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

Archive for the ‘On aging’ Category

It’s Been a While…


It has been quite some time since my last post. For over a year, I have been in suspended animation. Little was accomplished day to day, and I avoided going outside of my new home. Driving was almost a non-existent activity–one full tank on my gas guzzler was lasting three or four months (yes, months; not weeks or days!). I felt trapped by my own anxiety and increasing depression. 

In December of 2015, my husband underwent a surgery to remove a kidney with a tumor so large that it caused the organ to cease functioning and begin to die. Christmas dinner was in hospital, and we barely made it back to the island to welcome in the 2016. 

At the end of January, I called my mother for her birthday, only to be frustrated by days of her not charging her phone. That was the last time I talked to her–she died shortly after from complications brought on by congestive heart failure that no one knew she had. She was 88. She must have suspected it would be our last conversation because she asked for forgiveness for all the wrongs she had done against me. To be honest, I had no idea which of her many transgressions she was apologizing for–there were so many. Neither my sister nor I would ever have nominated her for mother of the year. That people liked her amazed us; but they didn’t live with her. Despite everything, she was my mother, and I felt a loss and hollowness at her passing. 

After the funeral, I flew to Texas to visit with my son and daughter-in-law. R helped me get a new TX driver license since my old CA one had expired. R and my son had bought a beautiful new home since my visit a year and a half earlier, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet during my stay. Next, I was off to the Miami area to stay with a friend during my cataract surgeries. Neither of us anticipated that I would be there three weeks, but it turned into the loveliest of visits! 

Finally, back home to the island, where we were in the middle of purchasing an older condo across the street from the one we were renting. Packing, painting, moving, arguing with banks ensued. Finally we were moved in. And almost immediately we needed an air conditioner replaced. Then we got the word that both the solar heater on top of the house and the roof around it–the entire roof, actually–needed replacement. We did away with the solar heater and had the roof replaced and some minor repairs around the house made. In between were hassles with internet and cable connections–i.e., my means of communication with the outside world–which took four months to iron out, in part due to my husband’s refusal to deviate from his desires, even though he could not get them met. 

So, yeah. A happy move turned into a mire of gloom. Even though most things improved and resolved themselves, I found I was sinking into anxiety and despair. It took until last month to recognize both my depression and its depth. More than a year had passed since my mother’s depth, but I was feeling more gloomy than ever. Even a highly anticipated trip to become a certified Zentangle teacher became just another requirement that would take me from the relative safety of my home. Time for action.

My doctor prescribed an antidepressant that should have kicked in about two to three weeks later, on the outside allowing me to travel to Providence RI in better spirits. The Seminar was amazing, but still no improvement in my mood. Just as I was leaving Providence, I sensed a change. The meds finally kicked in! Better late than never, and in just the right time for my return trip home. What should have been a nightmare of delayed take-offs and missed connections–not to mention TSA search of my carry-on–I found amusing. I didn’t get too excited about the plane problems in Charlotte that would make me miss the last flight home out of Miami. Instead, I got to stay overnight in NC instead of Miami. I also got a seat on a direct flight from Charlotte to SXM instead of having to fly to Miami first. 

Of course, I got home while my luggage waited for me in Miami. I knew the minute that I went to the baggage carousel and my suitcase wasn’t waiting from an earlier Miami flight that my bag was still in the US. But I had to wait until all the luggage from my flight was unloaded before I could have my bag traced. Except for the fact that I knew my husband was waiting for me with a friend, I didn’t mind the waiting too much–despite really really craving a cigarette, that is. As expected, I left the airport with only my carry-on, and promises that my suitcase would be delivered as soon as it arrived. It was kind of nice to not worry about unpacking that night. I did miss the materials I purchased for anticipated classes, though. Those and my husband’s gifts were in the suitcase. But it didn’t hurt to wait a day. Actually, my suitcase arrived after I had gone to bed. But I didn’t know that until the next day.

That last leg of the trip would have been disastrous before the meds kicked in. It was uproariously funny after. One of the highlights of the messed up return was watching a TSA agent thumb through every one of my 1000+ Zentangle artist tiles that were in their original boxes from the seminar store–bubble wrap was removed, tiles were inspected, bubble wrap was less than perfectly replaced. An unsealed kit of class supplies was opened and a bag of tortillions was removed from the box, clearly stymieing the officer by the look on his face. The bullet-shaped paper blending tools were definitely outside his experience. The contents of my jacket pockets yielded nothing interesting to him, and the sealed box of kids’ art supplies was sealed in plastic and labeled clearly with the contents, so those were left alone, too. With a sigh of relief, he replaced my belongings as closely as possible to the way they were originally packed, and waved me through with a sheepish grin. He was probably surprised by the amused look on my face instead of the expected scowl. Had he only known how hard I was trying not to laugh, he probably would have had me detained on general principles. The poor TSA agents are not known for a sense of humor. But then, they usually deal with people indignant over having their belongings pawed rather than a little old lady indulgently looking on. Gotta love traveling in this age of distrust! 

So I have been back home for over a week. I have not chastised myself for getting little done. Instead, I have been enjoying the new-found artistry of my tangling. If you want to know what that is, scoot on over to my Zentangle-related blog site at TangleSXM.com here on WordPress. No sense in repeating myself here. 

If you want to know more about my journey out of depression, read this post. In it, I talk about the combination of meds and tangling that got my head straightened out a bit. 

Until next time!

The Idea of Permanence

2015-06-10 18.16.32At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.

It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?

Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?

Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?

I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.

Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.

#educ_dr

Addendum 
Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.

That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]

Just thought I would include this.  

Growing Older…and older…and

During the past month, I have not been on my computer much.  In fact, I haven’t even been home this whole time.  First, I was in New Jersey for my mother’s funeral.  Next, I traveled to Texas, where I visited with my daughter-in-law and son, got to see my three grandsons, and managed to get my driver’s license (I had allowed my old one to expire).  Finally, I am in Florida, primarily to have cataract surgery so I can drive at night.  A friend had offered her home for the procedure, as both her husband and she herself had the identical procedures at the recommended eye institute.

My friend and I are the same age, and her husband is about 4 or 5 years older.  They live in a beautiful ocean-side community in southern Florida.  A good deal of the population of this community is well into retirement age.  I have been getting a good look not only at myself and where I am in the aging process, but also at the different ways people age.  What I am seeing is that there is no such thing as “normal aging.”  Each person progresses toward the end of his/her life  in a manner unique to the individual.  For example, I have seen a man in his 90s who is doing remarkably well by my estimation, but who those who know him say has slipped a great deal physically and cognitively in recent months–so much so that his friends are concerned.

So far, during the week or so I have been here, I have met a lot of wonderful and vital individuals who are twenty years older than I am, yet seem to have fewer health issues and much more energy.  Others are younger than I, but look and act older (I think–I don’t really know if I look and/or act my age).  I have met 90-somethings who look no older than my conception of people in their 60s (that is, my age), and 60-somethings whose skin looks like crumpled and smoothed paper grocery sacks; octogenarians with straight backs and 60-somethings like me who resemble question marks; 70-somethings with acute hearing and those like me who ask a speaker to repeat him/herself three times before understanding (maybe) what was said; over-60s with general outward symptoms of diabetes and 80-somethings with no signs of ever having suffered from any disease.

My point?  There does not appear to be any way to predict how each of us will age.  It appears that genetics determines whether we can live longer; knowing our genetic affinities may help us to plan our lifestyles to extend both our years and the quality of the later years.

Relating to quality of life, I think I may be behind on modifying my lifestyle.  For reasons I will not share, I did not properly exercise after surgeries during the past 10 or 15 years.  Actually, make that 20.  Had I been physically able to pursue a more active recovery after each major surgery (especially the 3 back surgeries), I would have fewer difficulties with back and abdominal musculature.  I am certain of this.  However, I also believe it is not too late to make changes in my lifestyle, and I am beginning to take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen this old body while I still have the motivation.

Motivation to become more fit is just one of the reasons why I purchased a Fitbit Charge HR this past holiday season (just over two months ago).  I am monitoring primarily my steps, general activity level, overall heart rate, and–something more important to overall health than many of us believe–sleep, especially quality of sleep.

Being away from my physical therapist and having limited access to walking and stretching environments, I have been feeling the effects of a lower level of physical activity.  Being away from my own bed has affected both the quantity and quality of sleep.   Being away from my physical therapist leaves me too “scrunched” and susceptible to pain to follow through on some of the tougher abdominal and back strengthening exercises, too.  These, in turn, make it more strenuous  (as well as more painful)  to stand up as straight as I would like for longer periods and during evening hours.  It is a terrible downward cycle that I am in, and so I monitor steps, stairs, heart rate, and sleep much more earnestly than I would when back home.  I am, after all, away from all things familiar.

Thus, I am more anxious to get back home to the island, back to a place where I can feel more comfortable about getting in the exercise program I had nearly “perfected” when I had to pack up hurriedly to attend my mother’s funeral.  Soon I will be back to a place where I can perfect my lifestyle modification program.

Okay!  Time to get some extended walking time into my day!

—–

#educ_dr

Elder-Care

Elder-care is nothing like an eiderdown, or the care of an eiderdown.  One is about people; the other is about bed covers made of feathers.  No comparison.

How much do we know about elder care?  If you have an individual of advanced age living with you, how aware are you of certain common diseases of elder persons?  For example, do you know what the early signs are of diseases like congestive heart failure?  Do you know how to recognize the beginning signs of a stroke?   Are you watching your elderly home mate for signs of diseases of the elderly such as pneumonia?  Or of undernourishment? Or of sleep disorders that can lead to other problems?  Or do you assume that the elderly individual living in your home would tell you if he or she were ailing?

To be honest, although both my husband and I are over 65, we are still in reasonably good health.  However, we watch each other fairly closely for symptoms of health problems.  Right now, my only health concerns are cataracts which need to be removed, with the lenses replaced with appropriate lenses.  I also suffer from chronic back pain from spinal stenosis.  A few years ago, I was diagnosed with COPD, meaning that my breathing is not where it should be.  I have noticed muscle weakness in my hands, meaning I need to keep “special” appliances in the house to help me open jars, cans, and even bottle tops.  The latter is from surgery I had on my hand a few years ago that left my dominant hand weaker to perform the common tasks of twisting the caps off of bottles of water and mild, among other things.  And I can’t carry much one-handed any more.  Between arthritic spurs growing into and pressing on my spinal column, I tend to lose feeling in various pars of my body, causing little things like difficulty walking in a straight line, walking fully upright, carrying objects heavier than a few pounds, etc.  The degeneration of the disks in my spine help cause the spurs to temporarily slow down the response of my hands, arms, and legs.  But these are things I am aware of and am trying to do something about.

My husband suffers from problems of the urinary tract and–as one often hears on comedy shows–difficulty with urination.  I have noticed over the past few years that he is walking much slower than he used to.  He was never terribly coordinated, but now he has even more difficulty lifting or carrying items weighing over 20 pounds.  His energy level for physical activity has never been high, so it is difficult to tell just how much his overall movements have slowed.

These types of things are fairly normal among the elderly, and don’t necessarily suggest health problems.  Although I write about our own health concerns, I am also thinking about my mother’s recent death.  She had been living with my sister and brother-in-law for at least 15 years.  During the weeks–maybe months–before she died, she had started falling for no apparent reason.  She had worked in a hospital for 20 years, and was well aware of the symptoms of congestive heart failure.  I doubt that she ever told her daughter and son-in-law the symptoms, and maybe didn’t want to.  Before my father died of a heart-related condition about 20 years ago, I heard the difficulty in his breathing months before he died.  Because I lived 3000 miles away, I made it a point to take time off from work and fly out to see him, knowing it would probably be the last time I would see him alive, figuring the aneurism was letting him know to be prepared.  My mother knew why I flew out and was angry with me, in part because she was in denial about his condition, and in part because I supported his decision to decline a possible life-saving surgery–I didn’t encourage it, nor did I want him to die; I simply respected his decision and tried to get Mom to back off.  The problem with the potentially life-saving surgery was that (at that time) there was a huge risk that he would be left a paraplegic, a condition that he could not even begin to think about living with. He was a proud and active man. So when I heard in his breathing the signs of congestive heart failure, I needed to have closure with him.  I flew out to spend time with him–primarily him–to say goodbye in person before I could not say goodbye at all.

Although my mother did not appear to have problems with her breathing except for a cold that would not go away, and because she hid the falling from her family for quite some time, my sister did not get my mother in to see her doctor fast enough.  Instead of insisting on an immediate appointment after my mother fell and could not feel her legs to get up, they settled for an appointment the following week.  My mother was sent to the emergency room by her doctor immediately, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and a few non-specific infections, one of which was from a skin condition that would not heal under my mother’s own home remedies.  Thus, within two weeks of admission to the hospital, my mother died in hospice care in a comfortable and painless state.  Her body gave up, but more importantly, her spirit gave up. Perhaps that is why she never mentioned the frequency of her falls to the family.

My family is not at fault for not taking my mother to see a doctor earlier. They simply didn’t know any better.  My mother was a relatively private person who mostly stayed in her room and took care of her ailments with home remedies.  Also, because of extremely busy schedules, the family did not notice that she was failing as quickly as they would if they saw her more frequently as part of the regular family gathering.  But the family has scattered all over the country, and only my busy sister and brother-in-law remain.  On top of all this, my mother had kept forgetting to charge her phone, so I had been unable to reach her for well over a month.  Maybe if I had heard her–maybe–I would have known she was ailing.

This is not the time or place to talk about a weird psychic connection I had with my mother, especially since I don’t really believe in them.  But I had been frantic to get in touch with my mother during that entire time because I felt that she wasn’t doing well.  My husband had just had emergency surgery, and I also wanted her to know that he had been hospitalized and, later, that he was recovering well.  As is my sister’s habit, she sent all calls from me to voicemail and never responded in any case.  It turned out that my brother-in-law got a new phone, so the calls to him on his old number were not getting through, either.  I stopped writing emails and IMs to my sister for the same reason I stopped calling her some time ago.  So it was not until a few days before she had her doctor’s appointment that I finally spoke to her on the phone.  All she told me about was the falling; she never mentioned the other problems, although she was unusually quiet.  For the first time in years, I was doing all the talking and she just said a few words.  When I spoke to my husband about her falls later that night, he immediately suspected congestive heart failure (he teaches medical school students), and we were anxious to find out more about her condition as the days progressed.  Not until a day or two after my mother’s hospitalization did I find out how ill she had actually become.

The problem was the lack of knowledge; the family could not understand the importance of the symptoms my mother was displaying (or, perhaps, hiding).  If an elderly parent, relative, or friend is living with you, make certain that you read up to learn about signs indicating the individual is getting ill.  Knowing the signs could improve the quality of life for the individual, and might extend or even save the person’s life.

A good place to learn about symptoms of diseases of the elderly and the signs that accompany the problems is webMD.com .  There is an entire section devoted to the elderly, with many easy to understand articles on symptomology, general health, exercise and diet, and almost any other health topic you can think of related to the elderly and elder care.  Our population of senior citizens–especially those living on their own–is growing rapidly.  Even if you only visit an elderly relative or friend once or twice a month, know the signs of common diseases of the elderly, including things like what malnutrition or dehydration looks like.  And of course things like pneumonia could look or sound quite different in an elderly person than in a younger one.  Learn what you can so you can be more of a help to an elderly relative living with you or alone.  The information you learn could save a life.

Maybe there actually is a relationship between the frailty of an elderly person (even if it is not apparent) and the delicate feathers of an eiderdown… .

Submitting from the great state of Texas,

#educ_dr

Death Watch

As my mother lies dying in a hospice bed, my sister sits vigil alone.  And yet not alone…

 

Death Watch

 

My mind wanders to a room in which you sit

Among the gloom of death watch.

There are no windows and no walls as the fog

From ceiling falls in death watch.

On your lap an open book that whispers

That you take a look away from death watch.

My mind’s eye searches for the spirit wandering

So very near it that you can touch it with your eyes

As mother, dying, nearby lies.

To be there with you as you wait for waking or

Another fate; a death watch.

To hold your hand in a shared loss

As only we know the true cost

Of the living being lost in time upon white

Pillows, half aware of death watch.

A week ago so vibrant; shining.

Then two thousand miles away

The text arrives with chiming: Call me.

The message simple, urgent, brief

Portends no element of grief.

She fell. She has pneumonia, infections.

But all is well. And then

Her circulation…fighting oxygen, IVs that feed her

Nutrients she lacks…and yet refuses as she tugs

On lifelines as at filthy sacks that bore into her

Tender flesh.  And yet she fights.

But not for life, as once she fended off

Rents upon her soul. Death watch.

My sister dearest, I wish in earnest

To sit with you and comfort you as by our mother’s bed

You turn old memories in your head of happy times,

Though few they were, yet sweeter for their rarity

And thus a wondrous clarity.

Surrounded as you are by loved ones who so loved her too, none can share

The grief as well as sisters who have much to tell of love and laughter,

Singing, joy; her proud gift of a favored toy; the special treat

To lift the gloom of illness or a broken heart on either part.

Now alone you sit, though love shines brightly through the fog of death watch.

My fate, my life, took me out to sea to an island on which I don’t want to be;

My heart, my soul sits at your side, as the hours, as seconds,

Trickle down the glass walls of death watch.

God is not alone with you; my soul, too, floats nearby

As Mother in her deathbed lies and you sit vigil,

But not alone, in death watch.

So Much Life Happening Right Now

Yes, life is happening all around me right now.  Some are good, some not so good.  Some…well, who knows.

Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.

Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital.  We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him.  You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them.  But you have to know my mother.  She’s a real handful at the best of times.  At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary.  And she doesn’t like being “in the way.”  She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home.  I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is.  So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.  Easton Hospital

Until about a week ago, that is.

That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs.  She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home.  When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up.  She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household.  As I said, she’s a handful.

Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated.  She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask.  As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.

And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house.  This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work.  If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70.  Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.

So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer.  And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.

I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time.  But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night.  And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.

And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years?  Probably not, but who knows?

So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again?  Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…

No good dwelling on that too long.  What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires.  As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…

 

#educ_dr

Addition to “OK I’m Old”

In my last post, “OK. I’m Old,” I confessed to being off my computer for several months. I especially was upset with whatever is going on between Microsoft and Adobe in relation to Adobe Acrobat Reader. Mostly, I was miffed because I hadn’t seen any alerts that Adobe was both no longer a part of the Windows 10 basic operating system, and that Adobe didn’t seem to have provided any indication that a different version of Reader was needed for Windows 10. I assumed that there was yet one more conflict between Adobe and Microsoft, whether I addressed that directly or not.

Well, today I was cleaning up a lot of outdated unread mail from this period.  In my gmail account, I found all these messages from Adobe about this “new” product for Windows 8 touch devices.  I never opened any of them (remember: I wasn’t using the computer for much at all), and so never realized that there were upgrades that didn’t automatically occur through my Google Chrome browser.  I guess I was wrong.

Mind you, it looks to me as though someone at the Microsoft Store went into the app  description to state that it also works for all versions of Windows 10, touchscreen device or not.  So… I’m just letting you know that I should have checked all my old emails before complaining about all these new programmatic changes that are needed to keep our old favorites in newer and “better” operating systems, whether Windows based, iOS, or Android driven.

Mea culpa.

#educ_dr

OK. I’m old…

So I went to print a PDF document from my just-fixed Windows 10 laptop, and discovered that I no longer had a functioning version of Adobe Acrobat.  As far as I can tell, although I have read a bunch of PDF files, this is the first time I wanted to print.  I could read all the PDFs I wanted, as long as I didn’t want to save them or print them.  So I clicked on the Microsoft store, and up comes a new Acrobat for Windows 8.  Hmmm… was I using this version all along on my older Windows 8 laptop, and just now realized it didn’t come with my newest laptop?  Now I know for sure that I’m getting too old.  That is, the Windows software has finally moved beyond my ability to instantly (sort of) comprehend.

Here is the truth of the matter.  I have spent the past six months or so using my phones and iPads to communicate with the world–except for email, which I still find easier to navigate on an actual computer.  And I just discovered yesterday that one of my email accounts seems to want nothing to do with the operating systems on either my laptops OR my mobile devices.  I am trying to figure out if all these changes happened during the last six months, even though I was constantly allowing automatic upgrades; or if the New Year brought instantaneous changes to every app I have.  It is bad enough that all the technology has changed to small, easily portable devices; I just didn’t expect so many changes in the programs (apps–short for applications, which used to be the same as programs–to any of you who are youngsters.

Right now, everything is working pretty well.  I haven’t hooked this computer up to either Norton or Dropbox, as I still am not sure which of the two brought down my Windows 10 operating system.  The young tech who fixed my computer thinks it was Norton, but I’m more inclined to go with the user complaints about Dropbox.  Therefore, neither are touching this laptop until someone has a more definitive answer about what is going on with Windows 10.  And that’s a whole other kettle of fish to complain about…

 

#educ_dr

 

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