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

Posts tagged ‘Aging’

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

Ideas for Empowerment of the Aging

This post started as an explanation/apology for yesterday’s post.  But it ended up being a kind of call to arms for those of us facing retirement or already in it.  It calls for a new way of dealing with aging, individually and with a little help from our friends.  Collectively, we know a lot and have a lot of practical and professional information to share.  You can skip the next three paragraphs, but don’t skip the rest.  Be a part of our own solution.  Read on.

In my first post on this site, I warned that I would be writing about life as an aging person. In January, I will be officially retiring, although the truth is that I have been “retired” for years–after the university campus where I worked was closed due to high costs (not the faculty, but other reasons–none of which made sense). After three additional surgeries–back, kidney, thumb tendon–I became unemployable because of physical limitations, none of which qualified me for disability, but nevertheless limited my physical capabilities on the job.

Yesterday’s post, “Happy Mothers Day!“, ended up being a stream of consciousness piece that didn’t meet the standards of a happy Mothers Day post. I’ve learned recently that stories/posts tend to take over you and write themselves.  That’s what happened yesterday.  After reading it in its published form, I was appalled by grammar and spelling errors, part of which are due to a crappy computer, but most because I simply didn’t edit before posting.  I considered editing and reposting, but I really don’t want to return to it–at least not right away.  It is more than I can emotionally face today, and probably for a number of days hereafter.  Bottom line: I’m probably going to let it stand, warts and all.

What was interesting to me was that 6 people visited this post yesterday, but left neither comments nor “likes.” It’s hard to like a sad post, and I was grateful that a few friends either commented directly on FB where it posts automatically, or in private messages.

Part of aging is coming to terms with out past.  For those who believe in reincarnation or channeling, I have no idea how you cope with past lives that are completed as well as past events along the timeline of your current life.  I have enough trouble dealing with all the mistakes I made earlier, the corrections I’ve made–or tried to–and all the daily unexpected problems that come up on day-to-day basis.  But whether you choose to follow this blog, disconnect from it, add it to your list of blogs to watch, or whatever, there will be times that happy things are posted–things shared by others, things that have added a positive touch to my own day, articles that I come across that may have meaning to post-Boomers or those trying to understand older people.  Most of the time you will find a well-edited blog–one with all the errors fixed before publication–or a post that was edited after the fact because I simply missed something as I typed or read through the preview (where I catch more errors than through the normal writing window).  Other times, I will write a streamof-consciousness post and simply leave it unedited, as I am doing with yesterday’s post.

But know this about people over sixty: We are a force to be reckoned with. (Please don’t critique on ending a sentence with a preposition–the sentence as written says it better than if I re-write in good standard English.)  We have lived through much, starting with families that may not have been perfect because of a parent who served in World War II or the Korean War or the Viet Nam War. We saw the hey-day of television as it evolved from all-live shows in black-and-white, Million Dollar Movie which played the same ancient movie for a week at a time, The Twilight Zone, and many other shows limited to maybe 6 or 7 (if we were lucky) stations; to color TV and then hi-def renderings that touch on problems that exist in society that we never learned about as youth.  We were glued to TVs–or perhaps even present–for the peace marches for Negro (now African-American or Black) rights, the continuing movement toward equality for women, Woodstock, the first Mets World Series win, the changes that shook college campuses and changed many from single-sex places of learning to co-educational institutions.  We were there for JFK’s assassination and funeral which took over television and radio to the exclusion of everything else for days.  We witnessed the first US flights to the moon and the progress of technology from better vacuum cleaners and toasters to the microwave and the all-powerful personal computer and smart phones.  We lived through changes unanticipated in previous generations in the US and around the world.  We learned a lot. We understand a lot.  We can, therefore, understand the problems that military personnel are coming home with from recent conflicts with enemies that play by different–and often unknown–rules.  We understand the problems of our young military personnel because we have been there before, long before services were available for our returning soldiers–whether as fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters, mothers, nieces and nephews, and close friends.  We fought hard to ensure appropriate medical and psychological services for all soldiers who needed them regardless of war or mere conflict.  We are here to help assure services for today’s returnees even as the Congress cuts funds and spending for their care and rebuilding–psychologically or physiologically.

Many of us lost money during the financial crashes that left us with little to look forward to in our IRAs, 401Ks and other retirement benefits, and we rally to ensure that the poor are taken care of and that so will we as we become financially dependent on a government that cares little for us.  Because of ever-improving medical technology and techniques, we are looking forward to longer and longer lives, and are rapidly becoming a majority–ethnicity or country of birth notwithstanding.

Do not ignore us.  Do not think that when I post personal problems on this blog that I speak only for myself.  I do, but I represent many people over 60 who are experiencing similar difficulties and experiences.  Right now, I am lucky to have free time to become involved in new hobbies to both improve my current functionality, to strengthen my brain so that any future stroke does not obliterate everything I know or can do now.  I am training both sides of my brain to survive–not through games software that promises to improve our memories, but through challenges of learning to do physical tasks with my other hand, foot, leg, arm, etc.  If I have a stroke, I want the other half of my brain and body to be able to take over–much faster than current techniques allow–to help me rebuild the damage in the other side of my brain and on the other side of my body.

To all you readers of my age who are trying to do the same, let me help you. Let us become stronger and more independent together.  Let us help each other find the best help for the problems that each of us face individually.  We will be around for an average of two decades longer than our parents, and we need to remain as free as we possibly can.  I don’t care if you are a Christian who believes everything is in God’s hands, an atheist who believes that all the power lies in what you do for yourself, or all the shades of gray in between.  Let us get together and help each other beyond what AARP can publish as suggestions and “facts.”  We can use such organizations as sources of information and direction, but we need to help ourselves and each other more than what millionaire actors or business executives can do for themselves.  For many of us, we and our faith are all we have.

Leave me suggestions for what you would like to hear about.  Take part in comments and discussions.  I can always make this blog independent of my other blogging sites on WordPress–either through WP or by other means that allows us to share ideas from ancient medical practices such as Ayurveda and Chinese or Tibetan medical knowledge.  For example, I can tell you about some excellent anti-aging and all-natural products that are working for me, as well as things like Golden Milk made with a home-made turmeric paste that cleanses the system naturally and improves bodily functions as well as thinking processes by slowly and carefully getting rid of the plaque in our bloodstreams.  If we get together, we can share diets that are outstanding for helping people with Type II Diabetes or with loss of body strength or loss of thinking abilities and memory.  We can prepare for the possibility of stroke and its aftereffects.  We can become stronger, and–because we are rapidly becoming a majority in the voting pool–we can change what government does for us.  There is a big difference between socialism and social programs:  The former is a restrictive political phenomenon while the latter is an outcome of the Golden Rule of helping our neighbor and treating our neighbor as we would want ourselves treated in return.

Leave a comment. Let’s see where an idea you suggest can take us in a subsequent blog or in a continued discussion format.  Work with me to make life better for all of us.

#educ_dr

Sudoku and Me

Sudoku Photo

Lots of people my age look forward to the Sudoku in their daily newspaper. Some older people swear that it is a memory aid, for sharpening or maintaining memory that may be faltering. For some people it works. For others, well…let’s just say it’s hard to complete a puzzle when you can’t find the pencil that was just next to the paper a moment ago. These are not the reasons I play Sudoku every day–or at least every day I get a newspaper (no Sunday papers here on The Island). I play Sudoku to test my logic–and what effect my medications are having on me. But mostly it’s the logic aspect.

Some puzzles–ones that give no logical clues to a mass of “pencil marks” so that only trial and error with educated guesses can help solve the puzzle, or let me know that a different educated guess should be attempted–are ones I solve only when I have hours with nothing to do, a luxury I rarely have. For some of the solutions, a pattern emerges if I leave the puzzle alone for a day or two. Others are so convoluted that a “guess” has to be made 5 or more times, meaning that all the erasures have worn holes in the newspaper and the original puzzle needs to be transcribed into my Sudoku Excel template so I can erase to my heart’s content  on “real paper.” However, most puzzles with high difficulty ratings are quite orderly and can be worked with only a little bit of educated guessing.

In the newspaper, the Sudokus progress in difficulty from “Easy” on Monday to “Difficult/Hard” on Fridays. Saturday puzzles are always rated “Difficult,” but, as I stated above, often involve more guessing than logic. So, for me, it’s the Monday through Friday puzzles that are both enjoyable and tests of my current logic abilities.

Why test my logic? Because I take a pharmacopia of daily medications. There are pain relievers, cholesterol controllers, blood pressure equalizers, muscle relaxants, and–for when life is driving me crazy or I simply can’t get to sleep–tranquilizers or other prescription sleep aids. And then there”s the medication to protect my stomach lining. I used to take OTC or prescription-strength versions of pain relievers, but a “surprise case” of bleeding ulcers put a stop to that. So now my mobility is severely limited by the amount of pain I feel, and that means that by 3:00 PM, my spine decides it’s time for more curvature, which increases as the clock progresses and prevents me from standing for more than two or three minutes. It’s no fun looking like a question mark without a period underneath. But pain has nothing to do with logic unless it’s overwhelming. However, some of the other medications do affect my thinking processes, even after the “getting used to” period has long passed. And these are the ones whose effects on me I monitor like crazy.

All medications that effect the nervous system–including many medications to reduce pain–affect how the brain functions. If, a week or two after starting a new or replacement medication, I find that my memory is worse than usual, I visit my doctor and insist on something different. Take Lyrica, for example.You see the advertisements for it all the time on TV for use in preventing or easing the pain of diabetic neuropathy. It had been prescribed in the past (long before it became the pain reliever for people with diabetes) as an outright pain control medication for anyone, and continues to be recommended by pain management specialists, especially to help patients get past pain to sleep at night. The commercials give a long list of possible side effects–except for what I consider the most important one: they affect memory, and worse, the effect may be permanent. When I was taking it, I realize that it wasn’t just that I was forgetting while under its influence; it was that the lost memories were not recoverable, unlike with most other memory-effecting pain relievers. Think of this as getting so completely drunk at a party that you can’t remember what you did that was so entertaining to others at the party. After a while, your memory of some of your insane activities comes back, and you become so embarrassed that you can’t look other party participants in the eyes for quite a while. While taking Lyrica, my memory of events never comes back. It’s like those memories have been sucked into a black hole. My husband and friends would report that I am acting perfectly normally–going about daily routines, driving, etc; things that are in “muscle memory”–but I have no memory of having lived those days. Ever. And I suspect that there may be a permanent effect on certain memory functions for which, if the patient is not aware of this little publicized side-effect, a decent work-around cannot be developed. A patient needs to be aware of memory loss before reporting it, after all.

The brain is a marvelous organ. There is no such thing as a single “pathway” to things that have been learned, behaviors one has acquired, etc. The brain basically distributes information in such a way that, even if it takes a little longer to recall a memory, that memory can still be accessed. But some drugs seem to build a titanium wall around memories accumulated under their influence, and no amount of soul or mind searching ever breaks through that barrier.

If one goes to web sites such as WebMD or even CDC, many “nerve” medications list memory loss as a possible side-effect. What they can’t tell you is if you will be one of the persons affected with memory loss, especially permanent loss. Each individual has slight variations in reactions to any medication; some individuals have significant problems. The information these sites give you is the “normal” reaction, and “normal” has enough variations to stud the night sky with galaxies of stars. “Normal” refers to how the middle 67% of the population of patients (or individuals who participated in the clinical trials, anyway) reacts or reacted. Unfortunately, physicians often do not report variations that are not listed, so unusual variations that did not turn up in clinical trials may never be listed–unless some medical researcher specifically looks for a specific side-effect after the drug has been FDA approved and is on the market.

For example, it took the medical profession years to discover that, although benzodiazepines had become a drug of abuse, one-third of the people who take them never develop a dependency on them. And then there are the dosage variations: patient size is also not necessarily an indicator of the proper dose for the prescribed purpose. Dependency means the patient cannot function without them, and often means an increased dosage is eventually needed to obtain the original effect. Patients with dependency do not forget to take their prescribed meds–ever. I am a good example of a person who does not become dependent on benzos. Also, I start forgetting to take the benzo within 10 days, and remember that they were prescribed only when I become overwhelmed or anxious. By then, I can’t find them, as I have a somewhat unique filing system for my medications. Even when I organize my daily meds into those little pill organizers they sell at the drug store, and then run out and can’t get to the doctor for a refill prescription, it might take me ages to remember I am supposed to have them on hand. A person with a benzo dependency would never forget to get that refill prescription written.

But what I learned from all the various meds–including every blasted anti-depressant on the market–is that they affect the nervous system, especially the brain, and (in my case) logical thinking. So I monitor my logic daily with Sudoku. If I can’t solve a Monday through Friday puzzle, I start experimenting with which drug (or combination) is responsible, and then go to my physician with my findings. Because doctors are naturally skeptical of patients’ self-accounts, I first discuss my “findings” with my husband (sometimes,when a physician doesn’t believe me, I ask him to come with me). My husband is a neuropharmacologist—that is, a scientist who studies the effects of drugs on the nervous system, especially the brain. He has also spent his entire career teaching medical students, and actually keeps up with what’s new in the field. He loves being married to me because I seem to have paradoxical effects to most of my prescribed medications. Thus, give me a low dose of benzos and my energy level skyrockets; give me much larger doses and I just might exhibit the intended effects. I’ve been used as an example of paradoxical effects in too many of his lectures to count–at least I’m useful to him, and he starts researching studies in which others react as I do.

But back to the logic testing: Sudoku is my method of self-monitoring, and it lets me know when I need to re-evaluate what’s going on with me. If I have trouble with the puzzles early in the week, I know I’m in trouble. It may not be from drugs; it may be that I’m becoming anemic again (which affects thinking, also). But I know that there is something not right and I do something about it–mostly drive my doctor crazy, but he’s used to that in me, and has found that I am generally right about something being wrong. I’m not a hypochondriac–I’m simply very aware of small changes in my behaviors. But then, I’m aware of small changes in behaviors of others as well…

Bottom line: Sudoku is my friend–and a very useful one at that.

#educ_dr

My Daily Gift

Each day, I awake and feel immense gratitude that another day unfolds before me. Each day that I awake is like a gift from Heaven.

Playing with the camera 004

Many of us feel this way as we age. Most of us think of death as something that will come to us with a long enough warning to allow us to put affairs in order (if we have procrastinated), and will give us plenty of opportunities to say our good-byes and bring closure to our relationships with those closest to us. Many of us barely think that a freak of events can cause us to die completely unexpectedly–a traffic accident, a weak tree branch suddenly falling on us and cracking our skull, a random drive-by shooting in a safe neighborhood, a heart-attack when no one is around to revive us or call 911. So many ways in which our lives can end instantaneously by simple acts of Fate.

Me–well, I have recently had a series of medical issues, but the worst of them is a case of diverticulosis–“sacs” in the colon–that we almost all get as we age; but mine is particularly “delicate” because the sacs are fist-sized, and there are at least four of them on the left side of my colon. Each collects bodily waste that can cause infection or become toxic and, if suddenly “twisted”, colon death. If any of the sacs suddenly bursts, due to their size and the probability of setting off a chain reaction, I will bleed out in five minutes or less–all without any warning, and too quickly for even the fastest emergency medical response team or ambulance crew to do anything about.

But you can have surgery, you’re thinking. Well, I’m planning on it. However, there are other complications. Two months earlier, I suffered a completely unanticipated two bouts with three bleeding ulcers that sent me to the local hospital for transfusion–four units the first time, two more units less than a week after the first. When I was released from the hospital, the only advice I was given was to rest and eat a bland diet for at least 6 months. It seems that no one thought about iron supplements, but that’s a whole different story, and I blame myself for not seeing my internist soon enough to discuss dietetic and supplemental options.

About six weeks after this series of ulcer-related problems, I noticed that I was getting weaker instead of stronger. I was trying to strengthen up with exercises in the community pool, but found that I could do less with each session. Then one morning, I sat in my car for about a minute before putting my car into reverse and realized I wasn’t sure which pedal was the break and which the gas. Once I got that straight through trial and error while in neutral, I drove to the neighboring city where I ended up shopping for groceries instead of meeting up with a friend (her mix-up this time, not mine). In the store, I began to experience incidents of dizziness that were apparently noticeable enough that my favorite “bag boy” interrupted his packing for another customer and hurried down the aisle I was shopping in to ask if I was OK. I told him I was a little dizzy, and that maybe I was done with shopping for the day. I drove home very slowly, noticing that I was driving like I was inebriated–taking curves wide on our narrow roads, stopping a little to close to the car ahead of me, driving toward the middle of the road instead of in my lane (as I said, very narrow roads here on the island), moving too far from parked vehicles, etc. Clearly, it was time to visit my doctor, which I did the next day. The office sent me for blood tests–but that took several more days to do mostly because of the crazy laboratory hours related to certain tests. By the time I had blood drawn, we were preparing for a trip to a neighboring island for a conference related to my husband’s work. I was feeling poorly enough at that point where I just wanted to cancel my flight reservations and stay home. He became very insistent that I accompany him, and I didn’t have the strength to argue too long–although I was very unhappy with the fact that he would not accept my desire to stay home.

So we traveled to St. Kitt’s (St. Christopher  Island), picked up the rental car, and I had an accident less than a block from the rental agency–nothing serious, just ripped off mirrors and a few scratches. Now, part of the problem–most of it, possibly–was because St. Kitt’s driving is of the British persuasion–one drives on the left. It’s not that I don’t know how to drive “British”–have done so in the middle of England’s small twisty roads in the dark, fog, and rain, driving a car with a manual transmission (thank goodness the gears were in the same place, just accessible by the wrong hand); and maneuvered triple round-abouts that left me white-knuckled and mummy-stiff. What I believe happened is that my perception was totally off–effects of the anemia I didn’t know about yet. Well, three hours and one new rental later, we were on our way to our resort hotel, where the car stayed parked until we returned to the airport.

Each day, I was feeling more and more ill, managing to contract some form of bronchitis while there, as well. The next day (Monday), I drove to the internist’s office for the lab results. She took one look at the red blood cell count (64) from the week before and would not even let me drive the half kilometer home to pick up some night clothes and toiletries. My husband, who does not drive, called a co-worker to take me to the hospital from the doctor’s office, and there was an amusing series of events as Joe’s two colleagues planned how to get my car home and me to the hospital as quickly as possible.

The moment I got to the emergency room (the doctor had called ahead), I was checked into the hospital and immediately transfused with a unit of blood. The assumption was that my ulcers had started acting up again, but the next day’s endoscopy showed they were healing quite well and not actively giving me trouble. Two days later, after a double cleansing of my lower GI tract, and after finding no evidence of residual blood in the “output,” I finally received a colonoscopy. That’s when the fist-sized sacs (they looked a lot like volcanic craters in one rendering) were discovered. But my blood count was still down, with both red and white blood cells “disappearing” in balanced proportions; and the doctors were left completely baffled. Before releasing me on Friday, I was transfused overnight with two more units of blood given at a snail’s pace drip (6 hours per unit to enter my system).

In the meantime, I was being given massive doses of antibiotics–first as injections, then switched to fast IV drips–three to four times a day, treating an eye/sinus infection, and used prophylactically to prevent my own bronchitis from turning into pneumonia.

But the worst part for me was this: because of my low blood count, surgery is out of the question until the count enters the normal range. Also, because of the size and nature of the sacs, any one of them can burst just for the heck of it, and that would cause me to bleed out too quickly to save my life. If my blood count were normal, surgery would have been scheduled immediately, and I would have been flown to the US for the surgery. Although I was finally prescribed massive doses of iron in tablet form, the doctors still don’t know where my blood cells are going. I suspect I have a tiny black hole somewhere in my body that eats only blood cells and sends them to some alternate universe–probably to some lab that is studying human anatomy or something. As a friend suggested, maybe my body has simply decided to stop producing blood cells, which raises a bunch of other serious questions.

So, for now, I live each day one day at a time, not knowing if I will survive the day or receive the gift of awaking the next morning. There’s a much greater limit now to how much I can accomplish in a given day. Despite being cautioned not to drive, we live in an area too remote to keep me out of my car. I do as much as possible during the morning, when my strength seems to be greatest and my ability to maneuver the car is at its best. Because most volunteer work is in the afternoon, I have done very little during the past several weeks. Although I try very hard to remain positive during the day, I tend to get cranky and speak too bluntly, especially when I have no strength to either play silly social interaction “games” or am simply too tired to hold back comments or use my energy to say things nicely (especially since no one seems to understand my meaning when I obfuscate just enough to keep things pleasant). Being “nice” simply takes too much effort sometimes; and frankly, I have found that bluntness is much more effective in getting meaning across, even if it causes people to get angry. Yes, I try to be blunt nicely, but there are far too many people who don’t really listen to what any one of us says, even if we are answering a question they asked and (logically) should want to hear the answer. They don’t. But that’s another topic.

One day at a time, and immense gratitude for each new day. That’s the way I function now. I do what I can, rest when I need, eat when my phone alarm reminds me it’s meal time, make certain my meals are fiber-rich, drink plenty of herbal teas, consume my ginger drink, etc. I take my medications at the right time, although I often forget about my Restasis® and Patenol® eye drops, and try to do all the normal little things of life. In general, I follow the same pattern my father followed when he knew his aneurysm would kill him when he least expected it. And it did–while he was in the middle of the mundane task of preparing his cup of coffee and breakfast.

To dwell on death is absurd–Death comes for each of us when s/he feels our time is over. There’s no escaping that. There is only time to set our affairs in order (hopefully), and to live each day as though it were our last. For me, until and if my blood count allows for the surgery, that living is especially important. I still haven’t visited all the beaches on this beautiful island…

#educ_dr

 

On (My) Family

I’ve got a lot of years behind me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes related to family. But what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care for my family, especially for the way my children turned out. I don’t know what their memories of me are, as none of them have the guts to speak with me, even though I’ve never closed off any doors to them. They, on the other hand–and for reasons they have chosen to keep from me–have shut off any means of communication there can possibly be.

As a student of human nature, I observe and see both the deliberate misinterpretations and the meanness with which my adult children choose to withhold communication. Both are involved with significant others who are nice enough and smart enough in their own right, but who have severe limits in acceptance of differences. But then, the same is true of my children, so the matches are probably heaven-sanctioned. For a while, I was hurt by responses–or lack thereof–related to the only visit I have made to them in many, many years. My own frustration to being shunned upon my return home turned to anger and outright and open vehemence. Upon further reflection, I realized that I simply do not like either my children or their mates, mostly because my own children have chosen to ignore the concepts of both individual differences (specifically in the person who gave them life), of acceptance of the reality of aging, and the ability to weigh the many sides of an issue to determine future action/interaction. Clearly, I had been judged and sentenced without the luxury of speaking in my own defense.

As I have aged, I have suffered from a series of ailments which have left me in severe pain 24/7. Two months ago, I suffered a bout of extreme blood loss from a surprise attack of bleeding ulcers which ended up requiring the transfusion of 6 liters of blood. This can be a fatal attack if one is alone when such a bout occurs. Had my husband–from whom I was ready to seek a divorce–not been home at the time (the attack occurred at 2:00 a.m.), I would have died from the blood loss. He immediately called the community guard who called for an ambulance. Although I was floating in and out of consciousness during the 20-minute drive to the hospital, the intravenous delivery of fluids helped to stabilize me enough to get me to the hospital, where I received an immediate transfusion of blood and kept in the Intensive Care Unit for several days. For the first time in our marriage, and despite rare visits from him when I underwent 4 major surgeries (during one of which I actually died on the operating table and needed to be revived), he was at the hospital with me this time for hours at a time, trusting his fellow faculty at the local medical school to cover for him when he was with me. This was a major feat for my husband, who doesn’t drive, and who had to pay for taxi service each trip. All previous hospitalizations were no more than a city block from his office, and yet he rarely visited. If he did, he spent no more than 5 minutes with me because he had to catch the shuttle to the train station or bus depot. So his frequent and long visits during the bleeding ulcer recuperation was a huge surprise that changed the dynamic of our relationship forever.

Just prior to this attack, we had decided to seek help for our 24-year marriage instead of just ending it outright, either formally or informally. The sudden realization that I almost died on him made him realize that he was actually afraid to lose me, despite all our differences. The effort that he made to visit me frequently–often more than once a day–touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched by anything he did in many years. Thus, we are making great efforts to try to change the way we interact as well as our expectations of each other. We are both taking the continuation of this marriage very seriously. To me, I now know that he actually cares.

Meanwhile, although I posted on Facebook from the hospital, neither my two children nor my sister made any effort to wish me well, or to at least check to see how I was doing. My mother uses no electronic devices, but lives with my sister, and I know would have made an effort to call me if my sister had mentioned my illness to her. Thus, my sister either did not see any of my posts, leading me to believe that I had been blocked from her news feed, or simply didn’t care enough to mention it to my mother. That I had been blocked from my children’s feeds was obvious even before I was hospitalized, although it is not clear to me why my son chose to block me. But then, he ignored any communication I tried to initiate with him since my return home from my visit with him as well, whether via post, email, or direct telephone contact attempt. Upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist–whom I had been seeing since before the visits to my children and sister because I was trying to make sense of my relationship with my husband–suggested I write a letter to my son, who, as far as I knew at the time, was not shunning me. Since there has been no response of any kind, I guess I received my answer about my place in his life. In addition, I wrote to my 86-year-old mother letting her know what my situation had been and simply giving myself a sense of closure, in the event I would have no further direct contact with her. My husband is not good at thinking about letting family members know about any important events, so there was no expectation from me that he would contact family to let them know what was happening with me–although it is clear that none of them would have cared anyway (except my mother).

Since my illness, I have come to realize that family is not everything–at least, not blood relations or in-laws. The people I now feel closest to are people who are not related by blood or marriage (except my sister-in-law and her family). These are friends, whose friendships I cultivate when I can; with each of these individuals, I have had more individual contact than with my biological family as a whole. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the meaning of the concept that family does not need to comprise ancestral kinship. Family is those people with whom one can be oneself, even when one is cantankerous  or when one makes unthinking remarks. I am finding I have Family all over the US and on this small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten to whom I feel closer than with my biological family. This Family allows for my idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions without believing that I am being “dramatic” or self-indulgent. This Family understands when I take different positions–usually in a single 5-minute interval–because they know I am continuing to attempt to make sense of my world. In other words, they think the same way I think, even if we disagree at a given moment or on a particular point. I like to explore and weigh my thoughts out loud and through practice,and my Family is OK with that. My Family has no problem with being honest with me–often brutally–knowing that I will weigh all their comments and reactions, and apologize when needed or argue my case better when I disagree. These are the people I love and respect beyond measure, and they come from all walks of like–cultural, religious, professional, etc.

Thus, my initial hurt at the shunning by my purportedly Christian family was very quickly replaced by a sadness over the loss of their love and/or caring. For years I have known that I love my sister-in-law more than my sister, and have developed a respect for my niece(in-law) for her courteousness, including the simple written or spoken “thank you” for even the smallest gifts. Not one of my grandchildren has ever sent us a thank you note, and only two have thanked me when a gift or courtesy was delivered in person during my recent visit–but even they have never made an effort to provide the small courtesy of a thank you without physical presence. But then, neither have my children or my sister. What a family I come from and what children I have raised! It is almost embarrassing to be related to them at all.

Although my husband thinks I may be a little premature, I have decided to change my will so that, in the event my death precedes his, not a single token will be endowed to any member of my biological family. None of them deserve it. None of them would consider the intrinsic value of a bauble for the non-financial value I have placed on it. None of them would understand in the slightest why I have put any value on such a trifle. None of them are the type of people I consider worthy of inheriting an iota from a clearly eccentric relative. Not any more, anyway. My Family, on the other hand, will appreciate even the smallest token of what I have to give–mostly because they know and understand me so well. To them, my eccentricities are lovable–or at least tolerable–characteristics. They love me for who and what I am and are willing to accept my flaws as well as my charms. That is why to me they are Family as well as friends. The best part is that they understand my lack of phone usage, which I wrote about in a previous post. (sigh)

Here is the important part: I am more than the sum of my parts. I am stronger than my biological family take me for. I may not have achieved all that I set out to do; I may not have been whatever mythical person my biological family thought I should be; I may have not become the person aimed to be when I was much younger. But I like most of the elements that comprise me, and I continue to try to improve those things I do not like about myself. I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I love people for who they are, not for what they are or what they have or what they can do for me. Those people who have hurt me in the past are no less deserving of love than the people who have helped me in the past. There is little enough love in the world, and I will continue to love my family because they are my family, even though they have shunned me as effectively as a fundamentalist religious clan blots out the existence of an excommunicate. However, I will no longer make any effort to communicate with family who clearly wishes to not communicate with me. They are in the past, and there is nothing more that I can do to open lines of communication–especially since I am not the one who closed them.

And I am surprisingly quite comfortable with that.