Life, Concentrated: How Tragedy Can Connect Us to Potency & Beauty.

I am laying in my bed in an empty house. These rooms are quiet, and the darkness of everything around me would indicate that I should be sleeping, but my mind and heart are exhilarated. I am alive. I am potent. I feel concentrated. My senses are aflame.

For months, I’ve wanted to write about everything that I’ve experienced as a result of Patrick’s traumatic brain injury.  But of course, I was too busy living it to write about it. Tonight, I want to share where I’m at right now, and maybe some day soon I can tell the amazing story of the past 3 months.

I struggle with an ability to comprehend all that has happened in such a short time. It’s been 88 days. That’s 2,112 hours. 126,720 minutes. 7, 603, 2000 seconds of my life that I’ve spent deep within his recovery. I feel as if I’ve died, been born, grown up, aged and died at least 5x in that short time span. Before Patrick’s accident, I was just going about my life, living day in and day out, and for the most part only expressing gratitude when all was well. When I found myself in the wake of the atom bomb of his TBI, I hung my head in envy of the clumsy, sleepy, somewhat dissatisfied people who were complaining about mundane things like rush-hour traffic, their favorite show being cancelled on TV, a spouse forgetting to do the dishes or leaving their hair in the drain. After all, I used to be a sleepy, somewhat dissatisfied person myself. I remember thinking that I never knew how truly fantastic it all was, until I had something devastating consuming my life. One thing was for certain, I would’ve given anything to go back to the way it was before.

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But that was not an option for me. Instead, my life became a super-charged, emotional roller coaster ride of love and pain, where every moment of the day my heart was ready to burst out of my chest. At night I’d collapse with exhaustion, but never really rest. My body was hijacked by my emotions. My thoughts were not altogether rational. My mind reached a point where it became too fuzzy to process information, so I rode purely on what my heart and body could produce to keep me moving forward.

I lived in hospitals. I lost track of what day it was, and whether it was nighttime or daytime. There came a point early on when I thought I couldn’t survive it; that I wasn’t strong enough to handle it. But then somehow, something powerful took over, and I received access to this volcano of hot, molten passion inside me. It erupted and began to flow forth, covering every thought of fear and weakness and worry with a cool, rock-solid resolve.

As I gave myself over to the all-consuming task of care taking, something wonderful and totally unexpected took place. I became a part of a miracle. I was given new eyes to witness the world with, and as a result, everything felt clean and renewed. To think I’d lost someone I loved, and then to slowly watch him come back to life, was like watching the genesis of a universe every day. I saw supernovas and galaxies when Patrick opened his eyes, the sun and moon recreated when he first laughed, rivers running freely when he recognized me, and rock and stone crushed into beautiful beaches when he first said my name. And as his speech continues to improve, and his language returns, that world keeps growing in detail and splendor. His brain injury is like a distorted filter that this world operates through, and his words are also filtered by that injury. Yet every time we speak, that filter disappears a bit more than the day before, and Patrick comes more into focus.

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And this is how it was, week in and month out, as I was changed by it all without every really noticing. Until finally tonight, I found myself in bed giddy and restless about Patrick’s return home tomorrow. Unable to sleep, I suddenly realized that I don’t envy the sleepy, somewhat dissatisfied people anymore. In fact, I realized that I didn’t ever want to return to that world I once lived…where beauty is too often missed, and trappings of ingratitude are all too prevalent. Living, being a human being, is about experiencing life in its most potent form, which mean that the good and bad, and bitter and sweet are ours to savor. I see now that the suffering I’ve witnessed and experienced has been matched these past months by the agonizing, haunting, transformative beauty of it all. I am better for it, and dare I say Patrick will be too. The energy of living, this life-force around us, has been crushed into a concentrate.. and injected into my heart.  I’m not just breathing. I am living. 

Tonight, on the evening before he boards a plane home to me, he laid in the dark of his hospital room, and I laid in the dark of my childhood bedroom, (the same dark room that two 16-year-olds once filled with talks of childish dreams and sexual tension). After a long silence, he opened his mouth and said…”I want you to know, that I’m alive because of you.”

All the creatures of our new world, every planet and thicket echoed his words. I clutched the phone to my chest, crying, and realized that there was only one thing left to say. So I put the phone back to my mouth and spoke.

“No, my love. I’m alive because of you.”

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Gluten-Free Me, and Why You Should Do a Gluten-Free You

Today I was in the supermarket in the GF aisle, when an ignorant man who had a box of “ho ho’s” in his hand, began making fun of us “dopes” who had been “duped” by the latest diet fad. “You dopes are duped by everything and anything,” he said. “Slap a healthy label on something, jack the price up 50% and you’re in!” I can’t speak for the others, but I was pretty offended. No one asked him for his opinion – he wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, but rather just to the three of us who were pulling food off the shelf.

Only those close to me know this, but I was sick most of my life. Ask anybody who knew me growing up, and they will tell you that I had a very weak immune system. In just about every picture from my childhood, I have a tissue in hand and a red, sore nose. Sinus infections, flu, strep throat – if it came down the pike, I caught it, and then it took me FOREVER to get better. People would talk about being sick and then well in a few days, and it shocked me! I’d be on my 2nd antibiotic two weeks in, and two months later I’d still be wrestling with the same bug. By the time I became an adult, I’d taken so many antibiotics that they didn’t even work for me anymore.

In my twenties I remember being exhausted all the time, and wondering how my young friends could go on no sleep day after day. I could never get enough rest. I developed a whole host of digestive troubles, gained a ton of weight (and tried to diet constantly but had a difficult time losing weight), migraines, skin troubles, hormonal problems, and got diagnosed with a bunch of things, to name a few… adrenal stress syndrome, leaky gut, IBS, and PCOS.

I went to a nutritionist at 23 who took a sample of my blood and told me my white blood cells were “immobilized” and barely moving. She said that they were working hard at trying to clean up all the yeast in my system. She then put me on a very strict diet that cleared up just about everything in 3 months, but the diet was totally unsustainable. (I was allowed to eat like some sprouts, a green drink, and I think almonds? Anyway, you get the picture). A few years later another health guru told me I had “adrenal stress syndrome” – which meant my adrenals had gone completely kaput. I wondered to myself.. what the jiggidy jazz was up with my immune system? Why was it such a drag? I sought out a “real” doctor to figure out what my autoimmune issues were about, but he told me it was genetic, and essentially had no idea.

By the time I turned 30, my digestive problems were so bad that I could hardly eat anything without pain. I got used to living this way, and carried over-the-counter stomach meds with me everywhere, but nothing helped. I would sometimes lay in agony in my bed after eating just a few swallows of food, but this reality had become normal to me. The truth was, I was sick all the time. Then last year, my mother who had developed serious digestive problems quickly over a few months, was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease. Knowing that this was a genetic illness but unable to afford the test, I finally in July of last year, on blind-faith alone, went on a wheat-free, gluten-free diet.

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It’s been 6 months since I went GF, and I just want to say that my health has DRAMATICALLY improved. For the first time in my adult life, I have energy, and lots of it. I can push my body much harder. I notice that it can handle the stress without collapsing, and I can go 5 or 6 nights on little to no sleep and still function like a normal person. When I get tired it feels like NORMAL tired, not drop-down, kill-me-now, can’t drag my body from the couch tired. I realize that what I felt like “rested” most of my life is now what I feel like when I’m tired!! The inflammation in my hip from my labral tear is greatly reduced, and it barely bothers me anymore. I have zero digestive problems. I have not had one migraine. I have lost 30 lbs. I have not been sick once. It’s been amazing to watch people get sick around me, and be the last one to get a sniffle, which then never materializes into anything beyond a slight, general feeling of malaise. I still shake my head in disbelief that I spent my entire life sick and all I needed to do was change what I was eating.

So you know what? Go ahead and call me a duped-dope, dude, but I’m 100% sold on a GF diet. I believe that gluten and wheat were responsible for my auto-immune issues, just as the following article professes.  To all of you still on the fence…take a glimpse at this article – I believe that in a few years the research will prove what me and other Celiac patients know is true… which is that I was a sick, sick girl and now…my body is finally healing.The proof for me is in the (GF) pudding.

You stick to your ho-hos and doritos buddy, but this morning I easily zipped up a dress for my cousin’s wedding, that I fell in love with in July and at that time, could barely pour myself into.  I am never, ever, EVER going back. Here’s to a clean, GF, healthy 2014!

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Have RV, Will Travel! (Part 1) – “Picking Up The Trek”

When my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m, November 22, 2013, in a cheap motel in Delray, Florida, my eyes shot open like cannons that had been poised to fire for hours. I ran my fingers through my hair, slathered make-up across my tired face (in a failed attempt to look less a wreck than the last 12 days had left me), checked out, and drove in the dark to the airport. I returned my car, found my gate, and sucked down the biggest coffee I could find. I asked the teenager behind the counter at Starbucks if I could have an IV drip put in for the next few days so I could receive caffeine on-the-regular. It was now 5 am, and as she handed me my Venti with an expressionless face, I could tell she was not amused.

There’s nothing like being on a plane, especially when you have a heavy heart that needs lightening. And there’s nothing like being on an early morning flight. You feel your body lift as if some magical bird, up over the clouds, and the sun warms you through the window. As the altitude rose, and my back was pressed into the seat, my eyes fixated on the horizon, which looked like a canopy so full of promise and light. I thought about Heaven. I thought about God. I thought about my beloved. Then all at once, the image was blurred by tears.

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The owners of my RV, “The Mack’s” had already flown south for the winter, so their son Kevin picked me up and drove me the 40 miles to their 55 acre farm. I had a fleeting east-coast-mentality fear pass over me about getting in a car with a strange man I’d never met, but Kevin fit the stereotype of mid-west folks; charming, polite, salt-of-the-earth, and so nice that it was disarming. My RV appeared in the distance, a tiny speck, and as we approached their house, it grew in front of my eyes. I thought about how many times I’d dreamed of that moment, how hard I’d worked to raise $22,000, and how surreal it was under the circumstances to be finally picking it up and driving it home.

My heart raced as he opened the door to my Roadtrek and I stepped inside. I thought I was prepared for how small the RV was going to be, but as I opened the door and stepped inside it, my heart took a short walk off a tall pier and hit the water in shock….thinking… “Holy Moses, this thing is soooooo tiny!” I knew all along it was going to be 19 feet, but somehow… that just sounded bigger on paper. I’d purposefully chosen the smallest RV I could find, because all research pointed over and over again to the advice: DON’T BUY SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOU NEED. Still standing there, with the reality that I had just bought this Trek, I couldn’t help but ask myself what every newbie full-timer surely asks…”Could I really, actually, somehow live in this thing?”

Don’t get me wrong, the Trek is a feat of technological greatness. In just 19 feet they have a bed, shower, sink, stove, refrigerator, storage, and seats for up to 6 people. But in terms of “living space” its essentially your front of the car ( driving ), a 5-foot space for the kitchen and bathroom and “living area” (yea that’s shorter than I am) and then the bed. To put it more simply, its a van with all the essentials of home. You’re probably thinking, well, duh it’s a van.  How did this knowledge escape you, Anj? All I can say is, reality and dreams are not the same. And that’s probably why people avoid chasing a dream, because what you in the end “catch up to” is reality, and it’s sweeter than a dream because it’s real, but its’s also scarier.

My new girl is in great condition – she’s got just 29K miles on her even though she’s almost 11 years old! The outside is gorgeous. Everything runs great. On the inside she’s definitely in need of a face-lift, but all those aesthetic issues I’m sure can be resolved easily enough.

I handed over the last  cashier’s check of many, and felt the weight of the keys drop in my hand. After so many months of hard work, I finally let the feelings of accomplishment pour over me.  Note: I think this is a very important step in any goal-setting process. These moments are restorative and make goal-setting/reaching in the future easier, so be sure to bask the glow of your success when you reach a goal!

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I HAD DONE IT! I HAD PURCHASED A MOBILE HOME! SHE WAS ALL MINE! 

 ….Soon after, I was sitting on a 55 acre farm with the engine running, and the temperature outside quickly dropping, staring out at the vastness of land, suddenly paralyzed. The weight of the events of the past two weeks; lack of sleep, stress, lack of food, travel had finally caught up with me. I had planned to drive to Florida to be near my beloved, but again, reality was slapping my face silly.  I was out of money. My trek wasn’t outfitted for living in it. I had no work in Florida, no connections. Back home I had a chance to make $1,000 in a week if I didn’t cancel my gigs. I still had to get my Kickstarter gifts out to backers. I hadn’t answered an email in 15 days. The Trek wasn’t inspected or registered. I realized that going to Florida immediately wasn’t practical, and despite my emotions, I had to try to act logically and rationally. It took me 3 hours of sitting in his driveway, suffering from a pretty paralyzing panic attack to make the decision, but as the sun began setting, I finally put the car in drive and headed east.

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My adventure began in Holton, IN on a hunt for some much needed nourishment. I asked “Siri” on my phone to find me a restaurant, and quickly realized that Holton’s menu of culinary delights involved a McDonalds, a Wendy’s and a convenience store. I had to laugh thinking of how many times I complained that there was “nothing to do” in Atlantic City —what I wouldn’t have given for a PF Changs right about then! “Siri” told me there was a “Huang Dynasty” close by… but that quest led me to an abandoned road that only got more and more narrow and eventually turned into an ominous, totally creeptastic, dirt road.  I looked at my phone but naturally, had no service. Having not eaten in over 12 hours, I was not hitting on all keys or thinking before acting. I made the stupid mistake of  attempting to back up and do a K-turn, not thinking about the heaviness or girth of my new vehicle. I felt the tires dip down off the road into the cold, Indiana mud.

I tried to turn the vehicle around, but the wheels would not move. The sun was almost down now, and the only house around for miles was set off the road by several hundred feet, under a backdrop of a purple and cerulean sky. Getting out and surveying the damage, I quickly realized three things:

1) It was considerably colder than it had been an hour ago, and I did not have a coat, and LORD ALMIGHTY IT WAS SO FREAKING COLD.

2) My front wheels were on a dirt road, and the back were in somebody’s corn field.

3) Wasn’t this how any number of horror movies often begin???

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(cue the cliff-hanger music)…. What happens to our heroine? Is she forced to spend the Indiana night on a no-name road in Indiana? Does she make it out OK? Does she ever find Huang Dynasty and feast on ethnic delectables? Stay tuned for Part Two… where all present mysteries are revealed…