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Faith.

Faith has been a tricky word for me all my life.

As a child, the blind faith I had in things was well-placed: my parents, my older brother, my friends, my school and teachers, even my church and their image of God. I believed in each and I was generally repaid with love and support.

As a teen, my faith changed. I could not stand with a church or a set of beliefs that excluded others, I could not idealistically forget the problems of those around me, and frankly, blind faith became words I associated with stupidity, or at the very least, naïvety.

As an adult, I find I am asked to have faith in a lot of things that do not really deserve my faith. Namely, in no particular order, health insurance companies, politicians of any political leaning, the stock market. (Now I sound like a cynic–I swear, most of the day, I’m not. Maybe this is just my low blood sugar, needing-a-nap part of the afternoon.) As an adult, I find I forget to honor the things that still deserve my faith–namely, in no particular order, my family, my friends, myself. My dog, too–boy, she is reliably happy to see me, even when she’s sick or sleepy. My job. I actually really like teaching, even when it is challenging, even when I cry.

Looking back on my past, I know that I could have added my body and my health to that list. In fact, maybe I still could rely on those things save for one nasty word: ARTHRITIS. (Cue thunder-clap and lightning flash, followed by creepy violins.) Somewhere, along the years of a diagnosis at 20, near immobilization by 21, the return of mobility by 22, and steadiness of good health and mobility until 25, save the minor distractions of hair loss, fatigue, occasional inflammation flares, and a lowered immune system, then starting that cycle again after a trail-period of going off the medications that cause those aforementioned side-effects at 26–I learned to lose faith in my body.

Knowing this and understanding the repercussions of this belief are different though. Last night, in yoga class, the teacher asked us to have faith in our bodies in the same way we have faith in other things. I had not considered the fact that I have faith in yoga–which is why I keep returning to my mat.

I have faith that yoga will make me feel better. I have faith that yoga will help me focus inward and therefore be able to respond better to all the outside forces of my life. I have faith that yoga will my heart will pump blood more effectively to all my limbs. I have faith that yoga will open me physically. I have faith that yoga will help me open emotionally. I have faith that yoga is like a friend to me. I have faith that even when I turn my back on yoga, the practice does not do the same to me, and I can return to my mat after days, months, years, and find something that I need.

The effort of learning to have faith in yourself–or for me, in my body–is life-long, I fear. But even so, I’m not sure having faith is an achievable goal–like once you reach it, you posses it forever. My experience of faith is that it ebbs and flows, like most emotions. Belief, however, might be the fixed point that I can stare, just as I often choose a shadow on the wall to stare at while in tree pose. I waver, and weave, and lean to one side, but keeping my eyes on the wall, allows my foot to be rooted, my arms reaching skyward. Maybe belief in one’s self allows for faith to root.

Photo courtesy of Carl A. 

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The dates on blog posts are funny things–for this blog, and for me, the dates tell a story I didn’t know was emerging.

Many posts in a short period of time–I was thinking. I was writing. I was saying things to myself in the shower, or on long walks, or as I drifted off to sleep. I was working a desk job, and I was bored. I was trying to make sense of things and felt the only way to do so was to write it out on this forum, a bit anonymously, a bit for the benefit of loved ones’ feedback, and yes, solidarity.

Many months without posts–I was doing.

Ok, that’s maybe an overstatement. I was thinking, and still coming up with things in my head, but I was also accepting the things that I needed to learn.

I was moving states, reordering my life by reordering the things in my life.

I was starting a new, challenging job.

I was growing into this person that is me, maybe without knowing how subtly things can change. How beauty can creep into life in ways unimaginable.

How I can ask for things from life and sometimes get them.

Its been months, more than half a year since I last wrote here, and I can deeply connect with the feelings of that last post, how frightened, how lost, how unsure of anything I felt. Many of us felt. But I have found hope in struggle–my own struggle with disease has been a long, winding road, some of which is witnessed here. At my best, I feel like I can move on, that one day, I’ll heal. Go into remission. At my worst, I swing manic–nothing will work, everything will worsen…

Today, I am hopeful. I am exercising again, moving my body in ways that feel unsteady but somehow still strong–I am thankful. Tomorrow, I might feel differently, but I know that it wills wing the other way. I am in week 5 of a 10 week arthritis diet and acupuncture course, and my acupuncturist tells me it will get better week 7. Now, this is a post for another time–so again, today, I am hopeful. Here’s to this month, and the next.

Photos courtesy of Alyson Hurt on Flickr.

For A Desert City

Tucson is a dark city.

By that, I mean that much of the city is without street lamps, that our downtown, by other cities’ standards, is not as well-lit, and in fact, we have light pollution laws to prevent too much artificial light disrupting our night skies.

Much of this is due to the fact that world-class telescopes and astronomy centers are cradled in the mountains around town. Our desert city makes a good place for sky viewing because of our 350+ days of sunshine a year; the cloudless skies open for scientists to witness planets, eclipses, and all other astronomic phenomena.

This week, Tucson went dark in other ways. Without other language to clarify the community’s feelings, I will echo President Obama, in his speech at the memorial this week: We are heartbroken. This desert town, as many have described, is a close-knit community that is more accustomed to dealing with the challenges of heat and drought than the challenges of grieving the loss and injury of so many of our own.

I was born and raised in Tucson, and even when I have lived in other cities, I have considered this place my home. The shooting on January 8, 2011 changed the lives of so many in this community.

Tucson, despite the million people who live here, feels like a small town. My friends and I have joked that it is scary to accept a blind date in this town because odds are, you’ll know the other person, and there will be a reason you didn’t date them before.

This smallness, this intimacy has affected us much more profoundly this week, however. I can say rather surely that has affected all of us–everyone I know has one degree or less of separation from the people involved in the tragedy. We have watched the news everyday, reacting with sadness, with hopelessness, with fear, with anger. We have joined together at familiar places, seeking clarity, seeking justice, seeking and offering support. We have not known how to react, except with shock.

In many ways, the days have gone by normally. People are still working, attending school, moving in daily life. But underneath it all is this feeling of uncertainty–that the spirit of this community seems damaged, vulnerable.

My dog, for better or for worse, does not sense this damage, and she is as energetic as ever. Last night, I took her for a walk, an act of normalcy for both of us. And as we walked down Tucson Boulevard, I looked up and saw stars–big, white, bright stars.

In most large cities, the light from the buildings and streets often blocks the light from the sky. City dwellers get used to a blanket of dark, or of clouds, rather than the pinholes of starlight. Tucson is different in this way. We find our way from the light offered from the sky, not from our streetlights, or billboards, or skyscrapers.

Right now, Tucson is a dark city. I can only hope that with the darkness, there will also be clarity–clarity to see the beauty of this life while recognizing our pain, our sadness, our confusion, our anger. We are all grieving, not just the incredible loss of life, but we are grieving our innocence, that something like this could have happened here.

I have to believe that within this lies hope. Despite the trauma we have experienced, the spirit of this community is alive. There are shooting victims, including our Congresswoman Giffords, reclaiming their lives by surviving. Those of us who have witnessed this are standing in support of their fight, and we are remembering the gifts shared with us by those killed.

In Tucson, we are lucky because we can look to the sky and find whatever we need there–relief from city life, the belief in a higher power, or the feeling of the infinite. Whatever it is we all need to heal, I believe it is possible. Tucson, no matter the darkness, is filled with light.

Thank you to Search Net Media for use of the photo through Creative Commons.

10 to 11

My Lesson of 2010: The Opening Year sometimes takes so much more than one year.

My Lesson of 2011: Let be and be free to experience the life that awaits.

The Fruit

Some scars are found on your body, while some are more hidden. Scars are big, obnoxious things, or delicate, small remembrances of a time lived. Scars are not good or bad, but often, we perceive them with negativity because scars are something that disrupt perfection.

This weekend has left me with a few new scars, outside and inside. There are the outward signs of fatigue, like the dark circles under my eyes. There are the rounded scabs mirrored on both elbows from an overly aggressive yoga class. (Dolphin pose on repeat + a slippery mat = a hardcore case of rug/yoga mat burn.) And inwardly, there is the  semi-formed scar of self-realization.

This weekend, I travelled to see some friends for the first time in months. It was four days of food, dancing, deep conversations, shallow conversations, a 70-year-old man getting fresh while two-stepping, birthday parties, sunshine turning to cold air, and did I mention food?

It was a joyful experience, tinged with the sadness of knowing I had to leave at the end.  I wanted to exist in stasis–for my world to suspend in this place, with these friends, but for time to continue. (Guess how that worked out: I’m back home at my computer as we speak.) But for a time, I was able to celebrate my year’s journey–complete with new scars–with friends who have accumulated with marks of their own.

Like I said, we often think of scars as ruining some sort of perceived perfection. As a noun, Merriam-Webster defines scar as:

1 : a mark left (as in the skin) by the healing of injured tissue; 2 : a lasting emotional injury <psychological scars>.

Compare this to perfection: 1 : the quality or state of being perfect: as a : freedom from fault or defect : flawlessness b : maturity c : the quality or state of being saintly

2 a : an exemplification of supreme excellence b : an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence.
I see these definitions and can’t help but picture a piece of fruit.
We are not fruit–we are adaptable, developing, growing human beings, and our skin, like our minds and souls, will have periods of expansion,  contraction, trauma and health.
We will be left with the marks of those times. I am learning to accept my own, knowing that I might feel differently about it tomorrow, but that’s just fine.
Tonight, I’ll just say thank you to my dear friends and former city. Love!

On Falling In Love

“Fall in love with your body. Your body is the perfect vehicle for your yogic journey.”

While in a modified downward dog position (I prefer dolphin pose as it doesn’t put strain on my wrists), I heard my yoga teacher say this.

And I thought, “Wouldn’t life be so much easier if I could do this?”

I’ll also admit, in a very non-yoga admission, this annoyed the hell out of me. My immediate reaction was to retort, “You don’t know what it is like to be in my body. Don’t tell me what to do when you don’t understand!”

(Here’s where you say, “Um, you’re juvenile.” And I say, “YOU’RE JUVENILE,” and I fully relapse into my teenage years.)

 

falling in love with all sorts of things

 

Everybody has aches, pains, flaws, challenges, and it seems we all spend so much time trying to avoid (or avoid facing) the pain. In a strange irony, we also cling to our own pain–we declare our pain more interesting, more important, more… painful than anyone else’s.

I’ve said it before–having a disease that many people haven’t heard of, or don’t fully understand, can be isolating. It can make a person feel like they need to explain or justify the way they are.

In yoga classes, invariably, I feel like people wonder about me when I modify almost every pose, or stay in an easier pose rather than stretch deeper. In this way, I want to explain to people that I have an “excuse” for my body–why it is the way it is…

OR I feel overly defensive–how dare they assume I can move in that way without knowing me, knowing my disease, knowing my history!

And yet, I just walked through the studio doors for this exact reason–to get feedback, guidance, and support in my yoga practice. In fact, I think we all did. We come to a community to practice, to heal, and hopefully, grow stronger as humans.

RA sometimes makes me a teenager all over again. I am moody, I feel growing pains, I want to argue… and I actually want to utter “You just don’t understand me!” to yoga teachers.

But what happens when yoga teachers are right, just like your parents were those years ago?

“Your body is the perfect vessel.” Why is it that the things you need to learn are the things you fight so badly? “Your body is perfect.” Why must I re-learn the same lesson over and over? “Fall in love with your body.”

The teenager in me wants to listen to some Morrissey and go back to bed.  The teenager in me thinks that her experience is special and meaningful, more valuable than other people’s experiences.

But, hopefully, the adult in me will override the teen’s impulse towards narcissism and isolation. The adult–who recognizes the value of support offered freely by loved ones, yoga teachers, strangers–will admit that falling in love with my own body is nearly impossible, but still a goal worth reaching towards.

Just as I work towards downward dog again, I can try (and possibly fail) at loving myself. I might be modifying my attempts now, but perhaps, I will grow into it. Maybe we all will.

I’ll get straight to the gripe: self-injections are annoying. Once a week, I pinch some fat on my stomach (at least 2 inches away from my belly button), push in a needle, and then slowly push medicine into the subcutaneous tissue. Also, the medicine burns.

I have to fight most of my normal instincts–avoiding pain–to do this, and have done so for about five years.

Add the annoying factor of keeping the medicine refrigerated at all times–which seriously complicates any travel I might want to make and any  prescriptions renewal I need–this is where it becomes a gripe.

July has been a strange month for me, and like I told a friend, as strange month in some bad, but many good ways–and yesterday, after traveling for 9 hours in a U-Haul Truck across two states, I remembered I had to do my injections before going out on the town. Annoying. That’s my gripe.

Now on to the things to celebrate.

1. This month, for all it’s change, has shown me the strength of my relationships, new and old.

2. I felt pretty damn good physically, and that is something to celebrate like crazy.

3. I am looking forward to having many pen pals–almost nothing is better than getting a pretty piece of stationary with words written by a friend.

4. The desert has wide, welcoming arms. I am embraced.

5. And here’s to August, for all it’s possibility.

Most people have a person they use as a sounding board.

For me, this person is often my mom. Lucky for me, my mom is visiting me in my dear old city of Austin this week.

Here are five things I have already learned from just 48 hours with my mom:

this is what my dog is like when my mom is not around: following commands like "sit" and "stay."

1. All of my dog training goes out the window. In the morning, my dog Pepper and I have a ritual: I wake up, and then I let her outside so she can alternately “do her business” and bark at squirrels/birds/garbage trucks/the neighbor kids. She likes to stay outside until I call her for a walk, but for the last two mornings, she has let out one yelp, then barreled back inside the house so she can scratch the door to the room where my mom is sleeping.

My mom lets her in and the love-fest begins. It is futile for me to interject and try to make my dog behave respectably.

2. My mom and I have progressed to a point in our relationship where we can watch sex on television show, and only feel mildly uncomfortable. I think this means I am an adult. No longer must we change the channel for the sheer awkwardness of the moment; instead, we suffer through it, making appropriate chuckles and gasps, knowing that this scene is pivotal to the story arc.

3. My mom loves me, a lot. This might seem silly, but when my judgey self (as I have talked about in past posts) is shouting away at me, I forget that my mom has known me for longer than I have even known myself. There is wisdom in that.

I know many people who don’t have great, good, or even decent relationships with their parents–and mine is by no means free from strife–but mine is one of support. There are moments when I can relax into the unfailing love my mom has for me, and not worry if she is thinking of me as a child. I am her child, yes, but I am also my own adult, and she has been there for all of it. Heck, I think she even mostly sees me as an adult now (see above, in #2.)

4. My mom helps me examine the things I am willing to overlook for the sake of my emotional comfort. I talked a few weeks ago about making the big decisions, and guess what? I have gone back and forth and back again, not listened to my own advice about settling into them. I have struggled, made up my mind, then gone totally back on it. It is infuriating to be in my head sometimes, and I can imagine, that to an outsider, it is even more annoying.

getting to the heart of the matter...

My mom, though, makes me get to the heart of it–why am I having a hard time making decisions? Is it because I feel equally pulled in two directions, or is it that I am afraid of leaving options behind by making one choice? I am more comfortable not examining those things, but then, when the time comes and I do have to make up my mind, circumstances force me one way or the other. Looking at the things in my life that make me uncomfortable, and supporting me while I do it, is a quality that my mom has never failed me on.

5. You don’t have to be fearless (who is?), but you can’t let your fear stop you from doing anything. In the end, my mom will do just about anything for me. Like: go to a yoga class with me, even if she’s nervous. Get on a plane to come see me. Inject RA medications in my stomach for four months when I couldn’t do it on my own. Fearlessly follow things she is interested in because they bring her joy.

She does things that are new to her because it makes her stronger, because it gives her more experience, because new things are fun to try… My mom has taught me that “different” is not bad or good, that sometimes wanting and not wanting things to happen will, in no way, change if they do or do not happen, that you either move yourself forward, or time does it for you.

Once or twice, my mom has mentioned that she felt guilty for passing on genes that predisposed me to getting Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was easy for me to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but I know it has taken her years to not believe this. We all have an internal dialogue that can hurt us, but if we are lucky, we have one or two people in our lives who will tell us when we’re just plain being silly.

And when we’re being silly, will help us do something that makes us un-silly, like laughing, like taking some deep breaths, like cooking and eating a great meal, like writing a blog entry (hey!).

I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in the next 48 hours.

Heart Photo courtesy of Helga Weber.

I thought this theme needed to be split into two posts because when I was writing earlier this week, I had to keep my ramblings in check. But over the past few days, the ideas have percolated through vision, and I’ve settled in on one idea: the effort of running away.

In high school, I ran cross-country. Now, in Arizona in the summer/fall, this is no small feat. The big joke I always heard about cross-country runners was that the sport didn’t make much sense to non-runners because we weren’t running to or away from anything. We were just running for the sake of running.

This is what I have experienced lately–that I’ve been running away from the scary realizations about myself.

Intellectually, I know that rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic (i.e. lifetime) disease. Emotionally, I can’t bear to be like this forever.

Sometimes, I feel like I am stuck in a body that I don’t understand. My tendons and muscles have shortened as a result of the disease, so I have restricted mobility throughout my body, which makes it difficult to type, dance, put on clothes, cook, sit in certain positions, do yoga, walk the dog, carry items…components of daily life.

The confusion for me is that last week, at my rheumatology appointment, my doctor was happy to tell me that my blood work is “perfect,” as in, no inflammation, no rheumatoid factor, no disease.

But my body says something else. I deal with restriction in my body in most things I do.

I mention these things not to feel sorry for myself, but to be honest with myself. It is scary not to know what it will be like from one day to the next, and for many years, I have put this off, been lifted by the hopeful words of others.

But I was running away. When I had an acupuncturist tell me over and over that he knew I would go into remission, I believed him. When my parents celebrated my small victories, I clung to them. When I saw how strong I could be on medication, it made me think: I could be strong without medication, and I went off RA drugs.

Looking back, that was a bad choice for me. I misread the signs of health as HEALED because I wanted it so badly. I was running away from the truth about my disease, that it cannot be quickly fixed.

When RA came back, and I had to pursue different and more intensive treatment, I was so sad and so angry. (Writing those words doesn’t really connect to what I was feeling, and sometimes still do feel. But expressing emotions is sometimes where words fail, and here, admittedly, they do.)

I felt tricked. I felt that I was stupid to have trusted anyone else, stupid to have trusted my hopes. But facing my disease again has made me understand better the ways in which I choose to be away from my own experience.

I was so afraid to facing the pain, it grew into a Giant Scary Monster that lived in my shadows. I feared the day when I might have to approach it–did so many things to keep it at a distance, challenge some truths about myself.

When I finally did turn to face it, it has been nothing like the terrifying scene I had played and replayed in my head. I am living. I am getting through it. I ask for help when I need it, and I am, most of all, trying not to be ashamed.

Yes, sometimes I feel stuck in a body I don’t understand, but sometimes, I can rejoice in the pleasure it gives me too. I can do things I couldn’t yesterday, and for all the fear that I had yesterday, today is different than I expected.

A shadow doesn't have to be a monster--instead, it can be a way to know you are solid and leaving your mark.

Running away from things, both literally and in one’s own head, is based out of fear.

Like I said earlier, it is scary not to know what it will be like from one day to the next–and that isn’t just true for people with chronic illnesses, it is true for all of us. We are not rooted to the earth in a substantial way–exhilarating at one turn, terrifying at the next. We can try to leave our attachments to what we once were in each moment, because things can change that quickly, or we can run and run and run away and only wind up exhausting ourselves.

There is beauty in running for the sake of running, because you can fully live in the moment. We all have started somewhere, and we will all end somewhere, but the road between those two points is winding, muddy, beautiful, challenging, and rewarding. This is the body I’ve got, so let’s begin.

Photos by Alex Carmichal and Joe Marinaro.

On Being Away, Part 1.

It has been a while since I last wrote–you could say I have been out living with my decisions–so today’s theme is fitting, on being away.

Being away is a funny little turn of phrase. Though being is the verb, it implies a static nature, like living is one kind of thing. (Think, human being, then think of the billions of experiences each individual being has, and then you’re getting to what I’m talking about.) Being is both a title and a promise for us humans.

Now, the away part is also interesting. Away implies that there is someplace to get back to. Away from home, away from your lover, away from the office–away, away, away. We allow away to define us–if we are not THERE then we are HERE, and it is all a choice. We grow up believing that who we are is defined by these kinds of choices, so it is no wonder that I find myself HERE: struggling with my choices, struggling with who I am, and unsuccessfully trying to outline the person I want to be in the future.

fill in the blank...

This weekend was a celebration for me, a celebration of new beginnings. Several things came together to make it so: My roommate, with whom I have built a sisterly bond, is moving out next week and traveling for a month. Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year–the day when nature ripens into maturity, and we all get to bake in the pleasure of sunlight. Later this summer, I will also be moving away from the house I have lived in for two years, the house that has held some supremely wonderful memories as well as some awesomely painful memories.

This weekend was an opportunity for me to be fully in the present moment and enjoy my friends and their offerings. And what offerings they gave! Our dining room table was overloaded with food, and around 10pm, our backyard filled with the songs, poems, stories, dances and laughter of these dear friends. (Several friends also brought their dogs, so the circle was also occasionally filled with the joyful tumbling and wrestling of puppies.)

It was hot–by the time the actual first day of summer rolls around, Texas replies, “Oh, you wanted us to wait? We started summer six weeks ago!”–but the night had offerings too. These offerings came in the form of occasional cool breezes and the presence of few mosquitos.

And there I was–in the middle of this amazing situation and amazing people–feeling nostalgic for what I would miss when I go away.

Away.

The fallacy I have taught myself to believe is that only things that last are important. I cling to the desire to make good things stay, and wish for bad things to go away. But there is no value in the staying and leaving–life is, by its very nature, impermanent, and human beings are no different.

If you can’t already tell, this weekend was also host to another event for me–a yoga workshop titled “Healing Through Emptiness.” We connected our body movements with meditation and lecture on emptiness–aiming towards recognizing that things, events, emotions, and thoughts have no inherent value, and therefore, we can better see them for what they are. Once we do this (and I should add that it is not a one-time lesson, but one that we must keep re-learning), we can have freedom from the sadness, the grief, the anger, the fear that comes with living.

But living is the point–we can’t be away from our lives. Being away, if we use it to escape, can be the method for losing sight of mindfulness, of kindness to ourselves and others, of joy. In this sense, being away is a lie, because we’re not going to anywhere else in this life, just adding or taking away different things, people, feelings, etc.

The party this weekend got really great once I stopped trying to sustain it–once I settled into the momentary changes, I was able to witness the real joy that I felt. Change is difficult, but also enlightening. I am also coming to suspect that your 20’s are just filled with potentially enlightening moments…

Today, June 21, is the longest day of the year, the solstice, the marker for the beginning of summer. But, this day also marks the ending of spring. Beginnings often also mean endings, just as going to somewhere also means being away from somewhere else. Whatever it is, we’ll get there if we just settle in.

photo by Darwin Bell.