Trusting Myself to Build Healthy Relationships After Surviving Narcissistic Abuse

Into the Fire

Sometimes, mental illness makes me overly reactive. Other times, as I’m “coming back,” I retain that “edge” needed to take constructive action towards the situations that actually needed it, all the tiny things that simmered low on my priority list because I had more important fires to tend. But even though fire burns, I remain grateful for its role in purification.

“Pre-menstrually we tap into our firepower — our ability to rage and destroy. … The greatest gift of our moon time is in learning to clear space and enter the darkness, in order to be reborn as fertile, creative beings once more. We learn that this letting go, this cocooning in the darkness, is integral to our health. Again and again we must learn to be comfortable in the formlessness of transformation, and rest in the mystery.”

— from Burning Woman, by Lucy H. Pearce

In the past, this edge had sometimes been the only thing connecting me to my power, the only thing to show me that the things I was upset about actually had merit and deserved greater attention. Lucy also paraphrases this very astutely in her other book, “Moon Time”:

“I use the sword of my intolerance to cut deep and true. I keep hold of my vision and manifest it.”

I can think of no better metaphor than this. Allowing the innate wisdom of our frustrations to guide us to their roots, the one place from which we can actually enact change, because we’re finally courageous enough to look at why these seeds have sprouted in the first place. So maybe…

Maybe I should pay more attention when people breeze past painful details I’ve chosen to privately share with them, because that’s a clear sign they lack empathy.

Maybe I shouldn’t keep any digital platform that worsens my mental health, especially just to stay in touch with people who have lots of other ways to stay in contact with me, if they wanted.

Maybe it’s okay if I don’t want to be the only one who tries to keep in touch, 100% of the time.

Maybe I shouldn’t give privileged access to my life to those who only want to be spectators, or to those who only want to get involved in the fun parts. Maybe it’s okay to not be okay with that.

Maybe I should remind everyone that you are not entitled to anyone’s personal information just because you ask kindly, because kindness should not be a manipulation tactic.

Maybe I should remind everyone that my “no” demands as much respect as my “yes,” and that I will not be coerced into feeling a sense of obligation to perfect strangers.

Maybe it’s okay to trust my intuition when things don’t add up and I feel someone isn’t being honest with me.

And maybe I’ll try appreciating myself more for carefully selecting the people with whom I’d like to build long-lasting friendships from here on out, instead of chastising myself for being cautious.

Because I want and need to get back to offering myself to this world, and maybe it’s finally safe for me to believe I CAN manage my new mental and physical limits, and get back to living within them on my own terms, instead of constantly apologizing for not being able to meet everyone else’s.

Responsibility

For the longest time I’ve been trying to find the right way to interact with others, as a survivor of all types of abuse. For example I used to think it was normal to build a relationship with someone emotionally unavailable, because in my formative years it was very dangerous to have my own needs, emotional or otherwise. What better way to emulate not having your needs acknowledged than to pursue someone who would never acknowledge them?

I think that’s another reason me being unable to be there for anyone during my recent downward spiral, affected me so drastically. It’s no secret I live with obsessive compulsive disorder, which constantly tells you that you’re an awful creature who’s going to end up hurting everyone and then tries to convince you secretly like hurting people. (Oh, did you think OCD was just hand washing?) So while all my mental illnesses were jacked up on steroids, OCD really latched onto the idea that by taking time for myself to heal, I was the abuser, now. It makes no rational sense, but such is disorder. Anyway.

Narcissistic types are drawn to people like this, and those struggling with codependency: people-pleasers with an addiction to approval and/or relationships, who feel their only value lies in being who or what someone else wants. I’ve been a recovered codependent for years now after at least ten years of treatment, but I still attract narcissists because they are also drawn to compassionate, empathetic people who enjoy listening to and validating others; you know, people who will give them their “supply” of attention.

Sometimes it’s still hard to trust myself about this, initially. When I start to like a person I immediately think, “What if I only like them because subconsciously they’re exhibiting behaviors that mimic those of the pathological human beings I grew up with, and this is just another quick dead end?” That does happen to me quite a bit, but that’s the chance any of us take in attempting a new relationship. Now, I can spot the red flags relatively quickly and be on my merry way, instead of wasting years in unfulfilling one-sided relationships that I unfortunately tolerated.

When things aren’t working out in your relationships, you have to ask yourself: Which patterns do I keep repeating, and what is my role in it? What are you putting up with that you probably shouldn’t? What do you need yet aren’t actually requiring of anyone? To put it bluntly, what aren’t you requiring of yourself?

It’s uncomfortable being around those who don’t have empathy, but if I see the red flags and still keep them in my life, I’m just as much responsibile as they are, for the pain that comes from being around them. You know the Maya Angelou quote by now: “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”

It’s painful when others don’t want to keep in touch with you unless you’re the one bridging the gap, but if you’re always the one meeting everyone else on their terms, you will eventually discover some friendships existed ONLY because you were meeting them on their terms.

And it’s jarring when people pop back into your life out of no where feigning interest in your well-being, only to disappear into the background again if you happen to be in a rough patch. But I’m the one who has to look that dead in the face and decide either “Yes, I’m okay with this person only being in my life in this superficial way,” or “No, I’m absolutely NOT okay with opening my life up to people who only show interest in being spectators, not friends.”

In other words, my dears, there comes a point in your healing from abuse where you understand you are no longer a passive victim but an active participant in the way your life and relationships are unfolding. When you know better you do better, etc. Victims don’t have any responsibility for their situation; that’s why they are a victim. This means they don’t have any power, either. That’s also why they are a victim. We may have been made victims in the past by predators of all varieties, but now, we are transitioning to survivors, which means we not only get to take responsibility for our healing, but we also have the privilege of taking responsibility for whatever new relationships we build along the way. We’ll make lots of mistakes, but don’t worry: Mistakes are just a natural part of burning through toxic bridges and outdated ways of existing, so that the fresh new ground underneath–fertile, healthy foundation–can finally be revealed.

Strength

I am a creature of many strengths, but I must regularly take inventory that I haven’t surrounded myself with people incapable of showing love. I have to remember that with my gifts of knowing how to make people feel heard, accepted, and appreciated, comes the extra need to protect those gifts from those who just want to take advantage.

I finally trust myself now to not be afraid of my own boundaries or the reactions of others once I set them. I finally see that it’s not my fault I attract predators, that boundaries are okay, and FOR ONCE–even if it’s only this very moment that I type this–I DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. It’s one thing to think these things and live by them just on their virtue, but now I actually FEEL this truth; the gentle power and mutual respect that lies within every human’s right to set healthy emotional boundaries.

The fact that anyone gets confronted with another’s healthy boundary and then runs away, is just a tell-tale sign they don’t like being told “no.” And I’ve realized that if someone is too weak to hear my “no,” they will never be able to handle my “yes.” They will never be able to handle me, at all. I am a force to be reckoned with, and I need to start surrounding myself with other strong, loving people who can handle everything I am. Sure I have difficult patches, but everyone does, and OCD be damned, that doesn’t make me a monster. I need more people in my life who know their worth, who recognize their resilience, who can hold their own, and who see boundaries as a sign of another healthy individual.

You see, narcissists can’t handle being around strong people. That’s why the moment you show them you have a backbone–that you can say “no,” that you aren’t afraid to speak up for your needs–they find another target or lash out, because they know if you’re not looking for others’ approval they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to trying to manipulate you. You can’t be controlled by fear, obligation, guilt, or them playing the victim by being offended. There’s certainly a large gradient between “immature” to “narcissist” and then further down the line to “psychopath,” but I am DONE surrounding myself with these types. Any of them. All of them. I’ve had enough to last me twelve incarnations. For all I know it’s already BEEN twelve incarnations of me trying to do exactly what I’m doing right now: Learning day by day, month by month, year by year how to keep energetic vampires out of my life.

Recovery

I learned I do have multiple sclerosis. More specifically, the official diagnosis as of right now is “Clinically Isolated Syndrome,” one of the MS disease courses, which can present with or without optic neuritis; mine presented with, hence those particular symptoms. There’s less than a 15% chance I won’t have another attack, and a 95% chance this IS caused by my untreated neuroborreliosis (Lyme disease). This isn’t my first attack, or even my first documented attack, but since the last one (that they found by accident while I was hospitalized) was attributed to “post-infectious demyelination” or “atypical MS,” and most doctors hold the belief that neuroborreliosis and multiple sclerosis are not related, the “official” diagnosis–clinically isolated syndrome, atypical MS, relapse-remitting MS, neuroborreliosis–will change depending on which doctor I see and their level of understanding my history.

I am now mostly recovered from this most recent attack, and my ophthalmologist confirmed last week there has been NO permanent damage to my optic nerves! Also over the last couple of months, I’ve successfully been able to manage my problem of becoming too easily overstimulated, and I’ve been learning to identify the tiny things that precipitate a shutdown. For example I’m able now to share with people that I need to retreat, before I need to retreat, before I feel forced to disappear without any warning at all.

I’m also significantly better cognitively, after a short course of antibiotics for some random infection back in March. Maybe Lyme or Mycoplasma is playing a role, or it’s the PANS/PANDAS–an autoimmune disease that first presents in childhood which causes my body to attack my own brain when I’m battling any infection–or it could be related to the MS and its own inflammatory process in my nervous system. Or some combination of all of it, who knows. But! What I do know, is that I knew I knew I KNEW this wasn’t just something I was doing to avoid life!!

After finally coming out of my extended mental and physical relapse, after seeing the results of my lumbar puncture, after getting the diagnoses from my neurologist and ophthalmologists, and feeling my profound improvement after antibiotics, I feel… It’s as if I can trust myself again, because it gave me solid proof that my brain really was significantly altered, and it had very little to do with me “choosing” to isolate. I isolated because my brain was trying to process trauma, while being inflamed by lots of extra immune cells, while trying to prevent neurodegeneration and/or blindness, while fighting pathogens literally designed to spiral into my brain tissue, AND I have an autoimmune disease that makes these processes not only cause new mental illness but exacerbate all the preexisting ones. It makes perfect sense why I was unable to function normally or converse at any length.

I spent months rationalizing everything to the end point that I must just be inherently careless and awful. And I had started to believe it. Now I know better.

And if it happens again, instead of being terrified that I’ll lose everyone I love, I will know what steps to take to attempt treating the symptoms, AND feel more confident that I can share with whomever happens to be present that this is literally a symptom of disease, not just maladaptive behavior of my personal choosing. Between that and having unlearned the unproductive coping mechanisms I tried along the way, I have so much more faith that I will be able to deal with whatever happens…WITHOUT believing the guilt.

As I think my writing showed, I was making a lot of progress, and finding significant healing, until the flood happened… I feel back on track now.

Burning Women

Thank you Lucy, for teaching me and millions of other women that the energy in I’ve Had Enough doesn’t automatically have to be feared, especially for those of us who’d never seen it used correctly:

“In the heroine’s journey we realise that the dragon lies not in a far-off land, but curled within. And so we are called inwards. Into the dark cave of our unconscious. …

“This power is mine. I have come to claim it.” Repeating it until you, and the dragon, know it for truth. …

And suddenly the danger is gone. No fight necessary. That dragon had sat on your power for so long it had come to believe it was its own. You had spent so many years listening to the myths of the dragon, hearing him growl within, you got so scared of these stories, that you never thought to come and meet him for yourself. The dragon never was your enemy. The treasure never was his. It’s yours. It always was. All he was doing was waiting for you to claim it, protecting it from those who would steal or misuse it. He knew his job was to protect it until you were able to care for it as fiercely as he. Until you knew yourself as its rightful owner. Until this great wealth would be used wisely, not to do damage to yourself or others. Until you were learned enough in the ways of the world not to squander it or give it away. That was his sacred role, as your greatest ally and protector. …

[W]e are brought up to hand over our power, to let others take care of it, and ourselves, in exchange for us taking care of them, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It is a heavy burden, one usually done unconsciously, and yet expected culturally. A woman who is not willing to engage in this exchange is usually shamed as selfish and immature. But it is an exchange. So as Burning Women we make a new deal: I take back my power, and I learn to take responsibility for myself…and you in return take responsibility for yourself. We may share ourselves and our lives, experience deep love, care, intimacy and connection, but we are each the keeper of our own power. This is the move from co-dependency — the model engendered by our culture — into independence. Intimacy, penetration and sharing through choice, and consent, not obligation.”

Burning Woman

Thank you Marianne Williamson for also shining the Light on this topic with one of my favourite quotes from you:

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

And thank you Roshi Joan Halifax, for eloquently explaining the value of anger–again, especially for those of us who’d never seen that used correctly, either–when you spoke these words:

“I think one has to understand anger in perspective. Anger, for one thing, has within it the seed of wisdom associated with clarity, with discernment. If you cut the value of anger out of your experience, in a way you’re taking some of the structure that allows us to see clearly into things as they are. So the seed of wisdom in anger is discernment. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, our anger toward the experience of disempowerment that is going on… We should be angry. And that sense of moral outrage, in other words the violation of equity. . .gives us the arousal level necessary to mobilize ourselves into action.

“And it’s essential that we act. We can’t just sit there, gaze at our navel, and say it’s all love.

“Love does not mean that we are passive in the face of harm. I think Martin Luther King was clear about the relationship between love and justice. Anything that stands in the way of love is unjust. The absence of justice points to the absence of love. So I don’t separate love and justice in this regard. I see them as intimately intertwined.”

— Be Here Now Network: Mindrolling Ep. 183 – “The Integration of Justice and Love”

Until next time,

Kit


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This one is for you.

[ estimated reading time: 4 minutes 27 seconds ] © a rainbow at night
Dear reader,

As you may have discerned by now if you’ve been witness to the longest unintentional hiatus this blog has ever undergone, my creative expression has been paralyzed lately. Not only due to the sheer mass of change, but the rate at which it’s taken place. That’s not the only reason by a long-shot, but it’s the quickest explanation I can give.

For the past several years, my posts have mostly read as a chronological account of everything I’ve experienced and how I’ve felt about it, generally accounted for as it happened. Up until recently, I didn’t realize the latter was actually a luxury, and one I could lose. Again, I’m circumventing a lot, but after a certain point that way of writing became impossible, because to write anything new first required procuring necessary back story; that itself became impossible, because I’ve been coping with unprecedented difficulties concerning processing and integration. How could I summarize for others what I was unable to decipher for myself?

There was also guilt involved. One post in particular I made last year was about finally experiencing an extended period of emotional stability after killing off the bartonella (infections). Yet fast forward and what came next were some of the most daunting and powerful months I’ve ever experienced, and they were anything but serene, anything but peaceful, with no stability, save for that quiet place inside my soul. I didn’t know how to magically jump from what I wrote before, to that, without any explanation in between. It was inconceivable. I was afraid my inability to appropriately narrate the explanation would make it seem like I’d just been avoiding my emotions until I could no longer keep up the denial and hit a brick wall. Which was not/is not true at all. Continue reading “This one is for you.”

A Very Special Way of Life

© a rainbow at night

I’m not used to living this kind of life. It’s so different from what I was supposed to have.

I barely see anyone. I barely go anywhere. I have no local friends and I think I’ve permanently lost my ability to drive. Disease puts me in bed an average of 23 hours per day, or at least to somewhere I can lean back and my legs are propped up to ensure proper circulation. When you tell people these things, they immediately pity you and interpret it as a bad kind of life, or a sad kind of life. “Oh you poor thing…” But I feel neither sad nor pitiful. And if you knew how much worse things actually could have been, you’d understand that only 23 hours in bed is a fucking miracle.

What I actually feel is peace, and I’m content and I’m happy and this fact truly boggles my mind.

This isn’t complacency. I know intimately the “lurking dangers” of this life and never have my head in the clouds–it’s not my style. Just last month I tried an herb that had once helped me for seven years; it failed. The month before I temporarily stopped a medicine I was on to see if it really makes a difference; it does. Two weeks ago I upped another med because one of my symptoms has worsened. And I’m only narrowly avoiding having to start a new neuropathy medication. Meanwhile, with much help I’ve planted spider lilies and a peach tree as investments in the future, bought a chaise lounge for my back porch so I can be outside more, have written and advocated a lot (obviously), put new wind-chimes directly outside my bedroom window, made reservations for a four-day beach vacation with my family next month before it gets too hot, because four days means at least one of those days I’ll be able to actually see the beach…

And I also have neurologist, immunologist, pain management, primary care, and endocrinologist appointments, although I struggle immensely with getting to them. As well as four semi-important blood tests to do that will probably never actually get done because I’m sorry, it is just not possible that someone as ill as myself can awaken and get up four hours earlier than usual without any caffeine, any pain medication, or any food, while having autonomic neuropathy, suicide-levels of pain, and pre-diabetes thanks to polycystic ovarian syndrome…

No, I’m not complacent.

There’s no wool over my eyes so that I can smile in the opposite direction. I’ve spent enough of my time in emergency rooms and hospitals and grieving the deaths of others from my same diseases that a bubble of blind optimism offers me no protection. Nor have I given my resignation to life, although I know I’ve exhausted my treatment options. Even if this was as good as it ever got, I’ve done enough living for many lifetimes, I think. And when the theatre season picks up next month I do have plans to go and to see. There’s a choir, another chamber orchestra, another beach, another ballet, all evenly spaced so that I’ll have time to rest then go then rest again to ensure my attendance at the next.

But for the past four months I’ve been what can only be described as a recluse, and I am so perfectly fine with it, that my peaceful surrender actually gave me pause. I had to stop and make sure nothing was wrong with me, that I wasn’t secretly anxious or scared or complacent or depressed or suffering a lack of motivation, because in my naiveté I thought those were the only reasons anyone could be in their own company for as long as I have and not crave “more.” As it turns out, my definition of “more” has changed dramatically, and being peaceful this consistently just isn’t something I’m used to, so I’ll sit with it for a while until I understand it fully, like Buddha under the Bodhi tree.

Most of my life has been spent in some form of chaos. Even growing up, I had no idea what it meant to relax, although ironically I never put it together that such a hellish environment was the very definition of stress, because that fact was so vehemently denied by the chaos-makers in favor of the illusion of happiness. It occurred to me later in life that this may be why I only accept authenticity and facing life head-on: I know what it feels like to be surrounded by fake emotions and others’ delusions instead of reality, and I never, ever want to live that way again. Life is much less frightening when you face it, trust me. There is safety in the truth.

Even though this is the kind of life that most would consider boring–especially my fellow Americans–I am so happy, and my quiet existence fills me with such joy. After living chaotically for such a long time, there’s now a sweet comfort in my predictable routines, an intense pleasure to be found in what most call mundane. The paradox is that I’m faced with allowing myself this happiness.

Confronted with better alternatives to old toxic patterns, there’s a bridge I must cross every time solutions seem too easy, too good to be true. I used to feel guilty for feeling calm amongst awful situations that were tearing other people apart, situations that in fact used to tear me apart, also. You think I just woke up like this one day? Oh, definitely not.

I still remember where I was the first time I noticed everyone around me was crumbling under a crisis, yet I, instead, was overcome with internal peace, finally aware that I could still not only feel calm, but I could actually be the calm, even as I acknowledged the situation’s dark potential. The difficult part was no longer finding that quiet internal space, but allowing myself to be as okay as I sincerely felt, and understanding it didn’t mean I was any less concerned than everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s how everyone else interpreted it even as I openly expressed otherwise, but you can’t please everyone.

I’m learning to be okay with this type of stability.

People do everything they do because they want to be happy, feel safe, have an impact on the world around them, and live in harmony. I used to think there was only one way for me to get there.

Thank goodness I was wrong.

a rainbow at night


See also:

“Of Course It’s Easy For YOU” Syndrome

© a rainbow at night

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” (Oscar Wilde)

So how do you respond when someone looks at something you’ve worked your ass off for and thinks you only got it because the odds just fell into your favor? How do you process this inherent invalidation of all your struggles, and what does it mean about the person who said it?

When I look back at all that I’ve done over the past year, it really blows my mind. And I did it all because I first made the choice to live and enjoy within the confines of my circumstances, just like I did last year. I set in my mind what I wanted, made whatever arrangements I could on my own to help them manifest, and let the Universe work out the rest based on what I needed to experience.

If I wasn’t supposed to have something yet (or at all), well it wouldn’t have been from my lack of trying.

None of it would have happened if I just blindly accepted the identity of “sick person” that most family members and even doctors wanted to give me; that for too many years I gave to myself, as well. With this identity comes the belief that you must wait until you’re better before you can enjoy your life, whereas nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to long-term or chronic illness.

But in general people don’t want to hear that. Some don’t even want to hear about all that I was able to experience (although I’ve already written about my past endeavors-while-sick), and that’s okay. I know the things I lived, I don’t need further documentation. And because it involved a lot of travel, I don’t imagine they’d be all that interesting to anyone else, anyway, in the same way slide shows of your vacations need to be ambushed upon unsuspecting house guests if you plan to share them.

I might be a little biased on this next part, due to people continuously asking my advice on how to get something I have (emotional freedom and the like, usually), yet being very unwilling to actually do anything that’s even mildly uncomfortable in order to get it. Then they turn around and play this card:

They wish something in their life was as “easy” as I “seem to have it.”

More than a few people have said that to me within a week’s time, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Because nothing–absolutely nothing–has come easy for me. No one comes to acquire the traits that make life’s difficulties seem “easy,” because life actually WAS easy. No, they arise from having had so much hardship that you eventually learned coping mechanisms to deal with them. Even still, what one might perceive as my ease of living is actually my choice to experience it as such, and I’ve crossed over mountains to get to this place from where I was, because I was not raised to be peaceful. (Please read that. Okay?)

But people only hear what they want to hear, and until they’re ready to change, they resort to, Of course YOU did it, you [insert excuse for why it’s easier for everyone else besides them]. Or else they want to be spoon-fed the exact steps they need to take, as to (1) only do and invest as much work as is necessary and (2) eliminate the natural consequence of following less-strictly-defined steps: fear and anxiety.

This “Of Course It’s Easy For You” Syndrome is also troubling because it’s an unconscious confession of (more fear) self-sabotage. This is inventing excuses for why you can’t have what someone else has, to convince yourself not to even try. It’s giving yourself an “out” based on an external factor out of your control, or something internal you perceive yourself not to have but which someone else does, helping substantiate your belief that the situation is out of your hands.

But if you want things to be easier, it doesn’t start with changing your circumstances, because you can only manipulate your circumstances to the extent that you realize what is really yours to control.

And that all starts with manipulating you.

Society tells us from the day we step outside that your life is supposed to be about getting from point A to point B, and to pass your days filling in the rest with your to-do list of how to accomplish that. But that’s incorrect. Our lives aren’t defined by only the big decisions, goals, and occurrences. However much impact they have on the rest of our days, those major game-changers are few and far between.

Life is mostly made up of all the little moments you encounter between those perceived checkpoints. It’s all the smaller things you do day in, and day out, that make up the most of your life and help determine your happiness. You can have a radically different life without changing a single external circumstance, because the only common denominator in your entire existence, is You. In other words:

When it comes to enjoying your life and finding peace, it has nothing to do with someone else having something you don’t.

And I guess that’s why it doesn’t matter too much to me anymore to explain all that I’ve been able to do, even while sick. Although reaching those goals was inexplicably amazing, it’s the process of living and thinking that helped me manifest them at all, which holds the most value in the long run. And that’s the part I really want to share with this blog.

a rainbow at night

Reflections on a Year Lived with Illness

Welcome to 2014. May all beings be peaceful.∞May all beings be happy.∞May all beings be well.∞May all beings be safe.∞May all beings be free from suffering.

I had all sorts of things planned following the end of my treatment. It delivered me a burst of energy, alongside my new-found awareness that if there was anything I wanted to do, I needed to do it now. And I had so much on my heart to do, experience, and visit. And I did them all! But I think it led me to believe there might be something wrong with me, now, for not wanting to do so much. The truth–which I just realized after starting a documentary called Raw Faith–is there simply isn’t anything calling to me right now. In perfect honesty, I feel I’m being called to let go of so much, now. And maybe that is okay! If every season is beautiful, and nature is perfect, then maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and what I’m supposed to be doing right now, is just this. I’ve spent a lot of brain cells wondering if I had unintentionally turned off my intuition in the wake of so much loss from the past few months. Until today, it never occurred to me I could still be right “on track,” even in my assumed inactivity.

Last year was a whirlwind, but mindfully so. I wanted to visit close friends, revisit old friends, make new friends and visit with them, too; visit with family I’d never seen, or rarely saw; I did all of this. And I wanted to get out more because I was so tired of only ever getting out for doctors… And did I!

I spent three weekends in a row in the French Quarter, and for my birthday I stayed there for a week. I went to orchestras, ballets, aquariums, zoos, beaches, coffee houses, new restaurants, tea rooms, historic landmarks, stayed in the ritzy hotels with ocean views and two-room suites, swam in water fountain pools, saw the Dalai Lama, learned more French, took up Tai Chi, redecorated my room, sold my car for a newer one, “read” a new audiobook every month, dressed up for every holiday, spent my birthday with my best friend, fell in love, bought tons of flowers, ate tons of amazing food, took tons of amazing pictures, listened to tons of amazing music, and saw tons of amazing films, in theatre instead of at home.

I also slowly but surely upgraded my technology (even my bed) to better suit my ever-changing needs, from a bluetooth speaker that negates the need to get up and change CDs, to a television that’s now mounted on my bedroom wall with a resolution I can actually see and the colors of which I feel are a spiritual experience. These things made being in bed in between all of those excursions–with however much pain and relapse–much more easy to bear. I only went to the ER twice.

There was also heartache. When you begin to change, either your circle of friends changes along with you, or the Universe asks that you let them go. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever; most aren’t, actually. One friend and I parted ways early in the year, but it was safe to find closure, so we did. Another had patterns of making it unsafe to share my feelings, so it didn’t end with the closure I’d hoped, but I ultimately had to let them go, too; at least I learned self-care from it. Another simply didn’t wish to find closure, and left. Two did that, actually. I had a girlfriend for several months, but due to dishonesty it ended badly, even though I am thankful for the lessons it brought, including a profound awareness of my own commitment to authenticity, something I am entirely unwilling to sacrifice for anyone or anything. Little did I know, I had already met the woman I would fall deeply for, afterward… ;) She and my best friend for the past thirteen years, join me in 2014.

© a rainbow at night

I don’t expect this year to be like the former. I guess for a while I expected to have a similar desire for activity, but I don’t, and I’m okay with that now. My fatigue is so much more prominent, though my pain levels have stabilized for now. In March, a good friend and I shall attempt to drive to California to see the Redwood Forest and San Francisco. That’s my big plan for this year, but even if we only end up driving aimlessly, instead, it will be wonderful to adventure with someone who shares my appreciation of nature.

You may have heard the quote, it doesn’t matter what you do as much as who you’re being while you do it. 

Who do you want to be for the next 334 days?

a rainbow at night

I’m No Longer at War with My Body

© a rainbow at night

Today marks the 11th year of my getting the virus that triggered M.E. — 13 years total of living with chronic illness.

And I feel really good right now, emotionally. Like I’m doing everything possible to ensure my body will function its best for as long as it can. I sleep enough, eat well, get proper nutrition with lots of what I need and still have things I enjoy, like ice cream. I drink a lot of water, supplement for my genetic things and muscle dysfunction with the appropriate foods and pills, but have medicine to reduce the inflammation. I also take what I need to help out my neurotransmitters, and manage severe pain. My feet get massage to slow the neuropathy. I get whatever exercise I can without causing disease progression. I do tai chi to balance my energy and improve my strength, balance, and muscle tone. (ETA: It took me a long, long time to realize, but this was a bad idea. I thought it was gentle enough to not cause relapse, but after the THIRD time I found myself worsened for weeks or months after a week of very, very gentle tai chi, I figured out it was the tai chi.) I do stretches, and walk, and a very small amount of yoga (just the poses I enjoy). Spiritual fulfillment is number one in my life and sets the stage for everything else.

I like taking care of myself. My eyes, my teeth, my skin. It can be a chore on some days–and during some seasons, most days–but I enjoy it.

So many years were spent in a battle against my own body, trying to take care of it even as I pumped my blood full of toxic medications to fight the infections that were trying to survive within me. And because of that, I’m still here. Ironically, they’re still here, too.

But that season of my life has passed, and now, it feels so good to just take care of me, to really take care of me, and know that everything I put into my body and do for it is going to help it do its best for me (which in turn, is the best for others, also). Because that’s all I have left. I love the amount of self-compassion I’ve been able to cultivate and harvest, not just in the past few years in general but since being off of Lyme disease treatment in particular. There’s something about not having to focus on pathogen elimination that’s very conducive to self-love. Even as any or all of my diseases advance, I’m not “losing the fight” in any way.

It’s amazing after all these years, even with all of my symptoms, to finally not be at war with my body.

What do you do for your body that makes you feel good about taking care of it, so that it can take care of you to the best of its ability? How do you help it along?

a rainbow at night

Creativity and the Fear of Being Forgotten

a piece I only previously attached to the bottom of one of my posts. quote by David Bate.

It was about seven months ago that I made a post begging the question, What all could you do if you just changed your expectations of how to do it? And I affirmed that I was bringing out my art supplies again, because I could still paint if I relaxed the restrictive expectations I put on myself of how it needed to be done.

And thus, over the course of two months, I made this watercolour painting.

Then last month, I had a major epiphany.

It started as a sort of existential crisis, seeing a different butterfly on Instagram which I immediately wanted to paint…until I thought about the actual process of doing so. Then I became very drained, and I couldn’t tell if I just didn’t like painting anymore, or maybe I was just really overwhelmed by all the work it would take. Those seemed the most probable reasons.

And yet the entire week prior, I’d been schooled by the Universe from every corner on the differences between who we once were and who we become. How we progress into completely different people, if we’re doing it right. Even the “us” of several years ago, we appear the same, but–to pull from an episode of How I Met Your Mother–it’s as if we are our own doppelgänger, after having changed so much.

I mulled over my mysterious lack of artistic enthusiasm all day, a bit thrown off at the idea that someone with so much talent might not want to “art” anymore. Do people really just stop being artists? How was it that I identified such a need to paint, yet all I felt was frustration? How was that even possible?

Then something happened that knocked me off my metaphorical feet.

There was a PBS special airing the ballet documentary Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow: Never Stand Still, and at the moment I caught it, they said something really profound about one of the men in the business.

Ted Shawn, toward the end of his life, wrote,

“It is a paradox that I, who have a strong desire for what will endure, and will be permanent, should have chosen the art form which leaves nothing but memories. And yet I am satisfied this is my medium, and my destiny.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear to tie together all my pondering of the past several days. The Universe had been preparing me to let go of who I was trying to force myself to be just because it’s who I’d always been, and embrace all that I was now. And in the moment I turned on the television, I was receiving a wake-up call.

Hearing that segment helped me recognize I wasn’t so much being an artist as I was clinging to the idea of being an artist, to escape a common human emotion.

I realized that I wanted to paint and produce art, not out of a genuine desire and love of the process, but out of fear of not leaving something behind more than memories.

That was a difficult pill to swallow, but finally everything made sense. I was frustrated because the act of painting, in that moment, was no longer about expressing joy, but controlling anxiety.

And maybe I’m not as much of an artist as I used to be, but I am multifaceted, as are we all. Since relieving myself of that burden and seeing things as they are instead of how I want them to be–or otherwise through the lens of fear–I also realized that over the years I’ve slowly made the transition from Artist to Writer. And I say transition because in the past I’ve always been an artist first and a writer second, but now, my creative spirit flows much more effortlessly through the medium of words. I also enjoy being an amateur photographer; the key word being enjoy.

I have the desire to create, and I still very much enjoy painting, and photography, and writing. And this time, I know better than to jump from one label to the next with the implications that it will save me from the fear of being forgotten.

a piece I did a few days ago, out of the blue, for fun, with random inspiration
a piece I did a few days ago, out of the blue, for fun, with random inspiration

a rainbow at night

My year so far, after choosing to truly Live.

Thoughtful

I’d like to start out this post with a bit of astrology, because I think it perfectly describes how my year has been thus far. (Bear with me!)

“Get ready to dig deeply in 2013, Leo. You’re going into a phase of complete and total metamorphosis. This will require considerable self-analysis and probing into your past patterns, but all the work will be more than worth it. You’re on the verge of discovering just how powerful, strong and resilient you are at your very core. If you have ever doubted your strength, after 2013 you’ll never question your resourcefulness again. Saturn, the great karmic lord of trials and tribulations, will be camping out at the base of your horoscope until 2015, so you’ll have plenty of time to delve into the depths. Family issues and psychological patterns inherited from your parents will come to the surface this year, making your more aware of — and able to avoid — negative patterns. Wake up, Leo! Get ready for a major rebirth.

Lucky Jupiter will continue to bring good fortune to your social sector and help you dream big until June. You’ve been so blessed with the amazing people you’ve met over the past year who have helped you reach your goals. The second half of the year, you may want to pull back when Jupiter enters your retreat zone. This is a time of dreaming and scheming before launching into the next chapter of your life in 2014. So the first half of the year will continue to be incredibly social, but give yourself permission to come back to a more internal and creative space during the latter part of 2013.

The eclipse patterns of 2013 will shake up both home and career sectors, so get ready for rapid advance and decline in both arenas. Don’t get too attached to any of the gains or losses in either of these life departments, as they will constantly be in flux until you reach a healthy middle ground — and you will!”

I was expecting such a popular site to conform to mainstream and just dish out stereotypical messages, but that right there sums up everything I’ve felt about this year, all the way down to the little details! In June, I even talked to my friend about finally becoming settled and just resting starting in July–after the busy first half of the year, it’s what I want, now–and even THAT is in there! Incredible. I encourage you to click and see if yours applies as much as mine does!

Lion representing the Leo sign in astrology. (...

So, if you’ve been following my journey through the year so far, you’ll know I stopped treatment for late stage Lyme disease in October of 2012. After several months of grieving, I decided I was going to truly live, because I don’t have time to wait anymore for a better day when I might feel better. I also have Myalgic encephalomyelitis, for which there is no cure, and bartonellosis, which was once cured but now has crept back out of remission. I’ve been focusing on symptom management and taking care of myself as best I can with food and whatever “exercise” I’m able to handle. Because of the incredible planning skills I’ve accumulated over the past thirteen years of chronic illness, but most importantly, proper pain management, I’ve been able to put all my spoons in one basket each month, and have incredible adventures. I attempted them even at the risk of symptom progression because realistically speaking, there will be no better time than right now. The past six months have been my surge of energy that comes from stopping toxic treatments, and I used it well.

Life is a precious gift. Don't waste it being ...
Life is a precious gift. Don’t waste it being unhappy, dissatisfied, or anything else you can be (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

In January, I met my extended family for the first time (yep). February was pretty rough and scary, after having to be on antibiotics for a week to get my teeth cleaned, finding out I had a new genetic diagnosis, the passing of a friend, and the one year anniversary of the passing of my Dad. So most of it was spent in recovery. But I did celebrate Valentine’s, Mardi gras, and a friend’s birthday to the best of my ability. In March, a good friend came to stay with me for a month, and we had innumerable outings to parks, new restaurants, coffee shops, and a beautiful experience at the orchestra. In April I went to see a world renown ballet group (my first trip to such an event in at least twelve years), sitting front row balcony because a wonderful family miraculously had a spare seat; they turned out to be the same family who was sitting behind me the night I went to see the orchestra in March! I also met two amazing local friends with whom I had several lovely visits.

In May, I went with a friend from Florida to see the Dalai Lama, and as if that weren’t enough, perused my favourite city on a vibrant Saturday night, admiring the culture and appreciating everything; I watched the sun set from the top of a seventeen-story building. My family hosted a garage sale for me and I got rid of 90% of my stuff. I went to the aquarium for the first time in seven years, with friends I haven’t seen in eight years, and some new friends. In June I went BACK to the aquarium with my family, which, if you knew how rare it was for all of us to be free at the same time, you’d understand to be something of a miracle. Then my best friend came from across the country to visit with me for a week; several times we stayed up til 5am giggling at nonsense like we were teenagers. I witnessed the historic removal of DOMA and Prop 8 from our country’s legislation. I planted sunflowers. I received a message from my all-time favourite musician via Twitter. And I rediscovered my love of electronic music.

As I said, in July I began resting, but something incredible happened, still. The love of my life, the best friend who stayed with me in June, told me she loved me, and since I’ve also been in love with her for the past year, we became a couple. ❤

Even still, each month I successfully set out to watch one new movie in theatres, “read” one new audiobook, and eat at one new restaurant. For now, I take a much-needed break, as my body tries to hold itself together after all that activity. But in August I’m going back to the heart of New Orleans for a week for my birthday, to stay with another friend who is also coming cross-country. And in September I get to spend more time with my girlfriend as we arrange another, longer visit. After that, who knows…

But I’ve been divinely assisted in everything I’ve set out to do, and whether this year turns out to be my last truly being able to function, or just a temporary rut (however doubtful that seems), I can go forward knowing I gave it my all while I still had the chance. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I made the right decision to stop treatment and focus on having a life.

I have more to say, how symptoms are going, what happened with the doctor who wanted to erradicate some of my nerve endings… But that’s for another post. To be continued…?

a rainbow at night

Advance Directives and Treatment Planning, Part 2 of 2: It’s YOUR Body and These Are YOUR Choices

[ estimated reading time: 3 mins 29 sec ]
What made me even more motivated to do all of this is a situation I’m in with my pain management doctor. Words can’t express how thankful I am for his help, but the office is crowded, and sometimes they are more interested in swiftness than quality time. You’d think adequate communication was fairly important when discussing things such as burning away your nerves as a type of “treatment”?

The conversation has always been, We’ll try to numb the nerve, then if it works, we’ll burn it. Never once was I asked how I’d feel about this, or if I wanted to do it. So much so, that I nearly forgot to contemplate it, myself!

Because of the side effects I got just from the “trial” shot, doing something semi-permanent like radiofrequency ablation–or radio frequency nerve lesioning as it’s also called–would probably result in the same bizarre side effects, only forever: Never being able to recognize myself in the mirror, and never being able to keep my balance even with my eyes OPEN.

Does that sound AT ALL how I want to spend what could be my last stretch of life able to truly function? NO. I still don’t know why those odd side-effects accompanied my injection, but that’s what happened.

They were very willing to work with me when I discussed how I absolutely cannot have the steroids that usually accompany the nerve block/make it last longer, but I’ve still had a lot of anxiety about discussing how I don’t want to obliterate one of my nerves in an attempt at “relief.” That’s the exact opposite of what I view as self-care and treating my body kindly. But I don’t want to seem like I’m not wanting to help myself, something everyone with chronic illness has been accused of at least once but more likely a dozen times.

I also don’t want to come across as just wanting pills and nothing else, and get some unwanted reputation as a pill-seeker. As much as pain management advocacy groups make it sound like everyone has the right to pain control, I’m sorry, but being mislabeled still happens. A lot. Part of the reason it took me so long to seek pain management in the first place is because in the past I was always denied at the ER: They didn’t believe me and unjustly assumed I was only there for drugs because my conditions (Fibromyalgia, at the time) were so poorly understood. I know my anxiety has stemmed from all this, because what if my current doctors also don’t understand? But I’m at the point now where I’m too frustrated with the fact that my opinion over what I want to do with my body was never even requested, so they will either understand, or I’ll have to find a new clinic.  We have to talk about how I do not want to do that to my body.


My point in this two-part entry, is this:

You don’t have to do what’s “expected” of you, when it comes to your health. Whether that concerns end of life care, medical treatments, or prescription options: If you want them, and you think they’re worth the risk–and they all have risks–then try to get them. But don’t feel pressured to get them just because someone else thinks it’s right, because your doctor thinks it’s right, or because other people wish they could have it, if it’s not really what YOU want for YOUR body and YOUR life.

For a long time I even felt guilt over turning down my Lyme etc. treatment because there are people who want to get treatment, that can’t… But that doesn’t do anyone any good at all. It doesn’t make sense to kill myself with antibiotics just because someone else wishes they had any antibiotics at all.

And don’t forget to consider what it means for you in the long run. Many people want to stay around for as long as possible, no matter what the cost; for their children, spouse, best friend, others who need them, without stopping to think of how those emotionally-charged decisions are actually going to affect their life. It’s worth the extra thought.

Are they still getting “you” if your attempts to stay alive rob you of your body and mind? Is it in the best interest of your values and morals? And are your morals and values in your best interest?

Cellphone photo #10
“I will live. we all one day will. but where’s the difference between life and living?” (Photo and text credit: Leni Tuchsen)

At what point is prolonging your being alive with the aid of modern medicine only going to promote your suffering?

a rainbow at night

Advance Directives and Treatment Planning, Part 1 of 2: Myalgic encephalomyelitis and Lyme disease

[ estimated reading time: 4 mins 34 sec ]
Updated Feb 12, 2016

There’s every possibility that I could be involved in some unexpected incident–a car crash, ANOTHER tree trying to land on me for a THIRD time, an abrupt, rapidly-progressive infection that takes me out overnight–but those aren’t the most likely situations. The only thing that makes sense for someone in my situation is to plan for some type of gradual decline.

I’ve had a living will for years, but someone’s situation recently made me wonder if what I had written down was specific enough to fully protect me. Living wills only cover you if two or more physicians declare your case terminal. If you want someone to express your wishes in the event you cannot communicate for yourself but aren’t yet deemed terminal, you need to declare someone your medical power of attorney. Not your power of attourney, but your medical power of attourney. You can also include in writing what you want just like a living will, and that’s a very kind thing to do for your family so they can have physical proof of your wishes.

This is especially important to me right now because it hit me that doctors just aren’t used to dealing with cases like mine. I’ve seen that time and time again over the years. Most physicians I’ve seen can’t even understand how I dehydrate so quickly. Too many times, I’ve even been told my symptoms are “impossible,” yet here I am. That doesn’t give me much hope for other situations, so if I want the best help in the event I’m unable to speak for myself–a situation which can and does happen to people with both severe M.E. and Lyme disease–I have to include specific instructions and appoint a Medical Power of Attorney.


In my current condition, where even half a child’s dose of the most basic antibiotic causes me immense suffering, I need to check the “no antibiotics” box, in the event my doctor wanted to try them in some optimistic attempt to save my life. The hospital won’t understand the consequences of someone like me going through something like that, but I do. For instance, I recently had to take ONE olive leaf extract capsule to quell the a relapsing h. pylori flare up, and ever since, my head has felt like it’s going to implode, even more than usual. That’s not even a prescription antibiotic! These extreme inflammatory reactions–herxheimer reactions–actually hospitalized me for five days in 2011, and that’s when I was able to tolerate treatment!

And if I’m unable to communicate, at what point will I think it’s no longer worth it to continuously visit the emergency room for IV fluids? When things got bad in previous years, I was going every two months, via ambulance, because the dehydration was so sudden and so severe. Right now I’m okay with that assistance because I’m still functional and it helps me bounce back. But at what point would I have to say, “This is just too much, it’s only prolonging my suffering; no more fluids, just keep me comfortable“…?

What about breathing assistance? I like the nasal oxygen, but I’m against any ventilators or breathing machines.

And I know I don’t want to live off of a feeding tube, if I’m otherwise completely incapacitated. To me, that is when it’s time to let nature take its course. People with severe M.E. are faced with this particular decision often. Many concede to a feeding tube in hopes of getting better later, or because they’re still able to participate in life in some accommodated way which makes it worth it to them to stay around. But I wouldn’t see a point, if I had so much else going on. Plus you have to add my Lyme disease to this… I think I’ve been through enough.

The only reason myalgic encephalomyelitis doesn’t kill more than it already does is the availability of life support measures. Otherwise, there would be many more people–all or almost all from the 25% severely affected group–dying of wasting syndrome, dehydration, inadequate oxygenation of the major organs, and infection.

And what about a DNR/Do Not Resuscitate? If/When my heart were to go into life-threatening arrhythmia, do I want them to try to “help” me? Right now, I say yes. But later on, I might want to sign forms telling emergency dispatchers to not electrocute me or break my rips trying to “revive” me.


There’s no way I can predict right now when I’ll decide enough is enough–these decisions can’t be made overnight–but I do know when I reach the point of not being able to communicate with my loved ones, that will probably be the breaking point.

I do not want to continue past the point that I cannot communicate, being kept alive only by machines and tubes, and I don’t think it’s even natural to want that, when the body is obviously trying to pass on in a way that would actually limit the suffering involved, if only we’d get out of its way.

We should all think about these things, whether severely ill or not, to help relieve the burden on our families when that time comes.

“The suggestion that modern western medicine can and has made life easier is countered with the fact that sometimes, it can prolong life too far, and then allows more suffering than was necessary. It is up to each person to decide what’s enough.” *

To be continued…

a rainbow at night


* Thank you, Ruth. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on it, but this statement was perfect.