Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Health and Wellbeing

Getting on with life

Though I haven’t fallen down the stairs, or tripped on my own feet, I haven’t figured out how to get up again and proceed with life.

Mary Oliver has a short poem in A Thousand Mornings (2012, p. 9) that says it all.

After I Fall Down the Stairs
At the Golden Temple

For a while I could not remember some word
I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
beloved friend?

My biggest fear right now is that I’ll fall down: Where are you, beloved feet?

It’s official: I have peripheral neuropathy. It’s in early stages, though given the fire and pain in my feet and legs, you could fool me. My doctor has ordered an MRI scan. I’ve never had one. I don’t want one now. And yes, I’ll have it.

Last Friday I had two diagnostic tests in the office. Together, they took about an hour. The first (scroll down in this link) (NCS) was supposed to be the easiest. Electrodes on my feet and legs were prompted to shock me. Sometimes my responses were minimal—or even nothing at all. However, most of the time (a good thing) the shocks were just that. Horrific. I thought they would never end.

So…moving on to the second test (EMG). It was supposed to be the most difficult. The doctor inserted thin needles into my legs and feet, prompting me to use or flex various muscles while he listened for noise. Then he did one more poke in my lower spine. The needle pokes weren’t fun, but they were nothing compared to the shock tests. In the end these results were also mixed. Another sign that this disease is in early stages.

I was surprised that my problem most likely began in my lower spine, not in my feet or legs. The MRI will help clarify what’s going on.

In the meantime, my feet are a mixed blessing. I’m grateful to be sleeping well most of the time. The best exercise these days is a walk outside with D or riding my indoor bike. My feet smile and even tear up a bit when I’m playing the piano or working at my computer. Yet when I’m working in the kitchen or around the house, they scream at me for mercy. Especially in the afternoon and evening.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this disease that shows up in various forms, I’ve found these two books helpful:

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes! The photo at the top is one of my Longwood Garden favorites–posted today just because.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 Oct 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in October 2019 at Longwood Gardens

What Boundaries?

Fake power exercises ruthless control
In vain attempts to nurture sisterly virtues

Bible-grounded communication floods my ears
With thou shalt and thou shalt not

Beleaguered sisters throw group loyalty to the winds
In favor of loyalty to one’s fragile female self

Being docile sometimes becomes a stand-in for
Being truthful or angry or distressed

Like cookies born of one cookie cutter
We stare at our unknown selves in consternation

Who we are together remains a mystery
As we strain to survive apart from each other

I’m aware of being watched by Daddy night and day
Without so much as a polite knock at the door

Driven to precarious survival techniques
My heart and stomach drown beneath anxious fear

During the past week I reviewed dated notes I kept when I began working with a psychotherapist in the early 1990s. I was in my late 40s, drowning in depression. One of my first tasks was to connect with my three younger sisters.

By then we were scattered over the USA and beyond. What we knew about each other personally was fragmented at best. We were aware of the large outlines of our adult lives. However, we didn’t have an informal network for safe, sisterly communication.

I never talked with any of my sisters about the rules in our family, or our father’s corporal punishment doled out regularly to enforce the rules. Nor had we talked together about who our father favored, or why.

Sometimes life felt like a war between sisters. I could deduce which sister was the favorite of the day. I also knew I was a favorite target for ‘Let’s get Elouise in trouble.’ No sibling likes to have the oldest sister designated as the parental stand-in.

As you might guess, we weren’t there to console or encourage each other. We were focused on staying out of trouble or deflecting attention to another sister’s behavior.

I began my adult work on boundaries with telephone calls to each of my three sisters. Would you be willing to talk with me privately (no reports back to Mom or Dad) about our experiences living at home? I was starving for sisterly conversations. Each of my sisters, in her way, helped me come out of my lonely closet of indirect communication, depression, and denial.

My next hurdle wasn’t nearly so easy. How would I name and maintain adult boundaries with my parents? Stay tuned!

Thanks for your visits and encouragement. Tomorrow I have tests to determine how much damage peripheral neuropathy has done to my feet and legs.

Praying for calm in these troubled days, here and abroad.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2021
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday, 1953

Without a script

Appalled
My eyes retrace the
Tortuous path from
There to here

No magic formula
No prewritten script
No sense of how this
Will play out

With every page
My eyes tear up
Full of anguish
And the pain of
Reality writ large

Planning notes plus
Letters of disbelief
And anger magnify
the stakes on all sides

Win-win is not guaranteed
In this upside-down world
In which eldest daughter
Persists to the bitter end
Not for money or a break-through
But for her own sanity
And adult identity

During the last several days I reviewed my 1993 planning file for a  once in a lifetime meeting with my parents. I chose the eve of my 50th birthday. At the time, I was a professor at the seminary, depressed, and unable to relate as an adult to my parents. My father was a pastor, my mother was a church musician, and we four daughters were the preachers’ kids. A high stakes family.

My depression had become unmanageable. I needed professional help. One of my pastors, a woman, recommended several psychotherapists. I was terrified when I made my first enquiry. In my family, we never sought out “worldly” help for anything that smelled like psychology. Church and the Bible were all we needed.

Still, I took deep breaths, made my first phone call, and began seeing a psychotherapist twice a week. At my intake interview I never mentioned my difficult relationship with my father. Nonetheless, the woman interviewing me suggested I consider a meeting with my father. I was horrified.

Working with my therapist, I began from scratch. Not immediately, but after my first few years of therapy. This would be my meeting, structured and led by me. It wasn’t about ensuring a successful end or pleasing my parents. I lived in Pennsylvania; my parents lived in Georgia. My job was to initiate, plan, and produce an agenda for a meeting in Georgia. No dress rehearsal or second chance.

But first I had to clarify my boundaries. This changed everything, even before I began working on a meeting in Georgia. More about boundaries in a later post.

Thanks for stopping by. Praying for clarity, wisdom and courage in these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2021
Photo found at unsplash.com

What females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

Dancing with Reality

Taking stock from
The moment I put feet
On the ground
I wonder what this
Day will bring though
I already know the
News won’t be
What I expected

I always thought
A life of healthy choices
Would save me from
The ignominy of so-called
Failure or decrepitude
Despite external indicators
And internal mysteries
To the contrary

This morning I looked into
The mirror of today
Wondering how and
Where and when and why
Things fell out for me
In places I never dreamed
Of meeting on a cold or
Hot day in this short journey

Sinking into a chair I heave
Sighs of relief knowing that
Whatever the next checkup
Brings it won’t destroy
What already wants to
Dance without missing a beat
Or falling to the floor
In sheer exhaustion

I’m still learning what it means to live with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs. Each day offers multiple challenges. Which orthopedic shoes will I wear today? What can I do to keep the pain down? (Would you believe walk more?!) In three weeks I’ll have tests to determine how much damage has already been done.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for informative internet sites that aren’t trying to sell a product, a service, or a magic wand solution to a complex health issue. Here’s a reliable link to the National Institute of Health: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.

Thanks for stopping by, and a belated happy Fall (here in the USA), or Spring (in Australia, for example). In case you’re wondering, the photo at the top is there because I like it. A bit of fall foliage at Longwood Gardens in October 2019.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, October 2019

Our perpetual disunion

It’s early morning
Mother’s soft blue poncho
Falls gently across chilled shoulders
And down my back
Warming my trembling limbs

A poignant reminder
Of chronic pain she bore
In her polio-haunted body
Relieved only by force of will

Plus pills from the pharmacy
And sheer determination
To show up for her four daughters
Caught with her in a web of
Perpetual male dominance
And punishment exercised religiously

Without recourse to angels or
Courts of justice in any state
Of our perpetual disunion

How long will it take for this nation to experience liberty and justice for all? The proud words of our Constitution hide a plethora of Unspoken Rules that Will Not Be Broken. Not now. Not ever. Not even if it means the world is dying.

I didn’t see it back then. I was young, naïve, and optimistic. There have always been women and men of good will. Yet we continually capitulate to the shenanigans and outright lawlessness of those with the greatest wealth plus the best connections to people in high places.

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, our little family was a microcosm of what was already going on. I applaud the younger generation’s determination to fight for something better. Sadly, the cards are still stacked against a just, life-sustaining future for all human beings and this planet we call home.

I’m grateful I’ve lived long enough to understand many family dynamics of my childhood and youth. I wish I could say the same about the dynamics of our nation. I pray we won’t stop showing up for each other, despite the agony and unpredictability of life today.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2021
Photo of my family taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

Late Summer at Longwood Gardens 2021 | Photos

The sun was out; the sky was blue; there was a lovely breeze in the air; humidity was low; and school was back in session! The perfect recipe for a not-too-crowded visit to Longwood Gardens. Plus, it was our one-day-early 56th wedding anniversary! All photos were taken by David.

Below is the central pond in Longwood’s famous water lily garden. Since there’s no easy way to capture the whole show, I’ve picked out some favorites, including one young platter still unfolding/unrolling its brand new pad. A small water ferry for a princess!

The corner pond below borders the conservatory hallway just next to an indoor desert garden display. The photos below highlight gorgeous leaves and one spectacular snow-white water lily.

We could have spent the entire day in the water lily garden. However, the sun, our determination to see the flower walk, and my yearning to walk through the meadow yet again kept us going. Besides, we were hungry for lunch. So when we walked back through the conservatory, here’s what we saw hanging from the rafters and lining the path to food and more late-summer beauty.

Finally, here’s what we saw when we sat down to eat our Happy Anniversary lunch at Longwood Gardens Café:

David’s lovely salad bowl

My cup of vegetarian chili full of surprises beginning with hot pepper.
Need I say more? 

We had a beautiful day roaming here and there. I’m hoping to post some of my favorite flower walk and meadow photos. But not today.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 September 2021
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, 10 September 2021

Life disrupted

Taken the day before our 56th wedding anniversary in
the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Life’s disruptions don’t
Knock politely at the door
No matter the time of day
Or night

How quickly
Things change or
So it seems
Though looking back
The signs were screaming
At me in early warnings
Burning through thick
Clouds of denial
And my belief that this
Couldn’t be happening
To me

I know what it is. I won’t know for over a month the extent of damage already done to my feet and legs. My kind, knowledgeable physician’s assistant will need to poke my feet and legs with needles, among other things. That happens in late October.

Still, I know what this intruder is. It’s already reshaping my life, though I’m not ‘officially’ a candidate for this plague. Peripheral Neuropathy. Fancy words for burning feet and all that goes with it.

Most difficult right now is learning (by hit and miss) how much I can walk or stand on my feet before they scream for mercy. I’m grateful for orthopedic sandals that help ease the pain, though even they can’t make the pain go away. I’m learning the hard way to sit as often as needed, and walk as often as feasible.

This morning I returned to an old discipline that helps me stay centered when things are tough: three pages of nonstop writing. Whatever pops into my mind, no matter what kind of language it requires! I highly recommend it.

Thanks for stopping by, and for being part of my life. The photo at the top is to let you know I haven’t forgotten the promised Longwood Gardens post!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory, 10 September 2021

I Happened To Be Standing | Mary Oliver

I haven’t been able to get Mary Oliver’s poem about prayer out of my mind. My comments follow.

I Happened To Be Standing

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver, pp 3-4
First published in the USA by Penguin Press, 2012
© 2012 by NW Orchard LLC

Dear Mary,

I happened to be sitting yesterday in the small waiting room of a physician’s office I didn’t want to visit. Well…I didn’t have an appointment with the doctor himself, but with one of his very talented assistants, both women of course. But see, I’m already off track.

While I sat for what turned into a longer than expected wait, I pulled out your small and wonderful book of poems, A Thousand Mornings.

I had at least a thousand prayers in me as I waited. Most were in the petition mode, given the nature of this first visit to a specialist I never thought I would meet. Now look at that…I’m off track yet again.

I didn’t read your poem once. I read it many times. It exposed my angst, fear, and resistance in that moment to turning my attention outward and upward, with or without a song.

It  was good I had to wait longer than I liked. I needed every second to find my way back to that small wren singing its little heart out—by way of your beautiful poem.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2021
Photo of Carolina Wren found at unsplash.com

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