Monday, February 28, 2011

Weathering the Storm

Today we had a massive storm roll through Chattanooga. Power out, trees down, cars and houses smashed, interstate signs folded in half. Big storm. (Like most things) the storm made me think.

Inside of all of us, we are weathering a storm. Every day we wake up and we battle something. We battle ourselves, we battle our jobs, we battle people around us. We survive. If we're lucky, we find a way to thrive.

In addition, we all have something that provides escape and shelter from whatever storm is raging. A reprieve from the constant head-wind and bulleting rain.

We are all broken-hearted, beaten down, and lost. If not constantly, then intermittently. But I would venture to say that anyone who feels is broken.

Go through it not around it.

Take the storm head on in battle. Obsessive despair is endlessly inventive--it has a genius for knowing what a sufferer least wants to hear. Its like being trapped in a box with a loudspeaker that amplifies your own voice, continuously broadcasting your shortcomings. Make it shut up. Live with it, deal with it, and eventually the storm becomes cloud covering. It becomes a sunny day with a slight chance of rain.

Most days, I don't think about my Crohn's. Most days I get to be well and happy and full of energy. And then there are days where I am constantly reminded of limitations. Not necessarily physically prompted, but my mind goes into hyperdrive. I go into defense mode--nothing in, nothing out. Stop contributing.

Only when I am reminded that I am sick, am I sick. Only when reminded, do I let myself believe that I'm sick. So, all of the routine tests and treatments--I'm sick.

Someone from Vanderbilt called tonight and my heart almost stopped beating. They were only calling to do a survey about my last MRE, but in the 20 seconds it took for me to actually pick up the phone, I had convinced myself that they had read the scan wrong and there was something very wrong.

This reaction, of course, was only because of my anxiety about my Remicade on Friday. I'm already on high alert.

Truthfully, Remicade is not a stresser for me. It is, however, a reminder.

It is also the single most humbling experience I have on a regular basis. The people I sit with are weathering much rougher storms than I. They are doing chemo, treatment for nerve degeneration, blood transfusions, etc. I've never sat with anyone my own age, with my young body resilience.

When I first started going to treatment, about a year ago, my mom would come with me and sit in this tiny chair in the corner for the 4-5 hours that it took. Eventually, she figured I could go on my own. The first time I came in without her, my nurse, Mina, said, "She finally trusts us enough?"

Yes, I guess that's what it was. I didn't realize it at the time, but when Mom was there with me, I was really sick. I was weak. And we had no clue what this treatment was going to do to me or for me.

Mina calls herself my mom. She takes care of me every time I go for treatment at the IV infusion center. She gives me my IV, injects my steroids, takes my blood to the lab. She covers me up in a blanket when I fall asleep from the medicine. She takes my temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels every 30 minutes and never wakes me up. She shows me pictures of her kids (she has a son my age), makes sure that I'm being a responsible adult, and asks me real questions besides the medical ones. All of the other nurses know that I am Mina's.

Mina is a weathering the storm pro. When she met me, when I met her, I was in bad condition. The doctors were trying everything to avoid a second surgery, but I had a camera pill stuck in my small intestines (that had been lodging for about 30 days at that point). I couldn't keep food down, I was heavily medicated, and Remicade was a last ditch effort to lessen inflammation. Mina has seen much worse.

To her, I am a normal, healthy 25 year old. To me, I'm the same: normal, healthy. I think that's why I like her. She is one of the many medical professionals I deal with who actually treats me like I'm going to live a long life.

People like Mina mend broken hearts. She doesn't pretend like it isn't real. She doesn't ignore it. But she gives it no credit. She doesn't let it define me, and she makes me feel like I don't have to either.

The storm doesn't have to define me. It can tear through my heart and beat me down, but I can rebound with spirit. I can find a way to drag myself from the destruction and back into whatever normal is. And normal is so different now than it was before. Normal will be different next week, month, year, too.

Everything will change again. It all cycles through. Beaten-down, torn apart, hopeful, happy, raining, sunny, sad.

Find the reprieve.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it(anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
e.e. cummings

i fear no fate.

Fear plays such an essential part in our lives. To be truly fearless would result in recklessness. Hazards to our society. Without notion of responsibility.

Fear is within us; consuming our thoughts and coloring our perceptions. A horn blares to your right--do you contemplatively choose to ignore it, concluding that it the warning was not directed at you? No, you involuntarily orient your eyes and mind to the sudden stimulus. Fear drives us, binding us to actions of which we seemingly have no control. Fear can cause polarity, removing us from situations that we would otherwise enjoy. A distraction from pleasure.

In fact, biologically, fear turns off our pleasure sensors. Sends us into fight or flight mode. All of your blood is redirected to the parts that are needed--your heart, lungs, muscles, and brain. The rest of your brain is left with only enough blood to keep it on idle, which means you have no capability for rational or creative thought. Its all black or white; yes or no; good or evil. In this state, you do not have the ability to think of the alternate solutions to the situation. Only run or fight.

This, like most things involving our psyche, is developed over time. We are not born with fear. We cultivate it.

Uncontrolled fear hinders us.

As humans we learn. We are presented with situations, and with each situation, we walk away with a new perspective. Good, bad, sorrowful, ugly, happy reactions to each situation we face. We learn by watching others and deciphering how we would respond in such a condition. And often, we grab onto a fearful not me, never again, not ever retort.

When something bad happens, there is an immediate defense mechanism to fear it happening again. But, here's the kicker: there's no way of knowing.

We fear the unfamiliar and we fear the unknown, both of which are limiting and uncontrollable. And we are all guilty of unwarranted fear.

The desire to protect ourselves and those around us can become an overbearing, polarizing resistance to anything involving risk. And there is risk in everything we do. Every choice we make involves risk.

Risk can be classified as anything that could result in failure. In loss.

The fear of failure is paralyzing.

In the past few years, months, days, I have fallen victim to this fear, to being paralyzed by it. I have been suspended in one moment or a string of moments for an embarrassingly long time. At its worst, every day is a battle of my consciousness to combat the fear.

Fear, for me, shows itself in many forms: Anxiety, irritability, and, ultimately, inaccessibility.

It has taken entirely too much thinking time for me to come to a conclusion about fear, though. In whatever form fear takes, it is not a weakness. It is a natural reaction to the condition we find ourselves in. A natural reaction to the condition we see our loved ones in. It can and should be talked about. And when you are ready to talk about the fears you have, then you are ready for battle. Ready to stop treading lightly in life.

I love the ee cummings poem that began this post for many reasons. One reason rationalizes these thoughts about fear. "i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)." While human nature does succumb to fear, it also allows for a comfort zone. Comforting people all around us.

The idea that even in the most trivial trying times, there is always someone there to reduce the symptoms of fear. To bring you back to reality. To give you the rationality to see that we all struggle together.

This comfort zone away from fear permits a feeling of fullness. You can counter fear with love.

My most recent encounter with fear was extinguished by concern. Not necessarily vocally expressed concern, but the people around me letting me know that I was thought of, cared about, concern-able. Just being there to listen for the slightest whimper of a call for help. And we are talking a paralyzing, all-thought-devoted fear. Previously classified as anxiety, this fear was discharged after about two weeks of sleepless nights and distracted days.

I'm running this week with a much lighter load. Comforted and comfortable. Medical science has not failed me this time and my fear of an insubordinate body is quieted for the time being. And I feel very full.

Full of love for the old and new people in my life and full of life, in general. In the absence of fear, there is a feeling of unshakable confidence.

And today is a happy day. Tomorrow will be, too. Because we all have people proximate to us who make sure of it.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Lately, I find myself getting caught up in words and their meanings. I do teach 5th grade English which includes spelling, grammar and written expression--that explains it. I am so an English teacher.

While I was driving today, the word constant kept banging around in my head. It really needs no definition by Webster's terms. Everyone understands it. It's always, impermeable, completely...there.

To be a constant anything, you've got to have either dedication or mania. Dedication to a task, to a person, to a perspective. Mania in a can't-escape-from-a-thought-or-action kind of way.

But, are you constantly anything?

I like to think of myself as a happy person, but I understand that constantly doesn't really fit there. Constantly happy. Who is? Someone who hasn't experienced anything, ever, I guess.

Unfortunately, I hold myself to an unreachable standard in pretty much every aspect of my being. So, a bad day for me is magnified into complete failure. Rationally, I understand that I, nor anyone else, can expect me to be happy, smiling all of the time--constantly. I don't always run with a rational mind, unfortunately.

If you google constant or constantly (I did), you will find all kinds of quick-fixes for life's most difficult circumstances: dealing with constant crying, a constant complainer, constant back pain, a constant canceler (someone who makes plans and then cancels--we all know them), constant bickering, constant rejection, criticism, even constants in math (which I can't begin to explain).

In my head I have to break it down like this: no person is every constantly anything, but they can be constantly there. And if/when that person is no longer a part of your life, the consistency of your life subsides. So, you have to find new constants, because we yearn for consistency in our lives. We cannot, however, be consistent in the way that we talk or act. To me, it seems that there are many levels of constant.

I had a bad weekend last week. I got to meet one of the most amazing softball players of my generation, and I still had a bad weekend. For that, I felt guilt. And I also felt guilt that I couldn't control the bad weekend, which brought out this amazing force of anxiety that I haven't felt in a long time. I fought it like a world champion, but it still got me.

Essentially, I regressed into the person (or, rather, the thoughts of the person) that I was a year ago. Anxious, emotional, and basically unstable.

Tonight, however, I have experienced revelation in this thought process.

My amicably-divorced-lady and I spent a lot of time talking about my impeccable, constant coping issue. So, I've spent the better part of a year figuring out how to cope without coping. Strange, isn't it? I thought so, too. Until I started thinking about what coping really is.

Coping is refusing to shift perspective. It's mulling over the same problem using the same tactic over and over and over again. Someone (who is not so brilliant and who will remain nameless) once told me that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So, what my lady and I failed to venture is that coping can lead to crazy, at least in my case.

To give myself credit, I don't have to cope nearly as much. Give me a bad weekend, and its another story, but for the most part, I'm pretty much cope-free. I spent much less time analyzing every word that comes out of someone's mouth, their tone, their body language. Lately, I've been relaxed, which is a much nicer feeling. Especially considering that these days, I spend the majority of my time around people that I barely know on a surface level in an environment that I'm not quite comfortable with yet. A year ago, this probably would have put me on edge.

The shift in perspective, the idea of it, is something that I've had many conversations about with my celebratory friends. Usually, we talk about it as it relates to work or to other people. But, tonight, I'm thinking of it as it pertains to constant.

Last weekend, Jessica Mendoza talked about finding something good in the one person that you can't stand. She was talking about a bad teammate, namely, and at the time, I wasn't in the right mindset to take anything away from it. But now I get it.

It is an attitude, a choice. Find something good every day. There's good in every person and in every situation, you just have to be willing to see it. You have to be willing to shift your perspective to find the positive in the worst situations.

Perspective is partially inherited by watching people around us and its partially discovered in environments outside of our homes. Nurture vs. Nature. Does the entire spectrum of human nature always have to go back to this? Whoever came up with that dilemma is a genius. And he will drive me crazy for the rest of my life.

So, while I don't grasp or particularly like the idea of constant, I do fancy the more substantial thought that perspective is a constant ebb and flow of life's focus, and that perspective has control over the majority of every day energy.

And to make this thought process even more complicated, energy* is the outcome. Bad energy, good energy, lethargic, excited, dull, dramatic energy.

*Before I go on, I'd like to say that I'm not talking about auras or magic or dirty-hippie energy, dudes. I'm talking science (in laymen terms).

Everyone has energy, and just like perspective, its constantly changing (hopefully). Energy can change your perspective, your perspective can change your energy. The only constant is the constant. Change. How you respond to change, the energies around you, perspective.

So, back to the part where the ideas started swirling. Over the last year, and without my conscious knowledge, my coping shifted to an awareness of perspective. It moved from a focus outside to a focus inside, where I could control it. In most cases, if I can change my perspective, I can change my energy. If I can feed off of the energy around me, I can change my perspective. You might call this easily swayed, but if you can look past the negative connotations and view it more as a survival mechanism, it might just click.

The ability to see the positive or feel the positive where there really is no positive is a grating task on our souls. That's where the constant interplay of energy and perspective come in, I think. For most people the search for contented happiness is ongoing and often a daily struggle.

In a yoga class last week, our instructor gave us a meditative focus for the day: Breathe in..."I am"....Breathe out..."enjoyable." The intensity of the words or the idea behind them vary in interpretation, but, like most things, the mantra got me thinking. How can something so simple refocus your energy and perspective? Because for the rest of the day, by damn, I was really enjoyable.

Truthfully, no matter how in control (or aware) we are of perspective, we lose it. We let the bad days drown us and wallow in the self-loathing. And then we find our way out. There's always something or someone that pushes that shift in perspective or translates that positive energy.

Lately I've been thinking: If I have the crappiest day, someone else is having their happiest. So maybe my energy has temporarily left me and someone is borrowing it for the day. It's similar to the idea that when something bad happens to someone you love, you'll carry around their sorrow and anxiety for them, hoping maybe they'll feel less of it. If you need to borrow my energy, please do so. I've gotten pretty good at not coping, minus a bad day here and there.