Last week I went in for my yearly MRI.  My 17th MRI.  In the last 9 years.

Neurosurgeons like to have you do MRI’s for at least 5 years after they remove a tumor from your head.  And I’ve only ever made 3 years….

Every MRI has the potential for great post-teen but still angst ridden writing, and I haven’t done that.  Instead I’ve been caught up balancing my own (inevitable) stress with the also inevitable stress that these put my family through.

My tumors have only presented with symptoms once.  The need for every other surgery has been identified by my yearly MRI.  This, plus some other family history, makes my family a little extra jumpy when I have an MRI, or blood work, or go see a doctor.  Which in turn makes me a little jumpier.

This year I told my doctors they could schedule anything except during the same week as Ash Wednesday.  And I asked for an anti-anxiety pill during the scan.  MRI’s aren’t bad.  I mean they are loud, long, and boring, but they aren’t bad.  It’s me.  It’s that I’ve had to do 17 of these over 9 years.  It’s that this could mean nothing but an annoying hour or so, or it could mean surgery and forever of recovery.  It’s that this never used to happen.

And that whatever my doctor says in a few more days, I’ll be back next year.

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It says something about The Church or me that seeing this LOLcats made me think of my job and, fortunately, laugh.  Probably more about me than the Church because, knowing this, I’ll still cheerfully wind up working today (which is theoretically my day off).  (But only because there is so much I want to do.)

Yes, I’ve looked at the definition of workaholic recently.  Some how people keep asking me that.

Technically, no.  I have plenty of creative juice.  It goes into my sermons; it goes into the classes I teach; it goes into the plans I have for my parishes.

But then I come home and I realize that I haven’t written much else–much that wasn’t work related in a really long time.  And that I have been taken pictures.  And that I haven’t been sewing.  Or engaging in my other creative pursuits.  (Although, really, those are the big ones, the ones I’d like to continue.)

But creativity takes time.  And energy.  Not just “sure I can get up and feed myself” energy, that special kind of energy that let’s my brain make those connections.  Those connections that make a sermon spark with the congregation and help a class connect ideas and begin to make conclusions and that give the parish plans hope.

And still, I miss the other things I did.  That I will do again.  Every now and then I miss them more deeply and have to remind myself that this is only a season of my life.  That it is right and good in its own way.  And that it too will pass.

I am fine.  Mostly.  Sort of.  (The rest of the post should explain the qualifiers.)

I’m coming to the end of two weeks of vacation, the first vacation I’ve taken in a year.  (Yes, all yelling about self-care can be saved.  I am perfectly capable of self-berating as I overwork.  I multi-task like that.)

I’d known I was getting a little close to the wire.  One of the things chronic illness has taught me is self monitoring.  My patience had been running low; my general energy was low; my sermons weren’t what they should be; my snarky side was trying to surface at the wrong moments.  I knew that.  And the soonest I could reasonably schedule my own vacation to start was two weeks ago.

I had big plans for the vacation I thought I might take 5 months ago.  For the vacation I actually scheduled, for the vacation I actually took, I planned to tackle a few projects around the house, spend some more time with the dog, and read.  I also slept.  I slept a lot.  I slept 9-12 a night.  I got the projects done (they weren’t that hard).  I cleaned.  The dog will still tell you that he is woefully neglected, but that’s his story 5 seconds after he’s finished a treat.  I’ve done some reading; I’ve done more TV watching, I’ll confess.  I’ve also gotten to some sewing projects.

What I haven’t gotten to: writing for this blog, two other possible writing projects that I’m thinking about, some heavier reading, seeing friends or family (this isn’t the loss it sounds like–I’ll take advantage of my flexible schedule and office and get see them).  I just haven’ t had the energy and I haven’t tried to make myself.  Because I know that I needed to sleep and be rested.  Because I know that there’s a lot waiting for me in a couple of days.  Among everything else, there are some vacation things that need to get done.

4 weeks ago I brought home the dog (giant puppy really) that you dropped off at our local humane society. He’s great. He’s gentle, playful, kind, and convinced that every person, dog, and child is his best friend. When he came to me he was essentially housebroken, he knew how to sit, and he has learned so much else so quickly (more on that later).  He has been wonderful for me and to me. He greets me in the morning and in the evening. He follows me around the house. He whines when I leave him, which is so sweet and so sad.   He almost never barks. He plays with me and walks with me and is almost ready to go to the office (some of the time) with me. I am so thankful that he came into my life and my home and I look forward to the years we will have together.

The dog I brought home was almost 9 months old, probably 65 pounds, and could rest his chin on my dining table. He barked and lunged at every person, child, and dog we saw. (Thankfully, we didn’t meet any cats or squirrels back then.) He pawed to get attention. He would hold-bite me (no pressure but sharp teeth) if we were playing or he wanted to play. He couldn’t walk on a leash. In the time I have had him he has only three times chewed things he shouldn’t have. All three times, I knew he had been left alone too long. Not once has it been shoes or furniture.

Since coming home with me he has learned not to hold-bite; to walk on a leash; to meet other dogs–most of the time; not to jump on people, at least right away. We’ve crate trained. We’ve added ‘leave it’, ‘down’, ‘stay’, ‘crate’, and ‘eat’ to his repetiore of commands. All in four weeks and before obedience classes. (He’s also gained about 15 pounds.)  And he can still rest his chin on the table, but is learning not to.

You told the shelter that you were moving and couldn’t take him. I don’t believe you. I believe that you never worked with him.  I believe that you never introduced him to other people or other animals.  I believe that you didn’t know how big he would get. And I believe that once you had a 65-70 pound 8 month pup with lots of energy and enthusiasm, you were lost.

Thank you for my dog.  Thank you for taking him to the shelter.  For his enthusiasm and joy and energy.   Thank you for not seeing his intelligence. You gave up a great dog. A handful at times, yes. But adopting him was one of the best choices I have made.
He is sitting near my feet as I write this, amidst 4 toys in various states of destruction and 4 toys that have, so far, survived.

Thank you for my dog.

Watch this. Listen to this.
I still envy poets who can do this. Of course, given how much poetry I’ve actually written lately, I’m just sort of generically jealous of poets.
It’s all for (mostly) good reasons. Life has been busy (and those who know me will tell you that my life is rarely otherwise). I’m have things to say about what I’m doing and what I’m experiencing, I just want to take the time to write them well. So, slowly those words will come.

In the meantime, listen to Joshua. His words are beautiful and sad and wonderful.

Or why my migraines took forever to diagnose.

I have migraines.  I have officially had migraines for about 8 months.  I have had migraines unofficially at least since my second surgery.  Which was 8 years ago.

That’s some difference.  8 months and 8 years.

The reason?  Is simple.  I’d already had surgery twice to remove two brain tumors.  One of the first signs of a brain tumor are headaches.  To be clear, my tumors tend to asymptomatic.  Further, headaches have never been a symptom of my tumors.

Still, when I walked into many different doctors offices and said, “I’ve been having these headaches.  What’s up?”  The response from many different doctors, most of whom I have respected and liked, has been, “When was your last MRI?”  And it was never that long ago.

So that was pretty much the end of that conversation.

And the headaches never really ended.  And because surgery had always been so recent and because they were never ‘typical’ migraines and because my life was so unsettled and because I don’t like doctor’s offices….

I just never really fought to get anything diagnosed.  Because it was so hard.  Because I didn’t know how to fight that fight.  Until it got too bad.

Because my other diagnosis, my past got in the way.

I made an extra doctor’s visit this year.  I don’t like the doctors.  Truthfully, I don’t know many people who do, but the thought of a doctor’s office has been enough to keep me dealing with pretty severe pain for an extra six months rather than schedule an appointment.  (True story, not one of my better self-care moments.)  So when I say I made an extra doctor’s visit this year, please hear that statement with some impact.

One of my medications had failed.  Spectacularly failed.  Kept me down and from work for the better part of a week failed.  Massive pain.  Barely scraping together the work I did do.  Not acceptable.  So once I’d pulled my head far enough away from the Ibuprofen bottle, the largely ineffective Ibuprofen bottle, and managed to think clearly enough to figure out which doctor to call, I scheduled an appointment.  (And then the pain kept being bad enough that I wound up in Urgent Care just to make sure I wasn’t crazy and they gave me some better drugs.  Bless them.  So I actually saw doctors two extra times.)

I like this doctor.  (I don’t go back to any medical professional I don’t like.)  We went over my symptoms and their progression and talked pain scale.  And then she started to talk about a diagnosis and changed my medication. So far it’s mostly working.

It’s not a great diagnosis, but it’s something I’ve been waiting six years to hear.  It took three years before the symptoms were bad enough to get me to a doctor’s (this includes that six-month period I mention above).  And then three years while the first round of medications worked without a proper diagnosis.

But you can’t go to a doctor with “I think there’s more to my now symptom-less problem.”  So after six years I have a diagnosis.  I can start asking for treatments and medications that will be effective.   I can stop wondering if I’m crazy, if this will fail, guessing about a cloud of mystery.

Because now I know.  Now my doctors know.  Now we can do something.  This is the power of  a diagnosis.

I used to write here a lot.  Once upon a time it was mostly poetry.

Then a few weeks ago, I had a post up and when I wrote it there were, well words and they expressed thoughts and ideas.  Only when I looked at it, there were no words.  Problem.

It was a good post.  It was relevant and there were other things that I had to say in follow up.  It will be a good post again.  And there will still be things to say after I re-write that post.

But right now.  Right now life is crazy.  I have put in hours that I won’t confess to because, well, I don’t need more voices telling me this pace is unsustainable.  I know this.  But right now, this is what I need to do.  And I like my job.  Even when it’s a little bit crazy.

So, hang in there.  I’ll try to get things up.  But it could be a few more weeks before anything of substance appears, or reappears.

Today is World Suicide Day.

Most people don’t know those of us who have tried or thought about trying suicide.  Most people know about the people who have successfully committed suicided.

I’ve been suicidal.  Most recently, after my second surgery.  I think I’ve mentioned before that that surgery was the toughest one to survive.   And I almost didn’t.  I can still remember sitting in my dorm room looking at the phone and my yellow ribbon card.  I sat there for what would have been minutes but seemed like forever working up the courage, the strength, to reach out.  To fulfill the promise I’d made after the last time I’d been suicidal.  That if this ever happened again I would get help.

Eventually I made the phone call to the campus psych services.  They got me into an appointment, they told me that I was depressed, they put me on my first round of anti-depressants.  They saved my life.

I am once again, and probably for the rest of my life, taking anti-depressants.  (Search this blog for pills.  The anti-depressants are the red pills.)  By now I think I have been through enough trauma that I will be taking anti-depressants for the rest of my life.  Which makes me glad that I live in a country with healthcare, that I have a job with benefits, that I have a background that tells me it’s okay to ask for this kind of help.  It was worth it.  It was harder than anyone who has never been suicidal can understand.

My suicide stories are longer.  But I don’t, this week, have the energy to tell all of them.  So let me say this in closing.

I am glad to be alive.  Making that phone call, living up to the promise I had made to myself, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

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