Thursday, August 15, 2013

At the Risk of the Sin of Pride...

It's cocktail hour chez Bat Cave, a moment that occurs every other day when I untwist a capsule of Prozac and dump half of it into some iced tea.  The other days I simply take the crewed-back-together pill with the other Prozac capsule and meds.  For someone who rarely drinks, it's kind of fun to sip sweet nastiness.

How do I frame this blog, which is partly a dialogue with a post I wrote for Psychology Today, "The Perfect Dress," and partly the continuation of a conversation with a friend as well as an answer to another who emailed me, "Any words of comfort to someone finding it difficult to hold on to hope?"  There seems to be a spell of the blues going around these days and if there's anything I can't resist, it's poking my nose into people's troubles and trying not to offer advice.

I told friend A. that my mother always said each of us has a ministry.  My most successful ministry seems to have been to speak up about Fat Stuff.  I haven't been able to do that, however, without talking about Depressed Stuff, which makes me think I am a voice for a certain segment of people, mostly women, who feel disenfranchised or marginalized, unable to locate themselves because of a wall standing in their way.

I would like to reframe that in the first person.  I have felt marginalized and unable to find my self because of walls.  Those walls include fat, thin, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, overspending/debt, ennui, resentment and anger.  If I come up with any other walls, I'll keep you posted.

Friend A. was feeling just as I felt earlier this year that her death would only burden people with her more.  I felt constrained from dying by the Three Ds -- Dad, dog and debt -- and also by how much stuff I own that would have to be dealt with.  I was convinced enough by the Three Ds that my psychiatrist actually suggested I pay down my debts more slowly.

It's a funny thing about pain -- I really do forget its intensity.  I don't quite remember what a menstrual cramp was like or the crippled feeling of a break-up.  The freshest pain in my memory is of how sweaty, unsorted, overfull I felt while swimming in sugar in Montana ten days ago.  Here is Friend A. feeling as I did in the early spring and I wanted to Fix It.  At the time, I blogged against people wanting to Fix It rather than simply listening.

So I parried listening with caveats of knowing better than to give advice while I offered suggestions.  But I think it was retelling some of what I wrote about in "The Perfect Dress" that helped the most, as well as recalling the small bucket list I began to amass in my last bout with the Black Dog.

In "The Perfect Dress," I wrote about the notions of deserving and earning and how hung up we are on them.  I heard those words from Friend A. today about really letting people's concern and desire to truly help settle into her bones.  "I don't deserve help," she said and then iterated her personal string of fuck-ups that exempt her from being taken care of and truly helped.

I'd applied the word "deserve" to a dress I loved that is a size too small.  I deserve a dress that fits, I wrote.  I deserve to lose weight, to live more healthfully.

Today I expanded that notion.  I have earned the right and deserve to feel peace, contentment, solvency, community, creativity, adventure and hope.  I don't need to be abstinent to deserve abstinence and I don't need to feel at peace, or un-depressed, in order to deserve peace or un-depression.


And so have you.

Some people get front-loaded in life with that stuff, I told Friend A.  There were people in my childhood and adolescence who had it all (enter Barbra Streisand seeing Robert Redford in her creative writing class).  They were smart.  They were thin.  They were rewarded for being smart and thin.  They were confident.  They filled up yearbooks.

I had a 2.8 grade average, weighed 240 pounds, had terrible acne, hated authority, didn't know how to drive and couldn't act comedy.  For high school graduation I asked for a car and a shrink.  I couldn't imagine what I would do with myself when I grew up any further because I felt absolutely unsuited to any work.  The first time I got a A in college, I went to the professor and told him he'd made a mistake.  Someone must have gotten my C.

Et cetera and so forth.

This concept of myself has been so persistent that I have a hard time matching years to events.  I know that I went to graduate school and started working in publishing in the 80s, became a literary agent in the 90s, but if you ask me when someone visited me in New York or Montana, or when I published a story, I'd draw a blank.  I have a few years that stick out -- 2004, 2003, 2001, 1975 -- and anything I can remember I have to do on my fingers.

I paid my dues of depression, dissatisfaction, underpayment, being frightened, writer's block, being fat, being resentful in those years that swim in front of my eyes.  I'm working on a proposal about living the rosary right now and the center of it is how much I can't let go of anger, hatred, resentment.  It's been ten years since I was fired from publishing: enough, I decided this summer, is enough.  I will go to extraordinary lengths to Get Over It, starting with getting over my inability to forgive myself.

So to Friend B, who asks if I have some words of comfort for the hopeless, and to reiterate what I got around to saying to Friend A, I have this answer.

You do not deserve hopelessness.  No one does, but especially not if you're part of my tribe of the tending-to-feeling-excluded or suffering from depression.  Not if you're under my watch.  The frontloaded stars of my high school year book?  They can start paying their dues now if they haven't already.  For those of us with crummy brain chemistry, we get a free pass.  And if that's easier said than accepted,

get mad.  If you don't believe in God, rail at the universe or at the people who stifled us.  You can't forgive or move on until you get the sources of resentment out there in the harsh light of names and deeds.  The 12 Steps would ask you to find your part in bad treatment and that's good advice, but you can start by being justifiably angry.  If it's that kind of hopelessness that is the Black Dog of No Particular Poison, shake your fist at the sky, tell God he's a big liar.  Then

admit the beauty of sadness, hopelessness, heartbreak.  Van Gogh didn't paint because he was happy and Beethoven didn't compose out of peace of heart. 
What you are feeling is beautiful and profound.  Honey Boo Boo and the Housewives of Beverly Hills will never possess the beauty you are experiencing.

One of the things that made the Black Dog shift this spring was remembering I hadn't read all of John Cheever.  Then I remembered I hadn't read all of Angela Thirkell.  Soon enough I began to crave a trip to Holland and Belgium during tulip season.  I began putting cash in a tin box.  More recently I've decided I want to take Tai Chi.  I'm beginning to work up a head of steam about the proposal I'm writing.

Friend A. has a Sustaining Relationship in her life.  I have expectations of setting up housekeeping with a friend in the Seattle area.  This expectation did not keep the Black Dog away.  I don't know when this will happen.  I don't hear from him enough to walk through each day with the certainty it will.  I'm quite sure I weary him, that I am Too Much.  It was a depressing thought that was cured in June when I was finishing revising my next book.  In that mystical way that writing is, I found myself putting this advice in another friend's mouth in regards to my hurt and uncertainty at my future roommate's silence: Sometimes you have to walk away without leaving.

You might have just read the last and best line of my next book and so have saved yourself fifteen bucks.

It's specific to that situation but also to depression.  Walk away from the hopelessness.  Think about the things you want to do for your self, what you are hungry for.  They say depression is anger turned inward, but I think it's more than that.  It's also hunger turned inward.  It's defeat turned inward.  It's crappy brain chemistry.

Make a bucket list.  Appreciate the gorgeousness of suffering and shout that you have paid your dues as far as suffering goes.  Know that there are a lot of wonderful smart funny women out here who go through long periods with the Black Dog suffocating them.

If you want, be in touch with me: we'll form a blog of what Friend A. calls Pissed Off Women. 

And to Friend B. I say: crying is comfort.  Stating your feelings is comfort -- as well as paying it forward because Friends A. and B. were there for me when I was smothered under the Black Dog and now I have a little peace of mind with which to say it's OK to feel awful and it's even more OK to be angry, to want things, to feel alienated.  When you're alienated enough and can say so, you might just find out how much company you have.

I'm part of that company.  My world would be bleaker without you.  I love you for having held me up and I love you for your capacity to hurt and I love the beauty of your reasons for hurting and I love you for having paid your dues.

And now I feel very noble.  The veritable Queen of Hubris.  And you have every right to call me on it because in the end, even though you won't want to think so, it will be your rage and your hunger than saves you, not my bleating on in cyberspace.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A [Very Minor] Member of the Wedding

There are harder things I have to write about in regards to my 11-day visit to Missoula for my youngest niece's wedding, but I thought I'd start with the good stuff and the objectively awful.  I want to do some research on my social anxiety before discussing the shame of the trip and may do that for my blog on Psychology Today.  I'm not looking forward to that little excursion so I'll keep you updated when I get around to it.

First the objectively awful.

My plane was scheduled to leave New York at 4.30 p.m.  A different flight left at 11.30 p.m.  When we arrived in Minneapolis, long after my connecting flight to Missoula had left, Delta airlines offered us an inadequate number of pillows, blankets and ditty bags.  I looked at the floor, considered my newly paid-off and empty Visa card and called a hotel in the hopes of a few hours' decent sleep before catching my 11.30 a.m. flight into Missoula, for which I had a ticket marked "seat assignment at the gate".

"Seat assignment at the gate," I learned only after showing up well in advance of the flight, is code for stand-by.  So I sat tensely and waited as, first, the agents offered a $300 voucher for volunteers to take the night flight.

No takers.

Then it was a $400 voucher plus meal vouchers.

No takers.

Then it was $500 plus meals plus a trip to the Mall of America.

I got on the plane.

As the plane was descending into Missoula, I felt a trickle down my arm.  I knew what had happened because I'd been nursing a lump in my arm that I've had for years but which had turned an angry purple in the last few weeks.  Sure enough, it had ruptured and was oozing something like hand cream as fast as I could wipe it up.

It did not, however, smell as lovely as hand cream.

My brother looked at it and described it to my father and the next thing I knew I was on my way to a walk-in clinic where the sebaceous cyst was lanced, drained, curated, packed.  I was given antibiotics and told to come back the next day, where the same thing happened again.  And the next day except by then they suspected the staph infection was on the move.  Injected antibiotics were administered.  And so on.

It left me feverish and sluggish.  I'd planned to swim in my brother's master class at the Y and float the river but that was nixed.  I couldn't even take a full shower.

So the arrival was awful.

There are bright moments however.

The expense of tending my wound was about a third of what it would be in Brooklyn.  There was hardly any wait after the first visit.  I'd been told to keep that arm as quiet as possible and I didn't have to walk dogs.

Here are the fabulous things I remember.

As Kimberly and Jeff read the vows they had written themselves, sniveling began in the first row of parents and bride's maids.  Suddenly, two heads turned to the left, as perfect as synchronized swimmers, my niece and niece-in-law desperately crying.  Auntie pockets to the rescue as I handed up two clean tissues.  I could not listen to the vows since I had to get up immediately, totter across the church on my too-loose high heels and read a Victorian sonnet.  I hear they were good vows, though.

Laughing so hard I was crying with my nephew Rob and nephew-in-law Kory.  My grand-niece, Sophie, yelling, "Hi, Francie!" at the top of her lungs at a left-overs party and wanting a nickname of her own.  (We are a family of a thousand nicknames and this winter her mother, my niece-in-law, asked for a "cool" nickname.  Since I sign myself as Wicked Auntie to that family, we had settled on Little Wicked for my niece-in-law.)  Of course, Sophie, who is seven, felt "little" should apply to her.  We tried out Sophtastic and Sophielicious but if she wants to carry on the family tradition, I think we should consider either Demgel (Demon Angel) or Angon (Angel Demonl).  I'm waiting to hear back about that.

Or maybe Anvil -- Angel Devil.  That at least means something.

I've met Sophie twice.  The first time she was a clinging two-year-old and the second time she was the almost-birthday girl for her sister's first birthday.  It was wonderful to be claimed on a third meeting.

I stayed with my father in the complex of seniors he lives in.  The food is awful.  I just had Brussels sprouts for dinner and remembered eating Brussels sprouts mash in his dining room.  Dad wanted to make kimchee for some unfathomable reason.  I ordered Korean hot sauce ahead of time but, of course, we found both the hot sauce and kimchee in the grocery store.  No matter.  We bought a mixing bowl and went to work.  With a sauce pan and one mixing bowl for his cooking gear, I managed also to make deviled eggs and a custard pie for him.  It was wonderful to see him so thoroughly enjoy those small treats.

It was also wonderful to occasionally catch his curiosity.  Once it was on the neuroscience of food addiction.  I practiced the reading I was doing for the wedding, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How do I love thee" sonnet, for him and he hugely enjoyed directing me to slow down, then asked me to read some Robert Frost from my Android, a thing he gets an enormous kick out of.  The last moment I caught his true interest was while I was reading a sycophantic biography of Francis I.

Seeing a nearly 96-year-old man's intellectual curiosity stimulated is a tremendous reward.

He told me some stories of the years he spent doing anesthesia.  Once, a doctor had operated on a woman's thyroid and had sewed the incision up so that the stitches were swelling against her trachea.  She passed out and turned blue in front of a bunch of hospital staff.  Dad didn't have time to do any prep so he knelt down and with his bare finger pulled the stitches out of her throat, reached in and hooked the clot, then called for a tracheal tube, which someone found and he inserted.  "She pinked up real nice after that," he said, "but the student nurses were horrified that I hadn't gloved up.  Hell, there are antibiotics for an infection and she had three minutes to live.  What did they think I should do?"

Staying with him at the Village was a trial, though.  In order to get cool air in the bedroom, I had to leave the window unimpeded by blinds -- he sets his air conditioner to 80 degrees.  The morning sun poured in at 5 a.m.  When I went to bed, Dad, very deaf, would be listening to a book on tape or music or watching television at mega-decibels.  I have never been so grateful for the air conditioned quiet dim of the Bat Cave.  The packing has been removed from my wound, which was big enough under the incision where they removed the infected material to smuggle a small fire arm on the plane but at least I can shower and wash my hair now.  Daisy was thrilled to see me and the friend who took me to La Guardia at 2.30 p.m. on a Sunday insisted on picking me up at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday.  My friends Gerry and Ann Marie has me over for salmon and grilled vegetables and corn-on-the-cob last night.  I feel very rich in friends and in being taken care of.

Although it's so humid that the store windows are fogged up.

That salmon last night, and the chicken and Brussels sprouts with tika sauce on them tonight tasted divine -- and divinely abstinent.

Still, after being sick and having to shepherd my blind, deaf father around to family events for over a week, I need a vacation.

But at least I'm thoroughly unpacked, I have enough money saved to pay my bills , and I came home with white polish on my toes and fingers.

And read two Angela Thirkell novels.  I have a meager bucket list of things I want to do besides getting past my aging father and dog and my debt.  Reading Thirkell in order, reading all of John Cheever, are part of it.  And now I have to write a proposal for a new book about living the rosary.

Oh, yeah: I made my confession to an old family friend who was a priest at St. Anthony's when I was a kid.  We had a wonderful moment when I said, "I had to do my my confession with a Montana priest."  I could see the light come on in his eyes and he said, "You know, you're right.  You couldn't do this with an Eastern priest."

Vatican II is the glory of my old diocese.  We think differently than most dioceses.

When I expressed my great sin of holding grudges, he asked, "Do you believe God loves you?"  It was the most important question he could ask.  I had to stop and think for several moments before saying, slowly, "Yes.  I actually do."

"I eat dinner with your father every night.  Every night he tells me what you're up to in New York.  He shines when he talks about you.  Take that and imagine it magnified a million times.  That's how much God loves you."

So there was progress on the God front and it made me feel glad.  I hope I can hang on to that for a long time.  I can already feel winter approaching in the dehydrated leaves falling from the trees and the desperate gasp of August as it asserts its summertime status on us.

Yesterday I found a dollar.