Thursday, December 3, 2015

Vanity Mirrors

We live in a world where people shoot Botox into their faces to paralyze wrinkles, smear cream concoctions onto their skin to look youthful, shoot collagen into their lips to look sexier, pop pills for longer sustained erections, and IV drip vitamins into their veins to feel peppy, less hung-over, or more energized. Costing hundreds and thousands of dollars. All part of doing business in a shallow surface world of aspiring beauty.

I live in a world, along with a lot of other survivors, where pills are taken to just barely survive a regular day, Botox is shot into muscles in an attempt to combat pain, creams are rubbed along sore muscles when shots aren't enough, vitamins are injected monthly due to deficiencies, and iron is intravenously infused as needed to prevent crippling spasms, fatigue, and the actual threat of death. A world leaving us emotionally and physically exhausted, battered, and bruised.

This is a world where people push through jobs which deteriorate them physically just to keep health insurance only to have to fight with insurance companies to get each treatment which can cost more than they make in a whole month. Only to have to do it again thirty, or sixty, or ninety days later. A world where every co-pay takes away money needed for other important things like food and electricity.

A world where luxury is an option only for a privileged few and outer beauty doesn't even get to be an afterthought much less an option.

In a world where people are judged for how they look and what they have, it's hard not to be judgmental, jealous, hurt, angry, or sickened for having so little and actually needing so much on a basic survival level when witnessing others casually living on a more superficial level. It is very hard when deep down in the suffocating muck not to look towards the heavens with envy and desperation at just the chance to breathe in fresh air.

Truth is, people have a right to want to look better, feel better, dress better, travel better, and just plain live better. People have a right to spend their money any way they choose on anything that they want, including the pursuit of beauty and happiness. Just as with that same sentiment, people should have the right not to suffer, not to fight for treatments, and not to endure pain just to breathe or pay for their next breath. 

The world is a deep place while the souls who reside on it are thoughtful and complex. We all must live in it and respect that even in the shallowest pools there are reflections of meaningful depth. 

We can't lose ourselves in reflecting on the reflections in other people's mirrors or judge how they see themselves based on the limited view of what we see reflected of them. 

We must inhale and contemplate our own reflections. We must strive to make the world in our mirrors a better place where we can survive so that the reality within our mirrors can expand out into the rest of our world.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause death by paralysis in both humans and animals.

So, the first person to have Botox administered therapeutically was probably pretty close in the dire level of desperate as the first person who ate raw oysters because they were hungry. Proving, yet again, people will do whatever they can to survive intact.

It took four years of constant pain following an automobile accident and brain surgery, as well as trying literally everything else, from exercise to acupuncture, to reach the point of not merely approving, but literally begging for, Botox injections. Four years to get the medical recommendations to line up with the insurance approval for this desperate attempt at reducing pain.

Multiple cc's and 31 varying injection sites, including my face, head, neck, back, and shoulder-blades, was difficult. (The injections directly into the scar tissue of my brain surgery incision site were rather beyond description.) 

Willingly enduring momentary pain in the hopes of achieving some semblance of longer term pain relief is something survivors face far too often.

Botox injections did not stop the pain, but they did change the pain. Botox moved it. Botox altered it. Occasionally lessening the sharp stabbing, but spreading a deep, exhausting, continuous, painful ache. (Possibly pain that was there from the time of the original damage, but overshadowed for the past few years by the more severe piercing pains.) 

In my case, secondary injections three months later, hold the rather elusive hope of medically expanding the pain relief by allowing the damaged muscles and nerves the chance to heal through paralysis, due to being unable to tense up in response to the constant pain which further damages them.

Pain is different for everyone and constant pain changes people. It massively alters how we interact with others, how we approach life, how we view ourselves, and how we imagine the future. It changes, and often destroys, our dreams. Pain can affect literally every choice we make in our lives. It drains the quality of our lives and is a crisis in itself. Pain causes a surreal level of desperation, which is lonely and isolating. 

Pain touches every part of who we are, how we are, why we are, and what we want. Suffering sucks.

We have to try. We need to do whatever we can to survive and heal. We have to fight for every avenue that might help. We must endure pain sometimes to feel less pain later. Even if that pain is multiple needles to the face.

Hang on tight. It is not an easy ride. It is traumatic. But, any dark route which has the chance, no matter how slight, to lead us into the light is worth the journey. We have to believe that.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Faking It

Actors fake it for a living. Momentarily living lives that aren't lived, they pretend to be people they are not. It is an art-form and a complex creative process. When done well, it can be an inspiring and transcendent experience to behold.

However, people in general, including those who will never be on a stage or appear on a screen, pretend all the time. They do it as a way to be polite or kind. Or, they act one way to hide the way they actually feel. Or, they affect feelings or thoughts to protect another or themselves from different feelings or thoughts. People fake all kinds of things to avoid revealing the truth.

Survivors become shocking good at this. 

True trauma, illness, and crisis are complex emotional and physical realities. Navigating through the intricacies of those realities is like dancing barefoot on a double-edged sword.

We pretend we are doing better then we are, because we don't want to worry others; or, worse, because we feel our realities have been a burden too long. 

We smile, because we don't want anyone to see the depth of our suffering. We make light of things, because the darkness is just too heavy. We feign being okay, because the stress and anxiety are too overwhelming to explain. We disguise pain with a laugh, because we don't want our pain to affect or lessen the joy of others. 

We act unbroken, because admitting we are broken reveals too much of our damaged selves.

Our realities become far too hidden and private, because they are too much to easily share. It is traumatic to continue to give voice to our trauma, especially when it goes on longer for us then for those we have leaned on for support and understanding. The bigger and harsher the reality the more we tend to fake it. 

Pretending can become very isolating. 

The more we try to convince people we are okay, the less support we have when we need it. The less supported we feel, the harder it becomes to reach out for help. Convincing others we are well on the road to recovery and pretending to be better then we are leads to priority shifts and creates changes in circumstances which can leave us exposed and alone when we still have a real need for continued support. 

We can become paralyzed with hesitation and wrought with trust issues allowing us to slip farther away from those who might be willing to help. Help may not come fast enough, because when it is alluded to or delayed, we are too traumatized to remind those offering help we are still desperately waiting.

Pretending can make our struggles invisible and erode our ability to heal. It is a momentary band-aid on a festering wound.

Pretend is fine for fairy tales and matinees, but honesty is genuinely needed for real healing and understanding, even if that honesty. by default, is brutal and ugly. 

We have to move beyond the fear and the polite. We have to find a way to be who we are, while we are. We can't allow ourselves to drift away unseen and unnoticed. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Support Brains, People

Brains matter and everybody has one (even if sometimes that seems doubtful).

Put yours to good use. Do something today!

Review your family medical history. Get scanned.

Rally Congress to Support S. Res. 176 and H. Res. 259

Sign the Petition  to officially make September Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

Please give to
The Brain Aneursym Foundation 
The Betty Clooney Center for Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury
The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation 

Wear a Bravelet
(and a $10 donation goes directly to 
Survivor Jewelry
or The Brain Aneurysm Foundation)

Lend an ear or a shoulder to lean on. Reach out. Help yourself and others.

Our brains need love and support! Your support could help someone survive!

Support by Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Wear a Bravelet in Support!

each bracelet purchased gives a $10 donation to Survivor Jewelry 
or The Brain Aneurysm Foundation 
or you can pick other Bravelet jewelry that shows support of a different cause. (There are a variety of styles, colors, and worthy causes)

Support truly matters! Breathe Brave and wear your heart on your sleeve.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Love me for my brains!
September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month.

What do
Quincy Jones (entertainer/producer), Sharon Stone (actress), Neil Young (singer / songwriter), Bill Berry (drummer, R.E.M.), Bret Michaels (singer, Poison), Tamala Jones (actress), Joni Mitchell (singer/songwriter), Scott Hamilton (Olympic figure skater), Della Reese (actress)... and me
have in common?

We are all Survivors of Brain Aneurysms.

What do 
Guy Williams (actor, Zorro), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Congresswoman), Jeanne-Claude (artist), Anne Baxter (actress), Todd Barnes (drummer, T.S.O.L), Jerry York (IBM), David Mills (Screenwriter), Laura Branigan (singer), Rex Robbins (actor), and Betty Clooney (entertainer)
have in common?

They are all people we lost too soon to Brain Aneurysms. 

Sadly, half a million more people worldwide will die from ruptured brain anuerysms this year alone and half of those deaths will be people under the age of 50.

We all need to be more aware.
Brain aneurysm will affect 1 in 15 Americans. 
One will rupture every 15 minutes. 
40% of those ruptures will be fatal.

Love Your Brain.
Be aware of your family history. Be proactive. Have open and honest conversations. Get scanned.

For survivors and those fighting to survive, as well as for the people who love them and those who remember with love those we have lost, support is vital.

Show your support today!
Add-on to your own photos and show your support.

Give brains some love.

Our support and our voices matter... so do our Brains!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hope Horizon

During times of illness, trauma, & crisis, hope is an oasis, but often times it can feel like a mirage on the edge of the horizon.

Sometimes we have to wait for it.

Hope can shimmer in many forms: 
the elusive cure to come, the relentless pain to ebb, the overwhelming fear to ease, the sapped strength to return, and the paralyzing panic to cease. 
Or simply a promised visitor to arrive, a sturdy shoulder to cry on, a helping hand to reach, an understanding ear to listen, and a promise of help to become realized.

Hope is a belief in relief and survival.

But, like crisis, waiting isn't easy and can carry real weight. A weight that may not be adequately understood by those not carrying it and living with it daily.

It is not easy to quantify or explain. It can overwhelm and steal the voice we need to be heard. How do you tell someone what it is to be you? How can someone know what a gift hope is, when they are not trapped in needing it so urgently?

Time is different for those trying to survive and cling to hope. The waiting can make minutes feel like days and days feel like an infinity. Waiting can corrode our glimmers of hope, deepen our depression, and add to our stress. Waiting can take the fight out of us and leave us lost near collapse in the desert.

Withering in the heat with the relief of the oasis just out of our grasp. It's harder to maintain hope when you are watching the promise of it along what begins to seem like a ever distancing horizon.

Faith is not easy when parched. Hope can slip from our grasp while we wait.

Try to hang on. Seek for and cling to the hope you once had and believe in something... someone, anything, and anyone to make it through. It is coming. While the horizon may seem fixed in the distance, journeying towards it is the only way to reach an oasis of hope. We all need to believe that.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Prometheus Bride

In 1818, the novel Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, was published. (However, during its original release, the author was listed as anonymous.)

Despite many people's assumptions, Frankenstein was the name of the doctor while his creation actually remained nameless throughout the story (although the Creature himself on a handful of occasions likens himself to Adam, the Bible's first human). And, Prometheus was a mythological Greek Titan who created mankind for the gods, then taught man to hunt, read, and heal, but who was then chained and tortured by Zeus for stealing fire from the gods and sharing it with humans.

Bent on vengeance against the monster, Dr. Frankenstein struggles against his conscience and the weight of what he gave life to for the bulk of the book, seeking to destroy his creation. Meanwhile, the Creature grapples with his existence and isolation, reflecting with growing intellect and longing, but lashing out with violence. (Even more so, when the Creature loses his sole chance at companionship when Frankenstein chooses to destroy the monster bride he was creating to prevent unleashing another abomination.)

In the end, after the death of his creator, the nameless Creature, outcast from society and removed from humanity, sheds tears for the loss of his perceived father. He tells his side of the story to a single witness and walks off onto the desolate ice of the Arctic never to be seen or heard from again. Utterly alone. 

Survivors often find they relate more to the monster. Feelings of isolation and longing, issues of self-esteem and distance, internal rage and pain are often parts of the process of surviving. It is heartbreaking and disorienting to suddenly perceive ourselves as different and apart. Removed from who we once were and all we once trusted, we create a lonely landscape within ourselves.

The inspirational source of the book is often debated in literary circles. What began as a summer challenge to tell a story in a group of creative friends, has been labelled a subversive political tale of the Revolution, a suspicious reprimand at the advance of science and technology, and a Gothic romance born of the loss of her first child. (Mary Shelley was twenty years old when the book was published and she would eventually have three more children, but only one would survive childhood.)

Like the Creature and the book itself, we are all created from, inspired by, and evolve out from a complex source. We have to find our own way to and from the isolated landscape of our inner Artic. We have to learn and relearn who and what we are. 

We will rage and contemplate, rationalize and react, while moving through and away from the monstrosities of our trauma, crisis, and illness.

We need to cling to what matters and hold on to our own worth, even if we have to find beauty in the loneliness of the ice.

(Note: Over three decades after the publication of the book, on the first anniversary of Mary Shelley's death, her family opened up her writing desk. In it, they found locks of hair belonging to all of her children and the heart of her husband Percy Shelley wrapped in silk.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Vu's

Presque vu, French for "almost seen", is also known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. The failure to retrieve a word from memory combined with a partial recall and a nagging feeling that the retrieval of the word is imminent. 

Jamais vu, "never seen", is the phenomenon of experiencing something that you recognize in some way, but nonetheless seems utterly unfamiliar. 

Both are often associated with the more well-known déjà vu, "already seen", the sensation that something currently being experienced has already happened, whether it actually has or not.

All of these can occur to some degree and regularity in a healthy brain. But, more severe or prolonged forms of them are often associated with brain damage or illness.

Survivors often experience life during and after trauma tangled up in an emotional braid similar to the phenomenons of the three Vu's.

There is a lot of overthinking and active imagining which happens when facing trauma, as both a part of stress and hopefulness. We dream and rationalize. We study worst case scenarios and best possible outcomes. We adjust to current situations as we struggle to heal. We think happy thoughts and give in to the misery of worry. We are altered by the idea of pain and loss.

We imagine so much so often in thinking about the idea of our crisis, that when faced with the actuality of it, we can feel overwhelming emotional sensations which resemble the Vu's.

Feelings like we have done this or been here before, or that what we almost know is about to be fully understood or explained, or that even though it should be familar because we prepared for it, it is beyond our expectations or understanding.

Fear and pain can set our emotions on an almost conductive edge, where any stimuli can over stimulate and expand out quickly without warning. 

Our thoughts can play havoc on our expectations and actually alter how we cope with our realities. Our truths can be so big that to fully face them we need to take them apart and give the pieces a surreal dream quality. It is a normal reaction to damage and part of coping during healing.

Accept the different Vu's of surviving your trauma, crisis, or illnesses. Embrace these tumultuous triplets.

Recognize there are things we are meant to see, things we will know again, and things we will never quite figure out. 

Allow your emotions to help you adapt to your reality and aid in your healing.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sticky Note Tug of War

People leave Post-It-Notes to remind themselves of all manner of things. Sticky notes are a billion dollar industry because memory is a tricky thing. 

But, memories at their core, are sticky yet fluid conundrums, especially during times of loss or grief. They adapt and change depending on how, when, and why we look back at them. They become what we need them to be or become the validation we seek.

They are the emotional outlet to ourselves, the pieces which make up our whole, including the good and the bad, the beautiful and the hideous.

If we need the comfort of nostalgia, we alter our memory to reach for the best of what has been, sourcing out a safe place from our past.

If we need to validate a hurt or lay a blame, we hone in on the mistakes and failures in the past to give our current pain merit.

If we want to reconnect with something or someone we've lost that we wish we hadn't, we'll instill the memories with a dreamlike quality, removing all imperfections for a flawless reminder of what once was.

We play with our memories as often as they play with us. A tug of war of emotions, safe places, and reminders.

The truth of a memory lies somewhere in between, with all the positives, negatives and beautiful flaws of life, shared with people and places in all their imperfections.

Survivors spend a lot of time in the past, because it is so much a part of how they got to where they are, so much of what they lost, so much of what they're trying to hold on to, and so much of what they are fighting to get back to. 

But, most tellingly, because during times of pain and crisis, the future becomes harder to envision. It can be so difficult to imagine a tomorrow that we cling to the past for our hope. We turn to what was or might have been to find our way to what might yet be.

Our memories hurt and comfort, support and destroy. They are our foundation and the bricks we use to rebuild or reshape ourselves. 

It is alright to remember yesterday, if in doing so it gives us the strength for tomorrow. Because, with our memories, we never have to be alone, even during our loneliest moments.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Swiss Mister

Seventy years ago today, American forces dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb would be dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Since records weren't reliable during the chaos after the destruction, conservative estimates are that over 250,000 human beings were killed by the affects of the initial bombings, resulting injuries, and the radiation sickness which followed. But, the actual death toll may have been much higher.

Weeks after the attacks, on August 30, 1945, a Swiss doctor and delegate of the International Commitee of the Red Cross, whose major task during the war had been to oversee the observation of adherence to the Geneva Convention in POW camps and create neutrality so Red Cross ships could get supplies through, received photographic evidence and telegraphs revealing the horrific conditions in Hiroshima. Dr. Marcel Junod than organized a mission of aid and became the first foreign doctor to reach Hiroshima. He brought with him an American investigation task force, two Japanese doctors, and 15 tons of medical supplies. For five days, he visited every major hospital, distributed supplies, and personally gave medical care to the wounded.

After the war, he continued his humanitarian work with UNICEF and the Red Cross. Later, he had to retire as a surgeon due to an illness which prevented him from standing for long periods of time. So, he dedicated himself to medical research and anesthesiology, which would allow him to continue to help people while sitting down. He treated patients literally until the end of his life. Working as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Marcel Junod died of a heart attack during an operation.

Following his death in 1969, the International Committee of the Red Cross received over 3,000 letters of condolences from all over the world; and in 1979 a monument to Dr. Junod was inaugurated in the Hiroshima Peace Park, where each year on the anniversary of his death a meeting is held in front of the monument to commemorate his service to his fellow man.

The last words etched on the back of this monument are from his book Warrior without Weapons, "Those who call for help are many. It is you they are calling."

Aid is vital to helping people survive, not just in times of war or large-scale crisis, but following personal traumas and private illnesses as well. Whether with medical, financial, or emotional support, people need people. No one survives alone.

We should never turn a blind eye, but keep our eyes and hearts open. We must be willing to help with our own hands.

"It is you they are calling," are powerful words of truth. No one should stand by while another suffers, whether in front of them or half a world away. Empty empathy serves no one. Take action, even if only to reach out and hold someone's hand when they are hurting. Give of yourself to others in their times of need, for someday you may need help yourself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Loose Change

During their initial year of recovery or following a significant relapse in their sobriety, alcoholics are discouraged from making any major life changes for the first year.

Major changes can include anything from a new home or new job, starting a new relationship or ending an old one, getting married or divorced, or committing to any sort of new life decision or altering your life's course in any additional way. 

The same could be recommended for all manner of survivors when initially faced with trauma, crisis, or illness.

Most people, whether a survivor or not, don’t like to be told what to do. In fact, we can all be stubborn when we feel someone is trying to tell us what to do or how to feel. Sometimes when we are trying to regain our footing, the more we are told what not to do, the more we want to do them. We rationalize and override that in our case there is no point for these suggestions and that they are not relevant to us. Advice can get casually brushed aside and recommendations go unheeded, because we know best.

However, this is not an attempt at controlling us or having us relinquish our own control. It isn't about limiting our lives or hindering our potential to heal and find happiness. It's not about less control, but about having the time to understand the underlying nuances and true needs of our situations more completely.

For alcoholics, sober is a totally new view, with emotional spikes they were previously too numb to fully experience. For survivors, sobering realities are an altering view within an emotional roller-coaster we have never experienced before. Both can suddenly feel great clarity and less blind. The view can be exhilarating or induce spiritual vertigo. It carries with it both the positive and the negative, whose edges sometimes blur making it difficult to distinguish the differences.

The idea of not entering into or exiting out of our important relationships is recommended, because during these fragile times we are already dealing with volatile, unpredictable or overwhelming emotions. We are seeing the world with new eyes, trying to figure out where we now stand in our lives, experimenting with new sources to inspire our future, and grappling to find inner stability. We are in the process of learning how to live with this new version of ourselves. 

During this, we are experiencing our feelings with a new depth of intensity we may have never experienced before and it's often too easy to believe that intensity is due to others. We need time to evaluate and explore these feelings honestly until we can find our own footing enough to truly know the path we want to walk with someone else. 

Clinging too quickly to these "in the moment" intensities can become complicated, as we grow and come to terms with our own changes. We risk wrapping our recoveries in someone else, tangling our healing, instead of anchoring them first within ourselves. 

If it unravels, this can be disastrous later, because we have put so much of who we have become into it too soon. We need to recover and know ourselves better, before we can truly share ourselves with someone else in any long-lasting meaningful way.

As we are changing inside, it is natural to want to make major external changes outside as well. The idea of making a move from the familiar to the unexplored can feel exciting and empowering, especially if we have been weighted down with hardships and darkness. It is easier to recreate who we are on a blank canvas where we have not yet made mistakes and our mistakes are unknown to others than it is to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

While it is important to be open to change, especially when it is coming at us with such force, we need to maintain and trust our sources of stability before embracing additional emotional outlets. We need to not act rashly or overreact emotionally.

Transformation is very hard, but fulfilling work. Rebuilding ourselves is a task, but it's important to attempt the reconstruction with the bricks at hand before throwing them out and replacing them with new ones. 

There will indeed be changes ahead as we get to know these new versions of ourselves. But, we need to be take the time to find out who we are before making major changes which help define us. It will help us make the right choices for the right sort of changes in the long run.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Witness Me!

In Mad Max: Fury Road, the thirty-long-years awaited forth installment of George Miller's epic post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies, lies a shocking film of powerful feminism and the raw dehumanization of humanity packaged as a high-octane thrill ride. 

The cult followers and soldiers of the film's villain are known as the War Boys. At first glance, they are as expendable as the vehicles they drive, which in any Mad Max movie is pretty expendable. They believe their greatest sacrifice is to die for their leader. Over the course of the film, in the moments right before they commit to this sacrifice, they paint their mouths with chrome to be shiny and, in a frenzied vocalization of martyrdom, shout a battle cry of "Witness Me!"

Two words brutally brilliant in their complex simplicity.

On some level, we all want to be recognized. We all want to be remembered. We want our struggles not to go unnoticed and our sacrifices to matter.

Survivors know this battle cry in deeply private and often hidden ways. 

We don't want to be a burden or hurt those we love with our suffering. We don't want to be pigeon-holed by our illness or trauma. We don't want to make a fuss or rock a boat. We are not looking for accolades or special treatment. No one rationally wishes to be a martyr.

But, there is a powerful need to be noticed, a desire to not have our fight be forgotten or our pain ignored. We want to mean something and matter beyond the moment of our struggles. We want our damage not to define us, but empower us.

What we attempt to survive as human beings deserves a battle cry, a reminder to the world to take notice that we are here and are fighting. 

We all matter. Each battle we fight matters. Each brave breath should be remembered and recognized. We endure beyond our moments here on Earth.

We need to bear witness to each other, acknowledge our bravery and our uniquely, special worth. We need to shine.

Witness me, each and every day. One breath at a time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Cold & Broken Hallelujah

In 1741, in Handel's Messiah, there was a chorus of Hallelujah. Centuries later, Leonard Cohen created a beautiful song anchored by his own chorus of Hallelujah, to which John Cale of The Velvet Underground added additional lyrics when he later covered the Cohen version. Years after that, Jeff Buckley entered the realm of the immortals with his powerful version of Hallelujah, based on the Cale cover's reworking. Numerous other artists throughout the years have reworked and recorded their own versions inspired by the beauty of it.

The song has been embraced in all its flowing, ever-changing versions. It impacts people from all age groups and walks of life. Hallelujah carries a powerful message unique to the person who hears it. One of those rare types of songs which transcends dissection and allows people to relate to it on a personal level applying it to their emotional core for reasons of faith, longing, hope, loss, or struggle. 

It is a graceful reminder of the human condition.

Survivors understand the idea of "a cold and broken Hallelujah." The longing which reaches out, the cry of loss, and the hope of faith in our lowest moments. A prayer for remembering and the deep-seeded tug of needing something beyond this lonely place.

Create within yourself a place to contemplate and remember. Find an outlet to give voice to the whispers that cry within. Embrace within yourself the hope which may mourn, but reaches out regardless. 

Sing your own version of Hallelujah. Become your own chorus. Heal the cold and the broken you carry with you. Our stories matter. Our individual songs endure.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pants on Fire

Surviving forces you to navigate a lot of lies and face a lot of liars. 

Big and devastating lies, small and white lies, lies of omission or deflection, and lies of hope or attempting at protection. The lies of others or to one's self. These lies can manipulate your outlook, change your hopefulness, and alter your course during times when it is hard enough to stay on track.

During the challenging and stressful times of traumatic events, people lie. Some lie to boost hope, while others lie to avoid reality. Many lie to facilitate decisions as others lie to paint a better picture. People will lie in attempts at providing support and we will lie to ourselves because the truth seems too hard to bear. 

But, in the end, lies hurt and cause great damage. They can rage like a wildfire and burn down important bridges to survival. They wreck havoc often at a time when the depth of hurt is already too deep to easily climb out of.

We all have to make an effort to tell the truth, even when they are the hardest of truths. Because, even the darkest truths can give us the strength to see clearly what we are facing, so we can fight it head-on. We can be enlightened by that truth, even when trudging through the shadows.

No matter what lie rationalizing reason, fight the seductive ease of lying. Even painful truths have the power and grace of truth. Find the truth in yourself and seek it from others. We are indeed the roads to our own enlightenment and need to make our journeys as honest as possible to find the path which is right for us.

The fight is hard enough without being hindered by lies. Breathe brave and exhale with honesty. It makes the next breath easier.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


A couple of days ago while on a flight, the steward decided to randomly change up his routine safety speech. So, over the plane's intercom came the following:

"In the event of cabin depressurization, stop screaming. An oxygen mask will drop, secure it over your mouth and nose, and breathe."

There was an instant reaction on my aisle to this particular wording, one of shock, awe, and amusement. But as we looked around the cabin, the other passengers were preoccupied with pretty much anything other than paying attention to the in-flight safety instructions. They had missed the brutally simple honesty of the speech entirely. 

However, my aisle felt Fight Club's Tyler Durden would have gotten a kick out of the irreverence of that particular passenger service announcement.

Stop screaming and breathe.

During events of trauma and chaos, especially when our emotional or physical health are on the line, we all tend to panic. It is a natural, primordial response. Panic is part of our survival instinct.

However, panic is not the best form of coping. In complicated times of crisis, it can be very counterproductive to healing and surviving intact to the point of actually causing additional damage or set-backs. There is a reason the idea of a Zen state has survived for centuries and the search for it is an integral part of meditation.

We need to focus, to find a calmness within ourselves, to stabilize and clarify, and remember to take the time to inhale. Breathe deep. 

Stop screaming and breathe may be the simplest and soundest advise any of us could ever get.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Quicksilver Lining

During bad times people seem to find themselves looking for silver linings.

Trying to focus on the positive like a tangible, delicate edge of light which can be found in the most oppressively dark of situations. Ironically, the element of mercury is often referred to as quicksilver, which, although beautiful in its color and form, is a highly toxic poison.

Both silver and mercury in liquid form can flow seamlessly, or separate, beading into individual droplets. They can also join or re-join flowing back into themselves.

Times of crisis, trauma, and illness have uniquely intricate, tendril veins flowing through them of both types of silver, the hopeful and the toxic.

Combining and weaving together, seamless despite their differences. Moments of hopefulness can be lined with foreboding senses of dread, while suffering can have superior moments of peace and graceful relief. During our struggles, the lining of silver and quicksilver can blur and become one.

This silver mixture has moments which are uplifting and disheartening, sometimes simultaneously. Silver in all these complicated forms can be mesmerizing when flowing within you and it's not easy to separate yourself from the mix.

Toxic has a way of lingering and linings have a way of evaporating too easily.

As survivors, in our fight to endure, we can't just be on the lookout for silver linings, we need to create and nurture them. Be thankful for every delicate edge and work to expand them into the whole of us.

Whether the lining is in the form of relief or support, fleeting or long-lasting, we have to hold them close and allow the hope in. As survivors, we have to battle to keep the toxic out and lessen its hold on who we are.

When toxic silver cuts to the quick, we have to breathe brave and make from our wounds linings of a more forgiving, healing silver. To survive, it is important to create and cling to whatever silver linings when can and let the toxic quicksilver drain away.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fragmenting Distance

One doesn't have to be alone to feel loneliness. It can occur surrounded by people or in a crowd.

Survivors often feel loneliness acutely, either because their situation creates actual isolation or the overwhelming perception of it.

Even amid utter chaos, when struggling to survive, life slows and bogs down. It can feel like trudging through ever deepening and thickening mud with no belief that we will ever be able to rise from the muck.

Other people's lives go on with the normal ebbs and flows, while a survivor's routine life gets lost in stagnation or backslides into worsening places beyond their control. It is crippling to observe the lives of others from a lonely place.

This leads to feelings of widening isolation. There is the overwhelming sense that you are in it alone. The loneliness of it is deafening.

We can lose the ability to reach out and hold on. We can become paralyzed at the thought of asking for more help or needing someone. We doubt intentions and worth.

We accept the loneliness because we begin to believe we don't deserve more. Part of something meaningful and the shared happiness of companionship becomes so far from reach as to be unattainable even in our dreams. We can no longer see a future which looks any different then the present we feel so trapped in.

Physiological studies have shown that nostalgia can aid in weighty moments of loneliness and have a restorative effect. A perception memory which counteracts loneliness by increasing a perceived social support. Remembering that support and companionship triggers feelings of wholeness and safety of worth. It validates us in the memory.

Ironically, this does not always remain the case with survivors, because being reminded of things often shines a glaring light on how much they have lost and how altered their life is now. So, while there may be a momentary relief in remembering, it is often followed by an increasing feeling of isolation and leads to a despairing level of loneliness. It compounds our distance.

It is very hard to convince ourselves in these moments that we are not as alone as we feel. It is hard to see a time and place opening up for us again where we can feel closeness with other people and let in any love or support. It is difficult to see ourselves as part of something else.

We feel beyond isolated. In feeling this alone, we close off, turning inward, creating even more isolation. It is a vicious circle and a dire Catch-22. It is hard to survive and endure trapped in this tightening bubble. Overtime, loneliness can actually manifest itself physically in damaging ways, which adds to more feelings of isolation.

There is no quick fix to this type of emotional and social fragmentation.

What works for one person to reestablish a meaningful connection may not work for another; and, what works for us one moment may fail with epic proportions in the next. Distance of self is not easy to battle back from. Distance, at its core, often creates and expands loneliness. Distance can swallow closeness whole.

When alone, try to reach for something, someone, or a memory of connecting to make you feel less alone in that moment, even if that moment doesn't linger.

When in a crowd, try to connect with something, someone, or the idea of reaching to anchor you to a less lonely place, even if only for a second.

Then, build on those moments. One brick of connection at a time laid on top of the loneliness, until we have built something stronger and more tangible to connect with.

Even if those bricks exist only within ourselves, they don't have to exist alone.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred...
I am Sparta...

Whether the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Spartans' stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, throughout history people have fought against impossible odds. 

People have struggled alone against unimaginable forces and have taken a stand when everything aligned against them should have made them lie down. 

It isn't easy to survive insurmountable odds. The struggle is long and the battles are bloody. The outcomes are not always what we dreamed of, planned for, or intended.

But, life wants to cling, even through fear and trauma. Hope tries to linger, even in the darkest places. 

We each have strength buried deep within us. If we reach deep enough, we have the power to fight, even when our reserves are dwindling and our options begin to pale.

During my brain surgery and long-suffering, on-going recovery, I have often found myself at a standstill, come up against a wall, and felt utter defeat. Defeat which has coursed through my every vein, physically and emotionally. Yet, with a paralyzed spirit and debilitated health, I have forced myself to stand and brace against the onslaught.

I have whispered to myself with a voice only I can hear... "I am Sparta."

With a legion of horror bearing down on me, no support in reserve, and no hope galloping across the horizon to save me, I have stood alone screaming.... "I am Sparta."

With no strength left, I have fought. I fight still... "I am Sparta."

In the end, I may win, but I may not. 
I may be victorious, or I may be decimated by defeat.

But, I will stand even when broken beyond reckoning.  
I will breathe brave until I have no more breath in me.... for I truly am Sparta.

This is Survivor Jewelry's 100th Post and "We are Sparta." 
Because even when we stand alone, we stand for something bigger then ourselves.

"Ancient sparta theater" by Κούμαρης Νικόλαος. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons -

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Stress, anxiety, and loss of control play unfortunate parts in the struggle to survive. The emotional toll can be extreme while the the mental toll exhaustively debilitating. Compound these and the worry and damage will find ways to manifest itself physically.

People may put on weight through a binge or lose weight with a loss of appetite, suffer crushing panic attacks and uncontrollable crying, become paranoid or unrealistic, seek dangerous ways to cope through escaping into the misleading numb of drugs or alcohol, or turn to self-harm to try to regain a sense of control through injury. Thoughts and actions can plot elaborately suicidal or casually painful.

It affects the core of who you are and hurts. You can get lost in it. Fixate and become obsessive. The mind overthinks and the heart grows weary. It eats away at you.

Once lost in the maze of anxiety, it is hard to regain control. Often survivors grapple with the stress by creating these physical outlets as a way to re-channel the pain.

Watch for the signs hiding behind a survivor's smile. The truth is in their eyes, on their bodies, in the way they walk, or wear their clothes. Subtle cues on and around them that show the truth of the loss of control gnawing at them. (Some are not so subtle to the point of being far too painfully obvious.)

As a survivor, stop for a moment amid the madness and look for the signs within and around you. Try to regain control in a way which doesn't cause further damage by acknowledging and accepting what you can not control. But, forgive yourself the moments when it becomes too much.

Life is bigger and harder then it prepares us for. We have to find a way through it and the manifestations of its toll on us all.

(Note: Right now, this survivor's chewed up life is acute and obvious on my hands, if you bother to look close enough. When touching hurts, something is wrong. We all must fight to breathe brave, but it isn't always easy.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Unfinished Sentences

In writing, when an author chooses not to finish a sentence, but instead to continue with additional thoughts, a semi-colon is utilized. Literature's way of finishing a sentence with another sentence.

Quietly, a movement based on a similar ideal is taking root with survivors of depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Some of the survivors and their supporters are choosing to get a semi-colon tattoo to show support and remind themselves of their commitment to continue choosing life. (Maybe you have seen one and wondered about it origins.)

Project SemiColon is a survivor's story and foundation started in 2013 by Amy Bleuel which embraces much of the same philosophies and choices of Survivor Jewelry.

It is vital to every person facing trauma, crisis, and illness to embrace that their story is not yet complete. To understand we are each healing, surviving, enduring, and making the choice, despite our adversities, to survive.

We, at Survivor Jewelry, embrace all people and recommend any inspiration which helps others survive. Reach for help wherever you can find it and search until you find the right fit for you.

Remember, we all have a story to share and, with a belief in ourselves, we have yet to write the final chapter. Our stories are not over. Our voices will be heard. Create your own semi-colons and continue to breathe brave.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Little Red & Her Wolf

In the old fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the child in the story remains nameless, defined and identified solely by her red-hooded cloak. 

Survivors can relate to this as they often find themselves categorized by the illness, trauma, or crisis they are facing. Survivors' identities lost to and defined by what they are fighting to survive. (IE; cancer patient, drug addict, alcoholic, brain surgery candidate. et cetera)

In the same fairy tale, the villainous wolf is broken down and his identity exposed by Little Red's recognition of his suspicious parts.

"What a deep voice you have!" 
   "The better to greet you with."
"Goodness, what big eyes you have!"
   "The better to see you with." 
"And what big hands you have!" 
   "The better to hug you with."
"What big teeth you have." 
   "The better to eat you with!" 

Trauma, illness and crisis can manifest itself like the wolf.

"What a deep voice you have":
Coming to terms with your situation is like greeting something darker then you had expected. A voice deep inside you that resonates with ramifications throughout your life.

"What big eyes you have":
Realizing the truth of your situation, as you start to see the bigger picture and feel the weight of the scope of it, is enlightening and scary.

"What big hands you have":
Dealing with the chaos of your altered reality successfully is aided by the support of those around you and accepting belief in yourself. Circling the wagons and pulling people close can provide great comfort in times of turmoil.

"What big teeth you have":
Trauma, illness and crisis are like violent attacks. They affect every part of who you are. They tear with invisible teeth, leaving you exposed, hurt, and vulnerable. Trauma wounds on very deep levels.

Surviving can be like living in a nightmarish fairy tale, surreal and too real simultaneously, defined by its parts. But we can not forget an actual girl wears the red-hood and a villainous wolf lurks with great intent on harm.

We may have to wear the hood for a while, but who we are can remain whole beneath it. We may have to fight an obvious enemy disguised or hidden from view, but we can be honest about what we are facing and what it looks like to us. 

In truth, any happily ever-afters are elusive, and it is the journey we are on which makes our stories worth telling.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hand it to Kübler-Ross

In 1969 Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, wrote a book, On Death and Dying, inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. The Kübler-Ross Model broke down the emotional stages a person go through when dealing with facing a terminal diagnosis. The model was embraced by the public, survivors, and many types of therapists, but the medical viability of her model is still debated within circles of research.

The five stages she found were Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Not always experienced in order or in their entirety.

Over the years she expanded the model to include any and all forms of personal loss. Divorce, rejection, loss of a job, addiction, incarceration, infertility, diagnosis of disease, and the death of loved ones were added to the model. She also included minor losses who experience lesser subsections of the model.

Survivors are well aware of these emotional categories, only for them it is not a mere model or series of emotional possibilities. These stages become an integral part of their daily reality during times of crisis, trauma, and illness in ways which can not easily be dissected by research or categorized by theories.

The truth is the order changes constantly and the stages overlap with a tendency to contradict each other. Some of the stages are less frequent or severe, while others can be overwhelming and shockingly debilitating. They manage to repeat, pounding away at your strength and rationale.

Survivors do deny: It isn't happening, it isn't that bad, and it isn't over. Things will change beneficially.

Survivors are angry and rage: Hate, blame, I don't want this, and I don't deserve it.

Survivors will bargain: I will change this, I will do that, I will give this to get that, and make all kind of deals.

Survivors become depressed: I can't do this, it is too much, it hurts. Sadness, discouragement, and moments of complete hopelessness.

Survivors come to accept.

This one is tricky. Acceptance is the most complicated of the stages, for it has a variety of grey areas and different forms, dependent on what you are facing and how you choose to accept it.

Maybe you admit to having a problem or abandon attempts to fix something broken. Perhaps you resign yourself to the situation or the embrace the need to treat it to find a resolution. Or you just let go and move on, confronting the eventual outcome. Acceptance can involve peace and grief. It can be a relief or carry the weight of the reality of what is coming.

There is no wrong or right way to endure the stages. There are no directions to the model which will completely set the course of your situation. But, while it is important to allow yourself the chance to work through what you need to, it is equally as vital to not allow one stage to pull you off course.

Imagine the individual stages like the fingers on your hand, working in tandem or on their own, but still utterly a part of the hand. 

The stages are only part of your trauma, crisis, or illness. There is a bigger whole, affected by the pieces, but still you. Don't dwell or stagnate in a stage, but give yourself time with each stage, they are part of you.

Denial can give you the time to wrap your brain around something overwhelming. Rage is an outlet to vent, releasing fears and frustrations. Bargaining can show you what is important and what you can let go of. Depression is natural, it is impossible to always be positive and crying can help take the sad out of you. Acceptance can help move you forward in a way that makes the most of you and your individual needs.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Invisible Rainbows

Today, I got caught in a torrential downpour with my mother. A survivor herself, currently she is struggling bravely through rehabilitation to regain use of her arm and learn to walk again after a debilitating fall and surgery. 

Coming from dinner with friends, I slowly had to maneuver her and her wheelchair from the car into her convalescent center in the pouring rain. It was a slow process, which could not be rushed despite the buckets of Southern rain dumping on us. Beyond damp or a little wet, we both got biblically soaked.

Once inside, we were hit with a blast of air conditioning and both began to shake with chills. But as soon as we reached the nurses station in our drenched state, there was a flurry of concerned activity. 

People rushing from every direction to help. There were suddenly towels and quick assistance in getting my mother into dry clothes and a warm bed. I was offered more towels and a change of clothes, which I refused focusing instead of getting my mother settled in. I knew I would be home soon where I could shower and change.

Afterwards, when I was headed home alone still soaked, I saw a large and powerful rainbow arching over the clouds above our house. 

There are unique levels of concern and aid in times of crisis and trauma. But, there are also situations and reactions which can be very isolating. There is a thin line between the beauty of a rainbow and the devastation of a storm. These lines are often defined by the people involved and can be very hard on the survivors.

Instantaneous trauma can trigger a surge in assistance. In general, following an accident or injury, people will run to provide assistance or call for help. After a diagnosis of illness, family and friends will come together to offer help and provide support.  A person in immediate need, or directly after trauma, usually finds many types of support in abundance.

Long term trauma can have the opposite affect. People may empathize and have genuine regard for the situation, but it becomes hard to deal with crisis on a regular ongoing basis. People will step back or limit involvement, checking in during long intervals or politely inquiring about the current status. Worse, people can ignore a survivor's actual need, because it is now routine. For some people, there are only so many times they can help before it becomes too much to handle.

If the trauma is something which manifests itself physically, the reactions can be even more profound. People will look away, avoid eye contact, or actively make an effort to prevent personal contact. Worse, they can act like you are not even there.

It can be incredibly painful for a survivor still fighting to survive to find themselves suddenly so isolated. Often a survivor can feel almost invisible. Their struggles unrecognized and their calls for help unanswered. It's very scary and lonely to suffer unnoticed, to cry unheeded and truly hard to survive without assistance.

If we walk away or turn our backs on people in need, we miss the opportunity to provide genuine support for another and lose the chance to share with them the breathtaking moments of our humanity which so often occur in the darkest times of our lives. These moments are often the most profoundly powerful we can experience as human beings.

If we actively make the choice to avoid the storms devastating another person's life, we will forever miss sharing the beauty of rainbows which explode with grace down through breaking storm clouds.