Today is 26 years since my life changed significantly and forever. It was November 20, 1994 when my fiance committed suicide in a one car accident.
Although, I still remember the phone call that woke me from sleep on that Sunday evening, hearing the words that her aunt spoke to me, feeling my world fall away... it is true that time heals wounds. Or maybe more accurately, as I've read, time doesn't heal the wounds, but the passage of time allows the wounds to scab over.
As I've mentioned on the My Story page, I believe a significant portion of the pain we feel when we lose someone so close is due to the loss of the dream, the plans for a future that will never happen, that never did happen. That doesn't mean I didn't miss her; I did, I do. But with time I've been able to disentangle the complex emotions somewhat. And that helps the healing process.
We all grow and change - hopefully, anyway. I find it interesting when I think about the person I was then, the person she was, and the person I am today. The man I am today would not be interested in the woman she was at that time, at least not in the way I was back then. I'm certain I would still admire her and enjoy her company, but I do not believe we would be as compatible as it felt like we were then.
Of course, she would have changed, too. Would we have grown at the same pace? Would we have changed in ways that kept us together, brought us closer, or created distance? I can only speculate about it.
I do occasionally allow myself to indulge a little fantasy. I envision streaks of grey in her black hair. And her face reveals that some of the years have been challenging. But her smile still warms my heart and her kindness still amazes me. It's an odd fantasy to imagine someone's future self. I like to think that even if we were no longer married, we would still be good friends.
Life has gone on. And life continues to go on. On this date, I always take a few extra moments to think of her.
(re-posted from my Facebook page)
I've been spending the weekend with my girlfriend at an AirBnB we affectionately call "the Oasis". We stayed here last year and loved it. Last year, we rented a room in the house, but mostly spent our time in the beautiful back yard. This year, in the age of Covid-19, we rented the little casita in the back yard. And we are still enjoying the beautiful back yard!
I've had the same dream for years. In fact, when I look back through old visualization notebooks, I see it throughout my history. My dream is to own a house with a back yard swimming pool and a separate hot tub.
I owned a house with a back yard hot tub many years ago, and it was awesome! I would start every day by taking a dip in the hot tub. I know most people find a hot tub to be relaxing, but for me, the warm water loosens my achy joints and invigorates me. I started my day in the hot tub and, occasionally, ended my day there, too.
Now, my goal is to have access to my own private pool. And honestly, it would have significant therapeutic benefits for me. Being able to swim and exercise in water is very effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis. The resistance of the water without the jarring and pounding of weight-bearing exercise is the ideal. And having access to a pool each day, several times a day, would be wonderful.
In fact, in the last 3 days, having taken multiple dips in the swimming pool (and actually swimming) as well as in the hot tub, I feel less pain, more limber, stronger, and have better balance. The effects are amazing and immediate!
So, while this isn't living my dream, these last few days have been tasting my dream. And it tastes delicious!
I now renew my goal to put myself in financial position to make this dream a reality in the next 24 months. I believe two things strongly: that real estate prices are inflated in my area and that prices will drop in the next 12 - 24 months as evictions and foreclosures from the pandemic take effect. It's not that I wish for the economy to turn; I just feel strongly that it will.
I would welcome any and all suggestions for how I can make my dream come true (except for network marketing schemes :-) ). I'm especially interested in fundraising and income producing ideas that I can initiate and manage from my laptop and cell phone.
I am sure people question why I'm not a homeowner now, or not better off financially. I've questioned it, too. It took a lot of honest review and pride-swallowing to admit that it's because of my RA. Essentially, I've lived alone, independently, all my life (that's not due to RA; that's by choice, although may be tied to the RA). Even when I was married briefly, my wife was not an asset, but a financial liability. I've worked hard to maintain my independence, in order to prove my ability to take care of myself. But I've also had 8 major orthopedic surgeries since standing on my own (I'm not counting the wrist replacement surgery when I was 17 years old and still living with Mom and Dad). Each of those surgeries interfered with my ability to earn money.
Additionally, the drain of living with RA meant that I did not have the energy to rise through the ranks and increase my income. Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of what I've done and what I've accomplished, but there's no doubt it has been an uphill battle.
I'm trying to work smarter now. I also want to get my ideas on paper to share with others in the form of a book that I am slowly working on. (very slowly. sadly, it's been very, very slowly - but one day I will get some good momentum going)
So, again, any suggestions for ways I can reach my longtime goal are much appreciated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll take another dip in the pool. Isn't it inviting?
It's been a long road. If you aren't following me on Facebook, you probably don't know what the last year has been like. It was a difficult year.
First, in July 2018, I had to put my dog, Sweetpea, to rest. She was 14 years old and had been in decline for a year. I got her from a rescue group when she was 10 months old, in 2004, and she had been the best companion ever. The decision was relatively easy - she had been in pain and was, at the time, in considerable pain. The actual act was heart-wrenching. I put some pictures of her at the bottom of the My Story page.
Later that month, I had my left hip replaced. At first everything seemed great, but then I developed a complication. The stem, which goes into the femur, subsided. It happened several times, eventually leaving me about half an inch shorter on that leg.
Just when I was getting around and had returned to work, I fell. I landed squarely on my left knee and my femur cracked, about 3 or 4 inches above the knee. I knew it immediately (not the first time I broke a femur). Paramedics. Surgery the next day. More rehab. It was especially difficult because I couldn't put any weight on my left leg. As a result, my right hip was bearing nearly all my weight (with the use of a walker or platform crutches, of course). Six weeks in a skilled nursing facility until I could begin putting weight on it.
That was November 26, 2018. Just before my fall, I had begun having issues with my spine again. I had been through a laminectomy and fusion (T2 to T5) in 2008. Now, the stenosis was back, this time more significant and at T5-T6. After the femur fracture and repair, I focused on getting stronger so I could prepare for the massive spinal surgery that lay ahead.
In April 2019, I had the third surgery in a 9 month period. And this one was the most difficult of my life. The surgeon cut away the bone material that had grown over the fusion from 2008. In his surgical notes, he stated that the procedure took twice as long as expected because that bone growth was so significant. Then, he performed the laminectomy of T5 through T9 and placed a new fusion rod from T2 to T10.
I spent 3 long nights in ICU. I could not sleep for 80 hours. I could rest, and get very close, but I could not achieve REM sleep. On the third day, they took me off the high dosage of steroids and I was finally able to sleep. Three more nights in a regular room, and then 10 days at skilled nursing. I came home from the hospital and told my brother that I didn't need him to come stay with me. Almost immediately, I regretted that decision. It was difficult to care for myself, but we had made all the necessary adaptations (and my girlfriend was a tremendous help when she could visit) and I managed.
In late June or early July, I started physical therapy three times a week for a few weeks. My strength grew considerably. I returned to work on July 26 - and was so happy to be back! It felt great to get out and be around people again after almost a year of near isolation at home and limited social interaction.
Well, today is just under 5 months post surgery. I'm feeling stronger and better than I have in a long time. Two days ago, I took a walk of approximately 0.4 mile - wearing my back brace for support. Today, I walked approximately half a mile without my back brace. My muscles are getting stronger and my stamina continues to increase.
I've enrolled and am taking an "Intro to Cinema" class at a local community college. I've traveled to Atlanta to see my best friend. My girlfriend is busy with her college classes, but we are planning some kind of adventure to celebrate our birthdays together.
And I know I'm feeling more empowered because I am once again planning a trip around the world, for later in 2020. Make t-shirts for my trip. Work on my book. Thinking about what a non-profit would look like (to encourage people to understand their own power).
It feels so good to feel this way again. I've missed it. Stuck at home for a year was depressing. My thinking shrunk. Wonderful people in my life encouraged me, but when your challenge is to walk with the aid of a walker or crutches, it's easy to find yourself thinking in small terms. I need to think big!
Interestingly, The Magic of Thinking Big author David Schwartz was the speaker at an orientation function for my first quarter in college, way back in 1984. His words were inspiring, and I've always loved his book. To me, thinking big is the only way to think Why think small or mundane? I have power; do big things with it!
I want to write a book, maybe write a screenplay. Travel around the world. Start a non-profit and share my insights. Inspire people. Connect with people. Live a big, happy life! And finally, it feels like these things are possible again!
I am again practicing meditation. By the way, "practicing meditation" is a very accurate use of words. Meditation is a process, a skill that requires effort to improve. However, it is not as insurmountable and difficult as many people believe. More on that topic later.
I've been meditating, and using creative visualization techniques, off and on for almost 20 years. I find, without a doubt, that it helps me focus. In a task-oriented way, I stay on topic better. In a mental, self-talk kind of way, I find it helps calm the constant distractions. I can always tell that I would be helped by meditating when a song keeps repeating over and over in my head. It drives me a little bonkers. I try to put it out of my mind, but it keeps coming back. A few sessions of meditating and my internal singer, I mean dialog, is slowed down.
Lately, I've become interested in Transcendental Meditation. Apparently, there is supposed to be a trademark symbol after those two words. In my research, I learned that an organization has created a business around teaching that specific kind of meditation. As an entrepreneur, I am all for turning an idea into a successful business. As a human being, however, I am a little disappointed in the monetization of such a helpful technique.
Before, I forget....for those of you who are already saying in your mind, "I tried meditating, but I can't do it. It just doesn't work for me", I have a whole 'nother blog post (or website page) on that topic.
I believe what I have practiced for years is focused meditation. That's the one that most people try and believe they fail at. The idea is to clear your mind of thoughts. The truth is that it is difficult to do and to maintain. Over the years, I have become better at it and have learned to allow myself time to improve.
There are many types, or styles, of meditation. Another one is mindfulness meditation. I attended a small Meetup group years ago and was guided through a mindfulness meditation session. It was an enjoyable experience. I've occasionally incorporated it, along with focused meditation.
Transcendental meditation, however, is interesting. From the research I was able to do without paying $1,500 to a certified instructor, it seems that the major difference is simply using a mantra to focus your attention. Simple. And effective.
One of the things they want you to believe is that you must use their training program so a "guru" can give you your specific mantra. It's perfect for you, and only you, based on the year of your birth, your gender, and your desired outcome. Yeah, sounds a little hokey to me, too.
I found a website that listed 51 different mantras, listened to a few of them on the free videos they provided, and selected one that felt right for me. Bam! $1,500 saved!
I've been feeling anxious about my upcoming spine surgery. I've been through it before. I know what to expect. Often that kind of information can assuage concerns. Unfortunately, in my case, it is heightening my anxiety. Ten years ago, it was a painful procedure and a long recovery period. Now, I am ten years older and don't have as much of a support network locally as I did at that time. But mostly, I'm concerned that the surgery may cause a significant change, and limitation, in the life I can live.
I miss traveling. I miss going to visit my friends and family. I miss attending social functions locally or just meals, movies, etc. Last summer when I had my hip replacement surgery, I thought I was just a couple months from a renewed, more active lifestyle. Instead, the last 9 months have been spent in a very limited cocoon - either in a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or home-bound and very limited. (You can read more of my experiences on my Facebook page) It is taking a toll on my psyche. So you can understand my anxiety that this spine surgery may limit me further (or for the rest of my life).
I'm hoping that through meditating, I can relieve most of that anxiety. I'm hoping I can free my mind to see a positive future.
So far, I'm excited about transcendental meditation. I expect it to work for me. I expect to be more focused, less anxious, more relaxed, and more positive. Stay tuned for the results.
I'm feeling a lot of anger right now. I received a letter yesterday that my employer has denied my intermittent FMLA case. That's never happened to me before. In 20+ years of working at Fortune 500 (this is a Fortune 100 company) companies, I've never been denied. In fact, this was just a renewal of my previously approved intermittent case.
Here's what FMLA is about, for me. The Family Medical Leave Act protects your job in case a medical condition prevents you from working, either for a block of time (such as surgery) or intermittently, as in this particular case. So, on those days when my pain is such that I cannot tolerate working a full day, or at all, and I call out sick, the company cannot legally put my job in jeopardy through the usual disciplinary process. For me, that's very important. With Rheumatoid Arthritis, you never know how you are going to feel. One day you may feel great. Next day you may not be able to get to the bathroom without assistance. So having the peace of mind that I can call out sick without penalty (although, after my paid sick time runs out, it is without pay - another reason this disease costs me money) is vital to me.
So, now I'm upset. And I'm angry. "Why did they deny me? What are they trying to do to me?" And many more questions.
But this is a good time to talk about a common origin of anger. In my philosophy, anger derives from a lack of empowerment (you knew it would get back to empowerment, didn't you?}. Here's why I believe that.
Many times we feel anger, it is because something didn't happen the way we wanted it to, or, more likely, someone didn't behave the way we wanted them to behave. And the result of that behavior has caused us pain, embarrassment, discomfort, delay, money, etc. When we don't feel empowered in life, we get a temporary "fix" of feeling empowered by controlling a situation, a person, a child. If I can't control that situation or person, then I don't feel powerful. And I get angry.
Think for a moment about someone you know who does feel empowered in life. They have created a life that they love and enjoy - through their job, relationships, living circumstances, etc. Now, think about how that person handles moments like these. Are they prone to anger quickly? Probably not.
An empowered person recognizes that, while we can control many things in our lives, there are times, situations, people that we won't be able to control. And that's OK. By deriving a sense of empowerment, and thus satisfaction, through many facets of their lives, when something happens outside of their control that they do not like, they do not get angry. This momentary lack of control is ok because they know they mostly are creating the life they want.
So. My anger. It's frustrating. Generally, I feel empowered, but obviously, there are ways that I don't. My life is a constant struggle (as is everyone's), mostly revolving around pain that I cannot completely control. Being denied the decency of calling out of work when I'm in pain frustrates me.
I will take steps to correct this situation. It will take time. I just have to work through pain. Literally, go to work and work through pain. Frustrating.
OK. Let's stop saying that the opposite of fear is love. Instead, let's think this through a little bit.
If you fear something, what are the sentences you would use to describe how you feel? Most likely, something like this:
"I'm afraid because I don't know if they will like me."
"I'm scared because I've never done that before and I don't know what will happen."
"I have some fear because I'm not sure I can handle that situation."
Do you see a common idea? Fear is not knowing what will happen or how we will be able to respond.
I believe that the opposite of fear is confidence. And confidence is having a sense of empowerment. See how these statements feel:
"I'm not afraid because I know that, generally speaking, people like me."
"I'm not scared because I've done things similar to that and, even though I don't know exactly what will happen, I'm sure I will be ok."
"I don't feel any fear because I'm sure I can handle that situation."
Does this make sense? We don't always feel fear when there is an unknown. If we feel confident that we can handle the situation, then we go forward into the unknown without fear.
How do we feel confident we can handle the situation? By having had similar experiences where we responded capably. And (this is very important) by reminding ourselves through self-talk that we handled those similar situations.
If we don't remind ourselves of our successes, then we will forget them, and we will not feel confident to trudge into the unknown.
So, while saying "love is the opposite of fear" gives us a nice warm buzz, think it through and see that confidence to handle the unknown is the opposite of fear.
Today, I posted to Facebook with a link to the PayPal Money Pool that I've set up for my hip replacement surgery. And it feels weird.
Why does it feel so weird to ask for help in this way? And I say "in this way" because if I dropped my keys in the parking lot and couldn't pick them up, I would have no trouble asking a stranger to help. I have relied upon the kindness of strangers my entire life. I wonder what the difference is, in my mind.
Part of the reason for this website is to bring awareness to the fact that I live with pain every day. A mental health counselor has encouraged me to explain to those people closest to me just how difficult life is because of it. I've spent decades proving that I can overcome the pain, the physical limitations, and the challenges. He says that it would be therapeutic (and they would likely want to know) to share the details of the challenges I have already conquered and continue to face each day.
He used a great analogy to illustrate his point. He said that my lifelong effort to prove that I can be independent is like running a marathon. And that having lived so fully - owned businesses, traveled the world, had exciting experiences - has proven my independence. It's like I have finished my own personal marathon. So when he suggests I ask for help, and I refuse to do so, he says that is like I'm continuing to run. "Why would you keep running after you've completed the marathon?"
I have to admit he makes a valid point. I feel proud of my accomplishments. I know I've had help along the way, but I'm also very proud of all the work and energy I've expended to overcome my pain and difficulties to achieve those accomplishments.
Is it different because I'm asking for monetary help? Is that the difference, in my mind? Do I have some guilt associated with money? Do I feel guilty, or embarrassed, because at times, I've been a very poor steward of the money I've earned and/or received?
It feels like that is the difference. If my co-worker brings me a meal from home, I can accept that generosity much more easily than if she were to give me a ten dollar bill. After all, why would I accept money from my co-worker?
But then again, that plate of food is time and energy spent. And that's exactly what money is - a representation of our time and energy.
I will continue to ponder this question. And, in the meantime, humbly accept any generosity extended my way - whether money or something else, from a friend or stranger. Thank you for your kindness. Please know it is appreciated.
Pain. Everyone endures it. We all feel it. At times, more than other times. But this post is about chronic pain. Daily pain. And the way life is different when that's your experience.
I've had daily pain since age 2. So, for about 50 years, I've felt physical pain every day. Most days, the pain is significant throughout the day. I'm not going to guess how many times I feel physical pain in the course of a normal day, because the number would shock you, and me. Let's just say that 5 minutes probably doesn't go by without feeling pain somewhere in my body.
It has often been said about me that I probably have a higher tolerance for pain than most people. That's probably true. Additionally, I have learned to block most of it from conscious recognition. I have, simply put, learned how to live with it.
When you grow up with, and continue to experience, something so constant, it becomes an intimate part of who you are. The line between pain and pain-free blurs. It is always there, hitchhiking a ride to every fun social event, every chore, every work day. You learn to ignore it's pleas for attention, but in the background, the continual nagging takes a toll.
In the last several years, I have become more frustrated by the pain. I think the pain is increasing, in location, in intensity, and intervals. But more than that, I think I'm growing very tired of it.
For some reason, after relaxing on the couch in the evening, when I stand up to go to bed, I have intense pain in my left foot. Between the ankle and the toes. Somewhere in the middle, directly above the arch of my foot. It's so painful and so intense that I can't put any weight on it. I have to stand there for a few minutes and try to figure out how to make it subside. Eventually, I do. But it's frustrating. Oh yeah, and it hurts like hell.
Many years ago, I received a pair of special crutches. Instead of placing weight on my wrists and armpits, there is a support that runs underneath my forearms. They are a great solution for someone who's wrists cannot support their body weight. I store them under my bed, just in case I wake up in the morning and can't walk. Fortunately, I've almost never had to utilize them, but it's something that most people wouldn't even think about.
Recently, I had an epiphany. I've become frustrated that I don't have energy to maintain my household like before. Am I getting lazy? Not getting enough rest? The epiphany was that it takes energy to function through pain. Working 40 hours per week, through pain, zaps almost all of my energy. As a result, my apartment stays messy. Just preparing healthy food and washing dishes as needed is about all I can manage.
There's no energy available for vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the floors and bathroom, for laundry, organizing, Fortunately, I have a girlfriend who is happy to help. But she lives 45 minutes away and has her own life/schedule. When she does come over, she is often a huge help.
I wish I understood better the mechanism whereby pushing through pain uses up energy. It seems like those are two unrelated things, pain and energy, but lately I've realized a very real connection. In reflecting on this, I think that means that my pain levels have increased over the last several years.
Like most things, a gradual change in my pain level goes unnoticed. I don't think I was aware of the increase, but now in retrospect, I'm sure that must be the reason that my energy levels are depleted and my frustration has increased.
OK. This is about all I have on the topic at this moment. No doubt that pain will appear in future posts as it's always there. Lurking. Nagging. Vying for attention.