Glimpses

Sometimes I like to look at glimpses of my inner life from an outside perspective and try to guess the conclusions a stranger (or acquaintance) would make about me. This is probably due to the overwhelming judgment I constantly rain upon myself, something I’m supposed to be working on correcting.

For example, I used to post pictures of the contents of my refrigerator on my old blog and then point at myself and laugh at how hopeless I was at living life.

However, if I’m currently being nice to myself, the conclusions don’t necessarily have to be negative. Just the other day I realized that, for once, I was actually proud of the assortment of foods I put down on the conveyor belt at the grocery store. Look at me in my running shorts, with my whole-grain bread and my organic milk and my grapes and my celery! No frozen foods! Paying with cash! I’m winning!

So a few minutes ago I was staring at the wall by my computer out of boredom (I gave up Facebook for Lent, by the way, which is why I’m blogging and not doing nothing, which is how I much prefer to spend my time), and I found myself wondering what conclusions about me my coworkers draw from this wall.

What do you think? (Click to enlarge.)

Clockwise from bottom right: 1. New Book a Day calendar. 2. Happiness flowchart. 3. “You decide every moment of every day who you are and what you believe in. You get a second chance, every second.” 4. “Everything you can imagine is real.”-Pablo Picasso. 5. Gandhi’s Top 10 Fundamentals for Changing the World. 6. The Holstee Manifesto. (Center: baby from king cake on Monday.) (Bottom left: Phil the philodendron.)

Probably that I’m an asshat, amirite?

I just realized that my calendar is still on Monday. Winning!

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Posted in L is for Life, T is for Trivial | 7 Comments

Therapy

Exactly three years ago today, I went to my first therapy session.

I had gotten to the point where I had made such a big mess of my life that I could not see any way out of it. Where I never told the truth anymore to anyone, including myself. Especially myself. Where I was having panic attacks in the bathroom at work, rocking back and forth while whispering the sinner’s prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,” like Franny Glass at the height of her nervous breakdown. Where I wanted my husband to die just so I wouldn’t have to confront the truth of how incredibly unhappy I was to be married to him.

I logged on to my insurance company’s website, performed a doctor search, and came upon a therapist with the last name Flowers. My sister used to tell me that one day I would marry a man with the last name Flowers, and my name would be Spring Flowers. I thought, I married the wrong man and my name is not Spring Flowers, but this lady’s last name is Flowers, and so she must have the answers. I was obviously not capable of rational thought at this point, but it seemed as good a reason as any to pick a therapist from that very long, overwhelming list of strangers.

As it turns out, it was a very good reason. In fact, I think it was exactly the right reason. Over the next year and a half,  through our weekly and sometimes biweekly sessions, I came, very gradually, to see that there were two pieces to the puzzle of why I had found myself in such a mess.

The first piece is that I was not awake and actively participating in my life. I was not, essentially, alive at all. But I began to see that life doesn’t have to look any certain way. And that I had made bad decisions, but I was not a bad person. And that there are no “bad people,” anyway, just hurting people who get desperate and do hurtful things. I began to allow myself to not only feel my feelings but to validate them as well. I began to ask myself what I wanted out of life, and then I began to allow myself to step into that life.

I decided that I had this piece down, and I was doing okay enough to discontinue my regular sessions. My lovely therapist agreed. And then I got a tattoo to celebrate my having learned this lesson, albeit in the hardest way imaginable.

A lotus flower to symbolize beautiful, hard-won, active consciousness.

A year and a half has passed since my last session, and I think I’m finally ready to tackle the second piece. Starting tonight, I’m going back to therapy to figure out how to love myself. The plan is to get a tattoo on the inside of my right wrist when I get this second part down. I’m thinking a heart.

Learning to live and learning to love. You wouldn’t think it would be this hard. But it is.

Posted in H is for Health, L is for Life | 1 Comment

Self Love

It all starts when I fail to love myself. This takes countless forms and is so subconscious that I don’t even realize it’s happened. But sure enough, I turn on myself. I resume an abusive relationship with myself. I tell myself bad things, and myself believes me. They’re pretty nasty things, the things I tell myself. Things I would never say to anyone else. And they add up. The “you’re not good enough”s and “you should be ashamed of yourself”s and “you’re such a failure”s and “you just make the same mistakes over and over and never learn”s and “who you are is unlovable and you have to change”s, they add up.

They reach a tipping point, and I’m no longer able to contain the nastiness inside of me. I have to spread it around. I have to share it with others. I make snarky comments. I self-aggrandize. I tear people down. I make fun. I hurt feelings. I gossip. I criticize. I revel in schadenfreude. Then I tell myself more bad things. “See? You’re horrible to other people. No one likes you. And who can blame them?”

I try to say nice things, to contain the bad, but it doesn’t help. “That nice thing you said was obviously fake. Everyone knows you’re not nice. Now everyone thinks you’re fake too.”

I remember the time in high school I said that a friend’s college boyfriend was only dating her because he’s such a loser, he couldn’t find a girl in college. “That was horrible. You’ve always been horrible. You lost so many friends over that, and now they’re happier than you are and more successful at maintaining their friendships, and apologizing ten years late won’t fix it, so don’t even think about it.”

I obsess over the people who have unfriended me, on Facebook and in real life. “You can’t maintain a relationship. You push people away. Maybe people have begun to suspect that you have a borderline personality disorder, but no one’s found the courage to tell you yet. Maybe you do. Maybe you’re one of those horrible people whom healthy, happy people have to cut out of their lives in order to keep being healthy and happy.”

A friend writes on her blog about people who say mean things. “She’s writing about you. You say mean things.” Another friend writes on her blog about people who are hard to love. “She’s writing about you. You’re hard to love.” And just on the heels of that, “You’re being narcissistic. You think people are writing blog posts about you, and that is ridiculous and narcissistic, even though you do say mean things and are hard to love; those things are still true.”

I want to write about it. Writing helps me process what’s going on inside of me, but I won’t let myself. “No one cares about what you have to say. It’s how you reveal your ignorance. It’s how you offend people. You need to work on saying less, not more.”

And the vicious cycle continues, on and on and on, until I’m some lurchy Hyde version of myself I don’t even recognize. Hyde Spring lashes out at others and herself alternately and causes Jekyll Spring, her unwitting creator, to be miserably unhappy.

The real problem, though, is how much Jekyll Spring wants people to like her. She looks to how much others love her as a sort of measuring stick for how much to love herself, how much love she deserves to have. And this is exactly what gives Hyde Spring her power. This is why Hyde Spring comes around in the first place. She sees an opening, an opportunity, and she slips right in.

The truth is that Jekyll Spring has a deeply held belief that she’s not innately worthy of unconditional love and must instead earn it. It’s pretty deep in there, this belief, like a splinter that’s no bigger than an eighth of an inch but because it found its way under so many layers of skin, it causes a kind of constant, itchy low-grade pain.

I know it’s there, and I think I know how it got there in the first place, but going at it with tweezers somehow just manages to push it deeper. I think I’m just going to have to let it find its own way to the top, through layer after layer, year after year. Maybe one day it’ll be so close to the top that all I have to do is scrape at the thinnest outer layer of skin with a fingernail. I’ll blow it off the tip of my finger like an eyelash. I’ll close my eyes. I’ll make a wish.

It’s been very irritated lately. I can see it more and more clearly. I hope that means it’s getting closer to the top.

Posted in F is for Fear, L is for Love, V is for Vice | 7 Comments

False Spring Music

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes about what he calls “false spring”: “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”

Living in Texas does occasionally bring with it some perks (such as Blue Bell ice cream, Shiner beer, and bluebonnets), and the entire season of spring is definitely included in that list. It allows us to fall back in love with Texas just enough to survive the months of 100-degree heat that are inevitably on the way. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, false spring ends up sticking around and merging into true spring. Even though spring is still officially over a month away, this recent spate of daily 70-degree sunshine has me in the mood to welcome my season. And since I’m such a seasonal music listener, it also has me listening to my favorite springtime songs.

I like my spring music to be gentle, like a lightly falling rain. Or a fresh breeze ruffling a white eyelet skirt. Or a nurse feeling for swollen lymph nodes, which I currently have due to allergies, another Texas spring tradition. I suppose the idea is that winter leaves me with a few scars every year, and the following songs are the salve I apply to my various wounds to help them heal, the soundtrack to thoughts of nothing but where to be happiest.

(Some of the videos won’t let me play them here, but I do recommend that you click through to YouTube. It’ll take you right to the video, and you’ll be happy you did it. Promises.)

Wilco, “Leave Me Like You Found Me”

Nick Drake, “Pink Moon”

Camera Obscura, “Shine Like a New Pin”

Nico, “Fairest of the Seasons”

Belle & Sebastian, “Ease Your Feet in the Sea”

Illinois, “Alone Again”

Oren Lavie, “Her Morning Elegance”

Erik Satie, “Gymnopedie No. 1” (performed by Pascal Roge)

Sufjan Stevens, “Casimir Pulaski Day”

She & Him, “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today”

Nicole Reynolds, “Wonderin”

Posted in M is for Music | Leave a comment

Divorce Pt. 2

There is regret. So much regret.

The simplest thing can set it off. A comment about a band on Facebook. He liked that band. He wanted you to like that band, but you shut it down. Now, whenever you hear that band’s very distinctive sound, you think of him, and your heart aches.

It must’ve hurt, the way you expressed disdain for the band he wanted you to like. You knew, and he knew, you weren’t really expressing disdain for the band. The band is pretty good. You were expressing disdain for him and his opinions. Where did the disdain come from? You don’t know. It will take years to find out. And, as you find out incrementally, ever so slowly, much too slowly, your heart will ache some more.

You danced in his living room to one of the band’s songs. He wanted you to hear it. It reminded him of you. You danced slow and close and felt nothing at all. You liked the song okay, and you said so. You didn’t ask why it reminded him of you. You didn’t want to know. You didn’t feel anything at all. He held you tight and you danced and you felt nothing.

You feel guilty sometimes about the fact that you don’t miss him. You think you should miss him, but you don’t. You don’t feel much of anything when it comes to him, except the occasional regret when a certain band is mentioned or is played on your Pandora station.

Sometimes you tell yourself that you don’t miss him because he didn’t give you much to miss. Sometimes you admit to yourself that he gave it, but, for whatever cosmic reason, you didn’t receive it.

At these times you pull up the song and listen to it and cry. Now you feel something.

Posted in L is for Love | Leave a comment

Prayer

The turning point was a week ago today. A friend e-mailed me to tell me that she had cervical cancer, and she’s okay, and I’m going to be okay too.  I said I believed her. My sister called to tell me she has endometriosis, and maybe I have it too, and that’s what the pain is from. I said maybe. And then my urologist’s office called to say, whaddya know, I do have a UTI. I said I KNOW.

I left work at noon to fill my antibiotic and go home to rest. It’d been a hell of a week. After nearly four weeks of showing UTI symptoms but being told repeatedly that I didn’t have one, the middle part of my body felt broken. My kidneys had been aching for days, and everything felt kind of crowded in there like something was terribly wrong and all my organs had swelled up. The pain reached a climax that night, and I was popping the pills the urologist had given me every two hours even though they were supposed to last six. Boyfriend arrived and he held me as we drifted off to a very unsettled sleep.

When I woke up, I felt brand new, my symptoms almost entirely gone. I began to think for the first time that maybe I didn’t have cervical cancer, after all. Maybe everything was going to be okay.

That feeling lasted until the second Boyfriend left late Sunday night. I watched his car drive down my street, walked back inside, and was whacked in the gut with anxiety again. My heart began to race. The next day was the day I would get my answer.

I waited until noon on Monday to call and ask after the test results. In my message for the medical assistant, I said I’d waited a week, but now I was going kind of crazy. I didn’t confess that I’d been going crazy for a full week and was actually now reaching new, obscene, in-need-of-anxiety-medication levels of crazy.

She called back a couple of hours later, and I swallowed my heart as I answered the phone. The doctor biopsied four areas. Like the face of a clock, four, six, eight, and twelve. Six, eight, and twelve were fine. I held my breath. Four was mildly dysplastic (precancerous). We’ll keep an eye on it. I’ll need to go back in for another screen in six months. It might go away on its own or it might get worse, but all we can do is wait and see. No treatment is required at this point.

Only mildly? Why did the doctor think it was so bad? The doctor can only see so much and guess. The biopsy tells us for sure. Okay, then.

It was better than the best I was hoping for.

When I’d called my mom the week before to tell her the bad news, she told me she’d pray for God to heal my body. I said that’s nice, but I don’t believe in that. She said maybe this is happening so that I will. I said I don’t believe in that either. She said she does and that I should pray because she’d sure be praying for me.

Saying “I’ll pray for you” became a running joke at my small Christian college. Hearing it so often put a bad taste in our mouths. Some people would include a caveat at the end, like, no, really, I mean it in the least clichedest sense possible. I took to saying I’d “think good thoughts” for someone, similar to the way I insisted on carrying a leaky water bottle from Walmart around campus instead of the ubiquitous Nalgene.

I don’t really pray anymore, at least not the way I was taught from a very young age, with whole words and sentences and paragraphs and some “our heavenly father”s in the beginning and middle and an “in Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. I kind of like Anne Lamott’s theory about prayer, that there are only two prayers, and they go “thank you, thank you, thank you” and “help me, help me, help me.” The truth is, I only ever intentionally pray the latter one but believe that when I feel grateful or thankful or joyful or content that I’m praying the former one. And when I’m not desperate or afraid enough to pray the latter one, I do it just by feeling worried or anxious or hopeful or sad. Either way, I’m pretty sure that God hears the cries of our hearts even when they’re not verbal. And that’s how one prays without ceasing. Merely by living and feeling, we’re constantly communicating with the infinite, our wishes and dreams and hopes and fears and worries flowing out into the universe even when we don’t realize it.

When people told me they would pray for me last week, I sincerely thanked them. I needed it, and whatever I thought about prayer didn’t really matter anymore. It couldn’t hurt, in any case. Others were doing what I describe above, thinking of me, worrying for me, hoping for me. Maybe others still were doing a whole different kind that I don’t know about yet.

The craziest thing of all is that it worked. All of it. I felt acceptance by Thursday. Calm by Friday. By Monday afternoon after hanging up the phone, I turned my attention to my body just in time to hear it say, for the first time in a week, “Great. Now, let’s eat.”

By Monday evening I was in the bathtub again, finishing Cold Sassy Tree. And I read this passage.

“Faith ain’t no magic wand or money-back gar’ntee, either one. Hit’s jest a way a-livin’. Hit means you don’t worry th’ew the days. Hit means you go’n be holdin’ on to God in good or bad times, and you accept whatever happens. Hit means you respect life like it is–like God made it–even when it ain’t what you’d order from the wholesale house. Faith don’t mean the Lord is go’n make lions lay down with lambs jest cause you ast him to, or make fire not burn. Some folks, when they pray to get well and don’t even git better, they say God let’m down. But I say thet warn’t even what Jesus was a-talkin’ bout. When Jesus said ast and you’ll git it, He was givin’ a gar’ntee a-spiritual healin’, not body healin’. He was sayin’ thet if’n you git beat down–scairt to death you cain’t do what you got to, or scairt you go’n die, or scairt folks won’t like you–why, all you got to do is put yore hand in God’s and He’ll lift you up. I know it for a fact, Love. I can pray, ‘Lord, hep me not to be scairt,’ and I don’t know how, but it’s like a eraser wipes the fears away. And I found out a long time ago, when I look on what I got to stand as a dang hardship or a burden, it seems too heavy to carry. But when I look on the same dang thang as a challenge, why, standin’ it or acceptin’ it is like you done entered a contest. Hit even gits excitin’, waitin’ to see how everthang’s go’n turn out.”

“Jesus meant us to ast God to hep us stand the pain, not beg Him to take the pain away. We can ast for comfort and hope and patience and courage, and to be gracious when thangs ain’t goin’ our way, and we’ll git what we ast for. They ain’t no gar’ntee thet we ain’t go’n have no troubles and ain’t go’n die. But shore as frogs croak and cows bellow, God’ll forgive us if’n we ast Him to.”

I thought about how my life was given back to me. I thought about the children I still might have and the books I still might write and the places I still might go. I thought about the people who don’t get good news, who haven’t had their lives given back, who might never get their lives back. I thought about all of these things and then I prayed for them, just for good measure.

Posted in G is for God, H is for Health | 3 Comments

Waiting

It started the week after Christmas. I thought it was a UTI (urinary tract infection). I ate Craisins and chugged water and patted myself on the back for recognizing the symptoms early this time. I had my annual well woman exam that Monday. I’d try to make it until then. And I did.

The doctor performed all the regular tests and said she didn’t see any evidence of UTI, but they’d culture it just in case, and to keep on eating Craisins and chugging water until then. She ordered some blood tests, too, since I couldn’t tell her the last time I’d had a basic workup done. They’d mail the results of the tests to me if everything was fine. If not, they’d give me a call.

Thursday

The symptoms seemed to get worse, so I called back to see if the urine culture showed anything. The nurse called me back to say that the culture was clean, but my pap smear was abnormal, and I would need to come in for a colposcopy, which is a procedure in which the doctor dyes my cervix with iodine and looks at the abnormal cells with a camera. They were going to check with my insurance first, since the procedure can be costly. “Should I be freaked out?” I asked her. “No, no, just be sure and schedule the appointment as soon as the front desk calls you.”

I did some internet research and decided the abnormal cells must be due to a yeast infection, since it wasn’t a UTI. I bought the one-day over-the-counter treatment on my way home from work.

Friday

It felt better at first, maybe it was just the placebo effect, and then, after a day, it felt the same again. I called the nurse back and told her my theory about the abnormality being due to yeast and maybe I could just get away with another pap smear when it all clears up instead of this expensive thing. She said no, it wasn’t; it was probably HPV. And I needed that colposcopy. And probably also a biopsy. She seemed to say the word “biopsy” several times. I’m not how she fit it so many times into so few sentences. It kept ringing in my ears. “Biopsy, biopsy, biopsy.” For the first time, I got scared.

I yelled at my pharmacist Friday night. The automated refill system made a mistake and told me I had more refills on my birth control, and I made the mistake of not only believing it but waiting until thirty minutes before the pharmacy closed and leaving my new prescription at home when I went to pick it up. After making me wait for twenty minutes while he consulted with a customer, he told me he was sorry, but I was actually out of refills and he could not fill my prescription, and they were closing, but there was a 24-hour Walgreens right across the street. So I yelled, and then I went home. I asked myself why I was so angry and burst into tears when I got the answer: I’m angry that I’m sick. I finally let the truth settle in.

Boyfriend arrived and made me feel instantly better.

Saturday-Sunday

Over the weekend, I got angry at the messenger. Who does this nurse think she is, diagnosing me with HPV before we even know for sure? How does she know it’s not just a really bad yeast infection?

I received some literature they sent in the mail and read it as Boyfriend and I drank our morning coffee. Abnormal results are broken up into different categories, and I hadn’t been told mine. I got mad about that too. I studied carefully the categories and hoped mine was ASCUS (atypical squamous cells-unknown significance), which can result from the simple irritation of the cervical cells, which could mean my yeast theory was still true. The worst one is HSIL (high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion), the type most likely to be severe precancer or cancer. That’s the one I didn’t want.

Monday

I scheduled an appointment so the doctor could swab for yeast and also check for bacterial infection, since my symptoms still hadn’t gone away. When I was there, the medical assistant pulled me aside and showed me my chart. It was HSIL.

She said we needed to do the colposcopy because I was already there. My eyes were wild. I couldn’t focus on anything; my pupils were probably enormous. A nurse came and asked me if they’d talked to me about taking a mild pain reliever such as Tylenol or Advil beforehand. I told her I didn’t know I was having this done today and began to cry.

She shepherded me away from all the other patients, presumably because I was scaring the pregnant women, and sat me down in the doctor’s actual office, the door open behind me. She left to go get me some water. I heard a nurse say “congratulations” to a woman I presumed was a new mother-to-be. She whispered “thank you” back, and I sat there and twisted my tissue and sobbed and worried that I will never get to receive the same “congratulations,” whisper the same breathless “thank you.”

The doctor took me to a back room and told me everything I already knew about how bad the situation was. She wrote out the complicated words she was saying and drew arrows and underlined things, and, as the tears dripped from my chin, I thought about how she must be a visual learner like me. I asked her if these weird symptoms are related to what’s going on with my cervix, and she said no, and that she’s seen women with enormous growths on their cervixes with no symptoms at all. I asked if she saw a growth on mine, and she touched my arm and said that if she had, she would’ve biopsied it when she did the pap smear. That was my only good news of the day. It could be worse, I kept thinking. It could be worse.

The colposcopy wasn’t too different from a regular pap smear, just longer and more uncomfortable. The doctor had said they’re usually able to tell how bad it is when they look, so I asked how bad it was. She said “I would guess moderate to severe.” So really bad.

She took samples, several, for biopsy and told me that I should hear in a week. “A week is a long time,” I whined. She said, “If it’s bad, you’ll know sooner. You WANT to wait a week.”

That night Sarahthe came over and took me to a sushi dinner. As I sat there and made conversation over the delicious fish, I felt as though I was just stewing in cancer, like I could actually feel it growing and multiplying. By the second.

Tuesday

I woke up with the paralyzing fear that my symptoms were actually symptoms of something much more sinister than a urinalysis could detect. Something like cervical cancer that’s spread to my bladder. The nurse called back with the results from the yeast/bacterial labs. Both were negative. She acted like this was good news. I tried to explain to her that this was terrible news, but then I realized I wasn’t making much sense and hung up and scheduled an appointment with the urologist for that afternoon.

The urologist seemed to think I was overreacting. He said we’ll wait until we get the results from the biopsy to start talking cancer, much less cancer that has spread. After a couple of simple tests and a urine sample, he said that he didn’t see evidence of an infection, and my symptoms are probably related to the cervical issues I’m having, since the nerves in that area are all jumbled up. This news was damning. According to my internet research, cervical cancer usually doesn’t show symptoms until it’s very advanced.

As soon as I got home, I filled up the bathtub and got in. Rufus seemed alarmed that I was taking a bath at 6 p.m., before I’d even eaten dinner. I wasn’t anything near hungry. He stood with his front paws on the edge of the tub, looking down at me, for a very long time. I asked him if he was worried and then said he probably should be, for once. He seemed satisfied with this and left to go sleep in my bed.

I soaked and read Cold Sassy Tree, a book Boyfriend’s mom lent me a few months ago. I came across this quote and texted it to her: “Livin’ is like pourin’ water out of a tumbler into a dang Coca-Cola bottle. If’n you skeered you cain’t do it, you cain’t. If’n you say to yorself, ‘By dang, I can do it!’ then, by dang, you won’t slosh a drop.” She texted back to ask if there’s anything she can do.

I ate a bowl of cereal when I got out of the bath and took a pill the urologist gave me, samples of those blue pain pills they prescribe for UTIs. It helped.

Wednesday

When I woke up the pain was back. I’ve come to accept that it is, in fact, resulting from whatever the hell’s going on inside of my body. On the way to work, when I felt the twinging pain, I yelled at my cervix, “Alright! I get it already! Something’s wrong!”

I just don’t know how wrong yet.

I go back and forth between convincing myself it’s the worst possible thing and convincing myself it’s the best possible thing. The best possible thing still being pretty bad, but not nearly as bad as the worst possible thing. Not that convincing myself does anything at all to help the situation. Just makes me exhausted.

My resting pulse is through the roof. I got a large project at work, a PowerPoint presentation on recent advances in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and as I worked on it, editing and formatting, I felt my heart thump away. I’m hardly eating anything. I hardly feel alive.

I go ahead and start calling it cancer with those close to me. I think I just want to get used to saying it aloud. Then I apologize for saying it aloud. They’re worried, and I’m making it worse.

Thursday

Everything I feel is now a symptom. Everything. I’m dizzy. I’m exhausted. I ache–my back, my legs, my hips. I’m nauseated.

Being melodramatic helps, but it makes me feel dumb. Writing this post makes me feel dumb.

It could be nothing. It could be everything. If it’s nothing, I’d feel dumb. If it’s everything…

Posted in H is for Health | 8 Comments