WisCon41 all the feels about disability 

I had a great time at WisCon last year and was delighted when David had offered to go together.  It’s a long drive from London, Ontario to Madison, Wisconsin but totally worth it!

This year I brought my swimsuit, running shoes and yoga mat. I did swim Thursday night to stretch after the drive down.

The rest of the weekend I managed to get 8-10 thousand steps a day. I’m not sure how but it may have been going further afield for food.

a thick brown pottery plate from the 70s is heaped with thick slices of golden french toast. This is topped with strawberries, blueberries, pecans, powdered sugar and creme fraiche

My new love, giant French toast

I slept much better this time around, largely due to not submitting for writing workshops which had made me a twinge nervous. I am committed to putting writing in next year though!

As last year, I loved the panels. I attended so many great sessions on everything from food and culture in sci-fi to unpacking portrayals of mental health in fiction.

Due to a mix up on my part I ended up in “Beyond the Fix or How Do I Live this F***ing Life?”

the photo is of the event schedule that indicates the topic is in the Feminis and Other Social change Movements stream of the conference. The panel short description: When you know there's no fix, your disability's never getting better, might get worse, and acceptance is the only possibility, it's time to share aka vent. On this panel we'll air our pet grievances, exchange survival strategies, and discuss the challenges - both surprising and predictable- of a life with disability. We'll also share the stories we've used to keep going. #beyond the fix
Friends, there were so many feels as folks shared their experiences of coming to understand disability and how it has impacted their lives. Many people in the audience were coming to realize that “disability” was a word that described their life too.

My favourite moment was when Jesse the K spoke about how she learned to shift her identity from an independent woman to being interdependent and connected in community.

I reflected on my privilege of living with Major Depressive Disorder and being able enough to stay fully employed. I thought about how my morning routine of stiff joints may hold greater mobility challenges in the future. I thought about my unilateral hearing loss and how my head tilts to put my good ear to a person talking. I thought about my intermittent vertigo. The stories shared by the panelists were on the continuum of ability and disability and I shift along those lines, mostly invisible.

There is a piece about fitness that I don’t talk about, the part where age & ability turn and mean I won’t get faster, better, stronger. Sometimes my goal is to simply slow the slide or manage pain.

It was humbling to really grapple with what my future will hold, especially around chronic pain, and I’m grateful for the mix up that lead me to sit in on this panel in particular.

The absolute best part was that I met even more of David’s lovely librarian friends, some of whom read this blog!

The weekend was just what I needed.

The photo is a headshot of Natalie, with her sunglasses sitting up on top of her head. She is outside waling to breakfast, smiling, wearing a necklace that is the anatomical structure of seratonin.
I feel great and, unlike last year, no mobility or pain from my travels. Just a wince at re-entering a patriarchal society.

My self-care tetradecathlon 

There’s been some big stress things happening in my life the past couple months and it’s starting to drag me down. So I’ve been ramping up my self-care. I’m not sure how many things there are but here we go. (Turns out there’s 14!)

  1. Cardio Mondays & Wednesdays with Anthony 
  2. Cxworx Tuesdays & Fridays with lots of work buddies
  3. Therapy 
  4. Walking my commute 
  5. Playing in my garden 
  6. Getting regular massages 
  7. Getting regular Chiropractic adjustments 
  8. Taking my blood pressure medication 
  9. Going to WisCon http://wiscon.net
  10. Acknowledging things are kind of shitty while taking time to find the good things in my day. 
  11. Offering and getting lots of hugs. 
  12. Celebrating successes the folks around me are enjoying 
  13. Tabletop and PS4 gaming with my family 
  14. Snuggles with my sweetie when I can pin him down!

My bike is ready to roll but we are getting 90mm of rain today. I’m focusing on keeping the joy in my cycling this season so no purposefully punishing rides and I’m ok with not meeting ideas of being tough or whatever. 

Movement is a big part of my self-care but I need the other things too if I’m to be resilient. 

I hope you aren’t going through tough times but, if you are, I’m sending you a big hug. There’s always time for that. 

Natalie, her two teenage sons and her partner sit on a floor looking content and leaning on each other. They are wearing hues of purple and blues and seem to be coping with life pretty well.

Taking a moment to enjoy my family

Managing my persnickety piriformis 

I joke that I carry my work stress in my shoulders and my family stress in my hips. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor once a month for many years to help manage joint and muscle pain. 

Often what causes me the most grief is my right piriformis. It’s a small muscle under the gluteus medius that wraps from the lower side of the tail bone to the top of your thigh bone. It’s the spot that aches in pidgeon pose. That little muscle does a lot of work when I sit, walk, run or ride my bike. 

Lately it’s been hurting a lot more. Part of it is from the lateral movements in the exercise class I go to. Another contributing factor is I’m a side sleeper so I rest on my hip. 

In addition to seeing a chiropractor I also get massages. I’m so grateful to have those two touchpoints in my month where I pay attention to how my body is doing. After an adjustment or a massage I feel the lactic acid flood the now relaxed muscles. My range of motion waxes and wanes between those visits. 

I decided I needed to do more as the pain has become more bothersome, waking me up in the night, causing me to grunt when I stand up out of my chair. 

I cobbled together a yoga flow that helped me. It covers the basics and warms up my hips before a good stretch. I love starting with Cat/Cow. It’s a great way to check in with my back and hips. I go into Threading the Needle on both sides, Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, Lunges moving back and forth, Pidgeon, Firelog pose and Cradle the Baby. It’s at times uncomfortable but I feel so much better after. My sleep has improved. 

I also found this great tutorial on dealing with piriformis pain. 

https://youtu.be/dl474z1bhnk
Sadly Kai Wheeler seems to no longer be producing material. I love her approach and instruction. The routine takes about 20 minutes and has been a good morning routine. 

A selfie of Natalie wearing sunglasses and a blue backpack. The smile lines on her face frame a slight grin, like she has just let you in on a very funny joke.

A selfie of Natalie wearing sunglasses and a blue backpack. The smile lines on her face frame a slight grin, like she has just let you in on a very funny joke.


My hip is still achy but I’m hopeful taking the time to care for it will give me some relief. 

The Reverse Weekend Warrior

My exercise routine has been sporadic this past month. There were caregiving responsibilities, March break with my family, and a nasty cold. 

I reviewed my activity data and was surprised to find my most active days for fitness were weekdays. What? In the warm weather I’m a Weekend Warrior, doing lots on weekends but little activity or exercise during the week. 

This winter and early spring are the exact opposite, I’ve become The Reverse Weekend Warrior by walking my commute and scheduling four half-hour workouts during the week. 

Natalie stares at the camera ruddy faced, her short mousy brown hair a mess in the background are brown lockers
It hasn’t been pretty but I do feel good in my body. I never got around to spinning on Thursdays and Saturdays. The previous winters I did spin for up to an hour on Saturdays and a few times during the week. Not this year. 

Four bicycles lean against a brown bedroom wall under a window. The room has trainers, bicycle pumps and other sundry items strewn about.
Poor Ethel, my bicycle, has sat unloved. 

I’m looking forward to the warmer weather so I can garden, ride my bicycle and have drinks on my porch. Who knows, my weekends may even catch up to my weekday activities. 

If that happens I’ve no idea what I’ll call myself!

Exercise and Staying in my Body

A broad stairwell, like the kind you find at major metropolitan train or subway stations, is filled with people walking up and down the stairs. The people are blurry, imperfectly captured in motion.

Life can get a bit blurry for me sometimes

I am standing in the stairwell trying to go down to my Tuesday afternoon exercise class. The world shifts to the right as I drift just left of my body. It’s disorienting and dizzying. My feet can’t seem to move and, from my slightly off to the side view, it’s very hard to tell how far down to step. 

I step back on the landing, cross my arms and rub my triceps and biceps.  I am back in my body. I am tired and stressed after a very difficult 7 days. I’m emotionally tapped out and the numbness of leaving my body doesn’t feel terribly bad. 

I realize I’m dissociating, for brief moments, and it is coming on more frequently. I never knew it had a name, this mental holiday that is fraught with a peril therapists understand but I don’t. I’ve always felt numb during or after bad times. I thought everyone did. 

So I am at the top of the stairs, dizzy, knowing this pause is making me late. I keep rubbing my arms and squeezing the muscles. I am here. I want to be here. The numbness passes and I shakily make it down, one step at a time. 

By the time I walk through the gym studio door I’m at full brave face, laughing, hip thrusting and joking the core muscle class is secretly designed to up my power-bottoming game. 

I know most of the folks in the class. Lovely, sparkly humans who are kind and encouraging  to me always. The music starts and the worries fall away as I listen to the rapid-fire-flirty-funny instructor lead my body through a sweaty thirty minutes. I am in my body and it feels good. I feel strong. I feel capable. 

The next day I run with Anthony. Neither of us is feeling 100% but we are there, exercising to keep our minds and bodies ok. 

On Thursday I am stiff and sore. The discomfort keeps me in the moment and I am ok. I am present. I’m choosing to stay here and deal with my life. 

I’m so thankful for movement keeping me in my body. I feel the hugs, fist bumps and pats on the back as my support network ramps up the love. 

I used to think exercise was about running away from my problems. Now I’m exercising to deal with my life, to be present as healthily as I can be. 

My new cardio companion 

Back in December my work teammate Anthony asked me about my exercise schedule. I had been doing a 30 min class twice a week since November. We sit near each other and he and I often talked about our soccer experiences last season and fitness in general. 

I had shared that I wanted to get some high intensity cardio in but never seemed to make it happen. 

“I’m hitting the treadmill Monday, Wednesday, Friday want to join me?”

I agreed that Monday and Wednesday would work for me. We’ve been going regularly and I’m loving it. 

The gym was pretty busy in January so we shifted to 2pm to avoid the crowd. It has been humbling getting back into running. Plus there is a definite technique specific to treadmill running and not getting motion sick. 

Running is the most efficient way for me to get to a target heartrate. In a few minutes I’m in the zone and I’ve been alternating walking and running for a total of 30 minutes. 

A close up of Natalie's face making an unsure expression. She is sweaty with her hair pulled back. The backdrop is a gymnasium.
We can’t always score machines beside each other but it’s really not about running next to each other. The biggest benefit has been that we take turns nudging each other to keep working out. A quick “you hitting the gym today?” has kept me on track. 

The mid-afternoon timing helps me over the lull I usually feel that time of day. I get back to my desk feeling energized and optimistic. 

Anthony and Natalie smile, ruddy faced and slightly sweaty. They are wearing casual clothes and sitting in an office cubicle.
Last week I was feeling harsh with cramping feet and I just could not hit my stride. Seeing I was frustrated Anthony gave me a pep talk and offered that walking on an incline could keep my heart rate up. 

I’m enjoying the little bits of support we offer each other. and it has helped me reclaim running with, and around, other people. 

This week I ran 9 minutes continuously, the longest I’ve done in a while. It felt good to have a new milestone so early on. 

Thanks for being my cardio companion Anthony!

Why I hate (yes, hate) going to the doctor and why I go anyway 

As a white, cys-gendered anglophone in Canada I have many privileges. This post is about how, despite those privileges, I truly hate going to the doctor. 

It is the 1980s, I am a child at the pediatrician my mother asks why there are folds of skin in my armpits. “Babyfat, it will go away.” assures the pediatrician. In fact it is breast tissue. I find out when nursing my first son in 1999 as milk leaked from my underarms that I have breasts under there. 

It is 2009, I am sitting in a public health clinic room to have my pap. I’ve answered the medical history questions and the nurse practitioner stares at me. 

“How many sexual partners have you had?”

“My whole lifetime? I don’t know. I didn’t keep a list.”

“Well, if you had to guess.”

“I guess about 30. ”

“30!?! Who is the father of your children?”

“My partner.”

“What? How?”

“I’m sorry you are confused. I’m married to a man, who has a penis, that I have sex with that I refer to as my partner. We are the parents.”

It is 2004, I am sitting in the military hospital getting medically released after 12 years of service. My doctor talks to me about my mental health, my asthma and my bloodwork. He scribbled a fourth thing on the list but does not discuss it with me. I read it at home. 

Image of a medical firm listing illnesses and injuries. The list states major depressive disorder, mild exercise induced asthma, borderline cholesterol and obesity.

It is 2012 and I am at a colposcopy clinic for an abnormal pap follow-up. The nurse asks when my last period was. I didn’t know. She asked what birth control I was using. I said none. She chastised me for taking risks with being pregnant. I knew I wasn’t pregnant as my partner had a vasectomy and I had a tubal ligation in 2001. It never occurred to me that this was “using birth control”.  I explain my misunderstanding to the nurse from my feet in the stirrup position. She further castigated me as pregnancy could still occur and how would I know if I didn’t track my period? I explain I didn’t think my uterus required constant supervision. 

There are so many more moments that are flooding back to me as I write this but you get the idea. 

When I go to the doctor I feel on the defense right away. My body is deemed too heavy. My blood somehow lacking or having too much of the wrong things. There is something wrong and more often that feels on my part like the something wrong is my whole self. It’s terrible. 

In the military I was regularly categorized, measured and tested to ensure I was fit for flying duties. Many years later I feel the complicated things about not fitting expectations or having medical issues. 

I go anyway because not accessing care is why queer women have worse health outcomes than other women. 

I go because my health is worth the effort and I’ve honed and prepared my responses for when medical professionals cross a line. 

I go ready for a fight. I hate that too.