“Indefensible”

th-1Steven Avery became a household name last Christmas with the release of the Netflix documentary, The Making of A Murderer.  I know everyone in my family was hooked, and the discussions were lively.   Avery, just released from prison for a wrongful charge, finds himself a prime suspect in another sexual assault and murder case.  His defense and the film makers cry setup, and the justice system is tipped upside down.

Prosecutor Micheal Griesbach (not involved in the second case against Avery) had watched the news reports surrounding Teresa Halbach’s disappearance and the subsequent arrest of  Avery and assumed the police department got it right.  That is until he viewed  The Making of a Murderer, and found himself questioning along millions of other viewers.

Indefensible follows Griesbach’s investigation into what really did happen to Teresa Halbach, the young woman who went missing shortly after arriving at the Avery compound to photograph a vehicle for sale.  He goes behind the scenes and reexamines the evidence, drawing comparisons to the documentary.

As someone who likes to know the truth behind the production, I appreciate Griesbach’s step-by-step consideration of the case.

Indefensible is more than an account of a murder; it is a commentary on the power of the media, and a “world where the line between reality and entertainment is fading fast…” as quoted from the author.

The Bottom of The Ravine

I spotted him as soon as I exited the back door of the school.  He stood on the field, just off the paved area where students were now scattering after the final bell.  He wore a bulky, beige parka, fists shoved into jean pockets, a few locks of dirty blonde hair falling over cold grey eyes; his glare confrontational.  His name was Guy and while he seldom attended school, where his size was notable, whenever he did show up there was bound to be trouble.

Our eyes locked for a moment, and not wanting to show any fear, I pulled myself up taller, adjusted the jacket I’d thrown over my arm, grasped my books firmly and tried to look calm as I headed for home.th-1

Home was an apartment building just across a steep ravine.  To access it by road required a long walk equating to a mile or more, so if weather permitted, I would take the trail down the ravine and across a large sewer pipe supported on either side by mounds of earth built up around it.  Since the day was unusually warm – the first signs of spring – I decided to take the short cut.

In my peripheral vision I saw that Guy had started moving in the same direction.  He lived in my building, so I guessed he was just going home, but just to be sure, I decided to walk on the narrow dirt path beside the sewer pipe so he wouldn’t get any ideas, such as pushing me off.

I was looking straight ahead and walking at a confident pace when his body hit mine – a full impact blow that both winded me and caused to me lose my footing.  Mind racing, I tried to surmise what was happening, as my hands grasped at rocks, twigs, anything to stop my tumbling descent.  I managed to right myself for a moment before he came at me again – a tan blur of rage – felt searing pain in my shoulder as he wrestled me to the ground.  I struck out with the good arm and caught the hood of his jacket, but he just squirmed out from under it, an evil grin on his face as he gripped my other arm, yanking the shoulder out of its socket.  On the ground now, I kicked back, feeling my own demon rising up.  I cussed and spat until finally, tossing a handful of dirt and rocks in my face, he got up and walked away, his hulking body unmarred by our melee.

“That’s for all of us!” he spat, pleased with himself for his actions.

A few timid bystanders handed me my books and jacket as I gingerly made my way up the steep slope to solid ground.  Every movement made me wince with pain, and I felt my head reeling, but I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.  I’d never been well-received at this new school, and now I knew for sure what they thought of me.  Guy had delivered that message loud and clear.1974roadtrip

“No broken bones,” the emergency doctor reported.  “Two dislocated shoulders and a lot of bruising that will be tender for a while.  I think she’d best take it easy for a few a days – I’ll give her a prescription for the pain.  Have you called the police?”

“Suppose I should?”  My mother seemed uncertain.

“If she was my daughter, I would,” the doctor raised an eyebrow, patted me gently and walked off to the next patient.

“His mother seems to think you provoked it,” the officer read from a small, spiral notepad.  “Says you insult her son often.  Have been mouthy at school.”

Really, I thought, you’re going to blame this on me?

“Well, she does has a history of fighting,” my mother offered.

Okay, it was true, but not this time.  This time, I didn’t ask for it.  I walked away!

“I think you two had better shake and make up,” the officer decided and then left to fetch my assailant.  th-2

Guy’s mother pushed her son into the apartment, smoke from her lit cigarette trailing up from a bony hand.  Guy looked smugly unfazed by the police presence.

“You need to leave my boy alone,”  his mother said.  She was a small, wiry woman, her face lined with deep wrinkles.  Hard, I think the word would be.

He needs to back off me!  I wanted to say, except I was hurting too much to speak.

“Shake!”

Guy took his hand out and I reluctantly placed mine in it, limply offering a truce.

“Now stay away!” his mother warned.

The policeman closed the door behind them. I stared at the space they once occupied and wondered how it had all gone so wrong – the move to this school, my classmates turning on me, the beating, and now the blame.

Was I really that horrid of a person?

How would I ever return to school again and face the haters?

It was 1969 and I was eleven-years-old. That was the year I learned to hate myself.  I made a vow to be tougher, to hold my head high and never falter.  I would be strong.th-3

It was also a time when I learned to doubt myself, devaluing the things that had previously defined me – my intellect, my sense of justice, my desire to make a difference in the world.  I buried them all beneath a happy-go-lucky exterior.  Better to appear dumb and blend in then make a scene.

A bully may have defiled me, but it was I who decided to bury the best parts of me at the bottom of that ravine.

(Art from imgarcade.com)

Cars and Faith

Assuming my faculties have regained some semblance of functioning, I will drive again.  I don’t anticipate the first run will be without incidence – traffic is known to snarl, and accidents are a regular occurrence – but I have faith in my ability to respond appropriately.

th-3I’m reminded of my first car and that one intersection where the road dipped just before the traffic lights to accommodate an overhead rail line.  My 1967 slant six Dodge Swinger had a cracked engine block and liked to stall out whenever moisture hit it. It would be okay as long as I was motoring along, but the moment I stopped, it was trouble.  Nine times out of ten, it would be in that dip, and  with traffic honking angrily around me I would have to restart the engine without flooding it – usually two-footing the pedals, ready to rev the accelerator the second the engine ignited. That car taught me a lot about patience and determination.

I was also driving a car the first time my mind snapped.  It was an old Firenza that my then husband had refurbished and souped up.  I hated driving it because the brakes could barely contain the torque and it also stalled out th-4easily (is there a theme developing here?)  The day in question, I had all three kids aboard and found myself suddenly lost in traffic in a city that I’d dwelt in all my life.  I was in the left hand turning lane when I realized that I had no idea where I was nor where I was going.  Sensing the tension, the kids started screaming and crying in the back seat, and as traffic grew into an angry hornet’s nest around us, so did I.    A baby-faced police officer, who stopped to help, directed me through the intersection to our home, which was embarrassingly on the street I was attempting to turn onto.  He waited kindly until a family member showed up.

My brain paralysis lasted only six weeks back then – a product of ‘acute depressive anxiety’ the experts had labelled it.  Harnessing that determination I mentioned earlier, and using my children as inspiration, I pulled myself out of that abyss one step at a time, having to relearn many life skills, including driving.  th-5

That’s how I know I’ll be able to do it again.  The body, the mind, are mendable when the spirit is resilient.  I have faith.

 

Disability’s Rage

I am not always in possession of my own faculties and the resulting anger lashes out, mostly at my husband, whom I hope recognizes it is seldom personal.

I hate myself in these moments – not all of me – just the malfunctioning parts.

It happens when I overexert myself.  Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease is the new name attributed to ME/CFS, and it is appropriate.  Even my brain suffers from exhaustion. th-2

I have been pushing myself extra hard lately – partly because I am tired of being tired, and partly because I have some things I need to get done – and the result for my brain is that it is losing ground.  I forget things, become confused easily, and cannot process information.

We have been prepping here for a yard sale.  That means making a lot of decisions.  Decisions involve executive functioning:  Is this object redundant? Can I see myself needing it down the road?  How much should I ask for it?  While these may seem like fairly straightforward questions, to the disabled mind they can be taxing.

Mid-afternoon my sister dropped by to help out.  Conversation was difficult as the words just would not come.  She took home a couple of things to try out in her own home.  Later, she texted me money for the items.

This is when it all fell apart.

I have never received money via texting before and my brain, instead of seeing a new learning opportunity, shut down.

“I can’t do this!” I bemoaned to my husband.  “Why would she do that to me?”

He tried to talk me through it.  My brain rebelled further.

“Can’t I just forward the text to you and you do it?”

“You can try, but I don’t think it works that way.”

Money, my panic was telling me, is suspended in space and you better hurry up and grab it!

th-1I tossed my phone aside, laid back and took some deep breaths.  It’s a technique I’ve learned when my muscles get in knots – better to breathe through the stress then try to conquer it.

Awareness of how to proceed floated to the surface.  I deposited the texted money to my account – not the right one – but I had received it, nevertheless.

My husband tried to talk to me about what I can do differently next time, but I hadn’t lost the combative edge yet.  He left me alone.

Sometimes, I just have to grasp the rage by the neck and wrestle it to the ground before it destroys us all.

“I got a lot done today,”  I said aloud.  “And I’m proud of myself for resolving that problem.”

“You’ve done very well,” my husband responded, re-entering the room.

I looked at this man, so brilliant and accomplished, and marvelled that he puts up with the lot of me.th-3

“I am happy, you know,” I tell him, “and excited about where our life is going.” I reach out a hand to him.

“I know you are,” he says taking my hand.  “I know you are.”

Neither of us speaks of concern or worry – it’s all been said before.  What if I never do get better?

Infidelity Speculations

“If twenty percent of couples are affected by infidelity, then who do you think that might be in our circle of friends?”

It was a favourite game my former husband and I played after leaving our monthly get-together with the other moms and dads from our son’s preschool class.

“Well out of ten couples that means there should be at least two affected.  Howard for sure!”  It was common knowledge that Howard had messed around with his secretary; I knew it before I met him.  We lived in a small town. th

“What about his wife?  Do you think she did it for revenge?”

Eileen was so black and white about things and never afraid to speak her mind.  “I can’t imagine it.  Bet she gave him a hard time though.”

“What about Gilda and John?”

“No, they’re too tight.”

“He was flirting with you, I noticed.”

“He was just being nice, making sure I was having a good time.  He’s like that.”  Gilda had confessed to me on two different occasions that she kept her man happy with lots of sex.  I didn’t think it could be them.

Grace and Stephen were very religious, so I didn’t think it could be them.  Besides, I went to school with him, and he was always just a decent guy. Ken and Dora would kill each other if anything like that happened, and they were very vocal about it.

“What about Kay and Britt?  Do you think they even do it?’

We both laughed.  Britt was such an old man, always moaning about everything, and Kay just constantly appeared zoned out.

th-1“Sherry, maybe… she’s got this odd relationship with an old fling from high school days.  Pretty sure she sneaks out to meet up with him and Bill doesn’t know about it.”

“Really, you think Sherry is like that?”

“I do, and it’s a shame.  Bill is so committed to her; he’d do anything to make her happy.”

“Bryce and Noel?”

“Doubt it.  They’re like Barbie and Ken – the perfect couple.”

“What about us?”  The conversation always ended up here.  Him asking me.

“Well, I for one would never.  You?”

Thinking back now, I don’t remember his answer.  I felt secure in my marriage, and was pretty sure that my husband’s external interests extended only as far as his hobby race car.

Turned out I was wrong about a lot of things.  Kay left Britt for another woman, Bryce had an affair with a co-worker who didn’t look anything like his Barbie wife, and both Sherry and Eileen were intimate with none other than my husband.  Eileen for an extended period of time.

After the divorce, many of our friends said: “You must have known!”  But, the thing is, I didn’t. I trusted him fully.

In retrospect the whole post-party Who-do-you-think-is-cheating? game must have been his way of testing the waters.  How smug he must have felt all along.  Not sure of the full extent of his infidelity, but I learned that it spilled over into many of our social circles.

Don’t know why I’m thinking about this today, except that I dreamt about Gilda last night.  Gilda of the “make sure there’s enough sex” ilk.  Did she know what was happening?  Was that her way of trying to give me a heads up?  th-2

No one said anything to me while we were married, but the stories came flooding in after.  I remember feeling a kind of betrayal from all our friends, but would I have believed them if they had told me?  Probably not.  I was guilty of a combination of naiveté and deep denial.

How would you handle the situation if you knew a friend’s spouse was being unfaithful? Did it happen to you and did you know at the time?

 

See It From Disability’s Side

If you’ve ever wondered what living with a disability feels like, imagine this:

  1.  Judgment is your constant companion.  Family, friends, and even total strangers will suddenly feel entitled to express opinions about your condition, lack of trying, mental attitude, the latest trends in healing, and so on.  You may be berated for using a handicap parking space (even though you have a sticker), especially if it’s on a day where you are trying to walk a bit.  If your gait is unsteady, and slow, you may be mistaken for a drunk.  Imagine living 24/7 with the stereotypical critical mother-in-law: that’s what it feels like.th
  2. You are completely dependent on the help of others, so;  be sure to pander to their needs and preferences if you want to go anywhere.  They drive; you do not.  If they stop offering to drive you are SOL!  If you thought you were a people pleaser before, that was only a trial run – you are now in it for survival.
  3. Abandonment is no longer a fear; it is reality.  Think of all the obligations and responsibilities you currently fulfill on a regular basis.  Imagine how important you are to so many people.  Should you get sick – long-term sick – you can count on being forgotten by most of them.  Actually, you may be shocked by the number of people who drop out of your life, for reasons you’ll never understand.  The good news is, you will be left with a handful of quality people who help heal the wounds.th-1
  4. No one will ever really understand.  I know this sounds like a throwback to adolescent angst, but it is true.  (See point 1.)  They may see your life as a continual vacation, but what they don’t appreciate is that even if you were at the beach: stairs, sand, and any uneven terrain are almost impossible to navigate when strength, coordination, or god forbid, mobility are lacking. th
  5. You will become an alien being, devoid of normal earthly attributes.  Okay, this may be exaggeration, but why else do people look away, or smile uncomfortably when they see you (children are not afraid to stare, I might mention)?  And why else will it automatically be assumed that you do not have any personal desires or ambitions?  It’s not hard to notice that tones becoming more condescending or ‘careful’ in your presence.  Even loved ones, overwhelmed by the new demands forced on them, will struggle to maintain former relationships.
  6. Every three months you will have to justify yourself to the insurance company, regardless of your condition. This includes reports from your medical team, as well as ongoing surveillance.  If the paranoia doesn’t get you, the depression of constantly having to face the hopelessness of your situation will.th-1
  7. You cannot decide which is more confining – the wheelchair or the loss of independence.

 

 

First Encounter with ME/CFS

Hesitantly, I turn the key in the lock and push the door ajar.  A waft of warm, stale air accosts me.

“Hello?”  I’d been told there might not be a response.

Something is resting against the door, so I push harder to let myself in.  The beam from the light of the open doorway is thick with dust and it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I am walking into a little foyer, with stairs ascending to the main level.  The walls on either side of the entrance are stacked high with boxes, and laundry baskets full of stuff.  There is something on the floor at my feet – a coat, or a blanket, I can’t tell – the object of resistance.  I step over it and close the door behind me.  The smell of the place hits me then, a smothering aroma of dust, and cigarettes, and cat fur.  I wonder what I have gotten myself into. th-1

“Hello?”  I call again, more desperate for a response.  Nothing.

She’ll be in the bedroom, at the end of the hallway, her mother told me.  She likely won’t awaken.

It is the middle of the day, but dark blankets cover the windows, allowing for minimal light.  I wait for my eyes to adjust before climbing the steps to the kitchen.  The rows of boxes and debris continue and flow into the kitchen, where dirty dishes and takeout containers litter the counters and floors.  Who can live like this?

I feel my way along the hall, carefully stepping through the hordes of items stashed there, until I reach the last bedroom.

Politeness makes me knock again.  Again no response.

The situation is worse than I thought, and I seriously doubt my ability to be of help.  It all started when she was seventeen, her mother told me.  She had a terrible case of the flu, followed by encephalitis, and then one thing after the other.  She rarely gets up, and has trouble putting a sentence together.  The doctors have given up on her.  She hasn’t been out of the house for ten years, and we can’t get anyone to go in.  We’d really appreciate if you’d go see her.

Two tabby cats greet me as I open the bedroom door, as does the fetid odour of a litter box.  Shooing them aside, I approach the bed.  Rumpled bedding is tangled up in the middle of full size bed, but no sign of any thirty-three year-old woman.  Now what? th-7

I decide she has to be somewhere within the mess of sheets and bedding, so centering myself, I begin, running my hands just above the bed, hoping for some sense of heat, or thickness, that might indicate a body inside.  Instead, I just feel foolish.  So, I stand at the foot of the bed and take some deep breaths, re-centering in hopes of some divine inspiration.

“Well?”  A faint, creaky voice emerges from under the covers.

“Hello,”  I say again, beginning to feel like a parrot.

A thin, waif-like hand appears, followed by a matted head of hair.  She is tiny.

“Any hope?”  her voice sounds as if it is coming from under water, slurred and garbled.

I am at a loss for words.  Here is this wisp of a woman, holed up this house with no daylight, and no fresh air, locked away from humanity, and all I can think of is how can she possibly survive.  I would have committed suicide long ago if it had been me.  What can I tell her about hope?

Then I remember something both Joan Borysenko and Bernie Siegel  said during workshops I had attended:  There is something to love about everyone.  Find it and you can help them. 

“Yes,”  I say.  “I believe there is.” th-6

“Really?”   The word comes out stretched and squeaky.

She has survived this long.  She has beaten odds, and continues to live.  It isn’t much of an existence, but something keeps her going.

“You have an incredible will.  Now, you just have to learn to channel that will to get better.”

* * * * *

This was my first encounter with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  At the time (early ’90s) I was unfamiliar with the disease, but had agreed to visit the patient as a practitioner of Therapeutic Touch.

I think of this woman often, especially now that I, too, have ME/CFS.  She did eventually get better, a journey which was long and arduous – 17 years in all.  From this early encounter, I watched as she began to emerge from her cocoon, slowly unraveling her way back to life.  Her courage and unwillingness to give up gives me strength each day.

This is reposted (and edited) from One Woman’s Quest. 

 

Tale of Kidnapping Inspirational

Amanda Lindhout, along with Sara Corbett, has written a riveting tale of her kidnapping and captivity during a trip to Somalia.

9781451645613-2

I first became interested in Lindhout’s story when I caught a glimpse of an interview on a television program.  How, I wondered, does someone survive such a horrendous experience?

A House in the Sky, is both haunting in its candidness and incredibly inspirational.  It displays the depravity of human nature and the indefatigable strength of spirit.

The description in the book, along with Amanda’s willingness to self-reflect, makes for a very engaging read, and more than that, I have found a modern-day heroine from whom I have drawn strength for my own life’s struggles.

Amanda Lindhout’s organization is Global Enrichment Foundation.

No Sailing At The Moment

I am learning to live in the moment, a lesson imposed by chronic illness.  No use regretting yesterday’s actions or inactions, and no point fretting about or planning the future.  What I know, is that there are moments of time, fleeting intervals that pass, some with profound relevance, some seemingly meaningless, and many in between.

(txvirus.deviantart.com)
(txvirus.deviantart.com)

Last night I dreamt that from where I stood a vast ocean rolled out before me – water as far as the eye could see and above it clear, blue skies, tiny crisp white sails on the horizon the only demarcation of where the water ended and the sky began.   I could feel the gentle lull of the ocean swells, and with lucidity, wondered where I was in this infinitely serene landscape.  Only then did I notice that I was standing at the rail of a large ship, still docked, waiting for the vessel to launch and my journey to begin.  The image has stayed with me all day, lingering like a beautiful piece of art that has stirred my imagination.

I would love to be on the ocean, sailing to exotic locales, feeling the freedom of the salty breeze washing over me and the warmth of a Caribbean sun beaming.  There is something so awe-inspiring about sailing with nothing but water in sight, having let go of the certainty of land and launched into an unknown, aware only of the depths beneath and the all powerful essence of the sea.  It is an exercise in trust, a willingness to take risks, to put yourself in the hands of others, and a higher power.

The waters in my dream were calm, the scene idyllic, but anyone with common sense knows that that can change in a second.  Naturally, we want to launch into what appears to be still waters, to be carried away and lulled by a sea of calm and serenity, however; this is just not the nature of life.

thThe dream left me hopeful, though, made me believe that there might be brighter days ahead, and that my proverbial ‘ship’ might one day set sail.

For now, I will continue to live in the moment.

Fake It Till I Make It, Not!

th-1I wasn’t raised to be on disability.  In fact, my military trained father would never allow us to sleep in – up by 5 a.m. on holidays or we’d miss the day – and constantly drilled into us that “idleness was the devil’s playground.” There was no lying around, watching soap operas or movies during the day, and we all worked before hitting the customary age of sixteen.

I lived according to Dad’s rules until I hit the brick wall of illness, and even then I didn’t let it take me down easily: kept going even when standing up became impossible (sweating, unable to breathe, and feeling about to pass out) and I’d find myself falling asleep while driving to and from work.  I lost my voice, and found that even the simplest of tasks were suddenly incomprehensible for my brain, yet I pushed on.

When the doctor told me I would only get worse by working, I convinced myself I could still do it part-time.  I think it was the day that I stood at the top of the stairs and realized that my legs would not carry me down that I finally surrendered – I could not see myself bumming it down the stairs at school.

After two years of being mostly home bound, my years of conditioning still th-2gnaw at me.  I should be able to do more bounces around my head like a ball on a tether.  Especially now that I’m receiving new treatment.

Fake it till you make it!  psycho-babble exerts, and that’s what I’ve been doing lately – acting as if I am better – ignoring symptoms and pushing through.  I’ve been going to my daughter’s house and helping with the baby, preparing her meals, babysitting the three-and-a-half year old and then back for more support – just as I did for my first two granddaughters’ births.

It was after dinner last night that reality hit.  Just as we were finishing the pasta dish I had ‘whipped up’  I felt my legs give out and knew that I was in trouble.  I quietly excused myself and moved to the couch, putting my feet up.  My legs muscles had locked and I couldn’t avoid walking stiffly across the room.  When my daughter put the baby in my arms and offered to clean up, she couldn’t know that I no longer had the strength to hold the child.  I set the small bundle beside me on the couch.  I had promised to help put the other one to bed, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  My daughter drove me home.

imagesOnce in bed, the ‘bites’ started.  It’s a sensation I get in the nerve-endings that feels like being stung or bitten.  Everything, from getting myself a drink of water, to changing for bed felt like an insurmountable task, and as I finally settled in to sleep, the pain hit – a whole body throbbing, coupled by the sensation of being stretched on a torture wheel – muscles torn and ripped – agonizing with each movement.  I haven’t felt this much pain in years.

As with most nights, my sleep was not restorative, and I awoke this morning with the knowing that today will be a bed day, and little will be accomplished.  Normally, such a realization brings me down, but today I am feeling more reflective.  Did I really think that I could just positive attitude myself out of illness?  That I could fake it till I made it? th-3

Sometimes, despite our upbringing, despite our best intentions, life does not turn out the way we thought it would.  Most times, actually.  I was not raised to be on disability, yet here I am; it’s my life and I must deal with it.

Disability doesn’t mean disposable, or non-productive, or useless (a word I’ve applied too many times to my condition, thank you very much!).  It just means other-abled.  If I’d only stop fighting the process and surrender, chances are I’d find that this current life situation is opening doors I might have otherwise ignored – a kind of calling – as yet undefined, and equally full of possibility.  Hope, I’ve decided, is the one thing I still have going for me.

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