Monday, June 20, 2022

The Outcome of Persisting Exhaustion and Exhaustive Persistence

I was in a discussion once on social media about navigating the medical system. Someone commented, "It's a full-time extra job being undiagnosed." Tell me about it; I just got out of that maze.

It started with food intolerances; as I'd had a "sensitive" gut since childhood, everything seemed to point to a gut issue... until about two years in, when I started to connect feelings of extreme lethargy and brain fog to physical activity and/or stress (both positive and negative).

Maybe it's not just a gut issue...

I had already started poking at the medical system because of the newly-developed food intolerances, and so I continued to hop around from specialist to specialist--while also regularly visiting a variety of medical professionals to help manage the symptoms-of-unknown-origin. Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn't even care about getting better--I just wanted to know what was wrong.

The anxiety is high when every bite of food feels risky.

The apathy weighs heavy while you wait for the brain fog to clear.

You can start to feel crazy making so many lifestyle changes without a clear idea as to why.

(Thank God for my therapist.)

I was given a diagnosis of IBS in 2020; by then I already knew that it wasn't the only thing going on. In one of my down-the-rabbit-hole, anything-new-I-can-learn-today searches, I came across a list of symptoms on the CDC website that I hadn't seen before. My eyes grew large as I read a list of criteria for which I checked nearly every box. I asked my GP if it was worth looking into, and she referred me on to someone who might be able to answer that question.

Four years, and six specialists later, I have a diagnosis. An internal specialist confirmed that my symptoms and experience tell the story of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis--or, as it's more commonly known, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (I will refer to it by its abbreviation, ME/CFS.)

A surprisingly common, yet poorly diagnosed disorder.

Quote: "There are years that ask questions, and years that answer." - Zora Neale HurstonThey tell you not to Google your own diagnoses, but at this point in my journey--two gastroenterologists, an internal specialist, rheumatologist, allergist, general surgeon, two dieticians, two naturopathic doctors, my GP, a chiropractor, two acupuncturists, and a massage therapist--we had eliminated and screened for a lot of different things; and, not a single medical professional had even whispered ME/CFS as a possibility. I honestly think it wasn't even in their mental catalogue of options. How long would it have taken to get this diagnosis if I hadn't regularly been checking for new information online?!

Diagnosis day was a good day.

ME/CFS is categorized by the World Health Organization as a neurological disorder. When my food intolerances first came about, I felt as if something in my body had short-circuited. Then, with the IBS diagnosis, I learned that part of the issue is mixed signals between the brain and the gut. Now, seeing ME/CFS as a neurological disorder, it really does seem that my circuits are a bit scrambled!

Will the circuits ever get fixed? Hard to tell. Like the wiring in an old house, there may be only so much that can be done. Some people get worse. Some get better. Most plateau at something less than 100% of their original health. There's no real prognosis. Right now, I just know that I'm prone to flip my breakers more often than others.

It's not life-threatening.

The internal specialist who diagnosed me said I've been doing everything right so far to manage my symptoms and take care of myself. After my appointment, I promptly joined a couple support groups (one local, one online), and I'm hoping to add more tools to my toolkit as time goes on.

I will keep poking the medical system as needed.

I don't know how much I'll share online--with some exceptions, I tend to keep most of the details of my health experiences to myself and those closest to me. However, I know that there is power in community. I know that advocating for myself is important, and sharing parts of my story may help you advocate for and empathize with others. In essence, I now live with a disability--it's a new perspective on something that's been important to me for many, many years. And, as stated before, this is a poorly diagnosed condition--because (as I'm learning) it is poorly understood and poorly researched. If I can help increase understanding, then perhaps someone in the future will not have to go through four years of emotional and physical turmoil before getting a diagnosis.

They're likely tired enough already.

Image source:

Thursday, June 24, 2021

I Can't

I can't do it. I can’t celebrate Canada Day this year. In light of recent events, I’m not sure fireworks and memes and inspirational videos are appropriate.

Rather, every Canadian flag should be at half-mast this Canada Day.

I love Canada. And I believe we are a country capable and competent of taking the necessary actions for reparation and reconciliation. I believe the Canada Days of the future will be about the celebration of our hard work to be a more inclusive and just society--because we will have come to own our origin story, rather than dismiss it or outright hide it.

But I don’t think we’re there yet.

(I mean, if you had a friend with a rumoured sketchy past, would you feel comfortable hosting their birthday party if it came to light that they had murdered a bunch of people? I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of a deal-breaker in my relationships. There’s a lot of work that would need to be done there.) 

This Canada Day, I think we need to spend the time:
  • Grieve the thousands of children who were taken from their families, traumatized in residential schools, and then buried there—nameless. Schools should not have cemeteries. 
  • Make a personal commitment towards reparation and reconciliation. What is one action you will take today? Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Check your own bias, stereotypes, and assumptions.
    • When it is pandemically safe to do so, participate in a blanket exercise in your community.
    • Read the Truth & Reconciliation Commission's (TRC's) report and calls to action, and act on it.
    • Start acknowledging the treaty land at gatherings you host.
    • Donate to services that support those impacted by the generational trauma of growing up indigenous (shelters, mental health agencies, addictions recovery, etc.). 
    • Make purchases from local businesses owned by indigenous individuals. 
    • If you are Christian, ask your church what actions it takes towards reparation and reconciliation. Consider how you can use your voice for change in your faith community.
    • Hold people [lovingly, but firmly] accountable for racist, derogatory language. Here’s a primer.
Yes, I am honoured to be a Canadian. I believe I am more than my ancestors’ bigotry and bad theology, and I believe Canada is more than that too. But this year, for me, Canada Day will involve reflection rather than celebration. Humility rather than pride. I am checking my privilege. I am doing the work.

Monday, June 7, 2021


I was still in university when I found this ragamuffin kitten, sprawled-out sleeping on the sofa in the dorm's lobby. I could only surmise that someone coming back from the bar the night before had let her in out of the -20C November cold. I am still thankful to that person.

I took her to the vet, which doubled as the humane society in my small university town. They said they would advertise in the local paper for three days, but if no one claimed her by then, they would have to put her down.

I told them to call me in three days.

I named her Princess--inspired by the word on a keychain I had at the time, it seemed fitting regardless, given her paper-bag-princess appearance when I found her.

And so began our journey together.

I remember thinking, "wow, I'll be, like, in my mid-30s by the time she lives her full life." It seemed like such a long way off. I couldn't fathom being that old. (Don't even.)

And yet, here we still are.

Akira is my sweet snuggler; Holly is my flirty delight; but, Princess is my OG.

She watched me become a fully-fledged adult, and came along for the ride. Princess has moved house with me eight times. She has been with me through a marriage and divorce. Through friendships that have lasted and others that have not. And through one pandemic.

She likes to be where I am. She has been both my study buddy and work buddy. She oversees my gardening, and occasionally nestles beside me in the hammock. She still greets me at the door when I come home. She still gives kisses.

She is 20.

I look at her bowed legs and stiff gait, and I know that this year could be her last. (And then she chases Holly's toy around the living room with an energy that belies her age, and I'm convinced she's going to be the first cat to live forever.) The vet continues to tell me that she looks amazing for her age. She's on some meds for pain and mood, but as long as she continues to eat, pee, and poop, I guess we'll continue on together.

I am happy to be her human as long as her little heart beats.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

I Stand with the Muslims

As I learn about yet another racist assault on Muslim women in the city I live in, I'd like to take a minute to share a story.

I’ve been an AirBnB host for over six years. In my first year hosting, I had a young woman stay for a month as she getting started as a PhD student at the UofA.

She was Muslim.
Pink Ribbons (SOTC 168/365)
I am Christian.

Throughout her four-week stay, I showed her around. Coming from a large city in the middle of the desert, she was keen on spending time in nature. So I took her to Elk Island National Park, down into the River Valley, and--upon request--I found her a wheat field to stand in.

I took her to Ikea to get what she needed for her new apartment, and to the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market to show her where to buy local close to campus. I Googled the Halal shops close by. I accompanied her on a walk or two.

In all this, we talked about our different upbringings, our different cultural experiences, and our different faiths—I remember she openly answered my curious questions about her faith practices, and the principles that guide them. I think I did the same for her.

She reached out a few times after she’d moved. She was making friends with other international students, and they sometimes had questions as they tried to immerse themselves in various aspects of “Edmonton culture” for the first time. One particular summer evening, she texted and said she and her friends were going tent camping in Jasper for the first time that weekend. She wanted me to come; partly for company, but partly, I'm pretty sure, as the Canadian Camping Expert. I couldn’t go, but I offered up my camping gear so they wouldn’t have to buy everything new.

That was the day I stood in my garage and showed a Muslim woman and her friend how to pitch a tent.

I don’t remember most of the conversations we had. I just remember she had such a posture of humility. She was open to conversation without judgement or pretense. She had a delightful sense of humour. She was open to trying new things. She was disciplined in her studies as well as her faith.

I've thought of her, and other Muslim women I know, often this past year, as these acts of racism and hate keep happening. I don’t have any heroic point to make here other than to show that she is a person--with hopes, joys, and a life—just like every other Muslim in Edmonton and Alberta.

Let me just say that if you’re the kind of individual who is bothered by people who look, dress, or live differently than you, YOU’RE the one who can go elsewhere. I stand with the Muslim women who've been attacked this year, and all those who are at risk of discrimination and attack as they simply go about the business of living. They have every right to be here and to exist as you or I.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The 365-day Project that Took 8 Years (AND SOTC 365/365)

Evening Saskatoons (SOTC 365/365)
Have you ever gotten so intimate with a saskatoon berry? My yearly tradition of foraging a few cups of saskatoons from Edmonton's River Valley completed my SOTC photo challenge this past summer.*

I do love a good photo challenge. A few years ago, I turned a gratitude challenge into a photographic one; I spent the next summer hunting down instagrammable walls in Edmonton; and, I currently have an ongoing challenge to sit in a Red Chair in every one of Canada's national parks/historic sites before I die--with picture proof, of course.

My first photo challenge was a 365 project where I captured a photo of myself every single day for one year. As soon as that one was complete, I set myself up for a second 365 challenge--a photo each day straight off the camera (SOTC); no post-processing of any kind. However, 30 days in, I was struggling to keep up the creative juices. While the first 365 project was essentially photo documentation of my daily life, my Straight Off The Camera challenge was more about being able to work a subject or composition. But, you know what? Some days I just don't feel like taking photos. I doubt even professional photographers take photos every single day.

So I re-wrote the challenge. Still 365 un-processed images... with an open time line.

And so here we are.

That project started on September 1, 2012, and concluded July 27, 2020. The 365 project that took 2887 days.

I have to admit, I'm not sure if this challenge resulted in me creating more un-processed final images or not. As my photography has evolved, so has my "vision" for some of the images I compose--sometimes I create compositions that I fully intend to run through Photoshop before I even click the shutter.

However, my first love is capturing this big, beautiful world "as is"--there is a strong element of realism in my photography, and so I know my satisfaction with getting the shot I want fully in-camera has certainly increased, because sometimes the elements are against me! In this project, occasionally I got one on the first try. Other times, it took upwards of 20 shots to get the one I wanted. I also put concerted effort into capturing a variety of compositions to stretch my comfort zone.

My creative drive has taken a bit of a hit with the pandemic this year; as for so many people, my mind has often just been elsewhere. Nevertheless, I know that photography soothes my soul, and my camera is never far from my side. While I will be spending time this winter learning more about post-processing, there's nothing quite like getting it "right" in-camera. I know I will continue to stretch my compositional skills as much behind the lens as in front of the screen.

P.S. I am blogging less these days... the best way to keep up with my fine art photography is by following me on Instagram: @photosbygina.yeg.

* It also completed the life span of my camera, the shutter mechanism of which started failing minutes after this image was taken. Many digital cameras like mine have an average "mileage" of 100,000 shutter clicks. In seven years with that camera, I'm sure I reached or exceeded that. It is costly to repair the shutter when compared to the cost of a new camera body, so I upgraded to a similar but newer model. RIP Canon 70D.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SOTC 362/365

If I can't go to the Red Chairs this year, I'll bring the red chairs to me!

Canada at Home (SOTC 362/365)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Monday, June 15, 2020