – four years of agony and defeat and hope and struggle – but you know what? I feel renewed. I feel like the old me – or as close to the old me as I’ll ever get again. It’s not going to be the same ever again, but I don’t want to be any more. I love my new life. I am happy. And I can cry happy/sad tears and be okay.

Happy Fourth Anniversary, me. You have come a long way, kiddo.

The Way I Remember It

Last week was not a great week. For our family, the last week in September has too many days of note, and they are all bittersweet. Chief among them is 24 September, the anniversary of the first death of a Strathcona during my husband’s deployment in Afghanistan. His name is tattooed on MiniSir’s arm, and though I never got to meet Nathan Hornburg, I’ve seen his handsome face on many memorials. Every year when I wake up on this day, I remember his face from the photos, and thank him for his service and sacrifice. I thank whoever else is listening for guiding my husband home safely so he could be the one waking up beside me. And I think of my best memory of that particular anniversary, which happened just three years ago, and I hope that wherever he is, Nathan approves.

September 24, 2011 was a Thursday. MiniSir was posted at CFB Suffield. I was in Medicine Hat Hospital, recovering from the accident. The Portraits of Honour, a mural depicting Canada’s fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan tour, was in town for a public viewing and gala. Of all days to have the gala, this one was especially poignant. MiniSir had to attend, but he had the afternoon off to get ready. I was napping in the afternoon sun, something I often did after my second Physio workout of the day, when he came into the room, still in his combats, and sat next to the bed.

“I was thinking about today, and how short life is,” he started, “and in case I didn’t get the hint when your accident happened, today really kicked my ass with it.”

Sleepy, bleary-eyed and without my glasses, I vaguely noticed he had something in his pocket.

He went on to say how he couldn’t imagine life without me, and that he felt that it was the right time to do this. After much teasing about what was in his pocket, he pulled it out and nervously opened the box. It was the ring we had picked out together months ago, the one I had loved immediately. He asked me to marry him, and when I nodded, slid the ring on. But he made me say the words, all of them, before he would kiss me in celebration.

The ring had been sized for my pre-accident finger width, so it was far too big to keep wearing. I waved it around and let it sparkle for a while, but when he told me he had to go get ready for the gala, we agreed to put it back in the box for safe keeping. Then, his visit cut short with a promise to try and see me later, he left.

I spent the evening playing card games with my mum and talking about what kind of wedding I wanted, and went to bed still wondering when he would show up. Late, nearly midnight, I woke up to a text message saying he was just outside. The ER guard had apparently taken one look at him and let him in without a fuss.

I was still waking up when I heard the familiar “Ching-Ching-Ching” of his spurs against the hospital floor. And when the nurses started wolf-whistling and cat-calling, I knew exactly what was going on. Still dressed in his mess kit, having come straight from the gala and a whiskey toast to Nathan, he was strolling through the hospital looking like a million bucks, just to kiss me goodnight.

And I fell in love with him all over again.

He came into my room quietly, and when he saw I was awake, he gave me a single red rose he had stolen from the centrepiece. “I love you, Mrs Johns,” he whispered.

The next day was the day I walked for the first time without the casts. The nurses couldn’t stop talking about his appearance the night before, fawned over my ring, and gave me a beautiful martini glass they had all chipped in to buy me as a congratulatory gift. When he came to visit that evening and I showed him I could stand up by myself without the walker, he got the ring out, got down on one knee, and proposed again, just so he had done it right.

If you ask me, he did it right the first time.

And that is why, every September 24, I wake up happy, though I know it’s a somber anniversary. Because I remember that it was Nathan who helped my husband to take what he wanted from life, to say what he felt, and to be strong and proud. This September 24, I looked down at our sleeping son, at how beautiful he was, and marvelled at how so much can change in just three years. And then once again, I thanked Cpl. Hornburg, a man I never met, for everything.


Making Accommodations

It occurred to me this weekend while MiniSir was away being a soldier and I was looking after Little Grunt by myself that I don’t do things “normally”. More accurately, that I can’t do things “normally”. My mum keeps asking me if I have put Grunt on the floor on a blanket to help him learn to crawl, and every time she asks the answer is “no”. Not that I’m not helping him learn to crawl, but rather that I just haven’t done it the way it’s “normally” done.

Since the accident, I’ve learned to do things a little differently than most people. Physical tasks most people take for granted are more than a little painful for me, like getting down on my belly on the floor, for example. Not only can I barely get back up, but lying on my stomach at all is extremely hard on my back. I used to be a stomach sleeper before, and now if I spend 5 minutes lying in bed like that I seize up. It takes another 5 painful minutes to transfer to my side and then my back before I can get up. So getting down on the floor with my son is just not ever going to happen. Instead, I put him in the middle of the bed and get down face to face with him to encourage him to crawl. We have tummy time together there too, where I can lay on my side beside him. It’s supportive for me, and softer when he decides he’s had enough of being on his tummy and starts to smash his face into the covers.

The bed itself is special too: it’s a full mattress width higher than most beds. The delivery guys questioned my request to make it so high, but it is easier to climb up into it and slide down off the edge than it would be to struggle to get up and out of a lower bed. It’s a solid wooden frame too, and according to my husband it’s killer on the knees in the middle of a dark night, so if I need a bit of a boost up onto the mattress I can use the side rail as a step.

But it’s not just in the bedroom that I have to make accommodations. I sit differently in a car seat now. I have to elevate my feet several times a day or they turn purple and get fat. I can’t go more than a half-hour wearing heels, even if most of that time is sitting down. I have limited stamina, arthritis in pretty much every joint in my body, I have to manually check my legs after I shave them because I can’t feel if I’ve nicked myself in the process, and every single piece of my wardrobe has been replaced in the last 3 years.

But the point of this post wasn’t to be all, “oh it’s awful for me”, it was actually this: I have become so accustomed to doing things differently, to making accommodations to my injuries, that I had to really think about why I don’t get down on the floor with my son. And then I had to wonder why my mum always seems so disappointed when I do say “no”.

The weird truth is, I’m so used to living and dealing with all this that my family doesn’t even see it anymore. Things that I can’t do seem to slip their minds. I know it’s because of all the things I can and have done since the accident, things the doctors were unsure I would ever do again, that the small day to day things I am still unable to do get glossed over; in our house they do too. And while this is a good thing, it does take me aback every once in a while when people expect me to do something and don’t get it when I can’t. I guess it’s up to me to be more vocal, to be my own advocate. All right, world, here it is:

Yes, I’ll try it your way, but if I can’t do it, let me try it mine.


(This is Dedicated) To The One I Love

4 years ago today I was preparing to leave a job that had spent the last 2 years and 9 months slowly crushing my soul. I had just gotten a new position somewhere else and couldn’t have been happier. That summer I house sat for a friend who spent her summer working in the military at CFB Suffield, and she emailed me late one night and simply said,”I have found the man of your dreams”. It’s hard to beat an introduction like that. I stalked him on Facebook, found out he was interested in a lot of the same things I was AND he was cute! We traded notes and then phone numbers, so I was also texting with this guy that I really liked, and had been for the last month. Trouble was, he was living in Medicine Hat, Alberta (which I had had to find on a map). But the good news was that he was coming to Kingston for a course and we were planning to meet for real then.

3 years ago today I was lying in my hospital bed in the recovery ward at Medicine Hat Hospital planning my wedding. I had moved out to Alberta to be with the man of my dreams, and while walking to work one Friday morning was struck by a 10-ton, bulletproof truck. This man had dropped everything on the busiest military weekend he had for the whole year and raced to the hospital, and then later the same day driven to Calgary to be with me. He stayed by my side every day, making sure I was comfortable, reading to me and feeding me ice chips. He didn’t protest when I told him that the only thing I wanted to do when I got better was marry him. Little did I know it at the time but he had already put the deposit down on my engagement ring. So there I was, booking the Mess in Kingston where we wanted to get married: “How does a year from today sound?”

2 years ago today I was having an anxiety attack as I watched Kingston get hit with the most severe weather it had seen in a long while. We were catching the tail end of a hurricane and it decided that my wedding day was the day it would roll in. They say rain on your wedding day is good luck, but I thought this was a little much. And then, during the ceremony, the clouds lifted and the sun came out, like a blessing from above. It was the perfect analogy of how the two of us had spent our last year together, and one of the happiest days of my life.

A year ago today I was throwing up. We had just found out we were expecting. It was scary, and we hadn’t told anyone yet. After every doctor I had seen telling me I probably couldn’t ever conceive after the accident, we were petrified that something was going to go wrong. So every morning when I woke up sick we heaved a sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe, it would be all right.

Today I woke up beside the man of my dreams and our miracle baby. After four years of turbulence, this morning was perfect, utter bliss. He kissed me good morning and we whispered “happy anniversary” to one another over our son. As he left I realized one thing: it’s been heaven and hell combined, but it’s all been for this one beautiful reason.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. Here’s to many, many more years of mornings like this one. ❤️