*As a follow up, my mom convinced me to go to dinner that night even though I felt really rough most the day. I stood weak and wobbly at the sink brushing my teeth and was seconds away from calling her and saying I just couldn’t make it. But something told me to go, given that my mom is typically right, and we could always leave with the second car if I didn’t feel well enough to stay. Also, these people are basically family, and they’d be completely comfortable letting me lay on the couch while my parents and my brother Nick enjoyed dinner. (Nick was in town and it was his second to last night. Another incentive to go)
To my surprise, their energetic spirits, both of them, (my God-parents–Varney and Sweet Pea) seemed to rub off on me-on all of us. I did need to leave this house, even if it meant just being sick somewhere else. To hear other people’s voices and stories and hear my parents laugh and engage with the world outside the ol’ farm…to remove ourselves from the everyday, which is hard to do in our state. But it was clear we all really needed it. The energy seemed to flow through each of us and build as we interacted and laughed and remembered how much love existed between us that we just don’t get a chance to see very often.
I felt lucky remembering such amazing people exist and who we consider part of our family. It was a gift to be able to get together that night and be reminders to one another of what real friendship and love can do, even if you see each 3 times a year. Love and friendship don’t keep score of anything. Anyway, I’m grateful. You get it.
OK, Super Bowl today…
*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.
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.
I feel this modern artwork both describes what it feels like in my brain recently and also represents the clustershit that my writing has been. At least spaghetti brain can look pretty. The writing is a mess.
I say the as if it’s someone else’s. My writing. Me. I’m doing that thing where I start out simple, on course, paving a promising path toward something that makes me think but that I can also wrap up and understand in the end. There’s never a lull for words or ideas. They pour out–I have a lot of time to think them up. When I’m not writing them in my notebook or typing them on my phone I’m usually just thinking of nice sentences in my head. I’m mind-writing. Just watching sentences fall into place mentally, perfectly, and I actually feel relief when these sentences are formed. The kind of relief you feel when you get in your car the first time after you’ve cleaned it, and it was dirty for a long time before. It happened on the way home from the pharmacy yesterday. Sadly, I remember the relief more than the sentences or ideas. I tell myself I’ll remember this later, but I hardly ever do. On rare and momentous occasions, if I just sit down and start to work it will pop out like a wine cork. Ah! There it is. But I hesitate to think how much has gone un written because I wasn’t near a pen or a computer, or that I actually was but just didn’t put the effort into getting it down. Owell. That’s kind of a self-important thought. And, I guess we have to assume the work we never made, lost now somewhere between sleep and consciousness, was probably crap.
The words pour out not because I’m FULL of words and ideas, but because I have no requirements. Few expectations, no deadlines. No assigned topics. And no financial incentive. It’s just a hobby that I treat like a job. Except that I’d be fired by now and there’s no 401K. Maybe I have too much freedom, so the meandering and circling is just too easy to do. I struggle because it starts off clean, on track with a promising topic and flows naturally in one direction. Then somehow it turns into the literary version of a flying cockroach, darting around clumsily in different directions and you don’t know where it’s gonna land next and you know when it gets killed it will make a crunchy sound. Sorry scratch the last part. I don’t know what it is. I like the words and concepts emerging,they’re just not always in order. Or they’re crap.
I know this will sound incredulous to some, but when I’m in a crash my brain starts to stutter and cloud way more than usual. In the past I’ve mostly been able to avoid the cognitive effects at least when it came to my writing. But I’ve been working on this post since Thursday. I know I know, easy to blame shortcomings on the illness. But the only reason I feel it is effecting me this time is because that reading stutter returned on Friday too, having to reread sentences over and over, and then just not remembering an entire page and having to start over. Luckily I rested mostly on the couch while Monty quivered near me at the sound of America’s birth, and two friends brought me food! It was nice. Yesterday I was more clear headed reading wise, and able to finish my latest read, The Invention of Wings, which was really great. There’s a lot of good little nuggets in there. And I was surprised and inspired to learn in the authors note, the two main characters were real–born into money and a large plantation in South Carolina around 1830. They would eventually became devout abolitionists and publicly denounce slavery and fight for its end, sharing the cruelty they’d witnessed with their families own slaves publicly, and the world didn’t quite know what to do with them. I enjoy characters like that. It was enthralling and I recommend it. I need a book club.I just feel like I’d never show up after the first meeting. Anyway my mom says she’ll read it so that’s cool.
Where were we? My writing going in circles, right. I wrote for three hours on Thursday and three hours on Friday and collapsed like a whale on to my couch after both “sessions” and sortof spent the weekend that way. Yesterday when I revisited the words, I realized I’d written over 4,000 of them, and some made sense and others were in the wrong places and would just require a re-organization of things. But I don’t think my brain can handle it right now. I’m leaning towards spaghetti brain. Noooo. Here, I’ll find another pretty picture.
Also, I think this is why agents exist. Why good writers have agents. Proofreading! There’s a word I haven’t heard since college. Maybe that’s what this blog is, one long proof-reading session and one day it will turn into something else that actually pays dollars and cents and I can get an agent or whatever. Or maybe I just need a small person to stand beside me and ring a bell when I’ve written and rambled more than 10 minutes. Now I’m doing that thing where I write about writing. So dumb. I should just write and post. I’m too cautious. I just want it right and I know when it’s not. DING, the bell rings.
I’m going to condense and summarize the absurd amount of words resting on a white page behind this screen. Because I Believe in Brevity!! That sounds like something..a campaign slogan? Specificity is important too. I accomplished neither, so I’m just going to sum it all up. OK. It starts with this sentence.
“I think the time for a typewriter has come.”
Simple enough right? Then it drops off the edge. I find myself wondering if technology is aiding or prohibiting these things–writing, art, creativity and whatnot. Which somehow brings up the woes of scanning Facebook in the middle of the afternoon, and what those photos are actually capturing. I ask what it is about these photos that leaves me and others sad and yearning as we keep scrolling. (Authenticity, I think is the answer) Then I compare Facebook photos with those JC Penny photos a lot of us took in the 90’s, (dudes, the hair) and explore physical momentos verses digital ones. Is my generation more or less authentic than the last one? Next I defend Millenials after continual insistence and wagging of the finger I encounter that says Millenials are all lazy, don’t know the value of hard work, we were given too much, have no accountability, and don’t appreciate what we have. This article is a great example which went viral a while ago and a few people posted it on Facebook like “Oh my God, so true.” Uhh, agree to disagree I guess. I agree that your point is false. Then, I deliver a personal conviction that it may not look like it, but I think as humans we actually are progressing, despite a lot of people my parents age saying the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I wonder if their parents said that too. And their parents parents. The fact is we’re still living among the good and evil that has always existed, which leads me to an exploration of that provocatively awesome question David Foster Wallace asked, which is, If we have all the things our parents never had and more, why aren’t we happy?
Let that simmer.
Then I wonder if is this a theme that has repeated itself throughout every generation. Always thinking the next one would surely have it easier. Each one working hard so the generations after them might have what they never had, and do things they never did, and avoid the hardships that they had to endure. Maybe it’s hard to see that the world is still what it is, and human beings are still who they are, imperfect, after you’ve worked so hard to make it better. Especially if you worked your whole life to do it.
Maybe our notion of happy is off. Or maybe it’s not about happiness. It’s moving forward.
Then the neighbors fireworks got really loud and Monty was quivering below the desk and the writing turned weirdly patriotic. Fast forward from notions of happy and the formulas that work or don’t work, and also the American Dream. Achieving what we’ve historically called the American Dream does not mean achieving happiness. It means achievement. The happiness part is on us. The Dream is living in a country where we’re free to pursue that happiness pretty much any way we want. And I know it’s cheesy, but when you compare this country and our opportunities and freedoms compared to so many other places, we are danged lucky to be born into this one, with autonomy, opportunity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome! Kidding. I think I have a very good life. I think a lot of people have very good lives and don’t even see it. Anyway this is the part of America that I’ll always be grateful for and humbled by, knowing the generations before me and the blood and sweat and tears that went into creating it, and I guess our job is to make their work and sacrifices worth it. I’m trying! I can’t say whether we’re a happier generation, I don’t know. But I think maybe the more important question is, Are we a more conscious generation? And to that I say, yes.
Now lets go blow stuff up.
Health, Happiness, Happy 6th of July
I run these ideas through my head, trying to piece it together. I try to make sense of a history that began before me and most likely, I’ll never really be able to figure out. Whenever you’re trying to find where things went wrong and how you can make them right again, it can all feel too big, too long ago to find solutions that make sense now. But still, the red part inside of me that stirs as though it has a body that can do anything, tells me this is something we can fix. We can do better–those words, they play over and over.
I travel back in time, the early 80‘s I guess. That’s when it started showing up in different places and on unexpected people, and the powers at large weren’t able to connect the dots. It’s understandable of course–the thing is literally invisible. Maybe the lack of pressure, lack of genuine concern about the disease began there–at a moment in time where it couldn’t be ‘seen’ under microscopes and wasn’t ‘believed’ often by the people who were suddenly sick and then never better. Maybe it was that the thing wasn’t killing anybody. Nothing fatal. Just a flu. “A yuppie flu” they called it. Not only are the sufferers alive, but they don’t even look the part! They aren’t sick on the outside. And rearranging my position in all this, putting myself on the outside looking in at this “movement” of unexplained sick people, I understand how this notion worked against us–how it continues to today. I think of the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That may be true in many cases, but I can’t say it applies aptly here. Not in regards to our bodies anyway, which upon the slightest push can fall and not again get up.
What isn’t killing me is not making my body stronger. I am the least strong I’ve ever been. The medicine has caused weight gain that at times has me and my face looking like a bloated pumpkin. It’s hard not to feel at battle with the thing that is intrinsically connected to me, and between us exists a fine line of fighting it and not fighting it at the same time. The whole thing is an honors class in balance. Some days are better than others, and I wonder, am I stronger, or am I just less sick today? There remains a difference. But I’m probably focusing on the wrong area here. No doubt that in our minds, the adage applies. When every day is a battle, beginning with waking up, with sitting up in bed and planting your feet on the ground and taking those first few painful steps to the bathroom, and doing this day after day after day, for some of us years and decades, well then no doubt your mind will grow stronger. It can also grow cynical, it can become bitter–but many times you’ll surprise yourself with the strength you find and the moments you find it in. If you can keep trying, if you can manage a smile and a laugh, to be happy for other people, to still believe in something good, then certainly you haven’t been killed, and the battle has made you stronger. But that is our mind. Or the soul maybe– An almost contradiction that is both a connected but separate faculty from the body. Refer to the ancient philosphers and you’ll find some disagreement on the subject. I think in either case, for the mind the body is only temporary. And this brings a relief to me. Whatever happens to me physically, I won’t be carrying it forever.
I think of all the others, sick like me, dreaming and hoping and feeling desires like the rest. It’s strange how our indignant heads are alive and full, swirling with ideas and goals just as though we had a body that could serve them all–make them all come to light. But at present time we don’t. So call us “alive” and say we “look well,” but know there is only a very small surface of which most the world sees. And the majority of life with this illness falls far below it, in a darkness underneath that very few see. Some can’t see it. Some don’t want to. Others just haven’t had the access.
It’s funny thinking about that word “alive.” Sure, we’re alive. But there’s an important difference between living and surviving. “Just getting by” physically, is hard to equate with living. And worlds away from thriving, which might be called a pretty commonly desired endgame. We, however, are hanging on by a thread, and it’s hard to call an existence like that “life” with any real conviction. It’s similar to hanging at the edge of a cliff and grasping it by one hand– would we really call that hiking?
That is the point where many ME/CFS patients are: hanging on with a half-steady grip, still breathing, still a beating heart inside, but stuck; Left with few options but, you know, to go on hanging there. It’s hard to have a social life or work a job or vacuum your living room when all of your mighty, tiny strength is being poured into hanging on to this cliff. It’s no wonder why so many people have it let go. There is just not enough hands at the top, not enough people offering help to pull you up, and no safety net at the bottom. And similarly, just as pulling a dangling body up off the edge of a cliff is a difficult but achievable task, a “problem” with more than one possible solution, curing the disease that has millions of people hanging by their own one or two threads is equally obtainable. It’s just to a larger degree. But it’s far from Impossible. And it would involve a few similar tactics: some people at the top, those say, for whom walking and standing is not a great feat, and who themselves are not also hanging off the edge of a cliff, combining their efforts and resources and intelligence and getting to work; finding a solution, in this case a cure.
Never having the experience of rescuing a person dangling off the side of a high-up something or other, I imagine that a rescue is within the realm of human capability. There are many ways to go about it, and maybe I’m being sort of dense here, but I’d venture it basically comes down to people lowering themselves to the ground, extending their arms to the dangling human, and with a great amount of strength pulling the person up until he’s back on his feet. And while maybe the tactic is basic, the act itself requires a solid effort. Lifting a person from this particular state is like trying to maneuver deadweight– Much easier to carry a body which is alive even if incapacitated, than one that’s dead and stiff. I’d like to emphasize that I’ve never hauled a dead body around but I’ve tended to my share of drunk friends who had 6 too many, and it would take 3 of us just to get the person, alive with a LOT to say about the world and true friendship, into a car. The very obvious point is, saving the person who’s still hanging there off the edge while I write this, is a very doable thing. And I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, or apples to bowling balls, but I believe with every part of me that this issue of solving or at least better managing this disease has never been on account of inability. This is something we can do, we’ve simply chosen not to based on some very obtuse, very lacking scattered pieces of information that cannot be labeled as facts.
Me, I can’t rescue the hangers on the ledge. Of course I can’t, I am one. But therein lies the kind of rescue I can provide. I can hang off the ledge next to you. Because there is something undeniably comforting in knowing that whatever struggle you find yourself facing, that you’re not in it alone, and that others are in the same boat. Or off the same ledge as it were. Like I mentioned, you can’t do a lot while devoting all your energy into grasping your spot on the mountain and not letting go. I can’t march in front of congress demanding to be seen, nor can I carry out the hundreds of other ideas I have that I think could make a difference, could help change the state of things in a positive and progressive way. But I can do a little. And thanks to modern times, maybe my little could turn into a lot. As I write this, I am laying down in a dim room in my moms bed. I have a frozen ice pack on my forehead and around my neck, with a hot pack at my feet under the covers to help draw away the blood from my head, which is throbbing like always. And yet I am still able to write, thank you very much Steve Jobs, on this rectangular dense brick otherwise known as my phone. It’s often hard to sit up comfortably with the computer in my lap and so being able to jot everything down from just a small device is kind of a miracle. Very often, while either FaceTiming with my niece or buying dog food from my phone that will be at my door tomorrow, I this is it-we’ve arrived at the future. And yet, I don’t even know how a calculator works.
The point is, healthy or functioning or bedridden or whatever, there are little things we can all do, in our own way, that can help change things. And yes I hear how corny that phrase played out. Recently I watched an interview with an author and Benedictine Nun named Sister Joan D. Chittister. She was really inspiring to watch. An author of over fifty books, she writes about about many topics including spirituality, women in the church, and social justice. She is clearly leaving an amazing footprint on the world through her written and continued community work and is firing up others to do the same. She said she is often asked by people “What can I do to help change things.. To fulfill humanity or to better the world?” Her answer is very stripped down. “Something.” And her brilliance was immediately illuminated in her acknowledgment that speaking up for a friend is as big as a March on Washington. “Just do something. Wherever you are with whatever you’ve got. When you see an injustice or see something that needs changing, do something. It doesn’t matter how small, just do something.” Of course this answer resonated with me. I often get discouraged about the state of things concerning the disease and the state of my life and all the change I wish I could make happen but physically I am unable to. But I forget that small changes, small acts can have huge impacts when carried out diligently. I have so many big ideas, big dreams that I hope to achieve one day. But I also have to remember that one day is now, and it’s probably better to focus on what I can do today, as I am and with the resources I have now. And I think putting in the work that might feel small, that isn’t NY Times worthy, doesn’t mean it lacks the chance to make a difference. There’s a feeling you get when you pour yourself into something you care about, that seems to carry out a mission from deep inside you, even if you don’t know what that is exactly. I get that feeling every time I sit (or lay) down to write. I may not know for a long time what the role of all this is or how it will play out in the larger context of things later on down the line. I just know it’s what I can do now. It’s my something, so I’ve got to keep at it.
It’s been a pretty sick and trying few weeks for me, and I feel often that accessible moment of how easy it would be to just throw in the towel, or to become hardened by the relentlessness of the experience, but I want to remind the other hangers on the edge out there to hold tight, because not only are there rare gifts to find within all this, things will change. They have already begun to. Today will become tomorrow. And one day soon enough, this will all be a memory of something that yes, didn’t kill us and made us stronger. Hang in there. Hang on. It is going to get better.
Health, Happiness, Cliffhangers
Oh hi world, I didn’t see you there. I haven’t seen you in weeks in fact! I’ve been in involuntary hibernation since Thanksgiving. Pardon me, I was knocked out.
This crash has been intense and I’ve been writing my way through like always, trying to understand it better. But this time I tried much harder to accept and approach it without the need to fix or change it. Without “fighting back.” I want to be clear that I’m not writing to answer the question of Why me? I’m not in that stage anymore. So I’ve tried to create a surrendered space to talk about it, where it’s regarded as part of the plan, where there’s no sense of unfairness or despair about it. It’s simply a fleeting, physical state that I’m meant to endure and examine closely among probably many other physical states I might encounter in my lifetime. I’ve tried to adjust my whole response to it, which has been more of a lack of response, or reaction, and more objective observation. Life between stimulus and response. Being sick and being OK with it, not attaching the personal, the story, the woe-is-me. I applied this approach to both my writing and my perception of the illness in real time, which has been interesting and challenging and often extremely helpful.
But I’ve sort of been a tortured artist with the writing–I keep editing and condensing and re-writing. I feel the angst that it’s never quite right, that there’s a concept just on the edge of being conveyed, like a mathematical equation I’m on the verge of solving. So I’ve once again ended up with 7000 words scattered across 3 notebooks, my iPhone, my computer, and one business card. Most of it has been exploring the same topic at different depths, and while some of it is good, I realized it’s just not meant for this space right now. Not to mention, my brain feels inside out lately–I’m a little fuzzy cognitively and I can’t gauge it. I’m either buzzing or stunted. But I’ve continued trying to make my words achieve what I feel inside and what I want to convey, staying very conscious about my intentions, which are that I don’t just want to write about being sick and my experiences simply because they’re true and they happened. I don’t want to start and stop at pain. I’m well aware of the danger in that. So I’ve been tinkering with these concepts, some of them seemingly contradictory: diving in deep into the experience where I can feel it completely, while also regarding it from a distance where I can see it inside of a larger context–which keeps the illness right-sized. I can recognize it as a part, and not a whole. I’ve gotten pretty close to finishing it, I think. But it’s been arduous and probably redundant and my mind is still spinning, even as I write this now.
Anyway, I’m going to start from scratch today and try to relax about the outcome. A good friend said not to worry about lengthiness, just to keep writing and trust that if people don’t want to read it, they won’t. That’s so true, duh. Thank you friend, I’m just going to write some broad things out, and whether good or bad, hopefully open up some space in mind for some fun topics, like my exploration of Hallmark and Lifetime Made-For-TV Holiday movies, and also a note about my 12-foot real Christmas tree that refuses to drink water. But it lives on!! Tiny miracles.
My health was already on pretty shaky ground leading up to the Holiday. Thanksgiving Day was great, ate good food and had some fun reunions with old friends, but it was long and cumbersome. I could feel myself subtly hitting physical limits along the way, but I pushed on anyway. (I include the socializing that happens as part of the exertional strain, even though it’s enjoyable, it always costs me something physically the next day.) It was a Holiday after all, and I could sleep it off tomorrow, I thought. Unfortunately, I was flattened–handed over fully to the illness overnight while I slept. I woke up to the dreary and unfamiliar light of 3:30 pm pouring into my room on Friday. It disoriented me further as I felt an overwhelming weakness blanketing every part of my body, down to my fingertips. I laid there an hour before making a move, and once I did I felt keenly the severity of my condition. Moving was not easy and wouldn’t be for a while. I knew this wouldn’t be something that I could sleep off in a day or two. Shit.
Since then, I’ve been on a roller coaster of physical states, mostly at the mercy of this crash, and life here at the farm has been chaos. For a few weeks I’ve been enduring a symptom I find the hardest to cope with–bone crushing weakness. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, this one challenges me way more than the others. It leaves me the most powerless. There’s nothing to do for this symptom. When it has you, it has you. Its’ demands come in this perverted form of requiring that you do nothing–which is basically the reverse of our instinct in response to a ‘problem.’ It requires that you lay still, it means you’ll need a lot of extra help for things you’d normally do yourself and never think twice about. It means playing the waiting game and not knowing how long you’ll play it, without allowing impatience or succumbing to anger or despair while living through the thick of it. (Those reactions only makes me weaker.) There aren’t pills for weakness like this, not exercise regimens or quick fix solutions. There’s a lot of being stationary, quiet, often remaining in one place or one room for a solid chunk of time. Sometimes it’s a messy room, and you have to let that go. You have to let the dishes go. Truthfully, the whole thing is a crap ton of letting go. You have to achieve cleanliness mentally, because there ain’t no way you can vacuum right now. It means putting off the long list of things you’d thought you’d do, and finding ways to achieve a surrendered state of mind despite the external world around you appearing to unravel at nearly every seam. It touches everything, seeps into every corner, means nearly anything that isn’t necessary in the moment must be put on hold or go in the ‘burn pile’. You have to find a way to remember that despite all the can’ts and don’ts and no’s, somehow you still have everything you need in the moment you think to ask.
The only times I get overwhelmed is when I try to conceive everything at once, or I think of the future, as proximal as the one five minutes away. And the root of this is fear mostly, fear of ways the illness will hinder the things I have to do. Yet the future always comes and I always survive it, the essential is always achieved one way or the other. The non-essentials fade and soon you hardly notice they’re gone. When I stay extremely mindful of right now, tending to exactly and only the task right in front of me, I truly feel fine. I feel positive and at ease instead of buried, powerless. I think, all I have to do is drink this glass of water. I don’t even have to consider what will come after. It will come and go despite my concern. That’s where my navigation of this crash has felt like a small miracle. Maybe for the first time, my spirit has succeeded and carried me through the really difficult times. I’ve often been able to observe what’s happening to me at a distance, without becoming crushed by what I see. Or angry at how I feel. I feel really crappy, really weak, and so I find a good reason to be really weak today. They exist! They just require an adjusted perspective. In this way I’ve had the crash more than it has had me, and that has made a huge difference.
To whom or what do I owe this miraculous capability? Well for one thing, my mom. I should mention it’s not just my spirit that’s carried me, because it’s my mom who has physically carried me. She has tended to my needs when I’ve been incapable. Not to mention that she has a prayer chain halfway around the world dedicated my wellbeing. Just knowing so many people have dedicated even a moment toward healing intentions and thoughts for me is both humbling and energizing. It makes me feel hopeful, and that hope gives way to optimism, grace, surrender..they’re all there, and this situation constantly brings to light the choice I have in how I’m going to receive my circumstances. Whether or not I will accept and recognize all the treasures that lie beneath the hard stuff on the surface.
I believe there are always incredible gifts waiting at the heart of our struggles–and this time I was able to find them at clutch times. They don’t come from me, but somewhere else more eternal. I suppose the gifts materialize when we open ourselves enough to receive them– to the vulnerability that comes with accepting help in the first place. Our silly human egos could easily interpret the reality as I’m not enough. I should be able to do this alone. Blah blah blah. But to simply acknowledge the truth that yeah, I could really use some help right now if I’m able to emerge through this in one piece, the disappointment of need or felt inadequacy melts and grows into a ginormous humbling gratitude in acknowledging that I have help at all. What a reassuring reminder to know that I don’t have to do this alone. So why would I? I have help! It’s sortof like staying in a miserable marriage for 20 years all so you can say with pride that you’ve been married for 20 years. It may momentarily impress people, but you’re the one who has to share a life and go to bed every night with a person you may not even love or like! Sometimes we go after things because we like the sound of them, or the image they create. But the real meat of life is on the inside, in the everydayness of how we live. Not a 20 year anniversary, but how you love and treat someone through the mundane parts of life together. Talking about dentist appointments or discussing an article in the newspaper–how did you speak to one another? Not that you beat or survived illness, but how you treated it day to day and through the challenging times, how you treated those around you, and what you made out of your experience. Make it count? Or just get through it so it you could quickly forget and attach to something else. I don’t know. I’m rambling again.
The realization of some of these things makes me smile and cry at the same time. I am so encouraged and fulfilled by all the love and help I’ve received, and it’s come in so many different forms, all of them special. I’ve had incredibly healing and inspiring conversations with people I’m very close to, and each one of those talks builds me up higher than before. What a hushed relief surrender is–and a gateway emotion at that. It opens the door to a surge of mindfulness that illuminates grace, friendship, love, thankfulness, all the good in my life that I’m blinded to when I’m distracted fighting something I most likely can’t control.
It’s difficult to articulate, but sometimes I zoom out from my life, like a camera zooming out into space with earth at the center, becoming smaller and smaller. When I do, lately I see a small figurine of myself living inside the palm of two big porcelain hands cupped together, like that of a statue. I see that I’m being held, and in the image, I feel watched over and protected, both from a far off place and a space deep inside. What an amazing treasure it is, to reach out your hands in a time of real need, and to have someone/something grasp them on the other end. For the most part, it’s my moms hands which have reached back. It’s she who provides. Her help, love, and attentiveness is immeasurable. As equally as my spirit, she has done the labor of care that being sick this way requires. And it’s not an easy job, though she’d never let you know that.
No doubt this has been painful and overwhelming for her. She has said that seeing her child in pain is far worse than having it herself. I’m very aware of this, and it’s even more reason that I feel the need to voice out loud what has been burning true through all of this– That it’s all OK. I am OK. I’ve felt strangely at peace through the tough stuff, and I know it’s on account of her and other loved ones in my life who’ve given so much of themselves just to try and lighten the burden. I am continuously strengthened by these acts. I want to assure her, because I feel it in my weak little bones, that this is all leading up to somewhere great. I’m certain that I am just where I am supposed to be. I don’t feel like any of this is random or cruel, but that it’s the work I am meant to do right now, and I accept it with fullness and eagerness. I know there is greater reason and payoff that we can’t see yet. But knowing it’s there waiting helps to greet all these “stresses” with an assured openness. Getting there requires work, but it’s work that I’m capable of; important work that doesn’t require a physically fit body in order to happen. It will be beyond worthwhile, if we can only get through this moment. Then the next one and the next one.
And the good news is we can! I can, I have. And I will continue to. Her enormous and powerful love has helped put my inner self on a plain where I am capable of moving forward and growing from this. For that I owe her…well, everything. But I know the only payment she would want is the certainty that I’m not only OK, but that I’m happy and that I haven’t forgotten the novelty of what it is to be alive. And if you’re reading mom, I haven’t. I experienced incredible moments, inspirtations, and laughter, often alone with Monty in my messy living room! This is it right now, and I’ve found immense joy in it anyway. Like you said, This is a life, too.
I know this doesn’t solve the many problems we have right now. There are so many other things that haven’t gotten the attention they need, important tasks that had to go un-done, financial burdens that we have to figure out. And most of this is on account of this all-encompassing illness that touches everyone around me, especially her. But I do feel that soon things will change for the better, that we’ll get help where we need it, we’ll complete everything that’s gone undone. I know one day we will smile with relief at the memory of trying, chaotic times like these, where everything was falling apart. And yet I know these are what will become the foundation for some amazing things to come. When they do, incredible things are going to start happening. I can feel it!
For now though, a breath. A glass of water. Rest. Feed the dog. Rest. Send a text. Pills. A breath. Rest. Small tiny moments. One foot in front of the other. I feel really weak today and I can’t do a lot physically, so I’m going to find a good reason to be weak today. Writing, reading, listening compassionately to someone. Photographing my dog because I love him so much I smile just watching him sleep. So many amazing things require so little of us physically. Navigating each moment with quiet consciousness, I know not that everything will be OK, but that it is OK now. And I revel at the momentary freedom in that. I’m grateful just to glimpse such a powerful truth. Today is heavy and rainy outside, there are dishes in my sink and I’m too weak to do them. But I’m listening to Christmas music, I’m admiring my ridiculously huge Christmas tree and the soft nostalgic light it casts on my living room. And I’m reassuring Monty who is staying unnaturally close to me (following me into the bathroom and squeezing between the toilet and the wall) because it’s thundering outside and for him this equals imminent threat of death. This is my life today, and many days, and I’m living anyway! I’m enjoying it. I like the rain. I like quiet days. I also like singing obnoxiously loud to Mariah Carry Christmas songs. Monty and I, we’re fine over here. A sick life, but still a life. Regardless of physical outcomes, All will be well. But even better, all is well now.
Thank you, all of you, who have kept my spirit so alive! What all of you have contributed in your own small ways matter immensely to me. I feel extremely connected to the world and am humbled by the love I’ve received. I’m excited for the ways I plan to pay it forward.
Health, Happiness, and This Life, Too.
Here’s a poem I really like. It’s by Brenda Shaughness.
I Have a Time Machine
But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,
which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.
But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.
Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well, not zipping—And if I try
to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall into space, unconscious,
then desiccated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.
There’s a window, though. It shows the past.
It’s like a television or fish tank
but it’s never live, it’s always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.
Sometimes it’s like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I’m leaving behind,
and sometimes like blackout, all that time
Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.
Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.
Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.
Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion
of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother’s mother’s mother.
I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I’d find myself
an old woman by now, travelling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.
Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so horribly fast.
Pretty great no? It’s funny how some poems feel like they were written just for us, as if the author knew exactly where we’d find it and what it would do to us, hitting us in the gut in a coffee shop! Or heart. Our insides somewhere. I love this part of poetry. How fast it is. How in just a minute or two you can cosmically connect with a total stranger, dead or alive, and feel more seen or heard than you have by actual people. That’s powerful stuff!
I’ve recently been reading Anne Sexton–her history and her poems–and both are intense and curious and heartbreaking, but deeply resonant and I’m eager to read more. I plan to order someones cheap, used copy off of Amazon, and hopefully I’ll find parts that are underlined or circled with little notes in the margin. This is one of my favorite perks of reading (used) tangible books as opposed to electronic, kindle types; the human mark on the pages. They’re like little visceral clues of other life, but exceptionally personal. More confidential than say, finding someones grocery list, although there are treasures to find in that too. Maybe I am just an alien from another planet seeking signs of life and getting way too caught up in casual life leftovers. But somehow I feel less alone when I see a persons scribbles to the side of a page. Their unique handwriting next to that flat text against the page– It heightens the effects of the words. It brings the whole thing to life. It always makes me think that someone else sat alone somewhere, reading these same words and they were compelled enough to write themselves. Maybe it was there way of writing back, hoping someone somewhere along the way would read what they wrote and feel something. I don’t know, but there’s just something…nice, about that. Anyway, I think I will start with The Awful Rowing Towards God. Or maybe Live or Die and go from there. Did you know that Anne Sexton had two sisters, and one was named Elizabeth Jane, and the other one was named Blanche Dingley? BLANCHE DINGLEY?! I wonder if Elizabeth Jane gave Dingley shit about that.
Health, Happiness, and Poetry. Pure Poetry.
I need to spend more time under water.
Last Monday I returned from a trip to Miami where we celebrated a few things, including my birthday. Thirty one- the best yet! Maybe it was a birthday present from my central nervous system, but my body held up pretty well for me during my stay there. I’m also a little better at saying no to certain things when I know I’m close to crossing the invisible line. My threshold or whatever. Anyway I was able to partake in some awesome things that I dont’t always have the health for. I told my brother I wanted to snorkel for my birthday and he assured me this was not a problem. At the beach I submerged myself in the ocean and was immediately comforted by it. Water in general has always felt healing to me, but a warm ocean in the summer is at the top of the list. We could have spent all day out there. All day and all night if my body permitted it. There is something truly holy beneath the surface. I like the muffled silence and spotting darting fish and pretty much anything that moves. We saw so many different types of fish, and every time we’d spot a school or something I didn’t recognize, I’d make my brother Nick come to the surface and tell me what kind it was. I’d repeat it out loud, then we’d go back under. I’m really terrible at remembering the names but I’m trying to learn. I’ve already forgotten so many, but I can say with certainty we saw a crap ton of huge, colorful parrot fish, some barracuda, and a bunch of Nemos and Doris. (Technical names) It was Heaven. My three-year-old niece Olive requested that we find her a starfish and we both searched diligently and came up short. But my brother did find a baby sea turtle, and that was pretty righteous.
Isn’t he so cute? Anyway we came back to shore and had lunch, but most of the time I just kept thinking about getting back into that water. It’s almost Church-like swimming around down there. Somehow in spite of the beaming life everywhere you look, theres a stillness to it. Everything slows down and feels at ease–within me, anyway. I’d like to spend more time in the ocean, specifically underwater. I do well there. I think that’s my goal for this year.
Inevitably all that activity ended me up in a week-long hibernation for the last six days. It’s pretty normal to crash after I travel anyway. And eventually all the extra “curriculars” would catch up to me physically. But I was grateful to hold up for as long as I did. It’s funny, you’re always calculating with this illness. Saying yes to one activity usually means you’ll have to say no to some other one tomorrow or the next day. You’re always “borrowing” energy: allocating it as if it were a monetary budget. Going over, or spending too much, means you’ll pay. So you’re always considering cost and reward and whether the consequence will be worth it or not. You don’t always get it right, but you get better as time goes on. In the case of swimming and snorkeling and fishing that day, totally worth it! Still, I think there is a better way to navigate this illness than living the “push-crash” lifestyle. Doing what you want for a certain amount of time, and then spending at least double that amount of time in bed in the future. Most CFS’ers live this way, not because it’s the best or right way, but because it’s A way to at least do some things and not live your life in bed. Anyway, I hope to discover a more sustainable way to go about this, but it works for now. Kinda sorta. You get me.
On another note, I keep doing this thing that I’m trying to stop. I write and write and write and then I edit and edit and edit and then the essay goes in new directions and I want to keep everything a decent length so I start over and consequently end up with 6 different half-written, diligently edited posts, none ending up on the blog. It’s a pretty stupid system and I’m going to try and stop doing things that way. Sometimes my idea about how I want things to look or turn out hinders my goal which is not just to write well, but to write consistently and allow part of what’s happening in #marys sick life to inform my stories–even if what’s happening is boring or sad or awesome or mediocre. It’s a continual lesson in letting go that I’m still trying to grasp– write things out and then let them go. Although it’s easy to mistake for editing, I think I often look through my own words trying to take on the role of reader instead of writer, and I develop this anxiety that I’m not getting through accurately or perfectly representing myself, so I hold off on publishing. But I know this is silly because all I can do is be who I am and write what I know, and if I’m judicious about that then I don’t need to worry about the rest. The truth is I am the writer after all and some of writing is trusting the reader. Showing and not telling, yada yada yada. I think my incessant “reading over” and modifying is just another way to prevent me from putting myself and my words out there on a medium where they’ll live on their own and be subject to scrutiny. Could I really be afraid of criticism after all this time writing on a blog? Probably, which is entirely embarrassing. Because who cares! But pride and vanity are some powerful little devils, and the only way to move past them is to write on despite the superficial concerns.
I’m going to try harder to work and contribute to this space and not become too serious about the whole shebang. Especially to the point where it stifles things. It’s pretty silly getting so analytical about it, because it’s really just not that important. I care deeply about it, but when I zoom out and consider everything, this is just a ledger of one persons life. And pretty unexciting life, at that. I think my concern lies in whether or not I’m contributing meaningful things that will move me and others forward or if I’m just whining on a stick. I am hoping by the end, what and whenever that is, this will all will reveal something larger and more dimensional than a woman child’s diary about sick days and her dog. But even if it is that. Who cares? I only need to focus on what’s in front of me and stop pausing to consider a future I don’t have control of. The one thing I don’t want to do is restrain myself or my words or the creative endeavors I want to pursue all because I’m worrying what it will all “look like” in the end. Concerns like those are what kills momentum, and good ideas, before they even get a chance to materialize. My truer goal should be simply to write and to allow the words to do what they’ve always done–help me to see things that my thinking mind can’t.
So, hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more from me and I from you. I am feeling happy to be one year older, to know myself even better having lived on earth for three hundred and sixty-five more days as ME, Mary Gelpi. I’m becoming pretty good friends with myself and we’re getting along well. We’re practically finishing each others SENTENCES. Thank you Nick for exploring the ocean with me, and tugging me back to shore when I was too tired to swim back myself. What else are big brothers for?
Health, Happiness, Thirty One.
Finally, yesterday, the teeniest tiniest flicker of relief. I felt it. Though incrementally small, it was the spark suggestive of an end, or at least of an improvement. It’s been a very sick few days. But yesterdays glimmer of improvement brought me to the surface where I could breath again. It wasn’t major, but it was enough. Today, another slight improvement. I actually left the house and went to the pharmacy. That’s what we call progress people.
I don’t know what exactly caused this crash. The travel, new Miami germs my body couldn’t handle, the woman with the wet cough on the plane? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter I guess. I could feel something in the works throughout the trip. I felt rough most of the time, but, I still enjoyed my stay. Miami is nice and my family rocks. My brother Nick is another mentor of mine and always encourages my creative endeavors. He’s someone who materializes ideas instead of just writing them in a notebook, which is what I do. I envy his work ethic and it was nice to be around artists at work. I worked through some writing problems and we’ve begun a side project which I think will be great. It was nice. Look, I even caught a fish.
Huge right? Of course I sort of declined at the end of that day and into the last few days, until I returned home Thursday. By that night I crawled into bed and as I pulled up the covers, the invisible monster went to work. I could feel it creeping over me, up through my limbs and under my fingernails. When I woke Friday morning it had swallowed me whole. I was submerged. The next three days were spent in bed in a dream state with intermittent stints of wakefulness. I’d awake for brief periods, feed Monty, feed myself, then dissolve into dream world again. Unfortunately I could feel the pain on both sides. In my dreams I’m looking for pills and can’t find them. Or I can’t get their lid open. That happens in real life too.
It can be disorienting when you spend more of your time in dreams than awake. Every time I awoke I had to readjust to the surroundings, remind myself where I was. Everything was hazy and I felt weak and sedated. My body was out of juice; every move I made felt enormous and taxing. It’s a strange condition to be in, but that’s how it goes in a crash. All you can do is rest and wait for your body to come back. Luckily, Monty barely left my side the whole time. Each time my eyes blinked open, I’d spot him sleeping in some ridiculous position. As soon as I stir he’s on all fours, ready to go. I hate not being able to play with him more, but he sticks by. Sleeps when I sleep, eats when I eat. His loyalty astounds me, especially when I’m sick. On Saturday night I had a nightmare that I couldn’t wake out of. When I finally came to, Monty was on his feet, panting next to the bed. I could tell he’d done something, made some noise maybe that woke me up, though I don’t know what. He is my hero. For reals.
By Sunday I was overwhelmed. Everything hurt, every movement was laborious, and any sound above a medium hum felt like a knife through my ear. Just taking a deep breath was hard. Tears poured down my face and I couldn’t say why exactly, except that my thoughts were racing and I felt like I was sinking. My emotions often get erratic during a crash for some reason. I think parts of my brain get overwhelmed. It felt like synapses were firing at rapid rates but were incomplete. Thoughts would come fast but unfinished. I could barely talk straight. I didn’t know what I needed, but I needed help. Enter my mom.
Through the tears I tell her I think I need to eat. OK, she says, and just her voice begins to calm everything down. One thing at a time, she says. Start with the apple. I try to let go and redirect my focus on what’s in front of me: an apple on a plate with almond butter. All I have to do is eat it. I can do that. Cool. The tears come and go. I tell her I’m afraid and my health feels out of control. She listens and validates my discouragement, but doesn’t let me wallow too long into despair. Ever so gently she leads me out of the dark of my own mind and encourages me to keep going. I find myself clinging to those words, scribbling them on paper and my dry erase board. So I try, even though my insides are yelling Stop. Press restart. We’ve got a faulty body here. I sleep at their house on the couch because I’m too exhausted to walk back to mine. I’m thirty years old and my mom ‘tucked me in.’ It’s official: I’m growing up in reverse. Monty sleeps on the love seat next to me. The next day is still sick, but somehow better. I don’t feel buried by it now. My mom has worked her magic again.
The illness continues to teach me humility and gratitude. To find grace through the crappiest of times. It’s still difficult to admit when I need help, but I do. And I’m lucky to have people who provide it. My step-dad bought me groceries, and threw the stick for Monty when I wasn’t able to. I get emails from people who are sick with this and other chronic illnesses but their families don’t believe them or don’t understand, and they’re left to fight it on their own. Reading it is heartbreaking. I don’t know how anyone could survive this illness alone. Some of them say the blog has helped their families understand what they’re going through, and I always told myself if this even helped one person, it was worth the work. I hope I can do more. I wish I could make them know they’re not alone, or crazy, or inferior; all things you feel when you’re sick this way. I know we’re strangers, but we’re human beings and sharing something similar, so if you’re reading this, you’re not alone brother! But sometimes it feels that way and life gets heavy. I get it.
I am trying to be careful about my writing. I always hesitate when sharing an account like this because I don’t want to get stuck in a narrative of how hard life is without going further. Life is hard, but people don’t need that reminder. Life is harder when you stop at the pain. I try to look at the pain as the beginning of something better, not an end. Because life is also amazing, even in times of turmoil, but you have to dig deep, past the muck. It’s so basic, so cliché, but I have to examine both sides or I’ll turn into a blogging version of that Kathy cartoon. Oh God, the horror. It’s a fragile dichotomy, writing this blog. Half of me is sharing what feels like death, but the other half is screaming I’m OK! Everything is fine! Because I am OK. I’m here in my favorite V-neck shirt writing at my desk. But the schism is there and I have to be conscious of both sides. Writing isn’t a way out of it, it’s just a better way through it, if I do it right. I write better when I get creative with my circumstances, until I eventually outgrow them. Otherwise the conditions take over and despair takes the wheel. And that’s a lot of what this whole project is about; becoming more than a person to whom things happen. The poet/writer Paulo Coelho wrote this in The Alchemist,
“We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.”
I love this idea and believe it wholly. A lot of things are at work that we don’t always have access to. It’s just easy to forget when shit hits the fan. Well here’s our reminder.
In other news, it finally happened: I dropped my phone in the pool. Idiot! I watched it fall in slow motion, with that split second of heat on your neck where you think you can reverse time and take it back, but you blink and there it is; Submerged. It’s now drying out in a ziplock bag with rice, so I’m off the grid! I’ll try to use the 48 hours wisely. I’ll keep resting and reading and writing. And hopefully by Christmas I’ll be better and I’ll have found the answer to life. Seems doable.
Anyway, this post is for my mom, who dug me out of the depths once again. She is my mentor and not only guides me out of the darkness but nudges me to be better, to grow stronger from struggle and not be defeated by it. It’s true, if I weren’t sick we wouldn’t be living so close, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of important wisdom that I’ll keep forever. All for free! Thank you for carrying me when I need it but also challenging me to become more than what’s happened. You’re a master and it’s made all the difference.
Health, Happiness, Masters
This summer I enrolled in a creative non-fiction class at Loyola in New Orleans. The class was a workshop style and the 12 of us made for quite the diverse group. We varied considerably in age, sex, race and background. Together we could have easily graced the cover of a brochure for a city’s Parks Department or a Volunteer program of some sort. But we all wanted the same thing– to write, and for two months that’s what we did. Our teacher was a classic local New Orleanian who was an active writer in the city and taught in the MFA program. He always wore short sleeved Hawaiin shirts and had a pleasantly laid back approach to teaching. After the first class nerves and politeness wore off, we submerged into a chemistry all our own.
We spent the summer writing and reading and critiquing each others work. I knew there was a lot to learn in our short time together, but I loved more how enjoyable and interesting our sessions were. We all shared this passion, but it was more our willingness to show up every week, to put things out there we weren’t always comfortable with, and to give and receive critcism with honesty and humility. Because of our many differences, we had very engaged discussions, and it was so refreshing to hear the voices and opinions of people who were so different than me. It sounds cheesy, but having that diversity made such a difference. When I reflect on my college classes it strikes me how homogenous they were. I was mostly surrounded by people who looked the same as me and were after the same things. This was different. Better, I think. I remember after the first class feeling so grateful that I signed up and went for it. I noticed it advertised on a coffee shop wall. So often I feel an interest for an “extracurricular” like that and tell myself one day, but I never follow through. I was glad I did this time.
The truth is that “One Day” is always “Today” right? That’s probably a bumper sticker somewhere, I hope. But there really isn’t any other day than this one, which is why one day hardly ever comes. It’s already here!
At the end of our last day of class, someone asked our teacher if he had any final advice for us before we all parted ways. He thought for a moment and then gave a subdued, thoughtful response. “Everyone is always asking, ‘When can I call myself a writer?’ or ‘What makes someone a writer or not?’ It seems so obvious, but the simple truth is that a writer is anyone who actually just sits down and takes the time to write. Who works away at his desk and grinds it out, again and again and again. It really is about just making yourself write, day after day, which is very hard to do.” I remember thinking how simple but powerful an answer that was. So many people in the community, including me, ask that question, and so few people actually commit to the time and vulnerability and work it takes to create meaningful and honest writing. I think sometimes the idea of things is more appealing than the reality, which is always far less romantic.
I’ve been reflecting on his answer more recently as I’ve committed myself to a writing project that constantly challenges me. It boggles my mind that each morning when I sit down at the computer, I feel the same fear that I felt yesterday. I feel an uncertainty that’s totally unnerving. It makes me see and think of a thousand other things to do, besides writing my inside out. I see dust and think that I should dust. I realize a cluttered desk is no place to write so I clean that out first. I see paper and think I’ll make a list of other things to do, then cross each one off, then sit down and get to work. I check my email just to make sure there aren’t other things I could or should be doing. God forbid I enter the world of Facebook or Twitter or the black hole of the webosphere, never to be seen again. It’s crazy how much time I spend doing other things, with a fantasy in mind that once they’re complete, then I can write. It’s all a facade. It’s another One Day. There’s no perfect place to write, no ideal time, and no shortage of other things to do instead. I thought that once I did this long enough, I’d just wake up and start typing until nighttime and then do it again the next day. That I would overcome the fear once and for all. Not so.
Every day I feel a resistance to do the thing I love and deeply believe in. It’s strange and challenging and completely frustrating. It sounds like such a psychological cliche, but apparently this is a common defense mechanism that most people confront. If you don’t actually try and put stuff out there, you don’t run the risk of failure. Or rejection. In effect it’s just safer not to try. So we become skilled at finding ways not to. But it’s also boring and cowardly to give into it so I try and fight it all the time. Sometimes the fear wins and I don’t try that day. I alphabetize my medicine cabinet instead.
The flip side is, when I go too long without writing I feel like that kink in a hose running on high pressure. I get irritable and uneasy, like I’m going to POP at any moment. I can almost feel my insides stirring and expanding and the answer is always to let them out through words. It reminds me of something Marc Nepo wrote: “Talent is energy waiting to be released through an honest involvement in life.” True dat. The time before I write and the act of sitting down to write can be unpleasant and is usually really hard. But the feeling after I’ve written tells me that it’s what I’m supposed to do. I always feel better once I’ve done it, and sometimes if I’ve done it well, other people feel better too.
Whenever I watch really successful people on TV or listen to them speak, it always occurs to me that they got to where they are because at some point in their lives, they decided to try. And they too faced risk. But that’s always how big things begin. I used to think successful people were that way because fate had it in store for them. I thought they were chosen, as though success picked its people like teams in PE class. Now I realize truly successful people are all very different, but are triumphant in their aspirations because they’re true to their gifts and trust themselves enough to put it out there. They risk failure, but they get a chance at changing things, or going big, or living out their dreams. And how many of us are living out our dreams?! Even if they failed, they’d at least have tried, and there is success and respect in that alone. Some of my best stories and biggest revelations came from me failing first. Did you know I auditioned at Julliard? No, because I failed. But it’s also how I learned I wanted to write instead of act. Plus it makes a for a funny story now.
Our writing teacher told the class he had written two novels but so far no publishers had signed on to them yet. I was really impressed hearing that. I think actually having sat down and written a complete novel, start to finish, is a huge accomplishment. It takes such dedication and time and work, and he had written two. Even if they never get published, having two completed novels under your belt is awesome. Especially because writing is such a lonely thing– no one is really encouraging you or congratulating you until the work is finished. And you always run the risk that at the end of your hard work, it won’t be well received. I guess that’s the vulnerable part we all face any time we embark on an endeavor. But I don’t always think it’s about the finished product anyway. It’s more that we’ve dedicated ourselves completely to something, worked hard at it and saw it through to its end.
It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But by all means, try something.
Health, Happiness, and Try Try Try Again.
I’m never up at this hour. But at roughly 6:40 am as I drove across Lake Ponchartrain, one of only a few lonely cars on the 24 mile bridge, it struck me just how sacred the early mornings are. Of course over water, there are no distinct markers of distance traveled besides mile markers on land, but somehow over uninterrupted waves there were these distinct and momentary glimpses into the context of my life where all the working pieces fit together. The sense, however fleeting, had me second guessing my entire history as a bona-fide night person. Maybe there’s something to these early morning hours where people are drifting into the routine of their day or into the hangover of their night, and in the middle is me, not exactly doing either, but finding my place still–stumbling on a whole in lieu of constant and incompatible parts.
Yesterday I attended JazzFest and I remember walking around in no known direction, attempting to find a group of my friends, which is almost a miracle if achieved in such a clusterfuck of a public arena, and this thought kept trying to get a hold of me. “What am I doing? I have no business being here.” Over and over that thought, with every wrong turn and mistaken identity. What a sad thought! I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of it, but it probably had roots in my mostly confined and solitary past over a few years. And now sticking my head out, landing clumsily in the middle of the public world that not only didn’t stop while I was “out sick”, it also didn’t slow down at all either. And that continued, irreverent, incessant flow of time in one direction only all of the sudden felt very real and a little unnerving too. But I walked on. It’d be a lie to say I felt any confidence at all then, taking in every type of person of every age and origin.And even though none of them looked truly happy to me, none of them had a life that I felt cheated by not having, I was still odd man out. I started to wonder if I had real friends at all that I’d find. Maybe I had imagined them up in a fantasy of my mind, and I’d walk tirelessly never bumping into them because there was no them to bump into. But I walked on. I pretended some of those thoughts didn’t exist. Maybe more, I just didn’t take them very seriously. I’d feel the sun burning my shoulders and I’d affirm that more likely than not I’d find my friends, I’d engage in young adult behavior, and feel a little better about my place in reality.
After 45 minutes of circles and flags and strangers, I watched a really drunk boy hoisted up by his friends, being dragged with his lifeless converse trailing under him leaving shallow lines in the dirt, the unfamiliar sights were piling up, and even I started to feel like a stranger there. But then– something familiar. Emily’s ponytail. Someone. People. Friends. They existed, and I was not yet proven insane. In that moment those thoughts I had didn’t carry any weight at all. Whether I found my friends or not had nothing to do with belonging in all honesty. Separateness is just a construct of ego and I know that, but it can stab you anyway. I knew that afternoon I could’ve really used some friends. And there they were and there I was. I belonged. I knew those thoughts were shit. Time to keep on living. Time to have fun now. Time to participate in the onward direction of time, and attach to some other thought that experience will most likely prove wrong.
Maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve never really been a live music person. Which makes me feel incredibly lame mostly. Just like I’m also not really into The Lord of the Rings. True “outsider” feelings emerge in me when this is brought up in public, and I feel like there’s some joke I’m just not getting. What is there to say about it? To each his own. Anyway, at every live music event I’ve attended, I find myself gazing off lost in observational mode of the people enjoying the music, instead of intrinsically enjoying the music myself. I can’t help it. There’s always some woman on the borderline of being “too old to be there” on some drug that’s a little too young for her to be doing, and I can’t help but watch her, dance carelessly, body parts hanging out, not giving a shit about what etiquette she’s breaking. Then I at once sympathize for her but also want to be her, because she is losing herself in something enjoyable, and she’s alone, and I’m the creeper at the concert not dancing but staring wide-eyed and blinking very slowly. I dated one of those music junkie type of guys for two years. He had an impressive collection of bands that you never heard of on his ipod and was always discovering music years before it became popular. (I on the other hand got my music from Apple Product commercials) He flew all over the country to catch his favorite bands at different venues. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone and it was this small gap between us because this passion he fell off his seat for was somewhere that I just didn’t fit. And this schism in us always interested me, because at concerts we’d share a joint and then even more I’d separate from the setting and lose myself in the detach-and-detect humanity mode. He was good about keeping me down to earth and assuring me that dancing like an idiot was fine and encouraged, and that no, that guy next to me was not about to die from sensory overload regardless of what his face and body movements suggested. But there was always some wall with me at those shindigs. I could never really figure it out. Ultimately the relationship ended, and I wondered how much, if any, this disconnect had to do with it. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe a whole lot.
It’s funny how discovering clarity leaves with you so much to know still. My goal this year has been to find clarity of any kind, certainty of any measure. Because both of these things lack hugely in my personal life and it wares on me daily. It’d be nice to make a decision and know it to be right, or know anything at all for that matter and trust it to be true. But even with this goal in the forefront of my consciousness, it has still been incredibly hard, and so far, I’m yet to find either. I’m guessing the more things I pursue where the end is uncertain and there are no guarantees will help me to eventually get there, or in the general ball park. On the bridge this morning, the unceasing rhythm of a road bump every 1.5 seconds, I glimpsed certainty. I glimpsed knowing something at all, and it felt very good. But I don’t know if it’s possible to exist in this dimension full-time. At least half of life seems to rely on not knowing but jumping off anyway. Maybe love, happiness, success, peace..are all the outcomes of great risk and great faith. All anyone can do is make their best bet and go for it. Maybe once we let go of knowing anything for sure, the way I walked in endless circles yesterday, the way those waves went in no direction this morning, is how we find the happy end, whether we knew we would or could or not.
Health, Happiness, Walking On, Jumping Off.
Two things happen when I start feeling better: My house gets really, down-to-the-baseboards clean, and my writing takes a hiatus.
For whatever reason, the last two weeks have been comparatively healthy ones. My energy is up and my pain level medium and manageable. Like most people with the illness, I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s changed. And if the past is any indicator, I could just as easily land on my ass tomorrow and be in a bed for a week. Of course, I’m not expecting that, and I’m enjoying the hell out of the newfound energy. My mom says it’s obvious when you start feeling better because suddenly you see all these little things that need tending too that you hadn’t noticed before. I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism of the body. You can’t exactly worry about dusty baseboards when your arms are too weak for teeth-brushing.
As I’ve enjoyed this accelerated momentum and stamina, I noticed I was forgetting to write. It’s easy to see why–often the trigger for me to write is either some sort of pain (physical or mental) that leads to enlightenment or offers some lesson, or it’s diverted attention to some very small detail that I usually notice when the pace of my life is slow, ie when I’m sick. It’s not that the requirement for noticing these deeper observations is sickness, it’s that when I am in fact sick, everything slows down. Out of necessity, I don’t really have a choice. The tasks on a to-do list, the chores, the logistics of physical life are put on hold while whatever broken part of me is on the mend. When I’m in this state, it’s almost as if some parts of my brain are turned up while others turn down. Like the static and noise of everyday life are quieted, and in that absence come the more powerful details and ideas. In other words, I’m tuned in to a different frequency. I’m looking for and sometimes finding answers and meaning maybe because it’s a way to feel alive and happy while waiting on my physical body to “catch up”. But I’ve discovered something in the last two weeks that now I’ll be paying attention to:
I shouldn’t have to be sick in order to be tuned in to that frequency.
The modern world is fast. The to-do lists are bottomless. And even when we die there will be unread emails in our in-boxes. This is why that conscious awareness I have while I am sick, the kind that the mystics speak of, will have to be a choice on my part. (If I am to be well) If the last three years have shown me anything, it’s been the importance of that tuned in consciousness. Of living my life awake, not numbed or on autopilot. These things are easy to forget. Hell, I’ve been healthy a week and half and seemed to have forgotten just as quickly. But it certainly makes me examine the thought that all sick people have– could this be the reason I was sick at all? It’s not a theory anymore, I know with absolute certainty that without illness me and my life would be very, very different. I was a type-A personality; A competitive gymnast to whom school and other things came easy. Would I have ever slowed down? Would I ever have found Wisdom in the Day Lillies or saved the all those baby frogs from the pool everyday while examining the largeness and smallness of life that surrounds me? Would I stop to photograph plants like this just because it struck me as beautiful and that was reason enough for pause?
Well, probably not. And it’s not to say that me noticing the beauty of flowers or the fragility of life is so important or better than what I’d be doing otherwise. But I have to trust in the specific experience I’m having. Things could have been different, but of course, we can’t re-write our pasts. I’ll never know who I would’ve been. On bad days (on unconscious moments) I fantasize that I would have been better. That my life would be a glamorous one and there would be little suffering and I would be the president blah blah blah. But that kind of thinking is mostly ego of course, and all fantasy. Projecting that all my happiness lies somewhere over there, if only things were different is textbook ego. And all that contributes to is a lack of attention to the present. It takes away my power and ability to see and navigate where I am with what I have. If our power is in the present and it’s indeed all we have like Tolle and his peers suggest, then the “if only” thought doesn’t get us very far. It’s rare that we stop to consider that without illness or without our painful experience, we might have been someone worse. Someone very unlike who we are today. Now when I consider why maybe this illness is a part of my path, it makes a little more sense. It’s what I needed to become awake. And clearly I’m still trying to get there.
Of course maybe you’re a student of the chaos theory, in which case all of this is just randomness unraveling in a one-time deal called life on earth. Some people are sick and other people aren’t. Life is good or life is bad and then you die. I’ve considered this hypothesis but it just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t further my vision or deepen my understanding of life and its complexity. In fact it seems to cut off at the very best part–the why. That’s a question I wonder if I’ll ever stop asking. Most of this experience only begins to make sense when I get down to details like a scientist would, and so that’s where my understanding is. Or where it begins. I am still searching for more answers, for more mentors and schools of thought to point me toward them. But I find it hard to accept a conclusion that appears to stop at the tip of the iceberg in terms of depth and understanding of all the elements of life that we cannot see. Love. Suffering. Belief. Surrender. Grief. Grace. Of course maybe I’m wrong in which case we’re all going to die anyway and I’ll never see you again. So, ya know, whateva.
There was only one day in the last week where I felt bad enough to spend the afternoon horizontal. As I write that I’m containing my excitement at how “good” I’ve felt that only one day this week I was on supine. Anyway, that morning I’d caught the eye of a tree frog on my kitchen door. For whatever reason I watched him a while and then took a picture. On my downtime that afternoon I kept thinking of that frog and the surplus of details on his little tiny body. So I wrote- a poem- for the next two hours. I don’t know whether it was good or not and maybe that doesn’t matter. But I do know for whatever reason, it had me feeling good to write it. I noticed then too, I’ve got to slow down. Even when I feel good, let some tasks lie. Let some calls go unanswered. Sit in stillness and quiet and let the questions come. Even if for ten minutes, I always feel better. Lately I’ve caught myself stuck on the guide channel of my TV, incessantly searching for a show that I feel will entertain or gratify me. I play one show in the window but continue to seek the magic program, while ads about Lipitor blare at unconscionable volumes. Suddenly, I’ll hit the power button, and the subsequent silence feels so. incredibly. good. That was the program I was looking for; silence! Life is noisy, and fast, and always non-stop. Sometimes it’s OK to stop and do nothing. Notice what happens in the stillness. It’s as if a whole other world exists right beyond the busy.
Health, Happiness, and Something Beyond the Nothing.
I know this feeling all too well.
A crash day followed by a crash day followed by a crash day. Somehow it’s worse when you’ve been feeling well. All the years I’ve been sick, all the crash days and months, and I still can’t remember how bad it feels. It always pulls the rug out from under me–more so if I’ve had good health. Over and over, I forget. How incapacitating it is. How depressing it can get. When you’re moving and doing and performing tasks, you don’t think about these things. You don’t have to. You’re fitting in and alongside the rest of the functioning, productive world and that’s how you like it. It’s the best kind of fitting in. Someone asking you how you are is nothing more than a pleasantry and that’s how I like it. No reason to sugarcoat or think twice about the answer. I’ve yet to figure out a response that feels right, so mostly I lie, and I’m a bad liar. I cave easy. But this is one I get away with. I suppose it’s why anyone lies; it’s just easier. It feels good to give an answer that people want to hear. It keeps a hard reality in the blurry background, and that’s how I like that, too.
On day 4 of my crash, I’m laying on my moms couch in the office. My mom comes in and asks if I am still as weak as I’ve been. I quickly reply ‘no’ and that I’m feeling at least a small bit better. It’s a lie. I can tell because saying it out loud causes some kind of turning in my gut; where the truth would’ve provided solace maybe. I feel just as bad if not worse than yesterday. I’m short of breath for no reason and I’m weak down to my finger tips–peeling my banana earlier was way harder than it should have been. I’m dizzy every time I move. I get waves of nausea that are as close to puking without actually puking as it gets. But I lied. I said I was better. I’m left wondering why I did that. I’ve got some ideas.
Not having to think for very long, the answer came. It’s so easy: I’m afraid. I’m afraid that it could mean what it’s meant before. That it won’t go away. That I could be stuck this way the rest of my life. That I’ll never be able to fulfill all the dreams I have or achieve my notebook full of plans and ideas. I’ve had a one day crash turn into a week turn into 6 months. I’ve watched my life turn inside out and be emptied of the good parts. So often it feels like I’m watching it all happen from the outside. At 26 it felt as though the narrative of my life shifted from 1st person to 3rd, and that’s been hard to get used to. I said goodbye to things I wasn’t ready to. The illness took me over and then swallowed everything in my vicinity too. It was hard. It is hard. Some days, some weeks, some months better than others. It’s just been so “good” the last few months. It seems every time I crash I have to confront everything all over again. I think it will be that way until I fully accept and surrender to what my life might be. I already know the challenges I face, I also know it could be a lot worse. That in the end I have everything I really need. And while my life could be bad like I fear sometimes, it could also be good. great even. And the reason I need to let go of that fear is because what my life can be is up to me. Sick or healthy.
I have to remind myself often that a lot of this is out of my hands, which I have to be very careful with. That kind of acknowledgment requires perspective and reflection and it should never be an excuse. This is surrender, it is not giving up. They are two different animals and mixing them up can heavy the suffering. It doesn’t mean you call it quits and accept that life is shit. I’ve had to draw a lot lines between surrender and giving up and so often I’ve gotten it wrong. I’m ready to start getting it right. Apart from what we’re doing in our lives, the way in which we examine them makes all the difference in its joy or sadness. You’ll know whether you’re surrendering or giving up the same way you’ll know whether you’re telling the truth or not: one feels like relief, the other like defeat. One has roots in reality, the other in fear of it.
I have to stay aware. I have to remain conscious about the choices I am still free to make, and remember that I do still play a part in all this. Of course there are many parts of my life I would change were I able. But how I go about living the rest of my days is in fact up to me. Actually, it is only up to me. Will I choose to react? Will I choose to be a victim? Will I make excuses for myself to justify poor decisions? All of these are possible. And every day I wake up I can think of 100 reasons to choose a darker path. To stew in my own sorrow, to stop trying, to be defeated by something difficult, as if no one else alive is faced with their own challenges. Some that make mine look like a splinter in my pinky. The opportunity to go another route will always be there. You’ll get in trouble thinking that if you choose one good thing, you won’t be tempted by so many other bad ones. You will be. Everyone is, in their own way. Every person has demons to manage and a truth that isn’t easy to sit with in silence, but truthfully this is half of being alive. It’s why you’re a human being and not a turtle in the mud or an insect reacting to stimuli; flying toward whatever is bright.
The funny thing is, what most humans want is control. We like to think we make our own lives and everything is up to us. I disagree with that notion on a few levels and agree with it on others. I know for certain we play a huge hand in our own happiness. But when we get dealt things we didn’t plan for or wouldn’t have picked we feel like we’ve been royally screwed. Robbed. So often I fail to realize it’s not about choosing my hand but how I play the one I got. That has been and always will be up to us.We get to choose how we talk to people and who we surround ourselves with and what we’re going to give our precious energy to each day. What mark will we leave? What will we contribute to the world we’ve been given? Scientists and theologians continue to debate whether we chose to come here or not. Regardless of whether we’re the product of an all-knowing creator or consciousness or the random assimilation of atoms and space, we know for certain our time here is temporary. Loving or hating our life won’t change whether it ends or not. It will end. We don’t get to stay forever. We don’t get a say so in some of the things that were done to us. Every adult has a childhood. Every child had parts that weren’t fair or right. At one time or another, we’ll question every truth we’ve held onto and every drop of optimism we’ve carried. At times we’ll have to fight for our purpose, even if it’s just to get out of bed and make yourself eggs. (That was mine today. Yeah!) We get to choose what we do next with what we have. Will I find a reason to be happy or a reason to be mad? Because I will find both. I can always find both.
I have plenty of reasons to be both. But the last thing I need is to be afraid of what is real. Even if what is real is scary. Life is scary stuff dude. Have you been outside lately?! Even in small doses. Sometimes I have to chop it up smaller and smaller and smaller until it’s digestible enough for me to get out of bed and face the world and find my path and keep going. Doesn’t matter that I know where, so long as it’s forward. The truth moves us forward where lies keep us in the past. Surrender smooths the road for us to navigate with eyes anew, where giving up halts us, traps us in static pause.
I have no idea why even small truths are important, maybe for the reason that even small lies can cause damage. My small truth is that today is the 5th day in a row I feel terrible, and I live in fear that I won’t emerge from it. That the illness has the steering wheel and I’m passenger side. I fear what all the pills I take is doing to my insides. I fear I’ll live with my parents forever. (Sometimes I think they fear it too :) And all of these things are O.K. There’s no need for me to sugarcoat it, lie about it, or fall dramatically somber in acknowledging it. In fact admitting the fear almost instantaneously makes it smaller. Takes away a little of its power. Today I’m unwell, but I’m also unafraid. I expect to get better. Being quiet and afraid won’t rid me of what I fear. So perhaps better to be loud and honest. Life will go on regardless. What I want to be assured of, and what I imagine so many of us want to be assured of, is that we tried. That we didn’t take being alive lightly. I know I don’t live all of my days like that, and that’s a change I’m working on. Imagine if we could all live in our truth, whatever it is, and embrace each day as though we’d never lost. What might our world look like then? Our lives? Our Facebook Statuses?!
This has all stemmed from one small lie I told one afternoon that followed me around all night and morning. Funny that me confronting a grand truth began with a dumb little lie. But something about it makes me feel in my bones that these things matter. Sometimes I see and feel in myself and others that we’re starving for things that matter but are constantly being fed things that don’t. I don’t know how to begin a shift, but I know to make changes on a big scale, we must first begin with ourselves and live honestly. It’s our job to dig deep within, listen to our intuition, and be human for one another, not at one another.
I’m still tying all of my thoughts together. Still looking for answers and often coming up short. Sometimes I can feel the strings of my reality ever so slowly weaving together and making something whole from many mismatched parts. That’s what so many days feel like. Raking through the muck and finding the good parts. Then making sense out of the bad stuff left behind. The fear and pain and anger, there’s a lot of answers in them.
I’m sharing this beginning with anyone reading. (All six of you) Maybe somehow, it’s something we all work towards together. And whether this is just a stepping stone or a small premise for something bigger, it doesn’t matter. This can be the start of something new, even if it’s very very small. And I can look back at this oddly cold day in January, where besides the frozen leaves outside, it would have been business as usual. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. Where a small lie would have left me afraid, a tiny truth burrowed out instead. And in my repetitive life, maybe this is the start of something new.
Health, Happiness, and I Ain’t Scurred
I’ll admit, I’ve spent a certain amount of time, perhaps too much, fantasizing about the life I’ll have once I settle down with someone. How nice it will be to call a man my husband. To introduce my “better half” at parties, to have a “plus 1” at weddings and someone to sit around and do nothing with. I’ve even set aside a certain amount of happiness as something that will come once I am married, once I’m with my “soul mate.” Whenever I feel very alone or uneasy, I convince myself that those feelings won’t come once I’m with my Mr. Right. I think now though, having a very large amount of alone time- some of it lonely, but more of it not– I realize that the certain loneliness/angst/unease is something I have felt even when in loving relationships. It’s finally occurring to me that just because you’re in love or committed to life with someone, doesn’t mean all the intimate problems of being human go away. I admit there is at least a small amount of fantasy in my thoughts about what my life will be like once I’m given away and married. Instead now, I am learning to really treasure my solitude. Just like anything else, it won’t last.
I was speaking with a friend recently and we were calculating how much of our lives are spent with another person. Which is wonderful for the most part. Science tells us that those married and with families usually live longer and are often happier than those who are alone. But at the end of our lives, it’s often a very window that we actually have just to ourselves. For most people, the first 18 years are under the rule of parents or parental figures. College years are usually spent living with roommates. In the past most young adults were married or on their way to married by the time college was over. More and more however, it’s becoming common to have a new amount of time in our mid to late twenties where it’s just us. We’ve entered the professional world, but not taken on the role of husband or wife yet. Maybe enough of us saw how detrimental marrying too young could be. Or we witnessed the pain and exhaustion of divorce. We’ve seen or were the products of marriages that didn’t look happy and fun– instead they looked like a lot of work and not much else. Increasingly, I see young adults holding off on rushing down the aisle, which I think is a good sign. Till death do you part is a pretty big line regardless of your faith, age, or morals. Probably now more than ever is a young demographic of people living on their own. It certainly can be lonely at times, but I’ve begun to cherish this time where it’s “me” and not “we.”
It seemed my grand-parents and parents generation married relatively young. (My mom was married with two of her four kids by my age, and my grandmother had 4 of her 6 by now) I couldn’t help comparing my age and progress to theirs for most of my mid to late 20’s– but I’m making a conscious effort to stop doing that. And I’m also beginning to see the value in a young adult life that is spent without a husband or partner. I also realize that finding and being with your “soul mate” or partner doesn’t mean an end to loneliness or angst all together. In fact, in many of my loneliest moments, I’ve actually been in a relationship, but felt completely unseen or misunderstood. One might say that being in a relationship that you want out of is one of the worst versions of angst there is. This is why it’s silly to put all my ‘happiness eggs’ in one marriage basket. A ring and a contract doesn’t equal an end-all to personal struggle, challenges or pain.
I have to remind myself there is no timeline. Some women and men find lasting love at 18. Some at 38. All it takes is a few minutes on Facebook to see that many girls my age have married already and started families of their own. I used to look on with some amount of jealousy– some feeling to rush this chapter of my life so I could start the married one. But I also know you can’t really force falling in love. Or meeting your dream person. I have been in love a few times and met really wonderful people. But I’m not married yet because it hasn’t been right yet. Some say it’s a matter of timing. Some say it’s fate. Some say you’ll meet Mr. or Mrs. Right as soon as you stop looking. (I can testify that it is often when I’m happy and fulfilled on my own that I end up meeting someone who adds significance to my life that I didn’t know I wanted or needed.) At any rate, the goal should always be to find happiness, wholeness, and fulfillment on your own. Putting off your total happiness until someone you’ve deemed the answer to your prayers, i.e. someone you haven’t even met yet, is not only reckless but dangerous. Someone else won’t be able to fill you up if you haven’t learned to do so on your own. I think the healthiest and most romantic of love comes from two people who don’t desperately need each other, but just genuinely love and like each other so much they just want the other around–forever. I know too that knowing yourself well is a huge prerequisite in finding someone to love well. We can’t expect other people to fill up holes within us. When you get down to business, that is up to us.
Looking back at relationships in my life, and also looking at recent time spent alone, I see that sometimes I lose myself in love. I don’t write as much. I don’t seek creative outlets as much. I fall into comfortable habits instead of seeking newness. To specify, there’s nothing wrong with that. I can’t wait until my Saturday nights are spent with my husband in bed, asleep by 11:00 pm. But I also have begun to see the advantage in being alone. I’m more productive in the arts, which is an important realm of my life. For instance, I’ve spent the last few days drawing and making water colors. (Also listening to jazz–my brother Nick’s suggestion) I know that were I in a relationship right now, I wouldn’t have done these. Not that they’re great pieces of art, not that I can’t do them when I’m with someone, but for whatever reason I usually don’t. And I like just allowing my soul to let out whatever it needs to without the interruption or expectations that come when in a relationship.
Besides setting apart time for art, I spend more time with my parents. I read more. I don’t have to compromise on TV shows I want to watch. (Watching Say Yes to the Dress as speak) I see my brothers and sisters and nieces more often. There’s no argument about where I’m spending Christmas. For the most part, I spend time how I want with who I want and there is a freedom and casual thrill in that. Ultimately, I think human beings are meant to find our counterparts, and still I look forward to meeting my person. Life feels incredible when you find someone who shares your intimate perspective. No one can argue with the pure and ridiculous happiness and high that comes with falling in love. But on the other hand, it’s important to examine the time you have with yourself and you alone. I think of the time I spend daydreaming about marriage and babies and family life. Maybe I’ll always do that. But the other day I had this image: me, married, a house noisy with children, reminiscing about that time I lived in my parents pool house, the days mine to spend how I wanted with my dog Monty. Staying up late, sleeping in, writing, reading, drawing, and creating. I remind myself to be grateful for this time in my young adult life; alone but not really lonely, preparing for what’s next, whatever that might be, whoever it might be with. Time to treasure what I have now– a whole lot of me and Monty time. :)
Health, Happiness, Solitude
There were a few things I was going to write about this week. One was a response to an article that’s gone viral about why Generation Y is so unhappy. I almost wholeheartedly disagree with it, but I couldn’t finish. The second post was a “Breakup Playlist” that was really just a list of happy songs I composited that get me excited and I can’t help but dance to when they come on. And sadly, yes, a lot of the dancing I do these days is alone. But I enjoy it so lay off! The third was an observational piece about how impersonal life can be in the digital age of social media, where so many things are taken at face value and how someone’s online presence can be so far from the person they actually are yada yada yada. I began writing on all of these topics as my scattered mind couldn’t focus on just one, but there was something more important that kept nagging at me while I worked. Finally, I pulled the plug on these ideas. I’ll work on those later (unless they end up terrible which right now they are), because this post is for you, the reader. Because even though I sometimes have these grand ideas I I can’t wait to unleash, sometimes something else comes knocking and demands to be written. At that point there’s not a lot I can do except listen; type out the words and let my heart do the talking. There’s plenty of time for break-up playlists. This was something I needed to say now.
I’ll be honest, having a chronic illness, especially when it’s at its worst like it was for me most of last year, can be terribly lonely. As much as I love my friendships and romances and strong family bonds, it’s nearly impossible to keep them all up when you’re sick. One but more likely all of them will suffer. Last year the relationship I was in ended and as my health steadily declined, so did my social life. I remember just not answering the phone when it rang. I felt like I didn’t even have the energy to explain my mood, my condition, or apologize yet again for being a crappy friend or sister or whathaveyou. One of the hardest parts of the illness has always been what it’s done to me and the outside world. Last year was a dark one, but I was lucky enough to have family who took me in, and friends who were understanding when we went months without talking. I always liked that definition of a friend- someone who knows you but loves you anyway. :) I’ll say that being sick sort of dwindles down who the key people in your life are. Some survive the storm and some don’t, and it’s not really anything personal. Some people have needs you’re not able to meet with a condition like this, and truly you can’t blame them. I am an admitted flake, terrible at keeping up and correspondence, and I cancel at least half of the plans I make. This is mostly the fault of the illness, and it’s understandable why not many friendships are upheld through it. My circle is small, but I love everyone in it dearly, and they certainly love me back considering what they tolerate.
I think last Fall was one of the hardest times in my life. I was living in my sisters house in California. Home away from home away from home. I initially planned to go there for a month, but when my crash worsened and things like walking became hard, I ended up staying until Christmas, and everything felt out of control. Because it was. I was a difficult person then, and I feel a little bad for my behavior. My sister would always ask me to go eat dinner with her at my brother-in-law’s restaurant, but the thought of small talk with people I didn’t know was overwhelming. Sometimes it put me in a bad mood just thinking about it! I actually preferred being alone. I often felt more alone when surrounded by people but completely isolated on the inside. I hated who I had become–such a solitary hermit. But I truly just didn’t have the energy to even be polite. It was easier, and better I think, for me to just stay home. Which sounds terrible and depressing. Healthy people won’t get it. But truthfully relationships of any kind take work, they are two-sided, and I just didn’t have enough to give at that point. But the real reason I’m writing about this is because, beyond all the crappy days and reclusive tendencies, there was this community built on the blog. People reading it and commenting, people sending emails of gratitude or support or encouragement or all of the above, and it was truly remarkable to receive feedback like that, especially at a time where I felt really alone. I knew there were others like me and I wasn’t suffering alone. And although I didn’t know any of you truly, I knew of you because you reached out and were honest, and I read every word. It meant the world to have complete strangers rooting for me, some in other countries. It felt incredible not purely for personal reasons, but because I saw just how much positivity and love and support could be garnered by so many people who didn’t even know each other. It still gives me chills to this day; it shows what can happen when human beings come together for something good and optimistic. I think we’re all looking for a reason to be good. And while no, it didn’t cure me or fix all the problems, it did give me a real sense of hope that I could get better, that it wouldn’t always be like this, and even at times that if I never got better, this wonderful energy was still created and circling around the world. I didn’t do it, we did it. We put that out into the universe, and there’s something kind of magical about that. We’ve created some good together, and I think it’s something to be proud of.
Last week I posted about a promise I had made to myself years ago: that I would celebrate my 30th birthday in Paris. When I read people’s responses and support and encouragement for me to do something purely because it would make me happy and in turn, them happy, I felt the most love I ever have laying in bed and looking at a computer screen. Strangers telling me to go for it, that they’d donate money for me to do it, and insisting I go regardless of circumstance, was truly inspiring to me. I felt connected and after such a crappy year last year and feeling so far on the outside, watching everyone else live their lives while I felt like I was crumbling internally, that was such a powerful thing for me to feel. And needed to feel I should say. It’s easy to get stuck on your story, to live life from the outside looking in, to let things pass you by. But after seeing such a positive reaction from people, and seeing how me going after my dream and living with purpose was encouraging others too was simply unreal. But mostly, it was an inspiring and and abundant source of love to feel on my end. And that’s stuff you just can’t buy or put an amount on. It is truly priceless. So for that I want to say thank you. THANK YOU. THANK YOU A LOT. I felt a very long time ago that this blog wasn’t really just about or for me. It was for something greater. And I know that now more than ever. It’s about all of us.
As summer turns into Fall, (unless you’re in New Orleans in which case it’s still 90 degrees and there’s a tropical storm headed our way) I am reflecting on where I was last year at this time. I had no idea that some of the hardest months of my life were about to unfold. And in the darkest of times, moments where I couldn’t find myself in the world, I would always come across the words in a comment or an email from a reader that reminded me of something very simple but very important– I wasn’t alone. And if you’re reading this now, going through a hard time caused by anything- health, heartache, loneliness, insecurity, whatever- I hope you’ll know that you aren’t alone either. It was in those very dark but small moments, that the tiniest crack of light would shine in and let me know, we truly are all in this together. We’ve all got our battles, and we all experience things that make us question who we are and where we’re going and if we’ll ever get out of the hard time we face. I’m here to tell you, you do. I did. Many times actually. And the hard parts aren’t over. I am relatively young and life won’t stop throwing boulders or pebbles across my path. (If you’re listening God, I prefer pebbles. But, you know, do what you gotta do.) I just feel that one of the most important things that could ever so slightly drag me out of the dark, was this interconnectedness I’d feel with humanity, even though I had no social life…at all. Granted my sister tried, but I was mostly a grumpy curmudgeon. Sorry Amelie! Anyway, things have gotten better. My health, while still a major hurdle, is not nearly as bad as it was this time last year. I’ve reunited with friends. I wear pants a lot more now. ;) But it feels good to know that while last Fall was let’s face it, a shit show, I re-emerged. As we all do and will, if we can only hang on, remember that nothing is forever, and as lonely as it can feel, we are never truly alone. I mean it. And I’m alone a lot!
So, that’s it. Among all my other ideas, this one wouldn’t leave me alone. And I want to tell anyone reading, I read every comment on this blog and every email regarding it. I don’t always respond (I told you I’m a flakey friend and terrible with correspondence!) but I honestly take time and read all the feedback sent my way. And I LOVE hearing from everyone. The funny thing is how many emails begin with “I’m sure you get thousands of these but…” I assure you that’s not even close to the case. A few a week at best!! All of you have your own battles and wonderful, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, stories of tragedy and triumph, and I relish in reading them. I wish there was a scientific or spiritual way for me to prove or convey this, but all of that positive and loving energy sent my way goes right back into this project and the world at large. It’s such a cool community we’ve set up here. Remember this all started with two followers: my sister and my aunt Amy. And look at us now! :) Thank you for reading, writing, laughing, and crying with me. The community we’ve built is invaluable, and I always turn to it when I feel myself leaning towards seclusion or sadness. I hope you do the same. Because half of writing anything is having someone to read it. I think we’ve done well. Again, a million times over, thank you.
Health, Happiness, Merci.
*P.S. On September 26th, this blog turned two years old. Yaaay.