Adjusting the Perspective on Pain

What is it about Winter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Perspective

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

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This Is Still a Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, and This Life, Too.

 

Under Water.

I need to spend more time under water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Thirty One.

How To Make It Matter

Today I was thinking about these petty things I struggle with. They’re a joke.

I’m in the midst of another virtual game of jenga with my trashcan. I stuff it as much as it can hold and then some, and then some. I have to stomp it down with my foot sometimes. I stack cups and cardboard things on top over and over until small towers emerge and a fragile city of trash balances on top. I avoid the alternative, which is to just take out the stupid trash, stupid. It’s a small walk–probably 45 seconds all in all. It’s funny how devastatingly huge the task becomes in my mind. I spend more time arranging the trash inside than just taking it out. 

Netflix has become a problem and the reason is very simple: I would always rather pay a dollar than have to go somewhere. Thus, I end up buying virtually every movie that was only supposed to be a buck. Also, I’ve made a few questionable decisions in my movie selections. This is because when someone gets in line behind me I kind of unravel. I begin to sweat and all the movie titles start to blur together. I panic and get Coneheads and naturally never return it. Now I own Coneheads.

 

I won’t get into correspondence and sending letters in the mail, but I definitely have a couple of letters in stamped envelopes over a year old that have never made it to the mailbox. Disgraceful. Anyway, I was considering these petty struggles which are just a few among many. Life is full of small and mediocre “things to do” that I often dread or put off until I can’t anymore. I realize that the only reasons these tasks are anything more than tasks is that my mind has labeled them bad, annoying, a pain in the ass. When really they are just a few things in a string of a million things we will all do and then cross off our list. They’re all the same, it’s only our attitude that redefines them. A Zen Master described the essence of Zen as Doing one thing at a time. Tolle explains this as “Being total in what you do, to give it your complete attention. This is surrendered action- empowered action.” So I’m working on what I let take up space in my mind, on being conscious before I complain about something that is necessary and also just not that bad–Especially when I pay attention to the world beyond me, where actual struggles exist.

Like many people, I’ve been watching the events unfold in countries that feel very far off to me. I realize my life is somewhat sheltered here, and when I confront the news I feel a distant hopelessness. I remember hearing about the 300 kidnapped Nigerian school girls taken in the night. I felt angry and sad and followed the story for a while. But exposure to the story faded, and it seems my regard for it did too. A few months later, 219 of the girls are still missing, with low probability for their return. I haven’t thought about them in a while. Now there are other tragedies unfolding. I see the destabilizing of Ukraine at the hand of Pootie Poots (what my brother calls Putin) and the rising emergence and activity of terrorist groups over there. I feel awful watching it. But also I feel removed from it. I watch the news then eat spaghetti. Something feels off about that. In a few months I’ll see new tragedies, and maybe Ukraine like the Nigerian girls will fade. Or the world will end. Either way, I wonder what someone like me and my small life can do for the darkness unfolding. How can I bring any sort of light there? Especially when I’m trying to carve out time to return a Netflix movie here? That is a joke.

I’m reminded of a continual theme in Tolle’s teachings, which is that separateness is an illusion. We are all made up of the same billion-year-old stardust. We operate under the “Same in-dwelling consciousness.” So while our bodies and geography separate us, our lives unfold to one pulse. I imagine this is why we feel concern when we see a stranger cry, or why we’re happy for the good fortune of another. Somewhere in the depth of our unconsciousness, we’re feeling it too. Otherwise, why would we care? Technically it’s just strangers, and their pain or death won’t interfere with our afternoon in any way. But these teachings that connect the human spirit have always resonated with me. Many of the “dark” things I’ve witnessed in my own life seem to stem from people not recognizing themselves in another. I’ve done this plenty. When witnessing the sufferings and tragedies over there, first I must remind myself that their sufferings are mine too. Whether their effects are immediate or obvious doesn’t change their imprint on us.

That being said, I am not a soldier. I can’t help fight the good fight. Today I’m too weak to take a shower for instance, so the military is out. I’m not a war correspondent or a politician who can influence change. I am who I am, having a small sickly experience here in Louisiana with my dog. But I refuse to think I’m useless in all this–mostly because that take on life truly lacks creativity. My life is different from those I witness, here and there. But I think the way to have any positive influence on the world is through growing my own consciousness. It sounds selfish but at the root it is not. It means being honest with myself and making good of the strengths I do have; they exist for a reason. It means loving more, showing more compassion, opening up more, writing more, seeking truth more. Tolle’s teaching along with Joseph Campbell’s and a slew of others is that if my life can become more conscious, it adds to the collective consciousness of the world. That is how we can make our experience matter. Because I have to remember that my experience is theirs too, just the same. So if I seek and obtain light in my life, it can spread far beyond me. I continue to think and pray about the darkness in the world and how I can help it. Most answers say to begin with inner-me. So that is the start. And it’s aligned with something I’ve felt for a while– that there is no life too small to matter.

The same stream of life
that runs through the world
runs through my veins

-Tagore

Health, Happiness, Coneheads

One Month and the Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn you, Laken
Damn you, Laken

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

Damn you again Laken
Damn you again Laken

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

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

Health, Happiness, Buzzing