Faith Versus Proof

Hey. So…

…First and foremost I apologize in advance, because this is going to get very exclamation point heavy and rambling. I can already tell. I know the gist of what I want to say, but not quite how I’m going to get there. I’ve spent a lot of the past four days completely speechless. In the best way. In a way I never thought possible.

So I guess I will start with reiterating that I am – and have always been, and almost to the level of naivety – an optimist. Even on my way to the appointment in which I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, I felt to my core that things are going to be okay. On my way home from that appointment, I still felt that way; although my definition of okay had changed. For all of my life, and especially for all of this shitty journey with this sucky disease, I knew – KNEW! – my tribe would rally when I needed them. My anxiety lies to me every day, and it lied so much harder and longer when I was younger about the tribe I had; or specifically, that I didn’t have the tribe I thought I did. I knew I was loved, of course, but my anxiety loves to tell me that I don’t have the level of love and support that I would like to think. Once I was diagnosed, that particular anxiety has fucked off forever because my faith in my tribe was swapped for concrete proof. People I didn’t even know very well showed up out of the woodwork to help. People it never even would have occurred to me would show up, did. In full force and with open hearts. When I had to leave my house and cram my life into a much smaller apartment, the core optimist in me knew I would have some help when I asked for it. Concrete proof arrived in the form of 14 friends showing up that day.

I am loved and I knew this. I am loved and you proved this.

I’ve kind of always been a mom friend. Caretaker. I considered it my job to make sure that my friends were okay, basing so much of my pride on my own self-reliance. I am the helper, not the helped. I knew I had people I could rely on for help, but I focused so much of my life and energy on proving to myself and to the world at large that I didn’t need them to. That has been the singular hardest part of this whole stupid disease so far. Admitting that I do in fact need them to. Will in fact increasingly rely upon them to. Will be completely unable to do anything by myself, at all, at some point. My life will become nothing but relying on other people. That’s been the worst part. Not losing my ability to walk, not being unable to control something so basic as my bladder, not losing my job, but knowing that I am going to be completely, utterly helpless. My strongest personality trait, my core sense of identity and pride, taken from me. It’s suuuuuuuuuper shitty.

In the early days of my diagnosis, I had Danielle. Thanks to her, in the early days I didn’t have to ask for anything because she asked on my behalf. We both knew that everything about this disease was going to be expensive, and she set up a CrowdRise fundraiser on my behalf. She organized my garage sale amazingly. Seriously, we had complete strangers complementing how well organized that sale was. It was really pretty amazing and made me a fair bit of money. Money used for moving expenses, and then lawyers fees, and then we stashed the rest away for the next inevitable crisis. Eventually CrowdRise kind of went defunct and became nonprofit only, and that account got closed. Over the last year or so, a few people have asked what happened to it because they had wanted to donate and were unable to. I could never quite bring myself to reopen that account because it was… You know, asking for help. It was something I always meant to do, and knew I probably would someday, I just needed to ask for help with it.

HAHAHAHA ASK FOR HELP. HOO-BOY.

Six days ago on Facebook, I made a post about these amazing mourning bracelets I found online. In the post I said that I was budgeting to hand these out at my funeral. And I am! Because they are amazing and important and you should totally check out that link. But in the comments for that post, along with many of my friends agreeing that the idea was amazing and awesome and worthy, a friend I’ve known forever mentioned again that I really ought to have some kind of fundraiser going. I’m budgeting for my own funeral, and they would like to help. Several friends chimed in to agree. My amazing friend Megan, who had taken over the account from Danielle when that relationship broke apart, hit me up to ask what I would like to do about it. She was happy to set a new one up for me, but she’s in Seattle and I’m in Portland and she would feel much better if the account were handled by someone locally. Which makes a lot of sense; I agreed with her that if some disaster were to befall me (like, as I explained to J later, my van breaking down and suddenly needing hundreds of dollars in repairs, for instance) I would need money right away and couldn’t necessarily wait for a bank transfer.

(In retrospect, I jinxed the fuck out of myself with that one, huh?)

We looked at local laws, and disability regulations, and Medi-Cal requirements and came to the conclusion there was really no reason for anyone to handle any aspect of the account but me. So, Sunday I went about resurrecting an old bank account that had sat idle since my mortgage payments. That took a lot of doing, as they’d put a hold on the account for lack of use, and apparently I had not changed my address with that bank and they have been happily charging me five dollars a month since April 2016 because my mailing address was wrong. Even though my account is paperless? And literally has always been? And they made no effort to call or email me to tell me they were charging me for having the wrong address for all the shit they’re not mailing me anyway? I’m in the middle of arguing with them about that one. Banks suck. Regardless, the account was now open and free to use, all I had to do was set up the actual Gofundme and post a link somewhere.

Yep. All I had to do.

So easy, right?

Just… Create the account. Post a link.

Ask for help.

And you know, that’s probably where it would still be sitting if my van hadn’t blown the fuck up. On my way home Monday night in the back of a medical transport unit, unaware if my van was going to require $200 or $2000 worth of repairs, or if it was repairable at all, I knew I had to set up the fund. That night. So I did. I created the fund, updated the link here on my blog, and then posted a link to it on my Facebook page with the words “Okay. It’s set up. Do whatever you like with this information. <3 I love you.”

Within one hour, I had three donations and 18 shares.

Within 24 hours, I was halfway to the arbitrary goal of $5000 I had set. I bumped it up to $7000. 24 hours later, I was halfway to that, too. Within an hour, I had my first donation containing triple digits. In three days, I was getting donations from complete strangers because my friends had shared the link. Yesterday, a very good friend I’ve made through a perfume decanting group of all things shared the link in that group, generating at least five donations just from that. Several friends with birthdays this month shared the link with their friends and family asking for donations on my behalf instead of birthday presents. (seriously you guys should have held out for a pony or something) Relatives of my friends who have heard my friends speak highly of me have donated. As it is right now, the generosity of my friends has netted me over $4000 and 450 shares.

In only five days.

This. This is where the exclamation points are about to happen. This is where the proof versus faith happened. I knew I would probably get some help once I was bold enough to ask for it. But this.

THIS.

THIS HAS BEEN SO OVERWHELMINGLY AMAZING!

HOW THE FUCK DID I GET SO LUCKY?!

WHAT! EVEN! IS! MY! LIFE!

OH MY GOD, EVERYONE.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m not the sort of person who happy cries much. In fact, every single time I have done, has been directly because of some show of grace and generosity and love related to this disease. The kindness and love of my friends has brought me such emotional satisfaction and security, the likes of which I never would have known had it not been for this stupid disease. My faith said that if my life should turn to shit, my friends would have my back. Circumstances have proven that faith accurate and just – time and time again. But this.

This!

This is been so much more than I ever could have anticipated in my most optimistic of dreams.

I could fill the rest of this blog for all time with just the phrase “THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” over and over and over, and it would hardly be sufficient to express my gratitude. My love. My faith, absolutely justified. My awe at having so many amazing people in my life. My feeble attempts to somehow live up to all of the amazing and kind things people have said about me in their shared posts.

This is my blog, but tonight I lack proper words to put in it.

My life is so fucking magical.

Thank you.

Thank you all so much for your love, your generosity, your jokes, your grace, your friendship, your very existence in my orbit.

That’s it. I don’t have any clever way to wrap this up. I will now resist the temptation to copy paste “THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” a million times.

I love you all so much.

Needing the Dark

Today started early. I had a 9:45 AM appointment in Portland, and if you don’t think that’s early clearly you are not familiar with my 3 AM standard bedtime these days. I tried going to sleep at a sane hour, but my overly active brain had other ideas. In fact, my 4 AM conversation with body and brain almost resulted in its own blog post; I just knew that if I got up to write it I wouldn’t get any sleep at all. And I need sleep. I like sleep. Even before all this nonsense, it was my favorite hobby. ALS just gave my lazy ass an air of legitimacy.

I have recently made a crucial step and actually have started asking my friends for help. I know, I know! I was just as impressed as you are with myself. It was not at all an easy thing, as you can well imagine – especially if you know me. But I have doctors appointments to get to, and J is amazing but cannot be my sole source of transportation – particularly when I own the van and it doesn’t actually need to be him driving it. So I had put out an all call on my friends list for someone to come drive, and my friend Matt stepped up for today. Matt is also the storyteller for my Wednesday games, and as mentioned before is an all around good guy and excellent person to have in your corner. As we were driving to my appointment this morning, talking about video games and commercials and marketing and the abyssmal real estate market, the van’s brake warning light came on. It had done before, and usually came on and went off seemingly randomly, and we had previously resolved the problem by simply topping up the brake fluid. It it started doing this again recently, and despite repeated mental notes to ourselves, we had just failed to get more fluid in it yet. I wasn’t terribly worried. It didn’t seem like that big a deal.

…You can probably see where this post entry is going, yes?

By the time we were done with my appointments, and filled the gas tank, and got home, I’d forgotten all about it. That afternoon was my biweekly therapy appointment, which J was available to drive me for. As we were driving the 20 some odd miles to my therapist, the warning light came on and stayed on. And then, halfway there as we stopped on the freeway for a traffic snarl, there was a God awful smell of burning rubber and when we looked behind us, a bit of smoke. We weren’t entirely sure it was my van? But the presence of the smell and the light made us resolved to put more fluid in the van as soon as humanly possible. For some stupid reason we had taken the brake fluid out of my van and brought it into my apartment, so simply pulling over and adding more fluid wasn’t an option at the moment. Traffic started moving again, then came to a crawl again, and as J put the brakes on, more smoke. Something was obviously not right in a big way.

Fun fact! I have a debilitating phobia of breaking down on the freeway. When I was really little, our car broke down at night on the freeway and I remember vividly my father moving around outside the car trying to figure out what was wrong, while traffic screamed by us in the dark and I just knew in my little kid brain that any second now some car was going to hit him and splatter him up all across our vcar. I shook in terror waiting for my father to die. He did not, of course, but ever since then, any time there is a slight possibility of something going wrong with the vehicle I am in, it creates an instant panic attack. That’s the problem with phobias. There’sno reasoning with them.

Jay was talking, making plans of dropping me off for my appointment and then going to some auto parts place to get more brake fluid and I would make an appointment the next day to take the van in for proper repairs. I didn’t really hear him over the blood pounding in my ears, and my brain was already busy trying to figure out what to do when I vomited any second now. And then we got off the freeway, and I felt safer for a split second until Jay told me that the brakes weren’t responding properly. I just needed to get the van safely somewhere, and then…

… And then, what exactly?

My van is not exactly easily interchangeable with another vehicle. It is a proper medical device. Ever since I got the fucking thing I have been paranoid about getting into an accident because it is not going to be simple and easy to replace it. And if something should happen while I am away from home, I am completely screwed. Stranded. If I were in a manual wheelchair I can get into normal car, but the SS Opportunity weighs 400 pounds without me in it and is a God damn behemoth in her own right. I can’t just get another vehicle. I can’t just call a taxi for a ride home, anymore.

That uneasy feeling turned into outright fear when we parked in the lot of my therapist and the smoke just kept coming. I couldn’t see anything on fire outright, but something was smoking in the rear passenger wheel well and I literally did not know what to do about it. I texted my little brother – because let’s face it – that’s what I always do when I have a car problem because what the fuck even are cars they are magical beasts whose language I do not speak. Not only does my little brother speak cars, he is a professional tow truck driver so even in the worst situation he can bail me out. And has, in fact – when Jay got sideswiped by a probable drunk driver on Christmas in 2017 and the driver took off, it was Justin who went out to get him and help him figure out the next steps. When my brake error light initially came on, it was Justin who told me what to do about it. So when he didn’t immediately respond, and some minutes passed and smoke was still rising from somewhere in my van’s guts, and I wasn’t sure what we would do if we started seeing flames, I called him. He had been taking a nap and listened very patiently while his sister panicked at him over the phone about cars and smoke and I don’t know what to do. He told me to hang tight and he was on his way because he is my hero.

He was some minutes away, and so I went ahead and went inside and had my session with my therapist which was now all about my current crisis. J stayed outside to wait for Justin, and would come interrupt the session when my little brother got there. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure what I even could do. Even if he could tow it somewhere, what the fuck was I going to do in my wheelchair and 20 miles from home? Again. You can’t exactly call a taxi.

After my 45 minute session, we went outside to find my little brother arrived in his giant tow truck, lights flashing, working on my van. Because again, hero. J came over and explained what had gone down so far, which is that Justin had pried the tire off the side of my van and had a look inside and formulated some theories. Apparently the brake line was leaking somewhere, as the inside of the tire was coated with fluid, and the passenger side rear brake had had to do all the work by itself and so had heated up red-hot and started smoking and had finally in the 34° weather cooled down to an oxidized white. He was going to tow the van to Les Schwab, and drop off the keys for them to take a look at in the morning, as they were closed by now. He offered to load me up in the van and transport me in it as he transported the van, but that was of course in his own words “illegal as fuck”. And you know, dangerous.

So we had a plan for the van, but I was still effectively stranded in Lake Oswego. My local public transportation service Tri-Met has a wheelchair transport service, but it’s the sort of thing where you have to get a special ID to qualify for it, and you schedule your pickups in advance and allow for a two hour window. The Lyft app on my phone has a wheelchair accessibility feature I had discovered some time ago, but I had literally no idea how that even worked. It was apparently time to find out. I requested a wheelchair lift, and the app cheerfully told me my ride would arrive in 45 minutes. After a moment it updated to 15 minutes. My ride was going to be courtesy of a local ambulance company, please look out for a white medical transport vehicle, license plate blah blahb blah. And just over 15 minutes later, fuck me if a wheelchair transport van didn’t pull up. It had totally worked.

We finalize things with my little brother to drop off my van, and for me to expect a call from the mechanic in the morning with an estimate before any work would be done. The wheelchair transport vehicle was a fucking sweet ride, the driver was completely awesome, and I found out that wheelchair accessible Lyft requests get priority even over his company’s scheduled patients because they are fully aware anyone desperate enough to need a wheelchair ride without a plan beforehand is obviously going through hella circumstances. And so I got a ride quickly, and my ride ended up costing me 10. Fucking. Dollars.

TEN.

Not only that, but my driver was an hourly medical transport driver and so I didn’t even have to tip him. I asked if I could, and he refused.

SOOOOOOOOO in review, my peesashit van broke down today, after standard business hours, in a very dramatic way. And yet, I have an amazing brother who was able to rescue the van and provide me with the next steps, and then I was able to get safely home for a very little amount of money. And I learned that Lyft access is absolutely a viable transport option now. I am home safe and warm with useful information and a solid plan. I have another appointment tomorrow which I’m going to have to cancel, and when I contacted my friend who had offered to drive me for that appointment and told her I needed to cancel and why, she told me her brother is an actual mechanic and as is actually not very far for me. So even after I get the brakes repaired, I have a plan to contact him and get my van checked over thoroughly to make sure I am not going to have any more nasty surprises coming up. Tonight things completely went to shit, and then the universe conspired perfectly to make things as best and as smoothly as possible. Everything could have been so much worse. I could have been completely stranded in Lake Oswego waiting hours and hours in near freezing temperature for a wheelchair transport taxi service to find time to come get me. I have a AAA account so I would have gotten the car towed regardless, but I literally would not have known where to take it. And we could have been waiting for hours for them to have the time to show up also. Instead my brother was there in minutes. With a plan. And a free tow.

Repeating in my head tonight is my favorite quote from painter Bob Ross, who explained light and shadow theory in painting with a profound slice of life advice.

You need the dark, in order to show the light.

My life is as bright as the fucking sun, and it is only these moments of absolute panic and misery that prove it to me. I am fortunate beyond compare. Even when things are chaos around me, the universe conspires to take care of me in a perfect way because of the people I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by. In my most dire circumstances, I am never alone and never without hope.

I see the light, because of the dark.