Sundog –noun 1. parhelion. 2. a small or incomplete rainbow.

life before illness

First Day of School

Today was my first day at Front Range Community College. I started my day off with a hard workout at our CrossFit gym (CrossFit North Fort Collins) to burn off some nervous engery. Immediately after I finished the workout, still trying to catch my breath even, I found a quiet spot next to a nice view of a wildlife area and burst into tears.

This isn’t actually the first time I’ve cried after a workout there. Something about pushing my body so hard, going well beyond my mental blocks that would keep me weak and quitting, it takes me to a place where I can finally feel all of the hard years behind me. As someone who’s had chronic fatigue syndrome, working my body as hard as I can and still feeling good – it’s a huge neon sign to my brain that life is much different now; I am well.

Today’s cry was sparked by the chasm of time between the last college course I took in 2001 and starting back to school today. So much has happened. So much pain. The losses during those years are indescribable in their depth to destroy a soul. Yet, here I am having conquered them and returned to a full life once more.

This journey has been rough and one way to make it through was to keep locked up the knowledge of just how bad things were. It’s times like this morning when that door is unlocked and I view the truth laid out before me. How can one do anything else but weep in that moment? To keep in the pain would only give it more power over me, power I have chosen to take back as my own. The tears let it go.

I grieve for the innocence I’ve lost, the hardships I have endured, and the incredible struggle I had to fight in order to heal. This healing process has been huge. Enormous. Gargantuan is really the most apt word to describe how much I have worked and accomplished to become well.

It was never easy.

After grieving for my past, I dried my tears and went back inside the gym. A little more weight lifting helped get my endorphins kicked back into gear and by the time we left I was feeling as though I was ready to make my new start this afternoon.

My first impressions of pre-calculus?

Tough. I’m thankful for the studying on trigonometry I completed on my own last week, because apparently we are going to skip the whole algebra portion of pre-calculus and focus mostly on trig and a couple other advanced concepts. This frustrates me as I’d hoped to have a well rounded class – not be told to study algebra on my own from the book so I can understand the concepts in class.

I’ve been reminding myself this is about much more than simply learning math. Today I sat in a classroom full of people and had to focus on difficult material. I took notes at the teacher’s pace for the first time in 13 years. There was a group activity and I was a good partner who helped us complete the work correctly.

I also felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work – this course is only 9 weeks of instruction. Tons of homework each day, quizzes and tests on a fast paced schedule. It’s crazy! This is a good obstacle for me to face when I only have the one main class and can afford to get a lower grade than my usual A.

All in all, I’m not paying to take a math class – I’m paying for the experience I need to step into CSU in August and have already overcome these challenges as a returning student after long term disability. This isn’t something I could learn in a book or figure out on my own. I needed to be in the classroom smelling the tobacco lingering on a heavy smoker’s clothing, leaning to the side to get a better view of the diagram being drawn on the board, and having to make my head think faster to keep up with everything being taught.

I need this classroom experience to prepare me for success at CSU and becoming an engineer.

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Winter in Hawaii

I could not have imagined a winter as warm as this. Today has felt more like summer than it has winter. Around Christmas we had 3 weeks of Autumn-like weather – seems that was our winter!

Along with the warm weather is more air pollution in the winter from VOG – volcanic gasses which are heavy in sulfur. They tend to linger at times due to lower Trade Winds and cause the air to feel heavier, more polluted. How polluted? Well, I’d take VOG any day over all the wood smoke we’d have this time of year in Washington. Not to mention the presto logs – those things were toxic to be stuck downwind in their smoke! On the other hand, we are more sluggish on VOG days and it can cause headaches at night for me.

Sunshine – we are in the midst of a lovely period of sunny weather. Weeks of it even!

I remember in Washington we had two warm winters when the winds came up from Hawaii bringing sunshine and zero snow. We always daydreamed about how wonderful it would be to live someplace where it was always that warm – now that I’m here I must say it’s a fair bit warmer than I would have believed possible!

T-shirts and shorts are the norm and still you’ll find yourself a bit hot by noon. I love it!

In fact, I love it so much that I did something today which exemplifies winter in Hawaii better than anything else I could say at this point.

I went skinny dipping in the ocean!

It’s been years since I last stripped off my clothes and hopped into a body of water. Doing so today felt like gaining back a small part of myself which was lost when illness struck.

I may still be tired and sick, but I can swim naked in the ocean with the warm sun upon me like a younger me once enjoyed.

That makes me happy.


Rediscovering Life

There have been many changes brought to my life since leaving the tent three and a half months ago. Some are obvious such as indoor plumbing, a full kitchen to cook in, even a table with chairs to sit at while eating a meal. A few things haven’t changed – sleeping on the floor for example.

When thinking of which change I enjoy the most it’s impossible to really place an order as each one is magical in its rediscovery. Is it the hot shower on a morning when I can’t get the chill out of my bones or maybe instead the yummy dinner while sitting at our table and enjoying a rainbow on the horizon.

Some days it’s simply the act of riding in the car while Jeremy drives us along the coast towards a morning swim in the ocean before doing errands later that day. A massive weight of illness, wrapped so tightly around me as to leave me claustrophobic in its suffering, has been removed at long last.

In fact not a day goes by when I don’t at some point marvel and wonder as to how all this has come to pass, while at the same time being enormously grateful for the life saving miracle.

One change to take place is an ability to read books again – not just e-books, but a hold it in your hand, turn the page, quickly skip back to catch that last word you turned the page to fast to read, ink and paper, smelling of adventures yet to come and fond memories of journeys past … a wondrous book.

I love books, always have and no doubt I always will. I’ve worked in three different bookstores and they were the jobs I enjoyed the most. The last bookstore is even where Jeremy and I met. He started coming in every Saturday morning to browse the science fiction/fantasy section and I happened to work that shift, also with a love for the same genre of stories.

I deeply mourned the day my MCS closed my ability to read books, the inks and paper making me ill regardless of how aired out they may have been. Over the years I began to read e-books and again found joy in an old friend, but still I longed for the real book in my hands. The sensory experience was lacking and the electronic text difficult for my fogged brain to hang onto. Plots blurred, descriptions were lost, and over time reading was becoming extinct despite my desires to the contrary.

Then on a whim I had Jeremy pull into the library here in Maui on a particularly beautiful day. Cautiously we entered, unsure if we would be able to stay for more than a few minutes. As the doors slid open before us and the air conditioning greeted us I felt a great joy begin to stir within me – this might be possible.

I imagine we look rather odd in the library as we search first for a book we are interested in reading, then cautiously fan the pages before our nose while lightly sniffing for lingering odors which would make us ill. Often times we then place the book back upon the shelf, but occasionally you’ll see our faces light up with delight at having found a gem to take home.

Over the last six weeks I have been voraciously reading all different types of books, finding a fantastic word of opportunity opening before me. Even though my health has again been on the low side the last several weeks, it is much easier to rest and recover with a good book. I feel less anxious about missing out on life because I am incredibly grateful for the gift of reading again. It makes passing the times I am again bedbound a joy instead of a jail sentence.

Yesterday I read a good book. Today I did the same. Tomorrow I think I’ll read another!


Take a Deep Breath, Now LEAP!

Today is my last morning with a computer before it too is packed away in a cardboard box and sent ahead of me towards my new home. Over the past four weeks, I have evaluated each aspect of life I collected around me – weighed and determined if it was valuable enough to warrant shipping or if I would finally part ways with it to lighten my load.

It is surprising how little I chose to keep.

I have always been a packrat by nature. This enthusiasm to keep things that might one day be ‘useful’ has still persisted even living in a tent year around, but what is useful here is not always the same as what is useful indoors in Hawaii. Certainly the sharp axe used to split small logs will be left behind, while our amazingly comfortable camp chairs have passed inspection and are already at our new apartment.

I find as our camp dwindles in clutter, a great deal of contentment begins to infuse my being. It is as though I am washing away a decade of grief and pain caused by a dramatic loss of health, family, and nearly everything I once was.

The woman who sits here today is a very different person to the one who walked into this exact camp site 7 years ago. Before now, I had never lived in a single place longer than a few years. How odd that I finally found the stability in housing I always longed for by living in a tent.

Am I scared of these new changes to come? You bet I am. It is all unknown – this will be the first time Jeremy and I will live outside of a tent on our own while ill.

But I am also hugely excited. Despite the fear, I will be stepping out of darkness and into the bright world beckoning me the last several years. I will walk with my head held high, the strength and courage I found in these dark years supporting me when my knees are weak with fear.

And so this is my last post from a tent – as always I am full of hope and determination to see myself and Jeremy walking forward into our future instead of looking back at our past.

Good bye tent. Hello Maui!


Life is an Ever Changing Wonder

It’s another sunny day here in the Pacific Northwest. Starting into the best time of year – not too cold, not too many bugs, and a few more sunny days. It only lasts about a month, usually most of April though this year it is late.

Life has been moving quickly for us the last few weeks. It seemed a slow, sluggish mire we had fallen into over the winter was going to plague us all spring. Then one morning someone turned the “LIFE” switch from ‘off’ over to ‘on’ and life began to take form around us.

It’s odd to say life started when obviously I’m still breathing and getting into mischief. However there is a difference between being alive and living.

This last 18 months I have found myself learning to live again and growing beyond my physical boundaries. Then the late snows in February and March crashed our health; it is very physically and mentally taxing to live in a tent during frequent snows. My world narrowed again to survival – just getting by for another week, another month, waiting to feel less awful. Thankfully an easy allergy season helped and in April we started to move past survival and back into living again.

As I am happily remembering, there is also a difference between living and thriving.

Two weeks ago everything changed in 24 hours. Living became Thriving. I think the last time we found ourselves thriving was in 2005. Before that… 2001, during the few months before life took a nose dive into the world of chronic CFS/MCS.

It’s been a long, hard road we walk in this life of illness.

The big news going along with this change is that we finally will have the means to find indoor housing. Yup, this couple in the woods will one day soon become homeless no more.

I find the prospect both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Where will we go? What sort of place will we rent? I honestly don’t know, though we are planning on answering those questions this summer. With a bit of luck, we’ll be indoors by November; we’ve had enough of living outside during Winter.

Times like these it is hard not to jump into the first opportunity that comes along. Our health concerns and the restrictions it places on housing means we must move slowly to ensure a safe living situation is found.

It also means we opted not to see the naturopath last week. As we are not certain to be staying in the local area, we didn’t want to establish care with a new doctor (a costly endeavor) and then repeat the process in another few months. However, we have followed up on a considerable amount of blood work through Dr. Buscher and will know the results in a few weeks.

Where to live when the world has suddenly opened itself up to you once more?

How to get there and more importantly, how to find safe housing?

What type of change will all this have on our health?

I am looking forwards to finding the answers to these and other questions, which swirl around in my waking and dreaming thoughts.


Happy Birthday Sundog Tales!

As the title implies, today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I’ve spent the last few days trying to decide what type of post to write for marking such a momentous occasion. I could write a review of the changes, or lack there of in many cases, seen in the last year. It could be a more typical post written about the changes Fall is bringing to the woods around me as the very landscape itself is drastically altered in an unusually brief period of time this year.

But instead I have opted for a different sort of post.

Life in the Woods:

Each day I am awakened by nature. This is much different than the life I had known the majority of my previous years. Where once there was an annoying alarm clock to call me back from dreamland and into a world of deadlines, traffic, and various social responsibilities; now there are even more annoying squirrels to jolt me from my slumber, though the world they bring me to is much kinder than that of their electronic brethren.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating this odd life of mine, for make no mistake, choosing to live in a tent year round in the Pacific Northwest is an odd and difficult lifestyle. Sometime I am very angry at how things have occurred and the small role I played in my situation developing to its current state of dysfunction. Despite the difficulties of multiple infections causing a downturn in health the last six months, those times are mostly eclipsed by how often I find myself enjoying life and where it is leading me this last year,

Overall there is this growing sense that my path was never to be an average American woman. Rather, it seems to be unfolding into something much forgotten and ignored in the high pace of today’s society, guided by a deeper connection to nature and all that thrives around me. The trials of pain, loss, and hardship I survived have brought me here, and I am a much more liberated woman now than I was ten years ago as a fiery, young activist.

I find it very freeing to be without the boundaries set by our modern society. I am coming to understand that some of these boundaries and walls are surprisingly insubstantial once you open your mind to being allowed to do something different.

Our society has made me feel less than a whole human being, less than someone who is considered a contributor with earned money as the only valuation means, and because of the label for my illness I am less in need of cures than someone with a more impressive label – such as cancer or AIDs, yet many have offered comparisons showing my labels are just as debilitating.

I am here to say I am not LESS, I am MORE!

I am more aware of the small wonders in life than your average person who takes for granted all the ease they have in each day. The warm home, hot shower each morning, clean clothing with minimal effort, and the simple ability of not having to question everything they come into contact with to find out if it is friend of foe to their body. My life has slowed down as the world I live in is timed by seasons, not calendars. This slower pace allows time to stop and enjoy a cool breeze on my face or a stray sunbeam through the trees.

I am also very aware of the changing seasons and how it affects the birds, making the young ones born this year very nervous because their world is seemingly dying around them while they are helpless to change it. “Wait until spring,” I keep telling them, “it will be alright again.” I watch all the animals and plants around me, each one miraculous in its ability to have adapted to be exactly what it is today – a harmonious part of a self perpetuating cycle of life.

And I am more because I am learning to slip the knots that society has tied around me, trapping my soul to this damaged body; always telling me that to be deeply ill is to be sad, silent, and unfulfilled.

There is a growing awareness that I have a unique opportunity to step out of the box I was born into; the box my culture built for me based on ideals and beliefs so easily conformed to. Born again out of the fires of extreme illness and hardship, I am now free to explore life from a new perspective – one of my own creation. Even though physical healing has been very little this last year – emotional, mental, and spiritual healing has progressed by leaps and bounds.

And so as I continue to explore what it means to be Lisa now, instead of living in who Lisa used to be, I will not be posting as regularly to Sundog Tales.

This blog has helped me grow beyond need of it. The people who have posted comments to it have helped give me confidence and a new sense of community, two things which have been seriously lacking as illness put chasms of distance between myself, and my relatives and friends. I will still post updates and the occasional interesting bit of life that comes from living outdoors, but it is time I turn my energies elsewhere for now.

Thank you to everyone who has made Sundog Tales mean so much to me. Lisa


Courage, Determination, and Selflessness

July 1st is a day of remembrance for me. It was this day six years ago when my mother passed away from complications of the same illnesses I now have – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).

She was only 55.

Ivanna Pausmann led a difficult but very meaningful life. It is because of her that I have had the strength to carry on my fight to survive this long. She was a highly courageous woman and through her own struggles showed me what it means to never give up hope.

I miss her terribly.

In 1976 when she found out a fun night on New Year’s Eve with her best friend had ended with her being pregnant, it was not yet common for women to be single mothers. Being a very liberal woman, she knew there was a choice for her to make and that having me would not be an easy road for a single mom without a college education. With great courage to go against her family and follow her heart, she set aside her own life to give me mine.

When I was very young, she began to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in business from California State Polytechnic University Pomona. She would get study time in whenever possible while raising me by herself. We used to laugh about my bedtime books being business textbooks she would read aloud to me every night. Instead of fairy tales with princesses and frogs, I learned about life in the business world from her upper division classes.

I was five when she married my step father. In an odd moment of fearing failure when she would graduate in a few months and newly married, she dropped out of college and began working a more traditional job as a secretary. In this fashion seven years passed.

Shortly before my 12th birthday both our lives came to a crashing halt. When our soon to be purchased house was improperly fumigated for termites, she took the brunt of the residual toxic pesticides that were left in the house which had not been properly aired by the fumigators. That night was the first grand mal seizure she ever had and would be a condition that while lessening in severity, would last the rest of her lifetime.

Her health quickly deteriorated into what at the time were mostly unknown conditions. No one had answers and few were able to help. Eventually she would be diagnosed with MCS and CFS.

Her family did not care to understand what was happening to her and left her mostly isolated with her struggles. Overnight I went from an ordinary 12 year old to an adult now in charge of caring for her, also without help by those same relatives. My step father became a monster.

Somehow, together the two of us survived and nearly five years after our lives came to a halt, they began again.

In a great act of courage, my mom left the monster of a man she was now married to even though this led to us being homeless in a nearby national park for three weeks. Her health was still not good, but it had recovered enough to allow her to drive again. With courage again at every step, she placed a map of California on the picnic table of our campsite/home and closing my eyes, I randomly pointed to the town we would move to – sight unseen.

It was in this town called Paradise that we made our home for the next several years and life bloomed into beauty for us both.

Miraculous is the only word to describe how quickly she healed after we arrived in Paradise, California. After being there only a year she was nearly fully recovered, had begun going back to school to be retrained as a respiratory therapist, and most importantly – she was happy.

She still had a dream to graduate from college. One of her biggest regrets in life was quitting so close to the completion of her degree. In July 1995 she graduated from Butte Community College as a respiratory therapist, a career she loved having because it allowed her to help people who needed her.

I remember how much her face would light up with happiness as she talked about her patients and what she did during the workday. Her first job was on night shift in a small town hospital where she made many friends and found where she felt accepted in life. Her favorite part of the job was when she could spend most of her shift rocking a sick baby in her arms to allow it to rest safe and well cared for between times when she had to give it lengthy medical treatments.

She was very good at her job.

Fortune would turn its back on her only a few years after she began working. An unknown birth defect in her lower back caused some nerve damage during a workplace accident which led to her living the last few years of her life in nearly constant and severe pain. She continued to strive towards recovering from her injury so she could return to work, but it was not meant to be.

Her health declined again as her previous conditions of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) were now taking over her life once more.

It was around this time that Jeremy and I became ill – also with MCS and CFS. Within six months we were living in a tent on 10 acres of undeveloped land his mom owned that only had water to a spigot in the orchard but no electricity or place to live. With our lives in a tailspin, my mom reached out a hand and offered us help.

To this day, my mom is the only person to offer to adjust her life enough for us to live indoors with her. Even with her own serious health issues, she did everything she could to give us a safe place to live. She sacrificed many things in her life so her home would not make us ill from all the stuff we live in a tent to avoid.

Unfortunately this too was not meant to be. While seeking a larger rental for all of us to share, an unscrupulous landlord lied to us and we all walked into a rental that had been freshly painted and sprayed for fleas. This sent mine and Jeremy’s health to a low that left us feeling like we were dying from the fumes that had followed us home on our clothing and now permeated my mom’s apartment.

Hugging my mom goodbye for what we both somehow knew would be the last time, Jeremy and I returned to Washington and the current tent we have lived in for the last 7.5 years.

My mom continued to be my support and a much needed anchor in the storm that my life had become. A year after I moved back to Washington, her health took a serious turn for the worse. I didn’t fully understand this at the time. Like many moms who care deeply for their children, she tried to protect me from the seriousness of her illnesses because my life was already crazy enough.

It is for this reason that six months later I was unprepared for her to pass away. The thought of her dying soon had never occurred to me and was one she never warned me about. Since our fateful move to Paradise when I was 15, I had often been her best friend, confidant, and support. We were very close and honest with each other.

I can only imagine the strength and courage it took to hold the secret of how very ill she was from me those six months prior to her death.

A few years earlier when her father died, she saw firsthand how callous our social security system truly is. To save money when a person dies who has been receiving social security, their families may or may not have access to the last check the deceased would have been given. It all depends on what time of the month they died. This often leaves the bereaved in debt with last month’s utility bills and rent that the deceased accrued while alive, when the money expected to pay those bills is suddenly denied.

My mom was told on June 26th that she had only three days left to live before her very sudden kidney failure would claim her life. She knew what it meant with her disability payment should she die before July 1st and even though it was five days away, somehow she held on. Her last two days were spent mostly unconscious and even when conscious, very far away. Just after the clock struck midnight and June became July, I told her she had made it and could now rest. She died half a hour later.

Even as she lay dying, her last act in life was one of great courage, determination, and selflessness.

I write this story for you, mom, so everyone can know the beautiful and amazing woman you were.