Monday, October 12, 2015
Six months sober, and divorced… A few days after my final goodbye to my four year old son, I hit my knees.
No, I wasn’t praying.. I was in so much pain that my body collapsed into a ball without much thought. One minute I was texting “sweet dreams” and by the time she responded I wrote back “I think I’m going to the hospital”. I felt like I was going to DIE; like a gremlin and the monster from the Alien were doing the monster mash right there in my gut. I panicked, not only because of the pain but because I lived alone. What if I got worse before I could alert help? One of my fears of being alone coming to life. I called my friend asking her if she could please take me to the hospital. She asked what’s wrong and I told her “please just come quickly.” I debated calling an ambulance but I didn’t want the attention of the street.. My self consciousness still winning, even in an emergency.
By the time she arrived I had slithered down the 18 stairs from my raised house and was sitting balled up on the bottom step counting the hour long milliseconds that it took for her to arrive. Once at the hospital, it took 45 minutes to be seen, and another 30 to get any kind of pain relief. They wanted to do testing first. I can’t say I blame them, I’d hit every emergency room in the area in pain at one point or another, seeking pain medicine to get high during my addiction. In the moment tho, I hated every last one of them. Restraining myself from punching holes in the wall felt impossible. Laying waiting in our little cubical of the ER, I felt the meds starting to kick in. The edge of the cliff began to get distant, and the doctor came and asked my friend to step outside. She returned in tears, the doctor behind her looking somewhat apprehensive. They told me they had found a tumor… A 19cm tumor wrapped around my left ovary and Fallopian tube. It was the size of a 5 month pregnancy. I remember the doctor looking at me like I was crazy. “You didn’t have any symptoms before now?” He asked. I thought about it and told him that I did have an increase in pain but I assumed it was because I was sober, and I could actually feel pain now, or maybe because I had started walking and my body was adjusting.
|Pictures from the initial surgery|
A symptom of PTSD is unmanaged dissociation. Everyone does it on some level whether it’s entering auto pilot while driving, and you end up wherever you are going but you don’t remember getting there. That’s the mild side of the unmanaged dissociation spectrum. Extreme sides of the spectrum are cases of dissociative identity disorder or DID (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) where the psyche completely splits into separate identities to perform various roles to the host. There are many stops along the way of that spectrum, and I fall in at about the 60-70 range. If you want to know more on this feel free to ask! The point is, my ability to separate from the feeling of physical pain was so fine tuned that the magnitude of the symptoms weren’t registering. There was a disconnect.
So, back to my story.. It’ll be a miracle if this blog actually tells the story I opened it to tell!
From there I was rushed into surgery, the tumor was removed, along with my ovary and Fallopian tube. A week later I found out that it was indeed cancerous. Another fear.. Both my gran and my mother were killed by cancer on my mothers side, and my dads mother was also killed by that monster, and now it had me. I won’t go into all the specifics.. Maybe another blog piece, but that was where my faith really began.
It wasn’t in a foxhole prayer kinda way.. “God, please save me… ” it was real faith.. It was where I stopped bartering with the “if there’s a God” and started accepting the current moment exactly as it was. I had been working on my third step in AA, “we made a decision to turn our will and our life, over to the care of God as we understood him” and I was almost all in.. The only reservation I had about staying sober was “if I lose my son I’m getting fucked up” and then I had lost my son, and stayed sober anyway.
I fought, every day, well almost every day. There were some days when I couldn’t fight, and I had to lay in bed and just rest. I remember feeling so much anxiety and panic when I would try to lay down and rest. This video pretty much depicts that part of the fight (i record and document everything because my memory isn’t too great, and i lose time a lot… a big part of my recovery has been trying to piece together and accept that these things will happen, but looking for ways that i can take care of myself to make them less intrusive)
I was so scared that while I was resting, the cancer was taking over. I imagined it to be like a black cloud that dispersed with the light of the sun, but crept back over when I wasn’t looking. If I stopped, my body would get weak and I’d lose the fight.. And that just wasn’t an option. Most breakdowns actually served their purpose in bouncing me back for the next round…
I spent many manic nights awake. I began painting. I didn’t want to watch tv, and so I started painting and found that I could paint! I had no idea. I was pretty amazing at it too!!
|Painted from a photo of Chicago that I found online which gave birth to my first travel goal.. Chicago!|
I was challenged to see if I could learn how to spray paint… so I did
Time lapse Video of 48 hours of learning to spray paint… not bad!
I gladly accepted the challenge, and within 24 hours I was spray painting my way to a masterpiece. 🙂 I remember selling some of those to my friends on Facebook, helping to generate some money towards the mounting costs of prescriptions and co pays. I delivered pizza part time for Papa Johns in the evenings, and worked the back drive thru window of McDonalds with my AA sponsor and good friend in the mornings.
|Having fun on the job 😉|
I bounced between photography and painting when I didn’t have the energy to walk. In finding the gift of artwork, I saw a reason for being sick. I would’ve never known I could paint if I hadn’t slowed down. I remember how I felt the first time I realized that. I’m crying again now just remembering how intense that feeling of trust in God was. I remember telling Him that He could’ve been a little more subtle than the big C, but then I thought about all of the times that I could’ve slowed down, and should’ve slowed down, and I didn’t. Always running running running because I didn’t want to feel, and if I slowed down or stopped then the feelings would come flooding thru me at an overwhelming rate and I didn’t know how to adjust the faucet. It was stuck wide open and I couldn’t handle all of that so I ran, staying busy. It’s why I got fucked up to begin with. Thank you cancer.
|a dresser from my sons room that became a painting project|
Four surgeries, and five chemos into the fight I began researching what could I do to improve my chances. I asked questions on Facebook, and you guys responded with juice recipes, plant based diets.. And so I tried it. I remember I couldn’t eat much at the time, but I kept telling myself “if I’m going to force myself to eat something, it’s going to be something that will help kick this bitchs’ ass! And I’d add a spoonful of peanut butter to a very green leafy disgusting cocktail, blend it up and chug it down. I remember making music videos and joining the happy days fb group where my newsfeed filled up with all of these reasons people were happy that day. That’s where I met a lot of you guys! There was something about knowing people were watching, or at least feeling like they were, that grounded me. I didn’t want you to see the real me. I didn’t want you to see the crazy me, so I attempted to hide it, failing miserably with those I got close to, but it served its purpose. I kept striving to improve, to be a better person, to show all of you how amazing I really am.. Because I didn’t feel it.. And you guys would tell me I am, and for a moment I would feel it… And as a true addict, it felt good so I wanted more.
I began a bucket list which I named the “remember when list” because it was a list of things I would one day sit on my front porch telling stories of “remember when” to what I’d hope to be, my love.. Sitting next to me, saying “yes dear” 🙂 – that fantasy pushed me. It set a tone inside of me and I wrote that list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime!!
As that list grew, I realized it really boiled down to one thing .. travel .. see the world and I found that I didn’t have time to have a job.. Not in the traditional sense. In order to see the world I would have to start as soon as I beat the cancer which meant I needed to figure out how to travel on almost nothing and how to make a little money while on the road. I reading digital nomad blogs, and Facebook travel groups.. learning how to travel as cheap as possible. I found Girls Love Travel and found testimony after testimony of women all over the world that traveled. It inspired me daily that I really could create this life of my dreams. Again the faith came in, as I thought about everything I had already survived, and I saw how each individual storm in my life created a piece of evidence that I would be okay, no matter what. Dealing with mental illness, never actually killing myself despite many years of feeling that was my only safe place to live mentally… Katrina.. Being homeless.. Heartbreaks.. I had survived many storms, it’s what I do! In that I found strength and courage. I saved links, and took notes, learning and forming the vague outline of how I could actually start working on some of these bucket list ideas. Sure.. I couldn’t go backpacking Europe that day, laying in bed feeling sick as a dog, hurting, and generally wanting to die on some level.. But I could start studying.. Figure out what i’d need to do.. What equipment would I need? I’d only been camping twice. I started looking on craigslist, and reading more and more.
What could I sell to generate money? I started painting sand dollars, and furniture, and whatever else came my way. I sat out on Saturdays at the farmers market, hoping to sell a piece. I went to galleries and talked to the managers, showing my portfolio.. I read blogs on how photographers make money with their pictures.. And the majority of the money is in portrait photography.. It wasn’t something I felt I was good enough for, having seen others work. I didn’t have the money for the equipment I really needed, but I took my Panasonic LUMIX camera and did the best I could.. Watching YouTube videos on how to edit portrait pictures. Touch ups etc. I had the eye, I just didn’t have the knowledge, but I learned!
|Adorable little girl and her mother that responded to a FB ad|
I posted questions in fb photography groups, and they came back with all the answers to help me improve. It provided the money to travel some more, but I didn’t care for it enough to pursue it further.
I took on a couple of website gigs, rehashing skills from my earlier years, and hustled flipping a broke down car.
|Changing out the brake calipers – gotta trust the Universe to learn this on YouTube!|
There’s never an easy answer to “how do you afford to travel” I just do whatever the moment presents itself with, and I am always provided for. Jesus takes care of me as long as I allow Him to. I never thought I’d be a paid blogger.. $5-$12 a day, but it’s something! (Feel free to click on other posts or search galleries for pictures of places I’ve now seen) Every little something adds up and creates opportunity for more experience, and with more experience comes more opportunity. It’s an amazing circle of life.
Now my hope is to use my blog to not only record doing all this with mental illness.. (Which I really want to write about the transition from traveling to home.. I definitely need a better plan for reentry. The last few days have been rough and I feel very spacey, ungrounded), but not only that and frugal traveling, but I’ve been writing the story of the travels from a first hand perspective as if the reader is the one traveling. Once the story is written I want to record it and put pictures and videos to it so that the viewer or reader feels as if they are really traveling the world.
Then I want to donate it to everyone fighting a terminal illness, so that they can dissociate into the story and maybe get a little relief from the reality of the pain and treatment that they are going thru. I hope it inspires them to fight, to really see the world, or whatever their bucket list things are, and if that’s no longer an option, I hope I get to help fulfill at least one of them by having this experience to share.
Having said that..
I’d like you help me out by clicking on all the ads you see on this page, clicking back to the blog between each one. I get paid per reader and per ad click.. And that helps fund this adventure.
I’d also like you to shared story if you believe in me and want to be a part of it!
And lastly, there is a box to subscribe to the blog, if you want notifications of new posts to the blog.
With that.. I hope you enjoyed my story.. It’s what got me to where I am today.. This year I have seen 22 states in the USA.. Fallen in love with traveling, seen my nephew for the first time, seen my first concert, mastered camping, backpacked four cities, opened an Airbnb of my own, become a paid blogger, met sooo many amazing new people, and next month I am leaving to backpack Europe! It’s wild! If this is a dream, I never want to wake up. Thank you Cancer!
Update August 2017 – I have now seen 24 states and 16 countries. I’ve founded Storme’ s Shelters which has helped countless people during the flood of Louisiana last year, as well as raising funds for rebuild projects in Nepal in memory of my travel soul brother Sanjay who lost the battle with cancer after we finally met in Rome.
It’s a blessed life, and I know He has His purpose for me. Each day I become a little more enlightened.
Thank you Jesus
“It’s a perfect day for a perfect day!”