Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Struggling With Where

I think another reason I am struggling so much to accept the death of my Mother, is that I have no concrete beliefs about what happens to a person's soul after they die.

I would like to believe in Heaven. It would be really awesome to think my Mom is now in a place where she is not tethered to her concentrator like a dog on a leash and where her lungs are not the shrivelled useless things they were in life. I would love to know that she is with her Mother, who also passed away suddenly when Mom was much younger than I am now and had just become a new mother herself.

I have to admit, Utopia is a very alluring concept.

Unfortunately, in order to believe in a literal Heaven I also have to believe in a literal Hell. And I have to believe in God and the Bible and that whole ball of wax because I don't think Christianity is an a la carte ideal.

For reasons far too complicated and convoluted to go into right now, I just can't do that, as much as I would like to. And I would like to. I've said it before....I am deeply envious of those who have the solace of a convicted heart. I think this whole thing would be a lot easier if I just believed....something.

I believe this: She has not simply ceased to be. Her soul, her essense, her life force...whatever you want to call it...still exists somewhere. I believe it is simply too powerful and too indomitable to be snuffed out like a candle.

And yet...she is undeniably gone.

I saw her body before it was all fancied up. I had to. I hadn't seen her for nearly a year and I needed to say good-bye to my Mother; not some made up, plasticized, artificial version of my Mother. So I begged them not to do anything until I got there and could lay eyes upon her one last time.

If you've ever seen a dead body...a real dead body, not a neatly dressed corpse in a casket....then you know that it is quite obvious that what has been left behind is nothing more than cold dead flesh. It is quite clearly an empty vessel.

It horrified me because it was my Mother but not my Mother.

I stroked the same brow that used to wrinkle with consternation when I had been naughty. I held the same hand that used to feel my forehead for fevers and wrap my hair around prickly curlers. But it was utterly lifeless. It didn't squeeze back, it didn't brush away the tears that fell upon it, it didn't tremble and hum with the force of her inside it. My Mother was one of those people who filled a room with her presence, almost as if her body couldn't contain the brilliance of her spirit.

But the room in which she lay was utterly empty and still. No presence. No vibrance. No life.

So she is gone. I know that.

But where is she??? A soul as bouyant and bright as my Mother's has to be somewhere.

Here's what I would very much like to believe...

My mother has been born anew and is now just a tiny baby, suckling at her Mother's soft, warm breast. She is no longer an aging orphan with diseased lungs but a cherished infant with lungs that are pink and clean and fresh once more. And she will go on to live another amazing life and do even more amazing things.

She won't remember me, but that's okay because I remember her.

Live well Mom. I hope we meet again someday. I like to think that something in me will know you and something in you will know me.

Maybe we will even be lucky enough to love one another again.

Afterthought: What if her new Mother is her old one? What if...once we cross paths, our destinies are inextricably linked and we go on loving each other until the end of time? That means we don't lose each other, we just get seperated by time once in a while. I like that. It comforts me. And right now, I take comfort where I can.

Friday, October 22, 2010

When Fierce Dies

My mother died last week. If you've been around this blog for any period of time, you know that my mother was my hero and my best friend. I am completely and totally unhinged. It was unexpected and due to circumstances, somewhat horrifying.

My Mom, you see...had lost ONE HUNDRED pounds recently. Though chronically ill, she had improved her health drastically. Her condition (COPD) was progressive. It never gets better, only worse. But SHE got better. Once, she needed 5 litres of oxygen on a constant basis, regardless of activity level. But she decreased her dependance to the point that she didn't use it at all if she was at rest, and was able to turn it down to 2 litres when active.

Once, she had trouble simply walking from one room to another in her home. But she had worked up to walking 3mph for 45 minutes on the treadmill. And she was able to discontinue use of the CPAP machine completely. In order to do that, her oxygen sats had to stay above 95 all night without it. And it did! I know that means nothing to you, but for someone with her disease, it was monumental. Her doctors marvelled at the progress she had made and the degree to which she had improved her quality of life. "That just doesn't happen.", they said. But SHE made it happen.

And then she died.

One night, she didn't feel well; a little sniffly, a little big deal. She has had dozens of colds since she was diagnosed and always recovered, though of course, it took her a bit longer. Nobody, least of all her, I'm certain, thought she would die of the sniffles. So she went to bed, fully intending to wake up and go on living. But she died sometime the next morning alone in her bedroom. Nobody knows why or how. Because COPD is eventually fatal, there was no investigation, no autopsy. She died of COPD as we knew she would. But still it makes no sense.


Someone with her condition cannot be called "healthy" by any stretch, but she was as healthy as someone with her condition could possibly be. And it seems so unfair. She worked so hard over the last 17 months to lose weight and get stronger. Really??? She loses a hundred pounds and then dies anyway?? That sucks. Big hairy donkey dicks. Pardon the vulgarity. But I am angry and I have no place to direct that anger. And her death was an ugly thing to me; I can only describe it with ugly words.

See...that's what's really bothering me.

Some of you may remember Funeral In A Small Town. It was one of my most cherished pieces because I felt that it meant something. And I want to write something for my mother that is a million times more meaningful.

But I can't. The words won't come, or at least, not the words I want, because I can find nothing beautiful about any of it. It was and is horrible and bleak and grim and...perverted. Yes. That's it. Her death is a perversion because there are few people in this world who were as vibrant and alive as my mother. The injustice wounds me so deeply that something down there refuses to fancy it up with lyricism and palatable prose.

This blog has been many things, not least of all my personal platform for working through the issues that plague us all as we navigate the stormy seas of adulthood. But how am I supposed to effect any kind of catharsis if I can't use WORDS??? How the FUCK am I going to get through this if I can't pull it out of myself and put it down on paper???

There are words though, that made their way to these pages long before my mother's death. I wrote about her often, because she was not only an amazing mother, but a remarkable woman. Now that words fail me, I'm so glad I have them, glad I shared them with her, and glad that I could hold myself together long enough to speak some of them at her funeral. A week later, just how I managed that is still a mystery to me. I was so fragile that day. It hardly seems possible that I was able to put one foot in front of the other.

Maybe one day I can honor my amazing mother with the beautiful words that fail me now. For now, this is what I have. This is what I said. This is what I want her to know.

Fierce (Edited; Funeral version)

Parenting a child who is wired a little differently has taught me a lot of things; one of the most valuable being that I, his mother, have to be the one to stand up and demand that my child be given the same treatment and opportunities as every other child.

No. Better.

It is possible to advocate for your child without being labeled a problem parent; the one that the staff talks about behind closed doors, the one every teacher dreads dealing with. For every Mom, there comes a time when she must rant and rave. But often, the right combination of determination, politesse, and a little good old fashioned flattery can achieve the objective without cultivating an unsavory reputation as “that” Mom.

I have my mother to thank for my diplomacy skills. But I also have her to thank for knowing when diplomacy has failed. She was never afraid to do what needed to be done. She didn’t care about being “that” Mom. She demanded the best for us. She insisted that we not be overlooked or treated differently because our clothing was second hand and our car was a battered wreck. She made sure that we were afforded dignity and respect; always.

I have one very vivid memory that stands as a testament to her determination in that regard. I was in 2nd grade, so I must have been about seven years old; just a baby, really.

I had been sent to the Principal’s office for wetting my pants. I sat on a hard wooden bench; wet, reeking, ashamed and miserable. It was winter in Wisconsin and I shivered as I sat there waiting for my mother. Nobody looked at or spoke to me. I waited for what seemed a very, very long time.

Finally, my Mother arrived with my little sister upon her hip. Her hair was in curlers, which were covered by an aqua blue nylon scarf. She was dressed in her stay at home clothes and wore lipstick but no other makeup. My mother hated to go out looking unkempt because as a beautician she believed that she was her own best advertisement. She was frazzled and clearly very angry. She didn’t look at me, but reached out to gently smooth my hair, and I felt a little better then.

The school secretary looked at my mother with disdain over half moon eyeglasses. Her drawn on brows were raised and her ruby mouth was pursed into a thin, wrinkled line. Her thinning hair, which was dyed a most unbecoming and unrealistic shade of brown, was teased high off her head into a rather transparent bouffant. Brittle winter sunlight streamed through the window directly behind her, which had the curious effect of making it appear as though her head was aflame. My childish observation was that she bore a striking resemblance to the Heat Miser at that moment.

“May I help you Ma’am?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Antagonist. I’m BA’s mother. I need to speak to the Principal. Immediately.”

“I’m afraid he’s occupied at the moment Ma’am, and cannot be disturbed. All we needed was dry clothing for BA.”

She was terse and chilly with my Mother, and I hated her for that. But my Mother was not intimidated or cowed.

“Yes, well…all *I* need is to speak to the Principal. I informed BA’s teacher that she has a medical condition and needs to be allowed to use the bathroom when she asks, as soon as she asks. Clearly, that request was ignored, which put my daughter’s health in jeopardy. So, either you get the Principal out here to speak with me, or I will go talk to the teacher myself, RIGHT NOW.”

The sharply drawn brows rose even more dramatically and she stammered, “Ehm…just a moment Mrs. Antagonist, I’ll see if he’s available.”

My Mother paced as she waited. She jiggled my sister up and down on her hip, though there had been no fussing from the bewildered baby. She did not protest, but bounced amiably as my mother strode back and forth. She touched a hand to her curlered hair, frowning when the chemical roughened skin snagged on the diaphanous fabric of her scarf.

Finally, the Principal deigned to appear. He affected a no-nonsense demeanor, obviously meant to convey that he would in charge of the incipient confrontation.

“Yessss, Mrs. Antagonist, what can I do for you today?”

“I need to know why my instructions that BA be allowed to use the restroom when she asks were ignored, Mr. Smith.”

He sighed heavily.

"Now, Mrs. Antagonist, there are 25 children in that classroom. If the teacher let every child run to the restroom every time they asked, they would never have time for learning. I'm sure you can understand that. It's time for BA to grow up and learn that big girls don't go to the potty every five minutes. She has to learn self control."

My mother turned the most amazing shade of scarlet I had ever seen. But she didn't lose her cool. She did not raise her voice. But when she spoke, there was iron in her tone.

"She has a MEDICAL condition, Mr. Smith. It's called Kidney Reflux and she is under a doctor's care. It means that when her body tells her that she needs to use the restroom, she is INCAPABLE of NOT using the restroom. And furthermore, NOT using the restroom when necessary can result in severe and dangerous kidney infections.”

She was in full metal Mother mode then. Mr. Smith opened his mouth, but my mother continued without acknowledging his attempt to interject.

“Do you think any child WANTS to wet their pants at school Mr. Smith? Can you IMAGINE anything more humiliating? She can control herself quite well if she is allowed to use the restroom when she has the urge. There was NO reason this had to happen and I will NOT stand for my daughter being treated this way!"

At that moment, my baby sister chose to take a very loud, smelly and runny poo upon my mother's person. She must have been so embarrassed, but she completely ignored the fact that she had feces running down her leg and soaking into her polyester pants.

"From now on, my daughter WILL be allowed to use the bathroom EVERY TIME she asks to go. And furthermore, she WILL receive an apology from the teacher for how she was treated. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

I don't remember what he said to her then. What I remember is how utterly magnificent my mother was at that moment. So brave. So indomitable. So…FIERCE. And it was all for me.

She motioned to me and I went to her. She put her arm around my shoulders and then made her final address to Mr. Smith.

"I am taking her home. She's suffered enough humiliation for one day. Please inform the teacher that BA will not be returning to the classroom today."

And we left. As we navigated the halls together, I could scarcely keep up with my mother’s angry stride. So I skipped along beside her; light with the knowledge that she was not angry with me.

When we got home, I got cookies and milk and watched the Brady bunch, which I usually missed because it came on before I got out of school. My mother was out of sorts the rest of the day. Later that evening, I overheard her telling my father that Mr. Smith was a gutless moron and the teacher an incompetent bimbo and that if SHE had anything to say about it, neither I nor my sisters would ever go back there again.

The following year, we did not go back to that school. I have no idea how she did it, but she got us into a different school that was outside our district, but still within walking distance. It was a very long walk, but I had no intention of complaining. I would have walked ten miles to show my mother how grateful I was.

So you see…I had a good role model. My mother always stood up or me, even when I didn’t realize that she was fighting for my own good; even when it appeared we were fighting on opposite sides. There were many years that I thought we were adversaries. I thought she didn’t understand. I thought she didn’t care about what I wanted.

But she did all the things she did because she did care and she did them even when it meant she had to endure our sulky looks and petulant silences. She did care about what I wanted, but she knew what I needed. As a parent, I now realize that the two can sometimes be at odds with one another.

Sometimes being a Mom means being a champion and sometimes it means being the bad guy. But it always means doing the best for our children; trying to keep them safe, trying to help them make their way in the world without getting lost. And when that fails, it means letting them know that you’ll always find them; you’ll always be where you can be found.

Thank You Mom.

You have no idea how much your example has helped me do the things I’ve needed to do for my boys.

You have no idea how much it has helped me to be….Fierce.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Coming Out Of The (Fat) Closet

In the fall of 2009, shortly after my fortieth birthday, I began having dizzy spells that seemed to occur with no particular rhyme or reason. They were absolutely terrifying. My world would spin wildly out of control without warning and each episode left me gasping with shock and trembling with fear. The brain I knew, controls the very delicate equilibrium that keeps us all upright and spatially aware.

I worried that my brain was in trouble. But I kept telling myself I was being silly. It’s a thing I do…I imagine the worst. Every lump or bump is cancer, every ache or pain is scleroderma, mesothelioma, an impending aneurysm. I kept telling myself it was just stress, anxiety, the busy pace of my life. Maybe it was just an inner ear thing. Maybe it was my migraine medication. Maybe they would just go away.

But they didn’t go away. And I soon became frightened enough that I visited my family doctor hoping to get some answers. She suspected an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo called Meniere’s, but due to my long history of severe and debilitating migraines, ordered an MRI just to be safe.

I received a call at 7:00 on a Friday evening. My heart sank when I realized that it was my doctor herself calling; not the nurse, not the receptionist. That’s never good news. She told me gently that my brain showed three distinct areas of damage, which were evidence of stroke. The most severely damaged area of my brain was on my cerebellum, which controls fine motor functions and regulates balance and equilibrium. The dizziness and clumsiness I had been experiencing was explained at last. Also, the right side of my brain showed large areas of “diffuse speckling”, which were areas of damage consistent with a long history of migraine.

As I said, I was terrified. But I was puzzled too. How on earth can a person experience something as devastating as a stroke, much less three, without realizing what was happening to them? My doctor told me that certain types of strokes have symptoms that are very similar to migraine symptoms. She asked if I had recently experienced an unusually severe migraine. I had. I had lain in bed for four days, gobbling pain pills and praying for an end to the pain. If you know anything about me you know things have to be very dire for me to offer up a prayer. The doctor suspected that I had actually experienced that series of strokes, but wrote them off as migraine symptoms, never realizing that my life could have been in danger.

A follow up appointment the next day revealed that my blood pressure was 130/120, although honestly, I think that reading was affected by the fact that I was absolutely terrified. She explained that the strokes I had suffered were warning signs, and that the risk of suffering another more debilitating or possibly even fatal stroke within the next 12 months was about 30%. She put me on beta blockers to lower my blood pressure, blood thinners to prevent the formation of a clot or narrowing of my arteries that might precipitate another stroke, and an anti-anxiety medication to help me cope with the stress and the fear I was experiencing over the obviously serious state of my health.

I didn’t want to die. I had spent the last fifteen years focused entirely on raising my boys. I hadn’t yet written that novel, or travelled the world, or learned to play the piano. I hadn’t seen my boys graduate or get married or become parents themselves. You hear a lot of people say it, and it always sounds a little trite, but it really is what goes through your mind at such a moment; “I still have so much to do!” And of course, being a writer, my brain is the tool of my trade, as well as the essence of my identity. If I lost my leg in a car accident, I could and would adapt just fine. But without a healthy brain, I wouldn’t know who or what to be.

Clearly, something had to change.

About that time, we attended my husband’s 25th high school reunion, where a professional photographer took each couple’s picture. I remember picking out my outfit for the evening and doing my hair and make-up. I felt pretty and confident, but when we got the photos back three weeks later, I was appalled. I did not see the pretty, confident woman that I felt myself to be. I saw a fat, unhealthy woman whose face was that of a stranger. I’m not a woman who is given to fits of pointless hysteria, but I cried looking at that picture.

The next week I joined Weight Watchers. My first weigh in was on October 1st 2009. My parents had been doing the program since April and both of them had experienced very good results. I was encouraged and decided that if they could do it, I certainly could. But when I saw the number that registered on the scale and realized the full scope of the challenge ahead of me, I thought it was impossible. I would never succeed. Eighty four pounds seemed like a huge amount of weight to lose. But I realized that I really had very little choice. I had to succeed. My life quite literally depended on it.

The same week that I started Weight Watchers, I began walking every day at a local park. There was a nicely paved path that was exactly one mile around with an inner track that was a half a mile. I thought it would be a cinch. I guess it still hadn’t really sunk in just how far I had allowed my physical condition to deteriorate. I made it around one and a half times, but just barely. My back hurt, my shins hurt, my knees hurt and my feet ached terribly. I was red faced and sweating profusely.

I did not enjoy that first foray into physical fitness. But I walked every day until the weather got too cold. I was doing four miles at a really brisk pace by that time, and feeling pretty good about that. I had actually begun to enjoy my walks. There was something very Zen about putting on my iPod, cranking up the tunes, and just boogying around that track as fast as I could. I realized that the sunshine and fresh air really elevated my mood and I began to find that on the days I couldn’t or didn’t walk, I was grumpy and out of sorts.

During the winter, I did Walk Away The Pounds in my living room, gradually increasing the number of miles and upping the intensity by using a stretchy band and then free weights as I did the moves. When I mastered that, I graduated to step aerobics and even some introductory level kickboxing. By the time spring came, I was really curious to see how many miles I could do at the park. I was ridiculously excited when I found I could complete five with no problems. Soon I began running small portions of each mile, beginning with .10 and working up gradually to half a mile. But I didn’t really enjoy running at all. It was simply a mechanism to burn calories.

When I reached -50 lbs in April, I found that my losses slowed dramatically. I really had to fight for every pound. And some weeks, no matter how disciplined I had been with food and exercise, the scale just wouldn’t budge. I began to get discouraged and wondered if my body was just not meant to be any smaller. I had already lowered my blood pressure enough that I was able to stop taking medication. I had gone down 5 clothing sizes. I was physically active and feeling strong and fit. My body looked completely different and sometimes people who hadn’t seen me for a while would walk right past without recognizing me. Clearly, I had made a lot of progress. Had I done all I could? Maybe. But I am a goal oriented person, and that 84 lb mark taunted me. I decided that there had to be a way to get my momentum back. But how?

My Weight Watchers leader, who has been an absolutely amazing source of support, information, and encouragement during my journey, suggested that I try something entirely new; new foods, new routine, new exercise. She suggested that I try Zumba. She told me that her sister-in-law owned a Zumba studio that did not require lengthy and expensive membership contracts. A person could pay $8 to drop in and try it. Though that idea really appealed to me, I procrastinated. I thought I would look and feel silly out there shaking my forty year old butt. But eventually, desperation drove me to give it a try.

I attended my first class on a Saturday. I was completely unaware that I had chosen one of the most challenging instructors! But I was immediately charmed by Gisela’s energy, enthusiasm and engaging personality. Because of residual balance and fine motor impairment, I felt less than graceful. But I stumbled through the moves as best I could. Some I mastered pretty quickly, others just seemed hopelessly complicated. It wasn’t long before I realized that nobody was paying any attention to how poorly I was executing those moves, because they were all too focused on getting their own moves right. That really helped me relax and I found, to my astonishment, that I absolutely LOVED it. I had forgotten how much I loved to dance. And to me, it wasn’t exercise, it was just dancing.

But make no mistake…my body was working and working hard. It was by far the most challenging work out I had experienced up to that point. But I never found myself counting the minutes, or gritting my teeth to just make it through. The hour flew by and I was genuinely sorry when it was over. I had to do it again. And again. And again. And so I did. But not just because it made my body feel great. It was also because the owner Shana and the entire staff at FitU were so incredibly welcoming and genuine. They did and do make me feel like part of a great big family. That’s not a feeling you can get at a fancy gym with 4,000 members.

After doing Zumba, for one week, (4 times) I lost four pounds. I was ECSTATIC! I hadn’t had a loss that big in months! But the real shocker was that I had lost a half an inch off my waist and hips and ¾ inch off my thighs. WOW. Needless to say, I was sold. I had found a way to lose weight, sculpt my body and feel terrific that was also amazingly fun. You really can’t ask more than that from a fitness program.

A year after beginning my journey, I have not reached my goal. But I’m oh so close. And I know that it is within my reach. I have lost 9 inches off my waist, 8 inches off my hips, 4 inches off my arms and 6 inches off my thighs. I look and feel like a different person. I don’t really know that woman in my before picture. Who was she and why did she let herself get so desperately unhealthy? Examining that has been life changing as well. Shedding the pounds has made me physically fit, but it has also made me take a long, hard look at what I want for myself, and given me the drive and determination to go out and get it. Because I figure…if I can transform my body, I can transform my life as well.

I still experience occasional bouts of aphasia (language deficit) and I will never make my living as a tightrope walker, but I have several exciting possibilities in my life now, one of which is pursuing certification as a Zumba instructor myself. Because of my medical history, I absolutely have to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. What better way to achieve that than by making it a career? Once, I would have laughed at such an idea. Me?? A fitness instructor?? Impossible.

And today…((deep breath))… I have an interview with Weight Watchers. Sometimes, when I really sit and think about that, I am stunned. Once I would have scoffed at such a notion. Me? Teach? Lead? Inspire? Ridiculous.

But now, I believe I can do it. And love it. And love my life because of it. But most of all, I believe I can help people like me achieve all the wonderful things that life has to offer them. I want everyone to know that change is within them. The first step is really and truly the hardest. I am profoundly grateful for those who have walked beside me on my journey. So if I can encourage someone else to pick their foot up off the ground that first time and put it forward, I will consider myself fortunate and fulfilled beyond all reason. You all have heard me say it before…"Life is too short to hate what you do." If you're going to do something day in and day out for the rest of your life, you should love it. And this….this I can love.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu).

August 18, 2009
25th Class Reunion
232 lbs

October 1, 2010
1 year after starting Weight Watchers
165 lbs.

Face Before
This isn't the me I know

Face After
I recognize myself again