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

Posts tagged ‘Aging’

Feeling Ancient

The years are slipping by, and I have accomplished nothing in my life. Not one single thing I can look back to and feel proud of–as though I have left not the slightest mark on the desert sands of time. 

Of course, that is not entirely true. I have two children and eight grandchildren, and two wonderful “in-law” children of whom I am very proud. There is an estranged sister and her family, including two wonderful nieces and three nephews. And I love my sister-in-law and her daughter and husband. But, aside from my own children and their progeny (part of my peso al genetic pool) there is nothing personal–no personal accomplishment or contribution–I will leave to the world. 

My husband, a work-preoccupied professor, does not understand how I feel. He does not understand how and why I have plunged into an agoraphobic state. He does not understand how our move to this island paradise to which we moved over three years ago when he took this job has left me feeling alone and isolated, feeling homeless and homelandless, and insecure and scared–very, very scared. I am too old to get a job on this island, so I did not even bother to apply for a work permit on this island. When we moved here, I was just beginning to build up students in an online program; I had to give that up because the university does not allow even online tutoring of their American students from a foreign country. So I arrived on this island feeling resentful and irritable, and promptly made a mess of any further possibility of making a mark even on this small island. 

Although I did some volunteer work, I was beginning to feel the stress of the cross-island traffic problems. Thus, I failed in my obligation to both the program I volunteered for and the kids I was working or help. What I did was hide. I burrowed into my home–especially the “new” one we were buying–and have not come up (or out) for air. 

To be fair to myself, many things happened at once between mid-December of 2015 and early May (2016). In December, my husband underwent unanticipated surgery for the removal of a kidney. Shortly after our return from the Mayo Clinic, I late January–I received word that my mother was hospitalized directly from her physician’s office, then that she was going to hospice care. In my mind, “hospice” was synonymous with rehabilitation, and my broth-in-law’s words of “resting comfortably” meant recovery. I was shocked when I received a call in early February that my mother had died. I was angry with my mother for allowing herself to get so I’ll so quickly. I was angry that she had left my parentless. Even though I am in my mid-sixties, I still relied on her to offer advice or words of reassurance. I changed my flight reservations from Miami for scheduled cataract surgery to New Jersey, and arrived in my East Brunswick hotel alone and weary. The flights to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, had maxed out our credit cards, and I was hard-pressed to come up with money for one ticket to Newark International, much less two. Thus, I arrived alone, letting my husband continue his recuperation from surgery and getting back to work in Sint Maarten. Alone. Truly, now, alone. 

My drivers license had expired, so that I was left isolated at the hotel during the funeral proceedings, even though my son and daughter-in-law flew out from Texas to New Jersey for the funeral and provided transportation as needed. Josh and Raven were staying in Pennsylvania with my former husband, and were going out of their way to support me during this time of stress. Although I already held both in high esteem, their acts of kindness raised them to saint-like status. I next spent 2 weeks at their Texas home, setting up my retirement and going through all the necessities of obtaining a new drivers license, including a road test which made me feel like the 17-year-old I had been the last time I was tested while behind the wheel. I felt very sheltered in my son and daughter-in-law’s home, very much at peace with all except my mother’s death. 

Next, I flew to Miami and and took a train to Delray Beach where I stayed with an old friend and her husband while undergoing cataract surgery and it’s after-care. Spending almost three weeks in my friend’s very gracious company, I arrived home at the very end of March to chaos in regards to the purchase of the condo from which I write this passage. My husband was suddenly too busy at work to help with the financial end of things. I found it necessary to fly back to Miami for a day trip to transfer funds. I was feeling tired and put-upon, as I had still not recovered from Mom’s death ( although I don’t think I knew that at the time). 

Slowly, I began to realize the finality of my mother’s passing, and the sense of isolation bore down on me harder than ever–my son’s family in Texas, my daughter still under the misimpression that I do not care for her mate and his family, my husband once again deeply entrenched in his work. I withdrew further into myself and my new home (photos above are views from the patio). And that I am growing older–ancient, in fact–and more frightened of the future to which we have mortgaged our retirement. Literally. 

This passage marks my decline into agoraphobia. I still go out to pay bills, sometimes to pick up items from the grocery that my husband cannot get from the little store he passes on his walk from work. Occasionally I make phone calls–locally because we still do not have adequate Internet access to use the Vonage phone with our US number. Mostly, I am finding consolation and solace in writing one blog or another, but that has been recently, as I have burrowed into learning more about oil painting and Zentangle. That I am blogging again and sharing my “art” may be an indication that I am slowly emerging from my inner-facing world. That I am sharing my attempts at artistic endeavors, written and graphic, may indicate more that I am trying to leave a mark on the world than that I am emerging into that sunlight almost ever-present here on the island. 

It is my hope that this post also marks the beginning of the end of the decline into the lonely world of agoraphobia. It seems so important that I emerge back into the world, although I am not certain why. 

Only more time will tell.

#educ_dr

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

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

 

Feeling Good!

It is amazing how much power a little pill can have. Pritiq

About five weeks ago, I recognized that I was depressed. The next day, I went to see my doctor to discuss antidepressants. He prescribed Pristiq. For almost twenty-two years (since 1990), I was on one antidepressant after another, many of which just made me more depressed. A bit more than three years ago, my doctor took me off antidepressants and put me on Adderall for hyperactivity, since I hadn’t been able to keep my mind on one thing since I was a kid. And back then, hyperactivity wasn’t even a diagnosed problem–it may not even have been recognized as a medical issue.

In my early twenties, a doctor put me on Valium because he thought I was, in his words, “burning the candle at both ends.” The medication calmed me down enough so that I could increase my focus and do even more. What can I say? I tend to have paradoxical reactions to a lot of medications.

Anyway, the Adderall really helped with my concentration and focus more than the antidepressants ever had. But when I came here to St Maarten, the doctor sent me to a psychiatrist, since only they can diagnose and prescribe medications for hyperactivity here. And she does not believe I’m hyperactive. But then, she didn’t seem to notice how deep into depression I had sunk, either, so…

Whether or not I had ever used Pristiq in the past, I can’t remember–I had been on so many different antidepressants during those 22 years that I’ve lost track of which I had used, which helped a bit for a little while before depressing me again, which took me further into the abyss from the start. However, my response to this drug, this time was nothing short of amazing. Within two and a half weeks of starting it, I realized that I am happy and feeling like “the real me” for the first time in forever. So how have I marked this amazing transformation? I’ve thrown myself into all sorts of tasks, of course, with glee and the feeling that I might actually complete some of them.

For the past few weeks, I have been concentrating (well, on and off) on building a web store–not an easy task when one is not as computer savvy as one believes she ought to be, and is clueless about how to set up an e-commerce site even with tremendous tutorials. But I’m learning a lot as I’m building it, and will hopefully soon have it open for business. This was so much easier to do 20 years ago when I designed and set up my first web site for a friend of mine. Computing was so much more straightforward back then. Now I have to learn brand new stuff, as though I had never worked with computing before. (sigh)

In the meantime, I am still trying to focus some time each day on my art–drawing and oil painting–but having difficulty with that because the web store is constantly in my mind and nagging me to finish it. It may take some time for me to get back into the swing of daily art sessions, especially since my instructor is vacationing in France through the month of October, and there are no weekly “homework assignments” for me to meet. So you might say that I am trying to throw some “artistic endeavor” into the web site. I’ll write more about my store when I finally get it set up. Interestingly, since the theme comes with a blog attached to it, I also wonder if I’ll have enough hours in the day to keep up with all my blogging–that one and my two main blogs here at WordPress which I’ve been neglecting. It’s been weeks since I posted anything serious on my Write of Passage blog, and I’m way too far behind in the current plans I have for it. But I’ll be getting back to it soon enough, and hopefully feeling more of a sense of accomplishment as I actually complete one task at a time.

[Hmm. Maybe that’s the key–completing one thing at a time. I’ve never been able to do that in the past, but I can try again.]

Life is good. All thanks to that little pill.

Well, back to work on my shopping site!

…Or maybe I’ll take the time to do a painting lesson from a book I have first…

#educ_dr

Taking the Plunge to Windows 10

I’ve taken the plunge.

Yep. I upgraded to Windows 10. I don’t know yet whether I like it or not. Although I can’t get rid of the new browser (Edge) that comes with the package, I was able to download Chrome and set it up as my default internet program without the hassle that has been predicted by the PC literati. It took less than 5 minutes to do, and it was relatively straightforward. I just clicked on the “old” Chrome icon on my task bar, and was immediately directed to a screen that asked me if I wanted to download Chrome. I wasn’t sure what to do about that—I mean, there was Chrome sitting on my screen—but I went for the download and discovered that there is a newer version specifically upgraded to interact with Windows 10. The best part is that it came with a simple demo of setting up Chrome as the default browser. Piece of cake once the new version of Chrome was installed. And all my previous settings came right along with me! Hooray!! I may have problems with Google on other issues, but Chrome is definitely not one of them. See? It still looks exactly like it did before the upgrade (except when I first start it up, that is…).

Chrome Screenprint

Chrome Screenprint

So easy! Except that it took forever to download Windows 10, it is definitely an improvement over Windows 8. Time to play around with it–even with Edge to see if it’s an improvement over IE…

That’s all I have to say today.

This lil’ ole lady is feeling more tech-savvy today than she has in a long time!!

#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

The Dud

Dud_Cat

The Dud

For almost 2 months, I’ve been taking drawing lessons up in Grand Case on the French side of the island of St. Martin. Often, if I feel I have a reasonably successful drawing, or I’ve done something pretty neat (for me, not necessarily for the rest of the world), I post my accomplishment to Facebook as a sort of living portfolio. Last night, because I had gotten up very late in the morning and ended up staying up very late again, I decided I would try out some painting supplies that I thought were really neat. It was a set of three pre-“inked” watercolor brushes that contains the typical three sketching colors: black, gray, and sepia. I had used the company’s water-filled “travel” paint brushes a few times, and found that I really preferred them over regular watercolor brushes, which can be a bit clunky to take along in my purse. I’ve been using the water-filled brushes (when I remember I have them and have something interesting to pretend to paint) with a pocket-sized watercolor set of pan-style colors that came complete with its own attach-to-the-side paint mixing tray–and one of the brushes. That kit and a pad of watercolor postcards is what I take to the beach. When I saw the ink sketching kit, I thought it would be interesting to try. The set of brushes was inexpensive enough, so I added them to a recent Amazon order, and they arrived last week.

Well, you know how it is when you first get something new–you want to try it out (or on) as soon as possible.  I was so busy during the week that I didn’t get a chance to even think about it until last night, while watching the same episode of Penny Dreadful for the third time or so.  Being me, I knew I would ruin any attempt to use the inked brushes last night; on the other hand, there was no harm in sketching–in pencil–the basic subject I would work on in the morning.  Well, the inked brushes clearly take a lot more time to get to know than the pre-filled water brushes.  I didn’t wonder about tonal effects and how to get them, or whether I could handle the brushes without practice since I’ve been playing with the water brushes for a while.

And so, I produced a total dud!  Yes, I am an inexperienced artist.  Yes, I have progressed from poor stick figure drawing to some decent sketches of stationary objects or photograph subjects.  But that was with using graphite pencils and sticks, not watercolors–about which I know less than nothing.  I wish I had taken a photo of the results using only the inked brushes–but I didn’t think about that.  All I could think about was “saving” my dud–making it a little more presentable.

In the process of making it a bit less dud-ish, I used watercolor pencils (which I’ve been practicing with for a while) and even my little  kit of watercolor pans.  I started to “save” the work first with the watercolors, then remembered reading about how the watercolor pencils can really help define a piece.  To my amazement, it was the pencils that saved the work from becoming a complete disaster that I didn’t want to tear up and start working on all over again.  The result is the photo above–still no great work of art, but a definite improvement from where it started.

Then I posted it to my Facebook account with an explanation of it being a dud and that I just wanted to post something I wasn’t so proud of for a change.  When I look back at some of my earlier “proud of” shares, I can see how much I’ve progressed. So I also know how bad this dud is in comparison to most of my shares.  What surprised me was that I got 3 “likes” from the same people who always support my efforts and generally comment on my progress or something.  This time, although I had asked for feedback on how to improve it, all I got from my fan base was the likes.

That made me wonder–are they liking the photo just to indicate that they saw it? are they liking it because they are trying to be supportive?  are they liking it because of my self-criticism and agreeing with it?  I will probably never know, but it makes me wonder if my friends think I’m fragile and can’t handle the truth, or if all they see is another attempt at something new and just want to show support, either without reading the comment, or just without giving their opinion?

Next I started to wonder about what I do.  Like these three friends, I would undoubtedly “like” whatever they posted to indicate support.  But I don’t know whether I, too, would not leave a comment.  After thinking some more, I decided that I would leave something along the lines of “nice try with a new medium” or “nice first attempt,” or something equally as inane.  Since these are friends I actually know and went to high school with years ago, and since they’ve seen the same cat in many positions as a drawn critter, maybe they just felt no comment was necessary and that just liking the photo indicated that they know I’m there and that I’m trying.

One of my friends has become a real outdoor photography fan–something I wanted to do since I was little, but couldn’t afford the supplies that went with my little Brownie camera from Kodak.  That was back in the days when black and white film was inexpensive, but photo development and flash bulbs that burned your fingers if you tried to take a couple of shots relatively close together cost more than my family could afford.  My father subtly suggested I turn to another hobby, as my mother was complaining about the cost–particularly of film development.  Now, of course, the cost is in the DSLR equipment itself if you really want to learn about photography in all its aspects.  But my friend was using his iPhone camera and went from typical snapshots to some really masterful pieces shot in and around Philadelphia and any trips he took with his son.  Over the past two years, he has become quite good, even if most of the photos are either of his son or of woods or old historic buildings.  We all “liked” his work, and some of us took time to comment on how much his son is growing or sharing reminiscences of past outings where we saw the same subjects.  And, as I said, his photos really improved.  The process was gradual, but he is learning to do magnificent things with his iPhone camera.

One of the problems with us Boomers is that we didn’t get the same kinds of opportunities many Gen-X-ers had in schools. In hour town, the schools were so overcrowded that the junior high was on “split sessions” (7th and 8th graders from 7:00AM to noon; 9th graders from noon to 5:00PM), and the high school was on some incredible schedule that you needed a slide rule to figure out when to be in school on what day.  By the time my class reached high school, we entered into a brand new building that was big enough to accommodate us all at the same time. But in 7th and 8th grade, although we were lucky enough to have art classes at all, we were limited to 35-minute classes for one-quarter of the school year.  And there is not much that can be accomplished in an art class in 35 minutes, especially when your teacher goes on to become one of the great sculptors in the art world for quite some time.  So we didn’t even get the basics, and students whose parents could afford it sent their kids for private art lessons or private group classes.  The rest of us were pretty clueless, except that our parents seemed to all agree that music needed to be part of our education, whether lessons given in school or those given privately.  For college prep students, art wasn’t even an option as an elective in high school, although I can’t for the life of me remember why not.  The school offered art classes, but seemed to reserve those for non-college-bound students.  Instead, our electives tended to be things that would either help us succeed in college or that were musically or theatrically oriented–band, orchestra, drama. Some electives were preselected for certain students–the school newspaper, the yearbook committee. But I really don’t recall the physical arts as being part of our offerings.

And so I missed my chances at becoming a better drawer or photographer, as did many other Boomers who attended city schools.  That is one of the main reasons so many of us, as we approach retirement or are in retirement (or are pretty much unemployed, like myself, with retirement looming before the year is out).

Personally, I think it is remarkable that people who have not seen each other in many years–especially those of us who live so far away from our home towns and no longer have family to stay with–are able to keep in touch and support each other’s efforts through social media and share the progress we are making on things we only dreamed of taking up in our youth.  When we graduated from high school, computers were used only by the biggest businesses and institutions.  Our high school had a computerized grading system, but I am certain that the computer was not “on site” and that information was sent out (probably to the school district offices or the state department of education) and reports were sent back. During my own teaching days, personal computers–nothing like what we have in our homes now–came out after I had already been teaching for more than 10 years.  I took a teacher training class on a computer that was so slow that today’s kids would use it only as a door stop–except that it was too big and ugly and heavy to be aesthetic enough to please even the least aware young person.  But I fell in love with the things, dropped out of teaching, and went into computers for a ten years, working on mainframes for large companies in the greater New York metropolitan area. By the time I was ready to learn to program personal-sized computers, I had remarried and moved across the country, where the whole world of computing was so different that I went back to teaching.

I’ve remained in education in one capacity or another ever since, but have only recently started taking up art forms.  Even my drawing lessons were predicated on a theory about educating both sides of the brain, either for people recovering from stroke or the loss of a dominant writing hand, or for students with special needs who might benefit from learning to become ambidextrous.

But back to my original problem: Are my friends being supportive, or are they afraid to give their actual thoughts?  I’ll never know, and wonder how much I care.  Feedback of any kind is supportive, even if positive critique is even more important.  I’m finding that as I develop my creative writing skills.  Whether taking a course online or in a classroom, writing students are as reluctant to share positive or constructive criticism, too.  It’s not like being with your best friend who tells you exactly what they feel and have no guilt about telling you the absolute truth.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started a small writers-in-training group, with the help of WordPress, for those of us who were feeling we were not getting the level of feedback we wanted from other participants.  On the other hand, there were about 130 students enrolled in an intense one-month class of writing, and no one could get to reading more than five people’s submissions per day, with or without honest and constructive and positive feedback.  Even in the small group, only two of the five or six participants are actually giving “real” feedback.

Should I expect more from my friends on Facebook than I get in the writing group?  No. I should not.  My friends want to be supportive, not critical, and–although I am much more likely to be the one to give a different opinion–I have tried to respond with either a “like” or a positive or otherwise very supportive comment.  We are all flawed beings, no matter how wonderful we believe ourselves to be, and we each are involved in those things that are meaningful to us, whether we are doing a “great job” or a mediocre one.  Each of us is living one day at a time, especially at our time of life.  Why spoil things by being critical?

#educ_dr