The Deep of the Night

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Awake, yet again, in the deep of the night,
I listen to the breeze sigh through the forest leaves,
Sounding like the gentle caress of waves on the shore.
My ever present companion, Kodi,
Lays watchful at the end of the deck,
As I turn to go sit in my porch swing.

A loud snort breaks the silence of the Mountain,
Echoing all around us,
And Kodi is instantly alert and by my side.
A gentle woof escapes his throat.
“We don’t bark at the deer,” I remind him,
But they snort so seldom,
He has forgotten the sound.

We move as one,
My hand resting on his broad back,
To the screened porch,
And I hear the hesitant footfalls of our visitor.
In silence, I illuminate the big doe with my flashlight,
And Kodi and I watch her, together.

She is uncommonly pale,
The color of the deer we call Brazen,
But too skittish to be her.
Perhaps her daughter or sister, I muse.
I see the lines of the old Matriarch,
The biggest doe I’d ever seen,
In this one – the sheer size, large ears.
As she moves off, slowly,
I see she is limping slightly,
As she was a few days ago,
When last I saw her.

Is that why she is alone?
I ask Kodi, who looks at me quizzically,
And sits, faithfully, beside me,
In the dark, quiet, night.
I am never alone.

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15 Years: Time, Memory, Remembering, Forgetting, and Stupidity

It’s funny, what I forget, even now, after so long being sick. Sometimes, in my mind, I am still strong & healthy, as if time simply stopped passing when I became ill. Sometimes, it really feels that way, as if time did stop, and there is only The Before Times and a giant blur that came after.

But it’s been 15 years this month.

I had relapsing and remitting symptoms for a couple of years, and then in Dec, 1998, ME/CFS & FMS (and chronic Lyme) came to stay. I was diagnosed in 1999.

I just now, today, realized it was now actually the month of December, and the year is 2013, and that means it has been 15 years.

Time passes very differently for those of us with ME/CFS. I often am surprised at what month it is, or how long it’s been since something has happened. Sometimes I’m off by years when asked, “How long since…?”

One of the curses and also dubious blessings of this illness is memory loss. I remember things that happened before I became ill far, far, clearer than things that came after. Those 15 years are a fog, a ghostly mist through which I catch glimpses of events.

Sometimes, something or someone will trigger a memory, and something totally forgotten comes back. Sometimes, no matter how hard someone tries to get me to remember something, even some meaningful and important event, no matter how desperately I grasp for it, there is just nothing there. A ghostly mist where the memory should be. A blank slate.

But the not-remembering, the fog, and the complete lack of a sense of the passage of time, those things can be a blessing, too. If I had to really remember all the pain, misery, and suffering, of those 15 years, the frustrations, the losses… I’m not sure I could handle that. It is better that it is a blur.

Sometimes, because it seems like the last 15 years really didn’t happen, and I’m still that strong & healthy woman I was at 35, I forget, and do stupid things. Things my now-fragile body can’t handle.

Today, we are in something of a crisis as we are preparing for a severe ice storm, and I am totally stressed out. This stress is a huge problem.

My body’s been dumping adrenaline, making me think I am stronger and can do more than I am or should. It’s had this adrenaline dumping issue for months now and we haven’t been able to track down the cause.

Suffice it to say, whenever the slightest bit of stress happens, my body dumps adrenaline and prepares for “fight or flight.” This has led to a lot of pacing around the house like a caged tiger, sleepless nights, angry and irrational outbursts, a “manic & frantic” mental state, and is, in general, driving me and my very patient caregivers absolutely crazy.

Ice

The last 10 days have been incredibly stressful, with a severe ice storm last Tuesday & Wednesday leaving damage behind that I had to deal with, and now a second, probably even more severe, ice storm looming on Sunday.

I have pushed way far through the “energy envelope” we with ME/CFS are supposed to stay within, for day after day, goaded on by a flood of adrenaline.

And I’ve done a lot of really stupid things: walking around in the icy woods assessing damage, flagging down electric company workers…

I’ve been home alone for a week, as Rhiannon’s couple days’ visiting with Ben’s family turned into a week when she caught a terrible cold that I really don’t need to catch. So, I’ve been dealing with a lot of crap on my own that I normally wouldn’t – not just daily living, but getting power lines fixed, both at my house and a neighbor’s retreat cabin, being without cable for days and getting that fixed, etc.

Today’s really stupid thing?
When the electricians who are installing inside wiring for our emergency generator arrived, Kodi, our 125# Tibetan Mastiff/Rottweiler, went ballistic. He is head of security here, after all, and there were 3 people on the porch. His job is to protect me, and he takes that very seriously.

Kodi

2012 – He’s filled in considerably since…

The flood of adrenaline hit. I had to get him in the bathroom so I could insure their safety. I didn’t even think about it. I reached for his collar and he yanked himself away, rearing up like a wild horse. I lassoed him with a leash, and oh, he fought, just like the horses I used to have, before finally giving in.

Kodi understands something I still don’t, after 15 years sick, and 3 or so at this precariously low weight: He’s an incredibly powerfully built, 125 pounds of solid muscle, linebacker of a canine killing machine, and I am 107 pounds of skin, sinew and bone. I am not that physically strong woman anymore, who could wrangle a horse.

He is a dominant-aggressive dog by nature, and it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get him to submit to me as his pack leader. He still sometimes puts up a fight about that, especially when I’m in the frantic-manic mind-state that adrenaline puts me in, rather than the calm-assertive state I should be in.

It wasn’t until my adrenaline level dropped that I even realized my hand was hurting and damp. Leash burn, so bad it had blistered open and was oozing pus. And then pain in my fingers, my wrist, my back…

“What the hell was I thinking?” I asked myself, as I inspected my hand, noting yet again the hollows where muscles used to be. I wasn’t, I concluded.

Adrenaline fueled, my mind told me to take care of the problem.

Forgetting I wasn’t still that tough & strong woman who not only wrangled horses but also lived with wolves, I did.

Now I will pay the price. Hopefully, this time the lesson Kodi has taught me will stick, and I will approach him differently.

15 years I’ve been sick, and yet, still, there are times I don’t remember that.

And I don’t really know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.

But if ever I forget, and truly only see myself as this frail shell of the woman I once was, I think I would be done for. THAT woman has to live on in my mind, the ultimate goal, in order to keep going, keep looking for ways to get better. I will never be quite HER again… I will be older, wiser, and emotionally and mentally a hell of a lot tougher than I ever was. But SHE has to remain the goal, unforgotten.

I think that’s worth a little leash burn and sore muscles.

Day of Barking, Night of Bear

Yesterday started with barking.

It ended with a bear on our front porch.

I rather think the two are related.

At 7am, my peaceful sleep was interrupted by Kasha-dog barking like a mad thing, along with, apparently, every other dog on this side of the Mountain. Kodi, curled up in bed next to me, let out a growl that would have made a tiger proud – low and deep and very menacing.

There was some yelling, I must admit, from Rhiannon and I both, telling the dogs to stop barking. It worked for a few minutes, and then the frantic barking started again. This went on for perhaps 15 minutes, and then, finally, we all got back to sleep.

There was a lot of barking from the neighborhood dogs all day long, with Kasha & Kodi joining in, which was quite unusual – it’s usually pretty quiet up here, and there was a strange tone to their barking.

Last night, I went to bed early, and was sound asleep when the barking started again, as it approached midnight. This time, it was Kodi and Kasha together, standing in our living room and barking at our front door. They were definitely barking the “intruder alert” bark this time. Many other neighboring dogs could be heard joining in.

Rhiannon was on the phone to Ben, and I heard her say how scared she was, as I emerged from my room, pulling on clothes along the way.

“There was something on the porch!” she told me, continuing with, “There was a lot of noise!”

I looked to Kasha, the wise old girl of our house, who had finally stopped barking. The motion-activated light on the porch was not on.

I tiptoed to the door and looked out, shining a flashlight through the glass, half expecting a raccoon or something to look back, but instead saw that a full trashcan was knocked over.

I thought it had moved on, whatever it was that was large enough to knock a trashcan over. I started to open the door, telling Rhiannon to hold Kodi, who does not recall yet.

Kasha I trusted to come back, and to protect me if whatever-it-was was still there. She was going out first!

I straightened the trashcan as Kasha ran into the yard, and began barking again, although, oddly, not as urgently as before.

Shining my light on her, I saw that what I first took for simple darkness was not darkness at all – it seems black bears are hard to see in the dark! Kasha was close to it, and I ordered her back and into the house.

A bag of trash was spilled onto the grass a good 20 feet from our cabin.

The bear was moving off, and I called Rhiannon out to see it, and we watched it stroll into the bright outside lights of our neighbor’s house. The golden and brown leaves crunched under it’s feet as it moved away.

It was a quiet night after that, and today has been quiet, too.

We’ve been here over 10 years, and this was the first time I’ve seen a bear at our house. I count it a blessing, this which I know terrifies others.

It has been a lean year for mast – the acorns, hazelnuts and other forest products that the deer and the bear need to fatten up on. From what I’ve heard, bears have been living on our mountain for years, and I even saw one a couple years ago, when it crossed the road in front of my car on the way up the mountain. So I have known they were around.

But I think seeing one is a blessing, just as seeing the elusive fox is, and just as watching the fawns grow up is. There is something very special about seeing animals in the wild, rather than locked up in zoos.

We are all neighbors here on one mountain, one planet, one Earth. We are all related… mitakuye oyasin.