Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feathers for Flight

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.  (Emily Dickinson)

Several years ago, when this outpost here on the internet was still new, I wrote at length about my anxiety disorder. I've done so numerous times since, but I thought I'd take a moment to explain it again so that the request I'm about to make doesn't seem quite so strange.

A little over seven years ago, when Duncan was still a puppy, I was prescribed Wellbutrin to help quit smoking. Unfortunately I was one of those extremely unlucky souls who suffered very serious side-effects because of it. My chances were somewhere along the lines of one in a million and not a day has gone by since that I haven't wished I'd spent a thousand dollars on lottery tickets instead. After six weeks of taking that wretched drug I began having strange episodes that at first seemed like extreme vertigo but quickly turned into all-out manic episodes that sent me to the hospital three times. I was forced to take an extended leave-of-absence from work and my life was turned completely upside-down. My doctors finally diagnosed a severe anxiety disorder that was either unmasked or triggered by the Wellbutrin. Unfortunately, though, it seemed that my body couldn't handle the drugs that are commonly prescribed to help control such an illness. Instead I turned to acupuncture, a change of diet, lots of rest, and a very intense dose of cognitive behavioral therapy, which continues to this day. I was forced to rebuild my life completely. 

Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows that it's a truly horrific experiece that changes your entire perception of the world. Nothing is safe and even when there doesn't appear to be any anxiety the fear of it returning becomes even worse than the anxiety itself. The world becomes your enemy. Tasks that most people take for granted, things I'd done daily, like drive to work, or watch television, go to movies, visit friends, walk Duncan, become impossible. I spent three miserable months holed up, hardly venturing outside, watching as Ken struggled to be brave and patient and comprehend what was happening.

Since then, though, I have worked very hard to reclaim my life but there is not a moment the fear––or rather, the fear of the fear––is not there. It took a long time but eventually I started going to movies again, hiking, venturing downtown to visit friends, all the things I'd once done with little or no thought. They are such silly and minor things, but to someone like me, each of them is a momentous and life-changing event.

And then Christmas of 2007 happened. Ken was unable to drive home to Idaho with me that Christmas and I was forced to make the trip on my own. I did a lot of soul-searching and mustering of courage, and just when I thought I'd have to spend that holiday alone I remembered Dumbo.

Yes, Dumbo. As in the flying elephant who carries a magic feather in his trunk. I remembered that as long as Dumbo had the feather he could fly and perform tremendous feats of magic and courage. But then there's that fateful evening when he loses the feather and is unable to perform until Timothy, his mouse friend, tells him that the feather wasn't magical at all, that he had the power all along. Eureka! I knew exactly what I'd do!

So I turned to my blog and asked my readers to send me a feather, an ordinary feather that contained the magic of their support and encouragement, something I didn't need for the trip but would help remind me that I was strong enough to do anything I set my heart to. I received countless responses, many in forms I hadn't anticipated, from peacock and hawk feathers, to geese and doves, paintings of feathers, photos, news clippings, music, ceramics, dream catchers, smudge kits, all of them magical and wonderful and remarkable in the power they contained.

In January, my step-father Kevin lost his father, Bob Spencer, a remarkable, adventurous man, who touched and changed many lives and has been sorely missed since he embarked on his latest journey. I did not get to spend a lot of time with Bob and his wife Mary, but they occasionally visited Idaho, sent Christmas cards, attended my college graduation and engaged me in some of the most incredible and inspiring conversations I've had. And even though he's no longer with us,  Bob is inspiring me again. Kevin's family, most of whom my sister and I have not met, have been kind enough to invite us to attend Bob's memorial service this summer in Buffalo, New York. I am incredibly honored and touched by their generosity and look forward to spending time with them and getting to meet all the people I've heard so much about for the past twenty-six years.

And so, as I did seven years ago when I needed that little bit of extra courage to travel home, I'm turning to my faithful readers once again. I need your feathers. I need feathers enough to make me a pair of wings that will help me fly––the final really big test of courage I need to face––all the way across the country. I'll be taking the ones sent to me all those years ago, but I'd like more. I have worked hard at steeling my courage and I know this is the final bit of preparation that needs to be done before I embark. If you'd like to send me a feather, please do so. They must be received by June 20th when I'll be trading these walking feet of mine in for a pair of wings, which I quietly alluded to back in February when my eyes began to turn from the ground and toward the bright blue sky.

To sweeten the deal, I'll be putting all the feathers into my feather bag and keeping track of who sent them so that I can draw one lucky feather out of the bag. The winner will receive a dog-approved prize from Duncan and me. Be sure to include your name, the name of your pets, if you have them, your address, and get your feather to me no later than June 15th. I plan on sending the prize the following Monday, so all contest entries must be received by the 15th. To get my address you can email me at jcr138@gmail.com. Please put "Feathers for Flight" in the subject field. It's not the most important of charities to contribute to, but I can't tell you how much it would mean to me.

Thank you all, once again, for your kindness and support over the years. We may not have walked together, Duncan tugging on his leash, but you have certainly been in my heart and thoughts on all the adventures Roo and I have been on.


dad said...

My best to Kevin. And, my best to you in your quest. Feathers to follow. Love you

Jyoti said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Curt. I never knew the details of your anxiety disorder. Early in my career as a massage therapist, one of my clients had an episode during a session and was unable to leave my office. It was a frightening experience for both of us, so I truly understand how debilitating this has been for you. You have so much courage to have come so far, and to share it with everyone too.

Berts Blog said...

Well, i tmay take me a day or two but I am off on my search for feathers to send to you for your journey.

It seems so unfair for a medication to take such a toll on someones life, Thank you for sharing it though.

Watch for my email.....
Bert and My vickie

Allison said...

You'll have a feather from me soon. And most of all, you have my love and support. You are a strong, amazing person and you are capable of building whatever life you choose. <3

Golden Woofs! SUGAR said...

Woof! Woof! Wonderful way of support and encouragement. For sure having Duncan as puppy helped out. Lots of Golden Thanks for sharing. We will try to find feathers. We moved and typically back in Chi town walking on the lakefront we see lots of feathers. Will keep you posted if we find one. Lots of Golden ALOHA n Woofs, Sugar

Traci said...

This flight is just another step on your journey and I know you will be able to meet it and rise above it just as you did with that car ride home in 2007 (was it really five years ago already?!) and that amazing hike to the arch in the Flatirons. Remember how exhilarated you felt? There was triumph in your voice that day. You are so much stronger today than you were when you made that drive and that hike. I have so much faith in you, feathers or no, but will be sending you one just the same, along with my love and support.

Unknown said...

I've got some wings for you, man. They'll be flying your way soon.

Sue said...

I just went back and read your original post...my gosh, you have come so far! I am so proud of you. I just happen to be going to my favorite feather store today to do a little shopping! I'll email you to get your new address.

Marie said...

"Nothing is safe and even when there doesn't appear to be any anxiety the fear of it returning becomes even worse than the anxiety itself. The world becomes your enemy. Tasks that most people take for granted, things I'd done daily, like drive to work, or watch television, go to movies, visit friends, walk Duncan, become impossible."

It's like you wrote the words right out of my head. I'll be thinking of you as you take this journey, Curt. Best to you!


Dear Curt,
I have been catching up on your blog this morning. It's my birthday today and it feels like it was "meant to be" that I read this post of yours today. Thank you so much for sharing it.
One of the reasons I wrote 'Maxdog' was to share my own personal journey with anxiety & depression. Ironically, it is Wellbutrin that has saved my life. It just goes to show how beautifully unique we all are, but how difficult it is to traverse the path of anxiety. It takes courage to share this journey. And it is the very same 'courage' which will accompany you on your flight ahead.
One thing I have come to embrace, during my own journey, is the knowledge that the world belongs to me too. In the same way - the world belongs to YOU too. I know we should know this fact, but do we internalise it? Or we allow others to crowd our own experience of the world?
I would love to send you a feather from South Africa. I hope it won't get to you too late. Please could you send me your address via FB?
Remember always...you are not alone.
With love