As life moves on and the past grows more distant, I have found it easier to let go of my experiences recounted in this blog of homelessness and chronic ill health. It has been difficult to update this blog the last couple years – I needed distance from these stories in order to continue to move forward and heal. Over the last several months, I have found my thoughts turning once again towards memories of living in a tent for so long, of how difficult the journey was, and of how much I grew and healed while living in those woods.
I seem to be at a great healing nexus in my life once more, one which is bringing together my past, present, and future. It is exciting and also difficult at times, as I bridge these aspects of my life, integrating myself into a greater whole. To understand this, I must recount some of the events since my last post in 2016.
It is hard to know where to begin, so I shall start in the middle. For about a year, I have been working hard in school to apply for nationally awarded scholarships. This is a long and arduous process for some of them, such as the Truman Scholarship, in which you must write numerous personal essays and analyze your life through their lens of a candidate who seeks to go into a career in public service. I also applied for the Udall Scholarship, an only somewhat less rigorous process. Both of these scholarships asked me to look deeply into myself, my background and experiences, and come to understand what motivates me in my career and life choices.
What I found was a strong woman who has been through many life changing experiences, however it was not my time homeless or disabled that defined me – rather its the life I have been building ever since moving to Colorado. A life filled with love and passion for experiences around me.
I discovered that I want to work in public service after I graduate and even spent last summer working for a government agency in Washington, DC. While I was in DC, I found that my passions for natural resource policy and social justice are leading me now to law school. It has only been in the last 6 months that law school appeared on my horizon, but it has really taken root in me and is surprising I had never seen how clearly it is a part of who I am. However, it is understandable because my experiences of having to fight for my disability benefits the first several years I was ill had left me with a sour taste for the law that could only pass after I had healed sufficiently from that fight to be able to see life with a new perspective.
Last April, an instructor who has been a mentor to me as asked if I had ever considered going into law. I actually laughed loudly – it was an absurd idea! But a part of me paused to listen and I asked her, “Why law?” In that moment, my life direction changed. A week later, I knew that my calling in life, the drive inside me that had pulled me out of the tent seven years earlier and kept me alive through that ordeal, it was to become a staunch advocate for the environment and social justice needs of disempowered communities. I often say: studying law was something so obvious once I saw it, like the nose on my face, but just as hard to see unless someone pointed it out to me.
This last weekend I received my score for the LSAT, the national exam required for admittance to law school, and am beginning my applications to law programs. Though the idea to study law was a seed planted only six months ago, it grew quickly in the fertile soil I had worked hard to build in recent years. I am daily filled with joy and excitement for having found this deeper sense of purpose, and watching it bloom into all aspects of my life.
Which is where the healing is once again taking place – in seeing my future build in front of me, learning to believe with every part of my being that this is where my inner calling has been guiding me since around 2007 when I first began to hear the faint whispers deep in my heart of something I needed to be doing in life – I then find myself looking back at the road I have taken to get here and can see how each step was needed, no matter how difficult or undesired, and I am finding a new level of acceptance for all the hardships and pain along the way. By accepting, not fighting against, the path that created the person I am today, I am healing in ways that allow me to walk back through those memories and heal.
I am here today, writing this update, because I came back to my blog to read through the posts I wrote years ago. To remember where I have been, so as to gain more insight into where I am going.
Small, additional updates: I became a Truman Scholarship Finalist and a Udall Honorable Mention – both of which are achievements you add to your resume, though I was not awarded the monetary scholarship. However, I did become a NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholar and HUGELY recommend anyone apply in their sophomore year of college if they have a love for the ocean. You can read more about my experiences as a NOAA Hollings Scholar on the blog I wrote last summer as part of my internship project: Life as a NOAA Intern
I will graduate from CSU next May and am going right into law school – though it is still unknown which school. I’ve struggled the last 1.5 years with health issues unrelated to my disability, but I have a good support system that is helping me to navigate this aspect of my healing, yet it is far from easy. I found love again for almost a year, but as is the case with many relationships, it eventually became obvious that despite a great deal of commonality, there were a few too many large differences to overcome.
Updates on Zain’s adventure – he graduated from CSU last May and I am very proud of his accomplishment. He’s setting up his own business making craft jewelry and specialty tools in the Denver area. His partner who was with us in pictures from my last post when we were dressed up for Halloween, she passed away recently from complications with her disability. It has been a hard road for him as her caretaker the last two years, but he has shown again his strength and deepness of love while caring for her as her health continued to decline. Zain and I continue to be family and see each other regularly for coffee or lunch.
And that’s it for this update!
Never give up, dear readers, on your dreams. They may be hard to follow and faint to hear calling, but if you stay open to possibility and true to yourself, they will find you.
Big hugs to all who have read my posts over the years and to new readers who find their way here. I know many find my site who are homeless or have chemical sensitivities, people looking for answers to help them in their own situation. You are not alone. It often feels that way when in the thick of it, but there are a surprising number of us who share these experiences and you are not alone.
Another year has passed. I am now settled into a degree program at CSU of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. It suits me, though I am highly curious where my journey in the degree will take me. I sense it will not be the same as most others who graduate with a degree such as this – seasonal work in field research. No, after almost ten years homeless I have little desire to return to an outdoor setting for long periods of time. Instead I’m finding my way into more of the writing side of things – which is no surprise for anyone who has read my blog; I’m obviously a woman of many words!
Life continues to be an adventure. All those years in the tent and ill, I often dreamed of traveling to other countries and seeing more of the world. The dream helped fuel my recovery – and the dream finally came true a few months ago. In January I journeyed to Ghana with a class from CSU for a three week adventure into the Ghanaian culture. (Picture is me and a new Ghanaian friend, Eric. We were buddies for a couple days while our group was in his town.)
My trip was life changing! I had an amazing time learning how to be an international traveler. I brought my camera with me and it was my best friend there. It felt magical to see such a different, yet similar way of living. I continually had thoughts that human is human, and we are all people. White or black. Young or old. There are commonalities across the American and Ghanaian culture that go beyond culture and gave me a glimpse as to what being human really means.
As well, the trip was three weeks of living outside my usual comfort zone; in reaching beyond myself I grew immensely. The lessons I learned in Ghana have greatly influenced my life since coming home. I am growing in beautiful ways that will allow me to be a more whole and sound person. Through Ghana, I have learned how to be more mindfully present and less part of the shadows that have stayed with me through a great deal of trauma.
The last year at a glance:
- I became a runner! Last year I ran in the Bolder Boulder race (a 10k) and also the Big Gay 5k race for Denver Pride. An ankle injury in Ghana still has me unable to run this year, but as soon as possible I am going to start training again. I find a great deal of joy in running and feeling how healthy and strong my body has become.
- I also became a Blues Dancer! It became a passion for me during the summer, however is hard to maintain during the school year. I’m looking forward to another summer of dancing soon! (I’m in purple in the middle with the big grin!)
- Camping with Falkor several times. He’s an amazing dog who continues to grow and has become my best friend. Love this pup!
- Last summer I worked as a groundskeeper at a city park. It was my first job since I became disabled in 2001 and felt amazing to be productive in this way once more. (My job had a lot of fun toys… I mean tools!)
- Zain met a wonderful woman and they both live in an apartment here in town. We are more family than just friends, which brings a great deal of warmth to my heart. It was very painful to lose Zain in such a close way when we had to part ways as a couple. Having him back in my life as someone I can turn to and trust, who can still share a good laugh with me – it makes my heart happy. His girlfriend has also become someone close to me as well. She quickly found a spot in my heart too and is one of the people I enjoy spending time with the most. Even just last night, Zain and his girlfriend invited me over for a BBQ they were sharing with their neighbors. It was an excellent evening with a lot of love and laughter to fill my heart. (Picture is from Halloween!)
- I’ve been a full-time student this year at school. I am enjoying my classes and doing well. (Pictures are me in class and later in chemistry lab. We created a battery!)
- I rented my own apartment last August after a string of terrible roommates made me realize I needed to live by myself. I love this apartment. I can see the foothills out my window and walk Falkor in nature each day at the natural area next door. Last week was a milestone in my life – I renewed the lease on my apartment through July 2017. I have never renewed a lease before; I was always moving and doing new things. It feels really good to put down some roots here. Amazingly good. (Falkor and I walk along the trails at this pond at least once a day)
I wonder what another year will bring. I feel as though I’ve really found the flow of life in the last few months. It’s amazing to sense that I’m right where I need to be. I have grown the number of people I have in my life and feel love from all of them. There is a new sense of peace growing inside me since coming home from Ghana. This has the potential to be an even better year than the last one and that one was pretty darn good!
I’ve been delaying posting this until things were in the process of becoming legal – Jeremy and I are fully changing both of our names! Not a post I thought I’d be writing when I started this blog nearly 5 years ago… wait, 5 years? Wow!
I’ve shared so much of my life here. The struggles we had living in the tent and trying to get well, but only getting sicker. The fantastic journey to Hawaii where everything changed and healing became part of our lives once more. Then now, this journey leading me back to college and a future that is opening more for me every day.
Changing our names is a pretty big thing for us. Those of you who have read through this blog know things were rarely easy while we struggled to find healing in that tent. Though this blog starts in 2009, that struggle actually began in 2001. It’s been a very long and hard road to get to the point we are at now.
Along the way, I found it interesting that the only time in my life I ever began identifying with the name “Lisa” was in the deepest and darkest part of my life story. Somehow, through all the pretty lousy stuff in my childhood (of which I’ve rarely said much, but trust me, it was not good) the name “Lisa” came to mean pain, unhappiness, sickness, and life being upside down with no easy way to right it.
As one might imagine, while my healing has been progressing these last couple of years, I’ve felt rather distanced from the name of “Lisa.” I’m just not that girl anymore for whom normal is sadness and believing that life beats up on you, never feeling like I can succeed because that only allows in more pain when you fail.
I’m on my way to being happy, truly happy and being able to feel it. Starting to believe that life isn’t only ever going to tear me down, but that instead I can trust in the foundation I’m building on to hold me secure while I build to greater heights.
It’s scary, very scary. Everything is new and different – I’m new and different.
Hence, the new name. Something that is more the me who I’m becoming and want to be in life, rather than a name that is connected to so much pain in the past. As for Jeremy changing his name too? We’ll, that’s his story to tell, but it’s much the same – just as our last names are changing to be the same too.
Who will I be? It was a hard choice, I mean – how often do you really stop to think about what name suits you best? After settling on something I liked very much, then came the trial period where I had to try on the name, much like a new set of clothes, and see how it fit. My first try at a name fit me very well – too well. I found it highly uncomfortable when people would mispronounce it or worse yet they’d make fun of it. Since the name was so close to my heart I had no armor to protect me from their words. A new name had to be found, but I already had a nickname I liked and wanted to keep.
I’ve decided to go with Catrin, but you can all call me Cat. Yesterday, someone didn’t hear me right when I said my name was Catrin and understandably they thought I’d said Cathrine. I found that I didn’t mind it so much and easy enough to tell them to just keep on calling me Cat. It also seems to help that Cat is so easy to see where it comes from with the name Catrin.
What happened to the first name I liked so much? Well, I’ve decided to keep that one too – but I’m putting it in the middle where it can be a bit more protected from the world and the evils of telemarketers who find your phone number.
Jeremy has been a different story. He simply asked me one night for interesting names starting with “Z” and when I mentioned Zain, he knew that was for him. Same with his middle name, I just tossed something out and he loved it so much he’s kept it.
We’ve filed with the county courts and are in the middle of making everything legal. Within a few weeks we should legally be Catrin and Zain and can start the task of changing our names everywhere – and I do mean everywhere. It’s a little daunting, but also exciting and fun. Think for a moment of everyone and everyplace you interact with at least once a year and that will be the list we use to change over our life to new names. Phew, it’s a big list!
Our dog Falkor, well he’ll be staying Falkor. So I guess not everything’s changing around here!
I’m in the middle section of my math class and the topics I don’t know just keep on coming. It’s been an interesting adventure, but tiring too.
I always feel like I’m running to keep up with the class, yet I know I’m doing better than most. This last math test (number 2) saw me scoring 96% on it, which felt like a well earned grade. As I said, I’m doing better than most, but it’s at a steep cost to my time. Feels like all I do is study math, rest and eat, then study more math.
There have been so many lessons I’ve learned – most of them not math. In fact, despite how much math I do, I think only about 40% of what I’m learning right now is actually to do with numbers. That other huge portion of learning is made up of things like being social again and relearning how to take a test without my PTSD sabotaging me. Trying to keep on a schedule and most importantly, how to deal with life’s chaos while still getting my school work done.
It’s not easy, but I’m starting to see where this is all leading and how worthwhile it all is. Starting to feel like I can see many years of engineering school being possible and I could be successful with this endeavor.
Hard work, yes. Tiring, yes. Lots of fun – yes!
Time to rest, been a long day of math.
It’s fascinating to me how easily the mind can become trapped in a box of its own creation. Rattling around the walls its made, it can be terribly hard at times to see beyond the box, assuming you are even aware you are in one.
Then comes those interesting moments when something comes along and opens the box – regardless of whether its an outside influence or something from inside yourself, its just plain neat. If you find yourself being willing to let your trapped thoughts escape, there can be no telling where they will lead you. True, sometimes they can lead you into less than pleasant places as you find yourself suddenly facing the harsh reality you’ve created or allowed someone else to create for you.
Luckily, this isn’t one of those times. I’ve found the mental thinking box I was in has broken open, thankfully leaving me in a much happier place.
Such simple thoughts I had two nights ago and shared here in my last post. A realization of the incredible adventure I am having these last few years, starting with Hawaii (yay!) and coming around to me being enrolled at long last in college once more. It has changed my outlook and the last two days have been much happier, sunnier places.
Honestly, last night I think I was having such a fantastic time at Ladies Night at my gym that I was glowing from the brilliance that is my happiness right now. I think a couple lazier people who I ended up teamed with for some partner work found my enthusiasm a little intense – but whatever! I was having fun and life was filling me with beauty.
Enough poetic ramblings. My point is that between my mental box being opened and today being a long awaited day, Transfer Student Orientation at CSU, I’ve been having an incredible two days. I’ve some plans for tomorrow morning that I shall keep as a surprise until I’ve been able to see if they can come to fruition, but should they work out – wow! I’m pretty excited tonight.
I’m really thinking outside the box today and the view is incredible.
As for my orientation… great news! I met with my academic adviser and she pulled some strings to get me into chemistry without having to take a math placement exam. Woooo! Tonight I registered for two of my classes next fall – I’ll have to still wait to register for calculus. I don’t mind though, because I’m in my preferred chemistry lecture class time and instructor, along with astronomy! I’ve always wanted to take astronomy and I needed something to fill up my schedule next fall. I may change my mind and drop it later so I can take a part-time student course load instead of full-time, but for now I’m thrilled to be finally getting to fulfill my longtime desire for an astronomy class.
That wasn’t all the good news either. Part of orientation involved playing a Jeopardy style game with 48 other transfer students (all of us considered “adult learners” which just means we’re old) and my four woman team won! We really rocked those questions and had a great time too. Our prize was to each receive a 4gb flash drive with the CSU name and college colors on it. I’ll enjoy using it to bring along my homework to print (for free) at the college and knowing I didn’t buy it, I earned it! All in all, a great way to begin what was my first official day of being a full member of the CSU community.
That’s all for now. It may take until next Tuesday for my exciting (and secret) plans to come to be, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to make them happen. I look forward to writing that post and sharing with everyone the pretty cool things that can happen when you finally find the way to open that box and take a fresh look around.
Almost a year has passed since my last post here, yet I am disappointed with my lack of posting at the second blog site Jeremy and I teamed up for. In truth, though he is a great partner for many things, blog writing is not one of them. This sapped my enthusiasm for writing and over the months turned into more silence than anything. In that time, much has happened, but what brings me back here today is this blog itself. Several weeks ago I began to reread my old posts here and appreciate once more how much Sundog Tales has always meant to me. I’ve shared so much of my journey, it’s only fitting that I come back here in these final months before I begin to attend Colorado State University in August.
Where does one begin? Perhaps there is no need for a beginning, for you already know me so well. A quick catch-up then.
In short, life in Colorado has been filled with many ups and downs, as any life is – healthy or chronically ill, and I’ve been undergoing tremendous growth to overcome these challenges. I’ve had the excitement of applying for and being accepted to CSU for the fall semester. This in turn kicked off a world of doubts and fears about my capabilities to return to school, being productive once more, and in some ways more importantly – to feel successful while doing it.
All those years living in a tent, day dreaming of being healthy again, working or going back to school – the reality is both much more fantastic and also more difficult that I had imagined. Somehow in each of my daydreams, the me I would become when well was the same me I had been before becoming sick. Other than knowing I was mentally a lot stronger and physically a lot weaker now, in my mind’s eye I was still the same 24 year old woman I used to be.
Boy was I wrong!
I am vastly different than who I had been. Though the tent felt like time was suspended within it’s walls, it was in fact not a time machine at all, waiting to deposit the old me 13 years in the future the same as I’d been before, but instead a device slowly molding me into a more mature and motivated person.
This is ever so obvious when I attend functions at CSU, surrounded by undergrads who are often half my age with problems I no longer identify with, such as which party to go to or who is dating whom. Worse yet are the functions for incoming freshmen and transfer students. The freshmen are often accompanied by parents who are the only ones asking questions, a glazed look on the kid’s faces, and everyone wondering where the dorms are. These are not problems in my world. My world is about paying rent, walking the dog, spending time with Jeremy, and otherwise devoting myself to my studies.
No, the me of 2001 who would have been only a bit older than these kids is as surely gone in the past as VHS tapes and a world without cell phones.
This morning I was writing an essay for a scholarship (something else past me had never done) and one of the questions was on how have I grown as a leader through my leadership activities. Well, as someone who was bedbound much of the last decade of my life, let me tell you – there wasn’t much call for leadership activities. Then I woke this morning with the thought on my mind, this right here is a leadership activity. I have reached lives I have never known, inspired people with my words to be more than they were before reading my stories, and that to me is a leader.
It reminded me of how much this blog and all my readers have meant to me over the years and I realized that at one of the greatest points in the story – I left. I went elsewhere and was hardly there too. It’s time I remedy this and finish this story, you all deserve nothing less.
So pull up a chair and settle in, because there will be more blog posts to come over the next few months as we count down to the first day of school – August 25, 2014.
It’s been almost two months without Tashi and I still miss that little girl. She was a great cat to have around, lots of personality and love. In this time without her I’ve asked myself if there were something I could have done differently, and while there always will be that question, I know I did my best. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to let the pain go and be happy for her. She is doing well in her new home and I wish them all the best in the world.
Meanwhile, Jeremy and I have started some at home Crossfit workout programs again. If you aren’t familiar with them, google them! They kick your butt and keep kicking. However, at the end you feel pretty good for what you’ve done.
How can two people with CFS do Crossfit? Aren’t they too strenuous and tough? Aren’t we pushing for a crash or setback?
Nope, not a problem. Just determination and a lot work on the Gupta program to get me here. I’ll talk about it more in the future, this is just a quick update before I run off to go soak my very weary muscles in the cool ocean.
“Dumbbell Bear Complex”
5 Dumbbell Deadlifts
5 Dumbbell Hang Clean
5 Dumbbell Thrusters
All 3 together = 1 set.
Do 1 set each minute for 20 minutes or as many rounds as you can.
I used 10lb Dumbbells and managed 9 rounds, a new personal best!