Why Is It So Hard to Pee Into Those Urine Sample Cups?

Is it just me?

If it is, then I should feel pretty vulnerable and embarrassed after this. I’m sorry mom. I really do try and make you proud.

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It’s hard to say but I don’t think so. I do think requires more skill on behalf of the woman, I would think. Then again I wouldn’t know, I’ve never peed into one of those “specimen catchers” standing up. It seems like all you have to do is aim and shoot. Though I imagine splash-back could be a problem. Also I’ve heard dudes talking about the “split stream”, which would make producing a clean catch pretty tricky. But that happens to the lady folk too. So I’m a making a leap of faith in assuming I’m not the only one who has issues here. Right? Guys? Right guys? 

I’ve had to give so many urine samples via those small plastic lidded cups over the last ten years, you’d think I’d at least have a technique mastered by now. But there’s just so little prediction in the direction that things will go once the golden exit begins.

You know the order of operations. First you go a little to see what direction your body has decided for the sample to go that day. Cool, you have a good idea. Place the cup in position. Aaaand begin. Aaaaand what is happening. 

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Somethings gone wrong.

It starts to go awry when a renegade stream breaks off from the group for no reason at
all.
Whyyyy. I can’t yell at my pee mid stream and direct it on where to go! It doesn’t respond to verbal orders or worried yelling.  Why would half of this small waterfall decide to break apart from the its fluid crew and travel backwards? Return to the team you idiot!

 

Obviously, things don’t get better from there. The cup can’t catch the rebellious run off and the original stream simultaneously because they’re too far apart, so now I have to guess which one has a higher volume and catch that one. And because I’m indecisive, I start to get a little panicky, I can’t tell which is better. Now I’m going back and forth with the cup between streams because I’m worried the collection isn’t enough, and I’m right. I often miss more than I catch in the chaos. Great. Now there’s pee in places I’d rather there not be pee.  It’s just my hand don’t freak out. (I’m talking to myself now) I mean urine is sterile, so I hear. That was the whole point of those deep breaths I took before beginning the process. You can do this Mary, just pretend it’s a game at the carnival, you’re a competitive gal.

I liken the stress to that of being on a motor bike and panicking that you’re going too fast but in the frenzy you keep hitting the gas, gunning it, instead of the break. You increase in speed until you crash and your shoe flies off. That actually happened to my friend Cody and I once. My shoe really flew off!

Anyway I guess it’s just the stress of getting it right and knowing there’s a limited amount

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The Hell is she doing in there?

of material to work with that I end up internally yelling with my head down “WHAT. IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?! GET. IT. TOGETHER!” It’s like yelling at some kids I’m babysitting who I can hear are misbehaving in the basement. I hope I’m not accidentally
yelling that out loud in the stress of those 30 seconds. I can just see the nurses faces upon hearing the racket inside the bathroom, shaking their heads in resignation, Where did we go wrong with our children?

Now I have to place the cup on the counter, but why is the counter always wet? Is that someone else’s renegade pee? Impossible to know. Also, eeeew. So I awkwardly wipe down the counter, (still squatting on the toilet by the way), place the cup down, screw on the lid, make sure that’s wiped down and examine my sample. It’s like I want the nurses to be impressed with it. “Wow, did you check out Gelpi’s specimen cup? Not even a droplet on the outside!” I realize they’re wearing gloves and couldn’t care less about any of this.

Then you open that little stainless steel door to drop off your cup, and you see all the other specimens. Woah! I’m always surprised by the array of yellow colors that make up peoples urine. It’s like 50 shades of pee in there! I can only hope mine is the right shade of neon.

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This is clearly Ms Gelpi’s perfect clean catch. How DOES she do it!?

It feels like an unnecessarily stressful event that I’ve had to do so many times, I just can’t figure out why I’m not better at it. Is there some method I’m unaware of? I had to give a sample yesterday just like I did last week and the week before that and a month before that, for all kinds of fun reasons. And still, I entered that bathroom, wrote my name on the cup, took a few deep breaths, and once again the urinary chaos began.

At least this time I didn’t fall. Yes, that is a true and exceptionally unfortunate story. It happened in the E.R. and I’m pretty sure they gave me a horse tranquilizer or something close to it prior to calm down the excessive adrenaline. I was in SVT (Supra Ventricular Tacchacardia) and flopping around like a fish out of water. Then I was tranked and expected to give a sample without help! So yeah, I fell. Let that image settle in and make the rest of your day happy.

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Wait, where am I. 

Anyway, maybe I’ll develop a better method over the next few months. Or maybe giving urine samples will always just be one of those things we all have to do that are oddly more difficult than they should be, like hanging curtains. Don’t worry, because I know you might, I’ll let you know if there’s improvement. Stay golden yall! (I had to)

Health, Happiness, A Clean Catch

Day 5

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*my general editors note here would be that maybe writing through one of my more serious crashes in the last few years wasn’t the best idea because I imagine it can become a little daunting on the reader to read over and over again. Of course, that is the reality of living chronically ill, and it’s surviving the resilient day after day after month after month that is the most difficult part. But also this wan’t exactly intended for people to read and enjoy, although that would be a SUPERB secondary outcome. It was to clean house.

BUT,  if I’m going to document such tough times, I have to be very cognizant about not letting the work feel tortured, even if I do. Torture in general is not the most entertaining subject matter, I think we can all agree. The point is not to let the sickness win and be the teller of the story. It should be the lens but not the primary subject matter. The challenge is to express and respect the experience authentically, be honest when it feels like torture, but allow enough distance and space from the part of me that wants to try to make this personal (the ego) so that humor and optimism and hope can carry at least half the narrative, the ‘happenings’–or ‘non-happenings’ as it were.

I thought I remembered by day 5 things were beginning to improve, and I read here that my weakness had finally started to just barely let up, and yet it was still an incredibly difficult day, mentally. I was still in really rough physical shape and I remember well just staring out of those windows and feeling an absolute absence of willpower–to do anything. I felt an emptiness inside and a certainty that anything I chose to do made no difference whatsoever. Talk about fun times! But I do remember seeing the bright red of that type-writer, this project I told myself I’d start and finish, and in my 1% battery charge of life force, I made my way and just started to type. It felt like a long exhale.

I actually remember the moment I began to feel better, in the midst of writing this piece. When I wrote “It seemed like a better idea to write at the type writer than to continue staring out the window, wishing things were different,” I realized how huge my role was in keeping my brain and mind active in positive ways when my body wasn’t strong enough. It makes a difference where you look, what you’re looking at, and how long you let your thoughts take the wheel away from you. In that paragraph I knew writing was a big way  of living through something unpleasant and of changing how I felt about it, just by making a lot of small decisions that were opposite of what I felt like doing.

That role is so crucial, and like baby-sitting a two-year-old, you have to sometimes run around after your meandering mind, make it sit in time out, and remind it of true and happy and important things. Facts, not stories. That’s where you find gratitude and humility and grace and remember love and kindness and hopefulness. (All below the surface) You have to reach down far, and the willfulness to reach is for some reason so incredibly difficult it feels next to impossible. And yet when you do reach and feel something reach back, your entire outlook, even for an hour, can change massively. I think done enough times, we can remove a lot of the unnecessary pain we feel no matter what we’re going through..

For me, it’s sitting in time out and not letting toxic thoughts convince me of anything that isn’t true. Its not that I can’t acknowledge how extremely hard this situation is or allow the deep emotional parts of it to rise and let them out. In fact I have to do that. All parts of the spectrum need an outlet.  It’s not about making those thoughts forbidden. It’s about acknowledging them but also then to keep going. Not to stay glued to some idea about fairness or unfairness that eventually keeps you from trying, keeps you from remembering who you are–buried underneath all the hardship that can feel piled on top of you. Writing is magic for me in the miraculous way it reminds me of the truth when I can’t think of or remember it on my own. It will literally turn bitterness into gratitude in just a few sentences, and that’s why it’s important.

Well, I’ve veered off track again. I just felt like taking some notes that maybe I’ll refer back to in the future.

Dammit, I just remembered the Super Bowl is tomorrow and how as a Saints fan I’m boycotting it, but as a curious person I’d like to watch some of it and also observe what 15 million dollar commercials the ad people came up with. I imagine my mom will be dressed all in black and if we had an American flag on our porch, you can bet it would be hanging at half mast. Hah. Football.

Ok Mary well it’s been real. Yeah Mary I agree. Have a happy Saturday. Yeah cool you too. See you tomorrow. Same bat time, same blog place.

 

Day 3

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OK, there’s a lot of crap in this piece that needs to be re-written or scrapped. Taking on a writing project in the midst of a heavy crash may have been a bad idea in terms of writings to share because than crap like this emerges and I told myself I’d stick to the rules. Even reading it now I can see how convoluted my mind way, how easy it was to stray off topic. I’ve begun to improve since Sunday, particularly cognitively, and the writing really does emulate what’s going on during fog. I had to cross some out because it just meandered and was so clunky and unclean, it was very far from conveying my ideas properly at all. Anyway, as uncomfortable as I feel posting writing I don’t like and probably 2/3 of which I would change, or burn, this was partially the point of the project. So just trust and let go. Besides, there’s like 11 people reading this. I think we’ll all be OK.

Anyway, hopefully I’ve written a little better for day 4, or perhaps I’ll have more crap to share! Either way, it might be enjoyable. Just let go Mary. OK, I’m going. So go then. I’m gone. So go! I’m going! Just. Press. Publish. You Nitwit. Alright, see you tomorrow.

The NIH Response to the Petition/Package

Since not everyone receives emails from change.org, which is how the updates regarding the petition are delivered, and it’s the beginning of the year, I wanted to make the NIH response available here so everyone had a chance to see it. Get everyone up to date and on the same page. I can’t thank all of you enough for helping make this happen. I’ll post my and some advocates responses to the letter in the next post. So stay tuned.

The response from the NIH was interesting for a few reasons. Just for clarity’s sake, I’ll say it was not an official response–it was a personal letter emailed strictly to Matt. While they never mention the package and only briefly acknowledge the existence of the petition, I know that Collins receieved the whole kit and kaboodle. How? Because a receipt was sent to my email that the package was delivered and signed for by none other than the big MAN himself! Santa Clause! Or Santa Collins…you know what I mean.

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So, now we don’t have to wonder. Anyway, I’ll begin by posting the letter Matt wrote (rubber-banded to mine) that we included inside the box. Following it is the response from the NIH.

Matt’s Letter:

Dear Mr. Collins,

My name is Matt Tyler. Until just a few years ago, I had never heard of anything called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And that’s kind of what’s so crazy about the disease. It’s hidden from the majority of us. It wasn’t until I ran into an acquaintance from my younger years, someone who had sort of disappeared from my circle of friends when I was in my mid-twenties. I just assumed she had relocated, had become consumed with beginning a family or a career. You know, normal late-twenties life stuff. Turns out she was dealing with ME/CFS. She had faded into the background not because she had other things in the background to do, but because she was forced to recoil into a bed by a mysterious disease that most of us had never heard of.

I’ve grown very close to her recently and in turn have grown very close to the life that suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis brings with it.  She’s not even on the most severe end of the spectrum, but it still baffles me how she’s able to get up every day (most days, some days just have to involve being in bed all day) and deal with the pain and exhaustion that she feels just because she’s awake. Because she made a sandwich and then walked to the couch.  Because she needed to bathe. And she never complains or whines about her circumstance. She has every right to, but instead she fights however she can. She does things like create the included petition. She exerts the very limited supply of energy she has to give a voice and some hope to the millions of people suffering with this debilitating disease. The millions of people who have been robbed of years of their lives.

You once lived a life where you searched for hidden genes responsible for these types of things. I remember reading once that you would put a sticker on your motorcycle helmet every time you discovered a gene responsible for a disease. I’m sure it was a proud moment applying the sticker representing Cystic Fibrosis. I know that’s not the life you live anymore. Now you get to direct and inspire young versions of yourself. Young scientists trying to make a change in the world. That’s why we need your help. Your influence. Your voice.

The reason for this petition is simple: Allocate more funds toward the research of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. That’s what we are asking. That’s what the people behind the more than 50,000 signatures are requesting. But I’m sure you understand more so than most of us that by doing that, you are immediately impacting all those millions of people who have been pushed into shadows. If this increased funding happens, not only will the impact happen long term with better diagnostic tools and possible treatments, but you’ll give the people suffering an injection of hope. Hope that they can return to their jobs. Hope that the life they once had and enjoyed is not forever lost. Someone with as much prominence in the scientific world as you making a decision to increase research funding and speaking out about ME/CFS spreads the word about the disease. It might inspire some grad student somewhere to decide this is going to be something they want to attempt to tackle. Some blossoming scientist might decide they want to put a dent in or even end this terrible disease.

I understand that giving more funds to ME/CFS research likely means another diseases’ funding might be reduced. I don’t envy you having to make those decisions. But I can say this. I would imagine in the world where your career exists, the phrase “return on investment” is not foreign. I run a small family business and it’s something I have to consider almost daily. I’m sure it’s a much more difficult metric to calculate in the domain where you must apply it. But I’ll leave you with this: any additional money put towards ME/CFS research, especially if some sort of formal announcement or press release is attached, will yield an exponentially higher return on investment than most other diseases. Because outside of simply robbing people of their careers, health and happiness, ME/CFS robs people of hope. And a life without hope is no life at all.

You have the chance to not only bring about scientific change to help millions of people in need, but the chance to reinvigorate them with hope.

Thank you for your time,

Matt Tyler

P.S.  If you do decide to do what is being asked for in the petition, I will design, make and hand deliver a sticker representing ME/CFS for your motorcycle helmet in hopes that in the very near future you’ll be able to apply it.

***The NIH Response***

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Tell your friend Mary and the supporters of this petition and the me/cfs community to go find the fattest worms they can find, take a seat on a nearby stomp, and eat them at a slow, slow, pace. OK? Thank you and we’ll check back in with you in roughly 10 years from now, mkay? Happy Holidays gbyyyyyyyye!

KIDDING. I had to. OK, Here is their actual response.

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Thank you for your letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis S. Collins concerning myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).  We appreciate your kind words about his work.  Dr. Collins requested that I respond to you on his behalf.

I am sorry to learn that a friend of yours has ME/CFS.  Your description of her experiences underscores the devastating effects of this disease.  With your letter, you included a petition that asked the NIH to increase funding for ME/CFS research to $100 million.

We at the NIH understand the necessity of improving diagnostics and finding effective therapies for ME/CFS as quickly as possible.  We agree that there is a tremendous need for quality research in ME/CFS.  It may be helpful for you to know that the NIH system is open for any researchers to submit their best ideas for funding excellent science in ME/CFS.  The NIH grant system primarily funds work performed in individual laboratories or clinics by teams of scientists working at academic, medical, and other biomedical research institutions, including industry.  Individual investigators interested in pursuing ME/CFS research can submit detailed proposals through their institutions to answer a broad range of research questions.  Proposals can be submitted three times per year.  Proposed projects undergo a rigorous peer review process at the NIH and are then considered for funding.  Investigators receive critiques of their proposals and have the option to revise them and resubmit.

The Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group recognizes the acute need to cultivate more research and investigators to work on ME/CFS.  In pursuit of this goal, NIH plans to bring scientists together with patients and ME/CFS advocacy groups in April 2019 to discuss the opportunities in ME/CFS research.  We also plan a meeting intended to engage early-stage career scientists in ME/CFS.  More information about these meetings is available at https://www.nih.gov/mecfs/events

In addition, the NIH is conducting a study on ME/CFS at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  This study, led by renowned neuroimmunologist Dr. Avindra Nath, is exploring the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression.  Recruitment of healthy volunteers and people with ME/CFS is underway.  The study is currently recruiting patients who have had ME/CFS for 5 years or fewer.  You can read about the study at this website:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/index.html  The following site provides a contact email address and the telephone number for the NIH’s Office of Patient Recruitment:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/contact.html

Please be aware that the NIH generally does not stipulate the amount of funds for specific diseases.  There have been times when Congress provided funds to the NIH for specific purposes, but those instances have been rare—HIV, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more recently, the crisis resulting from opioid overuse disorder.  In special cases there are NIH-driven exceptions, for example, when one or more NIH Institutes set aside funds by issuing a Request for Applications (RFA).  The RFAs for the ME/CFS Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs) and Data Management and Coordinating Center (DMCC) are examples.

As a result of the RFAs, in September 2017, the NIH awarded four grants to support the creation of a ME/CFS research consortium composed of three CRCs and a DMCC.  These centers will help to build a strong foundation for expanding research on ME/CFS.  The CRCs will each conduct independent research but will also collaborate on several projects, forming a network to help advance knowledge on ME/CFS.  The data will be managed by the DMCC and will be shared among researchers within the CRCs and more broadly with the research community.  You can read about the awards at https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-announces-centers-myalgic-encephalomyelitis-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-research  We hope that the new centers and other NIH efforts will attract researchers from other areas to propose research on ME/CFS and increase the number of young investigators entering the field.

The awards are just one result of the NIH’s efforts to advance research on ME/CFS with the goals of identifying its cause and finding biomarkers to study disease progression and monitor response to treatment.  You can read about these plans in the following NIH news article from October 2015:  https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-takes-action-bolster-research-myalgic-encephalomyelitis/chronic-fatigue-syndrome  As part of these actions, the NIH has renewed the focus and efforts of the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group, which is carefully exploring the gaps in our knowledge and identifying the opportunities for research on ME/CFS.  The Working Group will continue to discuss next steps to attract more researchers to this field and expand research on this disease.  You may wish to visit the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group website at www.nih.gov/mecfs

The NIH continues to post research funding opportunities related to ME/CFS in the “Funding” section of that site.  In addition, the information at the “Resources” section of the site may be helpful.  If you would like to receive periodic updates about NIH activities related to ME/CFS via email, please go to that website and click on the link to “Join our listserv” at the bottom of the left sidebar.  The NIH hosts regular telebriefings with the ME/CFS community to provide updates on our activities and answer questions.  Announcements about upcoming telebriefings are emailed via the listserv.

In addition, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is the lead Institute for the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group along with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently formed a working group of its advisory council to provide scientific guidance on how best to advance ME/CFS research at NIH.  The working group includes basic scientists, clinicians, Federal partners, advocates, and people with ME/CFS.

We hope that the steps the NIH has taken over the past 2 years and the future progress of the Centers will grow into a major scientific effort in ME/CFS research funded by grants submitted to NIH.  We look forward to working with the community to gain further insights into ME/CFS that will lead to the development of effective treatments and improve the quality of life for people coping with this disease.

Sincerely,

Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D.

Chair, Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group

*****

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“This is great! We got a response from the NIH!”                                                                        “Yeah, this is a big deal!”                                                                                                                                 “This is bullshit.”

Don’t worry, this may not be exactly what I/We might’ve hoped for, but this provides us good information straight from the horses mouth. There is a great deal of value in seeing how the NIH looks at this issue and what they consider “enough” in terms of how they’re approaching the situation around MECFS. Since some of their advice involved going to congress, this letter can help convey the exact issues we’re talking about when we say there’s a lack of urgency and an overall tone-deaf, dismissiveness when it comes to this disease. Either way, I’m very happy and grateful we received this response, and trust me when I say it will be put to good use. Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, More to Come!

Meaning in the Mud

Family, Friends, Strangers, Enemies, Grandmas, and the future class of 2019: hi. I’m not dead. Figured I should get that out of the way.

It’s been so long. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed writing here. I have an underlying angst that eats at me when I know zero words are emitting from the blog of roughly 12 readers a day. Still, I don’t like it. Mostly because I still so often spend hours a day writing, , but reading it back over it the next day, the coherency is lacking and it’s clear my spaghetti brain is hindering a collective blog, so I don’t post it. The next day I write, I try to edit, and the process just repeats itself. All of it resulting in DEAD AIR! Boooo.

Anyway, as you might’ve guessed, I’m still crashed. Or on very shaky ground anyway, and I’m not really sure why. Weakness comes and goes, my restless legs/crawly skin is constantly flaring, but it’s this damn pain in my head that is consuming, constant, and just plain exhaustive. More than weakness or any other symptom, it’s a resilient pain like this that keeps me from writing long enough to edit and post, which makes me hate it all the more.

This head/face pain started to get to me psychologically a few months ago. I’d find myself looking forward to sleep given the escape it offered from the pain. That’s not a grrrreat way to live, but it is A way to live, so there’s that. It’s just the reality right now, but I do genuinely believe we’ll find the answer to this. Or we’ll at least find a remedy for the pain. Even if it is some South American JuJu bean sprout mixed with Norwegian honey bee oil and antler-fuzz brewed into a tea. I’d drink that crap-tasting tea 10 times a day. The point is, I know it won’t feel like this forever, so I’m just hanging on and HOPING THAT A FIX COMES ALONG PRETTY QUICKLY. Sorry I thought if I shout-typed it that God or someone might hear me better.

For now there is pain medicine, dousing my face in peppermint oil, and putting a frozen ice pack on top. Then I lay there, like a useless slug waiting to get stepped on. I’m destined for greatness!

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#Useless Slugs Unite

On Monday I had my face injected with steroids and lidocaine to see if that would do anything. I do think it helped the back of my head, but so far not a lot of luck on the face or top of the head. Although the injections did give me temporary human horns, appropriately in time for Halloween. This picture is actually after they’d gone down a bit.

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She-devils Unite!

Walking back into the waiting room I told the secretaries not to judge my she-devil horns and they burst out laughing. I guess in a place that is usually so serious and nearly tense like the sign-out counter at a doctor’s office, something about that interaction made me feel lighter. 

Other than that, life remains a constant search for balance in-between hope and despair. Obviously, it feels much better to be hopeful. But damn if despair doesn’t grab you by the feet like an anchor and drag you under. It can be so easy to fall down that hole, and much harder to make your way out.

I know I write about it a lot, but it’s because chronic illness is such a marathon. Staying optimistic, believing your life can be good, finding meaning in the mud, laughing when it’s funny even though it’d be just as easy to cry, are all your job on top of the physical battle. It’s so hard not knowing where the finish line is or what it even might look like once you get there. If you’re like me, you’re always trying to calculate how your life might go if you’re sick 2 more years, 5 more years, 20 more years. It’s infinite…

It’s an impossible hypothetical that will only leave you confused and anxiety-ridden. Marc Nepo said confusion is the result of trying to make sense of things too soon, and I am constantly trying to do that. Make things fit before they’re fully formed. It’s hard to trust that wherever you are is where you’re supposed to be, and yet in hindsight, it seems that somehow it always turns out that’s the case, even when things have resulted in pain or anguish.

Nepo also said the repeated hindrance to joy in his life over and over has been hesitation. So I’m continually trying to just live the moment I’m in–1 because honestly it’s all I can handle. But 2 because when I start thinking too far into the future or assuming I could possibly change things that have happened in the past is when I actually suffer. When I interrupt my thinking and say Mary, all you have to do is make a cup of tea right now, I’m brought back to the only thing that matters and where I have any power, which is now.

It’s been an interesting experiment, this whole chronically sick life thing that I think I may have signed up for ambitiously before I was born because I’m stupid and don’t think things through. Still, it’s interesting, because it’s a perpetual challenge, especially creatively and in thinking. Like this idea–that you can be in a lot of pain, but also laugh hysterically in your living room, alone, at something you’ve seen twice before. This week I was watching jeopardy casually with my parents and I filled up with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and despite my raging head and restless, squirming legs, such a strong positive feeling made it’s way to the surface anyway.

The same happened when Matt brought me lunch out of nowhere on Tuesday, because he happened to be eating at a place nearby. I had a migraine, but when I woke up I had a meal to eat and didn’t have to think about it or muster the strength to make one. Just deciding on food can be totally exhausting. My gratitude was overflowing. And when Monty was afraid during the rainstorm and I laid with him on the floor, because I could, petting his velvety ears as the poor guy shook with fear at the rumbles of thunder, the love I felt for him welled up inside me, to where I could feel an actual warmth in my chest. I think how lucky I am to have such incredible people (and dogs) in my life and it makes the physical pain feel less powerful.

There are many, small moments like that, where gratitude and humility and laughing out loud at something stupid all pop up and show their beauty despite whatever physical pain I’m feeling. The dichotomy of those two things and experiencing them at once is an intriguing piece of the puzzle that’s teaching me how to be a human being. I think I’m getting pretty good! But I’ll never be as good as Monty, the happiest, most grateful, and present person I know.

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Actually Destined for Greatness

Case in point, he was not at all upset when his ball became stuck under a huge flat rock that was filled with muddy rain water underneath. He spent 30 minutes digging and splashing and maneuvering for that ball, and a half hour later he came trotting to the porch, a newly chocolate lab, victorious with said ball that was almost a goner. Seeing how happy, proud, and brown he was made me laugh so hard, I couldn’t help but feel happy to be alive, despite feeling like death. Witnessing the fulfilled, unflinching life that Monty lives, it’s fair to say that dog does not hesitate or miss lifes’ moments. His joy is infectious, and I will always be grateful he’s been by my side for as long as he has.

My head is starting to fill with pressure and expand like a balloon, or so it feels, so it’s time to slug it up for a while. Then maybe I’ll enjoy Wheel of Fortune with my parents. See? I have to laugh at it. Was this the life I envisioned at age 34? Would I have chosen this? Maybe not. And yet I am learning, learning, how to find a sense of fulfillment and wander in the unchosen existence that is uniquely my own all the time. Each time I inch toward trusting this experience, the more momentous life becomes, the brighter the mundane moments explode into something special, and the more my soul awakens at how incredible it is to be here at all.

Health, Happiness, Muddy Waters

Petition On A Mission

I realize not everyone receives the updates sent out on the status of the petition from change.org, so this is a basic copy and paste of that update with a few additions so we’re all in the know. It shares  the latest action we took and where things stand as of today.

I’ve been effectively in and out of a crash, and trying to manage pain that seems to have surpassed manageability. This has made it difficult to be the sort of advocate that executes all my ideas, completes so many goals, and more simply, publishes all the writing I do but bury in miscellaneous places.  I will be better at posting here like I used to do. Apologies for going AWOL a while. I suppose that’s another matter altogether. ANYway…

***

The box was too big for Matt’s car, so we assumed my moms car would suffice: a larger mid-size sedan. Still the corners jammed against the dashboard and window panels. The trunk? No, the trunk would not contain it either. So finally we had to put it in the bed of my step-dads old Toyota truck. I say ‘we’ but who am I kidding? Matt did all the literal heavy lifting. I actually took a photo by accident that perfectly depicts this point.

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On the way to Kinko’s, storm clouds of a distinctly Southern nature darkened and began thickening across half of the sky. A small part of me worried it’d start to rain and the box would get wet. But a bigger part of me felt more alive and hopeful than I’d felt in a while. Finally this thing was happening. But let me backtrack.

On Friday morning, (Sept 14th), I sat at my type writer fuzzy-headed after a crappy night of painsomnia and two hours sleep. But I was determined to finish this letter and write the words I felt Francis Collins would ultimately read. Something about that day, despite my feeling like a rotting banana, told me this long-ago set goal needed to happen without further delay. Time for that damn ginormous box that’s turned into a veritable piece of my living room furniture to finally leave. Time to begin the vital journey to its’ intended recipient in Bethesda, Maryland. (The NIH) (Francis Collins) (You get it)

This all took much longer than anticipated– to finish this part of the project. We printed the rest of the accumulated signatures since hitting 50,000. (!)  Printed the hundreds of pages of public comments left on the feedback page. Painstakingly blacked out all personal information on the 350+ prescription bottles I’d be using in lieu of packing peanuts. We’d completed everything but the personal letter to Collins I wanted to go on top of everything, Should he see or look through none of the rest of it, my hope was he would at least read a letter. A last attempt, if you will.

It was so hard to know which route to take in writing to him–what angle would really reach the guy. So many ideas had swirled through my head for weeks every time I laid down and stared at the ceiling, a hundred different drafts sat waiting inside me. I had to trust that the right words would emerge that day.  So I sat at my desk and banged at the keys of my typewriter. Intuition told me it might speak to him in a more immediate way for some reason. By the end it looked like a telegram to the president in the 40’s on the status of the war. (Not so far off, hardy har.)

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My healthy ally, close friend, and now fellow ME/CFS advocate Matt, told me a week earlier he’d also written a letter. We could include it if I wanted to. When I read it and saw how incredible it was–saw the effectiveness and resonance of words from someone watching this disease from the outside, I knew it needed to be included too.

Anyway, it was time to finish this last part of the job. When it was done, I began to pack the last of everything.

***

The box was filled with two tall stacks of paper on the bottom, comprising more than 2,300 pages of printed names. That’s what 51,000 signatures of support looks like. Cushioning and surrounding those bricks of names were the hundreds of empty pill bottles. (We don’t have recycling in my parish so I mean, why not?)  On top of the orange plastic ocean sat a brown box, just about the size of a Life cereal box. Inside were nearly 500 pages of your words–everyone that signed who had something to say. Voices of support for change, personal stories, loved ones stories, people sick for decades still holding out hope, and people sick at the end of their rope.

I was surprised how poignant and succinct so many of these messages were. These were the voices our government needed to see and hear (an ongoing need), so that box of papers went on top. Then of course, our letters.

The point is, we did it. We all did it. We came together and hit more than 50,000 signatures. People spoke up. The pill bottles piled up. Letters written, stories shared. Everything made it’s way into that box. And on Friday the whole kit and caboodle was taped up, sitting in the bed of a truck to Kinko’s, about to begin it’s travels to NIH. I kept looking out of the back window at it, as if it were a dog we were bringing to a farm for a better suited family to adopt.

At Kinko’s, a mostly disinterested, monotoned man asked us the typical questions and entered my uncertain answers into the computer. I was told to double check the info before hitting “accept.” National Institute of Health, Office of the Director. It felt dreamlike. I forget this man actually exists. Accept. And just like that, all that work, all our voices–in a box and carried with a grunt over to “outgoing.” Not without a picture first, of course.

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This mission so far has been possible because of the digital world we live in. Undoubtedly, none of it could be achieved without the accessibility and capability to assemble provided by the Internet and social media. For that, I am so grateful to live in the age we do.

But by putting this work onto actual paper made this crisis and our words come to life. I am one of the “millions missing”, and yet sometimes I have to remind myself my life isn’t normal. We can just do so much better, and the simple act of printing out each of your names made this reality, this need for change take on a visceral urgency in a way that names and numbers on a glowing screen can’t always do.

This was one of my major intentions in sending a box with everything printed. I wanted something people at the NIH could feel the literal weight of, could touch and hold. Something concrete they could carry with their hands. They’d be able to see what thousands of names demanding change looked like, and read our actual stories on paper. Holding our voices and stories and pleas for help in his hands, maybe Collins and those at the NIH might realize our fate is in their hands, too. They have the power to fix it. This is so much more than just a box of names.

My other point in all of this was to disrupt in a way that was not easily ignored. I wanted to get our truth and demands and personal messages delivered in an unconventional way–one that for instance, couldn’t be sent to spam. So thank you for providing me with material to disrupt with. A 24 x 24 box weighing in at just under 50 lbs should at least spark some curiosity on their end. So long as someone opens that box, I think something important is going to transpire.

I want you all to know, I realize this mission is far from over. The petition will stay open and running for as long possible. Sending this obnoxiously sized box with the things it contained was just one attempt at reaching the NIH. It’s certainly not the last, and I realize it may not work. But to really try always involves taking a risk. If this doesn’t work as intended, I can’t see it as a failure. It will only make me try harder.

So. 48.8 pounds. $100. And a lot of hope and prayers this box reaches the target. Thank you to my healthy ally Matt, for doing so much heavy lifting in all this. And thank YOU, if you’re still reading. For signing, sharing, speaking up, and helping demand change. It’s because of you we have something concrete to disrupt with. My gratitude is immense.

Out of everything, we cannot underestimate the power of our voices in this fight, and I intend for this petition to stay open as one channel where we can come together and say what needs saying. Thank you all who have spoken up and continue to. Thank you for making all of this possible.

Health, Happiness, O’ Little Town Of Bethesda

The Reward and the Wake of ME/CFS Advocacy

Two weeks ago, my family came together for an advocacy event coordinated by incredible friends and family in our old hometown, Grand Junction Colorado. The function was a success and took a lot of hard work by people who cared and put in major time and heart behind the scenes. My sisters friends Avery and Jordana, Jordana’s dad Harry (awesome dad name) and my Uncle Mike who was under the impression that months earlier he’d retired (Nope!) Besides them many more came together, helped fund, offered services, and sponsored the event in order to make it happen. As for me, I sort of just had to show up.

Beyond friends and family that put in the effort to sort out logistics doing an incredible job, the article in our local paper impressed me majorly–not just with it’s advertising of the event, but by publishing a full page color spread, covering our families stories respectively and including a digestible narrative about the reality of MECFS and giving it a wider context. I felt happy and surprised to read this article right out of my humble hometown, when such a surprising amount of press from noteworthy and “big league” media can completely miss the mark.

The dense, nearly unbelievable history mixed with present political roadblocks and numerous scandals all under the M.E. umbrella make the disease particularly hard to write about and convey in one article without writing a novel. Not to mention the personal, human interest side of this, and the toll it takes on patients and families. Very few articles contain both, and many more are simply clumsy, neglecting essential facts or even accurate data. Due to our general lacking presence in the media, I know someone might think “Well any press is good press, right?” But I struggle with that adage. When you’re fighting a thirty year old false narrative, not all press is good. In fact it can easily be bad by perpetuating fallacies, inaccuracies or misconstrued data, and even celebrate studies (like the PACE Trial) or treatments which have done the MECFS community incalculable harm.

So I guess, no, not all of it’s good. Too often I’m excited to see press about MECFS only to be disappointed beginning just the title, which will call the disease “chronic fatigue” or in the first line, inaccurately label the number one symptom as tiredness. *facepalm* But I digress, I didn’t mean for this to get into the media missing the mark, or the missing media in general, because today is about advocacy. And when people with this disease, their caregivers and loved ones, researchers and doctors are out there fighting for it, none of them will get it wrong. All of them know the numbers, the history, the truth, and the unfortunate personal toll.

The event in Colorado was a success. And maybe I’m a romantic and would call it that if even 3 people showed up, because that’d be 3 more people who were aware of something that is so rarely seen, heard, talked about, or understood. But many more showed up, family and friends we hadn’t seen in decades, strangers too, all to learn about a disease on a Sunday night, when it would be so so so easy to stay home and just forget it. It’s hard to express the humility and gratitude you feel seeing people show up, tell you they’re thinking or praying for you or your family, or even a stranger offering his hope and encouragement for the future. It all meant a lot, really. So THANK YOU again and again.

After the screening of Unrest, the 3 of us (my mom sister and I) spoke and were followed by Linda Tenanbaum, the CEO of the Open Medicine Foundation and human firecracker, who infused hope back into the audience, who were probably mostly thinking Dang, this is a shitty situation. Shituation?  She closed out the night before it was on to the reception. The firecracker (Linda) is an amazing speaker and doer, and having her attend the event only amped it up. Getting filled in on the OMF’s work and most up to date findings was a truly optimistic breath of fresh air.

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The OMF is at the forefront of research and work purely off donations, as in every cent goes into the science. All participants–brilliant researchers, doctors, scientists and logistical coordinators work on their own dime. Why? Some of them have a child or loved one with this disease, others just a determination to find answers to something with so few. Due to the explicit lack of urgency in the government when it came to MECFS interest, when submitted applications for funding biomedical research were repeatedly turned down by the NIH, these guys got together and decided it was time to do the work themselves. And thanks to the generous donations of so many people, they’ve been able to achieve and find incredible things. There is still a lot to do and this kind of science will require a lot of GREEN. But hey, maybe the #MillionsMissing protestors out there today in the streets will help change studying a disease with public charity to adequate funding provided by the Agency whose job it is to fund.

When we attended another event much like this one in California in October, it took me roughly 30 days to recover. I know because I videotaped myself everyday for a month to track how each day went after we returned. It’s a long trip and these events, while incredible and worthwhile, take a toll. The socializing alone is just like physical exertion, and the event in GJ lasted roughly 6 hours. While I’ve recently undergone an upswing in my health, I watched my mom that night—speaking and catching up with many old friends. Sitting as much as possible, not having even one glass of wine or “playing with fire” by any stretch of the imagination. She played it safe and did what she could to pace herself. You’d never guess anything might be wrong by looking at a photo from that night.

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Yours truly, My Sister Amelie, Linda Tenanbaum, Mama Gelpi, and my Aunt Amy. You probably know her.

Yet at 6 AM the next morning, I woke up on the couch just in time to see her collapsing, my stepdad with his arms outstretched underneath hers, catching her as she slowly went down, muscles twitching and trying not to pass out. She’d woken with a crushing migraine and often if she doesn’t take her medicine in time, some epic vomiting is soon to follow. She’d taken the meds but sometimes the migraine wins and all you can do is endure it until it’s had its way with you. She’d run to the first bathroom feeling her mouth start to water and knowing what was to follow, but my brother had just moments earlier gone in to shower before his early fight home. (Way to go NICK)

So she was on a quick race to the bathroom on the other side of the house, but midway through started to black out, and was luckily caught by my stepdad from behind while her muscles seem to go limp and the room blurred in and out. I can’t remember what was said but I knew she was going to spew quickly and ran as fast as I could for a bowl. I made it back just in time, with a casserole dish, which isn’t the best of bowls to puke in if we’re getting technical, but hey, better than the carpet.

After a nice little vomit session on the floor, we both pulled her up to the chair where we put ice on her neck and wrapped her feet in heat packs to try to get the blood to flow downward. She sat with her eyes closed, as though she were concentrating hard on something. But when you’ve experienced that kind of pain, you know just what it looks like, and that was it. She waited and Marc sat nearby for anything she might need. After an hour she was finally able to walk back to the bed and eventually get back to sleep. So, that was her morning.

And from what? From doing what healthy people do all the time. Watching a movie, catching up with friends, eating, hanging out. This is what put her over her envelope. Watching her I just kept thinking about the invisibility of it all. That no one would guess the woman they were with last night was in the extremely painful and scary position she was in now. But this is the story MECFS and those who suffer with it live it all the time. You see us when we’re well enough to be seen. Otherwise most of the suffering goes on behind closed doors, and no one presumes otherwise.

Today is #MECFS Awareness Day, and thousands of people around the world are taking part in the #MillionsMissing protest thanks to MEAction and many more. I wish I were one of them but I just couldn’t make it happen. So I made my sign with shoes attached on behalf of the three of us in the family to represent. It was only a tweet, but it was the best I could do.

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I hope anyone reading this who participated in the #MillionsMissing event knows the immense gratitude and unity from millions of us who couldn’t physically be there. This kind of advocacy isn’t easy, particularly on those who have the disease. They will all pay for it in terms of their health in big and small ways. And yet it’s what must be done in order to make the invisible seen, give the silenced a voice, and the truth a solid platform on which to land. My gratitude runs so deep to all those who organized to make THIS happen, and you know as well as I do, it doesn’t end here. We’ll fight even if we’re left beat up until things change the way they’ve needed to for decades. Hang tough, all of you. The Gelpi’s are with you in spirit. Thank you for your bravery, for caring, and for risking your own health so that we might all have a chance at actual health in the future. Thank you, in every language ;)

Health, Happiness, In Solidarity–Happy May 12th

Restlessness, Unrest, Doin Your Best, Zombies

For nearly  a month now, I’ve been writing a blog that would normally take me a few 3-4 hours to write and a few days to edit, if I were in “regular” enough health and other things were ordinary. I catch myself in a strange predicament, so I’ve abandoned that last post, which may have been THE BEST THING YOU EVER READ because I can’t damn well get more than a paragraph written on a good day, and the editing has become arduous for numerous reasons outside the one I’m about to describe, but to the point where writing, my one constant among chaos has taken a further hit. And since I’ve learned, for me, writing a simple status of things in my own life is easier than trying to put some thesis about technology together (one day) I’ll just bring you up to speed, because I’m not sure how long it will be like this. 

If you read in my past blog, you saw I’ve been fighting some switcht that seemed to turn on a charged degree of restless body syndrome and skin crawling, which have been part of my symptoms for years. With a switch of pain medicine that didn’t seem to improve anything and cause the hugely uncomfortable side effect of skin crawling and an insatiable necessity to move my limbs ,Unfortunately, when we stopped the medicine and returned to the regular regimen, for some reason, the RLS (or restless body syndrome + skin crawling) did not, which turned up a conundrum. 

We’ve yet been unable to find out what “fliped the switch” that made these symptoms turn on with the cherry on top of skin crawling, and why stopping the med that seemingly caused it to start wouldn’t naturally cause it to turn off. If anything the symptom has stayed the same and many, many restless days and nights become worse, and well, hellish. Waking up to squirming legs and little charges running through your body with your skin crawling on top, Is Foldiers in your cup! Kidding, its awful. I think I’d prefer pain. And since the pain has continued, now I get both, yeah! But if i had to pick between the two, I’d choose pain. It’s discomfort is different from that of squirming limbs, electrical bolts and your skin feeling like the audio equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, if that makes any sense. Besides all that, for whatever reason, the medicine I’ve been taking for nearly a decade that has controlled the symptoms 90% of the time, seemed to just suddenly stop being effective. It’s as if this clinically same symptom is originating or set off by something else in the body, and that has rendered my old meds useless. 

Where I am lucky, is that we found a medication that has been effective in controlling these symptoms, which truly, at times, feel more tortuous than pain. Where I’m a little unfortunate is that the medicine which calms down the lightning/snow/hail storm going on inside me, is the same medicine I’ve been taking for sleep for the last 2.5 years. At night it has done me wonders, since for years, even with the help of a sleep aid, I rarely made it through a full night a of sleep, saw a lot of sunrises, and often had tangible nightmares and at times became trapped in night terrors. (NO fun) Luckily this RX has not only worked best for my quality of sleep out of all the meds I’ve tried in the last decade, but it also seemed to reduce my nightmares, or at least made me sleep so well, I don’t remember them, which is, you know, fine by me. The obvious problem is that when you’re taking a pill so incredibly effective at helping you sleep, but you’re now taking it at 10 AM…you’re going to run into some issues. Like, um, what’s that word? Functioning, that’s right, you’re going to have problems functioning in daylinght. But without the meds, life is even less functional with misery stirred in. I wish I could say I were stronger and I could do it without the meds, but believe me, when you feel like you’re being tickled from the inside of your skin and your legs wanna kick and squirm and flex outta control when you just want to sit or lay and some strange shock or charge is making its way from head to toe frequently, it’s just not doable. You’re fighting the whole day. 

So, I went from misery and fighting, to z o m b I f i e d and tired and unbalanced (pysically) because that’s some of the med’s effects, which I”ll add, are HUGELY more tolerable than life without them. But, taking a sleep med during daylight, as I’ve explained, is draining me. I move slower than before. My cognitive ability feels like it’s being run by a fat hamster with heart disease. I can feel the effects that I know are from the meds, but it takes just the thought of one morning in January to make the “pick your poison” choice easy.

At a bitterly coincidental time, I was told to ween off that pill by my doctor because the FDA had been coming down hard on physisicians and who they prescribe to and how many doctors are prescribing to one patient could compromise their license. Sweet. I’d have to wait to find another doctor to prescribe it before I could refill it (I’ll write more when I’m not so z o m b i f i e d)  I found myself stuck between a few pills left and a hard place. The only thing relieving me from the misery was this med, but because of new regulations, only certain doctors were allowed or were choosing to prescribe it out of caution. I was prescribed some other conventional prescriptions to control RLS (Miripex, Bacloven and others) which did nothing, and my Lyrica and then Gabapentin had for whatever reason ceased to worked. Now I was stuck. 

I tried to talk myself into the belief that slowly weening off the Central Nervous Depressant and changing to the Bacloven that I could rid myself of this new, annoying, persisting symptom if I just believed hard enough the new meds would. But by the time I had taken the last pill and it was all up to the bacloven, I went 1.5 days and did what I guess we could call, ” possibly acceptable” but not at all “controlled” on the symtome scale. The morning I woke when I knew the last of the weening med had left my body, I was in hell. Really. I thought if I couldn’t get rid of this feeling, which was the truly inescapable task of needing to crawl out of your skin and also throwing all your limps off, I could see how and why people ended it. I know, that sounds extremely dark, because it is. But when you’re in that much extreme discomfort, you finally see why people could have it in them to do something that seems so far away and impossible in your own world. I wasn’t in hell, I had help and luckily one doctor to prescribe a partial dose until my appointment with the neurologist. Saved. 

But that morning for those hours where I tried everything I could think of and could not find relief, I thought of the many who came before me and those now who experience similar symptoms to a much higher degree and do not have the safety net of their health systems or family to fight for them and find them relief of their pain or quell their discomfort. This letter from a past advocate, one I never knew until I read her letter, who experienced unspeakable greater pain and hell than I did, and lacked the help of her countries support of MECFS more or maybe as much as the US had me thinking how in fact fortunate I was. At the least, I had a family that would step in and demand or find a solution I wouldn’ve have been capable of myself.

Another thing stuck with me. When leaving one of my 14,000 doctors, one who is actually very good and informed particularly in the filed of dysnautonomia (a huge aspect of ME/CFS for most) he said something. “You need to be getting as ltitle medicine as possible from as few doctors as possible, otherwise, you and I will be flagged.” I felt such anger on that ride home. This is where so many MECFS patients are stuck. It’s suspicious of us to have too many doctors all prescribing different meds, and yet, there’s no one doctor for us to go….This disease multi-systemic, and most patients, if they can make it there, have at least 5 different doctors monitoring different parts of their malfucntionng bodies. How on earth would we break this puzzle without research and education to show these medical entities the truth about a disease it simply does not undestand, and who some are plainwright just choosing not to look at.

I always try to take as little of the meds as I can because I know they will wipe me, which would make a lot of people, then find a way to withstand it or another solution. We’ve tried magnesium, checked iron levels, yes I have lyme disease, I take multiple supplements and I’m pretty sure I can’t The Shape of Water-it and just live in a bathtub for eternity, so for the time, this is my limited option to escape the suffering of this strange, insidious symptom that we just can’t figure out. Last month I saw Dr. Klimas, (my hero!) who is running a whole scope of tests, and all our fingers are crossed that we may find answers.  Not everyday is spent zombified, but my mom recently told me she was worried because every time she came over I sounded like a zombie and not myself and I said “maybe that’s just cause you come over at zombie hour” and she said that couldn’t be ruled out. But we both knew.

So, I try to get rid of the guilt that there is so much more I could be doing but that I am held back by from the very medicine that makes life bearable, but that can also make it very a slow moving, zombie-esque and unproductive experience. We can only do what we can do. When you’re already fighting “fatigue” (a really shitty word to describe a symptom of a really shittily named “chronic fatigue syndrome”, hmmm) a med like this is like 4,000 cherries on top. I definitely believe that either my body will very slowly adjust from whatever through it out of whack in October, or that I actually will be able to ween from these meds and get back to the thing I love more often—writing, advocating, and creating. 

And by the way, check this out! If you live in Colorado, please come to this advocacy event; it’ll be a good time with a good cause. The Gelpi’s will be there, Grandma Bell (you’ll know soon enough) and lots of others. Not Monty, sorry to disappoint 90% of readers :(

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Read more here about the event. And read more HERE for the write-up on our stories in The Daily Sentinel. Thank you Anne Wright for the article and for everyone who has helped make this event possible, which has been many, but especially Jordanna, (her dad) and my Uncle Mike who thought he was retired. Haha, sucker! Love ya.

Health, Happiness, Keep On Zombie-ing On

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

Teacher Tolle Tuesday

johnholcomb-1I’ve been meaning to create a segment for a very long time where I take passages from Eckhart Tolle’s books and put them here for the world, all thirteen readers of you, to see. ;)

There are certain passages from all of his books that I have underlined, highlighted, circled, starred, tabbed…you get it. And they all come from separate times I’ve read the book. The passage I’m about to transcribe here comes from a book of his called Oneness With All Life. I fear even writing that because it’s an easy way to turn someone off to it–there’s so much “new agey” crap about solving the mystery of life and “finding happiness” that the more details I give I’m afraid the more you’ll be resistant to reading it. I can understand that, there’s a lot of people claiming to have LISTS and PROGRAMS and FIVE EASY STEPS promising you happiness that it’s almost depressing. Happiness is not some trophy you come upon and clench when you’ve truly done it. Don’t we know that by now? How can we not be blindingly aware that no, money doesn’t buy you happiness. Duh. Look at your rich friends or family…do they seem insanely happy? No. Of course they don’t. They’re just often unhappy living with SUPER awesome amenities. But they do get to fly first class and I always tell myself if I’m ever rich, THAT’S where my extravagant purchases will go to…traveling first class. I’ll remember with a shudder the horrors of the main cabin. See? Already spoiled. Complaining about the incredible GIFT OF FLIGHT.

I remember in an airport once, I saw a book called the Happiness Project….which was all about following these set of rules, because as many do, this woman had found herself married, two kids, a job and loving husband, and yet not really happy. So she began the voyage. And developed some program to follow to be happy. And guess what? She seemed to find happiness! And maybe she really did. But reading it I couldn’t help but think that it just felt a little obvious and maybe a little gimmicky. I believed she was truly trying to find happiness, I just couldn’t buy that these were the ways to “get there.”  There aren’t rules to being happy, people love knowing what to do, it helps them feel in control, and that alone assists with “happiness”. Which is why when things come up unexpected, we just lose our minds because WE DIDN’T PLAN FOR THIS DEBORAH! There’s a lot of people who will promise you can be happy, and live an entirely great life, if you just tweak a few things. And sometimes they’re right. But that self-help section is bursting at the seams with many more who don’t seem to know, and we’re gobbling it up for a reason: because we all want to know. TELL ME!!! I’ll do anything to escape my misery!!! Wait what? No I won’t do that.

The truth is, according to the modern mystics,  in order to achieve our own inner level of peace, we have to look deeply at ourselves, not others. We have to change ourselves, we have to see ourselves, become conscious of our life and our way of seeing things, our patterns we’ve been taught–to react and stress and yell, when really none of that is necessary. If it rains when it’s supposed to be sunny, it’s going to happen whether you lose your mind and freak out or say, oh well, what should we do now? And if there’s one thing I’ve witnessed time and again, it’s that when someone is freaking out because things didn’t go “right”, and other people are not freaking out and casually just moving along because um, hi, we don’t control the sun, THAT. PISSES. THEM. OFF. Interesting, isn’t it. That’s the ego, clinging for life, and now not just angry that its raining but that OTHER people aren’t angry it’s raining. It’s ridiculous. But it’s the way it bees, and it doesn’t have to bees that way. I just know that we should be incredibly leery of promises that your life and your happiness can be changed and attained all in five easy steps! I’m no Einstein, (REALLY!) but I know when it comes to happiness, more importantly, when it comes to true inner peace and joy, there are no shortcuts. Life is really hard, and you can’t evade the pain. But you don’t have to create extra pain for yourself. The “extra arrow” as my friend Daniel always talked about. The story we tell ourselves about the facts. You’re going to experience pain, but you’ve got to do your work to figure it out, find the hidden seed of grace, and find how to grow bigger from it bot let it swallow it you whole.  But a lot of our pain is self-created, and I do it to myself all the time. Convince myself of some madness or offense, only to find out later I was TOTALLY wrong and an idiot for believing what I did. That’s how we can help ourselves. Ignore ourselves. Haha. Ignore our thoughts, pay attention to our inner self–two very different things.  There’s no “List of “10 things to follow and you’re all set!” So burn that book, if it exists, and I”m sure it does.

Tolle and a few other mystics are very upfront about truth and about how to go absorbing what they’re putting out there. But they are of such a different breed–they’re not writing about how to “get happy.” Which is what people want. 5 steps to get happy! They’re writing about how to be conscious. How to save yourself from causing undue harm or pain to yourself or others. And when you’re conscious in the world, you’re honest, with yourself and others–you’re honest when you’ve messed up, when you’re lucky, in pain, grateful, loved, sorry, and when you love. When you’re conscious and honest, you can’t lie to yourself about what the true source of pain is. You may not be able to know what it is, but you can definitely know what is isn’t.

SO, every morning, I read from Tolle’s repertoire of wisdom—books I have read over and over and over and I will continue to do so. Because all of them elicit further consciousness every time you read them. I feel similarly about Michael Singer, Marianne Williamson, and especially Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. But I have long days. I don’t leave the house a lot. I have to learn how to harness the normally spent mental and psychological energy that would go outward into the world, into tasks and work and conventional effort, at home, in silence a lot, in solitude a lot, with no plans, no control. The biggy. This is not easy and can be a great source of pain, more than the illness itself. So, on Tuesdays, we’re gonna take Tolle’s words that really stick, with a cup of tea. And I’ll just write them here. Maybe they’ll stick with you too. But please don’t give up on this post because I’m rambling. I’m gonna stop. Here’s Teacher Tuesday’s Lesson One, and it’s one of the more profound and lasting passages I’ve read. SO here it goes. Also I just jumped right in to the center of his stuff so we’ll have some preliminary terms to go over. We’ll do that next Tuesday. I’m still learning. See you then.

People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say, dependent on form. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that is always already here, that lies beyond what is happening or not happening, beyond form. 

Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is deeper than any form and untouched by time. 

The most important, the primordial relationship in your life is your relationship with the Now, or rather with whatever form the Now takes–what is or what happens. If your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional, that dysfunction will be reflected in every relationship and every situation you encounter. The ego could be defined simply this way: a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. It is at this moment that you can decide what kind of relationship you want to have with the present moment. Friend or enemy?

The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of relationship you want to have with life. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes and soon you will see results. Life becomes friendly toward you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative. One decision changes your entire reality. But that one decision you have to make again and again and again–until it becomes natural to live in such a way. 

Health, Happiness, Tolle Teachin

**Awesome artwork by Sarah Elise Abramson

Exshoes Me?

Someone explain to me why these shoes exist.

Why are they 400 dollars.

Why are they award winning.

Why is 300 dollars considered on sale. But they’re on sale you guys! SALE! 
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I’ve got a lot more writing to do, and mindfulness to be mindful of and reading of things that warrant being read. But all I can think about is these loud pom pom shoes (their words not mine.) I keep picturing if a clown/magician hybrid was at a birthday party and said “Hey, wanna see what kind of footwear I can produce, merely by farting?” THESE would be the shoes. And they’re not even that bad. In fact, they’re kind of funny. And I appreciate a sense of humor in fashion. Not to mention, in the marketplace of women’s footwear, (namebrand anyway) $400 is almost nothing, which is insane in its own right.

But these aren’t Louboutins or any of those other fancy hard-to-pronouce brands that warrant their price by brand alone and also merely sounding expensive. This is just the world we live in. Why can’t I get them out of my mind? That red color? They’re not that bad. Could I actually like these shoes? And then not like myself because I actually like these shoes? No. This is getting too existential and there are wars going on. This never happened.

BUT FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR CLOWN BUTT EXPLOSION SHOES? OK stopping. I’m now thinking it’s possible I might like the shoes. Also, I made this blog about shoes a long time ago with an oppressive amount of indoor time on my hands. I never released it into the wild because it’s not actually ready or done or whatever. But I guess now is as good a time as any. I’ll work on it. It’s called Is This A Shoe? Inspired by an ad for something that I think was supposed to be a shoe but I truly could not distinguish if this was something to wear on your foot or a childs toy from Ikea. (See second shoe from the bottom) Attributed also to the amount of inside time you have when you’re sick and in bed and have run out of cracks to stare at crawling along the ceiling. Click to see shoe blog. 

Oh yeah, and now some vastly more important matters before I go. Good God I should be ashamed of myself. This should be at the top. Anyway, pay attention:

Unrest the documentary is on Netflix, so you ain’t even gotta pay. Just watch it. You know you were just gonna watch The Office or Parks and Rec again, or feel sad that Stranger Things is over for a depressingly long time, so do yourself a favor and watch a really good, real life, movie. If you don’t have an account, email me, I’ll give you my password so you can watch.

SIGN/SHARE the petition. I abandoned it a while. It was a sickly and bad year, yada yada yada. Lots of excuses. But if I can advocate other’s work, why am I not advocating this one? It’s dumb, I’m dumb sometimes. So please, just know the petition is still UP AND RUNNING, and yesterday, we hit 44,000 signatures!! Still really, really incredible it’s acquired those kinds of numbers. All the more ways to DISRUPT and get the world to see. Power in numbers. Yada yada, you know all this. It would be really sweet to get to 50,000 by Spring, and then one million by summer, don’t ya think? Me too. I think we can do it. So let’s do it.

Until next time I come across something banal and obvious that I don’t understand…

Health, Happiness, Fight On

Looking Up

If you’ve ever looked at that iconic photograph of earth sent back from space by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, chances are you may have felt very small. The things you do can seem insultingly unimportant, useless, or a total waste of energy—the effort, our pain, the whole point becoming lost in the incomprehensible hugeness of it all. In one snapshot is a glimpse of our existence within the context of an entire planet: billions of people.

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There we are, floating, in orbit, rotating at some figure I could never pretend to compute or understand. A sphere of blue and green, dusted with blurs of white clouds we learned the names of in fourth grade. Cumulonimbus. Stratus. But it expands even further. A planet, within a galaxy, within a solar system, within a boundless universe for which we can only account for a relatively small portion. Why am I worried about the U2 album that came pre-programmed on my iPhone? I didn’t ask for that album Bono, I didn’t ask! But you look at our planet like that, and sometimes it helps spot spilled milk when we’re unable to discern it ourselves.

Snapshots just like this are every where in all types of forms– landscapes like the ocean, trees hundreds of years old, music that hits us somewhere deep or a night sky full of stars. They stir inside us some sacred moment demanding our attention. Attention beyond the five senses. These are the stirrings of Consciousness, I think. Or becoming aware of it. That divine desert in our depths, dormant and shy, but reliable like a sleeping dog, waiting on us to wake up and snap our fingers, let him lead the way. Always that calm sits in the background of our thoughts—that sturdy part that never leaves. The gap between breaths, but we forget. Last week I sensed it watching the wind rustle the leaves of the bamboo in our yard for I don’t know how long. I don’t get out a lot.
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I know this is Consciousness I’m confronting, because a stillness envelops me, time melts like a clock in a Dahli painting, and the typical limits and boundaries fade. A noise that usually dominates the atmosphere diminishes to silence. I haven’t arrived or gotten anything, I’ve simply met the present moment and there the forms, my thoughts and the sounds seem to run out of ink. A space is required for Consciousness to awaken, but it’s usually drowned out by the incessant noise of our lives. Opinions and drama and auto-pilot tasks and Snapchat. Trump. Chatter. Twitter! 

We are bombarded by distraction, no doubt, and there will never be a shortage to keep us looking the other way. Because consciousness doesn’t operate according to the limits of space or time, we are glimpsing eternity in that instance. A non-quantity! It’s no wonder we can’t hold the reality of this perspective in the forefront of our minds for very long. It almost operates on a separate plain. Size without a producable sum total– time beyond a unit of measurement: this is not how we learned to understand the world. It’s like trying to remember what words looked like before we learned to read. Then going out in the world and being told not to interpret the thousands of messages we’re assaulted by. Even Monty knows this is basically impossible. It will take some time to unlearn the default.

So we can only live in that space for so long before it vanishes out from under us, like a dream that dissipates as we slowly awake. The sky then fades back to a ceiling, a black ceiling with white dots. The ocean returns to an aquatic location where we swim and fish and take family pictures at sunset. And why not? Sunset by the ocean is the perfect backdrop for photos.

d62e90913370966f6d5efa7a2e878b0b.jpgThis Consciousness is hard to reconcile with the world we live in though, because it veritably negates the way we’ve been taught to perceive the world for centuries. At the same time it also perfectly encapsulates  Tolle’s explanation of our life here, which he emphasizes is not according to time, but to being awake in the now–the closest thing to time that actually exists. The Eternal Moment, he calls it, which works out in every scenario where you try and deconstruct it. I’ve tried. Still, when you’re down here in the dirt, when you’re in pain, it seems far too simple a way for things to operate.

So when the window opens, we can expect it to be small, but we should hold on as long as we can. I know that’s where a much more permanent and truthful dimension in us lies, it just hardly gets time out of the box. So I try not to be afraid of the quiet, of being alone, of having nothing “to do”. In these uncommon, custom moments, forces larger than us might be at work, awakening something that the whole world, not just us, is in great need of.

Most nights, I walk home from my parents house with Monty. They lock the door behind me and sometimes my mom yells Watch for snakes! Marc flips the switch and the Christmas lights in our trees illuminate a path to my house, a whole 15 steps away. Monty bolts off feigning a hunt of a squirrel or raccoon or some other Southern vermin. Midway between our houses is a small wooden path over the ditch that connects their yard to my driveway. Every time I reach that bridge, I stop, almost reflexively. I look up. Every time.

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Sometimes I’m holding a laundry basket full of clean laundry with my head pointed upward at the sky and mouth agape like an idiot. I often don’t even remember making the decision to stop or look up, I just find myself with my head directed that way. For whatever reason I think, I’ll remember this when I’m older. I see these constellations of stars and whatever shape the moon takes and if I’m lucky, rarely, a shooting star. I remember then too: the sky is not a ceiling. The sky is not a ceiling. Then I try to reconcile that truth without my mind exploding, and consider that what I’m looking at goes on. Then I try to humbly just appreciate the beauty of this magnanimous thing and think  think how I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m looking at.

I just know I’m mesmerized by what I see and some part of me is drawn to look there, every night. I wonder a hundred things. A part of me thinks maybe it’s the soul making a nod toward its source. The same way we’re drawn to look out at the ocean or up at trees the height of sky scrapers.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of burning gas with no intrinsic meaning and this is a crap romanticists idea of the cosmos. But that notion feels too simple when held up to the backdrop of the universe’s complexity.  Just like staring out at the ocean. These stars, this water: all here before us. All to go on after we’re gone.

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I think when we capture these hiccups in time, it’s not meant meant to make us feel small or meaningless; That none of this matters.  But I do think it helps us remember that our time here is temporary. We don’t exist on earth forever, which the human being practically takes as an insult. How dare there comes a point when I die! So we don’t talk about it, fine. We don’t have to talk about it. But we have to deflect the thought that just because we live in a boundless world with a kazillion people that we’re somehow replaceable and we don’t play a very needed and unique part in the production. It takes a trust that’s very hard to reach for, let alone find. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can assume one is that we’re not meant to torture ourselves over not knowing it. Maybe living with the mystery while trusting our path is answer enough, for now.

I’ve been writing about this for a while because one, my brain has run the speed of sap. And two, I’ve been sick every day this week and stuck in a half conscious state in bed. The last 4 months haven’t been much better besides an occasional ‘OK’ day. I realize compared to some of my sick counterparts, thats nothing. But still, it’s hard. It’s like you’re tethered to the world, and you slowly start to drift outward, losing your connection to people, your passions, a reason that makes sense. The further away you float, the more convinced you become that cutting the chord would be no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t say that flippantly. I say it as a testament to the power of the mind and our thoughts. They can actually make us believe we don’t matter, which is a dangerously powerful indictment that can be incredibly hard to fight off. I’ve been there, and I’ve had people help dig me out of the hole. I’ve been lucky, and I know that.

During trying times like this when my body feels like it fails me repeatedly, I’ve lost my belief that there is worth in a life spent sick this way. But that stillness, that other plain that awakens under night skies or oceans that you can’t see the edge of, it is so much more powerful if we only give it space to grow. Even just recalling that I’ve felt it before can help me remember that these periods in the dark will be “burned up by the light of consciousness” (Tolle), as they have before. I am still learning. Part of that lesson is to accept the mystery of pain, to even yell at the sky about it if that’s what has to happen, but to keep going, nonetheless. Even if you don’t trust where you are, keep going. At least allow yourself the relief of eventually finding a place you do trust. Like Churchill said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.tumblr_n18wf3teth1r7wnmko1_r2_1280

Life is working in pieces, one day at a time, like always. It doesn’t have to make sense in order for us to be happy. I wish it would– I feel violently curious for answers sometimes, knowing good and well that no answer will bring back the things I’ve lost.  But here we are, who we are, with the hand we’ve been dealt. It matters now how we play our hand in the game. With carefulness, attention, and reverence that you’ve got a hand at the table at all. Be still, make space. And look up once in a while.

I’m talking to myself again. It doesn’t matter. I still I believe there are answers everywhere. We don’t have to know them to awaken the space where they might be easier to find.

Health, Happiness, Looking Up

 

Me Write Now

So, it’s been… an interesting month. The viewing event of Unrest in California was really incredible. I have so much to write about all of it, but given that my brain has a time limit of functionality lately, I’ll just say quickly the most important part now: watch this movie. It’s a really, really well done documentary and surprised me in ways my mashed-potato brain can’t convey at the moment. But when my mind is more functional I’ll get further into it. But watch it–iTunes, Amazon, Google play. Find it, rent it, learn a lot– but also see some incredible stories. I strongly recommend it. It will not disappoint.

Here’s the trailer.

I think my brain is still in recovery mode. After the flight home, it wasn’t just a body crash but a brain crash.  For whatever reason, air travel has become increasingly overwhelming for me–mostly due to the noise. There is such a wide range of stimuli you’re constantly exposed to when you fly. Visibly, audibly, socially, physically. But for me it’s sound. I seem to have lost the “buffer” we were born with that smooths things out for us to hear, and the typical noises–converging gate announcements, people on their cell phones, the sound of the plane engine, the automatic flushing toilets, the sound of the captains “status update”–they all feel like an assault to my head. I know it these seems like small and petty things to bring up. And when I was well I never would’ve noticed or been bothered by things like that. But now they are actually painful. By the time I make it home…I’m wiped. I haven’t mentally really felt the same since we returned. I’ve been in an either hyper-sensitive mode of everything at once, or a hazy, sap-paced state where trying to complete a thought is as arduous as an old man trying to get out of a hammock.

The fact that I’m dealing with some major emotional whacks (a breakup, for one) has only made things go more haywire. In fact I think it was a lot of emotion mixed with regular cognitive overload that sort of took things over the edge. That and the insanely loud cacophony of those damn automatic toilets. It feels like my brain is going to shatter and shoot out of my ears when they flush. If I end up in hell, those flushing toilets will be the soundtrack. Just so we’re all clear.

When I think about my cranium I picture that delicate glass slipper being forced on the ugly step-sisters far-too-large foot. There just isn’t enough room in there for everything to find it’s place and get processed normally or in order.  It will suddenly enter an erratic state and my thoughts start flying from every direction dealing with any and every topic, related or not, and instigating every kind of emotion in a matter of seconds. It’s like a hail storm of mental calamities flying at high speeds up there, and I’m just trying not to be get hit. Orrr, it moves so slowly and stuttered I can hardly say my full name out loud without pausing to remember like, my middle name. Soo, cognitively…still in recovery. Please stand by.

Trying to avoid your own fast-paced thoughts and emotions, or extremely slow ones, isn’t really possible. Like Tolle says, you don’t evade them, you learn to watch them, and remember you’re the one observing them, but you aren’t the thoughts themselves. He’s right, but dang, it ain’t easy. Peasy. In fact it’s crazy hard. But, we try.

Yesterday, I realized I had spent 2 hours writing and rewriting the same paragraph. One! Who knows what that paragraph was even about, I had to quit when I realized I took a break and was looking for my phone charger in the refrigerator. I truly could not think straight–and that led to a whole cascade of things happening and a really fun couple of hours on the floor of my moms bedroom where she brought me back to reality. Thanks mom. I don’t know what that paragraph was about,  probably about feeling lost on top of feeling like butt. BUT, no matter the finished outcome, I can say with a good amount of certainty that it wasn’t good enough to warrant two hours of work. I was just stuck. It would be funny if after two hours the end product was like:

Me Mary. Me sick. Times hard. Heartache hurts. Time heals wounds. Time moves forward only. Time is taking a very long time. Hurry up time! God! My mom is hero. Head and face feel like human punching bag getting lots of use. Monty is therapy walking on four legs. Friends matter. Life tough but onward we march. Keep going. It gets better. Keep going. Keep going. Wait stop! OK keep going.

That’s basically it in a nutshell. Anybody want the 5,000 word version? Yeah, didn’t think so. Maybe I’ll talk in cave-woman all the time. It’s pretty efficient I must admit. I think I just have to rest my brain for now, but I didn’t want to feel totally defeated. Writing has always been an outlet, and I’m not letting the disease that shall not be named take it away. So I figured I’d write this post, not read back over it, and just let the world know: Yes, you are kicking my ass right now. But I’m still here. Still going. Bring it.

Health, Happiness, Me Try Hard

*Small note to the world, I was kidding when I said “bring it.” Please don’t bring anything else, we’re all full over here. OK? I was joking and I just wanted to make that clear to the universe. That was a joke. No more shit, K? For real. Cool. Peace.

 

 

Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

Something funny happens when you become chronically ill. Ready? You become totally shitty at fulfilling the roles that probably came easy and natural to you before The Grand Interruption. Parent, kid, sibling, husband, wife, friend–all of those roles are going to suffer, because you’re simply unable to do the things you could before. Your capabilities become limited, your time becomes precious and cornered, and your ability to meet your and other peoples expectations will fall short, again and again. I admit it fully, I’m in general an unreliable source of help, or maybe just unreliable period. And if you don’t think that stabs me straight in the ego, then try saying out loud “I’m a human wasteland” and see how it feels. Because that’s about how it feels.

But we have to be fair, to ourselves and others. We can’t hold ourselves to the same standards as before, especially when we don’t have the same working parts. And we have to remember that the adjustments we make are not adaptations that we alone have to get used to. All those people for whom we provided some kind of role, they’re going to be affected too. They’re going to get exhausted, be disappointed, feel the pain of you not being who you used to be, just as you, the sick person will. I don’t know what it’s like to be a friend or a family member of Mary Gelpi, but I know that I begin 90% of my texts, emails, and conversations with an apology–because I couldn’t make it, I’m responding so late, I won’t be able to attend (insert anything important) I’m sure they become as tired of hearing it as I become of saying it. It’s exhaustive, saying sorry all the time. It’s probably tiresome to be on the other end of it too. But you are sorry, you don’t want to be this crappy of a friend or sister or girlfriend–and while being sick is nobody’s fault, it is the reality and it’s going to be painful. Learning to redefine our roles must be a lifelong process, I’m not sure. I just know I’m still learning.

Maybe a part of being proactive in that transition is becoming more honest and realistic with myself about what I’m able to do. I don’t deny that I suffer from wishful thinking, and probably make commitments I shouldn’t. Letting people know that I can’t be counted on, which is still hard to say, would probably let fewer people down less often. They have to know what to expect, which is unfortunately very little, but it’s up to us to fill them in.  Sometimes you get so busy being sick, you forget to communicate. You forget that people don’t know, or remember. Or you give up on telling them because it can feel repetitive and pointless, but I don’t think that’s true in reality. If I’m not honest about what I can do, out of fear or pride or whatever it is, I will let people down because they won’t know where the line is

I’ve had to face the reality in the last few years that there is no such thing as “solid plans” for me, or relying on myself 100% to be able to follow through with them. Every plan basically has an invisible “tentatively” written behind it. Last month I rescheduled 3 doctors appointments because I was too sick to make it. I have no idea how I’ll feel one day to the next, and that takes constant adjustment. I remember my whole family coming to visit last summer, they were sitting around my living room trying to figure out who could babysit the kids while they went to the French Quarter for the day. I remember sitting in the room saying Guys, I’m right here, I’ll watch them. I was actually, momentarily, offended that they didn’t consider me. Then someone said Mary, you can’t even do your dishes right now. Oh yeah, whoops. I forgot my own unreliability! As Louis C. K. would put it, I’m a non-contributing zero. Hah, yes. That sounds right. I had to laugh that even I couldn’t remember that I just can’t be counted on right now, and as much as that can be a kick in the gut to admit, it’s sort of silly to take it personally. If you’re sick, you’re sick–just admit it and keep moving.

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“Sweetie, can you do the dishes?” “No dad, I’m a non-contributing zero.” “Oh, right. Well, we love you anyway!” “Thanks guys.” “OK now get out of the way so we can do the dishes.”

 

I said in the beginning that being sick makes us crappy at fulfilling our roles, and in the traditional sense that may be true. But it also remains that when you’re sick, you just can’t do what you can’t do. If you don’t have legs, you can’t walk. It’s toxic to compare yourself to an old life where all your faculties were in place, to a new one where half your parts aren’t working. But being sick forces you to redefine your role, and I think there are ways to use your new way of “being” in the world and still be functioning in your respective roles. It’s not as is being sick effects your ability to love. If anything it’s made me love deeper, made me more grateful, and made the friendships that have lasted grow in certain ways. Still, I fail a lot, and many times it’s because I’m a flawed human being, not a chronically sick person. So I try to be extra cautious of both. Like most things being sick teaches, awareness seems to be key.

I’m always asking the questions that I think everyone is asking; am I doing the right thing, am I good person, what am I meant to do with my life? My circumstances? We all have our different sets of assets and vices, and it’s a balancing act trying to find the middle part where your feet are solid on the ground. Becoming chronically sick picks up your lifeless body and throws it upside down and backwards so that when you land you hardly know which way “up” is. It’s a puzzle, a maze, finding your way, but not impossible. The guru’s are always asking “How are you going to use what’s been given to you?” I always looked at that question as asking how I’d use the gifts I was given–the positive things in my life. Now I realize the question is far deeper than that…I think more often they mean, What will you do with your pain? How will you use this Extreme Disturbance to do better? Well hell, I don’t know. I just know that all we can do is try. Many times that means living with the mystery and not the answer. Also not easy to do.

I think it’s possible to use the condition of being sick in positive ways and to also maintain your roles by newly defining them. It seems to require incredible creativity and ingenuity, and I’ve certainly suffered from a lack of those many times. But I know there are ways to transform your old ways into new ones that are equally rewarding but not costly or impossible. I wouldn’t have confronted these conundrums if I hadn’t become sick and lost control of all the things I used to think of as mine. It has at least opened me up to the possibility of higher consciousness, and compared to who I was, I know the Mary without control has a better grasp on reality, is more compassionate, a better listener, less proud and more forgiving. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging, I just think it’s good to examine the gifts that our so-called shitty circumstances can uncover. I obviously have a long way to go, but I know being sick has opened up deeper channels for me, and transformed the way I see the world and being in it.  Maybe it’s selfish, but I learned forgiveness by having to forgive myself first–for being where I was, for the things I could not do, for always thinking I should be doing better or further along. I had to let the unrealistic expectations go, and forgive myself for not reaching them.

I remember in my first serious relationship, which wasn’t until college, he frequently complained that I never apologized. My response was always “But that’s because I’m not the one who did anything wrong.” Holy cow, I’m the worst! It took years of learning humility and grace that being and saying sorry is a virtuous thing. It means recognizing your wrongdoing and at least becoming temporarily conscious of things you can do better. When you have a fight with someone, sometimes it’s because one person flat-out messed up. But many times, it takes two to tango, and talking things out, forgiving, letting go…all of it is stuff that moves both people forward. I don’t say this pretending as though I’ve mastered the art–I only know it’s there, it’s a choice. And it’s a good thing to know. I don’t know what or who I’d be like, were I still in my structured world, independent, living my life. But I know I enjoy the view from where I am now much more. I almost don’t look at life as mine anymore–I’m not sure whose it is. I’m still the driver, but it’s definitely a borrowed car.

Anyway, I guess this is your healthy reminder to keep those expectations low! And be grateful for the people who love you despite your human-wastelandednesss. They obviously see that you’re still cool despite being sick. And when people ask you to do something you’re incapable of, remind them with a smile: “I’m a non-contributing zero!” Then find new ways to contribute. :)

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“Son, you’re a non-contributing zero, and that’s OK.”     “…Thanks Dad.”

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

How to Write About Pain

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about the experience of chronic pain, in a descriptive way that might convey the experience to someone who’s never lived with it before, and also as a comparison against acute/short-term pain, beyond their obvious difference in duration. I think I finally came up with a good analogy to depict the experience of daily pain, the internal battle it becomes, the consuming and exhaustive nature it takes on. But I’m not going to write about that yet. Because also for the last few days, I’ve been questioning why I’ve taken the time to try and get this very unique experience across anyway. I’ve wondered whether it’s futile in the first place, but more I’ve been reflecting on whether the point in it is genuine; if I’m doing a service of any kind, or if my ego has found a formal way to complain. Like Tolle says, that is the ego’s favorite thing to do.

As an FYI, I’ll post about chronic pain next time, because I do actually think it’s important to explore for many reasons, especially if you’ve not been through it. And I’ll write more about why when I come there. But first I had to type out loud, because I question the morality of what I do–writing about my broken body and the battles that accompany it–or if there is any in it, all the time. I constantly ask whether I’m evolving, learning anything, or passing good things along, important things. Or if I’ve sunk to the lowest common denominator of the human experience, something literally everyone goes through in his life, and if it’s just too easy to make that a goal and have it blinded by ego.

I always worry about going too far into how “bad” things can feel. Sometimes, there is truly no point in bemoaning something you can’t control, and it doesn’t help anyone to go on and on about any matter of it. In fact it can easily make things worse, redirecting the mind to focus on negative aspects and intensifying the size of something that you are trying to keep small, in check. Not to mention, you’ll bore everyone to tears. No one likes a whiner, and I try to be cautious about keeping the line drawn, bold and underlined between the two pathways the narrative can take:

One describes an experience so that people on the outside might have a better idea of what his fellow humans are dealing with. It can help expand “common ground”, I think. If it’s done a very good job, it might help replace judgment with compassion, or prevent misunderstanding or a lack of empathy due to disbelief that it’s even real. It helps close the gap between the experiences of two people who have not lived in the others world.

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Guilty
The other path, takes pain and gives it too much of a stage. It exploits something that all humans go through in some capacity and disguises itself as some kind of cursed reward. It gains momentum by reliving the same woes with new words, and by getting others indulge in their own without reflection. It’s not adding anything new or valuable to the conversation. If it isn’t honest or asking for help, if it isn’t uplifting people, but just reinforcing old wounds, it’s fair to say it’s gone south. Ever notice how someone complaining can rub off on you and lead you to do the same, or simply leave you feeling depressed? I’ve experienced it in person, and I know writing and reading accounts can be just as powerful.

Similarly, a positive person, who still acknowledges reality but seems to see through their moment of pain, can leave you feeling hopeful and inspired. The difference is not that these people haven’t endured pain, but what they’ve done with it. How they chose to let it shape them.

I know I’ve crossed over into the negative side way more than I’d like to admit, and probably even fooled myself into thinking it was necessary. Talking about hardship will always draw people in, because we’re all being challenged in our own ways, carrying our unique burdens. But that’s why I scratch half these posts or become too afraid to write about things. It’s a necessary and good thing to talk about the realities we face, because so often it provides people reinforcement, encouragement, reminders they are not alone and the vital belief that they can endure their hardship, just as many before them have, and emerge on the other side. Reading other peoples stories has always inspired and comforted me. Sometimes I distrust myself and skip out on telling certain stories or of certain experiences, but I think maybe it takes practice in reading enough good stories, and knowing the difference between which one will do good, and which one is the ego getting his fill.

I pray constantly to be a source of optimism through honesty, not to exploit a reality that’s in comparison to some, very very lucky. I think you write about pain the same way you live with it, which is to keep in checked moderation and right sized, and attempt to keep eternity in view, somehow. I don’t know how to do this, but I know some good ways not to. So what can I do but try and hope that I’m on the right side of sharing a personal account. Usually if I become too whiny, my mother hits me. Kidding– but you have a big enough family and they don’t let you complain too long or past a certain point, so I’ve relied on them often to keep me in check. A good friend will do the same.

What I’ve learned so far is how easy it can be to start expecting things to go bad, because so many things go bad. But we do ourselves a disservice in becoming convinced the world has conspired against us and we’re doomed to draw the short end of the stick for the rest of our lives. The trouble with that kind of thinking, besides it having no intrinsic value, is that it assumes the rest of the world is riding the easy train to party-town, never confronting a hardship, enduring pain, or drawing their own crappy short sticks. No one has a monopoly on pain. It’s part of all our respective contracts here. So having the idea that your life is hard and everyone else is clueless and has it easy will only make your own pain worse by punctuating it with something that isn’t true, first. And second, that idea undermines the lives of others who do know pain good and well, but whose experience you are now denying, because you can’t see past your own. I cringe to consider how many times I’ve done this, being stuck in my own dark hole.

Pain can be blinding or clarifying, depending on how well it’s kept in check. It can be overwhelming in the moment but when held against the larger backdrop of our lives, it usually highlights what is good, it makes gratitude grow and can help you see with new eyes. If pain is held up only in its moment in the dark, and seen as punishment, bad luck, or some kind of payment you got stuck with and others are getting for free as though its some kind of tax, then you will pay continually, and your relief will be rare. Pain shouldn’t make us proud, it should show us humility. Acting well and grateful and good in the face of pain is what should make us proud.

Sometimes I think of my life from a birds eye view, looking at it plotted out on paper like a map, where I can trace with my finger through the course, beginning to end. When I get discouraged, I think that what I fear is living a life I can’t say that I’m proud of in the end, when I’m tracing my line and seeing how I behaved. I know what will make me proud is having loved fiercely, being steadfast, humble, trying, listening well, finding humor in every stupid day, and being grateful for the lucky life I was given, the family of love I was born into. In the meantime, it feels good to put your head down and work. Sometimes you endure the pain quietly, and know that you’ll be OK whether you tell someone about it or not. I think moderation plays a role, and a discernment in what is worth sharing and what will only exhaust us to speak about. In some way it comes down to self-awareness and restraint.

I’ll end with this passage I read in The Road to Character this morning, a book I’d highly recommend by David Brooks. The first quote is Brooks summarizing George Marshalls training at VMI, followed by a quote from Cicero, which Brooks used to explain the composed, revered manner of Marshall throughout his life.

“The whole object of VMI training was to teach Marshall how to exercise controlled power. The idea was that power exaggerates the dispositions–making a rude person ruder and controlling person more controlling. The higher you go in life, the fewer people there are to offer honest feedback or restrain your unpleasant traits. So it is best to learn those habits of self-restraint, including emotional self-restraint, at an early age…

That person then, whoever it may be, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fight, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person in the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.” -Cicero

Health, Happiness, Restraint

P.S. This is dedicated to Varney Prejean, the eternal optimist in the face of pain and such a happy, loving, groovy person. If you’ve got an extra prayer, send one out for him. Hang tough Varn-dog, we’re rooting for you!

Apathy, Advocacy, Jumping In

I remember a conversation I had with my mom, roughly six years ago. It was not long after the Great Crash of 2011. I was slumped at a bar stool in my parents kitchen. I’d been crashed a while and not doing very well, physically or mentally. It was a grey, wet Winter, perfectly depressing, and I remember looking out our office window and thinking “I feel exactly like the weather.” I’d been caged up too long, among other side effects. Everything was a reminder of what I’d lost, what I believed the disease took. I knew I should be grateful I had somewhere to go, and I had people to take care of me at all. Not everyone has that, no doubt I was lucky. But I didn’t want help. That kind of surrender is never really easy, but when you’re in need, it’s really the only way to go. Resistance just ends up making you mean to the people who are trying to help you.

My mom was folding laundry, explaining to me the details of a promising new study going on, something involving the gut; I wouldn’t know because I was barely listening. She told me that I should follow the research and recommended I read a blog called Phoenix Rising, a veritable A-Z of everything MECFS. It might help me feel better if I at least understood more about the disease, on many levels.

But I could almost feel a visceral resistance to this idea. Ironically, I didn’t like reading books or blogs or stories about this disease. They only reinforced what I already knew, and they all ended the same—no one got better. I can remember holding back tears, angry tears I guess, that I didn’t want to read anything about this disease again unless it was an article touting that they found a cure.

They?

(Insert really awkward DC photo)

DC
So terrible.
6 years later, I found myself frozen in the doorway of room 129 in the Rayburn Building in Washington D.C. I was attending an event called “The Storm on Washington“–an event I felt a strong pull toward for a few months.

This room would be our “MECFS Command Center” throughout the long day–a place to commune in between meetings and rest, eat, talk, or collapse. (Really, there were beds) I hadn’t even entered and already I could feel the warmth of the room from so many bodies insides, at least 10 degrees hotter than the icy hallway. It was 9 am and a low, indecipherable murmur pervaded the room from multiple conversations–introductions and instructions and attempts to achieve order among a really huge, logistical effort. I stood there like a lost puppy, watching the quiet chaos unfold. I knew not one person. What the hell am I doing here?

Doctor
Meeting the MAN, Dr. Nahle
I was doing what I’d done many times before–jumping in without a clue. But I was among smart and determined people. The principal reason for being there was pretty easy anyway–to share my story, to try and humanize this disease and convey the experience with decision-makers. I’d told my story plenty of times before, I’d become pretty practiced.  That day 52 advocates would meet with over 70 congressional offices and representatives. A success in just making that happen, in my book.  (Thank you MEAction and SolveMECFS!)

It feels like there have been many beginnings to my entrance into the advocacy world. A place I never thought I’d enter, for reasons I’m still unsure of now. Bitterness maybe. Fear probably. I still feel like I’m hardly making a dent, but I am trying, finally. Bitterness, self-pity, doubt–all of those feelings depleted me, when I was already emptied of energy. They still come around. But finding small glimmers of faith that you might be where you’re supposed to be, even if the circumstances are crap, feel energizing. Any time I’ve come across hope, it’s like a flashlight turning on in a cave. It’s somehow always led me out, even if very slowly. But it usually means some kind of surrender; giving it a chance. I don’t write this as though finding purpose in a painful situation is easy. It’s not. Particularly chronic illness, which is long-term. It took a long time to figure out that I could still even have one, as I was. I still lose my way from time to time, and wait for a flashlight to flick on that I can follow.

I didn’t know when I published the petition last year that I was entering the world of they. Nor did I really know what I was doing then either, surprise surprise. I was following intuition and telling the truth, that’s it. But the same energy that brought me to DC encouraged me to write it. Call it the universe, or God, the collective unconscious, or soul–something outside the 5 senses was helping me out. I just sort of followed the scent.

Admittedly, I’m bad at campaigning. Gary Zukav says that when our soul and our intentions are lined up, the universe backs us in big ways. Maybe that’s what happened when it gained something like 20,000 signatures in a day. I was also lucky that my sister does know how to campaign, and my enormous family, circle of friends and other advocacy groups pitched in, all in huge ways, and now that petition has 42,000 signatures. When I wrote it I had my fingers crossed it would reach 1000.

Did 42,000 signatures fix the problem? No. But it did something else important. It connected me to so many people through the feedback page, where people can leave comments. People shared their personal stories, their loved ones stories, gratitude and words of encouragement. Total strangers said they’d pray for this effort. Every time I read one of those comments it made me want to work harder. It showed me how far-reaching and devastating this disease can be.

I thought had it bad? Talk about small potatoes. The petition did two things: 1. Showed me I could have it a lot worse, so easy on the self-pity, chief. 2. Stopped me from looking the other direction. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what we’re asking the government to stop doing now.

It was the petition that led me to connecting with an MECFS advocate online, who knew the D.C. Aide for Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana State Senator. I contacted him, which led me to a meeting with Cassidy’s number 2 guy and the Louisiana State Director, Brian McNabb. Meeting with McNabb for 2.5 hours, discussing everything MECFS was an incredible experience. Did it change anything? Maybe not. But it encouraged me big time. And in the end it scored me a meeting with Senator Cassidy. McNabb warned, it would be in between two events so it’d have to be quick, maybe 5 minutes. I said I’d take it.

So, I met Bill Cassidy in a parking lot on his walk to his car with a group of staffers surrounding us.

Cass
Parking Lot Office
I had to talk fast as he was late to his next meeting and his assistant kept saying “Sir, you’re very late, we need to go.” I spat all the vital things out as fast as I could. Knowing I didn’t have long, I left him with a folder where I’d printed out 25 pages of peoples comments and stories that they’s shared on the petition page. Did he read them? I’ll never know. But he looked me in the eye, he shook my hand, and he told me out loud “I really care about this issue.” I told him thank you, I couldn’t express how much we needed people to care. He said he wanted to continue the conversation when he had more time. We were being herded like cattle to his waiting car. A cynic might say he probably says that to everyone, but it didn’t matter. Here was one more person who had now at least heard of this disease and the issues, and also had some decision making power. His assistant who had hurried us both while listening to our conversation, started to get in her car, but stopped, got out, and gave me a hug first. Good stuff.

Later, my uncle who is a mutual friend of Representative Steve Scalise, had seen my “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song” on the petition page–a mostly embarrassing but celebratory song I wrote after hitting 40,000 signatures. He thought it was pretty funny, and asked if I was interested in a sit down

Scalise
Obligatory Photo, Thanks Mr. Scalise
with Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Representative and the Majority Whip. Umm, yes. So not long ago, my Uncle Paul and political mentor, Rep Steve Scalise and I all sat down for a while to talk MECFS. He was another kind and engaged listener. He asked good questions and was generous with his time. I told him my story, I attempted to tell the story of MECFS among my hiccuping brain, and Paul helped me convey some things when my words turned to spaghetti mid-sentence.

Would this meeting solve it? No, but it was one more person who now at least knew of the disease. Someone with decision making power. Count it.

It was exactly one week after that meeting that Scalise and others were shot in a baseball field in the middle of the morning. What?! I am as clumsy with thoughts as I am words when it comes to events like that. It’s so hard to understand, it happens way too often, and I still feel far away from it somehow. As cliche as is, I’m praying and sending healthy thoughts his direction and the others injured that day. How this all plays out in history, we can’t know yet. Maybe someone is reading this in the year 2045, and it will all make sense.

Why am I writing this now? Because I need the reminder, which is very obvious but I want in words anyway, which is just to try. A reminder of how much happier I feel when I go for it, even when I don’t know what I’m doing. A reminder that writing 15 versions of this one stupid blog post over the course of a month is mostly a waste of time. Just jump in. It’s not always complicated. It will never be perfect, but it’s almost irresponsible not to try at this point, and to keep trying, over and over.

I continue to walk the thin line between fighting for a cause I whole-heartedly believe in, and surrendering to circumstance and the things I can’t control. I’m always learning , that a sick life can be a good life too–and I hope can still become a person I can say I’m proud of in the end. It’s easy to cross over too far one way or another, but if I stop trying, I’m a gonner. Sometimes I fail. There are many (funny) stories where I blow it. But it feels so much better to get out there and blow it, then to act like a bitter teenager on the sidelines, thinking pain was never a part of the deal. This is the reminder; try. You always feel better when you do, so do.

Health, Happiness, Tryin

Fuel to the Fire

It’s been so long since I’ve typed at a computer, I think my typing speed may have dropped to under 60 WPM. Dangit. I should probably quit writing everything by hand in notebooks, if I want the words to appear anywhere else but in a stack on my bookshelf, that is. Also my handwriting is pretty indecipherable so I guess it makes sense to stick to the computer. It’s just that writing by hand has always felt easier, more accessible and immediate. There’s something more rousing about putting actual pen to page. I hesitate less. My ‘thinking’ mind turns quieter, and the space that must open in order for the good writing to come through stays that way, without distraction. Especially when I’m scratching away with a really great pen. Right now it’s a black Pilot G-2 07. Sounds like a damned air o’plane, and I’d even describe it as a “smooth glider.”. So, I guess I’ll just be transcribing from page to machine for a while. I need an intern. Any takers? I will pay in doughnuts. Why is doughnuts spelled like that?

This last month has been filled with a few major milestones. Most of them aren’t mine, but in the absence of personal excitement, the achievements of those in my inner circle are close enough–plus it’s something to tell other people. Like someone will say Whats new Mary? And instead of saying Um, nothing. I say Not much, but my childhood best friend had a baby! See how that works?

My childhood best friend had a baby. For real! It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it, not because she’s the first of my friends to start a family. But because we’ve just been friends for so long, since we were babies in fact. We still laugh at jokes from when we were five! Sometimes I feel so young around her–I guess the kid in me comes out. Now she has one! A beautiful, alert, amazing little daughter. It’s all very exciting. I’ve decided that I’d like her to call me “Ont Viv” (what Will called his aunt in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire) I find it fitting, and if she has half the sense of humor of her mom, she will appreciate the spirit of this name. Of course, just like a milestone birthday, this big thing happened, and yet it’s not that different. Kaitlin and I are still the laughing, weird, sister-friends we’ve always been, except now there is a tiny little girl sleeping in the corner while we talk. Funny how everything changes, but the middle stays the same. Welcome to the world Bernadette Jane! Love, Ont Viv.

My other best friend, Dr. Emils, got married a week later. I was a bridesmaid: score! A Southern girl and a guy from Amsterdam equaled a classic New Orleans wedding with a dash of Dutch. Nice. Two days of wedding festivities and a crawfish boil led up to the ceremony at sunset, on probably the best day of weather New Orleans has had all year. Everything was perfect and she made such a beaming, beautiful bride. It was a happy, lively experience to be a part of and filled with a lot of love. All topped off with a long second-line led by a classic Nola brass band singing all the greats, including When the Saints Go Marching In. Weddings are the best. No, New Orleans weddings are the best. If you ever get the chance, go! I’m really happy for my friend, mostly because I could tell how incredibly happy they were together.

I’m also the last single girl on the planet. Sweet.

Engaging in a two day wedding weekend is a rare chance for me to see old friends, to be around people my age, to have a reason to dress up–or get dressed at all, for that matter. It’s not often that I get to do things like this. Not often I get to be 32. My life consists of a lot of solitude, which I like, but it’s always nice to get a glimpse of life outside the farm. If anything I live more like a 90-year-old dog lady, so I try to soak up every moment of acting 32. It’s tricky too, because I know that participating in things like this are not without consequence. Acting my own age comes with a price tag, so every time I decide to do it, I’m making a silent agreement. No one really knows the gravity of decisions like this. Or what’s involved in just showing up, or how  I’ll pay for it all later. The choice is so much more encompassing than just deciding to attend a party. I swear I don’t write this out of some martyr, woe-is-me mentality. It just struck me as I was swiping through photos of the big day, which was a really fun day–that it makes perfect sense why so many people misunderstand the illness. They don’t know the weight and preparation and consequence of partaking in something normal, like being a bridesmaid in a wedding. How could they? All they see is this:

unnamed
I did.

They couldn’t know how much time and tedious planning went on beforehand, including scheduling when I would bathe, to ensure there’d be enough time for rest between that and the next event. They couldn’t feel the certain amount of pain you just have to bare through things like this. They don’t see the plethora of medicine necessary to endure standing and socializing and lasting through a night. And they’d probably never consider such things, like a bath, or socializing, as exertion in the first place–As something that counts against you in your fight to keep strain at an absolute minimum. And that is almost always the goal. It’s obnoxious even to me, as I write it now. The strange reality of living with this thing. The exhaustive necessities involved in even small things. You’re always calculating how much every little thing will cost you, always trying to save up if you’ve got somewhere to be. But what really struck me is that nobody sees what the pricetag actually looks like. That’s because the pricetag comes later. They don’t see the subsequent week or weeks of recovery that follows at home. Which can look a little like this…

waiting
Poor Monty

When I thought about the outward appearance of illness, the timeline of how it plays out, what I show to people when I’m out and what goes on at home–I realized not only how easy it would be to get the wrong idea about the disease, but also how I might play a part in misrepresenting its reality.

For one thing, I want to emphasize that the reason I am able to even show up and participate in a wedding is because I’m currently at a functional-enough level to pull it off. There is a spectrum to the disease, there is waxing and waning, and there have certainly been times throughout the last 6 years when I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter. Even so, being “functional-enough” still means tedious logistical preparation, and a two-week long crash as a result. So, I’m still miles from where I once was, or should be. But many others are bound to their homes, many are bound to their beds, and we are all suffering with the same disease. I realize that people may see me when I’m in public and just not “buy” that I could be sick. And I see why this misperception persists.

But I also think that often we assign too much power to labels, and we attach our personal version or image of what “sick” should look like, and those who don’t fit the bill are either doubted, ignored, or assumed sick “in their heads.” We should all consider the many forms that ‘sick’ takes, and acknowledge that even terminally or chronically sick people don’t look sick at all times. No one would’ve guessed my dad had cancer, and that guy was dying! Looks are deceiving, and this immediate tendency to mistrust what we don’t immediately see or understand results in a basic lack of humanity. I am probably at my most functional that I’ve been since 2012, but I still walk a very fine line. It can and does go south easily, and it still requires help from my parents, a lot of rest and recovery time, a ton of medicine and doctors, and a lot of supine time on my own. (With Monty) And I am a lucky one, for sure. I know that people who suffer with anxiety/depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, Lyme, MS, Lupus and other chronic diseases suffer with similar outer doubt and confusion because their illnesses are not always easily seen from the outside. Labels, symbols, projections; they’re all powerful things, and they’re something we should consider and adjust on the whole before we make up our minds about something we may know zilch about.

I think I feel the need to write about this because ever since I entered the world of MECFS advocacy last year, I came face-to-face with just how poorly understood the disease is, how much misinformation/pure fallacy is out there and dominating the conversation, and how many people are getting it wrong because of the name alone. (Another thing I understand, it’s a stupid stupid stupid name.) I also have to consider whether I am helping to change and fix these misperceptions or if I’m at all contributing to them; and if I am, what I can do to fix it. I thought a lot about that after the wedding while looking through such beautiful pictures from the day, from the confines of my bed, knowing I wouldn’t leave home for a while. I didn’t think critically about this before last year, but I’ve learned up-close how much these things matter. The problem of disbelief is so much larger than gossip or personal dramas. This is literally public opinion shaping policy. It’s allowing the lack of intervention on a disease affecting millions of our own and many millions more around the world. How long will we allow people to suffer? How long will we let the accountable people look the other way? The world is looking at us and our treatment of this disease, and we are totally blowing it.

As soon as we show serious interest, I know other countries will follow suit. I know we will also make important new discoveries and possible cures. For now, we are at a stalemate that is costing millions of lives and billions of dollars. It’s almost hard to believe it’s true or possible after so long. And yet, here we are…

In the last year there has been awesome and much needed support from the public. The many signatures on the petition was surprising and still continues to humble me. I should say, it was that petition with such a substantial amount of sigantures that scored me the local news spot, a meeting with the Louisiana State Director (whom I spoke with for more than two hours about mecfs) and the reason I had a follow-up with our Senator Bill Cassidy. There’s more on the horizon. I’ll write more of that later. But our fight to be recognized, pursued and funded for biomedical research has come closer than ever in the past year, and we have to keep up the momentum. To quote my mom, “The timing could not be worse.” Hah, she is right. Politically things are somewhat of a shit-storm right now, and the potential for a slashed NIH budget on the whole obviously doesn’t work in our favor. But with the recent diagnosis of my sister, the possibility of backtracking our earned success, I have a renewed fire to fight and faith in myself, the advocates, the public, and the system, and an unrelenting hope that we can and will fix this. The timing might be terrible, and yet the truth is, there’s no better time for change than right now.

There are so many people in the advocacy arena who are doing big things–as for me I will continue to campaign for awareness in all ways I can think of, and restart petitioning for signatures. But I think possibly the most powerful voice is that of the public– not from those who are sick, but from those simply who see the injustice that’s happening. That’s who we need to hear more from, and seeing the amount of healthy people who have signed the petition already restores my faith in people all over the world will come together and make this happen. Thank you all again. Here’s to the next 40,000…

Health, Happiness, Fire