I've disguised weaknesses for strengths, I've camouflaged fear for courage, and I've swapped black into white. I've built walls around me and created islands in the middle of oceans, convincing myself of invincibility. But I never felt invincible, only invisible. Fear built those walls and fear made those islands, and fear drives this sense of independence, but really at the end of the day I long for connection, for coffee shops and long talks, for laughter and me too's. Today I challenge myself to dare greatly and I ask you to do the same, take a brick out of that wall and reach out a hand as you take a step closer to shore, and trust that someone might be ready to grab it.
I'm not afraid of dying (assuming I don't die in the hands of a psychopath), but I am afraid of being forgotten. It will be as if my fingerprints on the fabric of life were dusted off, swept up, and taken out with the trash; that all the particles that made up my being were erased; that someone did a giant control alt delete on my life. I'm afraid of what it means to be forgettable. This fear pushes me to live a life full of meaning, to try to do good to those around me. This fear also makes me say the names of those I lost out loud, ensuring my loved ones that they are not forgotten.
When the avalanche of sand buried our bodies, my father found me within minutes, but it took a rescue team of over 100 working for 24 hours before they found my brother's lifeless body. Even though I was only 3 years old at the time, I burdened myself with guilt of his death, I couldn't rid myself of the belief that I took up too much of my father's time to be found. Like a broken record, I've been haunted by the message, "You used too much time" for most of my adult life.
My ghosts used to visit me everyday, we'd used to lay on my bed and talk for hours. When it got late, they'd curl up on my chest and fall asleep with me. While they weighted me down, I didn't mind their company, there was something comforting about them, they had been residing with me for so long, I didn't know anything different. It sounds crazy now, but back then I didn't have anything else to compare it to. It wasn't until the hospital that I realized they had to go, I was going to die if I didn't evict them, they were too heavy of a burden and I was drowning. It's been a battle and there are times when I feel them lurking in the shadows, but I've had too many good years basking in the warmth to go back there. Plus I've met joy.
I am weathered
But not hardened
I am cracked
But not broken
I may blow over
But never down
The storm leaves its
Wreckage on the ground
But like all things lost
They can be found
My clothes are tattered
My hair is soaked
But inside is dry
And still full of hope
My feet are scarred
My hands are blistered
My knees are bloodied
But my heart resisted
My soul stays strong
And my spirit stays wild
Like a feral child
Death is always a reminder of life, it's a stark compare and contrast of all that is versus all that suddenly isn't. When life brushes shoulders with death, our pulse quickens and our breath shortens as we think of everything that was taken for granted... time. And everything that was ever wasted... time. We find ourselves scrambling at the end, holding our loved ones, and grasping for more... time. It's always time. But what we fail to remember in every moment before then is NOW. Every moment right now is a gift of time, Shane Koyczan illustrates it beautifully in his poem, Visiting Hours: "Some of us are going to get cancer
And some of us are going to fall in our showers
But until then you got to shine
Because all the time you get
It's just visiting hours." Now is our visiting hours, now is the moment to embrace life and those around us. Don't only value life at the end, value it through its entirety.
Thank you to my dear and thoughtful friend, Sunny for the beautiful flowers. Such a wonderful gift to find at my door to honor exactly this, these are our visiting hours. Often we send flowers when someone's gone, but how about we send them now while there's still time.
It's been almost 7 days and I'm nowhere closer to knowing what's wrong and nowhere closer to getting out of this bed. My once strong and loyal body has failed me this past week, and while I laugh when I mention lobotomies, please know I am only half kidding. It feels like there is a lunatic running loose in my head with a steak knife, he has been carving out my eye sockets while feasting on my brain and picking his teeth with fragments of my skull, and I wish for nothing more than to reach in and grab his sorry little ass. The hospital originally swirled words like meningitis, brain hemorrhaging, and aneurysms while the IV dripped panic into my veins and fear into my chest. I was haunted by visions of my mother's tracheotomy, wondering if mine was mere incisions away, but my scans came back negative, and while I wanted to jump for joy, my body would not cooperate. It's days later and I am nowhere closer to jumping for joy, my body is nowhere closer to cooperating. I keep telling myself, maybe tomorrow. My heart is swelling now with compassion for those who live with chronic illnesses, for those who don't get to hold onto the maybe tomorrows, for those whose bodies fail them everyday, but for those who get up with joy anyway. I will make it my mission to try to find joy despite the knife wielding lunatic that has temporarily taken residence in my head.
I felt like I was a spy hiding in the innermost closet of her mind, catching glimpses of her naked soul as she spilled her narrative across the white pages in my hands. The black words circled down my throat the way water swirls down a drain, falling easily until the clog came in the form of a lump in the back of my throat. The rawness of her words were enriching yet painful, vulnerable, yet empowering. I found myself simultaneously reaching for the box of Kleenex while wildly circling and underlining each line that captured my breath with my pen. Her story illustrates a pain I know well, a paralleling universe of grief and loss, heartbreak and self-doubt, to acceptance and love. This princess is her own heroine. Her book, a true story based on the good, the bad, and the ugly (in the reverse order). And her voice, a witness to her strength. For anyone looking for an authentic rawness, pick up at a bookstore nearest you.
I should have named you shadow
Not as a noun, but a verb
As you have followed me everywhere
Since the first day we met.
I remember that day vividly
How you sat anxiously in the backseat of my car
Pacing from one side window to the other
With eyes wide open
Taking in the world for the first time
As I drove us home.
The first 9 months of your life were "sheltered"
You sat hungry for attention tied to a rope
In the back bedroom of your first human's home
She said you went through many ropes
Graduating eventually to chains.
I made it a point to take you everywhere I went
Vowing to show you the world
And each time that car door opened
You flew in
Taking on your new role of co-pilot with pride
But your sheltered days still haunted you
I remember the way you cried the first time I shut the bedroom door
Or tied you in the yard to play
I hugged you and apologized
Sorry I didn't intuitively know how traumatizing that would be
We've experienced job changes, new homes, new cars, and new relationships together
And for each mistake I made along the way
You love never wavered
And when some of my days were unnecessarily long
You didn't complain
I don't generally speak in absolutes
But you ALWAYS greet me with an endless supply of joy
Your stuffed animal hanging from your mouth
And your tail wagging a mile a minute
Your smile contagious
Your love forgiving
Lately, I can't help but notice the grey around your smile
Or each new fatty tumor that makes a home on your belly
Or the slight limp you try to hide from me on our morning walks
Or how I now have to lift you into the car
And I'm saddened
As I can't imagine my life without you
You have been my rock
My cheerleader and my best friend
And so I wish to the stars
And pray to the Gods
That we may have many lifetimes together
Because one is clearly just not enough
And a girl should not be without her shadow.
Drink tea from your favorite mug
Go to a bookstore
Color your sadness
Make a happy playlist
Wear an oversized sweater
Take a bubble bath
Roll around on bubble wrap
Write a letter to yourself
Go for a hike
Do a puzzle
Make a list of how you want to feel
Take your work outside
Make a dream board
Go for a drive
Go outside and take pictures
Watch a TED talks
Make a gratitude list
Try a new recipe
Hug your dog
It's been a long search through foggy valleys, sandy plains, and dense forests, but I think I'm getting closer. I can hear it whisper in my ear, teasing me at times, and if I'm quick, I catch it in my shadows. It's been a restless game of hide and seek, but as elusive as my soul may be, I track it's prints and push forward. I can sense its presence most when I'm creating art with my images, writing words in my journal, or helping others, and that's when I know I'm getting closer. One day I will find it and when I do, I will hold it tight, and live a fiercely purposeful life.
I can feel the long grass tickle my bare skin and the birth of goosebumps on my arms from the light breeze, and I notice my breath expanding with each inhale as my lungs long for the fresh air. My body sways to the sound of birds chirping, leaves rustling, and horses grazing. My arms involuntarily open to embrace the wide open space, giving my love to breath, life, and freedom. The sun warms the corners of my soul, bringing light to my shadows, and energy to my bones. My happy place frees me from the unending news cycle, the unanswered emails, and the unproductive restless chatter in my head, replacing it with a still meditative peacefulness that fills me up. I can't help but wonder why I don't book vacations to my happy place more often, it's only a few steps to my backyard.
I've never wanted to be the center of attention, being tall has always made me feel awkward in this regard, as I always stand out (literally). But despite my height, I've gotten good at being a chameleon, camouflaging myself wherever I go. As I get older, I try to get wiser, and so I chose to draw on my natural tendencies to be introspective and curious to examine my need to hide. In my hunt, I discovered a few things; for one it's part of our social construct that says we should not be narcissistic, which I full heartedly subscribe to. For another, it's part of my personality, I'm an introvert and I prefer to be part of the background. And lastly, this was like hitting a funny bone, an intense (non humorous) pain when poked, something you want to quickly rub away, I fear being judged. I fear not being accepted, being misunderstood, and worse, being ridiculed for it. My heart skips a little and I feel a bead of sweat on my brow as I think about this. It's so deeply uncomfortable that I want to change the subject. This is where the wisdom kicks me and says, "Stay!" I thought wisdom was supposed to be Dalai Lama-like... kind, humbled, and accepting, but mine is like a wired drill sergeant working third shift and barking orders. And so like a good recruit, I stay. I observe. I get curious. In my observation, I find some structural issues in my foundation, areas that have been worn down by whispers, funny looks, and pointing. When I examine even closer, I notice that their shapes are blurry and they have no names, they are figments of painful memories from elementary school yards and middle school hallways, but nothing that resembles where I am now. It is time to take those old ghosts down, their haunting serves no purpose I wish to fulfill. I would like to come out of the shadows and fully embrace my height, my weirdness, my insights, my fears, among many other things, and for those who don't get it, it's ok, and for those who do, come on in. I saw a quote recently that said, "The older I get the more I understand that it's ok to live a life that no one understands," may we all give ourselves this special permission.
My brain is quite imaginative in the mystical beasts it makes up, and not the cute cuddling kind, but the unapologetically scary reptilian kind. I can go from happy thoughts to worst case scenario in .02 seconds. I can be soaking up the sun without a care in the world to being chased by a 20 foot fire-breathing dragon by a flip of a switch. Anxiety is make believe fear that I've played dress up with, and the more I play with it, the scarier it gets. It's paper dolls turned Nightmare on Elm Street. It has taken me many long nights of repetitive coaching sessions to slay my dragon, initially I was terrified to take my eyes off of it, I was convinced if I looked away, it would sneak up behind me and eat me alive, and then spit me out piece by piece. I thought if I kept focused on my fear, I might have some magical powers to prevent something bad from happening, but the more I stared at it, the bigger it grew. Slaying my dragon did not involve a blood bath but rather a peace offering, I held up my white flag and walked away, and the further I walked, the smaller it got. I dedicate this image to somebody I was once close to who imagines far more dangerous dragons and who struggles with letting them go.
I sat with you in your hospital room days before Mother's Day 5 years ago. It felt like a scene from a sci-fi movie with all the gauze wrapped around your scalp, the spillage of wires coming from your body, the strange constant harmony of beeping from the many machines around you, and the disturbed sounding breaths escaping your mouth. You were not my mother in that bed, life had already left you, and I was convinced Darth Vader's cousin had taken over your remains. It was so heartbreaking to see you like this, there were only small untouched parts of you that were recognizable and I tried hard to only focus my eyes on those. We sat with you for days, praying for a miracle, I begged and pleaded for the first couple days, "Mom, open your eyes!" but nothing changed and every time the doctors made their rounds, the news grew more and more grim. Over the course of almost a week, we had several meetings with your treatment team where we sat in a stale room, and made end of life decisions... would we feed you, drug you, and finally, when would we turn the machines off. When it was time, I held your hand and spent the next few hours trying to soothe you with my voice, telling you it was ok to go. Every time a strange unhuman like noise left your body, I had to fight the urge to run out of the room, I wanted to pretend so badly that this wasn't happening, but I stayed, I couldn't let you be alone. No one should have to die alone, and if this was my one last gift I could give you, it was holding your hand as you died. I dedicate this image to my mother, a much better version of goodbye.
I have joyous days of feeling attuned, connected, and content internally. It's as if my mind, body, and spirit are BFFs, they complete each other's sentences, they intuitively know what the other needs, and they passionately rally together to take on the world. They are beautifully aligned and synchronized as they dance to the rhythm of my being. Then there are days where I feel like a complete stranger to myself, the disconnect is wide, the emotional energy is rigidly aloof, and I can't stop tripping over my 2 left feet. On these days I am lost, I become illiterate to feelings and there is no GPS tracking device or solar compass to guide me out. Fortunately, through meditation, creativity, and self-love I have found a light to pull me through the fog making these days fewer and farther apart.
I have made my own prison by the way I have internalized events in my life. I have burdened myself with guilt and shame and it has been like bricks tied to my ankles in an angry ocean. The lens in which I viewed myself has been distorted, the way a pair of bad windshield wipers scrape across your window at night, leaving behind a blurry path of smeared water, making the road ahead look like an abstract painting. Like someone with Stockholm syndrome, I began to feel comfort in my prison cell, I knew all the habits of my prison guard, and after years of quiet intimate moments, we became friendly, and so when the day finally came to be free, I wrestled with the idea of staying. Depression plays crazy tricks on the mind, fortunately light slowly melted my shackles and circulation returned to my limbs, and in time, I crawled out.
My name is Shana and I'm an introvert. My introversion looks like shyness meets resting bitch face meets dear in the headlights (when overstimulated), and when left on my own, it's my own special wonderland. It's my escape from the overload of external stimulation, it's my pause button from the outside world. My introversion is a place, it's like a tree fort where I go to snuggle up in a sleeping bag that smells of camp fires with my favorite oversized blue pottery mug in hand as I watch the world below me. While I moved a lot and don't have one, I imagine that it's similar to the comfort of a childhood home. I also commonly refer to it as my recharge station, my security blanket, or my observation deck. Usually by the end of every day, my battery is drained and I race for the comforts of home, where I can shut the door, hang my hat, and just chill.
My dreams have guided me, pushed me, and many times, terrified me. I dreamt of moving across the country, and I did. I packed up what I could fit in my car, hugged everything I knew goodbye, and made my way east. I dreamt of running a mountain, and I did. I took 6 months to train, invested in the appropriate gear, and made my way north. I dreamt of having my own practice, and I did. I quit my state job, opened my doors, and invited people in. My dreams come in many shapes and sizes, but each no less important than the other, as each have made me who I am. I still dream of writing a book, hanging my photographs in a gallery, and riding my bike the 3,500 miles back home, and I'm not any less terrified, but I'm also not any less determined. My dreams refuse to let go, they hold tight, whisper in my ear at night, and tell me to go.