Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hey Blondie

Sometimes, I worry I lost the old part of me. The part before all of the brush with death and illness stuff. The part who, forgetfully, loses her wallet or leaves her coat behind at a restaurant or forgets all of the group’s tickets to a show. After many scars and an early dose of life experience, I, sometimes, find pride in the awareness and mindfulness these scars have cultivated. And, sometimes, I loathe these scars. 

When I lose something or pay for a movie when it is clearly offered, for free, on Netflix streaming, my dad is notorious to offer his conditioned response, Hey Blondie. This phrase is as old as I am in years. Many people question the color of my hair, and my dad is happy to assure every skeptic, that every inch of my hair is the color with which I was born. There is no question in his mind. Whether due to my age or my forced maturity, his use of this phrase diminishes over time. I don’t find it an insult either way, but, I must admit, when I do hear it, I know we are back to normal. I know emotions left over from accidents and pain and huge life changes are on the back burner for a bit. I know this because when he says, Hey Blondie, he’s only seeing me, his little girl that used to forget everything and lose the most important papers and fail to understand the simplest of instructions. That part of me that could care less about the real stuff and just wanted to play in her Barbie Dream House.

Yesterday, after a better than normal doctor visit, I wheeled to my car and plopped my bag on the seat of the car, and took Belle for a walk. She, now, comes with me to the doctor and loves every minute of the visit. The sun was shining and the sky was so blue, I thought it would be nice to go for a quick walk around the parking lot and building. After our quick walk, we returned to the car and headed home. As I was gathering my phone, keys, and wallet before we headed into the house, I realized my wallet was missing. I searched the inside of the car, the glove compartment, and my big bag. I searched several times, hoping the wallet would suddenly appear. Then, I decided, the wallet was taken when we were on our two minute walk. I failed to realize, in the moment, the doors were locked, my phone,  and my bag were still left. In my mind, the wallet was gone. I called my doctor’s office to see if it fell on the floor, no luck. A sweet nurse even walked the parking lot to see if it was anywhere to be found, no luck. So, I called the bank and cancelled my credit card. I called the police to place a police report because my license was gone. And then I called the insurance adjuster because the kind police officer told me to file a claim for the cost of the wallet. I was devastated. Mostly, because I now had to apply for a new driver’s license and replace the wallet I’ve had for a decade. It might be faded and worn and have threads coming out, but I love it so very much for all of these reasons. The wallet tells a story and is soft from so much wear and tear. I, reluctantly, packed up my phone and keys, grabbed Belle’s leash and we headed in the house.

And, then, I passed my trunk. I felt this huge rush. I opened my trunk. And there was my wallet. My wallet, just sitting there, waiting for me to find it. The very wallet I locked in the trunk to prevent theft. Hey Blondie, was all I heard. I called the bank, the cop, and the insurance adjuster. Each of them responded with laughter and an abundance of kindness. Without question the bank reversed the block on my card, the officer stopped the cancellation of my license, and the adjuster refrained from filing my wallet claim. Then, I called my doctor’s office. And the nurse who answered the phone, after hearing the story, said, “At least we know your hair color is real!”

You know, I don’t mind a good blond joke. I especially don’t mind it when it reminds me of who I was and who I still am. Even though I am covered in scars, I can still make the mistakes I did before all of the pain. I can still laugh when I find out what was lost is found. 

The end of a relationship changes us and makes us feel lost. Death and near death experiences make us feel like we are just wandering through life without a purpose and don’t recognize the person looking back at us anymore. Addiction and pain make us feel like we are scarred and damaged for life and all innocence is gone. But, every once in a while, we are reminded, we are still there. We may be changed and bruised a bit, but that person who played in her dream house, is still alive. She might not be out front and visible, but a good look in the trunk and we will find her. 

Friday, March 20, 2015


When I'm stuck with a day that's grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say, oh

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on
'til tomorrow, come what may!

Tomorrow’s forecast calls for high sixties and abundant sunshine. Today, the first day of spring, is grey and cold. Spring reminds us tomorrows are available every second of every day. She proves forgiveness and resurrection and new beginnings, can and will, live right along side the remainders of a long and dark winter. Our task is to look for the new life forcing its way out of the mud. It is up to us to learn to forgive and begin again. We must do this for others and, most importantly, for ourselves. Spring is a state of mind and she is always there, waiting to sprout her beautiful and hope filled buds.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sleep is Not Easy for Me

Sleep used to be a given. I neither struggled to fall asleep, nor did I struggle to stay asleep. Sleep was like eating and seamlessly mingled together with the other, natural, pieces of my day. And then the fevers grew higher and hotter and when they finally broke I was left in a pool of sweat. The vomiting became so frequent, I feared choking in my sleep. The illness, the trauma, the anxiety, and the depression fought sleep and won in the end. This, previously, natural rhythm of my life just stopped. I failed to sleep for three solid years. I, valiantly, attempted to fall asleep, desperately trying to form good habits. I turned out the lights at the same time every night. I used breathing techniques and mediation tapes, drank teas, and swallowed melatonin. Nothing worked. Sleep was gone and I couldn’t get it back. 

Those years, without any sleep, were so rough they left lasting scars. One of the scars is the extreme anxiety that comes when I toss and turn for any amount of time. I replay those former days filled with agitation and a relentless need and want to just fall asleep. I barely functioned, certainly didn’t heal, and was teetering on the edge of survival. I was in a bucket without a bottom and one day I just couldn’t tread water any longer. Finally, with red, swollen, blood-shot eyes, and a body so frail and weak it could shatter into pieces with a single fall, I asked my doctor for help. 

I think sleep deprivation is one of the hardest struggles to admit. Sleep seems so simple. I am tired, so I sleep. And when this so-called easy, last moment of the day doesn’t come, it feels like a big, fat failure. And on top of the failure, it is painful and affects the entire body and mind. The shame that accompanies it is almost too unbearable to admit. The usual components and causes of sleep deprivation are depression and anxiety. Words that carry so much weight and are so stigmatized, we run from them at all costs. Some choose to believe these ailments don’t exist. Some choose to believe they are conditions of our mind and our own making. And some choose to believe they are modern, first world problems. The trouble with each of these theories is they further exacerbate the stigma and alienation and shame of sleep deprivation and depression. 

I speak from experience. These feelings are not a choice. For three years, I yelled, negotiated, and bargained with my head, urging it to just get it together and sleep. Positive thoughts were lost on my tired brain and heart and the more desperate and tired I became, the less I functioned. 

Judgement is cruel. It makes us feel like we are doing something wrong and contributing negatively to our own lives. When in reality, most of us, are doing the best we can. I don’t deny there are a number of factors that are instrumental when it comes to the complex world of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Just as there are a slew of different causes, there are also a slew of different treatments. Judging how we treat these painful feelings is what makes it so hard to walk into the doctor’s office and ask for help.

When I finally gained the courage and found the brave vulnerability to share my feelings and express I knew I didn’t feel quite right, I was met with compassion and understanding. I assure you, very few doctors judge such courage. In fact, they applaud it. And if one doctor does judge this brave act of admission as a personal failure or downfall, then move on to the next doctor. A doctor’s job is to do no harm and to only help and heal. Right away, my doctor prescribed me a sleeping pill that is used to treat deep physiological depression. It was a tough pill to swallow. As it made its way down my throat, I knew I was admitting a weakness, but, at the same time, I knew taking this pill and asking for help wasn’t weak, it was very, very brave. 

Last night, I didn’t sleep the entire night. I still carry a bit of trauma from these years of sleepless nights. I suffered the consequences of lying wide awake even though I was desperate for sleep, all day today. I was grouchy and irritable and tired. I still get a little bit scared that I still suffer from these deeply depressed wounds and can be a bit hard on myself. But, then I remember, my awareness and my admission are two effective tools to help heal these wounds. I try to breathe and remember, I found the bottom of the bucket and am no longer treading water. Sometimes, I fall a little bit too deep into the bucket’s swirling waters, but I know, now, how to climb out. I know it’s okay to ask for help. I know I am not weak. I know I am just dealing with feelings that can crush and end lives. And instead of allowing these feelings to hide behind a curtain, I choose to reveal them and pull away that curtain. 

Today, as hard as it was, showed me I am not longer afraid. I may not sleep one night and that can feel scary and worrisome, but I also know, I know how to ask, I know how to treat the lack of sleep, I know I will be okay, and, most importantly, I know all will be well. Days like today, remind me of how terrified I was of my own darkness and inadequacies. But in the end, I didn’t need to feel shame, nor did I need to feel inadequate. I tread the water, I found the bottom of the bucket, and I climbed out. It isn’t easy work, but its brave work and we all have a little bit of brave living behind the curtain.

The Hill and The Singing Hens

A few of my practice entries...

The Hill

There are only a few really difficult hills at the river where I walk Belle. One of these hills, the most treacherous, is avoidable. Most days, instead of choosing the alternate path, I accept its challenge. I like to live through and tackle the hard stuff and this hill is no exception. During this kind of hill climb, I feel each push of my chair, the burn rushing through my arms, and the jaws of defeat clenching tighter and tighter. And just as my shoulders feel disconnected from my body, I turn my wheels one last time, using any power I have left, and I am over the top and, once again, on flat land. The toughness eases over time, but that last push is always the hardest. 

I don’t really think about much as I push up this hill, other than keep going, almost there, and I wish Belle would stop pulling to the side to sniff. But, today was a bit different. I think the cold air helped drive my pace up the hill and as I pushed my last push, looked back in disbelief that I was finished with my climb so soon, I had a visual memory of a warm day last spring.

My friend, Austin, was with me on this day when a t-shirt was enough and sunglasses were mandatory. The first big hill we climbed, Austin was behind me and I checked to make sure he wasn’t pushing me with a bossy, “Hey, don’t push me.” And he responded, “I am not touching you!”

We finished the rest of the walk and towards the end we came to the hill. The really big hill. As we were about two thirds of the way up, Austin said, “This hill is tough. I really want to push you now.”  And before I could utter the beginning of no, don’t, he continued, “But I get it. I wouldn’t want anyone to push me either.”

Austin is tall and extremely athletic. I am not so tall and not very athletic. Austin is able-bodied and I use a wheelchair. On the outside, we are not the same, at all. But on the inside, the thing he taught me that day, without any hesitation on his part, is that on the inside we are all the same. Exactly the same. Our determination, our grit, our independence, our perseverance to get to the top of our own hills, it’s all the same. Our hills come in different forms, one might be a harder climb for some than for others, but the will to get to the top is the same. 

My pace may be slower and I may dread this hill and desperately want to give up mid-climb, but I am determined to get to the top. I hope I remember this story more often because it teaches me, though I may look different or have different abilities, I am the same as everyone else. I’m just trying to get to the top of my hill. 

This memory today was a moment of joy and gratitude, all mixed up in one. Sometimes the hardest climbs are the most rewarding. I go beyond my limitations and the real me, the one that lives inside this body, takes control and tells this body, yes you can make it to the top and you will make it to the top

The Singing Hens

It’s Friday night and with the anticipated end of the snow on the horizon, I chose House of Cards and a cozy night of rest. I want to be ready to meet spring with much enthusiasm. As I settled in for the evening, I sent a text message to the hens and asked a quick question about Instagram. The hens are my go-to social media gurus. Bridget, the youngest, responded to my question. Accompanying her response, was a short note . She shared she listened to the Dixie Chicks this week and it brought back a flood of memories for her. And then her message initiated a flood of tears from me. Earlier this week, Shania Twain was on The Chew. And just as Shania was introduced the tear ducts opened, the corners of my mouth turned upwards, and the happiest of tears poured out of my eyes, like a baptism of happy. 

You see, years ago, so many years that I still walked and Bridget still sat in a booster seat. The hens and I used to just drive around with the sunroof open, blaring Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain, and singing the lyrics of their songs like we were the back up singers to their bands. We drove through drive-thrus and ordered Vanilla Diet Cokes, pressed pause, collected our Diet Cokes, pressed play, and drove away, singing. I can’t even remember if we had a destination other than a drive-thru to get a drink. 

A lot of the work I do with mindfulness and awareness and stillness suggests the past is like the wake left behind a boat. The wake stays behind and the boat moves forward. But, every once in a while, there is a bit of the past I want to scoop out of the water and pull onto the boat. This kind of memory isn’t just the past, it is a chapter that contributes to the story that is my life. 

There are smiles on our faces and then there are the smiles only the heart can birth. Driving around with these girls, sunroof open, and loudly singing is a part of my past I don’t ever want to leave behind. I think its perfectly okay to collect the good stuff and carry it along the ride. It’s what gets us through the hard stuff. And when I feel stuck and confined, I pull out this chapter and remember the days when we didn’t have to be anywhere but with each other, singing our song. 

Life moves along and there are always more memories to create and live and breathe. But, I’m taking this moment with me and not letting it go for anything. A moment in time like this teaches me the power of letting go, feeling the sunshine on my face, and the importance of, simply, spending time  with the people I love. 

I had no idea these singing, dimple faced girls would lift me up so highly when I needed it most, so many years later. They are the most beautiful adults now and I can’t help but think of the loving and brilliant mark they left on my past, leave on my present, and will leave on my future. 

So, my message is this...take from your past what is good and warm and feeds you. Take it and water it and let it grow. 

The hill. It takes practice.

Forty Days

I've been quiet lately. I initiated a life change and decided to practice this change before fully diving into this new way of life. I thought with enough practice I would suddenly feel ready to begin my new life change. Well, this isn’t how it works. I know, from experience, I must begin before I am ready. Just begin. So here it is the beginning. Day one.

The past year I decided to take a fun break. Not step away from life or ritual, but allow for more fun. I finally was well after years of illness and I decided to just let go for a bit and fill my calendar with dinners and walks with friends and my mom, Saturday afternoon chats with my dad before football games, and many other activities that popped up that I grew so accustomed to declining for so long. The fun felt good. It was nice to learn to balance fun on my life scale. But, a few months ago, I started to get an itch. An itch to sit still, again. 

I’m not one to paint a rosy picture over ugliness that life can be sometimes, instead I look at the ugly straight on and work to transcend it. And one of the good things about this wheelchair, among all of the bad and hard, is that I am forced to sit still, quite a bit. And forced to still before I am ever ready. This sitting down and sitting still quiets my mind and teaches me to drown out the noise. Without this stillness, I feel lost and out of control. 

Before my injury, I was what I call a doer. I always used the catch phrase, I’m so busy. My life is so busy. Busy can be a bit of an obsession and a way I thought I should live. Busy can sometimes be mistaken for living. But it isn’t. It’s just moving from one thing to the next without really thinking or feeling or sitting still long enough to gain insight from the momentum. I started to feel this busy feeling creep up over the last year and I didn’t like it. And while I appreciate and love to incorporate a bit of fun, I also learned the importance of the quiet and the stillness. I feel like I always knew the importance of the stillness, but, once again, I learned the same lesson all over again. 

In this effort to start again, I challenged myself to forty days of a list of new rituals. I added and changed meditations. I renewed my meditation space. I organized my nutrition goals and rearranged my day so it is filled with more silence. And finally, I decided to notice little moments of inspiration and gratitude and joy. And not just notice them, really take them in and think about them and, once again, make inspiration and gratitude and joy a practice. I never really let up my practice completely, but I definitely skipped it a few days and felt the dryness and emptiness that came with the missed practice. I think the best use of this practice of finding the light is when it is found in the darkest of situations. So, I don’t want to paint that rosy picture. I just want to find the moon after I stare into the darkness for a while. Because perfection isn’t the goal. Peace is the goal. Peace when the waves are rough and peace when the waters are calm. This kind of peace only comes with practice and sitting still. 

So, I start today, yet again, with a renewed forty days of practice. This isn’t a significant day, just the day I decided to begin before I am ready. I hope this will encourage you to take a bit of time to be still and silent. Even just five minutes. When I feel lost and out of practice and out of sorts, I start with five minutes of quiet. I set the timer on my phone and I sit quietly until it alarms. This simple few minutes jolts me back to where I belong. Just five minutes.

Leondard Cohen had become the poet laureate of those on the road, refusing to stick to any form of settling down, a “gypsy boy” who wouldn’t sit still within any of the expectations we brought to him. But, like many a wanderer, he seemed always to know that it’s only when you stop moving that you can be moved in some far deeper way (“Now I know why many men have stopped and wept,” he writes in an early poem, “Halfway between the loves they leave and seek, / And wondered if travel leads them anywhere”). 
-Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

Monday, March 2, 2015


Shared from Facebook and Instagram

Last evening, I attended an event celebrating sameness. Each of us, with different abilities, proved we are far more alike than different. When we let go of what divides us and focus on what unites us, we struggle to see any separateness at all. Our job, as humans, is to find the spark inside of our own selves and, fervently, work to ignite the same flame in another. Because when we all shine from our insides, together, we light up the whole world. A room full of people with different abilities doesn't glow because of difference, it glows because the light that shines from the heart and the soul can't be extinguished. We all dream. We all hope. We all conquer hard stuff. We all hurt. We all break. We all heal. And most importantly, we are all whole. Our outsides might come in all shapes and sizes and colors and abilities, but our insides come in one package. That package is whole and brilliant and full of love and wonder. Celebrate your light and use your dance to fan the flames of your neighbor's spark. We need our collective light to illuminate this, sometimes, dark and separate world. We need this light right now, not tomorrow. We need it right now. ‪#‎reelabilities‬@elizabethkmurphy @kurtyaeger