Confronting Change You Can’t Control (Part 1)

It could always be Great. 

My mom told me to write that on every wall and mirror around the house. I was on the phone with her, basically in a downward spiral of apprehension about a major change happening this year that is mostly out of my hands. Allow me to rip off the band-aid: My parents made the decision to move to Colorado this year, back to my hometown. Pause for dramatic effect.  

Many reasons played into that decision, a big one being that a majority of my moms family lives there and we will have a tighter community of support. Given that 2/3rds of our fam is sick and one family member is a dog, the move makes sense. It can be a tad isolating out here on the ol ‘farm’.

My moms casual reminder that it could always be great was a nice departure from the supposedly optimistic adage “Hey, It could always be worse!” I’m not sure that phrase has ever really made me feel better while in the midst of a struggle. It’s like “Well hey, both of your legs could be blown off!” “Riight. That’s true. I could have zero legs right now. Cool, thanks. I feel better.”

So yes, I have both legs, but I am still pretty afraid of the whole thing and I guess that makes sense given the scale of this. It’s a big change, and since I don’t have the health to live on my own yet, it’s one that’s out of my hands, which always adds a pinch of frenzy. I’ve sort of tortured myself thinking of ways to stay here, but I just don’t have the physical stability to do it. This last crash that’s held me down since Christmas just reinforces how mercurial my *health* is and how unreliable  I am as a result. A few weeks ago the crash finally let up for roughly a week, then returned angrier than before, and I’ve been essentially a half-living disaster since then. Yeaaaah wooooo! 

You can see how thoughts like that (I’m sick, my life is chaos, I don’t have jurisdiction over my own life) can play with your mind the way a cat bobbles a feathery toy around. It can take your whole outlook and shape it in many variations. 

One of the hardest parts the last few months has been maintaining an open mind that this might actually be a good thing. It’s meant a lot of reigning in of my thoughts, which tend to go default mode into armageddon type thinking. It’s as though some small part of me decided early on that since I didn’t choose this, it wasn’t a good idea and it would end in disaster for my life. And it’s pretty crazy how easy and quickly those thoughts can assemble, pile on one another, and leave me completely convinced that I’m going to melt away and die in my parents basement…or some other absurdity. I don’t know where that fear stems from—I mean I’m pretty sure they have internet in Colorado. 

I’ve had to work to clean up the useless, unhelpful thoughts that tend to mess with my mind and sense of wellbeing. By that I don’t mean I dismiss all the thoughts or feelings I have about this—which are of course, a lot. Certainly there is a legitimate sadness and type of grief that comes from leaving what’s been home the last 18 years. Those feelings deserve their own validation and processing because, damn, it’s sad to leave the people and place you’ve come to know and love so much. Louisiana has felt familiar and comfortable for a long time, and it will be tough to leave, even if I do plan to come back. ;)  

What I am referring to are the haunting thoughts, the ones that make you feel bad about things that are not within your control.

This kind of thinking totally blurs and limits my perspective about the life I have. It dismisses all the good and incredible parts of it, doesn’t see possibility or feel hopefulness or gratitude. It downsizes the significance and value of people and things just because they aren’t in line with what I had planned. (I think humanity might have an addiction to plans but that’s another day) These are just hypothetical scenarios based mostly on fear and a future no one can actually know. Like Tolle says, it is always more empowering to face facts. Even when the facts are scary or we wish they were different, it’s in acknowledging the real and being present in the now that we have access to our innermost power and strength. 

I realized early on how incredibly contrasting the outcomes are that emerge just from framing things in my head one way vs. another. This is something I do have control over, and it’s become pretty important that I put this ability to use, otherwise the ugly thoughts take over and down the rabbit hole I go. 

It’s been a good but difficult exercise to step back and try to just watch the way my mind can interpret the same reality in two completely different lights. The modern mystics would advise to consider the circumstance from the point of view of an objective observer. Watch your thoughts, but don’t become entangled in them. Allow them to appear, then let them go. Easier said than done, of course. But at any rate, the mind astounds me in its duality. For instance..

Here is one side of my mind thinking about the move: Reiterate the story that my life is out of control, that the disease makes all the choices, that I have no say so about things and thus can’t really be happy because it’s not up to me. My personal growth and goals and contentment will all be stunted or I’ll cease to pursue them because my lack of health and other people have the wheel and I’m just a passenger to my own life. What’s the point in trying? As a passenger I don’t decide where I go and thus my happiness isn’t my option but one left up to others or whatever new circumstances materialize without my consent. I don’t want to go. It’s not fair I have to leave what feels like home. What about my family and friends here? What about my dream to live in uptown New Orleans one day? Now it will never happen. I guess I’ll go eat worms. 

I can’t tell you how easy it was for each of those negative thoughts to formulate, one after the other, building on each other like a lego tower turning into a whole city…

Now here is my mind consciously thinking about the move: Colorado? That’s cool, I guess I’ll get packing. 

Could the differences be that dramatic? And is it actually possible to participate in your own life that way?  In The Untethered Soul, Singer makes the point over and over that of course it’s possible! We don’t always decide what happens, but we always the ultimate say so in how we react toward the circumstances of our life. And it’s those decisions, not what happens, that leave us either content, at ease, joyful, whole, or bitter, angry, jealous and depressed.

All it took was a few negative thoughts to quickly unravel into my making the choice to play no part in my own autonomy or the trajectory of my life. Just because I’d be living somewhere else, I removed myself from having any accountability in manifesting a life I wanted or that I could be proud of. That’s a crazy conclusion to make! But when you’re present and you actually break down your thoughts, you see what a huge majority of them are insane and simply need to be let go of. That’s not so easy when you’re hit with an onslaught of frenzy and angst, like a whirlpool that takes you down, where there’s no clarity.

So I have to practice at disarming the egoic force from taking over in my head, which I do by sword fighting the air with a Star Wars lightsaber. Just kidding. Like Tolle teaches, whenever I have a future based thought made mostly of fear, I replace it in my mind with facts that are actually true. I try to repeat positive reminders instead of playing a record of apprehension on repeat with a sad ending.

In other words, I do the thing basically all chronically sick people must learn to do at some point: surrender.

As always by ‘surrender’ I don’t mean give up–ever. I mean to leave a neutral space open in your heart and your head where good things can happen because you allow a new path to be paved even though you didn’t design it. If I had understood earlier on in my relapse that reality doesn’t really care about your plans, I might’ve saved myself a good deal of pain from what was already such a hardship. I thought I could fight things that were already in place and moving quickly forward. Life was just waiting on me to catch up to what was real, instead of trying so hard to hang on to the way things were.

All I know is that there is a pulse to life, a certain beat that resonates deep within us as individuals and as a collective. We can typically feel through that pulse a general sense of what direction life is moving in. We can resist. Be the fish swimming upstream. Or we can lean in and greet life with an open and adventurous spirit, despite limits and changes and things beyond our control. It’s true I am afraid and I’m sad to leave what I thought would always be home. But I have been shown over and over the miracle of surrender, of allowing life to ‘move me’ and the amazing outcomes that can result when we feel fear but move forward anyway. It always comes down to following that thumping compass we hear deep within and far beneath us.

Here’s hoping that it just might be great.

Health, Happiness, Hello Colorado

IMG_E1484

 

Home Somewhere

Having the chance to travel anywhere is always a gift no matter how large a cluster it usually is, and I try to remind myself of this no matter where I go. The process of going anywhere can so often be grueling in just the exhaustive process of preparation before you even leave the ground. But I’m lucky I’m able to do it at all, so I pinch myself when I catch those curmudgeon-y thoughts pop up about the unconscionable sound of airport bathrooms and the logistical nightmare of planning around 7 different doctors. But you prepare well and you try to go with the flow and be grateful you’re making it out anywhere into the big chancy world. A change of place can do wanders. 

I’m back in my half-hometown of where most of my moms family lives and it’s always feels good to be back. Sometimes it feels like a dream that we ever lived here, like it was so incredibly long ago when it really wasn’t. It even smells the same, and I’m not being poetic. Grand Junction has a dessert flower, pre-rain, stony smell to it, recognizable as soon as you step foot off the plane. Like all smells it brings back a lot of memories, most of them good, rose-colored childhood memories. It’s also a reminder that even though the South always comes to mind when I think go that word, home, New Orleans in particular, having a huge family in one place feels rivals that same feeling. I’m here for my cousins wedding, a girl who’s diapers I really did used to change. As much as time can feel like it’s hardly moving at all, a wedding always does the trick. Hard to believe, fun to see, good to be back. 

unnamed-4.jpg
Here’s 1/20th of us, Attempt #37

The scenery is so different here and the weather is exceptionally preferable to that of Louisiana in the summer. I mostly mean that in the sense that the humidity factor lingers under 30% here, and going in the shade will actually dry you off if you were to break a sweat, and the nights—they do this thing where they cool down! Considerably. I’ve probably become a pansy since living in a tropical climate, but I actually require a sweatshirt at night. Ridiculous. 

I feel happy I was able to make this trip. Of course, I am a sucker, over-protective and absurd companion to Monty, so traveling without him actually means I miss and worry about him. It’s a dog, Mary. How many times I’ve heard that phrase! And it’s understandable; I admit to being obnoxious about the dog, but hey, we’ve been through 10 years of hard boiled life together, and that decade has been a roller coaster of triumph and tragedy that has challenged me more than any other time in my life. But all the while there’s been one constant, one love that’s stood by and treated life as though all of this were supposed to happen–as though nothing really happened at all. There’s a strong bond that this kind of constant forms, and Momo and I have it. Friends, boys, family, have all drifted in and out, because that’s just how life works, but the dog has been there every morning, sick or well, and every night at my feet or by the side of the bed.

The fact that he’s adjusted to my life changing the way it has, has always held an underlying encouragement for me, I think. Some contagious perseverance, that while circumstances change in big and small ways, there is still always a path back to your self, and it doesn’t have to revolve around anything external. Before getting sick, my thinking was more along the lines of the latter. I’m still learning how to do it of course, but at least I see it’s possible, and I’ve discovered myself in places I would never have thought to look before. Monty has adapted to all the ways I’ve changed, and so I take pages out of the Life and Times of Monty all the time. Dogs are so good for people, and Monty has been a huge gift of grace for me. Just loving him makes me happy. I know I won’t have him forever, but I’ll always have what this decade of he and I has brought to me. It’s a love and an experience that has actually become a part of me. It will always be there, and I hope I’ll always use what I’ve learned. From a dog. What I’m getting at is I miss my dog OK!? He’s in good hands though so what I am babbling on about? Jeesh.

Colorado. Right. It’s nice here. When you’re sitting on a bench outside and it’s a dry 75 degrees and you’re surrounded by mountains you think Wait, why don’t I live here again? I always wonder if my family will all end up back in Colorado some day, one by one. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. But there’s just some part of me that lives and breathes in the South, in all its ridiculousness and crappy weather and cock roaches the size of your hand, I find it easy to call home. I guess you can have multiple homes and they all live inside you instead of the other way around. 

unnamed-3.jpg

My grandma tells me how often her and my grandpa moved while raising my mom and her five siblings. She loved it. She always said it was adventure, they made new friends easily and by now in the later stage of her life, she has friends and family all over the country. She never sounds sadly nostalgic or mentions the awfulness of goodbyes when talking about leaving a place behind—which is where we differ. That idea scares me to a somewhat dumb degree. I don’t remember always being this way. I studied abroad for a semester in college, and it was the happiest time of my life. I get nostalgic about it a lot, but I should be more grateful than anything that I was able to do it at all. I’ll always have a little town in France I can tell stories about. Besancon—a somewhat unexceptional place, perfectly provincial and French with little English spoken. I loved it there. I was slightly afraid to go and yet I made some of my best friends within the first two weeks. I fell in love. I wrote and became more of who I’d always been but never completely let materialize. I learned how to be happy again after The Year the Universe Shit On My Family. It’s funny how just a change of place can change everything, and for me, that year, it really did. I’ll always hold those memories as if they were tangible items in a lockbox. Maybe one day I’ll go back, maybe I won’t. But maybe because those memories are so alive inside me, so much so that I dream of the place and the people all the time, that it doesn’t matter ultimately. In my own way, I’m still there. And it’s still here in me. I expect it will always be that way. 

Right now I’m writing from a house in Vail Colorado, at roughly 10,000 ft above sea level. In Grand Junction the altitude wasn’t an issue at all, but since we arrived here a few days ago, I can feel a marked difference. The air feels too thin to adequately inflate my lungs, making me perpetually catch and take a deep breath. It’s like there’s a good sized monkey sitting on my chest at all times. All that would be no big deal, but the dreaded weakness crept up the first morning here and hasn’t left since. I’ve been pushing it so maybe it was a crash just waiting to happen. But it feels more like an altitude thing. So I’ve surrendered to going out and doing things, which hasn’t been hard because the view from the house and seeing the wildlife (in the wild!) and spending time with family and has been more than enough and worth feeling like a useless limp noodle.

Every morning and night the deer come right up to the house to eat. Yesterday I saw a mom and her babes, a young buck and a doe. The buck was the last to leave, but first he looked straight up at me on the balcony and we stared at each other for what felt like forever. At the end of that long, quiet gaze, a sports car that looked like the bat mobile and was loud as a jet engine revved its gas as it drove down the mountain road not far below us. I swear the deer simultaneously rolled its eyes with me. I had this recurring thought of What a moron! as the sound of the bat mobile echoed off the canyon down the weaving road. I don’t even know why really, I guess because I hate noise. But I also couldn’t help thinking the young buck was thinking the same thing. Who knows, maybe he’s into sports car by now. 

unnamed-2.jpg
Goodbye lil Deer. It’s been real.

At any rate, it’s incredible to be in the middle of the wild. It’s too bad I’m a slow moving wet blanket taking up space and hogging all the oxygen. But the family doesn’t seem to mind, and the surrounding beauty makes up for any physical discomfort. Waking up to mountains is something that I’ll always hope is at least an intermittent part of my life. I think returning to sea level tomorrow, to the crushing heat and weighted humidity, I’ll take a big wet breath of air, maybe finally catch my breath, and I will definitely know I’m home. At least, at one home. 

Maybe for now, home is wherever Monty is.

Health, Happiness, Doe! A Deer.