Monday, May 31, 2010

Real Maggots Love the Heat

... and then they turn into flies.

Boy, do I love a good hot-weather run. Muscles loose, no extra clothing, the amazed stares of neighbors as I return beet-faced and trailing a rivulet of sweat up the street ...

It’s going to get hot, and you are going to run, maggots. Run early if you can; go even slower than you originally thought possible; drink before you go, but not so much that you get hyponatremic; and don’t listen to the haters who tell you you’re crazy.

Find your wings, little maggots!

[Update: some answers in the comment section.]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

If a Nana Says Something Crazy in the Forest and No One Pays Attention ...

A few commenters have wondered about a) how TH grew up to be not particularly crazy and b) what he thinks about my being happy.

I thought about interviewing him about this. Then I realized that the interview would go something like the following:

DM: How did you grow up to be so awesome and relatively normal despite your batshit crazy mother?

TH: I’m awesome? I’m relatively normal? My mom is batshit crazy? Oh yeah, that’s right, she is.

DM: What was it like growing up with her?

TH: Not good. I don’t remember.

DM: Um, ok. Well, what do you think about my being happy?

TH: You’re happy?

DM: Remember, I told you about this? I’m all different and nice and stuff? I let you read those posts about it?

TH: Oh right. Um, it’s good? … wait, what was the question again?

DM: How was that race you did Sunday?

TH: Great! Riding kit shaving cycling bikes drafting intervals training pack sprint collarbone Cat 3-4 cleats riding Masters power meter laps turns monkey butt holding the line criterium time trial bonk leading out road rash drops watts course hill VO2 bridge the gap embrocation tubes wheels chamois max heartrate shelled monster climb breakaway chase points chafing podium ...

TH is kind, nurturing, tolerant, and overall wonderful. He also lives in a sort of happy fog. He puts a laser focus on one thing at a time, and everything else blurs out. This is actually quite nice for me; I like to fly under the radar most of the time. I’m capable of taking his face in my hands and saying, “Eye contact! Here! Now!” when necessary. He has a hard time remembering things that he has not focused upon. (For instance: our neighbor dropped dead and he forgot to mention it to me.) He also sleeps. A lot. As in 10 hours weeknights and 11-13 on weekends. I think he slept through much of his early years. He really does not remember a lot of the stuff that went on. He has his anxieties, but they’re different from mine. He worries about what’s in front of him, not what might happen down the road — so we tend not to be worried about the same things at the same time, which is good. He is an optimist.

TH’s dad is very much like TH. He was a steady, no-drama support through it all, as was his second wife. TH wishes he’d moved in with them for high school, but he was still too afraid of his mother’s reaction to go through with it. (Nana kicked TH’s younger brother out when he was fourteen because he wouldn’t obey her; he did move in with their father — and gave him a pretty wild ride too. Once past his Rumspringa/rehab years, he grew up just fine; I really like him. The sister, well … she’s sort of Nana minus the Histrionic Personality Disorder, which makes her more tolerable, but only to a point. She regularly dumps her two sons — aged 5 and 3 — with Nana for a week of free babysitting, despite having issues herself with how Nana treats them. Her older son is a rather timid, biddable child, so he just does what Nana says, poor kid.)

TH says he just figured out over time that he couldn’t take any of Nana’s advice or criticism seriously. He has always sided with me in any disagreement. Nana can be very fun, and he decided he was willing to take her as she was. This changed with the arrival of HB.

TH has a lot of healthy denial — he doesn’t dwell on the past or the legacy of Nana’s craziness. When I said he was having flashbacks with the newest drama, he said, “Oh, I wouldn’t say flashbacks.” When I reminded him of recent instances when he’d gotten upset over something small and then said that it was because of something from childhood, he said, “Oh, you mean those flashbacks.”

I’m not complaining. I think one navel-gazer per family is enough.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Nana Wars Updated Update: Game Back On!

First, as OMDG noted after my last post, b***jobs was not a reference to boob jobs. (I wouldn’t asterisk out that, for one thing.) It was the other kind of b***jobs Nana was discussing. (And did I mention that the underwear she flashes are Armani thongs?)

So of course mere hours after my last post, TH received the following:
From: Nana
Date: May 13, 2010
To: TH
Subject: HB

I was quite disappointed about your reaction to my visit and HB’s melt down. I keep thinking how to respond to your email, since I want to have a relationship with HB and we love him very much! Just to set the record straight about the sequence of events that morning. [Oh boy, here we go: your wife is a big fat liar. Never a wise battle strategy.] I woke up at 8 A.M. and noticed that there was only 1" of snow on the ground. So, I decided while you were sleeping that I should drive home rather than get completely snowed in for 2-3 days. Not knowing that HB would be so agitated by my quick decision to leave, I walked down the stairs and told DM and HB what I was preparing to do. [Nope—she only told me. Otherwise accurate.]

Then HB went crazy [if you call trying to walk away from her “crazy”] and screamed at me “not to say another word” [quite accurate, except I would say “shouted”] and he was out of control. [Out of Nana’s control.] DM didn’t do anything during his tantrum [quite true—and I’m sure this is what pissed her off the most] and I should have tried to find out the reason he was so upset. [He did tell her: because she kept pestering him.] Now I realize that he gets sad and upset when I leave....and my decision was sudden. [Nice rationalization—he loves me soooo much, that’s what made him mad! Only problem: she hadn’t yet told him she was leaving.]

When I was leaving, and he still was yelling, I said to him, “Your behavior makes me feel not unhappy that I’m leaving.” [Nope. It was definitely “I’m leaving because of you.” Did she look up the “constructive” way to argue, I wonder? You know, “When you do ____, it makes feel ____?”] At least he would hear the consequences of how people feel when he behaves that way towards them. [People = Nana.] These things happen and we deal with it, and then go on - it’s a long road to adulthood! [“These things” being that your grandmother is mean to you? Well, we are dealing with THAT! And TH agrees that it was indeed a LONG road to adulthood with her.]

I do feel that this is was an isolated instance. [Not.] We’ve been with him alone lots when he visits here or we go there and haven’t had that happen. [Not.] The loss in this situation is HB not seeing us more often than his birthday when there are many people there or once every 2 years on Thanksgiving. [Who said we were going for Thanksgiving?] I feel that we have a very special fun time when we are together - whether on our tractor or at the adventure park or at the zoo! [Excellent use of guilt, I must say.] We love him very much and do have an understanding about appropriate behavior when he’s with us. He’s OK with it. [Not!] [Too bad she doesn’t have an understanding of what behavior is appropriate on her part …]

So, we plan to attend his birthday party - wouldn’t miss it for the world! We’ll stay [70 miles away] for the weekend and drive in for the day. [Another excellent use of guilt, no?]

Love, Nana
Let me be clear: HB is not respectful of adults in the sense of obeying them simply because they are adults. This is a battle we have not even tried to win with him, because a) we have had a lot of other things to focus on and b) we don’t really subscribe to that philosophy ourselves. It would be nice sometimes if he could be more actively polite, especially to people he doesn’t know, but trying to get him to say something he doesn’t want to say is unbelievably hard. As I said, we’ve achieved the no name-calling, no swearing, and certainly no hitting limits. It’s not too hard to get him not to do things. He can remain silent when he has nothing nice to say. It’s when someone keeps pressing him to say or do something that trouble ensues.

I’m sure some of our friends and family don’t agree with us about not trying to enforce a Because I Said So policy with HB. (Though not my mother; she raised me the same way.) But most of them are very accepting of this being our child, our family and our decision, and are willing to interact with HB on his terms, i.e., letting him come to them.

I’m really not getting worked up about this even though the red italics above may suggest otherwise. This can’t even come close to upsetting my bliss. (A few things can, I’m discovering. More on that another time.) Poor TH, on the other hand, keeps having flashbacks from childhood. He’s holding up well, considering. He says this is going to be his response:
Thanks for your email and for the nice anniversary card.
Looking forward to the party!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Nana Wars Update

It’s looking like there will be no big drama … which is good for HB, but not as fun for blogging purposes.

There was silence, then TH sent Nana a Mother’s Day card (okay, I handed it to him and made him fill it out), and then TH accidentally dialed Baba (his stepfather) instead of his brother and Baba was pleasant, and yesterday we got an anniversary card filled out by Nana that made no mention of anything.

I’m guessing she’s suppressing the part where TH told her she shouldn’t lie to HB, and has decided that HB just has behavioral issues. Because nothing could be her fault.

Don’t know yet if she’ll come to the birthday party. If so, that will be guaranteed to entertain. (At one birthday party, she wore a skirt short enough to flash her underwear and tried to discuss b***jobs with a rather conservative work colleague of mine.)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, Part 2: Turn and Face the Strange

So that phrase was haunting me: This is your one life. TH was having some struggles at work, and I said it to him. “Um, you already said that the other day,” he answered, which made me think, hmm, maybe I mean this is MY one life.
That had always been a chilling thought for me, but for some reason it started to feel empowering instead. Not this is my life, not this is my life: this is my life. Mine to enjoy — or not.
Slowly, so slowly that I didn’t notice it at first, something began to fall away from me, something I couldn’t identify. Every day somehow seemed a little less … fraught. Christmas at my parents’ was easy and fun, despite a broken toe and a sprained back. (I find it significant that this all started before the solstice.)
Yet it bothered me not to know why things were better. I need to be able to put things down in words. Since I couldn’t define what was happening, I didn’t want to talk about it —as if trying to describe it without the precise words might make things go back to the way they had been. It felt as if some malevolent presence that had always been in the room with me had stood up and walked away. (Yes, it was definitely a he.) I was afraid he would return, and needed to know what to say if he did.
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day. We went to visit my (good) in-laws, and it somehow worked out that they took HB for the whole day, and TH and I ran/biked and got to see a movie and have dinner out. And here’s where the Avatar part comes in, because that’s the movie we saw.
In my new state, I was able to plunge into the movie in all its gorgeous, silly, romantic, 3D glory. It felt fabulous. I haven’t felt that absorbed by a movie since the first Matrix (which had the same plot, come to think of it). No worries, I have no desire to run off and romp around a forest in a G-string.* But in analyzing the movie’s flaws (I never said I didn’t remain a critic, just that I could love it despite its silliness), I stumbled across the words to describe what was happening with me.
I’m perfectly happy to accept an utterly ridiculous premise for a movie—it’s not a documentary, right? But there were plenty of other things in the movie I would have done differently, if I were a director with hundreds of millions of dollars to throw around. Take the lead character’s awful hairdo. If only they’d put him in a Mohawk earlier! (If you’re reading, James Cameron, could you do that for the director’s cut DVD, please? It’s all computer-generated anyway, how hard can it be?) Then there was the cheesy dialogue. One of the lines I took issue with was when Jake asks Neytiri why she saved him, and she says, “You have a strong heart. No fear.” I’m thinking, first, puh-lease! Second, it’s a lie. She saved him on account of the little floaty thing that gave her a sign. Third, he seemed pretty afraid to me. If she’d said it later, it would have made more sense, because when he was learning all that warrior stuff he was pretty game; he definitely wasn’t afraid to make a complete idiot of himself …
… unlike me.
The realization crept over me like a cold chill: That’s it. I have been afraid. Practically every minute of every day.
I can’t properly describe how earthshaking this was to me. Until that moment, I’d thought I was a fearless person. And most of those who know me would have agreed. I’m known for speaking truth to power, giving my honest opinion, not backing down when I know I’m right. But I now realize that I had been courageous, not fearless.
Fear of what? So much. That this pleasant moment will vanish soon. That if I say everything is going well, someone will think I don’t have enough to do or will take me for granted. That if I enjoy this, I won’t find something better. That people will be angry. That someone will think I’m stupid if I don’t know what to do or say even in trivial situations, like standing in line to buy something and not noticing the lane has closed. That someone will notice my pimple. That if I say I like something silly people will think (know!) I’m not cool. That HB will behave badly at the restaurant. That I will be late. That the cat will pee someplace I can’t find. That I haven’t packed the right things. That something is going to annoy me.
I suppose I was being afraid as a defense mechanism. If I worry that something bad is going to happen, I won’t be taken by surprise when it does. The absurdity of this is apparent to me now.
Angst is probably the best word for it. The future had always rolled out in my mind like a line of dominoes poised to click-clack a path to disasters small and large.
It crystallized in me down to my very core: I must give up angst. That was what I had been doing, bit by bit, but once I could articulate it, it was as if a screen that had been separating me from the world was lifted. And everything became so much simpler. I am here now, present, appreciative, aware. The difference this makes is incredible. I can relax. I can enjoy. I can like things or not like them without that horrid overlay of whether I should feel a certain way. I can talk to people and smile at them genuinely (and I found out that I’d had no idea how many people will respond to that — it’s as if there is a whole secret society I just discovered). I realize that anything can happen at any moment. The world is beautiful; heartbreaking, and beautiful, and fascinating.
I should say I am not talking about the opposite of depression. My episodes of depression have been distinct; qualitatively different from the rest of my life outlook. Nor is this mania — my new feeling is peaceful, not hyper. No profligate spending, promiscuity, or delusions of grandeur. And I doubt I’m done with depression forever; I know it’s a chronic, periodic disorder that may well visit me again. I’m not about to go off my meds.
I didn’t even tell TH about this for a long time; instead I watched for differences in how he reacted when what he expected from me didn’t happen. What I saw made me ashamed. Was I really so hard to please, so prone to being thrown off kilter by the slightest problem? Did he really need to tiptoe around me so much? How awful.
One might think that all of this would make me less diligent at work, but it doesn’t seem to. With the angst gone, I can do things because I want or need to, not because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t. I work more efficiently and with less resentment. For instance: about every six weeks, I have to cover the weekend. This means that I work 12 days in row, in the middle of which I’m rounding in the hospital (one of my least favorite places), admitting patients to nursing homes, and fielding pages from outpatients and nursing homes for 60 hours straight. In the past, during the first week of this stretch I was crabby because I knew I wouldn’t have the weekend off; during the actual weekend I was unbelievably stressed; and the final week I was burned out. But I’ve worked two weekends in the past three months, and they were — fine. Each day was just each day. One Saturday I was in the nursing home finishing up my last admission at 5:30 pm when a nurse informed me that there was a new patient they had forgotten to tell me about. In the past, my cortisol levels would have gone through the roof. This time, I thought: okay, need to get that done. How do I feel? I feel … hungry. Do I need a snack, or can I last until I’m done? Eh, I can wait. And I did the admission and that was that. The other day I had my “annual” (really first ever) evaluation with the Chief of Medicine, and I looked forward to it. I have actually found myself saying “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” — a sentiment I couldn’t come close to understanding before, because I used to find the very act of asking painful.
I am still shy in new surroundings and with new people. But I am no longer afraid of being shy, and I am a happy shy. Instead of berating myself I have compassion for myself: needing to warm up to a situation is no crime. This seems to have the effect of letting people see that I’m feeling shy rather than cold and mean — and then they’re more likely to take the initiative with me.
I am having to relearn some things. I can speak more bluntly, which surprises people and sometimes hurts them, something I most certainly don’t want. Perhaps this is balanced by feeling more free to say good things as well, but I’m not sure. I’ve had a few misunderstandings with TH where he thinks I’m being sarcastic and I’m just saying something nice — did I not say nice things before? Yikes. I also get frustrated when other people are grumpy and are bitching about things instead of being happy — especially TH — which is pretty funny, since I was on the other side of that line just a few short months ago.
Some of my habits have changed without any conscious effort. I used to turn the radio on whenever I was in the car alone, and now I almost never do. It interferes with my thoughts — something I used to like, and now I don’t. (This means I need to figure out an alternative source for news.) Yet I enjoy listening to music more — and louder — than I used to. I am reading fiction again, something I once loved but more recently couldn’t manage to concentrate well enough to really enjoy. And when I feel jumpy — which is often — I think, what shall I do with this energy? Rather than, I must be anxious. I used to try to think of things to be anxious about!
As with anger, the angst bubbles up every now and then. But it’s exactly like that: a bubble I can reach out and burst with the slightest of touches.
Alas, the question I cannot answer is how. A comment on my last post: “The flip side of anger is fear, always. … We get angry when we perceive that something we value is threatened, whether it’s respect, safety, way of doing things, sleep, health, sanity, etc. … So how in the world do you transform anger into emotions and sensations other than its root, which is fear?” The simple answer is, give up the fear too. But can this be a conscious decision? I was in a good place, thinking about the right things, but … how did I manage to convince my angst to get up and walk away? I don’t know. Writing about this feels like trying to describe how to ride a bicycle. How did I learn that fear, like anger, almost never helps in the privileged life I lead? And how did I let go of it before even understanding that? I don’t know. But I’d like people to know: this happens. It happened to me, and it can happen to you. Maybe I’m the only person who was entirely blind to a enormous part of my personality and motivations, but I kind of doubt it.
Will this last? It feels like riding a bicycle in this way as well: once you’ve learned … but I can’t be sure. I feel like I will recognize that malevolent presence if he does try to come back, and in recognizing him be able to keep him out, but I’m learning to be humble about my own self-awareness, so who knows. I do know that even if this all goes away, it’s been an amazing few months.
*Though I would very much like to be a Toruk Mocto, so if anyone is selling an orange pterodactyl, drop me a line. Also I found the Tsutay character to be pretty hot, in a blue, hamster-eared kind of way.