Breaking News

(Not Really)

Toward the end of this winter, I sat in a bathtub, tears coming down my face, and prayed for change. Things had been stationary and repetitive for too long. All my parts, body and mind, were beginning to go stir-crazy, and I’d given it a solid go. I think in modern times, being confined to the same two rooms for long periods of time without real socialization and not going totally insane is a kind of victory on its own. Things went from stationary to stagnant, and I’m pretty diligent about avoiding that disposition. Undoubtedly, it started to wear on me. I closed my eyes and envisioned the “path” of my life like a black dotted line on a treasure map–obviously th line had been very straight for a while. But I visualized that in the spring the dotted line would take a sharp turn, still progressing, still moving in the right direction or whatever, but that there would be a marked change. It would stir things up, it would springboard the stagnancy of sickness and the same two rooms and same faces at the pharmacy and pop them into the air like popcorn. I wanted an interruption I guess. And I felt tired waiting for one.

The thing about change, I was beginning to realize, is that it has a lot to do with you (me) and less to do with crossing your fingers and waiting around for it. I admit, for a long time in terms of the illness, I did that in a certain capacity. I’ve hoped and prayed for a cure ever since I became sick, but I was never involved or deeply curious in the process of how that could happen. I wasn’t a part of online support groups for ME/CFS. I was never really involved with advocacy, and I didn’t follow the latest research or science. Sometimes people would send me articles from The New York Times or some Magazine that would tell the story of someone sick, usually summarize the history of CFS mostly on the surface, and then reveal the prognosis, which was that there was still no cure and no approved treatments. Once, I was sent a New York Times article called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome No Longer Seen As ‘Yuppie Flu’” You’d think in some way, a major and respected newspaper validating your disease would be a comfort, but to someone who’s been suffering for years from it, it was more like Yeah, no shit. It’d be like seeing an article titled “Water Found to be Necessary for Survival.” My mom, who follows every study, reads up on trials and new findings, would update me often in an optimistic tone. But I can remember, in the first year after the crash that I’d stopped working and was living in their house, I felt angry and remember telling her I didn’t want to know about any more studies until there was one that found the cure. I was clearly still in the “acceptance” phase of this whole thing, and that was a prissy reaction to say the least, but I just never wanted to get pulled too far into the “community” of the illness. I felt if I entered in too far, which would be easy to do, it’d take me over, consume my identity. And I battle myself a lot in avoiding that transition–I don’t want to turn into the ‘sick girl.’  There are just so many other things I want to do and express, and sometimes the illness feels like it controls too much of my outer life, after already having control of my insides. It’s a strange, duplicitous struggle to face. And some days I feel like the illness wins–not in terms of my body, but my mind. That’s what I try to avoid.

Last week, a news crew was at my house. I say crew, but it was really just two people. An interviewer and a cameraman from Fox8 News New Orleans. It’s funny how it all came to happen, but stars aligned in certain ways, and now news-anchor Rob Masson was interviewing me in our living room. We talked about the petition, about getting sick with this weird, elusive, invisible, strange disease. He was a great interviewer and he understood the illness well. You can tell when someone gets it by the questions they ask. For instance, a person who doesn’t get it asks questions like “Do you think if you did more during the day, you might sleep better at night?” And a more intuitive person might ask “So how do you prepare for an event you know is coming up? And how long do you pay for it physically?” Rob and I had talked already on the phone about the disease, the NIH, the history and the campaign for nearly an hour a week before. Then the day of the interview they ended up staying two and a half hours at our house. (It will probably be a two minute spot) They spoke with me, my mom, and shot footage of Monty, of course. . Normally, the idea of “being on the news” even local news, would stress me out. Mainly because internally I’d think “Why do I have any business being on the news? I’m just a sick person living with my parents?!” But the reassuring and truthful answer was that this really wasn’t about me. I’m an example of one among millions of people living with the disease, and I felt I could speak up for it in that way, provide an example of what it “looks like”–which is nothing. You couldn’t pick a person with ME out of a crowd, but it’d probably be the one lying down using some odd piece of furniture as as a bed. I was/am exceedingly grateful this petition made the news, mostly because I think any press that shows what this disease looks like and is told from the angle of someone who is actually sick, not a psychiatrist speculating about it, is always a good thing.

Anchorman_140Pyxurz
(Not Rob Masson)

But the real angle was the campaign, which is also not about me, but about the NIH, and how their lack of funding and research has left millions of sick people without a place to go. You can count the number of CFS specialists with one and a half hands. The reason I felt optimistic writing this petition is that this is a problem with a very clear solution. It has always had a solution, and in every article, blog, comment debate, news story, I see the same desperately needed solution being pointed out, which is funding. The disease is complex, the research and studies and science is complex, but some of the top virologists and infectious disease specialists in the world are signed on to study this, say they can solve it, they are simply lacking the funds. It just seems so simple in that regard. It’s obvious this can’t be ignored anymore. This is an epidemic, and I know that word is overused a lot, but when millions of people are out of commission, and the country is paying billions a year in lost productivity and medical expenses, I would call that somewhat of a health crisis. So, it’s time. And Mr. Collins and Secretary Burwell can make it happen. I know they can.

I’m still learning how to be an advocate. I don’t know if it’s really my calling. My sister on the other hand should consider this as a career option, she’s really good. :) I’m still trying hard to attain more signatures because I’d like to get as many as possible for the protest on May 25th in DC. The power in this method of “protest” is in numbers, so I’m still thinking “Hey, we can make it to 35. And if we can make it to 35 we can make it to 40!” 40,000 has a nice ring to it, a more sturdy number. Anyway, I trust we’ll get the number we need. And I still have the hesitancy of not letting this fight, win or lose, enter too deep into my identity. In my attempt to share the campaign with every CFS organization, I’ve sort of leaped into the Chronic Illness Community…and everything there makes sense. I see myself in all the stories. I recognize the descriptions. I understand completely what people mean in their emotions and discouragements. But sometimes I have to just dip a toe in..share the petition and then get out. If I spend too much time there, I don’t know, I feel too consumed by it. And those are my brothers and sisters! It’s not that I’m turning my back on them, I just live it and write it enough as it is. I guess I don’t need reminders right now. I’m more hungry for change.

This petition I hope can speak for us all. Maybe I will just always be fighting to remember who I am, to hold on to some remnant of myself that was there before I ever became ill or ever started “fighting for a cure.” In one part of me, a flame has been lit and I feel ready to take on the world and achieve this change. Halfway because I’m bored of it. It’s so obvious what we need to do, and I know it will happen eventually, I’d just like it to happen sooner so we can all get on with other things. The other part of me thinks I can write through the filter of being sick till the cows come home, but there’s so much other subject matter out there. There’s so much else to do. And I want to explore it all. There are so many other stories I want to tell. And I think I will. I’m just a little in between worlds for now. Fighting for this cause and also trying to stay conscious of who I am without all of this. Dive too deep into anything and you can get stuck there. Maybe dive is the wrong word. Attach. I don’t want to become attached to this. I want things to change. And then I want to travel to Japan.

So, that’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods. Physically I feel like absolute crap, which is the most efficient and motivating reminder to keep fighting for this change :)  I don’t know when the news segment will come out, though I can already anticipate my self-consciousness about it. I don’t like seeing myself on camera or hearing my own voice. I am fat from the steroids and hardly even feel like I’m in my own body anymore. And it’s a vulnerable thing–I never imagined I’d be interviewed by someone and talk about being sick, 31 and living with my parents on TV. I mean, this could really ruin things for me on Tinder. But the TRUTH is, none of that matters. It’s not about me or my story or whatever I’ve lost along the way. This is about the campaign and what’s next. It’s about what we’re asking for, which is a very specific thing: $100 million bucks. It’s not that much money, come on! But, if the segment goes online I will try to post it here. So, once again, I will shamelessly post the petition, and if you feel like signing or sharing because you haven’t yet, I recommend you do so I can stop writing about this stuff and my sister can stop pestering every person she knows to sign it. Amelie, I love you. Thank you again everyone for the love and support and signing. I guess that dotted line I envisioned making a sharp turn ended up happening in a very strange way. Life is funny.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-funding-so-we-can-find-a-cure

Health, Happiness, HEY MOM IM ON THE NEWS!

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How To Make It Matter

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

-Tagore

Health, Happiness, Coneheads

Baby Talk.

Around New Years this year, while I was half dead in a record-setting cold and dreary Colorado, my sister and I were texting. She said that 2013 would be The Year of the Gelpi, as though it were a new hybrid car that ran on water. Among other things, She was going to get pregnant, and I was going to get better; things we’d both been after for a while, but neither one conquered. It’s hard to keep up hope when day after day you feel exquisitely the reality of your circumstance. I often wished I could just take all my sleeping pills, hibernate like a bear, and wake up in the Springtime. All better. But I was also well aware that taking all my sleeping pills meant dying, like for real, like dead dying. Not the day-to-day I feel like I’m dying dying. And I wasn’t ready to call it quits either. I knew there was more to the battle, so I just held on, because that’s all there was to do.

My sister’s situation was a little different. She and her husband decided a few years ago they’d start trying for a baby. Which really meant, they’d just stop trying not to get pregnant. After a year went by with no “success,” my organized, take-control and conquer side of my sister started to monitor every part of the process. Was his stuff OK? Was her stuff OK? Can teeth whitener lessen your chance of pregnancy? Everything checked out OK. We’re just so used to seeing people sneeze and get pregnant that the word “trying” began to take on real meaning. Finally, on her 30th birthday, on a whim she took a pregnancy test, and to her excitement it was positive. I knew that was the best present she could have gotten that year. Yes she was only 4 weeks along but it’s true–she glowed. It was extremely early so they told very few people, even though I remember thinking it was silly. “Let’s tell everyone!” I didn’t understand the need to be so precautionary. I happened to be staying on their couch 2 years ago because, hello, it’s me, that’s what I do. One morning she woke up and said she felt “different.” She had some strange symptoms, and all of her “pregnant” symptoms seemed to have vanished. I told her not to google them because it would only scare her and it’s best to stay calm. Before she could get in to see the doctor, I looked online and cringed as I read many people’s accounts of an early miscarriage–most described her symptoms exactly. I didn’t tell her what I read. I said everybody and every pregnancy is different and we shouldn’t assume anything until she sees the doctor. I prayed for a better outcome, but when he called the house that night, the results weren’t good. The fetus had stopped developing. He was sorry for the news.

I knew it was really hard for her. I don’t know what it feels like to be pregnant, but I know that after you’ve tried and tried and you finally get it, it must be that much harder to lose. It seemed like an unfair teaser. I’ll never forget my sister, brother-in-law, and me standing in their bedroom when she got the news. She hung up and cried a few tears and Keegan and I hugged her. Then she wiped them away and said “I think I want a glass of champagne please.” Keegan was quick to grab a high quality bottle from the kitchen and three glasses. We also ordered sushi, something she’d given up for the pregnancy, and gorged ourselves. Staying true to our morbid sense of humor, we made terrible jokes and tried to have as much fun as we could while we grieved something we couldn’t see.

They would spend the next year and a half meeting with fertility specialists and exploring all their options when it came to having a child. “Who knew it was this hard?” I remember her asking me one day, and admittedly I did not. For one thing, I’m ashamed to admit I watch that show 16 and Pregnant, and those kids make getting knocked up look easy. Not to mention, we’re in the time of everyone and their mother (haha) getting pregnant.

It's so easy!
It’s so easy!
mag
It really is quite easy. Cheerio!
Oh God.
Someone make it stop.

I mean, if Snooki can accidentally make a baby, certainly this healthy, loving married couple with financial stability should have a solid shot at it. It threw us all off that you couldn’t just shoot some tequila and let the magic happen. Could you?

After two doctors, a few rounds of fertility drugs and one procedure, there was still no baby. The next step was going to be very invasive and very expensive. In late Fall, they decided to hit the pause button on the whole charade. No more fertility drugs. A break from the doctors. They were going to let the rest of 2012 finish with as little stress as possible, and pick up where they left off in 2013. The Holiday’s came. We ate gourmet food and drank good wine. 2013 approached and the funny thing is, that night my sister was texting me that this was going to be our year, she didn’t realize that half of the dream had already come true. Inside, a tiny miracle was beginning. And after learning what all is required to take place in order for life to begin, there really is no other way to put it. It is a miracle. I don’t really mind how cheesy it sounds. I also don’t understand how so many people don’t intend to get pregnant but do, because A LOT HAS TO HAPPEN FOR IT TO WORK. But wouldn’t you know it, they got liquored up on Christmas, and well..you know the rest. Apparently the Snooki method works!

Today is my sister’s birthday and I know that it’s a special one. I haven’t given up that my dream will come true too. She’ll have a baby and I’ll get better. But I’m realistic. I know I won’t just wake up one day healed. The key to getting healthy for me is to be at a point where I can manage it effectively. Where I can function and not spend multiple days or weeks in bed. Where I can be proactive and not reactive with treating my symptoms. And where I can remain hopeful, enthused and optimistic even when I feel the worst of it. I have to learn how to find happiness and peace, regardless of my physical state. And I don’t think it’s impossible. It will take dedication and determination and support, but hey, it’s only April. I’m going to be an aunt again in September, so that gives me five months to get in shape. No matter the state of my health, we’re all looking forward to new life in the Fall. We’ve long awaited that little miracle.

Health, Happiness, Babies.

Good News.

I never write on Sundays, but I have a little energy today and after a sick and cloudy week, I’m taking advantage of some mental clarity. The truth is I don’t have a lot of news physically. I have been the weakest I’ve been in my life. It’s a little nuts. It feels like trying to move through maple syrup. So life has been in slow motion, literally. But as always, I have help and constantly remind myself how lucky I am for it.

The real challenge with this latest crash has been maintaining emotional resilience. I remind myself of the same idea each time it gets overwhelming; this is only temporary. And when times are golden and everything is going perfectly, that will be only temporary too. The point is to find inner peace and joy that is resilient through circumstance. So just look at the bad times as intense training. Training isn’t forever. At some point you go out into the game and test your skills. And no doubt, the world will always provide you with situations in which to test yourself and what you’ve learned. This year has had a lot of training and a lot of tests, but a part me feels that I am only just beginning to understand any of it.

Since I have a lot of down time, not moving and all, I do a lot of weird things. Like look at nothing out of a window for a long period of time, not really knowing how long has passed when I snap back to present. Sometimes I listen to Debussey’s Claire de Lune over and over and over and just feel the aliveness of a song like that, even though I feel like only a half-alive body. I watch French movies on Fridays because verbally, it sounds nice. French Movie Fridays. Also I love French movies. I write down things in my notebook that I don’t immediately understand or know from where they come; sometimes I just feel like the person holding the pen, channeling something else altogether, something separate from me. Deepak Chopra would say there is no separate, there is no you and no me. Each person manifests the entire universe, all of the people, and the source itself, within themselves– thus separation is just a human illusion. This is why when you hurt someone else, you hurt yourself. This is the oneness found in “waking up.” This is how he explains the part of you that isn’t born and won’t die. It embodies it all, and it is eternal. So I guess some of the things I write down are being pulled from an all-access consciousness that has always existed. I don’t know. Maybe getting sick is what it would take for me to stop and pay attention, to finally write down dormant words, to know what it is to be alive. I just know sometimes I write things that are far more intelligent than I am and I don’t even feel right taking credit for them. Except the White Girls on Facebook post, that was me. :)

There’s a funny phenomena that happens when I’m sick: Once I start to feel better and recover, I can never remember how sick I was or how bad it felt. I can imagine it but I can’t feel it. It’s like my brain deletes the sense memory of it. I have read that this happens to women after childbirth, and I guess it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism. If women remembered how bad it hurt, they’d never have more babies! It’s like the worst hangover you’ve ever had. You swear you won’t do it again, but then the beer tastes so good and the buzz is so nice! I don’t know what the meaning is behind not being able to recall precisely the physical feelings, but being this weak and incapable feels pretty burned in my mind by now. I may not be able to access these feelings again once I’m better, but what I need to remember is that shit, life is fragile. One day you wake up and you’re too weak to walk and your mom and sister have to feed you. It’s not all pretty, but I know there is meaning in it. It’s easy to throw up your arms and scream WELL WOE IS ME,  life is unfair and none of this matters. And I’ve done that some days. The problem in doing this is that the very conclusion leaves your experience meaningless. The suffering is the hard part, but if you can hold on, if you learn to live anyway, then you’ve transcended the pain and evolved and it wasn’t for nothing; growth can never be bad. Following the pain always comes pleasure, even if it’s a simple change in perspective. Plenty of people have experienced far greater tragedies than me and come out on the other side– happy and wise. Like my mom for instance, who survived the death of two husbands, but didn’t succumb to darkness and managed to emerge happy and loving.

The goal in all of this for me is not just to stay positive and hopeful, but also to keep my perspective wide and my problems right-sized. This is just a moment in the context of eternity. It’s still really hard but it’s not forever and I’m not on my own. It’s easy to feel like the world is really big and you are really small and your little problems are terrible but that they don’t really matter. But they do, and you do. The way to make them matter most is to conquer them– with humility, grace, whatever you got. Everyone has their battles and each leads to their own lessons and outcomes, all necessary for the evolution of the world. But we all have to do our part. I don’t pretend to know how it all works, and I don’t think we’re meant to know the whole truth in this limited dimension we live in. That may explain why I had a dream last night that TRANSCENDED TIME AND SPACE and I have no idea how to put it into words. I probably sound like a kid during his first experience of dropping acid, but some things we just can’t fathom on earth. And that’s fine. We just need to do our best.

So I’m going to keep trying. Keep hanging on. Keep reading what the Greats have to say and try to make sense of it all. It’s been a challenge to stay optimistic and happy, but I know it’s necessary and I will work just as hard at that as getting better physically. In that light, I’ll introduce a new project that begins tomorrow. I’m going to report a few minutes of only good news every day for 30 days. I’ll begin with personal good news (like, I had enough energy to take a shower today!) then report national good news and then worldly good news. The idea is simple- I’m too young to be cynical. My situation is depressing enough and I don’t want to keep watching the news to see how crappy the world is and how bad people are. It’s important to stay informed on events, but I think it’s just as important to see the good things people are doing and the positive stories too. So that is the newest project and I will post the first video tomorrow around 6–that seems like a newsy time doesn’t it? I will always wear a plaid shirt because plaid makes me happy and I have a lot of them and we’re striving for good vibes here. To give you an idea of things I won’t be talking about, here is the backdrop to my very high tech news desk.

Watch the good news at goodnewsinplaid.wordpress.com.

**Addendum! I jumped the gun on my 6 o clock timeline. I’m a little behind. But the good news is now up at goodnewsinplaid@wordpress.com. If you have good news you’d like me to read on air, send it to goodnewsinplaid@gmail.com. It can be anything from your little league team won to you’ve been constipated for a week and maybe you finally had a bowel movement. If it’s good, it’s good.

Health, Happiness, Plaid.