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Archive for March 6th, 2015

Surprise, surprise

I started this blog over five years ago, when I was setting out on an adventure into a massive, amorphous unknown. I was restless, and felt at an impasse in my life, yet couldn’t define the nature of my restlessness, nor the exact terms of my existential impasse. I just knew if I didn’t set off on my walkabout, I would sink into a deep depression and wind up squishing my way further into the mire.

This walkabout, which I intended to chronicle forward through these past few years of transition (and have in fact semi-abandoned, semi-completed, despite copious notes and drafts), got first delayed, then put on indefinite hold by the events that ensued. My initial walkabout resulted directly in my move to Colorado—an unexpected change that gave me purpose, joy, and a kind of internal motivation I had not known for years. In 2010, I uprooted myself yet again to start life over as a middle-aged single woman in a small, landlocked town. I hadn’t lived someplace as small or landlocked as Boulder, CO, since my family left Poughkeepsie, NY, when I was eight. I had no idea what my new life would look like, but I knew I was ready for a radical change of lifestyle, surrounded by majestic natural beauty that I’d come to learn I needed as the most basic fuel for my soul.

Leaving my community behind me was harder. It had taken me a good five years to establish a feel of community in Philadelphia, yet here I was, walking away of my own free will less than two years after starting to feel a part of things there. At no other time in my life would some nebulous need for something vague have outweighed my heart’s need for friendship, love, and community. At any other time in my life, my friendships and proximity to family would have been more than enough to hold me someplace. But something had shifted on my walkabout, and I actually needed something beyond human connection for the first time in my life. When people asked me why I was moving, my short answer was simply, “It’s a soul move.” I couldn’t really spell it out more clearly yet. The members of my tribe who really “get” me understood. Others didn’t. But as with hitting the road in 2009, go I must, this I knew.

And so I moved. I had meant for this blog to explore that whole process; the process by which I selected my new home destination, and the process of parting with life on the east coast and moving to a whole different landscape and lifestyle. I have pages and pages of notes, and even several entries mostly written. But life has been full of surprises, and since I didn’t get those finished and published, we are skipping ahead, and I am summarizing here. Today, spontaneously, I made the decision to just jump right back in, because I think (once again) I need to do this to help save myself.

I knew the lifestyle in Boulder was super-active. A town of triathletes, skiers, cyclists, and hikers (and yes, entrepreneurs, students, and professors), with typically sunny, dry weather (even in the winter), it’s an outdoorsy town where all the kids seem to always go out to play. As a relatively slothful adult who apparently lacks the gene that affords lucky souls the runner’s high (yes, there is a gene for that, and I didn’t get it), I was honestly hoping the peer pressure would whip me into real shape for the first time since my 20s. I was stoked to become strong, and render myself ripped and unrecognizable to my friends back east in only a year or two. Having taken more than a year off of men and dating in the wake of my last big breakup, I figured I’d wait until I moved to start dating again, and was really looking forward to taking the boys of Boulder by storm.

I moved in August 2010, on the heels of a raucous and riotous summer of near-collegiate-style partying with my Philly Chica Posse. We knew I was leaving, so we ate, drank, and made merry. I culled my possessions, weeded out my files and papers, and burned five bonfires’ worth of papers that needed shredding. I hired packers, and a day ahead of the moving truck, two hulking men came to my door, and in seven hours boxed up my entire life. One of my girlfriends drove cross-country with me, and she and two other friends seemingly randomly, serendipitously, graced my threshold for those first days I lived in Boulder. Altogether, it was an auspicious and joyous new beginning.

The summer of 2010 clung late, and we were wearing sandals through the fall. While I struggled to acclimate to the altitude, I nonetheless slowly worked on building my physical strength and endurance by walking more, cycling around the bike paths, and attempting to hike—little by little—the easiest of these daunting mountain trails. I joined the local Rec Center, found a decent bra and shoes (needed in that order), and was actually attempting running for the first time in my life. I was singing with the Colorado Symphony Chorus, training as a hospice volunteer, and reading for a broadcast service for the blind, all as exploration of possible new career avenues, and all as part of my overall goal of this move: to live a saner, healthier, more meaningful life. Singing was the only holdover from my previous lives that gave me a sense of continuity in this foreign place. I built a new and improved online-dating profile, and started meeting the good men of Colorado. That first year was full of question marks, exploration, wonder, and fun. Friends and family came through and visited me in my new life. But as the spring came along, I was starting to feel a little worn out. I figured that I’d been living pretty hard, and that sort of full-throttle living was not sustainable for a woman in her mid-forties. As if to slow me down a tad, one of my experiments—dating a guy who was very different from me—smacked me upside the head, and heart, and I was smarting by the time that next summer arrived.

The summer of 2011 saw me spending several weeks on the east coast singing, and visiting family and friends. I was exhausted, but plowed through those hot and humid weeks. I just wanted to go home to Colorado and rest. After more friends and family visited me around Labor Day, I finally got to start relaxing, winding down to a slower pace, and back to getting grounded, figuring out my next steps, including when and how I was going to finally find some work. Alas, all my plans were foiled one day, when at the end of a workout, I was hauled off from the gym in an ambulance with my heart going more than twice the normal speed. Four days and three ER visits later, I was thrown into surgery to correct an arrhythmia in my heart, which had appeared out of nowhere. This inaugurated the seemingly sudden unraveling of my health. When I started this blog in 2009, I’d been feeling “not right,” and for quite some time. Without going into medical detail, that got better, but never fully, and without any real diagnosis, despite consulting multiple doctors in Philly. But in the fall of 2011, I became a heart patient, and spent the next months recovering from the surgery. In January, I finally just crashed—I got really, really sick, and simply could not get well.

The last three years have been the most terrifying, demoralizing, and often loneliest of my life. I spent many months watching my health fail, my life-force ebb, the scaffolding of my life fall away as I faltered on every commitment in my life, even as no doctors could tell me what was wrong. I knew I was literally dying, but didn’t know why. I was alone 95% of the time. Only a year into this new life, this new place, when I crashed, I had minimal community—just a handful of friends who knew me neither long nor well; but I was grateful to have them, and in this small town, have people so accessible. Still, the abject terror that strikes alone in your bed at 2:AM, when you know you are dying, and are too sick and weak and incoherent to hold even a 5-minute phone conversation, too weak to stand up at the counter and put food in your kitten’s dish—that is the terror that drives people to mad and desperate acts. I began to consider an off-ramp. I’d missed so much. I’d missed singing at more prestigious music festivals. I’d missed my mom’s 75th birthday. I’d missed my 30-year high school reunion. And I couldn’t get well; in fact, seemed to only get sicker.  I had lost my normal life, my body and mind’s standard capacities, and had thoroughly lost my sense of humor.  With no answers and dimming hope, this was not a life worth living.

Finally, it dawned on me that if I was willing to off myself, I should also be willing to first throw every dollar I could muster at finding answers and solutions. That off-ramp was a one-way exit, and would still be available to me later if needed. But why not first blow through every resource I could scrape up to try to save my life? And so it happened that I found an expensive, non-insurance-taking, holistic MD who has quite literally saved my life. In my first several-hundred-dollar appointment, she asked questions nobody had asked before, mentioned tests nobody else had bothered to name, much less perform. Amazed, I just said “GO!” and we began to unravel the mysteries of my collapsed health. That was the fall of 2012. With each new piece of information and treatment undertaken, I would start to make progress, then inevitably have some sort of setback. It took until January of 2014 to get the full picture, with multiple diagnoses piling up along the way, all of them also accurate. And all the while, I’ve had to sit (mostly alone) in the sidelines in this gorgeous place I’m living, watching all the teeming life around me, unable to participate, and uncertain when or if I will ever be able to re-join in.

I was blessed to have some respite in the loneliness, having had a year in a relationship with someone who was accommodating about my health, and patient, loving, and attentive with me. However, when that relationship abruptly ended for external reasons, I was plunged into isolation and fear anew, this time with a well and truly broken heart to boot. It was on the heels of this breakup that I got the answers that unlocked the puzzle of my health. Already brimming with grief, I learned in early 2014 that the reason I’d been sick forever and couldn’t get well was because underneath all the other problems (a complex constellation affecting multiple bodily systems), I had long-standing, untreated Lyme disease (known outside the U.S. as borrelia), plus two other bonus (read “nasty“) tick-borne infections. This is not a jolly diagnosis, and some people don’t recover. I was relieved, yet devastated. Treatment of these infections is often as hard on the patient as the diseases. Some of these infections have no known successful treatment, especially when the infection is old. I was devastated, alone, and terrified again, but I had answers at last, which enabled me to begin to chart a course ahead of me.

I spent 2014 clawing my way back to life, putting one paw in front of the other, and focusing on self-care and recovery as my only priority. Displaced by the flood of 2013, I moved all at the same time as the breakup and diagnosis, but finally had a healthy, safe, new haven to start in afresh and call home. The prevailing theme of all last year for me has proven to be “resilience,” a skill and trait I have been late to cultivate and honor in myself. Most of what I’ve known since moving to Colorado has been terror, loneliness, illness, and heartbreak. This illness has been the hardest and most humbling experience in what has already been a sufficiently hard and humbling life. And yet, I continued to draw breath.

It’s not a straight line, this recovery, and it’s an excruciatingly long road. I still can’t make plans day-to-day and know I’ll keep them. I’m still weak, and get fatigued easily, or am overly-tired to start with. My primary symptom and limitation throughout has been grossly insufficient energy.  How I feel, and what I’m able to do, varies daily, if not hourly. My treatment regimen is excessive to the point of ridiculous, onerous for one person to manage, and renders my life entirely non-portable for the visible future. Yet against my nature, I have been the most compliant patient ever, and compelled, by force of waiting, to be patient. And even so, there is nothing I can do to accelerate this process; my only power is to not hinder it.

And now it’s March of 2015. Five years ago this month, I was sub-letting an apartment here in Boulder, on the scouting mission that would decide whether I’d move here or someplace else entirely. The spring thaw is finally arrived in these foothills, and the sun is shining on all that melting snow. I have a plethora of coffeeshops to frequent and wifi in (if I can stop spilling beverages on my laptop). I have a handful of local friends, who seem to ebb and flow in terms of accessibility, but who always come through when there’s an SOS, or free food and drink. My mom has kept coming to visit, and made sure to throw a party (which I was just barely able to stay vertical through) for my big birthday this past fall. Like the fool I am, I tried dating again, and seem to be caught in a wash-rinse-repeat cycle there (ouch).

I was lucky to get on the schedule of the big Lyme doc in town a year ago, and am now roughly 80% recovered, which means at my best, I have about 80% of the capacities of a sedentary, severely deconditioned, but otherwise healthy person; but I seem stuck (and hope I am not). I feel pretty bloody stuck across the board. There is nothing important in my life I have any control over—I keep getting my heart broken, I keep hitting frustration and setbacks, and I can’t will myself well.  Some days are better, some days are worse, and I never get to know which will be which ahead of time.  But I did get my brain back last summer, and now I’m recovered just enough to start complaining, which I know tends to be a good (if annoying) sign. I’m fed up with the status quo, yet can not reasonably commit to any new path, course of events, or commitments. So I’m sad, and frustrated, and existentially mired yet again. But last night a close friend implored me to push back against the existential despair by creating something, anything. And so, despite all my failures and disappointments regarding this blog, I decided she was right, and so here I go, plunging back in. I don’t know quite why I’m writing, only that I don’t know what else to do.

So here I am, still neither ripped nor strong, still a slightly pudgy girl in Boulder. I was well aware that I didn’t know what life would hold for me when I made this move. But I never could have dreamt it would be anything close to this. And despite everything, all the loneliness, all the despair, all the grief, I have never questioned whether or not I’m in the right place, whether I made the right choice in moving here. That answer has remained clear and obvious. In every way, this place has saved my life, even as it tantalizes me with visions all around of a life I can’t yet lead.

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