Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

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How to Write About Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health, Happiness, Restraint

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

Cheers To a Slowly Dying Christmas Tree and the Start of Something New

My Christmas tree is still up. We might start there..

Two Fun Facts. Even when your Christmas tree begins to shrivel and sadly die in the corner of your living room:
1. The decorative lights still emit that magical glow when turned on at night and you’d never know their was death lurking behind them.
2. It still smells like Christmas! Even while dying, that one of a kind sap-infused, woodsy, cinnamon smell still infuses the room from the corner where the tree sits, but looks more like it’s floating.

I still catch random whiffs of Christmas when walking by or while reading on the couch. It’s like the original air-freshener, and since the scent is so sporadic and only comes around once a year, like Girl Scout cookies, encountering it feels uniquely special. Like glimpsing a shooting star or seeing a bald eagle. Sometime its feels like a nice gift the tree is sending my way. I think, Hey thanks tree, you have a good day too! What I’m saying is, you begin to talk to things that are not human when you live alone, and that’s OK. It’s bound to happen. I think. I’ll ask Monty.

I tried deciding whether a Christmas tree still hanging around on January 22nd that also happens to be dying is depressing conceptually or not. I say conceptually because I can say from an actual standpoint, it most definitely is not. It still brings all the joy it did from day one. I am a Christmas enthusiast and my fervor has always extended to the art of holiday decor and the unmistakable enchantment of a Real Live Christmas Tree. Everything about them makes me happy. Until I start seeing them on the corner of peoples driveways laying on their side next to the trash can– what a tragically depressing image to encounter. Or it always was for me, growing up. I feel that keeping the tree around this long and seeing it to its final days, I’m squeezing every ounce of wander out of what Christmas trees have to offer. It’s like The Giving Tree! Except in this case at the end, we burn it in a large pile of leaves and miscellaneous dead foliage and branches out in the prairie. But I find this to be a far less sad ending to the tree than awaiting its demise on a driveway and being tossed in a trash truck full of rotting food and discarded junk. I wonder if it freshens up the smell of the garbage truck? Probably not. Anyway burning the tree returns it to where it came, and whether that works out scientifically or not, for me it feels like a much kinder fate. And symbolically more appropriate.

As for outsiders, seeing a dying Christmas tree still lit up in my living room might look like a lapse in civility or domestication on my part– some kind of improper etiquette. Like having dishes in the sink or a mess of a house when company shows up. It’s always a little shameful when people visit, especially unexpectedly, and your place isnt tidy. Somehow it feels like a reflection of you– whether clean or dirty, we’ve come to see dishes in the sink as a little pitiful and a perfectly sanitary house as the height of a life in order! But order doesn’t imply anything moral or productive. Then again, a really dirty house does start to make you wonder about the direction someones life is going. If you haven’t done laundry to dishes in over three months, it might be time to talk to someone. It’s funny how having a clean house gives us a sense of pride and sends the message of “I’ve got my shit together and things are great!” Somewhere deep down, don’t we all secretly wish our homes smelled faintly of Pier One Imports? THAT is a fresh, successful smell if there ever were one. Unfortunately you can’t detect what your own house smells like, you can’t discern your own smell, so you kindof just have to keep up with the cleaning, pray that your pheromones mix well with your dish soap and the wood of your cabinetry and whatever else is informing the air of your house, and hope for the best. Many houses I can think of from growing up have distinct smells to them, that are still there when I visit today. It always elicits memories of certain times way back when. Funny how just a smell can be so tightly tied to a person or experience. I can still remember the exact smell of my grandma baking homemade bread. It takes me right back to childhood, to punching down the raised dough in those huge seventies-colored bowls, and to that first piece warm out of the oven. Son of a nutcracker I am hungry now.

Anyway, I imagine somewhere in a book of manners and proper social behavior, there is a responsible cutoff date for the Christmas tree, and if yours is up past that date, forget it. You might as well quit your job and stop tying. For me I don’t have a real job so there’s a personal loophole–if in fact, Jan. 23rd is past the cutoff date for tossing out the tree. Anything after that is an obvious decay of domestication. Or maybe just poor manners.  Maybe I’m still in the clear because it’s still within 30 days of Christmas, and if I can still technically return a gift to Target, then I should be squared away with the tree. Either way, none of this actually matters and obviously you should keep your tree up as long as it makes you happy and does not accrue mold. Isn’t that how we justify killing them for the purpose of holiday decoration in the first place? By enjoying and appreciating their beauty and assorted pleasures for as long as possible, we sort of redeem cutting them down. Sort of. I don’t know, what is the environmentalist take on real Christmas trees? Is real or fake the greener choice? Probably fake, right? Let me check.

Well that was a hellstorm. I’ll save you some googling time and just say the conclusion to ten articles on this very subject is that the science is still out on conclusively naming one or the other as better (or worse) environmentally. Worth noting is that artificial trees are created using this special ingredient calling PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is not recyclable nor completely biodegradable. Also vinyl-chloride is listed as a human carcinogen. You have to use the artificial tree anywhere from 7-20 years (there are multiple conflicting studies)  in order to make it less harmful to the environment than using a real Christmas tree. Also at least 90% of real Christmas trees are farmed, which keeps the natural population healthily sustained. Hmm, one can emit hazardous fumes in too high a dose, and one provides magical Christmas dust that enlivens the senses and makes miracles. So I am biased clearly, but I still say down with artificial arbor. Go real. Go green. And inhale that magical smell until March if you want to.

Its funny, but even though Christmas is well over, I’m still recovering from the festivities I partook in. Some of it is my fault; I have a hard time doing what’s best for myself in terms of the illness, and doing what is fun and adventurous and happy in the moment. This disease is so insidious, it doesn’t let you know how much you’ll have to pay until you’ve already done the damage. Its like going swimming today, but not having to hold your breath until tomorrow. Say you swim in the ocean and get distracted by the tropical fish. You go under water following them around, and all the while you think “I haven’t been under that long, I’ll definitely be able to hold my breath this long tomorrow when the time comes.” You think that because you’re stupid and you didn’t learn your lesson from last time. The next day comes and you have to hold your breath for all the times you went under water, but on some of your sub-surface excursions, you were distracted by awesome sea life and stayed under like 3 minutes. Now you’re trying to hold your breath for three minute stints and you’re blue in the face and passing out and thinking, why did I go under the water. Why Mary WHY. So, that’s one way to explain it. Anyway, Christmas is happiness and this year it was a great one. Sometimes the dive is worth turning blue.

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I’ve had the feeling for a while now that 2017 is going to be a very special year. I can’t say how specifically, but I sense that big changes are in store. Important changes. Great changes. And that the start of something new and big has already begun its course. It’s only an intuition so what do I know. Maybe anything compared to the dismal 2016 will seem auspicious by default. But something tells me it will be more than that.

I never saw myself in the world of advocacy or politics, but tomorrow is the first day of a very important journey that I suppose will include both. It’s the first time I will meet with a politician to talk about me/cfs and address the funding issue, in person. I’m meeting with the Louisiana state director, Brian McNabb, who works in the office of Senator Bill Cassidy. I have no idea how the meeting will go. Of course, I have my talking points prepared and there is only so much my brain can store. My main is goal is to tell the truth and leave a lasting impact. In my imagination the scenario goes like this:

We start with some charming banter yada yada yada, he pours two glasses of whiskey, and as the ice clinks in our glasses I say “Look McNabb, we need $100 million from the NIH for this disease. Minimum. And we need it yesterday.” He thinks a moment, sips his drink img_6334and says “You know, after reading the riveting history of this disease, the outright neglect, and the heartbreaking stories of so many who’ve been devastated by it, I’d like to offer $200 million toward biomedical research. It’s actually the more appropriate and fair amount.” I walk over, raise my glass to toast to this proposal and say “Wonderful Brian. You’re doing a really incredible thing.” Clink!

“How soon will the funding come through to the NIH?” He thinks a moment, “I’ll have to get a few documents in order, but I’d say by tomorrow around 4. Does that sound alright?” I begin to put on my jacket to leave. “Sounds fine.” He opens the door, “I’ll let Mr. Collins know about the funding change. Anything else?” Walking out I hesitate, stop, then turn around. “Actually, I have these parking tickets in New Orleans I never paid-” “Ms. Gelpi! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not a genie I can’t just say ‘poof!’ and fix everything!” I blush from assuming something so stupid. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It was foolish to ask. Forgive me.” I turn my head away a little embarrassed. He nods affirmatively and ushers  me out. Before he closes the door I yell inside just to be sure “But we’re still on, $200 mil to the NIH tomorrow by 4? Right?” He already has a phone to his ear and looks distracted by some new matter. “Right. 200 mil. 4 o clock. G’bye now.” The door shuts and I turn to walk out, grabbing a handful of Worthers Original candies from the crystal bowl on the secretaries desk. She doesn’t mind. Outside it’s chilly as I walk to my car and my legs are already aching, but I don’t mind, it’s too happy an occasion. I arrive at my car and immediately notice a boot on the front tire because my meter expired while I was inside. There’s also a notice that says I have dozens of unpaid parking tickets and my car has been seized. I turn around and march back toward the tall marbly building. I dial my mom, walking up the steps. “Well?” she answers with anticipation. “Mom! I’ve got good and bad news, which would you like to hear first?”

The End

That sounds like a reasonable scenario, right? I’ve heard that’s how Washington works so, I’ll keep you posted. :)

Health, happiness, GREEN.

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.

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(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!

You Know What To Do

(Or if you don’t, it’s Signing this petition..that’s what you’re supposed to do..just in case there is any misunderstanding there. OK then..)

Friends, Families, Duders,

This is one of the most important posts I’ve published here, and I need your help. It’s been a very sick winter/spring for me and I’ve worked hard to try and stay positive, maintain hope, and keep from getting overly discouraged. I don’t always succeed in this, but I try my hardest and I have a lot of reinforcements: my dog, family, loving friends, and funny internet videos that truly sometimes help shift me into a lighter shade of blues. I found that one another way for me to maintain hope and stay positive about my life is to at least try and influence change in regards to how this disease is treated, both socially and federally. Things have already begun to change in a few ways in just the last few years, and I have always held onto the hope that I will see a cure within my lifetime.

Yesterday was particularly hard for some reason. Physically things have been roigh, but emotionally I was really feeling it– all of it. Sad, mad, hopeless and discouraged. My phone rang and it was my sister calling, but I didn’t feel I could even get it together enough to pick up the phone and say that sinply, I was a mess. So I texted it instead and after going back and forth a while, I decided there Was this one thing I could, something I’d been putting off for various reasons, none very good, that could help pull myself out of that dark hole, and that was to invest myself into a cause that may have the possibility of producing real change, of making a vital impact on CFS/ME. I think and pray often that other people will do things and enact change and that I will eventually reap the benefits from them. But that’s a somewhat limited hope. And it leaves all the possibility and power out of my hands, when the truth is we all have the means to effect change (even be it extremely small) if we believe in it and work hard enough. That’s what inspired the campaign I wrote using the platform change.org, which helps deliver our message in a very efficient way. I like that it gives a chance for all our voices to be heard, bed-ridden or not, and only requires a few seconds and click of your mouse t have it be heard.  It’s a great alternative in lieu of a “March for CFS Awareness and Funding!” I think we all know how that would turn out…

We’d start out like “Yeah!!! Race for the Cure!! Screw CFS!!!

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Let’s Run and Raise Some Money People!
But then in a matter of, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes..the scene would inevitably change.

So, since a “Race for the Cure” is not exactly in the realm of possibility for a lot of us, but access to the power of the Internet is, I know that this is a great option for us. We’ve just got to acquire as many signatures as possible. Signing this campaign, which asks the NIH for a larger chunk of money to be allocated toward CFS/ME research, is a way to get this message across quickly and with bigger impact. I also like this methodology, because each time someone signs the petition, an email will be sent to the Head of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and these are the people who have huge influence on how this disease is treated at the CDC–in particular how much money is dedicated to its research. This is our chance guys, so please please please, sign the petition and share it if you’re feeling extra awesome. I have copy and pasted the campaign here so you can read it, but you’ll need to click the link at the bottom of the page in order to sign it. That’s all it takes, the click of a button.

I thank you all in advance for taking part in this, and I truly believe if we circulate it in a wide enough circle, we can influence some major, desperately needed change. But we have to act. So sign it! Then get back to dicking around on the internet. I mean working, or whatever you’re up to. OK, here it is.

Petitioning Director of NIH Francis Collins and 1 other

Demand Increase Of Research Funding To Help Cure “Invisible Disease”

All I want to do is take a bath.

Before I became sick, that wouldn’t be so hard. Now walking is hard. Standing is hard. Some days, I don’t leave the bed and weeks can go by without my leaving the house. I call in sick to doctors appointments and take between 25 to 30 pills a day just to manage my symptoms, but they do not help the disease. I am 31, and I wasn’t always this way.

My heart is heavy knowing that roughly 3 million other people in our country are suffering from this same disease: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. ME/CFS is a complex, multi-systemic illness that causes a lot of pain and disabling symptoms, specifically severe weakness and crippling fatigue brought on by even minor exertions–taking a shower, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming the living room can land you in bed for days. There are currently no FDA-approved treatments and no cure, so we are left fighting this crippling disease in the dark. I was diagnosed with this illness at age 9, a happy gymnast at the time, at which point very little was understood about it and we were left with few options. I slowly regained much of my strength but at age 26 I suffered a severe relapse, could no longer work or take care of myself and had to move in with my parents. Despite twenty years having passed since my initial diagnosis, there are still no FDA-approved treatments and no cure. How could that be?

In a word: interest. In a bigger word: money. For more than a decade, ME/CFS has lingered near the bottom of the Allocated Funds list at the Center for Disease Control, never acquiring more than $6 million annually for research. This may sound like a substantial amount, but to provide some context, Male Pattern Baldness receives $12 million a year, so it’s easy to see that our meek amount is on account of low priority, not the result of insufficient funds. This is why I am asking the director of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to increase the funding allotted to the CDC to $100 million per year to research this devastating disease, so that the millions of people afflicted by it who’ve lost their jobs, families, and overall livelihood might finally have a chance at a healthy life again. Whether the lack of action originated from the stigma of the inaccurate, alternate name it was given in the 80’s, (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or the fact that it effects mostly women, I don’t know or care anymore. All I know is that we’ve waited and suffered long enough. It’s a time to come together and solve this health crisis, and I know that we are capable.

There is no better time for these agencies to step in and deliver on what’s been promised. The NIH received a $2 billion dollar budget increase this year, and two independent reports from the Institute of Medicine and the Pathways to Prevention have emerged recently calling for An urgent increase in research funding for ME/CFS, both noting how dire and overdue this situation is.

Governing agencies have always played a huge role in how diseases find treatments and cures. Similar illnesses like MS and Lupus are allotted $100 million each, per year, and collectively they effect less people. Due to these higher funding amounts, both illnesses have diverse and far more effective treatment options under their belt. This is how it’s supposed to work, and I know the current SHHR and director of the NIH are the right people to step in and change the game. We can do better, and so we should start now.

I used to have a pretty outgoing life. I was able to travel in college, fall in love, live in France, enjoy SEC Football, and graduate. Now most of my days are sedentary,  spending a lot of my time in bed with my dog and best friend Monty (see photo)– reading, writing, or sleeping. Sometimes it feels like life is passing me by right outside the window. Truthfully I am lucky when compared to the many people who are sick with ME/CFS and don’t have the help or resources that I do. I especially write this campaign with those extremely ill people in mind–too sick to have their voices heard and suffering alone. The point in all this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is something we can change. The country loses billions every year in lost productivity due to this illness alone, and so many of us would want nothing more than to enter the workforce again, if we could only take a shower without having to spend the next whole day in bed recovering.

Please help keep the promise of bringing this invisible disease into the light and dedicating the much deserved attention and funding to it that it’s lacked for all these decades. By signing you will help give millions of sick people hope that they are not forgotten, and show our governing institutions that we trust in them to step in and follow through with improving the health of millions of people, many who are desperately sick. I know with the proper resources, this is something we can treat and ultimately solve. Please sign and share this petition. We can do better, and the time to start is right now.

Thank you.

Mary C Gelpi (and Monty)

#WeCanDoBetter

Click Here to Sign

 

This petition will be delivered to:
  • Director of NIH
    Francis Collins
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
    Sylvia Burwell

Click here to sign the petition, and copy and paste the address below to share it any way you want.

https://www.change.org/p/ask-nih-for-increase-in-funding-to-help-cure-invisible-disease

Again, thank you. #WeCanDoBetter. So let’s do it.

Health, Happiness, CHANGE