Monday, March 03, 2014

The Comfortably Uncomfortable Winter

Christmas in Missoula was just too much fun and I came home to a crash of ant-climax as well as hellish weather.  The dog-walkers are all of to a person complaining whinily about what the sky throws at us next.  This put me in unhappy survival mode until I got the flu, which was a week of fevers fluctuating six degrees followed my such weakness as I haven't experienced since abdominal surgery.  I was up and about, finally, when a dog whose game with me is biting went out of control at the sight of an obese elderly Lab and pulled me straight down on the sidewalk.

My first thought as I gathered my flattened wits was that I'd broken my nose and my teeth.  Luckily I had not.  Luckily, too, Angry Dog has intense leash aggression because when I dropped the leash and he had the option of killing the Lab or running away, he did neither.  I, on the other hand, was a bloody mess from forehead to upper lip.  Almost two weeks later, I want to scream when I blow my nose and rub the scabs, it's possible I, in fact, did actually rearrange something in my nose, and my upper lip may have a permanent scar inside.

I found myself sobbing in a local pet store owned by friends as the the owner iced my lip and dabbed me down with hydrogen peroxide.  Since late July, I've had a staph infection from a sebaceous cyst, a fractured toe, bronchitis, flu and then this awful fall.  I was crying at the injustice, at the feeling that ill health was dogging me.  Ever since I quit working for the Man, I've been cold and bronchitis free.  At the same time, I always think flus, colds and other minor infections tend to be as much about needing to be sick as having shaken hands with the wrong bug.  I'd had two of those sorts of illnesses and three that were simple bad luck.  It was too much.  I fell apart.

I think I needed that bronchitis and that flu because of my double life, most of which is spent being somebody else in the guise of ghosting all kinds of things for another writer.  I am tired of not being Frances Kuffel and have been feeling as though that person has gone missing.  The other major part of my life is walking dogs, which I love and hate in equal parts, mostly because setting foot out of the Bat Cave causes me such anxiety.

That anxiety has been mounting.

Last week was a series of deadlines that neatly took me out of myself all the while that I complained about the missing Frances.  I did my taxes.  I compiled nearly fifty pages of research for my Other Life.  I wrote a resume and application letter to graduate programs for a friend that were due of Friday (more Not Me-ing) I did the first pass proof read of Love Sick, which is coming out to thrumming silence in June -- and even this was after I did everyone else's work.  I had extra dogs and my usual Other Life duties to do.  I liked having the deadlines because it gave me a sense of accomplishment I don't often feel in the ho-hum of tweeting and walking.  But the deadlines meant that there would be a new threshold coming up: After the Deadlines.

I've been hiding.  A lot.  I've had things to hide in.  The stomach cramps I feel when I take the trash to the basement or call a doctor or go to the grocery store have prompted me to hide more.  Running low on Klonopin prompted me to see my psychiatrist last week, in the midst of deadlines.  I found myself articulating why I want to write my next book proposal and why I have not.  I'm scared.  I'm not scared of failing to sell the book, I'm scared that the book is about building a relationship and I've been letting go of relationships in the last ten years.  They scare me.  Even the ones I might say are solid seem to be built on sand that would wash away with any high tide.

My psychiatrist, of course, told me exactly what I already knew.  I must push against my comfy Bat Cave box.  I should simply begin the experiment of a conversation with no goal of a book or relationship in mind.  (This involves praying the rosary every day.)  I did what I could under deadlines to obey.  I picked up my dry cleaning (gulp!).  I took books and DVDs to the local charitable re-sale store (don't think -- just do!).  I agreed to pick up a dog at the groomers, where I knew I'd have to wait and talk (talk?!).  But I didn't have time in the best time of my day, the most alert time when I wasn't yet worn down with walking dogs and being my Other Life.

But, hey, I had deadlines!  I had interesting work to do in those deadlines!  I had extra money to make with extra dogs!  On Tuesday, when I talked about my fear with my shrink, and a day or two later reported it to my editor who was, uh, impressed, I didn't have to worry.  I was too busy to go to the drug store or get the lenses of my glasses fixed after the fall or do the laundry or call a plumber for the kitchen sink, let alone worry about writing something new as Frances Kuffel.  Even grocery shopping, which cramps my stomach, was a matter of deadline -- no coffee, sour milk, no cookies for Daisy.  I HAD to suck it up and go.

Which lands me at today. 
There is a skiff of snow on the ground.  Not the foot the weathermen were torturing us with but enough to make the walk down to Willowtown on cobbled streets precarious.  It's freezing, which means my face will hurt.  But I have no deadlines.  And I woke up this morning clenched in terror of the fact that I really do have to start pushing Frances.  Ash Wednesday is coming up -- it's time to warm up the rosary beads.  I have blog ideas for Psychology Today to plea.  I articulated something so essential to the next book proposal that it unfolds much of the rest of the proposal for me.  I have tons of laundry to do.  I need to buy a new trash can. I need to find a doctor more local than the one I was assigned by my new insurance plan (!!!).  Aside from scabs and scarring and a new sensitivity to cold, I'm in decent health at last. 

I've run out of depression, sickness, weakness, deadlines, favors, and even the slight worry I had about meeting bills without going into savings that I suffered last week.  I have to clear my head so I can find Frances and claim her again.

I decided to start here.  And I'm scared.


mary ann rodman said...

Welcome back Frances Kuffel! We have missed you. And apparently, YOU have been missing yourself as well. I have been having my own issues that seem to multiply like mold on my give me courage, as you take your battered, bloody but brave self back out into the world as yourself.

E. Jane said...

I am sorry that things have been so rough for you, but it was nice to see a new post. Keep pushing ahead, because you have so much to offer, and you are missed when you disappear. I'm glad you had a wonderful time in Montana.

This has also been the "winter from hell for me." We've had the death of BIL, whom we were responsible for, son's fire, and then my own health issues (see post below:

Such is life, I guess, but I truly believe that there will be better days ahead. Take care, Frances, and believe...

Anonymous said...

Frances, we've never met but I have read both your books and very much enjoy your writing. I went through a hellish 5-year period of severe depression and crippling anxiety. Because I wasn't able to work, I lost my house to foreclosure, ran through ALL of my savings, blah blah. Anyway, what changed my life was a good shrink and a kick-ass therapist. My shrink was tireless in working with me to find the correct cocktail of meds that would enable me to occasionally get out of bed and take a shower, and I'll always be grateful, but my therapist really saved my life. She helped me put myself back together, not quite the same person as before, but better. I saw her every week for years, and now go for tune-ups about once a month. What I'm trying to say is that you need a therapist to help you find yourself again. We can't do it all alone, and that's okay. I look forward to hearing more from you!