Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 6

Read Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

The surgery in 1992 that I had for an intestinal blockage was the last of my surgeries for intestinal blockages, but not the last of my intestine and stomach related issues. Since then, I seem to have experienced periods where my stomach seemed to be having intense gas pains that worsened in intensity. When that happens, I follow this protocol:

  1. Take GasX. If it’s actually gas, GasX works like a dream. Tums don’t cut it.
  2. Take Pepto Bismol. This helps with any stomach cramping. If one dose is not enough, repeat one hour later.
  3. In the meantime, get my heating pad out and lay it over my stomach.

Almost every time in the intervening 23 years, this has worked. Mark and I vaguely remember me going to the ER once, possibly in my late 20’s, for stomach pain that would not go away. But nothing serious was discovered because I did not have any further intubations with an NG tube nor any blockages discovered.

So it was with surprise when, on March 1st, I followed my protocol to find that it did not work at all. By the time 9pm came around, an intense pain gripped the right side of my abdomen. It seemed to start near my appendectomy surgical scar and go up to right under my rib cage. When it continued unabated for 30 minutes and I was crying out in pain, I asked Mark to call an ambulance.

I had tried to go to the bedroom, but the pain caused me to curl up in a ball. Any attempts to move my right leg away from my abdomen caused more pain. I was unable to sit straight up, to walk, or to do anything except lay there. I asked Mark to go let my mother know that I was having stomach pains and that we were going to call an ambulance. I was sweating because the only other time I ever felt pain like that was when I had intestinal blockages. I prepared myself for the worst.

I felt terrible for my mother to have be in the same room with me while I was crying out in pain. The pain was at a 10 level, and I could not keep it inside, even if I wanted to (and I wanted to). I knew it was just hitting her in the gut with helplessness and shared empathetic pains, so I told her to go downstairs so that she wouldn’t have to listen to me. She refused to leave until the EMTs were taking me to the hospital.

The one thing about my town that rocks is the speed of the EMTs, police, and fire department when someone is in need of an ambulance. We waited only a few minutes before someone was knocking on our door. I needed help just to get up off the floor and sit on the ottoman. To get me out of the apartment, they put me into a chair and then slid me onto a gurney to take me to Winthrop.

By the time I was being processed in the ER, my stomach started to feel a little better. They gave me some fluids while they had me drink contrast for a CT scan. The results came back showing that no blockages, but that there seemed to be a change in caliber to the intestinal in the mid transverse colon and constipation throughout the sigmoid, ascending colon, and cecum.

I found this odd, but I chalked it up to the smaller opening that they saw in the colon. Even though I had already passed soft stools that day, I felt a kind of straining that I can only chalk up to not having enough room for the intestines to breathe. It certainly wasn’t traditional constipation, and, after the enema, the attending nurse told me that it was odd that there were no hard pieces. I didn’t think it was odd if things could not move through easily enough on their own. I was relieved not to be in pain anymore and to be able to go home.

I was released with instructions to follow up with my primary care, take Miralax for the constipation, and go for a colonoscopy. I met with primary care and her GI specialist that week, but I did not care for his bedside manner. I also did not want to go to a Queens endoscopy center. I wanted to go to a hospital that I trusted.

That weekend, I talked it over with my sister M. She helped me research GI specialists and even came over to the house to visit and to work with me. The next day, I made the appointment with the GI for the following Monday. Once that was done, my sister M then helped me research for a new Winthrop-affiliated primary care doctor. I made an appointment with the new primary care the following Friday. She spent so much time with me, helping me research and select two new doctors, that I bought her a gift that will soon be delivered.

After my release from the ER, I continued to feel uncomfortable. I could feel and hear stool moving through my midtranverse colon. It sounded like things were being squeezed through a smaller opening. I ate small meals and stuck to a low residue diet, but even doing that made my stomach feel hard and uncomfortable. My stomach felt full all day long. I had periodic bouts of pain right under my ribcage. I decided to start taking the Miralax every day and eat a low residue diet. Things went on in this manner for almost two weeks until suddently I could eat normally with no discomfort or full stomach.

I’m still taking Miralax every day, but went down to half a dose a day because stools too loose are a problem in their own right. I’m also having weird twinges and bouts of pain in the area under my ribcage. But now I have to wait. After the appointment with the GI doc, I went to check out and make an appointment for the colonoscopy.

The scheduler first offered me the date of May 12th. May! I said to her, “I have to wait two months to get a colonoscopy? That’s insane!” She then looked again and offered me an April 29th date, which I took. Afterwards, I said to my sister M, “Well, now I know that no one ever has an emergency colonoscopy. You have to wait for that sucker!”

One positive that thing has occurred is that, for whatever reason, going to the ER motivated me a bit to move forward on my writing goals. It felt like a great stone had been moved from a closed entrance, allowing light to enter for the first time. Usually, an ER trip with significant pain like this would have me refusing to move forward on things that are anxiety-producing for me. Work is one of those things that causes a lot of hand-wringing on my part, but that’s a topic for a different series of posts. However, I was able to make a few changes.

I printed out an accountability calendar created by Carrie Brummer, creator and owner of Carrie is an art educator and tries, through her site, articles, and free online classes, to encourage people to explore their creativity in different ways. I printed the calendar out, hung it up on my wall, picked and start date and began writing.and decided that I would start using it mark off the writing that I did. Every day. Across the top I wrote, “Don’t break the chain.” Jerry Seinfeld once told an aspiring comic to write every day and to not “break the chain.” Nothing feels better than checking off that little box and knowing that I am fulfilling my commitment to myself and my writing goals every day, even if it’s just a little bit.

Today is day 13 of that unbroken chain. As a result of recommitting myself to daily writing, I restarted the morning writing exercise that I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. She recommends writing three, 8.5″x11″ pages of freehand writing every morning. I found the three page minimum difficult when I tried it last year, so I decided to make it easy on myself and make it a one-page minimum. Yesterday, after spending a working day’s worth of time researching rheumatology docs for my mom, taking her to the appointment, helping her get xrays, bringing her home, filling her RX, getting milk, eating dinner, and coming home, I was exhausted. I could only manage that one page. I was surprised at the depth of what I wrote because, if you had asked me, I would have told you that any thinking at all would be out of the question.

On all the other days, I’ve managed to write that one-page minimum plus more. Sometimes it’s writing for my blog post. Sometimes it’s writing for my stories. Sometimes it’s writing down ideas that I have. WHATEVER it is, I am committed to writing and keeping the writing thing going. When I did that last year, I was so much happier. One day this week, I realized that I laughed and smiled more than I had been lately. I chalk it up to the writing practice. I feel productive.

My trip to the ER could have been paralyzing. For the first time ever, it wasn’t.

I’m Still Here

Hello, readers! I am back to assure you that I have not abandoned my blog. Yes, it’s been a week. A really really really really really rough week. I’m at an ebb in my journey through writing and creativity, and I have been at a peak of disorganization and illness.

I decided to halt my meanderings through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Frankly, I started falter after week 3. By week 8, I began to repeat weeks. When I “redid” week 10, I did not look at the book. I said I would read through the remaining chapters, but I haven’t.

Is that a failure? In some ways, yes. Part of the issue is that I find it time consuming and difficult to think of an artist date every week. Julia recommends that you push your creative boundaries, but I’m not sure I’m at that level. I’ve even lost the motivation to write morning pages.

On the plus side, I have an appointment with a social worker who uses EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) as part of her treatment work. I worked with a social worker for 2.5 years in the Boston area who used EMDR, and I found it effective. I only stopped after moving to the NYC area in September.

I am in the place where I have always gotten stuck, although I managed to stay motivated for an amazing three months. That may not sound like much. When you are the type of person who’s enthusiasm almost never lasts a week, this is amazing.

Either way, I want to dig in the earth of my primal system and memories and excavate all the terrors and monsters that continue to haunt my life.

I seek nothing less than to open my core up to the world. I seek fearlessness.

From May 31 to June 9, I am participating in the Hay House World Summit 2014 where I will have access to 100 audio lessons, worksheets, movies, and videos, as well as making a donation, all for $7.

As a huge fan of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, I bought and downloaded two mp3s of the author’s insights on the book, approximately 2 hours in length altogether.

I seek radical, life-changing transformation in a positive direction where I am able to consistently work towards my goals.

Universe, gimme all ya got. I stand ready to receive your guidance.


Risks and Parachutes

This morning, I did one of the scariest (and dumbest) things that I have ever done: I walked over half a mile next to a road with no sidewalk and a tiny to non-existent shoulder alongside fast-moving traffic. I’m not sure whether having my mother and husband with me makes me feel better or worse. Instead of one idiot, there were three.

On our way back, I began to notice all the car crash debris on the side of the road. I thought of drunk drivers who careen off the road and kill people. While working as a NYS trooper in his 20’s, one of my elementary and high school classmates, Rob Ambrose, was killed when a drunk driver careened into the car he had pulled over and was ticketing. I feel beyond blessed to have escaped unharmed on my morning walk despite my own poor decision.

When I was growing up, my mother used to scare the shit out of me because all my plans were greeted with tales and questions about terrible things that were going to happen to me if I dared wanted to go anywhere outside the house except for my backyard. After we returned, I couldn’t believe that my mom didn’t think it was too risky to chance to go for a 2 mile walk yesterday along that same road.

It must be the purview of parents to terrify their children out of doing the things that they themselves wouldn’t think twice about doing. The more time I spend with my mother, the more I understand why she drives my sister M mildly crazy with her poor decisions. God watches over fools and babies (and other idiots).

Taking risks is an interesting subject. Today’s walk opened my eyes to the difficulties that parents must face in trying to teach their children what’s a “good” risk to take and what’s a “bad” risk. This kind of fear/excitement that I felt while walking on the road is like jumping out of an airplane in a parachute. Some might call the risk of dying unacceptable (like me) while others acknowledge it, take precautions (parachutes), and jump anyway (like friends of mine).

Now I have a new perspective on the title of the book What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. When we choose a path for ourselves, we are moving forward into the unknown, much like jumping out of an airplane. The parachute, aka our professional lives, might take the form of education, training, internships, volunteering, recommendations, and a clean background check. We dye the silk cloths with our interests, best skills, and preferences. With the job application, we leap out of our plane and pull the parachute strings hoping to land safely on a job.

Taking the “bad” risk, making it through, and sitting down to write about it illustrated the book’s meaning in a major way. The mental experience of my breakthrough felt like the pieces of a magnetic puzzle pulling together in perfect form. Afterwards, I have the feeling of having been pulled into a new dimension of understanding. There was the Before, and Now is the After.

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends twice weekly brisk walks for 20 minutes. I am wondering if a pre-breakfast walk each day might make my morning pages a more interesting place to explore things after I explore the outside. I might consider giving this an experiment next week. That might mean I get up earlier (heaven forbid) or end up writing my morning pages. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess I will have to experiment.

But I’m pretty sure that this idea is one of those good risks to take.

Three Writing Strategies

As I am spending the first half of 2014 building writing habits that, I hope, will further me along in my writing career, I have learned a few strategies about writing when I think that I have nothing to write. These three strategies are a combination of strategies I have learned from others and from my own learning experience.

Strategy #1: Warm up writing

Trying to dive into a story full blast without doing warm up writing is like trying to run the Boston marathon without training. You can do it, but it’s painful. Even with warming up, you can die running a marathon. While you are considerably less likely to die if you write without warming up, the going will be slow and probably not your best shot.

Instead, give yourself permission to do writing warmups. In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends 30 minutes of writing first thing in the morning. This writing should fill up about 3 pages of 8.5″x11″ bound spiral notebook. I like to set a timer because I can be a slow writer on some mornings, but I can get in 2.5 pages in that time period. I feel that’s close enough.

Julia tells you to get up early if you have to work it into your schedule. If getting up earlier is not an option, see if you can switch a few things around: take a shower at night instead of the morning; write for 20 minutes instead of 30 on the days where your time crunch is heaviest; or just plan punt something entirely and replace it with writing.

I hope I don’t need to admonish anyone not to waste their precious morning writing time with ironing clothes instead. No one needs or keeps clothes that are that sharply pressed anyway. The moment you sit down – BOOM! Wrinkles. So forget the ironing (please!) and get to writing. Iron at night, when you come home from work, or not at all. If ironing is that important, get them pressed at the dry cleaners so you can get down to the important work of morning writing warmups.

Strategy #2: write your “less important” stuff first

I bet you are wondering right now where this post lies along my continuum of least to most important writing. I ain’t gonna tell ya! Why? Because less important doesn’t mean unimportant.

So you want to work on your story, but you can’t just dive in right? Doing so would be like trying to dive head down into an empty pool. But you need to write something. Certain types of writing do not count:

  1. To do lists.
  2. Email.
  3. Purchasing lists.
  4. Any kind of work-related list that does not lend itself to creativity.

You can use these kinds of writings to get yourself going:

  1. Morning writing warm ups (see Strategy #1).
  2. Timed writing. Set a timer and write. Anything! Go! Now! Write for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 90 seconds. How did you do? Was writing longer easier? Harder?
  3. Object writing. Pick an object and write about it in all its sense-bound glory. Include all the senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell, feelings, and kinesthetics.
  4. Combine writing types. For example, #2 and #3 in this list can be combined. You can write sense-bound details about an object for varying amounts of time.
  5. A work- or craft-related blog post.

You may find that creative ideas come forth in these exercises that you can then use in your stories. Great! Add it in. Our brains like to add in things for one project while being completely absorbed in a different tasks. That’s what I find so amazing about all kinds of writing. One type of writing feeds another. Since you’re always “eating”, you end up feeling satisfied.

Strategy #3: stay focused

Remember, writing is enmeshed with your life. Start with your morning pages, progress to timed writing, and then dive right into the story or blog post that you want to work on. Getting your fingers moving across the keyboard, or the pen moving against the paper. Start writing a story that has nothing to do with your deadline-driven writing project. You don’t have to stay at it all day.

If you get stuck on your story, dive off the page and write something else. You do not have to force yourself through it, nor stare at a blank page and wonder what the hell you are going to write. If you write, write, write all the time, you will eventually find out what works right for you when you need to write.

Creativity Conference Recap

On Friday night and all day Saturday, I attended the first New York City Publishing & Creativity Conference for Writers hosted by Tarcher LIVE, Tarcher Penguin, and True Directions.

Scheduled events included:

  • Panel: An Inside Look at Publishing, which included an agent, editor, publisher, publicity/marketing director, and author;
  • Talk by Tama Kieves on being and staying inspired;
  • Talk by Laurie Lamson. Top Tips from the Now Write! Experts;
  • Talk by Keith Ogorek: Four Words to Put Your Creativity to Work;
  • Panel: Building Your Platform/The Path to Publishing
  • Talk by Barbara Diane Barry: Painting Your Way Out of a Corner; and
  • Talk by Julia Cameron: Cultivating Your Creativity the Artist’s Way.

Both panels also included Mari Manusi, author of The Blood Coven series. She talked so fast, trying to give us as much information as possible. I appreciated her input on the panels. Not only did she give a lot of vital information, but she did it with enthusiasm.

We got plenty of breaks so we could buy books and get them signed. The swag bag included three books. I bought two books by Tama Kieves, The Artist’s Way Creativity Cards, and the Painting book by Barry.

During lunch break, I invited a fellow participant to lunch. She was meeting a friend but invited me along anyway. On our way outside, another participant met us on the way so we became a lunchtime foursome, which was great.

Interesting side note: One of the speakers said to me at my book signing: “I love your energy. I saw you sitting there at the back of the room.” This is not the first time strangers have said that to me when they meet me. I think part of it is that I smile and make eye contact. My unusual eyeglasses and jewelry, as well as my style, tend to set me apart and/or catch other people’s eye in a good way. I was thrilled to have my energy level validated like that.

By the time I took the subway to Penn Station, I was exhausted. I am not used to going all day, going through a lot of ups and downs, meeting new people, and putting myself out there in a professional way. Allergies were also a killer.

Today will be a take it easier day, although the beautiful, sunny, warm spring weather is calling me to get out of the house.

Wendyyyyyyyyy….. go to the beeeeeeeeach……


Stories Write Themselves

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she says that writers get their ideas from a great creative well. All we writers need to do is be open and listen for the ideas to flow and to record them when they do.

While trying to relax in pigeon pose this morning, I started thinking about a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother. After a few minutes of thinking about this teen, what she wanted, and the discouragements she faced, I realized what I had been thinking of were the characters and the plot for a story. Since I am already working on novel, I decided to make this a short story.

After meditation and breakfast, I sat down to write my morning pages. I created a new Scrivener project and wrote a brief story summary. I paused to add more details and then returned to my morning writing a few times.

After morning pages, I went to Starbucks with my computer and spent time writing the story. As I went along, new details popped into my head: the Southern, small-town setting, rich/poor rivalry with a female classmate, obstacles to her own self determination will deal with people, and an old note of encouragement will lead her to her old mentor and a new path for herself.

When I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2008, the first author pep talk was by Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. When asked where he gets his ideas, Pullman says his ideas come to him when he sits down to write. If he doesn’t sit down to write, then the ideas do not come. This morning, I learned what that experience felt like.

I find writing and generating ideas to be a wondrous process wherein I feel like I am doing the right thing with my life. I am entering my short story in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. I want to start getting professional feedback on my writing. I want to be the best writer I can be.

The Artist’s Way: Week 5 Retrospective

Today marks the beginning of Week 6 in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I am following in order to encourage creativity in my life. Denial of my feelings and desires has been a way of life for me. I am using this book as a way to help me open up to creativity in a way that I have always desired.

For the first three weeks, I was excited, I had ideas, and I found it relatively easy to implement them. Starting in week 4 and through last week, I felt as if my mind were returning to the same dull state I experienced before I embarked on my writing journey through The Artist’s Way. 

This is always the spot where I seem to crash and burn in my dreams. Past the initial honeymoon period, I return to feeling less pumped and less inspired. Creating ideas becomes more difficult. I start to feel sad and then become depressed. I stop doing the things I enjoyed. I become bored and claim that I don’t know what to do.

This is the cycle I have struggled with my whole life and the one that I am trying to break. I think there is a natural settling down after initial enthusiasm, the low that results because of the high. My issue is that I let myself stay there in the lows.

In my morning writing, I realized that I need to raise my awareness when I am in a low period. The solution is to take steps to bring myself back to center like jumping jacks, dancing, a brisk walk – anything! I can read inspirational quotes, call a creative and supportive friend, or play with my cats. That way, I lift myself out of the seriousness of depression and back towards the lighthearted play of creativity and growth.

A sign that should have signaled to me that I need to shake things up was that I did not add anything new to my Pinspiration Board last week. I was so excited in week 4 to think of the board, put it up, add a couple of inspirational quotes to it and around the house, and then have a clear desk in front of me.

So what happened? It became the thing that you sit right in front of every day but yet fail to see. On my Pin Board, I copied two sets of reminders from The Artist’s Way – The Basic Principles and the Rules of the Road. As of week 3, I should be reading them twice a day. I decided to read only once a day, and then I forgot to read them at all this past week.

Raising awareness of things that have moved out of your conscious eye and back into your consciousness is one of the most difficult challenges we face as humans. Often, it is not until much too late that we look back and see that we stopped doing something meaningful, which lead us to stop doing other meaningful activities, until we are in a place of doing nothing.

My parents were born and raised in the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They worked hard on farms, at their jobs or in their home, and in the vegetable garden. The greatest thing that my parents ever aspired for me to do was the freedom to do nothing.

Until recently, I did not understand how their lifestyle has made it difficult for them to understand the physically easier, knowledge- and creativity-oriented lifestyles that they made possible for their own children.

Yesterday I signed up for a Publishing and Creativity Conference to be held in the Lower West Side of NYC on April 11-12. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, is going to be there. When I told my mom about it, she said, “Well, it’s good to have something to keep you occupied.”

With this comment, I started to understand that what I see as an essential life activity, she sees as a hobby. The need for creativity or writing to be fluff to her. Her accomplishments were so much more concrete – raising family, growing vegetable, or cleaning.

But ideas and creativity could not be fluff to me anymore than being able to raise her family was to her. I guess that shows me I will have to be patient and continue to explain to her, as I have been doing lately, what I want to do with my life and why it is important. I am OK with that.

Writing about it in my morning pages and here on my blog seem to help me continue forward in personal growth. Please share how you get yourself back on track when you find yourself derailed.