Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

Brain Not Work So Good

I feel this modern artwork both describes what it feels like in my brain recently and also represents the clustershit that my writing has been. At least spaghetti brain can look pretty. The writing is a mess.

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I say the as if it’s someone else’s. My writing. Me. I’m doing that thing where I start out simple, on course, paving a promising path toward something that makes me think but that I can also wrap up and understand in the end. There’s never a lull for words or ideas. They pour out–I have a lot of time to think them up. When I’m not writing them in my notebook or typing them on my phone I’m usually just thinking of nice sentences in my head. I’m mind-writing. Just watching sentences fall into place mentally, perfectly, and I actually feel relief when these sentences are formed. The kind of relief you feel when you  get in your car the first time after you’ve cleaned it, and it was dirty for a long time before. It happened on the way home from the pharmacy yesterday. Sadly, I remember the relief more than the sentences or ideas. I tell myself I’ll remember this later, but I hardly ever do. On rare and momentous occasions, if I just sit down and start to work it will pop out like a wine cork. Ah! There it is. But I hesitate to think how much has gone un written because I wasn’t near a pen or a computer, or that I actually was but just didn’t put the effort into getting it down. Owell. That’s kind of a self-important thought. And, I guess we have to assume the work we never made, lost now somewhere between sleep and consciousness, was probably crap.

The words pour out not because I’m FULL of words and ideas, but because I have no requirements. Few expectations, no deadlines. No assigned topics. And no financial incentive. It’s just a hobby that I treat like a job.  Except that I’d be fired by now and there’s no 401K. Maybe I have too much freedom, so the meandering and circling is just too easy to do. I struggle because it starts off clean, on track with a promising topic and flows naturally in one direction. Then somehow it turns into the literary version of a flying cockroach, darting around clumsily in different directions and you don’t know where it’s gonna land next and you know when it gets killed it will make a crunchy sound. Sorry scratch the last part. I don’t know what it is. I like the words and concepts emerging,they’re just not always in order. Or they’re crap.

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Me Writing Crap

I know this will sound incredulous to some, but when I’m in a crash my brain starts to stutter and cloud way more than usual. In the past I’ve mostly been able to avoid the cognitive effects at least when it came to my writing. But I’ve been working on this post since Thursday. I know I know, easy to blame shortcomings on the illness. But the only reason I feel it is effecting me this time is because that reading stutter returned on Friday too, having to reread sentences over and over, and then just not remembering an entire page and having to start over. Luckily I rested mostly on the couch while Monty quivered near me at the sound of America’s birth, and two friends brought me food! It was nice. Yesterday I was more clear headed reading wise, and able to finish my latest read, The Invention of Wings, which was really great. There’s a lot of good little nuggets in there. And I was surprised and inspired to learn in the authors note, the two main characters were real–born into money and a large plantation in South Carolina around 1830. They would eventually became devout abolitionists and publicly denounce slavery and fight for its end, sharing the cruelty they’d witnessed with their families own slaves publicly, and the world didn’t quite know what to do with them. I enjoy characters like that. It was enthralling and I recommend it.  I need a book club.I just feel like I’d never show up after the first meeting. Anyway my mom says she’ll read it so that’s cool.

Where were we? My writing going in circles, right. I wrote for three hours on Thursday and three hours on Friday and collapsed like a whale on to my couch after both “sessions” and sortof spent the weekend that way. Yesterday when I revisited the words,  I realized I’d written over 4,000 of them, and some made sense and others were in the wrong places and would just require a re-organization of things. But I don’t think my brain can handle it right now. I’m leaning towards spaghetti brain. Noooo. Here, I’ll find another pretty picture.

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Nice, no? That Jaime Rovenstein is really good at creating non-crap. Check out more on her website.

Also, I think this is why agents exist. Why good writers have agents. Proofreading! There’s a word I haven’t heard since college. Maybe that’s what this blog is, one long proof-reading session and one day it will turn into something else that actually pays dollars and cents and I can get an agent or whatever. Or maybe I just need a small person to stand beside me and ring a bell when I’ve written and rambled more than 10 minutes. Now I’m doing that thing where I write about writing. So dumb. I should just write and post. I’m too cautious. I just want it right and I know when it’s not. DING, the bell rings.

I’m going to condense and summarize the absurd amount of words resting on a white page behind this screen. Because I Believe in Brevity!! That sounds like something..a campaign slogan? Specificity is important too. I accomplished neither, so I’m just going to sum it all up. OK. It starts with this sentence.

“I think the time for a typewriter has come.”

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How fun is this dudes art? Check him out.

 

Simple enough right? Then it drops off the edge. I find myself wondering if technology is aiding or prohibiting these things–writing, art, creativity and whatnot. Which somehow brings up the woes of scanning Facebook in the middle of the afternoon, and what those photos are actually capturing. I ask what it is about these photos that leaves me and others sad and yearning as we keep scrolling. (Authenticity, I think is the answer) Then I compare Facebook photos with those JC Penny photos a lot of us took in the 90’s, (dudes, the hair)  and explore physical momentos verses digital ones. Is my generation more or less authentic than the last one? Next I defend Millenials after continual insistence and wagging of the finger I encounter that says Millenials are all lazy, don’t know the value of hard work, we were given too much, have no accountability, and don’t appreciate what we have. This article is a great example which went viral a while ago and a few people posted it on Facebook like “Oh my God, so true.” Uhh, agree to disagree I guess. I agree that your point is false. Then, I deliver a personal conviction that it may not look like it, but I think as humans we actually are progressing, despite a lot of people my parents age saying the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I wonder if their parents said that too. And their parents parents. The fact is we’re still living among the good and evil that has always existed, which leads me to an exploration of that provocatively awesome question David Foster Wallace asked, which is, If we have all the things our parents never had and more, why aren’t we happy?

Let that simmer.

Then I wonder if is this a theme that has repeated itself throughout every generation. Always thinking the next one would surely have it easier. Each one working hard so the  generations after them might have what they never had, and do things they never did, and avoid the hardships that they had to endure. Maybe it’s hard to see that the world is still what it is, and human beings are still who they are, imperfect, after you’ve worked so hard to make it better. Especially if you worked your whole life to do it.

Maybe our notion of happy is off. Or maybe it’s not about happiness. It’s moving forward.

Then the neighbors fireworks got really loud and Monty was quivering below the desk and the writing turned weirdly patriotic. Fast forward from notions of happy and the formulas that work or don’t work, and also the American Dream. Achieving what we’ve historically called the American Dream does not mean achieving happiness. It means achievement. The happiness part is on us. The Dream is living in a country where we’re free to pursue that happiness pretty much any way we want. And I know it’s cheesy, but when you compare this country and our opportunities and freedoms compared to so many other places, we are danged lucky to be born into this one, with autonomy, opportunity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome! Kidding. I think I have a very good life. I think a lot of people have very good lives and don’t even see it. Anyway this is the part of America that I’ll always be grateful for and humbled by, knowing the generations before me and the blood and sweat and tears that went into creating it, and I guess our job is to make their work and sacrifices worth it. I’m trying! I can’t say whether we’re a happier generation, I don’t know. But I think maybe the more important question is, Are we a more conscious generation? And to that I say, yes.

Now lets go blow stuff up.

Health, Happiness, Happy 6th of July

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 

Adjusting the Perspective on Pain

What is it about Winter?

Post-Holiday Winter, I should specify. It’s wearing on me. Draining and uneventful, this window of time moves so slowly it all starts to feel static. The date keeps changing but there’s nothing I can point to as proof of time passing. When I think back on it, this “leftover winter” has gotten me down in the past, too. It reminds me of the day after a night of drinking in college–hungover days where things on the outside are idle but there’s some invisible pressure that I ought to be doing something, anything, other than what I’m doing right now. But what that thing is I can never name. It may not even exist. I hold the colorless weather outside at least partially accountable. Winter is haphazard in New Orleans. Nothing sticks long enough to adapt a routine or wardrobe to. It goes from freezing and wet one day to weirdly humid and warm the next, but something about the sky, the whole atmosphere out there–it’s this oatmeal-hued environment that either mimics my insides or my insides start to mimic, and for whatever reason the affect is restless and un-motivating. It feels like weather that’s waiting on something and the ansi-ness rubs off on me. Then I find myself in this counterintuitive disposition of mostly-optimistic anticipation that something of note is going to happen in my life, mixed with that physically paralyzing effect that comes with a heart-ache depression. It’s like I’m sitting in a car all packed and ready to embark on some adventure with road-trip snacks (Gardettos) and a map, but there isn’t any gas in the car. So I just sit in the driveway, snacking on Gardettos.

One of the more confusing results of all this is that I can’t tell what direction I’m moving in. I realize that life and time pass in one way only, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. Things are feeling stagnant mostly. And on really tough days they feel backward, a distorted Ground Hogs Day reality where I’m living one day over and over but I’m doing it worse than the day before. I notice during times like these, Oatmeal Winter and Illness at the Helm, one day can easily feel exactly like the one before it, and when I think too long on it, I can’t totally distinguish between the two. Or three or four. Of course it’s pretty easy for me to point my finger at the weather while this other important truth remains that I’m really sick right now–that I’ve been really sick since that crash the day after Thanksgiving and I haven’t really been able to recover. I guess sunny or not, this will get anyone down, even the most seasoned of sick people.

Being sick for months at a time poses an interesting creative challenge. Since you can’t often achieve a change in scenery, which is a widely agreed-upon method to upping ones mood, you have to find ways to see yourself and the world around you in different ways and with new eyes. This is really hard to do. Especially since there’s been such a distinct and relentless sameness to everything given the weather and my health and yada yada. It probably explains why I chopped eight inches off my hair, which helped, actually. But consciously I realize that becoming bored by your surroundings and state of being stems from a lack of proper perspective, and not a failure on the part of the universe to remain exciting. Everything around us is constantly changing, if even at a rate that is undetectable by our human eyes, and every day we wake up and live through is completely unique, never once experienced until now and impossible to ever be duplicated again. When I think about the fact that you never get to live the same day twice, it’s actually a comforting thought. Usually when I feel that I’m in some time warp with my struggles or misery or boredom on repeat, it’s because my vision has narrowed far too much and I’ve lost the horizon from my line of sight. Marc Nepo says “It’s the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery,” and I think that applies here. He says later “Misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything.” What a truth bomb. I think I read that line five more times after I underlined it twice. I know that when my focus zooms in purely on what is hard, the scope of my experience is cut in half, at least. This is why gratitude as I’ve come to understand and cultivate it is so immensely powerful. It wisely keeps and protects the good things in your life within your consciousness, within your line of sight. And it’s so incredibly true that the times when I am most unhappy, I’ve become lazy about remembering what I have, which is a lot. It’s not to say you can’t be conscious about the hard things or honest that they’re challenging or depressing. If you don’t express acknowledge these truths, the gratitude doesn’t have a chance to be authentic either. You have to be honest about both. But that’s the key, acknowledging one without forgetting the other. Grasping them both helps keep a broader and more accurate picture of your life within view.

Maybe this is a bit of what Nepo means when he talks about being a Spiritual Warrior–which sounds fancy but is definitively humble.

“All Spiritual Warriors have a broken heart–alas must have a broken heart–because it is only through the break that the wonder and mysteries of life can enter us. What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior? It is far from being a soldier, but more the sincerity with which a soul faces itself in a daily way. It is this courage to be authentic that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur.”

This was both comforting and angering to me. Angering because I think, why can’t the enlightenment come through cracks that aren’t caused by heartbreak and struggle? But this is a larger philosophical point. I think a more evolved species will be capable of this in the future–achieving higher consciousness and peace and gratitude without having to endure loss or pain or heartache to see it. But at this point within human evolution, our condition is still adapting. We haven’t caught on to the larger things yet as a whole. Think how bad we’re still blowing it. As removed as I feel from some of the real evils of the world and humanity, I don’t have to look very hard or long to see humankind missing the mark, in big and small ways, all around me, and that includes me and the seemingly petty ways I do this in my own life. Just because I can point my finger at ISIS and project all the evil onto them doesn’t make me superiorly more virtuous. What we see around the world are manifestations of evil that exist, if even dormant, within all of us. But I’ve wandered off-road again.

What’s comforting in Nepo’s words is knowing that our work ultimately is to become who we are at our center. And it’s funny how simple this task appears but how insanely hard and rare real authenticity is–being honest about our weaknesses, our beliefs, our limits, our expectations…It’s not as easy as I’d hope. And yet any time I face a truth about myself that for a long time I either hid or denied, I always feel stronger after having confronted it or shared it with someone I love. Even admitting the extent to which I was/am sick and the limits it places on my life is a challenge, even though totally obvious to an outsider.  And I think this is why authenticity is such an important ingredient he includes in being a warrior–I don’t think it means knowing exactly who you are at all times, if anything this search feels like long–maybe it’s more the reverse: slowing peeling away who we aren’t until we become condensed, perfect little vessels of our true self. I think he’s also alluding to the idea that you can’t be conscious and inauthentic at the same time, and since ultimately we’re seeking whole consciousness, it requires in small ways along the path to acknowledge and cultivate the true self, while diminishing the layers that are not real.

The reason it angers me is because this formula is what I confront when reading all the spiritual masters and mystics and artists for thousands of years, and so it’s a clear truth that has persisted through the centuries–that it’s through hardship and pain that human beings seem to achieve deeper consciousness. Or at least, it is through this pain or suffering that we have the opportunity to grow and evolve consciously. It’s very easy to use pain as a reason to stop trying, and I’ve certainly done that a good number of times. But the most amazing people, those who seem to get it, those who appear to be made of peace on the inside and who exude joy outwardly and live their lives with creativity and virtue and light-heartedness, are not people who were given easy lives and thus are happy. They have all endured exceptional pain in their own ways, and have all found a way to use their most challenging of experiences to propel them forward, up, larger than their circumstances. The pain is still real inside of them, accessible and observable even to those on the outside–its not that they eradicated it, but somehow turned it into the material that would make their life good, whole. (See an amazing example of that here)  They didn’t eliminate it, but they also didn’t use so much of it that their life was made up purely of struggle. This is another exploitation that’s easy to pursue with ones pain– using it as a platform for identity. The point, obviously, is not to become the pain, if we’re trying to transcend it. Wallowing in our own web of misery is an easy way to garner an audience but also to never evolve. To avoid consciousness. What I was trying to say when I began this thought of why this truth angered me, is that I wish human consciousness could evolve in easier ways than through pain. Of course, there are many other teachers that develop our soul and psyche, love namely, that aren’t as challenging as say something like, an invisible disease that pulls the rug out from under you. Everyday. :) But the truth is, the things which have taught me the most, shown me the gamut of human emotion and contributed to further compassion, kindness, capacity to love and ultimately consciousness on my end, have been these very deeply painful and trying experiences. And so I know that it’s true. And I know it’s vitally important what you choose to do with your pain or heartache, because not working to put it toward growth, gives it the power to swallow you up whole. It takes away from you, gives you a reason to be bad, to stop trying, to give up on the world. And that’s the truth– I say it because I’ve felt these things in the past in reaction to the tough experiences in my life, not always directly after they happened either. I still struggle with it. And it haunts me how easy it is to let those experiences take the wheel and drive me to unhappy places. Luckily we’re not powerless to pain. We have choices to make.

In a different way, using the pain to define your self, or wallowing around in it but never moving on from it is another struggle that I have to stay keenly aware of. I have a whole blog that is named after a damn disease that I am also trying hard to not let define me. It’s a huge part of my life and my story, but I have to keep it from growing so large that it takes up my whole view. I don’t want illness to be my only avenue for expression or creativity, and I definitely don’t want the art and work that I do pursue in the name of it to be all sad or negative or heartbreaking. Of course this isn’t always easy to do either, because writing about your health good, bad, or ugly, is naturally going to include parts that are bad and/or ugly. There is a lot of that in a life with illness. And my point when I began this project so long ago was to accurately portray what life with chronic illness actually looked like, since I’d confronted so many misunderstandings and false beliefs about it from people in my own life. Obviously some writing stems from hard days and dark feelings, and if you’re going to tell the truth, tell the truth. The point was to have a space where I could be honest and not polite for the sake of peoples small-talk comfort. BUT, the point I have to keep in mind is that illness is just one part of my life, and while it can feel like it defines so much of what I do, it is still just a part, but requires me to keep it right-sized. It’s only when my perspective zeros in on it do I lose the whole horizon, which are the amazing people in my life that I love so much and who love me back, the incredible house I live in, how happy my dog makes me every time I look at him, how lucky I am that I was given the gift of writing and this is one thing the illness hasn’t taken from at all. In fact, it’s what gave me a voice on this very medium. Hey look at that, the clouds are parting.

Winters are tough. They seem to be that way for a lot of people, North or South, sick or well. It’s easy to look around and see the same thing everywhere you look, because details are small and we’re usually too busy or too certain to stop and look twice or three times at things before we see the wonder in them. I know that during times like these, my life becomes very small because when you’re sick and weak like this, you’re constantly breaking everything down into smaller pieces so you can digest and complete them. You know how during hard times people will say “Just one day at a time”? Well during days like this, it’s really more down to a moment by moment basis. Mostly because each tiny little movement requires so much more from you than normal. It astonishes me how hard the simplest of tasks become when your body feels like it’s made of lead glued together with honey. It’s not just Wake up and make the coffee! It’s OK, sit up in bed. Ready? 1, 2, 3, sit up. Why didn’t you sit up? Try again 1, 2, 3. Come on, you can do it, just a little more, OK! You did it! We’re sitting up. Now, turn to the side to put your feet on the floor and stand up slowly. Feet on the floor, ready? Here we go. OK, feet are on the floor. Time to stand up. Heeeeere we go, and we’re dizzy we’re sitting back down again. OK, catch your breath. Breathe slowly. Calm down heart, all we’re doing is standing here. OK, try again on 3, rise slowly this time. Ready? 1, 2, 3 and we’re going to stand up. 1, 2, 3, we’re standing! Now, 12 steps to the kitchen, you got this, 1…2…3…

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The kitchen is super close to the living room and my couch, and so sometimes I have to make a stop-off there first, which is perfectly portrayed in this cartoon by another blogger with CFS. 

Anyway, notice the minuteness of each of those moves? I’m not exaggerating. This is simply what Bone Crushing Weakness does. Tasks this small shouldn’t require being talked through like you’re in a danged boxing match. But what can I say, it must be evolving some part of me so I can be the best of the best Spiritual Warriors ! Or just a normal 31 year old who gets out of bed. Either way. I think it’s this breaking down of things so they are doable is also what makes life feel so un-doable sometimes, because it all feels too big, too much, too long. Like I’ll never be able to get on top of things. But I know it’s because my vision is off and I have to be proactive about seeing my life and even these sometimes painstakingly long days against the larger backdrop of the world, of eternity, of the whole web of human existence. I find relief in seeing my life as a small spec within the largeness of our universe. I didn’t always feel that way, but now I know it means that enduring challenges come to an end. It means I am just one of many kajillion working parts and lives. It means that while not everything is up to me, the essential parts are, and I’m here because I’m capable of achieving them. I have to remember that as much as I can convince myself and be successful about it, I am not alone. That thought isn’t real. And my life is not impossible. And all of this, including colorless winter skies and lacking motivation and bone crushing weakness, will end. And I’ll look back on it one day, as the pain that moved me forward and opened the door for great things to happen, not as a shit show that ruined what could have been a good life.

Health, Happiness, Perspective

P.S. If you want to see one incredible example of taking tragedy and hardship and turning it into Greatness, watch Mayou Angelou share her life story on Master Class. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen, ever. http://cms.springboardplatform.com/previews/3405/video/937187/sfta001/

Getting Clean

I really, really need to bathe. Let’s start there.

Why don’t you take a bath Mary? Great question. I’m running on fumes, that’s why. I’m not just low on energy but also have that Bone Crushing Weakness going on, and it turns out the whole “cleaning-up” process requires much more exertion than you’d think. And you wouldn’t think about, because it’s not something you think about when you’re well. When you  have a steady supply of energy on tap. A shower is just a precursor task on your way to doing other things. When you’re chronically ill, showering becomes the thing.There is no after. No next. To Do List: Bathe. End of to do list.

Not until I was at the mercy of illness did I understand the physical toll of hygiene and general appearance. This is mostly the reason that  when I’m not out in public, I look like a deranged, color-blind Craigslist Killer. Just to give you an idea, besides my obvious and immediate desperation for a bath, I am currently wearing these green-striped pajama bottoms with mis-matched socks and a Hanes His Way V-Neck white t-shirt. This is actually one of my more cohesive looks, except that I ate a pomegranate last night and the dark crimson juice has splattered all across my chest. Did that motivate me to change my shirt? No. So now not only am I dangerously close to exceeding the point of no return in terms of lost humanity due to lack of cleanliness, but I also look like I’ve been bleeding, or that I made someone else bleed, which adds a concerning urgency to whatever it is I have going on right now, but I still can’t be bothered enough to do anything about it. So I just go on living my life and all this has really upped my game in terms of just how insane I can look on a Wednesday without really trying at all. Some would call that impressive! Anyway, I’d love nothing more than to do my laundry and my hair and alphabetize my life and put on a dress just for fun, but I can’t. Not at the moment. And it still surprises me how seemingly simple and small things start to become large and exhaustive, all on account of health. Not until you’re straining to stand at the sink and overwhelmed by the exhaustion you feel just having to move your tooth-brush up and down, or discover that your arms and hands have turned to rubber after using them to lather up the shampoo in your hair, does it hit you just how costly all these little moves are. Not until the smallness of previous, everyday tasks suddenly reveal their enormity do you fully appreciate how much exertion it takes just tending to this business of being alive– and this is before you even go anywhere or do anything! It’s silly really. Still, this does not change the fact that I really need a bath and if I go one more day without one I fear I’ll reach an irreversible state of unclean and I’ll never get it back. I’m also sort of hoping that by sharing this very inappropriate and vulnerable reality with perfect strangers and a few friends on the internet, that perhaps it will motivate me, give me that final ‘push’ to take the plunge, even though my whole body feels like the human equivalent of mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes with death gravy!

I open with this unremarkable and embarrassing truth about my life because I think I’ve become a little too serious about the outcome of my writing in the last year or two and I’m trying to remember the importance of light-heartedness. And humor. I’ve noticed I put an extreme amount of pressure on myself to produce posts that are equivalent to biblical scripture, instead of remembering that this is a blog, a documentation of a small silly life, and it doesn’t always have to read one way or another. I find that way too often the writing doesn’t meet my expectation–which isn’t even anything specific, it’s simply a personal note of “It could be better.” As a result, I scrap a lot of work, I start over, or I just abandon it halfway thru. This is not a smart or productive way to go about any art, so I’m going to try to stop doing that and also remember to have fun. Oh yeah, fun! I forgot about fun! Usually the things I really enjoy writing are the things that people enjoy reading the most. It always translates. Too often it feels like extremely tedious work, which I think it has to be sometimes, especially if you want to always be improving the quality of your work, but more often it should just feel good. There should be some amount of recreation in it–this is my passion after all. I do it because I like it and it makes me better. Too often the process feels like taxes. So, I’m trying to remember to enjoy the process and the outcome, and also that not every word I write has to be a thought-provoking useable quote to put by my name after I die. “I need to bathe.” -M Gelpi, 1984-2016.

It’s been kind of a stupid few days. For one thing, I’ve bit my top lip no less than four times while eating. It frustrates me that my mouth is this stupid and that it doesn’t learn the lesson faster. Is it really so hard to GET OUT OF THE WAY. I think, I am 31 now, I shouldn’t have to explain to my gums that hey, when there’s food in my mouth and my teeth are moving up and down? Do you think maybe you could stay out of the way? Not a big deal or anything I just don’t want to EAT CHUNKS OF YOU and also I don’t like the taste of blood. With anything. So maybe stay clear of my teeth now? Great thank you. Glad we had that totally necessary talk. Now maybe I’ll tell my head to stay out of the way of my fist when I’m punching stuff! Hah, who am I kidding, I’m too weak to punch things!

What else? Oh yeah, I’m starving. I never mentioned this before but I’ve been battling an addiction for a few years now: it’s sugar. It’s very real!! So I basically eliminated all processed sugar as of Sunday, and it’s getting easier I guess. But even it being easier doesn’t change that it’s still ridiculously hard. And half the time I think the answer is, don’t diet. If you’re addicted to sugar, just stay addicted. Get fat. Get diabetes. Die young. This isn’t worth it. A cupcake would make me so happy right now, why am I denying myself this easy promise of happiness? Why am I making life this much harder on myself? Kiddingggg. But truly, I was addicted. Am? I think I still am, I’m just not feeding the beast. It began shortly after I began the corticosteroids–my appetite, my cravings for sugar, and my intolerance for it all simultaneously exploded at the same time and only got worse with time. I also became extremely hypoglycemic and would wake up in the middle of the night starving and shaking. I knew at some point I would have to do something drastic, not just because I was clearly addicted to something I didn’t even used to like, but my body was also rejecting the very thing my brain was craving. So many of my migraines occur after eating something sweet, typically processed sugar. Not to mention, there is just way too much junk in my trunk now. And also under the hood, and the front and back seats. Mostly, I just feel totally out of balance. I don’t like my relationship with food anymore. I used to just eat when I was hungry and then not really think about it. This whole sweet tooth thing is exhausting and also never-ending. I literally never feel full and I’m bored thinking about it all the time. So it was time to quit. Right now I’m just trying to get used to feeling mild hunger or major cravings but not immediately shoving food in my mouth as a response. Especially when I’ve already eaten a healthy meal and I know I’m not actually hungry. It sort of struck me, this totally 1st world moment of enlightenment: Oh yeah, I don’t actually HAVE to eat just because I feel hungry. I literally forgot that I have that option: NOT eating. Only an American would forget this, I’m convinced. So that’s going well. Wait no actually it’s really hard and taking a major adjustment but whatever, it’s in the name of being healthier and I can get behind that.

This morning, I was lying in bed and trying to find the motivation to get out of it, my eyes scanning the room looking for something inspiring to land on. Window. Wall. Dresser. Monty! Then I thought hey, I’ll just lay here and talk to Monty. Sometimes I share my ideas out loud with Monty because NOT EVERYBODY HAS A BOO WHO WANTS TO HEAR THEIR COOL TAKES ON LIFE. And I was like Monty, don’t you think it’s kinda dumb how hard life is? I mean if we were talking about Life Round 2, like if this one were a dress rehearsal, I would pull for “Less hard stuff, more funny stuff” in the next one. I just think the script is calling for more humor, more casual fun. It’s like the architect of the universe was listening to a playlist and when he got to this part, Coldplay got stuck on repeat and so there was a somberness infused into the day-to-day to stuff. He needs to listen to Pharell, or better yet, the band Fun! They would mix it up in a positive way, I think.  And I’m sharing this with Monty thinking this is pretty good stuff, and what does Monty do? But abruptly start licking his butthole. As if the house was going to collapse on top of us both if he didn’t do it at that exact moment. Right in the middle of my Ted Talk (more like BED TALK) about how life should be tweaked for the next go around. At first I was like OH REAL NICE MONTY but then I was like God, who am I to make you feel bad about this? It’s probably the shitty food I give you making your butt itch, even though it’s expensive as shit. This country has major food problems, for dogs and people! Whatever I mean that’s what they say.. I don’t really know anything about it.

I’ve been writing this dedication piece on gratitude because despite my life looking and sounding like a disaster, it’s actually great in a lot of ways and has some really amazing parts and people that I am crazy grateful for. I’ve been writing it for weeks, in my normal tortured way, and there’s some good stuff there, but I think I just need to calm down. The piece is not just about saying thank you to the many, many people who have reached out and offered help to me in so many different ways this year, even though they are who inspired the piece. It’s more about the new and intimate way I’ve come to understand and appreciate gratitude in my life, which began with me recognizing gratitude during parts of my life that I wouldn’t traditionally say thank you for. There were extremely tough moments, days, and months this year. And yet somehow, there would be these redemptive moments within the pain, where I felt grateful for the exact experience, even if it wasn’t enjoyable or was causing me pain. This was never traditionally my approach to gratitude. I said thank you when I recognized that something was good, and there were always plenty of good things. But there was a whole new light shed this year, particularly during this winter which has been challenging in a number of ways, and yet the struggles still managed to produce these amazing moments of love, kindness, help, laughter, friendship..all in the midst of what I’d normally consider “disaster.” I write about it because I am continually surprised and amazed when I feel gratitude sneak up on me inside–I’ve been blown away by its reliability regardless of whatever scenario I find myself in. It was always easy to say thank you when everything went my way. But it’s been a new and enlightening experience stumbling upon it even when I’m lost or isolated or feeling totally discouraged. That’s changed how I look at everything now, and it really lightens the burden of whatever I’m carrying when I remember to try and find it. Anyway, that’s what the piece is about. Hopefully my brain will stop screwing around and I’ll get it cranked out sooner than later.

In the meantime I want to say that while I don’t always feel worthy of the love, help, gifts, messages and prayers that are offered to me by so many people, I do constantly feel incredibly grateful for the support that me and those who care for me have been given. Every way I’ve been helped or encouraged, no matter how small it may have seemed, always presses me to be better and to try harder. All we can do is our best, but being loved and supported the way I have continues to raise the bar for what my best can be. Thank you! All of you. My life is a perfect example of how needing help can be a really beautiful thing and not something to be afraid of — it teaches me to trust in humanity and to humbly surrender and accept what I can’t control, and I think to the giver, it teaches grace and encourages kindness. Somewhere in the middle is gratitude for us both.

I think I feel encouraged and insecure enough now that I’m going to attempt to bathe. Thank you for helping me.

Health, Happiness, Hygiene

The Grays

The Grays: As in, A Case of ‘The Grays’ is an amorphous cousin of The Blues, less concrete and more insidious. Where The Blues are a despondency with traceable roots, a break-up say, the source of The Grays is less clear, confusing the host and lengthening the distance he feels between himself and the world around him. It’s a removal of sorts. It doesn’t make everything feel bad as much as it makes everything feel the same–it removes ‘specialness’ casting all things in the same ordinary light. It becomes hard to see yourself clearly, to feel what direction you should go in. A person with The Grays can’t point to a particular occurrence and say Aha! This is the source of my sunless nature! All he can say is that a colorless film has covered his eyes, rendering all choices, all feelings, all consequences the same. It makes trying and not trying essentially the same–it dissolves meaning, in other words. Love, apathy. Good, bad. Going, staying. Same, same. Does he want an apple? Sure, he’ll take an apple. But it would be just the same if he didn’t take the apple. Eating it won’t bring him any satisfaction, and not eating it won’t make him wish that he did. Take it or leave it. Take anything or leave it. Same, same.
Correct, This is what I got when I googled the word Gray.
Correct, This is what I got when I googled the word Gray. You’re welcome.

I can’t say exactly what kicked me into the slump I have named The Grays. I suspect it had a little to do with the crash I’ve been in for a few weeks now and from which I am still not recovered. I know that often when my body gets overwhelmed for a long period of time, eventually ‘it’ seeps into my mind, my emotions, and I feel psychologically overwhelmed as well. I’ve been short of breath on my feet lately. Dizzy, heavy, and extremely weak, particularly when I try to stand or walk or move around. My legs feel like cemented blocks that are so heavy to pick up and put one in front of the other when I try to move, that I mostly haven’t. It’s been that way for weeks now, and staying sedentary too long would make anyone restless I’d guess. It gets old having to put off things until tomorrow that you already put off until today, over and over and over. Your surroundings start to grow stale, and wanting to change them but being too sick to get out of the house becomes a whole other challenge. Of course, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been through crashes much longer and worse than this, and I’ve become pretty good at riding out sick times without giving in to despair. But that’s the thing– this isn’t really despair. It’s not heartbreak or grief or anger. It’s more like a hole where my feelings are supposed to be. A lack of feedback, a lack of identity, an inability to see myself in the world and where I fit in it. It’s this dimming effect on my surroundings and myself, blanketing the normally vibrant world in the same, colorless hue. Gross! This will not do.

Another entirely meaningless photo that came from googling gray.
Another entirely meaningless photo that came from googling gray.

The worst part about the Grays is not being able to easily or immediately pinpoint their cause, making it much more difficult to navigate and fix. It also usually means feeling bad about the fact that you feel bad, because you feel like there’s no real reason, or maybe no good reason, that would explain the source of your gloom. So you feel more bad. Have you ever cried and not really known why? It’s the worst! You start crying more because you’re like “Why am I even crying right now?!” Which results in a louder eruption of wailing, sometimes causing you to snort and sniffle, which might lead to a weird outburst of laughter, highlighting the absurdity of it all but then segueing back into loud sobs and a near certainty that you must be insane. It’s an emotional disco party! The funny thing is how absolutely lost I can feel in the midst of crying, buried and convinced there is no way out of the state I’m in. But almost immediately afterwards, in those moments of recovery where you’re sniffling with a tissue and taking those shaky, post-sob deep breaths, I always feel relief. I feel incredibly lighter and way more capable of finding resolve. There is always a rejuvenating sense of clarity–even if I’m still uncertain about the cause of my feelings. I can see myself again. I can see the other side.

One more just for funsies.
One more just for funsies.

I think sometimes the Grays emerge because I endure pain and I’m not always conscious that it hurts. Sometimes things make me sad unconsciously and I’m not so aware of them of them, or I just don’t understand why it’s painful, so I end up not giving it enough attention. I brush it off or just move on the next thing. But you can only do that for so long. There is always a breaking point. The pressure builds, the feelings need an outlet, and so there you are crying your eyes out for an hour after finding a dead mouse in a mouse trap. (True story)

But couldn’t it be said that I’m just a huge animal person and given that even dog food commercials make me cry it wouldn’t be unreasonable for me to cry at the sight of a dead mouse? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s that, completely. All things convey life and death in their own way, and they’re all reminders of the strange contract we had to sign. But I think it’s simpler than that and I’ve been sort of dense about it. I think the truer source is that sometimes, being sick for so long really just gets old some days, and I don’t feel strong enough to smile about it and say that I haven’t given up hope. (I haven’t, and I really never will.) But some days, maybe it’s OK to just admit that things are really hard right now, that life is getting you down, that you wish you could change the things you know you cannot change. That you’re blowing it with the Serenity Prayer! Perhaps the Grays are a result of not giving our inner selves and feelings enough examination. A voice. It’s not that we should complain and whine. It’s more about acknowledging what is true despite the vulnerability it will highlight. Maybe sometimes you just say it out loud and look it in the eye and admit hey, this hurts. This is hard. I need some help. I think voicing the feelings and allowing yourself to be sad without immediately trying to fix it, helps open up a space between you and the pain, and within that space is where you can start to understand and move through it. Awareness helps bring even the smallest amount of light to whatever hole you find yourself in, and that light illuminates what’s on the other side. Finally, you start to see a pathway out. But it means going through first.

The challenge is always to express and validate the feelings without succumbing to them, getting stuck in your story. The opposite of dismissing the pain is letting it take over, using things that have happened as a crutch for negativity or allowing them to defeat your hope and enthusiasm. This is what encourages the victim mentality, something I work consciously to stay away from because it seems unsettlingly easy to go there and stay. It takes hard work to locate and live in the middle of these two roads–and I’ve found myself lost many times, too far down one or the other. Saying it and feeling it too much, letting it dictate too much of me. Or convincing myself it’s not worth talking about, to deal with it alone, not asking for help when I actually need it. Finding my way to the middle is where I see things the best. I can see my life from a distance there, unencumbered by feelings about it. I can see my true self without my opinions distorting it. I can reconcile who I am with the kind of life I want to live. I think so often the source of my pain is that I’ve convinced myself I can’t do or achieve the things I want or am meant to because certain things, like being sick, are inhibiting me from achieving them.  But when I reflect deeper about this I think the opposite is true. I think what I am meant to do and be is actually born out of and possible at all because of these very unique conditions–the ones I didn’t choose. The ones that were not a part of the plan. Perhaps they are in fact what’s allowing my real purpose to unfold, and not hindering it at all. Maybe all of this comes down to a simple shift in perspective: stop seeing things as road blocks that are actually opportunities.

Of course, it’s always easier to write and say these things than it is to practice them. I know that words only have so much power, and just writing them down doesn’t make them any easier to live by.  But writing has always been a relentless reminder of what is true and good in my life.  It helps sort out the real from the meaningless. It seems to function as a mechanism of discernment for me; a sifter of stories from truth. Thomas Keating wrote that “Discernment is a process of letting go of what we are not.” Sometimes I find peace in sitting down to write, because it forces me  to come to terms with the truth without feeling defeated by it. Like Nepo says, The instant fish accept that they will never have arms, they grow fins. Sometimes it helps me remember that despite being sick, I can still become who I am meant to and do the things I find most important.

I find that opening myself to the vulnerability of what might be revealed, I usually unlock some truth when writing that I’ve forgotten along the way. It forces me to look past the petty things that sometimes I lean on too heavily on. It encourages me to examine the deeper meaning of things that on the surface can seem painful without a purpose or value. I am often surprised by what emerges when I sit down to write–it’s rarely what I intended or consciously planned to address. I know it sounds a little pie in the sky, but often the words don’t feel like they’re coming from me exactly. Sometimes I don’t even totally understand them. I feel more like a medium thru which other sources are using to reveal more important things than whatever crap I planned on. This is when I understand our passions being called “gifts.” The words are not mine– More than writing well, my job feels like listening well, and then very carefully relaying whatever’s coming through. It’s a sort of prayer, therapy, and mediation in one.

I think the connections and truth and awakening that writing provides might be what all our passions do for us (and the world) on a deeper level. Gardening, physics, furniture making, piano, whatever–they’re all devices that help us see the world more clearly and to feel distinctly our unique “spot” within it. They’re a way to figure ourselves into the cosmic equation and have it equal One. They are reminders of our humanness. All I know is that the longer I go without writing, the further I feel from myself, and the more distant I feel from the world. Lost this way, it becomes much harder to find that path to the perfect middle where I can myself and the world with the right set of eyes.

It might seem surprising since I tend to do it a lot, but I am always extremely cautious to write about the dark stuff. I always hesitate to post during the hard days, not out of fear really, but more because I know that what I give my attention to is extremely important both in my physical and mental health. I have to be careful about where I direct my focus. My hope and my experience is that writing things out helps to reveal things bigger than the pain. It brings a level of consciousness to wherever I am, and that helps see my reality better. My goal is always to find something good to take away even from the crappy times, because for some annoying reason, pain is extremely educational. But in order to grow from it means we cannot stop at the pain. That’s where we start–the reaching out, sharing, crying, and writing all provide a way to feel and understand it, and also to keep moving forward. I’ve basically done all of those things in the hours I’ve spent writing this. So thank you for letting me go on for so long. Whoever you are. Because you know what? I don’t feel so buried by these Grays anymore. I haven’t succumbed to stagnancy and I feel a space between the pain and me. I feel more connected to the world, and I’m starting to see it in color again.

Health, Happiness, Away from The Grays

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

I Have a Time Machine

Here’s a poem I really like. It’s by Brenda Shaughness.

I Have a Time Machine

But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,

which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.

But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.

Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well, not zipping—And if I try

to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall into space, unconscious,

then desiccated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.

There’s a window, though. It shows the past.
It’s like a television or fish tank

but it’s never live, it’s always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.

Sometimes it’s like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I’m leaving behind,

and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.

Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.

Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.

Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.

Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion

of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother’s mother’s mother.

I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I’d find myself

an old woman by now, travelling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.

Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so horribly fast.

Pretty great no? It’s funny how some poems feel like they were written just for us, as if the author knew exactly where we’d find it and what it would do to us, hitting us in the gut in a coffee shop! Or heart. Our insides somewhere. I love this part of poetry. How fast it is. How in just a minute or two you can cosmically connect with a total stranger, dead or alive, and feel more seen or heard than you have by actual people. That’s powerful stuff!

I’ve recently been reading Anne Sexton–her history and her poems–and both are intense and curious and heartbreaking, but deeply resonant and I’m eager to read more. I plan to order someones cheap, used copy off of Amazon, and hopefully I’ll find parts that are underlined or circled with little notes in the margin. This is one of my favorite perks of reading (used) tangible books as opposed to electronic, kindle types; the human mark on the pages. They’re like little visceral clues of other life, but exceptionally personal. More confidential than say, finding someones grocery list, although there are treasures to find in that too. Maybe I am just an alien from another planet seeking signs of life and getting way too caught up in casual life leftovers. But somehow I feel less alone when I see a persons scribbles to the side of a page. Their unique handwriting next to that flat text against the page– It heightens the effects of the words. It brings the whole thing to life. It always makes me think that someone else sat alone somewhere, reading these same words and they were compelled enough to write themselves. Maybe it was there way of writing back, hoping someone somewhere along the way would read what they wrote and feel something. I don’t know, but there’s just something…nice, about that.  Anyway, I think I will start with The Awful Rowing Towards God. Or maybe Live or Die and go from there. Did you know that Anne Sexton had two sisters, and one was named Elizabeth Jane, and the other one was named Blanche Dingley? BLANCHE DINGLEY?! I wonder if Elizabeth Jane gave Dingley shit about that.

Health, Happiness, and Poetry. Pure Poetry. 

Under Water.

I need to spend more time under water.

Last Monday I returned from a trip to Miami where we celebrated a few things, including my birthday. Thirty one- the best yet! Maybe it was a birthday present from my central nervous system, but my body held up pretty well for me during my stay there. I’m also a little better at saying no to certain things when I know I’m close to crossing the invisible line. My threshold or whatever. Anyway I was able to partake in some awesome things that I dont’t always have the health for. I told my brother I wanted to snorkel for my birthday and he assured me this was not a problem.  At the beach I submerged myself in the ocean and was immediately comforted by it. Water in general has always felt healing to me, but a warm ocean in the summer is at the top of the list. We could have spent all day out there. All day and all night if my body permitted it. There is something truly holy beneath the surface. I like the muffled silence and spotting darting fish and pretty much anything that moves. We saw so many different types of fish, and every time we’d spot a school or something I didn’t recognize, I’d make my brother Nick come to the surface and tell me what kind it was. I’d repeat it out loud, then we’d go back under. I’m really terrible at remembering the names but I’m trying to learn. I’ve already forgotten so many, but I can say with certainty we saw a crap ton of huge, colorful parrot fish, some barracuda, and a bunch of Nemos and Doris. (Technical names) It was Heaven. My three-year-old niece Olive requested that we find her a starfish and we both searched diligently and came up short. But my brother did find a baby sea turtle, and that was pretty righteous.

unnamed-2 unnamed

Isn’t he so cute? Anyway we came back to shore and had lunch, but most of the time I just kept thinking about getting back into that water. It’s almost Church-like swimming around down there. Somehow in spite of the beaming life everywhere you look, theres a stillness to it. Everything slows down and feels at ease–within me, anyway. I’d like to spend more time in the ocean, specifically underwater. I do well there. I think that’s my goal for this year.

Inevitably all that activity ended me up in a week-long hibernation for the last six days. It’s pretty normal to crash after I travel anyway. And eventually all the extra “curriculars” would catch up to me physically. But I was grateful to hold up for as long as I did. It’s funny, you’re always calculating with this illness. Saying yes to one activity usually means you’ll have to say no to some other one tomorrow or the next day. You’re always “borrowing” energy: allocating it as if it were a monetary budget. Going over, or spending too much, means you’ll pay. So you’re always considering cost and reward and whether the consequence will be worth it or not. You don’t always get it right, but you get better as time goes on. In the case of swimming and snorkeling and fishing that day, totally worth it! Still, I think there is a better way to navigate this illness than living the “push-crash” lifestyle. Doing what you want for a certain amount of time, and then spending at least double that amount of time in bed in the future. Most CFS’ers live this way, not because it’s the best or right way, but because it’s A way to at least do some things and not live your life in bed. Anyway, I hope to discover a more sustainable way to go about this, but it works for now. Kinda sorta. You get me.

On another note, I keep doing this thing that I’m trying to stop. I write and write and write and then I edit and edit and edit and then the essay goes in new directions and I want to keep everything a decent length so I start over and consequently end up with 6 different half-written, diligently edited posts, none ending up on the blog. It’s a pretty stupid system and I’m going to try and stop doing things that way. Sometimes my idea about how I want things to look or turn out hinders my goal which is not just to write well, but to write consistently and allow part of what’s happening in #marys sick life to inform my stories–even if what’s happening is boring or sad or awesome or mediocre. It’s a continual lesson in letting go that I’m still trying to grasp– write things out and then let them go. Although it’s easy to mistake for editing, I think I often look through my own words trying to take on the role of reader instead of writer, and I develop this anxiety that I’m not getting through accurately or perfectly representing myself, so I hold off on publishing. But I know this is silly because all I can do is be who I am and write what I know, and if I’m judicious about that then I don’t need to worry about the rest. The truth is I am the writer after all and some of writing is trusting the reader. Showing and not telling, yada yada yada. I think my incessant “reading over” and modifying is just another way to prevent me from putting myself and my words out there on a medium where they’ll live on their own and be subject to scrutiny. Could I really be afraid of criticism after all this time writing on a blog? Probably, which is entirely embarrassing. Because who cares! But pride and vanity are some powerful little devils, and the only way to move past them is to write on despite the superficial concerns.

I’m going to try harder to work and contribute to this space and not become too serious about the whole shebang. Especially to the point where it stifles things. It’s pretty silly getting so analytical about it, because it’s really just not that important. I care deeply about it, but when I zoom out and consider everything, this is just a ledger of one persons life. And pretty unexciting life, at that. I think my concern lies in whether or not I’m contributing meaningful things that will move me and others forward or if I’m just whining on a stick. I am hoping by the end, what and whenever that is, this will all will reveal something larger and more dimensional than a woman child’s diary about sick days and her dog. But even if it is that. Who cares? I only need to focus on what’s in front of me and stop pausing to consider a future I don’t have control of.  The one thing I don’t want to do is restrain myself or my words or the creative endeavors I want to pursue all because I’m worrying what it will all “look like” in the end. Concerns like those are what kills momentum, and good ideas, before they even get a chance to materialize. My truer goal should be simply to write and to allow the words to do what they’ve always done–help me to see things that my thinking mind can’t.

So, hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more from me and I from you. I am feeling happy to be one year older, to know myself even better having lived on earth for three hundred and sixty-five more days as ME, Mary Gelpi. I’m becoming pretty good friends with myself and we’re getting along well. We’re practically finishing each others SENTENCES. Thank you Nick for exploring the ocean with me, and tugging me back to shore when I was too tired to swim back myself. What else are big brothers for?

Health, Happiness, Thirty One.

Haikus From A Crash

Spent Saturday night
Forgetting. Acting my age.
I’m young, I can dance.

For four nights, five days,
Never left my best friends bed.
(Hospitality.)

This tin-can music
On hold with the pharmacist
Tries to get me down.

Robot voice thanks me,
Your call is importan–Click.
Avoid urge to die.

Doc: Where is the pain?
Head, Muscles, Joints, Skin. Constant.
Doc: Are you depressed?

Congratulations!
Didn’t go to med school but,
I’m my own doctor.

The universe yawns-
Striving for life I don’t have,
I’ve become Facebook.

I cried when the maid
Killed the spider in my room.
Alone, things get weird.

Can’t forget him now–
Broke up just in time to find
Ringworm on my thigh.

A measure of will:
No one needs you anymore
Do you feel alive?

Monty at my side
Asks for nothing the whole day
Meet visceral love.

Tail wags in his sleep,
Watch his belly rise and fall
Love, you make me weep.

If Haiku rules were
Seven-Five-Seven instead,
Would I still be sick?

Bzzz. Thud. Bzzz thud bzzzz
Angry bee against the door
None of us get out.

Sad signing the forms
Which say I’m incapable.
BUT IM SEXY YALL!!!

Day 6, I’m alive.
Under water asking if
Dancing was worth it.

I should know better,
But I remember dancing,
Don’t remember price.

Health, Happiness, and Haikus.

Under the Water.
Under the Water.

*Shout out to Newman for haiku inspirations and continued decency in a perverted world.* 

A Baby Was Born

I really didn’t think we were going to make it. Amelie’s due date was June 18, and my mom and I were scheduled to arrive on the 16th which, in hindsight, was cutting it rather close. She started having contractions on the 14th and by the next day I was convinced we’d never get in there in time. I prayed that he’d wait for us but it was pretty clear by then that the baby would arrive before we would.

Somehow, despite multiple airplane delays and three days of threatening labor, my mom and I arrive to California, pea still in the pod. He waited for us after all. We arrived late, and everyone was tired, mostly Amelie. As we all turn in for bed, I tell Amelie and Keegan to wake me up if anything happens during the night. I don’t want to miss a thing. I am weirdly excited getting into bed, the way you are on Christmas Eve as kid. I finally get to witness the miracle of life. Score.

Roughly 5 hours later, still very dark outside, I wake to Keegan whispering in a firm voice at my door. Mary. Mary! I am still half asleep, Wha? I mumble. Her water broke. We’re going to the hospital. Yes!! This is what I had waited for. I knew something would happen tonight! I dressed quickly but hesitate a moment about what to wear. Are jeans appropriate labor attire? In my peripheral I spot Amelie, walking ever so cautiously down the hallway toward the stairs. She’s in a bathrobe, moving like a ghost, groaning in pain. Are you OK? I ask, dumb question probably. Hurry, she says. We need to go. I quickly put her arm over my shoulder and we walk gently in unison, a conjoined ball of sisterhood floating down the stairs. Where’s Keegan? She asks. I assure her he’s coming. I lie, I have no idea where Keegan is, but I assume he didn’t run out on us.

We walk out onto the driveway, the tiniest bit of dawn peaking at the horizon. Amelie is barefoot. I help her into the front seat of Keegan’s man van. I climb in the back but notice there are car seats on both chairs. Obstacle! I wedge my large butt into the bigger one, which doesn’t really work, so I sit perched up on top of it with half of me hanging off the side. Just as she’s about to ask where Keegan is again, we both see him, a spectacle headed our way; Keegan, running out of the garage as the door descends on him, holding a giant blue rubber ball in the air with both hands, as though it’s a trophy. What is THAT? I ask. Amelie tells me it’s some kind of birthing bouncy ball thingy that helped progress her first labor. But I don’t need it this time! she says, but Keegan is already stuffing the large balloon ball in the backseat, trying to wedge it between me and the two carseats. It’s making the rubbery noise that balloon animals make when being configured. I am laughing but only to myself. I don’t know if laughing is appropriate yet. You never know! he says, and gets into the driver seat. As he starts to shift the car into drive, Amelie stops him with a request: OK, I need you to go slow over the bumps and turns and stuff. But seriously go fast because I don’t think we have a lot of time. I hear Keegans signature cackle. OK, he says, hitting the gas, but easing down the curb of the driveway like a champ.

Now we’re driving fast on the California highway and the roads are all ours. Amelie tells Keegan to call the doctor on the way. I am rubbing her back like a boxing coach, but she says it feels good so I stick with it. Keegan talks to a woman on the phone, which then Amelie takes from him. She tells the woman she’s “In full blown labor”– A phrase both her and Keegan will use numerously in the next hour. This also makes me laugh. Please make sure he knows I’m in full blown labor this time. Keegan has been running the red lights, but now we approach one and there’s a state trooper in the lane next to us. Planning to run the light and then continue speeding, Amelie tells Keegan to let the guy know so he doesn’t pursue us. Keegan rolls down his window and the trooper does the same. Keegan: My wife is full blown labor. Cop: OK. Keegan: I’m going to run this light and then speed. Cop: OK. The light turns green and we speed off in the van. Dude couldn’t have cared less.

I notice Amelie is taking really short breaths from the pain. I remind her to slow them down and try to exhale through her nose. It actually works, she begins taking good breaths. I don’t totally know what I’m doing, but I know deep breaths are better than shallow ones. And they say it in all the Hollywood labor flicks. I rub her shoulders and the big blue ball drifts over to my side again, crowding me back there. I laugh to myself again. I know I will remember this car ride forever.

At the hospital we get Amelie into a wheelchair outside and Keegan throws me the keys to go park the van. In the wheelchair Amelie informs the nurse that she’s in full blown labor and instructs the nurse to run. The nurse reminds Amelie that she is going to be OK but that they aren’t going to run. By the time I get the car parked and up to the room, she is being hooked up to IV lines and monitors with all kinds of wires emerging in every direction. There is a surprisingly large number of staff hurrying in and out of the room, performing respective tasks. Amelie has one concern; the epidural. I’m ready for the epidural as soon as possible. Can you make sure they know that? That I’m ready as soon as they are? They are asking her a ton of questions and typing in answers or writing them on a chart. I imagine that she wishes the questions would stop. I’m familiar with this position; being in pain, needing help that only someone else can provide, but first having to answer question after question–none of them seeming more important than the pain. The nurse tells her as soon as she’s checked into the system, she can have the epidural. The Holiest of Holy’s.

I am standing to the right of the bed, watching a machine hooked up to her which monitors the contractions. It looks like a seismograph. It strikes me what an interesting device this is. A qualitative way to witness someone else’s pain, to measure it even. This part sticks with me. I try to talk her through the bad ones. Since I can see them peak and descend on the monitor, I’m able to tell her when the worst part is over. I remind her to breathe deep. There’s not much else to do now besides refill cups of ice, which Keegan and I take turns with. It’s just like the movies. Amelie informs another nurse that she IS ready for that epidural, just so she knows.

Finally, the last of the questions are answered, and the man with the miracle appears in the doorway. He is glowing yellow and angels sing in harmony as he makes his entrance. Amelie perks up. Absurdly afraid of needles normally, she couldn’t wait for this one. It only takes a few minutes, and then the magic starts to work. You can tell because Amelie has color back in her face and relief in her eyes, as though she can suddenly breathe again. Not to mention she’s smiling, and much more chatty.

Now everything slows down. Keegan and I take a nap. I guess numbed up Amelie continued to labor. When I wake up a bit later, my mom has arrived with coffee and food. We eat and re-energize and prepare for the big show. Just a couple hours later, to the nurses surprise, Amelie is eight centimeters and the time has come. This is it! Yeah! The only problem is that the doctor is not here yet. He’s on his way from another hospital, but he is in traffic. Note: California traffic is different than Louisiana traffic. My mom and I sit at the bay window, on the lookout for Doctor James as the nurses quickly turn the room into a saran wrapped tent. There’s another doctor there in case hers doesn’t make it, but Amelie likes sticking to plans. It’s kind of her thing.

The nurse tells us he drives a gun-metal grey sports car. Of course. No sign of him yet, so my mom and I start singing Amazing Grace aloud in a two part harmony. She taught us this years ago– something about the vibrational energy of that song. We have sung it ever since when we’re in a bind, and somehow it always comes through. There we are, Amelie trying to hold off pushing, the nurses preparing the room like busy birds, and two women at the window singing in decent enough harmony, (I may have been a bit flat). By the third verse, a small silver sports car pulls up and a tall doctor rushes out. He’s here!! We all cheer. Amelie looks like she’s about to have a baby.

The doctor can barely get his blazer off and the scrubs on before she’s on her second push. I stand to the side between the doctor and Keegan. I even hold a leg! It all happens really fast. On the third push we can see his head. It is crazy. Amazing. Five pushes later, he is out. He doesn’t cry right away and the silence is paralyzing. I am worried but don’t say a word because neither the doctor or nurses seem concerned. It feels like forever but was probably four seconds. As Amelie gets both hands around him and brings him to her chest, he finally cries out. That weak, pathetic, entry level cry. The cry of alive. As soon as I hear it, I start to cry too. I never used to be emotional like this. But it feels good. Happy tears. He doesn’t even cry long. He gets swaddled and passed around to everyone like a perfect soft package. I watch his parents hold and love him, both grandparents, and then it is my turn. I can almost feel the love he’s been given already radiating from him. I think about his entrance to the world–how every baby should be this lucky. He’s alert, blinking slowly as he takes it all in. How he can already smell so good, I have no idea. I hold him and cannot fathom that any of us were ever this small, this helpless. Why do we ever convince ourselves we are meant to do this alone? Holding him I feel solid relief. Not just that he’s OK, but that the world is OK. In this moment, he embodies the world. Everything will be fine. He’s here. It’s perfect.

The World.
The World.

Health, Happiness, Happy Birthday James.

We Can Do Better.

I noticed an article in The New York Times recently titled “World Health Organization Urges More Care In Naming Diseases.” In early May, the WHO issued new guidelines for naming infectious diseases in an attempt to avoid damaging inaccuracies and stigmas that often the name alone can cause. They emphasized caution and symptomatic detail when choosing one; no animal names like ‘Swine Flu’ or peoples names like ‘Lou Gerrigs Disease.’ The new guidelines are a proactive attempt to prevent “Unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors.” They also mentioned that “The best practices apply to new infections…for which there is no disease name in common usage.”

Of course I read the article expecting to see CFS as a prime example of how damaging the effects can be from a poorly named disease. When Myalgic Encephalomyelitis was renamed “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” in the early 80’s, it solidified an environment of dismissiveness, doubt, and critcism. A new stage was set: everything from the publics skepticism to the medical establishments cold shoulder were put into place, and little has changed in 30 years. Now if you had the misfortune of being sick with this disease, you were going to have two battles to fight.

I don’t just hesitate to say those three words out loud, I feel anxiety about it. Sometimes in doctors offices, I feel shameful saying it out loud, as if I’m confessing to how many packs of cigarettes I actually smoke each day. When I’m forced to say it, I swear I can hear any perceived validation deflate out of the room like a popped, zigzagging balloon. The words don’t hold any water on their own; they necessitate explanation that ends up sounding like defense. The words “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” are not only misleading and insultingly trivial, they sound like a hypochondriacs failed attempt at making “tired” sound serious. And that seems to be the general consensus–that this is a “disease” where people simply feel sleepy all the time. Sleepy is for kittens and babies, and the primary symptoms of this are far, far beyond the bone crushing fatigue we experience. But this is the problem with labels, namely inaccurate ones. There is damage in what the words imply and even more from what they fail to say.

Here’s an example. A few months ago, the Institute of Medicine released a 600 page report devoted wholly to examining and better understanding CFS/ME. The committee not only provided new diagnostics guidelines and better disease management, it acknowledged the severity of the disease and put to rest the idea that it is at all psychological. Surprising many, they acknowledged the issues stemming from the name CFS and suggested a new one: Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disease. (SEIDS) It doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue, but it does finally address a discerning symptom of ME, which is the adverse reaction, down to a cellular level, to even mild exertion. This is far different than general fatigue. An exhaustive study like this one from an Institue with no previous involvement with the disease is a huge step in the right direction. The validation it provided for many sufferers was big, and the recognition of the staggering lack of science and funds to support it will presumeably apply more pressure at the federal level for a major increase.

I happened to read about the IOM’s report and name suggestion from NPR News, which I follow on Facebook. When I saw the hundreds of comments underneath the article I decided to look, and they weren’t anything out of the ordinary. Out of hundreds of responses, most of them were like this:

.
Thanks, Steph. I’m cured!!!!
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Totally! It’s like I’ve never met anyone with Diabetes who can eat copious amounts of sugar. It’s obviously bullshit!
Em, you don't have this.  -Mary
Em, you don’t have this.
-Mary
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This person actually doesn’t believe in Carpal Tunnel so I don’t know where to go from here.
NOPE!
Hi Brianna, NOPE!

I know it’s a leap to project the reactions of a few Facebook commenters onto the general public. But in this case, these attitudes are not at all the exception. They represent a ubiquitous perspective most people have, whether online or in person. And maybe it’s redundant to say, but this is simply not a normal response to sick people. It just isn’t. It’s easy to see why sufferers hesitate to say the name out loud at all. Look at the environment we’d be entering into.

So, is this of any consequence? Does it really matter that the general public understand a disease? Not really, besides the demoralizing and crappy way it makes already sick people feel, no, it doesn’t. These people aren’t doctors, (most of them) and so who cares really? Besides basic human kindness, is this of any real concern?

The thing is, yes, I think so. Namely because this attitude pervades more than an uninformed public. This lack of concern, eye roll response travels all the way up to the federal level. Or maybe it trickles down from it. It’s hard to say anymore. Irregardless,  by now the two are in some osmotic relationship– One fueling and informing the other. And when this is the attitude at a federal level, the effects are far more detrimental and consequential. $5 million allocated toward research for the last five years from the NIH is a detrimental effect. No cause, no cure, and zero FDA approved treatments are all the result of a disease not getting the attention it requires. Ironically, people who are sick with this don’t want attention at all. They just want to get better so they can have their lives back. But the shot at finding a cure relies heavily on the desire to find one and fund the science for it. When the perception of it is so casual and misinformed, it contributes to negligence– it prevents that possibility of a cure the way it has for the last quarter century.

I can’t help but wonder if the same outrage would exist from people if the disease went by its original name: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Would people scowl at its existence and call someone with the diagnosis a lazy-ass complainer who just needs to eat better? Would they judge them for being too sick to work? No, because those responses are not to a disease called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They are responses to feeling fatigued; one is fire cracker, the other is an atomic bomb. I realize all of this may seem a little petty. It’s just a name and there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to this illness. But I cannot help but wonder if what’s fueling the size of those fish is at the core, a simple misfortune of a name. It’s crazy to think that a label could do such harm or have such far reaching effects, but I don’t doubt it in this case. The evidence is right there, in this abnormal anger healthy people have against sick people as if they’ve chosen to be sick.

The point is not to harbor on issues I cannot change and I know that. Forward is the only direction now. But there’s such a lesson here in accepting things at face value and the harm it can do when we trust that we know better, before knowing much at all. It’s not just a poor social stigma we’re dealing with. It’s having a totally debilitating disease which costs the country roughly $18 billion a year in lost productivity, and the lowered chance we have at getting better because it just doesn’t appear or sound serious enough. This is where labels have much larger implications than just confrontational dialogue and ousting sick people. It’s bigger than that.

It makes me think of the way I perceive things and other people in my own life. How easily I make up my mind sometimes, one way or the other, about all kinds of things. I think of hearing or reading about issues and people and how fast and automatic a decision or feeling arises inside me. Sometimes I’m proud, thinking I know better about something, even when I hardly know that much at all. I think, if I never would have gotten sick when I was nine, were I still a healthy, functioning person 30-year-old, quick thinking and totally capable, and I heard of a “disease” called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” what conclusion would my mind jump to? What feeling would I get? If all I had to go on were those three words, given that I wasn’t a doctor or otherwise well-versed in diseases, what would that label say to me? That name in its own twisted way, appears to say everything, enough for people to hold up their hands and say “I’ve heard enough, thank you.” Enough to feel decidedly one way or another without hesitation. Quick decisions and judgments like that do harm for all kinds of people with respect to all kinds of issues. I think we can learn from this one, and do better in the future across the board when it comes to making up our minds but remaining strictly at the surface.

Illness is not something to undergo alone, and anyone who has experienced it long-term will tell you that. When people email me about their families dismissing them, doctors referring them to psychiatrists, or marriages that crumble because someone is suffering from a disease with so few options and a world that just doesn’t quite “buy” it, I feel angry and discouraged. Mostly because I believe in the good-heartedness of people and I know we’re better than this. We can do better. Turning your back on someone who is sick is more than insult to injury. It causes its own tragic pain, separate and worse than the physical kind. It’s a new kind of loneliness, in a time you need people the most. After twenty years of being sick, the last five being the sickest, the hardest and most demoralizing part is battling something that so invisible to everyone else, all the while your whole world is crumbling.

The truth is even though it’s still massively lacking, there is more research than ever going on, and thanks to recent reports like the IOM’s and the Pathways to Prevention, pressure is building to invest more into solving this thing. My hope is that in the meantime people will be at least a little diligent before ousting an entire population of sick people as hacks. I hope if you’ve got major beef with the illness, you haven’t just heard the name and stopped there. To learn more about it, Cortjohnson.com is a great resource with vast information, including current and future studies and well-written dictations about their meanings.  To those who are sick and discouraged, I hope you’ll read this and have faith that you’re not alone and that the answers will come. Progress is slow but it’s moving. Until then, please don’t lose hope. Worse than being sick is the thought that our life is over if we never get better. There is value to gain in all of these experiences, whether you’re sick defending yourself or dealing with someone who’s sick with something you don’t understand. But try and remember we’re all brothers and sisters here. We need each other. Maybe the history and politics of this disease hasn’t been our kindest hour, but we can still turn it around, even if it’s one less person casting judgment or turning someone away. As is the case with all social change, it always begins with one. We can all do better, and I’ve never lost hope that our future will be far brighter than our past.

Labels and categorizing are important, they exist for a reason. But in the case of CFS, and the WHO’s new guidelines for naming disease with caution, help exemplify the power and possible harm of labels. They must be chosen wisely. The  CFS label was not, and it did an injustice to millions of disabled people. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. And despite how long and twisted the history is, it’s not ever too late to turn it around. Slowly but surely, I believe that change has begun and we’re on the cusp of something major. Despite my bad days, I believe in the awesomeness of humankind. We can do better. So let’s begin doing it now.

Health, Happiness, Better.

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

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.

Can’t Touch That

I write this from the floor. My knees are scrunched up in front of me and my caps serve as wrist stands. I’d write at my desk–it’s literally called a writing desk–but I can’t sit there long before my neck goes out which causes a headache which causes a sad face. Like this :( That’s exactly how I look when I’m feeling bad, if you were wondering.

Today I woke up feeling rough. Rougher than usual. Still, this is nothing new, and I’ve learned how to let go of plans and make myself useful in other ways from bed. But I was impatient today. I had things on the to-do list that I wanted to tackle and I couldn’t. I confront this a lot, but today it made me mad.

I’ve been trying to make some changes in my life: health-wise and beyond. I’ve been proactive about eating better and since some recent lab work detected gluten anti-bodies in my gut, I’ve cut that out. I don’t miss it that much, in fact it’s high time to go without it. Gluten free is so trendy right now! It’s just that I’ve never liked when people are picky at restaurants. And now I’m that girl, ordering the burger without the bun and asking the ingredients of sauces. Oh well.

Besides the diet, which I’m still configuring, I’ve begun organizing closets and getting rid of excess anything and attempting to follow some type of schedule. There’s catharsis in things like this, but they can prove to be difficult and today is the perfect example of why.

Yesterday I cleaned out this closet in the living room, which has somehow collected my nieces baby clothes, my ex-boyfriends computer, a guitar with a missing string, and THREE brooms among other miscellaneous clutter. Throwing junk away can be a holy experience, and I was beaming throwing excesses out. After that I went to the bookstore to check out a few recommendations from a friend. I found them and then walked around a while. I like the atmosphere there and the quiet way people speak. Then I went to the grocery store for a few things that turned out to be a lot of things. My legs were burning by the time I got home and I knew I’d probably overdone it. (Wuss) But I was in my Martha Stewart zone, or something. When I began to put away groceries I noticed that the fridge could use some cleaning. I took everything out, pitched half of it, washed the drawers in the hot soapy water, wiped everything down well, then stocked it. Admittedly I sat there and opened and closed the door a few times just to relive the magic of my newly pristine fridge. I was done around 10:30.

The truth is I didn’t do that much. And that’s the ticket! You don’t have to do that much in order to feel this bad the next morning. It feels like you ran a marathon on a whim and at the end a bunch of people gathered around and kicked you for no reason. Dicks. When I sat down I realized my whole body hurt and my mild migraine I had all day had turned into a full-blown one. I took some of my 25 pills, then my nighttime pills, read a little and went to sleep. I slept pretty rough, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

When I awoke the next morning to the pool guy knocking on the glass door I felt the way Gary Busey looks.

Good Morning!
Good Morning!

I could barely get my eyes to open fully by the time I got to the door. I’m sure I looked like a zombie in pink pajamas. Anyway, all the “overdid it” symptoms were back. Achy, dizzy, heavy and the worst of them all: weakness. Because there’s nothing to do for that except wait it out. And that’s especially hard to do when looking at the list I’d optimistically made yesterday of all these tasks that needed crossing off. I really wanted to clean out my clothing closet, and sort through medical bills. You know, fun stuff! They would have to wait.

The thing is, it’s OK. This is how the illness works and I overdid it, just as I’ve done hundreds of times before. I’ve learned plenty of ways to make the day count from the couch. I’ll rest and improve over the next few days and remember that compared to the past, this is truly small potatoes. I don’t write the details of my day to whine or seek pity, but to show what a huge disruption the illness can be. It feels like I am always playing catch up with the rest of the world, and this is probably why. I just tried to plan two days and it went off track. There is such a huge variable to consider and it’s often anyones guess, so sticking to things is a guessing game. Beyond that, I write because I’m still trying to figure out how to do this. How to have a fulfilling life, one that I am proud of, without upsetting the sleeping sick dragon inside me. It feels like a continual conundrum, and maybe it always will be.

Life keeps changing and I constantly have to re-mold how to live it. I am in a new relationship which is great. But it’s also a new challenge. Introducing him into my weird sick life has been difficult on both ends. The illness is confusing, my life lacks structure and the circumstances just aren’t normal. I forget that my life requires explanation, even defense sometimes. In the beginning, I loved the escape I felt meeting someone new who didn’t know me as a sick person. It’s like visiting a place you’ve never been before and feeling like you can be anyone because no one knows your past. I thought we could keep going without having to confront it seriously. That was stupid. But it felt good to me, good I hadn’t felt in a while, and I went with it. Obviously that approach dissolved and at some point we both had to face the music.

I don’t always consider that to outsiders, my life isn’t normal. I forget that most people aren’t sick. They don’t have to take a bunch of pills in order for their bodies to do what they’re supposed to. They can go to work, attend social outings, fall asleep on their own at night, and wake up and do it again. Something I did once but now I am in awe of. I forget that being sick effects other people, not just me. I realized that being continuously ill and taking pills all the time can make other people uncomfortable. But the truth is it does, and that’s OK too.

I think the hard part for partners of sick people is that they feel helpless. They are constantly reminded that we’re sick, but there’s not a lot they can do, or say, that will make it better. And that can wear on a person, as much as it wears on us to be sick. In my case, the healing doesn’t come from words. Nothing they can say will fix it. It’s more a matter of being there– sometimes a hug, holding my hand, or just laying together, feeling the warmth of someone else’s humanness, and yelling LIFE IS HARD BUT IT’S OK! Figuring it out and adapting to what life with chronic illness means isn’t very easy, but it continues to provide me a lesson in surrender, for those around me, too. Sitting with the pain and accepting circumstance and just allowing the moment.

I think the thing to remember is that even though illness interrupts plans and SQUASHES OUR FUN SOMETIMES, it really can’t take away the ethereal, elusive thing that makes each of us specifically human. We are still who we are underneath all that moaning (I find I sigh a lot) and illness can’t touch that. In fact I think if we try really hard and lean in deep to our experience, we’ll find it can make us an even better version of ourselves. I forget it sometimes during dark days, but somewhere in my depths I know it to be true.

Health, Happiness, and Ultra Clean Closets

One Month and the Buzz

So, I took a month off. I’ve missed you.

Health-wise I’ve been up and down, but more ups I think. I’ve been out of the house doing things; normal people things, 29-year-old things. Living like a normal person doesn’t always fair well on my body and a few times I pushed it too far and paid the price, but somehow it felt worth it. My soul needed to get out in the world and roll around in the dirt. I felt like Monty when he sees a squirrel and I unhook the leash–caution to the wind, full force ahead. Maybe 50%. I’m often battling this fear that if I’m sick for too long I’ll go to sleep one night and when I wake up thirty years will have gone by and I’ll have barely moved. It’s not always easy but I know it’s important for my soul and my psyche to get out there and try a little. So I do. I did. And I experienced these moments where I felt so intensely alive I could feel it buzzing in my fingertips. And that’s the stuff of life people! The best kind of little reminders.

A while ago I was invited by a friend to attend a three-day meditation retreat in Magnolia, Mississippi. I’d never been on a retreat before and I felt apprehensive at first. For starters, I felt angst about whether my body would hold up through the weekend. Secondly, I had this cliché vision of long-haired hippies dancing naked around a fire, sharing their “truths” or something. But when I learned it was a silent retreat, I knew I had to do it. I don’t know if I’ve made this apparent, but I sort of hate meeting people. I cringe at smalltalk and I find strangers questions difficult and exhausting to answer. I know it’s just part of conventional social norms, but this question of “What do you do?” causes me an intense five-second panic attack, and introductions almost always go there. To give an honest answer comes with this pressure to provide a back-story, which is long and convoluted. I expect strangers have as much interest in hearing these details as I do telling them, and sometimes I feel like rolling my eyes at my own reality. But I haven’t yet figured out a way to give a succinct honest answer that leaves everybody comfortable. I think I’ll start answering ‘waitress’ and save everyone five whole minutes.

So this the idea that we wouldn’t have to talk to other people, including our assigned roommates, totally sold me. But I still felt angst about my health hovering in the background. This is nothing new. I confront this fear all the time making decisions because my health has failed me so many times before when I’ve really counted on it. So I don’t anymore. It’s hard always having to maneuver around this invisible thing in your life that you don’t even like. But this is my reality and hating or fearing it does me no good. So I considered the worse-case scenario; I crash. Even if that were the case and I spent the weekend in bed, what were they going to do? Strap me to a chair and force me to meditate? I figured I’d be OK. So I said yes. And there’s something pretty revitalizing about saying yes to something new, especially when for so long these kinds of opportunities were an automatic no.

I wrote an essay about the weekend and I’ll post that next. I’ll say now my favorite part was eating lunch next to my friend in total silence, only making eye contact every now and then. There’s a lot of space and freedom that opens up when no one feels the need to talk. They call it “noble silence” and I think we could all use a little more of it. It rocked!

After that I was invited on a weekend trip to the beach where I would share a house with 12 other girls. So basically the opposite of the silent retreat. I am a total beach bum and don’t feel I get enough of it, so I went. And it turned out to be a really awesome and fun weekend. I was feeling pretty sick the day we left, but I was also really craving the sand and the air and warm gulf water. (I’m a pansy about water temp) I knew I’d feel better once I got there, so Emily and I drove the three and half hours there and watched the sun set while crossing the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I felt really happy in that moment. The sunset was the kind that changed colors every 10 seconds and was remarkably beautiful over the Louisiana marsh. I tried to capture the spectacle made by all the intense colors, but a picture never does a great sunset justice. It’s like holding a rookie drawing next to a Monet. Maybe it’s better to just pause and enjoy the splendor of a disappearing sun. It’s such a short-lived pleasure anyway. Watching them always make me feel grateful.  We finally arrived and learned that our house was next door to the classiest bar in the South: Florabama. So naturally, we went. Never heard of it? Here’s a peek.

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No Pets
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Every time I visit this bar I am overwhelmed and baffled by it. It’s three stories (possibly more, I don’t know, I’ve gotten lost in it twice), hosts multiple bands on different levels, and is jam-packed with drunk people of every age. Every surface is a proverbial guest book where people under the influence leave their mark for the world to see. I’m always riveted and only sometimes horrified reading the graffiti that adorns literally every surface. I started photographing the funny ones so I could laugh later and have some weird photographic keepsake of the trip. So I took a photo of the surface of the bar we were ordering from.

Damn you, Laken
Damn you, Laken

We couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of some angry person pulling out a marker and deciding to write that Laken Franks sucks Donkey Penis. A while later I entered the Florabama bathroom, where I confronted many, so many more messages, in every color, on every surface, including the toilet seat. I took some more photos because so far no one I met was as interesting as this graffiti of the world. I liked the idea of one picture having the mark of so many strangers, many of whom likely have no memory of the literary gems they left. And now I’d have a piece of it and they’d have no idea about that, either. So what did I find while looking through those photos later? Another sentiment for Laken in the bathroom stall.

Damn you again Laken
Damn you again Laken

Only this time Laken’s a baby murdering whore. I couldn’t believe the name showed up in two photos. Pretty crazy odds given the volume of surface area in that place and the amount of angry messages. I wonder who Laken Franks is and what she (he?) did that left someone upset enough to get creative with their insults and tattoo them on two of the walls of the worlds classiest bar. I shall never know. I’m just glad I was alive enough to be there and capture it. My fingertips were buzzing at little moments like this all weekend. But mostly when I watched the sun rise on the beach at 6 am. There’s something almost holy about a sunrise. It feels like a sneak-peek at reality unfolding–a backstage pass to the universe or something. Anyway, I’ll leave you with that photo, because I was feeling very alive when I took it, and my fingertips still buzz when I look it now. Maybe yours will too.

6 am, alive and well
6 am, alive and well

Health, Happiness, Buzzing

Jumping Off.

I’m never up at this hour. But at roughly 6:40 am as I drove across Lake Ponchartrain, one of only a few lonely cars on the 24 mile bridge, it struck me just how sacred the early mornings are. Of course over water, there are no distinct markers of distance traveled besides mile markers on land, but somehow over uninterrupted waves there were these distinct and momentary glimpses into the context of my life where all the working pieces fit together. The sense, however fleeting, had me second guessing my entire history as a bona-fide night person. Maybe there’s something to these early morning hours where people are drifting into the routine of their day or into the hangover of their night, and in the middle is me, not exactly doing either, but finding my place still–stumbling on a whole in lieu of constant and incompatible parts.

Yesterday I attended JazzFest and I remember walking around in no known direction, attempting to find a group of my friends, which is almost a miracle if achieved in such a clusterfuck of a public arena, and this thought kept trying to get a hold of me. “What am I doing? I have no business being here.” Over and over that thought, with every wrong turn and mistaken identity. What a sad thought! I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of it, but it probably had roots in my mostly confined and solitary past over a few years. And now sticking my head out, landing clumsily in the middle of the public world that not only didn’t stop while I was “out sick”, it also didn’t slow down at all either. And that continued, irreverent, incessant flow of time in one direction only all of the sudden felt very real and a little unnerving too. But I walked on. It’d be a lie to say I felt any confidence at all then, taking in every type of person of every age and origin.And even though none of them looked truly happy to me, none of them had a life that I felt cheated by not having, I was still odd man out.  I started to wonder if I had real friends at all that I’d find. Maybe I had imagined them up in a fantasy of my mind, and I’d walk tirelessly never bumping into them because there was no them to bump into. But I walked on. I pretended some of those thoughts didn’t exist. Maybe more, I just didn’t take them very seriously. I’d feel the sun burning my shoulders and I’d affirm that more likely than not I’d find my friends, I’d engage in young adult behavior, and feel a little better about my place in reality.

After 45 minutes of circles and flags and strangers, I watched a really drunk boy hoisted up by his friends, being dragged with his lifeless converse trailing under him leaving shallow lines in the dirt, the unfamiliar sights were piling up, and even I started to feel like a stranger there. But then– something familiar. Emily’s ponytail. Someone. People. Friends. They existed, and I was not yet proven insane. In that moment those thoughts I had didn’t carry any weight at all. Whether I found my friends or not had nothing to do with belonging in all honesty. Separateness is just a construct of ego and I know that, but it can stab you anyway. I knew that afternoon I could’ve really used some friends. And there they were and there I was. I belonged. I knew those thoughts were shit. Time to keep on living. Time to have fun now. Time to participate in the onward direction of time, and  attach to some other thought that experience will most likely prove wrong.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve never really been a live music person. Which makes me feel incredibly lame mostly. Just like I’m also not really into The Lord of the Rings. True “outsider” feelings emerge in me when this is brought up in public, and I feel like there’s some joke I’m just not getting. What is there to say about it? To each his own. Anyway, at every live music event I’ve attended, I find myself gazing off lost in observational mode of the people enjoying the music, instead of intrinsically enjoying the music myself. I can’t help it. There’s always some woman on the borderline of being “too old to be there” on some drug that’s a little too young for her to be doing, and I can’t help but watch her, dance carelessly, body parts hanging out, not giving a shit about what etiquette she’s breaking. Then I at once sympathize for her but also want to be her, because she is losing herself in something enjoyable, and she’s alone, and I’m the creeper at the concert not dancing but staring wide-eyed and blinking very slowly. I dated one of those music junkie type of guys for two years. He had an impressive collection of bands that you never heard of on his ipod and was always discovering music years before it became popular. (I on the other hand got my music from Apple Product commercials) He flew all over the country to catch his favorite bands at different venues. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone and it was this small gap between us because this passion he fell off his seat for was somewhere that I just didn’t fit. And this schism in us always interested me, because at concerts we’d share a joint and then even more I’d separate from the setting and lose myself in the detach-and-detect humanity mode. He was good about keeping me down to earth and assuring me that dancing like an idiot was fine and encouraged, and that no, that guy next to me was not about to die from sensory overload regardless of what his face and body movements suggested. But there was always some wall with me at those shindigs. I could never really figure it out. Ultimately the relationship ended, and I wondered how much, if any, this disconnect had to do with it. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe a whole lot.

It’s funny how discovering clarity leaves with you so much to know still. My goal this year has been to find clarity of any kind, certainty of any measure. Because both of these things lack hugely in my personal life and it wares on me daily. It’d be nice to make a decision and know it to be right, or know anything at all for that matter and trust it to be true. But even with this goal in the forefront of my consciousness, it has still been incredibly hard, and so far, I’m yet to find either. I’m guessing the more things I pursue where the end is uncertain and there are no guarantees will help me to eventually get there, or in the general ball park. On the bridge this morning, the unceasing rhythm of a road bump every 1.5 seconds, I glimpsed certainty. I glimpsed knowing something at all, and it felt very good. But I don’t know if it’s possible to exist in this dimension full-time. At least half of life seems to rely on not knowing but jumping off anyway. Maybe love, happiness, success, peace..are all the outcomes of great risk and great faith. All anyone can do is make their best bet and go for it. Maybe once we let go of knowing anything for sure, the way I walked in endless circles yesterday, the way those waves went in no direction this morning, is how we find the happy end, whether we knew we would or could or not.

Health, Happiness, Walking On, Jumping Off.

Colby's Apartment
Colby’s Apartment

Questions Answered.

Everything is weird. I’m still healthy. And that makes things weird. And also pretty great.

I’m enjoying the three-dimensionality of things. The multitudes of personalities I’m confronting. The sounds that one simply doesn’t here in a bed in Southern Louisiana. Everything is distinctly colorful. Of course the onslaught of spring and the prolific products of hers help. It’s a been a long time since my health has maintained in this way. I’m walking a thin internal line, trying not to delve too hard into the why but not altogether ignoring the possibility of its fleeting nature, just like the season. I’m simultaneously happy at this new disposition and also keeping a dark fear at bay. It could all end quickly– a few things. And being entirely reckless hasn’t served me in the past. So I’m keeping these things in mind of course. But trying not to fall down completely into the rabbit hole where incessant introspective thoughts about it all could trap you just as easy as any sickness could.

For the most part, it’s been fucking great. Sorry. F word only every now and then. But it really is nice being able to stand and walk without the typical interruptions and be social and see comedy and do what other young people are doing. I can’t deny I am simply just enjoying the hell out of all of it. Things feel carefree and almost weightless. Life outside of a window at my house, a window on my phone, is really pretty great. When I get worried about the future or have fear of losing it, my mom tells me the same thing; detach from the outcome. And it’s so, so true.

I’m thinking of so many things these days. I’m still trying to put it together. What purpose will I serve with this newfound health? What did I fulfill in sickness? How to matter and find meaning in all of it– the big stuff and the little stuff and the small bits in-between. I’ve been thinking in questions today. I’m going to write them out with my best shot at answers because it’s just the current of my thoughts lately and I’m not going to swim upstream.

What do you contribute the newfound health to?

It could be the physical therapy for my neck which has lessened that pain load considerably. Could be the prescription switch to Trazadone that has me actually sleeping through the night–never mind the night sweats. Another prescription switch from Neurontin to Lyrica seems to help with pain management in general and maybe the increase in energy. Also it’s Spring and I swear to God I’m always at least a little improved in nice weather and my migraines are less frequent. Also divine intervention. I don’t know. Maybe a little of it all.

What happened to sewing, weren’t you into sewing for a while?

Yeah, I was. And I got really excited about some sewing projects. I sat at the Singer Simple 3116 for hours and taught myself the ins and outs of it. I got carried away and excited with ideas. Then I began, and I jammed the bobbin. THAT DAMN BOBBIN. I took the bobbin apart, unjammed it, and put it back together. And now the bobbin is failing me hardcore. I need bobbin help. Anyone? Still, I’d like to get back to some sewing projects. I find it relaxing and I like learning skills that seem to be fading from my generation.

What’s Monty up to?

You know, same ol…

This.
This.
And this.
And this.
This...
…This
Always this.
Always this.
Ending with this.
Followed by this.

Let’s talk about tea now.

Drinking this new acai/blueberry/pomegranate mix on the reg. It’s really good. Has there yet been a decision on the universal pronunciation of acai berry? I hear a mix around town. Let a sister know.

How’s the writing going?

I find a lot of reasons not to, but when I sit down and do it I like what comes out. Most of it’s been happening pen-to-page so I’ve been using up my notebooks, which is good because I have a lot. I’ve been on the lookout for a typewriter, but maybe that’s just another fantasy in the works. This thought that some instrument will encourage more writing instead of the truth which is that real writing just requires sitting down and doing that shit. I’m working on that.

Anything else while you’re out here in Neverland typing to yourself?

Yeah I’m reading like 4 books right now and 1 book of poetry. I don’t think this is how optimal reading was designed, but I find my head a little scattered lately. I’m almost finished with The Rosie Project–really funny, really good. Trying to push through Dance Dance Dance (slower than expected). One Dead in Attic is an easy quick read but dismal of course, you know, post-Katrina stuff. The Four Agreements is sometimes rudimentary in comparison to Tolle and Zukav and Nepo, but almost identical in the message. It’s got good stuff. New American Poetry which is proving what I feared–that I don’t really understand how to read poetry. Do you keep reading until you get it? I guess that’s all in the way of books.

And everything else.

For now the goal is to truly enjoy this time of health, appreciating every second where taking a deep breath is easy and sitting isn’t my only option. I’ve held the door for people these last few weeks. I held the door! These very normal things…they’re feeling very good. Clearly I’ve had a lot of doors held for me in my small life, and it feels nice to return the favor.

One last thing:

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. I really liked it. Monsieur Gustave..he sticks with you. I’m still stuck on Moonrise Kingdom though. See them both. Make a whole night of it.

Health, Happiness, HEALTH, HAPPINESS!

 

 

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.