What it doesn’t say in the fine print of life: Arthritis

It’s funny. I started writing this blog 12 years ago (that’s 2009 for the mathematically challenged), before “aging” kicked in. I was in my late 30’s, I was looking good and yeah, 12 years later, the world looks a whole lot different.

So, here I am just a few months shy of 50 and I have a complaint. Nobody bothered to hand me the fine print of life where it says, “By the way, when you’re about to turn 50, watch out for…”

NoooOOOooo. Why would life bother to at least give a heads up or something? It’s not like life has been plotting this entire time, making sure there is a proverbial rake right in front of me at any moment, no! It doesn’t do that! It’s not a sadistic thing just waiting for the right moment to make sure everyone knows I have an adversarial relationship with gravity, no!

Come to find out — those were the easy parts. When you’re young, everything works. (For most people. My pal Janet would heartily disagree, but those are special circumstances.)

I’m finding out that the whole aging process is kind of like parenting. There isn’t a guide or a book you can buy that will tell you how to cope with things that start hurting at random or prepare you for the moment that the pinkie on your left hand looks at you and says, “Peace out,” relinquishing any strength it once had. I’m looking at mine going, “Come on, man! You used to carry heavy bags of groceries up a flight of stairs for me single-fingeredly while I had my backpack and all kinds of other stuff to carry as well, and NOW you decide to give out? What the heck? I thought I could count on you…” (*snicker*…unintended pun.)

Don’t get me wrong. I have observed the elders in my family. My grandmother had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). One of my cousins has it. As we all know, Janet (a.k.a. Pehpsee) had it almost her whole life. Author Goddess Auntie Lee has it and she’s a successful novelist. Auntie June had it. I’ve lost count of how many of my friends and family members suffer with it. Before I was diagnosed with it, I watched as the auto-immune disease ravaged their bodies and I have to admit until you have it, you don’t know what it’s like. All you know is that it’s painful and it sucks. To be honest, I don’t remember my grandmother’s hands ever being straight or ever seeing her casually gripping things like a glass or a cup like everyone else. I just remember seeing them folded over because she was unable to open her hands without assistance and overwhelming pain. When I received my RA diagnosis and my doctor told me I had bone loss in six out of ten fingers, all I could think of was me having my grandmothers hands. Nightmare fuel to say the least. Now, with a little bit of mileage on this road, I just wish that she would have had the goodies we have today to fight the dreaded RA. I even have pressure gloves that I wear when I sleep to make sure my fingers stay straight.

The biggest thing I am grateful for is that I have a great rheumatologist. It’s like a trip to Wakanda every appointment because he sounds like Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther. You should hear him say “methotrexate.” It’s the cutest thing ever. He’s very thorough and every time I have my virtual visits with him, he forgets to tilt the tablet so I end up looking at the top of his head while he’s making sure I take my folic acid every day so I don’t get liver damage from the “met-o-tress-ate”. It’s pure MCU every time, so it’s made my RA treatment fun.

Y’all know me. You know I always try to tackle these tougher moments with a sense of humor. Come on! I am sitting here smelling like BenGay (extra-strength, thank you very much) because I’m pretty positive I’ve used too much Voltaren for the week. Read the label, it has a stroke and heart attack warning on the side. (Oh, that’s fun.) And then there are the RA medications they show commercials for on TV that has a list of side effects longer than the benefits of the medication. (Oh, that’s fun too. But at least it’s not an E.D. commercial. Dear Gods, when are they ever going to stop?!?! Lordy, when I was younger and a Tampax commercial would come on in front of a boy I liked, I’d want to dive under the couch and DIE. Now, between the RA med commercials, we’ve got to hear about…well, you know. *eyeroll*)

To top it all off, I just love injecting myself with my RA medication. Man, when I was young, the only little pricks I had to deal with were the ones with delusions of adequacy, but nooOOOOOoooo, now that I’m older it’s an epi-pen kind of hypodermic that I get to shoot into the tops of my thighs or my tummy every other week. On second thought, I might have lucked out. Medications don’t have delusions of adequacy. They work or they don’t, but they most certainly don’t sulk if they fail. And with the Humira, I only have to depress the plunger for 10 seconds on the injection and then it’s over for another 14 days…yup, I’ve lucked out – the meds are definitely less trouble!

Speaking of trouble, what nobody ever describes is what RA pain is like because I think it’s different for everyone. For me — it’s a dull ache in my joints all the time except when a specific joint starts hollering “Over here! Hey! Hey! Help! Please help!” like C-3PO flagging down the Jawas on Tatooine. And let me tell you, there is no little astro-droid to help with repairs on this ride. You get out the Tylenol, the analgesic cream, deal with the issue and keep going.

CP3O Waving
This is an inflamed joint when you have RA. It’s going to keep waving at you in that annoying voice.

And then there’s “when the weather changes.” Okay, what they don’t tell you in the fine print of life is that humidity hurts when you have RA, especially if you live in the desert like I do. See, in the Mojave, we have 9 months of summer. Hot, dry and oh do my hands love it. But when the weather changes, I just want to curl up in bed with some heavy duty painkillers because everything hurts. The joints in my feet, ankles, knees, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders…if it’s a joint, C-3PO won’t shut the *bleep* up because everything swells and gets really awful.

Another thing they don’t tell you in the fine print of life is that life doesn’t end once you get one of these auto-immune diseases. (Hey, I’m up to two, I can definitely speak on the topic.) Every morning, you get up, breathe in and out, take a Tylenol or Advil and once a week it’s a party for methotrexate night, then a shot every other week, two days after methotrexate night so the party never ends. (If you saw my pill drawer, you’d fall over. In the beginning I had just one bottle, my levothyroxine. Then came my anxiety meds. It was just the two of them, I swear! Then, I came back a few months later, looked in my drawer, and PILL BUNNIES! You can’t put two pill bottles next to each other. They breed like Catholic rabbits. Next thing you know you’re up to 10 bottles staring at you from the medicine cabinet! Pill bunnies are real. Carter who?)

I really do wish that someone would publish the fine print of life. That way bookworms like me could actually have a chance at getting through things without having to look them up or bother Auntie Lee for guidance.

And leave it to me to put the BenGay on my hands, then rub my eyes mid-post. LOL. So much for reading the fine print! (Book smarts are directly and inversely proportional to common sense, trust me. *facepalm*)

Thanks for sticking with me through this ramble. It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m just proud I did. Writing is a muscle. You’ve got to keep doing it if you want to see improvement. LOL. (And if anyone wants to volunteer to be my editor, let me know. LOL.)

If you have the ability, please think of supporting the Arthritis Foundation. I was just tickled about the letter I got about my last donation…

My thank you letter from the Arthritis Foundation
Pehpsee Lives.

How long has it been since we did song of the day? Well, this one is for Janet who is in Heaven right now, running, jumping and climbing. You go, girl.

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

Building new coping skills in the therapy room isn’t easy. For me, it’s an exercise in looking at my reactions and examining how I can approach things differently. Let’s just say that I grew up in a way that kept me on constant defense. I was so busy trying to protect myself that I spent most of my time mentally curled in a ball, my head covered, hoping I could save some little part of myself from being torn away while the rest of me was being torn apart.

When you don’t know or haven’t been shown how to properly process stimuli, the odds of responding rationally are slim. You go to what you know; getting in fighting stance, running away, or curling up in a ball, just waiting for it to be over. To try to navigate through it any other way is foreign. It’s like getting shoved out onto a frozen pond while wearing leather soled slippers and trying to walk back to shore, just something you know is not going to end well. But that’s where you suck it up, surrender and go into the treatment room and re-train the brain to cope properly with it.

From my perspective (which I’m finding out is more and more unique by the day), I’ve learned that most people live life at eye-level. They see what is immediately around them: front, back, right, left. But rarely do I see people who embrace living life in three distinct dimensions. In other words, they don’t look up or think of what is below them.  It almost seems like they’re missing an entire dimension of life.

Remember, my world is logic based, so this is my “natural” way of looking at things. 

Consider this:

If your heart were at the point of origin where the x, y, and z axes intersect, where do you really live? Thanks to gravity, we can’t fly so, “up” really isn’t a natural option. From my viewpoint, we really only actively live life in the space between the X and Y axes.  It’s almost like there’s no Z at all.

To me, the only people who really live in three dimensions are divers and pilots because they have apparatus that allow them to break the mold and allow an active Z-space existence, but still even with those exceptions, the time spent living a true three-dimensional life is limited.

So, let’s go back to being curled up in a ball, surrounded. From that viewpoint, life ceases to be at eye level, it’s ground level, nose-to-nose with the family pet. “Up” definitely becomes a non-option as it’s reinforced that you are where you belong – down or being crushed down by everything around you. Without any other input or stimuli over a span of years, the normalization of the down state becomes the lens that the world is viewed through.

The down state is what I refer to as “being given gravel sandwiches,” and it’s a unique perspective to have while going through PTSD therapy because it is a firm recognition of the down state and gives it a visual reference. It’s basically sitting underneath the banquet table of life, living off of emotional table scraps. It sucks and is no way to truly live. It’s survival mode, nothing more.

As I’ve been progressing through the process of re-training my brain and learning new coping skills, I’m finally able to live life at eye-level and I have to say, I love the view.  However, that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly thinking of living life three dimensionally.

We all know the magnificent revelation I had when I learned what “don’t take it personally” really meant and it really baked my noodle. Now I’m on to a different phrase, “rise above it” and my most hated of phrases, “get over it.”

(Please, for the love of God, stop telling people with PTSD to “get over it”; unless you have our illness, you have no f’ing clue what you’re talking about. Until you get educated on the illness — heaven forbid you try to walk a mile in our shoes — try being a little more understanding.)

Moving on, as I’ve stated, UP (thanks to gravity) really isn’t a natural option unless I’m in a wetsuit, gearing up for a dive, then of course I’m in a naturally three dimensional medium. Notice the literal logic. (Remember, I don’t “get” jokes because I’m very literal). So, you guessed it, “rising above something” was always answered with a very literal “how?” Laugh, it’s okay.

You don’t know how lucky you have it if you take knowing things like “don’t take it personally” and “rise above it” for granted. My universe is rooted in logic so all of those wonderful coping skills you take for granted are things I have to work really hard to get. Ya know, I can project trend three to five years ahead of the curve, I can see the connectedness of all things, I have talents that people would kill for and among all of the puzzles I can solve and all of the amazing things I can do, being human and human interaction are BY FAR the hardest things for me to handle.

Recently, I’ve felt like I’ve been completely surrounded by ignorance, bigotry, pride, greed, and just all-around ugliness. In my universe, to reject the idea of learning another language or refusing to learn about a different culture just offends me. To reject philosophy and the great thinkers, or to dismiss the sciences, or refusing to help people, or worse, being forced to live in an uncultured world is complete anathema to me because I don’t know of a moment in my existence that I didn’t value learning something new. I don’t know of a moment in my life that I didn’t appreciate art or music or debate. How many more facts can people twist until no truth remains? How did we come to live in a world where stupidity is a celebrated trait? No matter what I seem to do, I feel crushed by the ignorance that seems to permeate everything like an inescapable, choking sickness. Like Neo surrounded by Smiths in Reloaded’s Burly Brawl, I’m left trying my level best to take things one at a time and not feel completely overwhelmed, but it’s hard.

 

While you might have known that the best way to get out of a situation like that would be to “rise above it”, I most certainly didn’t, and I have wasted countless hours on trying to solve, change minds, anything and everything to keep everything at eye-level under control, coping with all of it.

It wasn’t until I was lying in bed last night doing my pre-bedtime meditation that I found an answer. With my anxiety through the roof after being triggered earlier in the day on top of trying to keep focused and steady all day, I was exhausted. When I began to meditate, I was just trying to get calm and still, but then my brain threw me a curve ball, visualizing being surrounded on all sides, then daring me to find an escape route. In the moment, it seemed the only way escape was possible was to go UP. Now, as I’ve stated, while UP really isn’t feasible in the literal world, I will be damned if it isn’t in the mind. So, I basically gave myself the ability to rise and get above what was troubling me.  And DUH! I could look down and see everything, the connections, the trends, the why’s and the how’s all spread out beneath me. My brain did it all on its own and I couldn’t explain to you how I got there, all I know is that my mind presented a solution to me that I hadn’t previously considered.

It was a powerful moment, giving myself the ability to fly. To take my consciousness out of the fight at eye-level and look at it from above, rising above it and giving me the ability to examine it, or better yet, leave it behind. It made me feel better, more in control of my emotional state and I finally had an easy time going to sleep. I think I might have even smiled as I drifted away.

So, if you’re battling PTSD or your world gets overwhelming, you might try learning to fly. It helped me learn how to “rise above things” and no matter what, I now have a unique new coping skill based on a very old expression that I defined in my own way. While it’s not the assistance of a PTSD dog (that I want so badly), I found a way through.

Everyone’s PTSD is different. How each of us find ways to conquer our illness is up to us. The most important thing is that we stay in the fight, step by step finding our way into the light.

It’s been a while since I’ve done Song of the Day, so let’s go with “O” by Coldplay.

 

 

 

 

Obducted…finally.

Everyone knows what a Myst Universe junkie I am. I often joke with my friends that one day I want to go on a “pilgrimage to Mecca”, meaning that I dream of one day visiting Cyan Worlds HQ up in Spokane, Washington. One of my friends has painted a picture of the building, another has photographed it and many others have visited it. Put simply, when something impacts your life in a very substantial way, you really want to visit where it came from, you want to thank the people who created it in person. But one day, I’ll get there and, oh man, am I going to write about it! But for now, let’s talk Obduction.

On Christmas Day, I got Obduction to follow in the tradition of getting Uru: Ages Beyond Myst on Christmas Day 2003 which is how I eventually met my pal Janet.

Now let’s get something straight right off the bat, Obduction is NOT a part of the Myst Universe. Succinctly, it is billed as the “spiritual successor” to Myst. As someone who is an “avid” and die-hard Cyan fan, I will tell you that while Obduction might not be set in the Myst Universe, it still retains all of the hallmarks of Myst with Rand and Robyn’s hand prints *all* over it. The “standards” that are a part of any Myst game are in it. It is really hard for me not to consider it a part of the Myst Universe, it just has different characters and different tech, that’s really it. I mean, if The Great Tree of Possibilities was really doing its thing, this is what I would totally expect to happen! You can’t hop galaxies and expect the people and tech to stay the same! Linking Book, Seed Swapper…same difference; It’s still the same travel technology, just in a different package. Besides, the story can’t revolve around Atrus forever, that poor bugger needs a break, so I am down with digging into some new Ages, worlds, characters or whatever they want to call it. There’s room for everyone with Terokh Jeruth on the job.

But I digress. I’ll try to explain my view of Obduction another way, with the caveat that it is from the viewpoint of someone who is heavily steeped in the Myst Universe, from the games, to the community, to the online world, to the books, the fan-fiction, podcasts and the gamut of living as a part of the Myst Community:

First thing is that part of Obduction has a personal tie. On November 16, 2013 I wrote a piece called “Cavern.” Now if you look down at the bottom of that post, you’ll notice a comment by Justin in December of 2014, asking me about Janet’s chair. My response is within “The Janet Initiative” from January 1, 2015. Well, long story short and a few tweets later…

Janet’s wheelchair is in Obduction.

Well, long story short, (I know, “too late”), when I finally got into Obduction, I was on the hunt to find her chair. I explored. I turned on the power, I directed it, I used it. But when I got to the supply yard and saw her chair through the slats in the fence but couldn’t get in, I was ready to kick down doors, break windows, or bend corrugated metal bare handed to get in there. After frantically circling the area trying everything to get past the barrier and giving a loud “Ugh!” in frustration, I took a breath and said to myself, “Half of the joy of being in the Myst Universe is savoring solving the puzzle. Slow down there, Lash LaRue. What would Janet do?”  Upon realizing that, I knew to reign in my dire need to get to her chair, just relax, take a breath, and figure out the puzzle. After all, any game by Cyan is built on the seven virtues, patience and selflessness being the top two, with perseverance coming in a close third.  So I took a breath and repeated a few Myst-themed mantras I have learned over time:

“Uru was created to train the faithful.”
“Turn on the power, direct it, use it.”
“Lose your questions and you will find your answers.”
“Life is a patience game. Don’t lose it, use it.”

So, with patience in tow, and with the attitude of “obstacles be damned,” I was set on seeing my friend, if only in spirit. And my patience paid off.


Two hours and several solutions later I was standing in front of it, crying my eyes out and wishing that my dear friend was here to see the positive impact she has made on so many lives.  I miss Janet every single day. I miss how she could navigate obstacles like a superhero, bounding over them like they were nothing. I think she would have loved the laser buggy and probably me and about 50 other people would be trying to figure out how to install a blue laser beam on the front of her chair by now. But selfishly, I wish she were here to help me process and accept being diagnosed with arthritis myself.

But in all of the puzzles and visuals and the magnificence of Obduction, I can guarantee you one thing, besides adoring the game, Janet would have made sure to have the player shadow on just so she could see herself run.

As far as the rest of the game goes? It’s all kinds of yummy Cyan goodness. The kind that avids like me roll around in like a cat in catnip. Like its predecessors, Obduction has the legendary faceplant-and-headbang-on-the-the-desk difficulty we’ve all come to know and love. It also has little hints and homages to almost every single age in the Myst Franchise. Die hards like me are probably most like D’ni Tourists, linked in directly from Cavern, pointing at all of the little reminders, from windmills, to cones, to all sorts of things that as citizens of D’ni we just know and recognize on sight. Heck, for me? When Robyn Miller popped up as C.W., I was a kid at a rock concert screaming with my arms in the air, whooping and hollering like I had lost my mind.

Alas, I’m not quite done with it, but it’s a treat. I just wish the community could play together. (Hint-Hint.)

Thank you’s go out to Justin Esparza, Lauren Hall-Stigerts, Ryan Warzecha, and the whole crew at Cyan for creating Obduction. Of course, ultimate thanks go to Rand and Robyn Miller for creating the Myst Universe so that I could meet Janet in Uru. Thanks for starting out in your garage in 1994 and eventually giving me one more adventure with my pal.

If you have not played Obduction yet, go get it. Get Obducted. Go find Janet’s chair. Run. Jump. Climb. And don’t you ever dare take your legs for granted. Give to the Arthritis Foundation in Janet’s name so, even though she’s in Heaven, we can help people like her rise and run.

Most of all, be like Janet. Greet everyone you meet with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

The Hard Parts of Recovery

In my adventures, I’ve learned that recovery is a hard process. No matter how much time I put in at the therapist, no matter how much I don’t want it to, there are moments my PTSD tries its level best to take over my world. Fight as I might, I find that I am suddenly surrounded on all sides by old memories, old smells, old sights and old pain. And man, it gets rough.

Did you know that people with PTSD often become addicts – not for their drug of choice – but because they’re willing to do anything to stop a pain that never seems to end? Whether it’s from being bullied or abused, from being on a battlefield or in a natural disaster, those of us with PTSD are tied inextricably to what happened to us, a nightmarish incident that no amount of planning could ever teach someone to cope.

This morning at 3:30 am, my phone started “blowing up.” I suddenly realized that you never know how many lives you have impacted until some disgruntled, unhappy human being decides to take out the windows of his 32nd floor hotel room and shoot up a concert festival. But there I was in bed, curled up with Teddy, only to wake up and find 19 text messages and an untold number of Facebook messages asking if I was okay. I found myself suddenly flung into a group text with all of my old co-workers, everyone anxiously counting heads to make sure someone they knew wasn’t among the dead or injured.  KP and TJ were worried sick until I spoke to them, as were Ferris, Cade, and Ash, along with so many other childhood friends that popped up on the screen of my smartphone, anxiously waiting for me to respond. By 7 am, I knew sleep was a pointless exercise as my phone kept buzzing, beeping and dinging. To be honest, I have never felt so sad yet so loved in my life.

And then, as what happened at the Harvest Festival started to sink in, I realized that a whole bunch of people had been unceremoniously flung into my wheelhouse and they were going to meet, head-on, the battle I face every day and have fought relentlessly for the majority of my life. Trauma had been thrust upon their souls and I sat sadly wondering what I could do to help them. The last thing I ever want is for someone to face what I have, but I know that it’s inevitable. Life, the equal-opportunity sadist it is, always throws curve balls. This time it has destroyed whole families, leaving the victims to feel powerless, hyper-vigilant, avoidant and scared. If life has taught me anything, is that you have to use everything in your power to help others. If you don’t have money, then blood or sweat will do just as well. From my point of view, the very best thing I can do is share what I have learned on how to deal with mental trauma. Everyone is different. Everyone processes things in different ways, but when it boils down to it, the anxiety and fear that comes with trauma is something that we all share.

The hardest part of recovering from trauma is in learning how to feel safe again. I know that it feels like nowhere is safe, but you have to find a place that you do feel safe and surround yourself with people you trust. Grab your favorite foods and get to a place that you are comfortable, then you can do what you need to in order to make yourself feel better. It’s called self-care and it’s a must.

Then you have to look around and have it sink in that you are definitely NOT alone.  Life, like history, loves nothing more than to repeat itself. Scope and scale may change, but the similarity of traumatic events is what allows us to recognize bad situations and grow throughout our lifetimes. They’re signposts. Red flags. Whatever you’d like to call them, the repetition is always there and that means that there is someone out there that has gone through something similar.

I remember my first really huge breakthrough in dealing with my trauma. It was right after Chester Bennington died. I remember an interview that was aired of him talking about dealing with depression and how he always tried to remember one thing: To get out of the “bad neighborhood” of his own head because of the dark recesses contained within.

 

In all my years of suffering with PTSD, I have learned a unique fact: Trauma tries to be funny. It likes to trap you in a specific moment in time and make you relive it over and over and over again, leaving you stuck in a hamster wheel from hell – trapped in your own head – unable to get off.

When I heard what Chester said, it was like an explosion in my mind. I started piecing my experience with PTSD together:

  • Fact 1: When my illness is at its worse, I feel like I am caught up in a mental maelstrom, fighting with all of my might to break free of it, straining to reach higher ground.
  • Fact 2: The harder I fight, the more powerless I feel and the faster I sink.
  • Fact 3: When I am triggered, the best way to break the trigger is to demand my body to do something outside of my head, some physical thing that forces me to solve a problem in front of me.  A distraction from the storm in my head, as it were.
  • Fact 4: I don’t have time to waste. My day is blown if my PTSD takes over and I can’t control it. What do Arya Stark and Syrio Forel say?

    Not today.

  • Fact 5: Stungthumbz always says:

    What can you expect from a pig but a grunt?

  • Fact 6: I remembered something from Eat. Pray. Love.

  • You have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day. Now that’s a power you can cultivate. […] If you can’t master your thoughts, you’re in trouble forever.

So with those things in mind, my strategic strength kicked in to high gear. Using the “select your thoughts like you select your clothes every day” mental image, I went to work constructing imaginary drawers in my head to contain all of my memories: good, bad and traumatic. My therapist also contributed to the construction, reminding me that traumatic memories are just simply memories. No matter how painful, your memories aren’t out to purposely hurt you even though it might feel like it.

When a traumatic memory pops up, you’ve got two choices, you can jump into the maelstrom, most likely getting lost in it;  or you can grab it firmly, examine it, try to understand it, then put it back in the drawer it came from then mentally close the drawer, trapping and compartmentalizing it. In essence, I created a unique mental technique for controlling my thoughts, and my illness. When an intrusive memory rears its ugly head now, I think to myself, “What do we say to an intrusive memory? Not today.” I acknowledge that the memory exists, but I don’t spend time thinking about it because I am busy with the present.

And that brings me to the biggest lesson I have learned: stay in the present. Remember what you have right now and be grateful for it. Concentrate on moving forward. You can’t go back, you can’t shove the manure back into the horse. It’s done. Now move forward. Make a difference by not sitting silent. Share your story. Help someone. It doesn’t have to be some grand thing, nor does it need to be material. Sometimes the biggest help you can be is just by listening and just being you. After all, there is only one you and only you have your special gifts that can help heal someone. All you have to do is try. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Living through a traumatic event is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it happens and there is nothing you can do about it. What is important is that you realize that having a therapist (short or long-term) isn’t something to be ashamed of. Everyone needs someone to talk to. In the case of trauma, a trained professional can help you out in ways you could never imagine. It’s not easy re-training your brain to create new coping skills, but I have found that it is worth all of the pain and hard work. And, if you really want to, you can make it fun. Make do with what you have. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with using a little imagination and a whole lot of determination.

Keep your chin up and remember that you’re not alone. I’m here with you, climbing the mountain, one step at a time.

 

Setbacks

Fourteen days ago, I lost my job. My position got eliminated and two other people along with me were let go. It’s like I’ve said a million times before: “Change is not only possible, it’s probable.” What I didn’t throw in was the caveat that sometimes change isn’t a positive thing, sometimes it’s the universe smacking you in the head and making you go through a rough patch to put you on the path to following your bliss.

I’ve come to find that life just loves to throw curve balls. Just when I think I am getting some clear air ahead, another obstacle rears its ugly head. When I discussed this with one of my pals, she said, “Welcome to adulting” and she was right. What I’ve learned in the therapy room is that life is not personally out to get me, even though sometimes it sure does feel like it. Instead, I have found that life is an equal-opportunity sadist, it just loves to give us the illusion of clear air only to promptly slap us with a new obstacle to overcome; and it does it (without hesitation) to EVERYONE.

Remembering that I am not alone in this type of situation is the attitude that I’ve taken into this rough patch because it comes with the fact that I get to move again. *Sigh* Not fun. Just when I thought I was going to live alone again, come November, it’s back to shared housing with a new roommate. While it is disappointing to have to move again, I am looking at it in a new light. I know that it’s going to be okay. Believe me, I’ve seen worse. Each time I have to face changes like this, it’s less and less traumatic because I’ve learned that the Earth will keep turning, planes will keep flying and that my old friend “Change” is reminding me to keep dying, forcing me to let go of old things and pushing me to accept new adventures. It’s not easy to go through, but when is life ever easy for ANY of us?

Losing a job sucks. Your self-esteem gets to take a hit along with the impending “What am I going to do” panic in the back of your mind. In the past, I would have let something like this completely mow me down. Not this time. And that’s the big change: I’ve learned how to better cope with loss. Thank goodness for the time my therapist and I spent re-training my brain; all that hard work in the therapy room is working full-time to help me get through this setback with a positive attitude. The other change is that I am more confident and have a more positive outlook on myself than before. I have some unique skills and a vote of confidence from an industry pro that says I’m ready to take on the job of being a Creative Director. Before, I would have never thought I had the chops for it, but apparently, I do! And that’s great news.

So, the resumes are going out. The Linked In profile is getting polished up. Most of all, I am remembering that setbacks happen. And they happen to everyone. So if you are out there feeling you’re alone in the universe – you certainly aren’t – I’m right there with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, climbing the mountain, one step at a time.

*scrub* *scrub* *scrub*

 

I wish I were Merriweather at this point. She’s got the right colored dress (BLUE!), and she’s got a magic wand to help her with the cleaning. Unfortunately, this is reality and the only magic I really have to take on the scrubbing I have to do is a good attitude. You’d be surprised how much magic a good attitude has in it. If you have the right mindset, even the most daunting of tasks never seems that bad.

Last time, if you recall, I was really in a lather about being handed a dirty place to live. Well, like most of you have pointed out already, it’s more productive to let the cleaning supplies do the lathering and remember the simple fact that Momma Kitte pointed out:

If you do the cleaning yourself, you know it’s clean and done properly.

(Kitte’s so awesome. Major thanks to her for the reminder and attitude adjustment!)

So, after a frustrating weekend of waiting on the internet company to send out a crew to install my service (they never showed up, btw) I headed out to the store because I had one heck of a list of cleaning supplies to fill. $161 later, I had a cart full of cleaning supplies: mops, brooms, a bucket, a BIG thing of liquid Lysol, a jug of bleach, oven cleaner, toilet cleaner, toilet brush, scouring pads…you get the picture. If it was a cleaning supply that filled a purpose, it went into the cart.

The one thing I got clued in on…this time props go to Rezree…BLEACH PENS! I didn’t even know they existed until she told me about them! As I was shopping, three of them found their way into the cart because the kitchen counters along with kitchen floor and bathroom grout is stained, dirty and in more dire need of bleach than anything I’ve ever seen. (You know it’s bad when I can’t come up with a metaphor to describe something. One look and ‘eww’ and ‘STAPH’ and the phrase ‘CREEPING CRUD’ come to mind. ‘THE FUNK’ is also a good descriptor as whomever lived there before me were definitely dirty people to let the place fall into such disrepair. *Shudder* ‘The Funk’ is a death knell. If I am down to saying something’s got ‘the funk’ you know it’s near on to horrific.)

So with the thought of ‘the funk’ running around my house unchecked, I got everything home and began to put it all away, making time to add the cleaning supplies I already had to the storage area that now houses some major cleaning muscle.

I truly wish I had the words to describe the daunting task in front of me. I am faced with disinfecting the two rooms in any home that should be the cleanest: the kitchen and the bathroom. Now, I want you to take my luck into account, which means that (you guessed it) they are the two filthiest areas of the house.

So after organizing the cleaning supplies, I got the bleach pens out, grabbed an old toothbrush, cleaned off the kitchen counter next to the sink, put on my big rubber gloves and began to work. Never having used a bleach pen before, I found it wonderfully easy to outline each tile with the bleach pen, wait a few minutes, then begin scrubbing the mildew and dirt that had embedded itself in the grout (which seemed to have never been properly cleaned since it was installed years ago).

Just to do a single counter top felt like a major endeavor, but at seeing the grout go from black and grey to white was quite rewarding, making it a gauntlet-thrown challenge to see whether or not I could finish the area before the tendinitis in my elbows forced me to stop.

But happily, I got the one patch done and upon getting up this morning, it was a joy to see clean, white grout instead of thinking I was going to catch something if I put anything on the counter unprotected.

It’s one area at a time, learning the quirks and idiosyncrasies of my new digs. It’s like Kitte said, “If you do it, you know it’s clean.”

Anyone have any thoughts on cleaning grout? I’d love to hear your take on how you make sure your grout stays clean and free of ‘funk’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bramasole West

After almost five years and an abundance of obstacles later, I am finally in my own place again.

I’m grateful and thrilled to have four walls that allow me to fully decompress and recharge. Looking around, I believe this place has the potential to become a very special space.

To give you a proper visualization/idea of this new place, if you have seen Under The Tuscan Sun, it is pretty much how Katherine describes Bramasole at the beginning of the film: “Run down, but redeemable.”

The previous tenants of this condo were, (how does one put this gently?) maliciously careless with almost every square inch of the property. They and their canine companion left behind massive holes in the drywall (sheetrock to you Southern people out there), destroyed carpet, demolished baseboards, broken plumbing, undusted doorframes, beneath the fridge yuck, enough mildew, mold, discolored grout and Drano damaged sink (among other issues) to make Happy Quinn on Scorpion go “Not good.”

Because of time constraints and other issues, I had to move in before the completion of all the repairs which means that, yep, you guessed it, it hasn’t seen the final deep clean you would expect to be done before moving in to a new rental; leaving me with moldy toilet tanks, splatter painted toilet bowls and all kinds of fun smells to tackle on my own until the repairs are completed.

Welcome to Bramasole West. Like it’s namesake in Italy, it just needs some tender, loving care.

But tender, loving care was the very last thing I thought of when I walked in to see the unscrubbed tub, the dirty grout and so forth after an exhausting day of moving. At that point, I sat down on the newly-laid wood floors and cried. Then, before I became completely hysterical, I promptly got a hotel room for the night.

Laying in bed at 2am trying desperately to calm my 20-on-a-10-scale triggered PTSD, I remembered what Frances said about Bramasole upon moving in:

Buyer’s remorse is a very common affliction among new homeowners. Just because you have an acid stomach and a sudden urge to weep, that doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake.

Everybody knows old houses have their quirks. Especially 300-year-old houses.

I have inherited 10,000 empty wine bottles, one grape, every issue of “La Nazione” printed in 1958, and assorted previous “tenants.”

The trick to overcoming buyer’s remorse is to have a plan.

Pick one room and make it yours.

Go slowly through the house.

Be polite,
introduce yourself,
so it can introduce itself to you.

So, here we go. Bramasole West, meet everyone. Everyone meet Bramasole West. I am hoping after the final repairs are done, a cleaning service will come in to attempt the undertaking of cleaning up what is left of what the previous tenants left behind. If not, it’s going to be me and enough cleaning supplies to choke a metaphorical horse, going room by room, introducing myself, so it can introduce itself to me.

I am open to advice (that’s what the comments section is for) and donations so I can hire the proper people and/or buy the mountain of cleaning supplies required before I can even THINK of bringing in my sister in to start the interior design. (If Nan saw the condition of this place right now, she’d have a coronary! So, I am waiting to bring her in AFTER the repairs are finished and it’s been properly cleaned and disinfected.)

This is definitely a case of “Restoration BEFORE Decoration” because the very first time I went to the bathroom, the toilet overflowed as a “welcome home gift,” leaving me scrambling, trying to prevent water from seeping into the cracks above the tile and into the walls. Well, at least I don’t have an owl in the house or have to witness a washing machine being electrocuted by a storm.

With the right attitude, it’s doable. It’s a great cautionary tale of how NOT to treat a rental. Most of all, I am going to treat it as what it is: an obstacle to overcome. And when I leave, I hope this place is infinitely more beautiful than how I found it. That’s what having a restorative strength is all about.

And just in case you feel like donating to this daunting project, here ya go: 

If you want to send a mop or a bucket or grout cleaner, let me know in the comments so I can tell you where to send it!

For song of the day, from the Under The Tuscan Sun  soundtrack, here’s “Buyer’s Remorse.”

 

 

The Death of a Make-Up Bag

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my bathroom in the midst of my morning ablutions when I looked down and noticed my make-up bag.  Now, my make-up bag is similar to any other woman’s make-up bag…it’s filled with lotion, concealer, foundation, powder, eye shadow, blusher, brushes of all shapes and sizes and of course a few liner pencils, a sharpener and what my face is most famous for: my cake of black eyeliner with which I create my signature cat-eye look (that has kept people from asking my age and swearing I’m in my 30’s). But as I looked at that old bag, I realized that it had become time for a new one.

As with anything we carry, eventually our baggage is going to begin to show signs of wear, and my make-up bag was no exception. Years of unintentionally spilled loose powder had colored its once-white interior in a flesh colored hue, eye shadow brushes in-between cleanings had added highlight and shadow on top of the powder stains. While the exterior of the silver Clinique bag showed little signs of wear, the inside had (to say the least) taken quite a beating.  It survived the end of my marriage, my college education, a new relationship, then the death of that relationship, several moves and countless trips to the therapist for after-session touch-ups. There are few places I have been that my old make-up bag hasn’t tagged along for the ride.  And all the while, its exterior never showed signs of wear while the inside most certainly did. It got washed, dried, cleaned out and cleaned up so many times, but alas, some stains just wouldn’t come out.

After years of service, that old bag had finally given out. The silver vinyl exterior finally began to crumble, separate from the fabric and tear apart. The insides were stained and to the point of being unsalvageable. And there I stood, looking at it, denying that it was time for it to be replaced. “Oh, it’ll last one more week.” “Next paycheck, I’ve got to go to the mall for new blusher, so I’ll grab one then,” then “Crap, can’t afford the new blusher, it’ll wait until next paycheck,” and the excuses just kept coming until finally a business trip forced me into the obvious…my old bag wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. While it had held more girly crap than I can ever imagine during its lifetime, that old bag looked at me as if to say, “Sorry boss, I’m afraid this is the end of the line,” as a huge patch of silver vinyl cracked, tore away and drooped sadly off the side.

It was then that something occurred to me, kind of like a lightning bolt out of the blue. I looked at myself in the mirror and said,

“I’ve got to learn how to keep dying.”

Now, before you flip out, the phrase “I’ve got to learn how to keep dying” is a metaphor for the fact that we have to let old parts of ourselves die to embrace the new parts of ourselves.

Maybe Finding Joe can phrase it better:

And with that in mind, there I was in the mirror reminding myself to keep dying.

I was out of excuses to keep such a stranglehold on the past I have survived.

I realized that, in a way, that torn up old make-up bag was a metaphor for myself. Me trying desperately to carry things I shouldn’t be carrying. Me battered, tattered and doing my level best to put up a good front to hide the inside which had seen too many traumas, too many mistakes and too many hurtful things. Me dying to let go of all of the things that had caked themselves to my insides until I was recognizable, even to myself.

So, like Campbell says, we have to learn how to keep dying in order to keep evolving. No death, no life. That metaphorical death – of letting old things go – is just one more way to be reborn, to evolve and to change.

It’s like Doc Cat said to me so many times,

“Change isn’t only possible, it’s probable.”

It was only after I had reminded myself to “die” and let go, did I reach under the sink and bring out a new Clinique make-up bag that had been a gift-with-purchase that I had forgotten about completely. With a bright orange zipper and cheerful pink and yellow flowers, there was a “changing of the guard” so to speak, heralded by the migration of my MAC compact, brushes, liners, blusher tin and the remainder of the contents of the old bag, into the new one. What made the transition even more poignant was that I made a conscious decision to let go of even more, ridding myself of a few items that should have taken a hike a while ago, like the emergency Cover Girl concealer I was carrying for those times the circles under my eyes were so black I looked like Jenny in Forrest Gump right before she stepped onto the railing of the balcony but thought twice about jumping.

After I finished the transfer, I looked at the torn up, empty bag, I said, “Thank you for everything you’ve carried for me,” and placed it into my bathroom trash can to go out the next trash day. I then picked up my new make-up bag, placed it on my bathroom shelf, smiled at my reflection, turned out the lights and headed to the kitchen for breakfast.

Like the song by REM goes, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Yeah, that happens after you end the world as you know it –  to move on to a new one that you create for yourself. Like Campbell says:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Rabbit Nike’s

Photo credit: Fresh to death. Khovd Museum

Photo credit: Fresh to death. Khovd Museum.

Last week there was an article in the news on a 1,500-year-old mummy in what looks like a pair of Adidas running shoes. If you didn’t get to see it, the above photo are what those ‘supposed Adidas’ look like.

When I saw the article, it made me think about my first semester at UNLV. My marriage had just gone belly up and I was trying to readjust to a life on my own. I found myself in Doc T’s Composition II (Argumentative Essay) class, a 37-year-old surrounded by students young enough to be my children. After writing almost every day to chronicle my experiences, I suddenly found myself knee-deep in schoolwork. I had completely slacked off on writing in my blog as I was researching and preparing to fight the battle of creationism versus evolution for my final 10-page paper that I would eventually title “Centerfield.” While I was procrastinating on getting my writing done, I came in here to unwind and air out a few wild theories that I couldn’t really put in an academic paper. The result? A pair of “Rabbit Nikes.” 

As I re-read the post, I laughed out loud a few times. Man, the things I come up with. 

Enjoy.


I like to think of evolution in terms of a pair of “Rabbit Nikes.”  So let’s use our imaginations and think about a caveman for a second, and here’s a visual to help out…

Wait, on second thought, let’s not…because all of the pictures I found on cavemen or Neanderthals…well, the pictures all have everyone’s “whatevers” hanging out and, no, I’m just not gonna go there.  No pictures of some caveman’s willow on my blog!

But that does illustrate my point quite the bit…let’s imagine our very nude caveman walking along.  He steps down and gets a sharp rock in the sole of his foot.  Now in today’s society, we’re liable to hop up and down like a jackrabbit hollering about the pain, but to Mr. Caveman…well, that’s normal.  Sighing at the fact that he’s taken one more sharp rock in the foot, he reaches down and pulls the rock from his foot and keeps going, accepting that it’s always going to be like that. He doesn’t even consider another option.

Now, let’s switch to a different caveman, same situation. He’s walking along, minding his own business when he gets a sharp rock in the bottom of his foot, but this time instead of sighing about it, removing the rock and going about his business, he figures he’s about had enough of his only means of transportation constantly being hurt by things on the ground that he inadvertently steps on (or in).  Just then, a rabbit quickly scampers by. He sees the rabbit…he’s hungry, so he figures, “Hey!  Food!”  (I’ll leave out the quip that the rabbit was probably the first rendition of “Fast Food”…go ahead and groan, it’s ok.) He chases down the rabbit, kills it, skins it and has a really good lunch…BUT then he looks at the leftovers…bones, fur (if he’s not eaten them in the process)…all sorts of stuff…so, he looks at the cut in his foot, looks at the fur, feels how soft it is and figures out that “Hey, that fur could be protecting my foot!”   So he takes the skin, wraps it around his foot, uses the remaining bones to fasten the fur together so it’ll stay on his foot, then gets up and walks on, not worrying about rocks on the ground anymore…our friend the caveman invents the first “shoe” of sorts, a “Rabbit Nike.”

Now, let’s put the shoeless caveman next to the guy with the Rabbit Nike’s on. Is the caveman with the “Rabbit Nike’s” going to be able to go a further distance when he walks?  Odds are he will.  Odds are that he’s got better survival skills than our caveman who just pulled the rock out of his foot and moved on.

Think about it. You’re a caveman. If you hurt your feet, how are you supposed to hunt and gather when you can’t walk?  Now I’ll concede that the caveman foot of prehistoric times probably had the sole of a Doc Marten because their bare feet were their only mode of transportation; the skin of the foot was probably extremely calloused and made to survive a sharp rock or two.  But now we’ve got this guy with the Rabbit Nike’s on…he invented something that he probably put on his girl, then on his children.  What happens to the feet of that family?  Odds are they got softer, because there was not a lot of damage being done to them; the damage being absorbed by the fur and skins that encased their feet.  They got to walk farther in inclement weather, (snow, ice) and generally survived a lot better.  That is a great case of evolution.  The next generations of the family of the Rabbit Nike inventor unwittingly had caused a change in their feet, with less damage being done to the foot and fur-lined insulation cutting down on illness, that means they could hunt and gather more and enjoy a better quality of life, thus leading to the dominance of the Rabbit Nike-wearing caveman.  That singular innovation passes down through the generations, changing the foot over millennia to what we see today when we look down at our feet to get out of bed, all because some caveman was sick and tired of getting a sharp rock in the sole of his foot and was smart enough to use the remains of his lunch to protect them.

Now while I’m using a male pronoun for the caveman, it could have easily been a cavewoman who invented the shoe. Actually, I’ve got odds that a woman invented the shoe because, I mean, come on, girls and shoes? Yeah…that whole thing had to start somewhere.

This, of course, is followed by the evolution of the first shoe salesman:

”You like fur?  You like no rock or thorn in foot?  You like to run fast to catch mammoth for big meal or run away faster when big cat tries to eat you?  Shoe made from rabbit.  Rabbit fast.  You be faster wearing Rabbit Nike.”

Evolution, isn’t it grand?

I’m sorry, I had to do it, it was too funny to pass up.

The Politics of Hummingbirds

So, as I mentioned on Facebook this morning…

This morning welcomed me with something that I have never seen before: Two hummingbirds fighting to the death.

If you remember the description way back in the day of my daily routine, you know that it consists of waking up, taking my thyroid medication and perusing the news of the day. Hey, it’s an ingrained habit from my days at school. Ever since my Global Media class, every day is the same: get up, take my pill, read the news (in that exact order).

This morning, I had walked out onto the back porch with coffee in hand to take in the cool morning breeze along with the morning’s headlines.  I took a sip of coffee, put my cup down, tapped the AP icon on my phone and began scanning headlines. After seeing what the AP had to offer, I swiped my screen to an app called “Flipboard” to find an article on CNN.com about the takeaways from the latest town hall in Wisconsin.

Mid-way through reading about the latest disgraceful antics of childish, bickering politicians, I started hearing this odd cacophony. The sound was distinctly hummingbird, distinctly agitated, but more to the point, it was TWO distinct voices.

I began scanning the trees and plants around the back yard, looking for the source of the sound. To my astonishment, appearing to bounce off the ground, the mason wall and the large shrub next to it, were two male Anna’s Hummingbirds locked in mortal combat, plumage flaring bright red and green on both.

Have you ever seen hummingbirds fight? They’re just NOT nice! No Marquis of Queensbury rules; not an ounce of quarter given. I watched in disbelief as their tiny talons were locked together, the larger of the two males deliberately picking up and slamming his opponent into the rocks on the ground. Lest I remind you, these little guys weigh less than an OUNCE and there the larger one was, repeatedly slamming his opponent to the ground.

My eyes got big as pie plates when I figured out what was going on, aghast at the pure carnage I was witnessing. Whereas most folks these days would immediately whip out their phone to capture it all on video, the thought never even entered my mind. I immediately sprang from my seat, running toward the two aviary combatants yelling, “Oh hell no, not on my watch! You two, break it up!” As I ran toward them, the battle went airborne, the smaller of the two struggling to get away from the onslaught the larger one was unleashing upon him. Just as fast as I spotted it and tried to break up the fight, the two were gone, almost leaving vapor trails from the speed at which they left.

Now what most people don’t know is that hummingbirds are extremely territorial and, to put it plainly, they are not even remotely nice. They are a small package of dynamite just waiting to explode on an unsuspecting foe. Put another way, I think of hummingbirds like a little dog with big dog attitude. It’s like little Zoe (a Fox/Jack Russell Terrier mix) deciding that she’s the same size as her Giant Doberman brother Reese. You and I know that she’s a small dog, but if you ask her, that little dog will just let you have it as if to say, “I’m a big dog. No really, I’m HUGE! And you will obey me because I am The Zoe.”

Jeweled plumage aside, male hummingbirds are really something when hummingbird feeders are placed for them to drink at. Currently, we have three feeders set up in the back yard and they are the site of constant aerial acrobatics of males showing dominance. As to the cast of characters, we have one big hummingbird called “Tweedy” that is the reigning patriarch of the hummingbird clan that lives in the neighborhood; “Arc”, the smaller male (who has an injured wing which, at rest, looks like an arc) and a smattering of indistinguishable smaller females who come to drink quite often.

Arc has been a constant resident of the feeders since he was a baby. Last year, Tweedy would stomach Arc and the females coming to feed, allowing them to take a drink and then chase them off as if to say, “MY FEEDER! Not yours. You’ve had your drink, now move along.” This morning, the fight was ON between Tweedy and Arc because you can tell that Tweedy’s just not into having Arc around anymore. What am I saying? Tweedy hates everyone. They’re his feeders and he’s not sharing.

After breaking up the fight between Tweedy and Arc, I went back to my news, back to the dismal bullyfest of incessant bickering, name calling, manhood-defending, hand-size-judging, wife-insulting, girl-hitting, pile of manure that has become the Republican side of the 2016 election cycle. Upon finishing the articles, I looked up to see Tweedy back on one of the feeders, the proud and apparent victor of the titanic clash.

Here’s where it gets funny.

After watching the hummingbirds battle it out, combined with reading the political headlines of the day, my brain put the two disparate concepts together. Suddenly, I realized that the White House has become one big proverbial hummingbird feeder. Tweedy and Arc? Well, they fit nicely as Drumpf and Cruz treating each other (and the rest of us) like it’s THEIR FEEDER and they’re not sharing! They’ll keep chasing each other off and pecking at each other until the other gives up or dies, because they are the one who wants the sole ability to “wet their beak” in the nectar of power, completely forgetting that it’s the average person (just like you and me) who makes the sucrose suspension and keeps filling the feeder.

Watching Tweedy slam Arc into the ground repeatedly is just another way that Mother Nature shows us the nature of politics. All I see is two little birds squabbling over something that we take down, wash and refill over and over again for a far longer period than the lifespan (or shelf-life) of those two very small, squabbling birds.

And while most people would simply whip out their cameras to take pictures of the carnage, I’m hopping out of my seat chasing them both off yelling, “OH HELL NO! Not on my watch! Break it up you two!”

Ah, the Politics of Hummingbirds.

But then again, that’s just me of course.