We All Fall Down. The Stairs. Sometimes.

This all feels like some cosmic joke as I write this, but the sh*t show must go on. I wrote this piece intending to pay homage to the last month, which has marked an unexpected bump in my functionality. All due to a small but sufficient amount of useable energy I encountered, as if finding money in the street. Look energy! Pick it up! 

For nine months, this invisible life force–something you almost can’t really know you have until you lose it–has eluded me. And then, subtly and seemingly out of nowhere, it flipped on inside me like a light switch.

For the last month I’ve been hard at work on an important story about the opioid crisis; the data driving it, the policy, and the affect it’s having on millions of chronic pain patients. I’ve felt compelled to write it and share a side of the narrative that’s gone missing from the national conversation. The point is, I felt functional enough to devote myself to this article in a serious way. Almost every day for two weeks week, I put on real pants and drove to the downtown coffee shop, the one with terrible art work on the walls and unforgivable price tags, where I’d work for hours at a time. Most of you know 2019 has been a garbage pail of health issues, not really allowing exertion like that on my part.

The joke is, I’m trying to write a piece on how great I’ve felt, in one domain anyway, and I am continuously interrupted by how terrible I feel due to one of the more severe migraine cycles I’ve had all year. Also the ice pack strapped around my head keeps dripping water in my eye. Just great.

Despite the newfound strength I came into, my physical symptoms persisted. Migraines, face pain, POTS, cystitis, the badder disaster–all alive and well. The catch? Having this new, albeit small and yes, limited, amount of energy on board has been a game changer in terms of dealing with all the pieces that go into life with chronic illness and pain.

Finally room opened up in my brain and body for a resilience to deal with the symptoms  proactively, or distract myself from them (insofar as possible), or just enjoy the rare freedom you feel when you finally have a choice in how you’ll spend even 1/3rd of your day.

The relief it’s brought has left me in tears of gratitude. Not a relief of pain, but of burden, of carrying this heavy, physical weight around for so long. And finally taking it off.

It feels almost impossible to convey how much more tolerable the experience became,  finally having some amount of energy inside to help take it all on. It’s still a difficult and daily battle, but when you suddenly don’t feel the active force of gravity working against your every move, well, that helps.

What doesn’t help? Falling down a flight of stairs at your cousin Kenny’s house, the night before his moms funeral. Wait maybe that’s the joke. You know, this story is just so Gelpi.

So, maybe my month of reliable energy has begun to wind down. I’ll go out on a limb and say that becoming entangled with an industrialized fan on the steep fall down the stairs and breaking that fan with my face at the bottom, did not help. I had grill marks on my face people! Like some piece of George Foreman meat! Good Lord.

The point in all this was to pay homage to feeling GOOD, and the things you get to do when you’re not stuck in a dark HOLE. And so it shall remain. I’ll tell the Tumble-Down-Kenny’s-Basement-Stairs story soon, I swear it. I’d never hide such comedy gold.

It doesn’t easily escape my mind how bad one day in August was, just two months ago. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head, the weakness and heaviness and dizziness were relentless. My entire head throbbed with pressure, and I felt a total desperation wrap itself around me, barely able to keep my eyes open laying on the couch. I feared the physical feeling of that day would never end. And then less than two months later, I end up here…

Attending a Saints game with family and friends, yelling in the Dome to throw the Cowboys offsides, and most importantly, enjoying the hell out of myself. How could such a transformation occur in such a short time?

I can’t know. I stopped taking one of my anti-vitals. My mom prayed a novena for me after an especially bad few weeks. I pray my Hail Mary’s every morning, waiting for my head to calm down. All I know is the very terrible day in August did end, and for a while at least, I’ve been gifted with enough energy to participate in my own life. I’ve paid a price for things, but at least I did something to pay for. Most of 2019 has felt like a constant hangover without a sip of alcohol.

I just want to remind anyone who’s sick and in a crash or experiencing a rough patch to hang on. I know how desperate and forgotten and isolated it feels. How insufferably long the time can take to pass. (Trust me, this is the first time in 9 months I’ve had some level of functionality) The truth is we just can’t know the future. But given a chance to play out, turning (inward) as a spectator to our lives when we can’t participate in it firsthand, it will usually reveal some incredible grain of truth that will make life sweeter, easier, and closer to whole. At the very least, it will make us hugely grateful for the tiniest of things–and it’s hard to be unhappy when you harness true gratitude from within.

So what does the letup of a nine-month crash finally allow for? Well, really dumb but fun stuff that makes me happy. Like a few weeks ago when I gave Monty a bath. We came inside and I brushed him while watching college football. I noticed the little pile of hair was becoming pretty dense and also that it seemed it could be arranged, as if I worked at it, I could shape it into a smaller, furry replica of Monty. So that’s what I did…

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“Won’t my mommy be so proud of meeeee!”

And YEAH, I’m proud of my work, mkay? It took some real finessing. As you can see, the first few editions were not quite right.

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A bit too wispy…
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A bit too 1950’s mouse cartoon…

You can call this a waste of time and probably not be wrong. The thing is, when you’re feeling well enough to exert yourself in creative ways beyond just surviving, nothing feels like a waste. Things take on a new lightness and enjoyability. Even bathing the dog. Of course Monty was a wonderful and willing model. Speaking of which…

Monty’s good looks should have been earning us money ages ago. Thanks to the Aunt Becky scandal, I learned that “Instrgram Influencer” is a real thing and decided Monty needed to be one. We haven’t turned it into cash yet, but we do get a discount on merchandise from these brands that saw his picture and posted them on their pages. So yeah, we should be earning hundreds upon hundreds of dollars any day now.

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Who. Dat!
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This is what Monty thinks 23 hours a day.

Anyway, I’ve done more than make small, furry replicas of Monty and model him in bandanas. I finished The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which had me enamored for three days straight and I need more Hemingway to read. I’ve continued to work painfully slow on completing sudoku puzzles, as well do a lot of swimming because it’s October and 93 degrees and that’s just, you know, reality now.

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Panting. In the Pool. In October.

In the end, yes, I fell down Cousin Kenny’s stairs. But you know, the fact that I was well enough to be at Kenny’s in the first place, and subsequently do acrobatics with a fan down his stairs–well, that says something. Something good, believe or not.

Here’s hoping the recovery isn’t so bad. I write this as much as a reminder to myself as to others, of how fleeting all this is. That idea used to frighten me, as though nothing were solid and reliable. But now I find it revealing of a truth that’s freeing, a relief. This was always temporary. Changes can come hard and fast, but looking with creative eyes and a depth of perception, we can often find that they’re in our favor. We have to stay awake though. Give life a chance to show you how things turn out. As the adage goes: In the end, it will all be OK. If it’s not OK then it’s not the end. Cheesy, yes, but I can be on board with the idea. So march on soldiers. As always, we will get there.

I’ll just take the elevator wherever we’re going.

Health, Happiness, and the Bruise on my Thigh Has Given Me Three Butts. Three.

2017 and Falling Off the Edge of the Earth

*I’m making a concerted effort to keep these blogs shorter and “more digestible.” This is not that blog. Last year was a book all on its own and  I feel the need to fill some gaps where I was unable to write during certain parts, so I’ll do it now so I can move on to the present. Apologies it’s not shorter and sweeter. Next time.

*
The beginning of 2017 had begun so auspiciously. My health was in the “good enough” category. Not great, but not terrible. I don’t even know if the word ‘good’ fits with any precision here, but looking back at the beginning of the year, it was so much better than how the year was to end.

The hopefulness, the call to act, the feeling that I could help change things related to a health crisis all felt visceral and achievable. Whenever I felt down about something, disappointed, or discouraged, I constantly asked the same question: Why not me? I’d waited on others for so long, expecting there to be a happy ending soon enough. But you grow older and you see that things don’t happen unless people believe in the possibility of things changing, and if those same people don’t believe they can contribute to this change, in whatever way small or large, things remain the same. When we stop waiting on others, and decide no matter where we are in life, there is always something we can do, we will add light to a place of darkness. We can try. And I can tell you from personal experience, many failures, some successes, that trying, regardless of outcome, feels a whole hell of a lot better than waiting. 

I think it’s why we may sometimes take the longer route home, even though we know there’s an objectively quicker way to get there—but that shorter way involves stop and go traffic the whole time. Most of us would prefer to just drive, on a road that feels open, than sit in a tense car and yell OH COME ON and beep our horns (as if this does anything in congested traffic).

I hadn’t expected the outcome that came out of writing the petition. Yes once again, I”m talking about the petition. But this stuff matters— to me, and to millions, and I need to quit pretending this is a blog that will always (or ever) be extremely exciting or cover my super fun travels to Brazil! I am after-all, documenting life and a chronic disease and a hopefully changing political landscape that I am attempting to contribute to. I try to keep things light-hearted and fun when I can, and highlight the sometimes tragic hilarity that comes from this weird, unconventional life I live. That’s the creative challenge. But the aim of truth telling is tied for 1st in what’s primary, because there has been so much, well, non-truth telling. (I’m looking at you, psychiatric club of England!) I also try not to make it so much about me, but that’s a joke, because this is me, writing about me, and also M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis— you get it.)

**

In early January I met with the LA State Director who works directly under Senator Bill Cassidy. I sat with him for two and a half hours, giving him the whole spiel. At the end, I showed him the petition, which had amassed roughly 35,000 signatures at the time, and it seemed to surprise him. That led to him arranging an extremely brief “meeting” with Bill Cassidy, (literally a 3 minute talk in the parking lot between meetings, where I said as much as I could, and handed him a printout of twenty pages of comments where sick people had told their stories in condensed bursts trying out for help. Some of them were heartbreakingly short and to the point. “I have lost everything. I am bed bound. I’m not living anymore.’ As he was being ushered into his car to his next meeting and his team shouting that he was late and to please hurry, he shook my hand and looked me in the eye saying “I really would like to know more about this.” But politically things were a mess at that time. Is that a redundant thing to say? No longer even necessary? I was told he would be in our state (Louisiana) for roughly 30% of the year or less because his help with the Healthcare Bill in DC was very much needed. So I met with the State Director, but it just inherently felt like such a good thing. Any politician empathizing with you, listening to you and looking you in in eye feels successful all on its own. I realized we were all looking for that. We just want to be seen and heard, and I want to continue that mission.

Attending the “Storm on DC” in May where a large group of us-advocates, advocacy group leaders, those sick with MECFS and those who loved them— met with representatives of more that 150 congressional offices, which felt like movement in the right direction. Besides that, the catharsis I found in meeting other people who were living my kind of life was invaluable. It was the human reminder that I’m always trying to tell myself, that I’m always replying to others when they reach out. We really aren’t alone, even if we’re by ourselves. There are many of us, and yet isolation dominates. This sentiment is perhaps the hardest to remember, the most difficult to convince your heart is true.

A good family friend arranged for me to meet the Majority Leader, Steve Scalise, where we all sat down, and I attempted a summarized spiel of MECFS and the train wreck it is. More importantly I introduced this disease to a man who’d never heard of it, which is typically how these things go. Then I told my story in fast forward, as something he could connect to. Maybe something he might remember. The three of us did a little trouble shooting of ideas. We didn’t have two and a half hours, bur he too wanted more time to learn about and think on this. I left him with short and digestible literature. When we left he shook my hand and I looked him in the eye, hoping he would remember me. That somehow in the future, he’d have some faint memory of a girl he talked to—explaining a crisis underneath everyones nose that needed immediate addressing. A continuation of being seen, being heard, asking people pointedly,”Can’t we do better?” 

We tried. I tried. And regardless of what obvious or immediate changes were made (not many, but a few important ones), this all felt very good. To try. You know when you’re doing your best and when you’re slacking. Nobody really has to tell you.

***

Unfortunately after my bump of health in the spring, I seemed to start on a downward spiral to crap town. I fell in love, which was energizing, but the burst of it didn’t last very long. In late summer we tried ketamine infusions to try and get a hold on my chronic pain—in my legs and my head/face. It was basically insane. And sort of a Catch 22, because I think if I didn’t have ME, I would’ve been able to handle the 3 infusions per week for two weeks. But the physical demand of doing anything 3 times a week at that point was extremely difficult. Strangely, it improved the pain in my legs, but made my head worse. I’d get a horrible migraine after each treatment and woke up the next day like it was back for vengeance. I’d have a day to recover before we’d go in for another treatment and do it all again. For someone with this illness, this kind of protocol just isn’t all that possible or as it easy it might be for others. At any rate, we went through with it, because if I was going to endure the physical hardship and psychological insanity, I wanted to really go for it. I wanted to know explicitly if this would work or not, and not do some half-ass attempt. Apparently the first 6 treatments and the time in which they’re given is crucial to their effectiveness. I would try anything that might help the pain, get me off meds.

It was an intense two weeks, and I’ll go into much further detail on another post because there is a LOT about that course of treatment, physically and spiritually, and not a lot of personal experiences written about it out there.  I believe it could have worked for the nerve pain in my legs if my mysterious stupid head didn’t explode at anything new we tried. I crashed from the exertion, the migraines became a given, and it just became clear it wasn’t working. Wasn’t going to be possible or given a real chance to work. So we paid a hefty financial and physical price, but at least we tried, and we always will attempt things that promise at least a good possibility of lessening my pain and eliminate the need for prescription drugs that are harder to fill than buying a machine gun.

This was toward the beginning of August, where afterward my functionality was already in decline but it continued and seemed to increase its rate of downward spin. Particularly in October, where I seemed to fall off the earth.

The pain doctor changed one of my long acting pain meds to see if we might get a better hold on the leg and face pain. I had an extreme reaction to it. On day 3 the “skin crawling” I had felt at first turned up to a 10. I’d wake up at 3 am to my legs and arms squirming, kicking, flexing— feeling like a kinked hose with full blast water trying to flow through it, impossible to keep still. My muscles would be flexed without my telling them to. My fists would be clenched and my toes curled under my feet, then pointed, back and forth on repeat. Moving felt “good” in a weird way, only because remaining still felt impossible. But I was so exhausted anyway, all this muscular strain helped nothing and only worsened.

On day 4 came an episode that we can’t really explain. I was at the vet with Monty when I was already feeling rough but pretty suddenly felt I like would faint and as though my insides were melting. Luckily it’s across the street from our house, so I cut appointment short, trying in spurts and sputters to explain what dysautonomia was to the vet techs as I sat on a bench before the 60 second ride home. Have you ever heard of POTS? “Like frying pans?” I came straight home, laid down on the couch, drank peppermint water for the intense nausea and iced my aching head. Suddenly I needed to vomit. I wrapped myself around my moms toilet where the bathroom spun but I could only spit. I prayed to puke because the nausea was so immediate, making my face hot and the saliva in my mouth swirl, collect at my lips and pour out like a faucet, but nothing.

I laid on the floor of her bathroom, stuttering and having major issues speaking. My muscles kept clenching, all of them, would become rigid, and my teeth chattered. If I diverted my attention away from breathing it became hard to breath normally. It felt similar to the symptoms of SVT but I was not in active SVT, or I’d taken an atenolol just in case I was, and it would’ve worked by the time I lying on the tile. Something else was happening. I had to focus on just taking normal, deep breaths, trying to stay calm. I was twitching and my muscles were doing whatever they wanted. When I finally stood, unstable on my feet, my parents each held an arm and tried to guide me to the bed—but every time I moved I felt insane vertigo and urgent nausea. Even looking too quickly with my eyes to the left or right caused a flash of the same symptoms unless I lay still on the cold tile floor. I laid around the toilet again and tried to be as still as possible, ignoring whatever my body was doing on its own. My parents brought in a pillow and blanket and Monty laid next to the bathtub.

My body took turns twitching and shaking and going rigid, and I stuttered horribly when my mom asked me questions. The lights were too bright, so I laid there just as the last of the sun was setting. I knew she was conflicted—do we take her to the ER? But we’ve both had enough experience there—no one has heard of my disease. They would look at my prescription list and long, convoluted history and none of it would add up to anything, understandably. (We hardly mention ME/CFS in med school text books, and the printed “treatments” are so outdated, some still state “hysteria” as a cause. If anything, going to a bright, loud, crowded ER would make it worse. She used to be a nurse and was monitoring my vitals the whole time anyway. I told her “Please, no hospital.” But I think she knew I was in better hands at home anyway. I felt awful. Not just physically, but that it had come to this. That my mom had to see me like that. That the place you’re supposed to go for medical help is not a place we can go. All of it felt so backwards, so wrong. And it was just beginning,

It took four hours for the episode to finally dissipate and for me to turn back into normal Mary. Clearly I couldn’t stay on that med, which was incredibly disheartening, because it was the first one that provided relief for both the nerve pain in my legs that I’ve had for eight years, and the mysterious head/face pain that we’ve been trying to figure out for the last 5. No luck. But that med, that pile of gold in a bottle that finally eased the pain for both, was also a med violently rejected by my body, so I was forced to quit it. I cried and cried. I felt angry at my own body. Why wouldn’t it accept something that was finally helping it? It’s hard to hold out hope during times like that.

I was horribly crashed the day after the episode, but we had to go back to the doctor the next day and get my medicine sorted out. Another hour car ride, (thank you Mom and Marc) and we weren’t really told why I would have that kind of reaction—which seemed to fit the bill for serotonin syndrome, something I have had at least one episode of before. But they shrugged it off and agreed it was best to just return to my old regimen. The “good enough” regimen. There was only one huge problem that remained:

The side effects of that new drug I tried didn’t go away when we stopped it. It was as thought a switch was flipped. It began in October. I am still dealing with extreme restless legs and arms and toes and hands (which for eight years prior were 90% under control with lyrica), and my skin crawls as if I’m being tickled from the inside if I don’t take a different med to calm my whole nervous system down. The symptoms are insane without this new med.. SO, just to fill yall in, that was the last quarter of 2017, and I can say objectively, IT ROCKED.

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****

I am telling this story because it’s just one example of how messed up this situation is, in so many capacities. I have had to see four doctors in order to get the medicine needed to calm down the symptoms caused by a medicine I tried for a short while in October. The DEA is coming down explicitly hard not just on patients but on doctors too and if they’re prescribing any kind of controlled substance. Their licenses are threatened, and they aren’t allowed to treat their patient the way they might normally choose— because an entity that knows nothing about medicine is interfering with their medicinal plan. But more importantly, I’ll never forget what my primary care physician said to me in a recent visit while we continued to try and sort all of this out, as I squirmed like a a worm on the examination table, about to run out of the medicine that was helping keep things ‘calm’ but I was forced at the time to try and ween off of. He’s a very good doctor and extremely educated in Dysautonomia, which is a huge part of MECFS. He said “It’s better for one or two doctors to be prescribing all your meds, not six or seven.” I agree with him. And how nice that would be, if only it were possible.

This is what MECFS patients mean when they say there’s no place to turn, no safety net. A person with cancer goes to the oncologist. A person with diabetes goes to the endocrinologist. Someone with heart disease, the cardiologist. Where does the person with MECFS go? The literal handful of specialists, if they can afford it? And where it’s difficult to fill any prescriptions because the specialist is out of state? Local doctors have often heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which they often conflate with Fibromylagia—an illness one of my male doctors actually used AIR QUOTES when he said it aloud, as well as “Intersticial Cysitus”. I wanted to laugh high pitched and say with my own air quotes “Yeah, you’re a “really good doctor.” It’s such a joke. We are so misinformed. So uneducated when it comes to such a debilitating disease that is not new and is not rare. I’ll leave the numbers out of it, I’ve said them so many times before I believe they’ve begun to lose any real meaning at all.

By Christmas, as you may guess, I was not doing well at all. It was my favorite time of year and it all felt so tainted— the normal seasonal colors were drab and as I looked out the window of my moms car as she drove me home from yet another doctor appointment, I couldn’t help but cry. It was drizzling and ugly out, and nothing felt balanced or fixable. Just let it out Mary, it’s OK to be upset, my mom comforted me. But I was upset at even being upset. I wanted to be cheerful and play Christmas songs, but everything felt covered in the haze of this disease, the amount of time it took not just from me but from my parents who have lives of their own, and my lack of ability to advocate or do anything I wanted—it was all waring on me. On us. Everything felt like it was falling away.

I was extremely depressed and hadn’t seen friends or felt like I’d done something truly social or fun or meaningful for too long. Everything revolved around finding waking up to and finding physical relief, and then being fought back on every effort we made. I can’t count the hours we’ve spent at Walgreens, arguing that insurance should cover a medicine, or being told that they didn’t have this or that medicine in stock, so we could wait three days or drive an hour to another Walgreens that does. Once we were told they had 19 pills, of my prescribed 120. “I can give you the 19 now, but you’ll have to go back your doctor (an hour away) and get a new prescription written in order for me to fill the rest when we have it back in stock.” Someone. Please. Explain. Everything was a battle. I grew so tired of fighting, for everything. The disease is hard enough, but the logistics of the disease is often just as hard or harder. It is truly, I say this with total conviction, a full-time job. That phrase It shouldn’t be like this would play itself in my head a lot and it was hard to disagree. But what can you do? Keep going. Always keep going.

We had a good Christmas, and thus far I’ve been able to get the treatments I need in order to remain mostly comfortable. Thank you, Dr. Patel, and thank you Dr. Klimas. You truly are heroes to someone like me. I wish the government would leave you alone—-unless it meant funding for research, then come on in yall!

It’s a new year, and for now, I have what I need. (Thank you MOM, and Marc.) How I wouldv’t survived the last part of 2017 without you, I honestly don’t know. I feel decently functional right now and for that I am incredibly grateful. I just felt I needed to write out a bit of what happened last year, because behind it all, I hated that I wasn’t able to devote more of my time to advocating. I was in bed or my house somewhere, thinking of grand ideas that I was too weak to carry out. But enough of that, it’s in the past. I believe this year will be different as I’ve said before and we’ve already hit some major goals, which I will spill soon. So be on the lookout yall and hang on. I know how discouraging it gets, how isolating. I know how hard it is to hear “You’re not alone” when you’re by yourself. But it is the truth. We are getting there, we’re not alone, and we still need outsiders help.

Mom, Marc, Monty, Family: thank you.

Health, Happiness, & Good Things To Come

Brain Not Work So Good

I feel this modern artwork both describes what it feels like in my brain recently and also represents the clustershit that my writing has been. At least spaghetti brain can look pretty. The writing is a mess.

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I say the as if it’s someone else’s. My writing. Me. I’m doing that thing where I start out simple, on course, paving a promising path toward something that makes me think but that I can also wrap up and understand in the end. There’s never a lull for words or ideas. They pour out–I have a lot of time to think them up. When I’m not writing them in my notebook or typing them on my phone I’m usually just thinking of nice sentences in my head. I’m mind-writing. Just watching sentences fall into place mentally, perfectly, and I actually feel relief when these sentences are formed. The kind of relief you feel when you  get in your car the first time after you’ve cleaned it, and it was dirty for a long time before. It happened on the way home from the pharmacy yesterday. Sadly, I remember the relief more than the sentences or ideas. I tell myself I’ll remember this later, but I hardly ever do. On rare and momentous occasions, if I just sit down and start to work it will pop out like a wine cork. Ah! There it is. But I hesitate to think how much has gone un written because I wasn’t near a pen or a computer, or that I actually was but just didn’t put the effort into getting it down. Owell. That’s kind of a self-important thought. And, I guess we have to assume the work we never made, lost now somewhere between sleep and consciousness, was probably crap.

The words pour out not because I’m FULL of words and ideas, but because I have no requirements. Few expectations, no deadlines. No assigned topics. And no financial incentive. It’s just a hobby that I treat like a job.  Except that I’d be fired by now and there’s no 401K. Maybe I have too much freedom, so the meandering and circling is just too easy to do. I struggle because it starts off clean, on track with a promising topic and flows naturally in one direction. Then somehow it turns into the literary version of a flying cockroach, darting around clumsily in different directions and you don’t know where it’s gonna land next and you know when it gets killed it will make a crunchy sound. Sorry scratch the last part. I don’t know what it is. I like the words and concepts emerging,they’re just not always in order. Or they’re crap.

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Me Writing Crap

I know this will sound incredulous to some, but when I’m in a crash my brain starts to stutter and cloud way more than usual. In the past I’ve mostly been able to avoid the cognitive effects at least when it came to my writing. But I’ve been working on this post since Thursday. I know I know, easy to blame shortcomings on the illness. But the only reason I feel it is effecting me this time is because that reading stutter returned on Friday too, having to reread sentences over and over, and then just not remembering an entire page and having to start over. Luckily I rested mostly on the couch while Monty quivered near me at the sound of America’s birth, and two friends brought me food! It was nice. Yesterday I was more clear headed reading wise, and able to finish my latest read, The Invention of Wings, which was really great. There’s a lot of good little nuggets in there. And I was surprised and inspired to learn in the authors note, the two main characters were real–born into money and a large plantation in South Carolina around 1830. They would eventually became devout abolitionists and publicly denounce slavery and fight for its end, sharing the cruelty they’d witnessed with their families own slaves publicly, and the world didn’t quite know what to do with them. I enjoy characters like that. It was enthralling and I recommend it.  I need a book club.I just feel like I’d never show up after the first meeting. Anyway my mom says she’ll read it so that’s cool.

Where were we? My writing going in circles, right. I wrote for three hours on Thursday and three hours on Friday and collapsed like a whale on to my couch after both “sessions” and sortof spent the weekend that way. Yesterday when I revisited the words,  I realized I’d written over 4,000 of them, and some made sense and others were in the wrong places and would just require a re-organization of things. But I don’t think my brain can handle it right now. I’m leaning towards spaghetti brain. Noooo. Here, I’ll find another pretty picture.

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Nice, no? That Jaime Rovenstein is really good at creating non-crap. Check out more on her website.

Also, I think this is why agents exist. Why good writers have agents. Proofreading! There’s a word I haven’t heard since college. Maybe that’s what this blog is, one long proof-reading session and one day it will turn into something else that actually pays dollars and cents and I can get an agent or whatever. Or maybe I just need a small person to stand beside me and ring a bell when I’ve written and rambled more than 10 minutes. Now I’m doing that thing where I write about writing. So dumb. I should just write and post. I’m too cautious. I just want it right and I know when it’s not. DING, the bell rings.

I’m going to condense and summarize the absurd amount of words resting on a white page behind this screen. Because I Believe in Brevity!! That sounds like something..a campaign slogan? Specificity is important too. I accomplished neither, so I’m just going to sum it all up. OK. It starts with this sentence.

“I think the time for a typewriter has come.”

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How fun is this dudes art? Check him out.

 

Simple enough right? Then it drops off the edge. I find myself wondering if technology is aiding or prohibiting these things–writing, art, creativity and whatnot. Which somehow brings up the woes of scanning Facebook in the middle of the afternoon, and what those photos are actually capturing. I ask what it is about these photos that leaves me and others sad and yearning as we keep scrolling. (Authenticity, I think is the answer) Then I compare Facebook photos with those JC Penny photos a lot of us took in the 90’s, (dudes, the hair)  and explore physical momentos verses digital ones. Is my generation more or less authentic than the last one? Next I defend Millenials after continual insistence and wagging of the finger I encounter that says Millenials are all lazy, don’t know the value of hard work, we were given too much, have no accountability, and don’t appreciate what we have. This article is a great example which went viral a while ago and a few people posted it on Facebook like “Oh my God, so true.” Uhh, agree to disagree I guess. I agree that your point is false. Then, I deliver a personal conviction that it may not look like it, but I think as humans we actually are progressing, despite a lot of people my parents age saying the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I wonder if their parents said that too. And their parents parents. The fact is we’re still living among the good and evil that has always existed, which leads me to an exploration of that provocatively awesome question David Foster Wallace asked, which is, If we have all the things our parents never had and more, why aren’t we happy?

Let that simmer.

Then I wonder if is this a theme that has repeated itself throughout every generation. Always thinking the next one would surely have it easier. Each one working hard so the  generations after them might have what they never had, and do things they never did, and avoid the hardships that they had to endure. Maybe it’s hard to see that the world is still what it is, and human beings are still who they are, imperfect, after you’ve worked so hard to make it better. Especially if you worked your whole life to do it.

Maybe our notion of happy is off. Or maybe it’s not about happiness. It’s moving forward.

Then the neighbors fireworks got really loud and Monty was quivering below the desk and the writing turned weirdly patriotic. Fast forward from notions of happy and the formulas that work or don’t work, and also the American Dream. Achieving what we’ve historically called the American Dream does not mean achieving happiness. It means achievement. The happiness part is on us. The Dream is living in a country where we’re free to pursue that happiness pretty much any way we want. And I know it’s cheesy, but when you compare this country and our opportunities and freedoms compared to so many other places, we are danged lucky to be born into this one, with autonomy, opportunity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome! Kidding. I think I have a very good life. I think a lot of people have very good lives and don’t even see it. Anyway this is the part of America that I’ll always be grateful for and humbled by, knowing the generations before me and the blood and sweat and tears that went into creating it, and I guess our job is to make their work and sacrifices worth it. I’m trying! I can’t say whether we’re a happier generation, I don’t know. But I think maybe the more important question is, Are we a more conscious generation? And to that I say, yes.

Now lets go blow stuff up.

Health, Happiness, Happy 6th of July

What Makes An Illness Invisible? I do I do!

There is a certain hesitation that comes with being sick with a disease they refer to as “invisible.” Who are they? And why do they call it invisible? The they is simple; it’s not so much a reference as it is a perspective. People and doctors don’t tell us our ailment is invisible. They simply don’t see it. And when you’re sick, especially for a long period of time, you become keenly intuitive about who sees it and  who doesn’t. With someone who does, a certain ease settles in, as though you could wink at one another and understand it completely, even if you’d met minutes ago. Your guard goes down. Shoulders relax. That apologetic tone leaves from your voice. Those who don’t see it, or don’t fully “accept” it, and it makes sense that some wouldn’t, by the way, given this disease is not visible and is rife with evidence that it’s psychiatric or something else, we can sense that just as quickly. There’s an immediate undertone of tension, it makes my cheeks hurt while talking, the way eating a lemon does. I can feel my defenses go up. No matter how strong I’ve become at sloughing it off, doubt or judgment, it still stings. ‘Rubs salt on the wound’ as they say.  It makes me want to explain everything, from the start, “No wait, if you just listen to how it all went down, if you knew how I was before this, what it’s like most days…” but it’s useless. For them but more importantly for me. For us. I have to cease needing the validation from others and just trust my inner self. ‘Choose your battles wisely’ they say. Turns out they say a lot don’t they.

I think about The Truth, the eternal one that we’ve gotten wrong so many times, absolutely certain with documentation and everything that we were right and that was that. And yet the world remained round and the sun chilled with black sunnies on in the middle of the earth revolving like dude, yall are way off. The truth has never required us to imagesbelieve in it in order for it to remain, and that often brings me comfort. It’s my ego that seeks the validation. Still, I’d call it’s pretty reasonable that you’d rather not be seen as crazy or a malingering pansy particularly in a vulnerable time of your life when you’re sick and need support. But this is another “invisibility factor” of the illness. And it matters because not being believed is a psychological kick in the brain. Or face. And that’s just it. We don’t look the part on the outside. People can’t see pain. Or a headache. Full body weakness. Mental spaghetti. Vertigo. The hit-by-the-truck feeling. Yada yada yada. All there is for “outsiders” is our word, and some take us up on it, others don’t. I’ve been surprised observing the fluctuation of strength in my own word, depending on who it’s being exchanged with. I’ve been struck that a doubter could make me doubt myself.

Besides not seeing it “on” us, most doctors aren’t going to see it “in” us either. Invisibility factor number 2. We’ll give gallons of blood and urine samples and get x-rays and MRI’s and whatever other procedures they can think of that insurance doesn’t really wanna pay for :). They may find little things, but for the most part it will all come back normal. Yaaay! Normal. But let me intervene quickly that the American medical term for “normal” is a bit flawed if you read how the numbers are configured, but that’s another issue. But the point is: invisible. Again. Even in our blood and our brains and our tickers! Sometimes they find little things off here and there, but in no way would consider this a part of ME/CFS, they’re all isolated symptoms. And so there you are either in an ER bed or sitting on the crinkly white paper of a doctors’ office being told you’re in fine health and that this is good news. But it’s also important to point out here, often these tests are ‘normal’ because most doctors aren’t trained on what to look for in regards to this illness. This isn’t taught in most med schools. There’s no standard diagnostic test yet which make makes things harder. Invisibility Factor Number 3: no research. The things a specialist test for are far more in-depth (and expensive) than a regular doctors work up: like NK cells, cytokines, CMV, HHV6 and many more. Right now, due to the lack of these specialists, it’s basically like having cancer and visiting the foot doctor. Welp, everything looks great to me! 

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I mean this is just a great picture

Still, a large man in a white coat, his degrees framed behind him, scanning through your labs and telling you you’re fine, to get outside, drink more water and eat more protein, (my experience) well, it encourages doubt. Even though I knew otherwise. I know what I feel inside, and it does not align with what I’m being told. And yet, when someone challenges your thinking, someone bigger and smarter and who you’re supposed to trust, you can’t help but consider that they might be right–thus, you might be crazy. Woohoo! But it’s important to recognize the reality of the situation right now, and also that this it’s changing. More doctors are being educated about the illness and presumably in the next ten years, you won’t have to travel to other states in order to find one who knows more than you about it. Not to mention, doctors make mistakes. They are humans after all, and they don’t know it all. So often after a bad experience with a doctor, or anyone for that matter, I have to remember, (or my mom has to remind me) that this is vastly misunderstood right now, and people aren’t acting out of malice but from misunderstanding. That lack of understanding is just beginning to change. Slowly. And you know what? I think the petition may end up helping with that. That’s my hope, anyway.

A friend of my mine asked a while back “Have you ever considered that they might be right, that this might be more of a psychological thing, and you could actually be cured by pacing your exercise and receiving cognitive behavioral therapy? Or do you feel totally positive that it’s a physical disease?” This is all under the umbrella that I fully accept and believe that mind and body are connected and the health of the mind is intrinsically tied to the health of the body. Still, this topic is not being brought up so much in the same way with other diseases. The intention is different. I admit didn’t know exactly how to answer. I felt like “techinically” the right answer was, yes, they might be right and this might have a major psychological component that could be an intrinsic part of it and a part of curing it. I should have to consider that these psychiatrists might be right. But I couldn’t do it. Even though I have looked at myself in the mirror and asked that question, considered this  many times Could I be crazy? Could this all be a front, could I be a mildly insane hypochondriac? Or could this all be ignited by something psychological from my childhood that I never worked out?” These doubts have run through my mind more than a few times. But in that moment, despite by own past consideration of other possibilities, I truly felt like a monkey being asked, Are you open to the idea that the others might be right, and you might be a giraffe? I answered in solid faith even though I felt myself nervous to do it. “No, I’m sure that’s not the answer to this.” I was in that moment, a total  monkey.

I am an indecisive, uncertain person by nature. It takes me twenty minutes to pick out what to wear, including pajamas. (Ahem, that’s what I wear)  I doubt and question myself a lot. I feel like I’m still learning how to be who I am. But, I’ve had twenty years of this invisible illness and gone through the ringer of its effects, felt deeply the losses it has caused. I’ve watched what it does to my mom, who I trust. I’ve read the stories and comments of thousands of others with experiences uncannily similar to mine. High functioning, happy people, (SANE PEOPLE) who had a rug swiped out from under them and were never the same. I think of the extremely current research and that of the last five years. I think of Lauren Hillenbrand. Of Whitney Dafoe. Of my doctor, Nancy Klimas. And I just can’t imagine at this point, that all of this comes back to some psychological trauma that just needs to be worked out with behavioral therapy and physical conditioning. This is what is being touted as a legit cure in many countries, including ours, but particularly England, Australia and a lot of Europe. This illness can be triggered by a psychologically traumatic event, but this only points to another pathway in which, whatever this disease is categorically, (presumably a virus that takes advantage of a vulnerable immune system) that it has varying opportunities in which to intervene. This doesn’t make it a mental illness. And even if it were, it still doesn’t justify the way it’s been treated up to now.

I wish I could say that I’ve never doubted myself or the disease again. But I have moments where I do question myself. But I think that’s normal. Enough people question your your point of view, inevitably you’ll question it yourself. I know that there are many more invisible diseases besides M.E., and that a lot of people have felt isolated by the facade it produces. I hope if they’re reading they know they’re not alone, and they’re not crazy. They’re just sick, with whatever: ME/CFS, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Lupus. I have moments where I forget what it’s capable of and crash myself for days. My mom always tells me, don’t play ball with this disease, it will always win. That’s typically how I’m reminded of reality when I doubt it– the state of my own body. It’s hard to doubt your own illness when you’re struggling to walk. And if that somehow isn’t enough, I close my eyes and go back to my inner, inner self, where the truth lives in stillness, without interruption. Where the world is flat. Where the earth orbits the sun. Where an invisible disease simply hasn’t found the cause or cure, but one day soon will be seen, will be believed, but most importantly, will be cured.

Health, Happiness, (In)Visible

P.S. The petition is still live and running! The new goal is to get to 50,000 signatures before I formally present it to Collins and Burwell which should be in July. I promise this is the last high goal. We stop at 50. And if we get there, I will sing a song on camera that I wrote called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Other Associated Conditions” and post it to the blog. It’s two chords, and worth seeing. Mostly to watch me make a completely humiliating knucklehead out of myself. So sign!   Good night.

Me Vs. Myself In My Own Campaign

I have to admit something that feels a little shameful, and since this blog seems to inspire little dignity in me and zero reverence I’ll go ahead and do it.

Lately I’ve felt a schism crack inside of me. I don’t know what it is, a Campaigner and a Skeptic. I’ve been advocating these last two months since I began the petition asking the NIH for an increase in funding for M.E. I can’t tell you how tired I am of just writing that sentence, and probably if you’ve kept up reading this, your eyes just glazed over. And then I feel bad about feeling exhausted by it. I believe deeply in the campaign and I want more than anything for it to do what it set out to, which is actually to change things in a quantifiable way. This whole thing has been fronted by social media, so I’ve spent hours posting it on every forum, every ME/CFS Facebook page, (of which it turns out there are like 4,000), tweeting to the same groups and other organizations I’d only just discovered,  and any and everyone involved in the CFS community, including celebrities who I’d read had the disease. This includes Sinead O’Connor and Olympic Soccer Athlete Michele Akers, but I didn’t hear back from either. I thought about singing a version of “Nothing Compares” to Sinead but rewriting it with lyrics that explained the issue and pleaded for higher funding. But I never did it. I head Glen Beck has ME, but I’m just not going there. I just…I can’t.

I did actually write a song, a two chord song on the guitar, so far titled “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” but we’ll get to that later. Similarly I’ve been sending emails to both friends and strangers, asking them to do something. But doing this day after day can start to feel..a little desperate. Sometimes I didn’t like myself. It feels like I’m asking all these people to do something for me, people I don’t even know. But I’ve had to constantly remind myself, when I start to feel like some kind of annoying car salesmen with poor boundaries, this isn’t really for me, but for something so much greater. It always has been. One look at the comments page of the petition and it’s so clear that we need help, and we’ve needed it for a long time. So if I’m gonna go for it, I need to go for it. STOP BEING A PANSY, in other words.

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Pansies are quite beautiful it’s a shame they’re synonymous with WIMP

Despite many people and organizations reading my story for the first time, I find myself rolling my eyes at my own account. And I think God, what’s wrong with me? Where’s my pride for this fight? I have to remind myself that this has been a 30 year injustice that started before me, and I am just trying to help fix it. And then I find myself even struggling with that word. Is this really an injustice? And I realize when I ask that, it’s coming from a failure of perspective. The insecurity considering my own experience with this illness, and my sense of normal, which is inside out and backwards. Even though being sick has been the hardest battle of my life, I still look around at things and think “But I’m OK.” Sick or not, I can find ways to make it all work. I have so many people and so much love behind me that I know I’ll be OK. But there are 2 obvious flaws in that thinking. To begin with, when I really break it down, I think

Mary, you’re living in your parents pool house. You aren’t able to work anymore. Sometimes weeks go by without leaving the house or seeing anyone even close to your age. You live in a town you have no connection to except for the pharmacy and three doctors. You hang out with your parents A LOT. Last week your own mother washed your hair for you in the bath because you were too weak to do it. And showers, let’s not even talk about showers. The point isn’t that my life not being normal is the problem, it’s that I’ve become so accustomed to what the illness has done with my version of normal. I forget, this is actually kind of a huge mess that I’m just living out as best I can, one day at a time. I don’t plan things, I can’t keep them. Somewhere, I sense a clock is ticking. It can’t last this way for long, right? And if it does, would I be OK with a life like that?

So is this an injustice? Yes. Read everything that’s happened with this illness pertaining to the CDC, HHS, and the NIH over the last thirty years, and it would be hard to call it anything else. Just because I’m surviving and ‘OK’ doesn’t say anything about the millions who aren’t.

And that brings up the second flaw in my perspective: I am not nearly as sick as so many others who have this disease. There is a scale to the illness in terms of intensity. A portion can function partially, but it’s hard to call those who are at the other end of the scale “sick.” Their bodies are shutting down. Confined to one room, unable to talk or tolerate sound, eating through a tube. Would we call that living? So many people have been sick for decades, their husbands or wives gone because life with this disease hugely impacts relationships. Some can’t understand it or even really believe it. One woman told me her husband divorced her because, he said, “I can’t watch you slowly die anymore.” People, especially husbands, hate feeling like there’s nothing to do for it, no way to help. And at this point, that’s basically where we are. You’re lucky to find a doctor who knows much about it. All of this reminds me; sure, you can make lemonade out of lemons, but there is a far deeper issue at play here, and it’s been slowly building into what is now a health crisis. It’s like the equivalent of the Velvet Revolution- a calm, quiet crisis. It’s gone on gently behind the scenes, behind the noise of other major news, of more important health issues, diseases with names that don’t make a person stop and hesitate whether it’s “real” or not. So I have to remind myself, this is beyond lemonade, and this fight reaches for things far beyond me. This is for the thousands of people who are far and away worse than me, who can’t fight for the change that has long been needed. “Sick” is such an understated way to describe them. “Slowly dying” is more accurate, just like the woman said.

So, I need to stop feeling apologetic for fighting for this change. Yeah, it’s probably annoying on Facebook News Feeds, but I’ve seen my share of weird engagement albums of couples in urban settings, and political rants and pictures of peoples lives that are awesome that make me feel incredibly small and boring. So, I guess it’s OK to annoy with a petition for a while. It doesn’t mean I have to become a full-time advocate, but I need to see this thing through to the end, and getting petition signatures is really only phase 1. I need to participate (at least virtually) in the protests this week, because it matters to me, and I don’t know why I feel like I should keep it a secret that it does. The real work might just be beginning–getting the big dogs on the phone, and in person, and making the case. I will say, I feel more far more confident reaching out to these people with 33,000 signatures behind the request. Printed out, that’s over 1,500 hundred pages of names. That’s impact! And that’s what I was looking for. So Thank You, all of you. A petition doesn’t work unless the people sign. The next phase will be interesting and could take a while. But, as always, I will keep you posted.

I see big change up ahead. Monty too.

Health, Happiness, Justice

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”            -The man, Barack

Breaking News

(Not Really)

Toward the end of this winter, I sat in a bathtub, tears coming down my face, and prayed for change. Things had been stationary and repetitive for too long. All my parts, body and mind, were beginning to go stir-crazy, and I’d given it a solid go. I think in modern times, being confined to the same two rooms for long periods of time without real socialization and not going totally insane is a kind of victory on its own. Things went from stationary to stagnant, and I’m pretty diligent about avoiding that disposition. Undoubtedly, it started to wear on me. I closed my eyes and envisioned the “path” of my life like a black dotted line on a treasure map–obviously th line had been very straight for a while. But I visualized that in the spring the dotted line would take a sharp turn, still progressing, still moving in the right direction or whatever, but that there would be a marked change. It would stir things up, it would springboard the stagnancy of sickness and the same two rooms and same faces at the pharmacy and pop them into the air like popcorn. I wanted an interruption I guess. And I felt tired waiting for one.

The thing about change, I was beginning to realize, is that it has a lot to do with you (me) and less to do with crossing your fingers and waiting around for it. I admit, for a long time in terms of the illness, I did that in a certain capacity. I’ve hoped and prayed for a cure ever since I became sick, but I was never involved or deeply curious in the process of how that could happen. I wasn’t a part of online support groups for ME/CFS. I was never really involved with advocacy, and I didn’t follow the latest research or science. Sometimes people would send me articles from The New York Times or some Magazine that would tell the story of someone sick, usually summarize the history of CFS mostly on the surface, and then reveal the prognosis, which was that there was still no cure and no approved treatments. Once, I was sent a New York Times article called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome No Longer Seen As ‘Yuppie Flu’” You’d think in some way, a major and respected newspaper validating your disease would be a comfort, but to someone who’s been suffering for years from it, it was more like Yeah, no shit. It’d be like seeing an article titled “Water Found to be Necessary for Survival.” My mom, who follows every study, reads up on trials and new findings, would update me often in an optimistic tone. But I can remember, in the first year after the crash that I’d stopped working and was living in their house, I felt angry and remember telling her I didn’t want to know about any more studies until there was one that found the cure. I was clearly still in the “acceptance” phase of this whole thing, and that was a prissy reaction to say the least, but I just never wanted to get pulled too far into the “community” of the illness. I felt if I entered in too far, which would be easy to do, it’d take me over, consume my identity. And I battle myself a lot in avoiding that transition–I don’t want to turn into the ‘sick girl.’  There are just so many other things I want to do and express, and sometimes the illness feels like it controls too much of my outer life, after already having control of my insides. It’s a strange, duplicitous struggle to face. And some days I feel like the illness wins–not in terms of my body, but my mind. That’s what I try to avoid.

Last week, a news crew was at my house. I say crew, but it was really just two people. An interviewer and a cameraman from Fox8 News New Orleans. It’s funny how it all came to happen, but stars aligned in certain ways, and now news-anchor Rob Masson was interviewing me in our living room. We talked about the petition, about getting sick with this weird, elusive, invisible, strange disease. He was a great interviewer and he understood the illness well. You can tell when someone gets it by the questions they ask. For instance, a person who doesn’t get it asks questions like “Do you think if you did more during the day, you might sleep better at night?” And a more intuitive person might ask “So how do you prepare for an event you know is coming up? And how long do you pay for it physically?” Rob and I had talked already on the phone about the disease, the NIH, the history and the campaign for nearly an hour a week before. Then the day of the interview they ended up staying two and a half hours at our house. (It will probably be a two minute spot) They spoke with me, my mom, and shot footage of Monty, of course. . Normally, the idea of “being on the news” even local news, would stress me out. Mainly because internally I’d think “Why do I have any business being on the news? I’m just a sick person living with my parents?!” But the reassuring and truthful answer was that this really wasn’t about me. I’m an example of one among millions of people living with the disease, and I felt I could speak up for it in that way, provide an example of what it “looks like”–which is nothing. You couldn’t pick a person with ME out of a crowd, but it’d probably be the one lying down using some odd piece of furniture as as a bed. I was/am exceedingly grateful this petition made the news, mostly because I think any press that shows what this disease looks like and is told from the angle of someone who is actually sick, not a psychiatrist speculating about it, is always a good thing.

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(Not Rob Masson)

But the real angle was the campaign, which is also not about me, but about the NIH, and how their lack of funding and research has left millions of sick people without a place to go. You can count the number of CFS specialists with one and a half hands. The reason I felt optimistic writing this petition is that this is a problem with a very clear solution. It has always had a solution, and in every article, blog, comment debate, news story, I see the same desperately needed solution being pointed out, which is funding. The disease is complex, the research and studies and science is complex, but some of the top virologists and infectious disease specialists in the world are signed on to study this, say they can solve it, they are simply lacking the funds. It just seems so simple in that regard. It’s obvious this can’t be ignored anymore. This is an epidemic, and I know that word is overused a lot, but when millions of people are out of commission, and the country is paying billions a year in lost productivity and medical expenses, I would call that somewhat of a health crisis. So, it’s time. And Mr. Collins and Secretary Burwell can make it happen. I know they can.

I’m still learning how to be an advocate. I don’t know if it’s really my calling. My sister on the other hand should consider this as a career option, she’s really good. :) I’m still trying hard to attain more signatures because I’d like to get as many as possible for the protest on May 25th in DC. The power in this method of “protest” is in numbers, so I’m still thinking “Hey, we can make it to 35. And if we can make it to 35 we can make it to 40!” 40,000 has a nice ring to it, a more sturdy number. Anyway, I trust we’ll get the number we need. And I still have the hesitancy of not letting this fight, win or lose, enter too deep into my identity. In my attempt to share the campaign with every CFS organization, I’ve sort of leaped into the Chronic Illness Community…and everything there makes sense. I see myself in all the stories. I recognize the descriptions. I understand completely what people mean in their emotions and discouragements. But sometimes I have to just dip a toe in..share the petition and then get out. If I spend too much time there, I don’t know, I feel too consumed by it. And those are my brothers and sisters! It’s not that I’m turning my back on them, I just live it and write it enough as it is. I guess I don’t need reminders right now. I’m more hungry for change.

This petition I hope can speak for us all. Maybe I will just always be fighting to remember who I am, to hold on to some remnant of myself that was there before I ever became ill or ever started “fighting for a cure.” In one part of me, a flame has been lit and I feel ready to take on the world and achieve this change. Halfway because I’m bored of it. It’s so obvious what we need to do, and I know it will happen eventually, I’d just like it to happen sooner so we can all get on with other things. The other part of me thinks I can write through the filter of being sick till the cows come home, but there’s so much other subject matter out there. There’s so much else to do. And I want to explore it all. There are so many other stories I want to tell. And I think I will. I’m just a little in between worlds for now. Fighting for this cause and also trying to stay conscious of who I am without all of this. Dive too deep into anything and you can get stuck there. Maybe dive is the wrong word. Attach. I don’t want to become attached to this. I want things to change. And then I want to travel to Japan.

So, that’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods. Physically I feel like absolute crap, which is the most efficient and motivating reminder to keep fighting for this change :)  I don’t know when the news segment will come out, though I can already anticipate my self-consciousness about it. I don’t like seeing myself on camera or hearing my own voice. I am fat from the steroids and hardly even feel like I’m in my own body anymore. And it’s a vulnerable thing–I never imagined I’d be interviewed by someone and talk about being sick, 31 and living with my parents on TV. I mean, this could really ruin things for me on Tinder. But the TRUTH is, none of that matters. It’s not about me or my story or whatever I’ve lost along the way. This is about the campaign and what’s next. It’s about what we’re asking for, which is a very specific thing: $100 million bucks. It’s not that much money, come on! But, if the segment goes online I will try to post it here. So, once again, I will shamelessly post the petition, and if you feel like signing or sharing because you haven’t yet, I recommend you do so I can stop writing about this stuff and my sister can stop pestering every person she knows to sign it. Amelie, I love you. Thank you again everyone for the love and support and signing. I guess that dotted line I envisioned making a sharp turn ended up happening in a very strange way. Life is funny.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-funding-so-we-can-find-a-cure

Health, Happiness, HEY MOM IM ON THE NEWS!

The Campaign

OK, so I can’t actually link the above image that says CLICK HERE TO SIGN to the page where you would actually CLICK SOMEWHERE TO SIGN. Blogging problems amiright? In other news, you can click here to sign.

If you haven’t heard, I’ve begun a campaign on change.org. I’m petitioning the head of the National Institute of Health (Francis Collins) and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Sylvia Burwell). If you have heard, and you probably have because I posted it everywhere for a while there, I do apologize for the redundancy. But for the first time, it seems like the right people are at the helm of the organizations that can immensely influence the potential for way more research (funds) for ME/CFS. I’ve written previously about the shaky if not scandalous history of this weird disease and the mishandling of it (i.e. neglect) on a federal level. As a result of being dismissed and grossly underfunded for so long, treatment-wise we are exactly where we were back in 1987. That was the year my mom got sick, when the disease was hardly even heard of. But it’s a new age, and there are a lot of people fighting out there, and this is just one more way of attempting to be heard, influence important change, and help increase awareness. Plus Monty pressured me to do it.

I’ve never thought of myself as an activist, and I still don’t really, but for the first time I’m feeling the strange pressure to make something happen. Anything. I wrote the campaign on a day when I was feeling really sick but also really hopeless and discouraged. I thought, I can’t sit here and feel bad about this anymore. I had to try. It’s interesting because on one hand, I can’t rely solely on the discovery of a cure to make me happy or my life complete. I forget that even healthy people have a hard time. Life, as discussed and agreed upon with most friends and family, is just really effing hard. It just is. Even if by all accounts you have everything one would require to be “happy” or feel whole. It’s so easy to just assume that everyone else has all their shit together–that they’re drinking champagne on a yacht somewhere with good looking friends and laughing, or having family day in the park with their soul mate and three perfect children. Is that a thing? I don’t know.

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“Isn’t life easy?” “Oh my God I was just thinking how easy life is!!”

But I’m guilty of this. Many times when I’ve felt deeply the challenges of my experience, I’ve felt even more wounded by the idea that the rest of the world is at a party that I’m too sick to attend. And that is fantasy. Sure, there are definitely people out there who have it way more together than me and are probably experiencing more joy than I am in the current era I’m going through. Even so, health, marriage, children, careers–these don’t necessarily equal happiness or fulfillment. Everyone is carving out their own unique path through this chaos, discovering who they are and hoping to live a good life they can be proud of in the process. I’m not positive, but I think “happiness”, or maybe I should call it “inner peace” or contentedness, develops when you are operating out of your true self, that inner person that we catch glimpses of when creating or carrying out our passion or holding the hand of someone we love. It can be anything, but I think there is person within all of us, a 100% unique super-person made of ultimate consciousness that we’re all striving to become. And when we follow the whispers of that super-person, it feels right. It feels stable among a lot of instability.

As I grow older, I think the biggest revelation I’ve come across is that everyone is figuring this thing out as they go. They’re putting on their pants in the morning and going to their job or raising their children or poaching an egg and some part of them has their fingers crossed that they’re doing it right. That they’re doing what they’re meant to. And somehow it can easily seem as though everyone else knows absolutely what they’re doing, where they’re going, and how they’re getting there. But even these people can’t be completely certain. There’s no real way to know, no standard form of measurement that says yep! you’re doing it right! We’re all living this particular round of life as each of our weird selves for the first and time. All we can do is our best, and follow that invisible thing that usually presents in the gut, telling us to turn left or right or that you’re talking to a crazy person or to get the hell out of some place. There’s an inner compass there, and we probably don’t listen to it enough.

My “path” the last five years, which continues now, has been finding a balance; finding a way to manage and tend to this illness and still construct a life that I like; one where I can sustain loving relationships and do some good and make a meaningful life I can be proud of. The balance is also about not letting my life or identity revolve around the illness. This is hard because truthfully, it effects everything. It just does, it should be called Pain-In-the-Ass Syndrome because that’s what it is and you kind of become one out of necessity.  But I know there is a way to use it to become someone better without letting it define me or my life. I know in order to grow and become the most conscious, full version of myself means experiencing every last drop of what is thrown in my path, including the insanely hard stuff, like life-altering illness. My mom reminds me of this when I get really down. Try to take everything you can from this, because these are the unique teachers that help shape who we ultimately become. And it matters that we grow into ourselves, that we become who we’re meant to. Otherwise we’d all be born with the same talents and passions and personalities. We are so awesomely diverse just to begin with, innately, and our experiences through life are even more unique, and this is what informs our distinctive selves for the better, if we engage it whole-heartedly as an opportunity to grow into who we’re meant to be. I don’t write that as though it were something easy. It’s one of the hardest things in life: to accept pain and struggle with open arms and surrender to it as a pathway to being better, more conscious, to living a more fulfilling life. Maybe that’s how to know if you’ve done it right..if you ring out the rag of your life at the end and not a drop comes out.

This post was meant to simply re-post the campaign, but it’s been a tough few weeks mentally and physically. What am I saying? It’s been a tough year. And there’s always words that need letting out. Otherwise cobwebs gather up there. Anyway, last week there was such an amazing response from family and friends, (and total strangers), to signing and sharing the petition, and that was truly humbling. I cried. Like a lot. I don’t know if this will work. I don’t know if it will get enough signatures to get the attention of important people. I just know I felt an ache on a particularly hard day that craved a bigger change and I had felt it for a while. So this was a place to start. I also wanted to remind people suffering out there that there is a lot of action being taken toward working with these agencies and finally getting the support and attention that the disease has needed for so long. Don’t lose hope. We WILL get there. Wherever there is. The good news? We surpassed 1,000 signatures! What does that mean? Technically nothing, except that 1000 people took the time to sign it and comment and share, and that is an awesome feat in itself, and I hope we can keep it going. I will post the campaign again here, and maybe find a better spot somewhere on the homepage where people can sign. I’ll figure something out. In the meantime, let’s all put on our pants, (or PJ’s if you’re sick) and pretend we know what we’re doing. In other words, let’s try. I have to remember to try. And you do too.

And then sign the campaign.  Pants not required.

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much to everyone who has signed and donated to help circulate this campaign. I think my sister is responsible for half the signatures herself that she reached out for. She’s a better campaigner than me, maybe I should hand it over. Thanks Amelie! And thank you to all of you. It truly means so so much, every single signature.  I will of course keep everyone updated. Mostly, I’m filled with humility and gratitude for all the support my family and I have received. Keep it going guys, I can’t tell you how thankful I am, except I just did and I’ve said it 10 times now so I’ll stop. But it’s really nice for people to feel that their voices have been heard, especially sick people who can’t get out there and fight, and I think this campaign is a way to facilitate that. OK ENOUGH TALKING GOD. Here it is. Sign it for Pete’s sake!

Health, Happiness, Pants

Below is the link if you’d like to copy and paste the campaign to send in an email. Otherwise, just click here and sign it. Thank you. I love you. A lot.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-funding-so-we-can-find-a-cure?recruiter=12447733&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

 

 

 

 

You Know What To Do

(Or if you don’t, it’s Signing this petition..that’s what you’re supposed to do..just in case there is any misunderstanding there. OK then..)

Friends, Families, Duders,

This is one of the most important posts I’ve published here, and I need your help. It’s been a very sick winter/spring for me and I’ve worked hard to try and stay positive, maintain hope, and keep from getting overly discouraged. I don’t always succeed in this, but I try my hardest and I have a lot of reinforcements: my dog, family, loving friends, and funny internet videos that truly sometimes help shift me into a lighter shade of blues. I found that one another way for me to maintain hope and stay positive about my life is to at least try and influence change in regards to how this disease is treated, both socially and federally. Things have already begun to change in a few ways in just the last few years, and I have always held onto the hope that I will see a cure within my lifetime.

Yesterday was particularly hard for some reason. Physically things have been roigh, but emotionally I was really feeling it– all of it. Sad, mad, hopeless and discouraged. My phone rang and it was my sister calling, but I didn’t feel I could even get it together enough to pick up the phone and say that sinply, I was a mess. So I texted it instead and after going back and forth a while, I decided there Was this one thing I could, something I’d been putting off for various reasons, none very good, that could help pull myself out of that dark hole, and that was to invest myself into a cause that may have the possibility of producing real change, of making a vital impact on CFS/ME. I think and pray often that other people will do things and enact change and that I will eventually reap the benefits from them. But that’s a somewhat limited hope. And it leaves all the possibility and power out of my hands, when the truth is we all have the means to effect change (even be it extremely small) if we believe in it and work hard enough. That’s what inspired the campaign I wrote using the platform change.org, which helps deliver our message in a very efficient way. I like that it gives a chance for all our voices to be heard, bed-ridden or not, and only requires a few seconds and click of your mouse t have it be heard.  It’s a great alternative in lieu of a “March for CFS Awareness and Funding!” I think we all know how that would turn out…

We’d start out like “Yeah!!! Race for the Cure!! Screw CFS!!!

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Let’s Run and Raise Some Money People!
But then in a matter of, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes..the scene would inevitably change.

So, since a “Race for the Cure” is not exactly in the realm of possibility for a lot of us, but access to the power of the Internet is, I know that this is a great option for us. We’ve just got to acquire as many signatures as possible. Signing this campaign, which asks the NIH for a larger chunk of money to be allocated toward CFS/ME research, is a way to get this message across quickly and with bigger impact. I also like this methodology, because each time someone signs the petition, an email will be sent to the Head of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and these are the people who have huge influence on how this disease is treated at the CDC–in particular how much money is dedicated to its research. This is our chance guys, so please please please, sign the petition and share it if you’re feeling extra awesome. I have copy and pasted the campaign here so you can read it, but you’ll need to click the link at the bottom of the page in order to sign it. That’s all it takes, the click of a button.

I thank you all in advance for taking part in this, and I truly believe if we circulate it in a wide enough circle, we can influence some major, desperately needed change. But we have to act. So sign it! Then get back to dicking around on the internet. I mean working, or whatever you’re up to. OK, here it is.

Petitioning Director of NIH Francis Collins and 1 other

Demand Increase Of Research Funding To Help Cure “Invisible Disease”

All I want to do is take a bath.

Before I became sick, that wouldn’t be so hard. Now walking is hard. Standing is hard. Some days, I don’t leave the bed and weeks can go by without my leaving the house. I call in sick to doctors appointments and take between 25 to 30 pills a day just to manage my symptoms, but they do not help the disease. I am 31, and I wasn’t always this way.

My heart is heavy knowing that roughly 3 million other people in our country are suffering from this same disease: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. ME/CFS is a complex, multi-systemic illness that causes a lot of pain and disabling symptoms, specifically severe weakness and crippling fatigue brought on by even minor exertions–taking a shower, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming the living room can land you in bed for days. There are currently no FDA-approved treatments and no cure, so we are left fighting this crippling disease in the dark. I was diagnosed with this illness at age 9, a happy gymnast at the time, at which point very little was understood about it and we were left with few options. I slowly regained much of my strength but at age 26 I suffered a severe relapse, could no longer work or take care of myself and had to move in with my parents. Despite twenty years having passed since my initial diagnosis, there are still no FDA-approved treatments and no cure. How could that be?

In a word: interest. In a bigger word: money. For more than a decade, ME/CFS has lingered near the bottom of the Allocated Funds list at the Center for Disease Control, never acquiring more than $6 million annually for research. This may sound like a substantial amount, but to provide some context, Male Pattern Baldness receives $12 million a year, so it’s easy to see that our meek amount is on account of low priority, not the result of insufficient funds. This is why I am asking the director of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to increase the funding allotted to the CDC to $100 million per year to research this devastating disease, so that the millions of people afflicted by it who’ve lost their jobs, families, and overall livelihood might finally have a chance at a healthy life again. Whether the lack of action originated from the stigma of the inaccurate, alternate name it was given in the 80’s, (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or the fact that it effects mostly women, I don’t know or care anymore. All I know is that we’ve waited and suffered long enough. It’s a time to come together and solve this health crisis, and I know that we are capable.

There is no better time for these agencies to step in and deliver on what’s been promised. The NIH received a $2 billion dollar budget increase this year, and two independent reports from the Institute of Medicine and the Pathways to Prevention have emerged recently calling for An urgent increase in research funding for ME/CFS, both noting how dire and overdue this situation is.

Governing agencies have always played a huge role in how diseases find treatments and cures. Similar illnesses like MS and Lupus are allotted $100 million each, per year, and collectively they effect less people. Due to these higher funding amounts, both illnesses have diverse and far more effective treatment options under their belt. This is how it’s supposed to work, and I know the current SHHR and director of the NIH are the right people to step in and change the game. We can do better, and so we should start now.

I used to have a pretty outgoing life. I was able to travel in college, fall in love, live in France, enjoy SEC Football, and graduate. Now most of my days are sedentary,  spending a lot of my time in bed with my dog and best friend Monty (see photo)– reading, writing, or sleeping. Sometimes it feels like life is passing me by right outside the window. Truthfully I am lucky when compared to the many people who are sick with ME/CFS and don’t have the help or resources that I do. I especially write this campaign with those extremely ill people in mind–too sick to have their voices heard and suffering alone. The point in all this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is something we can change. The country loses billions every year in lost productivity due to this illness alone, and so many of us would want nothing more than to enter the workforce again, if we could only take a shower without having to spend the next whole day in bed recovering.

Please help keep the promise of bringing this invisible disease into the light and dedicating the much deserved attention and funding to it that it’s lacked for all these decades. By signing you will help give millions of sick people hope that they are not forgotten, and show our governing institutions that we trust in them to step in and follow through with improving the health of millions of people, many who are desperately sick. I know with the proper resources, this is something we can treat and ultimately solve. Please sign and share this petition. We can do better, and the time to start is right now.

Thank you.

Mary C Gelpi (and Monty)

#WeCanDoBetter

Click Here to Sign

 

This petition will be delivered to:
  • Director of NIH
    Francis Collins
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
    Sylvia Burwell

Click here to sign the petition, and copy and paste the address below to share it any way you want.

https://www.change.org/p/ask-nih-for-increase-in-funding-to-help-cure-invisible-disease

Again, thank you. #WeCanDoBetter. So let’s do it.

Health, Happiness, CHANGE

Hangers On a Ledge 

I run these ideas through my head, trying to piece it together. I try to make sense of a history that began before me and most likely, I’ll never really be able to figure out. Whenever you’re trying to find where things went wrong and how you can make them right again, it can all feel too big, too long ago to find solutions that make sense now. But still, the red part inside of me that stirs as though it has a body that can do anything, tells me this is something we can fix. We can do better–those words, they play over and over.

I travel back in time, the early 80‘s I guess. That’s when it started showing up in different places and on unexpected people, and the powers at large weren’t able to connect the dots. It’s understandable of course–the thing is literally invisible. Maybe the lack of pressure, lack of genuine concern about the disease began there–at a moment in time where it couldn’t be ‘seen’ under microscopes and wasn’t ‘believed’ often by the people who were suddenly sick and then never better. Maybe it was that the thing wasn’t killing anybody. Nothing fatal. Just a flu. “A yuppie flu” they called it. Not only are the sufferers alive, but they don’t even look the part! They aren’t sick on the outside. And rearranging my position in all this, putting myself on the outside looking in at this “movement” of unexplained sick people, I understand how this notion worked against us–how it continues to today. I think of the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That may be true in many cases, but I can’t say it applies aptly here. Not in regards to our bodies anyway, which upon the slightest push can fall and not again get up.

What isn’t killing me is not making my body stronger. I am the least strong I’ve ever been. The medicine has caused weight gain that at times has me and my face looking like a bloated pumpkin. It’s hard not to feel at battle with the thing that is intrinsically connected to me, and between us exists a fine line of fighting it and not fighting it at the same time. The whole thing is an honors class in balance. Some days are better than others, and I wonder, am I stronger, or am I just less sick today? There remains a difference. But I’m probably focusing on the wrong area here. No doubt that in our minds, the adage applies. When every day is a battle, beginning with waking up, with sitting up in bed and planting your feet on the ground and taking those first few painful steps to the bathroom, and doing this day after day after day, for some of us years and decades, well then no doubt your mind will grow stronger. It can also grow cynical, it can become   bitter–but many times you’ll surprise yourself with the strength you find and the moments you find it in. If you can keep trying, if you can manage a smile and a laugh, to be happy for other people, to still believe in something good, then certainly you haven’t been killed, and the battle has made you stronger. But that is our mind. Or the soul maybe– An almost contradiction that is both a connected but separate faculty from the body. Refer to the ancient philosphers and you’ll find some disagreement on the subject. I think in either case, for the mind the body is only temporary. And this brings a relief to me. Whatever happens to me physically, I won’t be carrying it forever.

I think of all the others, sick like me, dreaming and hoping and feeling desires like the rest. It’s strange how our indignant heads are alive and full, swirling with ideas and goals just as though we had a body that could serve them all–make them all come to light. But at present time we don’t. So call us “alive” and say we “look well,” but know there is only a very small surface of which most the world sees. And the majority of life with this illness falls far below it, in a darkness underneath that very few see. Some can’t see it. Some don’t want to. Others just haven’t had the access.

It’s funny thinking about that word “alive.” Sure, we’re alive. But there’s an important difference between living and surviving. “Just getting by” physically, is hard to equate with living. And worlds away from thriving, which might be called a pretty commonly desired endgame. We, however, are hanging on by a thread, and it’s hard to call an existence like that “life” with any real conviction. It’s similar to hanging at the edge of a cliff and grasping it by one hand– would we really call that hiking?

That is the point where many ME/CFS patients are: hanging on with a half-steady grip, still breathing, still a beating heart inside, but stuck; Left with few options but, you know, to go on hanging there. It’s hard to have a social life or work a job or vacuum your living room when all of your mighty, tiny strength is being poured into hanging on to this cliff. It’s no wonder why so many people have it let go. There is just not enough hands at the top, not enough people offering help to pull you up, and no safety net at the bottom. And similarly, just as pulling a dangling body up off the edge of a cliff is a difficult but achievable task, a “problem” with more than one possible solution, curing the disease that has millions of people hanging by their own one or two threads is equally obtainable. It’s just to a larger degree. But it’s far from Impossible. And it would involve a few similar tactics: some people at the top, those say, for whom walking and standing is not a great feat, and who themselves are not also hanging off the edge of a cliff, combining their efforts and resources and intelligence and getting to work; finding a solution, in this case a cure.

Never having the experience of rescuing a person dangling off the side of a high-up something or other, I imagine that a rescue is within the realm of human capability. There are many ways to go about it, and maybe I’m being sort of dense here, but I’d venture it basically comes down to people lowering themselves to the ground, extending their arms to the dangling human, and with a great amount of strength pulling the person up until he’s back on his feet. And while maybe the tactic is basic, the act itself requires a solid effort. Lifting a person from this particular state is like trying to maneuver deadweight– Much easier to carry a body which is alive even if incapacitated, than one that’s dead and stiff. I’d like to emphasize that I’ve never hauled a dead body around but I’ve tended to my share of drunk friends who had 6 too many, and it would take 3 of us just to get the person, alive with a LOT to say about the world and true friendship, into a car. The very obvious point is, saving the person who’s still hanging there off the edge while I write this, is a very doable thing. And I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, or apples to bowling balls, but I believe with every part of me that this issue of solving or at least better managing this disease has never been on account of inability. This is something we can do, we’ve simply chosen not to based on some very obtuse, very lacking scattered pieces of information that cannot be labeled as facts.

Me, I can’t rescue the hangers on the ledge. Of course I can’t, I am one. But therein lies the kind of rescue I can provide. I can hang off the ledge next to you. Because there is something undeniably comforting in knowing that whatever struggle you find yourself facing, that you’re not in it alone, and that others are in the same boat. Or off the same ledge as it were. Like I mentioned, you can’t do a lot while devoting all your energy into grasping your spot on the mountain and not letting go. I can’t march in front of congress demanding to be seen, nor can I carry out the hundreds of other ideas I have that I think could make a difference, could help change the state of things in a positive and progressive way. But I can do a little. And thanks to modern times, maybe my little could turn into a lot. As I write this, I am laying down in a dim room in my moms bed. I have a frozen ice pack on my forehead and around my neck, with a hot pack at my feet under the covers to help draw away the blood from my head, which is throbbing like always. And yet I am still able to write, thank you very much Steve Jobs, on this rectangular dense brick otherwise known as my phone. It’s often hard to sit up comfortably with the computer in my lap and so being able to jot everything down from just a small device is kind of a miracle. Very often, while either FaceTiming with my niece or buying dog food from my phone that will be at my door tomorrow, I this is it-we’ve arrived at the future. And yet, I don’t even know how a calculator works.

The point is, healthy or functioning or bedridden or whatever, there are little things we can all do, in our own way, that can help change things. And yes I hear how corny that phrase played out. Recently I watched an interview with an author and Benedictine Nun named Sister Joan D. Chittister. She was really inspiring to watch. An author of over fifty books, she writes about about many topics including spirituality, women in the church, and social justice. She is clearly leaving an amazing footprint on the world through her written and continued community work and is firing up others to do the same. She said she is often asked by people “What can I do to help change things.. To fulfill humanity or to better the world?” Her answer is very stripped down. “Something.” And her brilliance was immediately illuminated in her acknowledgment that speaking up for a friend is as big as a March on Washington. “Just do something. Wherever you are with whatever you’ve got. When you see an injustice or see something that needs changing, do something. It doesn’t matter how small, just do something.” Of course this answer resonated with me. I often get discouraged about the state of things concerning the disease and the state of my life and all the change I wish I could make happen but physically I am unable to. But I forget that small changes, small acts can have huge impacts when carried out diligently. I have so many big ideas, big dreams that I hope to achieve one day. But I also have to remember that one day is now, and it’s probably better to focus on what I can do today, as I am and with the resources I have now. And I think putting in the work that might feel small, that isn’t NY Times worthy, doesn’t mean it lacks the chance to make a difference. There’s a feeling you get when you pour yourself into something you care about, that seems to carry out a mission from deep inside you, even if you don’t know what that is exactly. I get that feeling every time I sit (or lay) down to write. I may not know for a long time what the role of all this is or how it will play out in the larger context of things later on down the line. I just know it’s what I can do now. It’s my something, so I’ve got to keep at it.

It’s been a pretty sick and trying few weeks for me, and I feel often that accessible moment of how easy it would be to just throw in the towel, or to become hardened by the relentlessness of the experience, but I want to remind the other hangers on the edge out there to hold tight, because not only are there rare gifts to find within all this, things will change. They have already begun to. Today will become tomorrow. And one day soon enough, this will all be a memory of something that yes, didn’t kill us and made us stronger. Hang in there. Hang on. It is going to get better.

Health, Happiness, Cliffhangers 

This Is Still a Life

Oh hi world, I didn’t see you there. I haven’t seen you in weeks in fact! I’ve been in involuntary hibernation since Thanksgiving. Pardon me, I was knocked out.

This crash has been intense and I’ve been writing my way through like always, trying to understand it better. But this time I tried much harder to accept and approach it without the need to fix or change it. Without “fighting back.” I want to be clear that I’m not writing to answer the question of Why me? I’m not in that stage anymore. So I’ve tried to create a surrendered space to talk about it, where it’s regarded as part of the plan, where there’s no sense of unfairness or despair about it. It’s simply a fleeting, physical state that I’m meant to endure and examine closely among probably many other physical states I might encounter in my lifetime. I’ve tried to adjust my whole response to it, which has been more of a lack of response, or reaction, and more objective observation. Life between stimulus and response. Being sick and being OK with it, not attaching the personal, the story, the woe-is-me. I applied this approach to both my writing and my perception of the illness in real time, which has been interesting and challenging and often extremely helpful.

But I’ve sort of been a tortured artist with the writing–I keep editing and condensing and re-writing. I feel the angst that it’s never quite right, that there’s a concept just on the edge of being conveyed, like a mathematical equation I’m on the verge of solving. So I’ve once again ended up with 7000 words scattered across 3 notebooks, my iPhone, my computer, and one business card. Most of it has been exploring the same topic at different depths, and while some of it is good, I realized it’s just not meant for this space right now. Not to mention, my brain feels inside out lately–I’m a little fuzzy cognitively and I can’t gauge it. I’m either buzzing or stunted. But I’ve continued trying to make my words achieve what I feel inside and what I want to convey, staying very conscious about my intentions,  which are that I don’t just want to write about being sick and my experiences simply because they’re true and they happened. I don’t want to start and stop at pain. I’m well aware of the danger in that. So I’ve been tinkering with these concepts, some of them seemingly contradictory: diving in deep into the experience where I can feel it completely, while also regarding it from a distance where I can see it inside of a larger context–which keeps the illness right-sized. I can recognize it as a part, and not a whole. I’ve gotten pretty close to finishing it, I think. But it’s been arduous and probably redundant and my mind is still spinning, even as I write this now.

Anyway,  I’m going to start from scratch today and try to relax about the outcome. A good friend said not to worry about lengthiness, just to keep writing and trust that if people don’t want to read it, they won’t. That’s so true, duh. Thank you friend, I’m just going to write some broad things out, and whether good or bad, hopefully open up some space in mind for some fun topics, like my exploration of Hallmark and Lifetime Made-For-TV Holiday movies, and also a note about my 12-foot real Christmas tree that refuses to drink water. But it lives on!! Tiny miracles.

My health was already on pretty shaky ground leading up to the Holiday. Thanksgiving  Day was great, ate good food and had some fun reunions with old friends, but it was long and cumbersome. I could feel myself subtly hitting physical limits along the way, but I pushed on anyway. (I include the socializing that happens as part of the exertional strain, even though it’s enjoyable, it always costs me something physically the next day.) It was a Holiday after all, and I could sleep it off tomorrow, I thought. Unfortunately, I was flattened–handed over fully to the illness overnight while I slept. I woke up to the dreary and unfamiliar light of 3:30 pm pouring into my room on Friday. It disoriented me further as I felt an overwhelming weakness blanketing every part of my body, down to my fingertips. I laid there an hour before making a move, and once I did I felt keenly the severity of my condition. Moving was not easy and wouldn’t be for a while. I knew this wouldn’t be something that I could sleep off in a day or two. Shit.

Since then, I’ve been on a roller coaster of physical states, mostly at the mercy of this crash, and life here at the farm has been chaos. For a few weeks I’ve been enduring a symptom I find the hardest to cope with–bone crushing weakness. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, this one challenges me way more than the others. It leaves me the most powerless. There’s nothing to do for this symptom. When it has you, it has you. Its’ demands come in this perverted form of requiring that you do nothing–which is basically the reverse of our instinct in response to a ‘problem.’ It requires that you lay still, it means you’ll need a lot of extra help for things you’d normally do yourself and never think twice about. It means playing the waiting game and not knowing how long you’ll play it, without allowing impatience or succumbing to anger or despair while living through the thick of it. (Those reactions only makes me weaker.) There aren’t pills for weakness like this, not exercise regimens or quick fix solutions. There’s a lot of being stationary, quiet, often remaining in one place or one room for a solid chunk of time. Sometimes it’s a messy room, and you have to let that go. You have to let the dishes go. Truthfully, the whole thing is a crap ton of letting go. You have to achieve cleanliness mentally, because there ain’t no way you can vacuum right now. It means putting off the long list of things you’d thought you’d do, and finding ways to achieve a surrendered state of mind despite the external world around you appearing to unravel at nearly every seam. It touches everything, seeps into every corner, means nearly anything that isn’t necessary in the moment must be put on hold or go in the ‘burn pile’. You have to find a way to remember that despite all the can’ts and don’ts and no’s, somehow you still have everything you need in the moment you think to ask.

The only times I get overwhelmed is when I try to conceive everything at once, or I think of the future, as proximal as the one five minutes away. And the root of this is fear mostly, fear of ways the illness will hinder the things I have to do. Yet the future always comes and I always survive it, the essential is always achieved one way or the other. The non-essentials fade and soon you hardly notice they’re gone. When I stay extremely mindful of right now, tending to exactly and only the task right in front of me, I truly feel fine. I feel positive and at ease instead of buried, powerless. I think, all I have to do is drink this glass of water. I don’t even have to consider what will come after. It will come and go despite my concern. That’s where my navigation of this crash has felt like a small miracle. Maybe for the first time, my spirit has succeeded and carried me through the really difficult times. I’ve often been able to observe what’s happening to me at a distance, without becoming crushed by what I see. Or angry at how I feel. I feel really crappy, really weak, and so I find a good reason to be really weak today. They exist! They just require an adjusted perspective. In this way I’ve had the crash more than it has had me, and that has made a huge difference.

To whom or what do I owe this miraculous capability? Well for one thing, my mom. I should mention it’s not just my spirit that’s carried me, because it’s my mom who has physically carried me. She has tended to my needs when I’ve been incapable. Not to mention that she has a prayer chain halfway around the world dedicated my wellbeing. Just knowing so many people have dedicated even a moment toward healing intentions and thoughts for me is both humbling and energizing. It makes me feel hopeful, and that hope gives way to optimism, grace, surrender..they’re all there, and this situation constantly brings to light the choice I have in how I’m going to receive my circumstances. Whether or not I will accept and recognize all the treasures that lie beneath the hard stuff on the surface.

I believe there are always incredible gifts waiting at the heart of our struggles–and this time I was able to find them at clutch times. They don’t come from me, but somewhere else more eternal. I suppose the gifts materialize when we open ourselves enough to receive them– to the vulnerability that comes with accepting help in the first place. Our silly human egos could easily interpret the reality as I’m not enough. I should be able to do this alone. Blah blah blah. But to simply acknowledge the truth that yeah, I could really use some help right now if I’m able to emerge through this in one piece, the disappointment of need or felt inadequacy melts and grows into a ginormous humbling gratitude in acknowledging that I have help at all. What a reassuring reminder to know that I don’t have to do this alone. So why would I? I have help! It’s sortof like staying in a miserable marriage for 20 years all so you can say with pride that you’ve been married for 20 years. It may momentarily impress people, but you’re the one who has to share a life and go to bed every night with a person you may not even love or like! Sometimes we go after things because we like the sound of them, or the image they create. But the real meat of life is on the inside, in the everydayness of how we live. Not a 20 year anniversary, but how you love and treat someone through the mundane parts of life together. Talking about dentist appointments or discussing an article in the newspaper–how did you speak to one another? Not that you beat or survived illness, but how you treated it day to day and through the challenging times, how you treated those around you, and what you made out of your experience. Make it count? Or just get through it so it you could quickly forget and attach to something else. I don’t know. I’m rambling again.

The realization of some of these things  makes me smile and cry at the same time. I am so encouraged and fulfilled by all the love and help I’ve received, and it’s come in so many different forms, all of them special. I’ve had incredibly healing and inspiring conversations with people I’m very close to, and each one of those talks builds me up higher than before. What a hushed relief surrender is–and a gateway emotion at that. It opens the door to a surge of mindfulness that illuminates grace, friendship, love, thankfulness, all the good in my life that I’m blinded to when I’m distracted fighting something I most likely can’t control.

It’s difficult to articulate, but sometimes I zoom out from my life, like a camera zooming out into space with earth at the center, becoming smaller and smaller. When I do, lately I see a small figurine of myself living inside the palm of two big porcelain hands cupped together, like that of a statue. I see that I’m being held, and in the image, I feel watched over and protected, both from a far off place and a space deep inside. What an amazing treasure it is, to reach out your hands in a time of real need, and to have someone/something grasp them on the other end. For the most part, it’s my moms hands which have reached back. It’s she who provides. Her help, love, and attentiveness is immeasurable. As equally as my spirit, she has done the labor of care that being sick this way requires. And it’s not an easy job, though she’d never let you know that.

No doubt this has been painful and overwhelming for her. She has said that seeing her child in pain is far worse than having it herself. I’m very aware of this, and it’s even more reason that I feel the need to voice out loud what has been burning true through all of this– That it’s all OK. I am OK. I’ve felt strangely at peace through the tough stuff, and I know it’s on account of her and other loved ones in my life who’ve given so much of themselves just to try and lighten the burden. I am continuously strengthened by these acts. I want to assure her, because I feel it in my weak little bones, that this is all leading up to somewhere great. I’m certain that I am just where I am supposed to be. I don’t feel like any of this is random or cruel, but that it’s the work I am meant to do right now, and I accept it with fullness and eagerness. I know there is greater reason and payoff that we can’t see yet. But knowing it’s there waiting helps to greet all these “stresses” with an assured openness. Getting there requires work, but it’s work that I’m capable of; important work that doesn’t require a physically fit body in order to happen. It will be beyond worthwhile, if we can only get through this moment. Then the next one and the next one.

And the good news is we can! I can, I have. And I will continue to. Her enormous and powerful love has helped put my inner self on a plain where I am capable of moving forward and growing from this. For that I owe her…well, everything. But I know the only payment she would want is the certainty that I’m not only OK, but that I’m happy and that I haven’t forgotten the novelty of what it is to be alive. And if you’re reading mom, I haven’t. I experienced  incredible moments, inspirtations, and laughter, often alone with Monty in my messy living room! This is it right now, and I’ve found immense joy in it anyway. Like you said, This is a life, too.

I know this doesn’t solve the many problems we have right now. There are so many other things that haven’t gotten the attention they need, important tasks that had to go un-done, financial burdens that we have to figure out. And most of this is on account of this all-encompassing illness that touches everyone around me, especially her. But I do feel that soon things will change for the better, that we’ll get help where we need it, we’ll complete everything that’s gone undone. I know one day we will smile with relief at the memory of trying, chaotic times like these, where everything was falling apart. And yet I know these are what will become the foundation for some amazing things to come. When they do, incredible things are going to start happening. I can feel it!

For now though, a breath. A glass of water. Rest. Feed the dog. Rest. Send a text. Pills. A breath. Rest. Small tiny moments. One foot in front of the other. I feel really weak today and I can’t do a lot physically, so I’m going to find a good reason to be weak today. Writing, reading, listening compassionately to someone. Photographing my dog because I love him so much I smile just watching him sleep. So many amazing things require so little of us physically. Navigating each moment with quiet consciousness, I know not that everything will be OK, but that it is OK now. And I revel at the momentary freedom in that. I’m grateful just to glimpse such a powerful truth. Today is heavy and rainy outside, there are dishes in my sink and I’m too weak to do them. But I’m listening to Christmas music, I’m admiring my ridiculously huge Christmas tree and the soft nostalgic light it casts on my living room. And I’m reassuring Monty who is staying unnaturally close to me (following me into the bathroom and squeezing between the toilet and the wall) because it’s thundering outside and for him this equals imminent threat of death. This is my life today, and many days, and I’m living anyway! I’m enjoying it. I like the rain. I like quiet days. I also like singing obnoxiously loud to Mariah Carry Christmas songs. Monty and I, we’re fine over here. A sick life, but still a life. Regardless of physical outcomes, All will be well. But even better, all is well now.

Thank you, all of you, who have kept my spirit so alive! What all of you have contributed in your own small ways matter immensely to me. I feel extremely connected to the world and am humbled by the love I’ve received. I’m excited for the ways I plan to pay it forward. 

Health, Happiness, and This Life, Too.

 

How To Come Home

I’ve just made it home. My suitcase is still lying in the center of the kitchen floor.

It’s crazy how good home feels after you’ve been away from it, even when you’ve completely enjoyed your time away. Somewhere between waiting in line barefoot among rookie fliers who somehow forgot about the jug of water in their carry-on and the captain shouting God knows what into that fuzzy speaker, I start to feel my humanity slip like some kind of sock with lazy elastic hovering at the ankle.

Once upon a time, flying made me feel like a celebrity. The whole experience was a novelty and a privilege.  And somewhere in my jaded depths I know that it still is. The mere idea of humans taking flight on a bus in mid-air is still mesmerizing and I’m lucky to have access to it. And yet somehow,  the only celebrity I ever feel like is Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents. I’m all eye rolls and discouraged sighs, which sometimes emerge as a laugh–the kind of laugh you let out when nothing is actually funny. I try to keep my moans of discontent in, even when the automatic toilet flushes while I’m still on it and I’m sprinkled with fresh public toilet water. I try to breathe through the frustration of then not getting that same toilet to flush when I actually want it to and there I am dancing like some kind of monkey on fire trying to activate the motion detector that says just wave your hand to activate. It lies. I exit, I don’t care. I hate the toilet now. All I want to do is wash the Ebola off my hands and possible STD’s off my thighs, but the faucet requires the motion. And the soap requires a motion. And the dryer requires a motion. And what happened to handles? If I went on Shark Tank I’d reintroduce handles to public bathrooms. Anyway there is more dancing. More erratic behavior from inanimate objects. More laughing when it’s not funny. It’s like the DMV in there; the threat level of a Stage 5 freakout is just one toilet flush away in any given stall. You can sense it.

But not everyone confronts the airport bathroom circus. The old lady next to me doesn’t seem to have problems with her soap. I bet she’s been spared from the toilet water too. What is your secret, old white lady in the brown velour pant suit? What am I doing wrong? But there’s no time for philosophizing, I have to get to my gate. Guess where my gate is? Guess if it’s nearby or at the very far edge of the airport as in it has a separate zip code and everything. Guess.

Is it the tragedy that is modern American air travel that makes home feel this good? Maybe. Probably. I guess this account of flying would suggest I’m a young, old curmudgeon who has lost sight to how lucky I am.  But it’s always temporary. I am either going somewhere great or coming home to relief and love, and it’s just the in-between antics that can get a girl down. Once home nobody shouts the temperature and the toilets flush WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO. Of course, an 80 pound furry beast running around you in circles then through your legs and back, shoving every toy in the box in your lap and wagging his tail with enough vigor to knock over small children and feeble adults, well, that helps too. That’s the best.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with my best friend big brother Nick and Company in Miami for a week. Mostly I felt like death, but I was excited to go and the change in scenery did me good. It’s been a rocky few months. My health declined from mediocre to poor without discernible reason, and that’s just the name of the game with illness like this. I can’t pretend I’m not discouraged by it or tired of feeling really shitty when I didn’t overdo it or change anything, as if a person deserves bad health anyway, but I’m trying not to wallow in it either. I saw the specialist in Miami and there are a few changes we are making, but we won’t know more until the results arrive from the copious amount of blood I gave to test. Aside from that, my progressive boyfriend and I broke up. Ew, breakups.

It’s interesting that a decision you’re sure of it’s the right one to make can be just as painful as the wrong ones you’ve made when you didn’t know any better. And by interesting I mean shitty. We did the adult thing and “called it” at the appropriate time. We saved ourselves the tragedy of letting it slowly burn and die until it ended in hatred. I guess ultimately, even an amicable breakup is still a breakup. It’s an end. You grieve for them and you grieve for who you were with them. I experienced a whole new pain this time around that stemmed from not being my whole self in the endeavor. I pretended and concealed when the truth was ugly or getting a less than desirable response. I don’t think Id ever done that In a relationship before, but I’ve never been under the circumstances I am now and had to introduce someone knew to a world that took so much explaining, and defending in some cases.

It’s weird, I actually wanted to keep my illness out of the whole thing. (I wanted to live in Neverland, is how that sentence should read.) I had this fear it would interfere with things before they ever had a shot to develop. I feared it would be difficult and unbecoming; It would suggest I was someone inferior. I was even afraid it might be the demise of the relationship. And then, it kind of was. The weight of it became too heavy, it’s unrelenting nature became too repetitive and it’s lack of a solution wore out the seams and we broke. There were other reasons, of course. But my being sick was up there, it messed with things, it was a big a part of the end. And for a while that was a really crushing thought. It made me feel small, made my life feel lesser. I push and work to live my life in spite of this invisible force trying to take it away, and yet sometimes, it still comes out on top. It wins.

But hiding it was like doing a monkey dance in a cramped bathroom stall. (Kind of) It was stupid on top of exhausting, and I don’t know how I expected anything authentically good to emerge when I wasn’t being true to myself. I am not my illness, I know that. But it’s there, it’s changed virtually everything in my life the last four years, and nothing good has ever come from denying or dismissing it; from pretending it’s not there. And yet, sometimes I can sense that people want me to pretend it’s not there. They want to hear that I’m better, and no one understands that fantasy more than me. But pretending makes me feel like I have to hide a part of my life that I can’t control, and that’s not a healthy place to be. I don’t want long conversations about my illness. Ive had enough of them for 20 lifetimes. But I do need an honest atmosphere that doesn’t require apology. I need to be able to be sick when I’m sick and well when I’m well and not judged inbetween. It will always take patience, compassion and effort in order for my life to be understood and loved from the outside. It will always be hard in my relationships. But hopefully if I am really seen, my external circumstances won’t take up so much space. And that was half the problem, I never really felt seen. Instead I felt sorry, and that’s because I betrayed myself. By not putting it all out there, I made it nearly impossible for my life to make sense.  I am not jobless and living in my parents pool house writing on a blog called Twenty Five Pills a Day because of lifestyle choices. And that’s an attitude I confront a lot. I’ll work like hell my whole life to turn lemons into lemonade, but I didn’t pick the lemons, so I don’t think I need to apologize for that anymore. The weird thing is that in glossing over and skirting around this small part of me, so much more of who I am was stifled. Good parts! Fun parts! It doesn’t feel good not to bring your whole self to a party. In fact, that hurt the worst, and I did it to myself. I had a need that wasn’t getting met, and instead of accepting that once I knew it was true, I tried to do away with the need. Surprise surprise, that didn’t work. It’s OK to have needs. Love enjoys needs.

Now I am Stella getting my groove back. I see my health in the distance: a ship in flames slowly sinking into the ocean. Haha. That image makes me laugh. But this will pass. I’ll get better. Or I’ll get worse, then I’ll get better. It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to keep trying. I’ll attempt to transform all of this– pain, pleasure, toilet water– into something useful. Something fun. Because despair is boring and I’m seeking a creative life. The world doesn’t need more sad stories so I will find the good ones. I’ll trust what I’ve been given and let it fuel all my endeavors. Mostly I’ll breathe easier because I am who I am and I’ve made it home. I’m back. And I have so much to do.

Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, Home.

Can’t Touch That

I write this from the floor. My knees are scrunched up in front of me and my caps serve as wrist stands. I’d write at my desk–it’s literally called a writing desk–but I can’t sit there long before my neck goes out which causes a headache which causes a sad face. Like this :( That’s exactly how I look when I’m feeling bad, if you were wondering.

Today I woke up feeling rough. Rougher than usual. Still, this is nothing new, and I’ve learned how to let go of plans and make myself useful in other ways from bed. But I was impatient today. I had things on the to-do list that I wanted to tackle and I couldn’t. I confront this a lot, but today it made me mad.

I’ve been trying to make some changes in my life: health-wise and beyond. I’ve been proactive about eating better and since some recent lab work detected gluten anti-bodies in my gut, I’ve cut that out. I don’t miss it that much, in fact it’s high time to go without it. Gluten free is so trendy right now! It’s just that I’ve never liked when people are picky at restaurants. And now I’m that girl, ordering the burger without the bun and asking the ingredients of sauces. Oh well.

Besides the diet, which I’m still configuring, I’ve begun organizing closets and getting rid of excess anything and attempting to follow some type of schedule. There’s catharsis in things like this, but they can prove to be difficult and today is the perfect example of why.

Yesterday I cleaned out this closet in the living room, which has somehow collected my nieces baby clothes, my ex-boyfriends computer, a guitar with a missing string, and THREE brooms among other miscellaneous clutter. Throwing junk away can be a holy experience, and I was beaming throwing excesses out. After that I went to the bookstore to check out a few recommendations from a friend. I found them and then walked around a while. I like the atmosphere there and the quiet way people speak. Then I went to the grocery store for a few things that turned out to be a lot of things. My legs were burning by the time I got home and I knew I’d probably overdone it. (Wuss) But I was in my Martha Stewart zone, or something. When I began to put away groceries I noticed that the fridge could use some cleaning. I took everything out, pitched half of it, washed the drawers in the hot soapy water, wiped everything down well, then stocked it. Admittedly I sat there and opened and closed the door a few times just to relive the magic of my newly pristine fridge. I was done around 10:30.

The truth is I didn’t do that much. And that’s the ticket! You don’t have to do that much in order to feel this bad the next morning. It feels like you ran a marathon on a whim and at the end a bunch of people gathered around and kicked you for no reason. Dicks. When I sat down I realized my whole body hurt and my mild migraine I had all day had turned into a full-blown one. I took some of my 25 pills, then my nighttime pills, read a little and went to sleep. I slept pretty rough, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

When I awoke the next morning to the pool guy knocking on the glass door I felt the way Gary Busey looks.

Good Morning!
Good Morning!

I could barely get my eyes to open fully by the time I got to the door. I’m sure I looked like a zombie in pink pajamas. Anyway, all the “overdid it” symptoms were back. Achy, dizzy, heavy and the worst of them all: weakness. Because there’s nothing to do for that except wait it out. And that’s especially hard to do when looking at the list I’d optimistically made yesterday of all these tasks that needed crossing off. I really wanted to clean out my clothing closet, and sort through medical bills. You know, fun stuff! They would have to wait.

The thing is, it’s OK. This is how the illness works and I overdid it, just as I’ve done hundreds of times before. I’ve learned plenty of ways to make the day count from the couch. I’ll rest and improve over the next few days and remember that compared to the past, this is truly small potatoes. I don’t write the details of my day to whine or seek pity, but to show what a huge disruption the illness can be. It feels like I am always playing catch up with the rest of the world, and this is probably why. I just tried to plan two days and it went off track. There is such a huge variable to consider and it’s often anyones guess, so sticking to things is a guessing game. Beyond that, I write because I’m still trying to figure out how to do this. How to have a fulfilling life, one that I am proud of, without upsetting the sleeping sick dragon inside me. It feels like a continual conundrum, and maybe it always will be.

Life keeps changing and I constantly have to re-mold how to live it. I am in a new relationship which is great. But it’s also a new challenge. Introducing him into my weird sick life has been difficult on both ends. The illness is confusing, my life lacks structure and the circumstances just aren’t normal. I forget that my life requires explanation, even defense sometimes. In the beginning, I loved the escape I felt meeting someone new who didn’t know me as a sick person. It’s like visiting a place you’ve never been before and feeling like you can be anyone because no one knows your past. I thought we could keep going without having to confront it seriously. That was stupid. But it felt good to me, good I hadn’t felt in a while, and I went with it. Obviously that approach dissolved and at some point we both had to face the music.

I don’t always consider that to outsiders, my life isn’t normal. I forget that most people aren’t sick. They don’t have to take a bunch of pills in order for their bodies to do what they’re supposed to. They can go to work, attend social outings, fall asleep on their own at night, and wake up and do it again. Something I did once but now I am in awe of. I forget that being sick effects other people, not just me. I realized that being continuously ill and taking pills all the time can make other people uncomfortable. But the truth is it does, and that’s OK too.

I think the hard part for partners of sick people is that they feel helpless. They are constantly reminded that we’re sick, but there’s not a lot they can do, or say, that will make it better. And that can wear on a person, as much as it wears on us to be sick. In my case, the healing doesn’t come from words. Nothing they can say will fix it. It’s more a matter of being there– sometimes a hug, holding my hand, or just laying together, feeling the warmth of someone else’s humanness, and yelling LIFE IS HARD BUT IT’S OK! Figuring it out and adapting to what life with chronic illness means isn’t very easy, but it continues to provide me a lesson in surrender, for those around me, too. Sitting with the pain and accepting circumstance and just allowing the moment.

I think the thing to remember is that even though illness interrupts plans and SQUASHES OUR FUN SOMETIMES, it really can’t take away the ethereal, elusive thing that makes each of us specifically human. We are still who we are underneath all that moaning (I find I sigh a lot) and illness can’t touch that. In fact I think if we try really hard and lean in deep to our experience, we’ll find it can make us an even better version of ourselves. I forget it sometimes during dark days, but somewhere in my depths I know it to be true.

Health, Happiness, and Ultra Clean Closets

How To Make It Matter

Today I was thinking about these petty things I struggle with. They’re a joke.

I’m in the midst of another virtual game of jenga with my trashcan. I stuff it as much as it can hold and then some, and then some. I have to stomp it down with my foot sometimes. I stack cups and cardboard things on top over and over until small towers emerge and a fragile city of trash balances on top. I avoid the alternative, which is to just take out the stupid trash, stupid. It’s a small walk–probably 45 seconds all in all. It’s funny how devastatingly huge the task becomes in my mind. I spend more time arranging the trash inside than just taking it out. 

Netflix has become a problem and the reason is very simple: I would always rather pay a dollar than have to go somewhere. Thus, I end up buying virtually every movie that was only supposed to be a buck. Also, I’ve made a few questionable decisions in my movie selections. This is because when someone gets in line behind me I kind of unravel. I begin to sweat and all the movie titles start to blur together. I panic and get Coneheads and naturally never return it. Now I own Coneheads.

 

I won’t get into correspondence and sending letters in the mail, but I definitely have a couple of letters in stamped envelopes over a year old that have never made it to the mailbox. Disgraceful. Anyway, I was considering these petty struggles which are just a few among many. Life is full of small and mediocre “things to do” that I often dread or put off until I can’t anymore. I realize that the only reasons these tasks are anything more than tasks is that my mind has labeled them bad, annoying, a pain in the ass. When really they are just a few things in a string of a million things we will all do and then cross off our list. They’re all the same, it’s only our attitude that redefines them. A Zen Master described the essence of Zen as Doing one thing at a time. Tolle explains this as “Being total in what you do, to give it your complete attention. This is surrendered action- empowered action.” So I’m working on what I let take up space in my mind, on being conscious before I complain about something that is necessary and also just not that bad–Especially when I pay attention to the world beyond me, where actual struggles exist.

Like many people, I’ve been watching the events unfold in countries that feel very far off to me. I realize my life is somewhat sheltered here, and when I confront the news I feel a distant hopelessness. I remember hearing about the 300 kidnapped Nigerian school girls taken in the night. I felt angry and sad and followed the story for a while. But exposure to the story faded, and it seems my regard for it did too. A few months later, 219 of the girls are still missing, with low probability for their return. I haven’t thought about them in a while. Now there are other tragedies unfolding. I see the destabilizing of Ukraine at the hand of Pootie Poots (what my brother calls Putin) and the rising emergence and activity of terrorist groups over there. I feel awful watching it. But also I feel removed from it. I watch the news then eat spaghetti. Something feels off about that. In a few months I’ll see new tragedies, and maybe Ukraine like the Nigerian girls will fade. Or the world will end. Either way, I wonder what someone like me and my small life can do for the darkness unfolding. How can I bring any sort of light there? Especially when I’m trying to carve out time to return a Netflix movie here? That is a joke.

I’m reminded of a continual theme in Tolle’s teachings, which is that separateness is an illusion. We are all made up of the same billion-year-old stardust. We operate under the “Same in-dwelling consciousness.” So while our bodies and geography separate us, our lives unfold to one pulse. I imagine this is why we feel concern when we see a stranger cry, or why we’re happy for the good fortune of another. Somewhere in the depth of our unconsciousness, we’re feeling it too. Otherwise, why would we care? Technically it’s just strangers, and their pain or death won’t interfere with our afternoon in any way. But these teachings that connect the human spirit have always resonated with me. Many of the “dark” things I’ve witnessed in my own life seem to stem from people not recognizing themselves in another. I’ve done this plenty. When witnessing the sufferings and tragedies over there, first I must remind myself that their sufferings are mine too. Whether their effects are immediate or obvious doesn’t change their imprint on us.

That being said, I am not a soldier. I can’t help fight the good fight. Today I’m too weak to take a shower for instance, so the military is out. I’m not a war correspondent or a politician who can influence change. I am who I am, having a small sickly experience here in Louisiana with my dog. But I refuse to think I’m useless in all this–mostly because that take on life truly lacks creativity. My life is different from those I witness, here and there. But I think the way to have any positive influence on the world is through growing my own consciousness. It sounds selfish but at the root it is not. It means being honest with myself and making good of the strengths I do have; they exist for a reason. It means loving more, showing more compassion, opening up more, writing more, seeking truth more. Tolle’s teaching along with Joseph Campbell’s and a slew of others is that if my life can become more conscious, it adds to the collective consciousness of the world. That is how we can make our experience matter. Because I have to remember that my experience is theirs too, just the same. So if I seek and obtain light in my life, it can spread far beyond me. I continue to think and pray about the darkness in the world and how I can help it. Most answers say to begin with inner-me. So that is the start. And it’s aligned with something I’ve felt for a while– that there is no life too small to matter.

The same stream of life
that runs through the world
runs through my veins

-Tagore

Health, Happiness, Coneheads

Jumping Off.

I’m never up at this hour. But at roughly 6:40 am as I drove across Lake Ponchartrain, one of only a few lonely cars on the 24 mile bridge, it struck me just how sacred the early mornings are. Of course over water, there are no distinct markers of distance traveled besides mile markers on land, but somehow over uninterrupted waves there were these distinct and momentary glimpses into the context of my life where all the working pieces fit together. The sense, however fleeting, had me second guessing my entire history as a bona-fide night person. Maybe there’s something to these early morning hours where people are drifting into the routine of their day or into the hangover of their night, and in the middle is me, not exactly doing either, but finding my place still–stumbling on a whole in lieu of constant and incompatible parts.

Yesterday I attended JazzFest and I remember walking around in no known direction, attempting to find a group of my friends, which is almost a miracle if achieved in such a clusterfuck of a public arena, and this thought kept trying to get a hold of me. “What am I doing? I have no business being here.” Over and over that thought, with every wrong turn and mistaken identity. What a sad thought! I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of it, but it probably had roots in my mostly confined and solitary past over a few years. And now sticking my head out, landing clumsily in the middle of the public world that not only didn’t stop while I was “out sick”, it also didn’t slow down at all either. And that continued, irreverent, incessant flow of time in one direction only all of the sudden felt very real and a little unnerving too. But I walked on. It’d be a lie to say I felt any confidence at all then, taking in every type of person of every age and origin.And even though none of them looked truly happy to me, none of them had a life that I felt cheated by not having, I was still odd man out.  I started to wonder if I had real friends at all that I’d find. Maybe I had imagined them up in a fantasy of my mind, and I’d walk tirelessly never bumping into them because there was no them to bump into. But I walked on. I pretended some of those thoughts didn’t exist. Maybe more, I just didn’t take them very seriously. I’d feel the sun burning my shoulders and I’d affirm that more likely than not I’d find my friends, I’d engage in young adult behavior, and feel a little better about my place in reality.

After 45 minutes of circles and flags and strangers, I watched a really drunk boy hoisted up by his friends, being dragged with his lifeless converse trailing under him leaving shallow lines in the dirt, the unfamiliar sights were piling up, and even I started to feel like a stranger there. But then– something familiar. Emily’s ponytail. Someone. People. Friends. They existed, and I was not yet proven insane. In that moment those thoughts I had didn’t carry any weight at all. Whether I found my friends or not had nothing to do with belonging in all honesty. Separateness is just a construct of ego and I know that, but it can stab you anyway. I knew that afternoon I could’ve really used some friends. And there they were and there I was. I belonged. I knew those thoughts were shit. Time to keep on living. Time to have fun now. Time to participate in the onward direction of time, and  attach to some other thought that experience will most likely prove wrong.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve never really been a live music person. Which makes me feel incredibly lame mostly. Just like I’m also not really into The Lord of the Rings. True “outsider” feelings emerge in me when this is brought up in public, and I feel like there’s some joke I’m just not getting. What is there to say about it? To each his own. Anyway, at every live music event I’ve attended, I find myself gazing off lost in observational mode of the people enjoying the music, instead of intrinsically enjoying the music myself. I can’t help it. There’s always some woman on the borderline of being “too old to be there” on some drug that’s a little too young for her to be doing, and I can’t help but watch her, dance carelessly, body parts hanging out, not giving a shit about what etiquette she’s breaking. Then I at once sympathize for her but also want to be her, because she is losing herself in something enjoyable, and she’s alone, and I’m the creeper at the concert not dancing but staring wide-eyed and blinking very slowly. I dated one of those music junkie type of guys for two years. He had an impressive collection of bands that you never heard of on his ipod and was always discovering music years before it became popular. (I on the other hand got my music from Apple Product commercials) He flew all over the country to catch his favorite bands at different venues. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone and it was this small gap between us because this passion he fell off his seat for was somewhere that I just didn’t fit. And this schism in us always interested me, because at concerts we’d share a joint and then even more I’d separate from the setting and lose myself in the detach-and-detect humanity mode. He was good about keeping me down to earth and assuring me that dancing like an idiot was fine and encouraged, and that no, that guy next to me was not about to die from sensory overload regardless of what his face and body movements suggested. But there was always some wall with me at those shindigs. I could never really figure it out. Ultimately the relationship ended, and I wondered how much, if any, this disconnect had to do with it. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe a whole lot.

It’s funny how discovering clarity leaves with you so much to know still. My goal this year has been to find clarity of any kind, certainty of any measure. Because both of these things lack hugely in my personal life and it wares on me daily. It’d be nice to make a decision and know it to be right, or know anything at all for that matter and trust it to be true. But even with this goal in the forefront of my consciousness, it has still been incredibly hard, and so far, I’m yet to find either. I’m guessing the more things I pursue where the end is uncertain and there are no guarantees will help me to eventually get there, or in the general ball park. On the bridge this morning, the unceasing rhythm of a road bump every 1.5 seconds, I glimpsed certainty. I glimpsed knowing something at all, and it felt very good. But I don’t know if it’s possible to exist in this dimension full-time. At least half of life seems to rely on not knowing but jumping off anyway. Maybe love, happiness, success, peace..are all the outcomes of great risk and great faith. All anyone can do is make their best bet and go for it. Maybe once we let go of knowing anything for sure, the way I walked in endless circles yesterday, the way those waves went in no direction this morning, is how we find the happy end, whether we knew we would or could or not.

Health, Happiness, Walking On, Jumping Off.

Colby's Apartment
Colby’s Apartment

Questions Answered.

Everything is weird. I’m still healthy. And that makes things weird. And also pretty great.

I’m enjoying the three-dimensionality of things. The multitudes of personalities I’m confronting. The sounds that one simply doesn’t here in a bed in Southern Louisiana. Everything is distinctly colorful. Of course the onslaught of spring and the prolific products of hers help. It’s a been a long time since my health has maintained in this way. I’m walking a thin internal line, trying not to delve too hard into the why but not altogether ignoring the possibility of its fleeting nature, just like the season. I’m simultaneously happy at this new disposition and also keeping a dark fear at bay. It could all end quickly– a few things. And being entirely reckless hasn’t served me in the past. So I’m keeping these things in mind of course. But trying not to fall down completely into the rabbit hole where incessant introspective thoughts about it all could trap you just as easy as any sickness could.

For the most part, it’s been fucking great. Sorry. F word only every now and then. But it really is nice being able to stand and walk without the typical interruptions and be social and see comedy and do what other young people are doing. I can’t deny I am simply just enjoying the hell out of all of it. Things feel carefree and almost weightless. Life outside of a window at my house, a window on my phone, is really pretty great. When I get worried about the future or have fear of losing it, my mom tells me the same thing; detach from the outcome. And it’s so, so true.

I’m thinking of so many things these days. I’m still trying to put it together. What purpose will I serve with this newfound health? What did I fulfill in sickness? How to matter and find meaning in all of it– the big stuff and the little stuff and the small bits in-between. I’ve been thinking in questions today. I’m going to write them out with my best shot at answers because it’s just the current of my thoughts lately and I’m not going to swim upstream.

What do you contribute the newfound health to?

It could be the physical therapy for my neck which has lessened that pain load considerably. Could be the prescription switch to Trazadone that has me actually sleeping through the night–never mind the night sweats. Another prescription switch from Neurontin to Lyrica seems to help with pain management in general and maybe the increase in energy. Also it’s Spring and I swear to God I’m always at least a little improved in nice weather and my migraines are less frequent. Also divine intervention. I don’t know. Maybe a little of it all.

What happened to sewing, weren’t you into sewing for a while?

Yeah, I was. And I got really excited about some sewing projects. I sat at the Singer Simple 3116 for hours and taught myself the ins and outs of it. I got carried away and excited with ideas. Then I began, and I jammed the bobbin. THAT DAMN BOBBIN. I took the bobbin apart, unjammed it, and put it back together. And now the bobbin is failing me hardcore. I need bobbin help. Anyone? Still, I’d like to get back to some sewing projects. I find it relaxing and I like learning skills that seem to be fading from my generation.

What’s Monty up to?

You know, same ol…

This.
This.
And this.
And this.
This...
…This
Always this.
Always this.
Ending with this.
Followed by this.

Let’s talk about tea now.

Drinking this new acai/blueberry/pomegranate mix on the reg. It’s really good. Has there yet been a decision on the universal pronunciation of acai berry? I hear a mix around town. Let a sister know.

How’s the writing going?

I find a lot of reasons not to, but when I sit down and do it I like what comes out. Most of it’s been happening pen-to-page so I’ve been using up my notebooks, which is good because I have a lot. I’ve been on the lookout for a typewriter, but maybe that’s just another fantasy in the works. This thought that some instrument will encourage more writing instead of the truth which is that real writing just requires sitting down and doing that shit. I’m working on that.

Anything else while you’re out here in Neverland typing to yourself?

Yeah I’m reading like 4 books right now and 1 book of poetry. I don’t think this is how optimal reading was designed, but I find my head a little scattered lately. I’m almost finished with The Rosie Project–really funny, really good. Trying to push through Dance Dance Dance (slower than expected). One Dead in Attic is an easy quick read but dismal of course, you know, post-Katrina stuff. The Four Agreements is sometimes rudimentary in comparison to Tolle and Zukav and Nepo, but almost identical in the message. It’s got good stuff. New American Poetry which is proving what I feared–that I don’t really understand how to read poetry. Do you keep reading until you get it? I guess that’s all in the way of books.

And everything else.

For now the goal is to truly enjoy this time of health, appreciating every second where taking a deep breath is easy and sitting isn’t my only option. I’ve held the door for people these last few weeks. I held the door! These very normal things…they’re feeling very good. Clearly I’ve had a lot of doors held for me in my small life, and it feels nice to return the favor.

One last thing:

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. I really liked it. Monsieur Gustave..he sticks with you. I’m still stuck on Moonrise Kingdom though. See them both. Make a whole night of it.

Health, Happiness, HEALTH, HAPPINESS!

 

 

Push the Boys Into the Ditch; My Grandma’s Perfect Love Advice.

Do you ever go through something that is both presumably necessary but incredibly hard and subsequently feel the weight of the world baring down on you as if the gravitational pull changed and it was all on account of you doing something possibly stupid but possibly necessary? Me either, life is easy and fun!

While my health has to continued to sustain for reasons I can’t entirely know for sure, I’ve had some personal experiences which are difficult and painful and every time these things wash over me I examine why life has to be hard (as if I actually expected it to only be easy) and then I wonder does life actually have to be this hard or am I just doing it wrong?  I don’t know the answer to that one. I guess we can only learn as we go. I find myself telling Monty to never fall in love because it leaves a mark on every part of your life and ultimately it changes you, whether you wanted to or not. But then I watched the neighbor dog humping his owners leg and considered that obviously the alternative isn’t so much more grand. Though there’s an appeal to that leg–it’s not going to keep you up at night with heartache and strife. Or maybe I’m too quickly assuming here, maybe I should ask the dog.

Yeeeeah Legs!
Yeeeeah Legs!

Of course this fantasy that life would be easier and less painful without this or that is just that: a fantasy, a slight rejection of reality. But maybe more detrimentally, it presumes that somehow as humans we know better, and we know the answer to what would make life easier or more tolerable. As if life isn’t some ridiculous, complex mystery that has an infinite amount of working parts we as finite humans can only momentarily grasp, if ever at all. And I’m not struggling with an idea that every human for thousands of years hasn’t experienced pain from and questioned the value of. We’ve all been through it. Wondered if the pain in the end was worth the utopia in the beginning. I like this quote about it: “Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear.” by e.e. cummings. Would I really choose an option where falling in love wasn’t part of the equation? Duh, no. That’d be insane and cowardly and boring. Love is a remarkable gift, with perhaps its best quality being that of illumination. I like how sometimes it picks us, even when we’ve turned our backs on it or given up on the idea. I like that it takes us places we wouldn’t go on our own. I like that it makes even a worn-down curmudgeon feel giddy and silly and do things he thought he’d never do. I’m thinking of my grandma now, who at 86, has a man named Harold (a few years her senior) who is madly in love with her. I saw it with my own eyes. They would marry if only she’d accept.

Harold had been living at her facility for a few years when she moved in. He has a military haircut I imagine he’s had for 50 years. He speaks concisely and says what he means. There is density to both his physique and his words but a subtle softness you pick up on behind it. Harold had been sitting at the same table in the cafeteria for years, often alone, seeming annoyed by even the thought of socializing and especially at watching others partake in it. Sometimes he looks like he wants to press mute or fast forward on the whole charade; a sentiment I’m familiar with. He eats and drinks the same thing at his meals every day in a very particular order–part of the routine involving peeling his fruit and sharing half of it with my grandma. The ending involves hot tea with a lemon at a very high temperature that if not fulfilled, as sometimes happens with new employees or forgetful old ones, gets sent back. He waits. Sometimes he scoffs, others he sits in silence. I ate with them a few times last summer and couldn’t help but think of Jack Nicholson ala As Good As It Gets, with a little less show but just as much intensity.

Harold would be the last guy you’d expect to get all doughy-eyed and follow a girl around like a love-sick puppy. And yet, here he is. Three years in to my grandma’s stay at The Atrium, Grand Junction’s finest assisted living home, and Harold has fallen over in love with her. I’d like to say I’m exaggerating for literary purpose but truly I am not. I saw it with my own eyes. It started as a joke in the family– OOooooh Grandma! Hanging out with Harold again?! Grandma has a boyfriend! Hehehehe! And then slowly it was revealed to all of us that for him it wasn’t some crush, he’d truly fallen for her. He switched tables to sit with her. Even thought that meant there’d be a certain amount of socializing. He comes over all the time to watch Westerns at her apartment. He on the couch, she on the recliner. Of course half the time they fall asleep 10 minutes in, but no matter. The man has it bad. And something about it completely excites and inspires me. It turned the tables on rules I had stupidly self-made on love and life and age. Very stupidly. I am constantly discovering how much I don’t know. But I love this story. I love that the employees there asked my grandma what she had done to Harold. What happened to the old crotchety man rolling his eyes in the corner? Now he was partaking in group activities? Calling her on the phone? Feeding the ducks? Switching tables?!! While my grandma tries to insist they’re only friends, (oh my God life never changes) and that she finished that phase of her life after my grandpa died, it’s clear she’s enjoying the time with him as she should.  Albeit rejecting his proposals and insisting he partake in more bridge games. I love it all. They’re is something truly hopeful in all of it. Anything that flips our predefined notions on their head can only be a good. It’s illuminating. I imagine it’s that way for Harold, too.

Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.
Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.

Maybe it’s different for her. She clearly likes him being her friend and enjoys the companionship. Perhaps in this last stage of their lives, my grandma’s old stoic German ways will prevail and she’ll reject the romantic advances and they truly will be just friends. At 90. And that’s fine too. Of course I’m secretly hoping that one day she’ll weaken, she’ll let him sneak a kiss. Maybe she already has. I don’t know. But watching this all unfold fills my heart up with something good. Something hopeful. My grandma’s advice to me has always been that boys like girls who are mean to them; that she hardly ever let a boy get too close or too much from her. To work on your own life and don’t design it around some boy. And I knew as a young woman she had a lot of interested suitors and broke her share of hearts. In fact she pushed her first boyfriend into a ditch when he tried to kiss her, which she said of course, only made him try harder. And that’s been her advice to me; to push the boys into the ditch and watch what happens. Honestly I take her advice to heart. I love listening to her old stories. Her simplicity about life. She is a very happy person who loves her life, and so for me her advice carries a lot of water. I know they don’t have the internet at the Atrium, but Grandma, if you’re reading, give Harold a kiss for me. (I mean you can’t push the man into the ditch–he’s 90!!) For whatever reason watching the two of you, and specifically him, has been a very good thing for me, and I’ll probably always carry it with me.

Health, Happiness, and Boys In the Ditch

Grandma Selfie Yeah!
Grandma Selfie Yeah!

Don’t Forget to Do Nothing.

Two things happen when I start feeling better: My house gets really, down-to-the-baseboards clean, and my writing takes a hiatus.

For whatever reason, the last two weeks have been comparatively healthy ones. My energy is up and my pain level medium and manageable. Like most people with the illness, I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s changed. And if the past is any indicator, I could just as easily land on my ass tomorrow and be in a bed for a week. Of course, I’m not expecting that, and I’m enjoying the hell out of the newfound energy. My mom says it’s obvious when you start feeling better because suddenly you see all these little things that need tending too that you hadn’t noticed before. I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism of the body. You can’t exactly worry about dusty baseboards when your arms are too weak for teeth-brushing.

As I’ve enjoyed this accelerated momentum and stamina, I noticed I was forgetting to write. It’s easy to see why–often the trigger for me to write is either some sort of pain (physical or mental) that leads to enlightenment or offers some lesson, or it’s diverted attention to some very small detail that I usually notice when the pace of my life is slow, ie when I’m sick. It’s not that the requirement for noticing these deeper observations is sickness, it’s that when I am in fact sick, everything slows down. Out of necessity, I don’t really have a choice. The tasks on a to-do list, the chores, the logistics of physical life are put on hold while whatever broken part of me is on the mend. When I’m in this state, it’s almost as if some parts of my brain are turned up while others turn down. Like the static and noise of everyday life are quieted, and in that absence come the more powerful details and ideas. In other words, I’m tuned in to a different frequency. I’m looking for and sometimes finding answers and meaning maybe because it’s a way to feel alive and happy while waiting on my physical body to “catch up”. But I’ve discovered something in the last two weeks that now I’ll be paying attention to:

I shouldn’t have to be sick in order to be tuned in to that frequency.

The modern world is fast. The to-do lists are bottomless. And even when we die there will be unread emails in our in-boxes. This is why that conscious awareness I have while I am sick, the kind that the mystics speak of,  will have to be a choice on my part. (If I am to be well) If the last three years have shown me anything, it’s been the importance of that tuned in consciousness. Of living my life awake, not numbed or on autopilot. These things are easy to forget. Hell, I’ve been healthy a week and half and seemed to have forgotten just as quickly. But it certainly makes me examine the thought that all sick people have– could this be the reason I was sick at all? It’s not a theory anymore, I know with absolute certainty that without illness me and my life would be very, very different. I was a type-A personality; A competitive gymnast to whom school and other things came easy. Would I have ever slowed down? Would I ever have found Wisdom in the Day Lillies or saved the all those baby frogs from the pool everyday while examining the largeness and smallness of life that surrounds me? Would I stop to photograph plants like this just because it struck me as beautiful and that was reason enough for pause?

The Pink!
The Pink!

Well, probably not. And it’s not to say that me noticing the beauty of flowers or the fragility of life is so important or better than what I’d be doing otherwise. But I have to trust in the specific experience I’m having. Things could have been different, but of course, we can’t re-write our pasts. I’ll never know who I would’ve been. On bad days (on unconscious moments)  I fantasize that I would have been better. That my life would be a glamorous one and there would be little suffering and I would be the president blah blah blah. But that kind of thinking is mostly ego of course, and all fantasy. Projecting that all my happiness lies somewhere over there, if only things were different is textbook ego. And all that contributes to is a lack of attention to the present. It takes away my power and ability to see and navigate where I am with what I have. If our power is in the present and it’s indeed all we have like Tolle and his peers suggest, then the “if only” thought doesn’t get us very far. It’s rare that we stop to consider that without illness or without our painful experience, we might have been someone worse. Someone very unlike who we are today. Now when I consider why maybe this illness is a part of my path, it makes a little more sense. It’s what I needed to become awake. And clearly I’m still trying to get there.

Of course maybe you’re a student of the chaos theory, in which case all of this is just randomness unraveling in a one-time deal called life on earth. Some people are sick and other people aren’t. Life is good or life is bad and then you die.  I’ve considered this hypothesis but it just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t further my vision or deepen my understanding of life and its complexity. In fact it seems to cut off at the very best part–the why. That’s a question I wonder if I’ll ever stop asking. Most of this experience only begins to make sense when I get down to details like a scientist would, and so that’s where my understanding is. Or where it begins. I am still searching for more answers, for more mentors and schools of thought to point me toward them. But I find it hard to accept a conclusion that appears to stop at the tip of the iceberg in terms of depth and understanding of all the elements of life that we cannot see. Love. Suffering. Belief. Surrender. Grief. Grace. Of course maybe I’m wrong in which case we’re all going to die anyway and I’ll never see you again. So, ya know, whateva.

There was only one day in the last week where I felt bad enough to spend the afternoon horizontal. As I write that I’m containing my excitement at how “good” I’ve felt that only one day this week I was on supine. Anyway, that morning I’d caught the eye of a tree frog on my kitchen door. For whatever reason I watched him a while and then took a picture. On my downtime that afternoon I kept thinking of that frog and the surplus of details on his little tiny body. So I wrote- a poem- for the next two hours. I don’t know whether it was good or not and maybe that doesn’t matter. But I do know for whatever reason, it had me feeling good to write it. I noticed then too, I’ve got to slow down. Even when I feel good, let some tasks lie. Let some calls go unanswered. Sit in stillness and quiet and let the questions come. Even if for ten minutes, I always feel better. Lately I’ve caught myself stuck on the guide channel of my TV, incessantly searching for a show that I feel will entertain or gratify me. I play one show in the window but continue to seek the magic program, while ads about Lipitor blare at unconscionable volumes. Suddenly, I’ll hit the power button, and the subsequent silence feels so. incredibly. good. That was the program I was looking for; silence! Life is noisy, and fast, and always non-stop. Sometimes it’s OK to stop and do nothing. Notice what happens in the stillness. It’s as if a whole other world exists right beyond the busy.

Health, Happiness, and Something Beyond the Nothing.

details.
details.

 

Blasts From the Pasts

Most people have at least one box filled with kept remnants from their past. A lot of mine is in a brown moving box that says “Mary’s Stuff” on it, and for whatever reason my mom gave it to me out of the blue the other day. Maybe she was spring cleaning, or maybe just trying to downsize on 4 kids worth of crap in her house, especially considering that we’re all fully grown. Anyway, the box was in my hands now and last week during the indoor weather, I started rummaging.

I don’t consider myself a pack rat at all, but I also don’t know any actual pack-rats who do… But for whatever reason, starting in 6th grade…I started saving notes passed between me and friends, boyfriends, siblings, all of it. I kept them in a K-swiss shoebox. And this ridiculously faded, clumsily folded note that said “Mary” in terrible handwriting was one of the first I saw in the box, and as I started unfolding it immediately I knew what it was: A note from my 6th grade love, Kyle B.

Dear Mary...

Dear Mary,

Hi!! This is the “big surprise.” Well all I wanted to know is will you go out with me? Don’t worry about saying no, I don’t care. Well I do care, but, well uuhhmmmm You know what I mean. 

Ms. Snifferjohn is a loser.

I like The Land Before Time it is like my favorite movie. Besides about a million others but that’s not the point.

Love,
Kyle B (Baseball Cursive signature)

*To begin, Ms. Snifferjohn was our substitute teacher and her actual name was Ms. Schneiderjohn but Kyle had nicknames for all the teachers. Especially subs.

The truth is Kyle had been my on-again off-again boyfriend since Kindergarten. It was all completely a matter of semantics. We were best friends and every now and then the title would change, and that was it. I liked him because he was weird and hilarious and made fun of everything. In 6th grade we finally hit first base and held hands at the roller rink. As we skated hand in hand to the cascading neon lights and what I can only imagine to be Jewel or Sarah Mclachlan or Chumbawamba playing, my best friend Brittny skated up to us with urgency. “You’re doing it wrong! Your fingers are so supposed to cross!” We were holding hands the old school way; the way you do when walking a child across the street. We fixed our technique and skated a few laps and then I don’t know what–got a sugar high from sour straws and Dr. Pepper probably.

The next thing I found was my retainer box from 7th grade with my retainer still in it. And yes, I tried it on. You have to!  It only half fit. I never wore that thing, and lied to the orthodontist at every appointment. “Wearing it day and night?” “All the time!” Altogether I probably wore it 10 solid hours. But I didn’t get bad feedback from the doc so I felt OK about it. The best part? It’s a translucent baby blue retainer with a little earth icon in the middle and two little rainbows. I make terrible decisions under pressure.

One of my favorite finds? These pictures of my mom. I never see myself in my family even though people tell me we look alike. But when I saw one of these pictures, for a split second I glimpsed my face in my moms. Finally I could see it–I have her exact chin, the shape of her mouth, her nose and her “good-sized” head and big thick hair. Of course she is incredibly more glamorous and I love how youthful and in love she looks in these. (She was, this was a few months before marrying my dad) But it finally clicked. I am that woman’s daughter.

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Next is a signed post-card from Dominique Moceanu. She was my second favorite gymnast after Shannon Miller. But I’m pretty sure she divorced her parents after they tried to take her money or something, right? Anyway, still got the card.

Then came a lot of stuff from high school, which only solidified my memory of how excessively terrible high school actually was. For example, take this note from my friend Meghan.

My grandma died. So how's things with Tyler?
My grandma died two days ago. So how are things with Tyler?

Can you believe it? This poor girls grandma died and all we talk about is my going to lunch with Tyler. I found about 6 other notes on this very topic. Then came notes about whether we had gone on a date yet and then whether or not we’d kissed. Reading the notes brought back my exact feelings from those four years; that I took none of it seriously. The boys..the scene..class..any of it. I tried. I wanted to be cool and sometimes I succeeded, but mostly I felt lost and everything felt really forced. I was so glad when it was over. That’s the best part about high school. There’s a true end to it. Soon it all fits in a box that you get to make fun of later.

Next is an essay test from my AP Literature class where we had to use  principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to analyze characters and events from Shakespeare’s Richard III. I remember nothing from either of these, but I scored a high B on the test which for me and for the class, was very good. This must have been my last empirical display of effort on my part that year, because by the end I’d basically given up. I actually ended up failing Literature! And really for no good reason. I stopped caring and also I just sort of hated school. I guess that’s why I kept the test. To prove I was literate. (All evidence to the contrary given the content of some of these notes)

It’s funny that I write about these little treasures from the past today, because I also just found out that today is my dads birthday. He would have been…old, I don’t know. But I found old pictures of him and us together and it’s always good to see those and to remember. So many years go by and your life changes in so many ways. New memories stack on top of old ones and pretty soon you’re having to struggle to remember the sound of their voice and the things that used to be fresh. I don’t feel sad looking at them– I like to see proof of our happiness when he was around. I ache more out of a fear that I’m forgetting him. But maybe by him just being a dad, I’ll never really forget. He’s in me, and in all of us. Each member of the family carries a part of him with their own memories and I guess that’s the stuff that lives on longer than the person.

It also had me wondering if I’ll have a daughter one day who will look through her box of childhood leftovers. Maybe she’ll too see a photo of me and realize our connection. Maybe she’ll read this blog and wonder about my sanity. More likely? I’ll read this blog in 15 years and think OMG I was so stupid! Maybe that’s just how it works. You get older and grow and laugh at your old ways. Life has been hard but it’s been incredible too, and I guess I’m glad I’ll have these words to look back on–remember these years I was sick with nothing to do, but document my days of doing a lot of nothing.

Health, Happiness, Childhood in a Box

Even When It’s Bad It’s Good

The Holidays rock. They just do. I feel worlds away when I talk to someone who doesn’t like Christmas. Or Christmas music. Or trees. Or gift-giving. Or ELF. (On repeat!)

Is it excessive? Sometimes. I can admit that. And has Christmas in our country become overly commercialized and sensationalized with the meaning lost in mall crowds, and could we have a long discussion about that over the dinner table? Yeah, we could. But I don’t like going there. I’ve never engaged in the War On Christmas propaganda that inevitably resurfaces each year. And it’s not in the name of denial, but because every year, for a small fleeting time, regardless of my health or where I am personally, the Holidays are a small but hopeful light at the end of a year–where I see more good in the world than bad. Often it’s a reason to become softer, reflective, and thankful. Or do something kind you wouldn’t normally do. If for no other reason than “Well, since it’s Christmas.” I love hearing those words. And I love the simple reasoning behind them.

For my immediate family, Christmas is always the time we give to ourselves to be a family. There are four kids in four states. There are grand-children and extended family and friends who might as well be. But I like that it’s been our staple. Usually it’s not a question of who will be attending Gelpi Christmas but where we’ll be making the noise. And we do, make a hell of a lot of noise. When it’s not me making it, I sometimes plug my ears. :) Life is busy. The work for all of us is different but tiring in its own way. It’s easy to get distracted and let time go by without realizing how many months have passed since we’ve had any genuine interaction. It’s easy for face time to turn into FaceTime and phone calls into text messages and those to turn into Facebook and Facebook to turn into emojis. I mean really, instead of writing this blog post I basically could have just put…photo-7

But emojis can’t replace real emotion in writing, just like emails aren’t as personal as phone calls and text messages will never compare to feeling the weight of a hug from someone you love. Admittedly, as the technology advances, it does help increase the amount of contact time between all of us.  And thank God for it, because as secluded as my life sometimes gets, sometimes my iphone feels like my only window into the outside world. Technically I met my youngest niece Harlow over FaceTime and spent some virtual “feedings” with her. And I’m extremely impressed and grateful by what can be accomplished over a 2 x3 screen on my phone. It truly is, extraordinary. But still, holding her for the first time beat out those “virtual hangouts” by a long shot. Nothing like the smell of an infant, or getting her to smile.  Or watching my niece Olive dance in circles to music or watching my parents enjoy grandchildren or playing cards with my grandma or my siblings annoy the hell out of each other. In a good way, of course! This year my 87-year-old grandma surprised us and came to California for A Very Gelpi Christmas. Show an old woman the capabilities of the iphone and try not to marvel at how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of. It’s a new world, and it’s changing all the time.

Every year at Christmas I always reflect on the previous Christmas. Where was I at this time last year? What has changed? Are things better or worse? And where can I do better? That’s the novelty of an upcoming new year. As they say, It’s never too late to live the life you want to live, and I am always striving to live better. To be a better me. Last year at this time, I was struggling immensely in my health. I had improved from the bed-ridden state but was still feeling awful day-to-day. It was a struggle not to be permanently supine. I found socializing exhausting and far from any fun. It was not one of my better Christmases, but I still enjoyed the tradition of it all, like always. Right after Christmas I relapsed again. I was stuck in Colorado, in and out of bed and freezing my ass off in their record Winter. I remember thinking in my darkest hours and sleepless nights, when the weight and relentlessness of my situation felt too heavy to bare, that this, like all things, would end. One way or another. It was a matter of physics. Time is one of the constants of the world, and it would keep going and eventually things would change. Winter would turn to Spring and at some point I’d lift my head with ease. I wouldn’t be bedridden in Colorado for the rest of my life, even if it felt like it. I remember reciting Winston Churchill’s quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s what I did, and at last, the physics of the world did what it always does. Winter passed. I was given the opportunity to live in a happy house with a lot of windows; just Monty and me. And my health very slowly improved from what it was. And I have truly never felt luckier or more grateful to be where I am. Things aren’t perfect. I’ve still a ways to go. And it’s never far away in my mind that this illness can hibernate and reemerge as if on its own agenda. Sometimes for no reason I can think of. But for now, I’m so improved from this time last year. And it feels good to know, that the reassurance I felt at night but could not see was real. The hardship wasn’t forever–the sun came out and I survived. It’s easy to be disillusioned and overwhelmed by our thoughts in hard times. But how important it’s been for me to remember, to everything, there is a season.

And for me, the best will always be this time of year.

Happy Holidays Yall. Hope it was a good one.

Health and Happiness and photo-7