Repose

My friend and insanely talented artist and compassionate person Tamara owns a cute shop/art gallery called Redux here in Portland. She occasionally has art shows at Redux, and occasionally those gallery shows are to benefit a good cause, like for the Cat Adoption Team. She asked if I would be interested in in a show she was planning about Death Positivity. I said OH HELL YES PLEASE. She asked if I would mind it being a benefit for the ALS Association. I was all kinds of verklempt and said I thought that would be amazing. She asked if I would like to read something at the show. I said I would be honored, and I would try. This is what I wrote, and what I read tonight.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about dying. I mean, it’s not as if terminal diagnoses come with any kind of handbook to begin with, but there are a few things one usually expects, typically to do with your specific disease. Spoiler alert: with ALS you stop being able to walk really well, or at all. You may also expect to lose the ability to speak and swallow. They tell you what kind of trajectory your disease is probably going to take, and they can usually give you some form of a timeline.

No one tells you though, how profoundly, emotionally tiring it is. I had to learn that on my own. There is a physical exhaustion that typically comes with whatever ails you, of course; hell, it’s usually one of the symptoms that told you something was wrong to begin with. But no one can properly prepare you for how soul crushingly exhausting the whole business of dying is. How the psychological process of navigating your own death saps what little energy you have to fight the physical troubles before you. How…lonely, this whole business is.

Here’s something else I had to learn for myself: it absolutely doesn’t have to be.

This is a hell of our own devising.

It’s a hell born of ignorance, paranoia, and good intention. It’s a hell that comes in slices, tiny slices of death denial force fed to us from a young age. When adults use phrases like “gone to sleep” or “gone to Heaven” to explain why Grandma isn’t going to be coming over for Christmas this year. When our beloved old pet goes to some imaginary farm to live out their twilight years. When we get older, and we learn what death is, hell is fed to us in new rules: you’re not allowed to say DEAD. Ever. They have gone to the Lord, or passed away. It’s not a dead body laid out in a coffin, their earthly remains lie…in repose. In an obscenely expensive burial chamber. Undertakers become funeral directors, graves become memorial sites, corpses become our dearly departed. A whole lexicon of mortality is denied to us, with harsh social consequence if we ever dare say BURIED instead of “laid to rest”. We cheerfully eat this poison, we send ourselves into fits of delusional paranoia as though merely mentioning someone is dead is some sort of invitation for disaster, to brush death under the carpet and never talk about it in polite company. As a society we have decided that this is healthy behavior.

But it isn’t.

Because let me tell you, this culture of death denial makes it REALLY, REALLY HARD to *be* dying. It is impossible to deal with the practicalities of the matter when no one will say it out loud. Any time you mention the D Word, you get uncomfortable silence and furtive glances and abrupt subject changes, or you get laughter and even more obvious subject changes. People are so worried about offending my delicate feelings that I am not allowed to express those feelings at all. Some have swallowed the belief that if you don’t talk about it, it magically can’t happen, or the other inane idea that thinking positive will fix everything! OH SHUSH DON’T TALK LIKE THAT THEY ARE GOING TO CURE THIS YOU WILL SEE – THE ICE BUCKETS WERE MAGIC. THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE PANACEA. SHUT UP WITH YOUR DEPRESSING DEATH TALK. It is profoundly frustrating. It makes it difficult to plan what’s to become of my cats, or ask what earthly possessions would someone like to have, if they just hand wave and assure you that you have plenty of time to think about it. Later. Much later. Or never. That works too. Let’s deny that any of this is happening and just spend time together ok? Without talking about ..you know. It’s just so…morbid.

Instead, you’re expected to shut up about it, and bottle it up, and in the end you’ve spent your last days spiritually exhausted from having to pretend you’re not dying all while secretly dealing with all the emotional, physical, and bureaucratic nightmare of actually dying. And then of course it’s too late for those conversations, you’re capital D-Dead and all of your favorite things go to some charity or yard sale instead of the people who might cherish them for their history and their sentiment. Your stuff in the garbage, instead of a friend’s home, your social media accounts deleted instead of put in memorium, memories gone forever and your favorite dishes gone to your greedy aunt who will be selling them off for profit instead of your collector friend who’d actually appreciate and use them for what they are, and love them for whose they were. The letters you carefully wrote as goodbyes tossed into the recycling instead of delivered because you couldn’t tell anyone where they were. Who you are, your legacy, written over without your control or input simply because no one could look you in the eye and say “You are dying and that sucks, and since neither of us can do jack about that, I would really enjoy your cook books when you are gone.”

Death positivity is the cure for that hell. We’re going to die. That is okay. It is normal, and proper, and natural. Death positivity means understanding that, and even though it ABSOLUTELY SUCKS, not letting that get in the way of your daily business. Hell, it can do nothing but improve your daily business. Ever have a brush with death? Then you know this already in your bones. Mornings seem so much brighter when you almost didn’t have another one. Flowers smell so much sweeter when you know someday you will have smelled your last. Time becomes so much more precious when you understand there is a finite quantity. Marketers understand this and bank on it, or else “limited edition” would mean nothing.

Death positivity means understanding that YOU are limited edition.

“Repose” has another meaning. A lack of activity, a calm and composed manner. At rest, but alive. At peace with what’s to come, without need for euphemisms and coverup language. Call Death what it is, and fear it less. Talk about it openly, and remove some of its bite. Let me tell you what I need in order to die at peace without dancing around the reasons why. Ask me the questions you need answered, without fear of awkward silences or recrimination. Death is weird, be curious about it. Enjoy the time we have, because it’s limited. Make plans and understand why those plans are necessary. WRITE YOUR ADVANCE DIRECTIVE. Make sure your loved ones know where it is and what’s in it. Make peace with the idea of your own death, because it is going to happen and it doesn’t have to be a nasty shock when it does. We’re all going to die. It doesn’t have to kill you before you get a chance to stop breathing.

Build a better relationship with your own pending demise. Use the words DEATH and DYING, normalize it, and maybe, just maybe, we can all have some repose before we are In Repose.

My First Death Positivity Experience

When I was very young, barely old enough to even know what death was, I saw a show on PBS about the (still very new to the public at the time) AIDS epidemic. I don’t remember anything else about the show, but there was one segment that stuck with me for the rest of my life.

A man, in a hospital gown, sitting in a wheelchair. He was emaciated, very clearly capital-D-Dying. And he made eye contact with the camera, and then sang a very jaunty song about his own, very eminent demise from the disease. I remembered clearly three things: that it was basically about why you should be kind to him as he was going to die soon (particularly a phrase “forgive me when I’m mean”), a quirky little instrumental break during which he tap danced while sitting in his wheelchair, and the chorus phrase “cause I’ve got less time than you”.

And it stayed with me. I was…let’s see when this was released….ooh. I was 13. I remember clearly thinking that the song was funny, and not being sad for him at all, even though I knew he was going to die, and I knew that he knew it, too. The emergent Spooky Kid in me delighted in how morbid the whole thing was, and i loved the twisted sense of humor, but what resonated with me 30 years later was not the morbidity. I actually admired him for knowing that he was going to die, and having made peace with that, he was able to be so forthright with his needs. Since he knew there was literally nothing he could do about it, he decided to have such a wicked sense of humor about the whole thing. It was a quiet, desperate, dare you not to look away from it strength. LOOK AT ME, I AM DYING AND THERE IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO. NOW LAUGH WITH ME. He saw his own pending demise, and owned it. I wanted to be like that, too, if I could. Strong, unafraid, and funny.

The image of the tap-dancing dying man never left me, and indeed after my diagnosis, any time I prioritized my own needs over those of someone with a muddier, less terminal future, the chorus would pop into my head. I justified inconveniencing people (whether they actually felt inconvenienced or not was irrelevant to my broken brain) with a jaunty internal chorus of “cause I’ve got less time than you”.

I finally remembered to look for it online, not really expecting to find it. It was (exactly!) 30 years ago, pre-internet, and all I had to go on was “man in wheelchair AIDS song less time than you”. But I did find it. It took some doing to find an actual video (especially one that wasn’t an impossible-to-understand audience recorded live version), but my Google-fu is strong. His name was Rodney Price, and he died two weeks after filming this. He is my role model to aspire to while dying today, and he was my very first Death Positive Hero.

I give you Rodney Price, “Song From An Angel”.

Protip: Maaaaaaybe don’t prey on dying friends?

((I suppose I should be grateful. Instead of spending all day freaking out about tomorrow being my last day of work ever, I spent all day in a blind seething rage. It was a nice distraction, I guess, from the depressing AF thoughts that would otherwise have occupied my thoughts today. I knew halfway through this whole thing that 1) I was definitely going to blog about this, and 2) it was going to contain ALL OF THE SWEARS. You are hereby warned about ALLLLLLLLL of the swearing and anger contained in the following post.))

Today I am going to tell you about Jillian Mai Thi Epperly.

Maybe you’ve heard of her. If you haven’t, well, you’re in for a video treat in a moment. If you have, then this is NOT going to be the rant you expect. Oh no, it’s so much worse.

I met Jillian in fifth grade, at Faria Elementary School in Cupertino, California. She is one of the few girls I remember, because she was one of the few kids who actually was my friend back then. I was very strange little kid, and thanks to my genetic mutation I looked strange as well, and kids are horrible little monsters, so I didn’t really have a lot of friends. She was one of the few who actually spoke to me on a regular basis. I think we bonded a little bit, back then, because she was a super Asian kid with a white girl name, and I was a white girl with the super Middle Eastern name, and we just didn’t match peoples’ expectations. So we kind of matched each other.

She found me on Facebook a few years back. It was ..really strange to hear from her. She asked if I remembered her? Of course I did. You don’t forget a Vietnamese girl with a name like Jillian, especially when she was one of the few people who was ever nice to you in grade school. She said she remembered me, because when we were kids I had told her that the strange weather we were having was a result of El Niño. She told me she always thought that was the funniest thing. I was a little confused at that remark, since um…yeah, El Niño totally WAS the cause of a lot of weird weather we’d had? Why was a huge storm affecting weather patterns so funny, I don’t get it? But okay. I accept your friend request. I quickly learned that Jillian had become a rabid anti-vaxxer, and quickly blocked her from appearing in my feed but remained friends with her and honestly…kind of forgot about her. This was a couple of years ago, and I was a lot more generous and patient towards anti-vaxxers and pseudo-scientists back then. (Not anymore. SERIOUSLY VACCINATE YOUR FUCKING CHILDREN YOU GODDAMNED MORONS. PEOPLE ARE DYING OF PREVENTABLE FUCKING DISEASES WE HAD ALL BUT ERADICATED. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU.)

In my personal Facebook, I chronicle bits and pieces of this ALS bullshit journey, and post a link anytime I update this blog. Overall though, I purposely try to keep my Facebook page very light because the world at large is a fucking depressing place and I will drive myself crazy if I talk about nothing but politics and everything that makes me angry. So instead, every month I choose a theme and post related pictures. Usually it involves some kind of pun like Janusweary, with pictures containing foul language, or Gaypril, pictures of LGBT+ positive images. This month’s theme is Awwwgust, and I’m posting lots of pictures of adorable things.

This morning I posted an adorable picture of a kitten that looks for all of the world like it is smiling. It had not been posted for five minutes when I got two comments from Jillian (after not interacting with her for months and months, mind you). The first was link to her website, with a…sort of unhinged screed containing a lot of marketing language along the lines of “Are you tired of the cycle of dependence on drugs, supplements, and herbs spending thousands and thousands of dollars and you are still not feeling better 100%? ” I sighed inwardly, it was a lot of marketing babble clearly trying to sell me on whatever snake oil she was passionately involved in and wanted to evangelize about. The second comment, though, was this: “Remember I told you I’d find something for you well I created a protocol that could give you the opportunity to reverse your condition and I hope you’re open enough to read my book or at least my website before you buy the book”

I just sort of…stared at the screen for a second. Did she just…?

Really? This is what’s happening?

I typed up a reply, deleted it, started to retype, and just…got…so ANGRY. I debated deleting her comments and blocking her for real and moving on with my life, but I am emotionally fried right now for obvious reasons and I was feeling petty as fuck and..kiiiinda wanted to see my friends happen at her. So I allowed her comments to stay, and let them let her have it. And they did, in spades, because I know some VERY SMART and VERY SNARKY people who, as it turns out, are very, very protective of me, and took great delight in dragging her ass, but that’s not what this post is about.

((I love my friends so much I can’t even tell you.))

I decided to respond before anyone else could, though, juuuuust in case I was misunderstanding. The comment I eventually settled on was, “…you’re seriously trying to *sell* me something you think might cure my terminal disease? What predatory fuckery is that??”

And then my friends were all up ons, having a fucking FIELD DAY with her, and that’s when I found out that she was actually a little bit of A Big Deal in the pseudo-science community with tens of thousands of followers in a self-described (!!) “poop cult” and had appeared on Dr. Phil to defend her aforementioned “protocol” cure. Now, I’m not here to talk about her miracle cure “protocol” of fermented salt water and cabbage. That’s not at all what this post is about, and a LOT of other people have already expounded on that subject. Each of those words is a different link that will open in a new window. Enjoy that light reading for later, if you feel like it. Though I WILL include this video link right here for you to watch:

((That man is very smart, and swears like a sailor, and is my new best friend. Because he is smart and swears, yes, and we have the same Bob Ross shirt.
His videos are Good Stuff, but his research on Jillian is amazing.))

Her response was, “Wow vashti wow all I’m trying to do is help you out because of your condition knowing what you’re dealing with but that’s fine if you don’t want to have an opportunity that’s fine you can stay sick and let your friends keep you sick good luck to you” and then, “Because you deserve better than what you have right now if you don’t think you deserve that then you deserve to have whatever you want”

An. Opportunity. To give her money? For information she thought might SAVE MY LIFE.

“….you’re asking me…as a FRIEND with a TERMINAL ILLNESS…to GIVE YOU MONEY to cure my disease. I DO deserve not to be sick. And I ALSO deserve to not be taken advantage of in a vulnerable state. Even if I believed for a SECOND that fermented cabbage water would cure me, it’s unbelievable that you are telling me to give you money in exchange for this information. I don’t give a shit if it works or not; if I honestly believed I could cure anyone’s death sentence, I would hand it over in all quickness. If I could cure a friend’s cancer I would carve out my own kidney for free before they even asked. You’re not trying to help me. You’re trying to make money off of me and that is fucking reprehensible.”

After sanctimoniously telling my friends, “I will let vashti block me I am not going to be bullied by any of you people because I’m trying to help and if you guys want to stay in your little environments with no hope and all sickness then fine”, she responded to me, “And I expect a lot more out of you vashti considering you and I went to school but it seems like your sickness really took you over and made you a very hateful person and I’m sad for you”

“And I expected you to be a decent human being,” I told her, “and not try to take advantage of dying people but WHOOPS guess we were both wrong today.”

And then she blocked me.

There..

There are not enough swears and throwing things and table flips IN THE WORLD to convey my anger. This woman is an absolute piece of shit. Again, NOTHING to do with whether or not her ‘cure’ works or just makes you shit forever until you literally die of dehydration. Just. As a human being. This woman looked at me, a woman she called a friend since fifth grade, saw my debilitating terminal disease, and thought to herself, “this is a perfect marketing opportunity.”

And then after blocking me, she crawled back to her facebook cave and wrote this, which a friend was kind enough to screenshot:

I…she… She felt it was acceptable to try to SELL a theoretical CURE to a DYING FRIEND, because…I am “still well enough to buy things on the internet”.

…..

AS LONG AS SHE’S STILL KICKIN’ WE CAN GIT SOME MONEY OUTTA HER YET, BOYS. YEEEHAWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!! SADDLE THE FUCK UP AND LET’S GIT ‘ER PAID!!!!

what the ACTUAL MOTHERFUCKING FUCK.

THIS WOMAN IS AN ABSOLUTE GARBAGE PERSON MADE OF DOG SHIT AND FIRE.

It’s not bad enough to sell false hope to dying people just to make a quick buck, and that is some REPREHENSIBLE SHIT, believe me, but – lady, YOU KNOW MY NAME. WE WERE FRIENDS IN GODDAMNED GRADE SCHOOL. YOU KNOW MY NAME AND MY STORY AND THE HORRORS OF MY FUCKING DISEASE AND YOU SAW THIS AS A MOTHERFUCKING SALES OPPORTUNITY. And then when that BACKFIRED in a frankly GLORIOUS WAY, thanks to my friends, you crawl back to your page and act like YOU ARE THE VICTIM??? YOU WERE ONLY TRYING TO HELP ME?? BY MAKING ME PAY TO BUY YOUR BOOK AND SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR WEBSITE?

You absolute PIECE OF SHIT.

I said just in my last post that I would never wish ALS on anyone, but holy FUCK is she coming close to a candidate. Cause not only allll of this, she is ALSO a goddamned hateful human being who thinks her bullshit will “cure” gays and trans and autistic people. BECAUSE SHE THINKS HOMOSEXUALITY IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE CURED WITH SEWAGE. So. Yeah. In the name of science, I hope she DOES get ALS. It will be a scientific experiment. If it works and ALS goes away, we have a cure and she can have a goddamned Nobel prize. If it doesn’t, then the world is rid of a predatory batshit waste of human tissue who spent her final days shitting out her own stomach lining.

I’m good with those odds.

A is for ALS

A is for Almost.

Two more days. TWO MORE DAYS. And then I’m done with my working career. Three weeks of vacation as a formality. The rest of my life is a blank book, with ALS having already written in all the margins.

A is for Atrophy.

My muscles continue to waste away as ALS kills the neurons transmitting signals to them. My legs are meat stilts, capable of minor movement only; walking on them is a matter of mechanics and getting my knees to lock properly so I can balance ON them rather than WITH them. My hands are curling up into claws of uselessness. My mouth still works, to the detriment of some, and my brain always will. My body is wasting away into the meat shell it will eventually become.

A is for Avoidance.

Most days I don’t really think about it all, except as an abstract idea. Sure, I’m going to die. I have that roadmap. In my day-to-day life, though, the Big-M-Mortality idea makes way for the general practices of getting through life. ALS intrudes in all things, of course; drinking a soda is now a two-hand operation and I can never even pretend that my life is normal again. All of that, though, is background radiation anymore. It’s amazing what can become normal, given time.

A is for Abbreviated.

My life has a shortened length. For some ALS folks, this throws them into a fervor of living as much life as possible in the time they had left. I didn’t go that route. I’m far too pragmatic to have abandoned my job and traveled the world while I still could. I focused my efforts on making my future life more comfortable, and that meant working as long as I could. If we had universal healthcare I wouldn’t have had to worry about it so much.

A is for Adjustments.

The disease progresses, and whatever I could do a month ago, I can’t necessarily do today. Life is a constant series of micro-adjustments and new behaviors, new rules and limitations. I learn of these new limitations, often the hard way, and another compromise with life is created. The new normal evolves.

A is for Afraid.

Just cause I’ve accepted death, doesn’t mean I’m ready. I’m terrified of what this disease will continue to do to me, and what it’s going to cost my loved ones. What it’s already cost them. I hate that I’m so reliant on everyone around me, and it’s going to get so much worse.

A is for Advance Directive.

Seriously, you have to have one. Fill it out today. If I have one positive impact on your life, let it be that I inspired/coerced you to do this one thing. It’s a hard thing to think about, I know, but your family needs to know what you want. They can’t know unless you tell them.

A is for Assisted Suicide.

I don’t know for sure that I’m going to go out this way. But I’m grateful every fucking day that I have this option.

A is for Anger.

I don’t think I’ve ever questioned “why me” so much as outright stated, “It is pretty fucked up that this is happening to me.” No one deserves ALS. (There are a few people I would like to have it temporarily though. It’s a short, sharp lesson in humility and reliance on others.) I’m angry that this disease exists at all. That we know next to nothing about it. It’s brutal and unfair.

A is for Allies.

It’s absolutely true that you don’t know who your friends really are until disaster strikes. I’m grateful in a perverse way for this disease, for showing me what grace actually looks like. I knew my friends were awesome before. I didn’t quite understand the enormity of that power they have. I do now; I am witness to it every day.

A is for Alive.

For now. I continue to breathe, and so I will continue to write and think and feel and rant and swear. And as long as I am alive, I can bear witness to the ravages and the comedy and the love and the struggle and the disaster my life has become. Al of it, often at once. And so long as I have the best medical care team on my side (I do!), the support and love of friends (check!), and a sense of humor about it all (absofuckinglutely), I’ll be okay. Even when I’m really not okay. And when I die, you will know that it was all okay, too. Somehow. Someday. You’re going to be okay.

A is for Acceptance.

What’s Next

Three weeks, one day. And God knows how many times more I have to repeat this conversation:

“So what are your plans after you leave?”

“Well, for the first two weeks of vacation, I plan to sleep. I’m purposely planning to do absolutely nothing for those first two weeks. It’s going to be GLORIOUS. After that, I’m not really sure. I will probably volunteer somewhere. I will go absolutely crazy with nothing to do for too long. So I’m not sure. I’ll figure it out.”

“Well good luck to you.”

Cue uncomfortable undertones, awkward silence, shuffling to exit the conversation. In reality, here’s how I would like that conversation to go:

“So, what are you going to do after you leave?”

“Die.”

I mean, that is what is going to happen. That is why I’m leaving. I can no longer work because I’m going to die. But because we suck at conversations about dying and death, because our society is so uncomfortable with the mere mention of the D-WORD, in polite society I’m not allowed to say that. Even though we all know it’s true, and no shit, right? Medical retirement; I am leaving because I have a medical condition that is debilitating and ultimately, sooner than we want to admit, terminal. THIS DISEASE IS GOING TO KILL ME DEAD, IS ALREADY KILLING ME, I AM NOT LEAVING BECAUSE I WANT TO.

And so instead, I am forced to have the same inane conversation. And even though they know the real answer, the true answer, I go through the motions and come up with some stupid answer that denies my own impending mortality. I mean, what are they honestly expecting me to say? “Oh, you know, I figured I would take two weeks in the Hamptons. After that, perhaps pursue my scuba certification and do a week in the tropics. Learn a new language. Take up waterskiing maybe. Maybe learn a new vocation. Maybe finally get my baking business off the ground.”

For fucks’ sake. No. I’m going to continue to get my affairs in order, and eventually I am going to fucking die. I am going to keep losing abilities you take for granted, like feeding oneself and scratching your nose and breathing and not peeing your pants. In the meantime, I am going to continue to collect stickers, watch cartoons, and pet my cats until I can’t, and then? I am going to die.

Because ALS is a motherfucking terminal disease.

Three more weeks and one more day of this bullshit conversation replaying itself over and over. Three more weeks and one more day of pretending I’m leaving because I want to, and not because this disease is forcing me to. This has made me extra specially grateful for all of the people with whom I can actually have that frank conversation – the ones who don’t pretend not to notice that my hands are no longer working. The ones who, if they actually asked that question, I could out right tell them “die”. But they know better to ask. Because they already know. So instead they ask how my cats are doing (they’re good!), if I’ve found a house yet (not yet! The housing market in Portland sucks major ass), how well does SSI pay out (not well, but my job has awesome supplemental disability benefits)? Better, more important questions.

Death positivity kids. It’s sorely needed. I crave it like sugar and hugs. I want, I NEED to be able to have these conversations without feeling like I’m intruding on someone’s fragile psyche. Instead of what do I plan to do with my time, like it’s some summer vacation, I would rather people ask me if I have my affairs in order? (Almost!) Do I have a living will? (Yes! And a POLST form!) Do I had support I need the time I have left? (I think so!)

Three weeks and one more day. Before I can get on with the business of dying, instead of pretending like I have some plan for my future.

Because I don’t really have one, anymore.

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s normal. Not everyone gets to see 50. It sucks and it is sad, but it is normal.

Unlike this stilted-ass conversation I keep having with y’all.

Resolving the Dilemma

Ohh MAN my friends had some salty words about my last post. I love you bitter people. Your Machiavellian minds delight me.

The best suggestion was to go ahead and make reservations somewhere and then just not show up. Instead? I have devised a better, a saltier plan. You guys want guilt? You want to play the emotional blackmail game? FINE.

Here’s the invite to my official retirement party:

Come Join the Walk to Defeat ALS, September 23rd, 2018.

You want to say goodbye? Walk with me, bitches.

Biding Time

I have about 9 weeks of work left (7 weeks of actual work and then 2 weeks vacation). Until that time is over, I can’t exactly be as candid about work as I’d like in certain situations, and be public and honest about all the reasons I’m very, very, very glad to be leaving. Dumbass CEOs firing 10% of the global workforce to please the shareholders, lecturing his employees about business ethics and integrity after getting busted doing insider trading, and THEN getting caught having an affair with an underling aside. (Bye, Felicia)

I can tell you, though, that I’m really, really glad to be leaving my particular job. I’ll miss the idea of work, the regularity, the sense of being needed, and a lot of the coworkers that I’m leaving behind, but I’m very glad that an end is in sight to my working career. Frankly, the job’s become kind of a piece of shit lately and the universe is telling me it’s time to be gone.

Perfect case in point, my manager asked what I would like to do as a goodbye celebration. I told him I wasn’t sure I even wanted to HAVE one, since I’m not exactly leaving for very happy reasons, and I really don’t want to be around a bunch of people crying or looking at me with pity for a couple hours, or talking about literally anything else. Not my idea of a good time. I kind of just… want to sneak out the back. Coworkers that I had personal attachments to had their chance last year to say goodbye at my wake. He said that was fine, but I should know there were lots of people who wanted a chance to say goodbye after almost ten years of working with me, and if I did not want to a going away thing, then that was my choice, but I needed to let him know so that he could inform me coworkers in Arizona that if they want to say goodbye they would have to make their own arrangements.

I flat out told him that was emotional blackmail. But I conceded that a going away thing wasn’t about me at all and I would think about it. He told me to pick a time and a place and let him know when I’d made arrangements.

…The FUCK I am going to plan my own going away party.

It’s already shitty that for almost the last 10 years, I’ve been performing the team’s emotional labor on my own (practically. James was really good at picking up some of it and made a point of not treating me like a fucking admin, while he was on our team). I am not going to plan, organize, and make reservations for a party – for MYSELF – that I don’t even want. I’ve been sending flowers for every, birth, wedding, and death in my team. I got nothing when my father died. …because I wasn’t there to send *myself* flowers.

It’s definitely time to go. If I weren’t leaving the team, the company, the workforce as a whole, I’d sure as shit be leaving this particular team anyway. Probably the company. We ceased giving a shit about each other a long time ago. That really sucks, because I miss the team we used to be. The team that hung out after work together for Beer Tuesdays and invited me even though I think beer is gross. The team that genuinely gave a shit about each other and had fun even when the work itself sucked so much ass. I miss that camaraderie.

The old team sure as fuck would not have told me to throw my own goddamned retirement party.

Unkind

I was told twice yesterday that I had been unkind. Once about a caustic post I’d made that I didn’t realize had such a caustic tone, which I didn’t intend at all. Once about letting in-character anger spill over into an out-of character moment during a game.

It’s fucking with me more than I want to admit out loud.

I want to think I’m patient and a nice person. I want to BE a kind and soft person. With swearing as needed. I also want to think I can take constructive criticism. Both times, I tried to take the information in with a whole mind and open heart. I freely accepted valid points, admitted areas of ignorance – I genuinely did not realize my irritation with a sub-group of people spilled over into a perception of complete disdain and impatience for a related whole category of people. I vowed to be more aware, and work on it, and thanked them for bringing it to me. It’s a brave thing, to tell a friend they’re being a bit of a bitch.

But it’s fucking with me.

I don’t want to be unkind. It bothers me that someone would think I am. It bothers me that I speak without careful consideration, to have words and actions misconstrued.

So I lie awake until 3AM mulling over every interaction I had that day, wondering who else thought I was being a bitch, and what I can do to make amends. Usually these criticisms are self-inflicted, so coming from an external source, that knows me well, is especially jarring.

Before I moved away from Sacramento, several friends told me later, I became a bit of a bitch. My joking a little too caustic. I wondered if it were a subconscious self-defense mechanism, distancing myself from people I cared about in an effort to make it less shitty to leave.

I’m terrified of doing that same thing, knowing that I’m dying. From Diagnosis Day I have been fearful of being that embittered person in a wheelchair, lashing out at loved ones because I’m afraid to leave them. To be remembered as a total and complete bitch at the end of my days, in an effort to somehow distance myself from them so that the parting will be easier. Knowing it won’t help a goddamned bit. I do not wish to be a caustic person with nasty words where my love should be.

I’m glad my unkindness was called out. I’m glad I have time to work on it.

But until I am nothing but kind, it’s gonna fuck with me.

The ALS Clinic

My ALS Clinic team is getting a new doctor. Dr. Goslin called me and said they were putting together a newsletter to welcome him, and asked if I would write something about my experiences with the clinic. “Hopefully positive,” she said, and she needn’t have worried. I told her I’d be delighted. This is what I wrote.

It is not hyperbolic to state that ALS is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. Second perhaps only to Alzheimer’s disease in the completely undignified and terrifying way it kills, a diagnosis of ALS is absolutely devastating. It is also not hyperbolic to state that one of the best weapons against the ravages of this disease is the multidisciplinary ALS clinic. I personally cannot imagine going through this disease without my care team. A dedicated team of experts coming together to get the big picture and provide not only treatment, but expectations and support, is a luxury very few people are ever gifted with.

The ALS clinic makes the journey not only better, but perhaps even possible at all. Scheduling so many appointments with so many separate providers would become a job in itself; a Herculean task when one is already exhausted from just continuing to be alive. One day every three months for a four hour whirlwind tour of health is a tremendous relief of burden, even without considering the travel times. In addition to the vast benefit of freed time and effort, the end-of-day consultation when the whole team comes together to talk about me as a whole and complete person, instead of a series of interesting little snippets, provides for a much better plan of attack. A completely holistic and complete picture of me as a person with ALS, instead of a case file of how ALS is affecting Patient X with regards to diet/respiratory/insert-your-favorite-discipline-here. It is so much better for the patient when doctors talk to each other – who knew?

ALS affects each person differently, and we collectively know so little about it that research on one’s own is almost pointless. It’s only through the collective care and knowledge of the team at Providence that I’ve been able to get a grasp on my disease at all. Every question I ask is answered, every minor complaint met with compassion and understanding, and above it all, the concern I’m given is genuine. I’ve never had such a beautiful working relationship with medical professionals before. The care and compassion of this clinic’s providers are one of the greatest tools a person with ALS could ever hope to have; a wonderful consolation prize.

If ALS is a Pandora’s box of symptoms and troubles, then the ALS clinic is the remaining hope. I’m wholly grateful for this resource. I literally could not do this without it.

Keep Your Mouth Shut, Or Just Say You’re Sorry

We’ve forgotten how to die. We’ve forgotten how to be dying, and how to comfort. How to be okay when things are definitely Not OK.

We’ve lost the ability to not be absolute shitheads to each other by accident or ignorance when something terrible happens.

In my adventures with dying, I’ve accumulated quite a wealth of pretty words and useful words on the subject of death, dying, and grief. I’ve always meant to catalog and share them. When a friend who’d lost their mother was told today that she’s going to hell because she refuses to just leave her grief up to God and put on a happy face, I kiiiiiinda lost my shit. And knew the time to publish this is NOW.

So here it is, A Grief Primer.

Accommodation

Fun fact: I AM A GIANT NERD.

You already knew this. Probably. Almost definitely. If not, welcome to me; I’m a giant nerd.

Most every Wednesday, I play a table top role-playing game with a group of guys that have become good friends. We are virtual murder hobos, adventuring and killing monsters and arguing amongst ourselves about which monsters need killing, and it’s a lot of fun. I absolutely adore the group. The only hitch at all is that my stupid disease gets in the way a lot – I’ve had to miss a lot of games because of appointments, or a couple of times I’ve fallen and hurt myself, or sometimes my mana is just too damn low to deal, or once or twice Sadbrain said nope. Luckily, they’re very cool about me missing games; they understand. We had a talk once to just make sure that it wasn’t that I was not enjoying the game but was too polite to say so, so I was making excuses; once they were assured that I absolutely enjoyed the game but my disease is stupid, we were all good.

Part of that hitch is getting to the place we game. It used to be at the storyteller’s house, which had two steps and no rail. It was…not fun getting inside. Luckily before that became an impossibility, we switched to another player’s house, which has just one step. Much easier. Still an effort, and some days a Herculean one, but better. This last Wednesday, I had low energy, and I sarcastically complained to J as we were heading over, “Tim needs to get a fucking ramp.” If J didn’t drive a little car, I’d probably have bought one of those portable ramps to just carry around with us for these occasions. It would definitely make things easier. I’d never actually expect someone to modify their home for me, obviously. But some days it probably would be the final straw in deciding if I had the energy to go to to game or not. Stupid disease.

We pulled up to the house, and everyone was standing around outside, which was…odd, because it was cold as hell. We usually start game at 5:30, but we were told tonight was a late start, so maybe everyone had just gotten there. I got out of the car, and they all kind off…turned to face me. Matt, the storyteller, told me that they all understood that I had hella circumstances and that it made it really hard for me to get to game sometimes. For a moment, I thought, “OH shit, they’re kicking me out of game because I’m unreliable. Well, I can’t really blame them.” He continued to say that they really appreciated the effort I made to show up, and that they all wanted to make sure that I’m able to continue doing it for as long as I can, so…they all parted to show me something behind them.

Guys.

GUYS.

THEY BOUGHT ME A FUCKING RAMP.

To get in to the house. A ramp. For me. And they even put stickers all over it.

For me.

One of the worst things about acquiring a disability is feeling like you’re a burden. Your friends and family have to make plans around your diminished abilities, suddenly old traditions have to be abandoned. Even though everyone insists – INSISTS – that you’re fine, they want you there, they’re happy to make the changes, you can’t help feel guilty that they’re missing out on cool things because of you. A lifetime of Sadbrain convincing me that I’m not worth the effort in the first place does not help the matter, and I’ve worked my whole life to make that voice be silent, with very mixed results. In the meantime, events are missed, changes are made, things are rearranged, and my friends and family do their best to accommodate me and tell me it’s alright.

Funny word, accommodate.

It can mean providing sufficient living space, or making a compromise, or adjusting to something new. It means somehow going out of your way for someone. In my world it’s usually got a slightly cynical sister word attached, “reasonable”, when dealing with work and places of business. Reasonable accommodation. Legally doing the absolute bare minimum in order to convince ADA enforcement laws that you’ve done …something. (I’m a little bitter, yes)

When it’s your friends, though, and you know they sure as shit didn’t HAVE to do anything, that they made an effort because they legitimately want you around, and here is absolute proof? Yeah I totally teared up. It was an amazing thing. A selfless thing. An important thing.

It makes dealing with it easier. It makes being alive easier.

It makes it WORTH it.

Inappropriate Friends are the Best Friends – Part 6

My cats knocked my depression meds into their water dish and I was completely unable to do anything about it, because it’s a heavy ceramic fountain. So not ONLY did they ruin half my monthly supply, they poisoned their water. Assholes. Insult to injury, it was the day after my friend Lizzie had come over and thoroughly cleaned the fountain out while she was helping me with cleaning the apartment (we love Lizzie a lot). She expressed dismay that she’d JUST cleaned the damn thing out, and I told her that it was okay, I’d strongarm J into helping me.

She replied in an email, “If you had strong arms, you wouldn’t have to ask J!”

And I laughed a lot.

She had replied in email instead of comment, because she wasn’t sure it was too far. It wasn’t. Gallows humor keeps me able to deal with this, and I realize that sometimes even my own jokes are ‘too far’ for some people – like recently when someone asked me how my new tattoo’s white ink was going to fade, and I told them I’d be dead before I had to worry about it.

Some day, someone will say something that goes too far. probably. Maybe. I dunno. I’m pretty fucking dark. It’s beyond gallows humor…guillotine humor? Firing squad humor? Saying it out loud a lot of times as a joke makes it easier to take it seriously. The concept of your own mortality is a bitter pill to swallow, so I need to wash it down with humor.

At least for as long as I’m able to swallow.

Fall down, go boom.

I got hit by a car on Saturday.

If I did not have this stupid disease, it would not have happened. I was alerted to the car in time, and had I been able-bodied, I would have been able to blithely move out of the way, probably with an angry yell and discourteous finger gesture at the driver. But instead, I heard J’s dad yell, and looked over to see backup lights on a car I hadn’t realized was even parked there, and tried very hard to get out of the way and failed.

If I had to be hit by a car, this was totally the way to go. It was the gentlest of impacts ever, the equivalent of someone slowly leaning on me until the walker got pushed over and me with it. I scraped up my knee and my elbow, and got a little road rash on my hand. That’s all. The worst part was spilling my breakfast leftovers. J’s dad banged on the trunk of the car to alert her to our presence, which brought her to a stop; if he hadn’t, I’d likely have been hurt worse. The car and my walker traded a little paint, instead of her going over me completely.

The next twenty minutes were a blur of being asked a thousand times if I was hurt, was I sure, did I need an ambulance, was I okay, are you sure. I told them I was basically just pushed over, it was the tiniest of falls, and J’s mom helpfully reminded me it was “just a fall” that broke my ankle. Thanks, mom. The woman who hit me was beside herself with mortification, and made sure she gave me her information just in case the next day I wasn’t feeling okay. She was using someone else’s car, she said, and was used to a backup camera, though I was standing behind and to the right of her parked car; had she used the side mirrors she would have seen me. I can’t fault her too much, though, it is a TERRIBLE parking lot that requires you to drive on the sidewalk to back out. It is exactly the length of a car. So, of course in my brain, it’s perfectly safe to have been standing where I was, because I was on the sidewalk – but to her, I was standing in the driveway in a bit of a blind spot.

I told everyone my main concern was how the hell I was going to get off the ground – there was J, his elderly parents, his elderly aunt, and his cousin who was small. The driver was also a shorter woman, and the bystander who came over to help was similarly small.
Turns out the driver was a paramedic, and we had NO trouble getting me off the ground. I told her it was okay, I was fine, and at least she had a story to tell.

“Are you KIDDING??” she asked incredulously. “I’m not telling ANYONE about this.”

And she probably won’t. She had someone in the car with her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she swore her to secrecy. A lot of my friends (I love you vindictive, protective people) expressed wishes that she feels guilty FOREVER, and my little brother even offered to “Tonya Harding her”. The guilt she feels is more than adequate punishment I think; as my little brother also said, “backing into a cripple is the same as running over a normal person at a hundred miles an hour.”

Thanks, Justin. <3 The next day, the soreness kicked in; my shoulder's a bit stiff and my lower back apparently got a bit twisted. But still - I get to tell people I was HIT BY A CAR!! and all I came away with was a little soreness and a knee scrape the size of a quarter. This morning I saw the bruise on my hand come through - I dunno if you can see it:

The two slices are from something else. Though, I had a severe shock this morning, looking at my palm, and realizing how much of my hand has completely atrophied. There’s supposed to be a big fat pad at the base of your thumb, and mine is actually concave. I have to use my other hand to hold my fingers open to even look at it. It’s a very strong..I don’t want to say body dysmorphia, since my deformities are real and not perceived..maybe body horror? Unrealism. It’s strange to look at the changes my own body is going through and feel like I’m wearing someone else’s skin sometimes, because that’s NOT how I remember my hands. And yet, they’re mine. Definitely attached to me, only showing physical deterioration of the strength I perceive slipping away.

But anyway. I got hit by a car. I was then reprimanded by my loved ones for hurting myself AGAIN, and specifically admonished to “stop having so many woes and calamities”.

I’m surely trying. I think I’ve filled my quota for the year. My drama card is full of punches, so I think I get a free latte or something. BUT. I’m okay. I got hit by a car and sorta walked away. I’m very lucky.

Can-tastic!

Ok, so this isn’t one of those “little things have big impacts” kind of stories, though it sort of is. It’s a “help from unexpected sources” story more than that. In a really stupid goofy way. Some background:

1) My friend Nathan bought me a subscription to LootCrate. I’ve raved about that before, but let me do it again. We weren’t ever really the best of friends or anything, just work friends, and we lost contact for a few years. Like ya do. When he found out about my diagnosis, he bought me this subscription so I could have something fun to look forward to every month. It was an unexpected surprise and I can’t even remotely convey how much joy this brings me, for a lot of reasons.

2) LootCrate is a collection of VERY geeky things, from all kinds of fandoms. I’ve gotten t-shirts from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Overwatch to James Bond and everything in between. It’s current pop culture and retro childhood stuff, and I’ve gotten a lot of really awesome swag, including stuff you literally can not get anywhere else. Tetris fridge magnets. A Tron pencil bag that glows in the dark. SO MANY TOYS. And awesome aforementioned t-shirts. Like, half of the t-shirts I wear are now LootCrate shirts.

So this month’s crate theme was “animation”. It included swag from a couple of things I’m not that into (it happens, but I ALWAYS find someone who really loves said fandom and is happy to take things off my hands), and drink koozies from the show Futurama. Full disclosure? I’ve always kinda hated drink koozies. They strike me as a bit white trashy and that’s not helped by them USUALLY being branded with some stupid or plain offensive not-really-a-joke. But I loved Futurama, and this was a fun thing, and I’m ALWAYS drinking soda (Sorry Kelly, I know I need to be drinking water but CHERRY COKE ZERO IS DELICIOUS), so I slid my can into one.

Oh my god guys.

THE CAN IS SO MUCH EASIER TO PICK UP.

I typically have to use two hands to pick up a full can of soda, and as I drink it, I press a dent into the can to help me grip it. Hang on..lemme take a picture.

Every can I drink from has that little divot for my thumb. heh. But with the drink koozie, I don’t need it! It’s squishy so I can get a good grip on the thing without leaving a little dent in. I bet Nathan never knew he was signing me on for handicap aids. But that’s what I got this month, and I never would have figured this out on my own.

So that’s a happy thing that happened.

And then I waited too long…

..and the backlog of words waiting to be written backed up and I EXPLODED!

Okay, not really, but I’ve worked myself into that awful spot where updates are long overdue, but I can’t tell you about THAT because first I have to tell you about THIS, but it’s dependent on this OTHER thing for context, and I wanna talk about THIS but it needs to be a video but I really need to vlog about the cruise first, and then the wake…

And so for weeks I’ve posted nothing at all. Which is DUMB. So let me sum up some things, and then when I feel like I wanna say something, I can do that, and then fill in the back story as I can. The Cliff Notes version:

Clinic Days: Progressing as normal. Last time my breathing capacity was down a little, but it was still a strong normal. My hands continue to degrade. I made an appointment with Deb the Wicked Awesome PT who made me a Wolverine glove to hold my fingers up. I now have a wheelchair at home to get pushed around in.

Home search: Nothing. Despair.

Support Network: Lizzie is amazing and helps clean my place and I am VERY much enjoying the strengthened friendship that’s resulted out of the hangouts. She’s keen. Puce has become a freakin’ CHAMP-EE-UNNN in my life, to the point where he pushes me in my walker from the car to my desk every day. He’s amazing. Every dang day I am grateful for the people in my life who just kinda stepped into the roles I need, and I’m not at all sure what I did to deserve any of it.

Cruise: So much fun. You should do a cruise if you can.

Awake Wake: I literally don’t have the words. So many people, and so much love, and so much good food, and creativity, and hardly ANY crying, and SO MANY PEEPS OH MY GOD. My favorite part was sitting in the corner, watching all of my friends greet other mutual friends they haven’t seen in too long. It was the most uplifting thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’m so freaking grateful to everyone who came.

Vitamin shots: Don’t seem to be doing anything except make me pee pink, but I’m continuing them until next clinic day anyway.

Radicava: cautiously optimistic, but holy HELL is that expensive and complicated and..yeah. Every time I hear about it I think of Rikki-tikki-tavi.

Politics: Don’t even get me started. He wants to completely defund the ALS registry, which is the single most important tool we have to finding a cause and therefore a cure. I get angrier and more depressed with all of it every day, so I spend my days actively avoiding all of the news. It seeps in through my friends feed anyway, and I try to not be hateful and bitter. The world seems like a very ugly place right now, and I actively work to remain ignorant so that I can remain sane and functional. Bleh.

ALS Sucks: Someone else I knew with ALS died recently. I know his wife better than I knew him, and she’s an amazing person (seriously, caregivers are the unsung, underappreciated heroes of all time), but it brings the total number of people I know with ALS to….one. This is why I avoid the hell out of ALS forums. They’re seemingly all “EVERYTHING SUCKS” or “RIP So-andSo, who lost the fight with ALS today…” Meh. There’s only one cure for this disease, and it sucks.

Settling Affairs: Yeah, speaking of which I still need to finish that all up. It’s hard. I’m glad I don’t actually own anything of value.

Voice banking: Done! I have my digital voice and it is some serious Uncanny Valley stuff and I can’t wait to show it to you.

Work: I still have a job, I’m working from home two days a week now because it’s hard to do much of anything, and even getting out of bed and putting civilian clothes on and wrestling with myself to get in to work is a freakin’ challenge. But I still have to keep doing this because see: Home search.

So, that’s the quick (!) update. A lot. Realllllly need to post more. Soz. Soon. <3 I hope you're doing excellent things today.

Celebratory

In two days, I will be completely surrounded by my loved ones.

In what my favorite (non-related to me, ahem) child Emi has dubbed my “Awake Wake”, people from literally across the United States are gathering for a celebration. For me. I am throwing what I hope to be a grand party, to see all of my oldest and dearest friends and my newer beloveds, before this disease takes my ability to speak, to embrace them. To throw one grand shindig and see everyone I love. A funeral in which the deceased has not quite shuffled off this mortal coil.

I blatantly stole the idea from my friends Chad and Dawni. You should blatantly steal this idea too.

In four days, I turn 42.

Each birthday is precious, regardless of your circumstances. Each of mine is especially dear to me, because I don’t know how many more I’m going to be able to celebrate by eating delicious food with friends. Sushi becomes less special when the only way you can ingest it is through a tube, you know? Each day matters. I’ve been laid up with a mild to moderate ligament tear/sprain, and I feel the loss of each mobility day more keenly than I otherwise would. My days on my feet are already limited, and I feel them slipping away. Worst timing ever; my friends are already arriving, and I want to see them as much as possible, I want to show them around this amazing city I live in, want to tell them absolutely everything I never had the nerve to, before. I’ll be celebrating my birthday by going to Clinic, but hopefully that evening we’ll do something fun and delicious.

I’m excited to see everyone. Nervous, because for some of them it’s been just about 20 years. I’m the fattest I’ve ever been; under doctor’s orders, but still my vanity aches a little that after all this time, they’re seeing me like THIS. But it’s important to me that they see me like THIS, and not an emaciated meatbot, unable to do anything but meet their eyes and drool as they talk to me. For now, I can still exchange horrible jokes, still hug like a bear, still tell my friends how much I love them, how each of them shaped who I am. How I am so much better for knowing every single one of them.

Because I am, without doubt, better for knowing every. Single. One.

My life has been stupid charmed by the amount of amazing people in it. And I am grateful than when I said, I’m throwing a party – please come? They are coming. From far and wide. To say hello and goodbye and I love you and maybe play with some stickers and eat some cupcakes. Crying will come later, but for now there are memories to exchange and stories to tell and so much laughter.

I can’t wait.

April Fool

I’ve always, always hated April Fool’s Day.

I’ve only ever been – at best – ambivalent towards the holiday. I don’t generally like pranks, because usually what I see aren’t so much as pranks as people being complete dicks to an innocent person. It’s a really mean-spirited holiday. I believe in open communication and trust, and this holiday celebrates being awful to people. The general rule is, “if it’s not at least as funny to the victim, it’s not a prank.”

Three years ago, April fools became something else to me. It became Diagnosis Day. Sadiversary. Three years ago, I sat in a doctors office, and was told I was going to die. Horribly. I had previously joked about having this appointment on this holiday, joking on Facebook that regardless of the results of this appointment, no one was going to believe me. I now tell people that my diagnosis was the un-funniest April fools prank ever.

Three years later, I’m taking stock of everything I thought since then, and everything that has become. I knew that no matter what I thought was going to be the problem, my real troubles were likely to be things that never occurred to me. I was mostly correct. I’m a pretty smart person, and observant, so I saw a lot of my troubles coming. I’ve surprised myself with how well I’ve handled some things I thought would destroy me. The loss of my hands. The death of my 23-year-old cat. And, predictably, some things surprised me by how intensely I reacted to them. Or, as has usually been the case, how little I reacted to them. My first fall. That was kind of a, “well that sucked.” Instead of a nuclear eruption of emotion. Often times a completely excusable meltdown has instead been met with, “yeah, okay, there’s that.”

Tuesday, I had my second semi serious fall. As is mostly usual I can’t even tell you exactly what happened to make me fall. I can tell you that’s a major contributor is that I OUGHT to have been holding onto something, and I wasn’t. That would’ve helped. Instead, I went down like a ton of bricks and somehow twisted my knee. It hurt badly enough that I was nauseous for a moment, and had to lie there a moment to catch my breath. I can tell you exactly how I managed to twist my knee, but I did so. Just so. And so for the last few days, I’ve been having a taste of what it’s like to be immobile. I’m used to being able to walk around my apartment, simply leaning on the walls for support. I couldn’t put any weight on my knee at all. And living alone meant that in order to get to the bathroom, I had to swivel myself onto my Walker and push myself around the apartment with my good leg. It was really…

… Lonely.

I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting helpless, and frustrating, certainly. But it hasn’t really been the helplessness and being bedridden lately that got under my skin so bad. I’m a very independent person, and will fight to hold my own, on my own, until I am actually dead. It wasn’t really that I wanted help? But it was just as when I’m sick. I just wanted someone else around. Had I had a roommate at the time, I would have completely ignored them. As usual. But sometimes it’s pretty awesome just knowing someone else’s around. Especially when you’re hurt or ill.

Three years ago, I was completely able to stand up out of a chair on my own. Without using my hands, without even thinking about it. And now, when I try to get up off of the toilet I can’t even remember how my legs did that. How my body was able to just… Stand up. How I was able to run up a flight of stairs. It’s not even depressing so much as bizarre to me, that I have completely forgotten how to do simple things I used to do without thought. I expected frustration, anger at my ability to bend over, balanced on one leg, to pick something up off of the floor being taken away from me. But I find myself staring at whatever it is on the floor that is vexing me, baffled at how my body used to Do the Thing. Without will, without thought. Unthinkable.

It’s been three years since I was officially diagnosed. Self-inflicted injuries notwithstanding, I’m still on my feet. This is amazing. A lot of people with ALS would be dead by now. I’m losing the use of my hands, which is why I’ve been using voice dictation to create this post, but I can still do the basics. I can use the toilet by myself. I can go get myself a drink from the fridge, as long as I’m careful carrying it back. I can still pet my cats. For now. My progression is still very, very slow. And I am extraordinarily grateful.

I still hate April Fools’ Day. I can’t really blame the holiday for my diagnosis, or even the timing, because I was given the option to have this appointment on this day. I knew in my gut what this appointment was going to be about, by virtue of having been given the option to move the original appointment closer. I could’ve waited two days. But I already hate the holiday, so why taint any other perfectly good April day with an anniversary such as this?

Regardless of how you feel about the holiday, please treat your fellow humans with respect. Make sure your prank is funny, and not just you being a dick.

Life is enough of a dick as it is.

Bruising for a Cruising

Okay, I have to tell you about this stupid thing that happened, because then I can focus on the good parts, and also tell you something good that came of it all.

TL;DR: ALS RUINS EVERYTHING EXCEPT MAYBE DRAMATIC ENTRANCES.

So, I went on a cruise. I’d arbitrarily decided I wanted to do that, last year, as a bucket list thing. Cruises seemed cool, and at the time I was envisioning myself spending a week on the ocean, cruising to Alaska, taking the time to mentally collect myself and write all of my goodbye letters and look at the water. My friend Beth has been trying to get me to go on this one geeky cruise, but it was in Mexico and I’m not a tropical person. At all. And then, well, my hands stopped working so well, so it was less important that I have all the alone time, and then the geek cruise announced that Zoe Keating was going to be one of the performers and suddenly I am going on that fucking cruise, you’d better believe it.

It’s this one: https://jococruise.com/

One week of music and comedy and geekery. Puce, Lance, and Tam came with me, and we were gonna have a hell of a time and I was going to work up the nerve to say hello and thank you to Zoe Keating, and I was going to look at the water for hours and maybe have a cocktail and perhaps see a whale. And I did all those things and so so so many more. It was incredible.

…Except for this one thing.

From the start, I had concerns about accessibility. I can’t do without the walker, these days. I use a cane to get from the car to the grocery store where I can use a cart to lean on, or I’m using my walker. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the ship itself, though, I mean, these things are practically built for old people, right? I had a quick look at the cabin floor plan and realized with one week to go until the cruise that the bathroom was not even a little bit accessible. I sent a very apologetic and frantic email to the amazing planner people, who totally came through and switched me to an accessible cabin with grab bars and everything and it was all saved and glorious! (HOORAY FOR THO) ..Except for the shore excursions, I was still wary of them. Now, I realize fully well that the A in ADA is for Americans, and the rest of the world is not exactly accessible, which is why I’ve become reluctant to do a lot of traveling. But I completely intended to make do, so long as they could get me to shore, which they promised they could. And I tentatively believed them and didn’t worry about it at all until the day before the first one.

We were going to stop for the most of a day in Cabo. Unfortunately, there was a thing on the ship I wanted to do, right in the middle of the day, so we stopped by the front desk to ask how the disembarking would go down, to see if the hassle was going to be worth it for just a couple of hours. The town was too small to dock in, so they were offloading people by tender, which is a small boat, the woman with a delightful German accent explained. There wasn’t a rail, and there was a small gap between the ship and the tender that would wobble with the waves. Due to liability issues, they could not carry me in, but there were people on both sides to give me a hand. She assured me it would probably be fine. I had my doubts.

We skipped Cabo, and the event I wanted to go to was postponed til Friday, so I wound up spending the whole day on the ship, drinking fake mojitos and staring at the water and having a nap. SO HORRIBLE, YOU GUYS, SUCH MISERY WOW. CRUISES ARE THE WORST. The next day was Loreto, though, and not only a local food festival but an all night concert (Ted Leo will indeed rock your face off, so there was no way I was missing that). I vowed to get my ass ashore and do some sightseeing come Hell or high water – and yes the irony of that is not at all lost on me. The morning came, and so did my apprehension. Again, too small to dock so we were using tenders to get ashore. Lance went to the launch site to see how hard it would be to get me on the boat, and he assured me that it was a little gap, the water was calm, easy-peasy. They’d be there the whole time to help, and I knew they absolutely would. It wound up truly not being that difficult, even though I can’t step up a curb anymore, just a little gap and a lot of helping hands. HOORAY FOR THAT.

The ride to the port was nausea inducing, and the dock we wound up in was basically a narrow-ass pier maybe five feet wide, and then a steep as shit ramp to get up to the port. We had to step down from the tender using two wooden boxes made into stairs and yeah, you THINK you already know where this is going, but NO. I made it down the steps just fine with a lot of help from the crew and my friends, and walked across the narrow pier with no problems, and up the steep ramp without falling. You doubters. We made it to the city and looked around; it took forever for me because hey! No proper sidewalks and steep hills and cobblestone streets! Lance and Tam split off from Puce and I to do some shopping, while we looked at an ancient mission church and its museum of artifacts.

And then shit went sideways…literally. Without going into detail, I fell out of the walker and skinned the bejeesus out of my knees. As usual, the worst part was the strangers. It was right in the middle of the road, in front of a restaurant, so everybody and their mother pretended not to be watching but still managed to stare as we tried to get me up. A well meaning couple helped Puce out, and then overstayed their thanks by over-analyzing why I fell and how to prevent it from ever happening again while Puce and I both repeated YES THANK YOU and tried to move the fuck on with our lives. We limped to an ice cream shop, where I ate delicious ice cream from my childhood while trying to forget that it happened. Remarkably, my tights weren’t ruined, it turned out. Hooray! The day was not completely obliterated, but we agreed it should probably be a short day.

We did the food festival, delicious! and then stayed for the first act when the concert started. We decided to head back to the ship while there was still light to see. I was pretty wiped out by this point, but luckily there were taxis provided by the cruise organizers to get me back to the pier. And….again, I know what ADA stands for, but the van that showed up had a wheelchair symbol on it and yet was the most un-accessible van ever. He helpfully provided a little stepstool for me to get up into the seat with…which was a complete waste of effort because I don’t have the strength to lift my foot up that high to get ON the stool, much less step up with it into the the van. I managed, but it was not pretty and my tights were falling off by the time I was onboard. I discreetly hitched them back up when we got to the dock, I walked so, so carefully down that steep-ass ramp, navigated the narrow pier to the boat…

..and swore a lot because I’d completely forgotten about the fucking steps up to the boat.

Now, I can do a couple of steps if there is a sold handrail, because it’s basically using my arms to haul myself up. Without a hand rail, though, it’s fucking impossible. I quailed, but Puce assured me we would get this done. The diminutive crew took my walker on board, and then I slung my arm over Puce’s shoulder to try the steps. It failed instantly, and completely. I couldn’t help him get me up at all; I couldn’t lift my foot even, on to the first step. The crew tried to help, but they were small Asiatic men trying to assist a fat American giantess, and they were completely ineffective beside grabbing me under my arms and trying to put my feet on the stairs as though the only problem was getting my foot to touch the step. I asked to be allowed to sit for a moment, to catch my breath and rethink the problem. It took them all too much time to understand, this isn’t working, let me go.

I looked around, trying to think of a plan, and not allow myself to become a quivering, humiliated mass of tears. I noticed a line of people behind us and tried not to look at their faces. I noticed a cute girl with pink hair watching, similarly trying to think how to help. And then I noticed Anne Wheaton, one of the cruise’s celebrity guests. You probably would know her best as Wil Wheaton(the kid from Star Trek)’s wife, but she’s a geek in her own right and a fellow believer in the amazing power of googly eyes (for real though, google VandalEyes; the woman is one of my heroes) and was on the cruise doing a reading from her upcoming book. And she was watching me struggle with these ghetto-ass stairs on this unstable-ass boat and these little dudes hurting me while trying to help and I really, truly, just wanted to slip into the water and never come up. But that wasn’t an option.

I had just decided that the easiest thing would be to haul myself on to the boat and crawl over to the bench on my skinned knees like a fucking animal because surely my dignity could only suffer more if I managed to piss myself as well. That’s when the pink haired woman stood up and offered to help, assuring me that she was quite strong. I waved her off once, announcing that it was probably easier if I just crawled, but she repeated her claim of strength and voluntold another man to help her and Puce pick me up. I accepted with as much grace as I could pretend to have. Carrying 230 pounds of dead weight up what are effectively rickety fruit crates and on to a narrow moving boat is not an easy task. I think 8 people at one time were helping me, swiveling me successfully into a bench, and I tried to crawl inside my own skin as everyone else filed on board. Puce was amazingly supportive as always, and silently offered support while we rode back to the ship as I silently prayed for everyone to please forget this whole thing, and did my best to not completely lose my shit until I was alone. The pink haired cutie stayed behind to make sure I was able to get off the tender okay, and of course I could as there were no stairs involved. I thanked her a dozen times, we got back to our cabin, and I cried a lot.

I spent the rest of the cruise fervently pretending that the whole thing hadn’t happened. I had bruises under both my arms, my ego was shattered, but goddammit I had a good time for the rest of the trip pretending I hadn’t made a complete spectacle of myself in front of a boat full of strangers and Anne Wheaton. I mentally chalked it up as a lame-ass claim to fame and joked internally that she’d probably never forget the trip, for damn sure. And managed to forget it, mostly, specially when I got home. I knew I’d probably blog about it, but hopefully in a not-depressing way and try to find some positive angle on the whole ordeal, cause that’s how I fucking roll.

I’m off work for sabbatical now, so I slept late Monday. When I woke up, Puce asked me if I’d been on Facebook yet. That’s…never a good sign. I told him no, mentally wondering who died. He said I should check, and I got nervous and asked what was up. He asked if I wanted to find out myself, or should he tell me, and I didn’t feel like sorting through a time bomb of a timeline, and maybe Facebook’s stupid algorithms wouldn’t even decide to show me what he was talking about at all, anyway. I told him to tell me.

“So…………Will Wheaton’s wife posted to the JoCo Sea Monkey 2017 group about your…incident. It’s very nice, and sweet, and depressing…but she still posted about it, basically to give you support.”

FFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCK.

“Then Beth went and tagged you in comments.”

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

OK. Breathe. It’s cool. No big deal. It’s cool. Public humiliation part two. OH MY GOD THIS IS NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY IS IT. I braced myself for the worst and checked the group. And the post was obvious.

“To the young Sea Monkey who was using a walker on the cruise-”

Wincing, I read her account of the incident, mortified that my emotions were so transparent and I was completely casting a shadow on what should have been an awesome night. I hate that my disease is depressing as hell to everyone around me. I try to keep my shit in check for this reason alone. “What I wanted to do was get up and come over to you to tell you not to feel stupid for your body failing you, but it’s not my place to tell you how to feel,” she wrote.

..Holy fuck, this woman gets it, I thought in surprise. Being told not to feel dumb or weak or sad is never helpful. It makes me angry, if anything. And she understood, and elected not to intrude on my struggle like some Feel Good Fairy Godmother with useless words of non-comfort. I wanted to hug her for that. She continued to tell me that she noticed that not one person behind us waiting to get on the boat was irritated or impatient, just standing by not knowing how to help. And..I was relieved. And instantly didn’t mind at all that she posted this story semi-publicly. Was grateful, even. Because of course my brain told me that everyone was watching, feeling sorry or being mad that I was Officially Ruining Everything. She understood how I felt enough to make a point to tell me this. Which was amazing. She gracefully relieved me of any obligation to respond or identify myself, and concluded:

“Just remember, you are not your body. You are an incredible human being facing a really shitty situation who chose to go on a cruise and live life to the fullest. You are an example of perseverance we should all be so lucky to witness.”

I’m…not entirely sure that’s so, of course. I’m just some dumb girl with a fucking ridiculous disease that ruins everything. I didn’t really decide to go despite my disease. Zoe was gonna be there and thus, so was I. The end. But Anne’s words were amazing and timely as shit and I felt immediately better about the whole thing, and I replied with a simple thanks on the post but sent her a more detailed reply in a Facebook message, including a request to pass my thanks to her pink-haired rescue goddess friend who was indeed super strong. She told me why it hit her so hard, and hoped I’d be back next year. I told her I’d like that, but maybe I’d skip the port of call next time (heh), and asked if I could use her words when I inevitably posted about this whole thing. She said okay and she’d be sure to pass on my regards.

And now I have. So, a super shitty thing happened, but as usual, there was a moment of grace in it that gives the incident some worth. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to hear this from her in person so I could hug her. And then show her the googly eyes on my JoCo badge.

Sometimes It Goes Right.

I want to tell you a happy story, but it involves a little bit of angst, but first there is a happy thing, and it has a happy ending, okay?

OK. I thiiiiiink I’ve told you about this before, but shortly after I was diagnosed, my friend Nate gifted me with a subscription to Loot Crate. It’s a monthly subscription box full of geeky fun things, and it’s a delight to receive every month. I ADORE surprises in the mail, and it’s been a bright spot once a month, and Nate is an amazing person for doing this for me. I always love seeing what awesome things they’ve come up with. Sometimes it comes with a shirt, I once got a glow in the dark Tron pencil case (cough cough makeup bag), a plushie facehugger from Alien, a kickass bank in the shape of Hellboy’s fist, the list goes on.

There’s a point to this beside Nathan is OSSEM and I love geek things, I swear.

I was so enamored of the stuff, that when Loot Crate upped their game and offered a wearables-only subscription, I was all over it. A shirt and TWO! TWO PAIRS! of socks every month (OH MY GOD I LOVE SOME SOCKS YOU GUYS) (no really you have no idea) (seriously two drawers overflowing) and it was a done freaking deal. This month I got a pair of Nightmare Before Christmas socks (squee!), a pair of Walkign Dead socks with weapons screenprinted all over them (hee hee hee) and a baseball jersey style shirt emblazoned with the logo for Weland Yutani, the company from the Alien movies. It’s RAD.

I went to see Dylan Moran on Sunday – he’s an Irish comedian who’s been in a lot of things I love (Shaun of the Dead, Black Books), and I decided to wear the jersey. And here is where things get sad. Apparently I was having a really low mana day, I don’t know why, but when I let go of the walker to climb in to the car, I fell. Not a dramatic OHMYGODWEAREGOINGDOWN but just a ‘welp, gravity is a true theory and we all must obey’ kind of slide to the ground. The corner of the car door caught me under my arm and I grasped at it to avoid going down hard, and I heard this awful rip. It was almost comical for a minute; I knew I had to let go of the door, because I couldn’t recover from the fall, but I could hear the ripping get worse and I was inwardly cringing.

Puce was a freaking champion of champions, he was by my side in a flash and had lifted me to my feet before I quite knew what was happening. He hugged me tight and said it was okay, we were still going to go out and have the BEST NIGHT EVER, and helped me back into my apartment so I could change my shirt. I hadn’t even had the effing thing on for an HOUR. I did a pretty good job of not losing my shit. He said maybe Loot Crate would replace it. I said I hoped, but didn’t think so, because it’s not like it’s Loot Crate’s fault I have ALS and fell and ripped my shirt.

I sent them an email that night anyway. Maybe I could buy a new one? They sometimes sell their crates, later, but even though I didn’t need a whole new set, maybe they had a spare shirt I could pay for. It was worth a shot. I sent them this email and photo:

SUBJECT: A Tale of Woe-land Yutani

TL:DR at the bottom. <3 Ok so I had tickets tonight to see Dylan Moran (he's awesome, go see his show if you can), and busted out my brand new Weyland Yutani shirt for its inaugural outing. I headed out to the car, and..well ok, I have ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and my legs don't work well anymore, and as I was getting in to the vehicle they said EFF YOU and I fell. I flailed around for something to catch myself on, and instead the car door caught the shirt as I went down and it ripped. Really badly. Luckily it kiiiinda slowed my fall so I wasn't hurt, yay~! But my brand new jersey I hadn't even had on for an HOUR is now ruined. TL:DR; is there a way I can buy a replacement JUST for the shirt and not have to hope you guys sell this crate later? Even if you can't, thanks for being awesome. -Vashti

let 'er rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip

The next day I got a reply:

Hi Vashti!

I’m sorry to hear of your woes! As a one-time courtesy for being a loyal Looter and providing a photo of not only the torn shirt but including your kitty as well, I will get a replacement out to you. Due to inventory changes at our warehouse, we ask that you allow up to 10 days for your replacement to ship. Once it has been processed, you will receive an email with new tracking information.

We would like to apologize again for the late delivery of this item. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
Thanks!

Keith ^_^ – Team Marvel
Loot Crate Help Center – https://lootcrate.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

LOOT CRATE IS AMAZING. Keith is amazing. I am not sure what Team Marvel is, but it would not surprise me if the Loot Crate offices are divided West-Side-Story-Style into Team Marvel and Team DC and instead of fighting in alleys they play with action figures and make “pchew pchew pchew” noises at each other over their cube walls (“Cyclops got you with his eye beam!” “NUH-UH, Wonder Woman deflects it with her bracers!” “Her bracers would not be able to deflect his eye beams unless they were made of ruby quartz!” “SHUT UP NO ONE EVEN LIKES CYCLOPS HE IS LAME.” “YOUR MOM is lame!” “Craig do we have to go to HR again?” “….No. But Batman would kick Cyclops’ ass any day. He is like the Aquaman of the X-Men.” “GODDAMMIT CRAIG THAT IS IT.”), and have heated arguments in IRC over who is better, Deadpool or Lobo.

……I digress. But! Thanks to Keith, and apparently to Parmesan being a butt and refusing to let me take a picture without him walking all over everything IN THE WORLD, I have a new shirt coming. SO that is excellent. ALS can’t ruin everything when there are awesome people in the world like Nathan and Keith. My world is an awesome place with fabulous people in it.

…Deadpool would totally kick Lobo’s ass, btw. This is a fact.

Death Cafe

I have always been a spooky kid. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the aesthetic of death, the graves and skeletons and ghosts, and later Victorian memorial photography and mourning jewelry. I was peripherally aware of death, of course, my whole life. We all are. It wasn’t until Jack Kevorkian came into the American consciousness that I learned that I had Definite Opinions about capital D DEATH as an absolute, as well as an aesthetic. I found that I strongly believe we all ought to have control over our own mortality, and had my first real experience with how afraid society is to discuss the subject at all. Later, when going through the Diagnosis Cha Cha, I experienced my first profound frustration with peoples’ willingness – and even their ABILITY – to discuss it at all.

Today I attended my first Death Cafe.

You can learn about them here: http://deathcafe.com/ It’s essentially a safe space to talk freely and openly about death, and it’s meant to be a really positive experience. I first found out about them through the Order of the Good Death; I’ve fangirled about Caitlyn Doughty and her Ask a Mortician video series before. I finally worked up the nerve to sign up and attend one; my hesitation was not at all about the subject matter, but about, you know…that whole show up and talk to total strangers. This is what I do here, of course, but in a more one-sided capacity. It was a space to get to know other death-curious people, exchange ideas, and finally -FINALLY – be allowed to talk freely about this whole ‘death’ thing.

We had a wonderful facilitator at the table, who was warm, inclusive, and knowledgeable. There was a young woman who had older parents and didn’t know how to talk to them about death, a wonderful older woman who had the same frustrations with being unable to talk to her loved ones about death, and an artist who works with the dying to design their own crematory urns.

FUCKING AWESOME, RIGHT!?!

…Damn right I got her contact info.

We all spoke for about two hours, about everything from death acceptance to memorial services and keepsakes to death-positive media. I learned about POST/POLST forms (a beefed up Advance Directive that is hot pink and you put it on your fridge so the ambulance folk know what you want). I got a very warm and supportive hug. I taught a delightfully sweary old woman the phrase “lalochezia”. I learned about support groups that aren’t support groups at all for the recently bereaved. We talked about how America doesn’t really have its own death rituals as a culture, and so when it comes to death, we are all at a loss as to what to do. I mean, wen someone dies, you show up with a casserole, but then what? We don’t have societal rules and custom for how to treat the dead, besides paying total strangers to come deal with it and sweep the whole thing under a clinical rug. We’ve become divorced from Death, and it is a damn shame.

I will definitely be attending more of these. It was a pleasant afternoon of drinking tea, eating cookies, and having a chat about things you don’t normally get to talk freely about. I highly recommend you seek one out in your neighborhood. The more we talk about this, the more normal it becomes, and the more healthy our attitude towards death as a culture becomes. And this is a good thing. It helps the dying to not feel so alienated. It helps the grieving to not feel so alone. It helps us all to know what to do, how to have these conversations while we still can.

Knowledge is power, indeed, and by talking about death, we destroy some of its mystique and its terror. We make it normal, and we help each other through impending loss – be it even our own departure. I want to be able to have these conversations with my loved ones, but until that becomes normal and okay, I can have these conversations with strangers.

It’s almost as good.