Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

ragandboneshop

I walked into my doctor’s office and stood staring, gobsmacked, at this book on the table. Did someone publish my blog? How did my doctor find it? I’ve used his line for so long, I almost forgot it belonged to W.B. Yeats. Of all the lines of all the poems on all the books in all the doctors’ offices in the world, mine had this one on her desk? Kinda spooky. I’m taking it as a good omen. I’m taking it as a sign that I should stick with her even though she doesn’t accept insurance and I feel like I’ll go bankrupt with long-term care. Signs from the universe go a long way in keeping me hopeful.

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When I was a child–somewhere around 10 or 11–I used to carry a book of Yeats poetry around with me. I have a memory of sitting upstairs at the back of a bus (Dublin buses were double-deckers) nose stuck in this 1965 edition (my name is written in shaky kid letters on the edge of the pages, the way you do when you bend the book one way to get the first name and then the other way to get the last name), but mostly I know I did this because, over the years, my mother has fondly mentioned this odd obsession. Yeats is still one of my favourite poets and, when I started this blog, I took one of the lines that always stayed with me (because I was a dark young thing), the last line of this poem:

The Circus Animals’ Desertion
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.
II
What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his fairy bride.
And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
`The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it,
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.
And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love
And not those things that they were emblems of.
III
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

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Hope for a great sea-change

One of the things I never realized about chronic illness is that it is easier to drive than it is to take a shower. If you see someone driving their car to an appointment, you might think they’re doing okay, but that person may have needed help to wash their hair that morning. And, by “morning”, I mean afternoon because it probably took a number of hours to get from waking to bathing.

I can drive myself to nearby appointments and I can talk for the whole time I’m there – half an hour sitting up with a doctor, an hour lying down with the physical therapist – but, if someone witnessed this, would they understand that I couldn’t write a blog post that day, I had to put on clothes in increments over the course of an hour, I had to rest in a dark, silent room immediately before and after the appointment, and, if I had slept poorly, I would have canceled?

My husband has been washing my hair lately. I sit on my seat and he leans awkwardly into the shower while I rest my forearms on my knees and hang my head. He also helps me dry my hair. I sit on the toilet in much the same position as I did in the shower and he stands above me with the hair dryer.

My sister comes over to help me with laundry. It’s been a long time since I’ve expended the energy needed to fold or hang clothes, so there are wrinkled piles of clean, dirty and not-clean-but-not-dirty-enough-to-be-washed items in various rooms. I never thought my husband would be scrubbing my scalp while I sit naked and motionless or my sister would be sorting my underwear while I am supine, watching.

It seems like a new low, especially in light of the fact that I’ve been housebound for a year, I’m walking under 1000 steps a day and it takes about 15 minutes of activity to wear me out. But I don’t think it is a low. I feel hopeful; overall I may feel healthier than a year ago. I’m more debilitated now, but less ILL. More chronic, less flailing, flaring, uncontrollable. A year ago, I was freezing all the time during the day and drenched in night sweats whenever I slept. I was in constant pain and felt fluish every day. I was still going to the dog park and grocery shopping, but I was scared and overwhelmed. Maybe most of the improvements have been mental– now, when the viral symptoms descend, I don’t panic. I understand that this could be lifelong and any progress will always be at a snail’s pace. I understand there may not be progress at all, it may only get worse. I know now there will be spans of no pain and I just need to take one day at a time. In fact, every single night when I go to bed, I am excited at the prospect of another chance in the morning– at the knowledge that a new day may bring a better day.

My husband says, it was a long road down, so it’ll probably be at least as long back up. I try to relax into the ride, do all I can to unburden my organs and facilitate healing. When my inner workaholic and constant student starts to writhe inside this straight jacket, I soothe her: You are working. You are writing, reading, learning about yourself and opening your eyes to suffering. I remind myself that I don’t have to talk to people that annoy me, drive during rush hour, meet deadlines or bow to bosses. When my night owl howls, I tell it nothing fun happens between 9pm and 2am. You’re not missing anything, go to sleep. I try to believe it. I remind myself that I never have to hear an alarm clock. I ease into bed with a solid routine and, when I wake, I lounge for hours. This is healthy, don’t resent it. When cabin fever and loneliness threaten to make my mind come apart at the seams, I pretend I am monastic. I am on a retreat. I am cleansing, enjoying solace. This is a temporary stillness. It is needed. Revel in it. I get to enjoy the garden and the sun. I get to spend every day with my dogs, even if it is lying flat on my back. I promise myself: The world will be there when your body is able to meet it again.

Maybe this low is where the slide stops and it’s all uphill from here. Listen carefully: “Believe in miracle and cures and healing wells.”

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

Seamus Heaney,
The Cure at Troy
R.I.P.

Liebster Award Part 1 ~ 11 Things About Myself

I’m afraid I have to fulfill the Liebster Award criteria in increments since I’m not having the best week. So, here’s the first part.

List 11 things about yourself:

1. I was born in Japan.

2. I spent the majority of my formative years in Dublin, Ireland and pine for that city every single day.

3. I’ve been in 27 countries. One of those was an airplane stop (El Salvador) and some of those were only for a day or two (Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco), but I am so grateful that I traveled where I did while I could. Highlights: Soviet Union, Austria, France, Costa Rica, Morocco.

4. My friends and I were mugged when we were in Morocco. He said, “If I had a black heart, I would kill you and take your money. But, I have a white heart, so I just ask you to give it to me.”

5. Surprisingly, I think the thing I miss most about my pre-M.E. life is laughing. I would laugh so much at work. I miss the banter of those crazy personalities. No matter how bad my day was, I loved my co-workers fiercely. We accepted each other fundamentally, even when we argued… and we always wound up laughing. It’s hard to find opportunities for laughter when you are housebound with no social interaction.

6. I love good movies, books and food in a way that is…voracious. I crave the experiences, revel in the moments and treasure the memories.

7. I used to write poetry. A lot.

8. I cannot abide illogical arguments and will debate to a fault. I want everyone to be fair, just, logical and see all sides~ even if they don’t agree with them.

9. I have two (small, pathetic) tattoos. One done in my teen years with my best friends E. and K. and one done with a needle and Indian ink in a dorm room in college.

10. I was given a brand new Harley Davidson motorbike, plus helmet and leathers by one of my customers when I was a server (no strings attached, I swear!).

11. I have number obsessions. 519 has been following me around for years (and May 19th wound up being the day of my father-in-law’s funeral as well as the first day of my non-working life). 28 has always been significant ~ to the point that I had to sit my fairly-new boyfriend down on the eve of my 28th birthday and explain that I was worried this might be the year I would die (I know, morbid). Interestingly, ten days later, I was in the emergency room with my first case of anaphylactic shock. Even more interesting, I never, ever put that together until right this minute when I looked at my health records. That really was the beginning of the end of my health. My records say: 1977-78: chronic cough; 1987: tonsillectomy; 2001: anaphylaxsis… and then, every year, thereafter, there is something significant.