Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Marked Improvement: Hill Park Update #3

I feel good, so good.
(It's like living in color after years of monochrome.)
"How do you mark your improvement?"

My first response was to tell her about the spreadsheets and graphs I used to make, in about the 6th to 18th months of my illness, trying to quantify three variables: energy, pain, sleep. The graphed lines had risen and fallen, and the drops in wellness they showed became predictable within a day or two after any effort. Had I continued graphing, their rises and falls would have followed a descending arc, down 6 years and more of increasing illness, until my better days were worse than the bad days of the beginning.

Now I'm seeing improvement, and my acupuncturist asks how I mark it. Were I still keeping those spreadsheets, I would see the graphed data make its predictable rises and falls along an up-curve. But quantifying wasn't what she meant.

She keeps a jar, she explained, and when something good happens she makes a note of it and puts it in the jar, to "mark" the event. Then at the end of the year she opens the jar and reads back over those high points.

That method would fit the data better than trying to quantify and graph my recent improvements, which I credit to finally seeing a specialist. Since I began seeing Dr Bouch at Hill Park I have not only had less pain, better energy and more restful sleep, but I've had changes unlooked for and unexpected, that wouldn't have fit into my old spreadsheet's parameters.

So, the notes that I drop in my jar won't be headed simply Pain, Sleep, Energy.

Within a few weeks, people who have known me since before my illness remarked on my visible improvement. There was a light in my eye and a spring in my step. I had my old walk back. Sometimes I still drag, sometimes I still have to stop completely, but once I went through an entire medium-sized grocery store on foot, and a couple of times, I took the stairs two at a time. I felt almost like the old me, with no ME.

I still have trouble processing sound over the telephone, and the worse the connection or equipment, the more physical pain it causes me, but this has let up enough from time to time to allow me to enjoy long conversations with my sisters and friends. I was missing those so much! And beyond that, I was able to enjoy long conversations in person with my daughter, visiting home during winter break from her university across the continent. Now I'm hoping I may be well enough to attend her graduation in a few years.

After years of being unable to write anything longer than a poem or brief blog post, and even then being unable to go back to read and edit any sooner than several days later, I found myself able to write more and longer pieces. I even completed NaNoWriMo, writing over 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. I'm still unable to do the left-brained, intensively analytical writing and editing that I once did professionally, but I'm delighted to have writing back as a means of creative expression.

Even while I was writing that novel, my reading ability remained impaired. I still can't decipher a large block of unbroken text, and have a hard time comprehending what I read unless it's very entertaining, light and accessible. But some time in the month after writing a novel, the ability to read a novel returned. I can't read fast or long but I can read and enjoy again.

In the second year of my illness I went to a friend's studio and she guided me in Restorative Yoga poses. Then another friend bought me a book on restorative yoga to help me practice at home. But even doing those restful postures at home became difficult and rare. Recently, I bought a yoga mat and have begun doing more active yoga postures and even dance isolations at least three times a week, for anywhere from five to twenty minutes. It feels good to move again.

About a year and a half ago, I got a kitten. She has been a wonderful companion to me, learning to be content to follow me around the house, to sit for an hour or two on my desk while I sweat through paperwork, and to help me rest up afterwards by lying on top of me in bed, her warmth and weight a reminder to rest, just rest. But I felt sad for her that, though I had bought her toys, I didn't have much energy to play with her. Now I'm happy to report that my energy is high enough, now and then, that I can stay on my feet and toss her bouncy ball for her, making it ricochet delightfully down the hall for her to tackle and bat, and when it stops and she stares at it, willing it to move, I can make it move again, and repeat the game a few times. I feel a little warm glow, partly from exercise and partly from being able to give back a little to this generous cat.

Not far into my illness, I lost dreaming. It was a terrible loss for me. I had enjoyed a rich and pleasurable dream life, including occasional flying dreams and lucid dreams, and even my troubled dreams were fascinating, with huge casts of strange people. To no longer dream at all, or very rarely, was sad, and more than that it was an indicator of how poor my sleep was, and thus something I could mark on my spreadsheet. Recently, my dreams ramped back up, almost overnight, to the colourful, eventful, absorbing world they once had been. They seem even more vivid than ever, having been lost. I find myself remarking, in lucid moments, on the intensity of colour, the vividness, the motion.

I am not well, I have not even stopped being disabled by illness, but I find myself pausing in my days as in my nights and remarking on the changes.

Remarking, on marked and truly remarkable improvements. So good.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Doughboy in Bagdad

(A Doughboy in Baghdad was published back in '07 by Altar magazine. An editor took the liberty of altering something without alerting me, so here it is again with that 'correction' error corrected, and a sentence or two improved. I offer this reprise in honor of the supposed end of war in Iraq, and the news reports of lingering high rates of birth defects in Iraqis and illness among US veterans. My country, 'tis of thee.)

               Jason has a swimming pool in downtown Baghdad.  That caught my ear. I’ve heard about extended tours of duty, denied VA benefits, the closure of veterans’ hospitals.  I’ve heard about a lot of ways we fail to support our troops, from fabricating reports of WMDs, and serving up a plastic Thanksgiving turkey, to sending them shampoo but failing to provide water so they can use it.  So I wondered, how was it Jason had a swimming pool?

               Jason’s dad is mighty proud. At the airport he looked so good in uniform, six and a half feet tall and buff. His dad just cried, big tears rolling down his face. Jason’s aunt says he’s six two but no, his dad says, he looked seven feet tall.  In Los Angeles Jason bought ski gear then hit the Sierra snow. In San Francisco, he bought a wetsuit and a surfboard then spent the rest of his leave in the ocean.

               Jason’s dad is proud of the way he invested his pay. Jason bought penny stocks and did well. After his four years, Jason will get out with 40K in the bank, plus the 60K towards college. He’s fit. He’s smart. He’s solvent. He’s everything we admire.

               Meanwhile, with ten-hour workdays, a guy has to have some way to unwind. That’s why Jason has a swimming pool in downtown Baghdad. “But Iraqis are going without drinking water and electricity,” I could have interrupted, only then Jason’s dad would know I was eavesdropping, and I didn’t want to stop the flow of his talk.

               Jason is smart, and he knows how to work the system. Jason has a swimming pool full of cool, refreshing water. He has chlorine, liquor and pool boys. Pool boys? I wished I could ask about that. Iraqi pool boys, I suppose. While destroying infrastructure, the military brings so many jobs to locals: bartender, prostitute, pool boy.

               It would be nice if all our soldiers had such a cool way to unwind, but isn’t it a bit ironic?  A doughboy is an infantryman. The word should call up an image of hell in the trenches, in World War 1. But a "Doughboy" is a brand name swimming pool.

Of course, if we really supported our troops they wouldn’t need a pool in downtown Baghdad: they wouldn’t even be there fighting an unjustifiable war. Iraq today is no summer vacation. But Jason has it wired. Jason in his small way embodies the American wartime opportunism brought to large-scale perfection by Blackwater.

               Jason’s aunt says she happened to run into a young woman on leave from a tour of duty in Iraq, and this young woman knew Jason. “Oh yeah, Jason? He’s the one with the pool party!”  So I’m not revealing any state secrets here. Everyone knows that Jason has a swimming pool. But nobody knows why these people hate us. They hate our way of life, we’ve been told, and what we stand for.

(Yes, it was an actual overheard conversation. Welcome home, Jason. I wonder if you're still buff seven years later or if like some other veterans of that war you're pissing blood.)