Hangers On a Ledge 

I run these ideas through my head, trying to piece it together. I try to make sense of a history that began before me and most likely, I’ll never really be able to figure out. Whenever you’re trying to find where things went wrong and how you can make them right again, it can all feel too big, too long ago to find solutions that make sense now. But still, the red part inside of me that stirs as though it has a body that can do anything, tells me this is something we can fix. We can do better–those words, they play over and over.

I travel back in time, the early 80‘s I guess. That’s when it started showing up in different places and on unexpected people, and the powers at large weren’t able to connect the dots. It’s understandable of course–the thing is literally invisible. Maybe the lack of pressure, lack of genuine concern about the disease began there–at a moment in time where it couldn’t be ‘seen’ under microscopes and wasn’t ‘believed’ often by the people who were suddenly sick and then never better. Maybe it was that the thing wasn’t killing anybody. Nothing fatal. Just a flu. “A yuppie flu” they called it. Not only are the sufferers alive, but they don’t even look the part! They aren’t sick on the outside. And rearranging my position in all this, putting myself on the outside looking in at this “movement” of unexplained sick people, I understand how this notion worked against us–how it continues to today. I think of the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That may be true in many cases, but I can’t say it applies aptly here. Not in regards to our bodies anyway, which upon the slightest push can fall and not again get up.

What isn’t killing me is not making my body stronger. I am the least strong I’ve ever been. The medicine has caused weight gain that at times has me and my face looking like a bloated pumpkin. It’s hard not to feel at battle with the thing that is intrinsically connected to me, and between us exists a fine line of fighting it and not fighting it at the same time. The whole thing is an honors class in balance. Some days are better than others, and I wonder, am I stronger, or am I just less sick today? There remains a difference. But I’m probably focusing on the wrong area here. No doubt that in our minds, the adage applies. When every day is a battle, beginning with waking up, with sitting up in bed and planting your feet on the ground and taking those first few painful steps to the bathroom, and doing this day after day after day, for some of us years and decades, well then no doubt your mind will grow stronger. It can also grow cynical, it can become   bitter–but many times you’ll surprise yourself with the strength you find and the moments you find it in. If you can keep trying, if you can manage a smile and a laugh, to be happy for other people, to still believe in something good, then certainly you haven’t been killed, and the battle has made you stronger. But that is our mind. Or the soul maybe– An almost contradiction that is both a connected but separate faculty from the body. Refer to the ancient philosphers and you’ll find some disagreement on the subject. I think in either case, for the mind the body is only temporary. And this brings a relief to me. Whatever happens to me physically, I won’t be carrying it forever.

I think of all the others, sick like me, dreaming and hoping and feeling desires like the rest. It’s strange how our indignant heads are alive and full, swirling with ideas and goals just as though we had a body that could serve them all–make them all come to light. But at present time we don’t. So call us “alive” and say we “look well,” but know there is only a very small surface of which most the world sees. And the majority of life with this illness falls far below it, in a darkness underneath that very few see. Some can’t see it. Some don’t want to. Others just haven’t had the access.

It’s funny thinking about that word “alive.” Sure, we’re alive. But there’s an important difference between living and surviving. “Just getting by” physically, is hard to equate with living. And worlds away from thriving, which might be called a pretty commonly desired endgame. We, however, are hanging on by a thread, and it’s hard to call an existence like that “life” with any real conviction. It’s similar to hanging at the edge of a cliff and grasping it by one hand– would we really call that hiking?

That is the point where many ME/CFS patients are: hanging on with a half-steady grip, still breathing, still a beating heart inside, but stuck; Left with few options but, you know, to go on hanging there. It’s hard to have a social life or work a job or vacuum your living room when all of your mighty, tiny strength is being poured into hanging on to this cliff. It’s no wonder why so many people have it let go. There is just not enough hands at the top, not enough people offering help to pull you up, and no safety net at the bottom. And similarly, just as pulling a dangling body up off the edge of a cliff is a difficult but achievable task, a “problem” with more than one possible solution, curing the disease that has millions of people hanging by their own one or two threads is equally obtainable. It’s just to a larger degree. But it’s far from Impossible. And it would involve a few similar tactics: some people at the top, those say, for whom walking and standing is not a great feat, and who themselves are not also hanging off the edge of a cliff, combining their efforts and resources and intelligence and getting to work; finding a solution, in this case a cure.

Never having the experience of rescuing a person dangling off the side of a high-up something or other, I imagine that a rescue is within the realm of human capability. There are many ways to go about it, and maybe I’m being sort of dense here, but I’d venture it basically comes down to people lowering themselves to the ground, extending their arms to the dangling human, and with a great amount of strength pulling the person up until he’s back on his feet. And while maybe the tactic is basic, the act itself requires a solid effort. Lifting a person from this particular state is like trying to maneuver deadweight– Much easier to carry a body which is alive even if incapacitated, than one that’s dead and stiff. I’d like to emphasize that I’ve never hauled a dead body around but I’ve tended to my share of drunk friends who had 6 too many, and it would take 3 of us just to get the person, alive with a LOT to say about the world and true friendship, into a car. The very obvious point is, saving the person who’s still hanging there off the edge while I write this, is a very doable thing. And I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, or apples to bowling balls, but I believe with every part of me that this issue of solving or at least better managing this disease has never been on account of inability. This is something we can do, we’ve simply chosen not to based on some very obtuse, very lacking scattered pieces of information that cannot be labeled as facts.

Me, I can’t rescue the hangers on the ledge. Of course I can’t, I am one. But therein lies the kind of rescue I can provide. I can hang off the ledge next to you. Because there is something undeniably comforting in knowing that whatever struggle you find yourself facing, that you’re not in it alone, and that others are in the same boat. Or off the same ledge as it were. Like I mentioned, you can’t do a lot while devoting all your energy into grasping your spot on the mountain and not letting go. I can’t march in front of congress demanding to be seen, nor can I carry out the hundreds of other ideas I have that I think could make a difference, could help change the state of things in a positive and progressive way. But I can do a little. And thanks to modern times, maybe my little could turn into a lot. As I write this, I am laying down in a dim room in my moms bed. I have a frozen ice pack on my forehead and around my neck, with a hot pack at my feet under the covers to help draw away the blood from my head, which is throbbing like always. And yet I am still able to write, thank you very much Steve Jobs, on this rectangular dense brick otherwise known as my phone. It’s often hard to sit up comfortably with the computer in my lap and so being able to jot everything down from just a small device is kind of a miracle. Very often, while either FaceTiming with my niece or buying dog food from my phone that will be at my door tomorrow, I this is it-we’ve arrived at the future. And yet, I don’t even know how a calculator works.

The point is, healthy or functioning or bedridden or whatever, there are little things we can all do, in our own way, that can help change things. And yes I hear how corny that phrase played out. Recently I watched an interview with an author and Benedictine Nun named Sister Joan D. Chittister. She was really inspiring to watch. An author of over fifty books, she writes about about many topics including spirituality, women in the church, and social justice. She is clearly leaving an amazing footprint on the world through her written and continued community work and is firing up others to do the same. She said she is often asked by people “What can I do to help change things.. To fulfill humanity or to better the world?” Her answer is very stripped down. “Something.” And her brilliance was immediately illuminated in her acknowledgment that speaking up for a friend is as big as a March on Washington. “Just do something. Wherever you are with whatever you’ve got. When you see an injustice or see something that needs changing, do something. It doesn’t matter how small, just do something.” Of course this answer resonated with me. I often get discouraged about the state of things concerning the disease and the state of my life and all the change I wish I could make happen but physically I am unable to. But I forget that small changes, small acts can have huge impacts when carried out diligently. I have so many big ideas, big dreams that I hope to achieve one day. But I also have to remember that one day is now, and it’s probably better to focus on what I can do today, as I am and with the resources I have now. And I think putting in the work that might feel small, that isn’t NY Times worthy, doesn’t mean it lacks the chance to make a difference. There’s a feeling you get when you pour yourself into something you care about, that seems to carry out a mission from deep inside you, even if you don’t know what that is exactly. I get that feeling every time I sit (or lay) down to write. I may not know for a long time what the role of all this is or how it will play out in the larger context of things later on down the line. I just know it’s what I can do now. It’s my something, so I’ve got to keep at it.

It’s been a pretty sick and trying few weeks for me, and I feel often that accessible moment of how easy it would be to just throw in the towel, or to become hardened by the relentlessness of the experience, but I want to remind the other hangers on the edge out there to hold tight, because not only are there rare gifts to find within all this, things will change. They have already begun to. Today will become tomorrow. And one day soon enough, this will all be a memory of something that yes, didn’t kill us and made us stronger. Hang in there. Hang on. It is going to get better.

Health, Happiness, Cliffhangers 

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Love Letter To My Valentine

My love,

I’m well aware of your rare but genuine lack of sentimentality, and me addressing you on Valentines Day, one of those Holidays that makes all the whites of your eyes show when you roll them, is at least a little funny to me. I didn’t buy you one of those trinkets we often laugh at together. A “Blessed” keychain or one of those wooden picture frames with the non sequitur adjectives sketched in, meant to communicate love I guess. Love. Family. Hope. Frying Pan. Coffee Beans! Maybe we’re too young to be such skeptics. Maybe it’s our hiding ego, projecting superiority that we don’t need kitschy picture frames to allude to what’s real and shared inside of us. I’m in the card aisle at the pharmacy looking at a criminally large sized teddy bear holding a heart. It says I wuv you on it. It’s similarly tacky, but I consider purchasing it just for the laughs I know we’d have due to the scale alone; I actually don’t think I could carry it on my own. Then we’d feed it to Monty and watch him go straight for the eyes, as always, and fill the room with the cotton candy innards of a fifty dollar bear. But I hear your words play out in my mind “Don’t ever waste a dime on crap like that for me.”

I could lament about the commercialization of Valentines Day, but I think it’s all been said before, and I already know you’d agree. In fact I’d bet the farm you wouldn’t even bat an eye were the whole thing eradicated. You might not even notice! You’re funny. It’s not that you’re distracted, unaware. I’d suggest it’s the near extreme dedication to living a life of unwavering, powerful love, that is a fireworks display of a spectacle to watch. But for a lucky few, myself included, it’s a humbling miracle to be the recipient of. It sounds so dramatic to say, but I stand by that belief. It’s not hard to do. There have been plenty of reasons for your heart to have closed shop by now. To crack and break and crumble; call the whole thing off. And yet I’ve witnessed it come to the edge and never truly break. Instead I watch it explode like our day lilies in the spring, I watch it grow, astonished, in times that might normally make a person very small. And still yours expands, stretches, finds strength somewhere far in the depths and suits up for another day, knowing well the many things at stake when we agree to live a life. When we agree to love deeply. I don’t know exactly how one attains the capacity to love like this. I can only speak to the immense gifts of wisdom and friendship and compassion it has provided so many lucky ones, and me, knowing too well that ‘thank you’ isn’t large enough a phrase. I think how redeeming and salvational some of its outcomes have been. We’ve all experienced the pang of loneliness, and these last few years have shown me with unbridled truth just how far off and away we can feel, whether in a crowded room or a self-made island. Illness lends itself to its own kind of solitude, that can swallow you up whole if you aren’t prudent. Never have you let me drift too far down the rabbit hole. Sometimes sitting in a room with you, watching The Voice or Scandal or something I have no particular interest in, I feel wrapped in a sanctuary at the center of cupped hands, protected by the thick walls of a steadfast love that I know can never die. For two stoics like us, I can’t help but think ours is a Fairy Tale love, without an ending. We both know there won’t be one. Maybe I’ll submit it to Disney.

I keep thinking of this moment. A grey morning in December not long ago, I was more sick than usual. My central nervous system inflamed to a point that I could hardly tolerate sound or speak. My skin was buzzing, my hearing hurt, my thoughts and words felt and emerged mangled, and I couldn’t exactly articulate what was wrong. I felt like a shaken up liter of coke, hardened and about to fizz out everywhere, but there was no outlet. No where for the ‘fizz’ to go. My nerves felt inside out. When you came in the room, I tried to express what was happening but had trouble; honestly I hardly understood it myself. You didn’t look away, or demand answers or try to immediately “fix” the enigmatic pain I was in. You only said a couple words to me as you sat down on the couch and cupped your hand on the back of my head. “It’s going to be OK Mary,” and your voice cracked when you said it. My body felt as if it collapsed inside, calmed with this soundbite of peace, and the pressure slowly eased from that liter coke bottle. Tears came streaming down my face. I wasn’t that sad, truthfully. Certainly, all of this has been a trying time, for all of us, but there was a lot happening at once, my mind and body both being pulled and torn in different directions, and your very simple words allowed me the outlet. Permission. It’s pretty common for the tears to come when I feel so overwhelmed, overtaken physically. But it wasn’t your words exactly that moved me and conveyed your love with such depth. It was that your voice trembled when you said them. Just barely, and you’re not a crier, I know. I believed you, too, that it would be OK, but in that moment, you saw me. Accepting there was no quick answer here, no advice or platitude that could lift my heavy burden, you did the bravest and most beautiful thing a love can do: You sat down next to me, you put my hand in yours, and you shared what would normally just be my burden, my pain. You didn’t take the pain on, but you faced it with me. If only the world knew they didn’t need perfect words or answers to comfort and relieve us when we’re in the thick of pain. If only they knew that Love listens far more than it talks. A shoulder can mean more than a mouth. Love shares, it communes and confides. In joy and in pain. This is love. Our love. You helped carry the parts that I could not, and turned on its head what felt like momentary hell into saving grace. Just the memory of it strengthens me now.

This made me think of Nepo’s definition of Love. One I come to again and again, the most eloquent I’ve ever heard, and I often find myself reciting the words in my head: talking with friends, watching birds, kissing Monty. Somehow through your small action made with great braveness, your love materialized in a way I could not only feel inside with warm intensity, but could touch and see it, feel it in your hands. His definition for love is only this: Sudden Oneness. How perfect these two words capture what We shared that mangey morning. I warred with my same broken body, but I was also slipping into the outskirts of doubt and hopelessness; a place you know but helped lead me out of. His words so perfectly explain why when you love someone deeply and true, that when they cry you cry. When they’re happy you’re happy. Their joy is yours and vice versa. This is the beauty and brilliance of the oneness from love: lightening burdens and multiplying grateness. My tears continued but something about your unconditional nature made them begin to carry new truth in their waters. Hope, I think. Surrender. Reassurance.  But it was this small gesture that mattered most; allowing me as the mess I was, seeing and hearing me and not turning away or trying to quell it with empty phrases. I know how hard it must have been for you– the only other soul in that dark room, while mine laid strewn on the floor like a discarded garment. It’s not that you saved me, necessarily, but you saw me through the darkness. You stayed. So many fear that stillness of pain, enduring the murkiness of life when there aren’t easy answers to offer someone. You helped see me through it, bring my tired heart back into the light, ready to try once again. But first you let me die a little. Shed a skin I didn’t need anymore. Another testament to what brave love can do. Little deaths prevent big deaths. That was Nepo too.

It’s interesting, but when I recall this whole ‘event’ now, we seem to be alive inside a pocket of timelessness. There we are, the two of us, enduring what we did, frozen in an exchange that felt unearthly, and I can’t for the life of me feel or remember the passing of time. The moment is still alive. The lessons are wide awake, and they pour through so much of me: My fingers when I write. My soul when I’m discouraged. My intellect when my respect for the novelty of life drifts– I think of you and our moment and I know that there is meaning behind the pain, but it requires seeking. And luckily we don’t always have to do this alone. The Oneness that enveloped me, I think in fact may have been my first real glimpse of Forever. Or Eternity. Whatever the word for that otherwise incomprehensible concept is, for a fleeting moment I caught it, like a fast grab of a buzzing fly, followed by thick silence. In this excessively brief lapse in spacetime, I glimpsed the two of us–we were not just not apart, we were the same. We were one another. And the comfort was greater than a reunion you’d imagine would bring great joy. It comforted me. Humbled me. A powerful experience no doubt, but mostly mom I’m just plain grateful to know and learn from you this way. You’ve mastered a difficult and necessary art, and expressed and given it the way that you do, it’s something that will last far after you. And me. And my children too. Perhaps like Einsteins theory come to life one hundred years after the fact, that little ‘blip’ on a device recording an explosion a million years old, your love ripples will be felt long after you’ve gone. This is the miracle of true love. It’s so huge and yet it can be easy to miss. Like looking for mustard in the fridge tirelessly and finally coming upon it on the middle shelf in plain view, right in front of your eyes.

For me, this is incredible news! I half-knew already this was true. Losing and still knowing dad, our love somehow still growing, I knew it had to be real and not just the stuff of voodoo or fairytales. So I rest more assured now. One day you’ll die, and if life is good to us, it will be before me. But I don’t fear this occasion the way I once did. I know it will hard. The pain will be deep, as loss is not a one-way street. You lose more than a person, you miss a piece of who you were with that person. But like my clearly favorite Nepo says, Grief is a sign we loved them well. It’s in living this life, that when we give and receive love in its pure form like this, unconditionally, that it sustains and lives on. It works miracles! And it removes the sting and surprise of death, a thing we treat with pretty odd behavior in my opinion. But anyway, I can’t lie. I’ll be a mess. A sobbing heap on the floor. A shaken up bottle of coke. And where will I go? How will I recover? As I was taught of course–I’ll remember that moment of your bravery, to see your kid in pain once again and have to surrender; to be at peace with the mystery of these things. Just as you saw me through that, I learned that these moments actually do pass. That life does go on, the pain isn’t forever, and we wipe up our mess and keep going. I learned that because you lived through it with me, not because you sent a card with a bow that said “This too shall pass! Call if you need anything!” You are living love, in a beautiful form, and you are doing incredible work in the world because of it.

Perhaps by now it’s become apparent that I’m single. (Haha) But I can’t think of a more deserving Valentine, a bigger barer of gifts who never seeks out recognition or accolade for loving this well. You seem to perform the duties of love effortlessly, and I’m not only grateful to have you around and receive them, but I’m happy and feel lucky to learn what love is through you, how to give it and accept it from such a master as yourself. You’ve been through enough pain for 10 lifetimes, but I’ve never see you throw in the towel or give way to bitterness. Sure, you’re still a human being and a mother and you’ve made your mistakes. We all have. But you’ve never faltered on love and it seems to grow larger and more powerful in happy and hard times. Perhaps this is what the pain of experience does for us. I don’t know. I’m still learning. But watching your resilience and continued faith in life, in things bigger than you and me, in good things, in eternity, I know I’ll never stop seeking the answers. I’ll never stop trying to find the good, the value, the meaning in every kind of experience. Including the dark ones. Perhaps especially those. Thank you. For all you’ve done and continue to do. I don’t know how you’ve not collapsed yet of exhaustion, but maybe all that loving you do is an energizing force. It certainly is for me. Thank you. Keep going.

Oh yeah, Be Mine?

I love you.

Health, Happiness, Modern Romance

7caojdadi

P.S. I extend this letter to Marc, Doug, Nick, Amelie and their significant others for pitching in in all kinds of ways, helping carry me through the crap times, and loving me so well. You are all my angels. Thank you.

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/

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.

A Baby Was Born

I really didn’t think we were going to make it. Amelie’s due date was June 18, and my mom and I were scheduled to arrive on the 16th which, in hindsight, was cutting it rather close. She started having contractions on the 14th and by the next day I was convinced we’d never get in there in time. I prayed that he’d wait for us but it was pretty clear by then that the baby would arrive before we would.

Somehow, despite multiple airplane delays and three days of threatening labor, my mom and I arrive to California, pea still in the pod. He waited for us after all. We arrived late, and everyone was tired, mostly Amelie. As we all turn in for bed, I tell Amelie and Keegan to wake me up if anything happens during the night. I don’t want to miss a thing. I am weirdly excited getting into bed, the way you are on Christmas Eve as kid. I finally get to witness the miracle of life. Score.

Roughly 5 hours later, still very dark outside, I wake to Keegan whispering in a firm voice at my door. Mary. Mary! I am still half asleep, Wha? I mumble. Her water broke. We’re going to the hospital. Yes!! This is what I had waited for. I knew something would happen tonight! I dressed quickly but hesitate a moment about what to wear. Are jeans appropriate labor attire? In my peripheral I spot Amelie, walking ever so cautiously down the hallway toward the stairs. She’s in a bathrobe, moving like a ghost, groaning in pain. Are you OK? I ask, dumb question probably. Hurry, she says. We need to go. I quickly put her arm over my shoulder and we walk gently in unison, a conjoined ball of sisterhood floating down the stairs. Where’s Keegan? She asks. I assure her he’s coming. I lie, I have no idea where Keegan is, but I assume he didn’t run out on us.

We walk out onto the driveway, the tiniest bit of dawn peaking at the horizon. Amelie is barefoot. I help her into the front seat of Keegan’s man van. I climb in the back but notice there are car seats on both chairs. Obstacle! I wedge my large butt into the bigger one, which doesn’t really work, so I sit perched up on top of it with half of me hanging off the side. Just as she’s about to ask where Keegan is again, we both see him, a spectacle headed our way; Keegan, running out of the garage as the door descends on him, holding a giant blue rubber ball in the air with both hands, as though it’s a trophy. What is THAT? I ask. Amelie tells me it’s some kind of birthing bouncy ball thingy that helped progress her first labor. But I don’t need it this time! she says, but Keegan is already stuffing the large balloon ball in the backseat, trying to wedge it between me and the two carseats. It’s making the rubbery noise that balloon animals make when being configured. I am laughing but only to myself. I don’t know if laughing is appropriate yet. You never know! he says, and gets into the driver seat. As he starts to shift the car into drive, Amelie stops him with a request: OK, I need you to go slow over the bumps and turns and stuff. But seriously go fast because I don’t think we have a lot of time. I hear Keegans signature cackle. OK, he says, hitting the gas, but easing down the curb of the driveway like a champ.

Now we’re driving fast on the California highway and the roads are all ours. Amelie tells Keegan to call the doctor on the way. I am rubbing her back like a boxing coach, but she says it feels good so I stick with it. Keegan talks to a woman on the phone, which then Amelie takes from him. She tells the woman she’s “In full blown labor”– A phrase both her and Keegan will use numerously in the next hour. This also makes me laugh. Please make sure he knows I’m in full blown labor this time. Keegan has been running the red lights, but now we approach one and there’s a state trooper in the lane next to us. Planning to run the light and then continue speeding, Amelie tells Keegan to let the guy know so he doesn’t pursue us. Keegan rolls down his window and the trooper does the same. Keegan: My wife is full blown labor. Cop: OK. Keegan: I’m going to run this light and then speed. Cop: OK. The light turns green and we speed off in the van. Dude couldn’t have cared less.

I notice Amelie is taking really short breaths from the pain. I remind her to slow them down and try to exhale through her nose. It actually works, she begins taking good breaths. I don’t totally know what I’m doing, but I know deep breaths are better than shallow ones. And they say it in all the Hollywood labor flicks. I rub her shoulders and the big blue ball drifts over to my side again, crowding me back there. I laugh to myself again. I know I will remember this car ride forever.

At the hospital we get Amelie into a wheelchair outside and Keegan throws me the keys to go park the van. In the wheelchair Amelie informs the nurse that she’s in full blown labor and instructs the nurse to run. The nurse reminds Amelie that she is going to be OK but that they aren’t going to run. By the time I get the car parked and up to the room, she is being hooked up to IV lines and monitors with all kinds of wires emerging in every direction. There is a surprisingly large number of staff hurrying in and out of the room, performing respective tasks. Amelie has one concern; the epidural. I’m ready for the epidural as soon as possible. Can you make sure they know that? That I’m ready as soon as they are? They are asking her a ton of questions and typing in answers or writing them on a chart. I imagine that she wishes the questions would stop. I’m familiar with this position; being in pain, needing help that only someone else can provide, but first having to answer question after question–none of them seeming more important than the pain. The nurse tells her as soon as she’s checked into the system, she can have the epidural. The Holiest of Holy’s.

I am standing to the right of the bed, watching a machine hooked up to her which monitors the contractions. It looks like a seismograph. It strikes me what an interesting device this is. A qualitative way to witness someone else’s pain, to measure it even. This part sticks with me. I try to talk her through the bad ones. Since I can see them peak and descend on the monitor, I’m able to tell her when the worst part is over. I remind her to breathe deep. There’s not much else to do now besides refill cups of ice, which Keegan and I take turns with. It’s just like the movies. Amelie informs another nurse that she IS ready for that epidural, just so she knows.

Finally, the last of the questions are answered, and the man with the miracle appears in the doorway. He is glowing yellow and angels sing in harmony as he makes his entrance. Amelie perks up. Absurdly afraid of needles normally, she couldn’t wait for this one. It only takes a few minutes, and then the magic starts to work. You can tell because Amelie has color back in her face and relief in her eyes, as though she can suddenly breathe again. Not to mention she’s smiling, and much more chatty.

Now everything slows down. Keegan and I take a nap. I guess numbed up Amelie continued to labor. When I wake up a bit later, my mom has arrived with coffee and food. We eat and re-energize and prepare for the big show. Just a couple hours later, to the nurses surprise, Amelie is eight centimeters and the time has come. This is it! Yeah! The only problem is that the doctor is not here yet. He’s on his way from another hospital, but he is in traffic. Note: California traffic is different than Louisiana traffic. My mom and I sit at the bay window, on the lookout for Doctor James as the nurses quickly turn the room into a saran wrapped tent. There’s another doctor there in case hers doesn’t make it, but Amelie likes sticking to plans. It’s kind of her thing.

The nurse tells us he drives a gun-metal grey sports car. Of course. No sign of him yet, so my mom and I start singing Amazing Grace aloud in a two part harmony. She taught us this years ago– something about the vibrational energy of that song. We have sung it ever since when we’re in a bind, and somehow it always comes through. There we are, Amelie trying to hold off pushing, the nurses preparing the room like busy birds, and two women at the window singing in decent enough harmony, (I may have been a bit flat). By the third verse, a small silver sports car pulls up and a tall doctor rushes out. He’s here!! We all cheer. Amelie looks like she’s about to have a baby.

The doctor can barely get his blazer off and the scrubs on before she’s on her second push. I stand to the side between the doctor and Keegan. I even hold a leg! It all happens really fast. On the third push we can see his head. It is crazy. Amazing. Five pushes later, he is out. He doesn’t cry right away and the silence is paralyzing. I am worried but don’t say a word because neither the doctor or nurses seem concerned. It feels like forever but was probably four seconds. As Amelie gets both hands around him and brings him to her chest, he finally cries out. That weak, pathetic, entry level cry. The cry of alive. As soon as I hear it, I start to cry too. I never used to be emotional like this. But it feels good. Happy tears. He doesn’t even cry long. He gets swaddled and passed around to everyone like a perfect soft package. I watch his parents hold and love him, both grandparents, and then it is my turn. I can almost feel the love he’s been given already radiating from him. I think about his entrance to the world–how every baby should be this lucky. He’s alert, blinking slowly as he takes it all in. How he can already smell so good, I have no idea. I hold him and cannot fathom that any of us were ever this small, this helpless. Why do we ever convince ourselves we are meant to do this alone? Holding him I feel solid relief. Not just that he’s OK, but that the world is OK. In this moment, he embodies the world. Everything will be fine. He’s here. It’s perfect.

The World.
The World.

Health, Happiness, Happy Birthday James.