I always fought with the eldest of my younger brothers. We had an immature type of relationship I vowed to never entertain again: one in which our sole expression of affection was through teasing and conflict. As a 17-year-old I wasn’t yet experienced enough to know how to effectively span a fundamental difference of personality while existing in such close proximity to the dear being holding it. He had the same problem of course, but was much more irritable about it. I regret not being able to experience how we relate as adults.

He used to mock me when a date went badly and tell me how lacking I am. He’d pick mercilessly at my insecurities, but then he’d start in on the other party and somehow it’d always end up with the other guy getting the worst end of his verbal abuse. Somehow we’d end up laughing.

Somehow I think he wouldn’t have changed much from offering me that sort of therapy. I doubt wisdom would often displace our warped sense of humor, one of the few precious things we shared in common. Somehow we’d manage to twist all of our negativity and we’d end up laughing.

I miss him. I want him to mercilessly mock me when I have a migraine too, and give me the irritating comfort of knowing some things will never change regardless of my health. I want him to clumsily apologize when he makes me cry. I want him to throw a game controller at me from across the room because he doesn’t know what else to do, and then pretend to mess up and let me get the best weapon. I want to tell him off for underestimating me and then watch his relieved face after my mouthy outburst signals I’m back to normal. Somehow we’d end up laughing.

It’s been 16 years now, and he still makes me cry. I can’t remember his voice, but it doesn’t matter. It was still changing when he died anyway. It’s impossible for me to feel empty, because my emotions while trying to remember him reflect our relationship. After the tears and a defiant, supercilious outburst, somehow I end up laughing.

At his face.

(If you struggle with a loved one’s suicide, check out Alliance of Hope.)

A Crossbill In Wayward Gales

Call little crossbill, lost on the winter gale; though your flock is gone.

Punctuate every furlong with your merry voice.

Despair not little crossbill, lost on the winter gale;

For if I can hear you as you wing, there is hope your fellows might too.

“Red Crossbill” ©Jacob S. Spendelow. Used with permission.

Recently I experienced an uncommon sighting of a red crossbill. Uncommon bird sightings aren’t actually that uncommon during regional high winds or storms, yet it still felt a treat to be reacquainted with one of my favorite rufous little finches.

It quickly became apparent that the fellow was lost and separated from his flock. There wasn’t even a sign of the mixed species flocks that sometimes form during winters.  The buffeted crossbill began to call for his companions, and words filled my mind. A wish to encourage him touched me, even though I try to observe behaviors with detached objectivity. Of course the best I could do was chase him to a higher branch so cats wouldn’t be tempted by the attention he drew to himself.  Forgive me for being sentimental this time.

Click here for more information about red crossbills. The sounds I heard were the call, not the song, which you can listen to thanks to Cornell Labs.

The Inner Hearth

 Desolation is not the grating and abrasive sand of an expansive desert; nor is it the merciless sun as it bleaches bones.

Desolation is not the acrid and stagnant water of a dank swamp; nor is it the trees’ weak perspiration as it drips and echoes.

Desolation is not the vast and barren sea, full of salt and brine; nor is it the minuscule waves as they lap and tease of far-away winds.

Nay, desolation is this house of a heart, with all ready to make a home.

It is the late summer sun filtering through the shade, the spectacle of a sunset. It’s the glory of the Milky Way, the miracle of the universe.

It is a hearth warmed and a kettle heated.

Indeed, desolation is this house of a heart: furnished and ready, with no occupant to share but for one’s own shadow as it pivots with the arc of time.

I’m a Velociraptor and Chronic Migraines are Jurassic Park

IMG_3285I struggled for many years to describe the process of navigating life with a newly disabling condition. Most of the time my explanations ended up with both myself and my friends more confused and curious than we started (in no small way thanks to aphasia, more professionally known as “word fail”). All that changed as I was lying around in a painful haze, letting my mind go random in an effort to maintain distraction.

For some reason I remembered the scene of Jurassic Park in which the problem-solving intelligence of the velociraptors was described. The velociraptors would test the electric fence of their enclosure, but never in the same place twice. They remembered where they’d been shocked but did not assume that a different portion of the fence would deliver the same painful result. I had to laugh, because you see…

I am a velociraptor and my chronic migraine disease is Jurassic Park. Every day I wake up starting in an enclosure surrounded by hotwires. My goals lie on the other side of those wires. Let’s call the hotwires migraine triggers. So like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park, I must systematically test wires I know might shock me in order to reach my goal.

To achieve my goal without being incapacitated, I have some options. I can try to avoid the fence without touching it, which would be avoiding migraine triggers. That’s the ideal scenario. Most days, however, it’s nearly impossible for me to avoid all of my triggers. The fence is really high and goes all the way around. Fortunately, not all triggers cause instant migraines! There are sometimes weaker areas in the fence that will let me through with a bearable jolt, which will give me a welt but I won’t see it until the next day.

At first this process was harrowing. I feared the unpredictable fence that had such a high chance of causing me pain (not to mention other googly-eyed symptoms). But quickly my view of it changed. It became like playing the lottery from hell, which is interesting in its own right. And every time I succeed in maneuvering myself through the hotwires to my goal, I can reward myself with the words, “clever girl.”

I have a brain fungus, and it’s called a heart

  The heart is purely its own domain. If the mind should seek to trespass the heart, it’s as an alien with not the legs to walk upon that world, nor the eyes to see the colors that saturate. Yet the heart can easily infiltrate the mind, shaping its very matter and altering its perception after the heart’s own intentions. 

C’est la vie

One might presume that planning a move across the country would be tiresome. Seeing to the infinite details, from the 5000 mile road trip to the mundane DMVs and new doctors, to the back burner excitement/anxiety combo of a new scene, has left me more wired than exhausted. Now that itself tiresome, at least psychologically.

The move is a bit sudden and I’ve had to cancel plans for New Years and my birthday. I won’t be attending the super hype Smite World Championship, to which I’ve looked forward all year. I’ll also be delaying my Smite community article until I can spare the proper attention and love I wish to shower on it (February). I’ll miss all of you crazy e-sports fans, many of whom I was hoping to greet!

Along my route, however, I’ll be stopping to see old friends and am looking forward to seeing a new friend’s face for the first time. A friend is also helping me on my adventure. Being locked in a car for 8 days with someone tends to bring out one’s best and worst. Experiencing that with a friend is an adventure in and of itself. I’m lucky to have the opportunity!

My brain won’t shut off unless it’s dulled with migraine. When I go to bed, I comb over general game plans until I pass out. This has lent itself to weird dreams, and most of them are pleasant. Nightmares seem to home right in on that sense of security and turn it inside out every once in a while.

Nightmares stalk the clouds
Open eyes cannot unsee
The shadows of dreams

Tonight was one of those nights, and I’m so glad for my dogs. Their concerned ignorance of it all reminds me to just chill and look forward to both the journey and the destination.


Those Left Behind

Alaska Wild Iris (photo credit Lydia Rivers)

I didn’t know if I was ever going to share this story with the world. The recent grief over the suicide of Robin Williams recalled it to my mind, however. Every time I read a referral on social media to his death, I felt a jolt through the center of my being. Many writers and other thoughtful people are sharing knowledge about addiction, depression, and suicide. I laud them, and don’t feel a need to duplicate their good works. I would, however, like to share a story for people who have been already left behind by someone who escaped. I want them to know that reconciliation is possible within oneself, even after a person is dead. I had no inkling of it for over a decade, and yet it happened, quite suddenly. If I can ease one person with hope that the knotted ball of ice and iron may loosen for them as well, it would be worth laying my own experience bare.

Ten days before my 18th birthday, my little brother took his own life. It wasn’t an accident. He used unmistakable deliberation in causing his own body to cease function. I never resented my brother for suicide. I comprehended the depth of his pain from personal experience, just not the lack of whatever it is that made me decide to—no: that made me capable of surviving it.

But I was very angry. That anger started after the shock wore off and it persisted through all of the stages of grief. In counseling they made it sound like one would follow the other in a logical and orderly fashion as I healed, but that’s not what happened at all. The parts of my psyche that are above selfish emotions advanced at a much faster pace than the rest of it in recovering. That made it easy to seem like I was functioning and progressing well, when really the part of me that he had lost himself, that part that drives me to live, was speeding on as fast as she could go and leaving the rest of me behind. When I looked back and had my entire childhood overshadowed by his death, all I could do was fling myself headlong at the future. The other part of me though, the one that does indulge in selfish emotions, came much slower. The fact that I understood the mechanism of his death didn’t mix well with my anger, and so my anger became even more inconvenient to deal with. Of all the irrational and negative emotions that drain my batteries more than anything else, anger has to be the worst.  Who was I to direct it at? No one deserved it.

All of the other jumbled things were far easier to handle. Guilt, depression, acceptance, all of these could be treated or assuaged with efforts from my rational headspace, and help from loved ones. Anger, though, kept me from being able to look at his things, his pictures. It kept me from visiting his gravestone, because even just the thought of confronting it choked me, giving me images of losing myself to that monster and morphing into a terrifying spawn of Cthulhu and disturbing other visitors as I rampage impotently (and loudly) around the burial plot. Such was my inability to process it. I suppose it comes as no surprise then that my anger phase of grief lasted for almost fourteen years. The second stage, which was supposed to dissipate long before the others, long outlasted them. But it dawned on me during the 14th anniversary of his death that the anger was gone. Suddenly I could look at his picture without shutting down emotionally and instead could feel like his big sister again. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I can visit his gravestone without feeling like I’ll turn into a raging tentacle monster. And when I realized that, as I surrounded myself virtually with friends and honored his memory by engaging in a 24 hour marathon of our once-choice activity, any tears I cried were of relief and gratitude that I had the opportunity to be a big sister to someone so great.

Possibly helpful links: Real Stages of Grief , Alliance of Hope