Teach Me Somethin, Tolle! Today: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“The primary cause of your unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.

Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is at it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and presents you from taking effective action. “I have fifty cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering. Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” (pg 5)

This is a small passage but it’s pretty rife with depth and possibility that I feel I could discuss it for hours over coffee and a crumpet, whatever a crumpet is. But it’s an interesting premise. Given that this is a blog mostly about life through the lens of being sick, I have to relate these things to my own experience. Sometimes I think, this is such an eye-roll. A bore. I want to tell others stories and look at these things through their lens, but I not only don’t have that access, I don’t have that right. I only know truly what it’s like to be in this world as me, Mary, and so I use what I read and try to apply it to my own life experience. Surprisingly, it helps. It’s funny how reading passages like this, you can think of other people and be spot on by saying “Yep, Dianna totally does that.” But the more conscious approach is to look at it and become aware of the ways in which you’ve “missed the boat” this same way at times, or catch yourself doing exactly what he’s (Tolle) talking about.

The part about making up stories is perfect, because it is surprising how often and how quickly our minds resort to this tactic, I guess as a mechanism of just not looking in or at ourselves in any meaningful way, (because that is both difficult and sometimes painful) but always pointing the finger outwards. It evades personal accountability. But telling stories has long been something we all do, and I can think of so many times I’ve done it, then facepalmed myself in the forehead later thinking, What was I thinking? I literally just made up some scenario in my head, and believed it, and was absolutely completely wrong. Someone doesn’t call back in a timely manner. You don’t like their response to something. Your jeans are missing and you’re convinced maybe they accidentally took them and GOD DIANA WOULD SO DO SOMETHING LIKE ACCIDENTALLY TAKE MY JEA…..oh here they are… in my closet…”

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It’s crazy how fast down the rabbit hole we go, convinced that Diana didn’t call us because she just doesn’t care about our friendship anymore, and you know what, maybe she NEVER did?! Maybe I should send her a mean text! “Oh, her grandma is in the hospital and she’s been away from her phone…”Oh, oh Diana, I’m so sorry to hear that. What can I do?” How stupid our egos can be! And what good story-tellers! They are always looking to be wronged, which is why they can start a fight about anything, literally anything. Frozen Yogurt? OH I’LL TELL YOU ABOUT FROZEN YOGURT! Um OK Diana, calm down. DON’T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!!! *turns into the hulk, flies away*

It doesn’t mean we aren’t sometimes wronged. Or we don’t sometimes deserve to feel hurt. All of that will happen. It’s more about response to painful stimuli that human behavior just seems to get wrong. We are clearly, still learning.

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Hey, this water is pink!
OK, so we’re really good at blaming. And great at creating scenarios in our head that aren’t actually true except in our own self-made ego reality. (Which isn’t actual reality) And we’re really bad at self-reflection. I say “we” because I’ve seen this actually happen in action. To me, to others. It’s crazy! Never seen it? Open your eyes and wait for the Holidays to come around or wait in line at Walgreens or get stuck in traffic, you’ll find plenty of it. Passive aggressiveness. Blaming. Gossip. Anger. Insensitivity. All the yucky stuff that makes things which are supposed to be fun, not so fun. And we’re all guilty. It’s easy to want to point a finger at one person, but if you’re offended or participate, even in tiny ways, you’re part of the dance too, my friend. And I have done plenty of dancing.

The other part of this passage that I think is so important is the difference between facts and stories. Saying “I’m totally screwed” is a story, like he said. But so often we get ourselves so upset, so anxious, so depressed about things that are going to unfold one way or another, and in that present moment, you’ll address them. But if you’re too far away from this present moment, always stressing about the future, you will never enjoy life in its natural form–which is always happening in the now. It doesn’t mean you just mosey around until “the future arrives.” If you’re truly present in the moment we call Now, you’ll be ready for whatever happens, which you have absolutely no way of knowing how it will unfold. He also says this:

“To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally good or bad, but to let it be. Does this mean you can no longer take action to bring about change in you life? On the contrary. When the basis for your actions is inner alignment with the present moment, your actions become empowered by the intelligence of life itself.”

Duuuude, deep stuff. It’s easy to be sick and tell myself stories like “This isn’t fair.” “I can’t catch a break.” “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” But all according to what? According to my version of what I thought my life should look like–none of it based in the reality that my life is. When I am in true stillness, and I’ll reiterate this time and time again– if there is something crucial missing from my generation, and the baby boomers will tell you we don’t know what hard work is and we’re ultra sensitive and have all kinds of nice things to say–what my generation is truly missing is stillness.

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It is very hard to self-reflect in a noisy, demanding office, a loud home, when you’re constantly with people, when you refuse to be alone, or as soon as you have solitude or quiet, you turn to your mobile device as some kind of virtual company. So few look at time alone as an advantage to reflect. Or do whatever you want. Pray. Meditate. Read. Just try to be still. Try not to get on social media and see if you can be comfortable, alone with only you. People think “being busy” means being important, but it really doesn’t. Try doing nothing. See how long you can do it without outside stimulation. Then tell me you wish you were sick and didn’t have to go to work. Hah. I always loved that line.

I don’t think you have to be absolutely quiet or alone in order to obtain what Tolle is talking about. If you are awake in these crucial moments–at work, with your kids, at the dinner table, then you’re effectively reaching consciousness. Take time to acknowledge what you have and the good in your life. It’s all there; it’s up to us to open our eyes and see it.

Health, Happiness, Reflection :) (:

*Awesome, awesome artwork by Sonia Pulido

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Teacher Tolle Tuesday

johnholcomb-1I’ve been meaning to create a segment for a very long time where I take passages from Eckhart Tolle’s books and put them here for the world, all thirteen readers of you, to see. ;)

There are certain passages from all of his books that I have underlined, highlighted, circled, starred, tabbed…you get it. And they all come from separate times I’ve read the book. The passage I’m about to transcribe here comes from a book of his called Oneness With All Life. I fear even writing that because it’s an easy way to turn someone off to it–there’s so much “new agey” crap about solving the mystery of life and “finding happiness” that the more details I give I’m afraid the more you’ll be resistant to reading it. I can understand that, there’s a lot of people claiming to have LISTS and PROGRAMS and FIVE EASY STEPS promising you happiness that it’s almost depressing. Happiness is not some trophy you come upon and clench when you’ve truly done it. Don’t we know that by now? How can we not be blindingly aware that no, money doesn’t buy you happiness. Duh. Look at your rich friends or family…do they seem insanely happy? No. Of course they don’t. They’re just often unhappy living with SUPER awesome amenities. But they do get to fly first class and I always tell myself if I’m ever rich, THAT’S where my extravagant purchases will go to…traveling first class. I’ll remember with a shudder the horrors of the main cabin. See? Already spoiled. Complaining about the incredible GIFT OF FLIGHT.

I remember in an airport once, I saw a book called the Happiness Project….which was all about following these set of rules, because as many do, this woman had found herself married, two kids, a job and loving husband, and yet not really happy. So she began the voyage. And developed some program to follow to be happy. And guess what? She seemed to find happiness! And maybe she really did. But reading it I couldn’t help but think that it just felt a little obvious and maybe a little gimmicky. I believed she was truly trying to find happiness, I just couldn’t buy that these were the ways to “get there.”  There aren’t rules to being happy, people love knowing what to do, it helps them feel in control, and that alone assists with “happiness”. Which is why when things come up unexpected, we just lose our minds because WE DIDN’T PLAN FOR THIS DEBORAH! There’s a lot of people who will promise you can be happy, and live an entirely great life, if you just tweak a few things. And sometimes they’re right. But that self-help section is bursting at the seams with many more who don’t seem to know, and we’re gobbling it up for a reason: because we all want to know. TELL ME!!! I’ll do anything to escape my misery!!! Wait what? No I won’t do that.

The truth is, according to the modern mystics,  in order to achieve our own inner level of peace, we have to look deeply at ourselves, not others. We have to change ourselves, we have to see ourselves, become conscious of our life and our way of seeing things, our patterns we’ve been taught–to react and stress and yell, when really none of that is necessary. If it rains when it’s supposed to be sunny, it’s going to happen whether you lose your mind and freak out or say, oh well, what should we do now? And if there’s one thing I’ve witnessed time and again, it’s that when someone is freaking out because things didn’t go “right”, and other people are not freaking out and casually just moving along because um, hi, we don’t control the sun, THAT. PISSES. THEM. OFF. Interesting, isn’t it. That’s the ego, clinging for life, and now not just angry that its raining but that OTHER people aren’t angry it’s raining. It’s ridiculous. But it’s the way it bees, and it doesn’t have to bees that way. I just know that we should be incredibly leery of promises that your life and your happiness can be changed and attained all in five easy steps! I’m no Einstein, (REALLY!) but I know when it comes to happiness, more importantly, when it comes to true inner peace and joy, there are no shortcuts. Life is really hard, and you can’t evade the pain. But you don’t have to create extra pain for yourself. The “extra arrow” as my friend Daniel always talked about. The story we tell ourselves about the facts. You’re going to experience pain, but you’ve got to do your work to figure it out, find the hidden seed of grace, and find how to grow bigger from it bot let it swallow it you whole.  But a lot of our pain is self-created, and I do it to myself all the time. Convince myself of some madness or offense, only to find out later I was TOTALLY wrong and an idiot for believing what I did. That’s how we can help ourselves. Ignore ourselves. Haha. Ignore our thoughts, pay attention to our inner self–two very different things.  There’s no “List of “10 things to follow and you’re all set!” So burn that book, if it exists, and I”m sure it does.

Tolle and a few other mystics are very upfront about truth and about how to go absorbing what they’re putting out there. But they are of such a different breed–they’re not writing about how to “get happy.” Which is what people want. 5 steps to get happy! They’re writing about how to be conscious. How to save yourself from causing undue harm or pain to yourself or others. And when you’re conscious in the world, you’re honest, with yourself and others–you’re honest when you’ve messed up, when you’re lucky, in pain, grateful, loved, sorry, and when you love. When you’re conscious and honest, you can’t lie to yourself about what the true source of pain is. You may not be able to know what it is, but you can definitely know what is isn’t.

SO, every morning, I read from Tolle’s repertoire of wisdom—books I have read over and over and over and I will continue to do so. Because all of them elicit further consciousness every time you read them. I feel similarly about Michael Singer, Marianne Williamson, and especially Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. But I have long days. I don’t leave the house a lot. I have to learn how to harness the normally spent mental and psychological energy that would go outward into the world, into tasks and work and conventional effort, at home, in silence a lot, in solitude a lot, with no plans, no control. The biggy. This is not easy and can be a great source of pain, more than the illness itself. So, on Tuesdays, we’re gonna take Tolle’s words that really stick, with a cup of tea. And I’ll just write them here. Maybe they’ll stick with you too. But please don’t give up on this post because I’m rambling. I’m gonna stop. Here’s Teacher Tuesday’s Lesson One, and it’s one of the more profound and lasting passages I’ve read. SO here it goes. Also I just jumped right in to the center of his stuff so we’ll have some preliminary terms to go over. We’ll do that next Tuesday. I’m still learning. See you then.

People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say, dependent on form. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that is always already here, that lies beyond what is happening or not happening, beyond form. 

Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is deeper than any form and untouched by time. 

The most important, the primordial relationship in your life is your relationship with the Now, or rather with whatever form the Now takes–what is or what happens. If your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional, that dysfunction will be reflected in every relationship and every situation you encounter. The ego could be defined simply this way: a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. It is at this moment that you can decide what kind of relationship you want to have with the present moment. Friend or enemy?

The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of relationship you want to have with life. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes and soon you will see results. Life becomes friendly toward you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative. One decision changes your entire reality. But that one decision you have to make again and again and again–until it becomes natural to live in such a way. 

Health, Happiness, Tolle Teachin

**Awesome artwork by Sarah Elise Abramson

Exshoes Me?

Someone explain to me why these shoes exist.

Why are they 400 dollars.

Why are they award winning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Fight On

My Super Duper Serious Farewell Video to 2017

I worked super cereally hard on this video you guys! I’m seriously cereal! Sorry, link was broken before– youtube couldn’t handle the serious complexity of this super serious farewell video.

 

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Here’s a picture of a rain dropped sloth, because, why not?

Health, Happiness, and 2018 Bring. It. On. Like Donkey Kong. Yeah I said it.

***Artwork of sloth, plus so much other great art, by Sonia Kretschmar, and you can look and enjoy all of it! Here or soniak.com. Keep goin Sonia, your art makes me happy.

Looking Up

If you’ve ever looked at that iconic photograph of earth sent back from space by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, chances are you may have felt very small. The things you do can seem insultingly unimportant, useless, or a total waste of energy—the effort, our pain, the whole point becoming lost in the incomprehensible hugeness of it all. In one snapshot is a glimpse of our existence within the context of an entire planet: billions of people.

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There we are, floating, in orbit, rotating at some figure I could never pretend to compute or understand. A sphere of blue and green, dusted with blurs of white clouds we learned the names of in fourth grade. Cumulonimbus. Stratus. But it expands even further. A planet, within a galaxy, within a solar system, within a boundless universe for which we can only account for a relatively small portion. Why am I worried about the U2 album that came pre-programmed on my iPhone? I didn’t ask for that album Bono, I didn’t ask! But you look at our planet like that, and sometimes it helps spot spilled milk when we’re unable to discern it ourselves.

Snapshots just like this are every where in all types of forms– landscapes like the ocean, trees hundreds of years old, music that hits us somewhere deep or a night sky full of stars. They stir inside us some sacred moment demanding our attention. Attention beyond the five senses. These are the stirrings of Consciousness, I think. Or becoming aware of it. That divine desert in our depths, dormant and shy, but reliable like a sleeping dog, waiting on us to wake up and snap our fingers, let him lead the way. Always that calm sits in the background of our thoughts—that sturdy part that never leaves. The gap between breaths, but we forget. Last week I sensed it watching the wind rustle the leaves of the bamboo in our yard for I don’t know how long. I don’t get out a lot.
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I know this is Consciousness I’m confronting, because a stillness envelops me, time melts like a clock in a Dahli painting, and the typical limits and boundaries fade. A noise that usually dominates the atmosphere diminishes to silence. I haven’t arrived or gotten anything, I’ve simply met the present moment and there the forms, my thoughts and the sounds seem to run out of ink. A space is required for Consciousness to awaken, but it’s usually drowned out by the incessant noise of our lives. Opinions and drama and auto-pilot tasks and Snapchat. Trump. Chatter. Twitter! 

We are bombarded by distraction, no doubt, and there will never be a shortage to keep us looking the other way. Because consciousness doesn’t operate according to the limits of space or time, we are glimpsing eternity in that instance. A non-quantity! It’s no wonder we can’t hold the reality of this perspective in the forefront of our minds for very long. It almost operates on a separate plain. Size without a producable sum total– time beyond a unit of measurement: this is not how we learned to understand the world. It’s like trying to remember what words looked like before we learned to read. Then going out in the world and being told not to interpret the thousands of messages we’re assaulted by. Even Monty knows this is basically impossible. It will take some time to unlearn the default.

So we can only live in that space for so long before it vanishes out from under us, like a dream that dissipates as we slowly awake. The sky then fades back to a ceiling, a black ceiling with white dots. The ocean returns to an aquatic location where we swim and fish and take family pictures at sunset. And why not? Sunset by the ocean is the perfect backdrop for photos.

d62e90913370966f6d5efa7a2e878b0b.jpgThis Consciousness is hard to reconcile with the world we live in though, because it veritably negates the way we’ve been taught to perceive the world for centuries. At the same time it also perfectly encapsulates  Tolle’s explanation of our life here, which he emphasizes is not according to time, but to being awake in the now–the closest thing to time that actually exists. The Eternal Moment, he calls it, which works out in every scenario where you try and deconstruct it. I’ve tried. Still, when you’re down here in the dirt, when you’re in pain, it seems far too simple a way for things to operate.

So when the window opens, we can expect it to be small, but we should hold on as long as we can. I know that’s where a much more permanent and truthful dimension in us lies, it just hardly gets time out of the box. So I try not to be afraid of the quiet, of being alone, of having nothing “to do”. In these uncommon, custom moments, forces larger than us might be at work, awakening something that the whole world, not just us, is in great need of.

Most nights, I walk home from my parents house with Monty. They lock the door behind me and sometimes my mom yells Watch for snakes! Marc flips the switch and the Christmas lights in our trees illuminate a path to my house, a whole 15 steps away. Monty bolts off feigning a hunt of a squirrel or raccoon or some other Southern vermin. Midway between our houses is a small wooden path over the ditch that connects their yard to my driveway. Every time I reach that bridge, I stop, almost reflexively. I look up. Every time.

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Sometimes I’m holding a laundry basket full of clean laundry with my head pointed upward at the sky and mouth agape like an idiot. I often don’t even remember making the decision to stop or look up, I just find myself with my head directed that way. For whatever reason I think, I’ll remember this when I’m older. I see these constellations of stars and whatever shape the moon takes and if I’m lucky, rarely, a shooting star. I remember then too: the sky is not a ceiling. The sky is not a ceiling. Then I try to reconcile that truth without my mind exploding, and consider that what I’m looking at goes on. Then I try to humbly just appreciate the beauty of this magnanimous thing and think  think how I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m looking at.

I just know I’m mesmerized by what I see and some part of me is drawn to look there, every night. I wonder a hundred things. A part of me thinks maybe it’s the soul making a nod toward its source. The same way we’re drawn to look out at the ocean or up at trees the height of sky scrapers.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of burning gas with no intrinsic meaning and this is a crap romanticists idea of the cosmos. But that notion feels too simple when held up to the backdrop of the universe’s complexity.  Just like staring out at the ocean. These stars, this water: all here before us. All to go on after we’re gone.

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I think when we capture these hiccups in time, it’s not meant meant to make us feel small or meaningless; That none of this matters.  But I do think it helps us remember that our time here is temporary. We don’t exist on earth forever, which the human being practically takes as an insult. How dare there comes a point when I die! So we don’t talk about it, fine. We don’t have to talk about it. But we have to deflect the thought that just because we live in a boundless world with a kazillion people that we’re somehow replaceable and we don’t play a very needed and unique part in the production. It takes a trust that’s very hard to reach for, let alone find. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can assume one is that we’re not meant to torture ourselves over not knowing it. Maybe living with the mystery while trusting our path is answer enough, for now.

I’ve been writing about this for a while because one, my brain has run the speed of sap. And two, I’ve been sick every day this week and stuck in a half conscious state in bed. The last 4 months haven’t been much better besides an occasional ‘OK’ day. I realize compared to some of my sick counterparts, thats nothing. But still, it’s hard. It’s like you’re tethered to the world, and you slowly start to drift outward, losing your connection to people, your passions, a reason that makes sense. The further away you float, the more convinced you become that cutting the chord would be no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t say that flippantly. I say it as a testament to the power of the mind and our thoughts. They can actually make us believe we don’t matter, which is a dangerously powerful indictment that can be incredibly hard to fight off. I’ve been there, and I’ve had people help dig me out of the hole. I’ve been lucky, and I know that.

During trying times like this when my body feels like it fails me repeatedly, I’ve lost my belief that there is worth in a life spent sick this way. But that stillness, that other plain that awakens under night skies or oceans that you can’t see the edge of, it is so much more powerful if we only give it space to grow. Even just recalling that I’ve felt it before can help me remember that these periods in the dark will be “burned up by the light of consciousness” (Tolle), as they have before. I am still learning. Part of that lesson is to accept the mystery of pain, to even yell at the sky about it if that’s what has to happen, but to keep going, nonetheless. Even if you don’t trust where you are, keep going. At least allow yourself the relief of eventually finding a place you do trust. Like Churchill said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.tumblr_n18wf3teth1r7wnmko1_r2_1280

Life is working in pieces, one day at a time, like always. It doesn’t have to make sense in order for us to be happy. I wish it would– I feel violently curious for answers sometimes, knowing good and well that no answer will bring back the things I’ve lost.  But here we are, who we are, with the hand we’ve been dealt. It matters now how we play our hand in the game. With carefulness, attention, and reverence that you’ve got a hand at the table at all. Be still, make space. And look up once in a while.

I’m talking to myself again. It doesn’t matter. I still I believe there are answers everywhere. We don’t have to know them to awaken the space where they might be easier to find.

Health, Happiness, Looking Up

 

Spanksgiving

Sometimes it’s not easy to recognize the things in life that deserve gratitude. When life is smooth sailing, everything can become so repetitive, so routine, that you almost operate on autopilot. You come to expect things will be a certain way and forget that nothing is actually promised or guaranteed. The bottom can fall out at any time. Most of us have experienced or seen that happen to someone, and it doesn’t always make sense why. It doesn’t have to I guess.

On the flip side, when you’re going through a particularly tough time, it’s unsurprisingly hard to find reasons to be appreciative. Most people have endured a “When it rains it pours” time in their life, and usually during the rain, it feels like some kind of cosmic punishment. It’s not exactly easy to take a few minutes of stillness and consider the things and people you’re grateful for when life is kicking your proverbial ass. And yet there are always things, always people, rare moments or a single act of kindness that if you think long enough, will start to emerge. If nothing pops up, keep thinking. It will come.

I wouldn’t count this year as one of my easier ones or best in health. There’s been a lot of learning and experiences that I wouldn’t write on my “List of Pleasantries” if I had a “List of Pleasantries.” There has been pain and heartache and a lot of feeling lost. But I know that even among all that, when I take even a minute, once a day, and write down the things I’m thankful for, I am less likely to get pulled in or lost in my ‘story’. I have to continually remind myself of the good things in my life and the people I am lucky enough to love and be loved by. Some days it’s easier to remember than others.

It’s not a denial of pain, which requires its own outlet. It’s just a deeper look beyond the surface of larger things at work. It’s seeing things and people in the spaces, the gaps, the small pocket of happiness you might have missed before. My more challenging experiences this year have actually illuminated the ways I’m fortunate and I have felt more gratitude now than at any other time of my life. It’s almost counterintuitive, I wouldn’t have expected that. But pain can do all kinds of things, it’s a shame it has to hurt so much. Jeesh.

Expressing gratitude has surprised me in how it shapes my outlook when I keep it in mind. I’m always trying to at least identify one thing to be thankful for. Even if its “I’m grateful this crappy day is over,” it’s still acknowledging something that encourages growth, momentum, that phrase I’m always repeating in my head: Keep going. Keep going. 

I don’t write this as though these things are easy. It doesn’t take much for me to slip down the rabbit hole of feeling bitter about where I am in my life, about being the age I am and still requiring help, at not getting the life back that I had before. I miss my friends. I miss wearing real clothes. And I become afraid at what my future will be.

Every year that goes by I become more scared that I’ll never be an actual adult. I’ll be in a permanent state of need. I’ll be 80 and my 120 year old mother will be feeding me cream of wheat and we’ll fight over which show to watch.  But I don’t like the idea of anger or bitterness being the last things I think of before I fall asleep or when I wake up. So I work hard to see past the outer experience and at what it might be allowing to happen underneath. Being bitter about needing help from your parents can just as easily be gratitude for having parents that are willing to help you. It’s all about perspective, and taking the time to see and acknowledge things on the other side, and there’s always another side.

I think sometimes my mind tries to process my whole existence at once, which is mentally overwhelming. Duh.

It’s OK to acknowledge when things suck, and being sick all the time sucks, we can say it. But it’s really only when I jump into a future I can’t know, when I try to gain control over something that isn’t possible that I get into trouble. Sometimes I find myself stressing about things that may not even happen, or things 20 years down the line. What? I don’t even know what I’m doing in an hour! Here in the present moment, there is space for things like gratitude to exist. When you’re panicking, there’s hardly room to breathe, let alone be thankful that there are montages of people falling on youtube and it made you laugh till you cried.

If I my mind gets too carried away, goes too far down the rabbit hole, I give it a slap on the wrist, a mental spanking. And I tell myself to look. It’s not hard to see that I have the things that matter. If I can just stay present, take things one at a time, which oddly enough is sort of required when you’re sick, I can stay awake. I can still see the things I missed before and treasure simple times. There will be chaos and wreckage and things will fall apart, but it seems like the vital things are always somewhere in the quiet aftermath when you take time for stillness and look. The things that matter are there. I guess they never left in the first place.

My favorite author, Haruki Murikami wrote something pretty incredible that I play over in my mind a lot:
                                              Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

A pretty simple and beautiful way of considering life, yeah? I think so too. I’m working on not suffering on top of pain. And I have a small but incredible circle of people in my life who help me see what needs seeing or remember what I’ve forgotten in a moment of madness. I am grateful for so much, even when things are hard. It helps to remember.

Health, Happiness, Spank You

The Day After…

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

This day, my head, my house–all of it feels extremely dense to even process and insurmountable in the department of all the work I’m behind on. All the things I said I’d pick back up or start or finish. They’re just sitting there waiting for me, and I’m laying on the couch waiting for my brain to calm down. I probably need to sleep but I can’t, so I just picked up my phone and figured I might as well write these out of sequence, inconsequential thoughts down as I definitely do not do the things I need to do on my to-do list.

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

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

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

Maybe it was seeing a whole side of my family that I never get to see. And as much as I wish we saw each other more often, it really does make each visit we have together feel pretty special and end up epic in some funny, legacy-leaving way. Like that Christmas when my mom got mad at us for having a bonfire and said we were being reckless and stupid and someone was going to catch their clothes on fire. We laughed her off when she went inside, and then ten minutes later my brother-in-laws pants totally caught on fire. Pretty stupid to be waving lit palm tree branches around as they rained down fiery leaves, but, also hilarious.

My sister arranged for roughly 20 of us to stay in this ginormous house that I am convinced was used for a family of Sister Wives. There were just far too many weirdly placed exit doors with locks. Three too many kitchens. And living rooms. Too many odd rooms where it didn’t all make conventional sense. Hard to explain. Wait should I be a sister-wife? Then I would have help with my wifely duties! Need to think on that…

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Recovery

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Duck Sauce

Congrats Ryan and Wendy! We love ya.

Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

How to Write About Pain

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about the experience of chronic pain, in a descriptive way that might convey the experience to someone who’s never lived with it before, and also as a comparison against acute/short-term pain, beyond their obvious difference in duration. I think I finally came up with a good analogy to depict the experience of daily pain, the internal battle it becomes, the consuming and exhaustive nature it takes on. But I’m not going to write about that yet. Because also for the last few days, I’ve been questioning why I’ve taken the time to try and get this very unique experience across anyway. I’ve wondered whether it’s futile in the first place, but more I’ve been reflecting on whether the point in it is genuine; if I’m doing a service of any kind, or if my ego has found a formal way to complain. Like Tolle says, that is the ego’s favorite thing to do.

As an FYI, I’ll post about chronic pain next time, because I do actually think it’s important to explore for many reasons, especially if you’ve not been through it. And I’ll write more about why when I come there. But first I had to type out loud, because I question the morality of what I do–writing about my broken body and the battles that accompany it–or if there is any in it, all the time. I constantly ask whether I’m evolving, learning anything, or passing good things along, important things. Or if I’ve sunk to the lowest common denominator of the human experience, something literally everyone goes through in his life, and if it’s just too easy to make that a goal and have it blinded by ego.

I always worry about going too far into how “bad” things can feel. Sometimes, there is truly no point in bemoaning something you can’t control, and it doesn’t help anyone to go on and on about any matter of it. In fact it can easily make things worse, redirecting the mind to focus on negative aspects and intensifying the size of something that you are trying to keep small, in check. Not to mention, you’ll bore everyone to tears. No one likes a whiner, and I try to be cautious about keeping the line drawn, bold and underlined between the two pathways the narrative can take:

One describes an experience so that people on the outside might have a better idea of what his fellow humans are dealing with. It can help expand “common ground”, I think. If it’s done a very good job, it might help replace judgment with compassion, or prevent misunderstanding or a lack of empathy due to disbelief that it’s even real. It helps close the gap between the experiences of two people who have not lived in the others world.

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Guilty
The other path, takes pain and gives it too much of a stage. It exploits something that all humans go through in some capacity and disguises itself as some kind of cursed reward. It gains momentum by reliving the same woes with new words, and by getting others indulge in their own without reflection. It’s not adding anything new or valuable to the conversation. If it isn’t honest or asking for help, if it isn’t uplifting people, but just reinforcing old wounds, it’s fair to say it’s gone south. Ever notice how someone complaining can rub off on you and lead you to do the same, or simply leave you feeling depressed? I’ve experienced it in person, and I know writing and reading accounts can be just as powerful.

Similarly, a positive person, who still acknowledges reality but seems to see through their moment of pain, can leave you feeling hopeful and inspired. The difference is not that these people haven’t endured pain, but what they’ve done with it. How they chose to let it shape them.

I know I’ve crossed over into the negative side way more than I’d like to admit, and probably even fooled myself into thinking it was necessary. Talking about hardship will always draw people in, because we’re all being challenged in our own ways, carrying our unique burdens. But that’s why I scratch half these posts or become too afraid to write about things. It’s a necessary and good thing to talk about the realities we face, because so often it provides people reinforcement, encouragement, reminders they are not alone and the vital belief that they can endure their hardship, just as many before them have, and emerge on the other side. Reading other peoples stories has always inspired and comforted me. Sometimes I distrust myself and skip out on telling certain stories or of certain experiences, but I think maybe it takes practice in reading enough good stories, and knowing the difference between which one will do good, and which one is the ego getting his fill.

I pray constantly to be a source of optimism through honesty, not to exploit a reality that’s in comparison to some, very very lucky. I think you write about pain the same way you live with it, which is to keep in checked moderation and right sized, and attempt to keep eternity in view, somehow. I don’t know how to do this, but I know some good ways not to. So what can I do but try and hope that I’m on the right side of sharing a personal account. Usually if I become too whiny, my mother hits me. Kidding– but you have a big enough family and they don’t let you complain too long or past a certain point, so I’ve relied on them often to keep me in check. A good friend will do the same.

What I’ve learned so far is how easy it can be to start expecting things to go bad, because so many things go bad. But we do ourselves a disservice in becoming convinced the world has conspired against us and we’re doomed to draw the short end of the stick for the rest of our lives. The trouble with that kind of thinking, besides it having no intrinsic value, is that it assumes the rest of the world is riding the easy train to party-town, never confronting a hardship, enduring pain, or drawing their own crappy short sticks. No one has a monopoly on pain. It’s part of all our respective contracts here. So having the idea that your life is hard and everyone else is clueless and has it easy will only make your own pain worse by punctuating it with something that isn’t true, first. And second, that idea undermines the lives of others who do know pain good and well, but whose experience you are now denying, because you can’t see past your own. I cringe to consider how many times I’ve done this, being stuck in my own dark hole.

Pain can be blinding or clarifying, depending on how well it’s kept in check. It can be overwhelming in the moment but when held against the larger backdrop of our lives, it usually highlights what is good, it makes gratitude grow and can help you see with new eyes. If pain is held up only in its moment in the dark, and seen as punishment, bad luck, or some kind of payment you got stuck with and others are getting for free as though its some kind of tax, then you will pay continually, and your relief will be rare. Pain shouldn’t make us proud, it should show us humility. Acting well and grateful and good in the face of pain is what should make us proud.

Sometimes I think of my life from a birds eye view, looking at it plotted out on paper like a map, where I can trace with my finger through the course, beginning to end. When I get discouraged, I think that what I fear is living a life I can’t say that I’m proud of in the end, when I’m tracing my line and seeing how I behaved. I know what will make me proud is having loved fiercely, being steadfast, humble, trying, listening well, finding humor in every stupid day, and being grateful for the lucky life I was given, the family of love I was born into. In the meantime, it feels good to put your head down and work. Sometimes you endure the pain quietly, and know that you’ll be OK whether you tell someone about it or not. I think moderation plays a role, and a discernment in what is worth sharing and what will only exhaust us to speak about. In some way it comes down to self-awareness and restraint.

I’ll end with this passage I read in The Road to Character this morning, a book I’d highly recommend by David Brooks. The first quote is Brooks summarizing George Marshalls training at VMI, followed by a quote from Cicero, which Brooks used to explain the composed, revered manner of Marshall throughout his life.

“The whole object of VMI training was to teach Marshall how to exercise controlled power. The idea was that power exaggerates the dispositions–making a rude person ruder and controlling person more controlling. The higher you go in life, the fewer people there are to offer honest feedback or restrain your unpleasant traits. So it is best to learn those habits of self-restraint, including emotional self-restraint, at an early age…

That person then, whoever it may be, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fight, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person in the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.” -Cicero

Health, Happiness, Restraint

P.S. This is dedicated to Varney Prejean, the eternal optimist in the face of pain and such a happy, loving, groovy person. If you’ve got an extra prayer, send one out for him. Hang tough Varn-dog, we’re rooting for you!

Apathy, Advocacy, Jumping In

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

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

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

They?

(Insert really awkward DC photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Tryin