Peaks and Valleys

Kirandeep Kaur (+Video)


The red exterior of these pointy-toe pumps symbolizes my passion to be my own person, set authentic goals and achieve them with courage and grit. The pastel inside signifies my core. I have tried to remain kind and hopeful even in challenging times.

I grew up in North India. As a girl, I was expected to get some education close to home, marry, have kids and care for the family, but I couldn’t understand why I shouldn’t have a unique fulfilling life and be independent. However, the thought of choosing a different path felt as if I were betraying my family. I spent countless nights thinking of a way out, and education seemed to be the answer.

At the age 18, I went to a renowned dental school 2,500 kilometres away from home with opportunities for a quality education and a chance to experience diversity, since this school admitted international students. My parents, afraid I would party, drink and not have their support if I needed it, said, “You should choose a school closer to home.” But I held my ground.  I attended my school of choice, and as my parents had feared, I enjoyed socializing and partying.

Five years later, I got my degree and returned home. I yearned to study further and apply my education to address broader health issues at the population level. After tough negotiations with my family, I chose Canada. In 2012, I flew to Saskatoon to study Public Health. 

To my surprise, freedom took time to adjust to. For instance, the school residences accommodated all genders, and they didn’t have a curfew. The first fire drill almost gave me a panic attack because I had never experienced one before. Professors encouraged students to share their opinions. 

At the completion of my graduate studies, I bought these red shoes from The Bay in Saskatoon and wore them to the graduation ceremony. I had a spring in my step. The world was my oyster! I travelled to different Canadian cities and chose Calgary to call home. 

Since then, I’ve had my share of peaks and valleys. In 2017, I fell ill with constant pain and stiffness in my body and couldn’t get a diagnosis for almost three years. Outwardly, I looked healthy, but debilitating pain engulfed my inside. I began missing social activities and work. I felt ashamed for being unable to contribute as expected of me. 

My condition was invisible, so people thought I was exaggerating it and making excuses. When they lost patience with me, I faced the double whammy of illness and anger. Communication became a challenge. Even getting out of bed became hard. Since the routine diagnostic tests were normal, I had no idea what was going on.

Anxiety about the future overwhelmed me. I lost my job, many friends—and, ultimately, my marriage. During this time, these red shoes continued to move towards the back of my closet, slowly and steadily, giving way to dull but functional shoes in the front. I felt as if I were losing myself.

Then, last year, my mother died of cancer. Over the years, she had become my anchor and was very proud of me. We video chatted every day until the day she passed away. Due to pandemic restrictions, I couldn’t visit her or attend her funeral. At that time, I reached my rock bottom. I found it difficult to find reasons to continue living. But my wonderful healthcare providers and friends helped me to keep going. 

I worked at changing my perspective on life and rediscovered my self-worth and purpose. Today, with a diagnosis and treatment, I am recovering. I’m eager to be able to walk in my red shoes again and lead an active fulfilling life.

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