You Can’t Unring the Bell

Short Story:
Fiction/Non-Fiction/Alternative Rock

I can tell you that indoors the weather is just fine. Perfect even. Outside though, it’s a soppy, dingy dish rag that sporadically drips into a mop bucket full of beetle-colored water. The yard a soupy mess. Rain becomes so droopy without wind to accompany it, so forgetful without the boom of thunder to remind the constant tick tock of water to slow or quicken or mix things up. No punctuation. No gusts or light shows. Despite the vertical, straight march of precipitation, a stillness encapsulates my little world into one whole thimble, and I find it hard to believe it’s not raining in China. Or somewhere across the world that apparently exists.

The flat, cheerless sky has hardly faded from two or three shades of a trendy-kitchen grey since morning to now, night. Almost night. The humanity!  Do you know what unchanging, murky tones can do to a life like mine! But the sky isn’t listening. It doesn’t want to fight. Or talk right now. It’s too busy emptying a stream of many forms of consciousness, of prayer and disruption and quiet and mirrors, most of all, so we can see. So we can see each other, the sky finally relents. I wore her down. So we can see what we’re doing to one another, and this aquatic ritual to restore balance, maybe it might help us look. No dummy, not at yourself. (I had tried to find my reflection in a dim puddle, a reflective twin of its sky) At the others. At what your lack of looking has cost these “others.” I forget a mirror is a plane, a device, where I can see other things besides myself. Other, dare I say, dimensions?! I dare not say. Not because I don’t love a good dare, but because I didn’t look. I don’t look yet. I know that once I look, I won’t be able to un-see. Once I know, the bell will be rung. You can’t squeeze the toothpaste back in the tube. So I continue not to look and my ego agrees with this decision, but my innards do not. 

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Monty, the dog, he never even hesitated whether to look. He’s the reason I’m outside at all. He’d seen all along and it wouldn’t take a smoky sky and day of dirty dishwater drizzling filled with absolutely stupid feelings of nostalgia about an ex-boyfriend who no longer exists on this plane, for Monty to even consider the choice to see. He would never even have dithered or delayed. Think of people who are kind but who don’t have to try hard. They simply breathe and even their breath is kind. As opposed to those who put forth a lot of effort, noticeable effort, who are being good because they know it’s right to be good, but it doesn’t come easy to them. And they enjoy (prefer) a lot of accolade for it. I fear I can have this tendency too often. How else would I know this person exists, if he weren’t inside me somehow? Too different from Monty, from my dad, who never seemed to try so hard but had to saddle with the same choices we all do. They just didn’t grapple with what to do and they were happy when given the chance to do something kind and valuable. Me, I have to get all existential about doing the damn dishes. Eye roll. A person made of genuine good converses on the street, smiles when they see trash in the gutter, pick it up, and dispose of it while continuing their joke about where cows go on dates. To the moooooooovies. 

A person made of too much ego would first, never tell this joke. Secondly, they’re absolutely disgusted at the sight of this same trash. They pick it up with a crab face and a secret pride that they’ve braved touching and holding le garbage, even if they are carrying it eight inches away with an angry stiff arm like a strangers dirty underwear. Then they angrily stuff it in a can while interrupting their own story, but of course their own story is about why the youth are a disaster as well as weather, frogs and politics, don’t get him started, and throwing away this trash is just proof that a disaster is just what the world is. Unlike an earlier time when there was simple decency that just doesn’t exist anymore. I fear a lot about living like this latter person. I guess the most I can say is I’m trying, and my insides tell me Hey, that’s something. The result is the same, right? The trash finds its way to the proper receptacle, but one of those people is clearly sad about getting old. I want to get happier that older I become and the more I know, which is very little now. 

Watching Monty in those puddles makes me want to be good but keep quiet about it. Never have I seen even a moment of blurred consciousness in him. Or questionable kindness. Where is his ego? I wonder this as he splashes into a huge puddle and flecks of overjoyed water bullets burst out from under him and rise and fall, absorb into the earth. He saw every color reflected in that puddle, in every tiny droplet that exploded out from under the soft but protected pads of his feet, and still nothing but glee emits from his every move. How could he exist in such an effortless joy of Being? Did he forget to remember that we used to do this with someone else? Someone no longer around? How could he behold both truths and still be at such ease with the knowledge? That dog is roaring to go, bursting at the seams, to go anywhere—the mailbox—do anything, awake at all times, and yet he can count. He can remember. Still, every day is the best day of his life.

He knew about the way things once were. Who used to be here. How many days he has left, if you were to demand those kinds of numbers and answers from him. But once you knew, once you’d looked, as I was still certainly not doing, it would be absolutely silly, and stupid, not unlike the nostalgia over an ex-boyfriend, to calculate days left. To play the mental movie over and over of people gone and being wronged and things lost all along the way. The questions would hardly even compute, actually. Those kinds of calculations lose meaning in the way we interpret them—they lose their heaviness, their value, as does “losing” the people and things we love. Once you’ve looked, you would never use the word lost or lose. The whole metric changes. It would be like asking, “How much purple is in the sunset?” 

I close my eyes a moment and listen to the sky busied at her nearly impossible task, pouring love that has to consist of a main ingredient truth, and thus pain, because this is how we’ve decided to handle truth: insulting instead of informational. It pelts the glass at my window and the lights on inside seem to inhabit the living room as though someone were in there. But we’re outside, not looking, and the dog seeing it all. 

A sadness comes over me, knowing what the sky has to do. Wake all of us up, in a defiantly chosen, solid sleep with our fingers in our ears and our devices producing nature sounds. The pettiest of things distracting us even from idle, filler dinner conversation. If only zombies weren’t so trendy! Not looking. Not listening. Crossing the street anyway. And yet we curse her when we do harm to one another. Manipulate, kill, lie, take advantage. Deny a person their humanity. What do we do? Where do we look? Up. We look to the sky, angry, demanding answers to our violent curiosity: Why?How could you? This is why she offers the rain. And the rain offers a reflection. A way in. To see. Will any of us feel the fear stirring and jump anyway? Never go back to sleep again? Most of us only glimpse this possibility, and most of us won’t take the leap. It would mean never able to tell a lie again, not without knowing the untruth within us, and relying on ignorance is often very helpful. 

She has many tasks, and waking the unconscious from their dream, their million year-maze of thoughts, is no cakewalk, I can assume. She can only try to show us what’s already there, but ultimately the dreamer has to want to aim his sight higher, at least want to wade through the stickiness of his psyche and open even one eye and see, if not awaken altogether. So many are too afraid of what they’ll lose, and in this instant of stillness, space—the gap— I see that I am one of them. I harm myself, and others sometimes, then I ask the sky how it could be so cruel.

Some part of me that I don’t very much like, doesn’t want to know, no matter how much in a conscious manner I can claim to want all the answers with a ferocity I don’t come across much in myself. That part of me that’s always there, the gatekeeper that doesn’t know the difference between stories and reality, no doubt finds the option to see as an ultimately punitive experience. Think what is means, it whispers in my forehead, where a mental playground of emotions, mundane observations, good and bad assumptions, real and false interpretations of reality all flow in and out like a river, all water of the same source, indiscernible when it comes to water that matters and water that’s muddied and wrong. We can agree this makes him a pretty bad gatekeeper. It means that our choices may be all our own, and not the intricate plans of an angry sky. That there may mean no answer for pain and struggle, even if we might actually be able to harness value from it. A good reality wouldn’t require us suffering to see or act. The voice becomes entangled in a web of sounds and rushing water and it’s hard to make it out anymore. It’s just so easy to hear the rain as a lullaby instead of some alarm. 

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I open my eyes and temporarily, the heaviness lifts. The tasks disappear. My to-do list seems strangely laughable. It melts as if held over a flame, the edges darkening and curling. Monty is still jumping in puddles of rain and mud. In the puddles, the flecks of flying water in various shapes, I see myself from the outside. I see just how many choices were mine that I’d somehow attributed to unfairness or plain chance. In my night terrors I know when I am dreaming but I can’t wake up, and I wonder if ever I’ll be able to use the power that’s been given to get myself out. But I only get glimpses. Things around me dissolve like they’ve spontaneously turned to fine sand and dropped as a choreographed fall to a bottomless ground.  Then they return in nearly the same moment. Reality becomes a solid. Things are regaining their importance. My to-do list resumes it’s urgency, reassembles in perfect form. The phone beeps at me, prying, crying for attention to matters of total inconsequence. What will you do, Mary? Pretend you never signed up for this stumbling of life? Ignore that moment you knew and signed the contract anyway? I chose to come here, some time ago. What am I doing crying about the end, an end I seemed to comprehend with that flick of my pen, but now feels like a puzzle that can easily turn pain worthless, and that’s the problem with forgetting. So the sky, she tried. 

Sleep. Wake up. Jump. See. The space, the still, calm waters in the back of my head, the reflection to the foreground of my consciousness, whispers that the leaves of the tallest tree rustling at me every night are in fact my dad saying hello, and it’s OK to sound crazy when you write that out loud. And the crumbled dead leaves shaped like hearts on the dirty ground, that when I came across as a kid made me smile and cry because I knew they were him reaching back at me. Little tiny reminders, all of them. They go far far back to a dream I cannot remember, nor do I have the words to get right.  The conscious waters splash and say it’s OK to take my time.  “But we could really use you. No pressure.” That place is the gap—the space between thoughts—just like Tolle taught. But the gap is low in numbers. Too many sleepers.  

The sky grumbles with thunder, like a disgruntled old man picking up a mess that isn’t his. The wind picks up. The drizzle elevates into a downpour and I sense the greatness of the sky, separate from my body and yet capable of removing its weight, able to reckon the things we always thought of as separate. Monty jumps in another puddle but I call him in, weary and limp-limbed, head pounding, words swirling in my forehead I still can’t make out. He trots, tail wagging, nearly a prance. He is so happy to be here; alive and at peace. The fact that he has never caused harm, that he wouldn’t know how to makes me feel like crying, which I feel pretty stupid about and so I cry some more. These thoughts do no good and worst of all lack total creativity. The gatekeeper fails. When will I believe the obvious whispers? The glimpses I catch. Something illuminates then leaves with barely any time to remember, and my memory of it is so far from the form it took while it was here. Like a dream there is no language for. But the clarity while you had it, stiff as the second you drive under a bridge in the rain and the quiet gets in. Then I lose the grip. 

I have not been there but peeked in on that place of truth just on the other side of this one. Wakefulness animates everything residing there. People tell jokes and look each other in the eye. All their brothers keeper. No devices in the way of our eyes. Egos can try, but when they get even close to too large they pop like a balloon. At the bottom level it sounds like popcorn at one minute 20 seconds. I cannot wait for the grand relief of being there again. Of having the courage to see and stay there. Falling asleep here and choosing the illuminated reality there, where nothing hides, nothing lies. The folly of all our burdens gone. The great weight lifted. 

*This “short story” or whatever it is probably belongs in the poetry section of this blog even though it’s far from poetry either, but I couldn’t figure out how to post there, so here it is. It’d been blinking at me on my screen for too long, so it was time to set it free like a dead persons ashes in the ocean. Sorry, morbid. Health and happiness :)

 

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The Reward and the Wake of ME/CFS Advocacy

Two weeks ago, my family came together for an advocacy event coordinated by incredible friends and family in our old hometown, Grand Junction Colorado. The function was a success and took a lot of hard work by people who cared and put in major time and heart behind the scenes. My sisters friends Avery and Jordana, Jordana’s dad Harry (awesome dad name) and my Uncle Mike who was under the impression that months earlier he’d retired (Nope!) Besides them many more came together, helped fund, offered services, and sponsored the event in order to make it happen. As for me, I sort of just had to show up.

Beyond friends and family that put in the effort to sort out logistics doing an incredible job, the article in our local paper impressed me majorly–not just with it’s advertising of the event, but by publishing a full page color spread, covering our families stories respectively and including a digestible narrative about the reality of MECFS and giving it a wider context. I felt happy and surprised to read this article right out of my humble hometown, when such a surprising amount of press from noteworthy and “big league” media can completely miss the mark.

The dense, nearly unbelievable history mixed with present political roadblocks and numerous scandals all under the M.E. umbrella make the disease particularly hard to write about and convey in one article without writing a novel. Not to mention the personal, human interest side of this, and the toll it takes on patients and families. Very few articles contain both, and many more are simply clumsy, neglecting essential facts or even accurate data. Due to our general lacking presence in the media, I know someone might think “Well any press is good press, right?” But I struggle with that adage. When you’re fighting a thirty year old false narrative, not all press is good. In fact it can easily be bad by perpetuating fallacies, inaccuracies or misconstrued data, and even celebrate studies (like the PACE Trial) or treatments which have done the MECFS community incalculable harm.

So I guess, no, not all of it’s good. Too often I’m excited to see press about MECFS only to be disappointed beginning just the title, which will call the disease “chronic fatigue” or in the first line, inaccurately label the number one symptom as tiredness. *facepalm* But I digress, I didn’t mean for this to get into the media missing the mark, or the missing media in general, because today is about advocacy. And when people with this disease, their caregivers and loved ones, researchers and doctors are out there fighting for it, none of them will get it wrong. All of them know the numbers, the history, the truth, and the unfortunate personal toll.

The event in Colorado was a success. And maybe I’m a romantic and would call it that if even 3 people showed up, because that’d be 3 more people who were aware of something that is so rarely seen, heard, talked about, or understood. But many more showed up, family and friends we hadn’t seen in decades, strangers too, all to learn about a disease on a Sunday night, when it would be so so so easy to stay home and just forget it. It’s hard to express the humility and gratitude you feel seeing people show up, tell you they’re thinking or praying for you or your family, or even a stranger offering his hope and encouragement for the future. It all meant a lot, really. So THANK YOU again and again.

After the screening of Unrest, the 3 of us (my mom sister and I) spoke and were followed by Linda Tenanbaum, the CEO of the Open Medicine Foundation and human firecracker, who infused hope back into the audience, who were probably mostly thinking Dang, this is a shitty situation. Shituation?  She closed out the night before it was on to the reception. The firecracker (Linda) is an amazing speaker and doer, and having her attend the event only amped it up. Getting filled in on the OMF’s work and most up to date findings was a truly optimistic breath of fresh air.

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The OMF is at the forefront of research and work purely off donations, as in every cent goes into the science. All participants–brilliant researchers, doctors, scientists and logistical coordinators work on their own dime. Why? Some of them have a child or loved one with this disease, others just a determination to find answers to something with so few. Due to the explicit lack of urgency in the government when it came to MECFS interest, when submitted applications for funding biomedical research were repeatedly turned down by the NIH, these guys got together and decided it was time to do the work themselves. And thanks to the generous donations of so many people, they’ve been able to achieve and find incredible things. There is still a lot to do and this kind of science will require a lot of GREEN. But hey, maybe the #MillionsMissing protestors out there today in the streets will help change studying a disease with public charity to adequate funding provided by the Agency whose job it is to fund.

When we attended another event much like this one in California in October, it took me roughly 30 days to recover. I know because I videotaped myself everyday for a month to track how each day went after we returned. It’s a long trip and these events, while incredible and worthwhile, take a toll. The socializing alone is just like physical exertion, and the event in GJ lasted roughly 6 hours. While I’ve recently undergone an upswing in my health, I watched my mom that night—speaking and catching up with many old friends. Sitting as much as possible, not having even one glass of wine or “playing with fire” by any stretch of the imagination. She played it safe and did what she could to pace herself. You’d never guess anything might be wrong by looking at a photo from that night.

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Yours truly, My Sister Amelie, Linda Tenanbaum, Mama Gelpi, and my Aunt Amy. You probably know her.

Yet at 6 AM the next morning, I woke up on the couch just in time to see her collapsing, my stepdad with his arms outstretched underneath hers, catching her as she slowly went down, muscles twitching and trying not to pass out. She’d woken with a crushing migraine and often if she doesn’t take her medicine in time, some epic vomiting is soon to follow. She’d taken the meds but sometimes the migraine wins and all you can do is endure it until it’s had its way with you. She’d run to the first bathroom feeling her mouth start to water and knowing what was to follow, but my brother had just moments earlier gone in to shower before his early fight home. (Way to go NICK)

So she was on a quick race to the bathroom on the other side of the house, but midway through started to black out, and was luckily caught by my stepdad from behind while her muscles seem to go limp and the room blurred in and out. I can’t remember what was said but I knew she was going to spew quickly and ran as fast as I could for a bowl. I made it back just in time, with a casserole dish, which isn’t the best of bowls to puke in if we’re getting technical, but hey, better than the carpet.

After a nice little vomit session on the floor, we both pulled her up to the chair where we put ice on her neck and wrapped her feet in heat packs to try to get the blood to flow downward. She sat with her eyes closed, as though she were concentrating hard on something. But when you’ve experienced that kind of pain, you know just what it looks like, and that was it. She waited and Marc sat nearby for anything she might need. After an hour she was finally able to walk back to the bed and eventually get back to sleep. So, that was her morning.

And from what? From doing what healthy people do all the time. Watching a movie, catching up with friends, eating, hanging out. This is what put her over her envelope. Watching her I just kept thinking about the invisibility of it all. That no one would guess the woman they were with last night was in the extremely painful and scary position she was in now. But this is the story MECFS and those who suffer with it live it all the time. You see us when we’re well enough to be seen. Otherwise most of the suffering goes on behind closed doors, and no one presumes otherwise.

Today is #MECFS Awareness Day, and thousands of people around the world are taking part in the #MillionsMissing protest thanks to MEAction and many more. I wish I were one of them but I just couldn’t make it happen. So I made my sign with shoes attached on behalf of the three of us in the family to represent. It was only a tweet, but it was the best I could do.

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I hope anyone reading this who participated in the #MillionsMissing event knows the immense gratitude and unity from millions of us who couldn’t physically be there. This kind of advocacy isn’t easy, particularly on those who have the disease. They will all pay for it in terms of their health in big and small ways. And yet it’s what must be done in order to make the invisible seen, give the silenced a voice, and the truth a solid platform on which to land. My gratitude runs so deep to all those who organized to make THIS happen, and you know as well as I do, it doesn’t end here. We’ll fight even if we’re left beat up until things change the way they’ve needed to for decades. Hang tough, all of you. The Gelpi’s are with you in spirit. Thank you for your bravery, for caring, and for risking your own health so that we might all have a chance at actual health in the future. Thank you, in every language ;)

Health, Happiness, In Solidarity–Happy May 12th

Restlessness, Unrest, Doin Your Best, Zombies

For nearly  a month now, I’ve been writing a blog that would normally take me a few 3-4 hours to write and a few days to edit, if I were in “regular” enough health and other things were ordinary. I catch myself in a strange predicament, so I’ve abandoned that last post, which may have been THE BEST THING YOU EVER READ because I can’t damn well get more than a paragraph written on a good day, and the editing has become arduous for numerous reasons outside the one I’m about to describe, but to the point where writing, my one constant among chaos has taken a further hit. And since I’ve learned, for me, writing a simple status of things in my own life is easier than trying to put some thesis about technology together (one day) I’ll just bring you up to speed, because I’m not sure how long it will be like this. 

If you read in my past blog, you saw I’ve been fighting some switcht that seemed to turn on a charged degree of restless body syndrome and skin crawling, which have been part of my symptoms for years. With a switch of pain medicine that didn’t seem to improve anything and cause the hugely uncomfortable side effect of skin crawling and an insatiable necessity to move my limbs ,Unfortunately, when we stopped the medicine and returned to the regular regimen, for some reason, the RLS (or restless body syndrome + skin crawling) did not, which turned up a conundrum. 

We’ve yet been unable to find out what “fliped the switch” that made these symptoms turn on with the cherry on top of skin crawling, and why stopping the med that seemingly caused it to start wouldn’t naturally cause it to turn off. If anything the symptom has stayed the same and many, many restless days and nights become worse, and well, hellish. Waking up to squirming legs and little charges running through your body with your skin crawling on top, Is Foldiers in your cup! Kidding, its awful. I think I’d prefer pain. And since the pain has continued, now I get both, yeah! But if i had to pick between the two, I’d choose pain. It’s discomfort is different from that of squirming limbs, electrical bolts and your skin feeling like the audio equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, if that makes any sense. Besides all that, for whatever reason, the medicine I’ve been taking for nearly a decade that has controlled the symptoms 90% of the time, seemed to just suddenly stop being effective. It’s as if this clinically same symptom is originating or set off by something else in the body, and that has rendered my old meds useless. 

Where I am lucky, is that we found a medication that has been effective in controlling these symptoms, which truly, at times, feel more tortuous than pain. Where I’m a little unfortunate is that the medicine which calms down the lightning/snow/hail storm going on inside me, is the same medicine I’ve been taking for sleep for the last 2.5 years. At night it has done me wonders, since for years, even with the help of a sleep aid, I rarely made it through a full night a of sleep, saw a lot of sunrises, and often had tangible nightmares and at times became trapped in night terrors. (NO fun) Luckily this RX has not only worked best for my quality of sleep out of all the meds I’ve tried in the last decade, but it also seemed to reduce my nightmares, or at least made me sleep so well, I don’t remember them, which is, you know, fine by me. The obvious problem is that when you’re taking a pill so incredibly effective at helping you sleep, but you’re now taking it at 10 AM…you’re going to run into some issues. Like, um, what’s that word? Functioning, that’s right, you’re going to have problems functioning in daylinght. But without the meds, life is even less functional with misery stirred in. I wish I could say I were stronger and I could do it without the meds, but believe me, when you feel like you’re being tickled from the inside of your skin and your legs wanna kick and squirm and flex outta control when you just want to sit or lay and some strange shock or charge is making its way from head to toe frequently, it’s just not doable. You’re fighting the whole day. 

So, I went from misery and fighting, to z o m b I f i e d and tired and unbalanced (pysically) because that’s some of the med’s effects, which I”ll add, are HUGELY more tolerable than life without them. But, taking a sleep med during daylight, as I’ve explained, is draining me. I move slower than before. My cognitive ability feels like it’s being run by a fat hamster with heart disease. I can feel the effects that I know are from the meds, but it takes just the thought of one morning in January to make the “pick your poison” choice easy.

At a bitterly coincidental time, I was told to ween off that pill by my doctor because the FDA had been coming down hard on physisicians and who they prescribe to and how many doctors are prescribing to one patient could compromise their license. Sweet. I’d have to wait to find another doctor to prescribe it before I could refill it (I’ll write more when I’m not so z o m b i f i e d)  I found myself stuck between a few pills left and a hard place. The only thing relieving me from the misery was this med, but because of new regulations, only certain doctors were allowed or were choosing to prescribe it out of caution. I was prescribed some other conventional prescriptions to control RLS (Miripex, Bacloven and others) which did nothing, and my Lyrica and then Gabapentin had for whatever reason ceased to worked. Now I was stuck. 

I tried to talk myself into the belief that slowly weening off the Central Nervous Depressant and changing to the Bacloven that I could rid myself of this new, annoying, persisting symptom if I just believed hard enough the new meds would. But by the time I had taken the last pill and it was all up to the bacloven, I went 1.5 days and did what I guess we could call, ” possibly acceptable” but not at all “controlled” on the symtome scale. The morning I woke when I knew the last of the weening med had left my body, I was in hell. Really. I thought if I couldn’t get rid of this feeling, which was the truly inescapable task of needing to crawl out of your skin and also throwing all your limps off, I could see how and why people ended it. I know, that sounds extremely dark, because it is. But when you’re in that much extreme discomfort, you finally see why people could have it in them to do something that seems so far away and impossible in your own world. I wasn’t in hell, I had help and luckily one doctor to prescribe a partial dose until my appointment with the neurologist. Saved. 

But that morning for those hours where I tried everything I could think of and could not find relief, I thought of the many who came before me and those now who experience similar symptoms to a much higher degree and do not have the safety net of their health systems or family to fight for them and find them relief of their pain or quell their discomfort. This letter from a past advocate, one I never knew until I read her letter, who experienced unspeakable greater pain and hell than I did, and lacked the help of her countries support of MECFS more or maybe as much as the US had me thinking how in fact fortunate I was. At the least, I had a family that would step in and demand or find a solution I wouldn’ve have been capable of myself.

Another thing stuck with me. When leaving one of my 14,000 doctors, one who is actually very good and informed particularly in the filed of dysnautonomia (a huge aspect of ME/CFS for most) he said something. “You need to be getting as ltitle medicine as possible from as few doctors as possible, otherwise, you and I will be flagged.” I felt such anger on that ride home. This is where so many MECFS patients are stuck. It’s suspicious of us to have too many doctors all prescribing different meds, and yet, there’s no one doctor for us to go….This disease multi-systemic, and most patients, if they can make it there, have at least 5 different doctors monitoring different parts of their malfucntionng bodies. How on earth would we break this puzzle without research and education to show these medical entities the truth about a disease it simply does not undestand, and who some are plainwright just choosing not to look at.

I always try to take as little of the meds as I can because I know they will wipe me, which would make a lot of people, then find a way to withstand it or another solution. We’ve tried magnesium, checked iron levels, yes I have lyme disease, I take multiple supplements and I’m pretty sure I can’t The Shape of Water-it and just live in a bathtub for eternity, so for the time, this is my limited option to escape the suffering of this strange, insidious symptom that we just can’t figure out. Last month I saw Dr. Klimas, (my hero!) who is running a whole scope of tests, and all our fingers are crossed that we may find answers.  Not everyday is spent zombified, but my mom recently told me she was worried because every time she came over I sounded like a zombie and not myself and I said “maybe that’s just cause you come over at zombie hour” and she said that couldn’t be ruled out. But we both knew.

So, I try to get rid of the guilt that there is so much more I could be doing but that I am held back by from the very medicine that makes life bearable, but that can also make it very a slow moving, zombie-esque and unproductive experience. We can only do what we can do. When you’re already fighting “fatigue” (a really shitty word to describe a symptom of a really shittily named “chronic fatigue syndrome”, hmmm) a med like this is like 4,000 cherries on top. I definitely believe that either my body will very slowly adjust from whatever through it out of whack in October, or that I actually will be able to ween from these meds and get back to the thing I love more often—writing, advocating, and creating. 

And by the way, check this out! If you live in Colorado, please come to this advocacy event; it’ll be a good time with a good cause. The Gelpi’s will be there, Grandma Bell (you’ll know soon enough) and lots of others. Not Monty, sorry to disappoint 90% of readers :(

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Read more here about the event. And read more HERE for the write-up on our stories in The Daily Sentinel. Thank you Anne Wright for the article and for everyone who has helped make this event possible, which has been many, but especially Jordanna, (her dad) and my Uncle Mike who thought he was retired. Haha, sucker! Love ya.

Health, Happiness, Keep On Zombie-ing On

Exshoes Me?

Someone explain to me why these shoes exist.

Why are they 400 dollars.

Why are they award winning.

Why is 300 dollars considered on sale. But they’re on sale you guys! SALE! 
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I’ve got a lot more writing to do, and mindfulness to be mindful of and reading of things that warrant being read. But all I can think about is these loud pom pom shoes (their words not mine.) I keep picturing if a clown/magician hybrid was at a birthday party and said “Hey, wanna see what kind of footwear I can produce, merely by farting?” THESE would be the shoes. And they’re not even that bad. In fact, they’re kind of funny. And I appreciate a sense of humor in fashion. Not to mention, in the marketplace of women’s footwear, (namebrand anyway) $400 is almost nothing, which is insane in its own right.

But these aren’t Louboutins or any of those other fancy hard-to-pronouce brands that warrant their price by brand alone and also merely sounding expensive. This is just the world we live in. Why can’t I get them out of my mind? That red color? They’re not that bad. Could I actually like these shoes? And then not like myself because I actually like these shoes? No. This is getting too existential and there are wars going on. This never happened.

BUT FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR CLOWN BUTT EXPLOSION SHOES? OK stopping. I’m now thinking it’s possible I might like the shoes. Also, I made this blog about shoes a long time ago with an oppressive amount of indoor time on my hands. I never released it into the wild because it’s not actually ready or done or whatever. But I guess now is as good a time as any. I’ll work on it. It’s called Is This A Shoe? Inspired by an ad for something that I think was supposed to be a shoe but I truly could not distinguish if this was something to wear on your foot or a childs toy from Ikea. (See second shoe from the bottom) Attributed also to the amount of inside time you have when you’re sick and in bed and have run out of cracks to stare at crawling along the ceiling. Click to see shoe blog. 

Oh yeah, and now some vastly more important matters before I go. Good God I should be ashamed of myself. This should be at the top. Anyway, pay attention:

Unrest the documentary is on Netflix, so you ain’t even gotta pay. Just watch it. You know you were just gonna watch The Office or Parks and Rec again, or feel sad that Stranger Things is over for a depressingly long time, so do yourself a favor and watch a really good, real life, movie. If you don’t have an account, email me, I’ll give you my password so you can watch.

SIGN/SHARE the petition. I abandoned it a while. It was a sickly and bad year, yada yada yada. Lots of excuses. But if I can advocate other’s work, why am I not advocating this one? It’s dumb, I’m dumb sometimes. So please, just know the petition is still UP AND RUNNING, and yesterday, we hit 44,000 signatures!! Still really, really incredible it’s acquired those kinds of numbers. All the more ways to DISRUPT and get the world to see. Power in numbers. Yada yada, you know all this. It would be really sweet to get to 50,000 by Spring, and then one million by summer, don’t ya think? Me too. I think we can do it. So let’s do it.

Until next time I come across something banal and obvious that I don’t understand…

Health, Happiness, Fight On

Apathy, Advocacy, Jumping In

I remember a conversation I had with my mom, roughly six years ago. It was not long after the Great Crash of 2011. I was slumped at a bar stool in my parents kitchen. I’d been crashed a while and not doing very well, physically or mentally. It was a grey, wet Winter, perfectly depressing, and I remember looking out our office window and thinking “I feel exactly like the weather.” I’d been caged up too long, among other side effects. Everything was a reminder of what I’d lost, what I believed the disease took. I knew I should be grateful I had somewhere to go, and I had people to take care of me at all. Not everyone has that, no doubt I was lucky. But I didn’t want help. That kind of surrender is never really easy, but when you’re in need, it’s really the only way to go. Resistance just ends up making you mean to the people who are trying to help you.

My mom was folding laundry, explaining to me the details of a promising new study going on, something involving the gut; I wouldn’t know because I was barely listening. She told me that I should follow the research and recommended I read a blog called Phoenix Rising, a veritable A-Z of everything MECFS. It might help me feel better if I at least understood more about the disease, on many levels.

But I could almost feel a visceral resistance to this idea. Ironically, I didn’t like reading books or blogs or stories about this disease. They only reinforced what I already knew, and they all ended the same—no one got better. I can remember holding back tears, angry tears I guess, that I didn’t want to read anything about this disease again unless it was an article touting that they found a cure.

They?

(Insert really awkward DC photo)

DC
So terrible.
6 years later, I found myself frozen in the doorway of room 129 in the Rayburn Building in Washington D.C. I was attending an event called “The Storm on Washington“–an event I felt a strong pull toward for a few months.

This room would be our “MECFS Command Center” throughout the long day–a place to commune in between meetings and rest, eat, talk, or collapse. (Really, there were beds) I hadn’t even entered and already I could feel the warmth of the room from so many bodies insides, at least 10 degrees hotter than the icy hallway. It was 9 am and a low, indecipherable murmur pervaded the room from multiple conversations–introductions and instructions and attempts to achieve order among a really huge, logistical effort. I stood there like a lost puppy, watching the quiet chaos unfold. I knew not one person. What the hell am I doing here?

Doctor
Meeting the MAN, Dr. Nahle
I was doing what I’d done many times before–jumping in without a clue. But I was among smart and determined people. The principal reason for being there was pretty easy anyway–to share my story, to try and humanize this disease and convey the experience with decision-makers. I’d told my story plenty of times before, I’d become pretty practiced.  That day 52 advocates would meet with over 70 congressional offices and representatives. A success in just making that happen, in my book.  (Thank you MEAction and SolveMECFS!)

It feels like there have been many beginnings to my entrance into the advocacy world. A place I never thought I’d enter, for reasons I’m still unsure of now. Bitterness maybe. Fear probably. I still feel like I’m hardly making a dent, but I am trying, finally. Bitterness, self-pity, doubt–all of those feelings depleted me, when I was already emptied of energy. They still come around. But finding small glimmers of faith that you might be where you’re supposed to be, even if the circumstances are crap, feel energizing. Any time I’ve come across hope, it’s like a flashlight turning on in a cave. It’s somehow always led me out, even if very slowly. But it usually means some kind of surrender; giving it a chance. I don’t write this as though finding purpose in a painful situation is easy. It’s not. Particularly chronic illness, which is long-term. It took a long time to figure out that I could still even have one, as I was. I still lose my way from time to time, and wait for a flashlight to flick on that I can follow.

I didn’t know when I published the petition last year that I was entering the world of they. Nor did I really know what I was doing then either, surprise surprise. I was following intuition and telling the truth, that’s it. But the same energy that brought me to DC encouraged me to write it. Call it the universe, or God, the collective unconscious, or soul–something outside the 5 senses was helping me out. I just sort of followed the scent.

Admittedly, I’m bad at campaigning. Gary Zukav says that when our soul and our intentions are lined up, the universe backs us in big ways. Maybe that’s what happened when it gained something like 20,000 signatures in a day. I was also lucky that my sister does know how to campaign, and my enormous family, circle of friends and other advocacy groups pitched in, all in huge ways, and now that petition has 42,000 signatures. When I wrote it I had my fingers crossed it would reach 1000.

Did 42,000 signatures fix the problem? No. But it did something else important. It connected me to so many people through the feedback page, where people can leave comments. People shared their personal stories, their loved ones stories, gratitude and words of encouragement. Total strangers said they’d pray for this effort. Every time I read one of those comments it made me want to work harder. It showed me how far-reaching and devastating this disease can be.

I thought had it bad? Talk about small potatoes. The petition did two things: 1. Showed me I could have it a lot worse, so easy on the self-pity, chief. 2. Stopped me from looking the other direction. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what we’re asking the government to stop doing now.

It was the petition that led me to connecting with an MECFS advocate online, who knew the D.C. Aide for Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana State Senator. I contacted him, which led me to a meeting with Cassidy’s number 2 guy and the Louisiana State Director, Brian McNabb. Meeting with McNabb for 2.5 hours, discussing everything MECFS was an incredible experience. Did it change anything? Maybe not. But it encouraged me big time. And in the end it scored me a meeting with Senator Cassidy. McNabb warned, it would be in between two events so it’d have to be quick, maybe 5 minutes. I said I’d take it.

So, I met Bill Cassidy in a parking lot on his walk to his car with a group of staffers surrounding us.

Cass
Parking Lot Office
I had to talk fast as he was late to his next meeting and his assistant kept saying “Sir, you’re very late, we need to go.” I spat all the vital things out as fast as I could. Knowing I didn’t have long, I left him with a folder where I’d printed out 25 pages of peoples comments and stories that they’s shared on the petition page. Did he read them? I’ll never know. But he looked me in the eye, he shook my hand, and he told me out loud “I really care about this issue.” I told him thank you, I couldn’t express how much we needed people to care. He said he wanted to continue the conversation when he had more time. We were being herded like cattle to his waiting car. A cynic might say he probably says that to everyone, but it didn’t matter. Here was one more person who had now at least heard of this disease and the issues, and also had some decision making power. His assistant who had hurried us both while listening to our conversation, started to get in her car, but stopped, got out, and gave me a hug first. Good stuff.

Later, my uncle who is a mutual friend of Representative Steve Scalise, had seen my “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song” on the petition page–a mostly embarrassing but celebratory song I wrote after hitting 40,000 signatures. He thought it was pretty funny, and asked if I was interested in a sit down

Scalise
Obligatory Photo, Thanks Mr. Scalise
with Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Representative and the Majority Whip. Umm, yes. So not long ago, my Uncle Paul and political mentor, Rep Steve Scalise and I all sat down for a while to talk MECFS. He was another kind and engaged listener. He asked good questions and was generous with his time. I told him my story, I attempted to tell the story of MECFS among my hiccuping brain, and Paul helped me convey some things when my words turned to spaghetti mid-sentence.

Would this meeting solve it? No, but it was one more person who now at least knew of the disease. Someone with decision making power. Count it.

It was exactly one week after that meeting that Scalise and others were shot in a baseball field in the middle of the morning. What?! I am as clumsy with thoughts as I am words when it comes to events like that. It’s so hard to understand, it happens way too often, and I still feel far away from it somehow. As cliche as is, I’m praying and sending healthy thoughts his direction and the others injured that day. How this all plays out in history, we can’t know yet. Maybe someone is reading this in the year 2045, and it will all make sense.

Why am I writing this now? Because I need the reminder, which is very obvious but I want in words anyway, which is just to try. A reminder of how much happier I feel when I go for it, even when I don’t know what I’m doing. A reminder that writing 15 versions of this one stupid blog post over the course of a month is mostly a waste of time. Just jump in. It’s not always complicated. It will never be perfect, but it’s almost irresponsible not to try at this point, and to keep trying, over and over.

I continue to walk the thin line between fighting for a cause I whole-heartedly believe in, and surrendering to circumstance and the things I can’t control. I’m always learning , that a sick life can be a good life too–and I hope can still become a person I can say I’m proud of in the end. It’s easy to cross over too far one way or another, but if I stop trying, I’m a gonner. Sometimes I fail. There are many (funny) stories where I blow it. But it feels so much better to get out there and blow it, then to act like a bitter teenager on the sidelines, thinking pain was never a part of the deal. This is the reminder; try. You always feel better when you do, so do.

Health, Happiness, Tryin

Fuel to the Fire

It’s been so long since I’ve typed at a computer, I think my typing speed may have dropped to under 60 WPM. Dangit. I should probably quit writing everything by hand in notebooks, if I want the words to appear anywhere else but in a stack on my bookshelf, that is. Also my handwriting is pretty indecipherable so I guess it makes sense to stick to the computer. It’s just that writing by hand has always felt easier, more accessible and immediate. There’s something more rousing about putting actual pen to page. I hesitate less. My ‘thinking’ mind turns quieter, and the space that must open in order for the good writing to come through stays that way, without distraction. Especially when I’m scratching away with a really great pen. Right now it’s a black Pilot G-2 07. Sounds like a damned air o’plane, and I’d even describe it as a “smooth glider.”. So, I guess I’ll just be transcribing from page to machine for a while. I need an intern. Any takers? I will pay in doughnuts. Why is doughnuts spelled like that?

This last month has been filled with a few major milestones. Most of them aren’t mine, but in the absence of personal excitement, the achievements of those in my inner circle are close enough–plus it’s something to tell other people. Like someone will say Whats new Mary? And instead of saying Um, nothing. I say Not much, but my childhood best friend had a baby! See how that works?

My childhood best friend had a baby. For real! It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it, not because she’s the first of my friends to start a family. But because we’ve just been friends for so long, since we were babies in fact. We still laugh at jokes from when we were five! Sometimes I feel so young around her–I guess the kid in me comes out. Now she has one! A beautiful, alert, amazing little daughter. It’s all very exciting. I’ve decided that I’d like her to call me “Ont Viv” (what Will called his aunt in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire) I find it fitting, and if she has half the sense of humor of her mom, she will appreciate the spirit of this name. Of course, just like a milestone birthday, this big thing happened, and yet it’s not that different. Kaitlin and I are still the laughing, weird, sister-friends we’ve always been, except now there is a tiny little girl sleeping in the corner while we talk. Funny how everything changes, but the middle stays the same. Welcome to the world Bernadette Jane! Love, Ont Viv.

My other best friend, Dr. Emils, got married a week later. I was a bridesmaid: score! A Southern girl and a guy from Amsterdam equaled a classic New Orleans wedding with a dash of Dutch. Nice. Two days of wedding festivities and a crawfish boil led up to the ceremony at sunset, on probably the best day of weather New Orleans has had all year. Everything was perfect and she made such a beaming, beautiful bride. It was a happy, lively experience to be a part of and filled with a lot of love. All topped off with a long second-line led by a classic Nola brass band singing all the greats, including When the Saints Go Marching In. Weddings are the best. No, New Orleans weddings are the best. If you ever get the chance, go! I’m really happy for my friend, mostly because I could tell how incredibly happy they were together.

I’m also the last single girl on the planet. Sweet.

Engaging in a two day wedding weekend is a rare chance for me to see old friends, to be around people my age, to have a reason to dress up–or get dressed at all, for that matter. It’s not often that I get to do things like this. Not often I get to be 32. My life consists of a lot of solitude, which I like, but it’s always nice to get a glimpse of life outside the farm. If anything I live more like a 90-year-old dog lady, so I try to soak up every moment of acting 32. It’s tricky too, because I know that participating in things like this are not without consequence. Acting my own age comes with a price tag, so every time I decide to do it, I’m making a silent agreement. No one really knows the gravity of decisions like this. Or what’s involved in just showing up, or how  I’ll pay for it all later. The choice is so much more encompassing than just deciding to attend a party. I swear I don’t write this out of some martyr, woe-is-me mentality. It just struck me as I was swiping through photos of the big day, which was a really fun day–that it makes perfect sense why so many people misunderstand the illness. They don’t know the weight and preparation and consequence of partaking in something normal, like being a bridesmaid in a wedding. How could they? All they see is this:

unnamed
I did.

They couldn’t know how much time and tedious planning went on beforehand, including scheduling when I would bathe, to ensure there’d be enough time for rest between that and the next event. They couldn’t feel the certain amount of pain you just have to bare through things like this. They don’t see the plethora of medicine necessary to endure standing and socializing and lasting through a night. And they’d probably never consider such things, like a bath, or socializing, as exertion in the first place–As something that counts against you in your fight to keep strain at an absolute minimum. And that is almost always the goal. It’s obnoxious even to me, as I write it now. The strange reality of living with this thing. The exhaustive necessities involved in even small things. You’re always calculating how much every little thing will cost you, always trying to save up if you’ve got somewhere to be. But what really struck me is that nobody sees what the pricetag actually looks like. That’s because the pricetag comes later. They don’t see the subsequent week or weeks of recovery that follows at home. Which can look a little like this…

waiting
Poor Monty

When I thought about the outward appearance of illness, the timeline of how it plays out, what I show to people when I’m out and what goes on at home–I realized not only how easy it would be to get the wrong idea about the disease, but also how I might play a part in misrepresenting its reality.

For one thing, I want to emphasize that the reason I am able to even show up and participate in a wedding is because I’m currently at a functional-enough level to pull it off. There is a spectrum to the disease, there is waxing and waning, and there have certainly been times throughout the last 6 years when I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter. Even so, being “functional-enough” still means tedious logistical preparation, and a two-week long crash as a result. So, I’m still miles from where I once was, or should be. But many others are bound to their homes, many are bound to their beds, and we are all suffering with the same disease. I realize that people may see me when I’m in public and just not “buy” that I could be sick. And I see why this misperception persists.

But I also think that often we assign too much power to labels, and we attach our personal version or image of what “sick” should look like, and those who don’t fit the bill are either doubted, ignored, or assumed sick “in their heads.” We should all consider the many forms that ‘sick’ takes, and acknowledge that even terminally or chronically sick people don’t look sick at all times. No one would’ve guessed my dad had cancer, and that guy was dying! Looks are deceiving, and this immediate tendency to mistrust what we don’t immediately see or understand results in a basic lack of humanity. I am probably at my most functional that I’ve been since 2012, but I still walk a very fine line. It can and does go south easily, and it still requires help from my parents, a lot of rest and recovery time, a ton of medicine and doctors, and a lot of supine time on my own. (With Monty) And I am a lucky one, for sure. I know that people who suffer with anxiety/depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, Lyme, MS, Lupus and other chronic diseases suffer with similar outer doubt and confusion because their illnesses are not always easily seen from the outside. Labels, symbols, projections; they’re all powerful things, and they’re something we should consider and adjust on the whole before we make up our minds about something we may know zilch about.

I think I feel the need to write about this because ever since I entered the world of MECFS advocacy last year, I came face-to-face with just how poorly understood the disease is, how much misinformation/pure fallacy is out there and dominating the conversation, and how many people are getting it wrong because of the name alone. (Another thing I understand, it’s a stupid stupid stupid name.) I also have to consider whether I am helping to change and fix these misperceptions or if I’m at all contributing to them; and if I am, what I can do to fix it. I thought a lot about that after the wedding while looking through such beautiful pictures from the day, from the confines of my bed, knowing I wouldn’t leave home for a while. I didn’t think critically about this before last year, but I’ve learned up-close how much these things matter. The problem of disbelief is so much larger than gossip or personal dramas. This is literally public opinion shaping policy. It’s allowing the lack of intervention on a disease affecting millions of our own and many millions more around the world. How long will we allow people to suffer? How long will we let the accountable people look the other way? The world is looking at us and our treatment of this disease, and we are totally blowing it.

As soon as we show serious interest, I know other countries will follow suit. I know we will also make important new discoveries and possible cures. For now, we are at a stalemate that is costing millions of lives and billions of dollars. It’s almost hard to believe it’s true or possible after so long. And yet, here we are…

In the last year there has been awesome and much needed support from the public. The many signatures on the petition was surprising and still continues to humble me. I should say, it was that petition with such a substantial amount of sigantures that scored me the local news spot, a meeting with the Louisiana State Director (whom I spoke with for more than two hours about mecfs) and the reason I had a follow-up with our Senator Bill Cassidy. There’s more on the horizon. I’ll write more of that later. But our fight to be recognized, pursued and funded for biomedical research has come closer than ever in the past year, and we have to keep up the momentum. To quote my mom, “The timing could not be worse.” Hah, she is right. Politically things are somewhat of a shit-storm right now, and the potential for a slashed NIH budget on the whole obviously doesn’t work in our favor. But with the recent diagnosis of my sister, the possibility of backtracking our earned success, I have a renewed fire to fight and faith in myself, the advocates, the public, and the system, and an unrelenting hope that we can and will fix this. The timing might be terrible, and yet the truth is, there’s no better time for change than right now.

There are so many people in the advocacy arena who are doing big things–as for me I will continue to campaign for awareness in all ways I can think of, and restart petitioning for signatures. But I think possibly the most powerful voice is that of the public– not from those who are sick, but from those simply who see the injustice that’s happening. That’s who we need to hear more from, and seeing the amount of healthy people who have signed the petition already restores my faith in people all over the world will come together and make this happen. Thank you all again. Here’s to the next 40,000…

Health, Happiness, Fire

Cheers To a Slowly Dying Christmas Tree and the Start of Something New

My Christmas tree is still up. We might start there..

Two Fun Facts. Even when your Christmas tree begins to shrivel and sadly die in the corner of your living room:
1. The decorative lights still emit that magical glow when turned on at night and you’d never know their was death lurking behind them.
2. It still smells like Christmas! Even while dying, that one of a kind sap-infused, woodsy, cinnamon smell still infuses the room from the corner where the tree sits, but looks more like it’s floating.

I still catch random whiffs of Christmas when walking by or while reading on the couch. It’s like the original air-freshener, and since the scent is so sporadic and only comes around once a year, like Girl Scout cookies, encountering it feels uniquely special. Like glimpsing a shooting star or seeing a bald eagle. Sometime its feels like a nice gift the tree is sending my way. I think, Hey thanks tree, you have a good day too! What I’m saying is, you begin to talk to things that are not human when you live alone, and that’s OK. It’s bound to happen. I think. I’ll ask Monty.

I tried deciding whether a Christmas tree still hanging around on January 22nd that also happens to be dying is depressing conceptually or not. I say conceptually because I can say from an actual standpoint, it most definitely is not. It still brings all the joy it did from day one. I am a Christmas enthusiast and my fervor has always extended to the art of holiday decor and the unmistakable enchantment of a Real Live Christmas Tree. Everything about them makes me happy. Until I start seeing them on the corner of peoples driveways laying on their side next to the trash can– what a tragically depressing image to encounter. Or it always was for me, growing up. I feel that keeping the tree around this long and seeing it to its final days, I’m squeezing every ounce of wander out of what Christmas trees have to offer. It’s like The Giving Tree! Except in this case at the end, we burn it in a large pile of leaves and miscellaneous dead foliage and branches out in the prairie. But I find this to be a far less sad ending to the tree than awaiting its demise on a driveway and being tossed in a trash truck full of rotting food and discarded junk. I wonder if it freshens up the smell of the garbage truck? Probably not. Anyway burning the tree returns it to where it came, and whether that works out scientifically or not, for me it feels like a much kinder fate. And symbolically more appropriate.

As for outsiders, seeing a dying Christmas tree still lit up in my living room might look like a lapse in civility or domestication on my part– some kind of improper etiquette. Like having dishes in the sink or a mess of a house when company shows up. It’s always a little shameful when people visit, especially unexpectedly, and your place isnt tidy. Somehow it feels like a reflection of you– whether clean or dirty, we’ve come to see dishes in the sink as a little pitiful and a perfectly sanitary house as the height of a life in order! But order doesn’t imply anything moral or productive. Then again, a really dirty house does start to make you wonder about the direction someones life is going. If you haven’t done laundry to dishes in over three months, it might be time to talk to someone. It’s funny how having a clean house gives us a sense of pride and sends the message of “I’ve got my shit together and things are great!” Somewhere deep down, don’t we all secretly wish our homes smelled faintly of Pier One Imports? THAT is a fresh, successful smell if there ever were one. Unfortunately you can’t detect what your own house smells like, you can’t discern your own smell, so you kindof just have to keep up with the cleaning, pray that your pheromones mix well with your dish soap and the wood of your cabinetry and whatever else is informing the air of your house, and hope for the best. Many houses I can think of from growing up have distinct smells to them, that are still there when I visit today. It always elicits memories of certain times way back when. Funny how just a smell can be so tightly tied to a person or experience. I can still remember the exact smell of my grandma baking homemade bread. It takes me right back to childhood, to punching down the raised dough in those huge seventies-colored bowls, and to that first piece warm out of the oven. Son of a nutcracker I am hungry now.

Anyway, I imagine somewhere in a book of manners and proper social behavior, there is a responsible cutoff date for the Christmas tree, and if yours is up past that date, forget it. You might as well quit your job and stop tying. For me I don’t have a real job so there’s a personal loophole–if in fact, Jan. 23rd is past the cutoff date for tossing out the tree. Anything after that is an obvious decay of domestication. Or maybe just poor manners.  Maybe I’m still in the clear because it’s still within 30 days of Christmas, and if I can still technically return a gift to Target, then I should be squared away with the tree. Either way, none of this actually matters and obviously you should keep your tree up as long as it makes you happy and does not accrue mold. Isn’t that how we justify killing them for the purpose of holiday decoration in the first place? By enjoying and appreciating their beauty and assorted pleasures for as long as possible, we sort of redeem cutting them down. Sort of. I don’t know, what is the environmentalist take on real Christmas trees? Is real or fake the greener choice? Probably fake, right? Let me check.

Well that was a hellstorm. I’ll save you some googling time and just say the conclusion to ten articles on this very subject is that the science is still out on conclusively naming one or the other as better (or worse) environmentally. Worth noting is that artificial trees are created using this special ingredient calling PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is not recyclable nor completely biodegradable. Also vinyl-chloride is listed as a human carcinogen. You have to use the artificial tree anywhere from 7-20 years (there are multiple conflicting studies)  in order to make it less harmful to the environment than using a real Christmas tree. Also at least 90% of real Christmas trees are farmed, which keeps the natural population healthily sustained. Hmm, one can emit hazardous fumes in too high a dose, and one provides magical Christmas dust that enlivens the senses and makes miracles. So I am biased clearly, but I still say down with artificial arbor. Go real. Go green. And inhale that magical smell until March if you want to.

Its funny, but even though Christmas is well over, I’m still recovering from the festivities I partook in. Some of it is my fault; I have a hard time doing what’s best for myself in terms of the illness, and doing what is fun and adventurous and happy in the moment. This disease is so insidious, it doesn’t let you know how much you’ll have to pay until you’ve already done the damage. Its like going swimming today, but not having to hold your breath until tomorrow. Say you swim in the ocean and get distracted by the tropical fish. You go under water following them around, and all the while you think “I haven’t been under that long, I’ll definitely be able to hold my breath this long tomorrow when the time comes.” You think that because you’re stupid and you didn’t learn your lesson from last time. The next day comes and you have to hold your breath for all the times you went under water, but on some of your sub-surface excursions, you were distracted by awesome sea life and stayed under like 3 minutes. Now you’re trying to hold your breath for three minute stints and you’re blue in the face and passing out and thinking, why did I go under the water. Why Mary WHY. So, that’s one way to explain it. Anyway, Christmas is happiness and this year it was a great one. Sometimes the dive is worth turning blue.

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I’ve had the feeling for a while now that 2017 is going to be a very special year. I can’t say how specifically, but I sense that big changes are in store. Important changes. Great changes. And that the start of something new and big has already begun its course. It’s only an intuition so what do I know. Maybe anything compared to the dismal 2016 will seem auspicious by default. But something tells me it will be more than that.

I never saw myself in the world of advocacy or politics, but tomorrow is the first day of a very important journey that I suppose will include both. It’s the first time I will meet with a politician to talk about me/cfs and address the funding issue, in person. I’m meeting with the Louisiana state director, Brian McNabb, who works in the office of Senator Bill Cassidy. I have no idea how the meeting will go. Of course, I have my talking points prepared and there is only so much my brain can store. My main is goal is to tell the truth and leave a lasting impact. In my imagination the scenario goes like this:

We start with some charming banter yada yada yada, he pours two glasses of whiskey, and as the ice clinks in our glasses I say “Look McNabb, we need $100 million from the NIH for this disease. Minimum. And we need it yesterday.” He thinks a moment, sips his drink img_6334and says “You know, after reading the riveting history of this disease, the outright neglect, and the heartbreaking stories of so many who’ve been devastated by it, I’d like to offer $200 million toward biomedical research. It’s actually the more appropriate and fair amount.” I walk over, raise my glass to toast to this proposal and say “Wonderful Brian. You’re doing a really incredible thing.” Clink!

“How soon will the funding come through to the NIH?” He thinks a moment, “I’ll have to get a few documents in order, but I’d say by tomorrow around 4. Does that sound alright?” I begin to put on my jacket to leave. “Sounds fine.” He opens the door, “I’ll let Mr. Collins know about the funding change. Anything else?” Walking out I hesitate, stop, then turn around. “Actually, I have these parking tickets in New Orleans I never paid-” “Ms. Gelpi! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not a genie I can’t just say ‘poof!’ and fix everything!” I blush from assuming something so stupid. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It was foolish to ask. Forgive me.” I turn my head away a little embarrassed. He nods affirmatively and ushers  me out. Before he closes the door I yell inside just to be sure “But we’re still on, $200 mil to the NIH tomorrow by 4? Right?” He already has a phone to his ear and looks distracted by some new matter. “Right. 200 mil. 4 o clock. G’bye now.” The door shuts and I turn to walk out, grabbing a handful of Worthers Original candies from the crystal bowl on the secretaries desk. She doesn’t mind. Outside it’s chilly as I walk to my car and my legs are already aching, but I don’t mind, it’s too happy an occasion. I arrive at my car and immediately notice a boot on the front tire because my meter expired while I was inside. There’s also a notice that says I have dozens of unpaid parking tickets and my car has been seized. I turn around and march back toward the tall marbly building. I dial my mom, walking up the steps. “Well?” she answers with anticipation. “Mom! I’ve got good and bad news, which would you like to hear first?”

The End

That sounds like a reasonable scenario, right? I’ve heard that’s how Washington works so, I’ll keep you posted. :)

Health, happiness, GREEN.

The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song. Hot Off the Street.

Since I have a large amount of free time, I started writing a song about ME/CFS. I called it “The Myalgic Encephalomyelitis But For Our Purposes the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song.” Slides right off the tongue right? I told myself if we hit 40,000 signatures, I’d post the song and lighten things up a bit. There’s not much humor in chronic disease talk or advocacy, but I think we could all use some. So, 40,000 signatures later..here we are. A few things.

But first, sign the danged petition. Did you sign it? Just sign it. Did you? Click on the link and type your name. Did you do that? OK, well then do it now. I’ll wait. Sign it. You’ve signed it now? Great! I don’t have to keep saying it? I’ll stop. Cool. OK but so just to be clear you signed it right?  Thank you. I love you. https://www.change.org/p/increase-research-funding-for-me-cfs

1. I don’t claim to know how to play guitar. I learned six chords on it a few years ago and can fumble through a few songs, most of them by Taylor Swift as her songs consist of the same four chords. I love it. Anyway this is why my song is only two chords. Sorry.

2. Monty makes some background noise now and then that I was too tired to edit out. He was chewing on some toy the whole time I played. Then in the middle of verse 3 decides he wants to play tug of war. He’s never had great timing, and we’re working on that.

3. This is more of a philosophical thought in general that I had while writing the song–maybe all diseases should come with their own jingle? That way tragic news might be a tad easier to take. Like “hey hey hey, you’ve got cancer in you brain!” Or “Looks like you’ve got a case of GOUT, hey! But we can fix that, no DOUBT, hey!” More creative lyrically, but you get the idea.

4. I’m sure someone will comment that I don’t look sick. Understandable, and truthfully I have improved from how I was last November when it was challenging just to walk. But looks are deceiving and they call this disease invisible for a reason. All those pill bottles behind me are my own, that I’ve been haphazardly saving for the last 9 months or so. I’m wearing my pajamas but threw on a bra and some lipstick– you know, to be professional.

5. This song is for anyone who is sick, including those with chronic illness, and especially ME/CFS. I hope it makes you laugh or smile, because I know that being sick is a weight you carry around all the time, and it’s heavy and intense to deal with daily. Sometimes you just have to step back and laugh. So let’s have some fun.

But make no mistake, this took work and has a specific goal. Rhyming with adrenal insufficiency is no easy task!  I crashed week after week just trying to record it (I know, and it’s still poor quality) but I wanted it to be decent enough to make the rounds, maybe inform some people, make others laugh, and perhaps land on the desk of someone who can help us. You never know if you never try. I’m ready to fight for this as long as it takes, sick or well. So until we get the adequate funding, prepare for more creative/ridiculous forms of advocacy, and please help spread the word. Yall have been a huge help, keep it goin! Thanks again, and enjoy :)

Health, Happiness, and Disease Jingles

What Makes An Illness Invisible? I do I do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, (In)Visible

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

Me Vs. Myself In My Own Campaign

I have to admit something that feels a little shameful, and since this blog seems to inspire little dignity in me and zero reverence I’ll go ahead and do it.

Lately I’ve felt a schism crack inside of me. I don’t know what it is, a Campaigner and a Skeptic. I’ve been advocating these last two months since I began the petition asking the NIH for an increase in funding for M.E. I can’t tell you how tired I am of just writing that sentence, and probably if you’ve kept up reading this, your eyes just glazed over. And then I feel bad about feeling exhausted by it. I believe deeply in the campaign and I want more than anything for it to do what it set out to, which is actually to change things in a quantifiable way. This whole thing has been fronted by social media, so I’ve spent hours posting it on every forum, every ME/CFS Facebook page, (of which it turns out there are like 4,000), tweeting to the same groups and other organizations I’d only just discovered,  and any and everyone involved in the CFS community, including celebrities who I’d read had the disease. This includes Sinead O’Connor and Olympic Soccer Athlete Michele Akers, but I didn’t hear back from either. I thought about singing a version of “Nothing Compares” to Sinead but rewriting it with lyrics that explained the issue and pleaded for higher funding. But I never did it. I head Glen Beck has ME, but I’m just not going there. I just…I can’t.

I did actually write a song, a two chord song on the guitar, so far titled “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” but we’ll get to that later. Similarly I’ve been sending emails to both friends and strangers, asking them to do something. But doing this day after day can start to feel..a little desperate. Sometimes I didn’t like myself. It feels like I’m asking all these people to do something for me, people I don’t even know. But I’ve had to constantly remind myself, when I start to feel like some kind of annoying car salesmen with poor boundaries, this isn’t really for me, but for something so much greater. It always has been. One look at the comments page of the petition and it’s so clear that we need help, and we’ve needed it for a long time. So if I’m gonna go for it, I need to go for it. STOP BEING A PANSY, in other words.

pansy
Pansies are quite beautiful it’s a shame they’re synonymous with WIMP

Despite many people and organizations reading my story for the first time, I find myself rolling my eyes at my own account. And I think God, what’s wrong with me? Where’s my pride for this fight? I have to remind myself that this has been a 30 year injustice that started before me, and I am just trying to help fix it. And then I find myself even struggling with that word. Is this really an injustice? And I realize when I ask that, it’s coming from a failure of perspective. The insecurity considering my own experience with this illness, and my sense of normal, which is inside out and backwards. Even though being sick has been the hardest battle of my life, I still look around at things and think “But I’m OK.” Sick or not, I can find ways to make it all work. I have so many people and so much love behind me that I know I’ll be OK. But there are 2 obvious flaws in that thinking. To begin with, when I really break it down, I think

Mary, you’re living in your parents pool house. You aren’t able to work anymore. Sometimes weeks go by without leaving the house or seeing anyone even close to your age. You live in a town you have no connection to except for the pharmacy and three doctors. You hang out with your parents A LOT. Last week your own mother washed your hair for you in the bath because you were too weak to do it. And showers, let’s not even talk about showers. The point isn’t that my life not being normal is the problem, it’s that I’ve become so accustomed to what the illness has done with my version of normal. I forget, this is actually kind of a huge mess that I’m just living out as best I can, one day at a time. I don’t plan things, I can’t keep them. Somewhere, I sense a clock is ticking. It can’t last this way for long, right? And if it does, would I be OK with a life like that?

So is this an injustice? Yes. Read everything that’s happened with this illness pertaining to the CDC, HHS, and the NIH over the last thirty years, and it would be hard to call it anything else. Just because I’m surviving and ‘OK’ doesn’t say anything about the millions who aren’t.

And that brings up the second flaw in my perspective: I am not nearly as sick as so many others who have this disease. There is a scale to the illness in terms of intensity. A portion can function partially, but it’s hard to call those who are at the other end of the scale “sick.” Their bodies are shutting down. Confined to one room, unable to talk or tolerate sound, eating through a tube. Would we call that living? So many people have been sick for decades, their husbands or wives gone because life with this disease hugely impacts relationships. Some can’t understand it or even really believe it. One woman told me her husband divorced her because, he said, “I can’t watch you slowly die anymore.” People, especially husbands, hate feeling like there’s nothing to do for it, no way to help. And at this point, that’s basically where we are. You’re lucky to find a doctor who knows much about it. All of this reminds me; sure, you can make lemonade out of lemons, but there is a far deeper issue at play here, and it’s been slowly building into what is now a health crisis. It’s like the equivalent of the Velvet Revolution- a calm, quiet crisis. It’s gone on gently behind the scenes, behind the noise of other major news, of more important health issues, diseases with names that don’t make a person stop and hesitate whether it’s “real” or not. So I have to remind myself, this is beyond lemonade, and this fight reaches for things far beyond me. This is for the thousands of people who are far and away worse than me, who can’t fight for the change that has long been needed. “Sick” is such an understated way to describe them. “Slowly dying” is more accurate, just like the woman said.

So, I need to stop feeling apologetic for fighting for this change. Yeah, it’s probably annoying on Facebook News Feeds, but I’ve seen my share of weird engagement albums of couples in urban settings, and political rants and pictures of peoples lives that are awesome that make me feel incredibly small and boring. So, I guess it’s OK to annoy with a petition for a while. It doesn’t mean I have to become a full-time advocate, but I need to see this thing through to the end, and getting petition signatures is really only phase 1. I need to participate (at least virtually) in the protests this week, because it matters to me, and I don’t know why I feel like I should keep it a secret that it does. The real work might just be beginning–getting the big dogs on the phone, and in person, and making the case. I will say, I feel more far more confident reaching out to these people with 33,000 signatures behind the request. Printed out, that’s over 1,500 hundred pages of names. That’s impact! And that’s what I was looking for. So Thank You, all of you. A petition doesn’t work unless the people sign. The next phase will be interesting and could take a while. But, as always, I will keep you posted.

I see big change up ahead. Monty too.

Health, Happiness, Justice

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”            -The man, Barack