It’s Alive!

I feel a little like Peter Boyle’s monster at the end there.  “Who the hell is the idiot screaming?”  But, the idiot would also be me (less some of Gene Wilder’s hair), bellowing the news to the world.  I admit to ambivalence in making such a bold announcement after being sick for three months. It makes me want to touch wood, spit over my shoulder, or at least wear a hat when I go outside.

Also, I seem to be suffering from a weird kind of amnesia, like not being able to remember what I was talking about after someone interrupts me.  The thought was insightful, choice, but damn if it isn’t gone.  So I just stand and gawp, waiting for the brilliance to return. What was I doing three months ago?  No clue.

Maybe it’s not even relevant anymore.  That’s what I tell myself instead of panicking. Let’s just start by unlocking these steel straps, I tell my mad scientist, and we’ll see what happens next.

So, this week I went back to my water aerobics class, because I remember I used to like the water, and I blew the dust off my journal, and I started to plan.  Because, you know, I gotta have a plan.

Which reminds me that I got a Squatty Potty sometime during the haze of pneumonia.  But that’s a different post.  And, no, that’s not me demonstrating the healthful benefits.  I don’t wear white (But click on the link to the Squatty Potty commercial.  You won’t be sorry).HappySquatter-SquattyEccoStool

Anyway… what was I saying?

A Plan.  Right.

All I’ve been able to do so far is babble in my journal.  What’s important to me now?   What needs my attention?  What’s happening?  Where am I?

Getting my strength back and building my immune system came up a lot.  So did paying attention to how winter seems to be sapping Vyvanse’s effectiveness. And maybe I should see if I have any money in the bank.  So much more to consider now than whether I can sit at my table and sort beads for a half hour.

And speaking of those beads… I sure had fun making zodiac cards for the friend who sent me the Bead Box—so much so that I made some for myself.

Capricorn Odor

So, maybe Fun should be part of The Plan, too.  I’ll put it in the hopper (no Squatty Potty humor intended).

Invasion of the Zombie Day-Traders

Dead AliveThe down-side of taking high-powered antibiotics and steroids is that they wipe out your microbial Security Team and hold up the process of sending in replacements.  This leaves a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections, those Wall Street-type pathogens that sniff out weakness and engineer a hostile take-over.

I got a wicked sore throat last week.  When I bought a little flashlight to get a good look, I can only describe the scene as Wes Craven-esque.  When I stopped screaming, I pulled out my dusty nurse-lore.  What I worried about being a strep infection was, in fact, thrush.  Two words, then I won’t traumatize you any further: Cheesy.  Pustule.  Now back away slowly from Google, grab up your shotgun, and run.

But all is not Night of the Living Dead-Serious.  My physical hobgoblins haven’t triggered any mental ones—other than a few wisps of depression that passed like cabbage-induced air biscuits (Oh, how I love fart humor.  Go here if you do, too).  And my friend, Linda, sent me some major distraction.

She used to own a shop in Minneapolis that sold crystals, semi-precious stones, jewelry and pan-spiritual gifts and tools.  She also let me try to sell my cards there.  The shop closed several years ago, and Linda stowed boxes and bags of inventory while she took care of other life-business.  Last week she sent me a twelve-pound box of beads, cabochons, broken bits, and a big grab-bag of unsorted stuff—mostly seed beads and tiny shells.  Linda’s clear-out was my Merry Christmas!

Chair VictorSo, after I gargle and swish my new medicine (sort of a cross between Milk of Magnesia and Lysol), I fight Henry for the good chair, then sit at the table and sort.  Henry likes to sit with me when I’m at my studio, but doesn’t care for the straight-backed chair that goes with the old dining table.  Even when I tart it up with his Girlfriend (a purple throw that he romances regularly), he still shuns it for my comfy, rolling desk chair.  He casts the Evil Cat Stink-Eye until I switch chairs with him.  If I’m not fast enough, he climbs in behind me and wedges me out.  Giving up the chair is a matter of self-preservation, not indulgence.  Other cat-keepers will understand.

Sorting BeadsIt’s a fine way convalesce: a hot mug of apple cider and green tea at one elbow next to my blazing Happy Light, one cat snoring at the other elbow while another swirls around my ankles, my Pandora station filling the air with The Civil Wars and Dave Matthews, a gallon of goodies to sort.

Oh, and then there’s the shotgun in the corner—just in case.

ψ

A Fine Distraction

Makes Me Tired

Distraction gets a bad rap.  Motivational-type folk would have us paint it neon yellow and stick it in a cage.  It’s anathema to focus and achievement.  It leads us astray, eats our time, keeps us from becoming superheroes.   Distraction is the slithery serpent holding us back from paradise.

Well… no.

Mind PalaceOne of the many lessons my bipolar disorder taught me was that distraction is vital.  When one’s focus locks onto the pain and confusion of a tumbling mind, a trapdoor to another room can keep pain from turning into suffering.  I’ve spent years moving slowly from self-destructive and unhealthy distractions to ones that, at least, cause no harm.  My list of What To Do When I Get Wonky hangs on my Mind Palace door in case I need reminders (I like to think my Mind Palace is like Sherlock Holmes’—a tidy place where everything that needs remembering can be accessed immediately.  But, it’s really more of a Mind Dumpster).

cookie JamI’m finding it’s just as important to use distraction in the midst of physical illness.  I need something to keep me from cataloging every pulmonary gurgle and wheeze, to take my mind off how everything except Ramen noodles tastes like school glue.  So, I made my Winter Solstice cards and played lots of Cookie Jam on my iPhone.  I’ve tried to watch movies, but generally nod off half way through.  Same with reading.  I keep apologizing to Henry for dropping my book on his head.  He is not amused.

Now, between naps, I’m working on the “swaps” I’ll take with me to ArtFest in March.  I’ve never done anything like this, but I’ve heard about it.  When artists get together, they trade little pieces of their work, or bring goodie bags with samples of their favorite supplies and materials, or chocolate.  It’s a cool way to get to know people and appreciate the kind of work they do.

Since Teesha Moore is known for her art journals, I thought I’d journal for a few days with white gel pen on card stock as an hommage, then use that as the beginning of my Artist Trading Cards (ATCs).  I like working in miniature, so these tiny cards (3 ½ X 2 ½ inches) are fun for me (fun being a relative term when muffled by antibiotics and inhalers).  The finished ATC isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but my stuff generally runs wild, and I’ve learned to get out of the way.  I like it.  This piece will represent me well.

CIMG3418

So, anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Distraction.  Don’t let the Anthony Robbins’ of the world make you feel bad about it.  Focus can’t untwist distorted thinking or clear fluid out of lungs.  Setting goals can’t change a diagnosis.  But distraction can make all that a little easier to bear.  Paint that in yellow neon and put it in your Mind Palace, Tony.

Changing the Story

Flinch

When my nurse practitioner told me on Monday that she was treating me for pneumonia, I felt an inordinate amount of satisfaction.  Smug, even.  And at the same time, I was angry and resentful that my friends and family weren’t rallying around me.  When I stopped to look at all that head-ichor, it felt contradictory and very, very old.

We’ve been exploring ancestry in our UU study groups—how ancestors may differ from relatives, how we receive transmissions and transfer them on to the next generation, how we are given gifts and responsibilities.  With that in the back of my mind, I began to see my reactions to illness and support as a transmission.  They are as much traditions in my family as oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

wicked witchThe only time we could count on our mom giving us positive attention was when we were sick.  She touched us with care.  She looked at us.  It was acceptable to wake her up in the middle of the night to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.”  It was not acceptable to be scared of the Wicked Witch on The Wizard of Oz.  I learned that at the age of three, sitting on Mom’s lap.  “If you’re going to be that way,” I remember her saying, “I’m turning off the TV.”  I got it: Emotions=Bad.  Illness=Good.

It was also a long-standing tradition to value illness that could be named, especially by a doctor, or was freakishly out of the ordinary.  So, my brother scored lots of points for the fast growth spurt he experienced as a teen when he woke up one morning unable to move.  The story of my dad carrying him in a fetal position to the car is legend in my family.  Same with the story of my brother accidentally dropping a pitchfork on my sister’s face and how the tine curved around her eye instead of puncturing it.  These are the fairy tales I heard as a child.

merthiolateGetting a cold wasn’t legendary, but having warts that disappeared before the doctor could inspect them smacked of magic and mystery—and worthiness.  I knew when I fell off my bike I’d better have gravel for Mom to pull out with tweezers or I wasn’t worthy of her time.  I learned how to wash a wound, dab on merthiolate and blow the sting away, wrangle a Band-aid without it sticking to itself.  I learned not to bother Mom with minor injuries.

But worthiness carried over into other areas of our life.  Recently, I talked to my brother about this.  It was no secret that he won the Most Worthy Award in our mom’s estimation.  He wrote to our parents every week from the time he left for college until Mom died last year.  He came home for Christmas every year, a nine hour drive from Bemidji, often through bad weather.  He kept the same job with the state of Minnesota his entire work-life and still works part-time, though he is officially retired.  He’s a little eccentric, which somehow made him more dear rather than worrisome.

I asked him why he did it.  Why did he write faithfully every week for all those years?

“Mom told me to,” he said.

testMy brother passed a test I failed long ago—obedience and demonstration of affection.  It was our responsibility to prove to our mom that we loved her, to do what we were told.  After my dad died, I think my sister understood unconsciously that a new test was in the wind.  She called our mom every day.  She helped her buy a new car and new furniture.  Of course she wanted to support Mom in her grief and confusion, but there was a frantic quality to it, a blurring of boundaries that sapped my sister’s emotional energy.  Eventually, my sister backed away enough to rebuild her boundaries.  And, of course, Mom felt abandoned.  And angry.

As I consider my family’s emotional legacy, I see all of it playing out in me.  I made light of my chest cold as just another annual event and went about being stoic and “taking care of it myself,” because it was nothing special.  At the same time, I silently tested my friends and family to see if they “cared enough” to call or offer help.  When they didn’t, I got angry and marked them as unworthy.

My care-giver, Leanne, visited yesterday, and she slapped me awake like a Zen master.  “How can they offer help if they don’t know you’re sick?”

Holy crap.  I’d turned into my mom, expecting people to read my mind and anticipate my needs.  I had carried forward a story that may have started generations ago.  What happened in my mom’s young life to make her so insecure about being seen and loved?  What happened to her mother to demand a boundary-less relationship with her youngest daughter?  I felt compassion and sorrow, imagining my mother and my grandmother trying to scratch affection out of a barren landscape.  Or, more accurately, what they perceived as barren through the lens of this family fairy tale.

Oz

So, I did a scary and fairy tale-contradictory thing yesterday.  I announced on FaceBook that I had pneumonia and would appreciate kind words and help.  The outpouring of love and people rushing to come to my aid knocked me senseless.

I’m well aware that being able to say pneumonia still carries a lot more brownie points in my mind than the less worthy chest cold.  Editing this old story will take time and patience.  But my hope is that the legacy stops here.  Part of my work as a point on the continuum of time and ancestry will be to pass on a different story of who we might be.  In that fairy tale, everyone is worthy.

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