I hate feelings. And more than that, I hate feeling my feelings. Blech. Ick. And Gag. I know “hate” is a strong word. But my relationship with feelings, mine and other peoples is a crazy trip down a confusing, dangerous and twisted back road with no map and no GPS. Feelings are part of being human, I get that. And feeling is crucial to our experience of humanity. I get that too. But I want to be in control of myself. I want to be secure in my choices. I want to rest in a sense of peace and serenity. Above all, I don’t want to feel pain. Ha. Ha-Ha. A great visual of this is in the movie “The Grinch” with Jim Carrey. Don’t get me wrong. I have loved this story my entire life. My Dad raised me on all things Seuss. I was born in Springfield and so was Dr. Seuss, a perfect pairing. My Dad read me this story and we always watched the original version on television, done by Boris Karloff. The true meaning of Christmas, and arguably, the true meaning of life was unveiled, in its simplest form. And I craved that.
Recently, this scene, very simply spoke to me. The Grinch gets to the top of the mountain after stealing all the toys and Christmas decor from the entire town. And Christmas still comes. When he realizes this, he falls to the ground and cries, “I’m feeling.” It is an unknown, uncontrollable, new, fulfilling and yet horrifying experience.
I have thoughts in my head and feelings in my heart about any given thing in my life. Most times, I have several opposing thoughts and feelings about many things going to work inside me at once. It is crazy and exhausting. The chaos bashes around my insides during the day and continues the bumper car velocity at night. Very restful. NOT!
At times, I have a better sense of balance and cooperative working relationship between my head and my heart. (When I know more, I do better.) But then life veers off down a totally different road. Life on life’s terms, not Rachel’s comes into the mix. When that happens, when life happens, I have to bring heart and mind together, or suffer the consequences. I have to walk through the feelings, if I want to be in right relation with myself or my fellows. And I can’t do this alone, in isolation or in silence. My humanity, and happiness, comes from my relationships (Dammit, as Jean Granny would say) with people (or 4 leggeds or nature) and being with them. This requires me to know my own feelings, be aware of the feelings of others, and work with and on the feelings. All of this is possible when we, as Mr. Rogers said “talk about our feelings.” Ick and double Ugh. I have to feel them and then talk about them like a human bean…terrifying to say the least.
As a child, my “feelings” would get hurt by adults and situations far beyond my control. I would hurt. I didn’t like hurting and had a hard time avoiding it or making it stop. I felt powerless over the situation that had caused me pain. I felt powerless in the face of adults, as I think most children do. I tried to make myself feel better, but my skills were minimal. Sure, I would and did scream, pitch fits and tantrums to beat the band. I was impressive in my theatrical display. But that is mostly all it was. I didn’t know what I was really feeling or understand what was going on inside me. I didn’t have many words to express the truth about Rachel. What little truth I had, scared me. So I kept it inside. That was it couldn’t scare you off and wouldn’t let you see how lost I really was. Ultimately, my childhood translation was, “feelings are bad.”
As an adult, leading up to my stroke, I think I did pretty much MOTS, (More Of The Same). I loved passionately and deeply, but without awareness of what was healthy for me or others. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t really let people get very close to me, because then they wouldn’t “like” me. I played a lot of roles, trying to be the best version of me that you would love. I thought feelings had to blare like a siren, boom like fireworks on the 4th of July and whip me around like a Cyclone Rollercoaster at 6 Flags to prove that I was really living. I thought feelings had to be that grandiose and I didn’t really like that. It was exhausting.
When my stroke hit, all bets were off. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to change, but I was already forever altered. I was so desperately lonely, but couldn’t reach out. I was alone and dying inside, believing that if I couldn’t fix myself, I couldn’t be fixed. I believed I was broken and just waited to die. When I didn’t die, I realized I had it all wrong. The answers, the joy of living, was not inside me. It was in my relationships with others. Through them, I would learn about my feeling and be healed. With them, I would grow and change. Because of them, I could understand myself and my feelings. And it would all make sense. Well, sometimes it makes sense.
My dear friend and mentor pries my feelings out of me and gets me to talk about them. It is like pulling teeth, and about as much fun for both of us. My “belly barometer” as I talk about it with my kids at school, goes off. There is something going on with my feelings inside me. And it needs to come out into the light of day. Whenever the feelings come out, I feel better. Just getting them out is a vast improvement, for me. When I talk about them with a trusted friend, I find answers. I grow. And Barbara says it helps her too. Bonus.
One day, after a particularly emotional extraction, she said, “Rachel, your head won’t explode, if you open your mouth.” That was a revelation and a half. And like all great ideas, I quickly copied the sage words onto a scrap of paper and stuck it on my fridge. All the most important things in life are stuck to my fridge, or in my fridge in some form.
When she said those words, I knew truth. I knew I was human. This simple fact has eluded me for much of my life. And I understand that working through my own feelings, all by myself, hadn’t gotten me great, joyous results in the past. In fact, I usually wallowed in a miserable isolated pile of poison, bursting with the feelings inside, but damned if I let them out. My head was exploding. And that hurt worse than any feeling ever could, because I was alone and unchanging.
So in the moment that Barbara spoke those words, I knew that opening my mouth, telling on myself about what I was feeling, prevented a sort of toxic death, if you wish. It was that simple. It is that simple. Once the feelings are out of my head, I feel better. I don’t have all the answers. What a relief. And you still love me. Better yet, you help me. Best, I help you. And so together with her, my loved ones, and my Goddog, we travel the “Broken Road” together. Together we find answers and peace comes. (right here, I gotta put in another plug for a Rascal Flatts tune. Tim and I loved this one right from the get go. We knew it was truth. It said what we were feeling.)
June 29th 2003
My INR, blood levels, are low, 1.4. So my Coumadin dose is 15 mg, 12.5. 10, 12.5. and 10 mg for each day of this week. Mom has headed off to the Cape for two weeks. I will be taking care of plants and mail. The kitty can go to the cottage this year. The indoor plants only need watering once, I think. The mail has to be sorted and moved away from the mail slot. The garden will need to be watered almost every day if we don’t get rain soon. I am just too tired and stressed to go every day. But I will try.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Mom rents a cottage on the Cape for two weeks in the July. It is near where my Cuzzin and Gramma Harriet live. The cottage is in a quiet, private community on a dead end street right near the water, 5 houses exactly from the private beach. She needs to go this year and be near the ocean and relax and enjoy herself. I told her that I can’t come down because I don’t want to be far from my hospital and I have to continue with my therapies. That is what I have to do right now.
I had to stop in at Dr. K, my neurologist sent from heaven, earlier this week. I don’t have the appointment to go over the results of the MRI until today, but I had to see him. I was so scared. It was after I got my bloodwork done at the hospital. I needed to see him. So I stopped in and they let me see him.
The upshot is that he doesn’t think I have had any TIA’s or another stroke. He reassured me that I am really doing very well. He told me I should stick with all my medications and therapies. I really don’t like being on the meds, but he says that with the anxiety right now, I shouldn’t make any big changes. He told me what symptoms to look for if I was worried about TIA’s and that if I had them, I should call him. He made me feel better. I breathed better just waiting for him. And I relaxed just talking with him. I was safe with him. But when I got in my car and left my hospital, the feeling left. Dread replaced reassurance in the parking lot.
And so today, I got the results of the MRI. I went back to my hospital and I told Dr. K that I really didn’t like the place I had to get the MRI. It wasn’t nice and I hadn’t felt safe. Would that affect the results I wondered? Had I damaged myself with the stress that day, I thought. But I didn’t say.
My beloved neurologist tells me that I have NO BRAIN DAMAGE. He said it and I believe him. My brain is good. He said that I am healing from the stroke. He said the artery is opening a bit, but still narrowed. The doctor who did the MRI at that place wrote, “Persistent subtle area of narrowing for a 1 – 1.5cm. segment in the distal left vertebral artery as it becomes the basilar artery.” The news is good, says my doctor. I am doing so well. I have come so far. My recovery is progressing so well. He tells me this. I believe him and smile, a real smile, in his office. I tell Kelly at PT that this is the news and I smile with her too. But once I leave my hospital, the smile leaves.
I know I should feel happy that I have no brain damage. When I call my mom later, I will happily tell her the news that the Doctor told me. But I don’t feel happy. I feel lost. I am so tired of worrying about the next stroke and everything else. I worry all the time. And for what? What is there for me? Who am I anymore? If I don’t have brain damage, if I am recovering so well, why am I so messed up? Why don’t I feel like me? Why am I so sad? If my brain is so great, how come I feel like I want to die?
June 29th 2016
Jason is at camp this week. I am a teacher who has summers off and was blessed with a family a bit later in life than most, so I want to spend the summer with my family. But 24/7 is cuckoo bananas, too much of a good thing. Plus, his Hanmi Tae Kwon Do Studio does 7 weeks of summer camp, each with a theme. Last summer Jason spent one week at the Olympic Camp. From 830am to 430pm he played in the sun, swam, read, ate well, had 2 classes a day and joined a team and competed in the Camp Olympics on the Friday. It was great. He had a blast. But it was not MY first choice for the week. I had read the options to him over and over, with special emphasis on a certain week. But Jason was very vocal is his choice. He wanted the Olympic week.
This year, his feelings changed. He made his Momma v. happy. This week Jason is taking the Weapons Week of camp. He is learning about and working with Nunchucks and Bow Staffs all week. What a gift! To learn in safety, with respect and yet get to really use the weapon…that is the best. My dad taught me about firearms, the same way. If the studio allowed Moms to go to camp, I would. But they don’t. So I must find my own way to transition from school to home, spring to summer, work to vacation. It is not easy and I resist change. My week of Jason at camp looks like this:
1. Jason’s room redo.
His room is a death trap. The 12×14 foot room has seemingly shrunk to 5 x8 feet. The STUFF in room creeps ever nearer to the door. The STUFF is in massive towering piles. We are unsure if anything is living in the piles. Could be. Certainly, Jason doesn’t want to spend time in there. So we are redoing it. Jason and I spent the better part of last week going through books and cubbies and toy box and closet. We sorted everything. He chose what to keep and what to give away. Actually, his idea is that we have a tag sale and sell those things he has outgrown. Great idea! Not sure whether we will honor the idea that Jason keeps all the proceeds of the sale. We’ll see.
He is an only child, sort of. I was too, sort of. Anyways, I want him to know what is in his room. I want him to love his space and feel proud of it. He has the big bookcase that my Dad built for me. Now he knows what treasures are actually on the shelves. He has the duck painted toybox that was my aunt and dad’s. His baseball gear fits right in. I want him to be a part of decisions about his STUFF and SPACE. We are NOT moving his loft bed. But we are moving his desk. We both survived the weeding-out phase. There were numerous heated exchanges. And there were many time-outs taken to cool jets and regroup. I definitely need more time-outs than he does. I take mine in the kitchen and bake.
So this week, while he camps it, I do some transforming of the room into Hogwarts-style-castleness. My love of antiques and inclination to all things British, thanks to my Dad fits right in with Jason and Tim’s love of Harry Potter. I will do the grunt work on that and love every minute of it.
2. The Garden beckons and I better listen
We decided to do the teepee this year. We built it and put all the plants around it. And believe it or not, it’s growing. I can’t believe it is actually growing.
I water every other day with the sprinkler, if it doesn’t rain. I have found, finally, just the right spot and setting on the sprinkler that gets flower beds and tee pee at once. I learned that if Jason stands at the water tap and I have the sprinkler, I tell him to turn the water on after I have set the sprinkler down and walked away. In the moment, I can see if the sprinkler is watering where I want it to water. If it is not in the best spot, I call to Jason. He turns the water off, I move the sprinkler and we try it again. Last year, I rarely watered because I didn’t want to be in the backyard with the workers from he**. And when I did water, I moved and adjusted the sprinkler while it was on. Yup, I was too lazy to walk to the tap myself and too stubborn to ask for help. The result was, I got soaked and severely pissed off every time I did water. I was sure the sprinkler was broken. It never watered properly. Amazingly, this year it does just fine. There are even baby spaghetti squash.
I talk to them every day, the way my aunt in Wessyfoo does. I help and encourage them to climb the teepee. But some plants are so big already. They said not-so-much. So I moved the little fence surrounding the teepee, that is supposed to deter the bunnies from munching my growing goodies, back a bit. Now the big plants can run on the ground if they like.
The bunnies don’t seem to be after the veg, yet. But something ate the strawberries. I was weeding the raised bed, with my gauntlets on to avoid another itch attack, and saw so many berries that were just about ripe. I told Jason that after camp in a few days, they’d be ready for a nice al fresco nibble. Evidently some critter agreed. The berries are gone and not into Jason’s belly. I think it might be skunks. Gus tells me, and we have seen a skunk around and under our shed in the evenings. Every time Gus goes out in the back yard, he first goes and sniffs around the shed. Then he turns and looks at me and says, “they are sleeping now. It’s ok to be out in the yard.” When we come home after dark, we talk loudly in the driveway and shine lights around til we make sure the skunk is not about. A few nights ago, I looked out and saw a skunk mass going down the walk from the shed. By mass, I mean that it looked like a mantaray sort of undulating along. I blinked hard and saw that the mass was the momma skunk, flanked by 2-3 babies. They stuck close to her and moved as one out from their home under the shed to find food in the night.
When I saw the place in the strawberry bed, where the strawberries used to be, I thought that maybe the skunk babies had feasted on the berries in the moonlight. I smiled at the idea of that feast. And when I told Jason, he agreed that our skunk babies were welcome to the berries. But I want the veg. So far, so good.
3. Goodies for Fran Farmer
One of the blessings of summer is the farmer’s market. On Mondays and Fridays, Fran “The Tomato Queen,” is there. She proclaimed herself the Queen and I agree. Her tomatoes are the best. Ever since I found her, I don’t even try to grow tomatoes. Why bother? She does it best.
I love to go to her stand. She is in her 80’s now so her daughters or granddaughter are there to help her with the market. I bring Jason, most days. He picks out a pickling cuke to eat, right there are several to bring home until the next market. I love getting swiss chard right now. Fran told me how to cook it just right. So delicious. I never thought I’d love that particular veg the way I do now.
I don’t go to market empty handed though. I am my Gramma’s granddaughter. I bake for her. This week, she has rhubarb. You should see it. The bright pink wands practically glow. I never loved them either. But I talked to Fran and my aunt and googled good ways to use the rhubarb, sometimes with Strawberries or Blueberries. So this week on Sunday night, I made an apple rhubarb cake with a crumb topping and brought that.
Miranda’s Apple Rhubarb Cake
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
1 cup apple, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
(Rhubarb only option – replace apple with additional cup of rhubarb)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons melted butter
(can also add chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix, flour, soda, salt & ginger and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg. Beat in flour and sour cream alternately until blended. Mix in vanilla and rhubarb. Spread in a greased/floured pan (either 9 x 13, bread pan or bundt works). For topping, mix together sugar, nuts, cinnamon, oats and melted butter into a crumble. Sprinkle over top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 – 55 minutes.
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix, flour, soda, salt & ginger and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg. Beat in flour and sour cream alternately until blended. Mix in vanilla and rhubarb. Spread in a greased/floured pan (either 9 x 13, bread pan or bundt works). For topping, mix together sugar, nuts, cinnamon, oats and melted butter into a crumble. Sprinkle over top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 – 55 minutes
Yum. Last week, I used her dill to make our beloved Dill bread. Each day at market with Fran is a gift: to eat her veg, chat with her family, and share a sweet treat. Life is good. I wonder when the potatoes will come. I love Fran’s potatoes dug fresh. Nothing is tastier. But I mustn’t rush the summer. They will come. I will try, to be patient.
4. Be Proud, but thoughtful and recover from tubing.
One of the great gifts of Jason being involved at Hanmi Tae Kwon Do, are the friends that we are making, as a family. Our children take class together and we parents watch together and chat together. Over time, Tim and I are making some really wonderful friends. And it is not easy for me to make friends. I get so insecure and goofy self centered about the whole thing. I think Tim finds the social part difficult too. But we are both doing it. And liking it.
So last weekend, we were invited to the birthday party of two girls at TKD. They are sisters and were celebrating with all their friends together at a local Ski spot. In the summer, I had no idea as I don’t ski except cross country as a kid, the hill opens with tubing. And All 3 of us were invited to go to the party. The girls’ mom said we all could go tubing. She loves to have fun as a family and her joy is infectious. I had no desire to try tubing myself. I knew Jason would love it and that is appropriate. He is a kid. I thought Tim might try it. He is adventurous. In my head I thought, “Moms don’t need to do this and take chances away from kids at the party. Besides, I might look stupid doing it. And, what if I fell out of the tube, hit my head, yanked my neck….hurt myself. Is it dangerous for me? Could I hurt the artery? Fear”
But I didn’t say any of this. Wisely, I waited to see what the day brought. It was a hot sunny day and the place was great. The young man from the tubing place came around and gave each kid a wristband that would give them access to the tubing. And then he asked about the adults. And strangely, my hand went up. Tim’s did too. And we each got a bright yellow wristband, kind of like a hospital band, but totally different.
I wasn’t sure if I would do it. But at least I could if I wanted to. We walked over to the area and again, I followed a couple of friends and the kids over to pick up a tube. I wasn’t really thinking I would do it, but the smiles and anticipation and eagerness of parents and children lured me. Tim was right there too. There was a conveyer belt thingy that we could stand on and it would bring us up the hill. Uh oh.
I tried. I really did. I stepped on it and right away lost my footing. The loss of balance really threw me. I couldn’t get my footing. But I didn’t fall down and I didn’t turn back. I looked at my mom friend’s face, who was turned to me. I stepped to the side and walked up the metal walkway aside the moving track. She asked me if I was hurt. She asked me if I was ok. And I answered honestly. Who Knew? I told her that I could get my balance on the conveyor thingy, it was a stroke balance thing. But I was walking up. No worries. She smiled at me and said it was fine, no worries. And it was. There was no disdain or looking down on me for what I couldn’t do. Her smile made me feel safe. Who Knew?
So I rode(walked) up the top and got in my tube. I somehow squished my big self into the smallish tube. I grabbed the handles tight. And when the buzzer rung and the light turned green, I shoved off. All along the run there is a fine sprinkler misting. I guess that makes the tube really fly. That felt good. I gripped my handles and tried not to bash into the side rails. I gripped the handles and tried not to turn backwards. I don’t want to go backwards. That is scary. So of course, I did turn backwards. I held on tight and slid to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
I had done it. I hadn’t exactly enjoyed it. But I had done it. I had to do it again to see what I actually thought about it, now that I knew what to expect. I got right back into line and this time, I stepped onto that conveyor belt and let it take me right up. I think my mom friend or Tim or even Jason talked to me just then. But I can’t remember that. All I remember is telling myself to keep my balance and then realizing that I was keeping my balance. And then I was so proud of myself. And then I was so grateful to my friends for their help and support.
I did the run again. I felt the spray of the cool water. I saw Tim smile. (Even though I didn’t smile.) I heard everyone laughing. (Even though I didn’t laugh.) I saw the hillside this time. I did it. I even kind of liked it this time.
But I was exhausted when I got out. I guess I got all amped up by this little tube run. To me it was the world’s biggest coaster. I conquered it and now I was spent.
I sat and watched and chatted with parents and friends. I cheered on Tim and Jason and the rest of the nuts who flew down that hill time after time, for two hours.
I enjoyed the party with my family and theirs. And in my heart, I celebrated my victory. But over the course of the following days and seeing that picture of myself, I realize there is work to be done. I tensed up so badly. I think I try to control things and keep myself safe by tensing every single solitary muscle in my body. I talked about faith in my body and Goddog and the support of my friends there at the tube place. But I was still trying to play God. I tightened up real good. Or real bad. My body aches with tight muscles and I am still exhausted. I am glad I did it. I am in awe of the recovery I have made that I could do it. I love the friends that I am able to have now, who support me to be a part of the party. But the next time I do it, I want to smile.