Monthly Archives: July 2014

Letting Go of Stability

My body has been in such limbo for the past couple weeks that I really struggled to find stability in my life. I felt like I had nothing to hang onto. When something as basic as biological cues for sleep and hunger disappeared, it’s difficult to look elsewhere for comfort and reassurance.

We need things in our lives that are stable. That’s why we establish schedules– we go to bed at the same time each night, we wake up to the same coffee in the same mug every morning, chew the same brand of gum, and overuse the same phrases. People develop addictions and eating disorders to find stability in their bodily consumption when other parts of life have gone awry.

I don’t mean to suggest we don’t need spontaneity and variety in our lives also. We just have to be in tune with what our bodies need– when we’re able to push them and when they need rest. My past two weeks of illness were so difficult because of the lack of stability: the new pains, the relentless discomfort, the lack of certainty. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on. My medications weren’t working (I later discovered they were causing more symptoms), even liquids were making me sick to my stomach. I just needed something to comfort me or give me reassurance for a moment. We can only cope with excruciating pain when we have strength beforehand and relief afterward. I didn’t have either.

So I gave in. I let the pain happen. I stopped searching for what I’d remembered as comfort and stability, and looked for it in my new environment. I changed my mentality, I left my house in the avenues and went home with my mom for a few days. Once I let go of routine and familiarity, I noticed new ways for me to find rest and comfort– aides I had been taking for granted all along. I started talking to people more, wandering outside, appreciating small things like hot showers and the feeling of being cuddled up under a blanket. I let myself notice periods of rest so the pain didn’t take over. In order to heal, people need both rest and change. Sometimes that takes letting go of our reservations to hold onto new sources of healing.

Setting Small Goals

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I woke up this morning and everything seemed impossible, hopeless, sad. I’ve been sick the past two days, wanting to go out with friends, wishing I were outside, waiting for everything to be different than the way it is now. I miss having the energy to wake up and go for a run, being able to order a latte without upsetting my stomach, feeling alert, valuable, active.

I have very little energy. I’m hungry all the time, but my stomach problems have gotten so bad I’ve given up eating. I drink sugar-free vegan protein shakes instead. Yum. I’m bored and lonely, and I’m alone with my pain too much. Today, all of the bad in my life seems a lot more prominent than the good. All of the negative thoughts keep rushing to my head. I thought, there has to be something I can do to make this better. I can’t just sit here and hate myself and my situation anymore. There’s only so much crying we can do before we realize it doesn’t change the situation that’s making us cry. So I got up. I felt dizzy and depressed and nauseated, but I could still stand. Then, I went for a walk. The walk was short, and I still felt sick, but it felt good to be outside–see other people, hear the wind. I saw some kids I knew from the camp I work with. They were excited to see me, and said they missed me when I was sick. That made me feel A LOT better– it let me know I was making a difference, I meant something to the kids I spend time with at work. Even while sick and very restricted, I can still find ways to be helpful and valuable. Then I went home again, drank some water and a protein shake. That helped me feel a little stronger. None of these things cured me. They just helped, a little. When we set small goals, they’re a lot more easily attained than large ones, and they bring us a lot closer to our ultimate goals than anger and tears will. I didn’t climb Mount Rainier, I went for a walk. But maybe for my current state, the walk was a metaphorical Mount Rainier.

There are so many things I wish I could do if I had the physical resources. I want to play volleyball all the time. I get so envious when I see the nets at Liberty Park. I would to start Tae Kwon Do again. I was a black belt entering high school. I want to learn how to mountain bike. I want to learn how to ride a horse. I can’t do those things right now. It sucks, but I know that already. I can’t control that part of my life, and there are so many things that I can still do that aren’t sitting on the couch being sad and lonely. Even if I’m bedridden, I can set small goals– read, write, draw, do small amounts of exercise. I can talk to people. I can get up for short amounts of time. I still have awesome roommates, a great GPA at the University of Utah. None of us lose all of the good things in our lives when we have bad days. We just have to break past whatever negativity is looming over us, and get back a little closer to the good, even if we don’t quite make it back into the good. Climbing a small mountain is much more rewarding than sitting still.

Awareness

It has become increasingly apparent to me in the past few years that people choose one of two basic states of awareness throughout their lives. On one hand, we can observe those who are eager to absorb their surroundings– those who are looking for new phenomena around them, then assimilating these newfound concepts into their lives and personal beliefs. On the other hand, there are those who gain enough awareness to achieve functionality, then stop. They subscribe to ignorance and live in complacence. We fluctuate between these extremes as we are greeted by new twists and turns in the greater channels that guide us through an unmapped world.

Awareness is keeps us astute, intentional, productive. When we are aware of our situations, we can choose how to react and function thoughtfully within them. We make our lives happen, rather than allowing life to happen around us. No matter you situation, you can choose to be functional and cultivate your character. As a student, you can choose to be aware, and interact enthusiastically with the new knowledge around you– or you can be ignorant, and robotically complete tasks until you are handed a degree. As a parent, you can be aware of your beautiful opportunity to raise a confident, thriving individual, or you can be ignorant, numbing yourself with unenlightening activity and missing opportunities for growth and betterment for yourself and your child. A thoughtful, focused low-income single mother is much more admirable to me than a selfish, antisocial CEO. Neither identity is necessarily bad; it all depends on the awareness of the individual and his/her commitment to movement and growth.

We too often view success and happiness as a stagnant end of a series of steps. We say “If I lift weights, I’ll have bigger arms, and when I look better, I’ll be happier. Or, “if I get promoted, I’ll have more money, and more money means I’m successful. i.e., I’ll complete step A to get here, then I’ll complete step B to get there, and then I’ll be happy. When we let ourselves fall into these mindsets, we miss success and happiness in the present. We let ourselves think “because I do not yet have those things in my life, I cannot possibly be happy, I cannot possibly be successful.” Our true measures of meaning and functionality in the world come from our awareness of our surroundings, and our ability to proceed thoughtfully within them. Keep your goals, but maintain awareness of your surroundings– don’t just “cope” with your situation until something better comes along, but rather cultivate yourself no matter the circumstances. Be poor AND hardworking. Be sick AND strong. Be depressed AND loved. You will never be in a place in life where there is no beauty around you to be seized. Make yourself aware of it, and never stop moving toward it.

A Day in the Life

Today was a pretty standard sick day for me. The term “standard”, here, means “my body turns on me and I have no idea what it’s going to allow me to do or how much energy I’ll be able to expend for the next 24 hours.” It’s predictable in its unpredictability. Here’s a better idea of what that looks like.

8:30 AM: Wake up, feel dizzy, tired, but mostly functional.

10:00 AM: Get coffee with boyfriend. He walks inside to retrieve coffee because I’m feeling too weak and dizzy to pry myself from the seat in his Jeep.

11:00 AM: Sit inside, bid boyfriend farewell, dizziness subsides a little so I shower and decide to go for a walk…the walk lasts about five minutes because the sun causes more weakness and I have a headache.

12:00 PM: Feel low-energy and light-headed. I’m scared to upset my volatile stomach, so I eat a couple apple slices, and again resolve to leave the house.

2:00 PM: Didn’t leave the house. I’m starting to develop the usual stomach pain. Ruh-roh…

2:30 PM: Lunch makes stomach angry and I’m lying in the fetal position on my couch, cringing.

4:00 PM: Still on the couch. My head is spinning and all of my limbs feel heavy and sore.

5:00 PM: Decide I’m feeling a little better– start small house chores. Plan to head to friend’s birthday party later.

7:00 PM: Feel dizzy and nauseated. My sharp stomach pain is back. My body has vetoed the birthday party. I’m betting the rest of my night will involve on my couch, in bearable but unpleasant pain, accompanied by Netflix and books, and the occasional wish that I could leave the couch and make my way to the party.

Throughout a healthy week, I’ll have about two days that look like this. Throughout a sick week, there will be about four. The rest of the week, I work, spend time with friends, exercise, etc. On good days, I still have restrictions– I generally have to take more time between activities to sit and rest, I watch my diet, I keep track of my expenditure to avoid a subsequent bad day.

It’s been like this (fluctuating) for about three years now. I’m an extremely active, high energy, 4.0 student, track-running, volleyball-playing, instrument-learning, everything-always opportunist and perfectionist turned couch potato. I’ve seen, and continue to see countless doctors, none of whom can pinpoint the onset of my ailment. However, there’s a consensus that it involves adrenal fatigue, muscle pain, and digestive distress.

I sleep more, eat less, and take more medications than I used to. I have to interact with the world in different ways, but I still have a functioning body and mind that allow me opportunity and experience. On bad days, like this, I read, write, and think about the ways other people live. I’m more of an observer, now, than a doer, but that’s okay. I’m learning to be productive and valuable with the hand I’ve been dealt. On good days, most people can hardly tell I’m sick. Sometimes I can hardly tell I’m sick. “bad days” would’ve sounded crazy to me before I had one. There are millions of people around you living with illnesses you’ll never have to experience or understand. Mine is relatively mild compared to leukemia or para/quadriplegia. I’ll never understand the pain or suffering they go through. I write about my illness because I’m learning how to cultivate and assimilate myself using my handicap as a guide, rather than an ailment. I need to acknowledge the restrictions my illness places on me, and learn to work with them. I’ll never accept it, but I’ll always learn from it. I ask that you learn from it also. I’m not asking for pity, just compassion and awareness. People rarely consider situations unlike our own. Many of my “friends” have no idea I spend days bedridden, in pain. Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia are both growing, but mostly new medical concepts. Those who suffer from these illnesses need patience and tolerance. I seek to build foundations for such movement through my own experiences and attempts at growth.

Welcome

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I’m Summer. This is me: a twenty-year-old student at the University of Utah– also a student of life. I watch people closely and I listen to what they’ve learned in their wandering. I try to interact with the world, rather than just exist in it. You should do the same. It will help you start living and stop taking up space. That is my greatest fear– to “take up space,” to stop being useful and relevant to the world, and to use more resources than I create. Here’s the conundrum: I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia last year. That means I spend a lot of time on my couch instead of out in the world, exploring, living, learning. I have to take a lot of synthetic drugs that conflict with my ideals. I have to be selective about the food I eat. I have to “rest” a lot, which, to me, lands me a glamorous title of “lazy, selfish, ignorant consumer.” It sucks. A lot. At the same time, it’s made me aware. I’m aware of people and how they choose their places in the world, and I am aware that I still have that choice. I will keep my “awareness” and use it to cultivate movement and change. I will see the world, and use my words to make known the things that too often go unnoticed. I’m sick, but strong, and I haven’t lost my ambition.

This is the beginning of my manifesto– my pledge to stop worrying and start speaking; to stop mourning the life I could’ve had and to start creating the one that’s here. I’ve been dwelling for too long on what I’m missing. I need to cultivate what I have. People pity and excuse themselves too much. We blame, we blind ourselves for comfort, we worry, and we lack self-love. This blog is my attempt to change that. It’s me loving and learning and saying it out loud. I’ll talk about how I see the world through my sick-goggles, and how I see the world without them. I’ll talk a little about self-care, and I’ll rant a little about ignorance. I’m a pretty standard Utah college girl with a unique window to the world. Here’s what I see. I hope you’ll use it.