Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pebble and Rock

This week you get a poem.  An older one. I have decided to share it now. My studies and life, as it is, have taken away my ability to ponder much beyond the basics. And I am not in the mood for environmental health metaphors.  So here's something different...

The water spinning, churning,

flows over and around the rock.

Small pebbles take shelter in the grooves, unwilling travelers

to an unknown destination.
They burrow holes that take a day,
and a lifetime,
to become complete.
Completion a result of disintegration.
The pebble trapped in its self-made tomb.

Betrayed by a gesture of affection,

damaged by an expression of love.
A need for shelter, a false provision of safety.
So I ask this-
Does the rock feel guilty for trapping the pebble?
Is the pebble to blame for scarring the rock?

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Are you familiar with that feeling when your brain is simply full and there's no room for anything more at the moment?  I have been training someone new at work the past week and I can see the expression in her eyes..the look that says "My brain is full, but I have so many more questions! The more I learn, the more questions I have!".  
My brain, in its periodically MS-addled state, feels full.  As I cram Cryptosporidium's symptoms and causes into a corner behind coagulation and flocculation, I find that things such as the memory to pay utility bills gets pushed out. But as I learn more, I have more questions! In some perverse fashion it's a bit like the body's reaction to eating some tasty ice cream. Eat sweets, crave more sweets. In this case my 'sweets' have way too much to do with fecal matter to make a really good analogy here.  An example: While trying to memorize the causes, symptoms, latent phase and effects of Botulism, I read this under 'possible causes': "aluminum foil wrapped baked potatoes".  What!?  Why? I am going to have to get to the bottom of this toxic mystery or I may never feel safe eating a baked potato again. And what about s'mores?  Are aluminum wrapped graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows a Botulism risk?

In the midst of working, training, studying, parenting and being a member of my community and a citizen of this nation...I find that when something forces its way into my brain, something like the Boston bombings, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion or the earthquake in China, then something else is going to fall out the other side of my head! It's not just my capacity for compassion that fills up, it's my brain.  I wonder if wearing ear plugs would help to keep it all in? I wrote last week about chronic trauma exposure and trauma exposure response.  I've been reading and learning more about that this week. It causes me to ask more questions, to want to find answers to my questions.  

At 11am this morning I sat down to the computer to write today's blog, I had a mini conversation with myself to make sure I was prepared. "Coffee? check! Trauma Stewardship book? check! Internet access? check! Comfy slippers and furry, fleecy jacket? Of course!"  The ideas started flying, fast and furious, as my fingers sped across the keyboard. The questions, the possible answers, the metaphors...oh the god awful metaphors between the fecal matter of my studies and the $#!+ that has gone on in the world this week. I was on a roll.

Then my cellphone beeped.  A text from my youngest son, with one word. "Hello?". My brain raced to pull my consciousness back up from the analysis of crap! Why was he texting me from his room? No...he is not in his room. He is at his dad's. No...he is not at his dad's.  He is at a friends. And I was supposed to pick him up at 10am. Cryptocrap! I sent a quick apology that I would be there in 20 minutes. Dashed to the bedroom to brush my teeth, put on some actual pants and comb my hair. While brushing my teeth I heard a tapping sound. I turned off the water and paused to listen. As I stared at my wild-haired self, foaming at the mouth, I realized someone was knocking at the front door.  For some reason, as I hastily rinsed my mouth, I thought perhaps Hunter had found a ride home. Through a time portal apparently. But no, when I opened the front door, there stood Hunter's dad, my ex-husband. He was here to pick up his son for Lacrosse practice! I had forgotten about that as well.

I hate these moments. It feels as though someone has literally reached inside my skull, squeezed and jumbled things around. Time moves at a surreal pace. I stutter. People are generally helpful, as Hunter's dad was today. They recognize the terror in my eyes and are good at suggesting next steps. So that I don't have to think for just a minute while all the pieces fall into place. Maybe it's my MS, maybe it's my system stuck in 'fight or flight', maybe it's me trying to do too much and calling my auto-pilot back into service. (Let's all remember that he's wicked and unreliable). I don't know. 

What I do know is that you are not going to get my questions and analysis of the world's $#!+ today.  I know you are disappointed.  Maybe next week.  For the rest of today I shall keep it simple.  Pay my bills. Get a haircut. Then I will have Andrew drive Miss Daisy (me) to the mall where I will purchase one pair of shoes for me and two pair of shorts for him. I will come home and we will make dinner. I will watch an episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race because it makes me happy. I will do my injection and go to sleep. Nothing else, except perhaps some conversations with my partner or my kids. That's enough, thank you very much. Assuming I haven't forgotten something important I am supposed to be doing.....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Uncomfortably Numb

"Everybody is NOT running background checks on their dates!", proclaimed the speaker at my Trauma Stewardship workshop this past Monday.  I spent much of the day laughing as I saw aspects of my life and myself rolled out in a series of New Yorker cartoons and character sketches shared by  Laura van Dernoot Lipsky.

The Trauma Stewardship Institute,  has a mission of "raising awareness and responding to the cumulative toll on those who are exposed to the suffering, hardship, crisis, or trauma of humans, living beings, or the planet itself".
I do not believe at this moment that I can do justice to the lessons that Laura shared with 400+ attendees. What I can do is simply mention it, piece by piece, as I grapple with the realization that I have allowed the 'traumas' of my profession to change and affect me in ways I was not aware of.  Not the obvious moments where I am unable to sleep, thinking about a particularly sad scenario from the workday. But the slow, pervasive numbing that has happened. The negativity and unfortunate encouragement of my natural 'Glum' side. The fact that, like Laura, I too could stand at the top of a beautiful scenic vista and wonder how many people have jumped...and where would the helicopter land and where is the nearest trauma center? A co-worker that also attended said that particular story reminded her of me. Excellent.

Yes, I laughed a lot on Monday. Then for the next 5 days found myself crying at the slightest thing. Reflecting on my childhood, adolescence and the personal 'traumas' of my adulthood and how they set the stage for my ability to incorporate work related traumas. How my passion for the health of the environment has made me keenly aware of the pain and damage that is inflicted on our planet. My desire to connect environmental health to human health has been lessened by my self-preserving need to 'numb out' or become cynical.

I have many friends and family that work in healthcare, social work, animal welfare, human rights, military or veterans, teachers and others who have experienced the same thing. There are a unique few who have been able to somehow remain fully present for their work; to be good stewards of  the trauma that they witness. I have not. And don't even get me started on her notion of 'tertiary trauma exposure'. In other words, how I have allowed my trauma exposure to affect those around me. Just ask my kids if their mom is paranoid...or a worrier...or neurotic....or "not a lot of fun at parties" as my oldest once suggested.
After a few days of thinking that this may be 'too little, too late', I decided to take a stab at managing my own little piece of the web, as Laura advises, so that I may then provide assistance to the larger web.

I realized that there is a part of me that has been trying to do this for a while. With my blog. With my 50 by 50 list. Last week's "Boats" post was a start at working through this.  I need to make my immediate boat smaller, physically, emotionally and metaphorically.  I need to pay attention to who and what is in my boat. I can allow people in my boat or I can toss out a life preserver or send up a flare on their behalf. I can keep my eyes on the souls that are treading water and be a witness, even when I cannot put them all into my boat.
As for this big round vessel called Earth, I can do the same. Over the last  few years, as my exposure to suffering increased and environmental causes were left buried under the rubble of a struggling economy, I sort of gave up in some ways...though not entirely. I stopped taking my own travel cup into the coffee shop, yet became defiant about my insistence on using cloth napkins. I steadfastly refuse to take a bus or carpool, yet I am adamant that I not spill a drop of gasoline when refueling my car. I take to-go food in Styrofoam containers, but make cupcakes from scratch. I cannot do the grocery shopping myself, partly because I am tired, but mostly because each item is an ethical dilemma of organic vs. local vs. what the hell can I afford?!
But worse is when I drive across the street to our other office, rather than walk, so that I don't have to possibly make eye contact with the homeless or mentally ill. I let the phone go to voicemail rather than hear one more sad story. I find myself hoping that clients will cancel. I don't read the letter from the City regarding development in the 20 acres behind my home. It's not because I do not care about any of this. It is because I do. And because I no longer trust that my caring makes a difference.

That's the messy place my mind is this weekend. A weekend spent learning about potable water, surface water protection and ground water as I continue studying for my exam. For now I have to sort out the dilemma of using hot water and washing bedding weekly to kill the dustmites, versus conserving energy and water. And I have to give myself an injection, the cost of which is extravagant when there are people without basic healthcare. I have to consider the excessive medical packaging and the landfill that holds my previous 1,000+ syringes in their pretty red hazardous waste containers. But while I am thinking about those things, you can rest assured that I will be applying glycolic acid and Frownies to keep the wrinkles at bay and if someone buys me ice cream I will eat it...and I won't even look to see if it's organic! Until next week, keep running those background checks people...she did not quite convince me on that one!!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Two weeks ago I escaped the dreary gray Northwest winter and traveled to Arizona. Four sun-filled days in the suburbs of the Sonoran Desert.  My best friend and I rented a little one-bedroom apartment for the two of us, and another on the opposite side of the pool for our sons.  That little apartment felt like the most perfect ‘boat for two’ in a sea of sunshine. A small carry-on bag ensured that I did not have too much ‘stuff’. Having lived in my current house for 14 years now, I am familiar with a literal overabundance of ‘stuff’. It weighs on me. I am sentimental, disorganized and tired.  A cruise ship of clutter headed for the reef of chaos! Perhaps I’ll tackle that another time. For now I want to focus on the feeling of weightlessness that came with being in such a small little ‘boat’, with just what I needed and no more. Simple. Sunshine. Son. Sister-friend. Sanity.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and weighed down, see if you can find a smaller boat to ride in for a little while. Pack a small bag and spend the night at a friend’s house if you can’t afford a hotel or vacation. Get away from your ‘stuff’. When the weight of your usual full life is lifted you might be surprised at the ‘You!’ that is hiding under there. You may feel yourself breath deeper and stand taller if your boat’s a little smaller and easier to control.

A previous co-worker, both wacky and wise (he reminded me of my dad) had a lifeboat theory. We are all riding through this world in our own emotional lifeboat. The capacity in your lifeboat is limited. Chances are, if you really had to live in a lifeboat, you would bring your immediate family on board. Probably some extended family and likely a dear friend or two. At some point we have to recognize when our lifeboat is full! If you let too many people on board we all know what will happen. If your boat doesn’t sink, you will begin to run out of supplies. Everyone will suffer equally or you will be in the terrible position of choosing who goes without. You will feel responsible for this suffering. Perhaps you are a martyr and you will go without yourself. Be considerate and careful of how many people are in your lifeboat at a given time. Some may come and go and that’s okay. But in the paraphrased words of my wise and wacky friend, “there are going to be times when some tragic soul is clinging to the side of the boat that you should not let on board. Then you have to be strong and pick up the oar and whack their hands until they let go.”

And now a quote from this weekend’s environmental studies.

There is a midrashic story: A man is on a boat. He is not alone, but acts as if he were. One night, he begins to cut a hole under his seat. His neighbors shriek: “Have you gone mad? Do you want to sink us all?” Calmly, he answered them, “What I’m doing is none of your business. I paid my way. I’m only cutting a hole under my seat.” What the man will not accept, what you and I cannot forget, is that all of us are in the same boat.
-         Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

With hopes for smooth sailing and sunshine in the coming week- Judy