Monday, December 27, 2021

When the dog bites ...when the birds sing...

A Cerulean Sky

My goodness the acoustics are great in here and damn I can sing! These simultaneous revelations ran through my head while I was belting out the chorus from  My Favorite Things. I was singing it as if my life depended on it for that golden ticket to Hollywood.  I can't ever recall singing in the shower before right now; sure I may have hummed a few lines or sang along under my breathe to something on my playlist. This however is all disconcerning; it is the day after Christmas my body ravaged by the sustained energy of extra stimulation that comes with the holidays and I am legit singing at the top of my lungs with the confidence of a Broadway star. If you read no further; the take home message is I highly recommend this form of therapy.

The preamble is it took a few hours to get to the shower. I didn't have the energy but my body felt as if it was vibrating from exhaustion and a bath was too much effort. So I turned my head to the right where I can see my shower door and willed my aching body to the bathroom a few feet away. It turned out those few feet transported me into another world. 

So here I am with no conscious thought; the warm water melting my tired nerves and as if Julie Andrews herself possessed me I belt out "when the dog biTes, when the birds sinG when I'm feeling SADDDD I SIimPLY REmember my FAVoRITe things and thennnn I DON'T feeeellll So baD!" What the actual fuck am I doing? But I do it again. I sing it again and again louder and louder more guttural each time. It has no longer become a song but a mantra. A chant. I also ask myself what is so bad about birds singing? Oh, haha it's the bees sting; makes much more sense. Is it bad or matter. I know no other words even if I had tried and I didn't care. Each time I belt out this chorus emphasizing the "T" on biTe I feel better and better. No wonder Keith Richard defies all odds; who doesn't want to be a rock star? I'm getting high and my only audience is my voice echoing back at me from the white subway tiles. And I no longer feel bad or sad. I feel alive; there is nothing better than feeling alive.

My vagus nerve must be rocking. There is an entire theory for ME/CFS based on the vagus nerve. Long story short the Vagus nerve is really important. Think of it as Golden Gate Bridge important without it your connection is lost. It is the longest of the cranial nerves. Vagus, from Latin meaning wandering and wander it does all the way from the brain stem to the colon. It is a major regulator for sensory, special sensory motor and parasympathetic functions. Everything You Need to Know About the Vagus Nerve The link is a bit of an over reach for the title but I would encourage you to read more about this fascinating 10th cranial nerve. For example ever wonder why deep diaphragmatic breathing brings a sense of calm; thank your vagus nerve decreasing the stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The ME/CFS theory is that an infection may damage or silently take residence in the vagus nerve hence the wide range of multi system organ dysautonomia. I mention this because many in the ME world do a lot of Vagus nerve work. There are exercises to strengthen ie stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve importance stretches far beyond ME/CFS medically but it has been circulating in this sphere for a long time. Voila; you guessed it singing is an excellent vagus nerve stimulator. Many people with ME have difficulty speaking and swallowing; swallowing in particular controlled by the vagus nerve. When I am incredibly fatigued those close to me notice the second I say hello no matter how hard I may try and hide it what kind of day it is; my voice has a different tenor. I also for years had moments where I would be eating and it would be as if my brain forgot how to swallow. It is an awful bizarre feeling and like a poker player it is a tell that my body is crashing. So the fact that I could sing and sing loudly was a great gift that it energized versus depleted me; pure joy.

I got back into bed reflecting again wondering why this song?  I hadn't just watched The Sound of Music or even seen an advertisement for it this holiday season. In fact there are a number of famous movies that I do not like; never have. In no particular order: ET, The Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz. I only tolerated the Wizard of Oz for the cute dog, the fabulous shoes and Glenda. But the Sound of Music never enjoyed. Mainly because it's so damn sad and at a young age I was not immune to the cruelties of the world. The suffering of others based on hideous actions by their fellow humans rocked my nerves to the core. Then just add the obvious: Julie Andrews horrible haircut, that song the children sing to get to bed - my goodness do we need the production just go to sleep. I can pin point many reasons but those were just discrattionary critiques of the horror beneath the musical governess efforts. The meat of the story I never would be able to shake - the war, the escape and the journey ahead. We know they made it based on the true story of the Von Trapps but the movie always left me numb to those that didn't. Just because they sang through the hilltops it wasn't the end of the story it was actually the beginning.  I still get a pit in my stomach knowing their refuge wasn't everyones. (Side-note if you haven't read Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale do yourself a favor it's beautiful historical fiction on the war and mountainous efforts; soon to be a movie) I would go to bed as a child not humming I am sixteen going on seventeen but rather my brain immersed in the the suffering avoided in a vacuum; reflecting on so many stories untold. 

The Nightingale

This is a hard time; and just when we think it is getting better a little spiked virus says not so quickly my deary. Who wouldn't want to be lying in a field of poppies or befriending an alien with Reese's pieces? This past 19 months way too many angels have gotten their wings with bells ringing literally as people took to their windows to applaud health care workers. I thought about all my not so favorite movies and how the  melancholy felt disguised as beauty. Lessons of love and loss; sacrifice and longing  are playing out in front of us while we all wait for the ending. We all have entered a chronic condition and living with one I know how many people don't want chronic. They want the bell curve; the beginning, middle and end. We are currently in a state of recycling the middle at a mind numbing pace. Chronic is not an easy place to live. 

We have been here before in history; the demarcation of pre and post. The days we don't forget and alter our lives in ways both big and small. These demarcations extend to our personal lives and just like history they aren't all bad or good. The most difficult pre and post lines in the sand are when the line keeps moving. The lack of a clear ending and ever evolving information puts our coping and tolerance to a test; a painful one. Some are more effected than others; and like the Von Trapps some escape while others are left behind. It is a time when we need a lot of grace for ourselves and others, sometimes we see that beauty and triumph and yet often all we see is the anger and pain.

During the pandemic Amanda Kloots would share her morning ritual of starting the day off singing with her son. I then adapted that and each morning send my helper Chrissy in AZ a good morning song. This morning there was no doubt what song but I hadn't anticipated the breadth of artists that have covered My Favorite Things. Take your pick of genre: Kelly Clarkson, John Coltrane, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, The Supremes, Audra McDonald with Carrie Underwood to name a few. From Kenny G's saxophone to Tony Bennet's swooning I listened to a lot of them; but not one had the grit. They were bouncy and jolly; in my mind rewriting the history. These favorite things aren't really things at all they are life pre...when it was safer and kinder.  Julie Andrews' version has that sing song feel but the chorus has the fortitude that behind sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles we have a whole other story really being told. The other versions all sugar coat the song; missing the desperation the pain behind the favorite things. Will we once again be effortlessly seeing girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes? Or are these favorite things going to be willful memories? This is not an Annie Hall La Di Di, La Di Da oh shucks remembrance. Those are real dogs showing their teeth and when this was written they didn't even predict murder hornets. This song is demanding joy while fighting for survival; willing there will be a day we reclaim our favorite things without looking over one's shoulder. I have lived the last decade plus missing my favorite things and adapting to new ones. I know the pain of missing fluidity, normalcy and predictability. Many of you know it we do remember our favorite things or add new ones; gratitude for a grey day to become a breathtaking Cerulean sky and a new Dolly mug where Icon meets Coffee. These little things make the day not feel so bad. National Archives Von Trapp Family ( Spoiler alert; they didn't travel across the Alps)

I'm not sure if I'll continue belting things out in the shower; and highly doubt Julie Andrews will mysteriously overtake my body again. However, I do know that birds singing sure as hell beats bees stinging. Wishing us all better days ahead and plenty of favorite things; the most important things not being things at all - each other. 

One of my new favorite things
Coffee plus Dolly....Heaven.

xo Heather 

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