Behind the Mask

(Halloween/Fall wreath I made last year)

One week out from Halloween, a day when people put on another face or personality, I thought about how much we sometimes pretend to be something that we’re not-or when we push something to the side instead of facing it(okay, it’s really about how much I do this). It’s been my theme for the past 12 months after the spinal cord stim (SCS) surgery(October 2017). With each medical procedure (to bring you up to speed, there were 3), I expected to be a step toward feeling better. Yet, other physical issues cropped up and a few visits from my old friend DVT(a.k.a. blood clots), had pretty much zapped away any strength or writing focus I have been grasping in my cold arthritic hands.

Please don’t get me wrong, I did have some fantastic news (TLCB being nominated for N. Carolina and Tennessee book awards!) and opportunities (most recently-my 1st time as an Author Moderator at ReadUp festival, SC) in 2018 amidst the various health issues, of which I’m very grateful. But pain has drained my energy and for each fun opportunity, my recovery period lasted longer than the time before. This is one of the reasons, I haven’t written a blog post in so long. I didn’t feel very creative and I didn’t want to sound so negative or ungrateful. Usually I like to share how I’m dealing with the difficulty and quite frankly I am still searching for a way to get through all this.

Being able to honor my mom while discussing The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) with students and knowing that I may have played a small role in their understanding that nuclear weapons should never be used again brings joy and meaning into my life. I have no regrets devoting my energy to that. However, I’ve also come to realize that when I’m doing school or conference visits, I’m unable to devote quality time to research and writing. I must confess that I’m disappointed that I can’t do both, as I originally intended. If I’m really honest with myself, I’m extremely ticked off that Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) brought my career to a halt 17 years ago and now that I thought I found something I could do, the progression of RSD may take that away as well. (it seems that my RSD pain is spreading to the incision site of the stent implanted in June-heavy, heavy sigh).

There have also been other factors causing me to question how I will proceed with writing. As some may know, this past spring the parent company (Skyhorse Publishing) of the imprint that published TLCB (Sky Pony Press), reduced the number of books it will be publishing annually, and their reorganization laid off the editorial staff of Sky Pony Press. So, my hope of a sequel to TLCB, to which I was devoting my time and energy, when I had it, is now looking less certain.

Any self-confidence I had evaporated. Insecurity and the awful feeling that I’ve let people down quickly swooped in to replace it. I’ve been pushing these feelings aside for the past months and pretending everything is going well. I mean, if I say something long enough, it becomes true, doesn’t it?  Sort of like if I keep saying when you eat crispy rice treats straight from the pan, there are less calories-don’t judge. 😊

I do have other ideas for manuscripts and have even started researching/writing them. Yet the story my heart yearns to tell is the one of my main character, Yuriko. How she is trying to find meaning for her life and dealing with symptoms of PTSD, while living among the soldiers of the US Occupation forces and without her Papa.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to acknowledge the fact that my health may not get any better than it is right now-and may even be getting worse. I’ve been praying. I’m reminded that with God all things are possible and that He is made stronger in our weakness (I know I gave Him one huge energy booster shot over the past year). I don’t like change-but then again, who does? So, I decided to write this post while I’m still in the mess of it all. The feelings are no longer put aside and hidden with a smile.

(EEK! A mask on building in Izu from our visit in 2015)

I hope I can gain a little more of my pre-surgery physical and emotional strength back. And you can be sure that I will keep visiting with students (I just may have to do more Skype visits). But I need to work on accepting the fact that an instant solution to all this will not arrive gift wrapped and tied with a sparkling bow-oh, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did?! 😊 So, the mask is off, and hopefully I won’t scare anyone away while I’m waiting.

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Sage Advice

words_wisdom

Pain wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t hurt so much. My Godfather said these words of comical wisdom (he had many) at the end of a particularly grueling physical therapy session after my initial diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).

He made me laugh when the best I could do was a grimace. Once I started laughing I could not stop until my body doubled over my walker and I had tears in my eyes. I am sure people around me thought I was losing it! But I think that the irony of laughing amidst all that pain just set something off in my head.

I am very competitive and since I was lousy at sports (yup, I was the one always picked last for gym class—but I’m not bitter…maybe a little), I focused on academics. That competitive part of me kept climbing higher on the corporate ladder and just when I was about to reach the top, RSD cut the rungs out beneath me.

I am a type-A person, and a planner(shocking, I know). Despite those qualities, I still had no idea that the blood clot and RSD were headed my way. RSD reminded me that I, alone can not control what happens in my life. But being the control freak that I am, RSD wreaked havoc in my head. I feared RSD because I had nothing in my arsenal to fight it.

But I did have people in my life that could help me, (in addition to my husband and daughter, of course). My Godfather was one of those people. He had his first heart attack resulting in a quadruple bypass at 40 years old. He had two more heart attacks, a bypass, and a defibrillator implanted before he turned 60. However, he would find a way to make a joke and to make others smile, even while lying in a hospital bed with oxygen and a myriad of tubes sticking out of his body. It made him happy to make us laugh. He knew pain and he hated seeing others in pain.

Whenever I asked how he felt, his standard reply was, “Well, I woke up this morning and I am still cute-so pretty good.” (Makes a pretty good first item to check off on a to-do list don’t ya think?)

I planned to continue smiling even on bad pain days.  I learned some jokes. And, much to my family’s chagrin, I am a terrible joke teller. I end up either forgetting the middle or saying the punchline wrong (and I found that even my 4-year-old could only put up with so many knock-knock jokes at one time).

knockknock

I discovered that a smile could mask my difficulty with accepting RSD as part of my life. I did not want to talk about it initially. I worried that people would think I lacked faith because I could not deal with this 180 degree turn in my life. I thought up alternate stories to tell people when they asked what happened, like I was skiing in the Alps and hit a tree on a black diamond slope.  There were so many things wrong with that story – least of all that the closest I’ve been to Switzerland is drinking a brand of cocoa!  No one I knew would believe that I went skiing-but strangers might.

When I shared this with my Godfather, he chuckled at first. But then his demeanor turned serious and he told me not to hide what I had. “Ignoring this part of you would be like saying you didn’t really exist anymore because of RSD. You can’t let RSD become you; instead it should be a part of you.”  He told me that after his first heart attack, he pictured himself as a ticking time bomb. One day it dawned on him that he was not living his life. He decided to enjoy whatever time he would be blessed with.

It is 13 years after that conversation. I do try to smile through the pain because it is always there, just in varying degrees. I truly feel like smiling when I am with my friends and family, and a side bonus is that I can forget my pain for a little while. I still can’t tell a joke for beans and now just slightly over 40–remembering the punchline is even more difficult.

I love writing.  It takes me to a different place and my characters can do things I cannot physically do. I become caught up in the story or caught up in how the characters are evolving. Even when I am trying to work through holes in my plot and it seems like it will never come together, I am still focusing on something other than my pain.

Please know that some days, like today, the pain flare ups still get to me. I still have my pity parties (you know-they are like a tea party but with tissues, instead of teacups and rice crispy marshmallow treats, instead of cucumber sandwiches). But my Godfather’s advice has helped to minimize the length of my partying.-

As for what I tell people when they ask about my cane-I still struggle with discussing it(everybody has to have some hang up, right?), so I try to refocus their eyes by wearing cute shoes. It usually does the trick.

The man who helped me through all this with his sage advice and comical wisdom passed away in January leaving a large hole in my heart.

And yes, Roger, pain wouldn’t be so bad if my heart didn’t hurt so much.

Please share who gave you sage advice or comical wisdom?

 

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