So, How Is It?

I’m in the process of remaking myself. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost my inspiration to write or make art. What gives? I don’t know, but I’m allowing myself plenty of time to do the things that seem most important to me right now. Like taking better care of my body. During the book writing process, I let my fairly strenuous exercise routine go down the tubes. Now I ache a lot and have gotten quite lazy. The result is a very tight body that isn’t terribly flexible. Though I still do my morning walks with the dogs, I haven’t kept up with longer walks by myself. I have added a restorative yoga class to my week and still go to my regular yoga class, and pilates workout. That’s all well and good, but if I don’t practice this stuff every day and continue to walk, it doesn’t help much. So moving, straightening out the kinks, and stretching muscles I haven’t used in a while is what I tend to do these days.

I love this poem my brother, Zed, recently wrote. I resonate with it because as I get older and try to clean up some of the stuff in my life, like finishing pieces of writing or paintings, I get distracted by the littlest things. Like watching a pair of catbirds feasting on Oregon Grape berries just outside my window. Moments like that are captivating.

I don’t like rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off. It isn’t good for the soul, my connections to other people, or the natural world. I’m moving more slowly like a tortoise.  Didn’t she win out over the hare in their race even though she was very slow?

Here is Zed’s poem:

So, How is it ?

How is it ?
I have a long list
Of letters never sent?
Combing through old emails
I learn to stuff them into multitudes
Of electronic departments of this life we have.
As if this helps me learn life’s lessons.
So, how is it?
The door knocks, dog barks, phone rings,
Or siren wails through the window.
Easy distractions with important moments to reflect or forget.

Zed Zabski
To Joan, April 26, 2017

So, how is it with you?

Promise And Possibility

Doing simple knee exercises in the kitchen.

Doing simple knee exercises in the kitchen.

It’s mid-January in a brand-spanking new year and oh my, I smell promise and possibility in the air. The aroma of pine left over from the holidays is gone. In it’s place is a freshness I haven’t been aware of since Bill started having knee problems eleven months ago when he was rehearsing for a role in a local production of the Fantastiks. Because of his pain he had to give up his role at the very last minute. Needless to say it was a big disappointment for my Sweet William, and 2015 became The Year of the Knee filled with frequent long waits in doctor’s offices with little to show for it.

After a week at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, last August, it became undeniably apparent that the knee would need to be replaced. At seventy-five years of age, Bill had never been in a hospital except to be born and as a tiny kid to have his tonsils out. So for him, spending time in a hospital and being cut open was a frightening prospect. October and November found us checking out two surgeons who came highly recommended, one at UVA Medical Center and the other at our new, private, award-winning hospital, named for Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha.

We made appointments with both doctors and saw the one at UVA first. Even though Bill really wanted to go with Dr. Swanson at Martha Jefferson, he signed up for a December first surgery date at UVA because the pain was getting worse and interfering with his ability to be completely involved in his life. We also knew that getting a surgery date in the near future with Dr. Swanson would be difficult because of her sterling reputation.

But in early November we saw Dr. Swanson and even though the earliest surgery date she could give Bill was in late January, there was no question as to who would do the surgery. Dr. Swanson, is known for her success with replacing knees and how quickly her patients get back to living life to the fullest. Because she doesn’t cut any muscle, and the knee replacement parts are custom made for each person, there is less time spent in the OR than there would have been had he gone to UVA. As the holidays approached and Bill was having more difficulty than ever moving around, and Dr. Swanson’s team called with a new date: January 4th.

We arrived at the hospital at 7 AM on that given day. In the OR at 10 AM, Bill was awake and in his room by 1:30 PM. Bill was smiling and relieved when I found him in his room. That afternoon he walked to the bathroom with the aid of a walker and nurse. The next day, he took a good walk down the hall, before participating in an hour-and-a-half long physical therapy session. He did all of that again in the afternoon and afterwards was told he could go home. Exhausted, he decided to wait until the following day, and after repeating the same two PT classes came home to his own bed the next afternoon.

A visiting nurse came once a day for three days to check his wound and a physical therapist came for seven days to keep him moving. Last Wednesday when that service ended he went out for physical therapy and greatly impressed the therapist, with whom he’d checked in before surgery. He’ll be doing that twice a week for several more weeks. At home he’s moving about the house with a cane, but still uses his walker when he goes out. The therapist said that he’s doing great and that maybe he’d be driving sooner rather than later. Watch out world. This guy has been down for almost a year. The places he will go!

I’m doing well, and happy to be getting back into a routine in my studio. PTSD comes back to haunt me now and again when I’m stressed and this occasion was no exception. Memories of my mother’s hospital visits and her behavior colored my thinking. But now at least I know what is happening and know what I have to do in order to stay on the bright side of things.

I’m back to posting my usual Tuesday morning blogs again, along with a newsletter on February first. The book is in good hands. I’ve selected the cover and will reveal it later when everything is completely certain. I plan on revamping my website and finishing the filing of extraneous papers that are still sitting around in various piles around the studio.

In the meantime I’m enjoying the very early blooming of the beautiful hellebores in myIMG_0094 garden and taking walks in the neighborhood earlier in the morning as the days lengthen. My sympathetic knee pain is gone and with Bill being a Super Hero and doing most things for himself again, I returned to pilates and yoga classes this week. I also had a massage.

Even with all the cold and possible snow later in the week, Spring is on its way. The best is yet to come!

The Necessity Of Water

“Happy is he who is awakened by the cool song of the stream, by a real voice of living nature. Each new day for him has the quality of birth.”
Gaston Bachelard

The South Fork Rivanna River

The South Fork Rivanna River

I’ve always been drawn to the water. Living on Long Island as a kid I was at the beach almost every day during the summer months. My last home there was located on a high tide inlet where, despite my difficult teen years, the presence of the water helped with my constant anxiety. We had a small skimmer with an outboard motor, behind which I learned to waterski. We gathered clams, oysters, and mussels that thrived in the sand, or the rocks along the shore. My youngest brother, Reid, a born naturalist, constantly wore a life preserver before he could swim. He caught tiny crabs and any other creatures he found in tide pools. We filled a glass tank with salt water from the sound and populated it with starfish, barnacles, clams, snails, small fish, and a host of other creatures we caught in our own watery back yard.

When I moved to Vermont after I graduated from high school, I missed the salt air, but there were plenty of lakes, ponds, and streams to jump into. And later here in Virginia I would spend ten years living on the banks of the South Fork Rivanna River. My mother spent most of her last seven years living there with Bill and me. Watching the daily movements and moods of the river, the birds, beavers, and otters kept me from totally losing my mind as I tried to help make Mom’s life as painless as possible. I know it also helped her and Bill as well.

Getting out on the water in my kayak was always a blessing. Alone in the sunshine, I often just drifted along, taking deep breathes. Some mornings found me totally overwhelmed not knowing how to manage my own life while taking care of Mom. I’d simply sit in my tiny yellow boat, head bowed to my lap, crying. Back on land, I felt peaceful, and knew the steps I had to take in order to make things somewhat easier, at least for the moment.

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Last week I heard a fascinating interview with Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On , or Underwater Can Make You Happier. He proves what I’ve always intuitively known about water, but always thought it was just me … that the activity of our brain actually changes when we are close to or on water. Just listening to waves crash to shore can be a cure-all.

I was reminded of the week I recently spent on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Bill and I stayed in a rental home directly on the sound where I watched a great blue heron fishing each morning. We saw magnificent sunsets in the evening and twice a day, I took my dogs, Sam and Max for an ocean side beach walk, where they explored and rolled in all of the luscious, smelly things that had washed up on the shore. There were no deadlines, no phone calls, no have-to-do-now-things to keep me from just letting go. Without any effort, I slipped into a completely relaxed mode. I took naps. I ate seafood. I read books, and sat on the shore watching the water. I wanted to stay there forever.

It had been several years since our last vacation by the sea and I’d been feeling a pressing need to get to the water where I knew I’d be able to let go and untangle my thoughts and feelings about what was happening in my life. When I returned home, I was a completely new person, full of energy and ready to jump back into life.

Now reading Nichols’ book, I know that being on the water is a basic necessity for everyone, even if it’s only for one day or an hour. Just as our bodies need to rest, we absolutely must allow our brains to switch channels and rest. Nichols shows that soaking in a tub, or swimming in a pool can do the same thing for the brain as the ocean.

We spent 9 months adrift and growing in our mothers’ watery wombs. Without it we wouldn’t be alive. If we don’t continuously hydrate our bodies, we die. Taking time  to be near or in the water is the natural thing to do. Without that we’ll certainly have a much more difficult life.

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I finished up this visual journal piece while I was at the beach and later posted it in my first newsletter. I had painted the pages before I left for the Outer Banks, not knowing that they were illustrating my overwhelming  need to be near the water.

How does water fit into your life?

My next free newsletter will be sent out on November 1st.  To have it automatically delivered to your inbox sign up at the top of the page on the right hand side. Simply enter your first name and email address which always remain private, then click go.  

Do You Take Time For Self Care?

Feeling Crappy!

How I look when I’m feeling crappy!

When I took a long break from social media this past winter I found there was a good reason to have the extra time to just plain deal with life. That was when Bill’s knee blew out and I needed the extra time to take care of him. He is slowly improving after his surgery to repair a torn meniscus and to remove the arthritis that had been building up in the knee. But he still isn’t 100%. His doctors are telling him it’ll be another four or five months before he’ll be back to normal. So he goes to the gym, works out on a recumbent bike to keep his muscles working and puts up with feeling frustrated and the almost continuous pain.

Our acceptance of what seems like a major intrusion in our lives is growing and we’ve settled in, taking the summer one day at a time. This week he went off to Ukulele Camp in North Carolina. He drove himself down there stopping every hour or so to keep his knee working. He’ll be bringing home new tunes with which to serenade me and hopefully this adventure will help with his frustration level. Yes, our minds needs care, too.

Now after another three week break, I’m back. It was a much needed time in which I took care of some loose odds and ends I’d been ignoring … like the chronic pain I’ve been experiencing for years and my sometimes complete exhaustion. I am one of those women who takes care of everyone around her but herself, though now those lessons are beginning to take hold.

After spending almost two years watching my daughter deal with Chronic Lyme disease and feeling helpless because I couldn’t help her in any way, I finally caved into the fact that my symptoms were very similar to hers. Because I didn’t have major deadlines for a while, I decided to go see the Lyme Disease specialist here in Charlottesville. It turns out I do have Lyme Disease, along with the Epstein Barr virus, a parasite in my gut, and Adrenal Fatigue.

Finally knowing why I’ve been feeling so crappy has been a blessing. I must say I had an inkling of what my problem was. But still the aha moment was dizzying and very much needed. My unpredictable joint and muscle pains had been getting worse, along with headaches, and lots of brain fog. I needed long naps in the afternoons so that I could stay awake in the evenings. No amount of yoga, pilates, massage and chiropractic helped.  I pictured Bill and myself limping into the future unable to take care of each other.

IMG_1626But the news is good and I’m already beginning to feel like my old self. I’m on a homeopathic protocol. My joint pain is gone, as are the headaches. Though I still have a few sore muscles, I have much more energy and little brain fog. This week will be the third week of eight that I will spray a number of different homeopathic remedies under my tongue three times a day. I will then go to using the sprays twice a day for another eight weeks, and then go to once a day, until I meet to discuss the outcome with my care-giver. That I’ve been gluten free for several years and have recently gone lactose free has helped a lot. Most of the time I watch my sugar intake and try to keep added sugars to a bare minimum, using only honey once in a while. It’s been pretty easy. Though I miss ice cream and cheese, I’ve taken to having one or two pieces of dark chocolate when I’m feeling starved for the things I’m not supposed to eat.

I’ve always vowed I would not allow myself to become what I call a Rocking Chair Granny, unable to do much but rock on her front porch watching the world go by. When I go down I want to be doing something I love to do, still filled with curiosity and the need to learn and experience everything that excites me.

I’ve been at work, too.  I finished rereading my manuscript and sent it off for its copyedit last week, have finished reading a number of books, and am ready to go back to doing some serious work. The big difference between then and now is that I’m listening to my body and giving myself lots of time to let is rest, eat well, and get exercise.  Those things are at the very top of my What is Important list.

When was the last time you gave yourself some time to just be and see how you are feeling? Do you have a list of your most important things to take care of?

The Stigma Of “Crazy”

Out Birding.

Bird Watching

Word has it that I’m a little crazy. Admittedly, I’m different from a lot of other people, but you’re different from everybody else, too. We can all come up with some crazy ideas. They may be foolish, idiotic, silly, farcical, laughable, nonsensical, or half-baked, but everyone gives birth to them and it doesn’t mean that we’re all mentally deranged.

I do go by the name Batty, sometimes. That’s what my grandchildren call me. My nieces call me Aunt Batty. It started when my granddaughter Zoe, now fourteen, started to talk. I don’t know why she started calling me Batty, but it stuck and is quite an apt name. I much prefer it to Granny, Grammy, or Nana.

To me, Batty simply means different. I may be what others call ditzy or eccentric, but I’m not unhinged. I’m dissimilar to many, but we are all different from one another. Janet, down the street, has red hair and thinks vanilla ice-cream is to die for. John, over on Main, has black hair and loves to skydive. They may be poles apart when it comes to religion and politics.  They are both individuals.

Some of us are more open than others and some of us are happier than others. Some people suffer from depression. Others might be bipolar, or possibly, schizophrenic. They are not crazy. They have a mental illness that in most cases is treatable, just like TB, cancer, or the common cold.

When I was small, the talk amongst family members was that my grandmother on my mother’s side was “crazy.” She apparently did some horrible things that no one ever talked about and was eventually found to be an unfit mother. She became the big, dark family secret. Everyone whispered about her and some wouldn’t talk about her at all. They seemed to think that if anyone mentioned her in public, the neighbors would find out that she was insane and shun the whole family. It was all about how they looked in other peoples eyes.

I was never told what her mental health issues were or if she was ever treated. But as a kid, I adored her. I didn’t get to see her very often, but when I did, I thought she was funny, loving, and an original. Her hair was short, frizzy and dyed a strawberry blond color. She laughed a lot in a loud kind of way and had canaries in cages all over her house. I didn’t believe what everyone said about her. But as I got older and my mother told me a few stories about her, I knew she was mentally ill.

As someone who has often struggled with depression and anxiety disorder, I sometimes thought I might have inherited my grandmother’s problems. I was ashamed and feared that someone might discover I was crazy, mad, cuckoo, loony, or wacko. For me that translated into being, “ A bad and worthless person.” My father’s parents knew about Grandma, and delighted in telling my mother that, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” Because of their cruelty, I’m sure my mother felt great shame and worthlessness.

I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD because of childhood abuse. My father had it as a result of his experiences fighting in World War II. My mother came from an abusive home and she most likely had it, too. They were not crazy, nor am I.

In seeking treatment I’ve worked long and hard to minimize my symptoms by understanding how the brain changes when a person is abused. I know that recovery is possible and can provide us with happy and peace filled lives. Sure, I can still get depressed or have a panic attack, but I know what to do to make myself feel better.

Hiding mental illness by sweeping it under the carpet or making cruel judgments about it, only makes the stigma worse. In todays world, many with mental illness are beginning to speak out about their problems, their need for support, and proper care.

 Let’s stand tall to end the stigma of “crazy” together. Speak out. If you struggle with mental illness seek treatment. You have nothing to be ashamed of.