Oh, Happiness is Happening

After the exhausting week that I visited the Good Doctor and had my traumatic trip to the massage, I emailed my family and close friends and said that I wasn’t going to talk on the phone or skype for a few weeks in order to rest up for and recover from my father’s visit. I cancelled all appointments, also. It wound up being 18 days with no human interaction other than my husband and the 4 days with my father and sister here. After such a long quiet spell, I didn’t feel any better physically, unfortunately, but it was freeing to not have to go to counseling or a doctor or physical therapy… the incessant quest for healing is quite exhausting.

During that time, I put away the heavy ME/CFS books and inhaled David Sedaris’s “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” like it was fresh, mountain air (note to people with ME: he writes in short, easy to digest, hilarious vignettes ~ highly recommended for our brains). I injected some music into my daily rotation of meditations, visualizations, brain wave CDs etc. One day, I listened to every Radiohead album in chronological order (bar the very first and the most recent, neither of which I own).

Those schedule-less days helped me prioritize pleasurable activities (reading) over obligations (appointments), which is a very hard thing to do. After the necessities (getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting on sun creme, preparing food, walking up and down stairs to the toilet, a few emails or bills), there is very limited extra energy and it is hard to put it towards a happy activity when the kitchen is a mess and you’ve no clean clothes. I even see my rest times and meditations as obligations. They can be pleasurable, but who wouldn’t rather be chatting with friends, watching a good film or even blogging? For a long time, I had one phone conversation planned a day, but it was too much. Although talking on the phone is pleasurable, it usually precludes all other activities, so I had to reassess. I want so desperately to be a good friend ~ to have some sort of interaction with people that goes beyond their reading about my illness on the internet ~ and I wonder, if I go dark, will I still be welcome back one day?

During this period of reassessment-of-activities, I read Jackie’s post on LethargicSmiles. She articulated this problem perfectly. Her doctor told her to do something pleasurable every day to aid recovery and healing. Jackie writes, “It feels wrong to ask someone to come do my laundry when I was able to go to a park for awhile that day…” I’m a bit more limited than she is, I think, but it’s even difficult to watch tv while your husband fetches you water, so we all have to work at feeling less guilty and asking for help more.

With this in mind, I took a leap of faith on Monday. All year I’ve pined for the days that I used to take my first-born pup, Bowie, for walks in the cemetery. It was our private, quiet time together. As you all know, he is very sensitive and has been severely affected by my ME. He is depressed and nervous and doesn’t understand why the happy pack that went to the beach and the park all the time is now indoors, stressed, sad, scared and sedentary.

Monday, I was going to skype with my Mother and then my sister was to come over in the evening. When my husband wound up taking the day off and offered to rent a mobility scooter and take us to the cemetery, I hemmed and hawed. No, I have plans tonight… I’m about to talk to my Mum… My heart rate is high today… What if the effort of it makes me worse?… We can’t afford it… And then I thought about doing things that make you happy. This would make me happier than pretty much anything else.

Our smaller dog can’t walk off-leash. If he sees a squirrel, the rest of the world doesn’t exist. He would run across highways and through rivers and over mountains and across deserts to catch a critter. And god forbid I leave him at home feeling abandoned or my husband holds him on a leash while Bowie gets to run free. Luckily, the doggy daycare is adjacent to the cemetery and charges by the quarter hour, with no reservation -and the Little Guy loves it. So, we dropped him off and my husband assembled the scooter and … Bowie and I got to go for a walk for the first time in 11 months.

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Weekly scooter rental: $160
Doggy daycare: $5
“Walking” with my baby: Priceless

Title Credit

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Another Day in the Life.

Last weekend an old friend called to catch up after a few years. We had planned the day and time of the call, so I made sure I had the energy for it and didn’t have anything else scheduled that day besides a massage. After half an hour of talking to him (he is as energetic and animated and happy as I used to be), my voice began to get hoarse and the shakes started. I was lying down while talking to him ~ this is always easier ~ but I was outside in the sun, so I moved in to the blow-up mattress that is now in our living room, trying to quiet my system. We talked for another half hour and I wanted to keep going ~ we still had more to cover ~ but I could hear myself slurring and now my head was hurting and my ears were ringing and the internal tremors were so pronounced I think the phone was twitching against my ear. It was wonderful to talk to him. Catching up with family and friends is always good for my mood and fans the flames of life force… but, I knew it had taken too much out of me.

I spent the next few hours resting and then left for my massage. I was driving myself because the place is very close to our house and the last time I was there it wasn’t a problem as long as they put me in the ground floor room and I didn’t have to climb up the steep stairs to the second floor. I don’t get massages very often, but, when I do, I really love them. I ask her to “make my muscles feel like I went running without any of the energy expenditure or lactic acid build up” and somehow she does. It really helps my neck pain and headaches, too.

So, I arrive and realise I have to park across the street instead of directly outside the door because my appointment is later in the afternoon than usual and there is no parking between 4pm and 6pm. I am already running a little late because, after the talk with my friend, every little thing I did caused my heart rate to go too high and I had to move very slowly to keep it under 105 bpms. The chair in my car has a manual lever that you crank to raise it up. My husband is 6’2″; he has it at the lowest setting. I am 5’0″; I have it at the highest. Never before did I realise how many times you have to crank it to raise the seat up. Crank, crank…rest, breathe…crank, crank…rest, breathe…. The things I never knew about aging and injury and illness: I need an automatic car! I need automatic seat movers! I need a bathroom that doesn’t involve going up and down stairs!

[That last comment was off-topic because, the day after the massage, having made it to the garden but needing to drink a lot of water to continue to flush toxins and keep my BP up, I squatted in a corner of the shrubs to pee. You never heard that. Don’t tell anyone. But it saved me about 200 steps]

So, I parked across the street and it was another of those oh-shit-I-never-realised-the-gradient-was-so-steep-here moments. I walked very slowly and carefully ~ carrying my far-too-heavy purse ~ the few steps that brought me directly across from the door to the massage place. My heart was hammering, so I stopped there and waited. And waited and waited. Another bad thing about a later Friday appointment: there was WAY more traffic than usual.

Now, back in Ireland, there are crosswalks, but you certainly don’t need one to cross the road. It was like a game of Frogger: cars didn’t slow down and you bounced your way through lanes of traffic, working diagonally towards the place you were going so as not to waste precious time with right angles. We were quite skilled at it. I would get annoyed if a car slowed down when I was in the street because he/she was just messing with my timing and rhythm. I would wave them on: go, go, go… I have other lanes of traffic to sync my gait with… But here in Seattle? People are aghast if you don’t use a proper crosswalk with a proper green man telling you to properly proceed. Within a few years of being here, I had been given THREE jaywalking tickets ~ and the fines were hefty!

[Another quick aside: I was given the first ticket when I was 23 or 24. I had been heckled by someone outside a bar after closing and was walking home alone when I saw he was following me. I made a bee-line diagonally across the street to get to my apartment as fast as possible and, in the middle of the road, I felt a hand on my shoulder and wheeled around to hit it off of me, thinking it was the guy from outside the bar. It was a cop. He said, “You’re jaywalking. Don’t you answer when someone calls you?” I said, “No, it’s 2 in the morning, some creepster was following me, I was just trying to get home. I didn’t hear you.” He said, “Come with me” and motioned to the footpath back the way I had come. And then slooowly, smirkily and assholey, wrote me a ticket. I had been drinking and I was scared and I was pissed off. I said, “Jaywalking? Can’t you go catch some rapists or something?” And, I swear to god, his answer was: “Actually, there aren’t very many rapes around here.” I still get fired up thinking about it!]

SO, after waiting long minutes for the traffic to be clear in both directions, so I could slowly make my way across the street to the massage place, knowing I was now about 5 minutes late, I decided it wasn’t going to happen and I would have to cross the first side when it was clear and then weave through the cars stopped at the traffic light on the far side. But, when you have this illness, you can’t hop or skip or hurry your steps… you can’t really lift an arm to wave thank you. And the people in the cars looked at me like I was SO rude and one person raised their palms up as if to say “What the fuck?” and I realised the light had turned green and I was still doing my sloth-walk to the curb. I tried to look remorseful, I mouthed “I have this mitochondrial dysfunction and dysautonomia issues and weak muscles. I know I look able-bodied, but I’m not, please be patient” “sorry” to the driver. It was the longest walk across a road in my life.

Then I had to tackle the 5 steps up to the door (oh no, this is too much) and, when I walked in, the owner and my massage therapist were sitting in the waiting room – waiting. For me. I sat down. The owner (whom I know from my old life) said, “I was starting to get worried. You’re always early.” I burst into tears. I still hadn’t caught my breath and time was ticking away and I was embarrassed that parking across the street had caused me such problems.
“My heart rate… It took me longer than I anticipated to get across the street,” I said.
My massage therapist (who knows all about my illness) said, “To get to the crosswalk?”
I thought about the crosswalk 100 miles half a block away. “God no. I could never make it to the crosswalk.”
The owner said, “Next time you should park on the next street over.”
I said, “But that’s a lot more steps to walk.”
He halfway joked, “You need a Segway.”
I said, “I wouldn’t be able to stand.” Because, believe me, I have considered every option out there.

The three of us just sat there for a minute and I felt the panicky, trapped feeling I get every time I realise just how difficult every inch of the world can be and how ill-equipped society is to help. Every moment takes energy and every day needs to be so carefully thought out in advance. Nobody can understand this unless they live it.

Afterwards, my massage therapist surprised me by running out to get her car so she could DRIVE ME ACROSS THE STREET. I wish I had taken a photo ~ it was literally across the street and down a few car lengths. The gesture was so kind and generous after I had her now running about 15 minutes behind, that I didn’t bother telling her that walking uphill to her car idling in the alley and clambering into her tall SUV was as difficult as walking unaided back to my car on the downhill slope.

Gratitude for the day: for all the healthy people that go above and beyond to understand and accommodate and have compassion for people with disabilities.