Category: health

overwhelm


Apparently, this is the third time that i have written a blog that is entitled overwhelm.
i am not in the least bit shocked, as the problem recurs with some frequency.  Lately, it is made worse because of a necessary change of focus.

After nearly twenty years working as an artist and writer (although for many of them i did not have to be obsessed with making my own living) and eight working myself down to a nub running my own business, i have been holding down a regular job since last June.

That sentence still sounds surreal.  Art, i used to say, is all i am good for.  Well, it is certainly my passion and vocation, but i have discovered that i can develop other skills and learn huge amounts of information in a short period of time.  i feel an odd pride in being resilient enough to make such a fundamental change to how my life is structured.  However, a tension has developed by these two opposing forces – creativity and the need to survive – and this has lead to a new kind of overwhelm.

The longer i work at this job, and the more i enjoy it, the worse the struggle between the artistic and practical sides of my psyche grows. i work eight or ten hours to come home too exhausted to write or paint or sculpt or throw.  Indeed, my health has not been terribly good, so i have to proceed with caution. All the sick time has been used up.  This constant fatigue and struggle makes me feel like less of an artist – even though, by any reasonable standard, i am still producing a decent amount of art and verse.  Logic be damned, though, my confidence is deeply compromised.  i have become excruciatingly vulnerable to criticisms.

Suggest that i am not the artist i thought i was, and i will hang my head in shame.  Maybe i am not.  After all, i have found some unexpected delights in this job. Would a real artist have been utterly inconsolable?  Unable to find joy in other accomplishments?

she has no message, because i could not go

When my writing is dismissed as irrelevant or harmful because it deals with heavy issues and are not always sparkling with wit, i hang my head and agree.  This is not work about trivisl things.  Very few poems involve wine or puppies or butterflies.  My overriding fascination as an artist – both in visual and written mediums – is the inner workings of the soul.  What happens beneath the skin, in this soup of perception, knowledge, bias, inspiration, reaction and emotion, has been the platform from which my creativity launched.

There was a time i could swim in an ocean of story without being worried about the anything else.  i can barely remember it. Given the insanity that this country (and world) is facing right now, i feel particularly hoxed.  Not only has the wild river of art that flooded from me slowed to a tiny, warbling brook, other tasks of major importance have to be put off.  i have had to learn to say no, especially to my own desires. Last weekend, kept drawing protesters, mostly because i was too exhausted and sick to go protesting myself.

Curled up under covers, i remembered fondly attending George Mason University in the late 80s, early 90s, and going to many protests in DC.  Getting involved stokes potent hope.

Yet, i have to protect this body (as well as my mental health) first and foremost, because when i am unable both the job and the calling screech to a halt.

Too often, i find myself lamenting the art-obsessed life i used to have like one would a lover.  Oh, i remember being in the arms of flow, being ready to pick up a pen at any moment. At the same time, i am proud that no matter what has been going on with anxiety, or my health, or my bills, or that nagging cloud of despair i haven’t been able to shake since i was a child, i am surviving, working the full day, and letting poetry and sketches leak out.  Some weekends, in a burst of joy, i throw myself into larger works.

i am still an artist.  My sanity continues to be maintained by the written word and the thin ribbons of ink that pour from my pen.

But, this overwhelm brought me low and made me hide.  Forgive me for my absence.  Pardon me for the awkwardness of this writing.  i am still a bit wobbly in my feet.  Ignore the loud laughter and thanksgivings, because i am just so ridiculously grateful i made it this far.

 

 

poem: a smile

i wish i could smile
in that particular way
that always ends
with my shamefully
thunderous laugh.

A delightful fire
curled my lips like smoke –
burning away the damp,
desperate
corners
of my awareness.

Even if this respite
only lasted
for that one
explosive
heartbeat,
oh,
it could still save
the broken shards
of my life,
filling
their jagged edges
with light.

Laughter,
smiling…
all day i have lamented
the problems with my eye,
and begged
for that vision
to be restored –
but
as i lay down,
weary and worn,
i find myself wistful,
longing
for a smile
that would slowly
take over this dour mood
until nothing was left
but the joy.

16 July 2016

a day off

roxiannoyedA few days ago, i called a friend and begged her to help me out today. i should have been in a gallery in Southwest Harbor, but knew if i didn’t have a day off to heal, decompress and rest, i would be creating a world of pain for myself.

She agreed, bless her heart, and here i am on the couch with the computer on my lap, heating pad (another gift from a friend) behind my back, my softest work dress on and very little work – other than writing and some gentle computerized toil for clients – getting done. Laundry chugs in the washer, but that is about as ambitious as i feel right at this moment. Having the whole day to myself feels luxurious. i don’t want to make too many impositions.

As a result, mostly, i am breathing slowly and with intent. Last night, i had a vivid dream about starting a meditation group at my new 9-5 employment which reminded me, i have been too exhausted to do my normal centering, healing meditation. So, as soon as i crawled out of bed, i mediated for the first half hour of wakefulness. Then, after a few poems and a small nap, i went back to it. i curled up here, on the couch, took that first deep breath, and was immediately beset upon by cats.

For weeks my female cat, Roxanne, has been angry with me. After Darwin died, she fell into deep grief. She stopped sleeping on the bed. Her pugilistic attitude toward her younger cat brother has not improved – if anything it has escalated. The only time where this lifted was when her favorite human in the world visited, but when he left again, she fell right back into her grumpy melancholy. Most of all, she still seems to be grieving Darwin – just as i am.

However, as soon as i sat down for tonglen this morning, she wrapped herself around my thigh. Her soft fur rubbed over my leg while she purred with ecstasy. Perhaps, she is not just grieving our beloved dog, but the changes that have come upon our life – transformations over which she had no control. If she could mandate the intricacies universe, she would have her bipedal slave around a lot more often. And have a minimum of 8 cans of wet food a day that she could stare at, eat two nibbles of, and then abandon. Failing that, she suffers.

As i pet her side, vibrating with purrs of sweet comfort, i am a bit surprised at how easy it was to give her joy.

Indeed, the same is true for me. Little things have been filling me with happiness. i have been surprising myself. In some ways, i am coping with this transition much better than expected.

However, there are a few fascinating little developments. After all these years working as an artist, letting my entire life revolve around the creation of novel, poem, painting and pottery, i had forgotten how strangely out of step i can be with other people. This is different than the loneliness over which i have written thousands of pages – this is being the one person drumming out a syncopated rhythm while the rest of the band is playing a march.

i am remembering all the years of my schooling, the years in the traditional work force during my youth. i always felt on the outside, but the past few years had driven the memory from my mind. Frankly, those i was normally around wanted to buy art or made it themselves. As an artist, i was focused and professional, but typically alone and self-driven. All education, training and help i received had to be sought out on some level. Being in a structured, large business environment – one to which i have adapted with some facility – drives home that my heart beats for different things than a lot of people, my thoughts come in at a different angle, and that the speed and grace of my gait as i walk through this world are not typicalIMG_0213

Also, i am being reminded that this body needs gentle, loving care. Working at home, i could vary my tasks frequently, nap if necessary, basically live as though i were a cat. When my health crashed over the past two years, i became more and more overwhelmed because it all landed on my shoulders, but i never quite surrendered – or at least not for more than a day or two at a time. Mountains were created and then studiously moved teaspoon by teaspoon. While i enjoyed this workflow, but that is not possible at this new job. i have to be able to sit still, focus and learn at high speed. My compassion will be tested, for myself if not others. i can see the pain of back and limb as a failure, as a judgment. But, these limitations are not condemnations of me – they are realities i have to face and to which i must adapt.

Part of that was asking – begging – for help today. i could sense i had reached a limit, and i needed to be gentle with myself. It is also governing my behavior today. Oh, there is so much art i want to make, so many chores that need to get done. For weeks, i have been treating myself with kid gloves when i come home from work – resting, trying to ease my pain, letting myself sleep when i need to regardless of how badly my to-do list stomps around. (It can act like Godzilla, thrashing around, tearing down my plans.) For the first time in my life, i have been fully accepting the messages my body sends me and obeying.

i would love to tell you that the dishes and all the laundry will be done, put a way and the floors swept and scrubbed today, while i still managed to get all the clients’ jobs done and finished the three paintings that i started last week all while airing out the studio and getting it ready to reopen. Oh, how i would adore it if i could confidently say that today will become the pivot upon which my life will turn and everything will be magically stable and glorious. But, if all i can do is sleep, or write, or rest here on the couch like a large drooling lump, curled up with a smaller purring, drooling lump, then that is alright. This is about what my body and spirit need more than my ambitions and dreams.

There are many people that i fail – like my poor realtor who has never had a pristine house to show because i still live here alone, and have to work around both my health and being perpetually exhausted – but today, i am deliberately putting that guilt and shame aside. It flows out of me on my breath.

This is the day for me to be kind to myself.

If i can manage that, then i believe, the rest of those who depend on me will get better results in the end.

And for now, there is really nothing more healing than this moment of contented cuddling.

Howling at the moon

Right now, i feel like Godzilla.  i am stomping through-out my house, absolutely graceless, quivering with agony.

The dog must have eaten something particularly appalling, because he has been sick all day, taking out every blanket, towel, sheet and quilt covering every soft surface in the building. He even nailed one of the cats. If he weren’t still begging for food and acting ridiculously cheerful for one so gastrically challenged, i would be more worried.

Thankfully, i think he will make it through this prodigious mess.  For the past two hours, he has been content to sleep on yoga blankets on the floor.

As i watched him suffer today, i realized, i don’t think i am doing much better.  Most of the time, i force myself into this state of magical denial. All is well, my body loves me, i can do anything – and then, on the odd night, all the illusions are stripped away. No matter the power of distractions, i start to feel it. pileoartMy mind starts to list all the things that i have to do, projects on which i have fallen behind, all the price paid for my current situation. Between the physical discomfort and the psychological torment, i am reduced. What remains is the most brutal fundamental: i am suffering and right now, there is no miraculous solution.  i am stuck with this pain, with this frustration, with the sheets being slowly cleaned of various disgusting things, so i can’t even lay down and take what comfort that could bring.

Thwarted, i did what i do – i made art.  Now that my brain is coming back to itself, realigning after stopping the antidepressants, two qualities have returned to me: the need to create and the hatred for being idle.  No slack is given for feeling this desperately bad, other than to shift what work i would do.  Since i could not throw as i had planned – i started working on pen and ink drawings.  The stack above includes most of the poems and drawings of the past three days.

dieoflonelinessPoem after poem poured out of me.  Drawing after drawing.  i lost myself in the world of art, and delighted in it as long as my focus lasted.  For the past hour – between one and two am – the pain finally reached the stage where i could do nothing. i howled at the moon, absolutely impotent against this misery. But in the silence between breaths, i kept staring the pile o’ art i had made.  Tears of rage streaming down my face, i looked over some of my favorite poems from today. i was comforted.  One soothing thing in the middle of the boiling cauldron has been this recognition: i have finally become a champion of my art.  i love these poems.  The images are smooth and i find them lovely.

Even on a night like tonight, when i am shouting at the laundry for taking too long, when i am wild with distress, when i ranted at the moon about the injustice of these ridiculous burdens, i have made some beautiful things.

And, i am grateful, even in this agony.

Delinquency

i am now eighteen days past surgery and i cannot stop sleeping.  Well, i can, for very short spurts, long enough to take the dog out for a walk or to feed myself, but otherwise, i am back in bed with speed.

Thankfully, i have been writing, but there will be some substantial editing to do when i type these words in, once i have all my faculties going.  Right now, i find that the things that work best come in to me: reading, watching documentaries, listening to people.  Going out – writing, art, (God help me) work for clients – those are all taking inordinate amounts of time and energy.  If they can happen at all.  Yesterday i tried, i chained myself to the laptop and got halfway through one project, but then could do no more.  i was making foolish mistakes because my body was crying for rest.

If i am not careful, i will start chastising myself for this – thinking that this idleness is delinquency rather than recuperation. Half of the battle right now is to refrain from being mean to myself for what i perceive are shortfalls and weakness.

My doctor, last Friday, reminded me that i was still in recovery from the surgery.  She asked me to be kind to myself, to take it easy: no heavy lifting, no bending way down, rest as i need it. And i am doing exactly that, even if the frustration of it brings me to tears.

This means i am behind deadline, that the sink is piled with dirty dishes (again), that my heart aches because of all the things i want to do. Even when i am unable, my mind continues to create story and play with painting. Still, every other time i’ve had a major illness or injury, i ran back into the embrace of work, desperate for money but also desperate for the fulfillment and distraction that it brought.  This time, either at the worst or the best time for it, i am actually going to take care of myself.  Today, i will finish that project, and another, but it will be while swaddled in warmth and possibly interspersed with a nap or two…

The energy of pain.

If you were sitting across the table from me right now, watching me fidget and listening to me laugh too loudly, i would tell you: this is the energy of pain.  For months i have been retreating as often as i could into mediation and stillness. The sensation of being inside this skin was so overwhelming that i hid inside the sanctuary of solitude and quiet. As a result, my ability to listen to my body is stronger than it has ever been. So, trust me when i say that as i write these words, the energy of pain sings in high relief within my awareness.

Before it gets incapacitating, pain can create a perverse surge of energy.  Perhaps this is actually the need for distraction, building up inside until it starts to burble out in images, in stories, and in attempts to work that feel more like spasms than anything useful. Limbs cause enough discomfort to keep me from standing for a long time. Twelve days out of surgery, i have to keep myself from lifting heavy things. My body needs me to be conscious of my limitations.

The miraculous shift in my flesh has made such self-restraint chafe.  i want to do and go and be! The pain is so much better! Optimism so fierce that it borders on delusion has returned to my soul! Quietly, slowly, my internal engines of inspiration, discipline and resiliency have started to churn once more.

Months ago, i made a resolution to be kind to myself. i renewed the vow at the beginning of lent (giving up my tendency to verbally abuse myself when i am in distress.) However, after so long down, after ten months watching my circumstances disintegrate while my body could not function well enough to fix the problem, i am welcoming any energy that comes to me – even that which carries this unpleasant hue.  i cannot repress the feeling that all will be well, simply because one simple surgery could change so much.

My uterus, the tumors that were trying to break out of it, and about half the load of pain i had been bearing were removed in a four hour long operation. (According to one of the surgeons a tumor that was peeking out of the organ had its own tumors, like little unwanted ears.  No wonder the process of removal took some time.) The first thing i said when i came out of anesthesia was “Oh, my God, the pain is so much better.”  And in the days following surgery it became even more apparent. Recuperating at a friend’s house, i felt like i was taking advantage of her kindness.  Despite the incisions, i felt stronger and more able than i had for at least a year.

i can tell my body is wounded and healing.  This has done nothing to fix my hips or my problems with my spine, not to mention fibromyalgia, diabetes and the other health issues with which i struggle, but this current level of pain does not incapacitate me.  Even with the buildup of energy that i am experiencing right now, i am coherent enough to write. i am aware enough to be filled with ideas and inspiration.  i could literally burst with hope, simply because i am no longer feeling completely impotent inside my skin.

Before surgery, i kept thinking about my journey. The part of me that tried to get pregnant for twelve years mourned. All the hopes and dreams that i had lost over the years passed through me like shades, giving me the opportunity to ask them to leave, to be carried out of me with my womb.  Once the hysterectomy was finished, i was filled with a sense of peaceful closure. i will always feel some grief over the family i never had, but the contentment is greater. Even more profound, i accepted something that i had said before but never quite let settle down into my cells: i am the end of my line, which means, damn it, i need to stand up and make this journey worth all the trouble and suffering.

So, if you see me over the next few days, and i am bouncing or drifting on my feet, talking too fast about random things, getting so excited about the thought of making art and crafting story again, please forgive me. i believe i am finally able to dig myself out of this hole, and i am marshaling whatever forces i can toward that goal. The energy of pain can be off-putting to the people around me, i know, but please understand, i am giving thanks every single moment for the fact that my body’s burdens have grown lighter.

 

It has taken days to write this down…

For years, i have struggled with how personal i should allow this blog to get. It is an odd conundrum to have, given my general disposition. In conversation, i have very few boundaries. No personal embarrassment will stop me from making someone laugh.  As a poet, i am a spiritual and emotional exhibitionist. There is very little that i won’t write about, and have a peculiar lack of shame when it comes to flinging my secrets out into the world.  Think of a chimpanzee throwing it’s feces at random passers by, only substitute poems.  In rhyme or blank verse, i will describe any level of transgression or epiphany, love or suffering, without a thought.

If i appall someone with my poetry, after i am done celebrating my aim, i am quick to add: a poem is to a novel what a polaroid picture is to a movie – a tiny snapshot of reality, of Truth (if done well,) but not necessarily something eternal.  Writing can be an exorcism of sorts.  Once the words are down on paper, they do not haunt the heart.  These words may reflect a moment of profound grief or trauma, but that no longer apply to every moment of my existence.  Likewise, much to my shame, that moment of bliss and understanding might have also been swept away with the tide.  So, this temporary nature of the poem has left me feeling like the nakedness of the soul is appropriate.

Only, i have tried to walk a fine line here, in the prose, in this primary blog, between what i want to write about and what i deem appropriate for polite society.

Many people have told me that i already reveal too much and should back off.  Only, this afternoon, while i sit here waiting for glasses, i have no desire to be cagy or polite or wrap a cloak of denial over the situation in which i wallow.  This journey that i will be traveling for the next six months or so will require everything i have – keeping up a facade, or being vague about my problems, will not work.  Or, rather, it will take energy that i do not have to give, so today i will shed my inhibitions and tell you exactly what is going on with me.

Only, now that my defenses lie scattered around me on the floor, i suddenly feel shy. i have noticed that it is cold.  Perhaps i am remembering the loss of yesterday, twenty-four hours martyred to maudlin moaning and cuddling up in bed with animals.

A lot of what plagues my mind i have written about incessantly: a pitiful lack of courage, an over abundance of anxiety bordering on the ridiculous, continuing problems with my health, financial insecurity. These are all still present and strong – although, maybe, i am doing better against the depression/PTSD/anxiety than i thought, because i am still standing. In the parts of this blog focused on my spirituality, i have talked openly about despair and doubt as much as i have communion and joy.   

At least six months go, i reached the level of overwhelm that made coherent thought and action nearly impossible.  Instead of actively swimming through the currents of life, i have been thrashing, choking on the waves and spray, reacting but not able to move in a coordinated and productive manner.  i know this, so i have kept praying and begging and reaching out; my persistence fueled by desperation.  Only, with one tremendous, mind-boggling, life-altering blessing (the discovery that this world is filled with love and kindness) set aside for a moment, the rest of my troubles have continued on undaunted and undiminished.

What has my guts churning today, though, is my health.  i have to get a hysterectomy as my uterus is horribly swollen with tumors (biopsy pending) and even if they are simply fibroids (please! i have been praying ceaselessly on that score) this will be major surgery.  My right leg, because these things happen in groups, has been having problems working.  Indeed, there are times it will not work at all. Thank heavens i had company over Christmas that could move my leg when i was experiencing one of these brown-outs.  Unfortunately, now that company is back home and i am left swatting at my leg in the morning, trying to get it going. Thankfully, my dog, Darwin, seems to have more sense than me and does a laying on of paws to get me started.

At any rate, that too is surgery and my left leg has the same issue but somehow, magically, still works.

The glasses i am waiting for come because my vision has been steadily declining for the past couple of years – while so much of my hair has gone white that i have been turned into a blonde.  My primary concern, though, even before they hysterectomy and the hip surgery and the collapse of my finances (for with these injuries, no wonder my ability to run my small business has been horribly impeded,) is that i am diabetic.  i have to get my blood sugars under control. Three quarters of my problem is that when i am horribly stressed out, my sugars go sky high.  Once the stress abates, A1C gets better. 

But, when will the stress abate?  Sometimes i think that letting my life fall to pieces without a struggle would be less stressful than trying to get myself to change and be strong, fierce and fearless. Surely accepting powerlessness and submitting to the crappy things that have happened like they are some kind of judgment would feel more peaceful than demanding things from life (a living, health) that it seems so unwilling to give.

Yet, of course, here i am, pushing against the wall with all my might and demanding that it magically become a door. One of my friends – for these delightful people have been the awesome blessing that saved my life during the past eight months – keeps syaing that she knows i will be okay because i am the most stubborn cuss she’s met.  Part of me hopes she is right.  However, every time i push forward, doing something that i thought was impossible for me, i feel a quiet wave of pride and a huge inundation of WHAT WAS I THINKING?

#

Twenty four hours have passed since i wrote these words.  Glasses have made my world have sharp, clear edges again.  A seminar about selling your work at trade shows has taught me much.  But mid way through the class, i had an epiphany:

my path must be different than that of my classmates.

Simply put, i do not have the health to do major shows yet (or create the stock i would need) – perhaps in the summer or fall, but even then, by not applying for them now i will not be accepted into them.  Moreover, i am still substantially hampered in what art i can make.  So, i will have to forge my own path – taking advice from everywhere i can, gathering inspiration from the stories of artists who can pay their bills – but finding my own way. 

At least, as my heartbeat quickens with that realization, i can take comfort in the fact that i can finally see clearly again.

8-9 January 2015

missing days

It had been my goal to blog every single day remaining in 2015, but i missed two days for no reason other than overwhelm. In eight days, i am going to have an appointment about a hysterectomy and now i’ve discovered there is a serious issue with my hips that has been causing much of my pain walking, sitting, standing and generally moving. i knew i had a problem with my legs, that is what drove me to the doctor because i was desperate with pain and my right leg to stop farting off and not working, but really thought there would be a non-surgical option – “if you just do exercise a, you will get all better.”  Alas, that is not the case. So i will definitely have one, maybe two and possibly even three surgeries this winter.  If it weren’t for friends, i would have fallen into a puddle of self-pity.

Oh, but there have been miracles this holiday season.  For a week, i have help with the chores of life and business, and it has been delightful, but this temporary relief has explained why i struggle so much alone.  Having someone here to see the difficulty i have just standing up and walking much less trying to get serious work done, the pain i am in, my distracted focus, had the unexpected effect of making me understand i can be intensely cruel to myself. Friends have been saying this a lot, commanding me to “Stop insulting my friend this way!” when i go on a tear about how awful or lazy i am. However, it is different when someone sees you 24/7.  So much denial exists when i am alone; i can tell myself that i ought to be able to overcome anything, when i fail it feels like torment.  Looking about the house to see that which i have not finished, those jobs that i cannot manage, i give myself no quarter.  It has only through other, more compassionate eyes, that i can see, ‘Ah, yes, there is a reason for this.’ and ‘Oh, maybe this is not failure so much as a setback.’

In the next few months, i intend to get myself sorted – which, i can’t believe it so i will type it out again, will involve another surgery at least, but probably more than one.  The past twelve months have made me confront the limitations of my body in ways that i don’t particularly enjoy. However, denial has stopped working.  In order to be a fierce, strong woman i have to reclaim some health first.

Still, i cannot complain that much.  This year has been a miracle too. i have learned so much about myself, i have come so far from where i started this journey eight years ago.  The fact that i have gone through this financial and physical crisis without getting self-destructive is remarkable.  However, the biggest lesson needs to come to me in 2016: how to forgive myself for my weakness, how to forgive myself for what i see as failure (by redefining both failure and success?), and most of all, how to regard myself with confidence and treat myself with compassion.

From there, i believe the other things i need – better financial stability, a way to make my art feed me, writing a new story for myself – will fall into place.

As for tonight, the lesson is: i can fuck up and be forgiven. This is really miraculous for me.  Already i had learned that a tremendous amount of physical limitations and emotional chaos could be processed by others and they could still love me, but this kind of subtlety had been suggested but not proven. Yet here it is, proven tonight: i can make thoughtless mistakes, apologize from the heart, and be not only forgiven but still loved.

If another can do that kindness for me, then shouldn’t i aspire to do the same for myself?

poem: i would dance

Oh, i would dance
in the bright sunshine.

Let the cold breeze
lead me
in a scandalous waltz.

i would throw myself
into labors like Hercules,
moving mountains,
transforming the world.

Often,
the hardest thing
is to be quiet,
still,
to let the body
that craves action
and touch
to lie fallow
and heal.

My mind can race
the stars,
but today
these aching muscles
have nowhere
they have to go.

17 november 2015

a cat and a dog sleeping in each other's arms

poem: my skin craves

My skin craves
warm sunshine
while the rest of me submits
to the quiet,
insistent needs
of healing.

The world has contracted
to lovely soft rest,
filled with cuddling animals
and sensuous silence.

In this moment,
i need this womb.

It is a cocoon
in which i mend
and transform.

In an hour
the story may shift
to include
intense movement
and striving.

Only, right now,
body, mind and heart
dissolve
into words
and warmth.

31 october 2015