Task List — For Our Mental Health

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I was on a telesession with my therapist today.

We both reflected on how everything — EVERYTHING — is different now, since undergoing a state-mandated semi-lockdown. Where I live only essential businesses, and the employees therein, are permitted to function as though business is normal.

For the facilities where I lead yoga practices, we are learning new ways, just as you likely are, to function in the world. Lots of FaceBook Live yoga classes and Zoom yoga classes. In that vein, she and I had our session over screens. Only my camera didn’t turn on and she was forced to listen to me but not see me.

We spoke about how we are both coping with all of this. Overall, I am ok; I do feel though that the two-weeksness of this is starting to get to me. That I miss my friends and hugs and seeing people I’m accustomed to seeing. I’m not sleeping terribly well, but I’m working on addressing my sleep hygiene routine.

Last night I was up later than I’d like.

I let someone get to me online. I let it continue for days. This person is not unknown to me, we have known each other all my life. Nothing this person does surprises me. The flair for coarseness, attack, and cruelty is common, nothing special; but it still makes me mad. So last night, I had decided I’d had enough and I opened a can of whoopass. I let it out — the anger I’d felt at being treated the way I was treated –for no good reason other than spite and smallness– a few months ago when I needed help. Even during that time of need, it was absurd of me to think the entrenched behavior would suddenly change — this person is pretty sick. I was not let down.

So I told her that I was disappointed in myself; that I wasn’t more like Jesus. That I wasn’t walking my talk of calmness and stillness in this time of global suffering, fear, and pain. “I was insulted, attacked personally — but that’s par for the course with this person. Linear conversations are impossible; it’s all reactivity. Once backed into a corner, then out comes the puffadder and it’s all hiss and spit,” I said.

“Did you ‘kick dirt’ on the viper? Did you defend yourself against the attacks and insults?” She asked.

“Yes. I won’t be intimidated. This person literally means nothing to me. There is no ‘there’ there,” I said to her. “I just don’t like that I wasn’t being more…. ”

“Yogic?” she asked.

“Yes. That I didn’t …”

“Let yourself be insulted and treated like crap? Take the abuse?” she added.

“Yes. That.” I realized where she was going. I remembered that I wasn’t on a yoga mat. I wasn’t giving yoga. I was practicing discernment. I won’t be intimidated.

“Then you took care of yourself.” She said. “Look. What you do to protect yourself is perfectly within boundaries of self-care and within the boundaries of intelligent living. When someone acts like a jerk, then you are forced to respond in kind. Likely, it’s probably the only way this person knows how to communicate. There’s likely a lot of rage inside…”

Then I recalled the best phrase regarding irrational behavior by angry people: “You can’t provoke a rabid dog.” I heard it from … wait for it … “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” stated by cast member Margaret Josephs.  I saw my therapist’s reaction: raised eyebrows and a nod of agreement. She laughed softly when she heard where I heard it.

Don’t judge. We’re in a pandemic.

So we continued in our session, leaving that stuff behind. “This pandemic is going to show everyone what they are truly made of. If someone has been a decent person all their life, this pandemic will highlight that. If someone has been irrational, erratic and unstable all their life, this pandemic will highlight that. There will be no ‘gray zones’ here. It’s important to everyone that we heed the messages people show us and that can help us live better.”

She is very concerned about her clients’ ability to feel normal during these days. She said she has a task list that everyone should know and do every day:

  1. Wake by 8:30am.
  2. Leave bed by 9:00.
  3. Shower sometime after waking.
  4. If you don’t shower, at least change your clothes.
  5. Limit the time you spend looking at the news to 30 minutes and do it only once a day, at least two hours before bedtime. Why? The news is not radically changing every day  — it’s important to be informed, just don’t be obsessed; it’s not good for you.
  6. Be creative (or do things that activate your left brain) for an hour: read a book or magazine, listen to music, meditate, garden, look at Pinterest, make cookies, make your bed, organize your closet, plan your dinner.
  7. Practice gratitude: the grocers (truckers, stockers, cashiers, farmers, food producers), pharmacists, first-responders, front-line physicians and medical staff are working hard to help us. We are NOT in this alone.
  8. Do something active for at least 30 minutes: get up, stretch, go for a bike ride, walk, dance, garden, walk your pet or walk your neighbor’s pet, practice yoga,
  9. Do something social: pick up your phone and make a phone call. Or FaceTime or Skype someone. Better yet, if you can call someone you’ve known for a long time, but haven’t spoken to in a while, so much the better: that time together will remind you that your life hasn’t spun out of control, that you still have people who bring you back to yourself.
  10. Treat yourself like your own best friend.

How are you doing? Have you noticed how people in your life or their treatment of you has changed since COVID-19 has unleashed itself?

Thanks for reading.

So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

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So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

The vertigo has been helpful, or at least it has pushed me into the direction I mean to head. I have been taking prednisone for it. On Tuesday (three days ago) I got an 80mg shot of it in my ass. From my understanding, that’s a strong dose. My doctor said, as she was seated on one of those round leatherette-upholstered low stools that roll around the linoleum while glancing between me and her computer, “Hmm. Should we just go for it and give you the 80? That would likely do the job… we may as well while we are here…” and she ordered it.

I don’t claim to know the difference between 2mg of prednisone and 100mg of it*.

*“Of it.” That was such a Doug Turnerism. He would say “of it” at the end of sentences… after the sentence had paused, even and we were ready to move on. And he’d just say “of it.” Like an old man. And I guess it’s because he was an old man… but it was like this all-encompassing tie off, so to speak, of what he was expressing… so that I suppose, to him … maybe it was a complete thought? That none of us would wonder if he were done? Or if he’d heard himself? Hard to say. Of it.

Anyway, the prednisone has kept me awake longer — and when I say “awake” I mean staring-at-the-ceiling-maybe-I-should-just-go-do-some-laundry-or-walk-the-dogs-in-the-cold-dark-night-alone-or-join-a-neighborhood-watch-patrol-do-they-even-have-those-anymore-maybe-we-should-get-a-ring-doorbell-but-that’s-an-Amazon-thing-no-better-not-do-that-but-what-will-help-us-stay-safe awake… in other words awake and stupid.

But I was also awake and aware enough to shift gears from thinking about letting Jeff Bezos have any more of my money for things than I’m comfortable with to figure out what to do about my writing at least for now and whereas Miriam, (a reference to my first book) is concerned.

I’m going to keep that manuscript and keep writing for the Unpulled Pin (fiction based on real shit) to flesh that out and because it’s so helpful to me emotionally, and it’s sort of essential to set the framework of her origin story. Then I’d launch into Miriam with a new beginning basically being me:

Miriam wanted to be a writer; and she was good at it, plus there was no getting away from it: it was in her blood for many generations and she sees it in her own children as well. She also wanted to be a good person. She also grew up with some really weird shit going on in her home. While some of it resembled Running with Scissors and it wasn’t as thoroughly dark as August: Osage County, it was haunting like Long Day’s Journey Into Night it was true that it ended ok, because Here She Was.

She knew her story was good enough to fill some pages, especially because she was healthier now, after, during and because of her therapy, yoga and having a family of her own, but she also knew that “tell alls” are for presidents and their lovers.

But this wasn’t going to be a “tell all” — she’s not out for blood anymore; that ship has sailed, but Miriam knew her story was interesting enough to share and be helpful for people who thought they were alone: upper middle class, adult children of well-educated, connected and upwardly mobile alcoholics.

So Miriam was at a crossroads: she could write her book about her story, but she’d have to tell the truth and to her, that “truth” part was at odds with being a good person. People who loved her parents didn’t really KNOW her parents, and while her parents were pretty fucked up people, they also deserved some dignity. But then she recalled what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird,

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Sounds good.

So there’s that. It’s going to be a story about a story. Funny, now that I reflect on the last few days — I’ve been humming “Paperback Writer” to myself, especially the lines “It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job so I want to be a paperback writer…” What I’m doing is a story about a writer who wants to write a book. Pretty meta.

So I have determined that I will channel Miriam with me as my muse and maybe sass it up a bit from time to time to make things seem super outrageous so that people won’t know up from down? I’m not going to sweat the details right now — that’s a way to keep from writing. I’m just going to get going.

In the meantime, Mary Oliver beckons:

Later!

A thought regarding chakras and behavior.

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A thought regarding chakras and behavior.

I’ve always been interested in the unseen; stuff that includes science, but that transcends it because even science and proving its truth has to come from something, like a gut feeling, an inner knowing, something that makes us stay curious and interested in the answer or result.

My mother was super smart, talented and clever; she also (like all of us) battled her demons. Sometimes she won, sometimes she lost. Her behavior though, even in the clear-headed days, was something that I now understand as being mostly in the “upper chakras” of 4th (love / boundaries), 5th (voice & truth), 6th (vision & sound: reality) and 7th (intuition). In her escapist behavior (her “demon” side), she also stayed there, but the behavior was focused on herself: what she loved, what she said and heard in *her* truth, what she felt intuitively. Because those concepts were run through an unhealthy filter, her behavior was unhealthy.

And so the loop continues.

As a yoga instructor and someone who likes to investigate sources of pain or observe confusions in myself or others, the chakras are crucial to how I perceive the world. But my knowledge is limited while my curiosity is constantly in bloom.

Recently, I had a biofield tuning session. (It’s woo-woo to some: energy blended with sound healing science but it has real effects on me.) In that session, I discussed some social interactions I’ve endured with people that have left me confused and exhausted. I explained that I’m so tired of this pattern of people and their behaviors repeating themselves in my life. That they’re so familiar to me — the energy reminds me of my interactions with my mother: going around and around in circles when all I’m trying to do is go from A to B to C. Without batting an eye, she said, “They’re in their upper chakras. There’s no grounding. They just want to exist in the fantasy that all is well and they don’t need the things — like health insurance and consistent income — that you and I and others see as reasonable and normal for a solid existence. The truth is too much for them; they’re not grounded. They want to have it come to them because they ‘wish it to.’ To be grounded means that you have accept and know who you are [1st chakra], what you’re responsible for having created in your life [2nd chakra], and the guts to do it or change it [3rd chakra] if it’s not working … if it’s not healthy or balanced.”

It was literally like a window had been opened and a fresh breeze of clean air had flowed into my lungs.

There’s nothing wrong with embracing love and intuition and vision and singing your song… but launching from solid ground and a knowing of your skills and limitations is the only way you’re going to make any sense. Remember: airplanes have wheels, birds have claws, and angels have feet for a reason.

The other risk — not nourishing or tolerating the upper chakras — is anger, confusion, and disappointment because we have to also acknowledge that we don’t know everything about ourselves [1st]; that there are things we have yet to create / we’re not DONE yet [2nd]; and that we must continue to change and do [3rd] in order to live well and balanced.

I often describe Mom as just being capable of landing one toe on the ground for most of her life. Now that she is with God, free and she is safe, I don’t have to worry about how hard she will crash when she would eventually come down. ❤

I’m back. So much to share. Just a snippet for now.

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I just noticed the last time I was really here was in March of 2017. Is that possible? Yes.

It was around that time that my father asked me to not share any news about his cancer. So I didn’t. And that basically shut me down.

He said, “you can write about it — but you just can’t write about me; you can’t tell people I have cancer.” For me, a “troubadour of truth” as a cousin calls me, that wasn’t an authentic way to live, so I didn’t.

He had prostate cancer. He was a new 85-year-old and his privacy had always felt more like secrecy. Sometimes it was appropriate and sometimes it was due to an inflated sense of his gravitas. For me, all it felt like was control. So I stopped writing. And I suffered. It wasn’t that I couldn’t not write about him, but if you’re me, once you’re told you can’t do all of what you’re accustomed to doing, there’s no sense in even going halfway. For some people it’s dance, or engineering, or singing, or building… for me, it’s writing. It’s in my blood.

He is gone now. “Gone to God” as Mom would say. If I take the tack that when we die, we go to a place that lands us similarly where we were when we left, he and Mom are sitting on supple leather couches, eating sloppy reubens, drinking big glasses of cold milk and watching a “Columbo” marathon.

He lasted longer on the meds than the average; sometimes doubling the time other patients would be on them. He opted for experimental drugs when he knew his time was running out and that the transition to palliative care only would be the way he would continue to “live.” It seemed that as his illness progressed, so did his defiance and desire for more time. That doesn’t mean he became softer, or transformed into the Dad I always wanted or thought I needed.

He fought the good fight as any Olympic rower worth his seat in that boat would. With intensity, grit and domination. He literally fought until he decided he was done. He died in his room, in his house, after resisting a hospital bed for months, “those aren’t for me. I don’t want one.” That ended about four weeks before he left us. One night he flopped off his bed in the wee hours after solo trip to the ‘loo and apparently he just waited in fear until his morning caregiver arrived and helped him get back into bed. He couldn’t reach the phone and he stopped wearing his “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” device years ago. He didn’t have any outward bruising, just his ego.

That morning, after I answered a fretful call from his nurse aide, I drove over to his house and I said, “Dad, it’s either a hospital bed or 24-hour care. We can’t have you pouring out of bed in the dark and waiting for your helper after dawn.” He blamed all the hysteria on his aide; she was a strong woman who had definitely seen worse events in her life and I knew her concerns were rational. I was just as determined to get the bed as he portrayed himself to be against getting it.

“Ohawright,” he muttered and followed up with something unintelligible but likely crabby. Then it took four days to get the damned bed in the house. It was sort of ridiculous. After that bed, he resisted 24-hour care. “It’s too much money. Don’t let the bastards take it all just to sit around and wait for me to shit.”

Ok.

When you have a guy like this in your life, someone who’s always spoken quite candidly (and increasingly inappropriately) to you, you have two routes: charm and persuade or comply and lose.

I employed the former for important emotional and tactical heavy lifting such as getting a lawyer to review his Last Will and Testament; what to do with the remains of my brother who succumbed to death at three days old; and encouraging him to be kinder and nicer and softer in the last few weeks of life — that bickering and poking at the daughter who’s only trying to help, is not worth it. “Can you stop it Dad? Can you stop pushing all my buttons? We don’t know how much time you have left.” That won. He didn’t change into Jesus, he just stopped being churlish.

The latter was chosen when it was just as easy for me to leave the decisions to his health aides. “I just work here” was the route I would take. Anything that would spare me stress and only mildly annoy his care team was a risk I felt was worth taking. How loud should the music be in his room; where to charge his laptop or cell phone; whether to turn off the tv when he was sleeping — things that had nothing to do with discomfort or pain.

That said, he resisted morphine entirely. Its toll on his digestion was almost as bad as the cancer pain he said. It cut me emotionally sometimes to hear him in pain, but even so, I knew that was his decision. The home hospice team didn’t use needles. He had to be able to take everything orally.

He died in November of 2018. What blows my mind now as I look back on it, is HOW FAST his decline was once he decided to stop driving in August; once he decided to stay upstairs in late September; then once he flopped out of bed. I think that incident broke him in some ways. “I hate this thing, it’s so lumpy and small,” he’d say of his hospital bed. “But I do like this — watch” he’d announce as he would make portions of the bed incline and recline into various positions with his newest remote. Other than that, the new bed held little appeal for him. “It’s all temporary anyway,” he’d say dismissively as he looked it all over, wiggling his feet beneath the stiff, cotton, rental blanket.

After Mom died I’m pretty sure he filled her void on their mattress with his gear: his laptop, a half-dozen rosaries, a couple of leather-bound catholic missals, a few spiral-bound “Reporter’s Notebooks,” his Montblanc fountain pen and some other pens, four remote controls, a small book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, two phones, his checkbooks, his wallet, at least four pairs of reading glasses (one that I think was Mom’s: it had pink frames, only one remaining earpiece and he insisted on keeping it nearby); at least one book by Bonhoeffer and several newspapers. He was used to space on his own bed and was attached to her form’s indentation.

Also, it was terrifyingly apparent how much he’d declined in the two weeks between the two big visits. The first time in mid-October we gathered to sign legal documents and make changes to plans and also to hang out. During that visit he was verbal and full of energy, stories, opinions, and gratitude. I’ll never forget it: he asked for help with his laptop. He was having trouble reading it. Something about his email not working, the size of the fonts and the web browser. So I took a turn with it.

While I was working on that, he talked about politics, sports, told stories about his old friends, stories about Mom, and generally gossip. Then once he got the laptop back, he opened his email and a web browser and it was as though I was a small child again… I faded into the background and he entered a trance… he began to softly speak to his laptop and say “Well, ya never know…look at that… ” and “Hm… how about that… ?” and “Oh yeah… I forgot about that …” I looked around the room, realizing my smallness and I laughed to myself. “I guess I can go now” I said, and Dad didn’t even hear me… so I kissed him on the head and we said our farewells. We were both afraid. I had my wall up to lean on and he had his laptop to hide behind.

Afterward, I went to the neighborhood Thai place for lunch with a friend, despite not being terribly hungry and I talked about how the next time we see each other, I might not have a Dad anymore. We reflected on the differences between my mother’s death and my father’s coming death. Mom died unexpectedly and mercifully fast of a cardiac arrest several years before.

“Given the choice, for me, I’ll take this version, where we can talk to him and reminisce and apologize and ask questions,” I said and my friend nodded; both her parents were still around, playing golf somewhere. She knew Mom’s loss was crushing and gutting. I never want to go through something like that again.

The next time I saw Dad where his condition radically changed was about two weeks later, two days before he died. It wasn’t solemn, but it was real. His weight hadn’t changed, but his skin tone did. He felt more papery and he had bruises on his forearms that I could only attribute to his new bed. He was quiet. He’d lost the ability to speak a few days before. The trinkets on this bed were mostly gone. One rosary. No remote control. One prayer book. No reading glasses. But a picture of Mom was new. He just laid back, in his yellow striped rugby shirt I bought him for Christmas in the 90s. No more up and down with the bed remote.

I set up a wireless speaker and opened a playlist to play some piano pieces by Scarlatti that Dad used to play on our family piano when we were children; some Julian Bream and Andres Segovia on guitar, a little Bach and then Gershwin and Porter. Dad’s hands would lift and his arms would gently wave with the crescendos, his head would swoon or roll with the music, and he’d tap his fingernails gently in time on the chrome railings securing him in this bed. He’d smile greatly too, a giant grin as he found succor in the music he himself would play with determination and focus so many years before on the piano or his Gibson downstairs.

To extend a hand in the most fragile of moments and touch a man who remained a mystery to us for most of our lives was like asking the air to grant a wish. He never abandoned us; he always came home, he did what he could to keep our family afloat, but our connections to him were ephemera — thin and patchy, like tissue paper. I guess he gave us what he could of himself. Even on this day, his grip was strong and attentive. He was “in there.”

He told me in October that he wanted to last to the midterms. Anyone who knows my dad knows that’s about elections. “I want to see them bury Trump” he said. He didn’t make it to the midterms, but he got very close. Just like his boat’s final heat in Melbourne in 1956. He got close.

I think I’ll stop here.

I hope to be back soon. Thanks for reading.