Sunday, November 30, 2014

Appreciation & Acceptance

Over the last two months, I have learned two very great lessons: both acceptance and appreciation must be a daily practice.

I have been saying the serenity prayer for many years. Every time I wake up, several times throughout the day and before I go to sleep and hell, just whenever I need it. (Serenity to accept, courage to change, wisdom to understand) And while it has helped me get through some tough times, I never truly understood its implications until recently.

After my "soul sucking summer from hell" whereby I was left destitute, depressed and battling weekly nervous breakdowns and persistant suicidal thoughts I decided to seek professional help for the second time in my life. I had seen a therapist once before after the Jan 2012 miscarriage, and while she helped me talk things out I never really felt like I had any "aha" moments with her. My new guy is quite good however, and one of my first epiphanies came during our third session when I was, once again, crying and complaining about my chronic health issues and how I was just feeling like a failure. I told him that I was trying to accept my condition and my life circumstances but it was hard. It was hard to accept chronic pain and chronic illness. And it seemed like the minute I accepted one aspect of my illness...BOOM...there was suddenly something ELSE I had to learn to deal with.

In the midst of my sniveling and crying, my therapist took a moment to interject. And what he said, changed my perspective completely. "Acceptance isn't something to get to. It's an ongoing, daily practice. A body builder doesn't work out just one day and says 'I'm done, I'm fit.' He/she has to workout every day. A musician practices every day. You have to practice acceptance every day. You have to make a conscious effort to accept, on a daily basis, maybe sometimes even on an hourly or minute by minute basis. It's a journey, a daily practice."

In that moment, I finally felt relieved. The pressure of "coming to acceptance" fell completely off my shoulders. I no longer felt like a failure for being angry or depressed about my condition. Feeling acceptance wasn't an end goal, but rather a choice. And I realized that some days I just wouldn't be as accepting as others, and ultimately that was ok.

Before this moment, I used to say the serenity prayer hoping it would lead me somewhere- lead me to peace and acceptance. (That, I now realize, was wrong). I now say the serenity prayer as a reminder to myself that acceptance is a daily practice, a daily struggle, a daily choice. Just like I take my pills on a daily basis to stay physically healthy, I need to accept my condition, my illness and my life on a daily basis in order to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is the major life lesson I learned while at my Gratitude Yoga Retreat at Retreat in the Pines earlier this month. (I highly recommend doing something like this for yourself at least once in your life)

I went on this retreat with a friend, in order to treat myself for the crazy and emotionally draining summer I had, and because, well I love yoga, needed to make more friends and wanted to spend some time out in nature. I definitely got out of it what I wanted and even more.
Check out more yoga retreat pics HERE!! 

Not only did I make friends and lots of memories, I was reminded that the battle I am fighting is a hard one, and that everything I have done and am doing is ENOUGH. I was asked to feel grateful for the challenges I have faced because they have made me who I am (and as those of you who have kept up with my blog all these years know, I do try to be grateful for all scleroderma, and lupus and everything else has taught me), but like acceptance, appreciation is also a daily practice.

It won't always be easy to be grateful for the bad shit that happens to me and that's ok too. But I know that if I can change my perspective on a situation, person, circumstance or experience even just a little and find something to be thankful for, it could ultimately change the outcome and provide me with just a little more peace.

Like the quote above says, gratitude can turn denial into acceptance, but for that to happen, I need to practice it on a daily basis. The more I can be grateful for, the more I can accept the things I cannot change.

Since the retreat and my ongoing therapy sessions I can say that I have a lot to be thankful for as the blessings in my life continue to abound - we just bought a house, my energy levels are high, I am excited about all the possibilities with my second memoir and all that 2015 will bring.(I'm sure many of the blessings were always there, I was just allowing my ONE problem- my health- to cloud all the great things that were already present). So, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holidays and to honor all that I came away with during that awesome retreat, here are a few things I accept and appreciate:

1. I accept my family for who they are and the choices they make. I am grateful that they love me, are alive and well, and are willing to make huge sacrifices to try and help me. (Special thanks to my mom and dad)
2. I accept and appreciate my husband for his patience, love and understanding. I owe him my life.
3. I accept and appreciate the homebuying process. I am grateful my hubs and I were able to buy a new home even though it was stressful because we will truly appreciate this great blessing that so many can only dream of.
4. I accept and appreciate my friends for being in my life despite my flakiness and for always finding ways to help and support me in my time of need.
5. I accept and appreciate my chronic illnesses for teaching me how to live in the moment, find beauty in all things, and for helping me understand that life is fragile, life is short, and that we should take nothing for granted.

Right now, life is good. Not because I deserve it (as I once believed) but simply because that is how I choose to look at it and because their is an order and a balance to all things.

I will continue to practice acceptance and appreciation on a daily basis because I have to, because I choose to, and with that, I anticipate more awesomeness and "alegria" in my life.

What do you accept and appreciate in your own life? Be sure to make it a daily practice.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

30 New Things

17 days ago I turned 30. Wow. Even I can't believe it. I definitely don't feel 30. Though I'm not sure what that's supposed to feel like. All I know is, that I'm incredibly glad and grateful to be out of my 20s.

I learned a lot during that gut wrenching ("soul-sucking"), life altering, tumultuous decade and I am truly grateful for all that it taught me. However, it is about damn time that my "real" age caught up to my "soul's" age. Anyone who's known me for longer than 5 minutes knows I'm an old soul. And I wear that label proudly. Most people in their 20s give me a headache. I was fortunate enough to not suffer with the delusion that I was awesome, infallible, and invincible for too long. Chronic illness and pain will slap those delusions right out of you in an instant.

While my 20s were anything but predictable and "normal" I was able to experience a wealth of situations and opportunities that I know will guide and inform me as I move into this next phase of life. Do I think that things will be dramatically different in my 30s? Probably not. Will I still have really bad days with lots of pain and fatigue? Probably so. Will everything in my world become "magically delicious" just because I'm 30 and not 29? Absolutely not. But I do have a deeper wisdom, understanding and appreciate for things and people I know I took for granted in the past. And I also have a greater awareness and acceptance of the things I can control and the things I can't. And with this wisdom, I hope to inspire, motivate and encourage others to embrace their life with illness and make the most of it, feeling proud and happy that their lives matter just as much (if not more) than everyone else's.

That is the major difference between the journey of my illness in my 20s and the journey I am on in my 30s. At 22 I was unexpectedly thrust onto the road less travelled by and had no choice but to cope with and manage chronic pain and invisible illness. It was all about me. Sure, I reached out to others and tried to find support, but only in an effort to understand myself better. At 30, I intend to choose the road I walk down (I'm sure there will be potholes, speedbumps, cracks and more) and share my experiences with others so that they can understand themselves better. So that they can live life with a little less fear, a little less hesitation and a little more control.
To celebrate my 30th birthday, I embarked on a 30 day challenge. Try 30 new things for 30 days. I'm pretty sure I did more than 30 and I had a blast doing it and even though those 30 days were also fraught with anxiety (as I awaited the diagnoses of possibly another life-altering condition), I embraced what life had to offer and the uncertainty of the next 30 years. (You're never too old to try something/learn something new)

Here's a look at the 30 things I tried:

Photo Gallery by
1. Modeling
2. Doing model's make-up
3. Mercer Arboretum w/Lupe
4. New brunch place: District 7 (yum)
5. New lunch place: Low Brow (yuck)
6. Italian Soda
7. World Market Shopping
8. New candle scents (mmm)
9. Hot lemon water (mmmm hmmm)
10. New shrimp recipe (delish)
11. New coffee drink at Boomtown (yes)
12. New job title: Director of Learning Strategies and Design (pay raise!)
13. New book: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
14. New dessert Recipe: Apple upside down cake (not bad, not the best)
15. New outfit from Target (of course!)
16. New dinner place Black Co op in Austin (yum)
17. Meeting new friends (Amy and Rob Crowl- LOVE YOU!)
18. New tapioca drink flavor- passion fruit (tart but tasty)
19. New lesson w/ESL students (so much fun)
20. New reading and writing habit (...not as successful as I'd hoped, but still working on it!)
21. New coffee shop- Blacksmith, good drinks, bad food.
22. Finger looks like "new"- scabs came off, healed completely! (win for me!)
23. New look on my website and blog
24. Saw the lunar eclipse for the first time
25. New music- Ed Sheeran (best. choice. ever.)
26. Learned something new: creating your brand (still working on it!)
27. New dessert place: Ooo la la Bakery (mmhmmm)
28. Art Opening - read poetry, found out about Spring St. Studios (awesome space!)
29. New brunch place 2: Cook & Collins w/bestie and her beaux
30. New doctor- pulmonologist (not. fun.)

A few other "new things"- bought a pumpkin for the first time, that we still haven't carved. read some new poetry for high schoolers at UH, got a new driver's license, went to South Padre Island for the first time, attended my first ever Jewish wedding ceremony, visited a new bookstore and gelato place, ate a new flavor of cheescake, went to a RAW artist show in Houston, and made homemade Halloween decorations for the first time.

It was a fun, eventful, interesting and rewarding experience. I value learning and trying new things and I want to be sure I do it more often. Some new experiences (like new tests and procedures) are scary and nerve wrecking while others are fun and exciting. Regardless of what life throws at me or what I choose to do, like I tell my husband when we get lost on the road: "It's an adventure!" (He always rolls his eyes) So let's see where this road will take us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Dreams(.)(?)(!)

“If men only felt about death as they do about sleep, all terrors would cease. . . Men sleep contentedly, assured that they will wake the following morning. They should feel the same about their lives.”
Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come

What dreams....

The way that sentence ends could lead you to a thousand different conclusions.

What dreams? Is different from…

What dreams! Is different from…

What, dreams? Is different from

What dreams.

For me, it is an ever changing punctuation mark. Because of course, it depends on what dreams you’re referring to. My actual literal dreams that haunt my pshyche if and when I actually get to fall asleep? Or my metaphorical “dreams” that have been deferred and left to fester like a sore only to run away time and time again?

I used to have what dreams!

But lately it feels more like what dreams?

Perhaps this post got off on the wrong foot. I am currently at a gratitude yoga retreat (which I will blog specifically about at another time) and I realize how negative and ominous I am sounding.

So, let’s try this again, perhaps with a little more gratitude and optimism.

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. - Paul Valery

My dreams have changed. My life has changed. It is a daily struggle to accept both, but I am learning to be grateful for the insight it has given me. 

I have put a lot of thought into dreams and dreaming lately because my literal, physical dreams bully me on the playground of my pillow and because I’m playing a game of tug of war between my metaphorical dreams and my reality and I still don’t know who’s going to win.

My Literal Dreams:

“Na-na-na-na Boo boo!” Is what I hear when I wake up after a very vivid dream of holding my newborn child in my arms, or taking my kids to school. 

“Psych!” Echoes in my temples as I pull my hands up to my face in the dark and realize, that yes, I’m still missing a fingertip even though five seconds ago, in the dream world, my hands looked like they used to.

It is a slap to the face. It is sick butterflies floating around and rotting in the pit of your stomach. Realizing that you’re only dreaming while you’re dreaming is probably the worst part of it all.
I tell myself in my sleep “this is just a dream, this is just a dream” really believing that it will soften the blow when I wake up. But it never does.

I try not to interpret my dreams. I just let them happen. But I know what they mean. I know what my dreams are telling me. I understand that I am still in the process of accepting my reality. I know it’s not going to be easy, hell, it HASN’T BEEN easy. But I really don’t know who ever lead me to believe it would be.

My Metaphorical “Dreams”

I had dreams once. Big dreams. I still have them. But I don’t approach them or anticipate them with the same na├»ve hope as I did before. My dreams have lost their luster, their appeal, their magic. My dreams are tethered to my reality and I have yet to decide if this is the natural and wise progression of what happens to us as we mature and experience life, or if it is, at the end of the day just another one of the great tragedies of human existence. After all, don’t we tell children to “dream big,” and “reach for the moon?” Aren’t we supposed to want the most out of life? What does it say about us if we settle for mediocre dreams that only mimic our reality and don’t push us in new directions?

Books I've been published in....
Perhaps it is because, in retrospect, most of my dreams have come true. Getting published. Teaching. Finding love and getting married. Having a job I love. Performing at the Nuyorican. Acting professionally.  (Not very exciting dreams to have, but they are mine and I believe in them) Of course, I have  fantastical dreams also: win some great literary prize, be on Oprah, travel the world, own a bookstore, be remembered for my writing and talents. 

But I have always dreamed those with caution. Knowing I would be thrilled if they happened, but never investing enough time, energy or talent to actually see them through. If I don’t try, I can’t fail.

And yet, there are dreams “post sclero” that I dare to dream that I know I can and only WILL fail at:
Being “normal.”
Being “healthy.”
Being “whole.”

It is these dreams that I have to talk myself out of on a daily basis because I know what it feels like to have your dreams deferred. And I am here to tell you that not only does it stink, fester, dry up, rot and explode, it also implodes on itself and on you….leaving you all alone to gather the rubble with nothing but your bare hands and a prayer.
It is these metaphorical dreams that become literal nightmares, waking me up in the middle of the night, reminding me of all that is wrong with me, all that I can’t control.

But what am I getting at with all of this? In the context of my illness and in the recent transition into my 30s, why do my literal and metaphorical dreams matter?

On the one hand, because as I’ve mentioned before, my illness changed my dreams. Rocked me to the core and made me believe that nothing was possible anymore. (And on really bad days it still does that) But, when I finally began to see and understand how these new dreams could be more powerful, more amazing and more fulfilling than anything I ever dared to dream “pre sclero,” I accepted the loss of my former dreams and began to embrace the new journey I was on. It still isn’t easy, by any means. These new dreams scare the hell out of me. But I truly understand now (after several near death experiences) that I’ve already been through “the worse that could happen,” and I’ve got nothing to lose.

On the other hand, my physical, literal, put your head on a pillow and fall asleep dreams juxtapose my current life and realities with my former self and my “what could have been self.” They haunt me and taunt me because they feel so real. 

I see a pregnant me. And then I wake up. Hollow and childless.
I see 10 pretty fingers, shaking someone’s hand, writing a new poem, baking cupcakes. And then I wake up, still partially amputated, still not whole.
I feel joy at hearing a doctor say I don’t have PAH. And then I wake up. Out of breath. Unsure of what the future holds.

It’s like the movie Vanilla Sky had a baby with Inception, implanted itself in my brain and left me feeling like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Both my literal and metaphorical dreams change just as often as my reality changes, and I’m learning to accept that also. And acceptance, like gratitude and good health is a daily practice. 

Dreams are hard. Life is hard. But if and when you’re lucky enough to have them meet, count yourself lucky, hold on tight, and enjoy the bumpy, thrilling, unpredictable ride.