Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Plum and Level


“Now, since our condition accommodates things to itself, and transforms them according to itself, we no longer know things in their reality; for nothing comes to us that is not altered and falsified by our Senses. When the compass, the square, and the rule are untrue, all the calculations drawn from them, all the buildings erected by their measure, are of necessity also defective and out of plumb. The uncertainty of our senses renders uncertain everything that they produce.”
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), French essayist


Sometimes my husband drives me crazy. It's an odd kind of crazy though. It's a completely frustrated, want to scream kind of crazy that almost always makes me laugh in the end. Sometimes I laugh right away. Sometimes I hold back that laugh just to be sufficiently crazy to make a point. And sometimes the laugh comes much, much later. The latter is most unfortunate and I'm working on that one. We are both very artistic and passionate people, romantics at heart. What makes our life so fun is that quite often, most often, we travel along the same path. Walking through an art gallery or down a city street with him is one of the most enjoyable things in my life. But there are also those times when our ideas, our visions, our passions seem like they are polar opposites. Or maybe we just don't share the vision at all. The above photo, prior to its creation, when it was simply the formulation of my husbands (sometimes wild and wonderfully abstract) imagination, frustrated the hell out of me. Pure and simple. Every time he made mere mention of it I shuddered at the (what I thought was) simple and obviously lacking in substance artistic nature of it. Completely deprived of depth, about as subtle as a knock-knock joke. (Yes, I can be that harsh!) I assumed it was a silly idea and that was it.  

This past week or so I have observed a number of painful "situations" on the internet. As we all well know, the internet can be a really wonderful thing, but it can also be fertile soil for the growth of misunderstanding and suffering. I remember when my mother tried to have a facebook page. Every misplaced punctuation, every short sentence, every lack of response sent her into emotional panic. No matter how often I tried to tell her that she should not "read into" these things, her heart continued to break. I saw the same heartbreak this past week when the mother of a child with cancer was devastated by the comments or lack of comments from a life long friend. A friend that I know deeply cares for her. 

Another situation I witnessed was in regards to the comments left on an article a good friend of mine wrote. The article was pertaining to an incurable chronic illness and the devastating toll misdiagnosis can take on one's life. An assumption was made by a person commenting that the author's illness not only could, but mostly did stem from unacknowledged emotional pain. The commenter made this assumption based on her own experience and the success of her treatment. No matter how often the author replied that she had researched that possibility and emotional factors were not the cause of her illness, the commenter accused her of being in denial and therefore creating her own illness. She simply could not see that the author's situation could be different than hers. 

Which brings me back to my husbands picture, Plum and level. Thankfully David Ralph Johnson is also not only artistic, but quite strong willed. In fact, he often says, if you want me to do something, just tell me I can't. And I am so happy that he did. First of all, the minute I saw the picture I fell in love with it. For so many reasons I don't think I even know them all. Secondly, what a profound lesson I needed to learn...again. How quick I am to assume. How quick I am to judge based on my own experience. As Michel de Montaigne states, "Nothing comes to us that is not altered or falsified by our senses." Ahhh, so true! 

To be plumb, an object is exactly vertical or perpendicular. It also means things like "precisely, directly, absolute, to examine closely to discover the truth and out of or off true". I like the irony here. In light of the things going on in my life right now, the picture begs a deeper question of me that I am not so sure I know the answer to. A far cry from "simple and obviously lacking in substance"! But what I do know is this, it's hard not to make assumptions. We go on what we have, and what we have is our very own, very personal life experience. It takes conscious work to step outside of ourselves and look at things from a different perspective. And maybe, if you're lucky enough, if you happen to be plumb and level, you'll find yourself laughing in the end.  


Peace,

Theresa 




Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Summer Day

My sunflowers!

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver

“So, what do you do?”

I’ve never really liked that question. Even in my “un-sick” years, this question has always carried a sort of responsibility that made me uncomfortable. Even in those years when I loved what I was doing, when I was at “the top of my game”, when asked this question I felt the need to make the answer sound good. I had my spiel. What I did was a bit complicated to explain, so my sales pitch carried with it just the right amount of verbiage to make it understandable, yet sound like I had arrived. I always envied those who could get it over with in three words. “I’m a doctor.” “I’m the President.” I’m fairly certain my own personal baggage in regards to feeling not educated enough played a pretty strong role in my career quantephobia, but I do believe it’s a question that makes even a brain surgeon a bit edgy. It feels like a “set-up” question. We all have our preconceived notions (albeit more a reflection of our media sources than actual reality!) about the various professions. So there arises in us something in between a defensive guarding and the upholding of ego. For me, as I look back now, I think it was a little bit of both.

Why do we ask this question? And why do we ask it so quickly? If I think to what my conversations are like with people I have just been introduced to, I would say that it gets asked within the first five minutes, almost without fail. If we are truly trying to get to know someone, is asking them what they do for a living really one of the top questions? It makes me feel like I’m in the beginning stages of Milton Bradley’s Guess Who. Have kids, don’t have kids? Have a house, don’t have a house? Went to college, didn’t go to college? Married, not married? And the questions continue until we tuck one another tightly into convenient roles in our minds. Okay, it’s not always that bad. And I don’t mean to sound cynical, but just think about it for a bit. Why do we do what we do? Why do we ask what we ask? Why do we think what we think? It’s good to stop and “think about the thinker” sometimes. Like Socrates says, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Why?

When I woke up this morning, for whatever reason, I felt extremely unsatisfied. This happens sometimes. What am I doing with my life? I’ve gotten much better at not letting this little demon have a voice in my head, but there are just those days. I think we all have them, but for the chronically ill, disabled, it’s a haunting question mixed with a heavy dose of grief and guilt. It sneaks into my mind when I least expect it. Especially when I’m tired or more sick than usual. And especially during the winter when I am more home bound. Its companions - judgement and comparison - usually tag along. Actually, when I think about it, they arrive first, quietly through the back door.

Gratitude is much friendlier visitor! 
I don’t think that this is what it’s all about. Life, I mean. When Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, I don’t think she’s asking what our career choice is. I really don’t. I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s much less tangible than that. I think it has far more to do with the size of our hearts than with the size of our bank accounts or the houses we live in. Discontentment is a relentless debt collector. As long as we continue to borrow our self esteem from others (or other things), discontentment will keep knocking at our door.

I had another lovely conversation with my health psychologist at the U of MN last week. I’ve been seeing her for the past four years and I have yet to walk out of her office without having become a stronger women for it. We were talking about our desire as human beings to find solid ground. We love security. The problem being that security is only an illusion, and that the key is being able to love the shakiness of it all. To learn to live with un-solid ground, for in fact, nothing stays the same. The essence of life itself being change. That got me thinking about my need for answers. Answers are the solid ground we hope to find. Whether it be in regards to ourselves or in regards to others. Answers give us the illusion of control. Can you see the problem here? The minute we think we own something, it’s loss creates a tremendous amount of suffering for us! From something as insignificant as “I finally spent a lot of money on sunglasses and now they’re gone!’ to “I thought I knew who you were and now you’re gone!”

I’m not saying that the key to life is to live so unaffected that we become numb. Quite the opposite! I just think that we are missing the boat if we think the answers are what bring us happiness. Think of all the great scientists and inventors throughout time. What inspired them? Think of all the great painters standing in front of blank canvases. It was the questions of what could be that moved that first stroke, that mixed that first color, that began that first journey. These days of unknowing, these spaces we desperately want to fill with something, can be beautiful, beautiful days. Don’t think for one second  that they are moments stuck in time. All things change. This moment you and I are in is moving us somewhere. The manner in which we move with it will greatly impact the direction we go. Rilke could not say it any more gracefully,
Towards all that is unsolved in your heart
Be patient
Try to love the questions
Do not seek the answers
which cannot be given
you would not be able to live them
Live everything
Live the questions now
you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
Live into the answers
Some distant day.
             ~Rilke

I think that when asked, “What is it that you do?”, I’m going to work at making my response a verb instead of a noun. I suppose, to get it over with, I’ll still have to say something like, “I’m currently disabled”, because, well, I currently am. But this disability has given me a tremendous opportunity. The opportunity to slow down, to learn every day how to “let go” and how to live beautifully on shaky ground.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?


Today I opened my door and walked out...


Green surrounded me.

Bee-ing okay with things just as they are. 

Thankful for another sunrise.

Laughing at the volunteer maple tree in my flower garden.

Enjoying the unconditional love of my four legged friend. 

Peace,



Monday, August 4, 2014

Wild Abandon


Today, when responding to the recent "flurry" of events associated with Toni Bernhard's publishing of my piece in her Psychology Today column, I used the terms "wild abandon" when describing how I felt when I originally wrote the article. Having just received notice (after months of being harassed) that my long term disability company had been taking video surveillance of me, I was frantically spinning in circles with energy. And it wasn't good energy. Feelings of anger, fear, violation, shame, panic, judgement, humiliation, mortification...were so intense I found it difficult to even breathe. It was the kind of news that if not for a nearby chair, would simply drop you to your knees. 

It's been almost a month now since that letter came in the mail; about twenty-five days and just as many emotions. In those first days, one minute I would think I have the whole equanimity thing figured out (if it turns out good, I'm okay and if it turns out bad, I'm okay...) and the next I would feel paralyzed by the stories spiraling in my head. Many nights completely unable to sleep. "How can they truly know how sick I am and how this disease affects me if they only video tape me outside?? I only go outside on good days! How do they know by looking at me how many times I have thrown up or if I have been unable to leave the bathroom due to unexpected diarrhea? How do you see cognitive disfunction or migraine on a video screen? Where are they every evening when I feel so ill that taking my medication and falling asleep is my only reprieve? Yes, I drove myself to that doctor appointment, but what about the thirty or more that I was unable to drive myself to this past winter? Maybe I shouldn't drive anymore. Maybe I shouldn't get the mail. Maybe I shouldn't water my flowers on a good day. Maybe I shouldn't go out to eat with my family..." It's been a crazy roller-coaster ride and it takes a tremendous amount of mental work to make it stop. 

But this is what I have figured out about myself throughout this whole ordeal thus far. And believe me, I'm still a work in progress. 

1. I don't believe I randomly picked the words "wild abandon" out of thin air (like I felt I did) this morning when describing my frantic writing episode after receiving that letter. It was wild abandon. There were no rules when I wrote. In fact, when I did it, I had actually planned on using it as a journaling exercise to try and rid myself of the physical side effects I was feeling from the panic I was experiencing. Definitely wild. No one's looking kind of wild. A complete lack of inhibition or restraint kind of wild. 

2. If you look in the dictionary under abandon, the first definition reads something like this, "to give up completely (a course of action, a practice, or a way of thinking), discontinue". That is exactly what I needed. It's what my body was begging for. For that horrible sensation to be gone. I didn't want it any more. And for some reason, I felt that if I just let my fingertips go on the keyboard I could somehow find a way to release things. To let it go. To give it up. I didn't care what I was typing or who was going to potentially read it or if I would somehow let my viewers down. I had simply had enough

3. The second definition, although similar to the first, says, "to cease to support, take interest in or look after; desert. Leave empty or uninhabited, without intending to return". To me, this means that not only am I giving up something, I'm not planning on taking it back. And by doing so, at least in my situation, I am leaving this "thing" empty and definitely uninhabited by me. I am putting my foot down and refusing to allow this situation to take up any more space within me - or I within it! 

4. The third definition is where I am at now. It's the very thing I talked to my health psychologist about during our time together today. For me, it's almost a byproduct of the first two; "to allow oneself to indulge in (a desire or impulse)". The minute I hit the "Post" button on my blog account there began an immediate change in my internal circumstances. At that very moment I was done being scared. (Not that fear hasn't returned at times, but with much, much less ferocity!) This was the first moment I truly felt the presence of equanimity. Once I let go, once I no longer let these "things"(fear, anger, my long term disability insurance, whatever is making me miserable) have power over me, or in me, or in my future plans... my world felt bigger. It wasn't really a change in my circumstances, but more a shift in how I was looking at them. I allowed myself to indulge in a desire or impulse. And my desire was to let this all go. Quite a task for a control junkie like me!

The picture at the top of this post is that of an abandon house in Kensett, Iowa. It stands (barely) just down the road from the Izaak Walton League where my grandfather was the president for many years. I was so fortunate to be there recently for an old-time family reunion, which is when this picture was taken by my husband. Years ago, when I was healthier, I walked down the railroad track about a mile or so and carefully made my way through the old front door, which now no longer resides on it's hinges. If you've ever done such a thing, there's a feeling that goes along with it. That feeling can range anywhere from a sort of "spookiness" to a grand sense of days gone by. It's fun to look at light switches and wallpaper and envision what it used to be like way back when. But for me, the minute I walk into an old abandoned house I have this intense feeling of Holiness. Like I'm stepping on sacred ground. Outside the door, old abandoned house. Inside the door...a home. Where the rooms and walls are filled with stories of life and death and everything in between. Just like those stories and the people that lived them turned this old abandoned house into a home, so, too, do our stories turn you and I from flesh and bone into compassionate, spirit-filled beings, beautiful and holy.

Peace,






   

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hiking the JMT

     ...from bed on a quiet summer night.


BWCA 2008
Last week Dave and I watched an outstanding independent documentary called Mile...Mile & A Half, The Muir Project . In a nutshell, it's about a small group of artists that "take a month off from life" to hike California's John Muir Trail, the 219-mile stretch from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. Usually these types of documentaries star the more typical adventurists. You know the kind, the "Mt. Everest-in-an-afternoon" kind with ripped calf muscles and million dollar gear. Not so in this film. It's a small group of friends, just like you and I (minus illness...or maybe not), who came up with a crazy idea one night after a good dinner and a bottle or two of wine.  But what I liked about it was that they were "normal folk" on a path to find out what the wilderness had to teach them and to ultimately share that lesson with others. This wasn't about climbing the highest mountain or enduring extreme weather conditions, it was about returning to nature for a duration where time and road were long enough that the weight of what separates man from Spirit was simply to heavy to bring along.

The Canoe BWCA 2008
As I watched the film, I found myself struggling between getting completely lost in the journey and grieving the fact that I am no longer able make that sort of a trip. In fact, what felt most painful was the realization that the ability to dream about making that kind of a trip was gone. I wanted so desperately to turn off the TV, grab a notebook and make my "pie in the sky" plans with the man that I love. Just like we did when we made our plans to travel from the Boundary Waters to the Gulf of Mexico in the canoe he built. When we had those discussions it was very much a reality. Did it ever happen? No...but it could have. Well, right now, at least in the foreseeable future, hiking 219 miles is realistically not going to happen. And that made me grumpy. Very, very grumpy.

What I went through after watching the video is no different than what any one of us goes through on any given day in our lives. It feels desperately specific to my situation as a chronically ill person, but in reality it is not. Oh, how often (if not always) our suffering comes out of our frustration with what is. For me, this transpires quite often into fear. Fear that I am somehow not where I should be in this life. Which usually comes directly after I have judged myself against this platonic ideal of "me" that I quite often compare myself to. There's even a "sick me" that I to compare myself to. But we all do it. We form this picture of what should be, usually a combination of traits from all the perfect people in the world that have mastered said quality, and then we hold that picture up to ourselves in the mirror and say, "What's wrong with me?" When in fact, we should be saying, "What's wrong with this picture?"!  

The only way I know to stop this insanity is to surrender. Yield to what is - don't resist it. Our fear would like to convince us that the only way to solve our problem is to create these negative thoughts. It's the same misguided parenting style that tells us the only way to get a child to change is to shame them. Make them feel bad. Oh, you may get a very obedient child out of the deal, but definitely not a healthy happy child. You and I are no different. After a few days of fear, which was directly transferred as anger toward everyone in my life that was not sick, I decided to just yield to what is. Stop resisting and drop the emotional negativity. Once we drop the negative emotion of a particular situation, once we surrender (stop labeling what IS), we are left with the ability to take action. Positive action. Like I stated in my recent post Eight Months...but then again, whose counting, "Good solutions come out of clear, unemotional thinking." I promise you, if you continue to surrender, give up the negative self talk, you will achieve positive results. How can they not be - they're based on reality!

So, there are no plans in the near future (you don't have to give up hope all together) to hike the JMT (I can at least abbreviate like a pro), but something did come out of watching that great little independent documentary (that I HIGHLY suggest watching). And that is this, that I went to my shelf and dusted off my copy of John Muir The Eight Wilderness-Discovery Books and started to read. And I kid you not, as I lay in bed last night reading, I felt like I was there. I could feel the breeze and smell the grass and hear the birds that he so eloquently describes singing high above me. His joy and wonder became my joy and wonder. There was a stillness that filled me.

Over 114 years ago John Muir opened his book Our National Parks with these words,
The tendency nowadays to wonder in wilderness is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, never-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.    
When I return to Nature I return to myself, without all the weight of worldly trappings or that miserable picture of who I should be in my backpack. I would do good to remember this. For just as those six hikers began their journey by saying they left "life" behind and went to the JMT, I would say quite the opposite. They went to the JMT and found life. Just like I did, from the comfort of my bed on a quiet summer night.

He continues,
Awaking from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil's spinning in all day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth; jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the songs of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise.

Peace,

 

My father, me, my daughter Amanda and Dave. Such great memories!
Superior Trail, BWCA 2008

 










Friday, July 18, 2014

I Think I Have Something To Say




I think I have something to say.

My life, at 48, has been very full.  In my quiet times, I think about the steps I have taken and the moments that have filled the spaces in between.  Some of those moments have made walking easy, graceful. Some moments have created space so large I’ve not been able to take the next step on my own. Sometimes, I’ve simply had to jump.

Jumping was not easy to learn. I was in my thirties the first time I found myself standing on that edge.  Unable to hold onto anything because everything I knew had crumbled below me. Little did I know. So little. Yet, I knew enough to know that walking on rubble was painful and assured uncertainty and weakness.

So I jumped.

Jumping is the frightening thing you do when you finally give up control. It takes a tremendous amount of faith. And if your world has crumbled completely enough, if you truly are standing on that edge alone, then even faith finds itself hallow. Truth ambiguous and elusive leaves the ground soft and unpredictable. Hardly a place to jump from.  More a falling.

I think it’s the falling I have something to say about. That moment when your hand slips the rail, when your feet leave the ground and your eyes loose focus. That moment when things move too fast. That moment you will look back on for the rest of your life and reflect upon what it is that caused you to fall, what flashed before your eyes, and when finally stopping, what it was that caught you and where it was you landed.  

This is the stuff that makes us. It’s the very sinew that holds us together, keeps us on our feet, sustains and restores us, readies us for that next step. These are the stories I have to tell. They are my stories, they are your stories, they are the ancient stories passed down with a unique sort of repetitiveness. As if there is a finite number of moments, yet completely immeasurable in consequence.


Yes, I have something to say. Yes, yes, yes.

Peace,

Theresa



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eight Months...but then again, who's counting

This is probably the worst possible time for me to try and write a post. I'm not feeling well, worse than the usual, I'm tired and I am completely overwhelmed by everything "disability". Where do I even begin is an understatement. First, let me be honest. This is not going to be one of my more typical, more positive posts. At least not at the beginning. Knowing my nature, I'll find something good in all of this by the end, if you can make it that far. You may just want to bail out now.

A lot has happened - a lot continues to happen - in my world. The majority of what goes on is all good. I have so much to be thankful for - an incredibly loving husband who does more for me every day than I could write about in a week. A slew of daughters that bring me so much joy and continually make me proud. A beautiful home, good health care... a bounty of blessings indeed.

But then there is this illness. This chronic, relentless, imposing, hungry disease that makes Kubler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief a condiment to my daily issue du jour. It's never ending. Part of why I have not been writing more often is because it's become so difficult for me to actually write. Cognitive function is on the decline. Coming up with words, making sense, tying things together...all those things that for a lifetime have come so easily, now take so much work. Not only does it take work, it takes time. It takes time to read something over and over and over again before it makes sense. Even if they are my own words. And then there is the physical side of actually sitting at the computer. My eyes are failing and doing so in such an odd fashion that the minute I get glasses they don't work. I spent over a thousand dollars on glasses back in May only to send them back. No more of that business. It's easier to just muster through. Another unsolvable mystery.

Then there is pain. Some of it constant, some of it coming and going on a whim. I never know when, where, why. Believe me, I have spent so much time trying to figure out what causes pain - joint pain, nerve pain, GI pain, head pain... I'm giving up. Which I think, at this stage of the game is good. Not giving up giving up. Just giving up trying to figure everything out giving up. Eventually doctors are happy to hear this. I know, it sounds bad, but it isn't. When I first got sick, finding out the WHY was very important. But five years and numerous diagnoses later, it's more "take it as you get it". You learn to look out for the more serious signs and get used to putting up with the fleeting, even if it knocks you down for a few days. So, that's that. That's why writing has been "slim pickins'" as my mother would say.

Toni Bernhard, of How To Be Sick and How To Wake Up, has had some really spot on posts lately on her blog Turning Straw Into Gold in Psychology today. In fact, I think that's what got my creative/frustrated juices flowing. Her last post, What It's Like to Take a Vacation While Chronically Ill, especially hit home. She gives four really good examples of why going on a simple (extremely simple) vacation can cause a tremendous amount of stress both physically and mentally. All good. But her number one point really resonated with me in an area I feel particularly tender towards right now. She stated, "Except for my immediate family and my two closest friends, I didn't tell people I was going." She then goes on to ask, "Why would I deliberately hide a trip from people?" and answers her own question with responses that both comfort me and infuriate me. Comforted because I cannot tell you how good it feels to know that what I am going through is experienced by other people. Infuriated because of the continual isolation that being chronically ill creates. Isolation due to not being able to function at a level that keeps me involved with others, as well as isolation that is created by being judged. The later is what's got my dander up.

Let me be clear. Either I am oblivious to it or I truly don't experience it, but I have been extremely fortunate to have family and friends that have not judged me in this regard. My immediate family knows....knows how sick I am. They have been with me every step of the way and know the serious and unpredictable nature of this disease. They have seen it first hand. Thankfully, due to a lot of very good medication and a superb medical team, I have not had a hospital stay in over two years. But there have been some doozies in the past and we will never forget.

What weighs on me is this. As thankful as I am for the disability checks that pay the bills in our home, I cannot tell you how heavy the burden is to be labeled as "disabled" nor can I put into words the judgment that comes along with that label. In particular, the judgment that comes with trying to prove that disability. There is an odd contradiction that goes on within me when it comes to justifying my illness with entities such as social security or long-term disability insurance. Both of which impart their own level of scrutiny. I would wish for nothing more than to be well. I would do almost anything to return to the job that I loved and the people that made it so. To have to work so hard to prove the very thing that torments me, is at times almost unbearable. And if it were not for our financial situation, I would gladly give it up - every penny, in a heartbeat.

This illness is, by and large, the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me. It has changed my life forever. Every single moment of my life is infused with it. Not one second is spared. What I eat, when I eat, what I wear, what I read, how I sit, how I lay, where I go, when I go, when I wake, when I sleep, how I sleep, what plans are made, who I talk to, what I think...nothing goes without consideration of my illness. To stand in judgment of it as if it were not so - well, on days like this it's more than I can bear. So when Toni Bernhard talks about not wanting to tell people that she is going on vacation, well...I get it. I get it because I have been there myself. There is something terribly wrong when when people with well documented medical illnesses are in fear of being seen out in public when they are having a good day. Or when they're not having a good day, but are just managing to look well for the sake of those they love. And maybe what's wrong is with me. Like Toni said in her article, "Perhaps I let the scales tip in the wrong direction on this one." But to be honest, some days I just don't have what it takes to do the work. To let it go. To be "okay" with it all. Some days, like this day, I'm just weary of it.

Where is the good?

What could possibly be good out of all of this? Believe me, on days like today, weeks like this week, it does not come naturally to answer that question. It takes work. It takes work to not spiral downward. My world is very small sometimes. These four walls get tighter and tighter and problems can look really enormous at times. And they are...

But the amount of space I allow them to take is up to me. There are things that I have learned while carrying on with this ridiculous illness that have become part of my toolkit that do nothing short of saving my life. And maybe they will help you. So here goes. Here's the good...and then some.

1. Be patient...I mean with me, right now, as I'm making these up as I go. Well, not making them up, just remembering them on the fly. Why would I do that you ask? Because this is a really tough day and I am actually using my blog as a journal and working through things. Yes, I am giving and receiving advice at the very same time. And look, I just came up with number one and it wasn't that hard. Nor that informing. So, on to number two.

2. Be patient...with yourself. Don't panic. These things come and go, come and go, come and go. If you look back over the course of your life, just LOOK at how many times you have been in what feels like "life or death" situations. I could come up with a million, yet honestly, I have only ever been in one. And it truly was life or death. And you know what, NONE OF THIS MATTERED. So let yourself be angry, happy, sad, miserable. Feel it, experience it...and then let it go. Good solutions come out of clear, unemotional thinking. Give yourself time for both.

3. Be patient...with your world. The enormous energy behind this whole post is with my frustration of being judged. Yet, as I sit here and spin my tales of "evil and wrong doing" I am, in essence, judging. And maybe justifiably so...but maybe not. There is a lot of unknown out there and my over emotional, fried, chronically suffering mind is probably the last to know the true story. So, try giving your world the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Our fear is being taken advantage of. Our reality is often quite different. Might as well wait for the facts. Then you really have someone to yell at. Just kidding. Kind of.

4. Grow. Whatever it is that brings you to this point. Whatever it is that has made you weary. In the end - or maybe even in the middle of it all - learn something. I don't know what it is for you, but for me, it always comes down to compassion. Compassion for myself and compassion for my world. In all the shit that happens out there - to us, to those we love, to those we don't know yet find ourselves heartbroken over their suffering - if we take from it the capacity to hold compassion in our hearts, then we understand the way to end suffering. Both for ourselves and for those around us. If I understand what it means to have compassion for myself and for those who hurt me, then I can no longer hold both love and hate in my heart. And if I have love, then I have peace. And if I have peace...

Then I have good.

Thanks for making it to the end. I needed you here.


Peace,

Theresa













  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Seven Months

Seven months. That's how long it has been since I last posted on this blog. As I sit here and type, I wonder where I went. I wonder where you have been. I wonder if you wonder. Life is so funny. No, actually, Life is Life. We are the funny ones. Life just is. It is, in this second, like it was 5000 years ago in a second back then. The sun rising and setting and all that happens in between. We stick things in there like "time" and "good" and "bad". We organize and label that which either works in our favor or doesn't. And then we tell ourselves the appropriate story for the situation at hand. This was good, this was bad, this made me happy, this made me sad, this should have happened, this should not have happened... and so it goes. Winding ourselves up and calming ourselves down. It's so easy to get carried away in our idea of Life. I have had more than one doctor tell me I spend too much time up in my head. It just happens so fast. Electrons firing off in our brains like busy little ants preparing for... I don't know, everything! Yet...it's just Life. So natural and so easy. It sits there looking at us like a kind Grandmother, smiling. Patiently waiting for us to figure it out, all the while, smiling. We cover the earth with a sort of frosting, trying to make it just so. But it already is just so. Just perfectly so.

Seven months. Where to even begin. I've got seven months worth of things to write about in my head, but I feel like I need to catch up. Put a few things out there and let you know how I am. I think that if I was following someone with a fairly significant health problem and they disappeared for seven months, I would want to know a little bit about what's been going on. The nuts and bolts. So here it is, seven months of nuts and bolts for you to make of it what you wish.



There was love and there was lots of it. 


There were also difficult days. Last winter was a tough one on me in regards to being or feeling home bound. We had months and months of snow.


In fact, this one came in April and we had another one in May. 


I did manage to get some painting done. This one arrived out of a space of great pain and ended up in a space of great love. This was also the last painting I did. With Spring on the horizon, I didn't want to be cooped up in the basement. I longed for the outdoors. 


Dave and Maddie spent the winter caning the seats for their canoe. April saw the finished product.


I learned to not store popcorn in the oven, even if it does keep it from getting soggy. One has to actually remember it's there before doing something like....oh, say, preheating the oven. 


May saw the last of the BAC dates. (Big Ass Canoe) Here Maddie and Casey are helping Dave and Grandpa put on the gunnels. It takes many strong, quick hands to accomplish this task!


Gunnels complete! Ready to finish her up for the scheduled Father's Day Launch.


Ta-dah! Father's Day weekend the long awaited canoe saw it's first voyage. The canoe was seven years in the making. This was a glorious day.


Dave and Maddie, father and daughter, sharing one of life's best moments. 


June brought lovely, lovely weather. By the end of the summer these baskets touched the deck floor. I spent as many moments as I could out here, listening to the birds, smelling the fresh air, watching the clouds float by. Being still. 


July brought a new bike. For the first time in four years I felt well enough to venture out into nature on my own. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I began a much more rigid diet or if it was just a wonderful gift, but July and August were the best two months I have had since becoming sick in 2009. We went on a mission to find the most ergonomically correct bike for me and after one miserable attempt (and return) we found this one at a bike shop just blocks from our home. 
It's like riding the wind. 



And off I went, almost every day, in a different direction, for two months. 
Some trips only minutes long, and some hours.
It was glorious.


The wonderful thing about where we live is that depending on where you go, there is always a wide variety of landscapes to see. Just turning down a road can lead from farmland to woods or from woods to rivers or from rivers to lakes. And every road is paved. There were days when I ventured out that I never saw a single car except for when I was close to home.
The quiet is nothing short of holy.


These are my feet, outside, near water...and not in bed at home. They were very, very happy feet indeed!


Less than a mile down the road from our home lives the Apple River. I would stop on this bridge and just listen. Alone, hearing her voice, knowing the words being spoken had never been heard and will never be heard again. Listening, letting go, listening, letting go, listening... As her voice slipped though my fingers and landed in my heart. 
Listen....let go. 


In July the crops looked healthy and strong. It seemed as if the season would be perfect. But summer would have a different idea. The rain stopped and the drought moved in. It was difficult watching the luscious green leaves turn gold before their time. Harvest would come early, if you were lucky, but for most, not at all. 


These guys live right down the road from me. I'm pretty sure they think I'm crazy. 


This is the road that leads past the cows. One of my favorite as there are very few hills to speak of. It also leads to miles and miles of nature preserve wetlands. 


One of the many ponds/lakes along the way.


The land beyond this sign is covered in grasses and wildflowers native to this area. It also surrounds a beautiful lake that is almost impossible to get to. I would park my bike behind this sign, go stand out on a hill and just wait. All kinds of wild life would surround me. Mice, gofers, deer, eagles, hawks and more birds than I could even begin to name. All busy moving about. Like life does.
It was this day, just moments after I took this picture that Dave called me to say that we needed to leave right away for Florida. His sister Linda was nearing the end of her battle with cancer.
I'm glad I was here when he called. I didn't rush off. There were things that I needed to hear. Holy things. Peace-filled things. 
Answers.
I will never forget this moment.  







These guys played a little game with me. As long as I was moving, they were moving. If I stopped, they stopped. It was actually quite hilarious. It felt like an odd combination of Red Light Green Light and Duck, Duck Goose!


Horses are big around here. I would have loved to spend more time visiting with them like I did with the cows, but where there are horses, there are horse flies! Not something I am even well enough to peddle FAST enough to outrun. They are NASTY. Period. 


I so wanted to open this gate and walk in. Maybe next year. 


Another wonderful tidbit about this area, unless you are where there are horses (and horse flies) there really are no bugs to speak of. Not sure why, but it is so nice to find a spot like this and just sit on the grass and soak it all up, un-devoured by the common mosquito. 


In August we took this picture. We (Sara, me, Dave, Emma) were going somewhere, I can't remember where. That's not the significant part. The significant part is that I felt really good here, and we were going somewhere


One place we could not seem to get to was our trailer. So we brought her home and made the decision to let her go. I think what we realized most was that having seven daughters and being chronically ill does not bode well with being a weekend warrior. As much as we long to "get away", what we truly long for is to be with our family. SO... she now resides in a morton building somewhere in Wisconsin and a lovely couple from DeMoines, IA will pull her somewhere in the Spring. 
And so life moves on...


And these kids are here to prove it! This summer found all sorts of fun with these couples. From left to right - Aaron and Anna, Tucker and Emma, Drake and Sara. Three sisters, three really wonderful young men. Endless fun and laughter. I just can't get enough of them. 


Breakfast. 
This just makes me happy. 




August also saw the wedding of two of my dearest, most treasured friends, Jeana and Susan. It was a monumental event in many regards, but most of all
it was an event of the heart. This was a long awaited
day and it is one that will be etched in my
memory for all of eternity. 


I'm glad I listened to the river. And the wind. And the mice. And the birds. Because September brought a change of seasons for me as well, and I had to let go.  I tried, for most of September, to weather the storm on my own. But this one was relentless. Most of September and most of October looked just like this, and I am still struggling. There were some occasions where I managed to get out (thanks to major pain medication), but for the most part, this was my space. 


One of those occasions was to watch my oldest daughter Aleela run in the Twin Cities Medtronic Ten mile. This race is part of the TC Marathon weekend and very difficult to get in. She and I used to run marathons together, but since I have been sick, she has promised me to not stress her body to that extent any more. This is me, in the brown coat, waiting for her to run past. 
I tried numerous times to cheer the runners, but the emotion was so stuck in my throat that every time I opened my mouth I started to cry. 
I stood silent and waited for her 
to come. 


And here she is. In all of her fullness and beauty. She is a wonder and a miracle to me. Her journey on this earth has not been easy, yet she has walked it with the grace of a women much wiser than myself. 
Every time I am with her I learn something new about life. 
I am in complete awe of the women
she is becoming. 


October brought Amanda and Daniel home from California to celebrate their engagement! They don't get to come home often, and many times it's only Amanda. This time it was both and it was for almost an entire week! 
Other than the celebration dinner, most of our time together was spent in the kitchen over a cup of coffee. One morning we started talking and the next thing we knew, the day was almost over. Minutes fly by like seconds with Amanda. I always tell her that I wish I could have had her as a friend in my youth. 
But even better yet
she is my friend now. And that's as good as it gets!


My five daughters at the engagement party. This maybe happens once a year!


And here we are! Me and Mr. Johnson!
The love of my life.


The Three Amigos. 
The Three Musketeers.
The Three Mousketeers.
The Three Stooges. 
The Three Little Pigs. 
These three absolutely CRACK ME UP. They spend a lot of time at the house simply bringing joy to everyone around. I cannot imagine a day without these three in it. 


Aleela, Adella and Keith. 
Wow,  no one could have ever prepared me for being a Grandmother. 
Just when you think your heart can't get any bigger, 
grandchildren come. It's a love like none other and I just can't
get enough of it!


And then there is engagement number two! I guess I should be prepared for things such as this. I imagine that with seven daughters events might begin to overlap and pile up a bit. But what a wonderful and welcome surprise this was! 
Aaron and Anna. 


So the days are getting darker here again. Lions are laying down with lambs and the chaos begins to still. We had our first real snowfall yesterday and there seems to be some sort of quiet announcement in the air. No use not listening. 

As I type this I am rushing the last letters in order that I should hop in the shower and get ready for yet another doctor appointment. This one with my neurologist, the good Dr. Walk. He's been with me from from the very beginning, one of the best.

Doctor's appointments have a way of creating a bit of anxiety in me. There is a certain amount of "emotional investment" that never seems to do any good. Remembering to keep my expectations in check is key. I told Dave the other day that there is always this small part of me that thinks things will be better. Like really better. Like "this is the answer" better. But most times its just finding out that nothing has gotten any worse and coming up with a temporary solution to the issue at hand. I walk out of the PWB building where Dave is always waiting for me. I climb in the car, he asks me how it went, and I cry my tears. By the time we hit Highway 280 he has worked his magic, gently held my hand and brought a smile to my face like only he can do. 
No need to frost this life of mine.
It couldn't possibly be
any sweeter. 


Just perfectly so. 




Peace,











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