Bye, Bye, One-Five…

2015 sucked. Nope, I take that back.

2015 completely sucked huge, effing balls. There, that’s a better representation of how I feel.

I started 2015 by learning how terrifying a MRI machine is to someone who is claustrophobic. I also learned Xanax does absolutely nothing for me. I found out these two things, at the same time. As I was laying in an enclosed space, and could not/should not move or else I would have had to do it all over again. It sucked.

I found out what it was like to have a lumbar puncture, a.k.a, a spinal tap, and subsequently found out what a weeklong migraine felt like – but only if I did ANYTHING other lay down for more than 3 minutes. That REALLY sucked.

THEN, I found out what happens when the neurologist doesn’t give the correct instructions to the phlebotomist, which results in improperly drawn blood which THEN results in the lab being unable to test you for the one disease that you are being tested for. Now THAT was funny. I’m kidding… that sucked too.

See, even this guy says that sucked!

See, even this guy says that sucked!

photo credit: 351/365 – two reasons via photon (license)

Then I had to get a new referral for a new neurologist! Let me tell you that… well, that didn’t suck. He’s a specialist, and really good and I feel like I am in capable hands, now. Okay, that ended up well, and didn’t suck at all. Okay, well back to the sucky stuff…

Well, then I got diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis in July. And let me tell you, that did suck. It sucks that my immune system is attacking the myelin around my spinal cord and parts of my brain. Which explains the weird electric shocks I get in my legs when I put my chin to my chest. As well as the reasons why it is hard for me to find the word when I spoke and all the things I would forget, every day. Or why I couldn’t read more than a paragraph at a time, or focus for more than 30 seconds. Also, it explained why my hands were numb, all the time, and why the numbness would spread up my arms when I got tired. Yeah, all that sucked.

But, now that I think about it, maybe that didn’t suck as badly as I think…

Maybe, the diagnosis gave me the reason why. Maybe the diagnosis meant that I could get treatment and possibly see my symptoms not get worse – or better yet, regress! Also, the diagnosis meant I could participate in research studies that might help doctors understand the disease better. Yeah, all those things didn’t suck at all… in fact, I like them all.

Okay, well, here is one that really, REALLY sucks: After 4 years of tireless dedication, I had to leave my beloved tae kwon do school. The reasons why I left really sucked too: I simply did not agree with the owner about the direction he had chosen to take the school in, and I could not sit idly by and support it with my silence. See, that does REALLY suck!

Except for the part where I stood up for and upheld my principles. I, and my friends, fought for what was right. And we did it openly and honestly. We spoke up about the injustice and hypocrisy. We cleared our conscience.

Okay, that was hard to do, but it was the right thing. And the right thing can’t completely suck, right?

Not to mention, doing the right thing pointed me in a new direction. A direction that has opened my eyes to the love from the wonderful people that are around me. A direction that is potentially creating a new foundation for me and my future. A direction that clearly shows me that one day, maybe I can do what I love – everyday. A direction that points me to the light.

Well, shit, that doesn’t suck at all.

Well, 2015, that doesn’t excuse all the other sucky things you pulled in 2015. And I won’t forgive you. And I won’t look back on you, any more (no matter how many times Facebook tries to lure me with the offers to see “Your Year In Pictures”)! You were a dark year, 2015, and I will not wallow in your darkness, but turn my face to the light of the dawn of 2016. Because that, my friends, does not suck, at all…

“Bye, bye, one-five.” ~ Harry Wadsworth Longfellow

Contagious Enthusiasm…

When I was a young girl, my parents would take our family on occasional, overnight trips to central Illinois where my dad’s cousin and his wife raised their 4 children on their family farm. A real, live, fully functioning farm with dairy cows that would walk right up to the back porch, pigs, a barn full of cats, corn and soybean crops (once dairy cows were no longer lucrative), farm equipment and eventually a big rig (to bring in additional income by  hauling whatever you attach to a big rig – forgive my lack of interest but I was much more interested in the cows with the pretty brown eyes than large pieces of machinery). The house was a ranch with vaulted ceilings and exposed support beams stained a dark brown. The front door had complimentary side windows that were stained glass in a shade of burnt umber that was probably very fashionable in the early 1970’s, however its appearance mattered none because no one ever used that entrance. Entrance to the house was always through the garage, where you had a choice… go to your right to enter the mud room that connected to the kitchen OR go down the stairs to the left and get access to the basement.

Oh, the basement. The glorious basement where many hours of play are forever lodged in my memory. Once you navigated the wooden stairs, and opened the basement door, your senses were overloaded with floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with Ball® mason jars filled with colorful vegetables swimming in pickling solution. Among them, the greenest cucumbers preparing to be deemed pickles, and the reddest peppers of various variety waiting to be deemed delicious.

Just beyond the shelves were more shelves, but these shelves were sacred – they stored every board game known to man. Beyond that was an open room where hours of extremely competitive board game matches were hosted, and where the kids had free range to play and to marvel at the wet bar in the corner. Lastly, there were two bedrooms where we retreated from the day’s activities in an exhausted heap.

Even though I speak of the basement with great fondness, please do not think that all my best memories happened underground. On the contrary, one of my most significant, life-molding moments happened just outside of the expansive, open kitchen that contained a long farmhouse table with bench seating. My dad’s cousin (Stan) and his wife (Priscilla), (and sidebar – they were not only my dad’s family but they were the couple who accepted me as their godchild – a job they both relished) were cooking and hosting as my family visited and chatted with them and their adult children.

I distinctly remember my dad cracking a joke, and their youngest daughter Leisa (who always thought my dad was beyond hilarious) laughed in response. But it wasn’t an ordinary laugh… it was a completely genuine, throw-your-head-back, from the gut, side-splitting, unabashedly enjoyed guffaw.

It was beautiful, and authentic. It was also the moment that not only did I admire Leisa for her beauty, but also for her moxie. For her ability to throw her head back, laugh, and without apology. For her gregarious personality. For her ability to love life at every turn and to live her life as she wanted. I knew right then, I wanted to be THAT.

When I look back on my life, I know that I am THAT. I throw my head back and laugh – loudly, fully and often times, inappropriately. I like to stop and smell the flowers, I like being in the moment, and I like living my life how I want, without apology. Most of the time, that is. (Hey, cut me a little slack – I am a work in progress, dammit!)

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Me. Most of the time.

photo credit: Laugh! via photopin (license)

Tonight, I believe I witnessed my daughter’s defining moment – just like what I had with Leisa. We attended a lacrosse game with friends, and our seats spanned two rows. Chloe had Robert on her right, and on her left was a young woman (19, maybe?) with blond hair and blue eyes. She was tall, athletic and wearing a jersey that supported the home team. She had bright eyes, a big, kind smile, and at first, Chloe was timid and shy. But, once the young woman had helped Chloe with her stadium seat, Chloe became mesmerized and watched her every move.

This young woman probably did not realize it at the moment, but she being admired and mimicked. When the young woman cheered for a good play, Chloe did, too. When the opposing team committed a foul and was sent to the penalty box, the young woman reminded Chloe to hold up her sign and chant, “Get in the box!” When the home team scored a goal, they exchanged high fives. Chloe was engaged and enthusiastic, and it was beautiful.

The beauty laid within this young woman’s display that you can be enthusiastic about what you love. You can be a girl and cheer at a sporting event. That getting caught up in the joy of the crowd is fun. That everything that she has seen from her mom – enthusiastically cheering at sporting events, dancing with abandon, and living life loudly – isn’t just for the “old” women. It’s absolutely for the young in age, as well as the young in heart.

All I can do is hope that memory sinks into Chloe’s subconsciousness and it helps her become the fearless and enthusiastic girl I have watched develop into over the last four years. And I hope that the thanks I expressed to the young lady last night helps her remember the little girl at the lacrosse game that was mesmerized by her beautiful, enthusiastic personality.

I Can See Clearly, Now…

The words, “You need a neurologist,” were still ringing in my ears. The implication in that statement was clear. My condition was not a pinched nerve, as I had initially hoped. It could be the “other” possible diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.

That possibility rattled in my head while I navigated my learning curve of receiving a referral to a neurologist. At the time, I didn’t even have a primary care physician. For the first time in my life, I acted immediately on a medical recommendation. Some would call it a miracle.

I called to make an appointment with my new primary care physician, and the first available time was when I was scheduled to be out of town for work. They found an available appointment time for the day after I returned home from my business trip. I resolved to work hard and put all of my worries and concerns behind me during my business trip. And I could have been successful at putting it out of my mind if it wasn’t for one huge issue. I work with four individuals who, in the past 10 years, have become part of my family. Keeping this possible diagnosis from them was not a possibility.

I knew there was only one way I could tell them. I had to get “Gone in 60 Seconds”, white-girl-type drunk. And to make a long story short… I did.

Okay, maybe slightly less drunk than this. But just a little...

Okay, maybe slightly less drunk than this. But you get the gist…

Photo courtesy of Andy Watson-Smith via flickr.

Of course, they were completely supportive and made the whole situation better by keeping me laughing with jokes. It’s how we roll. It’s how we cope.

After that night, I felt better and kept the hope that it wasn’t MS, but something much easier to fix and much less permanent. It could be a vitamin B deficiency! I had hope.

Until two days later, when I woke up and my vision was off. When I closed my left eye, I realized it was my right eye that I was experiencing issues with. It was like the top third of my vision in my right eye was tinted dark, like a car window tint. I could still see, but it was dark and I had a lot less definition.

All my mind could process was, “Okay, what in the eff is this?”

Once I arrived at my office, I told my (very close) friend and colleague John that I was having difficulty seeing clearly. His immediate response?

“If you go all crazy-eyed, all of our future meetings will ONLY be via phone.”

I nearly peed I laughed so hard. And I needed to laugh. Badly.

So, to show my appreciation, I decided to send him a text. In essence, it said:

"John, come talk to me... my crazy eyes want to seeeeeee youuuuuuuu..."

“John, come talk to me… my crazy eyes want to seeeeeee youuuuuuuu…”

Inappropriate? Yes. Sometimes, inappropriateness is required. When is it required, you inquire? At about the time that my inability to see clearly helped me prepare for the future.

The future that contained a real possibility of a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis for me. That future, I can see clearly, now…

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Today, I am dedicating my blog post to the black belt characteristic of modesty. Recently, I witnessed a group of kids display a great deal of modesty and compassion towards others, by being wise enough to realize that even though they are in a position to judge others, there is a way to do it kindly, constructively and without superiority. It was beautiful. It refreshed my faith in humanity. There is hope…

modesty

I Feel Like I Am on Pins and Needles…

November 6th. 19 days after I had completed a black belt test; the test where I had earned my conditional first degree black belt.

November 6th. 8 days prior to the semi-annual Black Belt Extravaganza where I would finally receive my conditional first degree black belt.

8 short days from receiving the belt I had worked over three years to get. 8 days.

I woke up numb.

Not emotionally numb because I had just spent 13 weeks of working out 25 hours a week for 13 weeks and had to basically shut down my life to achieve my goal. Nope, that is not what I am talking about.

I woke up physically numb. My hands were tingling with the pins and needles sensation you get when you go numb from remaining in one place for too long. The bottom of my feet were, too. But the weirdest part of all of it was my core was numb, too. Starting at my upper abs spanning all the way down to the top of my knees, front and back. But this part wasn’t pins and needles numb. Oh, no. This was like I had just received an epidural-numb. If you have never had an epidural, here is an example of how it felt: if I scratched the skin on my stomach, I couldn’t feel the scratching on my skin, but the muscles below that area of the skin could feel the pressure of my fingers scratching.

Numb Graffiti

Hop aboard the Numb Train!

photo credit: via photopin (license)

I woke up wondering, “What in the ever-living hell is going on with my body?” It was bizarre.

So, I did what any educated individual with health insurance would do to get an accurate and immediate diagnosis. I made a doctor’s appointment. I went on WebMD.com.

After a thorough check-up search of my symptoms, my doctor WebMD came back with two possible diagnoses.

Option One: A pinched nerve. Okay, I can deal with that.

Option Two: Multiple Sclerosis. Uh, yeah, but no. Pinched nerve, it is!

After a few x-rays, my doctor decided that I potentially had just a pinched nerve, and we proceeded with treatment for a pinched nerve. That is, until the third appointment, when my doctor asked me to put my chin to my chest, and when I did, I jumped. It felt like an electronic shock went shooting through the top of my legs. When I told her why I jumped, she stepped back, put her hands in the air and said the four words I never wanted to hear:

“You need a neurologist.”

All I could do was drop my head. And feel the electric shocks shoot through my legs, again.

Sh!t.

And here we go… Paragraph Break Today’s black belt characteristic I would like to highlight is integrity. Specifically, having the integrity to say what is right, to do what is right, and to expect everyone on your team to do what is right. No exceptions. Hmmm, I think I just discovered my next post topic. Stay tuned… integrity

Civilize the Mind, But Make Savage the Body…

So, the question was,

Did I make it into prep cycle?

The answer?

Of course I did, what else would have taken me so far away from my [insert here: blog, family, friends, free time, general enjoyment of life, etc…] for such a prolonged amount of time?

This is the beginning of a typical conversation I have with anyone who is curious about what exactly “prep cycle” is and how I got into and through it. Honestly, I just want to tell them what I really think of when I say “prep cycle” which is more along the lines of what a high-efficiency washing machine does, and not anything that has to do with taekwondo.

Alas, it is not related to a washing machine. It is taekwondo. It is physical tests. It is spirit runs and timed-mile runs. It is working out 20-25 hours per week. It is repeating the same form over and over and over again until a team of eight individuals performs it precisely, and as a perfectly formed solitary unit. It is sparring. It is late nights and early mornings that stretch into long afternoons. It is encouragement. It is pain. It is 13 weeks in length of incredibly hard work.

There were moments while training in those 13 weeks that I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “When this is all over, I am going to document everything I have experienced in my blog.” As I was living my weekly highs and lows through new milestones achieved and/or new personal challenges that were discovered and had to be overcome, I remember envisioning how I would structure my narrative about it. 13 blogs posts – one to describe each week of prep cycle. My thoughts about how I would tell my story were as harsh, hardcore and savage as my physical workouts were for my body.

This harsh, hardcore and savage mindset then began to eek from my physical workouts into my every day life. It had to. I was a married adult with a full-time job, raising two kids, who had committed herself to a process that demanded an additional 20-25 hours per week. In order to ensure everyone was where they needed to be, precise scheduling and multi-tasking became a must. Before I knew it, my family’s schedule had become harsh, hardcore and savage, and we had to be harsh, hardcore and savage to deal with it. A proverbial “fight fire with fire” situation.

During prep cycle, my husband and I would say to each other (almost daily), “When prep cycle is over, our schedules will slow down.” Prep cycle ended last October. What has our schedules been like since then?

Harsh. Hardcore. Savage.

It hasn’t changed in the slightest. The only thing that has changed? When we change the month in the following statement, “When [insert: month that 3 months from today] is over, our schedules will slow down.” My schedule has not changed for one reason. My mindset remains in harsh, hardcore and savage mode, and as long as it stays there, as does the rest of my life. It is time to let it go and find the calm and civilized me. And it needs to happen. Like, yesterday.

Civilize the mind but make savage the body.

Will I still workout like a savage? You bet, because I have finally found physical exercises that I truly love to do. But, as for my mind, my schedule and my free time? It is time to be civilized*.

Wish me luck. Lord knows I will need it. And booze, too…

*Please note, when I say “civilized,” that will absolutely not reflect anything that has to do with my use of foul language and/or consumption of wine and margaritas. Those, my friends, will always be done in an uncivilized manner.

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I am dedicating today’s black belt characteristic of integrity to my son, because he is in the process of learning a very hard lesson… there are times when you have to ignore the what others have done to “get by,” to realize you are better than just getting by, and to understand that true personal integrity comes from setting your own high standards and achieving them. A hard lesson at 9. Or even at 99…

integrity

A Dream Is…

It was about this time last year that my son and I had earned our high brown belts. High brown was the last belt before testing in to the dreaded “prep cycle.” Prep cycle is the term we use for the three months a person has to prepare for their black belt test. Three months of exhaustion. insane workouts. mental and physical strain. hell. I had heard the stories of the experiences of black belts past. I didn’t care. I had no doubt in my mind that earning my black belt in tae kwon do was my dream.

It felt as if I had said that no less than one thousand times. So often that the word had begun to lose meaning for me. So, as the ever-curious person would do, I looked it up in the dictionary (.com).

I read the first definition of “dream,”

a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.

and I was comforted because that was exactly how I viewed earning my black belt. An ambition. An ideal. Cherished. But then, I continued to read and discovered it also meant,

an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy.

Crap. That wasn’t what I meant when I said the word “dream”! I meant in the best possible way! Something I would do! Accomplish! All of the amazing things the the first definition inferred. I was indignant, as if the dictionary (.com) people had written that definition directed just TO ME! I would prove them wrong, they would see!

As I sat there, I told myself I knew exactly how I would prove them wrong. I would… I would… ummmm… wait, how exactly would I prove the dictionary (.com) people wrong?

That is when I realized in order to achieve my dream, I needed to stop thinking of it as a dream. If I continued to use the word “dream,” I would have allowed the smallest percent of my thoughts to wonder if earning my black belt as unrealistic. I had to switch my mindset from “earning my black belt is my dream” to “earning my black belt will be a reality.” Without the switch, I was leaving the achievement of earning my black belt to chance. With the switch, it would then be a goal and I would need a plan to achieve it.She turned her can'ts into cans, and her dreams into plans

So, I sat there. I wrote down my plans, which turned into a practice schedule. I knew the test into “prep cycle” was 4 months away and that I knew I had to know my curriculum at a minimum of 90% proficiency. I knew I needed to build my stamina, endurance and mental fortitude. I knew I needed to practice it all. My written practice schedule worked on all of it.

Before I knew it, four months passed and I had worked hard so I could prove it to myself that I felt confident in my knowledge of the curriculum, and of my desire pass the prep cycle test. Was I nervous. Uh, hell, YES. Was I prepared? Did I pass? That is for next time…

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This evening, I am focused on the black belt characteristic of courtesy, because lately I have seen incredible displays of it and also a complete lack of it. Courtesy is one of those beautiful qualities that I think is the hardest to learn and maintain daily, but when it is done consistently, it is beautiful. Here is to its beauty…

courtesy

An (Unintentional) Taste for Irony…

1, 241 days. Otherwise known as 3 years, 4 months and 22 days.

Or, how long it has been since I started this blogging adventure.

When I started blogging, I never knew it would be this difficult. When I started this blog, I felt like I always had something to say. However, to ensure I had plenty to speak of and about, I decided to be “smart” and not only blog about my karate experience, but also parenting and life. Hence, the “…and Beyond” added to the end of “To Black Belt…” in the title. I am also a huge fan of the Toy Story movies. I thought I was being “cute” in addition to “smart.”

In all actuality, I was naive on how difficult blogging is. Yes, simply spouting off an opinion is easy. That wasn’t why I wanted to blog. I wanted to tell a story that might just connect with someone. A story that resounds with someone. A story that says, “If you want to do something, you can. I know it because I did. It sucked and hurt, but it was so worth it.”

Because I did and it was. It still is. That is an adventure I have every intention of telling, because it is a good story. It may take me a bit to tell it in ingestible chucks, but I promise I will.

First, let’s rewind a bit further back. To 1,241 days ago. The day I named this blog, and thought I was being “smart” and “cute” by adding the “…and Beyond” to the title. Come to find out, dear audience, I was unknowingly being ironic. Dramatically ironic, because I never knew where the “…and Beyond” would lead me.

Irony is Easyphoto credit: Irony via photo pin (license)

I am on the path to finding out. I promise to share that too, and in the meantime, I beg you humor me with a bit of patience while I wind my way there, and expand my understanding of what my “…and Beyond” will become.

Until then, I leave you with a the black belt characteristic of indomitable spirit, because it is my favorite. It is also the black belt characteristic that I hope I can maintain the most in all that I encounter.

indomitable spirit

XO to you all. ~Jess