Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Going to the Chapel

"I will never, ever get married again. EVER!" ~ Me

Those were the words I was uttering about two years ago. I wasn't just saying them in anger or frustration due to the fact that I had finally extricated myself from a very lousy nine year marriage. I meant them with every fiber of my being. I wasn't against falling in love again at some point in the future, but I was making a lot of effort to put my life back together so I could become the person that I wanted to be. My plans did not include joining myself with another person for the rest of my life again, especially when I could have a great life without a partner or husband; which by the way, I still believe can be done!

As is true for most things in this life, we never account for the unexpected as we go along on our journey. My unexpected was Chuck. This incredible, loving, gentle soul who literally just popped up in my life at a time I never expected and in a place that I certainly never expected to find the one true love of my life. And I don't use that phrase lightly. He is my one true love. The one I feel that God has meant for me to always be with. And I know without a doubt that I am his. It just took us longer than most to find each other.

I have known since the day that Chuck and I did something together just the two of us, walking Molly at the state school, that I did not want to spend a single day without him in my life. But what most people are not aware of is that our journey to this proposal has been a challenging one at times. Like every other couple, we face obstacles and one of those obstacles was one that we  had to struggle through together before we decided on the commitment of marriage. We have both done this marriage thing before and I am a firm believer that all those tough questions have to be dealt with before two people get to the altar. It's a good feeling to now be able to sit back and look forward to this marriage without any reservation or doubt. It's an even better feeling to know that there is nothing we cannot get through.

So how did it happen? On Christmas Eve, at home, we continued our tradition (a very new tradition!) of exchanging one Christmas present. He opened the photography book I got him and then he handed me a small box. A jewelry box. But I still did not think it was an engagement ring. I figured it was a charm for my Pandora bracelet, a pair of earrings, or a regular ring. There was a variety of reasons for my naivety, including the fact that my mind was elsewhere and did not register the possibility that he was going to propose. We were in the midst of celebrating Christmas and we had a duet we were singing for church service that night. I was very distracted to say the least.

So I opened that small white box and there it was. This beautiful diamond ring, one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. As I was looking at it, Chuck got down on one knee and put the ring on my finger. A perfect fit. He never said a word. He didn't have to. Neither did I. Sometimes you don't need words....

As we told our family and friends the wonderful news, it still took me some time to absorb what had happened. I was in a state of shock and I think that some people interpreted that as meaning I was caught off guard because we had not discussed marriage. That wasn't it at all. We had discussed it. The shock was more about the fact that I wasn't expecting the ring at that moment, on that day; one of the most joyous days of the year.

Some of the shock this past weekend for me also had to do with coming to terms with how drastically my life has changed over the past few years. I sit back and think to myself: how did I get here? At what point did my life turn around so much that I am now capable of fully loving someone, fully receiving their love in return, and creating a life for myself that is fulfilling? How did I become so blessed?

It has been an emotional few days since the proposal. Seeing my brother cry, hearing the excitement in Chuck's mother's voice, and experiencing the pure joy of so many people who love us. For those people who have been by my side over the past five years during one crisis after another, the joy of this engagement has been an opportunity for them to celebrate a love that has been life altering for me, for both of us. I would say that this engagement is the beginning of a wonderful life together but truth be told, it is really a continuation of the wonderful life we already have...

Photos: Courtesy of Chuck Myers

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Holiday Reflection

"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~ Socrates

As we all sit in the midst of the holiday season and the end of the year descends upon us, I like to sit back and think about what this year has brought for me both in regards to my blog and for me personally.

This time last year was dramatic and stressful for a variety of reasons. Two days before Christmas, one of my friends was laid to rest. Upon returning home from her funeral, I found my beloved dog suddenly having difficulty walking and crying out in pain every time she moved. This led to an urgent visit to my vet that afternoon and a subsequent visit to the veterinary emergency room the next day, which happened to be Christmas Eve day. Due to the horrendous incompetence of my dog’s medical providers, she ended up being paralyzed by the day after Christmas. This resulted in an emergency trip to MSPCA Angell in downtown Boston, during a blizzard, for an emergency evaluation and surgery.

I think back to that time and to be honest, the Christmas part is a blur to me. I was averaging about two hours of sleep a night that weekend and all I remember is bits and pieces of happiness dispersed amongst all my anxiety and worry. I remember singing at Christmas Eve service, opening presents with my boyfriend at my apartment Christmas night, and being on the phone with the veterinary emergency room, yet again, at 1am on Christmas morning. I remember my dog suffering in pain. I remember wanting more than anything in the world to make her comfortable.

My dog, Molly, survived the surgery for a ruptured herniated disk. I survived making the decision to not put my ten year old dog to sleep by instead electing to go ahead with the surgery; despite the fact that I was told she would probably never regain use of her bowel and bladder again. My beloved boyfriend, Chuck, survived us both. Molly went through about eight weeks of recovery during one on the worst winters I have ever lived through. Sometimes the biggest challenge of my day was getting a path shoveled down the handicap ramp Chuck built her to a bathroom area in my backyard. Her recovery was truly a labor of love. A labor of love that has now resulted in a fully functional, continent, healthy, and very happy dog.

Chuck and I had made a decision, prior to Molly getting sick, for me to move into his home last January and despite all the other drama; we proceeded with our plans for the move. Thanks to some wonderful friends, we were able to get Molly and I into our new home, despite the two plus feet of snow that had already landed on the ground last winter.

We settled into our new lives. We worked out how I was going to be less compulsive about neatness and how he was going to make an effort to be neater. We figured out how to use each of our strengths to create a harmonious existence. You would think that after him living without an adult female partner in the home for thirteen plus years and me, until I met him, enjoying living alone, that we would be a recipe for disaster. But like everything else we have worked on so hard as partners, it all came together. Sometimes in the end, love does prevail.

As 2010 marched on, many events took place; our first vacation together, deep conversations about the future, my fortieth birthday, home improvement projects, and hosting our first gatherings as a couple in our newly reconfigured sanctuary. The year also was a big step in my journey battling what at that point was an unknown and undiagnosed autoimmune disorder. In August, I was finally officially diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome. So many unknown questions now had answers.

This past year has also been the year that I have truly become a writer. In early spring, I began to work on further developing this blog. I had previously been intimidated by the challenge of using the blog template and really didn’t know what I was doing in regards to using the different functions of the blog. I researched and I learned. I bought the rights to my blog’s domain and made it into my own. Something that I could be proud of.

In addition to the working on the blog, I began to write feverishly. Barriers to my writing such as the fear of not being good enough or talented enough were slowly broken down. I began to read writing magazines, attend conferences, and network with other writers and authors. I queried magazines and other literary sources with my work. I had the wonderful opportunity to be a guest blogger for several websites. I truly began to further develop my craft.

Throughout my writing journey with my blog over this past year, a very remarkable event took place.

All of you.

Back in March, there were about nine people following my blog, which had been in existence for almost a year at that point. Today there are ninety-eight.

Ninety-eight people who have taken the time to read what I have written. Some have read my words just once or twice. Most others have found their way here either periodically or regularly.

As a writer, I enjoy receiving my reader’s comments in response to whatever I may have written about. I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and even the world because of this blog. People who under any other circumstance, I may not have ever met or interacted with. People with similar struggles and triumphs; with different ones as well. All still people nonetheless. Readers have been forthright with me via their comments or by e-mail and Facebook about how my writing has affected them in some way and for that, I would like to thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me to know that my words have made you laugh or cry; think or learn. That I have made a difference in this world.

I wish all of you a most wonderful holiday this year filled with an overflowing abundance of happiness, love, and of course, good health. May you be able to embrace the joy of the season and I hope to continue to be present with you all in 2012 through my words and thoughts.

God Bless.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Music and Love

"The total person sings not just the vocal chords." ~ Esther Broner

"Singing is a way of escaping. It's another world. I'm no longer on earth." ~ Edith Piaf

Every year my church has a Christmas Cantata. Last year, our Cantata was going to be my first concert as I had just joined the choir about six weeks prior to the performance. A good friend of mine, Kathy, was a long standing member of the choir at that time and had encouraged me, despite many physical obstacles, to join the choir as she knew my passion for singing. Tragically, my dear friend died suddenly on December 17th, two days before our performance. It was a very difficult time to say the least. The cantata was a blur. My clearest memory of the event that day was the effort I, and the rest of my choir members, had to make to keep from crying while we were singing that morning.

One year has passed since that terrible week and another Christmas Cantata has arrived. I was looking forward to making new choir memories that were not steeped in so much sadness during this holiday season. This year, my boyfriend, Chuck, and I had the opportunity to sing a duet of the popular Christmas song Mary, Did You Know? I had never sung it before and I knew it might be a challenge because I had never even heard it sung by someone else.

Chuck was going to play the guitar as well. He found the chords online and we slowly started to put together a melody and harmony that we thought would work. The process became very interesting to me as the days and weeks went along. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have struggled to overcome a lot of my Type A tendencies in an effort to lead a more relaxed and fulfilling existence. When we were first putting the song together, I would drive Chuck crazy with all my questions about if we should do it more like this person or that person; or if we should do it more like how they do it on this YouTube video or that one.

He was so patient with me. What I learned from him as we went along was that as long as we both felt comfortable, liked the way it sounded, and FELT the music, nothing else really mattered.  All of a sudden there were no rules, no guidelines. We didn't have to do the song as others had done it before us. We could make it our own.

About ten days before the Cantata, I had a very sudden and severe respiratory flare-up from the autoimmune disease I have. It was the worse I had experienced in a year and a half and it was one that would typically land me in the emergency room or worse yet, in the hospital. I really did not think I would be able to be well enough to sing at all on Cantata day. And I was upset, really upset. With the exception of a four week respite from my symptoms following a steroid injection, I was dealing with symptom flare-ups constantly and I was sick of it. It seemed like almost every time I tried to accomplish something that was important to me, I also had to contend with a medical crisis. The timing of this particular flare-up was horrendous because it was going to interfere with something I had poured my heart into. I tried to sit back and take the attitude of "it is what it is" but that only lasted about a day or so. I needed to get myself well enough to sing. I didn't want to cheat Chuck or myself out of this experience together. I didn't want to let my fellow choir members down.

There is something to be said for all the learning I have done to regards to managing this autoimmune illness. I talked to my pulmonologist and my acupuncturist and decided to step up my acupuncture treatments a bit and more importantly, go back to taking Chinese herbs. I called my speech therapist from a year and a half ago and she talked me through the techniques we had gone over at my previous appointments. I restarted the speech therapy at home with a vengeance. I doubled my effort to relieve some of the dryness caused by the Sjogren's which I knew was making the situation worse.

Forty-eight hours and I was better, much better and as the days went by, my breathing not only improved, but my voice got stronger. I was diligent about protecting my vocal cords because I knew I was not yet 100%.

I should know better than to get too comfortable with my body when I do not have my illness under control. Two days before the Cantata and I noticed it was painful to eat. I looked in my mouth and saw that my inside right cheek was ridiculously swollen. From looking at it, it appeared I was having another flare-up of my parotid gland with a likely infection. I was also having terrible headaches and sinus pain with nasal discharge that also looked infected, which of course was affecting my voice.

After hours of trying to get a hold of my rheumatologist on a Saturday (I found out today that they don't have weekend/night coverage), I just said to hell with it. I knew I had an infection and probably inflammation as I had been through this once before. I started myself on steroids and antibiotics which I luckily had extra supplies of at home.

Twenty-four hours later, Chuck and I sang that song.
And we sang it well.

Shocking considering I have, guess now I can say "had", terrible stage fright. I had never sung with just one other person before. Usually I sing with a whole group of people and even that sometimes leaves me a little rattled. When Chuck and I ran through the song at choir rehearsal several days before the performance, I was responsible for holding our music because he was playing the guitar. My hands shook so bad when we rehearsed that we decided to use a music stand instead because otherwise he couldn't follow the page with the words shaking all over!

That day that we sang that song though, I didn't shake at all. Because this time, I looked at him while we were singing. I focused on him and the beautiful music that was coming from his heart. In those two and a half minutes, it was just him and I; not in a church with a LOT of people, but in the safe refuge that we call home.

There was something incredibly special about singing that song with Chuck. I know this sounds corny, but it truly has brought us closer together. We each have had more on our plates than usual lately which has resulted in a lot of stress and sleepless nights. Although I think we do well with supporting each other, practicing this song together night after night was a different way of supporting each other's wellbeing and sanity. We had a common goal that didn't involve job stress, health stress, financial issues, or relationship issues.

It was just us and the music.

It was our way of honoring Kathy.
It was our way to honor the upcoming birth of Jesus.
It was our way to give to the loving church community that we are involved with.
It was our way to give to each other...

Not just music, but love as well.

Mary, Did You Know?

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Sunday, December 11, 2011

To My Friend ~ One Year Later

You can read To My Friend written on December 17, 2010 here:

"Death ends a life, not a relationship." ~ Robert Benchley

It has been almost one year since you left us my friend. I have been thinking about you a lot lately, especially as we get ready for another Christmas Cantata.  As December approached this year, I found it very difficult to think about the events that happened at this time last year. It felt like I was mourning you all over again, although to a lesser degree. But that has changed over the past week. I gave myself the time and the space I needed to grieve again and now I am  remembering the good times. When I think of asparagus and copper pennies, I cannot help but smile. As next weekend approaches, I just want to remember you with smiles and with laughter. I think that is how you would want it.

Mary sits in your choir seat now. It seemed like the right thing to do after your memorial service...the healthy thing to do. Sometimes when I look at that chair, I remember how your choir robe was gently laid over it with the photo that Chuck took; which was how we had it for the Cantata last year. I try to sit next to or as close as I can to Mary, as much as possible. I know it sounds strange but somehow sitting in that seat next to where you used to sit makes me feel closer to you.

You would be so happy with the choir. Most of us that joined with you, Alex, Tom, and Meaghan for the Christmas Cantata last year are still singing together a year later. Many of us never intended for our choir commitment to extend past the Cantata but in true Kathy form, you brought us all together and we couldn't break that circle apart.  Plus your gentle persuasion on Carla paid off. She was not only our choir director for six months while Dan was away, but she sings with us now that Dan is back. Thank you for bringing her talent and her special friendship to our church. She has been such a blessing.

For the longest time, it was so difficult for me to go over to the house after you left us. It didn't seem right that you weren't there. I would cry all the way home the first few times I was there but gradually, it got easier. Without even intending to I think, Harry made it easier because he was so open about your passing and about how things felt different. It helps to be able to talk about it. Mary and I went to the house last weekend and helped Harry put the Christmas tree up. I felt like in a small way, we were honoring you by doing that. Instead of mourning you, we were celebrating you; especially with all of those purple Christmas decorations! It helped me be more at peace. I hope it did for your family as well.

You were taken from us way too soon at too young an age.Your death has given me pause about what is truly important in life. I try to remember that when I am feeling beaten down by life or when I am facing obstacles that seem too difficult. I remind myself that in a blink of an eye, it can all be taken away. Not only my life, but the lives of those around me. So I try to be more patient, forgiving, and tolerant. I remember to cherish my days and not squander them.

I still struggle once in a while with the singing when my health problems are flaring up. It happened again very recently, but you were with me. I remember your words from last year, clearly in my mind, like it was yesterday. You encouraged me to work hard and beat the odds to be able to sing. And when I didn't think I was good enough, you believed in me because you knew that like you, the music was in my heart.

Thank you for your faith in me.

Thank you for your friendship.

Thank you for your love.

You are always in our hearts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Not All Rainbows and Puppy Dogs...

As I laid in my bed last night wide awake at 3am with a raging headache and painful, dry eyes that burned like hell, I realized something. One single truth that although I was not oblivious to before, all of a sudden hit me like the freight train that sometimes runs through my backyard in the middle of the night.

The truth is this:

This illness will affect me the rest of my life. I cannot escape it.

That, my friends, is a very unsettling and tragic thought at the moment.

And I am tired of it. I go through phases like this when I get discouraged and I know I will see it differently at some point; maybe as soon as tomorrow. But for this moment, it is just hard. My health has been very unpredictable recently and has been that way since about May. After receiving a steroid injection last month, I had a good run for about three weeks and then the breathing issues started again. Issues that I have not experienced this significantly in about a year and a half. Over this past weekend, they seemed to be improving but then I realized over the past few days that they improved because I was in bed and doing nothing for two days.

After spending some time in Boston Saturday and then trying to walk my dog yesterday, I realized that even though I am managing the breathing issues better than a year and a half ago, they are not going away. Of course I have not started the round of steroids that was suggested to me because I thought I could get better on my own. And I hate the steroids.

My eyes have been getting worse in terms of the dryness which is making computer work more difficult, especially since I am doing a lot more writing and spending more time on the computer. If you have healthy eyes, appreciate them. It's a constant state of discomfort.

So back to my truth, the one about being sick the rest of my life. I guess I am scared because it feels to me that the Sjogren's business has been on a steady decline for months now. Sometimes it doesn't appear that way to other people because I have gotten so adept at managing my symptoms and looking "well". I cannot manage my life without medication and quite a few of them at that. I did try. I tried really hard. I still use acupuncture and other alternative/holistic approaches to manage my illness but the fact is, it's not enough. Nothing is enough.

See, I don't want to be the sick one anymore. I don't want to be dealing with a new or recurring symptom all the time. I want to be well enough today to do what I want instead of sitting in my house struggling to gather enough energy to bring up the two loads of laundry sitting down in the laundry room waiting to be put away.

It is difficult because most of the time, I stay positive. I have good days. I have good weeks. I know there are people less fortunate myself. I also know that I have a blessed life. I love the people that surround me every day with love and positive energy but they are often so intent on keeping me lifted up that they don't see that sometimes I just need permission to sink....and reflect...and acknowledge...and accept. I need a space to acknowledge that it's not all OK. That having a debilitating, chronic autoimmune illness which never leaves my side is worth crying over...and stomping my feet over...and writing about.....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Would You Like Some Shepherd's Pie?

“A hungry man is not a free man.” ~ Adlai E. Stevenson

"A hungry man can't see right or wrong. He just sees food." ~  Pearl S. Buck

What would it take for you to go to a soup kitchen for a meal? What would it take for you to bring your two small children to a soup kitchen? Would you feel defeated? Worthless? Relieved?

The Loaves and Fishes community kitchen, headed by the Open Pantry Community Services in Springfield Massachusetts, is a program that provides meals to people who are poor or homeless in the Greater Springfield area. It serves lunch and dinner 365 days a year to whomever walks through their doors. No questions asked.  Many people who seek out a meal there are homeless or very close to becoming homeless. They are children, adults, and elderly. They are people who may be disabled, mentally ill or struggle with an addiction. They are human beings.

Every few months I go to the Loaves and Fishes community kitchen with members of my church to serve a meal that is prepared beforehand by members of the church, Belchertown United Church of Christ. Members sign up to prepare salad, brownies, and large trays of shepherd pie. Then a group of seven or eight volunteers brings the food to Springfield, warms and prepares the meal and then serves it.

It is quite an organized operation at Loaves and Fishes. It has to be. They serve approximately two hundred meals a day between lunch and dinner. This past month when we went, we began serving dinner promptly at 5pm and by 5:30pm, over 150 people had been fed and the large room had been cleaned up. The process is fast, efficient, and effective. A true testimony to the power of teamwork.

The Loaves and Fishes community kitchen is not what many would consider a pretty place. This is not a judgment, just a fact. It is located in the basement of a church in downtown Springfield, in a neighborhood while although not Springfield's worse neighborhood, definitely one that gives you pause when you go there. You take safety measures that you would not take if you were working in one of the surrounding suburbs. Crime rates are higher in this neighborhood and because of that, you don't bring your pocketbook in with you. Because there is a high rate of patrons who are drug users or have a mental illness, there is a sense of unpredictability surrounding the large church. A sense of quiet desperation.

So why do I go? Because once I walk through the side doors of that church and into the basement carrying one of those heavy trays of shepherd's pie, I know that I have brought a little piece of hope with me. That tray of shepherd's pie that I slide into the industrial size oven, which was made by someone in my church family, symbolizes the good that still exists in this world. For that hour and a half it takes us to prep, serve, and clean up the dinner, it is not about my own medical, personal or financial worries.

It is about giving. Actively giving.

Giving to people who are less fortunate than myself.
Giving to people who have to swallow their pride and admit that they need help.
Giving to people who are either down or the luck or have just made some poor decisions along their journey.

Every time I go to Loaves and Fishes, there is usually a person or group of people who catches my eye. A person or group of people that makes me wonder about how they got to this place in their lives. Oftentimes I wonder about what makes them different from me and how it is that they ended up there and I did not. This past time, it was a family of four that included a mom, dad and two children who appeared to be under the age of five. They spoke to each other affectionately; you could feel the love and nurturing that existed between the parents and the two small children. But that was accompanied by the look of despair and anxiety etched into their faces.

It is a very powerful experience to feed people who are hungry and for whatever reasons, cannot provide themselves or their families with a hot meal. The emotions we witness from those whom we serve dinner to can be overwhelming. The child's eyes that light up when they see that you are handing them a brownie for dessert. The look of delight on a man's face when he realizes and acknowledges that he is having shepherd's pie for dinner. The excitement on a woman's face when she hears that there are leftovers and therefore second helpings.

And there is gratitude...

"Thank you ma'am."

"We love shepherd's pie!"

"What a wonderful meal."

"We love Belchertown."

"God Bless you all."

I have described my experiences at Loaves and Fishes to several different people over the past few years. Oftentimes it sparks a political conversation about hunger in America and how we, as a country, should address that issue. Why does such a wealthy country, who gives so much financially to other countries, have adults and children going hungry day after day? Where are our priorities? During one particular conversation, I was told that my desire to feed the hungry at organizations like Loaves and Fishes makes me a "bleeding-heart liberal".

My response?

"No, it just makes me human."

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Writing Voice....My Permanent Voice....

I attended a writing conference this past October and happened to have the good fortune of sitting next to a woman who belongs to a writing group in Amherst, MA. I expressed an interest in learning more about this group and she invited me to a meeting which I am sitting at as I write this.

The group is a different format than the writing group I attend in Connecticut. In this Amherst group, we initially have a five minute writing session where we write whatever we want. This is followed by a brief reading and commenting of our work. Then there are two more thirty minute writing periods that morning, also followed by reading and commenting. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience today and the following essay is what came out of my writing this morning. It was interesting for me to see that despite the fact that I didn't have a topic in mind to write about when the group started, the ideas and words just flowed...

I sit in a room with four strangers. I feel excitement and some apprehension, although not as much as I anticipated. I used to not able to do things like this, enter a room of people I don’t know and make myself at home. I guess that is what happens sometimes as you get older; you become more comfortable in your own skin. You put yourself out there for the world to see and remind yourself that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. For me today, it’s all about the writing.

Finding my voice.
Finding my muse.
Finding myself.

When it comes down to it that is what writing is all about for me, that finding of my voice, my muse, and ultimately myself. I want other people to read what I have written. I want my writing to give them pleasure and inspiration. However at the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that I have been true to my craft and to myself.

I sometimes become lost in my journey of writing and I have to remind myself that it is a process. A process of learning and developing more proficient writing skills. More importantly, a process of listening for the words and stories that are just begging to be written down. I don’t know if this is what it is like for other writers but I have found that when there is a story in my mind and heart to be told, whether it is a personal essay or a short story, it oftentimes unfolds in a very predictable manner.

The idea of what I want to write enters my brain sometimes insidiously and other times like a lightning bolt. I toss it around in my head for a few minutes or maybe even a few hours to see if the idea develops at all. If it does, it is at that moment that it has to be documented somewhere before it gets consumed by all the other important and non-important pieces of information floating around in my brain. It doesn’t matter where it gets written down, maybe on my laptop, a notepad, a post it, or the worn out grocery receipt sitting at the bottom of my purse. The important part is that it gets written down.

As I write my essay, my story, or my poem, I feel physically different. It feels like adrenaline is rushing through my body. It’s like I have the ideas all bottled up in my mind and my brain is scrambling to put the right words and sentences together so that coherent thoughts form onto the page. As the paragraphs form, I become more confident in what I am developing. Once I finish the first draft, a rush of release fills my body. I did it. I got all the words down on the page that I needed to. My voice is now permanent.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hurting Each Other

“To hurt is as human as to breathe.” ~ J.K. Rowling

As the past few years have been such a significant period of personal growth and transition for me, I have used that period of time to work on figuring out how to be wiser in choosing the kind of people I want surrounding me. I have made some very good decisions in my adult life in terms of friendships and romantic relationships, but I have also made some poor decisions as well. Due to a variety of reasons, I have previously aligned myself with some people whom one might consider toxic. I have blogged about it in the past which if you are so inclined, you can read "Warning-Toxic!" here:
But here's the thing. I am not always so well prepared when it comes to dealing with hurt that has been inflicted on me by people who I don't expect it to come from or in places that I thought were safe havens for me. Or from those people who I love and know love me.  I do want to note that I am not talking about being hurt by those mean spirited and abusive people that live in this world; I think there are some differences with those situations that warrant a different discussion.
In general, I try to go with the flow, accept that we all do stupid things sometimes (myself included!) and move on. This past week though saw a few things happen in my life that have left me feeling wounded and well, hurt. More than just your run of the mill insensitive remark type of thing. The type of hurt that leaves a mark on your soul, maybe a small one or  maybe large one, but one that nevertheless will take some time to heal.
As with a lot of other instances in life, there is always an opportunity to grow when you feel wounded, whether it be by someone you love or a new acquaintance. There are also lessons to learn when we find out that we have hurt someone else, but that is a story for another time.  The biggest opportunity for me to grow this past week was evidenced in how I chose to deal with the hurt. My instinct in the past has been to lash out back at the person or to use a defense mechanism such as sarcasm or absolute silence; anything that I thought would help me feel less vulnerable. When another person hurts us, that is what happens; we have exposed our vulnerability and someone has found that vulnerable spot.
This week I found the ability to deal with some of the hurt in a way that I felt was true to the kind of person I am and the kind of person I keep striving to be. That is a person who comes from a place of love and not bitterness or resentment. A person who is stronger than all the negative feelings that have resulted from someone else's thoughtless behavior. Because when it comes down to it, when we feel wounded by someone, two characteristics apply to the event. As the person who feels hurt, it is our perception of the event that dictates the severity of the injury so to speak or even whether is qualifies as an injury at all. An example of this is one of the events that happened to me this past week. If it had  happened to someone else (let's call him Jack) instead of me, Jack may have felt just a little annoyed or maybe even angry, rather than hurt like I did. Jack may not even have thought much about it at all. However because of other factors and background information that the offender most likely knew nothing about, the event was much more significant for me. It doesn't make what they did right, but it does change the dynamic of the situation.
The second and more important thing that happens comes from the person inflicting the pain. I have come to understand recently that most times when a person offends or hurts us; it really has nothing to do with us. It is about them. As human beings, we like to think that every action that affects us in this world is about us personally, but typically that is not the case. When another person does something without thinking about the consequences of their actions, it is not about OUR worth. Rather it is most likely about a variety of factors that the person affected has no control over. It may be because the person we feel has hurt us just doesn't have the skills necessary to step outside of themselves. Maybe it is because they have always done things a certain way and don't know any differently. Or maybe whatever else is going on in their lives has consumed them to the point where they are just trying to get through the day. These are not excuses, but they are valid examples to point out that when someone hurts us, it's not usually about you or me. It's about them.
Although I have found my own ways to deal with the hurt I have experienced over this past week, I still struggle with how to move on. It's not because I can't forgive but rather because I can't forget and let it all go. Little bit of a character flaw maybe on my part. Despite surrounding myself with people who at their core are "good" people, the reality is that despite our best intentions, we will hurt each other from time to time. I guess I just have to try and trust in the process of moving past the hurts and remember that at the end of the day, we are all mere human beings and completely imperfect.
Photos: Courtesy of Google Images

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pass the Turkey Please!

"Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude." ~ E.P. Powell

Here we go! The holidays have descended upon us. Here in New England many of us have been so busy recovering from the great October Nor'easter that we didn't realize all of a sudden, it was Thanksgiving week.

Life gets tricky this time of year. For about six weeks, we are thrown into social situations with family that we may or may not get along with. Typical family drama that we deal with all the other days of the year can intensify. New relationships and families may have been formed in the previous year which means that we have to reexamine our previous traditions and how we choose to spend our precious holiday time. Sometimes we are so busy running from one holiday event to another that we can't wait to get back to our normal routine because our stress levels are so high.

I enjoy the holidays now which has not always been the case. I loved this time of year when I was a child but once I entered my twenties and thirties, I found myself getting wrapped up in the task aspect of the holidays. The priority became getting everything on my list done; the shopping, the cooking, putting up the tree. I became so focused on the getting things done that I wasn't savoring the activities themselves.  I lost sight of what was really important. Sound familiar? Over the past two years or so, I have finally found some sort of balance between doing what I HAVE to do and and genuinely celebrating the spirit of the season. During the holiday season, I make sure to stop and remember what it is truly about for me and for Thanksgiving that means gratitude and family. At Christmas it means Jesus and love. Oh yeah, and food too...for both! I will admit, it is still a hard balance at times, but at least now I am more aware.

So what can we do to survive from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day? Well, I have found that planning is helpful so that not everything is left to the last minute. While I am plannin, I carefully look at my schedule to make sure I don't book too many events in one week. I make sure to avoid feeling like I am running a marathon!

I prioritize. I used to put so much pressure on myself to do all the proper things for Christmas like baking, decorating, fulfilling church obligations, sending out Christmas cards, etc. OK seriously, that is ridiculous. I was so burnt out by Christmas Eve that I was almost too tired to enjoy the evening. Now I take into account what else is going on in my life at the moment, how much time I have, my health status and the like when I am deciding what to do. I have decided that for example in regards to Christmas, my priorities are church activities, putting up a tree, shopping for Christmas presents, and spending time with my family. If I don't have the time and energy to bake or do Christmas cards, it doesn't get done. I have yet to get a complaint the last two years from anyone about not getting a Christmas card so....

I make a huge effort during the holiday season to make sure I have time for myself to reflect on the season and what it means to me. I participate in at least one or two volunteer activities that do something to help people less fortunate or people who may be having difficulties during the holidays that particular year. In doing that, it grounds me and fills my spirit in a way that writing out Christmas cards just doesn't do for me. Isn't that what the holidays are all about?

My hope for all my readers this Thanksgiving is that as you pass the turkey this year, you take a moment to not only give thanks, but to think about what types of steps you want to take in order to get through this upcoming holiday season with some mindfulness and some peace.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This Day

"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something". ~ Steve Jobs

This day will pass fleetingly and we will never get it back.

This day provides us with a full twenty-four hours which is more than enough time to start changing our lives.

This day is one in which we can say something nice to ourselves instead of beating ourselves up over what we did wrong or over who we wished we looked like.

This day symbolizes our strength in having weathered storms in our lives.

This day could be the one in which we forgive.

This day affords us the opportunity to laugh.

This day could be the one in which by changing one thing in our lifestyle, we take a small step in improving our health.

This day provides a chance to do something kind for another person, just because we can.

This day saw the sun rise and will also see it set.

This day allows us to appreciate all in nature that God has put before us.

This day presents us hope.

This day is a gift from God. Let us treat it as such.

In remembrance of Gertrude "Gertie" Rouillard who passed away on November 16, 2003. She had a gentle spirit and she taught us the value of love, family, and the power of looking at life with optimism and joy. Your lessons live on Memere.

Photos courtesy of Chuck Myers/Christine Molloy

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Doctor, I Trust You

"I observe the physician with the same diligence as the disease." ~ John Donne



For the most part, it is difficult for me use those two words in the same sentence, unless the prefix "mis" is used in front of trust. In some ways, my mistrust of doctors is surprising because in general, I am a very trusting person. However like any other relationship, the patient-doctor relationship is vulnerable and when that trust is broken over and over again, it is then difficult to enter into another patient-doctor relationship with the confidence and trust that is needed to build a cohesive team.

I have very good reasons not to trust doctors. To start with, I am a registered nurse. I have spent a lot of time working in a teaching hospital and have seen firsthand the potential and actual mistakes that can be made when treating a patient. I have witnessed more times than I can count, novice and experienced doctors alike make grievous mistakes that sometimes have been thwarted by nurses and other medical professionals such as pharmacists. Sometimes, those mistakes do reach the patient.

However my bigger trust issues with physicians is due to my years of experience in being a patient. My first bad experience came when I was twenty-four years old and had Stage Two Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which was misdiagnosed for over six months because two different doctors did not think it was probable for someone my age to have cancer. Then I was told several years later that heart palpitations I had been experiencing were due to anxiety; only to find out four years later that I had an actual conduction problem in my heart which was causing my heart to not function properly (AV Nodal Reentry Tachycardia). The third incident occurred over the past several years when I was battling a host of physical symptoms and was told by doctor after doctor that they could not find anything wrong with me. I was convinced I had an autoimmune disorder. Several doctors were convinced I was crazy. That myth was dispelled when a lip biopsy came back conclusive for an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren's syndrome.

It would be easy to sit back after all of this and say "to hell with them" but the reality is, I need doctors. I also need to be able to trust the people who have my life in their hands. Easier said than done. So how do we do it? How do we build a trusting relationship with our physicians?

Like any type of relationship work we do in our lives, we have to start with ourselves. We have to look at what we do on our end that acts as a barrier between us and our doctor. For me, it was a matter of checking myself at the door. Because no matter who the doctor was or what the problem was, I always thought I was right. Of course I didn't always let my doctor know this. Sometimes I would verbally disagree with a diagnosis or a treatment idea, but then other times I would go along with what they said, yet never really trusting that they had the right answer. The problem was, I was confusing thinking I was right in terms of medical knowledge with being right in terms of listening to my own body.

The attitude of not trusting what my doctor was saying was counterproductive because in order to heal, you need to believe and have faith that what you are doing to your body to heal it is making you strong and well. I fully understand that I got this attitude from incident after incident of being let down by doctors, subsequently putting my life at risk. After a while though, you have to stop judging people based on something wrong someone else did to you in the past. It doesn't mean we cannot be educated and well informed patients. It means that we are partners with our physicians and we need to hold up our part of that relationship.

There are several other steps I have taken to build a trusting relationships with my doctors (I have several). To start with, I doctor shop. I find a doctor who is going to treat me with the care and respect I deserve. Because if they do, then when differences arise, we can attempt to work them out. I don't doctor shop intentionally and I know this is frowned upon by the medical community, but if I have a doctor who either dismisses my current health concerns or cannot figure out what the problem is, I leave. Pure and simple. I may have worked on checking my cockiness at the door in terms of my medical knowledge, but I know my body. I know when there is a problem. Because of this tactic, I am on my fifth rheumatologist in three and a half years. And you know what? After all that time, I finally found one who correctly diagnosed the autoimmune disorder I have and is working with me to find the most beneficial medical treatment for my disorder.

I go to my appointments prepared and well informed so that my doctor takes me seriously. I ask questions, lots of questions. Not questions to challenge their medical knowledge, but questions that require an explanation for a diagnosis, treatment, or medications. Answers that will help me to understand what the plan is and subsequently help bolster my confidence in them. Finally, I try to remember that at the end of the day, my physicians are just human. They are not perfect. They are not God. They are people like you and I who happen to have a lot of education; which enables them to be called "doctor". Therefore, when one of my specialists forgets a detail about me and asks me again because she just returned from a weeklong conference on the other side of the country, I take a deep breath and just remind her.

Trust takes time to build. And patience. I am now starting to reap the benefits of taking these steps towards building trusting relationships with my doctors. I am more receptive to trying new approaches to managing my illness, whether it is conventional or alternative. I am less anxious. Although I still keep careful track of what is going on with my medical treatment, I am not lying awake night after night wondering if someone screwed up. I am confident in the choices I have made in my medical providers and because of that, I can give up some of the tight fisted control I have felt I have had to maintain over the past sixteen years or so.

I feel a little lighter.

A little freer.

A lot more sane.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nor'easter 2011 ~ Part Two: Nine Days

You can read Part One of this blog entry here: Nor'easter 2011 ~ Part One: Survival

We had hope after seeing our precious home all in one piece, but the aftermath from the storm was just beginning. It became quickly apparent to us that it would not be feasible on that day to live in our house. Access to the house was difficult at best and since we had lost power, we had no heat or water. Although we had a fireplace, I knew staying there would be extremely difficult for me since the cold (45-50 degrees) temperature of the house would affect not only my joints, but the Raynaud's symptoms I was experiencing as well. There was also concern over the fireplace affecting my asthma. After weighing our options, Chuck and I decided to go to my brother's condo which was a few towns over. His two bedroom home was going to be cramped with both of us, my brother, and my parents (who were also displaced) being there, but at this point, it was our best option. Luckily, our dog sitter was able to obtain a generator for her home and she agreed to keep our dog Molly with her for as long as we needed.

Trying to get down this road the morning after the storm.

Although Chuck was optimistic about how long our power would be out, I was not. Just from looking at the damage to the trees, wires, and telephone poles, I knew it would be several days before services would be restored.

Several days?

It was nine.
Nine days.

Nine days of uncertainty. Nine days of living out of a duffel bag. Nine days of traveling back and forth from wherever I was staying back to Belchertown. Nine days of trying to manage my autoimmune illness without the tools I needed. Nine days of conflict, worry, and stress.

The days immediately after the storm were like nothing I had ever experienced. Although we were able to hear from all of our family members, the same could not be said for our friends, especially the friends who were at the church with us that Saturday night for the play. Cell service (except for occasional texting) was down for about 24-48 hours and landline as well as internet communication was non-existent for many people. As we drove through Belchertown and other surrounding communities those first two days after the storm, nothing appeared to exist as it previously had. Supermarkets were partially lit on generator and open for nonperishable food only. Cashiers wore winter coats over their clothes. Access to gas was a serious problem and wait times at the gas pump could be as long as an hour. Schools were closed indefinitely. Shelters were set up in many communities for people who did not have an alternative place to live. Many people could not go to work due to massive power outages throughout New England. Life as we knew it had changed.

The red circled area is the massive power outage on the east coast

When an event of this magnitude occurs, oftentimes people feel isolated and disconnected. Although I was staying with various family members throughout the week,  I still felt very disconnected from my community and the world in general. It was posted on Facebook a few days after the storm that the parish hall at my church would be open as a shelter during the day. I clearly remember the first day I went to spend some time in the warm parish hall. I had been at my house for about an hour getting some clean clothes and necessities as well as checking on the house. Then I went to the church. I was so exhausted, in pain, and frustrated with still not having power. I walked up the steps into the parish hall and there was my minister, with a smile and a hug. All of a sudden, I felt reconnected. I felt like I was home again.

There were a lot of other emotions I felt that week that I was not used to experiencing or at least not experiencing so intensely. Anger...fear...helplessness. As the days continued on, the biggest issue contributing to all these emotions was the inability to get our power restored. The storm was on a Saturday. Fallen trees were not removed from our road until Wednesday and we did not see a single utility worker until Friday. Every time I would drive down the road, I would hold my breath in the hopes of seeing a truck from National Grid (the power company for my town) working on the lines but for five days, there was nobody. There are many theories as to why this situation happened the way it did. Some people say the storm was so devastating and covered such a large area, that it was impossible to get power restored quickly. Other people were saying that National Grid was unprepared for managing a disaster. Now looking back, I personally feel that it was a combination of those two factors. The reality was that at the end of the day, it didn't matter the reasons. I was still homeless.

A tree precariously suspended over power lines.
 I knew everyone I cared about was safe. I knew my home was intact. But as the days went by, I became more and more desperate to return to my routine. I missed my dog. I missed sleeping in the same bed as my boyfriend, who had decided to start sleeping back at the house in order to keep an eye on our house. Things were not the way they were supposed to be. I was baffled with myself because I was so fortunate in that we were not injured, our home was not destroyed, and I had a warm place to stay at night. What right did I have to feel so upset?

What I came to realize over the course of those nine days is that I had every right to be upset with the situation. My safety had been threatened. My home had been threatened. My overall wellbeing had been threatened. I was a victim of a natural disaster.


This is not a word I like to associate with myself but that did not make it any less accurate. We were all victims on that fateful day in October when Mother Nature decided to take her fury to New England. But the residents of Belchertown, Massachusetts, and all the other areas hit by this devastating storm became more than victims. We became survivors, in every sense of the word. We stood by each other as best as we knew how with what we had. We gave refuge to each other. Sometimes that came in the form of a warm place to sleep at night. Sometimes it can in the form of a hot meal after eating packaged food for days. Sometimes it came in the form of a hug or a safe place to cry. I know in the town of Belchertown, I felt, as I have in the past, a feeling of community.

Our road (Route 9) two days after the storm

It has now been twenty hours since the power to our house has been restored. Twenty hours since I returned home and got my life back. But not exactly back to the life I knew. It's a little different now. The shower feels hotter. The bed feels more comforting. The trees in our yard give me pause now.

I am a little more vulnerable than I used to be.

More humble.
More appreciative.

All because of nine days.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nor'easter 2011 ~ Part One: Survival

"If you have a major disaster involving hundreds of thousands, or in this case millions of people, whether it be a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, the first 72 hours are going to be totally chaotic no matter what you plan to do." ~ Warren Rudman

Street near our house (Bay Road) morning after the storm. The road is to the left of the photo.
We went out that night, despite the weather warnings of a significant snowstorm. Snowstorms in New England are not a novelty. Seen one snowstorm, you've seen them all is my thought. I was involved in our church's production of the popular play "Our Town" that evening and as they say, the show had to go on. The cast had been rehearsing for weeks and this particular Saturday night was the last performance. I probably would have given anything to stay home that night due to a recent flare up of my autoimmune symptoms and from keeping a more hectic pace than usual over the past few weeks. But I had committed myself to the show and I was determined to see it through to the end.

It began to snow around 2pm that afternoon and as I got ready to be at the church for 6pm, I kept telling myself that soon I would be able to be at home and snuggled in my bed. I had nothing scheduled or planned over the next several days, except for Sunday church service, and I could get some rest which would hopefully help alleviate some of my symptoms. I had decided to send my dog to the dog sitter's house overnight since we would be away from home for longer than usual that day. Little did I know that I would not see her again for five days.

During that afternoon and evening, the winter storm blew through parts of New England causing widespread devastation. Snow total amounts in Western Massachusetts varied between 10 and 30 inches. Trees were still loaded with leaves; therefore the snow and wind caused damage similar to a hurricane, rather than a snowstorm.  While we were inside the church entertaining about fifty to sixty people and putting on a great performance, unbeknownst to us, our small town was being ravaged by the storm to a degree that none of us could have anticipated.

We decided to postpone our cast party after the performance that evening and got into our cars to make the slow journey home. As Chuck (my boyfriend) and I drove at a snail's pace through the center of town, I started to get the eerie feeling that this was not just a typical snowstorm. Everything was pitch black; the signs for the stores, the traffic lights, and the street lights, everything. It was difficult to even navigate ourselves through the familiar streets without our usual landmarks and traffic signals to guide us. Since we only live about seven minutes from the church though, I figured if we took our time, we would make it home eventually.

That was, until we came to our road, which is actually a main state route that traverses the length of Massachusetts (Route 9). Cars were backed up in front of us although initially, we could not determine why. Cars that were coming towards us in the opposite lane skidded this way and that way, narrowly avoiding crashing into us. Some cars were abandoned right in the middle of the road. To say the road conditions were treacherous would be an understatement. The road was pitch black and with limited visibility. Tree limbs and whole trees themselves were falling onto the road. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. As we eventually moved a little further along the road, we were told by another motorist that one of the trees had fallen across the road onto a car and there was no way through. There were no police or emergency personnel. Vehicles were turning around and heading back towards town, which was delaying the traffic. Cars without four wheel drive were requiring several people to push the vehicle up the hill. At that point, we turned around in the road and began heading back towards town.

As we waited for each car to be pushed up the hill, I sat there with my heart racing. Very few times in my life have I ever been that scared. Why? Because we were sitting ducks. As we idled on the narrow road with guardrails on each side, we could hear the cracking of the trees and their limbs. I kept my right hand on the car door handle and put my legs in a position to enable me to quickly exit the car should a tree start falling down on our SUV. Chuck kept his eye on the road while I kept my eyes on the trees around us.

Luckily I had posted on Facebook via my cell phone that we were having difficulty in order to warn others who may be heading down our road. A friend of mine, who lived back in the center of town, responded that although she had no power, she had running water and a gas fireplace. More importantly, it was a safe place for us to spend the night. We precariously made our way to her house and over an hour later, thanked our lucky stars for having made it to her home safely.

Our road (Route 9) two days after the storm
 The next morning we attempted to make our way back to our home, initially with no success. We were also low on gas in my car (I know, my mother always yells at me for keeping my gas tank too low!) and then realized exactly what a tough situation we were in. Nobody had power in town; gas stations, ATMs, restaurants, convenience stores, NOBODY! We decided to try and head towards Amherst, which is the next town over, and were shocked at what we saw. Fallen trees, snapped utility poles, fallen power lines, abandoned cars. Everywhere. At some points, we actually had to do a bit of off roading with my SUV in order to get over to the next town. Luckily we did find a gas station to fill up at one hour later where it was widespread panic. People were grabbing nonperishable goods off the shelves as they didn't know when they would be able to gain access again to a store. ATM machines at the gas pumps were sporadically working. We realized that we only had $45 in cash between the two of us for god knows how long and we were trying to figure out the best way to use it. Eventually we got one of our credit cards to work at the pump and we tucked the $45 away hoping it would be enough to see us through if we had no access to banks or ATMs over the next several days.

We then decided to try and make our way to our home from the opposite end of Route 9 which was the road the gas station was on. Luckily our dog was not home alone (so glad I booked that dog sitter!), but I had none of my medications and we feared the worse had happened to our home. We live on a lot surrounded by large oak and pine trees and all I could envision was one on top of our home. Both Chuck and I had spent some time back in June doing some relief work in a nearby community that was struck by a tornado and the images of those obliterated homes was all my mind could see.

As we drove further down Route 9 towards our home, we were stopped at a road closed sign by a town police officer who instructed us that we could not continue down the road. I got out of the car and told him that I needed to get medications, especially since the stores were all closed. After giving us specific instructions about how to deal with fallen power lines, he allowed us through the blockade to go as far as our car would let us. He told us we may need to walk a part of the way. My Kia Sportage got a work out that day, but held steadfast as it swerved around downed power lines and large trees to deliver us right to the top of our driveway. It was so strange to leave our car right in a road that usually sees traffic zooming by at 50mph. Now, the usually busy road looked like a path through an area of dense woods.

As we approached our property, I could barely hold back the tears. They say that when a disaster strikes, the most important thing is that you and your loved ones are safe. While this is true, it is also traumatic to be dealing with the possibility of where you call your home no longer existing or being severely damaged. Where would we go if we couldn't live there? What if our safe haven in this world was no longer? I could see Chuck tense up as we got closer. This house was so important to him. They say that a house is just a building but it wasn't. It was our home.

Our home was still there. And in one piece. Relief flooded my body. There were more trees down than I could count, but the house was intact. There was hope.....

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Myers/Christine Molloy