Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thank you! My First Open Salon Anniversary

Who knew an internet site could make all the difference?

I am hopeless when it comes to remembering things like birthdays, anniversaries, and grocery lists. So it comes as no surprise to me that my first anniversary of being a member of Open Salon passed last Wednesday, October 21st, without me remembering it.

Perhaps being here a year should invoke nothing in particular but in my case I have to remember where I was psychologically when I first got here and compare it to how I am today. I am much stronger and have far better coping skills than I did then.

I owe so much to OS. I thank God that this platform was available to me when I needed it, even though at the time I did not know that I did. And I owe much of my getting back on my emotional feet to my friends in this internet community. I am not going to name names because the list is long and I would feel enormous guilt if I left someone out. But I was in a dark and depressing place last October when I joined this group.

In March, 2008 I developed vasculitis over my entire body. I looked like someone had poked me with a million needles that made me bleed underneath the skin. That was followed in a couple of months by the vasculitis concentrating in my feet, which developed large, deep blue blood blisters. In turn the bilateral neuropathy I had for about three years got much worse and I had enormous pain on the surface of my feet while the rest of the feet were mostly numb.

Shortly thereafter I started experiencing massive redness and swelling in my feet with accompanying unbelievable burning, shooting, stinging, shocking pain that is hard to describe. The only relief for this is to elevate the feet and keep them cool. Soon there was no "normal." Either they were red hot, swollen and painful, or they were ice cold. Meanwhile I had to give up being a pastor because I could not stand or even keep my feet down for a short while without causing a excruciating flare up which lasts for hours.

My doctors did not know the cause and it just got worse. I finally did enough research on the internet to diagnose myself as having erythromelalgia, in addition to vasculitis and bilateral neuropathy. With that my internist sent me to the Cleveland Clinic in July, 2008.

The Cleveland Clinic Rheumatology Department was one of the few places in the USA that knew anything about this rare disease for which there is no cure and for which remissions are rare. So mostly they started trying various combinations of drugs for the pain, steroids for the vasculitis, and doing incessant blood work and other tests because erythromelalgia can be a precursor to life threatening myeloproliferative diseases. So far nothing like that is manifest.

By October I had thousands of dollars worth of often painful tests and been off and on many drug combinations. I was emotionally strung out, to say the least. I was pretty much confined to the house, by the air conditioner, in a Lazy Boy with another chair to keep my feet elevated and a fan blowing on my bare feet. Some, but not much, of that has changed. That still describes an average day.

I was desperately trying to keep my spirits up by reading Scripture and praying, and my brain occupied by reading four or five novels a week, reading newspapers on the internet, and getting acquainted with online magazines, including Salon. Plus I had become an election junkie and had been one of Obama's early supporters, remembering him from his speech at the 2004 convention. A laptop computer I bought made much of that possible.

I was very miffed with when it started running an ad that you had to click through to get to the Salon home page. For about a week I would click through this ad for "Open Salon," irritated beyond rationality. Finally I decided to click on the damned thing and see what this aggravating interruption was all about.

I have not been able to stay away from Open Salon since.

My first post, "It Only Takes One: Inviting Violence" was on October 21, 2008. It garnered a whopping five ratings and four comments. After a month I had about 6 mutual "Friends." Today we officially do not have "Friends" anymore. We have "Favorites." Not me. I still have friends. Mutual friends. About 200 now. Sure, they are my favorites too. But for me having mutual friendships means much more than having favorites.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I believe that the most important thing about OS is that it is a community. There has always been a talk of a split in OS over which to emphasize: "community" or "writers,/artists colony." I have always thought that the split was, and is, artificial.

Some of my best friends are some of the best writers on OS. There are, of course, some very good writers who are not my friends. But that is not for lack of trying to ferret them out. OS is just too big now to read everybody let alone get to know them well enough, and vice versa, to become mutual friends. But I manage to add a few each month, which is a privilege.

What I remember most about my early days here is how closed I was about telling anybody who I really am. I was all pinched in on myself and my pain, and I was worn out emotionally. It didn't help that I was much older than most of the people here. On top of that I come from a generation in which men were not supposed to tell much about who they were, and absolutely nothing about how they feel. But I guess you can't hide the hurt very well from people here on OS. They quickly read between the lines and they opened me up, little by little.

I started by writing political, motorcycling and memoir posts. Writing the "WWII Romance" memoir series of how my Mom met and married my step Dad opened me even further and I felt emotions I had long buried and no longer remembered I had. The strong positive response to that series encouraged me to continue exploring who I am and what I was doing on OS.

After about six weeks I started writing some posts on faith. A month or two after that, mostly in response to my posts on faith and the fact that I have been a counselor for many years, a number of people began to send me PMs to explore with me this or that problem they had; and, little by little, I gained the honor and privilege of being there for them during some of the rough stretches in their lives. That honor has grown in the ensuing months. I do not think that would be possible outside of a community of caring people.

So, dear friends, OS gave me you. And, if you ask Sue, the one who had to live with my depression before I found OS, she will tell you that OS helped give me myself back as well.

It is a joy to be part of this wonderful place, a place where we can write and share our experiences, our joys, our pains, our art, our talent, our craft, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. We all come here for our own reasons. No two are exactly alike in either talent or dreams.

But if we are open to it we can find friendship, caring, love and support here. And more importantly, we can offer those same things to one another. My faith is the essence of who I am. But I am keenly aware that we too easily forget that God most often comes to us in unspectacular ways. And mostly God works through people. People just like you good folk here on Open Salon.

If we miss sharing with others that love that we each have within us then we miss the most important thing that God asks of each of us, which is to love one another. It has been my privilege to be the recipient of that gentle love from you.

Here is a song that expresses how I feel about you.

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it OK
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction ooh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you feel
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There are vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It wont make no difference
Escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

You're in the arms of an angel
May you find some comfort here
Some comfort here

God bless you all.