Ritual

I put on my running gear:  Victoria Secret expensive athletic bra, second hand store shorts, my first 5K t-shirt, cotton ankle socks, and then the expensive running shoes I had planned to wear out as I trained for the Free Press half marathon 2 years ago. They still look new. Too bad I never got to use them.

As usual, I forget to put on my Tommy Copper knee compression sleeves. The last time I didn’t take the time to put them on, I wasn’t able to walk down the stairs between floors at work without gripping the railing, wincing at each step. So I take the time now, knowing I’ll thank myself later. Finally, I slip the heart monitor around my ribs connect the ends, then push it over my sternum for optimum heart rate detection.

I put the wrist monitor. I reach under my shirt, wet the sensor with tap water. I grab my iPhone and head out the door, walking and tapping the screen while maintaining a vague awareness of my surroundings. Pandora, on. RunKeeper, set to start. Timer, 30 minutes. I walk briskly to my usual starting point, about three blocks from my house. My phone alerts everyone in listening range that my Miles Davis station is on, so dig it. I glance at my wrist: 96 beats per minute.

I start at a medium pace, making sure my form is good and my feet are hitting the ground flatly with each stride. Eventually, I see other runners. A man in the distance  is coming steadily towards me, eyes in front, focused like the rest of us and also moving at a moderate speed. As he gets closer I realize we know each other, and we raise our right hand in silent greeting as we pass. A gesture of respect, an acknowledgement to not break our Zen with small talk.

This has been quite a weekend. I’m not too tired yet, and so my thoughts wander. I admire some morning glories hanging over a wooden fence. What should I do? Is there anything I can do? She’s so alone in this world.

I address the other mind-blowing event that upset my universe. I’m still not sure how to feel about it. How did we never know this? What other secrets did they keep from us?  I still can’t put a name to this emotion. Do I ask more questions? Does he have a name? Does she even want to talk about it? I need to know!

Mile one, and I’m already struggling a little. It’s hot, and that means my heart is working harder. I glance at my wrist and read my BPM: 153. I better slow down.  The dark, precise shadows of leaves on the sidewalk catch my attention, bristling, threatening. The old nameless anxiety is stirred. Why do I still feel this two years after my brain surgery? Maybe I’ll ask my neurologist next week at my annual post MRI check-up, though she  probably won’t know why. Every case is different, she’ll say. Or worse, it’s all in my mind. Which it is, ironically.

I notice the morning glories again, looking like upside down blue umbrellas with white centers. Stunning! Must take a picture and post on Facebook. I ponder what I’ll say in the comments.

I finish my run and walk over the traffic island to get my picture. A little boy is in the driveway shoveling dirt and looks at me suspiciously. I wonder briefly if I should say hello and tell him I just want to take a picture of the flowers on the fence, but then the moment passes.  He goes back to shoveling.  I take my photo and walk back across the street.

 

 

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The First Time I Screamed

The snowflakes fall, fat and fluffy. With lazy abandon they cluttered a sky the color of a No. 2 pencil smudge. It’s January 28 and there is determination and healthy nervousness in my 13 year old mind.  I am embarking on what will most certainly be my path to instant junior high popularity.

My first successful volleyball try out was already behind me, and this second practice would further prove I deserved to join the team. Sure, I had to learn control and accuracy but my serves were strong and went to the general area intended. I can do this, I thought. I will do this.

I had felt accepted and confident at the first practice. I had heard “Nice one!” from the willowy, smart and strong Leslie Toeper after a particularly decent serve, which was a good sign. Adrenaline coursed through me as I fearlessly flowed through the exercises and drills, consistently being at the right place, my hands and arms in just the right position to return the ball without bruising my fore arms.

Perhaps these memories distracted me as I stood there in the chill early evening air, watching the crossing sign. It blinked, and I took a step onto the road that wasn’t quite a highway, but not really a regular street either. My right foot felt firm concrete. I sensed something on my left, something big and monstrous but unseen. I caught a microsecond glimpse of it then glanced back at the crossing sign, reading the neon white letters: WALK.

Events unfolded in slow motion. First, the briefest sensation of something hard hitting me just above my right knee. This coincided with a “thumpf” sound.  Then I floated silently, arcing like an angel in flight, breathless and dumbstruck. Two heartbeats later this beautiful moment was violently interrupted by my left shoulder hitting the gravel hard. I lay dazed for what seemed much too long, and when it finally dawned on me what had just happened I looked down where a maddening numbness was screaming for my attention. I feared that no one had seen anything, and that I was going to be left there, mangled and despairing, and help would never come. I was going to be ignored. Cars would continue to pass me and life would go on. This was too overwhelming. I had to make an effort to draw attention to the broken, helpless animal that was me. I had to do something. 

I screamed. Not once, but three times, each with everything in my being and lasting until the breath ran out of my lungs. After the last one people finally came. A few hesitant figures in my peripheral vision, whose movements became more urgent as they got closer. My body seemed to sink deeper into the gravel and I thought briefly as I went into shock, “Man, my parents are going to be so mad at me…”

 

Solution

I’ve started running again. It’s pretty glorious being this fit at my age but I figure I want to make a good looking corpse should I expire in the next few years, which I realize is super morbid thinking, but when you realize that at any time you can be put down in the prime of your life by a crazed person with an automatic weapon, you want to look your best for the funeral professionals patching up what’s left of you.

So I ran a 5K tonight, just for practice. I signed up for the Run of the Dead 5K which will occur on November 4 at Woodmere Cemetery, one of Detroit’s historical cemeteries. I wanted to make sure I could actually run three miles ahead of time, so now I just have to work on picking my speed up a little. Not too much, though – I want to enjoy the irony of running past gravestones and 120-year-old corpses without too much discomfort. Hopefully they’ll have dancers this year. More on this when it happens!

Actually, it’s one of the things I do to get myself out of a funk. Today started off  very poorly. I glanced through my Facebook like I normally do in the morning, and saw posts about sending love and prayers to the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas. So against my natural inclination to avoid reading about the horrors that happen pretty regularly in our modern world, I went to my news app and sure enough, some wack job had shot into a country music festival crowd and the current count was 50 dead, 200 injured.

Something inside me sank into a mire of hopelessness and I fought this feeling for a good part of the day until about 3:30 pm.  Just when I was almost recovered, I found out that Tom Petty had died of a heart attack. What the eff? That finally broke me. You just react to things like that differently as you get older, and your mortality becomes a painful reality that not only terrifies you, but makes you wonder which pop icon from your personal history is next to fall under Death’s sweeping stroke.

And now I just read that they reported his death erroneously (Oops, silly LAPD!) Still though – if he pulls through, it will be a rock and roll miracle, but if he dies then it will be more of the same. But I’ve decided my solution works – extreme exercise gets the bad chemicals out of the system, and it’s better than curling up in a fetal position and wishing all the evil things in the world would just vanish and leave everyone alone. Because unfortunately, that’s not the way things work, and we can only gain painful wisdom in the aftermath of tragic events.

*This was mostly written within 30 minutes, my October 30 Day Challenge to set the timer for 30 minutes, and just start writing. Not bad. Not bad at all. Let’s see what I can do in 30 days!

 

 

Red Pill, Blue Pill

On a recent weekend,  I found myself occupying myself occupied with typical household chores. I tidied up the books and paper on the dining room table, made sure no dishes were in the sink, did laundry. It’s unusual that I find myself with no pressing tasks on a Saturday but this seems to be happening more frequently. My time is now unoccupied by gigs and rehearsals, or anything creative. Now it seems more free to contemplate recent events that have prompted me to reprioritize many aspects of my life that I took for granted.

First of all, I’m just coming out of a deep depression which I’ve cleverly hidden from everyone. As much as I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from the world, I did have to function and be a responsible(ish) adult. I was in a band and I have a job taking care of other people, involving moment to moment decision-making and problem solving and being present mind and body. So I swallowed the blue pill and kept moving, safe in the illusion that it would all be fine. Most days it’s exhilarating to support things bigger than myself, but these past few months it hasn’t been as gratifying. It’s just a rut, I think, and probably related to that low feeling I can’t seem to shake, despite taking time off. I haven’t had time for reflection, as painful as it could be. So today,  I’m taking the red pill and embracing whatever painful reality happens.

I think it was the Michigan Writing Workshop that triggered this downward spiral.

March 25, 2017

8:32 am Heavy rain and odd amount of traffic for this time of day on a Saturday. But months of preparation are not going to deter me from attending the Michigan Writing Workshop! This was meant to be, I can feel it. I’ve sorted out my itinerary and plan on attending various workshops on how get published, including memoir writing which is the main reason I’m going. Also, I paid a little extra to pitch a publishing agent about my book. I didn’t actually practice my pitch and it’s my first time doing it but I’m sure it’ll be fine. I have an outline prepared which I went through a couple of times in my head, so that should be enough preparation. I’m ready to wing it like everything else, and I really just want to know if there’s a market for my kind of recovery story and what it takes to get published.

9:00 am Ha! Exactly on time despite the fierce rain enroute. The workshop is at a hotel I’ve been to before, so I know exactly where to go and thankfully find parking nearby. I am androgynously attired with white pinstriped shirt and black tie, late 80’s black leather jacket, patent black leather Oxfords and black jeans. I am sure my clothes lend authenticity to my claim as a writer and swagger in to the lobby.

I register then get situated. I find the two rooms I need to go to, and the location where the publishing agents will be having their one on ones with those who wish to be the next John Grisham. It turns out to be a common area between the traffic of the workshops. It is cacophonous with lots of people moving back and forth, and I wonder briefly if I will be able to speak and think in such an environment.

This session would run from 9:30am to 10:30am, after which I would have some time to kill before my first ever 10-minute pitch to a real live publishing agent at 11:50. Sweet!

My moves recorded in my prefrontal cortex for the next 2 hours, I arrive at the first workshop on memoir writing. I look around the room, observing and analyzing as is my habit. It was quite a diverse group.  I assume everyone else is doing the same thing since, you know, we’re writers and prone to such behavior.

Everyone appeared to be intelligent and as introverted as myself.  I think, well, this is a category of nerd that I’ve yet to immerse myself in. I am excited to talk, network and do the things one normally does at workshops. I get my laptop out, engage in some small talk with Susan who works at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Detroit and sit quietly, ready for some serious learnin’.

10:30 am Well, that was definitely eye-opening. Turns out there are some things I didn’t think about as well as other things I just wasn’t aware of as far as memoirs. The presenter was very pleasant and friendly, and quite approachable if I had chosen to wait to speak to her. I let the opportunity pass, but here’s a summary of what I learned:

Be prepared to talk about your story many, many times. To agents, interviewers, talk show hosts, etc. This actually hadn’t ever occured to me. I’ve just gotten used to saying it out loud – am I really ready to talk about myself that much?

Make your story different from another recovery story. This was something to think about. I thought I would just say, “Hey, I had my head opened like a ripe melon and lookit me! I’m okay!” but I guess that’s not the most interesting or thought-provoking angle.

Figure out your platform. This refers to social media presence or any ties to organizations that your work will appeal to “How are you going to market your story and get your books sold? What’s your angle? Are you a celebrity with a built-in platform and moolah to fund the marketing push? How many Facebook friends will realistically support you after you finish your book? I thought about this. All I could think of was I was a Detroit musician, known in certain circles but not really that famous. This was not a strong platform in my mind.

Have a narrative hook. The presenter referred to it as “smile”. It should make an agent smile or respond emotionally after reading the brief description of your book.

Ok, so maybe I had a few of these things already. Nothing too insurmountable, right? On to the meeting! I check the area again where the publishing agents were located and spot him, the one who would make or break my success as a writer. He was probably in his mid to late 30’s, short dark hair, neatly trimmed beard, lean and sharp facial features. He wore his charcoal grey sport coat well and he looked every bit the elegant publishing agent.  He looked up from his phone, and seemed bored. Was he tired already of all the plucky writers, eager to gain his audience and explain why their story will be the best thing he’s heard all day?

I went off to the lounge area of the hotel to update my presentation, integrating the important bits of what I had just absorbed. No problem. I got this!

11:30 am I had double and triple-checked my meeting time. It was at 11:50 am, a mere 20 minutes from now. I was getting nervous, pacing back and forth and finding some excuse to be near that area. I got more water. I hung up my leather jacket on the big coat rack. I  read the back flaps of some books about how to get published on a nearby table. I went to the bathroom and then went to the lounge area again to post something grandiose on Facebook. The time was getting closer – 11:47 am! Maybe I would get up in a minute, saunter over there and casually walk up to his table. “Hi,” I would say, relaxed and non-chalant. I had ten minutes to explain my story and ask questions.  Ten minutes to tell a stranger how my story was special out of all the stories he’s ever heard about someone recovering from brain surgery. Ten minutes to convince a representative of a publishing company to spend money on my writing endeavors.

Gulp.

I square my shoulders, get up from my delightfully oversized chair and walk with purpose to the publishing agent tables.

11:50 am or Self Sabotage The Easy Way

Me (with forced perkiness): “Hi, Michael?” (Michael looks up, a confused look on his face. I stifle the urge to analyze and quickly continue). I’m Raquel Salaysay. You’re 11:50 appointment?”

Michael: (Bewildered and slightly irritated). “You mean my 11:40?”

I am exactly 10 minutes late. Stunned for what seems like a long, painful, time-wasting moment, I try to recover but the color is rushing to my cheeks and my forehead becomes hot and sweaty. The crowds of people nearby and their collective clamor further paralyze me into inaction. I am embarrassed and disappointed with myself and I can’t seem to say anything at all.

Michael: (Obviously seeing my discomfort) “Well, we have two minutes before we go on break. Can you tell me anything about what you’re working on?”

I decide to push through and beat myself up later. It is very hard to ignore the fight or flight symptoms. I use my visualization strategy, throwing up an image in my mind one second before I say the next thing. Eventually he loses his impatient demeanor. His face becomes kinder, asking questions and encouraging me to talk, just talk. So I do.  My answers become smoother and less puncuated with long pauses.  What is my book about? What memoir writers do I like? Why do I like them? I describe my writing style as poetic and direct, and that intrigues him. I mention Neil Gaiman, Henry Marsh, Maya Angelou as memoir writers I admire. We talk about word count, and he tells me about 80,000-90,000 words is the norm for a memoir. Well, no problem there – I had printed out my full blog and it looked very close to that range.

At the end of our short time together, he gave me his card. “I’ll remember you,”he says, memorizing my face. “You’re the one that was exactly 10 minutes late.” I thanked him for his time and exited with what I hope was dignity though I’m an emotional mess inside. How could months of planning and preparation come to this? This was supposed to be part of my destiny and I effed it up!

I attend the Self-Publishing lecture and hope that it might be less dismal but the encounter had soured my mood. Turns out this wasn’t as simple as I thought either. I felt challenged by things like finding a good editor, paying for their services, doing my own marketing, starting a blog to promote the book…etc. It all seemed daunting and overwhelming to say the least. How could I have ever wanted to write a book? Who did I think I was? Then I thought about all the books I’ve seen in book stores, unread and unloved, no one to take them home to join their private collection of favorite things to read on a rainy day. Sitting there forever until the passing of time crushes them into sand and the wind blew them into oblivion.Oh, why bother.  Why, why, WHY?? I went home dejected.  The cold weather and grey clouds only amplified my somber outlook.

As I said, I only recently managed to rid myself of this black dog of low self-esteem. But as always, I came out stronger after taking a while to think about things and my place in this crazy Universe. After months of self flagellation, comparing myself to others who seem to have accomplished so much more than me and other unhealthy behavior, I came to some satisfactory conclusions. Maybe writing a book isn’t what I need to do right now. Maybe just getting this blog started was enough, and I should continue to post and enjoy writing. When you write a book, you have to set aside some serious time every day to do it, like I did when I wanted to finish my recovery story before the first anniversary of my surgery.  I had more free time then, but now work is getting busier, and I have to be on call to take care of my mom fairly often. Music is on hiatus, which I’m oddly not that bothered about (thought that also took a while to get over). I’m tired a lot and most days I’m happy to turn my brain off the moment I get in my car and drive home from work.

And maybe my brain surgery was all just part of a bigger story, possibly a biography? I just know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Life happens and will continue to happen, and I will record it here. Should the Universe decide to drop events in place that this all becomes a book one day, then I’ll be ready. For the moment, I’m going to take it easy on myself and accept that this is not the time for huge mountains to conquer. Instead, I’ll consider it an opportunity to take in the vista, now fertile and sunny and quite a change from these last few months. The red pill is painful, but the changes it brings can be unexpectedly for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

Alberta

Well, day four of the new year and already something profound and curious has happened.

I began the day awakened by the anguished meowing of my ragdoll.  It was 7:00 am.  I had joked the night before with my husband that we probably didn’t need an alarm clock at this point – Octavia got hungry at approximately the same time every morning.  I feigned sleep as my husband got up to feed her, but instead I found myself having a useless debate on whether or not I should take the four cases of empty beer bottles from last night’s company event to the recycling center.

“Do it,” my adult, responsible side said.  “Otherwise it will sit in the basement forever and  you know what happened when you suddenly had to go to the hospital.”  Of course, no recycling was done while I was away and returnables had piled up.  A couple of co-workers had taken it upon themselves to take care of the returnables.  They had rented a car (neither of them owned one)  and they had told me the amount was about $30, which had paid for the rental.  Which is why to this day I have more sense of urgency to my work tasks – get things done today, because who know what might happen tomorrow?

“It’ll be cold,” the whiny part of my psyche said.  “Who cares if it sits in the basement?  Wait until spring or at least until it’s 40 degrees.”

“Ok,”continued my still developing nicely rationale self.  “See what it’s like outside, then decide.”

This went on in my head until I was close to my building, when my rationale self teamed up with my responsible side and distracted the whiny part of my psyche with an egg McMuffin and together we decided get it done.  I pulled up in front of my building, brought all the bottles down and loaded them into my trunk, then off I went to the dreaded, dirty recycling center.

I hadn’t been there in ages.  My assistant was dealing with the recycling for the moment – perhaps after I had taken her there once and she had experienced the fascist approach to recycling this new crew had established (the previous group being kinder, more marijuana fueled) she was keen to never have to go there again and insisted on taking small amounts of recycling home where plastics didn’t have to be meticulously separated .  It did look like something out of a Mad Max movie. It never looked like the last time I had seen it.  The worn metal receptacles were in a state of constant change, and the only constant was the uneven concrete that was always wet or puddly.  Today I admired a new little office area, constructed out of what appeared to be part of a railway car.  I half expected a little Wall-E garbage robot to putter around the corner, crushing some #5-#7 plastics into a cube.

I had put all the bottles precariously in one of their convenient wobbly shopping carts and was carefully negotiation a path to the glass area, hoping not to pull too hard over a jutting piece of cement and spill my fragile cargo.  I looked to where it had been last time and discovered it had been moved to the furthest part of the warehouse sized space.

I had barely noticed her as she stood there with her own shopping cart full of empty bottles.  Just some old woman, probably a little crazy, hanging out at the recycling center.  She had gold rimmed wire glasses, and wore Salvation Army clothes, a gentle smile adorning her face.

“Do you have any returnables?” she asked me as I labored through the first case of bottles.  I looked up, noticing grey curls peaking out from the sides of her hood.

“No, these aren’t returnable, sorry,” and went on to explain briefly how the market I used to go to didn’t accept this particular brand of Detroit beer.

“Oh, ok.  Thank you anyway.” She went back to standing and smiling, and I went back to dropping bottles carefully into the colored glass bin.

“Those are returnable!” she said suddenly.  I looked at the pale ale bottle in my hand.  “Yeah?  Here, you can have it.” I waited a breath, then, “In fact, feel free to go through the rest of these cases, if you like.  I’ll just get rid of these while you’re doing that.”  I took the cardboard beer cases to the big cardboard compactor bin and threw them in. “No climbing!” a sign said. There were definitely more signs in this fascist regime of a recycling station.

I returned and found she had gone through a lot of the cases in my brief time away.

“I take the money I get and give it to the homeless or donate it to soup kitchens,” she explained, smiling the smile of someone who had found a way to still serve mankind in her old age.  “And I pray for them and anyone that helps me.  So I’ll pray for you, too.”  This part moved me to a different emotional response, one of unexpected gratitude.  A total stranger, praying for me? “Thank you so much for your help today.”

“Oh, thanks.  Everyone needs a little prayer for them, I think.”  I felt a profound connection between us in that moment and I did something I only do under very special circumstances . “What’s your name?” I asked her.

“Alberta, what’s yours?” I told her and we shook hands.

“Do you come here every week?”I continued.  She said yes, Mondays and Wednesdays when it’s open.  I told her I work in an office (“Oh, how nice!”she exclaimed) that always has returnables and I normally just leave them in the nearby parks for homeless people.  I never actually saw someone take one, but they were gone when I walked by later on the way to my parking structure. ” I can bring them here to you whenever I come.”

The look of joy on her face was priceless.  “Whatever you like, but that would be wonderful! Or you can just leave it with them, they know who I am.”

We said our farewells and I returned to work.  As I was driving I pondered this random experience and all the little decisions that brought me to that one point of contact. My heart felt warm and fuzzy, knowing my light had touched another’s over something as simple as returnables.  Suddenly, the recycling place wasn’t so bad after all, and not such an annoyance.

 

Now I’m Here

Not bad, this obscure reference to a Queen song.  Sometimes I start with a title, sometimes I write first.  Lately I haven’t been writing at all.  What’s it been?  Over four months since I last sent something to my copy editor?

Oh, the shame!  I blame life of course, as certain events have made it difficult for me to work on my book or this blog.  Work has gotten busy, my mom was hospitalized twice, I’ve been in a funk with the sudden, shocking deaths of a couple of acquaintances, and music got hectic as well. It did overwhelm me as it seemed to all happen in a short amount of time, and I was helpless in the onslaught.  Why bother, I had pondered.  Is the Universe not going to win in the end anyway?  Why should I try to immortalize myself by sharing a memoir of my life-changing experience?

Despite it all, I am still happy to find myself singing lead again, something I thought I had given up on. Somehow part of my recover included being able to think 3 seconds ahead and remember the next set of lyrics while playing, which is something I used to do fairly competently many years ago.  Quite empowering, to say the least!

I probably should have mentioned this to my neurologist.  I saw her last week for my annual check-up following my yearly MRI (which, by the way, was done at a different place and did NOT offer Pandora and head phones – oh, it was miserable).  She asked me if I’d had any headaches and how my memory was, and I’d said nothing unusual to report.  Although there are gaps in my memory of some events and people I haven’t seen in a long time, but I assumed that was just ordinary memory loss.  Maybe it is, or maybe she accidentally removed memories of a  Christmas party at our friend Ralph’s house, but at any rate there isn’t much she can do about it now, is there?

So this time I skipped the lengthy description of things that are different now.  I decided to accept the little changes in my cognitive perceptions as normal as they can be for someone like me. I mean, my brain looked completely healthy except for that little smudge of leftover tumor, which she suspected might be scarred dura at this point. Sure, why not?  This coming from the same person who thought I might have two tumors just from an initial look at the CT scan.  So much educated guessing, that’s what I’ve decided that doctors do.  Some are actually pretty good at it. I also mentioned the crazy shivers I get in my head from time to time, and after a puzzled pause she said it was probably anxiety.  Oo-kay…

I asked if it was true that after a year, you have to live with whatever deficits you have left.  I’d heard this from a co-worker who had been told that by her neurologist – she had suffered a concussion a few weeks before my incident. “Not true,” my doctor said.  She was thoughtful for a moment. “Any injury to the spine or central nervous system takes up to five years,”she continued,” but in your case I’d say two years is how long you have until full recovery.”  I recalled from before that she was very forthcoming with time-related recovery questions, saying six weeks before I should try playing bass again and four weeks before I could color my hair.  I was very happy to hear this anyway. Then I thought maybe everything I was experiencing lately was in my mind, having seen proof of no further tumor growth.  It did make sense.  Even a friend had suggested that it was me “psyching myself out” when I told him I had issues speaking still.  His response had pissed me off a bit, like many who had responded with “Oh, that happens to me all the time!”* whenever I talked about my deficits, but now I had to rethink my situation.  Perhaps I was remembering what it had been like when I was under the effects of the meningioma crushing my speech centers, and that memory had made me think something was still wrong with me.  Having come to that conclusion, I decided that any issues I was still experiencing were going to be ignored or fought through. If I get anxious under the field of fluorescent lighting on the ceiling of Costco, then I’d stare at the ground until the anxiety passes and keep walking.  If I feel a sudden panic during the end of our evening walks when I see leaf shadows on the sidewalk, I’ll look at a stable object like a house until I normalize as my social worker suggested before.  Piece of cake!

So here I stand, a year and a half later.  And another Queen lyric reference – I’m just full of the clever these days! Well, this gives me hope that I can continue writing my book – ye gods, but writing is hard. Thanks to the friend that mentioned that he hadn’t seen any new blogs lately – just the thing I needed to start up again, I think.

*This is a common experience with those in the TBI club, which is why we suffer quietly and hope no one catches on that we’re not how we used to be.  

 

Leftovers & Epiphanies

So my resources tell me that after a year of recovery, you have to live with what deficits you have left.  Which for me means these things:

1. Occasional problems with speaking, which only happens on my off days.

2. That crazy tickle I get inside my head that I spoke of in a previous blog, which I affectionately call the Shivers.  It hasn’t happened lately, but it always takes me by surprise when it does.

3. Weird Doppler/flange effect in my ears, the sound racing from the right ear to the left.

4. Minor balance issues. I usually have to pause and touch a wall or something solid for reassurance before I turn a corner or go down some stairs.

5. Occasional confusion with sentence structure, either spoken or in emails.

6.  Occasional gaps in memory, long and short-term.

7.  Unsettling anxiety when I enter a Meijer’s or Costco, or sometimes even my office due to the overhead lights.  I adjust after a few minutes, and maybe it will go away eventually.

Again, nothing serious though I’m going to keep an eye on the Shivers and the ear thing.  But at this point I’ve decided to accept these things and deal with them the best I can.  Fortunately,  I have people to help me through this, and after admitting to myself that I needed help, they’re not who I expected them to be. The key was admitting that I needed help in the first place, which was difficult but ultimately rewarding.

I address Item #1

A mentorship program recently began at work, and I decided to participate because I’ve finally decided to take my career seriously and just throw myself into new work -related experiences.  Also, it’s a fine break from the more mundane aspects of my job, and a rare opportunity to focus on myself. I’m worth it,right?

The goals of the mentorship program were left completely up to the mentees, but general guidelines were offered.  Basically I had to come up with what I wanted to get out of it, and I decided that one of my goals was to speak better.  My mentor, who had also experienced a TBI ironically about a month before mine, was well chosen because she of all people there would understand my plight.  I already felt comfortable talking to her, though our paths rarely crossed at work.  Towards the end of our first session, she suggested I think of a group of people I felt safe asking for guidance and support, then email them about it. It was a good plan. I felt hopeful, but then admitted I would find it difficult to ask for this help, for all kinds of reasons.

“Then mention that in the email,”she said.  “Say that it’s hard for you to ask but you’re asking anyway.”  Well, who could say no to that?  They’d have to be soulless zombies to refuse my plea for help.

So I did, reworking a lengthy first draft into something less pathetic and brief.  I literally forced myself to click “Send”, wincing ever so, then awaited their responses.  Some were honored, one person was surprised but all were happy to help me with my problem. Individual meetings as well as unscheduled conversations followed; I had chosen my safe group wisely.  One of many life-changing events that have happened in the last two weeks, but here’s the lesson I learned from this one:  Never be afraid to ask for help.

As for the other items – well, I’ll just deal with them as they happen. If some things get worse then I’ll address them with my neuro, but they’re mostly just bothersome things that remind me of the special club I’m in.  I think family and work have forgotten already, and who can blame them when I appear so normal on the outside?

Meanwhile, I’ve been SO busy I haven’t had time to start the second rough draft of my book!  Between work,music, and family it’s been very hard to find the time to write anything.  This is the first opportunity I’ve had for me time, and believe me, I’m grateful for it.  I’m sure my copy editor (Ooh, I love saying that!) is wondering “Where the hell is that first chapter?  It’s been a month since we met!”  But I have to give myself a break because it is the most I’ve ever written about one subject in my life, and I’ve never actually written a book before.  Writing is hard!  However, I did just see a good article in Quiet Revolution about finding someone to pair up with for accountability, and I messaged my BFF to ask if she wanted to do it.  She has since agreed to, so more work for me to get it going.

And now…more life-changing events!

My mom had a laminectomy recently, and I’ve been taking turns caring for her during her recovery with my older brother and his family.  This has become a new chapter in my adulthood, and it probably happens to everyone at some point of their lives as time continues its relentless march.  It’s very, very hard to see the woman who used to run after me with a slipper in pain or needing to be coaxed through physical therapy.

She’s been recovering in what they call an adult rehabilitation center, where there is much disorganization and many senior citizens in varying stages of old and helpless.  Not as sad as where my grandfather was, but every time I walk past the dining room or accompany her to physical therapy I vow to myself to stay active while I’m youngish and able, and eat smarter.  I want to be one of those 80-year-olds still of sound mind and body, publishing my next book or doing Tai Chi on a mountain top.  It’s not as bad as that scene in Requiem for a Dream where the indifferent aides push food into a barely coherent Ellen Burstyn’s maw, but I always think of that when I glance into rooms on  the way to my mom’s.

My realization that I was entering this new chapter of adulthood was confirmed when I took her to get her staples removed.  She asked the nurse if it would hurt, and the nurse said,”No, it shouldn’t. Not too much.”  I was behind my mom, studying the many tiny staples holding her suture together, and sensed her tensing for incredible discomfort.

“Do you want to hold my hand?” I offered.

Without hesitation she said “Yes!” and I took her hand while the nurse went to work.  As I held it, waiting for a firmer squeeze when the pain would come (it never did), I thought, wow, she never did this for me when I was in similar situations, of which there were many.  What the heck just happened?

A new part of of my story, that’s what.  And you know, it’s not that bad.  In fact, I’m quite enjoying this bonding time that we never really had while I was growing up.  She’s teaching me Tagalog and telling me stories from her life, and we’re talking like adult friends to each other.  Life is just full of unexpected, wonderful things.