Since last November, most people I know have felt like they’re stuck in some sort of alternate universe. I definitely went through the first two stages of Dr. Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief (denial and anger) last fall. I’m not sure what bargaining (stage three) would look like in this scenario–maybe trying to bargain with yourself? if I write 30 post cards and call my congresspeople twice a week, then at least I can say I’m paying attention, right? But not long after the high of the Women’s March in January wore off, I was stuck at stage four–depression.
I tried to go backward in the natural progression and try out anger again for a while, but that didn’t get me past my grief. I tried keeping an activism log, but my failure to maintain it after a few months put me right back into despondence.
Then I read something my husband shared on Facebook, “How to Stay Sane If Trump Is Driving You Insane–Advice from a Therapist.” And it made sense to me. Stage five–acceptance–doesn’t have to mean accepting the present administration as the new norm or becoming complacent. It’s more complicated than that. Acceptance in this case means being able to accept that, despite our horrifying circumstances, this is indeed what we’re working with now, and we must continue. Wallowing in depression is a win for the other side.
But the key, according to behavioral therapist Robin Chancer, is not to fall into false optimism:
There are times when optimism is not appropriate or possible, and this is one of those times. Our President is delusional, lying, or ignorant; disastrous climate change and war with North Korea loom; marginalized people in our society are suffering. Faced with these calamities, catastrophic thinking is a rational response.
Adam Strauss is a stand-up comic from New York. But right now at S.F. Marsh, you can see his one-man autobiographical show, The Mushroom Cure, which focuses on his personal struggle with OCD. Funny, vulnerable, and engaging, Strauss is willing to laugh at his own flaws, share painful moments, and offer up his darkest fears in what feels less like a monologue in front of an audience than it does an authentic self-portrait in progress. He reminded me of a younger, more intense Marc Maron with a bit of Paul Rudd thrown in. I was moved by his honesty and impressed with his stage presence. He’s a talented performer who doesn’t seem like he’s performing. Which is the best kind, right?
Don’t be fooled by the title–it’s not a tale of how to successfully treat a seriously disabling condition with psychedelic fungi, though that is a major plot point. It’s a man trying to find his way who allows us to watch part of that journey.
Definitely a thumbs up. I hope to see more of Adam Strauss in the future.
I love the Shotgun Players. For the last few years, I’ve been a happy subscriber to both the main season and the companion reading series that cleverly echoes themes from the fully staged shows. Now I have to choose more carefully which shows I can see and look for deals, whether it’s scanning Goldstar, going to previews, or taking advantage of the generosity of theater groups, such as the Shotgun Players, who allow theater-goers to donate what they can for certain performances.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing Clare Lizzimore’s Animal, which was the two-night-only staged reading that took advantage of the great set designed for The Village Bike.
Shotgun’s website describes the Champagne Reading Series this way:
We give our actors just enough staging and tech to get started and then we let adrenaline do the rest!
They take just four days to read, block, rehearse, and add music and lighting. And they do an amazing job that’s incredibly polished and professional! Yes, they consult their scripts, which they carry with them; but except when staging requires that they do something else with their hands, their playbooks are hardly noticeable. Director Katja Rivera worked wonders in her limited time.
And the cast was impeccable, headed by the impressive Jessma Evans, who portrayed Rachel, a woman who suffers from situationally induced psychosis. (Her British accent was even spot on.)
The play was both dark and funny and explored severe mental illness in a very real way. Although I’ve never had a psychotic episode myself, this story struck me to my core.
It’s too bad that it played for only two nights. This is another one that I would highly recommend if you see that it’s playing somewhere in the future.
While we spent a fun weekend in Tahoe with friends eating, hiking, singing, dancing, and drinking, Dave came down with the flu. So it was no surprise that I came home late Sunday night behind in all aspects of my life—laundry was piled high, the cupboards were bare, and I couldn’t find my cell phone anywhere. But on Monday I did what I could to catch up while taking care of Dave. I managed to do a little bit of my job, pick up some groceries, conquer the laundry, and walk the dogs before I succumbed to sickness myself on Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, day 2 of my flu symptoms, I ambled the few feet from my bed to my desk to attend to some brief but necessary correspondence and then crawled back to bed. So it’s a good thing I work at home!
After an hour nap, I tried to read the book assigned for my Native American Lit class, but I couldn’t tell if it was written in a really confusing way, or if my fever was obstructing my comprehension. (Okay, 99.8 degrees isn’t likely to fry my brain, but it seemed like a reasonable excuse.) So I allowed myself to sink to the lowest common denominator of mindless activity—watching TV.
I had never seen Dr. No, the very first Bond film, and had I been well, I still never would have. But Ursula Andress’s seashells kept my mind off my achy self. Despite the promise of a Bond film festival on whatever channel I had wandered onto, I decided to take a more pro-active stance on my screen watching. I’d heard about Broadchurch, a BBC murder mystery series of critical acclaim available on Netflix streaming, so I dove in and watched five consecutive episodes.
Day 3: I’m starting to lose track of time. Because the Dayquil (despite its name) made me drowsy yesterday, I found that I fell asleep for short periods when I didn’t really want to. So today I countered that with coffee. My flu symptoms are mostly dealt with, but I still have the energy to stay upright in bed and write.
Then, because I was feeling a tad guilty that I was feeling better but not getting any work done, I again made the three-foot journey to my desk and read my work e-mail. I even opened up all the files that I needed to do the proofreading I was supposed to do. But then I realized I needed the hard copy to proof against, which was downstairs. While I was mustering up the strength to descend the stairway, I realized I had to visit the bathroom. That zapped my energy reserves, however, and I plopped back into bed, vowing to return to the proofreading job when I next found a burst of energy. Then I watched the remaining 3 episodes of season one of Broadchurch.
Day 4: It’s just a stupid flu, but I feel like an alien has taken over my body. I’ve now missed three classes, and tonight I’m not going to hear Willa Mamet at the Monkeyhouse. I have tickets for tomorrow night’s Antigonick at Shotgun. Please oh please, let me be better by then…On a positive note, my new iPhone arrived in the mail today!
Day 5: Dave got sick a few days earlier than I did, so he’s even more ready to get rid of this virus or flu or whatever it is. He took drastic action—he went to his doctor at Kaiser. He came home wearing a face mask and carrying a pharmacy bag with an inhaler, some cough medicine with codeine, an antibiotic, and something else that I can’t remember. The diagnosis? Bronchitis.
I do not feel well enough to go to Kaiser, but what if I have bronchitis too? I don’t think my doctor has many patients because when I went online to get an appointment, I had several options available, two of them for today.
I decided that the adage Dress for the job you want could be adapted to Dress for the health you deserve. So I removed the stinky pair of pajamas I’d been living in for almost three days and took a shower. Then I put on a dress and clean underwear. It worked! I felt 25% better, which was enough to drive to Kaiser. Dave handed me an extra face mask that he’d picked up on his visit. So the dress that declared health was somewhat undermined by the pink mask that screamed contagious.
Apparently Kaiser is now on a mission to prevent alcoholism because between the nurse and Dr. Chan, I was asked more questions about my drinking than about my breathing. It reminded me of our yearly check-ups with Kylie’s pediatrician. Every year we were asked if we had a firearm in our home, and every year we said no. I wonder how many Berkeley families suddenly become gun-toting second-amendment advocates. “Yeah, I know I said for ten years that I’d never own a gun, but last week I just had a hankerin’ to go shooting!”
My lungs did not alarm him, and my fever is minor at this point, so Dr. Chan sent me home with a fist bump (less likely to spread germs) and without any prescriptions at all. Dave will share his inhaler and cough medicine with me, and I really don’t want any antibiotics if I don’t need them. I should find out what the fourth thing was though—maybe it’s fun…
Night 5: Because we’re season subscribers, I was able to swap out our theater tickets for another night. So that’s good news. But I was bummed to find out that The Wire isn’t available on Netflix streaming. On the bright side, Dave is feeling well enough to walk to Five Star Video for some dvds and pick up dinner from the Thai place next door. So we’re set for tonight.
Day 6: The worst part of waking up this morning was realizing that I had only been dreaming that I was feeling much better and was heading to the gym. Only in your dreams, Tanya. And how pathetic is it when your fantasies include exercise?
We watched the rest of season two of Borgen, a well-done Danish TV drama program about Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg—Denmark’s answer to The West Wing. With that kind of concentrated exposure to Danish, I should be able to pick up the language easily if my flu lasts long enough for me to see season three. I can already swear in Danish: Lort! Lort! Lort!
One of the weird aspects of being housebound right now is that we’re getting the house painted (on the outside), which means that all week, painters have been using power sprays to blast off dirt and scrapers to remove loose paint chips before taping plastic to cover all the windows. Even with the blinds drawn, it has been somewhat unsettling to hear people just on the other side of the windows at all times of day, knowing that I can’t leave. And of course now that they’re actually painting, we’re hermetically sealed in. Yesterday was quite hot, and we couldn’t open any windows. So I wore a camisole and a pair of p.j. shorts, turned the fan on full-blast, and placed ice packs strategically on my body. Dave seemed hot too, but he didn’t seem as bothered by it.
I think I’ve figured it out—the flu somehow triggered menopause and in addition to my flu symptoms, I’m experiencing hot flashes. Or maybe it’s just good timing.
Right now I’m lying in bed listening to quiet music and trying not to cough as Dave lies asleep next to me. Anna Nalick is singing “Breathe—just breathe.” So I do. But every exhale sounds like I just stepped on one of the dog’s squeaky toys.
Usually one thinks of a disappearance as a sudden occurrence, but this actually happened so gradually that I didn’t notice until it was gone.
I speak of my youth, which has eked continuously over minutes, days, and years. I don’t mourn it, though. I am an extremely happy middle-aged person who takes advantage of Zumba Gold classes at the Albany Senior Center. (At $7, it’s a fitness bargain, and one need only be over forty.) I plan to use all available senior discounts when I become eligible, which is not quite yet.
So my chronological age doesn’t bother me.
I know those who long for their youth because they attention in a way that it no longer does, and they miss their younger selves when they look in the mirror. But I’ve never been a beauty (except to my parents, my husband, and my daughter). At no time have I had to question whether someone’s interest in me was based solely on my looks because I can confidently say that my image could comfortably accompany the definition for “average.”
So for me, the passing of youth is not a bittersweet memory of turning heads in my twenties.
Now I would be lying if I declared that I don’t mind the effects age has on my body. I rise every morning a bit creakier than I did the day before. I’ve come to accept that this chassis is no longer new and shiny; but despite its increasing mileage, it gets me to where I want to go. Sometimes I wonder: if I knew in my twenties what I know now, would I have appreciated how effortless it was simply to go from sitting on the floor to standing? Probably not. Youth aren’t supposed to notice such things—taking it all for granted is part of their job description.
So if it’s not a matter of numbers, beauty, or agility, then what is it that age has wreaked?
I mourn my loss of memory. I’ve spent over fifty years accruing what passes for wisdom only to watch it disappear, and the irony of that stings. I thought I still had time to utilize a rich vocabulary. Otherwise, what were all those word-of-the-day calendars for? Now I often struggle to find the right word. I also presumed that consuming hundreds of books and articles would provide fodder for intelligent conversation for years to come. But when I go to retrieve details, they’ve disappeared.
It pops up in ways that catch me off guard, like ordering movies from Netflix that I’ve already seen. At first I chalked it up to carelessness. Then I began double-booking events because I’d forgotten to put them on the calendar. Recently someone asked me for my street address, which has been the same for nine years, and I transposed the numbers.
It’s as if my brain has been requisitioned a stingy allotment of storage space, and that capacity is shrinking daily. If I could choose what gets retains and what gets jettisoned, that modicum of control would be of some comfort. But apparently the portion of my brain that gets to decide what stays and what goes has a wicked sense of humor. How else do I explain the fact that I remember my third grade music teacher, Mrs. Morris, clapping out meaningless chants to instill a sense of rhythm: ta ta tee-tee ta, tee-tee-tee-tee ta ta! (I still don’t understand what that was all about.) Yet I forget important information that I need regularly, such as the password to my PayPal account.
I suppose I thought I had longer before it began to slip away. After all, I have several friends in their seventies and eighties who are still sharp. What do they have that I don’t?
Well, I decided to ask some of them. I received these suggestions—do crossword puzzles, exercise, and give myself extra time to retrieve information from the old mental files.
But I did take up crossword puzzles a few years ago. I concluded that its only benefit was improving my ability to do crossword puzzles. As far as exercise goes, in addition to my Zumba class, I go to the gym four times a week and walk the dog on Sunday. And I’m perfectly willing to concede that accessing information may now take longer, but that doesn’t help me when I recite the wrong address.
One friend suggested Atul Gawande’s new book, so I went online to look it up. Outside of those pertaining to surgery, the only title I could find was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, which is not the memory-enhancing bag of tricks I was expecting. I can only assume that she thought my condition was much more dire than I thought.
After careful consideration, I realize the solution that should have been obvious from the start: write it down. After all, I’m a writer. If it’s important, I’ll make note of it, either on my laptop, my phone, or even that old standby—paper. I will list the books I read and the plays and films I see. I will record the news from my daughter. Writing will combat my memory loss and help me hold on to what’s important.
I recently received a letter in the mail from my primary care physician at Kaiser:
I want to let you know that effective June 16 2014, I will no longer be able to serve as your primary care physician… I have greatly enjoyed caring for you and want to assure you that it is very important to me that you have the smoothest transition possible to your new doctor.
To make sure you are in high quality hands, I have arranged for ___to be your new doctor. He is an excellent physician whom I believe you will like very much.
It has been my privilege to be your physician.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Except that I’ve never met this doctor.
When I first enrolled at Kaiser six years ago, I had a doctor assigned to me, whom I may have visited twice in four years before she transferred to another medical center. Then I chose another physician from among the few who were still accepting new patients. I think I saw her twice in two years before she also transferred elsewhere. Then I was assigned another doctor about six months ago. Except for a routine mammogram and a visit to my nurse practitioner, I had no health issues, so I had no occasion to ever meet my last primary care physician.
But he apparently has very fond thoughts of me. And he’s chosen just the right doctor for me, and—knowing me so well—believes I will like him. I wonder how long this one will last. Maybe I should make an appointment right away so that at least I get to meet him before he has to send me a letter telling me how much he enjoyed caring for me.
I really should write him back and tell him how abandoned I feel, how I’ll miss his tender touch, his charming bedside manner, his hilarious jokes about staph infections. Maybe I should pretend that he diagnosed some condition of mine and that I’m eternally grateful for the personal care he showed me.
Or maybe I should just shut up and be grateful that I have health care.
Deb has been my writing buddy since I started writing seriously five years ago. She and I started several critique groups for children’s writers. Other people came and went, but she and I bonded. She even talked me into joining the Berkeley branch of the California Writers Club with her. We carpooled to meetings and continued to share our triumphs and defeats in our attempts to be published. She took over the club’s signature event, the Fifth Grade Story Contest, and I somehow got wrangled into becoming president.
This summer she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is one of those diseases that progresses quickly. She wrote a humorous and poignant piece for Perspectives, public radio’s outlet for listeners’ stories. She knew that it had to be two minutes or less to make it on the air, so she practiced reading it aloud and editing it, but she was only able to get it down to two minutes and forty-four seconds. She was growing weaker by the day, and even speaking was taking a lot of energy. She thought about having her husband or one of her sons read it, but it’s a first-person piece that hinges on wearing a bra, which just wouldn’t work the same way with a male voice.
I went to her home during a break from her many out-of-town friends and family who had been bringing food, flowers, and conversation. She explained her dilemma, and I knew how I could help her.
I’m not a particularly poised public speaker. I have to lead meetings on a regular basis, but I’ve always had the tendency to rush my words, despite my coach on the first row who frequently gives me the signal to slow down. Who better than me to record a piece in under two minutes? My first try was still nineteen seconds long, but after I trimmed a few words and decided that I didn’t need to stop for breath, I got it to one minute, fifty-eight seconds.
I sent in the voice recording via my iPhone. I hadn’t even realized I could send a voice file via email, but it was easy! Then I called the person in charge and left a voice mail to let him know the situation—that it would be most appreciated if KQED could air it sooner rather than later, as Deb’s health was deteriorating daily and she so wanted to hear it on the air. I contacted Deb to let her know it had been submitted. It felt good that I had been able to do the one task she had requested of me.
Then I got the email explaining that Perspectives has a non-negotiable policy that all pieces must be recorded by the person who wrote them. I was crushed. What would I tell Deb? I knew she was unable to read it aloud at this point, and I felt that I’d let her down. I talked to mutual friends and one of them suggested I read the piece to our membership on Deb’s behalf. After all, who would appreciate it more than her fellow writers?
A few days later I received a phone call. When I first picked up and heard the person identify himself as someone from KQED, it briefly crossed my mind that public radio was now resorting to calling listeners to ask for funds—a sort of reverse pledge drive. It was after all, the season. That week I had heard on-the-air pleas from both of the public radio stations that I listen to. Maybe they’re getting desperate…
But it was Mark Trautwein, the editor of Perspectives. He had heard the message that I left on voice mail and decided that an email wasn’t good enough in this instance. He was sympathetic—he was currently a caretaker for a terminally ill friend. But he explained that the station couldn’t set that precedent—third parties had never been allowed to read on behalf of the authors. I told him I understood and had come up with an alternative. He commented that sometimes we don’t get the answer we were looking for but slide into something better instead. Wise words.
He didn’t have to call, but he did. And that made all the difference. I hadn’t quite gotten around to renewing my membership yet, but I definitely will now.
And Deb might not be able to hear her story on the air, but she will know that her writing community got to hear it.