While sitting in front of my "Happy Lite" one Minnesota morning in November, my eighteen month old orange cat Mango, politely asked to be on my lap. She tentatively stepped on to my leg, feeling gently whether or not I would accept her presence on my lap. Ken and I had just been discussing whether cats enjoy the full-spectrum lamp for its light or for its warmth. He was not convinced that a cat would seek out the light for any other reason beside its warmth.
My thought was that cats, being mammals, probably enjoyed the full spectrum of sunlight for some of the same reasons we humans do, including the need for sunlight to activate vitamins and hormones that help us have a pleasant mood. I haven't read any studies on the subject of cats' need for sun, so I don't know the truth. It's only a hypothesis, but I think it's reasonable.
After Ken left the room, Mango settled on to my lap for her morning snooze. As she stretched and sought a comfortable position on her side, she pushed her back against my arm, her paws pushing against my other arm. Eventually, I needed to move my arms, but I didn't want to disturb her sleep. I carefully pulled a folded blanket over to replace the arm she was leaning her back against. She tried out the blanket, but it just wasn't the same as my hand and arm supporting her back, neck and head. After a few minutes, she got up and rotated her body so she was leaning her back against my stomach. As long as I didn't move my legs, she stayed that way and slept contentedly. Her breathing became slow and regular as she warmed my legs with her body curled in a ball.
We all need each other, though we don't always understand why. Warmth, light, comfort, support, a sound board for thoughts, or a push in the right direction are necessary for us to survive in the world. We can't do it alone. We are social animals that can only live so long without another. Some days we need to be surrounded by a friend or two or three. No need to apologize for support.
I am here for you, you are here for me. We need each other.
"Part of the problem with the word disabilities is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities." --from The World According To Mr. Rogers: Important Things To Remember, page 25.
There is much discussion about the use of the term "disabled" these days. Some people like the term, some don't. Some use other phrases instead, like "differently-abled". Whatever its weaknesses are, the term is one we hear daily. One of the reasons I like this quote from Fred Rogers is that he points out that disabilities can be hidden from sight. Mine is a cognitive disability. I have two complete arms, two complete legs with feet, I don't walk with a brace or use a wheel chair. By looking at me, no one would know that I am frequently forgetful and struggle with depression. No one would know I have a device in my brain to divert fluid to my abdomen. My forgetfulness keeps me from doing things like working a regular job. When I forget that I'm forgetful I make mistakes that could endanger someone's life if I were working in the medical field as I used to. There are few jobs that don't require us to have a good memory.
Yet, just as Mr. Rogers points out, people all around me could be disabled, too, and I might not know it. Some are not in touch with their feelings. Some feel, but never show their hurt, anger, or fear to anyone, even close friends. Some become so afraid and angry that they pick up a weapon and try to rid the world of the people they are afraid of. Some live unhappily with no real friends. Some have lost hope of ever having a meaningful job and are bitter. These "disabled" folks are all around us, hidden in plain sight.
You might be able to bring tremendous joy to someone today simply by smiling when you see them. When you can, take time to ask, "How are you?" and listen carefully to their answer. The next time a passerby compliments you on your outfit, instead of thinking, Good grief, I don't even know that person... respond out loud with, "Thank you! I like it, too!" No matter what our physical or emotional disability may be, we can brighten others' days. Sometimes that single comment may be the one event in that person's day that prevents him or her from committing murder or suicide. I'm not making this up. It really does happen.
Bring joy to someone else's life today. Make a difference in his or her day. What a gift we have been given to bring joy to others!
We have two new furred friends in our home these days. Heidi passed away peacefully in my arms, a well-lived elderly feline, during the summer of 2017. Alec the Cockatiel passed away with no apparent suffering in February of 2018. He, too, was likely an elderly bird.
Well aware of my love for animals, my family encouraged me to look for more critters to adopt. Though I enjoy many species of animals, including reptiles and amphibians, I felt my choice had to be one that Ken also was comfortable with. We looked online at Feline Rescue, an organization that specializes in finding homes for cats. We searched through their photographs and fell in love with a litter of orange tabbies that needed homes. It is unusual to see a whole litter of orange tabbies; the genes that produce orange, black and white coloration tend to be found together, so it would be more common to see, say, a litter with two calicos, two tortoiseshells and two tabbies. Orange or red coloration is linked to the X chromosome in cats, though it is more common to see male orange cats than female orange cats. That may be because females are XX and males are XY, so other colors wouldn't mask the orange in males. In this particular litter, there were two deep orange tabbies and two lighter, more buff (or cream, or dilute) tabbies, all with medium length fur and fluffy long tails. We went to the foster family's home to meet the whole litter, eventually settling on adopting two females, one orange and one buff, who seemed to get along well with one another. By the time we brought them to their new home with us they had been spayed and vaccinated.
Have you ever tried naming your pets? Have you noticed how we each choose names in different ways? My husband, Ken, has always liked using human names. We've had cats named Kaci, Matthew, Leonardo, Gretchen and Heidi. Our dog was named after one of Ken's relatives, Lindy. Alec the cockatiel was named after a human actor. I, on the other hand, also enjoy naming pets with descriptive adjectives, like Smoky for a grey cat. Shortly after we were married, our very first cat became Izzie, named after a character in the “Roots” TV series. The cat my college roommate and I took care of was named Smog—a grey cat that didn't seem to fit the name Smoky. I put my proverbial foot down and insisted our orange and buff females be named with descriptive adjectives. So, we assembled a list of ideas. Tangerine, Mango, Sunny, Melonie, Ginger, Marmelade. One day we laughed when Ken attempted to walk down the basement stairs with one of the kittens walking around and between his feet. “We should call her Squash,” he said dryly. I laughed and added the word to my growing list of potential names. Finally, we agreed upon Mango for the darker orange kitty and Butternut for the buff kitty. As in squash.
Mango and Butternut each have different personalities. So far, we've noticed that Mango is a go-getter, one who acts first and thinks later. She'll attack anything that moves, catches a ball well, and is attracted to things that squeak. Butternut, on the other hand, looks for movement patterns. She'll intently watch something go back and forth for several minutes before she finally decides to pounce on it. Her aim is excellent, but she's not fast. Will she ever learn how to jump up without knocking something down? I suspect not; she tends to be a bit clumsy, for a cat. Butternut prefers toys that are red or stringy. Science may argue with me on that one. It is said that cats see the world in blues and grays, not being able to distinguish red, orange, yellow or green. Perhaps theirs is a texture issue: they seem to like soft fluffy toys versus hard bouncy ones. Both kitties enjoy the smallest size of pom-poms, the ones that fit nicely between their lips, Butternut the sparkly ones, Mango the plain ones. Neither cat meows; they sort of coo or whimper. It's a tiny, high-pitched, delicate sound that doesn't fit their size. Butternut likes to do this at three o'clock in the morning, while jumping up to surfaces on which she doesn't belong. Is she trying to get our attention? Is she looking for something? Is she looking for Mango? We've taken to getting up and closing the door on them so we can continue sleeping all night.
One of the activities that has helped me live with hydrocephalus is prayer. Has someone ever told you to “pray about it” and you wondered why you shouldn't just do something about it?
Sometimes we think that prayer isn't really anything but paying lip service to a custom. We think that praying about something important is not as useful as doing something concrete about it. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (NASB) Jesus taught his disciples how to pray when they asked him to do so. He used verbs, action words, as examples of how to pray.
When you knock on a door, the owner of the door comes to your aid and opens the door to speak to you or let you in. When you ask, you are humbling yourself, recognizing your need and expressing the need to someone who can help you fill that need. A seeking person is actively looking for something or someone to assist her, whether it be by giving her knowledge or helping her lift a heavy load.
Jesus made it clear by how he lived his life that prayer is far more than just a nice custom. God wants us to actively bring our needs, desires, thoughts and feelings to him in prayer because he answers prayer. God is the god of action. If we ask, seek, and knock at God's door God will answer and help us find that which we seek. God may motivate us to do something we know would be helpful, but are reluctant to do. God may give us the humility to accept a friend's offer to assist, a friend who has been praying to know who might need God's love today. God will answer your prayer by answering his!
Prayer and action go hand in hand, as do trust and motivation. When we trust, we move forward confidently and with energy. We are motivated.
God is faithful. God will not fail us. God is worthy of our trust.
It's time to go back to school, readers. Here is a biology lesson on hydrocephalus
“Carefully protected inside the human head, inside your brain there are four compartments called ventricles. Filled with cerebrospinal fluid, they are connected by several narrow passageways and special cells. Cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, flows between the two lateral ventricles, down to the third ventricle, through the Aqueduct of Sylvius (also called the cerebral aqueduct), and down further into the fourth ventricle, then into the narrow space surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. The CSF that bathes our brains provides important nutrients to the neurons and spinal column. It helps clean out cellular waste, and protects us by filling the space between our brains and our skulls with an absorptive cushion of fluid. Without it we would experience major brain trauma each time we bumped our heads.
"Our bony skulls act as armor. Newborn babies have a soft spot, the anterior fontanel, where the skull has not finished growing together. Their brains are protected in that spot by a membrane that covers the hole. Soon after birth, the hole disappears and in its place is a completed bony skull. As the baby grows and matures, the brain and skull grow and mature as well. Once the CSF has made the rounds, so to speak, through the whole system, it is expelled from the brain by special cells, and absorbed into our bodies. Nothing is ever wasted.
"Hydrocephalus (hi' dro sef' uh luhs—from two latin words meaning “water” and “head”) occurs when something prevents the CSF from freely flowing in the “lakes and creeks and rivers” inside the head. Yes, that was the reason for the geography lesson, not to mention it was fun to tell it to you. I am proud to be a Minnesotan. Imagine what would happen if Minnehaha Creek or the Mississippi River was dammed up by beavers. Where would the water go? It would overflow its banks and flood the surrounding land, maybe even spilling over the top of the dam. Though CSF may be impeded by an obstruction in an aqueduct, it continues to be produced at the rate of 0.35 milliliters per minute and flows through the system anyway. In babies, because their skulls are not yet knit together completely, the CSF pushes against the brain, causing the skull to expand to accommodate the fluid. The anterior fontanel may bulge or be abnormally convex. The pressure inside the brain increases abnormally. In teenagers and adults, whose skulls are complete, the extra pressure builds as the fluid has no where to go, so it presses against brain cells, causing pain and problems for normal cell function.
"This may cause urinary incontinence, mobility abnormalities, cognitive and language learning disabilities, and severe headaches, like migraine headaches, and no over the counter medication will suffice.
"Common causes of hydrocephalus include congenital lesions (e.g. spina bifida), traumatic lesions (concussions), and infections such as meningoencephalitis, as well as congenital aqueductal stenosis and a rare genetic disease. One form of hydrocephalus can be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's Disease or Parkinson's Disease. Usually neurosurgeons can tell you which type of hydrocephalus you have and how best to treat it.” --From The Lakes In My Head: Paddling An Unexplored Wilderness
So, we do have lakes in our heads, do we not? When my hydrocephalus was discovered, my cerebral lakes were filled to overflowing, much like the flooding we have been experiencing in locations all over the world, due to climate change. With lakes in our heads and lakes all around us, it is difficult to ignore our need to use wise stewardship for them both. Let's take care of all of our lakes!
In 2006 I was diagnosed with congenital hydrocephalus. At that time I was forty-five years old, but congenital means being born with it. So how could that be and what is hydrocephalus? An excerpt from my book will help explain.
"I believe a geography lesson would be appropriate here. Stick with me and you'll see how this fits into my story. Minnesota is known as the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes and is the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River. I was born and raised in Minneapolis, one of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Twin Cities metropolitan area is roughly in east-central Minnesota; Warroad, Minnesota, is almost as far north as you can go in the United States, except for Maine and Alaska. Minnesota is that place the meteorologists often say is the coldest location in the lower forty-eight states.
"We love our more than ten thousand lakes and rivers here in Minnesota. We enjoy swimming, boating, fishing and scuba diving in the summer and snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding in the winter, in or on the lakes and rivers. Some (fool?) hardy residents even take the plunge by jumping into water surrounded by ice after warming up in a sauna. It started as a Scandinavian thing and many Minnesotans are of Scandinavian ancestry.
"Living in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, I reside near Lake Minnetonka, Lake Pamela, Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha and the creek that connects all of them, Minnehaha Creek. Minnehaha means 'curling waters' in the Native American Dahcota language, though it is frequently mistranslated as 'laughing waters'. The water from Minnehaha Creek becomes Minnehaha Falls, then empties into the Mississippi River which meets up with the Minnesota River and becomes the back bone of our country. The headwaters of the Mississippi, Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota southwest of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Itasca State Park, are not dramatic to behold. They trickle placidly and grow in strength as they flow south toward the Twin Cities. The mouth of the mighty Mississippi is way down South in New Orleans, Louisiana. That's a lot of water making a very long trip to the Gulf of Mexico. It mixes with saltwater from the ocean, forming a unique and special habitat known as an estuary. Estuaries are fascinating. Freshwater and saltwater wildlife live together, taking advantage of the ocean tides to obtain the nutrients they need to survive.
"Along the way, that water is vitally important to the whole planet. The United States relies very heavily on the Mississippi River to transport food and supplies. The river feeds a thirsty country. It provides essential habitat for birds, fish, crustaceans, insects, restless families in canoes... you get the picture. The water in the river evaporates into out air, fueling weather patterns. Nothing is wasted. Our economy is heavily dependent on the Mississippi River, and natural disasters like flooding effect how we all spend our finances. The Mississippi is written about in recreational books and textbooks. History has been made around it."
Next week: a biology lesson that, along with this geography lesson, will answer the question, "What is hydrocephalus?" Stay tuned!
I'm Lesli Chinnock Anderson, author of “The Lakes In My Head: Paddling An Unexplored Wilderness”.
Many people have asked me, “Why did you write this book?” “Is this a book about your canoeing experiences?” “How long did it take you to write?”
Since I was young, I've kept a journal, a semi-daily personal account of my life. The content has changed over the years—I no longer write about boyfriends or what my parents said that day that made me furious—but my need and desire to write in it has remained constant. To write this book, I looked back at my journal entries between 2006, the year I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and 2016, the year I began to feel that it was safe to move on with my life. I tried to remember what I was feeling and thinking during this time.
One of the things I've discovered since 2006 is that most people don't know what hydrocephalus is, have never heard of it, or thought that only babies get it. I've made it my mission to pass on what I've learned about hydrocephalus, so that some day when I mention it people will respond with, “Oh, yeah. I know what that is” instead of “Huh? Hydro-what?”
Do you know how hard it is to explain what hydrocephalus is? The word itself is tough to say and remember. Most of us don't use medical terminology every day. Plus, many people don't have a clear picture of what the inside of our bodies is like, let alone what our brains look like. To make the explanation a little easier to digest, I came up with the analogy of the lakes in our heads. I live in Minnesota, the land of more than ten thousand lakes. Surely they can picture lakes connected by a river!
Not everyone enjoys listening to stories about someone's medical problems, so to make the book a little more palatable, I factored in my Boundary Waters Canoe Area knowledge. Maybe someone wondering whether or not to read the book will read it because they are interested in the BWCA. They may be reminded of the relative or neighbor who has hydrocephalus.
Being diagnosed with a relatively rare condition is tough in and of itself, but factor in that it's not visible on the outside of my body. When I approach you smiling I look quite average. When I reveal that I had a head-splitting headache yesterday, you are not especially concerned. We all get headaches. When you realize this is the third time this week I've had a severe headache...well, then you wonder what's wrong. It took a whole conversation to figure that out and it took more than just a quick glance at me.
Strictly speaking, this is not a book about my canoeing trips, but I do use a canoeing parallel that I hope is helpful to the reader. The information regarding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is as factual as I could make it. I truly have been there numerous times canoeing, hiking, cross country skiing, summer and winter camping. I hope you enjoy this aspect of the book and that it provides a respite from the more intense, heavy parts of my story.