All. That. Love.

Straight into Coping Mode.

From letter to my doctor

Dear Dr. S,

Big stress here: my partner and caretaker went off the rails and has broken up with me. (I’m staying with a friend while he packs and leaves.)

My best response to stress is to work. Being unable to focus mentally, that was outdoor work: small scale yard work. Thursday, an amount of labor that would normally be marginally too much but recoverable, resulted in me vomitting and becoming prostrate for 2 hours and set back in my physical capacity, through the present. Fortunately I did get to that afternoon’s neurological PT appointment.

I also had a showstopping muscle spasm in my left neck/shoulder. I thought the yard work would work that out, but it probably contributed to my collapse.

Physical care:
– PT course has been extended.
– Massage weekly instead of every other week, maybe more, per opinion of LMT when I see her.
– Hot tub spa time. My sense of heat perception is blunted, so will do this with friends for safety.

Savella:
– Optimum dose of Savella stabilizes my GI activity with no or trivial additional nausea. Due to that n/v, I felt it best to back off on Savella, despite the increased instability in life & my neurologic behavior.
– Went from 50+12.5 to 50mg Savella BID, as of Thursday evening.
– Nausea has reduced and ability to eat is returning, not yet to normal but gradually getting closer. Able to keep blood glucose functionally adequate. I attribute >90% of this to stress, while not exacerbating n/v with increased sensitivity to Savella GI side effects.

Zoloft & psychiatry:
– In the lead-up to my ex’s meltdown, I’d increased Zoloft (in consultation with my mental health provider and prescribing PMD) from 50+12.5 mg to 50+25 mg. That remains the same.
– I’m in the queue to see a medication psychiatrist in a couple of months.

Spasms:
– Mg chelate up from PRN to 500 mg BID from Thursday until this morning; however, prodromal twitches starting again, so will continue it BID for now, retest every few days, and keep Carafate on hand if gastritis starts up again.
– Avoiding CNS depressants d/t affect fragility: no antispasmodic p.o.

Pain:
– I’d recently experimented with curcuminoid supplementation, and found that 300 mg of the 95% extract BID (which is 1.3-2x the recommended dose) plus at least 2gm of unextracted turmeric, provides best cost/benefit tradeoff.
– I find that, with the lower Savella, being an hour late with this raises pain levels distinctly, as there’s less pain control on board. So it’s now part of the routine.

CNS care:
– Working hard on emotional regulation, reiki (which really helps me with stabilization), and maintaining activity at a sustainable but persistent level.
– Less diligent about my sleep/wake schedule, which would be an exercise in frustration.
– More diligent about everything else (pill punctuality, mindfulness & “radical presence” practices, taking care of relationships, pacing & activity, diet, toxic exposures.)

All things pass. There will be a New Normal one day.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll figure out how to get my continuing physical & logistical support needs met.

If you don’t mind, I’ll add this letter of mine to my livinganyway.com blog. It’s where I discuss how to handle (excuse my French:) the shittiness of life events atop the shittiness of central-pain conditions.

Hope your summer’s going well.

All the best,
Isabel

Reality bites

So here’s what is really going on…

Notes from paradise

3 days on, I’m realizing that one of the few certainties I once had was that J and I would be together, and if I wound up single it’d be because he died before I did. He loved me so much. SO. MUCH. He bragged about me to his boss as little as 2 weeks before he broke with me. He really wanted a life with me, and affirmed it over and over again, over the years.

He saw my weakness and strength, brilliance and idiocy, beauty and horror, and loved me wholly, just the same. He saw when I needed more help and when, instead, I needed motivation to work harder; quietly, seamlessly, without any fuss, he adjusted his actions and my environment accordingly.

When we were together, we had everything we needed. It was so much fun and so pleasant to be in each other’s company that the world around us sparkled and everyone we met lit up. We were “the elves of [Our] Road,” spreading joy and taking care of things wherever we went.

Our relationship was rather tempestuous from the outside: two strong characters are always going to have some intensity together, and an addict in amateur recovery with a spoonie in pain adds more than a little spice to the mix. Ten percent of it was pretty hard. The lion’s share of the other 90% was delightful. Because we’re both introverts, 90% was also pretty private.

He loved me very nearly as thoroughly as I loved him.

All that love…

Mental breakdown

And now,
After watching everything around his old home turf burn to the ground, raising the level of poison and desperation in an already toxic and desperate area to unfathomable levels…
After sinking into a surly isolation unthinkable until now…
After having to wait 2-1/2 weeks between signing up for couples counseling and actually getting it, which might be the kicker…

He has taken to the idea that he’s homesick and “I have to go back every 5 years”, having left only 3 years ago and visited this past June; and that I, of all people, “amazing” and “brilliant” me, am worth using but not worth being with.

All that love!

Dual diagnosis

This is exactly what untreated mental illness coupled with untreated alcoholism looks like:

  • Love is irrelevant.
  • Joy loses meaning.
  • The diseased story he tells himself is FAR more important than the real world in all its richness and possibility.
  • His own power to shape his life seems fantastical to him — absurd.
  • His power to devastate and destroy seems to give some weird, uncharacteristic satisfaction. I call this “emotional cannibalism.”
  • He acts like mindless prey stuck in the claws of his illness, not like a living human being with good options.

Worst of all, love is simply irrelevant.

All. That. Love.

Irrelevant.

All that joy?

Unthinkable.

All that subtlety of observation and care?

Dead, decapitated, done.

Looking for reasons in unreason

We humans try to figure out what’s going on, to look for reasons, patterns, something to make sense of things. Unfortunately, mental illness — by definition — creates irrational states of being, and addiction is inherently not sensible.

My Magic Healer-Man is even more surprising in his departure than he was in thundering into my life, throwing some of his healing into my hands as he took so much of my healing into his. After all, if we can’t save ourselves, we might be able to save each other — as many of the seriously ill and disabled are well aware.

It was an amazing partnership, in many ways.

All.

That.

Love.

Making choices

In the end, though, we have to take charge of our own healing, even when we’re short on the dopamine necessary to make choices with. When we’re miserable, we have to decide whether misery or healing will drive us.

I tend to do whatever it takes to get better. I could be (much) more diligent, especially when things are going well.

By and large, though, misery is unacceptable to me. Life is too short. (Until recently, that was one place where J and I thought exactly alike.)

But then, I’m not a man. Testosterone is neurotoxic, strictly speaking — a fact that’s hard to find in the literature, and then only when cloaked in caveats and euphemisms. A lifetime of it doesn’t seem to be a great set-up for dealing with the changes in the last quarter of life. … Yet, many do manage it with wisdom and skill.

Look! That was me trying to find a reason, even a demonstrably daft one! Or is it an excuse? Didn’t work, anyway.

We choose what to be influenced by, out of the options and resources available to us. He had great options and outstanding resources here.

I think what I’m struggling most with is the fact that, abruptly, he chose chaos, violence (I know where he’s going), and desperation over love, work, and healing. I do not understand that.

Over and over, my broken heart cries out,

ALL!

THAT!

LOVE!

Some things, there are no answers for. They can only be endured.

I’ll make adjustments, time will pass, and one day I’ll wake up to a New Normal, in which there will be some measure of joy. Hard to imagine, but that’s the way things work.

Share this article:

Bearing witness — what it is, what it isn’t

I’m a history nerd. I love the stuff.

This is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I had the dizzying experience of being part of an online re-enactment. (I know, it sounds crazy, but it worked!)

People got so caught up in the re-enactment that there was real heartache over the screams of the doomed and the bitter anguish over lives we couldn’t save, and watching the lights go out one by one. The idea of “bearing witness” was tossed around, but without form, as it often is. I thought it needed clarifying.

Therefore, I wrote the following, in the aftermath. I didn’t trivialize the pain, because who knows what horrors others will face in their lives afterwards. (I can’t even imagine what I’ve been through so far, let alone guess what’s next, and I’m pretty sure I was there.) So, I treated the heartache as perfectly valid — chances are, sooner or later it will be, and we can all use a little clarity at those times.

What I wrote resonated so strongly with so many different people that I thought I should put it here, too. (All these posts are printable, shareable, and linkable, so don’t be shy about sharing.) Hope it helps.

A word to those new to mortality in action…

I was a nurse, starting in HIV care 27 years ago, then Emergency/Casualty, then home care. Then I lost 9 loved ones in 18 months. Then I developed a subtly brutal disease that destroys the body from the inside out, for which the treatments are occasionally fatal.

I have watched a lot of people die.
(pausing for breath, and for the color to come back into the world)
[Okay, moving on.]

There are two ways to cope. One is to shut down and depersonalize, which is increasingly common. As a temporary measure, it’s fine — gives you time to get it together. The humane thing to do, though, is move on from there.

Another is to look closely at where your skin ends and another’s begins, and let them have their experience while you notice that it sucks for them — and you keep breathing.

This is what is meant by bearing witness.

Separating Self from Other allows us to be present while another faces the worst moments of their life.

Knowing that it’s not you dying, or writhing, or what have you, frees you up to stand outside that hell and throw the glowing line of awareness to the one inside it.

That is bearing witness.

I won’t discuss my illness here (check out livinganway.com if you want to see the sunny side; rsds.org if you don’t) but I often wind up in an unbearable state of being. I’m an old hand at looking back at life from the slopes of Hell.

While (keep this in mind) there is nothing anyone can do about my being in an unbearable state, there is only one thing that reminds me there is something beyond it, and all I have to do is get there.

That one thing is a loving look, or kind word, or one of my partner’s frankly feeble acknowledgements of recognizing that my body might as well be burning alive. It’s so small from the outside — but it lights up my world.

It’s a thread of golden light that holds me to life. Just a thread of golden light. But it’s enough.

Bearing witness is not about changing the outcome.

Bearing witness is simply the only possible redemption of these terrible moments.

Redemption is not about undoing anything. It does not change the outward reality.

It changes the unbearable inward blackness just enough that the person who is looking back at you from the slopes of Hell, can find the extraordinary inward strength to keep going until it’s over — one way or another.

You who are well and safe have no idea how important that is, but please, let me assure you that it’s a gift beyond reckoning to do that for another.

Bearing witness to those screams, those unspeakably harrowing last moments — whatever they are — you can’t see their faces change, because their reality is just as bleak right now — but, inside them, they found their steel; they found their peace.

For all those on the Titanic and all those who look back from the slopes of any other Hell, let me say, thank you. You make all the difference.

Share this article:

Fevers, friends, forgetting, and a kind of freedom

With the kind consent of the friend mentioned, I post the following exercise in “radical presence”, or staying sane in spite of the craziness…

Bubbles of thoughts are rising through the viscidity of my mind, drifting from side to side, now tending one way, now tending another.

Feels like a relapse of that FUO (Fever of Unkown Origin, although there’re more vulgar interpretations of that acronym too) that looked and acted like viral meningitis. This time, I have a thermometer so there’s something I can document. It’s less than a few weeks after the first case, so this is not good.

So far, though, no vomiting!

me-fingers-peace
Awesome! I prefer not vomiting!

While recovering (barely) from the first bout of this, I met with one of my excellent friends, the one who’s going to make decisions for me if I can’t make them myself. We first met during one of the most effective times in my life.

She spent much of the recent visit picking up after me, getting the tea I forgot, making sure everyone got fed — the ideal hostess, really. Too bad that was my job. I was a good small-party hostess at one time.

For obvious reasons, given her impending status as my health care proxy, I need her to be able to tell me how I’m really doing. There was a time when full anesthesia and industrial forceps were required to make anything that wasn’t kindly and flattering come out of her. She’d almost rather lose a limb than lose her manners.

Cartoon of a surgeon with mask and goggles on, head haloed by enormous OR light, leaning toward viewer with scalpel in one hand and chest spreader in the other

So, testing the waters, I asked if she found me a bit daffier and more disorganized than I used to be.

I’m so proud of her. She gave me a somewhat verbose “kind of” … then gave me an eyeball-to-eyeball gaze of love and torture, which I’m pretty sure meant, “It shreds my being to see you like this, but somehow I have to breathe and keep going, and I promise you I will, no matter how hard.”

Such a friend can’t be described, only experienced if you’re insanely lucky.

I rarely look back. There’s no future in it. However, the memories I usually keep firmly in the rear-view mirror haunted me for days, as bright as if they were klieg-lit.

Teaching her to run effectively under the redwoods. She was a quick study, all right. I was getting sick, so the fact that she could lap me in less than a year is probably not something I should feel too bad about.

Trying very hard to talk her out of medical school, which I was pretty sure would embitter her extraordinary sweetness and distort her self-effacing diligence. In the end, it gave her mind and heart a stronger shape.

Researching and working together on user interface guidelines, which made most senior engineers effectively beg our blessing on their designs — as they should!

What it was like to ask my quiet, courteous friend a music question, and have her snap upright, point snappily to a chair, and snap, “Sit.” Then give lively, passionate, 20- to 40-minute illustrated lectures on music theory that enrich my life even now. (I did much the same thing for her health questions.)

On a related but more self-oriented tangent, remembering what it was like to keep over 230 threads of information going simultaneously in my head, switching threads from meeting to meeting and file to file. I tracked the early course of this disease by when the number of thought-threads went down. I was “laid off” when I could only maintain about 90 different threads in active memory. I was crushed by that figure.

Remembering what it was like to run through the redwood glen at dawn, the scenery and birds staging a daily spectacular just for me.

coastal redwood circle seen from base, heavy shadow at bottom, well lit at top

The last walk I took on the mountain tops, when every bit of exercise just made things worse, but I had to say goodbye to the wild open spaces.

view of road on mountain spine of high chaparral and live oaks, motorcycle ahead, other ridges dark purple in the distance
This takes me back to my favorite motorcycle riding route. Bikes were the first great joy this disease took from me. Image by BoltSnypr from Wikimedia Commons.

The curling breezes change direction again.

The wasps are too quiet. I turn my head to follow them and warn them away, and the world seems to slip off its stand then right itself again, and the quiet singing in my ears rises to a sharp chord then slithers down again.

Having a frying brain is like living in a hallucination at times.

Famous photograph called
It felt like this looks.

This post is a little diaristic, but it serves a purpose beyond easing the pressure in my head. You’ll see.

The hundreds of little mercies that keep me going cluster around. The air here is delicious. The trees are fluffing their leaves in the curling breezes. J is quietly rattling around inside, scared in his ignorance of my illness and memories of losses, but keeping a good face on and making sure that I hydrate. The birds are mulling the possibility of rain, but it will hold off a few hours. The sun strokes my head with a long hand.

water_swimminghole-1

I breathe, and the world settles down.

A few days ago, I had a wonderful insight about the way that many bits of my past are getting referenced in the present somehow, and how, rather than highlighting my staggering losses, they fit together in a way that draws me onward.

That’s all I can remember, though. I think most of the ideas poured out of me last night as I sweated with the fever I forgot to document.

Mouse brain neurons, two pairs, stained flame yellow against red background
Even my brain is seeing double after all this fever time. Image by neurollero on flickr from Wikimedia.

Drifting first one way, then another.

Must remember to inhale when getting up. It’s the only way to keep my head from wanting to explode, and clutching it doesn’t really help.

Sketch of brain, with bits falling off and popping out, and a bandaid over the worst

Normally, a good idea like the past-reaching-forward-and-propelling-the-present would come back to me with sufficient prompts. Not the way things work anymore. Once it’s gone, that’s it, it’s gone. I’ve learned that the hard way, over years and years.

However, do I need to remember the examples and details? Or do I just need to remember that feeling of a rising tide lifting my weary, worried ass?

Maina at sunset, with masts sticking up and reflecting down, both water and sky streaked with yellow, orange, gold, and purple clouds

Just because I don’t understand how it all fits together, does it stop being real?

Medicine is real, neurology is real, and I defy absolutely anyone to say, hand over heart, that they really, REALLY understand those. Yet, they are real just the same.

I’ll allow myself to be carried onward by the memory of the idea, even if I can’t remember why it made sense.

For now, it’s time for more lie-down and seltzer.

Small moves. Just like steering a sailboat. Small moves get you where you need to go, without steering wrong. Now, seltzer. Later, rest. Then, we shall see.

Share this article:

What does it take to seize a difficult life in both hands?

This disease, like time and life, dips and dances but tends to go in one direction. As long as it doesn’t outrun my ability to adapt and amuse, I can put up with that. After all, we’re all born with a one-way ticket, and sooner or later we have to get off the ride. Not all of us get a chance to prepare for our exit, or even get much warning as to what it will be like.

In my first nursing job, on an HIV unit in the very early 90’s, I had a Mexican soap opera star as a patient. He was lovely, in every way.

Head shots of Penelope Cruz and William Levy
If you can, picture a cross between these two. That was this guy. And really sweet, too.

This was his first hospitalization with the disease and he hadn’t found his particular polestar, the thought/idea/perspective that would keep him determined and alive for however long he had. He was a lot of work emotionally, needing much encouragement to keep trying new treatments (and they were very new back then) and to keep eating even when he didn’t feel like it and so forth. He had been in for a long time — over a week.

One day, while I was setting out some medications for a complex patient who needed his meds punctually, and didn’t have time or attention to spare, the soap star came mooching up to my med cart in his hospital gowns (one in front, one in back) and huge, lustrous eyes.

With what attention I had to spare, I thought, “go away, come back later” as hard as I could. Didn’t work that time.

He said, as he’d said before, in the same miserable tone as always, “I’m going to die.”

Sysiphus looking miserable as he pushes a rock up hill... with poor body mechanics.
“It’s a big weight.”

Up until this occasion, I’d stop what I was doing and gave him a full minute of attention and cheer him up a bit.

I didn’t have a minute right then. I had maybe two seconds. “Everyone’s going to die,” I said, barely pausing in my dosing and calculations.

girl on a flat beach kicking a ball high
“Maybe it’s only this big.”

Long silence next to me. I kept doing my job. (Keep in mind that nurses are paid to dish meds, not counsel and encourage struggling patients. That’s all that the staffing patterns allow.)

Then, in that delicious accent, a voice like the rising sun announced, “You’re right! Everyone’s going to die!”
Stone angel with hands clasped in prayer, standing on a pillar, sun like a glorious halo
I heard him drift back to his room, muttering in wonderment, “Everyone’s going to die… it’s not just me,” and I smiled to myself. I wasn’t usually rude to patients, but it sounded like it was exactly what he needed.

My other patient got his meds on time. So did the rest. At dinner that evening, my soap star sat up and devoured every bite, beaming and bouyant as we had never seen him. I began to see what all of Mexico had fallen in love with. He was discharged next day, full of fight and life again.

Somehow, that brutal realization — that everyone dies, that being doomed to death isn’t special — was what he needed to break the spell of misery that his diagnosis had put him under. He had staggered in a broken boy, and he walked out a free man.
Man_walking_EMuybridge
I don’t understand it either, but it sure worked for him.

Perhaps I do understand, at least a little. My experience with that revelation goes a bit further back, though.

I had a book of rhymes when I was little. Most were delightful,  but there was an old one about a sick little girl that contained the lines,

“Doctor, doctor, must I die?”
“Yes you must, and so must I.”

old engraving of a doll-like child lying down, a grim-looking woman in robes looking down unfeelingly on it, a child skeleton hanging from a pole. So hokey and grim it's funny.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, eh?

I went through a jagged 6 months when I got to grips with the meaning of that (plus, I thought it was a rotten thing to say to a sick little girl.) My mother got tired of assuring me I had never been nearly sick enough to worry about it and, on further questioning, assuring me that she and Dad wouldn’t pop off for a long time yet, and I’d be an adult and able to handle it.

Later, I vaguely remember looking around at a sunlit day, seeing my brothers and friends playing in the sun, the leaves of my favorite tree fluttering in the breeze, and knowing everyone would die one day…
Old Chinese painting of 4 children, in voluminous clothes, kicking a ball around.

…but not yet.

Now, we were all alive and together.

Better grab it! Yes!

A smile pushed up through my whole body, and I went out to play.
glee
I think that’s when I first began to understand the difference between being a spectator of life and being a part of it. That realization was rooted in knowing that it’ll end one day, and I didn’t want to miss out on whatever it had to offer in the meantime.

Perhaps that’s what my remark to my patient did for him; but, being older, he could process it in 6 seconds, rather than 6 months. Everyone dies; but right now, I’m alive!

Cats are masters of pa:ng :)
for lifelong celebrations!

I could be wrong, but I think my insistence on being a part of life is a big piece of my adaptability, not only to this wretched bouquet of stinker diseases, but to everything.

What do you think? I’m curious if there’s a link between knowing death and survival, between a lust for life and adaptability. I’m not talking about Norman Cousins’s ideas of exceptionalism, but of an ordinary, grubby-handed greed to be in this thing called life, warts and all. What does it take to reach that?

This might be the question that shapes our future ideas about adaptation and resiliency.

I’d be fascinated to hear from others on this.

Share this article:

Burning Mercury and the story of Bathsheba

This was written a week ago. Enjoy…

We’re on an extended camping trip, simultaneously waiting for my broken foot to mend, waiting to find out when we can move our travel trailer into a long-term spot, and figuring out how we are going to manage this relationship over the long term — which involves a lot of waiting. So things are quiet and scenic, but, on the whole, not very comfortable.

I was sitting by the cold firepit, looking out across the sere grass and low hills, in a quiet reverie in a quiet hour. I sent my imagination off to find something utterly irrelevant.

What came back was the sign of Pluto, which approached in a portentous manner —
astrological glyph for Pluto
And, in the sideways manner of dreams, said it was Mercury, which normally looks like this:
astrological glyph for Mercury
Then it grew flames, starting from the ball.
pluto glyph with small flame on ball
The flames spread, and as they spread around the symbol and over it, the symbol came close to me.
Pluto glyph nearly engulfed in flames on top
Closer.

Closer still.

Then it hooked its barbs into my side. It was intrusive as dammit. It poked right into my flesh, as if it wanted to climb in.

Trying to pull away, I said, “What the heck are you doing? What do you want?”

It said, “We need your stories.

I thought of my science writing at my biowizardry blog, and it said No. I thought of my anecdotes here, and it said No.

It waved a few pages of books and stories I’ve half-written and said, “We need your STORIES.”

Oh. The imaginative stuff. Didn’t think that was the most unique thing I had to offer, but hey, I’m a writer … I usually do what the little voices tell me.

So here’s a story.

One day, there was a woodcutter and … no, wait, you’ve heard that one. How about this, and I’m writing it from sentence to sentence, no idea what comes next, so be kind…

The story of Bathsheba

Bathsheba was beautiful and did not know it, despite her luscious name. She wanted little, and got slightly less, but she had a gift for appreciation and made the most of it.

One day, while dumpster-diving (she did even that with grace), she came across half a salmon, nearly fresh, cooked with red wine and oranges. It was heavenly. She was only three bites in when a bully named Tom came by, heard her happy little sounds, and cursed and smacked her away so he could have the rest. He never learned that it’s wrong to hit people smaller than you, especially girls.

She scrambled out in a hurry, but he didn’t come after her, so she calmed down and wandered away to somewhere more peaceful. She was glad she had gotten the three bites, and sat on the curb in the sun, licking her lips and enjoying the aftertaste.

A car drove by, spitting fumes and loud music, and a half-empty can nearly beaned her. She leaned aside to dodge it, and went back to soaking up the sun. It was part of city life — she could tell that they hadn’t been aiming.

Another car pulled up, partly blocking the sun, large and with something sturdy on the roof. She pulled her feet in neatly. The occupants didn’t seem to notice; they were busy talking, sounding uncomfortable and distracted. The one on the street side got out and opened the back up, then returned to the front. The two occupants opened out an enormous sheet of paper between them. A map.

Bathsheba loved maps. It had been ages since she’d been able to just relax and look at a map. Curiosity flashed a fin.

Very quietly, she sidled closer to the car’s rear end.

No reaction from up front.

Very gently, very quietly, she leaned — oh so casually — against the rear bumper.

They were having technical issues: the space was too small to turn the map over in, but they were trying.

Bathsheba put one foot on the bumper, experimentally. The piles of clothing and sleeping gear obscured her view.

Up front, the map turning had not gone well, so there were some knocked mirrors and banged knuckles and bumped heads. The trivial dip of the bumper didn’t even show up in the chaos up front.

She shifted her weight, oh so carefully… just to see …

And, up front, the map tore.

One of the occupants burst into tears.

Bathsheba leaped towards the front of the car, then remembered herself — you don’t just go up to strangers, even if all you want to do is comfort them!

Instead, with wide eyes, she crouched behind the back seat, half-buried by piles of clothing and pillows, her back against the hard plastic side of a cooler, looking all her sympathy, yet terrified of the very questionable position she found herself in. She had absolutely no idea what to do.

The conversation up front shifted gear, from frustration and recrimination to apology and comforting. Eventually, and more or less in the middle of a word, the driver put the idling car into gear and pulled away from the curb.

Bathsheba clutched the clothing under her, eyes now very wide indeed. She definitely didn’t belong here, but the car was going too fast to jump out; all she could do was hold onto the clothing, which she was now half-buried in, and hope with all her might that it didn’t fall out the still-open back.

Some time later, she was startled awake by a thud. The driver had stopped the car and put the back lift-gate down. He apparently hadn’t noticed Bathsheba, curled up among the tumbled clothing. The car lurched forward and took off again at highway speed.

She peered over the cooler and gazed out at the darkening sky. There was a great big wall along the road and city smells blew in through the vent, but not the strong stenches she was used to.

She wondered if being homeless out here was any better than being homeless in the heart of the city. She couldn’t even begin to think of how she’d get back. It wasn’t a great life, sure, but at least she knew where the good dumpsters were, and who to avoid. Mind you, it smelled better out here.

She wanted to cry, and maybe she whimpered very quietly so nobody else could hear, but she didn’t dare to announce herself. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this, but maybe something would go right… later…

With nothing else to do and a short lifetime’s experience of stress under her belt already, she burrowed in and went back to sleep among the strangers’ clothes. They smelled kind of nice, like cotton and lemon and something crisp and soft which she couldn’t name, but felt so at home with.

She woke later to a voice, a nice gentle man’s voice tinged with wonder: “Kate, come look.” It was one of the occupants.

The car was still. The air was full of that crisp, soft smell. The sky was dark, with millions of points of light — stars, so rare in the city. There was a fire burning nearby under a grill loaded with wonderful things. The other occupant got up from her seat by the fire and came over.

The two people looked down at Bathsheba, utterly tangled in their clothing, utterly helpless, and curiously at home.

They didn’t snarl. They didn’t throw cans. They didn’t invade her privacy or try to grab at her.

They just smiled — two kind, sweet, wondering smiles. They looked like they were witnessing a minor miracle, and like Bathsheba was someone they already considered a friend.

Bathsheba couldn’t help herself. The clothes under her fingers curled. Her chest stretched. Her eyelids squished gently closed, then opened again. She purred.

“I think you’re going to like it a lot better out here, kitty,” said Kate.

Bathsheba wanted to correct her, and say her name was Bathsheba, not Kitty. But just then, Kate reached out with two hands and gently scooped her in. Bathsheba felt Kate’s slow, solid heartbeat — thubump, thubump, thubump — against her own soft little body, and melted into joy.

Don’t worry. There will be plenty more science, and plenty more stories too.

Share this article:

Uncle Peter passes

There are no shortcuts with grief. There’s no trick to it. It just is. It’s just one part of life, different from joy or ecstasy or delight, but still one part of life, and as such, its real purpose is to be experienced.

I thought there was something more, and that I must be doing something wrong in the way I dealt with it. I don’t think so, though. I think it just is.

I was in deep meditation when an image came to me. A dear and excellent friend I meet in my dream-times was standing by me while I burned. He is a profoundly spiritual person, wise beyond reckoning, and always calm.

He was not calm this time. He looked at me in agony as I went up like a torch. There was nothing he could do. I burned away until my flesh was gone, then my skeleton tumbled, still burning, and soon there was nothing but ash.

He fell to his knees among my cooling remains, frantically sifting through the ashes for anything left of me, sobbing great wracking sobs that tore through him like bombs.

He found a strand of pearls, and from them made me a backbone. He and a great bird worked together to build me anew.

I asked him why he had cried. He said, “I didn’t know if we were going to get you back. I knew I might lose you.”

This most enlightened being, according to my subconscious, was torn up and bereft by his young friend’s death. The fact that he subsequently brought me back was not the point. At that time, he was bereaved, and it hurt like hell.

On reflection, I find that freeing. I thought there was something I should be doing differently about bereavement, but it turns out, what I have to do is simply feel it, and then get on with the work.

My beloved Uncle Peter died last weekend. He died painlessly, a stroke knocking him down and out between one breath and the next. Naturally, I keep wanting to call him, and running headlong into his absence. He had a terrible illness all his life, and to combat it, he created a personal life-structure of great simplicity, absolute rigidity, and total decency. He was the most forgiving, truly charitable person I ever met.

He lived in a poky little flat on the cheap side of town, lived on emergency rations and diner food, slept in a sleeping bag on an unwrapped mattress, and gave half of his respectable middle-class income, before taxes, to charities. His correspondence was filled with replies from his letters to legislators and the White House, doubtless written on half-sheets in his very shaky old-man’s cursive, since he was consistent in his habits, and that was how he wrote to me. He would probably see no appreciable difference between the importance of writing heartfelt encouragement to his niece or well-informed thoughts to the White House. To him, we are all under Heaven.

Uncle Peter was an exceptionally good and self-disciplined character, notwithstanding his twinkling share of the family sass. His humility and sincerity always were there, but I never really knew how humble and sincere he really was until after he died and the proof turned up. I can’t emulate him, but I can aim to be better in my own way because I know now how extraordinarily good it really is possible to be, and still live and breathe in this world.

He’ll always outshine me, morally, but I think of him as a Klieg light, illuminating the extent of what is possible. It’s much further than I thought.

I could talk to him about anything, the most humiliating and terrible events of this… interesting life, and his reaction was always the same, utterly sincere every time: “You deserve a lot of credit, you really do. You deserve a lot of credit for dealing with all this and still plugging along.”

I can hear his soft, husky baritone humming the words to me again, as I sit here with a break in my foot and a break in my heart.

And yet, I’m not frozen.

Bereavement is agony. I am in agony (and not just because of the broken foot.) But it’s okay. It’s right and natural. There’s no trick to it, and I’m not handling it wrong. I love Uncle Peter and I can weep for my selfish loss, and when each storm of tears passes, I can get on with the work.

I know he’d approve. He’d say, with perfect sincerity, “You deserve a lot of credit for dealing with all this and still just plugging along.” And he’d go on plugging along himself … shrugging off the most astonishing insults from life with steady calm, advising the silliest and the wisest with equal sincerity, supporting himself in hermetic simplicity, and going on giving.

My uncle. My beacon. How he shines.

Share this article:

Frozen

I was mulling a post called, “The Pulse,” about how my life tends to go in surges, and when I work with that, things go better, but when I try too hard to flatten life out to a steady level, everything goes badly.

Some people try to flatten the ocean. That's above my paygrade. I just try to ride the waves. Photo Brocken Inaglory/Wikipedia.
Some people try to flatten the ocean. That’s above my paygrade. I just try to ride the waves. Photo Brocken Inaglory/Wikipedia.

It’s about the pulse — push when I have the momentum to push, pause when the momentum fades, sink when even standing still feels like a sucking drain; push, pause, sink, push, pause, sink, and so forth.

If you’ve ever held a stethoscope to the sound of a beating heart, you have an idea what that sounds like.

It’s like pacing, a familiar concept to the chronically ill, but on a larger timescale.

Winter always involves some withdrawal, some sinking. This makes lots of sense to my acupuncturists and martial arts teachers. The traditional Chinese medical model assumes that we’re embedded in a larger reality, with weather and climate and timely changes, a key idea which conventional medicine doesn’t acknowledge very well.

I used to be able to push enough, even in winter, that the annual sinking wasn’t that obvious, given that most of those around me were in winter too. However, since my mid-30’s, a lot of people I’ve loved, liked, and depended on have died in the chilly armpit of the year. Deathiversaries, as I’ve noted, tend to have an effect on me, especially when they pile up like… well… bodies.

Perhaps I should move south of the equator. Then it’ll be warm at this time of year, at least for me, if not for my lovely ghosts.

Photo in the public domain, with thanks to the photographer Nello Rolleri
Photo in the public domain, with thanks to the photographer Nello Rolleri

Late last year, two honorary brothers, one of my dear CRPS friends and a young friend whose life I actually saved at one time, both died. Now, at least two of my honorary sisters are at the end of their lives, one of CRPS and the other who’s working on her 6th cancer.

I’m not whining. It’s not about me, it’s definitely about them. I’m not dying.

It’s just that it’s hard to remember that, sometimes.
Angels_lossy_notsonice
Helpless as I am to hold back the grim reaper’s scythe, there are sometimes things I can do to soften the end of others’ lives. My first nursing job was on an HIV/AIDS unit in 1991, so this is a well-established idea for me.

This year, though, 24 years on, some invisible line has been crossed, or some invisible straw has landed on this camel’s back. I cannot move. (It’s kind of wild that I can write, finally.)

I am paralyzed, generally anesthetized, frozen. There is no pulse, no pause, no sinking, not a microgram of push.

My mind currently looks something like this.  Photo  Chris Stubbs/Wikimedia.
My mind currently looks something like this. Photo Chris Stubbs/Wikimedia.

Four days of work, pushing so hard it sucks my breath away, and I now have a psychotherapy appointment with a 30-year veteran of helping the chronically ill and deeply traumatized. Plus one blog post.

I can’t do a thing for anyone else until I can move and breathe again. This thought alone is like a blanket of razors, since the condition of my friends isn’t going to wait for me to get my act together, but still — it doesn’t break the ice.

There are some things that are too much to expect a reasonable person to bear, and anyone with a hellacious disease already has one of those things on their plate. Those who are in the last stage of life have another. Those who are bereaved … you get the idea.

I’m posting this, not to write my diary in public, but because I know I’m not alone. Those of you who can barely move enough to shift the cursor, be assured that I know you’re not alone, either. Somehow, we will get through this. We will melt the ice, with help if we can get it. There is always an afterwards.

There’s one thing that offers this frozen veteran of grief the kind of scathing consolation that’s all I can expect these days: when my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil, then, if there’s anything left of me to notice or care (as I strongly suspect the more subtle yet intransigent laws of physics require), I will be in the very best company.

Share this article:

Ethan, in memoriam

I tried to find a song for Ethan, who did love music, but it wasn’t working. I’m not much of a poet, frankly, but it was the only thing I could do.

Here is Ethan’s poem from me.


We did the impossible quietly
Getting the boat into harbor
and keeping it safe through the night

Tight hugs abeam unstable piers
My little brother, so big

When I thought I'd die of weakness
You showed me my strength
And, smiling, would not accept less

Tight hugs killing off mortal fears
My little brother, so big

Long nights talking and talking
'til your gyroscope turned and you looked
at the first stains of dawn on the water

Tight hugs at the end of the tears
My little brother, so big

When you turned searching eyes upon me
For the integrity that rooted your heart
You had the grace to thank me

Tight hugs through difficult years
My little brother, so big

You were so impossibly larger than life
I wrote you into a comedy of death
And you were the best thing in it.

I miss your hugs, my dear.

It’s really too bad (a bit of staggering English understatement, there.) He had found the right life and the right wife, and I was beginning to think I’d eventually meet his children.

I hope he’s free of the demons that hounded him so mercilessly. Wherever he is, I expect he’s raising Hell — kicking righteous butt and making the world fall in love with him, and doing both with equal, unquenchable vigor.

Share this article:

Living without hope – tasks and aftereffects

I lived without hope for years. Years. It was weird to look around one day and realize I had no hope, and that I hadn’t had any for awhile. I didn’t think I was going to see another Christmas… for at least 5 Christmases.
ChristmasTree_NOT
When the few friends who were willing to be honest asked me what I hoped for or what I had ambitions for, I had to tell them that I had no hope and I had no dreams of the future.

They really had trouble with that.

Some just did that weird, head-shaking, “I didn’t just hear that” thing and changed the subject. A few asked if I was suicidal. I had been, and I drifted in and out of degrees of thinking about how to make it painless and permanent if I did kill myself, but I was… surviving.

Actually, I was working really hard on surviving. Hope had been sucking me dry, making me see things that weren’t there, putting my energy into some future I could only imagine, but couldn’t see a way to reach.

If I hadn’t been willing to drop everything, including hope, in order to just focus on the business of living with this horrific reality, I think I wouldn’t have survived. I had no extra energy, and hope was too demanding.

Line drawing of woman flat on floor, with woozles coming out of her head
Image mine. Creative Commons share-alike attribution license 🙂

When I came out of that time, very very slowly, it dawned on me that I had been fighting for so long for my own life that, for the first time in my entire conscious existence, I felt no need to apologize for the space I took up, the effort and attention I required from the world, or, in fact, for anything.

As I told my Mom at the time, “I’ve fought for others’ lives pretty often, and when you’re coding someone, they’re your whole world for the time that you’re coding them.
CPR
“If you fight for someone’s life over any length of time, you come to care about them as well as for them, even if you have nothing else in common. Well, I’ve spent years fighting for my own life, and it’s impossible to fight that long for someone without really coming to care about them. I really love myself, in a solid way, with no caveats, and nobody and nothing can shake that.”

So, I don’t associate hopelessness with futurelessness or lifelessness, as most people seem to do. I have every faith in our ability to face life without hope, because sometimes it’s just dead weight. Sometimes, it distracts us from what’s real.

I have faith in us, hope or no hope. I have absolute faith in our ability to move through the stages of this unbelievable circus we call life, and make them work for OURSELVES in the end.

Faith isn’t the same as hope, because it relies on something that’s present now, not on something that might be possible in the future. I have faith in our doughtiness, an old-fashioned word combining the meanings of nerve, grit, and determination. Boy, do CRPSers have all of that!

In the end, hope is a luxury we can’t always afford. Hoping and dreaming — putting our energy into things that don’t exist — can be a real sink. That is, maintaining hope and dreams can, themselves, take more energy than we can afford.

It sounds counterintuitive to someone who’s never been there, because most people think of hopes and dreams as what pulls us forward.

If hopes or dreams pull you forward, that’s good; if they don’t, reconsider, and maybe refocus.

Refocusing on the sheer present business of finding a way to survive with things as they are right now is not wasted time, it’s not suicidality, and it’s not even an act of despair. It’s profoundly rational, profoundly functional, and even when it’s profoundly difficult, it’s still profoundly worthwhile.

From my own experience, I have to say it’s a strange state of mind to live in, but it’s surprisingly worry-free. False worries fall away as fast as false comforts do. Once I accepted the state of life with no hope, there was no room for b.s., either in my world or in my relationships.

Life simplified itself; all I had to do was keep up — or rather, pare down. That was weird too, because I used to find stuff comforting.

In that utterly simple state, though, it wasn’t comforting. It was just stuff.

Having emotional energy invested in something so … stufflike … was absurd. Talk about false comfort!

So, before long, all I had was what I needed; nothing more, and not much less.
teapot-eaglehaslanded
In time, everything changes, even the amount of energy we can spare. I can tell you exactly when I rediscovered the luxury of hope, because I blogged about it here. It was nothing more than the first whisper, because that was all I could support, but it was unmistakeable.

Since then, I’ve also rediscovered flippancy, ambition, and even toilet humor. (My sense of irony never left, which makes me think it’s essential. H’mm…)

But a few things still remain, deep currents in the otherwise twinkly surface of my character:

  • stuff is good only if it’s useful and there’s room for it;
  • nobody, but nobody, decides when I die but me; and
  • I love myself. I may be grubby, nerdy, daffy, clever, ill-yet-unconquered — but I love myself absolutely, without vanity, and without caveats.

If it took living without hope, then I’m better for having done it.

Aphorism for the day: Don’t be afraid of what life brings you. You never know what’s on the other side. It’s just a matter of getting there.

me-fingers-peace

Share this article:

Un Crossed

Note – For legal reasons, this article is explicitly labeled an opinion piece. Quotes are used with prior permission of the author.

I’ve written of bereavement, suicide, the fact that CRPS is not imaginary (the whole point of this blog), and the true mortality rate of CRPS.

Now it has all come together.

Cross Y. was a friend of mine. He wore his heart on his sleeve — there was no deception about him, no malingering, no lying, no selfishness. Selfishness was something he needed more of, and tried to aspire to, because he forgot his own needs in the face of others’. His kind and loving heart poured forth upon his CRPS kindred and those he loved, often in scintillatingly original and muscular words.

He was injured at work. You’ve seen the news about corruption in New Jersey. Add to that the corruption of the Worker’s Comp system, and try to imagine for one minute what that might be like.

July 8, 2013
The truth will set me free,
Kill your dreams,
have nightmares for the rest of your days,
Welcome to New Jersey,
we stand our ground,
unite and become one sound,

The truth will set me free,
technology,
paper trial was the beginning,
soon the end,
your dark tunnel will remain,
Yes this once holy man,
once believed,
now a fucked up memory,
many joined,
happily crucified,
only one will remain,
your future is in vain,
your lies you cannot hide,
you may run,
change your name,
DNA will remain.

The truth will set me free,
Kill your dreams,
have nightmares for the rest of your days,
Welcome to New Jersey,
we stand our ground,
unite and become one sound.

Cross Y 7/6/13 1.21pm

He was a good-looking young Middle Eastern man, so of course, the New Jersey cops figured he was dirty from the get-go.
Cross solo
Then his brother, who didn’t believe he had this disease, became a cop, and things got worse still.

I watched his family dynamics transform as his marriage with a green-card seeker fell apart, then his beloved family started to fail him, and then he spent the best part of a year fighting to survive in an increasingly hostile and impossible hail of abuse, predation, invasion, and brutality.

The system failed him. His lawyer failed him. His family failed him. The original newspaper articles, based on interviews with his family, trivialize and brutalize still further the brightest mystic-poet I’ve ever known.

I’m grieved. More than that, I’m furious.

I had to watch as his extraordinary resilience was pushed and pushed and pushed until every strand of rubber broke.

I had to watch as his stumbling command of English prose was used to throw away the meaning behind his words. Judges and doctors alike could hardly be bothered to listen, and certainly couldn’t be bothered to believe him. Those of us who knew him had to watch as his posts wove between intelligent determination and raging despair, as time after time after time he was thrown back from what properly belonged to him.

His wife stole $30,000 of disability checks. His wife dumped him as soon as her immigration status was assured. His wife pushed him down off his weak leg.

Guess who went to jail? It wasn’t his wife. Try to imagine cold, sharp steel cuffs snapping tightly on CRPS wrists. You can’t. The world isn’t supposed to be large enough to hold that much pain.

August 6, 2013
The color of my eyes have become

the mountain I cannot climb,
the west brings the rainy days,
the east brings the heat,
So I wait,
I’ll give you my night,
I’ll give you my site,
I’ll give you my last breath,

The color of my eyes have become

the mountain I cannot climb,
Realities exist,
Unwinding occurs,
Petals unfolding,
Protecting what’s remaining,
Adapting each day,
Earth is distributing,
New sign,
New rhythm for humanity,
Being Bold,
Voice your feelings,

Full moon of greatness,
Hidden lights reflecting,
Fire resurrecting,
Slumbering beliefs,
Illusions of the underground,
Transformation of natural field,

The color of my eyes have become

the mountain I cannot climb.

9.42am 8/6/13 Lost soul

His brother’s police pals broke into his room (or were let in by his parents), stole his thumb drive, plowed through his poetry and his belongings, took his personal belongings, hacked his hard drive and his accounts. When he said he was going to install a spycam for evidence, his parents got him involuntarily committed to a public psychiatric hospital in New Jersey. They did not treat his CRPS, which was, after all, all in his head. They treated delusions that didn’t exist and a paranoia that was a perfectly rational response to his ghastly situation.

He got in line for emergency housing, but the wait list was at least 6 months long — for emergency housing. A combination of Governor Christie and Hurricane Sandy saw to that. The emergency housing and homeless shelters in New Jersey have been utterly gutted.

Three weeks ago, his father attacked and strangled him at a barbecue, in front of others. He posted a picture of himself afterward, with a bleeding bruise under one eye and big red welts around his neck, with the distinctive engorged look around the eye-bones (remember this is a former Emergency nurse writing this.)

His mother stood by and watched.

Someone called the police.

The partygoers disappeared.

His mother told the police that her husband had not attacked Cross, but that Cross had attacked her — with a knife.

Guess who got the handcuffs…

In private, she later apologized, and said she’d write a statement retracting the police report and her statements behind the psychiatric report.

She reneged.

He was living with people who were actively trying to destroy him. His work was being invaded and stolen. His life was in danger. Not even his dog’s life was safe.
Cross and his dog Leo
He had a sign posted in the rear window of his car: “We burn until there is a cure for RSD/CRPS.”

With perfect logic, he burned his car, before jumping to his death in the most beautiful part of the state. Of such indelibly poetic actions are myths made.

For him, there was no cure.

July 7, 2013
They Murdered me, I never

committed Suicide….

This disease is not imaginary. He was not crazy. He was perilously sane. He was a warm and loving soul with a shining gift of a mind, trapped in a fatally tightening spiral.

All he is now is a tragically truncated memory. What’s left is what we can scrape together of his work from our online conversations.

They keep saying he died of suicide. That’s not true. He died of torture: CRPS, institutional murder, and child abuse.

I. Am. Furious.

Cross, however, is finally at peace.

Reaching the Universe

Silence the past,
Silence the worries,
Silence the outside,
Silence the future,
Silence the self,
Silence the noise,
Silence the people,
Silence the voices,
Everything has left,
Faith in the now moment,
Faith that I am present to myself,
You are stripped,
You are Free,
You are Pure.
You are reaching the universe.

– Cross Y

Rest in peace, my darling, shining brother.

Share this article: