Tag Archives: writing

shaken – not stirred

light is gone
nimble fingers of darkness
chase its rushed retreat
leaving me

     no will
     no hope
     no breath
     no life

drenched in tears
and i am
stripped to the bone
peeled back
the layers of

     my mask
     my childhood
     my insecurities

     my love….

and all of the other waste
rises to the surface
waiting to be sloughed off
detritus of my soul

shaken – not stirred

~h

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

Words of the Past This Wednesday — Poetry From Years Ago

I’ve been working on new posts but have neglected to finish any recently. With that in mind, I went back to some old poems and pulled a few out that caught my eye for one reason or another.  I’m rather undecided about whether or not I think they’re “good”, but still, there is something about most of them that appeals to me.  Here is an untitled piece that is at least 15 years old… Hope you enjoy!

full moon

Closing sunset’s door
night creeps in without offering a candle.
Imprisoning me with the stench of desperation…
it wraps its charred fingers around my throat
and chokes out any hint of light
remaining in my dismal room.

Lulling me with its siren song
the twilight offers a flicker – a flame.
Through the warped and greasy lens of age
I glimpse one last vestige of an ambient dawn
exultant and guileless –
like cartwheels in the sun…

The mirage falters and fades
burning my retinas for the briefest moment
in its glorious jubilation.
And then night returns –
creeping into each far corner
and extinguishing the beacon of my memory
leaving cold oppression
in this claustrophobic room.

 

~h

 

 

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

reading between the lines

these are words always left unspoken
this is the legacy of my pain
unvarnished remnants of a fractured life
permeated by the tools of shame.

you came to me in such a desperate hour
where i lie huddled in a blackened cave
as i emerged from that deepened shadow
you realized then – i could not be saved.

so i wandered feeling dark too deeply
reaching for a light that never shone
such a curse my barren self lay dormant
but rejection spits out hearts like bone…

and then dust grew deep upon my self-worth
though the calluses refused to form
each day a hike across this frozen tundra
who knew respect was key to staying warm?

which left my heart without a decent chaperone
so softly approach – calm my doubts, my fears
between these notes please hear the love in subtext
i’m only waiting for acceptance here.

Lines of frozen grass
~h

if your spirit breathes me in

if the spirit is truly carried on one’s breath,
please let me breathe you in.
bury my face in the soft curve of your neck
and, when your heartbeat is in sync with mine,
let’s introduce our lips.

uncertainties are carrion for self doubts we wear
so come to me stripped down
layers of your soul laid bare…
and let’s lie on our tummies in soft spring grass
gaze into each other’s eyes
sharing wishes and dreams
trading secrets on whispers fragile as wings.

would you ache to illicit my laughter
as I seek and nurture yours?
and in joy, trace the lines of my face?
be interested in the phrases between words?
those unspoken nuances of emotion –
the tender underbelly, vulnerable and raw
a quiet self hidden from the world
sacred few only see…

and when my soul stands naked before you
is this the pinnacle or descent?
are they equivalent in your eyes?
unencumbered by placating masks,
have I lost my charm and mystery?
are you paving a way for moments to fade
into plastic, nostalgic memory
so you can toss me on a pile with the rest?

it’s not too late – this is only as lost as you want it to be…
so dare to take hold of fear and
please breathe me in once more
– you’ll find me again
in the warmth of your mouth…
where our spirits first learned to linger
together.

pink gerber pair harmony copy

~h

This is My Body on Exercise… Or, Risks of Exertion as an ME/CFS Patient

When there are days you have to sit down to rest after taking a shower, exercise can prove next to impossible. It can really be a pain in the… well, it’s painful. We’ll just leave it at that for now.

ffacd0264c073d8bc7c4ce5a70f46cd3
Exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body.  It can lift spirits, provide immunity support, strengthen and tone, and keep everything in good working order… But what happens if exertion is the very thing that makes your body sicker?  The thing that is capable of completely incapacitating you?  Welcome to living in a body run by ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome).  This is my nightmare.

Before I got sick, I belonged to a local gym and enjoyed going 4-5 times a week.  There was a yoga class I loved, a spin class I was finally getting good at, weights that were toning muscles I had forgotten were there, and a cardio room that I used to meet my sister-in-law in so we could use the elliptical machines together.  It wasn’t always easy to go and sometimes I skipped, but I tried to make make it a priority on my schedule.

Fast forward to the present.  My body has undergone quite a few changes in the passing years.  Harboring several different health issues and a humdinger of a coupla chronic illnesses, the gym has become a thing of the past.  Almost like a fairy tale I made up to amuse myself.  It’s been almost seven years since my ME/CFS diagnosis, and a couple of those have felt like the longest years of my life.

What most people don’t understand is how I can usually look fine on the outside while saying I’m so sick on the inside.  Typically, I look pretty healthy.  A little tired, perhaps.  Certainly carrying more weight than I should and than I used to… In general, however, I look like your neighbor or your sister or someone you would pass at your gym.  Meanwhile, the inside of my body is a wreck.  And one of the main things unseen is how it can take every bit of energy I have to make you believe I feel as well as I look.  *sigh*  It’s something of a curse, at times, because people with ME/CFS have to spend a great deal of time trying to convince people that they really are illEven though some are extremely ill.

A bad day with my puppy protector. I could not handle any outside noise that day so I had to wear ear plugs, my head was pounding so I was using an ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn't regulate, so I was covered with two blankets. *sigh*
A bad day with my puppy protector. I couldn’t handle much noise that day so I was wearing earplugs, my head was pounding, hence the ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn’t regulate, so I also had two blankets covering me. *sigh*

 

Please believe that I am not lazy!  I wish my body was cooperative.  I wish I could exercise like people tell me I should.  The truth is, everything goes haywire if I push too hard.  If you have to sit and rest after washing a sink of dishes, you’re probably not at your healthiest… And while I am MUCH healthier than severe ME/CFS patients, it’s nowhere near the person I was.  (For an absolutely heartbreaking look at what severe ME/CFS can look like, please read this recent article from The Washington Post about Whitney Dafoe.)  Some patients can’t leave their homes – others are confined to their beds.  It’s a blessing not to be stuck in bed, and a continuous source of gratitude to know I am not housebound.  I walk as often as possible, manage to work 20 hours a week, and still have enough energy at times to go out with friends and family to a movie or restaurant.  Heck, when all the stars are perfectly aligned, I might even manage a short hike!

hiking boots

 

What I would ask you to know, however, is that it comes at a price.  When a reasonably fit, healthy person hits the trails or goes for a run they might have sore muscles after an intense workout, but they can get back out and do it again within a day or two.  For someone living with ME/CFS, exertion of any kind (physical, mental, emotional) can lead to days, weeks or even months of recovery time.  In some cases, overexertion is the reason a mild or moderately ill patient ends up permanently bedridden.  It’s a terrifying tightrope to walk.  Never knowing what a few extra minutes of walking might do.  Never knowing if too much housework in a day will put you in bed for weeks.  Living under that black cloud of uncertainty is its own form of mental exhaustion.  My body doesn’t react to activity like it should.  Sometimes walking from the bedroom to the kitchen causes such oxygen deprivation that I have to lean against the counter until my breath comes normally again.  There are days I may manage to get to a hiking trail, only to discover a quarter-mile in that my heartbeat has become increasingly erratic, that I’m staggering because my equilibrium is way off, or that my body temperature won’t regulate and I’m sweating profusely despite the cold or shivering despite the heat.  I’ll confess – there are times I’ve had to sit down in the aisle of a store or abandon a cart full of groceries simply because my legs became so weak that I couldn’t stand anymore.  It has come down to making the decision to finish a task or have enough strength to drive home.  It’s frightening to be okay one moment and find yourself helpless the next… Every system of my body revolts, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and there is nothing I can do but ride it out.  So many random symptoms might attack – chest pains, missed heartbeats, brain fog – just to name a few…  There are so many severe potential risks to being active that, if I’m not having a good day to begin with, it really isn’t worth taking a chance.

Other times, however, I do risk it.  To enjoy the outdoors, to feel like I have a life, to maintain some independence… I tell you all these things so you know the effort and energy it takes, and so you can be a bit gentle with me, or anyone else you know with ME/CFS.  I would also ask, however, that you remember sometimes we dare to dream… we dare to take the chance.  There are some things in life that are worth it.  By asking you to understand, I’m saying you’re probably one of them..  🙂

 

One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.
One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.

 

 

As always, thank you for reading!
~h

 

The Memories are Thick Today

It’s only fitting that you would be on my mind this weekend.  There’s a HUGE movie premiere today – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – so it makes sense… Movies were, after all, the thing that brought us together, as we bonded over shared favorites and new recommendations during work at a video store.  As a matter of fact, the first several times we went anywhere outside of work revolved around movies.  Even years after we split up and went our separate ways, movies were a shared interest that would forever keep us friends.

So today, like so many other times over the past two years, a single thought keeps going through my head:  It isn’t fair that you aren’t here now.

That thought revisits often and some days it’s particularly difficult to swallow…  You would have been one of the first people I know to buy tickets for the new Star Wars film.  I felt like I should have been at the front of the line for the first showing at the best theater in town out of loyalty to your memory.   The first gift you ever gave me was your box set of the original Star Wars trilogy in “letterbox”, because I only had episode one.  We stood and had a heated discussion about the difference in widescreen ratios and which episode was the best, so it was a nerd connection from the beginning. I can still remember, in fact, standing in line years later each time the original three movies were re-released in the theaters (1997?), hoping to get the right seats in the audio “sweet spot“.   We did that for most big blockbuster releases for years, if possible, and had the process down to a science.  A huge portion of my movie memories involve you in some way, and I can’t walk into many theaters without smiling as I hear the phrase “buttery toots” run through my mind.  haha!

josh massey pensive copy

 

There are too many things you didn’t get to do before you were gone.  Too many new movies, like The Forces Awakens, that you didn’t get to see.  Moments you didn’t get to share.  Carter just got married, you know.. and you really should be around to celebrate.  Jen changed her Facebook profile picture to an older shot of the two of you in Hawaii recently and it’s lovely…  Speaking of Facebook, Kim posts new pictures of Alex every couple of weeks and you wouldn’t believe how much she’s grown!!  She’s so beautiful!  She misses you, I’m sure…  They all do.  They deserve you around.   And it makes me so angry sometimes that you’re not here.  One of those moments in life that seems so unjust.  So unfair.

It’s only fitting, I suppose, that you would be on my mind this weekend due to the premiere.  How was I to know, however, that you would also come to mind because I discovered your grandfather passed away yesterday… He was such a unique and wonderful person and one of your best friends.  I heard the news this morning and my heart broke a little because I always considered him family.  He was not the same when I saw him at your funeral and I’m glad that’s not the memory that comes to mind when I think of him.  Instead, I see him laughing at a joke the two of you are sharing over a family meal at your mother’s house.  I see him animated and engaged discussing a story or memory he is sharing.  I see the two of you hugging each other before making plans for your next get together.   He’s headed your way now, so I hope you’ve got a chessboard set up and ready to play…

What part of Ninja didn't you understand?

I don’t talk about you much anymore – our lives took different paths before you were gone and most  people I see didn’t know you well enough to chat about  memories of you.  You’re still on my mind, however, at random moments or when some odd thing reminds me of you.  Like a Danny Elfman song on any soundtrack new or old.  Or when a movie or video game comes out I know you would flip over.  Sometimes I’ll be looking at t-shirts and see an image or joke that is exactly your brand of humor… or hear a song that you used to repeat over and over just to  get it stuck in my head (“doo-doo, doo doo doo doo, mahna mahna”).   Thank you for those memories.  For those moments that are now more dear simply because they were so finite in nature.  Those things still occasionally have the power to make me sad, but mostly they make me smile.  Smile because I was so blessed to know you.  Smile because I know you lived every moment of every day to the fullest with no regrets.  Smile because you were one of the best friends I’ve ever had…

It will probably be a bit bittersweet waiting to file into the theater to see the new Star Wars movie, but I know I’ll be smiling when the phrase “buttery toots” go through my mind.   Thank you for that…  🙂
in memory of Josh and his wonderful GPa, Jimmie

 

~h

 

 

Choose Kindness & Compassion This Season

Don't Confuse Bad Days for Weakness

Pain has a language all its own.  Pain and suffering mark time differently. Pain is voracious and consuming.  Pain comes in many shapes and forms.

Do you ever struggle with pain?  Not just the physical kind – although that can definitely stop you in your tracks!  I mean “pain” in general. Physical, mental, emotional… Each type is equally draining in a way.  Equally clarifying to an extent.  And each takes a toll on the person wearing it around day after day.

I’ve been thinking about suffering quite a bit today.  Marveling at the way it is able to barge in and command the attention of the most seasoned warrior.  Considering the capability it has to lay waste to all things bright and shining in a person’s life.  In any of its forms and afflictions, pain can potentially devour the stoutest heart…

The past few days have been an arduous test of inner strength and coping for me.  My pain scale is out of whack compared to the norm, I think, so I won’t try to assign it a number.  Let’s just say it has been ‘up there’.  It’s nothing new and certainly something I’m usually adept at dealing with, but now and then it manages to make me want to stop in my tracks and curl up on the floor.  That is typically the case when I’m in pain AND my empathy meter is in the red as I watch someone I care about suffering in their own private misery.

Having what is considered an “invisible illness“, I’m used to looking one way on the outside and feeling the complete opposite within.  It’s actually a challenge I accept daily to put on a brave face and downplay my pain or symptom flares.  Wearing that mask may not always be the best choice as it makes it more difficult for people to understand when the cracks start showing… They thought everything was fine – I seemed like I felt okay!  It also increases the ‘invisibility’ sometimes.

 

don't look sick

 

People are fearlessly and tirelessly inconsiderate when lacking in proper information and understanding.  There are a lot things that chronically ill people don’t want to hear – believe me, I’ve heard them all – but when you mask pain all the time, I guess it goes without saying that sometimes others won’t know anything at all about the private war being waged inside.

I’ve been in a lot of pain lately… although most people probably haven’t noticed anything amiss.  I prefer to keep it that way, for the most part, but I can’t help but want to reach out healing hands to all the other people I know in similar situations even when I know they’re trying to hide behind a carefully constructed façade of “FINE”.  I have loved ones struggling daily with physical ailments, psychological anguish, mental illness… They each go through bouts of misery and torment and I would offer them all a restorative potion if I could.  This post isn’t about that, however. It’s about something much smaller in the grand scheme of things.

This post is about the responsibility we each have to offer support and healing to those around us.

There is so much negativity and hate in the world.  Everyone you see is dealing with some sort of struggle that has probably taken root in the center of their lives – consuming, ravaging them from the inside out.  Just because you can’t see someone’s anguish does not mean that it is not there.  Just because you have struggles and trials of your own does not absolve you from being considerate of others marching along in their own grief and pain.

I’m not here to judge.  But please remember that not all disabilities are visible to the naked eye.  Not all pain is readily ascertained on a scale of 1 to 10…. And, unfortunately, not all hurts are healed with a kiss and a Band-Aid.  Although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

My challenge to you, during this most festive and generous season of the year, is to reach out to someone who might need a friend.  Someone that might need a shoulder to cry on, a companion to sit with, a confidante to vent to, or a caring hand to carry their groceries to the car.  Take time to assess your own needs and care for yourself, absolutely!  But bless yourself further by taking a moment to be the light in someone else’s day, as well.  What may seem a small gift to you could be the greatest present of all in their eyes, and just because you are not aware of the impact of your actions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose them with care and compassion each day.

And if *you* are the one that has been beaten down to the point of lying curled up on the floor, please remember that people love you.  People care.  There are those that would give whatever they have to bring you joy and relief.  But most of all, remember that YOU are stronger than you give yourself credit for.  I don’t have to know you to say that I believe in you… and I hope you won’t give up the fight.

i can do it

 

~h

kept in hand

It’s easy to say I won’t cry
but I will.
And you knew that – you must know me too well, but still…
In denial, I thought it was all kept in hand.
My perception was off –
you must understand…

So I’m here in that place where
I swore not to be.
Waiting for you … seems you’ve left without me.
And my suitcase is full
with my baggage so heavy
thought I’d built up a dam – it was only a levee.

The water is deeper than my skills were prepared…
All this weight counterbalanced
is making me scared.
But this flood will recede
and you’ll do what you must…
Then I’ll quietly blow on away with the dust.

After serving my purpose, after serving my time.
I’m a figment of passion –
I’m the victim, the crime.
And your gaze moves past me
in this silence of space…
With no words I’m effectively
back in my place.

~h

huddled before you

heart cookie cutterthere is a secret language in my heart
… a tremulous pulse …
timid and tender as a soft first kiss
breath mingling, a shiver transposed
and if you follow the line
of my pale, fragile throat you might
read these syllables
as they beat in time

my lips are a tiny crescent moon
and the corners shine
this curve of shy emotion.
hiding all these questions and uncertainties
my eyes flutter shut as they
divert attention
– a detour around –
the roiling turmoil within.

some days
every little thing is pain ~
every doubt insurmountable
and i’m clinging to hopes that crumble and burn.
so could you be unafraid,
please come and meet me in this
vulnerable place?
where the timbre of your voice soothes me.
the refuge of your arms could be
a sanctuary – the safest place –
to share all that’s locked within.

you give me shelter
through this struggle and storm
as i memorize the planes of your face
in the warmth of all we have created
thankful – the remedy of all i seek
in your eyes
i pray you will not turn away
from these broken, bitter pieces
this damaged mess huddled before you.

close your eyes if you must
and find the real me
buried within
all these things I can’t articulate
–   a secret language   –
please read these words like braille
with your strong, capable hands
they cradle my heart.

~h

 

Know What I Meme?

Do you enjoy seeing a funny meme pop up on your social media thread?  Reading a meaningful one, perhaps, that inspires or challenges you?  On the off-chance that you’re not familiar with what a “meme” is (Don, I’m looking at you!), let me give you a quick introduction.  A meme (rhymes with team) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.  The most common modern example is in the form of internet memes – usually funny, cute images with a witty saying or quote.  They’re engaging and entertaining, and occasionally they offer a more in-depth observation about life and the human condition.

A close friend of mine posted a meme on social media yesterday and it has been on my mind ever since.  It expresses the fear that people don’t actually like you and just tolerate you hoping you’ll leave them alone.  (Notice I said a close friend posted this.  If they find their way here and read this, I have to urge them — please know you have no reason to fear.  You are genuinely cared about – not merely tolerated – and an asset and joy to many!)

"I havea a massive fear that no one actually likes me, rather everyone is just politely tolerating me hoping I will leave them alone."

What was instantly ironic for me, upon seeing this meme, is that I had recently expressed a very similar fear in more traditional communication.  It’s something many people might think but don’t necessarily say.   Either way, the words with this image portray a deeply guarded secret I’ve carried in my heart for a long time.

Most of my acquaintances would probably agree I’m fairly positive and try to keep an upbeat attitude.  Those that know me more substantially, however, are aware that sometimes that face is an act.  I am embarrassingly sensitive, and that sensitivity, in fact, can breed and amplify negative things…  There are days I struggle with depression and crippling insecurities that necessitate wearing a public persona so no one knows the things I keep inside.   Days when my faith wavers and bends like grass in the wind.  Try as I might, I can’t always keep the fears at bay… One of the greatest of which, is that I am not only unloved but that I am, in fact, unlovable.

Positivity has not always been easy for me.  When younger, I was actually quite abusive to myself.  Self-deprecation was a foreign language I studied and mastered (and still speak to this day), and I would continually compare myself to unrealistic beauty standards (which I still manage to do).  I was also physically cruel to myself in this pattern of self-destructive.  My eating habits were not normal and I would briefly deny myself food as a form of self-control and discipline… and perhaps the worst – I went through a period of time when I self-harmed.  I was a “cutter”.

There’s still enough shame in admitting that fact that I almost want to delete most of the last paragraph.  Part of my mind whispers, however, that perhaps the admission will help someone else one day so I should leave it out there for people to see.

amazing how much long sleeves and a fake smile can hide

“Cutting” typically involves making scratches or cuts on your body with some sort of sharp object until you bleed…  I’m sure several people close to me know I went through a couple of difficult times and still bear a few scars as witness.  To the great majority this will be a surprise, though, as I took great pains to hide the fact and my smile stayed fairly constant on my “public” face.  Those who have never had this sort of tendency may not ever understand.  To people who have self-harmed, self-medicated or engaged in any other self-destructive behavior, I probably don’t need to explain any further.  For me, it was a way to deal with all of the things I had no control over – such as feeling unworthy and unlovable.  The pain I created for myself, however briefly, overshadowed the pain inflicted by life, and the endorphins released offered a false sense of peace for a short time after.  In the end, it was more damaging than helpful and I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that now…  (*Please see notes at the end of this post!*)

Seeing people post images or quotes on social media that echo the turmoil and heartache I felt during those chaotic years bring back a lot of memories.  The majority are not good, but there are lessons learned from the mess those years left.  One of the most important, for me, is the idea that I will always be flawed, I will always be “broken” in a multitude of ways… Yet, those facts do not make me unlovable.  They merely make me human and make up the sum of who I am.  I’ve spent a large part of my life believing people don’t actually like me, and that they could not – would not – love me if they could see all the damage and darkness in my soul.  The truth is much kinder, thank goodness, than my vicious inner voice… The truth is that we all have struggles and dark times. We all have concerns and inescapable fears buried deep within the shadows of our hearts.  Despite the flawed, imperfect parts of us, we are all deserving and capable of being loved.  The flavor and depth of fear is different for each of us, but I doubt I’m alone when I think people merely tolerate my presence until they can escape.  That does not mean that it’s true… However, if I continue to fall back on a lifetime of self-destructive patterns, it makes it seem plausible.

amy bloom

So what to do?  I wish I knew the answer and could share it freely with you.  The best I can offer, I think, is a glimpse into what helps *me* with this struggle.  Try to find positive things to be grateful for every day.  Joy breeds joy and whatever you fill yourself with is going to multiply, so do try to treat yourself with kindness!  More importantly, however is being present in life… One of the most empowering things I do is take risks and learn from possible rejection.  It makes it sound easier than it is, to be sure, but nothing wonderful is gained without first taking a bit of a risk.  John A. Shedd wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  There is something beautiful and true in that simple sentiment.  As humans, love, I believe, is the very essence of who we are – our very nature.  It would be easy to avoid rejection and pain by staying safe at port, but it is not truly how we’re built… And while we may not always be fully loved in return, those that do love and value us usually make that sentiment known in their words and actions.  The trick, reader, is to teach your heart to trust that it is true.

let-someone-love-you-as-flawed-as-you-are

Love one another, dear friends, and be kind…

 

~h

 

 

 

*** PLEASE NOTE:  Regardless of my past, I DO NOT endorse self-injury or harm and highly recommend that anyone considering it or doing  anything of the sort, please find someone you trust and reach out to them!  Please don’t use this pretend therapy of creating new wounds in an effort to heal old – it WILL. NOT. WORK.  If you can’t talk to someone you know, check out any number of available websites such as this one, this one, or this one.