If Nothing Else, There Is Hope

Written as a MySpace blog post 10.5 years ago, approximately 3 years before I became seriously ill with the disease that took me down and now has me bedridden. I can’t believe it’s been a decade already.

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The Legacy of Hope   6/2/07


When I went to the Chandler library to cruise for movies to check out for the weekend, the selections were pretty slim.  The Poirot series that usually appears on PBS didn’t hold any appeal, and “Show Boat” wasn’t looking any better.  I picked up a documentary called “Legacy,” about a multi-generational family of single moms trying to escape the inner city projects of Chicago.

The narration is provided by one of the teenage girls who lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt, six cousins and four siblings.  Within the first 10 minutes of the film and after the grandmother gives her first interview about living in the projects, one of the nephews – the one that showed the most academic promise and stability, and was looked up to by family and neighbors alike – was shot dead in the street.  The filmmaker chose to follow this family for a total of five years after this devastating murder, which included the boy’s mother joining and completing her 5th addiction treatment program, the narrator’s mother getting a stable job after being a welfare recipient since the age of 16, and the grandmother finally qualifying for her own house after a generous donation from an area businessman who saw the news story of the boy being shot.  The narrator was the first in her family to complete a high school education and receive her diploma.

This was a difficult story on many levels.  It is not dissimilar to watching episodes of “Intervention” on A&E.  Nearly every person of my immediate and extended family is or was an addict; I saw and learned things that no child should.  Every person in my father’s family with the exception of my uncle died young, including my father.  This month will also mark the violent death 12 years ago [as of 2007] of my aunt at the hands of her boyfriend.

Poverty was also a strong factor in my childhood years.  My mother nearly died when I was five after she contracted a bacterial infection, and was bedridden for three months.  Add that to the strain of my own medical bills, with my terrible asthma attacks, allergies, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis….and no health insurance.  “Preventative care” was impossible to consider.  We stood in line for milk and cheese.  We were also issued these awful frozen fish portions, which were breaded fillets of cod with a hunk of cheese wrapped in as well.  Luckily an uncle was a manager at General Mills and would give us test samples of various foods that they were developing to mass market.  It was a treat when we once got “Bonkers” – if you remember those, they were rolls of peanut butter with rice crispies and chocolate chips on the outside.  Mostly, though, we got these horrendous breakfast bars – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate – that had the taste of chalk and the consistency of a doorstop.  We ate them because we had to.  [It is no mystery that impoverished people are overweight because the least expensive food is the most fattening and unhealthiest fare you can conjure up.]

One Christmas there was no money for presents.  My mom contacted a local charity that gave us $14 each to spend on gifts, took us shopping, and had a wrapping party afterwards.  Mom still had a sense of humor about it – somehow she convinced me to tell her what I got her, saying “Oh, I’ll forget, I promise.  Just whisper it in my ear.”  Of course I told her.

It is also no mystery that being poor is stressful, humiliating and limiting. It is easy to say “Why don’t they just ___________ ?”.  Right now, as a nation in general, we have a very them-vs.-us mentality; every man for himself. If you are lucky enough to have grown up in a household that never really had to struggle to survive, it is much more difficult for you to understand how this cycle of poverty continues through generations.  But instead of saying “Why don’t they ________?”, why don’t you ___________ to help?  Because it’s their problem, not yours.  I’m not saying that we have to give $10 to the people with signs at the end of freeway exit ramps.  Can’t we lend a hand before it gets to that point?  It may not be you or your family right now, but it could be in the future.  Medical expenses alone are becoming outrageous, even for those covered under company policies, and one major illness could be financially devastating.  Half of all bankruptcies filed are attributed to medical bills.  For some reason, we as a society have associated medical bills with outright laziness, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

There were elements in this film that I could not relate to.  My extended family never bonded to get through the hard times.  When my aunt was killed, my father had to admit to the detectives that he “never really socialized with her” and didn’t know her boyfriend was violent.  Her death was heartbreaking, but instead of offering each other support, fights broke out over stupid things like who would get her dresser and bed.

These women in the documentary also had strong faith in God, which was never a part of my upbringing.  Hearing “God will get us through this” and “by the grace of God” was like they were speaking in tongues to me.  Faith is not something I practice.  Even if we’re talking about people in general, or work, or good health, or anything for that matter, I never sit back and say “I have faith”.  Instead, I have hard work and critical thinking skills.  If I don’t do for myself, I have no business sitting back and waiting for something, or someone, to take care of everything for me. 

Yet, there is still the legacy of hope.  We need to be reminded that despite our circumstances, we can rise above with dignity and flourish.  You or I may have been in a bad place 10, 20, 25 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we have to be there now.  Good deeds should be handed out to strangers, friends and family alike – you may need their help one day.

My mom has recently started worrying that she made too many mistakes and bad decisions when raising my sister and I.  It’s quite a time delay, since we are both in our mid-thirties and turned out pretty straight.  I don’t hold anything against her.  She also taught us love and affection, dignity, and the joy of survival. 


The Bee’s Knees

I’m watching “Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man” on Netflix, and as always, he puts together thoughtful pieces about the things we should be concerned about as humans and consumers. I mean, I really enjoyed the episode from Season 3, “Morgan the Matchmaker” because, duh, dating; but there are others that really speak to my sense of responsibility to the earth and to other humans.

For instance, also from Season 3, Morgan explores trash in Episode 6, “United States of Trash.” I try not to create loads of trash. I recycle tons of stuff. But as careful as I try to be, I still generate the equivalent of a Walgreen’s plastic shopping bag of trash every week. I learned something new. Specifically, you can take those glass jars with the metal closures and rubber ring around the lid for a tighter seal to the grocery store with you and have the meat department deposit the meat IN THERE instead of packaging it, even if it’s “just” the paper. Guess what? There’s also less of a chance of cross contamination if it’s in the sealed glass jar rather than in the paper (which you might insist on wrapping in another plastic bag). Also, if you wash your glass jars in food safe dish soap, you aren’t going to pick up chemicals (like you do in containers that are half or all plastic). What amazed me the most was that the family of 4 saved 40% off of their monthly grocery bill by bringing their own containers.
I can no longer drive and stash my reusable bags in my car, but I still make it a point to bring them with me when I do my own shopping. Any time we can leave a little less plastic in the world is best, but even I know I must get better about my own consumption.

Season 3, Episode 7 is “Honey Bee-Ware.” I remember when the big study was put out about how scientists were really excited about figuring out why hives were dying out in great numbers, and they firmly believed it was the result of these little mites that were invading the bodies of the bees and then effectively decapitating them. Something about zombie bees, blah blah blah.

Really, the concern should have been focused on pesticides and herbicides. Morgan interviewed a Harvard researcher who had indisputable proof that the deaths were related to the use of (trace) amounts of neonicotinoids. The popular product “Roundup” has glyphosate, also known to cause just as many problems after being researched. When the European Union found out about the results, they immediately banned those chemicals.

The problem with the U.S. is that we allow ourselves to be guinea pigs for everything – food, cosmetics, cleaning products. We assume that our responsibility and our concern falls only within the U.S. borders, and we’ll take care of “it” later after a number of decades have passed and we suddenly have a large percentage of the population sporting eyeballs from their ears or some weirdness like that. But our trash is in the world’s oceans. We eat poisoned food, use 110 chemicals a day in cosmetics ranging from toothpaste to eyeliner to soap, and we leave smears of chemicals around our kitchens and bathrooms that we would never dream of putting in our mouths, but that’s where they end up anyway.

I mean, think about it: Would you put that Chlorox wet wipe in your mouth and suck on it like a pacifier? I’m guessing not, but somehow you have convinced yourself that it’s safe putting it on every surface you can find. Nothing is really clean unless it’s been passed over by harsh chemicals, right?

<sigh> This brings up the whole discussion about superbugs, but I’m going to think about that one a little longer before I cover it.

My new diet to combat my Lyme bacterial infestation has to be all organic (no chemicals, hormones, artificial anything), and I can’t have any dairy, gluten, soy or sugar. The “Honey, Bee-Ware” episode reminded me that there is a non-profit group in the U.S. that is trying to counteract the stupidity of the FDA and EPA and make us smarter consumers. Now that I think of it, I like the idea of not dipping my apples in a bowl of Roundup before chowing down on them. I try to buy organic when I can. I have already changed all of my cleaning products to be environmentally-friendly, and 90% of my cosmetics have been changed as well (I just have one eyeliner that I have a hard time giving up just because it’s the only one for me that doesn’t smudge, which is important to me because it makes up for the eyelashes I’m missing).

I made these changes about eight years ago after I wrote a paper and gave a presentation on the Environmental Working Group‘s database “Skin Deep” (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/). I still have a hard time convincing people that they can find great stuff for their teeth and skin and hair that isn’t going to give them cancer or screw up their hormones, but I keep trying.

I was thrilled to see EWG add a cleaning database about four years ago: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners

Lastly, EWG has a handful of databases dealing with food issues. Think of it as an adventure to be the best you can be, like you’re in the food army or something. http://www.ewg.org/foodscores

Speak Easy

Last week Friday, February 5th, Nikki (http://ilivebreathe.com/) and I had our first chat on Blab. The agenda was to talk about toxic people, the diverse challenges we face when interacting with them, and when to let them go. The recording went much longer than we planned at 1 hour 45 minutes, but if you are interested, here is a link to the show:


We decided to come back this week with another show, and this time the topic is self-care. What do you do to bring yourself back from the pit of despair? Do you allow yourself to laugh or cry? If you have seen the movie “Amelie” (French with subtitles), you know that each character is assigned a list of things that seems like a very simple pleasure. Amelie’s father likes to take all of his tools out of the toolbox, clean out the box, and very carefully put the tools back in. A patron at the eatery carries a mini tape recorder with him everywhere, and then records unusual laughs. Amelie likes to stick her hands into barrels of dried peas.

What do you do to make yourself feel better about your circumstances?

Join us on Blab for a discussion on self-care; we’ll start at 6 pm EST/3 pm PST Friday, February 12th.


Isn’t That A Co-inky-dink?

This year began on pretty rough ground. First, Quato from Total Recall was growing in my left ass cheek and trying really hard to bust out. Every day for three weeks (including some weekends) someone had to look at my bare ass. Then my body got so stressed out from not being able to stay flat every day that my tremors came back. I have been feeling just exhausted. I wish I had a Keebler elf that I could pull out of my pocket and demand that s/he do all of my dishes and scrub my tub and toilet.

But here’s the thing: I’ve been getting some validations.

The start was getting the image of a lemon cake, the kind like my mom made when I was a kid, in my head. I could picture myself mixing the lemon curd to make the frosting, putting that on the layers, and then cutting myself a slice, still kinda warm. Later on, before I left to go to the meditation class, I caught up with a friend I haven’t talked to in about a decade. She told me that she made herself a lemon cake that afternoon to celebrate her own birthday.

Last night I thought to myself, “Call S. in Scottsdale.” I didn’t know why I thought that, because we talked two weeks ago and I figured that update would have carried us over for a bit. Ten minutes later she called me to tell me she had moved (somewhat abruptly) and her plans changed from what she told me two weeks prior – she decided to stay in Scottsdale rather than pursue a job opportunity elsewhere.

My final ride for the evening yesterday on the short bus involved me being picked up from the grocery store and redeposited at home. It ended up being a really, really long ride – since it’s a ride share, rarely is one rider picked up and then brought to their destination without stopping elsewhere first. The driver and I started chatting while we waited for one rider to finish with her church group. I heard, “Tell her you’re selling your car” in my ear, or brain, or however you’d like to think about it. Anyway, I worked it into the conversation. She became serious and asked me what kind of car it was because she and her husband were looking for a second vehicle. I didn’t really do a hard sell with her because ultimately I didn’t think it would be something she would seriously consider; my car is a hatchback, and she was talking small SUV. Still, it was worth a shot.

I’m not really sure what I have to do to keep connecting with the universe, but I guess I had better get a move on.


Duck – Here Comes Another Turkey!

The Quiz Master (previously referred to in “What’s Going On With Your Face?” post) messaged me today and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. It was not his first message to me since he signed off with a “goodbye and good day” after I told him to stop contacting me. Oh, no. I knew he couldn’t be counted on to leave me alone, considering how obsessive he is. The Quiz Master also texted me on November 15th and said, “Hey, how are you?” as if I hadn’t cut him off. As if I would come to my senses and say, “Oh, you’re the best Quiz Master ever, I don’t know what I was thinking in telling you to go away.” He, of course, told me that I was pushing him away just because I am stubborn – not because I actually want him to leave me alone. “No” doesn’t actually mean “no” and all that bullshit, according to him.

I also got a cutesy cartoon from the church guy who went radio silent in “Showing Up is Half the Battle.” This was after he sent me messages saying “happy turkey eve beautiful” yesterday, and before that a message saying his aces were up while playing poker and that he wished I was by his side as he was winning.

Don’t worry, I didn’t reply to either of these jackasses. And in perfect harmony with this post, “A Little Respect” by Erasure played on my Pandora while I was typing.

On a different note, I traded emails with one of my mom’s sisters and updated her on what was happening with my situation. She said she had contacted my cousin, who is a doctor of osteopathy (DO), and he said that the doctors are turning me down not because I’m giving them too much or too little info, but because they can’t “win” with me – there is no way they can diagnose me. As it stands right now, there are approximately 7,000 diseases out there in the world that have no name or etiology, and the majority of them are similar to mine only in that the symptoms are neuorological in nature. I have been in contact with some groups that I think should be able to put me in touch with the proper researchers, and there are rare disease groups that focus on finding resources for patients. However, I’m feeling a bit like I’m drowning again. A lot of these groups talk specifically about patients that are children. I know it’s especially troubling when children are stricken with major illnesses; after all, I was sick for most of my childhood. However, now that I’ve managed to become a middle-aged adult while this particular disease popped up, does that mean that my life is worth less? I had my chance to reach adulthood so am I therefore not worthy of assistance?

Every person I talk to tells me not to give up. I am not sure I can anyway. I mean, I had to give up my house, my car and working – what else am I going to do with my time? But at some point I need doctors and researchers to fill in the blanks. I can’t imagine going another 10 years like this and waiting for technology to catch up.

Today was the first time in about 23 years that my sister, my mom and stepdad and I were actually in the same state for a holiday, so we pigged out at my sister’s place. Yesterday and today were pretty difficult for me and I think it has to do with the temperature, air pressure and humidity; we got snowfall that actually accumulated and stayed today. I had to spend most of the time in bed because of fibromyalgia pain, but also my CSF was accumulating like the snow. I was hoping I’d be able to hang out for a few hours before my brain started being crushed, but instead I began drooping noticeably as soon as my stepdad picked me up, and I had only been upright for about 45 minutes at that point.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you can find things to be thankful for every day. I’m working on my list.


How Now, Brown Cow?

I saw my 42nd doctor today. I always start my introduction off the same way for everyone: “So, are you up for a challenge?” I get the same reaction every time, like there is no way I have something they haven’t seen yet. I feel their need to pat me on the head and tell me I’m being cute, and they’re waiting to smirk and say, “Oh, it’s just a migraine, sweetie.” But then they start to sputter, or stutter, or ask me the same question six or seven times. Then they leave the room. Then they come back in (as if they haven’t just gone into their office and said “Fuck” a few times, noiselessly, before putting on their game face and walking purposefully back into the exam room). This doctor was no different.

He said, “I just don’t know what you have. I have never seen this before, but you know, I’m just a neurologist. I wouldn’t know what to do with you.” I said, “Study me.” He said, “I wouldn’t know what to study.” I said, “But these are neurological issues. Someone has to be willing to think outside of the box, like keeping me upright for scans instead of laying down.” He said, “But I don’t know how to help you. I think you should go back to the neurosurgeons.” I said, “Okay, can you talk the neurosurgeons at the U of M into taking my case?” (He is, after all, a University of Minnesota neurologist.)

He said, “I’ll just send them a referral like normal.” But this isn’t normal. None of this is normal. I wish that I could make my surprised face now (even if it’s an act), but, you know, my face is half paralyzed. I really had to fight the urge to have my medical transport person make a pit stop at a bakery so I can buy a chocolate cake to put my whole face into in the privacy of my apartment. I’m past crying about it. It’s just exhausting. How am I supposed to carry on without even a small glimmer of hope? The doctors tell me not to give up. That means “fight,” right? But they don’t want me to fight with them, just the ever-elusive “someone else.” I often wonder what they would do if they were me.

Today wasn’t a total loss, though. My sister and I went to see a dermatologist at the same time early in the morning and then made a pit stop at her place to pick up her two dogs before she went to work, and as usual, the smaller female managed to get loose and run free. She’s some sort of terrier mix with short, wiry hair and sweet brown eyes that my sister and her husband got the day I moved to Minnesota. The male is some crazy mix of beagle and who knows what else- maybe Saint Bernard? – he’s got kind of a big body but pretty short, stubby legs, and the saddest face ever. The male also does not move fast for anything. When he sees me, he knows I’m going to rub his belly, so he doesn’t even bother coming over to me first. He just throws himself on the floor and raises his front paws, like it would be way too much effort to walk a few steps, and I definitely should not miss out on scratching his armpits. So while my sister was trying to lure the female back with treats and we saw her bounding through some brush like a jackrabbit, the male saw me from about 50 feet away and launched himself towards me near the parking area. I swear to you I have never seen him move like that with his ears flapping in the wind before, and I probably never will again. The female heard me calling for her and she buzzed right past my sister and threw herself down for a belly rub too. I really wish I could have pets. I’m lucky my sister works across the street and I can go get some fur therapy when I have a crappy day. They were both rescue dogs, so it warms my heart that they love me enough to come to me too.

Today my sister drove my car so that I could clean it out a bit before listing it for sale. Let’s be clear, here: I don’t want to. I love my car. I did a lot of research before I bought it, and it has all of the features I wanted and nothing I didn’t. I had planned on keeping it for at least a dozen years and so made sure it had the best possible engine for its price point. I got a platinum extended warranty. It fits in every parking space. It’s a hatchback, so even though it’s in the car category, it sits up higher like a small pickup – that means it’s super easy to get in and out of. I could go on and on. Cross your fingers for me for a quick and successful sale, because girlfriend’s gotta live off that money for the next twelve months, know what I’m sayin’?.