6 Dec

I was never someone who sought medical advice regularly until my pregnancies. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage very early, and when I called the OB, he told me to come down to the office at the end of the day. He gave me a Xanax, and performed a D and C in the office. Terrifying. I didn’t advocate for myself, ask any questions, or really feel supported although my doctor, his nurse, and my then-husband were there. I went on to have four healthy pregnancies, and carried all four to term and then some. I was twenty five when I delivered my first baby, and although we had been through the ‘birthing class’, I was not prepared for a day long labor. A nice supportive nurse was on hand to tell me how great I was doing, and dissuaded me from taking ye olde epidural. “There’s a lot of risk,” she said. Okay, but how about the risk of a forceps delivery, which is what I ended up having with local anesthetic. A healthy baby boy.

His sister was set for her arrival almost two years later, and this time I chose the epidural. It worked, and I relaxed, I was told the doc had gone down to deliver someone else, and would be back shortly for me as it was just about time to push. Then it immediately became time to push, and I had to slap myself into reality when the nurse came in and said the baby’s heart rate dropped and we’d have to go ahead and deliver.

Two years and two days later, another brother was delivered by the same doctor, who I believe remembered the previous delivery of mine, and decided to go light on the epidural this time. He laughed a hearty, “Wow! This is a big baby!” when he caught my 9 pound, 13 ounce son.

August of 1996 I delivered my last baby girl with my nurse neighbor at my side, and an intrathecal anesthetic instead of epidural. It was a slow night on the ward, so students were invited in, and I got what we might casually say as ‘tore up from the floor up’. Whoever was doing the suturing made the observation, “Well, it might not have been as bad if you hadn’t had an episiotomy before.”

Fast forward through the children’s years of medical events:

Bouts of sharing strep throat through the family over and over

Croup in the winter

Watching my two year old held in an archaic wooden vice to get a chest x ray when he had pneumonia.

Outer ear infection that turned into mastoiditis, narrowly escaping surgery, but moreover, meningitis.

All in all, we were a healthy bunch, but those big events were unnerving, and some required hospitalizations. I think those times send a body into a state of default vigilance. I’m the caregiver, but I have to turn the case over to you because I can’t figure it all out. But so many questions! SO much uncertainty, such a powerless, lost feeling.

Once the children were grown, I had my own share of challenges. FIRST, my new husband had a sudden cardiac arrest after he pulled the car off the road and died for ten minutes. Machines, tests, procedures, lights, bells, IV’s, medications. CCU, Telemetry, Home. The same feeling as coming home with a newborn, which I ostensibly was. I sat him in his recliner-crib, and hoped he would continue to recover well, and he did.

Menopause entered gently, but introduced me to shingles, Bell’s Palsy, tendinitis, psoriasis, and the occasional outburst of mouth ulcers. Our PCP prior to all this developed trigeminal neuralgia from a procedure, and went on disability. I sought out others, but found no practitioner could hear me saying, “I think all these things are related- at least I think they’re related to menopause, and also to each other.” I tried three to four providers before I gave up, and started seeing an acupuncturist, who moved away and left me with my new acupuncturist.

A brief history of encounters in medicine. Not all encounters are listed, and for the most part my family and I have been healthy, but even in these few examples, my humanness was tested and troubled, torn and repaired, treated and released. I feel lucky to be a catalyst to potential bridges in healing for my children, myself, my husband, and my one remaining parent.


The “Fault” Line

6 Dec

Bentz and I were talking today, reflecting on our personal stories and how we are in this relationship feeling safe and comfortable. We both came up with thoughts about how we got here, and he provided something for me to consider that I hadn’t thought of.

When I work with individuals using EMDR, I have the person arrive at a core belief- the story they are telling themselves over and over that isn’t working for them- a less productive narrative. We then move into creating a more adaptive belief, and begin processing to reduce the intensity of any memories surrounding the negative core belief. That being said, I functioned with a maladaptive core belief during my first marriage- something along the lines of, “I’m not good enough”, or “I’m abandoned”. Both of those echo a theme of safety. I quickly came up with a couple of times where I was ‘going along with the program’, so to speak, and would be caught off guard by something, only to have to make sense of it and figure it out myself.

I started going back to revisit some times I felt uneasy, or t actually became easier to pop up more times of self-loathing, questioning, second guessing, and feeling shame and guilt about events I may or may not have had control of. From the time my mother said, “Don’t mess this up- your father likes him” until the end (when I guess I messed it up?) I was myself, but another version of myself- one long series of events, some good, some not so much. I have no regrets, and even find it hard to share that my feelings of myself I allowed to be determined by another person. I feel as though I should say a disclaimer like, “he had a good sense of humor,” or “it wasn’t all bad”. Both are true, and although I feel compelled to rationalize my decision to stop a marriage that wasn’t healthy for me anymore, I was met with less than loving and caring responses from my own family. I didn’t expect them to take sides, but they did, and it was his. Maybe they could only make sense of things from the story they were being told by him.

My story was perhaps unreasonable. Why would someone want to break up a family? How do you think you’re going to make ends meet with four children? “Well, you wanted this, so I guess you’ll have to figure it out.” Weirdly disenfranchised from the family (aside from my brother at the time), I slunk into finding a job and winding my way into a life I love, with a person I love.

Seventeen years later, here I am. Grown children, a dear and loving husband, so many dogs and cats, and a cozy house to keep them. I still get triggered when touchy subjects like housekeeping and finances come up. I can mostly say I know they are not happening now, I’m reacting to an old wound, etc. Bentz remarked on an event i shared with him as traumatic, and when I heard it, it didn’t feel fair for that to be true. I haven’t been in a war, I was not abused, I have had a pretty lovely life, in my opinion. But he may be right. Over the years, I have been triggered and the result is turning on myself with feelings of ‘not being able to manage’, and the like.

I find I don’t really know where I’m going with this or how to tell this story- I guess the best way to put it was one era of time in my life where I learned a great deal and for a pretty long time didn’t feel like my true self. I’m glad to know now what I wasn’t able to access then, which is I’m okay as I am.

Our House

28 Nov

My children and I moved to Columbia, SC briefly while my then husband finished medical school. We moved on to Jacksonville, Florida for his segue into medical practice despite my silent reservations- prior to the move I felt it was not for me. Something was not right, and although I couldn’t name it, I finally came clean to him- I just couldn’t say I was ready to go. I went anyway, because that’s what one did in my family if you were the wife. The feeling continued to plague me once we moved, although we found fun things to do in town and explored the beaches and museums. I just didn’t belong. Not in that house, not with him, not as a Navy wife (toughest job in the Navy/you didn’t get issued with the sea bag). Not here anymore, in this role. I told him on December 23, 2004, six months into our ‘new adventure’, that I needed to go home. “Are you taking the children with you?” he asked, and appeared relieved when I said yes.

After the divorce, summer of 2005, the children and I returned to Columbia, and they started back to the same schools that fall. In the spring of 2007, I stopped into an open house in the neighborhood where I hoped to live. The agent was delightful, and continued to keep in touch after I checked out that too-expensive house. One day, she called and encouraged me to get in touch with her loan officer, as there was a home loan program she thought I would qualify for. I could hardly believe it- I was living off child support plus a meager income from my job as a legal assistant. I called, he described the program, submitted the necessary paperwork and reported I could get a house up to 150,000. “There must be some mistake,” my shame said, “There’s no way someone is going to give you a home loan. But if they are, you had better get out there and seal the deal before they find you out and rescind the offer!”

I scoured the neighborhood across the income dividing line but still in the children’s school district, and found a quaint little three bedroom, one bath home built in 1950. There was no time to waste-I had it inspected in short order, and closed the loan in May of 2007. Things are fine now, but I used to say before the ink dried on the closing documents, the bottom fell out of the economy, and I was instantly upside down on the loan. The house was a good fit for us, and ultimately provided a good transitional place for the older children and Bentz’s brother and then his mother while we were their caretakers. There were usually 5 or 6 of us in Bentz’s much larger rental house, and one or two of the older children would take time off at the ‘little house’. Bentz and I were married in 2009, and moved into the house full time with the two youngest children in 2011.

In the last eleven years, this little house has transformed into our nest. The Best Nest, as my P.D. Eastman book reminds me. We have our bedroom, and we each have a bedroom for our own ‘office’. I have a therapy practice in mine (and now school) and he writes, plays music, and does legal work in his. I would consider our space quite maximalist, as I have been studying Architectural Digest since my preteen babysitting years. I loved Diana Vreeland’s red-walled room crammed with gorgeous art and lovely accent pieces. I was entranced by Iris Apfel’s home adorned with not only her multitudes of stylish fashion items, but the floor-to-ceiling art and books stacked precariously on various pieces of furniture. My own childhood home was a low budget reproduction of those extravagant places, as my mother had an amazing collector’s eye for art and antiques, fabrics, lamps, ceramics all found in thrift stores along life’s highway. (My father’s colloquialism for his writings about cars he owned)

Bentz and I have achieved our version of gallery walls full of art we have purchased or I found in thrift stores or on the side of the road. I can say with confidence we have no free wall space currently, and I am rallying to move the refrigerator onto the back porch for more place to hang things. We have books in every room, but mainly our bedroom and office rooms. My bookcase is full, so I’ve begun stacking them on a wicker stool my parents used to have in their bedroom. When I had to start pulling up some of mother’s rugs to allow her to use her walker, I brought one into my office, where it now lives with the plants and cobbled together furniture. It’s our house, and we love it. Two cats in the yard, a la Gram Nash, four dogs in the house (we came close to five on Thanksgiving Day when another pup was dropped at the dog park), and just the two of us. Our friend gave us a hand me down laughably large television when he bought himself a new one. Our two couches are friends’ castoffs. The neighbors who moved left a Lane Chinese Chippendale coffee table missing most of the carved fret brackets on the legs, so I shoved it in the trunk of my car and drove it the two houses back to ours. Bentz has a recliner we purchased new, but it is on its last leg, so I look forward to letting it move onto the roadside for someone else!

When we moved in, the kitchen was painted phthalo blue (probably not, but close). Our son and daughter in law repainted the entire house a lovely ivory for us when we moved back in. However, I became quickly disenchanted with the numerous cupboards condensing the space so I tore them out over time. What is left of the open space is an authentic wall, sharing years of painting and chipping. I love it. Our tv friend built me some shelves to house the dishes and glasses, and they are magnificent. My friend gave me an old dresser she had reworked into shelves, so I painted it red and it is a kitchen credenza. I attempted to recreate Joan Didion’s row of potted herbs pictured in her kitchen, but have yet to keep them all alive simultaneously. We have lived with the hideous tile countertops for years, and hope to eventually forego them for a solid surface.

Since the dining room is between the living room and kitchen, it serves as a walkway more than an-eat in room. I finally found a small table my father had made for his computer desk, and that works as a table for two if we would like to eat there someday. Bentz’s father’s desk occupies the place we used to have his mother’s piano until we gave it to our friend.

There are times in my life I have attempted to stray away from myself and try to ‘do the socially appropriate/typical things’. Trouble is, I now know my body and brain won’t allow me to do that anymore, so I will just live the way I do, the way we do, with all our creatures and creature comforts. As Laura Ingalls said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

Enhanced Immune Response

14 Nov

It was kismet I picked up reading Annie Brewster’s “The Healing Power of Storytelling,” as I moved through Sunday afternoon and evening into an abhorrent mess from the neck up. I struggle with intermittent bouts of inflammation in my mouth, shingle-esque neuralgia and sores along the gumline. Yesterday’s adventure included my whole mouth, not just the typical one-sided event. Additionally, since I am seemingly a human barometer, my cheeks and jaw began wailing about the thirty degree drop in temperature. I am not a patient patient, but as I move along in life I am trying to use these times as a self-inventory and opportunity to review my overall health.

I started with my go to holistic measures, filled the teapot, and tried to rest. No dice. Facial massage, and a ramp up to tylenol and 1/2 of a cbd gummy surely would get me the sleep I needed. At 2am, I picked up Annie’s book again, and attempted to catch up on my way-behindness. When I arrived at the paragraph titled, “Storytelling for Health: Enhanced Immune Response, Fewer Sick Visits,” I remembered the study in Pennebaker’s “Writing for Healing” surrounding physical health improvement. Then, I trailed off and was reminded of reading Kaiser’s ACE’S study in the 90’s, which connected events experienced prior to the age of 18 to increased adult risk factors such as poor mental and physical health outcomes.

All roads lead to story. For connection, health, empowerment, and resilience. I am lucky in my work and home life to be always nested in story, but Annie’s writing is motivating me to want the stories I’ve been told and the ones I tell to ‘hit the mark’ on healing, and for that, I now have a guidebook to support a more focused approach to same. I took a call from a woman my age this morning, searching for help for her grown daughter, who has been presenting with mental health symptoms, which prior to her divorce were manageable, but the tripwire of that life event sent her reeling into psychosis, and there is little or no support for someone who doesn’t ‘look il’ or want help. Her story was harrowing, and although I only had suggestions, I felt her exhaustion, wanting the best outcome for her daughter, but having to set limits for her own safety. We are now more than ever, taking on roles of caregiver, and although it may be a good sign as a shift to old times when multiple families lived together, we may not be adequately prepared for the experience.

I have felt tidal waves of panic periodically since my mother’s fall, having thoughts intrude such as ‘how am I going to keep her at home? Should I start looking for someone to come in? Should I move in? I refer back to the tidal wave and the woman on the phone today- I wondered if she even anticipated her entire last month would be advocating against the grain (since she’s not a minor child, parents are usually not made aware of medical decisions) and hoping for the best, while still rowing away at her own life and work, albeit feebly? What would happen if we had a health system in which the provider had more than just checklists, but actual STORY. And when someone is not able to accurately tell their own story, can we call on their supports to fill in the gaps or tell the story for them?

Could we then extrapolate the writing for healing concept to the schools and teach our children to tell their own stories, so they become less at risk for the outcomes of traumatic experiences? I had a student in a middle school class who had a HORRIFIC trauma as a first grader. He got very little counseling at the time of the event, went to live with his grandmother, and had numerous behavior problems in my self-contained special education class as an eighth grader. Talk about resilience, I don’t know how he ever even MADE it to school, much less sat in my classroom. We can’t just leave it up to school psychologists and counselors anymore- there is too much going on, and they’re stretched way too thin.

I’m thinking we need a Charles Laubach approach- an “each one teach one” method for spanning the needs of all. I had lunch with one of my clients today, a gentleman I’ve been working with since I started at the agency (ten years). He was reporting his recent experiences with mood dysregulation, which has impacted his writing (two years ago he self-published a seven book series he started writing in high school. He is 49. As we ate, he said, “You know, they say money makes the world go round, but I really don’t think it’s that. I think it’s story.” I agree.

Fall, literally and figuratively

3 Nov

I woke up at 2:48am, then tossed and turned until 4:40, when i decided to get up and make use of the time I was burning up in bed not sleeping. I was ‘rehearsing’ my day over and over in my mind, as if that would prove my day to be productive. I ate late snacks after a healthy dinner. I stretched my limbs for several minutes, and tried to get off the floor without using my arms. This move was one I had read would be one predictive of longevity. I rocked back and forth as if that would work to hoist my stiff joints into action.

“This is magical thinking,” I murmured to myself. Goal 1: Get off the floor without using arms. Maybe today I will drink water throughout the day like the acupuncturist recommended. Maybe. Or, I’ll make coffee and savor it all day, switching to tea for my evening therapy sessions.

Story is so present for me currently. My home/personal life, work life, and caregiver life are wrought with tangled stories. I am always writing in my mind, but only in my work life do the stories get their proper attention. Goal 2: Write. For myself. For healing, joy, humor, or for no reason. I aim to record the mundane things I notice along the way each day, and write to get myself out of the funks.

My mother fell Monday afternoon, as she was walking out of the bathroom. I was there, and watched her body descend in slow motion, like an ice skater in a distorted horizontal twist. She fell into the hallway, her head hitting the molding of the door across the hall. “OW MY HEAD!” She lamented. I froze for seconds, whipping through the rolodex of options for elderly people when they fall. Memories arose from my father’s horrific hospital experiences. Shall I call EMS and risk the same outcome? Send her out of her comfort zone to have to quell her anxiety and consistently reorient her? She had a large goose egg on the back of her head, but otherwise seemed okay. I helped her sit up, and she sat splatted on the hallway floor to weigh in on what to do next. She initially balked when I mentioned calling EMS, but eventually said, “this is a big bump. I guess somebody should look at it.” Inasmuch as taking her out of her familiar zone is risky, I thought of Natasha Richardson, the beautiful actress who took a fall when skiing, and died of an epidural hematoma two days later. I called EMS, and the ambulance arrived in short order. They looked mom over, gently and stated because she was on a blood thinner, it would be good to have her evaluated. We decided to send her to the closest hospital, which does not have a trauma department. My father had triple bypass there in 1995, my mother had hips and knees replaced in the early 2000’s, and even Bentz had been for pneumonia a couple of times. The fire department was summoned to help her up, as mom’s lower leg edema impacts her mobility. She favored one hip, and I took note to share with the physician. I grabbed a few snacks, including her ‘circle sandwiches’ (pinwheel sandwiches from Publix) and she was off.

I arrived first, and checked in with the desk. “They’ll call you back when she gets here,” the admin informed. Since one can see the ambulance bay from the tiny ED waiting room, I saw them pull up and her little gray head go by the window. Less than a minute later, the door opened, and I thought they were coming to get me. No, they had actually popped mom into a wheelchair and were opening the door to roll her into the waiting room with me. “There are no rooms right now, the attendant remarked. I could not make sense of this. It’s an emergent situation, why would I have sent her in an ambulance, then? Eventually we were called into the triage room, not much bigger than our galley kitchen. Mom in her wheelchair, me, nurse and doctor were ‘too many cooks’. They asked a few pertinent questions, and I shared what happened, including the leg weakness upon standing. The doctor took a less than 60 second cursory look, and wagged her legs back and forth in the chair. “If something were broken, this would be painful, and she would be yelling.” Ok, I buy that, and we were sent back out to the waiting room to be called for a head CT.

We sat and we sat in the waiting room. SInce MSNBC wasn’t playing on the tv, mom wasn’t able to fix her focus, so she developed a few catch phrases for orientation. “we have a great view! It’s a beautiful day out there”. As the time stretched, the cycles started.

Mom: “Now is my car in the parking lot?”

Me: “No, I drove here. You came in the ambulance. My car is parked way over there- you can’t see it from here”

Mom: “Oh okay. Well I’m about ready to go back home. I don’t think anyone knows we’re out here.”

Me: “Yes, it seems like that, but they’re very crowded today.”

Mom: “I’m going to go up to the desk and ask them how long it’s going to be.’

Me: “Well, they don’t really know. They just get messages from the nurses and doctors.”

Mom: “It’s been a long time. We’ve been here a long time. I might just go up and ask them how long it’s going to be.”

Finally, she was summoned to the CT scan, and then another wait and wait after for results and discharge. All was clear, thank goodness, so we gingerly squeezed her into my Honda Civic for the ride back home.

Of course that’s not the end of the story! The leg pain continued, and she became fearful of falling again. I called her orthopedist, who scheduled an MRI for the following Tuesday, but in the meantime, she had to slowly eek her way around the house.

The beauty of dementia: she has no recall of the event, and after a few days became more confident in her mobility. We’re going for the MRI, which will set her back, but again she’ll hopefully return to her baseline, or close to it.

28 Oct

On my way to and from the prison, I listened to Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. I was awed by her writing and found myself lost in the story of her dear Quintana Roo. Her humble evaluation of her parenting, the accurate account of her adopted child’s sagacity even as young as four or five years of age. I found this book as enveloping as “The Year of Magical Thinking” and the stories in “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” Oh to convey my stories a la Didion!

I’m not sure why I thought of it, but I began sifting through memories of my father during the drive. The picture of me in my diaper, standing in his cowboy boots came to mind first, and the slideshow of memories started. How he ‘walked off’ distances with his feet quite accurately, having measured office space for decades. How he always had a better way for my mother, my brother and me to conduct ourselves. When my brother was an infant, he made “A Schedule for Mom”, typewritten and placed in a folder with the words traced through the ruler template. Inside was an amazingly organized schedule for my mother on how to maximize her time during the day. He frequently wrote letters to us all, sometimes typewritten, sometimes handwritten, but always signed, because he loved to sign things. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I had to do an interview with someone in my family, so I went to dad’s office upstairs. “Sure, he said, and turned to his typewriter. I thought I hadn’t clarified that I needed to INTERVIEW him. He knew, he just wanted to do it his way, and presently handed me a typewritten brief autobiography. Well, then I had to figure out how to make it look like I had actually done the project, so I wrote it out by hand and turned it in. I got an A plus, which of course he loved, and signed it right away.

He had a quick temper, the kind you don’t realize where you’ve veered off until it’s too late. That was confusing and scary at times. All we could really figure out is how to be mindful of going about things with him pretty gently. I don’t know what set him off, but when it did, everyone knew to step aside until it was over. My mother was so patient when he decided he was sick and tired of all the clutter in the garage and tore out there slinging things to and fro, sweeping and hosing out the place until he felt satisfied. We didn’t know about stress, or that he might just have shame from his childhood that re-enacted itself when he thought of how spotless his mother kept things.

He always loved cars, so that was a connection point for us. Sundays were good car-looking days because there wouldn’t be car salesmen to bother us as we worked the lot. At some point in my adult life, he created a document called “Cars of My Life”, listing every car he ever had. I had a great idea to illustrate it, so I went through and found pictures on the internet of the 40-50 cars and had them printed out. I’m sure I still have them somewhere, but I never created the full effect.

During my formative years, my dad was the general manager of an office park near our house. The company has since folded, and office parks are passe, but in the 70’s and 80’s, they were a collective, and he was, as I have said before, Sheriff Andy Taylor 2.0. He was well revered and easy going with the tenants, although he could be firm, too. He had one nice young secretary, but the one we liked most was Tillie, the sweet ‘Aunt Bea’ character in the village. (although we know in real life those two never got along). There were so many characters in the mix it was as though he had cast them in a series. The janitor/custodian, who spoke unintelligibiy due to the lit cig tenuously sticking to his lips. The maintenance man and his boys, a scraggly bearded fellow in a low hung tool belt. He called his wife ‘the drag line’ The wild-mod single mother of teens who loved Marty Robbins and had his pictures in a photo cube on her desk. There were more I didn’t know, but Dad created an after hours hangout called “The Pit”, which was just a regular (probably nightly) after work gathering to drink off the day’s stress. I’m sure it lasted until late at night sometimes, and I’m sure my mother got sick and tired of it. When leisure suits were popular, Dad got one, and the shirt had naked ladies on it, which I was ashamed of and hoped he would never wear when we were somewhere together. Little did I know in later years, I had a date show up to pick me up and my mother ran upstairs to catch me and tell me HE was wearing a leisure suit. in 1984.

How Important is it?

23 Oct

Since Bentz had a meeting this morning, I got Chik Fil A for a hurried breakfast. When I ordered my favorite chicken egg and cheese bagel, I was told matter of factly that was no longer a menu item. I recall squinting my eyes at the poor young girl, chiding her in my mind for not having the menu memorized. But it was NOT on the menu, and I had to quickly decide what to order instead. “Ugh, I said, I guess a chicken biscuit then.” Deflated, I ate the salty thing and drank my coffee, musing at myself for my early morning elitism.

Bentz’s birthday dinner this evening. Five gyoza instead of six now, at our favorite Sushi restaurant. We used to get three each, and here we are, faced with another change. It was an easy default tonight, so the birthday boy got three.

Be here now! I hear Baba Ram Dass saying in my head. I find myself stalled in moments like these, mainly because this minutiae is ridiculous and unimportant, yet it can rise up and feel unwieldy in the moment.

How important is it? I swiped this line from one of my dear ladies who gleaned it from someone else to manage overthinking. It is actually quite helpful along with the other three- is it true, is it helpful, and is it kind? If the issue can’t make it past those, well then let’s just leave it. It’s not worth the time.

My mother just called to let me know she found some keys. Her keys, I imagine, but you never know. Interesting how stressed she got recently when we had some plumbing work done at her house. The folks were very polite and did a thorough and quick job, but nonetheless I think it shook her up a bit and took her the weekend to recover. I use her as an example for myself quite often- on one hand, she’s very calm and trusting, moving through her day as her loop shrinks smaller and smaller. Then something happens, and she begins to feel untethered. She is able to share she feels ‘like a space cadet’.

Looks like this essay is turning into musings, as I neglected to write down all the cool things i thought of last week. I did enjoy reading “Dwellings”, and found it very soothing. I escaped to it frequently during the week, and gave myself a chapter to disconnect from the daily din. Her description of even just sinking into the water was spectacular, and I hope this week I will make time to notice the fall gifts arriving daily. The last of the figs are ripening and I found the furry culprit who ate my lone baby squash. Oh well, he/she must have needed it more than me. I felt sad for the dead mole on our sidewalk, and scolded the cat for his natural behavior. “Cat food, schmat food, he must say- look what I got!” Mom and I found a dead snake in her driveway. We stared at it together, and then she scooped it with her cane into the leaves.

On my rural rides to the prisons, I am scanning for interesting things. One trip yielded a “wake” of vultures all across the country road near a church. My usual habit is to stop and take a photo, but this time I just slowed down and got just a very blurry take on the scene I wanted to remember. I DID, however, read when I got home that a flying group of vultures is called a “ketlle”, and a sitting and resting group of vultures is a “committee”. The “wake” is a group of feeding vultures. These creatures are incredible to me because of their bold agenda. How do they select the houses or property where they line up and judge? I am in awe of their tenacity in recycling- my daughter and I stood by one early morning watching a vulture work on a dead opossum in the middle of the street for almost thirty minutes. We were rapt, and the vulture was impartial to our presence and kept picking and pulling to take care of the body.

Opossums are another favorite, poor things can’t seem to avoid cars in the night. Banjo the dog had a standoff with one in the yard years ago when he was much younger, and the possum was stuck in the fence unable to escape. He hissed and showed all his little pointy teeth to Banjo, who just barked and barked, but knew better than to get any closer. Once in a while now, one will be eating the cat food on the front porch when I step outside to put more out. Funny, the cats stand by and let the little guy devour their food, both looking up at me to remedy the situation.

I will take Linda Hogan’s work, and hopefully develop my own way of reminding myself “humankind is not separate from nature.”

Highlights and lowlights

18 Oct

Last week’s maelstrom gave me fodder for this week’s writing. Events, realizations, applications unfolded after the full moon pulled her covers over herself.

Several times I spoke out loud to myself, “now this is really becoming unbelievable.” My typically stable clients appeared in crisis throughout the week, citing mania or hopelessness as their theme. How unusual for these folks, who present at our sessions quite well to seemingly suddenly take such a swift turn. What caused it? I’m a zebra hunter, so I’m looking for clues- is it the seasonal change? Barometric Pressure drop? (cue Toots and The Maytals). Did they just have a night or two of poor sleep which devolved into thought distortions from the fear of previous episodes of increased symptoms?

Friday I lost the key to our company vehicle. I disregarded my thought of putting the key up before I left in my own car, thinking I could just do it later. Upon my return, they key was missing, which sent me into a cycle of checking and rechecking my purse, emptying its contents to see if I somehow it magically reappeared. I checked the parking lot where I parked my car, in case it fell out of my hand. I checked my house, in case I happened to put it down when I came by to let the dogs out. I briefly looked up a mindfulness video on manifesting lost objects. After going through the meditation, I finally decided to follow the recommendation I would have given one of my folks if this were happening to them. Stop. Have you done everything in your control? Yes? Then let it rest. No? Let it rest. Return to the project with fresh eyes later.

Sunday I went back to the office first thing in the morning to do one more comprehensive search and then move on with my day. Next stop, Liz’s house to feed her cats while she was out of town. They were pleased I had stopped by, and ate heartily. I headed back home, only to turn on to the main road and hear the flap flap flap flap of my right rear tire, dammit, needing air again. Only this time, air wasn’t enough. I wrestled with the hose, spraying the two dollar air everywhere but my tire. I noticed another car pulled up while I hopelessly attempted to fill my tire. I stood up. “Oh well. I guess I’ll call a tow truck.” The man with the other car asked my for the air hose, and made good use of the air for his tire. “Don’t do that- I’ll change it for you as soon as I get this filled up.” I hastily rearranged the trunk so I could access the spare, and he got right to work. Kenneth had just got off work this morning, and was heading back to Barnwell to sit with his parents, mainly his mother, who required more care at this point. He works in Columbia, and was commenting about the rent being so high, he actually lived in a camper outside his parents’ house and commuted in. He’d spent time in jail. He had two brothers and a sister, two of which lived out of town, and one was a nurse who was unable to help as much with their parents. Kenneth said that was okay, because as long as he got to see his mother smile, it was worth being there.

I wondered if I had actually manifested Kenneth in my pursuit of the lost key- is that how it works? Maybe the universe just gives us what we need and manifesting is not necessary. Despite his resistance to take any money for the work he did, I force-cash-apped him anyway. I thought about widening my scope of rewarding good deeds or good service in the future, and made a plan to hone in on what’s REALLY important and what’s really here and now, and it’s not the kay. Expensive, sure, but fairly quickly replaceable. The encounter with Kenneth was much more valuable that day, and not only for the tire change.

The Hidden Story

9 Oct

In talk of narrative development, the connection and relationships are paramount in gleaning the richness of the story behind the presentation. Since I am able to work with individuals for an unlimited period of time, I am often honored to be present for the hidden treasures my folks allow me in on.

One: A middle aged male with a history of complex trauma, which has impacted social interactions and interpersonal relationships. Upon one of our first meetings, he declared he would probably have to get a ‘real therapist’. He presents rigid and argumentative, gruff and standoffish. Over the years, he has allowed me to know at one time, he called the NICU to see if they would take volunteers in the nursery to rock preemies. I have watched him care for his neighbors when he didn’t know I was looking. He is now at the point where he is flexible enough to try some of the skills he has balked at previously, and continues to have success. We have gone from meeting twice a week to once every two weeks.

Two: A senior male, who entered the program from psychiatric hospitalization following the loss of his mother, father, his sister, and his partner of 32 years in close succession. He often shared he ‘wasn’t like the other clients’ in that he didn’t have a severe mental health problem. He presents prideful and aloof, friendly but looking for opportunities to project. Since he was a retail manager during his working years, he uses high expectations of others and his former work ethic to shield him from revealing his story. We have worked together for five years, and from time to time he will break down in heaving sobs, still grieving the loss of his love. He has revealed how he continues to live a double life, as he was unable to come out to his coworkers and mangers in the 80’s and 90’s. The sadness still exists he would not be accepted by his neighbors if they knew. His family revered their mother and disregarded their father, (“Not once in my life did the man ever hug me or tell me he loved me. One year for Christmas he build me a little workbench- why would he think I would want that? I feel like he didn’t even know me.”) Despite his disconnection from his father, he cared for him and his mother at the end of their lives and they died within five days of each other. I took him to their graves several years ago, and gave him time with them. I wasn’t close enough to hear everything, but he spoke to his father in a heartfelt way.

Three: Another middle aged male, heavily depressed since the day I met him in 2012. I eventually became his point of contact about four years ago. He had other case mangers and remained highly anxious outside his apartment. He experienced a panic attack in the office one day, and was whisked home immediately. He remains socially avoidant, with little or no contact with neighbors or outside entities. For the time I’d known him, He spoke mainly about things he used to do before he became depressed. He did not speak of his family, so when we began to meet regularly, it was right about the time he had decided to pick up writing he started in high school which became a series of nine books. He later shared the writing had helped him heal from the betrayal he felt from his family, and was able to go more into detail. About two years ago, he all of a sudden shared he had been married previously and had a daughter who was headed into adolescence. He expressed deep sadness he was unable to make contact with her because the mother would not allow it and kept him blocked. He is moving into hoping they will connect when she is an adult.

Four: An agitated female, exactly my age (57), with a horrific history of trauma, abuse, substance use, self-harm, and severe mental illness. She is a spitfire, and has ‘gone off’ on her neighbors and others from time to time when things feel unfair. She has showed up to appointments with positive drug screens and been through the mental health probate court for substance use. She threatens to fight people and cut people if they do her wrong, and has evidence of past fights on her arms and legs. She is honest about her drug use, and reports she is only uses crack a couple of times a week, so she feels it is unfair for people to judge her because others are using consistently. Inside, her apartment is immaculate, with small stuffed animals tacked to the entry wall. She has a ‘WIPE YOUR FEET’ and a cat sticker on her door. She worries to me about her neighbor’s infant, hoping its mother knows how to care for it, and offering her own advice. She looks out for the stray cats in the community, and has asked me to help take a mama cat and her litter to the humane society so they would get adopted. I gave her a snake plant earlier in the year. She had intermittent rows with her neighbors, and one night she called me unintelligibly yelling and crying, and I finally discerned someone had broken off several leaves of her snake plant. Friday she told me she was going to make a lasagne, but didn’t have a dish/pan to cook it in. Luckily I had quick access to several, and dropped one off to her. She later texted, “love you”.

There is so much beauty in being the spaceholder for someone while they find their way to a contented life. I don’t say ‘find their way back’, because most came from situations where they have never even had the opportunity to BE. A life on alert and in the throes of mental illness, unsafe and unsheltered, their self-care and decision making is immature or nonexistent. I hope someday they will be able to tell their stories fully and proudly.

September 89

30 Sep

YAY! We got released from work at 1:00pm today due to inclement weather! I was excited for a little administrative time this morning, but while I’m working, I know my mother is glued to the storm coverage on MSNBC, the only channel she watches. I wonder if she understands the storm is actually somewhere else, but we are going to have some residual winds and rain (hopefully not tornadoes).

I reminded her about their living on James Island when Hurricane Hugo hit. Because my husband at the time was on a submarine in the Navy, he had to stay on the sub. That left me to figure out how to say a potential goodbye to all our belongings- I pushed all the furniture into the center of the living room, and left the apartment and evacuated Charleston with everyone else. Mom, Dad and brother, me and my cat loaded our cars and headed to Greenville to stay overnight (or until the storm passed).

We had breakfast the next day, and I decided to come back to town to see if I could get into the apartment. I had driven my husband’s Honda Civic for the trip. Pulling into the parking lot, I found my sweet Hyundai crushed under the weight of a fallen tree. (Crushed but not totaled, I would later find out, learning the outrageousness of auto body work). My apartment building was intact, save for a tree which crashed into my neighbor’s unit. There were trees and debris scattered around the complex as if a giant child had been playing and slinging things haphazardly. The pool was black and full of branches and leaves as well. People described the area as a ‘war zone’ on TV. It did seem like something lost in time, like the old Logan’s Run scene of Washington, DC, obsolete and overgrown. I drove over to my parents’ house with the cooler, assuming correctly they had no power. I absconded with the contents of their refrigerator, and surveyed the property to report any immediate concerns to my parents. They lived on a tidal creek, in just the right spot for their sea wall to become consistently stressed. The storm made haste with the wall and tore it from its rebar, making a twisted mess on the land to which it was formerly attached. Other than that, there was some light flooding and damage to the screened porch, but amazingly nothing else. The journey there and back, on the other hand, was treacherous. Downed trees and unexpected debris in the roadway compromised a safe route to and from the place. I was glad to be home and pulled the furniture pile back into position. My husband and his crew entered into shiftwork, so they were able to take turns coming home over the next week or so. We combined forces with our two neighbors who lived in the complex and worked with my husband. The boys dubbed themselves the “Hurricane Rapid Response Team”, scouring the neighborhood for folks needing help with downed trees or light yardwork. We ate together at our rudimentary campfire in our neighbor’s grill. We felt like pioneers, and enjoyed the lack of electricity and responsibility in our lives at that moment.

Many people, during the height of a natural disaster, fear things getting out of control to the degree they assemble themselves into a vigilante force. My husband noted this concept on his way off the boat when several of his fellow petty officers were discussing the distribution of firearms amongst themselves. “Hey man, do you need a gun?” one guy asked my husband, who thankfully refused. Our neighbor, Richard, had appointed himself deputy of our apartment building, I suppose, and let me know he was keeping everything safe for all of us by having his gun. What he actually did was terrify me, as I envisioned myself making my way back across the complex only to be shot to death by my neighbor the ‘protector’.

Our power was restored about ten days later, and over the weeks things started to return to ‘normal’. I got a temporary job cleaning up shingles and other debris around town. We spent days at various apartment complexes and business, shoving shingles into trashbags while avoiding the prolific fire ant hills which cropped up immediately after the storm. Our job also entailed cleaning the gunk out of computers and other electronic equipment. Looking back, I’m sure we made very little headway with our solvents and q-tips and would have been better off trashing everything, but no one asked me.

My mother and I resumed our walking routine in the downtown area. We usually walked around Colonial Lake, near the marina where boats were tossed like toys out of their slips and thrown into the center of Lockwood Drive. We had been walking prior to the hurricane, as we were both trying to keep ourselves in shape (she had been a participant in a study of Prozac, when they discovered it had side effects of weight loss. Probably a pretty good time in her life, as I remember it.) After the storm, there were days we got sidetracked from our walking to look at the huge piles of items heaped on the curbs outside homes in the historic district. Rugs, lamps, furniture, art, clothing and other items were discarded in the cleanup, and my mother was there to rescue what she could. I recall helping her pull things apart to evaluate the roadside treasures.

It’s interesting how quickly we can unite and collaborate (see the gun club above) in times of difficulty. We are so willing to help others, share our resources, and combine efforts. What happens after the ‘thrill is gone’? How long does it take to slide slowly back into our comfort zones and retreat into our own lives with less connection that before?

Cut to Saturday, after wind and rain came. Leafblowers out, folks were intent on ridding their property of the storm’s evidence. Back and forth to my mother’s house (12 miles round trip), I counted 11 people blowing leaves and debris onto the street or into a pile. I guess that’s one of the stages of storm processing.