“This is not despair,
not the retreat into the deep wound
but a conscious living of each day
This is the placing of one foot before the other,
not the free stride of the unencumbered
but the careful tread of the initiated foot
This is learning how to walk
without familiar landmarks, alone
even in the company of others,
not ready yet for new direction
This is the living of each day, aware
that what you cannot predict
may still loose sudden tears, yet
that laughter too is possible
This is when you struggle
as plants in arid soil
strive without conscious knowing
to stay alive until the rain
This is a time for faith
that this most naked agony of loss
will ease, and not corride the spirit
This is the time to trust that day after
labored day you will move forward,
open to joy as well as pain;
two-sided coin, you proffer for remembrance.”–Maude Meehan
I’m sitting in my new nest. I shuffle to my spot just before dawn and settle in to watch the pink glow grow over the Catalinas. Dan and I share coffee here most mornings before he leaves for work. These quiet moments together are an intentional touchpoint. It’s often the only time in a day we may sit face to face and focus on one another. He leaves, and I turn to my morning rituals of meditation, reading, journaling and prayer. To be home. To be in a kind of sustained rhythm is something I was made for. Something I longed for. I don’t take a minute for granted.
The life of chronic illness doesn’t set you up for regular soul nourishing habits. There are days you simply cannot get out of bed. Meditation is impossible unless you count focusing on the pain. Scratching down feelings often magnifies the ache. Prayer is mostly, “Please, Jesus.”
Everyone asks how I’m feeling. They want to know if I’m as well as I look in the sporadic photos I’ve shared on social media since arriving here in Tucson on August 25th. It’s a tricky question. It’s a difficult answer. I often say, “I’m healing but never healed…” Everything I experienced during my previous winter visits to Tucson has been realized. But I will always have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This genetic mutation is forever embedded in every part of my connective tissue. I know I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I have significantly less pressure headaches and symptoms. This was the main reason we relocated here. My Intracranial Hypertension was unbearable. After nine various shunt surgeries we understood current shunt technology coupled with my challenging anatomy and EDS would never bring lasting relief, especially in northeast Ohio. Quite frankly I wanted to die. After surgery on July 4th and again on the 9th I was back home lying in my dark room in unspeakable pain, and I couldn’t see my way back to Hershey for a revision. I was done. I’d felt this hopelessness before, but the miracle that arrived in a text and a phone call on August 2nd gave me the courage to crawl back into the car and take the long turnpike trip back to Pennsylvania for another revision. Removing a mess of old tubing from my abdomen and rerouting the tubing to empty the cerebral spinal fluid into my heart was something I said I’d never do. I have a cardiac condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). I have a Pectus Excavatum, a bone malformation of my breast bone that curves inward and pushes on my heart and lungs. I have chronic Strep infections (PANDAS/PANS) that cause heart inflammation. I have stenosis in my right ventricle because of multiple central lines placed for plasmapheresis. When my neurosurgeon came into my room and so calmly stated what he needed to do I didn’t think twice. The hope of the move gave me courage and faith. The surgery was a success.
Do I need my shunt here? Yes. I now have two working shunts. On calm and sunny days I still hear my brain shunt buzzing when I move positions, particularly from sitting to standing. On rainy days or when the pressure is changing more drastically, something that happens much less frequently here but is still a catalyst, I can feel it working overtime. I can also feel it in my heart. It cannot always keep up. I’ve a handful of days I needed to be in bed because of the pain and symptoms. If nothing else changed about my health except this one thing it would be enough.
The above poem describes the “conscious living of each day” my new home allows. It is a slow and careful movement through foreign or forgotten neuro pathways and literal paths too. The smallest thing can trigger the trauma and tears. Much of the reason I’ve been so still and quiet is to process and unpack the accumulated grief and suffering. But I am finally in a place where I can bury some of the hurt.
I catch myself laughing. Even out loud. I’ve stopped biting my cheeks. My face has relaxed from the constant furrow of pain in my brow. I walk past a mirror, and I see a woman living not just surviving. Ann Voskamp wrote, “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” For oh so long I was necessarily numbing myself. Now I lift my face to the sun and listen to the strong beat of a heart that knows joy and pain and can celebrate them both equally. The rise and fall of my chest is a new song of praise. I don’t want to forget. My God wants me to remember so long as I tell the story rightly and point to the healer of the heart’s eye through which He is seen and glorified.
“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.”–Psalm 66:16
(For those of you specifically interested in the other areas of healing I’ve found since moving here I will slowly continue unpacking them in future posts. My heart’s desire to invite you into a respite place in Tucson is perhaps the most real calling I’ve ever had. I’ve seen miracles. Nothing is impossible with Him. Stay tuned.)