health

Confessions From The Sick Bed

Before I was sick,
I counted the days and hours,
not because of drudgery –
I loved my job –
because I had stretched myself
beyond normal limitations.

Before I was sick,
I wore responsibility
like a superhero,
and defined by work,
prioritized tasks
above well-being.

Before I was sick,
I joked with others
about the disabled
lounging around,
living the life of leisure,
usurping the system.

Before I was sick,
I prided myself on saying “yes”,
being dependable,
loyal to a fault,
a friend to all.
I thought I was invincible.

When I started to get sick
I trudged from doctor to doctor,
underwent tests,
and humiliation,
learned to doubt myself,
and turned the blame inward.

When I started to get sick,
I chastised myself
for being overweight
and not exercising enough,
and stopped eating carbs,
and pushed harder.

When I started to get sick,
I ignored my body,
failed to set boundaries,
continued to eat on the run,
and felt ashamed
that I had let myself go.

When I started to get sick,
I was wracked with guilt
for the compromises
I had to make,
failing to juggle
so many obligations.

Now that I am sick,
I value more than ever
the importance of priorities,
recognizing that well-being
always proceeds well-doing,
and appreciate my body’s voice.

Now that I am sick,
I understand that work
does not define me,
and disappointing others
is a reality in life.
I am not invincible.

Now that I am sick,
I’ve learned that richness
is a quality of living
and not a figure
in a bank balance.
Happiness, the same.

Now that I am sick,
discernment defines
the relationships I desire,
no longer willing
to negate self
for the love of others.

Now that I am sick,
I no longer pretend,
or reach to meet standards
that fail to sustain me;
I have a new set of expectations
and am learning to be.

Now that I am sick,
I see with compassion
how insecurity
and a longing for approval
drove me to demise,
always failing in my mind.

Now that I am sick,
I pray that wisdom,
and humility
will guide my recovery,
and that life will await
this metamorphosis in me.

dreams · health

All The Little Pieces

You, old man –
silent onlooker,
career behind you,
motivation stymied
senility lurking –
You are a part of me.

You, grandmother –
chronic caregiver,
stiffly puttering,
good intentions,
punctuated by pain –
You are a part of me.

You, young woman –
heart full of passion,
longing to embrace life,
confined to a wheelchair
dependent independent –
You are a part of me.

You, little child –
running with emotion,
driven by discovery,
curiosity cancelling reason,
needing protection –
You are a part of me.

You, young man –
cold-hearted and reckless,
menacing and lawless
cruelly harrassing,
angrily destructive –
You are a part of me.

You, responsible one-
struggling to do it all,
holding it together,
rescuing the lot,
refusing to let go –
You are part of me.

You, my many pieces –
bound by disease,
beaten by hardship,
silenced by fear,
abandoned to rot –
You are a part of me.

I, shattered into pieces-
overwhelmed, and repulsed,
have not lost compassion,
will regain my fight,
hang on for salvation, because-
You are a part of me.

dreams · health

Gridlocked

Far from home,
tired and spent,
feeling abandoned,
disconnected –

I am cut off.

Lacking independence,
damaged by betrayal,
I try not to need
and get tangled up-

cut off again.

The past haunts me:
a legacy of dead-ends;
abuse, addictions,
and mental illness-

cut me off.

Seek a higher road!
Spirit calls to me.
No! Stubbornness responds
I can do this myself –

But, I can’t.

Confronting shadow,
the nightmare is revealed.
Following Spirit
is the way –

I re-engage.

health · Uncategorized

Day 262 Life Tests/ Lessons

6:30 am.  Thor’s alarm goes off.  Was I asleep?  It is still dark outside and like every other morning, I have nowhere to go, so I roll over, but my mind has already engaged, or rather re-engaged, stuck on the same LP track (a function of this disease) that has been running through my mind all night.  I get up, shuffle to the bathroom and while I relieve myself, take my mornings puffs of inhaled steroid to kick-start my lungs.

[Test  #1:  Can you find a reason to get out of bed when you’ve lost your ability to work, and no one needs or expects anything from you?

My answer:  The will to live is stronger than even I might have suspected.  Part of me wants to stay with the oblivion of sleep, and another part of me has things she wants to do – life to live  – so, yes, I am motivated to wake up each morning and embrace a new day.]

In the kitchen, I turn on the kettle and prepare my over-sized mug for the first cup of tea of the day.  Thor is already in work mode – checking his emails – coffee in hand.  Tea made, I shuffle back to bed where I start up my own computer and turn on the morning news.  I check for emails – mostly advertisements, some postings from blogs that I follow (which I’ll read later) – I am too out of the social loop to receive personal correspondence anymore.

[Test #2:  Who are you when many of your relationships have gone by the wayside?

My answer:  I am old enough to know that relationships come and go throughout life and while they help shape me, they do not define me.  A side effect of losing so many connections is that I am left with a handful of friends whose staying power continually warms my heart.]

Next, I check my online Scrabble games to see if any of my random opponents have played their turn.  My brain, more specifically working memory and executive functioning, are affected by this disease.  Playing Scrabble is a recommended therapy.  Several games await my turn, so I play them.

[Test #3:  Loss of brain power:  brain fog, confusion, memory loss, etc.

Reality:  I lose patience with myself, especially when I make mistakes that affect others.  A sense of humour helps, but I do find that this challenge makes me withdraw more than anything.  Loss of mental capacity is very tiring.  ]

7:30 am.  Time to make breakfast.  What to have?  My go to is instant oatmeal, but on thinking back to what I ate last – sweet potato and a slice of chicken at supper – I think my stomach could handle a bit more.  I decide on gluten-free bread toasted with two slices of precooked bacon.  I take it back to bed with me and change to the CBC news, rechecking the status of my Scrabble games.

[Test #4:  What happens when you no longer have the energy to make optimal life choices?

Reality:  For four years I followed a careful vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free diet.  Every weekend I shopped for and cooked special meals to enhance my well-being.  Now I am unable to shop for food, and depend on Thor for much of the cooking, and as his name suggests he is a meat-atarian!  Limited energy equates with limited choices.   I have let this ball drop for the time being… to be continued.]

News today is all about the TTC strike, and since I don’t even live in Toronto, I decide that listening further is wasted energy.  I shut it off and turn to Facebook, reading about the trips my once friends, now acquaintances, are either taking or planning, what they’re making for dinner, or who they are partying with.  I switch back to Scrabble.

8:10 am.  Thor is dressing for his first morning meeting then stretches across the bed to visit with me for a bit.  We talk about his day.  I can feel myself getting sleepy.  As he gets up to leave, I will myself out of bed again, taking my dirty dishes to the kitchen, making mental note of the work that needs to be done there, then back to the bathroom where I relieve myself, brush my teeth, and think about washing my face, but now I am too tired.  I go back to bed instead, choosing a Sonza playlist for sleeping and setting it next to my pillow.

10:36 am.  I hear Thor come home, enter the bedroom and check on me, but I am still sleeping and not ready to get let it go.  I glance at the time, and notice the faint calling of my bladder, but give in to heavy lull of sleep.

11:47 am.  The insistence of my bladder is too strong to ignore now.  I get up, amazed that I have slept so long.  Thor, hearing my movement, calls that out that I have an appointment in two hours.  This time I do wash my face, apply some cream and brush my hair.  Sitting facing the dresser, I wonder what to wear and settle on the usual – yoga pants, a t-shirt, and hoodie – my uniform.

I feel renewed after such a long sleep – the best I’ve had in days – so offer to make lunch.  Normally, I would nuke a bowl of soup, but I know Thor prefers it heated on the stove, so I pour the pre-made soup into a pot and turn on the stove.  I clean up the dishes left from breakfast and complain that the soup seems to be taking a long time (I have limited capacity for standing), so Thor takes over.  Not wanting to go back to bed just yet, I sit on the couch and notice all the toys still left out from our granddaughter’s last visit.  I try to tidy up, but the movement makes me dizzy, so I sit back down – it will have to wait for my next little burst of energy.  Thor serves up the soup and we eat in silence.  Not much to talk about on my part; he is no doubt thinking about work.

Soup finished, I snatch an apple out of the bowl and go back to bed.

[ Test #5:  Living with restricted energy

Reality:  Setting boundaries and valuing the little energy I have is a difficult life lesson:  so much of what I do in a day is habitual or mindless.  Choosing to use my energy for something useful like writing, or spending time with loved ones is a happy choice.  Yet, I find it hard not to get lost in distractions, or worse, “shoulds” ( I should do some laundry, sweep the floor, tidy the table, and so on).  I still have lots of work to do in this area. ]

12:27 pm.  I listen to an audiobook: The Hare with the Amber Eyes.  Some of it is hard to follow, but the narrator’s voice is low and soothing, so I keep pushing forward with the story.

1:00 pm.  Esther calls on her lunch break and we discuss her weekend and their upcoming move.  She sounds very upbeat, and I hang up feeling good about the conversation – I don’t have to worry about her today.

[Test #6:  Worrying about others.

Reality:  An excess amount of idle time equates to surplus opportunities to think about others, and as a mother, to feel guilt and concern where my children are concerned.  Sometimes, my mind will dwell on past situations and I will spend days spinning over something I’m sure I’ve done wrong.  This is one of the reasons I see a therapist.  Unnecessary emotional spinning is a definite drain of energy.]

1:15  I play a few more turns of Scrabble.

1:26  Thor reminds me we have to leave soon.  I put my cellphone in my purse and go one more time to the bathroom.  We discuss whether or not to take my walker.  I don’t need it to get into my appointment, but I will if we decide to stop on the way home.  Take it, I say.  It gives me options.

It’s a beautiful sunny day, and as we drive across town I note that most of the snow has gone from the streets and sidewalks, with only the last black-crusted bits remaining.  I feel uplifted, hopeful.  Maybe I can get out more, I tell Thor.

[Test #7:  Keeping hope alive

Answer:  This is another wonderful function of spirit:  the ability to regenerate hope!  Hope springs from a sunny day, a friendly exchange, a thoughtful gesture, and in my case, a restful nap.]

2:00 pm.  The appointment today is my weekly acupuncture visit.  Usually I sleep during this visit, but after this morning’s rest I lie instead and think of writing this column, and whether or not I need to continue coming every week, or if I could use my energy for something else.

3:30 pm.  We decide to visit at a new Farm Boy on the way home.  I want to find some ready made salads I can eat for lunches.  The store is big and a bit overwhelming for someone who has been housebound for so long, so I choose a few aisles, adding some things to Thor’s basket.  Walking is slow, and I have to sit while studying products.  I feel my muscles straining, but push on, so excited to be out and about.  I see a former student, and stop for a quick chat.   When my my muscles start screaming, I ask for the car keys and head out to wait for Thor in the car,  but the sun is so bright and warming that I perch on my walker and soak in the outdoor air.  An elder gentleman stops to chat and tells me his wife is housebound and won’t come out.  We swap stories and sympathies.  When I can no longer sit up, I return to the car and put my seat back.

4:30 pm.  Back in bed, pleased by my outing.  Missed a call from Marie, but my voice is hoarse from the exertion of going to the store, a signal that means I need to rest, so I’ll text her instead.  I put the heating pad under my back and notice I am suddenly cold, so pull up a couple of blankets.  Low grade fevers seem to spark up with exertion too.

I work on the blog.

6:00 pm.  Thor asks if I want dinner in bed or at the table.  Bed is the answer –  my muscles are strained from the earlier activities.  I set my writing aside and prop up my pillows, anticipating dinner.  It is superb!  Almond crusted trout and waxed beans.  I turn on the news, a habit I still haven’t shaken – but tire of it quickly.  I have some prerecorded shows to watch and want to catch up on.  Even though I am only supposed to watch one hour of television per day (it’s too stimulating) I decide to have a marathon and watch three shows.

9:30 pm  Being able to fast forward through the commercials helps, but now I have a headache, and the images from the programs are locked in my brain – this is why watching too much is not a good idea – I cannot shake things easily.  Also, I noticed that I am very emotional and cried easily over every little thing – another sign that I am off balance at the moment.

10:00 pm.  Finish writing this blog, and text with my girls.  Ready for bed but wired.  Will check in on my Scrabble games and then maybe work on a jigsaw puzzle to quiet my mind.

[Test #8:  Compliance

Reality:  It will be days before I recover from the “extras” I indulged in today:  my muscles will complain and stop working, sleep will become elusive, and I will not have the energy to get out of bed.  I will become cranky, feel discouraged, and want to give up.  Then it will pass, and I will try again, and when I feel good, I will want to do to it all – that’s my nature.  (Not to mention that I am obviously a slow learner.)]

Life is constantly testing us – living with chronic disease only magnifies this universal truth.  Some days I am more conscious of those lessons, and able to learn and grow; other days I prefer to just exist.  Right now, I would say I’m passing with a C-:  lots of room for improvement.

How about you.  Are you acing life’s tests, or just getting by?

dreams

Day 255 “Take a Step Back”

I am living in my father’s house
with a man who said ‘I do”
then didn’t – at least not with me.

These walls, built with lies,
deception whispering in each corner-
betrayal bouncing off my lover’s soul.

No comfort is found here,
Expectations are beyond me
I am over my head.  Stop!

Take a step back.
The house is vacant,
past inhabitants now ghosts.

I have a voice.

I have a voice.

Here is not the place to use it.

Take a step back.
Walk away.
Victory is not the goal.

Take a step back.
Let it go.
These are but hollow, old walls.

recovery · Uncategorized

Day 251 Careful and Carefree

Dreams have provided a source of personal revelation for me since I started recording, and subsequently learning about them, in 1986.  The poem “The Shadow of Shame” was based on the dreams of several nights, all bearing a similar theme – my ability (or rather inability) to form relationships.   By weaving together the images from those dreams and writing the poem I was able to recognize the underlying culprit.

Shame is insidious, silently spreading its menace, growing like a weed rooted in the soul.  It began for me the year I turned nine, when my teenage sister got pregnant.  While no one directly spoke to me about what was happening, I knew by the raised voices and frantically whispered arguments that something was dreadfully wrong.   A wedding was hastily arranged despite my father’s protests and my sister’s life was changed drastically.  That fall, when I started a new school, the shadow was already casting its pall over me – I felt myself on the outside of the circle looking in.  None of these kids, I was sure, was already an aunt or uncle.

Then, the summer of my eleventh birthday, my parents sat me down to tell me about my mother’s previous marriage and divorce.  Imagine my shock to learn that my sisters were half-sisters, and that two of my male ‘cousins’ were actually brothers.  “Divorce is a sin,” my mother told me, “So we don’t talk about it.  People would not approve.”  Marked by this new secret, I knew my hopes of belonging were shattered.

When we moved, mid semester, in the eighth grade, I was taken out of my gifted classroom and thrust into the mainstream.  Where previously being an oddball was celebrated, my new peers scoffed at my quirky abilities further fueling my growing awareness that I was fatally flawed.  When a boy I had latched onto and actually crushed on, publicly called me a dog, I learned how deep humiliation can run, as I then became the target of relentless bullying – everyone in our school took to barking at me at school and anywhere else I happened to be.

When we moved from that community, I had already learned the importance of caution around others.  I knew that making friends required careful observation and consideration, and demanded that I not reveal my true self.  There was little provision for letting one’s guard down, or being carefree.

And then my father dropped his bombshell – revealing to me the duplicity of his life – and any shame I might have felt before was now multiplied a thousand fold.  I was certain that others could tell by looking at me that my family was a total wreck, and furthermore, I knew they were justified in their judgments of me.  I shrank into myself, seeking dark corners, avoiding eye contact, or skipping school all together.  I tried running away, cutting, drinking, but nothing numbed the emotional pain, nor brought me closer to others.

When, at fifteen, I was abducted and raped, my family unwilling and unable to deal with the fact, just didn’t talk about it.  Called a whore by my father, I pushed the memory to the back of my consciousness and fixated instead on ways to end my life.

I thought I had put all that behind me.  I believed that through therapy, and just as a side effect of maturation, I had eluded the black cloud of my youth – and yet here it is -rearing it’s ugly head again, reminding me that I still struggle with getting close to anyone, certain that they will despise me if the truth comes out.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Yet, I bet that we are all, in some degree, affected by this plague.  Shame builds walls where there are none, creates distorted images of superiority and inferiority, and takes personal blame where there is no fault to be had.

In the final dream, I am befriended by a troubled youth ( something that occurs regularly in my chosen occupation).  It is at the moment in which we both realize that we have shameful pasts that we are able to let down our guards and freely be with one another – just two humans being.

Maybe it is the very things that shame us that make us human, and the willingness to share our shadows that brings us connection.

I know that this heart longs to step out of the restrictions of careful interaction to experience carefree intimacy with another.

In the meantime, I will keep dreaming.

dreams

The Shadow of Shame

Head down, absorbed with your mundane task,
you diligently work with pregnant anticipation.
Hesitantly, I approach,
offering commendation.
Straightening, you stare through me
and turn your back
your silence a concrete wall
between us.

Embarrassed, I retreat
across the frozen landscape
of your inhospitality,
stinging with rejection,
stumbling in my own
awkwardness.

Lounging, you revel
in upcoming adventures
Confident and capable
Shining with radiance.

Overshadowed by your beauty
and superior wit
I am silent,
floundering in my incapability,
not wishing to appear the fool.

I catch you searching,
seeking a place to land
and call your name,
hurrying to catch you,
but you ignore me,
intent on finding your own answer.
Feeling inadequate I shrink back
and hope no one has seen.

I never measure up.
Something about me
elicits shunning.
I am nondescript
invisible.

A young man,
tortured and in trouble
invites me in.
We share a lot in common,
he too knows loss
and condemnation.
He too has made mistakes
and suffered consequences.
He is a willing companion,
and I have found acceptance.

health

Day 250 “Sensory Stimulation”

When I was first diagnosed with ME/CFS, my doctor strongly advised against shopping in big box stores. “For at least a year,” she cautioned. Not one to comply, and still in a state of denial about the severity of my illness, I talked my husband into to taking me to a store that offered motorized carts for disabled shoppers. Half way through my adventure, I knew I was in trouble. It was not the distances one had to walk that presented the challenge (as I had naively thought), but the overwhelming sensory stimulation.

ME/CFS affects, among other things, the central nervous system. As I understand it, the nerves are not able to cope with any additional stress, and this includes the sensory input. My therapist defines it for my consideration as the amount of sensory load that my body can handle at any given time. By determining this, I can better manage my progress and avoid crashes.

Consequently, I exist in a bubble – fragrance-free, controlled lighting, minimal noise input, and reduced visual stimulus. I avoid either hot or cold foods, and am overly sensitive to touch. Minimal sensory stimulation has become my norm.

What frightens me is the thought of integrating back into modern life, where the senses are constantly accosted without thought for consequence. From my perspective, it takes a finely tuned nervous system to cope in our over-mechanized, image-popping, aurally-bombarded, scent-driven society. I marvel at those who can manage it, and my heart goes out to all who cannot.

Uncategorized

Day 247 “Multiple Perspectives”

Anti-establishment
and flower-power
formed the background of my youth.
Women burning their bras,
Hippies holding sit-ins,
War in Vietnam.

Beatles and Rolling Stones
were household names,
and school children took
the Pepsi vs Coke challenge.
Twiggy and Mary Quaint
and Piccadilly Circus
set the fashion stage.

A flower-toting leader
dating well below his years,
wooed his lovers and his nation
with a french accent
and a sense for current trends,
and called in the army when
the FLQ threatened peace.

My school was open-concept
and learning free-style.
We had a Wong and a Suzuki,
and watched the Black Panthers
uprising in the South
and learned we were WASPS.

Homosexuality was debated hotly-
criminal or mental instability –
and transgender was not even a word.
While the world around us struggled
with equality and human rights
my family hid behind our walls
while my father dressed in drag.

Times have changed,
and perspectives altered
and sexes can now marry same.
There is sexual orientation
and gender identity,
male and female polarities de-mythed.

Human rights
on the forefront
of law-making and policies.
Universal Design for Learning
stressing accessibility.

How I wish you could see it, father,
from your resting place.
This world of ours is changing
and what was once disgrace
will someday be commonplace.

Inspired by: “Transgender Dysmorphia Blues” Against Me!

dreams

Water Damage

The rains finally arrived,
accompanied by tremors,
in the autumn of my thirty-second year.

Torrential floods
of pent up fear and emotion,
unleashed for weeks on end.

In my state of brokenness,
I felt the sorrow of
thousands of women –

oppression, rage, disappointment, hell.

It’s been years now,
yet pools of tears still lie,
stagnant, breeding insects,
mutant bugs with segmented bodies,
struggling to stay alive.

I crush them – try to stamp them out,
but they reappear,
unexpectedly, driven
to what purpose I do not know.

I have conformed, cleansed, repented, prayed.

Yet the sorrow comes
in waves of terror,
reminders of the past.

Worry not for me,
but for the children,
whose innocence is tainted
by horrors unknown,
who pay the price
of my victimhood.

Confused, removed, they suffer unwittingly.

Pray for release, for salvation,
pray for understanding and redemption,
pray that we may all, once again,
breathe.