Hey, I’m a Zebra: Part One

zebrahorses

Don’t worry. The title will make sense by the end of this, if you make it that far. (My darlings are survivors–no apologies.)

October 9, 2019, I woke before sunrise at my usual 5:30 AM, leaned up on an elbow in bed, and took a Synthroid pill stored on the bookshelf behind me. I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis requiring daily fake thyroid hormones to replace the ones my dumb jerk body no longer makes.

This was a movement I made every morning around the same time – nothing unusual. Slight upper back twist, plus I was going to the gym to treadmill and strength train multiple times weekly, as well as doing regular yoga. It should have been fine.

It was not fine.

I felt a sudden twinge of pain between my shoulder blades that grew rapidly stronger. Ouch. Not “I pulled a muscle!” ouch, but instead “Fuck, did someone just knife me in the back?” ouch. I froze, immediately flipped onto my back to assess, but it kept getting worse. I moved to the left side. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I got onto the right side. Zinging, radiating, pain. I couldn’t determine which muscle or bone was to blame. Lying very still didn’t help at all. Holy mother of cats, it hurt so much. I froze in place, trying to think logically about what to do.

***

Background: I first assumed back injury because 9 years earlier, I was hit by a distracted driver while waiting for a red light to turn green. He was doing 50 MPH and didn’t brake at all. He totaled his Ford Taurus and my Toyota 4Runner, violently slamming me into the car in front of mine. I spent 2 weeks in bed on painkillers, speaking in a hoarse whisper because the whiplash was so severe my neck and vocal cords were swollen, only getting up to roll sideways out of bed for crawl-walks to the restroom. This was followed by 2 months living/sleeping with my damaged right foot tendon (injured instinctively jammed down on the brake) in an Aircast® boot, and then 2 more months of physical therapy to get my foot working again after the boot was removed.

Short version: I assumed I’d tweaked my neck. Also, please don’t drive while distracted.

***

The pain was growing stronger by the minute, and emanating from what seemed to be the middle of my upper back into my neck, head, and jaw area. I began to sweat from the intensity. It was hot, sharp, moving upward, and my extremities had begun to tingle, arms and legs growing peripherally numb. I sat up in bed, stood, and almost passed out.

***

More background: I’ve had a C-section abdominal surgery (7 inch scar, stitches) after a 35 hour labor with my gigantic son, 24 hours of it active and without pain control of any kind, and a few years later, a hysterectomy/left oophorectomy abdominal surgery (5 inch scar, staples). I’ve had shingles on my face, forehead, and scalp for weeks (undiagnosed anxiety disorder). I’ve been been violently punched and beaten by two different men (broken finger, broken front tooth, damaged optic nerves, C-PTSD/panic disorder).

With that in mind, this pain was worse than anything, ever. I am known for my high pain tolerance (natural redhead – we’re weird about pain). An Urgent Care physician once commented, “Why aren’t you crying? If I had a break like yours, I’d be crying, for sure!” The bone had been broken for over 4 hours.

I share this “window into my tolerance for pain” not to sound tough, but to explain how incredibly explosive and horrific this moment was… I’ve literally never felt anything like it.

***

I ran to the bathroom with sweat trickling down my ribs, to empty my bowels in the way only pure adrenaline can. I mention this because 1) I have IBS-C, and the “C” stands for constipation, so this was not in any way normal for me, and because, 2) This complete elimination would be helpful later. (Please enjoy my fecal foreshadowing. You’re welcome.)

I began to involuntarily shake, which I would soon learn in the hospital, is my natural reaction to pain at 10+ on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. (Oooh… the hospital is coming. More foreshadowing. So exciting.)

I ran for the ibuprofen (<—this blood thinner was a bad idea… will the foreshadowing ever end?) in full primal panic, took 3 gel-caps, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer, and placed it on my neck. The pain was making it hard to breathe–far worse than the peak of a labor contraction–and I finally accepted more was going on than a pulled neck muscle. My entire upper back/thoracic region was now on fire, and it was becoming harder to walk because of the tingling and numbness in my legs.

In searing pain, now teeth-chattering,  barely able to speak, I sat down alone on the living room couch in the dark, leaning back onto the ice pack because my arms were too weak to hold it up, and tried to once again assess the situation. I began to wonder if I was having a heart attack because of the jaw involvement and nausea/diarrhea. I’ve read that heart attacks can present in these ways for women. This medical show junkie was completely flummoxed, and in too much pain to think clearly. But I had to stay clear. Panic helps nothing. Assess, stay calm, assess, stay calm, panic will make it worse, stay calm, deep breathing, stay calm, assess. What is my next move? Do. Not. Panic. But the pain was making it so fucking hard to stay calm.

***

Oh, crap. She’s giving us more background: I am diagnosed with C-PTSD, which often helps me stay cool under pressure, and able to lose my shit later when I’m in a safe place. I believe this evolved as a coping mechanism to keep myself alive in violent and threatening situations. I can compartmentalize and dissociate like a rock star if needed – but the panic attack will have its way with me eventually. The body keeps the score, and all that. So I was now sitting quietly in the dark, wondering what I should do next. Sweat now literally running down my sides, stomach mercifully cleared of all contents, thinking about my son sleeping on the other side of the wall growing up without his mother. Good times, good times.

***

I should probably mention at this point that my husband, who is normally one of those people I envy who can sleep much later than 6 AM, happened to be awake while I ran frantically around the house groaning, because he’d had hernia surgery for 2 lower abdominal hernias 2 days earlier. He was in the early phase of his week off work for healing where the convalescent eats soup, takes pain meds, and sleeps odd hours. I had spent the day before taking care of him, made a trip to the grocery store to buy foods he could eat, and he was in no shape for a crisis. Poor bastard.

He called blearily from the bedroom, “What’s going on?”

I replied, “I don’t know yet… maybe a spine issue? Pulled muscle?”

Bent over in abdominal pain, he lurched out to the living room where I was leaning limply against the couch. We were quite a pair. (Watch the middle-aged people moaning in agony around the room, kids! Enjoy a glimpse into your future!) I could no longer lift my arms or legs–not even a finger or toe twitch–and they felt heavy, like they were metal and the floor was magnetic. I was for all intents and purposes quadriplegic, and I wondered how much longer I’d be able to breathe on my own or stay conscious if the paralysis moved further up my body. I knew if I succumbed to the panic attack, it would make everything worse, so I left my body a bit. I tried to stay calm by watching the situation from the outside, but the pain kept pulling me back into my body. Stupid pain.

He asked if he should call 9-1-1 and I said yep, I think paralysis of my arms and legs combined with the worst pain I’ve ever felt probably warrants that call. Fucking surreal moment. Also, as he was on pain meds, post-surgery, and not cleared to drive, there’s no way he could have gotten my newly-immobile human meat sack to the hospital. We needed help.

The 9-1-1 operator had him try to check my wrist pulse, which I can never feel, so I told him find my Adam’s apple and move up and to the side like I’ve learned in CPR classes, but then I think he and the 9-1-1 operator decided if I could help him find my pulse I probably had one and they stopped that part. She gave him the excellent advice to lock up any pets (2 indoor-only cats) and to turn on the porch light for the ambulance. He was then tasked with waking up our 13-year-old son, which is the part that makes my eyes water as I type this, because I’m a parent, and we want to protect our kids, not scare them.

I had been answering my husband’s questions in short bursts through my pain-clenched jaw, and now that my son was awake, I had to put on the strong mom mask. It has never been harder. I remember saying things like, “It’s probably just a slipped disc in my back, buddy. It hurts a lot, but I’m okay, don’t worry, the ambulance is on the way and they’re gonna fix me up,” and a bunch of other happy horseshit I didn’t believe. I honestly wondered if I’d ever see my child again.

We heard sirens and I was so relieved. The sirens stopped once they got into our neighborhood, which I later learned they do to avoid waking everybody up, which makes sense. At the time, however, I worried they’d driven past our neighborhood entrance.

We had our son grab my stuff, and open the door to wave down the ambulance. I will never forget the look on his young face as he stood by the front door, holding my purse to his chest while the EMTs rushed in, followed by the firefighters. He looked pale, and so, so scared. I hate that my stupid, weak body gave him that awful memory. I couldn’t protect him. I’m supposed to protect him. Damn it.

After asking the appropriate questions, the EMTs confirmed I needed to go to the hospital.

“Can you walk to the gurney?” they asked.

I tried to move my legs, and was horrified to find they were still completely paralyzed. I couldn’t even wiggle my toes. I then tried my arms. I couldn’t lift them or move my fingers. I tried so hard to do these simple things I’ve taken for granted my entire life, and no matter how hard I focused my brain, nothing moved. Lift an arm or leg as you read this. Go ahead, do it. Now imagine willing those limbs to move and nothing happening. No, not like when your arm falls asleep and you can flop it around tingling until the feeling comes back–I mean no movement at all, no matter how hard you try, you’re trapped inside your body. Like being held down by an invisible force, and completely helpless. That nightmare you have where the monster’s coming for you but you can’t move at all. That feeling.

(My biggest fear in life is being helpless, by the way. I was so far beyond horrified I can’t even describe it adequately with words. Just know that sometimes, still, at the end of a day when my back hurts badly in the affected area, I get scared enough that it’s happening again to shake and cry. I don’t want to go back to that helpless place ever again.)

I told them I couldn’t move, and the firefighters came in to help the EMTs lift all 5’9″-ish-and-not-underweight of me onto the wheeled stretcher. Yeah, not my best look. I was in a flimsy nightgown, too, with no underwear, which is just awesome. They came towards me with a small towel to support my neck. Terrified the tiny blanket would wiggle and make whatever was going on worse, I said, “Shouldn’t we put on a collar to support my spine?” The firefighter gave me an annoyed look, said, “Yeah, I guess,” and got a cervical collar. They put it on, and I was then 1-2-3 lifted onto the gurney like the dead weight I was, bless those strong men and women.

So here’s the thing about that collar, in case you’re ever in a similar situation. What we’d later learn was that what happened to me was so rare (without trauma) that there’s no way they could have known I definitely needed it, but the neurosurgeon with whom I’d soon become acquainted told me if I hadn’t gotten that C collar, I might have been permanently paralyzed. So trust your gut, kids. (And any awesome first responders reading this, please don’t dismiss annoying medical show fans, because we learn things sometimes while we watch TV and wish we’d pursued a nursing degree instead of a double major in English and psychology. Ahem.)

On the way out the door, I told my son I loved him more than everything, and not to worry. I still can’t think about his face in that moment. Stricken is the only word that comes to mind. Some combination of mortified, horrified, and bewildered that defies language. I never want to see that look on his face again. My husband called our next door neighbor, who happens to be a lifelong friend of his, because he couldn’t drive himself behind the ambulance (recent hernia surgery… again, poor bastard). Our friend drove them both to the hospital where they languished in the waiting room. My husband had his parents come pick up our son and he took the day off school because he was understandably freaked out. They took such good care of him, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I’ll never forget the bumpy, shitty roads of our state on the ambulance ride to the hospital because the pain blossomed like redneck fireworks as we hit every one of them. The sweet EMT woman put in an IV, attached electrodes, did something (I had my eyes squeezed shut because the ambulance lights were so bright) and said, “Well the good news is that you’re not having a heart attack!” and I felt a bit of relief. She noticed my eyes and asked if I’d like the lights off. I told her I’d love that and thank you (bright lights give me migraines). Eyes now open, I looked out the back ambulance windows at the city lights in the dark, moaning in pain with every bump, praying we’d get to the hospital quickly, because I’ve learned from 2 previous major abdominal surgeries hospitals have wonderful stuff that makes pain bearable.

When we got there, they loaded me into a dark bay where I could see a well-lit hospital hallway and people walking by casually, talking and laughing in scrubs. Concrete floors and barren white walls surrounded me. That’s it. No lights, no machines, no clock, no people–just me alone in the blank, shadowy loading area. It felt like a storage room in the back, like the bright hallway with the people were a doorway-shaped television set I could watch, but not access. The nice EMT lady wished me luck and left after giving my details to someone.

The intake nurse in the bay told me all the Acute Care rooms were full because there’d been a sudden weather change (it was Wednesday… not usually a busy day, she said) from warm to cold overnight. I knew this phenomenon always deflated my car’s tires, but didn’t know it was a thing that so dramatically affected people, too, before that morning.

Then she left me. For a long time. I tried to be patient (pun alert!) but I had been in the worst pain of my life for going on 2 hours at this point, and the lifting, jostling, and bumpy ride hadn’t helped. I. Wanted. Fucking. Pain control. And I wanted it NOW. It was growing harder and harder to choke down the panic attack. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I felt scared. I felt forgotten. I still couldn’t move my arms or legs. I thought I was going to die. Alone. In the dark.

Soaked with sweat and terrified, I started to shiver so violently (in the chest/torso area) I looked like I was convulsing, and a nurse checked in on me. Nurses know the signs of a person in severe pain, and she deemed me worthy of Percocet, the only pain medication my body will tolerate in pill form. It dulled everything down to maybe a 7 or 8, but I was bewildered by the lack of care. Nobody seemed concerned about me. I still wonder if I’d had the panic attack I was desperately holding in and started hyperventilating and wailing like I usually do in the master closet of our home, if they might have bumped me up the priority wheel. Screaming wheel gets the grease, right?

I later talked to my husband because I assumed it was one of those “felt like forever but was really only a few minutes” kind of things, but he assures me I was lying alone in the dark, empty bay-room, wondering if I was ever going to walk again because there was no sense of urgency–and why nobody was concerned that I was PARALYZED–for around 45 minutes. I’m completely serious when I say I could have coded and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

***

Sad background: I remember in that moment I wanted my daddy, like a little kid. Except I didn’t get a loving biological dad, so I wanted the father I never had. I wanted a daddy, like a little kid, I guess. I wanted a guardian. I felt helpless and vulnerable and I wanted protection. I thought about how when my husband herniated a neck disc, his father drove him to the hospital and fought them to give him pain control–he angrily made them take care of him, the way a parent is supposed to advocate for their child. I remember wanting my husband’s father there because I knew he would make them come help me–he would angrily demand someone help me like he did for my husband, his son. I get frustrated with my father-in-law sometimes for needing to manage and control situations that maybe aren’t his jurisdiction–but when you’re in the shit and you need help, he’s exactly the kind of person you want on your side. I suddenly appreciated him so much more. I still do.

So yeah. I wanted that. I always feel alone. I’ve always been alone. But I’ve never felt more alone than in that moment. If I die here, I’ll die alone, I remember thinking, and my people won’t even know that these people ignored me instead of helping.

***

Meanwhile, my husband had been in the waiting room harassing the guard every 10 minutes to check and see if I was in Acute Care yet, asking could he please go be with me, feeling as confused as I was by the lack of urgency. It was really weird. I think, once again, the rarity of what was happening inside my body factored into the nonchalance of the medical professionals.  They had no idea that time was of the essence, and that I am freakishly lucky to not be paralyzed to this day, according to my neurologist and every study I’ve read. I think they thought I’d pulled a muscle and was overreacting, having a panic attack. Mostly, I think if I’d been a man, they might have taken me seriously. And that’s why I’m sharing this publicly. Because I’m hoping the next person who has a non-trauma-based, rare spinal injury like mine will be taken seriously from the start, regardless of gender.

(Yes, I went there. I’m playing the sexism card. Bam! It’s on the table, bitches. If you’ve never been given what I call The Little Lady Treatment by a condescending doctor with a God complex, as in, “Now, now… don’t worry your pretty head, little lady. No need to get hysterical. I know your body better than you do, and there’s nothing to worry about,” only to find out later from a doctor who listens that there sure as hell WAS something to worry about… you’re either lucky or male. Women are strong as hell. If we say we’re in pain, fucking BELIEVE US. We can silently, quietly take a lot of that shit. End rant.)

Possibly because my husband was harassing the front desk about me so much, they rolled my bed from the dark room out into the bright hallway to wait for an Acute Care room to open up, and finally let him come stand next to my wheeled stretcher. My husband tells me we then waited at least 30 more minutes for a room to open up. The Percocet had dulled the pain a little, but my husband remembers that I was still shivering. The medication that had seen me through two major abdominal surgeries, a broken bone, and shingles wasn’t touching this pain.

A room finally cleared and they wheeled me into a room with glass doors that slid open and shut, with a privacy curtain if needed. There was a brushed nickel toilet in the corner that made me think of prison. They hooked up hydrating solution to the IV the ambulance EMT had placed in the crook of my right arm. (Yay! Breakfast!) The pain had dulled somewhat, but was still in the 8+ range, and the incredible Acute Care nurse, Delores, believed me and added morphine to my pain control, which helped so much. It calmed me down and pulled me out of the panicked animal phase of whatever was going on so I could stop shaking and answer questions.

My arms and legs had regained a little bit of feeling, but whenever a nurse or doctor did the “squeeze my fingers with your hands, now push my hands with your feet” test, I could barely lift my arms a few inches and they said I was extremely weak. I was in shock, thinking about how I’d been pushing 180 pounds on the leg press machine at my gym a few days before, and now I could barely make my feet move forward into the open hands of medical professionals. I’d been treadmilling a few miles and lifting weights 4-5 days a week for years… and now I couldn’t walk. It was unfathomable.

I saw multiple doctors and had to re-tell the above story of my morning events to them all. They were busy and kept apologizing for how long it was taking to diagnose me, but said they had more pressing patients and kept leaving. Delores was an angel and kept my pain under control, and was so kind. I started to need to pee, but found that I couldn’t, either in a bed pan or when helped to weakly walk over to the prison toilet in the corner by Delores and her nurse trainee holding me up. This was both my and my husband’s first clue that something very, very wrong was going on with my spine, because if there’s one thing this girl can always do, it’s pee. I can pee, and then 5 minutes later, before we leave to go somewhere, I can pee again. My son rolls his eyes when we get to doctor appointments because mom always has to use the restroom before we go in. It’s a whole thing, how wimpy my bladder is, and now I couldn’t pee, even though my stomach and kidneys hurt. I now understand this is a symptom of spinal cord compression-related paralysis blocking the muscles needed to release the bladder, but I didn’t know that yet. It really scared us, because I’m normally the Pee Champion and all that.

Finally a doctor ordered 4 MRIs with and without contrast, of my thoracic and cervical spine/neck regions. Delores did a bladder sonogram, determined my bladder was indeed full, and put a pee pad under me in case I lost control during the MRI. Someone came and wheeled me off to the MRI while my poor exhausted husband waited in my Acute Care room, off the pain meds he needed for his hernia surgery, hurting and not resting like he should have been. My stupid injury set back his healing process dramatically, and I still feel guilty, even though I obviously didn’t mean to do this. But I’m not alive if I’m not feeling guilty, so, you know. It’s fun in here.

The MRIs took what felt like forever (do… not… like… clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube time… at all) and I was having a muscle spasm during the first one, for which the frustrated disembodied female voice inside my tube kept chastising me, as in, “You need to stop moving your neck. I don’t know why you keep wiggling your neck.” I told her I was having an involuntary muscle spasm starting between my shoulder blades on the left side, shooting up into my neck, I was sorry, and that I was trying to hold my breath to see if that would help. She never spoke to me or answered and it was making me panic, feeling like I was ruining the MRI, making it last forever. Would I ever escape the loud tube of doom?

Then, a kinder disembodied male voice inside my tube spoke up and said, “I’ll be taking over your MRI now,” and proceeded to guide me through it, telling me what to expect and for how long. It was like night and day, the difference between the two MRI techs, and I kept thanking him for telling me what was going on, and that it was helping me so much to know what to expect. My muscle even stopped twitching.

(Any MRI technicians reading this: I was anxious because fear of the unknown is scary for some people, especially those of us with trauma in our backgrounds and major trust issues. As soon as the nice guy started talking me through the MRI, my stress levels decreased dramatically. Please don’t shove us in the clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube, criticize us, and leave us alone with our thoughts because some of us catastrophize and need reassurance. Trauma Informed Care is the future of medicine. Learn it, please. Thank you. Love you.)

I got out of the MRI tube and the nice tech and a nurse helped me weakly wobble back into my rolling bed, which we later learned I shouldn’t have done. But there’s a saying in medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”. We still thought my pain was a horse, because usually the hoofbeats are coming from a common bay mare. Unfortunately for me, we would soon learn from the MRIs we were dealing with a zebra. And it was a rainbow striped zebra, like the Fruit Stripe gum zebra, except my ordeal would not be anywhere near as fleeting as that ancient gum’s flavor.

I was wheeled back to the Acute Care room where my husband sat mired in post-surgical abdominal pain, and we waited for the results. A doctor came in to talk with us about them, sitting next to me, typing information into a computer. I did the hand-squeezy/foot-pushy tests for the umpteenth time that day, and he informed me there was bleeding inside of my spine, anterior (front of spine, not back) left, from the C/2 or C/3 neck (cervical) area and extending all the way down past the T/5 (thoracic) region. It seemed to be coming from what might be a tumor, lesion, or abscess around the T2 vertebrae, which could be cancer, and infection, or something else. No. Please no. My husband asked if this meant medication and physical therapy or what, and the doctor scared the daylights out of us both by grimly snapping, “Oh, no. Make no mistake… this is very serious. She’s going to need emergency surgery today.” Oh no. No, no, no. He told us the neurosurgeon would be in to talk to us soon, and left. OH MY GOD, NO. My husband asked, “Are you scared?” and I quietly replied “Yes,” but I was scream-thinking, “YES! Shitless! I am scared shitless!” I didn’t want to scare him further, so I kept that reply to myself.

What had happened is officially called a Spontaneous Spinal Epidural Hematoma, or SSEH. They’re so rare (0.1 in 100,000 per year) that I couldn’t find much research on them, which is why I’m writing this. I’m hoping that by telling my story, I might help anyone (medical professional or patient) recognize what’s going on more quickly if they recognize similar symptoms, because according to everything I’ve read, I shouldn’t be able to walk or use my legs today (i.e. acute neurological deficits), as my spine was compressed for just over 12 hours. The bleeding was towards the left, causing greater weakness on the left side, so if my issue had been mistaken for a stroke, and anticoagulants given, for example, it would have possibly caused more blood to enter my spine.

The extent of neurological recovery has been shown to be related to the interval between the onset of symptoms and surgery and also the degree of neurological deficit. It took the hospital, from loading me into the ambulance bay at 6 am-ish until emergency surgery at 5:30 pm-ish to diagnose this, which means I’m incredibly lucky to be able to type this right now. Or walk. Or pee on my own again. 50% of patients do not recover.

Above, I’m hyperlinking some of the fun information my husband found on the internet while I was having spine surgery and he was wondering if he’d be raising our son alone, or perhaps also taking care of his quadriplegic or paraplegic wife, what kinds of ramps/door-widening we’d need in the house for my wheelchair–if I got lucky and survived. All while in pain from not taking that day’s post-hernia surgery meds or lying down to rest. (Ugh. Guilt guilt guilt.)

My husband later told me he was paranoid the whole time they diagnosed my injury because as mentioned above, it happens literally once in a million without trauma, he’s 6’5″, and they always blame the husband. It didn’t even occur to me the whole time, but I had no signs of outer trauma on my back at all, so I don’t think this was never really in question. We both wonder if that was possibly why the doctor was so abrupt and snappy with him. He had an angry glare on his face while he told us I’d need surgery. Maybe it was just the end of his shift and he was tired or something, but he scared the fuck out of us both.

Delores, the best nurse ever in the history of nurses, had been by my side all day, and was about to give me a temporary in-n-out catheter to empty my bladder because her portable sonogram said it was really full (of IV fluids… I’d had nothing to eat or drink all day and it was now late afternoon). She told me we didn’t want my bladder to burst because that was very bad. But as soon as she heard I was going to need surgery, she told me she’d stay late so she could be the one to put in my Foley catheter (the kind that stays in, not the intermittent catheter). She told me less catheters means less chance of a UTI, so we might as well just place the Foley now. She was at the end of a 12 hour shift, AND she’d picked up an extra day that week, yet she still offered to stay late to put in my Foley catheter. I love her so much. If anyone reading this knows Delores at St. Francis, tell her she is an angel straight from heaven and I will be sending her positive energy and goodness for the rest of my life. Seriously. Somebody make me a millionaire so I can buy her a car or something, please.

The neurosurgeon and his assistant came into the room next, right as Delores was getting ready to cath me, and that queen stepped aside to wait, again, proving that nurses are amazing humans. She stood aside while the nice neurosurgeon with kind eyes and a calm manner talked to me about how he was going to have to open my spine and suck the blood out to decompress it, a laminectomy. He said they’d check the evacuated blood for cancer cells and infection while I was on the table, and go from there. His assistant was also kind, and I felt in very good hands. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten anything since 5 pm the night before, so that wasn’t a conflict.

They left and a phlebotomist came in to put an IV in the crook of my other arm. I have tiny veins and the EMT already placed an IV into my right arm (the one good vein), but Blake must be the phlebotomist they call for tough cases, because he got a smaller needle into my left arm vein. (The Blood Whisperer, I call them. Every office has one, and they usually call them out to help after lesser phlebotomists have poked my hand veins to the point of massive walnut-sized swellings.)

Delores finally had the chance to put in the Foley catheter, and I immediately filled the bag. My stomach and kidneys stopped hurting. Oh, the relief… the bizarre relief of not being able to release your pee muscles until someone inserts a tube up your urethra, into your bladder, and then opens a balloon to hold it in place. It sounds awful, right? Except hold your pee all day long even though you’ve tried repeatedly to release it, until your lower abdomen hurts, and you’ll welcome that catheter tube, I promise you. Heaven.

***

Anxiety disorder background/Trauma Informed Care rant: In addition to my morning thyroid replacement pill for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I take an anti-anxiety med 3 times daily to prevent Complex PTSD/anxiety disorder-related panic attacks. This is on record, and I’ve been on this prescription for years, under the treatment of a very good psychiatrist. I’ve tried to wean off this medication, for which my doctor has yelled at me because it can cause seizures to suddenly stop taking it, and because he says my brain chemistry is what it is–the neural pathways were formed as such–and I will need this medication for the rest of my life. (I don’t like taking medications. I’m sorry, doctor. I won’t do it again.) When I foolishly tried to wean off the meds, I noticed my hands and feet were tingling all day, looked it up, and sure enough, this was a symptom of weaning off my anti-anxiety meds. I took one and it stopped. Oh. Duh.

With this in mind, because most medical people don’t seem to understand Complex PTSD, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, which are two of my official diagnoses, the doctors typing my medical history into the computer kept recording my anti-anxiety medication as “1 daily, for sleep” rather than “taken 3 times a day” LIKE I REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM. Maybe because “for sleep” is a more typical dose? I don’t know, but I got all-caps shouty back there because this was immediately a source of frustration because I shouldn’t have to relive my multiple lifelong traumas explaining why I need doctor-prescribed meds to complete strangers because it’s triggering and none of their fucking business – and in this instance would continue to be really irritating for my entire week-long stay at the hospital.

I write “immediately a source of frustration,” because when various people coming in and out of an Acute Care room keep having you squeeze their fingers and push their hands with your feet, they also ask if you have any tingling and run pens along your toes and poke them and such. And I kept saying, “Yes, my hands and feet are numb and tingling, but I normally would have taken 2 anti-anxiety pills by now and when I go off them suddenly, my hands and feet get numb and tingle, so it could be that.” My logic being, let me take the damned anti-anxiety pills because 1) I can’t tell you exactly why my extremities are tingly if I don’t take my usually scheduled pills, and, 2) I’M FUCKING ANXIOUS AS FUCK BECAUSE I’M SUDDENLY PARALYZED AND IN PAIN AND I REALLY FUCKING NEED THEM. It was taking everything inside me not to have a panic attack for almost 12 hours straight, and nobody would give me the pills I’ve taken for years to stop the panic attacks. Before the meds, I had worked up to 2-4 panic attacks weekly and become agoraphobic because they’re humiliating. The anti-anxiety meds literally gave me back my life. I need them. (Sorry Big Pharma conspiracists. Rubbing coconut oil and turmeric on my asshole while sniffing essential oils wasn’t going to fix me. Western medicine and science for the win. Deal with it.)

So there was that. I had my anti-anxiety meds on me, but I was worried about surgical/anesthesia contraindications, so I didn’t take one all day. It didn’t help. I’ve had positive reactions to morphine after my other 2 major surgeries (good pain control, no itching), so I think that drug filled in a bit of the anxiety control for my missing daily pills. But still. The cause of the tingling was inconclusive.

Once the 2 inner arm IVs and Foley catheter were in, I figured we’d be waiting all night to be worked into the neurosurgeon’s schedule, but I think once he realized how long I’d been sitting in the hospital with a compressed spine, with my chances of not having neurological/motor deficits waning by the minute, he bumped me to the front of his surgeries because suddenly the orderlies were there to wheel me away. My husband and I were shocked by how fast everything started moving after the neurosurgeon spoke with us. I guess that’s why they call it emergency surgery.

It’s really important for me to be an organ donor–I’ve felt strongly about it since high school–and for the rest of me to be donated for medical research/students for learning purposes. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have reminded my husband of these things, in addition to telling him I love him, but that’s all we had time to say and then they rolled me off to the giant white operating room.

We were met by 2 anesthesiologists who were super nice, and I told them how I grew up with bright red hair, even though it’s fading, and before I could mention how redheads handle anesthesia differently (I’ve woken up during surgery – we’re hard to keep down), the blonde one said, “So you need extra anesthesia,” and I was relieved she obviously knew her stuff.

She took off my nightgown so they wouldn’t have to cut it, which meant she had to lift each of my paralyzed arms for me, and this was such a touching moment for me, even though I felt like a weak child. I asked the anesthesiologists if they wanted me to count and they laughed, saying they didn’t make people count, and to just breathe. The mask went over my face. I stared at the bright lights, wondering if I was seeing my last glimpse of this world. I told myself to be brave, and I breathed.

Then darkness.

***

(To be continued, next blog, with pictures…)

Open Letters to Humans I Encountered When I Left the House Today #1

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***

Dear Men in the Huge Truck Behind Me This Morning,

Hi. It’s me–the lady in the tiny car you were completely up the ass of as I idled efficiently, attempting to make up for some of the fossil fuels you burn through like an ’80s coke-head on a weekend bender in L.A.

I was sitting at the yield sign near the exit of our neighborhood, waiting for the school bus 100 yards from us to signify all children were finished boarding and cars could legally resume driving past.

You knew this. Because your truck is ridiculously tall, in the same way your dick is most likely ridiculously small, I know you could see the bus, too.

But you had to be an asshole, didn’t you? You had to honk at me. Watch, I’m gonna make ‘er jump, Joe Bob. Yessirree, that’s funny, Cletus! I imagined you saying as you startled my kid and me with your pointless horn bleat.

Rather than risking my son having to watch his mom being shot by one of our nation’s “good guys with a gun,” I illegally pulled forward toward the bus and parked in front of a nearby house.

I wasn’t supposed to move, you see, because the bus had the STOP sign out and lights flashing. You knew this, but you didn’t care. This is because you’re a piece of shit, but I think you know that, too.

By pulling forward and parking in front of a house to get out of your way, I allowed you to get exactly one car length ahead of me before you also had to wait for the bus to tuck in its “PLEASE DON’T RUN OVER THE CHILDREN YOU IGNORANT ASSHOLES” sign.

I would like to think you felt stupid in that moment, but I’m pretty sure that would be giving you too much credit.

I mostly just wanted to say that I hope you were super late for work.

Sorry about your micropenis,

Tawni

 

Exit Stage Left Behind

 

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***

When I was asked to join the somewhat-successful local band on a short western U.S. tour, I’d recently ended a 5-year relationship, and a band.

It had been a tough year filled with endings, psychological confusion, and finally, a newfound independence I relished. The waters had stilled. I was dating the rebound guy my parents loathed–whom I would quickly learn was as horrible as they imagined–but I’d finally moved on. I was stabilizing.

My apartment was within walking distance of my day job; the isolated guest house behind a larger house. This arrangement allowed me to write songs, play guitar, or play drums whenever I wanted without disturbing neighbors.

I was singing a few times monthly in an ’80s cover band that paid better than all of my original bands combined ever had, and was comfortably making rent and bills. My turbulent life had temporarily achieved a modicum of homeostasis, and I was reluctant to give it up.

My friends wanted an extra guitar player and backing vocals/harmonies to fill out their female-led rock band. We’d played gigs together many times, so they knew what I could do and I liked what they were doing. But there was no pay involved–I’d be giving up my apartment, my job, and my life to go on a 2 month tour. After some practices, they made it clear they’d keep me on beyond the tour if I decided to join.

The obvious and easy choice was to stay and not go on tour. I’d just barely gotten back on my feet as a newly single lady. I had a bearable day job with a kind boss. In the cover band, I had a fun way to make money that felt like karaoke with friends set to live music. But I longed to also be a part of original songs, rather than only singing the hits of others from another era.

I really liked the members of the original rock band. I loved singing harmonies, and my voice complemented the lead singer’s voice. They were a cool hang and genuinely nice people.

Hoping to do both, I asked my ’80s cover band if they’d give me 2 months to go on the original band’s tour, as we already had a natural break in scheduling. I hoped maybe the other cover band members might like a little vacation, too.

I was disappointed when they dug their heels in hard against my leaving for 2 months. The lead guitarist/singer met with me in a bar bearing a spreadsheet of how much we could make if I stayed and we all “took the band seriously,” which I interpreted as everyone giving up our day jobs to only play ’80s hits. This had not been the deal, and had never been discussed before, so I didn’t understand why it was suddenly on the table.

I don’t know if “woman getting uppity” was a factor or what–but it was truly bizarre how angry and resentful the other members became because I wanted to take a short hiatus. I was asking for a bit over 2 months, not a year. They ended up giving me an ultimatum: stay and sing in our cover band, or go on the tour with the original band and be replaced.

Looking back, I wonder if this stubborn moment might have made the decision for me. I’d recently ended a relationship after being told I had to give up music, get married, and start having children because it was time. Those who truly know me understand that the fastest way to make me not want to do something is to tell me I have to do it.

I told the cover band I was going on the original band’s tour, and if they still wanted me after I returned, I’d be thrilled to continue singing with them.

They ended up not only replacing me, but surprised me at one of the last shows we were scheduled to play… with my replacement. They told me she’d be getting on stage to sing a few songs minutes before we were set to go on, and I was furious. Forced to graciously introduce the person taking my spot (and future earnings), I stood awkwardly in the audience while she sang my favorite Pat Benatar song. This was a new low for band mates who were supposed to be my friends.

People in the audience around me could tell I was uncomfortable, looked at me with pity, and said things like “You sing it better than she’s singing it,” trying to make me feel less embarrassed… but it didn’t help. It just felt humiliating. It was a truly shitty position to place me in. All I was asking for was a 2 month break, and I was being treated like some sort of traitor.

Of course I now wish I’d stood up for myself, told them nobody would be getting up to sing my songs while I was there, and walked out if they persisted. But I was taught to be nice from an early age, and unfortunately, what I refer to as my “doormat training” has left me with a lot of resentment when I later realize a boundary should have been placed. It’s okay to say no: I know this now, but I didn’t then.

They played zero shows while I was gone, and after all the fuss, they didn’t play their first show with my replacement until I’d been back from the original band’s tour for nearly a month. So all of their time spent training the new girl to sing my parts was pointless, as they could have gotten back to making money again sooner if they’d simply kept me in the band.

This made the strange ultimatum and kicking me out feel even more personal and sexist. I still don’t really understand why they did it, and it hurts to this day. The girl who took my spot was also a friend, and I never felt the same about her again either. I felt betrayed by all of them.

***

The western U.S. tour took us to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California, and was interesting. I relished not being the center of attention in a band, and backing up the songs of another person. (As a shy person with social anxiety, I always wished I’d pursued drums instead of guitar so I could be in the back.)

I immediately noticed the lead singer/guitarist wasn’t handling alcohol well. I grew up with an alcoholic mother, and was well aware of what an alcohol problem looks like versus typical pleasure-drinking. It was troublesome, but at first, I chalked it up to being on the road, partying, and enjoying the tour. We’ve all had an out-of-control drunk night or six. Alcohol isn’t a science–accidental over-drinking happens.

Our lead singer/guitarist seemed to push herself far beyond the typical level of musician-on-tour drunk most nights, however, becoming belligerent, screaming at us that we weren’t her real friends, yelling obscenities, and storming out of the hotel room at night with her backpack, telling us she was going home. We’d all sigh, shrug sadly, and fall asleep feeling uneasy, only to find her asleep in the room the next morning. She’d sometimes offer a weak apology, or we’d all pretend it didn’t happen and move on. I quickly noticed this was a pattern and not an occasional occurrence.

In Las Vegas, she stayed out all night long, drinking and gambling. When we woke up we all panicked because she usually came back to the room to pass out when she drank too much. We were worried about her safety, plus we needed to get on the road to make the show in Phoenix.

We frantically dressed and raced down to the casino where I’d last seen her to find her still awake, drunk beyond communication, gambling slots with a cup full of quarters. She had dirt from the money all over her hands and face, and was mumbling, combative.

We were going to eat at a breakfast buffet before we hit the road, and we begged her to stop drinking and gambling, to come get some food in her system. She angrily refused, so we ate quickly while trying to keep tabs on her location. We had to drag her to the band van to get to the next gig on time. We then realized she’d spent the night gambling away all of the money we’d made on merch/CD sales. Money we would have used for gas to get to the next town. Luckily our drummer had a credit card and family who cared, or we’d have been out of luck.

As we drove the flat, endless desert from Las Vegas to Phoenix, she told us all we were shitty friends and cursed us out long enough for the bass player in the front seat to put on his headphones, blasting music to drown out her anger. The drummer was driving and just looked really sad and worried. I was sitting next to her in the back, trying to placate her, wanting to wipe all the dirt off her face but afraid she’d become violent. Finally, mercifully, she passed out. Silence. Blessed silence.

The rest of the tour was filled with drunken episodes such as this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t remember them. At one point, I called my recording engineer ex-boyfriend (great human, and friend to this day) crying because I wanted to come home and was so stressed out. My fun 2 month tour had become a nightmare from which I couldn’t escape, and it was throwing me back to being trapped with an alcoholic mother on the isolated farm of my childhood. My ex-boyfriend even gave me his credit card number so I could book a flight home when I reached the point of no longer being able to stand the abuse. I’ve never forgotten this kind gesture.

Because I’d: 1) given up my job of 5 years, 2) given up the best, most musician-friendly apartment I’d ever found, 3) given up the ’80s cover band gig where I made money at music for the first time ever, and 4) had been pressured by them to buy a particular amplifier I didn’t need to match the band’s theme… I stuck it out. I hoped we’d get home and things would be less heightened off the road, less volatile. I planned to stay in the band and make it work.

We played The Spirit Festival in K.C. and another show at the end of the tour at a bar in Lawrence, Kansas called The Bottleneck. We had another show planned after this at The Hurricane in Kansas City, the band’s hometown. Being from Lawrence, I’d played The Bottleneck for years (in 5 different bands!) and it was by far my favorite venue, so I really wanted to impress my hometown friends.

We had a decent show, but the trays of shots from well-meaning fans continued to be brought to the stage, and the drinks were flowing. Our lead singer/guitarist was unfortunately, exceptionally drunk.

We got through the gig and the lights were flashed, as was the customary signal for “wrap it up” at this bar. Everybody in the band kept trying to get off the stage, but the lead singer wouldn’t stop.

Slurring at the audience, asking if they wanted another song, she ignored the bartenders as they continued to flash the lights. In a desperate attempt to end the show without embarrassing her, the drummer, bass player, and I all got off stage, hoping she’d follow.

Instead, she stayed on stage, playing solo and verbally motherfucking us for getting off the stage as we stood trying trying to wave at her to come down. The bar employees were fully annoyed, and it was well past time to get the crowd out of the place, but she wouldn’t stop playing. It was completely humiliating. I think the sound person finally cut the microphone and power to get her to stop.

We all loaded up our gear and went our separate ways. Within days, before the scheduled show at The Hurricane, I got calls from the bass player and the drummer. They explained to me that they were quitting the band because they couldn’t take her toxic drunken behavior anymore. I said, “So the band is breaking up?” and they told me it was over. Oh.

They then shared with me that the lead singer/guitarist had been out of control for a long time, and they’d brought me on as a last ditch effort to try to handle her and save the band. Considering everything I’d given up to play original music with them, I was more than disappointed, I was furious.

I had to live with my parents and the creepy rebound boyfriend who treated me like shit until I could get my job back and find another apartment. It sucked, being brought into a band under false pretenses–under the guise that they were thriving and healthy–when they were actually on their last leg. I definitely deserved full disclosure before making such a life-changing decision.

***

Not only did I never receive an apology from anyone in the band, an online article about the band’s reunion show less than a decade later described how “too many hours on the road and tension among (the bass player), (myself) and (the lead singer/guitarist) put strain on an ever-weakening core. Not long after Kansas City’s bygone Spirit Festival in 1999, (the band) disbanded. It happened shortly before the band’s last scheduled Hurricane gig, which (the lead singer/guitarist) played — by herself.”

The article gives some props where they’re due and isn’t completely inaccurate, but as I read it, I resented my name being included as part of the “too many hours on the road and tension” cause for the band breaking up, because I had a blast with the guys. They are both sweet and hilarious, and I was in the band for 2 measly months. Not only did I not contribute to the “ever-weakening core”, I was never told it was weak to begin with, and gave up so much to join what I thought was a band with a strong core.

The unhealthy band dynamic had formed long before my 2 month stint with them, and I resent being included in the reasons for its demise. All I did was try to play music with what I thought were cool people… and then I was told it was over. I wasn’t even a part of that decision. I got a fucking phone call. It sucked.

I’m so happy to say the lead singer/guitarist is now sober, married, still playing music, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. I genuinely like her, and understand what it is to have problems, as I’m not perfect either. I only wish the truth had been presented in the article; that her alcoholism was the reason for the tension, not “too many hours on the road” or anything else. She has an addiction, she got help, which took strength and bravery, and she should be proud of that–but she should also accept accountability for the demise of the band. She should have made that clear for the writer of the article.

At the very least, as the person brought in completely blind to the personal dynamics happening before I joined–for 2 brief months–I’d really appreciate my name being left out of the blame game in articles, because I had no fucking idea what I’d signed up for, and the guys both apologized to me on the phone for this when they told me the band was over. Not only did I not “add to any tension” in the band, I spent much of the tour trying to placate a belligerent drunk person and smooth things over.

The experience showed me that nobody is really a friend if they can’t get something from you. I was used and discarded once it became clear the addition of me to the band wasn’t going to fix the problem. This sounds jaded, but it’s a very rare person who considers how their choices and actions affect another person, and most humans want your friendship because they want something from you.

It’s somewhat depressing, but if you disagree, think about the people in your life for a moment. What are you getting from them? And what are they getting from you? Do you let go of those who no longer offer anything positive? Because I do. And I don’t blindly jump into much anymore. At least my 2 months aboard a sinking ship taught me a lesson, so that’s something, right?

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore

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***

I remember sitting on the shiny wood floors of his house crying as we fought–I don’t know what about–but I’d pointed out he never gave me flowers during the argument.

Never one to celebrate official holidays like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, or even my own birthday, I did enjoy kind gestures. I think that’s why it was something I sought.

I wanted a sign that he loved me.

I wanted to be appreciated.

I wanted to feel special.

I wanted.

I don’t even think it was ever really about flowers–it was more of a metaphor for the entire relationship.

Show me you love me enough to stay.

Everybody leaves me.

Don’t leave me.

Often during a verbal battle, he’d storm out of the house angrily, tired of my shit. It was a brilliant and infuriating power move.

With nowhere to channel my rage after he’d leave mid-fight, I’d pace, or weep, or both.

Once I even threw many bottles of alcohol at a wall after he left, smashing them to pieces. I cut my hand on the glass as I immediately felt shame, humiliation, and remorse for my childish loss of control, and scrambled to clean up my ugly mess.

He almost always came back with a fresh pack of smokes. It was a smart move in hindsight, removing himself from a situation that had become heightened to calm down, but it also triggered every abandonment issue buried deep inside of my soul.

Everybody leaves me.

Don’t leave me.

This time he got his pack of argument cigarettes at a grocery store, bought a cheap bunch of flowers, and dropped them next to me. I was still sitting where he’d left me, head in my hands, quietly crying. The wet plastic around the drooping bouquet clung to the gleaming floor.

“Here are your flowers,” he growled.

Somehow, this hurt so much more than not ever getting flowers.

After we broke up, we saw each other weekly for lunch and sex, even after we were both dating other people.

He told me all about his new girlfriends, sharing intimate information that made me cringe for them.

The one with weird nipples from breastfeeding three kids.

The one who kept her shirt on in bed because a former boyfriend had body-shamed her.

The one he couldn’t sleep with because so many guys walked up to them on dates that were former lovers of hers she became unappealing to him.

I felt awful for them.

I wondered what he told them about me.

We’d always been such good friends, and I think this was why he was so candid with the personal details. I still miss him as a friend to this day. We understood each other from the minute we met without saying a word, and I’ve rarely felt this way. When I hear talk of people recognizing each other instantly from past lives, he comes immediately to mind.

I even dream about him sometimes, so many years later, and in almost every dream, he’s rejecting me. He’s with someone else and I’m still not enough. Never enough.

He claimed to want me back, that he wanted me to marry him, and we were still intimate–yet afterward, he regaled me with stories from his new dating life. It was the most mixed of messages. I went back and forth emotionally because I still loved him, too.

But if we loved each other, why were we seeing other people? And why was he giving me the sordid details of his new love life?

One afternoon while we were in his bedroom, a girl he was currently dating left a bouquet of flowers at the back door of his house. I assume she must have tried knocking while we were busy, but nobody answered. After almost five years with him, I was unsettled to suddenly feel like the other woman in our relationship.

He brought them in and I asked if he’d given her flowers, too. He told me they’d often exchanged flowers. I asked if he’d given the other girls he’d been dating flowers. He had.

I began to cry. He looked confused, I think because he’d mentally placed me into the new role of “casual sex buddy” rather than my former role of long-time girlfriend.

Labels aren’t so easily shaken off.

I couldn’t believe the small gesture of affection I’d asked for during our relationship was now being casually and repeatedly given to women he barely knew. I was supposed to be his best friend. I’d stuck with him for years, begging for scraps of devotion, throwing embarrassing fits when he rejected me–and these women he casually dated got flowers? Just like that?

Silent tears ran down my face looking at the flowers she’d left, and hearing this was the new normal. They were getting the relationship I’d wanted with him, while I was being used physically and emotionally to fill in everything they couldn’t satisfy.

He was bewildered by my pain.

I was surprised by how badly I still wanted a sign that he loved me.

I wanted.

The next time I came over for lunch and sex, he’d bought me flowers. He hid them on the back of his toilet, and asked me to retrieve something from the bathroom to surprise me.

Rather than being surprised, I assumed they were more flowers from another girl. He had to explain that they were mine. It took me a moment to understand what he meant.

The toilet flowers were for me. It was painfully apropos.

I couldn’t take them with me because they would raise questions from the guy I was dating. This realization forced me to see how incredibly broken my ability to maintain relationships had become. I was messed up, and in the process of messing up other people. It had to stop.

We’d gone from best friends in a relationship for years, to a marriage proposal, to broken up, to lunch/fuck buddies with weird leftover relationship issues.

He finally tired of my indecisiveness, of our emotionally confusing situation, and ended it, firmly telling me to stay away forever. He was done. I drove away crying so hard I couldn’t see the road.

Everybody leaves me.

It still hurts.

I’ve told my husband I don’t like flowers, that I prefer plants because they don’t die, but I don’t think he believes me. I think he assumes I’m used to being disappointed in relationships, and sweetly hopes he can fix it.

He brought me flowers for no reason last week. Just like I always wanted.

I wanted.

And now, every time I look at the cheerful daisies meant to make me feel appreciated, I’m unbearably sad inside.

Instead of making me happy, they force me to stare at exactly how broken I am, and to think of all the ways I’ve failed in the past, and of the ways I’m still failing every day.

Flowers look like failure.

Flowers wilt and die, just like relationships.

Flowers leave.

I don’t want flowers anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make Your Husband Leave Work to Check If You’re Still Alive: Facebook Edition

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Happy image courtesy of: http://inspirobot.me/

***

Before I share this tale, I want to make it clear I’m not taking suicide lightly, nor have I ever been suicidal. I’m a naturally redheaded woman with sensitive skin, a sensitive brain, sensitive everything, really, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and ADHD neurology.

Fortunately (and perhaps surprisingly) for me, depression has never been one of my issues. I’ve lost two uncles to suicide, but depression that severe doesn’t seem to be in my wheelhouse. I might be too stubborn to kill, honestly. You’ll pry this life from my bitter, freckled, ginger hands… as long as I don’t get distracted by something sparkly along the way.

With my non-suicidal tendencies in mind, please enjoy the story of how I caused my husband to race home from work to make sure I was alive.

 

***

 

It started when Facebook sent me a message to potentially forward to my someone in the event of my untimely death. (Are there such things as timely deaths?)

Facebook recommends a “legacy contact” for this purpose–someone who can be trusted with your password, and will even turn your Facebook profile into a memorial page if you pass. I have 2 friends currently whose pages have been turned into “Remembering… (insert name)” pages, rather than remaining frozen in time, with their last Facebook post about something trivial sitting there forever.

I have 3 other friends who died before the new memorial feature or without designating a legacy contact, and it’s quite jarring when their birthdays come up every year. I sometimes sadly peruse their pages to remember them, and yes, it always makes me think about which post could be my last.

I received this prompt from Facebook in my private messages in the form of a pre-written-by-them blurb to forward to my legacy contact:

“Hi, Facebook now lets people choose a legacy contact to manage their account if something happens to them: https://www.facebook.com/help/1568013990080948

Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this.”

I thought to myself, Oh, hey, Self. That seems like a pretty good idea. I would actually rather tell my husband in person to remove my Facebook page completely because a memorial page will make my family sad, but it couldn’t hurt to make sure I choose him officially as the person to do this.

And then my mind wandered to the dark place.

The dark place my mind went to when my gynecologist found the lump in my left breast and doctors/insurance put me through the stress of a sonogram, an old school mammogram, and then finally a digital mammogram able to accurately see through dense breast tissue to determine if my lump was cancer or justacyst.

The dark place my mind went to when I was diagnosed with pneumonia at the Urgent Care and they sent my lung x-rays to be examined further without telling me, and I received a call out of the blue from what sounded like a bored teenager telling me, “We, um, need you to go get a, like, chest CT with contrast to make sure the spots all over your lungs aren’t lung cancer…” so I completely lost my shit and cried silently while my son played in the next room, called my husband to come home from work, and then we went for the CT where they told me the spots were justcalcifications from previous untreated pneumonias because I haven’t had health insurance most of my life.

The dark place my mind went to where I never woke from the second abdominal surgery to correct all of the adhesions caused by the first abdominal surgery because redheads are notorious for reacting oddly to anesthesia, but I woke up fine and it was justasurgery.

The dark place where my son grows up without a mother because my weak walking meat bag has failed me. That dark place. I hate that fucking place.

I thought about my husband getting this blunt, impersonal message, and assumed if I clicked send to designate him as my legacy contact, Facebook would store the message until needed somehow.

This was my big mistake… and also how I sent my husband into a terrified frenzy that could only be rectified by his seeing me physically okay and alive.

I don’t really know how I thought Facebook would know I was dead unless Facebook is plotting to kill me, which really wouldn’t surprise me since Facebook knows all and has apparently been watching us and selling our information or whatever. But I write. And my brain decided my husband should receive a nicer, more personal note with my “Surprise! You’re my ghoulish legacy contact which is code for you to please do something with my dumb Facebook page if I die suddenly! Lucky you!” message.

So I thought about what I’d say if, perhaps a car T-boned me and ended this trip, or something equally sudden and gross to think about. And then I added my oh-so-touching words to the blunt legacy contact message, thinking I was softening the blow or something.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Really, I wasn’t, because again, in my head, my husband was receiving the message I wrote post-my-mortem. Words from beyond the grave. I think Facebook said I could add to the message, and that’s where I got the idea that they’d store my note in case the legacy feature was activated, if that makes sense?

The other thing to understand before I share the message that shaved 5 years off my husband’s life is that I am uncomfortable with all things mushy and PDA. When couples constantly share gushy, kissy-face crap, I automatically assume they have relationship issues, one member of the couple is horrifically insecure and in need of constant public reassurance, or both. But even sex scenes in movies make me uncomfortable, like I’m watching someone’s private moment, so I’m willing to take some of the blame here.

ANYHOW, because of my issues, our “affectionate nicknames” for each other are Poop Face and Stink Butt. And below is the goodbye letter to my husband I imagined would be delivered via Facebook from the shit-show that is my brain:

“Hi D____, Facebook now lets people choose a legacy contact to manage their account if something happens to them: https://www.facebook.com/help/1568013990080948

Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this.

*
Stink Butt,

If you’re ever in need of this, it means I’ve taken on a new form of energy within our universe, and I will love you and M____ for eternity in a different way than originally planned. Take good care of our son and yourself, and find love with someone gentle, patient, and calm as soon as you can, because life is short and precious.

Thank you for being a good person. Know that you gave me hope and showed me kindness beyond anything I’ve ever known. I love you and our son more than everything, and I always will, no matter what. Be there for him, hug him, and tell him you love him every chance you get, and please tell him I will love him forever, too.

My guardian angels will be watching over him now that I no longer need them, and they will surround him with the love and peace with which they protected me, so he doesn’t need to be afraid. Ever. I have incredible guardian angels. Total badasses. So I want you both to move forward and be happy as soon as you possibly can, because everything is going to be okay. It is. I promise.

Xoxoxoxoxoxo times infinity,
Poop Face”

***

Awwwww. It’s like a goddamned Nicholas Sparks novel all up in here, right? Someone call Ryan Gosling and tell him we’ve got his next big role ready to go.

The first paragraph is a nod to the law of Conservation of Energy, which gives me great peace.

I also often think my son would have been better off with a different, calmer-brained mom, so my first order of ghostly business would be to haunt my husband until he finds a gentle mom for my son. That’s what the short, precious life business is about. Because mourning is a waste of time, life is for the living, and also, get my baby boy a new mom as fast as you can because he needs his good morning hug and kiss goodnight, damn it.

The second paragraph is gooey, so I’m a bit embarrassed to share it here, because of my aforementioned gushy-averse issues, but there it is. My husband has championed me and supported me where many a man has failed, and damn it, he deserves props because I’m not easy.

The part that makes me think about not being here to tell my son I love him makes me want to cry for the rest of the day, so there’s that. Ahem. Moving on.

And the last part is true, whether you believe it or not. I felt my guardian angel’s hands on my back as a kid when there was nobody in my room, and it filled me with warmth and peace. I turned around to see nobody there… and I wasn’t afraid. You can tell me it’s not real if you want, but I know I’ve got at least one really powerful angel looking out for me, because again, I’m not easy.

Now imagine my husband receiving this note in the middle of his work day, trying to call me, and me not answering because I loathe phones and leave my cellphone charging on the counter with the ringer off all day, no matter how much I’m nagged to check my damned phone by Mr. Stink Butt.

Imagine him calling. And calling. And calling 6 more times, with no answer. And texting, with no answer, after receiving what essentially reads like my suicide note delivered to him, strangely enough, through the Facebook Messenger app, which he knows I refused to put on my phone.

What happened is that I hit send, I shut down the laptop, continued to ignore my phone, and went to take a nap because I have adult rickets (extreme vitamin D deficiency) and hypothyroidism, both of which make me flu-level exhausted on the reg.

I was soon awakened by the garage door opening, and walked out of the bedroom to see my husband burst through the kitchen door with wide, scared eyes. He grabbed me and said, “Oh my god, you’re okay! You’re okay!” and I was like, “What the what? Of course I’m okay. What the hell is going o-oooooh… oh, shit. Oh, shit, I’m so sorry.” Because I pretty quickly figured it out.

I’m stupid is the short answer.

I’m stupid.

Because of course Facebook immediately sent my drippy little note along with the legacy contact designation. OF COURSE. And I don’t answer my phone ever.

My poor husband had to grip me by the shoulders to make sure I was still here.

My poor husband had to physically touch me before he could drive back to work with the post-adrenaline shakes.

My poor husband.

Jesus.

***

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I’m trying, InspiroBot. I’m trying. 

 

 

 

It’s Not Worth It

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You complete me, http://inspirobot.me/

***

The above image pretty much sums up my general mood lately.

I surprised myself today by impulsively taking Facebook off my phone. I’m finding myself listlessly scrolling through social media far too often, bored with my life, and seeking solace in dumb places.

Facebook is dumb. Yeah, I said it.

To be clear, I’ve made real connections with great people on Facebook. I’m in a private group, for example, with amazing, open-minded, intelligent women I adore. They’ve been a godsend, as I live in a state where the first question I’m asked by another mom on the playground is “Where do you go to church?” so I don’t really have many real life friends.

(No offense if church gives you peace, but I consider my spirituality a private thing not to be discussed with strangers I’ve known all of 15 minutes. Maybe learn my last name before we wax existential.)

I don’t go out much. I isolate myself on purpose. Having a child means I don’t often get invited to fun things. That’s being a parent: I know the rules. I signed up for this.

Regardless, I’m lonely as fuck. Yes, even for an introvert. We introverts still need friends. We like to do things, too–just not every day. There’s a difference between needing a break between doing things to recharge, and being antisocial. I’m not antisocial. Humanity has disappointed me from my biological father onward, but I still believe people are generally good, I promise.

I do.

It has occurred to me lately, however, that I probably could have written two books with the time I’ve lost commenting, reading linked articles, and mindlessly staring at random mental offerings on fucking Facebook.

What else could I have done with my time? All that precious time.

Social media in all forms is a time-suck, and Facebook is, for me, the biggest rabbit hole of them all.

I will scan Twitter for the latest shitty things happening in our country, and be burned out very quickly. We’re all shouting into a void together, watching the world burn in real time. Sarcastic thumbs up. I can take about 5 minutes of that shit. No addiction there.

Instagram is like looking through a photo album for a few minutes and done. I’m good. I can easily stop.

Pinterest bored me. I lasted about a year and deleted it when I got an email notice my account was hacked because I didn’t care. Bye-ee.

I feel too old for the app with all the cutesy animal and flower filters. Like I’m someone’s sad mom trying to wear Forever 21 clothes and go clubbing with my adult daughter. Can’t Snapchat without feeling self-conscious about my age.

Facebook, however, is a trap. It’s an addictive maze built by other people’s hopes, dreams, problems, angst, joy, vitriol, politics, and constant images to be wandered through lost, turning corners, desperately trying to find the way out of their heads. It’s like being smacked repeatedly in the face by hundreds of turbulent psyches at the same time. I find it entirely overwhelming.

I read my Facebook feed in a state of panic, sorting through the wreckage, looking for the happier thoughts to pull free and save–but I can never get to them all.

Sometimes the injustice of something horrible will compel me to share it, hoping to help in some small way, to shed light on the darkness. I almost always later delete these anger-shares, realizing I’m helping nothing. I’m spreading darkness, not awareness. No light there.

Sometimes I stumble across a happy story, like a shiny penny heads-up in a dirty parking lot, and I share it, desperately hoping to make someone else feel a lucky, rare moment of happiness, too.

Then I feel ashamed of my privilege because I can pretend the bad things aren’t happening if I look away–I have the luxury of only sharing happy, shiny things if I want–yet ignoring evil never helped anything change for the better.

So I freeze and share nothing. Or share it all. But no matter what, I always feel like I’m doing it wrong.

Facebook is a psychological disaster.

It’s too much. I’m a really sensitive person, but really, it’s too much for anyone. We weren’t built for this. It’s not supposed to be like this.

Yay! We’re so connected now! we crow triumphantly, ignoring all the ways “being connected” has torn us apart, and in many ways created more separation between humans than ever before.

And the stupid, stupid little high school drama fights. I usually delete argument-baiting comments from nitwits and move on, but recently engaged with one–and it was one of the most ridiculous interactions I’ve ever experienced. I felt my IQ drop 10 points for letting a pathetic troll goad me into responding. Never again.

I also feel like an idiot for not realizing how vulnerable to data theft we have all been because duh, as people have said since the inception of Facebook, WE are the product being sold. That’s why it’s free. (Because it’s not.)

I’m now considering shutting down my profile. I used to take breaks from Facebook, but I’ve seen so many snide memes and comments about people announcing that they’re leaving that I’ll probably quietly step away for real, rather than only taking a break.

Because I often have multiple private messages waiting on Facebook when I come back from a break, I used to post a comment that I was leaving for a bit because the thought of someone reaching out to me and not receiving an answer made me feel guilty. (I’m almost entirely motivated by guilt. It’s a living.)

Leaving a comment on my timeline as a “Taking a break, not ignoring you!” placeholder notice was never meant as a dramatic “Please beg me to stay/tell me you’ll miss me!” attention grab, as I didn’t say I wasn’t coming back–it was merely me trying to be polite and/or informative. Yet I see asshole-ish memes about doing this, implying I’m supposed to leave people hanging out in my inbox indefinitely, wondering why I’m not answering. (Yes, I’ve come back to “Did I piss you off? Why aren’t you answering?” messages.)

So I think the thing to do is to deactivate my profile without warning–except disappearing quietly from lives is now known to the exquisitely insecure among us as “ghosting,” and is a bad thing, according to the latest articles written by most-likely toxic people who get “ghosted” a lot and don’t want to accept responsibility for their crappy behavior.

(Because placing a boundary and walking away from someone who doesn’t treat you well without reaching out to make absolutely sure they know why they suck is “ghosting” and the kind thing to do? Ummm… yeah. Okay, butt-hurts. Keep telling yourselves that, but I promise you didn’t want to have that talk with me about your bullshit before I walked. It wasn’t going to be nicer than me stepping away quietly. Trust.)

So basically, I can’t win. I can either announce I’m taking a break or leaving for awhile so the snide people can feel superior, roll their eyes, and say, “Gosh, just leave, drama queen!” -OR- I can make myself go away without fuss, and then I’m a dick who’s “ghosting” everyone if I don’t send a personal message to each of the the hundreds of people I know, explaining kindly why I’m leaving them.

See? Dumb.

It’s all so dumb.

I have better things to do.

They might also be dumb, but at least they’ll be dumb for me.

(“Dumb for Me” would make a great memoir title. Dibs.)

I don’t want to think about dumb shit like this anymore. My brain is full of dumb social media things and I want it to be full of cool things.

I want to learn another language. Or two.

I bought art supplies and a stack of canvases two Christmases ago, and I have wanted to paint since, but haven’t done it. I want to try painting.

I have GarageBand and a son who’s a whiz with it who can help me record music, and I’ve been playing guitar. I want to do more of that. I want to write songs again.

I want my writing to mean something. So whenever I feel like writing, or venting, or babbling on Facebook, I’m going to come here instead to do it, because at least then my thoughts aren’t disappearing into the mind-numbing ether of a pointless timeline scroll. My words have a roof over their head here instead of limply trying to perform in Zuckerberg’s Unraveling Circus.

I want to do yoga again, in addition to strength training. I was meditating daily for a while with my son and we both loved it. I want to start doing that again, too.

We were having weekly board game night and stopped. I want to play board games and non-screen activities with my kid. I want to take walks.

More than anything, I want to stop catching myself staring down at my stupid smartphone like all the other zombies, mindlessly tapping and scrolling while our necks wrinkle in new and exciting ways, when I’m surrounded by living human beings I should be talking to in person.

It’s not worth it.

I want to feel again.

I want my life back.

 

 

 

 

Five Things to Understand About People Processing Violence

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People who’ve survived any form of physical abuse or threat are often left with hard-to-heal emotional scars. The damage can take many forms, such as: sexual molestation, rape, being physically struck or beaten, experiencing danger, and military service. But no matter how personal safety violations are inflicted, any may lead to psychological dysfunction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorderdissociationdenialdepression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some issues experienced by humans whose nervous systems have been pushed beyond their limits. People who experience assault-based trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, but everyone has a different level of stress they can handle before becoming permanently overwhelmed. Because all humans are different, there’s no way to predict psychological disorders, and no guaranteed cures.

Some common symptoms felt by those who’ve been in threatening situations may include hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, never feeling safe, brain fog, irritability, an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, mood swings, and panic attacks involving dizziness, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tunneling vision, or a sense of impending doom.

Below are 5 things to kindly keep in mind while talking to people processing violence:

1. The Compassion Competition

One of the worst assumptions to make about a person affected by violence is that they lack perspective or don’t understand that somebody always has it worse. Abused people know they’re not the only person to which injustice has happened, and unless they’ve never been on the Internet, they’re aware of life’s many atrocities.

Examples of this might be saying, “Well, at least THIS WORSE THING didn’t happen to you…” and giving an example of something you consider a greater wrongdoing.

This reaction completely invalidates the feelings of the person who trusted you enough to confide, and insults their intelligence. The fact that bad things also happen to others doesn’t magically erase the bad things that have happened to them, no matter where you’d place the abuse on your spectrum.

In short: Pain is not a contest. You can show empathy to more than one person at a time without dismissing the feelings of anyone. Because regardless of how someone was hurt, it always matters.

2. The Dance of Denial

Many victims of physical or sexual abuse find themselves alone with their pain because the topic makes others feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person was violated by a family member.

Families sometimes brush unflattering stories about sexual or physical abusers under the rug because it’s hard to believe a relative is capable of such brutality. But this reaction can re-victimize people by invalidating their pain.

Often, rather than helping those harmed by someone, friends and relatives defensively ignore the issue, allowing the perpetrator to get away with something evil. This lack of justice or support can severely hamper the healing process, because a person can’t heal from a wound nobody will acknowledge.

In short: Abuse at the hands of a stranger -or- a family member hurts, and all forms of abuse are abuse. Ignoring the “icky” can make those harmed feel like they’ve done something wrong, rather than the person who caused the damage. Listen, believe, and strengthen instead of shaming.

3. The Blame Game

If you ever feel like saying, “Well that person is a ____, so what did you expect?” or, “I just accept that they’re messed up, and ignore it. That’s just who they are!” about the person who harmed someone, go ahead and keep that thought to yourself, because it reeks of victim blaming.

You may have the best intentions, such as trying to commiserate with the person who’s sharing their painful experience with you. However, what they often hear instead is: “Shame on you for being stupid. You should have known what you were dealing with, and anticipated your own violation.”

In short: Nobody in a civilized society should ever have to expect violence. Don’t imply that people could have predicted their own abuse and avoided it, because this only makes you look uncompassionate.

4. Downplaying the Damage

There is nothing more unhelpful than someone telling you to “get over it” in reference to anything, including the violation of your personal safety. Unless you have the ability to crawl into another person’s psyche and assess how something has affected them, dismissing their damage can be downright dangerous. Everyone has the right to feel safe, and whether you’ve experienced similar things or not, your decision that everyone else has to deal with emotions exactly the way you do is condescending, at best

Being told you’re “histrionic” or to “put on your big boy/big girl pants” are examples of thoughtless advice, and often given by those who choose to live in denial, rather than being brave enough to deal with their problems. This form of blatant invalidation is heartless and harmful. If someone has the courage to face their personal demons, rather than attempting to humiliate them into silence because of your own cowardice, you might instead watch and learn.

In short: Gaslighting is gross. Stop trying to make people feel like they’re overreacting or incorrectly imagining their own abuse. Everybody’s emotions are valid, and your motives are questionable if you’d prefer people in pain “suck it up and move on.” If you feel this way, why don’t YOU move on… somewhere out of hearing range.

5. No Pity Parties, Please

Most people who’ve been hurt by someone else are furious that they were forced into the role of victim, and don’t enjoy it. Treating them with compassion is lovely, but viewing them with pity can be upsetting. Being helpless is the worst feeling in the world, and nobody who’s experienced it ever wants to feel it again.

The word “survivor” is preferred over the word “victim” by some (but not all – everybody is different) because it implies strength, rather than weakness. Surviving doesn’t have to mean someone has survived a life-or-death situation, either—it simply means someone is trying to accept and cope with what’s happened to them.

In short: Nobody chooses to be abused, and treating people like they’re fragile or broken because of the violating actions of another can frustrate them. Let them know you think they’re strong for moving forward, despite those who’ve tried to hold them back. Survivors of abuse would much rather you celebrate their courage than pity them.

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People on the path to wellness don’t appreciate roadblocks created by other humans, well-intentioned or not. If you truly want to help someone move past bad things that have happened to them, listen to and believe them, don’t invalidate their feelings, and try to empathize.

Kindness and understanding go a long way in this world, and by avoiding the potentially harmful reactions listed above, you might give someone the compassion and support they need to heal themselves.

Black Cat in the Storm Drain

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My husband says, in a hoarse voice as he leaves for work, “My lungs are thick. I’m going to try to go to work as long as I can,” and I laugh quietly inside, knowing he’ll be home soon. He always says this when he’s sick, and it’s code for I’ll be home soon and I wonder why I know this, but he hasn’t yet figured out there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell he’ll make it through the day at work. He committed to coming home psychologically from the second those words left his mouth, and it entertains me how it always takes an hour or two for him to catch up with his own subconscious.

My son takes his time getting ready for school, making me feel like a nagging, irritating dog nipping at his heels, nudging him through the steps it will take to prepare him for school. We do this dance every day, and I dread it. I long for the day I am no longer his keeper, his pushy life coach, and he can function on his own. I never understand when people wistfully look back on the baby and toddler days, because my child has always been so high-maintenance that I’m existentially exhausted.

Lately, he has taken to languishing in the shower, and our water bill doubled last month because of this, so I open the door and tell him to rinse off, get out, officially the drill sergeant of utilities. Eat the breakfast I’ve cooked for you. Fix your hair. Brush your teeth. Put on your shoes. We leave ten minutes later than planned, but still with plenty of time.

I send him into the school where he’s been violently bullied, saying my usual mother’s prayer for his safety, hoping today kids and teachers will be kind to my neurologically atypical child. Hoping no shooters will enter the building. Please, no phone calls today, I beg silently in my head. Let it be a good day. I drive away after telling him I love him, because I never miss a chance to say this to him, knowing it may be the last I get.

On the way home, I pass the entrance to the gym at the affordable club where we have a family membership allowing my husband to golf, my son to swim in the summers, and a place for me to lift weights and do cardio exercise. I turn in because I was exhausted yesterday and took a three-hour-long nap in lieu of exercise, trying to listen to my body. I’m still very tired, but I can’t live with the guilt of going two days without a workout. I park and use my key card to beep into the door that unlocks when I wave my purse in its direction.

The creepy older man who came up behind me when I was alone in the gym on the treadmill and scared me one day to ask me if I am married sees me and says, “Hello, beautiful!” like he does every time I see him, which felt nice and grandfatherly before he asked if I’m married, but now doesn’t feel as nice. I smile and reply with a friendly greeting even though I don’t feel like it anymore, don’t feel cheerful towards him, and instead feel nervous and sad. I’m relieved when he walks out of the gym to another part of the club.

I run through the strength training machines I like best, finishing with a mildly brisk mile on the treadmill because I read somewhere that twenty minutes of fast walking a day can reduce one’s chance of high blood pressure or diabetes by thirty or forty percent–I’m not really sure of the number–but I know it will help me stay healthy and alive for my kid, so I do it. Through the gym window, I watch the ducks waddling in puddles while I walk, mind wandering down five paths at once like it does, trying not to look at the numbers on the machine.

The cold air feels good on my sweaty face as I leave the gym, heading for my car in the empty parking lot. I unlock the door to my small, fuel-efficient car, and drive home. A few blocks from my house, I notice the black cat that darts into the storm drains whenever I see it. My son and I have named it Midnight after my childhood black cat with the same unoriginal name.

I keep a large bag of cat food in my garage in a tote that I use to refill a smaller bag in my car to feed stray cats. I don’t understand why people have cats as pets if they’re going to leave them outside to be lonely and vulnerable, hiding from predators, collecting parasites, and in constant danger. It makes me angry because innocence should always be protected. We have so little of it in this world, and that makes it precious.

I’ve tried to befriend this black cat for almost a year, but it refuses to come out of the storm drain, meowing loudly while staring up at me with round, haunted eyes, telling me it doesn’t want to be outside and hungry in a cold, dirty storm drain, but it’s too afraid to trust. I relate to this cat. I understand wanting to trust but being too scared, even while crying out for help in other ways. I know what it is to be alone, vulnerable, and unable to reach out.

I pull my car to the side of the road, wondering if the neighbors are watching, thinking I’m weird, and realize I don’t really care. I open the hatchback of my little car that doubles as the trunk and pull out the small bag of cat food. I pour some outside of the storm drain while Midnight cries from below, breaking my heart. I talk to the cat, apologizing for humans who don’t care, telling it as I always do that I will adopt it and give it a warm, safe home if it will come with me, if it will trust me.

I pour some food down into the storm drain, and the meows are replaced with the sounds of a cat crunching kibble. There is one cute meow with a mouth full and then nothing but the sounds of a starving animal eating as fast as it can. I pour more food gently through the slats of the storm drain, and it falls next to the cat. The cat doesn’t even look up or startle because it’s so hungry.

I walk sadly to my car, wishing I could do more, and drive the few blocks to my house. I see my husband’s car parked in the driveway, and know he’s in bed with the illness he was going to work through that I knew he’d never work through but let him pretend because it has to be his choice to stay home. Like me, he’s as stubborn as a cat in a storm drain.

Writing out a shopping list to make chicken noodle and vegetable soup, I ask if he needs anything in particular from the store and go. In the parking lot, I get out of my car wearing a mask because we own multiple packs of them, just in case I’m sick, too. I don’t want to risk infecting others.

A man pulls into the parking lot with his car windows down, screaming, laughing, and singing to a song I don’t hear, and I assume it’s playing in his head. He stares at me in my face mask and I become nervous he’s going to approach from across the lot, but he only pauses for a moment. I look down into my purse and pretend to look for something to seem nonthreatening, but what I’m actually doing is pulling the large canister of Mace I keep in my purse out of the plastic sandwich bag in which I store it should it accidentally go off. I get it into position for easy grabbing, and set it on top of the other items. I give the aggressively manic guy a thirty second lead, then head in.

In the grocery store, a child asks his father what’s wrong with that lady, is she hurt because I’m wearing a face mask, and I want to reassure them both that I’m not showing any signs of illness, only being cautious, but I am too shy, so I move out of visual and aural range as fast as I can, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable. After finding the items I need to make soup and the comfort snack foods my husband likes that are too salty and processed for my tastes, I use the self-checkout as usual, hoping I can avoid talking to anyone, trying to stay in my storm drain.

The machine requests an employee, even though I’ve scanned the item, placed it into the bag as requested, and I’m forced to talk to another human. I realize I forgot to take my anti-anxiety medication today, which is okay, according to my psychiatrist, because I’m on a low enough dose that there’s no physical addiction, and if I forget to take it, he tells me, that’s a good thing. It means I didn’t feel anxious enough to remember.

The employee has kind eyes and I recognize her from past visits to the store. She adjusts my scanner and screen with a code. My social anxiety subsides enough that I ask her if she noticed the scream-singing, laughing man when he came in a while ago. She tells me she sees all kinds, and he was probably in the bathroom because it happens a lot. I share that I worked five years in a convenience store and a few years in a grocery store, and I remember the unique characters, too. We share a smile over this and I pay, push my groceries to the car, and load it up.

Arriving home, I unload the groceries and spend an hour cutting vegetables and placing them into the crock pot full of broth. I hear my husband coughing from the main bedroom where he sleeps alone because he snores, and my nights in the guest room quickly became permanent years ago when I realized I’m a weepy, emotional mess if I try to exist on only a few hours of constantly disrupted sleep. I call it the Mom Cave, but really, it’s my bedroom. I sleep in a twin bed like a child, hugging a stuffed animal because I’m lonely, also like a child. My life is nothing like I imagined it would be years ago, but it’s fine. I’m safe. My storm drain is safe. I look out from inside sometimes, wishing I could trust the strangers who leave their versions of food for me, and occasionally yearn for more, but I’m protected. Again, I’m safe.

After a quick nap, I wake up and write on my laptop about my day, wondering why anyone would care about the boring minutiae shared by a human with such a truly uneventful existence.  I decide to write anyway because it’s only life, after all, and I’m aware I overthink everything.

I stop writing to pick up my son from the bus stop where the subdivision kids must wait as a group because the schools can no longer afford to drive the kids closer to their homes like they used to, and I don’t trust the mean kids to not bully my son on the walk home, because they’ve done this before. He’s very kind and doesn’t understand it when people are mean to him. I worry that cruel others will someday force my gregarious, outgoing, friendly little boy into his own version of an emotional storm drain, but that’s a worry for many other days.

When we get home, he races inside to use the bathroom because they don’t let the kids do this at school when they need to anymore, limiting them to three restroom visits per semester–something I find repulsively dystopian and disturbing. His stomach is upset every day after school from holding in waste all day, and I’m positive I was allowed to use the restroom whenever needed as a child, so this makes me very mad.

I refill the bag of cat food in my car in case I need to feed another lonely cat tomorrow, and walk inside, closing the garage door behind me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuck You, Flu

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I was innocently crossing the street when the Flu Truck hit me last week.

 

So that last babble-fest about how I took a freakishly long nap, and was still tired? Yeah, that was me being an oblivious dipshit who couldn’t remember the last time I was sick. It’s been years.

I forgot what pre-illness body aches and exhaustion feel like, so I kept blaming my inflammation and pain on my trips to the gym. Or allergies. Or life.

After the Saturday nap of 6 hours that worried the husband, I developed a little cough, a hoarse voice, a sore throat. Again, we can blame allergies. But my knees felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to them. My back hurt for no reason. I didn’t put it together.

I then decided I was fighting something off. By Friday late morning, I was running a 102-103 fever and went to the doctor, where I tested positive for an A-variety of influenza virus.

Oh.

I spent Friday through Tuesday quarantined in the mom cave (i.e. my bedroom… yes, I sleep alone and I love it) hoping to not share this evil bastard with the my son or husband.

The fever was intense, and I rarely run fevers, even with pneumonia. My lungs and chest hurt, and were making those weird gurgling noises that continue after you stop exhaling, followed by crackling sounds. So gross.

The doctor gave me a refill on my mild asthma prescription because I used up my last inhaler ages ago, and an emergency “in case you’re getting a secondary lung infection” prescription. I wasn’t going to fill it unless needed because I hate taking antibiotics, but my husband was worried, so he filled it on Saturday.

He’s leaving town on business, plus Sunday was my son’s birthday, and we had plans with friends to hang out, so I was pissed off about the timing and missing out on fun stuff and oh, the mommy guilt of ruining my son’s birthday plans by catching a flu. He was sweet and understanding, but the mommy guilt is stronger than anything. The wife guilt will kick in hardcore if my husband catches this right before he leaves town, or while he’s there. Ugh.

Hydration, rest, saline nose spray (I hate it, but it works), chicken noodle soup, tea with honey and lemon juice, ibuprofen, humidifier, and now, an antibiotic that fights a spectrum of bacterial infections to prevent the pneumonia that always tries to find its way into my lungs, and more hydration, and more rest, and lots of sitting up while resting to prevent pneumonia, and more hydration, and rest–these are all the things I’ve been up to since my last writing.

I feel like a worthless slug because I’m not exercising, but I can’t even talk for longer than a sentence before I’m out of breath because my lungs aren’t giving me enough oxygen, so yeah. No workout for me. I also want to sleep all day. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt this sick and shitty, and I’ve walked around with pneumonia and worked jobs with it my whole life.

This flu is not to be fucked with, friends. It’s no joke. I feel like I’m in the two-days-past-workout phase, except permanently, and I’m not working out right now. Achy and hurty and exhausted. Do not like.

I would write more, but I waited too long to write today, and have to go pick up my kid from school because the bus is “too loud.” I’m rolling my eyes, too, but he recorded the sound of his bus for me and I was horrified. He came home with a migraine because the kids were all shouting “WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT?!” over and over again, like for 10 minutes straight. I still don’t understand how the bus driver could drive through that, but they have ALL of my sympathy.

So my dream of being able to take naps has been squashed by having to sit in the hellish car rider pickup line once again, and instead of being the lady who has dinner ready and is able to get through an evening without falling asleep, I’m always tired. But you know. I signed up for this shit. Whining doesn’t change a thing.

Sometimes it makes me feel just a teeny bit better though, so deal with it.

This is kind of my place to whine, actually, seeing how I have no real life friends who want to listen (don’t blame them) and am fairly isolated from other adult humans most days. So here I whine.

Speaking of whine, I miss wine. All I can drink (read: handle because I’m a lightweight) is red wine, and it’s now been weeks. I miss it.

Anyhow. Flu. There are some nasty ones going around. Stay out of public if you can, pals. Stay healthy. Be well. May the force be with you. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Don’t spit into the wind. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Out of sight, out of mind. More sayings. Stuff. I like pizza.

xoxo.

 

To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep Some More

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I woke up like this.

 

Yesterday, I decided to take an afternoon nap, like I do on the weekends. I don’t get them during the week, so if you offer me a Saturday nap, I’m all over that shit.

My husband woke me at 8:30 p.m. because he was checking to make sure I was still alive. No joke. I freaked him out, and he was just going to check to see if I was breathing, but I woke up. Quietly startled. Uncertain as to where I was or the day, I was completely confused and disoriented. I’d been asleep nearly 6 hours.

He kept apologizing, and stressing that he was genuinely worried about my wellbeing. I told him it was good he’d woken me up–I might have slept until 2 a.m. and woken up completely freaked out otherwise.

I guess I was tired. I got up, ate a late dinner, and after we watched some television, fell back asleep at 1 a.m. I even slept in until 6:45 this morning, which yes, is “sleeping in” for me.

I wake at or before 5:45 every morning, unless anxiety wakes me earlier. I have a freaky-accurate internal clock. I can set it if I look at the time before falling asleep, and then telling myself the time at which I need to get up in the morning. I usually wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off.

You may be calling bullshit right now, but my biological father once told me he does the same thing. I have also freaked out my husband on many occasions by sitting up in bed right before the alarm is set to go off. He’s even described this as “creepy.” I have never needed an alarm clock to rise for school or work.

My favorite time of day is spent in the early, still-dark morning when everyone else is asleep, drinking coffee in silence. I love the feeling of a day filled with endless possibilities stretched ahead. If you asked me to define hope, my answer would found in the dawn of any given day.

But I annoy people by being too chatty or cheerful in the morning, so I’ve learned to be quiet. Shut up. Hold in the precious early optimism I’ll possess before something or someone strips it away. I’ve had too many non-morning people snap at me (cue my 5 a.m. shift grocery store coworkers: “Why are you always so fucking happy in the mornings?!”) and it hurts my feelings.

NO MORE GOOD MORNING GREETINGS FOR YOU GRUMPY MOTHERFUCKERS.

Ahem. Anyhow… so yeah, I’m pretty well-attuned to my lizard brain. My instincts are good, and at some point in my late 20s I finally figured out that listening to the little voice inside my head (or gut, as it were) is always the right thing to do.

This may seem obvious to most people, but for women, at least, I can tell you we spend our lives being treated like hysterical, overly-emotional woodland creatures who’ve ventured too far out of the nice, safe forest if we sense and/or react to threat. Unsurprisingly, the wolves are usually doing the talking in this scenario.

I was depressed by the fact that 74% of Gavin DeBecker’s excellent book The Gift of Fear is spent desperately trying to convince women that not only should we listen to and follow our instincts, it’s okay to place boundaries, and also to go on the offensive if we feel threatened.

Not defensive–offensive. If someone wants to hurt you (and if they’re threatening you, they’ve already made that decision), it’s not only okay to fight back, it’s probably the difference between survival or not. And if you must fight, then fight to kill if necessary–because anyone attacking you has every intention of doing the same. There’s no version of attacking a woman in which the perpetrator is planning to be gentle, so don’t hold back.

I already understood this from a young age, and have the PTSD-related abnormal response to threat to show for it, so I read the book impatiently, thinking, “Yes, I get it. Don’t worry–years of rage tamped down inside of me–not afraid to fight back. In fact, give me an excuse, motherfuckers. Now tell me HOW TO DO IT, Gavin DeBecker.” I wanted self-defense techniques. (They finally happen in the last quarter of the book.)

We are trained our whole lives to be nice, nurturing, give everyone the benefit of the doubt; and if we don’t allow those who want to harm us the chance to do so before we can stop them, we’re treated like monsters. Called bitches for placing boundaries. Told not to flatter ourselves by the gaslighting assholes who walk among us when we let them know they’re being inappropriate. It’s infuriating.

I’ve been working on a piece I’ll share here soon about real life examples of sneaky, disguised-as-friendly-banter crossing of boundaries, because I recently had the not shocking to any women anywhere at all experience of 3 versions of this spread out over less than 24 hours. I think it’s a slippery slope, and an area many women, myself included, often forget to include under the sexual harassment umbrella because it’s so subtle.

So yeah, I slept almost 12 hours in the last 20, and I’m about to go take another nap. Because people are wearing me the fuck out. Life is wearing me the fuck out.

I just want people to be cool. Just be cool. Stop being creepy, or pushing boundaries, or being inappropriate under the guise of friendship so you can’t be properly called out for it because you’re a fucking pussy.

Honestly, I’d rather a guy be openly, blatantly creepy than pretend to be my “buddy” while peppering conversations with things they wouldn’t say in front of my (or their) significant other.

So yeah, I’m tired.

I think we all are.