Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas - Only Ten More Days 'Til It's Gone

I know I should be grateful and filled with Christmas spirit - whatever the hell that is.  I'm not.  I'm annoyed, cranky, irritated.  I don't like Christmas.  I used to.  But I used to like bologna too.  And knock-knock jokes.  And Soupy Sales.    Well, I think I'd still watch his Black Tooth and White Fang.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNv3rVV1mfs&feature=related .  
I despised the family-of-origin Christmases - drunkfests that went on for decades.  Rough on the mutant nearly non-drinker, though my ex-husband loved them.  Then the real ruin of Christmas was the "death year".  My mother and my sister both died between Thanksgiving and Christmas one year - the sister of alcoholic cirrhosis at 51.   Slogged through heavy water that year.

And now,  I am cranky in the run-up to this, my third Christmas since the SCA, though I am glad to spend it at home - my first in this home.   I am glad not to be travelling,  happy to be hosting friends that day for dinner, but that's about it for happy.  The rest is pretty cranky.

So no, I am not filed with Christmas spirit.  I'm filled with irritation, annoyance, rancor, acid.  Whatever the noun is for peeved.  Pettily peeved, that's me.
I got a tree yesterday, but it's not standing up straight.  Today, I had to go back to where I bought it  -  I realized last night I'd forgotten to pay for it.  I expected them to be grateful and surprised that I had come back - perhaps just a little fawning.  Nada.  They said they knew I'd come back to pay.  I know I should like that - I don't.  I expected gratitude.  Compliments.  A halo perhaps.  See? - Pettily peeved.

I am sick of hearing people debate "Merry Christmas" v. "Happy Holidays".  I have considered de-friending or hiding from some Facebook friends who have posted those bizarre "put Christ back into Christmas" crap.  One said non-celebrators should go back where they came from.  What?  Go back where?  Do we now assume that everyone who doesn't say Merry Christmas is an illegal immigrant?  What the hell is the connection there?  Do these people have no friends who are Jewish, agnostic, seekers, Buddhists, miscellaneous?  How is that possible?
And what the hell is "put Christ back into Christmas" anyway - what does that mean?  Santa Claus's in mangers?  Baby Jesus' figures on candy canes?   Mistletoe in the shape of  the Star of Bethlehem?  Three Wise Men sliding down a chimney?  And now I'm irritating myself.

I am incredibly grateful for one thing this season ----- my radio station plays perhaps one Christmas song per hour.  If it's not the Band's Christmas Must be Tonight or John Lennon's So This is Christmas or Adeste Fideles, I don't want to hear it.  OK, maybe a really excellent rendition of Oh, Holy Night - but that is it.

As kids we count the days until Christmas.  Now, I count the days until the day after Christmas.

I'm full of Christmas rancor though I am faking it, trying to cover it up.  But the rancor is all over the place.  Annoyed at lack of fawning.  Annoyed my tree is not standing up straight.  Annoyed I have to find new places for Christmas decorations - we always put the things in the same places, and this is the first year in this house; I have to figure out new places.  Right now, the new place is "still in the box".  I may go with that.

I'm annoyed with my lost friend.  He missed me last year and I liked that.   I was on the beach today (75 and magnificent) with my unruly dog - whom I'm thinking of renaming Calamity.  The ocean was perfect - long intervals between slow, gentle, excellently formed waves. Impossible blue.  Perfect sky.  Again impossible blue. Warm, not hot.  Smelled perfect.  See forever on the horizon.  And I thought "You idiot. We could be boating.  You could be teaching me to fish".
  Tomorrow I'm going to Raleigh to watch Syracuse play some basketball.  I hope they beat the stuffing out of NC State.

Ah, the 26th - a mere 10 days away.  Then I can go back to being a happy person.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Devoid of Jewelry

Sometimes you encounter a phrase floating by - and then.... what?  What was that again?  Hold it.  Rewind, please.  A few weeks back, a dear friend told me a story that revolved around one such phrase.  It went by and then stopped.  It has rolled around with me ever since.  Seemingly innocuous, annoying as hell.  

A family member of my friend was in therapy.  During a session, the therapist left the room and the 'patient' snuck a peak at the notes on the desk.  I probably would do that.  Or at minimum, I would want  to do that.  And the notes the therapist had written went something like:  "She is completely devoid of jewelry".

Devoid of jewelry.   Those words just sit there.  The therapist wrote those words on a page, to put in a file.  There is something so offensive about it.  I like jewelry as much as the next woman. But that little phrase bothered me, and it's been bothering me for weeks.   Devoid of jewelry.  In a therapist's file.   (It reminded me of an old-fashioned doctor's referring to the "lipstick effect" - he thought he was so insightful by commenting that if a female hospital patient donned lipstick, she was on the mend or showing good mental health.  Trite.  Throwback to my parents' generation). 

But this therapist is not of my parent's generation, and I continue to be annoyed and irritated and insulted by the comment.  "Devoid of jewelry".  Was there supposed to be some genuine insight there?  A diagnosis?   It trivializes a woman; it trivializes a patient.  (And does the therapist note when a man is over- or under-   adorned with jewelry?  Do we make accomodations in the amount of 'acceptable' jewelry a man wears - do we allow more for men from New Jersey?)

I was devoid of jewelry today.  I went out and made several stops; so alas and alack - I was seen in public being devoid of jewelry.  And no lipstick either.   Horrors.
And why was I devoid of jewelry?  Was I having a breakdown?  Was I depressed?  Withdrawing from civilized society?  Sinking into despair?  Lashing out or acting out against some unknown therapist somewhere?  Succumbing to darkness of mental illness?

No.  No to the unknown shallow therapist out there.  No.  I was devoid of jewelry because I had dropped one earring somewhere along the way today.  Instead of walking around with only the other earring, I made the deep decision to yank out the survivor.  Oh - and the 'spare pair' that many of us keep in the car (like a spare tire) had already been used.  Whoopsie.  Perhaps in "smug, trite therapist school" there is a separate category for being devoid of jewelry and devoid of the spare pair).

So there I was.  Devoid.  
Here is what I would like to say to the therapist.  Go to hell.  Wear as much or as little jewelry as you would like, but begone with your shallow self. 

Back to the business of life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dammit - SCA Claims One of Our Own

We survivors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) meet one another on various websites - much like 'survivors' of anything in this age.   On one of these sites, I have 'met' some friends and people I care deeply about.  We exchange our stories, our experience, our fear, our hope, our successes and at times, the despair of loss or impending loss.

I am an incredibly lucky survivor.  I had my SCA inches away from defibrillator paddles and a few feet from people trained to use them.  My heart - which had stopped without warning -  was restarted after three shocks from the paddles - in a matter of moments.  In less than a couple minutes.  In other words, I recovered without heart damage and without brain damage.  Lucky beyond lucky.  Unlucky that my heart has taken to stopping, but incredibly lucky about where I was when it first happened.  My heart stopped and I didn't die.

So we find one another.  Survivors, those whose loved ones did not survive, and the ones that make your beating heart ache - the loved ones of those who are hanging on, who are battling against devastating brain injury.  Their victims are often young (SCA doesn't discriminate by age) - their loved ones are 25, 32, 47.  Their screen names are both proud and plaintive statements - these people want some help, they want miracles beyond what we survivors can offer.    They are Mike's Mom, Jim's Mom, Jenny's Sister, Dee's Mom.

Mike's Mom suffered her final loss this month; Mike who had survived with extensive brain damage; Mike gave up his ghost. When Mike's heart stopped the first time, with his SCA, he was 47 and just passed a physical with flying colors.  This is the tyranny of SCA.

I ache for Mike's Mom and for all the others.  I am again so humbled and grateful for the SCA experience I had - brain and heart intact - with the welcome addition of Skippy the implanted defibrillator.
Mike could have been me.  It could be you.  It could be someone you love.  You could be Mike;  we could all be Mike's Mom.

Today I regret every trite, whiny post I've put on this blog.  Every post about my alcoholic-addict men/boys,  the disappointing buena man,  each post about my SCA fears, every post bitching about having to give up scuba diving.  Shut me the hell up.

Today belongs to Mike's Mom and all the others who battle through those post-SCA injuries that I somehow skated away from.  Please accept my deepest, most heartfelt condolences.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cranky: Shingles Belong Only on Roofs

OK, I'm not in a good mood.  Could even be called a rotten mood.  I don't run in the direction of self-pity very often, but today, I may indulge it.  Well, maybe for 60 minutes.

I have shingles.  On my forehead and scalp.  Yes, I have been to the doctor, yes I am taking antiviral medication, yes I had chicken-pox as a kid  (I was one of 7 kids - we got everything).  Aside from the pain - which is nothing to sneeze at, here is why I am cranky---------

Today, I believe that if one gets Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in your thirties and has Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in your fifties, you should get a flipping bye on some of this other crap like shingles.  Yes, I know that RA raises the risk of shingles (compromised immune system and all that), yes, I know the medication for RA further raises the risk (more compromising), but still.  Should get a bye.  Certainly, all survivors of SCA should be able to skip this one.   Really --- just because I say so.  Well, I'll bet we would all say so.

Cranky, self-indulgent, irritated.  Don't like having to take pain medication during the workday.  Fretting about how to wash my hair.  To crawl out of this pity session, I will remind myself that generally, I don't care about infirmities that I know will be going away in a few days.  But screw it, I'm going to just be cranky for another 45 minutes or so.

This could be the most boring post I have ever put up there. Or I sure hope that it is.  Blessedly, it appears it will be short.  I can't seem to make shingles funny.
Welcome any help there is on that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lurking - I Have Become A Lurker

Guilty admission: I have been lurking in men's 12 step phone meetings.   I'm not a man, so I know it's weird, I know it's embarrassing - or should be.   Here's a few more effects of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA); 1) I've probably become more honest and 2) I don't give a rip about things that should embarrass me.  I think the motto of SCA survivors may well be "F__k it".  

So yes, I've lurked this week.  I'm a veteran 12 step program person - Alanon.  That's the one for people who supposedly don't have an addiction themselves, they/we just happen to love or care about or obsess about a person who does have one.  So I know the lingo, I know the ropes.   But this is different; I've been shocked by the men with whom I have lurked.

Alanon saved my life a few years back, it truly did.   I had surrounded myself with so much alcoholism, some I believed by unwitting choice, some by genetics.  I was a mess by the time I first stumbled in;  my dad had died of cirrhosis, a cousin lost by 40, my marriage unraveled, an understanding that my older sister was a way-down-the-line alcoholic.  She would be dead at 51, but we didn't know that quite yet; there was a little bit more blessed ignorance on that one.

So I became an Alanon devotee, and it worked.  You can regain your footing, you can let the alcoholics go, you don't let their disease/crap/'ism' dominate your life.  Then you can turn back to your crap.  Then something else happens, the dirty little secret.  There creeps in a smugness.  We are subtle about it, or we think we are - if we have any awareness of it at all, the creeping smugness. We wrap the smugness up in kindness, in sympathy,  in tolerance,  in coo-ing recovery type noises.  But it's there.  Smug.  They, the alcoholic/addict/gambler/eater - they are screwed up - I'm fine.   At the end of the day, when we are privately honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge our belief that our emotional health would have been intact had we not been forced to associate with the alcoholic/addict.

Of course, I had sought out some of them - not the sister or the father or the cousin, but the others; I had sought them.  I have come to understand  that this is my crap; they are symptoms of my mess.  This I learned from lurking in men's meetings.  Phone meetings; I figured they'd never know.  And there, on those lines, were healthy recovering men. Far healthier than me.  Far healthier than I had guessed men could be.

So I lurked. I stayed muted. They'd never know.  I was stunned.   With that latent smugness of mine, I have grown so accustomed to thinking of addicts/alcoholics as flawed, as less than.  These were the men who were the bane of my existence, the ones I tolerated, loved, hated.   These meeting men were different.  They were breathtakingly healthy.  Their spiritual life is on more solid ground, their emotional health stronger, more honest.  They had come to terms with their shortcomings and compulsions in ways I never had.  They are searingly introspective, deeply committed to living the fullest life possible, they have firmly put into the number one priority slot: their health and the health of their relationships.  These are not the men who pass through life just putting one foot in front of the other.  They aim higher, far higher.  They aim at happy, joyous, free.  They aim for a shame-free life,  eradication of self loathing and self destruction.  They choose health and they choose the work it takes to get there. They are heroes.

Lurking there - it was humbling, disturbing, inspiring, a little scary, slightly embarrassing, and I am going to do it again.  

Aren't I ridiculous.

photo by daustin@sandcarveddesigns.com  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jurgensen - Be Still My Heart

Believe me; I understand this seems nuts.   I can blame the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), but truth be told, this long pre-dates that 2009 event.  More truth - I don't care.

Sonny Jurgensen was my first crush.  I know, I know.  Yes, this was the start of my long, dark road of exceptionally poor taste in men.  Sonny was an intermittent attender of my childhood Philadelphia church - St. Matthias. (That's a post for another day; Matthias was the apostle who replaced Judas in the lineup).
Sonny would show up  from time to time during the Eagles football season with his pal, favorite receiver and co-future-inductee into the Hall of Fame - Tommy McDonald.

Sonny was an adorable, dynamic, charismatic, witty, sharp-edged, full-of-vortex, jagged,  tortured  heavy drinker.  Just my kind of guy.  Sonny was magnificent on the field, and a bit spotty off the field.  I adored him.  In college, the only photo I had in my room was one of him and my beloved godfather Bill J.   Well, I might have  had one of the dog.  Like I said, I understand this is nuts.

I was shocked in 2009 when I moved here (no pun intended re: Skippy the implanted defibrillator) - he grew up in my adopted home town of Wilmington, NC.  Went to high school here.  The city field is named for him; I begged a photographer friend to take a photo of the Jurgensen scoreboard last year; it's enlarged, framed and inside my back door.

This week, Sonny was honored at his high school by the NFL Hall of Fame "hometown heroes" program, whatever the hell that is.  I saw a small announcement in the paper of the upcoming ceremony and had to go.   Just had to.  Wilmington is a big small town, unlike any place I have lived.  So when I called the school to find out what I had to do to be able to attend - the Athletic Director called me back and welcomed me in.

Sonny was charming, gracious, humble, and talked to his true audience - the high school football team assembled on stage that morning.   He talked about promise and possibility, as all speakers at a High School do.  But then he also told them he was far from the best athlete in his class.  He told them he had been a member of the boy's chorus, had played a role in the Mikado.  He then burst into song, mimicking his performance with the fan.  Seriously.
I fell in love with him all over again.  He was a delight.

I met Sonny Jurgensen this week.  I shook his hand; he shook mine.  I got a demi-hug.

Life is to be gobbled.  I don't give a damn if I looked like an ass.  I met Sonny.






Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Things Should Be

"He was meant to be a photographer; he had that sense of  how something  should  look".  I love that sentence.  It's not mine.  It belongs to David Nicholls who wrote "One Day", a clever novel.  It's a wonderful sentence that reminds me of someone.

I am not an excellent photographer, though occasionally I take a picture I like.  And more rarely, I may take one I like enough to keep carefully, maybe print.  I don't have Nicholls' sense - my good photos are happy accidents.

There is 'how things should look' and then there is 'how things should be'.  When he started taking photos, he didn't trust or rely on his sense of how something should look;  he wanted only to capture the image.  In any way.  He's learned; he's learned to count on it.  Now it's clear - he heeds his strong sense of how it should look.  His outstanding photos reflect that.

His photos show he's grown so far past just getting the action shot, just getting the image.  He's learned that big, burly boys being sweet to a mom or girlfriend or being nearly ill with game anxiety or sitting with their pure love of a sport - these are better photos than big, burly boys crashing into one another.

I don't know if he's yet learned how things should be. There is magic in one's camera snagging that perfect second where something looks exactly as it should.  How things should be is something else entirely.

Hearts should not stop without warning, no one should have to come up with a cute name for an implanted defibrillator so that it's less terrifying,  kids' bones should not break,  children shouldn't get ill, friends should be kind to one another.  That is how things should be.  We should be kinder to people we care about than we are to near-strangers.  Though admittedly, sometimes it is safer to show the kindness to those mere acquaintances.   It's just as true for me as for him;  there is far greater risk in kindness with people we are coming to care for.  Kindness with near-strangers is just a pleasantry;  kindness with loved ones creates vulnerability.

With friends and people we cherish, there is magic in unexpected kindness.  And there is brutality in unexpected harshness.

Pictures are lovely.   Life is messy.

PS I took this photo.  A happy accident.  Click on it to see it full-size.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing and Salvation

Writing is a rich giver of gifts; it helps heal, it can light the way out of a fog, it can slay fear.   Sometimes I write, but first, I am a reader.   Of real, actual, old fashioned books.  I read fiction, nonfiction, biography; I stay away from the murder-and-mayhem aisle.   I read many books solely based on someone's recommendation - almost anyone, really.  Even non-readers, though that trust has taken me down some dark paths.  A few pretty scary books came to me that way.

I read purchased books, I read paper books, I read electronic books.  I like to write in some books;  it helps me think.  For years, writing in a book felt sinful, but now I embrace it;  it changes the way I read.  It helps me appreciate the author or a sentence, and it helps me keep track when a book contains an ungodly number of interrelated or unrelated characters.   Reading may be a solitary pleasure; book clubs are a joyful communion of eager, disparate souls.

There are times when a well-turned phrase or brilliant sentence stops me cold.  The sheer joy and appreciation of it.  I remember when I first read John Irving, many sentences had that effect.  (Caution - don't read autobiographical works by authors you admire and enjoy.  I did and found him smug and exceptionally, arrogantly, obnoxious. I have been unable to enjoy his fiction since).  Harry Crews was an exception to the no-mayhem rule, recommended by a non-reader.  Crews is a violent minimalist; he can deliver the most astonishing jolts with the fewest number of words imaginable.  (I know this is nerd-heaven, I admit it.  This has been me since I was old enough to bike to a neighborhood library as a little, little girl.  Confused the non-reading parents and six siblings.  That tiny building on Bala Avenue was the first of many libraries I fell in love with.  Libraries and hardware stores, what a goof.)

Walt Whitman.  And here, nerd meets sports fan - I love excellent writing about the sublime sport that is baseball.  I thought none reached Walt Whitman's heights, but here are a few I stumbled on today.
From George Will:   "Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona."

And from John Updike, with a gloriously crafted sentence reporting on how he felt as Ted Williams hit a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park in 1960:  "It was in the books while it was still in the sky".

Makes a girl want to pick up a pen.  How I wish I could write those sentences.  And how grateful I am that someone can.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Corners to Turn; Corners to Cut

Working our way out of a difficult time doesn't seem ever to feel the same way twice.  On this one, first, I thought - at last, that challenge was in my rear view mirror.  I could happily move on, prance on, skip on, and leave it in the past, or at minimum, leave it to grow ever smaller.  The problem with rear view mirrors is that the object/issue/crap is still visible.  Depending on your pace, it may be visible for quite some time.  And visible is not helpful, at least for me.  It enables me stubbornly to hang on, to continue to believe it to be fixable,  to believe that I am the Fixer.  The line between optimism and hubris blurs.

Then, I turned a corner.  That is more jubilant, more liberation.  Turning a corner leaves no visible remnants -  the crap is left behind on some other sorry street, even if it's a sorry street with a vista.  Turned.  Gone. Left.

Those emotional corners can't be cut.  As much as we would like to accelerate that turn, we cannot.   Time is friend and foe.   There was no emotional corner-cutting available for me, not on this one.  No matter how tired of it I had become; no matter how weary I was of its living rent-free in my head; no matter how aware I was of its futility.  Corner could not be cut; return to emotional health could not be hurried.  No tools created a shortcut; at times, it seemed like the longest, slowest turn. We have to wait, work, cope, work, wait --- then suddenly, finally, there it is ---  the corner to be turned.

Maybe it's because "this one" was several challenges blurred or bound together - imagine the giant ball of string out there in the Midwest somewhere.  (Why are these things always in the Midwest anyway?)  This was tough, this was the heart, both literal and figurative.

Corners were not cut here to be sure. They were labored, pondered, processed; they sat through sadness, anger, disappointment, wistfulness, regret,  hurt, fear, confusion,  and even joy for having known it.  At times, I wondered if I had become hooked on the dark of it, and I am not one to relish or wallow or linger in darkness.  Then, the corner cleared; there it was at last.

Turned.  Said farewell to that sorry ass street.

P. S. Amuse yourself; google "largest ball of string"; there is a lively, spirited debate out there.  Above is actually largest ball of rubber bands; took some license.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gonna Have Me Some Damn Fun

Life is life.  It comes with times of great joy, times of serenity and then what can feel like a season of loss.  Some losses are swift, unforeseen body blows.  Others are gradual -  small bites taken one at a time, and then the sudden end.  But all seasons pass.

Gradually, veils lift.  New seasons - reveling in a day of no loss and no anxiety about an impending loss. (I feel nothing but compassion for those who are hard-wired to see the next loss around every corner.  I am not that; it is not my chemistry, and I am grateful beyond words for this).

Fun.  I remember fun - from before this past season.  Happily, this was a week for water fun.  Spectacular weather; several days I got to the beach for a few late day hours  -  with a great book.  The best of times.  Decided to get to competence on my last remaining  basic boating skill - dock the damn thing.  I mean geez - stupid drunk people can dock a boat, children of 10 can dock a boat....  So out I went with a willing teacher (though I know she wishes she had brought some wine along).  Hour and a half or so - docked the damn thing dozens of times.  Got a "F"on my first try (though I thought that was a tad harsh - I think "F's" should be reserved for attempts that involve actual damage).  Happily and proudly got to a "B".  Though there is some chance she up-graded me to a "B" because she really needed to get off the boat and have that glass of wine - all teachers have tolerance limits, particularly with an incompetent yet stubborn student.  Bad combination - inept and determined.

Then my kayaks were delivered.  Postponed until after Irene - there is no sense adding projectiles to your possessions right before a hurricane.  Went on the virgin trip on another spectacular day.  Again, no damage to life, limb, kayak, dock or friend.  Success.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not fun; having a flipping defibrillator in your chest wall is not fun, waiting for it to shock the crap out of you is not fun, saying farewell to a beloved dog is not fun.

Today was fun.  Lean into it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gradually, Then Suddenly

I loved this dog.  And I adored the man who took the photo.  I had joked with him that he was a world-class dog sitter for her and that next he would teach her to read.  Voila! or Viola! as he would type it - this photo came to my phone.  She had become a reader.  Loved the dog.  Will always love the photo.

One of my dad's best friends was Tom Starzl at Pittsburgh  (he did the first liver transplant, I believe).  Whenever the subject would turn to non-accidental deaths (which for those two was morbidly often) - he would say "Death Takes Small Bites".  I always thought that would make a great title for a novel.  Small bites indeed.

My favorite literary reference to death was not in fact about death at all; I believe it was bankruptcy.  But I'll take liberties or artistic license.  I'm allowed - it was Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises.  The question:   "How did he die?".  The answer was "Gradually, then suddenly".

It is a sad time: I got through Hurricane Irene just fine, but Stella did not.   Brings to mind both Hemingway and Starzl.  The good news is that this post prompted me to find an email address for Dr. Starzl and send him a note about how much his friendship meant to my dad.

I have chosen to believe in a dog heaven.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Death Just Hangs Around Now

I liked John O'Hara's novel, but loved the Somerset Maugham vignette that gave it the title:  Master sends servant to the market in Baghdad; servant freaks out when he sees Death there and runs to Samarra to avoid him. The master then confronts Death, chastising him for frightening his servant.  And Death replied: "I did not mean to frighten him; I was just surprised to see him in Baghdad today when I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra".

I don't think anyone in the house has an appointment tonight, but Death has become a regular, at least as a conceptual, theoretical presence.  Just hanging around all the time.   I have a favorite NYorker cartoon framed and displayed -  featuring Death handing a card to a terrified man. Death says: "don't worry, it's just a save-the-date card."  As I write this, I realize perhaps it's my fault that the concept has taken up residence here.  Mocking it may be unwise.  Imprudent.

I am not a morbid person, I'm really not.  But since the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) nearly two years ago, I don't think a day has passed without at least a fleeting thought of death.  It sidles up as I take an evening swim in the ocean.  The slightest twinge evokes it; it doesn't even have to be in my chest; thoughts of death say Hello if the twinge is anywhere in the general area of the torso.  Tedious.  It pops in and reminds me to make sure the "documents" are up to date and where they are supposed to be.   I have a new game - I change the beneficiaries now and then as my mood shifts. Yes, I do that now as a result of mood changes.  Too bad - it's my money.  If I want to be posthumously capricious, so be it.  People are mean to me, they get less.  Other people are meaningful to me; they will be shocked to find out they are listed.  Wow - perhaps this is the age when one becomes eccentric. Somehow, I didn't think that would happen in my 50's.

And of course, Stella the dog is having her own dance as she winds through the winter of her life, slowly but inexorably approaching her last day.

So death just hangs around in the air here.  I don't find it frightening, but occasionally unnerving. Lately, it's been a little annoying.  Like maybe Death could go get a job instead of insisting on lurking around my home.  Great idea.  I'll write the Craig's List ad now.  'Unemployed spectre seeks engagement.........have own sickle or scythe or whatever the hell that thing is called.  Will work for souls.'

Mocking Death gives us the illusion of the upper hand.  I'll take it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

SCA : Guards Up, Guards Down

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) changes everything; I've written that before and most likely will write it again.  SCA changes how we connect with our people; every single relationship in my life is different.  Guards that were up are down.  Well, many of them are down.  Or at least teetering.

I have always been guarded in my relationships.  Partly out of the normal fear of rejection, but more importantly, I was cautious about being lost in people's vortex.  Some people come with a vortex: it's a whirlpool; it's magnetic; it's powerful; it's dangerous.  Bordering on violent in its ability to draw you in and down.  I would be lost.  I both attracted and sought them - those people.  And I may be one of those people.   You know us; we are not the ones who marry our high-school or college sweethearts, have 2 or 3 children, live a long marriage, do whatever it is people do with coupons, go to church regularly - we are not them.   We spent much of our young adulthood (some of us into our 30's, 40's...) sort of ricocheting off people.  The other people - not us -  are gentler, calmer souls (or seem to be); they disturb less of the world around them.  My people and I; we disturb a lot of it.  We come with a vortex.

So I was guarded.  I mastered the art of appearing unguarded; it's part of the way we do it.  I blocked, parried, did what I had to do to keep other vortex people at arm's length.  Even as I sought them out.  Hid my vortex while I was at it.

Now, now -- now that my heart  has taken to stopping without warning --- now I care far less.   I still like these people;  I'm still drawn to them, I still attract them.  I just worry less about getting lost.  It's easier now to be vulnerable, less scary to be scared.   Well, of course there are maybe one or two notable exceptions where I could still get lost. Too scary, too much vortex.  That guard is still on duty.  But it's no longer my norm.

My heart stopped and I didn't die.  Guards have a new, smaller place in my life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Dog Stella - Still Among the Living

My dog is going to die soon.  She is 13 or 14 years old, so it can hardly be called premature.  It is going to be one of those things that creeps and crawls its way to a decision.  There will not be a jolt, a dramatic event, an acute episode.  Instead it will be a slow decision about what is the right time.

I set markers - for her and for me. When X happens, it is time.  Well, truth be told, I've had a few X's already and I have made accommodations because I am not ready.  And more truth be told, she may be ready before I am.

She has been my dog for over 12 years.  Big, big 12 years.  I divorced, reconciled, reconciled, redux redux.  I quit my big corporate job. I went to law school at 50. I passed three bar exams. I flunked one.
Moved to Wilmington where I knew nearly no-one.  With the ex, ex, ex, ex husband.  Who lied about being in recovery. Whoopsie.
Agreed to a final split.  She was here through all that.
Then the Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Two months after moving here.   SCA, implanted defibrillator, new friends - some appropriate, some not.  More F___ing life lessons than I would like.
Of late, slogged through a tough 6 months.  Recovered. Came out stronger, more alive.
Now, I am accepting my dog is going to die soon.  Writing that sentence is hard.  Looking at her stumble is hard - she was an agility-type dog, not a stumbler.  Beginning to think of her in the past tense is hard.  Looking at her for signs that she has had it - very hard.  Hoping not to see those signs, then hoping I might. I don't want her to live one single day longer than she wants to.

Neither of us is ready yet.  But it won't be that long.  Here is her recent photo. I'd like you to meet Stella Z. Rowan.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What We Envy

Envy.  One of the seven deadly sins.  It is the more  kind-hearted, passive, less harmful cousin to the malice of jealousy.  Jealous husbands kill, envious girls quietly weep or deeply sigh.

I have always envied those with long legs, good singers, 20/20 vision -  the normal list.  I have envied those with that absolute, rock-solid, unquestioning faith.  Faith in whatever - God, church, the power of donuts - absolute faith.  I have never had it and never will.  I am a questioner, and was - even as a kid.  I remember the nuns "explaining" the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Ghost.  I didn't buy it - it's three or it's one - it cannot be both (literal even at a young age). Challenged the nuns, then the parents, finally a priest. Always the same answer - what I came to see as the ultimate punt -  "Marcia, it's a divine mystery that Catholics just believe".   I envy those who believe that sort of thing. So simple, so comforting to them, or so it seems.

I envy fast metabolisms.  I envy people who naturally eat only when hungry. I envy smooth, easy, powerful golf swings.  Still envy long legs.

And now a new one. Well, two.  I envy people whose hearts have not taken to randomly stopping, that's for sure.  But I now also envy those with weaker memories. (Apologies to my SCA anoxic brain injury friends).  I have long relied on what has been an excellent memory - it got me through college, has been extremely useful in the career, helped me win more than a fair share of marital arguments, and was the key to passing multiple bar exams.  Now I want a lousy memory. At least selectively.  We all have moments of agonizing regret - you don't get into your 5th decade without regret - I would like to forget two moments in my life.  Two days.  I can't eradicate the events, but I would like to eradicate the memory.
One was long, long ago - I was a teen, and I wronged a friend.  It remains the worst thing I have ever done to another person.  I have come to terms with it, but I wish I could also simply fail to remember it.  I remember every moment of that day, and I would rather not.

Then the second, more recent - I harmed only me.  My failure here was in not tending my self-respect, in making a set of poor choices and emotional investments, in yielding when I should not yield, in taking far less than I deserved,  in allowing denial to take charge for hours, or maybe it was even weeks.  Guilty of not outgrowing certain impulses, of being f__ing human.  I would like a mulligan, a do-over. But I can't change it, I can't fix it -  I accept that.   But I would greatly prefer not to remember it.  The guy (oh, of course it's a guy)  has almost certainly forgotten what pieces he remembered; his memory is astonishingly porous.   Mine is not. I remember every single minute of that day.  And I would rather not.  I'd like an eraser please.

I'd rather not remember.
I envy and wish for a crappy memory for the first time in my life.  Or at least a selectively crappy one.
The antidote for envy is gratitude; I'll be working on that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everything Must Go

That is the name of a current movie - Everything Must Go.  I saw it last week; I think it is the first time I've intentionally seen a Will Ferrell movie.

This movie was good, in a grim, dark, slice of sad life kind of way.  I know it was good; I know it was well-done.  It was well-written, and the acting was strong, including Will Ferrell (surprisingly).   The premise of the movie:   he finds his alcoholic self job-less, house-less, wife-less - she has thrown all his stuff onto the front lawn, locked him out.  Re-keyed the house.  Everything, including him, must go.  We slowly come to understand the worst  -  he is accused of having done something horrible.  When confronted with the inevitable question : "Did you do this?", his face was nearly dead.  Astonishingly, bleakly nothing.  Ferrell managed to have utterly no facial expression.  Like a death mask.  His answer was impossibly sad - "I don't know;  I don't remember".  He is that ruined.  To be unable to defend himself against charges of rape - because his mind is so besotted that he cannot remember that night.  How is this possible - not to be able to remember if you raped?  But you look at the face, and you know it is true - he does not remember.

I know the movie was good, but I didn't want to admit how horrifically sad it made me.   The way he drank, how he was when sober, how he was when drunk; how he stood, how he smiled, how he talked, how witty he was, how smart.  How he drank - as the serious ones say - drinking with a purpose.  All of it.  All of it - reminded me of loss.  He was bright, insightful, honest, self-deprecating, charismatic, witty, delightful, kind to everyone but himself.  Ruined.  I adored him.  And he was lost.

Men become drunk in different ways, but each is astonishingly consistent: my dad was cheerful then maudlin,  one of my brothers is acerbic, another is stone quiet, my ex-husband was pugnacious and difficult, and then there was the one who was exactly like the character in this movie.  Exactly.  He was this character.

What saved me was Laura Dern's role.  She didn't pine for Will Ferrell when he turned up.  She gently remembered for him his long ago kindness that he had forgotten, before his life was this.  She likes him.  And she says - as she bids him farewell - when you get yourself together, please call me.

My hero.  My heart stopped and I didn't die.  Waste is hard to see.  We don't have to watch.  With one glance and a few words, Dern set a boundary that was gentle, optimistic, self-loving, kind, hopeful, intrigued and clear.  She got it right.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's Anxiety Day

Not sure why; sometimes this Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) anxiety just comes out of nowhere. Physically, I've  been fine, active, chugging right along.  Visiting the INSPIRE website for SCA  is usually a positive experience for me; we take natural human comfort in finding and interacting with our communities, be they actual or virtual.  We find people with more issues than we have and we find those with fewer.  We offer a hand; we tentatively put forth something we hope might help or be insightful - and we seek the same.

SCA is like many things - it's tough, it's frightening. For most of us, it came from nowhere - your heart stops without diagnosis or warning - and you come back. Well, some tiny percentage of us comes back.  Many get an implanted defibrillator (ICD); mine is Skippy.

My relationship with Skippy is complex; I love having him in there - laying in wait to come to my rescue.  But I am frightened of him; he comes to the rescue with a shock - a big, bad, painful, terrifying shock.  I haven't had one (yet) and I may never have one. Or I could have one 10 minutes from now.  No-one can say.

Today, the Inspire site filled me with anxiety.  I read one too many stories about people and their ICD shocks. And the accompanying pain and terror.  Some shocked once (appropriately), more than one shocked over 50 times in rapid succession (maybe or maybe not appropriately).  Envisioning that has freaked me out. (I can just hear my friend J. saying -- the answer is simple - don't read these things.... He sees causality in a creative kind of way...)

I'm going to the beach now. I never go during the mid-day in the summer. But I am going now for a walk. Cell phone in hand.  Just in case.
Crap.

P.S. I found the above cartoon in a 10 second google search. It's already made me feel better.
P.P.S.  The cartoon is used courtesy of www.nataliedee.com

Saturday, July 9, 2011

We Are Not Alone

I found a new friend this week....he's like me.  Really like me, except not quite.   He is a guy.  We both survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and survived it with minimal damage.  It seems neither of us has any brain damage - a horrifyingly small club.  So we have all that in common; we are SCA survivors and we are very, very lucky.
We both live on the coast; we were scuba divers; we both used to have very low resting heart rates.  He is braver than I am; he has continued to dive since having the SCA and since having the defibrillator implanted.  I can't bring myself to do it.
 We are both in our 50's, we are single.  We have been athletes, though he much more so than me.  We  have defibrillators implanted in our chest walls, we are both bright and we sometimes struggle to make sense of all of this.  Mostly, again, we are alive and we are fighting fear.  We're both determined not to succumb to fear, in spite of the very scary fact that there is something wrong with our hearts that 'they' cannot fix.  All they can do is stick some goddamn box in there to shock the crap out of our hearts when the rhythms go haywire.  We are often grateful, and sometimes we're just pissed off.  We both know people who wildly abuse their bodies with tobacco, alcohol, etc. and apparently have hearts that chug along very nicely. We know it's a waste to even think about that, but every now and then.....

We are both terrifically frustrated by the lack of data, by the lack of clear, certain information about why this happened, about what our futures hold.  His present is even more unsettled than mine, so he probably feels greater pressure for answers. My defibrillator has not fired in now almost two years - and his has fired many, many times.  Sometimes appropriately, sometimes not.  I sympathize with him while being very selfishly frightened of the prospect of that happening to me.  Thinking about Skippy shocking my heart - either once or repeatedly - is almost too frightening for me to envision.  So I don't.  Or I try not to.

One other stark difference was our initial responses to the SCA.  We both awoke to unknown cardiologists telling us our new story and then telling us that because of our good health (aside from the stopping hearts, of course) and the lack of clarity on the cause and the future events, we needed to have defibrillators implanted immediately.  Being the girl,  I thought - sure.  Put the damn thing in. It was my insurance policy.
My new friend - the guy - reacted differently.  In his eyes, the lack of explanation and prognosis was not a reason to stick some foreign object in his chest wall with leads running into his heart ready to give shocks.  Instead, he walked out of the hospital without the defibrillator and would not get it implanted for another year.  A whole year.  We are the same and we are different.

I am so glad to have met him; on our first call, we talked the better part of an hour.
We both see this life of ours as struggling to find the right role for fear, to find the balance between being rational about the fact that the heart has taken to stopping and we have defibrillators in our respective chest walls.  We need to be rational about that, but both of us refuse to let fear dominate our lives.  We don't want to be stupid, but we can't be timid or overrun by it.  Every person on earth faces this balance, but if you toss SCA into the mix, the line between the two moves around.  It is a struggle to sort out which are fears to be overcome and which are the ones that we need to heed and adjust our choices.

I have a new friend.  As I said to him, I am so glad to know he is out there.  Alive.  Not terrified.  Living a life.

Not alone.  Company feels wonderful today.  This is gratitude.
(I would never have met him without the Cardiac Arrest website (Inspire.com).  If you have found this blog because you searched for information on SCA, I encourage you to visit inspire. And if you are reading this because you are a friend, thank you.)



Monday, July 4, 2011

My Favorite Character

(this post has nothing to do with Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t).
I read a lot.  I see a lot of movies.  I get out some.  So I meet characters.  Introducing D.
D has an extraordinarily well crafted persona, carefully and consciously constructed, far beyond what most of us attempt.   This persona is not casual; it has a job to do.   Most of us put some polish on our personalities, we smooth our rough edges.  If the analogy is to a woman putting on makeup, most of us slap it on, spend 5 minutes and a quick check to make sure the lipstick is in the general vicinity of the lips.  But D – he'd stand before the mirror for hours; he tests different combinations, he plays with shadings, he knows his angles.   This is serious business, this persona.

The finished product is so carefully and skillfully constructed that it’s nearly invisible.  Meet the persona: the man most often described as a great guy, a charmer, fun to go out with, women adore him, he is invited to parties.  Above all else, he is affable.  Seriously.  Many of us strive for honorable, admirable, or at least worthy of respect – this man has aimed for affable. And he made it.  He’s never been in a fist fight, he’s never been arrested.  He doesn't argue, he won’t confront.  But of course, the problem is that he won’t confront anywhere – not other people and not his resident demons.  Everyone knows him, everyone likes him, no one respects him, he has no genuine friends.  
He lives a unique, sloppy life with more failures than successes, but the failures destroy only him; no-one else is harmed.  He has failed to manage money, failed to control alcohol in his life, failed to stay solvent,  he has failed to sustain any relationship.  He has failed to develop the skills to cope and prevail when faced with life’s curveballs.  Instead, he reacts as he did at 15 – he drinks and runs, runs and drinks.    

His friends have largely fallen away; they have moved to adult lives with homes, wives, children, jobs.  D now has buddies instead of friends, and those buddies seem to become a little younger each year.  Instead, D interacts most easily now with teens; they still think he is cool.  High-schoolers, maybe college.  Just the boys.  Not the girls.  He’s not a pervert.  Though there may be a thing about feet. 

When we first get to know and enjoy him, it’s because he’s bright, witty, self-deprecating in a light-touch way, enormously charming with a kindness that he doesn't see as the exceptional rarity it is.  (He is a mess, but he is extraordinarily kind).  Initially, knowing him is pure pleasure.  It’s fun; he's fun.  Then of course,  he inadvertently reveals bits and we begin to see the wreckage. One bit at a time.  Various forms and shapes of bankrupt. 

This is him at his worst.  In the sober light of day -- he remembers that he has let down the guard.  Even an inch is too much.  Fear and self-loathing crash out from the persona’s armor.  He tries to corral them the only way he knows how.  More running.  More drink.  Binging.  Scotch in the morning.  Nothing works.  Cracks turn into fissures - all over the persona.  Panic.
Whoever has seen the bits, D erases them from his life. Delete. Even if he loves them.  He cannot bear it.  The reflective shame is too much.  He will happily abandon love to escape that shame and loathing. 

These are D's worst days - this onslaught of panic, shame, despair. He knows only one way; this is not multiple choice; no A, B, C or D.  He doesn’t think it through, he doesn’t talk it out,  he doesn’t write to find clarity, he seeks no counsel.  He sees only one door. Full tilt run;  he doesn’t know how to stay.   He can’t.  He runs;  he is gone. He is alone again, but he is relieved.  Safe.

On a sober day, or in a sober hour, he knows his life is wrecked.  He knows the booze is ruinous; it is both cause and effect of all the other failures, and he knows this.  He knows that his life now consists of waiting for the next disaster, and he knows it’s around the bend.  The only mystery left is what form it will take.

He’ll never have a woman in his life again.  Not really.  Catch-22.  He tried a heavy drinker and it turned to disgust.  Over time, she disgusted him; she was him.  And he has had non-drinkers - that is a simple impossibility for him now.  

This disaster is my favorite character. It defies description how far short he sells himself.   Life is a mystery.

Friday, June 24, 2011

SCA Manufactures Fear

Fear multiplies now, and I swear it didn't use to.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is scary for everyone. I mean shit - it kills you in an instant and then if you are in the lucky 2%, you get to come back from the dead- so yes, it's scary.  And for most of us, SCA comes out of nowhere; we had no warning, no diagnosis, nothing - just zap.   A startling kind of fear.

I have a pretty longstanding attitude of not being a fan of letting fear win (though sometimes it certainly does).  That almost pugnacious or competitive attitude carried me through many post-SCA adjustments and situations. After the SCA, there was sharp, piercing, breathtaking fear for so many 'first times'.  Fear the first time riding a bike fast again - done.  Check.  Swimming alone in the ocean again - check.  Sex - check.  Heart-pumping exercise - check.  The list is long, but I had thought it was finite.  Click through them one by one and I will get to the end.  Nope.

Now comes a new one.  I had unrelated surgery last week, surgery that required general anesthesia.  In the middle of the night before, I suddenly woke up - oh crap, what about Skippy, the implanted defibrillator?  What if I'm under anesthesia and my heart stops or stutters and Skippy fires off a megajolt while the MD and his scalpel are millimeters away from an important body part?  (as opposed to some unimportant body part.).  I could not believe that I, the planner, hadn't thought about that. I had updated the will (seriously), done all the laundry (seriously), prepared food to last through some sort of invasion or apocalypse, I had asked all the prudent questions about recovery, etc.  Yet somehow I had missed the BIG one until the middle of this night.  There it was again - that cold, icy fear.  New one.  SCA spawned a new one.

(It turns out what they do is place a magnet over Skippy to disable it while you are under. After all, the big bad defibrillators are right there in case something goes wrong.  It seems almost funny to say - it's nothing to worry about, nothing to fear.  Almost comical.)

But new fears continue to come from nowhere; I think they may never end.
SCA manufactures fear.   One more down.  Check.  God love magnets.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Renoir, Hayes, and Shut Me Up


"One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity". Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

For years, I thought Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) would be my dominant health issue.  I inherited that one (in my 30's) from the maternal side of the family.  It's nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but it certainly hopped into the back seat when the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) arrived.  RA is in the family of 'auto-immune' disorders; as with MS, lupus and others, the body attacks itself without anything resembling a decent explanation.  Or a cure.  Charming.

Renoir had horribly crippling RA and in his last years, he had assistants tie the brushes to his mangled hands so he could continue to paint.  Some of his masterpieces.  Yesterday, I met Mr. Ivey Hayes, an artist here in Wilmington, N.C. who struggles with and overcomes the same aggressive strain of RA that Renoir stared down, the same that destroyed my mom's hands, feet, knees and other joints - before she turned 50.  (My RA, fortunately, is far less severe.  I credit Dad's ironclad, gin-fortified, indestructible DNA).

There are numerous photos that survive of Renoir's last months, with those same mangled hands.  I know people who cannot bear to look at them.... I worked hard to get my hands on a couple copies as I find them inspirational beyond words.  If he could do that....


I am honored and humbled to have met Mr. Hayes, same as I am each time I stand before Luncheon of the Boating Party, same as in knowing that the Renoir photos exist.  Makes me remember to shut the hell up.

(Mr. Ivey Hayes is on Facebook).


DAMMIT

Have you ever wished you were different?  I don't mean taller, shorter, thinner, better hair.  I mean different.  In a significant and fundamental way.  A substantive way.  Like you wish you could tolerate something you find inherently intolerable.  Something that is painful for you to see in a loved one - you want no longer to care about that.
You wish different things mattered to you - important things.  You wish you were more like some other person.  Some part of you that makes you distinctively you - you want that to go away.

I wished this today, and I honestly do not remember ever having done so before.  It is not a happy thought.  But I wish it today.  I hope this is a short-lived post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Endings and Artists

I heard an artist speak the other day about some of her work. She pointed to a couple textiles and said something to this effect: "I realized I would probably never have that particular experience again, so I gathered up pieces of things.  I wasn't sure what I would do with them, but I knew I wanted to keep them until inspiration arrived".

I am not an artist.  My only medium is this - words.  I am horribly unobservant generally - or to put the best possible face on it, I am highly focussed.  And maybe a tad literal.  I was struck by the artist's having a sense of certainty that she would never pass that way again.  I have missed far more of those than I have caught.  I see them only in retrospect.   With people, often I didn't see it until the ending had arrived and already gone.

Would it be different if I had that artist's sensibility?  That I saw in that moment that this was an ending?  Would it change the experience? Would I behave differently?  Would I have fewer regrets, more regret?  Thinking of the endings that are losses through death or some demise:   Relationships gone.  People gone.  Would I have wanted to know that day was an ending?

My medium is words; so in considering endings, I hear the last words spoken between us.   My Dad's to me were "everything is all messed up" and my response something like - well, yeah, it probably is.  My Mom's "Can I have more stuffing?" Mine - well, sure, it's Thanksgiving.  With a cherished uncle, one of us said "See you for lunch Tuesday".  A sister who died too young, I am horrified to say I don't remember.  And with a lost relationship: "I promise we will talk about this".  Relationship lost, promise lost.
In each, I didn't know those would be our last words.  I gathered no items to mark the time and space as the artist did; I just took the fallible memory of the words.  Had I known I was sitting in an ending, I don't think I would change the parents or the sister; those days had come.  With the uncle, I would say - no wait, Tuesday is too late, let's make it Sunday.  Silly, but true.  He would be just as gone, the hole he left just as big.  But I would have tried to change that ending.  Somehow.  Make it bigger, make it last longer.  Something.
And that lost relationship?  Had I known that was our last day, I would have tried something.  Probably the ending was as certain as the others, but the ensuing edges were more jagged than they needed to be.  Or so I think.  A little more thoughtful observation here, a little more sober courage there.

Final acts are on the mind these days.  Endings looked different to the artist, perhaps they can sound different to me next time.

With thanks to Fritzi Huber, the artist.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Hearts of Young Men

I have e-met a number of young men who have survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest, or come back from the dead, depending on how you look at it.  Recently, a 24 year old wrote to me after reading something I had written.  He wrote in such a way that my heart ached and I got pissed off for him - pretty much at the same time.

I was 56 the day my heart stopped; he was 23.  My primary career is behind me; I had the luxury of going to Law School at 51 and now work on interesting challenging matters for a handful of regular business clients. I have nothing to prove; all that career pressure has been spent.   I can do this for as long as I choose to work.

He, on the other hand, had more pulled out from under him than I did.  While both our hearts stopped, his situation is so vastly different, I fear they truly cannot compare.  Not only do I have a couple decades of adult problem-solving skills under my belt - he has so many more issues and dilemmas I had never really even thought about in my last year and a half.

He has to grapple not only with the standard questions that all we SCA survivors have - why me? will it happen again? will this kill me?  when?  But him - he has so many more issues - he has to grapple with the concept of getting married, does he become a father?
And then there is the career - he was a new West Point graduate when his heart stopped at age 23.  He had a career plan that flew out the window on his heartbeat.    Having SCA and an implanted defibrillator probably takes a young man out of consideration for many of those West Point grad jobs.  Certainly took him out of the running for what he had planned.

His implanted defibrillator has not been as quiet as mine. Mine has not fired.  He has had two episodes and no medical answers.  No flipping medical answers for the young man.  How is he to plan his life? How is he to plan his day?

There is a community out there; we try to help one another come to terms with all of it.  And then today,  I saw that my 24 year old who is scared, angry, reeling and struggling - had reached out to lend a hand to a 23 year old who was even newer to SCA survival.

Does a heart good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Damn Life Lesson

All my life, I thought it was a virtue.  Parents pushed it, rewarded it, praised it.  Friends, colleagues respected it.  Our country reveres it.  Independence.  Family folklore is that I came home one day from second grade and announced that I no longer wanted or needed help with my homework.  Independence.

If one of the kids asked my dad what a word meant, he'd point to the dictionary or encyclopedia and maybe help you look it up.  More likely, he'd sit and wait until you figured it out on your own.  Fostering independence, a presumed virtue.

On a first date eons ago, the guy asked me to describe myself using only 10 adjectives. I should have said "difficult and done", but I didn't. I don't remember the 10, but I'm confident "independent" was near the top of the list.  A virtue.  I was proud of it.
Same guy, long past the first date, told me I was several standard deviations from the mean for independence in women.  (Yes, I dated a guy who talked like that).  But again, I felt complimented; I'm sure I said "thank you".

Independence. It enabled me to run a pretty high risk company; it meant I could tromp around Europe, Asia, and  the Middle East with a sister or two; land in the scary Cairo airport in the middle of the night. I can buy a house by myself. I could make myself dive again the day after my scuba equipment failed 118' down in Belize's Blue Hole.  I could go to Law School at 50.

But then, the bubble burst.  After Sudden Cardiac Arrest, we examine everything.  Last week, I read something on independence as an expression of fear.  That we create an armor with independence - we fend people off with it.  "Independence" is code for "I don't trust people" or "I don't trust that I am valued enough that people will be there when I need them".  We announce in hundreds of ways that we don't need people.  That what we are actually saying is "I don't deserve people".
Is this why I have always found it excruciating, nearly physically painful, to ask for help? The reason I would much rather pay someone to do something than ask for help?  Because I don't believe I deserve the help - they must  have something better to do?

All of a sudden, my self-talk and self-image went haywire.  Independence can be a bold expression of a deep belief in unlove-ability?   Bizarre.  Planet gone wobbly again. Is this frigging TRUE?  Argh.

Uh-oh.  Then I look back at my men through this lens. Uh-oh.  Perhaps we make this prophecy come true; we prove that we are, in fact, unlove-able---- by choosing to engage with the hands-down winner of the "emotionally unavailable" contest - the alcoholic.  And I have engaged with more than one, more than two, more than....  Trust me, you will always come in second.  Every single time - second.

I  must say I am getting pretty damn tired of all this food for thought, all these life lessons.
Difficult and done indeed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My New Heart

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) changes everything.    At first, in my I-love-denial way, I  insisted that the SCA had little impact on my life.  In retrospect, clearly insane.    People like me have SCA when their risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years hovers at 1% (Framingham).     But you wake up one day and some doctor is telling you that your heart had stopped, three shocks with the paddles, and it could happen again (or not).   Oh yeah, by the way, we are putting a defibrillator into your chest wall with wires into your heart.   Your actual heart.   And I am to see myself as lucky.  
 But me – I decide that nothing had really changed.  I may be brave, but I am nuts. 

It changes everything;  bit by bit, you examine everything.    And as we wind through that slow gentle upheaval,  we tell ourselves the truth about things we have long avoided.  Or perhaps it’s the lifting of clouds, fog and veil.   And I had grown very comfortable with my  fog and veil when it came to relationships.  I didn’t want to see what I could have seen.    I had adopted a persona and self-image I could live with.  Now, it’s a new heart and it’s a new life and that comfort slides away bit by bit.   There is discomfort, there is excitement, there is fear, there’s a sense the planet went wobbly --- but there is a certainty and a peace.  An uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless.  I won’t settle for what I had settled for; I won’t repeat what I had already repeated.   

Every relationship in my life is now different; some slightly and some enormously.  What I will look for, what I give, what I will accept, what I seek  – all different.  And I have come to terms with some of the nasty, sharp, jagged truths about my past choices.  I am guilty of what I blamed others for – they are, after all,  what I chose.   I chose those with whom I did not have to risk the most terrifying of all our states - intimacy. They were incapable of it; I was off the hook.

No more.  Not with this new heart.  I may be nuts, but I am brave.   I will have what I should have.  Me and my new heart.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Religion and Me - Lost in Translation

Religion is a tortured subject for this raised-Catholic.  I have a longstanding love/hate relationship with the Church. (Yes, if you are raised Catholic, Church gets a capital c).  At best, and I mean at very, very best, I could be described as a cafeteria Catholic - take what you like and leave the rest.

As an adult, I have had decades with zero Mass attendance and then bursts when I was a regular.  I resigned from one parish in the aftermath of a pedophilia episode.  And now I have joined another.  This one is on the beach, and the beach environment and population seem to invade the church.  Or at least I hope so.

It is an understatement to say I have struggled with faith and religious practice, but I have comfort with core spirituality.  I grapple with the meaning of faith, the concept of sin; I battle with rules, with Church as authority rather than conduit and community.
(At one point, I decided only to say the parts of the Nicene Creed at Mass that I 'believed in', and had a crisis when I got down to saying only one sentence.  Seriously.  Not joking.  One sentence.  That precipitated another spell of absence from church and Church.)

Since the SCA and a couple other life events, I have accepted that "faith" is not ever going to be that absolute certainty for me that I once wished it would be.  And I have accepted that it is fine to carry my tortured version of faith and spirituality into any old church I choose.  Including a Catholic one on the beach.

Example of newfound approach to faith: I was talking with a friend a few months back - a friend who shares some of the questions. (But he may be worse - he blurted out at Christmas to his very, very Southern mother - "my Jesus is brown".  Caused a family ruckus.)
We talked about the Virgin Birth as an example - no way do I believe that.  Sorry.  And even worse (or better), I honestly don't understand why anyone cares.  My friend said he had long ago written that one off to a translation problem.  That in the ancient days of either the Old Testament and/or the New one - someone wrote "virgin" instead of "young unmarried girl".
I decided why the F not. This could be the true explanation.  My newfound approach to faith --- "could be true" is enough.  Close enough.
Life should be this simple.  Of course, if my priest reads this, I am doomed.  Literally.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Expiration Date

Yes, I would very much like to know when I will die.  My very own expiration date.  I understand many people prefer the uncertainty, but not me.  I would like to know.  Once I survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), my  mortality shifted from being an interesting, distant, fuzzy, philosophical concept to a reality that has taken up residence with me every single day.   Every day, I have at least one thought of it - from the meaningful musings on life after death to the banal "How do I keep people from reading my journal if I leave it out and then die in my sleep?".  Or - "pick up those dirty clothes; that will be embarrassing if someone has to come in here and find that."  I know it's weird; I would have thought this could become grim, but it is simply a fact of my new life.  Mortality is a boarder here now;  mortality dines and sleeps with me every day;  mortality has taken up residence.  Mortality has its own chair.

These are not depressing thoughts; they are oddly dispassionate.  It's just the practical reality.  We all face mortality; having your heart stop without warning just makes it a tad more real - less of a concept, more of a fact.

And why do I want to know my expiration date?  Mostly it is about spending money - I would like to know how long my money has to last - or put another way - exactly how extravagant I can be.  I think I am going to go on an adventure-type trip early next  year - to a place I've always wanted to go.  I'm cheap; spending money like that is tough for me.  But if I knew my expiration date, I could plan those trips with comfort and confidence.

And probably even more importantly ---  I could leave dirty clothes on the floor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Extra Drinks

The Nail

In the last year of his life, someone was asked "Do you have any regrets?";  to which he responded:   "I regret the extra drinks".  Said he and his deeply troubled liver..............

I hate alcohol.  Today anyway.   I hate it.  I drink it now and then, but I can't stand what it does to people I love.  And by extension, what it does to me.  So screw it - I just hate the stuff.  If there were a Temperance League out there today, I'd probably be a card-carrying member.
As a friend says:  "There you have it".  Truth be told.

Since I will get an "F" in Alanon today, I should apologize or moderate the statements, or talk about detachment, or it's a disease, or there's a genetic predisposition, or they each find their own way to sobriety (or not), or we need to support them, or how to set boundaries while still loving them, or I tend to overreact, or leave room for the exceptions to the rule  -  all that annoying, mature, compassionate crap.  But not today;  today I just hate alcohol.   We all have moments when we simply don't feel like being politically correct or thoughtful or moderate or even knowledgeable.  But now, sometimes, it seems the SCA survival gives me permission to give in to those days - to go ahead and have a little old rant like this one.   In other words - screw it.  I don't feel like being sensible or gentle or mature - I just hate the stuff.

In my early days in Alanon, an experienced friend was talking with a very distraught newcomer.  The newbie was worrying herself sick over future romantic possibilities after she divorced her active alcoholic husband. She said: "I am so worried I will fall for another one - how will I be able to tell if a man is an alcoholic?"
And my friend responded:
"Oh, that is very, very easy for me.  If I am in any way attracted to him, he is an alcoholic."

So there you have it.  Even I get tired of myself from time to time.  So I know how you feel.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Fight v. Flight

We probably each tend one way or the other when faced with life's threats and frightening moments;  I think I lean towards fight - Irish heritage and all that. I've been told that after the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), I fought off an oxygen mask and then attempted to argue with the cardiologist as he described my heart's suddenly stopping, three shocks with the paddles, all that.  NO - not me: no heart disease, no family history, nonsmoker, good BP, perfect cholesterol, lots of exercise, admittedly a weight issue.  What did I think - perhaps he had strolled into the wrong hospital room?  Or maybe that I could talk him out of it??

I surely fight for relationships - all of them, probably to an absurd degree.  After all, reconciling with the ex-husband roughly 142 times was probably excessive.  But I'll fight for relationships with lovers, friends, family, siblings, dogs --- stubborn.   Maybe even more since the SCA.   And I admit, with a nod to the Irish, I believe there may be more honor in fight than in flight.

But I must also acknolwedge that there may be more brains in flight. (And I have flown - to be sure. 118 feet down in Belize's Blue Hole when the scuba equipment failed - I was in full flight).  But in relationships, do the flee-ers have it right?  Why bang away and bang away when a relationship hits bumps in the road or when a situation is futile?  Well, we fighters would say that we can't tell the difference between a bump that can be addressed and a brick wall.

So we fight and they flee.   This may be one of those genuine impasses:  I see honor to the fight; they think it is idiotic not  to face the reality of inevitable failure.  Who am I to judge?  I wasted a decade or more on a doomed marriage.... flight out of that would have been the far smarter choice.

I think this may be yet another skill for me to practice - throwing in a towel.  The idea of giving up without a fight is just not comfortable; it seems I'd rather be an idiot than a person who flees.  Perhaps the answer is slowly walking away.
Yup, more skill development on the horizon.