Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Pain

By Olivia Morrissey

One, two, sometimes three times a month, if I’m lucky, I go through an entire day without my ankle hampering my activities. Almost every other day of the month, though, I am crippled physically and mentally by my left ankle. Over the past three years, I have fielded so many questions about it that I can reply now almost without thinking.

“It’s a long story…” I begin, starting with the way I misjudged a landing on a trampoline, then summing up the surgeries and injections and medicines that I've endured in a sentence or two. I always accompany the explanation with a smile. I can dole out these sound bytes with ease, but sometimes people will still press me: they want to know what exactly is wrong with it: a sprain, a break, a tearing of ligaments?

Here, I, and medical experts in numerous fields in numerous countries, are stumped as to how to respond.

Originally the diagnosis was simple enough: a slight sprain. Then it became sinus tarsi syndrome, which the experts thought would be fixed with a cortisone injection; instead, the injection thinned the skin and turned my foot a nasty bruised colour which is only just now starting to disappear. Then I had an operation. My ankle got better, then worse, then much worse.

A doctor in Boston predicted that I would never be able to walk even close to normally again. A doctor in Amsterdam was slightly more optimistic, and I had an operation to snap the adhesions in my foot. That worked, for a while, but the pain returned. More doctors. More medicine. I had to choose whether I wanted my mind to be clouded by pain or by the stupor brought on by the pain-control drugs that I was prescribed. The doctors attempted to reboot my nervous system with an operation on my back. Nothing was working.

And, I admit, I began to despair that I would never be cured.

No one could name what was wrong with me, and therefore no one seemed able to fix it. I was tired of being experimented on, fed up with being shuttled from one specialist to the next. My ankle was deemed "hypersensitive," as if my intense pain was an exaggeration on my behalf. Eventually, most doctors began to give up and decided I probably had chronic pain syndrome, a condition that affects as many as one in ten Americans. It costs the U.S. economy more than $90 billion each year in medical fees, disability payments and lost productivity, and yet there are very few treatments for it. Chronic pain syndrome is not only difficult physically, but emotionally – many with chronic pain suffer from depression as well.

It’s not hard to understand why. My ankle pain meant I couldn’t go out to parties, couldn’t go shopping, couldn’t even walk my dog. My parents funded taxis to help me get places, and my friends would come over when I couldn’t go out, but it was a difficult adjustment from the life I had lived before. I had always been athletic – now I couldn’t even walk to the end of the street without being in pain.

Then, just over a year ago, I found a doctor who did not give up on me, and I had my final operation to remove further scar tissue and shave off a bone. I was told that if this did not work, there would be no more operations; my foot simply wouldn’t be able to take it.

Now, a year of physical therapy and chiropractic and osteopathic treatments later, I can function almost normally. I no longer have to judge whether I can afford to walk downstairs to get some water, or whether I can go back to the dorm for books in between classes without having to rest my ankle for hours afterward.

I do not think that my ankle injury ruined my high school experience – rather, it shaped it in such a way that I believe has made me a different and better person. I no longer resent my ankle injury as much as appreciate the skills it taught me: durability, courage, and the knowledge of how far I can go before breaking (which is much further than I would’ve thought possible). It made me turn away from sports and instead turn to writing, which is now central to my existence, and it meant that I surrounded myself not with people who went out clubbing every night, but rather those who were perfectly happy to lounge around discussing anything at all.

I now revel in every step that I take, every mile that I manage to go. I walk slower, yes, but, at the risk of sounding clich├ęd, my leisurely pace makes me stop and actually enjoy the things around me. I enjoy the world. I wonder at my movements. I count my blessings.

Writer Olivia Morrissey, a freshman attending Georgetown University, grew up in London. This essay acknowledges Joan Didion's famous piece, "In Bed," after which it was modeled.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Giving Birth to Our Dreams

By Kellie Meisl

In a new book called "Dream Stories, Recovering the Inner Mystic," writers Kellie Meisl and Connie Caldes, both of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, explore the ways in which dreams give meaning to life events. The book is available through What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 25.

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

"The Birthing Dream"

I observe a large, dark gray, plump-looking airplane with a

long red chute that curves upward on the sides. The chute

extends from the plane’s door to the ground. I am about to enter this

plane with a group of women, one, my friend Connie. I am

afraid to climb the chute. There is a ladder beside it, but it is

rickety. A young, athletic woman climbs the chute and makes

it up before me. On the ground a man assists women as they climb.

He offers to help me ascend. I climb, then turn to observe the chute from above. A

section in the middle has become detached. I watch in fear as two

young women hang from the detached part of the chute by their knees, upside down.

The women are struggling to fix the chute. However, they are carefree and relaxed.

I am now in the very spacious plane; many women are

with me. I realize we were all supposed to bring our babies

aboard, but no one did. I see a stack of empty cradles. My eyes

become fixed upon an older woman who is walking around

continuously. Her hair is fluffy, grayish white, and she wears

pajamas, a robe and slippers. I realize we were all supposed to

be wearing our pajamas but only the older woman is doing so.

Yet I get the sense that not wearing pajamas is right, what

has been agreed upon.

On the same night, my friend Connie dreams she is one of many

women on a maternity ward, wearing a robe and slippers. She

is shuffling around the maternity ward; she has just given birth

to her son. I am there with her.

There are many aspects of this dream that still elude me,

though I dreamed it a decade ago and have pondered it ever

since. I am not certain why the women in my dream agree

not to wear pajamas or why this is the “right” choice. And

where are the babies? Why is there a bunch of empty cradles? I

do know two things. One, the dream was a shared dream.

Connie and I both shared a dreamscape that night, a maternity

ward full of women, some wearing robes and slippers. And two,

my dream was a reflection on giving birth. The blimp-like plane

with the long red chute is a symbol of the birthing process. I

believe the fact that the chute became detached and that the

women hang upon it, suspended, reflects my placental

abruption and subsequent Caesarean section. Perhaps the empty

cradles are symbols of the babies being whisked away from their

mothers after surgery, as mine was.

Recently, I have come to understand that dreams of giving

birth are life metaphors. They signal us, reminding us to give birth

to our dreams, to create and bring forth the labors of our creation.

The dreams will continue to recur until we take notice. And

what if we do not heed the message of our birth dreams? Then

the message is presented in the circumstances we face in the

waking world where again we have the opportunity to take

notice and create the dream we have been incubating.

Because I had given birth to my son not long before my

birthing dream, I understood the dream first on a more literal

level. Of course that was one layer of meaning to my dream.

Then I had another more potent dream that caused me to take

notice and look at things from a different angle.

"Hospital Bed"

I am lying in a hospital bed hooked up to many tubes, as I

was after my Caesarean section. I feel weak, like I am fading

away. My doctor comes into the room. He is kind and gentle.

He shares with me that I have something growing in my

abdomen. I fear it is uterine cancer. I know it is serious and

that it will require great effort to recover, but I have hope that

I can heal.

I awoke from this dream quite shaken and concerned. I

knew it was important, and I knew on some level the growth in

my abdomen signified something that was growing inside

me and needed to come out. At the time of the dream, I was just

beginning to dabble in creating art. I understood that the

uterus is located in the second chakra, the area of one’s

creativity. I saw the dream as a reminder to create and I

continued with my art. I have created pieces for annual art

shows held locally every year since; I have also created pieces for family,

friends and for myself. I knew too the book I had wanted to write

needed to manifest, and I began writing stories. Now that book, a labor of love,

has been published! I also brought to fruition

a book for children that I wrote and illustrated for my son. This

is a project I dreamed of doing as an elementary teacher when I

read and observed meaningfully written and beautifully

illustrated works by others. And, I continue to work with

dreams both formally in the classes I teach and privately as I

work with my own dreams. I have never forgotten my Hospital

Bed dream, and I realize how important it is for me to create on

a regular basis.

Not long ago, I heard a story of a woman I knew as an

acquaintance who died from cancer. Her cancer had originally

grown in her abdomen but had healed. Then it returned in her

uterus. The story I heard was astonishing. It led me to wonder

if perhaps she did not have the chance to live the dream she

held for herself. The story came from her employer, a

friend of mine. We were having tea, talking about dreams

and she told me this story:

Prior to her death, Angela had been appointed to a new

position within the company where she was working. This was

one of several new assignments she had received in a period of

a few short years. She liked this latest job and was ready

to stay with it for a while. She was finally feeling

comfortable. Not too long after Angela settled into her job, a

woman with whom she worked closely, who was slated to move to

another position within the company, had a miscarriage. The

woman, Susan, had not been keen on changing her position in

the first place. One day, Angela sat in the office of her boss in

tears, a meeting she had called to say, “I cannot allow Susan

to be involuntarily moved to this new position after the

devastation she has suffered. Though I do not want to, I will

take the new job.” Very soon after, Angela became ill with

uterine cancer. She wound up leaving her job shortly after

taking it and never returned before her death.

This story stands as a powerful reminder to me that we

cannot sell ourselves out; we must take care to create and

follow the paths that feel right to us, even if we feel pressure

from others around us. Perhaps the older woman with white

hair in my birthing dream stood out because she was

enlightened; she chose to wear her pajamas and slippers

though the younger women agreed it was right to conform.

As I peruse my dream journal, I note many metaphors of birth,

some more direct than others. I notice that I often dream of

eggs, Easter eggs, cartons of eggs and jeweled eggs.

I feel fortunate that I have these dreams documented. I

remind myself it is important to reread them now and then.

When I read the dreams, I can see that as I was having them,

they were little seeds growing into the life I now have. Many

aspects of the dreams have played out. I realize now that the

dreaming mind is a vessel where the offspring of our soul’s

aspirations may nest. All we need to do is allow ourselves to

slumber, then remember and honor our dreams; that alone will

help us fulfill a more conscious role in how our lives unfold. So

I will do my personal best to bring my dreams into existence.

And, if I can do anything to honor Angela’s dream, it will be to

remember to exercise extreme caution, looking out for myself when making

important decisions about my life’s path. I will take on the roles

I love and create what is meaningful to me, even if I feel

pressured to do otherwise.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Not-So-Separate Lives

By Talia Roth

At the beginning of my internship I struggled to balance my two lives. One here at Street Sense, the newspaper for the homeless in D.C., meeting and talking to vendors, working my butt off and becoming close with people so much more mature than I. My other life took place in McLean, Virginia. I was a lifeguard at my community pool,
went to fancy dinners with my friends and acted like the fact that we still hadn’t signed each other’s yearbooks was the biggest travesty in the world. I took a twenty-minute metro ride each day to transport me between these two lives, these two people, but they seemed to be so much farther apart.

It did not take much time before I realized how wrong I was. I began talking with one vendor about how when he sells less papers certain days he gets low self-esteem, he feels worthless. I explained to him about how my stay-at-home mother confessed to me suffering from a similar feeling from being out of work for 10 years. I began recognizing great similarities in my two lives. I watched as one vendor didn’t make the street soccer team he was hoping to make, it seemed like he felt just like I felt after getting cut from my high school varsity team. We both worked so hard, only to be faced with disappointment.

We are all one in the same. We hurt, we love, we win and we lose. You can easily look at your feet or cross the street in the other direction thinking that you are better than the person behind the vest. I know I’ve done it, Starbucks in hand. But it’s cowardly. The difficult thing to do is look them in the eye, and consider the possibility that they might not be exactly who you judge them to be. Next time you see that green vest take the time to talk to a vendor, learn from them. It could change your life, I know it changed mine.

This past summer, Talia Roth worked as an intern at Street Sense, the newspaper about poverty and homelessness in Washington, D.C. She is now a freshman at Syracuse University, studying journalism. This piece first appeared in the September 2009 issue of Street Sense, which began publication in August, 2003. The newspaper is sold on the street by homeless individuals. It is a source of income for those people who sell it. Street Sense recently launched A a website presence for its content at Donations to the organization are always welcome!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Skunks in the Yard

By Camincha

About five summers ago, Alba and Lloyd’s cat, Domino, suddenly changed her ways.

Domino's food had always been kept in the house. Otherwise the skunks, opossums, coyotes and other wild creatures that were known to visit the backyard from time to time would be tempted to help themselves.

But one night, for no reason that Alba could see, Domino started to demand her food dish be brought to the steps outside. She no longer wanted to come in.

Alba kept an eye on the dish. She was ready to bring it in the minute Domino finished eating. Curiously, Alba noticed that the cat didn’t touch her food. Instead, the minute the dish was on the step Domino ran to it, sniffed it and just went back to sitting on her chair. Or so Alba thought.

What was going on? What was this lovely, chubby, black cat that so much resembled a skunk with the wide, white stripe snaking through her from her head to the tip of her tail, what was she up to?

The answer came one evening, when the sun, in a glorious combination of bright reds and oranges, had already set. There was no moon. It was very dark, and so Alba had to strain to see the cat. Was that Domino on the step? Or was that a skunk? Or...were there two of them?

Suddenly in amazement Alba realized that, yes, it was her cat and a skunk. A fat, big one. Domino was showing the skunk where her food dish was. The two creatures stood there, Domino and the skunk side by side. They sniffed each other. Then they kissed each other!

Domino asked for food for the skunk every evening in the same way. The days passed.

Another summer evening with lots of daylight, Alba was at the computer next to the glass sliding doors that open to the backyard with its hill and ample open space. Lloyd came in to talk. He was facing the backyard. All of a sudden he exclaimed: Look! Look!

Alba turned. There was Domino coming down the hill followed closely by a fluffy wobbling black fur ball with white specks. A baby skunk! There was purpose in Domino’s steps. She brought the baby skunk to her food dish on the steps.

Alas, the fluffy ball couldn’t make it up the steps. Inside the room, Alba and Lloyd just watched. They didn’t move. Didn’t want to intrude. What to do? Just watch.

Domino overturned the dish! The food spilled down the steps and all over the ground. The fluffy ball ate voraciously.

From that evening on, Alba fed that baby skunk, its mother, the father that appeared from nowhere, and their four other babies.

That Domino, what a cat. Alba and Lloyd were so proud: Domino knew that skunk was pregnant. And that’s why she wanted to feed her!

Then the raccoons came.

Camincha is a pen name for a Pacifica, California-based writer. She is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Audacity of Obama

By Claudia Ricci

Let’s hope the rumors aren’t true. Let’s hope the insiders have it wrong, and that Wednesday night’s health care speech is not what some here in DC fear most: that Obama is ready to cave on health care, abandoning or backing off on the public option.

But if they are right, and if the President does step back, instead of stepping up, then my reading of The Audacity of Hope two years ago will have proven to be right on target.

I read the book after the very bright woman who was then acting as president of my university (part of the SUNY system) convened a discussion about it. That was still in the days when Hillary Clinton (our own U.S. Senator in New York) seemed a shoe-in for the nomination. Obama was a curiosity. Not a terribly seriously option.

Reading the first few chapters of the book, I was wowed. I remember telling my husband I thought the guy was incredible. A great writer, a refreshingly honest politician, a man with an extraordinarily ambitious vision. As the product of a multi-racial partnership, he could see a way to bridge the many gaping divisions between and among Americans of all ages and races and classes and geographic and economic positions.

By the time I’d finished the book, however, I’d shifted my position. Maybe I was getting tired of what started to feel like his slick rhetorical gift. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by skepticism. In the end, it seemed to me that anybody who could so fully embrace opposing points of view might not be willing to do what was necessary as President: stand up and show true leadership by taking a strong position and running with it.

Well, so, I wasn’t an Obama man, at least for a while. I was too suspicious. I didn’t think when the going got tough, that he would be the President willing to do what he should do. As his candidacy grew more and more popular, I had to let go. I finally saw the inevitability of the Obama movement, and like others, wanted to believe that in him, we had a brand new kind of leader. A President like Lincoln, FDR or Johnson who could remake America. A President to carve a way into the 21st century. Like so many Americans, I became excited that this man had a mission. And a bold vision. And real guts and honest determination to seize a historical moment and make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people.

But now, what? Now I fear that he might actually be the waffler I thought he was when I read the book. The man who wants to please everybody, but in the end, pleases no one. He appears at this moment to be losing support, and instead of standing up and saying, we are going to stay the course, because it’s the right thing to do, he backs down. Retreats and gives in to right-wing fear-mongering and finagling.

Tragically, it’s almost as though he and his handlers don’t get it. They don’t see what we saw as he was swept into office on a groundswell of grass roots support in January 2009. They don’t truly understand why everybody was so wildly enthusiastic about his up-from-nowhere candidacy.

Over and over again this year, we have heard him say “we need the public option because it’s the only way to keep the insurance industry honest.” Exactly. Without that option, then what are we left with? What kind of health care reform do we have? To many of us, the reform ends up looking like another corporate giveaway. Sure, millions more Americans will be insured. And who stands to profit from those millions of new premium payers?

WellPoint and United Health and Cigna and Aetna.

Mr. President, you will lose so many of your staunchest supporters with a speech that backs away from the public option. You think your polls are slipping now? Just wait. Apparently, you think you can cave on health care, and still hold onto your base. I respectfully suggest that might be a dangerous miscalculation. There are millions of us out here who will be enraged if you have the audacity to take us, and our support, and our votes, for granted.

Please, Mr. Obama. Please don’t.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.