I started this blog last year as I was struggling mightily with my weary body. I have since learned that my suffering was from undiagnosed RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis). It has been described to me as an autoimmune disease in which the immune system somehow singles out healthy joints and tissue and attacks them as if they are the enemy. Having an all-out attack on the joints and other systems in the body is no joke. The joints and tissue slowly erode and function is altered or lost. It flared for me last fall and last winter into spring was just ridiculously hard for me. It had me questioning everything from my work to my home life to my art life. It had me in a pretty dark place.
I’m medicated now and much to my dismay at having to put a powerful drug in me to keep the RA from flaring, it seems to be doing its job. Last winter (Dec into March) I had moments when my whole body seemed to be in distress. There were nights I could not walk up the stairs to bed,could not hold a pen with my hand and needed help getting out of the tub. Hot baths were an every night thing but nothing seemed to help. One night it was so bad I actually had two medics in my bedroom “dancing me through the panic”. I feel bad for Kelly. She didn’t know what to do. Neither did I. I wound up in urgent care the next day and was finally on a path that would lead to a diagnosis.
I abandoned this blog shortly after that. It has taken finally feeling better to want to share this particular story in a meaningful way. I won’t linger with it. It has become something different now and I can think straight again. Pain can be panic inducing. Thanks to many people, I’ve been “loved through it”. You know who you are. Thank you.
To update how things are today, let me just begin by saying I am moving again. I’m taking less for granted and getting my ass out of bed to go explore the places that interest me. I don’t have all the coolest gear and I’m not yet venturing too far into the woods on my own, but I am (as Mary Oliver says) ” determined to save the only life you can save “.
This morning I fumbled around in the darkness trying to dress without waking anyone. The dogs seem to be learning this new pattern and stay silently cozy in their crates. I fumble through gates and doors, navigating everything as if I am blind. If I were to ever actually lose sight I would do fine in these two rooms. After loading up my coffee for the road and my hot water for tea on the mountain I grab a carefully packed backpack of essentials and I hit the car by 3:30 am.
I drive the same route I drive in to work. At this hour there is no traffic, there are no delays, just a few headlights and, if I’m lucky like I was today, a bright crescent moon in the sky. I could tell as soon as I hit I-90 that there would indeed be a sunrise. The sky is holding light before dawn. Not a lot, but enough to know the subtle difference between cloud and clearing. I was energized by that. I rolled down the window and cranked up the radio …
As I approach my turn off on 90 past North Bend I can see the nameless peaks before me. They are black silhouettes against a faint blue-grey sky. Someday I will know them all. Already they feel like friends in these early hours. As I arrive at the small parking lot I see that there are eight other cars so I will not be entirely alone. I grab my pack and my small flashlight and I’m off. It’s 4:15 as I leave the parking lot for the short walk to the trailhead. My body feels stiff but I know as I get moving it will loosen up.
I pass two young women on my way up in the darkness. Aside from them, I will see no else until I make my return trip down the mountain. It is a different trail in these hours before dawn. The rocks are often like glitter on my path as the flashlight hits them just so. As the trail meanders past giant boulders I hear the birds and I am suddenly among friends. As the path climbs through the woods the birds seem quieter until I reach a certain curve in the trail where they seem to go silent altogether. It isn’t until the last mile, approaching the last long switchbacks do they begin again in earnest. I look forward to that moment. This morning there were more squirrels and chipmunks than I have ever seen. They were fluttering about in bushes and up trees. Those sounds used to scare me in the darkness but now I welcome the company.
I am hearing a new bird today. Insistent. My deaf right ear makes it hard to know where the sound is coming from. I realize it doesn’t matter and that this bird is all around me. Maybe that is somehow what keeps the fear away too as I move swiftly through these dark woods alone. Deafness makes me fearless, but I worry for the insistence of this new bird friend …
I’m still learning this trail. Today as the dawn broke ahead of sunrise I noticed the remaining remnants of an older Rattlesnake trail and the many places to take shelter along the way. It occurred to me that this whole trail is shelter to me. It protects me from my own overactive mind and from the assault that is the noise of everyday life. Today I found gratitude on that mostly dusty path.
In 45 minutes I find myself at the first ledge but I don’t linger there. I want to get up to the next ledge as the sun rises over the mountains. It isn’t that I don’t want to share it. I just don’t want to share it with ‘just anyone’. There are a few friends who have joined me on this early morning visit to church. You are special. Please know that.
I enjoyed a cup of tea at my boulder table. I watched the clouds glow with the arrival of first sunlight. They got all pink around the edges and though I tried to capture it with a photo, you really have to be there to know the magic of this shifting light. The air grew colder which surprised me. I didn’t stay long today.
In my ” Search for the Very” these mornings come close. They teach me something new every single time. Today gratitude, tomorrow, who knows ? I’m currently trying to understand what grace is. What it means. Why it happens. A new friend has shared that life is beneath your feet. I understand that now by being present. Perhaps grace happens without thought too.
Cheers to a weekday off and a body that is still able.
(Thanks for reading this ridiculously long post.)