Questions about Assault…

People with disabilities are much more vulnerable to assault, especially sexual assault than their non-disabled peers.

Stats Don’t Lie

After all, consider these 2006 statistics from the Disabled Womens’ Network Ontario:

  • The risk of sexual abuse of people with disabilities appears to be at least 150% of that of individuals of the same sex and similar age without disabilities.
  • It is estimated that only 20% of sexual abuse cases involving disabled people are ever reported to the police, community service agencies, or other authorities.

And this one from L. Stimpson’s and M. Best’s “Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Againt Women with Disabilities”, 1991:

  • 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.

“When I was Young and Foolish…

Before the stroke, I  know I put myself in risky situations when there was no need.. I knew during university and college that I should use the Walkhome services, but I rarely did. At first I just couldn’t be bothered, but as the years progressed I really just didn’t want to feel like a victim. I told me friend Carol, “I’ve never been followed,”

“That you know of,” she said, and of course she was right. It still didn’t make me use the walkhome services any more frequently, though.


After my stroke, I did start to get some unwanted attention from men. From one man, it was scarily unwanted, and forced me to start thinking about things like, “How far would you go if you felt threatened? What’s your safety plan?”

He wasn’t dangerous. He had issues, yes, but when I finally got the guts to firmly set boundaries with him about how I didn’t want him near me, and didn’t want him trying to talk to me or call me, and that I’d get authorities involved if he did, he left me alone.

I think that some of the attention I get from men definitely comes from a personality type that sees the cane and thinks, “There’s someone that needs me to take of her.” But I can spot that dynamic forming pretty quickly, and politely put the brakes on it – I don’t need someone to take care of me, and the man who’s not willing to look at me as anything more than that is just going to be disappointed by me anyway. But honestly, I think that the reason I get more attention from men now has very little to do with my disability:

I walk with a confidence now. I don’t look down anymore.

I look people (even men!) in the eye and smile.

I’m less shy. I like talking to people.

Before the stroke…self-confidence didn’t come so easily. I know it’s strange that now, with a cane and disabilities, it has…but maybe I’ll talk about that another time.

In Light of Stats on Assault on People with Disabilities…

I’m much more careful than I used to be about being in public by myself, particularly at night. I’ve heard enough statistics about women with disabilities and assault (and women and assault in general) that I don’t want to become one of them.  There’s making a point – and taking needless risk.  I don’t like to think that I live in fear, but I really was scared by what happened with that guy, and it was very mild as these things go…but it took me a long time to feel safe again.

So, lesson learned. Safety first. Take appropriate precautions for yourselves out there, and teach the young people in your life to do the same, especially ones with disabilities.

Because the stats I quoted are disturbing on several levels:

What is it about a person with a disability that makes the probability of he/she getting assaulted so much higher? Isassault it a perception that they are more easily overpowered? Is it a lower level of respect for their humanity? Is there a (apparently correct perception) perception that they are less likely to “tell”, or easier to bully into not telling? When I hear that that Johnson and Sigler’s research in 2000 reported that as many as 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities are victims of sexual assault, it makes me think it’s a combination of all of them, and that’s just not acceptable.

Why aren’t people with disabilities who have been assaulted telling the authorities about it? Are people not taking them seriously? Are they being properly educated on what assault is? Do they value themselves enough to tell? Do they have enough information on what would happen to separate the scare tactic of an assaulter from what would really happen if they went to the police?

Again, not acceptable. But it’s the way life is right now.  So we owe it to the people with disabilities in our lives to have these conversations abuse and assault so that they know exactly what they need to do if it happens to them. I’ve told youth that I’ve worked with to find one adult that they could trust to tell – a teacher, a parent, an adult, a worker –  and that the adult would help them with the decisions from there.  This approach won’t always work. But I believe that it works more often than not.

I got the statistics for this post from a sheet prepared by the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre:

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If London Can Do It…

Unstoppable Martyn Sibley

I recently attended a very informative webinar on independent living for people with disabilities by Martyn Sibley. As someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Martyn knows his subject matter well.

From his website ( ” I am a regular guy who happens to have a disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). This means I cannot walk, lift anything heavier than a book or shower myself.”

However, Martyn’s disabilities have not stopped him from getting his Master’s, working full-time, advocating for for people with disabilities with a number of organizations, living on his own, traveling around the world, and opening his own business. Thinking about what he must do in a day makes me feel exhausted!

Transportation Accessibility in London: Putting Canada to Shame

Martyn is currently living in London, England. I was fascinated by his description of the transportation options available to people with disabilities in London. It seems that most of the cabs, buses and trains, are outfitted with an extendable ramp! Unheard of! People in wheelchairs being able to access *all* the buses, cabs, and trains? An accessibility dream!

London taxi cab

I said to Martyn that I’d never seen that level of transportation accessibility in Canadian cities (basing this on what I’ve seen in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Montreal). The first (and last) time I heard people talking about improving the  accessibility of Toronto’s subway stations was when Toronto was trying to get the  2008 Summer Olympics (at that time there were still two stations that people in wheelchairs couldn’t get into).

It really does beg the question: If London can have this level of transportation accessibility, why can’t Canadian cities? I realize that money’s tight and that it would require a mass re-outfitting of…everything.  I don’t expect it to happen overnight, the same way that I don’t expect any massive change involving people with disabilities to happen overnight.

But I think that the transportation systems in our cities need to start asking themselves the same difficult questions that non-accessible businesses should be asking: How much business are the they losing by remaining inaccessible? Can they really afford, in this day and age, *not* to improve accessibility?

Besides the fact that it’s just the right thing to do, as I’ve talked about in other posts…

Step it up, Canada. London’s making us look bad.

More About Martyn

Martyn’s conducting his next disability webinar from New York City, where he’ll be on vacation. Lucky guy…gets to live in a city that I love, gets to vacation in another city that I love…check out his website for details on the webinars and for more information on his work.

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Grateful to Be Canadian – Redux

I didn’t want to something like this so close to “I’m Afraid of Americans”, but I gave myself a scare

intellectual disabilities


the other night.

I knew as I switched to CNN on Monday night that my decision to watch the Republican Presidential Debate was likely against my better judgement.  I’d like to thank Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul for confirming my suspicions.

Stick to the Facts, Michelle

To be fair to Michelle Bachmann, I don’t recall her actually suggesting, as she raked Ron Perry over the coals for his decision to have the HPV vaccine Gardisil administered in schools, that said vaccine causes intellectual disabilities. She has since taken it upon herself since the debate, in less-than-eloquent fashion.

Michelle Bachmann on Gardisil and “mental retardation”


Bachmann’s claims have caused quite a stir in both the medical and disabilities community, both of whom seem to agree that she is fear-mongering.


However, Ron Paul gets the award for making me get the closest to throwing something at the television set. As it was, I used some, uh, very unladylike language.

“Ron Paul drives me crazy. Half of what he says is brilliant. And then this happens:

Thank you, Danine Spencer, for summing it all up in this tweet.

I’m forever getting sucked into Ron Paul’s trap. He sounds sane compared to the rest of them for the first part of whatever interview/debate I’m watching. Then he just goes off the rails into this “WTF are you thinking??” stuff that makes me despair.

Danine was referring to this:

(Jon Stewart hoped that the people who cheered for the idea of leaving the sick man to die might have missed the fact that Paul actually said “No” when asked if he thought that should happen. I’ll leave it to you to watch the clip and decide what you think).

And here’s my point.

Proud to be “The Other” for People that Need It”

Ron Paul said that back when he was practicing medicine, churches, neighbours and friends took care of people who were sick and they didn’t have to turn people away from hospitals, but that we’ve forgotten this idea.

I’ve never worked in a hospital, but I’ve worked with agencies that have taken on the roles that churches, neighbours or friends would have played in the lives of people with developmental disabilities. I’ve often thought about how social services sometimes, in that caregiving role, become the “family” for people that have no family.

But for many of the people that I’ve worked with, they’ve never known anything *but* a family of caregivers, simply because they were institutionalized at a very young age. They had little, if any, contact with their families. They weren’t allowed to make community connections through places like church, or to makes friends outside of the institution. And then, when the institutions started to close, they were sent to communities where they knew no one.

Ron Paul might look down on Canada because he perceives us to be a socialist/welfare state. But my illustration is just a simple one of how just expecting churches/family/neighbours to meet everyone’s needs is terribly simplistic and simply doesn’t work. Reducing government agency supports to increase a person’s independence, when it becomes feasible and just generally healthy for the person, is a worthy goal – when there are natural supports to take over.  Not the other way around. And if that makes me a socialist, so be it.

So there, Ron Paul. Socialist and proud to live in a nation that values taking care of people that don’t have the means to take of themselves or people to help them.

(And Michelle Bachmann. I suggest that you assume that you voters are capable of doing basic research before you start tossing the anti-vaccine rhetoric around.)

Last post on American politics for a while. I promise. :)


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My AVM Story: Bad Days in Rehab

Some of you may remember reading this entry before. Because of some glitches in my blog, it was deleted. However, I thought that it was an important one, for a variety of reasons, so I’m reprinting it.

All names in this entry have been changed.


Some days in rehab were good.  Some weren’t so good.

Rehab Fun

As I said in my previous post, we found ways at Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre to make the days fun. When the work day of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, life skills training, and appointments with social work, neurological testing, and vocational planning were over for the day, we had some time for ourselves. Sometimes I used it in constructive pursuits like practicing my hand-writing or practicing trying to get my scooter turned around in the elevator without hitting a wall. I never missed visiting with the therapy dogs if they were in the centre; I loved their visits.

One weekend when, for some reason, I ended up staying on the ward and a lot of other people happened to be around, we all watched “Galaxy Quest” one afternoon. It’s an amusing movie, but not die-laughing funny. Alison, however, got the giggles, and she and I laughed until we could barely breathe. We should have been asked to leave, except that everyone else found us so funny that no one really cared about the movie.

One of the patient’s families sponsored a ward Christmas party for all of us. That was the night that we found out

Fun with bubble wrap…

that Helene could tow three people in manual wheelchairs behind her large electric wheelchair. We also discovered that running over bubble wrap in a wheelchair was just as satisfying as popping it with your hands.

Not-So-Fun Days

So there were fun days at rehab. But there were decidedly not-fun days too. One night, we all went down to Arts and Crafts again, to paint plaster Father Christmas tree ornaments. The volunteer instructed us that Father Christmas’ robe and hat were to be red or green, the cuffs on the robe, the pom pom and trim on the hat, and Father Christmas’ beard were to be white, and his face was to be flesh-tone.

“Screw that,” I said to Nick and Angela. “I can barely write my name legibly. I’m not fooling around with  colour changes on itty-bitty areas. My Father Christmas is going to be all green, and he’s going to like it.”

Nick and Angela saw nothing wrong with this. The volunteer disagreed with them.

“That area is supposed to be white, dear.” she said when she came to check on our table. “Would you like a brush to use with the white?”

“No, thank you,” I said. “My Father Christmas is going to be all green.”

“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be, dear. See mine, up at the front?”

Nick and Angela were looking at me. “I see it,” I said. “But I can’t paint those little bitty areas. Everything is going to end up green anyway. I might as well just paint him green.”

“I could help you to paint him the right colours. Would you like that?”

I was getting annoyed. “No, I wouldn’t like that. I want to paint him green. But that’s obviously a problem, so *you* paint him whatever colour you want. I don’t care anymore.” I tossed my figure on the table and pushed my chair back. “Catch you later,” I said to Angela and Nick as I wheeled away. Nick painted the rest of my Father Christmas green and brought it to me later, but I didn’t go back to Arts and Crafts.

Another bad day that springs to mind is the day that I got so frustrated with the brain avm and the stroke and the way that everything had turned out that I threw my cane at the wall. I’d been practicing my walking, and nothing about it in particular was even going wrong. I’d just – had enough.

And, of course, there was the day that I left. I heard that a particular nurse was going to be representing the nursing staff at my discharge conference and for the first time since I was a toddler, I threw a screaming, crying tantrum. She had misrepresented me to a group of doctors during a case conference when I was there, and that amounted to throwing me under the bus, as far as I was concerned. I was not giving her the chance to do it again.

I’ve had twelve years since the brain AVM surgery and rehabilitation to reflect on whether my perception of her actions was correct. I’m convinced that if I could go back, I’d do the same thing – less emotionally, with more of an appeal to staffing pressures that the centre was under. But I’d stand by my conviction that the only way that woman was coming near my discharge meeting was if she read my other day nurse’s notes and was not allowed to comment on what she thought.

Sometimes stroke changes peoples’ personalities. The old, timid me would not have stood so firmly on this, to the point where when the centre said, “Nursing won’t be present at your discharge meeting, then,” I said, “That’s fine.”

It was quite a move toward me growing a spine.  It’s too bad it took a brain AVM and a stroke to get me there.

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Canadian Health Care – The Other Side of the Story

Elizabeth McClung has generously agreed to let me post the comment that she made on the post that I sent to ReflectionsPN as my “guest blogger” post – the one that appears in this blog as “Grateful to Be Canadian”, in which I talk about how positive my experience with Canada’s health care system has been. Elizabeth’s story needs to be told too.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s comment only address a little bit of how Canadian health care has failed her as a person dying of a very, very rare disease affecting her autonomic, autoimmune, and neurological systems. I follow her blog (Screw Bronze! on my blogroll) and have talked with her through email a few times, and am truly saddened and angered by what she and her partner Linda have had to endure just trying to get barely adequate medical and home support care for her – often not even that.

But she’s probably got the most positive attitude of just about anyone I know. If you read anger or pain in anything that I quote here – I believe it’s just because she’s understandably had enough of fighting against a system that, while it for whatever reason worked for me, seems determined to work against her:


“I am really glad you live where you live as being in District of Nanaimo you would have not been sent to the hospital you were sent to, and you would have not have gotten an MRI (since it only operates until 2:30 in the afternoon due to budget cutbacks in staff, which had to take a 10-12% paycut, so most quit and went to Toronto and Calgary), as there is the ONE, and it was bought 30 years ago and has generally a nine month wait list.

I repeatedly am told from people in Toronto, ‘that’s not like it is here.’ which is what people from have-not provinces, from the maritimes to British Columbia end up hearing. I am glad you had Ontario health insurance, which may have made this possible (since, I am not sure that Coast Health would want to cover two operations and rehab in another province, nor have I heard of anyone getting any rehab for stroke out of province – maybe, except the 22 year old I know in this city who simply lives with ‘short life’ and no immune system for something that can be treated…in Ontario).

I am glad it worked, and the story is one which due to the complex nature of payment of healthcare in Canada might be a good example case. My nan did well in living out of our healthcare system, having four cataract transplants; but poor in dying (as hospitals in this city are often full, and up to 60% of the beds are in use by seniors waiting for other seniors to die so they can be slotted into a home). As the worker who told me they were off to take care of 32 individuals for X hours – the idea that individual oxygen or any other needs could be met at less than 2 minutes per person per hour is humorous, and so the turnover rate at our centers are quite high (a month seems to be the average rate, even if they survived 6 months waiting in hospital, once in, a month is about the average, some 2 weeks, some 6).

I am very glad you had a good diagnostic and Vancouver has a great cluster of hospitals, but I think Toronto is even better. If someone is going to cut into your brain, get the best.

I am still in awe that you have a seizure specialist (and that there were two or more in that location). I am glad life moves on and out of the valley of beige and sanitizer. Your experience represents the best of Canadian medicine, thankfully.”

Elizabeth, if there’s anything I can do, you know you just need to ask.

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Seizing Opportunities

  Today I came across a “tweet” on Twitter that        asked, “What opportunities have you seized  today?”

(Thank you, Katrina Moody!)

I know I’ve been MIA over the past couple of  days…and I’m feeling like a truck hit me after  having a root canal done yesterday, so I may  take the weekend off even though I’ve been a  slacker about posting this week…but here are  some opportunities that I seized this week

  1. I was a guest blogger on a blog called ReflectionsPN:  I’m looking forward to having ReflectionsPN owner Pratyush Nalam do a piece for Girl With The Cane!
  2. I responded to a call for writers on Disability Horizons ( and will be doing some writing for them in the very near future.
I’m very excited about both of these things!
Now to get some sleep and hopefully feel human again by Monday…have a great weekend!
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Allow me to introduce someone important…

…myself. :)

After a lot of thinking, I’ve decided to start blogging under my real name. I feel like I need to put my name to my story as I’m telling it, and also that I need to “own” the opinions that I’m putting out there. I’ve been blogging under this pseudonym for nearly three months and it feels like it’s time to put a bit more of me into this blog.

I still have concerns about protecting people who could be affected by what I write, and have put a lot of thought into blogging with those concerns in mind. I will still change most names to protect privacy…but I’ll start noting when I’ve done that, and I’ll go back through the blog over the next while and note when I’ve done that. However, I’ll also back through the blog and change other things as well:

My sister’s name is Rachel, not “Karen”, and my father’s name is Joel. They pretty much put huge parts of their lives on hold from the phone call in Nanaimo until I came home for good from the Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre (Rehab Centre #2; Rehab Centre #1 is Penatanguishene General Hospital). My mother, Jean, died two years before all of this happened.

I am so grateful to my family for everything that they did to stand by me when I was recovering. I’m also grateful to Rachel’s then-boyfriend and now husband, Gavin, for the support that he gave to both her and to me; to all my friends (especially Kim, who sat with my family during the craniotomy and then convinced the nurses that she was my adopted sister so that she could come visit me right after)…for the people who visited me, and prayed for me…for my doctors (especially Dr. Katz, who I don’t think I ever did thank properly)…

And I’m grateful to all of you for reading. My name is Sarah Levis. It’s nice to meet you. :)


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I’m Afraid of Americans

Not all of you, of course.  Some of you, I absolutely love, and you know who you are. :)

Jon Stewart for President

Others don’t know how much I love them…Jon Stewart being one of them. I figure that he doesn’t need to know that I make “I love Jon Stewart” my Facebook status from time to time, just because he’s so awesome.  If he decided to run for US President in 2012, I’d throw a rally from here, just to show him that even though even though we can’t vote, there’s a whole lot of us up here in Canada that would if we could, just because of stuff like this: (Click on the “August 18th” show and watch the first segment)

(This is a Canadian link; I can’t link to the clip through Comedy Central. If you’re outside of Canada you should automatically be taken to the Comedy Central site, but if you’re not…go to and look for the first segment of the August 18th episode of “The Daily Show”)

social assistance For those not inclined to watch the clip, it’s…bone-chilling. Don’t get  me wrong, it’s full of Stewart’s dark humour and razor’s-edge wit. But  it’s all about how right-wing politicians and the media that typically  offer them the most support (mainly FOX media outlets) tend to view and describe people who use social assistance in America.

And the clips they use of the media people and the politicians are not  one bit funny.

 Social Assistance and Class Warfare

Here are some of the “yuck” moments Stewart found in the recent  media about attitudes toward people on social assistance:

  •  People on welfare being compared to scavenging animals that will just  keep wanting something for nothing if you continue to feed them.
  •  People on social assistance being called “parasites”
  •  Blanket accusations that people on social assistance just want to take “the easy way out”, not wanting to end their “free ride” and pay their taxes.
  •  Implication that people living in poverty (less than $22 000 income a year for a family of four) actually *aren’t* poor because they have a refrigerator
  • Warren Buffett called a socialist because he suggested that millionaires in the US be required to pay more tax.
I remember discussions that I had on an internet forum a couple of years back with people who were opposed to social assistance programs. I was surprised then at the responses I got when brought up the issue of people with disabilities who can’t work, or can’t work enough, to support themselves. The one that leaps to mind is “Churches or volunteers should take care of them,” because I remember shaking my head and thinking, “There’s no use in even continuing this conversation.”  It’s hard enough to get paid services to ensure care nowadays.

Hateful Attitudes

The anti-social assistance rhetoric seems to have gotten even more hateful in the last couple of years, and it scares me.  It exists in Canada, too.  I remember being shocked when Ontario Premier Mike Harris suggested that people who live on the street choose to be homeless. But that seems tame in comparison to what I hear from the likes of Ann Coulter and her cronies these days.
I’m scared for my friends with disabilities in the US that don’t have any choice but to rely on assistance programs to stay alive. I’m tired of seeing them punished and degraded because people that they had nothing to do with abuse the social assistance system.  There will always be people that abuse the social assistance system. It doesn’t mean that all the people that use it have to be painted as potential criminals.
I’m *really* tired of the US villianizing its most financially vulnerable citizens as it tries  to balance its books on their backs.  Canada needs to ask itself tough questions about this issue as well.
If our countries were to be judged solely on how we treat those who are least able to care for themselves, how would we fare?



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My Brain AVM Story: Cured

In terms of brain AVM treatment, I pretty much hit the jackpot in many ways.

Two Brain AVM Surgeries, But…

Yes, I did go through two surgeries: An embolization to make the brain AVM smaller, and then open-brain surgery to resection the entire thing. And when all of that was over, there was still some AVM that they couldn’t get. But it’s not like it caused any trouble (it really didn’t; the post-surgery bleed that left me with the deficits that I have now happened near the brain AVM, but it wasn’t the AVM itself.)  As I talked about in “Finger-Spelling”, initially they debated about going back in to see if they could get the last bit of AVM but, for whatever reason, decided against it.

So, until the summer of 2001, I still had that little bit of a chance of another bleed in my head. There’s a 4-7% chance each year, non-cumulative, that an AVM will bleed, and my chances were in the higher end of the range. Even so, bleeding again given that I’d bled in 1999 was unlikely. That didn’t stop my father from flinching every time he saw me go for the ibuprofen (which was usually to deal with menstrual cramps as opposed to headaches).

I didn’t think that much about the little bit of brain AVM. Maybe I figured that if it was going to bleed, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I think I mostly just forgot it was there.

Until I went back to my neurosurgeon, to hear the results of my one-year follow-up angiogram.


First off, after seeing me walk into the office and seeing how my arm had come along, he said that he was finally comfortable enough to open the bottle of scotch that Dad had given him when I’d left Toronto Western (not right there in the office, of course…presumably the next time he wanted a glass of scotch). He said he’d not wanted to until he saw how everything was going to turn out withbrain avm my recovery, and that he was very pleased with my progress. It was the first inkling that I’d gotten that he’d maybe felt badly about the way things had turned out after the surgery and that he’d worried about my prognosis, even though it had never occurred to any of us to hold him responsible in any way. Dad had given him the scotch because, as far as we were concerned, he’d saved my life. I’m very grateful for everything that he did for me.

Second, he wanted to discuss some very unexpected results on my angiogram. I wouldn’t need any more treatment – no radiation, no more surgeries – because that little bit of remaining  brain AVM had sealed itself off. This wasn’t unheard of, but was fairly rare. I’d have to come back in a couple of years for another follow-up angiogram, but as far as he was concerned I was cured – ready to be discharged from the brain AVM clinic, unless a day came when I felt symptoms coming on again, in which case I should call them immediately.

Another Redefinition

I didn’t know what to say. I spent a couple of days in shock – I’d not thought about that bit of AVM for so long, but I hadn’t realized how much I’d built myself on “having an AVM” in the last year and a half. The idea that I now had a clean bill of health (well, besides having a weak left side and a seizure disorder) seemed a little strange. It was another redefinition, and I felt like I’d had enough of those over the last little while.

Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t get to choose the times when we have to redefine ourselves. And if there’s anything that this whole experience has taught me, it’s that dealing with a lot of change in a short time is easier when you’re aware of those core things about yourself that you *don’t* redefine, no matter what. The things that really say, “This is who I am.”

I thought I knew who I was before the brain AVM trouble started…and then I had to redefine myself a bunch of times, and I wasn’t sure. But then things got clearer, easier. And if going through all that was what it took to find out who I really am…then it was worth it.

More on the Toronto Western AVM Clinic:


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My AVM Story: You Always Have a Choice

This isn’t explicitly about my AVM, but about one of the events in the months before it, when I lived in British Columbia.

Still Thinking About Some Things…

The jury is still out for me on fate and coincidence. There was a time in my life when I believed that every event in life prepared us for something else, that we moved along according to a great “master plan”, etc…I don’t quite believe that anymore, but I don’t believe that life is just a series of random events, either. I feel like I’ve seen a bit too much to believe that. And there were a number of events during the summer I spent in BC that just prepared me a little too well for the years after. I wrote about some of them in a book of essays that I published about five years ago. It will soon be available through this blog for those that are interested, so keep your eyes open.

But back to British Columbia, and the summer of 1998.

Camping By the River

One night, my friend Andrea and I (who I’d known in high school) hiked a mile into the woods with her friends for a night of camping. We set up the tents and sat by the river, talking and laughing. Someone had brought a pie, which we eagerly ate.

And then Doug got very quiet, and motioned for us to be quiet. He explained that he could hear something just off in the bushes. Andrea whispered to me that Doug had practically grown up in the woods, and had been tracking animals his whole life.

Even after we’d started talking again, Doug’s attention was elsewhere. He eventually said that he was puzzled, because we wouldn’t even hear a cougar and a bear would have “fucked off by now”, which led to a discussion of which animals were on Vancouver Island and whether a person could fight off an Island bear or cougar (both being smaller than their mainland kin).

Not long later, thoroughly freaked out, I helped Andrea rinse the pie plates in the river. We only had backpacks. I had granola bars in my pack, assuming that the cars were going to be closer and that we’d be storing food in them. I’d been brought up on the idea that you always secure food and dirty dishes in a car when camping in bear country, and the packs were just going in the tents. No one else seemed concerned, but I was terrified that we’d heard a bear earlier and that food smells were going to bring him back through tonight.

Realizations in the Dark

So, as the others slept, I weighed my options. I really was terrified. I considered walking out to the car, but I knew I’d never make it up the trail in the dark without getting lost. I wasn’t insisting on rigging up a food pack from a tree branch when no one else seemed concerned. There wasn’t anything I could do.

And it suddenly hit me: There wasn’t anything I could do. If a bear was going to waltz through thebrain avm campsite, he was going to do it, and no amount of worrying on my part was going to change it. Morning was going to take the same amount of time to come, whether I laid here all night freaking out over what could happen or whether I went to sleep.

I got to choose what my experience was going to be.

So I might as well choose the more pleasant alternative, and go to sleep.

And, after doing some deep breathing, I did.

I Always Have a Choice

One of my best friends says that if she got a tattoo, she’d get words “Are you sure?”, in a place that she can always see it, to remind her before she acts that everything isn’t always as it seems. I think that if I got tattoo, I’d get, “You always have a choice”, to remind me that I can choose my own experience – not always the events, no, but how I’m going to react to them.  It’s a theme that came up continually that summer, and that continues to come up in my life. It was one of the things that got me through the hard times in recovery, and that still gets me through hard times.  Some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met seem to agree that there’s something to it, so I figure I must be on the right track!

And even if I’m not – I figure that if believing in it has gotten me this far, it can’t be that bad a thing.

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