Reaching for Stability Inside

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The sign at my new favorite coffee shop

 

In Boise I was surrounded by people who were more introspective than myself. I loved listening to them talk about their beliefs, convictions, rituals and practices. I grew up in the church. I believe in God with all of my being but I don’t practice my beliefs that much. I mean I pray. In the evenings I thank God for my loving husband, family, and friends. I then talk to him about what’s going on with me, like I would a friend. That is as far as I have gone in the past twenty years.

I am a Christian but I have been disillusioned with Christians lately and I think that has made me resistant to the rituals surrounding my faith, like going to church and listening to preaching. It’s been absent in my life for a long time. I think that I have been missing it without realizing how much.

Lately I have adopted some new spiritual practices that I have been finding comfort in and I believe have strengthened my belief in a loving God. I am protecting those parts of myself that I had given away to other goals. I have realized a need to pray deeper and to experience more calm and stability that a spiritual practice can provide. The interesting part is that most of the ways I am practicing, while also give glory to God, don’t come from the church or the bible. These are things anyone can do, and they could possibly help anyone feel more stable and grounded in these tenuous times.

I first learned about mindfulness from the book “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book was an interesting read because there are so many similarities between the Christian belief and Buddhism.  I recommend it to anyone because it is a good read and not too touchy feely. It is interesting. Of course, the western world is embracing mindfulness by the droves now. I have been submersing myself in it while doing yoga and meditating. I have been listening to my breath and trying not to think of anything else for at least thirty minutes a day. I have never been one to be mindful before. I am known for doing several things at once. I enjoy multitasking for the most part because my mind moves that fast naturally. I didn’t say it thought great things, just that I think fast. It is my gift. However, even cheetahs rest sometimes.

There are so many articles on the health benefits of meditation that I won’t talk about them here; They claim everything short of growing a new brain. I can only tell you what it does for me. It helps me to slow my body down. The connection between my body and my emotions is strong. So if I can calm my breath down. It moves throughout my body. Taking deep breaths involves using all of my thoughts and it really does translate to all my limbs. Seriously, try it for like three minutes. I know that I didn’t believe it, but it really does calm me down.

It also calms my mind because I focus on just my breath, and ignore everything else. If a new thought comes I just ignore it. I don’t think of nothing because that would drive me crazy. I haven’t gotten that good yet. I have just been concentrating on my breath, and this thing they talk about where you breathe through your limbs. I know, it sounds hanky right? It really works though. You take an inbreath and picture it going to your arm (I know that isn’t how biology works, but just picture it.) Then when you breath out, you imagine that arm relaxing. If you do that for your entire body. I promise you, you will be goo. Complete and utter blissful goo where ever you are. Sometimes I do it before bed, after I pray and I am telling you it is so relaxing I just fall asleep.

There are meditations on a free ap called insight timer. All of them are good but look for the ones that are described as a body scan to walk you through what I am talking about.

The other practice I am adding to my life is to use affirmations every morning. I’ve found it is really helping me with my life because I have been so down lately. I don’t know how it will work during my dark days because I haven’t had any since adopting this practice, but so far it is helping me to be more focused. Affirmations or Intentions can be anything but I have been using three so far.

  1. I will honor God with how I care for my body because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. — That one is from 1 Corinthians 6:19. I like it because it motivates me to take care of my body and my mind. It reminds me that taking care of me is important enough to make a priority. I, like most women, usually put myself last on the list of to do’s for the day.
  2. I will have the courage and tenacity to create art — I have been doing this so I will be fierce in my writing. I think any kind of art takes courage because it is hard to put your ideas out there. I need to have more tenacity and not get discouraged when I get something wrong. So, this intention is important to me, to get me to the computer.
  3. I will strive to love actively and deeply — This one I believe is the most important because I want to constantly show the people I love how I feel. I want to fill my heart with love always and I cling to that right now, because there is so much hate out there. I will not let it infect me. I want to love even those who want to harm me and those I hold dear. The last part is the hardest. Even though I try to be loving, it is difficult not to harden my heart to the people who want to hurt people I care about. Because I know nothing gets accomplished by my heart going to the dark side, I decided I needed a daily reminder to keep my eye on my soul. I will have the courage to love deeply and I encourage everyone to use that one right now. If everyone woke up and put love first, boy wouldn’t this be a better world.

These are a couple of ways I am trying to keep my mind, body, and soul this year. I encourage anyone to try to find something that grounds you, if you haven’t found it already. I’ve learned that I can’t control politics, religion, or other humans, but I can control how I react to all that. So, these small things, setting myself on a path every morning, are helping me stay the course. I need to be reminded every day to live my life fully, mindfully, and with love. This is how I am going to ground myself and keep my head.

 

The Monster In My Pants

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After the tears I just had to get out of the house.

I’ve been thinking about freedom recently because of the new president, this town which is the birthplace of freedom, and my continual grasp for freedom. I don’t mean the rights that are in danger right now in this country: like free press, freedom of religion or gay marriage. I mean the freedom of movement. I am desperately clinging to my freedom to leave the house when I want.

I feel like I should explain what’s going on with me because I am not exactly clear on what’s wrong so I have refrained from writing too many specifics. Something is wrong in my crotch. They don’t know what it is. My gynecologist has said it isn’t a feminine problem, but the other two doctors I see aren’t so sure. Second and third opinions are forthcoming. What we know for sure is the fibroids aren’t causing this pain, and it’s not endometriosis. So we are clueless as to what is causing my pain. I have had relief but only when I am not premenstrual or menstrual or for two days after. This relief between my cycles comes from the physical therapy and yoga I am doing. Around my period though it is as if someone is stabbing me right above my hip. Add this to my hormone fluctuations and my fibromyalgia and life is really shit when Aunt Irma visits. I have been entertaining this pain for about five days so I hadn’t left my house until yesterday to physical therapy, and I didn’t want to go to that either because of the pain.

My lovely therapist tried to massage and move the pain away to no avail. The examination turned into a consultation with another therapist to sadly no answers. There was just too much poking. It really is too much. I am sore today from the movement and the examination. My physical therapist is amazing because she has brought so much relief. I believe she will find an answer for me, because she is that good. However, these exams are really embarrassing and tiring. It is almost like getting a pap smear once a week. I am emotionally exhausted too. I am tired of hoping that there will be an end to this pain, when none is coming.

After my exam I was so depressed that there still wasn’t an answer for the swelling and the pain. I sat on the metal chairs outside this building full of doctor’s offices watching people with wheel chairs get dropped off and picked up feeling sorry for myself. I was full-on sobbing and vaping. Like…seriously… I stopped when a particularly sad looking fellow limped by with a foot cast on and he was wearing a robe. His face was a stone. The look of despair in his eyes was shocking. When I saw that my messed up brain said Poor guy, I should tell him it will get better.

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Beauty sometimes makes it better

Yeah, you see the irony. I mean what would this man have said if I had told him it will get better while crying. I wiped my eyes and started to leave and then it was like an alarm went off in my head that said, “Don’t go home.” So I took off walking. I walked over to Penn campus to check out all the beautiful brick buildings. I sat in front of the Starbucks watching people until I started to realize that all these kids had potential. When that made me feel pity for myself, I got up and kept walking. I walked to the river and stood there for a while looking at the train station and the river feeling lucky for the first time that day. I took a picture to show my family. We play “Where is Aunt Danielle Today?!” They are in Enid, Oklahoma and I like to show them all the landmarks of Philadelphia. In turn, I get pics of my smiling nephew. I get the better end of the stick for sure.

I finally decided to go home then. I guess I just didn’t want to go home and cry. I was tired of being home. I waited at a mall food court until my husband got off work.

I think my new tactic is to stay out of my house as much as possible. I am a vibrant person. I need human interaction. When my first instinct is to be easy on my body, I need to rebel against that because my body and my mind needs movement and excitement.

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Can I make this my new desk?

I am at a coffee shop today. I am looking out the window in Old city watching people walk by. I figured if it worked yesterday maybe it would work today. I will just stay out of the house as much as possible. I want to build memories of this city. I want to declare and take advantage of my freedom even if it hurts. I am leaving the house even when I am in pain. I am done hiding my pain in the dark. If I have to sit for a while or wince openly then I guess people will just have to deal.

I will just stay out until I create a memory. Tonight I am meeting a friend for dinner. Let’s see how that goes.

 

 

 

Hoping for a Brand New Day

 

Imagine that you are in pain for days. For four or five days, you are in excruciating pain when you wake up and it lasts for hours until your Aleve kicks in. When the Aleve kicks in there is still a dull pain and aching in all your muscles because you have been trying not to clinch everything in yourself against the pain. So basically, your body has been in alarm for at least four days. When it is over what do you do? Do you rest? Do you relax and think, “I am so glad that’s over, I am going to be good to myself today after all that I have been through?”

The first couple of times I went through this, I am sure that was my response. I don’t remember because it was that long ago. After years of these episodes, I responded differently. I sulk. I have at least one day of sulking. It is pathetic I know. I somehow feel stupid for not knowing it is coming, and not being tougher when the pain does come. I feel sorry for myself for having to deal with the pain and then hate myself for feeling sorry for myself.

I am trying to have more compassion with myself. I think that yoga and mindfulness can help with that. Trying to be compassionate to yourself and then with others is important to all healing. I really am having a hard time with compassion and empathy lately. I think that I am just so tired of the pain that my subconscious is wanting to take it out on everyone else, especially republicans…(joking, kind of.) I think there is a sort of confluence of horrible news, family crazy, and bad health that is making me evil. I was even rude to someone who brings me groceries. I am NEVER rude to strangers unless they do something crazy like kick puppies. I know what it is like to be summarily be treated like crap because you work in the service industry. I do not approve of it at all. It is like a point of pride for me.

So, I have become something I hate and am having a really hard time with it. I want to be a nice person who doesn’t yell at my husband for sweeping crumbs off the counter onto the floor. I want to be the person that tips nicely and says things like, “Have a nice day.” I’ve begun to resent everyone, just because I feel shitty and they don’t. I think of other reasons, don’t be mistaken. If you are reading this and you know me, I am probably mad at you for something. That’s a problem if I am angry at all those who support me.

So how do I turn this around. Prayer can help, of course, but I feel like I need some extra help. I was talking to my physical therapist complaining about my recovery time and how it is hard to pull myself out of the depression/angst. So these feelings are bleeding into the time when I actually feel good. I get depressed, resentful and angry. I can’t just wake up and turn that off. It has never been easy to do, but now it’s just getting old. My gynecologist recommended a psychologist a long time ago, but I didn’t think I needed one then. Now that my physical therapist has recommended it too. I really think it’s the better choice than pushing all my friends away. She says that there are specialists that can give me techniques that I can use to recover more quickly. I guess a lot of people with chronic pain need recovery tips. I need a way to get over myself, or I am going to lose a lot more than just days with pain.

Husband and I took to the mat while listening to the sounds of a yoga Pandora channel. My apartment windows were open and the place fragranced with snow and bacon. It reminded me of my Grandma’s house. If I was lucky enough to get there after breakfast Grandma would scuttle me into the kitchen and load all the left overs in a big skillet. Then she’d give me a smile and say, “I need you to feed the birds for me, they’re really hungry.” I would feel so important to be given that job. I’d take the skillet out onto the porch down to the grass and spread the leftover breakfast. Then I’d come back in and get my reward bacon. Grandma had a way of making me feel so special. I think of how brilliant she was. She fed the birds, recycled breakfast, got me out of their hair for a little bit, and made me feel special at the same time. I loved her so much. I miss her. Thinking of her always makes me want to be a better person.

I want to go back to savoring being able to wake up, cuddle, cook breakfast, do the dishes, and do yoga all without pain. It should be glorious, like the feeling you get when a car alarm is going off outside for hours and it finally stops. The pain pushes me close to mania and then after three or four days of that I wake up and the sun is out and the birds are singing! I turned on my Pandora today and the song “Can you feel a brand new day,” from The Wiz came on. Every time I hear that song I feel goose bumps and want to dance. The message is amazing because it is like a fresh slate and a message of empowerment and renewal. I know essentially it is about the emancipation which to me is so powerful. To talk about something so horrible with empowerment and joy. I want to be that classy. I want to be a better person, the person who can recover quickly and be empowered for a new day.

The Best I Can Do

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Making Physical Therapy fun: I wanted the fake people to look like Star Trek characters. Is that Captain Kirk at the bottom? Why yes it is! 

Mom exercises every day. She’d wake up hurting and get ready to do her exercises. I thought she was crazy for years. Who thinks, Oh, I am in pain, I think I’ll exercise. It goes against all the logic I’d ever known. When you’re sick you lay in bed, right?  I’d say, “If you hurt why are you doing exercise?”  She would reply, “I have to exercise this morning or it will hurt more later.”

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My Momma: my eternal fitness hero

I didn’t really understand what she meant until I too developed Fibromyalgia. Now I am amazed at her resolve. Seriously. That woman is made of steel. The first couple years of Fibro kicked my ass. Waking up in pain is a buzz kill. Your whole day can be tainted. Waking up with fibromyalgia is like someone beat you with a baseball bat the night before and then you drank a liter of rum. Every morning you are sore and hung over. Mom woke up in that fog every day strapped on an exercise bra and just got to work. I bitch and wine like nobody’s business.

It seems like a weird idea, right? Think about waking up with the flu and being told the cure is exercise. Um…yeah, wouldn’t you think that’s bullshit? No, you would retreat to bed and not wake up until it ended. The sick part is, it never ends. You will wake up every day with the flu, and the only way to have the rest of the day is to exercise through it. Then the next day, start all over again.

When Mom told me she had to exercise I thought she was crazy. I didn’t understand then, what I know now: with Fibromyalgia exercise is essential. I told the doctor that I felt like a piece of machinery that rusts when it sleeps or sits too long. If I don’t stretch and move my joints, then I am in pain all day. It’s like I am lubing my muscles and joints. Once I have done that, then I can move onto my day.

My physical therapist, Melinda Gross, said that with Fibromyalgia you have to challenge the body regularly with controlled “stressors” in the form of exercise because it increases the body’s tolerance. So I have to increase walking, yoga, chores, strengthening exercise because it increases my baseline threshold for pain and stress.

Did anyone else’s dad ever make that joke? You know the one after you’ve been complaining your head hurts, and Dad offers to step on your toe to make your head hurt less. Turns out, that’s kind of a thing.

In other words, I have to put my body through a small amount of pain so that I am not in greater pain later. Also, if I put my body through more pain then what I have built up then I am in serious pain for days. So, I have to measure my activity every day. Once I painted a hutch and for the next three days the couch was my best friend.

When I think about it too closely, I get angry that I didn’t figure this out sooner. It is also very hard not to be angry that I can’t just wake up and be fine like a normal person. I get depressed at my pained muscles and stiff joints. It is easier to stay in bed. It is easier not to go to my twice a week doctor’s appointments. It would be easier if I could just take some pills to make the pain easier and just dribble into my pillow.

I was not happy when that’s all I could do, but it didn’t require much strength of will or physical strength. It was easier, but I wasn’t happy. My loved ones deserve much better than that, and so do I.

When I think about just sitting and sulking on the couch or skipping my doctor’s appointments I think about my husband. I am lucky, because he is the most patient and loving man. He is there every day telling me it is okay I am in pain and it isn’t my fault. He is my strength when I don’t have any. He deserves to have a wife that feels good about herself. I concentrate on that love when I am trying to get up to start my day. I concentrate on the love that I feel for my family and my friends. I concentrate on the fact that I want to soak up moments with them. If I am in pain, I will just be thinking about the pain.

I’m not perfect every day. I still have days it takes me a while to pull my head out of my ass and get moving. I was lamenting the fact that it takes me almost an hour and a half of exercising and icing to get me to feel normal/good. I did an unofficial Facebook poll of my friends and some of them exercise two hours a day. These are people I assume don’t have fibromyalgia, or any of my other health problems. So, I am not alone. They too use exercise to feel like themselves. I just have a large cattle prod getting me to the yoga mat.

Sadly, some days it still isn’t enough, but I am getting there one yoga work out at a time.

Wrapping Revelry

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I love wrapping presents. Most of the people in my life don’t understand, and consider this task a rather fruitless or joyless task. My mom only does enough wrapping to disguise the gift and she even finds this tedious. My friends sourly say things like, “Oh, I’ve got to wrap presents tonight.” You can hear the trumpet blowing in the background sadly Wahhhh wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I can’t wait to wrap my little parcels. As soon as I get the first purchase home, I clean off the table, turn on the Christmas music and arrange all my wrapping supplies. It is one of my favorite things to do all year. I used to have a plastic tub filled with wrapping paper, bows, tape, and scissors. I had to get rid of it in my new apartment and I miss it. However, I still buy enough for the current year and take my time making each package look pretty.

I love wrapping for many reasons. Some are selfish. I love looking at the shiny wrapped packages hanging around our house, like tiny promises of momentary joy. The colors reflected in tiny lights or flickering candlelight. It’s kind of like marketing for a movie. Those packages are a small preview of the shiny faces to come.

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I love wrapping because I feel a release in the process. For moments of time I am thinking of the person who I bought the gift. Do they like this color? Does this paper remind me of them? Santa Claus paper is always reserved for Mom. Blues are reserved for my sister. I try to have funny little cute images on my nephew paper. I even have slightly staid manly-ish paper for the men in my life. While wrapping I think about the person, memories and likes and dislikes and try to imagine how they will feel about the gift or the wrapping. For whole moments, I am outside of my mind and anything that stresses me. I am joyful with anticipation. It’s like a meditation. I picture the joy on their faces for just a little bit, hoping it takes them out of their worries for just a minute.

That’s the other thing I love. It is a beauty that will last only a little while. So much of artifice and art is meant to last a long time. Wrapping is meant to be torn apart. ­­­­­I love the idea of someone thinking Look how pretty that is and then ripping it to shreds. I love watching people tearing apart wrapping paper. That is so fun! I feel like small pleasures here and there are all we can really guarantee in life. To be lost in a little bit of time here or there. To be lost in something beautiful for a minute like the look on my sister’s face when she opens something surprising or lovely.

No one can count on the big stuff. Big moments don’t last very long and then you’re only reaching for the next one after that. We live in the small moments: Brad kissing me unexpectedly or tearing up when I am happy, my Grandma gushing when she is proud of me, my sister texting me to call her out of the blue, Mom confiding in me, or Caleb telling Grandma how he took lead on his school project.

I soak up all this happiness and marinate in it. If I don’t collect them. If I don’t pay honor to them, if I don’t hold these moments almost sacred, then they fly by without notice. I only remember the pain. Because sadly, pain is memorable on its own without me adding my notice. Like my little offerings to my family, I think God or life offers us small presents in moments of love or beauty and the key to true happiness is to hold them in your mind dearly and most precious.

Are there any small rituals surrounding this holiday time that you adore as much as I do wrapping?

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The next morning the candlelight flickers off the wrapping paper to illuminate my yoga mat!

Out of Mourning, a New Resolve

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I am sorry that this smile is gone.

My beautiful, young, full of life cousin just passed away in her sleep. Ashley was nine years younger than I am. She passed away at thirty-three due to complications with her ongoing lung disease. She will be missed by so many. I really admired her spirit and determination. See Ashley has had lung problems all her life. She spent so many days and nights in the hospital being watched over by her poor Mom and Dad who worried constantly. She was a slight little thing as a kid and grew into a rebellious youngster. All of us are rebellious at one point but when you have bad lungs smoking and drinking are even worse. Luckily this time was short. She pulled it out quickly and then focused on her health. Ashley died being a wife, a devoted step-mom who undeniably adored her charge, a spitfire (crazy smart opinionated women run in my family) and amazingly a weight lifter.

It would have been so easy for Ashley to ruminate on the fact that she was born with a set of defective lungs. She could have sulked and stayed in bed, but she rallied and built a full life for herself. Not only that but she built her body up. She worked out steadily and ate well. She built up a business. To see her do all that with the body she was given, makes me feel inspired to do the same.

The past two weeks I have been requiring myself to do yoga absolutely every day. You know that hashtag #yogaeverydamnday? I haven’t really understood that because I feel like it has a negative connotation and yoga has always been enjoyable to me. This past two weeks I have been understanding it. There are days when I have had to crawl to my yoga mat and start by laying on the floor to stretch lightly. I slowly loosen my creaky muscles until I can move without pain. Then I move on to stretches that require all my muscles. It has become a requirement for all of my days. If I don’t do it then I will be in pain all day.

I think that it would be easier sometimes to just stay in bed. I have spent many days this year in bed with the pain and I am sick of it. I hope the ritual I have adopted will keep my out of bed for the foreseeable future. I haven’t tested this theory during my dark days when Aunt Irma visits, but I guess we will see. My physical therapy is working and I am so happy about it.

I think this new resolve is coming from a place of remorse for how much I have let my body sort of fend for itself against my vices.

Perhaps I can take up her mantle of good health. Maybe someday I can be someone people look at and say Hey, she had all that pain but she still put her health first. I hope so. I just have to keep making that uncomfortable walk/crawl to the mat every morning. If I can build on that. I might be able to follow her example.

For All Those Who Are Struggling

“You can practice deep listening in order to relieve the suffering in us, and in the other person. That kind of listening is described as compassionate listening. You listen only for the purpose of relieving suffering in the other person.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I am seriously trying to do this. It is so hard. I am a Christian but so much of what Buddhists say make so much sense to me. Understanding takes so much listening.  Not the normal listening, the ya ya I get what you’re saying, but….kind of listening. We need the kind of listening that sincerely ends with, “I am sorry your experience is so different than mine, but I believe you. I stand with you to make it better.”

I have been trying and failing but I keep trying. There is a lot of anger and pain right now. I am feeling so much of it. This can be hard for us who take those feelings into our limbs. My fibromyalgia is flaring hard right now. I am probably not the only one. I am sure there are so many out there who are feeling so angry and hurt and it is affecting their bodies.

I am dealing with it by being good to my body. I know people are doing lists on how to get involved in social justice, but I want those who have fibromyalgia or some other body malady to know that you should take care of your body so you can be more effective in the future. Actually, anyone who needs to take a time out, I understand. You can’t even help yourself if your health suffers, so please, take some time to listen to your body as well.

Some things that are helping me are:

  1. Walking- getting out of the house and watching all the lovely people on my street in Philadelphia. Yesterday I was walking and heard at least three different conversations in different languages. I also watched those people be kind to others, and people be kind to them. There is so much goodness around us. It gets drowned out by all the crud, but the good is still there if you go looking for it. People stop and say excuse me. People say hi and talk to me. Not only do I see the goodness in other people. I try to see the good in me. I tell people how nice they look when I notice they do. I try to brighten people’s day. I’ll even admit that the exercise helps.
  2. Pray or meditate – quiet reflection of how I can help is what I really need right now. Sometimes all you can do is all you can do. The only way to help with change is to know what your reserves are, and that takes quiet reflection. Also, I take comfort in a God of love.
  3. Spend time with loved ones- especially the ones I disagree with. I don’t have to talk politics or anything. I just like to remember they are more than their beliefs. It makes me feel love for them, which helps me to try and understand. We have to remember we love each other. We have to remember that there is a reason humans make different decisions and it is usually pain and hurt. We love each other, and I believe the highest form of love remains in understanding. Understanding and love is the key to all that troubles us. I know that sounds cheesy but it is true.
  4. Heed the self-care you know you should. Pace yourself. Take the time to take care of yourself. Take time out from your social justice rants, protesting, and volunteering to fill up your reserves. Eat right, exercise, take long baths with Epson salt, go to your doctor’s appointments, and do whatever she tells you to do. You know what you’re supposed to do to take care of yourself, don’t slack on that.
  5. Talk- spread love and understanding the best way you know how. ,

This is my plan. I am going to keep doing this. This is the plan to keep my body moving, my hopes up, and my mind on the good stuff. There is hope, there is always hope. This country has overcome so much hate, we just have to keep going. Slow and steady people, don’t burn out now.