We All Fall Down. The Stairs. Sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panting. In the Pool. In October.

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

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

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

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

Meaning in the Mud

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

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

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

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

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

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#Useless Slugs Unite

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

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She-devils Unite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Actually Destined for Greatness

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

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

Health, Happiness, Muddy Waters

Airports.

I am somewhere between supine and upright on my couch where I have taken residence the entire week. My postcards read Greetings From the Couch! Most the movement taking place is in a continual rearrangement of pillows, positions and blankets in a futile effort to achieve positional comfort one way or another. No success yet. There must be an ergonomic texting/reading chair somewhere out there.

Outside it thunders, as it has every afternoon this week. It’s hinting at another storm, but has yet to produce rain. Monty is in mental disarray, gyrating off and on in these vibrational fits, all due to thunder. I’m still surprised he exhibits such outward fear this way, mostly due to the frequency of thunder in Louisiana–like fearing snow in Colorado. It’s instinct, apparently, that guides him to squeeze his awkward, girthy body into the narrowest nooks of his own making around the house, which right now is between the sofa and coffee table beneath my outstretched legs. When I go to the bathroom, he follows close behind and then wedges himself between the toilet and the wall. Another round of gyrating. Every time it cracks suddenly or it grumbles in that deep rocky tenor, he stares up at me suspiciously with visceral worry in the whites of his eyes. It’s like he’s saying “See, I told you” as though the sound of thunder was proof that it were dangerous. Maybe it is and we’re in harm ways;  I’m just too dense to know it.

My petting and reassuring him with extremely human explanations, my instinct, apparently, does nothing to quell his fear. A boyfriend once told me, as is distinctly male instinct, that it’s my own cushioning and coddling him in my high-pitched, soothing voice that makes him nervous because it communicates that there’s something to be nervous about. If you only acted normal, so would he. But I am beyond certain now that this is an incorrect hypothesis, not just because of the many instances of thunder and attached panic I’ve witnessed, but because once, a year or so ago, I came home from the grocery store in the middle of an aggressively loud storm. Unable to find Monty, I finally discovered him not only in the bathroom, but in the bathtub, quivering. This is still both one of the saddest and funniest discoveries I think I’ve ever made. Being righteous as I am I noted right away that this fear of his is no the result of my coddling, but from some primive instinct to get the hell under something, squeeze into a tiny space and quiver till it’s over. Interestingly enough, they say the bathtub is the safest spot to seek during a tornado etc. That’s what my mom says anyway, to which her husband cackles As if there’s a safe place to go during a tornado. 

I’m supposed to be on a 4:00 plane to Miami tomorrow. I’m visiting my Brother & Company for a week and then attending my best friends Miami Bachelorette Party at the week’s end through labor day, braving ourselves amid the Zika hysteria. I’m in no shape physically to travel right now, but I’m hoping and praying for some kind of divine help. For more than a week, I’ve been, what’s the phrase…Out of Service. Technical difficulties. Shit For Brains. The usual Crash buffet. I’ve rested pretty continuously, changing couch to chair one day, trying a different room the next, mixing it up as much as is possible right now. Among the physical shiftiness  I find myself really grateful that I have the time and space to actually rest. I always recall my last few months of working full-time, when I felt this way daily. The added angst of knowing that on top of being that sick I had to show up somewhere and be a functioning human being was enough for a nervous breakdown. Those were incredibly tough days, but I’m glad I had them. It swells my gratitude now that I don’t have to push through the pain, fake a smile, tell people I’m fine when I’m half certain I’m about to croak. It’s a gift that I don’t have to live like that now, and I try to stay aware of it. I know that traveling to Miami and sleeping somewhere that isn’t home is going to take a lot out of me, annoyingly, because I always prided myself on being a low-maintenance traveler. I’m still able to sleep almost anywhere and don’t require a lot of amenities, except water for pills and sometimes an emergency room. But I don’t think I qualify as low-mainenance anymore. And there’s a price to pay in leaving home now, and that’s just part of the deal. “Vacations” are not relaxing things really. They are usually a lot of fun, but they are always costly. It’s one of many things that, due to physical restraint, has become depressingly large– mundane things are no longer right-sized.  Laundry. Packing. Putting bags into smaller bags. Remembering. Prescription refills. Pharmacy lines. Doctor authorizations. Insurance Authorization. Pharmacy on-hold music. Monty’s sad face when I get out the suitcase. Lifting and carrying and dragging a portable box of crap on wheels around.The normal stuff everyone endures. When you think of all the steps you’ve gone through by the time you’re sitting on an airplane seat, it’s a lot! It’s the same except for the burden it will bear later. An ongoing debt you have to pay, for a bunch of crap you don’t even want! Hah. Am I done complaining yet? Maybe.

I’m thinking of one of the largest culprits of exertional consumption: Airports. Like Vegas, it’s a surprising amount of walking. Standing. Waiting. Discerning boarding announcments. Taking off and putting on shoes and jackets and giving the laptop its own bin and PLEASE MOVE OUT OF THE WAY MA’AM. It’s the meanest display of manners one will ever encounter. A harsh environment in many respects, the airport is like entering this fluorescently lit void where nothing is permanent and you’ll live a little while–but only as a stop on your way somewhere else. Not so different from the no-name town interstate exit you take on a road-trip at 3 am, strictly to use the bathroom and gas the car. It’s a blurred cross-section of time zones cultures and classes that feels like one wavelength just outside reality. The normal rules don’t apply. What time is it? It could be so many different o’clocks at once!

It’s a funny place. It does things to perspective, to experience, even physiologically. You walk but somehow it feels like you’re running. Down a transient track you go, walkrunning to your gate, (your  3 am exit) as bits of conversation and commerce and commotion fly past you in quick succession, one second glances in the eyes of strangers, some of them feeling oddly familiar. Snapshots of children having tantrums among bulky luggage in a news store inline. So many incremental, rapid snapshots of all the others in the world. You forget they’re out there. They flash by at such a rapid pace, and just as quickly they’re gone. I always feel incredibly slow, unable to keep up with a pace that is either insanely hurried or intolerably slow. I feel standstill among it, even when I’m walk-running. There’s a certain nervousness I detect; most people aren’t really reading their books. I know because I’m creepy and I watch while they wait. They’re always looking up and around, just making a general visual sweep, assuring their psyches that no one in the vicinity has lost their mind yet or look like they’re going to. The people watching went down a few notches with the introduction of cell phones. Now people are actually entrenched in what they’re doing–looking at Facebook or Twitter or any of it on their phones, and probably someone could lose their shit really loudly and they’d hardly notice at all. Anyway, inevitably, there’s the well dressed business man running full speed with his expensive roller suitcase in toe and his jacket flapping behind him. Excuse me!! He yells with importance and people seem to respond. Yes move please thank you! Some people give him a dirty look, but they’ve forgotten solidarity! We have all been that man running like an idiot to our gate. I must say the image always makes me smile. It’s the quintessential reminder that yes, you’ve arrived to the airport. Buy something trashy and take a seat. Read, don’t read, you’ll enjoy yourself regardless because there’s something pervertedly entertaining about watching people dressed nicely and running at high speeds. I know I know, solidarity. But it’s just too easy. Thousands of people you’ll never see again.

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Hi your flight has been delayed six days
A mighty few are novelty travelers, for whom the airport is filled with opportunity and new adventure, and the unique sights and sounds are an exciting reminder of going somewhere new! But sadly many more represent the disgruntled traveler, the jaded one, the one with 3 million frequent flyer miles that he’ll never use–for a vacation anyway. Like the teacher who has been teaching far too long, he’s too familiar with the height of inefficiency he’s about to face, the hoards of human stupidity he’ll have to wait on and wade through just so he can board a vessel where all the pieces and parts of utility and supposed comfort are screaming “I’M TOO SMALL!” Inevitably he’ll be seated by a yelling toddler being spoken to as though he were 40, all so he can experience the miracle of flying at 40,000 feet, a height repeated by the captain 2 too many times along with others “uhhhs” and stutters and unnecessary bits of information. Then the final descent, a wobbly landing to applauding passengers for God knows why, in Cincinnati freaking Ohio.

Personally, I love flying.

The sky has finally opened its mouth to a downpour. Monty has calmed, but he sees the open suitcase in the corner and we’re both a little weary.

Health, Happiness, Seats Forward and Tray Tables up

 

Authors note: This was written ten days ago. Not that you care. 

I Spy Something Monty

Think Where’s Waldo. Meets Dr. Seuss. Meets I Spy. Something Like That.

In the Bushes!
In Some Bushes
At the Beach!
At the beach!
On Some Stairs!
On Some Stairs
Fast Asleep
In the Ocean
In the Ocean
At the Park
At the Park
In the Light
In the Light
In the Dark
In the Dark
Waiting in Line
Waiting in Line
In a Ditch
In a Ditch
In the Bayou
Swimming the Bayou
smellingafish
Smelling a Fish!
On the Edge
On the Edge
In the Hedge
In a Hedge
In the Snow
In the Snow
WIth Eyes Aglow
With Eyes Aglow
In the Hills
In Creepy Hills :/
In Lake Ponchartrain
In Lake Ponchartrain
At the Table
At the Table
Playing a Game
Playing a Game!
In the Reflection
In the Reflection
Taking a Leak
Taking a Leak
In the Pond
In a Pond
Taking a Peak
Having a Peak

Health, Happiness, Monty the Great