Who I Used to Be.

I dreamt last night I was back to my old tricks in gymnastics. For those who don’t know, I used to be a badass gymnast. I say that with pride because there are so very few things I really excel at, so I don’t feel cocky in admitting the one thing that I was truly gifted with as a kid. It came easy to me. I loved it. I didn’t care that practice was four hours a day every day during competitive season. I was so incredibly driven then, and I was nine  years old. Looking back on it now, it’s like that was some other version of me from a parallel universe. Here I am in bed, wondering if I’ll have the energy to shower today. I can’t believe I used to do acrobatics on a four inch beam. And it was my favorite event, the balance beam. It required such devout focus, but I loved how everything would fade away to a colorless blur in the background while performing on it. All that existed was four inches of felt and a nine year olds concentration. It was almost holy being up there. And it was so unassuming to look at. It was literally just a beam; four feet off the ground, waiting around for anyone who felt worthy to mount it; one slip and it was all over. I’d always considered it the most difficult out of all four events, but immediately it was my favorite. I felt most myself up there. Most alive.

See? Don't I look alive?

I was at the top of my game (both in gymnastics and in school) when I came down with the flu one ordinary spring day. I skipped practice, which I never did. Days with the flu turned into weeks, and I wasn’t getting any better. I was getting worse. Suddenly I began having headaches everyday, like clockwork. My muscles started aching for no reason. Sometimes my skin hurt to touch. In line at the grocery store, I felt too tired, too weak to stay standing, so I’d sit, on the dirty grocery store floor, my head in my hands. My homework began taking me an unwarranted amount of time to complete. At that time in third grade, we were being taught how to tell time. I remember looking at the clocks on the worksheet and the numbers not seeming in order. The questions about what time it was looked like they were written backwards. I’d reread them and reread them, slower and slower. I used to be incredibly quick. Always the first one done with in-class assignments. I grasped concepts easily and fast. Now words were scrambled, and so in order to answer a question, I first had to rearrange the words in proper order because my brain for some reason, liked to put all the words in a jar, shake it up, and spit them out in whatever sequence they fell in. This took completing things three times as long. Not to mention my pounding head didn’t like to read things when it hurt. None of it made a lot of sense. Even looking back on it is a blur. But we went to a few different doctors who couldn’t find the answers. My mom said she was cringing in silence because I was showing all the symptoms that she had when first becoming ill in the 80′s. She didn’t say anything for a while, but after months of being sick and getting progressively worse, she knew it was what she feared.

I was basically home-schooled by my mom for the remainder of third grade. I spent a lot of time in bed. It was a strange time. But after four or five months of the “flu,” I slowly began to get better. I wanted so badly to get back to my routine. I wanted to be a kid again. But what I really wanted was to get back to gymnastics. Finally after a very very long hiatus, I slowly eased back into it. My teammates and coaches all welcomed me back and I was thrilled to be doing what I loved again. But, of course, things had changed. I still had all the skills in me that I’d acquired since age 5, but my body wasn’t as resilient as it used to be. I’d be unnecessarily sore for days. I tired out easily in the middle of practice. Out of nowhere, the back of my heels started delivering sharp pain when I walked. I thought it’d go away but didn’t. At the orthopedic doctor, I was diagnosed with calcaneal bursitis. Some big word for my ten year old mind that meant walking was going to be a bitch now. One day at practice, while jumping from the low bar to the high bar, my right hand slipped and I swung around, slamming my head into the metal beam which held up the bars. I knocked myself out for a few seconds and woke up on the floor with a few teammates and my favorite coach Steve crouched over me yelling my name and “What happened?! What happened?!” as though he were angry or something. Of course, he was just worried. The E.R. later diagnosed me with a concussion and told me to take it easy for a few days. I had an enormous goose egg on my head and a scab on my nose. I brought that goose egg to show-and-tell the next week. My friends were impressed.

One by one, the signs revealed themselves that I wouldn’t be able to continue gymnastics. I felt like John Elway when he cried during his retirement speech and uttered “I can’t do it physically anymore, and that’s hard for me to say.” It sucked, because I was good at gymnastics, and not much else. I ended up “retiring” at the ripe old age of 11 and it was a terrible decision to have to make. I tried other sports and hobbies that weren’t as physically demanding, but I mostly sucked at them, and none compared to what gymnastics offered me.

It’s funny to think where I’d be had I not gotten sick and stuck with gymnastics. I showed a lot of potential. My coach Steve even pulled me aside one day and said if I stayed on track, I had a shot at Olympic tryouts for Salt Lake. It was probably something like a 1 in a million shot, but still, just him believing in me meant everything. Who knows where I’d be. But once again, the illness was making decisions in my life that I wouldn’t have made on my own. Similar to last year when I retired from my work at the gallery. I wouldn’t have made that choice on my own either. But sometimes I wonder if I was given this illness because the great designer of my life knew I wouldn’t make those choices on my own. I would only choose them out of necessity. And these choices, will bring me to exactly where I’m supposed to be. We have a tendency to think only we know whats best for us. And that was the root of my anger back at age 11 and more recently last year when I felt I wasn’t being dealt a fair hand. Periodically, usually in stillness, I feel the wisdom of something else at work in my life. When I start to trust that wisdom, my life isn’t so much something I own as it is an energy, a cause; a vehicle that I simply need to ride in (and enjoy) the paths shown to me, not get angry at the ones that didn’t materialize. Tolle puts it this way:

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.

So there you have it. No more whining about who I was, what I had. I need to stay present to who I am now. What I have now. And right now, I have some embarrassingly ridiculous gymnastic photos for your viewing pleasure…Feel free to point and laugh.

Health, Happiness, and Awesome 90′s Photos.

From Bed.

It’s with a general heaviness, random panting, irregular heartbeats, in and out of focused vision, an incredibly determined migraine, and somewhere around 2-3% energy that I write todays post; pale faced and slow moving. I said I’d write good bad or ugly, so here’s sticking to goals. I’m sitting up in bed, with the computer propped up on a pillow and pill wrappers and bottles skewed about the room. If you didn’t know any better, it’d be anyones guess what’s wrong with me. Aids? Cancer? Recreational Pill User? I don’t even say the name anymore when people ask. “I have health problems.” It’s surprising that people don’t follow up after you spill that general type of information. They usually nod and that’s the end of that.

Poor Monty. I always feel bad for him on days like today. It’s beautiful here. Sunny, cloudless. I hear the neighbors who are sitting out on their docked boat- they must have an awesomely hilarious guest over today because they keep erupting in this uproar of laughter and somehow, it helps. I like hearing it, even though it doesn’t involve me. Monty is wondering why we are indoors when the weather is what it is. And yet somehow he knows. He doesn’t insistently paw at me and make the whiny strange sounds of a dog trying to speak a humans language in an attempt to get me outside. He sees the signs and lays down next to the bed. I left the door open so he can come in and out as he desires but he stays in here next to me. What a friend.

As usual, I try to connect the dots. This is the fourth migraine this week and my medicine is running dangerously low. Insurance only pays for 9 tabs a month of Frova, (it’s a new one I’m trying) and I used up all the maxalt already. I ask the pharmacist how much 9 tabs of Frova is out of pocket and she clicks away on the keys and I wait for the damage. “Two hundred and thirty dollars,” she finally gets out. I laugh and she, sympathetically, laughs too. “Sorry.” “It’s OK.” But we both know it’s not really OK. It’s strange that a company decides how much medicine they’ll cover for you in a month, almost arbitrarily. It’s strange that someone who needs the benefits of insurance the most is often denied. Strange that the cost of healthcare under an insurance policy is of an affordable, negotiated rate and yet if you aren’t covered those rates are 200% more. That’s one way of saying it. Strange. I count my three remaining pills and send a prayer to the universe to let up on these train wrecks of migraines I’m getting. Most likely, I’ll have to dig in out of pocket again and feel that scary, hopelessness of watching my parents savings go to pills. I cringe when I think how much of it has already gone to medical expenses. Too much.

But there’s no sense in fearing it, in having anxiety over it. It’s our livelihood we’re talking about. “What’s the alternative?” my mom asked as we were going over finances before my visit to the CFS clinic in Miami last year. “Sit around and suffer endlessly while holding onto our savings?” The truth is, we’ve been rich and we’ve been poor. We, like so many families, have felt the sting of the placid economy in the last two years. My mom and I are unable to work, so my step-dad has been the only one bringing in income. And his workload has been lower than he’d like, but you do what you can. Today, we’ve got a roof over our heads, food on the table, and we have our damned pills. So no stressing about when the money runs out. My dad told my mom never to worry about this sort of thing. That she and the kids would always be provided for. And so far, he’s been right.

I know this sounds like a sob story of a post, and I don’t want it to be confused with a cry for help or plea for sympathy. It simply is the reality of this illness and day-to-day life. There are so many people out there who don’t have a parent’s couch to crash on, who don’t have their parents to pay for medical needs, and are forced to work fulltime–through the pain, exhaustion, and ache of this, and most of the time it’s silently, because no one really gets it. Telling your boss or co-workers you have “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” doesn’t seem to go very far. Many times it worsens the pain from the sting of not being believed. When I told the owner of the gallery what I had, he suggested yoga, and I contemplated shooting myself. But once again, my point, is that you don’t have to be believed. Don’t make that your cause. They will or they won’t believe you. Only you can know what your battle consists of, and we live among so many who are fighting quiet battles of their own. We aren’t the only ones; far from it. You can only do you, and you can only do today. All I can tell you, like my mom tells me, is that there is so much research going on right now–More than there ever has been, and there is this tangible feeling of hope that comes to me at night sometimes that there is an end in sight. We will get there. So hang on.

Probably the rest of today will be like spent like this, in bed. Luckily I’m reading an incredibly good book (Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; if you’re couch or bed bound these days, or simply looking for a great read, I highly recommend it.) so I’ll have that to carry me. My migraine has finally subsided enough to where I should be able to read sentences and actually comprehend thoughts without wanting to vomit. His writing is incredible. It’s more than just a wonderfully told story, it feels like a literary education in itself. I underline all the words I don’t know in blue. I’m in love. Anyway, it’s time to rest some more. Which will be followed by more resting. And then possibly I’ll conjure up some energy and brush my teeth! May even get dressed! If I’m feeling really adventurous, I may even braid my hair! Nah, who am I kidding. I’m just going to read.

Health, Happiness, Bed Bound.

Speaking of Death, Let’s Talk Birth.

Before I begin about birth, I have to share quickly a dream I had the other night, after I wrote the post about death. As I laid down to sleep, I sent a little prayer to the universe. A prayer to help me not be afraid of death or the unknown. Since I happen to know a lot of people on “the other side” I asked them to show me, give me a little hint of what dying was like, in hopes it would calm my fear about it. I fantasized about having a dream in which my dad took me through the stages of death and we ended up at the end, at the gates, where all I felt was love and happiness and I most defnitely did not feel pain or sorrow, and I would wake up reassured. Maybe he’d show me what it looked like. Maybe he’d even tell me how I’d go. And in my morbid little mind, that would be a fun dream. After dying so many ways in my dreams for years, I’ve become somewhat desensitized on the matter. Well that and experiencing death at such proximity at the age of 12. What I’m getting to, however, is that I did not have a dream like this. In fact, I hardly remembered any of my dreams from the night before, which for me is unusual. But there was one dream–if you can even call it that. It was more like a very short “scene” I was in. I was crouched down under some flat rocks. I don’t remember being alone but I don’t remember who accompanied me. Above us, over the flat rocks, was a stampede of rhinoceroses, running full force and I could hear the pitter patter of their feet and watched as little tiny rocks spilled into the hole in which I was huddled in. That’s it. I remember knowing in the dream that this was my answer from the other side, and sort of chuckling about it. I’ve never heard anyone relate death or the afterlife to a rhinoceros stampede, but the subconscious works in symbols, not plots. So I’ll have to get my mom to help analyze this one. It was still fun to at least feel like someone or something had heard that prayer I sent. Ask and you shall receive.

But enough about death for now. Today wasn’t filled with thoughts about death and the end and the sometimes mentally paralyzing mystery of life. Today, I thought about life and beginnings. Last night, I had a dream that my brother Nick sent me a text message which read “It’s miraculous. It’s real.” Somehow in the dream I knew that he meant his wife was going into labor. When my eyes opened this morning around 9:30 to yet another killer migraine, I picked up my phone to see a text message from Nick. “Estee’s water broke.” I smiled with relief. Finally, she was going to be here, and I was going to be an aunt for the second time. No more talking about the baby in future tense, no more guessing who’d she look like and whether she’d have Estees genes and be on time or Nick’s genes and be late for everything. She was going to be here in physical form now. She was going to be her own governing self.

As much as death mystifies me, the process of conception, pregnancy, and labor mystify me just the same, if not more. I remember learning in anatomy class many of the things that have to go right in order to conceive and carry a child. Once hearing them, the idea of it all sounds impossible. And yet, we do it. It is natural somehow. Nick’s text message in my dream is just how I feel about all of it; that it’s miraculous.

Welcome to the World.

At 6:41 this evening, I received the first photo of her. 8.2 pounds. “Say hello to Olive Marie Gelpi,” it said. I stared and became a little lost in the photo. She has these big cheeks and beautiful hair and looks excessively calm. Something about a new life inspires even old souls; looking at the photo I felt this strong sensation that humans are the most capable creatures on the planet. Here Olive is only a few hours old, and already her path is being built. The energy is changing. I’m not even her parent, but here I am gazing at this photo and thinking of all the things she can do. I want to tell her that too–that she can do anything, Like some cliche high school year book signature. Dear Olive, Reach for your dreams! You can do anything! But these were the feelings popping up in me. Mostly I just feel happy she made it. 10 fingers and 10 toes as they say. Baby and mom doing well as they also say. The most beautiful part of today, is that a child was brought into the world first to two parents who want her and love her, unconditionally. Just for showing up, they love her. This is a good start. And then to two sets of grandparents who love her and will inevitably spoil the crap out of her and show her that she matters. And then to three aunts and two uncles who will tease her to toughen her and help raise her in every way we know how. If it takes a village to raise a child, I’d say she has a pretty good start. Today I’m not thinking about sickness and death. Today I’m thinking of human possibility and what we’re capable of. And it suddenly feels like a lot.

Happy Birthday Miss Olive Marie. I can’t wait to see who you are and what you will do.

Health, Happiness, Possibility.