Category Archives: Resilience

Cabin Fever

Fresh snow fills my patio chairs from seat to arm rest.  My dogwood blooms fluffy white blossoms of snow.  Winter storms and elected officials shut down Western Washington.  In Greater Seattle, 3.5 million people have cabin fever.  We have nearly two feet of snow in our front yard with another six inches due tonight.  Cabin fever won’t be breaking any time soon.

Unlike my neighbors, I’ve had cabin fever for most of the past year.  Last February, I got a super-duper fancy pacemaker to address the return of severe heart failure and began a long recovery process.  No driving, no lifting, and only supervised exercise for months. Big time cabin fever.

By the end of July, I’d begun blowing out the cobwebs and opening the windows.  I gardened.  Volunteered.  Started to meet people.  I wasn’t free of the cabin, but I began to dream again.

0803180913a_resizedOn August 1, we welcomed a new granddaughter, Cora, into the world and celebrated that her delivery was smooth.  That same afternoon, my cardiologist gave me great news.  I dared to hope.

Filled with excitement at all the good news in my life, I threw open the door and jumped into life with both feet.  I tripled my volunteer hours in that first week of joy, resumed gardening, did some cooking…..and forget to rest.  How did that work?  Poorly.

I was so distracted by joy and exhausted within a few days, that I forgot to watch my footing.  I fell off a step at home.  I broke my foot so badly I couldn’t set it on the ground.  More surgery.  The surgeon said I absolutely could not put a moment’s weight on that foot for five months if I wanted to regain a normal gait.  So much for hopes, dream, and happy dances.

From August – October, I lay on my bed or sofa with my foot on pillows.  No walking or driving. (It was my right foot.)  No gardening or traveling.  I moved around on a knee scooter and used crutches on stairs.  Every Monday morning, my husband (who deserves sainthood) dropped me off at a Senior Center where I’m a volunteer receptionist.  A friend picked me up at noon, took me to run errands, and brought me home. Otherwise, I stayed home.  I had cabin fever no matter what the weather was like.

I read until I was tired of reading.  I streamed videos until I was tired of TV.  I got bored and went nutty.  After a few weeks, I got over enough of my embarrassment at having another broken foot that I was almost ready to call friends and fess up.

Seahawks castThat is, until I fell off my knee scooter in the dining room and broke my ankle.  I couldn’t even stay safe on a knee scooter going to the kitchen for a coffee refill.  At least the broken ankle was on the same side as the broken foot.  The ankle lengthened and complicated my recovery.  I was so upset, depressed, and embarrassed that I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened.  I buried all thoughts of calling friends for company and pushed through the solitude.

I learned a lot in those months.  I took on-line classes on sewing and knitting. I drafted doll clothes patterns as gifts for my granddaughters.  I read histories of Seattle and Washington State.

I learned that riding my scooter too fast over sidewalk cracks results in a face plant.  I learned that turning a corner too sharply one-handed can cause a broken ankle, even with my foot and lower leg encased in a walking boot. I learned that I need to be even more careful and attentive than I thought I did.

I re-learned that I hate to reach out for companionship and help when I feel I have nothing to bring to the table.  I’m afraid I’ll sound depressing or be suffocated with sympathy.

People tell me I inspire them with my hopeful, positive attitude and perseverance but I don’t feel inspiring.  I just try to keep doing what I know how to do: to not give up, to get up again, push forward, look for beauty and goodness, and hope that one day I can hope and dream again.  On the other hand, people who live with this attitude, inspire me to do the same.

These days, I can walk, drive and climb stairs again.  I volunteer, do a fitness class and physical therapy each week.  I’m meeting people and maybe beginning to find a place for myself here.  That pesky thing called hope was raising its head again.

Then it snowed and the city shut down.  And it snowed some more.  Yes, it is stunningly beautiful.  Yes, my dogs love to play in it.  I’ve taken them for walks and watched them Dogwood in snow (2)wrestle in snowdrifts.

In Seattle, even a little snow closes down the city.  Last week, we couldn’t get off our street for two days.  Nearly every day brings more snow, with another six inches predicted for tonight on top of the almost two feet already on the ground.  The city is in shutdown for at least two more days.  Cabin fever is rampant.

It’s ironic that the snow makes me feel better about my own cabin fever.  I’m no longer the odd one out.  All around me, 3.5 million people in Greater Seattle.  We’re in it together.

With so much in common, I’m finally willing to share my own experience of year-long cabin fever.  I dream of groaning and laughing together when we’re finally free.  I hope there’s another happy dance just around the corner.

Until then, I’ll stay cozy by the fire, snuggle with my new puppy, eat my husband’s wonderful cooking, knit a shawl and give thanks for the beauty outside my window.

Of Cucumbers, Pickles and People

Roses and pickles“When does a cucumber become a pickle?” asks a Louise Penny character trying to figure out when her happy boy turned into a surly teenager.

When did my heart strengthen?  Sometime between March and August of this year, my heart returned from an almost fatal level of heart failure to nearly normal functioning thanks to a specialized pacemaker, newly available medication and cardiac rehabilitation.

Awesome.  Amazing.  Fantastic.  I’m grateful.  This is my best hope come true.

Exactly when did my heart strengthen so much?  When had it weakened in the first place?  Like a cucumber becoming a pickle; each was a process I barely noticed, a change I couldn’t date.

At what moment is a runner ready for a marathon?  When do patterns become habits and habits a way of life?  At what point does a student become an artist or a character become rooted in honesty and integrity?  At what point does healing occur or relationships fray too much to be repaired?

No one can say when, during his years in prison camp, the late John McCain changed from a hard-partying naval brat into a man of courage and honor. It was a process.  No one can say exactly when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford became a strong enough survivor to tell her story of sexual assault to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee considering Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.  It happened over years of hard work and healing.

We change our clothes in minutes.  On the other hand, internal change–physical, emotional, spiritual, and attitudinal–happens over time.

When does a cucumber become a pickle?  Cucumbers become bread and butter pickles in a week.  Dill pickles need six months.

For pickles and people, the finished flavor is a matter of time in the brine.  If we soak ourselves in distrust and disdain towards others, we become judgmental and sour people.  If we repeatedly respond with bitterness or entitlement, we cannot help but develop a nature of such attitudes.

But if we repeatedly behave kindly, we become people who instinctively respond with kindness.  If we act repeatedly with courage, honor and integrity we develop character imbued with these qualities.  If we intentionally pause each day to give thanks, we become gracious, grateful people.

The good news is that we can dump out our brine and start afresh.  Choose wisely and trust the process.

I Had Dared to Hope

I had dared to hope that I was finally healthy enough to bring energy and imagination to the world again.  But Whack-a-mole returned.  A few weeks after I wrote a New Year’s letter celebrating my improved health, I was diagnosed with heart failure almost as severe my original diagnosis 13 years ago. A specialized pacemaker, a new medication and medically supervised exercise hold out the hope of a stronger heart.  I need ways to hold onto this hope and persevere in “working the program.”

As the U.S. commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, words of King included in an article in the Washington Post inspire me to keep on keepin’ on.

In “King was unpopular and demoralized before he died. He pressed on anyway,” Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick remind me of both a part of the Civil Rights struggle many of us forget and the perseverance of hope:

The shot that echoed in the Memphis dusk 50 years ago still reverberates through our national life, yet there is so much about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. we find hard to absorb.

In our long effort to moderate King, to make him safe, we have forgotten how unpopular he had become by 1968. In his last years, King was harassed, dismissed and often saddened. These years after Selma are often dealt with in a narrative rush toward martyrdom, highlighting his weariness. But what is missed is his resilience under despair. It was when his plans faltered under duress that something essential emerged. The final period of King’s life may be exactly what we need to recall, bringing lessons from that time of turmoil to our time of disillusion.

Celebrating the march out of Selma, Ala., and his early prophetic optimism made sense in the heady Obama years.  Now, we need King’s determined faithfulness.

Once refusing to get on a flight in 1967, King called his wife, Coretta, from the airport saying, “I get tired of going and not having any answers.” His opposition to the Vietnam War cost him support. At a time of emerging Black Power, King’s dream of integration and nonviolence seemed to many insufficient, almost passé. Yet he died still trying to confront “the evil triplets,” how “racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together.”

An unguarded King who still speaks to us can be found in transcripts of Southern Christian Leadership Conference retreats. [At the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, S.C.,] he told his staff in 1966, “I am still searching myself. I don’t have all the answers.” He challenged them — and us — “I’m not talking about some kind of superficial optimism which is little more than magic. I’m talking about that kind of hope that has an ‘in spite of’ quality.” 

[Just four months before his assassination, he told a similar gathering,] “Hope is the final refusal to give up.” King did not just assert this but also lived the belief, by continuing to put his body into his nation’s gun sights. His lack of answers did not keep him from his destiny — which was not fate so much as the result of his choice to show up, to keep on.

Every era finds the King it needs. The version we need now is a King who pressed on through doubt to see a radical vision, as we must [with] the challenges we face. King ran out of certainty but never faith.
(Emphasis mine)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/king-was-unpopular-and-demoralized-before-he-died-he-pressed-on-anyway/2018/04/03/06f9f1d0-345b-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html