Visual Journal – Connection

I went to a new mental health clinic.  A friend of mine drove me and I used my new light weight wheelchair.


The clinic takes medicare and medicaid, so there were lots of older people and people with disabilities.  In the middle of the the parking lot, was an older woman in a wheelchair.  Her back was so hunched over that she had to tilt her head sideways to look at anything besides her lap.  She had one leg amputated below the knee.

As far as I could tell, she was by herself, dropped off by one of the non-emergency medical transport companies.  She looked so frail, but was also able to get around in what looked like an extremely heavy wheelchair — up and down the ramp, and over thresholds, into the clinic.  I needed help from with that from the friend who drove me there.

When the older woman saw my wheelchair, she was delighted.

I used to get lots of compliments and questions about my 3 wheel walker, an easily maneuverable thing that didn’t take up much space.  Then I became too unstable for it, so I started using the standard 4 wheel one.  I found that I missed the attention I got with my old walker — I guess I felt I was a cool handicapped person with the 3 wheel one.  None of us are immune to wanting a little attention and compliments.

Now I’m using a wheelchair most of the time.  I have a power chair for everyday use and a manual one for when I need a ride somewhere and can’t take the bus.

So, when this frail, friendly woman started complimenting my chair, it felt really good —  that she noticed me and took time to tell me, in her own way, I was lucky.  And, as often happens, when I go to clinics, I realized how much movement and mobility I still have.

I had a good session with my new psychiatrist, but I think the thing that felt best was my brief connection with this woman, her clothes tattered, her body bent, her eyes a milky blue, her life limited but so alive.  And though it was a short conversation, it lifted my spirits.  What people go through, what they survive — it seems like resentment would cloak us all, but over and over again, I see people find a way to shed bitterness and share their sweetness and light.

In my journal, I tried to capture her glow as well as the golden autumn light that shone on our brief meeting.


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Birthdays and other reasons for pause

September is always like the beginning of the year for me.  I guess I got into that feeling when I was in school and it seemed I was older, a younger self left behind, often with disdain.

It’s also the month of my birthday — and most years that’s a cause for celebration.  But I always slightly resented September weather — it’s “supposed” to be cooler, but here in Memphis we usually have summer heat until October.  After living in the cool wet Northwest for about a decade, though, I made my peace with September heat.  The wet weather there was exacerbating arthritis pain, so now I just enjoy an extra month of baking but hurting less.


September is my daughter’s birthday, too.


This year I didn’t get the birthday buoyancy I usually feel for just surviving and outliving an early prediction about my lifespan.

When I first got sick, back when I was 16, with seizures and weakening muscles, I was told I might have any number of degenerative diseases that could end my life by the time I was 30.  It was 1976, before there were MRIs and the kinds of tests that can diagnose disorders better.  I stopped having seizures in my mid-20s.  But my legs continued to weaken.  I had “possible multiple sclerosis,” or more often, the diagnosis was “abnormal.”  Then in my late 40s, they found a lesion on my spinal cord, and gave me the diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis, a rarish disease, but one that should be stable.

Only it wasn’t stable.  I lived for about a decade in denial of increasing weakness and body changes.  I blamed instability on my osteoarthritis.  I sometimes gave myself a hard time about not exercising, or eating poorly.  But when I did those things, I didn’t improve.

This last year, I got a full MRI work up and it was discovered my spinal cord was thinning and I have an even rarer disorder called “Hereditary Spastic Paraparalysis.”

Through it all, I’ve always imagined I’d be a partial user of a wheelchair, but would still be able walk some, around the house, get in and out of bathtubs, have some balance.  I would still get in and out of friends houses and restaurants with just a walker and a helping hand upstairs.  But that’s all fading a bit.  I keep falling.  The reality of my own delicacy has been as hard as the floor on which I contemplate the loss of independence.  I am an advocate of interdependence, we all need each other in many ways we take for granted, but still….


I know I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but the upcoming birthday has made me melancholy.  I have bi-polar and feared a depression was settling in.  Then I feared it wasn’t, that I’d become a melancholy and anxious old woman.


I didn’t plan a party or an art show.  In fact, I’ve been a little blocked about everything.

But I’ve got great friends and family.  I’ve spent the last week being taken out for meals, given presents, and given support.  I allowed myself to talk about my fears, my disappointment, my delusions.  And my friends, they listened and they gave me the best gift — their understanding.  Nobody has tried to undermine my mourning of my strength, they just subtly and emphatically proved that they’d be there for me.  There is a hand on my elbow when I’m in dangerous terrain.

I had felt like an abandoned scarecrow, like the crows had pecked me apart.  But sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, my friends put me back together, and got me back on that yellow brick road — even though we all know the Wizard is just a guy improvising his way through life like the rest of us.

It’s a lesson I learn over and over — that in spite of my fears, I have love in my life, and that kind of assistive device will carry me through anything.  I am rich beyond belief.  Each day there is some jewel out there shining for me, if only I keep my eyes focused outward.  I know that it’s impossible to do on my own, so learning to rely on others has been the biggest gift of it all.  To trust.  To love.

I am thankful for another year of being in this world with my friends and family.  And to all of my internet readers and supporters who listen and provide insight and share their own struggles.

Thank you.

September 9th starts the new year for me 🙂



My Guerrilla Garden

This summer I’ve spent a lot of time communing with plants.  I’ve had some changes in my life.  My adult daughter moved in with her two cats.  She’s going to help me out around the house while she regains her financial composure after changing careers.  So my studio got smaller, but it’s a good thing for us both.

I planted a lot of flowers in pots on the porch this summer, and if you follow my facebook page, you’ve seen the progress of that enterprise.

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In the back of my house, in the neighbor’s driveway, there’s been an abandoned motorcycle since I moved here over a year ago.


At least it looked abandoned.

I wanted to take some good close ups of the rusted gears, and the way things that once moved become stationary.  I have transitioned to using a wheelchair for most of my outdoor and indoor activities this year, and I felt a bit of attachment to the rusting old thing that once must have glided with ease through the streets of Memphis.  My photography was limited, however, by the quality of my camera as well as my ability to get in close without my own wheels getting stuck in the gravel pavement of the driveway.

I decided in the spring to use it as a guerrilla garden.  (I sometimes plant left over seeds in abandoned lots and in other people’s property just to see if they grow.)  I started adding pots of plants that might vine into and over the bike.  It’s in an awkward place, not much soil, inconsistent sunlight.  But I know plants strive to grow no matter what, so I went ahead and sneaked plants onto it.


But it didn’t really look right to me.  So I went ahead and planted some purple hearts in the ground around it.  I also planted some morning glory seeds hoping they were strong enough to handle the thin layer of soil under the gravel and dry conditions.  And within a month, things were growing:

And the morning glory was more than prepared to take a ride on those old wheels.


My neighbor told me about mid-project that it was indeed his motorcycle, not really abandoned by some former tenant.  He’d bought it to fix it up, but that he’d never had time to.  He was happy that I was able to create a little garden with it.

Then a few weeks ago, he told me that someone had bought it to fix it, and would pick it up soon.   It’ll be interesting to see if the morning glory will continue to grow even when the support is taken out from under it.   I’m not worried about the purple hearts, they grow and grow.  They don’t let circumstance stop them.

For now, though, the old motorcycle is still there.  Thriving in it’s disrepair.  Rust settling in deeper and deeper and my little bit of wild gardening twining through it.

This summer.  I’ve felt like I’ve been in a fallow period artistically.   I haven’t been painting a lot.  I’d planned to paint the flowers I grew on the porch, but instead, I do brief pencil sketches then just sit back and meditate on color, on growth, on life.  On Change.  I keep thinking things in my life will settle, but sometimes it feels like change keeps knocking me off course.

My morning glories, hibiscus and moonflowers bloom only once and then they fall away, their bright brief task in life carried out with color and grace.  They go to seed and another flower takes it place.  I check the plants each morning for buds and for new flowers.  My marigolds, petunias, celosia blaze out, and will bloom til the end of summer.  It’s mid-August and I’m sure they know their days are numbered as the sun slowly changes angles and they keep growing towards it.  And I am with them, every day, watering, tending and delighting.

So, now as I see my garden’s progress, I don’t feel it’s been a fallow time.  Only a change in season.  All these little growing things are here for the summer, then they will go fallow, and with or without me, they will come back.

I think we all need fallow periods for our roots to grow, so when the time comes, we bloom freely and with whatever color we can muster.

Life is change, but I feel rooted in it nonetheless.



Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at  Please email me at if you’d like details.


Still Processing After All These Years

It used to seem to me that processing change should take only a short time — as in a few months or a year.  In fact, one of the things I require of myself when I have a major body change is that I wait a year before I decide whether or not I can live with it.  If I can’t, if I haven’t experienced moments of delight, if my change hasn’t become my new normal, then  I can re-examine the question of whether this life is worth living or not.

loss for words
Loss for Words by Joy Murray, 2013

I’m talking about major health changes, more than economic or relationship disasters, but sometimes they feel unbearable, too.  So much of life seems unbearable at times.  But they are usually bearable, often they make us stronger, wiser, wanting to live fuller.  Sometimes, of course, experiences, changes, hurts — they’re pointless and painful and have no lesson.  But we get over them in time.  In time, we process it, get our bearings right, and find a new way of feeling happiness and contentment.

We all carry sorrows with us.  Sometimes sorrow so heavy we can hardly move under the weight.  Sometimes, we dance while bearing that same weight, sometime with another who is also carrying unbearable sorrows.

Life lately has seemed to send me one challenge after another and I’m trying to process these and get on with it.  I have paintings to paint, stories to write, a life to live.  But I still feel confused and muddled about what to do next.  I keep having complications, either from my neurological disorder, or the treatments for it, or the endless bureaucracy and screw ups with my medications.

by Joy Murray, 2017

I feel like I’m caught in a state of constant processing.  And I feel bad that I’m still processing things that I should have already dealt with and moved on. (Oh, the sorrow spiral of feeling bad about feeling bad.)

I found myself last month watching a mystery series that dealt with the aftermath of a rape for the 8th time.  I knew I was using it to process past trauma and to escape the present complications of my medical problems, but it seemed weird and maybe self-destructive to keep looping through this drama again and again.

I called the National Suicide Lifeline, not because I felt suicidal, but because I felt I might be self harming and I wanted to talk to someone who didn’t know me about it.  I was reassured that people process trauma all kinds of ways and that there’s NO WRONG WAY, and NO DEADLINE.  Watching a woman regain her sense of self after a terrifying event is probably a benign way of helping myself grieve things that happened in the past and that are happening now and will continue to happen possibly for the rest of my life.  Not rape or sexual abuse necessarily, but things that make me feel utterly powerless.  And worthless.

I’m dropping and breaking things.  I’m running my wheelchair into door jambs and tearing up thresh holds.

Dragged in my front door thresh hold after working on the porch garden

I feel scattered.  I feel like I’m not reading enough or keeping up with the news enough or enough in general.  I’m not able to do a lot of the things I did before to make myself feel better.  (I may be romanticizing the past, though.  Because I have bi-polar disorder, I sometimes think I did things better before, but I can’t really tell you what those things are.  Toni Bernhard wrote a great article about that in Psychology Today Online:

I’ve spent a lot of time planting things for my porch garden and now I’m spending a lot of time looking at dirt, waiting for those first few leaves to break through.  Shouldn’t I be working on my something or something else?  While I still can?

I’m not writing this to get sympathy or reassurance.  I’m actually doing well.  Remaining productive while dealing with what feels like a rapidly deteriorating health condition in a slow, slow, slow health system.  I’ve experience such moments of bliss and joy in this past year that I could hardly keep from weeping  — even in this past month.  I feel loved and valued.  I am so grateful to everyone who supports me, those I know well, and those I only know marginally through the internet.

Still, I’m processing things and I can’t quite get my mojo working the way I want.  Does any one?  Do you?  How do you process change?

I talked to a friend, after talking to the kind person at the Suicide Prevention Hotline, and my friend said she did the same thing, watched things over and over.  She didn’t feel like she had to justify it either.  She just did it because it was what she felt like doing.  Ah, how I complicate my own life and emotions and needs.

Well, I’ll keep processing things.  And when I’m ready, I’ll do something else.

Processing by Joy Murray, 2018

(The National Suicide Lifeline is a great place to find someone to talk to, even if you’re not necessarily suicidal but standing on shaky ground.  Even if you have friends and counselors and doctors.  They listen and hold up a life giving mirror to reflect life in.  Hope is their specialty.  They also have a chat line.)


If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon:

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at  My paypal account is set up under my email at  If you have any questions you can email me.

You can get prints and cards of my work on Redbubble: