If you are an avid reader of this blog (hi, Mom), then you may be tired of reading about poison ivy. Well, I'm tried of writing about it; but this rash has really defined my last couple of months in a terrible way, and I typically write about whatever I'm going through as a way of processing, so here's one more for you (hopefully the last).

The ivy was all but gone. I had begun to wash the clothes I wore and the blanket I used during the peak of it all (a friend suggested washing these separately and in warm water). I felt like the worst was over and I thought I was in the clear. I even returned for a yard work session and made my way out unscathed. Of course I was extra cautious, and wore dish gloves underneath my work gloves, with long sleeves. But the following week during another yard work day, I was a little more brazen and skipped the dish glove step, exposing my vulnerable wrists in a blatant disregard for the recent past. And of course, the night after all the work, I tossed and turned as the slow itch showed up again, as if someone was holding a lighter an inch away from my arms all night long.

I woke up the next day determined not to go through the same painful, irritable cycle I had just traversed a couple weeks prior, so I took drastic measures. My dad had suggested using Clorox bleach on fresh poison ivy, which I had initially rejected because it just sounds bad for you. He swore it worked, and his mountain-man of a father was the one who had shared this tip, so I gave it a try. Of course I combined this was my previous routine of cleaning the rash, Benadryl, calamine lotion, anti-biotic ointment and some prescription-strength cream Waverly got when she had some serious diaper rash. By that evening the healing process had accelerated so much farther than it had before, and though it is still incredibly annoying and irritating -- like little ants crawling over an isolated patch of my wrists all day -- I have hope that it will not spread like the last one and certainly won't last as long.

This is the less-severe of the two arms. It's a fist because I'm angry...

And so as I internalized all of what has been going on, I had a few thoughts. First, something gnawing at your arm will indeed make you irritable, and so my outbursts towards my children were likely mostly due to the rash. On the way out today I found myself similarly short with the kids, confirming my suspicion I wrote about previously.

Second, similar to my thoughts on leprosy before, it brought to mind people who are actually going through major health crisis, such as cancer, who often have old problems come back. Of course, I am in no way saying my poison ivy is anywhere near what they go through, but it does create a little more empathy in me, as that sinking feeling when something you thought you were done with starts to rear its ugly head again -- my heart goes out to them and I pray for strength and resolution in the face of a difficult road already traveled.

Third -- and again, another unequal comparison -- I thought about people who relapse from mental illnesses and addictions. This could be anything major to a minor itch, like eating chocolate every night and wanting to stop. Maybe you cut it out for a week but then find yourself so tempted you fall back into it. I can say that this second go-around with the ivy has been better, as I know more of what to do, and I can imagine it's the same with true relapse. I write that as an encouragement of sorts -- if you do find yourself repeating mistakes, take courage. Each time the recovery can be shorter and eventually it will stop.

So there is more to be learned from this stupid rash. Why it exists, I do not know; but one thing I can take away from it all is that in every bit of pain there is a little bit of redemption. Mine is a stronger resolution, more empathy and better knowledge. Whether or not these little take aways are just something we conjure up to make our struggles seem better, I also do not know; but I will hang on to the thought, if for nothing else, to make the annoyance and the pain all seem more worthwhile.