The poignance of my plasma practice


This has been a challenging post to write. I’ve been dreaming it up, yet putting it off, for days. It’s after midnight now, and following another six hours of active procrastination, I’m going to take a stab at it. It feels somehow important for me to share, but also vulnerable, as well as difficult to convey. I’ve actually been thinking I’d like to write more “meaningful” posts like this, but the amount of cognitive and emotional energy they take to create (relative to journal/travelogue-style posts) is daunting, to say the least.

Anyway, here goes. This will be imperfect. That’s OK.

I’ve been selling my plasma, off and on, since February. (They call it “donating,” presumably for legal reasons, but they pay you for it, which is why most of us do it, so… it’s selling.)

Doing so has opened up many new worlds for me. Some have been painful and some have been wonderful.

To start with, I was scared. I don’t like to have needles stuck into me. And what if my body could be somehow harmed, or weakened, by doing this?

And… was this what my life had come to? Reaching the end of one’s financial rope to this point carries a certain stigma. In fact, I still remember the remark of my boyfriend of the late 1990s, commenting on the advertising choices of the plasma centers who advertised with placards inside city buses at the time: “Give red blood! Get green money!” (The ads—drawings—showed red “love hearts” next to fists holding green dollar bills.) He was making a commentary about how advertisers attempted to reach people in poverty. I remember thinking, at the time, about how desperate people must be to open up their veins for cash.

And here I am, now.

I had spent an amazing year traveling exactly as I had dreamed, around the US and Canada, by train and bicycle, seeing beautiful sights, meeting amazing people, and reveling in beautiful weather, for an entire twelve months. I financed it with my savings, with an awareness that those funds would probably only last for that one year. Before I left—and as I traveled that loop—I would sometimes say to people that I was taking a leap of faith into the unknown, and that doing so would somehow “catapult” me into whatever the next phase of my life would be. After 18 years at an unfulfilling job, I was ready to leave the 9-to-5, hopefully for good.

Upon my return to Portland last September, though, I still wasn’t entirely sure what that next phase would be. I began living as a full-time cat sitter, first for no pay but just in exchange for places to stay, and now incorporating paid sits wherever I can, to supplement the income. I’m still doing some life—and now travel—coaching, though I now often offer these for free or by donation, since I believe they are a big part of my life’s calling, and that method seems to feel better to me than the traditional pay-for-service model.

In the spring, I began tutoring English online, for Cambly, which has definitely added some stability to my income, despite its rock-bottom pay rate of $10.20 per hour. (And recently I have found that I can’t always count on calls to come in when I’m logged in. The past three weeks have been painful in that regard, with my earnings roughly two-thirds of my budgeted projections.)

I’m still receiving donations from well-wishers, whether one-time or ongoing via Patreon (huge thank you to all my Patreon supporters!) and I’m still inspired by my idea of fairy godfunding, and believe that more of that may flow my way, as I use my newfound time to practice becoming the best, healthiest version of myself, and take whatever opportunities I find to pay it forward via emotional support to people whose visions and projects inspire me. I truly believe my best and highest use of my limited life energy is to give freely of that wherever I feel called to do so, and to trust that the money I need to live will come to me in some way.

But plasma has been an important part of my financial “planning” this past winter and spring, too, and I’m coming back to it now in summer, after a brief hiatus. The special bone-strengthening gym I have begun attending costs $149 per month. That is nowhere in my current budget, so I decided to prioritize my osteoporotic bones by going back to the plasma center three or four times per month, to cover this cost.

Some of the unexpected benefits of doing so have been the beautiful parks I have found in and around the Portland suburb of Vancouver, Washington where the plasma center is situated. Just the other day, I found some breathtakingly enchanted scenery in a small, nondescript park that was barely on the map, as I pedaled past it on my way to a larger park I had chosen to explore after plasma.

Sitting on shady benches in beautiful parks like this on sunny days is one of my top priorities in life these days—which I crystallized for myself almost exactly a year ago, in Montreal on the 4th of July—so I’m always delighted when I find new local parks to enjoy.

As I continue to experience life in more and more beautiful and creative ways, I continue to lean into visual metaphors. (I hope to turn some of these into visual art soon, and I also have a dream of becoming a muse to a talented musician—ideally a progressive rock musician—who can turn some of these beautiful themes of humanity into powerful music that can reach a segment of the population. But I digress.)

One such metaphor is that of a being of love and light, reclining in the curved, contoured plasma bed (use your imagination to visualize a plush Victorian fainting couch, or something similar from a Renaissance-era painting) simply relaxing and being, without hustle or stress… while blood—the fluid from the actual, physical human heart—makes its way out of that being’s body and into a metaphorical healing pool for the human collective.

I mean… wow.

“Give red blood… get green money,” yes… but also… this. (It beats the hell out of typing up helium invoices.)

It’s all in the perspective.

One motivator for me to write this post happened the other day, as I was reclining in one of those beds.

While you’re hooked up to the machine, you have to squeeze your fist a good deal of the time, to keep the blood flowing. This can be uncomfortable, especially for someone like me with mid-length fingernails. The plasma techs often offer to bring you something to squeeze. What they give you is the cardboard core of the Ace bandage tape that they use to wrap up your elbow when you’re done. My first time, I appreciated this, but I soon discovered that after only a few minutes of squeezing, the cylinder collapses and becomes markedly less helpful and comfortable. Still, I always request one, because it’s better than going without.

When I asked for one the other day, I was amazed when the tech handed me a hand-made “deluxe” version: someone had stuffed two additional, collapsed, cardboard cores into it to provide structural integrity. (In fact, it called to mind the rebuilding of bone that I hope is happening during my OsteoStrong workouts.) In addition, they had left on a few layers of the Ace bandage, giving the whole contraption a better grip and cushion.

My mind was kind of blown.

As the plasma drained from me, and my mind grew mildly fuzzy as my blood pressure dropped slightly, I mused on this.

Someone had realized the limitations of the traditional squeeze object.

That person had taken it upon themselves to design and engineer a significantly better “product.”

Then they had taken it upon themselves to actually make one or more of these, using the materials at hand, during their incredibly minimal downtime.

The unexpected human ingenuity and kindness of it nearly made me tear up.

When another tech came by to check on me, I realized I could also put my gratitude into practice by commenting on this “product.” I told her I’d like to thank whoever made it, partly to show gratitude and partly to encourage whoever had made it to continue doing so.

The tech suggested that I take it home with me, so that I could use it again next time! (“Or you could ask the person next time to make you another one like it.”)


That never would have occurred to me, but it made perfect sense. I pocketed my new treasure at the end of the session, and used it again the next time.

But my “plasma practice” hasn’t all been rosy.

I have noticed that it has brought up a certain amount of fear and shame, too.

Fear and shame. The ever-present foes, always seeming to lurk under the surface of even the most joyful times, which most of my life is these days.

But it’s good to have opportunities to transmute them. And I have been doing so.

I have had fears of bodily harm. More than once I have felt woozy after donating. On one occasion I mentioned this to the tech when they asked how I felt at the end, and they seemed to take my comments alarmingly seriously, calling over a nurse who stayed by the bed with me for ten or fifteen minutes, taking and re-taking my vitals and showing alarm at my pulse rate and blood pressure, and then finally releasing me after making me eat a snack and drink a bottle of Gatorade, after which my vitals returned to normal.

I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Was I too small, too frail somehow…? (They check your weight ahead of time, so I wasn’t too small. But after my year of travels, a sense of diminishing physical strength had seemed to creep up on me, and a quiet sense of alarm and dread began whispering to me from the depths of my psyche. Was I somehow starting to waste away, in some kind of permanent decline?)

I had shame, too, about having “come to this.” Shouldn’t I be more successful in life? How could this be me at age 50? (My preteen self would have imagined me at this age as a successful psychotherapist in private practice.) Wasn’t my epic journey supposed to catapult me into doing something orders of magnitude more enjoyable—and laudable—than this?

The fear and the shame seemed to reach a joint climax one day in April.

I had a day to myself, and no pet care responsibilities for a few days.

I decided it was time for a conscious psychedelic experience.

I don’t use psychedelics often, but I like to use them at times for mind expansion and a sense of tuning into larger “messages.”

I had been feeling good in my life—on an upswing—and believed that this springtime psychedelic experience would be a positive one.

It turned out to be pretty challenging.

One of the phrases that began going through my head at the beginning was “human frailty.” I found this odd, but allowed myself to repeat it out loud a number of times. It didn’t feel personal; it felt like just a musing on human frailty in general. I began to feel a bit teary as the concept permeated my consciousness.

A few hours later, I found myself experiencing some mild paranoia. I paced around the room and reflected on my life. That day I was wearing the one warm sweater I had worn all winter, which had started out white and fluffy but was now showing signs of pilling and grunginess. It had a large pocket in front where you could put a hand in each side, and touch your hands inside. As I did this, and paced in front of the bay window, I was reminded of Elton John’s haunting classic, “Madman Across the Water.” (“Get a load of him/he’s so insane … but is it in your conscience that you’re after/another glimpse of the madman across the water?/argh…”)

In my altered mental and emotional state, I wondered, Am I the madman across the water? Do the people walking on the street outside see me and think there is something wrong with me?

My train of thought continued, as my gaze fell upon the prick mark on my left ring finger where they had recently tested a sample of my blood before allowing me to donate that day.

My skin had been blemished by this practice! I then pulled up the sleeve on my right arm, to view the scab on my inner elbow.

Sadly… mournfully… I heard myself saying quietly, but aloud, “Everyone will see that I have opened up my vein… for the purpose of commerce!”

It seems comical to me from this distance… but at the time I felt so low. Such shame. How could I have opened up my vein—for others to see!—for the “purpose of commerce”??

A few hours later, I had a bit of a health scare, when I started to feel very lightheaded while making dinner, and worried that I might pass out. It concerned me enough that I made an appointment to see a doctor.

I was greatly reassured when I went to the doctor and he said that my blood pressure was very low, and that was what had caused the faintness. He ordered a few tests (which came back fine) but said not to worry too much about it, but just to continue drinking plenty of water but also add salt to my diet, to make sure that the water could do its job in my body. (Dehydration can aggravate low blood pressure.) He also suggested electrolyte drinks like Gatorade, especially before and after plasma.

This doctor’s appointment gave me the opportunity to ask him about plasma donation in general, and he helped to alleviate my fears. It appeared that the main problem was my blood pressure, and he gave me the tools to address it, while reassuring me that giving plasma is a generally safe thing to do.

After that appointment—and after adding salt to my diet, and going to the bone-strengthening gym every week—I am feeling physically stronger, and that has alleviated a lot of the lurking fear I had been barely aware of, but which was affecting many areas of my life.


I also decided to confront the shame head-on:

It’s OK that this is where I’m at in my life at this time! Although my income is extremely low, I am living my life on my own terms to a degree that I have never done before, and the sense of self-actualization and empowerment that brings me is immeasurable. I feel gratitude for it multiple times a day.

I don’t know what is coming next in my life, but I’m loving every day that I bicycle around, snuggle kitties, and sit on shady benches in sunny parks. I’m having deep and meaningful conversations with people all around the world, and they reflect to me the blessing that my presence and connection provides them.

This is it. This is my dream life. And plasma is part of it, at least for now. It is a powerful practice, if I choose to allow it to be.

The weather has recently warmed up, and I’ve been choosing to allow my elbow scars to show on my bare arms. It’s nobody’s business where they come from… and, as the saying goes, it’s also none of my business what anyone else might think of me.


This afternoon, as I pedaled back to my friend Sandi’s place after plasma, the last shuffled song that popped up on my iPod—which contains seven days’ worth of music—was Madman Across the Water.

“I can see… very well…”

Thanks for reading. Thanks for following my journey—including the internal one—along with me.

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7 thoughts on “The poignance of my plasma practice”

  1. Live your dream! There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Do take care of yourself but as long as you are dong what you want, that’s all that matters. You are a gift of a person. Keep that light shining.

  2. Karleen Marshall

    I think it’s brave you choose as life of freedom over material things! You are living life as your authentic self, if we all did that, the world would be a different place!

  3. Maren, I appreciate your vulnerability and openness. And as a writer, I deeply understand that it takes far more energy to write deep pieces like this one than travelogue reports. Of course, your deep pieces are the ones that I love. Sending you a big hug!

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