This Is Still a Life

Oh hi world, I didn’t see you there. I haven’t seen you in weeks in fact! I’ve been in involuntary hibernation since Thanksgiving. Pardon me, I was knocked out.

This crash has been intense and I’ve been writing my way through like always, trying to understand it better. But this time I tried much harder to accept and approach it without the need to fix or change it. Without “fighting back.” I want to be clear that I’m not writing to answer the question of Why me? I’m not in that stage anymore. So I’ve tried to create a surrendered space to talk about it, where it’s regarded as part of the plan, where there’s no sense of unfairness or despair about it. It’s simply a fleeting, physical state that I’m meant to endure and examine closely among probably many other physical states I might encounter in my lifetime. I’ve tried to adjust my whole response to it, which has been more of a lack of response, or reaction, and more objective observation. Life between stimulus and response. Being sick and being OK with it, not attaching the personal, the story, the woe-is-me. I applied this approach to both my writing and my perception of the illness in real time, which has been interesting and challenging and often extremely helpful.

But I’ve sort of been a tortured artist with the writing–I keep editing and condensing and re-writing. I feel the angst that it’s never quite right, that there’s a concept just on the edge of being conveyed, like a mathematical equation I’m on the verge of solving. So I’ve once again ended up with 7000 words scattered across 3 notebooks, my iPhone, my computer, and one business card. Most of it has been exploring the same topic at different depths, and while some of it is good, I realized it’s just not meant for this space right now. Not to mention, my brain feels inside out lately–I’m a little fuzzy cognitively and I can’t gauge it. I’m either buzzing or stunted. But I’ve continued trying to make my words achieve what I feel inside and what I want to convey, staying very conscious about my intentions,  which are that I don’t just want to write about being sick and my experiences simply because they’re true and they happened. I don’t want to start and stop at pain. I’m well aware of the danger in that. So I’ve been tinkering with these concepts, some of them seemingly contradictory: diving in deep into the experience where I can feel it completely, while also regarding it from a distance where I can see it inside of a larger context–which keeps the illness right-sized. I can recognize it as a part, and not a whole. I’ve gotten pretty close to finishing it, I think. But it’s been arduous and probably redundant and my mind is still spinning, even as I write this now.

Anyway,  I’m going to start from scratch today and try to relax about the outcome. A good friend said not to worry about lengthiness, just to keep writing and trust that if people don’t want to read it, they won’t. That’s so true, duh. Thank you friend, I’m just going to write some broad things out, and whether good or bad, hopefully open up some space in mind for some fun topics, like my exploration of Hallmark and Lifetime Made-For-TV Holiday movies, and also a note about my 12-foot real Christmas tree that refuses to drink water. But it lives on!! Tiny miracles.

My health was already on pretty shaky ground leading up to the Holiday. Thanksgiving  Day was great, ate good food and had some fun reunions with old friends, but it was long and cumbersome. I could feel myself subtly hitting physical limits along the way, but I pushed on anyway. (I include the socializing that happens as part of the exertional strain, even though it’s enjoyable, it always costs me something physically the next day.) It was a Holiday after all, and I could sleep it off tomorrow, I thought. Unfortunately, I was flattened–handed over fully to the illness overnight while I slept. I woke up to the dreary and unfamiliar light of 3:30 pm pouring into my room on Friday. It disoriented me further as I felt an overwhelming weakness blanketing every part of my body, down to my fingertips. I laid there an hour before making a move, and once I did I felt keenly the severity of my condition. Moving was not easy and wouldn’t be for a while. I knew this wouldn’t be something that I could sleep off in a day or two. Shit.

Since then, I’ve been on a roller coaster of physical states, mostly at the mercy of this crash, and life here at the farm has been chaos. For a few weeks I’ve been enduring a symptom I find the hardest to cope with–bone crushing weakness. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, this one challenges me way more than the others. It leaves me the most powerless. There’s nothing to do for this symptom. When it has you, it has you. Its’ demands come in this perverted form of requiring that you do nothing–which is basically the reverse of our instinct in response to a ‘problem.’ It requires that you lay still, it means you’ll need a lot of extra help for things you’d normally do yourself and never think twice about. It means playing the waiting game and not knowing how long you’ll play it, without allowing impatience or succumbing to anger or despair while living through the thick of it. (Those reactions only makes me weaker.) There aren’t pills for weakness like this, not exercise regimens or quick fix solutions. There’s a lot of being stationary, quiet, often remaining in one place or one room for a solid chunk of time. Sometimes it’s a messy room, and you have to let that go. You have to let the dishes go. Truthfully, the whole thing is a crap ton of letting go. You have to achieve cleanliness mentally, because there ain’t no way you can vacuum right now. It means putting off the long list of things you’d thought you’d do, and finding ways to achieve a surrendered state of mind despite the external world around you appearing to unravel at nearly every seam. It touches everything, seeps into every corner, means nearly anything that isn’t necessary in the moment must be put on hold or go in the ‘burn pile’. You have to find a way to remember that despite all the can’ts and don’ts and no’s, somehow you still have everything you need in the moment you think to ask.

The only times I get overwhelmed is when I try to conceive everything at once, or I think of the future, as proximal as the one five minutes away. And the root of this is fear mostly, fear of ways the illness will hinder the things I have to do. Yet the future always comes and I always survive it, the essential is always achieved one way or the other. The non-essentials fade and soon you hardly notice they’re gone. When I stay extremely mindful of right now, tending to exactly and only the task right in front of me, I truly feel fine. I feel positive and at ease instead of buried, powerless. I think, all I have to do is drink this glass of water. I don’t even have to consider what will come after. It will come and go despite my concern. That’s where my navigation of this crash has felt like a small miracle. Maybe for the first time, my spirit has succeeded and carried me through the really difficult times. I’ve often been able to observe what’s happening to me at a distance, without becoming crushed by what I see. Or angry at how I feel. I feel really crappy, really weak, and so I find a good reason to be really weak today. They exist! They just require an adjusted perspective. In this way I’ve had the crash more than it has had me, and that has made a huge difference.

To whom or what do I owe this miraculous capability? Well for one thing, my mom. I should mention it’s not just my spirit that’s carried me, because it’s my mom who has physically carried me. She has tended to my needs when I’ve been incapable. Not to mention that she has a prayer chain halfway around the world dedicated my wellbeing. Just knowing so many people have dedicated even a moment toward healing intentions and thoughts for me is both humbling and energizing. It makes me feel hopeful, and that hope gives way to optimism, grace, surrender..they’re all there, and this situation constantly brings to light the choice I have in how I’m going to receive my circumstances. Whether or not I will accept and recognize all the treasures that lie beneath the hard stuff on the surface.

I believe there are always incredible gifts waiting at the heart of our struggles–and this time I was able to find them at clutch times. They don’t come from me, but somewhere else more eternal. I suppose the gifts materialize when we open ourselves enough to receive them– to the vulnerability that comes with accepting help in the first place. Our silly human egos could easily interpret the reality as I’m not enough. I should be able to do this alone. Blah blah blah. But to simply acknowledge the truth that yeah, I could really use some help right now if I’m able to emerge through this in one piece, the disappointment of need or felt inadequacy melts and grows into a ginormous humbling gratitude in acknowledging that I have help at all. What a reassuring reminder to know that I don’t have to do this alone. So why would I? I have help! It’s sortof like staying in a miserable marriage for 20 years all so you can say with pride that you’ve been married for 20 years. It may momentarily impress people, but you’re the one who has to share a life and go to bed every night with a person you may not even love or like! Sometimes we go after things because we like the sound of them, or the image they create. But the real meat of life is on the inside, in the everydayness of how we live. Not a 20 year anniversary, but how you love and treat someone through the mundane parts of life together. Talking about dentist appointments or discussing an article in the newspaper–how did you speak to one another? Not that you beat or survived illness, but how you treated it day to day and through the challenging times, how you treated those around you, and what you made out of your experience. Make it count? Or just get through it so it you could quickly forget and attach to something else. I don’t know. I’m rambling again.

The realization of some of these things  makes me smile and cry at the same time. I am so encouraged and fulfilled by all the love and help I’ve received, and it’s come in so many different forms, all of them special. I’ve had incredibly healing and inspiring conversations with people I’m very close to, and each one of those talks builds me up higher than before. What a hushed relief surrender is–and a gateway emotion at that. It opens the door to a surge of mindfulness that illuminates grace, friendship, love, thankfulness, all the good in my life that I’m blinded to when I’m distracted fighting something I most likely can’t control.

It’s difficult to articulate, but sometimes I zoom out from my life, like a camera zooming out into space with earth at the center, becoming smaller and smaller. When I do, lately I see a small figurine of myself living inside the palm of two big porcelain hands cupped together, like that of a statue. I see that I’m being held, and in the image, I feel watched over and protected, both from a far off place and a space deep inside. What an amazing treasure it is, to reach out your hands in a time of real need, and to have someone/something grasp them on the other end. For the most part, it’s my moms hands which have reached back. It’s she who provides. Her help, love, and attentiveness is immeasurable. As equally as my spirit, she has done the labor of care that being sick this way requires. And it’s not an easy job, though she’d never let you know that.

No doubt this has been painful and overwhelming for her. She has said that seeing her child in pain is far worse than having it herself. I’m very aware of this, and it’s even more reason that I feel the need to voice out loud what has been burning true through all of this– That it’s all OK. I am OK. I’ve felt strangely at peace through the tough stuff, and I know it’s on account of her and other loved ones in my life who’ve given so much of themselves just to try and lighten the burden. I am continuously strengthened by these acts. I want to assure her, because I feel it in my weak little bones, that this is all leading up to somewhere great. I’m certain that I am just where I am supposed to be. I don’t feel like any of this is random or cruel, but that it’s the work I am meant to do right now, and I accept it with fullness and eagerness. I know there is greater reason and payoff that we can’t see yet. But knowing it’s there waiting helps to greet all these “stresses” with an assured openness. Getting there requires work, but it’s work that I’m capable of; important work that doesn’t require a physically fit body in order to happen. It will be beyond worthwhile, if we can only get through this moment. Then the next one and the next one.

And the good news is we can! I can, I have. And I will continue to. Her enormous and powerful love has helped put my inner self on a plain where I am capable of moving forward and growing from this. For that I owe her…well, everything. But I know the only payment she would want is the certainty that I’m not only OK, but that I’m happy and that I haven’t forgotten the novelty of what it is to be alive. And if you’re reading mom, I haven’t. I experienced  incredible moments, inspirtations, and laughter, often alone with Monty in my messy living room! This is it right now, and I’ve found immense joy in it anyway. Like you said, This is a life, too.

I know this doesn’t solve the many problems we have right now. There are so many other things that haven’t gotten the attention they need, important tasks that had to go un-done, financial burdens that we have to figure out. And most of this is on account of this all-encompassing illness that touches everyone around me, especially her. But I do feel that soon things will change for the better, that we’ll get help where we need it, we’ll complete everything that’s gone undone. I know one day we will smile with relief at the memory of trying, chaotic times like these, where everything was falling apart. And yet I know these are what will become the foundation for some amazing things to come. When they do, incredible things are going to start happening. I can feel it!

For now though, a breath. A glass of water. Rest. Feed the dog. Rest. Send a text. Pills. A breath. Rest. Small tiny moments. One foot in front of the other. I feel really weak today and I can’t do a lot physically, so I’m going to find a good reason to be weak today. Writing, reading, listening compassionately to someone. Photographing my dog because I love him so much I smile just watching him sleep. So many amazing things require so little of us physically. Navigating each moment with quiet consciousness, I know not that everything will be OK, but that it is OK now. And I revel at the momentary freedom in that. I’m grateful just to glimpse such a powerful truth. Today is heavy and rainy outside, there are dishes in my sink and I’m too weak to do them. But I’m listening to Christmas music, I’m admiring my ridiculously huge Christmas tree and the soft nostalgic light it casts on my living room. And I’m reassuring Monty who is staying unnaturally close to me (following me into the bathroom and squeezing between the toilet and the wall) because it’s thundering outside and for him this equals imminent threat of death. This is my life today, and many days, and I’m living anyway! I’m enjoying it. I like the rain. I like quiet days. I also like singing obnoxiously loud to Mariah Carry Christmas songs. Monty and I, we’re fine over here. A sick life, but still a life. Regardless of physical outcomes, All will be well. But even better, all is well now.

Thank you, all of you, who have kept my spirit so alive! What all of you have contributed in your own small ways matter immensely to me. I feel extremely connected to the world and am humbled by the love I’ve received. I’m excited for the ways I plan to pay it forward. 

Health, Happiness, and This Life, Too.

 

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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