Friday, June 25, 2010

Empty Basket

This morning I sat outside to meditate with an empty basket.

I had been using this basket to keep sticky pads and note paper in. As I cleaned off the desk so that my partner had room for his stuff, I kept moving it around. There really wasn't a great place for it anymore. So, it kept finding temporary homes around the office: on top the file cabinet, on top of another pile of papers, under the desk, and on the floor. Sticky pads kept falling out.

Why did I feel compelled to keep it so full?

I recently overheard my daughter telling her husband that I have a thing for office supplies.

It's true. I like paper and pens, tape dispensers and staplers. I really love colored markers and crayons. I keep file folders and notebooks for re-use. I like to look like I mean business. I like to feel in control of my life and this helps. But clearly, my basket was getting out of hand.

This is more than symbolic. Since moving three years ago, I took over setting up the house while my partner set-up a garage and moved his "projects" in - with cars and trucks that he wanted to salvage or keep up, lots of tools, and items he couldn't part with. I rationalized controlling the house space, because "we" were hoping to use this new place as a counseling/retreat place. It would be my business from home.

It hasn't turned out quite that way. I do have a small counseling practice at home. I've held workshops on aging and spirituality. We have held meeting for worship (a Quaker form of worship) here. Community activities have taken place. But I really didn't need to lock him out of the office. I just needed a locked file drawer for my work.

The basket seemed to keep getting lost and spilling over while I was sorting through the desk contents. Even after the desk was cleaned out, the basket couldn't seem to find its place - until this past week.

The usual facilitator of the meditation group would be out of town for two weeks. I offered to fill in.

The first week, I brought the chime, a small vase of flowers and a reading. When someone asked where the basket was for dana (the Buddhist term for donations), I realized that I didn't have one. But then it dawned on me that I knew exactly what would serve as our dana basket next week.

This week, I cleaned out the basket, recycling most of the papers and passing on the pads to my partner. He told me that he had just made scrap-paper note pads since he was out of them at his work. This is a company where cost-cutting measures included reducing staff by a third last year and where each office supply purchase is carefully considered.

I brought the empty basket to meditation and it seems everyone contributed to the dana this week.

In preparation for my daily morning meditation today, I put out the empty basket. I used it as a reminder to empty myself and appreciate the lightness of passing on whatever comes my way without clinging. As I dedicated the merit of my practice to the well-being of all in the universe, two herons flew nearby and honked.

The simplicity of their graceful flight inspired in me a sense of lightness and freedom that I imagine the basket must be enjoying.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I don't know what to think. This is getting to become pretty common after a life-time of needing to be right or know something.

My regular doctor recently saw me since it was going to be a month before seeing the specialist. Things look good. I'm on a little medication that is meant to calm down some of the hyper-thyroid responses.

The thing is, I don't want to go to the specialist. I keep telling myself I feel better. No problem. I dread going and getting the brush-off. What are you doing here?

On the surface things really are looking better. People have been telling me how much better I look.

The doctor put me on the minimum amount of beta blockers so that my heart rate and blood pressure would calm down. He said it would help with the headaches.

After the first week, I really did feel better. Although, I am quick to tell people that I started really feeling better the day before I started the beta blockers.

The doctor let me know that in some sports, beta blockers can be banned. He went on to explain how in the Olympic games, some archery players were using beta blockers leading to an unfair advantage. They could steady themselves better.

A veterinarian friend said that she heard of public speakers and performers using beta blockers to reduce anxiety or the jitters.

So imagine my surprise when two of my close friends ended each visit last week by letting me know how relaxed I looked - like it'd been months since I looked so good. Hmmm. Or my youngest daughter who told me that I seemed calmer and looked less puffy around the face.

But the most hilarious response was from my partner. We were sitting across from each other for our evening meal and he kept looking at me. I didn't handle it gracefully.

Me: What are you looking at?

Him: You look different.

Me: Really? How?

Him: Ummm... you have that glow - like when you were pregnant.

Me: Great.

I remember feeling obese and sick while pregnant. What if this is menopausal hormones? It can't be pregnancy.

Me: Or, maybe more like people who come to terms with their lives and are getting ready to die. That's it. I'm getting ready to spontaneously combust. Wait. I got it! I'm going to do - what do the religious people call it? Assumption?

Him: No. Ascension.

Me: Right. No, I like assumption. All my assumptions have caught up with me and I will implode. Finally, peace.

He seemed to be finished with the conversation and started to eat. But I was imagining a Gary Larson cartoon with assumption-cowboys on horseback chasing me down. Like an old movie. I would finally be able to give-up my assumptions that are wrong or cloud my thinking - after the required chasing and wrestling, of course. The ego would finally be tamed.

Fighting/resisting/running until I am exhausted is my mode of operation. All of my hard and fast rules, thoughts, ideas, imaginings, and fears, are tightly held. Illness is one of those times when I simply don't have the energy to fight them anymore. Of course, there are assumptions I get to deal with around that. This stuff never seems to end.

Last night, after two weeks of feeling much better in which I consider to be a period of grace, I got sick again. Maybe it was something I ate, maybe it was a bug, maybe it is my psyche calling up more stuff, I don't know. But this time, I did not belabor it. I simply got sick in the middle of the night and put myself back in bed in the best position I could.

This morning when my beloved went to kiss me for the day, I put a hand up to my lips. Sick. Can you get me the Barf Bucket?

He thanked me for not passing on the germs and came back with our handy family bowl.

While nauseous off and on, I was able to move through the day doing my usual things - just like old times. I wanted to cancel lots of things, but it just didn't warrant it. No fever. Mild headache. Ate a little fruit. When I focused on other things, I didn't notice the queasies or dull headache so much.

I will go to the specialist - if for no other reason than to practice letting go of one of my assumptions.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Better than a Space Age Pen

I’d been muttering to my partner that once I felt better, I was going somewhere. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how, or with what money, but I needed to go.

In the midst of feeling really rotten last month, I got a call. At first I thought it was from a telemarketer. It’s a good thing I didn’t hang up on him. Instead, I was informed that I had won a one-night’s stay in Greensboro, NC from a tourism group.

At first I really couldn’t believe it. Besides winning small games at the local carnival, the last time I won something was a Space Age pen – probable in the 1970’s from a Tang promotion.

The irony is that now I can return to the town where I spent my Coming of Age summer in 1976. I’ve been wanting to see a performance of the Eastern Music Festival (EMF) kids for years now. I remember the vitality and creative energy brought about by the intensity of learning new music and performing it weekly. This practice pushed me to higher levels of performance. I remember dreaming of something much bigger than my life back home on the farm.

Summer programs may be only a few weeks long, but the impact has been for a lifetime.

There is also a twist of coincidence that EMF was held at a Quaker college - Guilford. As an adult, I came to join the Quakers as my theology of choice - initially because of their peace and social justice theology.

My partner and I had stopped by Greensboro on the way back from our harp conference/coastal trip this winter to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It had just opened a few weeks prior and the visit was filled with emotion as it focused on the lunch counter sit-in and the power of youth and development of leadership in the midst of very difficult and dangerous times.

Because of that visit, I became aware of the drawing and signed up.

I can’t help but be amazed by the crazy coincidence of desperation, hope, and luck that brought this about. Or, maybe it was a prayer answered.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

It has been a week since I went to see the doctor. This time he spent lots of time with me. The tests came back showing something.

He chastised me in a nice way when I said that I couldn't do the things I always want to. He said, that's the problem. He said he is so conditioned to patients who expect to be fixed from whatever ails them that he didn't realize at the last appointment how sick I was.

I look too well, I know. My family didn't even get it until the ultra sound and blood work showed something.

He told me that my T4 and T3 tests showed hyperthyroid activity and that the sed rate - a blood test that indicates inflammation - showed inflammation.

Okay. Now what?

He explained that regular hypo or hyper thyroid conditions don't usually create the neck tenderness and swelling. So he was still going with thyroiditis - which simply means swollen thyroid.

The problem is, what caused it? I didn't have any neck trauma to create swelling. Post-partum moms sometimes get this, but the last time I gave birth was 24 years ago. Instead, my options were bacterial or viral infection, or an autoimmune problem.

He explained that this could get complicated and that I should see a thyroid specialist. The usual referral was to an internal medicine guy who did some thyroid work, but wasn't really a thyroid specialist. While he went to the hallway to consult with a colleague, I called my aunt to find out the name of the specialist my younger cousin sees in the area. He has metastatic thyroid cancer - everyone says, if you are going to get a cancer, get this one or some such nonsense. My sister with Graves disease took two tries to find a good thyroid specialist, but she lives on the other coast.

He returned with an agreement from his colleague that it looked like thyroiditis. While he said he usually sees an average of 2 patients a week with hyper or hypo thyroidism, thyroiditis is less common.

He ordered more blood tests for other thyroid-related markers of some sort. He also said he would personally call the thyroid specialist that day to get the ball rolling.

I left with a script for more blood work and orders to pick up a beta blocker since my heart rate, blood pressure and headaches were still a problem.

Great, something is finally happening.

I called the specialist's office and was told that she was out for the day. The secretary took my information and said that the records needed to be sent before the doctor would make any decision. She also said that if I didn't hear back from the office, I should call next Wednesday to make an appointment.

On Wednesday, I called the office. The initial response was that they never received my paperwork. I explained that my doc said he would call. She ruffled around and said that she remembered the call, put me on hold, and several minutes later said that the specialist had the records. Could I call back tomorrow?

On Thursday, I called the office. The initial response was that they never received my paperwork. I explained that I had called yesterday and that they already had the paperwork since Friday. Oh. I was put on hold, and several minutes later said that the doctor had the records. As a new patient, my appointment would be in exactly a month from today.

Really? Yes, it takes a month for new patients to be seen.

I called my family practice and left a message. Is it okay to wait a month before being seen? My heart is still going pitter-patter when I exert myself. Do I need to adjust from the minimum dose of beta blocker or wait for it to build up?

The doctor is off today.

That's okay. This isn't an emergency. This has been going on for at least six weeks now.

I'm actually, very slowly, getting better. One friend mentioned that I might be getting better at adjusting my life around my body's needs. It's good that I have flexible work.

Mornings and early afternoon, I feel pretty normal. Okay, this morning I have a vague headache and nausea, but every day is a little different in that way. My appetite is picking up. Swallowing is much easier. By evening, the headaches are more forceful and the energy wanes, but my scalp doesn't feel sunburned anymore. The heart pitter-pat's a little harder if I push myself at night.

The good thing is that my thinking and focus are better than last month. The fevers and nasty chills followed by sweats have pretty much stopped. I figure that what is left of the sweats, I can pin on peri-menopause. I don't feel flu-y anymore.

In the middle of all of this, my partner and I finally took our first walk in over a month by the river. His ankle, still swollen and tender, has slowly been recovering for several weeks, too. We sat on logs by the edge listening to the water rush by and watching the birds ride the currents over the mountain ridge. He leaned over and said wouldn't it be nice if a bald eagle shows up. I was convinced they had packed up and nested elsewhere this year. I figured he was putting out some serious wishful thinking.

Ten minutes later, a large black bird with the characteristic white head and tail feathers of an eagle circled its way over the ridge and rode the air higher and higher until I couldn't see its markings anymore.

I wanted to cry. I didn't know why. I still don't exactly know why. Dare I wish for such amazing things in the midst of this crazy world and with my out-of-control body?

So, I wait. At any rate, I'm not holding my breath. I managed without much help from the medical world for the month I really felt rotten. I will continue to advocate for myself even as things are slowly calming down. And if I am real lucky, this thing will disappear by the time I see a specialist.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Riding the roller coaster

The Buddhists talk about non-attachment, continuous change, and experimentation - just don't take Buddha's word or anyone elses, see for yourself.

So this mindfulness stuff helps me be with the roller coaster.

One minute, I feel sick and mentally fuzzy. Thirty minutes after taking an ibuprofen, I feel better. But then I get the sweats. Daytimes are much better than evenings. Days are morphing into weeks, but things are getting better.

Yesterday I was feeling the best I had felt in weeks. I could do my financial work without fear of messing up the books. The day before, it took me three tries to split an account accurately.

I was also waiting for lab results taken last week. With the Memorial Day weekend holiday, it took longer than usual to get them back.

After 2:00 p.m., the nurse called me. Instead of giving me the results over the phone, I got this: the doctor wants to see you; can you come in this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning before our regular hours.

Since I've been dealing with whatever this is for over a month, I figured a few more hours wouldn't matter. I said I'd come in the next morning.

So, the headaches and pains came on last night around 5 p.m. Thirty minutes later, I got relief and a little warm and sweaty. And then, like many other nights, once the medication wears off, the headache and aches wake me up. I try to practice relaxation exercises.

See, I can breath deeply, I can ride the waves. But after lying in bed for who knows how long, I get up and take an ibuprofen. Thirty minutes later, I realize that I can breath easier and that the pain is subsiding. Then I get warmer and sweatier than during the day. I hate that feeling.

I keep pushing away thoughts of the doctor's appointment. What could be so important?

When I got the call back from the initial bloodwork several weeks ago, I was told that my thyroid activity was elevated. I became upset. Hyper-active thyroid? I can't loose weight on a diet and have no appetite, and you are telling me I am hyperthryroid? I was told over the phone to come back in two months to get it retested, keep taking the antibiotic for Lymes disease and let's see what happens.

The nurse practitioner humored me when I asked if there wasn't something more we could do since I just had a sister diagnosed with Graves disase (hyperthyroid) last year and a younger cousin with metastatic thyroid cancer. I have lots of family members on my maternal grandmother's side with thyroid and autoimmune problems.

She mailed me the ultrasound order and said I could get it done when it was convenient.

Fast forward to the ultra sound test: yes, there is some swelling of the thyroid and a node. At this point, my swallowing had been much more difficult than it is now.

I made an appointment with a doctor in the practice for the day after the ultrasound.

This is a big deal since I have been mostly seeing nurse practitioners. The female doc in the office I used to see opted out of insurance and does holistic medicine, which is nice but I can't afford it. The last time I saw a male doc, he had his head stuck in the laptop computer except for the most perfunctory check-up.

I needed someone - male or female - who would listen and who had experience. So many of the docs are new to the practice as the community grows and the older docs are retiring. Maybe I was getting to an age where I should be seeing an internal medicine doctor. But I wanted to give this family practice a try. Our family has stayed with this practice because they backed up our homebirth midwives when others would not.

I settled on one of the men I had probably over ten years ago for something minor. At the end of the first appointment, he held my gaze for longer than I was used to. I didn't look sick enough for some of the things he was thinking about, he'd said earlier in the appointment. I was hoping for some kind of healing transmission, but figured that wasn't really what the gaze was about. It was more like, what is going on?

As I ride the rollercoaster, my own attachments around health and illness, medical institutions and the people involved in our healthcare system, science and faith, my loved one's reactions, and my own relationship to my body, are being tested.

Yes, what is going on?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A point in time

First of all, I haven't been writing recently because I don't trust myself. After several weeks, possibly dealing with Lymes disease and then thyroiditis, I still don't feel like I have a great story to tell. What's to tell about existing and not knowing?

In my attempt to be faithful to something larger than myself, I am showing up on this blog. No guarantee that it will be pretty.

Mostly, I've been feeling very small and insignificant. I'm an extrovert and depend on human interaction for feedback or a reminder that I exist. It's not that I don't have housemates or caring people in my life. It is my own stuckness in my mundane daily life.

This feeling started before this last bout of illness. I think it is related to loss. But the past few weeks made it worse.

Over the past month with very little energy some days, I've had to figure out what one major effort I had the energy to invest in for that day. My world became smaller. It was also frustrating to experience fevers, difficulty swallowing and aches that bothered me, but some of those closest to me didn't see it. It was like my experience didn't exist in some way.

In my foggy state, time just slipped away. Wow, a month has gone by? You mean it is June already? Okay, thyroiditis. Just take aspirin and rest. Hmmm, an uncontrollable oil spill in the Gulf. Stay on the antibiotic, just in case. Genetically modified plants can't keep up with bugs and weeds they were designed to outrun. Sorry, can't help. Nope, not even a letter to the politicians. Then I would wander around in my mental attic picking up signals that haven't been too helpful.

One of them had to do with: how did I get here? Meaning - what about my fantasies of how life would be by now as I approach 50?

I had the idea that somehow if I completed a graduate program, my life would be easier in my later years. In some ways, it was a burden lifted after years of internalized expectations. It was what I was supposed to do. My parents had always expressed the hope that I wouldn't waste my mind. I now have the degree to prove it.

But since graduation, I have had several awkward attempts at fulfilling my counseling license requirements. This was something I hadn't really factored in. I didn't want to work in dysfunctional human services organizations. I have a friend who was a former social worker. She keeps telling me that she left social work to find employment where she is treated well.

Recently, two older women therapists whom I admire suggested that I was in a natural phase of mid-life stuff and that I was also trying to figure out how to apply counseling theories to real people.


I look around me and see people in my field of counseling or pastoral counseling who have an active practice and a sense of vitality about their work. They are making a difference in peoples' lives. They know their way and have a great support network.

Then I made the mistake of Google-ing people from my music camp experience. The two people I was closest to are both professional musicians now. I'll spare you the details, except to say that they both have traveled around the world while I stayed home. It hurt.

While I tend to the family and community, these things feel very small. It is unpaid work and never-ending. As a Feminist, I never imagined that I would be in such a place. I've always had my primary focus on my family. I love being engaged in community work. Yet, I am also keenly aware of my own felt need to have financial security.

I can't believe I'm writing this, but I want to be rich and important. I want to be rich in utilizing my own education and life experience, and then, share it with people. Plus, I want it to matter.

Jung is attributed to saying that we need an ego, our core, our essential beingness needs to exist but that we want it to be as small and tight as possible - so that we can access the Self (Divine energy), where we then connect to a Source that is beyond us, allowing us to freely give and be available to others in their need. In the great circle of giving and receiving, we experience both more fully.

How can the culmination of my losses of so many expectations this past year be put into service? How can I allow space for the new? My hope is that there is a rich loam in my heart from which new things can grow.

If it is believed that God knows how many hairs we have on our heads, how can we believe we are insignificant? Even as my headaches are accompanied by a sun-burned feeling on my scalp, my faith is being tested, seared into something that while molten and liquid in the midst of them, can quickly harden.

Beyond housework, I'm trying to stay with the harp and meditation. Everything else is beyond me.

My rambling, unfocused mind scares me. There had better be a divine, loving presence in the universe. My own attempts to rationalize or understand my state seem limited at this point.