Poetry Is My Balm

Many of the haiku and other poems in Short Verses & Other Curses were written as a therapeutic balm in response to my cancer. I don’t know why or how I survived all that nonsense but I suspect writing the poems helped at least a little.

Recent events make it seem to me that my country is suffering such a life-threatening and cancerous disease so I was naturally drawn to some of the poems I wrote for the collection. To some degree they helped again, if only as a temporary distraction from present reality.

I doubt if these poems have any healing power potent enough for all the ills sickening my nation; however, it is out of love and desperation that I shall share them with you now.

For the next day or so, please feel free to download the collection. If any of the poems move you in any way, I ask that you share your thoughts here in the comment section. If you have any other poetry that you believe will help relieve a troubled soul, I ask that you also share those with us as well.

You may download the collection by clicking on its book cover.
 
Short Verses

Peace.


Thank you to all who downloaded a copy of the book and especially to those who left me such kind, encouraging comments. They mean very much to me.

 
 

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DESPITE IT ALL, BECAUSE OF IT ALL | A Relating to Humans Women’s Issues Feature

DESPITE IT ALL, BECAUSE OF IT ALL
by lorieb

I grew up in a large family, the youngest girl and second youngest of six children, with two sisters and three brothers. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, I have always wanted to have a large family myself. My husband on the other hand, grew up with just one sister, so he was more skeptical of the prospect of a large family. Of course a large family today is probably only equivalent to half the size of a large family back then.

My ultimate goal was to have my children before the age of 30, so I could be a young mother and grandmother. After three-and-a-half years of marriage, I stopped using birth control so we could start a family. It didn’t take long for me to get pregnant, but it took determination and perseverance throughout nine pregnancies within the next ten years to successfully create our family.

I decided to write a book about my efforts to have children for many reasons; the most important one being that it was very therapeutic for me to jot down details of each of my pregnancies, successful or not, to keep them all sorted in my mind. Reading about them now, each one borne complete through words becoming sentences, and sentences becoming paragraphs and pages, is the most therapeutic of all. Of course it is easier to move on when things have ended on a positive note, and my family is complete.

My advice to others is simple:

Talk about your fears, disappointments and struggles to anyone who will listen. This can be a professional councilor or a friend or family member. On the flip side, listen to anyone that is trying to lean on you for support throughout their struggles. I remember a co-worker thanking me for “breaking the ice” as she called it, upon my return to work after a stillbirth. My co-workers were all very concerning and caring, but no one knew what to say or how to act, so when I started the conversation they were very grateful. It is always better to acknowledge someone’s pain rather than ignore or avoid it.

Do not wait too long to start your family. As my story shows you, things do not always go as planned. If you are in a healthy, financially stable relationship, and both of you want to have children, don’t procrastinate. That’s why humans have a nine-month gestation; it gives you time to get used to the idea of a baby in the family.

Work hard for what you believe in and want out of life. Do not let others tell you that you cannot do something that you believe you can. Do not believe that you cannot do something until you have tried your best to do it.

Do not take anything you have for granted, especially your health, but also your intelligence, athletic abilities, and anything else that makes you different from others.

Last, but not least, when you are feeling down, take a moment to realize that there is always someone worse off than you in any given situation. Think of the good and positive things in your life, (I do not mean materialistic things) and be sure to surround yourself with positive people that really care about you. Delete the negative things and people from your life. Make a written list of these things, referring to it often and adding to the list as you work through your struggles.

I can write this story now with humor, candor, wisdom and hindsight, all things I did not have much of when I was first starting out on my path to motherhood. Hopefully, this will provide inspiration and comfort to others that have or are going through the frustration and heartbreak of losing a child during pregnancy.
 

lorieb.com


 
Submit your awareness-raising human related-work to the Relating to Humans feature.

 
 

THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES!: A Guest Post by Author Avril Meyler

We are all familiar with the term “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.” An expression arising from a tale told of a young boy who in his innocence declared aloud during a parade by the ruling King of the Realm, where everyone had to bow down to the King’s will.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes!” as all around him bowed low and refused to see the obvious, much less name it.

The ruled had been indoctrinated into believing the King was dressed in full regalia and no-one dared to challenge his nakedness except this young innocent.

When anything unseen and hidden is causing problems either within a society at large or as is often the case within the immediate family, first you have to name it. Until something is named there is no possibility of resolving it. Whilst people around the “hidden issue or situation” pretend there is nothing wrong, the hidden gets power.

Naming a problem that everyone around is trying to cover up takes courage. Whistle Blowers often do this, as well as the family “scapegoat.” Child abusers rely on the hidden, look what has happened within many establishments in the UK over endemic child sexual abuse, torture and in a couple of cases murder; and widespread cover up from leading establishment figures, currently being revealed through a major enquiry, some of which goes back 40 years and beyond.

How many of those in authority in the Concentration camps knew inherently what was happening was heinous yet never had the courage to speak out?

It takes courage to name something when everyone around you is accepting something as being “normal” or “O.K.” There is tremendous psychic pressure to keep the status quo, to not upset the apple cart. More so when one’s livelihood depends on such silence or in the case of family, one’s sense of belonging is at stake.

But we remain silent at the cost of the Soul’s Integrity. Do we want to spend our years racked with guilt or denial because we did not speak when we needed to?

By our silence we are complicit.

We remain silent sometimes within a bad marriage. We know things are going terribly wrong but the prospect of our whole world shattering and the pain and suffering that ensues causes many to put up with years of unhappiness.

Fear of being alone causes many to remain in stagnating relationships with an apathetic resignation because they do not believe that no relationship is better than a bad one.

It is the same with any involvement. Becoming a member of an organisation, whether paid or unpaid, if we start to see our own personal values and ethics being compromised and at odds with the organisations goals we may have life changing choices to make.

I have been personally challenged with this in two mental health charities and a meditation group I am affiliated to. Those of you who have read


A New Human by Author Avril Meyler


or been following my work on this and other websites will know that I sustained a seven-year period of altered realities when undergoing an awakening, which is described in the book. This was followed by fifteen years of world wide travel, volunteering, learning from Buddhism, Hinduism, Quakers and some Shamanic beliefs. I was led to research Mental Health both through personal connection with someone who has and still does suffer from a range of issues and has had periodic placements in secure units for their own safety; and through my own short time need for counselling, following returning from a stressful volunteer project in India.

As my involvement with these organisations deepened, I saw that despite their ethos to de-stigmatise mental health issues and to not label many conditions as an illness, they stopped far short of opening their minds to an Holisitc approach.



But there is something else going on here apart from an inability to address the more Holistic aspects of the Mental Health process, and that is many of these and other organisations are reliant on funding, if the funding sources and committees of these organisations have little or no awareness of an Holisitc Approach to Mental health then would they also decide that something they cannot easily see or relate to as being “Wacky” thus undeserving? I have attended enough meetings to see clearly where these concerns influence decisions.

Everyone is entitled to their views and free to believe what they want to believe, but when those same people become rigid in those views and categorically refuse to consider other perspectives on Mental Health, because it involves a major shift in their comfort zones then do we wonder how the Mental Health Paradigm is still stuck in the Psychiatric/Medical Model? Which causes in many cases worse side effects and long term problems than the original episodes of psychosis – read altered realities.

It may sound as if I am being pedantic here but I am attempting to convey an overall picture of how much minds are still closed, despite the information age of one-line Internet. There is no excuse for not being informed in today’s climate.

The question is “Do we want to be informed if it disturbs our reality?

No one grew or evolved without touching the darkness within themselves or came to conclude that you cannot have a Universe made up of positive experiences only, it would lack substance and be completely out of balance. We need an amount of negativity in order to move and create time and space. The problem is because we collectively have not evolved to this understanding we are stuck in this Earth Reality where we allow our need for comfortable untruths to rule our minds.

It perhaps sums it up when a Committee Member commented when I said

“You do a lot of work for this Charity don’t you?” They responded “Well it gets me out of the house.”

We all have different reasons for volunteering but I guess meeting and interacting with someone like me who is convinced she has a “soul’s mission” to reveal all, including her own dark journey into a trail blazing brilliance of light, and refuses to shut up about it, would invite the comment, “She’s wacky!

I speak of Psychic Attack and I speak of Possession. I also speak of life changing 500 mile pilgrimages, of Oneness and the need for discernment in these accelerated times. Reading or hearing the words Psychic Attack or Possession can cause a reaction of repugnance, well I have been there and discovered traumatically that…


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio ~


Sadly the hidden does have power, it’s only by shedding light on the darkest of realities that we have any hope of raising it into a space where it may be seen, understood and dealt with, thus opening the gateways of higher Universal Consciousness.


“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
~ Edmund Burke ~


 


Avril Meyler, author of A New Human and A Multidimensional Paradigm, is a qualified counsellor, hypnotherapist and holistic practitioner. She is now retired and a full-time writer and volunteer for a Mental Health Charity. For more about the author visit her website at

multidimensionalreality.wordpress.com


 

 
 

SILENCE – A Relating to Humans Mental Health Issue

SILENCE
by l1brarygrl

It’s a family friend’s annual Thanksgiving party in Potomac. I stand in her elegant and eclectic front hall and gaze at the photograph my stepmother has just taken. The screen of her digital camera shows a lovely girl, radiating joy and quiet confidence with her smile. This smile highlights the dimple on her right cheek, her straight, strong teeth, and warm hazel eyes. The amber lighting softens the bold red of the sleek, shoulder-length hair framing her slender, graceful neck. The black and tan ruffled top, cut low, exposes taut, shimmery skin. The inviting hollow at the base of her neck releases a delicate swirl of lavender and honey, her favorite scent, dotted there a few hours ago. I know this because I am the lovely girl beaming up at me, a lovely girl who entertains thoughts of death each day.

This doesn’t mean I think of killing myself each day, though, at times, suicidal thoughts batter down the chemical barrier built by precious pills. Musing on death, on being dead, brings with it a peace that smells of rich, moist soil and honeysuckle. When suicide cells sucker punch my chemical bouncers, all color bleeds away. Only black remains, bordering an empty space like a long forgotten page in a coloring book. I attempt to downplay it by imagining bits of my Major Depressive Disorder giggling mischievously, scurrying for cover as I swallow 150 milligrams of Effexor each morning and night. I concede, however, that my disorder deserves more respect. You see, the eleven-year-old me remains within. What she witnesses sets the stage for the starring role this disease plays in my life. The two of them intertwine like kudzu run amok. They distain any rosy blush of health and destroy green buds of promise like a late frost. Her penance involves keeping a record of my failures and playing it on a continuous loop, like a favorite song. She lingers, nurturing my enthusiasm for death, feeding the monstrous guilt for living.

Since December 2009, any strength and courage I possess in resisting their calls to desist comes from pills and weekly therapy sessions with Peggy. Pleasantly plump and comforting like a warm crescent roll, and hand picked to help after a talk with John on the suicide hotline, we fit together nicely. Nestled in the back corner of the practice’s suite, her office invites conversation and confession with a plush black leather sofa and Batik embroidered pillows in desert hues I embrace. The inherent problem in freeing grisly events and thoughts of the past and present to her, however, is that she knows me now. She reads and interprets me better than any one else. Like a mama bear, she senses when one of her cubs is in danger. She and I meet as I teeter on the precipice.

My older sister Jill and I live with Dad at the 1960’s ranch-style house in West Laurel after he and Mom divorce. Neither of them talks to us about their separation. Instead, they enlist our Presbyterian minister, Reverend Sonnenday, to break the news. It’s late summer and Jill and I play croquet in the front yard, the grass the color and texture of hay. It crunches under our bare feet. Out of nowhere, the Reverend approaches us and bending to our level, explains what’s happened. At age seven, his words and seriousness of the situation escape me. The only images I retain of my parents together are a hurried wedding day photograph and a recent Olan Mills portrait, the four of us in complementary shades of blue. Years later, I realize it’s a parting gift. Ten-year-old Jill understands, though. I believe her face ages at that moment. The first day of second grade, I raise my hand eagerly when my teacher, Mrs. Mumma, asks about our summer. “My parents are getting divorced.”

Peggy asks why Mom and Dad divorce. “She cheated on him. That’s why he got custody of us.” How do I know? “She told me.” I’m twenty-four, live in Towson, attending Towson State, my second attempt at a bachelor’s degree. Life glows tentatively with this upturn in independence: I pay for school and rent with my own savings. Mom and my stepfather, Hubert, live comfortably in suburbia. She drives up for a day of shopping. I notice the weight loss, the new outfit, and constant grin. Back at the townhouse I share with two roommates, she confides in me as we rummage through packages.

“I’m leaving Hubert.” “I’ve been in love with Ken since Geneseo (where she spent one year at college).” “We’ve seen each other through two marriages.” “He’s a wonderful man.” “For a second there, we thought you were his.” As my mind processes this heap of awfulness, I automatically say I’m glad for her and wish her much happiness. She giggles like a teenager. The sun through my window grows harsh, merciless.

Peggy asks how often I think of suicide. “Every day. As long as I can remember.” She lists numerous signs of major depression in a questioning way as I nod at each one: feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless, dread, fear, and self-loathing.

“Can you tell me why?”

The catalyst for my gradual decay occurs one evening of my eleventh year. Dad sits in his favorite chair: brown, orange, and ivory plaid that matches the long sofa in the living room. Trim and athletic from squash and volleyball, his short brown hair recedes but shows no sign of grey. He has hazel eyes and long eyelashes that I inherit. A tiny regiment of sewing needles stands at attention, stuck in to the left armrest. He grabs one and picks at the skin surrounding his fingernails. When he pulls enough flesh away, he tears it off with his teeth and spits it out onto the worn mustard carpet. He works his way diligently through all ten digits, leaving raw pink spots behind. I try it when he’s not around and it hurts.

At fourteen, my sister, Jill, exhibits more than the usual mood swings of teen girls. Too often, her thin, brown frame emits tremors of tension and anger like a rubber band stretched too tight. I sense a growing unease between her and Mom, who we see every other weekend and Wednesday nights after she and Dad divorce in 1976. Unaware of the scope of my sister’s suffering, she confuses and confounds me with her stubborn insistence to incur the wrath of Dad. I fear and love him in equal measure. One face slap and threats of “the belt” keep me cowering and quiet. He lashes out at Jill more often because she pushes and prods like a prosecutor, questioning his stance for refusing her requests, usually to stay out later with questionable friends.

I stand in the kitchen doorway as he denies her wish that night. In vain I will her to not press the issue, to back away, and return to her room. A raging fear fills my airways and my breath stills as it escalates, as Jill knows it will. Like a Shostakovich symphony, their voices become sharp and manic chords daggers thrown at each other, and then silence.

I hear the creak of Dad’s chair as he rises, his fists and feet making dull thuds and slapping sounds as they connect to Jill’s bony frame. His limbs take on a life of their own, finding exposed shins, arms, head, and inherited cheekbones. She totters backwards down the hall. It becomes a barbaric ballet. Without thinking, I pick up the phone receiver to call the police or Mrs. Green across the street. In the seconds it takes to decide Dad’s future, I turn my head and our hazel eyes meet. I don’t know if his look or voice says, “Hang up,” but I do. As the receiver clicks in place, I understand that, at age eleven, I have failed Jill.

The next day, I walk down the hallway and hear, “Hey,” as I pass our shared bathroom. I stop and turn. Jill leans against the anemic pink laminate countertop in her bra and underwear. A thin, tortoise-shell barrette holds her shiny brown hair away from her face. A wisp of lighter baby hair at her natural part escapes its grasp, framing a frank prettiness. Even at fourteen, she carries her beauty effortlessly, unconsciously. Her body bears angry red marks sparring with black and blue. Jill displays this nightmarish canvas with a neutral expression. No puffy eyes or tearstains compete with Dad’s brutal work of art. I blank on words spoken between us. Her eyes dig in to me as I memorize the chaos on her skin. I receive my just punishment with obedience, igniting the spark that causes chemicals in my brain to collide and clash.

A year later, Dad has married my stepmother, Faith, and decides Jill and I should live with Mom. He breaks the news to us just days before our scheduled move. Flooded with both relief and a sense of being tossed aside, I anticipate calmer waters in this new setting. Jill seethes with a new intensity. I strain to understand how she can miss a man who inflicts such pain. Her misery at being parted from him is palpable, though, as is the animosity she fosters for Mom.

One day I lie on the itchy beige and brown sofa in the stark white living room of her and Hubert’s new townhouse in Columbia. With pen and paper in hand, I scribble, “I want to die” on a torn piece and set it aside. My memory blurs as to whether I mean it, or want Mom to find it, but she does. In a hushed tone, she asks me if I feel that way. Fear hits me and I say no.

Silence reigns in this new place, interspersed with shouting matches and slammed doors when Mom and Jill collide. After an altercation outside, they enter the house with matching shiners. My sister attracts beautiful loser boyfriends with violent tendencies, too. Bruises outnumber hickies. Mom’s tiny frame is no match for such turmoil. She suffers hurtful breakdowns throughout my teen years. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m so sick of all of you. I’m leaving today. I hate you. I hate this life.” She aims this oft-repeated mantra at me like a backhanded slap. My bedroom, the loft, takes up the entire fourth floor, and offers a respite from the jagged air below. In my mind Jill should have this room. Hit after hit, and I remain mute. Still. Why am I rewarded for this?

Peggy asks if there is a history of depression in my family. Indeed, mental illness finds fertile ground in Mom, Jill, and me. Mom’s depression stems from a forced marriage to Dad in December of 1965, and Jill’s birth seven months’ later. High school sweethearts, she falls hard for Ken when Dad, a year older, leaves for college. Still, they sleep together sometime that fall, a mistake with steep consequences. July 1966 hands 19-year-old Mom a petal perfect, unwanted baby girl.

What I witness of my sister’s torturous upbringing sickens and shames, but relations’ whispers of abuse from Jill’s earliest days make my love for both parents traitorous. I remain ignorant of what she might have endured with Mom in the broiling tin box at Phister’s Trailer Park, while 23-year-old Dad worked and completed his Master’s Degree. I hear my paternal grandma’s tsk-tsk refrain: “Oh, Lisa, if you only knew what your mother did to Jill,” but refuse to contemplate injuries or neglect. It takes what little strength I have to hold in her son’s sins, compounding my own.

Mom discloses one long-ago visit to a therapist. She vaguely mentions the negative experience that keeps her from a second visit, or finding another therapist. It takes years for her to summon the courage to ask for antidepressants. Her primary care physician prescribes the lowest dosage to her, “no-kill pills,” she calls them, inadequate in strength and the absence of therapy. Repeated pleadings and the positive physical and emotional change she sees in me fail to move her to further action. She and Ken eventually marry and live in upstate New York. Romantic trysts differ greatly from day-to-day existence, however, and she slaps on a layer of veneer to cover the reality of a third unhappy union.

Jill and her most beautiful loser boyfriend, Danny, often hazy with booze and bong hits, conceive, again with steep consequences. At 16, failing at school, accepting casual beatings as her due, she balks at giving up her baby. Mom wears down this resolve in her oldest daughter, a rare, sound judgment. Jill acquiesces, but refuses to forgive Mom to this day. I cherish a grainy photograph of my sister holding her petal perfect baby girl. Her breasts bound painfully to prevent milk production, she offers a weak smile and tearstained cheeks to the camera lens as my niece holds tight to Jill’s finger. She hands over her daughter to new parents moments later.

It amazes me that one can exhibit such bravery and vulnerability at the same time. Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on Jill’s door one day, as if sniffing out the most gullible person in the neighborhood. They excel at selling her promises of an Eden-like paradise after death. Stoicism and resignation of life’s hardships will be amply rewarded to those whose faith in Jehovah remains steadfast. She grabs hold of this rope, her safety blanket. In time her devotion is deemed extreme to her fellow “brothers and sisters.” Even her Witness husband, Rick, who, stunned by the growing brilliance of Jill’s mental illness, follows the pathetic tradition of her family and ignores, denies, maintains silence. She embraces death like me, only as a means to eternal life in a Technicolor nirvana.

Peggy sits still while I sob and stammer, vomiting this bilious narrative. “Why?” I ask her. “Why am I here? It makes no sense. I make no sense.” She contends that my disease points the finger at me, insisting my departure is the answer. “Your medicine does sixty percent of the work. When it gets black, you need an arsenal of weapons to fight along side it. Who and what makes you happy?”

Nothing brings me joy. Listening to my beloved music causes numbness. I don’t deserve to enjoy, to feel all that my life’s soundtrack gives me. The sun grows too bright and it proves difficult to keep my eyes open. I stop driving. Years of residing with violence, hate, indifference, resentment, and silence results in a determination to fade from friends and family, then to nothing. Neglect becomes easy when you want to die. Neglect makes no sound. For years, it attracts no attention. When it causes physical pain, you carry it with pursed lips and perfect the response, “I’m fine,” with a shadow of sincerity that passes the test.

There comes a time, however, when the damage demands to be seen. Swelling fingers and feet turn painful, hot, and red, and a slight limp emerges. Occasional inquiries from family elicit the requisite, “I’m fine,” but the veneer begins to crack from wear. Teeth and gums ache and bleed when brushed. The limp grows pronounced and painful swelling travels to ankles, knees, and wrists. Teeth change position and loosen, jangly keys of an old piano. Gums ooze pus. The inquiries stop, replaced by silent looks of concern, disgust, or pity.

My first tooth falls out in my sleep November 23, 2009. Breathless about the inevitability of it, I remain calm when it happens. I spit it into a tissue, place it on the bedside table, and go back to sleep. I hobble behind Peggy to her office on the first of December.

One Tuesday morning, about two years into my therapy, Peggy reminds me of our first session when she asked me what I wished to achieve by working with her. She reads my response: “I just want some peace. I want to be the girl I used to be.” The latter couldn’t be farther from the truth. Eleven-year-old Lisa resides in me, still. Most of the time I want her wiped from the slate, though the violence of it frightens me. My hate for her, for us, has shrunk like a tumor from treatment, but Peggy and pills fall short of eradicating the wistful, powerful allure of a final sleep. She understands death remains my security blanket, my Plan B. What a relief to share this disappointment, this drug-resistant melancholy with her. I understand stronger measures may be taken to save me in the future. I know someone who’s undergone Electroconvulsive Therapy with mixed results. He regrets losing memories, the worst side effect of ECT.

I would, too. Peggy and my pills allow me to derive the utmost pleasure in my music again. I embrace it with the enthusiasm of a teenager. I find myself singing aloud at home or in my car, even with the windows open. My smile draws people to me—at work and at school, where I feel an addictive peace. Unlike my deathly peace, this one surrounds me with sound, color, and people. Friends and strangers compliment me on my beautiful smile. It showcases a wonderful set of dentures that replace my rotted teeth. Longer feminine hair replaces the boy-short style I wore to hide any errant sexual allure. It swings as I walk, and lifts and settles when I throw my head back in spontaneous laughter. Clothes cling and show more skin than anything I wore in my twenties.

I receive a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in January 2011. Chronic, degenerative, and painful, I learn to adjust my life to it effects. It adds another layer of depression to the stack I struggle to keep from toppling over. Instead of keeping it to myself, I discuss it, my mental illness, and teeth with a circle of friends who listen, support, take it in stride. A few take me aside and ask for Peggy’s phone number. Whenever the black creeps in, I recall these small acts of giving.

My most powerful defense is forgiveness–of Dad, Mom, and myself. Its duration varies. It’s habit-forming, though. The more I forgive, the more I desire life, although it still battles the longer-held habit that I can’t quit completely. I remember saying final goodbyes to close friends, parents, and Jill the week before my intended death. I apologize for hurts and slights aimed at them. Some invisible barrier breaks and apologies float my way. An unexpected dewy peace falls on me like a spring shower. The call of death reaches its zenith. I call the suicide hotline, unwittingly taking part in saving myself.

The images of my parents’ darkest moments remain. Jill receives a diagnosis of Pervasive Thought Disorder. Difficult to treat with a compliant patient, I accept I may lose her to this disease someday. I write her regularly, updating her on my health issues, reminding her of warm moments between us, sharing my love of school, books I’m reading, music I enjoy, and my fear of not finding someone who will love me despite my wear and tear. Recovery releases an abundance of love to share. She remains silent.

How to forgive Dad? I think back to when I slept on a mattress on the floor of the cheery yellow spare room as a kid. Jill joins me most nights after a half-hearted attempt to sleep in her cool lavender room. In unison, we call out, “Daddy, we’re ready!” In he comes, usually holding his grandfather’s set of Peter Rabbit books. He reads to us as I admire the glossy pages and watercolor illustrations once more. We sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “On Top of Spaghetti,” and my favorite, “You are My Sunshine.” I devour books and music because of Dad. Mom passes down her pretty singing voice, love of writing, and remembering to always say, “thank you.” Besides Peggy and my pills, these gifts form battlements to beat back the black. Still…

I gaze often at the photograph of the lovely girl from the Thanksgiving party. Throughout the evening she walks up to people and introduces herself. She speaks with an easy confidence to professors, doctors, lawyers, and Ivy League students. She discusses the resurgence of college plagiarism and new favorite authors with an art professor, who confesses his fear of reading David Foster Wallace. She suggests, as it was suggested to her, that he begin with Wallace’s non-fiction before delving into his darker, denser fiction. She gushes about his work enough that the professor declares a renewed enthusiasm in tackling Wallace. He asks her what she’s studying in college. Writing, she says. She wants to write.


iloveseble.wordpress.com

 
 

“PRO” TIP: TAG AND YOU ARE IT — GUARANTEED!

girl-running

I always hated playing Tag as a kid – I was just too slow. I could never catch any of the faster kids, who just happened to be all the other kids but me. Consequently, once someone tagged me and I was “it,” it meant that I was really it and the game was basically over.

Less the teasing and the taunts…

Gawd I hated being slow as a kid.

Almost as much as I hated being tall and skinny…

I probably could have benefited from a therapy session or two back then to help me get over the emotional adolescent wounds I received from all the Tag trauma I had to suffer through.

Once I got over all the skinny geeky awkward lumbering stage at around sixteen and started to fill out a bit, I didn’t mind being tall quite as much and eventually I accepted the fact that I was always going to be slow as a truck…going uphill…on an ice-covered street. But dang, having to endure all the grief and nicknames such as “Lurch” until that stage was finally over sure wasn’t very much fun.

But you know what they say about all that kind of stuff…

“Builds character.”

Sure it does…

Anyway… Enough about poor little ol’ me…

Well, that’s not true…

There can never be enough of that.

Besides, once I realized I was pretty lucky to be tall and that it really didn’t matter how fast I could run, life became A-Okay.

And then shortly after I learned to appreciate my height, I realized how cute you short people are when you get jealous…

Which is practically all the time whenever you’re around us tall people.

Anyway… Enough about you short people…

For the longest time just hearing the word tag was enough to turn my stomach into knots and my feet into lead and make me wish the “Addams Family” had never been created.

You raaaang…

Until one day, not long after I joined the wonderful wacky world of WordPress, I realized that my fear of the word tag had finally come to pass.

For to tag within the blogosphere, I learned, was a good thing.

A very good thing…

Instead of having to chase after people, people would come chasing after me; and by me I mean my blog and the things I post to it.

Once I learned to effectively tag my posts, I found that I became it not in a bad way that always brought ridicule down upon me, but it in a good way, as in, “Hey, Kurt (and by Kurt I mean Kurt’s, I mean, my blog (speaking in the third person becomes habit-forming fast)) is hip and cool and if you ain’t there you must be square.”

Yeah, once I started effectively tagging my posts I/my blog became it in a very good way.

And the good news is, if you effectively tag your posts you, too, can become it in a very good way…or at least in a better way than before when you were not effectively tagging your posts.

And the reason is because WordPress pulls the tags from every post by every WordPress blogger (and there are millions of us!) and feeds them all into its WordPress Reader. And assuming that a fair share of the millions of us WordPress bloggers are also WordPress Reader readers, the chance that your effectively tagged post will be seen by more feeder readers than had it not been tagged effectively is pretty good.

Huh?

Anyway, some of the more popular tags I have found are “Writing,” “Poetry,” “Photography,” and “Art.” Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one of these in my tag list regardless the post. And then, depending on the context of the post, you can get more specific with your tags with key words and phrases such as “short stories,” “flash fiction,” “landscapes,” “nature photography,” “graphic art,” “drawings,” and on and on with whatever key words and phrases may fit your needs.

But a word of caution…

As in most aspects of life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

You can tag your post with as many key words as you like, but if you have more than fifteen, WordPress will penalize the post by not showing it in any of its Reader feeds.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering what fifteen (or less) key words/phrases you want to tag your post with…

Category words and phrases are also included in that limit of fifteen.

The way I like to manage my posts are to identify one broad category word for the post, which can be thought of as a chapter heading of sort, and then fourteen tags, which can be thought of as an index of sort.

But how you want to tag and categorize your posts is obviously up to you. I just recommend picking the best key words from the post and to study the WordPress reader to find what tags are getting the most traffic and try to include those into your posts, if applicable.

I would discourage, as would many within the blogosphere, spamming your post with tags. And by that I mean including tags in your post that do not truly represent what your post is about.

To me spam tagging a post is like false advertising. It might work to draw readers in once or twice but after it’s been realized that your post has nothing to do with the tags you’re using, your blogging street cred will vanish, as will any traffic to your site.

The all knowing Google will tell you all you need to know about how to effectively tag your posts so go explore and bone up on it if you feel so compelled.

Just remember… no more than a total of fifteen tags and categories in one post.

If you remember that, along with learning how to effectively tag your posts, you too can become an it blogger.

And by it I mean cool…

And popular…

Even if you are as slow as Lurch from Addams Family.

Or as short as Cousin It…

See what I just did there?

Cousin It…as in it

Get it?

Ah, you short people are so cute.

Caffeine Therapy

Coffee in Starbucks Yokohama CupBefore the cancer I had been a pretty heavy coffee drinker. I drank it not only because I was addicted to the caffeine and the boost it gave me, but also because I really do enjoy the taste of a well-brewed cup o’ joe. A good cup of coffee, just like a good glass of wine, really does [cliche alert!] make life worth living.

I was a late bloomer as a coffee drinker. Though I always loved its smell growing up—I still have vivid, fond memories of the bubbly coffee percolator sounds and the delicious coffee smells that I woke to every morning as a child—I found its taste repulsive and the heated spoiled crap breath that all coffee drinkers blast out even more so.  I didn’t want to be complicit in that.

But after high school I joined the navy and, like an idiot, immediately started smoking cigarettes, a habit that previously had disgusted me even more than drinking coffee.  If I could force my body to accept and then to crave and then to fervently demand a steady intake of toxic death fumes, then it would stand to reason that hooking myself on coffee couldn’t be too far behind.

Actually, it took another six years.

What finally got me to join the Caffeine Club was the twelve-hour watches that I had to “stand” while stationed aboard my first ship.

I had stood twelve-hours watches all during my time in the navy prior to transferring to the ship, but those watches had always been in large, noisy, bustling communication centers with teams of sailors, which meant that there was always someone around to talk to and to keep me awake during the brutal night shifts.  But on the ship, I stood my watches in a quiet, closet of a room by myself and boy could those midnight watches, or mid-watches as the navy jargon goes, get boring.

Thus, in 1989 began my addiction to coffee.

Coffee and Cigarettes. A heavenly match made in hell.

Fortunately, I was able to kick the cigarette habit about a year later.

But I drank coffee like mad until my cancer.

While I initially started drinking coffee as a crutch to get me through the night, I still hated the taste and had to load in piles of cream and sugar to try to cover it up.  Over time, however, I eventually acquired a taste for the bean. But my passion for the bean didn’t really come until years later after my father casually remarked that to really enjoy coffee, it needs to be drank black. Unpolluted, so to speak.

So I tried it black. And, like most fathers are, he was right. From then on, I no longer was a man who preferred his coffee “sweet and blond” but one who preferred it “bold and black.”

I drank it that way pretty hard for twenty years.

But when the cancer struck, I had no qualms about quitting. In fact, I didn’t decide to quit, I just did without even realizing it. I guess my subconscious took over after they started pumping me full of chemo and steroids and other crap and spared me of any coffee or wine cravings during my year-long treatment and recovery.

Throughout my years as a coffee drinker prior to cancer, every once in a while I would try to get healthy and ween myself off of caffeine.  Not that caffeine is a particularly unhealthy addiction as far as addictions go; but it still is an addiction and deep down, I guess always felt a little uneasy about my dependency on it.

I don’t remember exactly when the last time was I tried to stop consuming caffeine, but I do remember how much it hurt: the eyeball shattering headaches; the total body aches; the nasty moods.

I remember being stuck in traffic for a very long time once during my last attempt at the last weening process and having my legs ache so badly that I thought I was going to have to pull over to the side of the beltway and have the wife come pick me up.  I was jonesing bad. I struggled on, but as soon as I got out of traffic I drove directly to the store, bought two cups of coffee, downed one right in the parking lot, and begged forgiveness and mercy from the other one as I lovingly nursed it all the way home.

I probably went through the same kind of withdrawal pain and discomfort when I quit drinking coffee after the cancer diagnosis, but there was already so much other pain and discomfort going on from the blood clots and the treatment that the withdrawal stuff just mixed right in and went unnoticed.  Thankfully.

And for over a year during my treatment and recovery process I had no urge whatsoever to start the habit back up.  Until recently.

The tweet I sent when I decided to start drinking coffee again.

When the urge returned, it returned with a vengeance.

I started drinking it like I never stopped.  There was one big difference when I started back up though:

Decaf.

I know, I know.  Drinking decaffeinated coffee is like having sex without the climax. What’s the point, right? But, I figured, since I have to take an overload of drugs every day that are already throwing my mental state out of whack, it might be best not to include a stimulant like caffeine into the mix.

So it was decaf for the first couple of weeks.

Until the first time I ran out of it and mistakenly bought a bag of the real stuff.

Why would Starbucks make the bag green if it wasn’t for a decaffeinated coffee?

One good thing about drinking decaf coffee is that I can drink it in the evenings without having to worry about it cranking me up for an all-nighter.

I made the first cup from the mistaken identity bag around 7:00 pm. I think I finally fell asleep around 6:00 am the next day.  By 2:00 pm, I was back at the store buying real decaf this time, which was not packaged in a green-themed bag, by the way.

What’s up with Starbucks thinking they can set their own standards?

Caffeine + Prednisone + Mind Explosion

I have always been very sensitive to drugs and other foreign substances.  For instance, it’s hard for me to use morphine or codeine as pain killers because of this sensitivity (remind me later to write an article about my first experience with morphine…ugh).

Even caffeine in the smallest of amounts can overly stimulate me (it’s not often I get to say that out loud) to the point of annoyance to anyone who happens to be around me.

My daily cocktail of drugs are no exception to this sensitivity rule.

Evil Prednisone
Evil Prednisone

The biggest culprit from the cocktail mix for jerking me around is the prednisone.  Prednisone is the drug of choice, in fact, it’s just about the only choice, to treat Graft Versus Host-related diseases, of which I am suffering from, and for which I am taking the prednisone.

It addition to GVHD, prednisone is also regularly prescribed for many inflammatory-related illnesses, like asthma or COPD. Because of its potency, it is usually prescribed in low doses, around 5 – 10 mg, for short periods of time, around 7 – 10 days, or so.

Well, I started at 200 mg and now I’m down to 60 mg.  I’m going on my fourth month and, even though the treatment doesn’t seem to be slowing the advancement of my lung disease, unless there is a new miracle discovery, I will probably will be taking high doses of prednisone for the rest of my life.

Speaking of miracle discoveries, I will be participating in an NIH study in April 2011 for a new Lung GVHD treatment—fingers crossed.

It kind of freaks me out whenever I visit with a new doctor and their eyes widen and mouths drop when they hear that I’m taking 60 mg of prednisone every day.

The reason they react the way they do is because prednisone has a slew of annoying side effects and is one of those drugs where the cure could turn out to worse than the disease.  It causes bone density loss, diabetes, sodium retention, water retention, insomnia, moon face (for some reason it makes the body fat accumulate around the face—my head is friggin’ ginormous!), and worst of all, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

What fun.

Because of my sensitivity to drugs, I seem to be really affected by the anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

You might be thinking, like I would be if it wasn’t me who was the one saying it: Brindley, get over it. It’s all just in your head.

And my response would be: You’re exactly right! That’s what makes it even worse.  I do know that it is all just in my head. But I’ll be damned if I can get it out.

The more I can keep my mind actively engaged, the better off I am.

This blog is great therapy.

So are naps.

But sometimes my mind gets stuck in a deep rutted ravine filled with all of my fears and doubts and I can’t get out no matter how hard I try.  It really is crazy because even as I am trapped in this dark place, I know that a big reason why I’m there is because of a drug that is supposed to be saving my life.

And once I get stuck there I usually can’t get out until the drug wears off, which is about twelve hours after taking it.

So, the next time I ran out decaf and decided to go to the real stuff, I had to take all of this into consideration.  I knew there could be consequences from the caffeine so, to try to make good out of my stupidity for willingly hooking myself back onto something I had not needed for over a year, I had decided to treat it all like an experiment.  When drinking caffeinated coffee while taking the prednisone and other drugs, which would be anytime I drink caffeinated coffee, I would pay close attention to how they interact and affect me.

Good idea, right? ;)

What I found is interesting and somewhat promising.

Pros:

  • Caffeine, like the true stimulant that it is, seems to balance out the negative effects of the prednisone. By drinking caffeinated coffee in the mornings when the drugs are at their nastiest, I do not seem to be feeling as depressed and grouchy.
  • It seems to be easier to breathe when I take my walks. After some research, I found that caffeine is a xanthine derivate. Xanthine is used to help treat asthma. Maybe this explains why it seems that I’m breathing easier on my walks.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic. Diuretics make you pee. This is useful for me since I tend to retain water because of the GVHD.
  • Because of the prednisone, I also retain sodium. I don’t understand all this diuretic stuff enough but it could be a good thing if caffeine is of the type that flushes out sodium. I’ll have to follow up with the doc on this.

Cons:

  • In addition to the depression, prednisone also makes me anxious and edgy, and increases my heart rate. Adding caffeine into the equation only amplifies that feeling.
  • Because of my GVHD, I have dry, itchy skin and my mouth gets dry easily. The steroids help, but since caffeine is a diuretic and I’m peeing all the time I get dehydrated quickly, which only exacerbates the dry skin and dry mouth. I have to drink more water to compensate, which means even more peeing. Its a tedious balancing act.
  • Again, I don’t understand much about diuretics, but I read that certain types flush out a body’s potassium. This isn’t good because prednisone already tends to decrease potassium levels. Need more info.
  • Because of all the meds I’m taking, my liver is really taking a beating. Since caffeine is metabolized in the liver, I really need to be careful here.

So, to make a long story short… What? Oh…yeah, I see. Too late for that. I guess I got to rambling a bit. Thanks for bearing with me.

Drinking Coffee With Shikibu

In conclusion…  better?  …my long, rocky love affair with coffee has resumed once again and I find that my passion for the drink is as strong and true as its seductive flavor is bold and addictive.

And now, not only do I drink the brew to fulfill my own selfish desires and dependency, I drink it also to fulfill a broader need, one with an utilitarian, more nobler purpose—I drink it in the name of medical research.

Just think, what started out as an aide to help me better defend my country during my navy years (that sounds much better than calling it a crutch to help me stay awake during boring mid-watches), may turn out to be the impetus behind a cure for a very serious mental health condition.

Now, whenever I drink coffee while strung out on prednisone, I may be one cup closer to understanding the longterm synergistic and psychological effects on the brain from simultaneously consuming large quantities of both stimulative and depressive agents over long periods of time.

My research is going to have an extremely significant and beneficial impact on the entire mental health community.  Better lives will be lived because of it.

Yeah, that’s all a bunch of BS, I know (see Disclaimer).  But hey, if it helps me to rationalize my pathetic, self-induced dependency on something that I probably shouldn’t be messing with in the first place, why not, right?

Have I mentioned how long it’s been since I’ve had a glass of wine?