Ace of Wands

Few things feel as nice as a new beginning — that’s why I like the Aces so much.

They’re a fresh start, the energy of limitless potential. They’re a blank page, an unlocked door, and a new day. They’re the impetus to take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles.

The Ace of Wands card from the Rider-Waite deck.

From the Rider-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.

I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I drew this week’s card. I’m still working on things from last week, still looking forward to more medical tests. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have the encouragement that I’m going the right way.

It’s hard to interpret aces, sometimes. While they have the energy of all of that possibility, that’s all it is: possibility. Tarot never guarantees anything, aces doubly so. They’re the seed of an idea that needs effort to grow. They’re a promising opportunity, but only an opportunity.

I always seem to draw Wands when I have something creative going on. In this case, it’s the fact that holy crap I am completely sick of figuring out how to display things, I mean damn.

See, pre-stretched canvas is expensive, unwieldy, and difficult to store and ship. Canvas stretchers are cheaper, but still need space to store. Roll canvas is less expensive to buy, and easier to ship and store, but it’s also more difficult to work with and a pain to display. Want to frame it? Good luck — unless it’s smaller than 11×14, you’re probably going to have to figure out how to either stretch or mount it first. Hopefully there’s room to stretch it without losing any of the image! Good luck with mounting, too, because any permanent mount will decrease the piece’s lifespan (and probably its value),

I have a plan, I think, albeit a harebrained one. I’ve no idea if it’ll work. It’ll look really neat if it does, but will also involve ignoring a lot of what I’ve been taught and picking up a few new skills. It’ll be interesting to try, if nothing else, and the Ace of Wands indicate that it might not actually be a bad idea!

The Ace of Wands can also indicate an opportunity for personal growth. I’m hoping it’s pointing to my doctor’s appointments later this week — if I can get that resolved, if I can put those years of pain and frustration behind me, it’ll open up more opportunities than I can even begin to imagine.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to.

 

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The King of Cups

Even with all of the reassurance I had from last week’s cards, I still went into my appointment on edge.

(Okay, so I had a full blown panic attack and had to ask the receptionist if there was somewhere I could lay down and try to relax. Everyone was incredibly chill and understanding about it, though, which was nice.)

The parking garage felt claustrophobic. I had to ride in a hot, stuffy elevator. I had no idea what kind of tests would be required of me, and knew this might be my only chance to have them. What if the doctor asked for twelve tubes of blood again? What if I couldn’t convince them to take my blood pressure at the end of the appointment, instead of the beginning?

As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Not only was everyone really kind and reassuring, my nurse practitioner is awesome. I was never made to feel that I was wasting her time. She thoroughly explained everything to me. She took my medical history with no fuss, no sighing, and no muttering. There were no awkward first-visit dives into my parent’s marital history. I left the office feeling empowered, like I knew what was going on. I have hope that, even if the h. pylori test is negative, there are other possibilities. I also have samples of FDgard, which I didn’t even know was a thing before this.
I’m probably fixable, you guys.

(The real kicker, though, was finding out that I shouldn’t’ve had the h. pylori test in the first doctor’s office to begin with. I had no idea that using antacids in the previous two weeks might alter the result — I could’ve ended up with a false negative, wasting more of both his time and mine for nothing.)

So, now I’m pretty much just dealing with the symptoms for another week and a half until I can get a few more tests. I just have to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I can be patient, but I hate the powerless feeling of sitting on my hands as minutes to become hours and hours to become days. I didn’t even have any good questions for my tarot deck this time — I just wanted to know what kind of energy this week is bringing. What can I focus on to help the time pass?

I drew King of Cups.

Cups is the suit of the emotions, and the King is the master of them. He is relaxed, balanced between the heart and the mind, neither devoid of reason nor incapable of empathy. When he turns up, it’s an invitation to explore the feelings around a situation — are there emotional factors that are making things more difficult than they need to be?

… Yeeeah, kinda.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy managing my physical symptoms. While I know that they aren’t caused by stress or fear, the anxiety they trigger still needs managing. When I do self-work, I usually focus on panic disorder and finding ways to manage unpreventable panic attack symptoms as they arise. Now, I should probably look more deeply into strategies for managing my medical anxiety, specifically — it’s going to be hard to go through rounds of testing and follow-up visits if I can barely make myself walk through the door.

Besides, I’ve got time to kill.

 

Deepening Resilience: Preparation.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

Preparedness looks different from community to community. In some places, it’s ensuring that there will be enough clean food and water. In others, it’s getting ready to battle things like worsening allergy seasons and severe weather phenomena.

In mine, it means pulling up stakes.

To look at my neighborhood, you wouldn’t really think of it as something that’d be that threatened by climate change — the hardest part might be getting supplies in and out of the city, right? When you look at projections of swelling rivers and reshaped coastlines a few years to a few decades from now, though, it’s not that easy. One estimate places the new waterfront at ten feet from my front door. In addition to rather complicated traffic patterns, there are many reasons why this would be really, really bad. Even with time to prepare, how can an entire, already-existing city keep sewage, garbage, vermin, and other vectors of illness out of the rising water? Keeping our potable water from contamination is important, but also not something a small community using city infrastructure can really manage on its own. Even if we set up our own, smaller-scale  means of keeping our drinking and bathing water clean, the mold, rats, and insects will still be there.

Sometimes, preparedness looks a lot like leaving.

Unfortunately, that means it may not be possible to take care of everyone. There are a lot of people here who can’t move on their own, whether due to physical or monetary limitations. Even if we take it for granted that my community would be willing and able to pitch in to uproot every member and move us all to somewhere safer, it still isn’t possible. Some are too old, others are too ill. Even with able-bodied people to help, even if money isn’t an issue, you can’t move everyone.

That doesn’t even take into account the strong ties people feel to their homes. There are still people living in Centralia and outside of Pripyat, and not all of them are there because circumstances force them to be. The ties to home are strong. For some, a life in a strange place — no matter how safe — would be no life at all.

So, how do we prepare our community for climate change here? Is it right for the able-bodied to put themselves and their families at risk for those who either can’t or won’t move to safer ground? Could my community even still function, as our houses flood and crumble and our streets vanish under the water? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

Sometimes, preparing means packing up and doing the best you can.

 

The World

Does this stranger really expect me to tell him every traumatic event I’ve ever been through? I thought. As I looked at the tiny laptop balanced on the edge of the examination table, I began to doubt it had enough hard drive space to hold this particular interview.

Let me back up.

My S.O. didn’t just manage to get me a doctor’s appointment — he managed to get me one with the doctor I’d originally wanted to see. Someone dedicated to restorative medicine, with rave reviews praising his patience and understanding. So why, now that I was actually in front of him, did I get the distinct impression that I was a waste of his time?

I’d filled out the medical history forms as best as I was able. There was a lot to fit, and not nearly enough space to do it in. I prioritized, skipping over a bout of flu here, or an ear infection there. I fit in everything I could remember. Still, it wasn’t enough. He said he wouldn’t get to examine me, because he had to spend so much time going over my medical history now. He wanted to know everything — why did I move to California? Was the pomegranate orchard there regular, or organic?

“What am I even here for?” He finally asked. I was stunned by it, but, by then, I also wasn’t even sure how to answer him. I was doubled over in pain, to the point where it was hard to walk. I said that I was hoping for help with what I thought was an ulcer. A referral to a specialist, maybe? A recommendation?

He wanted to delve into emotional trauma. His voice was accusatory, his sighs impatient — as if I’d left my parents’ divorce out of my medical history on purpose. (I didn’t know it mattered. I also didn’t find it particularly traumatic. If anything, it was a relief.) I’d also neglected to mention a lot of other things. How traumatic did something have to be to count? How far back did he want me to go? Was evading a kidnapper at age 13 good enough, or did I have to go back to being sexually assaulted at 5? Maybe the time a man I’d briefly dated decided to stalk me at my job? Or should I cut right to finding out that one of my room mates was murdered?

I didn’t think his laptop had the space for me. Judging by his words, he didn’t have it, either. I only told him about the divorce.

I mentioned intracranial hypertension. He said he didn’t “know if that’s even a thing.”  (Trust me — it is.) I felt my stomach drop into my knees. What was I going to do if I needed to go on Diamox again? Or worse, needed a shunt? I don’t have vision loss and brain damage for no reason, dude. 

While I waited to have blood drawn, he patted my shoulder in passing in a manner I think he thought was reassuring. It wasn’t.

I’m not good with blood draws. I always faint, I usually need a butterfly needle, and giving any amount beyond what’s needed for a basic metabolic panel has always made me sick. When I found out he needed twelve tubes of blood, I asked if there was a way to split the requisition — I’ve had to do it before. Most of the blood tests were for thyroid hormones, a CBC, blood lipids, the usual checkup stuff. Maybe I could give some blood that day, then go to the lab on another day to get tested for Lyme disease and the other myriad tests he’d ordered? The phlebotomist (a very kind, patient woman who really seemed to be doing her best) asked if it was possible. A few minutes later, I was given the requisition form for all twelve tubes of blood and orders to go to the lab and make them deal with it instead. At that point, I could almost feel the words “pain in the ass” branded into my skin.

When my S.O. and I got back to the car, I was fighting tears. Not only was I put in a vulnerable position by a stranger who apparently couldn’t care less, I knew it was going to be awhile before I got the help I needed. I’d laid there, curled up like a prawn, in pain, and wasted the doctor’s time because I’d neglected to mention my parents splitting up when I was 4.

I was afraid to tell my S.O. that I had no intention of going back for the actual physical exam. Not because I was afraid of his reaction, but he’d worked so hard to get me in to see this doctor — making phone calls when I couldn’t, rearranging his schedule so he could be there for me. I had a recommendation for a gastroenterologist and a neurologist, did I even need this doctor right now? I could see a specialist, get this problem under control, and worry about preventative care once I was able to… you know, eat and walk properly again.

Undecided, I figured I’d do a reading. I don’t generally let cards make major life decisions for me, but I really didn’t know what to do. My gut was telling me that continuing to see this doctor was not going to do me much good right now… If I wanted to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t know anything about IIH, I could get that at a walk-in clinic for a fraction of the cost.
Then again, my gut has also made me view plain rice and dry toast with intense dread and suspicion, so maybe it’s not always to be trusted.

Should I find a new primary doctor, continue seeing this one, or follow my instincts and just call the gastro?
I drew the Five of Pentacles, the Ten of Pentacles, and the World.

Finding a new doctor would be the economical choice — it’d definitely cost less to see a conventional doctor over an integrative one, even though this guy takes my insurance. Continuing to see this doctor would yield rewards far down the line. Going right to the specialist would be the best option of all.

The World is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It is harmony, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It’s the card of ultimate achievement, of everything finally meshing together. It brings a sense of joyful closure. It’s exactly what I need. As soon as I saw it, I felt a surge of relief — moving on isn’t a mistake, and I should pay attention to my instincts.

I made an appointment with the gastroenterologist. If nothing else, at least this doctor pointed me towards someone who might be able to help me better.

 

 

 

 

Inspiration in Unplaces

Have you ever felt out of place in a familiar spot? I don’t mean socially awkward or anxious, just given the sense that you’re in a place that shouldn’t be — like a shopping mall before the stores open, inside of a school at night, or somewhere else divorced from its usual context by some small, important detail. They are a familiar place, easily made into a strange-seeming unplace.

There are two times of year in this area, one in spring and one in autumn, where the light around four PM turns everything a lovely orange-gold, but the angle of the sun creates stark shadows of a particularly surreal length and sharpness. With a clear blue sky, it reminds me of Dali’s “Landscape with Butterflies” — colors too bright to be real, shadows too long and forbidding to be welcome.

Salvador Dali's Landscape with Butterflies.

Salvador Dali’s Landscape with Butterflies.

The idea of unplaces fascinates me, the way something so minor can make the familiar so strange. I think part of it comes from when I was a little kid, in an area where we largely had to make our own fun. I spent a lot of time in an abandoned school behind the house I grew up in, and, once I was a little older and could hop a fence, sneaking around storm water basins and drainage culverts. It’s a bizarre feeling, ducking under a pulled-up bit of chain link and stepping into a wet, wild world where the spongy turf and overgrown trees suddenly and strangely block the sights and sounds of traffic. There are no more sidewalks, no more streetlights, just murky ponds of massive snapping turtles and every quietly resentful goldfish that’s ever been loosed down a toilet. It is a small shift, just a chain link fence and a few strides, but it’s an important one.

I remember riding the train across the country a couple of years ago. I lived in Delaware at the time and, having saved up enough for a seat on Amtrak, decided to give it a go. As we passed through the million shades of the desert, from persimmon orange to the blinding, glittering white of Utah’s salt flats, I could see occasional islands of abandoned humanity. There were no towns around them, no yards, fields, or fences — as if some capricious and malevolent giant had plucked them from their foundations and left them there like forgotten toys. Just the occasional roofless husk of a deserted homestead, sometimes with a scrap of dry-rotted cardboard abortively tacked over a window, even less occasionally with the rusted corpse of an ancient car sinking slowly into the sand around it. Even in the safety of the train, sitting in a cushy seat just wide enough for me curl up to sleep in for the four-day journey, they gave me goosebumps.

In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there’s discussion of a place being uncanny, or, in German, unheimlich. But unheimlich isn’t used there in the passive sense of being merely unfamiliar, where an observer can gain understanding with time and effort. Instead, it’s used in the sense of a place being “full of not-knowing,” where gaining understanding may not be possible, helpful, or even safe.

It’s surprising how little it takes to make a place unheimlich, into what feels like something you were never meant to see. Sometimes it takes strange geography, like an average, suburban-looking house seemingly transplanted to the middle of the desert at random. Sometimes, it’s something as minor as a shift in schedule or a change in weather that turns the familiar into the uncanny, or even the unsettling. It’s this that can help us see a place with new eyes.

There’s a lot of strange magic in the places you don’t belong.

Find the unheimlich.

The Two of Cups

Can I complain about stomachs for a bit?

My life has been pretty limited by health issues for awhile — I don’t just mean intracranial hypertension, either. I try not to dwell on it, because that’s not really helpful for me. If anything, it just keeps me from being useful when and where I can.

Sometimes, though? I just want to be a gigantic baby about it, dammit.

Part of my problem is a digestive issue that, to date, three different ERs, five doctors, a barium swallow, three ultrasounds, four x-rays, and countless dietary adjustments have not solved. There’s still a lot of diagnoses to rule out (I’ve never been scoped, or tested for H. pylori, Celiac disease, or SIBO, for example), but it’s been a long slog finding a doctor willing to pursue things and not just shrug and hand me a PPI . I’ve been told to “come back if it still isn’t better in a week” when it hasn’t been better in years, and, when I do, it’s another shrug and a recommendation to try fasting for a day.

If I fasted every time I felt sick, I’d be dead.

Getting insurance was a pain. Finding a doctor who I felt confident would actually help me continues to be a pain. Some won’t do anything for me because they have no experience with idiopathic IH (statistically speaking, I’m one of 7 people in this entire city who has it. I guess I can’t be too surprised). It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. It’s very… physically unpleasant.

Through it, my S.O. has been a huge help. He calls doctors for me, sends in paperwork, deals with the ongoing, complicated mess of adding me to his insurance. Sometimes, I feel powerless not only because I’m physically unwell, but because that illness makes me less able to advocate for myself. I don’t like having him do this, so part of my contribution was hunting down a doctor I thought would be willing to do more than order another ultrasound and ask me, for the nth time, if I’m really, absolutely sure this isn’t all just anxiety. I even found one!

Unfortunately, they don’t answer the phone.

“I can get you an appointment with my doctor,” my S.O. texted me, but I didn’t want to get another five minute visit with someone who’d just order the same tests that were no help the first seventeen times. I didn’t want to go through trying the same handful of acid reducers, only to end up anemic, covered in bruises, and feeling no better. I’d gone through a lot of trouble to find a doctor whose approach seemed like one that would actually help me, who my insurance would cover. We’d already filled out the new patient paperwork and sent it in, why wasn’t this office answering their damn phone? 

I was having a low point when I decided to pull out one of my tarot decks. What could I do to help myself heal? It feels like I’ve tried everything I can, physically speaking. Taking more Mylanta probably isn’t going to help at this point. I had my doubts about eating nothing but banana smoothies for a(nother) month. FODMAPs was already a flop. What else was there for me to do?

2ofcupsThe Two of Cups.

The Cups are the cards of emotions, and the Two of Cups is full of partnership imagery — a pair of figures, the twining snakes of the staff of Hermes. While it doesn’t always mean a romantic partnership, it does point to one where both people are very emotionally invested in the same endeavor.

Right now, my goal is getting well (or, if not well, then at least less awful). I know my S.O. is invested in it, too, or he wouldn’t be filing paperwork and making calls. My approach obviously isn’t working, or I’d have an appointment by now. It seems like I need to defer to the other person in this partnership — he cares about my well-being just as much as I do, just as I care about his. If I’m going to listen to anybody right now, it should probably be the other person with a vested interest on keeping me on the right side of the dirt, you know?

I asked him to call his doctor.

Fingers crossed.

 

The Tom Waits Oracle

“When you are writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.” ― Tom Waits

Ever use shufflemancy? It’s a type of technomancy that relies on shuffling through a collection of music. It could be an album, it could be a playlist of your favorite songs, any sufficiently large number of tunes will do.

Tom Waits has been described as a lot of things: avant-garde, gravelly, whiskey-soaked, experimental, a raconteur. John Hodgman said that “[w]e all hear our own stories in our favorite songs (that is why Tom Waits sings in werewolf language—you can pretend it is about anything you want!),” and I’m inclined to agree.

And so, I tacked together a shufflemancy playlist made up entirely of Tom Waits tracks.

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Clear your head, ask your question, hit shuffle, and listen. (Or, if you’re not using the Spotify app, shut your eyes, scroll, click, and listen.) Do any lyrics leap out at you? What impressions do you get? Let the werewolf troubadour sing(/play/beat the bathroom door with a 2×4) you a divination.