Just Call Me the Beam Lady

In 10 or 11 oh-so-careful steps, I can get from one end of this balance beam to the other.

It started as a brain-body exercise, a way I could gauge my recovery from a 2008 TBI. But soon the feat of crossing the little balance beam became much more: a way to connect with people during this time of isolation and masks.

I found the beam a few weeks ago on my usual run, after something made me turn right instead of left when I got to Lake Michigan. I eventually came upon my new toy, part of a “fitness trail” of exercise equipment.

“This looks fun,” I thought (or possibly said out loud, because masks make that socially acceptable).

After stretching, I carefully stepped up, noting that the thing isn’t any wider than my shoe. I made sure my hips were level and my abs were sucked in (yoga training) before slowly planting my other foot ahead.

Oops.

Many tries later, I managed a few steps before falling off—always landing on my feet. Good thing that beam is less than a foot high.

By the end of the week, I was able to make it across; in another week, I’d learned to pivot at the end and sometimes cross back. I kept improving, but some days I just kept falling. (More yoga wisdom: Every day is different.)

Better day, better balance

So my brain was getting tons of stimulation, and I was having a blast!

But as I said, it’s really the social aspect of my daily-ish beam routine that’s made it worth my brain’s while. Who cares about some middle-aged lady waddling along a curved strip of metal, falling off and getting back on again and again, putting on warmer layers of clothing when necessary because she’s too stubborn to give up?

Apparently, lots of people.

I gladly stepped off and aside when a mother and her kids stopped by. The young girl and boy made quick work of the beam, but the mom said there was no way she could do it. The kids and I traded tai chi and yoga moves before they walked on.

Then there was the man who said he’d seen me at my quest (well, what would you call it, obsession?) and admired my determination. We actually introduced ourselves. S-O-N-Y (sounds like Sonny, I think, but … masks).

I started getting balance advice, too. Guy With Dog (guy masked, dog not) urged me to look ahead and slightly down, instead of at my feet. (That’s a yoga wisdom fail on my part: To keep your balance, gaze at a drishti, or calming point, downward in the distance.)

Similar advice came from a 20-something passerby named Vince, who was accompanied by Mary. We had a long, socially distanced conversation when I learned about Mary’s epilepsy. That’s a condition I’ve had since the car accident that led to my brain injury.

Unfortunately, in her case the grand mal seizures are not treatable by medication or surgery. (I didn’t get her number, but if I see them again I’ll recommend our neurologist, who specializes in intractable epilepsy, as my husband suggested.)

Another day, out later than usual, I met two fellow regular beamers, Ellen and a different Mary. We exchanged phone numbers and texts. Ellen’s a yogini, like me, so we did a few poses for fun on solid ground.

She can walk the beam backward but hasn’t mastered the pivot. Mary had been afraid to beam-walk but figured if I can learn … Anyway, backward beaming is not among my goals.

Bad selfie of me, Mary and Ellen

A piece of advice that has proven especially useful came last week from an elderly woman named Christiane (“like Amanpour”). She critiqued my technique between fascinating tales (“Oh, wait; that reminds me of another story”) of a childhood in Europe and a stint with the circus—she switched topics too quickly for my brain to figure out when she was in Germany and Switzerland, and her mask obscured her age. Also, she may well have just seen “The Sound of Music.”

Who cares? Her advice—to keep a slight bend in my knees and tilt my pelvis up so I’m not even slightly bending forward—has gotten me to a personal best of seven times across and back, with pivots!

Does it always work? No.

Do I always have fun trying? Yes.

Am I about to put off finishing this blog piece so I can go running to the lake and play on the beam? You bet!

While I’m gone, please enjoy this photo of my former Beam Queen daughter. This was taken when she was a high school senior, but she went on to become a college champion.

Now, where were we?

Mostly it’s been nice just to have conversations with people, whether it’s discussing the constantly changing beauty of Lake Michigan with Ellen and Mary, sympathizing with the other Mary over the injuries she’s suffered during seizures or agreeing with a passing couple that “We’re all crazy now” after they’d caught me talking to myself on the beam about which song I have to keep in my head to avoid falling off. (It’s the theme to “The Bob Newhart Show.”)

One day this week I was crossing the balance beam after pivoting when I heard clapping. It was Sony.

“Lisa, you’re doing great!”

I think we all are.

A Christmas (Tree) Story

Happy holidays, blog followers, if I have any! It’s been awhile, I know. I was busy stress-exercising during the election season, and—while our Zoomsgiving was fun—we didn’t get a good screenshot to post here.

Which brings us to Christmas.

Today the husband and I observed our post-Thanksgiving weekend tradition of decorating a tree. I’m pretty sure this one is more of a treetop, though, kind of an homage to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Before things got wobbly

We’ve been downsizing the past several years as we’ve come to accept that our daughter is now, at 27, an adult. This process has included our tree, once covered with every bauble we’d ever acquired, plus something meaningful from each year, plus all the annual Holiday Barbie ornaments, plus anything hand-crafted or -Crayoned that was too cute not to keep.

Ornaments made by hand and Hallmark

We ended up buying a special display for the Barbies and giving the collection to our daughter because, obviously, we’re not insane.

We gave away the non-meaningful baubles when we moved from our house to a condo. (Oh, by the way, we now live in a different condo, because it’s not insane to move twice during a pandemic.)

And our no-longer-little girl’s art projects? Kept ‘em, from the Popsicle stick Rudolph to the teeny-tiny Crayoned menorah.

We’re still not finished with the tree. The husband is determined to find lights that: a) won’t be a pain to put on and take off the tree and b) won’t knock over the whole works.

See, this tree took no less than four hours for a couple of stubbornly persistent quarantine buddies to secure in its stand. I’d spent part of my time while holding the tree steady and occasionally lifting it writing a blog post in my head about the experience.

It was going to be funny, suspenseful (Will this partly decorated thing fall over? Will a precious ornament break? Can this marriage survive?) and brain-injury-blog-appropriate, since each of the “special” ornaments relates to a specific story in our 29-year marriage and the years before, and some of the stories always have to be told to me because I don’t remember them.

But sometime during the task, I looked at my husband, the tree and the view of our city and realized there was nothing I’d rather have been doing.

Oops, I did have a Thanksgiving pic

Something’s Afoot

Again with the foot.

Okay, so I’ll take a break from my obsessive running/weightlifting/yoga-doing and other nonstop activity to sit and write about what’s really going on.

My expertly bandaged foot, amid calm and chaos

The other day, I missed the bottom step of my condo building’s stairwell while reading a Facebook comment. Dumb, I know. But years of seizures gave me lots of falling experience, so I let myself drop to the floor and did a body scan. No pain, just a rapidly swelling ankle.

Now, here’s where I get dumb again. Everyone knows the treatment for a foot ouchie is RICE–the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. So any normal person would have taken the elevator back to our sixth-floor unit for some first aid and R and R.

But remember the title of this blog.

What I did was go with my impulse (something people with TBI tend to do). That impulse led me to walk outside–still masked, of course–for just a bit. Unfortunately, my impulses kept me walking. Why not? I felt great, as I always do when I get in nature.

I walked up the tall hill overlooking the city’s bell tower. Why not, I “reasoned?” I usually run up and around two or three times at the start of a 20- to 30-minute jog, darting around the unmasked.

No surprise–the swelling in my ankle didn’t go down. At this point, any sensible person with a heroic, selfless spouse would have told him the problem and rejoiced that he is able, willing and available to bandage her up.

Again, let me refer you to the title of this blog.

I hid the injury, secretly icing my ankle with a bag of frozen vegetables, while he was on a conference call. My reasoning? He’s overprotective, doesn’t like that I run at all (and, yes, I lied about the not-running for years, even in this blog), and …

… And if I can’t run, I’ll have to think more about what worries me, which is everything. The election, the virus, my husband’s job security, my 27-year-old daughter, my 92-year-old father, the fact that we’re about to make our second move during a global pandemic.

You know, the usual.

Anyway, back to my foot. A similar phenomenon happened a couple of (few?) years ago when I broke the metatarsal on my other foot, which is a fancy way of saying my baby toe got busted up. I was confined to the couch and miserable.

Then my yoga teacher (and dear friend) gave me an assignment: Design three yoga practices that can be done by someone wearing a walking cast. Suddenly I had an immediate goal. My creativity was piqued. I had a blast making use of a chair and the floor for such normally standing poses as Trikonasana (“Tricky Dick Trickonasana”), and I even included selfies in my emails to her.

That assignment ignited my creativity. I returned to the piano, remembering songs I’d learned in childhood and teaching myself new ones. It also got me writing again.

Before I close, I’d like to give a shout-out to my big brother Terry, who told me he reads what I write. When I was 4 or 5, a group of us neighborhood kids were playing in the field next to one boy’s house. A group of older girls were taking turns jumping off a neighboring home’s balcony and sticking the landing (different times). I thought to my little self: “I can do that!”

Nope. Oh, the pain! I cried like the baby I was. Before I knew it, Terry had scooped me in his arms and was running down the hill to our house. I had my first trip to the hospital that day and my first Xray.

Terry and I don’t agree agree about everything (Beatles forever! Duh!), but I love him from the bottom of my foot. And that goes for everybody else!

And I get my meds in the mail

Today I joined dozens of my fellow citizens in a demonstration at our local Post Office, protesting the administration’s cuts in service and equipment.

I tend to get enthusiastic at these things, and the organizer called me a “firecracker.”

“You should see me when I’m off my meds!” I joked.

Just then, I realized I’d forgotten to take my morning course of anti-seizure drugs.

Karma and my keys

Yesterday was the first time since the pandemic restrictions began that a group of my yoga friends and I got together.

I was a big grouch–and later karma let me have it. (If you believe in such things, that is. Work with me here; this is my blog.)

We’d gathered for a picnic under a tree near the Carillion, the tall bell tower whose peak I can see from my condo. The others had driven there, knowing I no longer drive and am squeamish about indoor venues.

As each of the six of us arrived, carrying a bag lunch or snack and individual blankets (lawn chairs, in a couple of cases), it quickly became apparent what my mask protocol was: Wear one.

Of course, the masks had to come off while we ate, and after that I lightened up, confident no one was closer to me than 6 feet.

But I kept a death grip on an antibacterial wipe. I flinched when my teacher playfully flicked a piece of fallen foliage my way or I overheard a mention of a shared car ride. Or Arizona.

Angry Me

At some point during the conversation, Angry Me escaped, and I ranted about my town’s seeming lack of concern about Covid. Every day I run or walk, masked, and veer off the path to avoid groups of the unmasked.

When I walk downtown, I keep a mental tally of who’s wearing a face covering and who’s not; though the ratio seems to be improving, “nots” are the norm.

I went on like this for some time, pontificating about science and why our country, of all countries, is in such a mess.

Now back to the picnic

At some point I realized I was making a minor spectacle of myself. Most of my friends have kids and grandkids facing the prospect of returning to school or not. And hadn’t my husband and I just briefly visited our own grown daughter, the two of us in masks but she and her boyfriend not?

I tearfully apologized. There was no need. “It’s okay to show emotions in front of your friends,” or something that effect, said one, a retired social worker.

We wrapped up eventually with virtual hugs and promises to meet again soon.

Too much sitting makes Lisa a dull girl

Once the others were gone, I hoofed it home, waved to my Zoom-engrossed husband, dropped off my backpack of picnic supplies, sterilized my keys and phone, grabbed a disposable mask and headed back out, waving again.

Keys in one hand, phone in the other, I turned left and meandered a short way along the path. I sat at one of my favorite quiet riverside spots, intending to meditate (OOPS, FORGOT THE WEIRDO ALERT), but the sounds of screeching children from the playground across the way made me get up and get moving already.

I trotted past our building to the Carillion, weaving around the unmasked, as usual, and then ran two loops up, around and down the town’s sledding hill. (Of course, at this time of year it’s more of a kids-rolling-down-it hill, but you get the idea.)

After that I headed toward home, stopping at a scenic grassy spot to take off my shoes and socks and do some of my favorite yoga poses. (YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.)

Instant Karma

I was checking the time on my phone and walking home when it hit me: The keys were not in my other hand.

Thinking I must have left them in the grass, I went back. I saw the indentations my feet had made the grass and knew I’d set my shoes, socks and phone down directly to the left. But the keys? Now I wasn’t so sure.

It occurred to me that the keys could be anywhere I’d been–the failed meditation spot, the kid-rolling hill loop, the path in between or the many zigs and zags I’d taken to avoid the unmasked. A kind stranger could have even found the keys and set them on a bench.

Then my brain spewed out what I thought was the answer: Not once but twice I’d stopped to tie a shoe, setting my precious cargo on the ground. Where? I had no idea.

So I retraced my steps. Nothing.

At this point, a rational person would give up, especially since her husband was in the building and, really, how big a deal is replacing condo keys and/or changing a lock?

I’m really asking, because I don’t know.

Regardless, I’m no rational person (See: name of this blog), plus my blood sugar was way low.

Putting my hand to my hip and realizing too late that my running shorts had a key pocket, I decided this whole affair was karmic retribution for my attitude at the picnic. (And hey, now that I’m writing this, maybe also for my attitude toward people in general during the pandemic. Hmmm.)

I closed my eyes and silently vowed to be a better person. (STILL READING? MMM-KAY.)

Full circle

In defeat, I called my husband. He put off his meetings and headed out, bearing protein bars and an understandable air of annoyance.

Guess what we did? Retraced my steps. Repeatedly.

Finally, we returned to the shady riverside patch of grass where I’d been practicing yoga. “This is where I did Tree Pose,” I whimpered, “and this is where I put my shoes.”

“Did you put them back on in that same spot?” asked my husband.

Bingo! This was the flash of memory I needed. In fact, I had walked a few steps closer to the path, all the better to impress passersby with my ability to put on my left sock and shoe while balancing on my right foot, and vice versa. (Cue “well, whoopdi-do!”)

So, we took a few steps and … my keys!!!

I laughed and hugged my husband, laughed some more and then apologized for once again making him drop everything and come to my rescue. As always, he told me I’m too hard on myself.

As soon I got home–and sterilized my phone again–I texted the yoga group, telling them how much it had meant to see my “yoga sisters.”

Their responses were heartwarming, including this missive from the former social worker, which will make a great caption if we think to take a group photo next time: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Yoga Pants!”

Here I Am

My husband and now live in one of the condo buildings pictured behind me. In the Before Times, we’d put our suburban house on the market with the plan to move to Chicago, but a quick sale meant super-quick downsizing for us.

Ted actually handled everything, plus his job, while I was in charge of freaking out. I’ll forever be grateful for the counseling of family, friends and professionals.

Bonus: This new location has put us in the heart a vibrant protest community, reigniting a passion I’ve felt since late 2016 and helping assuage my guilt about… everything.#BlackLivesMatter

Crazy Times

Having computer problems and about to be late for a video appointment, I searched for my technical support, my husband. He was across the street, talking with a neighbor from the end of her driveway.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s ever shouted for all to hear: “I need you to help me with this laptop so I can see my psychiatrist!”

(One) crisis averted

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LaLa, safely back where she belongs, on her perch.

When I awoke Friday morning, a song I’d been singing the night before played inside my head:

I want nothing 
I want nothing 
I want no quid pro quo

This was a months-old political parody from late-night TV or the Internet that used a certain politician’s words as head-banging lyrics. So, yeah, I’d been watching the impeachment hearings. I worry about our country and have spent the past three years participating in democracy as best I can.

But back to my bed. I realized I could hear my husband opening and closing lots of doors and climbing up and down the stairs, from the second floor to the basement. Whaaa? 

I soon learned that our beloved cat, Olive (we call her LaLa), had gone missing. She’s an indoor cat but has been known to occasionally dash out to the closed garage when one of us inadvertently leaves the kitchen door open too long. But she hates the cold, so at such times she always hurries back inside.

Not this time, apparently.

After searching and then closing off rooms in the house where she might be–no easy feat, as we’re empty-nesters with lots of clutter in unused bedrooms–he did a cursory check of the garage and then started on the perimeter of the house while I did my part: freaking out.

He followed the many sets of tracks in the snow, but still no LaLa. A couple of neighbors helped, and again I did my part: making freaked-out phone calls to other neighbors to alert them to the situation and ask them to keep a lookout.

Much later (just before that day’s impeachment hearings began, in fact), my husband did another search of the garage. Hiding under the steps was LaLa.

Whew.

Now, about that country …

 

Tale as Old As Time

My husband and I are lucky enough to live close to a great musical theater in the Chicago suburbs, and we’ve held season tickets for years. But I wasn’t looking forward to seeing “Beauty and the Beast” there yesterday.

For one thing, it’s days from Christmas, and I was smack in the middle of my annual bout with anxiety and guilt about the holiday, feelings that predate my brain injury. (As in “The Grinch,” please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason.) I also was overwhelmed and longed for my comforting routines, both of which are well-known TBI traits.

There was also the show itself. “Beauty and the Beast” is family fare, and our former Disney princess is now a city-dwelling career (gasp!) woman.

But as my husband drove us to the theater, I began humming, and then singing lyrics that I thought were stuck somewhere in my brain. I continued as we walked hand in hand from our parking spot a few blocks away:

“Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly.” 

My husband reminded me that I was singing the title song–and that brought back a beautiful image of my daughter as a toddler, when I used to finish with our own version of the chorus:

“… Beauty and her daddy.”

He also brought back the memory of our little girl’s purple “Belle dress,” a short, sleeveless number that she wore for such a long time that it eventually became the top for leggings! We still have that Belle dress, by the way.

Somehow I managed to keep the waterworks in check … almost.

Then we got to the theater lobby and beheld all the little Belles in their flowing yellow ballgowns. Beauty, indeed! This was definitely the intended audience, so while I was standing around getting all mushy and nostalgic, my husband was looking around for an adult-Belle pair with whom we could swap our front-row/center tickets. We ended up giving a young girl and her grandma a gift, but it was truly a gift for us, too.

The production was wonderful. The most beautiful moment of all came when, after the candlestick Lumiere cries, “Now we’ll never be human!” a little girl’s voice rang out from the rafters. “Yes, you will!” The audience laughed and applauded. (Later in Act 2, a transformed Lumiere offers a brilliant bit of improv: “Zee child was right!”)

All in all, a fabulous day at the theater. Um, except for the seizure/anxiety attack I fought off in Act 1 when Belle was being ridiculed by the townsfolk for being “odd.” As an oddball, that hit too close to home, plus I’ve been tired and stressed and … you know.

Also, as always during curtain calls, I immediately stood to cheer, adding “Bravo!” and “Brava!” as needed and generally making a fool of myself. I just want the performers to know how much I truly appreciate them. This time, though, I felt my husband pull my sweater down over my pants. I asked later and, yes, my underpants had been showing.

Merry Christmas!