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

Winter

Frustration to Beauty

For the last six months, I’ve been doing my best to relearn all the math I once knew, but lost to 20 years of disuse. Twenty years is a long time, especially as my brain atrophied while living in the tent just as surely as my body noticeably did.

I have deadlines I must meet for some of this math. Two of the classes I want to take this August require I pass proficiency tests before I can register. Chemistry only requires I know algebra, but calculus requires a knowledge of trigonometry as well. It’s been rather frustrating to have this roadblock before me. The sheer volume of past college credits I bring with me to this school means I have to pay over $1000 more each semester for my classes – yet the credits do nothing to meet any of my requirements because they are over 10 years old. Seems a harsh welcome back to college after all these years.

Therefore, I do what I must to try and relearn the math as quickly as possible. My hope is to pass the placement tests in time to register for my preferred class times – or even to get the class at all. It’s a very real possibility that chemistry or calculus could become completely full, with wait-listed students ahead of me, by the time I can register.

What does this mean? If I don’t take calculus this August, then I must wait another full year before joining the mechanical engineering degree program. I already feel on the old side of going back to college for a potentially 5 year degree. To add on a sixth year is a hard concept to contemplate and so I push myself very hard to complete my math studies.

Yet, I struggle.

I recently completed intermediate algebra and it actually went pretty easy once I was able to focus and commit to regular study hours. I’d struggled the first few months of this year with it, largely because I was undergoing a lot of mental and emotional healing from scars left long ago. The healing process took almost all of my time and left me exhausted, too tired to focus on mathematical concepts. I felt the weeks passing by, only a bit of math done here and there; my time before CSU in August growing shorter.

As I said, finally I am done with that – only to be faced with college algebra and trigonometry still to be learned. These are proving to be more of a struggle to learn on my own, hard concepts without the aid of someone to help explain small details I do not inherently understand. Its so frustrating to do this on my own. Without a doubt, I could easily ace these topics if I were part of a formal class. I just can’t afford the tuition for summer school and financial aid for college will begin in August.

It’s also frustrating because we were told, repeatedly, that there would be no wait-list at Vocational Rehabilitation and that they would be able to help with retraining costs to a new college degree. I’ve now been on their wait-list since September 2013 and have no idea when I will finally receive their aid. Were I off the wait-list and fully in their program, then it is likely they would pay for these summer courses I need.

It’s all just so frustrating. I’ve said that word many times here, but it is true in so many ways. It is hard to have your life taken from you by a series of mishaps, overcome the challenges of long term chronic illness, only to be met by more roadblocks when trying to rebuild your life again.

Then last night a new thought occurred to me.

In winter of 2010 and spring of 2011, I honestly began to question how I would survive another winter spent living in our tent. It was a terrible time, my health was horribly low, and though I still had the fight in me to keep living, my body had become very weak – perhaps too weak to handle the rigors of a Washington winter. Every year I would come out of the previous winter happy to have made it through, yet already dreading the return of winter in six months time. That last winter was different though, there was a lot more snow and freezing temperatures. As well, living outdoors was taking a serious toll on us by then and the thought of another winter began to look rather grim.

It was in that moment of time when life miraculously shifted and within six weeks we found ourselves in Hawaii. Six weeks from wondering if we’d even live another year to instead living the next two years on a tropical island. Simply incredible.

Last night I was lying in bed, my head resting on Jeremy’s belly and the dog’s head resting on mine. I found myself enjoying the moment of peace and wellness life had brought me and reflecting on the differences between this life and the one I had in the tent. In that moment, I also found myself realizing that I have all the time in the world left to me because only three years ago I thought I had no time left at all. Every moment I have now is an amazing gift.

Why am I so worried about this math stuff? I’m worried because it will take me another year of college if I don’t teach myself trigonometry this summer. Yet, that extra year is a year I very nearly didn’t have. I now have to ask myself – is spending this next year enjoying life, enjoying my hard earned health, and savoring my return to college really that bad, even if it becomes an extra year of school?

I think not.

I’ll still try hard to finish my math studies and take calculus this August. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t work hard towards difficult goals – it seems to be what I do in life. However, I hope to keep this new sense of perspective. Every day is a gift I created from the darkness my life had become.

Every day I am living a life I would have considered the best dream in the world just a few, short years ago. Every day I want to remember that I should stop and enjoy this journey, no matter how long it takes me to get there, because its amazing I was even able to find this road to walk.

This is a beautiful road.


Rainbows are Like Ninjas

This is what February 13th looks like from Hawaii at Waihe’e Beach, Maui. (pronounced why-hay-A)

We walked around the bend seen in this picture, then set our picnic down in our usual place. I turned around and was surprised to see this wonderful rainbow stretching the sky behind me.

The weather cleared to almost full sun, mid-70’s, and the water was warm enough for a long soak after a brief shock of cold when first diving in.

Waihe’e is one of our favorite beaches here so far. It’s a reasonable drive and usually quiet. Today it was just the two of us and a whale we saw breach the surface out past the reefs. The wave break you see in the photo (where all the white topped waves are) stretches a very long ways and provides a protected area for swimming, floating, and snorkeling year round.

So far at Waihe’e we’ve now seen many various aquatic life, a sea turtle, a monk seal, and the humpback whale.

A long, meditative rest followed by a good soak in the ocean left me feeling recharged and somewhat centered for the first time in weeks.

Waihe'e 2-13-2012 011 - BLOG

The new year has been one of great healing for me, but this is a painful healing of old emotional wounds, both from before I was ill and after, that have their thorns in daily life. It has left me drained and on the edge of slipping back into the crash of November/December. Though it is frustrating to have had only a week or so in early January where I felt as though the crash was finally lifting, it is hard to find fault when the culprit is healing.

Healing is not always easy or happy making, but as long as one is willing to embrace it, then with time you will find a rainbow has sneaked up behind you to brighten your day.


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.


Tired.

Over the last few months it has become harder to avoid using the term “crash” as an explanation for the trend our health has been taking. Those of you who read this and have CFS, or other similar illnesses, are likely familiar with the life meaning of such a simple word and the hushed tones used to speak of it.

For us, it is the hidden monster lurking in the dark closet waiting for the light to go out after an exhausting day. Creeping up soundlessly, you wake to find only a shadow of yourself remains.

dec 2011 blog 1

In my experience, the main problem with a crash is there’s no shortcut to ending it. You can’t go to the doctor, get a new pill, and voila – you’re back to the same energy levels you had weeks or months before.

No, instead the cure is most often one of rest and pacing yourself, a gradual culling of all the nonessential aspects in life. Often essential comes down to the true basics of life – food, sleep, and keeping some sort of roof over your head whether it be house, tent, or car.

A social life is nonexistent, a tidy apartment falls down on the list of things to do, laundry piles up and you find yourself putting on the same shirt you wore the last three days in a row for lack of something clean to wear. Meals become more simplistic and you’re just happy to have something hot even if you’ve eaten much the same all this week… and last week too.

After months of avoiding the dreaded word, I have found myself quietly testing the sound of it and hearing the the sad ring of truth it brings. I’m usually much quicker to speak of a crash, much more willing to put life back on the shelf for a few months and heal.

But not this time.

No, this time I find myself fighting against the whole idea of a crash. Refusing to even think of it. Unwilling to bow down and let it strip me of all I have been working towards.

Which only makes things worse.

The energy required to fight against it should be going instead to healing from it. As much as I have blocked the possibility of a crash from my thoughts, there is no more getting around the simple facts.

I landed in Maui, had a great couple of months where life almost looked normal again, but all this also came with a monumental amount of change and stress. For the most part we are now settled in; very little needs to be done outside what is becoming a familiar routine.

Life has a chance to slow down again. It is time to rest.

Meanwhile… what a place for a rest!

Baby Beach - December 5, 2011
(photo from December 5, 2011 at Baby Beach)


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.


Update

Much time has passed since my last post. I hoped for inspiration to strike and provide a brilliant return post to share – but alas the brainfog continues to shroud my muse.

My hands have healed well. We made it through several weeks of on/off snow, but then crashed and are still recovering. The majority of spring allergies never hit this year as the snow changed up pollinating schedules for the alders above us. Western Washington is still having more rainfall than normal – and lately colder temperatures too.

It has been a very long time since I felt warm sunshine and I miss its tender kiss upon my face.

All in all – survived another winter. Hooray!

I have come out of this winter with a new plan of action. We will be seeing a local naturopath on May 5th and setting up medical treatment through her. The annual trek to see Dr. Buscher will not be happening this year. The stress and body strain from weeks of snow took a lot out of us. We simply don’t have the stamina to travel two hours away to see our doctor.

Fingers crossed we hit the right naturopath first try. I spoke briefly with her and have hope she will be a good fit for us. At the least, I don’t think we are walking into the nightmare situation almost every CFS or MCS patient has experienced – the doctor who doesn’t believe our illnesses are real.

Happy Spring Everyone!


Winter Arrived Early

An early snowstorm and cold front brought some amazing weather this week. This time I decided to capture it on film!

Last week Planet Thrive published an article I wrote on how to survive in a tent during winter. I found the last few days entertaining as I had to live the same advice I had just written about … especially the times I blatantly went against my own advice! Such as eating half frozen paleo pancakes for dinner when I had no way to get warm afterward – but ohhhh, they were good!

While going through all this, I came across an article about Leonid Rogozov, a Russian surgeon who in 1961 had to remove his own appendix or die. Admittedly, it made me feel like my own experiences of the last 48 hours paled in comparison, but I also felt a kinship to him.

People tell me that they can’t imagine living as I do with these difficulties and hardships. And yet, the same drive to look outside the box for ways to survive and take them in stride is the same drive Leonid would have felt fifty years ago.

I wonder sometimes – is this imperative to live genetically coded in our DNA, or is it a function of something more ethereal and hard to define?

There are many people out there who quickly buckle under stress and become hopelessly lost in a crisis. What is different in my life compared to theirs that has prepared me to be calm and decisive under pressure? As far back as I can remember, I have always been this way.

When I was 9, there was a large earthquake in Los Angeles; it was my first. I went to school like normal and to me it was just another day, more exciting than most, but nothing to worry about. Later that night, my mom told me she had gotten a call from my teacher. I’d been so calm and helpful with the other kids who were crying wrecks, that on a hectic day she was impressed enough to take a few spare moments and tell my mom personally.

Have the same genetics that cause me to be toxically ill from everyday life also given me the strength to survive the devastation they cause? Or maybe the human spirit for survival resides in a less well defined place.

My accomplishments are less dramatic than the stories told of legends and heroes, but it is with these people that I feel a hard won kinship. It fills me with a warm joy and chases away some of the loneliness life has brought me, because I know my feet walk the same path theirs once did.

And I have to wonder, did they also feel the same loneliness that I do?