Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011: Summing It Up

When I look at the calendar and see that there are only two weeks left of 2011, I start thinking back over the year to see how well I managed to live it.  This particular year started out on a special note because I chose not  to make any "resolution" but instead it was more of a generalized goal.  Now with only two weeks left of the year, it should be pretty clear about whether or not I actually managed to reach my goal.  In many ways I think the goal was pretty lofty, but when I made it, I was sincere.

For the year 2011 I wanted to be as happy, healthy and strong as I could possibly be physically, emotionally, and spiritually whether I was with someone special or alone.  
That was the goal.  After going through the second of two total knee replacements in mid January of 2011, getting physically stronger was a given.  I would have therapy, obviously, and the improvements made after the first knee replacement would surely be made again after this second surgery.  And it started out wonderfully.  For the most part, everything in my life was going very well except for a few stressful events.  But nobody's life is totally perfect all the time, and judging by my previous few years, 2011 was off to a great start!

Somewhere in June/July I somehow sprained my right ankle.  The sprain was bad enough that had I not already known what to do from previous bad sprains, I would have gone to the emergency room.  But I had been through this many times over my life including within the past three years.  I was the "proud" owner of not one, but two fracture boots, or moon boots, if you prefer the nickname.  I didn't like them but knew that they worked well for being able to keep walking with a bad sprain.  So for a couple weeks I wore the moon boot whenever I got up to walk.  What I did not expect was the effect it would have on my knees since the boot makes you walk a bit lopsided being that it makes your bad foot about three to four inches higher off the ground than your other foot.  It made the whole effort of standing up from a seated position very rough on my knees.  By the time my ankle had healed totally, my knees were beginning to flare up into a lot of pain.  Eventually my left kneecap of the knee I had just had the most recent surgery on started flip-flopping around until I was in so much pain I could not walk without my crutches, which was where I started out before the first knee replacement surgery.  Now here I was on crutches again and very discouraged emotionally as well as in pain physically.  Something was not going in the right direction for this 2011 goal.

The best part of the year was that at the beginning of August my daughter decided to take a vacation, and not only that, but she was going to take me along!  I had never had a real vacation before and was really looking forward to this trip.  She was also taking her four-year-old son, and her mother-in-law.  I was excited as well as nervous because of the implications of going on my first vacation ever and being disabled as well.  I wasn't thrilled about having to take along my wheelchair but I knew it was a necessity.  So, plans were made and I couldn't wait.  And the weekend before we were to leave was when I ended up on the crutches in so much pain I could hardly walk.  This was not a good way to start this vacation!  My daughter took me to the Emergency Room where we were told that my kneecap was dislocated.  I was given a strong shot of pain medication, and a shot of steroids to help it heal as well as a prescription for stronger pain meds than I had at home.  By Monday when we were to leave for vacation, I was ready to go.

2011 was also a year of struggling.  The sprained ankle was only part of the problems I ended up dealing with.  As part of a group of online friends in a chat room that dealt with romance scam victims, I felt I had something worthwhile to contribute back to the world even though I was pretty much home bound with only my computer to keep me in contact with others.  I made some really good friends during the ten months I was part of the group and had some challenges within the group with helping a couple extreme cases.  We were a peer support group and we all loved being able to help others who had come into the group dealing with the same heartbreak that each of us had faced at one time or another.  In mid-July, the owner of that chat room decided she no longer wanted a chat room to be part of her group that was fighting against romance scams.  So she pulled the plug.  Many of us felt very betrayed by her actions, however, not only because she closed the chat room, but because of her methods of doing it which were severely underhanded, to say the least.  However some of us expected it to happen eventually so when it did, we were ready with an alternate plan of action.  Within an hour or two of first being told that the chat room would be closed that same night, we had a very temporary conference chat going where we made hurried plans to set up a temporary chat room location until we could come up with funds to create our own permanent chat room where we could reach out to others who had been devastated by romance scams and needed a place to talk to others for support in real time chat.  Before the night was over we had a temporary real time chat room set up where all of the members of the newly closed chat room could come and still be together.  We lost only one regular chatter and one new chatter that night.  It was an emotionally devastating night for all of us but we stuck together and came out stronger.

Because of the efforts of everyone involved in creating the new chat room, we also created a whole new chat community along with supporting websites to help new victims of romance scams find a place of support, strength, and hope for their journey to healing emotionally and financially.  It did me good to feel a part of the whole process.  In doing what we did for our new site, at least two of us were motivated to get back into productivity with our own personal goals.  The one who did all the website graphics for the chat room website got back into working with her own graphics programs she loved so much before she had been scammed.  I did the html coding as well as set up a couple other pages that are all part of our "site".  Doing this got me back into blogging more, writing for the Yahoo Contributor Network, and creating Squidoo lenses again which I had not done in several years.

Around the time my daughter took me on vacation, we were also talking about how she wanted me to start going to church with her at her church instead of me continuing to wait and hope that things would change with the church I had been a long-time member of.  So slowly and gradually, I started going with her and getting to know some of the people at her church.  Now I am going there almost every week, and sometimes to the middle of the week service as well.  Physically, I am still not back to the level I was spiritually before I got sick, but I am slowly working on that.  It's been maybe the hardest struggle of all because I lost a lot of people in my life that I thought were close friends when I got sick, as well as the church home and family I was so attached to.  A lot of trust in the human church was damaged and rebuilding that trust has not been easy.  But with being back in church with a new group of people I am getting to know slowly, including the pastor, I am feeling a bit more like I am on the right path again.

A little over a week ago, my daughter surprised me again.  It gets lonely living this disabled life and I don't get out as much as I want to.  I also don't get to talk to people as much as I would like to.  I had been praying that somehow God would get my landlords to change their minds about my having pets in my apartment.  I wanted a little lap dog so much.  Waiting and hoping that someday God will bring me a husband and trusting Him with that doesn't make the lonely days and nights go by any easier.  People would ask me what I want for Christmas so I would say if Santa can't bring me a husband, then I want a dog.  A little over a week ago, my daughter and grandson brought me the cutest little Shih Tsu dog and said he was mine!  She got him as a rescue dog and she's paying for all expenses up front including vet bills, food, toys, a doggy bed, and more.  Not only has the dog, whose name is Jonah, helped make me less lonely, he has become a "therapy dog" just because of  the responsibility of taking him outside as many times as he needs to go every day requires me to go up and down a short flight of 7 steps that have intimidated me ever since I moved here in 2008.  This process is strengthening both of my knees which have not totally healed yet.  I know that, as much as my mind struggles against it, having to take care of Jonah's needs helps me take better care of my own.  Right now after a little over a week, Jonah and I are bonding, and my knees hurt like I am in physical therapy daily.  I am sleeping more regular hours because of the timings he has for needing to go outside.  I'm exhausted by the time bedtime comes around.  I am hoping that all this stair-work will make my knees and legs and back stronger with each passing day, and I also might continue losing weight as well as rebuilding muscle lost over the past few years.

So, looking back over the year of 2011 and contemplating on my "resolution" I made this time last year, I have to say that it was a total success.  There have been ups and downs all year long, but when I look at the whole year together it was good.  I have been as happy, healthy, and strong as I could possibly be physically, emotionally, and spiritually this year.  Two weeks from tonight it will be time to make another New Year's Resolution.  I might just have to do a repeat of what I planned for 2011.  Maybe 2012 will bring the husband!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coupons, Coupons, and More Coupons!

My daughter and daughter-in-law are both becoming avid coupon users.  My daughter-in-law has gotten so many free items that it amazes me.  Now they have gotten me so excited about it that I am having monthly coupon parties at my house so we can get together with our friends to share coupons and tips with each other, along with yummy snacks and recipes.  I am printing coupons off the internet almost daily and getting the weekly coupon sections of the newspaper.  I have a pile to be gone through and clipped as I write this.  

I've now gotten to the point where making my grocery list depends on what coupons I have, and the coupons I use depend on what is on my grocery list.  I know I can become too much of a perfectionist about this whole thing and let it hamper my doing well.  I tend to over-complicate things.

A few years ago I created a really cool grocery list spreadsheet.  I thought how simple it would be to just highlight and color in the items I want on that list and print it out.  The only thing that came up as a problem was that often I would want something not on the spreadsheet and I didn't have room to add it.  Now here I am wanting to figure out how to make it even easier because making a simple grocery list while keeping track of all my coupons is not easy for me.  So my response to this is to come up with yet a new spreadsheet grocery list that has a way of listing the coupons I will use next to the item.  I am not sure this will work.  

In the meantime, this pile of coupons is not getting any closer to getting clipped and my grocery list needs finished before Thursday.  I do know that the first monthly coupon party was fun and I am looking forward to this month's get together.  We meet in the mornings while kids are in school for convenience of those who have kids, and have a bring-a-dish-to-share brunch.  This is a great time to try out new recipes and brunch recipes are just a lot of fun to try.

When I see my daughter-in-law bringing home bundles of free items she got with coupons it just shows me what I can do on my limited budget if I learn how to do this.  My daughter-in-law is raising seven children and anything she can do with coupons helps her and my son greatly.  For myself, I have to learn not to be using coupons just to use them, but to stick to things I will actually use in my home once I purchase them.  Otherwise I have wasted money.  Now if I get free items, even if I don't use them myself, I can use them to donate to food pantries and other places that help the homeless or other low-income people like myself.

I will keep you posted, hopefully, about how this couponing works out for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Resting in this Valley

It's one of those night storms where everything is pretty quiet except for the occasional rumble of thunder and splash of lightening across the sky.  It's autumn and the leaves have been falling rapidly.  This rain will probably wash most of what's left to the ground.  In my yard the squirrels have been busy getting all the walnuts they can hidden before the snow comes.  Only a few are left hanging on the bare tree limbs.
This seems like a really good opening paragraph for a short story or something.  Ha, but my mind is blank about what could come next.  I'm here awake after only sleeping a couple hours and my mind is filled with thoughts I would like to put to rest at least for awhile.  But even when I am asleep, the thoughts continue to race through in the form of dreams that don't often make any sense or have any seeming connection to those thoughts that wrestle in my mind during waking hours.  A friend of mine uses the word "conflicted" sometimes when she talks about my dreams and my thoughts.  I think she is right.  I wonder if we all aren't at least a bit conflicted in this world we live in, each of us trying to make sense of what is going on around us from day to day.  Each of us has our own unique battles we face each day.  Mine seem like insurmountable mountains lately.  I was heading in a certain, definite direction there for awhile and things were going well.  Maybe this is what life is for all of us.  We only get limited amounts of time traveling life's road on the level ground until we find ourselves faced with yet another mountain to climb or river to cross.  I don't know what is on the other side of this particular mountain.  Then again, I don't know if we ever know what is on the other side.  What we do know is that we just have to keep going, one step at a time, one day at a time.  THIS mountain at THIS time, however, has me blocked.  Maybe I am trying to decide whether to climb it or go around it.  Climbing seems way too difficult right now.  Going around seems way too long a journey.  Maybe, just maybe, this mountain wasn't meant to pass, at least not yet.  Maybe this mountain was meant to get me to stop awhile and rest.
The storm has stopped outside.  All is quiet again.  I'm feeling sleepy again.  Maybe pushing forward isn't the goal I am supposed to try for right now.  For tonight, I will give this some thought.  Rest.  What kind of dreams might come from quiet thoughts about rest?  I'm almost looking forward to finding out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Past 4:30 AM...Again...

Just like the title of this post says, I am up most of the night again.  It's getting old.  I took my sleep meds, and yes I said that in plural because now I have two different medications to help me sleep.  Sometimes one works and sometimes both don't work at all.  I think this is one of those latter times.

I've always loved sleep.  At the same time, I've always been a night owl by preference but not always by being allowed to be.  When I was young I worked night shifts.  When I had kids my night work ended and I slept nights, out of sheer exhaustion I believe.  Mornings have never been my favorite time of day unless it was to get up early to go spend the day fishing.  Now that I am able to sleep whenever I choose to, I can't sleep at all most nights, although I do have good nights and sometimes good weeks where I can sleep 10-12 hours at a stretch.  But mostly it is a struggle just to fall asleep at all.  

When the night grows silent, and I am alone, ready to wind down, no matter how tired I might feel, or how much I yawn or struggle to keep my eyes open, my mind just won't shut up.  I've tried the "tricks" of making my plans for the next day earlier so I don't think about it when trying to sleep, or of going over the events of the day before I plan to sleep.  Nothing seems to work.  The mind overrides the medications and the tricks, and another night passes until nearly dawn before I can sleep.

It doesn't help that I sleep in my recliner and have been for the past almost three years.  It doesn't help using music that is relaxing or soothing, or using silence.  Silence is worse because at least the music helps me focus my mind a bit more instead of allowing it to roam through all the various thoughts that overwhelm me at night.  The only thing with the music is that I love the music so much it often becomes something I participate with instead of just letting it become a lullaby.  For the music to work it has to be almost the same music every night so that it is more just a sound I am used to, like rain on the roof.  (Tonight it is walnuts crashing onto the roof from the trees surrounding the house.  Not very soothing.)  

It also doesn't help that I am going through some changes in my life.  Even though the changes are for the good, I think, these changes have my mind busier than ever, making it even more difficult to settle down into a gentle rhythm allowing for restful sleep.  My mind is all about planning and creating and next steps.  At the same time my mind is about obstacles in my path and how to overcome them so that maybe I can make some of my dreams come true.  It's been a very long time since I have been able to even think in such positive terms about my life and now I feel the glow of the excitement of the challenges ahead.  So much has happened the past year and a half, some bad things, but mostly some very good things, as well as some very rough hills and mountains to climb.  

There are questions also.  Dreams I don't think I have any control over, and dreams that I have at least some control over crowd my head every night.  When the day ends, and my day usually ends anywhere between 1-3 a.m. by choice, the quietness seems to open doors to all the voices in my head that try to tell me I can't succeed in making any good thing happen in my life.  All the negative voices try to whisper "You just aren't good enough" and I end up in a mental and emotional battle to confront those negative voices with positive ones along with prayer.  

Something special happened this past year that changed my outlook on those negative voices, however.  Without going into great detail, I met the first people who have ever really believed in me and have been a great support to me mentally and emotionally.  These people, I realized, actually saw me for who I really am instead of judging me by my outward appearance.  It's been a refreshing lesson for me and it has spurred me on to these goals and changes I have challenged myself with.  I've been treated most of my life like I was no good, or stupid, or whatever negative things people judge others with when they don't want to take the time to really get to know each other.  But this past year was different, and being told how smart they think I actually am has boosted my self esteem greatly, and given me courage to step out and try, and really believe in myself.  I know they believe in me and I've never known that kind of feeling before.

And it keeps me awake.  Not that these are the only reasons I can't sleep.  My sleep problems started after my divorce but because I was still working I slept out of sheer exhaustion.  Then as I got sicker and sicker and was still working, it seemed all I did was sleep and work.  I could barely function at all.  As medications were better regulated, and as I was declared disabled, even though I still worked part time from home, I started having sleep problems which have gradually grown worse as time has passed.  I don't know the solution.  But for now, it's after 5 a.m. and I think the medications are finally taking effect.  So I will say goodnight...or good morning, whichever you prefer.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Friendship means a lot of different things to people.  For instance with the internet and all the social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, friendship seems to mean anything from strangers who play the same games as you do, to best friends from grade school, to co-workers, and everything in between.  For me friendship has a much deeper meaning.  I use Facebook, and many of my "friends" on there are family members and people I have met through chat room conversations in the past year. There are also those people on my friends list, as well as people who are not using Facebook but that I know in real, face-to-face life who, I hope will always be part of my life in one way or another.  ALL of my closest friends mean the world to me.

Tonight I just wanted to say that even though things we have to deal with from day to day may take our time away from each other, I know that those people I am closest to will always be special to me no matter what life brings.  Sometimes things happen in our lives that keep us so busy we lose touch for awhile.  At those times it might take some extra understanding to realize that we don't have to take the absences personally.   Sometimes these absences signal a need for extra prayer for our friends.  Other times it might be us who need the extra prayer and understanding because we are going through something and need to get off to ourselves to deal with it. 

It's often too easy to get offended and hurt when a friend needs time and space and "disappears" for awhile.  I am guilty of letting that feeling get to me sometimes, but then I remember that we all need that space now and then, especially if we have something we really need to do to meet life head on. We should not have to know what is going on with our friends at such times.  It's good to be able to let them know that we understand and are there for them if and when needed.  It's also good when we are going through difficult times to know our friends are there for us as well.  I know when I am dealing with the hard stuff in life I want to know my friends really care about me, but I also want to know that if I need time alone, they can respect that, go on with their lives, but keep me in their prayers, while letting me know now and again that they are still there for me.

Sometimes it is hard to tell our friends what is going on.  Other times we need to talk.  The same thing is true of our friends.  We all have our moments where silence is best and other moments when we can't say enough.  I just hope I can be the kind of friend that my friends need and want.  

For all my wonderful friends out there, if you are reading this, I just want to say that I hope you know you all mean the world to me.  And for those of you who are going through difficult times, if you need to talk, I am always here for you.  If you need to be left alone, I understand and send my prayers.  Life without friends is a miserable existence.  I am so glad you are all in my life.  I love you all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Being Prepared and Thinking Ahead and Does Anyone Really Care?

One week home from my first vacation ever has left me thinking about the future and things I want to try to do.  For example, even going fishing the few times I went this season I realized that I was not thinking ahead or prepared, even for being a normal healthy woman who loves to fish.  It had been too many years since I had gone, and I had forgotten many things that I would have done to make things better.  Now I have to think ahead for even more things to help make my fishing experiences, or any outside activities better, as well as safer for me.  In my recent blog on my Coping With Disabilities blog I talked about the importance of calling ahead for everything, and checking out every little detail before making plans.  The vacation taught me that I still can do things I want to do, but it will take extra effort on my part, and on the parts of family and/or friends who might want to include me in things they are doing.  I am so blessed to have a daughter who wanted to include me in her vacation and who went the extra mile to make it happen.  On the other hand, I am still very disappointed in the people I thought were my friends who could not even be bothered with me to even want to stop at my house on their way to church and give me a ride so I could start attending church again.  Simple things!  From them all I got was excuses and false concerns about what kind of vehicle I would need to ride in since I had my knees replaced!  Totally craziness!  Getting my knees replaced did not change what kind of car I can ride in, and if they really were concerned about it, all they had to do was call and ask me!  I did enough calling and begging for a ride.
Something I have learned on this leg of the journey of my life is that it is not always how determined the disabled person is to get out and do things.  It also matters how much support she has from family and friends to help her get out and do things.  I can guarantee you that if it were not for my daughter, I might not have even gotten my knees replaced at all!  I might not have had anyone to get me to all the many necessary doctor appointments as well as to the hospital each time if it had not been for her.  If not for my daughter, I might not be out walking regularly at the park or at WalMart to make sure my strength returns.
I don't generally ask to be taken places to be able to do the fun things I would love to be doing.  I know it takes a little extra effort sometimes depending on what that activity involves.  But there are a lot of normal activities in this area that I can still do all on my own strength without help from anyone else other than I need to ride with someone else to get there.  I have a list of things I could do and would like to start doing again.  At least I would like to try.  Years ago before I got sick I was the one with the mini-van who would make sure other people had rides to church or to our group activities.  The tables turned and I became the one needing the ride and the ride never appears.  In fact, I've only been invited to join my friends once in the last four or five years since I got sick.  All I come up with as a logical reason is that I've done something wrong so that my friends don't consider me a friend anymore.  Either that, or they are afraid of confronting someone else's health issues and/or don't want to be bothered with finding out what they can do to keep this person included in the group.
Well all that aside now, I am left with the knowledge that if I want to get out and do anything the rest of my life, I have to depend on my daughter to help me because no one else seems to give a damn about whether I get to participate in life or not.  Either that or I have to somehow find new friends in the area who would want to take my challenges on and see what can happen.  For myself, I don't think I've ever felt so trapped in my life.  I still can do things.  This vacation proved it to me.  I could have done better had I planned ahead better.  But I learned through it and I know better how to plan for the bigger things, or even the not so big things like going fishing.  But there are other things too that I can still do.
I can still walk!  Short distances for sure, but I can walk.  Sometimes I need to use my cane.  Other times I don't need it at all.  At the store if I am pushing the cart, I can walk a bit further, but not much so I have to sit awhile and rest, or use one of the motorized carts, or take the wheelchair along.  Taking the wheelchair along for some activities is the hardest part of taking me anywhere and I don't need to take it that often.  In fact, on the vacation we only used the wheelchair twice outside of the cottage yard and that was for the Island Hopping Cruise, and only on the boat, not the islands, and the one time we tried to go fishing.  We really would not have needed the chair for the boat ride either but it was better to be safe than sorry so we took it. The rest of the time I walked using my cane, and rode in the golf carts just like everyone else.  It actually was very insulting when I was told that my church friends could not come pick me up to go to church on Sundays because they could not decide what kind of vehicle I would be able to ride in.  I mean, all anyone had to do when they learned I wanted to go back to church would have been simple.  Call me! 
I can still go to festivals and parades, believe it or not!  Thanks Mary Lou for taking me to the Peony Festival and Parade and driving 2 hours to get here!  Thanks Sara for taking me to the July 4th Parade!  You both made things so much nicer for me for my spring and summer.  And neither one of you had to take my wheelchair along, or push me around in it.  I walked, rested, walked, and rested.  Mary Lou had to help with some extra trips to and from the car for me, but that was about it.  And it was a hot 99F that day which took all the energy out of both of us!  But I was able to do it and enjoy it.  We even went out to eat!  My daughter takes me out to eat a lot.  Sometimes I pay and sometimes she pays.  But the point is, I can do these things.  I just need the smallest bit of help, like transportation and friends to spend the time with.
Some things I would like to try to do are to go bowling, and have someone teach me how to play golf.  Okay so how would I play golf?  I am guessing by riding in the golf cart from each location to the next, getting out and walking to where I have to hit the ball.  Only God knows what would happen with a beginner like me when I get lost in the trees or on the rough or in the sand or water hazards.  I think I might need a little help...and if I have to have someone hit the ball by proxy for me....well, I am not in any tournaments so does it matter?  It's just for fun, right?  I'd like to play pool again, if I can play somewhere not in a bar.  I still want to go on day trips just to see things and take photographs.  Those would require some planning ahead, but they are doable.  
So okay, I can't walk very far and I can't stand in lines and wait.  I have to rest a lot because of the heart rhythm.  Sometimes I need to take my wheelchair and sometimes someone might have to actually push the wheelchair if it is an area where I cannot maneuver myself.  But I am still very much the person I always was.  I used to be able to make my friends laugh, and some even said I was a "riot" to be with.  I got sick and everything changed, including losing all my friends except a very few.  I will never understand this if I had a million years to figure it out.  I am getting older, like all of us, but I am not too old to enjoy life and the people around me.  I am not too old to do things to help others, or give back to the world.  Now that I have had both my knees replaced and I don't have to use crutches just to get around my small apartment; now that I can get out of the house and do things like everyone else does, I would like to try doing that again.  I want to live this life God gave me.  But God made us to need each other.  People need people everyday!  And I need a little bit of help doing the things I need and want to do.  All this should not fall on my daughter to be doing by herself.  So if anyone has any suggestions, I would appreciate them.  Just remembered this too, that I even tried unsuccessfully to set up a game night at my place with some of my friends, but they were not even interested in doing that!  I am at a total loss at this point.  But being this young and looking ahead, I don't see a lot of light at the end of this tunnel.  At the same time, I am strong and a fighter, and I don't give up on anything easily.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, planning ahead, I have learned, is crucial for a successful extended outing.
Thanks for letting me vent about this.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Challenges

This has not been the summer I envisioned back in January.  Both knees have done very well but other challenges have come along to set me back both physically and emotionally.  The worst of these has been the extreme heat that has blanketed the area far sooner than usual, combined with having somehow sprained my ankle.  I say "somehow" because I don't know how it happened other than the day before it started getting really sore, I was doing leg exercises while sitting in my recliner, including ankle circles.  Maybe I did too many?  The last time I sprained my ankle was in much the same way, but was the other one.  It was also from over-exercising my foot from a sit-down position.  To say my ankles have always been weak is an understatement.  

This summer I had hoped to be out doing more and going more places.  I'd even hoped that somehow I might get a car so I would not have to depend on someone else to take me all the places I want to go.  But between the heat, and the ankle, this summer has been much the same as previous years and I have been stuck at home.  Thankfully I did get out more this spring than I did last year, and I hope to be out again soon now that my ankle is feeling better.  Saying I have been very disappointed this summer is putting it mildly.  

Among the other challenges so far this summer has been the closing of an online chat room where I spent much of my time the past year (almost) and where I met some wonderful people who have become close friends.  In response to that chat room being closed down, several of us got together to build a new website with a new chat room so we could stay together and continue to do the things we were doing to help others.  You see, that chat room was not just another place online for people to get together.  It was a place to help people heal from having been scammed by the Nigerian-type romance scammers that have been attacking most, if not all, the online dating and social network websites.  This type of scam is very difficult to understand, especially the aftermath.  The people who are damaged by it are left to fend alone because friends and family who have not been through it, have a difficult time understanding it to begin with.  This chat room was a place where romance scam victims came together, healed, and many stayed together to reach out to others who came along.  The past three weeks have been busy weeks as those of us who stuck together worked to create a new home for this wonderful healing ministry.  Yes I call it a ministry because to me that is exactly what it is.  Others may call it a mission, and others may just call it home.  Yesterday was our official grand opening and it was a great success as we were able to welcome home many who had felt lost and left behind when the other chat room closed.  As word gets out I am sure more will come home and together we will once again be there to help new victims of Nigerian Romance Scams to find peace with what has happened to them.

If you have been a victim of these scams, or know of someone who has, or may be involved in a romance scam right now, please visit the new chat room website at Scams Of The Heart for help and support.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five years ago on June 15th I moved into a place of my own after living nine months in a homeless shelter. Six days later I got sick and I've been sick ever since. Facing loss of job and possible homelessness again I did not go to the doctor like I should have. I had no insurance. My job was as a temp employee with no benefits and no guarantees it would last, although all told I was there full time for fifteen months. I ended up nearly losing my home again because ultimately I got too sick to continue working and was wrongly terminated from my job. I was awarded unemployment benefits but could not collect because I was too sick to work. Thankfully, even though I went through a lot of fear and stress, which was counterproductive to my illness, I was awarded Social Security Disability and also found a great part time job working from home which helped keep me going and independent. But I was really sick.

I am having trouble writing this but I have to get it out because it is choking me right now. All my life I've had to be the strong one. My mom used to say it was a good thing she and I had broad shoulders because we were always seemingly carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. I was still young then. I got married, had kids, stayed married and stayed as strong as I could possibly be and ended up divorced 21 years later. I believed, and still believe in the traditional roles of a wife staying home taking care of her husband, home, and children. I believe that in this society where everyone seems to promote the right to choose, that women who believe in these values be allowed to choose to live that way if it is financially available to them. It was for me most of the time I was married. However, even though I had a lot of college in my background including an Associate Degree in Social Work, I was never prepared for the working world outside of home and family.

When I moved out of that homeless shelter on June 15, 2006, it was my second time dealing with homelessness after my divorce. When I got sick June 21, 2006, I was very active in my church and with my friends at church. As I got sicker and sicker but still needed to keep as much energy as I could to hold my job I gradually cut back on all church activities and time spent with my friends. Only one of my friends from church stuck by me all these years. I also made a good friend while I was in the shelter and she has also stuck by me and I by her. Whatever my church friends thought, I don't know. All I know is that these broad shoulders are very tired.

Tonight I have talked to my one church friend about the situation as I have been trying to get back to church for a couple months now. I want to start slowly, not even sure I can do a full morning of Sunday School and Worship, but I want to try. But for some reason, unknown to me, getting a ride to and from church has been difficult to arrange. I've had offers to go to other churches. But it feels so much like my home church does not want me anymore.

Tonight as I talked to my friend and we got caught up on each other's lives as friends do, I thought back over the last 5 years and how I've had to go through everything I have been through without church support because they were not there for me. My family was there for me and my two wonderful friends were there for me. I have a couple other wonderful friends who have since been there for me in the past three years.

Nine months ago on September 15, 2010, something happened that I do not wish to go into detail about at this time, but it changed my life yet again. As a result of this event that was painful for me, I met some of the most wonderful people I've ever known. These friends have stood by me through everything in my life since that time much more than my church ever did in all the past five years. Yet I have only met one of them in person so far. They were there to talk to me, listen to me, help me laugh, let me cry and let me try to give back to them the same friendship.

In all of this, in all of my life, one Friend has always been there for me and without Him I never would have made it this far in life. There is a song I want to share with everyone tonight and I also ask that anyone who reads this who prays, pray for me. Because as strong as I may appear on the outside, the broad shoulders my mom spoke of back when I was still in my youth are wearing down.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Scars, Beauty, Loving Myself

Having recently had my second total knee replacement surgery, I now have one more long scar that reminds me I am getting older, and I don't look the way I want to look. The past week or so I have been having conversations with a few friends and they have been telling me things I already know. I have to love myself in spite of what I think I look like. Not just on the inside but on the outside too. God looks at the inner person. Unfortunately people look at the outside of the package before they decide if they want what is on the inside. You see this all the time at gift giving events such as Christmas or birthdays. You see it at book stores and libraries. How many times have we all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, yet how many times do we still pick out the books that appeal to our sight? Hollywood and the media have gone to great lengths to make beauty the most important features people "should" be looking at. Yet when the beautiful people fall, like Charlie Sheen recently did, we see a good looking man who was not so good looking on the inside. What does he have left for the general public to admire? My point is, beauty really is only skin deep.

How this applies to my blog today is this: My body is full of scars. My body is overweight. Even though I am losing weight and may be successful at continuing to lose weight, I probably will never have a good supermodel type body. I don't even want to. I just want to feel healthy and strong again. But all those scars, and each and every inch and pound I carry on this body represents something I have gone through in my life. Most of those things were not pleasant events. I started gaining weight at the age of 7 or 8 after the last time I was molested by a neighborhood teenage boy. Prior to that I had been molested by other people, each time a different incident and different people. When I got to that last time, I somehow subconsciously told myself it would never happen again because I would not let it. I believed some of the monsters who told me that it was my fault because I was "such a pretty little girl". To stop it, I started to gain weight. No matter how much I tried as a teenager or young woman to lose weight, the weight just kept piling on, underneath it all the fear that if I got thin I would be raped. When people look at me today and see me as I am, no one can tell what the scars of this overweight woman are from. But there are more reasons this woman is overweight--more events in life that brought on weight gains. But more on that follows.

All my other scars tell their own stories. One that reminds me of the day my beautiful daughter was born. Her birth did not cause a scar but shortly after I needed surgery to remove my gallbladder which I was told had stones that probably shifted during the pregnancy and birth. Another scar is from the birth of my precious son born by C-section. There was a lot of fear surrounding his birth along with a lot of faith. Thankfully everything was fine. I have many more scars. Each one representing something God has brought me through and each scar reminds me that I am here and alive and God is with me always. My excess weight is not all about the fears of being raped. I've had a lot of bad situations in life I have lived through. Stress, we now know, causes weight gain. Plus I admit I ate too much. I don't drink alcohol and I don't smoke. I don't gamble and I don't spend money I don't have. I don't do any number of stress-relieving activities that are harmful to our health. I eat. Or I should say I ate. After a year of reversing that harmful behavior my weight has started to go down. But I have to take it slowly because if I lose weight too quickly I could have other problems I can't fix. Each of my two pregnancies worked in reverse of most women's pregnancies. I did not gain weight with the pregnancies. But I put on the baby weight AFTER the babies were born. Maybe I felt an empty place needed filled. I don't know. All I do know is my metabolism skyrocketed while pregnant and dropped afterwards.

Now this brings me to what I really want to say. I love myself. I love myself and I am happy with who I am. It has taken me many years to come to the place in my life where I could say I like who I am. I like the woman I have become on the inside and I want to continue to improve myself in anyway I can. Loving my body has been a totally different struggle, but this past week or so with the conversations I've had, I've come to a conclusion. I am what I am. Take me as I am or not. I like me. I like the scars. I like what they remind me of because they remind me that I am never alone. God is with me every step I take. The Israelites placed altars along their journeys with God. Every time God brought them through something, or taught them something, they built an altar as remembrance. I consider my scars as my spiritual markers to help me remember just how far I have come in this faith journey called life. If you have trouble looking at me, or seeing me for who I really am because you can't look past the outer shell, that is your loss. My life has never been easy. It probably never will be, although one can always hope. I am beautiful, scars and all, excess weight and all. I am worth getting to know. I am worth caring about. I am worth friendship. I am worth loving. My scars belong to me. They are part of me. They mark who I am. For all those in my life who have turned away from me for whatever reason, I forgive you. If you don't have the courage to talk to me about it, that is also your loss. I am a forgiving person and I have already forgiven you all. For all those who may come into my life in the future and take one look and turn away, I forgive you as well. But for all of you who are currently in my life and have stuck it out with me, I love you all in a very special way. May you all be blessed with love and happiness. With scars come pain. Physical pain and emotional or mental pain as well. Those of you who know what I am talking about understand this pain and the meaning of your own scars. Some scars can't even be seen with human eyes. But we each feel the pain that put those scars there. Hopefully we've also felt the healing. If any of you can't accept me as your friend because of what I look like, and don't care to take the time to know who I really am, it is your loss. Thank you to the ones who do take time to know me. Thank you to the ones who have stood by me as long as we've known each other. Thank you especially that one who could have turned your back but chose not to and continues to reach out to know me better and let me know you. Here's hoping this journey of life and friendship continues in peace and health for all of us.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's 2011. Already! Where does time go?

New years resolutions don't work with me so I rarely make them. This year was simple. I am not even sure it can be called a resolution. Maybe a mission statement would be a better way of putting it. I just want to be happy, healthy, and strong physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 2010 was a year of changes, mostly dealing with my health and getting better in as many ways as I could. I don't remember when I finally gave in and decided to take the chance on knee replacement. I am the type who reads everything about my health issues that I can find *from reliable sources only* and reading about the knee replacement was both interesting and frightening, especially the complications. Did I say I was scared? Maybe the oddest thing I did at this time once I had the surgery scheduled was to grieve. Grieve? Why? Wasn't this surgery designed to make things better? To put in the new parts the old parts had to be removed...taken away...permanently. The idea that I was going to have part of my bones sawed off to make room for metal and plastic was almost overwhelming to me. Even reading the word "prosthetic" was a bit difficult for me to comprehend. I mean this was going to be "invisible" to the world save for the scar on my knee. But it was a fake part and was, therefore, a prosthetic. And this prosthetic is not a removable part fastened to the outside. It is permanently implanted inside the body where many kinds of infections can go directly to it causing lots of health problems including the need for new surgery. So I grieved the loss of the real bone and made myself mentally ready to accept the newcomer.

When I became disabled in 2007 I was still walking fine. My issues dealt with my heart rhythm mostly, but included several other health issues. Walking was only affected in distance, which is still an issue. But as I was so sick and so in shock at the time I was first going into the issues of disability, including the stress of not having a job and not knowing if I would be approved for disability benefits, that the stress of it all seemed to make me feel even worse physically. Angina was a big problem, especially with any physical effort I tried to make. Even the simplest thing like the almost constant toe-tapping I do to the music in my head or on the stereo made my chest hurt. Depression was bad. The worst part of it was the loss of all the activities in my life in addition to my job. I gained a lot of weight. I've always been heavy and trying to lose weight. Now here I was gradually cutting bad things out of my diet because of health reasons, yet I was still gaining weight instead of losing it. Depression grew worse.

In November 2008 after I ended up with a stress fracture in my right foot (due to inactivity and weakness I am sure) then a bad sprain of my left ankle in February 2009, I ended up permanently on crutches. All through this time my balance was getting worse due to inactivity. I am not sure if I really needed the crutches or not, but I felt better using them than I did using just the cane. (The cane came along sometime in 2008 but not sure when.)

I did get to move to a better home in 2008 and that was a big boost to my spirits. I had a good part time job within the income limits allowed with disability benefits. I had a better home with much nicer landlords. Depression eased. Stress was somewhat decreased. When I made the tough decision in January 2009 to quit the work from home job I had, stress decreased to almost none. Depression improved tremendously although I still have my moments. But I think this was the start of the turning point in my health issues. Life was settling down to an even keel and I was finding that I was happy again.

To say that things have been easy during this time would be a lie. Simpler, yes. But definitely not easy. By the time I had the knee replacement surgery in May I was mentally and emotionally ready for everything involved. What I did not expect was that I would not be going out to even the simplest places such as Walmart the rest of 2010! I thought I would be up and out of the house a lot more than I had been once I felt recovered enough. What happened instead is that by the time I felt ready to go to Walmart again I pretty much was in a routine where I just let things ride as they were. It was just easier. Going up and down the steps leading to my apartment was still painful and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of riding the motorized carts yet with my knee bent so tight the whole time. So I spent June through December at home, only going out for the occasional doctor appointment and sometimes out to eat during the same trip. In December my daughter and I made our one and only shopping trip since I had surgery in May. It was a beautiful, fun day.

I can still remember the day I stopped using my cane! I was going to the dentist. I had taken my cane with me for the steps in and out of the apartment. But I have never used the cane since that day. Somehow that day I decided it was time to test my abilities and my balance. When I got home I had a celebration. My grandson was especially excited seeing me walk without the cane or crutches. He still comments about it once in awhile. He's only three! I can remember the first day he decided he did not need to get his toys out of my way when I walked to the kitchen. He said, "Grandma you can walk over it now." How could I not smile at that?

Sometime around this time, even though I had planned on having my other knee replaced in late winter, I changed my plans. I was feeling so much better that I decided to move the surgery up to as soon after the Christmas holidays as possible. I thought that having it earlier in the year would make recovery come earlier as well and maybe I would have some time getting to go out and do something other than going to the doctor in 2011. Maybe I might even get to go fishing! That would be so wonderful. (Okay friends if you are reading this...who wants to go fishing with me this summer?)

So here I am less than two weeks away from my second knee replacement surgery. I've lost 30 lbs since the first surgery thanks to a total life change in my food choices and the slight increase in activity. I can walk again and it feels so good just to go up and down my front steps as easily as any normal person. True after the surgery I have to go through the entire recovery process all over again. But this time I know what to expect and I can hopefully work through it better than I did the first time around. I am an unusual person so I was told by my physical therapist last time. As much as the therapy hurt, I pushed for more many times instead of wanting to quit. I had realized that the next day was always improved from the day before if I worked hard at the therapy. So this time I am hopefully going to push even harder within reasonable limits that the therapists allow. In fact this time I plan on getting help with the rest of my muscle groups that have been neglected the past four years since I got sick in the first place. The more I can walk the more these other muscles hurt. I also plan on working on my endurance so I can tolerate standing longer and walking longer distances than just a couple hundred feet or so that I can do now.

So this is why I chose this "resolution" for 2011. My health has already improved enough to change my outlook on my future. In 2009 I gave up my car. As hard as that decision was for me, I wasn't driving it. It was sitting out there getting flat tire after flat tire from non-use and causing me stress. So when a friend of mine needed a car for herself and her children, the choice was clear. God had provided that car for me in such an amazing way. How could I not pass it on to someone else who needed it? I had pretty much given up on ever having any kind of life again because of all my health issues. Having my knee replaced and the progress I have made since doing so has changed all that. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel now. I can see a bright future ahead of me. At this point I am not sure what that future holds but I am too young yet to waste the future feeling sorry for myself and moping about my life. The legs work much better. The balance has returned. I have lost some of the weight I gained after getting sick. But I still have major health issues to deal with as well as a lot more weight to lose. I am not looking to become anything more than the most healthy person I can be at this point. But I have been encouraged through all of this. Life is good. Obstacles can be overcome one way or another. I might not be able to do things the same way "normal" people do them, but I will find a way wherever possible to get done what I need to get done. Right now that is to get through this second knee replacement surgery and the long recovery time as positively as I possibly can. My goal after that? Ask God if I can have another car. It's time to get out of the house again and not put so much of a burden on my daughter. It's all still a baby step process, but I am not falling down so much as I re-learn to walk the road of my life.