About Me

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With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90  days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.

31 August 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson -- What a Suburban Kid Learns About Police

I grew up in upper-middle class suburbia. I learned to read in the sixties, from books created precisely for kids like me: relatively well-off, white, well-fed and economically secure. I never thought that this life, the one I lived and that I saw reflected faithfully in books as soon as I began to read, was anything other than representative of all of America.

Sometimes the kids in the books had trouble. Their puppy was missing or their kitten caught up a tree, or they got lost in a neighborhood they didn't know well. They always found a policeman who, kindly and helpful, would rescue the pet or help the kid find her way home.

Every once in a while a policeman (they were always men, back then) would come to our classroom and tell us about never getting into a car with a stranger and how to call them on our phone in an emergency. We suburban kids were taught that the police were our friends, adults we could always turn to when we were in trouble. We knew them to be kind, to have our best interest at heart, and -- maybe most important -- to be just like us.

When I moved to Washington DC in 1990, at the age of thirty-five and having lived the same sheltered (though I didn't know it was) suburban life all my years, I worked at a residence for homeless pregnant women, all of them black, poor, and hungry for most of what I had forever taken for granted as simply there for me. For all of us.

The culture shock I experienced warrants a long essay of its own. But right now I'm thinking about how shocked I was to find out that these women distrusted and disliked police. As much as anything else that turned upside down my complacent, blinkered view of life in this country, the realization that these women did not and could not trust those I'd learned to count on implicitly shook me to my core.

Now I watch and hear people who grew up a lot like I did talk about Michael Brown and the policeman who shot him. And though I deplore their lack of understanding of the realities of being black and poor in America, though my frustration just about explodes when I hear them reflexively defend the officer while casting all the doubt they can on Mr. Brown, I know where they're coming from. I have been there.

The difference for me is that I got to leave there for the discomfort of others' reality and do the most radical thing in my life: listen and allow myself to be taught.

I'm no saint. It took me years to stop fighting and resisting while my ivory tower was demolished. Then it took me years to learn how to actually listen. These years during which the patient ones and the not-so-patient ones were willing to teach me despite my angry denial were painful in the extreme. But today they seem a quiet and achingly slow miracle of acceptance, good faith and welcome.

The kind of acceptance and welcome so frequently not offered to the very ones extending it to me.

The kind of acceptance and welcome now being withheld from the parents, family, friends and race of Michael Brown.

 And that's what breaks my heart.

Thank you for reading my blog. You can leave a comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

28 August 2014

The Courage of Acceptance

Life inevitably brings us pain -- physical and mental illnesses,  accidents, the "acts of God" noted in our insurance policies -- that we have neither chosen nor wanted. We have no control over the fact of these kinds of events and realities in our lives.

But we're not out of control over how we react to, how we handle life's inevitable pain. Here is where choice begins: when we have gone through and can get beyond our very natural inclination to deny or be angry or give up. Elizabeth Kubler Ross's  On Death and Dying made way for revolutionary and still fresh understanding of how humans handle grief. Her writings have been instrumental in teaching me how to understand, accept and deal with the emotions that come with having chronic migraine pain. (You can read my posts about this, here, here, and here.)

Compassionate understanding and acceptance of our own initial, grieving reaction help get us to a point of energy from which we can make constructive choices about how we deal with the situation.

A person dear to me who suffers from depression recently told me that mornings are his worst times. He'd spent hours after awakening, unable to move under the great weight holding him down. He was
Photo by William Marsh
regularly late to work and losing motivation. One morning he realized if he decided to do one thing -- like feeding the cat or vacuuming the floor -- and made himself get up to do it without planning for or looking beyond that one activity, he could get out of the bed. Getting the one thing done encouraged him to decide on the next thing. One thing at a time, one step at a time, he has chosen a way to combat the depression that could be crippling him.

I imagine his inner monologue on that morning he made a change might have gone something like this: Ok, I'm depressed again. Yet another morning of pain and paralysis. Am I going to lie here feeling sorry for myself? I gotta do something.

And he gets up to vacuum the floor. Seems small, doesn't it? Insignificant, the mundane stuff of an uninteresting life. Yet I believe the creative and constructive actions we take in the face of great pain are the essence of courage, of hope, of believing in the light even while enveloped in the dark.

And it starts with something simple like, ok, I'm depressed again. Acceptance.

Thank you for reading my blog. You can comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

26 August 2014

Acceptance Opens the Way for Creativity

In a post a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Khalil Gibran verse that has meant so much to me over the years.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was
oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Gibran accepts that sorrow will carve into our being. He wastes no time reasoning or divining why. Before I go on about creativity and acceptance, I want to clarify one thing. I think Gibran is speaking about the inevitable pain -- death, physical illness, mental illness -- things we have no control over. But there are things we do have control over. We make bad choices, we say mean things, we hurt others, we indulge our addictions to the detriment of relationship and health. 

In other words, the sorrows and pain of life come inevitably and by our own choice. I think it's important to make the distinction, to understand that there are some painful matters we cause. It's essential to our mental and spiritual maturity to take responsibility in these cases.

Photo by William Marsh
So where is the creativity in acceptance? For the inevitable hurt of life, acceptance opens the door to creativity by not allowing us to wallow in anger and self-pity and denial -- those things that can either paralyze us or drive us into unthinking action. The peace of acceptance makes more possible the constructive action that arises from reflection.

More about this in my next post.

Thank you for reading my blog. You can leave a comment below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmailcom.

22 August 2014

Painful Poetry

Original if Awkward Attempts to Find Humor in Pain

This is a reprise of a feature from my first summer with this blog, in which I take popular songs and poetry forms and wrench them into relevancy to a life of chronic pain.

I Have a Migraine (sung to the tune of “I Did It My Way”)

And now, the pain is near,
It’s coming on, of this I’m certain.
My friends, I’ll say it clear;
(Although that’s hard, through all the hurtin’.)
I’ve tried to fake it out,
but comfort I cannot at all feign,
And so, without a doubt,
I have a Migraine!

Regrets, there are a few.
And then again, lots more to mention
I did what I had to do
but here’s the pain, there’s no prevention!
I plan, and then I pout,
you’ll think I’m acting not at all sane.
And, so, without a doubt,
I have a Migraine!

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
when rabid words from my mouth flew.
But through it all, I never meant
a word I said, ‘twas just a vent.
I am the same, it’s just my brain -
I have a Migraine!

Shut up, don’t say a word!
Or else I’ll snap your foolish head off.
That’s right, that’s what you heard,
So at my mood, you mustn’t dare scoff!
To think I said all that,
And goodness knows, not in a shy way.
Oh no, it’s tit for tat;
I have a Migraine!

For what else is Pain? What can it do?
I feel its pangs, and this day rue
that I will deal with how it feels:
The head that reels, the thrown-up meals.
I see it shows, that’s how it goes,
I have a Migraine!

Thanks for reading my blog. You can leave comments below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

20 August 2014

Resource -- Article on Spirituality, Religion and Pain

If you're feeling sorta nerdy one day, this article might interest you. And I encourage you to read it in the context of spiritual/emotional pain as well as physical pain.

Spirituality, Religion and Chronic Pain: Making a Difference in Non-traditional Ways.

The article is a bit in the researched report vein, but relatively easy to read. And it makes a point about meditation I have made before, based on personal experience. This article confirms personal experience with study data.

Photo by William Marsh

Thank you for reading my blog. You can comment below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com

18 August 2014

Gibran's Sorrow and Acceptance

Earlier this summer I wrote two posts (here and here) that took inspiration from a verse written by Khalil Gibran:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was
oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Photo by William Marsh
Since those posts, I've been reflecting about how it can be, that sorrow and pain carve into us a space which can also be filled with joy. I know for myself it doesn't happen automatically. And looking at the final sentence of the verse above, neither did Gibran consider the joy part automatic.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being...
It happens, sorrow does. Disappointment, fear, physical pain, illness, depression and all sorrowful emotions come to us simply because we are alive. Anyone reading this post has intimate knowledge of life's hurts, and religions have spilled lots of ink and blood to try to prove reasons for them -- Christianity's original sin, Buddhism's maya, come to mind. Gibran acknowledges we share this human condition but attempts no reasoning or story, no intellectual device to explain it. What he does is accept it. This is a truth of life, that we will sorrow.

I have found no more realistic and practical reason for discarding old habits that keep me kicking against inevitabilities in life. (For more on my thoughts about life's pain and acceptance, read this post.) It is energy spent in futility and expended at the expense of the constructive emotions and actions that grow out of simple acceptance. Because acceptance like this is not passive, it's creative.

And that will be the topic of my next post.

Thank you for reading this post. You can leave a comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

14 August 2014


Dear Readers:

I am traveling now, and moving in and out of internet service, so haven't posted since before I left D.C. This will be my only post until I'm home on Sunday, August 17. I hope you are having a lovely August.

I have learned to bring my comfort along with me when I travel. It means more bags, but we travel mostly by car, so they simply get stuffed into the trunk. Here is a list of the kind of things I bring:

* SNACKS: Because my appetite is off when I'm in a lot of pain, I have become fond of certain "comfort" foods. And because the migraine diet is fairly strict, I bring my own, never assuming anyone has stocked the specific kind of cracker or peanut butter than I can eat.

* MEDICATIONS: This may seem obvious, but I have left home without meds before. Now they're always top of my own "remember" list and my husband's last-minute reminders.

* AUDIO BOOKS on KINDLE: With migraines, reading in impossible, so I have a growing library of audio books on my Kindle. I make sure to download the ones I'd like to read before we leave home, in case I'm out of listening material when I'm also out of internet access.

* PILLOWS, SWEATERS, ETC.: Again, when traveling by car, these items are easier to bring along. In the winter, it's my favorite blankie. And always, the pillow I like best, the softest shirts and sweaters and most comfortable pants.

It's time to get ready for a family gathering. I'll post more tips on Sunday, if I think of any more.

Thank you for reading my blog. You can leave comments below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com


09 August 2014

Freedom and Ego

In the past week I've posted about having ambivalent feelings about getting well, and, within five days, unambivalent desire for the migraine pain to stop forever.

It seems a wide swing. I feel a bit embarrassed just thinking about it, especially that it's posted for all the world to see. Yet a couple comments on that first post tell me I'm not the only one honest enough to admit to such feelings. So I am certainly not the only one feeling them.

I can't write a long post today because my head's fuzzy with pain and medication, but I want to share a couple of thoughts about this seeming conundrum: that I can be both afraid and desirous of the same thing.

The first thought is about the ego. I have written before about Eckhart Tolle's writings on the ego that have helped me more than anything else to begin to find true freedom of spirit. (Click here and here to read posts; there are more in the Labels column to the right -- click on "ego" and "eckhart tolle.")

Our egos will grab any reason to form an identity. That grabbing targets the obvious and socially-acceptable identities like physical beauty, career and job, relationships (parent, sibling, friend) and talents. So we say, "I'm a painter." or "I'm beautiful." or "My daughter is a doctor." as ways to identify who we are. There are also less acceptable identities that are not so obvious and easy to name, like victim, sick person, or loser.

But, though some identities seem logical and others counter-intuitive, they're all the same mechanism: the ego clutching identity in order to survive. Where does freedom (in the title of this post) come in? Any clutching our ego does limits our freedom. If you cannot let go of your identity as lawyer or successful business woman, you are not free. I cannot let go of my identity as migraineur: I am not free.

There's more, but my head hurts. I am going to free myself of my identity as a writer who is thorough and finishes what she starts -- I'm ending
this post now. More later.

Thank you for reading this post. You can comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com

07 August 2014

Resource: Blog post / Ellen Painter Dollar

Photo by William Marsh
 My friend, Ellen Painter Dollar, writes and blogs about life as a parent with chronic illness, from a Christian perspective. She has written a book, No Easy Choice: A Story About Disability, Parenthood and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction.

I thought you might want to read a recent post of hers on her Patheos blog: Parenthood, Ethics, Disability and the Crooked Way of Grace.

The July 23 post is titled, "Down the Rabbit Hole of Chronic Pain."

Click HERE for the post.

Feel free to leave comments below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

05 August 2014

Pain Has No Ambivalence

Thankful that I'd made it through graduation weekend (Goucher College; Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction) with manageable migraine pain, I started out feeling philosophical yesterday about the migraine that kept me in a dark room with a blindfold on all day. But by late eveing, I'd had it with pain.

Last week I posted about some ambivalence I was feeling toward the possibility that a new treatment might reduce the migraines enough to let me lead a more normal life. Who would hire me, a 59-year-old woman who hasn't worked since December 2009? Who was I if not a woman living with  constant pain? I realized that part of me had accepted and embraced the identity of a disabled person and had, in some ways, actually come to appreciate the different choices it afforded me -- I can rest whenever I like, I have an excuse for missing things that, honestly, I wouldn't have wanted to do even if well, etc.

Last night, however, I'd come through three days of successfully managing migraine pain (which leaves one deeply fatigued) and then 24 hours of full-blown migraine and I'd had it. I just wanted the pain to stop. I wished the treatment I had posted about (occipital nerve block) had worked. Aside from relief and gratitude for being in familiar surroundings and conducting habitual routines, I just wanted to be free of migraines.The ambivalence I'd felt about getting well, last week when I was relatively comfortable, was nowhere to be found when I was in real pain.

This morning I must admit to myself that the treatment didn't work. My migraines are not reduced in number or severity. I do notice two benefits: the constant throbbing is quieter and less painful, and the back of my head doesn't ache as much.

Photo by William Marsh

It's like looking at a reflection in imperfect glass and seeing a distortion of what should be straight-forward reality. I have swung between two seeming opposites within the space of a week, first fearing the treatment would work and then wishing it had. But now is not the time to worry about or even reflect on that. I'm too tired today and yesterday's migraine is threatening to return. It's time to simply accept that this back and forth is part of life with chronic pain.

More accurately, it's part of life.

Thank you for reading my blog. I'd love to hear your comments and feedback, below. Or you can email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.