Math is done! Hurrah!
I kicked it’s ass! I didn’t just get an A, I got a 97.5% for the entire course kind of A. I don’t usually brag a lot about my grades, but the work and dedication I put into getting this grade has made me very proud of doing so well. Wow, what a way to begin going back to school. This has been an amazing summer for many reasons. Odd as it sounds, I’m going to let my last writing assignment for this class sum up my experiences of the last two months.
The only thing not mentioned in that essay is the amazing person Zain has been this summer and how instrumental he has been to my success. This didn’t seem like the sort of thing to put in my class essay, but it must be said. I would never have done this well, possibly not made it as far as the first exam even, were it not for Zain. His support of my efforts and unending belief that I was more capable than I could believe for myself, have helped me to achieve this marvelous feat. Thank you, Zain!
Last, though a little confusing, the only other women in my class this summer oddly enough are both named Jess. Each is pretty damn awesome and I’ve been a very lucky person to have a chance to get to know them inside and outside of the classroom. After our final test, we went out on the town and I had a night that left me feeling incredibly alive once more. I didn’t feel like someone who’d lost the last 13 years to illness, but instead I felt like someone who’d found the ability to live and play once more. We ate tasty Mexican food, drove around town picking up various things we needed from each of our homes, and ended the night with them playing guitars and me on a drum out in a park as the sun and moon both set while the stars came into being. We saw dozens of shooting stars and shared so much of our lives, it was a brilliant time.
On with the show! Hopefully I’ll have pictures I can put up here soon now that I’ve the time to work out some bugs that came up recently with my photo hosting.
Pre-Calculus: A journey of growth and numbers. (last essay for my class)
I’ve been looking forwards to this question and am happy it has been asked. What is the most significant thing that I learned in this course? I have been finding out who “Cat” is at this stage of my life and developing in marvelous ways.
When I began this class, I was a 37 year old returning student fresh out of a life of very long term disability. I’d disappeared over the last 13 years as my life was dramatically changed and terribly hard to gain back. I knew I was a strong woman or I’d not have been sitting in that classroom jumping into pre-calculus after having just finished a self taught course in intermediate algebra two weeks earlier, but it was a strength born of need. I had to be ready for calculus this fall semester at CSU in order to enter the mechanical engineering program next spring and I trusted in myself enough to reach well beyond my boundaries with this class and give it a try.
It was a whirlwind the first few weeks; frightening and many times I doubted myself and my abilities. Thankfully, though I may have lost many things during my long hiatus from life, I also gained many skills in return – such as the ability to persevere even when I feel completely overwhelmed at the task before me. The first unit test was a terribly nervous affair in which I was now faced with proving the knowledge I wasn’t really sure I was actually learning. It was also a completely new experience as the last time I was taking class tests I was a healthy woman in my early 20’s taking my tests with the rest of the class and being fueled by classroom competition. Instead I now had to learn how to overcome a great deal of anxiety and other symptoms caused by my disability and which threatened to leave my mind completely blank or make horrendously simple errors.
I honestly did not expect to achieve an A on my first test. I left feeling that I really hoped to see a B, but not even sure I had managed that much. However an A was a great surprise, almost like an echo from my past who always easily found such grades in math because it all came very naturally. This time I’ve had to work hard at my grades, but they feel much more like I’ve earned them rather than showing up and being handed a good grade.
I’ve grown considerably more confident in my abilities and my testing shows this. I am absolutely amazed at having once again earned a yet higher grade than my last test – I had thought I’d peaked with my 98% on unit 3. To sit here now and think of how I doubted my abilities at the beginning of the class, even considered the possibility of not passing the class – I just shake my head with a bemused smile on my face at the amazing ability of the mind to heal.
I feel ready for CSU this fall. I am now excited by the prospects before me and feel tremendously more confident that I will be able to walk this new path of an engineering student. Thank you.
I also must thank the two Jess’s and the time I’ve spent with them. I certainly would not have met them in other settings and they have also played a part in my personal growth this summer. Combined, they are less than a year older than I am – yet they’ve helped me to shake off some of the more stoic traits I had to learn while dealing with the depths of my disability and find again the young woman I once was.
In the younger (blue haired) Jess, I found a vibrant spirit filled with much of the innocence of her age and a wonder at just starting to explore the adult world around her. Her zest and ways of looking at things are marvelous. In the somewhat older Jess, I’ve been completely surprised at finding a kindred spirit and the friend I’ve needed for many years. Our friendship has been transforming my life back into a place of beauty instead of the stark realities I’d been living in for so many years of hardship.
In every way possible, I have grown into more of the person I truly am instead of who I had been forced to become by circumstance. This class has been a wonderful experience for me. I am incredibly grateful for the spark of fate that came to me while napping just four days prior to the first day of instruction and left with me the thought that I must look up pre-calculus at FRCC and ignore the cost of non-resident tuition because some things are more important than money.
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.
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!
My life has been led by far too much fear.
If you had asked me ten years ago while I was still healthy, I would have been very sure that fear played little role in the direction life was taking.
I would have been wrong.
Over the last several months I have been thinking about fear’s role in my life. Its not just the fear I felt every time I stepped out into the darkness at night alone the last eight years, but also the fear that has unknowingly held me back from jumping in and living life instead of life living me.
I see fear in my choice to stop following veterinary medicine after a negative experience while observing a surgery on a large dog in my 2nd year of college.
There was a great deal of hidden fear that caused me to be content with stoner friends who rarely did anything but sit around and have a good time.
In fact, an amazing amount of my life decisions have been chosen based on an unknown fear of failure. Much easier to set expectations of myself lower so that I can be the superstar I want to perceive instead of merely being average at something I put a lot of effort into.
I have done a lot of really great and brave things in life, but there was so much more I would have done had fear not gotten in my way. I wish I had known this years ago, before illness took away huge chunks of my ability to live and follow my dreams.
After becoming ill, my fear took on a whole new dimension as there was suddenly a tremendous amount of things to be afraid of. Overnight I had to become hyper vigilant of toxic exposures which could severely impact my quickly diminishing health.
These could be found hiding in plain sight on any stranger I passed on the street, in any building I entered, any street I walked down, a shift in the breeze, a box in the mail, and many other places. Perfumes, fabric softener, car exhaust, fresh paint, solvents, pesticides… so many things and more to be wary of.
Suddenly everything I knew about being safe in the world was turned completely upside down and every where I turned was another dangerous situation that had to be avoided or minimized at all costs.
My world had become a battlefield in a hostile and foreign land.
Even at home I was not necessarily safe. Living in a tent with nylon walls does not offer much protection against anything. I found myself fearing mountain lions, bears, trees falling on our tent in a wind storm, heavy snow storms, power outages, people not respecting our privacy and strolling into camp at their leisure, shifts in wind bringing toxic fumes from neighbors into our tent, neighbor dogs rooting through our stuff, and raccoons doing the same. Worse yet was all of the above, but in the dark where I could not see it coming.
This fear had made me unable to leave the comfort of our lighted tent at night without Jeremy nearby, even for a simple trip to our ‘facilities’ because it meant being completely enclosed in the dark with nothing but my flashlight to see by. I used to go backpacking alone overnight and now I could not even tolerate 1 minute in the dark by myself without a panic attack overwhelming me.
Then a few months ago something began to change.
At first it changed so slowly I didn’t even see a difference until last month. I was up at our refrigerator area (about 70 ft from the tent) and using my sinus medication. It takes about 20 minutes for the whole process and it was quickly getting dark. Oddly, this hardly bothered me at all. I stayed the whole time and then calmly walked back to the tent. First time in eight years I have been able to do anything like this.
Over the last few weeks I have even gotten to the point where I have wanted a little quiet “me time” some evenings. I walk up to the chair we have by the fridge, have a seat, and just relax for a while – after dark. Critters rustling around in the bushes, breeze making strange noises in the trees – none of it freaks me out anymore.
When I do get spooked a bit, it is a pretty simple matter to calm my mind and body back down to a place where I can continue to enjoy the time spent alone, in the dark with only my flashlight. I have actually turned it off a couple of times. Only briefly off, but I still had the courage to do it.
I am seeing this same shift away from fear in many aspects of my life and how I look at situations. Such as making a very important and empowering choice to stop fighting my situation and working with it instead.
To fully explain what brought about this change would take at least one more article, very possibly more. In summary, I have been utilizing alternative mind/body healing practices for nearly a year, specifically EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Reiki. It is these practices to which I attribute many of these massive changes.
I have not spoken of these things here in my blog because of my fear that at even merely mentioning I am finding healing in alternative means, it would damage my credibility and the degree my chronic illness is taken seriously.
Having one’s integrity and mental soundness questioned goes hand in hand with a diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was reticent to add to that by opening the door for further skepticism with alternative therapies. It appears that in writing this article, I am again seeing the same shift from a fear led life to one I lead on my own.
Too much of my life has been governed by fear. That chapter is now closing and it is time for me to write the next chapter in my own words.
I had very vivid dreams last night of driving to town and going grocery shopping. For most people this surely would have been a pretty mundane dream and rather boring even. For me, its usually the nearest I come to living normally again because most things like this are beyond me at this time.
But apparently they weren’t beyond me today! What an exciting and wondrous day we have had.
It all started with a good night’s sleep – the first in at least a week. We both slept in well this morning and were pleased to see the first warm day without some rain in weeks. Shortly before we got going on breakfast and everything else that begins our day, Ron (Jeremy’s dad) called to see if we needed anything from town.
While Jeremy was chatting away with him on the phone it just suddenly occurred to me that it would be a lot of fun to go in to town with Ron for some fresh produce. I mentioned it to Jeremy who immediately liked the idea and he asked Ron about it because we’d have to keep the trip short and he had plans for several errands.
In one of those moments that makes me really thankful for how cool Ron is about helping us out, Ron spontaneously changed his plans and in less than half a hour we were all piled in his car and off to town!
It was a beautiful day, warm with a lot of sunshine. We went first to the Farmer’s Market where we turned in some paperwork for purchasing a CSA share at a local farm. This is a program many small farms offer of letting you buy a membership that will provide one box of produce a week throughout the summer of all the fresh stuff they are growing. It supports the local farmers, in this case an organic farm, while also letting us diversify our veggies. I was very pleased to see that the produce stocked at the booth was the best looking stuff compared to several other small farms with stands at the market.
Next we popped over to one of Ron’s favorite burrito joints, a new place that has opened in town. Remembering to go with tacos instead of burritos because of corn vs. flour tortillas with wheat/gluten, we got our food to go. It was the first restaurant we had gone into since Jeremy’s mom took us to lunch on the way home from a long distance drive to see a neurologist in 2003. Seven years went by with an amazing amount of speed.
Steak tacos with extra veggies instead of cheese
The trip to the restaurant highlights how odd life has become. It was loud with voices all around me as many people enjoyed their lunches. I found I no longer posses the automatic noise filtering I never knew I had, as it was very hard to focus just on Ron’s speaking – all the voices in the background were just as much in my attention as his was. The air felt very stale and the acoustics of a high ceiling were a bit disorienting.
Even the trip to use their ladies room was strange to me. They share a hallway with a next door cantina and its down this hallway that I found the bathroom. As soon as I stepped into the hallway I was surrounded by familiar smells from just about every bar I’d ever been in and memories of times past flooded in. I found it interesting these odors were comforting and inviting even though usually when suddenly surrounded by strong scents I react with anxiety and concern for my health.
Another thing I’ll share just because of its unusualness. That was the first toilet I had the chance to use since last October. Think about it next time you are using one yourself – months have passed for me without one. Its been seven years since I have used one more than a half dozen times in any give year. As odd as that must seem to you, it was just as odd to me today in using one. This was a first for me as in the past its always still felt normal. Perhaps its the length of time passing or just me having accepted my current state of life more, but it was definitely odd for me.
We made one last stop on the way home – our normal grocery store where Ron buys for us the majority of our organic produce. It was a bit surrealistic there because it was the same store I used to shop at while going to college and working, but it had been heavily remodeled a few years ago and this was my first trip in since. Nothing was recognizable as the old store after I walked through the front doors. The sights and smells were very strange to me as well.
All the soda, candy, chips and just plain junk that I was so used to seeing around me before, it now stood out to me as very odd things to consume. I have eaten quality food for many years. Since going paleo there hasn’t even been anything processed as we cook everything from scratch. None of the brightly colored boxes and giant logos looked like anything editable to me. While in the aisle at the checkout counter I innocently sighed a bit and was revolted by the sweet and cloying taste to the air from all the candy, gum, and mints next to me.
So many things today are so foreign to me now. When I do go into town and am active in normal pursuits there instead of only seeing a doctor, it feels like a different country. Some days a different planet even. I don’t feel entirely the same as everyone around me, in fact I feel fairly different. They all belong to a culture that is not mine now.
I am now part of a tribe of people spread all around the world who share in my hardships and joys, our one joining feature being a deep understanding of living with chronic illness. We are all very different from each other – even our seasons can be completely different with me just going into summer and them going into winter. Yet I feel distinctly more a part of the tribe that has formed on the internet of my fellow chronics than I feel while walking the streets of a town I’ve lived in for most of the last 11 years.
It has been a very interesting day for me and there is only one last thing to share. Today really showed me just how much improvement Jeremy and I have seen since going paleo and starting the b12 shots. We reacted much less to all the stimulus around us regardless of if it was loud sounds (live band at the farmer’s market), crowds of people, scents, perfumes, and lots of walking on cement (normally just on dirt paths in camp). We even had a chance to see improvements in how our bodies handled us skipping breakfast and only grabbing a small, quick snack before leaving. Being active without breakfast would usually have our blood sugar plummeting quickly, but today we did well despite the lack of food until 2 pm.
I am pleased with today and how my body handled it. Its been years since we spontaneously went to town just to have a good time. This speaks volumes for the mental changes taking place along with the physical ones. I deeply believe that part of getting well is mentally wanting to be well and being willing to accept change. It pleases me to see a trip like today because its a very real symbol of how ready we are for change to come to our lives.
I look forwards to taking more trips like today’s as the summer comes upon us!
Living in the woods as we have been these last seven years sounds very daunting. Indeed, at times it makes me look back and wonder how we have managed to survive as well as we have. The first things that come to mind like this all involve winter and the times our usually mild climate here in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t so mild.
But even in the midst of all this, I still take time to pause for a moment and look around me. There is so much beauty to behold here. So very much that would never be seen were I not living this close to nature.
The chance sighting of a turkey hanging out in the bushes less than fifteen feet from our window is one of these occurrences. It was the rustling sound that drew my attention to it. A sound that would have been much fainter had I been behind the straw and glass walls of my house. There it was, just looking at me as I looked back. Both of us seemed to wonder what the other was doing here, because to each other we were equally out of place. Quietly he turned and continued on his way, in no hurry to where he was going but definitely having a destination in mind.
What a turkey was doing in our woods I’ll never know. It was a few weeks before one of the turkey holidays last fall, so we assumed that the he took his life into his own hands and decided not to be dinner for one of our neighbors. The calmness of that turkey is what stays with me more than anything. He was so very calm, as though knowing the direction fate had planned for him but with great dignity deciding to change that direction.
In the last several weeks, I have been feeling this change come about me and how I view the world around me. Oddly, though I still have no options as to how I will be living indoors by first snow this winter, I find myself becoming nostalgic about my years here as though I am already moving on.
Taking more opportunities to pause for a moment when I find myself outside and just breathe in the scent of pine and cedar. Stopping to listen to the wind whispering through the canopy above me or to watch the play of light on a falling leaf. The little rustles of small birds searching for a meal in the underbrush and the way they then dance on our tarp roof while taking a bath in some leftover rain water pooled there. And remembering that hush that falls over the woods when snow begins to fall, quietly blanketing everything into a new and pristine world.
I will miss being this close to nature when I am gone.