Category Archives: Poetry + Short Stories

Loving Yourself Through Chronic Illness

shelby westfall block

In January 2014, I went to the doctor with pretty severe wrist pain.  Visits like these were not (and still aren’t) uncommon.  I thought I knew exactly how the appointment would go: I would point to where it hurt, they would take an x-ray, they would tell me there was no problem, and they would send me on my way with a little less pride and a little less money.  I was no stranger to this system.  But this appointment was not as expected.  After the x-ray, my doctor came back in with a puzzled look on her face. “Does your thumb hurt? It- isn’t where it should be.”  And this, friends, began my long and (so far) difficult journey to loving myself with a chronic illness.

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The Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome National Foundation defines EDS as “a heterogeneous group of heritable connective tissue disorders, characterized by articular (joint) hypermobility, skin extensibility and tissue fragility.”  Oh, yes.  Suddenly the previous 19 years of my life made sense.  Every ache and pain, every sprained joint, and every mysterious bruise could suddenly be put into a cute little zebra-print storage bin in the corner of my room.  I could finally fold up my “crazy” rug and sweep my symptoms into a pile, to be put in their proper home.  It was a lovely thought, one about which I had often fantasized, and an even lovelier reality.  But, then what? What happens after the “it wasn’t all in my head” high?

My mother taught me to love my body.  She taught me to see myself as beautiful in every aspect.  I grew up loving my body.  When I was in middle school, I used to stand in the mirror and flex my legs, admiring their definition.  When other girls started straightening their hair, I didn’t understand because I loved my frizzy hair just the way it was.  In this way, I was very fortunate.  But, at a somewhat early age, I had to face another challenge entirely: how do you love a body that doesn’t seem to love you back?  I remember the first time I realized that I was the only one of my friends still getting “growing pains.”  When I would complain about these pains, my friends would tell me that I was probably just still growing. I would pretend to agree.  When I would get dizzy, people would tell me that I just stood up too quickly.  I would pretend to agree. When my knees would buckle as I was walking to class, my friends would tell me I was clumsy.  I would pretend to agree.

I realize now that I never really loved my body.  Sure, I loved her in a superficial sense.  I thought she was beautiful.  I still do.  But I didn’t really love her.  In fact, I resented her.  I was scared of her.  I was in a toxic relationship, and I could not escape.  I was angry at my body because I didn’t think she loved me.  I realize now that I just didn’t understand her love.  My body loved me enough to let me play volleyball for seven years and basketball for nine, before making my hips too wobbly to run down the court.  My body loved me enough to let me get up out of bed, even though she was working harder than I knew.  My body continues to love me this much.  It is the least I can do treat her as she treats me.

ci2

This journey to self-acceptance has been anything but easy.  It is human nature to have hope.  Hope is an absolutely beautiful thing.  But, to someone with a chronic illness, hope can be dangerous.  When I dislocate a hip, people tell me to “get well soon,” which is a lovely gesture.  It is also something to which I certainly cannot commit.  Telling a chronically ill person to “get well soon” is, though very well intentioned, not exactly comforting.  Chronic illness means the opposite of getting well soon.  An important part of loving yourself with a chronic illness is learning how to be well without being well.  It is learning to love your body, even though she fails you every day.  Loving yourself with a chronic illness means learning to get better without really getting better.  And I am beyond happy to say that I understand this now.  I can say now that I love my body.  I appreciate her for exactly what she is.  My body is a warrior.  She is strong, despite her weaknesses.  Her creativity astounds me.  And through all of this, I have learned, perhaps most importantly, all of the ways she loves me.


shelbywbio

Series V: Ponderings

shelby westfall blockQuestions for the Waves

I wonder if it can see me,

from underneath the waves.

Can it hear the lies I tell it?

Will it keep them in its grave?

 

And when I lay to sleep at night,

does it have secrets of its own?

Is there a love beneath the surface,

only dreamt and never known?


Will You Still Love Me After Midnight?

Will you still love me after midnight?

I toss and turn (I’ve heard I snore).

Will you still want to hold me tight?

Will you want me anymore?

 
 

And will you love me in the morning,

if you make it through the night?

I fear I should give you warning,

before the sun is bright.

 
 

I won’t wake up looking pretty.

It’s nothing like the shows.

I know it’s vain and petty,

but this is something you should know.

 
 

Because I’ll love you after midnight,

even though you snore.

And when you hold me tight,

I’ll love you even more.


Promises

Do you hear me when I whisper

what I’ll never say out loud?

When I’m embarrassed and ashamed,

do you promise you’ll stay proud?

 
 

And when I’m at my lowest

and I can’t look in the mirror,

will you find all my self-pity?

Will you make it disappear?

 
 

When I’m hurt and I’m immobile,

and I’m sick in years to come,

will you promise to not stop smiling?

Will you always keep me young?


shelbywbio

The Man in Blue

xavier martin block

The Man In Blue

 

When I was young

My mom told me a story

Of a man in blue

and his frightening glory.

 

She said

 

“He takes away many,

those he might take have to worry.

He’ll take away your brother

or your sister or you or me.”

 

“He rides a monstrous machine

Shining lights both red and blue.
Black boy black boy

He’s coming for you.”

 

I was terrified.

No child wants to be taken

I knew it was a story,

But I was still shaken.

 

“I’ve grown up though!

Now I’ve got nothing to fear,

No man in blue there,

No man in blue here.”

That’s what I once thought,

But now it’s all clear,

He’s coming for me

And he’s filled with cheer

 

I’m constantly scared

Always watching my back

for the man in blue

to take me for being black.


xavierbio

A Reluctant Contortionist

shelby westfall block

A Reluctant Contortionist

Suzanne woke up with a pop and a crack, not unlike her favorite breakfast cereal.  She stretched her lanky limbs, listening to the music her body made.  She paid close attention to her right shoulder, which seemed to have a mind of its own lately.  The snap it made as it slid forward, not unlike a snare drum, was a sound she quite enjoyed.  Of course, it was much easier to hear the music in the morning, before the pops and cracks turned against her.  She stumbled loosely out of bed, limping just the slightest, to her coffee maker and started to brew her morning cup.  Recognizing the limp, she stretched once more.  Suzanne bent over, placing her palms on the floor in front of her feet.  She looked at her knees, now in front of her face.  She needed to shave.  That could wait for another morning.

Fifteen minutes to noon, Suzanne started off to her only class of the day, Biology.  She walked to class with her headphones in, but with no music playing.  She listened instead to herself- to the Suzanne Symphony.  She walked by a young man who looked at her closely as he passed.  Could he hear the music, too?  No, probably not.  She looked down at her legs.  Her hips were everywhere today.  Victoria’s Secret models could only dream of swinging their hips with half of the attitude Suzanne had by accident.  Suddenly aware of this false attitude, she tried to reign it in.  Unsuccessful, she let her hips swing freely as she walked, knowing she would pay for it later.

Biology was tiresome, in every way possible.  Impressively, Suzanne nodded off only twice in the hour and a half class.  Professor Ritter had a monotonous voice that could always put her to sleep, even if she had gotten more than her usual four hours the night before.  She looked around at her classmates.  Somewhere around the third row, notebooks and pencils turned into cell phones.  Suzanne sat in the back row, but she still had her notes out.  Her pen was sitting on her desk and her left hand was wrapped tightly around her right wrist.  Feeling eyes on her, she turned to her left.  The girl sitting next to her was staring at her wrist, eyes wide.  Suddenly, she understood.  The girl had heard the snare drum and Suzanne hadn’t even noticed it.  She loosened her grip and felt her bones settle back into place.  She gave the poor girl a nervous grin and packed up her bag.  Class had finally come to an end.

Naps had become an essential part of the day to Suzanne.  Every day, about five hours in, her muscles would start to fatigue.  Her shoulders would become heavy, her eyes tired, and the world around her would become far less clear.  On this particular day, her hips were asking for rest.  Of course, maybe  “asking”  isn’t the right word.  They were asking for rest the way a five year-old boy asks for Spider Man bandages.  Her hips demanded rest.  They were screaming for rest.  She gave in, just as an exhausted mom usually buys the Spider Man bandages, and laid down to sleep.

She laid on her back, hoping to silence her body.  Instead, the sounds swirled around her.  Her music wasn’t music anymore.  It was a dying children’s toy.  It was the opening credits of a black and white movie.  Discord hugged her tightly- a second blanket she could not kick off.  Trying to get comfortable, she turned over in bed and a thunder roared through her body from her hip.  Her legs were pretzeled underneath her and she didn’t have the energy to unfold them.  She tried closing her eyes but her world still spun.  One by one, her senses began to lie to her.  Though she was quite certain that she was still laying safely on her bed, every part of her body assured her that she was not, so she opened her eyes to check.  The clock was cruel to her.  Despite the hours that had spun around her, only twenty minutes had managed to pass by and she decided to give up on her nap.

Suzanne spent the rest of her evening in a haze.  She stared at her homework for hours before giving up and parking herself in front of the TV with her knitting needles.  She gazed absently at the news and let her hands work without any thought at all. She always liked to knit on her foggy nights.  Suzanne found that her body could stop her from just about anything, but it didn’t have to stop her from everything.  On nights like these, when her world spun around her and every joint ached, her hands were still nimble.  Her scarves and sweaters were little victories she saw in her closet every morning.  When her body stopped making music, she could always count on the clicking of her needles to put rhythm back into her life.  It was the reminder she always needed at the end of a long night.  It was a reminder of the music she would surely face again in the morning, when her body had yet to turn against her and she could hear the rhythm in her bones.


Suzanne is a fictional character based off of the life of someone who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  To learn more about EDS, or to donate, visit http://ednf.org.


shelbywbio

Moira’s Poems: Pt. II

moira carder blockReady

 

Torn between brokenness and tears

Of fighting through my worst fears

Day by day is painful enough

When you struggle with feeling loved

I’m ready for new chapters

I’m ready for new journeys

I’m ready for the day

I’ll finally feel okay


I Stand

 

When I fight for who I am

I stand on solid ground

When people don’t like what they see

They choose to leave

Which allows the soil beneath my feet

to slowly tear away from me

I feel frail and torn

Battered and worn

Not feeling beautiful

In any form


moirabio

Series IV: On Home

shelby westfall block

It’s a God Thing

My mother used to say,

when I was feeling low,

that troubles always pass.

I just have to let them go.

 

“It’s a God thing,”

she would say.

Then she’d hug me tight.

So I try to never worry.

My mother’s always right.


 

Going Home

Every time that I go home,

something else has changed.

It may be a new appliance,

or a brand new shade of paint.

 

But the last time I went home,

There was no change that I could see.

I thought and thought and finally saw,

The thing that changed was me.


 

A New Home

This morning I made pancakes

with extra chocolate chips.

They were nothing like my father’s,

but they satisfied an itch.

 

Home is where you make it.

This is something that I know.

And with every perfect pancake,

I watch my new home grow.


shelbywbio

Seeking Strength Through God

moira carder block

As a child, my church was a second home to me.  It’s where I went to preschool, met my best friends, and essentially where I grow up.  As a kid, the bible seemed like a storybook.  There were always the same stories, the same holidays, and the same traditions.  As I grew up with and through the youth group, I began to find a deeper meaning.  Although my family faded away from going to church every Sunday, I always went.  I learned to read between the lines, and discovered the true meaning of what it meant to love God and live through Him.  It was never easy when things got tough, loving God through troubling times; and as I grew older, it made it very difficult to continue to live this way.

Teenage years are the years of anger, heartbreak, confusion, and loss for everyone.  You grow to see who your real friends are, and who will always stand by your side through the hell you will inevitably endure.  A home, on the other hand, is expected to be the place where you are loved, taken care of, and cherished forever.  It hasn’t been easy growing up in my house; I’ve been a victim of abuse for years upon years.  I’ve grown up struggling with how to trust; I never have had a pure example of what a trusting relationship truly looks like.  I have had to live in constant fear, and in a home I am always afraid to go back to.

It was something I accepted growing up.  I was scared to be anything less than perfect, I was terrified I would say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and I was frightened of what else I would suffer.  It’s terrible when your earliest memories from childhood involve being tortured by a lady that was hired to ‘fix you,’ because you were accused of being a troubled, manipulative five year-old.

The hitting came from anger, and it always seemed like my deserved punishment.  The hair pulling, name calling, and being explicitly told by my parents that they wished they’d never adopted me rooted inside my mind.  I took darker roads than others, and felt pain in the deepest parts of my heart that were torn apart and never healed back properly.

It took a toll on my emotional health as well as my social life.  I relied on my friends for more than they could provide, I broke apart relationships with my grief and fear, and I wore a masked face and carried a heavy heart for such a long time.  I put myself down for things that in retrospect I did well, but never believed at the time were good enough.

It took years of pain and suffering before I decided to actually start praying to God about my struggles, tenderness and hurt.  It was probably my sophomore year when I felt like I was climbing a mountain of nails.  I kept trying, but it became too painful to bear.  I was ready to let go.  I shut out my friends, people that loved me, and even my God.  I didn’t understand why praying didn’t help me, change how I was being treated, or make me feel any differently.  I was ready to give up on forgiveness for the people that tore at the little strings that I had left holding me together.  I was ready to quit.  Everything that even gave me the slightest bit of comfort was never enough.  I felt like my heart had been coated with fear, I felt scared to live the way I was, and I was facing indescribable pain.

My youth group took a trip to Florida the summer before my junior year, and even with my doubts and brokenness in my faith, I tagged along.  I was distant, I hardly smiled, and I was facing each day with a shattered self- image.  I took a lot of time on the beach walking alone on the shoreline, attempting to free my heavy thoughts to the fresh air and sunset.  The goal was to spend a whole week together in the presence of God and one another to become better people through our struggles.  To me, it was a waste of my time.  I wasn’t feeling anything special; I didn’t feel freed from pain, even with prayer.

Personal Photo/ Moira Carder
Personal Photo/ Moira Carder

The last night we were there, our leader, Mike, took us to the beach for our last discussion.  He wanted us to experience the beauty in the work of God, as we discussed.  We talked about burdens, and things that we went there with that were heavy on our shoulders and overflowing in our hearts.  The sunset had reached the point of many colors, and the breeze had become cooler.  The next thing Mike told us to do was the one thing that I had been seeking and praying for.  He said, “I want you all to spread out on this beach, and spend several minutes with just you and God.  I want you to think of the one thing that you want God to take off your shoulders.  The thing that has heavied your heart and really taken control of you through these past months or even years.  Once you think of it, I want you to write it in the sand…  Close enough to where the water can reach it, but far enough away where you can take a minute with it written there before it washes away.  I want you to pray to God and give this burden up to Him.  Free yourself from this struggle, and let Him take it.”

Personal Photo/ Moira Carder
Personal Photo/ Moira Carder

I got up off my towel and found a spot on the beach far from the others spread out along the shore.  The cloud cover gave the colors of the sunset an extra boost, and the sky became more beautiful with every passing moment.  I took a few seconds to think, and I slowly took a breath in as I leaned down to write the word ‘family’ in the sand.  I stood up, took a step back and looked down at the word as the waves slowly washed it away.  In an instant, my shoulders felt lighter, and my heart felt the presence of God.  It was a feeling of relief, and a sudden strength that told me I was going to be okay.  I stood for several more minutes watching the rest of the sunset with tears rolling down my face.  It was the first second that I knew, God doesn’t give up, even when you are ready to.

Personal Photo/ Moira Carder
Personal Photo/ Moira Carder

Editor’s note:  If you or a loved one is living in an unsafe environment, get help.  Contact your local police, church, or social services.  For more information, please visit http://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/abuse.htm.


moirabio

Series III

shelby westfall block

Tornado

She is a tornado

but she will not suck me in.

Her glance will never do to me

what it does to every man.

 

They never see her coming.

If they did, I know they’d run.

She intrudes upon their lives.

She leaves behind a flood.

 

The Musician

There is a passion in her eyes

that I’ve never seen before.

What she plays is only music,

but it seems like so much more.

 

She dances when she plays

but I’m sure she doesn’t know.

She hasn’t any clue

of all the power she bestows.

 

Her face can tell a story

of which her fingers only dreamed.

I wonder if she knows

that she moves more than just her keys.


shelbywbio

Moira’s Poems: Pt. I

moira carder block

Blossom of Beauty

Beautiful flowers

Do not come through pain

They come through sunshine

And they come through rain

Do not let it wilt and wither away

Even on the cloudiest of days

A flower is the same as a fragile soul

That needs attention in order to feel full

When the leaves change and fall

It represents the blossom in us all

Count On Me

When you’re lost and scared

And thrown out at sea

Look beyond the troubles

And there I’ll be

Comfort comes

From a heart who cares

Always understands

And is always there

I will anchor you from storms

When you’re lost at sea

Forever I’m there

You can count on me


moirabio

Series II

shelby westfall block

To a Friend

There’s a chaos that surrounds me,

that will not leave me be.

But I come home and you’re right there.

And suddenly I’m free.

 

Even when I’m far away,

I always call on you.

No matter how confused I am,

you tell me what is true.

The Flower

Today I saw a flower,

growing in the weeds.

She grows tall and fierce,

but is battered by the breeze.

And when it rains,

she fills up

and shelters those beneath her.

They stay dry,

and safe and sound,

and they hardly even see her.

The Dancer

She doesn’t even know the way

she dances when she moves.

Like she’s gone through all there is to go through

and there’s nothing left to prove.

 

She has a way of really knowing

everyone she knows.

She has so much going on

but she doesn’t let it show.


shelbywbio