Monday, October 20, 2014

Rolling Forward

This weekend marked three months since my concussion.

According to the neuro rehab specialist I've been seeing, I've officially crept into the unfortunate 15% of people for whom Post Concussion Syndrome doesn't resolve within 90 days. I'd like to say I'm almost normal but really, what is normal?

My life is very different than it was three months ago. Instead of skating 6 hours or more per week, I'm thrilled to now be able to use my elliptical machine for 30-40 minutes at a time. I've even advanced to the point where I can handle listening to music with my ear bud. Hurray for progress!

In the months since my injury, I've suffered not only the concussion but a heat stroke, food poisoning, three full blown migraines (when I typically have 1-2 per year) and a serious cold that knocked me down for almost two weeks. Also, one of my cats died and I had a birthday. Life continues to happen regardless of the fact that I feel unequipped to handle it.

But I do handle it. I don't have any other choice. And then I think Woah, look at me. I handled that shit like a boss.

Since it's only been within the last three weeks or so that I've started to feel like my old self again, it's only now starting to set in for me that I won't be returning to roller derby. Obviously I've known that all along but I don't think my brain had the capacity to process the information and allow me to truly feel it until now.

There are some things about derby that I miss terribly. I miss my friends, my teammates that supported me through my roller coaster of a derby career. I miss using my body to it's fullest abilities, feeling strong and tired and sore after bout. And there are things I don't miss at all, like practicing til 10 o'clock at night and off skates obligations. Like anything else, derby has pros and cons. It just so happens that the biggest con happens to be damaging my brain!

My eight year old niece has been asking me to teach her to roller skate since she moved to town in August. I am honored that she asked and the thought of teaching her something new makes me heart happy. But I was fairly nervous about getting back into my skates. I knew there'd be some emotional work as well as physical and I didn't want that to happen with her around.

I tied on my roller skates this morning for the first time since my ill fated last game. The urge to do so had grown so strong over the past few days that I couldn't resist it any longer. Since learning to skate was pretty difficult for me, I thought three months away from them would have set me back quite a bit. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt rolling around my street (wearing a helmet of course!)

Me in my skates this morning

I bought brand new ice skates this summer for $10 at a yard sale. I'd been looking forward to using them until my injury and then I'd been picturing myself slamming my skull into the ice. But now I'm thinking of finding my niece a pair of ice skates as well and using this as an opportunity to spend time with her and move myself forward while still using my skills and getting a work out.

I'll probably still miss roller derby for a while yet. I'm planning to go next month to watch my first bout since my retirement. I'm curious to see how that makes me feel and I'm super excited to cheer on my friends who still play.

The Universe has a plan and a sense of humor. I'm learning to stop worrying so much about what might happen in the future because really, I don't have any control over that what so ever.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Digging Up Dirt



As of today, I'm half way through an eight week memoir writing class that I'm taking at a local writer's collective. I've wanted to take a class from Molly for the past three years but it each time she announced  her upcoming courses, something would come up to prevent me from enrolling; work, finances, life, you know how it is...

I got the email announcing this fall's courses within days of getting my concussion. At that point I was still struggling to sit up without feeling like I was going to puke and I was panicking at the thought of life without roller derby, without that social circle. The timing of this email was perfect in that it reminded me that there was so much I loved to do besides derby, things that I needed my brain to be functioning for!

So I signed up and crossed my fingers that by the time the class started in late September, my brain would be recovered enough that I could participate without feeling like a zombie!

During the very first session, I felt like my sternum had cracked open and my heart was pouring out (in a good way!) Finally, a place where I belong, where my desire to tell my stories is appreciated. Each week, I sit at the long unfinished wood table with five other writers as we complete free writing exercises and share what we come up with. It's incredible how much I can produce in six short minutes, given a prompt such as "Write about something you wanted but didn't get." Our pens scritch and scratch on our notebooks as we frantically try to get out all the thoughts that come flooding in the gate that the prompt has opened.

The exercises we do in class have tapped into experiences I've had that I'd forgotten about and memories I've tucked away in places I haven't wanted to go to again. There are some things I've always wanted to write about but have been afraid to: worried about what people will think of me, worried about the people who play roles in my stories-what if so and so finds out? But I've come to realize that what my hero David Sedaris so eloquently told me this summer is true, "Ramona, you're over thinking it."

So I've gone there. I've started digging in the dirt. I'm working on a piece about experiences from my childhood. Many of you who know me well may have never even heard these stories. I don't talk about my experiences much but I've come to realize they're a huge part of who I am. The reasons I don't want kids, why I'm afraid of getting re-married, why I have very little faith in our legal system. All of these things have do with my baggage, my junk that I carry around. By writing down my stories and sharing them with others, I'm unloading a little bit of my junk and making room for more!

It's amazing to me what it feels like to revisit some of these old places inside myself. Yesterday I was writing about the death of my childhood dog and I started to cry! Sometimes I have to get up from my desk because the air around it becomes heavy and clouded with memories.

I've been told that depression comes from living in the past, while anxiety comes from living in the future. I've spent the majority of my life bouncing back and forth between the two, missing the here and now. This is something I work on with my life coach and by having a gratitude practice.

So why then do I want to go back to the past with my writing? I've been asking myself that question a lot since this class has started. I've learned that we all ask ourselves these questions as writers: Why am I telling this story? What's the point of this? Who is going to want to read this? I certainly don't know the answers. What I do know is that I feel compelled to tell my stories. If one solitary person reads a story and relates to it or laughs at it, then I've made a change in the world and I'm happy with that.

I might never be a famous writer or blogger (or I might!) but I know that by just following through and doing what I feel so inspired to do, I'm setting an example for others. If I can do it, you can do it! No matter what that "it"is!



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No More Secrets

Thanks to my friend Melissa, I've recently fallen in love with a song called "Secrets" by Mary Lambert. I mean, I cannot stop listening to it. I guess it's been out for a while now but I had never heard it before she told me about it, which is cool because the timing is quite serendipitous for my life right now.

A couple weeks ago, I was out shopping with my good friend Sophie who always treats me to a pedicure and a trip to the mall for my birthday. While browsing in Hot Topic, I came across a pair of shoes that I'd seen there before but lacked the confidence to buy. Soph took one look at them and said "Those are so you. You have to buy them." There were two pairs left, one in my size so I slipped one on as gingerly as if I were Cinderella with a glass slipper. It fit! I held my foot up off the ground and wiggled it. "Do you really think I should buy these, even though I'm 36?" Her response was perfect, "I think you should buy them especially because you're 36. This is what I love about you." So I bought the shoes and haven't regretted it for a second!



Finding those shoes on that trip was perfect timing because only an hour earlier, while getting our toes done, I was telling Soph that I feel as if I've recently made a significant transformation into not caring so much as to what other people think about me.

When I hit my thirties, I became acutely aware of my "age inappropriateness" in that I was divorced, single and living alone in a relatively small town that I moved to just before I turned 30. I have a lot of tattoos and mostly male friends. Nothing there is anything to be ashamed of but when packed together and judged by others, it can feel otherwise.

I was raised that if you were leaving the house, you made sure your bra straps didn't show or your pants were "too tight" because those things were inappropriate and gave other people (meaning men) the impression that you were a certain type of girl. As I've aged and my body has changed, I've remained hyper aware of my appearance when I go out. It's not in a vain way, like do I look hot but that ever vague appropriateness.

Over the past few years, I had found myself looking at what I'm wearing when I leave the house (jeans with a DMB Tshirt and plaid Chucks) asking myself "Is this what a woman my age should be wearing?" It's stressful and exhausting because the truth is, this is what I want to wear. I love these Tshirts and sneakers. I'm comfortable physically and emotionally. But I look around when I'm out to eat or standing in line at a store and I see women who are more "put together" than me and I wonder what it means.

The chorus to "Secrets" includes a line that goes "I know I'm not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else, well I'm over it" and the first time I heard it, my heart sang because that's exactly how I've been feeling lately. When I looked at those incredible cat sneakers and I thought Are these meant for someone my age? my immediately next thought was Fuck it, I like 'em.

I love it when I'm out shopping with a friend and she holds something up and says "Hey, this is you!" It means she knows me well and that my personality reflects in how I dress. I think that's pretty awesome.

I've had a conversation about this with a couple of friends since posting a picture of my cat shoes on FaceBook (Most people who commented wanted to know where they could buy a similar pair for their daughter *sigh*). It's amazing to me how universal this topic is with women. Why do we care so much? Who are we dressing to impress when we go out, ourselves? Our partners? Strangers?

I've finally realized that it doesn't matter! I am who I am no matter what clothes I'm wearing. If my tattoos don't show, it doesn't mean they don't exist.

I know I'll never get to a place where I don't care what I look like at all. That's not what I'm striving for. I just want to be myself and not feel guilty about it. I'm over it.





Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some Pennies For My Thoughts


Yesterday, as I picked up a penny in the grocery store parking lot, I had a thought: I wonder if a person kept track of all the pennies she picked up in a lifetime, how much money would that be? Although an interesting thought, it didn’t seem practical (a baby can’t pick up change) so then I wondered how much change a person finds in the course of a year. As I dropped my new penny into my purse, I decided that would be a fantastic project to start at the new year. I keep a notebook with me all the time anyway so I could easily jot it down each time I found a coin! I tucked the idea away to explore later. 

That same afternoon, I was riding my bike in my neighborhood when I  cruised over a shiny penny. I hit my brakes but second guessed myself and sped up to keep up with my boyfriend. I started telling him my idea and then interrupted myself, “I guess I wouldn’t have to wait til the new year, would I? I could start today!”

We turned around, so I could get my second cent of the day, but although we searched and searched, we couldn’t find that dang lone coin. So I decided I’ll have to start my project the next time I find one!

As I was circling around on my bike, staring down at the pavement looking for that penny, I remembered a comment I overheard recently. A woman was giving a couple pennies to someone who was lacking change for a purchase and she said “I don’t mind giving away pennies because they’re worthless.” I kept my mouth shut but I was flabbergasted. I was thinking Does she know that 100 pennies equal a dollar? I was so amused by the comment that I Tweeted about it (#DoYouUnderstandHowMoneyWorks?). A friend immediately responded that it was a coincidence he had just looked at his retirement account and it had gained one cent that day which would equate to a $300 increase over time!

Okay, so the pennies I pick up won’t earn interest (unless I put them in the bank-note to self!) but they will add up. My collection will not be limited to coins, but I expect that’s what I’ll find the most of. However, I once found a $20 bill blowing through a Wal-Mart parking lot! Another time, I picked up what I thought was a piece of paper but turned out to be a white enveloped containing $40 cash!

I guess I technically stole that money, but in each case there was no way to track down an owner. I have definitely lost money from being careless, like being out drinking at a bar with a $20 bill in my back pocket that’s gone when I go for it next, so I know it happens to the best of us.

I’ve written previously about my habits as a “picker upper” as I like to call myself. No matter if I’m walking or driving, I’m frequently noticing abandoned treasures “Ooooh a pen!” or “Hey look, a glove!” Each time, my boyfriend’s response is the same: “Gross” and he encourages me to leave the lonely object where it lies.

It’s funny that my youngest dog has turned out to be a treasure seeker as well. On our walks, he is continuously scanning the ground for something delicious and/or fun. The day he found unwrapped Rolos underneath our bank of mailboxes, I hated to make him spit them out because it was such a spectacular find! He’s found dog biscuits under there before, so I can’t blame him for looking, which he still does every time we check the mail! He’s found balls and bones and even tried to pick up a sock once (that one, I made him leave behind). My boyfriend finds if funny and revolting at the same time. “He’s definitely your dog”, he’ll chuckle and shake his head, while Tinsley trots along carrying a soggy tennis ball he rooted out of the gutter. 


Tinsley with one of his treasures

For now, I’m looking down as much as possible when I’m out of the house, waiting for my next find! I don’t know what I’ll do with the money I collect over the next year. It will probably depend on how much it is. Maybe I’ll donate it to a charity or maybe I’ll buy myself a treat! You’ll have to stay tuned to find out! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Another Season Of Change






September first always feels like the beginning of a new phase for me. My birthday was one week ago and school used to start shortly after Labor Day so this week has always been one of transition that I look forward to. The first of this month is the official start of fall in my mind. I like fall a lot. I like wearing more clothes than summer requires, I like the cool mornings and evenings and that certain slant the sunlight has now. I first noticed it a couple weeks ago, it always happens all of a sudden that I notice the afternoon shadows seem different and I sigh Ahh, it's almost fall.

I like when it gets dark at 8pm. That seems like a reasonable time for evening. I'm a big fan of going to bed "early" and I hate it when it's light until 10pm in the summer. That encourages people to be out doing stuff when I consider that "late at night" and want to be home in my pajamas!

I realize that 8pm darkness is a precursor to 5pm darkness and I do not like that, but I believe the cycle is important. We need to have a most favorite and least favorite of things to keep us moving forward.

The visible season change is a relief to me. (We saw our first snow, in the mountains, on August 24th!) Summer in Montana has a frantic energy because everyone is trying to squeeze in their activities and parties into the short window we have for nice weather. There's always an underlying pressure of I should be outside while I have the chance whenever I'm indoors during the summer. That's why the timing of my concussion has been particularly tough on me. I've had to turn down invitations and lay inside on beautiful days and it sucks!

 I'm still working on this whole "Surrender to what is" process and I'm making progress. I've been doing an unbelievable amount of reading and writing (which I'm grateful to have the ability to do) and I've been catching up on a long list of movies I want to see. I'm working four days a week, six hours a day and when I get home I'm usually worn out and I don't do a darn thing most days. At first that made me feel lazy and anxious. Like most women, I have a never ending list of things around the house that need my attention but I've tossed it aside for now. When I feel motivated, I do something. If not, I don't. Isn't that an amazing concept?! It seems so simple but until now I'd never been able to pull it off! I'd force myself to get one more chore done before calling it a day. The change certainly hasn't been easy. Sometimes I ask for the assistance of my other half, as in "Please tell me not to worry about vacuuming" and he'll always comply!

So as I welcome fall today, I welcome change. I have the windows open and I cleaned the carpets in my bedroom, because it was long overdue and I finally felt inspired to do it! Instead of moving down the list to the next task, I'm writing this. Later I might feel anxious about not getting more done but I might not...I'm trying to take in one moment at a time.




Saturday, August 23, 2014

Look Around





On a recent afternoon, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, standing behind the canvas rope at the placard on the floor that tells you where to wait to ensure the privacy of other customers ahead of you. I always want to stand directly on those footprints but I never do. In front of me at the counter, being helped by a pharmacy technician, were two Asian men, one in his 30’s and the other maybe a decade older. They wore colorful dress shirts with khaki shorts and carried messenger bags. In this small town, which houses the only airport in the area and is one of the last stops for provisions before Yellowstone National Park,  these gentlemen were obviously tourists.

As the cashier was tallying up their purchases, the younger man called out “Wait, wait!” as the older guy darted away from the register to grab two rather large boxes of condoms. Interesting choice while on vacation, I thought to myself. As the male cashier took the boxes he asked “Two more, huh?”. When he slid them into the partially translucent white paper bag, I could see it already held three such boxes of Trojans. The younger man appeared to be the only one of the two who was speaking English. He listened to his companion briefly and then before the second box was tucked away, he asked “Are these all one size?” The cashier turned the box every which way, closely examining the small print on each side and declared that they were in fact all the same size. That seemed to be acceptable to the older guy.

Once the purchase was complete, the cashier asked the men if they were headed to the larger town a few miles away and if they were driving. They said yes, but they were with a tour group so they had no need for the coupon for gasoline that came with their receipt.

I watched the entire interaction from my spot at the line marker, obviously that distance is not quite enough to provide the privacy it is intending, and I tried to imagine all the possible scenarios for which these two gentlemen from out of town would need approximately 120 condoms. Are they hoping to get extremely lucky on this vacation? Maybe they’re lovers on a rare getaway together? Maybe they don’t have easy access to prophylactics in their country of origin? Or perhaps they are leaders of the tour group simply thinking ahead and trying to provide their fellow group members with protection?

When it was finally my turn to approach the counter for my medication, I gave the cashier a smile but he was as expressionless as a brick wall. Then I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised by his stoicism. I would guess that selling large quantities of condoms to tourists is far from the strangest task his job requires of him. This got me to thinking about my role as a veterinary technician. I’ve always been proud of my ability to remain calm and professional when dealing with emergencies and oddities. I once had a client casually tell me that she examines her own stools each day. I’ve had owners confess to me that their ill pet has recently ingested pot or used condoms or thong underwear, and I’m always able to maintain a straight yet friendly face while I assure them that we will be able to treat their beloved pet properly. Years ago in an exam room, I asked a female client why she had brought her beagle in to be seen and she stated matter of factly “She has a filthy pussy.” I didn’t even pause before I replied, “Alrighty then, let’s see what we can do about that.” It was clear to me that these were simply the only words she had to describe her observations.

Working with the public can be challenging at times. Clients often expect their current problem to take priority over the other things I’m dealing with and that’s not always appropriate. I often have to do a lot of assessing in a short amount of time in order to respond properly. But my work can be incredibly rewarding. There’s no feeling that compares to helping save a family’s pet or providing a grieving owner with solace during euthanasia. My job can be fun, difficult, dirty, heartbreaking and it challenges me physically and emotionally; usually all in the same day. When I took a brief break from working in the veterinary field, I realized there is literally nothing else I would rather do as a job.

I don’t know how that pharmacy clerk feels about his job but I’m guessing there are rewarding parts to helping provide people with their medications as well as frustrating parts. I’ve found that to be true of all the jobs I’ve ever had. Those tourists were fortunate to have someone help them who took the task seriously, even as I observed in disbelief. I guess this all just proves my personal philosophy that everyone is good at something, has a purpose, and we’re all in a certain place at a certain time for a specific reason. What was probably a simple interaction to all parties involved was incredibly interesting to me and gave me a lot to think about.

This is why I enjoy writing non-fiction and why I carry a notebook everywhere I go. There’s always amazing things happening around us, sometimes funny things or examples of kindness or just something spectacular; a week later I pulled up to the same grocery store and saw a man getting arrested for fighting in the parking lot!

It’s a reminder to keep my eyes open all the time, to focus on the moment I’m in, instead of worrying about what I’m doing next. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Does It Matter What You Call It?

I knew I was going to leave roller derby the day I got injured. The moment I was injured, in fact. I recall quite clearly, stopping on the track (which is a no no), holding my hands to what I thought was my broken nose and having a feeling of finality wash over me, a voice that said "All done". I probably could have walked off the track at that exact moment and been satisfied. But that wouldn't be fair to my teammates or to myself. I  put over two years of my life into this sport, literal blood, sweat and tears. I can't just quit, right?  I've spent the last few weeks recovering and thinking about a potential future with derby, but I came to the conclusion that there isn't one for me.

Taken just seconds before the hit that caused my concussion


Friends have asked me how I made the decision but I didn't make a decision as much as it simply became clear to me. This is a time for transition for me. I've gotten a message from The Universe that I need to slow down and re-evaluate my priorities.

But just because the conclusion was clear cut for me didn't mean it was easy to follow through. I went to my life coach for guidance, "I know what I need to do, I just don't know how to go about doing it". I wrote about it, meditated about it and talked about it with my loved ones. I packed away all my gear and derby clothes, just to see what it felt like.


I'm not quitting, I'm retiring. I keep telling myself that, but does it make a difference? I turned to my dictionary for clarification:
          Quit: to stop doing something, to give up, to resign from, to stop trying, to go away from
          Retire: to give up one's work, to remove from a position or office, to go where it is quieter, to retreat from battle

Well, all of those sound accurate to me! Why is there such a negative connotation with quitting? I battled in that sport for two years and now I'm done. Sure there are women who play for a lot longer but I've known many who played for a shorter amount of time. That doesn't make any of us wrong.

I'm four weeks out from my concussion and I'm still not back to my old self. I'm driving and working and (knock on wood) this past weekend was my first one in a month that didn't include me getting injured or terribly ill. I even worked out on the elliptical yesterday for 15 minutes straight! I'm definitely making progress. But my memory sucks and I have a headache at some point every day. Externally I look like I've healed but I still don't feel like myself. I feel slow and foggy which is the opposite of me at my best. It's frustrating and depressing. But when I push myself (like trying to paint the living room or help my sister in law move), I get sick and I backslide three steps.

The words of wisdom from my life coach were: surrender to what is. I like the sound of that-very Zen. But how do I actually do that? I'm still figuring it out. For now it means eliminating as many distractions and obligations as possible and the biggest one was roller derby. I can't commit to calling my mom every Monday or showing up someplace at a specific time. I'm trying to change my thinking from "This isn't me" to "This is me now". I'm trying to read, rest, watch movies and just be who I am right now. Hopefully I won't be this me forever and I think I'll appreciate that I was kind to myself during this phase.

I always have faith that everything will work out. Sometimes it's just tough getting through that middle part. But for now this middle part is all I've got.


Resting on the couch with my dogs