Wednesday, April 12, 2017

CFS is a Bitch

So many people in a single day ask me how I am. It's a social nicety that has good intentions but often not a lot of meaning. Some people genuinely want to know, regardless of the answer. Most don't. I try to gauge those who do and those who don't. When I was a teenager and my illness started, I didn't know the difference. I became known as a complainer. It started a long road of "suffering in silence." But you don't get medals for suffering in silence. Because no one knows to give them to you.

I am unwell. There are a lot of us. We're the unfit, the invalids, the chronics. After a while you'd get sick of us telling you we're not good. You would, I promise. And not good compared to what? Compared to our every day? Because there's the good days and the bad days, but the good days are not good, and the bad days are worse. What if you have to live your life as if the bad days that make up your existence are in fact the good days, and what if you have only yourself to compare to because if you compare yourself to the healthy, the well, the fit, the valid, you will simply fall apart.

My fatigue started when I was 13. My depression started around the same time and I wondered if they were connected. I took anti-depressants which helped my depression but not my fatigue. I was given a basic blood test, told everything was normal and was then halfheartedly diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) but was told it could be any number of things. That was that. I am a prime example of the giant, gaping hole in our medical system. I went through painful sleep studies, misdiagnoses and disappointing trial and error treatments. Of all the doctors I have had, not a single one tried to help me find a solution to my fatigue or rule out every possible reason before blindly calling it "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome." You don't die from CFS, so you get given a handful of sleeping pills and pushed to the side. We're not dying, no, but we're hardly living.

Just recently I found something called the Complex Chronic Disease Program (CCDP) through BC Women's Health and got my doctor to refer me. After a year and a half I started the program and was more "officially" diagnosed with CFS. I was desperately hoping I would not be. You see, CFS is a life sentence. There is no cure. The most they could offer me was the hope that through this program I might come to feel 10 to 20% better. But even that would be a huge improvement. That is the difference between coping with an illness and not. I'm actually one of the fortunate ones. A lot of people with CFS also have Fibromyalgia and are in chronic pain. I'm sure a lot of CFS sufferers don't have access to good health care or families to support them. Despite the fact that it's taken me months and months to write this (the irony of being too tired to write a blog post about how tired you are), I'm sure a lot of them wouldn't have the energy to write about it. Some people with CFS cannot even get out of bed. So I write this for them especially.

Healthy person's brain (Top). CFS patient's brain (Bottom).
CFS is also called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (wha...?), a ridiculous new name that nobody can ever pronounce or remember but that sure sounds a lot more legitimate than Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS and Fibromyalgia are referred to as Central Sensitivity Syndromes: Central meaning the central nervous system. There is evidence that the sensitivities are caused by inflammation or dysfunction in the nervous system or HPA axis, which is part of the body's stress-response system. CFS often starts with a flu or virus, and just never goes away; they think CFS might in fact be a virus. Psychiatric disorders are also common with CFS (yippee!) possibly because CSS and psychiatric disorders all involve dysregulation of the same neurotransmitters. Even brain scans show a CFS patient's brain is significantly affected, white matter is reduced and the right arcuate fasciculus is significantly abnormal. You don't need to remember all of this information. I just wanted to flood your brain with important medical jargon to prove to you that CFS is a real, biological illness, because believe it or not, some doctors still think it's some sort of myth, like fairies or Donald Trump's taxes.

But the problem is - besides the obvious problem of having an incurable, chronic illness - for most of us it's almost completely invisible to the outside world. Almost. I've noticed over the past few years as my fatigue has gotten worse, the circles under my eyes darkening and starting above my eyes not just below them, as if my body is finally saying this has gone on long enough, we have to show the world what's inside. You see, I'm a good actor. But before you think that every time you've seen me I've just been faking it, hiding my illness behind a mask, that's just not the way it is. When you suffer from something with the word "chronic" as the first word, from chronic mental illness to chronic pain, you have two choices: you can choose to live your life to the best of your ability, to rise above, or you can choose to let it take over - take over your personality, your relationships, your ability to love. You can choose to improve your life in the small ways you are capable of, or you can give in. As my fatigue gets worse I feel more and more like rising above is just plain out of my reach, and instead I'm just desperately trying not to sink.

Let me tell you about my most debilitating symptoms, because you probably don't need me to list my plethora of allergies (if I did, you'd cry), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (although I could talk about bowel movements for hours), Restless Leg Syndrome, back and neck pain, and muscle weakness. Instead I'll tell you about how I could sleep for 15 hours straight and never feel rested - one of the prime indications of CFS. Of course if I don't get at least ten hours then I'm even more tired than normal. It takes me around an hour or two to fall asleep. I wake up frequently, sometimes not getting back to sleep for hours - this is also a symptom of CFS. Yes, you heard that right, one of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not sleeping well. It is a sad, sad irony that you want to laugh at but unfortunately laughing takes too much energy so you silently stare dead pan at the camera for five minutes straight. I try to wake up between 11 to 12 pm - on the weekends sometimes I can't get up until 2 in the afternoon as my body tries to put me out of my misery by killing me in my sleep. It takes me at least an hour to get out of bed. This is how I wake up: my head is foggy with exhaustion, my eyes ache and are so heavy I can't open them for longer than a few seconds. I am often half awake and half asleep, having lucid dreams that can be incredibly sad or terrifying. I wake up crying a lot of mornings, my landlady must think I'm insane. I'm often dreaming in a nightmarish way about needing to wake up and not being able to. When I was anemic this was much worse. I would feel my arm reaching for the light but my arm was not moving. I would swear I was wide awake, looking at my phone but my phone lay beside me. I would be calling out for help, but not making a sound. I was a prisoner trapped in my own sleep.

When I'm finally awake, this is the beginning of what I call "pushing myself." Just choosing an outfit is difficult as my brain is constantly going for vacations without me. I stare at my pill container with my hand lifted in the air like a zombie - trying to remember what day it is, which pills I'm taking, what the heck am I even doing, oh right, drugs. My eyes and head ache all day. I live in a constant "brain fog" because my brain, not just my body, is so tired that I have to force myself to concentrate. Though I have perfect vision, my vision is constantly blurry from fatigue. And then there's the un-focusing of my eyes, something I have to physically stop from happening all the time. My thinking is impaired, my memory is impaired, my reflexes are impaired, my speech is impaired. I try to crack a joke, but I just can't find the words. I try to remember what you just said and nod my head yes because I'm tired of trying. Sometimes I feel like I'm blind, deaf AND drunk, only without any of the fun. Driving is difficult because sitting down essentially doing nothing but holding a steering wheel is a signal to my body to give in. I specifically moved five minutes to work because I lived in fear of getting in car accidents for years.

This is my normal tired. Now imagine adding to that: having a few nights of bad sleeps, getting a cold, or that time every month where I shed a part of my body, which if you didn't know, makes you extremely tired - and you can only imagine the depths of fatigue I can feel that you didn't even know were possible. There is not a moment that goes by that I do not feel exhausted, worn out, aching, blurry, less-than-I-could-be, dear-God-just-let-me-sleep tired. I do not get days of reprieve; I have never woken up feeling refreshed in my entire life; I do not know what feeling "rested" feels like and this is in fact one of my definitions of heaven that I can't wait to experience.

These are the physical symptoms, but what is most underrated is the impact being this tired for this long has on your psyche. It is not so much the physical symptoms in a single moment that become unbearable, it is the constant drain on your mind and emotions. The dreams you fear will never come true - how can you find your soulmate if you're too tired to leave the house? How can you take care of a baby if you can't take care of yourself? How can you write books when you can barely write a blog post? - and this, on top of the day to day struggle of dealing with depression and anxiety, is what degrades you, until you feel yourself clinging to life by a thread, clutching at air as your hope disappears. You would think you would just get used to being this tired all the time, but you don't. It is not something you get used to, it is something you learn to bear. But when five years turns into ten and ten turns into twenty and you imagine yourself as an old maid with five poodles (because you're allergic to cats), now not only suffering with this same illness but with all the health issues that come with getting old, you wonder if you can possibly go on. But that is the depression talking and it is fickle as a fiend. I have to remind myself there is always hope for tomorrow. Where in this moment I don't feel like I can manage, the next moment I discover I can. Where today doesn't seem worth living for, tomorrow always is. For all I know, tomorrow is the day I will find something that will make my life easier. "Tomorrow" is the day they find the cure for CFS.

We chronic sufferers don't get flowers, because we fight this every day. We don't get cards saying "Get well soon!" because there is no getting well. And if, by some miracle, there is a way to get better, we are just trying to get through this day, never mind tomorrow, so you can imagine how hard working on this thing called "getting better" is for an illness that they don't really understand and which could actually be any number of other things you have to rule out one by one. It is like asking a bed-ridden man to heal himself. Too sick to get out of bed? Too bad! Now drag yourself to the pharmacy because no one will do it for you. Some people say faith in Jesus is a crutch. Yep. I am a cripple and Jesus is most definitely my crutch! He just happens to be my saviour too, and my closest friend. He is my hope. Without Him, I don't know how I would survive.

Now, if you know me, you're thinking, why have you never told me it was this bad? Well for one, how depressing is this blog post. It depresses me to think about it, let alone talk about it. But I always see you smiling, you say! You're so full of life! You're the life of the party! You're - (okay I'll stop now, you get the picture), it can't possibly be that bad! It is... But the thing is, CFS is not actually who I am, it's a thing I fight. I am a survivor. The real Slim Shady, ahem, I mean Faith, stands up every day, pushes her illness as far out of sight as possible, and shows her face. Which means you probably don't see the illness. It also means she makes it to tomorrow.

So why am I telling you this sob story? To make you feel bad for me? No, there are far worse fates. To desperately get the support that I didn't have for so many years? No, I have that now. I tell you this because I want you to understand, and I want others who go through the same thing or similar health issues to know they are not alone, and to teach everyone else what suffering from a chronic illness is like. I thought for so long that people would just know what it was like to be chronically tired. It astounded me again and again when I discovered they didn't. Because until you are mind-bogglingly tired for a prolonged period of time you do not understand the depth of fatigue your body can handle, the extreme cost on your body and mind, the emotional impact, the relational impact, how it changes everything you do and can't do.

I've gotten better at answering the question, "How are you?" I've gotten better, but still I often find myself lying. I say, "Good!" because I'm happy to see you. I say "Good!" because I think you're asking if I'm good besides my illness and forget that you probably don't even remember I'm ill. But with the people I love and trust, or when I think you should know, I let down my guard and tell the truth: I'm not good. Even if it means you might think I'm always complaining, that I'm a Debbie Downer and start avoiding me - because this is the fear of the chronically ill. I learned that not everyone needs to understand. It's okay, because God knows, and He has not taken it away so He obviously thinks I can handle it. I do not believe God gave me this illness, like some sort of test or punishment, but I do believe He has let me have it for a reason. My dad says it's because I am worthy of it. I am worth refining like gold. This illness can either embitter you or refine you. So I let it refine me so that what comes out shines and encourages everyone around it. Of course my dad is completely, biologically biased, but I like to think it's true. So I try to shine as much as I can, and I try to remember that the more I lift my face up to Jesus, the more my face reflects the light of the Son.

Notice the high and low range limit. See that red line? That's me.
P.S. Just recently I took a hormone test that could possibly change my life forever (no big deal). My naturopath recommended I take a "Complete Dutch Steroid Hormone Panel" to the tune of $400 (I guess the Dutch know their steroids.) So I took the Dutchy's test and whaddya know! It showed my cortisol level is freakishly low and completely out of whack. Cortisol is an adrenal, stress hormone that regulates your energy. My cortisol readings showed I get no increase in the morning to wake me up, have no increase whatsoever during the day to give me energy and then, just when your cortisol is supposed to drop off completely, mine increases juuuust enough to give me a terrible night sleep. FML. (See picture above). It isn't known if this is a symptom of CFS or the cause, but no surprise, low cortisol is incredibly common in CFS patients. The crazy thing is that a study done on CFS patients with low cortisol who took cortisol steroids is very positive. However, they think hypocortisol in CFS patients is the body's way of protecting itself during infection by forcing you to rest. What happens when we take that protection away? No research = THEY DON'T FREAKING KNOW.

So I'm volunteering. I'll be that guinea pig. Once again, I'm doing my own research. Study: "Faith on Steroids." Participants: Numero Uno. Results: to be seen... I'm trying the natural treatment first. It can take six months to a year to notice a difference and I'm trying not to get my hopes up. After years of disappointment, you learn to have lowered expectations at all times - I am probably the most positive pessimist on the planet. If the natural treatment doesn't work, I'll try the steroids, even though they can have some nasty and life-long side effects, even if I have to buy some off that buff guy at the gym. (This is where you say, uhh Faith, I don't think those are the same kind of steroids...) No matter what, this hormone test was the first time that I was able to see medical evidence of my fatigue and it was incredibly validating. This could be what I have been looking for for seventeen long, tired years.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dating Debunked



This is the sequel to the blog post Singlehood Debunked. Some people found that blog post depressing. I have only one thing to say to that: "HAHAHAHA." Some people found it encouraging and related to it well, mission accomplished! Now I'm going to talk about dating, because Christians are weird about dating. Now you are thinking, "Yes but, Christians are just weird," and my response would be: "This is true..." Previously just the idea of dating made me cringe with it's awkwardness and vulnerability. Oh wait, nothing has changed. I'm sure there are people out there who aren't awkward on first dates, but I don't know them and have no desire to unless they can teach me their secret, ninja ways. Who are these mysterious people? Where do they live? What do they do? No one knows. But they probably live in those tiny houses the environmentalist in us thinks are cool but only 0.01% of the population can actually live in and maintain their sanity. That's why they like dating. It gets them out of their tiny house.

For many years I wallowed in self-pity over my lack of dates. I developed serious insecurities and was convinced something was wrong with me. Ok so a lot of things are wrong with me, but I mean something that made me undesirable. It didn't matter how much my family or friends loved me, I was convinced the opposite sex was simply repelled by my presence. God saved me from a lot of heartache, but there was a lot of pain along the way and a lot of needless night-time tears, because as everyone knows night-time is when your bedroom becomes a glass box of emotions where insecurities run rampant and logic and reason sit back and laugh... at you. I share this because I know feeling undesirable is a huge struggle for a lot of single women and men, and something dating can do is affirm that you are in fact desirable, that you are just as worthy of love as anyone else, even if it doesn't work out, and that you should not settle for less. For me, dating has only confirmed again and again that insecurities are often untrue, unattractive and unnecessary. So throw them away.

This is why I believe that dating in the right way - and this is the key - is really, really good for us. It is a growing experience and growing can be painful. "Leave me as I am!" I say. "Improve me? Impossible! I'm way too stubborn for that!" I mentioned the book, Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud in my previous blog post and I also mentioned that my mom gave me this book after a previous breakup as if she was cryptically trying to say something. Just what she was trying to say no one will ever know. I'm mentioning this book again because it was incredibly helpful to know where I had gone wrong in my previous relationships and how to deal with future ones. There is one chapter on physical boundaries, but like every Christian-camp kid I have an encyclopedic knowledge of physical boundaries drilled into me from camp sex-talk nights. What I did not know enough about was emotional boundaries and how incredibly important they are, and this I feel is something we are missing in society as a whole. How many abusive relationships could be avoided before Stockholm Syndrome sets in, if women, and men, knew how to set emotional boundaries? If we only knew how to recognize those crucial red flags, so much unnecessary pain could be avoided. However, I still believe that physical boundaries are the number one most important part of a relationship, because whether you like it or not, sex is intrinsically linked to your emotions - to your very soul - and makes all the emotional boundaries that inevitably get crossed once you have already crossed the physical ones, ten times more intense.

This book encourages dating and debunks the belief that many Christians have that dating is a bad thing or something to be avoided. It taught me what characteristics in a date are okay and what are not and how to deal with someone who is has unhealthy boundaries. For example someone who might very well be kind and loving but who lies to get out of things, or someone who is manipulative or self-centred and maybe doesn't even realize it, how to tell that person in a loving way that their behaviour is not okay and that they either need to make some changes or I will have no choice but to humiliate them in public by pantsing them... Um, sorry, I mean, I'll have no choice but to move on. Why? Because I respect myself and the person too much to continue in an unhealthy relationship, because not addressing the issues someone has that are hurting you means not giving them the chance to grow, and because staying in that relationship if they refuse to grow is actually doing that person, and you, a disservice.

However, not being taught about emotional boundaries until now, combined with being a total relationship newb, I got into some deep waters a while ago in some of my (thankfully) short-lived relationships with guys who found it was all too easy to manipulate me. Previous to this I thought I was this smart, strong, independent woman like Erin Brockovich minus the biker man. I was convinced I was pretty much immune to manipulation. Shocker! Being strong in your opinions on free-range eggs and pointing out the idiots who don't wear helmets when they ride their bike does not mean you know a single thing when it comes to relationships. Turns out when you combine an easy-going personality, desperation for love on top of desperation from circumstances (like the constant fear of losing your job, not being able to find a room-mate and chronic fatigue), you are quite, quite easily manipulated by possibly well-meaning men with a lot of momma issues. Stir all this up in a big pot of crazy and you get a ticket to Italy after only a month of dating, plans to move in together despite being against your morals and a terrified family who holds your passport hostage in a desperate attempt to keep you from being murdered - and that's not all! - proceeds to take you to a pretend "going away party" which is actually an emergency confrontation with your entire family, your pastor and his wife. No big deal. It happens to the best of us, right? WRONG! How much of this could have been avoided if I had read Boundaries in Dating? I would like to think a whole lot. Why would I like to think this? Because I hope it can be prevented in others, particularly vulnerable women - which, it turns out, you can be without knowing it. The good news is that those disastrous relationships and that book have now basically made me an expert in emotional boundaries. Wanna know what boundaries of yours are being crossed? Ask Faith! She's experienced them all! So if you are currently dating, or want to be dating, or are married or even if you have any platonic relationships with live people whatsoever (so... basically everyone on the planet except some well-educated nuns and misanthropes) you should read this book.

Let me just go ahead and debunk some of the things I have heard other well-meaning Christians say. I have heard it said that you need to be perfectly content with yourself as a single person before God is going to bring you your future spouse. Bologna, I say! And I don't mind saying it. I will say it again, Bologna! But that's mostly because it's a great word and no one knows how to spell it or what the meat is made of. I don't think God is that predictable or that ungracious: He doesn't wait for us to be perfect before giving us gifts - example, Jesus. God gives good gifts to His children, not His perfect children. They do not exist. They lasted like five minutes in the Garden of Eden with one freaking rule. However it wasn't until I truly grew in my relationship with Christ, devoting time to study His word and spending time with Him in prayer, putting His kingdom first before my own desires, and desiring a relationship with Him more than anything else, that I was no longer consumed by my desire for an earthly companion. But this does not mean this desire went away. It means my priorities changed.

Of course we all know that the more content you are as a single person, the happier you will be as a single person. Imagine that! But that applies to all stages of your life and learning to be truly content is a life-long process. As children we wish we were older, when we get old we wish we were younger, the single wish they were married, the married wish they were single, parents look back on their days without children and just... cry (I'm assuming) and all of us wish we made a little bit more money, and then a little more, and a little more after that. The only answer to this problem is Jesus and your relationship with Him. It is true that you will be more or less attractive to the opposite sex depending on how content you are, but the truth will always come out eventually: we are all desperate for love. Just make sure you hide that desperation for at least the first few dates. If it doesn't go away, maybe hide it until marriage... or you know, forever. (Just saying.) I know from experience that most of that love can only be satisfied by knowing the love of Jesus. But God made us with a desire for romantic love and I do not believe God withholds this from us just because we are not yet as content as He wants us to be on our own. Nowhere in the Bible will you find this (example, all the idiots in the Bible with spouses). There may be other reasons why you are still single: a) because there actually is something wrong with you that you need to work on (awkward), or b) you haven't met the right person, or c) for some reason being single is either for your benefit or for God's glory. But if you do meet the right person, it will always be at the right time, because God's timing is perfect. And yes God can use on-line dating. On-line dating is not somehow inexplicably exempt from God's control.

In my experience, some things in life are best learned as a single person, some things are best, and possibly, only, learned in a relationship. But be sure of this: God will use whatever circumstance you are in to help you grow. And be even more sure of this: whatever circumstance you are in, it is part of God's plan for your imperfect, short, little life that is so incomprehensibly important to Him. Because He made you and loves you. You will, however, never be perfect. So if you are waiting to be perfect or to have a perfect relationship with God before you start dating, I have some bad news for you, according to Jesus there is no marriage in heaven...

I have heard from Christians that they will only date someone if they intend to marry that person. It's just funny, 'cause, you know, the point of dating is to find out if that's the person you want to marry. If you don't date you will probably end up marrying an out-of-work hippy who thinks patchouli oil is an acceptable deodorant replacement because you didn't date anyone else in order to figure out what you want in the first place. Nobody will ever be perfect, but it is true that the person you choose to marry almost exclusively determines the happiness quota for your entire life. So choose wisely my friend.

Finally, I have heard it said that you should be friends first before dating someone. Unfortunately friends first often just means super-duper confusing first and disappointing second. Whereas, if you understand that the purpose of dating is simply to get to know someone to see if you want to be in a relationship with them, the intentions are so much clearer. There is this thing with Christians called a DTR talk. DTR means "Define the Relationship" and it is encouraged that friends of the opposite sex make their intentions clear. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, it's a really good thing, but if people would just do what they used to do twenty years ago and go on a date, then... you wouldn't need to have this conversation. Girls wouldn't sit at home pining away, thinking, "I wonder if he likes me." Instead their really smart-but-harsh friends could just smack them across the face and say, "No you idiot, or else he would have asked you on a date." It's that simple. And if people went on more dates then maybe emotional boundaries would be more talked about. We wouldn't be such relationship babies, thrown into these intense relationships where suddenly everything seems like a life or death situation: "If I say no to him, he'll die!" or "If she doesn't hear me say I love you every 24 hours she'll go into anaphylactic shock!"

Unless there are some extenuating circumstances, if you are interested in the person then ask them out. And start changing the idea that dating someone instantly locks you in on a terrifying roller-coaster of impending doom, *ahem,* I mean marriage. Go on dates and start figuring out what you want in a spouse; you know, that person you're supposed to spend the rest of your life with. Take it slow. Don't settle. Have high standards and let yourself figure out which standards aren't actually important after all (usually ones involving appearances) and which ones are (usually ones involving personality and beliefs). Demand high standards from the person you're dating, and if they're good standards, heck, try to live up to them! But most importantly set boundaries and stick to them. Don't let yourself be manipulated - girls, and guys, need to learn how to say no to a lot more than just sex. And for goodness sakes, don't be unequally yoked! Find someone who believes the same life-changing and life-giving things you do. Dating has confirmed for me again and again that I would never be satisfied in a relationship with a man who has not made Jesus number one in his life. This goes for anything that is important and life-changing for you. Dating someone who does not believe the life-changing things that you do is possible, but God has told us not to be unequally yoked for a reason: because it is for our benefit. Just like saving yourself for marriage is. Just like staying away from sin is. Just like being close to Jesus is.

If you feel like you have things you need to work on first before being in a relationship, then go work on yourself, but never, ever let someone you are dating make you feel like you are too much or too little. God made you and you are just enough. Unless of course, you're referring to those particular faults that we all have and constantly need to work on - like being so lazy you will watch the same horrible channel on TV rather than try and find the remote. The beauty of it is, dating will help you learn these things about yourself - the good and the bad - and you will grow and it will be painful, and yes it may end in heartache, but it will be wonderful too.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Cog-mitive Ther-py" or Keepin' It Real

My last blog post didn't get the reception I wanted. First of all, nobody read it (other than my mom). Second of all, those who did read it (my mom) said they were concerned because my last few blog posts make me sound depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic, instead of revealing my positive, loving, bubbly, amazing, wonderful, fantastic personality. Ahem, sorry, I got a little carried away there. Well mom, I have some unfortunate news for you... I AM depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic. I am also positive, loving and bubbly (we'll stop there). Enter the world of a happy depressive. What a dichotomy I am! Just imagine the war going on in my personality every day, a fierce battle of good versus evil! It goes something like this, "Remember, just be positive." And then, "But I don't wanna!" It's really sophisticated. The problem is, what I choose to write about is usually issues I am dealing with that I know other people are too, in the hopes that together we don't feel so alone. It often requires me to dig deep into my depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic bucket of sorrows.

So as a nice change, I'm going to try writing about happy things only...

Puppies are nice. I like them. They lick me and I don't mind. Other people are like, "Hey, stop licking me, that's gross!" but I'm like, "Hey, thanks! That's a little bit gross but mostly cute and I like it." So that's nice. Puppies will love you even if you feel unlovable. Puppies were actually the first hippies and started the hippy movement in the 60's but they are so under-represented that they never got the credit they deserve.

Kittens are also nice... sometimes. But they have these little claws that are like razor-needle-scissors and they won't hesitate to use them no matter how much you love them. They are not very particular in who they use them on either (in whom they use them on? On whom they use them on? Who they use what on? Who's using what, now? How? Why? Let's move on). They will scratch your eyes out if they want. But don't let it hurt your feelings because they don't mean it, even if you know they secretly laugh behind your back about it.

Also, I love babies. My brother had one, which was really nice of him, cause of how much he knows I love babies. His name is Ewan, like "you-won" (which we did), not like "E-won" which is cool because it sounds like something from Star Wars, but unfortunately not his name. God made Ewan extra-special cute (I'm not kidding, he is extra-special cute) just to make me happy because He knows I can get depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic sometimes. So gee, thanks. I like him. I like him a lot. All I want to do is visit him so I can squish him and be as physically close to him as I possibly can. Some day my nephew is going to sing to me, "Don't stand so, don't stand so, don't stand so close to me," but in the mean time he can't talk. He can't even get away. He physically isn't even capable of crawling himself to safety. He is mine, all mine, MWAHAHAHAHA! Actually he's my brother and sister-in-law's, but you get the idea. I'm quite attached. Being an aunt is amazing because you can finally kiss a baby as much as you want without feeling like any minute now the mom is going to charge you with molesting their child.

I also like ice-cream but I'm allergic. I found out I'm even allergic to goat's milk ice-cream, so that little victory of finding a delicious alternative to real ice-cream died about as quickly as a fading star AKA a fiery ball of gas (like me when I eat it). Turns out I'm not lactose-intolerant to cow's milk (the allergy I have to dairy is like a hay fever allergy), instead I'm lactose-intolerant to goat's milk. It's like when I found out at an early age that I'm not just allergic to the milk in chocolate - my favourite food on the planet (is chocolate a food? Or is candy a separate category? What if the chocolate has almonds in it? Then does it count? So many questions...) - I'm also allergic to the very cocoa itself. And wheat. And potatoes. And rice. I would die in Italy, Ireland and China. Some people might think God hates me... Oh gosh I never thought about it that way...

This happy-writing thing isn't working.

You see, I could write about only happy things, but writing about only happy things gets boring after a while and usually doesn't do a lot of good. I mean, if you really want me to, I could write about my nephew for a very, very long time. For instance, he likes to growl like a little bear, all the time, and sometimes, if you're lucky, he makes pterodactyl sounds which is just really cool of him, also really smart considering he's only seven months old. Cause, like, how does he even know what a pterodactyl sounds like? I mean sure, nobody does, cause they're prehistoric creatures and all, but the point is he is pretty much a paleontologist. He even flaps his chubby little arms around a lot like he is preparing to fly, and I just don't have the heart to break it to him yet that this will never happen. He will never fly. That kind of news can really mess up a kid's dreams of being a pterodactyl. Also, the spelling.

But I suppose happy things do make us feel better, and positive thinking is incredibly important to making positive changes. It's called Cognitive Therapy, say it with me now, "Cog-mitive Ther-py," and my mom loves to tell me about it. Maybe, for once I should listen to her. She is usually right. Someone with depression will automatically think negative thoughts and their view of the world can become so distorted that they don't even recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. It can affect their very memories, so that a depressed person remembers events differently - as negatively impacting them even if it was them who negatively impacted others. Scary. But there is a solution! Cognitive Therapy was created by a woman named Judith Beck. She said, "It's not the power of positive thinking. It's the power of realistic thinking. People find that when they think more realistically, they usually feel better." And let's face it, nobody wants to be around a negative person. We all have these people in our lives and we try hard to avoid them. It goes like this:

Negative Nancy: "Ugh, I had such a bad day. Everyone was so annoying at work. One lady told me all about her daughter's conjunctivitis, and I'm like shut up. So wanna hang out?"
Positive Pearl: "Sorry I'm actually kind of busy."
Nancy: "Of course you are, you're always busy! Nobody takes the time to do real things anymore, probably because they're addicted to their phones. I can't stand people who are always on their phones! I mean get a life!"
Pearl: "Yeah, I hear you. Maybe Mediocre Melissa is free. She's a nice girl."
Nancy: "Seriously? She's the worst. Oh man even talking about her gave me a headache. Do you have Tylenol?"
Pearl: "Sorry no."
Nancy: "Ugh, of course not. I think I'm getting a cold. It's probably a virus. It's probably conjunctivitis from that lady's daughter. She probably passed it on to me as the spit particles from her annoying conversation floated on the air particles to my mouth. Ew. Gross. I hate air particles. I hate breathing other people's air. Especially on buses. That's why I will never take the bus. My mom could be dying and I would not even take the bus to go see her in the hospital. So what are you doing this weekend?"
Pearl: "Oh... things. You know. Maybe go for a run."
Nancy: "I HATE running. I don't understand people who exercise."
Pearl: "Haha... right. So what about you?"
Nancy: "Let me just check the schedule on my phone. Oh look, nothing. I'll probably just sit on the couch and watch TV by myself because I have no friends. Everyone's too busy for me."
Pearl: "Haha... well, it's been great but... My cat... is... calling me."

Awkward.

And I certainly do not want to be one of those people. But being positive in a legitimately negative situation is just plain obnoxious. It usually goes like this:

Normal Norman: "I have cancer."
Obnoxiously Positive Olivia: "Don't say that! You need to think positively! You are fighting cancer."
NN: "Ok, I'm fighting cancer. I've been meaning to tell you but didn't want to upset you."
OPO: "I'm really sorry but I'm so proud of you for not giving in to it. You know there are lot of naturopathic-herbalistic-hippyistic remedies I can send you. Like asparagus. Just, like, eat five pounds of asparagus a day and your body doesn't know what to do with all this asparagus so it like poops out the cancer cells with the asparagus. It's science. The only downside is you have green poop."
NN: "Can't wait to try that, thanks."
OPO: "Have you tried meditation? Maybe you can think the cancer away."
NN: "I don't think so."
OPO: "See, there's your problem right there."
NN: "Also, my dog died."
OPO: "Maybe you should have fed him more asparagus."
NN: "I hate you. Our friendship is over."
OPO: "That's just the cancer talking."

You don't want to know what Norman said next.

I like that Cognitive Therapy isn't just about being positive, it's about changing your thoughts from negative to realistic, which can be hard to do. Negative thinking usually has a grain of truth in it, but it's exaggerated to the point where the problem seems overwhelming and unsolvable, and instead of working on it, you give up. If you look at something realistically, the problem becomes manageable, whereas if you only think of it positively, you ignore the problem altogether. They've done studies and found cognitive therapy doesn't just help people with situational depression, it can actually work as well as antidepressants, even in severe cases. I would say I was sceptical of these findings, but that would seem negative.

You see children, it is important to be real, not just positive. So here I am, keepin' it real. And life is hard - something I wanted to shout at the dude in front of me in the line-up at Rock the Shores as he said, "Why do people complain so much and say life is so hard. Life is great!" My guess is he still lives at home, his mom still does his laundry, he doesn't have depression, his best friend Norman isn't dying of cancer and he isn't living in poverty, but I could be wrong. Yet as hard as life is, you can't take it too seriously or it gets a big ego and starts sending you lemons, like anybody was ever happy to receive lemons. People say, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," as if there were any other options. You can't get a job with lemons, unless your job is making or selling lemonade, which is not very profitable. You could maybe make lemon squares, but you need other ingredients so let's just hope life throws you some flour and baking powder too. You could try trading lemons for other things, like Pokemon cards, but unless your friend has scurvy he will probably be like, "Why would I ever want lemons?" and he might punch you in the face so be careful. Those are about your only options when it comes to lemons... This has been a great conversation. Let's keep it real again sometime.

Faith'sbook, out.