Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016

If I recall correctly (which I'm probably not), the Chinese have years of cats and dogs, and cows, and a few other farm animals, I think.

I don't have an associated farm animal that fits my 2016 profile.  But this past year will go down in my personal history book as the Year of my Diagnosis.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Through Crossfire

I'd been waiting for five months for this day. Finally, it was here. The ceiling sky attempted to assure me that I was fine, and everything was normal. A large print of treetops was displayed overhead, similar to the trees I looked up at while lying on a yellow and white checked blanket in Central Park with my last boyfriend.

But I was underground, on floor B2, double below street level, just like I was when I worked in the Empire State Building three years ago. Except rather than sitting at my cubicle laughing with colleagues, I was lying down on a table, seemingly too close in shape to that of a coffin.

But I had asked for this; I had placed the request on November 16, 2014, to be rolled into an MRI machine to see if the imaging might be able to find abnormalities in my brain contributing to the health issues I've been battling since my return from Africa. A Stanford study recently revealed that there are three distinct features differentiating the brains of those who battle chronic fatigue syndrome from those who are healthy. In hearing about the study, I felt compelled to find out if my brain fit the profile of typical CFS cases. That's why I pushed for this MRI to be done.

But suddenly I was scared. And I hated that there was no one to hold my hand through all of this. While in the waiting room, I envied the couple sitting across from me. I didn't know their story - who and why they needed an MRI at University of Michigan's hospital - but by their wedding bands I knew they were married, and by their interactions, I knew whatever health issue they were up against, they were in it together.

After boxing in my head, and covering my gowned body with a blanket, the technician placed a squeeze ball in my hand. He instructed me to squeeze it as an emergency out to the MRI machine. I had been asked on a questionnaire and by the technician if I had problems with enclosed spaces or claustrophobia. I proudly answered that I had been spelunking (caving) before, and should be fine.

But suddenly I was terrified, and I feared I might have some sort of panic attack any moment. One last glance at the tree canopy overhead, and I closed my eyes as the technician rolled me into the machine.

I had been given ear plugs and headphones, yet the noise of the machine was only muffled. The shotgun sounds of the MRI suggested that I had entered a war zone, yet I couldn't move an inch to escape the crossfire.

Visualize good memories, I instructed myself.

With the squeeze ball in my right hand, I borrowed my last boyfriend, even though he was no longer mine. We walked the mall of Central Park, holding hands, the way we had last Memorial Day weekend.

The Mall

"We're going to get you better," he insisted. And suddenly we were on that same yellow and white checked blanket that we had grassed stained in Central Park, gazing at the dome of stars over my lake in Michigan.

With a shooting star, we wished together that I would get my health back. Having him there by my side, holding my hand, made everything better, even though my health wasn't.

Stop. I reprimanded myself. You can't keep thinking about him. He exited your life months ago. He's not in this health journey with you anymore. You're on your own.

Visualize good memories, again I instructed myself.

And so I visualized my day at Malibu Creek State Park, rock climbing with a great crew, and traversing the rocks around the creek with a lawyer far too young for me. We were both Michigan-raised. As we entered a cave he shared, "Sometimes I ask myself, 'am I in L.A., or am I in paradise?'"

That day we were in paradise. And as our group hiked out of the park well after the sun had set, the crescent moon smiled down on us. But that day ended, and so did my visualization and I started weeping. Mid-MRI tears streamed down my face.

It felt too near death to be thinking the way that I was. My good memories suddenly haunted me, as if I was allowing my life to flash before my eyes - the way one might as they pass from the now into eternity.

With tears still streaming, my thoughts took me back to New York, this time to Bryant Park. Sitting at a table on the north side of the green, under the shade of the trees, I told my last boyfriend, "I'm not going to let you date me until I have stuff figured out with my health." In speaking, tears well up in my eyes and escaped their holding place.

He gently wiped the tears that had slipped down my face. "You're going to get better," he assured me, speaking with a confidence that I lacked after fighting for so long already.

The crossfire suddenly stopped.

Still inside the machine, I opened my eyes and was blinded by the light shining down on me.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Journey IV

"I want to date Taylor Swift so she'll write a song about me," my friend Bryan wished aloud as we drove back to his place. Taylor wasn't playing on the radio, so I'm not exactly sure where his dream thought derived from, but we both laughed at the ridiculousness (i.e. unlikeliness) of his idea ever happening.

But his statement prompted me to deliberate: Should I admit that I had written a song about him? I mean, it wasn't exactly about him, but it involved him, and a day we spent together... titled... That One Day... with simple chords, mainly the E to A to B slide on my guitar. I wrote it 13 years ago, but I could probably still play it - maybe. Ah, no, I can't tell him. He'll insist I play it for him, and it was one of the first songs (out of a half dozen) I've written so it isn't very good. In fact, it is bad.

Instead I shared what I recalled him telling me on That One Day. "We were at Doheny Beach, putting wax on our boards, and you told that someday you wanted to invent surf wax scented perfume for women. Surfwax and campfire."

But rather than starting a perfume business, Bryan took up professional poker playing. After a stint in Vegas, he moved to Colorado where, in the warmer months, he guides white water rafting excursions down the Blue River. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOMuc9OcZh8

Our conversation wandered as we drove along that river. "For my birthday," Bryan explained, "my girlfriend asked, 'What do you want to do? It's your birthday. You get to do whatever you want.' And I told her, 'I already do what I want every day.'"

It's true. Most days he really does do whatever he wants. He lives the adventure so most days fall in the exceptional category rather than in the mundane.

I suppose that's why I was nervous about my birthday this year. I tend to live a lot of adventure, and especially so when I'm in California, where the adventuresome life seems far more accessible than in rural Michigan. In the weeks leading up to my birthday I had several perfectly amazing days - days where I did whatever I wanted. I feared my actual birthday would be a disappointment in comparison to my beach day and volleyball at Venice Beach, exploring and rockclimbing at Malibu Creek State Park, and my hot springs getaway at the Miracle Manor.

When you're single it's up to you to figure out how to make your birthday special, and it's the only holiday you get (no anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, etc.). I had wondered in leaving CA a week early if I might be fated to spend my birthday alone. My four closest female friends in Colorado were already booked with other plans on my birthday evening. But thankfully, Bryan, wasn't. After two rather dismal birthdays in a row, this year my birthday was epic, and I couldn't be more grateful.

But as my friend Bryan pointed out, we shouldn't wait for our birthdays to embrace the goodness that life has to offer. Our time on this planet ought to be filled with friends and adventures that awaken our spirits. Perhaps it ought to feel like our birthday, where we celebrate life with others over a meal or adventuresome fun, at least once a week rather than once in 12 months.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Journey III

Today is Easter.
I was born on Easter, which made things a tad tricky for my father, who was serving as a pastor at the time of my arrival into this world. He scrambled, making phone call after phone call, until he found another man to cover the services for him at our church.

I didn't make things easy for my mother either. I was a fat newborn - 10 pounds, 4 ounces. After too many painful and unsuccessful hours of labor, a C-section was called by the doctor. And at 2:54 pm, on March 26, 1978, I entered Owosso, Michigan.

But since the Easter holiday hops around the calendar, rarely is my birthday on Easter Sunday. This is a far better set up to be born into than what Christmas babies face. I can't imagine having to compete with Jesus for attention every single birthday of my life. And isn't just Dec 25; Jesus' incarnation dominates nearly the entire month.

This year I celebrated my birthday well before the Easter holiday. Although I initially intended to stay in California through my birthday, life threw a few clues at me strongly suggesting I head back to Michigan a tad sooner. So I did, not quite knowing where and with whom I'd be spending my birthday until I arrived at my friend Bryan's and he welcomed me to stay a few days.

Secretly I had hoped this would be the case, but I had wanted to get a read on his living situation and girlfriend situation before finalizing plans prior to my arrival at his place. As it turned out he lived with three gals, so I didn't have to worry about sharing the space with any shady men; however, he did give me a heads up that two of his roommates were lesbians, so... Also, I had the chance to meet his girlfriend right when I arrived. I got the sense she wasn't the jealous type, so I figured it would be okay to hang with Bryan without creating drama between them.

After a day of recuperating from my 10-hour drive from Vegas, I woke up on my birthday pleased to discover I felt okay. No heavy fatigue. No headache. And since I felt decent enough, my birthday wish to go snowboarding came to fruition. Bryan's roommate hooked me up with a half off lift ticket, that my parents then gifted me. So Bryan and I spent the day on the slopes at Keystone. It was my first time ever to ride in Colorado and it was awesome.
Later that evening we grabbed Italian at Greco's Pastaria in downtown Frisco then ventured down the street to "The Moose Jaw" for open mic night. Earlier in the day Bryan had attempted to convince me to perform that night and to perhaps even do a duet with him, but I'm so out of practice that I passed on his encouragement to perform in front of strangers. So instead, just he played a set, and I sat chatting with a guy from Chicago as he did.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Journey Part II

Wednesday morning, a week ago, I woke up from my makeshift bed in the living room, wanting to be a polite guest, but feeling so terrible that I just wanted to roll over and go back to bed.

I was nauseous, and nervous that I might vomit any moment. My head screamed inside, pounding with pain from a migraine. It was as if a ten beers had been siphoned from a keg into my bloodstream the night before. But it wasn't alcohol that was causing me to feel ill. I knew full well, the ten hours I had driven the previous day were to blame for the way I felt.

My friend offered me a bite to eat. I passed, explaining I didn't feel the greatest. So my friend offered me a guitar to strum instead, and he started jamming on a mandolin. While I strummed, I deliberated, considering whether or not it was too late for me to take a pill and keep it down. I finally decided it was worth a go. I swallowed it down with some water, then admitted to my friend I felt like hell, and needed to crash a bit longer on his couch.

A couple of hours later I woke up again. Thankfully, by then, my sumatripton pill had worked its magic. After a bowl of cereal my friend suggested we "get lost" and do some exploring that afternoon. To be perfectly honest, the idea of exploring sounded terrifying. Yes, my headache pain was gone, but I still felt like a zombie. The heavy cloud of fatigue engulfing me, reminded me that I ought to take it easy.

But I'm a sucker for not knowing how to decline a friend's enthusiasm. So I reluctantly readied myself for the adventure, dreading the idea of more time in a car, and fearing the winding mountain roads might spiral me into motion sickness. I hoped the exploring wouldn't involve too much outdoor activity, but really, I had no idea what I was getting into when I got in his car, other than the possibility of Mexican food.

As we drove north on Highway 9, my friend pointed out the Blue River, where he had guided rafting trips the previous summer. We also spotted two bald eagles, which underwhelmed me in their appearance. I was more hoping we'd see a moose, but no such luck.

After 45 minutes on the road (which proved to be less winding than anticipated, and more glorious in scenery) we arrived at a small town called Kremmling, and pulled into Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant for a late lunch - so late that we were the only two patrons in the restaurant.

To my relief, after lunch we simply returned home to my friend's place. There were no side trip hiking excursions or other, that I knew my body would hate me for if I attempted when I already wasn't feeling well. And I had hopes, that I would wake up the following day well enough to go snowboarding in the Colorado mountains. I didn't want to waste away energy that could be applied the following day - on my birthday.

Later that evening we rallied with some others at Red Mountain Grill in Dillon, CO. There I found myself sitting between a professional poker player and a lesbian, which made for fascinating? conversation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Journey

Yesterday morning I woke up in Vegas.

I rolled out of my couch bed and headed into the kitchen where I helped myself to some coffee. As I took my first sips of caffeine, I noticed a postcard clipped to the side of the refrigerator. "Your Story Matters," the 4 x 6 card insisted. I was somewhat surprised to see this particular postcard amidst the other memorabilia displayed on my friend's refrigerator. I wasn't the one who had sent it to her, but I knew of its origin, and have the exact same card sitting on the base of the ledge of my mirror back in Michigan.

The postcards were distributed at the #Storyline conference I attended in Chicago this past October. We were encouraged to fill them out and send them to a few of our friends to encourage them in their life journey. Confession: I never got around to filling my cards out...

But over a Vegas dinner date? meeting with a successful business man the night prior, I was reminded, my story - my written words - matter. This man who had read my book posed the question, "How many people need to hear your story?" Then preceded to answer his own question. "Countless," he insisted.

He believes that countless people need to hear my story and to read the book I've written. Although this man isn't romantically interested in me, for whatever reason, this man is interested in seeing me succeed as a writer and speaker. He believes I have a knack for writing, and he isn't just saying that to be nice, or to flatter me for ulterior reasons. Already he has offered me invaluable "pro bono" consulting, and even agreed to meet with another man on my behalf to help me along in my journey.
Yesterday I drove east on the 70 though Nevada, Arizona, Utah, before crossing over into Colorado.
With my health being off the drive kicked my butt, but thankfully I didn't feel the impact of the drive until this morning. (That's the part of #CFS that's called post-exertional malaise, which is why I can often do an activity and feel fine in the moment, and don't feel shotty until afterwards. And sometimes, I don't feel shotty at all, which makes everything I do a gamble.) Today I woke up to a migraine and the words, "Huh, I've never seen snow on a surfboard before."
Thankfully, I'm staying put for a few days, to recuperate from the first half my journey and to celebrate my birthday with the friend who taught me how to surf 13 years ago.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Miracle Manor II

I arrived in the desert well before my check in time, so I took the time to explore the downtown. Although I had been to Palm Springs on several occasions, I never knew its downtown existed. My mission to find a yoga class to crash, led me to a delightful street of shops and restaurants.

As I moseyed about an art gallery, I considered the paintings and how "the one" I liked at age twenty-two would have enjoyed being in my shoes. I noted which paintings I think would have been his favorite, and deliberated as to whether or not they were my favorite too.

A few blocks down I was delighted to see a shop with the same name, both first and last, of the man I dated most recently. I snapped a couple of photos, and went inside just because it had his name written all over it. It was a men's clothing shop, and although he and I had parted ways months ago, there I was, thinking of him as I meandered about the store with no intention to make any purchases.

Further down the strip, I stopped in at an architecture and design museum to browse its gift store. The only reason I was in the desert was because of my architect friend from New York. He was the one who had arranged for me to stay a couple of nights at this retreat center he had helped design and build in the 90s. The only reason I stepped foot into the museum was because his area of expertise was now of interest to me.

On my return walk to my car, I noticed a park sign that spelled out the last name of my mentor friend. Again, I took a photo, just because it reminded me of her. By that point I realized that I wasn't walking alone. No, there wasn't anyone physically standing beside me. But the influence and fingerprints of those who have walked with me previously have stayed with me.

And so has Africa. In locating the Yoga studio, where I decided to return for 7 PM candlelight yoga

To be finished...