Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

Archive for July, 2015

Sneaky Depression

Depression must have been following me around for a long time. I’m not sure when it caught up with me–I didn’t even know it had. It’s not like one day I woke up with Depression snoring next to me. There was no lightning bolt marking its sudden appearance. I wasn’t feeling particularly sad or seeing everything in black. I’m not sure if I was feeling hopeless or particularly morose. Days didn’t drag or fly by; they just blended into one another. I hadn’t been feeling particularly energetic, but I blamed the fatigue in part on the hot and humid tropical weather. When the pets napped during the mid-day heat, I often found myself joining them, even though the air conditioner kept me comfortable so I wasn’t being directly impacted by the weather. Arthritic back pain has been my steady companion, and I blamed most of the fatigue on the constant struggle with Pain. I miss being able to take my Naproxen to keep Pain at bay. It had worked really well for me, but it also was complicit in a near-fatal bleeding ulcer incident nearly a year ago, and I’ve had to stay away from it ever since. So I blamed my lack of awareness of Depression on Pain. Pain kept me distracted while Depression slowly permeated my body and my soul.

That I became aware of Depression’s presence was sudden. It was about two weeks after my last visit to my psychotherapist. I was thinking about how I don’t really like her, and that I don’t know why she insists on continuing to see me. The session wasn’t terribly productive, and I realized that her voice had taken on tones of dislike and condescension. She was telling me that I am a selfish bitch (not in those words) who turns away from any group or individual who doesn’t agree with me–that it’s my way or the highway. This took me by surprise. It had taken me most of my 65 years to work up the nerve to simply be able to say to myself, “This is not how I think or feel or see things. I can walk away from this.” I wasn’t feeling bad about this type of thinking and subsequent actions, and I didn’t understand what brought on this tirade from her. For the year or so that I’ve been seeing her–generally once a month, with a three or four month lag recently–we’ve discussed my issues with family and my husband. I rarely talked to her about my social life or activities. Yet she was talking as though we have known each other well for years and shared a circle of friends. The thought going through my mind was, “Is this professional behavior in a therapist?” In the US, I had never experienced this type of reaction from a professional therapist–some insurance plans won’t pay for antidepressants without a prescription from a psychiatrist. I started wondering whether she had been trained in The Netherlands or elsewhere, and if this was professional behavior there. Granted, the country of Sint Maarten is more like a mid-sized US town, with its population of roughly 45,000. Adding the 40,000 or so residents of the French side of the island, the whole island takes on the proportions of a small city, with each side having its own culture within the greater culture of the Caribbean. My next question to myself was, “Has she been talking to other people about me? If so, whom would we know in common?” And again, thoughts of professional behavior went through my mind. I had pretty much made up my mind that I would be cancelling my next appointment (coming up next week), but decided to let it stand and re-assess during or after.

As I continued to ponder the strange session, I started thinking about my activities as symptoms and how likely it might be that Depression had caught up with me again. I started thinking about my life over the past year. I had taken a vacation from my husband and ended up overstaying my welcome with my children. I came home to discuss separation with my husband, but then bleeding ulcers almost killed me in the middle of the night–twice within two weeks–and how instrumental he had been in getting an ambulance here quickly. He visited me more in the hospital during my two five-day stays than he ever visited me during major surgeries back home when he worked a block or less away. Since he doesn’t drive, and since the hospital is almost on the other side of the island, that took a major effort on his part. Life on a small Caribbean island is vastly different than the conveniences associated with large urban areas in the US. He had to rely either on friends or on taxi services to visit me, since buses don’t run near enough to the hospital for easy access in the tropical heat, and visiting hours are extremely limited.

The night I returned from the hospital after my second stay, I noticed that one of our two cats was acting strangely listless. Over the next three and a half months, she spent more time at the veterinary clinic than at home, first for a pancreatic infection, and later for feline diabetes. The male cat missed her, and started to jump into the car whenever I had the tailgate open, possibly hoping she was in the car. He did that late one night when my husband was unloading the car from my earlier grocery trip. My husband doesn’t always notice things at the best of times, and I had forgotten to tell him of this cat’s new habit. I didn’t go anywhere the next day, and the car was sitting in the tropical winter sun all day, with me wondering why the cat hadn’t yeowled to come in. My hunt for the cat ended when I found him the following day, when I needed to run to the pharmacy. I would never have to hunt for him again.

A few weeks later, I began to notice that I was losing stamina instead of gaining it during my exercise sessions in the community pool. At first, I thought it was emotional stress from losing one cat and having an ill one. I drove to the doctor’s office to discuss the condition and was sent for a blood draw because the doctor thought I looked somewhat anemic. Because of local holidays, it would take longer to get results than usual, and we had been scheduled to visit a neighboring island for a conference my husband needed to attend. I was feeling weaker and weaker and tried to beg off, but my husband seemed more concerned about the fact that we had already paid for my fare and a rental car, and insisted that I would feel better from a change of scenery. By the time we returned, I was feeling much weaker and took the first opportunity possible to visit the doctor for bloodwork results. My blood count was so low that the doctor could not believe I drove to the office. I was not even allowed to drive the half kilometer home to pick up pajamas and other hospital stay essentials (locally, you provide your own pajamas, toothbrush, soap, towels, etc.) before I was whisked away to the hospital.

During the five days I spent at the local hospital, the staff doctors managed to scare me to death about the condition of my colon (since the ulcers had healed quite well, it had to be my colon, they reasoned), saying that I would need to have half of it removed and that I was taking a chance that I would bleed out from a burst sac in my colon at any time. I was not about to have surgery on the island, so we scheduled a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Florida for a consult and possible surgery. It turned out that my colon was fine and that my problem with anemia was because–after a total of eight units of blood transfused into me during my three island hospital stays–the hospital doctors had never thought about prescribing high dosage iron supplements. In essence, my body had shut down blood cell production after the two bleeding ulcer episodes, and that was the cause of the anemia, not internal bleeding from my colon. Much relieved, we returned to our island condo on Christmas Eve, with no pets to greet us and several days of no pet distractions. When I was finally able to bring home the dog and ailing cat, it was like celebrating Christmas a few days late.

Shortly after the New Year–on my birthday, in fact–I had to take the ailing cat back to the clinic, as she was refusing food and water, even from hand-feeding and forced hydration from an eyedropper. For the next nine days, the clinic tried to order various insulin types for her, trying anything to get her to come around. On the tenth day, I received a call from the veterinarian asking us to consider her suffering, as nothing was working on her. Before we were able to get there, and much to staff’s surprise, the cat had chosen her own time to die, and we said goodbye to her inert body. Both cats were just five years old when we lost them. I mentioned that we were interested in any stray or unwanted kittens that might be dropped off there. Surprisingly, we were able to adopt a kitten the same evening–not to replace the cats we lost, but because neither my husband nor I were ready to have a no-cat home–and we were hoping to distract the dog, who seemed depressed with both cats disappearing from home. The kitten was to be euthanized after closing, but my cat’s death allowed this kitten to retain her life. I suspect that the kitten was still alive just in case we were thinking of adopting a new one.

Shortly after I was told I needed colon surgery, and feeling a little down, I began to read books that always made me feel good and made me laugh. During our two-week stay near the Mayo Clinic, I began to download all the books by my favorite author, Terry Pratchett. It had taken several years before the first volumes of his Discworld Series were available electronically. I decided I wanted to read all the books from the first to the last because they made me laugh (and more than half of my Pratchett library was in a storage facility in Glendale, California). In an effort to cheer myself up, I read all 40 books of the series in roughly six weeks. The day after I finished the most recent book, Terry Pratchett died, leaving me jarred from the coincidence. In the meanwhile, I made a new friend here in the community, and she pulled me out of a good deal of my funk. She had me going to the beach and helping her find things to stock her new store at the Jersey shore, and I was finding myself perking up quite a bit. When she returned to the US, I began to sink again, the only thing saving me was the drawing lessons I started taking, thanks in large part to my friend’s chatting up a gallery owner on the French side of the island. My instructor also got me interested in oil painting. In addition, I got involved with a business that forced me out of the house. So I had a few new activities to throw myself into so that I could avoid seeing Depression sneaking up on me.

That day when I was pondering my last therapy session made me realize that Depression had grabbed me in its clutches and wasn’t letting me go, accounting for my ups and (mostly) downs.  Why hadn’t my therapist seen this, or why hadn’t she suggested the possibility that I might be depressed? My husband, who notices so little about me (think Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory), was preparing himself to broach the subject with me, but had some hesitations about how to begin. When I told him I thought I was depressed, he was relieved, and confessed that he thought so, too. So why did the therapist not notice two weeks earlier? It’s not like she didn’t know about all the events that had transpired over the past year. Why didn’t she see that many of my newer activities were an effort to pull myself out of a dark pit?

Fortunately, I am not a person who believes that there is ever a time when no hope exists. The idea of a purposeless life crosses my mind on occasion–like when Depression is stalking me–but I never really believe that things will never get better. I don’t always make lemonade when life sucks, but I tend to take a proactive approach to my existence. So…

The following day, I went to see my doctor. I told him I was pretty sure I am depressed. I explained my fatigue, my inability to motivate myself to perform even the easiest of tasks or my favorite activities, the hours of extra sleep, the restlessness, the inability to concentrate on anything. He agreed that I was probably depressed and prescribed some medication. In general, antidepressants take anywhere from two to four weeks before any improvement in mood or attitude is noticed. I’ve been on enough of them in my life to know. But when they kick in, the world takes on a whole new meaning. I’m almost three weeks into the antidepressants, and I’m feeling better every day.

Depression, you may take your sweet time taking over body and soul, but you’re not unbeatable. You are not a permanent fixture in my life. It may have taken me a while to notice that you have sneaked up on me again, taking the color from my world, and damping down the moments of joy that pass almost unnoticed because of your presence. Depression, you are being pushed out much more rapidly than you have entered, and I’m feeling good that I recognized you even when a psychiatrist did not. So yeah, maybe I do turn my back on situations that I deem immature or demoralizing or just plain stupid. But how is that bad? There are a lot of people I know who have some strange qualities–whether stranger than mine, I don’t know; I can’t judge–but it doesn’t mean I don’t like them despite their quirks. I don’t assess people on whether they agree with me or not, but on whether they are good-hearted and caring people. They can be self-centered, annoyingly upbeat, frustrating, flighty, overly single-minded, funny, klutzy, cute, ugly…but if they’re “good people,” I can usually set all those things aside and like them for who they are. Heaven only knows why some people continue to like me enough to call me Friend, even after they have gotten to know me and understand where I’m coming from. They don’t even have to understand me, as long as they still believe I’m good enough company to hang out with once in a while, or that my heart is in the right place. So yes, sometimes it takes a pill to help me see how many people make up my world. Sometimes, Depression, you can obscure the fact that I am not alone in this world. But you can never make my subconscious believe you because, deep inside, I know better.

Depression, you have been part of my recent life for too long, and you’ve made me blind to many of the little joys in life. It’s time to banish you. There may be a time when I’m off medication and life comes down on me again like a ton of bricks. At some point in the future, you may think you will win. But don’t delude yourself. Even if a therapist isn’t correctly analyzing me, I do a lot of my own self-assessment. I can turn and walk away from situations that will never change. Depression, you may get in and obfuscate, but you will never obliterate. Go away now. I’m turning away and leaving you behind.

#educ_dr

Cat-In-The-Box: And What Box Do I Fit?

Cat-In-The-Box

Cat-In-The-Box

This box was the perfect fit for one of my young cats–so comfortable that a flash-assisted iPad photo didn’t wake her.

After stumbling on this photo in my files, I started thinking about myself and whether I fit comfortably and completely into a box–my own or someone else’s.

A few days ago, I re-established communications with my daughter-in-law.  The contact was actually because of one of my grandsons.  For over a year, my family and I have not been communicating.  At all (except for my mother).  I take that back: one of my granddaughters occasionally posts something on Facebook that I “like” and commented on.  Sometimes, if I think a link or article might be of interest to my daughter, I send the information to my granddaughter and ask her to pass it along to her mother.  If I wish her a happy birthday or merry Christmas, she’ll respond with “Thank you,” or “Same to you, Grandma.”  My son’s family was completely lost to me for a while, so when my grandson found my “alternate” post on Facebook and wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, I was both flabbergasted and excited.  This grandson is by marriage, which made his post extra-special.  He was forbidden to interact with me by his mother who–rightly–monitors his activities on Facebook and other social media sites.  That he had to “hunt” for me in order to post the greeting touched me in a way that I can’t describe.  And I let him know that he had class for doing so.

The point is, it opened communications to one of my family branches because I had to communicate with his mother about a birthday gift.  I was somewhat surprised when she responded–coolly and carefully, but it was a response on behalf of her son.  When I didn’t hear from him about his birthday gift–I figured if he sent a Mother’s Day greeting, he would send a “thank you” post–I contacted his mother again asking if the gift had arrived.  It hadn’t, although it had been sent via UPS and had a tracking number on it with specific information about where it was left.  I sent her the tracking information after I discovered that the gift couldn’t be replaced.  And we chatted through Messenger a few times, and basically mended our relationship.

Communication is key to understanding.  When a person cuts communication completely, there is no way to mend a breach.  I’ve discussed in a previous post somewhere why I am not the one who will feel anguish if I die tomorrow.  I have made so many attempts to fix what I know my family believes is my fault–and I accept the blame for a good part of it, but not all–that I can go to my cremation with a clear conscience.  Those left behind and living–those who refused communication–will be the ones left with the angst of unfinished business.  I try to avoid that type of angst at all costs.

Before my father arrived at his not-unexpected death, I could tell from his voice that he was having vascular problems–that they were getting worse.  I could tell from the changes, such as his inability to get through a sentence without one or more pauses for breath, that his vascular system was giving up.  So I dropped everything and made sure I had closure.  I booked a flight as soon as I could because I needed to say good-bye and spend time with him personally to talk and spend a few extra days with him.  It had been two years since I had seen my family last, and I missed them.  My sister, who lived barely an hour’s drive from my parents, knew of his condition, but somehow never took advantage of her opportunities for closure.  She was a mess at the funeral, even though she wasn’t as close to my father as I was.  I would like to spare my family that angst.

For whatever reason, I feel like the kids and my sister envision me in some sort of box with “them” in it.  They have labeled me and psychologically tossed me away into that box.  People I’ve known for many years don’t have me in a box, unless it is one labeled “friend.”  I am not an easy person to be friends with and, not surprisingly, I think, my friends are more like me than different from me.  They may be richer or poorer, their work and interests may be varied, but they understand me, just like I understand them.  Sometimes they surprise me; sometimes I surprise them.  However, all of them know I care about them and would move mountains to help them if they needed me for anything.  My friends would do the same for me.  I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do.  Maybe we all belong in the same box–crazy women who have a strong sense of right and wrong, who care very little about a person’s origins or background, but see a person for what is inside.  We are, unfortunately–or maybe fortunately, depending on one’s viewpoint–outspoken, open, and sometimes a bit too honest.  Perhaps we are also demanding in the qualities of our friends, but that is pretty much a given in the description of our box.

Sometimes I think I raised my children wrong–insisting that they think about the consequences of their actions before taking them, being conscious and considerate of others’ problems or differences, being more generous toward others rather than being selfish.  I tried hard, no matter what, to make my children’s lives better than mine.  I tried to teach them how to make decisions better than the ones I sometimes make.  I tried to help them become their own person rather than someone who another person wants them to be, including myself.  I don’t know if I succeeded because, after my divorce from their father, after being “single” for almost eight years, I married a man who never took a job in the same area that we lived in; in twenty-five years of marriage, we moved four times–always major moves, always farther from family or more difficult to get to.  Right now, we are living in a different country, on an island almost as far out in the Caribbean Sea as one can get (the island’s eastern border is actually on the Atlantic Ocean).  It is a great place to vacation, but not the best place in the world to live.  My husband makes twice as much as he earned in his last job, but the expense of living on this island has cut our savings to the bone.  My sister, who lives in a huge house in Eastern Pennsylvania, cries about money woes, but continues to shop at Neiman-Marcus.  Regardless of what I believe about my sister, my mother lives with her, and for that I am more grateful than I can express.  My mother’s needs are few, but she has more security and a greater sense of “status” than I can possibly give her.  Although I stay in touch with my mother, I know that she is not always good at transmitting messages, so I don’t know if my sister knows that I am trying to reach out to her.  My sister also has me in that same “crazy lady” box that my children have put me in.

Although I have a few–very few–tendencies to “box” people, I have my sister in a box that I won’t bother to describe.  I’ll only say that we are more different than alike.  Or maybe neither of us see our commonalities.  The same may apply to my children.  But no; I do not hold grudges.  My sister and my daughter do; I don’t believe my son does–he never did when he lived with me, and people don’t change as drastically as many of us would like to believe.  He works long hours in a difficult job, and works far from home and on a swing-shift that ought to be illegal (one week days; next week nights).  I can excuse him for not contacting me, even though it takes only a moment to say “I’m fine” in a Messenger post.  Even as recently as last year, when he first took this job, most of my communication with him was through his wife.

Sometimes I see things posted on Facebook that deal with one’s own personhood and know that I am not alone.  There are many people in my box with me.  When I read such posts, I affirm that I am not unhappy with who or what I am or who or what my box-mates are.  They are individualists who know themselves better than most people do and are comfortable with what they know about themselves.

Right now, I feel like my cat–this box is just right.

#educ_dr

Photo 101: Last Posts for the Class

Age can have an effect on what we remember (or can) bring with us when we go out the door.  When you add “not yet a habit” to the mix, a lot of opportunities are lost.  But today we live in an age of technology that gives us possibilities even if we have forgotten to take the “just a camera” device with us.  I’ve been taking a free WordPress course called Photo 101, and I haven’t finished all the assignments.  The photos below are of the “make-up homework” variety.  Lack of time prevents me from figuring out the exact assignment title, but I thought I’d post these just the same.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to take some photos with my iPad for some of those missed assignments–one on glass, another on lines, a third on architectural effects. Here they are!

Glass:

The only glasswork currently in the Elephant Box gallery and workshop...

The only glasswork currently in the Elephant Box gallery and workshop…

Lines:

Telephone and Power Lines in Grand-Case, St. Martin

Telephone and Power Lines in Grand-Case, St. Martin

Architectural effects:

Through the portal of The Elephant Box gallery in Grand-Case, St. Martin.

Through the portal of The Elephant Box gallery in Grand-Case, St. Martin.

This is the final assignment I will be posting for this class, since it ended two days ago.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take what I consider some interesting shots, even though they are pretty ordinary.  As too often the case, I didn’t have my “good camera” with me, but I did have my iPad, which really does take better photos than my Samsung phone, even though the phone works pretty well under certain conditions.

In truth, I didn’t have the time or opportunities to do justice to the assignments for this class.  The next time it is offered, I hope to take it again and organize my time a bit better to do the assignments on time and with more artistry.  I had intended this class to help me learn to take photos with my “good camera,” but never had the camera with me when an opportunity presented itself.  You have no idea how many photo opportunities I’ve missed while driving because I couldn’t get to my phone camera fast enough–cows crossing an island road or lying down by the roadside, goats walking on the verge of the main road on their way to important meetings, horses meandering across the island-encircling main road just because, huge iguanas or other lizards that couldn’t decide which side of the road they wanted to be on.  Either the camera would cause an accident because I would have stopped traffic, or forgetting about the camera option on the phone until after the creature moved and traffic started up again, or I simply didn’t have any device with a camera on it with me… Well, it’s hard to become a photographer at 65 after spending most of my life without one handy…

#educ_dr

Photo 101: Two Best Buds

Besties

Besties

If I had taken the time to get out my Good Camera, or even my cell phone, I would not have been able to catch the kitties in such a loving position. The striped one may be 3 months younger, but he’s bigger and much more gentle. On the other hand, she has been the epitome of patience in teaching him about his new home and trying to get him to join her outside. Truly Besties.