Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Real Life Broken Heart, Part 1

Many of you have been asking for a blog post about my surgery I had a few months ago. In typical Chelsea fashion, I wrote way too much and had to break it up into separate posts so as not to completely lose you, the audience, halfway through. So, here is part one of my surgery journey starting at the very beginning.

I was dressed completely different and I'm still not the one that stands out. Thanks a lot, Carowhine.

Chelsea Poole was not a planner kid. Yes, I smiled every year as a brand new school planner was slapped onto my desk on the first day of school. And I wrote my name on the front page in the best handwriting I could muster. But there was not one chicken scratch of homework in that thing. There were no circled calendar dates to remind me of my friend's birthdays, nor was January 23rd highlighted with my favorite color to represent my special day. In fact, it usually took about two weeks into the school year for that beautiful, crisp planner to be crumpled at the bottom of my locker, or more likely, gone forever, never to be seen again.

For the sake of the story, we will forget that time in 8th grade when I was on academic probation for failing three classes and I had to get my teachers to sign off on my planner every day. That story is for another time. 8th grade was a TIME, y'all. 

No, little Chelsea Poole was not someone who kept track of anything. My room was a mess, my locker was a deep void that I pretty much avoided at all costs, and I started pretty much every class with turning to the person beside me and asking a series of questions:
1) "Did we have homework?"
2) "Can I borrow a pencil?"
3) "Can I borrow a piece of paper?"
4) "Can I borrow your book for a second?"
5) "No, I'm not doing my homework right before class, why do you ask?"

Failing three classes definitely makes sense now. 

Little Chelsea's life was a plethora of inconsistencies and lost items and broken things, and as mentioned in a previous post, a lot of anger. But there was always one constant. Starting at the beginning of middle school and continuing on until just two months ago, my life had one constant. My broken heart.

Stop rolling your eyes. Not that kind of broken.

Many of you probably know about my heart condition, but just in case, the Ghost of Christmas Past is gonna bop us on back to tiny 11 year old Chelsea in her 6th grade P.E. class.

Dear lord. If this isn't the epitome of awkward stage, I just don't know what is.

Now, if you went to good ole St. David's School (at this time, still known as St. Timothy's-Hale) then you may remember the greatest P.E. game known to man... MAT BALL. It was basically kickball with a bunch of weird rules that didn't really make sense and the bases were giant gym mats and you could camp out on the mat for as many turns as you wanted and wait for someone to hit the back wall so everyone could get an automatic run and... you know this game was basically a huge cop out. And that's why I loved it...

Anyway, I'll set the scene. It's a cold day in December... maybe... I have no idea what time of year it was but the Ghost of Christmas Past brought us here so let's just play along. It's a cold day in December and my team is kicking. I'm waiting in line with bated breath because I can feel it in my bones that today is going to be the day I kick that back wall. Forget the fact that my legs are the size of twigs and I have never even kicked the ball halfway to the back wall. Today is the day. And then suddenly... BAM. My heart is beating like it's about to jump right out of my chest and splatter on the gym floor, which is NOT going to make Coach Cornejo very happy.

Sure, it's beating fast. Faster than any heartbeat I have ever felt. But more so, it's beating hard. Little me peers down to take a glance and I can see my heart slamming through my gym shirt. And suddenly, I can't get a good breath, and my chest hurts, and I'm feeling a bit lightheaded. So, I do what any kid in this situation would do. I ignore it. It's my turn, after all. I kicked it admirably. The kickball arcs over the head of the kids that have inched forward (jerks!) and I turn to run to the first base mat. And... no. Not happening. I make it halfway there and stop, mainly because my legs have suddenly stopped working.

"Um, I think I need to go to the nurse."

Everyone groans. I have interrupted mat ball. They don't seem to understand that my body is rejecting me. My heart so desperately wants to be on the outside of my body that it will interrupt my. favorite. game! Don't they see I am not in charge here. Coach Cornejo waves me out the door and I make the miles long trek to the nurse's office, uphill, barefoot, in the snow.

Now, I could be remembering that part wrong. I know the nurse's office was not miles away from the gym; I was for sure wearing shoes; and there's no way we were at school if it was snowing. But it sure felt like the elements were against me as my noodle legs wobbled their way to the nurse.

And, because it's me, my heart suddenly goes back to normal the minute I open the door to the school building. For a brief second, I consider running back to the gym to reclaim my spot in the lineup. Who knows how my team has fared without me? But I shake off the feeling and continue on into the nurse's office. And here, in this tiny office in the middle school building, snuggled in between the Annex (a classroom so big it was given its own name) and... a Latin classroom, maybe?... my journey begins.

At this point, I have no idea how much time I will end up spending in this room. I am unaware of how many times I will trudge in asking for Advil, another headache bashing its way through my head. I cannot fathom the amount of heart pills I will sheepishly ask for, having forgotten to take mine that morning. I have no idea that I'll eventually have an episode so extreme that I'll lie on a bed in this very room, trying to cry as quietly as I can, as the nurse calls an ambulance. I don't know how majorly this is going to change my life.

But for now, I just skip right in, flash my recently un-braced (for now) teeth and start to ramble about this really weird thing my heart just did in P.E. I have no idea what's coming. And I wish I could reach out and put my hand on her bony little shoulder and tell her one thing.

"When they mention the surgery the first time... don't wait... don't be afraid... just do it."

And don't worry, that anecdote about the planner will come back into play.

By Chelsea P. Poole

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bitter Waters

Two weeks in a row? This might be a new record. 

A lot of pain went into obtaining this view. Worth it.

So, I think I freaked a few people out with my last post. Mainly my grandmother and my mom. So, to anyone else who got a bit freaked... MY BAD. In all seriousness, despite all the garbage I listed thats been going wrong in the past couple years, right now I'm doing fine. This whole "feeling pain" thing? I'm all for it. If you had asked me two or three years ago if I would be sitting here writing about how great it is to FEEL things, I wouldn't believe you. Not because I would think it ridiculous that I would be super stoked to cry, but because I wouldn't believe that I would actually be able to produce tears.

Depression feels like nothing. Empty spaces. Rooms with no doors or windows. Walking in circles. Forever twiddling thumbs. Depression is numbing. It's just like the movie "Inside Out" when Joy and Sadness get lost and the different parts of the girl's brain start to shut down. Depression is not just living without happiness. It's living without sadness. It's letting anger and disgust and fear run your brain into the ground until you can't leave your house because it requires too much work and too much brainpower and just too much. That was me. I used to watch "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" regularly, a movie that never fails to make me sob my brains out. And I would just sit there, in the dark of my living room, watching Clementine fade from Joel's life, and feel nothing.

But today, when I have a little cry in the shower because I miss my best friend who I haven't seen in 4.5 months, or my stomach drops a little when I get a text I know won't turn out well, or my blood starts to boil because my mom won't stop bugging me about my love life (or lack thereof) ... I relish it. Because if I can produce tears, I can produce laughs. If my stomach can drop, my heart can flutter. If my blood can boil, my face can flush.

And if my body can do all those things, then it can move. It can go for a walk, climb a mountain, play a ukulele, go to a rodeo on a random Sunday, scream way too loud at a touchdown, jump off a cliff, write a sappy blog post that will warrant another phone call from its grandmother.

And so, while I appreciate everyone that called me up telling me they were worried about me, don't be. "You most of all, dear boy, will have to pass through the bitter water before we reach the sweet." (That's from Dracula, which I find very appropriate for this time of year.) I'm ready for those bitter waters. I'll swim through them all day because that sweet stuff looks appetizing. 

I am well aware that this time in my life is a high fever that can break at any moment. But I have slugged my way through darkness and finally made my way to the light. And if that fever breaks, and I find myself back in the shadows, I will know the light is waiting and that it is worth the journey.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A story about my hands

Idle hands are the devil's workshop should be my motto.

Oh, tiny baby Chels was clutching those hands together SO hard. 

When I was around 8, my parents sent me to my first psychologist. Over time my memories of my time with Dr. Barbara have faded a bit but the distinct image that sticks in my brain is a room that was too big. There were corners I couldn't see into and shelves too high for me to reach and the couch was swallowing my tiny frame. I remember sitting in that too big room with a stranger staring at me as I stuffed my hands deep between the sofa cushions, begging them not to move.

"Why do you think you're here?"

"Because of my hands."

"What about your hands?"

"I can't control them."

For as long as I can remember my hands have been out of my control. In elementary school, my fingers would tangle together up under my nose, creating shapes and patterns that only meant something to them. At first I did it without even realizing, until I would notice the touch of a calloused finger, rubbed raw with constant pressure, up against my lip. Eventually I became too aware of them. I would stare at them, entranced by the game they were playing, and wondering why I couldn't just STOP stopstopstop just stop.

I would miss entire class periods, lost in my corner, staring at my hands, begging them to stop. My teachers would walk by and tap me on the shoulder, popping me out of my trance for a short time period. One teacher, Mrs. Walsh, eventually went to my parents. I wasn't taking quizzes or doing my reading. I was staring at my hands, my mind blank.

Then, I auditioned for a dance recital at my dance studio and got a special part. I spent most of my time onstage, with a lot of that time sitting in the background or watching other dancers. (I was a cat. I was brilliant. I was adorable. It was my crowning achievement.) When I wasn't dancing, I was in the background... and you can probably guess what I was up to.

Cue Dr. Barbara.

"Why do you think you can't control your hands?"

"They don't listen to me. I want to stop but I don't want to stop. I can't stop."

Dr. Barbara and I never really talked about my hands after that. We talked about plenty of other things: my baby sister who stole all my mom's attention, my dad who had started working a bit more, my other sister who got to pick the movies we watched every time, my closet I would crawl into and just sit in for a bit when things got too loud or too bright, my new house that was too big and the nightmares that snuck up on me in the night.

Over time, through the years that I spent with Dr. Barbara, my sessions became less about my hands and more about the camera I threw at the wall and the book I ripped to pieces and the keyboard I slammed my fists into.

In the end, it wasn't my hands I couldn't control... it was my pain.

Pain and Chelsea do. not. mix. When I say do not mix... I mean I run as far away from the first sign of Pain as I can get. I pack up Pain in a suitcase and put it on the first plane out of RDU. I stuff it into drawers and pray I forgot where I left it. I swallow it and let it sit in my gut until my blood goes septic. But Pain demands to be felt. And I always end up feeling it.

Over the years, my relationship with my hands has ebbed and flowed. I never gained full control of them, but we've developed a bit of a compromise, a healthy relationship with each other. If I don't keep them moving, my heart beat rises and my eyes blink faster and my tongue gets dry. but my hands don't distract me anymore. I don't stare at them or beg them to stop.

I rub my fingernails against my lips incessantly. I touch my hair. I can't read a book without flipping the pages constantly. But I live on, letting my hands do their thing and allowing my brain to let them go. However, in the past year, a familiar friend has shown up again.

I noticed it one day when I was in the bathroom getting ready to brush my teeth. Somewhere in the process of getting my toothbrush out of the cabinet and setting it down to reach for the toothpaste, I got lost. If I hadn't been in front of the mirror, I never would have noticed the familiar tangle of fingers stuck like glue against my face. The water was overflowing in the sink. I had no idea how much time had passed.

Enter my current psychologist and a familiar conversation.

"I'm worried about my hands."

"What about them?"

"I think I'm losing control of them again."

Through a lot of chit chat and reliving my elementary school days, we eventually determined that my hands held my Pain. They still do. And in the past few years, I have been through a shit ton of Pain. And I have been trying to hide it. Stuffing it into the corners of my room, letting it mix with the tumbleweeds of dog hair. Pushing it under my pillow, pretending like I can't see it hovering in the corners of my vision at all times. Making myself numb. Constantly trying to STOP stopstopstop just stop feeling. 

I have always been told to lean into Pain. Embrace it. Let it move you. Let it push you. And, finally, I've decided to give it a try.

There are a lot of emotions pent up in these hands. And while my body has been trying to expel it all through them, bit by bit, they can't handle all that this body contains. There are nasty breakups, and unhealthy relationships, and deaths, and friends leaving, and identity crises, and communities that you don't feel like you belong in anymore, and people showing up to your door to tell you they are waltzing out of your life, and friendships becoming relationships and relationships becoming friendships, and an empty house you have no money to fill, and a dog that barks at nothing and everything, and nightmares on nightmares on nightmares, and a bunch of clocks that are never going to be set to the right time no matter how hard you try to fix them. And, honestly, dudes, there's just a bunch of shit.

But there are sidewalks that are begging for you to beat your anger into them. And showers that can soak up your tears. And there are songs that are longing to be scream-sung in the car. And friends that will sit and let you talk for hours on end, whether its in person or through phone waves stretching from this coast to the other. And there are sunsets that you can stare at, because the beautiful things should be felt too. And, perhaps, most importantly there are words to be written.

Around the time my hands began their transition from uncontrollable to... "easier to live with," we'll say, Dr. Barbara started me on a new project. We started to write a book. It was a short book. I was twelve. But I wrote my first book about a hurricane and how I had to save myself from rising flood waters. Looking back on it now... holy hell, how more obvious could it get. By the time we finished it, my hands had calmed down and were becoming easier to control.

So, maybe its time to put these hands to good use again. I've written over the years, of course: stories I can't finish, books I don't feel inspired by, blog posts that are dripping with a bitter sense of false emotions. How about we just get super real? Let's lean into the Pain, write about it and see where that takes us.

Pain demands to be felt. So, let's start feeling it.

Written by Chelsea P. Poole

These are not my hands but it is a picture of me and hands...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Old House & The Little Heart

This old house is new again. There’s a new heart beating inside her, one of many she’s held for the past 70 years she’s stood here. She tended to hold more than one beating being at once, but now she has one little heart padding around inside. This little heart is small in this big body, sometimes drowning in the spacious chambers, sometimes overwhelmed with the fact that this old house is all hers. 

This little heart’s little dog click-clacks from room to room, his little toenails beating a familiar rhythm through the wood-paneled house. The little heart listens to the little toenails on little floorboards, matching them step for step through the old house. This little dog keeps this little heart beating. 

This little heart keeps the old house clean. She doesn’t know what hearts beat here before but she sees the scars they left; cracks in the floorboards, paint bleeding down the walls, secret messages carved into hidden corners. This old house has different marks than her last home. That house was new. She put all the scars there, herself. Memories gathered in the corners like dust, choking her in her sleep and making her eyes water even while she laughed. Dirt stuck deep down in the carpet no matter how hard she tried to rub it out. 

This old house knows how to love her. It cradles her at night and lets the light shine through in the mornings. It wakes her up with light breezes and the soft crackles of an old body settling. In this old house, she chases tumbleweeds of dog hair across the floors, giggling as the culprit click-clacks behind her, nipping at her heels. The little heart plays music as loud as she wants, sings as loud as she wants, stomps through the house as loud as she wants. In this old house, this new, little heart beats as loud as she wants. 

Some nights, the little heart flutters softly in her bed. Even the old house can’t stop the darkness from sneaking in. Some nights, the little heart races from room to room, and the old house knows other hearts are coming to visit. Some days, two little hearts beat out a soft harmony through the living room. Sometimes, a whole group of hearts beat out so loud and so randomly in the kitchen, that the old house can’t find her little heart in all the noise. 

But most days and most nights, the old house just sits and watches her little heart. Her little heart gets lost, sometimes. She leaves a lot, sometimes for days at a time and the old house wonders if she’ll ever find her way back. But her little heart always comes home. “You’re my north star, old house,” she whispers as she cuddles her little dog under the covers. “You bring me home.” The old house thinks that sometimes it’s ok to be lost if you’re lost in the right direction. 

This old house is new again. The little heart keeps the old house moving, shifting, growing. The old house holds up the little heart, protects her, and keeps her beating. The little heart is new again.