Return of the Frog Queen

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Madison, WI

I was living in this house when I was 21 years old. My roommate from college took this photo a few days ago when he was visiting Madison, Wisconsin and posted it on Facebook. I was slapped in the face with so many memories: lying in the dark back room in the summer, the only room with air conditioning, listening to music; drinking Mickeys and playing Tetris wars; breaking plates and smashing the Atari in a collective rock ‘n’ roll meltdown; smoking cigarettes all night on that tip-top balcony outside my bedroom, having conversations I thought I’d never forget. I lived there with 5 or 6 men — boys, really, we were just kids — I think I scored the best room because I was the only girl. That school year (1994 to 1995) and the few years afterwards were the most emotional of my life. I can’t really think of a better word to describe them. It was the loneliest and saddest time of my life before this chronic illness, but also the most memorable, the most adventurous, the most creative years I’ve experienced. And all of it is inextricably entangled with music. I’d once made a sign for my Mother’s kitchen wall that said (it was multi-colored like this): NEVER BE WITHOUT MUSIC and I never was. I have an obscenely bad memory, but everything I remember from those years has a soundtrack. I think maybe the only reason I remember any of it is because there was music playing during each scene, searing them into my mind. 1995 was also the only time I experienced depression before becoming housebound and I truly, un-dramatically, credit certain bands with saving my life.

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CD bliss, 1996

I’ve tried to listen to music a few times over the last four years, but it’s been difficult. First, because I was just too sick and was always striving for the closest thing I could get to silence. Background sounds are still difficult on a too-much-stimuli level, but as my headaches got better, I started to dabble in a song here and there and discovered that, even if I could handle the noise, the emotions unleashed were too much, like a tsunami against which I’d have to quickly close the floodgates for fear of drowning. Memories of sad times making me sad for who I was, memories of good times making me sad for what I’ve lost, regrets about past situations, gratitude for past experiences and abilities — all of it makes my chest start to heave and my breath catches in my throat and I go, “Oh, no way, not going there” and quickly switch to watching happy elephant videos. What I’d give to luxuriate in my old albums, in the memories they bring up and in hours of sobbing! And it would be a luxury — it would be cathartic and fun on some level to reminisce, but the indulgence would be far outweighed by the payback. My life is about equilibrium now; I try not to rock the boat. Plus, it’s really not as fun to go down Emotional Music Memory Lane without a bottle of whiskey.

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Kristin Hersh

Having said that, 15 months ago, my brother in Connecticut told me that one of my favourite singers, Kristin Hersh, was going to be in Seattle. I thought it was kind of funny (and kind of sad) that my brother on the other side of the country had to tell me what was happening down the road, but I never look at local listings because it’s a bit torturous to see what I’m missing. I decided to go. It was a solo show in a small, mellow venue where you could sit down and eat while watching. Seemed like the perfect way to test the live music waters. And it went well. It was utterly surreal to be in a public place, especially at night. I felt like one of those animals allowed to walk outside on grass after spending their lives in metal cages. I was unsteady, gripping my husband’s arm, looking uncertainly at the steps, the ceiling and lights, eyes darting around at the crowd uncomfortably, hoping not to be seen in case one of them noticed the outsider and stood up, pointed at me and screeched like that scene in the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was a wonderful night, the hardest part was gulping down the sneaker-wave of tears when she opened with probably my favourite of her solo songs. Again, that unreliable floodgate. It was the music, yes, but so much more. I was out at a show — out at anything, actually — for the first time in two and a half years. I was normal. Or, at least, doing a good job of feigning it.

Tonight, I’m trying again. Jeremy Enigk is playing a show in Seattle and my sister has connections, so she’s going to set me up in the VIP or ADA section. I’m so excited. I had seen Kristin Hersh live probably half a dozen times before, so last year’s venture was noteworthy, but not a bucket list item. But tonight… Enigk’s band Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album Diary was part of the constant soundtrack in that Madison house 22 years ago, so it’s fitting that that photo showed up on Facebook a day before I found out about this show. I took it as a sign. I doubt I would love that album as much if I were introduced to it now, but back then there wasn’t much like it and these guys were college students around my age. And … THAT VOICE. It ripped my angsty heart out.

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my own private Idaho, 1995

I wound up fleeing the midwest in 1995. I drove alone across the country to Seattle (actually, to Bainbridge Island) during what would turn out to be one of the best four days of my life. No company, no mobile phones or internet back then, just me, a camera and my music. A year later, still lost in so many ways, I found Enigk’s solo album, Return of the Frog Queen, and, again, the timing was right and it became one of those keep-me-alive CDs.

So… tonight. I’m going to my second live show in almost four years and this time I have months of improvements under my belt. I haven’t slept well and I have a pretty bad headache (which is rare these days), but I’m not going to stay home to “be safe.” I may not know anything that he plays — I may not even like anything that he plays, that album is twenty years old, after all — but I’ve never seen him live, don’t even really know what he looks like and, if his voice can still do that heart-tug, stomach-clench wail, I might even let myself swim in the emotions for a change.
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LIVE UPDATE: He’s playing some songs I know, I really like the stuff I don’t know and his voice can still hit the sweet spot. I’m floating (not drowning).

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Jeremy Enigk

Title Credit

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The Other Shoe.

Whereas my preparation for this trip was incredibly thorough (I will write a post on that later) and the journey down to California went off without a hitch, once we got there, things went a little sideways.

I’d never been to LA and it was a learning curve. I’m very grateful that my therapist warned me about the vastness of the area and I had a few friends on which to rely for info (Patrick and SGV, I’m looking at you). For example, I was told to look at Palos Verdes, which is a bluff above the city, overlooking the ocean. I thought it must kind of be like a bigger Queen Anne in Seattle, a neighbourhood on a hill. However, Palos Verdes has 4 towns on this hill. There are multiple airports in LA and they are all legitimate, proper airports. I know that sounds silly, but, in Dublin, there’s Dublin airport, in Seattle there’s SeaTac and some landing strips. I like to say, in Seattle it takes about half an hour to get anywhere — give or take 10 minutes. A childhood friend of mine lives in LA, but she lives hours away from where I was staying, to see her would practically be a planned road-trip. They are obvious differences — it’s a huge city, after all — but I needed to make a mental shift that I never did in London or New York, for example.

Anyway, I was told that the heat and air quality in LA were awful — refineries sit very close to Dr. Chia’s office and stagnant air plagues the whole inland city. I was also warned of mold issues in beach areas. I was treating this as an 8-day retreat with my mother, whom I see rarely, a week to let my husband have some alone time and a test away from my home and dogs for the first time since I got sick. I was concerned about picking a rental in an area that made it difficult to sit outside. I imagined languishing in an air-conditioned house the entire time, with the garden being too hot and acrid and my being too sick to venture out to a different area.

(Aside: I had a few people suggest things I should do in LA ~ go to the beach, see the glass chapel ~ and it baffled me that they thought I’d be able to manage things after a grueling journey that I can’t manage when I’m at home resting. People can never fully grasp how limited we are, even people that see us, know us, live with us. They can never know the constant tally of energy expenditure versus energy conservation that goes on in our brains. The almost-subconscious weighing of necessity, desire and payback. The ever-present knowledge of what we’ve done that day and what we still need to do before bed that dictates our every word and movement.)

So, I found an AirBnB rental that was in Rancho Palos Verdes. The host was extremely nice, said it was quiet, there was no mold and they rarely had to turn on their A/C. It was about half an hour from the airport and 25 minutes to Dr. Chia. As we drove up the hill, the temperature dropped from the high 80s to the high 70s; it was perfect. The house was beautiful, with an expansive view of the ocean and it was sunny, but not too hot. I rested in the garden and watched the sunset, drinking up the view, so deeply submerged in gratitude, I thought it might overwhelm me. I never thought I’d be anywhere but Seattle again. Honestly, I thought I might not be anywhere but my house again. It was at once completely foreign and very familiar. I was taking in every scent and colour like an alien in our world, but it also felt completely normal, like the past two years were only two weeks and I was navigating just another part of the earth, like I have so many times before.

Then the other shoe dropped. Huge, billowing rolls of fog came in off the ocean and the humidity shot up and the temperature dropped. The damp soaked into my bones and gave me a chill that never really went away.

The fog rolling in. In person, this was huge ~ the photo can't do it justice.

The fog rolling in.
In person, this was huge ~ the photo can’t do it justice.

I went back into the bedroom to rest and it reeked. It was like walking into a wall of mildew. The en suite bathroom had no fan and the shower head couldn’t be turned to stop the water from spurting all over the floor. The closet was moldy, the duvet was musty and the blanket was crusty with something spilled on it. There was more, like stained pillows, toilets backing up, dirty dishes in the cupboard, moldy food in the fridge, a filthy oven, loud construction in the lot next door, but none of that bothered me like the smell of the back rooms and bathrooms. Even my husband, whose nose doesn’t work as far as I can tell, commented on how bad the bathroom was. The whole house felt damp and heavy. Between 7pm and 11am, the humidity never dropped below 78% and the temperature was in the low 60s. I didn’t have very many warm clothes with me, but I put them all on. Every day, I would sit on the couch, wearing three layers of clothes, and wait for the first beam of sunlight to break through the clouds and then go out to that spot and bake myself, like trying to dry out a water-logged book. The day we left, the humidity was 96% and it was completely overcast. That’s, like, raining indoors.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I've never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I’ve never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

After much deliberation, we decided to leave early. I was fine for those few hours that the sun was up and I could be in the garden, but with the forecast calling for a chance of rain and even more clouds, I had to get out. My breathing felt heavy and I didn’t know what I was inhaling while sleeping in that room, so I didn’t have a “safe” place to lie and rest. So we changed our tickets for the evening flight the day after my Dr. Chia appointment. There were only two flights a day out of Long Beach Airport and the morning would be too difficult on my system. If I don’t rest in the mornings, eat properly, poop properly, hydrate and salt properly, I tend to have crashes of one sort or another: blood pressure, blood sugar, weakness etc.

Note to self: don’t choose the last flight of the night when you are sick, in a wheelchair and on a special diet.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm, which was already pushing it because I wouldn’t get home until around 11pm, well past my bedtime. We were told the flight was delayed at around 7:15pm — there was engine trouble and a mechanic was coming to take a look at it. Of course, I knew immediately it would be canceled and it was the last flight to Seattle that night. They could have moved quickly and gotten us to LAX for one of a number of nonstop flights to Seattle, but, instead, we waited over two hours to be told at 9:30pm that the mechanic had finally arrived. My husband actually had us transferred to a flight leaving out of LAX at 8:55pm, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it there in time. Actually, we probably wouldn’t even have been able to get my suitcase in time. We asked about getting a hotel and were told there were no open rooms in the city. No hotel rooms in the whole of LA. Hhmm. By then, I had finished all the food I had brought for the flight (not much: carrots, cucumbers and a bunch of Terra vegetable chips) and was curled up with my feet on a chair and my head on the wheelchair, feeling woozy and slurry. Through all of this, my heroic mother stood in line to talk to a gate agent with the throngs of other people and did everything she could to fix the situation.

I had already spent a lot of time on my phone looking for a hotel to no avail, but I didn’t trust my efforts, so I asked my husband to help from Seattle (he had only come to L.A. for two days to drive and help get us settled). He texted me three motels that he found through Expedia, but we didn’t know if they were places that Alaska Airlines would refund, plus my mother still was holding out hope that the engine would be fixed, so we held tight.

The little engine that couldn't.

The little engine that couldn’t.

When we finally got word that the flight was canceled, I wasn’t in the best shape. Two of the places my husband had found were now full and the last one was a $60 motel in Anaheim, charging $657 through Expedia. In desperation and delirium, thinking the airline would reimburse us, I booked it. And, when I called to tell them we were on our way, got thoroughly spooked by the very shady sounding person who answered the phone and seemed half drunk and not the type that should be in charge of a motel. Or even, of operating a phone. I had a meltdown. We were the last ones in the terminal, maybe in the whole airport. Everyone else had, presumably, gone back to their friends’ or family’s homes. My mother was busy begging the gate agent to help us since I was so ill and needed to get home. They offered to call the paramedics for me. People with M.E. love emergency rooms. I said, “If it’ll guarantee me a bed with no doctors bothering me, sure.” My mother said, “She’s not that kind of sick; it’s a chronic illness.”

They told us there were no seats on any flights the next day. I melted down a little further. The gate agent said we could fly out of LAX at 7am or John Wayne Airport at 12:30pm. We chose John Wayne because it was closer to the Anaheim dive that I was trying to get the nerve up to go to, but we couldn’t get the disabled bulkhead seating and we couldn’t get two seats together. Then my husband texted that there had been a mechanical glitch in Expedia’s system and my shady motel reservation didn’t exist. Oh, thank god! Because I had already realised Alaska would not be refunding any $657 for a dump in a different city. But… that left us with the airport floor to sleep on. Melting down…

My sister, A, who was on a camping trip in Eastern Washington with no cell phone service had asked if she could help. So had my friend, Z, who was probably asleep after working and caring for her baby all day. I didn’t think there was any hope. I had tried (ineptly) to look online, my husband had tried from Seattle, the gate agents had tried every contact they had… even the airplane crew was stranded at the airport.

At 10:41pm, my sister dropped what she was doing with her friends to help me, but I knew it was hopeless. I had a a new fun symptom develop around this time: my voice started coming haltingly, words coming out broken. It sounded like I was having a bad neurological problem, staccato speech, each syllable coughed out separately and slowly. It scared me. The incredibly kind and empathetic gate agent helped us get my suitcase and then wheeled it upstairs so my mother could push my chair. She showed us a couch where I could sleep and got us water. I got out my pillow, sheets, eye shades and ear plugs and texted my sister that I was done, signing off.

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That was 11:22pm. At 11:52pm, she texted to say she had found a room in a hotel — not a motel — for $164 — not $657 — across the street from John Wayne Airport — not in Anaheim or Palmdale, which is where the plane crew eventually found a room, 1.5 hours away. How could it be possible? I called the hotel: “Do you really have a room? For two of us? Even if it takes an hour to get there??” “Yes, Elizabeth, I talked to your sister, it’s all ready for you.” Disbelief.

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We packed up and — another angel restoring my faith in humanity — a woman also sleeping in the airport helped wheel our suitcases downstairs and outside the airport. Everything was deserted. The airport was effectively shut down. Tumbleweeds. And, then, as we were searching for a taxi number, one pulled up to drop someone off. Heaven sent. $75 later, we got to the hotel, they had a wheelchair for guests and a man helped us to our room. It was gorgeous. Two beds, a big balcony, swimming pools… By 1:30am, I was in bed. It was glorious. My sister moved mountains from the middle of nowhere and I will never be able to thank her enough.

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I didn’t sleep very much, of course, but I was able to recover more than I could have in the airport. My voice went back to normal, although I woke up nauseous, shaking like a leaf (not blood sugar) and with odd heart tremors. I mentioned how I felt on Facebook and Erik Johnson, of extreme mold avoidance fame, answered: “Take a shower. Wash your hair extremely well. Change into completely different clothes and put the ones you are wearing in a plastic bag.” It was like someone slapped me upside the head. Of course. I am in the habit of not showering in order to conserve energy, but showering is the only way to decontaminate — if not toxic mold spores, at least airplane germs and travel stank (from which I was definitely suffering). So I showered and changed into the only other clothes I had: a fun mix of compression stockings, shorts, tank tops and pajamas. I drank a salt and potassium water and was good to go. The shuttle to the new airport took about 3 minutes (again: how did my sister do it? Right across the street!) and the flight home was uneventful. My body even cooperated having only survived on plantain crackers, Rice Chex and vegetable crisps for 24 hours. And my husband greeted me at the airport with chicken and kale bone broth. Liquid life force.

Home is where the broth is.

Home is where the broth is.

Although I don’t think the journey to see Dr. Chia was worth it (as in, I wouldn’t advise someone else in my situation to go — but more on that in my Dr. Chia post to come) and the rental was not ideal and the journey back was filled with Travel Worst Case Scenarios, I don’t regret the trip at all. I didn’t feel terrible after either flight. I thought they might be carrying me from the airplane and that I might spend days in bed with my meningitis-type symptoms in full flare, but that wasn’t the case. I was actually just fine. The worst I’ve felt since before I left is the last three days and I don’t even know if it’s payback from the trip because it’s so delayed. It could be something in my home. It could just be M.E.

The whole expedition cost a small fortune and it was too much planning, packing and mental gymnastics for the few short days we were there, but I did it. We did it. My mother and husband were unimaginably brilliant and took every precaution to make it successful. And now we know how to do it, if we ever have to again. And I got to spend time with my Momma and create new memories. Priceless.

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New In The Garden This Week: Faux-camping, Flower Fireworks and a Birthday Party For Me!

Our fairly new, fancy Kenmore refrigerator (which is about three times the size of the one I had growing up (which is still alive and kicking) and, being one of my first major kitchen appliance purchases, I researched very well, even going so far as to subscribe to Consumer Reports to read up on it) has broken for the third time in a month. Today, after the repairman’s third visit, we opened the fridge door and could hear the motor blade whacking off something, so he’s going to have to come back a fourth time. While our kitchen is a repair shop, I am sequestered in the garden with the dogs, cooking breakfast by camp stove and typing this post under a “parasol”. 🙂

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Our garden is like the world’s slowest fireworks show. Gone are the lilacs, cherry blossoms and tulips. As they wilt and brown, now emerge lilies, irises, peonies and my favourite: the pom-pom tree (not a technical term 😉 ).

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Perfect Peonies.

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Luscious Lilies.

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Stunning strawberries that I can’t eat anymore! 😦

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Irresistible Iris.

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Riley glamour shot.

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Romantic Rhododendron.

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Dr. Seussian Pom Pom tree that snows petals down everywhere.

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Another “rhody”.

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More irises.

Also new in the garden were people (yes, that’s plural!) for my birthday soiree. My sister, her boyfriend and dog and our best friends here in Seattle, Z and J and their beautiful little girl, A. With my husband, that’s 5.5 people and 3 dogs… And I did it! I was out in the garden, sitting up, listening to various voices and mixed conversations for THREE HOURS. How did I do it? I made it between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, my best times. I warned them (for the 700th time) that it had to be mellow, no big energy, no loud talking, no music. I asked them to bring their own drinks and food and totally took the burden of hosting off of me and my husband. I rested for hours before and after the gathering. I scheduled no appointments the day before or the day after. I made sure I had food in my stomach.

The weather was surprisingly lovely that day (surprising because the forecast said it would be overcast and cool). We sat at our garden table and munched on snacks and I watched from behind my sunglasses and listened… just took it all in. This was the first time having multiple people over in eight months and, the last time we tried this, I was in bad shape after half an hour, even though I hardly spoke.

I don’t remember much from my birthday. I had to ask my husband if everything went okay because I think I meditated myself into a state of Zen trance most of the time. I remember trying on the clothes my sister got me and I remember accidentally spilling boiling water on my dog’s back. I remember marveling at how beautiful and sweet little A is and loving my sister’s dog tearing around the garden (“zoomies”). Mostly I remember swimming in my loved ones’ company, listening to their chatter and laughter and feeling so lucky that they wanted to come see me and so grateful for every moment that I was able to participate.

I love getting older. Every year will be a celebration that I’m still here and I’m still living the best I can.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I‘ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou
R.I.P.

Addendum to last post… Plus, missing my brothers.

Medical professional addendum:

5. I forgot to mention another doctor I saw- a great dermatologist (I’ve seen a few in my life and she is the best and hardest to get in to see with appointments more than three months out). I had a few questions:

What are these scaly circles on my fingers and palms that move around (please don’t say they’re warts please don’t say they’re ringworm please don’t say they’re contagious please don’t say they’re VIRAL!)? Answer: A type of eczema. No big deal. Keep your hands moisturized.

What is up with acne in bizarre places like hairline and under my jaw? It’s very typical “female adult-onset acne”. Those are exactly the places we see it show up. It’s hormonal and most definitely from coming off the birth control pill. Use 1% clindamycin lotion indefinitely (that was her second choice since the Good Doc won’t let me take oral antibiotics).

What is this Braille skin? It’s a precursor to acne. No! These harmless-looking bumps? Yes.

Why do I have brand new vertical ridges on my fingernails and is there anything I can do about my hair falling out? I have patients take biotin for both of those issues: 5,000mcg/day.

As I was leaving, ME/CFS came up while I was talking to the dermatologist’s assistant. She said, “Oh, my brother has that.” I had never known anyone with this disease, so my eyes widened (I actually teared up a little).
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s devastating.”
She said, “Yeah, he’s a dancer, so…”
“Oh no! So, he can’t dance. That’s horrible. Do you know how he’s handling it?”
She said, “I don’t really know. He’s pretty private.” And then, as if to explain her lack of knowledge, she added: “He’s my half-brother.”

I thought about what ME/CFS would be like if you were a career dancer. Just another level of horror. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I said something like, “This disease is very isolating. I hope he has support.” I wanted to leave her thinking about it. I hoped that she would call him, move mountains to help him. From earlier in the appointment, I knew she’d just returned from Hawaii and I wondered if her brother knew she had been vacationing and I wondered if he let himself wallow in grief and jealousy as I sometimes do.

My brothers recently went on a fishing trip with my father and I love to think about the three of them together, but I ache to have been there, too. Just in the same room… My brother, the pilot, had a layover in Dublin last week and had dinner with my aunt and cousins and drinks with my best friend, E., and her boyfriend… It was exciting for me. Almost like I was in Dublin with E. Almost like I was in Dublin with my brother. I grinned from ear to ear looking at the photo they sent, while gritting my teeth against tears of desire. To be with E. and M., to be with my brother, to be able to fly, to be in Dublin, to be able to have a drink… Layers upon layers of loss. My brother also just had a brand new baby boy and I wonder how old my new nephew will be before I meet him. I wonder if my nieces and nephews will remember me or will I be “sick Aunt Elizabeth” that they just hear about for years. I always miss my brothers, but it has been overwhelming lately and is compounded by the knowledge that my sister is moving away from here soon. The atmosphere and camaraderie when we are all together is something special. I’m not going to get into it now because I’m premenstrual and risk a total meltdown.

Gratitude for siblings. xoxoxoxox

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today, I turn 40 years of age. We have a big day planned. We’re going to the beach with the dogs. We’re going to throw the ball and walk in the sand and let them chase birds. They haven’t been to the beach since last summer when E. was visiting and I still had some energy.

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I’m not going to go to bed afterward. Instead, I’m going to stop by the grocery store and buy all the fixin’s for a fry tomorrow morning: eggs, bacon, sausages, bread, tomato, proper cow’s milk for proper tea… I might even look for decent baked beans and black pudding. Then, this evening, I am going to take a shower, wash my hair and put on make up for the first time in 9 months (gasp!). I am going to put on a dress ~ it is beautiful and still fits me and I feel sexy ~ and some very high heels ~ I’m able to walk in them properly, without shuffling, and they don’t hurt my back. We’re going into town for dinner, meeting up with friends and family. It’s going to be a long 5-course indulgence and I’m going to ignore all my diet rules. I am going to rip apart fresh-baked bread, taking the time to inhale its aroma before slathering on creamy butter and savouring every bite. I am going to close my eyes every time I take a bite of pasta ~ I don’t care what kind it is ~ and be fully present in that moment, witnessing every chew with all my senses on full-alert. I am going to order the most decadent dessert, something with pastry and chocolate ~ eggs, sugar, flour, butter ~ and revel in every single mouthful: no guilt, no worry, no blood sugar issues, no inflammation issues, no intolerances or allergies or leaky gut or bowel dysbiosis or nausea. There better be a cheese plate involved at some stage and I might even have some wine. Dry red wine. A whole bottle. Maybe I’ll sneak outside to share a cigarette with someone. We’re all going to talk over each other and laugh hysterically and the noise won’t bother me. I won’t be confused and overloaded by too many conversations at once. I won’t think about pain or exhaustion or how I will sleep tonight or how I will feel tomorrow. Because I will feel fine. I will feel tired and happy and full and grateful. Oh, and tomorrow morning, while eating that lovely breakfast, I will realise I’ve won the $600 million lotto.

Well, a girl can dream, right?

No, unfortunately, today will be like every other day. It’ll be a little bit worse than the norm because my sleep vanished this week and I’m crippled with new muscle pain on top of the old stiff exhaustion. But, it’ll be a little bit better than the norm because my sister is coming over and my husband isn’t working. Three people and three dogs? It’ll be a carnival compared to my usual still, silent days.

Goodbye 30s, you actually were literally the best of times and the worst of times. I have three birthday wishes for this new decade: Continued good health for those I love, better health for me and relief from suffering for all people and animals on this earth. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 🙂

sarah in incubator 001

May 18th, 1973

January 1st, 2013

2012 was the worst year of my life. I realise that is not a very festive and celebratory way to start a new year’s post, but it’s the truth. Having said that, however, I know that if this past year has been my worst, I have been extremely fortunate and had a very blessed life.

On January 1st 2012, I wrote an eight page-long goodbye letter to my husband which included all the details of our online accounts, passwords, paperwork etc., things with which I have always dealt. It also laid out my thoughts about my funeral and asked him to make sure to use my savings to pay for my family and E. to travel from Ireland, if needed. Really morbid stuff.

Thank you for your love, kindness, caretaking, honesty, patience… You gave me everything I’ve ever wanted in a friend, a partner, a husband. I am so lucky…

I had never experienced anything like what I was going through and I didn’t think I’d come through it. At the time, I had been diagnosed with malaria. Never did it occur to me, if I did survive, that I’d still be sick a year later. Never did it occur to me that I might be sick for years and years to come. I work every minute of every day to get better and that is what I will continue to do. Every day, in so many ways, I try to help myself heal:

I wake up slowly, gather my strength, set my intention for the day. I open my blinds so moisture doesn’t collect on the window panes, I turn on my air purifier so it can work its unseen magic during the day. I wash my mouth guard, cpap mask and machine parts ~ yes, every day. I brush my teeth sitting down. I wash my face, pick off the leftover adhesive (from the tape I put over my mouth at night) and apply a calendula cream that helps my skin heal. I put my dry eye drops in and use my antihistamine nasal spray. I make tea with stevia and soy creamer (no sugar, splenda or dairy allowed anymore) and take my first supplements of the day with filtered water (the top rated (cheap) filter by Consumer Reports). I check the temperature and the humidity in the house. My body has no concept of comfortable anymore. I could be feverish for no reason or freezing in the heat. Or sweating face, but icy toes.

I work on the computer for a bit, sitting in front of a light box. Breakfast is a smoothie with flax, berries, and walnuts or homemade granola with fruit and almond milk. I seem to have completely conquered my hypoglycemia by switching from rice milk to almond milk and adding fiber to my tea. Afternoon beverage is decaf green tea, per the Good Doc’s orders. I do any chores I can manage. I try to meditate three times a day. This is forced rest… or preemptive rest. Regardless of how I feel, at the very least, I lie down twice each day for an hour, usually at 1pm and 6pm. I have a room ~ not my bedroom ~ where I have peace, privacy, a small futon, a wedge pillow, blanket, eye mask, headphones and CDs. These meditations are the only reason I can get through the day. If I don’t recharge, flat on my back with my eyes closed, I will start to deteriorate: get shaky, slow down cognitively, become achy, stiff and develop a headache.

yoga room

In between 2pm and 4pm, if I’m up to it, I do laps around my house with the dogs. I’m currently not up for more than 4 times around ~ about 400 steps. I wear a pedometer all day, every day.  I am diligent about keeping my core temperature up. For those few minutes outside, I put on my heated vest, hat, scarf, gloves, Uggs. I never want to go back to the debilitating chills of this time last year. If I feel I have some strength, I do every little thing possible to “exercise” so my muscles don’t decondition any more. I squeeze the squeeky dog ball in both hands. I slowly and carefully scoop dog poop. I focus as many miles away as possible ~ to the skyline or horizon ~ since I spend so long indoors only looking six feet ahead. I breathe deeply ~ consciously ~ to get my dose of outside air. I notice everything: planes tracing lines in the sky… the sounds of our neighbours… plants, birds, trees that I never paid much attention to before. And I am grateful for every step, always silently thanking the universe for keeping me on my feet, for allowing me to have the health I still have.

last leaf

Even if I can barely move, I try to stretch my muscles as often as possible. I soak in an Epsom salt bath (2 cups) for no more than 30 minutes (I am told any more than that and the badness leeches back into your muscles) and then I do gentle floor stretches, as well as my neck traction. I dry my hair sitting down. My lunches and dinners are predictable, boring and really pretty disgusting after months and months on end. No grains of any kind besides oats, no eggs, dairy, legumes, potatoes, tomatoes or cod. No msg, obviously, and I’m desperately trying to cut down on sugar. I add turmeric to virtually everything I eat. If I had the energy to cook, I would be making the most creative and tasty dishes, but, as it is, I rely on my husband and quick snacks: apples, nuts etc. Basically, I eat enough to take my supplements. I drink two tablespoons of tart cherry juice with dinner every night and usually drink ginger tea last thing before bed. I don’t watch tv later than 9:30pm, I practice good sleep hygiene and I never get to sleep later than 11:30pm.

My year felt like one third survival, one third denial, and one third a carefully constructed balancing act. A tightrope walk with no end in sight and any time you fall off, you don’t go back to the beginning ~ you go back much further than where you started. So, you don’t know how far the rope goes in front of you or behind you. Now: Turn that tightrope so it’s vertical. You aren’t walking forward, you’re clinging on with your hands, trying to climb upwards into the clouds… an abyss below you. Just one hand over the other. Don’t look up, don’t look down. This moment, this breath.

Holding onto a rope

2012 Wrap Up:

January: Saw endocrinologist; Mom visited.
February: Saw infectious disease doctor; started seeing a therapist; started meditating.
March: Saw rheumatologist, saw allergist, saw gastroenterologist; started low fat diet; changed birth control pills; eliminated pain killers.
April: Saw naturopath; started gluten-free and dairy-free diet; my friends’ sweet baby A. was born ~ the highlight of this year.
May: Saw second infectious disease doctor; Mom visited; stopped working and left career.
June: Saw optometrist; got CT scan.
July: By best friend E. visited; my sister got a new puppy (my new nephew); dear friend of the family’s, M.B., died.
August: Started seeing the Good Doctor; saw chronic fatigue “specialist”; started automimmune elimination diet.
September: Started acupuncture; saw sports medicine doctor; had sleep study done; Dad visited; became housebound.
October: Got brain and cervical spine MRI, Mom visited; brother T. visited.
November: Saw obgyn; started using cpap.
December: Brother A. visited; sister and J. visited for Christmas; dear old friend, D.H., died far too young.

This was my year. I know there is a big world out there with a lot bigger things going on, but this was my year. Doctors, tests, symptoms, setbacks, births, deaths, revelations about myself, revelations about our bodies, grief, joy, fear and more grief. And I know: it could have been much, much worse. What I see when I look at this is: my brothers, sister, mother, father and best friends all came to visit me. They journeyed across the city, country or world to my house to support me. In doing so, they healed me. I am very lucky. I am very blessed. With this kind of support, I can be the rock again. I will feel like I can weather any storm again. Maybe that’s what the new year will bring. I will notice everything, consider anything, expect something, but fear nothing. Welcome, 2013. You’re going to look very different from last year.