Long Overdue

It’s been so long since I’ve put letters to screen… Since I’ve written, period, really. I got so caught up in making it to the weekend, I lost months. It’s a reminder to live each day. I feel like I’ve been in hibernation until recently. I did a Whole30 in November-December and it was a lesson in discipline. It’s an amazing feeling, realizing you are stronger than you ever thought. (For those who are not familiar, Whole30 is a 30-day paleo challenge – no sugar/processed foods, dairy, legumes/soy, alcohol, or grains). I made it all the way and am currently doing a second one. It makes you feel healthy and powerful. I love it. It also reduces inflammation, which has helped my pain.

I’ve been focusing internally, because I looked in the mirror (literally and figuratively) and I didn’t like what I saw. I’ve gotten lazy and stressed out by my job. I’m not sleeping well at night. I started feeling anxiety, again, and I just want peace. So, if I don’t make any changes, nothing will change.

What has encouraged me to get back to writing the most is that I realized earlier this month that 30 is just around the corner for me – about 4 months from now. So, in panic-mode, I threw together a pre-30 Bucket List… Now, I’m going to make myself accountable for the following things by posting them on the internet. That makes everything real, right?

Things to Do Before I’m 30:

1) Simplify my possessions – clean up, get rid of what I do not need, pack
2) Go camping without help (i.e. without an adult haha)
3) Try the Rejection Therapy game (see http://rejectiontherapy.com)
4) Write every day – no matter what it is
5) Actually finish a Coursera course
6) Actually finish a book
7) Go one week without TV/Netflix/Hulu, etc.
8) Volunteer
9) Join and actually attend something on meetup.com
10) Explore what I really want to do with my life
11) Don’t say anything negative about other people for one month
12) Re-read The Alchemist. Again.

I may add more. TBD.

A Life of Comfortable Agony, Part I

“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.” – Paulo Coelho

This took almost two weeks to write. Not because it was particularly challenging writing, but it was soul-work and I’ve been avoiding it. So much is going on in my life and, yet, not enough. I’ve been making small, but noticeable steps forward. Those seem to be the most infuriating; I wish I could just shake myself into action, but I’m just slower than I used to be.

I had a cleansing cry in the car, driving home. I wasn’t sad. It was relief and excitement and exhaustion from all I’ve been going through in the last 6 years. Waiting for your life to start is soul-crushing work. Sometimes it takes a long time for you to heal, but the trick is to figure out how to help heal yourself. You can’t live your life with an open wound, physical or emotional. I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to be scared anymore, but that’s not true. I’m probably going to be terrified most of the time, but I won’t let it stop me. I won’t let it hold me back anymore.

I keep reminding myself that “the best way out is always through” (Robert Frost). I need to go through this to get to the other side. I have to feel what I’m feeling, because “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all” (Lumineers). Anyone who’s ever been in an antidepressant haze knows how true that is… Well, any substance-induced emotion-extinguishing haze, really. It won’t be easy, but I don’t want easy. I want to experience it all.

Things are clearer now that I’ve made a concrete decision about the direction my life is going to go in. It’s made me realize I’ve been focusing on the wrong things. I’ve been saying I’m the same person I used to be under all the chronic pain and suffering, the traumatic brain injury, and the depression, but I’m not. I won’t find my old, outgoing, happy-go-lucky self under it all like I’ve promised myself before; I don’t think she lives here anymore. I realized that I don’t want to find her, anyway. She let herself be walked all over, used up, and manipulated. She let herself be cheated on and gave too many second chances. She let other people make her feel like she deserved less than she does. She accepted excuses from others and herself. She fell and just laid there; she didn’t even try to pick herself back up. She may have been happy at some point, but it was ignorant bliss. She was weak, just a layer that needed to be peeled away. She wasn’t able to deal with everything that has happened in this life (bad decisions, the accident, the loss, change, etc.), so she abandoned me. And, the truth, as cliche as it sounds, is that if I hadn’t been through all this, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t really know who that is, yet, but I like her already. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. She looks to the future and doesn’t dwell in the past.

I’ve always been someone who clings to rules and craves a set of instructions. I always felt the burden of expectations placed on me and obliged. After high school, you go to college. You start a career (that’s as far as I got before my car accident) and marry before 30. Then, comes kids. What happens if you fall short, something unexpected derails those plans, or you don’t even want those things? I’ll tell you what happens: you just become increasingly disappointed in yourself. It builds and becomes despair. The chasm between what I’ve wanted for myself and what is has seemed insurmountable most days. As a result, I moved through life since being derailed with the enthusiasm of a zombie. I’m ready to reject all these expectations and write my own story. I don’t know if it will have a happy ending, but knowing that there will be happy days is enough for me to want to try. 

“To live would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan

I’ve depended too heavily on other people and self-help books for support, advice, answers, and even decisions. Maybe so I don’t have to face the constant fear I’ve been living in. Maybe it’s just so I don’t have to expend the energy required to make the decision myself. Or, maybe it’s so I can avoid taking responsibility when things inevitably go wrong. Regardless, in doing so, I’ve lulled myself into a life of comfortable agony. I stopped growing as a person the second I got comfortable and stopped challenging myself. I see now that life doesn’t come with a set of instructions and I will only learn by doing; I must figure it out myself. No one can draw me a map of how to pull myself out this grave I’ve dug for myself. The only way to figure it out and ‘get through it’ is by approaching it in my own way. Figuring it out on my own will allow me to experience it in a way that I can truly understand. It’s a life of trial and error, and always of learning. I can’t depend or wait on anyone else, because they’re not coming. And, that’s kind of a reassuring thought to me, because I know now that it’s up to me.

The serendipitous circumstance that I find myself in is that if I had lived up to those expectations and was married with children like so many people my age, I wouldn’t be standing here, ready to head out on my own (excited out of my mind). So, ironically, my failures in the realm of adult relationships were a blessing in disguise. I think that most of the time we go through life, focusing on the negative (i.e. the bad decisions we’ve made and their consequences), but every now and then, the universe conspires to give us a glimpse of the grand scheme of things. It’s so rare and you have to be looking to catch it. But, if you do, you’ll see how everything that has happened is connected and those decisions you made in the past got you to where you are today. And, on occasion, the universe may reveal to you a path. You have to be ready to jump in, feet first and follow it. That’s where I am standing: at the beginning, once again. This is me, officially announcing that I am moving to California this year!

I will keep writing, because it’s when I’m writing that things are clearest. It allows me to dig through the muddled, lazy thoughts, and put the pieces together. As I write this, like I said, I’m standing at the beginning, and that’s alright with me. I have everything to look forward to. I need to throw myself into a situation that strips away my obsession with doing things ‘the right way’; like going out on my own. I know there is a lot ahead of me and that genuinely excites me for once. I just hope it’s messy, uncomfortable, and wonderful.

Part 2 will follow today or tomorrow.

Song playing as I press “Publish”: Hall of Fame by The Script.

I’d love to have half the enthusiasm for anything in my life that a female my age reserves for wine

Can you imagine waking up every morning, knowing that you have broken parts, but your warranty has expired, so you just have to learn to function around them (or buy suspiciously cheap Chinese knockoffs on eBay. I’m kidding; that’s not an option.)? It’s more difficult than the inspirational stories you see on Extreme Home Makeover make it seem. Because, be honest, TV is your main exposure to people dealing with traumatic experiences. They don’t show you the day-to-day struggle on TV, only the triumphs. That’s why I wish my life were a movie trailer, because despite being short, at least it would be only the best bits.

I used to love rainy days.  I would get excited when I saw the dark clouds rolling in. There’s nothing more beautiful than a drive after a summer storm with the windows down. The gray sky hangs lower than a clear blue one. Raindrops lazily fall from tree branches. The roads become dark and shiny from the rain, street lamps reflecting off the pavement. I even love the sound of my tires as they kick up water. I’ve never told anyone, but I used to go out in the yard in the summer, barefoot and just let the rain fall on me. Or, go for a walk, as long as it wasn’t pouring. Nothing clears your mind faster than a walk in the rain. And, for me, nothing put a smile on my face faster.

Now, dark skies bring dread with them. I know that the rain is going to exacerbate my back and neck pain in the way you’ve heard you grandmother complain about. I don’t normally like to complain (but, I’m about to), but it really sucks to be a 28-year-old surrounded by so much life in the people around me, only to be exhausted by them. I’d love to have half the enthusiasm for anything in my life that a female my age reserves for wine, especially if it’s wine with her friends. Don’t get me wrong. I love wine, and I especially love wine with my friends, but things have lost their luster through my eyes. At least I can acknowledge and appreciate the life and beauty in the people around me. I see that some people can’t.

So, if you see me, and I’m not myself…

♦ Maybe my smile looks fake or my laugh sounds insincere.
♦ Maybe I’m impatient or short with you.
♦ Maybe I leave much too early.
♦ Maybe I don’t say much and look uncomfortable.

… know that I don’t mean anything by it. I want to be there with you, or I wouldn’t be. And, know that I appreciate you, and it breaks my heart that I can’t be myself for you. I’m in here somewhere, the person I really am; not the one in constant pain and drowning in fear. I’m finding my way out, little by little. But, as sure as I am that I will have good days and bad days, I am sure that there will be setbacks. The difference is, now, I am determined.

This song calms me every time I hear it. And, that’s something… Also, the video is beautiful: “Old Pine” by Ben Howard

Don’t Let Your Illness Define You

As part of the Zero to Hero blogger challenge, I want to share a blog post that really resonated with me: http://noonegetsflowersforchronicpain.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/do-not-let-your-illness-define-you/

The overall message is to not let “your illness define you,” which is exactly one of the main reasons I started blogging: to focus on other things in my life, aside from the pain.

I haven’t stopped looking for ways to improve my chronic pain, but I have come to accept that there is no “cure.” There are things that make it better and things that make it worse. The first step is acceptance of the situation. With the recent changes in pain medication legislation in Virginia, I’ve been forced to stop (with no warning) the opioid treatment I was on. So, I’ve been going through a lot of changes in the last few months. It’s something I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life, because discs can’t repair themselves, but “there’s got to be a way through it.”

The author of the blog post, Noonegetsflowersforchronicpain, says that they had been looking for a cure for 10 years. I’ve been at it for 6. I can’t imagine losing another 4 years in doctors’ office waiting rooms, getting my hopes up for nothing, getting sick from different medications, and not really seeing any improvement. That doesn’t mean that I’m not doing anything. I’m just approaching it a different way. Healthier eating, no sugar (which is REALLY challenging), no salt, warmer climate (not an immediate change), and drinking hot beverages make me feel better (not always, of course).

Please share anything (other than prescription medicine) that helps you. I’d appreciate it.