Thursday, August 2, 2012

Leave a Message at the Beep

I hate my birthday.  It's the black hole of the year, the trigger for a million bad memories, and this year I've gone into it in a medium-level depression.  I hate the way I feel right now, I hate how helplessly self-centered I become as I slide down yet again.  I want to be loved but I want to be left the hell alone.  I know it will pass, but I'm always left wondering what I will have lost in the process.  How many friends will drift away, how deep will the piles of random crap in my house get, how many more times will I snap at and push away my children and my husband, how many pounds will I gain back, how many things will I fumble at work?

Me me me, my my my, poor baby.  What the fuck?  I desperately want to reach out, to say hey, there's something wrong, I'm struggling!  But the next moment I talk myself out of it.  No one wants to hear it anyway, and I sure as hell don't want pity.  I also don't want to hear that I should just snap out of it.  I take the medicine, it helps but doesn't really fix anything.

I want to go back in time and find that five year old me, that ten year old me, that fifteen year old me, and somehow find a way to fix things.  Because it just seems too late to fix anything now.  If my therapist is right, then what I need to do most is grieve, allow myself to finally feel all the disappointment and fear and sadness that I have pushed down my whole life.  I resent that.  Why is the answer to this unwholesome self-loathing and relentless navel-gazing supposed to be swimming farther into the sewage?

I'll keep doing what I always do, the only thing I know how to do:  keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Maybe some day some of this will start to make sense.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Breathless Musings on Asthma

I am still trying to come to terms with the diagnosis of asthma.  Until about a year ago I thought you couldn't develop asthma as an adult, that it was a problem that would have come up well before my thirties.  I was wrong.

Two Thanksgivings ago I came down with a typical respiratory infection, the kind that clogs you up with snot and has a cough that seems to last forever.  So I didn't notice right away that the cough was, in fact, lasting about... forever.  I finally went to one doctor about it and got dosed for walking pneumonia.  Okay.  A month later, starting to wheeze.  A different doctor gave me a steroid mini-pak.  Didn't help.  Another month, and I'm back to the first doctor, who gives me more antibiotics and an inhaler to calm down a suspected "reactive airway," which helps but only a little.

Fast forward another couple of months, and I have a coughing fit so bad that I start breathing rapidly and can't calm it down.  Being unused to lung issues, I do however feel this is more urgent so drag myself the very short distance to the campus student health clinic.  Turns out I'm in the midst of an asthma attack and get my very first breathing treatment.  This happens to get my attention more fully, and I finally go into "what the fuck is going on" mode.  One incompetent ENT and one highly competent pulmonologist later, I have a diagnosis of asthma, an appointment with a better ENT, and am on the fast track for surgery on my septum and sinuses.

All this time I don't really believe this asthma is here to stay.  Doesn't matter that the pulmonologist explains the situation to me.  Doesn't matter that I can't fully shake the cough unless I take all the medicine he gives me.  This is going to go away.  I have surgery to fix sinus and septum issues, the suspected aggravator.  The asthma still isn't going away.  It's not going to fade into the background, slip away defeated.  It turns out it is here to stay.

So this not-going-away business...  I have to revise my inner narrative, my expectations and feeling of what's "normal."  I have to take medicine, even if I don't like it, even if it's inconvenient, even if it's expensive.  If I don't, it turns out the cough comes back.  Every time.  This is feeling awfully familiar, kind of like, hmm, oh yes!  Depression!  I've just now come to terms with the fact that that other "little" illness is never going all the way away.  How many years of therapy, how many little pills reluctantly swallowed, before finally getting this across?  Most of my life.  Depression is not new; I've been swimming in its greasy waters from birth, whether it was the moods of others or my own, and you'd think I could have come to terms with it sooner.  Turns out I'm stubborn, who'd have thought it?

But deeper than all this, all the way at the bottom, what I'm most angry about is that I feel my body has betrayed me.  It "should" work better than this.  It should be functioning perfectly all the time without any kind of help or maintenance.  It shouldn't matter if I don't feed it the right food, give it enough sleep, get enough exercise, take proper care of my teeth or skin.  Except I also know that's total bullshit.  If I don't do those things, why should my body be happy to go along?  I have only myself to blame then, right?  Except it's not that simple.  Some of this stuff is in my control, some isn't.  But it's simpler to either blame my body or blame myself.  Shades of gray are too much work.  Making meaningful lasting change is too much work.  But consider the alternative.

Am I punishing myself by making these bad choices?  This is a dialogue that has been going on for years now.  Why self-sabotage?  Why this deep-down-in-the-bones belief that it doesn't matter, that nothing I do will ever make things better, right, whole?  Do I deserve to feel better?  Do I deserve anything really good?  I seize pieces of satisfaction but do I deserve any of them?

My sister recently told me of a belief that grief exits through the lungs.  I appreciated the observation, because whether you take it literally or figuratively, it helps explain the timing of this asthma thing.  In the past year I feel like I've really started to understand and let go of some long-held hopes and desires.  Letting them go does involve grief, and stress, and pain both emotional and physical.  I guess if the asthma were, in some small way, part of the process of getting past these self-destructive and self-hating impulses, it will have been worth it.  At least, I hope so.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Party

You may or may not know that my parents are, well, special.  I am glad that they hooked up long enough to have me and my siblings, but the combination of their various problems and family backgrounds is so toxic that most people that have known them longer than about a week would suggest theirs is not a model marriage.

It turns out, though, that if you manage to struggle through fifty years of matrimony, you are entitled to a party.  Held at a resort sort of in the middle of nowhere.  An awkward, emotionally challenging event with good cake and strange stories.

I went into this attempting to contain my expectations.  I knew that things would not be cute and sweet and loving and fun.  I knew that I would want to spend the whole vacation curled up in a beer bottle (although would not actually do so), and that tears would be shed.  Even so, I just wasn't prepared for this event.  I'm not even sure I can describe it properly.

How do I?  It was nice to see extended family, both sides, including cousins I haven't seen in at least a decade.  It was wonderful to see my children frolicking happily with all levels of cousins, getting that tribal experience that they don't get normally because we live far away from everyone else in our immediate family.  The cake was great.  Okay, those were the highlights.  For the rest of it, it might be easier to get through it all by presenting observations in roughly chronological order:

Two days before we were supposed to leave for the trip, I broke a bone in my foot.  Ouch, physically and financially.  One day before we were supposed to leave for the trip, part of our AC equipment died, effectively claiming what was left of the travel money we had saved.

[This brings up a good thing not yet mentioned -- my parents unhesitatingly said they'd pay for the AC repairs if that meant we'd come.  It's at times like that that I can see a glimpse of their love for me.  They obsess about money and having enough, so the fact that my mother made that offer without batting an eyelash speaks volumes.]

My hubby has been a superhero ever since I broke my foot (actually, he was a superhero before), and he spent the entire Party day running around trying to manage the various details of a life on vacation with small(er) children.  We needed to do laundry, which the hotel offered, and DH did it but the dryer didn't work properly so we had to spread out the wet clothes in one of the rented rooms so they wouldn't mildew immediately.  My sister was zooming around in a wonderfully organized fashion, getting the cake, keeping track of what members of the family was doing what activity, etc.  We had a lovely time in the hotel bathroom arranging wildflowers in Mason jars to put on the dinner tables.

At some point, we managed to get everyone dressed and downstairs, and eventually we were allowed into the banquet room to sit down.  We had a very interesting dinner, which included about ten visits from my DD whose eyes were stinging and watering so needed help.  There were two competing theories about why this was:  swimming in probably overchlorinated pool water with her eyes open, or the funky eye makeup applied by my niece.  I was pretty sure it was the former, while my mother and aunt (her sister) decided to assume the latter because it was more fun to disapprove of my niece than to accept the dread hand of fate.  It was bizarre to have the two of them come up to my table together to "speak" to me about the issue.  I just sat there looking up at them in disbelief.  I had already done my best with wet paper towels to clean off the eye makeup, I had arranged for a couple of cousins to go with her to the bathroom and rinse her eyes at the sink. I'm not sure what else I was supposed to be doing, since I was neither going to wring my hands in panic nor call 911 about it.  This had happened to her a couple of days earlier, I had told her that she was no longer allowed to open her eyes under water without goggles, what else is there to cover on a Sunday night in the middle of nowhere?

Anyhoo, my sister got up and asked those present to share stories about our parents' lives together.  Many of their wedding party were there, so we figured there would be some good stories about the reception, if nothing else.  I just don't know how to describe what happened next.  It was like everyone there was feeling the same way but no one would acknowledge it directly, except maybe my sister and even then it was fleeting and vague.  But the stories were not what you'd expect, truly.  They included:

1. The time my father, while my parents were still dating, borrowed his future in-laws' car and rolled it, almost tearing off one of his ears and effectively landing with the car on his head.
2. The time that my parents dressed in Halloween costumes made out of burlap sacks and Spanish moss, not knowing that the moss is often infested with nasty insects and who were miserably itchy for days and days.
3. The time my father changed the oil in his car while visiting at his sister-in-law's house and accidentally got oil all over the garage floor.
4. My mother playing various pranks on her sisters.
5. My maternal grandmother filling my mother's suitcases with rice, including in the shampoo bottles and other toiletries.  She was so thorough that my mother was finding rice in things for years afterward.  That sounds funny at first, but when you think about it, well...  You probably had to have met my grandmother to know that it might not have been meant in an entirely nice way.

Almost every single time after someone got up to speak, my father would get up after them to offer a lengthy rebuttal of sorts, which was really just taking the opportunity to expand upon the tale and add material.  My mother then took her turn at the podium, because she felt that she was being left out of most of the narrative, and proceeded to give the kind of life summary you'd get from a combination of her resume and Christmas letter.  She also went on at length about a young women they had met through a foreign exchange program that she considered to be a sort of adopted daughter, one that talks to her more than her real daughter does.  While looking right at me.  Nice.  There was a strange detour into my parents and their experiences of benefiting from desegregation policies because they were white folks going into historically black institutions and therefore getting special incentives and benefits.  It was really, really odd.

My sister and I agreed that I would save my contribution for the end.  I made a quilt, a wall hanging that contains a lot of symbolism about the family their marriage created.  That was my angle, the best way I could view this celebration.  They had children, who in turn had children, and that's good.  They had many pets, mostly dogs, and those dogs (past and present) have been dearly loved and well tended.  I made the quilt because I wanted to make it, and I knew that whatever their reaction was would be different from what I wanted and would probably hurt.  It did.  They didn't say a single word to me about it until three days later, when my mother asked when they would receive the finished piece.  I then asked if she liked it, and she said she did very much.  I'm glad she liked it, but the sad little girl inside of my head wants to know why it took three days and an odd preamble for her to say that to me?  In the grand scheme of things I suppose it doesn't really matter.  But it does.

I'm glad The Party is over.  I'm glad that my children are having a lot of time to play with cousins.  I'm very glad that my DH has been able to visit with his family too as part of our extended trip.  I'm glad to be spending my first two weeks on crutches while in a crowd of people that can help mind our children and prepare our meals, so that DH doesn't have to run himself completely into the ground taking care of everyone.

And while it pains me to say it, I'm glad to have these people, these specific human beings, as my parents despite it all.  It pains me because I feel like there is no middle ground between pretending nothing is wrong and letting the world know how horrible most of my interactions with them make me feel.  I know I can't change them, even if I want to.  We fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, even if things that happened, that continue to happen, are not what I want.  Even if a reasonable sample of people would agree
that life with my parents was not normal, that what happened and what continues to happen is unhealthy and hurtful and difficult.  Even so.

I want to cry, I want to laugh, I want to yell, I want to sulk.  I have done all these things so far on this trip, and will likely do some of them again before we return home.  But in the balance, I guess it's worth it.  Maybe.  Probably.  I guess.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Zen and the Art of Phoenix Maintenance

I recently read a little of Virginia Woolf's diary, the "shorter edition" apparently.  I'll leave out the obligatory joke (or will I?) about how I stopped reading it because it was depressing.  I was quite enjoying taking little bites, getting small snippets of what life during the late 1910s was like in England.  I knew, however, that I would never be able to finish the book within the week or so I had left before I had to return it.  Later, I guess.

What I found myself savoring were her entries about being in the country, about taking long rambling walks and reading for days at a time.  I try in vain to remember what it was like before I had internet and cable TV and a cell phone.  Those days used to exist for me, not really all that long ago, but it's like they never were.  I realize that I don't want to zip back in time, I like indoor plumbing and antibiotics and birth control.  I want fewer choices (but only good ones, naturally).

I want someone to shadow me at all times and narrow my choices.  No, you can't have that soda, see - I have your wallet.  Nuh-uh.  Elevator?  Nope, it's stairs for you.  Lunch from home doesn't "sound good?"  Nothing sounds good when it's this hot.  Bring what you packed from home and take a walk afterwards, just walk slowly.  I want something sort of like a mobile detox.  I need me some training wheels, honestly.  I'm leaning so far forward to keep up momentum that my nose is grazing the ground.  I forget to stop and rest, maybe see if pushing would work better than pulling just here, find someone to help, or - radical thought - unload something.

I keep pushing my body for small things.  I'm not striving to be the best athlete or dancer or anything like that.  I just keep myself moving, forward, backward, in circles, doesn't matter as long as I keep moving because I can't seem to come to a dead stop unless it is to sleep.  I'll keep on being five minutes behind, because there's one more thing I want to check on this spreadsheet, one more page of the book, one more online puzzle, one more email, one more something that keeps me spellbound until the last possible second.

I like the idea, explained to me in a meditation "class" I took, that our minds are like wayward horses.  They take off at a gallop at the least provocation.  Meditation helps you gentle the horse, steer it back to an intentional path.  I like the concept of meditation (oh, Phoenix Monitor, where are you to make me do it?), but I'm so twisted around it'd take me the first couple of lives just to figure out if I'm sitting on the horse facing the right direction.  Think, concentrate, focus -- oh, I have a $1.25.  Soda time!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Still not dead yet...

Okay, I'm not going to pretend that I planned to leave this site twisting in the wind for almost a year.  Really, I made it this far, why not go for the full year?

But I've been thinking, if you drop off of Facebook because posting a 10 word status update or clicking "Like" feels like too much pressure to perform, maybe you need to get some perspective.  I suppose it could also be a really stupid form of filtering -- if you're either compulsive enough or charitable enough to keep checking on this site just in case, that maybe you're really a good friend.  But that's coming from me, the person who doesn't really know how to be a friend.  I'm one step up from throwing dirt on you at the playground when I really want to ask you to join me on the swings.  I was not only absent on the day they passed out friendship skills, I think any that I was born with were stolen out of my junior high locker.

So why break this ominous, tantalizing silence?  I'll tell you why, it's because I feel the need to rant incoherently and overdramatically about nothing really important:  I hate my shirt.  Today I elected to wear a shirt that quite frankly represents everything I hate in a shirt.  It's make out of a stretchy artificial fabric that doesn't breathe and hangs just a little too loosely.  It has a pretend cardigan built into it that only makes me look larger both from the front and the side, and it's black which guarantees that I will look like a vampire (and not the sparkly kind).  But I was out of options.  I didn't know what else to wear.  So I wore the shirt.  And some black dress pants.  And my black Birkenstocks.  Oh, yeah, stylin!

Because I say, fuck you shirt!  If I have to wear you all day, then you have to be seen with my Birkenstocks.  That's right, naked unmanicured hammer bendy hairy toes say HOLLA.  No power suits for me.  80s middle-aged secretary on top, 70s earth mother on the bottom.

Once I figure out how to get Vogue to declare "frumpy clothes I bought while clearly tired/insane/distracted/possessed that don't suit me but I have to wear occasionally because I have to get my money's worth out of it" as the new hawt items for fall, I will be sitting pretty.  Me and my stanky toes.

What else can I say?  I might say don't even get me started, because I may not be able to stop.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm not dead yet!

Despite appearances, I haven't completely given up on this blog.  It's just been way too stressful, in both good and bad ways, for me to spare any energy toward it.  And this isn't really a "real" post, just some fun thoughts I'm throwing up (here) for your consideration...

I.  We were watching a video clip the other night of a staring "contest" between the OK Go drummer and Animal (you know, from the Muppets), and in all the chaos of before-bed-kidness, DD looked away from the clip and didn't see the ending.  Her question (not a joke!):  "so, who won?"  I'm just going to leave it there.  So zen.

II.  DS is exploring the joys of pointless bickering with his sister.  This week has been brought to us by the letter "Y" (why?why?why?why?), and he can and will turn every conversation or comment into an argument.  For example...  We were at a local ice cream place enjoying our dessert, when I hear from the next table (they don't sit with DH and I anymore, apparently) this exchange:
  DD:  Look at my loose tooth!  I can wiggle it all sorts of directions.
  DS:  No you can't.
  DD:  Yes, I can -- look!
  DS:  You can't do that, it's not just your tooth.
  DD:  What??  Of course it's my tooth; it's in my mouth!
  DS:  No, it's not.  It's everyone's.  You can't have it all the time.
Next stop, fake news and punditry!  He'll be a senator yet.

III.  Last night, I was filling in a crossword puzzle, when I came to a clue:  80's Mr. T movie.  Should I be proud or embarrassed that I filled in "D.C. Cab" without even hesitating?  Should I admit that I ever watched it, let alone more than once?  Okay, well, I was a bit lonely as a kid.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From the X-files: close encounter with the tooth fairy

My darling daughter lost her third tooth two nights ago.  Because it fell out at 4 am, we figured the tooth fairy had already been past our house and wouldn't be back until the next night.  She carefully set it up on her bedside table in a cupcake liner, ready for pick-up.

Fast forward to bedtime last night.  I was feeling crabby, the kids were being extra pokey, and I shook out DD's comforter very briskly while getting her bed set up.  I turned to fill her drinking cup with water and remembered.  Oh, crap.  In my bedmaking frenzy I had whipped the cupcake liner off the table and onto the floor.  We searched and searched, but we couldn't find the tooth.  DD was surprisingly calm and resigned.  "Maybe she'll give me a dollar anyway.  Or maybe just a quarter."  I assured her that the tooth fairy would understand but because she still seemed a little worried, I offered to write a note:

Dear Tooth Fairy,
DD lost a tooth last night!  She had it all set up for you, but I accidentally knocked over the cup it was in and lost it.  Sorry!  Can you please leave her money anyway?  I promise she did lose one.
Her Mom

She approved of this so much she added a letter of her own, placed on top of mine:

LOVE, [name redacted to preserve intrigue]

Aww.  She also showed me that she had left a notebook and pen beside the notes, ready for the tooth fairy's answer.  Hmm.  My saving grace was that she decided to sleep in my room last night, so I was able to go into her room and really think about the note without risking detection.

I thought about it for a while.  Should I write a note in my own handwriting, figuring she would be too young to notice?  I don't know.  She's pretty sharp.  Should I type something up on the computer using a swirly font?  She's always printing stuff off, so that seemed risky.  I decided the only thing for it was to write the note with my right (non-dominant) hand.  That meant it had to be short!  I also waited until right before I went to sleep, so my brain was a little fuzzy.  Here's what I came up with:

Sweet girl!
Sorry to hear your tooth was lost!  It's okay.  I use the teeth I do take and use them to make fairy scissors.  Hugs!  - T. F.

[Editor's note:  our tooth fairy rep doesn't take the tooth; she leaves it.  Hence the qualifying "the teeth I do take."]

Yep, you read right.  Fairy scissors.  What??  As soon as I wrote that I regretted it.  But for darn sure I wasn't going to write another note with my wrong hand.  So I sat for a moment, then thought, well, she's imaginative.  Who knows what she'll think of it?

And this turns out to be the best part.  In the morning, she reads the note and says, "Wow, the tooth fairy writes like a little kid."  (Thanks, honey, you try writing with the wrong hand sometime.)
So I say, "Well, she was probably hovering while she wrote, that would make it hard to write clearly."
She thinks for a minute, then decides, "No, I think it's because she's so small she had a hard time handling the pen."

Wow.  And the fairy scissors?  Didn't bat an eyelash.  She seemed to know ALL about it.  She described how you would use a molar with its roots:  the roots could be bent together to make scissor handles and you would carve out the tooth to make blades.  But she wasn't entirely sure how you would use regular kid teeth without those huge roots on them.  She figures exact details are unimportant when there's magic involved.

There sure is magic, kid, but you're the one making it.  I'll say it again, until you want to barf:  I love my kids; they are truly awesome critters.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rage in this machine

I felt so angry this morning that I could barely sit still.  Imagine screaming full-blast without taking a breath for five whole minutes.  Stop and really imagine it, five minutes with no lessening of intensity or volume.  Were I to do that, it wouldn't capture the depth of this feeling.  That's what happens, I guess, when you spend 36 years of your life not allowing yourself to feel the way you really feel.

Oh, I'm spoiling for a target this morning, some legitimate target that I can unload on, but I don't think I'm likely to find one.  The sticking point is "legitimate."  Many targets abound, from minor annoyances to systemic frustrations to really, really difficult people.  But I feel thermonuclear, and unless I run across a kid-diddling, kitten-stomping terrorist ripe for a beat-down, I think I'll have to find another outlet.  I have to find some way to dissipate this feeling.  I really, really do.  I am just about out of storage space.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Insomnia sucks

I know I should go to bed
But I'm laying here on the couch instead
And I know, with some sorrow,

This late hour means much soda tomorrow.

Remember:  I'm not sleeping at my desk, I'm just thinking really hard.  That puddle of liquid isn't drool, it's the perspiration from my brow as I think deep thoughts.  Not snoring; just saying "eureka!" reeeeaaaaallllyyy slowly....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Doggity dog dogersons

We are going to get a dog!  It's amazing how much thought and angst and pointed waiting went into the decision to get a pooch.  Now we have to actually get one.  I believe strongly in mutts and shelter dogs, and we (our family, but also society in general) are lucky to have a lot of rescue groups in the area with dogs needing homes.

I know that there are a lot of jerks out there, who view dogs as mere property or something akin to a disposable toy.  To me, it's pretty close to adopting a child -- this is it, for life.  The good news is that rescue groups take their responsibilities seriously.  The bad news is that they take their responsibilities seriously.  I feel like I am trying to buy a gun or something.  There's the application, the references, the home visit, the trial period.  I really, truly am very glad the dogs in their care have landed with people who take their welfare so seriously.

But they need to have a fast-track approval process for, well, me.  Doesn't everyone in the world know by now that I know what I'm doing?  Give me the dog, already.