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.

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

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 (  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.