Featured

What’s with the name?

John Muir disparages both the language for and the activity of hiking. He said that we should speak of sauntering through the mountains instead of hiking them. The word he preferred, of French origin, means “to the holy land” and those who went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the middle ages became known as saunterers due to giving that exact answer when asked where they were going.

I take no issue with the word saunter and I have traveled to many places in this world that I would call “holy.” However, I’m not entirely certain that I am on a pilgrimage at this particular juncture in my life; and even if I was, I’m not entirely certain that all places I have encountered, am encountering, or will encounter are wholly holy. That statement, of course, sets aside the debate about the totality of creation being imbued with the divine for another occasion.

And so, when I reached for a word to label this journey and this blog, I opted instead for the word coddiwomple. An old English word, a nod to my heritage perhaps. A word that sounds much like something you would do only when more than slightly inebriated. Or something you would be forced to do in such a state. A style of walking destined to feel like traipsing over, through, or around the twisted roots pictured at the top of this page. But the word coddiwomple seems to me much more fitting for my present circumstances. It is defined as “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.” Which is very much what it feels like I’ve been doing for a while now – traipsing over, around and through internal and external roots. Without the slightest notion where I’m heading to, but heading there with great determination and resolve.

I imagine that’s very much what I’ll be doing on this blog as well; coddiwompling from one vague destination to another – through poetry and prose – perhaps, after all, for a holy purpose.


Math

In the first grade, I consistently scored 100’s on those 1-minute math drills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I racked up a lot of gold stars. In the 5th grade, I did a research paper on Darwin. Darwin! I don’t remember if I picked that topic or if I drew the short straw on the list of available topics. Nevertheless, I DO remember reading many books that were way over my head and yet, somehow, still getting an A on that report.

Things changed in high school. In the ninth grade, I failed one 9-week period of biology and wound up the year with a C- for the course. In 11th grade, I faced my final exam in pre-calculus with an overall grade of a 69 – one point shy of a D. [I will say, as a somewhat legitimate excuse, I missed six weeks of classes due to mono in that grade. In pre-calc, that translated to ALL of the trigonometry instruction, the only exposure I had to that]. With tutoring from Robin (friend at the time), and Aaron (beau at the time), and the teacher, I somehow managed to not only pass that class with a B, I got a 92 on the final exam. I remember Mrs. Roach coming around with her grade book to show us our scores, placing the book on my desk, pointing to the numbers and saying, “Why haven’t you been doing this?” I credited divine intervention.

Senior year was calculus. I had signed on for that through my counselor (remember them??) before things went badly the year before, and after my miraculous recovery at the last second, I decided I might be able to make it through after all. I was wrong. Three weeks in, I was standing outside our classroom, waiting for the Algebra II class to clear out, telling David Bains, Matthew Knaub and 2 other friends that I was dropping the course. Derivatives were beyond me and I needed to bail before I failed. Needing nothing else to graduate, I picked up a study hall.

I was perfectly fine stepping away from calculus knowing that those staying behind had it covered. Not that I thought calculus was a crucial skill for survival in this world, but I knew that if I ever needed derivatives in the future, I had several people who could help me live to see another day. Truth be told, I married one of those people, so all I really have to do now is look across the table.

The last few weeks, I’ve become embroiled in discussions over math – a topic I demonstrably have not always been great at. But what I currently see is a failure to understand simple math – multiplication, division, percentages, basic statistics. It’s the reason that people are floating ludicrous theories about the coronavirus only killing .017 percent of the people it infects. (If you’re confused about how they’re arriving at those numbers, ask me – I finally get it)

I’m sure this was true when I was younger as well, but it seems to me that so many people now don’t even understand that they don’t understand. To an even greater degree, they can’t acknowledge that the people who have made it their career to understand these things might have something of value for them to understand. They cannot, or will not, look across the table to anyone.

I’m not sure when we lost that. When we, as individuals and as a country, decided we either were right or had to be right about everything. But it seems to be what’s making our country unique in this pandemic. Thousands of people have died and are dying because of willful ignorance and pride in ability and knowledge that does not exist; meanwhile, those who have better answers are silenced, belittled, ignored or banned from the table all-together.

It’s not that I haven’t done this myself: I have. I have feigned knowledge so as not to look uninformed, or ill-informed, or memory-compromised. I’ve sworn I read a book because I assumed I should have read it. We all believe we should know it all and we have a hard time admitting that we don’t. But it’s time we started being able to do that. In fact, it’s past time – far past it.

139,189 deaths – and counting…


Privilege

“You do know you’re better off than most, right? RIGHT???”

The second, repeated question came because I didn’t answer the first one. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by this. It was my follow-up with my Mayo doctor (an MS specialist) and we had barely started our telemedicine visit when he made this query. He had asked how I was and I had answered as honestly as I could. Which included some lament about how I still couldn’t do everything I wanted to do.

And then the question: You do know you’re better off than most, right?

Now, I have seen several others who are better off than me. I personally know several others who are “better off” than me. They walk more confidently than I. With trekking poles. Or unassisted. They work. They hike. They run. Even though they, like me, have been diagnosed with a neurological condition they are still, in my eyes, “better off.”

And so I hesitated to answer. And he asked again. “RIGHT???”

The conversation continued without me responding. We talked about the coronavirus and whether I was at an increased risk to get it or to have a harder time with it (the answer to both of those, from studies that have been done, is no). We talked about the need to do follow-up MRIs and make an in-person visit when we could. We discussed a bit about just life and our concerns for what’s happening in the world. I reminded Dr. Kantarci about the MS Gym and told him I’d been chosen to take part in higher-level neuromuscular training and the improvements I’d seen from doing that program. He was thrilled to hear about that. He said it was exactly what I needed to be doing – what all his patients needed to be doing, but that not all of them would. Because some of them were happy enough with how they were doing. Because they wouldn’t believe it could help. Because their doctors didn’t believe it would help. But largely because they simply couldn’t do it. They didn’t have time, or the ability, or the resources, or access…

Trevor Wicken is a miracle. He doesn’t have to lay his hands on you to see what needs to be worked on. To know which parts of your brain have been affected and need a workaround. All he needs is videos of you walking and doing specific exercises. He’s amazing. His programs are amazing. But he’s only one man. And the most valuable resources he offers aren’t available unless you’re a paying member.

Oh –

Some wouldn’t have access…

Some wouldn’t have the resources…

My original intent in 2018 was to take a year off from work and focus on me. I did this, partly, because I understood that the stress of a 40+ hour work-week was getting to be too much for me. I didn’t have the energy to do it; and I didn’t have time/energy to exercise on top of it. Despite still being upright, I was falling behind in getting ahead of the damage. I worried a bit that if I didn’t put the time into getting better, the window on being able to workaround might close. I’m lucky that Robin had a great pension plan through NASA and we can exist comfortably on his continued take-home pay while neither of us works.

Oh –

Some wouldn’t have time…

Some wouldn’t have ability…

I started my vocational path as a young teenager by learning about systems analysis. I consider myself both an empathetic person and someone who has the ability to see the larger picture. But I needed it subtly pointed out to me that some people with MS are “settling” for the MS medicine because it’s the only hope they have of slowing down their disease so they can continue putting food on their table for as long as and as well as they can…and that some get whatever small benefit they can from “regular” physical therapists who don’t understand that different kinds of exercises might be more beneficial because it’s all they have access to – or all they can afford – or all their insurance and/or doctor will prescribe and cover.

I am better off –

All of these things have been floating through my head the last several weeks. And then there was George Floyd.

******

Do you remember when the new designs for US paper currency started coming out in the early aughts?? I do. It’s about the same time – probably exactly the same time – that those counterfeit detection pens started appearing at the registers of convenience and chain retail stores. I remember having my money checked; several times actually. There was even one time that the cashier was certain that one of the bills I handed her was fake. I remember leaning over the counter toward her while she checked. I was interested in knowing too. Not worried about it…just interested. Because – and here’s what we often forget – it wasn’t my bill. I didn’t own it. It was simply in my possession. I had gotten it from somewhere else; the bank or another store. And now I was passing it along to this business in exchange for whatever it was I was buying that day. No big deal; if it was fake, I’d probably be out 5, 10, or 20 dollars and I’d have an interesting story to tell. Nothing more than that. This is not what happened with George Floyd.

I am better off –

******


Two years ago I took part in a Crossroads Anti-Racism training event at Montreat Conference Center. One of the sessions that I attended was focused on things you (meaning me or any of us as individuals) can do to bring about changes to the systems that have oppressed people of color for generations. The opening activity for our time together was an exercise on privilege. There were six sheets laying on a table and jars of colorful paperclips. {Many of you have done an exercise like this so I know I’m not walking you through something you’re unaware of}. You took a paperclip for each experience on those sheets you could safely say you’d be allowed to do (or you had already successfully done) without incident. The experiences addressed situations where age, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, or socioeconomic status might play a role in the outcome of the experience. I walked away with 47 paperclips in a necklace. 47. Not the most you could receive, but a significantly high percentage.

I am better off –

Since this is my blog site, it feels a little like this should be the end of the post – my confession of how I came to understand the level of my privilege by reflecting on a direct question from a medical provider. But it’s time for more than that. It’s far past the time for us to contemplate our shortsightedness in ways that lead only to us being and perhaps acting a bit more “woke.” We are in need of deep communal reflection (which entails many, many individuals reflecting in a group setting) on how those who hold a higher number of privileges than most have co-opted the systems so that they work conveniently and readily for “us.” And how those who have fewer privileges don’t have “interesting stories” to tell but instead experience and relay stories of frequent dismissal, harassment, belittling, abuse, oppression or worse. It’s time we own the privileges that are often permanently ours to own.

I don’t have the answers. The fact is, I (we) shouldn’t be the ones with the answers. However, simply by nature of the systems we currently have in place in this country, those of us who find ourselves in the “better off” category must play a crucial role in creating a more just system for those who are (God-waiting*) temporarily disadvantaged because of their status on any one of those previously-mentioned scales of privilege. By advocating for, listening to, making room for, and working with those whose voices have long been dismissed, unheeded or in many cases, silenced. Until the systems that oppress crumble…and those who have been held down can also proclaim “I am better off.”

We can do better. For the sake of our sisters and brothers, we must do better. Today I pledge more fully and more strongly than ever to do my part.

*I know full well that the saying is God-willing but I believe wholeheartedly that God is indeed willing and that the delay in this becoming a reality lies fully and squarely on our shoulders. Thus, God-waiting

Coming out…a little bit

I belong to a group called the MS Gym. At the time of this writing, there are 22,467 members in this group – all diagnosed with MS or one of several other illnesses that cause neurological damage and effect mobility. All of them use the exercises designed by the founder of the MS Gym, Trevor Wicken, to build new neural pathways that help them recover some of that lost mobility; just like I have. We utilize hashtags with our posts so that the admins and other members can easily find the information they’re looking for. Here is the (slightly modified) post I shared with them today. Some of this is meaningful only to them. Most of it isn’t –

It’s time for my story to start coming out…because silence benefits only oppressors and abusers.

**********

#mindset #share #victory

So, this is something of an unusual post for this group but it’s my current reality and it may just help someone else.

I’ve been with the MS Gym for over 2 years now. I turned to this program for help getting back up on the my feet after traditional physical therapy failed to help me significantly improve. I’d fallen down and fractured a part of my pelvic bone. That fall was the catalyst for me making a trip to the Mayo Clinic to try and figure out what was happening with me.

Since joining, I’ve gone through most of the core programs, a few of them 2 and 3 times. Until last week, I was on sitting strong and BGB standing – I’d circled back from moving strong chair and movement camp 1 after feeling like I hadn’t gotten all of the fundamentals. And I was right – I hadn’t. I figured out that I was compensating for both my standing and my sitting up with my shoulders and neck. I needed (and still need) to strengthen my hip flexors, glutes and spinal extensors to move. And I’ll get there. These programs work. But this post isn’t about rebuilding my physical strength and mobility, it’s about healing my spirit and my soul. It’s about rebuilding my mental and emotional wellbeing – and the power that comes from doing so.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that traumatic events can trigger MS. Either a relapse or the initial crisis/diagnosis. I think that’s what happened to me. My husband and I lived (unknowingly) in a moldy home for six years. It was a church-provided house that we got to use as part of my compensation for serving as their pastor. When it was discovered in 2014, the mold inspector rated it at an 11 and said that was worse than 85% of homes with mold/neurotoxins and that it was an “everybody out” situation. We had known something was wrong for a while. We would go on vacation and feel wonderful but come home and within half an hour feel like crud – tired, achy, frequent headaches, stomach issues, etc.

We moved out. In fact, we moved several times during the next couple of months until we found a suitable, clean house to rent 10 miles from the church. By this time, my ankles were collapsing and I would trip – a lot. People would ask me what was wrong and I would tell them about the mold and the neurotoxins and that I was being treated for it. I got better but I never got BETTER. And my not living in the church’s house turned my relationship with them sour. The governing body of the congregation didn’t want the congregation to be fully aware of what was going on and I was trying to walk the line to keep everyone happy. Despite my best efforts to manage it all “gracefully,” I was unable to really work full-time without it taking a toll on me physically and emotionally.

We stayed 2 more years there. The longer I was out of the manse (church home), the better I felt. But we shouldn’t have stayed. They decided not to clean the house well enough for us to return and many in the congregation thought I no longer cared for them. Ten miles away was too far away for me to be “part” of them so (obviously) I didn’t want to be part of them. I was frustrated, angry and sad. I was wounded. I was traumatized. But I wouldn’t say the word “trauma.” And I didn’t/couldn’t really talk to anyone about what had happened – and what was still happening.

We moved here to North Carolina in 2018 so I could take a break from ministry. Before that, we were in West Virginia for another congregation. That’s where I fell. That’s where I was when my dad died. That’s where I (and a few other church members) were threatened by an elder. I’ve been seeing counselors since early 2017, but there’s been a lot to talk about and my original trauma hasn’t been addressed until the last couple of months. I’ve been discussing grief – and my health – and my overwhelming need to “do” that drives my ambition to be back on my feet. Last week I talked about Bethesda (first church). I’d stumbled upon some emails between myself and their leadership and it all came crashing down. I had bad dreams. I cried on and off the next day. I couldn’t function. My counselor and I talked about how much pressure I had been putting on myself to just keep going – and how much time/energy I was spending just to get back to “normal.” “We” decided (he helped me decide) that it was all too much for me right now. That maybe this is what desperately needed my time and attention. My heart. My spirit.

Last Thursday, I stopped my MS Gym exercises. I turned the focus to other things. I’m still doing release work. I’m still doing breathing exercises. I’m stimulating my vagal nerve with a TENS unit. I’m listening to binaural beats as I go to sleep each night – theta waves for deep relaxation. I’m just not doing the real EXERCISE part of the program.

But here’s the thing (and if you’re still reading this post, kudos to you and thanks for hanging in there!!) Last night I came out of the bathroom and got into the bed. That usually entails me leaning on the edge (it’s a bit high) and then pulling myself up with my hands and a bilateral “skooch” of my butt. Last night, I leaned against the bed, shifted one hip back and then the other- no hands – and I was up! This morning I noticed that I wasn’t “falling” the last 2 inches onto the couch and when I stood up from there, I just stood up. I’m doing less physically – but I’m working hard on the emotional side. I’m trying to put less pressure on myself to “get there” (wherever “there” is) NOW – and I’m gaining ground.

MS is complex. Life is complex. So many things can keep us from improving, including “us.”. I don’t know your path, but I pray that you find your way.

***********

This is the beginning of my story – the first little bit that I’m putting out there for the world to see. Many of you don’t know this part of me. As I put this out, I realize that so many of us have pieces like this. Parts of our stories that we just don’t share. Because we’ve been told not to. Or because we’ve decided you shouldn’t speak about. If you haven’t told anyone, please do; whether you realize it or not, it’s important. It might just set you free.

Uncovered

An array of my papers from Gibbons’ class

A few weeks ago, Robin brought in my college coursework for me to go through. {From my second foray into college, not my first – before you start to think the paper must have been disintegrating.} I had previously whittled those documents down to just a handful of psych classes I might occasionally want notes from, so this time around I mostly just moved one thin folder from the left side of me to the right – to be stored away in the “Reference” section of our upstairs office library.

It was all going very quickly – until I got to the only thick folder in the stack. Inside were some class notes, a midterm exam, and 11 variations of a paper entitled “Academic Performance Differences in Traditional and Non-Traditional College Students.” Being close to 30 when I went back to school for my Bachelors degree, this was a topic of great interest to me at the time. Well, it wasn’t eleven papers interesting. Or it shouldn’t have been. But the professor for that class utilized a teaching style that focused on correction to the exclusion of preparation. The only redeeming quality in this pedagogical style was that you were granted the opportunity to rewrite – as long as you turned your paper in early. One rewrite for each day early. Thus the 11 papers.

For some reason, Dr. Gibbons forged a sort of alliance with me about half-way through the course, and he began asking my opinion about the class. That may well have been because I was only 3 years his junior. Or perhaps it was because he learned, before he ever asked me the first thing, that I would provide him with the unvarnished truth, as I saw it. Whatever the reason, he enlisted my help in running and analyzing psychology studies that semester in 2000.

I was sitting in his office one day, entering data from the latest experiment onto his computer, when another student from my class came in. The two of them talked for a bit about a paper that student was re-writing. When she left, Gibbons turned to me.

Gibbons: By the way, where’s your rewrite?

Me: Oh, I’m done with that paper.

Why?

I got a 90 (pulled up from a 28, mind you)

You should rewrite it

I’m happy with that.

There are more points to be had

I don’t care about more points

You could get a better grade in the class

I’m getting an A

Rewrite it

I’ve used up all my rewrites (shifting strategy)

Don’t worry about that. Rewrite it.

I. don’t. want. to. (truth)

Rewrite it.

I have other classes!!! (and a job…more truth)

Rewrite it. please

There are two more rewrites of that particular paper in the aforementioned thick folder. But that’s not the point. Through the magic of bonus points and extra credit, I got 120 on the final version, but that’s not the point either.

The point is, flipping through those old papers and recalling this conversation afforded me a glimpse of a person I didn’t really recognize as myself anymore. That person – the one sitting in Gibbons’ office – didn’t hesitate to speak up for herself. She didn’t have to listen for a little voice in her head. She didn’t need that little voice to tell her to speak up. She knew her own mind. She knew what she wanted to do. She knew what she was happy with. She knew what she knew.

After that semester, Dr. Gibbons pressed that young adult to stay on at CNU to pursue a Master’s in Experimental Psychology. She declined; politely, but unequivocally. She went on to seminary.

And there, gradually, class after class, that young woman starting to lose confidence in her own voice. In her own knowledge. Listening to others, professors and students alike, who already knew and understood some of the course content, and not wanting to appear ignorant or slow to catch on, she sat silently and prioritized the things she needed to look up later. Externally muted, she picked up a nagging internal voice telling her that it would be easier to ask; it would be better to admit that she was not quite “there” yet.

Though the silence was never in her best interest, it would be years before it became truly detrimental to both her emotional and her physical health. By then the voice was demanding she pay attention but she no longer knew how. She couldn’t find the right places to assert, the right moments to clarify or push back, the right people to engage with. She no longer knew her own mind. She did not know what made her happy. She grew uncertain about what she actually knew. She let other, less relevant and less knowledgeable voices speak in her stead. And she said nothing if they did not. She could not say “I don’t. want. to.” And never said “I won’t.”

In case you think that I’m blaming myself for the pain-filled events that transpired during those years when I failed to speak, I am not. And at some point, when I can do so without causing the entire demarcation line of 2013-2016 to be exposed, I will find a way to lay bare those events to a wider community. There will be freedom in that. Of that I’m certain. But the alarms are still too ringing too loudly. So, for now, I won’t.

There is an aspect of my personality that fancies myself a unique individual; I often believe that there are things about me – my feelings, behaviors, attitudes, that absolutely no one else shares or could possibly understand. At the same time, I hope that what I think/feel/believe is somehow universally relatable. During these weeks of social distancing, I’m finding myself leaning in to that part that perhaps now more than ever feels wholly universal. The need to find a new normal. Even though finding “normal” seems elusive when each day brings a different set of realities – more or less mobility, more or less confidence, a new weird symptom or resolution of a previous one – there is a larger drive within me to find what is essential about me. What are the most important things that I want to be and to be known for when met by others? What is there that I can safely let go of, knowing it need not continue to be part of my identity?

I got on a “coffee chat” Zoom the other day. It was designed to be focused on one particular question for the group who joined. That question was “How has MS made your life better?” {I realize this veers toward my uniqueness…but imagine that someone were to ask you about how the most challenging thing in your daily living made you a better “you.”} Lots of people gave perfectly good answers outlining what they “appreciated” about having this disease. Friendships they never would have forged. The blessing of small things. Appreciating what they can still do. And then someone chimed in that he couldn’t find anything “good” in this. And someone else echoed that statement. And I piled on. Because I haven’t yet (?) found anything to be grateful for in this day-in-day-out struggle to exist. And honestly, it feels a bit like that to wonder what I will be like when I emerge from the traumatic events of the recent past. In that pile of papers on students’ academic performance and that recollection of a confident dialogue with my professor, I see one thing that I hope I will be more of in this wonderful new “normal.” I hope that whatever comes, I will speak out and up for myself so that I never get so hurt again. The rest of my hope for this wonderful person who’s coming soon is focused on being less. Less prickly – so that those who attempt to get close don’t find themselves spontaneously or unexpectedly injured. Less hesitant to trust myself and my own mind. Less fiercely independent. Less anxious about sharing wisdom, experience, and talents. Less need of assurance that I am safe in the company of others.

Perhaps if I can set these things aside it will be easier for me to find new (or old) healthier behaviors to embrace and cultivate. Perhaps then I will see the blessings of a less-than-ideal life. Perhaps it will free me from the bondage of those unmentionable years. Perhaps it will allow me to give voice to – and be – who I am meant to be

Perhaps

Perhaps

Do you talk to your “self”?

The title of this post is largely rhetorical. Everyone talks to themselves, although on occasion we can convince ourselves that really we’re talking with other people…they just aren’t in the room. We’re replaying the argument we had with our friend last week and trying to figure out where it got derailed. Or we’re planning how to have “that talk” with the boss tomorrow, seeing how different approaches feel to us.

But sometimes we really are talking to ourselves…we’re beating ourselves up for something stupid we said or we’re wondering where we put those always illusive car keys or we’re trying to remember if we put the milk back in the fridge and turned off the stove. It’s just easier to have those internal conversations out loud because, well…that’s how we talk! Out loud.

But when someone comes in the room and we’re externalizing those interior thoughts, we get embarrassed about it. We laugh it off, or we pretend the other person is hearing things. If we’re really quick on our feet, we might come up with a creative quip like, “Didn’t I tell you I got a part in a community play?”

But what if instead you said, “I was told to do that”? And meant it. Yeah…that’s where I am.

For the past few months, people have been telling me that I should start listening to my body…and speaking to it. Not random people, mind you. People I’m paying to help me get back up on my feet. Professional people. I’m not sure what it says about them that they ask these questions or about me that I continue to seek their counsel. But suspect sanity aside, here are the questions they’ve asked. “What is your arm trying to tell you?” “What do you think your hips want to say?” “Have you talked to your feet??” Crazy questions…

But here’s the thing. The more I thought about those questions, the more I realized they were relevant and probably should be given some consideration. Because I have been communicating with my body. The problem is, it’s all been one-sided. I have muttered profanities at various body parts for failing me on a daily basis. I have bemoaned my lack of coordination and the amount of time it’s taking for my legs to “get with the program.” I have said to my massage therapist, “When I lay on my side, the right arm…” and immediately before the question about talking to my feet, I said to my counselor (in barely-checked rage) “That foot made me fall.”

The arm (not my arm). That foot (not my foot).

It’s a little like playing out a conversation with someone who isn’t in the room. And even though I don’t really want to claim these less-than-perfect parts, they have been there the whole time. And one-sided conversations never work out well.

I’ve been using a meditation app lately (Buddhify). I have downloaded and used a lot of the short meditations from the “tough times” portion of the app. Last night, for the first time, I used a 5-minute meditation called “self-critical.” It was simple and not simple at the same time. You had to do two things. The first thing was giving the thoughts in your mind a name. As each thought came, you had to identify what kind of thought it was. Was it self-critical? Was it obsessing over a small mistake? Was it doubt? Was it complimentary?

Just as a reminder, each of us as human have four basic emotions: anger, sorrow, fear, and joy. Only one of those four things is what we would categorize as “positive.” We spend an inordinate amount of time feeling one of those other three things, to some degree. So, right now, while you’re reading this piece, take one minute and reflect on your thoughts as they pass through your mind, naming them for what they are. I’ll wait…

The second part of the meditation was to simply to “greet” those feelings with a “hi” or “hey there” or “hello again.” “Hey anxiety.” “Hi there loneliness.” The point was to befriend our thoughts and feelings – not to try to change them, but simply to recognize them as part of what is true of us in…that…moment…

We cannot take one step toward a new reality without understanding and accepting what our current reality is. The first step is naming it. The second one is befriending it.

I spent the past three or four years separating my “self” into two categories of parts. Those that work. And those that don’t. The ones that didn’t no longer got counted as part of me. I had not named them as “mine” – nor had I befriended them. There had been no chance for unity or even for harmony. I had not wondered what my arm or my hips were trying to tell me. And I had not spoken to my feet.

Until now.

Now I am trying to listen to what my body wants and needs. I am trying to be patient with the parts that are slow. I’ve been told that you can’t demand, but you can ask, and I’m trying that as well. When I sit in the car with my legs/feet still outside. When I sit on the bed and want to lay down. When I stand up and want to walk into the next room. I ask my legs and feet to play along. I wonder what it would be like if we could all move freely, without hesitation. And when Robin looks at me quizzically I simply say, “We’re just having a discussion.”

The odd thing is by singling each part out, especially those that aren’t working perfectly in the moment, I find it much easier to claim them as mine.

So…back to the original question: Do you talk to your “self”? And when you do (because we all do), what do you hear?

Let’s Get Physical!!

Staying upright, 2010

In the early 1950s, Murray Bowen shook up the world of psychiatry by theorizing that you couldn’t treat an individual in therapy without exploring that individual’s relationships with the other members of their family. After all, that group of individuals were emotionally connected and what one member did naturally effected the rest. Over time, Bowen found that each member of a family played a designated role in the system and followed certain rules in that role. Adherence to those rules mandated that each individual was bound to react or respond to the other individuals in pretty predictable ways. Those interactions produced a stable system of behaviors – functional or (more likely) dysfunctional. Part of individualized therapy then was the recognition that if they changed, the other members of the system would push-back and try to maintain the status quo. If the individual insisted on the new behavior moving forward, eventually, the other people in the system would have to adapt and hopefully grow into a healthier system. Of course, how long that adaptation took was anyone’s guess.

This might seem like an odd place for me start a blog post about my physical health, but over the last several months I’ve come to appreciate more and more the physicality of my illness as a system in flux. When we moved out of the manse in 2014, many parts of my body were misbehaving but I was certain that the only thing I had to do was clear my system of the mold and everything would return to “normal.” I made great strides in the months following that move, but a significant deficit in my left foot remained. That particular part of my body drew my attention and my focus. Fix the foot and go back to “normal.” After the fall in ‘17, it became my right side – from the hip down. The issue with the left foot became secondary. Regain strength in the right leg/foot – go back to “normal.”

A few months ago Robin and I put together a collection of photos from just a few of our trips that could run as background slideshow whenever our Smart TV went into sleep mode. It was running one evening in the background when I glanced up and noted the picture I included above. Do you see the problem with it? With me?? This shot shows the beginnings of a dysfunctional system. My hips are tipped forward unnaturally but my shoulders are still in alignment with my hips. What I know now (but didn’t know then) is that this stance is the culmination of several years of nerve damage to my brain and spinal cord slowly deteriorating my ability to stand and walk well. It only got worse from here.

Robin took this picture in 2010, as I stood on a black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I scrambled over and down rocks to get to that spot on the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, I was still walking…we did numerous hikes on this trip, including an uphill, up rock steps climb to a waterfall. As far as I knew, I was okay. But the system had been changing, slowly, for quite a while. And since the change was incremental, my brain didn’t alert me to what was happening and the rest of the system simply adapted to maintain balance (in this case, literally). The brain found other neurological paths to follow in order to keep me upright and moving forward, even if it had to hold and move me in ways that weren’t quite ‘right.’ It took four more years for my brain/body to finally say “enough” and scream out for my attention. It took three more after that for them to stop me in my tracks. Totter. Totter. Totter. Crash.

You might think that’s the end of the story. I certainly did for a while. Hell, neurologists did for a while. Once you got to the point that you couldn’t walk well, you might as well sit down. Here’s your wheelchair. But what I now know (thanks to my online coach) is that there are 94 quadrillion neural pathways from your brain to the rest of your biological system. And just like it did on the decline, the brain can find new routes to move your body correctly once again. The system can be fixed. Just like with a family, it takes one piece to start behaving differently…better…and then time for the others to get on board with the change. How much time is anyone’s guess.

I’m doing several things all at once to make this system, my system, operate better. Exercises. Myofascial release. Chiropractic adjustments. Supplements to suppress autoimmune dysfunction and improve nerve function. Adding small inconsistencies to my walking environment – noise, place, surface. {Since your brain craves consistency, changes in environment are especially troubling. I walk like a 2/3-3/4 “normal” person in my own house. Other places are slowly becoming more comfortable as well.} Each time one of these things “works,” the system has to adjust. Which is why those who see me on a consistent basis might think I’m getting worse while those who don’t see me often realize I’m moving better. It’s an up and down battle at the same time it’s an uphill battle. But the trajectory is up. Totter. Totter. Totter. Walk.

I don’t know where I go from here. I mean, I know where I go from here – just not where the blog goes next. There’s so much more to tell. So much more I’ve learned. Stay tuned!

Grounded

I was 18 years old the first time I heard the word “grounded” used in an instructive instead of a punitive way. A professor said, “Don’t ever touch the computer unless your grounded…” It wasn’t my first electronics class but it was the first time I had ever worked on the insides of a desktop PC. The reasoning behind the instruction was sound: ignore the mandate and risk frying the components. Not the best practice if you’re trying to fix the computer for someone else! In addition, you yourself could get hurt if you weren’t grounded. I wore my grounding strap faithfully and I never got injured.

I notice that this idea of being grounded is getting a lot of traction lately. In fact, I notice in the circles I regularly frequent people are speaking of grounding mats you can purchase. Items that you lay on or place your feet on, with wires that make their way outside your home and into the soil of your backyard. I frequent different circles than most. But isn’t that exactly what I and the rest of those students were doing in that lab at Thomas Nelson 30 years ago? “Grounding” ourselves to the earth outside?

As kids, the last thing in the world we wanted to hear was that we were grounded but as adults it’s a badge of honor. We strive to be grounded in who we are. It seems to me that what we are hoping for is a sense of health, stability, and well-being in all areas of our lives – physically, emotionally, financially, vocationally, and (for some) spiritually.

It’s an admirable goal. For a time it felt like I had achieved this. Life was good and I was content. But I’ve come to realize that that sense of groundedness can be lost really easily. If just one of those areas of your life gets to a state of slight unhealth, you can probably stand firm but if 2 or even 3 shift more than a little, you quickly find your groundedness slipping away. And truthfully, the shifting of 1 more than a little may lead to an unsettling of others.

Remember when circus performers used to spin plates atop thin rods? They would move back and forth between them, trying to keep all the plates spinning…spinning…spinning. And they could keep that pattern going for a while. But if they focused their attention for too long on any one dish that was in trouble, another would start to slow down and totter. Eventually they wouldn’t be able to reach the wobbling plates in time. And plate by plate, things would begin to fall apart.

Totter. Totter. Totter. Crash.

Anne Lamott, in her infinite wisdom, asserts that “almost everything will work again if you unplug it, including you.” That is probably the safest way to work on a computer, too. Just unplug it and minimize the risk of damage, for it and for yourself. It’s also safer that way to work on those delicate, internal systems.

I’ve spent this past year largely unplugged, trying to reclaim my groundedness. Not to go back to who I was before but to figure out who I am meant to be now. I have been slowly checking those internal systems, one by one, for levels of deterioration but also for signs of life and potentiality. First up, physical health; a close second, emotional well-being; slowly but surely, spiritual vitality and soon vocational fortitude and future possibilities. Financial fitness has always been largely Robin’s, but I am trying to be a little more knowledgeable of this as well.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a little bit about what I’ve discovered during this time “off the grid.” In the meantime, remember –

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, even you.” Computers, unless you tinker with them, will be exactly the same after you plug them back in. People might be too, I suppose. Unless you tinker…

Altered perspective

“The trees are different here.”

I said this the other day as we rode along a main highway. I had noticed an abundance of red as the trees went by us. Or rather as we went by them.

Green denotes spring.
Red comes with the fall.

As we learn in kindergarten, Green means go. Red means stop.
Carried to the extreme, green means life…and red must mean death.
Or the first sharp, startling, vibrant pangs of unstoppable death.

But the trees are different here.
And so, it would seem, is the color red.