Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ongoing Opportunity of Aging

The sandy beach is the ultimate barefoot experience.  Once the sun is high the sand is exquisitely hot.  You dance over it to the water's edge, where the packed sand is hard and cold. You can walk along the beach there, the cool tide washing over your toes, head and shoulders hot from the sun.

Going barefoot around the house is pretty good, too.  We keep our house predictable so nobody falls, no loose Legos here. The Roomba cleans the carpet every day at its appointed time and tends to shove stray toy mousies underneath the buffet.

I walk around in my slipper socks in the morning, believing that barefoot walking is good for the feet. But then it's shoes, aathletic shoes with good support and my custom insoles in them. These stopped the old bones in my feet from getting stress fractures.  Stress fractures are really painful, and the treatment of them is painful too.  Walking in a soft cast and boot stresses an old body in all sorts of places, so now those places hurt.

Those fractures started happening about fifteen years ago, when I was sixty.  The first one was caused by a day in gray lizard flats that were perfect with my silk dress, but tight.  Uncomfortable.  The fracture didn't happen until the next morning.  It hurts to even remember the shocking pain.  I didn't want to ever wear those flats again, and a number of high-heeled shoes went to the thrift store with them.  Last to go were red pumps with three-inch heels.  You know.

Buddhism likes to say that your problems are your path.  My foot problems were indeed an opportunity to work through that little element of vanity, and that funny thing about having lots of cool shoes that some of us have.  Shoes as a symbol of who you are, like the huaraches I loved when I was in college.  Mine were natural leather, not a muted red like these.  I loved them, would have loved these, too.

I can't even wear sandals now, they feel too precarious, and I've had some life-changing falls, so I don't take chances. I do have a pair of black lace-up shoes like dance oxfords, for occasions in which athletic shoes would be disrespectful.  When I wear them I miss the support of my athletic shoes.

Shoes were an instance of desire in my life.  Any little occasion of desire can be something to contemplate, an ego thing.  I had a thing about dressing well, too. That's another story. And a thing about not being a little old lady in tennis shoes.  The "little old" part is because the spine collapses with arthritis.  I'm still upright though and walking unassisted in the house, using a cane outside just to be sure. There are thousands of cute canes online, most of them only $20 or $30, cheaper than good shoes.  You can have a whole cane wardrobe if it tickles you, sequined canes, canes with birds or flowers printed on them, canes that go with your outfit, that's if you want something to collect besides shoes.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Actually, it's not that simple

Yesterday my peaceful mood was thrown by a medication problem.  I ran out of a major immune-suppressant medicine, which keeps my body from rejecting my transplanted kidney.  This medicine is thought to be very important. How does such a thing even happen?

It's easier than you think. I take about a dozen prescription drugs, 30-some pills a day.  I get some at a local pharmacy, some by mail-order, and some from a specialty mail-order place that handles unusual things.  I expect the special mail-order pharmacy to do things right---they always have.

Two weeks ago I ordered a refill of Neoral from them.  Four days after that I received a box from them with sirolimus, my other special med.  I have plenty of sirolimus, so I thought, "Well, huh, I don't need this but they sent it. Okay."  

That's the last I thought of it until yesterday morning when I went to get a fresh box of Neoral.  I didn't have any.  None.

I was rightly anxious about not having that drug, and made several attempts to get it.  (For one, I left a message with the nurse who handles my kidney doc's prescriptions.  He never called back.) In the late afternoon, I saw that the specialty pharmacy's website gave email addresses for its executives, and I wrote to the pharmacist in charge of their midwest division.  That worked. She called me within the hour, apologized, and assured me that it was being shipped overnight.  I'm tracking it, it's on a FedEx truck somewhere in my neighborhood. (Update:  It arrived that day around 5:00.)

Okay. I intend to track pharmacy refills on my calendar from now on.

I was struck by how confused and depressed I got.  I needed some anxiety to propel me into action. But I didn't need to go into a bleak mood.  It came to me pretty easily that I owed that to my father.  He would have been spitting with blame.  How could you be so stupid?  Don't you keep track of these drugs? And so on.  He's been dead 20 years this month, but that voice still pops up now and then. Ah, his legacy.

How could you be so stupid was one of his refrains especially for me.  I have wished sometimes that I could sit down with him then as an adult and say, I wonder if you've ever thought about how this affects your daughter when you talk to her like that.  Who talked to you like that when you were a child?  How did you feel?  But I wasn't an adult back then and couldn't respond rationally. I was a child, and these attacks wounded me. Many children of alcoholics are physically beaten.  I just got emotional abuse.  So did my brother, sister, and mother in other ways.

Everyone in the family was molded by my father's hypervigilant perfectionism, which was quite irrational.  It was based on a belief that you were in complete control of your life, even though he'd been a soldier and knew better. This radically oversimplifies life, and is a logical fallacy.  Karma is vast and complex.  We just do our best.

I worked on this post yesterday. In the evening it occurred to me that I'd spent all day defending myself against that internalized blame, when in fact the pharmacy made the mistake. This is a symptom of the complex PTSD caused by an abusive childhood.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Some Political Incorrectness

It's widely known that American women worked in factories during World War II, doing big jobs, hard jobs, because the men were off fighting.  Even so, the patriarchy informed hiring decisions, witness the little hiring guide below.  My favorite bit is in point six:  "Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves."  This was the water we swam in a short while ago.  Today, much-reviled "political correctness" prevents employers from putting something like that down in writing.  But old stereotypes die hard.

My second favorite point in the below is that husky women, point no. 3, make better workers than skinny ones. Yes! You may also note that having time to freshen up your lipstick is good for workplace morale.So

Throughout, women are referred to as girls.  Another way of keeping us small.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I experience a moment of mental health

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Tom came in from the march for science (it's Earth Day) a happy man.  He met Cassie and Otto and saw a lot of Unitarians there. That's grandson Otto standing and daughter Cassie peering out from behind Tom's head, and a sign she made.
     Tom got together with a couple of the men afterward and they went to Fox in the Snow.  He even brought home a pastry for me.  (Well, he wouldn’t mind sharing it, as it turned out.)
He talked about what he went through before a policeman allowed him to keep his sign on a stick, which was taped to his wheelchair - sticks are now banned at marches as possible weapons. Talked about the clever signs and who he saw there, a number of people including Laurie Brown, who gave me one of her kidneys via clever medical science. Most of all, he enjoyed doing it with Cassie and Otto.
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I’ve been home today, canceled my sitting group because I'm recovering from a reaction to a medication.  A friend and I were going to go to North Star for a free hamburger this afternoon -they do that for earth day - but both woke up grouchy and didn’t much improve.  I let go of that.  I can buy a hamburger there anytime.
        I've been having a problem lately with depression, but it wasn’t interfering while Tom talked.  I just felt empathetically happy.  There are many other ways you can react to someone’s joy.  You can think about how you didn’t get to go because you’re out of shape because you’re depressed and don’t do anything.  And your allergies are awful this year.  You can be sorry for yourself with a sense that life isn’t fair.  You can be pissed at someone for not asking And how are you feeling?when he walks in the door. That would be being mad at him for being who he is and was raised to be.  It all sounds a little teenaged to me today.  It's all about competitiveness, about wanting some attention for that demanding ego I call Mimi Me.

I wasn't doing that. I was just listening with a pleasant feeling, being happy for Tom’s happiness. I guess this is just unusual enough that I notice it.  I'm afraid that people I know are seldom happy. If they were, I was trained to be competitive, not to empathize with someone else's happiness.  This foreign notion is called sympathetic joy in the Buddhist tradition and goes way back into older traditions. It is one of the four heavenly abodes, places to rest the mind, the others being loving kindness, compassion, and equanimity.
     Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield calls them "the four radiant abodes" and says such an interesting thing about them:  they represent optimal mental health.  An interesting statement to anyone with a mental illness. We often try to correct our moods or thinking with medication, which often doesn't work.  My bipolar disorder is a visible change in my brain caused by genetic susceptibility and a sad childhood.  I do often remind myself to notice my moods with equanimity.  They happen to me, like a wind coming on.  But here was another thing to think about, how empathizing with Tom's happiness warmed and softened my heart.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The year in review

Like so many bloggers, I stopped blogging this year. This had something to do with getting serious about your writing, something to do with having Facebook to express yourself on/distract yourself with, something to do with having now shared all the wisdom you've got. In the autumn of 2014 I took an online course from the University of Iowa, which has one of the best creative writing programs in the country. It gave me new ways to understand writing fiction, and I got going and wrote half a dozen short stories. I entered one in several contests. Didn't win. Life is unfair.

Why didn't I keep sending out these stories? My vitals page and my calendar tell the answer. Doctors, doctors, one UTI infection after another. The infections are not like the UTIs many women get while young, maybe from enthusiastic sex. They evidence themselves in the depression they trigger in my authentically bipolar brain. So, no writing then.

In late June I was hospitalized with extreme shortness of breath which turned out to be due to no other cause than a UTI. While I was there I told them I'd recently fallen, so they did a scan that showed a subdural hematoma - brain bleed. And I hadn't even hit my head this time. But when you're old - I turned 74 this year - the brain shrinks a little. If you land hard, your brain bangs around in your skull.

The second scan showed the bleed wasn't getting worse, so they released me. The third scan months later showed it was gone, so nothing to worry about. Except . . . my short-term memory is much worse ever since. Much. And my processing is much slower. The new neurologist felt sure it wasn't dementia and would resolve. That was six months ago, and it hasn't. Next time I see my primary care doctor I'm going to ask him to suggest an evaluation for dementia.

I am now very afraid of falling. Because I fell for no reason. I was deadheading the peonies, walking backward in tiny steps on a concrete sidewalk, and just lost my balance. Then time moved very slowly, there was nothing to grab hold of, and I landed hard on my bottom. Because of the concussion, I couldn't figure out how to get up until Tom came out and helped me.

So now I use a cane outside the house. I have two canes, one leopard-skin print, one giraffe print, that's one for each vehicle. We won't have both vehicles forever. My 2000 Civic is low to the ground, and it's gotten hard for me to get out of. Tom's van is much better for me.

This calendar year I had 12 UTIs, yes, one right after another. I had to go to a urologist - I dread those tests - to rule out specific bladder problems. Now I'm on a maintenance antibiotic. It has been working for several weeks now.

I forgot things till I looked at my calender. I had a procedure to fix the artery in my left leg, which went great; the foot doesn't get numb walking now. I was hospitalized again in November with a skin infection called cellulitis from a tiny cut on my lymphedemic right arm. These are a common threat for people who have had lymph glands removed. Old age and being immune-suppressed are risk factors.

Me me me. I meant to look at what I did this year, but it seemed like I had to point out first that I barely had a year. I don't know how I would have taken all this if I hadn't had a good grounding in the dharma. I thought often about karma, about how our lives are not just in our own hands. My health problems started with the kidney transplant six years ago, and the immune-suppressing drugs we have to take. The kidney failure started with taking lithium for 20 years. The bipolar disorder was the result of a combination of childhood trauma and the genes for it. The childhood trauma . . . 

I miss you folks.