My Misery Brought a Plus One

I was almost there. The sadness of loss began lifting and dissipating with the arrival of the spring sun. I acted like a grownup and went to the doctor to deal with my health anxieties. Spring break ended and my family returned to their respective daytime activities. The deck was cleared for productive writing, invigorating workouts, and getting my garden planned. It was a glorious five minutes.

canstockphoto46418801I’m writing here, shortly before I render myself unconscious with an ungodly amount of pharmaceuticals. I’m down and out with a head and chest cold which makes me dizzy and susceptible to laughing at my own jokes. It might be that I already hit the Nyquil. Nowhere on the warning label does it say I should not operate a keyboard.

This is life, as they say. They are assholes. It may be life, but in the moment, when my head feels like it has been split open and my voice is a croak interrupted by paroxysms of coughing, it feels like it is not a good life. It will pass they say (they can now shut their pie holes and return to bad faith arguments land).

canstockphoto181672.jpgSurliness is often my go-to place when tired, sick, hungry, breathing. I have made the execrable error of filling my life with positive people – all of whom I must avoid when surly. I like to let my surliness and self-pity run its natural course, without the shame of it could be worse quips being blithely tossed my way. Unnatural stoppage could turn my feral surliness into something worse – a reasonable, circumspect person who always seems like they have their shit together. That would be wholly unnatural for me.

For those of you who regularly read my posts, I am going to be okay. I received my biopsy result in which the doctor was playing fast and loose with the English language. It essentially said You don’t have cancer. Yet. See you next year. Precancerous cells have put me on a watch list. There are some minor lifestyle changes I can make to prevent further damage. And believe me, I’m making them. If you reach a point in your life when people need to regularly shove tiny cameras in your orifices, you make the damn changes.

Much of the joy has been drained from my life – if my life were all about eating delicious canstockphoto56388854.jpgfood. Which, to be fair, much of it was. Now I must get my jollies from smoothies with raw ginger and greens. No more spicy Mexican, onion-laden Greek, tomato-filled Italian food. I sleep on a wedge pillow, don’t eat three hours before bedtime, drink gallons of water, and stare morosely out the kitchen window, while washing another bowl of lawn clippings for my next meal.

I suppose I should be grateful that I was scared into better health. I’ve lost some weight, don’t experience heartburn, and will likely be able to avoid a lifelong drug regimen. Although, as soon as I began exercising better habits, I immediately got sick. It leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. But that might just be the kale.

Before I started writing this, I had in mind pithy comments to make about current events, reading I’ve been doing, and other random bits of wisdom. I would have sounded erudite and witty, I assure you. But my head is currently full of mucus. It might be better for me to have a lie-down and hope that the cold medicine doesn’t conk me out so soundly that I wet the bed. That’s life.

What’s Keeping Me Awake

Of late I’ve had an uncomfortable medical issue related to repeated heartburn. It’s gotten much worse and I have to go to the doctor. But not, of course, until I’ve googled myself into a full anxiety attack. It’s after midnight and I’m tossing and turning and just a little terrified – because so many roads lead to cancer and I’m 51 and I still have a teenager at home and I don’t want to die.

Several years ago, I had an irregular mammogram and I had to go back for another test. It turned out alright, but afterwards, I sat in my car sobbing for a good half hour. The palpable relief that I’d still be around for my kid made me crumble. After researching my latest symptoms, my insides are quaking with fear. My symptoms suggest that whatever I have, I’m about to go on a medical diagnostic journey.

Going to the doctor is like going to the gym. Getting through the door is the hardest part. BarrenTreeBWI’ve been fortunate up to this point in my life to have the luxury of infrequent visits to medical establishments. The downside is that nearly every interaction I have with medical personnel is when something bad is happening. I always leave with a new syndrome or condition, feeling much worse off than when I arrived.

When you have the luxury and fortune of good health and things start to go awry, you realize what a coward you are. I’ve never had a dental cavity – a combination of genetics and compulsive brushing. I imagine the first time I get one, I’ll become the biggest baby ever. Yet I know people who have chronic conditions, who have to line up their medications every day, and who have more replacement parts than original and they are still wildly successful at being human beings.

Here I am, though, so filled with fear and anxiety that I cannot sleep. And I know logically, it will only make things worse if I am tired. How do you find a sense of peace or calm in all of this? How do you let go of the visions of death that dance before you? How do you not tearfully hug your husband and daughter as they go out the door to have their Mondays?

On the outside, I tend to under-react in times of crisis, even as my brain is riddled with anxiety. I imagine tomorrow morning will be like any other day. I will close the door behind my family and begin to count the minutes to calling the doctor’s office. They will ask who my primary physician is and I will mumble “I don’t know”. I have a feeling that by the time diagnosis is over and I’m on some sort of treatment plan, cancer or not, I’ll know my primary physician’s name and a few specialists’ names as well.

It is my nature to distance myself, to stand outside of myself in the middle of fear. It is why I’m writing now. Writing gives my story, with all its unanswered questions, some shape, a measure of control. Or at least the illusion of it. Over the last month, I’ve been reading a lot of the classic short story writers and their bios. Quite a few of them were dead in their 40s, with hundreds of stories written. But they never felt the pride of that. They just did it until the TB or syphilis took them.

In the midst of my fears, not having been published turns out to be the least of them. Sometimes it’s good to have those kind of realizations, when all your priorities suddenly sift away, leaving only the large, important things. For me, it will always be my family.

canstockphoto1218783I’d been feeling depressed over the last month or so – the side effect of a long winter and the loss of my mother-in-law a few months ago. I’d been wallowing in self-pity about my inability to be a prolific writer. Sporadic writer is more like it – whinging on about being a caregiver of sick cats, of having no sense of self beyond the drudgery of laundry and dishes and ferrying people about. And how it felt like such a big deal to allow my brown hair to be sheared off to reveal the silvery gray beneath a few weeks ago. I am a little ashamed about that now. How trivial and superficial my anxieties can be.

Writing this reminds me of the ability I have of finding the upside to things. This fear, this insomnia-ridden anxiety, shoves aside my petty concerns, makes me open my eyes and see what is true. I hope I remember this in the cold light of morning, watching as the clock ticks closer to office hours.

Out of Warranty

canstockphoto5050400There’s been a lot of whining lately here in The Green Study. My eyeballs are still apparently eroding and last night in taekwondo, I chipped my front tooth in a poorly-executed back roll. I feel like an old car groaning down the highway as various parts keep falling off. These are seemingly minor incidents in the big scheme of things (although exposed, burning eyeball nerves, not so minor), but it seems to be one thing after another. I have been feeling rather depressed and demoralized.

I found out over the weekend that a high school classmate who survived a car wreck at 16 that killed her best friend, died years later at the age of 41. She was beautiful and athletic and popular. She was everything that I was not. As a teenager I simmered with envy. So I’ve been walking around all weekend with this mantra in my head: “Well, at least I’m not dead.” I know – I’m missing the point, if there is one.

Since I value my beauty not, I got a haircut yesterday at one of those $11 franchise places. I wasn’t in the mood for chitchat and luckily the woman who cut my hair didn’t feel the need to make conversation. Apparently there was a contest for the surliest demeanor and surprisingly, I came in second place to the gentleman next to me.

Grumpy Gus had the misfortune of getting the perkiest hair cutter this side of the Mississippi, who grilled him with well-intentioned, but invasive questions. He wants to leave the state, since he’s retired. His kids live on both coasts and none of them want to come home. “They can do whatever they want. I’m not going to visit them. They chose their own lifestyles.” I’m guessing that it was any lifestyle that meant they didn’t have to be near Daddy Eeyore.

I walked out with a weird haircut but an inexplicable good mood. Hysterical people make me deadly calm. Grumpy people apparently make me happy.

There’s no way around this aging thing. I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far, but the chickens are coming home to roost. Taekwondo is getting to be too much of a contact sport. After a black eye last year from a misplaced head kick and various pulled muscles, I’m wondering how long I can continue. It’s not the injuries – it’s the recovery time that has changed. It takes me longer to recover and my desire to put myself in harm’s way is lessening.

So, there is a lot of sighing and pondering about the meaning of life and how I’d like to continue living it with as little pain as possible. I know that more things will happen – more medical events, more funerals, more disappointments. They will happen more frequently with fewer breaks between. How I react to them will determine my quality of life – the psychological war of being human is one that you can lose early on, like the man at the hair place.

Life is shifting gears. No longer can I waste time worrying if my butt is too big or my smile not white enough. Vanity is a luxury of youth. Now I must wonder how lifelong nutritional deficiencies will reveal themselves. I wonder if all that smoking in my twenties will eventually kill me. I need to pay attention to cholesterol and hormone levels. I need to recognize my limitations. Some limitations I’ve accepted graciously, but others aren’t going down without a fight.

There are friends fighting for their lives. There are friends with lifelong disabilities that make ordinary activities difficult for them to perform. There are friends who are gone too soon. Like most things in life, there are people in worse and better shape. I know, though, that it is spirit and perspective that determine quality of life. My spirit is struggling right now, but change is uncomfortable and it would be Pollyanna to suggest I would slip blithely into perkiness when things hurt that didn’t hurt before.

Perspective is understanding that the human experience is universal. None of us are getting out unscathed. We each have to decide how to deal with pain, both physical and emotional, and how much of our essence we will give over to it. I look at my daughter and know that someday, I want to be a mother she’ll want to visit. I want to know that no matter what trials and tribulations come my way, my spirit will triumph and my perspective won’t be a dark cloud that rains on everyone else.

I haven’t mastered graciousness in the face of troubles, but I’ve been getting a little more practice. It’s the warm up act, the opening band, the practice run.  I’m luckily still alive for the challenge. A purposeful life in the face of adversity is no meek endeavor.

When Your Body Betrays You

I’ve been sick with a flu/cold/plague for the last week. When I get sick, I feel very, very sorry for myself and I say this, knowing full well that there are people suffering from much more serious and long term illnesses. I do have some perspective, but not necessarily when I’m hacking up a lung or blinded by a sinus headache.

My family of origin tends to be healthy as horses, mental disorders aside. For many years, I felt a level of disdain for complaints of sore throats, backaches and migraines. Part of it was being young and healthy, the other, an arrogance derived from never feeling the betrayal of one’s body. Karma can be a great teacher.

Following my child’s birth, I went into a postpartum funk, related to hormones and to the fact that delivery had gone completely the opposite of what I had imagined. It was the first time my body let me know who was in charge. I had read all these wonderful books on natural birth. Some of the anecdotes spoke of the experience being nearly “orgasmic” (hear loudly my snort of derision). I worked with a midwife, but in a hospital setting. I was 37, so it seemed like a nice middle road.

I will not go into the torment that was the nearly 20 hours of labor, except that I spent most of it “naturally” (if it’s natural to gasp swear words while sitting on a yoga ball), and the last 4th induced by a cocktail of drugs and 1 hour completely, blessedly stoned. Things went awry in a big way and a team had to be brought in, with lots of equipment. The word “distress” was tossed around. I ended up having an emergency Caesarean and staying in the hospital for five days. My husband, who was conscious throughout, was traumatized.

When we returned home, fortunately with a healthy and loud baby, I was depressed. Recovery from a C-section versus “an orgasmic experience” was like being warm and cozy and then having a bucket of ice water dumped on you. It was painful and shocking. Meds made me sick and I was trying to nurse my new baby. I cried a lot.

It took me a little while to figure out that I felt ashamed that my body had failed to do its thing naturally. Yes, on the scale of life events, this was minor, since the end result was a beautiful baby girl. But there’s no accounting for emotions and hormones.

It was the beginning of physical understanding and dare I say, compassion for the trials and tribulations of the human body. I also gained a huge appreciation for modern medicine and health insurance. My daughter and I would not be here, if it weren’t for the machines and doctors that could navigate through this particular crisis. I would not have been able to work from home part time and be with my daughter, had it not been for the insurance that covered 70% of a whopping $22,000 medical bill.

I was one of those people who considered the body merely a container for my brain. The disconnect started in my teens with typical gender issues that made me not like or even remotely appreciate the work my body did for me. In my 20s I abused it mightily, but it recovered with the same bounce in its step, regardless of hangover or sleep deprivation or junk food intake or firsthand cigarette smoke.

In my 30s, it started to require more attention. I quit smoking and drinking. I became concerned with cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure numbers. I started reading up on homeopathic remedies and exercise and nutrition.

Now, in my 40s, my body is the crystal ball into my future and I’m paying close attention. It needs more motion, better nutrition, and more sleep. I’ve developed more compassion and respect for its limitations. I’ve had three fairly painful, serious injuries in the last three years. My frequent exposure to elementary aged beasties has challenged my immune system.

These days, I have to pull myself back from running when I have bronchitis and from doing taekwondo when I have a pulled quad. I try to stay focused when I do yoga, so that my mind and my body feel united, so that I honor how it moves me through my day, holds my child, types these words. The greatest lesson is not what my body can do for me, but how I can take care of and respect it. This is where compassion for the physical challenges and illnesses of others starts to grow – when you learn to honor your own.