toil

It has been almost six weeks since I began to seriously participate in my own life again. This sounds rather pathetic, but after three years of unrelenting illness, this is a major accomplishment. The problem is, what is my life? There is nothing, outside of staying in Denver, Katie, and my Dad, that is the same. Let me backtrack to when I would define my life as being on an even keel, way back in early 2011. That was the year my mom died, and the year my ex quit his job. I started graduate school in January of 2013, five weeks after we decided to divorce. Since 2011, I have hit every major life stressor (death of a loved one, loss of income/job, divorce, move, school, and major illness) except for pregnancy and marriage. Wow. It looks pretty grim when I list it all. I’m tough. I know that, I’ve always known that. I’m resilient, something I didn’t know until recently. I mean, I knew I didn’t react to calamity like other people, but I didn’t define that as resilience. I defined that as life.

We all have our limits, though, and when I started trying to do what I once considered normal activities, I got depressed and anxious. I felt hopeless for more than a few hours at a time, a rarity so foreign to me that I didn’t recognize what it was. Who was I trying to kid? I couldn’t do life anymore. I was so out of practice that keeping things together felt impossible. In some ways, being sick was easier. I was stuck. There was no way I would go back to being sick if I could help it. I didn’t know what I was moving towards, but I had to move forward anyway. This is the classic definition of cognitive dissonance. I was being flung outside my comfort zone (whatever that was) to an unknown future. I had four choices: Ignore and deny (of course I’d like this one!), dwell in being nearly well and redefine well (yuck!), accept where I was and make small, real changes (hmmm…), or act like I was well and jump in (okay, but…). I didn’t like any of the choices, really. I wanted everything to fall into place magically, without the awful, churning middle phase. I figured I would make small goals and keep at it, and something would happen.

Nothing much has happened. I’ve had false starts and setbacks. I’ve redefined the goals. One thing I didn’t do was stop. Gradually, (well, maybe not gradually, I didn’t have this epiphany until today) a daily satisfaction set in. The beginnings of schedules and structure appeared, by simply doing it over and over. I found I was working eight or nine hours a day, doing all sorts of different things. Applying for jobs, writing cover letters, researching companies, working part-time as a lifeguard, working part-time from home, cleaning, cooking, reading submissions for a literary review, writing my blog, fixing my website, learning technical writing, and refreshing copy editing skills. Whew! I have become busy! Some days I have to accept that I can’t return fully yet, and I can’t beat myself up for that. Other days I can charge ahead and do everything on my list, and then some.

I haven’t gotten my dream job. I haven’t finished my book. My website still has bugs that I haven’t figured out. I’m only a quarter-way through the copy editing book. I’m half-way through the technical writing book. What I have gained is the intangible. The satisfaction of a day well-spent. My brain is slowly returning to normal, much more slowly than I’d like. The challenges are immense: am I able to retain what I’m learning? Am I making mistakes that I can’t see? There are still cognitive gaps that aren’t apparent until I’m confronted with them. For instance, a friend asked if I’d read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. Of course I had, I’d read the prairie trilogy years ago, then reread My Antonia again. I’d written about the book in grad school, for Pete’s sake!

I couldn’t remember a thing about the book, except that I’d read it. Another time, I went to a play with a new friend. They were playing 80s music before the play. I couldn’t remember lyrics I used to know by heart. The whole cognitive deficit part sucks, but the stimulation of learning new things has been restorative. We’ll see how successful I am at retaining what I’ve learned. I hate my sorry-ass brain at the moment.

I don’t like this phase. I don’t like being in limbo in virtually every aspect of my life. Oh, I know. It will make me a better person. It’s another fucking opportunity for growth. I’ll get there. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t think about those things. I can’t. The unknowns are too big. Maybe the way out of an existential crisis is simply doing things and moving forward every day. My mind, to paraphrase Camus, must stop watching itself and start acting.

Share

bumbling

A new chapter, turning over a new leaf, rising from the ashes, rebirth, starting over; the sheer number of maxims boggles the mind. The facts are usually the same. Person has a setback, person begins life with a new purpose. I might argue this is one of the most basic facts of life. It smacks of redemption, courage and strength. There are many levels of this type of renewal. From “tomorrow I’m going to start to get to work on time” to “I’m going to recover from cancer and live my life differently”, we all understand the concept, just as we realize the difference in magnitude.

For me, my own personal rebirth begins with “the good news is I’m nearly well from Lyme disease” and “the bad news is I’m nearly well from Lyme disease.” How could getting well be bad news? Let’s look at the word ‘nearly’. Being nearly well means I can’t quite begin a new life, but I have to try anyway. ‘Nearly’ means I will fail often because I will try to do either too much or not enough. ‘Nearly’ means still picking and choosing where to put my energy, and getting it all wrong. ‘Nearly’ means napping almost every day, not because I want to, but because I have to. ‘Nearly’ means doing work that is not challenging just in case I have bad days where my brain isn’t functioning.

There is no other solution than to carry on. I make modest daily goals in hopes that one day, I will be well. On good days, I get everything accomplished and feel like perhaps I’m getting my life back. On bad days, I have to decide what to let go and find a way to be happy about it.

I’m still trying to figure out how to explain that I’m mostly well. There are days when I think, I’ve got this. Where I make a new Plan A. Those are the days I forget I have Lyme (Had? Another thing about ‘nearly’—is it ‘have Lyme’, or ‘had Lyme?’). Other days, I am overwhelmed to the point of giving up. That’s when I think about selling the house, moving into an RV, and disappearing.

On one of those good stretches, I decided to redesign my web page. After all, I am no longer ‘finding joy while living with Lyme’. Surprisingly, figuring out a new tagline and a picture to represent ‘life after Lyme’ was harder than the nuts and bolts of redesign, or writing this post. Because, who the fuck am I now? I was already changing when I got sick. I should view Lyme as a delay, but that wouldn’t be correct. Lyme changed me. It changed my priorities and what I want for the rest of my life.

It took a discussion with Katie to figure out what best represented my life. The tick isn’t gone. The tick will never be gone. It is crystallized forever inside me, slowly fracturing into a million pieces as I struggle to become whole again. After we figured that part out, the tagline became easy. I don’t think bumbling is too harsh a word. I am bumbling, because I am still changing. Maybe that’s what ‘nearly’ is.

Share

time

If I were to characterize myself, I’d be the grasshopper in Aesop’s Fable #373, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper dances and frolics all summer, while the ant toils away, gathering food for the winter. When winter comes, the cold and hungry grasshopper begs the ant for food and shelter, and is refused. The moral of the story, of course, is the daily grind is a far worthier pursuit than fun and games. I have trouble with this concept. I’ve been content to drift along on the gentle waves of a privileged life. Being content is not a recipe for professional success, however. My friend Laura and I talk about this often. Neither of us would say we were ambitious, an almost shameful admission in America. When I was younger, I chose a path that suited me, that of corporate housewife. We moved every couple of years, so I worked part-time, usually at jobs that had some benefit to the family: free childcare, free gym memberships, or discounted clothes and gear. I took pride in being a good housewife. I drifted. Things changed.

Lyme disease, as in every aspect of my life, forced me to reevaluate. I am now in a big hurry to “do things”. And by doing things, I mean being true to myself and not being afraid. Life is short. I know that now, at the solidly middle age of 58. Maybe part of this hurry IS middle age, the tidying of loose ends that were neglected earlier. Most people toiled away and neglected friends, family and fun. I was fortunate to have the opposite equation. We could get into a whole discussion of whether the trade-off of marriage was worth it, but why? I can’t change my choices, nor do I want to. I have been able to experience life events fully without the interruption of a job. I was present during my mother’s illness and her death. I have helped my parents through surgeries and moves and have gotten to spend time with them. I was able to torture my daughter by being there for most of her life. Okay, there was that time I forgot her at her math tutor’s house and maybe I was late for a few things, but I was there. My not working allowed my ex-husband to concentrate on his career, and while that didn’t work out so well for me in the long run, I still don’t regret it.

What changed? There was no epiphany, nor was there one cataclysmic event. There were a series of small events. A marriage foundering slowly. An only daughter leaving the nest. A random afternoon spent watching the Westminster Dog Show with the daughter. The announcer told the story of the Hungarian Komondor, whose long, corded coat protected the sheepdog from wolf bites. She thought that was fascinating, and from that a germ of an idea sprouted. I started to write a book about Golden Retrievers. Believe me, if I had known how hard writing a book was, I never would have done it. I slowly dipped my toes into the waters of the writing world.

While I wouldn’t recommend a serious illness to anyone, I am once again grateful for Lyme, and especially for neuroborreliosis. The reawakening of my once inflamed brain has produced both an urgency and sharpness of thought that has been highly beneficial to my writing and myself. Man, the above sentences are a testament to silver linings. I can hardly imagine how anyone could benefit from losing one’s mind for an extended period (say, longer than an acid trip), yet I did. What I do with this newfound urgency is an ongoing struggle. I am not fully recovered. Energy and stamina are precious commodities in my world. Writing about my past, especially the physical and sexual abuse, is surprisingly exhausting. Dating is exhilarating and exhausting. Taking care of myself and my home is calming and exhausting. Looking for a “real” job falls to the bottom of the list for now. Lifeguarding will have to suffice as I put myself back together. I don’t have an old life to return to. There is no loved one, no job, no “normal.” I was in the throes of reinvention when Lyme hit.

It has taken years to discover my voice, and what I must write. I was my own worst enemy. When I think of all the time I have wasted doubting myself when I was younger, I cringe. Oh, I still doubt myself, often and with great energy. The difference is that doubt doesn’t stop me. I must write, and I must write about deeply personal things. Is this what ambition feels like? Or is this a form of self-therapy, or personal flagellation? I could have chosen an easier path. The arts are no way to make a living.

The metamorphosis from ant to grasshopper continues. I know I shortchange myself, it’s a problem. I work much harder than I let on. I also think waaaaay too much, as any friend of mine knows. As I attempt to embrace the thorny new normal, I will remind myself that I’ve survived happily for most of my life as a grasshopper,  dancing, frolicking, and experiencing life.

 

 

Share