Fighting Back After Chronic Illness Knock Out

chronic illness = shadows of dark cloudsApologies to my loyal readers, friends and family for being out of touch, off line, disconnected. Estranged from everyone, I shut down, closed off my heart and buried hope.

When you suffer from chronic illness, you exist in a parallel universe of pain. A pain that is magnified when so misunderstood by the medical community like in chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, environmental illness, Lyme disease and other conditions that are hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Awaiting answers we muddle along until flare ups knock us out again and again.

The earth tilts under my feet. My eyes roll back in my head. Shooting pains fire off like missiles in my muscles. Ants crawl under my skin. My stomach cramps. My joints throb. My throat aches. My lungs burn. My vision blurs. My head pounds.

My brain, an overinflated balloon, presses against my skull, like it will burst.

An old athlete, I can cope with physical pain, but enduring the tricks of my mind becomes unbearable. I forget what I just said. Phone numbers, street addresses, friends’ names elude me.

As bad bugs hijack my brain, I stare ahead like a deer in headlights unable to process thoughts. My tongue twists on the phrases that spew out sometimes in French, sometimes English. I repeat myself like a silly parrot, jumbling sentences, confusing words.

Trapped in bed, the walls close in. I reach for my survival kit — a Kindle, laptop, notebook, cell phone, water bottle. I calm my racing heart by counting blessings — family to cherish, food on the table, roof overhead.

Like a human guinea pig, I sign on for another drug trial, relying on an equally desperate Facebook group of strangers, who battle the same misunderstood multi-system inflammatory disease.

chronic illness = snowy lane When I can muster enough energy to go out, friends will say, « You don’t look sick, » and assume I am cured. All the while the invisible body snatchers eat away at my cells turning my brain to spaghetti, my muscles to mush.

On my worst days I enter the twilight zone of semi-consciousness suspended between life and death.

Don’t let me give up.

Hang on. Another second. Another minute. Another hour. A day. A week. A month. A year. A decade. A lifetime.

Trapped in a body that doesn’t work right, I know I am not alone. Millions suffer from invisible diseases. Do not forsake us. We are doing the best we can. When we say we are too tired/sick/weak to go out, prepare dinner, entertain guests, we are not making up excuses. We aren’t malingers; we are champions battling invisible enemies.

  • Commiserate with us.
  • Listen.
  • Let us repeat the same broken record of despair. Then repeat the same pep talk you gave last time.
  • During flare ups, we lose perspective. Remind us of happier times when we were able to participate.
  • Make dinner. We won’t be hungry, but coax us to the table.
  • Send emails, text messages or make calls. Voices uplift.
  • Hold us while we cry.

Click here, listen and be inspired

We are a society of doers until we are sidelined by injury or illness. Then we feel worthless, like dead weight, like burdens.chronic illness: Rainbow of hope

Remind us always of how much we are loved. And how maybe, just maybe, we inspire you to endure tough times because you look at us and know how hard we are trying.

Real warriors keep fighting.

Day by day.

Minute by minute.

Word by word.

I am back writing and I missed you.

Feed Your Soul With Creativity

I am always looking for an interesting person to interview, a new place to visit, a story to share all the while feeling off balance and a little bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” Martin Amis says. “Writers are not experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

That’s me in a nutshell, struggling to experience everyday life, yet capture each milestone and adventure on paper.

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. Indeed, the great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (A Forest Through the Trees, p. 36)

Looking back at my career, I loved the game of basketball because its fast pace demanded total concentration preventing this dual existence as an observer and participant. I entered the zone – a perfect union of mind and body – and felt peace.

Off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

On family trips traveling across America, while gazing out my window I made up tales of people’s lives on plantations down south, ranches out west and Victorian homes on the east coast.

As a kid I daydreamed so often, I wonder how I ever passed first grade.

Globetrotting in adulthood offered endless material for stories. Even standing still in the field teaching PE in Switzerland, my mind wandered to my mountain view where I imagined cows grazing in alpine valleys. Lost in reverie, I’d forget to call off sides in soccer or out of bounds in field hockey until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

Not only am I torn between the different cultural, geographical, and physical worlds of Switzerland, France and USA, but also from the emotional, imaginary ones between living life and recording it.

Yet writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone.” Without the euphoria. After a writing session, I am spent. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to walk or stretch, loosen my limbs frozen into the shape of a chair.

But writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art becoming locked in writer’s block. But inevitably I return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating. Blessed with a curse, my tormented mind is that of a writer, whether anyone reads me or not.

Without writing life seems empty. As if only in the retelling, shaping experiences, can I fine-tune the raw edges of my soul.

Stories unleash the mystery in our existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy. Stacked by my bed, crates crammed with thousands of pages of unfinished manuscripts, half bake books, and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile.

Why bother?

Because language links humanity. Writer friends I encourage you to keep putting your muse to paper; reader friends’ merci mille fois (thank you a thousand times) for honoring our connection.

Why does anyone practice any form of art? Why did my dad paint beautiful landscapes and give them away or my mom spend hours quilting and cross-stitching presents for others? Why does one person garden for hours pruning delicate rose bushes? Or another spend time in the kitchen creating new delights to nourish family and friends?

Creativity feeds the soul. Without it we would starve to death.

What is your passion?

Are you a pitcher or a saver?

pitcher or a saver?Were we were born with a genetic propensity to be a pitcher or a saver, a hoarder or a heaver? Some people like my sister never let unnecessary items accumulate; others like me have trouble throwing away anything.

While spring cleaning, I finally parted with possessions that had been with me for most of my European life like a bottle of Chanel perfume that I received as a gift in 1979, my first year in France. With my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I could never wear it, but every time I saw that bottle I was reminded of the kindness of strangers, those Parisians, who first welcomed me to their homeland.

I no longer have storage space for my coffee cup – gifts from family, pitcher or a saver?friends and students – an eclectic collection of ISU, UWSP, Manchester, London, and my all time favorite a cream-colored cup imprinted with a pitcher or a saver?sketch of the United Methodist Church, my dad designed. Some cups mean too much to me to use, so they decorate my mantel like the one with a photo of a former basketball team.

I also save baseball caps from every major sporting event I ever attended and every team I loved. Ditto for those team logo t-shirts.

My kids, young adults now living thousands of miles away, have no desire to keep old scrapbooks, school awards, sports medals, so why do I save them? Why keep the clay mold of a 5 year olds handprint, odd shaped vases, lumpy hand made pottery, a glazed chicken, and dozens of paintings. Silly me, hanging onto old toys like Playmobil and Beanie Babies for the memories they evoke.

pitcher or a saver?Dozens of picture albums clutter our home with old pages falling apart filled with photos of places I no longer remember and people whose names I have forgotten.

I have good intentions. Every time the urge to organize strikes, I buy another beautiful colored folder that then sits empty on a shelf like a heirloom.

But by far my worst vice of all is an obsession with words. I saved cards from my grade school BFF, sketches from college roommates and letters from grandparents. Books spill off my shelves. I have – yes I counted – 86 binders in shades of red, blue, green, purple and orange filled with half-baked story ideas, travel notes, family research, book drafts and kids’ essays. For a writer, words are the hardest possession to part with.

Call me a hoarder, but I am not materialistic driven to buy, buy, buy and accumulate more goods. It’s just that pitching out sentimental, memory-evoking possessions feels like sacrilege. Out, out, out. Gone the memories.

With the advent of technology and information updated every second – text messaging, Instagram, Snapchat – everything changes so fast, and is forgotten even faster.pitcher or a saver?

Could our brains intentionally be wired this way into pitchers and savers? Some minds are designed to discard and downsize to make room for the next generation, while others like me cling to the past to record our passage in time.

I am like the beekeeper tending the hive, honing the busy nest of our lives, gathering the honey of our collective memories.

Witnessing Wisconsin’s Breathtaking Autumn Foliage

dsc01272As an international teacher living in Europe, though I had spent summers Up North, I never had the opportunity to witness Wisconsin’s autumn foliage. Seeing the leaves turn colors was one of the first things on my “to do in retirement” bucket list.

From our cabin on a lake tucked in the woods of Central Wisconsin, nature offered an stunning show. Each day as leaves turned red, yellow, orange, amber, and gold I became more greatly enamored with the Northwoods.

“The trees are so beautiful!”

“Oh you haven’t seen anything yet,” my dad told me.

Then almost overnight, it was as if an artist spilled primary colors on a green canvas, creating a new panorama. Red sumac, orange maple, yellow birch, and fir, spruce and pine in every shade of green etched against a baby blue sky made me long to paint like my dad and grandma. No words could capture this radiant sight.

dsc01273Now I understand why people plan holidays around the peak foliage week. As I drove south on route 45 from my doctor’s office in Eagle River, I stopped the car to shoot photographs of lakes – Pelican, Otter, Townline – along my route. Then I finished my tour on foot hiking around the western shore of Summit Lake and to the end of the road towards Upper Clear Lake.

My favorite childhood haunts were transformed into a riot of color. The sun, peeking from behind the clouds, cast a spotlight as the leaves burst into flaming glory, fluttering to the ground in their final dance.

While the wind whistled through the pines, leaves like giant, colored snowflakes spilled out of the sky carpeting the dirt roads in calico.

I never dreamed that the event was such a drawing card. My neighbors had friends coming to see the colors, hoping they could time it just right. Every year, experts try to determine the dates of the peak foliage for tourists to map out; I followed the foolproof advice of the Wisconsinite next door.

“Never fails,” he said, “colors change around my birthday. End of September.”

As the days grew shorter and the weather turned cooler, I wanted to prolong the show by catching the leaves before they landed to magically hold them on the trees longer. But Mother Nature is a fickle friend with a mind of her own. Part of the nature’s majesty is her fleeting quality.dsc01277

As I walk in the woods, I gaze upward toward the treetops as the leaves snap, crackle and pop under foot. Or I sit on the dock watching the clouds swirl in the sky above while the trees reflection in the still, blue waters creates a multi-colored collage like an impressionist’s painting.

With the lighting and color changing every instant, I stare at an unfolding pageant, knowing that this beauty queen will strut her stuff, and then disappear in the blink of an eye.

But take my advice come next September; be sure to head north on Bob’s birthday.

Celebrate Long Distance Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and Miami Book Fair

booksWith one foot in two worlds and that Big Ol’Pond in between, I regret I can never be two places at once, so I won’t be partying in Miami, strutting my stuff on the red carpet at the Readers Favorite Book Awards Ceremony on Saturday November 22. Still, I am honored to announce that Home Sweet Hardwood won honorable mention in the non-fiction: sport category.

Hoop-a-la aside anyone who aspires to write can tell you it is a long, lonely journey. Millions of people know they have a story worth sharing, but few are driven enough to put pen to paper and fewer still to throw it out to the world.

Writing contests are one way for writers to connect with like minded people and potential readers. Over the years, Readers’ Favorite Book Awards has earned the respect of the industry giants such as Random House, Penguin, and Harper Collins and previous winners include New York Times bestselling authors J.A. Jance, James Rollins, and Daniel Silva.

Though I won’t be there in person to celebrate, my book will be there as part of the display at the awards winners’ booth at the Miami Books Fair Nov. 16-23. The eight-day literary party takes to the streets on that weekend.

To kick off the awards ceremony, the Miami Book Fair and the 2014-2015 basketball season, I am offering a discount of HSH through December if ordered on this link with this code YEYGSSZD.

As long as we’re celebrating, I’d like to give a special shout out to a couple of my cyberwriting buddies, who were also winners.

Woo hoo to Sonia Marsh, who didn’t just write her own gold medal memoir, From Freeways to Flip-Flops, but she encouraged others to write theirs by creating her own publishing company Gutsy Living. I am proud to be featured in My Gutsy Story: An Anthology.

Carol Bodensteiner won the silver in historical fiction for her novel Go Away Home, a coming of age story set in rural Iowa. She blogs about writing inspired by the people, places, culture and history of the Midwest and she recently featured Home Sweet Hardwood. She has also written a memoir, Growing Up Country, which folks back home in farm rich Illinois would surely enjoy.

I raise my glass in gratitude to everyone who had taken the time to read Home Sweet Hardwood, write reviews, send emails and offer opportunities to share the voice of the pioneers in women’s sports in national arenas such as speaking at UWSP for the DIII NCAA Final Four last March and for the NSWBA at the Senior National Games.

Alors, merci mille fois! (Thank you a thousand times)

Read on, dear friends!

 

Mix a French Printer and an American Writer and Watch the Fireworks Explode

IMG_4003_copyAfter 30 years, ze Frenchman said, “I am so sick of hearing about the damn book, publish it yourself.”

So I brushed off the dust of a manuscript I had worked on with 3 agents and a dozen different editors and started over again. Long before I felt that the 88th edition was ready, my other half gave me an ultimatum, “Now or never!”

Unite a pragmatic, logical, French, feet-on-the-ground-no-nonsense-businessman and a flighty, idealistic, touchy-feely artsy American writer and then watch the fireworks! I live in my dreams. He worries about reality – about spaces, margins, and quality of images.

Ze Frenchman, a CEO in printing, formerly headed a French book printing company; now he manages newspapers in Switzerland on a 24-hour deadline. However, I have worked on this memoir nearly half a century changing the content according to the whims of a regiment of editors.

“I hate WORD (the computer program)!”  I hear ze Frenchman scream from our attic office.

Ze American loves words. I am driven by words. Do they dance across the page delighting the reader?

“If your cover doesn’t catch the eye, no one will open your book.”

I worry about content; he focuses on form.

Meanwhile the website crashes. Spammers from outer space invaded the blog. Drafts are lost in cyberspace.

“Putain, vérole, bordel de merde!” he yells enriching my French vocabulary.

I learn new curse word every time something goes wrong upstairs in the attic. I jump, fearing his foot, slammed so hard, will smash through the floorboards.

What in the heck were we thinking publish a book? He wants it to be done; I want it to be perfect.IMG_3961_copy

His reputation is not at stake, he is the loving husband who endured three decades of his wife’s eccentricities: writer’s block, creative outbursts, artist angst.

I want to reread, revise, re edit, resubmit. The Frenchman says, “Non! Stop!”

I press forward, trying to sneak in one more rewrite quickly, so the Boss will get off my back! Fine for him to say “Just Do It,” he’s not the one standing on the high dive with acrophobia!

There is no hand holding, no coddling, no ego stroking, back patting, confidence boosting. It is just YOU and your idea flying solo through the universe on a wing and a prayer. Self-doubt is your sidekick.

I second-guess myself on every sentence. My English language fluency regresses daily. I live in a country with four national languages – none of which are English -and work in an international school where students speak in 84 different mother tongues.

Ze Frenchman adds a comma. I take it out. He questions the origins of a word. “You can’t use that word in English. It’s French.”

“No it is not.”

“Yes it is.”

We race to our respective language dictionaries.

“It’s not in Webster’s,” I lament.

“It is not in the French dictionary either. You can’t make up words with nice rhythms, just so they can dance!”

Oh la la…how is a marriage to survive.

What was I thinking?  Write a book.

Ta da boom! Three decades later, longer than it took to raise our doctor daughter, my dream, -his nightmare- takes shape.

Together we created a book baby, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball. I hope that my story inspires readers of all ages to never give up on their dreams. He hopes that after publication, I will quit writing.

I could never, ever have attempted to publish a book without my techie sidekick, to whom I am forever grateful for standing by me.

What advice would ze Frenchman offer anyone embarking on such an all-consuming endeavor?

“Never marry a writer!  Especially an American!”

 

 

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