Resilience

resilience

One of the most underappreciated aspects of human nature is our ability to adapt. While some folks have an easier time with this than others, the truth is we find our own way through challenges and roadblocks, eventually adjusting to them in a way that feels right for us. How would we otherwise cope with the world we live in now?

Seriously, does the life we once had seem real to you anymore? I certainly remember what that life used to be like, but it feels like such a long time ago that it happened in a different lifetime to another person. What I remember more than anything else is the process I went through to get to the place I am at right now.

I vividly remember the fear that existed when this was all new. I was a news junkie, watching the virus track from China to the Middle East and Italy before it invaded our shores. I never bought the supposition that this was all a fabrication of the media or a hoax. The apprehension about what would happen was the great unknown, and was in some ways worse than the reality of it being here.

When New York City became the new Wuhan, I followed the daily briefings and looked at the maps. It was if a bomb hit that region of the country and with each passing day the maps showed its blast radius expanding, inching its way into our state from the southwest to the northeast. Every day, I watched with dread as the number of confirmed infections and deaths grew, especially once the totals started accumulating in our town.

I started changing patterns of behavior by going to the grocery stores early in the mornings on Saturdays to avoid crowds. Shortly thereafter I started ordering them on-line and having them delivered. Nobody outside of immediate family was allowed inside the house,  and we stayed put in the oasis we call home.

Three months have since passed, and while the concern is still there, the shock and fear is not. The new reality is entrenched, the cards have been dispersed, and we’re playing the hand we’ve been dealt. I have the utmost respect, and in some cases awe, for the situation we are in, but I am no longer intimidated by it. I am not afraid of going out, and truly believe that as long as I adhere to the three pillars of wellness (wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing), I’ll be okay.  I’m in charge of my destiny now rather than feeling like a puppet on a string, and I suspect most people feel the same way.

I have are no illusions about the future. We are running a marathon, and we have completed maybe a quarter of the race. This pandemic is going to have its ebbs and flows, and we are going to confront times that are worse than what we have already experienced, but the bloom is off the rose as far as the novelty of it is concerned.

We have all adapted in different ways. We may not agree with how others have adapted (or in some cases ignored), but we’ve all found our sweet spot. It’s the beauty of our nature: observe, adapt, survive, and hopefully thrive. This process will continue to evolve along those lines until this is over.

We’ll never return to the place we were before all this started, and it may take the better part of two years before a vaccine is found. We’ll all be more aware of how germs are passed and how we can protect ourselves. This will be ingrained in our psyches for the rest of our lives, and will come in handy down the road should something similar pop up during our lifetimes.

We should be wiser and better prepared individually and as a country should that day come, so the carnage and emotional angst isn’t as pronounced. We’re usually good about learning from our mistakes, so there is a lot learning we can apply going forward if we have the collective wisdom and will to do so.

It’s all about being resilient, and resiliency is one of the many distinguishing features that make up the mosaic of our species. Its power allows us to navigate the enormity of what has happened and come out the other side intact.  It helped me adjust to living with a chronic illness, which is a good thing because I can’t remember what it was like to have two strong legs, or not feel like I could fall at any moment. And it has certainly helped me get from a place of devastation and fear to peace and acceptance as far as the pandemic is concerned.

And when you think about it, what choice do we really have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Generation is Rolling In Their Graves

scream

Allow me to vent.

“The Greatest Generation” was the moniker coined for those folks who grew up during the depression, endured The Dust Bowl and also endured World War Two, either as soldiers or citizens supporting them on the home front. These resilient people endured hardships and deprivations none of us can imagine. I can guess what they might think if they were here to witness what is occurring today among those who are demonstrably chafing against the states closing down and some of the rules they implemented regarding social distancing and facemasks.

I’m all for people having their own thoughts and opinions about anything. Everyone is entitled to their own belief system regarding what the government should or shouldn’t do that encroaches on our lives.

Having said that, I am nauseated by some of the stories I’ve read about citizens taking things into their own hands to protest what the states have done in an effort to protect its citizens as a whole.

Shooting people? Killing people? Resorting to violence? Literally getting in citizens’ and law enforcement personnel faces and sometimes spitting in in them? Opening and licking ice cream containers in grocery stores? When did this kind of stuff ever become acceptable?

Then there is the stupid stuff, like some guy from Long Island suing the University of Connecticut because their child isn’t getting the benefit of the full college experience. Really? Like it’s UCONN’s fault.

We’ve been at this for less than two months. Can you imagine if these people had to live through the dust bowl, or had to endure rationing for almost four years to support a war effort? They’d lose their minds. Forget riots. Armageddon would be more like it.

I know, I know. It was a different time. Attitudes were different and so were how we were raised as children. But still, when has it become okay for anyone to express an opinion in such a way that it endangers the lives of others? When did this sense of entitlement take hold?

Like I said, anyone can have their views about the pandemic, and what the states are doing.  But how about taking some responsibility and having accountability for your actions? These folks take none. Their attitudes are similar to those of the White House, who by not taking any leadership role is in a position where they can avoid responsibility for whatever happens (unless it is good, of course), leaving it up to each and every governor to decide what is best for their state. That way they can be blamed when things go tits up by reopening too soon. If the economy tanks there is little chance the incumbent gets re-elected, so the welfare of people be dammed. Let’s get the economy rolling again. Talk about having one’s priorities in order. Don’t they pay attention to the science?

Yes, these infringements on our lives suck. I’m getting impatient like everyone else. I hate being cooped up at home, and hate having to wear a mask and gloves when I venture out. I hate the shortages and the fact that so many people are struggling. But I believe in the science and believe it is all for the common good. And I would rather be inconvenienced than sick or dead, or have those I love in that position.

To say these developments are worrisome and discouraging are an understatement. I fear that throwing caution to the wind and reopening before more testing is available and all the trends are pointing in the right direction is a recipe for disaster. There are over 3,000 new cases a day of citizens testing positive for the virus in this country, for goodness sake. It is starting to hit rural America too. What will happen to this figure, in addition to fatalities by reopening prematurely? It will certainly increase, but by how much. Double? Triple? Will hospitals become so overrun that they won’t care for people above a certain age or present certain symptoms? Will the spread of the disease impact nurses and doctors so much there aren’t enough of them to handle the incoming surge? These are all fair and legitimate questions, ones I fear have more truth than not.

I’d rather be cautious and err on the side of opening up too late than too early. The consequences are too dear.

So what do we call this generation or group of people suing everyone and engaging in or inciting violence? The Whiners? The Whiniest Generation? The Its About Me Generation? The I don’t Give A Shit About Anyone Else Generation?

It’s sad, and I’m afraid it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

 

My Winter of Discontent

eeyore

Winter has never been my favorite season. I can’t skate to save my life, and other than a short foray into cross-country skiing that died of natural causes due to lack of trails, I’ve never skied. So the normal diversions fans of winter enjoy to break up these long, cold, dark months have never been something I’ve embraced, not that it would matter now with my leg and balance issues. Winter therefore has been a season to be tolerated, not enjoyed.

This year has not been an exception, but what is different is the funk I find myself in. I’ve  been in such a foul mood lately I don’t even like myself.

As an optimistic, glass-half-full kind of guy. I normally meander through the first three months of the year in hibernation mode at an even keel, biding my time until the temperatures heat up and the buds start to bloom. Not this year, however.  Rather than proactively navigating the stormy winter seas, I find myself trying to steer this ship with a broken rudder and an inoperable compass.

I’m sure the natural letdown from the relentless pace we experienced during the construction and moving process has something to do with it, but it isn’t that simple. There are a number of factors at play that have conspired to suppress the optimism that typically begins to surface as we reach the end of February.

I’m sure the fact the house remains unsold plays a large part in this, but it didn’t bother me too much until now. The peak selling period is on the horizon, so you’d think I have a pep in my step and feel good about getting out from under this albatross. But real estate is one thing K and I have had never had good luck with, and I can’t help but wonder if that trend will continue. I didn’t worry too much about it these last three months because I never expected anything to happen.  But it feels real now, and the thought of being stuck with the status quo is driving me nuts.

Then there is the weather. It’s been a weird winter here in southern New England, because there hasn’t been much winter weather to speak of. There has only been one named winter storm when by now we’d usually have at least a half dozen. Our combined winter snowfall hasn’t even reached a foot where I live,  and it hasn’t been super cold either. In fact, I think this is one of the warmer winters we’ve had in recent memory, so you’d think I’d be on cloud nine.

The problem is that while the winter has been an easy one so far, it has also been a very wet and cloudy one. The sun has rarely been out for extended periods of time and the rain has contributed to a dampness that permeates everything. It’s amazing how one’s mood is impacted by sunshine and brightness, and all this winter has taught me is  that I could never live in the pacific northwest.

We’re going to be putting the house on the market again soon, and I can’t escape the feeling that all the winter weather that we have so far avoided will become unleashed as soon as that For Sale sign goes up. That would be the icing on the cake.

Then there is all the craziness going on in our national politics. Nobody has a good word to say about anyone or anything, a sense of lawlessness exists that I’ve never experienced before, and we will be deluged with this shit for another eight months. The democrats can’t get their act together, and are in the process of squandering a golden opportunity to lighten the mood in this country, while the Republicans are openly disparaging anyone who does not share their world view. This election will be the meanest, nastiest, ugliest, dirtiest campaign I’ve ever witnessed. I wish I could sleep through it.

I also feel fat, even though my weight hasn’t changed all that much since Christmas. I’d like to be ten to fifteen pounds lighter because it can only help my mobility, but I’m not motivated in the least to actively diet. I’ve started working out more, so perhaps that will help, but the fact is snacking at night is one of the few pleasures I enjoy, and consuming nothing but low-fat, low-salt goodies just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s a double-edged sword.

Lastly, the one thing that has always sustained me during these bleak months, the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training, hasn’t been anything to celebrate. Baseball is embroiled in the kind of scandal it hasn’t seen since the 1919 Black Sox, and my beloved Red Sox are getting swept up in it. The investigation into their role in the cheating scandal was supposed be completed by now, but it seems like it will drag out for another couple of weeks because of a “new development”. We’ve already lost our manager, and who the hell knows what other penalties and disdain are coming. It’s put a taint on the magical season that was 2018, and always will regardless of whether our actions pale in comparison to what Houston did.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, we just traded our best player, a generational talent who is perhaps the second best player in all of baseball, because of financial considerations. This coming from a team and organization that is worth billions of dollars. It’s poured buckets of cold water on a season that hasn’t even started, and has resigned most of us into thinking that the team has no chance of winning anything this year. Swell.

Of course, this could, and probably will, be a blip on the horizon come spring. The house will be sold and the economic binds that currently tie our hands will be removed. The skies will brighten, the weather will improve, and since most New Englanders expect the Red Sox to be not only the worst team in baseball, but a joyless team to watch, they will probably exceed expectations and surprise us all. The 2020 elections? Well, three out of four isn’t bad.

But until this becomes reality, my ship will continue to be tossed wildly on the turbulent seas. It will keep taking on water while I try to find something to extricate myself from this neck-deep malaise. Writing used to be an avenue where I could purge myself of whatever was bothering me, but that isn’t working either. All this whining I’ve spent the last hour committing to paper has done is make me feel worse because I’ve never admired people who whine, bitch and moan. My attitude has been to suck it up because nobody wants to hear your problems, and it could always be worse. I need to follow my own advice.

So my quest is to find a way to take the initiative and begin controlling my environment instead if it controlling me. The question is how.

Maybe it’s time for a brownie.

 

 

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What is Normal?

Normal2

One of the benefits of following and reading other bloggers’ work is that you can sometimes steal an idea and run with it, which can be handy if you’re racking your brain trying to come up with a topic.

Such was the case for me this week, as it was one of those weeks where the time to sit and type was approaching, and I had bupkus for a subject. Then good ol’ Superman ended his Playing the Card piece with a question that is the title of this one. That question struck a nerve, and I instantly knew I had my topic. So thank you, Billy Mac.

“Normal” can be judged on so many levels: health, looks, intelligence (perceived or otherwise), attitude, what we do for a living, and personality, to name a few. I could throw politics into the mix, but I reserve the right to revisit that down the road because our current political climate is anything but normal. Today’s challenge is to be brief and concise, as I could rant and pontificate forever about this topic because it really annoys me.

I hate the word “normal” as it applies to people because implies that someone who isn’t has something fundamentally wrong with the them, and is less of a person.

I have Multiple Sclerosis, which obviously places me in a minority status, but I have hopes, dreams, desires and fears like everyone else. I don’t want to be treated differently, pitied, or viewed as something less of a person, and I certainly don’t want anyone to lower their opinion or expectations of me simply because I have a hitch in my giddy-up. I also don’t want people who see me for the first time to go out of their way to avoid me. Unfortunately, some of us who live with a disability help perpetuate this stereotype by playing the victim card, which I abhor, and give people a reason to avoid them because they are so annoying.

Nidan is pursuing a career in Human Services, so I have had the pleasure of learning about and meeting many people, mostly kids, who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Down’s Syndrome, ADHD and conditions of that nature. They are genuinely kind, unique, wonderfully quirky individuals who have an interestingly different point of view compared to us neuro-typical folks. Unfortunately, their black and white thinking often leaves them clueless when it comes to nuances and shades of grey. They are oblivious to social cues, and are often unfairly judged and shit upon by both peers and adults because they appear odd.

School districts aren’t kind to them either. Some don’t know how to teach the kids or how to assimilate them into the student body, and turn a blind eye to the constant and often vicious bullying they are subject to. And if you happen to be a kid who is clinically on the spectrum but is very high functioning and looks “normal?” Well, something must really be wrong with that kid, and they are treated accordingly.

While no school administrator would admit this, I suspect more than a few would like nothing better than for these kids disappear or be home-schooled. Either that or persuade their parents give them drugs to make them compliant zombies. It would certainly make their jobs easier.

People fear what they don’t understand, and often don’t take the time to learn about something unless it affects a loved one or family member. It is easier to remain ignorant and shun people we aren’t comfortable being around because they have problems, and could be a bad influence on our kids.

Our collective attitudes toward anyone or anything that does not fit our model of what should be has become progressively cruel, and it doesn’t help when our President sets the example by openly mocking and ridiculing someone with a disability. Perhaps this a symptom of an all-about-me society that is becoming increasingly narcissistic. Perhaps it a by-product of an evolving U-Tube culture that thrives on being sensationally controversial.

Does living with anxiety issues make you abnormal? Are you abnormal if your IQ is below average? Does being an atheist make you a warped, twisted individual? Does not being blessed with good looks, or having significant weight issues make you less of a person? I think not!

It feels like we have become increasingly intolerant and unkind towards anything different, and we gleefully put down anyone who is. It seems we have become so insecure that we have to tear others down to prop ourselves up. How sad is that?

It’s also misguided because nobody is perfect. Let’s be honest. We all have issues of some kind. Some are more visible than others, and some of us hide it better than others. But if we accept that premise, then what is normal?  Everything, or nothing?

The reality is we are all flawed to some degree, which makes us all the same. And in the final analysis, does it really matter?

 

 

 

 

The Illusion of Control

Control

I was watching something on television the other day. I don’t remember the name of the program, which tells you how memorable it was, but there was one segment that briefly caught my attention. Its premise concerned what we can do to exert more control in our lives, which implied that people have more control over their lives than they think.

What a crock of shit!

Seriously, what can we control? I mean, really control, as in wanting things to fall a certain way and being able to engineer the outcome we want, whenever we want.

We can’t control how other people act, what they do, or what they think of us. We can’t control events that impact our lives. We can’t control our health (I’ll explain later).  Many people have careers that choose them rather than the other way around.

I’m sure I could add to this list if I spent more time thinking about it, but my belief is the theory that we are masters of our destiny is an illusion. As I read these words I find myself asking “when have you become so cynical? That isn’t you.” My response is that I’m not being cynical, just realistic.

First of all, don’t confuse control with influence. We can certainly influence, or try to influence, all of the previously mentioned items, and sometimes we get lucky. But to consistently exert influence on events to such an extent that they turn out the way we desire? I think not.

The only thing we control in our jobs is whether to accept a job offer, and when it is time to quit and move on. We can certainly try to make ourselves indispensable by excelling at things like showing up on time, getting along with your peers, and the quality of our output.  But we can’t control layoffs, our customers, or the economy that influences many corporate decisions. We also can’t control the decisions made by the folks higher in the corporate food chain that make our work lives easier or harder.

Controlling people? Good luck with that! Hell, we can’t even control our kids. Maybe when they are younger and worship (or fear) us, but they eventually stand their ground, tune us out, and want to make decisions on their own, regardless of whether we think they are good/smart or bad/dumb. They blaze their own path, and if we are lucky, they will seek our counsel and actually consider what we have to say.

You can’t control what people think about you, or whether they like you. I’ve met people that I didn’t care for, and it wasn’t because of something they did or how they treated me. We simply didn’t mesh, through no fault of theirs. And even though I consider myself an extremely likable guy, it would be naïve to think everyone I come into contact with feels the same.

And bosses? Well, I had one boss in particular that treated me like shit for reasons unknown, and it didn’t matter how well or poorly I performed or what my immediate supervisor thought. He just took a dislike to me, and took pleasure in putting me under his thumb and tightening the screws whenever he could. I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough, but it took three years of hell before that happened. I’m sure everyone has a story or two like that.

Our health? Well, we can control what we put into our bodies, and how much sleep and exercise we get. That might give us better odds at staying healthy, but that’s about it. Look at me, for example. I’ve eaten well, never abused my body or had any addictions, have been in good shape and exercised regularly for a good part of my life. So why did I get MS, especially when there isn’t any family history?

To further illustrate, I’ve known people who didn’t smoke or drink and did all the right things, but still developed cancer or heart disease. Conversely I’ve known people who smoked like a chimney and lived to a ripe old age.

And as far as controlling the progression of my MS is concerned? Well, I’m taking all the recommended meds, vitamins and all the prescribed treatments, but is any of that really making a difference? K believes it has helped confine the progression and slow its pace, and maybe she’s correct. But the fact is that in ten short years I’ve gone from an active, able bodied guy to someone who has a hard time walking or staying upright. What are the next ten years going to look like? Is any of that going to prevent a date with the wheelchair at some point in time? I think not.

We certainly can’t control our elected representatives. The illusion of control through the ballot box exists, but in most cases the incumbent, supported by their lobbyists and sycophants, prevail. In my mind, these aren’t elections. They’re auctions.

What we do have control over is very simple. How we treat friends, family and people in general is at the top of a short list. So is deciding if we conduct our lives with honesty and integrity. We control whether we treat everyone in our orbit with kindness, empathy and genuineness. We control whether the decisions we make are based on what we believe is right, or if we take the easy, expedient path. We control whether we approach life with a glass half-full or half-empty point of view.

We all have regrets in life, but if we are true to ourselves, judgement and remorse won’t accompany them. Ultimately, the one thing we control from our attitudes and actions is how we feel about ourselves, the lives we have lived, and the people we have touched.

And isn’t that what really matters?

 

 

Perception vs. Reality

reality

“I wonder what people think when they see me.”

That was a common refrain of mine once the symptoms became entrenched and my mobility became compromised. I was never one who liked to stand out in a crowd, preferring instead to blend into the background. MS made that impossible. My inability to walk in a straight line, my tendency to thrash my arms about to maintain balance before the cane became a constant companion, and the frequency in which I would stub my toe and stumble forward because I refused to slow down, made it feel like the  white hot spotlight shone on me whenever I was in the public eye.

The idea that people made assumptions because of the disability used to really bother me, and on the rare occasions where I actually fell in public, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself out of sight from those prying, judgmental eyes.

I don’t feel that way anymore. Quite frankly, I don’t care one iota what anyone who doesn’t know me thinks when they see me struggling. Having said that, not caring isn’t the same as not being curious, because I still sometimes wonder what a person’s perception is the first time they see me.

What do they see? What do they think? Are they sympathetic? Are they afraid? Do they think I’m a freak? Perhaps they are so wrapped up in their own heads they don’t notice me at all.

I try to think back of what my reaction would have been when I had an uncompromised body and was the one observing someone like me today. In all likelihood, I would have given them a casual glance and not give it a second thought. Perhaps I would have wondered what their story was, but would have spent maybe ten seconds pondering that question before focusing on the task at hand. Any thoughts I may have had would have evaporated, just like deleting an obsolete file from a computer.

I was self conscious at first because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Not wanting to appear weak or unsure of myself, I worried that the image I projected made that impossible. I was also hung up on the primary progressive label attached to my MS, which convinced me that I was going downhill fast, which only fed my insecurity.

The most intriguing aspect about having a chronic illness or disability is that you learn a lot about yourself. My self-esteem from a physical perspective was shattered, but over time I learned that physical appearances and ability are not what defines us, although it’s a pity it took something like MS for me to realize that. What I also learned is that that my priorities were wrong.

Career and money were very high on my list, you see. But of all the humbling realities something like MS forces upon you, the one true gift it provides is perspective.

In hindsight, I think family, friends and health were always important to me, but not like they are today. My career had to take a hit because I couldn’t physically handle the stress and demands of the position I was in, and with that came a loss of income, which really freaked me out because the fear of being broke had always been my Achilles heel.

But I was fortunate enough to land in a place where over time I was able to recoup that temporary loss, and the reality of not having to deal with all the crap that comes with  being a boss in a middle management position was an unexpected bonus. My ego took a hit at first, but that soon faded as the amount of stress I endured in the work place shrank to practically nothing.

Not having the work distractions I was accustomed to for over twenty years, in addition to having diminished physical abilities, made me appreciate and understand how important family, friends and health were. It’s a cliché, I know, but when your health is compromised, material things don’t matter. What matters is the love and the people in your life.

That epiphany allowed me to step back and reassess where I was and where I was going. Many of the little things that used to concern me fell by the wayside. One of those, although it took some time for me to get there, is that strangers’ perceptions of me were unimportant.

It helped that what I thought “progressive” meant in terms of how quickly my physical ability was going to deteriorate didn’t materialize. Remember, this was almost eleven years ago. I thought that by now I would be unemployed, wheelchair bound, on disability, in searing pain, and unable provide for my family the way I was accustomed to. So I am lucky in that respect.

But the not caring about what others might think evolved because I learned how mentally tough I really was. There is a line in the Shawshank Redemption, where Red talks about his future and the two choices before him: get busy living or get busy dying. I chose the former.

Self-pity wasn’t something I was going to indulge in. I was going to do whatever it took in the way of treatments, drugs, diet, and things of that nature to keep the progression at bay and live as normal a life as possible. I wasn’t going to let MS rule or define me, and a rebellious nature I never knew I had bubbled to the surface. Of course, I’ve fallen a few times, literally and figuratively, but for the most part this has served me well.

Maybe attitude has nothing to do with this. Maybe I’ve been lucky in that the progression hasn’t accelerated like I thought it would. I still think there is a very good possibility what I feared in the beginning will eventually occur, but I was planning on pulling the plug at work in five to six years anyway. I think I have that many good years left. Probably more, if I’m honest.

Having said all this, I still wonder on occasion what people think when they see me, but not for the same reasons I did eleven years ago. I’m curious because I’d love to know if their perception matches my reality.

I seriously doubt it.

 

A Walk in the Woods

Hike

Quick program note: Shodan has become Nidan (pronounced knee-don, with the accent on the first syllable).

You have probably guessed that is not my son’s real first name. I originally christened him Shodan because he is an exceptional martial artist, having learned the Cordone-Ryu system, which is similar to Shorin-Ryu for those of you in the know, under the tutelage of Grandmaster Nicholas Cordone for over ten years. In March of 2017, he achieved his first degree black belt, known as Shodan, and two weeks ago he was promoted to second degree, known as Nidan. Therefore his pseudonym has changed as well, and will continue to evolve as he climbs the martial artist ranks.

Nidan loves nature, and is a rock-hound.  He’s become quite adept at searching for and finding interesting rocks of all kinds, but is currently on the hunt for quartz and flint. Hurd State Park is within twenty minutes of our house, and has been his go-to place for rock exploration. He’s waxed poetic about the peaceful wEM1oods and trails he navigates in his pursuit, and it sounded like an interesting place, so I asked if he’d mind if I tagged along during an excursion last weekend. Nidan loved the idea, and away we went.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to do much. I was familiar with the area and knew the trails were definitely not flat. I figured I’d tag along for a little while, then retreat to the comfort of our vehicle while Nidan continued his exploration. As we were leaving the vehicle, I realized that I left Zorro at home, and thought my plans were about to go up in smoke before I took one step. After all, without my trusty cane, there was no way I was going to attempt to navigatge those trails.

Nidan saw my dilemma, and wasn’t about to let me back out at this stage of the game. So he searched for less than a minute and discovered tree branch that had fallen to the ground that would serve as a walking stick. It was sturdy and straight, so with stick in hand, I followed Nidan to a point in the road that was about a quarter mile from where we parked, and followed him onto a downhill path at the entrance to one of the park’s trails. The first two hundred yards was partially paved, as if it was an overgrown, decaying,  long forgotten driveway. Once we hit the bottom of the hill the blacktop disappeared, and Nidan veered left onto a rustic trail that took us over a small brook. Fortunately, there were large, flat rocks that I could use as a stepping stone, otherwise my journey would have ended less than ten minutes into our trek.

The state park we went to covers over 1,000 acres and has over six miles of trails through densely populated woods. The trails are marked by colors painted onto the trees, and were completely natural and rustic. What I assumed would be a brief foray into nature EM2turned into a three hour adventure over trails that frequently had prodigious protruding roots, had a number of brooks that needed crossing, and were mostly heading in an uphill or downhill direction.

To make a long story short, I had a blast and surprised myself. We obviously were not burning up the trails as far as speed was concerned because my pace was slow and deliberate, but the fact that none of the trails slanted sideways made the route easier to navigate than my back yard.

I would take breaks from time to time, particularly when he came upon a parcel of ground that was densely populated with rocks. Nidan would carefully pluck or excavate them from the ground, and take them to the nearest brook so he could wash away the dirt, study them more closely, and decide whether they were keepers. When there were more items than he could carry, he’d find a place along the trail and lay them there, knowing that on the return trip he’d have a mental inventory of everything he unearthed, and could decide which ones to take home or leave at that time.

EM 3I obviously could not keep up with him, but Nidan always made sure never to stray so far we could not hear one another, his dismembered voice frequently drifting through trees saying “you doing okay Dad?”

After we were at it for while, and the afternoon shadows started making an appearance, I suggested it was time to leave, and he readily agreed.

The trek out of the woods was more taxing than the trip in, primarily because it was more downhill, which is harder for me, and because my leg was feeling fatigued by then. It was harder to negotiate those protruding roots, as the toe of my sneaker frequently got trapped in their clutches. I was in inchworm mode by then, so I never lost my balance. By the time we emerged, it felt wonderful to ease back into the comfy passenger seat.

RockI learned a lot about myself that afternoon, First and foremost, it was wonderful to explore nature with my son and experience the outdoors in a manner I hadn’t in years. It was enlightening walking through the woods as peers rather than as father-son, and his attentiveness and concern to how I was doing was touching.

Secondly, I learned that I am not as physically inept as I assumed. We were on our feet for over three hours, traversed at least three miles of territory, and other than the weakness I ordinarily feel when I push myself, there wasn’t a single moment where I feared for my safety, nor was there a single time where I came close to falling or twisting my ankle. Maybe it was because I was paying very close attention to each step I took, but I was no worse for wear than I am after a rigorous workout on my recumbent bike. I certainly felt better compared this past winter during some of my snow removal experiences. Besides feeling good about myself, I emerged from the experience optimistic that maybe what I have been doing all these years to address the MS is actually working.

I also discovered that I’m not in bad shape physically. I wasn’t huffing or puffing during any point of the adventure. I couldn’t feel the drum of a pounding heart in my ears, and rigor mortis did not set in later than night once I settled down into the rocker-recliner. The only souvenir I had from the experience was a sore left triceps muscle, compliments of the walking stick I kept in that hand. I had leaned on that stick numerous times, and used different muscles than the ones I normally use leaning on a cane, but that discomfort was gone within twenty four hours.

Woods

Yes, I had moved and slowly and carefully during my walk in the woods, but the odd thing was I never felt disabled. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It gave me a different perspective on my abilities, and reinforced what I had long suspected, which is that while I have a disability and have physical limitations, I am better off than most, and am not anywhere close to becoming a couch potato unless I allow that to happen.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Writers Block

writers block

All week long, I’ve been thinking about a topic to write about. The way this normally works, assuming I don’t have a burst of inspiration and post twice in the same week, is I start musing about potential topics on Monday, commit to an idea by Wednesday or Thursday, and start writing so I can release the post by no later than the end of the week. Sometimes the process is easy. When this occurs, a thought will either pop in my head out of nowhere, or I will read a post from one of the blogs I follow that generates a lead I can work from.

During the rare weeks where I have a lot of ideas to choose from, I will take the topics I passed on and save them in an “idea” folder. It is not uncommon to have a week where I don’t have a lead or any inspiration, so it is convenient to have this well to draw from.

So far, this process has served me well because I have never been lacking for a subject, until now. This week, I am hopefully stuck, and am experiencing the dreaded writer’s block.

Oh, I had a topic that I actually started with a paragraph or two, but the words are flowing as easy as refrigerated honey, and I do not want to continue on that path.

I really admire prolific writers. First of all, the actual task of getting something down is not as easy at it looks, and to do it several days a week or, in the case of novelists who churn out a book every year or two, it takes a lot of creativity, enthusiasm and discipline. It also requires a lot of time, which is not readily available when you are also working full-time.

So here I am, sitting at the keyboard with a screen and a mind that are both blank, and I hear the proverbial clock ticking that whispers “Uh, Steve….you need to bang something out.”

Everyone’s writing process is different. What I typically do, once I decide on a topic, is to stop thinking and start typing. I don’t care how well the words sound or how well the draft is written. Quite frankly, the first draft is usually something that would make my English professors cringe. But that doesn’t matter because once the words are down I’ll let them sit for twenty four hours, and look at them the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. This allows me to take the written lump of clay I deposited the previous day and mold it into something worth reading.

Sometimes, the first draft is easy and very little editing is required the following day. Sometimes it is painful and the next day results in what amounts to a complete re-write. Most of the time the reality is somewhere in the middle, where the initial thoughts are there but require a little thinking, and the next day’s editing is moderate.

But all of this is irrelevant if you don’t have a subject matter, and that is my current status. I could take the easy way out, skip a week, and wait for the inspiration to come, but I’ve committed to posting something every week. So I am forced to think outside the box, which is not a particular strength. The result? To write about that fact that I have nothing to write about.

Obviously, this is not my job. I don’t draw any income from this nor do I have bosses demanding something to publish. Yet I still feel the pressure to produce, so I can only imagine what it must feel like if you have a publisher or editor breathing down your neck. How can you not admire or respect professional writers and columnists who not only have to answer to a production schedule, but are also expected to churn something out that is relevant and captivating?

The hard thing about writers block, at least for me, is that the more you try to break through, the harder it is to come up with something. It’s like eating soup with a fork, or herding cats. The longer I try to force the issue, the more stuck and frustrated I become. At the present moment, I feel like banging my head against something hard or gouging out my eyeballs.

It has not been uncommon for me to start writing about something, but lose my mojo, leave it unfinished, and save it in the idea folder I previously mentioned. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t many options to choose from in that repository, I’m not feeling any love for the few things that are there, and no epiphany is on the horizon to change that. For the first time, I am about as stuck as a person can be, don’t have the luxury of time to figure it out, and am therefore not going to fight it anymore.

If I am in the same boat next week, I may have to write after I have taken a dose of MMJ to see if any inspiration follows. I’ve done this once before, but it was intentional. You see, I already had an idea that lent itself to doing that.

So, for the sake of following my own production schedule, this is my first, and hopefully only, Seinfeld-like post about nothing.

Meanwhile, thoughts and prayers to everyone in the Florida panhandle area that have to pick up from Hurricane Michael. The pictures from the Panama City area look terrible, and, if I’m not mistaken, that is where Alex lives.

Hey girl, I hope you and yours are safe and sound, and that your house is still intact. Let us know soon, please.

 

What’s Your Story?

My story

Tom Being Tom’s recent post  which described himself in a paragraph, and requested to all who read it to share their own, got me thinking. I didn’t consider the task a dare or a challenge, but instead thought how difficult it is to try and describe the core nature of our being in a single paragraph. I am also a tad competitive (by the way Tom, I have gained 0.5 lbs. since we last compared notes), which is why I am giving this a whirl. Here it is:

I am the sum of my life experiences, constantly evolving, always seeking to learn and striving to reconcile my inherent contradictions. I am an adult and a child, a fiscal conservative with the mind of a capitalist who is socially liberal, has the soul of an artist,  and strongly believes we should do everything we can to protect our planet’s environment.  I am a sinner and a saint who believes in a greater power within the universe without being tethered to a particular religion.  I value friendships and am loyal to a fault, but am more of a loner than an extrovert, and am much harder on himself than of others. I believe in the golden rule and treat people the way I want to be treated, but am much more critical of myself than I am of others (unless you happen to be a politician). An eternal optimist (you had to be if you were Red Sox fan from 1967-2003) who does not discourage easily, my glass is always half-full,  yet I fear for our future given our current political climate. I would rather be an hour early than five minutes late to anything, and the greatest compliment I can receive is when someone describes me as a “good guy.” I am both open-minded/flexible and extremely stubborn, and would much rather give than receive. But I do like receiving. I am on the downhill side of life but still do not know what I want to be when I grow up.

Your turn.

 

Our Era of Intolerance

intolerance

I follow some of the social networking groups for people with MS, and a lot of what I read is sad, but not in the way you might think. Yes, it’s hard to read the about the plight of others who deal with physical pain, but it’s reading about those with emotional pain and scars that is especially rough.

I’m referring to the torment men and women feel about not being the kind of spouse or parent they think they should be. Then there are the single people who are alone and lonely, lamenting the bleak prospect that their disability might make them a social pariah for eternity. I’m also talking about people who lose the ability to sustain a job because their physical limitations prevent it, or their employers put so much pressure on them regarding unscheduled absences and lack of dependability that it isn’t worth the relentless emotional strain.

What I find incredibly sad, however, is reading posts from people whose friends and family question their integrity by suggesting or implying that they aren’t really sick, and that their symptoms are psychological.

Is this kind of callousness the exception or the rule? I’d like to think it is the former, but am afraid it is becoming or has become the latter.

For some of us, our disability is obvious. All you have to do is see the way we walk, or how we navigate our walkers or wheelchairs to recognize we are dealing with something that prevents us from being whole. Your senses provide proof that something is wrong, which makes our condition understandable and acceptable.

But for many, the symptoms are less obvious. You can’t see pain. You can’t see crushing fatigue. You can’t see cognitive fog. You can’t see depression or the general malaise that can emerge from constantly fighting a losing battle. These are not tangible things, so it’s easy and convenient for able-bodied people to be derisive and dismissive.

While I think it’s bullshit, I understand how people who are unrelated and unconnected to us can make those kinds of judgements. After all, we live in an intolerant age, at least in this country, where the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue practices and promotes this kind of thinking. What I can never understand or accept is how family and supposed friends can be so unsupportive and cruel.

Perhaps these attitudes have always existed, and I was blind to them until MS opened my eyes to the plight of others. After all, people who have been living with mental illness or who are not neuro-typical have been dealing with this kind of prejudice for ages.

Still, why is it so hard for people to accept what their eyes can’t see? What makes individuals so dismissive about anyone who is less than whole, who may be odd or quirky, or who simply beats to their own drum? Why is someone who struggles with a physical or mental/emotional illness considered flawed, damaged, and therefore less of a person. Don’t we all deserve a little respect?

Is it insecurity? Do individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened by what they don’t understand? Or do people have the need to prop themselves up by tearing others down?

It’s sad to think that people are more supportive if you are stricken with something like cancer than dealing with a condition that isn’t as obvious, as easily understood, or curable. I hope I’m wrong about this, and am allowing the grim scenarios some of these posts describe to color my judgement about the world we live in. That would be ironic, because I don’t watch news programming of any kind for that very reason. The news is so negative, and paints such a bleak picture of society today, how could anyone who constantly exposes themselves to that message not be pessimistic about the future?

Maybe I should take a respite from these sites.

I was a child during the turbulent 1960’s, so I didn’t understand or feel the civil unrest that existed during that decade. After watching a recent documentary on the year of 1968, I concluded that I would have thought society was coming apart at the seams had I been an adult back then. I also would have feared for my child’s future.

I don’t think we have bottomed out to that degree yet, but it does feel like we are experiencing a renaissance of the 1960’s and heading in that direction. Our current level of social discord permeates everything, and perhaps feeds the point of views that allow people to conclude that our symptoms are all in our head, and all we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves, suck it up, and get with the program. Kindness and empathy still exist, perhaps more than we think, but it is drowned out by all the other noise, and seems harder to find.

Whatever it is that is driving this mean-spiritedness, I hope it dissolves in the not so distant furture, and we all emerge relatively unscathed.