All I Want For Christmas is $100 Million Dollars

100 million dollars. I’ve never lived in a world where that figure represented an actual amount of money. I don’t think I’ve ever used it for anything more than hyperbolic effect in conversation. As in, Anthropologie is so expensive even a scarf there is like, 100 million dollars. I’m not even sure I could write out that number with confidence about how many zeros follow the number one. Unacquainted as I am, I’m learning to write and say it with total conviction, because now it does represent an actual amount of money, and I am seeking it with earnestness. Within the strange world of politics-meets-medicine, it’s no longer an absurd number. In this new context it’s become completely reasonable. In fact, some would say given the facts, it’s an exceptionally modest amount. Go figure.

As many of you are probably tired of reading about, I began a campaign earlier this year requesting that the NIH allocate this amount of funding toward the research of a mostly neglected, orphaned disease. Over the year, this has become the most important pursuit of my life. And I believe the cause to be one of the most important in anyones life: our health. Like many things, you don’t realize how important it is until you don’t have it anymore.  Stepping foot into the advocacy world provided me with a new, unexpected perspective–to see the community I’m a part of, from the outside in. This adjusted outlook has fueled my insistence for change to a degree I’ve never felt before. Interestingly enough, this outside viewpoint began within my own family, but not from my own experience with the disease.

I rarely talk or write about it, but my mom has lived with ME/CFS for two and a half decades. Most people with this disease will tell you there is a pre-sick version of themselves that couldn’t quite  survive once the illness took hold. I was only 2 when my mom became sick, so I don’t remember or know her as any other way than how she is. I’ve been reflecting on the reality that there is a whole side to her I’ve never really known. Prior to getting sick, she might better be described as a type-A personality. She was fast-moving, organized, sharp–an ER nurse. She and my dad had a large social circle and were both involved in the community and church. But no one would ever know about this past part of her, how could they? She left work tentatively to devote herself full-time to motherhood and raising four children under the age of five. In pictures she looks happy and privileged to be a mom and wife. In old videos she is lively and beaming, her voice animated, giggly at times.

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Real nice, Doug.

Christmas morning, 1984. 4:30 am. Grainy video footage taken mostly by my dad (a tech geek elated by new video recording technology) reveals this other side to my mom that many people besides me have never known. In the classic reddish-brown hue that tints all memorabilia from the 70‘s and the early 80’s, three kids under the age of five are glowing in wait in our sunken living room. The fourth kid, me, is five months old sitting in a car seat on the sofa. (Thanks guys) My siblings frantic excitement is palpable–the kind that only comes on Christmas from children who still believe. They remind me of shaken up cans of cola, overflowing with joy. In contrast my mom and dad aren’t entirely awake yet given the hour, and early video footage provides evidence of a boisterous Christmas Eve party late into the night before. They speak in soft tones of voices and have glazed over look on their faces. Despite the lack of sleep, my mom still looks beautiful in a long white robe, rubbing her eyes intermittently to try and pep up. The kids grow more intoxicated with each new gift, and both my parents take turns reacting to 3 individual shouts of “Look at my new toy! Look! Can you open this?” Crumpled up wrapping paper begins to litter the room like discarded wads of kleenex. Outside, it’s still dark.

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Toy assembly line, 4:45 am
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My brother Nick is crying because he can’t find his legos.

I love this footage for many reasons. For one thing, it captures such an iconic display of Christmas morning during such a happy time as if out of a Rockwell painting. You can sense the love between my parents, and observe childhood traits in my siblings that still exist today. Nick is methodical and organized with his unwrapping, and with everything. At one point my sister Amelie opens a gift and says “Wowwww!!!”as her eyes grow huge with excitement. When she shows it to my mom she laughs and says “Amelie, this is just the box.” My brother Doug still receives high-tech gadgets for Christmas and maintains the same enthusiasm. And me, I am still perfectly content to lie on the couch surrounded by my siblings–listen to them tell stories, laugh, bicker, cook, play games, and pine for my mothers attention. Even as a baby, I was comfortable and entertained just watching and listening to them live around me.

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Christmas Eve, 1984

The footage is also deeply nostalgic of course. It’s both wonderful and emotional to hear my dads voice again, to see him alive and in his element. Happy, goofy, making corny jokes. But it’s also a snapshot of the woman my mom was before she got sick. It’s not that this part of her is totally gone, but the illness simply changes your capacity for regular things, even socializing. As such you’re forced to make adjustments. She appears so spirited and vivid in these videos, so unweighed down. Maybe it’s because I so often see how the illness has effected my own appearance every time I look in the mirror, my posture, my facial expression even, that I can easily spot how it’s changed her physically, her whole body language, the inflections of her voice. Even sleepy and in the early hours of morning, there’s an underlying, unrestricted vigor in her–something that lies dormant now. There is a heaviness to this disease, like an invisible ton of bricks you carry with you at all times. Look hard enough and it’s not so hard to see.

My mom was never able to go back to ER nursing as planned. “I couldn’t trust my brain anymore” she says, and the stakes in that line of work were just too high. While she still calls so many people friends and loves them the same, her social life took an extremely hard hit. Given the insidious nature of this disease, I imagine it’s difficult for those who knew her before she was sick to adjust to this comparatively different, limited person–who by most accounts appears so much the same. As a result, relationships struggle to sustain the blow dealt by all the change, and to continuously explain the illness and your newfound incapabilities is exhausting, especially because you have such little energy to begin with. As a result, many people tire out and turn inward, ending up more like hermits or monks. My mom has always been strong and independent, never one to feel sorry for herself or even reach out for help, perhaps sometimes when she could use it. As much as she’s made the best of it and adapted to a less social life, I know a place in her aches not just for the friendships she had, but for the friend she was once capable of being. This is one of the hardest adjustments to the illness, particularly painful because it happens during a time when you need friends and support the most.

Since the birth of her second child, my sisters health has been steadily declining. For the past year and half she has slowly worsened with classic MECFS symptoms. Ruling out many other diseases that mimic this one, she will see a specialist soon for an official diagnosis. But many tests are showing the same abnormalities as those with ME. She is the same age that my mom was when she got sick.  Fortunately because we know now the best course of action, she has a better chance of recovery by addressing it early and aggressively. In March, she left her job tentatively to attend to her health full-time and attempt to get her symptoms under control. She has seen what pushing it has done to both my mom and me, and I don’t think any of us could stand it if it happened to her too. I know leaving her job was not easy for her. She loved her career as an interior designer, began a successful start-up firm with a partner and worked extremely hard. But as her symptoms became more frequent, more severe, longer and harder to recover from, she knew she had a decision to make: Cut her losses now or risk losing a lot more later on. She chose to act now, which was no doubt the right way to go, but I doubt that made the decision any easier on her.

For so long, my whole family, especially my sister and my mom have been my champions who carried me when I was weak and encouraged me when I felt hopeless. I’m so eternally grateful to them for all they’ve done and continue to do, and I’ve always wondered how I will ever repay them and my whole family for their kindness. I believe now it’s my turn to be their champions. Maybe this is my chance to finally return the favor.

I don’t have money to pay back the expenses, and I don’t have the strength to reimburse them by “working off” my debt. What I do have is a voice. A small platform. And a petition with 40,000 signatures. I’ve watched what this illness has done to my family. I’ve read the hundreds of heartbreaking stories that sick people have left on the petition page or emailed to me. I’ve become friends with Jamison Hill, the first person I’ve met who’s close to my age and has MECFS. He was a former personal trainer, and has now been bedridden since January of 2015. He lives in a dark room, able to tolerate exceptionally little light and sound; most days he is barely able to talk. Seeing this widespread devastation was upsetting but also opened my eyes to the urgency and dire need of this issue. It lit a fire within me that’s stronger and different than before. I think sometimes it’s easier to fight for other people than it is yourself.

My mom and sister never gave up on me, and so I promise that I won’t give up on this. It’s a black and white petition with a very specific ask. I won’t settle for the gray bureaucracy of political red-tape that is slow moving, inefficient and has failed this community for the last 30 years. I am hoping Santa, or the right senator, can bypass all that.

What an amazing Christmas it could be for millions of people with this disease around the world, to finally have real hope knowing that change is happening now, and the kind of research we’ve all been waiting on will finally be possible. It’s not a change that would normally happen quickly. And I don’t expect this fight to be easy or painless. But, it is Christmas. And even at 32, I still believe in something powerful around this time of year that makes anything possible. I know that this is, but it will require the right kind of help. Here’s hoping, for all of us, that we get it.

Health, Happiness, Believe

If you’d like to add your voice or help circulate the petition to more people, that would be amazing and please click here.

To donate to Jamison Hill’s medical fund click the link!

Yall Rock, Thank you to all.

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That Year the Universe Sh*t On My Family: A Six Part Series

Part 1: No Big Deal

There is no shortage of platitudes and sayings, bumper stickers or posters inside of cutesy frames meant to remind us how fragile life is. How fleeting. How fast it can all go upside down. How fast it can all go, altogether. Live Life to the Fullest, You Never Know How Many Tomorrows You Have Left. I hate this phrase, and I can’t totally say why. A cliché, true, but I can deal with clichés. I even love them sometimes. It might be that I see this and similar phrases on decorative pillows in Stein Mart, on picture frames holding happy photos, etched onto a wooden clock piece in my doctors waiting room, but I rarely confront people who actually seem to live this way. Except Monty of course- he does everything to the fullest. At that doctors’ office with the clock, for instance, the women at the front desk are really mean. All 3 of them, mean. True story. It seems like people who are conscious of how devastatingly short our time is here wouldn’t be so mean, particularly to sick people. But hey, maybe their boss is a jerk. Or they’re having a hard day. Or how about Hey, there are a lot of good excuses to be really mean. Doesn’t mean you have to be. 

I know, I’m writing as though I live this way and sadly I don’t. I forget all the time. I let petty things get to me, forget to be appreciative, or simply fail to treasure the life I’ve been given. Nobody gets away with a pain-free life. It wasn’t a part of the contract that we’d come here and it would be easy. That it wouldn’t hurt sometimes. But you know what other phrase I like? Don’t waste pain. What an auspicious, novel idea it is, to see pain not as a punishment but simply as part of the program. A piece to the puzzle, the plan. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but maybe it doesn’t have to be so bad. In hindsight, it’s been the more painful and tough experiences that have taught me the most, made me dig deeper for purpose, made me kinder, more aware, grateful, better. It’s not that they aren’t terrible experiences sometimes, because damn, sometimes When It Rains It Pours. But what can you do other than pick up the pieces and keep going? If you’ve suffered a long time, you might as well redeem the coupon and see what’s on the other side of it. If it’s more suffering well, maybe you’re missing something. Or maybe you’re cursed. Either way, at least you have experience, so you’ll know how to do it. “I’m really good at suffering.” I should put that on my resume.

It’s easy to feel sometimes like you’re getting an unfair deal. And you probably are. I confront stories and realities everyday that are gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and nearly impossible to explain. Watch five minutes of the news, explain that. But I’ve also encountered stories and people who have suffered immensely, endured incredible pain,  and emerged as better people for it. They didn’t just survive their experience, their loss, but actually came out happier than they were before-not bitter. Fair or unfair, they kept going. And it’s almost a miracle to observe what some people have faced in one lifetime and not given up in the process. These people are generally pretty awesome, and hearing their stories are encouraging and important. Maybe their stories should make the news more often.

Anyway, this one year, two thousand and shit, I mean six, 2006, was a really tough one. For every member of my family, life roared its ugly head, respectively. But we survived it and it’s encouraging to remember that, particularly when it’s pouring. I also find it hilariously tragic, if that’s an acceptable phrase. Our lives did turn upside down, but we emerged standing. OK I emerged sitting but the rest of them, standing strong. So, here is our story, in six parts, of the year the Gelpi’s were shit on collectively. Just remember, it all ended up OK, even though at times it felt definitely not OK. Maybe that’s the cliché platitude to take away from that year. Everything is OK, even when it isn’t.

***

On a Tuesday morning in 2006, I can recall certain details with complete clarity; each of my senses awakens and remembers with a concrete ease. I am brushing my teeth in my college apartment surrounded by beige everything: carpet, walls, countertop. My boyfriend is watching TV on the couch waiting to give me a ride to class. Media Law 2030— my favorite course, taught by one of the best professors I’d ever have at LSU. Professor Freeman, the Man. On the first day he passed out a syllabus and guided us broadly through the timeline we’d follow through the semester. In bolded font halfway down page 1 it read: If you are going to miss any day of class this semester, make sure it’s NOT February 6th. It was February 6th.

I can taste the mintiness of that toothpaste still– I’m tapping the toothbrush on the rim of the sink, releasing the excess water. When my phone buzzes in my back pocket, I see “home” on the screen and think twice about answering. I know that conversations with my mom were often pretty long, so I consider waiting to answer it; call her back after class when you’ll have more time. But that thought quickly vanished and I pick up instead. On the other end, a very weak, unfamiliar voice emits from the phone–a voice that I know belongs to my mom yet sounds nothing like her. Mary? Shit. She could barely get my name out. I was standing by the bed now, looking at the ridiculously bright orange of my duvet; I’d bought it at Target because it seemed like happy bedding. Mom? I couldn’t know what she would say next, but hearing just one word in that crushed voice, I brace myself for the verbal equivalent of a car accident– that moment after the screeching breaks, just before the collision. Through palpable pain and shock, the words emerge just above a whisper. Roger died last night. …Crash…

Roger was my stepdad, my moms second husband. My dad had died of cancer when I was 12, and despite whole heartedly believing she would never marry again, in walked Roger. Her second chance at love. Something called grace, I think, seeing her happy that way again. Roger was the reassuring ending I could give people when they asked where my dad lived and then grew visibly uncomfortable hearing the answer. I’m sorry they would say, and I knew that they meant it and this was the standard response, but somehow its never quite felt right to me. Unfitting. Square peg in a round hole kind of thing. It’s OK, I’d comfort them. She fell in love and is remarried. She’s really happy. They’d loosen up, their shoulders would relax. I’d make some joke to break the tension. Better. It was OK.

What my mom was telling me didn’t completely register– it didn’t feel possible. That exceptionally human thought circulated: This was not supposed to happen. And yet in the same instant, something deep within, the intuitive part that knows things but not through cognition, knew with an aching certainty that it was true. Of course it was possible. These things happen everyday, except that they happened to other people, not to us. Four little words, nothing the same.

Goodbye It’s OK. Hellooooo cruel world!

I can’t remember if I sat on the bed or stayed standing, but I remember that orange of my duvet suddenly taking on a very harsh shade. A ridiculous color. I momentarily gasped for air and caught my breath. What? But I heard her, I knew what. You just figure, we already lost a husband/father, we should be safe with this next guy, right? All at once the universe revealed its impartial nature, the lawless reality of our life here. Fair, unfair, it didn’t matter. No one got a free pass. After shock, losing it, then regaining composure all in a breath, I tell her I’m on my way. I’ll be there in an hour. I hear her lose it again. Her weak voice, now with a noticeable outer concern. Your sister is getting married in a week! The cherry on top: one week until Amelie’s wedding–the already postponed wedding thanks to Katrina–at the same venue where Roger and my mom were married less than 5 years ago. Awesome. Cool. No big deal. I’m frantically throwing random clothes into a bag that will later turn out to be socks, a sweatshirt, pajama bottoms, and zero shirts. But I try to stay steady on the phone. Don’t worry about that. Who’s with you? She tells me our neighbor and two family friends are there. Still, in the midst of basic horror, she is heartbreakingly maternal. Are you alone? Don’t drive here by yourself. I tell her I’m fine. I’ve got the dog. I’ll be there in an hour.

We havin’ fun yet? :)

By midnight I was shuttling the last of my siblings from Louis Armstrong, across that long bridge, back to our house. They came from every direction, Amelie with a wedding dress packed in her suitcase. And what did we do? What the Gelpi’s do best: weddings and funerals. Oddly enough, it’s not just logistics. Although the fact that Roger died in another state complicated things only slightly. He was in Florida on business. When he didn’t show up for work the second day, they found him in his hotel bed. Something heart-related. Tragic to say the least, although not a bad way to peace out if you’re not into long goodbyes. With my dad there was time. This sudden-death thing was a whole new ballgame. What else can you do but step up and play the best you know how.

We planned a funeral. Prepared for a wedding. And in between we crowded around my mom protectively like a pack of elephants. We would cry a lot. Give a shoulder for others to cry on. We’d allow the silence when there was nothing to say. And we’d make ridiculous and morbid jokes when we needed to laugh, which we needed a lot of. People who attempted to explain the pain away or fill the silences with quips like “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God has a plan!” weren’t invited to our epic dinners. Not because these phrases weren’t true or even inappropriate really, but because it wasn’t about fixing it. Something tragic happened and it was going to hurt. We’d have to allow that. More than anything, that week was just about being there, being together, picking up the pieces and doing what we had to. I remember my boyfriend Gabe being nervous about coming over. “I know I’m going to cry when I see your mom.” I could sense his angst. But I laughed and reassured him, “So what? That’s what we’re all doing!” And that’s just what happened; when he saw her he cried and she did too. They hugged and felt it. And it was OK. We all took turns.

Friends and family would trickle in and out, and at night we’d have these big, loud dinners. Eat, drink, and tell stories about Roger late into the night. There was crying and hugging and crying and kleenex and relived shock every time we had to tell someone. But there was also a crazy amount of joy and laughter. My brother Doug laughed so hard he cried. So many people showed up for us in many different ways–food, room and board, help with funeral, help with wedding, never asking for a dime. It was truly an intimate and precious time, and we saw how lucky we were, how much love we were surrounded by. Roger was extremely particular so we’d have to make this funeral right. And I know he would’ve approved. The service was outside in the garden that he created, around the pond he’d dug himself. Lot’s of people spoke, including my mom. I can’t remember all of what she said, but I do remember her saying “To love is to be vulnerable to loss. And I’d still do it over again.” What a badass! We grieved. We rested. Then three days later, we had a wedding.

Correction; we had an epic wedding. Once again, the same people showed up plus a bunch of Californians from Keegan’s side. They said “I Do” and the celebration of love and life continued. A beginning after an end. Conceptually these ceremonies seem opposite, but they aren’t so far apart when you drink whiskey and get philosophical. OK there are many differences, but the biggest was the insane amount of dancing we did. And that would’ve been inappropriate at the funeral. I think. ‘Appropriate’ is a hard word for the Gelpi’s to understand, but I like it that way. It means throwing out the rules and embracing the moment, doing what you have to. Talk about a cliché. That week was an intensive life course in The Show Must Go On. And I have to say, I think we aced it. You might say we Danced Like No One Was Watching. That night when I looked over and saw my mom dancing among everyone, a week after tragedy and unspeakable loss (for the second time), I knew anything was possible. A lot of people might say we had really terrible luck, and they might be right, but celebrating that night, seeing my mom dance anyway? I felt really, really lucky.

I also had this strange feeling that big things were in store for her, good things. Turns out when I have strange feelings, I’m usually right. Stay tuned! .

Health, Happiness, No Big Deal

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.

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.

unnamed-2 unnamed

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.

Living Masters

Finally, yesterday, the teeniest tiniest flicker of relief. I felt it. Though incrementally small, it was the spark suggestive of an end, or at least of an improvement. It’s been a very sick few days. But yesterdays glimmer of improvement brought me to the surface where I could breath again. It wasn’t major, but it was enough. Today, another slight improvement. I actually left the house and went to the pharmacy. That’s what we call progress people.

I don’t know what exactly caused this crash. The travel, new Miami germs my body couldn’t handle, the woman with the wet cough on the plane? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter I guess. I could feel something in the works throughout the trip. I felt rough most of the time, but, I still enjoyed my stay. Miami is nice and my family rocks. My brother Nick is another mentor of mine and always encourages my creative endeavors. He’s someone who materializes ideas instead of just writing them in a notebook, which is what I do. I envy his work ethic and it was nice to be around artists at work. I worked through some writing problems and we’ve begun a side project which I think will be great. It was nice. Look, I even caught a fish.

40 pounder
Unfortunately I think my brother later used this fish as bait.

Huge right? Of course I sort of declined at the end of that day and into the last few days, until I returned home Thursday. By that night I crawled into bed and as I pulled up the covers, the invisible monster went to work. I could feel it creeping over me, up through my limbs and under my fingernails. When I woke Friday morning it had swallowed me whole. I was submerged. The next three days were spent in bed in a dream state with intermittent stints of wakefulness. I’d awake for brief periods, feed Monty, feed myself, then dissolve into dream world again. Unfortunately I could feel the pain on both sides. In my dreams I’m looking for pills and can’t find them. Or I can’t get their lid open. That happens in real life too.

It can be disorienting when you spend more of your time in dreams than awake. Every time I awoke I  had to readjust to the surroundings, remind myself where I was. Everything was hazy and I felt weak and sedated. My body was out of juice; every move I made felt enormous and taxing. It’s a strange condition to be in, but that’s how it goes in a crash. All you can do is rest and wait for your body to come back. Luckily, Monty barely left my side the whole time. Each time my eyes blinked open, I’d spot him sleeping in some ridiculous position. As soon as I stir he’s on all fours, ready to go. I hate not being able to play with him more, but he sticks by. Sleeps when I sleep, eats when I eat. His loyalty astounds me, especially when I’m sick. On Saturday night I had a nightmare that I couldn’t wake out of. When I finally came to, Monty was on his feet, panting next to the bed. I could tell he’d done something, made some noise maybe that woke me up, though I don’t know what. He is my hero. For reals.

By Sunday I was overwhelmed. Everything hurt, every movement was laborious, and any sound above a medium hum felt like a knife through my ear. Just taking a deep breath was hard. Tears poured down my face and I couldn’t say why exactly, except that my thoughts were racing and I felt like I was sinking. My emotions often get erratic during a crash for some reason. I think parts of my brain get overwhelmed. It felt like synapses were firing at rapid rates but were incomplete. Thoughts would come fast but unfinished. I could barely talk straight. I didn’t know what I needed, but I needed help. Enter my mom.

Through the tears I tell her I think I need to eat. OK, she says, and just her voice begins to calm everything down. One thing at a time, she says. Start with the apple. I try to let go and redirect my focus on what’s in front of me: an apple on a plate with almond butter. All I have to do is eat it. I can do that. Cool. The tears come and go. I tell her I’m afraid and my health feels out of control. She listens and validates my discouragement, but doesn’t let me wallow too long into despair. Ever so gently she leads me out of the dark of my own mind and encourages me to keep going. I find myself clinging to those words, scribbling them on paper and my dry erase board. So I try, even though my insides are yelling Stop. Press restart. We’ve got a faulty body here. I sleep at their house on the couch because I’m too exhausted to walk back to mine. I’m thirty years old and my mom ‘tucked me in.’ It’s official: I’m growing up in reverse. Monty sleeps on the love seat next to me. The next day is still sick, but somehow better. I don’t feel buried by it now. My mom has worked her magic again.

The illness continues to teach me humility and gratitude. To find grace through the crappiest of times. It’s still difficult to admit when I need help, but I do. And I’m lucky to have people who provide it. My step-dad bought me groceries, and threw the stick for Monty when I wasn’t able to. I get emails from people who are sick with this and other chronic illnesses but their families don’t believe them or don’t understand, and they’re left to fight it on their own. Reading it is heartbreaking. I don’t know how anyone could survive this illness alone. Some of them say the blog has helped their families understand what they’re going through, and I always told myself if this even helped one person, it was worth the work. I hope I can do more. I wish I could make them know they’re not alone, or crazy, or inferior; all things you feel when you’re sick this way. I know we’re strangers, but we’re human beings and sharing something similar, so if you’re reading this, you’re not alone brother! But sometimes it feels that way and life gets heavy. I get it.

I am trying to be careful about my writing. I always hesitate when sharing an account like this because I don’t want to get stuck in a narrative of how hard life is without going further. Life is hard, but people don’t need that reminder. Life is harder when you stop at the pain. I try to look at the pain as the beginning of something better, not an end. Because life is also amazing, even in times of turmoil, but you have to dig deep, past the muck. It’s so basic, so cliché, but I have to examine both sides or I’ll turn into a blogging version of that Kathy cartoon. Oh God, the horror. It’s a fragile dichotomy, writing this blog. Half of me is sharing what feels like death, but the other half is screaming I’m OK! Everything is fine! Because I am OK. I’m here in my favorite V-neck shirt writing at my desk. But the schism is there and I have to be conscious of both sides. Writing isn’t a way out of it, it’s just a better way through it, if I do it right. I write better when I get creative with my circumstances, until I eventually outgrow them. Otherwise the conditions take over and despair takes the wheel. And that’s a lot of what this whole project is about; becoming more than a person to whom things happen. The poet/writer Paulo Coelho wrote this in The Alchemist,

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” 

I love this idea and believe it wholly. A lot of things are at work that we don’t always have access to. It’s just easy to forget when shit hits the fan. Well here’s our reminder. 

In other news, it finally happened: I dropped my phone in the pool. Idiot! I watched it fall in slow motion, with that split second of heat on your neck where you think you can reverse time and take it back, but you blink and there it is; Submerged. It’s now drying out in a ziplock bag with rice, so I’m off the grid! I’ll try to use the 48 hours wisely. I’ll keep resting and reading and writing. And hopefully by Christmas I’ll be better and I’ll have found the answer to life. Seems doable.

Anyway, this post is for my mom, who dug me out of the depths once again. She is my mentor and not only guides me out of the darkness but nudges me to be better, to grow stronger from struggle and not be defeated by it. It’s true, if I weren’t sick we wouldn’t be living so close, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of important wisdom that I’ll keep forever. All for free! Thank you for carrying me when I need it but also challenging me to become more than what’s happened. You’re a master and it’s made all the difference.

Health, Happiness, Masters