Sunday, December 15, 2013

What if...

Well crap.  That’s what I want to write. Leave it at that.  But just as I forced myself to do my yoga last night, I shall force myself to write a little bit today. Two weeks ago I wrote that my mood had taken a downturn…seasonal funk, if you will.  My tool of choice to stop the descent was exercise. Every day, ten minutes…who cannot do that?  Ha!  I did great for three days.  Yoga and some 15-minute exercise magic cut out of a Redbook.  Then I was tired.  Busy. Tired again.  I did try to park a little further, take stairs more often…for a few days, until Judy was just only “back to the sedentary”.

I forced myself to attend some holiday events, festive outings. I did enjoy them, though through a bit of a haze sometimes. But the minute I was back to the usual routine, my fatigue and depression returned.  And then a friend died.

Just like that -snap- he is gone from our lives at 44 years young.  There was a memorial service two nights ago.  I am processing. Slowly. This friend was a part of my core group back in those awkward and often-painful high school years. We were the ‘alternative’ group.  Although ‘freaks’, ‘weirdos’, and other less kind terms were often thrown our way. I did not mind and took pride in my ‘different-ness’.  I was a fighter, a rebel with a small cause, and we banded together in our efforts to protect each other.  

All the fabulous bangs! That's me in the black hat and white fringe shirt.
Many of us lost touch over the years, but I was blessed and brought back into this friend’s life two years ago.  Lo and behold, he had become a cowboy! A genuine Buddhist, 80’s music loving, cowboy!  We saw each other twice and talked on the phone; often at first…but then we got busy. Tired. Sick. I wish that I had found a way to push through that.

Many memories were shared at the service, but the one I want to walk away with is love. People must love themselves if they are to live their genuine life. A person who can love others unconditionally is a gift. A person who acts on that love consistently is rare. A person who can do these things while battling adversity…I do not know what to call that person, but I do know that I was blessed to call one my friend. 

My pops and his Mickey Mouse vest
So you see, on top of my own battle with the blues, I have new sadness. And old sadness. Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the day my father lost his life to cancer. Yet I have not been alone in this grief, new and old. Trust me, there is comfort in sharing the load, the weight of grief and sadness.

As I attempt to reframe my sadness, and yes…depression, into thankfulness for what has been and what is, I still struggle with that wonderful imagination of mine. My tendency to predict the worst-case scenarios. A recent example- my family was given a lovely and GIANT artificial Christmas tree. I have always wanted one, the live ones being beautiful, but allergen hotels. This giant tree came in five pieces. We can barely use three parts and it scrapes the ceiling!  It is made of metal and broke the first stand we tried. That was enough for my morbid imagination to get started. On day 7 of “artificial tree mayhem” we finally hoisted it into place on a sturdier stand. A pair of bright yellow eyes greeted us halfway up the tree! Squints, our mini-cat ninja, was in ambush heaven.  While my family laughed and snapped photos, I launched into full distress mode- “What if she tips it over and it crushes her? Or she is skewered by a branch?” “What if she is electrocuted chewing on the lights?!”  The ‘what ifs’ are plentiful in my mind during these moments. My family tries to reason with me, but they may as well save their breath. I not only have a good imagination, I am also a bit argumentative.

I drove home from the memorial service Friday night too exhausted to deal with the freeway. I meandered through downtown and found myself at a stoplight on an isolated street corner. Under a brightly lit awning of the Rescue Mission were 5 or 6 men with sleeping bags, blankets and miscellaneous sacks around them.  One was reading, one was smoking and one was curled up so far into his sack that he wasn’t really visible. I found myself asking, “What would Steve do?”  I do not know for certain, but he would have done something. He was not one to pass by someone in need. I did nothing more than ask the question and imagine several ‘Steve scenarios’ as I drove home. I have an idea to combat the ‘what ifs’. For every ‘what if’, I will also ask ‘what would’.

If I do not first love myself enough to keep climbing up that slide, no matter how many times I slip, then the rest is mute. I grumbled through yoga yesterday and bought myself some chocolate as a reward.  I made my nettle tea, took my supplements and sat with my Happy Light this morning. Steve's sister made it clear he would want us to be happy, try not to spend too much time in grief. When the ‘what ifs’ start, I will ask myself, “What would Steve do?”  I hope that somewhere he is getting a laugh out of that one. I am pretty sure he would be both flattered and amused.

It will be an interesting exercise for my imagination…Steve was not only kind and loving, but funny. Quite a prankster from some of the stories told. My father was the same way and I’m sure I have a bit of the hereditary funny bone; it just disappears with the sun. Perhaps with enough practice, my ‘what ifs’ will be stories of love and laughter. What if we secure the top of the tree to a hook in the ceiling, don’t plug in the lights and just hang toy mice for ornaments? Sure, I will try to get consistent physical exercise, but I will try even harder to work on exercising my imagination in the direction of good and happy 'what ifs'.

It doesn't have enough legs, but it was moving fast!
 Postscript: I had not yet shared this post when I sat down to dinner with my partner Mark and my oldest son.  As I proudly shared my new ideas for the tree they listened politely.  When I was done, Andrew said, “Can you pass me the multivitamins?” As I picked up the bottle a large, fuzzy spider ran from behind it and headed toward me. I screamed and moved myself, and my chair, three feet in an instant. They were cracking up as Mark pulled out a stack of magnets that he had been holding under the table and picked up his fuzzy Velcro magnetic spider. Um...that's totally a "What Steve would do". I admit it- they got me good. But when Andrew suggested letting the cat play with the spider…oh no! Do you know what can happen if they swallow a magnet?! 
Sigh….this is going to take practice…

A friend shared this video in honor of fitting. Especially if you were one of us inthe '80's ...Rest in peace...much love.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Do you see what I see?

I won't be writing much today. I am feeling sad about a loss. A friend who was like a little brother to me in high school. And for nearly 25 years we lost touch. Then in 2011 we reconnected "through this crazy thing called the internet", he would say. And again he felt like a little brother, though all grown up. Two visits, several phone calls and way too many canceled or re-scheduled get togethers. Life, health and circumstances beyond our control. I learned today that he has passed away. And the strange process of notifying, grieving and mourning "through this crazy thing called the internet" begins. It is strange and confusing and I am left with more questions than answers at this point.  

I want to share this lovely post that I read this week on the Daily Good. Like myself, my dear friend had some invisible health issues. He had also overcome much adversity. Not always something that is visible from the outside

There is so much that we do not know about what we see.  I wrote last week about how we fill in the blanks.  Click on the link for a good reminder to be careful of how you fill in someone else's story.

You are gone too soon my friend...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"The Dangers of Stretching" by Ms. Sad

Last Thanksgiving I was not in the mood to write a post.  I weaseled out of it with this post about Comfort Carbs. Don't get me wrong...the carbs are comforting again this year.  But then I confessed the following week that my heart wasn’t really in the post. The end of November 2012 found me exhausted.  As I read my old posts I can say with certainty that this year, so far…not as bad.  Knock on wood!  My autumn and winter fatigue is certainly a combination of MS and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Call me “Ms. Sad”!   
I can’t always sort out whether I am tired from my MS or tired because I am depressed. The reality is that remedies for one will inevitably help the other. The addition of the Happy Light in the morning, attempts at eating more fruit and vegetables, getting adequate sleep, etc…have been intermittent this last month.  When one starts the slide toward the ‘sadlands’, efforts toward self-care often decrease. But I believe I may have caught myself this past weekend, grabbed hold of the handle at the top of the slide and I’m dangling there…angering all the other children lined up behind me who want to go down the slide…but I have changed my mind. I do not want to go down the slide. I’m going to scramble back up and find myself a teeter totter at the very least, because at least then we know that what goes down comes back up! I am not a fan of merry-go-rounds, but a swing would work as well. A comforting sort of ‘back and forth’, ‘back and forth’, as I make my way through the holiday playground.

Do you remember the Santa scene from “A Christmas Story” The one where Ralphie is on Santa’s lap and for the life of him he cannot remember that he wanted to ask for the Red Ryder bee bee gun. Everything is spinning around him, voices and faces are distorted and he cannot think. And then, just as he starts down the slide, he remembers- flash! A moment of clarity!  My moment of clarity was not quite as dramatic. It happened rather slowly over one or two days this weekend. I would catch my thoughts…thoughts that seemed out of place, overly grim or downright macabre.

One instance occurred after I returned home from an outing with terrible shoulder and neck pain. I decided that the healthy thing to do would be to stretch out on my exercise ball (that I don’t exercise on, so I should really call it a stretch ball). As I lay across it, arching my back and spreading my arms wide I could feel the tightness in my chest.  “Ah…this is good,” I thought. So I rolled back a bit more until my head was hovering a couple of inches off the ground. At this angle I had to put my arms crisscross on my chest so that it did not aggravate my shoulder. Thus my arms were folded in a similar manner to how I picture Count Dracula in his coffin. Then I thought, “Oooh, I hope I don’t lose my balance, I couldn’t catch myself in time. I wonder if anyone has ever broken their neck on an exercise ball? A person could break their neck!” Some of you would never have that thought and most of you would have at least stopped it there, but Ms. Sad was not done. In my mind I actually visualized myself falling and lying there with an oddly twisted neck, like you see when people break a leg or arm. The paramedics would arrive and not know how to pick me up. They would warn me that the movement might cause whatever spinal messages were still hanging on to totally sever and I could die. Or be paralyzed for life. My children would come down to my room before they moved me (Reminiscent of a morbid story I recall about a man pinned by a subway train making a final phone call home before they moved the train and he died). Yes, I gave my deathbed speech in my head whilst lying across the exercise ball! It was a fantastic speech- Oscar worthy! I nearly brought myself to tears. And as I rolled carefully off the side of the ball and went to find some Kleenex for my runny nose, I thought, “Judy, you are weird and you are depressed. That is not normal.” 
Dec 2012- me, my boys and the dangerous exercise ball...I think it ate Andrew's legs!

Now I am slightly embarrassed to admit that there were several such scenes, though none quite as dramatic, that played out in my mind over the next 24 hours. I found myself drawn toward, and fixated on, the negative or worst-case scenarios.

On Saturday, when I refilled my pillbox for the week I slipped an extra pill for nerve pain into each daily slot. It is coincidentally an antidepressant.  But then I took it out. My nerve pain has not increased. So instead I promised myself that I would exercise 10 minutes every day. It may seem a small amount but it has to feel doable because I have to do it EVERY DAY. Currently I am not really exercising at all. Sure sometimes I take the stairs instead of the elevator or park further away, but this will be a dedicated round of yoga, Tai-Chi, hula-hoop or weight lifting. Not all at once of course, though there may be a market for “Yo-Chi hoop lifting”. 

I was once the benefit of an intervention group in a research study that looked at exercise as a treatment for depression in people with MS. I know it can work for me. The extra pill might work too, but the beauty of exercise is that it will also help with pain, fatigue, stress and immune function, just to name a few. That’s right Santa, all I want for Christmas is steady exercise!

I will also work my other strategies to steer clear of the ‘sadlands’ this winter.  The exercise is the hardest for me and that is why I share it here. Public accountability! I will check in each week and post my success or challenges (nice word for failures). I will not deprive myself of holiday goodies and have even decided to reward myself with a weekly peppermint nonfat mocha. I believe I have grabbed hold of the slide’s handrail just in time. It’s hard work to drag myself back to the top, but easier than climbing up from the very bottom! Do you suppose anyone has ever died from Downward Dog? Broken a hip on a hula hoop? No? How do you stop yourself from going down the slide into the winter sadlands?