Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Time of the Chrysalis

As the third year anniversary of my brain injury has somehow come and gone, it has gotten me to reflect a bit more. This has been bigger than anything I've ever dealt with before. (And, as you know, I've been through a lot!) I feel frustration on a daily basis. Frustration over my ongoing limitations and lack of being able to do even a portion of what I once could do. Frustration over not feeling like I can remember even basic things. I've had to learn tricks and double up on my checklists just to function. And, even then, I don't always feel successful.

I know I've been fighting this injury. It has been hard for me to accept who I am now. Is this my new normal? I don't like the idea of having a permanent disability. I never thought I would end up in that category. I know three years isn't what I should consider permanent yet but it sure seems like a long time. I have had some improvements since those early days but no real Hallelujah-angels singing-miracle kind of moments. Even if they're small improvements, I hope to have more. It's been hard dealing with vertigo and balance issues, constant memory flubs, visual and auditory overload, fatigue and headaches on a daily basis when those things were NEVER an issue.

There has also been an immense financial frustration. Anyone who thinks you can readily survive without a regular paycheck is highly mistaken. And, what's supposed to be in place to help is also greatly lacking. Who needs extra financial struggles when they are going through life-altering medical issues? No one. Oh, and have your regular medical checkup options taken away? No worries there, huh?

I try not to complain and most people wouldn't know by looking at me that there is anything “wrong” with me. Brain injury is one of those “invisible” issues like Lyme, Chronic Fatigue and even Cancer. The, “But you look fine,” attitude still plagues me and those like me.

If I do too much and don't pace myself, I pay for it for days afterwards. There is no “pushing through it.” Things like shopping are usually a race-like event because time spent under fluorescent lights is exhausting and headache inducing (more like increasing because I always have a headache). And, no, sunglasses do not help to take the flicker away that I see from the lights, nor do they help with the overload of stimulus all around me. Then, there's the trying to get my mind to make decisions. Just looking for a product on a shelf can be absolutely overwhelming with the flickering and everything else going on. Then add in, trying to hurry.

The hardest part of this brain injury, I know, is the pressure I put on myself. The pressure to still be who I was and do what I could. I am lucky that I have a great support system of friends and family and a loving partner who watches out for me and does all the things that I can't do (despite her just finishing treatments for Stage IV cervical cancer!)

I had a little thought the other day that maybe I'm like a butterfly? Well, the life I had before the brain injury was my caterpillar stage. I was busy growing, exploring, experiencing life with a super high activity level. Non-stop hunger for living go go go. Cramming as much into every day that I possibly could. And, like a caterpillar, I even shed my skin a few times to become the adult I thought I was.

Now, if I continue with that same metaphor, I'm currently in my chrysalis stage. It's a time of great stillness (like, 35 pounds of extra stillness...but I'm working on that the best I can). To be able to cocoon would normally seem like a glorious thing to an ordinary person, aka caterpillar. Just like a vacation, you might think. But, this has been a stage that I had no choice about making. I haven't even had normal thoughts inside my head since I entered this stage. It literally makes my brain hurt to choose words and to even think sometimes. Doing what one would think are simple things can put you in overload and physically exhaust you. Just tipping my head one too many times can bring on extra vertigo which then could lead to a migraine. And, that is never fun.

You'd think it would be a great time to learn an instrument or even a new language. Learning new things feels next to impossible with the memory issues at hand. Plus, the extra sounds of an instrument can be too much on my head. It took over a year before I could listen to music and even that is without other distractions on a “good head day.” I miss going out to hear all my friends who play in bands or cranking the music on a sunny day while driving to nowhere in particular. Even trying to read has been quite the experience. Reading. Re-reading. Re-reading some more. Not remembering characters or what is going on in a book from day to day isn't exactly enjoyable. Forget about trying to write another book with those challenges!

So, as you can also probably tell, trying to stay the happy, upbeat me is also challenging. I try to find gratitude in every day; be thankful for the little things. Many of my friends with brain injuries benefit from medications to help with that. After trying dozens, I've found that they all have the opposite effect on me. And, that's never a good thing.

I'm hoping this 'restful' pupa/chrysalis stage is just that. A period of real brain healing. A period where I become more appreciative of what human beings can and cannot do. A period of realizing the fragility of our brains and life in general and the importance of concussion awareness in sports (and the workplace). A period of realizing what true patience is. A period of figuring out what I can still do to continue on my goal of making a difference in the world during this lifetime. A period with a definitive end to it would also be nice...
And, when all that is ready to happen, I hopefully will emerge into the new and improved butterfly version of me. It may be a version of me that is different than my former self and I will have to accept that I'm not a caterpillar anymore. I'll finally have a set of wings and I'll fly.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The DeLorean vs the Faggot

Recently, I was waiting at one of those forever lights to make a left into the local grocery store plaza. You know the kind. The ones where there are somehow ninety different ways people can come and go? The ones where when you get there with the green arrow in your favor, you feel like you’ve won the lottery? Yea. One of those.

I got there just as my arrow turned red. But, it was okay. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Temperatures were in the mid 60s, skies were as blue as all get out, that fall smell was in the air, leaves on surrounding trees were vibrant in the warm palette. There was nothing remotely bad about the day.

So, I was just sitting there. Enjoying it all. When, in the opposite lane, I saw a glimpse of stainless steel. Could it be? Really? Stainless steel? Yep. There it was, driving past me. The confirming DMC on the front grill. I gasped or ooh-ed or something I’m sure of it. And I turned my head to follow it as far as I could swivel, trying to take it all in.

“Sweet,” definitely came from my lips.

It was a DeLorean. A DeLorean! You know, the car from the movie, Back To The Future? With Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly? Who goes back in a DeLorean time machine and has to get his parents to meet so he can be born? The DeLorean with the flux capacitor? And the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed to start it in 1955? The one with, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” DeLorean? I happen to love DeLoreans. And, that movie.

I hope I never look that old when I get in and out of my DeLorean...

All that shiny, stainless steel. The clean lines of an Italian designed car. The gull-wing doors. It has gull-winged doors! Ooh, how I would love a car with those. You could squeeze into a parking spot with only a foot of clearance and get out with more room than you could with a “normal” door. And, I’d love to hear ‘psshhh’ every time I opened my door. Like I had been vacuum-sealed inside. Gosh, I hope that isn’t just a movie sound effect…

So, I’m still sitting at the forever light, windows half down, warm breeze blowing in, my mind buzzing about the DeLorean. Thinking back to how when I was a kid, the neighbor through the woods on the street way behind ours had one. Must have been brand new. It was the early 80s. The only time they were production made (totally brand new that is...they still make 'em!). I’d ride my bike over there often trying to catch glimpses of the car. I was mesmerized by it. Sure beat the giant “wood” paneled, gargantuan, behemoth of a station wagon we had in our driveway. Then, the movie came out in 1985…those were the days.

My dvd with sticker goop still on the cover. I'll have to scrape that off.

In my head I’m thinking how I can’t wait to tell Five Eleven about my spotting when I get home or even tweet about it. I’m honestly excited by it. Made my good day even better. But then, as I finally get the green arrow and the traffic beside me gets to go straight through, someone (in a non-descript, plain ol’ car) yells at me just as they are past me...


Really? Faggot? Directed at me? What? You wait until you are past me to call me that? Coward. Seriously still? Faggot? I’m blown away. Hurt actually. I guess coming out later in life and living in a progressive area, I was never exposed to such a derogatory remark. At least to my face (well, even this wasn’t that).

So, as I was waiting at the signal, thinking only good thoughts about one of my dream cars and playing movie quotes in my head, someone was behind me, focusing their energy on my rainbow peace sign, supportive gay marriage bumper sticker (which did pass and we do have legally in this state. Get over it), and thinking negative things. Really?

Obviously, they didn't read this one...

Were these what prompted the 'Faggot' slur?
Life is so short. And, as I know, your life and things you can do, can change in a moment. Why not focus on positives and world peace and treating all people nicely? You know, that fluffy bunny, happy rainbow stuff that I’m all about? Gosh, if only we could go back to the future and change things and perceptions. But, what would we use as a time machine?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Eats a Caterpillar

There is nothing quite like having your own garden. With only the initial cost of some seeds or a few 6-packs of plants and some TLC, you have an abundance of almost free food. Unfortunately, for our short growing season and really wet summer, it seems like everything ripened and was ready at once.

That’s not always a bad thing. Veggies are good for us after all. It just means having tomato sandwiches, Swiss chard patties, green smoothies and steamed veggies day after day. Meal after meal. I’m lucky that one of my favorites, steamed broccoli with cheese sauce on it was readily available.

How much more fresh of a meal can you get than throwing on a pot of salted water with a steamer basket in it, going outside your side door and cutting a few chunks of broccoli off a plant, rinsing it off, cooking it and plating it? Maybe ten minutes to Voila!

Seems like an ideal dinner or lunch, huh? Green. Healthy. Cancer-fighting properties in the cruciferous broccoli. I had this many, many times until I had gone back to the stove once for a second helping and noticed a special addition to the steamer basket. Let me present you with Exhibit A. Or, maybe I should call it Exhibit C for caterpillar.

Exhibit C for Caterpillar. Or, P for Extra protein.

Yea, that’s right. Ca-ter-pil-lar. I was just as ewwed out as you probably are right now thinking about it. But, I was there seeing it. Live. In the flesh. Well, it wasn’t live. It was steamed. But it was there. Plump as all get out. In front of me.

“Hmm…a steamed caterpillar? That’s gross,” I thought. And then, it hit me. How many caterpillars had stayed intertwined in the web of that dense greenery? And, if so, how many had I eaten?

These buggers ended up on my tomato plants when they ran out of broccoli and cauliflower to eat.

My stomach instantly flipped. Thank goodness I have no gag reflex, or there could have been a mess. I know that most of the world willingly eats insects and I know they are high in protein. They eat them on Survivor and provide sustenance in wilderness situations, as my guy, Bear Grylls does.

This one ended up in my veggie crisper drawer. Too many bugs in my kitchen for my taste.
This website offers all sorts of information on eating bugs if you want to try eating them.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve often considered catching, roasting and then chocolate dipping June bugs but I just haven’t caught enough to bother. (They are supposed to be a delicacy and I haven’t had them once since living in New England). But, there is something different about a crunchy, toasted morsel vs a squishy ol’ worm sack to try to intentionally eat.

Okay, so I actually tried these. Pretty tasty if I do say so myself...It's that crispy vs squishy thing. Wanna try?

It mostly comes down to texture. And legs. All those little legs…so not appetizing in my book (I heard you pull off the June bug legs before chocolate dipping). Those legs are what I noticed one evening on Five Eleven’s plate. We had finished a candlelight dinner of grilled steak, seasoned French fries, fresh garden tomato slices and steamed broccoli, also directly out of the garden. Five Eleven had left several fries on her plate next to her bone and that’s when I saw it as I began clearing the table. I saw the legs. I nonchalantly reached down to grab that little critter off her place while she was still seated at the table.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I replied while holding the soft, little tube sack in my hand.

“Was that a bug?” She knew my steamer story.

“Gosh, no. I wouldn’t serve you those.”

And, yet, I did. It must have clung to the broccoli just until it got to her plate and fell off and camouflaged itself against the French fries. Thank goodness they were crinkle-cut fries or she may have spotted it sooner. And, instantly hurled. Seriously. She would have. And, that would have been a romantical evening killer. It’s all fun and games until somebody eats a caterpillar.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Totally No Recall

I experienced the Twilight Zone. Well, something that seemed equally sci-fi that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. Maybe it was because my mind just didn’t seem to be working. It was a bit frightening actually.

Imagine someone telling you that you did something or that something happened in your life for four days and you couldn’t recall it? Not one bit. It’s really quite freaky. Makes your brain hurt, literally, just trying to remember. Here’s how things went:

Little One and I got into the car to go somewhere (don’t ask me to remember that part either). As we sat in the driveway, I noticed a lot of what looked like critter hair between the front seats.

“That’s weird,” I said.

“What?” replied Little One.

“That looks like dog hair,” I said pointing.

“It is.”

“But, Five Eleven just vacuumed and detailed the car. It was spotless,” I said remembering that I knew she had definitely detailed my car. “When was a dog here?”

“Last week when you drove them to the beach to walk.”


“Jeep Girl and Delilah.”

“They were here?” I asked.

“Umm…for like four nights.”


At first it felt like a practical joke. Like Little One was teasing with me. Then it momentarily got scary.

“Did I take pictures while they were here?”

“Yea, especially of Delilah’s butt when she was eating ice cream in the car.”

I don't know if I'd recommend eating ice cream like this unless you are a little doggie.

I looked at my phone. Sure enough, there were pictures of a dog’s bun-hole. Oh, and us getting ice cream. I can now totally hear Jeep Girl’s laugh in my head. We were laughing about something. Must have been about Delilah’s (aka the lesbian rat-terrier’s) bun-hole. But, we also laugh about a lot of things when we are together. I looked in my day planner. Days of their visit were marked by a long, continuous arrow.

How could I possibly have forgotten this face? 

Now, my not remembering this should not in any way make you think that Jeep Girl and Delilah are so snoozy that I’d forget about their visit. On the contrary, Jeep Girl is a great, interesting, adventurous, outdoorsy person with the absolute, best laugh. (So, if you are an available, cute, sporty girl in the Central Massachusetts area…she is also available).

Yep. Proof of the puppy on the beach.

It’s now taken me several weeks to piece together more of their visit. Things are coming back. Sometimes those memories are triggered by something that just gets me thinking. At least I can remember their visit perhaps until I stop thinking about it and trying to remember it. Then, it’ll be like much of my current life with post-concussive syndrome…having memory losses.

So, if you come to visit me, make sure that I take lots of pictures on my phone and maybe make me jot things down in my day planner. But, if you don’t come to visit me, please don’t mess with me and tell me that you did.

I so know that you’re thinking about doing that…


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not My Type: The New Reality Show

I’ll take the sporty blonde for 200, please.

As many of you may remember from The Baby Photo DatingStory, I started seeing someone who was “not my type.” I hemmed and hawed for a bit when we were just friends about taking things to the next level. Having mentioned that Five Eleven wasn’t my type while talking with My Sister the Pharmacist at the time, she gave me the best tidbit imaginable. She said, “Well, dating your type obviously isn’t working for you, is it?” Whoa. So true.

But, you know, Five Eleven is my type. She has all the characteristics of the perfect woman and perfect partner that I’ve always wanted. She’s caring and loving. Romantic, funny, sweet. She’s helpful, smart, sexy, creative, thoughtful, handy…and on and on. Plus, she’s absolutely crazy about me. What’s not to love and what’s not my type?

Kinda like Einstein's quote on the definition of insanity...doing the same thing
over and over and expecting a different outcome. Dating the same type can feel like Insanity.

Just because she didn’t fit into my typical physical what-I-was-attracted-to-before traits, I almost lost out on the best thing I’ve ever had. I used to tend towards the more sporty, feminine-edged lesbians. Not the girly, feminine girls either (those aren’t my type). Very rarely did I do a double take at a Boi or more Butchy-edged lesbian with the thought of perhaps dating. When we were “just friends,” I even told Five Eleven several times that she wasn’t my type. Dang, what a heartbreaker I was…

So, lately, I’ve been repeatedly giving this “not-my-type” advice to several friends. One of which is a straight friend who wasn’t having much luck dating in the last several years. I think she has finally got it! She’s dating a guy closer in her age range (though she doesn’t look her age). This weeded out the ones who don’t know what they want or the ones with young kids which she doesn’t want to do anymore. Responsible, working men who may not own their own companies and several houses will be there to lavish more attention on her which is her type. They also can spend time cuddling on the couch watching sporting events like she likes to do.

We are all so quick to judge people based on what they look like on the outside. That’s why shows like The Voice have come into play. You only initially judge the singer on their voice versus seeing who you’re listening to which may actually influence you.

I think that’s where I lucked out with Five Eleven. We started talking long-distance just as friends. I fell in love with her from the inside out. Now, when I see her, or when she sends a pic to my phone, my insides just melt. She is so physically my type.

So, I think there should be a new, reality dating show called “Not My Type.” Find out what people want in a partner. Find out what their type is…what are they looking for in a relationship? If it’s blue-eyed, blonde-haired movie star look, see what about that is absolutely necessary. If they’re looking for someone who is funny and who loves country music, cooking at home together and mountain biking, how is the blonde hair and chiseled jaw going to help that? Seriously?

Maybe start them off just talking on the phone for several “dates?” You can tell a lot by the sound of someone’s voice. Does their voice irritate the heck out of you? Intrigue you? Excite you? Calm you? (I told Five Eleven that she had a sexy voice the first time I heard her…even as friends).

And, hey, how about what they actually say? Do you connect with them? Have things in common? Do you like how they think? What do they want in a relationship? What have they had? How would they change things? What kind of future do they see for themselves? Does your conversation flow? Do you always have things to talk about? Are the quiet moments okay?

Those should be the things that really matter. Those connections and similarities make someone our type. Yes, physical traits and chemistry play a part. If you’re active and tend towards the athletic, you’ll hear how they run or hike in the stories they tell. And, if they aren’t in top physical shape, but would like to be more active again, you’ll have something to do together if that’s important to you. Just be honest.

Being truly honest is required. No cat-fishing allowed. (See that’s where the physical stuff comes into play more so than who they really are). You can’t lie and say you like something or you like to do something when you have no real interest in it. You need commonalities and knowledge up front. At least the realization of them. Don’t waste everyone’s time. You can have differences, of course, but some likes have to be there.

Are there things that Five Eleven and I don’t have in common? Yes. For one thing, I love the ocean and swimming. She doesn’t. At all. Will that work? Yes. She likes the beach and the outdoors. She can watch me boogie board or one day surf in the big waves and I can resuscitate her from her panic when I come back to shore. She can free-climb cliffs or repel down rock faces while it’s my turn to panic from down below (there’s no way I’m hanging off the top of a cliff to watch her). Important thing is we’ll be together in nature, which we both love. Thank goodness she is my type.

So, on this reality show, after the face-to-face date, when this “not-my-type” person turns out to be brown-haired and brown-eyed, is that really a deal breaker from everything you learned about them? What if they are the same height as you and you say your type is taller? Why do we have so many pre-conceived notions of what we want physically? Have those physical traits made a difference in your relationship before? Did it work out for you? Obviously not if you’re out looking again. What if this person who doesn’t fit your “type” turns out to be the most amazing partner, lover and friend? Would have been a shame to pass them up just because they weren’t blonde, huh? So, maybe it’s time to start making some real, life-lasting connections instead? Then, “Not My Type” just might become My Type.

Are you with someone who wasn’t your type? What makes for a good partner? Please share below!

Erica Harding finds someone who wasn’t her type in this novel, Unexpectations.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Vignettes of the Spring Garden

I've been trying to take in more of this spring. I feel like I missed last year with my head injury and all. I still keep a journal of my daily things so I can remember what I did when I can't. Since I'm not on the go as much either, I'm learning to try to look at even the smaller things. I've always liked looking at them but I think that I really haven't had much of a choice. It's good though. Taking a moment to take in the beauty that nature has to offer. Seeing it. Breathing it in and then capturing it on film. (Well, the digital sort). Here are some shots of my garden that I'd like to share with you.

This is a fruit tree of some sort. I'm not usually a pink girl, but the blooms are
quite stunning. Then, I love when it has dropped its petals like colorful snow.

These grape hyacinths were among the first flowers that bloomed this year.

These bearded iris are such a sunny yellow color. Their scent is beyond
sweet. Reminds me of a woman. I picked some to enjoy inside. In the background
is cranesbill which some people seem to call geranium around here.

The peony (I stress the accent on the first syllable) is so heavy that you
really do need to support it with a peony ring or stake. Those fabulous graphic
leaves behind it are lance corporal fleeceflower.

This poor butterfly was missing a chunk of his wing. Despite the "bite," he seemed
to be getting about okay. He was here visiting the chive flowers.

A bloom of the rhododendron. There is a giant round bush on the corner of my yard.
Soon, it will be entirely pink and open.

These are some of the upper blooms that have fully opened on that rhodie.

These tiny red lichens (I'm guessing) grow on a stump that was left in my yard.
The equally tinyblades of grass caught the sunlight just so
 yesterday. It looks so Seussian to me.

This was my yard this morning before my neighbor so graciously cut it. I honestly
wouldn't mind this look, but others probably think it looks like a weed field.

White Siberian Iris along the driveway. My gay Subaru in the background. I love that car.

The non-descript flowers of the Solomon's Seal hang down from its stem.
Iris leaves and an elephant ear also catch the sun.

I had always heard that ants and peonies had a symbiotic relationship.
They kinda help each other out though their survival doesn't rely on the other.

Poppies glow in the sunlight with Siberian Iris in the background. They are
more purple than my Retro Camera app captured them.

When I found this little guy, I always thought he looked like a Moomin.
Moomins are characters from books by Tove Jansson that I loved in my childhood.
I still have quite a collection of them.

My mom gave us her collection of skunks for the garden. This little baby
is tucked in by mint, oregano and butterfly weed. Neighbors have passed by and said
they just may take them for their yard when we aren't looking.

Do you have a garden? Do you take the time to look at it? What are your favorite flowers or plants? Do you have a favorite tchotchke (or garden decoration) that you like? Please share below!

Erica Harding in Unexpectations loved to work in her gardens

Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Leg Hair Takes on a Life of its Own

There I was, sitting on a stool at a friend’s, chatting before our beach walk. First time wearing shorts for the year. Yea, it’s been darned cold in Maine.

I had brushed my hand against my leg when I felt a tickle. It felt like a hair. Funny thing was that I couldn’t brush it off. Then I noticed that there was another one. Couldn’t brush that one off either.

What?! Are those two hairs really attached to the back of my leg?!

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

How can they be there? And, how could they be that friggin’ long? I shave my legs! I shaved them all winter. And, I shaved them all spring, which it technically still is. I do have a girlfriend, you know.

So, I’m trying to be nonchalant and figure out how to deal with those ungodly stragglers while balancing on a bar stool.

Okay, this might be a slight exaggeration of how big those suckers were, but they felt this big.

Nodding pleasantly during the conversation. Not really paying attention, I’m transfixed. Tattooed on the thought of my new appendages. How noticeable are they? Are they dark and thick? Would my friend notice them on our walk? My shorts are on the longer side, but not long enough. Anyone walking in the vicinity would probably see them. I think that anyone using Google Earth at that moment would be able to see them on me.

Again…how did I miss shaving them? They are like their own entities. Do I say something because I must look so uncomfortable and distracted? Do I discuss my sudden desire to braid and bead my leg hair? Maybe turn them into a dreadlock? No, he’s a guy.

“Just let it go, B. Let it go,” I said to myself.

Then I twisted the hairs around my finger and pulled them out. Vowing to never, ever let it happen again.

Have you ever run into a similar situation? How did you handle it? Please share below!