Ian and I met immediately after my Lyme diagnosis, but it was another six or seven months before I got really sick. Suddenly all of the adventurous stuff we had bonded over was no longer accessible to me. I remember panicking with my rapid decline: How could I keep up a relationship with seemingly nothing to offer? Who would want me? Surely Ian would leave me soon enough. I didn’t have any of my old tricks to keep him around. But he didn’t leave. Beyond the obvious foundation of young love, there are reasons why we made it work. Work being the key word, unfortunately. It was hard, but it was worth it.
I get asked the question of “how to romance with extreme illness” a lot. So much so that when Eva Fisher and I started Wellness Companions, we were quick to add “Navigating Romance” to our service roster. Having both been in serious relationships within our (serious) illnesses, we knew the strategies that deeply served us and our partners. And, the good news is that many of our tactics were identical. While I always preach finding what works for you personally (and this area is no exception), I can say that I have found that some of the things mentioned in this episode have worked for multiple couples.
I’m quite passionate about the subject. I wrote about it over a year ago when I was getting faced with the judgmental question of how I could be OK with Ian doing an extended trip while I was in IVIG treatment. And I talk to friends and clients about it often. I decided to close out 2017 with this episode— with me and my partner, Ian Jewett, casually discussing what it was like for us to voyage through the worst and the surprising feelings that came up on the other side. I hope to leave you, as always, inspired and informed as the new year approaches and certainly new goals accompanying it. That being said, please share about your personal romantic experiences and your personal “tips” below if you’re so inclined. Also note that we were not able to cover close to everything in this episode and feel free to write with any questions.
Listen to this Episode if you are Especially Interested In:
Tips to thrive romantically from both me (the one sick) and Ian (the care-taker). It takes two!
Why illness did not derail our relationship
What a person from Lyme, Connecticut (yep, Ian is from there) thinks of Lyme disease
What happens when what you bond over initially is taken from you with illness
Bicilin intramuscular antibiotics
How to “be there” for someone when it’s all you feel you can do
How to take the pressure off of your relationship when you’re super sick
Why I’m grateful Ian didn’t make it his job to cure me
How to stay empowered
Different ways to make staying-in-bed-all-day fun!
His teeth moved in his mouth like they weren’t cemented in place—were they dentures or just loose? Was it a twitch he had in his jaw that made his upper teeth push against his lower teeth rocking them forward like that? Was it just his age—will my teeth soften too one day? Jack was in his nineties, after all. That’s why I liked him so much—he had almost a century of life in him, nine decades of sorting through the garbage life can sometimes hand you—learning about humanity, empathy, and compassion. His eyes had seen so much and his heart had held agony and released it more times than I could even imagine. I sat at a diner with him on Maui—the island I dubiously called home and the island he inhabited only in the winter, escaping Canada’s cold. Living there, I sometimes felt like I was either waiting for him to come or missing his presence—he was always on my mind. I met him a couple of years earlier when I was vacationing on Maui. I overheard him in a conversation talking calmly and precisely about the effects of growing up with alcoholism in the home. He didn’t grow up that way. It was not his path, but he seemed to understand what it was like and have a compassion that I had yet to meet. I stuck to him, maybe he became one of my collectible father figurines. I don’t really know. I only know that I wanted to learn from a man with a heart like his. So I jumped on the opportunity to spend as much time with him as possible over those few winter months of 2011 in an effort to learn faster— I was dying to get ahead of myself, get ahead of my youthful age of 24, desperate to outsmart my humanity and escape the traps that maybe he fell into. Why, oh why, wasn’t I already at that plateau—that juicy plateau of nothingness and comfort. (more…)
“I just have a deep sense, a deep inner-knowing, that I am safe in this world now,” I told my mother one day in early 2013. It was true. For a girl who seriously suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, I had gotten so far in life. I had worked through my issues very seriously, utilizing everything from medication to meditation, and it was all proving worth it. Life’s anxiety inducing situations rarely spun me into a panic— deep down I could feel that the Universe was my ally, not my enemy. My risk-taking, fear-facing, and spirit-searching had left me with (what seemed like) an excess of emotional and physical freedom. And I attached to that freedom like it was my identity, endlessly exploring my options, hopping the fences that said “no entry,” and following my heart’s desire to go to the parts of the Earth that were untouched. I didn’t want to walk away from this life unscarred, untouched and inexperienced. In an effort to affirm this preconceived notion of myself, I took a camera man and got my photos taken while rolling around in the dirt as an expression of my free-spirt. This attachment to identity and proving myself…it got me sick. How ironic that, in an attempt to solidify myself into one small box called “free-spirit,” I got bit by a tick, I contracted Lyme disease from the tick, and everything I thought I knew about myself violently unraveled. It was terrifying. That “sense of safety” I had confidently chatted about to my mother months earlier was tested and, as it turns out, fear is a whole different beast when it’s NOT irrational. But it had to be faced and overcome because if I had acted from fear when it came to healing from Lyme disease, I would have died.
Ideally, I would wake up at 7 am everyday and immediately scoop a fresh wad of coconut oil into my mouth for fifteen minutes of oil pulling. After spitting out the freshly swirled toxins, I’d down 16 oz. of fresh celery juice. Then I’d use green tea to get my caffeine buzz on, journal, pray, and meditate. Around 8:30 am, I’d start responding to emails and writing. I’d make my morning smoothie around 9:30, do more work, eventually get to a yoga class, make a raw salad for lunch, take an hour to rest, hit an infrared sauna or acupuncture, get some joyful activity in like socializing or dancing, and end my night with a healthy ,balanced meal, my necessary supplements, powdered magnesium, and red root tea. I’d then zap with my TENS machine and be in bed with a delicious story by 10 pm to read for thirty minutes before I passed out, benefitting from a solid 8 or 9 hours of perfect rest. IDEALLY. Sounds overwhelming right? So perfect it’s jarring. That’s why it’s an ideal. Because right now I’m sitting in this cafe writing and eating french fries. I woke up at a lagging 9:30 am, oil pulled for ten semi-bearable minutes, drank coconut water, drank a couple of cups of coffee (instead of the more advantageous tea), responded to emails, made my smoothie by 11:30 am,and got out of the house— not to do yoga but to work. Also, I forgot my supplements at home. Eh, oh well.
I am imperfect. At everything. Including healing from Lyme disease. A shorter way to get the point across is to say, “I am human.” But I have found that statement to be ineffective; we need specific examples in order to actually believe that other people are just as human as we are. Or I do, anyway. I’ve always felt a little paranoid that I was missing some very important piece of information about this whole life thing— especially the whole healing from illness thing. Like other people had the rules—the user manual, the directions—and I didn’t. I would often get advice from other women—people who had previously suffered from Lyme—and I used their advice as an opportunity to beat myself up. Everyone was doing it better than me! “Your” diet was better than mine (or at least you were more disciplined about it), “you” were a better meditator, you saw the “right” doctors, took the “right” herbs, did the “right” research, spent money on the “right” things, you drank better water, had a better air purifier, did the “right” energy work, etc. I thought I was bad at being sick (and “you were good at it??) I cried every single day even though I knew it was harmful to my central nervous system. I cried every single day. And I thought maybe if I could just stop crying, I’d be doing it right. I looked at people who seemed to hold it together—was that the right way, I wondered? I looked at people who worked serious jobs—was it a more serious job I needed? I looked at people who took two years off of work—did I need to take off? It was an endless mind-fuck. And now people are looking at me through sick eyes and wondering some of the same things: what does she do that I am not doing? She’s better at it than I am. I can’t be as disciplined as her. What’s her diet? Her protocol? on and on.. I’ve heard you say these things and I’m here to tell you all about how I fuck up.
It’s important for me to write this as a wellness advocate— as a person who preaches a certain diet and lifestyle—to let you know, that I fall short a lot of the time. We cannot all be Kris Carr or Louise Hay. I hold myself to pretty high standards as you saw in my “ideal day.” Some practices have just become habit for me—no questions asked. And other practices—the ones that have less severe consequences— I have to work hard at. And some things, I’m just waiting on the willingness to carry out (like quitting coffee). The most important thing is that when I do fall off of the horse, I get back on. And that I get back on quickly. One of my dear friends once told me, “there’s only one rule. The rule is that you never, under any circumstance, beat yourself up.” That’s the rule I carry with me. It makes it much easier to get back up if I’m not whipping myself into a state of unrelenting weakness, forcing myself to stay down.
Two weeks ago, I was in Hawaii—my first vacation in three years. I took the vacation thing to heart. I ate all wrong, consuming more dairy and gluten than I’ve had in at least a year. I over did it physically, doing long hikes without shoes/water, and I didn’t get enough sleep. Oops. A few days after getting back to LA and trying to get back into my healthy groove, it was my birthday. Again, I bailed on my raw afternoon salad, I ate sweets that night, and instead of prayer and meditation, I spent the whole morning crying. Then it was Thanksgiving and, again, I “cheated” on my diet eating some extra desserts because… it’s the holidays!
It’s true. It’s a very hard time of year to eat a mostly-vegan, gluten-free diet. So, I fucked up a little. Every single day, I fuck up a little. Either I eat something a little off of the perfection I’m going for, I drink too much coffee, I forget to exercise or I don’t rest enough. It is challenging to fit it all into one day and have a job and live with any bit of flexibility. So, I don’t. But I do always wake up with the intention to try. I am always willing to get back on the horse when I fall off. My inner dialogue after whatever poor choice I made is something like this, Ok, that didn’t feel great. What’s next? Should I maybe consider doing it differently next time? Should I drink some detox tea or hit a yoga class? Or do something else that makes me feel good now? It’s OK. It happens. If I don’t beat myself up then I have the space to compose a solution. So, let’s be real: you’re probably going to slip up this holiday season and abandon some of your custom self-care practices. What do you do then? Keep going, be kind to yourself, allow humanness and try again. And please know that all of us—all of us—are fucking up, too.
“I’m so horny! It’s killing me,” I whined, steeped in sexual frustration, in the backseat of a Toyota on Sunday afternoon. Three of us were squeezed in the back seat—two of my closest friends and me— and they had been listening to me have random sexual outbursts all day. Ian is on his lengthy- as- fuck dream trip, and I feel a little…insane without him. “I barely even masturbate,” I yammered on, “it bores me these days, just makes me more sad.” My friend is a talented energy healer, and we’ve worked really well together in the past so she said, “OOOO, I wonder if I could try some sort of energy work on you where I could get you to an orgasm without even touching you. I’ve never done it, but it’s so fun to work with you because you’re so open.” Me, so open? I thought. “Hah. remember when I was NOT open to any of this nonsense,” I retorted, “And, YES, let’s absolutely do that!” I feel baffled when “healers” of any kind suggest that it’s so wonderful to work with me because I’m so open and available. That was so not me. Pre-illness I had the “luxury” of being healer-phobic, the “luxury” of judging people, the “luxury” of being closed-mided, the “luxury” holding onto resentment and anger, and the “luxury” of eating a nightly waffle sundae.” We piled out of the car to stop in at an organic, over-priced, crystal-decorated Malibu eatery. It was the kind of place that attracts all of the wealthy white people on green-juice fasts who are willing to pay $15.00 for a tube of coconut oil and $175.00 for a beach towel. Did I think it was ridiculous? Yes. Did I love it there? ABSOLUTELY. The wall of supplements made me feel candy-shop-dazzled, the all natural body butter was enticing, and, oh my god, they served vegan, gluten-free and SOY-FREE grilled cheese. Heaven. All I needed was Ian near me, and I would have had an orgasm right then. Yes, all-natural sunscreen and kale wraps turn me up and on. No shame here: I’m an oil-pulling, green-juicing, meditating, all natural healing… weirdo. It gets worse: Over our new-age grilled cheeses, we talked astrology. I know very little about astrology, but I love when people talk about it. Let me rephrase: I love when astrology-interested folk want to talk specifically about me and my sign. We were looking at my chart, and our astrology-savvy friend took note that one of my moons was in one of my houses (blah blah blah) , therefore, I’m a “wounded healer.” My eyes got all big, “wounded, healer,” I squealed, “Oh my god! My distance healer just told me that one of my archetypes is a wounded healer! How cool!”
How cool? What in the ever-loving fuck is this life?
I grew up eating raisinets for a healthy snack and drinking coca-cola with meatloaf dinner. I suffered from panic attacks and lots of random infections all treated with…you guesssed it…antibiotics. I breathed in smoke and mold all day, was harassed by my father, tried to take care of my mother, and lived in a fantasy land most days because it was safer than reality. By highschool, I had bronchial infections every couple of months, and I lived on cheez-it’s, salami, funyons, the hangover BLT, and hazelnut iced coffee with tons of half and half. I self-medicated my anxiety with drinking, smoking in excess, and instigating unruly sexual situations that numbed the pain of my missing father. Self-loathing began intruding on every waking moment of my day activating my first major step toward a healthier living.
I cleaned up my act and stopped drinking. I bought a sports bra, got a membership at the 92nd street Y, started drinking some water, and ate some cottage cheese between my late-night waffle sundae binges. I thought I was the healthiest. Only the healthiest people eat cottage cheese and own sports bras. Then my panic attacks resurfaced with a vengeance. When I was one meltdown away from becoming agoraphobic, I started taking anti-anxiety meds. I thought I oughta also dabble in meditation since I didn’t want to be on meds forever so I attempted a ten-day silent meditation retreat. I made it three days and claimed, as I left, that I just wasn’t meant to be quiet. I nearly lost my mind sitting with myself in the darkness and silence—there were too many painful memories, there was not enough coffee, and no space to exercise. No, thank you.
Those three days validated my experience with holistic approaches to healing—they weren’t for me. I was madly-pro western medicine: Bring on the quick-fixes, the distractions, and the antibiotics! When it was convenient or it was necessary, I was down to be spiritual, but it was always short-lived. I never wanted to be TOO spiritual. A little bit of toxicity felt sort of YUM to me; I brought the FUN to dysfunctional. And I loved me some fatty beef.
Something about being a sweet, peaceful vegan seemed so stale and virginal to me.If I could stay just a little edgy, a little hardened, I’d be more interesting, I thought. I wanted to be only half in touch with myself, only somewhat open-minded, and the adrenal burn-out version of healthy which looks like too much excercise and distraction while chowing on some kale every once in a while. The mention of eastern and holistic approaches to medicine and healing made me tighten. It was like people were talking about crossing an ocean in a row-boat—haven’t we got better things to do and my god, that sounds like unnecessary labor, hello, there are cruise ships these days! But, Jackie, cruise ships are bad for the environment, you said. “Well, I’d rather ignore that so I can get where I’m going faster, thank you.” It was true, I sort of (gasp) didn’t care about the environment, the toxins in the air, in my food, or in my water bottle. Not to mention my distaste for chakras, angel cards and acupuncture. What a snooze fest! I had already given up booze, drugs and cigarettes, did I really need to go full-on new-agey grandma? My judgments were just a way of covering up my extreme discomfort around “super spiritual.” I wasn’t ready to be seen. I was full of untouched trauma, stuffed to the brim. I felt like “Healers” had some sort of special powers. . .like they were the only people in the world who could see my thick and vast unbecoming wounds. Healers made me feel like my mask was being forcefully ripped off of my face, like all of the grime, sadness, jealousy, and petty resentment that I was hiding from the world— was suddenly visible. So, when I came into contact with one, I either got the hell out of there, or I put a thick wall up—pretending to have no feelings. I had spent a couple of decades trying to keep my toxicity IN and under control, undetected.
My best efforts to control my humanness got me Lyme disease. And my best efforts to get well from Lyme disease—which included tons of antibiotics and distraction—got me much much sicker. The cruise ship I was on capsized after ten long months of doing it “the fast way”of western medicine. I was left with that damn rowboat. And, if I was going to survive, I was gonna have to get in and start rowing—slow and steady —with a shit load of patience. I was afraid of sitting with myself, slowing down, going soft, needing help, being seen, vulnerable and human. But my options were to go “there”—into the darkness of my soul/my truth with love as my main form of protection— and heal from Lyme, or to avoid “there” and probably stay sick. I surrendered completely. I was willing to be seen and to go into the pain so that it could lose it’s power over me became my focus.
I did everything anyone suggested from Ozone therapy, supplements, herbs, and body work. I changed my diet, I took the herbs, I meditated more, acupuncture became a weekly practice accompanied by chinese herbs, and I worked hard on self-love. And then—my biggest challenge— making friends with healers. Opening my mind so much that I could actually believe, for just a second, in something as silly as astrology. GASP. But it helped! And then, reiki. And that helped. And then water blessings and neuro- feedback, group meditations, yoga, prayer, chakras, crystals, and getting hugged by Amma. My body sucked up this new way of life, like I was a plant that hadn’t been watered in a decade. I became a person that craved group meditations, green juices, acupuncture and reiki. Love gave me sunshine and alternative-medicine (in whatever form) gave me water, and some time later, I started to fucking bloom.
Becoming open to any possible form of healing has made me free— my life has become boundless with so many options. Yeah, I’ll talk about the power of crystals with an open mind, yeah I’ll talk about intuitions, heart, and powerful candles. I’ll also talk about all of the western approaches to healing that work—western medicine works when used correctly. I don’t give a shit what we are talking about as long as it’s something that helped someone else get closer to wellness realized. I light candles and I turn on an essential oil diffuser, and I sit on a yoga block while I practice breathing into my belly—INTO MY FIRST CHAKRA. I believe in magic because why not? In my experience and from what I’ve seen, you have to believe a little bit in magic and pixie dust if you want to beat Lyme disease. Beating Lyme disease isn’t even my priority anymore—thriving is my priority, and I won’t let any of my judgments, my resentment or my fear of being seen fully as a human get in the way of my best life. Healing from the inside-out is healing that lasts. I don’t know about you, but I intend to thrive for many many many many years to come.
With fun and love and weird ju ju,
PS: Please use your discretion when choosing people to work with! OK? My “team” came highly recommended to me by people I trust.
I was sitting in a circle of spiritual strangers on a meditation pillow, my knees resting heavily on the pillow’s surface, my sit bones heavy on my heels, and my head heavily hung— crying. The air was humid—the air was always humid in Bali. We had just been led through a magical service conducted by the radiant and tender HighPriestess of Bang Li— an experience that thawed me out, leaving me in tears. A vibrant woman approached me softly, “I feel moved to speak to you,” she said, “are you sick?” God, it hurt me so bad to know that I didn’t look well, that people could see it, “I’m getting better but, yes, I have Lyme disease. I’m in Bali doing Ozone therapy,” I said. She held my hands, “I had MS, I was about to end up in a wheelchair—in fact I had ordered the wheelchair— and now my lesions are reversing because, in a weird way, I started vibrating above the illness. You will get well, I can tell.” I cried harder…because I was sad, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept in maybe 2 weeks, because I felt loved in that moment. We talked for a good while—she was Greek, a graduate of MIT, and on her way to study mysticism in Thailand and she found her extraordinary story hilarious. She laughed and laughed. I cried. “You just need a few things to heal,” she said, “one, you need to laugh.” I stopped her, ” I never laugh anymore. My sense of humor is gone.” It was true. I had been suffocating in my own sadness AND lack of sleep for so long. Her lightness was contagious though, and I softened enough to release an honest smile and chuckle. I felt free in her presence. She continued, “you need to vibrate above the illness. Do what brings you joy. I think you belong on stage—dancing or acting.” I lit up, my energy coming more forward thinking about the things I loved. “And, third,” she said, “you need gratitude.” I jumped in, “OH I have that!” She said, “I can tell, you’re actually full of gratitude.” I was so relieved. I was doing something right all of that time. I was/am grateful and she could see it. I wear gratitude like I wear my other glaring personality traits—loud and proud. She hugged me goodbye that night, promising I’d get well, and we never spoke again, but she gave me an incredible gift in that brief exchange. That was the night I welcomed my sense of humor back after an absurdly long intermission, I reinstated myself to the performing arts, AND that was the moment that I realized that my gratitude practice (nine years deep) was having a profound effect on my life. In more exciting words, I’ve done the work, I know where my G-Spot is and—ahem—I can orgasm whenever I choose.
Now that I AM on the way to a full recovery, I’m here to back her up—an “attitude of gratitude” is indispensable during illness (or at any other time—let’s be real). It can be the light IN the tunnel—not at the end of it. And if joy and happiness are scientifically proven to support our immune system then making a list of things we are grateful for (which is a verified way to increase joy and satisfaction) seems like a really obvious place to start, right? But how to gratitude!? How does this practice just become part of your life instead of that nagging thing that you HAVE TO DO every night? And, how can you ALWAYS be grateful no matter what horrifying thing is happening in your life? Like chronic illness, depression, loneliness, death, divorce, and so on. Gratitude got me out of bed and happy to participate in my life countless times, and how did I get there? Like so many of my stories, it all started with my personalized cocktail of cocaine and daddy issues.
My father was in rehab again. He had been sent once before under the same Wall Street conditions, “get sober and you can keep your six-figure income and your executive position. Don’t get sober and keep up this behavior— we will have no choice but to fire you.” Eight years earlier that threat worked, but this time, he was frighteningly unaffected by the potential risk. He was wildly against getting sober—putting him in rehab was like caging a lion, he was just waiting to get out and go on a killing frenzy.And I, apparently, wasn’t one to judge. On February 14th, 2004, while my dad sat on his hands in rehab fighting his cocaine addiction, I ripped my first line off of a mirror in a bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I got so high—so staggeringly high. Later that night/early that morning, back at home, I was experiencing my first miserable come-down while my brother stumbled around freshly wasted. We did what 2 high siblings affected by alcoholism do—we fought an incoherent, mindless fight. He wanted to visit our father in rehab, and I was not invited. In fact, I was forbidden, he said. I squealed in his face, pissed off, provoking him to throw cautionary punches at me, purposefully grazing past the tip of my nose— just to let me know how mad he was and close he was to losing it. I eventually stormed off to bed. Defeated and exhausted, I fell asleep as the sun came up.
When it turned out that my dad didn’t want visitors, we were given the option to write him a letter. I wrote him a fucking letter, alright— my anger toward the old man had become unhinged. The problem with my “unhinged” letter was that it lacked ANY strategy. If my plan was to shame him into getting sober (which I believed it was), I was failing miserably. My real motive—that of a 16-year-old girl desperate for her dad’s attention— went undisguised:
“I’m a party girl. I just ripped my first line of coke the other night. I party hard.I’m no goodie -two- shoes. I drink and smoke and take pills—I measure up to all of the guys, but I don’t get carried away. Not like you. So this isn’t coming from some pussy place. I know what it is to love drugs, and I know what it looks like when someone needs to stop. You need to stop. I love you. Jackie”
Ah, the Hallmark greeting card from one dysfunctional family member to another.
He never wrote me back, but in his first few turbulent days back from rehab, he asked to speak to me alone. I was on edge and excited—I hadn’t been alone with him in so long, and I was hoping for some deep connection, a new spark, love reignited. We went into his office, I took my seat at his cherry oak desk and he strutted to the power seat— behind the desk. His office was dark, heavy, and cluttered. We lit our respective Marlboro lights. He took a deep drag and as the smoke filled his lungs, he got his thoughts in order. He leaned back, exhaled, smoke filling the room, and said, “Let me just read your letter aloud…” After he read it in full, he took another drag, put his cigarette out and leaned forward— his elbows on the desk and his piercing narcissistic eyes challenging me. Yikes. Embarrassing—I could even see that I sounded loco. But I kept my cool, “yeah, well, it’s true. I do drugs, and, as it turns out, I like cocaine.” He grilled me. We must have talked for an hour about my specific experiences with sex and drugs before he challenged me to not drink, smoke or use for two weeks. “Two weeks. that’s all,” he said. Anxiety coursed through my body. He took note, “you look scared because you’re thinking about the two weeks, but you can do it just one day at a time,” he said.”OK. but how in the fuck will I not use ‘one day at a time’ for TWO WEEKS?” And that’s when he laid out some other tools like journaling, the serenity prayer, and gratitude lists.
When he said “every night, you write down 10 things you’re grateful for,” my immediate response was, “but what if I have nothing to be grateful for?” Sound familiar? Have you scoffed in a similar way the last time someone suggested you write a gratitude list? My dad, totally fucked up in so many ways, came through with a life-long lesson in that moment: “You have nothing to be grateful for? You have ten fingers and ten toes. There, that’s 20 things.” I giggled, a bit ashamed that I had missed something so equally simple AND significant. He went on, “you have all of your limbs, your senses, you can walk, you have shelter, a bed, and food.” Oh shit— It was jarring that I hadn’t thought of those things myself, but I’m forever grateful for that lesson— even though I didn’t take the suggestion for another couple of years.
Neither of us made it through the two weeks without using. Instead, we took one last family vacation to the bowels of Hell. Apparently, Satan found the taste of me unsuitable for his palate. Too feisty or too sweet, he couldn’t fully digest me so he spat me out. Once I was upchucked from that vile journey, I had a lot of grime to clean off. And so at 18, I started wiping away the debris with spirituality. When a wise woman on the spiritual path suggested that I start writing gratitude lists due to my blinding self-pity, the lessons my father taught me in his office two years earlier came rushing back. I picked up a pen and started writing: ten fingers, ten toes, my limbs, and my senses. It was an unbearably painful time— so I kept writing and my lists grew; I’m grateful for my limbs, my senses, shelter, food, a job, clothes, and my friends. And they kept growing.
In 2009, when my twenties were as fresh as a juicy peach, my treasured friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a gratitude email chain where we would each write our daily lists and “reply all.” “Sure,” I said, not thinking much of it, unconsciously assuming it would fizzle within a few months because most things like that do. How fun it is to be proven wrong sometimes. That email chain has changed my life. There are 11 of us on the exchange, all women, and we have been writing for —please wait as I access the left side of my brain—seven years! We started as friends in NYC and, in seven years time, we have adventured with one another through big moves, marriage, children, death, divorce, break -ups, new relationships, new jobs and, in my case, illness—all through gratitude lists. We have had delicious “gratitude brunches,” attended each other’s weddings, been on the other side of the screen when the first “Introducing: insert new baby picture” got sent, been cheerleaders for each other’s dreams, and every one of those girls donated to my fundraiser. I’m so grateful for them. But because of all of that practice, I never have to do much digging to find my gratitudes, and, as a result, I’m often (not always) one of those “glass half-full” people: often optimistic with moments of pure elation. Let me be super clear as you may now be rolling your eyes at my perkiness. I am madly-pro taking days off from “positive thinking.” This is no time to go beating yourself up for not being “grateful enough.” If you need to lie in bed and steep in self-pity every once in a while, I support that, and I believe it’s also crucial to healing (in small doses). I never suggest you “gratitude list” your way out of feelings, out of humanity, but that you gratitude list yourself into a more balanced view of reality.
You’re feel -good- G can be equally as accessible (if it isn’t already). Here are some tips:
Make your own email chain! All you need is one other person and access to your own discipline and consistency. It can take as little as 30 seconds to shoot off a gratitude list and connect with a friend. Most of you know that I’m all about FUN (and love) so give yourself a laugh and a creative outlet as you write your lists. The subject line is where all of the genius is in our group: We have seven years worth of quirky subject lines: “G’zzzzzz ma Ladiezzzzzz,” “Gratitat,” “Nothing left to do but gratitude,” “Forever G,” “In Flight Gratitude announcement!” “Saturday Graterday””Guys WHOA I need gratitude,” “Spring Ahead into Sunny Gratitude,” “She’s All Grat.” “Even in Frosty California, Gratitude Survives,” “We so G and so Free,” “Grateful Feet have Got A lot of Rhythm.” Do you catch my drift? I know, we are *the coolest.*
If your stomach is turning at the idea of being on a gratitude email chain with corny subject lines then simply start writing lists. Write them on your phone as you sit in waiting rooms ( or half-naked on the exam table), pause your stinking thinking and say things out loud when you’re stuck in traffic, write things down in your journal, and on the days when things are just so bad and you’re desperate, text a friend and say, “wanna do the gratitude ABC’s?” All day long, you can go back and forth with that trusted friend stating what you’re grateful for. They say “I’m grateful for my hot Ass,” and you say, “I’m grateful for my Bone Broth.” And they say, “My Cat,” and you say, “My Dog —AND ew you have a cat?” This is so efficient as you’ll be mastering multiple “healing activities” at once: gratitude, laughter, AND companionship. But if you’re still rolling your eyes and you’re a driven person that just needs a challenge then I challenge you to find one thing a day and write it down for the next 365 days.Try and make it as specific to the day as possible.I promise you that if you practice gratitude consistently for just a little while, you, too, will find your G-Spot. You, too, will have gratitude orgasms.
I felt like I was hitting my stride toward the end of 2013—25 years old, single, sexy, and with a whole world of options in front of me. It seemed like I had absolutely everything I needed to succeed in life. Most importantly, I was young, healthy and pretty. Yes, I had those bonus things like being talented, smart, and ballsy. Blah blah blah. But first and foremost, I was young, healthy and pretty. And living in Los Angeles— just to be cliché. I sat outside of a coffee shop in Franklin Village, LA, drinking coffee with my friend Nick. Franklin and Bronson is a very “Hollywood” corner, densely populated by improv actors and screenwriters having coffee-shop-meetings about their upcoming “projects.” Nick and I sat rolling our eyes at every opportunity but also. . . entirely fitting in with the crowd.
Clad in a black dress decorated with a gold zipper running snug down the center , accentuating my small waist line and coming to an abrupt stop just a couple of inches below my crotch, drawing attention to my legs which looked extra long thanks to my five- inch- high, colorful, hippie-swag platforms, I giddily listened to Nick’s compliments, “god damn you look hot. My lord. You need to walk around like that all of the time, you’ll get an agent in a second.” I smirked—knowing exactly what kind of sparkle my blue eyes made when I smirked because I had spent way too much time smirking at myself in the mirror. . .for practice, I guess. I thought I had already swallowed my daily prescription of validation when I noticed a man at the next table looking at me intently. He was smoking, had overly manicured black hair and hopped- up energy. His energy is what exposed him as a James Dean wannabe rather than a James Dean look a like. I had no interest in him romantically, but I was curious to find out what words were sitting on the edges of his eyes, the cliffs of his tongue. On our way out, as I sauntered past his table, he stopped me. Through a manic lisp, he spoke with a sense of urgency—anxious to get something out of life, to go somewhere he wasn’t, passionate or painfully discontent, I wasn’t sure— he asked if he could photograph me. I could barely get a word in, he lit another cigarette, complimenting me up and down on how “interesting” I was, how perfectly “symmetrical like Charlize Theron,” how “hot my body” was my “legs,” my “hair.” He was sure(something that is amateurish in this town—all the pros know that there’s no such thing as a “done deal” until you get to set or get your check)that if he photographed me *free of charge* he could hook me up with the best agent in town. After he took out his iPad and showcased his truly spectacular fashion and portrait photography, I agreed to take his card and contact him. He complimented me five more times before we finally walked away, and when we were just out of ear shot, Nick laughed, “literally all you need to do is go outside and opportunities meet you. HA! You lucky bitch.” An opportunity met me, alright. That one exchange changed my life forever. That one exchange, that one meeting was the beginning of my strip poker game with life—the game that stripped me of pretty (and almost everything else I identified myself with) and left me profoundly HUMAN.
Nick was right, it had been a fact—my looks got me stuff. Sure, being an “attractive female” comes with its own set of dilemmas: I’ve had a serious stalker, I’ve been talked AT in demoralizing ways, middle-aged men did shady things to me when I was much too fucking young, my father carried around my headshot telling people I was his wife (YUP), and I often felt like my only noticed asset was that I was fuckable—like that was my only earned girl-scout badge, if you will. I’m not sure if being “attractive” was the motivator of such treatment or if “female” did the trick on its own. A combination of the two plus the undeniable fact that when I entered a room,my palpable sexual energy preceded me(something we can just blame, if you don’t mind, on the fact that I was born a Scorpio) was sometimes heavily troublesome. But, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, it was never something that really bothered me. We are all so often judged on our physical appearance and if my appearance was one that sparked endless attention, free stuff, and “any guy I wanted to have,” it didn’t seem like something to complain about. For me, being a pretty girl won me my father’s affection, got me through grade school and junior high mildly tormented but NOT completely abused. Being pretty earned me a seat at the “cool kids’ table” like two or three times; “pretty” became synonymous with “enough,” and that’s when being pretty got me into real trouble. When it was the prime definitive quality about me. That “pretty” was something that I relied on— that I needed as my sort of fall-back plan on a daily basis—THAT was a problem. And, I’m blessed/cursed with self-awareness so I knew it was a problem, and I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to learn another way. I was waiting for the day that I would have to learn about self-worth based in something else—like an amazing career, child-bearing, a PhD, or volunteering for countless hours. The day would come when I’d have to earn my space on this planet for reasons other than being print-ad material. What I didn’t know was how and when I would be shown. And, apparently I was way off about what I was going to learn. I didn’t learn that self-worth and meaning was found in a three-piece suit career at an accounting firm with problem acne and a child at home. I didn’t learn that hours of volunteer work earned me a girl-scout badge that said something other than “fuckable.” My “lesson” wasn’t in the form I expected—I mean, is it ever? What I learned is that I don’t have to do or be a damn thing to earn my space here. That I don’t need any badges AT ALL. And just so the Universe could make it interesting and have a laugh, my lesson started on a photoshoot—a photoshoot where I was trying to prove both my looks and my coolness.
I contacted the photographer from Franklin Village; I knew exactly what I wanted to add to my portfolio: “woodsy elegance.” I wanted to capture my “nature”— both glamorous and adventurous— my simultaneous love affair with the dirt of the mountains that welcomed worn-in hiking boots AND the concrete city streets that welcomed high heels and dresses made of silk and tulle. Capturing my “essence” (not my essence at all—those are just bullshit definitions I attached myself to) meant going to the woods and rolling around in piles of leaves in a short dress. See where I might be going with this?
It was November 17th 2013, four days before my 26th birthday, and a miserable day–I was betraying myself just to get some free photos, willing myself to sit through the discomfort of being objectified on this photo shoot. I don’t want to give the reader the wrong idea. The photographer had good intentions, and he did not physically harm me in any way, but I was extremely uncomfortable with our exchange that day, and I never spoke up about it. I felt dirty and just wanted to get the whole thing over with before dark. I rolled around in leaves, sat in piles of mud, climbed around on trees, and lied on all sorts of precarious terrain to get the shots I wanted all while he said things like, “lick you lips, hot hot hot.” In one milli- second of those two hours, I got bit by a tick—the mother load of ticks. The tick that , ironically, stripped me of the attachment to my “worn in hiking boots” and the attachment to my “city strut” AND the tick that gave my voice its platform to stand on. I would never stay on a photoshoot that made me that uncomfortable today. NO WAY. Not to mention the LOL that I paid a high fucking price for those free set of photos—literally like 40,000 dollars of medical bills, I’m not even trying to be figurative.
When those bumpy, itchy, unattractive rashes broke out on my body, leaving me uncomfortable being scantily clad for the first time in my life, I was immediately thrown for a loop—what does one do with physical insecurities?And that was just week two of an *almost* three year long journey. I panicked at the sight of those rashes, frightened that I had psoriasis—god forbid. I was so vain and so scared of losing my “looks” that when the doctor told me I had Lyme disease, I was like, “oh cool, well, at least that won’t SHOW. Sure, it *could potentially* affect my heart and brain and nerves, but, like, you won’t see it. It’s not psoriasis.” Then the antibiotics gave me a really bad yeast infection—next-level yeast, people. So, I didn’t feel my sexiest, and I had a new scar where they biopsied one of my rashes, but whatever. I still recognized myself—or the self I had come to identify with that wasn’t really myself at all—the self that lived riding the coat tails of my looks.
About nine months and 1,000 pills later, something confusing was happening. My energy, vibrance and vitality were shutting down, like one room going dark at a time until the whole house was pitch black and haunting. I didn’t know how to move through such unknown territory. I didn’t know how to find the door out, and I had lost my most dependable resource: my beauty.
My back slowly grew more and more hunched until I was horizontal, laid out by life. My hair started thinning and stopped growing, my eyes got dark, I dropped to below 100 pounds, my cheeks lost their pink youthful essence and, at one point, went yellow And then, one day, I needed a wheelchair (or piggy back rides) if I was going to be walking for any extended time. The mirror, something that had been almost like a friend to me all of my life (maybe even my best friend), became my enemy. What I saw looking back at me disturbed me. My reflection, once upon a time, offered me an endorsement, and it was suddenly the catalyst for deep self-loathing and fear. I could not stomach taking a selfie— I feared the camera. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want my picture taken, I feared being tagged in photos on Facebook, and I feared walking into rooms of people without my sexual, flirty, fun, and hot armor. I felt like a lightless, somber ghost of myself. I could no longer confidently strut around. I sheepishly hung my head, feeling invisible or worse—like an unwanted burden. Men stopped noticing me, girls stopped looking up to me, and I stopped noticing myself. My flirty, fun, pretty self was like a costume I zippered up tightly every day—it literally held me together, and without it, I was truly naked, vulnerable, and terrified. GUTS were spilling out. And so I did all there was to do if I was going to get well (and I would do anything to get well): I learned to love myself naked, vulnerable and terrified—I learned to love my guts. I learned that I am worthy just because I am. I didn’t have to do or be anything other than human to take up space and receive love.
One day, after two years of self-love affirmations and deep inner-healing, I was walking past my bathroom mirror and I saw something—something I had never seen before. What was meant to be a quick glance at myself before I turned the light off instead gave me great pause. I stopped abruptly, turning to face the mirror to investigate what I was seeing. It was so new. So different. I didn’t see my face, my eyes, my hair, my weight, my skin, or anything external. I saw something so beyond the shell that I am, I saw into the vastness, the boundless spirit that is my true self, and she was so mother fucking beautiful that I had to just stand there crying and appreciating her for a few more moments. Without thinking, I put my hand on my heart—my fierce human heart— and said out loud,”I appreciate you.” And I meant it. I felt like I was taking my first fresh breath of air in my whole life—like I had legitimately never taken an unpolluted breath or seen myself so pure. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I was basically reborn. And then that moment passed. . .probably as soon as I went on Facebook and compared myself to someone else.
It ebbs and flows, there still are days when I can’t believe how weathered I look. But, far more often, I feel like a warrior princess queen. The letting go and the surrender to being human—uncool and unpretty—sucked, but do you know what happens after you shed the old skin? You grow brand new skin! AND you have a say in what it looks like this time around. You get to choose what baggage to keep and what to let go of, you get to choose precisely who you want to be. My skin is radiant. People are commenting on how vibrant I look, how pink my cheeks are, how clear my eyes are, and how it’s nice that I have a little more weight on me. But that’s not the payoff. Well yes it is, it’s certainly part of the payoff that I’m looking good and feeling mostly good again —I wouldn’t do all of this hard work if getting well and FEELING vibrant wasn’t part of the deal. The *other* miracle, for me, is that I don’t need your validation. The payoff is that I see way beyond the boundaries of my shell and into the vastness, the MAGIC that I truly am. I have yet to find any wardrobe or girl-scout badge more sparkly or more interesting than human.
DreamWorks brought us Home, an animated film about an alien race called The Boov and their attempt to take over the planet. One unique Boov, named “Oh,” has no intention of cooperating with his species—he’s lovable, friendly, and kind: nothing can rob Oh of his innocence. I sat on my plane to Bali last year captivated by Oh’s adventure, smiling at his energetic sweetness and his silly speech patterns, glad that cartoons could still put a smile on my face when all else was failing (apparently, cartoons also now give me access to spiritual experiences, deep insights, and entire blog posts). Tip, a young girl taught to be cautious of the Boov, gets frightened by Oh when she runs into him in an imitation 7/11 and, with the swift application of a broom stick, locks him in a foggy fridge full of milk and sodas. My lovable purple friend smears the fog so he can see, tries to convince her of his kindness, stares at her naively and says, “can I come into the out now?” Tip responds, “NO. You CANNOT come into the out now.” Tip was essentially testing Oh— once he proved himself to be an ally, he was allowed into the out. And, immediately, because I have an uncanny ability to relate everything back to myself, I thought: I am Oh, and Tip is Lyme disease. And on my trip to Bali, 32,000 feet above ground, not traveling for adventure or fun but to have all of my blood cleaned with high hopes of returning healthier I thought, yeah i’ve been banging on that cold glass for a long time. Have I learned my lesson? Proved myself? Can I come into the out now?
Like most people, I had lived most of my life taking simple human-being-on- planet-Earth pleasures for granted—like going outside. Running myself around on almost-empty was my permanent state : my fuel light blinking, functioning on the remnants of caffeine and youth. My time was strategically overflowing with things I didn’t care THAT MUCH about, leaving me consistently unfulfilled. I couldn’t sit still and focus— I couldn’t be inside “home.” Home was where the bills were, home was where the trauma happened, home was where my email was and my to-do list was and sitting with myself was, and the mess, the laundry, the audition to prepare, the writing I wanted to attempt—every corner holding space for quiet “me time” and meaningful activity that made me itch like I was having an allergic flare. NO THANK YOU. I’d rather be in flight where I felt free…from self. Home was simply a place for sleep, a shower, and MAYBE a morning cup of coffee.
Living in NYC, I worked three different jobs while also attending school and/or acting class. Leaving my apartment in the morning, multiple bags— the pounds added up equaled my body weight —would hang from my shoulders: my purse, my acting bag, a catering tux, a school bag, a couple of books (one was never enough), my iPod, my journal, my moleskin planner, and a camera. I spent all day, everyday, either in conversation or blasting music through headphones to overpower the thoughts in my head until I turned 20 and abruptly decided that I should PROBABLY be the next Dalai Lama. I know, shocking turn of events. It’s no surprise, that when I decided to go away on a TEN day silent meditation retreat to begin my training to be the next leading authority figure on spirituality and silence, I left eight days early in full-blown-panic deciding that stillness just wasn’t for me. I vowed to get back on track with my lifelong aspirations. And I did… until I got distracted by a man and decided I should probably move to Hawaii.
Hawaii gave me a whole new challenge— how does one make the most serene place in the States excitable and frenzied? I maneuvered, quickly learning that Hawaii was more about staying busy in nature, not so much with jobs and concerts. Hawaii is where I learned to hike, to hike barefoot, and to be the asshole person who scoffed at anyone who wanted to pause and take in the views . Hawaii is where I trained myself to get up 2.5 miles of steep switchbacks barefoot and run back down in less than an hour. Needless to say, I had minimal hiking companions.I found companions elsewhere: I was in a book club, writing class, an artist’s way group, volunteering at the humane society, working a couple of jobs, acting, auditioning, volunteering wherever I could within the theaters, nurturing friendships, half showing up for my relationship, beaching, camping, learning all sorts of new ocean activities that intimidated the fuck out of me, hosting guests as often as possible, developing myself spiritually, and STILL there was time to spare. Too much time. I had to leave.
When i got to Los Angeles, well, fuck man, that was just a nasty combination of NYC and Hawaii: I had never kept SO BUSY in my life. In Los Angeles, I had all of the outside to explore AND all of the city to experience. There were new people to meet by the thousands, so many attractive men that I didn’t want to blink, countless hikes to explore, an acting career to develop, and I had bills to pay in the meantime. The apartment that acted as my home for a year, got no love. Maybe a frame or two hung from the otherwise empty walls, a futon acted as a bed in the living room so my roommate/best friend, Jessica, and I could stop sharing a bed. An unmade bed sat in the bedroom next to the dull Ikea dresser that I hastily put together one night (so hastily that the top was on backwards and I was “too busy” to ever fix it), an out-of-place bookcase (also put together incorrectly) sat in the middle of the living room, the bathroom was filthy, and I think there remained a couple of unpacked boxes in a closet. My turquoise blue work desk that I purchased in an attempt to actually stay home and do work, sat in a dark corner collecting dust, and a bulletin board hung above it. A bulletin board with all of my untouched ambitions attached to it. I didn’t care what my house looked like or felt like because I was never there—it was just a pit stop: pee, shower, shave, change, and bye. Bye Jessica, bye inside, bye ambitions on the bulletin board that I’d rather not face.
The behaviors I’ve listed are entirely unhealthy, but they are also a testament to how much I love being alive—feeling the sunshine, climbing things, seeing friends, meeting new people, playing games, and even working! I was lucky enough, up to that point, to take it all for granted. It was terrifying for me to get so sick that my well-honed ability to distract and disassociate came to a screeching halt. It was jarring as fuck, I hated the inside so much. The inside of the house and the inside of me.
I spent a year and a half feeling like I was trapped inside of one of those russian stackable dolls, inside of LA, my street, my apartment, my bedroom, my bed, and finally my body. I spent that time staring out of my window memorizing colors and sounds— observing how blue the sky was that day, how green the trees were, how the green would change from forest- green to lime-green as the sun made it’s way through the sky. I listened to the obnoxious blender indicating my neighbors’ breakfast time, the birds indicating the late morning, the people’s doors opening and closing indicating their busy lives, and then I’d hear the musicians across the street indicating their evening band rehearsal. That was the sound I hated the most. They’re a great band —it made me miss feeling alive like nothing else did.
And then there were those days where I got to go outside and take a short walk or something. Those days when people around me would say things like, “doesn’t it feel good to be outside?” Let me tell you what I felt like on those days. I felt like everyone who was breezing passed me on their shirtless afternoon run, showing off their tanned and toned bodies, were MOCKING ME, unfairly and falsely deciding that those people had no ailments of their own. Well-steeped in my own self-pity and fucked up perception, it felt like I alone was living in a post-apocalyptic world only allowed to watch people enjoying the sweetness of planet Earth, but I couldn’t partake in any of the fun. And that thought process often hurt more than staying inside. When I did go to a party at night, I just felt jealous. Jealous and tired and like it wasn’t worth all of the effort just to “get out.” I watched most of my friends continue on, flawlessly complaining about the normal 20-something pain: broken hearts, confused hearts, financial problems, working too much, PMS, career goals or lack thereof, or the flu, and all I could think was “I’d give anything to work too much and have the flu.” I just wanted to be able to get coffee with a friend without feeling like it might kill me, I wanted to be well enough to celebrate my birthday, I wanted to be able to hold my head up without support, to dress myself, climb the stairs, smile, and cook for myself. And if I couldn’t have all of that then what I wanted was to SLEEP, but no matter how tired I was, my emotional and physical anguish was too great to let me sleep. Never mind running, hiking, yoga, and traveling, I just wanted to sleep.
“Life happens for us, not to us.” -said by many.
After much resistance, I did what I was so frightened to do: I changed. I let life happen for me. No matter how hard I tried when I was fully-functional, I couldn’t get into certain healthy habits that I deeply longed for, self-discipline was always just beyond my reach…almost teasing me. Through these awful couple of years, the person I’d always wanted to be started to magically show up. I got my priorities straight, and that bulletin board of untouched ambitions, they’ve been touched. More things have been added, more have been accomplished. My space is getting more and more organized and loved. I do the things that are most important to me instead of avoiding them—less distraction, more production. I had a friend look at me in my frazzled state a few years ago and say, “you really do constantly need adventure, don’t you? I just wonder when you’ll realize that the adventure is right in front of you— you’re on it.”
I feel more authentically alive and adventurous sitting at this cafe, writing this piece, than I ever did while cliff jumping, rollerblading, or driving to Arizona just because. I’m sitting up, feeling the muscles in my neck and how capable they are of holding my head up. I’m drinking coffee, easily able to bring the cup to my lips, feeling the breeze go through my shirt, and I’m crying because it feels SO GOOD. I feel present. I’m not suffering, anxious to get home because I truly CANNOT sit up for one more second. I’m not wondering if I’ll be able to walk to the car, I don’t have a vibrating sensation of anxiety and depression bolting through my body. I don’t want to SCREAM. I’m not in a post-apocalyptic world watching others enjoy the sweetness of Earth. I’m enjoying the sweetness, and since I’ve tasted the other side (which is basically a stick of liver comparatively), I guarantee this is all the more delicious for me. This is definitely adventure enough.
I went to the beach a few days ago to ride a bike. I biked three miles and it was hard. Three years ago, I would rollerblade about ten miles by the beach and then I’d do the rings, using a tremendous amount of upper-body strength, pulling from my bicep, crunching at my core, and swinging free while the skin on my hands rubbed off from the metal. Of course I was performing such intense physical activity while my deeper desires sat at home on my desk, lonely. So, I didn’t only enjoy being outside a few days ago, I also felt so fulfilled knowing that I wasn’t there avoiding anything. I was there to enjoy a day outside. I walked to the rings, and I sat on a ledge to watch the athletes do their thing. I wasn’t jealous, observing the tanned, toned, and topless people walk around on the sand, I felt grateful for my perspective. Most of those people had no idea that in the surrounding area there were likely many trapped inside, looking at the colors of the trees from their window, listening to the birds sing, just wishing they could sit up, wishing they had a happy- enough- thought to crack a smile. I don’t need the rings, or trapeze, or my rollerblades. I get to be in the out now!
I wasn’t ready on my way to Bali last year. I was still too antsy to get back to my “old life.” I hadn’t yet refined the skill of sitting still, resting, self-care, and focusing on reality rather than fantasy. I needed more time to finalize my priorities, my habits, I needed more time to grow accustomed to my new self. I was still shedding. Now I’m beautifying my new skin. It felt, for a long time in this process, like I was sitting at an airport waiting to meet my new updated self, but her plane was like crazy fucking delayed. Some days, now, it feels like she’s arrived.
Following up with last week’s post, this is an update of how it’s been going on the East Coast. In summary: better than expected! I’ve been almost myself. It’s been exciting to watch myself do a lot of the things that I couldn’t do even six months ago.
Getting off of the plane last week, I walked right past the wheelchairs and smiled. I didn’t just not NEED a wheelchair; I HAD ENERGY- like plenty of it. Ian and I went to sleep at my Grandmother’s that night. Oma came out to greet us on the special corner where her home sits in the urban sticks. The corner I played on, ate Mr. Softee on, talked to all of the neighbors on, hung out with Alley (our childhood dog) on, and eventually departed on. It’s the corner I did all of my leaving from. Every time I got on a plane, it was from there, a diagonal shot from the front door to the cab, I said goodbye. When I moved to Hawaii, when I’d go home to Hawaii and eventually LA- that’s where I said goodbye. I’ve said countless hellos and goodbyes on that corner. It’s the corner that holds all of my “I love you’s.” I’ve said those words so many times right there, I bet the concrete holds some of my heart.
Ian and I got out of our cab and I said it again, “Oma! You’re so little. I love you. I’ve missed you.” Of course, even at midnight, Oma had food for us. It’s VERY hard for her to understand the extreme diet I have. I mean she’s 85 AND German so to her being gluten free, sugar free, and dairy free means I eat whole wheat tortillas, honey nut cheerios, and “those hairy fruits I bought for you- what are they called- kivis?” My heart really swelled for the effort.
I asked her to take a picture with Ian and she yelled at me. Then later, apologized profusely because she didn’t realize I wanted a picture of her AND Ian, “Oh boy, I hope I didn’t offend him,” she said. I got one anyway.
We went to Lyme, Connecticut the next morning. That’s right, Ian’s family is from LYME, and, yes, that IS where Lyme Disease gets its name from.
I imagine that photo above is what it would look like if we traveled together. I took this photo so the paper is merely a prop, BUT I was totally reading it at some point.
At the Lyme Beach Club, Ian taught me how to catch crabs. I squealed like a scared little shit, but I got a great photo.
We ate THE BEST Lobster rolls at this joint, and RANDOMLY this little New England beach town joint had GLUTEN FREE rolls. Very exciting.
We took Amtrak back to Manhattan in the rain.
In the heat of deep Brooklyn, we took a walk and stopped to cool off like a couple of NYC kids. Ian found White Castle super entertaining. We consumed none of their food FYI. Ian left for Germany a few hours later, and we said our goodbyes and “I love yous” on that precious corner before he got in a cab.
That evening, Juliette and I reunited and did what we like to do: we ate some real fucking food. Well, we ate real food that Juliette crafted masterfully for us in a Brooklyn apartment with the perfect view of NYC.
Michael, who just so happens to live in Oma’s neighborhood came to hang the next day. Michael and I worked together on a feature film 10 years ago. Reminiscing about our time together and making new memories, we laughed and laughed AND did a photoshoot.
I got to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle. I haven’t seen them in over two years, and FINALLY, for the first time ever, I saw my Uncle’s band, The Smoking Gun, play in the Hampton Bays at this small-town, water front bar and grill. My Mother came out, and we DANCED. You guys- look at me – Killin’ it with the healthy. My Uncle’s band was so good. To be honest, knowing how talented he is and what kind of music he likes, I thought I was going to get stuck listening to some eccentric jazz music which I WAS NOT excited about, but I was totally freaking wrong. If I had known how much fun it was to see them, I would have gone about 10 years ago. My Aunt showered me with gifts and my Uncle showed me 600 photos from their recent trip to Peru and Ecuador. At photo 200, I was sorry I asked to see any 🙂
Back in Brooklyn, Jessica came to visit me. My oldest friend, and my chosen sister, she loved on me for 2 days. I forced her to do my hair for a few hours and cuddle me which she HATES. Jessica also hates sleeping with me because I like closeness and I’m a mover and a shaker. Also, I talk in my sleep and stuff, but she slept with me anyway – with a giant pillow between us so she had her own space.
In an attempt to throw some shit away at my Grandmother’s, I started taking a trip down memory lane. AKA: MY HORRIFYING PAST.
First of all, that photo of me in the red sunglasses was NOT TAKEN ON HALLOWEEN, nor was it a “joke photo.” That’s just how I dressed. Also, it is a representation of how hard it was to take drunk selfies before the iPhone. That upper photo pretty much represents me as a teenager- drunk and peeing and pouring shampoo on my dear friend who was stuck in the bathtub? And lastly, I graduated from High School which is almost shocking considering that looking at my report cards, I pretty much did poorly ALWAYS in EVERYTHING except drama. But I celebrated graduating with my tongue out – of course.
Pretty normal. Check out those tights. They’re for 80 year olds- just looks like I have a bunch of sagging skin or something. Jessica calls this my young “stripper pose.”
And also just the proof that my Brother has disliked me for a very long time. “The Easter Bunny That Ate my Sister” is a 10 page intricate story WITH vivid illustrations. “I wondered why the Bunny ate my sister and not my pet snakes or something,” he writes. Gee, I don’t know, it’s YOUR STORY, and it could have gone down however you wanted.
I found this book in the very same box that held my parent’s wedding album. So that was funny.
And this is what I’ve mostly been doing the whole time – hanging with my childhood “best friend”/ “daughter”/ “baby”/ “Victoria”/ DOLL. Nothing weird here, guys. Her eyes just look weird because I gave her “pink eye” like 20 years ago and then didn’t actually know how to fix it, but she’s doing great otherwise. SUPER NORMAL.
Check me out, living life and stuff. Just a few more days of New York loving then another “I love you, Oma” on my home base corner and off to Los Angeles for IVIG treatment number 4!
I said, “I am down, lonely and afraid.” To better help you understand how I’ve felt over the last couple years, I used the analogy of a person laid out on the concrete, getting their face bashed in. I asked all of you to meet me down there, hold me, ask me where it hurts, and what you can do to help. Many of you did just that, and it gave me that little bit of strength I needed to get up. I am standing. I may be a little weathered, but I am upright and ready to walk on. Actually, that’s metaphorical because I’m actually horizontal on the couch with two IV’s in my arms, but I’ve eaten today, I’ve rested, I’ve given love and received love, I put some laundry away, and I’m writing this. If you are struggling, if you are obsessing over what the fuck, why the fuck, and how the fuck, the one piece of tangible advice that never fails me was said by Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.” It was also said by like a bazillion other people in a variation of other words, BUT Dory said it best if you ask me, and I’d like to honor the release of “Finding Dory.” I’ve been practicing this for years though the situation I’m currently in has been the greatest challenge. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to just stop and sink, but I’ve experienced the benefits of keeping on too many times in my life to give up now.
I was heart-broken (again) a few years ago. I was stuck in bed, restricted by panic. It had been light out recently enough that I still hadn’t turned any lamps on. As it grew darker outside, it grew darker inside, which reflected MY insides. I’m so sensitive during that hour-long adjustment when the light turns to dark. I can do the light and I can do the dark, but the in-between, the purgatory, the new, the gray- THAT I do not like. I laid flat crying, fuck it’s already night-time, he still hasn’t responded to my texts, I can’t get out of bed. I called a woman who was 20 years my senior and sobbed to her, “I can’t get out of bed! He hasn’t responded,” snot filled my shirt, I choked on some phlegm, and I made a whole case supporting my sadness and paralysis. She was so compassionate- this beautiful woman with 3 children, and a host of her own more threatening struggles, took the time to talk me through the pain of “he hasn’t responded to my texts.” She said, “It’s OK sweetie, listen, I want you to get up and make the bed. That’s all you have to do. Get up and make the bed. Do the dishes, take a shower, come over for dinner. That’s ALL you have to do. Get up and make the bed.” I swung my legs around, I got to a standing position, I turned a lamp on, and I made the bed. It’s easier to keep moving when already in motion – that’s like simple science, I think. I did the dishes, and I took a shower and I went to dinner. I didn’t feel good, but I certainly didn’t feel any worse than when I was laying in bed. That wasn’t my first lesson in “just keep swimming,” but it simplified something I had been hearing/practicing for years.
Both of my parents taught me this lesson- through their words and actions: they made life so fucking hard that I had no choice but to learn to tread water or drown. When I was 12 and made the beautifully stupid decision to be an actress when I grew up, my Father challenged me to study the craft, and I did. I studied it as much as I possibly could for a girl that age. When I got nervous that I wouldn’t succeed, he said, “Doesn’t matter, you never fail if you don’t quit.” I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I didn’t hear that so clearly: Would I have quit after so much rejection? Maybe. Years later, during my first year of college, I called him in an attempt to connect. He had already slipped out of my hands into the world of insane drug use, but this was in my denial phase. I called him very upset- why he was my first phone call is a lesson in psychology 101, but regardless, it worked out because he said something I’ve never forgotten: “There’s only one thing you need to know all through life. ONLY ONE NECESSARY PIECE OF ADVICE. The only rule you ever need to follow is ‘just do the next right thing’.” Just do the next right thing. I’ve found that to be true- it’s all I ever need to do.
My Mother told me a story once that really stuck with me, too. When she was dealing with the true horrors of being married to a violent alcoholic and trying to raise two children, she had many mornings where just seeing the daylight pained her. She told me that during those times, she started taking out one book at a time from our encyclopedia collection (oh my- I’m showing my age. I grew up with encyclopedias!). She went from A-Z and studied. She learned something new everyday which led to some college courses, which led to meeting a professor that changed her life, which led to TWO Master degrees. Just keep swimming you get places.
I feel lucky to have the ability to persevere, to persist, to try again, to get up, stand up and TAKE ONE STEP. I comfort myself often by visualizing the path I’m on, and I think “well if I just keep walking forward, I WILL get healthier, I WILL get a job, I WILL grow as a partner and a friend and a human.” It doesn’t all happen at once. It’s in the small little steps, one foot in front of the other, that we make progress. I know that last week’s post was a hard one to swallow for some people, and I know that it was a binge on comfort food for others. I’ve had a lot of pain in my life; I’ve had plenty of obstacles to surmount- some self-inflicted and others where my part was victim, straight-up. It brings me so much comfort time and time again that, in this world where I’m powerless over so much, the power to keep walking is mine. I always have a choice about whether or not I want to get out of bed, make the bed, do the dishes, feed myself, write, apply for jobs, apply for government assistance, make that next phone call, find that new doctor, go to the next audition. The most freeing part: I don’t have to FEEL LIKE doing any of it, I just have to do it and shit gets done. I keep moving forward, growing, walking the path, and, MY GOD, at some point, you acquire all the tools you need to surpass the weeds, your legs are so strong you can climb any hill, your knees are so strong you can go through any valley and when an earthquake hits, somehow, you’ve developed enough balance to stay standing.