Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: A Year in Review

2019 has been a memorable one for a lot of reasons, both good and bad. I’ve grown and changed a lot, gained a ton of confidence, and have been through things that have left me with both literal and emotional scars. When I look back at the last twelve months, I have the urge to both laugh and cry, but overall I’d say it was a good year. I wanted it to be a year of big changes and it certainly was that. 

The highs and lows (some of which came simultaneously)

The first real curveball 2019 threw at me came in May. One day I suddenly developed what felt like really bad heartburn; when it didn’t go away after two days, I finally headed to the ER. After hours of waiting and a few tests, I was finally told I likely had gallstones and would need to spend the night to have an ultrasound in the morning. My first thought was 'Spend the night? In the hospital?!' My second thought was 'I don't care, just give me drugs'. By that point, I was crawling out of my skin because I was in so much pain (afterward I had a couple of friends tell me they'd had gallstones and the pain was as bad as or worse than childbirth).

They put me on heavy-duty drugs and by some miracle, I got my own little cubby-like room in Emergency where I spent the night. The ultrasound the next morning confirmed I did indeed have gallstones. I was told I could go home and would be contacted soon by a surgeon who would assess me and likely want to remove my gallbladder. I felt okay as I left (except for being queasy), but by the time I got into a taxi to go home, the pain was returning. It increased throughout the day and I wasn’t able to keep anything down - including the morphine they’d prescribed me. I ended up back in Emerg the next morning, where they did another ultrasound and then admitted me.

Long story short(er): besides the gallstones, I also had jaundice and pancreatitis, so they decided to keep me so they could manage my pain (I was at a level 8 or 9 by the time they admitted me), give me antibiotics, monitor my blood work, and prepare me for surgery. In the week leading up to my surgery, I had an MRI (not gonna lie, I’m still traumatized by that), and a procedure where they put me under and basically shoved the gallstones back into my gallbladder. They removed my gallbladder two days later, and I was sent home the next day after being in the hospital for a total of nine days. I spent the next six-ish weeks recovering.

This whole thing was obviously physically trying, but it was the emotional aspect that’s had a lasting effect. This was the hospital where my dad spent countless days and weeks while he was dying of cancer in the early 90s. This was the hospital where my Grama died eight years ago. There have been good things there too - all four of my brother’s children were born there, and I was present for my youngest nephew’s birth. But that hospital stirs up a lot of stuff for me. Then there was the fact the elderly woman in the bed next to me was dying. Her family was there pretty much 24/7, which made resting difficult. The constant noise (they made no effort whatsoever to be quiet, day or night) added to my stress, but somewhere along the way, this ragtag group of people adopted me and my mum and we became this strange little family in the span of a few days. I listened to them say their goodbyes over and over, pray over her with ministers, tell her they loved her, share stories and memories, all while quietly crying from my side of the privacy curtain. Being attached to an IV and being weak from not eating (I was on a liquid diet my entire stay because they were never sure when I might have surgery) meant I was stuck in my room a lot of the time, so I was an unwilling witness - and at times participant - to this family’s final goodbyes.

me in the hospital with gallstones, jaundice, and pancreatitis before having my gallbladder removed

It stirred up so many emotions over my own beloved Grama’s death. It set off a chain of events that would lead to me feeling like I was in mourning all over again, even though it’s been eight years since she died. That whole experience changed me in many ways. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I feel like I dealt with mild PTSD in the following months. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of anything other than my hospital stay. I’d replay it all over and over in my mind. I’d have strange, vivid dreams, and wake up thinking I was still in the hospital. Despite all of that, I was honestly amazed by my own strength. I managed to stay calm throughout my whole stay and all the various procedures and tests, plus the emotional trauma. My best friend Krista came to visit me one night and when she took my mum home, she told her how surprised and proud she was at how calm and collected I was. Having known me for thirty years, I think she probably expected me to be a blubbering mess, but I guess all that yoga, meditation and inner work I’d been doing earlier in the year really paid off!

The whole experience was also a really interesting and enlightening reminder of who my true friends are. Krista checked in with me every single day (which you might expect since we're lifelong best friends, but we don't normally talk daily), as did my amazing friend Jaimie who lives in Wales, and another friend who lives on the West Coast. A few other friends checked in regularly during and after the whole ordeal, and the people who didn’t bother to check in, despite knowing what was going on, confirmed things I already knew about how important our friendship was to them. That was further compounded by the other low point in 2019…

Just a few weeks after my surgery, my mum’s only sister lost her long, brave battle with cancer. We knew she was terminal and it was only a matter of time, but she suffered so much. It was agony watching my mum’s anticipatory grief, knowing what was coming, and then the full-on grief of actually losing my aunt. The visitation and funeral - which were an incredible tribute to my aunt, with hundreds and hundreds of people attending - were like a nightmare for my family. My aunt’s death also continued to stir up that shallowly-buried grief over my Grama.

Even the greatest high of my year had an undertone of deep sadness. My amazing best friend decided it was time to buy a house and she did exactly that. She said she’d need to get a roommate in the fall to help with expenses, and we joked about me living with her for part of the summer as a trial run since she’d lived alone for so long. The joking soon turned serious, and I ended up living with Krista in her brand new house for six wonderful weeks this summer. It was an incredible experience; Kingston is my favourite city and, I mean, who doesn’t dream of living with their lifelong best friend at some point? The whole thing was an exercise in me stepping outside my comfort zone over and over in big ways and small. We did so many fun things together, including a Harry Potter photoshoot at Queen’s University, a visit to a brewery, fun days with her family, hikes, plus we ate lots of amazing food (I tried sushi for the first time and loved it).

But...during the six weeks I was there, Krista’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, went into the hospital, and died. You hear of it happening quickly for some people, but to actually have it happen within your own family was shocking and heartbreaking. One minute they were talking about a course of treatment, and the next she was in the hospital, not expected to survive. Adding to the difficulty: the fact Krista’s grandma lived four hours away so it wasn't easy to just pop up for visits. Now here’s the funny thing (obviously not funny-haha): I was originally only supposed to stay for a month. One day Krista randomly said I could stay longer if I wanted to, and in that moment, I knew there was a reason for me to stay. I was sure of it. Turns out that reason was that Krista had to leave several times to go visit her grandmother, and then she was gone for a few days for the funeral, so I stayed to look after the house and the cats. Krista provides foster care for the local animal rescue, and during the summer she had her own three cats, plus a mama and four babies. Two of the kittens weren’t well when Krista had to leave for the funeral, so I was there to take care of them. I was also there as emotional support for Krista, who would otherwise have had to deal with all of this largely on her own.

But that took me right back to having my own Grama ‘issues’ stirred up. I tried so hard to be strong for Krista (and for her mother when she came to visit us), but I would break down anytime we talked about her grandma. I’m one of those people whose emotions are always very close to the surface and I cry at the drop of a hat, so it was difficult to keep it together, even though I wanted so badly to be strong for Krista. We’ve been friends for thirty years, and I feel like this year cemented our friendship in so many ways. We spent those six weeks together, I visited her again in November for a few days, and she came to spend Christmas Eve with my family, which was absolutely amazing. I’m so, so incredibly grateful to have such an incredible friend.

Krista and Marie best friends forever

Writing career highlights:

In the spring, I finished writing my contemporary romance, Maybe You, and published it in June. I also pulled out an old manuscript that I finished writing two years ago and revised it for publication. Hung Up on You will be hitting e-readers worldwide on January 14th, 2020! I’m so excited to share this story with fellow romance lovers. I’ve also dabbled in a few other projects throughout the year and have a good start on my writing for next year.

Back to the '90s

One of the other highlights of my year was attending a '90s Nostalgia concert in the Toronto area this summer. The line-up included S Club Party (formerly S Club 7, who I was obsessed with for years and still listen to regularly), Aqua, Vengaboys, Right Said Fred, and Prozzak. It was co-hosted by Rick "The Temp" Campanelli, who I grew up watching on Much Music. The whole thing was incredible and was just the balm my '90s-loving heart needed. You can see pictures and videos by visiting my Instagram account (@rambling_daydreamer) and clicking on the highlight called '90s Party.

That's a wrap

Honestly, in a lot of ways this year made me feel like I was being tested. I’ve definitely had worse years and despite everything that happened, I wouldn’t even say this year was bad, just emotional and trying. When I think back to the beginning of the year, I feel like a different person now. I’m stronger, smarter, and more confident. I’m more willing to step outside my comfort zone, and I’m learning to go with the flow more since life has a way of making you veer off the expected course. I was going to share my goals for 2020 in this post, but considering it’s already novel-length (I’m sorry! And thank you, sincerely, if you've made it this far), I guess that’ll have to wait until my next post.

How was 2019 for you? What were some of the highlights? Or the lows, if you're comfortable sharing?

Previous Yearly Recaps:
2018: A Year in Review
2017: A Year in Review
2016: A Year in Review
Looking Back on 2015
Reflecting on 2014 and Looking at the Year Ahead 
2012: A Year in Review
2010: A Year in Review

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