The Day After…

I am laying on my couch with an ice pack on my head, going through a mental checklist of things I need to do. I need to take a bath. I need to do the dishes. I need to finish my proposal. I need to re-ignite the petition. I need to eat. I’m shaky and my heart keeps beating fast and I don’t have an appetite. It’s interesting how hard it is to eat when you don’t have an appetite–just in the sense that like, you need food to survive and to maintain health and that sort of thing. I need something substantial like a sandwhuch, but that would involve going to the grocery store and HAHA, that’s funny, not going to happen. I’ll have one more almond thanks.

This day, my head, my house–all of it feels so dense with things to do that I either can’t do because my bode is broke or just have no idea where or how start. I probably need to sleep but I can’t, so I just picked up my phone and figured I might as well write these stupid thoughts down as I definitely do not do the things on my to-do list.

It’s a rough day physically but that was to be expected. We returned home from a trip to Salt Lake for my cousins wedding. I knew that I’d probably overdo it on the trip, but I so rarely get to see my family, sometimes you just have to live a little. But that means you’ll have to pay a little more, with money you don’t have. Don’t ask me how this metaphor ends because I really don’t know. Traveling home yesterday was another clusterf*ck of overwhelming noise and sounds and airport personnel yelling things and security guards barking orders and that strangely depressing wait in line without your shoes or belt–so vulnerable! Laptop out of the bag? Fine, fine, whatever you want. There is also the strange physical discomfort of flying– that pressure in your head, particularly taking off and landing, the loudness of the motor and that background, high-pitched white noise that makes everyone’s voice sound like it’s coming from a radio. It felt like my brain was swelling, and hey, maybe it was.

By the time we reached our gate for the first leg of the flight I was so cognitively overloaded I was holding back tears. Cry baby! I actually wasn’t sad, I mean I may have been sad to look at, but it seems now when I get cognitive overload that’s what happens. Tears. So.. that’s cool. Then we stopped in Las Vegas– now THAT is a soothing, nice quiet airport where you can really decompress. OK but seriously they should warn you when you get off the plane that all of your senses are about to explode and here are some free ear plugs and a helmet so you don’t die from… I don’t know, too many sounds? I can hear the coroner now say it in a British accent: “Twas death from too many sounds.” It felt like a few tiny deaths. We had time to eat in that airport and even be wallpaper in the food court was making me dizzy. It had diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts, which is very appropro for the destination but it all just felt like.. a lot. By the time we came home I wasn’t even tired– I was somehow a little wired but enjoyed some silence for a while before more Parks and Rec on Netflix. OK, this is getting boring.

The good news was how well well I felt for at least 3 days of the trip–and they were the important days, too. Of course, I take enough pills to knock out a linebacker, so that always helps keep me somewhat functional. But in general I’ve improved functionally since August, which was a hot disaster with a lot of time being useless in bed. About a month ago, I began taking an anti-viral (Valtrex) for HHV6, Cytelomegalovirus, and possibly a virus that hides in the dorsal root ganglion and can cause a lot of head and face pain. (I’ve basically had a headache for seven years and it spread to my face roughly three years ago. Woo Woo!) So far the pain isn’t noticeably different but I’m moving along with more ease and in the right direction. Yay. Maybe it was the mountain air. It actually snowed while we were there. It was a nice, balmy 93 here today :)

Maybe it was seeing a whole side of my family that I never get to see. And as much as I wish we saw each other more often, it really does make each visit we have together feel pretty special and end up epic in some funny, legacy-leaving way. Like that Christmas when my mom got mad at us for having a bonfire and said we were being reckless and stupid and someone was going to catch their clothes on fire. We laughed her off when she went inside, and then ten minutes later my brother-in-laws pants totally caught on fire. Pretty stupid to be waving the palm tree branches around as they rained down fiery leaves, but, also hilarious. My sister arranged for roughly 20 of us to stay in this ginormous house that I am convinced was used for a family of Sister Wives. There were just far too many weirdly placed exit doors with locks, too many odd rooms where it didn’t all make conventional sense. Hard to explain.

Anyway, all the love and laughter and piano playing actually energized me and I did better than expected. Major bonus: there was a piano in the house. Second major bonus: my brother Doug, professional jazz pianist and teacher, at your service. Add them together and you’ve got yourself a strange rendition of the song “What If God Was One of Us?” because apparently my brother Nick has really weird taste in music. Doug serenaded us intermittently with some improvisational  jazz, and like always, took requests. So of course, when everyone stumbled inside the house after the wedding, feeling nice and toasty from the matrimonial alcohol, it was only right that we all belted out “Piano Man” at probably an obnoxious volume, with some periodic hugs and a few sloppy cheersing of glasses. We toasted to the dead people and then played all the games they had downstairs, including ping pong, which I think I might actually be decent at. I’m not certain, I may have just played people who were really bad at ping pong. I do curse a lot when I play for some reason. Tisk tisk.

It felt good to be surrounded by people again, and experience the familiarity of so many people, and love and noise and general “togetherness”,  whatever that means. I just know it’s rare and fast and doesn’t happen very often, so I soaked it all up before returning to real-life, which is much quieter, and less cool. Waking up Monday was the first day my body said “OK no more though. Like really, I’m out.” And that was OK because there was nothing left on the agenda but to fly home which, was in fact the toughest part of the trip. (“First world problems” I know I know.) So now in the aftermath I lay like a pile of laundry, running through the things I need to do but will still most likely not get done. Dishes. No, eat first. But, no appetite. No real food. What a train wreck: get it together!

There is so much more to say but this is starting to feel like a bore and I still need to eat. How many times have I said that? Anyway, the search continues–how to be sick and alive in the loud, fast world– also how to let things go that you’re unable to do the moment you want to do them, without like, giving up on life. It’s only the day after, I guess the dishes can wait. They aren’t going anywhere.

Here’s a gem of a photo that my cousin Brittany took of at least most of us. It feels like an oddly accurate representation of us all. If anyone in the family doesn’t want to be on the blog…sorry…but you are. I was going to say I’d fix it, but we all know I wouldn’t fix it. I still haven’t eaten! I must eat. Can you spot me? I’m the idiot.

Health, Happiness, Recovery

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Duck Sauce

Congrats Ryan and Wendy! We love ya.

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Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

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)

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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?

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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.

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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

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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:

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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…

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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

Tension of the Opposites

I often forget that my life is somewhat unconventional– That it requires further explanation to obvious meet-and-greet questions. I forget that answering the typical questions that arise with meeting someone new or catching up with someone old will often start a domino conversation effect that can go any number of ways. Sometimes it’s unintentionally critical questions, sometimes it’s the strangest of medical advice, and other times it’s this awful but easy-to-spot look that no matter what words they’re saying, it’s only the word doubt that’s written all over their face. Of course they’re not all this way, and sometimes when I let down my guard and am honest about my circumstances, it opens the door to friendships and closeness I would never have expected. There’s something about sharing a hardship (without being overly needy) and being heard openly, that evokes a certain trust between two people. It says I have seen the darkness too, and the space between them lessens.

There’s a whole spectrum of reactions, and even though I forget temporarily, for the most part I’ve grown used to and so prepare myself for the array of conversational tones and and twists and turns our exchange may take. It took a while but by now I can usually see where things are going fairly quickly and attempt to steer a conversation going nowhere either back to the other persons life or to an entirely new subject altogether. It’s for the best. Outside of the new and complicated, sometimes awkward anecdotes that come with simply talking to a person, my life feels very normal. On a personal, day-to-day level, I’ve grown used to the terms by which I live, and it’s usually when I share these terms with someone else, my large set of footnotes, that I remember how not normal my situation is. I long for the day when I can complain about my jerk boss, commiserate about the insane landlord of my apartment, (which in my fantasy always has big windows) and when my roommates are no longer my parents. No offense to them–they no doubt long for that day, too.

Living life with a chronic illness means a few things for me: It means being 32 and not working a real job. It means taking 25ish pills a day and still living under my parents wing. It means a lot of solitude and a lot of talking to the dog–probably more than to humans. It means I typically smell like BenGay or peppermint oil, and wear an ice pack on my head almost always. These things have aligned themselves under my own heading of conventional. They are my normal. But I forget that they’re not and require an often long, boring story that explains “my normal” that I’ve grown to cringe whenever I have to tell it. Reciting how and why you arrived at here and now, over and over and over out loud, you almost start to feel like a phony. I don’t know what it is, except that maybe after so long of recounting a story, one that could easily be labeled as unfortunate, in such a casual tone of voice that’s inarguably bored with itself, you begin to question how it is that you’re happy. How it is that you consider such ridiculous conditions as if they were commonplace and acceptable. You start to wonder why you aren’t more up in arms about the whole thing.

I don’t know when it became such a frequent place to end up, but lately I always find myself hanging in the tension between two opposites, struggling to find the fragile balance in the middle. Feeling bide between two of anything is usually unsettling at best, but can often (for me) be exhaustive torture. The two forces aren’t necessarily always polar opposites. Sometimes they’re merely dissimilar, but operate on the same plane. Think surrender and giving up. Gone unchecked, one can quietly ooze into the other, and suddenly you’re nowhere you ever meant to be. Sometimes they’re contradictory forces: maybe your heart wants something that the head doesn’t like. Other times it’s reconciling two truths at odds, choosing between two options and stuck in the messy mud of the middle. Since I consider myself pathologically plagued by indecisiveness, I seem to find myself living in this “tension between two” all the time. It’s trickled its way down from me flailing between two important choices, to agonizing over things as inconsequential as toothpaste. I’ve spent way too many hours of my life struggling in that aisle.

Currently, I find myself in the center of multiple conundrums, questions, opportunities, examinations.. Not all of them are quantifiable, and many of them seem to be ongoing or recurring. I lay in bed at night and the questions fly around the room like some kind of adult mobile made of cosmic curiosities and pitiful choices. Here’s an example of the things my brain has been tangled up with lately:

*How do I surrender to my circumstances and accept my reality without giving up on trying to make things better?

*How do I talk about being sick without getting caught up in my story?

*How do I write bearing the reader in mind without compromising authenticity?

*How do I maintain a sense of autonomy and identity knowing full well I am reliant on the help of others.

*How do I engage in advocacy that is proactive and realistic without losing myself and my worth in every day outcomes?

How do I satisfy this sweet craving without overdosing on gummy vitamins?

Welcome to what Carl Jung called “The Tension Between the Opposites.”

Jung taught that if you can withstand the tension between two opposites, if you can sustain the angst of being suspended in the middle for longer than what is typically comfortable, often possibilities and solutions will arise you wouldn’t have considered before. It can be an enlightening experience, but not easy, and often painful while in the thick of it. The waiting is tough. But if you can hold that tension, you’ll usually encounter what he referred to as ‘The Transcendent Third’. This new ‘third’ solution can involve both or neither of the two pieces you’re between, but in the wait, you can reach deeper into consciousness, and often that’s where the wisest answers can be found. “There will be two opposite approaches for solving it. Neither solution will be correct, but must undergo the tension that will result in a third approach.”

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“There will be two opposite approaches to solving a problem. Neither will be correct, but must undergo the tension that will result in a third approach.”

The world is so fast now. We rarely take the time to be still, to even allow a silence, mistaking it for boredom, or a space that must be filled. If you’d like to experience the discovery of the Transcendent Third, you have to answer the question that Lao Tzu posed on the matter: Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles? I’d say most of us don’t. Or we do but fail to realize it, living among a pace that’s fast and noisy and nearly impossible to keep up with.

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of surrender; something I continue to learn and accept almost every day it seems. Among everything that being sick has taught me, surrender seems to stand out the most. Difficult beyond words, but once allowed in, it can feel like you’ve been given a glimpse of the divine. It can be a beautiful thing, but for me, learning it didn’t come easily. Or all at once.

For years before 2011, my body spoke to me in a language called pain. Fatigue. It said slow down, stop, you’re not getting any better. And for years I downplayed, dismissed, and sometimes outright denied to myself that there was a real problem. As things were falling apart inside, I strived to hang on to all the attachments that the illness slowly started to take.  I thought as long as I could keep my job, it lessened somehow the reality of having a disease. It diminished it to an anecdote. I had it, but it didn’t have me. As such, surrender came in pieces. Determined as I was, I couldn’t bare the tension of working, being sick and trying to get better. Convincing myself I could multi-task, I was actually just failing at three at once. Hah. Something had to give. I

will never forget that conversation in Andrews office, me holding back the tears as best as I could, saying I didn’t want to go. I had done my best, but my body just couldn’t take it anymore. Neither of us wanted me to worsen. We hugged and said that thing people say even when they know it’s not true. “I’ll see you again soon!”  Don’t worry, I told him. But he did look worried, something in his eyes. I punched my time card for the last time–yes the 100-year-old gallery still used time cards. On that drive home across the bridge to my parents house, I cried the whole way. I felt more lost and afraid than I ever had.

That was the end and the beginning. The next two years would be the hardest–the most brutal on every level. I resisted. Lied to myself. Conceived of ways I could return to the path I was on before getting sick. It felt like someone had sat on the remote control of my life and accidentally pressed the pause button. There was an incessant feeling that wherever I was, there was somewhere else I should be. Not this. Not here. I was sick when I should be well. In California when I should be home. At home on a weekday when I should be at work. I never had an inkling that Yep, this is right where I’m supposed to be. I thought if only I could survive this “wrinkle in time” I could resume the life I’d had before. Just like that. As if time moved in any direction but forward.

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Bye Old Life

I’ve had six years to adapt to the life I would feel proud to call my own again, but it certainly wasn’t  the one designed by my hand. I think the final straw that led to surrender was simply a matter of being too tired to fight. Somewhere after year 2, I let go of the last of my life plans–fed them into a shredder and watched as little paper ribbons emerged. Surrender. One part complete fear, one part total release. In hindsight it’s clear that the fear was mostly ego-driven. If I wasn’t designing my own outcomes, who or what was? And by the way, who could know the path I should take better than me? (Laughable now)  But the release had one up on the fear. It meant making room for the life that was waiting for me to finally begin. In fact I was the hindrance. I was the one sitting on the remote.

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My Life: Mid Rise Skinnies

After six years in the game, my life doesn’t feel foreign or as though it should be another way. It feels more like a perfectly worn-in pair of jeans. The ones where the denim is at that awesome level of soft and is tight and skinny in all the right places. I think jeans are one of the most personable clothing items. Have you ever tried someone else’s jeans on before? It feels like trying on clown pants. In the beginning, that’s what being home on a Tuesday at 2 pm felt like. Now that’s just business as usual.

I now struggle with the idea that if I surrender too much, if the circumstances of my life simply feel normal, I’ll become complacent. I’ll forget that it shouldn’t be this way. I’m not supposed to be sick all the time and spend vacations half conscious on the couch. But it’s become the norm. I don’t want to become so desensitized that a bookshelf filled entirely of my prescription bottles doesn’t shock me at all. And I don’t want to lose the fire in me to change the things we need to change, as a community that fought long and hard before I ever came around. I want to embrace and be happy where I am, but I want to be proactive. And so I’m trying to find the balance between enjoying the present while also remembering that there’s an injustice at play here, something that needs fixing. And I know that I have to try and help fix it.

I could easily be the one too sick to fight, just like millions of others with MECFS are, but I’d have no doubt that the warriors in the community would continue to work until it’s done. The baton might change hands but the balance remains. And just because I’ve tapped into joy and surrender and gratitude where I am, doesn’t change the fact that I am part of a community, one that has fought for this cause for decades. I owe it to them to do what I can. I am constantly seeking a way to advocate for what I know is right, but remain distant enough that my ego doesn’t get drawn in to the wrong efforts. It happens all too easily.

A very strange thing that might be hard to believe– I don’t actually love talking about being sick. Gasp. And I feel that I’m kind of terrible at the whole advocacy thing. Luckily online my awkwardness doesn’t shine through as much, but it’s still a struggle for me to solicit people to help, even though I believe 101% in the cause and am certain I’ll continue petitioning and fighting for it until the deed is done. But how can that be?How can it be true that I don’t like talking about being sick and yet I have an entire blog devoted to very subject: “Life through the sick lens”?

I’ve toyed a lot with these opposing truths and tried to understand how I could want both. And I think the answer is somewhere near this: By speaking honestly about the experience, particularly the chronic illness experience, which I found to be largely misunderstood, and by foregoing the typical polite response or social etiquette and supplementing it instead with what is true, I open up a space for us to move closer together instead of further apart. By writing about a topic that can be very isolating, I’m attempting to give people a chance to understand, instead of blindsiding them with “Well I live in mismatched pjs and I haven’t showered for a week because I’m too weak to shampoo my own hair and oh, you’ll never understand!” (Runs out of coffee shop. Trips. Continues running.)

Contrary to what I hear people say all the time, the world is actually full of good people, and most of them aren’t trying to hurt you. 99% of the ones I know are exceptional, and they are sympathetic and helpful about my situation when given the chance to be. But you have to be willing to reach out, which means you have to expose a need, and sometimes that’s the hardest part of all. I only know if I keep too tight a lid on my own unusual experience, hellbent that the world will just never get it, I will most likely be right, but it won’t be the worlds fault.

So, life continues, seeking out the peace in the middle. Waiting patiently for the right answer to arise in so many scenarios. And holding the tension between opposites long enough to tap into something deeper and wiser than I ever could be. It’s not the easiest thing, but it sure beats pulling my hair out between Crest Multi Care and Colgate Total at midnight in Walgreens. The point is to be still and patient, wait for the mud to settle, and allow enough time for my own transcendent third to arise.

Health, Happiness, Settling Mud