Insomnia is Making Me Crazy

Uggh, 4:23.  I don’t want to wake up.  Breathe deep.  Take it in, and, now, let it out – slowly.  Relax.  Go back to sleep.  No thinking.  I wonder, what should we have for dinner tonight?  No, no thinking.  Go back to sleep.  Relax.  Good morning, Lord.  Thank you for the day.  ‘This is the day; this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will be glad and rejoice in it.’  No singing.  Go back to sleep.  Relax.  Maybe I will paint this morning.  I wonder if I should add a little bit more Burnt Sienna.  That will make it warmer.  Stop it!  No thinking.  Relax.  Go back to sleep.  I wonder if I will be able to take a nap today?  I have been very weary lately.  And, now, I am awake instead of sleeping.  As usual, Beth was kind yesterday.  She’s a real trouper.  Always right there.  Helping me stand up for songs.  Why can’t I just stay seated?  It is getting hard to stand.  Cut it out!  Go…back…to…sleep.  My stomach is starting to churn.  It’s no good getting all worked up about not sleeping.  Oh, my.  I am awake.  Yep, no trying to deny it any longer.  I wonder, do other insomniacs go through the same routine?  I might as well get up.  What time is it?  5:13.  Uggh.

Insomnia is not really making me crazy, but it does play havoc on the mind and body.  Lately, I have been weary to the point of crying.  The feeling is not fatigue; it is beyond fatigue.  Thus, when insomnia kicks in, I feel challenged beyond my ability.  How can I operate on little sleep when I am already weary from fighting the war against my disease?

Every day is a struggle, to reiterate, every day is a struggle.  My body is at odds with my mind.  I am grateful that I can think, and write, and paint.  Nevertheless, the fight takes energy that I don’t have in reserve.  Picking up a glass of water takes forethought and purpose.  Eating is a mindful activity.  Cutting my own food is nearly impossible.  Every little thing takes determination.

My mind swirls.  With the sand running thin on the hourglass of my life, I want to give everything now – not get, give.  So, I  push my body, and my body is starting to push back – hard.  Weariness has set in – deep, dark weariness.

Now, I am fighting on two fronts:  my physical body that demands to do nothing and my emotional well that has run dry and demands rest.  Two fronts, both wanting me to stop.  Just stop doing, they cry.

How can I stop?  What will remain unfinished?

My mind swirls.  The waves of confusion are crashing over the sides of my ship.

Maybe, insomnia is making me crazy.  Wait, I still have hope.  Sitting right there in the middle of the storm.


How many of us are operating at a less than an ideal energy load?  Disabilities take an additional amount of emotional and physical effort not easily understood (if it is even possible) by neurotypical people.  However, we all feel exhausted, at times, from life’s challenges.  The day-to-day battle is not mine alone to fight.  The storms we face churn our hearts with an ache for calm.

As we wait out the raging emotions and the weariness, our patience will bear fruit.  We find a place of refuge.  Suffering is a vehicle that can drive us crazy for a season.  But the insanity will subside.  We become resilient.  We know hope – for hope is the child of patience.  And, hope never fails.

Have Courage to Hope
Oil Painting by Rose Wolfe

Who Are We. . . Now?

Charity-Prevail
Photograph by Rose Wokfe

I watched him approach, the summer sun reflecting off the white stick making its own music, tap-click-tap-tap, as it hit the sidewalk.  The girl holding his hand looked to be about 11 years old, my age.  Fascinated by his blank eyes that looked heavenward, I found myself unable to turn away.  Knowing that it was rude to continue my scrutiny, I forced my chin to move; my eyes following at a slower pace.  It was then that I noticed her eyes.  Those clear, brown eyes were staring at me; then, just as quickly, she tilted her chin and looked at the ground.

Eventually, the girl and I became friends for a school year.  Because it was just the two of them, her life centered around her dad’s needs.  Even though I was responsible for the laundry in my home, I still had plenty of time for me.  She didn’t.  Back then, there was no ADA, no reasonable accommodation, and certainly no stoplights that talked or beeped.  It didn’t occur to me until just recently how difficult her life must have been.

A parent with special needs compelling his child into a life of servitude.  She never complained.  He always complained – about the failure of social services.

The next summer, they were forced to move into a housing project that was a community of the marginalized, poor, and disabled.

Where was our charity?


I grew up reading Charles Dickens.  Loved the guy with his embellished stories and characters that were characters .

With strong imagery to support his rich and complex stories, there was much to glean from his writing.  Nevertheless, Dickens’ social criticism bore into the inner layers of my young heart.  The contrasts between the lifestyle of the affluent and the destitute were strong and severe.  Lurking in the background, society’s lack of compassion compelled the orphans to be pickpockets and the beggars to be connivers.  Otherwise, they could not survive.  Having lived in a time when America’s streets were not congested with the disenfranchised, who were forced to expose the intimacy of their lives, I wondered how could respectable people walk by the needy without acknowledging them.

Then, the 1980s hit, and President Regan made changes to the Housing and Urban Development’s policies.  Trickles of homeless people started to leak onto the streets.  Today, we have neighborhoods of cardboard homes tucked away in the dirty corners of unwanted land.  These communities are filled with the mentally, physically, and financially disabled.  Dickens’ world is our world.  History has repeated itself once more.  We have become the respectable people who walk by the needy without acknowledging them.

Where is our charity?


 

In 1990, the American Disabilities Act provided for regulation of handicapped parking spaces.  Based on my observations at the time, the spaces were usually empty.  So, I concluded that there were too many spaces set aside.  Besides, I thought, how many disabled people could there be?  I knew of only one.  My uncle – who never went out unless it was for a doctor’s appointment.  Yes.  I was ignorant and callous.

Nevertheless, the handicapped spaces were left pristine.

Today, violations are rampant.  It is common to see people park in handicapped spaces without the required placard or plate.  Setting aside those who appear to be  healthy but are justified in their use of handicapped spaces, we know that there are many people who use the spaces illegally.  In San Francisco, the misuse of the spaces is so egregious that the fine for one violation is $1,000.  Yet, the law has no bite.

We have become a society that clamors for justice.  However, when it comes to examining ourselves, well, we don’t.

Will there be charity?

“Did universal charity prevail, earth would be a heaven, and hell a fable.”
Charles Caleb Colton

 

 

Off Topic For A Moment

Heart-on-a-String

Upon examining the trajectory of my life, I saw that I needed to alter the course.  For a long time, I worked hard at being righteous.  You know, a good person.  Nevertheless, my childhood experiences kept sabotaging me.  Suddenly, myotonic dystrophy took over and demanded a change in my behavior.  It was at this point that I found my soul – that child who had hidden herself away from the world by the time she was five years old.  Knowing that I could die from sudden cardiac death shocked me into reevaluating my legacy.  Now, I knew.  I wanted to do my best to love and to encourage people.  Lofty goals, perhaps, but goals.

All this thinking and evaluating my life took a deeper route as I wrote posts for this blog.  Since February of this year, I have found co-suffers and co-lovers through the WordPress community.  Living with a chronic illness is a road more well-traveled than you might be inclined to think.  And, the forms of suffering are as varied as snowdrops.  Being bound to adapt to an outside force transforms us.  We struggle every day to find a way to be more than conquerors; we must discover a path to be thrivers.  So, we share our stories with each other and the world.  Hopefully, we bridge the gap.

Having said all that, I would like to take a moment to talk about what is going on in the world and society’s reaction to it.  The initial shock of hearing about another shooting or, in the most recent incident, a priest having his throat slit, we cry out in unison.  Flowers and memorabilia are placed at the location of the atrocity.  News reporters provide us with as many horrific details as they can garner.  Some of us might talk about the need for change.  Others might want to secure our country’s borders against the “illegal alien.”  Eventually, we return to our lives.

I cannot turn my back any longer.  Neither can I initiate change in the heart of haters.  Yet, I want to say to everyone:

We all suffer – some from chronic illness and disease, some from invisible trouble.  Our suffering should be binding us together.  Even more, we need to question ourselves.  Are we being sensitive to the world around us?  Do we put others first?  Are we willing to love our enemies?  Are we standing up for justice – not revenge?  Is peace our goal?   Do we have compassion?

If we continue to be self-absorbed, then we will continue to see a decline in our society.  We have all heard the expression, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”  The time to sit on the sidelines and bemoan heinous behavior has passed.  All of us need to be thrivers.  We need to grow in maturity and character.

Just the other day, a friend shared with me that humility is derived from the Latin word humilitas, which may be translated as “grounded.”  You might bristle at the idea of being humble because you think it means to be meek.  Instead, I encourage you to be humble, be grounded, be courageous.  Stand tall and tell your friend, your neighbor, your loved one, “No more insensitive jokes.  Period.  No more hate.  Period.”

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  (I Peter 3:8)

 

Words. Wound.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Words wound.

 

Talking over the television, I say, “Mom, how are you today?’

“Oh, okay,” she mumbles.

“I like your pink sweatshirt.”

“Hmm, hmm.”

“Is it okay if I turn off the television and take you go out for dinner?  Then, on the way back, we can stop for Butter Pecan Ice Cream.”

“I want some chicken.  And ice cream.”

“Okay.  We can go to the little Italian restaurance you like on Taylor Street.”

“I want some chicken with mashed potatoes.”

“Okay.  Do you have your keys with you?”

“What?”

Your keys.  Do you have them?”

“I don’t know.  What keys?”

“The keys to your room.  Let’s find them and turn off your television before we leave.”

“Ah, here’s your keys,” I say as I touch the ribbon around her neck.  “Shall we go?”

As I push my walker towards the door, she turns to look at me and says,  “What’s wrong with you?”

“I have muscular dystrophy.”

“Well, you didn’t get it from me.”

“No, Mom, I didn’t get it from you,” I reply and close the door behind us.

 

 

It Takes Courage to Hope

 

Have Courage to Hope fb
Oil Painting by Rose Wolfe

 

 

It Takes Courage to Hope

Recently, I read Jasper Hoogendam’s blog post Two ABI’s Went Cycling.  Now, you may be thinking that this story was about high adventures experienced along the way, but it wasn’t.  There was no agony nor defeat. There was no moment of epiphany.  Rather, it was an articulate accounting of the small miracles of hope and happiness when Jasper and his friend (both of whom have Acquired Brain Injuries) made the courageous decision to go for a bike ride.

Early on in his re-telling of the day, Jasper makes the following observation: “Being ABI’s our 15 kilometer event needed some careful advanced planning.  I just can’t decide to bike 20 or 50 kilometers on a whim as I did pre-ABI.”  In the end, the day turned out to be a success, and he found that as he took care of his friend along the way, he was taking care of himself in the process.

This is a heart-warming story of kindness and friendship, and an ableist might put their computer down with a smile and think about it no further. At first glance, Jasper’s story is straightforward and on point; however, on second reading, you will discover he exposed the underbelly of all of us who live on the fringe of the neurotypical world.

In fact, he put the heart-rending, courage-taking in bold type:  “I just can’t decide to. . .on a whim as I did pre-.”  Those days of “pre” exist outside of the disAbled’s arsenal of options – for our lives are filled with careful planning. And, even then, we often do not get all contingencies covered.  For example, one summer day, I encountered a woman and her husband in a parking lot just outside an art fair.  As we approached, we saw that they were fussing with her electric scooter.  After a brief exchange, we discovered we could be of no help.  They had checked the scooter for power before they left their home, but now it would not start.  With disappointment etched on her face, she said, “It looks as if we will need to just go home.”

So, even with all the careful planning, from the moment Jasper and his friend made the decision to venture out on their bikes, they were being courageous and hopeful.  Even the simplest details of weather forecast, packing a lunch, remembering to take breaks, pace setting, and reasonable limits, some unforeseen event could have tripped up his travels. For someone who could triple the distance in those days of pre-ABI, Jasper would have considered these items without much ado. In his new life, they took center stage because they helped to ensure the success of the trip.

Facing the energy drains, the fears of failure, and the challenges of engaging with the general public can keep the disAbled at home. We hide behind our walls of isolation, faces lit by the glow of a computer screen.  Deep within we dig, looking for puzzle pieces of ourselves. What do we look like?  Who are we?  What can we do?

If we refuse to face ourselves, we cannot put the pieces together.  Summoning up the courage, we take each broken piece as if we were archaeologists holding pottery.  Slowly, we are redefined.  Each day, we gather one more piece of who we are.  Courage matures and hope is born.

Finally, we emerge. Some of us scrape off the clay particles and say, “Today, I will venture out. I have hope.”

Suffering is a Form of Abstinence.

 

Suffering-can-harded-your-heart-WEB
Original oil painting and quote by Rose Wolfe

 

Rituals and pleasures.  The rhythms of life that comfort us.  Firing up my laptop, I grab my cup and take the first sip of the day.  It is a ritual and a pleasure.

Cascading emails pop-up on the screen, and I scan them quickly looking for a missive from my friend, Beth.  She is special to me.  When we first met a few years ago, I liked her immediately.  Even though she is a water person – as in she lives on a lake, has a boat, and I am a land person – as in I live on 10 acres of woods, no boat, we have discovered a commonality of spirit that is deeper than the depth of her lake or the density of my trees.

In 1972, Beth was still a young woman when she developed an older person’s disability, tinnitus.  Without pause, the annoying sensation has grown louder over the years.  Today, it is a shrill referee whistle.  All day long – every day.  Without end.  As if this weren’t enough, Beth now has no normal hearing left and hyperacusis.  All of which makes speech conversation tedious and challenging, but writing is one of her passions.

Because I have myotonic dystrophy, my energy levels are arbitrary and capricious.  Small events for the able-bodied demand that I have the fortitude of the Energizer Bunny.  Often, I make plans only to cancel them owing to the unstoppable leak of energy.

So, we write to one another.  Beth writes when she can, and I do the same. We share intimate, spiritual matters via email. We talk about how our suffering has drawn us into a deeper, inner, soul-searing, heart-clawing reality.  It is a ritual and a pleasure.

Lately, we have been talking about the gift of suffering.  Strange?  How can suffering be a gift?  Are we just two nutcases?  Do we like self-flagellation?  No.  No.  And, no!

Everything that happens to us can be a gift – as in contribution.  However, the gift is only found as we grabble with our pain and misery.  When we suffer, we have an opportunity to grow.  This severe hardship will often bring us crashing to the floor, or wall, or ceiling with frustration, anger, and despair.  Nevertheless, as we patiently wait for the crises to pass, we find a contribution to our character.  A little gift of tenderness towards others.

We are not fooled.  The contribution is withheld until we have tasted the bitter nullification of our previous lives.  Recently, my friend wrote:  “Suffering is a form of abstinence.”  I like this idea.  Not because I like abstinence; rather, there is a profound truth that we, who suffer, are denied.  Abstinence is forced upon us.

What and how we think about these external restraints can have a deleterious  or propitious affect on our character.  Some people claim that suffering will eventually cause hearts to be hardened; yet, others claim that we become more tender.  I think the choice is ours.  Both outcomes are possible.

If we allow the chronic disease, the pain, the tribulation to be the cause of internal bleeding, our lives (our being) will drain away.  Then, our hearts will become necrotic.  We will become the living dead.

 

 

 

 

The Ability In disAbility

 

Countryside-Web
Oil Painting by Rose Wolfe

Toiling with the earth and fighting a year-long battle against nature, farmers hope for high yields from the perfect crop.  Even though the farmer knows that nature will always win (for she has an arsenal at her disposal), the farmer seeks to control that which cannot be contained.  Untameable, nature arbitrarily sends drought, flood, ice, and weeds.  One such challenge is the feral stinging nettle plant.

Carried by the wind, the seed settles in the farmer’s fields.  The misery of the plant is hidden on the underside of its heart-shaped leaf where there are tiny hairs that will bite you with an irritating sting.  Even so, arms at the ready, workers set out to eradicate the plant from their fields.

However, the nettle is more than an unruly nuisance to be yanked out by its roots and tossed into the fire.  Surprisingly, the leafy green herbaceous contains a whopping 25% protein and a slew of nutritional vitamins and minerals.

Just like the farmers, we toil for perfection;  although, our crop is the perfect life.  Convinced of our omnipotence, we make plans as if we are the masters of our lives.  Oblivious to the reality that nature cannot be controlled, life is not perfect, and troubles will come into our lives, our plans are ill-conceived.  Therefore, it is not surprising that we are dismayed when stinging nettles blow into our neat schemes.  And, with the strategy of a general, we raise our banner of war against the unwelcome intruder.

Most Americans strive to live a life free from all difficulties.  We dream of attaining the perfect life — which is nothing more than a life of ease.  How many of us want to be the occupants of an Adirondack chair nestled at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea?  Or, maybe, we prefer a cabin in the woods overlooking a calm lake with no one else in sight.

Whatever form our perfect life takes, it does not include tribulations.  When they come, we are quick to beg God to remove them.  Maybe we become angry and lament, “Why me?”   Most often, we are slaves to our delusion that bad things only happen to other people.  But, they don’t.  Stinging nettles settle into our lives and illness, disease, accidents, and pain disrupt our lives.

Chronic illness cannot be eradicated.  There is no miracle cure.  We, who suffer from chronic heart-stinging nettles, learn that we cannot wage a war against that which cannot be controlled.  Eventually, we take a different approach:  we consume the plant before it consumes us.  Having fought the war for years, we evolve into warriors with the ability to be nourished by the nettles.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that suffering is good.  What I am saying is that we can turn our lives around when they have been turned upside down.  As much as we want our chronic illness, our pain, our depression, or our anxiety to disappear, we are not masters of nature.

By devouring our chronic illness, we develop patience.  From our patience springs wisdom.  We see differently, feel differently, and understand differently.  Living with a chronic disease teaches us hard lessons.  Every day is a new challenge, and we continue to learn how to live with our disability.  We may not be able to do much (if any) physical exercise, but we strengthen our minds by taking our thoughts captive.

Fueled by our decision to devour the weeds in our life, the stinging nettle provides us with insight, sensitivity, and tenderness. Our ability to comfort others is intensified.  Our purity of heart shines through our words and deeds.

Our disAbility has given us the ability to live beyond our disability.