Invisible Sludge

When your nightmares come to life yet you are the only one that can see them… Autoimmune disease and the true reality of a fake perception.

I have had the dream for as long as I can remember. It is one where I am running but I am stuck in some sort of sludge. not physical sludge, but one that I can’t see. It is pulling me down, making me slow, letting the bad guys get closer and closer. I can see my escape but I don’t know if I can reach it before they get to me.

Now I am an adult. I know I am fast. I have made myself that way over many years of training. I know I am strong. I eat well and make sure I don’t get sucked into a vicious cycle of fast food and unhealthy choices. I have made the decision to avoid the sludge. Yet, somehow, the dream has breached into my reality. My body doesn’t function the way it did even a year ago. It is painful to step up or down stairs; to squat down to give my children hugs. The exhaustion clings to me, pleading with me to stay in bed or lay down a bit longer. Sometimes the pain is so bad that it brings me to my knees. The dream has seemed to taken over a body that was trained to fight, but I haven’t surrendered to it.

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Even though my body may want to quit, I have two beautiful children that keep me striving towards my super-hero status. 

Learning to live with an unknown autoimmune disease is almost as if I am living in that nightmare. My body wants to quit on me, but yet, my mind keeps trying to tell me to keep running. To not give up. To keep moving. Just a year ago, I was the definition of health. I felt great, my body was strong. I was Super Mom (well at least thats what my kids thought). However, things started changing. Fast.

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My life just a couple years ago. Fit, strong, and unstoppable

Now, I look in the mirror and I am a girl trapped in glass. My body still looks the same. However, it is the battle that is going on inside that has changed me. That is the hardest part. I look like a very healthy woman. So healthy that my immune system doesn’t know what to do but to fight itself. It has left me blinded in one eye and has presented me with issues such as extreme fatigue, joint pain, migraines, and painful muscle spasms to name a few. I keep hoping this is just another nightmare that I will awaken from, but I know better. This is my new normal, at least for now.

 

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Even with only one eye, I am still able to see how lucky I am

I am not a person who posts the bad things about my life. It just isn’t my style. However, with this post, I am hoping for people to realize that what their eyes may see when looking at a picture or a person isn’t the whole story. Just because people make look healthy or happy doesn’t mean they are. Perception is not reality. In fact, I have talked to many people who are sick, have been sick or who are disabled and I would never have known if it weren’t for their courage to talk to me about their experiences. What you see with your eyes is only an optical illusion when it comes to a person’s life and their struggles. Please remember this when you talk to someone. We rarely know what a person is going through and we never know the whole truth about their feelings or their pain.

I haven’t given up on my body. I keep fighting, even when it causes repercussions that last for days or weeks. I still have unfinished dreams and goals that I need to achieve and nothing will stop me from trying. I have had a rough year but it is only a year, not an eternity. I hope that one day, the dream will end. I will make it out of the sludge and get away. However, even if the sludge is still trying to hold me back, I will continue to run away from the darkness trying to take over. I will keep running towards safety and I wont let this nightmare get to my heart and soul.

So until then, the nightmare continues, even when I am awake. The sludge is slowly incapacitating me. I am trying to run but my body is in fighting something it can’t see. This may not be my dream anymore, but I do know how it always ends. Somehow, someway, I always manage to escape. Maybe that is what life is all about: making it through the sludge and coming out a better person.

 

The Mountain

Whatever her name may be, she is more than just a rock towering into the sky. She is a living creature that opens your eyes to a whole new world.

She goes by many names. Some call her Tacoma. Others refer to her by Rainier. Less common are the names Talol, Tahoma, Tahima, Tacobeh and Pooskaus. The locals simply call her “The Mountain”. She is the tallest peak in the state of Washington and demands respect; flaunting 26 glaciers and taunting climbers to conquer her summit. She is impressive in every sense of the word and leaves you feeling almost heartbroken as you leave her when your time is over.

Our four days at Mount Rainier National Park felt like a month. Each day brought new spectacular sights. Ranging from waterfalls to glaciers, The Mountain was a world of its’ own. The first day we spent trekking up to Comet Falls. It was a rather exhausting hike, but I wouldn’t rate it as challenging. The inline was impressive; lined with beautiful pines creating intricate root pathways. Evelyn instantly opted for a bird’s eye view on top of Daniel’s shoulders while Alexander and I lagged behind in awe of the pace he established as he rucked with a forty-pound child sitting on top of his backpack that weighed at least another 30lbs. As that duo raced up the layers of rock and roots, Alexander and I took turns taking pictures of the water, trees, path and whatever caught our eye. When we grew tired, we talked about will-power, determination, and what a real winner was. I explained to him that giving up was the only way you would lose in life. You may not win a race or a game, but giving up was a guarantee that you would never reach that finish line. When we reached the falls, he knew that while he wasn’t the first person up that mountain, he still made it to the top. He was still one of the few who was able to sit on the ice while feeling the water mist over him as it plummeted into the river below. It was a victory in itself. A life lesson that would not be soon forgotten.

Day two was a bit simpler as we stayed in the wooded section. We started by stopping at Reflection Lake and letting Daniel get his cold water fix. Then we headed over to the Box Canyon and a section of the Wonderland Trail. As we walked through the forest, the lush greenery engulfed us. The trees took on new life as they grew in ways that seemed physically impossible. The flowers looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book and the serenity was beyond description. The kids took off along the trail and discovered huge Red Cedar trees that had fallen during the winter. The giant beauties made one realize how small we are and how even the greatest, most powerful entities can come crashing down with the right combination of elements. The environment helped me realize just how small all of our problems are in relation to the world.

 

Day three is what I think of as my reward day. We drove towards Sunrise Visitor Center, looking for a great hiking spot with a spectacular vantage point. We got just that. We parked at the White River Campgrounds (all roads past that were still snowed in). We hiked on a trail that lead to a breathtaking view of Emmons Glacier. The trail was perfect for the kids as we meandered across one side of a mountain, over a river and to another ledge. While working our way up the ledge, a beautiful turquoise color glimmered through the trees on the other side. We soon caught a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and secluded alpine lakes I have ever dreamt about. It took us longer than expected to navigate a wildlife trail down to the water, but the event was worth it. The water was gorgeous and felt amazing. The first two feet of it was warm, reminding me of the Emerald Coast waters in Florida. Then, as my feet sunk down, the water turned crisp and cold. As I treaded, the water churned and the warmth gave in to the icy glacier water beneath. It made me want to stay in that piece of heaven forever. However, the trail still beckoned us towards the view of The Mountain and Emmons Glacier.

We made our way back up to the top of the ridge and walked along the cliff as far as the trail led. While it was simple, it gave one the sense of true adventure and conquest. The landscape was practically untouched and the glacier added so much depth and mystery to The Mountain. Cracks and crevices littered the untouched snow. Rocks struggled to emerge from the ice, even if just by a bit. It was almost as though the glacier was calling for us to dare attempt its assent. Showing us that only the most worthy opponents would ever reach the summit.

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After that third day, I didn’t think there would be anymore surprises that The Mountain had in store for me. Day four was meant to be a simple day that included the kids getting their Junior Ranger badges and a short hike. It turned out to be the most inspiring day of the trip; not because of what the mountain did for me, but what it did for my daughter. As we exited the truck, getting ready to start our hike, Evelyn became upset that she didn’t have a pack like the rest of us. Alexander had been carrying his own Camelbak with enough water for both him and his sister. I explained to Evelyn that she had to show us that she was big enough to hike trails all on her own, without asking to be carried. The fire in her eyes lit up and she instantly pushed ahead of us to be the “trail leader”. We first visited some mineral springs on a short and touristy path. That path led us to another that was said to have beautiful scenic view at a certain point. No one realized that by the time the day was over, we would have hiked over 1400 feet in elevation and nearly seven miles. The trail was serene and once again, we were nearly alone and isolated. We reached yet another section of the Wonderland Trail (it is a 93-mile trail around Mount Rainier) and finished right before the sun set. The entire trip was filled with laughter, chatter, and conversation. Not a single complaint left Evelyn’s mouth. She was determined to prove herself worthy. That she did.

While this may not seem so inspiring to most people, it left me speechless. She is only four years old and is by far the most stubborn, decisive and independent women I know. She showed me that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can still make it in this world. She taught me that it only takes one step after another to reach your goal. She taught me that complaining isn’t going to help you get there. Now when I think about saying that someone (especially myself) can’t do something, I think of Evelyn and Longmire.

Although we were only on The Mountain for four short days, I have a different perspective of this life I was given. Lately I have been told that I haven’t had the best of luck. I understand how someone on the outside could say that when they see the black and white. Words like blindness, autoimmune, disability seem to make a person feel helpless. It is frustrating to not be able to do the same things you know that you are capable of doing. It is hard to face it and even harder to accept it. However, The Mountain changed that.

Mount Rainier. Mount Tacoma. Whatever you choose to call her, know that she is not just a mountain; she is an experience. She gives you a way to challenge yourself, discover your possibilities and face your fears. She taunts you to push yourself to another level and then rewards you in ways that only she can conjure. She showed me life in a different light. Even if the cards I have been handed recently aren’t the greatest (according to some people), I still know that I am the luckiest woman in this world to have such an inspiring family and a life that enables me to appreciate all this world has to offer. She showed me how blessed I am, no matter what life has in store for me.

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The Mountain.

The First Week

I have always been a very passionate and ambitious person. I set my goals high and want only the best. However, what is the actual definition of “the best”? Is it is the biggest house, fastest car, nicest watch? It is an office with a view or your name on the building? To be honest, no matter how much money I had, I never felt any better than how I felt when I was struggling to pay the rent as a teenager living on my own. I have had many great jobs. I have served my country in more than a few ways and I love the mission associated in making this world a better place. But no matter what money I have made or what job title I have held, I still have not felt as though I was living the BEST life. My husband and kids are great but I am nowhere near the best wife or mother. I have always excelled in things, but never found that true passion.

What I have found is that the more and more stuff that I bought, the more stressed out I became. The more shoes and clothes I have to choose from, the harder it was for me to decide what to wear to work. When you accumulate so many things, they begin to own you instead. You work hard to enjoy your time off, but end up spending all your time off maintaining the things that you have.

SO WHY NOT JUST LET IT ALL GO?

That’s what we did. We sold or gave away pretty much everything. It was overwhelming at times. It hurt at first, but then I felt relieved not to have all of that extra stuff burdening me. The same stuff that I thought I had to have in order to live the best life. In less than two months, we moved from a 3 bedroom house with a  3 car garage (that we didn’t even park in due to too much stuff) to an RV. Two adults. Two kids. One dog. Just an RV.

It’s been one week. How does it feel? Honestly: amazing. Life is simple. It is easy. The kids go outside more because there is not enough room for them to spread out. We don’t buy as much food because our fridge is smaller. We don’t waste any food because I don’t think we can if we tried. We are closer as a family. The kids even put their shoes away! I guess when you don’t have much room for things, you can’t really make a mess.

Do I miss my stuff: no. I really don’t. I am learning that the best life isn’t one filled with things. It is filled with memories. With adventures. With moments that mean something. I don’t need to go to the store to buy everything I need. I already have it right here with me. So far, week one is a complete success. I know in the next month, I will be making a list of the things that you need to prepare for when downsizing to this extreme. Right now I think the biggest adjustment is just learning how to relax a little bit more. Maybe being ambitious isn’t the greatest thing in life. Maybe life is.