High Water

March 29, 2015 a new record for kayaking on the prairies, as my sister, Barbara, and I celebrated the early spring melt with a kayak down the Swift Current creek. Open water! Surreal for Saskatchewan in March.

Lifting down kayaks left hanging for five months gives me a thrill. Out come the paddles, and pumps, the PFLs and dry bags. Using the special rack my husband, Den, designed for the back of our truck, we loaded the kayaks side-by-side, stuffed the equipment into the back seat and headed for Swift Current and the creek I’d listed as a must paddle several years earlier. For once I was ready and able as the last of the snows filtered in a wild rush through its curving body. Earlier in the week, the creek’s open water grabbed and held my attention and intentions. I would paddle this water. That my sister Barbara could share the experience was a tremendous bonus. She paddled my 12’ red Pongo, while I took the 14.5’ blue Perception. (see photos)

Arriving in the city, we mapped out the course of the creek and began reading the water, driving from one approach to another. We checked out bridges and weirs, highs spots with fast running water, and low ones, where rocks were visible. With each interesting set of rapids, boils, eddies or hard flowing currents, our desire to ride the water grew.

Finally, we chose our launch site, just north of the large weir on the south side of the city. Here a park hosting tennis courts and parking lots gave us ready access along a bank waving high grasses and muddy flats. With Den helping, we lined our kayaks bow to stern along a piece of the bank, and launched in turn. Barbara paddled backwards into an eddy and held her place, while I launched, so we could stick together. Fresh from its victory over the weir, the creek ran fast and full of itself. We  moved at a good pace without paddling. High banks rose protectively on either side, but a 50 k wind from the southwest breathed its interest over the proceedings whenever we hit a long stretch of creek running northeast.

 The many loops in the river offered up every variety of water, from glassy smooth, to light ripples under a cross-wind, high waves, and rapids. So we moved through our repertoire of paddling for this first of the year experience. 011We drift, paddle strongly into wind,  and fought to stay upright in the rapids formed by stones and weirs. At one point I tackled a stretch of rapids on the outer bank side, and found myself pushed hard at the shore. The force of the current was so strong I battled to  keep the creek from pinning me to the bank like a bug on a bulletin board. Lesson learned. Another time I avoided a large rock at the top of a vigorous rapid by leaning away at the last second, and had to fight hard to get my weight and kayak back in balance before tipping over in the opposite direction. I quickly deduced running the rapids was fifty percent luck, fifty percent coordination.

Though we’d put in the advance time reading the river, of course it looked different once we were on the water. At times, Den, who continually drove ahead of us to the next access, would stand on the bank and point out the better track. Often what appeared a good channel would end up being clogged with long grasses reaching up from just below the surface, and he could warn us away. At other’s we would back-ferry. By paddling backward at an angle into a current, we could crab sideways across the current without being swept downstream. This allowed us a chance to pause and choose our down-current course. 022Mostly we took the perpendicular line through the roughest water, combatting the current’s bullying attempts, with our own show of aggression. In minutes we would feel its fury replaced by sulky stillness and the soft whisper of wind in dry grasses would replace the loud catcalls of rough water.

Passing under the many bridges Swift Current has erected  to enable both commerce and community was an edifying part of the experience. We tallied old metal railroad bridges, cement overpasses for the highways, and dainty walking bridges joining the many pathways build for the enjoyment of all. In all we saw the underside of eight bridges, and know we missed two on the south end and one on the north end of the city. Surely, Swift Current should challenge Saskatoon for the title City of Bridges.

Though current rips warned of rocks beneath the surface, that within days would obstruct a kayak, we traversed the creek just a few days off high flood, making it a safe and effortless endeavour.

018The feel of a paddle rotating in my hands, of shoulder and back muscles warming and moving like slick silk, of feet braced, and the vibration of the kayak around me, has little competition in my mind. However, add in the grumbling of Canada Geese as we came up on their nests, the quacking of ducks in the reeds, the brilliance of sunlight dancing on water, and warming my face, and I attain the ultimate high. Like the wild rice and redwood, the prairie wool and sage growing along the bank, my blood sang through my veins, quickening with the call of spring.


In I Sit Listening to the Wind, Judith Duerk wrote:

 “A woman must be very clear, here, in her ongoing task. As she negotiates the voyage from the societal towards the Self her entire experience is transformed.  She can begin to reject the inner patriarchal decrees from the past that judged her so mercilessly … that made her see her own anguish as simply another indication of her inadequacy and shame.”

 After reading this, I reached great clarity about my long struggle for autonomy. Particularly the concept exposed the source of my inner anger. I had spent years accusing them of influencing me toward what I knew, deep inside was wrong for me, while I continued doing the very thing. I never truly identified them. At times I would put a face or name on them – my ambitious father, duty driven mother, my co-author or husband, depending on the circumstances. But always the accusation came full circle, until I held the blame again. Now I realize them is my animus – the strong yang side driving against the inner ying that cries to be freed. Duerk continues:

“With this transformation, a woman can accept feelings inside herself that were forbidden to her before. She can accept, now, her failures, her lacks, her obsessions … even her occasional craziness … as she holds in her awareness all the ways she has suffered in striving to fulfill values that were not her own”.

 I have experienced the freedom of my inner feminine and loved myself best at that time – but liberty was short lived; again that louder, fiercer voice drove me off course and into the wilderness of confusion.

“At last a woman cradles in her arms the woundedness of being herself. No longer casting it out as the impediment that prevents her growth, she can embrace her woundedness as the essence, the soul of her uniqueness … that which has enabled her to become herself.

 With the final acceptance of her woundedness a woman’s perception of her own suffering undergoes a profound healing. What had been the source of the greatest shame, that most loathed in herself, slowly reveals itself to be the seed of her truest gift … her pearl of greatest price, grown from her gravest flaw.  She is released into her wholeness.” J.D.

I searched long for my truths, learning them through pain and illness, compromise and motherhood, failure and triumph. Each learned value, I added to my inventory, building one on the other, interlocking them in a complex puzzle whose solution was known onlyby me. My wounds became the source of all lessons, and, in turn, the lessons pointed out my woundedness. With each value added, as with each block supporting the whole, I grew stronger, more sure. Living my values, my truth gave me focus, simplicity, calm.

“Finally, as a woman matures, she gives up the expectation of reaching a point of bare adequacy and moving on from there. At last, she understands that her task is simply to accept her woundedness … and to walk ahead with courage and compassion  … keeping faith with her own life. This her individuation.”

As I read this page and particularly the second last paragraph I felt a great flood of release and spontaneously broke into tears. I experienced redemption and approved myself. My source of greatest shame is the fear with which I approach all new things. My greatest strength – moving through the fear with courage. All the challenges and all the times I found the courage and triumphed unwound like film across the screen of my mind. I felt validated by the best, deepest part of me … the part that could weep in relief. My tears washed away the anger. Those precious droplets thanked my creator for finally reaching me with this message.

What does this have to do with writing you ask? This is an excellent example of the development of character through life experience. Expansion of values, of psyche of awareness of self. Building the edifice from which you will make all choices, interpret other’s actions, and measure your own.

Character development in a story decides the success or failure of the whole. If a reader cannot find merit in your character, isn’t allowed a below the surface look at morals and motives – at the greatest weakness and strength guiding this person’s life, then the reader turns away. The best pacing and most loaded plot in the world can’t salvage a story if one dimensional characters tell the tale. We do not look deeply into an object whose surface reflects nothing back.

When developing your characters apply your hard won experience. Introduce the weaknesses and strengths you discover in those around you. By examining the turning points in your life, the moments when your truths became clear, you can transfer these lessons to your characters, allowing them to learn at the appropriate time and place in the plot. Your truth adds credibility to their actions and attitudes. The reader believes.

Chapter 6 Mental Impact







  1. Denial – it isn’t happening to me. I won’t let it happen.
  2. Anger – this isn’t fair. Why me? Who can I blame this on?
  3. Bargaining – I will take all my medicine, stop hurting my spouse, … give back the money if this will just go away.
  4. Depression – there is nothing I can do. I’m a victim. Life sucks.
  5. Acceptance – I have it; I’d better learn to live with it. I want a good life, not a mediocre one.


Prugh and Eckhardt condensed their interpretation of the stages of grief to three; however, they still carry the same range of emotion.


  1. Impact – behavioral regression, bodily obsession, need for nurturance, massive denial of future outcome, fear of death or annihilation of self.
  2. Recoil – lessening of denial, less regressive self-preoccupation (mourning for self), attempts to establish control over environment.
  3. Restitution – increasing acceptance of the illness outcome, altered self-image and implication of uncertain future.


Regardless of which formula best suits you, if you do not succumb to the disease or mental problems caused by your inability to cope with the disease, you will reach a point of acceptance. It took me over seventeen years, but I’m a slow learner and believed I could reverse the process if I just refused to give in. Acceptance does not mean that you are giving in, as some people falsely believe, but that you are factoring the disease into your lifestyle. I like to think of it as “making friends with the disease”.


“I don’t want to say you have to give in to it. That sounds like defeat.

You have to get on with it.” Carrie


You may recognize that you have passed through these stages in dealing with your diagnosis. However, don’t imagine it will just happen once. You may find yourself regressing into any one of the stages with the failure of a treatment or side effects from a drug, further surgery or the inability to go on an outing. You might find yourself in the stage of anger or depression when you watch someone attain a goal you had set for yourself. The stages will be part of your continuing life, just as they have been part of your earlier life. Now you will recognize them more easily, and if you are wise, move through them to acceptance more quickly.


Parents have to be careful that they do not try to protect children from going through the stages of grief. The child might be grieving because he has been diagnosed with a disease or be grieving the loss of a lifestyle because of a sick parent. Because we do not like to see our children suffer, we come up with phrases like, “Crying doesn’t help; hush, it will be okay,” instead of encouraging them to express their sadness and acknowledging it as a legitimate feeling. Likewise, we curtail the expression of anger in our children by trying to fix it. Our actions speak louder than our words, and it is our responsibility to role model the stages of grieving so that our children can emulate us and gain by experiencing a healthier way to find release.



  1. If you are out in public and there doesn’t appear to be anything noticeably wrong with you, then you must be healthy.
  2. If you’re not feeling okay, take a few days off to rest and then you’ll be okay.
  3. If, when I ask you how you are, you say “fine”, I’ll take it at face value.
  4. Everyone gets better, so all you have to do is try harder.The more you hide your pain, weaknesses, depression, exhaustion in order to appear normal and not be a burden on those you love, the more skeptical they become about your actual state of health. You constantly feel the tension caused as you try to balance not wanting to be seen as a whiner or hypochondriac against not being expected to do more than you can or having to make excuses for yourself. With acceptance of your condition comes the wisdom not to bother.Robert: For several years after my heart attack, I always felt I had to explain to others why I wouldn’t be doing something. I would be mortified if an older person was trying to pick up something heavy and I couldn’t help, or if someone is stuck and I can’t help push their vehicle out. Now I will stop and say, “I can’t give you a hand but I will call for help.” Today it is nothing for me to say I have a health condition that won’t allow me to do that anymore.Henry: In the past I took on more work than I was capable of. Now my friends and co-workers know I have Crohns. I mention it in a general conversation, and then when they ask me to take on more work than I know I can do without extra stress, I just say “no”.








    1. Carrie is controlled to a great extent by her catheter. It can be especially difficult on trips. There are not a lot of convenient places to empty it. Carrie’s answer was to cut down on her liquids so she didn’t have to do it as often. She became dehydrated and got a urinary infection that caused a whole other set of problems. Carrie learned to plan for this eventuality, becoming more conscious of time, temperature and places she needed to stop.
    2. The emotional turmoil and mental anguish suffered during these periods is harmful in that they become stressors that decrease your immune system and your energy levels.
    3. You can see that you may lose control of different areas of your life. One of the worst ways I have lost control is in not being able to second-guess what my ostomy pouch will do. Imagine having it fall off in the middle of sex, or leak all over your bedding while you sleep. The seal might break and leak smelly gas into a car full of people. Or you could be dining in a top-notch restaurant and have the snap on the bottom open pouring hot liquid stool into your lap and down your legs. Horrors! Every one of these things has happened to me. You learn to control as much as you can. I usually have extra materials with me to patch a leak, wake often in the night to empty my pouch, and have learned to make fast dashes through restaurants while my friend pays the bill. The second way my pouch controls me is in its capacity. It can only hold so much gas and stool and then it pops itself off. I have sat saturated by anxiety-induced sweat through concerts, on airplanes and car rides because I desperately need to empty my pouch and there is no way to do so. And all this is going on while the people around me are totally unaware.
    4. Sylvia: Control is definitely a factor when I get irritated with my husband or son. The crankiness is from overwhelming pain.
    5. Matthew: When the depression hits I can’t always get out of it right away, but somewhere back in my mind I know I have to fight this and eventually I will pull myself back.
    6. Phillipa: When Lupus affects my short term memory or concentration, I worry about making visible mistakes that will cause me embarrassment. In much of my working life I was a bookkeeper so I worked alone and could deal with any mistakes in private.
    7. Henry: I get annoyed when I am under pressure and know I’ve got fifteen minutes to get to a toilet. I am searching for release physically, and even more so from the mental stress of wondering if I will make it.






  1. “When the ripple hits your life you have to stand firm
  2. Carrie: I’m a take control kind of person, even as far as the medical world is concerned. I don’t want anyone to condescend to me. If there is something I know about that isn’t being done for me, I’ll voice it. I’ve been asked many times, ‘Are you a nurse? Do you have medical training’ I answer, “No. I know what I know because it’s in my best interest.”
  3. Often you are left at the mercy of the “way we do things”. A resident might leave written instructions for a drug without discussing it with you. The nurse comes in and insists on administering it because it is now on your chart. Tell your doctor you will not take any new medication unless he has discussed it with you. This ensures that someone won’t come into your room to administer it to you at 10:00 p.m. and you can’t refuse without a big fight.
  4. One time in hospital, when I was on steroids and malnourished, my surgeon told me that they were guessing my immune system had totally crashed. It was a teaching hospital, and he asked me for permission to administer an allergy test so they could see if my immune system would be able to react. I owed the man my life a few times over, but I said no. It didn’t make sense to me to allow them to fill me full of foreign substances if I didn’t have anything left with which to fight them. He was quite gracious about my decision.
  5. you do not feel is right for you. You know your body best.” Maxine






  1. Robert: I’m relieved that my wife is willing to accommodate to my heart condition. I just have to communicate to her that I need to slow down, or sit down, or not go out that night and she’ll agree. It doesn’t bother her to change her plans because she’d worry more if it was not a good situation for me.
  2. If the people close to you are unwilling to be flexible you will notice a steady deterioration in your quality of life and relationship with them. If they are willing to be flexible, it can only enhance your life.
  3. “I go with the flow and don’t lock myself into positions.” Shelley




    1. “You put the scenario of what is the worst thing that can happen out there


  1. Carrie: Spontaneity has become important because I have to do it [the activity] when I feel up to it. If I put going off until tomorrow I may not feel up to it then. My husband loves to go to flea markets, so if I see something in the paper Saturday I say, “Gee I feel good. Let’s go.” We won’t wait till Sunday we’ll go right then.
  2. Learning to be spontaneous is a gift that comes free with the disease. For a TYPE A personality it is a real change in direction. You soon realize how much freedom it provides and how much joy. I feel I have benefited greatly from being forced to become more spontaneous. The people around me feel I am a little less time driven (I was obsessive before). They relax and better enjoy the things we do. Spontaneity also takes the pressure off always having to plan, or be expected to plan by co-workers and family. Being responsible for all the details is a heavy burden you may have carried for years. Now you can dump it along with the resentment that you always were stuck with the job.
  3. “The signs are there and I read them and act on them.” Phillipa




    1. that will go away if you’re rude to it.” Gail


    1. Sylvia: A lot of people with Lupus are what I call Triple A types – go go go, do do do, be be be. We drive ourselves into the ground. It’s almost like having to do a personality transplant. So, for me, adjusting was hitting the wall a number of times and then saying to myself, “You know you are not going to win this battle. It’s not a question of diet or reducing stress. You just can’t win.” It’s like making a mind adjustment. Adjustment – that’s me. And it is a daily thing. I’ve adjusted to the disease and probably as much to the side effects of the drugs. I’ve adjusted to the fact that I can’t work, can’t do volunteer work in my community and lots of times can’t even sweep my kitchen floor.
    2. because I was so comfortable with it.” Carrie


  1. Your spirit forms the base of your triangle of well-being. You may be doing all you can physically and mentally to deal with your disease, but if you’re not feeding your spirit’s need, you cannot find wholeness. Let’s look at how your emotions affect your spirit.
  2. And I answer, yes, change it, but let me keep what I’ve learned.” Carrie



  1. Analyze your sense of control. If you are experiencing mood swings, or don’t feel like yourself, note if this can be drug related or part of your symptoms. In any area where you feel you lack control, take action or change your attitude.
  2. Explain to your partner/spouse and other close family members that you want to be more spontaneous. Experiment with what works over the next month, calling the shots according to your health.
  3. Sit down with the good doobies in your life and gently explain how what they are doing is stealing your control and choices. Tell them you will firmly resist these suggestions from now on. They may still try, but be prepared to back up your word.
  4. Explore the area of acceptance with a close friend, psychiatrist or your doctor. Where are you on the acceptance wheel? By identifying certain adjustments you have made in your thinking and lifestyle, you will get a better picture.
  5. If you know you are going to have to stay home and not go back to work, accept this new lifestyle and adjust to it. Buy comfortable clothes that are easy to get into.
  6. Next time you see your doctor, take control. Ask that question you’ve been too timid to ask before, say no to a treatment you don’t think is helping, or request the medicine you think might work.