All posts by Karen J. McLean

Finding a Routine That Works For Me

I am trying to get a sense of routine back in my life.  It is only recently that I’ve realized how important that is to me.

Between COVID-19, recovering from a concussion in July, and the ever-present autoimmune disease, I feel like I’ve accomplished very little in the last seven months of my time here on Earth.  And I’m the kind of person who needs to feel productive in order to maintain my mental health.

Mornings are generally my best time of day.  If I’m going to get anything done, then morning is when the magic will happen.  Sometimes that momentum will carry over into the afternoon.  But, all too often lately,  I will be feeling borderline-rotten when I wake up, and that will cause me to just go back to bed once my husband leaves for work.

So this week I am trying something new.  I am getting up when my husband gets up, and leaving the house either before or at the same time he does.  It’s a struggle, but I’m half-Viking and half-Celt.  I can do hard things.  I am “hard things.” 😉

Now that the university library (one of my favourite places to settle in and do work) is open once again, I have planned to come here most mornings this week.  COVID-19 contact tracing means that one has to book a seat in advance, and this has proven to be somewhat helpful.  Booking in advance means I’m making an external commitment.  I am saying “I WILL BE THERE,” and it’s interesting how something that small and that simple has flipped a switch in my brain.  I was here yesterday morning, and this morning, and I have also booked some time on Thursday morning.  I will be here.

The university library is very quiet, partly because of it being early morning, but mostly because of COVID-19.  Classes are either completely online or hybrid in most disciplines, and this is a commuter campus, for the most part.

The line-up at the closest Tim Horton’s drive-thru was prohibitively long, so I’m not sure how long I will remain upright on this tall stool.  But I got here, and between yesterday and today, I have already accomplished more than the previous two weeks combined.  So my plan is working.

Now the trick will be to not over-do it.  That is the part that often trips me up.

A Partial Unplugging

Today is Day 3 of a self-imposed Facebook/Messenger hiatus of 40 days — and man, this is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Right now I’m listening to my favourite radio program, and I’m writing this blog post as a partial distraction to keep me from posting on Weekend Mornings’ associated Facebook page.

I’m doing this in order to cut down on the amount of negativity that pours into my psyche multiple times a day as I scroll through the Facebook newsfeed.

I have deleted Facebook and Messenger (because it’s a slippery slope from the latter to the former) off both my phone and iPad.  Aside from a slight bobble yesterday when a “book-building” client forgot to use email and/or the phone to contact me,  I’ve been staying away.  I will have to check in every so often to get info for Zoom events I’ve already registered, but the newsfeed scrolling and posting are off-limits.

The situations to the south have been really hard on the head and the heart, and it’s only going to get worse over the next few weeks.  As an exceptionally-sensitive person (an empath), there’s a fine line between being informed and being overwhelmed.  It’s easy to ration TV and radio, but with Facebook it’s trickier to control the flow.

Did I mention this is hard? 😉

I’m missing the friends with whom I interact only on Facebook: my Walden-related friends; the sharp wit and wicked humour of my former history professor; the aforementioned radio show community; and so many more.  But once the withdrawal wears off, I’ll be fine.

October is my favourite month of the year.  As someone who loathes winter, I most look forward to March, but October and I simply resonate.

This October is book-ended by bright and beautiful Full Moons as I begin my annual turning inward for a month of gratitude, reflection, and connection.  I plan to use the respite from Facebook distraction to — among other things — focus on one writing challenge (TeachWritetober)  and prepare for another (NaNoWriMo).

I am also hoping to connect more with people I care about via Starbucks dates, telephone, and good old-fashioned snailmail.  The goal is to be more mindful and less mindless.

My Instagram feed is full of beautiful posts by artists and craftspeople, photographs, and glimpses into people’s lives, and is much easier to curate without hurt feelings.  So I am still on Instagram, and — obviously — I’m still blogging.  So I’m still partially connected.

It’s the classic Canadian compromise. 🙂


Society Where None Intrudes

I haven’t been well lately.  And when I’m not well, I’m not myself.  I don’t really know what’s going on.  I mean, I know I have an autoimmune disease and am recovering from a concussion, but I don’t know exactly why they seem to be ganging up on me the past five days or so.

So before I returned to tutoring my high school student today, I made sure I had enough time for my “me time” ritual.  I swung by Starbucks, got a muffin and a chai latté, and then drove to my usual beach.

When it comes to beaches, I have an abundance of riches.  There are no fewer than four wonderful beaches within a ten-minute drive from my back door.  I am somewhat spoiled, living here.  I don’t think I could live anywhere but beside the sea.

My routine at this beach is pretty standard.  First, I play my location-based games (Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite, and Jurassic World Alive) because I am 50 going on 15.  Then I zone out and just listen to and watch the waves for a few minutes.  And after that, I will eat 95% of the muffin.

Except for today.  Today I forgot and ate the whole muffin — and then got yelled at for it.  By Charles.

About a year ago, I noticed a crow sitting on a sign, staring at me intently as I ate an apple.  (My snack was healthier that day.)  Because I was curious to see what the crow would do, I pulled off a couple of pieces of apple and put them on top of the nearby garbage can when I threw out the core.  Sure enough — after I got back in my car and shut the door, the crow swooped over and scarfed down the apple bits.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  This crow (whom I’ve since called Charles, for no other reason than he feels like a Charles) has learned to recognize my car and will take his place on the sign to wait (sometimes more patiently than others) for his treats.

COVID has messed up the corvid, however, because for six months I wasn’t tutoring, and therefore not coming to the beach regularly.  And so when I pulled up to the beach today, Charles did not come.  And — without the visual cue of him sitting in front of me — I forgot to save him a piece of the muffin.

Then we both remembered.

Charles and a friend landed in the parking lot next to my car, and I hastily scraped together some crumbs from the inside of the muffin liner, feeling terribly guilty of course.

If you want to see what happened after that, I did make a little three-minute video to share.  You can find it here.

Even though I don’t tutor tomorrow, I think I will go to the beach to visit my feathered friend.

We have a lot of catching up to do.


Here Comes Teddy

The wind is whipping the rain against my window, and it seems to come in waves.

As we do most Septembers, we are dealing with the remnants of a hurricane that has come up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, hit the colder waters of the North Atlantic, and become a post-tropical mess, sending its wind and water all over the Maritimes.  Teddy is no different, and Nova Scotia is bearing the worst of it.

I like listening to the weather outside while I’m cozy inside, curled up on the bed with my dog and at least one cat, a cup of tea, and a book. (I would put the Fireplace Channel on TV, like I do for snowstorms, but ‘tis not yet the season, regardless of what the aisles in the stores would have you believe.)

In the next room, I can hear my husband playing a video came.  A second cat has just come to join me, and I notice that somehow the jar of peanut-butter-filled pretzels is now empty.  (As the only one in the room with opposable thumbs, I am baffled.)

The first day of Autumn has come, and thanks to COVID-19, I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that both spring and summer have happened.

Time has broken, as a fellow writer said this evening, and I would add that it has also folded itself up, accordion-style.  Because I certainly can’t sense that those months were ever there at all.

Of Squirrels and Bees

Attachment.pngOne of the most difficult things about having a concussion is that unless you’re in the club and have had your cranial computer go haywire, it’s not something that’s easily understood. Questionable Bonus: You usually “look normal.“

It’s not like a broken leg, where people see that it must be serious, and they sign the cast as a sign of support. And a broken bone is also common enough that friends and family are familiar with your experience. Well, seeing as I’ve become something of a reluctant expert in this field — four diagnosed brain injuries, likely six in total — I thought I may as well seize this teachable moment and make something good out of it all.

Trying to think and interact with people these days is kind of like trying to concentrate with a head full of squirrels and bees.

Let’s start with the bees.

Imagine that you are standing near a bee hive, close enough to hear and nearly feel the vibration of all those tiny wings. The buzzing is a low hum — not enough to drown out anything, but enough to be distracting. So you have to work extra hard to concentrate on what you’re doing, because that low hum is taking up some of your brain bandwidth. It’s tiring, and you have to work at it, but you can mostly function around it.

The squirrels are a different story.

I quite like squirrels, but not in my head. These pesky cerebellum rodents usually turn up when I’m talking. One of the areas hardest hit in my brain (pun probably intended) is my language centre, so often I say or type one word when I mean another that sort of sounds the same or has a distantly similar meaning. (For example, pictures when I mean worksheets.)

As a result of this ding to the word bank, if I get interrupted when speaking, it’s like I suddenly have squirrels ricocheting off the inside of my skull. Red squirrels! Grey squirrels! Flying squirrels! And I stand there with absolutely no idea of what I was saying, or what I was going to say next. It happens each and every time someone breaks into my communication stream, and then I inevitably feel stupid and frustrated as I try to recover. Intellectually, I know it’s not my fault, but emotionally it’s a hard default to set.

There really isn’t a way to fix the squirrels. You can say “Please don’t interrupt me,” but that attempt at squirrel sedation usually sounds like a reprimand (especially if you’re also trying to talk over the bees), and some people’s communication styles just don’t work that way.


Healing from a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) is exhausting. Each and every thing a human being does uses some form of brain activity. Taking a shower today knocked me on my butt and I had to sleep for two hours. (Write down each and every motion of your typical shower experience from deciding to take a shower until you are ready to walk out the door and you’ll see what I mean.)

For now, the squirrels and bees are settled down. I’m alone in a quiet room, and so my attention is focused solely on this screen and this keyboard. And it feels good to be writing — a balm for those moments when words pop out of my head like soap bubbles on thistles.