Petition On A Mission

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

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

***

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

IMG_8406 2

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

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

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

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

IMG_0306 2.jpg        IMG_0307.JPG

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

0-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, O’ Little Town Of Bethesda

Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

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

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

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

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

aid726954-v4-728px-Stop-Being-a-Loser-Step-7
“Sweetie, can you do the dishes?” “No dad, I’m a non-contributing zero.” “Oh, right. Well, we love you anyway!” “Thanks guys.” “OK now get out of the way so we can do the dishes.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

Get-a-Girlfriend-While-You're-a-Kid-Step-10.jpg
“Son, you’re a non-contributing zero, and that’s OK.”     “…Thanks Dad.”

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

What Makes An Illness Invisible? I do I do!

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

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

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

Marc-Colaluce-DPM-300x240
I mean this is just a great picture

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, (In)Visible

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

Hangers On a Ledge 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Cliffhangers 

An Open Letter to Myself, To Be Read 10 Years From Now

Dear future self,

Congratulations, you’ve made it to 41. If you’re still living in your parents pool house, don’t feel bad. We all move at our own pace. I hope this letter finds you well. You know, I normally hate that line, mostly because it’s hardly ever genuine except as an ice-breaking device used in emails just before asking for something, usually money. But I mean it. ‘Well’ is pretty relative term, but you know what I mean–better. Better than today. It’s November 5th, 2015.

For record-keeping, I’ll set the scene. I’m writing from bed, the computer in my lap and Monty sleeping on the edge in his spot. I am achy, heavy-bodied, and nursing a head-ache that now spans the entirety of my face. It’s strangely resistant to pain medicine so I use frozen peas to numb it. I feel the force of gravity pushing against every move I try to make. Standing up makes me dizzy and faint, so I’ll spend most the day sitting or supine. (POTS) My brain is fuzzy and clumsy. My thoughts come fast and then stutter and mix up on their way out. Writing is better than speaking. It’s more patient. My heart mimics hummingbirds and butterflies. It makes this audible “clicking” sound whenever I lay down, like my own cardiac stopwatch in which to keep time! My blood pressure spikes and drops, making simple things hard, like showers and teeth-brushing. (Dysautonomia) So I stay horizontal–a term my specialist uses and advises on days like today. But the Interstitial Cystitis makes this part harder. I peed 12 times last night! A new record. But who’s counting? This is how crash days go. Another part of the disease that goes mostly unseen.

Greetings From 2015
Greetings From 2015

But let me interject. The point here is not to belabor on about life with illness. This is simply the physical state of things, and the more important point I am making is that I am OK.  I’m not living a life that looks anything like the one I planned for, (haha, plans) but I’ve found meaning here too. I’ve forgiven what my life was supposed to be, and grown into the one I have. It’s smaller-sized than the one I dreamed of, and it bewilders more people than it impresses, but I’ve actually learned to like it here. Every day despite health and money and a recently sad surplus of dead animals in the pool, I crawl into my bed at night and it hits me that I’m OK. A small flick on the side of my head.

Is it a contradiction to say you’re fine but also expect change on a large scale? I hope not. But it’s partly the reason I’m writing now. I detect a shift underway. I hear a slight buzzing sound behind the drone of everyday life, and it hints at considerable change to come. I hope in time this letter will be a relic from an era long gone. I hope it will be a nearly humorous account of the way things used to be once, but that it won’t sound all too familiar. I hope that physically I’ll just barely be able to recall it, like the name of a childhood teacher on the tip of your tongue. That’s my hope, but who can know? Just in writing this I can feel my future self alive somewhere; that she exists on some unknowable plane, and that when she reads this letter it will make her happy.

It’s my belief that if I’m not cured by the time I read this, that my mom will have shot me like I made her promise to. Only joking calm down. If I’m not cured, I expect at least to be a much higher-functioning version of my present self. I should be able to work at least a few days a week, to attend (and dance at) a wedding, or to go on a bike-ride and not crumble for days after. I don’t see this as wishful thinking or as the result of divine intervention. I see FDA-approved, effective treatment options as an only natural, foreseeable byproduct of the serious research to come by governing agencies like the NIH and the CDC. As I write this, there are zero approved treatments. My 25 pills a day are mostly bandaids on a broken knee.

Up until now, the world hasn’t quite known what to do with someone like me, like us; chronically sick people who don’t get better and don’t die. And I understand their unease. This is all relatively new, and we just haven’t developed the etiquette for it yet. But a bigger issue exists in this realm, and it’s having a disease called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a name so comparatively small and demeaning, I don’t even like to say it out loud. It’s hard to keep my own eyes from rolling. Instead I call it Shit Turd Disease, which feels no less valid or serious, and has the added bonus of a cackle at the end. Out in the world, I don’t really feel like a person who has a disease. I feel like someone with a strange secret to keep–Something to talk about in hushed, apologetic tones. Or something better not to talk about at all. Explaining and defending it takes an energy you just don’t have. So you stay quiet, but there’s a loneliness in that choice.

And there are consequences to it. For decades, the voices of the sick have been drowned out by the loud, proud professionals with strong opinions about our disease. Their ‘efforts’ are continually led by the notion that we can be cured with exercise and positive psychology. This was what the influential $8 million dollar Pace Trials set out and claimed to prove. Exciting! But upon 3rd party inspection, methodological flaws were found throughout the process, basic but crucial scientific protocol was neglected, and there were blatant conflicts of interest: Trial scientists had longstanding financial ties with the disability insurance companies who’d rather not foot the bill for those with Shit Turd Disease. And yet these trials still helped solidify the narrative that these “non-treatments” were legitimate. For more than thirty years, this idea has fueled study after study, it has shaped public opinion and policy, but it has not actually made the sick people better.

But here is where I detect the buzzing. Our attempts to improve public awareness and patient advocacy are hindered by the obvious: We’re a sick, slow-moving crew, and many of us are house or even bed bound. Fighting to be heard requires a vigor that’s diminished when you’re sick. I imagine a CFS Race for the Cure! would be more like a Saturday Night Live skit, with an embarrassing amount of joggers passing out on top of one another thirty seconds after the gun went off, half of them being hauled off in ambulances. But we’re living in the age of technology now, without the prior limits that hindered communication and networking. Now our collective voices can be heard without us leaving the house, and that matters here. The digital age provides for a new accountability and transparency where there was none before. Maybe now that professionals know their work will be seen by many sets of eyes, they’ll be less inclined to make those silly mistakes like those of the Pace trials that deeply effected the lives of millions of people. All of this helps to balance out the power. This is how we change the direction of the fruitless path we’ve been on. We have always had the right, but now we have a platform–thank you internet– where we can be seen and heard, and we have to use it.

Of course, people will stick to their guns (even in the face of gun laws they’ll do it!) And that’s OK. This isn’t actually about proving anyone wrong. No, that is the egos fight and it doesn’t belong here. This is about knowing that silence never yielded progress, and that to enable the truth we have to listen as much as we talk. It’s about ending an era that has ignored the complexity and vulnerability of what is true for the convenience and righteous facade that comes from salaried opinion. At a basic level, this is a humanitarian cause. What does it say about us that we treat the sick this way? What we do to each other we do to ourselves. So let’s do better.

Curing and treating this disease has never been an issue of capability, intelligence, resources or technology; It’s simply a matter of the right people having the committed willingness to try. If we begin there, it will be enough. But that means really beginning. It means treating this disease like an actual disease, and not some commonplace complaint or nagging ‘woman’s issue’ to be fixed with yoga. It means at least 10 times the amount of annual federal funding toward research. It means leaving the politics and scandal and doubt in the past, and surrendering the ideas that have proved ineffective. Let’s begin with purity of intent–to understand and cure it so people can get their lives back. Then I can stop writing these weird letters to my future self.

There are a lot of different ways that the next decade might play out. I could very well be cured, married with babies, living the kind of fast-paced, busy life I watch other people live. I always imagined I’d have a daughter and name her Catherine after my mom. Of course I might still be sick, an unpaid blogger still living in my parents pool house. I’ve already reconciled both possibilities. I’ll be OK. But then again, I’m not alone. This is much bigger than me.

This is millions of people at the mercy of a disease with a bad reputation and a worse name. And I’ve realized it’s useless to keep crossing my fingers about necessary change. This letter isn’t written out of hope, but as a nod to the future that I feel called to make better, starting now. It’s a reminder that change is possible and it always starts small. It’s my own refusal to stay quiet, especially on behalf of the many sick people far worse off than me, too sick to speak up. When I read this again, it shouldn’t matter whether I’m sick or cured. If I’ve done the work, I’ll be reading it from a better world; where sickness is not a secret, where we gravitate toward the truth, and where the silenced voices are finally heard. If that’s the world I’m living in, this will be the reminder that we did it, and that we’re OK. A small flick to the side of the head.

See you in ten years,

Mary
And Monty

Time To Kill

A little while ago, I was swinging on our porch swing while Monty did acrobatics with a stick and ran laps in the yard. I had been down for some time, but I couldn’t place exactly the source of the sadness. All I knew was that I could feel something missing and the result was not a loneliness but a “looked over” kind of feeling. It’s not uncommon for me to feel lost and uncertain about the direction and usefulness of my life, especially when I’m in a crash period. This feeling felt like it had roots in that. As I let my thoughts wander and my mind clear, these words entered my head and seemed to quiet the residual buzz: “I just want to make myself proud again.” It didn’t repeat itself like an incessant thought, rather the words just stood still in bold print, front and center in my mind. And then all at once I knew what that void I’d been feeling was. It wasn’t just a lack of pride, but the lack of pride and purpose that usually comes from working. Uselessness is a terrible feeling, and I know it arises sometimes from the fact that I don’t have a real job anymore. I haven’t in some time. And yet through this whole ordeal, that loss continues to cuts deep. It has me constantly wondering what I’m doing here and where I’m going and how I’m ever going to get there. As a working girl my path felt so clear-cut. I catch myself daydreaming of my desk and my business cards and the “importance” they implied.  But once the crutch of a job was gone, everything inside me felt upside down. Who am I if I don’t “do” anything?

Sitting in my bosses office and having to admit with a quivering voice that I “just physically couldn’t do it anymore” was one of the hardest moments of my life. My whole goal up until then besides getting better, was to find a way to hold onto that job. I knew if I was forced to leave it, it meant everything was irreversibly real. It meant despite what I planned or wanted, the illness was making decisions that I couldn’t change. It meant the scales had tipped and I was no longer in control. (Maybe I never actually was, but the illusion felt good) But now here I had come face to face with the truth that clinging onto the job was only causing me more suffering, besides largely effecting the quality of my work. Were I smarter I would have given in earlier and dedicated myself more seriously to getting well. But I was in a sort of denial up till then. I kept expecting to get better. I didn’t want to believe that this was truly going to be the new state my body. No one really wants to accept something like that, I think out of an inborn fear that doing so means you’re giving into something crappy and letting it take over–That you’re giving up on the possibility of getting well. But it was more just coming to terms with a reality and giving my health the attention it needed. Everyone around me seemed to know the time had come and were just waiting on me to call it, so I finally did.

I can remember solidly a few things from that conversation. I can still see his big sappy eyes as Andrew listened to me speak, and the honest calmness in his voice when he said  “It’s been hard to watch. I just can’t understand why this would happen to you.” I tried very hard not to cry but the tears fell anyway, much like they are now just remembering the whole interaction. We hugged goodbye and I tried to compose myself. I remember, I think in an attempt to lighten the sadness of that goodbye, him saying to please stay in touch and to come back and visit often. I said I would, knowing I probably wouldn’t. Knowing that life at the gallery would go on without me, while my own life was drifting into scary, uncharted waters. I punched out for the last time and felt totally numb. The French Quarter had just turned dark, freezing and damp, but I didn’t feel the cold at all. I paid the nice parking attendant with whom I normally joked around without even looking him in the eye. He made some comment about cheering up or smiling but I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I moved on autopilot like a robot. Once in the car all the terrible questions made their rounds. What would become of my life now? Who would I be now, sick and unemployed? What if I never get better? I tried to drown them out but the noise of the radio bothered me. That 40 minute drive home over the bridge felt like a dream. Once home, Monty ran up to me and my mom was sitting in her chair in the living room. Our eyes met and I lost it. “Well, I guess I don’t have a job anymore.” And that, as they say, was that.

Even though I fought it, leaving work was the right thing to do and in my condition, was just a matter of when and not if.  In the beginning it was a relief– not to have to fake well, to call in sick, to let down coworkers, and to constantly apologize. But not so long after, I began to feel this noticeable hole, like the gap your tongue slides through after you’ve lost a tooth. I had all this new time to kill but couldn’t spend it how I’d like. The adjustment was extremely difficult. Besides giving me purpose and pride, my job had contributed to my identity and livelihood. There was a little space carved out in the world called Mary, and I was useful there; I fit. I did what was expected of me and was paid every two weeks. But now I no longer occupied that space and I couldn’t make sense of what place I held in the world. Without the distraction of work, I also had to learn to just “be” and accept these new circumstances, which was also hard. When you’re sick like that you can’t just leave and go for a drive, or go get drinks with friends to feel better about it. It makes you confront your life head on since there aren’t the typical escapes. I had to begin accepting my experience and not thinking of my days sick in bed as total wastes. I’m still learning to do this, but it is possible. It began with adjusting the expectations I held for myself, and redefining what my definitions of “work” and “purpose” really meant. For so long work was something you did 40 hours a week and got paid for. And our culture nearly defines who we are by what we do. I no longer had a satisfying answer to that question. “Uh, Unpaid blogger I guess?” It took adapting to where I was at that point and not in the past. I was always going to feel shitty comparing my life sick to someone’s who was well. I had to get real about my truth. Still, those adjustments were hard and I am still learning them.

Life with illness means a lot of time on your hands and a lot of solitude. You have to learn how to be still, which I’ve learned very few people know how to do. You’re away from the typical distractions and noise and chaos often, so there is a lot of “being” and not “doing.” It also means getting to know yourself really well. Luckily, I like myself. We seem to get along. But all of this new vast time without a lot of outside expectation took a long time to really understand and warm up to at all. I had to remind myself that being sick is a part of me but not who I am. That took time too. As time went on I would grow more worried that I hadn’t re-entered the workforce. Or I’d feel these waves of inadequacy like I did recently. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the purpose of my soul that’s getting carried out because I have a body that doesn’t allow me to be busy and caught up in the regular tasks of life.

This experience has taught me big things and continues to now. It continues to teach me to let go of things, to be still and not be restless, to be OK being alone, and to accept myself as worthy even if I’m not doing anything impressive or achieving BIG things. Most of these were learned because my body wouldn’t let me achieve all I wanted to, and the lesson in humility has actually made me happier in some ways. All of it has made me come to terms with things that I truly find important, things outside of a job where the ultimate goal was money. If I look at this time away from work another way, it feels more like a gift. It’s allowed me to find and develop my voice for writing, which was my passion all along. It’s let me explore many other parts of myself that were not a part of my life when working. Even small things like learning to play my dads guitar and spending more time with my family that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s forced me to find the same joy and fulfillment from the small things that I used to require in the bigger or louder stuff. Today it was just being outside in the sun with monty and appreciating the moment.

I think it’s easy to look back on my life with a “real job” through rose-colored glasses.  I was “bringing home the bacon”and dressing in nice clothes and looked and sounded like someone who had it together. But I can still remember sitting at my desk sometimes and thinking is this it? This is what I do the next 60 years and then I retire? I’d be naive to say things were perfect and always made sense then, too. They didn’t. But it looked better on paper and gave me stuff to talk about when people asked what I was up to. Those conversations are funny now ;)  I was still wondering about my purpose and the meaning of things then too. I was still asking those same questions. The only difference is, I don’t have the disguise anymore. I am clearly not headed in any predictable direction and I truly don’t know what the plan for my life is. But, at least I’ve got some time to figure it out. All kinds of time.

Still I wonder, were I to be better tomorrow, totally healed and ready to emerge back into the quick-paced world, is that what I would do? Go back to work at some job, have office birthday parties again and two-week vacations, and then all my problems would end? I doubt it. What I mean is, I don’t think that’s what this experience is about. There is something more to it than a temporary roadblock for my life. I know it has more to give me than suffering, and my work is to try and bring light to what has felt very dark. I think by learning to navigate any experience the right way, it’s never a total loss. Sometimes it’s the very thing that propels us or makes us better. There is always more meaning and a path to discover if we stay devoted to following the thing that makes us feel alive– this usually leads to finding our purpose, our spot where we fit. I guess it’s the days when I know that who I am is bigger than the things that have happened, that I still have things to offer the world, and I accept the course of my day even in its smallness, that I make myself proud again. It’s often not in what I do anymore, but in how I receive each day and whether I live it out as a gift or not.

Even if all I do is try, that is truly enough.

Health, Happiness, #SickPride

The Cusp

You know in those movies where the main character is down and out after shit hits the fan and they’re nearing rock bottom but then comes this pivotal moment, a complete momentum change where usually an offbeat sidekick character busts out the tough love and tells them only they can change the course of their lives and no one else can do it for them? Suddenly this head-boppy motivational song chimes in and so begins the montage where down-and-out becomes up and coming and bad choices are replaced with healthy ones followed by inspiring shots of her showing kindness to strangers and looking bright and happy and you know, you know, that everything is going to work out for her. Her life trajectory rockets into the stars where her potential is limitless.  And all the shit that hit the fan has settled and disappeared. It’s all going to be OK. It’s going to be good.

I find myself on the cusp of my own Hollywood game-change montage. In the movie of Mary, it’d start with me rolling out of bed… onto the floor.Then Monty enters, pulling me by my shirt collar into the kitchen, and scoots me a plate of pills with his nose across the floor. Then begins my momentum shift song, potentially this one by The Killers

…followed by shots of me lifting three-pound weights and flexing my “muscles” in the mirror. I’m drinking green frothy stuff and throwing away prescription bottle after bottle, high-fiving doctors and crossing off lifelong goals. Suddenly I’m the one waking Monty up to play, and I’m helping sick people and giving speeches in front of the president demanding  healthcare change for the chronically ill. Then the camera slowly fades in to me typing at the computer in the hazy blue of night; a question appears across the screen: Are you sure you want to change this URL? It asks. I click YES, only to reveal my new web address word by word: Zero.Pills.A.Day.Com BABY! (Scene) For some reason this hasn’t happened yet. So weird.

OK so yes this is more Hollywood than reality and there are a lot of flaws to the fantasy, like me “exercising” for one. And vitamins curing me, for two. But the other half contains actual hopes I have for my life. There are real changes that I can feel waking from dormancy, and ambitions I know I can achieve, all that’s required is that I jump off. Dig in. But when it comes time to leap, I feel hijacked by my own dumb brain. Maybe it’s more of a lump; a dense rock in my depths that thinks of a million other things to do besides the one thing that matters. Sometimes it’s a total jerk of a rock and suggests I’m incapable or unworthy, or that someone else could do it better. And the worst part is, I listen! I think yeah, I should definitely attack my nails and cuticles until they bleed instead of trying to change my life and others for the better and for forever. Smart, real smart.

When it comes to writing, I encounter the same consensus among writers, which is painfully simple: That writing every day is obnoxiously hard and often achingly lonely, but you just make yourself do it.   The writer Anne Patchett writes in The Getaway Car that the key to completing artistic endeavors is forgiveness. Before she begins, “I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. …Forgiveness is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again I will forgive myself.” I’m working to keep this in mind, since so many words and pages I write on this computer end up in the trash bin. It’s hard to know whether I have a discerning eye for quality work, or if I just don’t trust myself enough. It’s beginning to feel like the constant editing is just another guise I’ve unconsciously created to keep me from the jump. Amy Poehler advised in her recent memoir that in order to write you have to symbolically remove your brain and put it in a drawer, then listen to it throw a tantrum until it wears itself out–meanwhile you get going on the real stuff. “The doing is the thing. Talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. Writing the book is about writing the book.” See? Basically to achieve what you want, you just have to do it. Brilliant. When I’m not in denial and I’ve let go of excuses, I am well aware that the only thing in my way, holding me back, is me; and knowing that almost paralyzes me even more. But I also know that change starts with awareness, so I think it’s time I take out a hit on myself. At least on the part that’s so lost in thought it leads to stagnancy. I can’t believe the trouble thinking causes. Has Tolle taught me NOTHING!?

So many days I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going or what’s going to happen to me and it results in either laughter or becoming totally overwhelmed. Where I used to fear change in life, I guess when things were stable and I was happy, I’ll sense an aching fear that things won’t change. That I’ll live and die in my parents pool house, an unpaid blogger with 37 chronic conditions. I can’t grasp where my place is among the world. Furthermore I can’t decide whether our place is made or reserved. Do we discover it or carve it out all our own? I don’t know. I only know that most days I feel far from either. Other days I feel close to a major turn-around; like something huge is about to sweep me up and change all of this for the better. But by the next morning we’re back to the ordinary. I’m taking my pills and moaning and Monty is doing his best to get me out of bed. Often my life feels like a raft drifting in the ocean in no particular direction, and the wind in all its thoughtless surprise is steering the boat, not really taking me anywhere at all.

Guess we're going South. Cool.
Guess we’re going South. Cool.

Monty and I roam around this town I’ve historically hated more like tourists than anything else. No one knows us by name, besides the pharmacist of course. We spend a lot of time at this coffee shop with the angry barista where I’m writing from now.There are girls here wearing the same uniform I wore in high school. They look so young and cute in their plaid skirts and Mary Janes. They seem happy and untainted and I like the way they burst out laughing at hardly anything. I can’t remember looking that young, a sure sign I’m getting older. Since turning 30 last year, I wonder a lot whether I’m really growing up or just getting older every year. I am surprised to have found the first grey hairs on Monty’s snout this year and I feel like a mother watching her kid go to the prom.Where did the time go?! There’s all kinds of proof that time has moved forward and carried me with it.  And yet my life could easily fit the bill of a 17-year-old in many ways. Some days that’s exactly how it feels. As my friends are advancing their careers and getting married and having babies, I still bring my mom to doctors appointments and often shop at American Eagle.

I understand the circumstances of my life are different and I have to make peace with that every day. But I also want to make sure I’m growing through all of this and not just surviving it. I guess I thought there would be a day when I reached adulthood, as though it were some test you passed, like the BAR, and then were a certifiable adult. I definitely figured as a child that by age 30 I’d have it all figured it out. Of course, I was young and blissfully stupid then. I couldn’t know how obscenely larger and deeper reality would become. I feel like I know less than ever before. Every answer springs up ten more questions. I’m uncertain of mostly everything except for the aggressive love I have for my dog. In short I have no idea if I’m getting it right. And I can’t imagine the day when I’ll feel like an adult.

V413782_RC093
Didn’t You Hear?!

However, I did notice something of note at Victoria’s Secret last week. It was a routine underwear buying trip and my spirits were high because there’s something weirdly exciting about getting new underwear. There I was at the 5 for $25 wrack; my go-to section for cute and economical briefs. But I found myself all disgruntled making frowney faces as I browsed the huge selection. They were all Lisa Frank colors or animal prints. But worse, there was writing across the butt. Things like “No Peaking” and “Shopping Burns Calories!” adorned their backsides. Dear. God. The colors were blinding and I felt out of my element. I then spotted the sophisticated 3 for $33 wrack out of the corner of my eye, where the colors are muted bronzy tones and the designs are laced in floral maturity. More expensive yes, but, as I held a silky pair in my hands, modest, pretty and free of TEXT on the ass, I felt at home. This is where I need to be. I bought my favorites and left smiling. So that counts for something. I think.

Forward!
Forward!

All these thoughts weigh heavy in my mind; stupidly, uselessly. But they can be thick and hard to control. So I take Monty to the river, where he is immediately in his element and I can catch my breath. Monty finds the largest stick in the vicinity and makes me throw it in the water again and again and again. His enthusiasm is contagious and I laugh out loud watching him put his whole head underwater to find the waterlogged sticks. Something about returning to the spot and seeing the river flow in the same direction it did last time we were here quiets my head. Watching Monty run full speed and splash clumsily reminds me to chill out. That life is supposed to be fun, and it only moves in one direction.( See above) Collapsing under the weight of those thoughts makes me feel dragged by the current instead of floating downstream. I don’t know exactly who I am, and maybe it’s something that grows and changes until the day you die. I only know that life and happiness aren’t somewhere over there, and I need to stop assigning them to a future I can’t know. Times will be hard and times will be easy, but there is peace to be found in all of it if I can just trust myself and forgive the experience. More than that there are dreams to be made! I just need to move out of my own way so I can finally jump off. Over the cliff–that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the Hollywood montage begins.

Health, Happiness, the Edge.

Homeopathic Migraine Fix

When you don’t have your medicine, or your medicine isn’t working, and you’re caught in the throes of the diabolical, all-encompassing shitstorm known as a migraine, this could help save you from the depths. It has relieved my mom (fellow migraine sufferer) and I on many occasions. This was a trick she learned from a neurologist in the 80’s when she first became ill and suffered lights-out migraines, for which there were no prescription migraine drugs at the time. (I cringe) Sometimes she would have to endure the pain for days at a time in a dark room or end up in the ER when it could not be controlled. It was a rocky road no doubt, but this trick she learned helped rescue her from some bad ones, and when she shared it with me I was surprised to find it alleviated my terriblest horribliest vomitiest of migraines. And it’s pretty easy to do. I just figured I would share it with yall and if it helps even one person out of the fiery pits of migraine Hell, well then, we’re all winners really.

Here's what a bathtub looks like, in case you're too sick to remember.
Here’s what a bathtub looks like, in case you’re too sick to remember.

1. Get in a hot bath. The hot water helps draw the blood down and away from your head. If you can’t get in a bath, try using a heat pack around your feet or soaking them in hot water, but I find baths best. Try to sit upright even though all you wanna do is lay down and die. I get it, but sitting up will redirect the blood flow faster. And when you’re under attack, speed counts.

2. Wrap an ice pack around your neck. If you don’t have one, use whatever you can find in your freezer– frozen peas or strawberries or deer meat from your uncles hunt last year. All is fair in love and migraines. Wrap the ice in whatever form around your neck at the base of your head. The ice helps restrict the blood flow to the head, which is where your blood vessels are spasming, and redirect it downward. Think South. You want to send everything South.

3. Drink hot black coffee. Not some frappuchino crap either. You don’t want the sugar. If you can’t do coffee, I imagine a strong black or green tea could offer the same result, but I have only ever used coffee, so I can’t really endorse that one. If you’re like me you get crazy nauseous and often vomit during a migraine, so eating or drinking anything is the last thing you want to do. But just start with one sip. This is your way out. Keep taking small sips, and soon you’ll feel the first tinge of relief and find your stomach has begun to settle. I am unsure what mechanism exactly is responsible for this relief, but it’s there. Perhaps it’s stimulation of digestion plays a part–not sure. But more importantly, it’s a major help in quelling those haywire blood vessels in your brain-effectively serving the purpose of an OTC or RX migraine drug.

Caffeine works in an interesting way. There is a molecule called adenosine that is responsible for dilating the blood vessels in the brain. Caffeine mimics this molecule and competes with it at the receptor site. Once displacing the adenosine, it gets in like a ninja and constricts the dilating blood vessels– the ones causing that UnGodly pain that no one should feel. But we do. Welcome to life homies! Not to mention, caffeine has long been used in conjuncture with pain medicines as it aids in their absorption, particularly acetametaphine. So in the least, it can give some your pain relievers a boost if you take them. There. Now you’re cured.

It’s all about the power of three here; one alone won’t cut it. The triple threat is your best bet. I am of course not a doctor clearly, and everyone is different; it may not work for all. And obviously miracle drugs like Maxalt  and the like are more convenient and don’t require a bathtub. But when you’re desperate for relief, try this. In my experience the the proof is in the pudding. It has without a doubt saved me from immense suffering on a few occasions and my mom on many more, even when the strongest meds have failed.

The sooner you react to one the better, so act quick. Get naked, get ice, drink coffee. And once you’re able, drink a lot of fluid. Dehydration is found to play a big role in migraines, so replenish your electrolytes and restore your fluids asap. Especially because you probably puked them all up. On that note…

Good Night and Good Luck,

Mary

Thanks mom!

How To Come Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, Home.

Don’t Forget to Do Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

The Pink!
The Pink!

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, and Something Beyond the Nothing.

details.
details.

 

Even When It’s Bad It’s Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays Yall. Hope it was a good one.

Health and Happiness and photo-7

How To Escape a Nightmare?

It is 2:31 in the morning on Thursday, December 12th. I am wide awake, besides being restless in the legs, antsy in my mind, and strangely very hungry. I basically just ate dinner in bed. Monty temporarily lifts his head up from sleep at the foot of my bed and sniffs the air to identify what I’m eating should he decide he wants some. He does not. He plops down his head with an exhausted exhale and his belly falls. It doesn’t take him long to re-enter dream world. Me, I am stuck on this side. Reality in the middle of the night. The same as last night and two nights before that. The last few hours have looked a little like this:

.
.

But lately my problem is not as much my difficulty in sleeping as much as what happens once I finally do fall asleep. I think it might be starting to be a problem. Here’s an except from my notebook from a few weeks ago.

Recently, I took a trip to spend Thanksgiving with my Brother and Company in Miami. I slept in baby Olives room, my one-year old niece. The second night I was there, I had a horrible nightmare. Something I’ve been having more and more of these days. This one wasn’t so much plot based as it was more a series of disturbing images, like those old home movies that play a little choppy from slides. From the start the dream was filled with eerie-ness and unease. I was in a dark place (literally)- similar to a cave but not entirely enclosed. There is nothing pleasant about my surroundings. The aesthetic is dull and drab. I’m walking forward but don’t know where I’m going. I see a full skeleton positioned against a wall, sitting as though it were an alive body, reading or relaxing. As I’m staring at it, suddenly the skull whips its head to turn and look straight at me, and its mouth jolts open. Quickly, harshly, intensely. In a word, it was terrifying. Almost at this same moment,  I realize I am dreaming. I find myself trapped in this nightmare, which has happened before and is now happening frequently. I try to scream in order to wake up my brother or sister-in-law, knowing that if I scream they’ll come to the room and subsequently I’ll wake up, escaping the dream. But when I try to yell, nothing comes out. Not only that, my mouth feels glued shut, as though my upper and lower lip were molded together. Consequently I am voiceless. My next attempt to escape is to physically kick and flail my limbs with such gust that the movements shake me out of it- my equivalent of pinching myself awake. But when I try to kick my legs, they’re stuck. They don’t move. They feel as though I’m standing waist deep in thick, dense mud. When I try to move my arms it feels like I’m in a straight jacket. So there I am; trapped in a scene which appears terrifying to me, and unable to speak or move. The strangest part of it all is knowing that it’s not real. Once I have this realization, the fear should fall away shouldn’t it? At any rate, it’s just a stupid skull head with its mouth open. It’s not the first thing I’d like to see in the morning but still, it could be worse. I try and try to scream and move and kick and flail but I can feel all my attempts failing. Silence, stillness, stuck. It’s stressful. The fear is tiresome. Finally, something from the other side makes a peep into my dream. I hear it once. I hear it again. It’s reality calling. Gradually it grows louder and louder, and I dissolve slowly from the dream. It turns to ash as I slowly wake to the bedroom. The reality calling is baby Olive crying. Finally, my eyes open. I can move my legs. I have a voice. I relish the sound of the baby crying. Never have I been so relieved and so happy to hear that sound. I feel bad because it was probably me squirming and making noise that woke her up–trying to escape the cave with the evil skull! But this is how it goes now. I realize I’m dreaming, often it’s a nightmare, and I can’t get out of it without something from the other side, some external force intervening. My mom saying my name, Monty pawing at me or the bedside, my phone ringing enough times to finally rattle me out of it. But never on my own can I get out. My sister-in-law sneaks through the cracked door stepping lightly, hands Olive a bottle and immediately her crying stops. She lays back down in her crib and soon I can tell by her breathing that she is back to sleep. Me, my heart is still beating fast, and I’m thanking God that Olive cried and got me out of the dream.                                    

                                                                                                                                          11-27-13

So there it is. I went a whole week without a computer! Sometimes you just need to feel a pen glide on paper. Anyway, that’s what happening lately. It’s making my nights quite..adventurous.  I remember learning in a Psych class once that in our dream phase of sleep, the brain temporarily “paralyzes” the body, so that we don’t jump out of windows or act out the weird things we do in our dreams. So there seems to be a miscommunication somewhere, a mis-firing of neurons between my brain and my body. One says I’m awake, the other says I’m asleep, and I’m caught voiceless in the mud, somewhere in the middle.

As dependent and exaggerated as it may sound, Monty has been my life saver lately. Or dream saver I should say. In my last few nightmares, I’ve called out to him (or attempted to) knowing if he made noise in the room I could get out of the dream. Two nights ago was another very scary one where I couldn’t move or scream, but I remember trying so hard to yell Monty’s name. All I could get out was “Mmmmmmm” because once again, my mouth was glued shut. Even without fully saying his name, he came in my room and pawed at my bed, until I woke up and my voice came back. I hugged him really really tight then, and he slept the rest of the night in my room. (Not on the couch, which he apparently finds preferable) Because the dreams are so real, the fear is so tangible and the images so lucid, even after waking up I feel in an eerie haze. Floating in some in-between world. I often need to look at something mindless to get my head out of whatever nightmare I was just trapped in. (Helloooo Facebook at 3 am) There are plenty of distractions to lift the post-nightmare haze, but in the meantime, I’ve got to figure this out. There must be a way for me to get myself out of these dreams once I’m made aware of where I am. And while I admit there are unpleasant and scary moments in all this, it is very interesting. I’ve always been a heavy dreamer, waking every morning  often with detailed streams of dreams playing through my mind. Sometimes I write them down, other times I tell myself I’ll remember and I put it off. But the more I immerse into real life, the faster the dream fades. “Like cotton candy” my mom always says. “Write them down right away!” My mom happens to be a student of Jungian psychology and well versed in the symbols and library of dreams, so since living with her again, she’s been a live in dream-interpreter for me, which is nice. Think about it– there is no clearer or more accessible portal into your subconscious than dreaming. It is hours of our existence that is not interrupted by thought, so I know there are profound answers to be found there. I am her I.T. person and she is my dream analyst. Fair trade.

I’ve learned quite a lot in breaking down the symbols in our dreams. And there is universal meaning to be found there. Do you think it’s a coincidence that many people dream their teeth are falling out? Or that they show up to an event completely naked? Or arrive to take a final for a class they haven’t gone to all semester? Of course each one relates more individually to each person and their life, but this is the human experience. We aren’t so different. I think it’s fair to say there is some objectivity in examining the subconscious without subscribing to some hokey pokey psycho crap. Admitting there is meaning in our dreams isn’t subscribing to witchcraft, as I’ve heard people react when hearing of dream interpretation. We shouldn’t be afraid to go deep for answers. That’s where most of them lie.

I’m going to attempt sleep once again. Monty is here and has been made aware of his duties. “When I start freaking out, you paw at the bed. Got it?” On the next post I’ll have my mom break down some universal dream symbols and go further into these nightmares if they’re still occurring. If anything, it’s another adventure. The riddle now is how to get out.

Accepting any/all suggestions!

Health, Happiness, Dreamworld

Fall Yall.

They say the only thing constant is change itself. And when seasons change, particularly Summer into Fall, I always seem to feel a change on the inside as I watch the atmosphere play out it’s own changes. As if my circadian rhythms, my organs, my soul knows that things are going to change. I’ve always liked the feeling. The transition from Summer into Fall and Fall into Winter has always been the happiest time for me. That first gust of cold air. Pulling out old sweaters and cardigans. Cuddling in close to whoever you’re with. (I’m talking to you mom!) And there’s that slight reminder that the Holiday’s aren’t so far away and if you’re like me and ridiculously elated by Christmas, then it’s a good feeling to pick up on. I’d say if I could choose a season to fall in love, as if you could ever choose these things, I’d pick Fall. It also seems most likely to happen then in my eyes. A girl can dream. I say that a lot.

New Orleans weather is really weird. And by weird I mostly mean crappy. Our summers are long. Just too long really. And unrelentingly hot and humid. It takes your breath sometimes. Every time I fly into Louis Armstrong and exit baggage claim, my lungs get coated with a Southern sheet of bayou film and I have to remind myself how to breathe. It’s all part of the fun of calling Nola home. And I mean that. Our Fall is very short, much like the Spring. And Winter is fickle. A cold day comes. Everyone dresses as if the blizzard of the century is approaching and the cold due to the moisture in our air is penetrating and bitter. And then two days later it’s 70’s degrees and uncomfortably wet. If I could present our seasons through words arrangements it’s like this:

 

S   U   M   M   E   R R R R Fall W I N TER Spring S U M M E RRRRR

 

So maybe the climate isn’t our major selling point, but I also don’t hate it. Cold days are such a novelty here, and the excitement brought on by temperatures allowing boots and a chunky sweater is contagious. Nothing gets a Southern girl excited like Sweater Weather. Just say those two words to one and watch the magic unfold. It’s true we don’t have four equal and distinct seasons; we have summer with a side of spring or winter sometimes. But we still get a taste of everything it could be much worse. We also get extreme thunderstorms, and I truly love rain. And not just the grey drizzly days. I’m talking intense thunder and lights flickering and those storm clouds that somehow turn up in shades in green. I love those days. Monty prefers to spend thunderstorm time in the bathtub, and I say whatever floats your boat homie.

Anyway I’ve been cleaning the leaves out of the pool with a net as Monty swims despite the water temperature having dropped majorly. To me, this is the quintessential image of Fall at home. Brown leaves floating in an empty pool. It’s perfect. I drag the net through the water and I get these bursts–an urge, an inspiration–I’m not sure exactly what it is. But I think maybe if I were a tree, I’d feel like shedding my leaves. And then suddenly, for one brief clear moment, nature makes sense. I continue to sweep the pool for miscellaneous debris including a Gatorade water bottle that monty dropped in and has sunk to the bottom. Since I don’t have leaves to shed, I went with the next best thing. My hair.

Pardon my selfie skillz.
Pardon my selfie skillz.

I chopped it. And got blonde added to it too. Mostly because, I felt that thing, that very internal tinge of electricity. The thing I think trees might feel. And I had to do something with it. I didn’t even care so much about the outcome once I made my decision. I just had to go for it. And leaves grow back in the spring–my hair grows fast. I’m 29 and I’ve never colored it. I’ve had long hair for so long that it was starting to look sad to me–sick even. It was reminding me of being sick. Suddenly I wanted the weight gone. Something lighter. Something new. As the hairdresser snipped my first 6 inches off, I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me he didn’t like my hair short. I shut my eyes and listen to it all come off. It felt good. It felt great. It rejuvenated me somehow. No more sick hair. Sick thoughts. Time to be happy and try new things. Time to act on positive impulses. Time to finish things I started and stick to things that I know are important. The leaves have fallen and my hair has lightened. (See what I did there?) I feel good about things. Good things are in the works. I encourage yall to make a change too. Do it for me. Do it for you. For Fall. Why not?

Report back. And rock on.

 

Health, Happiness, Fall.

The Paris Promise.

Have you ever promised yourself a gift? Something unnecessary, something perhaps even excessive, but something just for you, from you?

When I was 22, I left America to study a spring semester in France. I had always been drawn to Paris– the French, the language, the lifestyle–but I could never pinpoint why. I just felt I needed to go one day. I became so philosophical about wanting to go there and not understanding what was fueling my desire that finally I called my brother Nick in a strange self-induced panic. “I want to study a semester in France.” “Great!” he responded. “But I have no idea why!” A pause. “Who cares?”

It was my freshman year, and I often called Nick with my college-born troubles. I remember him telling me with such sincerity, “Mary, don’t think to hard about it. You want to study in France, so study in France! You’ll know why once you get there.” He was correct. Three and a half years and a crap-ton of paperwork later, I packed two ridiculously sized suitcases and prepared for life abroad.

Technically, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I felt very troubled leaving. It had been one of the hardest years of my mom and I’s life. Just less than a year earlier my step-dad died suddenly, and everything sort of stopped. None of us were prepared for that. As if that wasn’t hard enough, a few months later my black lab Brusky, who had just turned one year old, developed an infection and also died suddenly. Brusky was one of the only positive things my mom and I could count on that year. When things became intense or overwhelming or sad, he’d always do something to make us laugh. He was truly a wonderful dog. He was my sunshine. And when he died that morning, I really felt forgotten. There was an empty feeling of chaos inside. I watched the world spin on but I felt stuck standing still. I was jealous of happy people. I was doubtful for our future. And I was losing faith that we could ever be happy again. It was partially the reason I went to France. At that point it felt like I didn’t have a lot to lose.

But I was the last kid left in Louisiana. Most weekends I drove home from school to be with my mom. There are so many logistical things to tend to after someone dies. Just cancelling his cell phone with AT&T took months and months. My mom always told me to stay at school. That I didn’t need to come home and that she’d be fine. But when you see a parent lose someone they love, you see a piece of them go too. She’s tough, and she rarely reaches out for help. And that was mostly the reason I went– so she wouldn’t have to. When I received the acceptance letter to a university in a small town in France called Besançon, I was immediately excited and then immediately distraught. How could I leave my mom at such a pivotal time? She insisted I go. Insisted she’d be fine. The last thing she wanted was for Roger’s death to hinder us. I grappled with the idea of staying and the idea of going.  Finally it felt like I had to go. If I stopped exploring, learning, living, loving, trying, then I’d have let fear and doubt and melancholy take over. We had to keep living, both of us, and maybe while I was gone, something wonderful could happen to her too. It didn’t make our goodbye at the airport any less sad. I held it together as best as I could, but still I felt the fear and the doubt and sadness right there on the surface. We hugged goodbye and I prayed all the way to Paris. It was the only thing I could do to keep my confidence alive in a decision that I wasn’t outwardly sure about.

Once in France, my brothers words rang true. Meeting amazing people who are still incredibly close friends. Watching the first snow fall. Cafe au lait and croissants and vin chaud and ridiculous business hours and cafes and little French children. It was perfect. All of it. I fell in love. With the country, with a boy, with my friends, and my life there. “This is why,” I thought. I’d found my answer. Something in my soul must have known I’d find happiness there, at a time where I’d forgotten what happiness even looked like. I lived in a space maybe half the size of my bedroom now with a twin bed and a desk, and I have never been happier. Best of all, I felt vibrantly alive for the first time in a long time.

Happy, oui.
Happy, oui.

Not only that, but while I was gone, my mom said yes to a coffee date, with extreme hesitance.  A friend convinced her it was only coffee and so she went. The coffee date turned into a dinner date. Which turned into an every meal date, and falling in love and happily ever after. Would that have happened if I would’ve stayed? We’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

When leaving after an adventure like that, you make a lot of promises. You think you’ll go back. You think you’ll stay in touch with everyone. You’ll carry on traditions. But these are more optimistic than realistic. The real world resumes on when you return. (It’s awful!) Although I made two best friends there, one of which is My Stupid Friend Jess, very few of us stay in real touch. We reminisce. We get sad when we think about the fact that if we all went back now, it wouldn’t be the same. Our experience was wonderful, carefree, spontaneous– but impossible to repeat. It was five and a half months of not living in the real world as we know it. School was very easy, teachers were lax. They encouraged you to immerse yourself in any and everything, and if that meant missing class, pas de probleme! I loved it. It was truly perfect.

But I did make one promise that I have always intended to keep. I promised myself that I’d return to Paris and celebrate my 30th birthday there. I’ve thought about this promise throughout the years, and I think over the last two years I’d sort of lost hope and resorted to the idea that Paris wouldn’t happen. But when I turned 29 this year, that promise seemed to reignite inside me. I realized it’s only impossible if I say it is. I have a year to make this wish come true. I have no idea why I made the promise for my 30th birthday. I probably assumed I’d be wealthy and successful by then. Hahaha!!! Life is funny.

So I’m not exactly wealthy and successful (yet) but I still have 10 1/2 months until my 30th. A lot can happen in that amount of time. I know that work is required of me. I know there is a way for me to have this illness but still contribute in a meaningful way and support myself and Monty and pay back all the debts I’ve incurred along the way! I truly think it’s possible. I constantly see items on TV or in magazines and think ah, when I’m a millionaire, I’ll totally have a temperpedic mattress and my own jet for travel so I’m not subjected to modern commercial air travel. They are fantasies, sure, but something tells me they could really happen. It’s not like this type of success doesn’t exist. It’s not impossible! It’s just going to require getting creative. Most people don’t make millions from bed, but it’s not that far off the radar. I mean the Kardashians did it!

Anyway, I don’t have the money yet but I haven’t aggressively tried to get it. I’ll need to strategize. And maybe I won’t be in great health, and it will be different than last time and I won’t be able to walk the city as freely. But I’m going to turn 30 no matter what. Here or there. And if I’m sick here, why not be sick there? I don’t mind being sick in Paris! And if it’s just me, alone on a terrace, watching the Eiffel from afar, that’s great too. As long as I am choosing life, and honoring my passions and keeping my dreams alive and not stifled, I don’t think I can really go wrong. I don’t know how this is all going to fall in place, but somewhere deep, someplace where I once felt that initial drive to go and didn’t know why, I feel that it will happen. And if I keep letting the illness infringe on every dream, I’ll never get anywhere. Things will stay the same. And  once you stop dreaming, what is the point really? This was a promise I made to myself. Not for a boy, not to prove anything, just a gift I promised to my soul. Last time I left, it was a troubling time and I was uncertain, but once I arrived it all made sense. It appears to be that way again.

The only question left to ask? WHO’S WITH ME?!   :)

La Santé, Le Bonheur, et La Promesse

 

Wisdom In the Day Lilies

I’ve been pretty taken by these Day Lilly flowers blooming outside. I like that their entire purpose (for me) is just to be something delightful to look at. To be simple and beautiful reminders. It took years and years of me hearing the term “Day Lily” being thrown around as merely words assigned to a flower to one day, just last week, finally putting it together that they are named this way because they bloom for merely a day. (Duh.) They are such vibrant and roaring things. They’re like little poems themselves that don’t require writing. Flowers often strike me as delicate but these specifically do not. They’re almost unruly. They are stunning colors and you’ll find yourself lost looking in their center, unaware of time. Tolle refers to flowers as “Windows into the formless” and that makes sense when looking at these lilies. They’re incredible creatures, and they only last a day.

.
.
photo-1
.
.
.

If you’ve never read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, he begins the book with a description about the first flower ever to bloom on our planet, and why that is important to our existence and collective consciousness now. It’s quite a beautiful passage. So here it is:

Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appear on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun. Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years. The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained an isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet– if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.

.
.

I really love this description and the image of such a large, simultaneous blooming. But the deeper point he goes on to make is that flowers were most likely the first things human beings came to value “that had no real utilitarian purpose for them–that is to say, were not linked in some way to survival.” He attributes our fascination with flowers to their ethereal quality, calling them “temporary manifestations of the underlying One Consciousness.”  Since a flower is a glimpse into the formless, and ego is described as “identification with form” (materialism, i.e. I am what I have) we can say that the simple act of looking at flowers is an opportunity for us to see with our soul and not our eyes. To drop our egos for a moment. Physically the flowers are beautiful, and underneath they represent the joy of formless beauty. You don’t have to “own” a flower to enjoy it. It’s interesting too to witness how the entire atmosphere of a room can change once you put a vase of real flowers in the center. Or even one flower in a small vase. Somehow, it makes a difference. It changes things.

.
.

To think about beauty and purpose in terms of time, it occurs to me that only humans would consider a day not long enough for something to exist. If we were told we could be beautiful and happy and perfect, but we could only last a day, would we take on the endeavor? It seems like we’d demand more time–enter some boardroom negotiation with the creator. And yet, some of us exist on earth for only a little while. There are so many lives cut short, and as survivors we see it as indecent. It feels, to us, like they were never given a chance. They were never able to really live. But maybe, like the day lilies, one day of life is more than enough time for us to serve our purpose. It’s hard to grasp conceptually. Time is something my mind busies itself with at night–until I think of the concept of eternity for too long and the thought becomes too intense and my brain explodes. It’s pretty frustrating, you can imagine. Gary Zukav once described life in terms of time as “the eternal moment” and sometimes that makes perfect sense to me and sometimes it’s not enough. It’s almost too simple. But that’s how I imagine a lot of the secrets of the universe to reveal themselves. Complex, large ideas executed very simply. Maybe the better word for it is elegant. 

Maybe I’ve made some far-reaching metaphors here. The truth is, flowers are pretty things to look at mostly, and possibly I’m ruining their beauty by cluttering them up with philosophy. But it’s an interesting investigation to discover why we as humans, often so entrenched on utilitarian things, furthering our purpose, working harder and faster and longer, can every once in a while stop our busy lives and look into flowers and feel a sense of ease and simplicity. We may smile looking at them without even knowing it. It’s interesting that in our modern society, flowers have come to serve the purpose of a wide spectrum of emotions. They’re a way to say “I Love You” and “I’m Sorry.” We use them to celebrate life and death. It’s no mystery why people say “Stop and smell the roses.” Flowers are small and silent, their scent often subtle–requiring you to drop everything and stick your nose right into the bloom to really take it in. I think once I just thought they were pretty things to look at and that was all. But I’m finding more and more that simple and beautiful things, selfless providers, (flowers, dogs, sunsets) are much more in tune to our purpose here and the work we do. If ego is the blueprint for dysfunction like Tolle says, perhaps flowers are the blueprint to consciousness. If even just for a day.

Health, Happiness, Day Lilies

*I took these photos on my iphone and they haven’t been enhanced. For realsy!

Today Is Wednesday.

Today it is hard to wake up. It is hard to move my fingers and hold this pen. Everything is heavy as though my insides are all made out of lead. If you’ve ever tried running underwater in the deep end of the pool, then you’ve had a glimpse of it. It’s hard to say why my body has backtracked these few days. Last week felt like a good one, more solid than the past, and this week things fell apart. Did I get too sucked in? Did I overindulge in the tasks of the busy world? The fast work. The chattery world. The one that I used to think didn’t have room or time for the sick?  (I’ve changed my mind on that one.)This is often the culprit–engaging in too many things that in the end don’t really matter.

So now I will rest. I will sit in the room with the big windows and let the light in. The dishes will wait. Paperwork will wait. Even Monty will wait. Every once in a while he’ll get a burst. He’ll paw at my chair- but behind his brown eyes, sometimes so deep and intense I wonder where his mind is- but he knows that today will have to be one of rest. He curls into the half moon shape at the base of the chair, back to doggy-chasing rabbits-gratuitous bacon-dream world. I apologize and I don’t know if he understands or cares, but he is a creature of the present and for that fact alone he doesn’t seem to mind. It isn’t in his DNA to mind. When we rest we rest and when we play we play and there’s no good reason to cry or complain when we’re doing one and not the other.

Even though it’s a sick day, a string of sick days that always has the grim potential to turn into months of sicks days, I want the world to know that it doesn’t feel like suffering. It just feels like something the day brought- as though it were sunshine or rain or an LL Bean catalog in the mail. It doesn’t feel personal. I know people who take offense to the rain. How dare it rain on my wedding day! Who cares? Nature is balance, nothing more. I’ve been practicing putting the sickness in the same category as the behavior of nature. It takes the sting of it away. Today is Wednesday. It’s humid and raining off and on. My limbs are heavy and stiff and my fingers don’t fold so easily into my palm. The invisible wet blanket of the illness I carry is extra wet–maybe from the rain! But none of this has anything to do with how happy I can be. How much joy I can find.

The things that thrill me still exist. Monty’s tail still wags when he sleeps. The smell of the magnolia tree outside is heightened from the rain. I have a house for Monty and me. A home base that isn’t impatient at all when my life has to slow down. I don’t have to run from sick days. I can let them come and let them leave and not get upset in the meantime. Simple pleasures still exist. My eyes can still take them in. And even if my eyes give out on me, my heart will still know the joy of it. My soul is learning to open slowly, much like the magnolia I picked that is now wide open at my windowsill. I am hanging on to life’s little treasures and remembering and emphasizing and reminding my busy brain that all of these things exist no matter what condition my body is in or what kind of outlook I have. I can stay closed until I think life is going my way or I can open up wide to the world and the sun and every person and animal I meet. It is in fact, up to me. If it’s left up to anything else, then happiness will be a constant, conditional pursuit and never actually attainable. I think when you’re around happy things enough, you start to see where they have it right. Today is Wednesday. It’s muggy and hot. I am heavy and dragging. It will be a good day.

Mastery of Life is the Opposite of Control. -Tolle

Health, Happiness, Wednesday.

You’ll Forget. And So Will They.

There is one component of this illness and autoimmune diseases in general which exacerbates the whole experience. The invisibility factor. You can’t see it. Many times when it shows its ugly head, no one is around to bear witness. People see us when we’re out and about and well, or faking it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear “But you don’t look sick!” People have a notion of what sick looks like, and this doesn’t fit the bill. One day you’re normal and the next day your plagued with something worse than a flu, or a hangover, but you didn’t do any drinking. It’s just such an enigma on so many levels, besides keeping up appearances, that it’s no surprise people just plain forget you’re sick. And it’s understandable. Because honestly, you forget too.

To this day I find myself committing to things as though I am normal, as though I have boundless energy, as though I don’t spend days in bed sometimes for no real reason at all. My circumstances aren’t normal. And some days I have to remind myself by the hour of my limits. Many times I fail to recognize them and I pay the price. So it’s no surprise that the people we love, the people we’re closest to-friends, lovers, family- they’ll forget too. And it’s easy to see why, but it will make you defensive. You’ll tell yourself they just don’t get it and they’ll never understand! And you’re right, they don’t. It’s impossible to know unless you’ve got it yourself. But don’t let that separate and isolate you more. You’ve got enough boundaries. When someone doesn’t believe you, when someone criticizes you, judges you, or doesn’t give the sympathy you’re looking for, let it go. Meet their disbelief with love and understanding. Because the truth is, if you weren’t sick with this, would you understand it? I know it’d be hard for me. I was young when I became ill but I remember distinctly things coming easy to me. Being a good gymnast. Getting good grades. Good family and friends. A 9-year-old with everything! I had no real reason for pause. I often consider what my life would be like had I not gotten sick and in general it’s with the notion that I’d be a better person living a better life. I really wonder about that now. Being sick and at the mercy of others help and kindness, I’ve learned remarkable lessons in humility and compassion, and those are just scratching the surface. I can’t say who I’d be without illness. But like my mom said once “Who knows? Maybe we if we hadn’t gotten sick we’d just be two capable assholes.”

The point is, when I still my mind and consider all the parts of this, I can understand the doubt, the skepticism, the misunderstanding from others. This is not a well understood disease, even for us sick ones. (But I know that one day it will be. I know that.) I remember once last year, I woke up with a pounding migraine. I was in one of my awful cycles. The first dose of medicine didn’t work so I took two, among my other cocktail of meds. I got out of bed around 1:30, hazy, tired, and the hint of my migraine still masquerading around my head. My boyfriend at the time saw me and said “You’re up! Hey, do you want to go shoot guns today?” At that moment I thought of 647 other things I would rather do than shoot a gun. The mere thought of shooting a gun made my headache perk up like what? huh? guns? Here I come!!! Even the suggestion of that activity made me mad. I felt really misunderstood and alone and thinking what I so often think: if they could only feel what I am feeling, they would understand. And it’s true. I think if most people felt the symptoms of CFS even for ten minutes, they’d have such a better grasp of what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. But that’s not possible. So it is up to us to communicate with love to those who don’t know. What we’re dealing with is basically invisible, and getting defensive and trying to prove it will exhaust us even more.

Besides my mom, who is also sick with this, I think about the one person who has been by my side throughout all of this, and has required the least amount of explaining. The answer is Monty. I realize that sounds juvenile. Oh Mary, you crazy dog lady..maybe you should talk to some PEOPLE. And truthfully I probably should. But I think about the number of beds Monty has slept at the foot of. Patiently he waits until I get up. Some days it’s only a minute..we don’t play and he doesn’t seem to mind. He follows me into the bathroom, he follows me out. When I go back to bed, he does to. And this is a very energetic and active dog. He could go all day, literally. But it truly feels like he picks up on sick days. When I wake up in the morning, he always takes some deep breaths really close to my face. It’s like he can tell by smell whether I’m going to get up or not. Sometimes he sniffs and hops out of bed ready to go. Other times he sniffs and goes back to bed. It really is like he knows.

The thing is, Monty doesn’t understand all the weird components to the illness. He doesn’t know what chronic fatigue syndrome is. He doesn’t understand why some days we play and other days we don’t leave the bed. Sometimes for a few days at a time. But he doesn’t even require an explanation or a defense, because what he is exemplifying so beautifully is living in the present. When it’s time to play, we play hard. When it’s time to sleep, we sleep like it’s nobody’s business. Whatever he does, he does fully. He shows up wholly to every moment. And it’s a truly impressive thing to witness. One of my favorite things is to watch Monty when he gets up in the morning. I open the door for him and he walks outside, stops, and sniffs the air for about 15 seconds. It’s like he’s taking in everything from the night and everything that the day will bring. I like watching it because it’s reflective, and we live such busy, fast lives, we constantly neglect reflection. I think it’s fair to say that it’s required for a happy life. We have to stop sometimes. We have to take things in. We have to feel our feelings. (Smell the roses, if you will.)And we don’t need to say it all on Facebook. Some things we should hold inside near our heart. Or whisper it to someone we love.

I am reading a book called Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson which is incredibly poignant and really well-written. I find myself underlining entire pages. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a book club but of course I’ve never gotten it together and am bad at keeping commitments. So for now the blog will be it. And I invite all of you to read and share your thoughts on these books. I have about twenty more pages and will have a review/summary/dialogue next time. But if you’re looking for a book as a companion..this is a good one. It’s been seeing me through sleepless nights and reading it when I wake up in the morning gives me a happy way to begin the day. One of my favorite lines near the beginning is “We don’t need to push life so much as we need to experience it more elegantly, to be motivated more by inspiration than by ambition.” I like that idea. When I’m not in bed I let my instincts and inspiration guide me…even it’s just sitting on the porch swing and looking at the flowers, which I do a lot. Monty makes me throw a ball and swims laps in the pool. See?

Please just throw the ball.
Please just throw the ball.

 

Anyway, I am working on living a reflective life. I try to take in every moment truly, and feel it genuinely. Even if the moment is sad or fearful. I know that not feeling things through leads to trouble later on. I’ve been there before. For now, I feel happy. The sun is out and the porch swing is calling.

Health, Happiness, Smelling the Roses

Life In My Parents Pool House

So if I die I want that to be the name of my memoir. Isn’t is perfect? It’s funny yet sadly true. A sick girl-turned-woman living in her parents pool house and on their dime. With a dog. Wait am I a girl or a woman? Now I know how Britney Spears felt when she sang that song. In any case, it sounds like a Fairytale to me. I wonder how this one ends.

What I’m really getting at is that life in my parent’s pool house is great and I recommend that all 28 year olds or young adults in general try it. I had my first night in my new place three days ago. Waking up the next morning in my bed, in my own house was basically spectacular. You have to understand it’s been 2.3 years since I’ve been able to wake up under those parameters and having to wait so long and go through what I did has made the moment even sweeter. If felt like finally exhaling after a ridiculously long tunnel. I laid in bed for the next hour with a pure feeling of gratitude, and that’s all I can really do in these instances. Breath, reflect, take it in and give thanks. If you don’t they pass you by, and you find yourself years later realizing how good you had it only in retrospect. I realize how lucky I am to live in a beautiful house, to call it my own, to have a pool, and to be given help and time to heal, when my givers know I can’t really pay it back. I guess that’s what you call love isn’t it. Did I mention Monty loves it too? He’s also deathly afraid of the polaris but not enough to stay out of the pool.

Woo!
Evil Polaris EVIL POLARIS

Moving into a house when you’re a sickly takes a very long time. Also having this month-long headache still isn’t helping, but who’s counting? I was overeager in the beginning. I wanted to set up every room and unpack every box and start painting walls all on the first day. It took a little overdoing and paying the price later to realize OK, this needs to happen one room at a time. Sometimes one piece of furniture at a time. And mostly one drawer at a time. It’s ridiculous to me how many times I have to learn that lesson. That overdoing it will be costly and painful, and yet I continue to overdo it and pay the price. And the funny thing is, most people I speak to with this illness (like my mom and everyone at the support group) say they do it constantly. You’d think we’d learn after all these years. We’re a bunch of stubborn dum dums!

Anyway I think the most exceptional part about living by yourself is the amount of time you can spend without pants. Like that first day, after I spent the hour of gratitude in bed, I got dressed and began unpacking and organizing and having these grand fantasies in my head like “And in this room I’ll have scrabble tournaments and in this room I’ll serve afternoon tea.” All of which will probably never happen. After a while my pants were really beginning to bother me. Don’t ask why–sometimes it’s noises and sometimes it’s clothing. And then it struck me that I could take my pants off and keep unpacking because THIS WAS MY HOUSE and at my house PANTS ARE NOT REQUIRED. So I took them off and unpacked in my underwear and soaked up the amazing feeling of being able to do what I want in my own place because I make the rules now. Yeah! Other rules include:

  1. No Bill O’Reilly (Not even an option because I’m poor and don’t have cable but still)
  2. Peeing in the Pool Is Actually Allowed. I know you’re going to do it anyway and come on, we use strong chemicals in there.
  3. No guns.
  4. All dogs allowed! In fact, no humans without dogs.
  5. What happens at the pool house stays at the pool house. Like swimming. And scrabble.

So basically, there are no rules. I just want it to be a happy place and an open door to the people I love. I can’t guarantee I’ll be wearing pants, but hey the world has bigger fish to fry. This other cool thing happened while I was touching up paint the first day. I found my ipod from like 5 years ago and thought I’d play songs on random and be entertained from my 5-year-old playlists. The first song that came on was “Let It Be” by The Beatles and I totally stopped what I was doing and belted that song as loud as I could. I’ve heard it so many times before, but suddenly all the words felt like they were being sung just to me and my life. The lyric that really spoke to me was There Will Be An Answer. Because there will be. One day. Maybe not for many many years, maybe not even in this life on earth, but we will see what our lives mean in the grander scheme of things and we will get an answer to our pain and sorrow. I dream about that moment of clarity and revelation all the time. In the meantime, we just have to hang on. Pick up the pieces. Keep going.

Anyway, I played that song about 6 more times really really loudly and sang it really really loudly because that’s another rule: You can sing as loud as you want. Standing in the kitchen. In your underwear. In fact I recommend that’s how you do it. So below is the song Let It Be and I suggest you play it and belt it and let those words remind you that everything is OK. Even though, I know it’s not. My life is a mess. The world is a mess. I watch the news and I see it. I see war and poverty and violence and corruption and it all makes me feel very small. Very powerless. All I am is a sick kid who calls it a success if I take a shower frequently enough. But it reminds me of a quote from Joseph Campbell. He says:

“When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”

It’s not the most romantic theory about life, but it can be reassuring. When I think about what the world has evolved from, (think even from the Civil Rights Movement to present day) it gives me hope that we will continue to grow. It’s all going to be OK. We’re here. We’re awakening. We’ve survived this much, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

Health, Happiness, Pants.

Girl Without Pills

I ran out of pain pills last night. I took my last one at 2 am, with fingers crossed and divine pleadings for what lied ahead. I knew full well that if something were to go wrong tomorrow between the doctor or the pharmacist or something logistically silly that I have no control over, then it was going to be a very bad day. All it takes is a pharmacist who decides that it’s too early for your prescription to be filled, or decides they need the prescription in writing or says that only if it rains tomorrow will you be able to get your pills. Every time I pick up the phone to talk to a pharmacist, check on a prescription, call something in…my heart pounds. It’s a true battle. Seriously. If I didn’t get the pills by tomorrow I’d be positively out. Dry. And I’m years beyond the point of something like tylenol or advil being any kind of effective. The sad truth is that if a 200 pound man took the pill cocktail that I do everyday, he’d have a hard time functioning. If it sounds like I’m bragging I’m not. It’s just the truth. I’ve been trying to get my pills since last Friday. If I don’t get them tomorrow, on top of the pain there would be  bad withdrawal effects. Icing on the cake.

Bright and early this morning I called the doctors office to make sure they received the authorization form. They informed me that they received it and authorized it on Friday. Last Friday. Bad news. That means a pharmacist decided not to fill it for whatever reason. And now the state of my well being, my comfort, my ability to function and sleep, is resting on the shoulders of someone I don’t know at all, and whatever he or she decides is the appropriate day to give a sick girl her pills. But I am just one of many. I’m sure they’ve heard a lot of stories. A lot of abusers. Addicts. Maybe to the pharmacists we’re all addicts until proven sick. “Your pain medicine will be available to pick up tomorrow.” I can tell by the stern urgency in her voice, there is no talking her into giving them to me a day early. A day earlier than the arbitrary Thursday that someone decided was the absolute appropriate day for Mary to get her pills. I tell her thank you. I talk to her like she’s a cop. Make her feel powerful and thank her graciously. I hang up the phone and know that the next 24 hours are going to be tough. I’m not going to sleep tonight. It’s 10 am. The pharmacy opens at 8 tomorrow. 22 hours to go.

Oh you want these pills? TOO BAD!!!
Oh you want these pills? TOO BAD!!!

I often try to calculate how many hours I’ve spent in line at Walgreens. On the phone with Walgreens. On hold for my doctor. On the phone with insurance. (Back in the day when I had insurance.) Acting as a mediator between two institutions which seem to often…miss one another. It’s probably better I don’t know. I don’t count the thousands of dollars out of my moms savings that go towards prescriptions. Inevitably the numbers would be high and sad and dissapointing. What I really need to do is be thankful that for now, there are pills out there to help me and for now, we have the money to buy them. Except today. Today was different.

Today was an insane reminder of what my body feels like in its natural state- which is fucking terrible. I’m sorry about the F word, but I really desired emphasis there. It’s been awful. Of course part of the feeling is withdrawal..but mostly it was just that widespread pain and awful, burning, firey legs. Under my fingernails hurt. My gums and teeth hurt. My body felt like a high voltage electric fence–exuding pain frequencies. It was pretty terrible. At the same time there was light at the end of the tunnel; I knew that by tomorrow I’d get relief. So it was only a day and I looked in the mirror and said for God’s sake Mary, I can go a day without! 24 little hours. And of course I could..it wasn’t going to kill me.Mostly it was a huge reminder of what life without pain medicine would be like, and it was really, really terrible. I know I sound like an addict- but I don’t get high off of my pain medicine. I take one at a time, and I don’t feel euphoric after. I just feel relief. But to outsiders I know what it looks like. And I can understand.

I fully prepared myself for another night up by myself, counting down the hours until I’d get my hands on something to take away the pain. A bath provides about 20 minutes of relief. But once you step out, it’s over. It all comes back. I wish I knew what was going on in my body. It’s like it’s being held hostage by an invisible monster. I realize that pain is not the natural state of the body. It wasn’t built to exist this way. I constantly think of a line in Mark Nepo’s book where he says “Pain is just a sign that something needs to change.” I wonder what needs changing in my life. I try to pay attention. I try to find the meaning in all of it. I do a lot of examining. I know examination is one of the benefits of my situation. It’s hard to truly examine life with all of our distractions and obligations- it’s hard to unplug from our devices. There is rarely quiet in the world. It’s up to us to find it.

I must have a pain killer guardian angel, because when my brother-in-law came home from work close to midnight I told him about my all-nighter plan and the insane state of my body. He happily informed me he had some leftover pain medicine from his knee surgery in his truck. HALLELUJAH!  The pain was going to go away now. I was going to get some sleep afterall. He saved me.

Sadly I know that it won’t be long before I run into this problem again. This logistical, bureaucratic, prescription nightmare is basically constant and I know that all you chronic sickleys out there have to deal with it too. And it’s not the pharmacists fault. It’s not the doctors fault. It’s partially a broken system, it’s partially the fact that drug addicts have tightened the reigns so much on oversight of certain drugs that it’s become hell for people who actually are just trying to feel better.  Last week it took countless phone calls and ten days to get my anti-biotics filled. Ten. I could bore you with the details but I won’t because we all deserve better!

It’s 2:30 am but I’m awake because 1. This is my quiet time. 2. It’s really nice to be alive and not feel the pain that I’ve been feeling all day. 3. When your soul wants to write, your soul wants to write. I have to be honest; all of this scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to have to take pills the rest of my life. I don’t like that I am dependent on medicine to be functional. But the hard truth is that the alternative is just not doable, or worth it to me. I couldn’t endure that type of pain everyday and be a solid human being. I think, eventually, it would just break me. It scares me because while I feel like I’m getting old, in the grand scheme of things I am only 28. I want to get married one day. I want to have kids. I don’t want my liver to explode. But there’s not really a way those things are possible for me right now and I trust that I am where I’m supposed to be. I really do. Being on my own has been immensely educational. In a way it’s made me stronger. Smarter. More self reliant. You sort of learn how to make yourself happy, and there is real value in that. I heard somewhere that 40 is the new 30, so maybe I don’t need to worry about these things just yet. I know the focus needs to be on getting well. It also needs to be on acceptance and finding my heart of joy, and writing, even when things are grey. I want to feel completely whole before I bring in anyone else to my life, and there are still a few pieces I’m looking for.

Anyway, now that the pain has subsided, I should try to find my way into the world of sleep. I day dream all the time about a life without sickness, without pills, without entitled pharmacists dictating a life. But the truth is, even in my dreams at night, I am looking for pills. Taking pills. Spilling pills. Pleading with pharmacists. When I wake up, its because of  pain. I take a pill of almost every color, and then I sit and wait. Every day the same. The life of a sick kid.

It’s better than it sounds.

Party On Wayne!!!

Health, Happiness, Pills