I thought I did a good deed today

As I was driving to work today, I passed a man on the street holding a sign that read “I am very hungry. Bad. God Bless. Homeless.” or something to that effect. I try to keep change in my car for these occasions, but I didn’t have anything on me today. But I keep reading that sign: “I am very hungry. Bad.” And I wanted to do something. So I did the nicest thing I could think of. I rolled down my window and gave him my work snack. It was a bag of sweet potato chips. Delicious. I love them. But I can definitely live without them.

You could tell that he really appreciated the gesture. But he was really reluctant to take it. He said that the last time someone gave him food, he got really, really sick from it. How was he supposed to know that I wasn’t trying to poison him?

And I realized that it requires a lot of trust and faith to survive as a homeless person. You never know what the future holds, good or bad. In a sense, it’s you against the world, but in another sense, you rely on the generosity of others. Few trust you because of your status in the world, but your only way out is for someone to trust you even in a little, even just recognizing that you’re a human with needs.

So to the man on the road, I hope that my small bag of chips didn’t make you sick and actually brought you some nourishment. But if you threw it away or gave it someone else or to your dog, please know that I meant it for good. And that you touched my heart as well. I realized that even in what I share with others, I judge. And next time, instead of wondering what you’d use the money to buy, I’d be open to the possibility that you’re just as human as I am and are skeptical about the inherent goodness of the other people who inhabit this world.

Peace,
Abigail

CPBC: The Fault in Our Stars

Confession: I’m obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. After I watched the movie, I listened to the audiobook. And then I bought the book. Now I have the movie. And yeah, I didn’t just listen, buy, and possess. I may have entire portions of this story memorized. (Just nowhere near as obsessed as Hazel is with An Imperial Afflication. So I suppose it could be a lot worse.)

Anyways, I put together a treasury of #tfios interpretations in art form. I have a really hard time with visuals. (Explains why I found audiobooks such a resource.) But it’s cool to see how other people have interpreted this story.

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But there are definitely a few things that have really helped me. First, the idea that persons who are chronically ill can love and have as deep psychological needs as other “normal” people. Hazel has a long soliloquy about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how according to his hierarchy, people are struggling to survive cannot think about art or the meaning of life, etc. But it’s simply not true. In fact, it seems that the fight for life makes those things even more important.

Second, the priest comforts Gus’ friends and family at his funeral by saying that in heaven, Gus is made whole, a conclusion that Hazel scoffs at. At first, I wasn’t sure what Green was getting at. Isn’t part of the next life about being freed from the body of this humiliation??

I was already starting to get [frustrated] at the minister when he said, “In heaven, Augustus will finally be healed and whole,” implying that he had been less whole than other people due to his leglessness, and I kind of could not repress my sigh of disgust.”

And I think that she does have a point here. Somehow, being sick makes you a less valid human in the eyes of some and it’s simply not true. This matches the first point.

Thirdly, the way in which John Green has Hazel defend Monica and her inability to deal with Isaac’s illness is unique and inherently helpful, particularly in light of the first two points. Even though people should treat those with chronic or terminal illnesses like real human beings, a lot times they don’t simply because they can’t. While that may be a weakness or feel unfair, if we are to cut ourselves slack and realize that we can’t be and do everything that we want to, then we also owe it to the rest of mankind to allow them to be true to their own capacity. Because nothing is worse than people pretending like they can do or be something that they really can’t (or don’t.)

Fourthly, I like the way Green deals with “encouragements”. Hazel has a really hard time with a lot of the standard lexicon of words to encourage the sick, but when Gus reveals the extent of his illness, she winds up giving him the whole litany of them. Why? Because the human understanding is often inadequate of dealing with the harsh reality of illness & death.

“You get to battle cancer,” I said. “That is your battle. And you’ll keep fighting,” I told him. I hated it when people tried to build me up to prepare for battle, but I did it to him, anyway. “You’ll… you’ll… live your best life today. This is your war now.” I despised myself for the cheesy sentiment, but what else did I have?

Even with the intimate and personal experience of illness, it can be difficult to relate or to know what to say. I love that Green has Hazel rely on words from support group: “Living our best life today” because it shows that support group really did help her through the most difficult times even though she would be the last one to ever admit it. And in the end, this reinforces point #3. Facing illness is really hard, and sometimes we do want to run away even if we know we shouldn’t.

And lastly, grief and illness doesn’t really change who you are. I love the way in which Green deals with this throughout the book. He talks about Gus’ handsomeness and thoughtfulness, which his sisters admires. He describes Isaac’s desperate need for love and Gus’ craving for the status of hero. He shows van Houten’s miserable, selfish ways before and after his daughter’s fight with cancer.

I was insufferable long before we lost her. Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.

I love this concept because I think we make illness too much a focus of our existence or our life story. But really, as Gus points out, it’s important to focus on you and not your “cancer” story (or whatever). Because who you are is only made more manifest by trouble and trials. Not the other way around.

Abigail

P.S. Yes, I’m also reading This Light Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Earl, a book based on the writings of a young woman who inspired and encouraged John Green and to whom his book is dedicated.

Milestone

I should be sleeping but I suddenly had the motivation to clean my room. Seeing as how my room hasn’t been deep-cleaned since May at least and there’s still stuff I haven’t unpacked since I moved back almost 14 months ago, I figured I should just run with it.

So I spent the next two and a half hours cleaning and putting away clothes and throwing away junk that I have had since elementary school. I even cleaned out my “pharmacy”, which had meds filled in 2012!! I threw out food that I moved back with me but never unpacked.

Results:
– giant trash bag full of trash
– full trash can of plastic recycling
– full paper bag of paper recycling
– full paper bag of items for donating
– one dress for dry-cleaning
– full hamper of clothes to wash
– empty laundry basket of clean clothes
– mostly visible (but not so clean) floor
– noticeably less dust
– new memories for my project life album

Wow. I’m exhausted. (It’s surprising how much you can get done when you’re supposed to be heading one hundred papers!)

Cheers,
Abigail Cashelle

the tables have turned (in a good way)

Now that I’m on faculty at a university (can we just pause and reflect on how amazing that is??), I have a student in my class with a significant chronic illness. She came up to me with some paperwork from the Disability Office asking for some specific accommodations. Now accommodations are annoying to teachers, and I get why. You have some great plan and vision for your class, and all of a sudden some random person comes up to you and says, Sorry. Mandatory change of plans.

But I looked at her sheet and listened to what she had to say and realized that she wasn’t asking for a whole lot. In fact, she was asking for exactly what I asked the ravenous lion for on my very first encounter. She asked for a flexible attendance policy. Attendance is mandatory in my class. You can miss up to 3 classes penalty-free, and attendance counts as 10% of the grade. That’s bad news if you have an unpredictable chronic illness.

What made me really happy was that I was able to sit down with the student and talk through some of the logistics with her. I told her that I was more than happy to give her the full 10% as long as she realized that she was fully responsible for all the content in the class. If she missed a lot of classes, it would be a huge challenge to pass the class. (So it doesn’t really give her much of an advantage.)

But mostly we just talked about life with a chronic illness. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to know about her illness, anything that I could do to make things easier or intervene in the case of an emergency. I told her that I myself have a chronic illness and am familiar with how scary that can seem to other people. And that secret made her really happy.

She said that most people are freaked out when they find out that she’s not healthy and immediately want her to vanish. And so she spends a lot of time thinking about accidentally making other people feel uncomfortable and how she can avoid that. She was really happy to meet a teacher who felt comfortable talking to her about it and who was immediately on her side. She said that she felt so much safer in the class.

I’m so happy that she found me approachable and understanding. I’m still really nervous about my illness and my lack of a Ph.D. in the department and haven’t told anyone at this university about my illness besides her. I know exactly how she feels because I live in that exact same world. But I’m glad that I could make her feel a little more at home in school. And it gives me a comrade too. Someone else who knows that I’m also struggling some and that sometimes, things are not what they appear.

Abigail

the rest of that ER story

I realize that I left you hanging with that last post. I guess that’s what happens when you write blog posts at 4 am. Short Story: I’m fine. Long story:…

I haven’t been sleeping very well because I’ve been a lot of pain. (I guess so much for telling the doctors that I’d been in much less pain.) Anyhow, I woke up because I really couldn’t sleep, and I was in a really bad mood. I couldn’t decide if I was just hungry or actually in pain, so I tried eating some stuff which made things worse. In debating over whether or not to go to the ER, things got WAY worse. So I wrote a note to the family, put it on my bedroom door, and grabbed some stuff & Molly and headed to the ER. Fortunately, I’d done my research before and figured out which ER made the most sense for me. (There are three ERs that are basically the same distance from my house.) That was about 3:15 am.

The whole trip was kind of surreal. I was SO exhausted that I wasn’t thinking clearly most of the time, but I was feeling bad enough to know that I couldn’t leave. I spent at least two hours in the waiting room with a young couple and their 14 month old daughter. She was really cute, and we managed to lean on each other a little bit emotionally, so that was nice. Both the dad and I had a lot of abdominal pain but were trying to be really saintly about it. (Not sure how much we succeeded on that point.) So I was grateful for the company, and Molly made a new friend.

I would have to say that it was the one time in my life that I was jealous of someone with appendicitis and was heading to emergency surgery. It sounds bad, but I saw the dad in the hallway right when he was getting diagnosed (and then word travels around the ER pretty easily since there aren’t exactly real walls.) I felt bad for him and for what they were going through and was praying for them and everything. I was just jealous of the fact that his middle-of-the-night ER trip was totally justified, that he had an answer, and that he was given a solution. Unfortunately, I had none of those.

They were able to confirm that I do not have appendicitis nor an infection nor anything else life threatening. It wasn’t even immediately obvious if it justified an ER visit anyways. It could have been an entire waste of $700 and a whole bunch of “sleep”. But talking it over with Alana, I realized that there were some serious red flags. Like I measured my heartrate with my phone app and it was 136 beats/minute. (My resting heart rate is generally under 70 bpm.) I was so scared and so tense because of the pain that I was having a hard time breathing. So perhaps even if the ER doctor was confused why I went in, I think it’s a good thing that I got things checked out and that I got a few things ruled out right away. Otherwise, this girl who has to take care of herself all the time would have maxed out capacity-wise.

So yeah, I didn’t get back to my house until 9 am. And I taught two classes and tutored for an hour all after that.

I’m actually still up and down as far as pain is concerned. Dr. Leo has me on some formula that’s helped some when eating is just a nightmare. And I’ve been trying to rest a lot even when I’m not tired because I know my body is in mega temper tantrum mode still. I’ve been listening to this song (above) over and over again when I can’t fall asleep at night. I reminds me of great childhood memories, and it helps with the not freaking out & actually breathing. And I try to remember that my body tends to throw fits when it’s thrown new things. So I’m trying to take it all in stride.

Just another day in the life,
Abigail

All quiet on the western front…

I’ve been pretty quiet here mostly because things have been looking up. I’ve been feeling better (in general) and have been working a lot. Here are a few updates.
– I witness the marriage of aaron and his beautiful wife ealier this month. It was a surreal experience, not mwrely aeeing all my friends again and seeing aaron marry my housemate, but even more seeing the work of God in his life.
– our little community also had another wedding that same weekend, so I also got to be a part of that which was pretty awesome and gave me more time to spend with my friends.
– I started a new job this week. I’m actually a (part-time) faculty member at a local university, which is pretty awesome! Now if lectures could just prepare themselves and I could figure out how to mute the ravenous lion in my head, we’d be headed to even greater success.
– I got to visit both Dr. Leo and Dr. Samuel this month. Both of those visits were extremely encouraging. We reflected over how much has changed in the past three years and they both remarked that they were so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in the past year: trying new activities, getting a job in my field, and beginning the path of healing with my family. They also see me as so much more self-confident and mature. That was extremely encouraging because it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re to busy living ordinary life!
– my pharmacist (who is also awesome) is really excited that I’m a professor now. He said that seems like just the perfect fit for me (which is cool). Last time I saw him, he said, “go get ‘em tiger.”

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Just another day in the life

The downside to ask this awesomeness is that I’m writing this while sitting in the ER waiting room with massive abdominal pain hoping that someone will have the answer. Oh the life of us chronic illness citizens.

Abigail

Join Me in Making This Wish Come True

As I’ve told Tabitha many times over, one advantage of being stuck in bed all the time is that you have a profound amount of time that you can devote to being the bestest friend ever. How? You’re the only person who has an infinite amount of time to talk on the phone, to rehash every detail of the a scenario, and who isn’t really bothered that it’s dinnertime or 3 am.

This girl thrives on social interaction, and you have to be rather creative if you want to maximize your social interaction when you’re holed up in bed. One of the things that I’ve started doing is writing letters to people who need a little extra cheering up. I sent a few “get well” cards to Jeff Bauman last year, and I’ve written a few letters to troops stationed abroad. I saw this sweet little face and decided that I can write “Happy Birthday Danny” just as well as the next person.

It’s not very often that you have the opportunity in making someone’s wish come true. Won’t you join me in wishing this little boy Happy Birthday??

Abigail