Hangers On a Ledge 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Cliffhangers 

Adjusting the Perspective on Pain

What is it about Winter?

Post-Holiday Winter, I should specify. It’s wearing on me. Draining and uneventful, this window of time moves so slowly it all starts to feel static. The date keeps changing but there’s nothing I can point to as proof of time passing. When I think back on it, this “leftover winter” has gotten me down in the past, too. It reminds me of the day after a night of drinking in college–hungover days where things on the outside are idle but there’s some invisible pressure that I ought to be doing something, anything, other than what I’m doing right now. But what that thing is I can never name. It may not even exist. I hold the colorless weather outside at least partially accountable. Winter is haphazard in New Orleans. Nothing sticks long enough to adapt a routine or wardrobe to. It goes from freezing and wet one day to weirdly humid and warm the next, but something about the sky, the whole atmosphere out there–it’s this oatmeal-hued environment that either mimics my insides or my insides start to mimic, and for whatever reason the affect is restless and un-motivating. It feels like weather that’s waiting on something and the ansi-ness rubs off on me. Then I find myself in this counterintuitive disposition of mostly-optimistic anticipation that something of note is going to happen in my life, mixed with that physically paralyzing effect that comes with a heart-ache depression. It’s like I’m sitting in a car all packed and ready to embark on some adventure with road-trip snacks (Gardettos) and a map, but there isn’t any gas in the car. So I just sit in the driveway, snacking on Gardettos.

One of the more confusing results of all this is that I can’t tell what direction I’m moving in. I realize that life and time pass in one way only, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. Things are feeling stagnant mostly. And on really tough days they feel backward, a distorted Ground Hogs Day reality where I’m living one day over and over but I’m doing it worse than the day before. I notice during times like these, Oatmeal Winter and Illness at the Helm, one day can easily feel exactly like the one before it, and when I think too long on it, I can’t totally distinguish between the two. Or three or four. Of course it’s pretty easy for me to point my finger at the weather while this other important truth remains that I’m really sick right now–that I’ve been really sick since that crash the day after Thanksgiving and I haven’t really been able to recover. I guess sunny or not, this will get anyone down, even the most seasoned of sick people.

Being sick for months at a time poses an interesting creative challenge. Since you can’t often achieve a change in scenery, which is a widely agreed-upon method to upping ones mood, you have to find ways to see yourself and the world around you in different ways and with new eyes. This is really hard to do. Especially since there’s been such a distinct and relentless sameness to everything given the weather and my health and yada yada. It probably explains why I chopped eight inches off my hair, which helped, actually. But consciously I realize that becoming bored by your surroundings and state of being stems from a lack of proper perspective, and not a failure on the part of the universe to remain exciting. Everything around us is constantly changing, if even at a rate that is undetectable by our human eyes, and every day we wake up and live through is completely unique, never once experienced until now and impossible to ever be duplicated again. When I think about the fact that you never get to live the same day twice, it’s actually a comforting thought. Usually when I feel that I’m in some time warp with my struggles or misery or boredom on repeat, it’s because my vision has narrowed far too much and I’ve lost the horizon from my line of sight. Marc Nepo says “It’s the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery,” and I think that applies here. He says later “Misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything.” What a truth bomb. I think I read that line five more times after I underlined it twice. I know that when my focus zooms in purely on what is hard, the scope of my experience is cut in half, at least. This is why gratitude as I’ve come to understand and cultivate it is so immensely powerful. It wisely keeps and protects the good things in your life within your consciousness, within your line of sight. And it’s so incredibly true that the times when I am most unhappy, I’ve become lazy about remembering what I have, which is a lot. It’s not to say you can’t be conscious about the hard things or honest that they’re challenging or depressing. If you don’t express acknowledge these truths, the gratitude doesn’t have a chance to be authentic either. You have to be honest about both. But that’s the key, acknowledging one without forgetting the other. Grasping them both helps keep a broader and more accurate picture of your life within view.

Maybe this is a bit of what Nepo means when he talks about being a Spiritual Warrior–which sounds fancy but is definitively humble.

“All Spiritual Warriors have a broken heart–alas must have a broken heart–because it is only through the break that the wonder and mysteries of life can enter us. What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior? It is far from being a soldier, but more the sincerity with which a soul faces itself in a daily way. It is this courage to be authentic that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur.”

This was both comforting and angering to me. Angering because I think, why can’t the enlightenment come through cracks that aren’t caused by heartbreak and struggle? But this is a larger philosophical point. I think a more evolved species will be capable of this in the future–achieving higher consciousness and peace and gratitude without having to endure loss or pain or heartache to see it. But at this point within human evolution, our condition is still adapting. We haven’t caught on to the larger things yet as a whole. Think how bad we’re still blowing it. As removed as I feel from some of the real evils of the world and humanity, I don’t have to look very hard or long to see humankind missing the mark, in big and small ways, all around me, and that includes me and the seemingly petty ways I do this in my own life. Just because I can point my finger at ISIS and project all the evil onto them doesn’t make me superiorly more virtuous. What we see around the world are manifestations of evil that exist, if even dormant, within all of us. But I’ve wandered off-road again.

What’s comforting in Nepo’s words is knowing that our work ultimately is to become who we are at our center. And it’s funny how simple this task appears but how insanely hard and rare real authenticity is–being honest about our weaknesses, our beliefs, our limits, our expectations…It’s not as easy as I’d hope. And yet any time I face a truth about myself that for a long time I either hid or denied, I always feel stronger after having confronted it or shared it with someone I love. Even admitting the extent to which I was/am sick and the limits it places on my life is a challenge, even though totally obvious to an outsider.  And I think this is why authenticity is such an important ingredient he includes in being a warrior–I don’t think it means knowing exactly who you are at all times, if anything this search feels like long–maybe it’s more the reverse: slowing peeling away who we aren’t until we become condensed, perfect little vessels of our true self. I think he’s also alluding to the idea that you can’t be conscious and inauthentic at the same time, and since ultimately we’re seeking whole consciousness, it requires in small ways along the path to acknowledge and cultivate the true self, while diminishing the layers that are not real.

The reason it angers me is because this formula is what I confront when reading all the spiritual masters and mystics and artists for thousands of years, and so it’s a clear truth that has persisted through the centuries–that it’s through hardship and pain that human beings seem to achieve deeper consciousness. Or at least, it is through this pain or suffering that we have the opportunity to grow and evolve consciously. It’s very easy to use pain as a reason to stop trying, and I’ve certainly done that a good number of times. But the most amazing people, those who seem to get it, those who appear to be made of peace on the inside and who exude joy outwardly and live their lives with creativity and virtue and light-heartedness, are not people who were given easy lives and thus are happy. They have all endured exceptional pain in their own ways, and have all found a way to use their most challenging of experiences to propel them forward, up, larger than their circumstances. The pain is still real inside of them, accessible and observable even to those on the outside–its not that they eradicated it, but somehow turned it into the material that would make their life good, whole. (See an amazing example of that here)  They didn’t eliminate it, but they also didn’t use so much of it that their life was made up purely of struggle. This is another exploitation that’s easy to pursue with ones pain– using it as a platform for identity. The point, obviously, is not to become the pain, if we’re trying to transcend it. Wallowing in our own web of misery is an easy way to garner an audience but also to never evolve. To avoid consciousness. What I was trying to say when I began this thought of why this truth angered me, is that I wish human consciousness could evolve in easier ways than through pain. Of course, there are many other teachers that develop our soul and psyche, love namely, that aren’t as challenging as say something like, an invisible disease that pulls the rug out from under you. Everyday. :) But the truth is, the things which have taught me the most, shown me the gamut of human emotion and contributed to further compassion, kindness, capacity to love and ultimately consciousness on my end, have been these very deeply painful and trying experiences. And so I know that it’s true. And I know it’s vitally important what you choose to do with your pain or heartache, because not working to put it toward growth, gives it the power to swallow you up whole. It takes away from you, gives you a reason to be bad, to stop trying, to give up on the world. And that’s the truth– I say it because I’ve felt these things in the past in reaction to the tough experiences in my life, not always directly after they happened either. I still struggle with it. And it haunts me how easy it is to let those experiences take the wheel and drive me to unhappy places. Luckily we’re not powerless to pain. We have choices to make.

In a different way, using the pain to define your self, or wallowing around in it but never moving on from it is another struggle that I have to stay keenly aware of. I have a whole blog that is named after a damn disease that I am also trying hard to not let define me. It’s a huge part of my life and my story, but I have to keep it from growing so large that it takes up my whole view. I don’t want illness to be my only avenue for expression or creativity, and I definitely don’t want the art and work that I do pursue in the name of it to be all sad or negative or heartbreaking. Of course this isn’t always easy to do either, because writing about your health good, bad, or ugly, is naturally going to include parts that are bad and/or ugly. There is a lot of that in a life with illness. And my point when I began this project so long ago was to accurately portray what life with chronic illness actually looked like, since I’d confronted so many misunderstandings and false beliefs about it from people in my own life. Obviously some writing stems from hard days and dark feelings, and if you’re going to tell the truth, tell the truth. The point was to have a space where I could be honest and not polite for the sake of peoples small-talk comfort. BUT, the point I have to keep in mind is that illness is just one part of my life, and while it can feel like it defines so much of what I do, it is still just a part, but requires me to keep it right-sized. It’s only when my perspective zeros in on it do I lose the whole horizon, which are the amazing people in my life that I love so much and who love me back, the incredible house I live in, how happy my dog makes me every time I look at him, how lucky I am that I was given the gift of writing and this is one thing the illness hasn’t taken from at all. In fact, it’s what gave me a voice on this very medium. Hey look at that, the clouds are parting.

Winters are tough. They seem to be that way for a lot of people, North or South, sick or well. It’s easy to look around and see the same thing everywhere you look, because details are small and we’re usually too busy or too certain to stop and look twice or three times at things before we see the wonder in them. I know that during times like these, my life becomes very small because when you’re sick and weak like this, you’re constantly breaking everything down into smaller pieces so you can digest and complete them. You know how during hard times people will say “Just one day at a time”? Well during days like this, it’s really more down to a moment by moment basis. Mostly because each tiny little movement requires so much more from you than normal. It astonishes me how hard the simplest of tasks become when your body feels like it’s made of lead glued together with honey. It’s not just Wake up and make the coffee! It’s OK, sit up in bed. Ready? 1, 2, 3, sit up. Why didn’t you sit up? Try again 1, 2, 3. Come on, you can do it, just a little more, OK! You did it! We’re sitting up. Now, turn to the side to put your feet on the floor and stand up slowly. Feet on the floor, ready? Here we go. OK, feet are on the floor. Time to stand up. Heeeeere we go, and we’re dizzy we’re sitting back down again. OK, catch your breath. Breathe slowly. Calm down heart, all we’re doing is standing here. OK, try again on 3, rise slowly this time. Ready? 1, 2, 3 and we’re going to stand up. 1, 2, 3, we’re standing! Now, 12 steps to the kitchen, you got this, 1…2…3…

6.jpg

The kitchen is super close to the living room and my couch, and so sometimes I have to make a stop-off there first, which is perfectly portrayed in this cartoon by another blogger with CFS. 

Anyway, notice the minuteness of each of those moves? I’m not exaggerating. This is simply what Bone Crushing Weakness does. Tasks this small shouldn’t require being talked through like you’re in a danged boxing match. But what can I say, it must be evolving some part of me so I can be the best of the best Spiritual Warriors ! Or just a normal 31 year old who gets out of bed. Either way. I think it’s this breaking down of things so they are doable is also what makes life feel so un-doable sometimes, because it all feels too big, too much, too long. Like I’ll never be able to get on top of things. But I know it’s because my vision is off and I have to be proactive about seeing my life and even these sometimes painstakingly long days against the larger backdrop of the world, of eternity, of the whole web of human existence. I find relief in seeing my life as a small spec within the largeness of our universe. I didn’t always feel that way, but now I know it means that enduring challenges come to an end. It means I am just one of many kajillion working parts and lives. It means that while not everything is up to me, the essential parts are, and I’m here because I’m capable of achieving them. I have to remember that as much as I can convince myself and be successful about it, I am not alone. That thought isn’t real. And my life is not impossible. And all of this, including colorless winter skies and lacking motivation and bone crushing weakness, will end. And I’ll look back on it one day, as the pain that moved me forward and opened the door for great things to happen, not as a shit show that ruined what could have been a good life.

Health, Happiness, Perspective

P.S. If you want to see one incredible example of taking tragedy and hardship and turning it into Greatness, watch Mayou Angelou share her life story on Master Class. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen, ever. http://cms.springboardplatform.com/previews/3405/video/937187/sfta001/

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

How To Come Home

I’ve just made it home. My suitcase is still lying in the center of the kitchen floor.

It’s crazy how good home feels after you’ve been away from it, even when you’ve completely enjoyed your time away. Somewhere between waiting in line barefoot among rookie fliers who somehow forgot about the jug of water in their carry-on and the captain shouting God knows what into that fuzzy speaker, I start to feel my humanity slip like some kind of sock with lazy elastic hovering at the ankle.

Once upon a time, flying made me feel like a celebrity. The whole experience was a novelty and a privilege.  And somewhere in my jaded depths I know that it still is. The mere idea of humans taking flight on a bus in mid-air is still mesmerizing and I’m lucky to have access to it. And yet somehow,  the only celebrity I ever feel like is Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents. I’m all eye rolls and discouraged sighs, which sometimes emerge as a laugh–the kind of laugh you let out when nothing is actually funny. I try to keep my moans of discontent in, even when the automatic toilet flushes while I’m still on it and I’m sprinkled with fresh public toilet water. I try to breathe through the frustration of then not getting that same toilet to flush when I actually want it to and there I am dancing like some kind of monkey on fire trying to activate the motion detector that says just wave your hand to activate. It lies. I exit, I don’t care. I hate the toilet now. All I want to do is wash the Ebola off my hands and possible STD’s off my thighs, but the faucet requires the motion. And the soap requires a motion. And the dryer requires a motion. And what happened to handles? If I went on Shark Tank I’d reintroduce handles to public bathrooms. Anyway there is more dancing. More erratic behavior from inanimate objects. More laughing when it’s not funny. It’s like the DMV in there; the threat level of a Stage 5 freakout is just one toilet flush away in any given stall. You can sense it.

But not everyone confronts the airport bathroom circus. The old lady next to me doesn’t seem to have problems with her soap. I bet she’s been spared from the toilet water too. What is your secret, old white lady in the brown velour pant suit? What am I doing wrong? But there’s no time for philosophizing, I have to get to my gate. Guess where my gate is? Guess if it’s nearby or at the very far edge of the airport as in it has a separate zip code and everything. Guess.

Is it the tragedy that is modern American air travel that makes home feel this good? Maybe. Probably. I guess this account of flying would suggest I’m a young, old curmudgeon who has lost sight to how lucky I am.  But it’s always temporary. I am either going somewhere great or coming home to relief and love, and it’s just the in-between antics that can get a girl down. Once home nobody shouts the temperature and the toilets flush WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO. Of course, an 80 pound furry beast running around you in circles then through your legs and back, shoving every toy in the box in your lap and wagging his tail with enough vigor to knock over small children and feeble adults, well, that helps too. That’s the best.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with my best friend big brother Nick and Company in Miami for a week. Mostly I felt like death, but I was excited to go and the change in scenery did me good. It’s been a rocky few months. My health declined from mediocre to poor without discernible reason, and that’s just the name of the game with illness like this. I can’t pretend I’m not discouraged by it or tired of feeling really shitty when I didn’t overdo it or change anything, as if a person deserves bad health anyway, but I’m trying not to wallow in it either. I saw the specialist in Miami and there are a few changes we are making, but we won’t know more until the results arrive from the copious amount of blood I gave to test. Aside from that, my progressive boyfriend and I broke up. Ew, breakups.

It’s interesting that a decision you’re sure of it’s the right one to make can be just as painful as the wrong ones you’ve made when you didn’t know any better. And by interesting I mean shitty. We did the adult thing and “called it” at the appropriate time. We saved ourselves the tragedy of letting it slowly burn and die until it ended in hatred. I guess ultimately, even an amicable breakup is still a breakup. It’s an end. You grieve for them and you grieve for who you were with them. I experienced a whole new pain this time around that stemmed from not being my whole self in the endeavor. I pretended and concealed when the truth was ugly or getting a less than desirable response. I don’t think Id ever done that In a relationship before, but I’ve never been under the circumstances I am now and had to introduce someone knew to a world that took so much explaining, and defending in some cases.

It’s weird, I actually wanted to keep my illness out of the whole thing. (I wanted to live in Neverland, is how that sentence should read.) I had this fear it would interfere with things before they ever had a shot to develop. I feared it would be difficult and unbecoming; It would suggest I was someone inferior. I was even afraid it might be the demise of the relationship. And then, it kind of was. The weight of it became too heavy, it’s unrelenting nature became too repetitive and it’s lack of a solution wore out the seams and we broke. There were other reasons, of course. But my being sick was up there, it messed with things, it was a big a part of the end. And for a while that was a really crushing thought. It made me feel small, made my life feel lesser. I push and work to live my life in spite of this invisible force trying to take it away, and yet sometimes, it still comes out on top. It wins.

But hiding it was like doing a monkey dance in a cramped bathroom stall. (Kind of) It was stupid on top of exhausting, and I don’t know how I expected anything authentically good to emerge when I wasn’t being true to myself. I am not my illness, I know that. But it’s there, it’s changed virtually everything in my life the last four years, and nothing good has ever come from denying or dismissing it; from pretending it’s not there. And yet, sometimes I can sense that people want me to pretend it’s not there. They want to hear that I’m better, and no one understands that fantasy more than me. But pretending makes me feel like I have to hide a part of my life that I can’t control, and that’s not a healthy place to be. I don’t want long conversations about my illness. Ive had enough of them for 20 lifetimes. But I do need an honest atmosphere that doesn’t require apology. I need to be able to be sick when I’m sick and well when I’m well and not judged inbetween. It will always take patience, compassion and effort in order for my life to be understood and loved from the outside. It will always be hard in my relationships. But hopefully if I am really seen, my external circumstances won’t take up so much space. And that was half the problem, I never really felt seen. Instead I felt sorry, and that’s because I betrayed myself. By not putting it all out there, I made it nearly impossible for my life to make sense.  I am not jobless and living in my parents pool house writing on a blog called Twenty Five Pills a Day because of lifestyle choices. And that’s an attitude I confront a lot. I’ll work like hell my whole life to turn lemons into lemonade, but I didn’t pick the lemons, so I don’t think I need to apologize for that anymore. The weird thing is that in glossing over and skirting around this small part of me, so much more of who I am was stifled. Good parts! Fun parts! It doesn’t feel good not to bring your whole self to a party. In fact, that hurt the worst, and I did it to myself. I had a need that wasn’t getting met, and instead of accepting that once I knew it was true, I tried to do away with the need. Surprise surprise, that didn’t work. It’s OK to have needs. Love enjoys needs.

Now I am Stella getting my groove back. I see my health in the distance: a ship in flames slowly sinking into the ocean. Haha. That image makes me laugh. But this will pass. I’ll get better. Or I’ll get worse, then I’ll get better. It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to keep trying. I’ll attempt to transform all of this– pain, pleasure, toilet water– into something useful. Something fun. Because despair is boring and I’m seeking a creative life. The world doesn’t need more sad stories so I will find the good ones. I’ll trust what I’ve been given and let it fuel all my endeavors. Mostly I’ll breathe easier because I am who I am and I’ve made it home. I’m back. And I have so much to do.

Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, Home.

One Month and the Buzz

So, I took a month off. I’ve missed you.

Health-wise I’ve been up and down, but more ups I think. I’ve been out of the house doing things; normal people things, 29-year-old things. Living like a normal person doesn’t always fair well on my body and a few times I pushed it too far and paid the price, but somehow it felt worth it. My soul needed to get out in the world and roll around in the dirt. I felt like Monty when he sees a squirrel and I unhook the leash–caution to the wind, full force ahead. Maybe 50%. I’m often battling this fear that if I’m sick for too long I’ll go to sleep one night and when I wake up thirty years will have gone by and I’ll have barely moved. It’s not always easy but I know it’s important for my soul and my psyche to get out there and try a little. So I do. I did. And I experienced these moments where I felt so intensely alive I could feel it buzzing in my fingertips. And that’s the stuff of life people! The best kind of little reminders.

A while ago I was invited by a friend to attend a three-day meditation retreat in Magnolia, Mississippi. I’d never been on a retreat before and I felt apprehensive at first. For starters, I felt angst about whether my body would hold up through the weekend. Secondly, I had this cliché vision of long-haired hippies dancing naked around a fire, sharing their “truths” or something. But when I learned it was a silent retreat, I knew I had to do it. I don’t know if I’ve made this apparent, but I sort of hate meeting people. I cringe at smalltalk and I find strangers questions difficult and exhausting to answer. I know it’s just part of conventional social norms, but this question of “What do you do?” causes me an intense five-second panic attack, and introductions almost always go there. To give an honest answer comes with this pressure to provide a back-story, which is long and convoluted. I expect strangers have as much interest in hearing these details as I do telling them, and sometimes I feel like rolling my eyes at my own reality. But I haven’t yet figured out a way to give a succinct honest answer that leaves everybody comfortable. I think I’ll start answering ‘waitress’ and save everyone five whole minutes.

So this the idea that we wouldn’t have to talk to other people, including our assigned roommates, totally sold me. But I still felt angst about my health hovering in the background. This is nothing new. I confront this fear all the time making decisions because my health has failed me so many times before when I’ve really counted on it. So I don’t anymore. It’s hard always having to maneuver around this invisible thing in your life that you don’t even like. But this is my reality and hating or fearing it does me no good. So I considered the worse-case scenario; I crash. Even if that were the case and I spent the weekend in bed, what were they going to do? Strap me to a chair and force me to meditate? I figured I’d be OK. So I said yes. And there’s something pretty revitalizing about saying yes to something new, especially when for so long these kinds of opportunities were an automatic no.

I wrote an essay about the weekend and I’ll post that next. I’ll say now my favorite part was eating lunch next to my friend in total silence, only making eye contact every now and then. There’s a lot of space and freedom that opens up when no one feels the need to talk. They call it “noble silence” and I think we could all use a little more of it. It rocked!

After that I was invited on a weekend trip to the beach where I would share a house with 12 other girls. So basically the opposite of the silent retreat. I am a total beach bum and don’t feel I get enough of it, so I went. And it turned out to be a really awesome and fun weekend. I was feeling pretty sick the day we left, but I was also really craving the sand and the air and warm gulf water. (I’m a pansy about water temp) I knew I’d feel better once I got there, so Emily and I drove the three and half hours there and watched the sun set while crossing the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I felt really happy in that moment. The sunset was the kind that changed colors every 10 seconds and was remarkably beautiful over the Louisiana marsh. I tried to capture the spectacle made by all the intense colors, but a picture never does a great sunset justice. It’s like holding a rookie drawing next to a Monet. Maybe it’s better to just pause and enjoy the splendor of a disappearing sun. It’s such a short-lived pleasure anyway. Watching them always make me feel grateful.  We finally arrived and learned that our house was next door to the classiest bar in the South: Florabama. So naturally, we went. Never heard of it? Here’s a peek.

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No Pets
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Every time I visit this bar I am overwhelmed and baffled by it. It’s three stories (possibly more, I don’t know, I’ve gotten lost in it twice), hosts multiple bands on different levels, and is jam-packed with drunk people of every age. Every surface is a proverbial guest book where people under the influence leave their mark for the world to see. I’m always riveted and only sometimes horrified reading the graffiti that adorns literally every surface. I started photographing the funny ones so I could laugh later and have some weird photographic keepsake of the trip. So I took a photo of the surface of the bar we were ordering from.

Damn you, Laken
Damn you, Laken

We couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of some angry person pulling out a marker and deciding to write that Laken Franks sucks Donkey Penis. A while later I entered the Florabama bathroom, where I confronted many, so many more messages, in every color, on every surface, including the toilet seat. I took some more photos because so far no one I met was as interesting as this graffiti of the world. I liked the idea of one picture having the mark of so many strangers, many of whom likely have no memory of the literary gems they left. And now I’d have a piece of it and they’d have no idea about that, either. So what did I find while looking through those photos later? Another sentiment for Laken in the bathroom stall.

Damn you again Laken
Damn you again Laken

Only this time Laken’s a baby murdering whore. I couldn’t believe the name showed up in two photos. Pretty crazy odds given the volume of surface area in that place and the amount of angry messages. I wonder who Laken Franks is and what she (he?) did that left someone upset enough to get creative with their insults and tattoo them on two of the walls of the worlds classiest bar. I shall never know. I’m just glad I was alive enough to be there and capture it. My fingertips were buzzing at little moments like this all weekend. But mostly when I watched the sun rise on the beach at 6 am. There’s something almost holy about a sunrise. It feels like a sneak-peek at reality unfolding–a backstage pass to the universe or something. Anyway, I’ll leave you with that photo, because I was feeling very alive when I took it, and my fingertips still buzz when I look it now. Maybe yours will too.

6 am, alive and well
6 am, alive and well

Health, Happiness, Buzzing