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It’s Getting Weird Out There

March 26, 2020

I told myself I wasn’t going to write about COVID-19. Everybody from the President to the man on the street is obsessed with it; even a few of the car commercials and fast-food ads I’ve seen in the past few days have tossed something in there about it, and in the news it’s 24/7 coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. But on day 3 of Oregon’s official lockdown, writing about it is the only thing there is to do, it seems. So here goes.

It’s so quiet in town that nothing is moving unless it’s headed to Walmart for the last gallon of milk and loaf of bread. You can’t get toilet paper anywhere and it’s making me very nervous, as we have only about a week and a half’s worth. People are ill everywhere…three of them in my own family. Ben especially has been really sick (and yes, he’s been tested and does NOT have the virus); he’s dealing with influenza B and pneumonia, which are bad enough. Shelley has what sounds like bronchitis, and we have a family friend staying with us because she lives with her mother, who won’t let her come home until she is well again. Clint and I are almost indecently healthy, but then we both have immune systems that could fight off the squirrels in the backyard.

~sigh~ We missed our much-anticipated cruise vacation, which was a major disappointment. Right now I’m supposed to be on Lido deck, floating around somewhere in the Pacific and touring the Mexican Riviera. Carnival cancelled all cruises just days before we were supposed to board, but of course if we’d all shown up at the terminal with Ben and Shelley hacking up a lung, we would have been turned away anyway, and then we would have been stuck in L.A. I can think of a lot of places I’d rather be. And even if we’d been able to get on the ship, who knows whether there was some other poor unfortunate soul who actually had COVID-19 and got us all quarantined aboard for at least 14 days. So maybe we’re better off at home after all.

Speaking of home, that’s where we’ve been since the governor of our state issued stay-at-home orders, AKA lockdown. We can’t go anywhere except to stores, pharmacies, or doctors (and even going to the clinic is dicey). Oh yes, there’s also the liquor and cannabis stores and takeout places, but there is no shopping in indoor OR outdoor malls, no sit-down restaurants or bars, no movie theaters, no large gatherings of any kind. We don’t even get to watch the Olympics this year, for which I don’t blame anyone–nobody wants to endanger the athletes or the people attending. And there doesn’t seem to be any end to it, because no one knows yet how many more people will get sick with this thing.

Yep, it’s getting really weird out there. Almost post-apocalyptic, to be honest. I’ve seen a lot of movies like Contagion and The Stand, the latter of which is a Stephen King novel about what happens when a lethal germ that’s been created in a top-secret lab gets loose, wiping out 99% of the world’s population. Now, hoarding TP and sheltering in place are nowhere near as bad as the cluster-fuck described in this story, but we’re also doing dumb things that make matters worse. Just the other day I saw some of the neighbors outside in their yard with something like five or six kids on bikes racing around the property and a few adults who were obviously NOT social distancing. This isn’t 1965 when mothers whose kids had mumps or chickenpox would get together so all their kids would be exposed to the disease, get sick, and be done with it for life. (I remember these “parties” well, but strangely enough I never got either illness. I was too busy getting strep throat and bronchitis.) Why would anyone let half a dozen kids congregate and possibly spread infection with a sometimes-deadly virus? That’s more like playing Russian roulette.

In the meantime, we’re all a little stir-crazy. We haven’t had any arguments–yet–but we know we have to walk lightly because who KNOWS when all this will be over. It sure doesn’t look good right now.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

March 7, 2020

The cherry blossoms are on the trees, and my allergies know it. The tulips are coming up and the sun has been shining a little more than usual, so while it’s still technically winter, it feels more like Spring has sprung. This is a GOOD thing. My winter funk has gone away already—no more waking up anxious and depressed, even on rainy mornings—but I’m not ramping up either. Dr. Goodenough is pleased too. We had an office visit earlier this week and other than a little distress about my restless legs, which has an explanation, I’m feeling better than I have in months.

Here’s the thing about the restless legs. I don’t actually have restless leg syndrome, but I experience almost constant movement of my legs and feet whenever I’m sitting down, which is a good portion of the time. There is no music playing (though the TV is always on) but my lower extremities dance like crazy. My husband Will used to call it “happy feet” since it used to be a reliable indicator that I was on the verge of a manic episode. Now, it’s just leg-bouncing and I’m not even aware of it. I can make myself stop for a little while if I realize I’m doing it, but as soon as my mind goes elsewhere it starts again.

The good news is, it’s not uncomfortable, like akathisia or RLS. The bad news is, it’s called tardive dyskinesia (TD) and it’s caused by taking antipsychotics. And according to Dr. G, the only way I could get rid of it is to get off Zyprexa and Geodon and go on Clozapine, which is one of the most hardcore antipsychotic medications there is. To this I uttered an emphatic “HELL no!” I mean, weekly blood tests to check levels for the first six months? Being a total zombie? And possibly ending up even worse? Thanks, but no thanks. I also don’t like the idea that my bipolar is apparently bad enough that it would have to be controlled by such a heavy-duty drug if for some reason I could no longer take my current APs. They have medications for TD, but that wasn’t mentioned and I didn’t ask. Dr. G is not a drug pusher, and I think I take enough pills as it is.

In the meantime, it’s only 10 days until we leave for our cruise to Mexico and all of us are a little concerned about the Coronavirus. I’m not the least bit worried about actually getting sick, but I’d hate to be quarantined to my stateroom for two weeks, or not even being able to get to the ship because our flight got cancelled. So we’re all walking around nervously, hoping and yes, praying that everything works out. Ben and Clint, especially, need this vacation after the past eight months of nonstop stress. They are both burned out and deserve some time to relax. And I’ve waited a year and a half for this trip as well. I’m ready for some fun and sun!

It’s The Little Things That Count

February 16, 2020

Once again, I am reminded that the little things matter: as I was seated upon the porcelain throne last night, I was literally thanking God for whoever invented Milk of Magnesia. For some reason, as I’ve aged I have developed a propensity for the occasional bout of, shall we say, irregularity; and let me tell you, it can be excruciating. I get irritable and shaky, and the pressure just builds up and up until I feel like I’m about to give birth. Then out of desperation I bolt down 60 ml of MOM, and within hours I have complete relief. Just like that. So simple, and yet I never even think about it between episodes.

It really IS the little things that make life bearable, even pleasurable. Almost every night when I settle down under my soft blankets, I pray for the homeless and remember how privileged I am to be safe and warm. I look at the vase of roses and carnations Ben and Clint bought me for Valentine’s Day and think how lucky I am to have these guys. I’ll sneeze a couple of times and take a moment to appreciate the fact that I haven’t been sick in well over two years, when I used to get bronchitis at least once every winter. And even in the mornings when I wake up depressed, I’m grateful because I know it will go away once I start my day.

This is something I work on constantly. If you look at my lifestyle and compare it with the one I had before it all came crashing down in 2014, it’s kind of pathetic—no husband, no job, no car, can’t afford my own place. I’m dependent on others for food, utilities, transportation, and companionship. As used to it as I am now, however, I still wish I had the ability to conquer, once and for all, the monster that ate my life and spit it out just for the hell of it…namely, bipolar 1 disorder.

But then, I have learned how to tame it. Medication has made a world of difference, of course, and so has the work I’ve been doing on myself. I’m grown-up enough now to know what I DON’T know, and I accept the fact that I will spend the rest of my days reaching for more knowledge and more wisdom. I’ve come to value those things more than almost anything else, maybe because they are so elusive and it’s so easy to miss opportunities to expand them. And you know, I wonder if I would have gotten this far if bipolar hadn’t intervened. It’s been only eight years, but I feel like I’ve learned more about life since I was diagnosed than I did in all the 53 years before it.

And yeah, I’m thankful for that too.

The Winter Soldier

January 25, 2020

Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. It’s winter and I’m in my customary funk, not really depressed but definitely not my usual shining self (haha). I just had my birthday; I’m 61 and astonished that I’ve made it to this age. It’s funny, when you’re young you never think you’re going to be 40 or 50, let alone 60-something, and when you’re older you wonder how you made it through 90% of your life without the wisdom you have now. That’s not to say you’ve got it all together at this late-middle-aged-pre-elderly time of life, but unless you’re a complete dunderhead, you’re gaining valuable experience that unfortunately most young people don’t pay attention to until after you’re gone. That’s when the light bulb comes on and your kids say “Oh, THAT’S what Mom meant”…and you don’t even get to gloat.

But back to winter, which as you know is my absolute least favorite season. It’s wet and gloomy every day for weeks on end; it’s still getting dark by 5:30; and no matter how “mild” the weather is, it’s still too cold for me. Right now it’s probably 55 degrees outside, which is comparatively warm for Oregon winters, but inside I’m bundled up by the pellet stove for most of the evening. I wake up feeling down every morning in spite of the meds and the HappyLight, and with the stress level in the house being what it is, it’s all I can do to get out of the recliner I sleep in. It’s the only place where nothing hurts—not the knees that are full of arthritis, not my back which has been screwed up since I was 14, not even my broken (but still healing) ankle. I like to lie there enjoying the weightless feeling as I distract myself from my low mood with my phone.

As a result, I’m usually not officially up till around noon. Of course, I stay awake till the wee hours as is my norm, and I can always get up much earlier if there’s a reason to, like hair appointments or church. My mood always improves once I get up and perform my morning routine, so that’s why I’m not too worried about this particular episode (if you can even call it that). It’s just getting past that initial “I feel like crap and I don’t wanna adult today” that’s difficult.

Now, don’t worry about me. I know when I’m in real trouble, and this ain’t it. Everybody has to endure some discomfort in life, you can’t medicate it ALL away, and sometimes you just have to be brave and soldier on. There’s a lot going on around here, and my previously simple, low-stress lifestyle is, well, not so simple and low-stress anymore. Too many components have been added and none of them are good, so I think it’s understandable that I’m struggling a bit. This isn’t the kind of thing you go running to your doctor for, you have to buck up and know that this, too, shall pass. I haven’t experienced suicidal ideation in over five years and I’m not starting with it now. Since Will died, I’ve never felt a moment of it, no matter how much I was hurting or how bleak my outlook was. I can only imagine one situation that might trigger SI, and that’s becoming homeless. It’s my worst fear; even though I’m currently safe and warm, I can’t trust it entirely. I came too close to homelessness to ever feel 100% safe.

And, of course, it IS winter, which magnifies all my woes. I swear, January must have at least 73 days in it, it drags on so, and February isn’t much better even if it is technically a shorter month.

In the meantime, I hear my bed—well, chair—calling my name. Thanks for “listening” to my whining, y’all. My mood will rise along with the crocuses in just a few more weeks. You can count on it.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2019

…and after the egg nog, not a creature was stirring, not even the dogs.

I’m sitting here in the living room, with cheery Christmas songs playing on the TV (I love the fact that I can listen to music on any of several music stations that come with our cable service) and a few Santa cookies sitting on the table beside me. The lights around the patio door are twinkling blue, green, red and yellow, while the tree lights are off because Ben forgot to plug them in and I can’t reach the cord to do it myself. Everyone is in bed for the night, except me of course, and it’s peaceful and quiet…just like the nights back when Will and I would sit together on the sofa, our Christmas duties done, and cuddle while carols played in the background.

I’ve talked before about how much I miss those times, so I won’t belabor the point by going on and on. I’ve made my peace with those Christmases of the past and I’m ready to celebrate the holiday in its new manifestations, whatever they may be. This year we’re going to eat, drink and be merry at the casino for Christmas dinner, instead of hosting a big meal like we did at Thanksgiving. We did this a few years back when Will was still here, and I can tell you the salmon is to die for. It’s the biggest buffet in the state too. It’s crowded and I dread the long lines, but as I’ve learned, it’s not necessarily triggering. I’ve come a LONG way in that regard.

For example, today I was in Safeway getting the last of the things I needed for tomorrow, and the place was packed. The lines stretched all the way into the aisles, and worse, the guy ahead of me had problems paying for his groceries. He had $200 worth of steaks in his basket and one tray of them hadn’t been stickered properly by the butcher. It was an involved process and the poor cashier ended up sending the man to customer service so he could wait on the growing line behind him. I was next, and the cashier apologized profusely for the delay; but as flustered as I used to get by circumstances like these, I was cool as a cucumber as I reassured him that I wasn’t a bit upset. I was waiting in line just like everyone else, I didn’t have anyplace I needed to go right away, and, well, it’s Christmas—peace on earth, right?

By the way, I saw Dr. Goodenough last week, and had only good things to report. It’s really gotten through my head that I no longer want to reduce my medications, either in number or in strength, and I told him so. He was pleased, as he’s not inclined to do anything about it anyway because I am doing so well. I have my moments in the mornings when I’m lying in my recliner debating getting up because nothing hurts, but it’s not depression, it’s achy joints and tight muscles. My back is all screwed up because I wore that walking boot for three months, which threw off my gait, and now my “good” knee hurts as much as the other one. But the fact that I’ve got these aches and pains just proves I’m alive to see in another year, and that’s a privilege denied to many.

So now I want to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate. Thank you for seeing me through another year, and please come back to visit often.

Happy Holidays!

Olden Times and Ancient Rhymes

December 11, 2019

It’s here: the season of joy and cheer. Every year it looks different, but there is one tradition that will never disappear, and that’s listening to Christmas music. Especially the songs I grew up with and still love. A few years ago I made several CDs from music I bought from iTunes with a mix of modern songs and old favorites from my youth. Anytime I want to be transported back to happier times, I just pop one into the CD player and let the memories wash over me. It’s one of the purest forms of enjoyment in my life, and at this time of year I indulge every chance I can get.

My favorite carols have always been the ones about Jesus and how he came to this earth. I mean, these give me goosebumps every time: O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. There are also some from later years, such as Mary, Did You Know? and Child of the Poor/Away In a Manger, that really bring the meaning of Christmas into my consciousness and lead me to thoughts of gratitude to God for my many blessings. The thing I’m most thankful for this year is being safe and warm; if things had continued to go sideways during that December of 2014 when Will and I missed homelessness by a squeak, I’d probably be telling another story. I see people on the streets in the city I live in, and think “there but for the grace of God go I”. Sometimes all that separates us humans is a bit of luck…or an outpouring of love from a good family.

But in case you think I’m all serious about this Christmas thing, I love the funny side of the holidays. My kids will tell you that it wasn’t Christmastime until I heard I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas…and sang it at the top of my lungs, which cracked them up every time. I also got a kick out of Alvin and the Chipmunks and the one about poor Grandma getting run over by one of Santa’s reindeer. (Well, y’all know I have a rather twisted sense of humor.) However, there are a few I could do without, such as Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. My mother beat me over the head with that one every Christmas. I was literally petrified at the idea that Santa would pass me by if I so much as pouted a little. Of course, my vision of what pouting was differed greatly from hers, which was basically that anything I dared to dispute constituted defiance, which was an even greater sin…and what’s more, Santa knew about it. I couldn’t win. But every year, he did come to our house and leave me some pretty nice things, like a bike one year and a Chatty Cathy doll which was all the rage back in the mid-1960s.

Speaking of Santa, I have to admit I find the whole concept kind of weird, even though Will and I raised our kids with him as the giver of the really awesome (and most expensive) gifts. My daughter Mandy and her husband didn’t—my grandsons didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy either—and sometimes I think they were right. After all, here’s this fat old guy who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake; it’s like he’s God but in a red suit and boots. And that deal about sitting on his lap and telling him all your secret wishes while your picture is being taken? Tres creepy.

Anyway, this is the time of year when I wax nostalgic, so please bear with me as I (over)share my musings. It’s also the time when I miss Will most of all. Yes, I’ve learned to live without him, and Christmas is always good even though there aren’t many traditions in this house. But he made the holidays extra special, and it wasn’t just the presents he gave me (although those were pretty great). He embodied the holiday spirit in every way possible, from getting drenched putting up the outside lights in the rain, to making real cocoa for the family on Christmas Eve while we all watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Ben seems to have taken over where Will left off. He bitches and moans while he decorates, but he loves it and the results are always amazing. This year he’s turned the inside of the house into a winter wonderland, with a big tree and bright white LED lights as well as candles and lights around the patio door. The outside has lights around the front door, garage, and a blue spruce that grows out in the front yard. It took him parts of three days to get it all done, but it’s worth it. He may not think it’s a big deal, but I love it that he loves to decorate for the seasons like Will and I used to. A chip off the ol’ blocks, as it were.

That’s how Christmas is in my life—ever changing, but also ever staying the same. And that’s just the way I like it.

It’s All Downhill From Here

November 24, 2019

Ever since I turned 60 back in January, I’ve found myself contemplating the last part of life. You know, death. Muerto. The End. I wonder about it all the time. I think about what it will be like to not exist anymore except in my loved ones’ memories. But don’t worry, it’s not depression…it’s curiosity.

After all, longevity does NOT run in my family. With a couple of notable exceptions–both of whom had dementia–people in my tribe just don’t live into their 80s and 90s. My father died at 59, my mother at 66. Both my grandmothers lived till their early 70s, and my sister is 73 and has multiple health problems. But then, so do I–there’s my diabetes (which is under control without medication), as well as high blood pressure, asthma, and heart disease, all of which are well-managed thanks to a variety of meds. And of course, I have to count my bipolar as a medical condition, which is alleged to reduce life expectancy by 10 or more years.

I’ve long been aware that my health isn’t what it should be. My diet is horrible, I don’t exercise, and I have no motivation to change either of those things. If it weren’t for all these drugs—psychiatric and others—I wouldn’t be here. I’ve been able to conveniently ignore that fact because I really did believe I could go on forever, but otherwise didn’t give it that much thought.

Now, however, I’m intrigued by the whole idea of dying. I think of it as life’s last great adventure. I’m in no hurry to experience it, but realistically it will probably come early—maybe even in this decade of my life if statistics are to be believed—and I want to know what actually happens. I want to know how I’m going to die. Will I be in pain, or will I be allowed to slip away in peace? I’ve seen a lot of people die and I want to know what their last thoughts were, what they felt at the moment they passed. And most importantly, is there really life after death, where I’ll meet the God I’ve believed in all my life and see my husband again? Or is it just…nothingness?

I know it sounds morbid, but it’s also utterly fascinating. What’s weird is that turning 60 was the trigger for all this introspection. I’m still considered middle-aged (except at movie theaters and other places that give discounts to “seniors” over 55 or 60), but the way time flies, I’ll turn around twice and be 65, the age when you’re officially elderly. Like, what the hell happened to this year?? I just got over the trauma of actually beginning my seventh decade of life, and here I am, about to be 61 already. Time really does go faster the older you get; I remember when I was a kid and it seemed like Christmas or my birthday took forever to get here. Now, the last four months of a year feels like four weeks, and the holidays seem to come twice a year instead of once.

They say that it’s all downhill from here, but I still refuse to look at life that way, even though I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mortality and how someday my kids are going to have to go through my stuff, a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

It’s all good. Happy Thanksgiving!