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.

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...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Miracle Manor

Yesterday I left the ocean and headed inland for a night before arriving in the desert this afternoon. Some time ago my NYC architect friend designed portions of a retreat center in Desert Hot Springs. After catching up over the phone last week, my architect friend insisted and arranged for me to stay a couple of nights at this retreat center. So here I am, at Miracle Manor. And, I'm still in need of a miracle.

Before I parted way with the Pacific, I sent an SOS out to God on the sand. "Heal Me, Please" are the words I penned with a stick that I found on my "final" beach walk yesterday morning.
During my time in Newport Beach I underwent treatment that I had hoped might restore my body and brain back to what it was before I was infected with malaria. The treatment center offered valuable information that will help me navigate next steps regarding my health; however, they couldn't offer me a cure for the CFS/Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease that I face.

After spending Monday morning with my mentor friend Kim, and she sharing with me how well the same treatment was working for her husband, Monday afternoon I received the news that my body didn't respond to the treatment. Rather than recommending a month-long course of continued treatment, Dr. Alex informed me there's something going on with my body that is causing me to be resistant to this treatment. Typically it helps people to at least some degree, but not the slightest with me. He suggested a few reason why this might be...  and I'll continue to explore those reasons when I return to Michigan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 2: Brain Break Through

Yesterday I said my good byes at noon.
By 5 PM, I was at my new "home" in Newport Beach, which is only my home until next Tuesday morning. That's when I'll once again load up my Corolla and venture to my next sleep spot. Which, as I write, I have no idea where that will be. I may, perhaps, say my good byes to California next Tuesday morning. Or I may scramble over the next few days to find a few places to stay so that I can remain out this way through my birthday weekend. We will see.
My old "home" wasn't even my home, but for some reason it was tougher than I thought it would be to turn in my keys to the stomping grounds where I've laid my head on an air mattress since arriving in California on January 10th.

I've never been a fan of good byes. (In Works... to be finished...)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blizzards And Belief

After filling up near the AZ/CA border, I dropped by Dairy Queen to pick up one of my favorite dessert treats: a Butterfinger Blizzard. I then phoned my brother and inquired, "So how's the blizzard in Michigan treating you?"

He was snowed in at his place in Detroit, facing the woes of the worst blizzard to hit the Motor City in 40 years, while I was reveling in the warm weather of southwest North America. Cruelly, I shared with him that I was thoroughly enjoying a DQ blizzard in 70 degree temperatures.

The day prior, while on the phone with my parents, I had inquired if they were joining any of their friends to view the Super Bowl. My dad informed me they were snowed in and that church had been canceled that morning. They wouldn't be going anywhere, and would attempt to get reception on the 12" scree television in the guest room. (For the record, my parents have never had cable TV, nor a reliable internet connection, for that matter.)

On my final leg "home" from Phoenix, I thanked Jesus I wasn't in Michigan. And I did again the following week, when my mom informed me that the high for the day would be 8 degrees, and that Dad recently got his car stuck in the drive back to our home. Mom told me they had to call and pay for a tow truck to help get him out.

While my parents faced 8 degree weather, I faced the sun, laying out in 80 degree weather at the north end of Newport Beach. As I absorbed a large dose of Vitamin D, I read several chapters of a book my friend Lisa had told me about several summers ago, as we sat in a hot tub and talked about life, the disappearance of my latest man, and her engagement to her now-husband. That conversation took place in Grand Rapid, Michigan, in summer, when Michigan is wonderful.

But the segment I stumbled upon in that book that afternoon stated, "January in Grand Rapids is almost beyond description. It makes me think that maybe we heard wrong when God said hell is hot, because I think hell might be very, very, mind-numbingly, scream-when-you-open-the-door-cold, like January in Grand Rapids. Hot is tropical. Hot is flip-flops and the smell of coconuts, but cold is much more reminiscent of eternal punishment in my estimation. Like Grand Rapids in January." Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequest.

The author's words once again confirmed for me that I had made the right decision to spend the winter season not in Michigan.

And then I went for a jog, barefoot, along the beach, and as I did I began to believe.

I began to believe that I was going to get my health back.

And somewhere between lifeguard tower 74 and tower 36, a woman sitting in her bikini hollers out to me, "You're awesome! And you're beautiful!"
Typically I wouldn't have heard such a shout out, but the batteries had died on my running radio that morning, so there was no music to drown out the sound of the waves crashing, the seagulls squawking, and this woman's words coming at me.

As I glanced back to see who said it, by how she was sitting beside a man, I sensed she wasn't a lesbian. I mumbled a thank you (that she probably couldn't hear), and kept going, thinking, perhaps someday, I'll reach awesome health status again. And that maybe, someday, I'll meet another man, who calls me beautiful by name, like the man in Colorado did.

This week I posted on facebook the following: came to CA to process my #CFS chronic illness only to discover a treatment center in the OC that thinks they can help... but could use HELP! w/medical bills. contribute 20 to 100 and i'll send you one of my books as a thank you. (* each month i'm gift about 4 to 6 "good" health days... yesterday was one of them... i was also gifted a free lift ticket - hurrah!)

Next week I start treatment in Newport Beach. And so we'll see if my body responds positively to it...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The "Practice" of Smiling

At the end of "Week 3" (i.e. the end of January), I drove east to Arizona to celebrate Super Bowl weekend. Friday evening I ventured downtown with a couple of friends to absorb the pre-game energy reverberating throughout the host city. Although my head hurt (as it often does these days), I found myself smiling like I used to on occasion in New York City, when there was no real reason to smile, but rather you just feel alive, and the smile comes naturally. (And then some man thinks you're smiling at him, and you have to clarify, no, not you buddy, I'm just smiling at life.)
My Qigong instructor recently encouraged us to implement smiling as a practice. She explained to us that she has been on retreats where everyone is instructed to maintain a smile on their face for the duration of the retreat, even if they're not feeling particularly happy. She said by the end of the retreat, everyone felt loved (by the friendly smiles they received) and they felt happy, and wanted to continue to smiling just because, because the practice had become habit over just a few short days.

She encouraged us to smile more to help spread happiness in the world.

But in Phoenix, the smile just came, and then I found myself dancing in the streets, when no one was dancing near me. But there was music - fun dance music - coming from somewhere. Thankfully, Saturday night, I joined a "real" dance party, where others danced the night away with me. Again, I smiled big, and felt grateful that I had made the trek out to AZ just to be goofy with a couple of my old high school friends and the crew from their neighborhood.

And on Super Bowl Sunday, I didn't wake up with a headache.
Migraine headaches tend to make you smile less than the average person. The past 10 days, I've faced a headache EVERY single day, and my migraine medication didn't help. (But thankfully I've had friends that did, help with the smiling, that is...) Today it feels like I won the Lotto; the day is nearly over, and no headache, of any sorts. :)

But on my way home from Phoenix, Monday afternoon, another headache set in, reminding me I had my fun, and now it was time to pay up. At least the gas was cheap. Only $1.90 in AZ, about 2/3 the cost of what it is in California. So before I crossed the border, I stopped to fuel up.

And as I did, I noticed a Dairy Queen - open for business, in the middle of winter.

You have to understand, I have a thing for DQ Butterfinger Blizzards. And you need to understand, the closest Dairy Queen to me in Michigan closes at the end of October and doesn't reopen until the weather warms up above 50, which sometimes takes until the end of April.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled to see a Dairy Queen open for business.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mitochondrial Dysfuntion

In December a good guy friend of mine in NYC reprimanded me rather than celebrated with me after I finally secured my malaria prescription. "Katrina, you do NOT have malaria!"

I acknowledged I might not have active malaria in my system, but it was likely the malaria I had been infected with in Uganda triggered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in my body.

My friend then wanted to know the science behind the illness, "Well, what causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?"

I told him, "They don't know."

"Sure they don't," he replied with sarcasm and skepticism. He then went off on some rant about a change in diet. Our conversation escalated into an argument. My first big one ever, I think, with a non family member. (I was actually proud of myself for how I engaged in the conflict.) He insisted, if only I ate the right food, I would get my health back. His insistence implied that it was my fault that I was still sick, and that it was within my control to heal my body. I shared with him that I didn't want to pursue special diets (i.e. paleo, gluten free, etc.) for fear it might trigger an eating disorder. And it went downhill from there, as he insisted that by me stating that, I already had an eating disorder.

A few days later "the guy from down the shore" told me over facebook chat that he has a neighbor with CFS who has been chasing after special diets for the past 15 years. His neighbor has tried everything under the sun and no food regiment, liver cleanse, or dietary supplement combination has restored his health. My therapist also assured me I don't have an eating disorder; instead, she told me I had good self-awareness to know what might make me susceptible to one. (That same night I shared my most recent NYC shenanigans, and had my therapist laughing so hard that I considered she should be paying me for my fabulous story telling.)

I mention all of this, because during week 2 out in California, I continued my investigative research and found some answers. Hurrah! I finally know the core cause of what it plaguing me.

After spending the past two years ruling out Anemia, Thyroid Issues, Adrenal Fatigue, Lyme Disease, Gluten Allergy, other potential Africa ailments (Schistosomias, Strongyloides, Filarias) and Pyschosomatic Illness (like PTSD and depression) ALL of which can cause various forms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome...

Thanks to Dr. Sarah Myhill's presentation I FINALLY know the science behind MY health issues. I have mitochondrial dysfunction, which is a cells' inability to convert enough energy for the body to function properly. Think of it this way: most people get about 100 "energy credits" a day. However, individuals with mitochondrial dysfunction only get 10 to 20 per day, and when you spend more than what you have, your body crashes with debilitating fatigue and migraine headaches. Unfortunately it takes 25 to 50 energy credits per day to work a full time job, so...  that makes life a bit tricky...

Another CFS expert explains it like this: It's like your body blowing a fuse. When you do more than your body can handle, your fuse blows. Even if you "reset" the fuse, you'll keep blowing it when you push your body beyond its limits. The trick to living with mitochondrial dysfunction is to figure out a pacing for your body so you don't keep blowing your fuse.

That said, I think I need to start that company I've been dreaming of, so I can delegate out most responsibilities, and work 10 to 15 hours a week...  Ha! If only it was that easy. I know it's possible, but certainly are also a ton of obstacles between here and there.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Week 2

When I worked at summer camp years ago, every week of the summer was numbered. We'd talk about Week 1, Week 2, etc. and wrap up the summer after Week 11, when the weekly kids programs would end, and the guy I was dating in 1996 would break things off with me at the base of teepee village, near canoe beach, with a kiss on my cheek, and the words, "You're going to meet a lot of studs at U of M."

I never did (i.e. meet any studs at U of M), and he apparently didn't meet any wonder women at his college. Because mid-year, shortly after Valentine's Day, he came knocking with an apology, and the plea to give him a second chance. He won me back in a heart beat; however, he dropped me again do to "irreconcilable" career pursuits, and perhaps the freshmen 15 I had gained while feasting on bagels in my dorm's cafeteria. How cruel a world it was back then, when everyone was into low-fat, keeping women like me ignorant of the fact that a diet filled with carbs is certain to pack pounds on to anyone.

But that's a different story, for a different time. I just wanted to mention counting by weeks and my decision to do the same to track my So Cal experience this winter season. Week 1 started when I arrived, Sunday, January 11.

For most of the week 1, I simply got acquainted with the town I'm living in. One day I discovered a nearby park that offers free QiGong classes. Last time I was in So Cal for a short stint, I took up free improv classes, and had been hoping to try something new this time too. Since QiGong class was free, I decided to give it a go at the end of my first week. Since then I've decided to integrate this class as a regular part of my week.
Initially I had hoped to take scuba diving classes, but with my health still being weird, and scuba diving classes being costly, I figured this was a better option for the time being. Although, someday, I still hope to get certified and then go diving in Indonesia, where my friend Jacinda lives, and some other guy who I hardly know insisted I come to visit.

My QiGong instructor is from Calcutta, India and has a delightful accent and tells stories from time to time about Tibet (which, for the first half of my life, I thought was a make believe place, that my camp friend Al had made up). One day she explained how the old people there will wear a special belt, with a large circular pad that covers their lower back to help keep their kidneys warm amidst the cooler temperatures, and unheated living spaces. She explained that it's good to keep our kidneys warm, and beneficial to our bodies to drink warmer liquids rather than to shock our systems with cold beverages, especially in the winter season.

Funny, how my dad has been drinking hot water for years, not knowing the benefit he has been bringing to his body by doing so.

Of course, all this stuff about keeping your kidneys warm could be crap, and simply a tradition passed down by the people of Tibet from one generation to the next. But I like to think there are many "best practices" and beneficial practices out there pertaining to our health, and they don't necessarily all stem from Western medicine.

Which is why I'm taking this Chinese-based QiGong class. The simple exercises are supposedly beneficial for your immune system and energy levels. We even do a slew of exercises that are intended to help your internal organs, like your liver.

And my blood work continues to indicate I have compromised liver function, which isn't a huge surprise since that's where the malaria parasite hangs out, and where it probably did some damage having been left untreated in my body for so long. Who knows if these exercises will help at all, but certainly they can't hurt.

Along with QiGong, at the end of "Week 1" I had the opportunity to do some climbing. As I posted on facebook...

last night i returned "home" with scraped up knees, calloused hands, and chipped fingernails... super grateful for the opportunity to rock it out yesterday ‪#‎NewJackCity‬ ‪#‎RockClimbing‬ (even with my energy levels at one/fifth the normal person, i choose to live... please pray that i can find a unique job opportunity that requires only 20% the energy of a normal one... and/or that God would hurry up and heal my body from ‪#‎CFS‬ already!)
Pictured below is my friend Joyce, sprawled out like Spiderman at the top of the climb. Jen in red, is at the bottom, assuring her safety as her belayer. I also climbed this nearly 70 foot route, getting two-thirds the way up thinking, "What in the world am I doing?"
I thought the same thing as I was driving through Iowa on my way out West. "What am I thinking? I can't do this. My body isn't strong enough to make the trek." But I kept climbing to the top, just as I stayed on the road to California. When I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska, I considered the conditions I drove through my first day out and thought, There are 99 ditched cars between Michigan and Colorado, and mine ain't one of them.

So I've made it to California, and am settling in. Yet the question remains: now what?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Keep the Light On

Yesterday I woke up on an air mattress.

I did the same today and I'll do the same tomorrow. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. For at least the next two months, my air mattress will be my portable bed for wherever I end up staying the night. (Primarily, I'll be staying with my friend, Jen, in Redlands, but it's likely that I'll be bouncing a bit too, as I hope to spend my weekends closer to the ocean and my church in Hollywood.)

It's not that I'm opposed to sleeping on an air mattress. But in sleeping on one I'm reminded I'm still unsettled, still a vagabond, and I've been living this way for two and a half years, ever since I lost my health to an African illness and my possessions to a hurricane.

I panicked for a day, wondering if I had made a mistake in returning to California for the winter season. What am I doing here? I questioned, as I turned to my air mattress for an answer.

On my first night back I journaled, "And I made it... and I'm so overwhelmed, having no clue why I am here back in Cali, yet knowing it's the very place I needed to come to keep my spirit alive."

Michigan winters are brutal. I knew it wasn't the location to process my reality that there's a good possibility I may never be well enough to work a full time job again. A part of me hopes that someday I might be able to support myself with my writing. I've been receiving enthusiastic response to my first book, and comments encouraging me to keep at my next one.

One friend wrote to me on my facebook: LOVED your book!!!!! Please hurry up and finish the next one! Lol

Another stated: The worst part of reading your book was knowing that I would have to wait awhile until the second one! I really enjoyed it.

On Tuesday, I sat down at a coffee shop to start on my 2nd book.

And I resisted. Even though I already have an outline for my 2nd book, the last thing I want to do is write another one. Writing a book is a lot of work. It's exhausting.

But then today I remembered, yes, it isn't easy, but writing is a gift that God has given me, and it's a gift that may someday be able to help me get off my air mattress, and into a for real bed.

So I wrote some this afternoon, not much, but I did write. And I'll keep writing these next two months. And, as the Sunday night sermon encouraged (see for podcasts), I'll be seeking to keep my light on.
Hank, who spoke, informed us, that even Oprah, a woman who has the world, keeps a gratitude journal. I may be sleeping on an air mattress, but I couldn't be more grateful for sunshine, palm trees, and mountain views.

Last night I climbed Mount Rubidoux, praying the prayer, over and over, "Jesus, heal my body... Jesus, heal my body." I'm not sure He ever will, but I'm going to keep asking Him to restore my body to full health. And as I learn to accept my present, I will seek to embrace the gift of now that He has given me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I've Arrived!

A trunk full of books, surfboard up top, guitar & clothes in back, and my snowboard riding shot gun... from Michigan to Nebraska to Denver to Vegas to Hollywood...

A week ago I packed up my car and started my drive out West.

It wasn't easy.

And I hope to never ever make that trek alone again.

(* Although, it was beneficial that I could put Spice Girls on repeat and sing over and over "So tell me what you want, what you really, really want..." as a means to help me stay alert, without annoying anyone else.)

But I'm glad I pushed myself to make the drive.

And as I stepped foot into my church in Hollywood last night, I knew I had made the right decision to return to the West Coast for this winter season.

Thankfully, while en route, I was able to pause for a couple of nights in Denver and to reconnect with a half dozen friends. I stayed with an old college housemate (who made me a steak dinner & tiramisu dessert), grabbed coffee with an old California housemate, and had a fun evening at the Yardhouse downtown, with some Spring Hill camp friends.

I had maybe wanted to reconnect with my ex-boyfriend too, to say the good bye that we never got to say in person, but instead we simply exchanged a few texts. Nice texts. Texts that communicated that we're still rooting for each other in life, even though things didn't pan out romantically between us.

From Denver I ventured to Vegas, where I stayed with a friend who I had roomed with at Forest Home summer camp a dozen years ago. There's a story I'd eventually like to share involving her, a napkin, and my life in New York, but for now, know that I know too many people, and I may have landed a good story for a future book.

After a Friday night in, and Saturday night out in Vegas, Sunday I finally arrived to Southern California, where I'll be until, well... I don't exactly know when. If God opens the doors for me to stay, I'll stay. But it was so good to walk the stars in Hollywood last night, and to see snow covered mountains, while walking through the shadows of Palm Trees, in 60 degrees temperatures as I was out and about today.

My friend Bryan told me years ago, "Katrina, you have a California heart. You just seem to belong here."

I think perhaps I do. But we'll see.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

From the Third Floor

"Life is like riding a bicycle," explains Albert Einstein. "To keep your balance, you must keep moving." And moving is what I'll be doing this week, as I drive cross country to California, with a trunk full of books, and surfboard strapped on top of my car, not knowing exactly when I'll be returning.

This Einstein quote started the sermon I heard this morning, where at the end of the service, I went to the prayer area and rounded up a few people to pray for me, for complete healing of my body. I had wanted to do this last Sunday, the day I took my final malaria pill, but I didn't get the memo that the service time had been changed. I arrived just in time for the closing songs which I naively thought to be the opening songs, until the closing benediction was prayed over us.

Still, after making the 45 minute drive to Ann Arbor, I wanted to attend a church service, so I quickly departed that church, and ventured a couple of miles down the road to the Lutheran church I attended my first semester of college. The parking was a bit tricky. I ended up parking a few lots away and hopping over a fence to get to church. Thankfully, I wasn't wearing a dress, so I could easily navigate the short cut. (I later realized, it's not so adult-like, let alone lady-like, to be hopping fences when you're in your mid-thirties. Oh well. At least no one was looking.)

I arrived mid-sermon, as the pastor was sharing the story of how he experienced God at work in finding the perfect home for his dog that he could no longer house. His story reminded me of our dog Doobie, who was named after a joint, that my family took on when a woman from our church showed up at our home distressed, crying to my mom about how the man she was going to marry in a few days didn't want Doobie. (He was a widower, and felt his 5 kids were already a lot to handle.) Her tears convinced my mom to take on Doobie, which we naively didn't know was named after marijuana until a decade later. Well after, my Dad stood on the front porch of our home in Down River Detroit, and frequently called after him. "Doobie. Doobie. Doobie, where are you? DOOOOOOOOBIIIE"

My Dad was a pastor at the time.

But the pastor at the Lutheran church last Sunday morning was trying to make the point that sometimes it's in the little things that we can see God at work. It's not always just about the stories, where for instance, someone falls out a thir... story window and lands safely on the ground.

I didn't catch if he said third or thirty, so I asked him on my way out of the church, but he couldn't recall what he had said. But his example, of what he framed to be a unlikely way God might work stuck with me, because I knew someone who had "fallen" out of a third floor window.

I met the man in Times Square a few summers ago and we ended up grabbing drinks. Over conversation I learned he was in Haiti when the major earthquake struck in 2010 and he felt a strong pull to jump out the third story window where he was at the time. If he hadn't stepped out the window, the floors above him would have crumbled on top of him to his death. But he felt this force to jump, and he landed bruised up a bit, but he lived.

He explained to me that it felt like some sort of God thing, yet he didn't exactly believe in God, so he felt like it was this force that spared him his life.

Kind of like how we had met in Times Square, he explained. A similar force brought us together, he tried to convince me.


Anyway, the man was in the town for meetings at the UN, happens to own a gold mine, and has played basketball with the President a few times.

The past several weeks, he has been on my mind (not for dating reasons), but I have experienced a prompting that I should get back in touch with him. After that Sunday morning example, I'm all the more convinced I should shoot him an e-mail this week. Again, I don't know exactly why, but sometimes in life things stir in you and perhaps it's the Holy Spirit, and perhaps it's not. But you mind as well move forward and see... and see what God does with it.