Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3:35 minutes: openly, I burn, what do you do?

It hasn’t been an easy few days for me; to listen while people cry, sob because the disease is in your brain. They can see exactly how you are reduced, less; that you are not what you used to be, not by any means, and that you don’t even know it. And I just sit there because there are right, and no amount of play acting or pretending is going to make me better. The only way I can stand that pain of knowing is to disassociate, to feel nothing at all, or try. Which is where I spend a lot of my time. Because people depend on me and I can’t run and hide: I can’t go and find a gun, and blow out my brains, what is left of them. Or I could but I don’t. It is fighting I guess.

Someone asked me how could I grow up in the environment I did and still be…well, me. I did it because I choose hard. Yes, I could have focused on money, or a house, or the fa├žade of family and used that to feel like a shield between my fears and me. I was the lonely child, the lonely tween, the one alone. Sometimes I was used by others, as a ‘usable friend’ so they wouldn’t feel as bad about themselves as they did. Sometimes I was bullied because I reminded people of themselves and what they were running from in some way.

I think most people know what it is like to be alone, and not in a nice way, but where no one waits for you, cares about you. There are no phone calls for you, there is no post for you, and there is no one who wants to know how your day went and no one who cares if you were knocked down. But since other people go on, since there are teachers or bosses to obey, or parents to punish you, you continue because there really isn’t any conceivable alternative. And once a person has freed themselves, they often build up defenses around themselves, so that they never have to go back to that place inside. They would rather live in part, a lie, than face the demons which they think they have walled off. The problem is that as Edgar A. Poe so eloquently illustrates, you can’t wall up all you hate about your life, or yourself without walling up yourself too.
I did that, I made that mistake. I thought I could just have ‘a bad phase’ as part of my history. Except I’ve had nightmares for every night Linda has known me and intense, horrific nightmares for the last several years: a nest of maggots in my head while I try to keep my boss happy and then keep falling down from my hair, trapped under a corpse while people skin my feet, start skinning my hands. Sometimes it isn’t even the dreams, with everyone I have trusted coming after me with knives, but the feeling, the never ending dripping horror, the one that makes you wake with a gasp, and shudder because you know you WILL have to sleep sometimes and then the razor wire will be used on your vagina while you are strung up, or you will be thrown from a cliff until the bones show through the skin. These are the ‘nice’ nightmares. You see, it turns out that walling up parts of yourself, tends to piss off parts of yourself. And it wants to talk, whether you want to listen or not.

I follow what is hard. I was a young teen when I understood that Jesus, as written in the gospels, was verbally abused cruelly, was called the sorts of named I was being called; crazy, stupid, of unwed relations, of inbred relations, everything they could think of. And then there was the physical violence. And yet, every day, this person went out and honestly cared, cared about people he KNEW would hurt him. I believe that even on the final night when he greeted Judas he honestly said, “Friend.” Because even then he knew that this person still had a choice and could have been his friend. Oh, we tell ourselves we don’t have choices, but we do, from how we respond to how our boss speaks to us, to how we accept, as the complicit crowd how our boss speaks to others. We choose to go to work and we choose how to interpret that work.

I decided that I would try in every way in every minute to care about people. This decision has caused me more pain and isolation than any other I have made. It has left me fragile, not just one day, but every day. Because I open myself completely; I open myself emotionally and give that to a stranger. I give it to an acquaintance. I give my heart to a friend. And every one has at different times and different ways, reached in and ripped me up. And thrown me aside. And when I am able, I get up, and then open myself completely to the next person. It gives me the shakes, and it is hard, very hard.

And yet, simply because it is hard, doesn’t mean it wrong. And until I believe it is wrong, I will continue. And as fragile. Just this evening I got a message posted publicly that a man, not a gentle man, wished to be my caregiver. Because then when I am alone and helpless he could stuff his c**k in my mouth and (it went on for some time, there are many things he wants to do). And yet, I have literally had people ask me to send someone like him a postcard, and to fill with it with as much love as I could. And I did, because I could imagine the pain and loneliness it would take to bring that level of hatred/anger at another human. Oh yes, it did make me shake, but I did it. I will do it again.

Only now, my capacity to make decisions is being limited, because my ability to think or speak or do either is being affected. I wrote a short while ago about regression and memory confusion, in a post which I hope will help anyone who has a relative with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other cognitive disorders. I remind people of this post because I don’t know if I will be able to write like that again. There are many types of hell and hearing the ones you love in anguish, and grieving because you exist and they see what this disease is doing is one type of hell. But I fight by going on. I must go on. Because there will be more types of degeneration, and I will need to narrate that.

Some times, some days, I am a confused child, I have the fragility of a young child and the innocence as well, that is what a ‘brain-wipe’ gives you back, the innocence, except of course for the hate mail every day. It also eliminates all but the most vivid memories in your life, which also happen to be the ones you have been trying not to think about (in fact may be the very ones you have been running from – but look, they came for you!).

This disease has tested me but it also has tested you. Yes, if you are reading this, then like everyone you have choices. I get to say things that others don’t (or won't) because of 3 minutes and 35 seconds. That was how long Cheryl counted before she started the ambi-bag on me. I stopped breathing for 3:35 minutes (and I guess beyond when she breathed for me). At four minutes permanent brain damage occurs. How many seconds did it take her to notice I wasn’t breathing, to start counting? 10? 20 seconds? More? So what do I have to lose? I have four minutes telling me, make the words count. So I say to you, what makes you so different? What are you doing to make things count? If you are sitting on a fence, get the fucking splinters out of your ass and get down here.

I don’t have long realistically, and while I may PLAN for the rest of this year, I may also die, I would have died or ended up on machines if Cheryl had not been there, yesterday. So, yeah, you got stuff going on in your life. And yeah, there are people dying in other countries. Except they don’t creep you out like me, because I am like you. I am the person who exercised, who ate right, who shouldn’t be dying, isn't that right? And if someone who has traveled on five continents and seen the wonders of the ancient world, who owned a used bookstore, written an award winning book, competed nationally in sports, and has a raft of degrees is dying in a horrid way...why that means you could.

I’m not overweight, I’m not watching TV, I’m not on welfare. Indeed, I have paid in for 20 years to social security in three different countries: the US, Canada and the UK, and I have received nothing back EVER: no unemployment insurance, no disability pension, nada. Currently, I don’t even qualify for the provincial assistance for payment of my medications. So, I am not any cliche or stereotype. So yeah, scary. Look at your life and realize that 1 in 35 women will get MS, 1 in 700 will get Lupus. You have a decent chance, that no matter WHAT you do, or how important you are, or think you are, you and/or your friends, or several of them will end up a bit like me. Now that is something to think about.

So what DO you do? What are you? Are you the consistent comforter, I have a few people who do send me emails every day, expecting nothing in return, simply to let me know that people out there, like me, care. The emails they write give me the human contact I have lost. They stop for me, they wait, they spend time. They are the people I know, the ones I care about because they cared about me, and show it. They help me, because they show me their faces, their inner lives and I have to strength to do the same here.

Or are you part of the group which helps me fight, which works with me in things like finances or post/mail to try to get a better sense of sequential time. To learn how to read, which is critical in making both emotional and mental connections and links to different parts of the brain. Or to send surprises that I can anticipate? Or one of those to help me with the postcard project by helping me with funding for postage (desperate for 94 cent US stamps by the way!), for shitajiki boards (which I buy as the person gives me free postcards in equal value), for the stickers, for the rubber and wooden stamps? This is the defense, the group which surround me because as I grow less and less able to understand the complexities except, “I buy this and I get postcards” or “I have stamps for postcards.” These elite are there to make sure I can continue to fight in my own way, diminished as it is, because I stand on the shoulders of giants; those who have committed themselves and their lives, or finances to a person they never met.

Or are you part of the very few who are here to clean up the mess; who either in person or financially, are here to comfort, to protect, to make feel secure a person who does not understand much except I don’t understand and it is scary. So that when it happens that I saw something I liked and I got it but it turns out that $20 and $30 and $40 don’t make $15 (this is a real example), or that a bunch of $16 added up yes, CAN end up being more than a $100, or $200 ("but it was just $16, and $16 is small, right? How can small be big?"), the 'adults' take over while I am comforted.

And with Linda still disabled, and off at her doctors or in a drug reaction or sleeping, while I am not EXCATLY the two year old who drags out the white flour and decides to decorate the carpet, I can still cause a bit of a mess (unintended), sometimes financial, sometimes putting me in an emotional withdrawal. Someone or a couple someone’s has to be there, to set things right, to clean up the mess, to get me out of the withdrawal. To let me know that no, they are NOT going to take me to a HOME and that I need to sit and watch this nice DVD and NO, no one is mad at me. But also it might NOT be best to tell bookstores that I want all these pretty books if I don’t have money in the Ossuary to pay for them. “But I do,” I protest showing a $20 or a $40, which it turns out is not enough to pay for the art books even though I only found FOUR. Which isn’t fair at all! And they need to explain it isn’t fair but it also isn’t 2001. Which is a pretty big shock. As I still cannot accept this number on my Calendar.

I smiled once in the last three days. I was putting stickers on postcards (I think we did 48 or so), and I said, “I like doing this.” Because the thing is, I can be resplendent. I wore a spider web corset yesterday and I am working so that I can even feel things like ‘happy’ or ‘fun’ and so that I am more. That I transcend, because it doesn’t really matter if I am diminished mentally, I can still be very resplendent, that in giving myself entirely to something else, I someone become more than myself. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.

So get off the fence and ask Cheryl or Linda (click on Girl’s Gotta Fly and profile for email), what needs there are. You too can be more, more than you are. And you know what, I think coming down and giving that a try is a good idea. I don’t know anyone yet who seems genuinely unhappy because they cared about me; or because they asked for a postcard. Not one person telling me they are unhappy because they asked for a postcard and started reading the blog, and maybe commenting, and caring. Or that they gave themselves over to caring and it made them a WORSE person. And if you are planning on getting involved may I remind you: 3 minutes 35 seconds. It turns out that four minutes is a bit of an mini eternity.

There is beauty out there, and fragility, and I will find it, because I hold both in me, and I can find them in others, in the secret and open places. And I will, even with my open and innocent face, tentatively try to find what good I can….and then give it to another. This is all I know. The postcard project is 10 months and I think just over 1600 postcards. That’s not very many, and that is very many. I, Linda and others have spent over $6800 on the postcard project (used calculator!). And another $1300 or more on the ‘surprise package’ project. Which isn’t medicinal…..except it is. Packages are still going out, postcards were posted yesterday, they are arriving around the world today. And what difference do they make? I don’t know. They made me a better person, I don’t know if they have made Linda or Cheryl better people. I think they made them more tolerant and patient people just having to deal with me! And I will go on, because while I am SURE I could have bought a bunch of cows, goats or pumps for villages, I couldn’t have made a person who hadn’t laughed for a week break out in laughter. I couldn’t haven been the only post someone gets beyond bills. How much have different nations allocated for giving back hope, for giving back belief that a person matters. I do not lie. If I believe you matter, you matter. Now you know.

But if you are just going to run away or watch in horror because you don’t want this to be you, or you think I am plucky, you are missing everything. You are missing a once in a lifetime experience because….what…someone was mean to you in junior high? Guess what, someone was mean to ALL of us in Junior High (unless you were THAT person – in which case, I’m glad you’ve changed). You can’t wall yourself off AND care openly.

I am a meteor; I am burning. Now, you can either draw the drapes in case the light bothers you, or you can watch, maybe with a loved one. You can be part of this, you have a choice, I don’t. Yes, it seems that I am burning out, literally, parts of me going until I simply stop and drop to earth. This post, is part of my fire. Every big post literally sucks something out of me. I can’t recover. So if you aren’t part of this, one of those who comfort, who are consistant, who help me learn fun, who keep me fighting, even if that is by defending my ability to continue, then watch and wonder.

I burn at both ends, I will not last the night; but ah my foes, and oh my friends; I give a lovely light.


Miss Fairy Sparkle said...

When I was 15 I sent a letter to a new minister and family in the village I had grown up in to say they were welcome and doing well. The previous family had moved, taking with them my best friend, and I was gutted - but I still felt it was worthwhile telling the new family as they were getting a hard time from other people in the village who didn't like change.

When I was in my twenties, my mum died, and the minister I'd written to took the funeral. He spoke so well, I was happy he'd described my mum so well, and told him so to thank him. He made mention of the letter then - and smiled, as it had really helped him.

I have never forgotten this, as an action of a teenager that I'd thought later might have looked a bit odd, actually really helped somebody, and they remembered it years later.

I realised that you never know the benefit you might sow into someones life by taking the time to send them something. Every gift of love you are sending - is showing your ability to care even when people have treated you so badly. Don't lose hope in achieving what you want to do - to influence, to heal even people around you.

May the hate mail not penetrate your mind, and may you be cushioned against the crazy stuff people send you. And as someone who has been through traumatic treatment, and whose illness gives her nightmares anyway even when untraumatised - I wish you angels to shelter your sleep when it must be difficult knowing what is worse - awake or asleep.

Drat those night time terror times, and drat those who is doing the breathing now times - can't imagine how exhausted you are right now Elizabeth - but here is a wee cuddle for you. Laura xxxooo

JaneB said...

You burn so wonderfully, my dear, that I am blessed to know you. I wish I could take away your pain and fear and worries, and I do what little I can to help you and your closest team of helpers - and I hope it's helping me be a slightly better person too. Choosing to do stuff BECAUSE it's hard and right is the best way to be!

New card arrived yesterday, but I only found it this morning (my cat had been playing with the post and whilst she left the bills out she slid your card under the laundry basket (which shouldn't be near the door but, what can I say, my house is a tip!). I found it this morning on my way out to work and put it next to the kettle to be enjoyed with a cup of tea when I get in - I'm looking forward to enjoying the pictures!

Anonymous said...

You give a lovely light. That is true.

Victor Kellar said...

Sometime I am not able to comprehend the pain and fear that you experience. Sure, I've had my share of shit hurled at me, as has everyone, but that is called life; I think you have had more than your share of the shit. And I know it hurts, I know its scary and sometimes (I think) you let it overwhelm you; but the fact that you know what to do, even when you can't, says a lot about you.

I haven't always been a generous person. For several years I was a selfish, mean spirited, sulky little punk ... then I met Collette who's openess, who's vunerability, who's unflinching generosity showed me what real courage is; she has had her share of shit, even more than me, and if she could exhibit the strength of remaining open, of remaining human, then so could I

You have shown me that too

Kirsty said...

I received my surprise and a postcard from you today. A million thanks; it's perfect.

You do indeed give off a lovely light. xx

yanub said...

Perfect images, Beth, to match your words.

Everyone sometimes hurts someone else. It is the nature of human relationship that we misapprehend each other or have to work through our own immediate need before attending to another's. But to be deliberately cruel, to seek to cause pain? And to choose the weakest, most fragile person to victimize? I have a hard time understanding such cowardice and viciousness. I wish there was a shield I could erect to stop such people from adding to your pain.

I'm glad Cheryl brought you back to breathing the air with the rest of us. It pleases me to think how we all breathe the same air.

FridaWrites said...

"I burn at both ends, I will not last the night; but ah my foes, and oh my friends; I give a lovely light."
This is beautiful.

I don't know what to say about some of the responses you get, or rather I have a number of responses but better not write them out.

The Postcard Project is beautiful. Everyone loves mail and someone's heartfelt good wishes, but it's rare for someone to send mail these days, much less something that takes such time and care.

Anonymous said...

Beth, yes you will pass on, I believe into a beautiful world where all of your pain and struggles are forgotten and you will be happy! And after your body is gone and your soul is released your legacy will live on! I will never forget you, you've touched me forever and I also do not lie! Bronwyn

Veralidaine said...

Being a part of your life brings much greater rewards than I ever thought. I am happy to be able to help you fight in whatever way I can. And yes, very often you ARE the only post I get aside from bills. Between being shy and most of the friends I do have being more likely by far to send an email than I letter, you're the only one who ever writes just to say "thinking of you and wanted you to smile."

Lene Andersen said...

You shine the light that shows a different world. Shows more of the scary, but so much more of the good, as well.

So much to comment on in this amazing post and my shoulders won't let me. I'm here, I'm reading. As ever, you challenge us to do better, be better.

rachelcreative said...

My beautiful postcard arrived yesterday. Thank you so much Elizabeth.

It's wonderful. I'm honoured that you went to so much trouble for me.

You touch so many lives. Your caring shines around the world. I can only hope that I can make, or have made, a glimmer of difference to you too.

3:35 minutes isn't very long. Here's wishing for many wonderful minutes for you before that countdown clock commences.

Tammy said...

You do burn, so beautifully and brightly and I am a better person for being able to see your light, to feel the warmth of it on my hands from a beautiful postcard, or package, or the warmth of a caring email. I hope to get off that fence and be the person I should be, the person you encourage me to be.
I will email later, I just wanted to check on you before going to work.
Amazing and beautiful post. THANK YOU!
Ach. I tried sending this, this morning and it didn't go through. let's try again.

MarkB said...

I've been reading your blog on and off for some time now, and i dont know why, but i keep coming back to it.

I think recently i've been having a crap time at work, (i work for a well known UK bank, and well, you can figure out whats going on...) and i find that your writing keeps giving me a widely different perspective on life - NOT, i hasten to add, in a "phew, glad thats not happening to me" way, nor as pity, but, well, i feel like you're speaking to me.

I too at school was a Christian, and member of the CU etc, but as i progressed through uni i found it less and less meaningful - yet in recent years i find myself drawn back to it - asking the seemingly stupid questions I asked 10yrs ago - "why do bad things happen to good people" etc, and "what is my purpose in life" - and still wondering mhy i can't answer them!

I'm sorry that my drivil isn't any more specific than this - and i suppose all i am trying to say is thank you - you have made me pause, reflect and think about things.

I can't begin to imagine what you, Linda and Cheryl are going through, and i hope that my next comment may be a little more meaningful : )

Someone once asked
"attitudes are contagious - is yours worth catching?"

Yours is!!

Devi said...

I can't think of words to say, except - thank you so much for this post. Your words - and your being - are valuable, never forget that.

SharonMV said...

Dearest Elizabeth,

Sometimes I still call you Elizabeth, as that is the name I first knew you by & it is very special to me. I remember writing in a comment last summer that you were like a comment blazing through the dark of night. Still you blaze & burn, sometimes with light of such intensity that it is hard to look at. But it is a beautiful fire and it burns so brightly. Like a full eclipse, it is a once in a lifetime experience for all who view.


SoulCrew said...

I don't have many words, but I wanted to tell you how much you impact on my life, when I am in the gutter you offer me hope, and for this I will always be thankful. You are a bright light and it lights my way when things are so dark and grim. Thank you Elizabeth and Linda too, for your effort and work you put into this. May you know that you make a difference to me.

Thank you again.

love and peace

Raccoon said...

a sparkler. One of those things they have for the Fourth of July. You light it at the top and it burns its way down to the bottom, shooting off sparks and sparkles, until at the bottom, it gutters out.

I don't see you at the bottom yet.

Reading today's blog, and thinking about your memory blog from a couple of days ago, brings to mind the synopsis for Joss Wedon's new show "Dollhouse." I don't think it's one that you would be comfortable with.

Donimo said...

"...it gives a lovely light." Edna St. Vincent Millay's quote fits you perfectly. It's a painful burn and hot, but your truth and words give off a brilliant light.

Edna also said, "Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb." I think about the "Girl's Gotta Fly" attitude you have and the depths and heights you navigate when you write about your life. You do climb, you soar.

I'm here as often as I can. I'm trying to stay in touch despite the feeling that I am sinking. You can't count on me to be here every day, but you can count on my friendship and care.

Neil said...

You do give off a lovely light, dear. I hope you're not ready to burn out as you burn up, though.

And the bright light you cast is the light of knowledge; you're still teaching, you see. I've learned a little about anime, life as a lesbian, fencing, love, Christianity (both dark and light sides of it), and literature (I read Memories of a Teenage Amnesiac over the weekend). I've learned more about Japan because of you, about wheelchairs, and how people react them, and how people SHOULD react to them. And I've learned that some of our medical system sucks.

You've taught me that the world is a scarier place than I'd like it to be, sometimes, and you shown me that some people (YOU for instance) have more love in them than I would have believed possible.

You have helped me grow, and you've helped me start blogging myself.

I have learned a lot from you, EFM, and I thank you for being thee to teach me. May you continue teaching for a long time.

Love and Zen hugs,

Kita said...

Beth - may you shine until eternity passes.

Thank you so much for the card - it was unexpected and such a bright spark in a day (week? years?) that is dark and weary.

Thank you, again.

Diane J Standiford said...

Your brain is expressing well. Your soul is safe within, no matter the matter or lack of matter. Your art will always adorn our home. Your blog will inspire a long, long time.

Anna said...

I still think your blog should be a book. Because the things you write are SO important for people to read. This last post is so wise, so necessary.

Thank you for reminding me to making the right decisions.

take care