Thursday, April 26, 2012

Healing by the Season

It’s been about ten weeks since they sawed a piece of my skull out and entered my brain with a knife, and recovering has been AMAZING, like an early spring. After stubbornly facing brain surgery even when it was very scary, it has been astounding how fast feeling good, even better, returned, after years of feeling mediocre. I don’t have the endless low-grade headache anymore. I can affirm I’ve already lost ten pounds only because I don’t feel the need to energize myself with food anymore. My hair fell out last fall like leaves off an aspen in October, and it is now growing back like the leaves on an aspen in spring, all at once. I’m the star patient of my doctors, an affirmation that they did the right thing.

In the same ten weeks spring sprang on us ravenously and rapidly. Such an early spring that nations are sneezing all around the northern hemisphere.  We struggle to fully enjoy it when concerns about a dry summer rise, and fires are already cropping up like the best produce offered this year. It seems that this is the perfect metaphor for my healing experience. It is nearly impossible to say, “too much, too soon,” but it looms.

I remember this particular early crocus from my miraculous recovery: we were all a chatter of excitement about my return from the land of the dead after my surgery, and it was ravishing! Just like before the evidence of any spring blossoms or greening up even at the edge of a sidewalk, the birds knew everything was going to be all right, we also knew that my brain made it through the roughest patch. Lots of chirping.  Ah. This was one of the happiest moments of my life so far. It didn’t matter that there was still snow here and there. Even though there were the few things I needed to straighten out along the way all that really mattered was that I could bask in consciousness. I could walk, talk and even write somewhat. The birds returned.

Then the amazing buds arrived as I began walking my dog, Lucille, around the trails, and the days became longer, and the sun became warmer. As my body returned to functioning, I was overwhelmed by the beauty around me to the point that I saw shapes, forms, colors as never before and felt the need to begin expressing them as shapes, forms and colors of pastel on paper. The buds blossomed and the drawings blossomed and it was gorgeous inside and outside of my brain. It was one tree after another, one painting after another and the birds upped their ante and sang for connections, and so did I.

It was a thrill to feel better, so much so that when invited to do something that I’d been saying, “No, can’t do that now,” for six months, I struggled to hesitate at all and often slipped into saying, “Yes! Yes, please!” It would have been impossible for the crab apple trees to second-guess their beautiful early blossoms. Wouldn’t it? I simply bloomed with, “Yes,” to everything that was offered at first, until the storm arrived and blew the energy of my artwork out the door because there were other things I’d promised. The wind and sleet blew all of the crab apple trees’ blossoms off before the bees and butterflies made it out of hibernation. I felt sorry for the trees, and this caused me some vague self-pity too. I felt concerned that, perhaps, I should have paid attention to the doctors who urged me to take things slowly.  Yet, I wanted to live up to what I had committed to somehow. It felt unnatural to say, “No,” anymore, even though I was often embarrassed by the result of “phenomenal me” disintegrating. How to stop bursting back, I wondered?

Still, it isn’t exactly like I was returned to mediocrity exactly, any more than the trees sucked in their buds for a later date that would have been healthier. It was some other disconnect. For instance, I’m a good cook and so, almost immediately on release from the hospital, I started cooking for my husband and family and was greatly relieved that I could pick this up where I left off, to the point where I backed away from the help offered me by others. Another early blossom? Yes. Oops. I was like a two year old saying, “I do it myself!”

Now, when my children ask me a question, or I get an idea to write a poem or draw a picture, my attention shifts from cooking COMPLETELY. I burn dinner. I simply forget I am cooking dinner. I can’t say that never happened before brain surgery. I can only say that it was not often, and now it is often. It ain’t incense. I realize late that the lovely assistance of having people help me to cook had nothing to do with my cooking abilities, but with the ability of my brain to focus on more than one thing at a time. I feel silly about asking for help when I am often fine, and unpredictable in my “need” mode, and so it boils down to something else, too.

What do I give my attention to? Necessities? Expressions? Requests? Questions? Decisions? Bah! At least, I am sleeping through the night again.

Kim the Knowing

Multi-tasking turns out to be impossible at the moment. This spring has been strange with all the trees blooming at once somehow, and for me explosions of poetry and the ability to read more than a paragraph and DRIVING my car again happened to me all at once. Oh man. Driving. It is so gratifying to be able to go to pick my kids up from school, to go to the grocery store again when I forgot to buy something (so very often). The trees get their leaves, and  I get my responsibilities.

My concern rises again: Where are the bees?  Normally it is too early to be buzzing around efficiently. They’re just now emerging from their hives a month after all the blossoms. I have seen only one butterfly and the lilacs are in full bloom. The lawns mowed now, but the mountains’ snow is already running down to ponds in a sorry manner so that I see geese and ducks fighting each other for the right to lay their eggs at the few sustainable places. Life cannot happen all at once. I am also the most gigantic spring sneeze I can remember, as I collapse every few days from this, yes,  too-much-too-soon scenario.

Grasping for relief I ask myself, what could I calm down reasonably? I noticed the birds were calmer during mid-day. Not so much chatter. What were they doing? I found that they were nesting. There were the birds flying by with twigs and grass from last year in their little beaks. No time to talk. I followed their direction. Stop chatting so much! I apologize. I have to stop talking all day and focus on building my creations, and this is a huge leap for me into a new state of being. It means I don’t just lay my eggs (my creations) along the way, leave them there for another chance. Actually I create a safe place for them to develop and stay with them until they hatch. Hawks spending chunks of time surfing on the warm funnels of air that rise from the fields give me perspective to see the big picture and not just temporary glories. Maybe if I focused on creating quietly and in a self-protected zone during the day, then I could actually start cooking dinner at 5 pm. Well, it is a thought at least.

Meanwhile the lawn-mowing has brought up a new realization. Summer is almost here. There will be days of tending to things and days where nothing will be tended, and my husband will be out of town for work, and it will be hot and slow. There is only so much time for each thing when only one thing can be done at a time. My kids are growing up so fast. Complexities must be abandoned now. I simply must say, “no,” and clip back at the incredible desire to say “yes” to everything with the understanding this will keep the growth fresh for a while longer.

Maybe it was the scare of having an arrow fly through my life, a brain tumor, and the joy that  life blooms here now. I know it is possible for me to focus only on my own priorities: my creative projects, my family and my time.  Yes, there are going to be fewer blooms, but timed for fruit-bearing pollination hopefully.  

I am improving at the artificial life tests thrust at me by the Universe to see if I know what I know. I see the familiar comfort they offer -- those old ways of pleasing others with predictable patterns, so many blushes of color, guaranteed to squeeze out some approval. I see how that serves no purpose in the long-run. This time I bloomed wildly and early, and I know why. I’ve seen what happens when I walk right into what I fear, and it is good.   There is no pity in the lessons of early spring, the mistakes and sneezes, the blooming gorgeousness. There is no pity knowing it will pass into a summer that will require attention and focus like no other. To every season, turn, turn, turn….

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What’s sitting at the Head of the Table in You?

This is week seven of recovering from brain surgery.  In the last few weeks I’ve seen the neurologist, the neurosurgeon, the osteopath and the dentist.  I’ve pulled a little dissolving thread from my head that I didn’t even know was there.  I’ve talked to some folks who’ve been down this road. I’ve been coming to terms with some different concepts in the last ten days or so about what denotes “recovered” and what is a work in progress and let go of knowing what's around the corner.
Road of Pearls

I can report that the neurologist and the neurosurgeon are very pleased with my progress. The wound is pretty much healed now and my hair has grown back around it to “tuft” level. I’m taking pain relievers only once or twice a day and just at an over-the-counter dose now. My headaches have lightened up to a weight that is often lighter than they were for years prior to the diagnosis and surgery, spiking only with weather changes and allergy season. I even think I realigned my jaw, with the help of the osteopath, by yawning incessantly for a few days to the point where the throbbing pain, that sent me to the dentist in a panic about potential root canals, has diminished.

What I have been bothered by is much more subtle than the physical symptoms that dominated my concerns for months, and has shifted my ideas about where I might be headed to, to definitely not knowing. These trends emerging within myself are both amazingly cheerful, and dismally fearful, and seem to lead to new revelations of self-definition on a daily basis.

I’ve been focusing on the ends of the spectrum in my thoughts about it: expectancy and curiosity, blind spots and mindfulness; holding on and letting go; order and chaos, and lucidity and imagination. For instance, when my expectations fade away almost thoughtlessly, my curiosity rises and becomes the leader. When simply knowing what to do next is absent from my table, there is my imagination mysteriously sitting near the head with new ideas.

If you read “My Stroke of Insight,” or see the TED video by Harvard Neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., this can be intellectually understood. In fact, I thought that at some level there would be a rebalancing of brain use from the left side to the right side while I healed from surgery. I just didn't know what it would be like. Since my tumor was caught early, upon a partial aphasia seizure rather than the complete wipe out that Dr. Taylor suffered with an aneurysm, I thought it would be a minor thing, and maybe it is a minor thing. I still recognize words and numbers, faces and signs after all. I know where I am. I know the people around me, unlike her experience where she could not even recognize her own mother. I haven’t had any trouble walking, and I’ve even been given the go ahead to drive again because it has been 6 months (October 2, 2011) since I was diagnosed as having had a partial seizure.

Still, the rebalance act has surprised me in many ways. I promised to write about nerves and tears and it is more than that. Let's just start there though. When I cry, I expect tears to come out of both eyes, but I find now that only the right eye responds to my feelings of joy or sadness. My left eye is completely tearless and neutral and that causes me to stop and notice it, and when I stop and notice that my left eye is neutral, often my entire emotional experience drains out of me. My curiosity is stronger than my emotions or my expectations suddenly.

The important absence of a single tear  has switched the power of my own responses in a way I never guessed it would. I don’t feel I’ve been robbed of my feelings so much as I feel that they are less necessary than they once were, because now instead of dragging on for hours or days, they come and go quite quickly, like the weather I always swore they were because I’m no longer totally invested in them, whether with resistance or permission. As I’ve become used to having no tears in my left eye, I’ve been more aware the intellectual rejection of my cry has gone now too because I know without doubt it will pass. Now I cry until I cannot sustain that feeling. When there is no logical resistance, or guilty thinking, I go deeper into an awareness of what brought me to tears in the first place in that moment, right away.

Here is an example of how it works. I’m feeling frustrated about writing at the moment. It’s taken days and days of thinking to write about how this rebalance is occurring, and even more challenging is dealing with metaphors that appear as pictures in my brain but don’t travel over to the word side of my brain as easily as they have in the past. I find I want to draw a picture instead of stitching together two ideas with words in hopes that someone understands what I’m getting at. I’m even having trouble reading more than a paragraph at a time. I recognize the words, but they're just a jumble and I have to take it slowly to really understand them. Everything about words has slowed down incredibly in a period of my life when I deeply wanted to be making progress.

I was looking forward to purchasing a book of poetry by a wonderful poet in Denmark, Bo Gorzelak Pedersen, (more to be found at Red Door) and there have been delays and I was sad about it (though he promises that the book will happen and to be patient).  I was sad and I could only tie it to my desire to get back into reading and writing by focusing on something new that I know I will enjoy and I selfishly told him so. Then he posted this poem, and I burst into right-sided tears upon reading it…

By Bo Gorzelak Pedersen

Night like an absence of music, 
just a hole for your eyes and the creeping ivy gone black.
Unfamiliar things and things not forgotten, unforgettable things,
it’s the same skin for it all. Echoes of fading and fading echoes.
No reasons why and no why. No multitudes. Nada.
Only what was chewed and spat and left
for the slowest of winds to collect. 
I am trying to read a poem, but it makes no sense.
I can do nothing but shadows.

Immediately, I noticed the lack of left-sided tears and next the right-sided tears disappeared, and I was left with a neutral feeling that I must use it as an example of exactly what’s going on, finally, a way to explain the switch I am experiencing.  Before I would have read it, hailed it as wonderful and felt compelled to go write something. Whether inspired or competitive, his writing has done that to me in the past because I admire its grace and bull's eye. While wishing that I could have written something like it, knowing it is out of range for me right now, I now really wanted to make a picture of this GHOST. I may indeed.

However, I started this blog all over again.  After all, as I said, I am able to see everything that I saw before surgery; it’s just that I can’t express it as I would like to express it. Everything is too formal, too rhyming, too disconnected between imagery and words…but here is this poem by Mr. Pedersen…and it collected the shadows of days when it was connected, when I could enjoy chasing the discombobulated image rising with words that made sense, and I could cry with overwhelmed feelings and no neutrality entering the picture for hours, or days, or months. Like a baby with no tears I recover quickly. This poem captured for me what I cannot seem to capture right now – echoes of fading and fading echoes. It’s all I can absorb when it comes to words, no matter how many times I re-read and re-write. A poem like this engulfs me with a feeling of being recognized, known, and I want to hold it and express it like I'd imagine a ghost wants to hold the material world it drifts through. I find that is more likely with an oil pastel than with my keyboard presently, because I'm lately unclear about what I want to write, even right now.

There’s more to say, or write, but I feel like already I’ve gone on much longer than I would have before.  Suffice it to say that the neurosurgeon said it would take time to reintegrate my right and left brain, to get the nerves in my face out of a state of Novocain, to develop tears in my left eye. How much time? Up to two years. The neurologist told me that in spite of the external signs of healing, the inside of my brain has essentially been hit with a hatchet, and I need to learn some patience. 

Two years is the subtle, or not so subtle, indication that my writing is going to focus on small challenges for a while longer in order to integrate things that used to seem easy to me – words and images, feelings and metaphors, whether to use "at" or "for,"  "when" or "where" and to enjoy the flow of ideas. I’m reading the dictionary and the grammar books. I’m returning to basics to find the difference between “since” and “sense” and “they’re” and “there” as my fingers act like the auto-corrections on my smart phone and drop in “like” when I meant “lost”. The huge projects I’ve worked on in the past simply overwhelm me. A sentence is a good challenge…to write simply without so many words (could I have just written – to write simply?). A poem is even better, though it is more challenging, and so I'll be focusing on other Kosmic Egg and Kosmic Egg Tarot sites, and come here less often because right now it feels like a lot.

Finally, I’ll let Curiosity remain at the head of my table now and let Expectations drop to the side, in between Imagination and Patience.