Call Me Eeyore

eeyore quoteBack in the long-ago 90s I did therapy for six months (a) because I felt sort of busily jazzed up trying to save the world at all times and (b) because my husband thought I should. Maybe he detected a sadness under all my over-functioning I don’t know. I started going all right but every time I went to that therapist’s office I could tell her how everyone else in my life was but not how I was. After a few sessions she told me that as fascinating as my lively tales about other people were, she felt frustrated that I couldn’t talk about myself. If there was sadness underneath all my rushing-about what WAS that sadness? Darned if I knew.

Well LIFE SURE CURED THAT and these days anyway I do know why I’ve been so sad, so off my game, at times so bereft-feeling at times that this mate of mine sometimes finds me standing outside the bathroom door waiting for him to come back out. (I know! Pathetic!)

So, without further talk, here is my litany of reasons for sadness, some general, some specific to me.

  • Like so many of us, I am still sad  that we lost Bobby Kennedy. Fifty years ago this coming Saturday I watched his funeral and well do I remember the quaver in the voice of his one remaining brother as he gave the eulogy,  and the sight of his children crowding around his casket, and the sight of is that widow, newly pregnant with the couple’s 11th child.
  • Again, like many of us, I am sad about the changing climate with its ever-more-devastating weather events. I’m very sad that we in this country are doing so little to ward off what looks to be the very dire consequences.

Less catastrophically,  I’m sad about my own small stuff:

  • I’m sad about the way time is passing so fast. I can still picture the color, style and fabric of the dress I wore the day they buried Bobby, and now I am… how old? I said to my mate only last Christmas, “Just think! In 15 years I’ll be 73!” “Um,” he replied with a kind smiled, “in 15 years you’ll be 83.” Where did it all go?
  • I’ve been very sad that I can’t seem to write much anymore. It just hurts to sit, to stand, even to lie down for any length of time with a spinal column that has come to resemble a Crazy Straw the way it veers right up by my bra-line, then veers sharply left around my hips, then ends with a flourish of two additional veerings that together deliver pain not only to my back but also clear down one leg. Sigh.
  • I’m sad about my digestion-related insides since I now have “bacterial overgrowth” in there, which is diagnosed by having one blow air into a glass tube and send it off  in the mail. That part was kind of fun, to be honest, a little like capturing fireflies – only these turn out not to be fireflies at all but rather a dense civilization of little sea monkeys as I picture them. These tiny tenants  now renting space in there have apparently moved in for keeps, the doctor says, so that for the rest of my life if I wish not to suffer I can’t eat wheat, barley, dairy or really any kind of sugar including the innocent fructose that comes in apples peaches, nectarines and so on. Who wouldn’t get sad on being told this news?
  • And finally, to conclude this tale of woe, I am about to have rotator cuff surgery, which sounds both so picturesquely dreadful and immobilizing that I’m actually looking forward to the adventure of it . More on THAT another day.

So there it all is and maybe that stern therapist was right: I do feel better for having told all this.  Also, there’s a real upside to the thought of being unable to so much as wash a dish or fold a pair of underpants for ten whole weeks. Plus anyway come on: Who doesn’t love sea monkeys?


On the Path

It’s nearly three weeks since I began taking that increased dose of the thyroid-boosting drug and, if I’m honest, nearly three weeks since I began also taking an antidepressant. Who knows whence cometh my help as the Bible says? Will it have come from those loving individuals who reacted to my last post? For sure. Will it have come as well from lifting up my eyes unto those hills that the Psalmist talks about, especially now that their trees have set their petticoats to flouncing? Very likely. And it also seems that the process of paying closer attention to everything outside myself will help. 

For example: 

The other night I sat parked next to a 100-foot stretch of bike path that emerges from a wooded glade to create a small ‘stage’ before disappearing back into the foliage. This path passes through a number of towns just north and west of Boston here, so in itself it is far from rural. In fact I found myself beside it in this parking lot because I had just met my grown daughter and her two babies for an early supper. And when I returned to my car afterward, the light of the May evening was just billowing so that I had to pause and watch as an ever-freshening stream of people passed. 

Here zipped past a whippet-thin cyclist curved like an apostrophe over his handlebars.

Now here came an identically dressed brace of young women, high-stepping like a couple of drum majors.

Now I watched a man lope by at an easy trot, plugged, like almost everyone I saw, into his ear buds.

As I sat I saw that for ten or 15 seconds at a stretch, the path would be empty. And the sky was so blue. And the light was so golden.

I watched as an older lady in a sari appeared. She paused as if winded, settled her fists on her hips, and called out repeatedly the name of an unseen child. It was like watching a play, for now, as if on cue, came the long-awaited child, a boy of perhaps five, zooming into sight on his little scooter to describe several small circles around his exasperated companion,  

I watched these folks and others for some 25 or 30 minutes. I would have gladly stayed another 30 but the light was now changing, growing both more luminous and more coppery and I knew I didn’t want to see it fade.

So instead I came home, tucked away the memory and remembered again that as the old Irish adage says, it is in the shelter of each other that the people live – and find freshly, every time, a sense of peace.


Bouncy No More

I wanted to write something about Mothers Day last week but lately I have felt put off by the idea of even opening up a blank page to create a post, and now it’s been over three months. What has happened to me?

I had an invitation 30 minutes ago to speak before a journaling group.

I turned it down.

I turned down two other offers too, in the last months. I’m just so tired of talking, tired of being a person who always speaks up, who thinks it’s her job to make it a ‘good class’ for the people around her, as if I did as a young teacher, eager to make every minute count. These days, I often sit through whole meetings without saying a word. I find I would much rather listen.

‘And this is OK’ I’ve told myself. ‘It’s an ebbing of ego is all, which can only be good’.

But now it comes back to me that near the end of my annual visit to my primary care physician last week, she asked me something as she was listening to my heart:

“So,” she said.  How’s the writing?”

I was slow to answer. “Well… I know I told you a year ago that I stopped producing the column…”

“I remember. But beyond that?”

“Beyond that, I…. I.. don’t write anymore.” The words alone caused me a pang.

“Oh, that’s just writer’s block,” she said cheerily. “It’ll pass!”

I looked down at my lap and remained silent then, leaving her to her tappings and palpatings. It was during that pause in the talk that a memory came back to me of an exchange I had had with some old old friends, my college roommates and co-member of the Class of a Thousand Years Ago, when we travelled to Italy together. Midway through the trip one of them said with a laugh, “So Terr, we just have to ask: What happened to that wicked wit we all remember? You’re just sort of … kind these days,” and laughed again, to show she loved me anyway.

Looking up from my lap I related this freshly remembered exchange to my doctor who took the stethoscope from her ears and looked me full in the face.

“Are you sleeping?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “In fact, most days I can hardly get up.” And I told how I stay in the bed, awake and looking out the window for 60 or sometimes 90 minutes until my husband gets up.

“Listen to me,” she then said. “I get what your classmates meant. For more than two decades, every time you have come in here you’ve been practically bouncing, in high spirits, and full of stories. These last two visits I haven’t seen that. At all. I think we have to consider the possibility that you have dysthymia, a term for chronic low-grade depression.”

Normally I would have laughed, the way I did back in the 90s when she told me my bloodwork revealed hypothyroidism. “Hypothyroidism?” I had said. “What are the symptoms?” We looked up the condition on her computer and she swung the monitor around so I could see. “Low energy, sadness, sleep issues,” it read, along with 40 other unhappy signposts.

I was almost offended at the time. “But you know me! “ I said back then. “Does my busy life sound as if it comes with any of these symptoms? And now you’re saying I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What happens if I don’t?”

“If you don’t, you’re facing all of this and more,” she’d replied, indicating the screen.

So, these 25 years later, I take the Levoxyl, which is no big deal. Last Friday though, the bloodwork from this latest visit came back, indicating that my level of need has increased. She has upped my dosage therefore and I guess we’ll see. Either that does the trick or  I’ll need additional help.

In the meantime I want to aplogize to any of you out there who have been wondering if I’m still here. I’m here. And from now on I’ll be taking some advice I learned from the Recovery movement and fake it til I make it, which means,  “performing actions that are known to be positive even if one is not necessarily comfortable with them.” In other words “the mind may be willing, but the emotions may not be there yet.”

I’ll do that now. I’ll fake it ’til I make it. I’ll try just ‘showing up’ which, after all, is what most people do every day, whether they feel like it or not.










Go With It

Speaking of altering your look like the stars do, here’s a dog who actually had to have surgery because he couldn’t see. His mom might be appalled but I bet the pooch himself feels just fine about the change. I mean he might not look like all his pals anymore but hey: he can SEE!

To me it’s a reminder to us all to make our peace with our changing situation and move on. Some women, after mastectomies, tattoo the empty spot on chests, turning scar tissue into some gorgeous kind of wall covering.

I can see doing that – if I could get the tattoo done under deep anesthesia or something. (It’s like what Woody Allen said about dying. That he didn’t really mind the thought of  dying – as long as he didn’t have to be there when it happened.)

The final episode of HBO’s Big Love gave a pretty good picture of how it is to be the person in those final moments. There’s that momentary fear as the faces leaning over you grow indistinct and then… that light we’ve all heard about and there you are looking down at that little ragdoll of a body and maybe wondering why it seemed such a major big deal to you while you were riding around inside it.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just let go and move into the light. Isn’t it so odd that not one of us REALLY knows what the transition is like? Science types say the light you see is a result of the brain’s being deprived of oxygen but you know how Science types are. Me. I’m not buyin’ that theory for a minute.

What’s in That Head

I’ve been looking at drawings like these lately; I find it calms me. When I was in massage school I bought this book of drawings by one Frank Netter, believed to have been the greatest anatomical illustrator since Leonardo. (That’s Da Vinci not DiCaprio – and by the way you’e never supposed to say ‘Da Vinci’ in spite of the blockbuster book and the Tom Hanks movie. That would be like calling Mark Wahlberg DeBoston.)

Anyway this is what we look like on the inside. You know when they say “What were you thinking?” Maybe this is what they do to find out.

As I’ve  examined the workings of my own head lately I have come to see that all I wanted was for people to feel better. It’s why I’ve been writing that mostly light-hearted newspaper column since the fall of 1980: I didn’t want anyone to be sad, at least not for long. I wanted them to laugh and blow their nose and have a nice dish of ice cream. It’s also why I started to study the body: I wanted to understand how to comfort people that way too. We had just had a death when I began at the Massage Institute of New England and I never again wanted to find myself standing by the hospital bed of someone I loved and be at a loss.

Here’s what you can do when you are in that situation: you can hold the person’s hands. You can stand at right angles to him and lay your hands on his tummy or his legs. You can cradle the eggshell of her head that holds all the amazing scaffolding you see here picxtured.

When Uncle Ed, who is pictured below, had his last bad bout of congestive heart failure in June of 2006, he lay in the ER for eight whole hours waiting for a room. He was 85 at the time and didn’t tell any of us he was feeling funny; just drove himself to the hospital, the dickens. It wasn’t until I went to his house and found it empty that I put two and two together and called the ER. Yup, he was there all right.

I hurried right over. They were taking fine care of him only he felt cold. I had my mom’s old fur coat on so I put it over him. Then I sat the edge of his bed and held his feet. It’s not rocket science; it’s just human touch.  When the day comes and I am at my own end with a mind quickly emptying I hope someone comes and sits by me, of course I do. But I hope even more that they get to think a minute about the miracle of life that carries us from youth to old age and lets this delicate vessel the mind carry its cargo of memories the whole voyage long.

My Secret Life

Recently, until troubles with my little Bobblehead doll of a neck forced me to stop, I worked as a massage therapist two days a week for four fascinating years – while being a writer because for me not writing would be like giving up your favorite hot drink in the morning. An account of what I learned doing this is appearing now in all the papers that run my column but when I did a Google search just now linking my name to the word ‘massage’ I came upon something I’d forgotten all about: a story one newspaper did on this little career-veer of mine. I remember I felt shy about going public about it so we kind of hid it underneath this hidden staircase way down at the end of a dark corridor on my writing website.

The person you see on the table ( go ahead!  click on that!) was actually the man who wrote the piece. He was also a client but not that day. That day we just set up the shot for the photographer which is why I look so sort of tentative – I’m terrible at faking stuff – but as I look at it now I realize I miss that sweet room in the chiropractor’s office!  A wee chamber for healing it was, a womb of one’s own for the clients I saw. The column tells about the big-picture stuff I learned but it doesn’t mention the equally important thing which was this: Infinitely complex  machine that it is, the body knows exactly what to do to bring healing and restore homeostasis. We need to just get out of its way and stop jabbering like monkeys; turn off our media; and breathe in and out. Someone trained in therapeutic touch administers a judicial tap here and but really Nature does the rest.