The Landscape of the Heart

As I watched the screen at my daughter’s echocardiogram, the blips and blobs of color, the scan across the bottom looked like a topographical map. I felt tears welling up thinking about how simultaneously frail and steel-willed humans can be. She has done well with treatment – thriving and thrilled that her stifled independence will soon be unstopped, gushing out in a spate of plans and applications and escapes from handwringing parents.

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I am surprised by my resistance and anxiety in thinking about post-pandemic life. I wonder if I’ve been institutionalized in my own home. The thought of social obligation and interaction, of life slipping out of this time warp where everything is slower, quieter, and less populated, back into the relentless flow of everything, all the time and I think hell no.

Life slowed down enough for me to start making some long-desired changes and I don’t want to lose sight of them. That is a function of my privilege and good fortune, so I understand the mass desire for pandemic life to come to an end. But I think about the 975K+ memorials that have been muted or delayed, the trauma of loss and how it will contrast against the exhilarating celebration of travel and social gatherings and consumerism that will be unleashed in the coming months. Life has been weird, but now it is thoroughyly surreal.

We often ask each other: What do you miss most? What are you going to do first? For me, it is only a slight shift. I will go to the library and maybe a coffee shop. Or perhaps a plant nursery. I will meet up with a friend and go for a walk in the park. I feel a sense of dread that I will be required to once again attend meetings in person or meet distant family obligations. I dread that I’ll see my daughter so much less and that she’ll be out in this mad world having her own adventures, many from which I cannot shield her. It’s all normal, they’ll say. I imagine a scene where someone spouts what is intended to be a comforting cliche at me and I completely and utterly lose my shit. Normal? Normal? NONE of this is normal. Normal left the station years ago.

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I’ve experienced a loss of confidence. I’m not the steady, stable soul I’ve always seen myself as. I’m struggling like everyone else. I’m not the voice of reason in the middle of a shit storm. I’m too busy trying not to sink under the waves. This confidence, this swagger that I can always think myself out of a problem, that I will be more composed than everyone around me, has definitely been shaken, stirred, and dropped on its ass. Part of the reason is menopause, which is a tasty midlife treat when you’ve come to expect your body and mind will act a certain way and then one day it doesn’t. One day, you have vertigo, your knees hurt, your anxiety levels seem unmanageable, and you have heart palpitations. The human bedrocks of certainty – balance and a regular heartbeat are no longer a given. You have a sense that your life has irrevocably been altered and your body is no longer reliable and that you will never be unafraid again.

Aging was never that bugaboo on the horizon that I shied away from – I had all the cockiness of someone who could stand upright and wouldn’t get dizzy. The shameless stamina of someone who didn’t forget why they went into a room or what that word was for that thingamajig, you know that one thing…I hate those jokes. It’s not so funny when you can’t count on your own brain anymore. Working on my MFA with people who have fully functioning brains, who are ambitious, who have enough time and energy to play the publication/submission numbers game – well, that’s shaken me, too. I know I just have to keep forging ahead, pretending that I’m still going to make a career of this writing thing, but I know I’ve started late in the game and my number might be up before I see a result.

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As is my modus operandi, I do the research regarding menopause and I’ve started to work on mitigation and modification and coping mechanisms. It gets tiresome sometimes, this attempt to wrench control from the vagaries of aging, a pandemic, and an emotional snake pit of unpredictable outcomes that we call life. I see retribution at work for every time I responded to someone’s stress by telling them to breathe and to take things a moment at a time. Fool. That’s like throwing a piece of yarn to someone who’s drowning. Still, I’m sure I’ll say it again. What else would there be to say?

I have not felt joy in a while. If you are a depression-inclined person like myself, the pursuit of joy must be an intentional act. You have to make space and time for it. Spring opens a lot more than windows for me – it’s the start of gardening, of renewal, of dragging my camera out to the woods and staring up in trees for elusive birds. The spate of cold, gray days is coming to an end and I started my indoor seedlings which is, in my small world, an act of hope and optimism. Perhaps that is the first step back into the world.

16 thoughts on “The Landscape of the Heart

  1. Take things one tiny step at a time. The destination isn’t the goal really, the journey is, and you’re entitled to pace it your way. 💗

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  2. Great to hear your voice again Michelle and like the new photo! Amazing it’s been a good 10 years now I think since I’ve been reading you and your voice sounds clear as ever, and one I could pick out of a crowd. Thanks for sharing, normal’s overrated right?! Be well, Bill

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    1. Hi Bill. It’s good to hear from you as well. The fact that I’m back in blogland is an indicator now that writing is going very badly and getting back to my “voice” is the only way I get back. This whole MFA gig is messing with me – conflating writing with a lot of busy homework and they are definitely not one and the same. Going back to the beginning to remember who I am as a writer. Normal is not a good thing in my estimation, but this “may we live in interesting times” bullshit has gone too far!

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  3. It’s a difficult “re-entry,” I’m struggling with it myself. Just do it at your own pace and don’t feel under pressure. I’m so happy to know your daughter is doing well and is embarking on an adventure of her own. You’ve been preparing her for thus her whole life. It’s scary I know, but exciting st the same time.

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    1. I don’t know if re-entry is even something I want at this time. I’m going to be forced to in-person meetings because of my activism, but I’ll be gritting my teeth the whole time. I’m an election judge this year, so I will have to come out of my hidey-hole for training and doing the gig. I’m going to be resistant to a lot of social obligations – more so than I was pre-pandemic. This time does really make one evaluate one’s priorities. Glad to hear from you, Fransi and love the new pic (well, new to me anyway). Hope all else is well.

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      1. My priorities have definitely changed and I expect they will continue to do so. I will not be going back to life as I knew it. I look at people now, behaving as if the last almost three years never happened and there is no way that will be me. It was so nice to see a post from you Michelle and I hope there are more. The pic is relatively recent, it was time 🤣. Your activism is more necessary than ever, it’s incumbent on all of us.

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  4. That’s good news about your daughter, right? I’m glad for you and your family.
    I haven’t thought about post-pandemic life, and I ain’t going back to pre-pandemic “normal.” There are signs that many people have learned a thing or two due to society’s response to the pandemic and I think American society has been altered permanently in the right direction. How big the impact is, only time will tell.
    Beside that, we have long COVID to deal with. Not to be a downer but who knows how that will play out.
    As for the other matters in your post, I wish I could say something insightful or helpful, but all I’ll put forward is it seems like you’re having a normal, appropriate response to the situation. Thanks for sharing with us – your writing and genuineness are such a breath of fresh air.

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    1. My daughter is doing well. Now it’s just monthly check ups and scans to ensure nothing comes back.

      The pandemic really widened already existent vulnerabilities and rifts in our society. I’m not sure what we’re learning from it, except that we have a lot of problems and a narrowing band of leaders who are equipped to meet the times. The fact that we did not protect the most vulnerable in our society was eye-opening to anyone who wanted to believe in inherent good. To me, that makes the whole foundation shaky. Yay for the re-emergence of unions and awareness of pay inequities. Well, this is something perhaps for a post rather then a comment.

      Thanks for still reading my blog and for your kind words. Wishing you the best.

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  5. Just wanted to say you are not alone. I miss my brain and blame menopause, hormones, pandemic, disconnection, and vile politicians. Confidence—ha! Anxiety—yes! I’m not the person I once was. I miss me. I really, really miss my brain. May those little harbingers-of-hope seedlings bring you peace and joy. I have a room full, too:) Take good care, Michelle.

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  6. Blessings to you! I wonder if experiencing joy is a deliberate practice, or as you say, you must intentionally seek it out. Perhaps each new joyful experience produces a pattern of experiencing it again? I like to think so.

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  7. Oh my, reading this is like being inside my own brain, Our paths and ponderings are so similar. I have been stepping out a little bit, mostly at outdoor events and/or group self-tests before gathering. It’s very, very good to be in community again. I am learning to be a lot more protective of my time now. That’s a tough skill to learn, but I’ve got it down. Life is short, do what you love with those who lift you up. Good luck!

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