breathe

I started regularly practicing yoga in late 2010, right after my mother died. I had no idea how it would change my life. For nearly six years I practiced at The Yoga Room in Round Rock, TX. Their slogan is, "Yoga for Every Body." I love that. Regardless of skill level, the unifying element of all yoga practice is the breath, being aware of it, following it, letting it center and ground us. I wish I could say that I always breathe freely and deeply with ease. But the truth is I still often find myself holding my breath, as though that could somehow influence any outcome. 

 

I moved away from Round Rock about two months ago and haven't found a studio nearby (I kind of live out in the country.) For now, I just signed up on the Gaia site, where there are a lot of different videos I can use at home.

 

Though no one ever specifically taught me this, one of the biggest things I've learned practicing yoga is how to let each body part do its job, and not try and take over the work of other functions. For example, I've learned how to bend over and get up without using my back muscles. It makes a huge difference in the long run. 

Over the years I've done several photo shoots for my studio. Here are a few of my favorites. 

A total aside that has nothing to do with breathing: About a year ago, the owner of the studio, Zelinda, got in touch with me and told me that the photo below had gone viral, and that there were studios all over the world using my image without permission! There were places from Thailand to Colombia (and lots of countries in between) who'd grabbed the photo and made it part of their marketing strategies. There were more than 300 places that were using it, and I felt helpless to do anything about it. 

And then I heard about Pixsy.

 

Pixsy is a licensing company that will go after those who owe photographers compensation for use of their work. Of course they take a cut, but that's fine by me because they handle every single bit of the practical and legal aspects of copyright infringement.

 

There are plenty of places that, for whatever reason, didn't pay me and still have the photo up. I need to send them a takedown notice at some point. But I'm happy to say that Pixsy has gotten me several settlements, resulting in money I never would've seen without them. For all the photographers out there, check em out. They do a reverse image search and troll the Internet regularly, looking for your images. When they find matches they end up in your in-box and you can go through them and file claims. Just recently a very large builder grabbed one of my photos from a trip I took, and I just filed a claim on that. I'm grateful to Pixsy for helping put an end to image theft.

*** Back to the subject of breathing, check out this song by Alexi Murdoch.***

 

 

Chasing Unicorns

 

“We’re all chasing unicorns to find a diagnosis, a specialist, a treatment, anything that will relieve the pain.” 
— Lisa S., from Virginia

 

Unicorns have become my go-to metaphor for the plight of someone with chronic pain. I am in that club. In addition to three autoimmune-related illnesses, I've had low back and sacroiliac joint problems that have wreaked havoc on my body for years. People in chronic pain want to get out of pain. So we seek solutions, trying a host of treatments, therapies, regimens, etc., many of which cost more money than we have. In my experience these remedies have more often than not led to a dead end, or at least a cul-de-sac. I've learned to manage my pain, but as of today I haven't completely gotten rid of it.

 

In a recent poll I took amongst a community of chronic pain sufferers, more than half had seen more than 10 doctors and practitioners to try and address their pain issues. Some had seen 20 or 30. After awhile you start wondering if you're looking for something that doesn't exist. Like unicorns. 

 

One frustrating thing about chronic pain is that it's lonely. You don't want to be Debbie Downer to your family and friends, always talking about how difficult it is to function. At some point I just decided to quit trying to make people understand. They don't, and I've come to believe that it's more because they can't rather than they won't.

 

Another reason I don't talk about it much is because so often I come across well-meaning people who know they have my answer. It's a vitamin/supplement regimen, an exercise program, a dietary solution, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, an alternative therapy or at least a very strong opinion about why I'm still in pain. The very worst kind are those that insinuate that I'm choosing to stay in pain because I'm not open to their ideas. And when I try to tell them that I’ve been to more than a dozen doctors, four chiropractors, three physical therapists, four acupuncturists, 30+ various massage therapists, six months of prolotherapy, two personal trainers, three oriental medicine clinics, two nutritionists, a yearlong stint with a Feldenkrais practitioner and five years of yoga, that often doesn't convince them. Their solution is the one. At some point you've gotta just quit following the Pied Pipers of the world, even if they do mean well. 

 

I did have a really big breakthrough on my chronic pain earlier this year. Though I still very much questioned their existence, I went in search of unicorns again and actually found one. After 30 years of doctors telling me my low back pain wasn't coming from my sacroiliac joint, I found one that believed that it was. I had to go from Texas to Montana to find him, but he operated on me in January and that has alleviated about 90% of my chronic low back pain. (You can read about it here.) No, I'm not completely out of pain. But that one element, which was a biggie in my pain portfolio, is much better.

 

All that to say, I think our best shot at finding unicorns is to turn down the volume of everyone else's chatter and opinions, listen closely to ourselves, and choose to bet on what we know rather than what others say they know. 

 

 

 

 

love is...

... possible. 

When my marriage of 25 years fell apart, one of the hardest things for me to accept was the fact that we'd never be an "intact" family again. My three girls and I had to try and find a new normal for several years. Christmas was weird. Birthdays. Holidays. We'd always celebrated these things together as a family of five, and it was very unsettling to try and figure out how to be in a celebratory mood when we couldn't do it together anymore. I didn't want the divorce, but my husband's mental illness and addiction forced me to let go. On top of us being scattered, my kids' father was self-destructing and we were all unspeakably sad about that.

Two years later I met Craig, who had previously been married for 20 years. He didn't want his divorce either, but it wasn't entirely up to him. He had three boys, who happened to be the same ages as my girls. Craig didn't think he'd have another "intact" family again, and honestly I don't think any of our kids thought it was possible either. What are the odds that two broken, wounded families could come together in harmony, especially this late in the game? How could we ever build the kind of closeness we longed for in a family life?

Craig and I got married in 2009. Yes, we are the Brady Bunch; it was the recessional at our wedding. The above photo is of our six kids together last Christmas, and as you can see there's a lot of love there. A lot. We lost what we had and gained something something so wonderful, I never could've seen it coming. Love is always possible, but it may look different than you thought it should. 

Six O'clock

This is my grandmother's clock. If she were alive today she'd be 107 years old. I think she inherited it from her mother or grandmother, and when my mom died it came to me. I remember its voice -- a soft, low, fuzzy sound that signaled the passage of another hour. Back then I was rich in hours, not at all concerned with the brevity of time. Today, I know better because this timepiece has seen more six o'clocks than I ever will. And it will outlive me.

I wish I could hear the chime now, but I can't because the clock is broken. I need to take it to a clockmaker and have it restored. Until then it will sit in its new home, on my mantle, reminding me how short life is. 

Secret

 L: Laurie; R: Laura

L: Laurie; R: Laura

Most people tell secrets.

I am one. (Or at least I was, for a very long time.)

My mother and father were both married. To other people. They had an affair, and--voilá-- here I am.  At the time, nobody told the truth about it. My father went back to his life with a wife and three children, and my mother had me induced a month early and put her husband's name on my birth certificate. Then they divorced.

For 21 years I suspected that I wasn't who they said I was. And then my older sister (the daughter of my mom and her first husband) finally told me. I knew it!

When I learned the truth I was too scared to contact my bio father because I suspected that my arrival would not be welcome. If I showed up and said, "Ta-da! I'm the kid you sidelined all those years ago" it might make him look bad. And he might be really mad at me for blowing his cover. So I stayed hidden.

Until 2009.

After my father died (the first picture I ever saw of him was his obituary) I made note of my siblings' names. Six months later I contacted my sister, Laurie.

Laura and Laurie. 

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

I expected the worst and I got the best. Laurie and I are nine years apart. When we first made contact she asked me to send her a picture of when I was younger. When she saw it she was floored, because we looked so much alike. Laurie and I have become the best of friends. She calls us the LaLa sisters. Her elderly mother (the woman our father was married to when he impregnated my mother) lives with Laurie. And there's no good reason to tell her about me because it would dredge up a very painful memory in her life. So I'm still a secret to her mom, because we want it that way. Laurie lives in North Carolina and I live in Texas. Whenever we get together she has to lie to her mother about where she's going and who she's going to see-- you know, to protect the innocent. So Laurie and I say we're having an affair.

Ironic, no?!?

When Laurie and I met up in Chicago last fall, we mentioned the framework of our story to one of the producers at StoryCorps. She got permission to stay late and Laurie and I interviewed each other in their studio for more than an hour. A week later they put a two minute excerpt on the radio. Here it is. 

And here's a picture of the LaLa sisters in 2013. 

 L: Laurie                                                  R: Laura

L: Laurie                                                  R: Laura

I am the luckiest girl.