Tag: struggle

naked truth

For weeks, i have searched for a way to talk about this through fiction, because i did not want to dwell upon my personal experience more than i already have.  However, telling the truth is what i do best.  And, to be honest, part of the problem is that i do not want to ask for help.  i do not want to talk about what i cannot do alone.

The first person to mention the near impossibility of the situation i was creating for myself was my primary care doctor, just after my divorce.  “Without doubt, you qualify,” she assured me, “with the PTSD alone.” The physical problems – asthma, thyroid disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia (or whatever that diagnosis would be now), the back and hip problems – they would all be gravy.  She all but begged me to accept that I needed to apply for Social Security Disability.

Only, the statement strung me up between two different agonies.  i need to work, for i cannot quite give myself quarter for any suffering – mental, emotional, or physical – but simultaneously, i feel like i am dying by inches, pushing myself too hard.

Regardless of my bull-headed stubbornness, i am drowning financially.  Even though i am working as hard as body and mind are able, i quite literally cannot make ends meet.

This is not a new story, unfortunately.  Nor is it unique to myself.

Over $20,000 of medical debt hangs around my neck like a noose.  This is the aggregate due from years of issues: two major surgeries, a hospitalization, three trips to the ER, two ambulance rides, not to mention every deductible, copay, and uncovered medication. Add to that the small business loan that i got when things were going ridiculously well, that now feels like cement boots.  This past month, in order to pay them, even partially, i had to forgo food, gas money and put off the mortgage for about two weeks. If you want to make me cry, lets talk mortgages.  i finally got it refinanced, but now, eight months later, i will be two weeks late.  The angry letters have already started. Not only am i at a loss for utilities and the cats’ vet bills, i have no idea how to buy the medicines i need to treat the aforementioned diabetes, thyroid disease and despair.

Last night, i wept because the list of things i have bought recently would not stop going through my mind.  i purchased a lawnmower because the grass was as high as my nipples.  My car needed new breaks, because stopping can be a good thing. Then i got $12 of new shoes so that I would have something other than the $5 flip flops to wear to work.  For my birthday, i bought a $28 pair of wireless headphone so my constant need for music would not drive my new tenants to madness.  When i got a promotion at work, two days after my birthday, i celebrated by going out to eat.  Let me tell you, guilt is a terrible seasoning.

For a solid year, i have focused on the regular job that makes reliable money, but its paychecks cover the mortgage, the small business loan and maybe my car payments.  All other responsibilities make me seem like a deadbeat.  Only by the time i am done working this job and making some art, i am exhausted beyond all measure.  Things like selling art have languished.  Too many paintings and drawings are collecting dust.

When i first heard the word foreclosure – only to find out that the mortgage company with whom i had been working for months had sold my mortgage – i reached out to a mortgage specialist.  It was my first day in the studio after having shoulder surgery, and i was still unable to bend because i was awaiting a hysterectomy.  The pain i faced was intense.

“You have done everything right,”  he said gently, “I am looking at how you paid everything off until the medical bills began to pile up…”

i am still digging out.  This month, i am short.  Something will not be paid and i have no clue how i will get the cats’ vetted, my medication purchased or food bought.  Meanwhile, i continue to get messages from clients who have not paid me, asking me if these long standing health issues have vanished so that i can do more work for free. This perception that art or design is not work worthy of being paid for, or that the artist is not worthy of being recompensed for their effort, devastates.  If you value what i do, if you like my art, then this is the time to let me know.

A $100 would pay a bill.  After that, it would be a war within my heart over feeding and maintaining my animals and myself and paying other bills.  The past three years have been, quite literally, hand to mouth.  Desperation has made me put art up for sale again, despite the exhaustion and overwhelm, and with that i hope to at least get the cats to the vet.

However, i bleed over my financial failings.  To a large degree, it feels like i bet on myself and lost – but i knew before i started working as an artist professionally that my health was compromised. Only the call to make art is something fundamental to me, it cannot be denied.  i feel shame that i fell into such disability that i was unable to continue my business’ growth. This fuels my determination to make good on every debt.  Even if i am still making tiny installments when i am ninety, i will pay everyone, even the ones to whom repayment has not begun.  i tell myself – ceaselessly, hoping the repetition will hypnotize me into believing it is true – that things will get better.

Still, i never forget, i am the person who is reviled by those who talk about the poor like we are pariahs.  i have been utterly undone – more than once – because if ill health.  Even now, living paycheck to paycheck, the struggle to maintain this level of activity is punitive. Daily i am faced with the choice between taking care of my health and fulfilling the responsibilities placed upon me. Even making art or writing a poem comes at a cost, wearing me down further.

How else can i live, though?

Being able to work feels like a privilege – and one too many have thought i could not manage.  My friends who are on disability are much braver than i am, able to move down a path i could not.  Unfortunately, i know, someday i may have to follow them despite my best efforts, but for now i am doing every dance i can to keep myself from that excruciating choice.

Whether i like it or not, i have to spend money on food, gas, car and house repair and medicine.  Therefore, i have to burn the candle at every possible point, throwing my work out into this world, no matter how exhausted i am.  Even if i were content to make art in a vacuum, which i am not, i am not going to be able to survive without more income.

So, here i am.

For once i am being utterly transparent about my movies and situation: i need your help if i am going to keep going as a human being, much less as an artist.  Your support will keep my animals and me alive.  If you buy a painting, or a drawing, it clears space for another to come into being.

And, if you are in the same position i am financially, i will be grateful if all you do is share this story, spread word about my art, and use both to build compassion for those of who us toil on fulfilling our dreams and who work our hearts out to live on the razor’s edge between triumph and dissolution.

 

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For a few hours yesterday, i published this blog.  However, i woke up after a night of howling nightmares and put it back into draft mode. The dreams kept going back and forth over the same ground – my subconscious pacing – obsessed with the one thing that i had forgotten to mention.  This blog talks about how troubles that i face came to be and how i have to ground my hopes in art again which can only be done with your help. Talking about the naked truth of my current situation made me feel exposed, more than all the poetry that i have written combined.  Yet the thing that my dreaming kept reminding me of was that i should not be alive.  During the past few years of struggle with agony and illness, i have tried to kill myself twice.  Haunting despair crumbled my heart more than i could describe. It has been because of friendships, unexpected blessings and hard work that i am still here.  i have a job that gets me most of the way to solvency and for now, my health lets me manage it, even if the margin is narrow at times.  i have friends that are unbelievably good and slowly i am coming to terms with who i am at this moment, and beginning to appreciate this hot mess of being.

So, yes, I am asking for help, for understanding, for a sense that i am not howling into the darkness – but i need to leave this writing by telling you that i am so grateful to have made it this far.

beautiful, joyous women

imageFor the first time in quite awhile, i was able to sit down and draw. As i wrote in my last post, i have been having a hard time working up enough focus or heart to make any kind of visual art.  Only a handful of pen and inks and two half finished paintings had come, along with a very small amount of pottery.

imageSo, tonight, after the errands were done and the snow started to fall, i let myself be romanced by the beautiful incorrupt smoothness of good drawing paper.  Once more, as it has so many times the past eighteen months, i was struck by how much joy the fluid ink manifested, particularly given the aching pain still echoing in my emptiness.  Yesterday and today, i have felt a bit like i am coming back to myself, but the process is strange and surreal. Half the time, i feel like i am still completely lost.  The other half, i feel like a mason, laying brick after brick, rebuilding.  “The reconstruction goes slowly, ma’am, but the foundation will be more stable in the end.”

imageAt any rate, as i drew, my spirit lifted.  i realized that there is something for which i need to be more thankful: the gift of joy.  Even when traveling through perilous darkness, i have been able to steal moments of joy, beauty, fleeting seconds of grace. i have held them all in my hands, glowing shards of memory, to light my way in dark places.  Tonight, i got a chance to let my fingertips be a conduit for love and happiness i did not see within my heart at the time.  If such a blessing doesn’t remove the darkness, it will at least warm me through this frozen night.

 

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

What a difference a few days make…

loveI write with a certain trepidation, because this seems too good to be true. Knock on wood for me.

While I certainly don’t want to jinx it – and I continue to suffer from some financially induced panic (doing homework for a small business class and paying the bills and buying groceries, omg! Overload!) – I think that maybe my mood has turned the corner.

If you’ve read this blog at all this winter, well what meager offerings I have been able to post, you will have noticed that I have been suffering somewhat. While I know that the troubles I experience are a result of my own decisions, like choosing to work in the arts rather than embrace the insanity that would come with stifling these impulses, the big ugly unavoidable problem has been my health. Without good insurance, there was nothing I could do but move from crisis to crisis, with small periods of vulnerable stability.

My lungs gave out in a big way over the last week and a half, as well as a few other things (back, dislocated fingers, etc.) Because I had previously had to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get maintenance meds per month (which I could not afford) I had been doing without anything to treat my asthma. Until I would get bronchitis. Or pneumonia. Or have an attack so bad that I was passing out. For awhile, I would bankrupt myself to get the meds to keep me alive, but then I would get a bit better, and not be able to justify bankrupting myself again the next month when I could technically breathe. I cannot express how much of the debt I carry is because of medical expenses – one month’s massive need making me have to charge other things like food or being charged themselves. It has been a vicious cycle.

At the beginning of the year, I found out that my cheap but terrible health insurance was getting canceled. Starting Feb 1st, I signed up for a plan with Maine Community Health Options. It costs me over $150 more a month ($380 A MONTH – another cause of financial panic) and seemed to be not much better than the other plan. Until I went to the doctor on Wednesday.

I found out my new health insurance covers my asthma meds! She gave me refills on all four prescriptions that keep me breathing (along with an extra to kick start my lungs and help with the back and hand) and I only had to pay $60. All of them together would have been at least $400 before. I stood there at the pharmacy, nearly weeping with thanksgiving. And this isn’t a one time deal. I will be able to get these meds as long as I can find that $380 a month. The big expense of that $60 was a rescue inhaler, which I might not even need if the maintenance medications keep coming into my hands.

I have only had these asthma medications for three days (Hosanna in the highest!) and already I feel so much stronger and less overwhelmed. Of course, I still have enough work on my to-do list to have three people doing overtime, and probably always will since I am a sole proprietor/artist. Truthfully, I am really not less broken – I still have asthma, after all – not to mention diabetes, thyroid disease and irritating neurological issues. But, with the medication, I can treat at least this one problem well enough to enjoy the movement of air through my lungs rather than wanting to cry with each breath’s pain.

A small thing, really, but something so delightful it is hard to explain its full impact.

The effects of this blessing spill over into evdancingtreeoflifeerything, too. Today, running errands, I was able to spend money on groceries (AARRGG!!! The Spending Money Guilt!!!) and lug them to my car without the help of a friend. She got to go home and sleep before her night’s work! The blessing expands out into the world.

Even the financial stress seems solvable on some level, because if I can breathe without it taking all my energy, and get stronger, maybe even treat my endocrine issues better (will insurance pay for that too?!?), then what new avenues have opened up for me? It boggles the mind!

The only thing that jars my mood, unsettling my celebration a bit, has been this thought: what mountains could I have moved if I had the right to healthcare? How much better off would my business be if I hadn’t had to struggle for breath during these last six years? How many other people cannot afford maintenance medication for issues like diabetes or asthma, and wind up lurching from crisis to crisis. Now my health insurance is still bare-bones. If I have a major crisis – an accident, get some life-threatening disease – I will absolutely financially implode (high deductable! lots of things still not covered!). Ah, but I do not want to dwell on the negatives and the injustice of healthcare in the US right now. I am deep in a state of (anxious) gratitude.

I want to tell you that being able to breathe deeply, to feel air fill all the functioning areas of my lungs without labor, to be able to hold it for just an instant without coughing, to release that breath without searing pain – this is JOY. This is a blessing. This is something marvelous – and this alone has helped to conquer despair.

too stupid to be my friend

I feel like I should be writing about really important stuff.  Only, I am preoccupied with the stress. My health is crippling my ability to function as a human being.  Thankfully, I still seem to have poetry and pen and ink drawings oozing out of me, but other aspects of creativity have been hampered.  I have not had enough energy to throw; my attention  span (or, rather, the lack thereof) has stalled my novels. And without every medium distracting me from the struggle of running the business and trying to sell my art, I get lost to anxiety.  I am a paradox:  a psyche absolutely at sea without new art coming through me, enjoying this huge engine ready to create, and simultaneously suffering from this massive ignorance as to how to sell my work.

Every once in a while this feels like a strange form of prostitution, convincing people that the work of my hands, something so intimate and personal to me, are worth their money and appreciation.

It is when I am in this kind of state that I make stupid decisions.  I flounder and become easily susceptible to suggestion.  Thankfully, I know it – so I seek out the counsel of others.  My friends keep me reasonable, even if they have to tell me if I go down this path or that I will be too stupid to be their friend anymore. I listen, and every once in a while I even obey.

Depression wears me down.  My limits glare at me.  All I feel competent to do is make art – so I throw myself into it, hoping it will save my life.

 

ow

Last Saturday, I hurt my back.  For the past few days, I managed to either ignore the pain or work through it.  Unfortunately, denial did not endure forever.  Last night, I barely managed to function as a human being – I was reduced to tears loading the kiln – and today I have not wanted to push it too far. Standing in the studio, I looked at the filthy floor so desperately in need of cleaning, the list of things that need to be thrown immediately, the other kiln that needs to be loaded. I knew better than to attempt any of it, lest I be in this state for many more days. So, after I did what I absolutely had to – cleaning the work table for tonight’s event – I came upstairs to write.

As soon as I could coax my back into a more comfortable position, the world became a better place.  The book is treating me well, flowing quickly, and I am grateful.  The only catch has been my frustration over not doing what I feel like I should be doing. Shoulds and oughts can really ruin a moment if I let them. My sense of responsibility carries a vicious whip. This seems like a cheat, really, to be writing instead of throwing.  In a sense, this is a study in patience: I have to hold myself back so I will not make my pain worse.  On another level it feels totally hedonistic, because I want to keep going with this story.

Mostly, I’m grateful that my life is structured so that I can redirect my impulse to create into what I can do at a given moment.  I can sit on the couch and throw myself into poetry, this story, and the brainstorming that will become the next story.  I am blessed and joyous…  as long as I don’t try to lift anything terribly heavy, move sharply or stand for too long.