Friday, July 29, 2011

Dog Days and my Sorry-Self Monster

It has been ridiculously hot for several weeks in Minnesota. Our recent vacation to a cabin in Wisconsin was cut short because all we could do was sit inside with the air conditioner on and watch the condensation on the windows.  (Okay, I polished off some schlocky mysteries, but that wasn't what I had in mind for the woods.)

Multiple sclerosis is infamous flaring up in the heat. Doctors used to diagnose MS by putting people in hot tubs of water ." If we had to fish you out," I heard Dr. Randall Schapiro say, "that meant you had MS ."

When the weather is hot and I try to move , I discover I can't. It's as if a layer of cement has formed around me while I sit.

Our neighbor took his dog out for a walk .  They were heading down the sidewalk toward their front door when the dog , deciding  she had had enough, flopped down in the grass . The owner smiled indulgently at the dog and let her lie. After a couple of minutes, he tugged on the dog's leash, urging her toward the door. The dog didn't move. The owner tugged harder. The dog raised her head, looked at the owner, and then put her head back in the grass. The owner bent over, picked up the dog and carried her inside. I mentally applauded the dog for using animal wisdom to understand this was a day for lying in the grass.

Shut inside last winter by cold and snow, I dreamed of summer trips to nearby parks. I thought I could breathe nature into my soul this summer so that I could make it through winter months of being shut inside. So far, it's not working. Too hot. Too hard to breathe.

If I want to go beyond wheelchair range, I have to plan my trip three days in advance because of paratransit rules. Disability requires advance planning. Too inconvenient.

At first, my Sorry-Self Monster made a case for how sad it is that I cannot, like a dog, decide on impulse to lie in the grass.  My first instinct is to tell the monster to stop being such a wuss. This will make it wail louder. Not a useful response on my part.

What can I do instead?

First of all, pat the poor monster on the shoulder and give it a hug. Honestly, this is not easy. Healthy people go off to the beach or the woods or Machu Picchu on a whim. (Okay, maybe not that last one…) My point is that space must be made for those feelings of hurt and anger. The monster has a right to its feelings.

What is at the core of this fantasy? I envision myself living it: a park because that makes it accessible. Trees and quiet. Greenness and critters to watch. Extra points if I haven't been there before.

I came close last week when I went to Carver Lake. It's within wheelchair distance and met all the requirements except for the quiet. Because it's a city park and it was a Saturday, there were too many engine noises and a bit of human hubhub. If I had gone earlier in the morning I would have gotten everything but the extra points.

Short-term plan: return to Carver Lake early on a weekday morning. (I'll be late to work, but it will help my mental health so much I will be more productive when I get to my desk.)

Thinking about the big picture, I know I am nourished by nature and the arts. The sensible thing to do (after all, I have a Sensible Monster too) would be to do arts-related things in the winter and nature-related things in the summer. While my soul requires constant care and feeding, the Big Things don't have to happen that often.

If I make a Fill-the-bucket date once a month, I bet that would keep me happy.

Long-term plan:  each month, plan a Fill-the-bucket outing for the next month, taking likely weather into account. (I just did some surfing about nature centers near me to which I could get paratransit or rides.) Since it's near the end of the month, I will plan now for August.

(I am pleased to see that most Wikipedia dog days dates are over by late August. I am ready for some cool fall air! )

Friday, July 15, 2011

Monitoring my pulse

I am in the middle of reading The Power of Full Engagement. It may be a life-changing book for me. Authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz normally work with world-class athletes and high-powered business people, but I suspect their ideas may be even more powerful for someone like me who lives with chronic illness.

"To maintain a powerful pulse in our lives," they say,  "we must learn how to rhythmically spend and renew energy."

Last week, I emerged from a "stuck place" to a few days of fun and energetic visioning about what's next for me.   Yesterday, I started feeling like a worn-out dishrag.  I have noticed – and resisted – this rhythm before.  I want to be doing-doing-doing,  creating-creating-creating.  I love those straight line upward-sloping  graphs.

That is not my life.  Maybe it's not anybody's life. 

Life has a pulse.  Inhale. Exhale. Push. Relax.

Often, for me, days of optimism and energy are followed by days with migraine, where I sit using the television to distract myself from the pain.

I noticed after my written complaint session of 10 days ago that I had an immediate surge of energy. What other activities, I wondered, have such immed palpable effects on me?

Thus far, I have just been observing the rise and fall of energy across the day, affected by water and food intake, affected by movement, affected by weather.  The idea of learning to manage my energy by creating new spending and recovery habits is exciting.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stuck Places...Waiting for What's Next

I haven't written a blog entry since June 17. It feels like forever and just yesterday. At first, it seemed about "circumstances beyond my control." My computer went belly up two weeks in a row. My workplace became crazy-busy preparing for a possible state government shutdown (we are partially funded by the state). I was invited to preach and was writing a new sermon (A Message from the Earlobe [PDF])...intentions were good, but follow through was poor.

As the pressure receded, however, I found myself unsure of what to write about. I surfed the web for ideas, but everything seemed slightly wrong. I realized that I was Not Writing. For me, that's a symptom of declining mental health.

On Wednesday, I wrote a journal entry listing everything that has been acting as a stressor in my life. It was very cathartic. I immediately felt my energy begin moving. It is as if, over the last two weeks, my soul has been caught in a stagnant pool created by the broken branches of each hardship.

Still, I am not quite ready to move on. I have a sense of possibilities… Things unfolding… Things about to change… But they are in the unformed  mist of becoming.

Minnesota's governor and legislature cannot agree on a budget with which to move forward. Lacking a budget, non-essential state services have been suspended. My internal and external environments are mirroring each other. Waiting for a shift…Waiting to move forward.

I am not known for my patience. This is a hard place for me to be. But, as the saying goes, "you can't push the river." I created some guidelines to help me through this:
  1. Keep (privately) venting.
    Part of the reason for the stuckness is that I let the stress buildup occur. It's an easy thing to do when busy-ness is one of the stressors. I need regular recovery practices and – though I have them – I often don't do them. This would be a good time to recommit to healthy living.
  2. Connect with others.
    I went into the office yesterday and realized that one of our jobs during the partial shutdown is to sustain each other. I have a supportive workplace so it's happening naturally. Share the latest shutdown news; describe what non-essential tasks we have found to do; discuss our hopes/plans for After. I need to do this with the more personal issues included in my stress hairball. (Note: If I haven't done #1, #2 may degenerate into a whining fest that does more harm than good.)
  3. Find humor.
    My family has recently taken to recording and watching "Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza." It's creative and funny. Silliness is a good activity during times of waiting. It helps put things in perspective.
  4. Keep picking at it… But don't only pick at it.
    My mother always told me not to pick at my scabs, but this is different. If I avoid the situations that are tangling me up, they will remain tangled. On the other hand, if I think obsessively about them, I will remain in the tangle. Instead, I have to tease the mess apart strand by strand, taking breaks when I feel myself getting lost or frustrated.
  5. Have faith; spring will come.
    There is something on the other side of this. Something is being born. As a Minnesotan, you would think I would be better at waiting through the winter for the new birth of spring. Nope. I have to coddle myself through it. I have to be reminded:

    “When spring comes the grass grows by itself.” (Tao Te Ching)