Sharing the lessons along the way…

Archive for the ‘Can You See Me?’ Category

Circles, Irony and Editing

There is no real way to describe to you what it is like working with an editor on my book while experiencing the symptoms of my illness with the baclofen pump dose decreasing.

But I am going to try.

We are working on the beginning of the book, tweaking the order, and in these parts, I am essentially grappling with my inability to describe the symptoms.  I think I just shared something similar in a blog because I really wanted to share with you what was different about the 15% decrease.  I had no understanding back then and have spent ten years trying to figure it out.

My editor friend and I have met the last three Thursdays.  We spent the first two fine tuning the first chapter.  The order of things has been changed since my original version.  The focus was the event that would be the last time I drove a car six months after the symptoms started.

More specifically, it involved my inability to smoothly press on the gas pedal, which happened while I was actually driving.   If I had to drive with my left leg and foot today, I would not be able to because it is doing the jerking movement when I extend it out in a seated position.  This is what both legs did back then.

It is that indelibly imprinted memory,  that is now finely tuned to begin the book, that makes it more of a challenge to stop trying to wonder which of the decreases will mean I can no longer drive.  I never want to be on the road again like that.

Today, I awoke wondering what next week’s decrease will mean for my daily life, and my morning was filled with the parts of my story where my ability to walk had deteriorated to a wheelchair full time, and how that drastically altered the landscape of my world.

It is almost a bit too ironic.

concentric circles

(Photo credit: Creativity103)

When I was getting my day started, I almost canceled the editing session.  I knew if I did, I would feel even crankier because at least keeping the meeting is productive and moves the book forward.  Boy, did it feel like it might just be too much this week.

It wasn’t.

In fact, it seems that my editor friend and I are getting more in sync each week.

Just the same, the process really sets the stage for much reflection.  So far, I am spending more time nearly in awe of the irony and full circle nature of then and now.

There are parts of the story I can change this time because I know more, and certainly parts of the story that might appear quite similar regardless of what I do differently.  The editing process is providing an interesting clarity and reminding me to keep my eyes on the parts I can change this time around.

I like that.

By the way, did you know there were book excerpts here on the blog?  You can find them under the book’s working title “Can You See Me?” menu at the top right.


An Honorable Moment

It seems like days turn into weeks very quickly lately.  I realized this week that I hadn’t gotten to tell you about something I did earlier in the month.

I had the honor of sharing my story in front of a group of women who are a part of the Homeless Emergency Program’s (HEP) Women Who Care (WWC) giving program at their annual luncheon.wwc front page program

In the last six or seven years, I have found that I love having an audience with whom to share something I believe is important.  I am always nervous before it is my turn.  I always go off whatever script or plan I have prepared.

Every Introductory Psychology course I have ever taught was off script with a stomach full of butterflies.  In that regard, this day was no different.  In many other regards, it was very different.

One thing that was different for me was that I really had no idea how to condense my story into the 5 (10 maximum) minute time slot I had been given.  The other difference was that some of the folks who were at the luncheon were also folks who experienced most of my story right alongside me.

I tried to prepare for this speaking opportunity.  I wrote out version after version, but they all seemed flat and went well over my time allotment.  I printed my final version to carry around with me to my pump refill that was scheduled just before the luncheon.

I ended up having to focus on what I needed to cover with my pump doctor, leaving no time to review my printed version.  I chatted with people on the way there and before the luncheon began, so that didn’t leave me time either.  I ate my lunch and chatted with people at my table, knowing I had no idea what to say when it was my turn.

I have no idea where I started my story or what I said exactly.  I was startled when I was choked up and weepy at one point during my story, but I do not recall what part of it I was telling at the time.  I do remember thinking I needed to shift gears to be able to continue.

wwc guest speaker just me sectionAfterwards, I was told that I did a great job, I made sense, it sounded organized, and that others were choked up right along with me as I spoke.  No one could tell me what I was sharing when I got weepy, but they could tell me what I was sharing when they got weepy (different parts for different people).

Often I minimize how traumatic the experience of losing everything, including my physical functioning and my dogs, was for me back then.  Particularly when I share it briefly or in passing, it is easy to gloss over the emotional side of it.

It isn’t so easy when you know the folks in the audience watched you experience it all raw at the time.

I believe it is an honor to share.  It was an honor to share at the luncheon and to meet such a diverse group of women dedicated to changing the face of homelessness.  Duke and I consider it an honor and privilege to be able to give of ourselves to the current residents at HEP as well.




Manuscript Update

Because my pain has been a bit more intense lately, I have been so focused on trying to figure out how to manage it that I have forgotten to give you book updates!

Enough of the pain focus for a minute—let’s talk about something exciting instead!

In March I passed along my manuscript to an editor for help.  It is nearly done being reviewed as we speak.   He knew nothing about the story really before I gave it to him.  He gets me, gets the story, and gets the potential impact it can have.  When he finishes reviewing it, we’ll rework it together.

What is fun about his updates is that he focuses on the positives of my writing and storytelling.  Then he gets excited about (and you can see his mind working) the best way to “shuffle the deck,” as he puts it.  The information is all there, but needs to be moved around with better lead ins to create the most impact for the reader.

When I shared with him fairly recently that I really was in a hurry to be done with this story, he said “No, no, no…you don’t want to rush this.”

Since synchronicity led me to him, I will have to go with it and be patient with the process.  I don’t want to put something out there that isn’t the best it can be.  I certainly want my published story to be the most compelling and captivating version.

Of course, this means that you too have to be patient with me through the process.  😉  I will try to post more book excerpts soon to tide you over.  For now, you can revisit the excerpts under the menu heading “Can You See Me?”

When I see you, I see me.

When I see you, I see me..

When I see you, I see me.

Can You See Me?

This time, it was a Subaru commercial song line that became my mantra.  It’s a catchy tune to begin with, but the line, “when I see you, I see me” struck me as quite profound.

How many times have you wondered if anyone really saw you?  I mean, really saw you for all that you are?  I certainly have.  In fact, I even titled my manuscript “Can You See Me?”  As I was writing, I noticed that I vacillated between wishing I was invisible to wishing someone would please see the whole of me throughout most of the early years of my illness. 

The problem was that the real me was morphing so rapidly that I couldn’t see me either back then.  I had been stripped of the external markers of who I thought I was.  I was no longer the therapist who worked with the homeless or the college professor.  I couldn’t walk and was viewing my world from a seated position in a wheelchair while living in a homeless program or nursing home.How did I finally see me?  I saw you and there I was too.  I was no different from you. 

The human condition is the human condition after all, whether you are in a wheelchair, homeless, in a nursing home, mentally ill, an addict, disabled, rich, poor, married, single, etc.

In my efforts to cope while living at the homeless program and nursing home, I eagerly listened to other residents’ stories as if I was still that therapist.  I listened with my heart so that I could “get” what they were saying as much as to “get” what they weren’t saying.  Really “seeing” them helped me to really “see” me.  While I had done this before as the therapist, I had never done so with that much humility.

Since then, I have continued to do this in my life.  I see myself in everyone I meet, talk to, treat, teach in my classes, etc.  I am everywhere, and so are you.  Whenever I feel like someone isn’t seeing the real me, I reach out to “see” someone else.  In doing so, I find that I am never alone and I am never separate.

The Subaru song is called Future History and is by a band called BYLIGHTNING!

Book Excerpt–Sammy, Love and Hope

Book Excerpt from Chapter 10 of Can You See Me?

…There were also some bright spots in my experience living at the Homeless Emergency Project, and these would help remind me that there was still hope.

Wes was a HEP client, but he had lived there and helped out so much that he had a place by himself on HEP’s property.  He was a veteran, a recovering alcoholic and was in remission from cancer when I knew him.  He was probably in his mid-fifties at the time, and the president at HEP let him get a dog, which was unheard of there. 

Her name was Sammy and she was a yellow lab mix.  She was a bit smaller than a full Labrador, but looked and acted very much like a lab.  I was so excited to meet her and she was equally as excited to meet me.  It was as if she knew I was in need of some lab kisses because she always gave me some. 

Sammy and Wes walked at least twice a day and after Wes heard about me and my situation, he came to meet me with his Sammy.  It turned out that Wes and I enjoyed talking as well, but I loved to just watch the two of them together.  He would throw a ball and she would so happily run after it and bring it to him.  He loved her so much and Sammy adored him too.

Their relationship was similar to my relationship with my dogs.  My dogs were the un-retrievers and never really got the hang of retrieving balls or toys, so it was fun for me to watch a dog do that.  It was fun for me to see a dog period.  There were no dogs allowed there, except for Sammy, so it was a treat for everyone.  I was allowed to hog the time with Sammy when she was around because everyone knew I was lost without my boys. 

Wes would walk her over to the apartments in the mornings and in the evenings.  The timing was usually perfect as we would have just fed, or hadn’t yet fed, the mass of mallards and Muscovy’s. 

He would let her off leash in the field that was just to the south of the apartments and as they got closer to us, he would just let her run to us without waiting on him.  She would sometimes run right into the water of the estuary if it was low tide, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to and really listened when Wes would call her back.

She would jump up on me, put her front paws on my lap, and kiss my face when she saw me — unless she was distracted at first.  Sammy always eventually gave me what I consider a proper doggie hello.  Wes took me a couple of times in my manual wheelchair with he and Sammy to the dog park. 

I was a little bit sad that my dogs weren’t with us too, but it was so therapeutic to watch dogs play together and run unabashedly in the park that I couldn’t focus much on the sadness.  I would just sit there and smile.  Of course, I couldn’t wheel myself from wherever Wes parked me, but I didn’t care because I was surrounded by pure joy. 

Dogs playing, to me, illustrate being in the moment better than just about anything else.  It illustrates love, cooperation and pure happiness.  I needed some doses of that during my time at HEP for sure.  After a while, I couldn’t transfer from the manual chair to get into and out of a car anymore, so I couldn’t go to the dog park.  I still had my daily visits from Wes and Sammy just the same, and I looked forward to them more than anyone could have known at the time.

I knew I felt better just being able to pet and give love to some being that was giving me only love back.  I understand why the research shows that there is so much benefit from pet therapy—lower blood pressure, better immune functioning, reduced anxiety, and improved mood just to name a few.

I didn’t even feel as much pain when Sammy was around or when I was visiting the boys during this time.  These times were opportunities for me to be in the moment without so much focus on the reality of my situation…

Kitt O'Malley

Bipolar Writer and Mental Health Advocate


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