My journey with repetitive strain injury

Blog post author in woods

I’ve often said it’s as important to know what makes you unhappy, as what makes you happy. For the past year, chronic pain has made me unhappy.

It all started a year ago when Covid hit and I began working from home. Those first few weeks were a blur. I worked long days on my sunroom couch in a bad ergonomic set up, putting in 55 hours a week issuing communications for my company.

In early April, I started to feel a pain developing beneath my shoulder blade. I quickly changed my workspace and set up a proper desk, but the damage was done.

As the pain intensified, to make matters worse, I stupidly kept working. I remember calling into some meetings lying on my bed sideways, because that was the only position where my shoulder didn’t throb. I couldn’t sit down for more than 10 minutes without searing shards of pain emanating up my back. At times the pain was blinding and I could barely concentrate.

I called my doctor, and he prescribed anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. They helped, a bit, but it wasn’t until I was able to get in to see my physiotherapist that I started having success manage the pain. I was only one of three patients he was seeing during lockdown.

I also started heeding the advice of my health care professionals. I reduced my hours at the computer, took microbreaks, got a sit stand desk so I could work standing up half the day, and did eventually take 3-4 weeks off completely to let it heal.

It’s been a year and while my injury has still not completely healed, it doesn’t occupy my every waking thought now.

I wanted to share my story as a cautionary tale and to help others prevent injuring themselves while working from home. Here are some key things I learned:

  • People told me the pain should go away if you just change your ergonomic set up. This was not true in my case. I got a proper desk, set up a second monitor, got an ergonomic chair and sit-stand tabletop desk, anti-fatigue mat for when I was standing, and changed my set up several times. The pain did not go away.
  • With ergonomic injuries, if you start feeling pain, you’ve already been working too long. My physio and doctor both said you shouldn’t work more than 20-30 minutes sitting in one position and to take microbreaks throughout the day.
  • You need to give the injury time to heal. I didn’t. I stupidly kept working. I look back at it now and know I was crazy. I had lame excuses—now is not a good time, other team members were off on vacation or moving, it’s so busy. I thought of everyone before my own health. If there was one key thing (other than not injuring myself in the first place) I would have done differently, it’s I would have taken time off work immediately to allow my injury to heal.
  • The best advice I received was to keep moving. When I told my doctor, the pain subsided most when I was kayaking, he said I should set up my laptop on the top of my kayak. Any movement—walking, gardening, swimming, kayaking was the best medicine.
  • Get a hot tub. Seriously, if you suffer from any kind of chronic pain, a hot tub is so therapeutic. From April to June last year, the 30 minutes a night I spent in my hot tub was my only pain free time during the waking hours of the day.
  • Exercises are a must. Before I could even get in to see my physio, a good friend of ours who is a chiropractor set me up with a customized exercise program. I still do about 20 minutes of stretching exercises every day.
  • Be open to different types of treatments. In addition to physio, I went regularly for massages and also went to an osteopath for the first time. I didn’t know much about osteopaths, but in some ways, I think a few osteo treatments were more effective than any other paramedical provider. I tried every cream in the book, even marijuana cream.

It’s been a rough journey and I’m very relieved to say I’m much improved. One of the things I found most difficult was not knowing whether by continuing to work, I was continuing to injure myself, or just aggravating the already existing injury.

I have developed a newfound respect for anyone who lives with chronic pain. My heart goes out to you.

Finally, I want to recognize and thank all the people this past year who lent a sympathetic ear and who helped me more than you will ever know—friends who listened and sent me exercises to do, my family for their patience and concern, Latif Khoja at Sydenham Rehab Well clinic, Christina Marshall, my amazing massage therapist, Tony Barton from Barton Chiropractic and my wonderful doctor, Steve Ingo.

Stay in a luxurious over-the-water bungalow

Imagine your dream escape.

An over-the-water bungalow in a secluded locale

Silence and serenity your only companions

Gaze into the waters below and watch another world unfold

Every amenity within reach

There is nothing to do but relax

Except maybe curl up with your favourite book

Or wet a line and see if you can catch your dinner

Fresh grilled fish. A delicacy

The late day sun casts a reddish glow across the sky

Its yellow orb casting shadows over a breathtaking view

Until the moon appears, cresting the skyline

The end to another spectacular day in paradise

Thinking this isn’t possible right now? Well, think again. Come visit us any time in our beautiful over-the-water bungalow. Here’s a picture of our sweet little escape and of the fish I caught! And remember, you can always dream. The picture above was an ad I saw on TravelZoo. $1,899 for two to stay for a week at over-the-water bungalows in the Maldives, fully refundable. Hope this week’s #HappyAct made you smile!

Ice hut
Author with pike caught through the ice

Make love a daily ritual

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I promise each day
To say I love you

There are few words in the English language that convey such emotion as the simple, four-letter word love.

Just thinking of the word love makes you feel warm all over, giddy inside, happy and fulfilled.

I made a vow when I was quite young to tell the people I love that I love them every day. You see, when I was 12, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I knew the day would come when I might not be able to say those words to her anymore, so we made a pact to say we loved each other every day. She died when I was 19.

I’ve continued that daily ritual in my marriage and with my children. Not a day goes by where I don’t tell them I love them.

If there’s one thing this past year has taught us is, life is short. This week’s #HappyAct is to make sure the people you love know how you feel about them. Don’t leave words unsaid.

Happy hearts day, everyone. And for those of you with a more amorous turn who like a play on words, feel free to make love a daily ritual too!

Living vicariously through others

Author on Dubawnt River in NWT
On the Dubawnt River in NWT

By special guest blogger Dave Swinton

One thing the pandemic has taught me is you can escape through the magic of Youtube.

When I was younger we were always looking for our next adventure. One summer when I was 13, a friend of mine, his father and I built and launched a pontoon boat made completely out of wood. With an old kicker motor and a thirst for what lay around the next bend, my friend and I set off every day to fish, swim, and explore the Grand River in all its glory. As I got older, and went off to school in Thunder Bay, we ascended the top of the Sleeping Giant and descended to the depths of Ouimet Canyon (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up). We hiked, skiied and snowshoed new territory every weekend. We ice fished lakes from dawn till dusk and purposely got lost because this is where we found our true selves. 

I’ve been to places few people have ever been. Whether it be a 9-day river trip in the Arctic or a safari in Tanzania, my thirst for adventure is never far from the surface.

But the inevitable dance with age is starting to catch up with me. Sore knees, hips, and shoulders are starting to diminish my dreams of trips. My mind is still filled with adventures. Hiking in the Himalayas, far north canoe trips, road trips, lost lakes. But who am I kidding, some of these may never happen.

I’ve had some willing partners over the years, some of who are now gone but my thirst for adventure continues. 

But I’ve found a new set of partners on YouTube. They have specialized camera equipment like GoPros and DSLR cameras and drones which make you feel like you are right beside them.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a YouTuber named Foresty Forest. The man has literally converted his van into a liveable space and spends his days hiking and mountain climbing all the gorgeous peaks of British Columbia. His stamina for climbing is off the charts and sometimes he climbs multiple peaks every day. The vistas he captures are stunning and his minimal dialogue is very enjoyable. I’ve also hiked the Himalayas with a Nepalese man named Ram and his company Mountain Ram Adventures without ever leaving the comfort of my house. One day I’m fishing Lake of the Woods, the next night I’m canoeing in Quetico.

My thirst for adventure will always be satisfied.

This week’s Happy Act is to live vicariously through others, because that’s all we have right now.

Giraffe at Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Beautiful music for a crazy world

For the past three weeks, I’ve been listening to classical music in the car. I find when I’m in Toronto, I naturally gravitate to classical. It’s almost as if my brain seeks a soothing balm to the incessant noise and traffic, even though the roads and city neighbourhoods were quite blissfully quiet during this recent trip during lockdown.

I was listening to Classical 96.3 whose tagline right now is “Beautiful music for a crazy world” (I thought this was hilarious). I think we all need more beautiful music for a crazy world and there is no music more beautiful than classical.

My love for classical music started in my childhood. My Dad loved jazz, my brother classic rock, but it was Mom who introduced me to classical. Then in high school, I played the flute in my high school and local community concert band, where I developed a new appreciation for some of the great classical compositions as a musician. I also have to thank the parents of one of my friends, Jim and Audrey McMurray for continuing this love affair. I have many fond memories of having a glass of wine before dinner at their cottage, with the sounds of classical music floating in the air alongside the lake breezes and sparkling water.

While I was driving into Toronto, Classical 96.3 played this beautiful composition called “And the Waltz Goes On” by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins. Even though he is known as an Oscar-winning actor, he has been composing music for the past 50 years and in 2011, released his first classical album called “Composer”.

I loved watching this video clip of Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform it. Anthony Hopkins is in the audience, and you see the emotion on his face as these brilliant musicians bring his masterpiece to life. He tears up at one point. The musicians are so expressive, but it is the audience who steal the show. You can see at first their anticipation for what is to come, then the joy and delight on their faces as the music sweeps them away, literally as they begin swaying in the aisles and dancing in their seats. It is so much fun to watch and even more moving to listen to.

I wish I could instil an appreciation for classical music in my children. Believe me, I’ve tried. Perhaps some day, but for now, I’m happy in finding at least my own solace in beautiful music for a crazy world.

Living in a world of 24/7 news

CP24 news page

Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.

These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.

Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.

Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.

When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.

I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.

Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.

This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:

  • Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
  • Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
  • Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.

I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.

I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.

Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.

Tails from Bentley

Special guest blog by Bentley the dog

Greetings, or as I like to say, happy tails! I can’t believe it’s been only weeks since I left the streets of Cairo, flew on a plane and arrived in Canada. A nice man named Kevin greeted me and drove me to meet my new family. We had lots of laughs and pets in his driveway, then it was time to go home.

The minute I walked in the door, I knew I found my furrever home. The oldest girl, Grace gave me a big hug and had a new toy and sign ready for me, saying “Welcome home”.

My new home is doggie paradise. My owners posted pictures of me on Facebook and all their friends said I won the doggie lottery. Apparently their house is known as a“doggie spa” because it is pawsitively awesome and regularly gets five tail wag reviews on PupAdvisor from four-legged visitors.

My new house is all one level and has a wood stove for me to curl up beside in the winter and a beautiful sunroom with all windows. I have six acres to roam on a spring-fed lake. My family keeps telling me we will go fishing and swimming in the summer, but for now, it’s all frozen and snowy. I have already been ice fishing and skating and like to blow bubbles in the ice fishing holes and minnows bucket!

I love watching the birds on my property. I especially love chasing the squirrels. When my owners let me out the front or back door, I go tearing after them and five or six squirrels will go flying off the bird feeders onto the fences and trees in a flourish. It makes me howl every time! My family doesn’t mind because it keeps the squirrels away from the bird feeders.

It took me about a week to adjust to everything. My tummy was off a bit, so my Mom gave me pumpkin in my food for a few days. On Christmas Eve she made a pumpkin pie. She left it on the counter and asked my Dad to get the tupperware container down and cover it up. He got the wrong one that doesn’t close properly and so before bed, I smelled the pumpkin, thinking it was for me and put my paws on the counter and ate half of it.

Another time, a neighbour dropped some apple crisp off at the front door and got stuck in the icy snow in their driveway. When they all went out to help them get unstuck, I helped myself to half a brie and lovely charcuterie board on the dining room table. I know I shouldn’t, but if stupid humans leave food out like that, I can’t help myself. I’ll have to train them better if I’m going to keep my boyish figure.

My family is home during the day and spend their time looking at screens a lot. They take lots of breaks to play with me and take me for walks. They keep using words like “Covid” and “virus” and assure me we will visit more with other people and dogs when those strange words are over.

My favourite place to sleep now is in my Dad’s chair in the sunroom. It fits me just perfect, I can look out the windows and it makes me feel closer to him when he is away at work. Mom says it’s like I’m a prince on my throne.

Grace keeps bringing stuffed toys home for me. My ETTR (estimated time to rip apart) is 24 hours. I’m trying to improve my time to get into the Guinness Book of Dog Records. I figure I have a good shot if she keeps bringing dollar store items. I also like to go around and pick up hats, mitts and socks. Mom is trying to teach me to drop the dirty items in the laundry basket for biscuits.

Grace has a boyfriend and he is a cat person (horrors). I have made it my secret mission to convert him to become a dog person so we snuggle a lot and play together. I think my master plan is working.

I am so happy in my new home. We believe in our hearts we were MFEO (Made For Each Other). I know this wonderful new life of mine would never have been possible without Golden Rescue and my generous sponsor. From the tip of my tail, I want to say thank you so much for bringing me to such a wonderful place.

Happy tails, Bentley!

Happy? New Year–try going for joyful and hopeful instead

There are two sayings we bandy about at this time of year: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This year as I was writing out Christmas cards, I found myself naturally avoiding those usual seasonal sayings and writing sentiments instead like, “Joyous wishes” and “I hope you can find moments of joy” for friends who had lost loved ones in this particularly difficult year.

Alan McPherson, a retired minister with the Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton says there is a difference between happiness and joy. “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”

Who knows what the new year will bring. With the second wave of COVID-19 still having an icy grip on the country and most regions in lockdown, happier times seem a way off. But we can always find joy each day in simple acts. Curling up with a good book. Catching up with an old friend. Going for a walk on a bright wintry day and hearing the snow crunch underfoot.

Yes, we can always find joy. And we always have hope.

Have a joyful and hopeful New Year everyone.

A vision for the future of Kingston in a post-COVID world

Abandoned limestone building

A new year is upon us. A time for hope, setting goals and envisioning a new future.

This year, I believe one of our greatest challenges will be to have a vision for the future for our towns, cities and communities in a post-COVID world.

Life will get back to normal as the vaccine rolls out, but things may not look the same. Businesses will have closed, for rent and lease signs may become permanent fixtures in downtown cores, and we may see an exodus from cities as people now have the choice and freedom to work from anywhere. Which leaves us to beg the question, how can we keep our cities vibrant and relevant in a post-COVID world?

I was thinking about this today while walking along the waterfront behind our new hospital, Providence Care in Kingston. On a cold day in January during lockdown, there were runners jogging through the grounds, families toboganning on a popular hill, and people walking their dogs along the trail by the water.

This particular area of Kingston is interesting because there are many old beautiful abandoned limestone buildings on the property near the waterfront. I started imagining what the scene could look like six months from now when COVID was under control and the weather was fine.

This is what I saw: waterfront galleries, stores and craft cooperatives in the limestone buildings along the water.

Outdoor patios and seating like in the Distillery District in Toronto and nice restaurants extending out over the water like the pavilion at Dow’s Lake in Ottawa.

An area where street musicians and performers could play like The Forks in Winnipeg or Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Miles of boardwalk with lookouts and views where you could watch the sailboats go by.

Kingston has an astonishing 280 km of waterfront. It sits on Lake Ontario, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and is bisected by the Cataraqui River which feeds up into the Rideau Canal.

There’s Fort Henry with a magnificent view of the river, lake and city, our historic downtown with market square, City Hall and Confederation Basin where the tour boats depart from, the entire Kingston Penitentiary site, and miles of parks and trails.

We are water rich, but to a large degree our waterfront is still largely dispersed. You have to hop, skip and jump like a stone skipping on the waves to get from one waterfront trail and park to another. We also have huge tracts of land and buildings that are sitting idle, just begging to be developed.

In 2014-2016, the City of Kingston developed a master waterfront plan that identified hundreds of projects over a 30-year period. There has been a lot of terrific work that has already been done to make our city the gem it is, but there is so much more to be done.

For all of Kingston’s parkland, we also do not have a single stand-out, signature garden, maybe not quite on the scale of Butchart Gardens in Victoria or the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, but a garden that would attract people to our city and become a place of natural beauty, peace and a place for the community to gather.

This week’s #HappyAct is to envision how our communities will look like post-COVID. Then ask, what can we do to make it happen?

Old limestone building on Kingston's waterfront
Lake Ontario
This abandoned pier is the ideal location for a pavilion style restaurant extending over the water in Kingston
These abandoned buildings would be ideal for retail, craft cooperatives and art galleries

The year in review: my favourite happy acts from the year of COVID

Two girls graduating

Each year at this time, I select my top ten favourite blog posts for my annual year in review.

I was a bit worried this year that pickings would be slim. Truth be told blogging about happiness during a global pandemic is a bit of a tough slog. With little prospects for fun excursions, and at times struggling with my own mental and physical health, there were many weeks when I wondered what simple act could I share this week to make the world a happier place?

But as I re-read the posts two things hit home. You can feel moments of happiness and gratitude at the most unexpected times and by doing the simplest of acts.

The other realization was happiness cannot be viewed in isolation. We are vastly impacted by events happening around us. My blog this past year has been as much a reflection and chronicle of the times as anything else.

Here were my favourite happy acts from a year that will go down in the history books as a year to remember:

There you have it. Another year under the bridge, another year of happy acts. Here’s to a happier 2021 for us all.