Shore Break

There I was, trying to steer the 3-headed rhinoceros that is the de-mold-the-mobile-home project (dubbed “DeStroy DeMold.”) Two of my volunteers had gotten sick with things that could conceivably relate to:

  1. Their refusal to wear respirator masks, and
  2. The craptastic nature of the stuff coming out of the walls.

So, no more volunteers, and I was trying to figure out what next.

With heavy multiple mold exposures.

Detail of a Bosch painting. Whiskery demon holding and reaching for a misereable man.
Bosch knew.

And food poisoning (different story.)

First things first

I declared a personal moratorium on entering my place unless I had to. Ditto for my car.

Counting the inescapable mold-factory of the leaky place where I’m staying, that means I had been sucking in three, count ’em, three, substantially different species of mold. …And feeling very sorry for myself that I was strangely unable to compensate with supplements and air filters, think my way through the end of a compound sentence, get through a pain flare without going zombie, or recover from an ordinary bout of hit-the-opposite-wall vomiting.

Sorry, letting my vile sense of humor run away with me there. I actually did get it all in the toilet; I’m just not sure how.

Attitude adjustment (with cast of characters)

Last week, my gracious hostess Laurie and I realized we had not gone to the shore this year, despite our good intentions. 24 hours later, she had us all set up, and invited her excellent friend & traveling companion Dave along for the ride.

Dave & Laurie are wonderful together. A gal so butch her nephews call her Uncle Laurie and a guy so cis he could — and did — show up in white Gucci snaffle loafers and still look straight, they bring out a gleeful zest in each other that’s contagious.

woman and man in nearly identical shirts, thumbs up and laughing

Laurie was our hinge, the one who is so close to us both, and it was impossible for me to be stranger-shy with their buoyancy lightening everything.

Dave has an enormous, unflappable black lab named Bernie as his guide dog, who avoids being lethargic simply through being so good-natured. Laurie has a teeny weeny toy fox terrier named Vinny who is irretrievably in love with Big Black Beautiful Bernie.

Imagine a stately black galleon with a high-powered white tender zipping around alongside, and you’ll have the image perfectly.

I almost brought the cat…

cat,distorted with closeness while coming at the viewer

But five bodies and 14 feet seemed like quite enough.

So: me, a human; Laurie, human, with Vinny, pocket pup; Dave, human, with Bernie, guide dog.

If everyone sucked in their hips, there was just room to pass between the beds in our one room.

The weather was perfect. The waves were influenced by a hurricane out at sea, and were nearly Californian in size and color. The dark sand was almost silky. The water was about as warm as it gets, brisk but not bracing, according to Dave’s well-tested algorithm.

photo of everyone but me, on the beach

What I did on my vacation

It wasn’t an eventful trip on the outside — mostly. At one point, I saw Vinny heading down to the water, mooning hopefully after Bernie; I almost called him back, but if you’ve ever seen a terrier on a mission, you know that only going over and picking him up would change his mind. Something told me to wait.

Bernie ambled into the lap of the waves, checking on his master. Vinny toddled after, absorbed and elated. The wash of the wave splashed up Bernie’s ankles; Vinny’s little legs shot out to the sides as he tried to brace against the movement, and off he went. His human turned with perfect timing and lifted him out of the water as the backwash carried him to her, knee-deep.

I was braced to race and plunge in for some dog-rescuing, but watching that remarkable little ballet unfold was quite a moment.

Vinny isn’t the only one who got a bit more than he bargained for.

I was having a bangup time, playing at the shore break. Diving under, popping over, and frequently getting trashed by the waves is such a blast. I might have some retriever in me — probably more than Bernie, who couldn’t be bothered with boisterous water.

I saw two waves converge at an angle, and jumped on them to ride the double-act into shore. Little did I know that two other waves had approached that intersection from behind me. I got washing-machined like I rarely have — completely bashed and thrashed and flung around under the water. My sinuses got washed along with everything else. I’m really glad there were no solid objects (besides me) in that water.

I came up hooting with glee — then felt something was amiss.

Somehow, over the surf, the words, “It came out!” reached me from our pretty neighbors on the thinly-populated beach. I looked down and, sure enough, one half of my generous allotment of, um, chest flesh was making a determined dive for freedom.

Wrestling it back under cover was considerably hampered, not only by the cantankerous mechanics of a soggy bathing suit, but by the fact that I was laughing so hard I could barely control my limbs.

I’m over 50. I don’t have to care what people think. Laughing is so much healthier than anxiety!

Most of my exits were much more successful.

me climbing out of the surf, with another breaker behind me

But seriously…

Apart from that, we just found the nearest beach on the first day, found the best beach on the second, chatted with the neighbors, walked, ate, told each other stories, and enjoyed the muscular shush of the sounds of the shore. We all got ice cream.

It was transformative on the inside, at least for me.

I found that I kept talking about my childhood and my family of origin — not about life as a spoonie or neuro-nerd or an Isypedia of potentially life-saving information, but about life as something quirky and full of character; if not innocent, then willing to be optimistic in spite of it all.

That was odd, but refreshing.

After a day at the seaside and a good night’s sleep (despite the pillows fighting back against my leaning-tower arrangement), I woke up feeling…

What’s the word…

Um…

Oh, how shall I put it…

What do you call it when you feel like you can tell you’re inside your skin and the mental lights are on and you can tell what’s going on around you? Y’know, zestful and buoyant and present and awake and alive?

Oh right.

I felt more like myself than I had in about as long as I can remember.

woman walking up beach, looking totally at home in her skin.

THAT was the opposite of odd, though it was totally unexpected.

Mold toxicity: CONFIRMED.
Prognosis: EXCELLENT.
Recommendation: GIT THAT SH-T.
Target: ACQUIRED.

My brain unfolded like an origami map and alternative ways to get this mobile home taken care of — AND paid for — emerged from the crumpled mess of blocked avenues and despair.

And all that quiet, worried persistence about getting in at least one short walk most days? Well, the exercise intolerance packed it in, too — I walked a couple of miles the day before we left, the day we arrived, and the day after; definitely no exercise intolerance, without the wicked mold exposures.

This is huge. So huge.

Being able to exercise opens up new worlds of improvement. Nothing is as stabilizing to every body system as exercise. Few things are as stabilizing to the brain. I can’t even find words for the explosion of gasping hope I hardly dare to let myself feel.

My planner is about to explode. I’ve got things to do this week! WOOHOOOO!

A word to my  longtime readers & fellow spoonies (a wise & canny crew)

Remember all the times I’ve said that it’s sometimes just a question of getting through one day, one hour, or one breath at a time, and that there is always an afterwards?

This, my dears, THIS looks like an afterwards worth surviving long enough for. Let’s see what I can make of it.

May we all have the right care, the right meds, the right supplements, the right routine, the right friends — and the right breaks.

Coda

30 hours

Five years of no ocean
ended at last:
the waves curled almost Pacific blue
and crashed most assertively;
soft silky sand
burled them mackerel-patterned
below utterly spotless blue skies.

I ran out all daffy abandon
“Hi water! Here I am!”
and the waves came to greet me,
and beat me, and rub me all over
like a pack of retrievers convinced I held food…

A smug Californian, I dissed the sun’s vigor
But turns out I do burn — quite well! —
on Block Island
in mid-September…
but oh, it was worth every sting.

Rainbow sky melts above while returning.
Sun rivers and I’m stupid happy
One glint, one shimmy, and all I can smile
is eyes locked on water, waiting for more.

woman looking at sunset over water, dog nose poking out of jacket.

Shameless plugs

DJ Fabulous! LaurieB, a local fixture at sober fests and community events, works in Western Massachusetts. She plays all styles, genres, and eras of music, specializing in all-ages events. She gets people smiling and moving and having a good time. 🙂

David Roulston, Esq, is the sort of lawyer every  community should have. He does, or has done: probate & wills, criminal defense, designing implementation of legislation, mental health and community health, poverty & homeless issues, and business law.

Laurie took almost all of the photographs. When I mentioned I’d credit her, she said, “I think they’ll figure it out. Who else is gonna take them? The blind guy??”

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What I did with my summer

I’m aware that I disappeared for awhile. Obsessively focusing on housing and breakup, everything else sorta disappeared.  Here’s what that period looked like, framed around the 3 dimensions of life I always update my doctors on — physical, mental/cognitive, and emotional changes:

June

Physically: holding together with bubble gum and baling wire. Somehow didn’t injure myself with packing, storage, and less and less help with errands.
Mentally: dear gods and little piglets, did I ever get a lot done! Dealing with my own move, identifying resources for nontoxic and used building components, dealing with an identity theft, getting a new provider on board (acupuncture), looking at homes, finally getting an old friend out of a deadly situation and somewhere safe, and still keeping my appointments.
Emotionally: J used his last Saturday here helping a friend. He left late enough on a Monday that we could have a bit of morning together and say a proper goodbye. Best moment we’ve had in a long time. And so, my partner of seven years removed his hugely-wounded self to the other side of the continent, so he couldn’t hurt me anymore.

July

Physically: living in one mold factory, driving in another, and working in a third. Discovered that Borax, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide are very unkind to auto interiors and soft furnishings. Discovered concromium, and hosed almost everything down with it – twice. Much improvement.
Mentally: bought a house (mobile home in a sweet park, actually – who knew!)
Emotionally: saw a beloved friend from my youth. Woot! After five friends, one by one, sat me down and told me how was going to be, I promised to include my friends in the work of making my home safe for me. Horrifically, one of my dearest and most dependable friends dropped dead. See Taming the Beast for some of her outstanding work on nontoxic self care, mast cell disease (weird allergies), and central-pain management.

August

Old amber-screen lettering showing *TILT* like on old pinball machines

Physically: much stronger than this time last year, but still have exercise intolerance, so have to go carefully. Tried to lower meds to summer pattern, but whoops! Bad idea. Definitely not getting the usual warm weather recovery; so, having a chemically and biologically safe home is more important than ever.
Mentally: flailing, burned out and not willing to admit it. Housemate/hostess pulled my head out of my butt and got me back to pacing, alternating activity and rest. Figured out how to organize the work on my home.
Emotionally: it’s extremely reassuring to be 5 min. from the highways, 10 min. from the store, 15 min. from the hospital, 20 min. from nearly half my regional friends, and have a bunch of sweet-natured busybody neighbors making sure I’m all right. Started opening up my social world, now that I’m here.

Summary

It’s been one hell of a summer.

When I look inside, I see myself as entirely raw, a walking mass of weeping wounds. Naturally, this doesn’t normally show, because I’m a responsible painiac and I’ve had 20 years of experience in choosing what to show, what to focus on in public.

Despite so much wounding, healing is possible. In fact, it’s imperative. It’s what I do.

For better or worse, here I am, still alive and kicking. With staunch old friends, something resembling a plan in place, and one new friend who touches on my past in interesting ways and opens up my sense of an unexplored future, I’m looking ahead again – not as a duty, the job of the living; but because it could be really fun, and how much fun I have is largely up to me.

head shot of blonde woman grinning 3/4 face

I’m outrageously lucky. Yeah, multiple crap-tastic diseases, too little income, too much loss and pain; yada yada, that’s life sometimes. In these harrowing times, kindness, love, and care define my world, and that’s so very wonderful.

Life’s short. Take care of yourselves and each other – and do have fun. It makes you stronger 🙂

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Interim choices

After my head exploded last month, it took awhile to recover. It wasn’t happening while I was up to my eyeballs in what I can’t do and can’t change, even with daily Epsom baths and extra antioxidants. So, I visited Mom for a bit, soaked myself in her hugs and books and art and homey-exotic collections of interior dec from my upbringing and her subsequent travels, had lunch with my cousin (who did an outstanding job of mental chiropracty on my crippled thinking), and came home almost ready to face my current world.

Which looks something like this:

  • Approaching the hard deadline for leaving my rented home.
  • Lump of expensive metal sitting in my driveway, not driveable.
  • Housemate & ex-fiance (who asked me to marry him for 5 years, until I said yes, then refused to set a date) who really truly simply can’t choose a life-ward path but is increasingly obsessed with orchestrating his end… with frustratingly irrational obliviousness that that’s what it is. I could write a book about this — it’d make a fascinating novel — but confidentiality forbids.
  • Understanding that, after 7 eventful years together during which we’ve saved each other’s lives more than once, that’s not the choice I make every day I rise up against my own pain etc,, but HIS path is not MY choice to make.

Okay, bluntly, that’s:

  • No safe-enough home.
  • No working car.
  • Newly “divorced.”
  • Expecting to be imminently widowed.
  • Helpless in the face of most of this.

And this is where I tune into the meditative practices, because there’s a way I’ve learned to breathe that lifts my heart and brings me into life, no matter what. Helps me let go of the need to care FOR someone as much as I care ABOUT them. Releases him and his future to the care of the cosmos, which is a lot bigger than me, and has a different perspective on life.

I have to get back to writing perky posts! I have to live with this heavy stuff, but it doesn’t usually set the tone of my being. I can’t allow despair more than a look-in, so I’ve learned what it takes not to.

…Breeeeeathe…

It’s probably needless to say that I prefer to stay on the kindest terms possible. Keeping my connections pleasant is hugely important in managing the underlying chaos of my system, so my nerves have less to be jangled by. One of my personal mantras is: Someone else’s bad behavior is not an excuse for mine. Sounds rigid, but it works well in the service of my larger strategy of keeping my system on a more even keel.

Here’s where I huff on my nails and buff them on my nonexistent lapel: I stopped 4 efforts to start an argument in 20 minutes yesterday, and I only pulled one of my old habits of “managing” his tortured thinking 3 times throughout the day. Just letting it all go. He is his, warts and all. Only he (I think) will have to face his consequences.

I also found a couple of possibly-soft-enough-ride cars I should be able to afford, with a bank loan. Just need to arrange the ride to check them out.

Here’s a little cherry on top of the hopefully-expanding sundae of possibilities: the ugly and ill-considered business choices made by the dealership who sold me that expensive hunk of metal, can be addressed by filing online (no car trip! No need to collect and print my documentation & evidence ahead of time! No repeat visits!) with the state’s Consumer Protection department. PHEW! I’m happy to let the authorities tackle this while I deal with my present needs.

Life is short; keep it kind. Be good to each other.

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3rd panel of triptych: The action of deciding

This is the third panel of the triptych. It took awhile to write. You’ll see why soon.

First panel: my pre-CRPS decision mechanism broke, but look! There’s a hack for that! Using remaining fragments, bubble gum & baling-wire, and lots of patience, I can still stagger through even fairly complex decisions.

Second panel: Speaking of complex decisions, I’m looking for a home that meets my physical needs and my financial limitations. Turns out, there is no such thing… Yet. Crossing every available digit and getting really creative.

Now: I’ve been mulling the origin of the act of deciding. When does that happen? It goes by so fast sometimes, I find myself dancing on a spinning log of results before being aware of stepping onto it.

It’s my nature to leap to a decision and be told I’m going off half-cocked, but what I’m doing is processing huge amounts of information very quickly at a largely subconscious or pre-conscious level. I can haul out all the arguments pro and con on no notice, if anyone wants to hear them.

At least, I used to. It’s CRPS’s nature to pour a whole lot of crude-oil over everything between my ears, so things just don’t happen that fast in there any more, and the gears are more likely to slip and chatter. So, I go through a more iterative process and take much more time. If I could adjust my expectations of myself accordingly, I’d be all set…

At the moment, I’m viewing the action of choice with great intensity. I’m convinced that decisions are especially difficult, especially fraught, and especially crucial, for people with CRPS. (Not that this is a competition. If what you read fits, just circle it and write, “me too.”)

Layers of decision-ing:
Conscious vs. Unconscious

So much happens at the unconscious level before we even are aware of having a choice, that it’s impossible to discuss a mental action like choosing without acknowledging some of the most important barriers to thinking clearly in the first place. These are factors that many spoonies (and all CRPSers) have to live with and figure out how to handle, or decide not to handle and just be driven by them instead. (The enormous initiative required to deal with them is overwhelming, so I gently suggest being tolerant of those who don’t, or feel that they can’t, circumvent the circus acts desribed below.)

  • PAIN: Acts on the most primitive brain, and the primitive brain can’t think past the moment. Not its job.
    • Takes a good set of pain-management tips and tools to nudge the primitive brain to the back of the car, so reason can drive.
  • FEAR: Fear hijacks the amygdala and activates the fight-or-flight syndrome. Hijacked amygdalas distort the brain’s function even further, and the fight-or-flight response further destabilizes the already-wobbly central nervous system.
    • This is a one-two punch for CRPSers. It takes a lot of training and practice to work around that, but it usually can be done.
  • The MONSTER: know thy (current) self. Those of us with horrifying illnesses sometimes feel and seem like we’re taken over by some horrible, biting, unpleasant person who looks and sounds a lot like us, but doesn’t act like we normally intend to. This is tough all around. I find myself being emotionally hijacked — say, by a food allergy response, or a surprise pain flare — and, as I’m sitting there with tears of rage and fear pouring down my face and snarling, inside I’m going, “What the hell is going on? Why can’t I stop this??” It’s The Monster, and it’s off the leash.
    • Because I self-monitor so much, I can usually catch The Monster before things go too far, and I sequester myself (that is, I hide) and do distraction/self-care/Epsom baths/whatever until I’m back in charge as (& of) myself.

Bases for decisions: Information — & Certainty

When is the info in hand enough — both in quantity and quality — to base a decision on? (This is where I really miss those old rapid-processing days.) More fundamentally, how can I tell? Because determining and sorting the value of info is yet another, even higher-order level of processing than collecting it!

Having to make choices based on inadequate, unreliable, or unknown-quality info is a far more common task post-CRPS than pre-CRPS. Stumbling around in the dark and guessing, hoping for the best or maybe for the kindness of strangers, is not yet a default, but it sure is more common.

At some level — probably that mile-high view that my “wise self” hangs onto, whether or not it’s talking to me at the moment — it’s funny to see a super-clever type A whizz kid with delusions of promotion, like I used to be, stumbling around in the dark here. There’s a poetic justice to that, um, adjustment that even I can see. My darker side, perhaps, which I usually inflict only on myself.

“There’s always an afterwards”:
Sequelae & Consequences

Reality doesn’t care what drives my decisions; the “afterwards” I face is going to be what it’s going to be, and derive largely from the choices I make — not the ones I wanted to make, or was unable to make, or wished I could have made. They stem directly from the choice I did make, consciously or not, emotionally or not, rationally or not, wisely or not. It takes, again, a lot of practice and some basic training to keep in mind that there will be an afterwards, and force myself to make the decision that results in a better afterwards — even if it’s less satisfying at the time.

The increasing intransigence of reality is really annoying! Can’t it work with me a little more? Sigh.

The older, poorer, and sicker I get, the less flexible the world around me gets. Being young and perky was all kinds of help — I had no idea!

everyone over 50

I distinguish sequelae (|suh-quell’-eye|) from consequences like this:

  • Sequelae are natural results of something. They may or may not be a problem, may or may not need managing, but they’re just what happens as a result of factors we don’t necessarily control.
  • Consequences are results that must be dealt with somehow. Assessing consequences is part of rational decision-making. Who could be hurt? What might it cost? What kind of damage, or benefit, could happen? They’re predictable, if we stop and think things through properly. So, there’s a level of responsibility involved.

We RISK possible sequelae. We FACE possible consequences.

Too much decision-ing:
What About Control Issues?

In the category of bottomless dopamine sinks…

Trying to control too much of my environment is a total waste of effort. It soaks up decision-making chemistry, burns through my attention like a bonfire, and creates a lot more anxiety for absolutely zero net benefit.

People who knew (or dated) me in my 20’s quirk up one corner of the mouth a lot these days. I’m happy to let anyone decide anything for me — as long as it doesn’t do any further harm. My emotional investment in things like where to meet or what to eat, interior decor, stylistic choices, what others should do — pretty much nil.

My emotional investment in being in control is tightly centered on protecting my immune and nervous systems. That’s about it. Anything that meets those (admittedly, enormous & far-reaching) criteria and then looks for something more from me gets a big, airy, sky-bright “whatever!”

I realized that control issues were really a type of anxiety. I have my past traumas, like most, and loads of current problems which are terrifying to contemplate, so it’s reasonable to be anxious. Not helpful, though. Anxiety stalls my brain out completely.

This ratfink disease forces me to choose consciously — and learn to enforce skillfully — what to let myself worry about. It’s one of the great lessons of learning to live with this disease. Speaking as someone who started out being mildly thrilled by emergencies and wound up, at my nadir, being unable to get out of my home and onto a bus because of long-legged terror looming and lunging at me, I’m the first to say that managing anxiety is a journey, a process, any of those things that won’t be completed in my life because it now is part of my life.

This is why I now meditate twice a day. I was mulling, about a month ago, how much harder it was to keep my temper or keep my brain ticking over at a functional rate. The Dalai Lama’s dictum came to mind: “Meditate for half an hour every day. Oh, you don’t have time to meditate for half an hour every day? Meditate for an HOUR every day!”

I’d gotten to the point where an hour before bedtime was not cutting it any more. Figuring the Dalai Lama has never steered me wrong so far, I added another hour (or so) of meditation, after my morning pills go down.

I retest that now and then, but sure enough, if I don’t have time to meditate for the morning hour, everything takes longer and everything gets worse. If I do take that extra hour, I’m a lot clearer and my rate of being able to get things done — and to know, moment by moment, what I’m most able to do as my “glasses” change — surges up to a new normal. I’d like to get used to that — but never take it for granted!

Counter-intuitive, to say the least, but I care more about what works than about what I understand or believe.

Now, back to wrestling with reality to create possibilities that don’t currently exist… No hurry, though — doing the impossible usually takes more effort; might as well do it right the first time.

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Decisions 2 – housing

Making a major decision, for someone with so little margin for error as a ragged, underfunded, spoony crip like me, means being able to answer all of these questions usefully:

  • What are ordinary needs and requirements, in this situation?
  • What are my particular needs and requirements they create?
  • What’s involved in an adequate trade-off?
  • What does success look like?
  • Are there any choices that meet my needs?
    If so…
  • What are the usual pitfalls?
  • What are my particular pitfalls?
  • How do I avoid or mitigate those?
  • How do I make this decision happen?
  • Red light signals and how to respond.
  • Yellow light signals and how to respond.
  • Gotchas and how to handle them.

So here I am, bringing my laborious and slow-motion decision-making process to finding a home I can afford and survive. Definitely a major decision.

This could be fun. Or gruesome. I’ll find out.

Let’s take a look at this through the decision-making stages I discussed in the previous article.

Developing good info about the problem to be solved

Housing is a crucial human need, especially beyond the 35th parallels.

Hang on, I need to come back. Everything went white for a minute there. (PTSD about facing homelessness and surviving criminally unsafe living situations? Who, me? Yup.)

The need has been around as long as we have, so the laws and practices are pretty predictable.

There are two normal fiscal options: renting and buying. There is one additional option available to residents of Vermont: buy the house from the state, which keeps the land but gives you the right to use the part your house is standing on.

There are three normal physical options: freestanding home, adjoined units (apartments, condos, townhomes/row-houses, etc.), or portable housing (mobile homes and travel trailers.)

Nonstandard options include buying an RV (made and insulated entirely with Isy-toxic materials) and living with a level of mobility and uncertainty I can’t even contemplate any more; or buying a boat (a.k.a. a mold factory) and living on that, which I can no longer afford in any way. I have to eschew them both.

Adult co-housing is a nonstandard option that has some appeal. A group of adults get together, develop a set of guidelines that (through a real-estate attorney) turn into a contract, find and buy a place together, and arrange themselves on the property according to their contract.

I’ve seen that go very well and I’ve seen that go very poorly, and quite a lot in the middle. It’s partly a matter of chemistry, but mostly a matter of writing a good, clear, solid contract and everyone agreeing to play by the rules and being able to live and let live.

All I need is a group of adults who are not only willing and wanting to do that, but have no toxic habits (like painting or baking), are willing to live gluten-free (except for cold food brought in from outside) and are willing and able to give up wifi and live off of hard-wired internet access only — no Bluetooth — and, most annoyingly, respect hard limits on how much time the cable box is on. Radiation off that thing gives me unconquerable insomnia in the other room from 30 feet away.

Let’s look at how the remaining options fit into the questions I need to answer.

What are ordinary needs and requirements, in this situation (home-hunting)?

Safe, dry, warm, with working doors/windows/plumbing/electrics; close enough to where the person needs to be.

Also, it has to be affordable.

What are my particular needs, and the requirements they create?

  • Mold free living, in this green land of upland lakes, swamps, and ubiquitous streams.
  • No petroleum-based volatile organic compounds — a category which includes regular paint, all low-cost and most mid-range flooring, and every conceivable kind of carpet.
  • Significant air pollution. For me, this centers around internal combustion engines, chemical processing, and fossil fuels. (For others, it’s woodsmoke that smells like doom.)
  • Loud noises and the vibrations that come with them. (You know how the nearest bully used to sneak up behind you, and then smack their palms over both your ears at once? Remember that feeling that your head just exploded, and hot shards jinked down your spine? Kind of like that, times about 1000. A vacuum cleaner suddenly turning on can knock me down. I used to live near railroad tracks; not an option now.)
  • Radiation of many kinds. This rules out being near power stations, overhead wires, hands-free phone technology (Bluetooth or cordless house phones) and (this is really limiting:) modern wireless signals, which feel like a blunt spear piercing me just below my xyphoid process and spinning barbed tails through my trunk while injecting molten metal up my spine and into my brain.

So much fun.

Believe it or not, after hearing part or all of this list, I’ve had people ask me, “How do you know that you need to avoid all that?” It’s not the words, it’s the tone. The implication is that all of this is somehow the product of a fevered imagination. If only it were!

I notice my responses, which are not subtle from the inside; I work out what particular exposure caused that response; and, intentionally or not, I get multiple exposures to each of these things because they’re everywhere, so I can test out the theory that a particular exposure causes a particular response.

It takes a special kind of person to go to the extraordinary effort to research substances that affect fragile systems and how, and claim to be that ill and be required to make all those compromises and spend all that money to avoid those materials, and give up so much because of it, without actually having their survival depend on it. That particular mental disorder is extremely rare — a lot rarer than invisible illnesses. Anyway, it’s one thing I definitely don’t have.

Examining the options

Rent or buy?

Good question. Let’s look at those from my point of view.

Renting

Rent tends to cost, month per month, about twice what home ownership does around here, even with all the taxes and fees figured in. Boggles my mind, but there it is. (Homeownership has loads of hidden expenses, but rarely do they double the cost month after month.)

Rentals are supposed to get repainted every two years or between each tenant, whichever is longer. That really sucks for me, because even low VOC paint makes me sick, goofy, nauseous, edgy, and unhappy for weeks.

The majority of rental units have carpeting, mostly cheap carpeting consisting mostly of petroleum derivatives, aggressively outgassing toxins all their lives while harboring mold and less savory things beyond the reach of steam cleaners.

Rental units in my price range are in high density housing (meaning there’s normally pollution, Wi-Fi, and noise completely beyond my control), and every single one that I’ve looked at has a mold issue – a solid, interlaminar set of colonies, usually in the kitchen and bathroom, often in the bedrooms, and if they’re in the bedrooms, they’re in the living rooms as well.

So much wrong.

In any case, unless I can find low income, high density living with non-toxic interior furnishings, nontoxic finishes, hardwood floors, no mold, good air, no pollution and no street noise (which would be fantastic for all concerned!), where all my neighbors have no power tools, dulcet voices, and no interest in using their cell phones every hour of every day (yeah, right), then… I probably have to think in terms of a freestanding house.

From the practical standpoint of having people to say hi to and help shoveling the stairs and the like, I would love to have close neighbors! It’s just that I need not to put myself in a position to be poisoned and tortured by regular people simply living their lives.

Buying

What with one thing and another, I realized a year and a half ago that I would have to focus on a freestanding house – despite all the upfront cost and work involved in that. It’s kind of like jumping off the deep end, an especially apt metaphor for a lifelong skin-diver, deep-water sailor, and former live-aboard “grotty yachtie” like me.

I’ve always had a pretty good instinct for real estate, which annoyed my father more than once – he kept ignoring my advice. The prices here only bobbled, they didn’t bubble; the overall trend has been gradually, consistently, steadily upward for a century or more.

This IS a region where it’s a good investment.

Buying requires good credit, but after LINK some work and time, that’s not a problem.

First-time homebuyers and low-income home buyers have special government programs that make it possible for them to get loans from banks by insuring those loans with the feds. Of course, the federal government has to be working for that to happen. (That could happen any month now. Maybe within a year?)

All I want is a clean, dry, safe-for-me 600-800 square-foot house on a couple acres of buffer zone for ~$135k inclusive, somewhere in the area of Easthampton to Heath to Montague to North Hadley, on a paved quiet road.

This is a reasonable price for a reasonable proposition. However, in two years of looking, it hasn’t turned up.

But I’ll show you what has turned up:

Century floodplain houses

How do you spell “moldfest”? It’s actually called “Sick Building Syndrome”, but either way, there’s a reason these places are cheap and still on the market.
[The century floodplain houses]

Foreclosures
First-time homebuyer loans will not cover these, nor should they. Foreclosures are the ultimate black-box proposition — you have no idea what’s in there, but a few observations and questions have taught me to interpret clues. I won’t bother you with photos, because these have since gone off the market and I’m not researching foreclosures any further:

  • Great little house in a gorgeous spot… with a cracked foundation — I mean a busted-right-open-and-let-the-critters-in foundation.
  • Current tenant dropped not one, but two trees across the driveway. Is that a hint? I was curiously disinclined to investigate.
  • The house has stood empty for over a year, and because of that, any characteristics that weren’t up to modern code are no longer grandfathered, but have to be corrected before moving in. This seems to add 30-120% to the effective price, and in one case I looked at, would have cost 3 times the purchase price just to turn it into a code-compliant property.
  • Extensive plumbing work is often required: in one case, the well went bad; in another, the septic system was toast; in many foreclosures, the sinks and toilets are smashed apart to discourage squatters — and add enormously to the repairs required of pipes, flooring, and walls affected, not to mention the porcelain.

[Several examples of what’s in my price range, with wry commentary]

[The total reno, with the great bones] I love this. I would LOVE to get my hands on this. Sadly, I’m now a formerly handy person. Holding the tools required, let alone breathing the dust and fumes involved, are sot even to be thought of. Breaks my heart, darn it! This would have been so much fun!

My needs and wants are very reasonable, but apparently, a place that embodies them doesn’t already exist.

It’s horrifying to contemplate, but I have to think about building my own. There are so many issues, both physical and fiscal, that it simply boggles the mind. Just to start with, how is a first time, low income home buyer going to qualify for a building loan, even where there is so much documentation regarding these special needs?

I’ve spoken at length with builders specializing in non-toxic homes, one company’s owners giving me what amounted to a three-hour workshop in materials, gotchas, and things to know and watch out for in regard to renovation and building. It doesn’t have to be much costlier, but it requires an enormous amount of project management on my part to keep costs down by researching and sourcing used or overstock fixtures and fittings, hardwood flooring, non-toxic and natural finishes (some of which I worked out how to use on my boat), and so forth.

I’ve come up with a couple of novel ways to simplify plumbing and electrics, which are in compliance with the current building codes. (The electrician and builders I’ve mentioned it to are intrigued and plan to keep my ideas in mind for the future. I find that encouraging.) That’s one way I’ve brought down some projected costs, although it depends on my being able to do certain physical work.

I’ve also researched the toxins, materials, labor, permitting, and costs involved in prefab vs. stick built (traditional) vs. log building here.

What I’ve learned about heating methods (toxicity, mold, fuels, weaknesses, etc.) would bore you to tears. I just have two words: steam heat.

While I have always imagined/dreamed of living in a hexagonal stick built house with lots of windows and two small wings, it turns out my family have always imagined I’d wind up in a little log cabin. It looks like they might be right.

What’s involved in an adequate trade-off?

I have to know where I can be flexible. This wiggle-room could make the difference between having a rational home and spinning off the face of the earth. (Two people who couldn’t find a home in time were found frozen to death yesterday. I’m trying not to think about that.)

There’s a little bit of slack in my needs, but not much.

Radiation (from heavy electrics, heavy electronics, cell phone towers too close, and wi-fi) is a no go.

VOCs that can be washed off, treated with pine and baking soda, or aired out in a few days would be fine.

Treatable mold would be fine, but, unfortunately, by the time it shows, there’s usually a well-established root system inside the wall and mitigation becomes the sort of iterative, messy, relentless, and ultimately unresolved nightmare that usually takes three scream queens and gallons of artificial blood to get across on the silver screen; respiratory struggles, immune failure and mental impairment aren’t nearly as dramatic on the outside as they are on the inside.

What does success look like?

I could be really flippant and say that success looks like an added hundred thousand dollars free and clear in my mortgage account. That would definitely put me in a price bracket that would allow me to have my log cabin, with the right fittings and finishes, in a safe clean area, with everything I need and nothing I don’t. Plus…

I used to dream of having a big enough property to put additional cabins on, and provide safe non-toxic living for friends who like small spaces, and maybe some glamping spots for the summer. I’ve already got 2 friends who’d love to sign that lease as of yesterday, and 3 more who’d love to think about it, and that all turned up in 2 conversations. There is clearly a market for safe, small, inexpensive housing, and it would be a good, benevolent, and sound investment. However, the start-up costs (more buildings, more slabs, more plumbing, more septic, etc.) are unthinkable for me. I just don’t have that.

This is where being poor is super frustrating. (Yes, I really do think this way … I’m more frustrated that I can’t help others than I am that finding a place for my own self is so hard.) I could so easily provide safe and sane housing for people who, like me, are fighting their environments all the time, and who would, if they could, much rather be using their energy to contribute to the world. And helping pay my mortgage. There is no downside.

There is no money for it, either.

Okay, onward.

What does success look like?

It looks manageably small, manageably affordable (or self-supporting — hello, cabins!), safe, clean, healthy, nontoxic, and warm.

I have a lot to do, and a lifespan truncated by probably 25-30 years. I’m genetically wired for my 90s, if I don’t smoke, which I don’t. So I’d better hustle!

In order to do my work (write my books, produce my pain-mitigating products, do live trainings on handling chronic pain and disability at home and at work, etc.) I need a home that doesn’t make things worse; Time alone will do that. It doesn’t need any more help from my living environment.

My success path is very, very narrow. I’m still not sure how to get there, but I have a few more interviews with specialist professionals ahead of me.

Are there any choices that meet my needs?

According to two years of market research, there is nothing already built that meets my needs in my price range.

I might have to make it myself, whether I like it or not, whether it’s easy (which it was never going to be) or not, whether there is any standard path to get me there, or whether I have to forge ahead and work the steps out one by one, going purely by what works for me – as I did with CRPS for so long, before clinical practice caught up with what I was doing.

I’m a very reasonable person. I’m just in a very unreasonable situation.

…Again.

I’m almost used to it. Sigh.

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Service animal in training

So, here she is: my little fuzzbutt of curiosity, in a mellow moment.

Photo: Laurie B., who’s also an excellent dj.

I told my pain specialist about her, as follows:

She is turning into a service pet already: when I hurt myself, she comes and brushes against it, providing a good sensory input to help me push back against the wa-wa of pain. When I’m upset, she stops what she’s doing and comes over to comfort me, so I don’t go so hard into my body’s “autonomic fuss”: color and vital sign shifts, sudden weakness, persistent nausea, emotional instability and pain, etc. She licks softly on the most numb or paraesthetic bits: my toes and wrists. She’s extremely well-behaved in public, handles being in the carrier pretty well, and is adapting to being on leash.

We’re working on the concept of when it’s time to sleep. Those of you with cats, I heard that sardonic laugh. However, I’m feeling relieved and pleased once again that my training techniques are paying off.

I do two things, which I haven’t read about much:

1. I think about what I’m saying. House pets read emotional and mental states extremely well. Probably because of this, I find that speaking to my fuzzy-butts in plain English, and halting my internal chatter to notice and mean what I say when I speak to them, is extremely effective. “It’s like they understand every word.”

2. Wow. Can’t remember what I was going to say for the second thing. That’s embarrassing. It’s like I have pain brain or something. Just like!

So, anyway…

Last night, she was bouncing off the walls at bedtime. Sigh.

I put on the classical CD I play to let her know it’s time to settle down — twice. (Mstislav Rostropovich and Ytchak Perlman playing something deliciously calming.) Usually, that knocks her right out. Better than Valium. Not that time, though. Did I give her extra vitamins?

As she pinged around my legs, I scooped her up and explained sincerely that it’s time for sleep. She paused briefly, all furry and cuddlesome, then went “nah, but thanks” and squirmed off.

I gave up and trundled off, flared limbs throbbing, head lolling with weariness on my sore neck.

I climbed under the covers, arranged my pillows, read my “bedtime silly” book for 5 minutes, and realized I needed some autogenic-training meditation (those are the ones that include, “your limbs feel heavy and warm”) to get my feet and lower legs to warm up enough.

I ignored the squacking and mooping noises (she has quite a vocabulary) from the next room. My limbs were finally getting warm.

Then Miss Thing popped up, literally, and let me know we were going to sleep now if it killed her. O…kaaaayyy…..

She made deep biscuits, pressing hard but still not using claws, first on my right shoulder, then on my right forearm, then on my left shoulder.

Then she turned around once, slapped her head down against my pillow, and conked out, her purr fading into sleep almost as soon as it started.

OMG the cute. Much brain juice. So impressed, too.

Did you notice — she zeroed in on the key spots that triggered my condition. She went straight to them. I have to spend hundreds of words explaining these points to humans; she just dialled straight in.

She is definitely my Service Cat.

Just need to help her get calmer in the world outside, and be old enough to develop a little more poise in the face of the unexpected, because always behaving well in public is a key part of Service Animal requirements — and that amazing little fur-girl will be all set.

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A week on, slightly shocky but keeping calm

Those of you who’ve been, been with, or treated addicts won’t be surprised to know that J’s story changed 3 times in a week, but I didn’t fall for it. He has not tried to come back, did not go to the deadly place, and is taking care of himself rather better than might be expected.

The fact that he’s not imminently in danger is a huge relief, actually. I can handle breakups — I just can’t handle mortality.

I looked back at my previous post and got a huge laugh out of the fact that I opened with one sentence regarding a life-shattering event and went straight into the nerdiest possible fugue about meds, care, and therapies that are affected by it. I’m not sure of the distinction between nerd, dork, and geek, but I’m pretty sure I’m all three, and that’s okay with me. The doc I sent that letter to is the brainiest of those, whichever that may be.

The feelings washing through me are as varied as you might expect. There are some ways I feel freed up — I finally got to rearrange the living room furniture, and it’s a vast improvement. Nobody to get all tense and cranky about moving his sofa location. I look back no the ways I’d just stopped making room for myself because it was easier than arguing. The last year and a half was a downward trend, the last year pretty bumpy, the last few months really rough, and the last few weeks we were together were frankly awful.

That, I don’t miss.

What I miss is that where he was, was home. I’m homeless in one sense, because he’s homeless in the literal sense. (He sure enjoys the camping, though.) I rarely had to scold him for anything because he could hear me yelling at him in my head; he’d give me the same pissy look my cat used to give me when he was scolded, and make the adjustment I wished he’d make, with no more than 5 soft words exchanged. He literally read my freaking mind.

I don’t know what he’ll do when the weather changes. Not my circus now. He’s facing the consequences of his own decisions, and one is that he has fewer, and at this point less attractive, options.

I found a person who knows how to get me signed up for things like help with the dishes and laundry and vacuuming, rides to my medical appointments, and other logisstical needs. The shuddering absence of J has left me with arms so overused and attention so wrung out that I had trouble driving safely home today. I actually missed a turn on a road I’ve taken uncountable times. Not reassuring, that. Fortunately, it was easy to correct.

As I explained to my passenger: I can pay attention to the road and obstacles around me, and I can control the vehcile I’m driving, and do both confidently; the rest, like where to turn, is a bit iffy.

The physical consequences crash on, no matter how calm I can keep my mind most of the time. The tearing, strengthless feelings in my hand tendons is pretty scary. My ashtma is acting up, a consstant background pull. I guess I’d better raise my antihistamine dosage, and make an appointment with my rheumatologist to look into that.

The emotions ebb and flow: bouts of anger, so seductive but I refuse to cling to them … I let them roll through and roll away; irritation; lovely memories; wry humor; noticing things he’d like; gaping wounds of loss; grief; the endless wordless cry of a mature heart that’s broken, like a descant that never stops. I let them roll through. I’m an old hand at loss. The trick is not to hide from them, and not to cling to them. Look at them, one by one or five by five as they come, and see them for what they are. Then let them go. Not easy, but so worth it.

Task focused is good. I have things on my schedule and things I have to do. I pay attention to the next task. It really helps. It’s okay to stay out of emotional space, something I didn’t used to know. It’s absolutely okay not to go prodding that open wound. I can work around it.

I was cooking up a frozen Indian dinner on the stove, anything further being beyond me and microwave dinners being disgusting to me (except rice-pasta mac and cheese, for some reason.) I sat there, stirring it gently, and taking a step back to look at the whole picture.

Aspects of my life are better. There’s no arguing, for one thing. I’m seeing my friends more.

Aspects of my life are harder. I have more creative impulses but less ability to do anything with them. The logistics of getting through the week are awful.

On the whole, my life is definitely worse without J in it. His jobs can be done by others, but the whole blooming warmth and joy and peace that he brought with him, until he gave into the “stinkin’ thinkin'” of addictive-mind, is gone, except in memory.

Having said that — having looked squarely at that — I let it go.

I remember the time I decided to give up on repeating my mistakes. It was at my first nursing job, on the HIV unit. I realized, imperfect person in a tough high-stakes job that I was, that I was probably going to make mistakes. I made an agreement with myself not to repeat them, but to pay attention and learn, and when I screwed up, to figure out how to avoid doing that particular thing again.

I waited too long for him to do what he needed to do to get better. He’s not going to do that unless and until he decides, and — here’s the not repeating mistakes part — he has no place here unless and until he has well begun that arduous journey.

Whether he takes it or not is not up to me.

Not my circus any more.

Time to have that dinner and watch a silly movie.

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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.

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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.

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When I lose everything but me

This is one of several blog posts I drafted late last year and got distracted from.

This isn’t the duckiest or most amusing one to read, but it’s so important for so many that I’m posting it anyway. (My mother will probably want to give this one a miss.)

This level of fundamental-ness has a certain appeal in the depth of winter.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have too much trouble with existential questions. At a certain point, when everything I thought defined me had been blasted away, and in my mind there was not a single structure left that held a fragment of my old self, and all I saw stretching away to the mental horizon was blasted mud and broken stone and shapeless lumps and rot… I asked myself, “None of ‘me’ is left. Who am I?” And I realized that something was standing there, doing the asking.

That was my answer: I’m what is left after everything has been blasted away. I’m the immanent awareness, unable to be seen or described, simply because only less-permanent things can be seen or described.

As I think about that last sentence, I realize why objects lost their fascination for me. It was weirdly easy to get rid of gorgeous and glorious things I could no longer afford to keep. A couple of them I still miss, like my old bedstead (birdseye maple, passed down from my grandmother), but very few.

Things did get worse for awhile, and only curiosity kept me alive. (I simply had to know how the story went.) It propelled me through the work of surviving when my body had failed.

Angels appeared just before it was too late — several times; my life was a solid group effort — and eventually I fled the area and got my disability check (yes they were related) and could afford to survive. I have some photos that seem ethereal still, I look so nearly gone, smiling back from the edge of the grave, happy I don’t have to take that last step.

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As usual, lately, I’ve wandered off-course.

My ability to track a tale (remember I survived the impossible because I had to see how the story went?) is enfeebled. It’s barely tottering along on one of those cumbersome canes with 4 feet, too heavy to lift and too necessary to leave behind.

I grind to a halt in my post, forgetting what I started this for, but this time, I’m letting you in on the secret. This blog is not retired, and being incapacitated has not excused me before, as a flick back would show. Or even when I was blowing bubbles.

I’m approaching this winter with the determination that it will be different than the last, which was an endurance exercise — one that went on for 9 months, as Spring never sprung and my Summer was clouded by meningitis.

So far, I’m getting more physiotherapy, more outings, and even have a weekly pain group I meet with. The higher level of activity is key; because exercise is so important for healing and supporting the brain, I have to find ways to stay active, despite the obvious drawbacks for someone with roaring sensory and cardiovascular issues to leaving the house during a New England winter.

I’m pleased with that. Yay, me!

Now for the other part.

Too much exercise is poisonous, because I have a solid case of exercise intolerance. I can safely walk less than a mile, which really irritates me. It takes that long just to warm up!

Also, drawing and sketching is back to being hard work. For awhile there, sketches flew out from under my pencil like they’d been crowded in there too long. Now, it’s stick figures with bad hair. I draw anyway now and then, because it’s better to keep trying than to give up altogether.

I don’t want to exercise too little or draw badly, but I do it anyway. Why? Because there’s always an afterwards, and I still have to work on influencing an “afterwards” I want.

Meanwhile, as my ability to juggle logistics is holding ground, my ability to juggle language is slipping.

After I was a nurse, I was a writer. Before I was a nurse, I was a writer. I started calling myself a writer before the age of 10, and started rescuing and healing animals shortly after.

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I’m crashing into the stupefying question: “What am I, if I’m not a writer?” I feel like nothing without that. I feel like an intrusive blob of snot on the face of the earth, out of purpose and out of place and not very pleasant to have around.

My immanent awareness looks on as my sense of self weeps helplessly. It is what it is. I am what I am… whatever that is. That will always be true, even as everything else changes.

Meanwhile, though my strength and endurance are rather better than I’d hoped, my blood pressure and pulse are less stable. One more set of variables (or issues) to chase down, one more group of tests to orchestrate, one more set of diagnostic efforts to get through, one more possible adjustment to my regime to figure out, integrate, and absorb.

By the way, that lower abdominal pain has no treatable cause. Nothing to be done but roll it into the bundle of issues (or variables) to manage and work around. Every. Freaking. Day.

This is what it’s like for me to head into winter.

A cousin and I promised each other that we’d live forever until the day we die. That agreement still stands, but gee whiz, could this be a little less tiresomely complex??

Update: And here I am, 2 months later, writing again. Still waiting for drawing to come back, though.

Digesting my food is hard work now, again. Always something.

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