Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stories, October

Thank you this week to Katherine in Texas and Katie in Maryland 
On Monday I go to see my doctor. Just my general practitioner, not a specialist. The nurse weighs me, remarks on my weight loss. "Good for you!" She says, brightly.

I don't respond. I'm curious why she mentioned it at all, it's only a few pounds. I don't tell her that I only weigh less because I have less muscle than I've ever had before.

I do tell her, once we're both settled in the tiny white examination room, that's it's been frustrating to feel continuously awful when I live such a healthy lifestyle. "It's been tough on me and tough on my marriage- I've only been married four months." She nods her head and waits. "I'm trying- I see a chiropractor, and an acupuncturist, and I mean, I don't even drink alcohol anymore! That's how healthy I am!"

"Oh- then have a beer!" The nurse says, waving her wrist as if to say, well that's an easy fix! "Nothing wrong with that, I drink a beer every day!"

"Oh, it's not by choice," I explain. "I'm allergic to alcohol. Alcohol and chocolate. And fruit."

The nurse widens her eyes and lets her jaw drop, an exaggerated pose of horror. Then she leans in and whispers, conspiratorially, "I would kill myself."

This is, of course, the moment where I should gently inform her that perhaps, with future patients, she might choose her words a bit more delicately, remind her that many people who chronic illnesses do indeed kill themselves, or at least live with the idea as a permanent, morbid fixture in their thoughts. Not me, I'm not that sick. But many.

But I don't. I don't say anything, just study her for a moment and move on. "Well, I've gotten used to the diet. But not being able to exercise when it flairs up, that's what's really tough on me."

"It's a good thing you don't have to exercise," she says, turning back towards the computer.

"What?" I'm missing something. "What do you mean?"

"Well honey, look at you. You're in good shape. For people in good shape, like you? They don't have to exercise. It's not so important."

I lean back, exhale slowly. "I think I should see the doctor now," I say, and close my eyes.
David, my husband of four months, comes home from work one day after I had a particularly sedentary weekend. He's hiding something behind his back. I'm in my room, rearranging a drawer, avoiding work. "This week is treat week," he announces. "I'm going to bring you a treat every day." Then, with a flourish, he presents me with a delicate white and purple potted orchid. I look at the flower, look up at him, at his perfectly familiar face.

For a moment he looks shy. He traces a finger around the ghostly thin white petals. "You're supposed to feed it an ice cube of water once a week."

I keep the orchid on my bedside table, next to the two succulents we bought to replace the first succulent, which lived outside and melted. We figured two would be happier than one.

In the week that follows, David brings me something new every day. A tiny carton of salted carmel ice cream, a carmel apple. He makes french toast waffles and brings them to me in bed so I can eat them, turn my head, and fall back to sleep.

One day, he drives me out to Hickory Nut Gap Farm so we can visit the pumpkin patch, some inane, little-kid outing I've been wanting to do all season.  There was nobody around in the field, so we stopped in at the farm store. It smelled like woodsmoke and roasting meat and cold mornings inside the store, exactly like my house in Vermont. I felt a wave of homesickness wash over me, and then another wave of guilt for feeling homesick. "We'd like to go to the pumpkin patch," Dave announces to the young girl standing behind the counter.

"You don't want to do that," she says. "It costs six bucks per person, and it's not really a pumpkin patch. It's just pumpkins in a field."

So we go outside, and pick a pumpkin from a pile that's been laid out by the shed. A woman approaches and asks if I would take a picture of her with her husband and their toddler, who has red hair and marble blue eyes. David pats my shoulder. After they leave, I take a picture of him and the dog, smiling in a sea of bright orange. I love them so much.
Every morning I go to the forest at Richmond Hill and I walk for three miles, sometimes five, on an intricate network of narrow, looping trails. The trees are either shockingly yellow, not gold but bright yellow, or completely bare. I listen to audiobooks or podcasts as I walk, or talk on the phone to my best friend, the girl in Seattle whose life took a serious unexpected turn in the last few months. Together, we try and grapple with her new reality which is, for the moment, a stark one. We haven't figured it out once, but we keep talking. Once every day.
There's a bakery down the street from my house that I've taken to writing in every afternoon. It's busy, and cheerful, almost chaotically loud at times when the great groups of friends that gather around the tables (magically, in the middle of the day, how is is possible to have so many friends in the middle of a week day?) raise their voices to be heard above the hiss of the milk steamer. 

It's especially nice to work there when it rains. It's been raining a lot lately, the sky dark and lit with diffused light, the puzzling type of light that doesn't seem to make the world any brighter. The clouds feels very close when it's like that, more like a ceiling than a sky.

I particularly likes that this bakery has stacks of a magazine that currently features an article of mine. I love that I'm simultaneously inside the magazine and watching other people leaf through its pages as I'm waiting to order.

I've been writing a lot, nothing poetic or personal or profound (not that it would be, when I see writers try their damnedest to say something elaborately profound I immediately set the book back on the shelf, most of the time) but articles for work, easy but time consuming.

Well, they're not exactly easy, I shouldn't say that. But they're not impossible either, the way some things feel, which is a good start.
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And now for the winner of Mystery Prize Monday. Thank you all for your patience over the last few weeks! I am sorry it's taken me this long.

Blogger Marie said...
I'm in a happy place, feeling as if finally, my ship is coming in. But, scared at the same time, because one never knows this for sure, but one day at a time. Hoping this is it for me.
October 20, 2015 at 10:46 AM
Congratulations Marie! We are so happy that your ship is coming in, what a great feeling. Now you can expect a ship, and mystery prize in your mail box. Just email thewildercoast@gmail.com, and we'll get you all squared away.

As always, everyone- thank you. See ya. Soon.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A chemical love, but a love all the same // mystery prize monday

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Well this will be fast and informal. I have two deadlines fast approaching, and I'm catching up on thank you cards, mystery prizes and sea glass necklaces to those of you who donated. I did not want to post again until I've dropped the last of those in the mail. However! I realized that with the most recent post, I may have leaving you hanging just a bit.

It's been two months since I've had any alcohol, and I miss it less than I thought I would, although the release of Highland Brewery's Cold Mountain Ale might be a tough evening to get through. It's been three weeks since my last tomato.  It's been four weeks since I've had any fruit except pears. It's been four weeks since I've had anything to drink besides pear juice.

Except Coffee. Every day I drink a Trader Joe's sample cup of coffee and as a result, I've fallen in love with Trader Joe's. Their ridiculous gourds, their collection of orchids. All those cheerful team members. It's an artificial, chemical-based love, but it's love all the same.

I tried to stop drinking coffee completely and I my brain stopped. It was during those days of rain we got a few weeks back, when the hurricane veered south but we caught the fringe. I sat at the computer and wept because I couldn't write without my brain, and alright, I could live without writing, I've never claimed otherwise, but who would tell the good people of Western North Carolina where to find their 10 spookiest halloween adventures?
It was Kelli who saved me, mother of the coffee-drinking Chihuahua, of all people. She scraped me off the couch, she buckled me safely into her Subaru and drove me to the grocery store. She administered a sample cup of coffee (she is a nurse, after all) we bought Mums, and suddenly I felt cheerful again. "My god," I said, the caffeine lighting me up like a Christmas Tree. (God help me should I ever become addicted to something stronger.) "It's like I'm seeing this grocery store for the first time. It's so colorful. Look! A baby holding a carrot!"

Kelli said, "Yes, dear." As if she were my husband of fourty five years. "Yes dear."

Since then I have returned to Trader Joe's every day for my daily swallow, and before you judge me too much, please understand that I always make a purchase. Some days it is a 19 cent banana. Or a white and orange striped 'lil tiger' mini pumpkin.

It's completely disconcerting but until someone comes up with a better plan, I'm sticking with it.

I fired my IC specialist. She was not special. She was not good for me. That felt good.

I saw an acupuncturist the same day I fired my specialist. She spent two hours just listening to me. She nodded at the end and she said, "This all makes sense."

Then I flew home to Vermont.
Sometimes when you're stuck in a cycle of chronic pain, you have to change the scene. Something has to change and you've tried everything else. I'm 30 years old and I went home to my parents house. I took walks with my mom around our land. It was a late foliage this year in Vermont, almost as if it were waiting for me. I arrived at the peak and all week watched bright gold leaves glitter down from the trees onto the dirt road. It was like walking through a music box.

I wrote my articles during the day and in the evenings I watched Veep with my mom and dad. Then I would fall asleep.
Some of my good friends from Seattle just happened to be visiting Vermont to see the leaves, and we hiked to the top of Deers Leap in Killington. I didn't feel any pain on that hike. I was very cautious, moving slowly, as if I were glazed head to toe in a very thin egg shell. I moved like that for five days. On the flight home I sat in my seat still as a statue, like those people who were frozen in ash after Pompeii erupted. I was a fly suspended in amber, the amber being the complete disbelief that I felt such relief after 3 months of agony.

I've been back in Asheville for a week and the pain has not returned. I'm not cautious any more, not because I don't think it will come back, but because I know it will, eventually. So for now, I find myself filled with a raging, howling sort of energy. The other morning, Dave watched quietly as I ran sprints through our tiny kitchen, touching one wall and then the other before I disappeared into the shower. A few minutes later he watched me devour a stack of his famous Egg Dipped Frozen Pumpkin Waffles (they're amazing) and he said, "Someone's feeling good today."

It's like this. You've been maybe a little bit bedridden, and then one day you're up out of bed, and you're very very very behind! And you must work very hard to catch up. And that's where I am.

Where are you?

That is our mystery prize monday question. Where are you? And I don't mean your physical location. I am not going to say anything else. I know you guys will run with that question in whatever way you need to.
If this is your first Mystery Prize Monday, here's how it works. Leave a comment, and then help yourself to all the other comments that everyone else leaves. We have a good community right here. I'll choose the winner by randomly selecting from within the comments. The winner gets a hand written photo card, and a mystery prize package delivered right to their mailbox.

As always, I can't wait to hear what you have to say. I can't wait to know where you are. I've really grown to love you. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Life on Mars

I'm going to tell you something: for the first time in seven years I have no idea how to do this. I've wandered into alien territory, the isolated, wizened, unrecognizable, sun-deviled, starless landscape of chronic pain. It's like Mars here. I'd rather be on Earth.

BUMMER. It's all I got right now! Those two words- Chronic and Pain, are two of the most dismal words imaginable, and who gets psyched up about going over for a potluck at The Dismals? Nobody!

When my good friends go through bad times- and I mean bad times, periods of life when the nobility of the soul is put through the spin cycle- I always give them the same sing-song advice: take notes. I give them other advice too, although I'm learning (in tiny increments) that the best thing to do, always, is to hold off on the advice and just listen- attentively and without interruption- until advice is explicitly sought. (When trying to achieve this, I try to picture myself as nothing but an enormous human ear on the end of the phone line, or settled into the cafe chair or perched on a bar stool. I find the visual helpful.)

Take notes I say! One day soon, although you can't see it and can barely dream of it, such is the nature of the beast, you'll be out of this. You'll feel better, and your experience miring through this damp, black tunnel will be of great service to you and to those around you.  Once you've been through the tunnel, and you are familiar with its peculiar and convoluted layout, then you'll be able to run back in and grab others when they need to be rescued.

I took my own advice. "Be your own hero!" Dave told me once, as a joke, when I was very upset that my sandwich from Earthfare had been made without mayo, despite my specific request. "You march in there," he said, holding me by the shoulders, "and you GET that MAYO!"

So I was my own hero, and I took some notes. Here Is What It Feels Like To Be Diagnosed With a Disease or Chronic Pain. I scrawled it across the page, like a sixth grader diligently responding to a writing prompt in Language Arts class.

And let me tell you, ain't nobody want to be reading that. Not me, not you, not anyone.

NOT TAKING FIELD NOTES ON THIS MISSION, I said to myself the next morning as I buried the papers in the recycling bin. But a few hours later, after a walk and one of those Trader Joe's free coffee samples, which I'm allowing myself daily to get my brain up and running again, I felt like I ought to give it another go, this time here on the blog. Write Everything being my (currently very shaky) philosophy. Besides, writing on the blog forces me to be more articulate and purposeful in how I express myself, and so I dug up the papers and tried to drain some of the copious amounts of self-pity out of the words.

Didn't work. So I started over and wrote something super! poppy! Everybody get on the bus we're going for a ride and I brought individual fruit cups for us all!

Needless to say, that was terrible.

I cannot sugar coat my experience thus far in the agonizing world of chronic pain. Even if I could, that would be a huge disservice to the millions of other people here on Mars, the ones that I can't see, but they're with me all the same. Nor have I learned how to artfully express my time here without melodrama or what feels like dismal and purposeless complaint. Seven years into this blog and for the first time, I honestly don't know in which direction to move.

I need a map. I will find myself a map.

I will say though, the 99 tips that you left in the previous post on how to cheer up and take care of yourself when all else fails, reading those felt like somebody had illuminated a string of christmas lights inside the tunnel.  It was as if all of you set up an aid station on this planet, with Gatorade and a stack of nice books to look at. Thank you, it's been enjoyable.

People with chronic pain often are forced to live minute by minute. That's what I've had to do these last few weeks, but by jumping from comment to comment and using them as direct medical directives, your tips have helped me fashion together bright and elaborate sequences of good minutes- even good hours and good afternoons have flown by (By the way, as a group, we really love podcast and drinking hot liquids.)

So, for my thank you, here is this week's Mystery Prize Winner:

Blogger Jamie said...
I am over halfway done my accelerated nursing program and have experienced a wide range of emotions since its start - hopelessness, anxiety, stress, stress, stress, excitement, wonder, etc. One thing that is stressed throughout our education is self care and taking time for ourselves. I have found that beyond exercise, sleep and healthy eating, I try and watch a funny TV show when I'm feeling especially low. Some of my favorites are the Mindy Project, and especially Friends! Anything that makes me laugh out loud by myself usually does the trick!

September 29, 2015 at 5:03 PM
Jamie, taking your advice led to one sublime hour of Friends, season 3, episodes 6, 7 & 8. Thank you for that! Congratulations on being halfway through the ABSN program, which I hear is itself a bit of a dark tunnel at times. Please email thewildercoast@gmail.com and we'll get you all sorted. 

Thank you for commenting, everyone. I love you and I sure needed you this week. See you back here soon.


Monday, September 28, 2015

one small thing // mystery prize monday

Today's Mystery Prize Monday is the first in a series we are writing this autumn called One Small Thing. The idea is to generate and accumulate a list of the pragmatic but inspired steps we can take towards a healthier, happier and more hopeful life.

I'm so curious as to how you will the answer these questions over the next few weeks. I believe the things we've come up with to take care of ourselves and to take care of the world should be shared. The more we notice and give credit to them, the more inclined we'll be to keep doing them.
I've been been having a hard time lately and I've forgotten my routines. Or maybe not so much as forgot, as I can't find the energy to do them, not even the smallest of things. I have become the master of excuses, as many of us do when we're struggling.

As an example, I've stopped going to coffee shops to work. I'm so much better off when I get out of the house and write in the company of other living beings, but I can't drink coffee anymore because I have IC.

Coffee fills me with pain and takes away my sleep, my ability to exercise, my ability to move at all. But I love coffee; I love the flavor and the smell and watching cream swirl into the cup, I love the sound of espresso beans grinding to dust and milk frothing and for thirteen years I've loved the hit of caffeine, the pleasant buzz that unmoors me from the harbor of morning and into the wild, uncharted day. 

Without it -and I know I sound like an addict- but without it, the day feels neither wild nor unchartered. It feels like one long sluggish late afternoon hour, 3pm maybe, that stretches from morning until bedtime. And I tell myself I should just work from home for one more day, because being around all that coffee, I'll end up just drinking it and poisoning myself and anyway, I'm not feeling so well, and it would take so much energy.

You see the excuses, as if I've completely lost trust in myself.

I started writing this blog seven years ago. 

Listen, it's not that I'm feeling so down because I can't drink a cup of coffee. I'm feeling so down because of things that are hard-hitting and vague at the same time, I'm not even entirely sure what they are. But without my three main lines of defense -coffee in the morning, a good beer in the evening, vigorous exercise in between- I'm not able to fight them off the way I once did.  

But I could still go to the damn cafe, couldn't I (although not my old favorite because that exploded with a sex scandal last week and now it's for sale, and it's no longer my favorite.) All I can drink now is mint tea but it's not nothing, it's still a reason to work outside of the house and walk four blocks in the light rain, and be grateful to breathe in fresh air, and listen to whatever music they're playing, and have a little dialog with the girl next to me when she asks to reach over and plug in her computer, and write without the distraction of the dishes or the dogs. Then I could walk home in the evening and be happy to be there, maybe kiss my husband at the door and then make dinner while listening to the radio.

Maybe tomorrow. Definitely, tomorrow. 

I started writing this blog seven years ago and I promised myself that I would write everything. So I am.
 For Mystery Prize Morning, tell us one small thing that you do to lift your spirits. Something tried and true that has always worked for you. Tell us now, because winter is on its way and other people might be interested to know. Tell me, so I might borrow it for the next few weeks or so. Tell yourself, so that you don't ever forget that it works. 

If this is your first Mystery Prize Monday, here's how it works. Leave a comment, and then help yourself to all the other comments that everyone else leaves. We have a good community right here. I'll choose the winner by randomly selecting from within the comments. The winner gets a hand written photo card, and a mystery prize package delivered right to their mailbox.

As always, I can't wait to hear what you have to say. I've really grown to love you.

To keep up with Mystery Prize Mondays, follow me on instagram @thewildercoast

Friday, September 25, 2015

my life in reyes

A few of us went up the parkway to camp out and watch a meteor shower.  One of my friends brought her Chihuahua which turned out to be a mistake. I'm actually fond of the dog because one time he drank a cup of coffee and took it like a champ. But that night under the meteors he barked and barked and just wouldn't stop barking.
I'm being technical when I say that we were under the meteors. Yes, they were up there in space shooting around between all the dead starlight, but we didn't actually see any of them. That's because around 11pm a cloud swept onto the mountain where we were sleeping, so we didn't see at thing. Well, we saw a beautiful sunset. Okay. We didn't see what we had come to see, how about that.

The owner of the Chihuahua is my best friend here in Asheville, and I have a great time with her always, but I don't think she really likes camping as much as she at one point claimed to. We were all seated around the campfire (more accurately, the ring of stones where the camp fire would be, there was a burn ban in effect) sharing some laughs and a bottle of whiskey (full disclosure, I didn't have any of the whiskey because I have an immediate and tremendously painful reaction to alcohol, also citrus, tomatoes, caffeine, and all fruit other than pears and blueberries, but someone had a bottle of Jack Daniels and was passing it around) and all of a sudden my friend starts to sneeze.
And sneeze! She couldn't stop! Something up on that knob was really irking her. Unfortunately, my dog Hometeam was also present at the time, and Hometeam throws a fit when anyone sneezes. She's done this her entire life. She gets hysterical, barking and writhing and jumping up into the air. It's annoying, but by this point I've gotten used to it. In fact, if I'm around a dog and someone sneezes, and that dog doesn't go nuts, I wonder what's wrong with the dog, like maybe she's lost her hearing.

So every sneeze was accompanied by a great frenzy of barking, and then the Chihuahua, who was already on edge, just lost her mind. Eventually my friend gathered him up and they both retreated to the tent. That's when the cloud came and sat on us. So the rest of us went to our tents, maybe read a little bit of a book, and fell asleep. Someone did bother to set their alarm for 3am when the meteor shower was presumably at its peak, but later reported that there was still nothing to see.
At dawn, my friend was hovering above my tent, begging me to leave. "I can't take it any more!" She said. I'm fairly certain that she sneezed all night long, and then, when the cloud turned to rain sometime in the middle of the night, there had been some degree of precipitation within her tent. The rainfly had malfunctioned. We packed up and hiked down the mountain, drove the hour back into town, we both ate a bagel, went home and fell back asleep.

Lately, everyone is using the Reyes filter on Instagram, you know the one that washes out all the colors and gives life a sort of muted, elegant minimalistic quality? Like this:
I keep trying it, I mean I like the idea of it, the idea that your entire house mind body soul car family pets attitude outlook future bedspread bookshelf  have been tidied up to within an inch of their lives and all that remains is air and a single succulent that sparks joy, and life is nothing but a clean white sink with a meticulously placed tube of face lotion with one of those incomprehensible names, you know- Pure as Driven Snow Body Polish in Jewelweed by Dry Goods & Provisions n' Things.

I'm not kidding around here, I WANT that; I'd enjoy the hell out of that existence. But I just, I don't know, I just can't keep up.