Tag Archive: Relationships


Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.


My life exploded when I was 17.  I had just gotten out of an adolescent psych hospital where my mother had committed me after she decided I was too much trouble to deal with.  I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t promiscuous, I wasn’t doing badly in school, I wasn’t violent, I wasn’t even really much of a back talker (I was too afraid of my mother for that).  I was just a teenager, and therefore a handful.  A handful my mother, an alcoholic with untreated mental illness, was unequipped to handle.  When it was time for me to get out, she wouldn’t let me come back home.  Instead, she made me go live with my stepfather, the man who had sexually abused me as a child.  Six weeks later, he kicked me out over the Thanksgiving holiday.

My boyfriend’s family came to my rescue and let me come to live with them.  I’m not sure what I would have done if they hadn’t.  There was a place called Covenant House in Houston for runaway teens, but I can only imagine what sort of environment that place must have been.  I just wanted to finish high school and go to college.  Their kindness and generosity allowed me to do that.

I was still a teenager, though, and one who had been essentially raised by wolves: I was selfish, and while I had good manners, I lacked the knowledge of how to really treat other people with consideration, since I had never been.  I’m sure I was incredibly rude and ungrateful on more than one occasion over the next two years that I stayed with them.  And while I’m sure that I thanked them for letting me stay there at first, I doubt they received the thanks that they all deserved over the time that I spent with them.

This has weighed heavily on me in recent years.  My life would undoubtedly look quite different now if they had not taken me in and allowed me to finish school and start a path in college, even if I never finished it.  After my boyfriend and I broke up (under circumstances that embarrass me to this day), I maintained sporadic contact with them for a few years, and after that dropped off their radar.  In retrospect, this was incredibly rude of me.  On the one hand, it makes sense for an ex-girlfriend to fade into the background.  On the other hand, these were people who took me into their home at a time when my life was in deep crisis and could have taken a grave turn for the worse.  I should have maintained some kind of contact with at least his parents.

I didn’t, though, and it bothers me.  A few years ago, before I got on Facebook and reconnected with just about everyone from my past, I searched the internet for my ex in hopes that I would find an email address or some other way to contact him so that I could express my thanks and let he and his family know how I was doing.  I found an email address, and sent a letter along with some photos. I never got a reply, or a bounce notification, so I was never sure if the letter got stuck in a spam folder, or if the letter was received and was deemed upsetting, or what.

Fast forward about three years, to being connected on Facebook to old friends, including the ex’s current wife (which makes me happy: I suspect he always had a crush on her).  I had been thinking about my lack of contact, and gratitude, over the years again.  My curiosity was also piqued again as to whether or not that letter ever made it to its destination.  So I asked her to ask him if it did, and she said yes: he just wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do about it.

I’m not sure what to make of that.  There’s obviously no desire for communication there, or he would have at least written back to say “I got your letter, thanks for writing.”  I also don’t know if he passed my expression of thanks on to his parents, which is important to me.  And there’s my sticking point.  Do I write again to see if that information got to its final destination?  I don’t want to upset anyone, but I also want to make sure that people know that I appreciate what they did for me.

This raises some questions.  What’s the real purpose of my wanting to get in touch?  Is it really for the mere expression of gratitude?  If so, then that’s just for them.  Or is to make myself feel better?  If so, then that’s for me.  In light of knowing my original letter reached my ex, it’s important for me to ask myself these questions.  If I’m really thinking of other people, maybe I should just let things be.  Or should I at least ask to see if I should speak or write directly to his parents?  After so much time, maybe they’ve forgotten all about me and any contact would just be confusing, or unwanted.  This is my trouble.  I can only know by trying, and then it’s too late if I’ve done something upsetting, which I don’t want to do.

Hence the title of my post: am I doing this for them, or am I doing it for me?  It’s not the job of other people with whom I have had no contact for nearly 20 years to provide me with absolution.  Only I can do that.  Still, it would make me feel better knowing for sure that his parents know how I feel.  I don’t know why it bothers me so much.

So that’s what’s on my brain these days.  I’m going to wait and think on things some more before doing anything, if I do anything at all.  Really, I just want people to know that I care about them and think about them and that I haven’t forgotten what they did for me, and that I’m sorry for anything that I might have done wrong.  But only if doing so won’t be doing something wrong itself.

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂

Grieving


I was going to write this entry a few days ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I simultaneously wanted to write it and didn’t want to write it. I knew it would make me blubber like a baby.

Our cat, YinYang, died Thursday. We were going to give him another day of fluids and meds to see if we could turn his health around, but he just got worse and was obviously miserable and possibly in pain. So we made the decision late Wednesday night that it would be our last night with him. We gave him some pain meds to make him more comfortable and got him to stay on our bed for a while, but he kept going back to a quiet and secluded spot under a table in our yoga room. It was one of the things that told me it was time for him to go: he was holing up to die. He was also having extraordinary trouble walking. It killed me to see him lurching around the house like a drunken sailor. It had just gotten worse and worse over the week.

Thursday morning I called the vet to arrange an appointment to have him put to sleep. It was hard not to sob as I spoke to the receptionist, who was very sympathetic. We spent the morning with YinYang, petting him and telling him how much we loved him and that we would be with him to the end. I could tell he really wanted to be with us. I put some blankets on the floor so I could lay down with him, and despite his discomfort, he came over to lay down with me. Still, he was no longer purring or lifting his bum when I petted his back to scratch the base of his tail. He still wanted me to scratch his nose and face, though, always his favorite way to be petted.

Then I had to wake up our daughter, who we had let stay home from school so she could also say goodbye to him. I had to tell her that these were our last few hours with YinYang and that she needed to go spend some time with him while she could. There was great sadness: this cat had been in her life since the day she was born and it was the first time that she had to deal with something she loved dying. It broke my heart to tell her that we had to put him to sleep.

It was also the first time in a great while that I had had to deal with losing a pet. Since the people in my early life were so dysfunctional, I came to love animals more than I loved people. Even though my life now is much more functional than my parents’ were and is filled with wonderful friends whom I adore, there is still a special place in my heart for animals and I have a love for them that is singular and very different from the love I have for people. Animals were my friends when I had no human friends. As such, I have always taken it very hard when I have lost a pet.

The last time I had a pet die was when I was 14. Sam was his name, and for a month, he was super affectionate with us. Then one day he disappeared. I’ve never been sure if he knew he was going to die and so was spending time with us before he wandered off to do so, or if he was just taken by a raccoon or a possum. We were all devastated, but I was particularly upset. Sam had come with us from Michigan when we moved from Detroit and he was a source of great comfort to me in those first months away from our home. I have had other cats in between Sam and my current cat family, but they were given away to friends, so their parting was not as difficult.

Our last hour with YinYang arrived, and my husband and daughter went outside to dig a grave for him. We had already picked a spot in the back of the yard underneath an elderberry tree where he used to like to lay in the shade. I stayed inside with him. We never left him alone during those last few hours, not once. Then they were done and I got ready to take him to the vet. My husband and daughter gave him hugs and kisses and said goobye to him. He put up no protest at being put into the carrier and didn’t make a sound on the way there.

At the vet’s office, they signed me in without the usual countertop formalities: they all knew why I was there. All of the staff at the vet clinic had gotten used to seeing me last week. We were at the vet every day Monday through Thursday and they knew what we were trying to do to save him. They were very sad for me and were very kind, taking care of paperwork and payment beforehand so I wouldn’t have to deal with it afterwards. They took me to a room with comfortable chairs. I sat down and took him out of the carrier, but he wanted to stay in it. The vet came in to talk about his condition and agreed that he had taken a serious downturn. She left for a bit and came back with a sedative. I picked him up in my arms and they gave him the shot. Within two minutes he was limp. I put him on my lap and petted him, telling him I was there with him. He took a jagged breath every minute or so but was clearly between worlds at that point. The vet would tell me later that he also had heart disease and that treating the kidney disease had made it worse. Hence the jagged breathing.

Then the vet came in with the drug that would let him pass on. He was gone within a minute. She took him away for a few minutes to take the catheter out of his leg and clean him up a little bit. A tech returned with him wrapped up in a towel, and she placed him in his carrier. I sat in the room alone with him for a few minutes, then left to return home. I changed my clothes and then cut out a large piece of white cotton from my supply of fabric. I laid it out on the floor and brought in YinYang, gently laying him down on the cloth. We had one last sobbing fit over him. Then I gently wrapped him in the cloth and pinned it closed. I picked him up and we all went outside to bury him. I gently laid him in his grave, and we all smudged ourselves and him with sage smoke. Then I read a passage from the Gnostic Mass of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica:

Unto them from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen may there be granted the accomplishment of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills. Aum, Aum, Aum.

We sat in silence for a moment, then using our hands, we pushed the dirt over him. Our daughter went inside while my husband and I used shovels to finish his burial mound. Then I reluctantly went inside. It was hard to leave him.  Later that day, I placed my cat garden statue next to his mound to keep watch over him.  The next day, I noticed that tiny white elderflowers had sprinkled over his mound.  I felt a little more sure that he had gone on to a better place.

I have been through an astounding range of emotions since last Tuesday when it became apparent that there was a high probability that we were going to lose YinYang. I spent a couple of days feeling guilty and wondering if there was something I could have done sooner that would have prevented his getting so ill. But there wasn’t. His illness was hidden so well beneath his healthy-looking exterior and beneath my impressions that his slowing down was a result of his old age. A month and a half ago, when he was starting to look sickly, I though it was because of the massive flea attack all of the cats were dealing with, because they all looked a bit ill. When he didn’t improve after having flea medicine applied to him, I thought it was because the medicine had made him feel ill. Two or so weeks ago, I decided he needed to see the vet, but it would have to wait until payday because I had to pay the deposits for my daughter’s summer camps. By the time payday came, it was too late.

I am trying to absorb the lessons of YinYang’s illness without making myself feel guilty. Future cats will immediately be taken to the vet upon my observing that they have lost even an iota of weight, that they are eating less, or have a drop in energy level, no matter how young or old they are. Cats over ten years old will get annual blood tests to check their kidney, liver, and heart values. I will also pay more attention to how much water they drink. Cats in kidney failure will drink tons of water. I noticed just this morning that I haven’t had to fill the water bowl nearly as much as I did when YinYang was still alive. He was plainly consuming huge amounts of water, and I didn’t notice.

None of this is my fault. I’ve never had cats this old. I didn’t know what to look for. But it doesn’t make his absence hurt any less keenly.

Little things keep making me sad, like walking by my daughter’s bedroom where he liked to sleep on her purple rugs.  Or seeing the three blue glass bowls we use to feed the cats. The third bowl seems lonely now. Just this morning, I walked by my daughter’s room and stopped at the door, thinking a pile of clothes was the cat. I imagine that’s going to happen a lot for a few months.

I will miss YinYang so much. He was so unique and had so much personality. We called him the DogCat. He came when he was called and was very protective of us and his home. When he was younger, he had a regular patrol that covered our house, our neighbors, and the three houses across the street. He was king of the street at 16 pounds, and every cat on the block knew it. They would come into the yard, take one look at YinYang, and go right back the way they came. Which was funny to me, because he was such a sweetheart. He’d beat the crap out of any cat that came too close, though. And if you were a large dog, your ass was grass. YinYang attacked no fewer than three dogs during his life that outweighed him by at least a factor of three, if not bigger. Two of them belonged to friends, which embarrassed me terribly.  Dogs were the only thing that changed YinYang from loverboy to asskicker.

He was the most affectionate cat I have ever owned. He could actually be annoyingly pushy about getting his pets. My husband and I sit in the yoga room every afternoon after he gets home from work, and we talk about our day. YinYang would always come and push the door open a few seconds after we had sat down, making one of us get back up again. Then he’d bump his head into whatever set of hands happened to be closest and free. If that didn’t work, he’d climb into the lap of whoever was in the armchair. Let me tell you, when a 16 pound cat gets in your lap to demand pets, he is unignorable. And we seldom did. We adored that cat, and he adored us back. I will miss running my hands over his giant, incredibly soft body. He is the most awesome cat who has ever lived, and I seriously doubt that I will ever have a cat that will match his personality and depth of emotion. People who say animals can’t feel, can’t feel themselves, and if such people could have spent any time with YinYang, their minds would have been changed.

You will be sorely missed, YinYang. I hope that you are frolicking happily with your sister, Daisy, in the Great Catnip Field in the Sky in the Land of Slow Mice.

Clueless, Part Two


A while back I wrote an entry called Clueless about my inability to tell when people like me and want to be my friend. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of friends, it’s just that in some part of my mind I assume they’re there merely out of habit rather than desire. Which the rest of me knows is just fucked up and somewhat insulting to the people who do call me their friend.

It came up again the other day when someone very stressed out by finals said that they missed spending time with me and my daughter, and I remember feeling somewhat surprised that someone actually missed me, other than my daughter and husband. I mean, if people are my friends, then of course they would miss me when I’m not around or if they haven’t been able to see me for a while. It would be stupid (and again, insulting) to assume otherwise.

I don’t know why I do this, really. Enough time has passed between now and when I was incredibly insecure in my early 20s that I think I shouldn’t feel this way any more. I have achieved what I had sought for so long: to have a stable and long-lived community of friends, something my parents were never able to maintain. They couldn’t help but to offend people eventually, and the people they didn’t offend were just as fucked up as they were.

I need to work on appreciating my own worth. I’ve solved many other of my baggage issues, which is a fucking miracle considering how much of it I was hauling around. Seriously, if mental baggage had to be carried in something physical, I would have occupied an entire FedEx 747. I’m down to a small two-engine plane these days: just a few bags. One of the last ones, though, is the one marked “Poor Self Esteem”, destination code SOL. That’s a tough one. I have a mantra that I tell myself when I think I suck:

“I cannot suck.
I am surrounded by intelligent people who would
not spend time with someone who sucks.
Therefore, I cannot suck.”

It’s my personal Dune fear mantra (which is another fabulous one: I need to memorize it). I’ve told it to myself enough times that I think I suck much less than I used to, but it still needs tattooing on the inside of my eyelids, along with a Zen koan I recently read:

Let go or be dragged.

Amen. Perhaps I should see the baggage as being what’s in motion, rather than myself, and it’s dragging me along. Or flying the plane. That seems dangerous if I want to be mentally healthy. I wouldn’t let someone who’s delusional drive me around in a car: I shouldn’t let tenacious negative delusions drive my life.

Speaking of delusions, news on the headmeat front is fairly positive lately. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that the lithium went away last year (thank the gods) along with a couple of other meds that were causing skin and breathing problems (I like air, I’d like to have as much of it as possible, thank you very much). They were replaced by Lamictal and Ritalin, of all things. I used to think that disorders that “required” things like Ritalin were a bunch of trumped up hooey made up by teachers who just wanted a quiet classroom. I know differently now. Ritalin lets me focus and think. Without it, my mind meanders here and there, like that dog in “Up”.

“Squirrel!”

Recently I’ve added another: Saphris. Which unfortunately is incredibly expensive. Like $13 a pill (FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!!!), but unlike the other drugs in its class, it doesn’t cause severe sedation or weight gain (which is a misnomer: these drugs don’t cause weight gain, they cause uncontrollable munchies). Fortunately, it’s pretty new so the headmeat folks are still drowning in samples.  If I can float on samples for another year, I’ll be able to actually afford it since we’ll be done paying off an old debt. And I’ll probably keep taking it, because it’s outstanding at shutting off the constant mental chatter and musical jukebox going on in my brain (you only think you know what an earworm is like). A good friend calls it the Mental Dinner Party. Sometimes the guests are all happy and enjoying their meal and conversation. Other times they’re really angry and are throwing dishes and wine glasses at each other. Or knives, if it’s a really bad day (those are just analogies: I do not throw things at people). Saphris makes everyone get along.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry. But it’s a normal-in-the-way-others-get-angry sort of thing. It’s hard to describe how to tell the difference between good angry and bad angry. It’s a mental quality that’s impossible to tell someone about unless they’ve experienced it. It’s the difference between being in control, and being out of control. And the latter is very frightening, let me tell you. I’ll take anything that puts a lid on that happy horseshit.

On that note, I’m going back to working on my spiritual journal. It’s the most fun I’ve had creatively in a very long time.


The spectre of anger has hung over my family for at least five generations.  Reading our genealogical history is like walking through a museum of dysfunction.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, etc.  So much abuse that the word ‘abuse’ becomes non-sensical when I say or think it.  I think often about the nature of anger and how and why it manifests.

Whilst perusing Facebook today, I ran across a link to this short video by Mingyur Rinpoche entitled “What Meditation Really Is”, which you can watch here.

In five minutes, he was able to slice through all of the conflicting notions I have had regarding meditation, notions that have kept me from establishing a meditation practice.  YouTube is always helpful in guiding its viewers to similar videos, so I clicked on the one entitled “Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness”, yet another Buddhist concept that I struggle mightily with.  Again, in five minutes, he was able to clarify how anger relates to the rest of our emotions in an amazingly clear way.  Trying to fight with anger using compassion is futile, because the compassion comes through the anger.  Dig beneath the surface of anger deeply enough, and you will find compassion.  Anger is often the result of stymied compassion.  Seeing how anger and compassion are interrelated helped me see the true nature of my own anger and where it comes from.

In the midst of that clarity, I remembered something that my grandmother said to me during one of my all-too-few visits to her before she died.  I was asking her about her family and about some of the things my mother had told me regarding their own abusive relationship.  And she said, “I don’t think I was  so much angry as I was afraid.”  Like a bell ringing in a temple to awaken and clear the mind, all of the aspects of dysfunction in my family and the generations before us became so much clearer.  Today, as I still struggle with anger, I strive to remember what Gram said.  Anger I have trouble with, but fear I can handle.  Fear is greatly quelled by logic and rationality, two things I pride myself of having a good grasp upon.  Whenever I am angry, I try to ask myself if I’m angry, or if I’m afraid.  Nine times out of ten, I’m afraid of something, usually the future and the unknown.  Once I identify my fear, I can find reasons for it to back off.

I feel I am much closer to achieving my goal of establishing a good meditation practice now that these things have been clarified for me.  I feel like I have been looking through a dirty window that has just been cleaned, and now the light can get in and I can see things for what they really are.  Now I won’t have to waste my meditation time worrying that I’m not doing it right, an attitude that has killed nearly every attempt at meditation I have made.  Now I don’t need to fear or fight with my anger.  What I seek is inside my anger and fear, and if I make friends with them and direct their energies more positively, I will find my compassion and my loving-kindness.  My metta.  In that way I feel I will be much more successful in my goal of sharing my bodhicitta, my awakened mind, with others.  I have always felt that I have something very important to do while I walk this Earth.  Perhaps I am a little bit closer to figuring out what that might be.

Experiment


I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks.  I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects.  Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment.  It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly.  Riding a stationary bike?  Straight out.  Karate?  Not much better.

Then there were the memory issues.  I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing.  I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it.  Fun times.  Never mind tv shows, what about my life?  My daughter?  Memories are what make a human life.  Without them, what’s the point of living?  It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore.  Something was terribly amiss.  A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.

So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc.  So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks.  I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero.  600mg seemed to be okay.  I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful.  I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible.  I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.

This really upset me.  I had really wanted to be off that particular drug.  It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take.  I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought.  But I was.  I really was, or am.  And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.

But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do.  She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help.  And that clearly wasn’t true.

I have bipolar illness.  I am not bipolar.  That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder.  It’s tough to make that distinction.  I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it.  And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic.  Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here.  It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it.  I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But what absolutely does NOT work is denial.  I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while.  I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day.  I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life.  Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.

Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog.  After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud.  They hide it as much as possible.  That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me.  And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding.  Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth.  People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Why not these?  Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass?  Not likely.  So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.


So I hit the big four-oh recently.  40.  I know it’s just an arbitrary chronological marker, like 20 or 30, but you remember how seriously you took those particularly markers, don’t you?  Crossing 20 was like the loss of your youth.  Only one year away from legally drinking, your days of clandestine partying were just about over.  Crossing 30 was like the loss of the rest of your youth.  You could no longer be irresponsible and head out for the weekend on rock climbing or motorcycling adventures.  Or so your psyche told you, anyway.

40 is much the same way.  It’s telling me about all of the things that I’ve lost, about all of the things that I’m not “allowed” to do anymore, and all of the things that I “should” do now.  And I’m having an incredibly difficult time with all of those “shoulds” and “alloweds” and everything that goes along with it.  So what does being 40 years old really mean?

On the surface, it means just that: I have achieved 40 revolutions around the Sun, and no more.  In my case, that’s a fine accomplishment.  I should have been killed either by someone else’s hand or my own by now.  The chances of being killed by someone else dropped considerably long ago when I didn’t live with either of my parents anymore.  The chances of being killed by myself?  Not as low, I admit.  It’s times like those I’m glad I have such a loving husband, magickal daughter, spectacular friends, and a print of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hanging over my desk.  If Vincent could look through the bars of his sanitarium window and create that, then I have no room for complaint.  So 40 revolutions around the Sun aren’t such a meager accomplishment for me, or for any of us, I’m guessing.

It also means coming face to face with some old baggage.  I’ve had this weird notion since my 20s that there was a “wall” of sorts at 40.  I could ‘see’ past my 20s and into my 30s and guess pretty well what I’d be doing, but I couldn’t see past 40.  I still can’t.  That’s terrifying and heartening at the same time.  What am I going to be doing?  Will I finally publish that book of mine?  Will I simply keep trudging through the domestic life of Mom?  A life that, I hate to admit, is not very satisfying.  Culture tells me I’m supposed to feel guilty about that, but I don’t.  A much smaller cultural template tells me that it’s just goddman fine to want to have a life of my own while I simultaneously walk the path of Mom.  Maybe it’s right, though at the moment I lack other voices to hear and hands to hold to help me along that path.  And I have a horrible fear of “doing the wrong thing”.  Don’t we all?

If I kept along the path of Mom and nothing else, what comes after that?  Nothing happy, I fear.  If I keep along the path of “Hey, I can do both!”, what comes after that?  Happiness?  Unhappiness?  Fulfillment?  A happy daughter?  An angry one?  That’s really the crux of all this.  I am raising a daughter, who is nearly 9.  She wants to listen to pop music, and she wants her clothes to be just right, and boys make her feel “all melty”.  I’m not sure if I’m ready for all that yet.  I know the time of separation is coming sometime soon.  The day when she will not run across the schoolyard with a belly-crunching hug and an “I love you” for me, because that will just not be cool.  Or maybe it will and that’s just my fear speaking.

Speaking?  My fear screams these days.  It shouts from the rafters and tries to convince me that it will all be the same as when I grew up, and I shout back at it that it’s wrong and has no idea what it’s talking about because it’s never seen the things that I hope for.  Hope’s in there too.  Lovely Hope.  Her voice is quieter, and I wish it were louder so that she could drown out all of the other voices that plague my mind.

That is what 40 means for me.  Many veils to pass through, many doors to walk through, none of which I am familiar with because I have previously walked through a very different set of veils and doors that led to horrible places with angry faces and treacherous lessons.  Now is when the last fetters of childhood are ripped asunder, and it’s going to smart.  People keep telling me that the 40s are better than the 30s.  I look at them with more than a bit of disbelief, but maybe they’re right, because I certainly don’t need any of the things that I hope to strip away or ignore.  It’s just not going to be any fun at all, not for a while anyway.

Anhedonia


Cover of "The Wall"

Cover of The Wall

From the Greek ‘an-‘ meaning against or not, and ‘-hedone’, meaning pleasure.  Therefore, a lack of pleasure.  One of the hallmarks of depression.  Not to mention something I’ve been suffering from to one degree or another for months (years?) now.  Really, I can’t tell how long anymore.  When was the last time I was truly happy and enjoying my life?  I don’t know.

I define happiness as an overall contentment that makes a person pleased when they wake up in the morning and eager to get out of bed to meet the day’s challenges, whatever they may be.  Those challenges are not met with anxiety but with fervor and gusto.  Episodes of unhappiness or down feelings are fleeting and do not last long, unless something big like a death has occurred.  A happy person has things that they work on that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s their job or their home or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

I’m missing these things, and I can’t tell anymore if it’s because of my brain chemistry or because the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Worse, it’s entirely possible that my brain chemistry causes me to think that the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Like a horrible trick is being played on me from inside my head.

Then the shoulds come marching in, like Pink Floyd’s hammers in The Wall.  I understand that double-album so intimately now, from end to end.  I get it in a way I really wish I didn’t.  But there they are, those hammer-like shoulds.  You should be happy because you have a beautiful family.  You should be happy because you live in a great city.  You should be happy because you have great friends.  You should be happy because you have so much freedom.  You should be happy because your husband takes such good care of you and makes sure you have what you need.  You should be happy for a billion reasons that you must be ignoring or else you’d be happy, and therefore you should feel bad because you are not happy.

The shoulds spiral around in an ever-tightening circle that inevitably leads back to me, laying the blame of everything in my life that should make me happy but doesn’t at my weary mental feet.  Guilt, shame, and blame: the staunch guardians left over from a childhood of watching the hammers beat down the other people surrounding me.

I would give anything to want to get up in the morning and to greet the day with enthusiasm about what it may bring, rather than weariness or fear.
I would give anything to go through my day with ease and contentment, addressing each task in a relaxed way that did not tense my body and mind.
I would give anything to deal with my family with a serenity that did not treat every problem as though it may be earth-shattering.
I would give anything to lay my head upon my pillow each night feeling good about the day, knowing that there was another one on the other side of my dreams.

I would give anything to be freed of this demon that has followed me for so many years and has only relented when I’ve been able to travel, have been in school, or have been in a position to have goals, dreams, and hopes bigger than myself.  Perhaps I have these things and I just can’t see them for whatever reason, and need to clean those shit-colored glasses I seem to find myself wearing so often.  Is this one of those places where it’s difficult to tell where I stop and where my illness begins?  If so, I truly hope the answer is found soon, as my tolerance for the medication dance is already wearing thin.  “Nope, that didn’t work, let’s try another one!”  This can go on for years for some people.  I’m not sure if I have the stamina for that.

In the meantime, I wait and tell the appropriate people when I’m feeling particular ways and try not to do too much damage along the way, to myself or anyone else.  And hope that I am bigger, stronger, and more patient than anhedonia.

%d bloggers like this: