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

The Opposite of Boredom

A few noteworthy things of late.

I’m completely lost in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I began reading it Sunday and now I find myself attempting to read only small bits at a time because I’m already dreading it being over. It’s such a good read. The protagonist Jack really resonates with me but also Percy is such a creative and dead-on writer of things large and small. I admit reading his words make me feel like I could never write anything of worth if I tried for it my entire life. But on other pages his complex ideas play out so simply, his writing so accessible that it gives the assuring impression that anyone could do it. The story takes place in New Orleans mostly, among other Louisiana Parishes and the Mississippi coast. I love stories set here, not for reasons of pride but for how perfectly the landscape plays into the story, picking up where plot leaves off. Something huge would inevitably be lost were it to be told from Ohio…or Michigan. All parts of it from the dress, to the houses, to the unnerving racial tension are all intrinsically Southern, and you find yourself loving it whether you hate it or not. Also of note, Percy lived in Covington. He used to drive the bridge to New Orleans. I guess it’s encouraging to know something so inspiring came out of this little town that for so long I hated. Speaking of the bridge..

I had another moment of coherence. This time around mile marker 11. Monty and I were driving home once again, New Orleans to the Northshore, last Monday evening. It was a pretty nondescript Monday, cloudless with little traffic. But my thoughts were floating through me with the rhythm of the bumps per usual. Then I did this thing which I do a lot. A small amount of congested traffic formed from some kind of road repair, and as I slowed my car to a near-halt, I felt myself bracing for impact. Not from me but from a car behind. (No car in particular, I do this no matter who’s behind me) Then I imagined the loud crashing sound it would make and my airbags inflating. Then the last part which is usually the most unnerving for me, I saw my car crashing through the concrete barrier to my right,  and my feeble Toyota corolla with Monty and me inside it, falling slow motion into the water. Down, down we’d go.

like this. but less black and whiteness.
Like this. But less black and whiteness.

And usually the thought doesn’t end with a rescue. Usually it ends with me shuttering at the idea of the lights going out on my life so fast, and then me being jerked back to reality, convincing myself someway that death is nothing to think about. As though I’ll never die! But last Monday was different. I had the thought, I braced for impact, I saw the vision of my falling car. And then out of nowhere…tranquility. My mind felt placid. I may have even smiled. I thought how weightless that moment must be when you finally let go. The grand transition. Finally releasing something you’ve held so tightly onto, whether it was good to you or not. The surrender. The relief! It finally occurred to me that only being lost so deeply in the world garners that sort of fear about death. If we could interview those who have “passed on” (as I hear older religious folk say) I think they’d say it wasn’t that scary. Nothing compared to the rest of their life on earth scared to death imagining it! I’d love to get just one interview. It’s like I know all these dead people and none of them will give me the dirt.

Anyway, I can’t explain how reassuring that moment was on the bridge. I remember in California over a year ago, I was sicker than I’d ever been to the point I actually thought I might be dying. And I hated the idea. I was so overwhelmed by that possibility that often it brought me to tears and I’d have to excuse myself and physically catch my breath. In theory it should have been almost a relief to think about–an end to suffering. But I didn’t want to die. And I certainly didn’t want my last days on earth to be like the ones I was having there. Closed up indoors, lifeless, feeling very alone. It’s just interesting to me that now that I’ve really been living these last few months, and dare I say it, even–happy–my fear of death has lessened. I’ve enjoyed the park and the pool with Monty in the sun. I’ve gone to dinner parties. I’ve said yes to things that in my sick past were a big fat no. I’ve spent quality time with people I love, not doing a whole lot of anything at all but talking about life and people and laughing really, really hard. And there on the bridge, for maybe no more than a second, I didn’t fear death. I felt curious and interested. But I wasn’t tense bracing for impact. I was smiling at how much fun I’ve been having and how at ease with life I feel. You’d think that would make the idea of death more unnerving than ever, because it means an end to happy times. But the opposite occurred. From my perspective over the water, death was just another thing that happens. Maybe after all, it’s not that big a deal? Hah. That moment was the first I’ve had that it didn’t feel like this overwhelming weight baring that comes with the knowledge that one day we’re all going to die. And even though my normal angst about it has at least half returned, that moment has really stuck and it feels readily accessible still. There was something very casual about it, which made me trust it even more. Sometimes I find myself looking for grand answers, spectacles, formal explanations of life and existence..and this was not really that. It was a simple and tranquil instant of acceptance, and those are the moments that persist. I pet Monty’s velvet ears, turned up the music and into the distance we drove. That indistinct Monday turned out to be quite the evening as it were.

Besides my newfound excitement for death! (jk)… the Day Lily’s are back in bloom. I looked at all the colors sprouting up yesterday, noting that by nature’s calendar I’ve officially been in this house for one year. I remember writing about these flowers last year, excited for how life in the pool house might unfold. Funny I hardly remember what’s happened in the time since then. In some way the fact that nothing terrible stands out makes it safe to say it’s been a pretty decent year. I only know that being given the gift of “relative health” the last few months has truly been remarkable for me. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of so many moments– of friends and boys and late nights immensely–and I feel gratefulness overflowing in me. I don’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve read and written and played Taylor Swift on my guitar ridiculously loud. When I’m sick I rest. When I have energy I go. But most notably is this gratitude and the awareness of this gratitude. It occurred to me recently that this is the opposite of boredom. When I feel gratitude I feel like I’m living with my eyes open. I’m often noticing things that were already there that I’d simply skipped over before. I like this feeling of being in touch with my aliveness, seeing the realm of possibility beyond personal limits, recognizing the awe-inspiring nature of everything alive. Maybe it’s why I love saving the frogs from the pool, or why I don’t get rid of the spider living in the corner of my bathroom. I don’t think you can be in tune to these truths and be also bored. Boredom uses a narrow vision, it sees life as something to happen for us and not from us. Even yesterday, which turned out to be a crash day spent in bed, I lost myself in the enjoyment of a book, completely grateful for the existence of novels and good authors. Then completely grateful for a nice house to read them in. I never got out of my pajamas or brushed my teeth. I didn’t exactly contribute to the world. And all the same, it was really a wonderful day. I know there was a recent time in my life when I wouldn’t have thought that to be so.

Health, Happiness, Opposites.

 

 

I Wanna Get Better

This strange thing keeps happening. This clear salty liquid keeps filling up in my eyes and overflowing down my face. I’ll feel a little overwhelmed and then a sense of loss, like I’m mourning someone. The liquid is an endless spring. I imagine I’ll run out, but I don’t. I have to drink more just to supplement all that salt I’m losing! It’s pretty annoying. I’d like it to stop.

The truth is I become a fragile emotional feather when I’m sick without relief. Gradually, after day and night and day of unrelenting sickness, it just gets to you. It starts to feel like dying more than living. I know that’s a heavy statement, and I use the verb feel very specifically. I am very much alive. Although it does beg the question. At what point do we say someone is “dying?” When their suffering outweighs their relief? That’s another question another day. I am for whatever reason, very alive, although I feel very dead. But dead people don’t cry so I think I can rule that out.

The real reason it’s been so hard recently is that being sick is absolutely and utterly exhausting. It’s overwhelming. And you know what I fantasize about? Being one of the people in my life right now that gets to offer help and suggest improvements and do random kind things. I dream of just being an average person in the functioning world. If you are that person, in anyones life, treasure it. It’s truly a privilege to be able to give to others. I might not have understood that had I never gotten sick. I want to give instead of take take take all the time. I’m tired of relying on help from others and constantly showing gratitude or kissing ass because I’m often helpless, unreliable, or burdensome. I’m tired of being high maintenance. I’m tired of all the pills I take, that work about half the time. Sometimes my stomach turns at the thought of them. I’m tired of being a bad friend in terms of what I am able to offer. I’m tired of what I am made to consider my “social life.” I’m tired of calling in sick to doctor appointments. Of seeing one or two hours of sunlight on bad days. I’m tired of my nightmares and high anxiety dreams every night. You’d think such a weighed down life would find respite in the dreamworld, but nope!! I’m tired of being 29 and relying on my parents as much as I do. Tired of feeling like I have things to offer the world but am too sick and small to carry them out. I couldn’t even hold a part-time job right now. And I’d actually love to. I’m tired of the answer being that there is no answer–there is no cure. I’m tired of being tired. And I know that those I rely on get tired of it too. The effects of all this go beyond me.

I don’t believe in whining and complaining and lamenting about life. Going on that way doesn’t really move us forward. But at the same time, there is pain here, underneath the pain, and if I don’t let it out I fear it will grow and take over my already sick insides. So I have to release it. I thought maybe if I write about it, these episodes of fluid filling up my eyes and clouding my vision and streaming down my face will cease. In other words, I want to stop crying at dog food commercials.

I am someone who loves solitude, thrives off of it even. But lately it feels more like loneliness, which is the third cousin twice removed from solitude. It’s a bad feeling. The difference between the two is that one is chosen and the other feels like the forced, only option. It’s hard to swallow when you’re constantly canceling on plans. And what you’re doing instead of being with friends, is being sick and alone at home. That’s not a fun thing to go through all the time. It wears on you.

I also laugh and cry at myself because I still want to see new places and try new things, meet new people and kiss cute boys. It’s like my heart doesn’t know I’m sick. It never gives up on the idea of new adventures. And then I wonder who would want to date me that has read this blog? I sort of leave my bleeding heart in the words here, and it’s a lot. It probably looks heavy. It can be, like anyones life. I feel vulnerable sometimes knowing that people have read such personal things about me without actually knowing me at all, but it’s part of the project. I told myself I’d always be honest, including when it got ugly. And I feel like it’d be dishonorable to discontinue that just for the sake of vanity. Still though, I worry and wonder if I’m cutting myself off from potential personal relationships by laying it all out there for the world to chew up. I worry where my life will go and how in Gods name I will move forward from here when some days I can’t leave the bed. But our boy Tolle is right: all we have is the present moment. All anyone can do is here and now. And if the present moment has me weak and in bed, (like it does right now) I can’t judge it or myself. This is where I am. I am doing what I’m capable of. Some days are going to look like this:

Not tired of this yet.
Not tired of this part.

I see where I’ve gone wrong. I’ve been judging the circumstances of my life which are beyond my control. I’ve been equating my broken body with who I am and my past as the teller of what my whole life will look like. Neither are true. But my circular thoughts would say otherwise, and sometimes we have to observe ourselves beyond our thoughts and feelings–as they are often flat-out wrong. At the same time, this life is just painful and hard sometimes, and I guess it’s OK to type that out loud. Just like I will type out loud when things change and life is better. Everything is temporary.

I also know that goals never hurt anybody. And I plan to make some more specific ones and at least feel  like I am playing a part in my health and happiness. There are small things that I can do and/or avoid that can help. Well, that’s what my mom says, and she is usually right. She’s also planning to give up TV for Lent which sounds great to me. I have a few projects in mind in lieu of the crap we would’ve been watching. Creativity never hurt either. In fact, it’s often where we find relief we didn’t even know we needed.

Also, listen to this song. It’s called I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers and I know the title is almost annoyingly appropriate but it’s a really fun and happy jam. And you can’t have enough of those.

Health and Happiness and Sickness and Sadness :)

Unwell, Unafraid

I know this feeling all too well.

A crash day followed by a crash day followed by a crash day. Somehow it’s worse when you’ve been feeling well.  All the years I’ve been sick, all the crash days and months, and I still can’t remember how bad it feels. It always pulls the rug out from under me–more so if I’ve had good health. Over and over, I forget. How incapacitating it is. How depressing it can get. When you’re moving and doing and performing tasks, you don’t think about these things. You don’t have to. You’re fitting in and alongside the rest of the functioning, productive world and that’s how you like it. It’s the best kind of fitting in. Someone asking you how you are is nothing more than a pleasantry and that’s how I like it. No reason to sugarcoat or think twice about the answer. I’ve yet to figure out a response that feels right, so mostly I lie, and I’m a bad liar. I cave easy. But this is one I get away with. I suppose it’s why anyone lies; it’s just easier. It feels good to give an answer that people want to hear. It keeps a hard reality in the blurry background, and that’s how I like that, too.

On day 4 of my crash, I’m laying on my moms couch in the office. My mom comes in and asks if I am still as weak as I’ve been. I quickly reply ‘no’ and that I’m feeling at least a small bit better. It’s a lie. I can tell because saying it out loud causes some kind of turning in my gut; where the truth would’ve provided solace maybe. I feel just as bad if not worse than yesterday. I’m short of breath for no reason and I’m weak down to my finger tips–peeling my banana earlier was way harder than it should have been. I’m dizzy every time I move. I get waves of nausea that are as close to puking without actually puking as it gets. But I lied. I said I was better. I’m left wondering why I did that. I’ve got some ideas.

Not having to think for very long, the answer came. It’s so easy: I’m afraid. I’m afraid that it could mean what it’s meant before. That it won’t go away. That I could be stuck this way the rest of my life. That I’ll never be able to fulfill all the dreams I have or achieve my notebook full of plans and ideas. I’ve had a one day crash turn into a week turn into 6 months. I’ve watched my life turn inside out and be emptied of the good parts. So often it feels like I’m watching it all happen from the outside. At 26 it felt as though the narrative of my life shifted from 1st person to 3rd, and that’s been hard to get used to. I said goodbye to things I wasn’t ready to. The illness took me over and then swallowed everything in my vicinity too. It was hard. It is hard. Some days, some weeks, some months better than others. It’s just been so “good” the last few months. It seems every time I crash I have to confront everything all over again. I think it will be that way until I fully accept and surrender to what my life might be. I already know the challenges I face, I also know it could be a lot worse. That in the end I have everything I really need. And while my life could be bad like I fear sometimes, it could also be good. great even. And the reason I need to let go of that fear is because what my life can be is up to me. Sick or healthy.

I have to remind myself often that a lot of this is out of my hands, which I have to be very careful with. That kind of acknowledgment requires perspective and reflection and it should never be an excuse. This is surrender, it is not giving up. They are two different animals and mixing them up can heavy the suffering. It doesn’t mean you call it quits and accept that life is shit. I’ve had to draw a lot lines between surrender and giving up and so often I’ve gotten it wrong. I’m ready to start getting it right. Apart from what we’re doing in our lives, the way in which we examine them makes all the difference in its joy or sadness. You’ll know whether you’re surrendering or giving up the same way you’ll know whether you’re telling the truth or not: one feels like relief, the other like defeat. One has roots in reality, the other in fear of it.

I have to stay aware. I have to remain conscious about the choices I am still free to make, and remember that I do still play a part in all this. Of course there are many parts of my life I would change were I able. But how I go about living the rest of my days is in fact up to me. Actually, it is only up to me. Will I choose to react? Will I choose to be a victim? Will I make excuses for myself to justify poor decisions? All of these are possible. And every day I wake up I can think of 100 reasons to choose a darker path. To stew in my own sorrow, to stop trying, to be defeated by something difficult, as if no one else alive is faced with their own challenges. Some that make mine look like a splinter in my pinky. The opportunity to go another route will always be there. You’ll get in trouble thinking that if you choose one good thing, you won’t be tempted by so many other bad ones. You will be. Everyone is, in their own way. Every person has demons to manage and a truth that isn’t easy to sit with in silence, but truthfully this is half of being alive. It’s why you’re a human being and not a turtle in the mud or an insect reacting to stimuli; flying toward whatever is bright.

The funny thing is, what most humans want is control. We like to think we make our own lives and everything is up to us. I disagree with that notion on a few levels and agree with it on others. I know for certain we play a huge hand in our own happiness. But when we get dealt things we didn’t plan for or wouldn’t have picked we feel like we’ve been royally screwed. Robbed. So often I fail to realize it’s not about choosing my hand but how I play the one I got. That has been and always will be up to us.We get to choose how we talk to people and who we surround ourselves with and what we’re going to give our precious energy to each day. What mark will we leave? What will we contribute to the world we’ve been given? Scientists and theologians continue to debate whether we chose to come here or not. Regardless of whether we’re the product of an all-knowing creator or consciousness or the random assimilation of atoms and space, we know for certain our time here is temporary. Loving or hating our life won’t change whether it ends or not. It will end. We don’t get to stay forever. We don’t get a say so in some of the things that were done to us. Every adult has a childhood. Every child had parts that weren’t fair or right. At one time or another, we’ll question every truth we’ve held onto and every drop of optimism we’ve carried. At times we’ll have to fight for our purpose, even if it’s just to get out of bed and make yourself eggs. (That was mine today. Yeah!) We get to choose what we do next with what we have. Will I find a reason to be happy or a reason to be mad? Because I will find both. I can always find both.

I have plenty of reasons to be both. But the last thing I need is to be afraid of what is real. Even if what is real is scary. Life is scary stuff dude. Have you been outside lately?! Even in small doses. Sometimes I have to chop it up smaller and smaller and smaller until it’s digestible enough for me to get out of bed and face the world and find my path and keep going. Doesn’t matter that I know where, so long as it’s forward. The truth moves us forward where lies keep us in the past. Surrender smooths the road for us to navigate with eyes anew, where giving up halts us, traps us in static pause.

I have no idea why even small truths are important, maybe for the reason that even small lies can cause damage. My small truth is that today is the 5th day in a row I feel terrible, and I live in fear that I won’t emerge from it. That the illness has the steering wheel and I’m passenger side. I fear what all the pills I take is doing to my insides. I fear I’ll live with my parents forever. (Sometimes I think they fear it too :) And all of these things are O.K. There’s no need for me to sugarcoat it, lie about it, or fall dramatically somber in acknowledging it. In fact admitting the fear almost instantaneously makes it smaller. Takes away a little of its power.  Today I’m unwell, but I’m also unafraid. I expect to get better. Being quiet and afraid won’t rid me of what I fear. So perhaps better to be loud and honest. Life will go on regardless. What I want to be assured of, and what I imagine so many of us want to be assured of, is that we tried. That we didn’t take being alive lightly. I know I don’t live all of my days like that, and that’s a change I’m working on. Imagine if we could all live in our truth, whatever it is, and embrace each day as though we’d never lost. What might our world look like then? Our lives? Our Facebook Statuses?!

This has all stemmed from one small lie I told one afternoon that followed me around all night and morning. Funny that me confronting a grand truth began with a dumb little lie. But something about it makes me feel in my bones that these things matter. Sometimes I see and feel in myself and others that we’re starving for things that matter but are constantly being fed things that don’t. I don’t know how to begin a shift, but I know to make changes on a big scale, we must first begin with ourselves and live honestly. It’s our job to dig deep within, listen to our intuition, and be human for one another, not at one another.

I’m still tying all of my thoughts together. Still looking for answers and often coming up short. Sometimes I can feel the strings of my reality ever so slowly weaving together and making something whole from many mismatched parts. That’s what so many days feel like. Raking through the muck and finding the good parts. Then making sense out of the bad stuff left behind. The fear and pain and anger, there’s a lot of answers in them.

I’m sharing this beginning with anyone reading. (All six of you)  Maybe somehow, it’s something we all work towards together. And whether this is just a stepping stone or a small premise for something bigger, it doesn’t matter. This can be the start of something new, even if it’s very very small. And I can look back at this oddly cold day in January, where besides the frozen leaves outside, it would have been business as usual. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. Where a small lie would have left me afraid, a tiny truth burrowed out instead. And in my repetitive life, maybe this is the start of something new.

Health, Happiness, and I Ain’t Scurred

I ain't scurred
Just Kidding I’m Still Scared

Fall Yall.

They say the only thing constant is change itself. And when seasons change, particularly Summer into Fall, I always seem to feel a change on the inside as I watch the atmosphere play out it’s own changes. As if my circadian rhythms, my organs, my soul knows that things are going to change. I’ve always liked the feeling. The transition from Summer into Fall and Fall into Winter has always been the happiest time for me. That first gust of cold air. Pulling out old sweaters and cardigans. Cuddling in close to whoever you’re with. (I’m talking to you mom!) And there’s that slight reminder that the Holiday’s aren’t so far away and if you’re like me and ridiculously elated by Christmas, then it’s a good feeling to pick up on. I’d say if I could choose a season to fall in love, as if you could ever choose these things, I’d pick Fall. It also seems most likely to happen then in my eyes. A girl can dream. I say that a lot.

New Orleans weather is really weird. And by weird I mostly mean crappy. Our summers are long. Just too long really. And unrelentingly hot and humid. It takes your breath sometimes. Every time I fly into Louis Armstrong and exit baggage claim, my lungs get coated with a Southern sheet of bayou film and I have to remind myself how to breathe. It’s all part of the fun of calling Nola home. And I mean that. Our Fall is very short, much like the Spring. And Winter is fickle. A cold day comes. Everyone dresses as if the blizzard of the century is approaching and the cold due to the moisture in our air is penetrating and bitter. And then two days later it’s 70’s degrees and uncomfortably wet. If I could present our seasons through words arrangements it’s like this:

 

S   U   M   M   E   R R R R Fall W I N TER Spring S U M M E RRRRR

 

So maybe the climate isn’t our major selling point, but I also don’t hate it. Cold days are such a novelty here, and the excitement brought on by temperatures allowing boots and a chunky sweater is contagious. Nothing gets a Southern girl excited like Sweater Weather. Just say those two words to one and watch the magic unfold. It’s true we don’t have four equal and distinct seasons; we have summer with a side of spring or winter sometimes. But we still get a taste of everything it could be much worse. We also get extreme thunderstorms, and I truly love rain. And not just the grey drizzly days. I’m talking intense thunder and lights flickering and those storm clouds that somehow turn up in shades in green. I love those days. Monty prefers to spend thunderstorm time in the bathtub, and I say whatever floats your boat homie.

Anyway I’ve been cleaning the leaves out of the pool with a net as Monty swims despite the water temperature having dropped majorly. To me, this is the quintessential image of Fall at home. Brown leaves floating in an empty pool. It’s perfect. I drag the net through the water and I get these bursts–an urge, an inspiration–I’m not sure exactly what it is. But I think maybe if I were a tree, I’d feel like shedding my leaves. And then suddenly, for one brief clear moment, nature makes sense. I continue to sweep the pool for miscellaneous debris including a Gatorade water bottle that monty dropped in and has sunk to the bottom. Since I don’t have leaves to shed, I went with the next best thing. My hair.

Pardon my selfie skillz.
Pardon my selfie skillz.

I chopped it. And got blonde added to it too. Mostly because, I felt that thing, that very internal tinge of electricity. The thing I think trees might feel. And I had to do something with it. I didn’t even care so much about the outcome once I made my decision. I just had to go for it. And leaves grow back in the spring–my hair grows fast. I’m 29 and I’ve never colored it. I’ve had long hair for so long that it was starting to look sad to me–sick even. It was reminding me of being sick. Suddenly I wanted the weight gone. Something lighter. Something new. As the hairdresser snipped my first 6 inches off, I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me he didn’t like my hair short. I shut my eyes and listen to it all come off. It felt good. It felt great. It rejuvenated me somehow. No more sick hair. Sick thoughts. Time to be happy and try new things. Time to act on positive impulses. Time to finish things I started and stick to things that I know are important. The leaves have fallen and my hair has lightened. (See what I did there?) I feel good about things. Good things are in the works. I encourage yall to make a change too. Do it for me. Do it for you. For Fall. Why not?

Report back. And rock on.

 

Health, Happiness, Fall.

The Only Gift to Give

(me)
(me)

For as long as I can remember, my mother has never been one for presents. Specifically cutesy presents like mugs that say # 1 Mom! or trinket-type gifts like the kind from the Hallmark store. I guess at her age and after four children, she’s accumulated enough “stuff” to last until her end. She gets it. She’s the worlds greatest mom. Enough with the mugs already! It’s not that she isn’t sentimental, because she is. It’s more that now, those $20 items from the mall just seem gratuitous. She will always say “Thank You” to a gift but I know she’d rather we save our money or donated it to someone or something that really needs it. It seems like free, homemade gifts have always been her favorite. Since I’m living under her roof and on her dime, it wouldn’t make sense to buy her a gift anyway. It’d be with her money! I’m like the little drummer boy but all I have to give are words. “I have no gift to bring Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum!” Anyway, I guess every mom just likes to know they were thought of in a meaningful way. I’m not a parent so I couldn’t know, but I’ve heard it’s both the hardest and the most rewarding job on the planet. Most of the time your efforts go unnoticed, or under-appreciated, or unrealized until decades later, and it’s good to set aside a day to let them know: We noticed the work you did– and thank them for it because it’s a job well done. Here is my totally affordable thank you to a mom very deserving.

I want to say that whether you knew it or not, I’ve been taking notes from you. Because more than someone who performs countless motherly duties each day, a mother is also simply a model human being for her children. Everything you were doing as an adult, were things I observed and learned from.  Watching you navigate through dark times. Noticing your courage and grace when things fell to pieces. Watching you keep going when it would have been easier to give up. Those are all things I will carry with me–forever. I never felt too young to take on the lessons you were learning yourself. If I am ever a mother I will hope to pass those things down to my own kids. But as a singular human being, I will keep them with me and they will guide me long after you’re gone.

Perhaps the best thing a kid can tell their mom is that they’re happy. The last few years have been extremely difficult for me. And I know that as a mom, having to watch your child suffer is even more painful. So often she told me she wished she could go through the experience for me, and save me from the pain. I think most parents would agree. They’d prefer to take on the hardships themselves then have to watch their child go through it. But as much as parents want to protect their children, hide them from the pain and perversions of the world, they also have to trust that they have instilled enough love, value, self-esteem, and wisdom in us so that we may not run from the hardships, but that we may find our way through them, and come out of the other side intact–wiser and stronger, not bitter and broken. I want to tell my mom that even though life has been at difficult, sometimes unbearably difficult, and I’ve wondered how I’d get through, that I would reflect on her life and remember all of the hardships that she had emerged from. The memory would remind me that I could do the same. I’ve always known that at the root of everything, I am loved. Unquestionably. Unconditionally. Consistently. I have always known that. And that knowledge makes a difference to a kid. Whether we’re 3 or 30. I wonder what the world would be like if every child knew that. In times where I didn’t feel like I could keep going for me, I knew that I was loved enough that I would keep going for her, for them. And that guided me. That kept me going.

I know that  watching a child in pain is almost unbearable for a parent. I could see it in her eyes when I was sick and incapable of many things last year. It hurt her too. But I also know that there are few greater feelings than a parent watching their child experience joy, find happiness, emerging out of the other side of darkness. I want to tell my mom that I am happy. That I’m OK. And no matter how hard my life gets, I will always be OK. Because look what we’ve already made it through! It used to frighten me, remembering how hard life can get. But now it strengthens me. It’s a choice; I can think of either the rough times and be afraid or remember that we made it out of them and be reassured. I know that being a mother and worrying go hand-in-hand, but I want to tell you not to worry. I am OK and I will always be OK.

I think in the end it doesn’t come down to how many shirts or mugs or magnets you have in your drawer of trinket gifts. Those are things and things are temporary. The love and the lessons you handed down are what is forever. The love you gave through happy times and sad times. The wisdom you exuded when it felt like the world had turned its back on us. Crying when you need to. Laughing when you need to. But never turning bitter, never giving up. All of these learned responses are what you handed down. They are what we will hand down. And the next generation will hand down. And that’s the thread of life being sewn across the world. Nothing temporary about it.

I guess all of this is to say, job well done. Your work will live beyond your life.

Love,

Mary (and Monty)

P.S. Since your other children are out of state, they each wanted to draw you a picture for today. In case you forgot their age judging by the quality of their art, I’ve included them for you.

Health and Happiness and Happy Mothers Day!

This is from your oldest son Doug. He is 35 years old.
This is from your oldest son Doug. He is 35 years old.
This is from your son Nick. He is IV league educated.
This is from your son Nick. He is IV league educated.
This is from your daughter Amelie. She's a designer. (Age 32)
This is from your daughter Amelie. She’s a designer. (Age 32)

You’ll Forget. And So Will They.

There is one component of this illness and autoimmune diseases in general which exacerbates the whole experience. The invisibility factor. You can’t see it. Many times when it shows its ugly head, no one is around to bear witness. People see us when we’re out and about and well, or faking it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear “But you don’t look sick!” People have a notion of what sick looks like, and this doesn’t fit the bill. One day you’re normal and the next day your plagued with something worse than a flu, or a hangover, but you didn’t do any drinking. It’s just such an enigma on so many levels, besides keeping up appearances, that it’s no surprise people just plain forget you’re sick. And it’s understandable. Because honestly, you forget too.

To this day I find myself committing to things as though I am normal, as though I have boundless energy, as though I don’t spend days in bed sometimes for no real reason at all. My circumstances aren’t normal. And some days I have to remind myself by the hour of my limits. Many times I fail to recognize them and I pay the price. So it’s no surprise that the people we love, the people we’re closest to-friends, lovers, family- they’ll forget too. And it’s easy to see why, but it will make you defensive. You’ll tell yourself they just don’t get it and they’ll never understand! And you’re right, they don’t. It’s impossible to know unless you’ve got it yourself. But don’t let that separate and isolate you more. You’ve got enough boundaries. When someone doesn’t believe you, when someone criticizes you, judges you, or doesn’t give the sympathy you’re looking for, let it go. Meet their disbelief with love and understanding. Because the truth is, if you weren’t sick with this, would you understand it? I know it’d be hard for me. I was young when I became ill but I remember distinctly things coming easy to me. Being a good gymnast. Getting good grades. Good family and friends. A 9-year-old with everything! I had no real reason for pause. I often consider what my life would be like had I not gotten sick and in general it’s with the notion that I’d be a better person living a better life. I really wonder about that now. Being sick and at the mercy of others help and kindness, I’ve learned remarkable lessons in humility and compassion, and those are just scratching the surface. I can’t say who I’d be without illness. But like my mom said once “Who knows? Maybe we if we hadn’t gotten sick we’d just be two capable assholes.”

The point is, when I still my mind and consider all the parts of this, I can understand the doubt, the skepticism, the misunderstanding from others. This is not a well understood disease, even for us sick ones. (But I know that one day it will be. I know that.) I remember once last year, I woke up with a pounding migraine. I was in one of my awful cycles. The first dose of medicine didn’t work so I took two, among my other cocktail of meds. I got out of bed around 1:30, hazy, tired, and the hint of my migraine still masquerading around my head. My boyfriend at the time saw me and said “You’re up! Hey, do you want to go shoot guns today?” At that moment I thought of 647 other things I would rather do than shoot a gun. The mere thought of shooting a gun made my headache perk up like what? huh? guns? Here I come!!! Even the suggestion of that activity made me mad. I felt really misunderstood and alone and thinking what I so often think: if they could only feel what I am feeling, they would understand. And it’s true. I think if most people felt the symptoms of CFS even for ten minutes, they’d have such a better grasp of what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. But that’s not possible. So it is up to us to communicate with love to those who don’t know. What we’re dealing with is basically invisible, and getting defensive and trying to prove it will exhaust us even more.

Besides my mom, who is also sick with this, I think about the one person who has been by my side throughout all of this, and has required the least amount of explaining. The answer is Monty. I realize that sounds juvenile. Oh Mary, you crazy dog lady..maybe you should talk to some PEOPLE. And truthfully I probably should. But I think about the number of beds Monty has slept at the foot of. Patiently he waits until I get up. Some days it’s only a minute..we don’t play and he doesn’t seem to mind. He follows me into the bathroom, he follows me out. When I go back to bed, he does to. And this is a very energetic and active dog. He could go all day, literally. But it truly feels like he picks up on sick days. When I wake up in the morning, he always takes some deep breaths really close to my face. It’s like he can tell by smell whether I’m going to get up or not. Sometimes he sniffs and hops out of bed ready to go. Other times he sniffs and goes back to bed. It really is like he knows.

The thing is, Monty doesn’t understand all the weird components to the illness. He doesn’t know what chronic fatigue syndrome is. He doesn’t understand why some days we play and other days we don’t leave the bed. Sometimes for a few days at a time. But he doesn’t even require an explanation or a defense, because what he is exemplifying so beautifully is living in the present. When it’s time to play, we play hard. When it’s time to sleep, we sleep like it’s nobody’s business. Whatever he does, he does fully. He shows up wholly to every moment. And it’s a truly impressive thing to witness. One of my favorite things is to watch Monty when he gets up in the morning. I open the door for him and he walks outside, stops, and sniffs the air for about 15 seconds. It’s like he’s taking in everything from the night and everything that the day will bring. I like watching it because it’s reflective, and we live such busy, fast lives, we constantly neglect reflection. I think it’s fair to say that it’s required for a happy life. We have to stop sometimes. We have to take things in. We have to feel our feelings. (Smell the roses, if you will.)And we don’t need to say it all on Facebook. Some things we should hold inside near our heart. Or whisper it to someone we love.

I am reading a book called Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson which is incredibly poignant and really well-written. I find myself underlining entire pages. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a book club but of course I’ve never gotten it together and am bad at keeping commitments. So for now the blog will be it. And I invite all of you to read and share your thoughts on these books. I have about twenty more pages and will have a review/summary/dialogue next time. But if you’re looking for a book as a companion..this is a good one. It’s been seeing me through sleepless nights and reading it when I wake up in the morning gives me a happy way to begin the day. One of my favorite lines near the beginning is “We don’t need to push life so much as we need to experience it more elegantly, to be motivated more by inspiration than by ambition.” I like that idea. When I’m not in bed I let my instincts and inspiration guide me…even it’s just sitting on the porch swing and looking at the flowers, which I do a lot. Monty makes me throw a ball and swims laps in the pool. See?

Please just throw the ball.
Please just throw the ball.

 

Anyway, I am working on living a reflective life. I try to take in every moment truly, and feel it genuinely. Even if the moment is sad or fearful. I know that not feeling things through leads to trouble later on. I’ve been there before. For now, I feel happy. The sun is out and the porch swing is calling.

Health, Happiness, Smelling the Roses