Truth

truth

The truth is dawning on me like a giant fire-filled orb complete with miniature explosions. I see just the bright sliver of it peeking above the horizon. I can’t force it down any longer. My body is weak from concealing it. I don’t want this truth. And yet it is here, and rising.

It leaks out of me in small quiet spaces like here with you or with my closest friends. I can’t bear the weight of it alone any longer. I want to vomit it out but something prevents me. I don’t even want to tell you what it is.

The only thing I know to do with the truth is to acknowledge its presence and breathe in and out. Now that I have been sick for so long, and contemplating the possibility of my own death, I have little patience for even the smallest of untruths. There just isn’t time. Or at least, the amount of time is ever so clearly unclear.

For now all I can do is circle around this truth, neither approaching nor fleeing from it. Did I mention that this is neither the truth I expected, or wished for? My priority is staying alive for my son. In service of my priority, all things that separate me from that which is most important must be eliminated. At least, my mind is telling me this. Or perhaps my soul is telling me this.

doebayRecently I was in Washington State at one of the most spiritual of places, Doe Bay on Orcas Island. The resort has been there for years and has a great hippie commune vibe. I was a frequent visitor there in my early thirties when I first began to “find myself”. They have a natural hot springs and a hot rocks sauna. Clothing is optional. I peeled all of mine off unabashedly, in spite of the cold turning my breath to a cloud of mist. For the first time in my life, I didn’t mind who saw my body or what they thought of it. I was older than most of the people there by a significant amount. I imagined they looked at me as an old wrinkly and sagging elderly person. We chatted back and forth with the sweat pouring off our bodies.

Something happens when people take their clothes off in the presence of one another in a non-sexual way. Suddenly it is so much easier to see the humanity and divinity in each soul. Respect and kindness are given freely. I was so cleansed from the experience. No clothes, no defenses, no useless mind chatter, no LED screens glaring. Just humanity. I was surprised to feel as if I had never left. My thirty-ish self was still there, right where I had left her.

The path to the hot springs and sauna is through a small patch of old growth forest. There were statues of Buddha and Ganesh and a waterfall rushing in contrast with the serene quiet that seemed to say, be still and listen. A sign on the sauna door read The path lies between two opposites. It is this sign that comes to me now, as I contemplate the truth that at that moment had not yet revealed itself.

I’ve sat with the truth for seven days now. It hasn’t changed. If anything, my vision of it has become increasingly clear.

I know what I must do.

What I’ve learned so far

© Justine Rae

© Justine Rae

After I received my test results indicating that I have Lyme disease I experienced a shift in consciousness that lasted a few days. Finally, an answer for the multitude of health problems I’ve experienced over the last four years, and something to call my illness other than “No, I’m still feeling really sick”. My announcement to the world that I have Lyme disease resounded with the thud of a single pine needle landing in a dense forest. Did you hear it?

Here’s the deal. Most people don’t know what Lyme disease is or even how to pronounce it. Some folks have heard of it and nod sympathetically. Some respond with silence like the person who does not yet know grief when you tell them your loved one died. There are questions, including, What is the treatment? What are you taking right now? Is there a treatment? One well intending relative sent me a web link warning that antibiotics don’t help with Lyme. No, How are you,? I’m sorry to hear…

Welcome to Lyme purgatory. It’s the period right after you’re diagnosed. Most likely you’ve been sick for a long time. You may have lost your ability to perform your livelihood. Your Lyme diagnosis is a doorway into a parallel universe where things will never look the same again. First you learn that Lyme has a group of diehard codependents who are invading your body and doing as much damage as the Lyme. Keep drilling down and you may find that you have systemic candida and a host of other problems associated with the fact that you have been ill for an extended period of time. The body is a web, just like life, and each twitch on the silky string affects the entire web.

As you go along, the Lyme plot thickens. My adrenals are like a couple of goat nuts that have been dredged in flour and left in the deep fryer for too long. I’ve learned some things about adrenals that will fundamentally change how I live my life forever. There are treatments for crisply fried adrenals. But the most important treatment is learning how to live in a way that doesn’t make your adrenals rapidly fire over and over. Now I understand just how many things I can no longer afford. For instance, mainlining sugar instead of eating meals. While I was still working I remained upright by living on Vicodin, Starbucks drinks, sugar and 16 oz bottles of coca cola.

I’m one of the original Achievers . I learned how to be teachers pet in first grade. After that achievement became my life’s guiding force. After high school I became a nurse after graduating with a 4.0 + GPA. I thrived on crisis and deadlines. To add to the mix I cultivated heartbreak and emotional drama by engaging in toxic relationships. Love and heartbreak are deviantly thrilling roller coaster rides. After being a nurse I became a graphic designer and worked in television. More deadlines, working all night, and unrelenting pressure. After 13 years of that I went back to school and earned an undergraduate in Psychology (GPA 4.12) and then a masters in Social Work (magna cum laude). Along the way I birthed a baby in a birthing center in the desert in Taos, New Mexico, without any pain medication.

push, push, push

And then my father died. And I cleaned out his house while wailing in grief wondering how it was possible that I could continue living without him. And then I started moving across the country. New Mexico to Washington. Washington to Oregon. Back to New Mexico, and finally to California where I accepted my first job as a therapist in an assembly line masquerading as a health care organization. Initially I thrived (their favorite buzzword) on the constant pressure to see more patients, to squeeze as much as possible out of yourself on a day-to-day basis, to work 10 to 12 hours a day whether paid or not. Go, go go, push push push. I tried to be more efficient even as I began to lose the ability to be so. The pain began. I switched work clinic locations to get away from a manager who had begun targeting me for my outspokenness about the system and its treatment of patients. I ended up in a clinic that was truly the underbelly of the organization, even though I had thought things couldn’t get any worse. My body was failing me. I sat with patients while in severe pain and with brain on fire migraines while trying to be attentive and compassionate. That’s when the Vicodin, Starbucks, sugar, Coca-cola cycle started. Push, push, push. I rushed around everywhere, and was always late. Usually I was late because even if I started out on time I would try to squeeze one more task into the space I had. It was only this last year I realized that this behavior was producing an adrenaline rush similar to what I received from the other stimulants I put in my body. I started feeling all the time that something really bad was going to happen at any moment, and it would be due to my burgeoning incompetence.

I tried to force my body to heal. My shoulder was the first thing to go and I would twist it in all different contortions trying to get it to go back into its former position. I was pissed at my body and I threw it around like a helpless abused dog. My scapula eventually slid down my back and became fixated, leaving the task of holding up my neck to whatever functioning muscles remained. Those muscles began to give out too, leaving me with no way to alleviate pain unless I was lying flat on my back.

I spent exhaustive hours on the internet trying to find out what was wrong with me. The HMO doctors were either dismissive or abusive, so I started seeking help from other well-respected medical institutions. There were MRIs, CAT scans, the whole nine yards. I wanted them to fix me. I was willing to do anything, just to have somebody cut my pain out and make me whole again. I had two surgeries that did not help and created another host of symptoms. I came close to suicide three times and would possibly have gone through with them if I didn’t have medical marijuana to provide relief from pain and from the mental anguish of battling daily pain. Before I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I blamed myself for my symptoms, sure that I had caused them by living in such a stressful adrenal draining kind of way.

On the first visit my Lyme Doctor said, Let’s get rid of the cure word, now. That’s a lie the medical profession has been selling for a long time now. I was not dismayed by her words. After four years of chasing a cure, I was ready for something different.

But just a couple of weeks after my diagnosis I was having a series of really bad days. Days when I would be surprised to see my reflection in the mirror because of how dead I felt inside. The weakness, the tired/ wired, the lack of ability to get anything done without having to take frequent rests, and the lack of ability to do some things at all. The lack of being able to string a cohesive thought together or accomplish a simple task like laundry. The buzzing in my brain and the sensitivity to noise that made the canned laughter on my son’s TV shows sound like jagged raw razor blades tearing through my skull. The feeling that my muscles are being torn from the bone. The unpredictable irritability and the sensation that I am breathing fire. The kind of things that cause my pre-pubescent son to say, You’re always sick, when I am begging him for some compassion.

I began developing these bright red blotchy lines on different parts of my body. I had my partner take pictures of them. I looked them up on the internet. Just one more symptom of one of Lyme’s evil step sisters, Bartonella. Even though I was already diagnosed with Lyme, I found myself surprised that I had these marks. My mind had gone back to thinking, What the hell is wrong with me?

A few days later I was talking with my partner on the phone and venting about how I was feeling and a million other things. I told her about how I’d gotten up that morning with so much pain in my right scapula that I felt like a one-sided Hunchback of Notre Dame. I took a bath and as soon as I got into it the pain switched to the left side. This is classic Lyme, by the way, the pain migrating around your body. My left hip is severely affected now too, extending all the way down to my left foot. I told her I was once again feeling like, What’s wrong with me???

She said, Do you want me to tell you what’s wrong with you?

Yes!, I said

You have Lyme’s disease, she said.

I didn’t correct her pronunciation.

The Knowing

Aftermath of September 4th Earthquake in Chris...

Aftermath of September 4th Earthquake in Christchurch, NZ. Bridge Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About three days ago amidst the thoughts that race around inside my head there was a moment of quiet. From within the space that opened a thought appeared that felt more like a knowing. It was simple but clear.

“There’s going to be an earthquake”.

I live in Northern California and was raised in Washington state so I’ve been through earthquakes. When I was 3 I remember being in a play pen as it slid across the floor in our living room during an earthquake. Some thirty years later I was sitting in a therapy session when the ground began to roll like molten lava beneath my feet. I’ve had fearful thoughts before about the possibilities of earthquakes. I’ve tried to be mindful in my home of how I place things to avert danger if one should strike. But it’s not something I give much thought to these days, given my other concerns. I haven’t even gone so far as to anchor tall bookshelves, though I think it would be a good idea to do so. But this thought I had, it wasn’t an anxiety thought. It was a knowing.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had several experiences where I’ve suddenly known something that seemed to come from a place I don’t understand. I’ve often felt connected to people who have already passed. On many occasions I’ve felt as if my Mom, who passed away last June, occupies my body. My father was with me in presence for at least a year after his death, but it seems harder for me to find him now that eight years have passed. I’ve sat with patients who have lost loved ones and felt the spirits of their loved ones in the room. I’ve had sudden knowledge of a patient’s husband dying and then looked on the internet and found his obituary. I have a lot of people on the other side now that love and support me unconditionally and I often feel them guiding and supporting me.

So when this earthquake thought came along, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t tell anyone because I’m really sensitive to other people’s judgment. And often if I feel something intuitively I will go around from person to person seeking validation of my internal truth. And if I don’t receive it, or perceive that I don’t receive it, I judge myself harshly as crazy, psychotic, or otherwise mentally disturbed.

I considered texting the thought to myself so I would have it as evidence if there was an earthquake. I considered writing it in my journal so that I could show it to someone. I didn’t do either of these things because I forgot. A couple of days went by, no earthquake, and the thought slipped to the background of my mind until last night when my partner woke me from a deep sleep somewhere after 3 AM.

“I think we just had an earthquake,” she said, alarmed.

“Really?” I asked, still half asleep. Then immediately I thought of my knowledge earlier in the week. “Could it really have happened?”, I asked myself before falling back asleep. When I awoke later I confirmed via my phone that the earthquake had really occurred. The confirmation of this and my thought early in the week landed with a thud in the center of my belly and has been sitting there since. It’s the same place where my diagnosis of Lyme Disease sits. They are both bits of surreal information about myself that I don’t know how to digest or what to do with.

I immediately began checking the texts I send to myself to see if maybe I had texted my premonition to myself. Nothing. I started looking through scattered random papers I always have lying around to see if I’d written it down somewhere. I wanted to be able to prove to someone that I felt this earthquake coming before it happened. But as providence would have it, There was nothing. I have no way to externally validate to another person that this really happened, not even to you.

I know it happened, and somehow that is going to have to be enough.

Mold

I was molested by a school bus driver when I was in 2nd grade. It didn’t just happen once. I was in a new school and a new neighborhood we had recently moved to. It was the first year I was riding a bus. All the girls were given a turn at having the “privilege” of standing next to the driver and pushing the handle that opened and shut the door. It was a chance to be special and initially I jumped at it. Soon I was a favorite, perhaps because of my burgeoning eager-to-please-ness.

At that time, although it sounds archaic now, girls were required to wear dresses to school. I loved dresses. But that gave the Bus Driver Perpetrator an easy access point to get under our clothes. And that’s what he did as we stood dutifully next to him opening and closing the door, his arm hidden by our ruffled skirts. This asshole didn’t just use his bus driving to find victims. He also volunteered at the school and came to school festivals where he was one of those guys that makes balloon animals. I fucking hate balloon animals.

I didn’t tell anyone. But when the school announced that girls were going to be allowed to wear pants the next year, I silently cheered.

I’ve never really told this story, except to mention to therapists or partners, “I was molested by a school bus driver once”. I’ve seen the stats on the molestation of children in our country and I just figured that was just one of my turns. I thought of it today because I was thinking about touch. Wanted touch versus unwanted touch. When I was an adolescent and boys first started to touch me in an affectionate (nonsexual) way. I would freeze and hold my breath. For some reason I felt like I had to hold perfectly still or he would take his hand off my thigh or from behind my shoulders.

My parents weren’t touchers. When my mold me that she and my dad were separating I cried and laid my head in her lap. It was unfamiliar and awkward. She allowed me to lay there for a few moments, and she may have patted me. That’s the most affection I remember receiving from her.

I just noticed that in the second sentence of the last paragraph, I accidentally used the word “mold” when I meant to say “mom”. That’s frighteningly Freudian.

 

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California

English: San Joaquin Valley Tule Fog in an uni...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sorry I departed so abruptly without saying anything. As I breathed life into your physical form you started to become too real. It scared me. I even mentioned you to my therapist, startling myself by saying your name out loud as if I was confessing.

“What is her name,….K _ _ _ _?” she asked. “Is she safe?”

“No,” I answered without hesitation. Then I started to second guess myself internally, knowing I had provided the “correct” answer but not necessarily the one I believed.

My last therapist called you “a loaded gun”. That was after I told her how you had shown up drunk at your Ex’s house who happened to be a cop. You told me some story about why your car had been impounded. But you also told me you were sober. I had to research online and find you had been charged with domestic violence.

I know, I know, it was a long time ago. And there’s no need to rehash the past. You know how I love to explore sorrow in all of its depths.

Back to the present, or the story I wanted to tell you, about what happened after you left.

Two years passed. And miraculously for most of it, I remained single. Once R found out that I had contacted you after promising I wouldn’t, any possibility of a reconciliation between us evaporated. She decapitated my favorite cock with a hacksaw. I finished my graduate degree and moved to California without her, but with someone else I met online. She had a daughter the same age as my son. After a short time it became apparent that we wanted different things and I made the choice to end the relationship. Or I should say back out slowly, as I tend to do.

Finding work in California was not as easy as I hoped. The licensing process for therapists in California is more rigorous than other states. And a  psychotherapist without a license must either pay someone to supervise them or find a job that includes supervision in the deal. I was living off of credit cards and the benevolence of my soon to be ex-girlfriend. I sent out so many resumes and cover letters that when I finally got a few calls I had no idea who was calling. I  got a couple of offers for jobs I felt mediocre about. And then one day I was laying on the soon to be Ex’s bed when my phone rang. A friendly male voice asked for me by my full name when I answered.

“This is her,” I said hopefully.

“This is Dr. So and So calling from Big Box Healthcare. We received your resume and want to talk with you about a position…”. He went on to describe exactly the type of job I had been looking for. “I do want to mention that the position is located in the Central Valley of California, and I notice you are currently in the Bay Area,” he said.

I looked up the location after I’d agreed to the interview. It was about two hours away from where I was living at the time. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered at that point except that I was going to get that job, no matter what it took.

 

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Bits

Fuck, I’m scared. It’s like this most days now. There is little comfort, just increasing pressure and worry.

I’m amazed sometimes at the synchronicity of things. An old song just came up on my iPod that I put on there in the year following your absence. It’s a country song, of course. There were a lot of country songs attuned to my loss that year. This one was about the regret of not fully expressing love to someone who’d been lost. It was just one of the gut wrenchers that developed into your playlist that year. Music was all I had to cling to during that time. No drugs, no alcohol, no sex. Needing a distraction, I started a saltwater fish tank and imagined telling you about it. I still have the fish tank and one of the original fish, “Clownie”. Once a pleasant diversion, the tank is an annoyance now. It’s just one more thing on the list of things requiring my unfocused attention.

I feel as if I’ve been blown to pieces and bits of me have been scattered everywhere. Everyday begins with the idea and the thought that somehow I have to glue it all back together. I’ll put a few pieces together, but nothing ever fits the same way again. The edges of the pieces are jagged and ill-fitting. Most days I just try to find two or three that match. I fear I will never again be complete.

How do I even begin to tell you what’s happened to me?

I feel like crap today, and most other days too. It’s not just depression. I lost my health. It’s not black and white, like cancer, or something you could cut out. I haven’t been “well” for about four years now. I’ve had two surgeries. Tons of medications. There have been gains. But so many setbacks. Each day is spent chasing symptoms. Sometimes new ones. I’m never quite convinced that the mystery of my health problem has been solved. I’m not dying, but there have been so many times I have wanted to be. My son is the only thing that kept me from taking my life on so many occasions. I feel as if I signed a permanent suicide prevention contract when he was born. It’s not that I think he’s so much better off with me around.  It’s that I know he would feel responsible and perhaps consider suicide himself. I can’t bear to leave him with that burden.

He’s almost 11 now. You would be amazed. He has thick dark wavy hair and big brown eyes like a puppy. He plays baseball. You were always so good with kids. He thought you were awesome. I still have that picture of you holding him in your lap from that day we spent at the Pier in Seattle. What a beautiful day that was. I can still feel the sun on my face, the salty breeze blowing in off the Bay. We were in the place that always suited us best. Our own little world, together.

 

Safe

The clouds were low and dark today, threatening rain. They were not unlike the ones that hung in the sky nine years ago as I drove to the airport to meet you. We called it, and our reunion “Approaching Storm”. No, I called it that when I wrote about it shortly after. You called it the storm aftermath when you sent me the last email asking me what to do with the stuff I left at your house. For once, you really were done.

I’m not saying I didn’t deserve it. After all, I was the one who had initially left, again. I remember spontaneously showing up in your driveway shortly before it ended. I let my walls down completely. I was considering the possibility of a more permanent “Us”. You were so happy to see me. You always opened your door to me. Then after I left and you called me, I could tell something had shifted in you too. Perhaps you decided that I might be worthy of your trust. I heard what sounded like need in your voice, and I recoiled. And then, I ran.

I’m sorry.

I remember your little apartment you had soon after we first met. You worked days and I worked swing and I would lay sleeping in your bed when you left for work in the morning. Filtered light lit the room and rain was often falling softly outside. You were the first person to touch my face. You were the first person to make love to my whole being. It made me want to be with you forever. For years afterward, when I couldn’t sleep, I would sometimes comfort myself by closing my eyes and remembering what it felt like to be in your room, safe.

I wish I could call you up now and have a friendly conversation, and laugh uncontrollably like we used to. But it could never be just friendly with you and I.  Once in each others physical presence, we could never resist the temptation that our attraction inevitably produced.

But I don’t want to rehash the past. I have some things I want to tell you, if you are willing to listen.