Protected: A history of mental health in anecdotes

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My sphere

I’ve officially taken the step to veganism. After wishing I could do it and trying a few times to do it, it took only a texting conversation with my dear friend Holly to say, yes…Just Do It. She has also been a longtime vegetarian and recently took the step to veganism. When I asked why now, she said a fellow volunteer at the cat shelter reminded her how awful the dairy industries are and that she had always told her itself going vegan would be hard but then thought, maybe it won’t be that hard. 

Yes! And now we’re partners in vegan commitment, texting photos and recipes.

Even my doctor, who owns a local farm with her family, told me last year that if I was a vegetarian for animal reasons, then I should go ahead and become vegan because the dairy industries are just as bad. I had my yearly appointment with her recently, just after I’d become vegan, and mentioned it to her. She didn’t say anything—I sensed that she thinks the notion is foolish, especially when you can get locally made cheese and meat in this area from family owned farms, where animals are treated well and the damage to the environment is minimal—and I appreciated her silence. 

Because the sole purpose for my decision to become vegan is the animals. It’ll be great if other health benefits roll in from eating a plant based diet, but that is secondary. I want to know my personal sphere that I have encircling me as I walk this earth is filled with doing as little harm to animals as possible while I’m here. That’s it. 

And what’s interesting is I feel almost guilty because of the burden I fear it will put on my friends. Already, just a few days after I made this change, a friend came to me in the office and said he’s hoping to have people over soon and wanted to find out about my dietary restrictions…he knew I was a vegetarian and when I said I was vegan, he said, Ohhhh. I could see the wheels turning as he tried to suggest something he might make, but it turned out the original dish he was going to make could easily be made vegan. So he left with a plan and I was left thinking, I am going to be a giant pain in the ass to all my friends now. 

There’s also the desire to tell friends and family, especially those who love animals, about the awfulness of the farming industry. I think everyone, for the most part, knows that factory farming is awful, but it’s even worse than you think. And one of the common statements from the organization Mercy For Animals is if you can’t watch the undercover videos from factory farms, why would you eat the product that allows them to thrive? I feel similarly, but it is against my nature to proselytize.

See, veganism is the closest thing I have to religion. My beliefs about animals and their purpose here has always pushed me toward veganism. But I know what it’s like to be preached to—no one likes it. No one wants to be made to feel bad about their choices (including me—I have many a meat-lover in my life that think veganism is lunacy) and so I’m going to work on my sphere and let others live in theirs as they wish. If they ask me, I will tell them about it. We all have our own lives to live and our own decisions to make about what we want our lives to look like: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”—Bob Marley

Here on this blog, though, there may be a bit of preachiness. Feel free to tune that out. And if you invite me to dinner, I’ll be sure to bring my own dish to share. And there are always dishes that can be made vegan at restaurants. 

But, really, pigs are too awesome to be eating. 

Life is but a dream

rainbow-with-clouds-hi copyIt has been a sad and weird week, with, of course, moments of enjoyment, fun, and happiness sprinkled through because life is lovely like that.

I had a spectacular visit with mom last week. We shopped. We both got new piercings in a spur of the moment decision. We ate. It was terrific.

On Tuesday of that week, we learned she would have to go in and see her oncologist about next steps regarding her cancer returning. I couldn’t help but cry a little at the prospect of her having to start treatment again, and I told her I was having a hard time keeping my shit together, and she comforted me.

The treatment is relatively new and fairly effective for women like my mom who have a BRCA mutation causing the cancer and the cancer responds well to chemo, meaning the doctors continually keep the cancer at bay even if they can’t get rid of it completely. It’s an oral medication she can take at home. A lot of pills to take everyday, but the hospital views this as a better option than coming in once a month and being tethered to chemo machines.

My mom is skeptical of new treatments. The prospect of unknown side effects and unknown effectiveness stresses her out. When she got the details of the treatment and where the pills would come from, she started questioning whether her insurance would cover it.

This week we learned that her co-pay for this new medication would be $2000 a month. And she’s supposed to take this medicine for the rest of her life, assuming it works. She told them there is no way she can afford such a bill, so the hospital is trying to work out financial assistance. In the meantime, she’s not getting treatment and is stressing about the money. She would prefer to just do the old infusion chemo that is covered and forget about this new medication. Fingers crossed that if it’s not worked out by the end of this week, she’ll call them on Monday and say Drop It. Hook me back up to the chemo machines. Can patients dictate such things? I hope so.

Then my mother-in-law landed in the hospital with a subdermal hematoma from a fall she took over the weekend. She is okay and back home, but my husband is there trying to help them figure out next steps. She and my father-in-law are in their late 80s/early 90s and have lived independently until now. We’re trying to determine if that can continue and what to do next if not. Perhaps they can live with us if we get our new house?

And then, the house. I love this house but an issue with the septic has come up, and we cannot decide whether we should move forward and hope that the problem doesn’t occur again (and plan for if it does) or should we back out. I desperately, desperately don’t want to back out. But I also don’t want to be foolish about taking on a potentially expensive problem. The sellers are compensating generously, but not for the full issue (understandably since they’ve lived there only a year and were likely not the ones who caused this problem, but likely didn’t do their due diligence last year when the bought the house). I just want to buy the house with confidence. I have an email into one of the professionals the sellers spoke to to see how accurate their portrayal of the issue is.

So I have been walking around this week with a big, black, thunderous cloud hanging over my head. I’ve had loud, choking, cathartic crying spells while driving from one place to another. The kind where I wake up with my eyes swollen and a headache lingering behind my swollen eyes.

Yesterday, I felt particularly lousy both physically and mentally. It doesn’t help to live in a space that feels congested and claustrophobic.

I recently had a great mind/body session with a good friend who practices mind/body healing. At my request, we spoke about prayer and I told her how I have this inclination to pray for things to be different than they are when I know there is no changing reality. She referred to this as beseeching prayer and said her practice encourages people to say affirming prayers. She also made a point that I really appreciated. She said if I have the instinct to pray, I shouldn’t bat that instinct away as a childish or useless thing (which is what I do). She suggested listening to that instinct and that small piece of advice was quite eye-opening for me. So last night, before going to bed, I said aloud a prayer that was not quite beseeching but a bit more than an affirming prayer, and I put it into the universe and I felt a bit better.

And this morning I feel much, much better and must admit that some of this emotional turmoil is likely hormonal, too.

Now for the weird. Though, I don’t know that weird is the right word. It’s also sad, but weird in the way it forces me to look back on my experience and remember it with one door closed now.

Over the weekend, my mom reminded me about a crush I had on a young punk who lived out near where we lived. He may have been my first crush, but I’m not positive because I crushed on all my older brother’s friends. But at the ages of 9/10/11,  I was crazy about this guy. And he was a trouble maker. My parents did not like him. Did Not Like Him. We all lived in the country and he would walk from his house to visit me and my aunt. Seeing him making his way to us through the familiar wooded paths that led to my aunt’s house or my grandma’s house would enthrall me. He was, of course, mostly indifferent to me. We were friends but he was not interested in any sort of meaningful way, which, thank goodness because I was a child and so was he, really. He was only a year or two older.

The epicenter of all conversations with my mom involving this guy tend to go back to her favorite lamp that he broke. He and I were at my house, by ourselves (this, likely, was not permitted by my parents, but they were at work) and we had a pillow fight in the living room and with one swift movement with a pillow, he knocked over the amber glass lamp cover and broke it. Quickly and conveniently he said, Well, I guess I should be going. So I got in all the trouble that day and it is a memory seared in both mine and my mom’s memory.

Once we both started high school, we fell out of touch. I think he went to the vocational school and eventually I left my hometown to do other things.

A few years ago, I saw he was on Facebook but I didn’t reach out to him because we were never really friends. He was just a crush I had in my youth.

Today, I was thinking about a mutual friend of ours which led me to search for this guy again on Facebook to see what he’s up to now. Facebook-stalking at it’s finest, I suppose. The first post was from our mutual friend who wished him a “Happy Birthday in Heaven.” I scanned through other posts and learned he died last September at the age of 42. He was in hospice care at the end, though I’m not sure what illness took his life.

And it is so strange to know this person, who played such a momentous and formative role in my childhood—it’s hard to overstate my feelings, childish though they were, and the isolation of living in a rural area that probably made those feelings/interactions take on more importance than they deserve—is no longer of this earth. It feels odd to look back and see this door shut completely on a portion of my experience. It was basically closed all these years, but now it has clicked shut with unexpected finality.

Guinea Pig Island

1It’s been hot here the last few days. Spence said when he walked past the pigs a few days ago, Penny was all sprawled out in the cage, belly flat on the ground, legs in every direction. He took this to mean she was hot and suggested we move the pen downstairs where it’s cooler. I loved this idea because I prefer all the critters to be together anyway and in our general vicinity. The only reason the pigs were upstairs was because they’re in an enormous cage that had to go on the floor and since we have two terriers, we knew we had to keep them all separated.

When it came time to actually bring the pig house downstairs and set it up, it turned out to be a total pain in the ass. The cage they live in is huge and unruly. Four feet by two feet. And I never have a clear appreciation for how much space that takes up until I try to fit the cage somewhere.

Also, to add to the pain, we live in a state of unsettledness. We live surrounded by unpacked boxes. It’s such a drag. We’re looking for a house without a lot of luck—it’s definitely a seller’s market. So we’re not thrilled with our living arrangements anyway. So many unpacked boxes.

I come down with the pig cage and I’m fumbling around with where I think it’s going to go—on top of the coffee table. Well, it’s not wide enough to securely hold the cage. If both pigs run to one side, it would likely tip over. I got frustrated quickly. I had no idea where else the cage could go and was about to just take it back upstairs and put a fan in the room or something.

That’s when Spence jumped into action. He started pulling the various coffee tables together to try and create a solid base for the cage. When we thought we had something together, we realized it was in the middle of the room and Spence sat on the couch to see if we could see the television over the cage. “We can’t see the tv over guinea pig island,” he said, which cracked me up. Then he had the bright idea to set the tables up against the opposite wall, pushing them against the wall to make them even more sturdy. Brilliant. The location and set up was perfect. However, he then proceeded to stack boxes and painting around guinea pig island so that there was no way for the dogs to get access to the pigs.

As we were working on relocating the pigs, I said, “Spence, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping me bring the pigs downstairs.” He brushed it off as no big deal. 

But, seriously, he reconfigured the entire living space so the guinea pigs could be in a cooler area and he doesn’t care that the pigs are taking up a quarter of our living room. 

There’s all these memes about “Find a man who looks at you like you’re the only person on earth,” etc. etc. Those are great, but I would suggest, “Find a man who will give up a huge part of his living room to guinea pig island and also happily help you create the island.” 

Best life or bust

Why, yes, I did eat a Klondike bar nearly every day this week.

I hate to admit it but…I’m not living my best life.

I’m pretty content with how things are, but I’m not creating the life I imagine.

And I don’t mean that I feel like I should be walking the Appalachian Trail or climbing Mt. Everest, though both would be pretty cool. (Parts of the Appalachian Trail go right through this area, so I could spend a day hiking it.)

I’m talking smaller things.

For example:

• I want to eat better. I’ve been eating shit food lately. I’m talking ice cream, French fries, candy bars. (Good food, but shit food for the body.) There’s no reason to be eating like this so often, particularly when I WANT to eat better. It’s not like I don’t care. I do care. And still.

• I want to become a better cook. But am I cooking anything lately? No. Do I go out to eat constantly for lunch? Yes. Do I buy meals that I could have made at home? Yes. Does it irritate me? Sometimes. Could I change this? Yes. Have I? Not so far this week.

• I want to read more. I take my book everywhere I go and I still haven’t made it past page nine. And it’s a good book. Because I fall asleep in bed. Because I get distracted by news alerts. Because I start playing Words With Friends. Because there’s an episode of Handmaid’s Tale to watch. If I want to read more books, I need to prioritize. Is that within my control? Of course it is. Have I made the change? Not so far. But I’m honestly trying.

• I want to make more time for sketching. Have I? Not really. Part of it is because I draw a blank when I open the book. I scribble a few inconsequential lines and decide I don’t know what to draw. All I have to do is let the pen drift around the page and do what it wants. Have I done that? Not yet. But I will.

• I want to walk to work more. Have I lately? No. I’ve opted to sleep in instead.

The commencement speaker at school (Chimamanda Adichie) told the audience to “put the damn phones down. Go read a book. Go talk to some people.” I appreciated this command, though it was a little awkward because I was uploading her photo to Instagram on my phone as she was saying it. I do spend too much time in front of screens. It’s part of my job and it’s become a bit of a reflex in my personal life. I’ll go into the bathroom to get ready for work and will stand around for 20 minutes, soaking in the warmth of the bathroom heater, reading headlines, checking Facebook, etc. Maybe if I got in and out of the shower faster I could walk to work. I’m hoping to try two things. One is to put down the damn phone after 5pm and not look at it again until right before bedtime. I do have to think about work and keep an eye on issues coming through. The other is when I go on my next vacation, I may try to take a hiatus completely and let work know I will not be available at all during that time. I think that would be a real challenge, to not look at the phone at all for five days or so.

I remember being in Dublin way back in 2007 with no phone. There was no way for anyone to reach me if I didn’t reach out to them. I had to go to a computer coffee shop twice that week and pay to get on the internet to check my email. It’s hard to imagine being that disconnected today.

And back to living my best life. The thing that I find frustrating is that the goals above are not so lofty—they are perfectly realistic and achievable and yet here I am, not really doing them though there’s nothing stopping me. I don’t know if it’s a lack of initiative, poor time management or what, but it bums me out. I need to get this shit together.