Thursday, October 02, 2008

How I am (part deux)

I had some posting difficulties (cursed Word meta tags!) with this post. Here's the second half of the post that should have gone up last week. Cheers.

...I stopped taking the pills and never went back to her.

The hormone pills have been out of my system for five months, but the weight gain continues unfettered.

I returned to my PCP a couple of weeks ago to complain (for what feels like the umpteenth time) about my fatigue and especially my weight gain. She was kind, but said it is not from water retention (as I had suspected) and that my bloodwork is normal, apart from something being off with my red corpuscles. She suggested that perhaps I was eating more than I thought now that I have a live-in boyfriend and that I should exercise more. I told her this wasn’t the problem.

She ordered more blood work, but I left so furious and discouraged that I barely slept for two days.

The day after that office visit, I was determined to do as she said—to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise into every day. After work, I walked for 30 minutes on a level surface at a moderate pace. It was very painful. I got through it by digging deep into my athlete-self and my stoic Yankee self, to plod along, no matter how tired, no matter how painful. I longed for relief and when I finally arrived home, I went straight up to my yoga room to stretch, in the hope of relieving some of the pain. I made it through a couple of standing stretches, but then, collapsed to the floor and blacked out.

The next day I resolved that on my next visit, I would use this as a specific example, so that when I say, “I can’t exercise more,” or “I am deeply fatigued,” or “I can’t recover from exercise,” or “I have no energy,” she will understand what I mean.

**

I am an athlete. A debilitated, overweight athlete who can't exercise, but an athlete nonetheless.

Believe it or not, I have a relatively high threshold for pain. While training for the San Francisco marathon eight years ago, I tore something in my right knee on the tenth mile of a 12-mile training run, but I finished that run. I couldn’t walk the next day, but I finished—and had surgery instead of running the marathon.

When my ACL was torn completely off my femur last summer and my bone was bruised so severely that I was in pain 24x7 for 15 months while it healed, I refused the morphine and the prescription pain killers they offered me. I remained a good sport the day of the injury—howling in the first moments and crying—but also cracking jokes, making decisions, and staying calm.

That ability to function while under pressure and in pain is part of my athlete self and it comes in handy in a crisis, but I now believe that it has prevented friends, family, and most importantly doctors, from grasping exactly how serious the problem is--because I don't let it show.

I realize now that I must find a way to set aside my determination to slog through it, get past my belief that somehow I am just being weak, being a victim, and find the words to communicate to my PCP that something is really wrong. Even though I do my job faithfully for 40 hours every week and I am as active as I can possibly be given my limitations, we can't ignore that I’m not okay. The fact that I have the stamina to get through a 30-minute walk of pain through terrible fatigue comes not from a healthy body, but from the sick grit that makes athletes play through injuries and exhaustion.

But this is not a game—it is not 40 minutes on a court or on a soccer field. This is my life. It’s not a race or a training run. And it’s not just about today—it’s about all these days, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them when I have been too weak to move, when I have functioned only because I can dig down and find another gear that makes it possible to buy the groceries, do the laundry, weed the garden, sweep the floor, and file my stories.

I tell this here and now as much to myself as to anyone else. I need to get my story straight so that I can communicate with the physicians or practitioners who might have an answer for me. And I tell it to you now, so that if you are my friend, you will understand what has been going on.

This is why I couldn’t go to Anna’s wedding. It’s why I can’t go to Tom’s wedding in October. It’s why I couldn’t go to the trade show in San Francisco earlier this month. It’s why it takes me a long time to get things done sometimes and why I’ve had to cut back on my duties as a class officer, and limit the other volunteer work I care about. It’s why my office is a mess. It’s why we haven’t moved. It’s why I haven't done a good job these last five years of keeping in touch. It’s why I’ve gotten so very large.

**

While I was home in Maine last month, I saw my grandfather. In front of everyone, the first thing he said to me was, “You’ve put on a lot of pounds.” Then he squeezed the fat on my arms between his fingers and pinched it. Hard. “You need to exercise,” he said.

I doubt he’ll ever see this blog post. But for everyone who’s ever thought I should be in better shape or making different choices in my life, here it is: I’m tired. I’ve been very, very sick and very, very tired for a long, long time. It drove me into bankruptcy. It nearly cost me my life. And trust me when I say, I’ve worked very, very hard to get well--and I'm still not there.

**

These are just some of the things I've done to try to get well:

  • acupuncture
  • acupressure
  • psychiatric care
  • psychotherapy
  • several forms of yoga
  • physical therapy
  • homeopathy
  • chiropractic
  • orthotics
  • massage and other body work
  • reiki
  • ayurveda
  • the Perricone diet
  • the Eat Right for your Type diet
  • a vegan diet
  • a vegetarian diet
  • a diet incorporating meat
  • a semi-vegetarian (lacto-ovo-pesce) diet
  • meditation
  • exercise
  • craniosacral
  • the reduction and removal of caffeine
  • three different hormone treatments
  • herbal colon cleansing
  • prayer
  • psychosynthesis
  • energy work
  • Bach Flower remedies
  • tissue salts
  • vitamin and mineral supplements
  • visits to the doctor
  • lab tests
  • sonograms
  • a new bed
  • new apartments
  • new relationships
  • aromatherapy
  • new bedtime routines
  • attention to fluid intake
  • epsom salt baths

Currently, I don’t take any prescription medication, apart from things that come up as needed.

I take Tylenol, ibuprofen, or naproxen, as needed for pain and inflammation.

I take Methionine-200 (amino acid) twice daily and evening Primrose oil 1000 mg as prescribed by Dr. Lasneski, an alternative practitioner who is very expensive, but has a unique method that gets results.

I also take:

Copper (2 mg/day)

Iron (68 mg/day)

Vitamin C—1,500 mg

Niacin 35 mg

Folic Acid 825 mcg

B12 85 mcg

Calcium 1050 mg

Magnesium 460 mg

Zinc 17mg

Manganese 2.5mg

Chromium 130 mcg

Sodium 70 mg

Potassium 205 mg

Glucosamine 500 mg

Chondroitin 400 mg

Alpha Lipoic Acid 1mg

Quercetin 1mg

Vitamin A 10,000 IU

Vitamin D3 400 IU

Vitamin E 400 IU

Thiamine 25 mg

Riboflavin 25mg

B6 100mg

Biotin 60 mcg

Pantothenic acid 25 mg

Iodine 150 mcg

Selenium 70 mcg

Proprietary blend 480 mg (Bromelain, pancreatin (4x), choline biatrate, borage oil extract powder, chastree berry extract poswer, amylase, citrus biflavonoids, chamomile poder, inositol, papain, rose hips powder, rutin.

Bach Flower remedies: Rescue remedy as needed (usually daily), Clematis, Water Violet, Honeysuckle.

September commitments: This month I am removing cola from my diet to see if I receive any beneficial effect. Starting 9/13, I am beginning my day with an ayurvedic tonic that promotes weight loss: 1-2 cups hot water, 1tsp honey, squeeze of lemon juice. I drink this first thing upon waking. I also take another ayurvedic tea that includes ginger and promotes weight loss by flushing ama. I also take a weekly anusara yoga class with my teacher (one hour). I do daily meditation in the evening. And I am being gentle with myself: not pushing through fatigue, but rather going with the flow. Attempting to listen to my body and my energy force so that I can exert only that which I have to give on any given day. And I persist in getting results. And drink plenty of spring water, often with lemon. Weekly psychosynthesis. Monthly body work with my chronic pain specialist. And prayer.

**

At my last visit with my PCP, the metabolic panel she ran again showed mostly normal results. And when she had finished explaining them, I burst into tears. “I’m just so tired…” I said. I don’t want to be sick. I’m glad the tests say I’m okay—but I want to know what’s causing this, so I can get better!

She suggested that I should get some therapy and that for many women, childhood abuse is linked to their adult pain symptoms. “I know it’s kind of bullshitty…” she said.

It’s crazymaking to sit in that room and try to be taken seriously, to be understood. I’ve told her I wasn’t abused as I child…I’m not sure it gets through. (Every year when I come in for my annual exam, she says, "Now, you were sexually abused, right?"Sigh...No. I tell her. Again. I never had to endure that.)

And then I start to wonder, does what I went through as a kid count as abuse? Is my physical pain now the result of emotional and physical trauma? How unfair is that?

I assured my PCP that I was doing consistent and good work in the therapy department, through yoga, psychosynthesis, and body work that incorporates a psycho-spiritual release and healing element. She cares about me, but I’m still not sure she gets it. I’ve got that part covered. I need her to rule out—or locate—a cause from a medical standpoint.

She ordered more bloodwork in two months. Referred me to a rheumatologist and an endocrinologist and ordered an ultrasound. And she wants me to keep her in the loop. She also thinks a sleep study might be a good idea.

It’ll be two months before I can see the rheumatologist and four before the endocrinologist can fit me in. (Our health care system is so broken...and I have health insurance!)

In the meantime, what can I do? Continue my healing paths with yoga, psychosynthesis, and body work. Keep trying to sleep right, eat right, and exercise when I can. And I will continue my meditation practice, I think. And continue, perhaps, the ayurvedic path.

There are millions and millions of people suffering with these symptoms…we are exhausted. We are overweight. Many of us are depressed and anxious. And yet we are tasked with all this work of getting answers…because there's no clear path to wellness.

What on earth is going on?

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

How I am


Last weekend, I drove down to CT to celebrate the wedding of my friends Anna and Heidi. Anna and I have been friends for a long time and she has helped me through some difficult days. I love her to pieces--and Heidi is wonderful, too. We always have fun. They were married last month in California, but I could not go. I was too sick.

After the reception on Sunday, which was low-key, creative, family-oriented, all-girl, and lovely, Anna and I (that's us with Phoenix, above) got to spend some time alone together in the car on our way to her sister's house--her sister who recently survived an amazing bout with a rare cancer.

Anna is one of my closest friends, perhaps my closest female friend, in a lot of ways, and yet we haven't been able to see each other much or talk much this last year or so. She lives in New Jersey now, so it takes some effort to get together. And I have been too tired, and for many months after the accident, too debilitated.

In the car, she said, "How are you?" and she asked in such a gentle way, I knew she wanted a real answer.I struggle with this question. I struggle to answer anyone honestly, partly because I can’t always tell how much people want to know, partly because I feel so confused by the tangled thread of the truth that I can’t get at an answer that can be explained quickly in any linear narrative way—let alone in one word--and partly because I often feel so much better when I’m around people who care about me that I feel cheerful and then I can’t remember how bad things are. It’s like living in a dimly lit room, but then having someone light a candle and then turn to me and say, “How is the light in this room?”

It’s terrific now, thanks!

But then they leave…and it gets dark again, and they don't understand that this is happening to me because I haven’t told them. So they leave, thinking I’m fine, when really, I’m not.

There’s also a large component of stubborn adherence to my rural Maine upbringing and my mother’s fierce determination that one should never be a victim, which translated to my child self meant one should never have needs or—God forbid! Express them. One doesn’t complain, one sucks it up, no matter how extreme the condition. Add to this a high threshold for suffering and pain and an even higher expectation of what I should be able to tolerate without complaining, and I get very confused by this question, “How are you?”

But, I had made up my mind before I left for the drive down to the reception that I would be honest with Anna about my health if she asked. I didn’t know what the words would be, but I knew I would try—and so I made a few mental notes, a crib sheet for describing unwellness, so that when the light came on I wouldn’t forget about the shadows.

**

“How are you?” she asked.

And I told her that the fatigue was still very bad, but that other things had improved. The migraines, the vertigo, the allergies, a handful of other things have gotten much better or gone away entirely. But the fatigue, while somewhat improved, remains a big problem. And now there is this mysterious and dramatic weight gain that seems to be an unstoppable force of nature, there are the feelings of helplessness and discomfort that go along with that—the irritating inability to find clothes that fit or feel attractive, the yucky swelling in my face and hands—along with the pain.

“It’s very difficult for me to walk or stand,” I told her. And it’s not just my knee—that injury has healed mostly—it’s like when I stand up, there are lead weights on all my joints, especially my hips and sacrum. It feels like there is extra gravity pressing on me and it makes it painful and difficult to function—or to exercise, which I’m sure doesn’t help with the bizarre piling on of weight.

To my great relief, Anna said she’d been having a hard time physically, too. I want Anna to be happy and healthy always! And she looks fit and attractive as ever. I was relieved because she got it. Because she wasn’t living on the outside of the glass box I feel I am always in, with the healthy people on the outside not comprehending what it can be like to be plagued with illness, particularly the kind of illness that has no name, no successful treatment, only Byzantine corridors filled with doctor’s visits and blood work and attempts at therapies and questions that only lead to answers that create even more questions or that result in dead ends.

Anna’s health issues are her own so I won't describe them, but we were able to say, “me, too!” to one another here and there, and in this feeling there was great calm for me. There was dismay that someone I love has struggles, of course, and there was also comfort in that we could talk with one another about it—and that perhaps we could help one another find answers.

Her sister took steroids as part of her cancer treatment and experienced a weight gain that should have gone away by now, but won’t. This is very much like what happened to me. Last fall, I saw a psychiatrist about my severe PMS depression. He prescribed a tiny dose of Prozac—one quarter of the smallest does usually prescribed—and in the six weeks I was on the medication, I gained two cup sizes in my breasts, my hands swelled to the point that I could no longer wear my rings, I gained 15 pounds—and I got no relief from the PMS.

The psychiatrist said he’d never seen anything like it. “That’s impressive,” were his exact words.

I went off the Prozac, but a year later, I do not have my body back.

I saw my primary care physician (PCP) (who is actually a Physician’s Assistant) who tested my thyroid, my sugars, my iron levels, and found nothing wrong, so she never followed up. I pursued another primary care physician who suggested I take B vitamins. (I did. It didn’t help.) I tried a gynecologist thinking she’d know something about hormones. She put me on a birth control pill, which did help with the depression, but which put my libido into a coma and left me feeling generally sort of odd. I also put another almost a pound a week on my body during the 12 weeks that I took it.

After eight weeks, I went back to the gynecologist to express my concern about the weight. It was February. She said it was just “weight from the holidays” and not to worry. (What holidays? It didn't even occur to her that I don't celebrate whatever the hell eating festival she thought I did.)

[9.26.08 There's more to this post, but I'm having technical difficulties and haven't been able to get it live yet. Stay tuned.]

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Postcards from the Edge (of Easthampton)

When I left my old apartment in Northampton, it was largely because of the noise that came from living below another tenant. I could even hear when he peed.

Being a light sleeper, working from home, and being prone to migraines, etc. a quiet environment is an essential quality-of-life ingredient for me, and was "top-of-mind" when I searched for a new place. Sadly, the first place I took was such a noise-riddled disaster that I spent most days in tears, clutching my head and rocking. Ultimately, after five long months, my landlords who lived above me, let me out of my lease and hired someone to soundproof the ceiling so that the next tenant wouldn't have to listen to every footstep, every word of every conversation, every microwave beep, and every radio show or guitar lesson that happened above her.

I was so relieved when I left that place and found this strange, but large, apartment in what seemed like a dead quiet neighborhood on the edge of Easthampton. For starters, there would be no one above me, which had been the largest issue at the last two places. And my landlords lived next door in our side-by-side duplex instead of right above me. I was a little nervous about being side-by-side. I thought perhaps I'd wind up succumbing to all of the same sorts of noise that had traveled down at the other places--doesn't noise also travel sideways? But I had such a good feeling about the place, I took it on faith and negotiated a month-to-month lease so that if the noise was awful, I could break free and look all over again. (Ugh.)

I've been here a year now, and I'm happy to report that my landlords are quiet neighbors. Every now and again I hear the husband practicing his drums, a sound that dominates every inch of the house when it happens, but which thankfully rarely happens, or a dog running up and down the stairs, or guests talking too loudly in the kitchen, or the vaccuum cleaner running. Once I heard the eery sounds of what sounded like a recorder floating down from the attic. But, these are the normal sounds of life, they come and go, and on the whole, it's been lovely to have that side of the house be a quiet sanctuary.

Unfortunately, the other three sides are subjected to an almost non-stop onslaught of noise.

Which brings me to this blog. Because the noise is so constant, so unbelievable, I decided it might help me to cope if I cataloged some of it here.

I can't possibly sum up the entire last year of noises in one blog post, but just to give you a sampling, I'll tell you that I woke up on my first Saturday morning here at 9am to the sounds of a chainsaw that ran for the next six hours straight. There were several more days like it as the neighbor to my right worked to cut down and then dismember a very large and healthy tree in his front yard. He then rented some heavy equipment to dig up and then pave over his front yard. My neighbors behind me and next door also enjoy playing music. It ranges from afro-pop to "gangsta" rap to hip hop to--I swear to God--adult contemporary. (Who blasts this?) I have also endured four straight hours of rototilling, many hours of yappy dog barking, snow throwers, especially in the pre-dawn hours, a wide assortment of power tools, the excavation and construction of a house that burned down and was rebuilt one street over, and an ongoing basketball tournament virtually in my backyard. The irregular thwap of a basketball has now landed itself on my list of Most Reviled Noises of All Time.

My neighbors to the right also have children and a large extended family. In summer, there is not a day that passes when a child is not slamming a soccer ball against the house and/or screaming. The neighbors just past them also have a remote control car that they whiz up and down the street. This noise could best be described as a high-pitched Weed Whacker that increases and decreases the intensity of its whine as it approaches and then passes my apartment. Over. And over. And over. It sounds very much like a dentist's drill and is one of the most unbearable sounds ever created. (I have extended fantasies about running down this remote controlled vehicle and crushing it under the wheels of my car--and then backing up over it just to make sure it's entirely crushed. My next door neighbors on the far left have the very same fantasy. Perhaps one day our dream will come true...)

The children next door will, occasionally, stop slamming their ball against the house and go inside, open all the windows, and blast cartoons louder than one would think possible.

The saddest part of all of this for me is that I live for spring and summer. During all the long, cold, dark months of being shut up here in New England, the thing that keeps me going is the anticipation of the moment when I can throw open my windows and bask in the warm breezes that kiss my skin and satisfy my nostrils. I love the feeling of warm, fresh air through windows. I love hearing the birds and feeling the sunshine. I love looking out over my tulips.

But here, I have to choose: fresh air or quiet. I've invested almost $200 in white noise machines and ear plugs. I've tried running fans and air conditioners, but these burn through electricity and with the A/C on, I can't also open the window.

This morning, for instance, I sat down at my desk for work at 8:45 a.m. and already the next door neighbors were making noise. It really is comical the diverse potpourri of noises they create. This morning, for instance, it was an industrial-sounding vacuum. It's a gorgeous spring day. Sunny and fresh. But even through the windows, the whizzing whine of the vacuum made it seem as though I'd pulled up to a car wash rather than sat down in my sunny little office. When I opened the windows, the noise was just too much to take. So, as I usually do, I chose the quiet over the fresh air and closed the windows. The vacuuming went on for what seemed like forever.

We also seem to be in the flight path of what I think is an air force base in Westover or Westfield? After the vacuuming stopped, I opened my window and a massive aircraft, the kind that looks like it could open its cargo hold and swallow half a dozen tractor trailers whole, rumbled by overhead. When these planes fly over, the noise is so powerful it fills up your whole chest as they slowly pass over. I always feel a little bit afraid when I hear them, as though I weren't on the edge of Easthampton, but instead, on the edge of Gaza or Tikrit where such noises often herald doom.

After the vacuum and the airplane noises were done, the children came out to play. They are on April vacation. And so the bouncing and slamming began. And the shouting. The littlest one has a shriek that could shatter glass. Oh, yes. And the Big Wheel. I am deeply nostalgic for my own Big Wheel, but this one, last summer, was the bane of my existence.

After the vacuum ended, I opened my windows again. But what quickly came through them, carried in on the sweet spring breeze, was an argument between children, close in age, fighting over toys and territory. The little one will win because she is cuter and holds greater sway with the adults, which her older brother knows all too well. And because she can scream louder and for longer. And because she is a little girl and therefore is, to a certain extent, untouchable.

"No, I get it! Don't go here! Stay here!" she screams. Her voice getting higher and sharper.

Frustrated beyond words, "Waahahahhhhhhrrghh!" is his response.

An adult intervenes in some melodic West African language, and now the Big Wheel rumbles forth. I don't think it's possible to describe exactly how loud, how miserable a noise that Big Wheel makes. The wheels squeak and I resume another of my fantasies: dousing the thing in WD-40 while the children sleep. But the worst is the rumble. The plastic wheels grind into the pavement in such a way as to create a noise so profound it cannot be stopped by walls or windows or ear plugs or white noise machines. It is relentless. And the children never tire of it.

So, this is how my days go. Bella and Buddy will scream, screech, wail. Bang things, throw things, and ride that cursed Big Wheel back and forth all day. The tractor trailers will rumble by every few minutes. The helicopters and warcrafts will pass over head just often enough to be noticeable. Adults will talk loudly in a lovely language I can't understand. And, at some point, someone, somewhere, will blast their music, most likely with a sub woofer-enhanced bass line so strong it feels as though it is trying to impede the beating of my heart inside my chest. There will also be the extended grinding buzz of motorcycles speeding by on the main road at the end of my street and, inevitably, some sort of machinery or power tool buzzing and whizzing nearby. A few times a week, the pair of little dogs two houses down will add their yappy voices to the mix.

You may ask why I have stayed...I started looking for a new place to live almost immediately after moving in, but then my truck died. And Calvin died. And then my knee got ripped to shreds. And then, eight months later, just as I could walk again and imagine carrying boxes up and down stairs, I had an accident in yoga class and got a pretty bad case of whiplash. (I know, it's funny, right?) That was three weeks ago. In three more weeks, I'll be medically cleared for something like a move. So, we'll see how things go then.

Silver lining
If there can be a bright side to all of this, it's that I've somehow come to a place of greater peace and acceptance with my powerlessness against the noise. Sometimes I even laugh when a new, obscure noise invades what little silence I may have achieved. The sheer volume--both in level of noise and variety--is something one really has to have at least a grudging appreciation for.

Just the other day someone on the street behind ours was running some sort of machinery and Peter and I both looked at each other with quizzical expressions and said, What is that?

And then, in the way that some connoisseurs might try to determine which particular type of pear or mushroom has been baked into a dish, we cocked our heads and ran the sound across the palates of our ears, scanning our internal database for similar sounds.

I thought it was someone trying to saw through a sapling with an electric carving knife. Peter thought it might be some kind of saw. Whatever it is, it's being overworked, I said.

Every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and on Sunday, the Ghanaian family next door has a bash, a multi-generational gathering, which lasts all day and involves a lot of talking both in English and in a melodic African language I cannot understand. There is laughter, shouting, and music--and this year, burning meat with lots of lighter fluid. (Something smells wrong about that barbeque, said Peter as we fled the house in search of quiet places last weekend.)

Perhaps it is that I am getting older. Perhaps it is my yoga. Perhaps it is because I have Peter, or because I am no longer injured, broke, and stuck in one place. Whatever has caused it, now, when the noises come, I do not get angry. I examine my choices and I pick one. Instead of hating that I have to close the windows to block out the noise enough to sleep/work/watch a movie/think, I take a very deep, cleansing breath, let it out, and make my choice.

This weekend, for instance, the weather was incredibly beautiful for the first time (on a weekend) since the fall. The noise started as soon as we got up. But, instead of closing the doors and windows and gritting my teeth, putting on the fans or putting in the ear plugs, or calling the police, Peter and I just left. We packed a picnic and went to the lake. We saw a movie. We went out to dinner. And by the time we got home, things had quieted down almost to the point that we could hear our own television when we turned it on to watch a DVD of LOST.

Having Peter here means that I am not alone with the noise, except when I'm working, and this helps. Having a stable job means I can afford to escape by doing things like seeing movies or eating out. Being able-bodied means I can walk or drive away; for the first eight months, this wasn't true. And my yoga practice has helped me to achieve a greater sense of perspective, a more fluid sense of myself within the great flow of the universe. Somehow, it allows me to laugh the way the Dalai Lama laughs. I can't stop the noise, but I have some freedom and some agency and these things help to relieve my resentment. I have perspective, and this helps me to laugh, even in the face of chainsaws.

While I still long for a place of my own that is quiet and lovely, I have come to a place inside myself where the noise I experience here doesn't make me feel desperate and crazy. Right now, for instance, the yappy dogs are barking again and a woman is yelling very angrily at them, to no avail. (Quite honestly listening to her is almost worse than listening to the sharp yelps of the dogs, which has been going on for about an hour.) She has been joined by a child, who is also now yelling at the dogs. Who are still barking. And, all of this happens above the constant soundtrack of a conversation between men, in the African language, which has been going on outside my window for some time now. And, for percussion, a tractor trailer grumbles loudly, followed by another, and another. The engines rev as they accelerate, or the brakes squeak and the engines grind as they down shift and prepare to dock.

But, I am okay. I wish very much that it was quiet here, but, it isn't and this is where I am. I take a deep, cleansing breath, fill my lungs with nourishing fresh air, exhale...and then close the windows. I can still hear the dogs, but, as my friend Dan says, "Noise happens."

And, continuing to look on the bright side: at least I don't have to listen to anyone pee.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Staying In: Thanksgiving (or Alohomora?)

I hate Thanksgiving. Don’t make me explain why.

Other people are with people today. I am alone. It shouldn’t bother me, not any more than any other Thursday, especially since I’ve had so much practice, but it does.

My big plan was to watch every episode of Californication in my Showtime On Demand, but the On Demand isn’t working. I called my cable company to get it fixed, but it didn't work.

I said, “I’m sorry you have to work on Thanksgiving,” to the tech support woman.

In the silence that followed, I could hear the keys of her keyboard clicking through the phone.

I could have gone somewhere. I got invited to my neighbor Kelly’s family’s Thanksgiving in Connecticut. But…you know how it is. I can’t…go out. I can’t go in a car to a strange place and be with people I don’t know. Not on Thanksgiving. It’s too much. I might unravel. I might start to cry, to sob. I just can’t go.

It makes me sad that I can’t go.

My biggest fear right now is that something will happen to Peter before he gets here. I’m afraid that after all this work and time, when I finally have a good life within reach, someone who loves me and wants to stay with me; just when I could have things like Thanksgiving—or any other Thursday—with someone who knows my name (and loves me), I’m convinced on some level that he will be killed before he can get here. In a car crash. I’ll get a phone call and…it’ll be terrible. And I’ll barely, just barely live through it. More pain. More alone. More agony. How much more life can I live like this, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute? How much more can be asked of me? (This is a dangerous question to ask.)

I told this fear to Peter last night. He is sure that he is not going to die in a car crash before he gets here.

It snowed in Colorado yesterday. Peter thought he had his JEEP in four-wheel-drive, but he didn’t. He hit a slippery patch and slid into oncoming traffic. He didn’t die, though. He righted himself and got out of the way before disaster struck.

I need to right myself and get out of the way before disaster strikes.

I am struggling with a terrible depression. It came, and it will not release me. In my journal on Tuesday I wrote:

I’m so sad.
It’s…pervasive.
Like I am permeable
and this thing, it’s like
humidity
it comes and occupies
my space, my body, my head

In my grief on Monday, I lay down in my bed, and I cracked open. I cried. When it comes like that, I strain against it. It’s like cramping, seizing, only it’s my spiritual heart, my emotional heart, not my muscles. Although, they ache, too.

And then, from inside the darkness, a flash of light, and I remembered that I can ask for help. I sat up. And said, fiercely, aloud, “Help me.” It was an order, not a request. Not begging. It was a command. “Help me.”

I thought of Dumbledore saying that there will always be help at Hogwarts for those who ask. I thought of Pru and the work we’ve done. And I thought about God. And I said, “Help me. Help me, God, and the universe. Help me love and light. Help me every part of myself that knows how to help me: help me. Now.”

And before I knew it, I was rising. And the pain had passed for a bit. And I finished my work day.

I am worried that my worrying will destroy my thing with Peter. It’s magical thinking, I know, but I’m worried that my conviction that he will die rather than reach me will bring it about, influence him, change the course of events. I am reminded of my healer friend Craig. He says I get in my own way.

I need to get out of my own way.

I told Peter about my concerns last night, and about my depression. It was a confession of sorts. He had some idea already of course, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t being tricked into coming here, tricked into thinking I’m always alright, when I’m not.

“It gets pretty bad sometimes,” I said.

“Well,” he said. “What you have to remember is that now, there are two of us.”

Don’t you just love him? For someone whose greatest agony is that she is always alone, could there be any better balm than hearing these words, now, there are two of us.

He likes that I’m interesting. He says that my sadness and depression are part of what makes me special. He doesn’t want me to be depressed; he admits that it’s a nuisance. But it’s not a deal breaker. Not even close. He says my intense ability to give, to feel, to open, to share—these things mean I also feel sadness profoundly. He understands and appreciates this. He said it’s like being in a village where everyone eats the same amount of food, and you can eat ten times that amount, but no one else understands. Then you meet someone with the same appetite.

He also says he will never stop trying to cheer me up. And that I’m a trooper who is strong. I love that he sees this.

As for my worry about his premature death meaning the end of our relationship before it has really even begun, he has faith that he will live a long and healthy life. When he decided to quit smoking, it was, he said, because if it means the difference between getting to be with me until he’s 82 instead of 80, it’s worth it.

I told Peter I feel like I’ve been asked to run a thousand thousand marathons in this lifetime, and even though I’m so close to the final finish line, my legs and lungs are giving out. Sometimes after a journey that long, you just can’t take one more step, even if you’re within sight of the finish line. You can’t believe you got so close, but no matter how much willpower you have, if your legs have turned to jelly you simply cannot make them move.

Peter says he is coming. He says he is trying to get here before anything happens. He says, very kindly, that if I doubt that, then he hasn’t been clear. So, he will continue to tell me, and to act accordingly, until I have more faith in that than I do in my own predilection for doom.

I was very upset last weekend about the prospect of losing Norman, who I found out on Saturday is beginning the final stages of his life. I talked to Peter about it, and he said it was interesting that he and Norman entered my life at the same time (1989). Peter went on his own journey and Norman stayed with me. Now, as Norman is about to pass on, Peter returns. This cheered me up. In my journal, I wrote:

I love that Peter saw through the mess and the dismay to the heart of the problem. Yes, I love Calvin and Norman so much, and the idea of losing them is so profoundly grief-inducing.

But what really, really hurts is the feeling that I will then be totally alone. I’ll have no reason to live.

I’m not able to say this or even know this in a way I can communicate in my conversation with Peter. But I’m feeling it intensely.

And he knows it.

He knows.

He is steady. And there is a softness to his speech. It’s like when you fall asleep on the couch, and you get cold, but you’re too tired to get up, and then someone puts a blanket over you, and you warm up and relax and fall back to sleep. Peter gave me a blanket last night. An uncomplicated gesture that made all the difference. For him, the answer to the problem was as obvious as the answer to the problem of a cold person on a couch. He could see what I needed. And he gave it.

Peter didn’t die in a car crash yesterday. I should be rejoicing in that good news, instead of worrying about what bad thing will happen next. It just seems inevitable that my dreams will collapse…again.

“But, I thought you were ‘entering a time of transition, a new phase, a new chapter, a new era,’” said Peter, quoting me back to me, reminding me what I used to feel was true, before I sank beneath the surface and forgot that I can float, that I can swim, that I even own a boat. I remembered this, fondly, vaguely, from afar.

“Oh, yeah…” I said.

When I told Jon Reed that I thought I should be happy because Peter didn’t die in a car crash and Norman survived the pit bull attack (what a fucking day!), Jon Reed laughed and said, “Well, if we’re going to count the absence of terrible things as ‘good,’ then that’s true. You should be happy. But we’re--”

“—we’re not those kind of people!”

We both said it together. And we laughed. We laughed hard.

I talked to my friend Tom yesterday. He called from the road. He was on the way to a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Nevada. He’s formed a nonprofit group that is giving away millions of dollars in electricity via solar power to schools and hospitals in Nevada. He lives in California. He just had a baby. And he has a job. But he does this, because he can. Because it’s right and powerful and feels good. I love this about him.

I told Tom about Peter.

“I can tell this guy is right for you,” he said, “because I know you would rather suffer than settle.”

And he’s right. I hate suffering. But I hate settling more.

A friend of mine from my hometown, who is also friends with my sister-in-law, Cindy, said in an e-mail this week, “I really hope things work out for you. I know Cindy gets a bit worried about you. Says you put your whole heart into things and afraid you will get hurt. I say go for it!!!”

And I wrote back, “Thank you. I'm with you on that. Cindy doesn't need to worry. Peter is so good to me, and very committed. It's beautiful. She's right that I put my whole heart into things, and yes, I get hurt a lot, but I think it's the only way to get anything truly wonderful. So, hard as it's been, everything I've gone through was worth it to get me to Peter. And, even if we don't work out, we won't have been wrong to have given it everything we had when we tried.”

Peter and I agree on this wholeheartedly. That even if it doesn’t work out, we won’t have been wrong to have tried. We do not believe that at the end of our lives we will only wish we had been more cautious in life or given less to the things we believed in.

I feel I have run a thousand, thousand marathons, when I only signed up to run one. Maybe two. Three at the most. I am jelly-legged and wheezing, cramped and straining, leaking salt from my pores and seeing double. I feel the ground rising up and slamming into my cheekbone. And then I’m confused to be lying on the ground, pondering a vertical horizon.

I am alone on Thanksgiving. But I am not homeless or broke or hungry or even technically single. And I still have Norman. And comfortable shoes. But the absence of terrible things does not equal “good,” (even though I still suspect that it should).

I asked God for help this week. I asked light and love and the universe for help. I asked myself for help. And what came was Peter, on the other end of the phone, not having died in a car wreck. And Norman, fighting off a pitbull like he was a teenager, instead of an aged old man entering his final days.

I asked God to help me and this morning, I woke up after a night filled with dreams I can no longer remember, and one phrase kept repeating--you know the tune--over and over. It’s been there all day:

Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door to your heart
Let my love open the door, ooh
Let my love open the door,
Let my love open the door, ooh
Let my love open the door
to your heart.

I hate Thanksgiving. And, I am alone today. But I do have someplace I could go, if I were able, and wanted to.

Instead, I woke up to a mild day and the sunlight in my room felt gentle. I said good morning to Norman and I washed my face. Let my love open the door, oooh, let my love open the door.

I got dressed in warm comfy clothes. I put my hair in a ponytail. I gave Norman his medication and his treat. Let my love open the door, oooh, let my love open the door.

I made some coffee. I tried to make my On Demand work. I called the cable company for help, but they told me to wait an hour. Let my love open the door. Let my love open the door. Oooh.

I went next door, to take care of my neighbors’ dog. I fed her. Gave her hugs and loving words. I let her out to pee. And then I sat down on the couch. Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door.

I turned on the cable, and their On Demand was working. The dog curled up under the blankets at my feet. The kitten who has never let me hold her came and climbed onto my chest. Let my love open the door, ooh. Let my love open the door.

I turned on the show I had so badly wanted and I watched it, three whole episodes, and I drank my coffee, with the dog snuggled up against my legs and the kitty on my chest. Let my love open the door. Let my love open the door.

After a while, the kitten began to suckle my hand, fiercely. She suckled and suckled, and kneaded my hand with her paws. Her razor sharp kitten claws cut puncture wounds and gashes into the back of my hand, but I didn’t pull away. Let my love open the door, oooh.

There was something so tender, so raw about her need. She survived an abusive beginning and was rescued by my neighbors. She’s several months old now, but snuggled up there with me, she returned to her infancy and suckled and suckled away. Fruitless and desperate and instinctual, her suckling was primal. And I did not turn her away. It was something I could give. I maneuvered my hand to avoid to brunt of her claws, and I held her and let her suckle my hand through two whole episodes. Let my love open the door.

I told Tom that the biggest problem in my life is my desire to have one person I can count on. I want one reliable source of strength and sustenance, of love and stability and affection. But this is not how it goes for me. I have not been able to count on anyone to always be there, to come if I call, to help. But what is also true, the hard, hard lesson for me to grasp, is that life always provides me with what I need, I just never know where from. My life has been visited by a cavalcade of angels, who arrive, unbidden—or so I think—and offer me just what I need, like a hand to suckle on Thanksgiving.

Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door.

On this day, I needed company and affection. I needed to be needed. I needed to not be alone. I woke up with a song in my head and sunlight in my room. Let my love open the door. I woke up thinking I would watch some cable at my house, but instead, I was forced to go next door. Let my love open the door. Where I sat on my neighbors’ couch, with a dog who loves me and a kitten who still needs a mom. Let my love open the door, ooh. Let my love open the door. I gave those animals a place to be taken care of, and they in turn, allowed me to channel the love I couldn’t seem to access for myself. It felt good.

When I came back home, I reached for the door, and as my hand closed around the doorknob, the volume turned up on the song that had been playing over and over in my head since I woke: Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, to your heart!

And I remembered again what my healer friend Craig said, all those months ago, about how I need to get out of my own way.

I feel stuck, blocked, trapped beneath the surface and I can’t figure the way out. (Is it possible that I’m lying on top of myself?)

I came inside and Googled the “Let My Love Open the Door” lyrics:

When tragedy befalls you
(Let my love open the door, ooh)
Don't let it drag you down
Love can cure your problems
(Let my love open the door, ooh)
You're so lucky I'm around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door

Let my love open the door to your heart


Wow. Okay...but…how? Ever since I read the lyrics I’ve been trying to figure out…how do I let your love open the door? Maybe I should be meditating? Or singing? Maybe I should learn the words to the song and sing it in public? Is this meant to be grace through karaoke?

While doing dishes tonight, it occurred to me that maybe I just need to offer the right invitation. So, I stopped washing and said, out loud, “Um…I let your love open the door. To my heart.” It sounded really odd.

And I don’t think it worked because now it's Friday and I woke up with the song still playing in my head. Let my love open the door, oooh.

I’m trying…I really am. Let my love open the door, let my love open the door.

It follows me everywhere, this song. I tried listening to it through Rhapsody. And I sang the whole thing through, twice. But, it's still with me. I'm not sure what should I try next. Perhaps... "Alohomora?"

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