Thursday, June 18, 2015

That Final Puff

A wellness doctor, is the contemporary Voodoo expert of America. They study nutrition, human digestion, disease that stems from malnutrition, and the impact of our current food options on our bodies. The fad in "hipster" health is: the GUT! Everyone has leaky gut (but seriously, you probably do). And if you don't know what it is, you should google it. And, if you don't have it, then you are one lucky bastard.

As I'm on my quest for answers and healing with my current health issues (the ones that brought me back from China so abruptly and unexpectedly), the leaky gut has been tossed my direction along with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease ( essentially this is the pre-Lupus, autoimmune condition that is incurable, with no preventative care or measures to slow the process-- and I don't know why I feel the need to throw that helpless spittle the doctors push out into the conversation topic, but perhaps this is just my way of representing how absurd I think our current medical care and knowledge is in America).

In order to pursue all options of treatment and healing, I am also seeing one these Voodoo-gut-healing-crazies ( along with a host of mainstream physicians and specialists). I could refer to the wellness field more technically, and more kindly, as I do think very highly of them, but too often in our culture the joking titles become politically incorrect very quickly, and I'd hate to miss out on the opportunity to tease before it becomes seriously uncool.

My wellness doctor is a very friendly, upbeat, quirky guy, which makes everything he tells me to do a little easier to swallow. He has me on a VAST amount of supplements that I take several times throughout the day, as well as a very restricted diet and lifestyle. Given I've been unable to get out of bed 70% of the time since the onset of my sickness in December of last year, I can't complain too much at his requests-- when you're this young and this sick, you kind of don't care as long as there is hope for something that helps.

So naturally, when he told me, "no grains," I said, "no problem," after all, I've been gluten-free for 6 years, no big deal to give up rice too! When he said, "no dairy," I cringed, because ice-cream and cheese make my favorite food-babies. When he said, "no alcohol," I wept inwardly, but I wasn't about to admit to my love (addiction!) for that red, red wine. Then, when he said,  "no chocolate" I thought he was surely the devil, come to ruin all my joy, but I nodded patiently. At last, he said, "absolutely no coffee." This is when a great murderous desire burned in my heart. Who lives without caffeine, ice-cream, chocolate, or alcohol? Nuns! Do I LOOK like a nun to you? ....and yet, I want so badly to be well again. Very well, wellness doctor, I'll do your bidding.

My body was weak, and had been deteriorating so badly, I was in no state to throw a tantrum in defense of my much beloved foods and beverages. I gave them up, and began a lifestyle of fish oil consumption and steamed zucchini and tons of fermented foods-- dear Lord, pickles were not meant to be a food group unto themselves!

So I've been on this plan for almost two months now (believe me, it feels like SO much longer), and although I do stick to the plan, I weep every time I go anywhere near the grocery store. I like BBQ wings, and GF pizza, and Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey, and Lindt 80% cocoa, and Layer Cake Malbec, and Talenti's Coconut Gelato.  I want to surf through waves of ice cream using my mouth and my hands, and then rinse off in a shower of TEQUILA! I want caffeine for every meal, with a side of BBQ SAUCE! How else do I say this?? Uh, I love to eat. Yes, I am that fat-kid lady, who would so be content through every day with a slice of cake in each hand--and I would never complain about, or even question the calories. I embrace them all for their role in my happiness. There is no such thing as a Katy who frowns when she eats. Sorry, that doesn't exist.

But this blog is not about food (scary that we got this far in and I am just now telling you this), this blog is about CIGARS. Yes, I have been a proud smoker of cigars for over 10 years. Sometimes as many as 4 a day (back when I worked in the industry), and sometimes as few as a couple in a year. But they have always been a comfort to me. When I was younger (the age is not legal and not necessary, so I'll leave that up to your imagination), I would sit in the garage with my sister, late at night, surrounded by the scraps of my dads wood shop and tools that surely were worthy of any Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We would talk for hours into the morning, and puff a cigar together. And we could talk about anything, alone in the garage. Poetry, life, struggles, sorrows, joys, laughter; so much laughter.

As I grew older we would venture together to the 16th St Mall in Denver, and smoke in lounges, surrounded by smoke clouds in poorly ventilated and dimly lit rooms. I'll never forget the feel of leather chairs as my skin clung to them in the summer heat. The many places we would smoke-- The Brown Palace down the line. And always with laughter, always with relaxation and a ceremonious and silent agreement to cast aside the trials of life and just breathe for that cigar.

And then even older, as I moved away from home and still found time to connect with a peaceful mindset. I would hide in the bathtub of my apartment and smoke in the silence of every wonderful 3AM. Or the corners of Paris On The Platte with a chess board and all the early blooming hipsters of the night. Or walking the streets of Denver, or hiding in crowds of strangers, or seeking adventure and new friends. Cigar after sweet cigar. And when I violated my love for the stogie with work, by bar tending or working retail in various smoking lounges across Colorado and Texas, I still took time amid the chaos of a job to pause and puff, and remember laughter and peace and silence and calm and hope and youth and promise. I learned and loved and I appreciated, and this is what a good cigar is to me: it is family and gratitude, it is camaraderie and respect, it is dignity and perspective, it is life.

While I love food, and eating, and ice-cream, I gave up many a meal to the desire for a cigar, and what those moments of calm meant in my life.

And now my wellness doctor has asked me to surrender cigars.

What can I do but comply? Because if he is right, then health comes first.
So I smoked my last, with an ode-- to every moment tobacco meant to my taste buds, Casa Magna thank you:

For the deep inhale
that brings smoke
 curling along the surface
of my tongue,
 whisping along the insides
of my teeth
and respect
 your presence.
You unfurl
 your flavor
onto my taste buds bold
 and sharp, creamy and full
of bitter spice. You
bloom like wine
hiss through my teeth
 loose my lips
 let you drift
watch you slink
upward, spread and disappear.
Rings of smoke.
contemplate the complexity
of your
And every time
I've tasted you before
memories flood back
 couches voices songs haunts
of the night. I remember
my first
and our first,
 the way you stunned
me with your
Hold no expectation
you never disappoint.
 In this you
were the most
of companions,
knew each other well.
and consider the burning
ember tips that file
toward un-warmed
tobacco. Beg another
draw from my lips. Savor
each sweet
moment each sweet
inbetween moment--
not anticipating
And thank you.

You see, my wellness doctor has asked me to surrender cigars. And what can I do but comply? Because if he is right, then health comes first.
But if he is wrong, God help him.

Thinkin' About Life!

I was at the local watering hole (and by that I mean the "river" all the locals dip in after a nice rain), today. The sun was still high, even though it was already well into the evening, and the onset of storm clouds left a light breeze and a calmness in the air. It was quiet tonight--very quiet. Sure, there were families with children, stomping and screaming and stuffing their faces with home made, white-bread, ham sandwiches, but I couldn't really hear them. I was busy staring up at a cloudy sky, and then down into the water that fell my direction and continued to burrow past me as it headed it's own way. I was lost.

For a while I just sat dipping my toes, feeling the water rush gently along the sides of my feet as the sun skipped between clouds and then waited. Everything was thick and slow, and I was strangely aware that every surface of my skin was being touched by some part of the day. The universe rose to meet me. A desire to be submerged with something outside of myself welled up inside of me. Slowly, I melted into the water and slid my feet along the unseen surface of the river, until I couldn't feel enough beneath me to stay above the surface. My limbs fell into the natural motion of treading water, but I turned to face the current, and began to swim.

The force of the river was equal to the strength in my limbs, and so I did not move in position, but instead stayed in the same spot and continued my stroke at my own pace, just as the river's current continued at its own. Even though we were moving opposite directions, the current and I were not in opposition to one another, but merely strengthened and more determined via that sweet resistance.

In life, it's easy to look at the resistance and groan at it; to consider obstacles as opposition. When faced with things that make us work harder, frustrate us, confuse us, we often turn to negative reactions. But that opposition is the very thing that lifts us up, and enables us to become stronger people. I encourage you to stop and consider what obstacles are in your life, how you approach them and whether your energy is spent in emotional reaction, or constructive output. I've found peace in my own form of strength, in my own pace. My inabilities are no longer obstacles, they are instead a constant work-out for the muscles of my spirit.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Keep Your Wits About You!!!!

I read this amazing article todayone that discussed what it is be a mentally strong person. The article listed five key points that comprise a mentally strong individual, and what it means to have determination. I'd like to respond to a question posed at the end of it.
I think everyone goes through a series of ups and downs in life--seasons for everything, as they say. Most recently, and as any of my readers will know, mine has been surviving China, and the return to America. I say "surviving" as a way to title the event, not intending to imply that one needs to "survive" when going to China due to X element present in the country. 
Traveling to another country, to one that I've aspired to work in since I was five, was a dream come true. I worked hard to achieve what I needed to in order to get there (though the application process wasn’t necessarily strenuous, the company I worked for did a great job of making things uncomplicated!). It was the years of middle-school and high-school spent self-studying Cantonese (sometimes with a tutor, other times without) in hopes of going to southern China, specifically where that dialect was used; it was the all-nighters, studying only to spend another sleepless day at work before hitting an evening class; it was picking up a second job on the weekends, hoping to make it through classes and 10 hour shifts while maintaining some standard for myself with my grades. These are what I would categorize as challenges. 
Finally arriving in China, after graduation, that was something other-worldly. I remember getting off the plane and being unable to read any of the signs around me, or understand any of the conversation around me. I was surrounded by people and yet more alone that I had ever been in my life. I was anonymous to myself, and yet a curiosity and an attraction to the locals. The small, city of Dongguan did not host a large number of foreigners, and I'll never forget what it felt like to be stared at, poked by people around me, and have crowds part to watch me walk through-- in the deep alleyways of Nancheng, they had never seen a female like me before,  I was a circus freak. 
At times, it seemed like someone had stuffed my airplane in a box, rattled that box for some 18 hours, and then let me out in a part of American that was populated solely by the Chinese. Was this really happening? Every moment was sort of surreal, as though I could wake up from a dream and be back on the loud streets of Denver, late for class again and hoping noone could tell I was wearing yesterday’s clothes. Unbelievably dreamlike is the only way I know how to explain it. 
Experiencing China, smells and colors, nothing was comparable to anything in America; my mind couldn't define things and had to stretch to understand the simplest body movement of a stranger approaching me. A whole other set of manners, interactions, definitions were used. Imagine your first day of a foreign language course, when you realize that sounds, punctuation, and grammar are being redefined, and your understanding of your native language is useless to you. Now expand that feeling out to your understanding of EVERYTHING around you. Can you even fathom? It is by far the most insanely wonderful and frustrating feeling-- you instantly know just how limited your own knowledge base is, and simultaneously desire to learn infinite amounts and quickly.
It was beautiful, it WAS a dream come true, and then I was sick. At first, just a little sick, a strange cough that most of the foreigners informed me was "the China cough," and that I was merely adjusting to the high pollution levels. But then I was coughing blood, and then there were fevers, and fatigue. Before long I couldn't make it into my classes, couldn't think clearly, couldn't eat. It took three hospitals, 10 days of being totally bedridden , and a host of symptoms gruesome enough that I'm sure you wouldn't want to make it through reading about all of them, before I decided that even though I had only been living my dream for 4 months, if I didn't find the help my body needed, I wouldn't live to tell about it. 
And this is where answering Marc&Angel Hac Life's post comes in, "What’s one habit or belief that has helped you stay mentally strong through good times and bad?"

I had made it to my ultimate dream in life, and I was only 24! Success!!! But mental strength for me is in learning my personal limits. Before making the decision to return to America, I thought to myself about all the other foreigners who were out there teaching, who got sick but made it through, who were perfectly capable of "surviving" in China. So why wasn't I?

Most foreigners I came in contact with were in China due to the boom in an economy that loved foreigners. We were treasured gold by the PRC (also a culture shock). But I wasn't there looking to make it big, get recognized, or flourish in the economy-- I was in China, in a small industrial city (shoe producing capital of the nation!), because I loved the Cantonese culture and the Cantonese people, and I wanted to learn everything about them and immerse myself. So why on earth couldn't I just live there and be healthy like everyone else? Why wasn’t the medicine at any of the hospitals enough for me?

I fought the decision to come home tooth and nail (isn’t that the expression?). Surely I would start to get better. But I didn’t, and the reality that my window to seek out help was closing hit me sharply when one day, after my routine treatment of antibiotics (given to me via an IV in my hand for two hours daily), I fainted in my apartment bathroom, totally alone. It wasn’t until my roommate discovered me on the floor and helped me to bed that the severity of my situation truly dawned on me. My body had reached its limit, and I had to give up my dream.

For a while I looked at this as a weakness. I wasn’t strong enough to make it in another country with living conditions that were unfamiliar to my body’s chemistry. I felt defeated—no shame in admitting it. But after making it back to America, and my family (alive!), I realized more than ever, that knowing my own limitations is what allows me to push through and continue in life.

I think all of us spend a great deal of time considering ourselves in comparison to those around us and those we are close to. Family members, friends, someone running down the street—we observe, analyze and compare. After all, it’s in human nature to consider things from what we ourselves know and feel, it seems only natural then that we would compare ourselves to what we see around us, as a means to interpret, better understand, maybe even relate.

I recently went to a park to sit and read. While I was there, I observed (stalker style) a group of women around my age, all jogging together along the path by the lake.  They were dripping in sweat(you go ladies!), some concentrated on the path in front of them, and some (God bless them), with the energy to hold a conversation. The ones who couldn’t talk knew it, and held their pace by staying silent; that was their strength. Others knew they had the lung capacity and endurance to talk while they ran, and they did. What made them a cohesive group was each one knowing their own, personal limits.

As I watched them I had some amount of envy, because my body is not at a capacity to perform that kind of physical activity, and it may never be. But knowing that limit, and not comparing myself to them, is what enables me to try harder at the things I know I can do. I could have attempted a run, inspired by the group (who doesn’t look at the person next to them in the gym and think, “damn”). The result of such an effort on my part, however, would be a few weeks in bed, fatigued and in pain. Why try at such a cost? And wouldn’t my energy be better spent doing something that I know will yield positive results?

Sometimes knowing our limits is not a cut and dry thing, but learning them can be an invaluable asset. There’s no shame in knowing what YOU personally are capable of, and thriving inside of it, instead of beating yourself down and spending useful energy comparing yourself to someone else’s standards.

I challenge you to catch yourself. Think about times when you compare yourself to others, and what it yields for you personally. Next time you catch yourself in the act, make a positive step and consider if the comparison benefits you personally, or not. If it does, how should you perform the task so that it yields fruit in your life? I still catch myself all the time, but the process of becoming more aware of what standard you hold yourself to, and what your own personal limitations are, is a sharp mental tool that will only make you stronger with time.

To see the article I read, click the link below: