Sunday, December 29, 2013

A single step

Maggie says, "Don't take the tree down yet,
 I'm really digging it.
"Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction [for you] ends up being the biggest step in your life. Tip toe if you must, but take the step." Gemma Stone

Holidays come and go, but this is the first year I've skipped both Thanksgiving and Christmas at my parent's homestead. So it has been a bit odd, and I've felt bad because my mom is wonderful and means well, but it's been in my best interest to stay away to get some distance.

We got back from an overnight stay at Karl's parents' place, which is a two and a half hour drive from where we live. We went to a Christmas Eve party at his sister's house, and the next day we stopped in to visit my mother in law's 90 year old dad, who was an absolute treasure to spend time with. I was amped the whole trip to be finally meeting my in-laws. I married Karl without ever having met his family. I was too ill to travel or have company for a few years. Now, finally, I am well enough to get out more, and I met his family for the first time over this holiday. I was savoring every minute. At his family party, most of his brothers and sisters and relatives were drinking and talking in the kitchen. I found myself in the quieter room drawing pictures on the living room floor with Karl's little nieces and nephews.
Most of Karl's family and relatives live either on the same block or within walking distance of each other, and so they bring their family dogs to the party. So I met quite a few dogs, Bindy, Olive, Motley, Baxter and Binga to name a few, as well as a slew of cats, each with their own personality. I met one cat, a soft black longhair named Cocoa. They warned me she was snippy and bit people. Also that she had only one front tooth, as the others were pulled by a vet after being rescued from a cat hoarder who kept 50 plus cats in her house but didn't feed or care for them. I leaned over so I was looking at Cocoa and told her I was so sorry she had to have her teeth pulled, that it must have really hurt, that I was sorry that had happened to her. She leaned her head down and rubbed it on my hand, as if to say she wanted me to pet her. So I did, and she started purring. Two minutes later she's crawling on my lap letting me pet her. My mother in law, who I'll refer to as Jackie, told me that Cocoa doesn't warm up to anyone in the family, and that something amazing had just happened. I personally believe that animals understand perfectly what we communicate to them, and Cocoa was just relieved to hear another human saying in effect, "I understand what you went through."

My niece Sabrina working her
candy cane tights, LOL
One of my new sister in laws who I'll call Marjory sent me a message after I met her at Karl's family Christmas party. She is quite stylish and suave, and is quiet and calm in the way she carries herself. Something I admire. She mentioned how she too had a chronic illness (which I didn't even know). She shared how glad she was that I made it to the party, and she invited me over to her place next time I found myself in town. She wants to hear all about my time living in NYC, and what teaching was like up there. Hearing from her was one of the highlights of this week. Many of those closest to me still do not 'get' me, and still think I could technically get 'rid' of this illness if I tried harder. What a whimsical and laughable notion! I do wish that were the case! So it will be nice to spend time with someone like her who won't judge, someone who grasps the situation through personal experience.

My sister Louisa and her two kids Patrick and Sabrina came up to visit us yesterday, and they spent the night. Playing the role of wife, homeowner, hostess and cook still feels new to me, like a coat that I'm wearing that I'm not used to quite yet. I made a roasted chicken, gravy and mashed, and veggies for us all at dinner, and showed everyone around the house. I still feel like a kid, the perpetual traveler, the one who doesn't settle down.... so I felt odd saying, "How do you like our home?" I felt like an actress in an apron showing up on set in this kitchen I called my own cooking dinner for my sister, her kids, my other sister and my husband. I like that I am at the center of a hub for the first time in my life, and not just one of many supportive spokes on someone else's wheel like I used to be. Other people rely on me now, and my actions directly affect more than just me. I'm invested now, and it is an interesting coat to be wearing. I wonder why it still feels like a new coat, why each time I move, it feels awkward as if I didn't break it in yet.

My nephew Patrick
I shared with Louisa that I didn't like the thought of Mom at Christmas with only two of her six kids there to share the holiday with her. Louisa said she didn't think Mom minded, as three of the grand kids were there too. I told Louisa I just didn't feel comfortable going to the homestead, because Mom doesn't stand up for any of her daughters. There's a more than sizable chance that based on his recent track record, Louisa's husband will once again open his yap and say something derogatory about me or my other three sisters... something derogatory but dipped in a sugary Christian coating complete with Biblical references, chapter and verse.  My mom and dad will just smile at Clark with sheep eyes. Really, I am not a masochist, and I don't enjoy being oppressed on such a cheery holiday, so I choose not to go. Louisa couldn't understand what I was sharing with her. She still thinks that no one is treating her poorly. Her standards and the way she views herself is low. I wish I could pluck her out of her body and pop her inside a version of herself who is being treated with respect, so she can experience a healthy baseline. But no one can do this but herself, and she is not ready. Still, I can't bear to watch her being degraded, so I don't choose at this time to go to family functions.

We also had the mandatory check up on the status of my immortal soul, and Louisa was saddened because I told her (once again) I have no fear of hell. Without a fear of hell, I don't need salvation. When I said that, it was like a bomb dropped and there was silence, and Louisa started crying. She really feels bad about me burning in hell. I told her it was fine, I wasn't going "there," and that hell was what you make for yourself here on earth if you so chose, consciously or not, and it's much worse than simple burning of the flesh. That we make our own heavens here on earth as well. Thankfully, the kids had ear buds in their ears watching movies during this conversation. I was glad I stood up for what I believed in, but from now on, it's not worth it if it makes Louisa cry. We are all on different paths, and that is OK. We all get to the same place in the end, so there's no sense trying to change anyone when they are fine where they are. Even though I don't like seeing my sister hurt by my family and her husband. In the future, I won't delve into my beliefs... I will focus on sharing how much I just want to see her cherished and respected in her own home and family.

I am glad that Karl has my back and encourages me to stand up for myself. He knows I don't like confrontation, but he encourages me to speak up and respect my boundaries. This was not always the case because we both used to be in the religion. There was a time where he suppressed me when I spoke up about pretty much any topic, especially my beliefs, thinking it was the Godly thing for him as a man to do. It has been extremely difficult for me to stand my ground and for us to find our footing while tearing free from the family at the same time. The fibers of my family and their beliefs are so tightly interwoven that separating from the religion is the same as ripping myself apart from the customs, habits, gatherings and basic heartbeat of my family. I try to find one facet of my family's life that I can still be apart of that is untouched by religion, but I can't find one. So we have been detaching ourselves slowly and painfully, like the separation of skin and a resistant band-aide. Wish we could just rip this bugger off in one quick motion, but I suppose that since this is life, the process is messier and more time consuming than that.  Since we left the religion (me first, and Karl a year later) and took the first steps towards liberation, it's like a pebble has been tossed in a lake, and the rings around the pebble have spread in super slow motion in an ever widening circle. Every several months, I look back and see we have moved so much farther away from where we were two years ago. The rings eventually widen and soften so that eventually they are no longer there, and the place the pebble fell is no longer marked. We aren't exactly to that point yet where breaking free is a distant memory yet, it is actually still occurring... but it is encouraging to look back and see the rings are widening.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Joie de vivre

Christmas, a year ago, feeling healthy and fabulous
...for 20 minutes, LOL.
When you have an invisible illness such as ME/CFIDS, it is easy to temporarily loose your inner flame. That little fire that burns inside of you, your mojo, your energy, your zest for life, that  which brings color to the world. That 'joie de vivre,' the French joy of living. It was there for me on autopilot mode my whole life. Until I got sick, and it was swallowed up... oops there it went, gone.  Most of  my energy went towards basically surviving from one minute to the next. Even digesting foods, comprehending speech, or changing clothing took more energy than I had, so there was  not much energy left for a mojo.

One faithful aspect of ME/CFIDS for me is that I get occasional windows of time where I feel almost normal. This has held true over the last four years, even if that window lasted only twenty minutes in a 24 hour period. I knew it would always come. And when it did, I would always greet it with so much relief and joy! Compared to the various cycles of symptoms before and after these little breaks, I actually feel comparatively excellent, almost euphoric. Anyone else living in my skin during my 'good moments' would probably feel cranky and perhaps even a bit alarmed at how off they would feel, but for me, these moments are solid gold. Sometimes during a break like this, I would go immediately to find one of my favorite outfits, and I would take a photo of myself. Sometimes it's a little black dress, such as above, other times it's my shortest shorts and a tank top. Heck, let's be honest. Sometimes I dig out my bathing suits and turn the radio to a station that makes me feel alive. Then I dance around and make videos of myself being ALIVE! Whatever it is I choose to wear during these breaks, I make sure it's something I wore ONLY when I was healthy and was having fun, or haven't worn yet but really love. Then weeks later when I would get too ill to move off the couch, I would look at the photos and remind myself that good times do exist still, that there was an undeniable spark in my expression. I have the proof right  in front of me.
I want to encourage any of my friends reading this with invisible illness: grab ahold of the good moments when they are there. Rev them up, squeeze as much joy and inspiration out of them as possible. Don't feel guilty about it, either. Whenever you have the energy to indulge and make yourself feel amazing, go for it. Say yes to it. I'm learning how to do this, as well, so I'm not a guru or anything yet.
I know how easy it is to wake up two or three years into an illness with the same holey sweatshirt, jeans with frayed knees and pockets, and sneakers that you bought five years ago. If the energy is not there to think beyond your next meal, or surviving from one minute to the next, the clothing is not an issue in the scheme of things. It's easy to forget, really, everything, even your name and age, so forgetting what you look like is really par for the course. But on those moments when your energy goes up and you remember what it's like to shop online, or buy things for yourself, even if you don't yet get out in public and no one really sees you except a house mate, or your pet, I say go for it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fine tuning Pandora

My younger sister on the violin and me at the piano last Christmas. I used
Instagram "toaster" to make the photo look vintage.
So today I was in the kitchen frying up some celery and onions to make a soup using our leftover Thanksgiving turkey, and I tuned into a Pandora Christmas station to get in a festive cooking mood. Because time by the stove is much more enjoyable when inspired by music. I was simmering the onions quite happily when all of a sudden, I found myself shocked at the lyrics of these Christmas songs. I suddenly found them to be offensive and depressing at the same time. How was it that I have listened to these songs my whole life and am only just now being turned off by them? I guess I didn't know any better back then, or I didn't really listen to them... they were just words.

But the message behind the words! "Away In a Manger," "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald Angel." Oohh, they give me the shivers. Why do people feel like they have to worship this man Jesus, when Jesus himself said that we are all equals, we are all gods... you wanna worship him then we should all worship ourselves because we all have the same glory. Jesus said, as I do, you will do even greater. He never asked us to worship him! Good grief. And this born again business. People think they have to "punch their ticket" by saying "the sinner's prayer" which will save them from hell. They ask Jesus into their heart when what Jesus is (love)... is our innate nature and always has been from the beginning. We don't need to perform a formality, and we don't need transformed into what we already are. Perhaps the "salvation" that people go on and on about is really an awakening to the realization that you already are complete, you are enough, you are love, there is no sin, no hell, no judgement, and that we are all deliciously One.

Oh, and this fear of God. He/she doesn't have it in for anyone. We are our own worst enemy. No one will ever judge us more than we judge own self. The hell they talk about in the Bible is something I have no fear of anymore. Burning forever would honestly be a relief compared to some of the things I have gone through here on earth. Some of us make our own hell here on earth that is far worse than the simple physical burning of the biblical hell. Going through abuse on several levels and going through the daily physical and mental torment of this illness and the way others relate to me while ill makes the biblical hell sound like cake. I have no fear of that hell. I laugh at it. Without out the existence of this place, we don't need salvation. Without salvation, I don't need to worship Jesus. And I bet he's saying, "Whew! Thanks, AJ, this worship business is being laid on too thick!" Oh, and this belief that we are sinners at heart. Really it's a depressing business. And it makes me angry because it makes good people cower, makes good people think they are unworthy, it can take a sensitive soul and weigh him or her down. Gives good people this idea that God wants them to tramp over top of people who hold different beliefs. Religion is a form of violence. It divides, it does not unite.

I have been hanging out with born again Christians since before I could speak. I was apparently  "born again" at age 3 in the shopping cart at the grocery store, so my mom said. I was singing "Jesus Loves Me" and was so carried away that I was sprouting tears of joy. Since I didn't recall that event, I asked Jesus into my heart for real at age 8, and each night afterward until I was assured that once was enough. I went to church three times a week, went with my brothers and sisters to a Christian school K-12, went to Bible College afterwards, went on mission trips, taught Sunday school to 3 year olds, read the Bible regularly... you get the picture.I have spent time in the Christian bubble, and lots of time out of the bubble. I didn't know how depressed and repressed I was until I let go of religion and became free from it. Looking back, I was so incredibly weighted down by Christianity. It makes me angry that people I love are blinded by religion and sit there glibly listening to these religious Christmas songs with a content smile on their face, while inside they are a pincushion poked full of lies that make them bleed internally. All these beautiful people laboring under illusions, feeling stuck under God's mighty thumb, scared of him but worshippin his mighty name. When they aren't really in the mood to worship, they are just scared of the pit of hell and want to try to be as holy as possible to appease God. Rubbish. It really makes me angry. I am sure I have a smidgen of residual anger there towards myself because I was part of the sheeple crowd for some time. I know what it is like to be afraid of shadows, and I don't appreciate these Christmas songs that lull people into thinking there is something holy about fear.

Pandora radio is great because you can thumbs-up or thumbs-down different songs on your station and fine tune it accordingly. I have been hovering over the thumbs button more than I have been hovering over the stove this morning, but I am calmer than I was. I am humming "Santa Baby" and Maggie is looking at me cross eyed trying to tell me I am off key. But hey, she must enjoy it because she is still staring at me and hasn't left the room.

I am Thankful

I have been thinking recently that I am so thankful that I am able to walk and get out in nature. I'm thankful that my legs are strong and that I can appreciate fall, the smell of sugary sweet leaves, the cool hues of leaves changing colors, the glow of the sun on my cheeks, the crackle of leaves under foot while I walk. I'm thankful I could explore my neighborhood the other week, and could discover a few trails and hidden spots off the road where I live.

I am thankful that I get stretches of time where I feel great and can get out of the house. Every now and again, a day will pop up out of the blue where I sense in my bones that I feel great, and I make the most of that day. For example, the other Saturday was just such a day. Karl and I went the mall, and I was grinning from ear to ear. First, because it was the first time in the last two months (since moving here to this neighborhood) that I went out in the car with him. And second, because it was the first time in the last three years I've been to a public place during the Christmas holidays. The mall was decorated with lamps, wreaths, and lights, and Santy himself was there in the center of the mall with kids on his lap. Christmas music was playing, and I was just... so... happy. To be out of the house, to feel healthy, to be out in a public place, to be around people. Karl got Chick Fillet and I sat with him in the food court, people watching. I bought two pair of jeans from Gap and a pair of Gap Dance yoga pants. Ohhhh, there is nothing in the world like a pair of tights jeans that fit! It's been four years since I wore a new pair of jeans, and oh I won't let that happen again any time soon! I could have ordered online, but I knew that would not fly. It takes 12 actual try ons minimum before I think a pair looks ok, and I could not foresee sending 20-40 pairs of jeans back and forth in the mail. How absolutely lovely it was to be in a fitting room with an eager to please sales lady calling me "sugar" and asking what else she could bring me. I am thankful for the cheerfulness of that girl... she didn't know how much it meant for me to be out and about, trying on clothing.

I am thankful that I have been getting out so often the past two months. Three trips to the chiropractor, trips to Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, the library and grocery store, drives around the neighborhood. I was house bound for almost two years, a time when even a trip out the back door to my own backyard was too much for me. So things are getting better.

The thing that I am most grateful for, though, is that I have experienced about two solid months recently where I had no stomach nausea. I have had stomach nausea lasting from 25%-90% of the day, every single day for the last four plus years. So to have this respite is huge. Your gut is your second brain, so when the gut is happy, the brain rests more easily, digestion takes less energy and there is more energy for the body to use. Having a calmer, more reliable stomach has been the reason I am getting out more. Interestingly, the anxiety slowly but steadily has decreased in the last ten months, and more and more often, I feel as calm as a cucumber hopping in a car and being in loud public places. Trust me, this was not happening a year ago. I am so thankful!

I am thankful that I made it through our big move to this house. I did 5 times the physical labor Karl did, as he was at work and I wanted to be busy.... oops, now there's nothing left for you to do, Karl! I was also in charge of the paperwork, scheduling, and technical issues in buying the home. Karl was very stressed, but somehow I wasn't stressed that much... I had to be the one to tell him to lighten up! I share all this is a thankful way though, because a year ago I didn't have the concentration or energy to even maintain a lucid, five minute conversation without going under. I am so grateful. I may have overtaxed myself in doing too much during and after the move, but I am super impressed with the progress I have made with my health.

I am thankful we got the water pressure fixed in our shower. I am thankful we got approved for a loan to get a heat pump installed in the house. I am thankful for mugs of hot chicory and dandelion mix with a dusting of forbidden cocoa on top... I am warming my paws on a hot mug right now. I am thankful my sister is living with us. I owe her my life, really, as she was there two years ago when doors were closed to me. I am so happy to be able to help her now even if it is small.

I am thankful that we are living in this area... the culture here seems open-minded compared to the town I am from. I am thankful there are two horse farms less than 15 minutes of this house. One is a home for aged equines, and the other is geared toward therapy for those beautiful souls with special needs such as autism or down syndrome. I want to volunteer there. I am also thankful we live down the road from a no-kill animal shelter. I want to volunteer to hang out with and talk to the cats, if any are in the mood to listen and be petted. I could also ask if I can walk some of the dogs! I am currently in dog-deficit mode, so this would make my day. There is so much to be thankful for!

Below are some photos from a walk down the road from my house the first week in November. It was a perfect day, brisk enough to need a jacket but warm enough to enjoy the walk.

This is the road that leads to our house... ours is at the end of the road near the red car. I turned around to take this shot.

Another view of leaves falling on the road.

This is the road I live on... It zig zags down to meet the rail trail.

Our road meets the trail.
Vivid leaves.

Someone's no hunting sign fell over.

Gorgeous sun kissed leaves.

Looking down at the trail, tiny leaves are nature's confetti.


Peaceful woods.

About fifteen minutes down the rail trail, I came across a bridge (to the left, not in the picture) and a stream.

You can walk off the trail at this point, down some steps burrowed
in the embankment going down to the creek.
Perhaps you can see the steps here leading down to the water.

I didn't venture down, but plan on doing so in the spring. I am thankful to have many walks to look forward to!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ghost in the laundry room

Maggie soaking up the sun at the last apartment before moving to this home.

So we are living in a house built in the 1900's, and it has plenty of ahem, old home charm. Some facets of the home are quite outdated. What interests me recently is the laundry room. It seems this room has been housing a ghost. To be sure, we think it's a friendly ghost and Maggie seems to be enchanted with her, if such a thing is possible.

The first time we were alerted to a possible presence was last Sunday. We do the laundry Sunday night, and make sure to get the clothing out of the dryer straight away so that Karl's shirts stay wrinkle free. So on this particular evening when we heard the dryer stop, we went in and the dryer door was hanging open. Odd, because it never popped open on its own before in the last several years I have been using it. 

We keep Maggie in the laundry room at night as she is still playful and likes to pounce on sleeping people if she has free roam of the house. Especially sleeping people who are light sleepers and can't function without rest. So the other evening, Karl got up in the middle of the night. He heard something in the upstairs tv room and looked over and saw a shadow. He said, "Maggie, is that you?" And what do you know, it was her. But I had closed Maggie up in the laundry room. The next day we tested the laundry room door repeatedly, each of us being on the inside of the room trying to jostle door open as if we were a cat. But the door is hung so that it won't close completely unless it is latched, and once latched, no amount of bumping will release it from the latch. We were kind of freaked out about this, but in a good way. We eventually concluded there must really be a ghost in the laundry room.

The ghost probably wants to get our attention, to let us know it is there. It isn't trying to get my attention as much as Karl's though because he was the one who saw the dryer door first, not me, and he was the one who saw Maggie at night. I do wonder if the laundry room was once a bedroom. Or maybe at one time it was a porch, because the structure inside doesn't match the rest of the house.

I suppose that the oddest thing I've noticed recently is that Maggie wants to be put in the laundry room at night. Back at the last apartment, she stayed in the kitchen at night. Come 10 pm each night, this girl would start a twitching her tail in a frenzy, laying in wait in other rooms all skittish and nervous, ready to run the second I advanced to scoop her up and part ways for the night. It didn't matter if I shook the treat bag or pulled out her favorite plastic romping bag. These enticements caused her to burrow even more deeply under the coach or bed she chose to hide under. I had to be crafty and sneaky each evening in order to shut the door with her behind it without causing too much drama. And I would have to quickly leave the first floor because she would cry at the door wanting out.

Here it is different. Starting the first week at the new house, Maggie began to climb my leg by 10 pm begging me to "take" her to her room. By "take," I mean that she leads the way and I follow her. She meows loudly on and off for a good half hour or more until I follow her to the laundry room where her food and water dish are already filled. Then she waits in there until I turn off the light and close the door. And she is quiet after I shut the door, even if I stay up late and talk near her door.

I remarked to Karl about the change in Maggie's routine and joked that perhaps she has taken a shine to the laundry room ghost, and that's why she is keen to go in there at night. I jokingly ask Maggie to let us in on what goes on in there at night, and once she looked up at me shocked, then quickly went to being placid Maggie who pretends not to understand.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuning in and speaking up

Hanging out with a fostered kitten.

I have been practicing over this past summer and fall this process where I tune in every five minutes or whenever I remember during the day. I ask myself, "How do you feel?" Then I name the emotion and ask myself "Why do you feel like this?" Then I would give the reason, and the emotion would go through me and release. There it went, gone. And I was free to move on with my daily activities until I felt rumpled and would check in again. Quite an experience for a chronic emotion bottler. It still feels odd, like I just stole a bar of chocolate out of a friend's cupboard and am sitting crouched in a dark walk in closet savoring each delicious bite, hoping nobody will discover me and my hidden luxury. It felt taboo, but really good. Which goes to show, perhaps, how misinformed I have been for quite some time of the healthiness of such a habit like owning an emotion and freely expressing it. It isn't a punishable past time, and I don't have to be ashamed of my emotions. Nobody's gonna get me and beat me for indulging in this routine, even though I sure did have that fear for quite some time... internalized and woven deep in my psyche. Now I know better. Now I know it's healthy and ok to do this.

So, I am on a journey of honoring  the self. I went to my third chiropractic appointment the other day. I am quite stoked to be committed to self care on a regular basis. After the first two visits, it felt like I was stirring up a mad bee's nest of pain though, as the treatment honestly hurt like the dickens in the office, and continued in this manner for days afterward. The doctor was pressing on my trigger points so hard I kept wincing, and the myofacial release wasn't the most pleasant sensation. On reflecting back now, I don't think I remember checking in with myself the first couple weeks of treatment to evaluate my own view of the situation.

The morning of my third appointment, I woke up feeling like I was hit by a Mack truck. Dang it! But I was determined to be a trooper.  At the last minute, I brewed some coffee and poured it in my handy travel mug for the road. Fast forward to the point where I am getting out of the car and walking into the chiropractor lobby. The ground began to roll under my feet, I went green in the face and had to make a run to the loo. Trembling, shaking, what was going on? This used to be my everyday normal, but the last six months this has rarely happened. 

So I dragged myself up to the receptionist and whispered that I didn't feel well. Stumbled out the door, and my sister was waiting to drive me home. But five minutes along the road, I am suddenly feeling better, more grounded and balanced. Did I want to stop at Redners for some potatoes? Sure! So we stopped at the grocery store and did some sight seeing there, as I hadn't yet been in this particular store. We had a lovely time, then drove around the neighborhood taking scenic back roads and enjoying the last bright leaves of autumn.

After we got home, I realized that my body earlier in the day had been screaming in a drastic way because I had forgotten to check in with my wants and speak out. All along, I doubted whether that chiropractor was a good fit for me, but didn't let myself acknowledge it. Perhaps because I didn't listen to my inner voice and call in to cancel the appointment, my body made sure I cancelled. 

Similar situations have occurred over the past few years. I forced myself to go to certain places and be around certain people who were domineering and toxic, people I wanted to speak up to but didn't have the physical and emotional energy to confront. And deep down I knew it would be pointless to confront them. A close minded person will not hear you if they don't want to, you just get blue in the face and waste your breath for no reason. Each time I forced myself to go be in these toxic, repressive situations, my legs would go weak, I would get dizzy and sick. Now I'm living in a new neighborhood far from these people, and I feel like I am respecting myself for the first time in a long time. 

So tuning into my intuition and honoring myself is such a huge new world. I am quite rusty at this, but at least I am aware of what I am striving for, and I am trying! 

My biggest roadblock to honoring my inner voice might be the desire to not be a pest to others. Honoring someone else's view over my own was automatic. The old me believed that the "good girl" does not inconvenience others. She says yes as often as possible, and highly inconveniences herself so others can have easier lives. She is a work horse, and tirelessly gives to others at her own expense. Because she's not worth anything else, not worthy to even lift her eyes or breath the air she is breathing. Egads, not fun to unearth these ghosts, these guiding beliefs that are downright silly when I actually type them out.

It's funny, I used to be so flexible, easy to work with, a people pleaser who never checked in to see what I needed. I didn't have special needs. I didn't ask to turn the heat up or down, I was able to work long hours, work overtime, not need lunch breaks or bathroom breaks. I was able to fill in for others when a job was too much for them. I was able to go without sleep or cut my sleep short to help another. I was hardy and sturdy and never had to tune in or act like a princess needing special treatment. I did whatever others asked of me, no questions asked most of the time, without asking for anything from others... pretty much ever. 

Now it is quite a different picture. "Needy" is my middle name.  Yay, let's celebrate that! First it's too hot, then too cold... burning up, then freezing. No, I can't eat wheat, or soy or eggs, or dairy, but butter is fine. Yes, the dinner you prepared for me looks delicious but I can't try it.  No, I can't leave the house and go with you to that holiday party, yes I did say I could go with you and I am dressed and ready to go out the door but suddenly I do not feel well and can't go. Yes, I see I am letting you down again and I am so sorry.  Can you turn the radio off, it is too loud and sends me into hyper drive. Can you turn that light off, it is making this migraine worse. Can you just not talk to me at all, I can not even speak right now. Can you walk slower, please. Can you buy me Tylenol? Oh, I can't use that toothpaste, it has parabens in it. Ooh, the nonstick pan is scratched, can you get some ceramic pans that won't leach toxins or heavy metals. No, darling niece, I can't ride bikes with you, Aunty is tired. Hi, I need to cancel this appointment... oh, for what day, ummm, today, like an hour from now. Oh, I am not able to give 24 hour notice, as I was fine 24 hours ago, I just got sick this morning. And on and on.

It is jarring to have receptionist after receptionist give you a tone, as if I am an irresponsible slacker. Which I am not!  It is tough to not be able to plan ahead and not give a definite RSVP. I see the hurt and disappointment in Karl's eyes when time and again I dodge out of going to a party with him last minute.I highly dislike letting people down and telling good people "no." It is also difficult when people don't respect me or even believe I am sick, as ME/CFS is still so abstract and vague. Being made to feel guilty when I ask for special help happens to me on and off in my house and with people I make appointments with. It is so tempting to want to just shut myself down so I don't have to keep hurting people's feelings and letting people down, risking them getting fed up with going out of their way continually for me.  Other people's resistance to and disapproval of my special needs is a strong deterrent that makes me want to repress myself more, but to do so is not an option for me anymore. If I repress my needs, my body is at the point where it will deeply malfunction until it gets my attention.

So, since we are on the topic of tuning in and honoring the self, I would like to share that I looked up some more chiropractors in the area and found two that seemed promising. I did muscle testing to figure out which would be a more suitable fit for me. I was surprised because I kept getting No's for a more specialized atlas chiropractor I was initially interested in, and I got affirmatives for this other office where a team of three women practices. I also am looking into reiki and massage as options as well. Either way, I am going to tune in to myself before going in any one direction. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Old factory

Do you experience moments of deja vu? Have you ever entered a room or stumbled upon a new place that makes you instantly feel like you were there before, even though you have no logical memory of being there?

 I've had this experience a few times in my life, beginning at age 6. A couple years ago, I moved to an apartment that was set on the edge of a woods that bordered the property of an old chair factory. I discovered a walking trail that wound around the perimeter of the factory, and found myself walking on the trail several times a week. The first time I walked past the factory, it was dusk on a July evening. Long shadows fell from the edges of the building, but several of the windows were lit up brightly. There were no blinds and no people inside. No cars in the parking lot. Yet night after night, year in and year out, multiple windows would be lit up late into the evening.

I was spooked out, needless to say. In a good way. Like when you are in the mood for a good horror movie, just to get the hairs on your body to stand up on end for a bit.  If it was late at night I would walk past the factory at a fast speed, looking over my shoulder every few minutes.
But I was meaning to share about the deja vu experience. It happened during the day while I was walking on the jogging trail, the one in the photo to the right. As I went around the curve, I noticed another factory further to the right. At the edge of this factory, I saw a slope of ground that I instantly knew used to support a group of picnic tables perhaps a century to a quarter century ago. And I knew that I had been there before. Not in this lifetime, of course. Suddenly, I saw a huddle of folks around the tables. I got the feeling it was during the Depression Era. I saw a man in the group who was wearing a cap, saggy white T shirt, suspenders, and baggy pants. I knew I was him. There was a heavy atmosphere over the group, and I knew something traumatic had happened. There was a fight over a woman, someone I was interested in. Some other man must have been edging in and it made me upset. There was a dropped cigar, an accidental fire, and part of the factory went up in smoke. Fast forward and I see the forlorn bunch at the outdoor tables. I'm not there, but some of the others miss me and occasionally remember me when they sit on break out at the tables on that slope of ground. The slope of ground I pass each day when the current me is out walking.

The drama is palpable but brief,  only surfacing when I walk by that particular spot. I see images flashing by quickly like I'm flipping back the pages in a book really fast. I have to really focus to catch the glimpses. I feel kind of hugged each time I sense the others sitting at that table remembering the incident and missing me.

But back to the present moment. The factory here spreads out in different wings like a maze, with several different out buildings hidden in undergrowth. This outbuilding is visible from the road beside my house where I often walk, and grows into the side of a hill. It catches a breeze through the open door. Sometimes the door to this little building is open, other days when I would walk by, it would be closed.

This shot was taken mid afternoon on a hot July day as I was going by on the trail that runs alongside the factory.  Fascinating that they still prop up the windows with no screens and use plug in fans. Time stopped ticking here several decades ago. Maybe we have stepped back in time to discover this old factory.

A view of the inner workings of chair assembly, taken from a sidewalk and main road running along one edge of the factory.

Another close up of some shelved chair pieces.

Getting dark on the trail where I walk, but the windows glow in a rich, otherworldly way.

Dusk, and late afternoon sun baths old factory walls.

No cars to be seen, but lights are still on and there's the occasional whistle, wheeze and pop from somewhere deep in the underbelly of the factory.

The spook factor I get just from glancing at this photo and remembering walking past it on summer evenings is delicious, full of goosebumps. The air is heavy with cicadas and crickets and there's a slight breeze as it gets darker.

Love the mossy, dank green aura of the overhang light here. Would often get the shivers going down this road. I would cut through here sometimes as a shortcut from the local walking trail to my backyard. No one from the factory ever seemed to mind.

The green light here always reminded me of the green globes that marked the underground metro stations in NYC. The beckoning green of a mossy underground cave saying, "Enter here."

Always wondered about the strip of light under this shed door. Didn't matter if I was walking by at ten o clock at night, the light was still on. I bet there was a ghost or two putting in some overtime hours, unbeknownst to the rest of the factory staff.

This is where the magic happens. The photo here cuts off the top, but there is a hinged lid on top of this contraption that opens to let steam out. Talk about jumping a mile high. First time I innocently walked down the road past this contraption, minding my own business, it let out a bellow and screech, followed by a long whistle and pop, like a huge car backfiring in your ear. I leaped in my tracks and my heart froze because the beast was right next to me. And was still randomly groaning and gasping. Then shuddering and shaking. Whoa. I imagine this is what Charlie's Chocolate Factory sounds like. On a day when the parts are rusted and right about ready to quit, but still keep a grinding, LOL. I got used to the random explosions after a few weeks of living in the neighborhood and walking by. I miss the novelty now. No old factories where I live now. 

I spent the last two months of this past summer snapping photos of the factory when I went out on walks. I knew I would be moving from the neighborhood by the time summer ended. So I was determined to capture the factory's essence somehow. Since I had to pass through the maze of this factory from either my main street, side street, the local walking trail or the shortcut between the two, I have had plenty of opportunities to take photos. I don't know, it's like these old buildings got under my skin. They are full of character, personality and history. Maybe even mystery. I feel attached somehow, as if part of my story is ingrained in the memories of these peeling walls. I dunno. The labyrinth of this  factory is beautiful.

I will miss you, factory.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The old falls away and life in a new town begins

A view of our new neighborhood.

A lot has happened in the last two months. We bought a house, and have officially moved out of our last apartment. This is our first experience as home owners! I have been on the go nonstop for the past four weeks, painting, scrubbing, up and down ladders, packing and unpacking, juggling movers and carpet cleaners, walking and biking around the new neighborhood, and entertaining my mother in law for a week at our new place the first week I moved in. Three days ago I took a break and sat down from all that work, and since then I basically haven't been able to get off the couch, LOL. I was running on adrenaline and reserve energy that really wasn't there for the taking for several weeks on end, and when I sat down, my body said: "You is not gonna get back up again soon, Missy." So I have been resting and recouping my energy since then. I have my feet up and I'm resting and enjoying the view out my window. 

View from our front lawn. The paved area is the historic Schuylkill River Rail Trail that runs the whole way to Philadelphia.

The atmosphere around here is vintage and old fashioned, perhaps because trains still run on the local railroad tracks here. The tracks run parallel with our front lawn, which is one reason why I initially liked this house. There's nothing like being transported back in time each time the train rumbles by and the whistle blows. I wondered if the train would wake me in the night, but it doesn't. In the evenings they mute the whistle. In the night, if I'm already awake,  I have to strain my senses and imagination when it goes by to actually realize if it went by or not. It goes by softly like a dream, unrecognizable only if you concentrate on it. Kind of like when you are in the country and you think you hear a train in the distance. But it's so faint you can barely tell if your ears are tricking you or not. I used to have this happen to me all the time. I would hear trains when there were no tracks around for miles. Kind of haunting, actually. But at night the whisper of the train is comforting, actually.
View from our front porch, taken through the living room window.
I was thinking about getting a porch swing to relax on in the evenings and watch the train go by. However, if I was jogging by on the public trail, I would not want some old timer settin' on their porch watching me huff and puff by. We have a side patio that is more private that I'll probably relax on, instead of the porch.
Maggie, on the other hand, has no compulsion about oogling the bikers and runners. She hangs out on the windowsills meowing up a storm when she hears the gravel underfoot of anyone approaching. I think she seriously believes that someone will eventually veer off the path, jog up to the porch to pet her, then continue on their merry way.  
Sunlight dappled rail trail.
I biked the trail once since we moved in. Once we get a dog, I'll walk with her on the trail. The trees haven't really turned colors here yet. Our neighbors Russ and Edith said that we are technically living in the mountains, and as such, it's 5 degrees colder here than in the town. Jaw drop. Where was I when this information was being disseminated? If I had known this, I might not have agreed to the house. Well, perhaps the scenic views will have to make up for this slight meteorological deficiency?
Sunlight drenched, late afternoon railroad crossing, which is a minute walk from our home.
Our new home is an hour and a half away from our family, while the apartment we used to live at was just five minutes away from my parents and most of my brothers and sisters. Karl and I have known for quite some time that we wanted and needed to move quite a distance away. First, Karl recently got a job transfer where he was commuting an hour from where we lived. This opened up the door for us to want to move, if only so Karl's commute wasn't as far. But more importantly than that, we knew we needed to get away from the toxicity of my family.  
I was on the phone with my mom a few weeks ago. I thought it would be a pleasant conversation. No harm in just talking, right? Somehow she managed to swing the conversation around to religion. This happens each time we talk, because she is a good citizen, conscientious and concerned about her daughter's eternal soul. If she didn't doggedly bring up religion each time, she would have a guilty conscious and would be berating herself until our next conversation.
Somehow the conversation zigzagged around my father, and how he was such a good man, a godly example. I said, "What about the way he abused me emotionally and physically?" Suddenly I was crying.
And just as suddenly, my mom morphed into a hard edge razor back. Suddenly, she was in her favorite role as protector of the patriarch. She said, "AJ! That is the devil speaking in you! Resist him. Stop letting the devil live in you and speak through you!" This is the second time she's told me there's a devil in me.
Yet I was speaking from a place of innocence. I was letting the young child in me speak without fear for the first time in her life. I stood up for her and let her say, "That hurt."
I have finally come to realize that being in contact with my family is like banging my head against a concrete wall, hoping the wall will reach out to hug me. It is a futile exercise in insanity. The wall is a wall and will never accept me.
It was helpful to live close to family the last few years because if I needed a ride to a doctor appointment or if I needed something when Karl was at work, I could call a family member. Even though not all outings were approved by the patriarch, some were. Now, however, we will be using a taxi for me when Karl is at work. It's OK. We are stepping out on our own, and if getting away from the toxicity means not having transportation, so be it. It is worth it!
I am glad we have distanced ourselves. Personally, I would rather be living as far away as Florida. But that wasn't in the cards for the present. For now, an hour and a half away is a world away. This is a time of new beginnings. I don't want to drag the past along with us into this new home. I don't want to muddy up the home with memories from long ago. The hurts have taken up too much space and energy in me, and now is a time to let it all go. The past was in my face while I lived back home, but now is a fresh start.
I want to live in the present moment in this new house. Karl and I have decided we aren't having conversations anymore over the dinner table or elsewhere about the family. We are also no longer communicating by phone, email, or social media with the family.   
Fall is a time of letting go of the old. As leaves start to drift off the trees, it feels right to start letting go of things, situations and people who no longer serve us. I know many people go through this stripping process without even knowing they are doing so in harmony with nature. I myself didn't realize this was happening until the other day when I was out on the trail. I was watching the wind whip a thousand crispy leaves up into the air and down, like synchronized confetti. Like they were following the invisible hand motions of a conductor, but in perfect free fall. Twisting, then lifting in wild abandon. Free. And completely, foolishly giddy about it. The leaves were having a blast being wild and free.
And suddenly I realized that I was free too. And I just couldn't wipe the grin off my face knowing so.