Non-Negotiable: Eleven Days of Morning Pages

Documenting a dream

A couple of friends and I were talking at lunch the other day, how making something non-negotiable—whether it be getting to the gym, changing the dog’s water, or sitting down to write—takes all of the mental chatter out of the equation. A thing needs to be done and you do it. Simple. No need to burn energy mulling over the pros and cons or deciding if you have enough energy. You just do the thing. Every. Single. Day.

In just eleven days, Morning Pages have become my non-negotiable. I wake up at 5:55 am. Get up. And write.

The other day I had to leave the house by 6:30 am for an out-of-town doctor’s appointment. The old me would’ve said, “Morning Pages can wait. I’ll just write Evening Pages instead.” Or I would’ve skipped them altogether. But, nope, I got up at 5 am and wrote out those three pages—admittedly bleary eyed, but I wrote them.

Morning Pages pens

Just like I make my lunch and iron my clothes the night before, I pick out a pen and set it on top of my journal right before bed so that I can get up and immediately put nib to paper. I know me. If I didn’t do this, I’d be futzing around with all of the options, burning precious morning time. With that decision made, I find myself looking forward to using that day’s pen and ink combo which makes it just a little easier to sit down at my desk while the rest of the house is asleep.

Morning Pages

I worried about having something to write about, but that hasn’t been an issue. I tend to dream movie-length, technicolor dreams, with involved plots and a large cast of characters. In the past, these dreams would be hard to shake, causing me to walk around exhausted all day, suffering from a kind of dream hangover. But last week, after a dream that had me stranded in a foreign city with someone else’s cellphone (no stress there!), I sat down and wrote out the entire dream. Doing so, caused it to retreat in my head, so that, yeah, I remembered it, but I wasn’t living it all day long.

In addition to dreams, I write about petty chores, big and small worries, the high highs* and the shitty stuff a day can throw at you; the feelings that are rooted deep inside my heart and all the teeny tiny stuff floating on the surface. This is what has surprised me the most. That I’m never at a loss for words. And how good it feels to put those words—those inconsequential thoughts and heartfelt emotions—into a journal, all in a jumble as they flow from my pen. Line after line. Day after day.

Morning Pages

Another bonus—my pens are getting used in a big way, and I am plowing through ink. The pens you see above are the four that I’ve been rotating through lately—a Kaweco Liliput Fireblue [Kaweco blue cartridge], a Franklin-Christoph Model 45 XLV in Coco Pearl [Kaweco sepia cartridge], a Jonathon Brooks Charleston in Combustion acrylic [SBRE Brown ink], and a TWSBI ECO [J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor]. As I empty these, I’ll ink others, slowly making my way through my collection. I’ll identify true favorites, and maybe set aside some that need new homes. I’m writing. I’m really writing. Man, this feels good.

Namami Paper Writer journal

This Nanami Paper Seven Seas “Writer” A5 journal is a dream. Its Tomoe River paper is well-suited for any nib and ink combination I might use. There’s no feathering, no bleed-through, and very little show-through. There are plenty of pages—enough to keep me going for 160 days at 3 pages per day. Admittedly, I have a long way to go (149 more days!) before I need another “Writer,” but that didn’t stop me from ordering a backup today. You know, so it’s waiting in the wings.

I’m hooked. Eleven days in and I’m hooked. What’s ridiculous is that it took me 57 years to give Morning Pages a try.

Now there’s no going back.


*I had an appointment with my neurologist last Friday to go over the first set of MRIs I’ve had done since my MS diagnosis last year. While there are two small lesions present (one brain and one thoracic), and I still have strange electrical sensations in my feet, there aren’t any new lesions. And one that was “iffy” last year is now GONE. He feels that we caught this very early and kept saying that I will do “really well,” as long as I keep doing what I’m doing—eating well, exercising, stretching, and taking my medication. Talk about a high high.

Thank you to the folks who contacted me after I wrote this post, to join my fledgling Morning Pages group. Knowing that you’re writing right along with me gives me the shove I need when I have the urge to linger in bed a little too long.

 

 

 

 

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An Unexpected Gift

 

2015 handed me an unexpected gift, and it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not a pen. It’s not even a thing.

It’s MS. Multiple Sclerosis.

Last Christmas, MS was somebody else’s disease. This Christmas, it’s mine.

I won’t lie. My diagnosis brought with it a giant serving of negative emotions- numbing fear, confusion, dismay, deep sadness. I cried at work. I never cry at work.

But when the sharpness of those first few days and weeks softened, my perspective shifted, and I began to see my MS in terms of what it has given me, rather than what it may be taking away.

MS has given me kindness. So many people- family, old friends, new friends, even strangers- have given me the gift of kindness that has helped beyond measure. I’ve been buoyed up and overwhelmed by the goodness of people who’ve reached out with letters, emails, texts, conversations, and hugs. This kindness carries me through the swift current of jagged emotions that sometimes feels like it could sweep me away.

I hope, too, that MS has made me kinder and more attuned to the needs of others. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own “stuff” that it’s tricky to see when someone else might be faltering. I think my experience this year has tuned my radar a bit so that I respond with the same kindness that has been shown to me. This is a work in progress for me, for sure. It’s another “muscle” to exercise.

MS has also made me appreciate, and push, my body. About a year before my diagnosis, I started participating in the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) as a way to drop some pounds and a handful of bad habits. The WLC worked like a charm. I lost weight, kicked a bad sugar habit, gave up soda for good, and became more active. I was feeling the healthiest I’ve felt in years when I was blindsided by my sudden symptoms and eventual diagnosis.

At first I was incredibly angry. Like “Fuck you, universe!” angry. How dare I get this thing when I’m doing everything in my power to live a healthier life. Then a friend pointed out that maybe the universe nudged me towards the Whole Life Challenge so that I’d be in a better place to deal with this thing. I was coming at it from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. She was so right.

I skipped one of the 8-week challenges when my symptoms were at their peak and I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with, but even then, I kept walking for exercise, despite the fact that it felt like I was walking on electrified barbed wire.

Gradually the symptoms faded, and I’ve been able to participate in subsequent challenges and have recently ramped up my exercise even further to include a regular weight workout. A friend and I serve as each other’s fitness buddy which keeps both of us motivated and accountable. That’s been another gift- having someone to push me just a little harder, a little further.

I start another round of the Whole Life Challenge in a few weeks. Each time I play the challenge, I burn in my new and improved habits a little deeper. I’m so grateful that I work someplace where wellness is a huge priority, where our WLC team really bonds, shares, and encourages. I like stretching myself and my body. I like feeling healthy and whole, despite the MS, despite some ongoing low level symptoms.

This Christmas, I’m grateful for all that MS has given me- for showing me that even in our darkest days, there is gold.

An Update

Spinal tap

About two weeks ago, I finally had the spinal tap that I’ve been working like crazy to get scheduled. (Yes, not only do you have to have a dreaded medical thing, but you must beg to get it scheduled!) Surprisingly, the procedure was not bad at all, thanks to a super nice and skilled doctor. She did such a superb and painless job that I sent her a note thanking her for being a bright spot in an emotional and lengthy process.

The results came in last week and finally confirmed what I pretty much already knew…it’s MS.

I’ll see my doctor at the end of September to discuss the laundry list of questions I’m compiling (on DotDash 3×5 cards!) about my results and his recommended treatment. I’m also planning to attack this nutritionally, with the help of information passed along by friends who are dealing with their own auto-immune issues. So begins Phase II of this thing.

Vespa scooters

It’s been a long, weird summer, and yet so much is still the same. Despite legs that feel a little odd, I’m working hard, walking as much as possible, starting Tai Chi again this week, and beginning another round of the Whole Life Challenge in a few weeks. Friends and family buoy me up, make me laugh, and keep me distracted. Fred and I have been riding our scooters and are planning to spend Saturday at the state fair. Totally normal stuff.

So this is my thing to deal with and figure out. You may have your own thing. And if (or when) you do, I encourage you to focus on the words that Leigh Reyes happened to send to me as part of an auction package I won during her “Pens for Aid” fundraising project almost two years ago. Who knows why Leigh chose these particular words to send my way in 2013, but she did. And they help. Every day.

You are Stronger...

“You are stronger than you can imagine.”

Turns out, maybe I am. And you are, too.

Curveball

Retro 51 Homerun

It’s been a weird week/month/year. Since the beginning of April, I’ve been experiencing strange and spreading numbness in my right leg and odd sensations (like walking on electrified sandpaper) in both feet. At first the sensations were faint and I blamed them on the fact that I’d lifted a number of 5-gallon cans of solvent at work. Heck, so did the doctor for awhile. But then the odd feelings intensified and really took root, and I pretty much knew something bigger was up.

I won’t go into all of the details, but let’s just say that the last five weeks have been filled with battles for appointments that weren’t two months away, fear and tears, more MRIs than seems safe, good news that turned out to be wrong (“It’s a pinched nerve in your back.”), and ultimately, a fairly sure diagnosis. Last Thursday I learned that it’s quite certain that I have MS.

I have to say that I sort of saw it coming as the days passed and symptoms stayed. But still, it’s a lot to take in.

I’m in the process of getting a referral to an out-of-town MS Clinic and I really can’t wait to get there so that I can finally feel like I’m taking action while, hopefully, beating back my symptoms a bit.

As I process this “new normal” (a hackneyed expression, but one that totally fits), I find myself thinking thoughts that are totally cliché and belong on bad bumper stickers. Stuff like:

  • The only moment we really have is RIGHT NOW. Don’t fret about the future. (God, I suck at this.)
  • Family and friends (and pets) are what’s most important. This becomes crystal clear very quickly.
  • All of that stuff you’re worrying about probably isn’t worth it. (I’m sure I’ll continue to do it, anyway.)
  • You have to take care of you.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff…or even the big stuff. Enjoy the sun, a walk, a movie, a letter, a book, lunch with a friend.

Like I said, trite stuff that I knew but didn’t really KNOW until now.

My biggest fear is that I’ll lose the ability to write. My pens and pen friends and letters and journaling (sporadic as it is) have become such a big part of my life—a place that I draw calmness and strength from—that I worry (see? I can’t stop) that MS will affect that.

BUT, my sister (who’s always been a positive-thinker), sent the following words to me, “Sometimes in life we are thrown a curve ball. Not realizing how strong we are, that “ball” can, and will, be knocked out of the f–ing park!”

Maybe it’s fitting that my Retro 51 “Homerun” Tornado arrived during all of this. Maybe it’s a sign.