Monday, January 7, 2013

The Human Condition?

It was 1986 or so. I was in high school, on a ROTC trip to Ole Miss. One night at the motel, after we'd done ROTC things all day, a friend told me that she didn't want to be around me anymore because I was such a downer.

This friend was a real friend; she was an honest friend. I hate to admit it, but I really was a downer. My first "depressive episode" (to use the clinical term) had been a couple of years before. I was in another one on that trip. It was as if I were thrashing about alone, inside a zipped-up sleeping bag: My whole world was dark and suffocating, and it seemed futile to try to escape it.

I would love to say that the depression was just part of the usual sturm und drang of adolescence. Even I hoped it would be long gone by the time I became an adult. But it hasn't gone away. Here in middle age, I still have mornings where I am so depressed that I can't get out of bed. I still have days where I can't stop crying all day. Despite medication, exercise, and good nutrition, I still find myself alone, thrashing about in that zipped-up sleeping bag.

But I wonder how alone I really am. Just about everyone I talk to is taking an antidepressant of some kind. People who seem perfectly fine turn out to have stress-related illnesses. I've read in numerous sources that depression is the most common illness there is. There are now names for things that baffled everyone, including me, in the 1980s: For instance, those weird "freak out" occasions that landed me in the ER more than once? There's a household name for them now: panic attacks.

I suppose it's not really an illness. It's just the human condition. It has to be, if that many people are on medication for it. And before medication? People wrote great literature and created great art and music that spoke to people on a level that everyday chitchat could not reach.

Maybe that's not the way things are. Maybe I really am just a hopeless depressive. But I've somehow been given the "gift" of depression and the gift of writing. For most of my life, the depression has overshadowed the writing gift, and the medication, while making the depression bearable, has dulled my experience of this "human condition."

I don't know where I'm getting with this--just that it's really odd that we all have to take pills in order to avoid our natural responses to reality.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tennis Elbow

I have no idea how I managed to get tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) in my right arm. I haven't played tennis since 2006, and even then I didn't play often. I didn't want to blame my workouts, but I did the research anyway and still couldn't find a link between those and tennis elbow. I did have some repetitive motion going on: I'd been taking Anne to the playground nearly every day for a year and pushing her on the swing for at least 15 minutes. The repetitive motion was the flick of the wrist when pushing the swing. Often my wrist hurt so bad that I would have to either switch hands or or push the swing with the back of my hand.

I don't doubt that the ChaLEAN Extreme and TurboFire workouts aggravated the problem, even if they didn't cause it.

In the past two or three months, I have spent a good $400 or so on multiple visits to a chiropractor. I've spent $200 on two visits to my M.D. Add to that $100 to a massage therapist/bodyworker and $100 to Urgent Care one particularly painful morning, and you can see how this tennis elbow has been expensive as well as painful. The M.D. said to take lots of ibuprofen and offered to give me a cortizone shot in my elbow. There were several times when I seriously considered going in for the shot (and I am a person who hates to take painkillers because they muffle the body's signals that something is wrong).

I've also had to curtail my writing, my computer use, and just about anything in life that requires right-hand use for a right-hander. I haven't been able to lift anything that requires my hand to be facing down or sideways. And by anything, I don't mean just heavy stuff; I couldn't even hold a coffee cup without wincing, and forget about picking up the coffee pot to pour the coffee.

The chiropractor, the bodyworker, and the ibuprofen all provided temporary relief, but the pain always came back. I think I've finally found lasting relief, though. Two things: (1) soaking in a hot tub twice a day (poor me), with a jet of hot water directly to the elbow and forearm, and (2) sitting in a chair, with my arm resting on the top of  the chair arm, and lifting a light (2-lb.) weight (more like curling a light weight upward) 15 times, two or three times a day.

The tennis elbow, I'm happy to say, is almost gone after two weeks of hot tubs and the weight exercise.

Now I'm dealing with piriformis/sciatica pain, and it is a real pain in the butt. Once I figure out how to fix that, I'll post it here, too. Because I know all four of my readers are dying to know.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Reflections


The year 2012 kind of sucked. It was a year of overwork, anxiety through the roof, and penny-pinching. But then again, 2012 was great in that I came to some difficult truths (and finally accepted them), which puts me on a good road, I think. I also got to spend more time with my daughter than I'd spent during her first two years. That was the best part of it all.

Here are some reflections on how the past year has been for me. Questions are from Simple Mom.

1.  What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

"Spending lots of quality time with my daughter" isn't really a "single" thing, but it was the best thing. I guess the single best thing would be that I wrote my first poem in many, many years back in October. And I've written quite a few since.

2.  What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

Our houses not selling. Not even coming close to selling. And arguing with Dan over what we should do about that.

3.  What was an unexpected joy this past year?

While I didn't expect to have to quit my teaching job, it was definitely an unexpected joy to find myself with quiet time. After several weeks of panic attacks and nightmares, I finally started learning to relax again.

4.  What was an unexpected obstacle?

Anne getting sick a lot more then previously, since she stopped staying with a sitter and started going to daycare.

5.  Pick three words to describe this past year.

Frustrating, stressed, lost.

6.  Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your year—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you.

Distant, depressed, angry.

7.  Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their past year—again, without asking.

Stressful, overworked, stuck.

8.  What was the best book you read this year?

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

9.  With whom were your most valuable relationships?

My daughter and my husband.

10.  What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

I now feel like I have room to breathe. In January, I constantly felt like I was suffocating because I was so stressed.

11.  In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

I think I finally accepted that I was a mom. I finally got over the shock that came with having a baby. With that, I've become a much better, more open, more laid-back mom.

12.  In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

Not sure if this constitutes spiritual "growth," but I stopped trying to make church, Bible study, etc., work for me. As I look back, I wonder why I ever started trying to make it work again, back in 2003. I seem to have taken a decade to re-learn things about myself that I already knew.

13.  In what way(s) did you grow physically?

Most of this year, I did not exercise and my diet consisted mostly of bagels and cream cheese, cookies, coffee, and Diet Coke. I rarely slept. I started doing ChaLEAN Extreme in the spring, and it transformed my body. I started drinking Shakeology during the summer, and it seriously curbed my cravings for sweets and gave me more energy. So I'm a lot healthier now than I was a year ago. I also have smokin' abs. :-)

14.  In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

My daughter and I became much closer. We became "mother and daughter"--to her, I think I am no longer the lady who drops her off at the babysitter every morning and picks her up every evening.

15.  What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

Professionally: My students!! I loved my students. (Most of them, anyway.) At home: Becoming an amateur homemaker.

16.  What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

Professionally: As with every job I've ever had, I got into a cycle of perfectionism-based overachieving. That led to lots of self-neglect, which led to some pretty serious health issues. I had to quit the job in order to get my life and my health back in order.

At home: Finding time for myself.

17.  What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

Ha! Facebook, of course!

18.  What was the best way you used your time this past year?

Selfishly: For a couple of months after I stepped down from my teaching job, I followed a very strict schedule that called for three hours of creative writing every day. Those writing sessions--which mostly took place at local coffee shops--were so valuable to me.

As a mom: Taking advantage of the mild winter and spending an hour or more every day at the playground with my daughter. And on bad-weather days, going to the library.

19.  What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

Even at 42, I still care far too much about what other people think. Not sure if (or how) I will ever shake that off. Lord knows I've tried.

20.  Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.

Two thousand twelve was intense and unbalanced. I love intensity and am allergic to balance, but I'd like to pursue a less intense, more balanced year in 2013. For my own sanity and for my family's sanity as well.