The silent killer.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Lately I wrote about my anxiety issues and how I got help for that.

Unfortunately, that did not end there.

The very next day I went to work for the first time in two years. So yes, of course I was a little bit anxious. But this weird tingling sensation in my hand started the night before and by the morning it graduated to half my body, my left half including my face. It was seriously unpleasant and scary.

Obviously, I did not want to start my very first day back at work at A&E so I kind of tried to ignore it. I told some of my nurse friends about it (may God bless you, Sharon and Denise) and they were a bit worried that I didn’t run to casualty immediately. But I’m very stubborn and I waited for my shift to be over.

I go to triage, the nurse is surprised to see me because on the outside I’m the pinnacle of health. She asks usual, standard questions and checks my blood pressure. I told her I was on anti-anxiety meds, had just started them and maybe this was a side effect? She thought it was unlikely. I was very calm while in casualty so I got a little shocked when my blood pressure was dangerously high. She checked again. The second time was even worse.

By then one of my nurse friends came to join me, because due to COVID, I was all alone. I was given a cubicle and the doctor came and I explained how I had a 4 day headache prior to this tingling episode (which by then had subsided). She drew some blood and told me that I would need a head CT.

Oh my goodness. I was terrified. Suddenly I started talking gibberish and I was incomprehensible with fear. I had to wait a while for the results. I got so sweaty with the worry. By then, my blood pressure had gone down considerably, still high but not the shocking number it was in triage.

The results came back, nothing remarkable. I was told this was anxiety, I was advised to see a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a neurologist regarding my migraines.

And that was that.

However after a very short while, the tingling came back, sometimes in one hand, sometimes my feet. It was annoying and worrying.

So on the advice of a trusted doctor, I saw a neurologist. He examined me thoroughly and said very surely: this is not anxiety. This is vascular. You need a cardiologist. He advised a brain mri to rule out MS. I did that too, clear.

So I visited a cardiologist. He checked my blood pressure. The norm should be 120/80. Mine was 150/100. Which is really quite bad. I got started on a low dose of ace inhibitors and I will do a 24hr blood pressure monitor to see if we need to fix the dose. After being on treatment for two weeks, I feel so well.

Prior to this tingling episode, I had loads of symptoms which nobody ever linked with high blood pressure, including myself:


Constantly feeling warm, even when everyone else is freezing.

Frequent urination.

Always tired.

Very irritable.

Constant red pallor.

Feeling a little rotten in general, but simply getting used to it.

The anxiety part of this was not entirely wrong. The anxiety was definitely not doing my blood pressure any favors. However, I have been advised to stop my anxiety medication since about ten days ago and I still feel quite alright. So far no tingling, it’s summer and I haven’t needed the AC at night and I have not had a migraine since I started blood pressure treatment.

I’m writing about this because it could happen to anyone. Lately I spoke to a doctor friend of mine and told him of the whole saga and he told me in no uncertain terms that it was very possible that if I hadn’t been on top of things, I could have very easily had a stroke, which could have killed me or else left me with some physical challenges.

So if you are not feeling so great, get checked out because it could be something that is easily solved. And it could save your life. Take it seriously.

Good night all and keep well.

It’s ok not to be ok.

Anyone who doesn’t know me well will see a nice, friendly, professional but a little ditzy, funny and kind lady standing before them.

And for the most part, that’s who I am. But there is another side of me that only the very nearest and dearest have seen. And that is the anxious side of me. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

When I say anxious, I don’t mean slight nail-biting and a few ‘oh dear, oh dears’ here and there. I’m talking about crippling anxiety that does not allow you to function and makes you so physically ill that you begin to question who you are.

This is something that happens to me. Not often, but when it does, it hits big time.

I have scheduled to start working again this week and my daughter had to start attending a childcare facility. We were meant to start a gradual running in process, but then our COVID numbers increased dramatically and all facilities had to close. When they opened again, it was literally 10 days before when I have to start work, so we had to accelerate her running in process.

It was not good.

For the first few days, it was great, she loved it. But then when she realized this wasn’t a one-time gig, she got very upset. And it’s heartbreaking and it made me feel awful even though I know I am doing the right thing. But it’s really, really stressful. She needs some time away from me and she needs to meet other kids. When I leave her she grabs me and goes ‘mummy, come!’ and she grabs on to my ponytail, which is now excessively long due to hairdressers being closed, to try prevent me from leaving.

It’s awful.

And the whole business of me going back to work. I’m happy and excited. I want to talk to adults and go back to doing what I do best, which is being a nurse. I thrive in the clinical setting and it makes me feel useful and productive. But at the same time I’m scared. There’s going to be a huge change in routine.

Then it starts: the anxiety.








Having a kid has made me irrationally scared of dying. When I am feeling anxious, this fear begins to cripple my life.




All this anxiety ended up giving me diarrhea and a headache that lasted 4 days. This sent me into overdrive.


Enough. Enough enough enough enough.

I went to see a GP, mainly about the headaches. Once in her office I had the panic attack that I had been holding in for 15 days. She was great. She has a tribe of young kiddies of her own so she gets it. After examining me thoroughly, she said:

‘Marie, you do realize that this is a a phenomenal amount of stress? Would it be ok if I prescribed you some short term anti anxiety medication?’

I thought about it. This is no way to live.


Oh, anxiety.

Fuck off.

And I said yes. It is ok.

A day has passed and I am already feeling so much better. The headache is basically gone. And I feel a sudden peace. And I got an overwhelming amount of support from my husband and sister and friends.

And I can assure you that none of those people think I’m nutter butter. They think I am brave. And proactive.

Well, maybe a little nutter butter. But in a way that just makes me interesting.

Some appreciation.

I turned 37 last week. Once again another birthday on lockdown.

It was not bad at all. I had a lovely time with my little family. I relaxed, ate yummy things and felt really loved. A lot of friends reached out, sending messages and leaving posts on my Facebook wall. My husband bought me a massive chocolate cake with mint buttercream.

Gives me images of Bruce Bogtrotter.

Nice. I felt really happy.

However, there were two of my friends who really touched my heart.

One sent me some beautiful flowers and she called me to make sure that I opened the door. It was so nice to hear her voice! I know we can zoom call and all, but a phone call is so lovely and personal. I remember when I was a pre-teen and early teenager, I basically lived on the phone with super long phone calls with my close friends or when one of my crushes would call I’d be really pleased. When you think about it, a phone call, especially back then on landlines, is a really personal thing: you are calling someone in their family home, when you are young some members of the family might answer, you are literally taking time out of your day to do nothing but talk. It was really quite wonderful.

Another friend dropped off a gift for me at home. I asked her in for a coffee. And we had a good old fashioned natter. (We are both very careful people, plus we are both vaccinated against Covid-19 so we were fine, we didn’t hug or kiss and adhered to social distancing on my kitchen table). It felt so wonderful. I forgot what it was like to convey information to another person and be able to see facial expressions, smell their perfume and actually look into the eyes of my friend. And she gave me a most apt item:

I really do get by with a little help from my friends and I appreciate you all so much and I miss you all very much.

So cheers to my 37th year, another year of pandemic madness but also of love and kindness which I offer to others and thankfully receive in return.

Once again, life is on pause.

It’s 2021 and the COVID 19 situation is worse than ever. People are dying, they had to open yet another ITU at the local hospital and now we have closed down all non-essential establishments and schools and people are being encouraged to work from home.

In other words, we have all basically been stopped in our tracks. And it is very necessary because we need to get these numbers down.

This is not the first time I’ve had to put my life on pause. When I had to do a bunch of fertility treatments in the hope of getting pregnant, I was constantly in a state of pause: I was training for a marathon and I stopped because I thought it may be a bad idea to do such strenuous exercise if perhaps I was pregnant. I didn’t go on auditions for plays because if I were pregnant I’d maybe have to drop out. If I was feeling ill, I would not take medication just in case.

It was not a good time. I had stopped living and simply started existing from period to period. Really quite terrible.

This kind of pause is significantly different, but the feeling is the same: the feeling of restriction and uncertainty and worry.

And also a little bit hopeless.

I had already put my career on pause for longer than I had planned. I was looking forward to my daughter starting nursery and maybe learning how to spend some time away from me. Now we are swamped in uncertainty all over again.

I am not complaining. Because in comparison to some, my problems are nothing. My family is far from starving and we have all we need.

But we are all definitely on pause. The only difference this time is that I’m really scared. This virus is new, nobody truly knows how it will behave. I don’t want anything bad to happen to the people I love.

All I wish for is that while the whole country is on pause, we stop, reflect and think about how it is up to us to control this monster so that maybe we can all press play again one day.

Have I gone soft?

I’ll cut right to the chase here and explain what I’m on about without much preamble: two men within the space of 12 days were very aggressive towards me, physically and verbally both times with my toddler present and it rattled me.

I don’t feel that it’s necessary to explain either situation because at the end of the day, I don’t believe that any circumstance excuses or warrants this kind of behaviour: screaming in my face, disturbing the peace and yelling both times in rather public places and both times when I am at my most vulnerable which is when I’m alone with my kid.

It really upset me and irritated me because none of this shit goes down when my husband/father/brother/male friends are present.

My goodness. Does it embolden a man when he is aggressive to a woman in a vulnerable situation? And I stress the part of ‘in a vulnerable situation’.

Because I am no weakling. I am built like a tank, I have my orange belt in kickboxing and I am very weirdly strong. My sister and I once moved a six door wardrobe full of winter coats across a room without breaking a sweat. When I use the expression ‘I trust you as far as I can throw you’ it’s actually a compliment.

But when I am with my daughter, I must protect her at all costs. I soften and try not to get angry in front of her or upset. Whenever I am either of those, she kind of senses it and gets anxious herself. Which automatically makes me vulnerable.

These two events really brought me down. My default setting is polite. I constantly used to preach to the nurses of my ward ‘don’t throw petrol on a fire’ and to try extinguish an altercation as much as possible. I will probably say the same things to my daughter. But I’m starting to seriously question if this is the right attitude. I am starting to wonder if maybe being rude and obnoxious is the sure fire way to get what you want.

I think motherhood and being out of the workforce for so long has softened me. As a nurse people are rude to you constantly: relatives, patients, doctors, other nurses….someone somewhere will be yelling at you. I remember once I took a phone call and a surgeon was screaming at me about something that wasn’t my fault and I said very calmly ‘I’m aware that you know how to yell, but believe me, if I put my mind to it I can yell loud enough to shatter the windows, and where would that get us, hmmm?’ and I just hung up, cool as a cucumber and went about my day. I have had patients threaten me, relatives calling me rude names in Maltese mistakenly thinking that I don’t understand the language, male patients making lewd remarks (one patient who was there for a circumcision asked my colleague if she would take before and after pics for him) and none of it ever bothered me.

Next month I’ll be resuming my career and I can’t help but wonder if I have lost my edge.

But then I remember that it takes great strength to be kind. And a whole lot of character not to stoop to an aggressor’s level, especially when you know you can take him. Easily.

Whenever I find myself in a kind of tug of war of the soul, I always read Rudyard Kiplings ‘If’. A few verses really resonate with me:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.


If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.

In all honesty, I think I can do those things. I have done those things. The poem ends with ‘yours is the earth and everything that’s in it.’ Well, I’m not exactly certain that I want the earth and everything that’s in it, but I do treasure my little world and I will always strive to make it a happy place.

So. Have I gone soft?

Yes. Most definitely.

And I’m proud of it.

I did an MRI.

In a previous blog post I wrote about discovering through some blood tests that I am a newly diagnosed diabetic. Well, strictly speaking, it is pre-diabetes and I’m still in time to reverse it.

Due to this diagnosis and due to the fact that I have been feeling pain in my left upper quadrant of late, my consultant thought an MRI pancreas would be a good idea.

I am not claustrophobic so I thought it’s no big deal, let’s do this thing.

I was told not to eat anything for at least four hours prior to procedure. I did not know that I was actually allowed to drink, so by the time I got there I was a little dehydrated. For a pancreatic mri, you need to get injected with contrast intravenously. Due to the fact that I had not let anything cross my lips since dinner the day before, inserting a cannula became a bit of a chore. A few jabs later, a cannula was inserted successfully. I was given headphones to block out the noise. I lay down on the table and was rolled into the machine, which is like a big tube. I was also handed an alarm in case I needed anything.

If you are claustrophobic, this procedure is your worst nightmare. When scanning the pancreas, you are stuck face up, hands pinned by your sides for a whole 45 minutes. You would need to be sedated. The headphones don’t do much to cancel out the noise. It’s quite rhythmic however, I did not find it irritating. You have to remove all your clothes except for underpants and socks and you are given a hospital gown, so it was pretty chilly.

After about 10 minutes of lying flat on my back on a hard surface, my sciatica decided to make itself apparent. The pain was very real and very bad. My legs started going numb. I needed to distract myself from the pain so I tried playing little games in my head like thinking of an item of food for each letter of the alphabet, thinking of how many poems I knew by heart, trying to remember all the names of the girls in my class in form one…

Then I thought, wouldn’t it be great if someone grabbed a marker and wrote some jokes along the walls of this machine? Or maybe some poems, because maybe jokes aren’t ideal because if you laugh, your belly might shake making the images unclear. The noise of the machine is so loud that music isn’t really a help.

Then of course, I imagined what would happen if I farted? Would the sound echo and resonate within this tube and sound loud and thunderous? Would I be stuck with the smell since it doesn’t really have anywhere to evaporate? I hoped to heaven that I wouldn’t need to pee.

Towards the end of the scan I was rolled out and given the dye. I was rolled back in and told to take deep breaths and hold them and I was finally done. My back had stiffened so much that I could not get up without help and I was walking a little funny. My husband had to help me put on my trousers because I couldn’t manage on my own.

The result, thank goodness, was absolutely fine. My diabetes is just down to being a bit overweight and bad genetics.

Now here comes the lesson behind all of this:

1. Don’t get fat. I mean it. This isn’t in a nasty, bitchy, mean girl kind of way. This is in a you-will-have-health-problems kind of way. I’m just a little fat and this happened to me. Be vigilant. Diabetes can have so many complications and increases morbidity. I have been given three months to reverse this. If I don’t manage, I’ll need medication. The medication often at first gives awful diarrhoea, the kind where you have to run like the flash or else you’ll have dirty pants. This is worrisome.

2. If you think something isn’t quite right with your body, see a health professional. No, it isn’t fun and can be a hassle. But you may catch something before it’s too late. I’m still in time to prevent full on diabetes.

3. Learn how to cook using as little refined sugar and carbohydrates as possible as this is half the battle.

Sigh. I guess this is what it means to be closer to 40 now.

Zucchini carbonara
Some low carb meal ideas.

What a way to begin 2021.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little weird, physically. So being the nurse that I am, I decided to get some blood work done. Got the results, everything seems fine except that my folate levels were a little low, like almost every other person in Malta, nothing 5mg of folic acid daily can’t cure and that was that.

Only there was one result I simply overlooked: my HbA1C. It’s a measurement of sugar in the blood. I didn’t think to look for it because my fasting blood glucose was just fine, 4.3 mmol. But my HbA1C was not, the sneaky bastard. HbA1c, also known as glycated hemoglobin, is produced when glucose in the blood sticks to hemoglobin. As a rule, the more glucose in the blood, the more HbA1c is produced.

Not good. This means that I am in a pre-diabetic state and if I’m not super careful, that could change for the worse. The good news is that so far, it is reversible if I’m really careful with my diet and avoid carbohydrates. Oh and it is also imperative to shed a few kilos.

So I acquired a spiralizer. Oh my goodness I love it. Maybe the novelty hasn’t worn off yet, but seeing a large, ugly zucchini turned into noodles in a heartbeat does something for me. Probably Freud would have a few theories about that. It makes things very handy, because pasta is a bit of a staple in our household, the toddler loves it and I can’t and don’t want to cook different meals in one sitting. This way I can avoid carbohydrates but still eat like my family.

To help with the weight loss, I need to exercise daily. A few months back I sustained a knee injury, so I have be a bit choosey when it comes to classes, plus there is also the COVID situation still larking about. So I found a great little Pilates class close to where I live, in the morning, with all safety measures in place. Since it’s on a week day morning I figured ‘ok, this is going to be a class full of mummies like me. All good.’

When I walked in, there was a pretty, blue eyed instructor probably in her late 20s. She said ‘hi! Pleased to meet you! Usually my mum teaches this class, but I’m filling in today!’

That should have been a clue. It wasn’t a class of young mummies.

It was a class of GRANDmummies. I was the only one under 40 there. I thought I was in this bizarre episode of The Golden Girls. Whenever we’d change exercise someone would shout ‘oh, my arthritis!’ or ‘uh oh, I felt my elbow click! Is that normal?’ When we stiffened our core on the Pilates ball, one of them definitely had gas. Definitely.

When class was over one said ‘yeay! Now I can eat some cake! I earned it!’ and the others all nodded going ‘oh yes! Cake!’ ‘Mmm..cake!’ ‘Did you say milkshake?’ ‘No dear, we said cake…but a milkshake sounds good too…’ ‘no, milkshakes give me gas….’

Too right, dear.

But it was great. Because it was still a workout, I felt safe and my knee didn’t hurt.

And afterwards I felt really good about myself and energized. And the old ladies gave me tips on how to make the best minestrone ever.

Truth be told, I’m really annoyed by this turn of events. I don’t want to be in danger of becoming a diabetic. But to lay down and die is just not my style. I can and I will reverse this.

I can do this.

I love a challenge.

Spiralized zucchini in my favourite pasta sauce.

The Immaculate Conception

When we arrived from Canada to Malta back in 1992, it was a culture shock to say the least. We would often come for summer holidays and those would be a whirlwind of relatives, friends and nearest and dearest who all want to see you in the three short months that you’ll be around. It’s very different from living here, going to school here and living your daily life on this little island in the Mediterranean.

We were living in Bormla at the time and it was really quite wonderful. There were two little grocers, one owned by an Australian-Maltese guy and the other was called ‘Mizzi General Store’ or something like that and a small stationery called ‘Troisi Bazaar’. Now, almost 30 years on, these are normal mundane things but to the girl who was used to Safeway, Toys R Us and Canadian Tire they were exotic and new and weird. Everyone was so nice to us and treated us so well. And everything was so personal and insular which was also quite new and weird.

But what was also new and very weird was what would happen in Bormla on the 8th of December. And that would be the day commemorating the immaculate conception. More popularly known in Bormla as ‘il-festa’.

I had no idea what was a festa. No idea whatsoever.

So my dad decided to rectify this situation by telling me to grab my coat because we were going venture out into ‘festa-land’.

I was almost 7. I was very tiny and very quiet. The festa was not tiny or quiet. As soon as we hit the principle road, there were people everywhere, shouting, singing and drinking. Out of nowhere a man with a tuba blasted a cacophony in my ear. Then an entire marching band materialized there, in the middle of the road. Kids were everywhere, running around and shouting, holding clouds of pink candy floss. Crowds of people chanting something in Maltese.

It was really something. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was quite an experience.

I didn’t know it at the time but my dad was on a mission. While away from under my mother’s watchful eye, my dad approached a cart which seemed to be selling oblong, beige bricks with nuts in them. He bought a particularly large brick, asked for an opaque plastic bag to hide this thing from my mum and brought it home, grabbing my hand and rushing as it had started to rain heavily and none of us had an umbrella.

Once in the safety of the kitchen my dad unwrapped the brick and sliced off a piece and proceeded to chew it exclaiming ‘oh how I’ve missed this!’ He then proceeded to cut off a slice for me and told me that this was going to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

I looked wearily at the slice of chewy brick, which by then I had been told that it was nougat. This was not the first time my dad had told me that something was going to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted and it turned out to be horrendous: kippers, anchovies, picalilly to name a few.

And this was no different. So sickly sweet and nasty. Another shock to the system. My dad was devouring the brick with gusto. I wasn’t so keen, to which he replied ‘ok! More for me!’

Back then everything was so wonderful and new. Every day was an adventure and a learning experience.

And every time the 8th of December rolls around I feel nostalgic and warm and happy.

So I wish a really happy feast to all those from Bormla today. Maybe you can’t go out and celebrate due to these scary Covid times, but I hope you can get the feeling in your hearts that I have on this day.

Slight edit: the Australian grocer was not Australian at all, I’ve been informed…his name was Karmenu and he was actually Maltese-Canadian, like me! He had run a corner shop in Mississauga before coming to Malta.

I took my kid to McDonald’s.

I am blessed with a kid who is very curious. She wants to know everything and try everything.

This includes food. She will try whatever is put in front of her. If it’s new, she will take a bite, contemplate, maybe make a face and if she likes it, she’ll continue eating, if not, she will push it away and say no.

So far, there are very few things she does not like. She eats with gusto, but she doesn’t overeat, when she’s had enough, she simply stops. I hope that this practice continues as she grows older. I hear that there are many kids who all of a sudden become picky or only want junk.

I was a very picky eater when I was around 4. I would only eat chicken noodle soup, chicken nuggets and chocolate pudding. That’s it.

A friend of mine who has a child only slightly older than mine gave me excellent advice on how not to raise a picky eater and she gave me an article about it which I have followed religiously. It has really worked. Basically, if a kid doesn’t want a particular food, put it away but don’t write it off: try again a few days later and keep trying. Also, kids naturally taste foods a bit more bitter in flavour in comparison to adults, it’s a defense mechanism so they don’t eat inappropriate things. So one has to make sure to give a large array of flavours early on: a bitter taste isn’t necessarily a bad taste, it is just less appealing in comparison to a sweet taste.

Another big trap not to fall into is food that is geared towards children: chicken nuggets, fish fingers, chips, pasta with tomato sauce. There is nothing inherently wrong with these foods but they are so limiting. Who says a kid can’t like tortellini with mushrooms and bacon? Who says a kid can’t like a mild creamy chicken korma? Or a well made ricotta pie from a loving grandma?

I honestly have no excuse: my kid eats anything, so ready meals are not an option unless I’m exhausted. Good thing is, I love to cook, so I’m not really put out when it comes to creating good and healthy meals.

A few weeks ago, my mum suggested that we take my daughter to McDonald’s for the first time. It’s a rite of passage, I guess. I don’t really approve of that kind of fast food but whatever, it will definitely not be an everyday occurrence and it could be interesting.

So for the first time in the 20 months my daughter has been on this earth, she ate at McDonald’s.

And she LOVED IT.

The fact that the food came in a little box.

The high chair was really comfortable.

The toy that came with the meal.

She could make all the noise she wanted.

She could make all the mess she wanted.

She was one happy kid. And all of a sudden I understood the appeal. The whole experience is totally geared towards kids and admittedly exhausted parents. My kid was fed, safe, entertained and I didn’t need to discipline her for the duration that we were there. I was also fed with little interruption and in record time. For the child, the food part of the experience is really minimal. It was more about opening the box herself, examining the toy and looking at the brightly coloured surroundings and seeing other kids.

I get it. It’s cheap and convenient and familiar.

We won’t be doing it again in a hurry, but I hold no judgment for parents who maybe make it a monthly outing.

And to all the parents of picky eaters, don’t lose hope: I was once the worst of all picky eaters and now I’m a massive foodie who eats almost anything. And probably a little too much of it.

My relationship with chess.

I am a stay-at-home mom to a 20 month old toddler. My days are filled to the brim taking care of a very demanding and tiny dictator. It is wonderful and exhausting.

And sometimes I forget that I was once many things before I became a mother.

I just watched the entire series of The Queen’s Gambit and I was reminded that I used to be a very good chess player. Not as good as Elizabeth Harmon, but decent. Watching her take part in tournaments really brought back memories.

I learned how to play chess when I was around six or seven. My mum was teaching my brother on the kitchen table and I decided that I wanted to learn too. She had no objection to it. First she showed me how to set up the board. When I did that perfectly, she taught me how the pieces moved. When I had that down, she taught me the objective of the game, which was to give a checkmate, ie: immobilizing the king. Then we began to play. She beat me, of course. So we played again. And she beat me again. Then we played a third time and I managed to take her queen. She still beat me, but she was so impressed. When my dad got home, I remember her telling him really proudly.

Chess is a bit of a legacy in my family. My grandfather was Malta’s first chess champion and his brother was one of the founders of the Malta chess federation. It is said that my grandfather would know exactly how a chess game was going to go after the first five moves.

For a while, my mum and I played almost every day. And she won every time. But I was definitely getting better.

And one fine day, I won. And then I won again. And again. My mum was pleased as punch. My mum is an excellent teacher by profession, and nothing pleases her more than seeing a student excel, whether it was in French or her other school subjects or at chess.

And then I let it go and forgot about it. We were about to emigrate, life became a massive bustle and upheaval and then it became all about settling in to our new life in Malta from Canada. Then came further upheaval when a place opened up at The Convent of The Sacred Heart School where my mum taught and my sister attended and my mother desperately wanted me to go to school there, so I skipped year six and went in at form one.

It was there that I rediscovered chess. My mum had a chess club during midday break and I joined as a way of making friends. I even managed to rope in a few other form one girls. I found I could hold my own with the form five girls…I remember they seemed so big and smart to my tiny and inexperienced 11 year old self, but they helped me improve and I sometimes even won.

When I was fourteen, my mother signed me and my fellow classmates up for a tournament as part of youth fest in 1997. It was held at De La Salle college. My mum thought it would be a good experience. Also, the organizers told my mum that they would love to have a girl contingent. I should have smelled a rat there and then, but I was too unsophisticated to realize that this was going to be nothing like the friendly atmosphere of self improvement I was used to.

This was a totally different ball game.

The tournament was a total sausage fest. There were around 30 boys and maybe five girls, four from my school and one from St. Joseph Blata l-Bajda. That girl turned out to become a nurse with me and one of my very best friends ever. Strangely enough, that day we didn’t even speak and we didn’t get paired up to play, but she did play my sister and ended in a draw.

Immediately, I got a sense that we were not welcome. When the boys asked each other who they got paired up with, they would just reply ‘A girl.’ even though we all had name tags on. They also made the grave error of thinking I don’t understand Maltese. I was very nervous and I lost my first game. But by my second one I was ok, and I started winning. After my fourth win, on my fifth game, my opponent and I happened to be sitting next to someone I had beat earlier and he asked him in Maltese ‘This should be easy, right?’ and to my delight the other boy replied in Maltese ‘no. Don’t let the blue nail polish fool you. She made me sweat.’

These boys were GOOD. They were the type who read all the books, knew the names of all the openings and played confidently and decisively. Plus they all knew each other. But still, I managed to place really well over all and I won best female. That pissed my mum off a little, after all, why should women be singled out for a title? It makes one question if men and women play chess differently and if that is the case, like in most sports, maybe men and women should not play together. In all honesty, I do think men and women play differently, but I don’t think that it means they should play separately. When questioned about this special title, the organizers said it was to encourage more female players to come forward next time.

And in fact, we did participate next year with a larger group of girls. Unfortunately, the mentality was the same, nothing had improved. I was doing well, better than the year before but during my final game, the boy I was playing with did something very unsportsmanlike to me…we were playing with clocks and towards the end, I didn’t push my button down properly and my opponent played on my time. My time ran out and therefore I lost. The boy sat there like the cat who got the cream. By looking at the board, one could see that I was in a much better position than he was, but the arbitrator ruled in his favour and that was that.

The whole female contingent was livid. In spite of all this, I still got best female player that year. But the sense of triumph was not there. I was kind of disgusted.

After that I played a few rapid chess matches at the federation which back then was in Sliema and there were some amazing players during those matches. I learned a lot different techniques and improved my game immensely.

After a while I stopped playing and got completely cut off from the scene. I like winning, but I’m not really a competitive person. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I was not prepared to read all the books and study them by heart.

I was not prepared to make it the most important thing in my life.

And in a way, thank goodness. I am aware that I have a slightly addictive personality. Winning at something as elite as chess could definitely become an addiction. Learning all the combinations and probabilities could very well make even the most sane and well-adjusted individual lose his or her mind. When you are heavily involved in that world, it consumes you, like a heroin addict: your only friends are chess players and when you get together you only talk about chess or else play all night, just like how heroin addicts only have junkies as friends, non-addicts begin to avoid them and they are constantly jonesing for the next fix. In fact, the first bit of advice given to those who want to leave the lifestyle is to find new friends.

After watching The Queen’s Gambit with my toddler fast asleep in my lap, I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been. I can’t help but wonder if I will teach my daughter the game as my mother had taught me and where will it lead?

I guess only time will tell.