InkTober 2017: Day 19 – Cloud

As a child, did you play the game where everyone would lay on their backs in the grass and look for shapes, usually animals, in the thick fluffy white clouds as they floated by? I loved that game. I also loved trying to see the things that others saw, although I wasn’t always successful. However, what I loved more was the slight dizzy feeling I would get as the clouds and their blue backdrop of sky moved above us because it made me feel as if I was moving too.

Sometimes I would lie on the grass for what felt like hours. Then when I finally stood up, I would feel unsteady. I always needed a moment to steady myself on the solid ground before I could start running around again with my friends.

I wonder if I’m the only one who felt that sensation?

 

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InkTober 2017: Day 18 – Filthy

I was raised in a family where swearing, especially among children, was unacceptable – even taboo. Because of this, for most of my life I’ve considered swearing a filthy habit or something done by those who have a limited vocabulary and inability to express their thoughts without relying on profanity. I’m not so sure I believe that so strongly now. In recent years, as my illness has refused to subside, my opinion has softened. Maybe it’s partially because my pain medications have somewhat lowered my inhibitions or it might be that when I’m in extreme pain my mind doesn’t always function clearly.

Whatever the reason, swearing has become part of a shorthand for me to express my anger, frustration, and pain. However, I’m still a bit reserved about when I use obscenities. I won’t swear in front of my parents or elder members of my extended family, probably because somewhere deep inside me I still fear some sort of punishment for using what I was raised to believe is “bad language.” I don’t swear when speaking to the doctors whose support and efforts to get me healthy have been steadfast. And I definitely don’t use curse words in the presence of children.

So when, if not in front of all those I’ve listed, do I spurt coarse four-letter – and occasionally longer-lettered – words? I use curse words when I’m talking to friends and family (like my brother) with whom being myself, all of myself, is never questioned. I blurt them out when, frustrated, I fumble through explaining to my therapist how I’m coping with all aspects of my illness. I can also string curses together, better than a sailor does, when I’m on my own and hopelessly trying to do something that never posed any difficultly when I was healthy.

Although I may not swear in every conversation or every instance of frustration, I must admit that I don’t view doing so as filthy as I once did. It has earned a place in my linguistic arsenal as a tool that helps me get to the point of what I need to communicate faster than trying to search for the appropriate words when I need that energy to focus on what ails me.

 

 

InkTober 2017: Day 15 – Mysterious

One of my favourite things to do when I was a teenager was ride the subway in my city from one end to the next, for hours, while writing. I would sit on a seat that gave me a wide vantage point to watch people as they entered and exited the subway car in which I rode. Watching people’s movements inspired my poetry and prose writing. Trying to see beyond the clothes and blank expressions, they wore, made my mind work to create personas or circumstances I felt suited each man, woman, or child as they moved briefly toward me then permanently away from me out the train’s sliding doors.

On one occasion, I wrote a short poem about a man whose presence caught my attention. He was tall and he stood in the doorway of the train’s car with one shoulder leaning against the Plexiglas-enclosed entryway. However, I couldn’t read too deeply into him because he wore sunglasses, which prevented me from seeing his eyes and made him more mysterious than he probably was. Not being able to see a person’s eyes always makes it difficult for me to read them and in this case, his sunglasses made it impossible.

As the man continued standing in the doorway, I was unable to hide my interest in him. Although I couldn’t see his eyes I knew he was looking at me. As he stood there, I wrote about him and I wondered if he knew he was my subject. I got my answer when the train arrived at his stop. Before he left the train, he looked directly at me and smiled. I was so taken aback by that sudden unexpected connection that I smiled back. I smiled back not knowing for certain why he smiled at me.

As silly as it may sound: to this day, thinking about that experience unnerves me. Why did that man, whose eyes couldn’t be seen, smile at a teen-aged girl while they rode on the same train?

 

InkTober 2017: Day 14 – Fierce

I had trouble drawing my sketch and writing my thoughts coherently, for this prompt since I read it a couple of days ago. I knew what I wanted to draw to represent the word ‘fierce’ and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. However, I’d never drawn a lion before and, on top of that, I had some writer’s block too. I tried a few times to start the sketch but it wouldn’t take shape the way I wanted it to. I did a lot of erasing and had to sharpen my pencil many times. I wanted to draw a lion that looked like a creature to be feared, instead of a stuffed animal but that’s not an easy thing to do when you’re not an accomplished artist.

Why the words wouldn’t come is a different and very personal matter. What I was trying to truthfully articulate is something I’ve struggled with in my life: putting on a façade to appear tougher than how I feel because I don’t want others to know that their attempts to wound me have landed with painful accuracy. As a woman, I’ve done that repeatedly to push through and past situations, while pushing away the someone(s) who felt they had the right to betray my trust or recklessly harm me. I did it so many times that it became second nature, while showing what I truly feel and how deeply I feel it became gruelling work.

I assume we all like to believe that we are or can be fierce when a situation makes it necessary. I say “necessary” because the human body’s nervous system is not designed to be on constant alert. Being fierce at all times requires a hyper-vigilance that takes a toll on one’s body and mind. We are designed to sense danger, get ourselves to safety, then shut down that alert system so our bodies return to a (relative) state of calm. Moreover, the measures needed for keeping out the bad, mean not allowing enough of the good to find its way through; and it can be exhausting to keep this cycle going.

My fierce demeanor was so well-practiced I could probably teach how-to classes and make a fortune. First, there’s the posture one must take where your back and shoulders are held with such stiffness your body oozes aloofness and an air of I don’t give a f…, which may send a message that feelings – if it’s believed one has any – can’t be accessed or hurt. Then there’s the sharp cutting glance that takes years to master and to an untrained eye may resemble the batting of an eyelash. The sender must make sure the receiver feels the whittling sharpness of the look to their core in an instant. While the accompanying words – their calculated pitch and timing between them – further build the effect of an impenetrable stone structure that towers protectively above one’s physical frame.

Many years ago, I had to look at my life and figure out how well this strategy was working for me. The primary question being: Was my fierce demeanor attracting the people and the experiences I wanted in my life? If it wasn’t, what did I have to change? Although, I didn’t have to overwrite who I was completely, it took years for me to unlearn and untangle myself from these exhausting self-protective practices. Furthermore, the work is ongoing because there is no single action or magic pill that can give you everything you want overnight.

 

InkTober 2017: Day 8 – Crooked

My life has not moved along a straight linear path in recent years – it probably never did. Because of my health, it has swung from one extreme to the next – from quiet calm to frenzied panic – without much warning. If I had to draw a graph to represent that activity, the line would have few crooked curves; it would be a line with jagged high peaks and deep valleys illustrating the sharp turns I’ve experienced while living with this yet to be fully diagnosed illness. However, as sharp as the turns have been, they haven’t all been bad. At the top of some of the high peaks, I’ve had some unexpectedly joyous moments and it’s been those moments that have kept me grounded and moving forward with some hope of a full recovery.

Interestingly, the difficulties of my health were not the first things I thought of when I read the word ‘crooked’ from the list of InkTober prompts. Although I’ve traveled to California before, I’ve never been to San Francisco. So why Lombard Street in San Francisco was my first thought I don’t know.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I must have locked away the piece of trivia about Lombard Street being named “the crookedest street in the world” because of the eight hairpin turns in its design resembling zigzags that carry it down what was once a steep slope (27% grade). All the photos of Lombard Street I’ve ever seen, show a beautiful hillside lined with planted bushes of bright flowers and homes built on either side of a winding street paved with red bricks; and because of these features this street is a huge tourist attraction in San Francisco. Maybe one day in the not-to-distant future, when I get back to traveling on a regular basis, I’ll take a trip to see it.

 

InkTober 2017: Day 7 – Shy

I learned a lot while using InkTober as a mindful writing exercise last year. The most important thing is that even though it is a challenge that asks participants to draw something each day, one might not always be able to adhere to that schedule. Especially, if you’re someone who has health challenges as I do. I didn’t post yesterday for two reasons. The first is that I woke up in the early twilight hours of the morning because of a high level of leg pain, which was a sign that I wouldn’t be able to push myself. I’m sure someone reading this will wonder how drawing something and writing a few paragraphs is pushing one’s self, but doing those things while feeling a high level of pain requires exerting a lot of energy that’s better spent focussed on self-care.

The other reason I didn’t complete the entry and post it is that it’s a holiday weekend here: Thanksgiving. That means I get to spend time with people who might usually have hectic schedules. Yesterday, I spent some great quality time with my brother. He came to my home early in the afternoon and we spent hours talking and laughing, we barbequed burgers for dinner, and I beat him in two consecutive games of Scrabble. We were enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t realize how late it was until our second game finished just after midnight. Those are the kinds of days we’ve always enjoyed spending together so doing it yesterday even though I wasn’t at my best was great.

However, even with all that going on yesterday I had completed the mindful writing part of my daily challenge, which I edited today to explain not posting it. I was just short on time, and unwilling to rush, to complete the sketch. Therefore, today I’m posting my pieces for the InkTober Day 7 prompt which was the word ‘shy’. I’m still not great at drawing faces, but I think this is a significant improvement.

Here goes:

I was an extremely shy kid. It was hard for me to interact with anyone I didn’t know well. I would look at the ground instead of making eye contact when someone spoke to me. When answering a question, my voice would come out in a soft almost inaudible whisper. I would fidget. My leg(s) especially, would start to involuntarily bounce-shake (I know there’s a technical name for this action but I prefer using this term) at a rapid rate; and my bottom lip would almost get chewed through when I felt uncomfortable in a social situation, which usually meant wearing lipstick was pointless. I still have some of these tells today, but I’ve overcome a lot of my shyness.

Many people I know don’t believe I am or ever was shy. I understand why they might think that and I also now know that some of the things I felt frustrated about and used to believe were insurmountable aspects of my shyness, are not. It’s easier for me to do things I couldn’t when I was growing up after years of practice and, I have to admit, career training and experience. Even though I despise small talk, I can start conversations with strangers if the situation calls for it. I can also deliver a presentation/speech in front of large groups because I learned to put a lot of time into preparation, which may be the best way to ensure you won’t be overcome by nervousness.

Moreover, I’ve learned that I’m not just shy. I’m an introvert. So at times when I don’t feel like being part of a large social group – or any group – it’s not because of my shyness or me being antisocial; it’s because I need the alone time to recharge or think without noise. I also understand that my ability to be the life of the party – when I’m with close friends and family – is not contrary to the definition of introversion; it just means that I feel comfortable and secure with who I’m with and in my surroundings.

Most importantly, I know that there’s nothing wrong with being shy. It’s not a disorder that needs curing. It’s a single aspect of who I am. Besides, not always being in the mix of things gives me the chance to take a step back to assess people and situations – and my needs – to discern what is best for me.

 

InkTober 2017: Day 2 – Divided

Divided: that’s a loaded word for me. For a long while, I’ve been feeling that my life is divided. It got that way four years ago, on the day my illness showed up. I didn’t know it then but, since the first moments, it divided time into before and after illness. I’ve tried not to think of my life that way, at least not from a negative perspective, because I know that my life is greater than these two dimensions. However, the truth is, I have to acknowledge that my life is not the same.

It may never be what it was before the day two extra-strength Tylenols weren’t enough to soothe the pain as it grew in my lower abdomen. It may never be the same as it was before I lost control of my trembling body. Trembling that became uncontrollable shaking because the pain was so overwhelming. My life may never be the same as it was before the ambulance ride that took an eternity to get me to the hospital emergency room. Before the months of multiple doctors’ misdiagnoses or the reluctant surgeon’s year of waffling about whether she could or would ever try to help me by doing the surgery she trained to do. Nor may it become the same, as after illness, since finally having surgery didn’t result in the end of any of my pain.

The interesting thing is that the space I occupy now is nowhere near after illness. It can’t possibly be when there are moments when all I can think about is freeing my body of pain and when that pain-free time will become permanent. My current existence is probably better characterized as ‘since illness’, which is an altogether different division. So far, each pain treatment I’ve undergone has delivered negligible short-lived relief or completely failed; and if the ongoing pain treatments are any indication, I may never achieve an after illness state.

Yet, I must continue living without losing hope, or my sanity. I have to keep myself grounded to avoid causing myself unnecessary grief because, as I’ve been taught: suffering is wanting something other than what exists in the present moment. Therefore, looking back at what was in my past (before illness) or what’s in store for my future (after illness) is unhelpful.

My life didn’t stop because of my illness. Although I fully accept that it changed, there’s no need to divide it into pieces and compartmentalize events into good and bad. I will, however, continue to live in the present, mindful of focussing on each moment as it comes.

The image I’ve chosen today to illustrate the word divided is a pie. We divide whole pies into slices to feed others and ourselves. If a thing must be divided I prefer to look at the possible positive outcomes from its division.