The other night I stayed up way past my bedtime looking for the edge piece of a puzzle. I’d decided to pull down our specially reserved brand spanking new Jan van Haasteren puzzle—the only type of puzzle Zeke will do—because desperate times call for desperate measures. We normally only puzzle in the summer on vacation or over the Christmas holidays, but I just knew that I needed it now. I went through the puzzle box three times collecting all the edge pieces. This time I was sure I’d found them all. I was so sure. But as Zeke lay in bed, waiting for me to join him, I realized—much to my horror—that there was one edge piece missing.
“NO!” I yelled as Zeke encouraged me to come to bed, “it CAN’T be! I went through all the pieces! I can’t sleep until I find it.”
I searched for another 10 minutes…15 minutes…20 minutes. I wanted to cry. Was this an overreaction? Um, possibly. In the end I went to bed, my dreams filled with flying puzzle pieces that kept eluding me. Okay, maybe that last part isn’t true, but when I woke up the next day I still felt distraught. Zeke reassured me that this always happens and we always find it, but it just felt so—wrong.
I went through my day, working from home, doing whatever it is I’m doing these days, and finally last night I sat down to look at the puzzle box again. I took a deep breath, I hunched my shoulders and squinted my eyes—I was going in. But this time, instead of looking for the edge piece I decided to just start building another part of the puzzle. I let my mind relax and I found the puzzling zone—don’t laugh, it’s a real thing. I mean, you can laugh, because it IS kind of ridiculous, but seriously, puzzling is like a meditation. As I let my mind forget about the edge piece and I focused on what I could actually accomplish—it appeared, because of course it did. And I’m not gonna lie, when I found it I had a reaction akin to a foodgasm—much to Zeke’s amusement. Are puzzlegasms things? Well, they should be. As I placed that final edge piece on the bottom of the puzzle and the frame connected with the satisfying click of a seat belt, I felt such a huge sense of relief and elation. I could breath now. I could move on.
There’s not a whole lot we can control at the moment. I mean, we can control how we spend our days and the energy we put out to others and the world and small, daily acts that can shape our lives and others. Okay, that actually sounds like a lot that we can control. What I mean is—we really have no idea what is coming next or how long this is all going to go on for. What we all really need—no matter our circumstances, is a whole arsenal of coping mechanisms.
I’ve realized over the years that it’s not what happens to us in life, but our ability to weather it and build resilience that makes or breaks us. Obviously, some people are given incredibly difficult challenges and it sometimes seems that for some reason these people are hit harder than others, but each and every one of us face challenges and we all have to find a way to get through them.
This past two years were some of the most challenging emotionally, physically, financially and mentally for Zeke and I due to career challenges, serious health problems and injuries and problems with my own mental health. It took every piece of love we have for each other and every piece of resilience that we could muster to get through this time unscathed, and I’m so proud that we did. So it seems ironic to me that just as I was beginning to feel whole and stronger and healthier and happier again—COVID-19 hits and shuts the whole world down.
Is it strange to say that I’m happy to have gone through one of the toughest times in my life recently so that I could survive this one? I want to thank this hard time because it taught me to build up an arsenal of coping mechanisms, to be in the moment and to appreciate every single day and every single person in my life. I am not lying when I say I am truly grateful for this time and what it taught me.
On March 10 of last year I almost died from a bilateral pulmonary embolism—multiple blood clots in my lungs—due to the estrogen from the birth control pill I’d been taking for over 16 years. It came out of the blue and I went from one day feeling shortness of breath and pain when I breathed, to the next day being hospitalized in the High Acuity Unity at Mount St. Joseph Hospital. The blood clots could have caused a heart attack within the next 24 hours and I am so grateful to the insane hill that I bike up to UBC every day, for keeping my heart in such incredible shape. The doctors told me that this likely saved my life and definitely saved my heart from being damaged by the clots.
I’d been thinking about this time last year before COVID-19 was even in the news, but when the virus started spreading around the world and I heard that it attacked the lungs, I couldn’t believe my luck. If this had happened to me this year I would not only have been super high risk, but it could easily have killed me once I was checked in at the hospital. I realize I’m still not immune to COVID or its potentially lethal effects, but I’m healthy now and I’m fit and strong again and have a much better chance of fighting it off.
So I return to the puzzle—this seemingly simple game that at once caused me so much frustration in the moment and later, so much relief and peace. We are all trying to figure out how to survive this time, and this virus. We are all trying to find the edge piece to this world-wide puzzle. But, unlike my puzzle, we’re not going to find it tonight, or this week, or maybe even for months or years. All we can do is live in the here and now, and be kind and loving and present and open. All we can do is build an arsenal of coping mechanisms that will make us resilient and strong and give us moments of peace, joy, comfort and strength until one day, with any luck—we’ll all put that giant edge piece in together.