Part 2.5: Becoming Me, Almost….

Yes, I know I promised the next part of this series was going to be about how I understand intimacy, but a bit of something happened last night to cause me to get this out first.  Please pardon the interruption and the detour.  And please excuse the coltish awkwardness to follow; I’m terribly out of practice at writing any sort of poetry.

 

He walked the graveled path on bare feet,

Pain impaled the body and mind

Alone and lost in winter’s freeze.

He stopped, howled his anguish and

Tried to soothe the temporary ache

With fleeting relief to the wounds that quickly fell away.

He found, discarded but fair cloth to bind his feet.

And the walk became less strained…

And the path began to yield its light.

A willow’s feathers brushed the ground,

Offering a tender invitation to rest a while.

Pleasant and soothing, but only for a moment

Before offering protection for the continuing journey.

Though the path remained loose and rocky

The stones grew smaller and less threatening,

Further separated from his self

By the gift of the willow’s boughs wrapped tightly ’round his feet.

Color peeked from the undergrowth

As flowers peered their frilly faces upward in encouragement to continue his search.

Taller and brighter grew the petals and

He smiled.

Then, in the garden of the home he left a lifetime ago,

The sweet scent of a flower emerged from a tangle of thorns.

Recognized yet unknown in youth.

Confidently, he pruned away the sharp distractions to exposed the red heart of a rose.

Small. Soft. Delicate yet sturdy on its own straight spine of scattered minute thorns.

He drew his breath at the find,

Bent.

Cupped the bloom to his face in hands folded as if in prayer.

Closed his eyes to bend and drink her scent.

He took nothing from the rose, yet gave her nourishment.

Her spikes lost their threatening stance and

She enveloped him in her beauty and invisible gifts,

While she  grew stronger and brighter.

For he was home,

And she, tended.

 

Part 1, Becoming Me: Hiding publicly

This post series may be a bit difficult for some of you to read…or stomach…or even believe. I’m even going to preface this series with a disclaimer: there is absolutely no disrespect, ill-will, or anything else intended to be deliberately disparaging in it towards my ex. He is happy now as am I, and I joyfully want that to continue. I will touch on some issues we had as a couple, and perhaps he (if he actually reads this), will accept this as an “exit interview” and take some of the observations in the spirit intended…as my own personal views and interpretations. No one else’s. Now on with the show…

 

Unless you’ve been under a virtual rock, or had a life, or are new to the blog, or [insert any one of a million valid reasons], then you’re aware that I am at a real crossroads in my life, and a very happy place that is to travel. When the ex and I officially separated in January 2014, it was a complete “non-event”: no wailing and howling or dish-throwing. True, tons of glares exchanged lines of sight, but that was about it. But I made a decision in an instant, that from that day forward I was going to be myself, own my feelings, be unapologetic for my beliefs, and do what made me happy. To some this may sound wholly selfish; for me, it was a matter of reclaiming myself.

 

One of the first things I started doing was writing again; it’s been one of the best decisions I could have made for me. I had an outlet for my creativity, in addition to the candle making, and it felt wonderful to put “fingers to keyboard” so to speak. This was more than a diary or a journal; this was a sharing of my soul at times…perhaps a bit exhibitionist one may believe, but let’s be honest, without that bit of narcissistic belief that someone other than ourselves is interested in what we have to say, there would be no books ever written. There is something that drives a writer to publicly commit their thoughts, ideas, dreams, fears to a public airing and open themselves to criticism. Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment and pain, as it is painful to hear/read that someone judges our heart’s blood to be…heaven forbid…drivel. After all, “it” meant enough to us to agonize over a single phrasing of a sentence for hours or days before releasing it for public consumption; how dare someone else proclaim it unworthy of a read much less a second thought? But, as surely as there is cream and sugar in my coffee, I will continue to write and put my thoughts out there for your review. No longer do I have a fear of rejection of this part of me, regardless of what views I express, when I sit down with the keyboard in my lap. The only agony connected to my writing now is in reigning myself in sufficiently to avoid using the real names of those characters who now write my life’s scripts. I love them all, and it is my choice to not bring their true identities into the telling of my tales.

 

Case in point. I’ve skirted around many of the details surrounding the relationship between “Bruce” and I, and will continue to do so; I may share some of our conversations, but more in the manner of sharing things we have learned or believe in the spirit of hoping that it may encourage someone else in their journey. For a bit, I was annoyed that “Bruce” didn’t want to make us “Facebook Official”, meaning, changing our respective statuses to read “In a relationship with…”. My old self-esteem immediately assumed he was hiding something, such as me or another girlfriend(s). I was ready to share my joy with anyone dumb enough to be in earshot or visual range as the case may be. But in his calm, unflappable manner, he took my face in both his hands for a sweet kiss, hugged me tight, then explained,

 

“I want this to be about us right now. No one else’s opinions or suggestions or comments. Just us. If something happens and we decide to back up the U-Haul*, people would feel the need to take sides, and I don’t think either of us want that.”

*backing up the U-Haul: our phrase for going our separate ways

 

We still comment and like each other’s posts on Facebook, but we don’t directly say we are dating each other. We have had a bit of fun with my status, changing it from “single” to “It’s complicated”, as in, he is a fan of American football, and me a fan of real football (a.k.a. soccer). Or complicated because he is “Bruce Wayne”…just plain silliness bourne out of my need to call him something. I’m sure we’ll make a quiet status change to real names before much longer, but for now, this has been a bit of fun.

 

I finally understood his need for privacy on social media was in a manner of speaking, a showing of respect and protection of “us”. We have since allowed a select group of friends in on our secret. They’ve been very respectful of our wishes. We’ve met each other’s family, visit with his folks regularly, hung out with our kids together, and even had our parents join us together for a relaxed dinner out while my dad was in town. I was very fortunate to have loved my ex’s parents while they were still alive, and I am equally fortunate to adore Bruce’s parents. Lovely, lovely people…as is apparently everyone related to Bruce. Amazing folks. But what I find so refreshing with Bruce is his attentiveness to me in the presence of our friends and family…yes, even in front of my lovingly intimidating and protective father! For me, this was missing from my marriage, and it’s partially my fault for not speaking up more clearly perhaps that I needed this: this public acknowledgement that yes, we are together, yes, there is a bond here, and yes, the man with me feels lovingly protective and proud of me enough to put his arm around me or give me a quick public kiss. Nothing mushy or sloppy or hugely demonstrative…just a quick “I love you and I’m glad to be with you.”

I had another “yes, this is going good places” moment this morning along those lines when we passed an elderly couple walking on the side of the road, holding hands. At the same moment, we both sighed and let out an “Awww”. I once told my ex upon seeing an exceptionally older couple, in their 80’s perhaps, out for a stroll holding hands, “That. That’s what I want.” He had no reply or comment at all at the time, but after our split, he brought up that moment, and said his heart dropped when I said that while watching the sweet pair walk along the water, hand in hand, heads bent together laughing over a shared memory perhaps. Might have been my hair standing on end though that amused them, who knows. He said almost sadly I think, that he just couldn’t do that. As I told Bruce this story, I confessed that the night of our first date, when I “accidentally” brushed his arm and he reached out to take my hand, that the accidental klutzy move was really a “test”. Had he pulled away, it would have been a deal breaker. Then and there. I will never spend my time investing in a relationship with someone who is afraid I might have cooties. I never expected him to actually reach out and take my hand and heart in his in that one split second, three hours into our first date, but he did.

 

He hasn’t let go yet, and it is the most amazing feeling.

 

Coming in Part 2, Becoming me: what is intimacy?

So what’s wrong with you again?

This is freakishly long…go get something to snack on.  It will still be here when you get back.

I haven’t spoken a great deal about my spondyloarthropathy, but someone new and very special to me in my life was asking “Bruce” what was “wrong” with me, and I thought this was a great time to talk a bit more about it. Don’t take offense with the wording; I’m so blessed to have this person in my life now, but they are new to being Facebook friends with me, and as such, is a bit behind on some of the conversations I’ve had over there about this over the years. I knew exactly what they meant though. Trust me, those with this disorder often ask the same of ourselves…”What IS wrong with me??” Seriously, it can be baffling and confusing to live in a body that can just bop along all happy if somewhat sluggish, then suddenly revolt and decide that excruciating pain and Tin Man impersonations are the order of the day.

The timing of the question was excellent, because thanks to the incoming storms/heavy rain, a friend and I were having a conversation yesterday about how some of us seem to do such a lovely job of predicting the weather more accurately than the local weather guys…when the bones, joints, or muscles start to tighten up when bad weather is coming. Some feel it is the damp, others believe (and science is just starting to back this one), that it is the drop in barometric pressure that triggers the discomfort. The pressure drop seems to get to me the most, and the heat was tough for me to handle before starting the Enbrel. Heat increases inflammation, and inflammation, unchecked, not only increases pain but puts you at greater risk for joint damage. Cold on the other hand, might make my muscles and tendons slower to warm up in the mornings and bit stiff at times during the day, but it is FAR easier on my body. Typically, a slow morning yoga sequence gets me on my way during the cooler months, but honestly, waking up exhausted is so…well…exhausting during the heat and humidity of our Virginia summers.

The sort of spondyloarthropathy the boys and I have (Undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy or USpA for short) affects the connective tissue and not the joints themselves (enthesitis are the points where the tendons and ligaments attach to the bones..this is where we’re affected). It explains why as a child, I would get horrific leg pains…it was the tendons pulling on the growth plates of the bones. Not every pain is “growing pains”, which even the docs said they didn’t think it was when I was a kid. Had them totally stumped. Even into my early 30’s, the rheumatologist said he could only call it a sero-negative arthritis (which means having arthritis without it showing up in the bloodwork), however, the doc I had at the time said flat out it couldn’t be spondyloarthropathy, as it only affected old men. Shame when the medical community doesn’t keep up with their own research; it would have saved me nearly 8 years of suffering and damage needlessly. We’ll skip the entire “how I was finally diagnosed story”, but suffice it to say, I love living in a city with one of the top teaching hospitals in the country!

Unfortunately almost all variations of spondyloarthropathy affect the spine. My lower back is toast, as is my neck, but here’s the thing. I can whinge and moan about it, or I can continue to be proactive and do everything I can to stay healthy and active. My rheumy credits my activity, especially yoga (which I am sorry to say I’ve neglected recently…) with keeping me so mobile, active and flexible. Yes, there is a chance that at any point in time the Enbrel will quit working its magic, and I’ll be left scrambling to find another medication that slows the progression, but in the meanwhile, I am going to do everything I can to take control over this, rather than it taking control over me.  I truly feel for those who are unable to get a handle on this disease medically due to circumstances beyond their immediate control (insurance issues or medical incompetency).

But perhaps I am most concerned for those who have the services and means at their disposal, but who are unable to mentally take charge of the situation. I’ve always been a “strong person” mentally, and at times that has admittedly been my downfall. But whenever I’ve been faced with a crisis, I tend to have a quick cry about it, time and urgency for action permitting, then, I dust myself off, and ask myself what I can do to take control back. Sometimes, having a slight issue with control pays off! I recently got a bit of news about the progression that occurred while I was off the Enbrel for a bit, that sent me briefly over the edge. It was a true relationship test that “Bruce” had to witness me having a pity party for about an hour, but as I’ve come to expect from him now, he was rock-steady, calming, and just asked me the same questions I knew I would have asked myself if he hadn’t beaten me to it:

  1. What exactly did the doctor say?
  2. What should you do now?
  3. What can you control?
  4. What is out of your control?
  5. Then do it.

 

Honestly, how does he know me so well? It’s like we’re soul mates or something (although I know he’s really been placed here right now by God to take care of me and for me to take care of). So when I encounter others who are desperate for this disease to just go away, I have to wonder where their support system is and why they feel so alone and helpless. I try to do what I can to offer my support through our closed Facebook group (closed to protect their identity and our very frank conversations). I decided some time ago that I would not hide this journey with USpA in spite of the risk of discrimination or judgment. Instead, I knew I wanted to lend my ear, heart, and encouragement to others who may be struggling with challenges. You are never truly alone if someone is willing to listen.

But a word of caution is in order. If you are a care-giver/spouse/partner/friend of someone with a chronic illness, you have to set some boundaries with the person you care about. Take time out for yourself and your friends/interests too. Having sat both sides of the caregiver/receiver fence, I understand all too well that you can give until you crash and risk becoming resentful, or even falling ill yourself. Do not feel guilty about taking a break; think of it simply as recharging your batteries so you can be as effective as you possibly can be. “Bruce” has the most wonderful way of asking “What can I do to help your day end so you can relax?” We’ve both been at work, we’re both tired, but he knows that being a woman, I’m going to keep going after every little thing I see that wants doing until it’s done, or I keel over, whichever comes first. What might take me two hours at the end of the day, takes the pair of us about 30 minutes, tops. How cool is that?! So caregivers, ask, in novel ways as Bruce has, how you can help without making your partner feel dependent. That’s critical, as few people enjoy feeling helpless.

For the person on the receiving end of the help, I’ve got some advice for you as well. Don’t be a wet rag all the damn time. Yes, you are faced with challenges that perhaps your caregiver/partner will never quite understand, and perhaps you are living with obscene amounts of pain, but guess what? Everyone has a cross to bear. Practice being thankful and thanking your partner. You don’t have to literally say “Thank you” at every little thing they do, but a smile, a hand on the arm, a back scratch, giving up control of the remote, being okay with a less than Martha Stewart perfect house, appreciating efforts at cooking or cleaning up…these all let your partner know you appreciate what they do. Laugh. Once in a while, force yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. Sure, you might be exhausted at the end, but you know what? Take an extra dose of meds before you go, take a nap before or after, but especially have a frank discussion about the possibility of needing to take breaks or even leave early. I honestly can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone ahead and pushed myself, and then ended up having a blast. I have gotten more intuitive though about knowing when I really do need to back out of something, and I’ve also learned another very important lesson. Forgive myself for having to say no. I think though that since that doesn’t happen very often, my friends and family have gotten the message that if I do say no, it’s a rough day/week whatever, and that they just need to let me recoup a bit so I can be there for when I am needed as well. And here is another important tip in my opinion…think before you open your mouth. What is coming out? Is it constant complaints or do you temper the Grumpy Cat days with moments of positivity? If you’re more grouch than grinning, then force yourself to do/say something positive. It supposedly takes 21 days to form a new habit, but trust me, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel the benefits of a more positive outlook, and you will be less likely to drive your support system away. It is very stressful, confusing and scary to be a caregiver/partner to someone with a chronic illness; it is very easy to walk away.  It is extremely difficult to stay, so don’t for one moment take for granted those who do, and forgive those who try but have to leave in the end.  Not everyone is cut out for the task no more than everyone is capable of hiking the Himalayas….it takes a certain mindset, heart, and fortitude to do it. Yes, I completely understand that there may always be someone(s) in your life who just won’t get it. Decide if they are worth your energy to worry about. Think about it.

 

So I hope this has been a bit helpful, hopefully quite informative, and I wish you well with whatever you may be facing in your own life. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts here. No flame wars though…I don’t tolerate personal assaults on anyone, myself included. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

 

 

Sticking Around

Things that “stick around”…good friends for an extra cup of coffee or a beer, fans after an autograph, the smell of cabbage cooking…dog farts….  “Sticking around” implies there’s something else the “sticker” could be doing, but chooses otherwise.  Perhaps, they just enjoy what they’re doing, and are loathe to change the activity.  Maybe, the sticker is just a touch on the lazy side and can’t be bothered to do something different that would require effort to change direction.  Now, cabbage and dog farts don’t exactly have a choice in whether to stick around or not, but to a certain extent, their pungence causes them to hang about…a mixture of chemistry and olfactory memories combining to keep them around longer than either necessary or desired.  A good squirt of air freshener or a strong fan will generally help them along their way however. Usually.  Unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I’ve got the crock pot filled to the brim with corned beef and cabbage….or if one of the boys has fed the pug beans.  That’s bad news there. 

But what about people in your life who stick around…in spite of something weird, negative or scary… Have you ever questioned their motivation? You throw work drama at them.  They pour a couple cups of coffee, pull up a chair, and say, “Tell me more.”  You decide to sulk over an unsolicited text they get…they didn’t invite or ask for it, but you decide to act like an ass about it…just because.  They just hug you, and show you that there is no conversation to this text, and that it is all one-sided.  You know they’re right; you just had a moment of acting self-centered and about 5 years old.  They still keep hugging, texting and calling you though, even though the tantrum probably deserved a dose of the silent treatment.  Some folks, and let’s be honest, we’re talking about partners/boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses and even family members here, would walk pretty quickly away from these little life dramas.  Face it, in the grand scheme of things, these really are petty issues, and typically don’t deserve a huge amount of energy to get through.  

Then life throws you a curve ball.  A big ol’ smack upside the head, reality check, heart stopping, make you want to barf continually moment.  You can’t catch your breath as you try to process what is happening.  Then an even darker feeling creeps into the edges of your reality…you’re in a pretty new relationship…how do you share this with your partner and not expect them to pack up the U-Haul?  Now let’s think about this rationally for a moment…would it really be fair to share this life-moment with a new partner?  You’re barely out of the burping in front of each other stage, although you’ve shared a great deal of your history, but seriously?  You expect them to be there for this?  “THIS” is heavy stuff…it can make or break marriages, so it really might be more kind to just quietly break this off with them now, and spare them the process.  True, they might be confused and hurt at the rejection, but then you wouldn’t feel the guilt of the alternative….

…the alternative, is to tell them, and then hold your breath, waiting for them to leave.  But they don’t.  You start to wonder, if they are sticking around only not to seem heartless: that once the event is past, they will be the ones to quietly bow out before anything else can crop up.  You wouldn’t blame them, although you would be hurt, but who wants to wade willingly into a crisis, make it through, then hang around to see if something else happens again.  That might even be the definition of a sadist come to think of it…..

Or….your partner, after you tell them, sits silently for a moment, then tells you (forgive the changing voice…) “WE will get the facts, then WE will get the plan, then WE will follow through with it.  WE will get through it.”

It then becomes clear to you that it is the truly extraordinary hearts that are capable of such “Stick to it-iveness”.  The only guilt that you should be feeling is in ever doubting that they would be there in the first place.  You know that you too, would be there for them were the tables turned, and that is what makes the relationship have longevity potential.  Something else may come along in time to send you each down separate roads, but for right now, this…this challenge will only cause you to stick even closer together.  

Writer’s Block and How I Escape It…

Word Press has a great challenge going for writers that encourages us to write daily or weekly, and to share some of the experience with each other and readers at large.  I felt compelled to respond to this one http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/writers-block-party/

I hit the mother of all writer’s blocks about five years ago, then again a year ago.  I knew exactly what triggered it…just stopped the words in their tracks….it was the realization that my marriage was over. Kaput. It ceased to be. It was an “ex” marriage.  The realization just took the wind out of my sails and the words out of my heart; it took every ounce of energy I had to keep up with breathing in and breathing out in a rhythm conducive to staying conscious.  I struggled daily..shoot, hourly at times, with just accepting that I had done the best I knew how, but it just wasn’t enough.  

But in January of this year, after loads of therapy and healing, and feeling pretty okay with myself and thinking the marriage was actually on the mend, I learned, that the marriage was in fact. finito. Finally.  There was no crying, just a matter of fact announcement on my part of, “Enough. I’m done.”  It took about a month, but I let go of my frustration and anger in the instant that I decided to forgive my ex, and suddenly, as if getting drenched by a car flying through a puddle when you’re standing on the sidewalk, the words came…and came, and came, and haven’t stopped coming.  

I don’t think I actually “did” anything to make this happen.  I didn’t decide to sit in front of the computer and write.  I didn’t promise myself to write about one topic or another.  Instead, I just sat back, opened the laptop, and let the words and emotions flow to the screen.  At times, it was an obsession, and I wrote to the exclusion of sleeping or eating, but it was as necessary to my being as either of those.  Now I’m faced with the scariest challenge of my life so far, but I’m trying to keep it in perspective.  Whatever happens, I know I will get through it through writing and with the support of my partner.

..which has now just prompted a thought for another post…..

 

Yin/Yang Series: Content vs Wanting

A conversation started the other morning on the way to work.  I asked “Bruce” if he was content.  Most people might ask their partner if they were happy, or if they wanted a second cup of coffee, but poor Bruce has the luck to have chosen to be in a relationship with a writer…so…there you go.

He paused for a moment, then said he wasn’t sure he liked that term, that it implied not wanting anything more.  I had to chew on that a moment…he had a point.  The more I thought about it though, I think the term for that might better be “complacent”.  So let’s take a peek into what goes through my mind when I say I feel content vs feeling as if something is wanting in my life.

“Wanting”: this means to me that there is something missing in my life that I may need.  To me, wanting implies a lack of, an insufficiency, a quality of “less” that somehow must be corrected in order for me to be happy.  With the exception of perhaps a little more money, I can’t think of anything, if I’m brutally honest, that is truly “wanting” in my life.  I have family and friends who love me, a fulfilling career, a roof over my head, an amazing man who loves me, and, with some juggling, enough money to typically meet my needs.  Perhaps my current health challenge could be interpreted as leaving me “wanting” for something else, but even that is just a part of life that I need to just work my way through.

So how do I interpret “content”?  To me, content is the state of wanting what you have, appreciating the gifts you’ve been given.  Content is looking at stretching a single piece of chicken into a meal for four, and being proud of your resourcefulness and creativity in the kitchen.  Content is a date night at the $1.99 movies and walking around town holding hands.  Content is climbing over the front seat of the car to grab something out of the back as the back doors to the car seem to be stuck, and laughing at the “show” the neighbors must be getting of your rear end sticking up over the seat. Content is a cat nap in the middle of the afternoon, snuggled up on the sofa while your partner channel surfs.  Content is scoring a beautiful sundress (or several!) in the local thrift shop for $5.00.  Content is cooking together at home rather than eating out.  Content is fixing a broken something yourself, even if it’s not quite right, rather than relying on calling someone else to clean up the mess….okay, so content can also mean having the professional fix something, without making you feel like an idiot, after you’ve tried to fix it yourself.

So am I content?

You betcha!