Thursday, December 30, 2010

For the love of Molly

"A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty." ~ John Grogan



December 27th 4:15pm:

I just saw one of the most heartwarming reunions ever. I am sitting in the MSPCA Angell Animal Hospital waiting room. A beautiful Newfoundland was being discharged from the hospital. I got the feeling that he has been here for a while. His family was waiting in the reception area. The double doors opened and the big Newfie (as they are nicknamed) came barreling through the doors and literally into his family’s arms. You could hear then cry with delight as he bounded toward them; there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who witnessed this reunion that they were his and he was theirs.

I am sitting in the waiting area next to them as a anxiously wait for a neurologist to exam my dog and then come talk to me. We already saw a regular doctor and I am exhausted. My dear Molly has had one hell of a time the past several days and to be honest, so have I; thought I had it all pulled together until I saw the Newfie and his family back together and now, I am a mess.

Anyone who has spent even five minutes with me knows how crazy in love I am with my basset hound mix Molly. We have been to hell and back together and I was just commenting to people recently how well she has been lately. She has had quite a year with multiple health issues including surgery for an ear hematoma, a laceration repair, and some hind leg problems. I should have known that this calm in our lives, both with her health and my own, would not last very long.

It has been a nightmarish past five days getting the run around from other incompetent vets and watching her suffer a lot of the time with piercing cries due to the agony she was in. They think she may have intervertebral disk disease based on her symptoms. I am so angry. I kept telling these other vets (including an ER one) that something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew something was. She has too high a pain tolerance to be this vocal…she must be hurting so bad. I can’t stand to see her suffer. I know to some people she is just a dog. But imagine having a connection to a living being, any living being, and having to watch their agony; but yet not be able to get them the help they need. It is heartbreaking.


December 27th 8:45am:

I am home. Molly was admitted to the hospital last night. I am devastated. She was seen by the neurologist and he said that they will do an MRI in the morning, but they are certain she has a herniated disk in her spine and it has caused nerve damage. They think she will walk again and have adequate pain control, but she has most likely lost bladder and bowel control for the rest of her life. She is about 9 ½ yrs. old. They did not present this to me as an option verbally, but I have to decide now if I should put her through a painful surgery with a long recovery and possible complications. The option is that I don’t and she is put down because I cannot take her home like this and let her suffer. Am I physically and emotionally able to care for a dog who needs to have her bladder expressed 4 times a day, not to mention managing the fecal incontinence? They say you cannot put a price on a pet but the reality is, I am looking at about $6000 this week in bills and I am on disability. That does not include what it will cost me to manage the incontinence issues as well as the vet bills to deal with bladder complications, medications, etc. They found she has a heart murmur as well which is caused by something called mitral valve prolapse. It has not caused any heart damage and does not require any medications right now but the reality is, I am sure it will be an issue at some point. I can’t even believe I am thinking of putting her down. What is the best thing for Molly? How do I make a decision like this? I feel like I am playing God. I feel like I am being selfish.


December 30th 1:50pm:

Molly is laying quietly in front of me on the rug. She had the surgery. There was more disk material to remove from her spinal cord than they anticipated. She must have been suffering so much. To the amazement of the vet staff and myself, she is not only walking already, but is going to the bathroom on her own as well. To me, it feels like a miracle. They say she is not out of the woods yet and her post surgery recovery will be long but we should know more for sure as the weeks progress. She is amazing.

There was something very powerful emotionally about going into Boston to pick up the dog you thought you might never take home again. It changes things. It made me stronger because now I know when the time does come for Molly to leave me, I will be able to make the right decision for her.

So how did I finally make the decision to do the surgery? I guess it came down to asking myself the important questions. Is she likely to have a good quality of life afterwards? What constitutes a good quality of life for her in particular? Will I be able to take care of her? If I run into a crisis with my own health issues, will I have support? Once I pay the vet bills, can I still pay my own basic bills/medical costs? Because of the positive outcome she has had so far, it is easy to sit back and say I made the right decision but really, there was no right or wrong decision. At the time, it was a no-win situation that I could not predict the outcome of. So I had talked more with the vet, researched her condition (for hours and hours!), and prayed. And in the end, I made the decision I thought was best for the love of Molly…

Friday, December 17, 2010

To My Friend

You know it is never good news when your phone rings twice at 8am in the morning. As I heard Todd’s voice, I knew something bad had happened, but I never would have thought that the news was that you had left us so suddenly. How can that be? I never got to say good bye…I never got to thank you.


I am so sad. Yes, I am sad for my own loss but even more so, I am so sad for Harry, Aaron, and Chris. I am sad for your Twisted Sisters Jen and Mary. I am sad for all the clients you touched through your work as a caregiver. I am sad for our congregation. I am sad that we will not get to sing together at the Cantata this Sunday. You were always giving so much to other people. You are so loved my friend.



You were one of the first people from church to befriend me and welcome me into your home. You and Harry welcomed me into your family and I so enjoyed the cookouts, the dinners out, and watching football in your living room. I enjoyed our chats. Thank you for making me feel welcome.


Thank you for encouraging me to try and sing in the choir. Despite all the difficulties with my breathing and my voice, you encouraged me to sing the best I could, when I could. I will never forget the smile you gave me when you saw how overjoyed I was at choir rehearsal that Sunday night after singing with all of you. You told me that you understood how joyous I felt because that was what singing did for you. It was your legacy. The support and encouragement you gave me was your gift to me so thank you. Every time I sing in church, I will be singing for you as well.



These are all the words I have right now my friend. We will gather together to pray for and support your family. We will gather together to sing in your name. We will gather together to share memories, grieve our loss, and celebrate your life. And until we meet again…

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gossip

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. ~ Proverbs 26:20


Life seems to be passing by so quickly lately. I suddenly realized last week that Thanksgiving was right around the corner, making Christmas less than six weeks away. I love this time of year, now that I have learned to not get caught up too much in the “tasky” part of it. I have more of an appreciation of what the holiday season is supposed to be about. This is not an easy task considering how bombarded we get by the media, the retail industry, our family/friends and ourselves with messages about how the holiday season has to be as perfect and as happy as rainbows and puppy dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop for presents, bake holiday treats, and put up the Christmas tree just as much (and maybe even more) than the average Joe, but for the past few years, I have tried to find a focus for myself during the holidays to make sure that I get through the holiday season with some purpose and appreciation.


This year’s focus has been on my mind for months now. A lot of times we hear about people doing good deeds for those less fortunate than ourselves such as feeding the hungry and buying toys for those children who may otherwise go without. This is to me, part of the essence of the holiday spirit. But this year, I am thinking about a different kind of giving; the giving of compassion. Compassion for those whom we otherwise gossip about amongst ourselves. Those people who we say have brought on their own misery. Maybe it is someone who you heard was unkind to a friend of yours. Maybe it was someone who just has a personality that rubs many people the wrong way. Maybe it is someone who always has a lot of drama in their lives.



I am not saying that by practicing more human compassion and kindness for people in our social circles that may fall into a category like described above, we should allow them to take advantage of us or add toxicity to our lives. But the reality is, as human beings, we oftentimes target people with our gossip and sometimes even nastiness when the transgressions they have supposedly done either have had nothing to do with us personally or are on a scale of such insignificance, that we should be embarrassed to admit that it has even been more than a five minute thought in our brain. Because really, does it matter what Ms. X said to Ms. Y about Ms. Z on October 5th? And do we really need to know why Ms. A is no longer friends on Facebook with Ms. B? I think not. The thing about negative gossip is that it takes on a life of its own. It permeates our social circles like a cancer and is usually more destructive than constructive.


I bring this up because to be honest (although not proud to admit), gossip is a pretty lousy character trait that I have been known to fall victim to as an adult. I can be gossipy and judgmental as much as the next person; although I like to think that I have made great strides in this department lately. It is an easy trap to fall into but what I have found is that gossip and anything associated with it can be easy to extinguish. Sometimes it is just a matter of not associating with people who may thrive on it or calling it out on the table when it does happen.

I understand that it is human nature to talk about what is going on with people that we have come to know in our social circles and community whether it be school, work, church, etc. There is a difference however between discussing the excitement of someone’s promotion at work and debating how they got it in the first placed based on their lack of experience. What gives us the right to make such harsh judgements about our fellow man? Who made us judge and jury of circumstances that most likely, we know very little about?


So during this 2010 holiday season, I hope that we can all stop before we speak ill about someone, no matter what the circumstances may be. I also hope that we can stop to think if the words that come out of our mouths build up someone’s reputation rather than tear it down. We are now entering a season of giving thanks and for many of us, commemorating Jesus’s birth. Rather than beginning the season with rumor and negativity, let us enter it with love and compassion...for everyone.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Shore


"I could never stay long enough on the shore, the tang of the untainted, fresh and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought." ~ Helen Keller

I love the ocean. More specifically, I love the New England coast. When I was a child, the beach was a place we vacationed as a family once or twice a year. Memories of riding the waves with my dad, walking the beach with my mom looking for seashells, and playing skeeball with my brother on the boardwalk are as fresh in my head as when I was 10 years old. Even as a child, I remembered the thrill of smelling the salty ocean air from the backseat of our 1970’s style Chevrolet Caprice Classic as we descended towards our cottage or rental apartment. I equated the beach and the ocean with fun, love, and good memories.



As I grew up into an adult (for the most part!), I got too busy and too complacent to take the two hour or so hour trek (each way) to the shore on a regular basis. In my 20’s I would go with friends for the day from time to time and then when I got married, an occasional beach vacation would involve a trip to somewhere in the Caribbean. This is a great place to enjoy swimming in the ocean or snorkeling, but oftentimes, I need more than that from a beach trip. I need my New England coast…the crash of the waves on the rocks, the lighthouses, the sound of seagulls, the sand dunes, and even the seaweed. All the things that make it feel like home for me.



In recent years, I have come to have an even greater appreciation for the shore. I have found it to be a place of refuge, especially on the off season. I am not sure much of anything is more relaxing than walking a sandy beach without the crowds, the noise, or the blaring hot sun. I used to always go to the same beaches that I went to as a child such as Hampton Beach or Misquamicut Beach. Although I still enjoy both places, I have come to realize that I love so much more than the water and the sand. When my adventuresome side has taken over, I have found myself at places like Chatham, Gloucester, and Watch Hill. There I have also discovered my love for the scenery of boats, harbors, and lighthouses. I am partially attributing this to the generations of fisherman in my dad’s family!



So what is it about the shore that brings many of us such contentment and calmness? To start with, for me, it is all the senses being affected. I smell the ocean air. I hear the waves crashing. I see the beauty of the coastline. I taste the salt on my lips. I feel the softness of the sand on my bare feet. Every experience at the beach leaves me with a mental picture, one that I mentally recollect when I need it most. I have been known to pull up these shore images in my head during times when I have been in the hospital or have undergone a medical procedure. It helps me remove myself from whatever current unpleasant situation I may be in.



Being by the ocean (especially with a book to read or a notebook to write in) brings me a sense of serenity. Of course, this usually happens more often when it is off season or when there are not many people around. A transformation take place that I sometimes find hard to put into words. I don’t know if it’s all those senses being sparked or that the rest of everyday life seems so distant. I start to lose track of time. Two hours can seem like ten minutes. My mind stops swirling with all the things I am supposed to do. Pain and fatigue lessen. I can feel the mystery and history that comes with being on the New England coast and it takes me back in time. You can see it in the weathered look of the lighthouses. You can hear it in the whispering winds of the sea breeze. You can feel it as the waves crash at your ankles. All of this quenches my soul and ultimately renews my spirit. So after every trip, I store these feelings and images up as tight as possible….until I can make my next voyage to the shore.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spontaneity

"Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine a bit of unscheduled pleasure." ~ Richard Iannelli


Everything in my life used to be very well planned. I always made plans for days, weeks, and even months in advance. I guess you can say that it went with my type A personality; which I have been working VERY hard at changing! Not that there is anything wrong with planning ahead; many times you have to. But what happens to us when every day becomes a series of planned events without any room for the unplanned and the unexpected? Don’t we lose some of the magic in our lives when everything in it is so planned and organized?



My brother and I are totally opposite in so many ways, not in matters that really count such as our character. Rather, the way we live our lives tends to be dramatically different at times. One of the main ways we are different is the fact that I am a planner and he is not. As I have gotten older, I have actually become somewhat envious of this fact. Part of me had always wanted to be more spontaneous. I was sick and tired of always thinking ahead. He wouldn’t think twice about jumping in his car and heading somewhere on a whim. I always needed to have an itinerary, a plan. Because with a plan, I felt safe. I was prepared for anything.




What I have come to realize though is that preparation does not always make you safe. There are no guarantees. You can have the best laid plans and in the end, your whole life can blow up anyways. You can take care of your health your entire life and end up with a life threatening illness. You can save for your retirement or child’s college fund and have it all taken away by a volatile stock market. So if the unexpected can happen anyways, why we are planning every detail of our lives so much? It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan for some of the really important things. I just don’t think we need to plan every detail of our lives from sunrise to sundown. We need to give ourselves more unexpected moments.




I recently started dating someone who is very spontaneous. He tends to plan appropriately for important events, but does not usually think days or months ahead like I do. He lives more in the moment. At first, I thought this would be very difficult for me. I had begun to be more spontaneous before we started dating by trying to take some lessons from my brother; but I did have my limits, or so I thought. What I have found through spending time with him though, is that many of the best moments are the ones we didn’t plan for such as a last minute pizza run for dinner or a walk after work. As a result of this, I am finding myself being more spontaneous even when I am not with him. Yes, I still make plans in advance with friends who live far away, I schedule doctor appointments, and I plan for church events; but in between these planned events, I am doing spontaneous things on a daily basis. It has not only been freeing to me, but has helped me be able to live my days in a more fulfilling way.




There is so much to be learned from unexpected moments, the ones we didn’t plan for. In a way, they are God’s little (or big) gifts to us. Those moments where we are not thinking months or even minutes into the future can be the very thing that puts a spark into our lives. Sometimes it means not deciding how to spend your Saturday until you wake up that morning and ending up having the most glorious day ever. Sometimes it means turning left instead of right and discovering new and beautiful scenery. And sometimes it’s saying what’s on your mind without censoring it and truly connecting with another human being. In the end, spontaneity affords us the opportunity to learn more, explore deeper, and connect more fully with our world and those in it. And what a blessing that can be…

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Perseverance

"Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic. It is not idly, passively waiting and hoping for some good thing to happen. It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying. We must never give up, regardless of temptations, frustrations, disappointments, or discouragements." ~ Joseph P. Wirthlin


I had no intention of doing another blog entry this week; especially because I have other writing that I wanted to do. However it’s been one of those days where I need to write what’s first and foremost in my head and right now, that is the subject of perseverance.



I have had some significant medication changes lately for my autoimmune disorder. We can call it Sjogren’s Disease but the reality is, I don’t think anyone is particularly convinced that this disease is the sole diagnosis, even my doctor. That is the problem with autoimmune disorders; there are about eighty of them and accurate diagnosis for many of them is a joke at best. Many of us struggle for years, if not a whole lifetime switching from one diagnosis to another; oftentimes running around with several diagnoses at once. I am pretty sure that our rheumatologists get just as frustrated sometimes as we do with the merry-go-round of uncertainty and frustration, but the reality is that as patients, we live with it every single day of our lives-the uncertainty and the frustration.



Today was a particularly frustrating day because we had to come up with a new plan for my medications. The autoimmune stuff and meds have been a three ring circus (more so than usual) since the end of June. I think that typically, I handle this whole health issue thing pretty well and with a decent amount of dignity, but today was one of those days that I was just pretty damn sick of it. Sick of dealing with being poked, prodded, and asked the same questions over and over. Sick of explaining to people why I am not back at work. Sick of worrying and wondering which toxic medication will do me in first. I know it sounds like one giant bitch fest but it really wasn’t. I was just wishing for a day where my health issues did not play into my life at all.



Then as I was driving home, I was thinking about how my health was right before I started seeing this particular rheumatologist in December of 2008. At that point, I was so freaking sick and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I really thought I was going to die. I was scared because I was getting sicker. I had terrible difficulty breathing, had lost some feeling in my feet from nerve involvement, and pain so bad that at points, if someone had offered me a gun, I probably would have taken it. Three rheumatologists told me I did not have an autoimmune related disorder and two primary care doctors threw their hands up in dismay. I saw more specialists than I could count. There were times I could not even take care of myself. On more than one occasion, I was told maybe it was in my head. I was even told that all I needed was a vacation. A vacation… really? How would you suggest I get myself there since I can’t stay out of the hospital??



Yes, today I know I am still not in an optimal place physically but the reality is: I am in a MUCH better place than I was in December 2008. The reason: I persevered. I researched, asked a lot of questions, did not take “I don’t know” for an answer. In desperation, I found a pain specialist who tried me on steroids for five days and we saw a miraculous transformation occur, most likely indicating an autoimmune disorder. Yet three other rheumatologists could not be bothered to try this before he did. So I found a rheumatologist (who was my fourth and current one) who knew what the hell he was doing and took me seriously.



According to Merriam-Webster, to persevere is defined as: to persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement. I have a purpose: I’m going to kick this thing’s ass. Seriously. I was having a conversation with a friend several months ago about my health. My friend had the best of intentions, but she implied that I may have to accept that this is as good as it’s going to get. I had to disagree. Have I accepted that I have a chronic illness that will affect me the rest of my life? Yes…got that one loud and clear; although the acceptance thing did take some time. Have I accepted that I will probably never work in a hospital as a pediatric nurse in the capacity I worked before? Yeap, got that one loud and clear also. What I am not going to accept is that the way my body is functioning now is as good as it gets. Because once you do that, you’ve given up. You can have realistic expectations of yourself and adjust some of your life accordingly, but you never give up hope, never stop researching, never stop challenging your doctors, and never stop pushing yourself further than you thought you could go.



So as I was getting ready for bed tonight, I thought about how the past few months have just been obstacles in this journey towards better health. I realized that in the scheme of this fight, this doctor’s appointment today was not a big deal. I have persevered through much worse. I’m going to continue to fight the fight and not give up hope that at some point, this whole autoimmune thing will be under control on a regular basis. I will persist, hope and persevere. I will not accept any less.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Balance

"Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some." ~ Robert Fulgham


I have tried several times today to get down the topic I wanted to blog about. I had a lot of ideas, but nothing seemed to develop from those ideas. I definitely had things I wanted to say; that’s how it usually is. My mind just becomes consumed with all these ideas and how I want to develop them. For some people who write, it’s a fiction story of some sorts that they want to get out on the page. For me, it’s my ideas about people and life in general. But sometimes there are so many, they all get jumbled up and I can’t focus on a particular topic. Then I just decided to start writing and not worry about a topic and sure enough, I realized that the topic I needed to write about was: balance. Funny part is: I was going to write about balance about a week ago and then I got so busy and well, out of balance that I forgot about it!





I don’t mean that being out of balance is always necessarily related to bad events in my life, although most of the time that is the case. Actually my being out of balance lately has been more related to good things in my life; with the exception of some medical issues with my dog and some autoimmune medication issues for myself. However knowing myself as well as I do, I am cautious about making sure that I never go too long being out of balance. I spent a long time living like that and to be honest, it is stressful and miserable…a place that I will do whatever it takes to stay out of. I firmly believe that being out of balance for long periods of time is a major contributor to anxiety, depression, and physical health issues. Knowing that stress can contribute to autoimmune disorders makes me even more vigilant about it.




So what does being out of balance mean for me? It means feeling stressed at times and not centered. It means anxiety. It means feeling physically tense. I know this is all part of life and I am good with doing this for a certain period of time, but then at some point I have to stop myself and think about if I have done anything recently (for me recently has to be within the past week or so) to really care for my body and my spirit.





Everyone has different things that make them feel more balanced personally. I realized over the past two days two necessary things that help keep me balanced. They are actually more but these are the two that I physically do to help center me. I realized what they were because I had not done them for at least a week and when I did do them, the difference was noticeable. What I did in my life before I discovered them, I don’t know. The first is writing. I only started to write on a regular basis maybe about five months ago but since I have started, it has become such a passion that there is not only a WANT to write but a NEED to write. Most of the time, I am not really even caring if anyone else reads what I write. If I don’t write regularly, I am out of balance. It focuses me, it soothes me, and it energizes me. I guess that is what having a passion is all about!





The second thing that balances me is something that I never thought in a million years would be such a big deal for me and that is walking. I have never been a huge fan of exercise in general. I have done my spurts of joining a gym in an effort to lose weight and be healthier, but it never stuck. Then I got sick with this whole autoimmune business. That meant a lot of joint pain, breathing difficulties, and time spent in the house, hospital and/or in bed. All of a sudden I began to appreciate the feeling of moving my body when I could because my physical activity was so limited for periods of time. I also began to crave being outside, no matter what the weather. On top of it, I have a psycho dog with severe separation anxiety which is much more manageable with regular exercise, so walking became a part of my everyday routine as much as I physically could do it. What I came to realize is that the walking and fresh air, no matter what the pace (and trust me, sometimes it’s a pathetic pace!), was not only good for me physically, but also became an incredible coping skill for keeping me in balance.



So when the world is all crazy and hectic around you, how do you find your balance?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Living Fully



“The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little.” ~ Montaigne




I attended a wake last night; my first one in quite a while actually. It was for the grandmother of a dear friend of mine who I met in freshman college English class at UMASS. Nana was 93 years old when she died and had lived a full and vital life according to my friend Lauren. I had only met Nana a few times in my life, the most recent being so long ago I could not remember when it took place. However Lauren and I go back twenty-one years and I know her Nana meant a lot to her, so I make the trip to Boston’s North Shore to pay my respects to my longtime friend and her family.




It was one of those wakes where although people were understandably sad about their loss, there was also a lot of laughter and great memories. There were many significant and candid photos surrounding the funeral parlor room and it was obvious from the words exchanged and the sounds of laughter, that Nana and her family are very loved. I don’t know if it was because she had lived such a full life and/or because the disposition of the family and friends that were present; but it seemed that she was being celebrated as much as she was being mourned.




Because of the length of the drive from my home to the wake and the wonderful joy of rush hour traffic around Boston, I had a lot of time in the car to think about what it would be like to live to such a grand age of 93 years old. Nana sure packed a lot of living into those 93 years. It also made me think: how many of us pack as much living into each day as we can? Do we truly live each day to the fullest or do we let ourselves get stuck in a rut of the mundane? Of course with the demands of work, children, aging parents, and overall life stress/chaos, we cannot always have happy-go-lucky days. That does not mean that we cannot have full days though. Do we really try to get the most out of each day that is presented to us whether it be spending the day cleaning our house so we feel better about our surroundings or even spending a day at the park with our children, making lasting memories? Do we throw ourselves into our jobs with passion and vigor? Do we share ourselves every day with the ones that we love?




I also got to think about my own life situation and how I try to live each day as fully as I can. I have been blessed in the past two weeks to have my health significantly improve because of some recent medication changes. Although I have been often labeled an idealist, I am also very much a realist. Because these medication changes are still happening and my health is so unpredictable, I know I won’t feel like this permanently, without further episodes. What I do know is this: I have used the past two weeks as an opportunity to live as fully as I can because I know when those really bad days come back, I will be much more limited in what I can do. So I have pushed myself hard to get out and do more of the things I love to do; get things done around my apartment that have been neglected for months; have as much fun as possible; catch up on projects; and get more exercise and time outside. Now when those bad days do come back, it doesn’t mean I can’t live those days as fully as I can. However it does mean that I will be living them fully in a different type of way. So my hope for everyone who reads this is that you try to live each day as fully as you can so that like Nana, you too can be remembered with fond memories and laughter.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Looks Can Be Deceiving

I am not a big television fan lately, but I am completely hooked on this show called “What Would You Do?” I don’t know if you have watched it, but basically ABC sets up situations with actors and cameras to see what real life people will do when faced with real life uncomfortable situations. They present all different types of moral dilemmas and then we get to see the unsuspecting victims of the scenarios either rise to the occasion of advocating for their fellow man or fail miserably, which they then try to explain their way out of to host John Quinones.


So recently, there was an episode that depicted two female actors, who were maybe in their twenties, parked in a handicapped parking spot. They did not have the required handicap plate/tag and the theory behind it was that neither one of them was disabled, therefore illegally using the spot. Then someone needing that handicap spot pulls in and has nowhere to park. The woman needing the spot asks them to move their car but the girls refuse. Of course ABC plays this all up by having the girls in the car sitting there and acting like they are having a grand old time. The rest of the scenario shows how people passing by either intervene in behalf of the disabled woman needing a spot or just go about their business, pretending they don’t see the situation unfolding. I was surprised to see how many strangers actually did intervene on behalf of the disabled woman.


One of the things that bothered me about this episode though was that as they were setting the scene, it was stated that the women in the car using the handicap space were clearly not disabled because of how they were presenting themselves. Now first, there is the issue that they did not have the required handicap plate/tag to use this parking spot. However if we take this fact out of the equation, how can we then assume that one of these women was not disabled? Were they basing that statement on the fact that they were young? That they had music playing a little loudly? Were they basing it on the fact that they looked “healthy?” I have to admit, I have been guilty in the past of passing judgement in this situation; wondering why a perfectly healthy looking individual would need to park in a handicapped spot.


Several months ago, a friend suggested to me that I apply for a handicap parking tag. I have intermittent episodes of difficulty with breathing and joint pain related to an autoimmune disorder; both of which can impair me to a point where functioning is very difficult at times. I had never thought of applying for a parking tag. The first thought that came to my mind was that having a handicap parking meant I was giving in to my illness. I was still coming to terms with the limitations that my autoimmune disorder put on my life and was not about to give this disease one more victory. I rationalized that I really didn’t need it because most of the time, I could manage getting from my car to my destination just fine. I was also worried what people would think. That was a fact I hated to admit because it’s very rare that I concern myself with people’s perception of me anymore. But there it was. I don’t use a wheelchair, cane, or any other assistive device and I was worried that people would think I was cheating the system by having a handicap parking tag. I mean come on, really?


However through discussion with my friend and my doctor, I came to realize that having a handicap parking tag would actually increase my ability to be more independent. It would make it easier to get to where I needed to go on those really bad days when I would sometimes have to rely on another person to get necessary items at a store. It wasn’t a matter of swallowing my pride, it was a matter of doing what I needed to do to maximize my capabilities. I would be empowering myself.


I did get the parking tag. I have gotten some looks (and even one overheard comment) when parking in a handicap spot on the rare occasion when I have had to use it. It seems like people do look at me and think to themselves “why does she need to park there…she looks healthy enough.” I wish I could make them understand that disability is not just defined by a wheelchair or a cane. Someone with a disability does not have to “look sick”. Disabilities can be physical, mental, or emotional. I think that we can never stop and assume that we know what another person is going through until we have walked a few steps in their shoes so to speak.


I am quite grateful to my friend for suggesting the handicap parking tag idea. It has given me more freedom and flexibility. It has allowed me to more fully enjoy events, such as my cousin’s college graduation, because I was not in as much pain as I would have been if I had to walk the ten minutes from the regular parking lot. Most importantly though, it has reminded me to be more open minded about other people’s struggles. So the next time you are driving around a crowded parking lot, exhausted from work, and just needing to get dinner at the supermarket and you observe a seemingly “health looking” individual emerging from a handicap parking spot, just remember: looks can be deceiving.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finding God

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.” ~ Bridget Willard





My soul felt empty and my spirit was restless. This is how I felt several years ago when I made the decision to switch religions and attend a non-Catholic church. Difficult times can do that to a person, make you question God and wonder where he is. For some people, God does not have to be in a church; people say they worship God in nature or by their occupation. I tried that. It didn’t work for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t work for other people, but I was looking for something different.




I had been raised in the Catholic church and had dutifully gone through all the rites associated with that including CCD classes, premarital classes, etc. I didn’t agree with many of the church’s teachings but it was all I had ever known. As a result, I found myself in a spiritual crisis of sorts several years ago. I belonged to a Catholic church but rarely attended. The times I did go, I left there feeling as empty and lost as when I went in. I know many people have strong negative feelings about the current status of the Catholic church, but my point is not to bash the Catholic church. It’s merely to point out that for me, it was not meeting my spiritual needs. I did not find God there, no matter how hard I searched.




I really needed to find God too. My marriage was crumbling. I vacillated between being depressed and being more depressed. I had managed to isolate myself from a lot of family and friends. I found every day to be a struggle. I thought that if I could just find a place that gave me comfort, restored my faith in the world, and helped me find God, I might be OK.




I was lucky enough to be given a book written by an evangelical minister named Joel Osteen. Although he has quite conservative views about many things which I did not agree with, his book inspired me. He presented the possibility that the concepts of religion, spirituality, and God could be found in everyday life. His presented faith and spirituality in a way that was understandable and meaningful to me. Through his book, I came to realize that there may be a way to worship that would hold meaning for me. It didn’t have to be all about rituals and rules that felt hypocritical. Coincidentally during this time, one of my best friends asked me to be a godmother to her daughter. They belonged to a United Church of Christ (UCC) and it was through that experience of her baptism, that I had the opportunity to see a way of worshipping that held significance for me. I decided at that point, it was time to start exploring other religions and churches.




I only made it through two churches in my quest. Belchertown UCC (BUCC) being the first. I only even checked out a second church because I felt like I owed it to myself to have another Protestant church to compare it to. I stopped looking because after I checked out the second church, I found myself really wanting to go back to BUCC.




It’s a strange thing to go from attending a Catholic mass to a UCC service. I remember the first time I had walked in the door for my first service, someone actually greeted me and said hello. I was shocked. Then after realizing that the ceiling was not going to cave in from me walking through the door of a non-Catholic church, I made another observation: people were talking to each other before the service even started and some were even laughing. Laughing in a church?? For me, that was like hitting the jackpot!




A lot of things were different. There were no kneelers (because we didn’t kneel…bonus.). Communion was once a month instead of every week. The minister was a minister and not a priest so this one was married, with kids even. The congregation was the most diverse group of people I had ever seen gathered together in a place of worship. I subsequently found out that the church is open and affirming which meant that everyone was welcome regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability, income level, etc. This church also seemed geared towards helping other people through mission work. At the end of my first service at BUCC, I was sold. I knew I wanted to be there. I wanted to have what they had.




As it ends up, that was one of the best decisions I have made in my life, ever. My church has become another family for me. I went from barely getting myself to Mass at my old church twice a year to feeling lost if I didn’t make it to BUCC for a Sunday or two. In the process of attending, I have begun to develop the relationship with God that I was looking for. It’s an ongoing process but one that I build on every time I volunteer with church members to work at the soup kitchen, help organize/work a walk against hunger, or attend a healing service. I actually read the Bible from time to time which for some reason, was a foreign concept to me before. I have made friends and established relationships that sustain and nurture me. I have learned to more effectively work through conflict. I have learned how to feel comfortable praying. I feel accepted and I have learned to be more accepting. I have learned the value of community.





I have had the opportunity over the past several days to talk about my church experiences with different people. It’s been good for me to look back and appreciate how much finding my church and subsequently finding God again has changed my life. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you are feeling lost and empty like I used to, take a chance. Step outside the box and maybe check out a church you have always wondered about. You just never know what you may find. You may even find God again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Courage


“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


The soldier who is fighting for freedom. A fireman who rescues a woman from a burning building. The teenager who fights a long battle with cancer. What do all these people have in common? They have courage.


For some people, courage seems to come naturally. For most of us though, it is a huge feat in facing our deepest fears and insecurities. No matter how it is used, demonstrating courage is very risky. It can end up in us getting injured. We could make a fool of ourselves in the process of being brave. Having the courage to face our fears can result in us being disappointed. Sure none of these situations sound very pleasant, but what is the price we are going to pay for sitting by and not facing that which makes us afraid?


Merriam-Webster defines courage as: the moral or mental strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The key words that stick out to me in this definition are “persevere” and “difficulty”. Many times, courage presents itself as people doing extreme things in extreme circumstances. That is not to say that isn’t true because of course it is. However I think that oftentimes we do not appreciate courage in the context of everyday occurrences and the incredible people who perform them.



Take the words “persevere” and “difficulty”. Don’t we all persevere through difficult times on a daily (even hourly) basis? Yes, we do. I have been struck lately by how many of these seemingly unnoticed displays of courage I have seen. You have maybe encountered them as well. It is demonstrated by someone who faces their fear of speaking in front of other people. You can see it in the person who is battling an illness but still gets up and faces each day. The father who accepts the fact that his son is gay. The woman who gets her heart shattered, yet opens it up to love again. The person who verbalizes an unpopular opinion. The man who wakes up every day to battle the demons that accompany his post traumatic stress disorder. These are just some of the unsung heroes in our midsts.



This all may not seem to be the kind of stuff that great novels are written about. However like Mr. Emerson was saying in the above quote, every man has his OWN ability to step forward, face his fears, and conquer them. So…how do you define YOUR courage?

Monday, August 2, 2010

One Year Later

“Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.” ~ Bono


Oftentimes, people mark certain changes in their lives by particular dates. There are the usual suspects such as wedding dates, birthdays, and such. Then there are the not so usual ones. I realized while I was driving today that it is August 2nd therefore making yesterday August 1st. I know, my ability for basic math is astounding. I tend to remember dates in which something significant has happened to me, and yesterday it was one year since I moved out of my house and into my apartment. That may not be significant to you, but for me it was the beginning of what I hoped to be a new start, a fresh beginning you could say.

I find this ironic because I am thinking that the significant date should be the day I went to court for my divorce (yes, I am in the 50% failure rate), the date it was final, or even the date when I decided to actually file for divorce. But no, August 1st sticks out in my head. My ex- husband and I had been living together (but separated…it was a large house) for 11, count them 11, months. There were financial reasons why we did this and even though it was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever done, I am grateful today that I did it. To our credit, we got through it, we sold our house for a profit in one of the worst housing markets in the history of the United States, and we both lived to tell the tale. Barely.

This is not supposed to be a story though about divorce. It is a story about new beginnings and the tremendous amount of personal growth that can come from them. For me, the new beginning was the move. It gave me a chance (especially with being out of work) to spend a lot of time by myself and to learn who I am all over again. I had always been relatively independent, but now I had the space to breathe and to discover myself again. Some of what I learned was great and some well, not so pretty you could say. The good part though was that at least I learned something. Come to think of it, I learned more than something. Seriously, I think I should get the personal growth award for the past year.

So what have I learned? Well, I guess the most important thing that I have learned is that I can survive. Yes that means physically and financially, but mostly it means emotionally. I can survive major life crises (several happened last year) and actually survive them with dignity and a sense of humor. I have learned how to be selfish when I need to be and more giving when I don’t want to be. I have learned to not apologize for who I am and instead embrace my uniqueness. I have learned the difference between being alone versus being lonely. Trust me, there is a huge difference. I spend a lot of time alone and very little time feeling lonely. I have learned to define myself by who I am and not the relationship that I am in. Probably one of the most disturbing things to me that I have learned is that I am attracted to/get involved with the wrong kind of man (meaning in a relationship- I have great male friends)…you know, the emotionally unavailable one. That is not good, really not good. And to think, I figured that one out all on my own. Hopefully that little nugget of discovery will keep me from repeating the same mistakes for the rest of my life!

On a lighter side, I have learned about ladybug infestations, dealing with household mice, coping without water the day before Thanksgiving dinner, removing a tick (MAJOR phobia), landscaping, car maintenance/repair, and the best way to get dog vomit out of a rug. It is amazing what you can convince yourself to do when there is no one else around to help you do it!

So I guess you could say all in all, it was quite a productive year since the big move. My original goal was to get through the year post move/divorce without complete financial ruin or a complete breakdown (mostly kidding!) and I can now sit back and say I have done that and so much more.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top 10 Ways To Get Out Of The Hospital Alive


"A hospital is no place to be sick." ~ Samuel Goldwyn


Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a hospital is aware of how difficult it is to be in one. Between being sick, emotional stress, lack of sleep, a million people in and out of your room, overworked nurses, fresh right out of medical school residents, etc., it can be nothing short of a nightmare. I have had the distinct pleasure of being hospitalized four times in the past year and a half and I think I have learned a few things along the way that may be worthy of passing on. Hopefully you will never need to know them but just in case, here we go:




1. Always carry a list of your medications on you either in your purse or your wallet. This is especially important if you take multiple medications. I know, you are going to sit back and say "well I only take one or two, I know them by heart." Trust me, when they are hooking you up to all kind of machines and sticking needles in you left and right; it is hard enough to even remember who you are, never mind your medications.




2. Ask your nurse to tell you every medication she gives you and what the dosage is. Everyone makes mistakes and I have to tell you, I have caught some whopper mistakes. Personally, I think the hospitals with the best nurses will bring the medications to you still in the package and open them in front of you while telling you what each one is.




3. Make sure the doctor in charge of your care orders ALL of your medications, not just the prescription ones. This may mean you have to bring/use your own stash. Sometimes pharmacies may not carry a certain prescription medication and forget about getting something non-prescription most of the time. I was in a situation where a doctor said I would be OK not taking a prescription eye drop for a few days that the hospital did not carry. I am sure my eye doctor would have thought differently. So what did I do? I had the eye drops in my purse. I told the nurse I was using them (this is VERY important) and I used them. No need to make one medical problem worse while you are trying to fix another, right?




4. Write everything down if you are able to. If you are too sick, ask your doctor/nurse to write down anything important they just told you. You are much too stressed, too sick, and too exhausted to be expected to remember anything that is told to you.




5. You will not sleep in the hospital unless you are doped up on so many drugs that you have no choice. For the average person though, this is not the case. Ask for sleeping medication to be ordered for you. Sleeping medication is usually ordered on an as needed basis, so you get to decide if you need it later or not. The best time to ask for this is when the doctor comes in to do your initial evaluation when you are admitted. If your forget, ask your nurse as soon as you remember. It is a lot easier to get a doctor's order while they are around rather than at 2am when you just want to cry because you are exhausted and can't sleep.




6. Speaking of sleep, try to get it when you can. This may mean shutting off your phone, asking visitors not to come, etc. Anyone who knows anything about good sleep hygiene will tell you don't nap during the day as you won't sleep at night. I say to hell with that, this is the hospital. People are going to wake you up at 4am to take your blood pressure even though it has been normal your entire life and you are sleeping for the first time in two days. Nap when you can, even if it is 4pm. You will be grateful later that you did.




7. If you are not a frequent flyer to the hospital or something really critical is going on, try to have someone with you during the day and not just anyone. Don't automatically think the person closest to you in your everyday life is the best choice. Try to pick someone who can handle you at your worse, can stay calm when it all hits the fan, and will advocate for you. The last thing you need is someone hovering over you every minute saying "oh my god, oh my god." Have them take the notes if necessary and be direct with them about when you need to rest, sleep, or need them to smuggle in a stiff drink (OK, just kidding on that one).




8. Make nice with your nurse. He/she is your biggest ally (besides yourself) and your best chance for getting through the whole experience. If you can summon up the energy, try to establish a rapport with your nurse. Also, ask them if they can try to be your nurse the next time they are working (if you can stand them). A lot of hospitals try to do this but it can oftentimes get overlooked. There is something to be said for a nurse who already knows you and it allows for better continuity of care.




9. Know who is who and if you don't, ask them. They should also be checking your bracelet (that is why you have one!) and/or asking your name before they do anything to you such as give medications, draw blood, bring you for tests, etc.




10. This is the most important. When you know you are right or something does not feel right, speak up. And keep speaking up until the issue is resolved. There is a hierarchy in hospitals and it depends on whether it is a teaching hospital or not as to what the hierarchy is; but there is one. If it is a nursing care issue, start with your nurse and work up from there; everyone has a boss. In terms of the medical plan, speak with the doctor in charge of your care and if you are not getting the care or answers you need, ask to speak with their boss (usually a more senior resident or an attending physician).


I was once admitted from an emergency room. My pulmonologist (doctor who specializes in respiratory issues) made it clear to me what the plan would be overnight but the resident working on the floor did not follow the plan and this included breathing treatments and an increase in a medication. I was still having some difficulty breathing. I spoke with my nurse four times during the night who in turn called the doctor. He did not change anything and was too busy to come talk to me. By 6am, I told the nurse I was calling a family member to come pick me up ASAP (and I was serious-I would go to another hospital if I had to). Boy, did that doctor come to see me fast! I got a lecture about leaving a hospital AMA (against medical advice). I gave him a lecture about medical negligence. My pulmonologist was called at 6:30am on a Saturday. He agreed with me that the medical plan was not implemented. By this point, I had lost all trust in the people taking care of me and strongly felt that even if the plan was implemented now, that it was not a safe place for me to be. He agreed to discharge me with the medical plan we had initially discussed. The understanding was I would get back to the hospital if I needed to and I would stay with a family member. The pulmonologist agreed to see me in his office first thing Monday morning. Ultimately, I ended up making it through the weekend staying with family because I was implementing the medical plan my pulmonologist and I had put in place.


Now, I am not advocating to threaten to leave the hospital anytime you think something is not going right. This was a pretty unusual situation. Hospitals are very chaotic though; information does not get communicated and mistakes are made. However I think it goes to show that as a patient, you are the one ultimately responsible for your body and your medical care so listen, observe and most importantly, speak up!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Molly and Me ~ Part Three

I was on a mission; one to save my dog from the hell she was in and one to save my sanity. I was fully aware that my regular vet just was not being very helpful because they did not appreciate the severity of the situation and in all honesty, did not have the experience to deal with this issue. A family member told me about an animal behavioral program at Tufts Veterinary Hospital and she thought maybe they could help Molly. I was willing to try anything at this point. I knew financially it would be difficult but I was willing to rearrange my financial priorities, even if it meant accessing my emergency fund.


It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. Molly and I established a relationship with Dr. Ogata at the animal behavioral clinic and after leaving a two-hour evaluation, I walked away with the one thing I needed more than anything and that was hope. We then started what would be a very arduous journey that involved several different medication trials as well as a behavioral plan that would make your head spin. I was not a big fan of the medication aspect at first; I got a lot of criticism from people I told about the medication. Dr. Ogata put this in perspective for me though. She explained that it was more harmful and neglectful to continue to let Molly suffer. She pointed out that if a person was suffering from panic attacks, we would use medication to help their suffering. Her final point was that all the behavioral modification in the world would not do Molly any good if she was too anxious too participate. She needed the medication to calm her down enough to participate in the training. We tried at least 4-5 different medications in different combinations and doses, FINALLY finding the right combination that would allow me to implement the training program.


I cannot even adequately describe how intense this behavioral modification stuff was to implement. It was made more complicated by the fact that I did not keep a regular routine since I was out of work and had an unpredictable medical condition. However there is something to be said for being organized and well, a little Type A. After the initial evaluation, Dr. Ogata kept in touch with me through e-mail and the phone anywhere from once a week to as often as every other day reevaluating how Molly was doing and customizing her plan to her progress and oftentimes, to her lack of progress. Six months later, she actually was making progress. It wasn’t a sudden change but every week things got a little bit better and every week I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the most critical things I did with Molly was get her exercising and around other dogs. Dr. Ogata had recommended as much exercise for her as possible but at times, my physical limitations made that difficult. That being said, I realized it was the best thing for her so even on those days I was in pain or severely fatigued, we walked as much as we could. What I didn’t expect is how much it would help me to the point that when we couldn’t walk, I really missed the physical activity and the positive effect it had on my well-being. We did puppy play dates with friend’s dogs. Our saving grace though was finding a dog park in a town ten minutes away. I had found out about it through a guy I had dated a few times who lived in the town where the park is. The guy ended up being well, we’ll save that for another time but the dog park was a godsend! We could walk the park and/or spend time in the dog park with other dogs and probably just as important for me, other people. Molly is definitely not the most energetic dog in the crowd but the socialization has done wonders for her. There is not too much that makes me happier than seeing her playing with other dogs and enjoying herself.

Today, it has been approximately 11 months since her first evaluation at Tufts and the difference is dramatic. She is still on two different medications for the separation anxiety, one of which I have recently begun to start weaning slowly. I still have to be quite conscious of how much time she is left alone (right now five hours which is quite an improvement from 5 minutes!) and the way I go about doing that. Putting her in a kennel to go away is out of the question but I have found ways to get around that with a fabulous dog sitter and friends/family for emergencies. We still do the behavioral therapy but the difference now is, it works! Its actually quite exciting to see her progress. She has stopped following me around the apartment and actually, I can spend hours at home and never even see her as she is very comfortable doing her own thing. I have to confess, it still brings tears to my eyes sometimes to come home, open my front door, glance at the top of the stairs and see her coming out of the bedroom calm, happy, and wagging her tail. I never thought I would see that.


As I have been writing these blog entries about Molly recently, it has really forced me to look back over the past 11 months and what she has taught me. I have been so caught up in the aspects of getting her better, I have not truly appreciated the impact she has had on my life since we went through that traumatic move last year. First, there is something to be said about owning a dog with another person (especially when there is a second dog in the household) versus being the sole owner. For us anyways, there is definitely a deeper level of connection than when we lived with my ex and Jake. I hope that my ex has gotten to experience that with Jake as well.

When the whole separation anxiety thing started and got out of control, many of my family and friends encouraged me to give her up. I was told that the situation would be too difficult for me to handle by myself with my health issues. I know they had my best intentions at heart; I was in a really tough predicament. Looking back, I remember people thinking/saying that I was over involved with her. Well, they were and are probably right. How could I not be? She was in trouble and unless you have ever had a dog in a similar situation, you cannot possibly know what it entails to get them to the other side so ultimately, I make no apologies for that. She has sustained me during a year that otherwise might not have turned out so well for me. Because of her anxiety, I was forced to get out of my apartment most days even when I would rather lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. She has reminded me of the value of unconditional love and loyalty. She has taught me how to go the distance with someone despite obstacles and naysayers. She has made me laugh despite the darkest of days.


Recently I was hospitalized unexpectedly for several days. Molly spent a night with my brother and then two days at a friend’s house (whom we met at the dog park!) I came home from the hospital exhausted, miserable, and discouraged because I had been feeling so much better until these recent events. All I wanted was to be hugged. Molly did her typical thing where she looked minimally excited to see me as is the case when I have left her with someone else overnight and just fell back into her routine. Prior to this hospitalization, she had been sleeping (voluntarily) in her crate or on the rug; occasionally blessing me with her presence in my bed. In all fairness, she had been having difficulty with a pulled groin muscle and the bed is pretty high. After being home for several hours and getting into bed though, she looked at me from her favorite spot on the rug and jumped into bed. As I was lying on my side, she nudged my arm and when I lifted it, threw herself under my arm. She then rested her head gently on my shoulder, pushing her body up against mine as much as she could. I opened my eyes the next morning to find us both in the same exact position and she was staring right at me. I don’t think she moved the whole night which has never happened before. At that moment, I knew without a doubt that she was mine and I was hers, forever.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Molly and Me ~ Part Two

Molly and Jake were getting separated, the final decision had been made. My ex-husband and I were finally getting a divorce and despite all the difficult decisions we had to make, the most gut retching decision was what to do with Molly and Jake. It is still hard for me to try and explain that decision to people. Dog lovers especially do not understand how we could split them up after several years of having them live together. It was complicated and personal but the bottom line was, if they stayed together, one of us would have had to give them both up and in all reality, it was not feasible for either of us at that time to manage both dogs on our own. Once we realized this, the decision came down to which dog was going with which parent. Both dogs were equally attached to each of us it seemed. In all honesty, Jake had my heart more...he really did. However I knew my ex husband wouldn't survive without Jake. Jake was probably the only real friend he had left in the world and despite all the resentment and anger surrounding the divorce, I knew that Jake living with him was the right thing to do. I also knew that most likely once the dogs and the two of us were split, there would be no further contact. To this day, I still mourn him.


So Molly and I moved out to an apartment and started over. I can think of few times in my life that I have ever been as overwhelmed. I had lost my job due to a significant illness, gotten divorced, sold my home, and moved. I was struggling physically and financially. Every day was a challenge to keep a positive attitude and not be swallowed up the enormity of it all. Apparently, I was not the only one who was having a difficult transition. Although I did anticipate that the transition might be a little difficult for Molly, I was in no way prepared for how overwhelmed she would be. Those concerns about separation anxiety my ex husband and I had initially when thinking about adopting her, all of a sudden came out like a force of nature.



She completely fell apart within twenty-four hours of moving to the apartment. I am talking total puppy melt down. Within the first two trips (each lasting maybe an hour) I took out of my apartment after the move, she had gone completely insane. In our old home, we crated the dogs, each in a separate crate. For months before the move, we even moved each dog's crate into a separate room in preparation for the transition. Now, she couldn't tolerate her crate. She would howl/bark and hurt herself trying to get out. I tried everything. I mean after all, I had gone through this with Jake when we first got him. I used every behavioral technique I had used with him; which had worked. I even brought her to the vet who put her on a low dose of medication. I would come home to find her pacing, drooling, crying, blinds destroyed from her trying to escape out of the windows. She lost thirteen pounds because she was too anxious to eat. Even if I was home, she was always stalking me and anxious, wondering when I would leave her alone again. She would try and anticipate my every move; even walking across the street to the mailbox would set her off. Overnight my feisty independent girl became a completely different dog.



I was concerned about getting kicked out of the apartment. I had spent a lot of time finding the right place for both of us. It was a dog friendly farmhouse with a yard and plenty of room inside for her to roam around. If we couldn't make it work at this place, it just wasn't going to work anywhere. I only had one neighbor and a business next door, but they could hear her anytime I left the apartment. The barking and howling would start within five minutes of my departure. It was anxiety provoking for me when I left because I was so worried she would do something to seriously harm herself. Separation anxiety in dogs is usually progressive. If not appropriately treated, the behavior escalates and dogs have been known to do serious bodily damage to themselves, as well as to their environment. In addition to that, it was so clear to me how much she was suffering. It was like she was having a massive panic attack every time she was alone.



After about a month of this, it was getting to be more than I could handle. Getting myself to doctor appointments, tests, etc. was getting more and more difficult. She looked sickly. My vet at that time was not much help. Everything I tried failed. I remember coming home after going for some blood work to find her howling, shaking, pacing, and drooling. I literally sat on the floor with her that day, held her, and cried. I didn't know what to do. I did not want to give her up, yet this was no way to live for either one of us. I could not give her the home she needed. She needed a home with lots of people around or some type of rescue. Getting another dog was out of the question. I was fortunate enough to have family members, friends, and people I could hire on occasion to stay with her so I could get out but it was not a realistic, permanent solution financially or otherwise. As I was sitting on the floor with her and all these thoughts were running through my head, realization hit me head on. I had lost so much. She had lost so much. We were not going to lose each other...










Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Molly and Me ~ Part One...

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog...He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come encounter with the roughness of the world...When all other friends desert, he remains." ~ George G. Vest




She was never supposed to be mine, my dog Molly. Our intention was to go investigate a beautiful bluetick coonhound mix at the local shelter which had popped up on a Petfinder.com search. We already had a coonhound mix named Jake and loved the breed with their graceful frames, hound faces, and delicate disposition. Apparently though, it was Molly's lucky day. We were told the bluetick coonhound did not get along well with other dogs, especially other male dogs. Although we were looking for another dog, it was not an urgent matter and we wanted to choose the best companion for Jake. Even though we glanced at some of the other pens on the way out of the shelter, it looked like we were going home empty handed.



I turned the last corner to leave the shelter though and there she was. I thought to myself "what the hell is that?" I thought she was one of the most bizarre dogs I had ever seen. A friend of mine recently referred to her as a product of "design by committee"; meaning it looked like a bunch of people gathered together and each one put a body piece together to form who we now know as Molly. If you look up the term "design by committee", some of its defining characteristics include logical flaws and lack of a unifying vision. Well by looking at her, that certainly seemed like the truth! She was just an odd assortment of parts all put together. She definitely was part basset hound as evidenced by the size of her paws, short stature, and long (although not basset hound long) ears. However that basset hound parent of hers definitely got mixed up in something sketchy which has yet to be determined.. Some people say the rest of her looks like black lab. She has a brindle color which has had a few non-dog educated people claim she must have pit bull in her. I guess some people have never observed the tri-color pattern of a purebred basset hound, the white, black, and brown.



My ex-husband was apparently thinking she was too bizarre as well (plus he really had his mind set on another coonhound), because he kept shaking his head. We were a little concerned because she had been brought in with a brother who was subsequently diagnosed with heartworm and was adopted by another family a few days prior to the day we first saw her at the shelter. They could not afford to take both dogs as Molly had just finished being treated for Lyme Disease and they were concerned about medical costs for both dogs. We had been in a similar situation with separating dog siblings when we adopted Jake. He got separated from his brother when he was brought to the shelter four years prior because his brother had to be put down for aggression issues. After dealing with his separation anxiety once we had him at home, it gave us reason to think twice about the possibility of dealing with that issue again; we finally had worked through it...did we want to entertain the possibility of going through that all over again with a second dog?



There was something about her though. I am typically so practical and I overanalyze things until everyone around me wants to run, but I didn't care in this case. I would come to understand years later, she was meant to be mine and I hers. I just had to see her and interact with her up close. So Molly got taken out of the pen and began her show. Within seconds, she had thrown herself on her back anticipating a belly rub and we truly thought her tail would break into a million pieces because it was thumping on the floor so hard. On top of that, she added in some of her classic moans and howls to sweeten the deal. And that, as they say, was all she wrote...



She actually did really well with the transition to her new home. She was quite the spitfire though. Poor Jake could rarely get a moment's rest, my ex husband constantly had to be worried about being suffocated while watching TV. She felt the need to throw her whole body over his face and try to smother him at times, which of course she never did to me-smart dog! Overall she just kept things lively. She was stubborn and although affectionate, she was not the one that would be the first to comfort...that was Jake's job. It was always interesting to observe the difference in the two of them. Molly seemed so much more engaged but not as sensitive. Jake, on the other hand, was the one who could sense me crying from the opposite end of the house and would immediately came to my side. Actually, I didn't even need to be crying; he could sense my need for him just by being in the house with me. They made a perfect pair but like many pairs, their time together was about to come to an end....












Monday, June 14, 2010

Risk


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover."
~ Mark Twain

 


Risk. It is a scary word for many people. A word that can imply fear, suffering, failure. However to other people it can imply excitement, peace, success. Part of this difference is the fact that we don't know what the predicted outcome of a risk is going to be. An even bigger concern for many people is the actual process itself. So many times it is just more comforting and secure to do things as we have always done them, which in turn does not allow us to grow as a person.




Risk can come in many forms. It can be something as life endangering as skydiving (to me this is life endangering!) or as heart endangering as confiding to someone that you love them for the first time. In both circumstances, however different they may seem to be, there is definite danger. With the first one, you can end up with shattered bones and with the second, you can end up with a shattered heart. However in the end, if you don't take the risk, you never have the chance to reap the reward. How great those rewards can be!




Now some people who know me are probably sitting there wondering when was the last time I took a risk like skydiving, bungee jumping, etc. and well, they would be right (except skydiving is on my bucket list!) I am not sure though that Mr. Twain was really only thinking about these kinds of risks when he wrote the above quote. We take risks every day. We take a risk when we end a marriage, when we change jobs, when we trust someone, when we choose to open our hearts up again to love. I think the key in realizing that you are taking a risk is when you know you are actually doing something outside your comfort zone.




I had spent much of my childhood a very shy kid; I mean painfully shy. If you said hi to me, I might cry. I am not really even exaggerating on this one, I was very scared of people I did not know. I did get much better after changing high schools due to a move my sophomore year and then when I attended a large state university. I mean, I had to. It was sink or swim really. As the years went on, it was easier for me to be social and people now might even call me an extrovert (partially true). However even as I got more comfortable coming out of my shell and being social, certain social situations still oftentimes left me shaking in my boots. I still had a hard time introducing myself to new people and public speaking was a nightmare. It just wasn't in my comfort zone. I found that every single time (and I mean every single time), I did go out of my comfort zone to meet someone new or speak in public, it was a huge risk for me. It was a risk of looking like a fool, a risk of being criticized, a risk that I wouldn't say the right thing. What I found out though was that with every new person I forced myself to meet and with every time I spoke in front of my church or some other public forum, it got easier. I developed a new comfort zone.

 
 
I have found over the past few years, that my cautious personality has taken a backseat to a more risk taking one. I think in many ways, I was forced into it. In other ways, it has been a conscious decision in order to try and live my life in a way that I feel is more true to God and to myself. I have taken risks involving changing religions, meeting new people and challenging doctors (forcing them to challenge themselves as well). I have taken risks when I have spoken my mind, challenged authority, and advocated for my own health care. I have taken (and am still taking) big risks with medication for my autoimmune disorder in the hopes of having a much better quality of life.To be honest, I have found that I actually do not regret any risks that I have taken, and some of them have been epic I can tell you! Even when the situation has not turned out exactly how I hoped it would, I have learned much in the process.

 
 
I guess I see risk taking as pushing your limitations and venturing outside of what feels safe. In this way, we can experience life in a different and oftentimes more fulfilling way. I think what I have found to be helpful when it comes to knowing which risks I am willing to take and which are just foolish, is preparing/informing myself and listening to my heart. Everyone will have an opinion as to if what you are doing is considered "rationale" or "smart". However in the end, you have to be comfortable with your decisions. You are the one, after all, who will live with the results of your risk so make sure that it was based on your own thought process and your own inner voice.




So give yourself permission to sail away from the safe harbor every so often....you never know what you may find out there...then hopefully 20 years from now, you won't be disappointed by the things you didn't do because really, the biggest risk in life is the one that you don't take.












































































































Friday, May 7, 2010

Friendship


"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
~ Albert Schweitzer


This is one of the most perfect quotations on friendships I have ever read. I have to admit, my inner fire is sparked...actually it has burst into flames just like good old Mr. Schweitzer has said. I have been toying with the idea about blogging on friendships, but I have been hesitating because I feel like no matter what I write, I will not do those friendships their due justice. So instead of trying to do them justice, I am going to speak from the heart (that seems to work for me!)


I had a conversation with my friend Kate about a month or so back and a comment she made profoundly affected me. I don't even think she realizes how much! We were waiting for her kids to come out of school and she just turned to me and said how lucky I was because I had such great friends, really great friends. She had heard me talk about this friend or another helping me out with this or that and had seen many exchanges on Facebook (my friends on Facebook are actually people I know in real life!) It kind of caught me off guard because even though I knew that, it was startling to hear someone else say it with such conviction. We also got to talking about toxic friendships versus friendships that are nurturing and sustaining. It really got me to thinking about how different my life has become over the past two years because of how my friendships have evolved.


Friendships of course come to us during all different phases of our lives and because of different experiences. I have friends whom I have known for 22+ years... friends who started out as a "work friend" and became a lifelong friend... friends who I didn't think I had anything in common with and now am blessed to call them a soulmate... friends who I have reconnected with after years and years apart (oftentimes through Facebook!) only to find out that we are more connected now than ever...friends who are also family members...friends who have been romantic partners and then just friends again, discovering that it is the friendship that is truly special. No matter where they came from or how our friendship has evolved, they sustain me.


I think oftentimes when people go through different crises in life, they get more of a sense of what is really important to them. I know I did. I had always held my friendships in high regard but now looking back, I don't think I always gave them the proper attention and nourishment they needed. This isn't meant to sound as a harsh criticism of myself, just a reality check. In some ways, it was unavoidable because of certain negative life circumstances but at some point, we have to take responsibility for these negative life circumstances (i.e. unhealthy marriages, stressful jobs, etc.) and decide what kind of life we really want for ourselves. During the period that I was divorcing my ex-husband, selling my house, trying to deal with failing health and losing a job, it struck me how much my friends rallied around me. It was overwhelming. I could be broke, jobless and sick but when you are loved for who you are, that is one of life's greatest glories.


My friend Kate was so right in what she said. I have been incredibly blessed with the people that I call my friends. One of the lessons I have learned along the way from them is how to be a better friend. See, because they inspire me. You know how it is said that you can pick your friends but not your family? Well, I have picked wisely. By the way, that is not an insult to my family!! I love them dearly. I like them a lot too! I just haven't always picked wisely (previously) in the friend department. I don't want that to sound arrogant or spiteful. It just means that although no one (including myself) is perfect, life is too short to always spend it in conflict or negativity. It is important to find friends who nourish us and enrich our lives. I have to admit, my current life circumstances allow for me to spend more time with friends than the average person when I am physically able to. I don't have children to look after (just a crazy dog) and work is not currently an issue. Not a day goes by that I am not well aware of this and I see it as a blessing that I get time to experience these relationships more fully. However that being said, these same friends that I have DO have families, careers, and other obligations that they have to juggle along with their friendships.


How have my friends inspired me? They inspire me by living their lives with purpose and conviction. They support me at times when I have nothing left to give them back in return. They hold me up when life just gets to be too much. They forgive me when I am selfish. They have reconnected with me when I have dropped out of their lives. They listen endlessly and problem solve with me. They put up with my incessant babbling about the love of my life-my dog. They show up with groceries and supplies when I am too sick to do it myself so that I can live independently. And of course, they make me laugh...they always make me laugh! They inspire me by example. They have taught me to forgive more easily, trust more readily, and live more fully. In essence, they rekindle my inner spirit....












Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sanctuaries


"Wherever we are content, that is our home.
There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.
Do not open your heart to the grim silent one, guard your tongue before the garrulous fool.
When a man finds no peace within himself, it is useless to seek it elsewhere." ~ L.A. Rouchefoliocauld




I have a confession. Despite that I grew up Catholic and went to CCD classes every Sunday, I never knew exactly what the term sanctuary meant in relation to a church. I just understood its meaning in a broader term. Not too long after I started going to a Protestant church (which if you continue to follow my blog, you will hear plenty about!), the term was used at my church in relation to where a group was meeting for an event. I wasn't sure exactly where that was, although I figured maybe it was the main area of the church. Is it the entrance to the church (come to find out, that is called the Narthex) or the main area of worship in the church (where the altar, pews, etc. are)? I asked someone and lo and behold, my suspicion was right about the location. I have since become more informed about my church!


One definition that Merriam Webster gives to the word sanctuary is "a place of refuge and protection." Well that makes perfect sense to me because my church has served as this for me for several years now. It is my place of refuge and protection. However I have been thinking a lot lately (I actually think a lot about a lot of things but that is another story!) about places in this world that feel like a sanctuary to me at this point in my life. The most obvious place that we would think of as a sanctuary would be our homes. Oftentimes though, this is not the case. For many people, home can serve as the complete opposite in our lives. It can become a place of discord, stress, and sadness. Sometimes the reason is related to conflict and issues with partners, children, parents; the list goes on and on. For me that is exactly what home became during the last few years of my marriage. It no longer represented peace and comfort. Oftentimes, I had to find my sanctuary elsewhere such as at my parent's home or church. I found other sanctuaries as well. There are very few places that I feel as content as in a library, bookstore, or the beach. As L.A. Rouchefoliocauld points out, it is where I find peace within myself. How can we really be content if we do not find peace within ourselves?


When my ex husband and I finally sold out house, things began to happen very fast. All of a sudden, I had 30 days to find a new home. I knew I was going to rent an apartment, but the task of finding a place that would work for me as much as possible in terms of the physical layout (due to mobility/breathing issues at times) was daunting. In addition, I had one of our dogs coming with me and if you have ever tried to find an apartment with a dog, you know what I mean! It was VERY important to me to stay in my same town as I had put down roots here. I had enough changes going on between health issues, losing my job, and the divorce. I needed some type of stability. I needed a place I could call home. I needed a sanctuary...


I was unbelievably lucky (although I do gripe about my landlord quite often-we can't have it all!). I had asked my church secretary to put a blurb in our weekly bulletin about how my dog and I were looking for a place in town. I was blessed enough to have a friend at church see a place for rent down the street from her and I went to check it out.


As soon as I walked through the apartment, I knew it would be home to me. It almost felt like God had set it down in front of me. It is a renovated farmhouse which has tons of charm and despite being on a busy road, has a yard that reminds me how much I love living in a country setting. The way it was set up was perfect for me because if I was really sick, I could access my very comfortable living room couch, bathroom, and kitchen all on one floor but yet it had 2 floors so it felt more like a condo than an apartment. There were some drawbacks. The rent was more than I had budgeted for but after working out my budget, I knew I could make it work. The front stairs might pose a big challenge for me in the winter but that too got resolved once I came up with a plan B. I knew it was a risk, but something just told me it was where I was supposed to be at this critical juncture in my life.


It turns out that the risk was worth it. My little farmhouse apartment has been home for me for nine months. I have definitely had some struggles in terms of getting things squared away (inadequate heating system, etc) but it has all been part of making this my home. Living here, I have found a place to heal emotionally and I am working my way towards healing physically. It has given me contentment and peace during a time where I have never needed those two things more. I know I won't live here for the rest of my life. I may not even live here more than another year or two. However for the time being, I am grateful to have find my personal sanctuary in the world.