Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Well, that was unexpected.

Never, ever say to yourself, "This couldn't get much worse." Because it can. And it will. And Fate will dump a bag of flaming poo on your doorstep and laugh at your tears.

Last week I found myself the sickest I've ever been in my adult life. With the exception of the whole cancer thing, of course. I had a confirmed case of influenza despite the fact that I get a flu shot every year, wash my hands so often they crack and bleed, exercise, eat right, and take those probiotic tablets that are so in fashion these days. The only thing I can think of that led to me being so sick is that I turned 40 just days before and maybe hit my "Sell by" date. Like that questionable container of sour cream in the back of your fridge, I am in a rapid state of ruin.

The biggest consequence of this illness, besides putting me in touch with my own mortality, is that it has pushed shoulder surgery back a week. I would feel like it's a stay of execution, a call from the governor, except that it simply postponed the inevitable. I'm right back on the Green Mile in just a few days.

I also learned that I am not, actually, Wonder Woman. Like so many working mothers of a certain age, I balance a lot: job pressure, running a kid hither and yon, cooking, cleaning, handling home repair crises, staying in shape, binge-watching trendy water-cooler shows like House of Cards, etc. For weeks, I've battled through ever-present exhaustion to knock out my daily to-do list, sleep and mental health be damned.

So not having enough energy to even get out of bed, let alone vacuum something (though believe me, I tried) forced me to take a step back from my busy life and un-busy it. To accept that sometimes, I need help and rest. To let the husband and the kid take care of me every now and then. To realize that while I am not old and am in relatively good health, I do have physical limitations. I am human, and therefore I occasionally need to stop and breathe.

It's good that I learned this now seeing as how I get to turn around and have another test of my endurance in the form of shoulder surgery in just a couple of days. I've accepted offers of meals from some of my friends. I am hiring someone to help me with the heavier housework every other week for the months after surgery that my left arm will be immobile. I am willing, I think, to let some things slide for a while. I won't beat myself up for not working out (more than physical therapy exercises and walks), for accumulating a little dust, for grabbing dinner at Chipotle instead of cooking something myself. If I'm tired and sore, I'm going to sleep. If I can't fold the laundry, I'm going to pass the buck to the other people who live in my house.

At least, this is what I think now in the comfort of having two good arms. This is all subject to change based on boredom, restlessness, and self-loathing.

If you pray, please pray for a straight-forward procedure with no complications and a quick rehab and recovery. If you are more of a positive-vibes person, please send those my way. If you honestly don't think either of these things work, feel free to send bourbon. Any and all of the above would be appreciated (both by me and by the other adult in my house who will, no doubt, have his hands full, his patience tested, and his sleep interrupted by a sore, grouchy, be-slinged wife.)

As soon as I  can write again, I'll update. With my good cheer and ever-present optimism (sarcasm alert!) enhanced by what we can only hope are really, really good pain meds.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Well, it just all goes downhill from here, doesn't it?

I turn 40 today.

Yes, yes, happy birthday to me and all that. I'll go home tonight and have some cake and open some gifts and be really and truly grateful I made it to this point in my life.

And after putting on a brave face, I'll quietly inspect my wrinkles, grays, and various sags, and weep for the sad fact that I am, indeed, getting old.

I wouldn't feel that way if I didn't have concrete proof that I'm falling apart. A week and one day after I turn 40, I'll have surgery to repair the rotator cuff I inexplicably tore in the fall down my carpeted stairs that I really felt at the time was not a big deal. I didn't want this. But it happened, and two different medical professionals have told me I have to go through with this if I'd like to be able to use my left arm at all in the future, so the first months of my 40s will be spent in a sling, weak, dependent on others, in pain, and making good friends with physical therapists. It's so exactly the opposite of how someone wants to begin that decade that I feel the need to applaud Fate for her creativity and sense of dramatic irony.

After a year or so of good health, a year where I really felt I had taken charge of my physical fitness and nutritional needs and made strides in the war against middle age, I can't wrap my head around losing this significant battle. I've done everything right. But I was still no match for the powerful combination of high heels and gravity.

Damn you, heels. Damn you all to hell.

As I've said several times already in 2014, it could have been worse. Yes, it could almost always be worse.

That will be so comforting when I wake up from surgery next week unable to move the left side of my upper body and my husband has to help dress me, feed me, and wash my hair. So comforting that if anyone dares tell me that, I will hit them. Hard. With my good arm.

I can't help but feel this is just a sign of things to come. That despite my best efforts to look at age as a state of being and not a number, I actually am getting too old to do certain things. I've taken great pride in my relative physical strength the last few years; I can lift furniture, carry heavy boxes, move the solid wooden tables in my library even if the custodians stacked them end over end, relocate bags of top soil from the garage to the chipmunk holes all over our yard, and basically do anything my suburban mom life needs me to do.

Pride goeth before a fall, however. Oh, how it goeth.

I could, technically, get full strength back inside of a year and go back to carrying overloaded laundry baskets up and and down 2 flights of stairs and moving the dresser in our bedroom out to search and destroy stinkbugs. But these things could also have to be put in the "Ask For Assistance Because You're An Old Lady Now" column. Believe it or not, that makes me sad. I want to stay independent and strong and be that person who works her ass off to help others, not be the one being helped.

A part of me also fears that the day I have to ask for help moving the ottoman is the day I start down a slippery slope that ends in house dresses, orthopedic shoes, early-bird dinner specials, and meeting the girls for water Zumba followed by warm tea and nap time. It's the beginning of the end.

My 30s were eventful. I went through some shit, but everything I went through made me physically and emotionally stronger. I built calluses and muscle and coping mechanisms and discovered craft beer. My 30-something years made me tough.

And I worry that my 40-something years will make me soft.

So, in the coming weeks, if I do not write, it's because I have one arm in a sling and have taken a lot of pain meds and am in general letting myself go in the name of healing.

Send good thoughts and positive vibes and prayers if you're into that sort of thing. This old gal could use all the help she could get.

See you on the other side of 40.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Glass Houses

One thing I shouldn't be surprised by, but am, is how very ugly people can be behind a veil of Internet anonymity.

Click on the comments section of any major news story published online and you see it--hateful words spewed for strangers to read. Words that go beyond merely being one person's informed opinion. Words meant to inflame.

I firmly believe that most of the commenters would not say these same words out loud to another human being whom they could actually see and hear. Even complete assholes don't, generally speaking, walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them they're going to hell, don't deserve to live, are the scum of the earth, etc., etc., etc. Besides taking massive balls, throwing hate in a stranger's (or politician's, or celebrity's) face could very well end with the speaker getting his or her rear end handed back in a rather bruised and battered condition.

But in the comments section? Choose a clever name and don't give away your location, and no one will ever know the dark thoughts that lurk in your heart and occasionally exit your fingertips via keyboard.

And when something terrible happens to a public figure, the worst of the worst comes out.

As anyone with a television, social media account, or eyes and ears knows, a talented actor died last week at too young an age from an apparent heroin overdose. The first reactions I read were of sadness--a talented man, a friend, a partner, and a father was gone. That inspires, in those of us who are human, a largely sympathetic response. We may not have known this person in real life, but most of us paid money at some point to watch him on the silver screen. As many times as Twister has been on cable, I'd guess we've all invited him into our homes through our TV screens. For the most part, early reaction was at least a "Well, that sucks."

Within an hour, some reactions became, "Guy was a loser who had it coming." "Another addict dies. Shocking." "Good riddance." And these were the gentler negative responses.

Perhaps I'm just going soft now that I'm older. But an early death of a productive member of society seems deserving of my sympathy rather than my scorn or hateful words or, worst of all, a smugness that things are going so well in my world that I can judge others for their addiction.

Here was a person who did not make the news daily with DUIs, drug possession, and public intoxication. This was a guy who got nominated for acting awards for nearly every role he played because not only was he talented, but he took his job seriously and behaved professionally on a movie set.

I'm sure in time tabloid media and entertainment magazines will publish the full story and we'll find out that (spoiler alert) he was kind of a crappy dad and partner while he was high. Addicts generally are. But that doesn't mean those he left behind didn't love him, won't miss him, and do not have good memories from the times he wasn't under an influence. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the deceased was, more often that not, a rational human being who did not want to be found dead next to drug paraphernalia.

Emphasis on that whole "human being" part.

If you have read this blog for any amount of time you know that I am the daughter of a man who battled addiction for the majority of his life. Most of us who come from addictive families see this not as a character flaw, but as a disease. A gene that, thank God, most people do not have.

But that's a hard talking point for people who have never seen addiction up close and argue that it comes down to self-control and choices.

The first drink is absolutely a choice. For some, the many drinks that come after that are a need. A craving I can only understand because I watched it tear my family apart. And one that I've grown to have sympathy for because I saw my dad actively fight it and try over and over to stay sober. And fail every damn time because the alcohol was stronger than he was.

Does that make him weak? Probably. Does it make me angry? Yes. Does it make him a bad person who would have deserved an early death by overdose, a loser whose death shouldn't make anyone pause? No. I do not think so.

Addicts die as a result of their addiction. That is a fact.

And if they didn't make the tabloids on a daily basis with their bad behavior, if they were nominated for awards for their profession, if their colleagues spoke respectfully of them even before their untimely death, if they leave behind a family to mourn them...are they still lesser human beings, just another addict?

I personally have a hard time seeing it this way. Had my father died from an alcohol overdose (as he very nearly did once) instead of from cancer I still would have been in grief and I still would have needed support. His death would still have felt to me and to those who loved him like an injustice.

"Good riddance" would have dismissed the good in his life along with the bad. It would have dismissed me.

I know it makes no difference to anyone who posts a comment. It makes no difference to the people I follow on social media, some of whom are my friends whose opinions I respect something like 99.9% of the time.

But it makes a difference to me. And therefore, behind my own shroud of relative anonymity, it needs to be said.

Before you throw that stone, think of whose glass it might break.