Building On Happiness

The passage of time coupled with perchance interactions, have ways of presenting answers to questions we may not even be aware we’ve asked. The answers aren’t always worthy of celebration nor what we want to hear or see; however, when the information gleaned is unexpectedly joyful it can affect one’s perspective in delightfully life-affirming ways.

Throughout my life, I’ve had these experiences, but my tendency was to analyze and seek out more pieces to puzzles that only existed in my head. This created greater angst than necessary then it became nearly impossible for me to accept anything that presented itself to me at face value. Thankfully, I no longer have the need to analyze EVERYTHING in-depth and in recent years, because of my health challenges, it’s become impossible to invest copious amounts of energy into speculative mind, heart, and stomach churning overanalyses.

This brings me to a few nights ago. In what many of us may still refer to as “Kodak moments”; I saw for the first time since walking away, that I may have dodged one of the biggest bullets – actually two – in my entire adult life; and I smiled. Because of what I saw, there will never again be any looking back. There will no longer be any mournful sighing or wondering what might have been. And this smile – more like the grin of a cat after eating a succulent canary – will require no effort to reproduce. I will forever have in my mind’s eye the images that answered questions I never consciously asked and succeeded in dousing embers of lingering doubts.

 

Since then, I’ve been grinning from ear-to-ear and laughing out loud. (Not out of madness. I don’t yet spend that much time alone.) My laughter is akin to the way one’s fingers lightly skip across piano keys causing each note in a crescendoing scale to sing effortlessly through the air.

The heaviness that connected me to a long gone episode in my life lifted without any exertion on my part. The murky disjointed memories that held sway over me for years and caused me to doubt decisions I made in my best interest, lost all power. Then, as what I once characterized as meagre beatable obstacles replayed, a soothing calm fell over me as they became illumined to show they were, in fact, countless hazard symbols appropriately placed for me to dodge potential disasters on my path to becoming wholly me.

As cliché, and probably whacky, as all of this might seem to some people: the energy that becomes available for living one’s life when we let go of doubt(s) and the need for incessant forensic examination of the past is astounding. I feel freed from a thing I wasn’t aware was holding me captive. Part of my consciousness was running on a treadmill while the rest of me believed it was outside road running and hill training, stretching me and building my strength for the longevity we all need to carry us through life.

Although those physical activities are off-limits to me now – and I miss them, more than words can describe. I feel as if I’ve jumped off an invisible loop. Moreover, within the space now purged of subconsciously felt doubts, I can and I will exercise my conscious mind, emotions, and creativity to build on the happiness I already hold.

 

Advertisements

UFO: Unidentifiable Food Object

Every so often, I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to have an extended visit with my friend R. That involves breakfast, usually lunch and on rare days, like today, dinner. Today, as we sometimes do, we had breakfast at an all-day breakfast café near my home. I had a plate of neatly stacked French toast with scrambled eggs and R had the big breakfast with all the meats that tend to turn my stomach into a roaring ocean: bacon, ham, and sausage. As we ate our leisurely meal, we chatted about all sorts of things and mapped out the rest of our day.

Today we planned a very late lunch/early dinner at a favourite restaurant where R will definitely upgrade his meat choice and I might actually act like the omnivore I am. After being told I need to eat more meat a few years ago – apparently, my primarily vegetarian diet doesn’t provide my body with enough iron and protein – I now indulge in feasting on select meats (except pork, which I can’t digest) to keep my body steeped in hemoglobin. But I digress…

The plans for the rest of the day involved more food, conversation, and laughter. However, after our very late lunch/early dinner we knew we needed much lighter fare to take us through the evening. This called for a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some fruit and snacks. As we walked through the produce department deciding which fruit would be best I came across something I couldn’t make sense of. Were they mini mini eggplants/aubergines?

Nope…

They were grapes: sweet sapphire grapes to be exact. I’d never seen anything like them before. According to my mother – to whom I sent a photo of this strange fruit – and the interwebs, they are an old variety of grape. They are black, seedless, elongated, and tubular with dimpled ends. These grapes can grow as large as 5 cm to 7 cm (2 in to 2.75 in); and are usually harvested in mid to late August. Because we’d never seen them before we didn’t buy any. Truth be told, they freaked me out a bit. However, I’ll head back to the grocery store over the weekend so I can try them now that I know they are not mutant, radiated, GMO something or others.

In the meantime, I’m wondering how many other customers had a similar reaction to mine, or if others were more adventurous about trying this unidentifiable food object upon first sight…

 

Painful Pins and Needles

I haven’t had a lot of luck finding someone who can help me clean my home and do my laundry on a regular basis since becoming ill. The last person I hired was wonderful. Unfortunately, for me, housecleaning was only extra part-time work she did to make ends meet. Fortunately, for her, she was able to find full-time work with enough hours and compensation that meets her financial needs. Her now full-time employment means that she doesn’t have the extra time – and I’m certain not the extra energy – to clean homes anymore.

Since losing her help, I haven’t been able to find someone or a service that will include laundry as part of housecleaning without charging an arm and a leg. So, I’ve returned to doing both tasks on my own when I have the energy and not too much pain, which means things aren’t always as tidy as I like them to be. This past weekend, I had to do laundry because my dirty towels and bed linens were starting to pile up. All the activity and energy I needed to get them clean caused a pain flare up and triggered a symptom I haven’t had for a long while: my feet and ankles are swollen.

The usual warning sign of feeling pins and needles prickling from my toes and up my legs all the way to my hips preceded this pain flare up. Feeling pins and needles always causes an extremely high level of anxiety in me because I know it’s what happens right before the level of my pain starts to climb; and once the pain starts to climb I have no control over how intense or painful or for how long the flare up will last. All I can do is hope that it won’t be so terrible that I’ll have to go to the hospital emergency room for help to cope and get some relief.

On the other hand, I don’t get any warning sign(s) before my feet and ankles swell. It just happens and it adds to the pain in my feet and ankles because they become tender to the touch. I never know how swollen they will become: at times, I’ve been unable to wear certain shoes or boots because my feet seem to grow a size. I never know how long the swelling will last: this is the third day so far and sometimes they’ve stayed swollen for weeks.

Furthermore, after all this time, my Pain Specialists don’t know the reason(s) behind the swelling. At one point, they believed they increased the dose of one specific medication I was taking (Gabapentin/Neurontin) too high. This made sense because one of its known side effects is swelling of the hands/ankles/feet. However, last year, when my Pain Specialist decreased the dose then eventually removed Gabapentin from my treatment the swelling didn’t immediately go away. Some months later, it did stop, and it stayed away since about the middle of last summer. Why it came back a few days ago, I’m not sure.

So, once more my legs feel as if they are on fire as the pain builds and they swell. I’m doing my best to keep my legs elevated because I hope it will help to reduce the swelling – even if it’s only a little bit – and staying off my feet can help me cope with the pain flare up. I’m also sticking closely to my medication schedule by taking them as soon as my alarms go off because I want to maintain a steady level of pain medication(s) in my system.

If things become unbearable, I’ll make my way to the hospital emergency room.

There’s not much more I can do…

 

Grounding Lines

I needed to release a lot of negative emotional energy today. All the terrible violent and racist activity that’s been going on in America since last Friday has put me on edge. In the past, I might have gone for a long run but running is not an option for me because of my illness and unceasing chronic pain. Instead I opened my sketchbook and started drawing lines. I drew lines until my mind started to clear. I kept drawing them until I felt grounded again.

If I’m being honest, I’ve been on edge for quite some time. It’s hard hearing someone, like the President of America, who holds such significant power, saying things that are divisive and so far from disavowing groups rooted in hate and racism. As all of this persists, I have to believe the people who don’t hold his opinions outnumber him. I also have to believe, people whose values are built on the basic premise that all human beings are equal will prevail.

 

The Pill Box

Every week, either late Saturday night or at early light Sunday morning, I go through the ritual of filling my pillbox with my medications. My pillbox has 28 compartments. Each gets filled with a varying number of medications in the form of pills or capsules. On average, I take a combination of about 32 pills and capsules each day. However, the 32 pills and capsules don’t account for all the medications I take daily because I have others that come in different forms i.e. liquids, inhalers, and – on the odd occasion when my gastrointestinal system protests against ingesting certain types of oral pharmaceuticals – suppositories. Early on in my illness, I was even prescribed a topical anesthetic for pain that came in patch-form, but it did little to reach the source of the pain deep in my pelvis.

The largest part of the pills and capsules that fill each pillbox compartment are medications I take to manage my pain. They aren’t all opioids/narcotics, but the majority of what’s in the compartments usually is. Unfortunately, not all these medications always do what they are prescribed to do. Therefore, over the last four years there have been many changes made to my medications. Changes in doses are usually an increase in strengths – as petite as I am I seem to need large doses to manage my pain –, but I’ve learned that dose increases doesn’t have to mean an increase in quantity. Some medications have also been swapped for others of equal strength when they have caused unexpected side effects or delivered no benefit at all after weeks and in some cases, months of hoping for some relief with them; and occasionally new medications get added to the mix in an effort to boost the benefits of what works.

The Pill Box – 1

The Pill Box – 2

Sometimes, the number of pills and capsules I take might fluctuate from day-to-day. That fluctuation depends on whether my doctor(s) writes prescriptions for medications with a minimum and maximum dose. Because my pain medications are largely opioids/narcotics, I try – not always successfully – to take the lower end of a prescribed dose when possible to manage my pain. My Pain Specialist prescribes my primary pain medication in two forms. The first is a long-acting opioid/narcotic prescribed to be taken multiple times each day that is intended to manage my pain for a scheduled period. The second is a breakthrough or ‘rescue’ dose of that same opioid/narcotic that I take in between the long-acting doses; especially in times when my pain levels are high, which is most of the time. I try to take that breakthrough medication on the lower end of the prescribed dose(s), when I’m having a good day, which is rare; or if I’m lucky enough to sleep through the night the overnight breakthrough dose gets skipped.

The main point of having a pillbox is to make sure I don’t miss scheduled medication doses because I take so many throughout the day. Unbelievably, I’m not always successful and might miss a dose of something from time to time, whether it’s because I get distracted or I’m fortunate enough to get some restful sleep. Nonetheless, the brightly coloured compartments of the pillbox that I fill with brightly coloured pills and capsules is my constant companion and may remain so as long as I need a reminder to take 32 pills and capsules – give or take a few – each day.

If you don’t have a pillbox, how do you remember to take your daily doses of multiple medications?

 

Horrible Boss Flashback

It never goes away, does it? The involuntary visceral constriction when someone reminds you of a terrible episode in your life. Did the person with whom you imagined yourself building a life break your heart or did you break theirs? Did someone you loved dearly suddenly permanently pass from your life? Did a trusted friend unforgivably betray you? Did you have employers who inappropriately inserted themselves into your personal life? I’ve experienced these situations, and more, that have sometimes made life more difficult than one wishes it to be. However, the incident of which I was recently reminded was the inappropriate treading into my life, which my last employer felt they had the right to do.

I ran into someone recently, whom I had the pleasure of working with on a project for a short time, not long before I became ill almost four years ago. Lucky for her, she did not have to bear the same degree of pain, humiliation, and strife I did to cut ties with our former horrible boss. Hearing the name of the company where we used to work made me cringe. Since the end the legal action I had to take against the company, I’ve done all I can to limit contact with anyone who worked there so I can maintain my peace of mind. Especially those former colleagues who blindly supported my former horrible boss without knowing the truth about what I was subjected to.

My former horrible boss tried to deny me access to my disability benefits when it became clear that I couldn’t return to work after my hospitalization at the onset of my illness. She demanded answers to embarrassingly inappropriate questions about my health. She later terminated the part of my extended health benefits that paid for the many expensive medications I take to function daily; and even worse, she terminated my employment without notifying me about a year into my illness in an attempt to strip me of my long-term disability benefits. On top of all that, she launched a campaign of misinformation within the company to explain my sudden then extended absence. The stress of trying to cope with all of this and my poor health and constant pain was, at times, too much to bear.

The person I ran into knew the crux of the situation because she had heard details from a mutual friend. She expressed her sympathies that someone, anyone, could have done any of what our former horrible boss did to me; especially because the early period of my illness was when my doctors had no conclusive answers about what was happening to my body and I was truly fearful for my life. Instead of being able to direct my focus on my health alone, I was forced to cope with the added stress of an employer who felt they could insert themselves into the most intimate parts of my life. When I refused to share what was happening to me, in part because I truly didn’t know, but mainly because it’s against the law for an employer to ask. It set in motion the series of events I listed above – and much more I try never to think of – that I still sometimes can’t believe. The right to protect my health and personal information caused a protracted legal case that thankfully vindicated me and ended my former horrible boss’s persistently violent prying into my life.

Even though all of that happened, the best thing about this flashback, about any flashback, is that it’s no longer part of one’s current reality. It may be difficult to be transported back to a particular moment when something devastating happened, however, that living moment is gone. Better still, I know I have the protection of the law and the emotional and psychological tools to bolster me if ever the smallest thoughts of that situation resurface in my life, and if any do, I don’t have to stay with them or delve beyond the surface of those memories unless I choose to do so. In this case, where anything involving my former horrible boss is concerned, I choose not to delve deeper than necessary to describe how she attempted to intimidate and deprive me of what I needed to care for myself. I choose not to allow who she was, and probably still is, affect me beyond a momentary tremor in my subconscious because I survived and beat her attempts to harm me during a time when I had to dig deep just to keep living.

 

The Difficulty Of Being Loved

FACT: When we are loved, it’s not always easy to accept it and take in the full meaning of it.

The difficulty of it lies in trusting the realness of receiving something immeasurable without any expectation of having to give a single thing in return. It’s especially difficult when we have lived lives where we survived abuses and/or significant traumas where love and tenderness were withheld to increase suffering. How can a person trust a reality where things are given without a price or obligation attached, when one’s whole existence screams that it isn’t possible to have that, to be worthy of that, or deserving of another human being who regards your being with tenderness and care?

I’m a witness to this struggle now. I’m seeing this unfold in the life of one of my friends and the mental health toll is enormous. My friend’s partner is in the midst of a major health battle and seems incapable of accepting, or acknowledging, how deeply they are loved and cared for by so many people. This person could be told every hour on the hour that they are loved and they still might never believe it. The exhaustive effort invested in repeated attempts to show love in tangible ways with the gifting of things, through deliberate actions, physical emotional comforts, and just being there are all dismissed as insufficient or outright meaningless; which makes the giver, in return, feel unloved.

Being on the receiving end of this dismissal may be a deeper pain than never being loved. Watching someone I love live through something like this makes me feel helpless. There isn’t enough I can do or say to make this situation better. I can be supportive. I can tell my friend kind words or make suggestions about how to cope. However, I know my actions and words only salve the pain during the moments when we interact. When those moments end, my friend is the one who returns to living this difficult reality. A reality that – if I’m reading things correctly – is not going to end well, no matter how much I hope for an alternate result.

As this situation unfolds, it’s getting harder for me to understand why people make living the lives we have so much harder than they must be. Why do we treat each other so harshly? And why, when we are most in need of it, do we reject the kindness and love of those closest to us?

 

Bonnie Raitt – I Can’t Make You Love Me