When People Ask Me ‘What Do You Do?’

A couple days ago, my family and I were out with some new friends on their boat (always nice to make friends with people who have a boat). Out in the middle of the lake, the wind whipping our hair about, my friend held onto my little girl on her lap, leaned in and asked, “Does she go to preschool this fall?”

“No,” I replied. “She’s still in daycare. She just goes twice a week so I can get some work done.” I realize that I always explain to people why my daughter goes to daycare, and that she only goes a minimal amount of time. Isn’t that strange?

“Oh, so you work part time?” she asked.

“Yup, from home. I’m a writer.” I felt that familiar buzz flow through me as I said the words. It still is rather dreamy to say out loud. And then I braced myself for the follow-up question because it always comes and I never know how to answer it.

“What do you write?”

And I don’t know, dear Readers. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the sun glinting off the lake and throwing itself all over me. Maybe it was just being so present in that moment, and truly in love with what was happening right then. But the words came.

Some of them may have gotten lost over the motor and the children’s laughing and our husbands’ chatter from one end of the boat to the other. But the words came out like one big exhale.

I’m a blogger, and I write about living a creative, authentic and kind life. Through my blog and social media, I work with brands to promote ideas and products that my readers care about. I also do some freelance writing for my local paper, and I enter writing contests. And this fall, I’m launching writing classes through Semiahmoo Arts; I’m teaching people how to use writing as a way to connect with themselves.

Hallelujah! It’s like I found myself out there on the water. I didn’t trip over my spiel, or minimize what I do.

If you’re having trouble answering that question – or any other question, may I suggest you get as far away from it as possible and take a look at it from a distance? It’s a lot easier to see the whole, big, beautiful thing.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

How Writing Heals

I think people shy away from the idea of writing being a healing tool because they believe it requires some sort of pre-existing experience in writing. It doesn’t, really. It’s a practice that you can develop.  (And grammar doesn’t count either so go ahead and sigh a big sigh). It’s like turning to yoga as a way of nourishing your body and soul; you don’t need experience to begin. You simply start taking classes and grow into it. You can do the same with writing. If you have a desire to examine your current circumstances, or your past, and if you want to find the courage to look forward, then expressive writing could be for you.

Right now, I’m typing away at my desk. Every so often a delicious breeze wafts in from the open window to my left. When it does, a little chime hanging in the doorway of my French doors rings its soft bells. This is a beautiful place to write. But I have also scribbled furiously on the floor in my closet at dawn so as not to wake my husband. And that’s the other wonderful thing about this therapeutic tool – you can pull it out at any time, any place. It’s there for you.

I recently wrote an article about this idea for Hello Creative Family. If you’d like to read about what I mean when I say writing is a healing tool, what it heals and how effective it is against illness, grief and loss, please hop over to the article and have a read.

From the fall, I’m dedicating more time to teaching because I strongly feel that sharing this gift with others is a purpose I need to fulfill. It’s actually beneficial for me too because I learn so much from everyone I try to ‘teach’ 🙂 Mostly I am filled with gratitude that writing came to me so early and easily, and it makes me want to show everyone else how powerful this kind of connection can be.

If you are local to Surrey, B.C. I’d love to see you in one of my classes at the South Surrey Arts Centre. These are classes for adults, 18+, and will be held at the Turnbull Gallery on Monday nights from 6:30-8:30 pm.

Writing For Self-Discovery

Join award-winning writer, Taslim Jaffer in this empowering workshop where you will take guided steps on a journey of self-discovery through writing exercises and discussion. Unearth lessons learned throughout your lifetime.  This course is perfect for writers of all levels, focusing on how to use writing as a tool for your own benefit.

Sept 12 – Oct 3 (4 sessions)

$75

Registration begins July 25, 2016

Writing For Legacy

What do you have to offer the world? Uncover and capture your life-gained wisdom, no matter what stage of life you are in. Through written exercises and discussion, award-winning writer, Taslim Jaffer will teach you how to write about your personal legacy. At the end of this course you will come away with several pieces of writing that can be the basis of a longer project.

Nov 7 – Nov 28 (4 sessions)

$75

Registration begins July 25, 2016

You can also register by calling 604-501-5100. And of course, if you have any questions about the course content, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me. I will be sharing more details over the next couple weeks, so stay tuned!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

 

 

How Do You See Yourself?

A few weeks ago, I tuned into one of Jay Shetty‘s Live Q&A on the HuffPost Rise page. He was talking about Purpose and he mentioned a story about 3 men who were working at a construction site. This is actually a popular story often offered in motivational talks and, when I looked it up for more clarity, I had no problem finding various versions. But essentially, it is this:

A man walked up to a construction site and came across a rather grumpy-looking man, working half-heartedly. When asked what he was doing, the working man said, “I’m laying bricks.”

The man passing through kept going and came upon another man who seemed to be working a little more diligently with a slightly better attitude. When asked about his work he replied, “I’m building a wall.”

The first man kept going and saw a third man, smiling, whistling away, doing the same work but doing it purposefully and with obvious pride. When asked about his work he replied, “I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in the world.”

Three men doing the same work but with totally different attitudes.

A couple things struck me as I heard this story:

  1. Looking at the big picture is motivating and even empowering. Some of my tasks may be menial, but they all add up to something greater. Cleaning bathrooms, for example. Organizing closets. Filing receipts. Developing a system. If I know WHY I’m doing these things and really want the desired outcome, I’m more motivated to complete the job with less irritation.
  2. How I talk about my task at hand determines how I feel about it – and maybe even how I feel about myself. Am I a brick-layer, or the builder of the most beautiful cathedral in the world? I get to decide. Am I a frumpy stay-at-home Mom, or am I a Domestic Goddess? And if I am the latter in either scenario, how does that make me feel? It’s interesting how our language affects our perception.

Have you heard this story before? What does it make you think about? I’d love to hear in the comments!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

Reflections On My 5 Year Blogiversary

Five years ago today, I published my first blog post on what used to be called Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self. I’ve since shortened the name to Let ME Out!! although most people say to me, “Oh, right! You’re from Let ME Out Creative.” Sometimes I correct them and sometimes I don’t because a) how flattering is it that they even know my blog! and b) letmeout.com was taken so I had to come up with something else. I threw in the word ‘creative’ because that’s a huge part of my brand. Thus, letmeoutcreative.com was born and so, officially, was my journey as a public writer. A writer with a confusing blog name. But a writer, nonetheless.

The support of my readers, and my hot fiery love affair with words have kept me going through the ups and downs of life. There were times I had to step away from my blog or reduce the time I spent here because of Life Stuff, but when I came back I was always welcomed by ‘the page’ and my readers.

Writing started off as my private safety net when I just wrote in a journal, a place I’d land when nowhere else felt comfortable or inviting. When I moved my words onto a public blog, I vowed to maintain my authenticity and vulnerability, and that feat alone has been worth the experience. Writing ‘out loud’ meant choosing my words for an audience, and looking back on the last five years, I learned that choosing ‘real’ sometimes meant choosing ‘scary’ but ALWAYS meant choosing right. If I can say one thing to novice or experienced bloggers, I’d say keep it real. It’s valued by your readers and at the end of the day, no matter what people think about you or your blog, you’ll be able to live with it. You may crawl under your covers in a fetal position to ward off the trolls and their comments, but the next morning you’ll start fresh, and you’ll still be a ‘you’ you can love.

Let ME Out!! has been like the proverbial toe dip in the water. It allowed me to test out my voice in front of a large audience. Kind of like clearing my throat in a microphone while on stage in a darkened theatre. Once the words started flowing, they kept right on going and spilled over into other avenues as well. Meanwhile, I kept defining and redefining what the blog was about, how I could help others with their creative release and authentic-life-building. Eventually I came to the conclusion that this blog was hugely about me building my own authentic life, giving myself permission for my own creativity. It has helped me answer poet Mary Oliver’s all-important call, “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” Because as I’ve written here, I’ve unearthed and discovered those very things – the things I want to do with my time here. This blog has been a gift to me. I truly hope there has been even one time when this blog has also given you something precious.

As on any milestone, it’s important to look ahead. With the last few years being the foundation, my next will be about building and expanding, with your continued support. I promise to only bring you what aligns with the Let ME Out!! community’s values of authenticity, creativity and kindness through this growth.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been working like a little squirrel to secure sponsorships for the #LMOKindness program. This is where I proudly partner with businesses to bring random acts of kindness to deserving members of the community. It’s easy to nominate someone – simply fill out the form telling me why your friend/family member/colleague/etc deserves to be surprised with a little something to make his/her day! I look forward to helping businesses with their community giving intentions and spreading more kindness in this world.

I told myself I’d keep this short and sweet, and now I’m pushing those boundaries a bit, so I’ll sign off here with a huge THANK YOU for reading this and any of the other 456 blog posts. Thank you for ‘liking’ me and my work on Facebook, following me on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribing to get my blog posts straight to your email.

You are awesome.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

 

 

 

 

Love In Unexpected Places

“Do you guys need a cart?”

I looked over my shoulder at the woman parked next to us in the grocery store lot as my two older kids piled out of the minivan. I adjusted my toddler a little higher on my hip as I glanced at her cart.

It was tiny. I smiled. I wouldn’t even be able to fit my two year old in there, let alone a week’s worth of groceries for my family of five. The middle-aged woman pushed her brown hair out of her eyes as a gust of wind brought the aroma of Japanese food from the other end of the parking lot.

“I can totally return that for you, but I’ll be trading it in for the minivan version.”

She laughed and clasped her hands. “Thank you! Oh, I love you!” she said and, after blowing a kiss, turned and got into her two-door hatchback.

I love you. From a total stranger.

Just minutes before, the thoughts that mixed with the sounds of my kids bickering in the backseat as we cruised along on the highway, were also about love. But they were heavy, heavy thoughts. I had been thinking about how sometimes we end up disappointing loved ones when we really try not to. I had been thinking about how sometimes the ones we hope will love us, don’t. Or at least not without condition. I had been thinking that love should be easy to give and receive. If it’s the core of who we are, then why hold on to it with tight fists? Miracles happen – babies grow, immune systems strengthen, cultural gaps are bridged – because of love. Why waste the capacity to spread love?

As I turned away from the car and herded my family into the grocery store it felt like all my questions that were like stones in my heart began to disintegrate and float away. And the answer made itself known: Love DOES come freely. And it IS given freely. And we see that if we are mindful, conscious, awake.

Are you ready to find love in unexpected places? In the eyes of a stranger? In an encounter in the grocery store parking lot? In the chorus of baby birds, the nod of a neighbour walking his dog, the tears of someone deep in the thick of grief. Love is woven into every situation.

Where did you find love today? I’d love to hear in the comments!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

O Canada! How Do I Love Thee…

I can’t even count the ways. I thought I would make a list of top 5 reasons, or top 10 reasons, but how I feel about my country can’t be articulated in bulleted points.

I immigrated to Canada from Kenya in 1979 when I was less than a year old. This is my home, my home, my home. Over the course of my life, there have been occasions when people have assumed I was a more recent immigrant or that I didn’t speak English (and that speaking loudly at me while enunciating slowly would help me understand their popcorn order when I worked at Kernels). These occasions were always a surprise, but really the greater message is that Canada is a country of immigrants, made up of all cultures, races, religions and languages.

I love that.

And I love that one of our Prime Ministers thought that this country of multi-cultures was valuable enough that he declared a multicultural policy in 1970 that stated Canada would recognize and treat equally all people. (Thank you, Pierre Elliott Trudeau). And then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney enacted the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (section 27 under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) a decade later. Thank you, Mr. Mulroney.

And if you follow our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau you know that the Canadian values of compassion and equality are alive and well in the vibes we send out to our local and global communities.

I love that.

The first time I met people who had to leave their land against their will because of violence, war and destruction, I was in grade 8. These were the Afghani people who escaped through the mountains, stayed in camps in Pakistan and found their way here to Canada. Today there are still people fleeing unimaginable circumstances and miraculously finding their way here. Now that I’m an adult, a mother, I can ask myself, “What would it be like if I had to leave Canada without my possessions, against my will, and with my 3 children clinging to me?” I can’t even imagine. The rest of the world is foreign to me, even Kenya, even India (where my ancestors are originally from). I am proud that Canada is a haven to those who need it. And I know most Canadians live up to our reputation.

I love that.

I also loved that when I went to graduate school for speech therapy in the United States, those who knew I wasn’t there from India (more people there than here assumed I was), automatically knew I was Canadian. Maybe it was the fact that I was searching for my grey toque left behind in the computer lab, and nobody understood what I was looking for. Maybe it was because of the way I said sorry, and how often. (It’s just polite). Could have been the maple leaf on my backpack. Or the fact I sometimes had a hard time transcribing what the kids in our speech-language sessions were saying because the vowels were different. Maybe they knew I was Canadian because when I overheard people say overtly racist things and *nobody* around them flinched, I was like, “You just say things like that?” While it’s true that racism has definitely not been left out of Canadian history and unfortunately exists in the present, I think most of us are conscious of it (the overt forms of it, anyway) and are working hard to adjust our perspectives. The Canadian culture, in general, strives to live harmoniously. And I love that our culture is palpable as soon as we cross the border into our beautiful land.

I love that I can be Canadian and South Asian and Muslim and a woman etc and that doesn’t take away from my Canadian-ness. In fact, all the parts of my identify add to my awesome-ness, and Canadians are awesome. So really, being awesome makes me, overall, super Canadian. Eh?

Today my nation and my people celebrate our beautiful country of which we are proud to be citizens. All of us who aren’t First Nations have come from the world over. Canada is a country of immigrants. It’s a land of peace, compassion, kindness, and open-mindedness. These are our values and I have tremendous faith that we will continue to raise the bar in living up to those values as we celebrate more and more Canada Days.

I love you, Canada. Thank you for all the opportunities you have given me and my family. Thank you for inspiring me to be the best version of me.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

 

A Tribute To My Teachers Who Shaped My World

It’s that time of year where we pay tribute to the teachers who spent the last 10 months with our children. My kids had wonderful teachers, and that got me thinking about my own superstars – the ones who stood out from the rest and taught me things that have been incredibly useful in real life.

In the spirit of another year of schooling under our belts, I’m sharing lessons from 6 incredible teachers.

  1. Mrs. Humphreys (Gr. 1 and Gr. 2) taught me that I could love reading as much as I wanted to. I could read all the books in my grade and in the next grade, and that was just fine. I could read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the class, and that was no problem, too. I was in charge of how many words I wanted to devour. I still am, and I am grateful for the freedom in that. Also, she hugged her students all the time, especially when we wore velour. It was the mid-80’s and there was a lot of leftover velour from the previous decade.
  2. Ms. Espenant (Gr. 6) showed me the power of kindness. She gave me a taste of what it felt like to give and receive compliments by engaging her students in a regular program where we did just that. I still have all my compliments in my scrapbook, written by my peers, telling me why I’m awesome. She was fair and always smiling, and she never missed an opportunity to laugh with us.
  3. Ms. Niek (now Dr. Popadiuk, Gr. 8) was the teacher I hung out with at the first football game of the season because I had no friends at my new school in a new part of town. When I looked at the pretty cheerleaders and sighed and said, “I wish I was more like those girls,” she was quick to tell me, “No, you don’t,” and I think she made it her personal mission to make me feel great about being who I am – for years to come. She encouraged me to write, helped me discover the magic in journaling, ate lunch with me when I had nobody to eat lunch with, consoled me when I had my heart broken and so much more. She was a true champion of my worth.
  4. Mr. Bowen (Gr. 8-10) was my band teacher. Oh my God, I loved his class. He made me feel like I was a rockstar with my sax, complimenting my vibrato (which was my nerves in disguise) and giving me and my friend, Jen, an amazing opportunity to play solos in one of our first concerts. He helped me discover how much I love making music with other people, and sharing that music on stage. I miss my band days. If there was something I could add to my life it would be an ensemble of music-lovers. But I don’t know where we’d find a better conductor.
  5. Mr. Dyck and Mr. Kamide (Gr. 9 and 10) were my teachers in the Incentive program I was a part of. This was basically a unique program for Math, Science, Socials Studies and English where we took the curriculum and learned it in incredible ways. I’m lumping them together because they were an amazing team and I know so many of their Incentive students hold them dear in their hearts. Mr. Dyck called us his little chickadees – and even at 15 years of age, those words made us feel warm and fuzzy. He also told me I was a sensitive writer which made no sense to me then, but does now. He brought in guest speakers who did incredible things all around the world, people who reformed their lives, people from all walks who had a lesson to share. It was in his classroom that I first heard Mark Twain’s quote: “Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education.” Mr. Kamide liked us to learn by doing, by role playing, by stepping into the shoes of other people. In his class I gave a presentation from the point of view of a First Nations person; I could barely get through it. My throat closed up. I was so emotional. And it was the perfect way to feel the plight of what others have gone through. Nobody can learn those things from a textbook. Mr. Kamide pushed us to feel things, not just memorize them.

There is one other teacher who I won’t name because I don’t feel it’s right. He was my teacher in Gr. 7, and those of you who have read some of my previous work or heard me speak on stage know that he was the teacher who shut me down when I tried to defend my religion against the backdrop of the Gulf War. Today I remember him in gratitude. If he hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have a powerful introduction to the messages I bring to the stage. I’m not saying what he did was right, or that any teacher should strive to bring their students down in order to build them up. But he was a part of shaping me and I don’t think his role was negative.

There are more teachers – the one whose name I cannot remember for the life of me, who led the International Issues Club when I was in high school. I loved meeting weekly with him and other like-minded students who gave a darn about what was happening in the world. I am thankful that he took his lunch hour to motivate and inspire us.

Gosh, I didn’t think writing this post would make me cry. I hope my children go through their schooling with the kind of compassion, encouragement, support and enthusiasm that I was shown. I so badly want this for my children because I know it’s the type of experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Mrs. Humphreys, Ms. Espenant, Dr. Popadiuk, Mr. Bowen, Mr. Dyck and Mr. Kamide – you, simply, rock.

To all you teachers who truly love and respect our children, and want to show them the magic in learning, thank you. You rock, too.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

Are You Living The Width Of Your Life?

I had already planned to write this post before my dad called just now with some news. A distant relative was involved in a car accident last night and did not make it. So, now I’m writing this with an even deeper intention to get the message out.

I think when we are born we are given a certain number of years. That number is written somewhere in some celestial book right beside our name. And when that number is up we’re called Home.

Whether you believe that with me or not is not the point, because no matter which way it happens, the end of our life is inevitable. Whether our years are pre-determined or not, there is a certain length to our life here on Earth.

There is a certain length – but how wide does it go? This existence of ours…how stretchy is it? How much room do we have to discover and learn and experience? How much can we push against boundaries and comfort zones and other limitations?

I think that’s up to us as individuals.

What does it mean to you to live a ‘wide’ life?

To me, it means following my curiosities, reading about the things I want to know about, using my voice to speak up about the things that matter, stepping out of what feels safe and really connecting with people.

I’m growing a veggie garden and that is something I have wanted to do for over a decade. It’s stretched my mind and my soul. I touch dirt every day and it helps me remember I’m alive.

Every time I teach a poetry workshop at the drug treatment centre, I buy a pizza lunch for whoever is living/sitting/sleeping on the sidewalk outside the pizza place. But first, I bend down, I look in their eyes and I ask, “Are you hungry? Do you like pizza? What do you like on your pizza?” Those are some of the most meaningful conversations I have with strangers because what I’m really saying is, “I am with you.”

I write and speak about busting stereotypes in a time of fear. My voice is small but I am using it. I could very easily just have conversations in my head. But then, at the end of my length, how narrow will I have lived?

This is not as wide as I want to live, though. I want to rip the seams around me that hold me in and keep me safe, and have me following the rules I’ve internalized that I think will make me more loveable, more accepted. I don’t want to care about those things. Those things don’t give me room to breathe, to live.

I want to live a long life so I can spend as much time with my loved ones, especially my children, as possible. I want to live a wide life so my children never believe that another kind of life is an option.

In the spirit of life, I encourage you to write down what it means to you to live wide. What do you have to do, how do you have to think, where do you have to go, what do you have to say, what must you create…in order to have that brilliant life?

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

The Next Time You Feel Envy…

My neighbour invited me over to grab some fresh lettuce from her garden this morning. Now, how am I going to say ‘no’ to fresh produce, right? Especially since now I’m opting for lettuce wraps instead of tortilla wraps for my lunches. We eat a lot of food in my home which was one of the reasons we started our own garden this year. When we did, our neighbours were a big help in getting us started.

I am loving my little farm. I hope I never cease to be amazed at all the daily changes, and the way Nature just knows what to do. It is a true relationship between Nature and myself; she’s the teacher and I’m the student, and we are getting along really well.

This morning, thanks to YouTube (my teaching assistant!), I figured out that I have 6 zucchini squashes growing behind these beautiful yellow flowers. (Flowers that are apparently edible. I’m also learning how much of the plant we ‘throw away’ or don’t use…the most nutritious parts, too!)

garden envy, zucchini, squash, garden, veggie garden, let me out creative, taslim jaffer

Anyway, I went over to Cayley’s house to grab some lettuce for my lunch and was taken aback when I stepped into her garden. Like I said, there are daily changes, and I hadn’t been in her yard for quite some time. It was like walking into a jungle (a well-tended and orderly jungle, I might add) of green: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, peas, potatoes and herbs. Everywhere I looked, things were growing.

And so was something inside me: excitement.

One of the qualities I’ve always been thankful for is my ability to feel inspired and excited about my own possibilities when I see the successes of others. I really and truly am grateful for this (and I attribute it to my father – he taught me that envy is a waste of time and gifts – and to my spiritual teacher, Dr. Wayne Dyer). It would have been really easy to look at her garden and compare it with my smaller one and feel envious.

And envy is something that we talk about a lot, isn’t it? It’s almost like we plant the seeds for envy with the language we use.  Hair envy, blog envy, body envy, garden envy…these are real phrases that we see sprouting everywhere on the internet and in conversation.

[Tweet “Why are we talking about envy when we can be talking about excitement at our own possibilities?”]

My garden has immense potential, and so do I. So do you.

Maybe it’s because we live in a culture of instant gratification that we want what someone else has…NOW. Waiting 6 months from now or a year from now to reap what we sow isn’t enticing if that’s the kind of attitude we bring to life.

The next time you feel ‘envy’ do these 5 things and see if it helps you change the way you perceive what’s going on:

  1. Replace the word ‘envy’ with something more productive like ‘excitement’ or ‘inspiration.
  2. Ask yourself what it is that you really want. What is missing that is making you wish for someone else’s success? You might not actually want the exact same version of success as someone else. You might want something completely different. Use these ‘jealous’ feelings as a map. They’re telling you where you want to go.
  3. Create goals to help you attain what it is you truly want. And remember that part of the excitement of achieving something is making steps toward it.
  4. Appreciate how far you’ve come. In terms of my garden, it really started as me cutting out pictures in gardening magazines 13 YEARS AGO when I lived in an apartment and dreamed of my own land. I cut out pictures and taped them on to blank computer paper and stuck that paper in a binder. A binder that I still have and is still full of ideas that are now coming to fruition. That young woman inside me who is 25, newly married, and dreaming of her future is THRILLED that I have zucchini in my planter right now.
  5. Share your gifts of time, knowledge and mentorship with others. Someone else needs a little encouragement to realize their own potential. Being a part of that can be incredibly satisfying. It will keep you humble. You will never lose sight of that person you were years ago, when you were just starting out in whatever it is you were just starting out. And someone else’s garden can grow.

garden envy, gardens, veggie gardens, vegetables, grow your own food, let me out creative, taslim jaffer

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

Why I’m Talking About Scleroderma

A few weeks after my mom lost her life to scleroderma in 2009, I was on my lunch break in Steveston, slurping a piping hot soup at Alegria Cafe. My return to work had been difficult; I welcomed the distraction and the normalcy of it, but was always on guard for the tears that came out of nowhere in the middle of a speech therapy session. That particular Friday, I was feeling a little more settled in my routine as I breathed in the aroma of the soups and paninis being enjoyed around me. I let my mind relax and my eyes wander.

I glanced over at the bulletin board on the wall opposite to where I sat and saw it there, in glaring letters, and my breath caught in my throat. ‘June is Scleroderma Awareness Month’, it announced. I finished my soup, slowly, avoiding the inevitable walk past the board on my way out when I’d feel compelled to stop and read. When I did, I read that there was some sort of event being held to raise funds and awareness for this auto-immune disease for which there is no known cause and no known cure.

It was the first time I’d been exposed to the word scleroderma since it claimed my mother’s life. And it was a punch in the gut.

It’s been 7 years since my mom died and although I’ve blogged about her condition since then (mostly on my old blog), I have never marked Scleroderma Awareness Month in any sort of way. Because I hate it. I hate this disease. It snuck in the back door of my family home when we weren’t looking and settled in my mom’s internal organs, leaving us to question for months what was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she breathe well? Why did she have these coughing fits? Why was she unable to keep down her food? It wasn’t until it presented itself on her skin in the form of discolouration and tightness that a doctor would request a skin biopsy and the diagnosis would be presented.

I remember every bit of this disease, even though I don’t want to.

I remember the loss of function, the alienation, the depression, the clinging to faith. I remember the grief that started years before she died. I remember the moment she told me what the doctor said. I remember her fingers, her eyes, her feet, her shuffle. I remember her pain. I remember her hope. I remember the blood tests and lung tests. I remember telling her she would be a grandmother in the midst of all this. I remember becoming depressed myself and my mother, ravaged by this disease, would be comforting ME. Reminding ME that God is always with us. Reminding ME that there are people so much more worse off than she.

I remember her walking and then shuffling and then in a wheelchair. I remember her daily prayers, never missed. I remember her hugs, large and encompassing, then thin and bony and frail.

I remember learning that my mom’s form was really aggressive.

I remember being filled with rage.

And when she died, I only wanted to remember her, the way she was before. I didn’t want to talk about scleroderma. I didn’t want to acknowledge it with a fundraiser or by opening up to people about this awful disease.

Because I remember scleroderma, but I sure don’t want to remind it about me or anyone else I love. I guess I always thought if I just forgot it happened it would stay out of my life.

But the other day I read an article that someone tweeted out about her mother-in-law passing away after living with scleroderma for 25 years (yes, you can live with it for a long time) and it triggered something inside me. It made me realize that I can choose to ignore it, but not everyone can.

There are still people living with tissue tightness, digestive issues, respiratory issues, mobility issues. And often they live in a world in which nobody gets it. Nobody understands what they’re going through. The same can be said about cancer patients – however, everyone has heard of cancer. When you tell someone, “My mom has scleroderma” they will likely look at you blankly. Then you try to tell them all the details but…it’s not cancer, so it can’t be that bad.

But it is. Even the palliative care doctor told me so. “There are things worse than cancer,” he said quietly when I asked him in his office how long my mom had to live.

I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me or my mom or the other warriors who live daily with this chronic condition. I’m suggesting you learn about it, because even though we were told it affects 1 in 100,000 people you may still come across someone who lives with it.

So, after 7 years I am acknowledging that June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. I am thinking of the families affected and sending love and prayers for quality of life.

The one thing scleroderma did not, and could not, take away from my mom was her faith in a Higher Power. That unshakeable faith that she passed down to me has been one of my greatest gifts.

I love you, Mom. I remember. You are never forgotten.

scleroderma, june is scleroderma awareness month, june, scleroderma awareness month, mom

taslim jaffer, let me out creative