We are nearly three years into the Covid-19 pandemic. I would think that I would have a lot to say about this in my blog. When I was undergoing breast cancer treatment 10 years ago, I had a huge need to write. I wrote every day. I also remember that when I found out about my breast cancer diagnosis, I felt compelled to tell a lot of people right away, friends, family, acquaintances, and people I didn’t even know. It was almost like having a horrible secret would have made me even more vulnerable. Although I am a clinical psychologist, I am not a trauma expert. But I know a little about a trauma treatment, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, part of which involves telling about the incident in detail, describing it, and processing it. The goal is to prevent PTSD. I think I was doing that naturally and it was also encouraged by my psychologist at the time who noted that people who do not integrate potentially traumatic events into their lives are more likely to experience more traumatic stress.

I see having had breast cancer as part of my life, as well as the heart attacks I experienced 5 years ago due to SCAD. Both diseases came at a total surprise. I didn’t have any known risk factors. I was a middle-aged woman with a lot of personal and professional responsibilities. I was of the “gets shit done” generation. But through a whole lot of work, support, and access to excellent healthcare, I made it through. I used my own special brand of flailing grace, radical acceptance, and learning the same life lessons over and over. Mortality was a constant possibility but not a constant worry.

The Trump administration and the pandemic changed that. I knew Trump was going to be bad. I spent the entire summer and early fall of 2016 distracting from the horror of his potential administration with canning. I canned every beautiful Washington State produce with seeds. After I’d canned all of the stone fruits, I moved onto figs and tomatoes. I canned apple jam in the fall. When I ran out of fruit, I made pickled onions. It was a productive distraction. I canned hundreds of quart, pint, and half-pint jars, wide and regular mouth. We ate a lot of it, salsas, chutneys, and jams. Did you know that you can make great frozen yogurt with two ingredients? Yes, mix 1 quart of yogurt with 1 pint of Trump stress jam. I gave away so much for Christmas, as host gifts, as “Hey, take this off of my hands” gifts. A couple of years ago, things oxidized and did not look good. They were not gift worthy and would not make tasty looking frozen desserts unless, of course, you are a fan of vaguely brown frozen yogurt. All of those jars languished in my home office, which was also full of pottery, Costco sized containers of paper towels and toilet paper, craft supplies, and yes, file cabinets and file boxes of patient files. Getting through my office has been a major slog. I mostly stay out of there. I didn’t want to deal with it. It has been completely overwhelming, unpleasant, embarrassing, and so not me to have a room that is a disaster area.

The pandemic has worn us down in different ways. Between the pandemic, climate change, and the rise of authoritarianism and white supremacy, I find that I am slogging through a lot of the time. Yes, I do have times of joy. I have much to for which to be grateful and I feel that gratitude. But I am also doing it with an eyelid wider open to the human capacity for evil as well as for incompetence in dealing with a pandemic and other existential threats. And I don’t just mean in the U.S. As a world, we have done a pretty bad job with the pandemic. I know that a lot of people have had their eyes wide open their own lives. I am learning things they already knew.

I used to believe that people were inherently good and I still believe that all life has value and is worthy of respect. I do not believe that people are inherently evil, either. I believe that we are an incredible species of great capacity for a great number of things, including amazing good, horrendous bad, and simple mediocrity.

How do I apply these lessons during the pandemic? Sadly, I find myself relatively isolated and finding my trust in formerly trusted people and situations, tested. I have experienced two of the top killers of women, cancer and heart disease. Covid-19 is still in the top three. The public health messaging has been confusing, at best, in terms of protecting myself and others. I understand that there is no way to reduce risk to zero but I also know that using high quality masks in public indoor settings, filtration, ventilation, vaccination (with regular boosters), and testing reduce risk substantially. We’ve lost over 1 million people in the U.S. alone. People are still dying and there are untold number of people of all ages who are experiencing or will experience chronic disease. We don’t know what will happen to those people. Time will tell.

But even with all of this uncertainty, people are tired. And if they follow the main public health guidance, they could be living a pretty high risk lifestyle. I have a Ph.D. I am pretty good at figuring out who knows what they are talking about and to check what they say with primary source research. I can catch big errors. People who don’t talk like real researchers putting public health at a priority. I am not an expert in public health, covid-19, infectious diseases, etc. But what I can tell you is that we are not getting the straight scoop. I understand the pressures, you know, “Hey, if we lose this election, democracy may fall”, but I would at least expect our CDC to be better. It is really disappointing.

I am also disappointed that winter holidays are getting harder and harder. About one-third to half of my family has significant risk factors for bad covid outcomes, whether they know it or not. There are also a fair number of teachers in our family. They have high risk of covid exposure. Some of them mask at school and some don’t. Unmasked indoor visiting with our 88-year-old mother is not a good idea. It’s not a good idea for me, either. My mom has a large covered outdoor deck. People are getting tired of meeting there for winter holidays. Almost no one else is taking those precautions. Other people are eating inside of restaurants, too. I don’t do that. Other people have people over to their homes, unmasked on a regular basis. I don’t do that. I get it. It’s hard for me, too. It is also hard to bring up this subject with people, even nice and reasonable people. People don’t want to think they are doing something wrong. Sometimes my just wearing a mask while they aren’t can trigger a little shame spiral. Especially if I provide explanation. (I recently read a meta-analysis that showed a 95% increased risk of a cardiac event in the year following getting Covid. I don’t even bother telling people.) Or it doesn’t trigger anything because the government messaging of “to each their own” has become the new normal.

One of my siblings suggested that in the future, any one “at risk” attends holidays via Zoom. I know that a lot of people feel that way or don’t realize that by not engaging in masking while in public indoors, they are leaving a lot of vulnerable people out of a “back to normal” way of living. These are people with no sick leave (every self employed person the U.S., part-time workers, gig workers, etc), access to healthcare, and or people who live with vulnerable family members.

The pandemic started in 2019. It is 2023. I did my canning in 2019. Several months ago, I started picking up the pace on scanning and shredding my patient files. (A typical file is about 250 pages and I see about 80-100 patients a year.) I had over 100 pieces of ceramics and I gifted or sold almost all of it over the holidays. (Yay, I can make more pottery!) Yesterday, I started opening jar after jar of my leftover canned goods. I saved what I could. (I am dehydrating jam to dissolve into savory dishes where the oxidized color will not be gross). They are all washed and over half have been given away. I can actually walk in my office again though there is still much to be done. I have made sure that I have a week off every couple of months from my job. (Working in mental health has been particularly stressful during the pandemic and thanks to my experience with SCAD, I know that stress can literally kill me). John and I just booked a camper van in Anchorage so that we can explore Alaska for three weeks this summer.

I am back on the road to flailing with grace, complete with a mask, like Zorro, except that I know to wear the damn thing over my mouth and nose.

Peace friends. I will leave you with something I made that was not a mess, one of the trays I made, complete with toffee, right before Christmas. I may be a semi-hermit but I can make things and that gives me joy.

-Elizabeth

John: “Isn’t tomorrow the 10 year anniversary of your cancer diagnosis?”
Me: “I think so but maybe it’s on Thursday. I’ll check my blog.”

“It’s today!”

So basically, I’ve spent nearly the whole day not knowing that I was first told that I had breast cancer 10 years, 9 hours, and 18 minutes ago. I’ve had no evidence of disease since my right side mastectomy in September 2012.

Since that time, I’ve written 911 posts, including this one. In other words, Mom, this is the 911th blog post you’ve read. (You are the best.)

Lots has happened in the last 10 years. I would give you a list but guess what? I wrote about it in the last 910 blog posts!

Peace and Happy Reading!

Elizabeth

As you may know, I love to create things, especially with ceramics. When I do ceramics, I am engaged deeply in it. Everything from daily hassles to world events are quieted for 2-3 hours, while I work. It is my most consistent meditative practice. In March 2020, the studio I’d been working at for 5+ years was closed for the pandemic and did not re-open. I signed up for another studio, which had a wait list.

So I waited. Meanwhile, I shut down 75% of my business for two months to figure out how to do my work while minimizing Covid-19 risk. I worried about all of those Covid things. Remember how much we worried about before access to vaccinations? (There are people in the world who are still waiting, 2+ years later for access to vaccination, but that is a subject in need of its own separate consideration.) I am still worried about most of those things, but less so. Also, TRUMP WAS PRESIDENT!!! AND HE LOST RE-ELECTION! BUT HE WOULDN’T CONCEDE! AND A GROUP OF PEOPLE TOOK OVER CONGRESS WHILE CONGRESS WAS COUNTING CERTIFYING THE VOTE!!! (Thank goodness, I could do my yoga classes via Zoom and check in with my yoga buddies.)

I waited for a year and then a space opened up in the studio. Yippee! I had a tentative return to clay. I had to remember what I’d been doing and to learn new things. I gained confidence over the spring and summer of 2021. One of the things I did was to make rain chains, which are easy and repetitive, and got me back into the groove.

In the fall, we studio members were given the opportunity to participate in the holiday sale. The requirement to participate was a minimum of 25 pieces. We were asked to commit a few months in advance of the sale. I counted the number of sell-able pieces I had. It did not take long. In fact my counting was over before I started. I had ZERO pieces. The piece in the photo above, hadn’t even been finished yet. My older pottery was either in use, given away, or not nice enough to use or give away.

I thought about how hard the first winter of Covid was. This would be a good challenge and distraction from the increasing shortness of days and dwindling hiking opportunities. I agreed to participate and I got really busy.

Pottery takes a long time to make and a substantial number of my pieces cracked, warped, or had glazing problems. I decided to combine an old hobby (beaded jewelry) with my ceramics and to make jewelry. I figured out some designs for pendants and miraculously, they had a really high success rate, getting through all of the clay steps and looking pretty. I made some pieces, like the one below, with clay scraps and others I cut with cookie cutters.

Along with some other things I was making, over time, I got to 25 pieces. But I was having so much fun that I didn’t stop. If you’ve ever strung beads on thin wire, you’ll know how much time I spent hunched over a table doing this. My neck was hurting but I kept going. I WAS INSPIRED!!! I even started an Instagram page with the name, “Beginners.mind.creative”, because I practice mindfulness and everything. In the end, I dropped off 50 pieces to the sale at the end of November. My neck hurt a lot. Then it went away. The sale happened and it was really fun.

A little time passed and I noticed that I’d had pain in my left tricep when I reached to the back seat of the car or when I reached for laundry in the dryer. It didn’t go away with yoga, though the yoga helped a little. After a few months, I started getting therapeutic massage. The massage therapist said, “I know you said that your arm hurts, but there are problems with your neck.”

Uh oh. I messed up my arm by messing up my neck because I did not pay attention to my pain while I was doing ceramics, my “mindfulness practice”.

Did I mention that I got out of the habit of yoga because I was using yoga time to do ceramics?

Two weeks ago, I got on my mat. I went to the “child’s pose”. I couldn’t do it. My arm hurt a lot. I could have said to myself, “You’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and you can’t even do, child’s pose, a rest pose!”Instead, I thought, “Oh wow, I found the perfect stretch!” I adjusted my arm position to one that provided a stretch but was not painful. I started on my hands and knees. I eased my way back to the pose, being mindful of my breathing and the physical sensations in my arm. I noticed that as the arm pain eased, it moved up to my shoulder, and as my shoulder softened, the pain went to my neck. Then my neck muscles eased. I did this about 3 times a day for the first week. By the 5th day, I could do child’s pose and stay there, counting my breath, for 10 minutes.

By not resting, it was harder to rest, painful even. It seems that I have learned this lesson before, many times in my life. It’s literally true. It’s not even a metaphor. Ask anyone with a sleep disorder if their crummy sleep one night helps them sleep better.

Part of mindfulness is noticing when my attention and focus have strayed. It is noticing when there is a lack of balance and getting back to the breath. Mindfulness is starting again, like a child, noticing and engaging with a new mind.

Peace friends,

Elizabeth

P.S. Accidental Amazon, I promise to go to P.T. if my pain does not continue to improve. Scouts honor.

I’m now making wall-hangings but I am taking time to stretch and working at a table with much better ergonomics. I am also making them one-at-at time with much time in-between. I HAVE LEARNED MY LESSON!

We did it! Last July, John and I took an amazing, long-awaited 2 1/2 week-long camping trip in Iceland to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary though we had to postpone the trip a year. (We took our 25th anniversary trip on our 27th anniversary. We seem to be getting into a pattern of delayed trips.) The delay, however, did give me time to do a lot of planning. I knew that we would not have a lot of room for food storage when camping and further, from what I read, we would not have a cooler large enough for ice. I also read that it was hard to get food in remote areas of Iceland. Iceland allows people to bring up to 3 kg of food into the country. So I did a lot of food dehydration and purchasing of powdered/shelf stable food. Behold, this is the 6 kg of food that John and I split between our luggage.

Dehydrated and powdered stuff including marinara “leather”, pulverized homemade hummus, and more. I also brought olive oil and balsamic vinegar so I wouldn’t have to buy a large amount in Iceland, which we wouldn’t be able to use up. We ended up eating about 2/3 of this food on the trip.


Departure and Arrival to Reykjavik.

We began our journey on July 10th with a 7 1/2 hour long overnight flight to Reykjavik. Visiting airports and being on a plane during the Covid-19 pandemic was stressful, even with both John and I vaccinated and wearing good masks. If I’d known how stressful it was going to be, I may not have gone. Given that all went well, it is probably better that I did not know. Although we did not get a view of Greenland from the plane (too cloudy), we’d been thrilled with a sight of the North Cascades and Baker Lake near the beginning of the trip, as we flew over our own state, Washington.

The North Cascades through the plane window. Oooooooh!



We arrived in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland at about 6 am on July 11th. We picked up a rental car and drove into the city. Iceland’s total population is only about 350,000 so their big city is not so big. It is beautiful, however, with excellent restaurants and shops. When we arrived, their Covid rates were extremely low (zero) and they have a high vaccination rate. After walking around the city for several hours, we decided to eat at a restaurant, something we haven’t done in the U.S. since our 29th wedding anniversary in March 2020. Reykjavik is a great city for people like me, who have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten. Lots of restaurants label things, yay! We had an excellent brunch with beautiful, interesting, and tasty food, served on hand thrown plates! Here is one of my courses.

Look at the glaze on that plate! All of the plates at Kol restaurant were different and hand thrown. Oh yeah, the food was good, too!

Scenes from Reykjavik. The blurry sculpture in the top left is Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, Magnús Tóma, 1994. There’s rye bread ice cream in John’s cup. He got it from Lokki Restaurant. John claims that it was good. The glass building is the beautiful concert hall, Harpa. The other photos are various scenes of the city, including an image of Bjork!

West Iceland

On the 12th, we started our camping adventure! We spent the day picking up a camper van we’d rented, learning how to use the wireless hotspot (it worked amazingly well all over the country), loading our luggage, and shopping for groceries. From the Bonus Grocery parking lot, we headed to West Iceland, ending up at the campground in Hellissandur, on the NW tip of the Snæfellsnes Penisula, which John and I quickly named, “Snuffleupagus Penisula” because Icelandic is hard and we grew up with Sesame Street. I used my dehydrated, powdered green curry paste, powdered fish sauce, dehydrated coconut milk and some of the groceries to make a tasty dinner of green curry chicken.

We encountered public art all over Iceland, even in a small fishing village like Hellisandur. Hellisandur is further known as the “Capital of Street Art” with over 30 murals. This sculpture overlooks the harbor. I am pretty sure that saw a fin of a pilot whale out there. Exciting!After spending our first night in the camper van during an Iceland summer (24 hours of daylight), we found that we did not need sleeping masks. We soon got used to sleeping with a little light peeking through the window curtains. We got up and had a breakfast of fruit, coffee, and skyr (Icelandic style yogurt, which is much like Greek yogurt except that in addition to being strained, it also includes vegetable rennet and is traditionally made with nonfat milk.) We checked our GPS and hit the road!

The beginning of our trip was one of the rainier parts of the trip. The rain in Iceland wasn’t heavy but with the wind, which is often blowing and at times, extremely hard, it soaks right through you. I learned after our first short walk of a little over a mile, that rain pants are to be worn at nearly all times. Even when it is not raining, wearing rain pants over my hiking pants was a good wind breaker. We also learned to check the wind forecast in addition to the rain forecast whenever checking the weather report. The high most days there was about 13 degrees Celsius, which is not that warm for summer. We do a lot of hiking in local alpine areas in Washington so we had lots of layers, which we packed. I never had to wear my long underwear but on many days, I wore my t-shirt, a light hoodie, a lightweight puffy coat, a raincoat, a wool hat, gloves, rain pants, hiking pants, wool socks, and waterproof hiking boots.

I learned the rain pants lesson on day 3 of the trip, driving around the Snæfellsnes Penisula. We stopped for a short hike to Djúpalónssandur Beach in Snæfellsjökull National Park. During the short hike back, it was raining sideways and little water needles of rain soaked my hiking pants in minutes. I took a couple of photos, because Iceland (!), and we hightailed it back to the camper van to change pants and put on a rain pants layer.

We continued along the highway to the much-photographed Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss (foss=waterfall). Apparently, this mountain figured prominently in seasons 6 and 7 of Game of Thrones. I’ll have to trust Wikipedia on that one. I’ve never watched the show. The rain and wind were still kicking up a storm so we stopped in the small parking lot for the site and waited for the weather to change, which it did, several times until it stopped raining. The wind still seems near gale force but we ventured out, cameras in hand. As the clouds were rolling by with impressive speed, I managed to capture the mountain, the waterfall, and a rainbow. Yay!

I hope you enjoy the photos! Next stop, the beautiful and remote Westfjords!

Kirkjufell Mountain, Kirjufellfoss, and rainbow!

Nancy Stordahl of Nancy’s Point has once again invited me to her summer blog hop. This year I am actually doing it! Here are Nancy’s questions and my answers:

1. Who are you? Tell us your genre, how long you’ve been at it, who or what inspires you or whatever you want us to know.

I am Elizabeth MacKenzie, a psychologist, wife, and mother who loves to make things, hike, take photos, and live live as authentically as I can. I started my blog in 2012, the day I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. The blog started as a way to let my family know what I was doing and morphed into musings about life, death ( also had 2 heart attacks in 2017, due to a rare cause of heart disease), mindfulness, art, and travel.

2. What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it? (If you didn’t, that’s okay too. We’re here to support you.)

My biggest roadblock this year is that I just didn’t feel very motivated to write even in “these unprecedented times”! Basically, I wanted to want to write. Usually, ideas come to me when I am outside walking, something I do almost daily. During the Trump administration and throughout the pandemic, things have been different. It also occurs to me that another time ideas come to me is when I am working on ceramics and I was unable to do that for over a year due to our studio closure. I’ve just found a new studio for my husband and I to do work at and we’ve been members since about June. Stay tuned.

3. What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of?
I may not have written much, but I’m still blogging after all of these years!

4. What are a couple of your best blogging tips?

I recommend that you write your blog to suit your goals. This is a personal blog and I am grateful that some enjoy reading my thoughts, learning about my life, and looking at my photos. I’m not a professional memoirist or social media writer. Consequently, I don’t edit my entries and frankly, I don’t even outline then. I typically start with an idea and see where it takes me. This means that entries have typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. People keep reading so I figure that they are tolerable. Blasphemous, I know.

5. How do you handle negative feedback or comments?

An advantage of my relative obscurity is that I don’t get negative feedback about my blog. One exception was when someone said something negative about my then teen-aged daughter. I deleted the comment and didn’t let it show on my blog. It was very upsetting.

6. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written RECENTLY (since last year’s challenge perhaps) that you want more people to read.

I wrote a post about grief exactly a year ago. It was the kind of post that I thought I might write more of during the pandemic. These are truly historic times for many reasons and we are all working our way through it. Here is the link.

I owe it to myself to write up a separate travel post on our epic trip to Iceland in July! I hope to do that this week. I have some days off and was planning to go through my photos again. In the meantime, here is a photo of an Arctic puffin, who I met on the Látrabjarg Cliffs in the Westfjords region of Iceland.

https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=303344

Just now, I visited my blog. I was shocked to learn that it has been nearly five months since I wrote my last post. How long ago was that? It was, my friends, during the Trump administration. That period seems both very long and not long enough ago. I suspect that the Trump administration will always seem like not long enough ago.

It was also before my second covid vaccination. It was also before both of my mother’s covid vaccinations. On Easter, my mom will get her first hug in over a year from me, her fully vaccinated daughter. Today, she made her first trip in over a year, to the grocery store.

Tomorrow, I am getting my hair cut for the first time since August and before then, the most recent time was January 2020. In other words, I am getting my hair cut for the third time since the beginning of 2020.

Last week, I did a school observation for work, my first in over a year. I saw kindergarten students doing a good job masking, seated six feet apart, in the gym of their Catholic school. They played at recess, still masked, but like normal happy children. It was beautiful. Our public schools have been out for over a year. It is hard to trust the scientific advances since the beginning of the pandemic. I get it. But I see families on the edge of desperation in my psychology practice. I know that there are untold numbers of families who lack emotional, logistical, and economic resources to see me. I worry about those families a lot. Some of their members have died over the pandemic in quantities that exceed the numbers that we typically grieve and hold dear. Our children will have the opportunity to return to school if not already offered, next month, due to our governor’s emergency action. We will need to continue to be careful but it is good for kids to return to school and there are ways to balance the risks and benefits. There is never zero risk but that is a topic for another post.

At my work, I have been doing a combination of telehealth and in-person visits, the latter for testing procedures that cannot be done via telehealth. In my office, I take a lot of precautions, masking, handwashing, distancing, a true HEPA filter, and the door open to my outside balcony. I have a carbon dioxide filter and make sure that it shows lower than 600 ppm. I only schedule people when I know I will be the only one working at my office. Work is busy and currently, my earliest appointments are in late August. I continue to schedule according to my pandemic protocol, a combination of Zoom appointments in-person appointments. With the current rate of vaccination in my country, I may not have to do this once August comes. But I continue because the future in uncertain.

I have been in a holding pattern of pandemic life and I will continue to do so, to a certain extent, until its end. Many will suffer between now and then and for many suffering will continue. Suffering and loss are like that. This pandemic has been horrible and I have been among the ones least impacted.

For now, I will appreciate the fact that the northern hemisphere is still here after the winter of 2020/21, a winter that began with the Trump administration and ushered in the Biden administration.

Things are changing and in some important ways.

Be well, friends. Happy Easter.

-Elizabeth

Pulsatilla Vulgaris. European Pasque Flower.

A summer or two after my breast cancer diagnosis, we hosted a party for John’s work group. They had just finished up a big project and it was time to celebrate. His manager at the time, Hugh, arrived to the house with a bottle of nice red wine. It was not a typical hostess gift. He handed it to me and explained, “I was diagnosed with Hodkin’s Lymphoma many years ago. It took about 10 years until I didn’t think about it every day.” I am not explaining the context well, but it was a gracious gift of wine and comfort. I had been thinking of my breast cancer daily and it was reassuring to know that some day I would not.

It’s been about 8 1/2 years since I was diagnosed with and subsequently treated for breast cancer. I do think of it often, perhaps not daily. I’m not really sure how often I think about it and the thoughts I have, by and large, are not distressing. They are just there. The hearts attacks I had caused by SCAD occurred nearly 4 years ago. I don’t remember the last time I thought about having a rare heart condition every day. Oh wait, I remember, it was at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. I didn’t know whether SCAD put me in the medically vulnerable group. I was trying to make decisions about how I would run my psychology practice without putting myself, my family, or my patients at risk, while keeping my business afloat.

During the pandemic, there are few breaks in thinking about COVID-19. The hygiene and masking practices require a daily memory dance. My schedule is not the same every day. On most days, I work from home. When I go into the office to see a patient in-person (I do psychological testing and some parts of that must be done in-person), I wear different masks, a KN-95 with a friendlier cloth mask over it. When I get to my office, I go through my cleaning of high touch surfaces, turn on the HEPA filters, turn on my supplemental heater, and crack open the door to my outdoor balcony, to increase the airflow.

When I go to the grocery store, which I try to limit in frequency and length of time in there, I wear a cloth mask with a filter in the pocket. I check the My Covid Risk app from Brown Medical School about once per week to gauge the risk of my patient contact or trips to the store, both of which require being indoors with people outside of my household. So far, I am able to keep my activities in the “low risk” zone with the current rate of community spread. Nonetheless, based on the increase in cases over the fall, I decided to add a filter to my “running my errands” mask. When I go for walks, I make sure I bring a clean mask. My neighborhood is not crowded or busy but sometimes I need to put it on.

Disease and fear of disease can be a daily companion. On top of this, as I wrote in my last post, there is the daily companion of “What is Trump doing today? What will he do? We he do all of the things he is talking about doing?” Thankfully, he lost the election. However, there is a daily horror show put on by a minority of the government, which has a lot of power, to overturn the election. What. The. Hell.

Between my personal history of serious diseases, the pandemic, and the daily attempts to overturn democracy, it would be like having a life full of demonic house guests who will never leave. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I embrace my demons but I will tell you that they are not the only companions that I keep.

Every day there are thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds, tastes, interactions, and so much more to notice. Hundreds, thousands of things. All of them are real. I recently read Michael J. Fox’s latest autobiography, No Time Like the Future. I appreciate his writings and he is typically optimistic. Michael has faced some serious health challenges on top of Parkinson’s Disease. He took a long look at his mortality as well as his increasing dependence on others to get through basic aspects of daily life. A thought that has provided great comfort to him is “With gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

Gratitude is the intentional act of noticing the positives, not just the big ones, but the little things, the daily companions. They are also the company I keep.

Be well, friends.

-Elizabeth



High Rock Lookout, September 2020. It was scary at the top, all huge boulders instead of trail. But I made it!

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who developed a stage-model of grieving, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The original model was developed in the 1960’s and over time, she refined it, noting that not everyone goes through the stages and that further, the stages are not in sequence, and finally, a person can be in a stage more than once during a grief process. A wisdom that comes with life experience is that grief can at times, span over decades.

Much has been written about grief in the breast cancer community, for example, whether cancer is a “gift”, whether one can “move on” from grief, whether cancer can be a “battle”, and whether cancer is simply, 100% bad, pitch dark without the tiniest sliver of light. I propose that the experience of having cancer can be all of these things, not to all people, but sometimes, even to the same person, at different times. One problem occurs when someone tries to define grief for another. Another problem is when the grief state interferes with important treatment decisions, for example, people who believe that they do not need cancer treatment other than positive thinking or dietary changes. Maybe they are incapacitated by fear and depression and don’t take any action at all. Humans are social animals. We depend on each other emotionally and instrumentally. We don’t want a loved one to die through unclear thinking even if the grief, the denial, the anger, the depression, are understandable.

2020 has left a great many in the world in grief about the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the disease involves loss as does trying to prevent the disease. We’ve lost people, jobs, contact with friends and family, and the freedom to travel. In the U.S., we have a president with questionable legitimacy, unquestionable incompetence in leadership in respect to the pandemic, clear hatred for oppressed groups, who has made repeated statements that he may not leave office, if defeated by former Vice-President Biden in the next presidential election, which occurs in less than two months.

The pandemic has impacted the safety of voting in-person. For those of you outside of the U.S., states have different laws about how voting happens. In my state, for example, voting is done by sending ballots to the county election office through the mail or through secure ballot boxes. Other states allow in-person, by mail, or early voting options. Some states allow ballots to be mailed but not put in ballot boxes. The president is trying to undermine the safety of the U.S. Postal Service by trying to 1) get rid of it (it is part of Constitution so hard to pull off), 2) make it dysfunctional, 3) telling everyone that mail-in voting is fraudulent, though that’s the way he and his family vote, and 4) telling people to vote by mail and also in-person, which actually is a felony a) to tell people to do that and b) to attempt to vote twice.

Meanwhile, and not unrelated, between late May and the end of August, there have been nearly 8,000 demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter movement in this country, not counting ones that have been held in other nations. Although by last credible estimates, 93% of these protests have been non-violent, the president and his supporters have painted a picture of mayhem in Democratic-majority cities, including my own, Seattle, WA. And oh yeah, the climate crisis did not stop during this time. There have been wildfires, severe weather crises, all the while, especially during the summer.

We are all grieving, too. This election has potentially dire consequences and not everyone agrees as to what candidate’s election would create those dire consequences. We are united as a nation, however, that our way of life will be lost, if our desired candidate loses.

Up is down. Down is up. The U.S. is a shit show and this shit has stages, too. “My shit doesn’t stink” is denial. “Shit storm” is anger. “My life is shit” is depression. “Shit got real” is acceptance.

After Dr. Kubler-Ross died, David Kessler, also a grief expert, colleague and friend, released the book they had co-authored together, On Grief and Grieving. In 2019, he published a book on the 6th stage of grief, meaning.

Meaning is made. Meaning is constructed and re-constructive. Meaning is “the shit”. Speaking for myself, my life, even now, has something beyond the the sadness, the fear, the pain, the anger, and the suffering. My life has the meaning of now, it has the meaning of my breath, and it has the meaning of my determination. It has action. I heard the singer and actor Janelle Monae interviewed recently. She was asked if she had hope. “I have action. Action is my love language.”

May action be your love language as well as mine.

About ten years ago, a friend went through successful treatment for a cancerous tumor on his tongue. He was not yet 40 and the treatment was horrendous. In addition to radiation treatment, part of his tongue was removed and reconstructed from his other tissue. One of the short-term side effects of treatment was that he lost his sense of taste. He also had to eat a liquid diet so his food also lacked texture. The preparation of all of his meals ended with a trip to the blender.

He has recounted to me at least a few times, the day he experienced, “the most flavorful” meal he had experienced for a long time, as his sense of taste began to return. It was a salmon meal I had made and brought to him, his wife, and his then young son. And yes, it had been prepared in a blender.

A salmon smoothie sounds like a really bad idea. It sounds like it would taste terrible. But as was regaining a lost sense, he noticed what he had gained rather than the fact that it did not taste like salmon he’d enjoyed before cancer.

Eight years ago, when I went through cancer treatment, so much changed in so little time. One of the changes is that I spent the summer, a glorious Seattle summer, in and out of surgery. There was no hiking or camping that summer. However, the following summer was an absolute delight. I hiked. I camped. I’d enjoyed it before, very much so, but I felt a keen sense of joy after the previous summer. The experience was dialed up in intensity.

And now, along with the rest of the world, I find life having changed all at once. We have all lost something in this pandemic. It has been challenging for us all. For some of us, it is harrowing. Fortunately, I am healthy and I am not forced to work in dangerous situations. My family and friends are healthy. I am not so worried about potential death. Yes, it could happen, but it is likely that I will be alive when the COVID-19 pandemic is ended by effective treatment and a vaccine.

I am allowing myself to wonder about what it will be like to savor the experiences that I will again have, to venture about the world more freely. I think about the first time I will be able to give my mom a hug again.

The waiting is hard but the waiting is necessary.

Be well,

Elizabeth

And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.
-Navin (played by Steve Martin),  The Jerk.

So much has changed for all of us in an astonishingly short amount of time. In the U.S., we’ve watched a wave flow across the globe. A trickle of newspaper stories turned into a deluge. A suburb north of my city, Seattle, Washington, a nursing home, was hit first. My brother teaches at a high school, down the street from the nursing home. Late last month, we decided that he should not visit our mother, who is 85-years-old. Another brother, who is married to a flight attendant, decided the same. I stopped visiting in person, as well. Mom is in good health and we want to keep it that way.

You have no doubt seen the buying frenzy of paper goods and disinfecting products. My husband, who typically does minimal grocery shopping, brought home survival food, on two separate occasions, less than one week apart. I learned that Spam, something I have maybe eaten once or twice in my life, is an essential tool for survival. I asked John to stop going to the grocery store. We argued about it for a bit and then it dawned on both of us that it might be more effective to actually look at what we had. By the time we’d reviewed our pantry, refrigerator, freezer, my homemade dehydrated backpacking/hiking meals, the food that he’d bought, and our stash of non-perishable food for emergencies (we live in earthquake territory), he estimated that we had enough food for approximately 72 days, not counting the approximately 30 pints of homemade preserves I have on my canning shelves. An overly sweet existence, but we would eat for another couple of weeks, without buying another single bit of food.

To be fair, I’d also been stocking up on items, just different ones. I had an irrational fear of running out of fresh vegetables and fruit. I still keep a good eye on my canned tomato, chicken broth, and dried bean supply. I have been making and dehydrating chili and soups. I hope that I will be using it for backpacking and camping, which is why I started using a dehydrator in the first place.  I had a rational fear of not having enough cleaning supplies for my psychology office, where up until a few days ago, I saw patients. Every morning, I had been disinfecting all “high touch” surfaces, light switches, thermostat knobs, door knobs, table tops, desk tops, pencils, pens, the control buttons on my office equipment, my cell phone, my cell phone charging stand, and all surfaces of my laptop computer.

I worry about my business. 80% of it is doing psychological testing, which has to be done in person. Last Monday at 11:00 am, right after testing a young teen, the Governor of my state made an emergency order and recommended a minimum of 6 feet distance (a bit less than 2 meter) between people who do not live in the same household. There’s no way for me to do that. On top of that, with having had SCAD, I have a rare heart disease of unknown origin. Who knows how my body would react to COVID-19? By noon, I had cancelled the rest of my scheduled testing patients and transitioned the rest of my business to telehealth, from my home. I knew that in two weeks, once I finished up all of my remaining report writing, my income would drop about 80% for who knows how long.

Two days later, I took my first virtual yoga class, from my favorite yoga teacher, Aubrey. She is calling the class, “Zoom Sangha yoga”. “Sangha” is a Sanskrit word for “community”. It was so nice to see everyone’s familiar faces to to practice yoga together. Yoga ends with a meditation. As I listened to the sound of my breath, I thought, “I have all that I need, in this moment.”

In this moment, as I write this, I have all that I need. I have my breath. I have my mind. I have my family. I have friends. I have shelter. I have clean water and good food. I have the nearby woods in which to walk. Not all moments are like this but right now it is.

I wish you many moments of having all that you need.

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Art, Science, Heart ❥

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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