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.

22 January 2015

How One Woman Faces Her Fears -- Lung Leavin' Day 2015

My blog has come to the attention of Cameron and Heather von St. James, whose cause is a cancer caused by asbestos: mesothelioma. Today's post supports their cause.

Heather von St James was diagnosed with pleural (lining of the lung) mesothelioma just after she gave birth to their daughter in 2005. She was given fifteen months to live. Among other treatments for the cancer, she had a lung removed. Her sister dubbed the day of that surgery, Lung Leavin' Day. This year, Heather, Cameron, their daughter, Lily Rose, and numerous family and friends will gather for their ninth annual Lung Leavin' Day celebration. On February 2, 2015, they will participate in a ritual of writing their fears on plates then smashing the plates into a bonfire.

Heather has survived a prognosis of fifteen months by seven-and-a-half years. During those years, she and Cameron have created an informative website/blog about mesothelioma, its causes and treatments. The blog aims to support caregivers and persons with cancer of all forms.

Some great posts:
     Four Tips for Caregivers During the Chaos of Diagnosis
     Cancer and Perspective: Hindsight is 20/20
     The Importance of Support for Cancer patients

I love the idea of writing our fears on a plate and then smashing it into a fire. It makes me wonder: what fears would I choose for the ritual if I were there?

Photo from freedigitalphoto.net
I'd write about the fear I have for a person beloved to me who had a bilateral mastectomy, and for others struggling with mental illness and/or addictions. For myself, I'd cast into the flames a fear I have that the migraines won't ever go away. Though my spiritual journey these past twenty years has been one of gaining peace and relinquishing fear, I have to admit that I'm not completely fear-free. I also know that if a friend or family member were to be diagnosed with cancer, fear would invade my peace and I would have to deal with it.

This ritual of smashing our fear into flames is wonderfully symbolic of what determination it takes to face cancer, other life-threatening diseases, and life itself. Here is a link to Heather's interactive website page on which you can virtually fling your fears into the fire.

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

19 January 2015

The Power of Distraction

I have read that studies show people with migraine have less pain after they
exercise. So far, I haven't noticed that the pain is less. However, I have noticed that while I'm on the treadmill or the bike or working with my personal trainer, I'm not thinking about the migraine. If I push too hard, I'll get dizzy or have throbbing pain that reminds me I have a headache. But while I'm concentrating, the pain is pretty much forgotten.

When I get home and slow down, the migraine is back, sometimes worse than it was before I exercised. Yet my mood and sense of well-being have improved, so the trade-off seems worth it to me.

I'm lucky that there's now a YMCA three blocks away and I can afford the membership fee. And that I can save up enough to have two personal training sessions a year. For these things, I am so grateful. I don't take them for granted. (When the nearest Y was a bus-ride and ten block walk away and I was paying for tuition, I could neither get there nor afford it.)

All this is just to say that I'm now thinking of some of my pain management tools as distractions -- listening to Seinfeld and The Office DVDs, meditation and deep-muscle relaxation, listening to audio books on my Kindle.

What distracts you from your pain?

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

16 January 2015

What The Elderly Woman At the Y Said To Me

Today I was able, for the first time since spilling the beans (post of January 1), to put real clothing on. Naturally, I went to the Y.

I saw a woman this morning I've seen many times before. I guess she's in her seventies, but she's in such good shape she could be ten years older and you'd never know. I admire the vigor of her workouts, the disciplined way she goes about her stretches. She exudes health and well-being.

She happened to be next to me at one point, so I couldn't resist saying, "I really admire how in-shape you are."

She looked at me. "It's just doing what you're doing now, and don't stop."

Photo by William Marsh

She doesn't look like she has any disability like migraines or any of the other hidden diseases some of us have. She doesn't look depressed or anxious, or as though she has a mental or emotional challenge. Perhaps it was easy for her to say, don't stop

But I don't believe she's never had trouble to overcome, so I refuse to slip out of the challenge. I may never have calves that look like they were carved from granite, but by this time next year I am going to be in much better shape than I am now.

Finally, it doesn't have to be about going to the Y and getting in shape. Some of us have jobs and family and obligations. Some cannot afford it. Some have bodily or mental ills that keep us from doing what we want. But somewhere in our lives there is something challenging us to grow, to change, to evolve. It may be physical, mental or spiritual.

Never would I say it's easy. And overly simplified formulas like "don't stop" can make a truly depressed or ill person tear her hair out. I'm grateful I have the energy and mental focus to make the choice. My wish for all my readers is that they are able to find and commit to one thing - whatever it is - that causes them to make a decision not to stop.

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

13 January 2015

Painful Poetry -- A Sonnet to Pain

Painful Poetry
Original if Awkward Attempts to Find Humor in Pain

A Sonnet to Pain (in the tradition of Shakespeare, more or less)

O! thou who fillst me daily overmuch
Photo by William Marsh
And of my life prov'st naught but hellish bane
Could I with craven visage find a crutch
wouldst I not forsake thee? Thy pure disdain
notwithstanding, I'd hie away and flee
thy fullsome clutch that harks of mythic lore.
Lo! of mortals, most joyous would I be
when 'pon thy fearsome form I look no more!
Yet thou in constant presence to me are,
ne'er moment am I of thy sense bereft.
So should'st I let thee alway this day mar,
Have I not learnt I, too, in ways am deft?
Yes! Triumph shall I o'er this mortal coil
and Fie! no longer let thee my life spoil.

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

10 January 2015

What I'm Not Trying To Do, What I Must Remember

I had a helpful conversation with friend and author David Hilfiker yesterday. It impels me to continue the theme of my last post - Desiring Peace Means Practicing Peace, in which I try to clarify my January 1 post about relinquishing inner peace to nothing and no one.

David reminded me that I have a diverse readership and that what seems obvious to me -- making the choice for inner peace -- can seem an insurmountable obstacle to another. Of course, that's the premise of my last post (Desiring Peace Means Practicing Peace, link above). But what David said prompted me to add another layer of clarification and reflection.

Yes, I've made the journey from chronic anxiety to increasingly present inner peace. Yes, there was a time when the tools I now use seemed so far out of my realm of possibility that though I knew about and wanted them, I could not practice them. And so, to a certain extent, I write as a means to shine some hopeful light into someone else's dark journey: I have been there, I understand, and here's what I have done to help myself out of that place.

David was not saying this is not a legitimate purpose for this blog. He was asking me to remember I have certain advantages that some don't have. As a person who lived sunk in clinical depression for many years, he knows that -- even though I attempt not to sound patronizing or as though it's all a simple matter of developing some good habits -- I risk leaving out those for whom just making a decision to try a new meditation or call a doctor can seem an insurmountable task.

As I reflect on what he told me, I want to acknowledge two things: one is that while I've had the kind of depression that naturally goes along with anxiety, I've not ever been as depressed as he was, nor do I have any of the other mental illnesses that can cause one to lose hope. The other is that I also have advantages of the material kind that others do not.

Photo  by William Marsh
The first is self-evident. I won't explicate. But the other is one that bears some discussion. I have a comfortable, safe place to live and a loving and supportive primary relationship. I don't work and it's a good thing my husband does because my disability payments, as grateful as I am for them, don't begin to cover the expenses of living in D.C. I have the immeasurable but unseen benefits of a life-time of good health care, good nutrition, economic security, a fine education, and an assured place in society due to my race and class.

My ability to choose inner peace today is in part predicated on these benefits. With my background in working for and with those less privileged than I and the compulsion I have to find a way to extend that background through my writing, it's only right that I remember and acknowledge this.

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

08 January 2015

Desiring Peace Means Practicing Peace

In case my most recent post sounded glib -- or at least short and without much explanation -- I want to write today about what needs to come after the decision to maintain inner peace.

I've used certain tools for long enough now that keeping or getting back to inner peace is a matter of taking a few deep breaths or removing myself from a situation for a while.

But there was a time when I very much desired inner peace, yet my inherent anxiety and acquired habits of worry and fear plunged me into turmoil despite that desire. I was driven and I knew I was driven. I hated it and could do nothing about it. There's a long story or essay here, but for now I want to acknowledge that acquiring inner peace is a journey. Depending on where you are on that journey, some blog post telling you to "relinquish your inner peace to nothing and no one" might seem patronizing and unhelpful. It would have to me.

The fact is that the second step on my journey to inner peace (the first step being desiring it) was to get myself on anxiety medication. That was a hard decision -- I'd always prided myself on not taking a lot of pills and over-the-counter medicines -- but my misery was so deep that ultimately I had no alternative. After the medication helped me become calmer, I found within me the resources to take the next steps on the journey: to discover and practice the methods and tools that allowed peace to grow.

Photo by William Marsh

I have posted a lot about those tools: meditation, reflective prayer, deep breathing, counted breathing, deep muscle relaxation, guided meditation, music, and small comfort measures. (You'll find links to these topics in the Labels list to the right.) They have sustained me through the loss of my work and active life to chronic migraine pain, as well as sorrows and difficulties for family and friends.

It has been a journey of many years. And there were times I despaired of myself and my inability to find the peace I longed for. So I would never say it's easy. Too much in our world and within ourselves mitigates against calm, quiet, ease and serenity. Yet it has been worth it. And I would not go back for anything.

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

01 January 2015

Holiday Strategies -- Boiling Beans, Burns and Inner Peace

I often say I write this blog mostly for myself. That it seems sometimes to help or encourage others is gratifying, but I need it as much as anyone.

Case in point: I got first- and second-degree burns when I spilled a pot of boiling beans a couple days ago. The burned area extends from just below my rib cage to my upper thigh on my right side. The wounds are messy and they hurt. I can't wear any clothing except a caftan or nightgown. I can't go to the gym. Can't even walk my dog. And the nurse on the advice line said it may be two weeks until I am fully healed.

Yesterday I complained a lot about not being able to do anything. I was restless and unhappy. Then this morning I realized I had relinquished my inner peace to these burns on my stomach.

Photo by William Marsh

That boiling pots of beans has given me an opportunity to practice maintaining inner peace. What a great way to begin 2015.

Happy New Year to all of you.

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