A Snake, a Kitchen Ninja, and Japanese Art? (Plus Announcement*)

Back in early October my dog, Scarlet (aka the kitchen ninja I mention in my author bio) wanted to befriend a snake. Determined to kibosh that opportunity before it got started, I intervened. I knew it wouldn’t end well. As a result, I fell, hit my head, and suffered a mild concussion. (On the upside, I was right- it didn’t end well. But only for this silly human-snake and Scarlet were unharmed).

Scarlet resting after Snake encounter- while I was on opposite couch with ice pack on my head and back

  Thankfully, CT scan ruled out any internal bleeding from the blood thinners I take. But I became overly sensitive to lights/sounds which led to some severe headaches. A scarier symptom I had at the beginning was having a word in mind to write down yet writing a completely different word. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a while.

Concerned when my severe headaches continued into December (past the usual 20-30 days), I decided to do what calms me- research. (Some people knit, I research) 😊 Before that, my husband reminded me that my noggin’ had been jostled in a rollover accident years ago. So, this is not my first concussion-is anyone who knows me really surprised?! 😊 (29 years ago, my husband and I were in a rollover accident on my birthday-yup true story! I hit my head on the passenger side window. My guardian angel definitely watched over us because it could have been so much worse-the car looked like an accordion). This could account for my symptoms lasting longer.

According to the Concussion Alliance, a concussion breaks the connections of the “billions of neurons” that form a pathway allowing our cells to communicate to do various tasks as well as react to emotions.
It takes a lot of cell energy to reconnect the network of neurons. That’s been the probable cause of my difficulties performing normal daily functions like focusing, forming words, pouring that much needed cup of java in the morning.

To complicate things further, as many of you know, I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD already messes (technical medical term) 🙂 with the sympathetic nervous system, so that could also prolong my concussion headaches.

But another issue resurfaced after my CT scan- anxiety attacks. The test brought back traumatic memories of the two years that I spent having MRIs and CT scans as I went in and out of hospitals-at weeks at a time and nearly dying from a blood clot I had no control over. It probably doesn’t help that February 14th marks 20 years since that first hospital stay with a DVT that began my RSD journey.) Those memories added to the layer of swirling anxiety we all have with COVID-19, put my panic attacks on warp speed.

On a day that my headaches wouldn’t let up and I was feeling sorry for myself eating crispy rice treats straight out of the pan (yeah it was one of those days); I was reminded of God’s perfect timing when I received this beautifully painted wooden ornament from a talented artist and sweet friend- Kat Whitham in the mail.

This ornament represents the art of Kintsugi. Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a Japanese art form (over 400 years old) that mends broken pottery. But it isn’t just gluing pieces back together-the art is expressed through the materials used such as a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. So instead of blending in or hiding that it was ever broken in the first place, it highlights the broken area thereby bringing a new beauty to the item.

Interestingly, over 9 years ago while researching and writing TLCB, I came across Kintsugi art for the first time. I kept the notes in my folder labeled “to be used in sequel”- I was nothing if not hopeful 😊.

Being someone who tends to drop things a lot (even before RSD affected my hands) I have become quite a whiz with a glue gun. Whenever I mend a broken object, I try to make it look as seamless as possible so no one can tell (anyone else remember that Brady Bunch episode of trying to fix the broken vase from playing ball in the house?) I digress…

So, as I work on my sequel (ever hopeful), I truly feel that Kintsugi-beauty in one’s brokenness- applies to my mother. Her heart and life shattered into so many pieces on August 6th. Because of her survivor guilt, PTSD, and prejudice against atomic bomb survivors (out of fear of radiation poisoning) she didn’t think she had a reason for existing anymore, so why should anyone else want her? She felt she should hide so much of her pain.

When I look back 20 years ago, I see the beauty of the time my mom poured her heart out to me with memories of the atomic bombing at a time when I felt broken and that my life would never be the same because of the RSD diagnosis. Kintsugi’s concept that objects can still be beautiful even while emphasizing the breaking point made me realize that when life events shook me leaving a crevice that I felt could never be filled, followed by the belief that I would never be whole again-nor even want to be whole again; hope still existed. Instead of hiding these fractured moments in my life, it’s okay-even preferable to let them shine recognizing that they make me who I am today. The spaces in my heart now filled in with fortitude, empathy, and compassion.

Mom & I shortly after my RSD diagnosis 20 yrs ago

My Mom never discussed Kintsugi with me, so not sure if I’ll actually use the specific art in the sequel. But I can say you’ll definitely recognize a similar theme for the main character, Yuriko, as she tries to come to her own conclusion as to what “living her life” means for her after the atomic bombing.

Okay, back to the beautiful and timely gift. I love the hearts on the ornament. I feel that they are representative of the love of family, friends, along with my faith that slowly fills in the gaps yet, leaving me open to opportunities. Opportunities to share empathy with others who may have gone through something similar health wise as well as keeping my mother’s voice as a Hibakusha alive. I can find my purpose again (just as my mom once told me 20 years ago). ❤

It’s taking longer than I’d like for my neuron pathways to reconnect and I’m still working through my anxiety attacks. But the timing of receiving this ornament, being reminded of Kintsugi, has given me a new way to look at what I saw as a loss because of the months I had to take off from email, virtual events, and screen/phone time to deal with extra pain. I’m already limited from my RSD pain and I was angry at myself for doing something so stupid that made me feel even less productive.

Yet in that space, I found comfort working on my sequel. I couldn’t do it for too long because of the headaches but that took the pressure off of writing until I thought it was “perfect”. We eat by candlelight which was kind of nice-dare I say, romantic. Okay we can’t always see what we were eating, but sometimes that works to my advantage though. In addition to this, I’m learning to be better at setting boundaries with my time/energy.

So along with a lot of deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, virtual appointments with my therapist, and prayer, I have also been journaling my thoughts of helplessness, fear, and panic. I hope that it will give me some peace. I’m also hopeful that journaling about my panic attacks, will give me insights to my character Yuriko’s (based on my mom) PTSD symptoms in the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom.

January and February can be reminders of the various breaks in my heart. My Godfather passed away on January 4th 7 years ago, my mom passed away 6 years ago on January 15th and February 14th marks the event 20 years ago that my current panic attacks are connected to. But even though I still feel the loss, I can also feel the love of all those that were there for me then and are here for me now.

I hope that some of my rambling today may help someone else see beauty in their brokenness. And I pray I’m able to continue to share my empathy and compassion for the emotional scars that my mother had from the atomic bombing with students/future voters so nuclear weapons are never used again.  Which leads me to my announcement:

*I’m humbled by and very grateful for an invitation from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to participate in a virtual event to honor my mom and discuss being a 2nd gen Hibakusha in the US, this Friday night(Feb 12th 8pmEST)!! ❤   My session is titled “A Hibaku Nisei’s (2nd gen survivor of atomic bombing) Labor of Love.” My friend (Hibakusha sister) and amazing award winning author Naomi Hirahara (Mas Arais mystery series) will also be speaking about her parents who were both in Hiroshima atomic bombing. The museum enjoyed the program we did together for the Japanese American National Museum last August.*

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, the snake was a black rat snake (Pantherophis Obsoletus – for you snake aficionados out there). They are supposedly harmless but did not look that way to me at the time! From now on the (aging) kitchen ninja can fight her own battles-I (also aging) have learned my lesson…

 

 

 

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Waiting for the Light

 

Happy 2018 everyone!

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I hope you have missed me 🙂

At the end of the year people tend to take stock of what the previous year was like, and determine what they wish for the upcoming new year. Instagram compiled my top nine posts together in one display.

There were definitely some awesome moments captured. But, one memorable moment for me is not documented anywhere online, until now.

My family and I lit this Advent wreath each Sunday as we waited to celebrate the birth of Jesus-our light to shine in the darkness. Key words here are waiting and light.  

This homespun wreath is not the epitome of craftsmanship, but it is a reminder to me of my time in a holding pattern close to 17 years ago. After one of my hospitalizations, I needed occupational therapy to strengthen my hand muscles (atrophy as result of a medication reaction). Recovery was slow, and I was very impatient (shocking, I know). In September my physical therapist suggested that I choose a craft to strengthen my hands. She knew I loved using my glue gun. But did I choose something simple with the glue gun?

Nope. I chose to construct an Advent wreath that required using an ivy leaf stencil on two different colors of felt, cutting out that shape, stuffing with a little batting, and then hot gluing them together. I then used pins to arrange them on a Styrofoam craft wreath (btw, it’s not as easy to stick them in as you might think) and glued a little red pom-pom onto the leaves.

A time-consuming and arduous process to say the least. I didn’t just want to rehabilitate my hands-I needed to prove to myself that I could still accomplish something-something other than having the less than 1% reaction to most medications known to man.

To have it ready for the first Sunday of Advent, I knew I had to make a decent effort each day. Also, my daughter looked forward to coming home from pre-school and checking out the homework her Mom completed. I couldn’t disappoint her, especially with the guilt I had for being away from her so much when I was in the hospital.

Amazingly, I finished it in time-well barely, but finished. I learned that even though events were not happening in the time frame I wanted, I could still have something to show for it. As a side note-make sure you have someone carve notches in the Styrofoam for the candles before you cover it with the ivy leaves. Not that it happened to me of course, I had this friend…. 🙂

So, fast forward to this year. As I unpacked the wreath from the storage bin, it struck me that my life had hit the big ol’ pause button once again. This year’s moment in November when the ultrasound tech confirmed I had a blood clot, events from 17 years ago flooded my memory and anxiety floated to the surface. Once again, I’m up the creek without a paddle, although if a had a paddle, I couldn’t grip it since my hands are worse now, anyway—I digress.

After my new blood clot diagnosis, I dreamed about my hospital stay 17 years ago which brought back the feelings of isolation, fear, and the need to hoard cranberry juice (that’s a story for another day). That was the first of many sleepless nights and re-emergent panic attacks. It didn’t help that my recent blood clot diagnosis came the week of Thanksgiving. That same week three years ago, my Mom’s health began its downward spiral before she would pass away a mere 3 months later.

I guess you could say I was dealing with my own form of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). It prolonged the time that I couldn’t focus on any writing/researching my work-in-progress, reading for my own pleasure, or marketing The Last Cherry Blossom-which already were on hold because of my October surgery.

So, looking at the Advent wreath a couple months ago, I remembered the painstaking hours making it, and that eventually I completed it. So, I applied that to my writing and started journaling. Very rudimentary, sometimes just list of emotions I felt, and sometimes full sentences. A few days later, it dawned on me that my character, Yuriko will be dealing with PTSD.

Although I may have different reasons for mine, and my reaction may not be as intense, but I could understand some of the feelings her actions will be based on. So maybe I am accomplishing something after all and I’m not stuck on pause. That moment of revelation (this is where the light comes in) won’t show up on any top 2017 list, but it helped set the stage for how I’m approaching 2018.

Wishing you all peace and light this 2018!

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