Tag Archives: balance

Vegas

Every year, my husband takes a guys’ trip to Las Vegas. For 13 years, without fail, this has been a ritual for Bruce and his friends. They aren’t really gamblers, but they love the sports book, so going in October allows them to bet on baseball, football, and hockey. Apparently it’s the manly man’s dream.

Back in the day, the wives/girlfriends took the opportunity for some female bonding time, which is equally as fun but definitely more tame. As the years have moved along, fewer guys make the trip, and the girls no longer have “girl time” because they have had kids, moved, or both.

This year in particular, the time leading up to the trip (just a week and a half before they were due to leave) was marred by the brutal events that left the city, and our country in shock and grief. But not going was not an option because as we all know, life must go on regardless of tragic events, because otherwise we let the perpetrators of such disgusting acts of senseless violence win.

Bruce sent me this picture from the makeshift memorial that has been established at the site of the massacre.

While I am happy that Bru takes his annual guy getaway, I hate everything else about him being gone. I realize how lucky I am that he takes care of so much around the house so I don’t have to. In addition to taking care of a house with entirely too many steps, I have the dogs to worry about as well. Bruce and I are a team and he picks up my slack so frequently that I often take it for granted, which is something I am reminded of every time he goes away.

Now as our dogs are aging, they are much more needy, and they require more care. When Bru is home we make a perfect team with how we care for them, but being alone is a whole different world.  In addition to them needing more care, so do I! This year I had a dizzy day, which I haven’t had in quite some time. I woke up and was stumbling all over the place, tripping over my feet, and I felt like the house was spinning around me. While dealing with that, I had to carry dogs inside and out (about 100 times thanks to Marty), pick up food, put down food, move the food while Marty decided where he would like to dine, and administer the medications all while barely being able to even stand up. Then to top it all off, I had to clean up dog vomit… from the dog who has only puked once before in all the time he has been with us. This gave a whole new meaning to the expression “when it rains it pours”.

Special needs dog does not even describe this guy. The amount of care he requires can be overwhelming to say the least.

Luckily I have an emergency medication that is supposed to help me on days like this. I’m not sure it helped as much as it allowed me to doze, which is extremely uncommon for me. I don’t even sleep at night, and napping is something that never happens for me. Luckily, the dogs did allow me some time to rest, and I woke up the next day feeling less dizzy but just exhausted.

It didn’t perform any miracles, but i think it might have helped just a little bit.

Even though it’s taxing, I still support Bru any time he wants to do the guy thing, and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same about me.  The important thing is that we miss each other like crazy while he is away, and it always feels so good to have him home.  And I get a dose of reality about not taking even the seemingly tiniest things for granted because it’s so blatant while I am alone. I’m reminded of what a great team we are, and if nothing else, I know for sure that home just isn’t home without my partner.

Plus, it sure doesn’t hurt when he wins big and brings me extra presents! 🙂

Enough

Recently I was introduced to a book that changed my life. First I listened to the audio version, which is generally what I do. But I found the book so powerful on so many levels that I actually bought it. Now it’s full of notes and highlights because I have read it over and over, and no matter where I open it to, I find something useful. It’s called “I Heart Me (The Science of Self-Love)” by David Hamilton, PhD.

I am enough!

(Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the publishing or creation of this book, nor do I receive anything for endorsing it!)

Basically, the book explains that self worth is about biology and is in our genes, yet somehow we lose sight of it as we navigate our way through life. We seek validation from others, but our worth is within us when we reprogram our brains to acknowledge it.  In essence, the book helps us understand ourselves, learning to be truly authentic and happy, with the goal being the ability to say “I am enough” and truly mean it.

The phrase “I am enough” has become part of my daily intentions (or mantra). Every single day when I write my intentions in my journal, I start off with that phrase, even if I didn’t mean it when I first started doing it. But part of reprogramming our brains, according to Dr. Hamilton, includes repetition of this phrase because eventually we become fully aware of it and we believe it.

Thinking about what my blog would be this week, my MS sister (who actually introduced me to this book) suggested talking about all the reasons that make me feel that “I am enough” even though people with chronic illnesses often can’t recognize these things in themselves for a multitude of reasons.

For example, many of us don’t work because we are on permanent disability. For someone who identified herself first and foremost as a teacher, when I stopped working it was hard to see that “I am enough” when the thing that most defined me was no longer a part of my life. But my legacy remains and because I am still surrounded by so many young adults who have been a part of my life since they were just teenagers, they remind me that I am enough.

This guy right here is just one of the many former students who remain constants in my life. #blessed

This book also taught me that I don’t need people to like me in order to be enough. I spent so many years putting other people before myself and I thought that doing more for them meant they would like me more, and therefore I would be validated. The truth is that validation comes from within and while I love doing for others, I don’t need to in order to be enough. Narrowing my circle of friends to those who truly love and appreciate me is so much more empowering, and no matter how much or how little I give them, I know that I am enough.

These friends never make me feel like I am not enough. #mssisters

As a perfectionist, I was never happy unless I achieved perfection.  This happened in all aspects of my life. Reading this book made me see that I need not be perfect in order to be enough. I learned that only I could see what I perceived as inadequacies and faults because I was the only one holding the microscope up to myself. As promised in this book, moving forward with self-love made the perfectionism fade. I’m not saying I have overcome it entirely but I’m a whole lot better than I used to be.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons that Dr. Hamilton taught me in this book is that I don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size in order to be enough. Body image has long been an issue for me, and learning to love my body no matter what size or shape, without shame, comes slowly. I had to learn to think outside the stereotype I felt I needed to live up to, and instead focus on the many things I do to keep myself strong. Opinions are subjective and I might not fit anyone else’s ideal, but I am 100% me. Comparing to anyone but myself resulted in an unhealthy feeling that lead to never feeling I was enough, and I am.

It doesn’t matter what i look like. Whether heavier or thinner, I am loved. Sure, I like being thinner like I am now, but I face a lot of obstacles, and regardless of my size I am enough.

Allowing my vulnerability to show has also given me great strength. There is something very liberating about baring one’s soul, and other people appreciate it even if they can’t quite identify it. Vulnerability includes being honest and authentic with ourselves and others, and only then can a true connection be made. Even though we could get hurt in the process, it’s worth it because we learn that even though we are raw and sometimes flawed, we are still enough.

But by far the most valuable lesson this book taught me is that I need to be as compassionate, forgiving, and understanding with myself as I am with others in my life. We are always quick to comfort others when they feel they have made a mistake, but we don’t offer ourselves the same courtesy. I deserve compassion. I deserve forgiveness. I deserve understanding. I am human, too. And I am enough.

Bru always always assures me that I am enough.

This book was no ordinary book for me. What I learned is that it’s very liberating to go through the process of accepting that I am enough. In every way. If you are ready to learn how to accept yourself as enough, the minutia of daily life that normally makes you feel inferior, no longer weighs you down. The progress I have made has not been easy nor has it come quickly. But every day I am making steps to be the truly happy and authentic me that is just waiting to make her appearance. I am not sure the version of me that first listened to this book would even recognize me now, and I’m not even done yet. In the meantime, I can rest comfortably knowing that I am, indeed, enough.

Depression

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a place we are not accustomed to. I’m not talking about a physical space, but rather the space which occupies our minds. For this glass-half-full girl, it is very difficult when my mind wanders off the usual sunny path I follow.

Sometimes the inside just doesn’t match the outside.

People with chronic illnesses are definitely more subject to suffering from depression than your average, healthy person, and many of us do take antidepressants to help us manage the weight of it all. But even with medications, there are times when depression can overtake us, and that’s ok. One of my MS sisters told me she “doesn’t live there but she visits on occasion.”  I love this analogy because it makes me feel like it’s ok, especially because I so strongly believe that as human beings, we need to experience the whole range of emotions in order to appreciate everything in our world.

For me, my frustration has been building since I broke my toes. I never thought that two little toes could affect my entire body the way they have. But it’s true. Those two toes have affected my balance and stability, as well as the alignment of my entire body. I am beyond grateful for my trainer and her patience that tempers my disappointment even though she can’t make me heal any more quickly than I am. I am desperate to get back to working out like an athlete, not an MS patient. Anyone who has ever been an athlete can surely relate to this, the feeling of losing despite the hard work being put forth.

My ankle is wrapped in kinesiology tape in hopes that my stability will improve.

This little setback came right on the heels of breast cancer. It seems like I didn’t deal with the emotions of a cancer diagnosis because I just put myself on autopilot to do what I needed to do, the way I always do… with a smile on my face. Now I have completed treatment,  but opted out of the prescribed protocol of endocrine therapy in favor of handling the continued treatment with a naturopathic oncologist. But I feel like I’m hanging in limbo, waiting for someone to either tell me that I am cancer free or that I have a recurrence of cancer. Plus, while I felt loved and supported through my entire cancer journey, now that it’s “over” (for the others in my life, but will never be for me), life goes on for everyone else while I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. And meanwhile, breast cancer precluded me from going on a new Disease Modifying Therapy for MS which I have had my eye on for years as it progressed through clinical trials all the way to approval. This was a huge blow and as I see more patients that are lucky enough to take it, I get more bummed out.

Then there are the relationships that have changed, for reasons I don’t understand but I am working hard to accept. I generally find comfort in my MS sisters but it seems we are all in a bit of a funk and dealing with our own issues so it has been way too long since we have been able to spend any quality time together. All of these things together have been adding to the weight I’m carrying that is diametrically opposed to who I am. I mean I cried for six hours the other day, which is so NOT me, especially considering that I often can’t cry even when I want to, thanks to the antidepressants that usually help maintain my emotional stability!

This little girl knew I was upset and she sat on top of me as I cried.

I recognize this place, as I (like my MS sister) do visit occasionally. While I am here, I take note of all of my feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that I can further appreciate all of the amazing things that I am blessed with when I leave. And I always leave, knowing full well that it’s ok to come back to visit, but it just isn’t where I live.

Vacation

This week, Bruce and I were able to get away to one of our favorite places ever: Burlington, Vermont. When we booked our trip (months ago), we had envisioned jeans and hoodies, beautiful foliage, and the usual excessive beer and decadent food. We had been looking forward to this trip, especially when we learned that it was actually the weekend of Oktoberfest in Burlington. Having friends from high school who live there, it was such an incredible treat to hang out with them, as if no time had passed since we were all together last, probably when we were just 18 years old. It was unseasonably hot and humid, but we enjoyed it just the same, even if we were wearing shorts and t-shirts instead of jeans and hoodies! Also, I did feel a little naughty because I have never taken a vacation in September before because teachers just can’t do that. in place of my usual blog entry, please enjoy some shots of Burlington through the eyes of #TeamRankin.

We love this hotel. The restaurant is great, the bar is great, and the view of Lake Champlain can’t be
beat.

First night: reunion with my girls.

First night sunset… can you blame me for never wanting to leave?

If you find yourself in Burlington, go to the Penny Cluse Cafe and order the ginger bread pancakes.I promise you will not regret it.

On our way to explore Stowe.

Stowe

No foliage but plenty of flowers!

Beer for him. Smuggler’s Notch vodka and soda for me.

Apple berry pie with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. I said decadent, right?

Sunsets for days!

We might….

Mural that I love with a pan-handler right in the “V”!

Oh… hello there!

Like I said… not much foliage but plenty of wildflowers.

I can never resist a sunflower.

Crazy fun night with Bru and my girls.

Sunset over Lake Champlain.

My friend Peg and I were among the first to go down the hops slide. Its very steep from the top! I am still trying to get the hops out of the shoes I was wearing!

So. Much. Fun.

Sugarbush Resort.

Got my ticket for a bucket list item for me: zip-lining!

That’s me there!

Flowers upon flowers!

Upon flowers.

I am obsessed with this church and I have taken pictures of it from every possible angle!

And of course… no trip to Burlington is complete without a stop at Ben & Jerry’s!

Our last night in Burlington did not disappoint.

After a great vacation, i know it will take me several days to recover, but that’s ok. It was worth every second, and it is a trade-off I am willing to make because otherwise I would never leave the house. Even though travel has changed for me and Bruce, we still do it, with accommodations, just like everything else in my life. It’s not such a bad thing. After all, my glass of lemonade is still (and always will be) half full.

Transformation

It’s that time of year again… the summer is drawing to a close, with everyone taking their last trips down the shore, enjoying the joys that summer always brings, while preparing excitedly for a brand new school year.

At this time every year, I like to reflect upon how insanely different my life (and my attitude) is since MS made the decision for me to retire on disability in May, 2014, after already being on sick leave for all but the first four weeks of the school year.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life without the career that had defined me in so many ways, and that I was so passionate about. I considered myself beyond lucky to have a job that I loved, because so many people are not as fortunate. People often told me that I was one of the few people they knew who actually liked her job. And I did. Every damn second of it.

Now that I am a few years removed from the feeling of such a devastating loss for me, I have clarity that I didn’t have before, and gratitude for everything, including the painful, emotional, difficult situation that started me on this part of my journey. I never dreamed that I could ever be in this beautiful place that I currently find myself in, happier than ever, which I could not have imagined when I was still working.

The other day, a Staples commercial came on TV advertising their usual 10 cent sale, and I was brought back to the days when I used to have lists of which retail establishment had things on sale that I needed for my classroom so that I could stock up for the year. I used to get so excited about these things, and now it hardly even phases me. I love that because it shows how much I have grown during the last couple of years.

I’m not saying that I got here without my share of growing pains, but I am saying that I understand it’s all a part of the process. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating a new life, it changed my perception of everything I knew.

What I know now is that regardless of how much I loved my students (and still do!), my own family always needs to come first. I often lost sight of that as a teacher, but I don’t regret it because now I have all of these amazing young adults who make up such a big part of my life, and I love that. I love watching them venture out on their own, doing the adult thing, and spreading their wings to soar.

I also know that taking care of myself is vitally important. When I was working, I overlooked my own wellness in favor of my job and my students. Again, I don’t regret it because of the amount of love and gratitude they gave back to me (and still do), but I know that I am of no good use to anyone if I am not staying on top of my own health and wellness. This includes all the things I have incorporated into my post-teacher life: meditation, yoga, hardcore exercise, acupuncture, reiki, and healthy eating, all of which force me to put myself above all others so that I can stay strong for the long haul.

I remember the days when the weekends meant nothing more than time to grade, write lesson plans, and create dynamic presentations for my classes, leaving no time to actually enjoy spending time being fully present with my loved ones. Once again, I have no regrets about how I lived my career because it’s what the kids deserved and I don’t know how to do it any other way.

But now… now life is better than I ever thought possible. My circle of friends has changed, but in a good way because I am surrounded by other people who take nothing for granted and never waste an opportunity to laugh and smile because we are grateful for the life we are living, regardless of whether we chose it or not. I am more in love with my husband than ever because we have been given this incredible gift of time together. Hell, we even booked a vacation in September, something we have never, EVER done before. Some small part of me still feels like a rebel for doing it, but no matter how much time passes, I guess old habits do, indeed, die hard. But lucky for me, I have worked very hard to help these old habits go by the wayside.

The transformation from Mrs. Rankin to Rennie has not been an easy one, but it is ongoing and I’m getting better at it all the time. I have been transforming my entire world: physically, mentally, and spiritually for the last few years, and my progress has been slow but steady, and that’s ok. I know that as human beings, one of our biggest challenges is having the ability to change according to our life circumstances, good or bad. I’m not going to lie and say that the process has been an easy one, or that I don’t have my moments of weakness, but it does get easier with time and with the determination to live my very best life possible. Rather than crying about the fact that I am not going back to work this week, I am happily wishing my former colleagues the very best of luck as they begin the new school year. Life is, after all, what we make of it, and I am making mine everything I want it to be. So who wants to join me in a glass half full of lemonade?

The sunrise over the Raritan River by Rutgers University, a very symbolic photo at a place that will always hold an extra special place in my heart.

Relative

I hate it when people say to me that they feel bad complaining about things to me because “I deal with so much”. On the one hand it is kind of sweet of them to say that, but on the other hand, I’m still a human being and friend, and my problems don’t preclude me from being able to listen to others and offer my advice.

The truth of the matter is that everything, EVERYTHING is relative. I understand that on the surface people might think that their issues are unimportant but, as I always say, the only person you can compare yourself to is you. And that goes for every aspect of life. When one of my MS friends tells me that her knee actually started bending (after lots of hard work) when it hadn’t bent like that in years, I get so excited because relative to her past, it is huge. She may as well have run a marathon, as far as I’m concerned. I never compare anyone to me, nor do I compare myself to others. It’s all about personal progress, and the same goes for personal hardships.

I realize I have had my share of personal hardships, but I don’t look at things that way. I am of the mindset that my lot in life is exactly that: mine. It’s unfair to compare myself to anyone else, and if I did I would be a completely different person than I am today.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t look at other people and compare them to me, questioning why I have been dealt the hand I have while others have a seemingly “better” hand. Problems are problems, and like assholes, we all have them. Mine are no more important than anyone else’s, and in fact I’d venture to say that mine are easier because I’ve had to deal with so many through the years, and I have gotten pretty good at handling them in my usual glass-half-full way.

So it’s not like I’m saying I want more obstacles to overcome, but I never thought I’d appreciate them the way I do, because each one makes me a better version of me. The strength I’ve derived from all I’ve been through makes me a kinder, more sensitive, more understanding human being, and overcoming the bumps along the way is perhaps the most empowering feeling I have ever had.

The challenging parts of life are not easy, but the way we respond to them molds us into who we are. It’s unfortunate that so many people can’t see the beauty that awaits when you overcome those difficult times because it is powerful and we all deserve to experience that feeling. Plus giving up, for me, is simply not an option. We get to choose our fate (in a way) by how we handle our life circumstances. Why would anyone not choose empowerment over the alternative?

Lucky to have this guy who supports me through it all, which makes everything just a little easier.

Disability

I hate it when people get the wrong idea about people on disability. I mean, I know there are dishonest people in the world who try to take advantage of social programs, but my friends and I do not fall into that category.

As a teacher, I was considered a state worker, and therefore not eligible for state-funded disability programs. I have no idea why, and it makes absolutely no sense to me at all. I contributed to it through my paycheck yet I could not collect from that fund. Instead, I could only collect disability through a private insurance company, with premiums (that increased every single year and even doubled when I turned 40 years old) deducted from my paycheck. There is nothing like working your tail off and bringing home less money year after year despite being at the top of the salary guide, with a Masters Degree, and longevity in the district.

As much as I cursed it every time I saw my paycheck, I was grateful for it because although it was not the same as my paycheck, it would allow me to at least pay my bills if ever I found myself unable to work, and that was the thought that I carried with me to justify it. But the first time I needed it, I called to report my disability, and was appalled to say the least. I explained to the desk monkey (sorry if this offends anyone but what follows will make you feel the same way I’m sure) that I was having an MS exacerbation. The questions that followed: How long will you be out? Are you having surgery? Did you have a baby? How can you not know how long you are going to be out? My answer: Ummmmm because I have Multiple Sclerosis. Clearly there was nothing in the list of scripted maladies that the desk monkey could equate my situation with, and he knew nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) about MS. Not feeling well and talking to a bunch of idiots is not an easy thing to do while trying to maintain my composure. I ended up staying on disability for the first half of the school year, and I even self-paid the premiums while I was not collecting a paycheck.

Seriously. Handwriting all this with a tremor is stressful and overwhelming, to say the least.

Yet I still couldn’t complain because as much work as it was for me to get these people to understand how unpredictable MS is, I was able to pay my bills (with the help of my husband) while I was trying to rehabilitate during my absence from school. I happily returned to school, glad that I was strong enough to get there, and thinking I would never need to file another disability claim for the rest of my career. That’s me, the girl with her glass half full, thinking she was exempt from the course of MS progression, but the sad truth is that very few people have benign MS that never relapses, and I’m not one of them.

Fast forward to the year 2013. I found myself in a worse position than the time I was out on disability six or seven years prior. This time I filed my claim, pretty much without incident, and I was assigned a claims manager who still works with me to this day. He understands my situation, and is very kind, always starting out our conversations asking me how I have been feeling. He understands (I think) that I am not going to get better, and considering that I am recognized as disabled both by the state of NJ and the federal government, things are slightly easier. Yet every year… every SINGLE year, I am required to fill out an extensive packet documenting my “activities of daily living”. This might seem a small task but for someone with MS, it is overwhelming to say the least. It contains about 10-12 pages, that must be handwritten, which is not easy with a hand tremor that reduces my ability to write. When I see the envelope come in the mail, I cringe and panic, and I wonder when they will understand that MS does not get better. It progresses, even in small ways, but those small ways can be very difficult to manage despite the fact that I am not working.

This is me, every year…. hardly able to crawl out from under the massive pile of paperwork required to document the fact that I still have MS.

If my experience with my private disability plan is any indication, we have made some progress as far as awareness goes, but we still have an incredibly long way to go. Multiple Sclerosis is exacerbated by stress, and the constant submittal of the same paperwork does not help. I would love to see in my lifetime a day when people understand that MS limits my ability to complete even the most mundane of daily activities, and that having to justify myself all the time is no longer necessary.I mean, receiving the same packet every year is the same as asking me if I still have MS and if so, how much longer will I have it. I wish I didn’t “still” have Multiple Sclerosis, but unfortunately I will likely spend the rest of my life with it, and I am ok with that.  It would save us all a lot of paper, time, and energy (not to mention stress on my part)  if they would just get a clue already!

Bad Ass

This is definitely not a term I would use to describe myself. I mean I was the chubby kid who was bullied through elementary school and spent more time crying than laughing. My dad’s job moved us from rural New Hampshire to Bergen County, NJ (a very metropolitan area just outside of New York City) at this very crucial time of my childhood. I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I viewed the bullying as something I deserved, and cried over it in the privacy of my own bedroom. That chubby little kid never would have thought that people would look at her as a bad ass for simply living her life the only way she knows how.

Yet in the past few weeks, I have been called a bad ass on numerous occasions, which definitely makes me laugh. I mean I certainly don’t feel like a bad ass. I spend most of my time smiling, laughing, hugging, and laughing. Did I mention I spend a fair share of my time smiling and laughing? I’ve never even been in a fight where I actually threw a punch, though I certainly was pushed around plenty during those early days living in Northern NJ.

Me on the first day of school, slimmed down after a summer at camp.

I’m the rule girl. When I was working, I consistently enforced the rules in my classroom, and I’m afraid that the same attitude bled into my personal life as well. I am still bound to rules more than I’d like, but not working has made it easier for me to let certain rules slide. Still, in my eyes, that makes me boring, not bad ass. Not that I find this term negative… in fact I find it quite a compliment and also very empowering although I am not sure what qualifies me as bad ass.

I mean, I have dealt with Multiple Sclerosis quite openly for over 14 years now. I used my voice as a teacher to educate my students and colleagues, raising awareness (and money) for the cause, with my only motive being a sincere hope that the next generation can live in a world free of MS. I let them see the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I always approached it as my calling to show that overcoming adversity and rising to challenges in our paths simply make us stronger, more sympathetic, and more grateful individuals. Is that bad ass?

Here I am with my “core” MS Walkers (2010), who represented the over 450 members of our team.

I have accepted the brutal cycle that MS is… one step forward and two steps back. I have worked hard to keep my body moving, even through the times of limited mobility and function, because I am determined to stay strong. I have changed my life, my body, and how I look at exercise, fitness, and nutrition, because it takes on new meaning when it’s not about how you look, but rather it’s about how it makes you feel: strong and in control of the only things that you CAN control. Is that bad ass?

A few years ago, I endured a five hour spinal fusion and laminectomy surgery, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. This was not part what I had imagined my life would be, but I accepted it and embraced it as part of my journey because there was no choice. I worked hard to rehabilitate afterwards and get back to the place where I am most comfortable with my body. I kept moving rather than using it as an excuse to stay still because I needed to take control. Is that bad ass?

My spine and the hardware that holds it together, in all its glory!

The next obstacle in my path was a curve ball, to say the least: breast cancer. I approached it the same way I approach everything in my life. I did what I had to do, never questioning why it was happening to me. I did it with a smile on my face because of the love and support I felt in my heart. In the grand scheme of things, I knew it could have been worse, and it was a huge learning experience for me. I learned about myself and what I am capable of, as well as about the people I surround myself with. Some people live an entire lifetime without having the opportunity to see their own strength and capabilities, which is a true shame since most times we don’t know these things until we are tested to prove them. As difficult as it was, and will be for the next several years, I am grateful to have learned so much. Is that bad ass?

Post-op picture after my lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy: looking blue (literally) from the radioactive dye used to highlight the lymph nodes that were removed.

Finally, and most recently, a little tumble down a flight of stairs left me with some broken toes. Compared to all I have been through, this (although totally painful and extremely limiting to my mobility) is nothing. I laughed my way through the visit to the Urgent Care, the x-rays, the doctor’s attempt at humor (I’m not so young that I’m just growing bone overnight anymore and I must not have given enough in the collection basket that week, as this little accident happened on a Sunday), and even laughed at the silly, ugly boot which will be an extension of my body for another 4-6 weeks. It’s a small setback in the bigger picture of my life, and I just have to laugh at myself because I can do so many difficult things without consequence, but apparently walking down stairs is not one of them. Is that bad ass?

These are my toes after having been re-set by the orthopedist.

My conclusion is that “bad ass”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I never thought of myself as bad ass, I’m just living my best possible life. It’s funny that I would never label myself as a bad ass, but other people do. I’m fairly certain that the chubby girl who was so often bullied never would have thought that being pushed around by some assholes would seem so small in comparison to the real obstacles that I have had to face as an adult. And even though I don’t exactly see myself as a bad ass, I can guarantee that she sure would.

Yup. My shirt says “FC” and my socks say “bad ass”. If you don’t quite get the “FC” part, let’s just say that the “C” stands for cancer.

Tough Break

If I thought I was a hot mess before, with a fused spine, Multiple Sclerosis, breast cancer, and recent issues with my back, I had no idea it could/would get any worse. Especially since I’m a big believer in universal karma that gives us back what we put out there. I like to think I put my positivity out to the universe, and I do feel that I have always been taken care of as a result.

This week as I nurtured my back, icing it, stretching it, seeing my chiropractor and my acupuncturist, plus using my portable TENS machine at home, I started to finally feel like I was turning a corner. Then due to a 4 am wake-up call from my beloved Marty  and a subsequent fall down the stairs (which is not really unusual for me except I usually fall UP them) I ended up with two broken toes right at the joint where they meet the foot. I’m used to falling but usually I manage to do it without actually breaking any bones. I have had my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises (mostly to my ego), but this is a new one for me. When I woke up a few hours later and discovered two of my toes pointing the wrong direction and bruising starting, I knew it couldn’t be good. But, it also could have been much worse.

6-8 weeks of this lovely shoe. Plus no yoga and only upper body workouts. This is a massive bummer for me. Particularly the no yoga part.

It’s true that for the next six-eight weeks, I will be very limited as far as physical activity goes: no yoga, only upper body exercises, and a lovely shoe that I must wear for the foreseeable future. Life with MS does this. I’m always working my butt off to take one step forward and then something silly (and often avoidable) happens, setting me back two steps. It’s an endless cycle.

The truth is that I am not invincible, contrary to how strong I feel at times. My MS family and I talk about this kind of thing a lot. We can do lots of difficult things because we are focused when we attempt them. But it’s the little things we do that we take for granted (like walking up or down stairs), and assume we can do them as easily as always, but that’s just not the case. Everything is harder when you have MS and even more so when you can’t feel your feet. Patience is easy to preach but hard to practice, specifically for someone like me, who likes to keep her body healthy and moving.

In a way, this fall happened for a reason. I tend to push myself too hard and seldom take time to rest. I often need reminders to slow down because when I’m feeling strong I just keep pushing. My body has been through a lot, and I have worked it hard even through cancer. I am 100% aware (now, if not before) that I need to give myself a break (no pun intended), not put so much pressure on myself, and be grateful for all the things that I can still do.

This is just another minor setback and I have no doubt that I will come back stronger than ever, both mentally and physically. A friend of mine shared this ancient Chinese Proverb with me, because he sensed I was feeling low: “Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.” It’s definitely the story of my life with MS, but I’m so glad he was quick to remind me. It’s what I do, and what all warriors do. As much as I may have wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up about a gazillion (or at least 40) times in the last 14 (+) years, I refuse. It’s not an option. I know I’ll rise, stronger, wiser, and hopefully with more self-love and patience when I get to the other side of this.

Plus, at age 45 I finally can say that I have broken not just one bone but two… at the same time!

Mind over Matter

Me, introducing myself to new yoga instructors:

“Hi! I’m not a beginner but I am a hot mess. I recently had surgery and breast cancer treatment so my reach is limited on my left side. Also, my spine is fused so in some of the twisting poses, you’ll see me modify my movement. Oh yea, plus I have MS so I am heat intolerant, and balance is an issue so in some balance poses you’ll see me head to the wall. But I know my modifications, and I know my body so it’s likely that you won’t even notice.”

Her response (grinning at me, wide-eyed the whole time, probably thinking oh crap what the hell has walked in the door to this studio???):

“Ok! What’s your name?”

It’s the little things most people take for granted that I need to clarify every time I take a class with an instructor who doesn’t know me.  But my trainer takes the summer off from our yoga classes, which makes me happy because her family is around and she deserves vacation just like the rest of working world… or more so, if I’m being honest. But having to explain my unique circumstances to a complete stranger, often in front of a studio full of other strangers, is something I definitely do not enjoy, regardless of how sweetly the instructor reacts.

This is something new I have been practicing and it’s all core starting from this position…

…and then pushing up to this position, and repeat as many times as possible.

Quite frankly, I AM a hot mess… I didn’t lie about that part. I play it off like a joke, but it’s a sad truth. I am not down on myself about it, but I know that people look at me with the same deer in the headlights look that the instructor looked at me with (even though she grinned at me the whole time). The point is that I know how to manage the cards I have been dealt, no matter how crappy I feel at times. That’s why I embrace every single day I’m given, even the bad ones.

This weekend my back, as it sometimes does, was acting obnoxiously and I was suffering from brutally intense spasms. It felt a little wonky on Friday, but after stretching it and rolling it with my muscle massager, it seemed ok. But on Saturday morning, before I even got out of bed, I was emotional over some personal stuff, and the spasms were excruciating. For all the work I do on myself, both physically as well mentally, I was so mad at myself for letting my emotions wreak such havoc on my physical body, which is stronger than it has been, probably ever.

This little tool is a lifesaver for sore muscles!

I do believe that there is a strong body/mind connection, which is one of the reasons I was so upset about my back. Yes, I do the physical exercise that is required to stay as strong as I can. But the mental exercise is even harder. I journal twice a day, every day. This allows me to acknowledge my gratitude, understand my weaknesses, and even praise my own “wins”. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for years now, and my work with her is far from done, although I am improving all the time. I meditate faithfully, allowing my body and mind to both be still as I let go of all the unnecessary crap that weighs me down. I read (well listen to, actually) self-help books that teach me how to love myself and to be proud of who I am. I even see a Reiki Master in an attempt to keep my chakras open, allowing my energy to flow freely and release any toxins that might be gumming up the works. Yet still, there are moments when my mind actually gets in the way of my physical progress.

At these moments, I remind myself that I am human, and more importantly, that I simply can’t control every single aspect of my life no matter how hard I try, or how badly I want to. Although this physical manifestation of something much deeper was more painful than I even thought possible, it was a reminder to me of so many things: slow down, listen to my body, nurture my spirit, and allow my emotions to come out rather than bottle them up. This is quite an important lesson for every single one of us, since the mind can do such powerful things to our bodies.

I may be a hot mess, but I don’t let that keep me from living a beautifully happy life despite it all. In fact, I am grateful for each part of me, even the icky parts, because that is how I have learned to live my life out loud, for the entire world to see. It’s not an act that I put on, but rather the authentic way I choose to live and show others that true happiness is always right in front of you. You just need to be open to seeing it. And once you do, it is amazing how differently you will see yourself and your place in the world.

My place in the world will always be right next to this guy right here. #teamrankin