Monday, June 25, 2012

the anti-gratitude list

well, sorta.

My intent here is to do it backward -- that is, piss and moan first -- and then see if I can, as the shrinks call it, "reframe" it.

So, OK. So:

-- I got lied to by TWO people who told me a shot they suggested I get wouldn't hurt like the flu shot or something, even though it was going in a muscle.

-- I am 47. The shot is only recommended for people under 65 in very specific circumstances. I don't smoke and I don't have asthma, which are two of them.

-- I have a clotting disorder. It led me to the ER Friday night for an ultrasound, to be sure all was well in my right calf. Because of the med I have to take, I am limited to Tylenol for a painkiller.

Tylenol sucks. They gave me Oxycontin, or whatever it's called now. It was delightful to drift along in a dreamy, woozy state ....

.... until I woke up the next morning covered head to toe in a huge, red, itchy, hot rash.

Got in today to primary care. Everyone seemed to agree it was a drug interaction. Nobody could agree which drug.

-- They forced me on the scale, of course. I am actually UP a pound from my low, despite shaking up my exercise and all that. I suppose probably it would help if I stopped making regular runs to Dairy Queen, but I make sure I can afford them calorie-wise first.

This means I haven't lost a bleedin' thing besides my mind in somewhere around 2 months.


-- Went to gas station, paid for small bag of ice (I go through a lot of ice). Someone had left the door cracked open and half the ice was melted. I had about half a full bag, less when I got it home. They didn't offer to replace it. I go to this gas station every single day and they know me.

-- Pharmacist and tech both went out of their way to say hi. Pharm knows my name and everything I take by heart. This, I suppose, should make me feel all warm and fuzzy. What it makes me feel is pissed off I take so many meds.

On the positive side, ....

-- the cat still loves me. (Dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.)

-- One of the things the pneumonia shot is recommended for is people with compromised immune systems. Although mine's been just ducky for 6-7 years now, better safe than sorry, I guess. And now I don't need a booster till I'm getting Social Security for retirement instead of disability. ;-)

-- I didn't have a clot. If I had, one of the options would have had to be going in and putting in a filter that would block them from traveling any farther than wherever the filter was placed. Uck.

-- Of the two meds I rely on most heavily, one of them can cause rash. It didn't. (Values for both came back normal.)

If all I'm allergic to is a pain med I take once every 5 years or something, I can dig it.

-- There is no good way to reframe being a pig. Sorry. That one's all on me.

-- Good customer service would have entailed apologizing and finding me some ice that wasn't melted. If this place weren't so convenient, I'd bag it. OTOH -- would that have occurred to me either? You shouldn't be working retail if you aren't a people person, which lord knows I am NOT NOT NOT. Presumably, though, these folks can at least fake it. (I couldn't even do that.)

-- It's nice to have people recognize you and know you, though I can't help but wish it were for a less crappy reason. :-\

So how'd I do?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the gratitude list

When you do find humor in trying times, one of the first and most important changes you experience is that you see your perplexing problems in a new way - you suddenly have a new perspective on them. -- Allen Klein

Probably I've mentioned somewhere, or you might have noticed on your own, that I am not necessarily the world's most cheerful person. In fact, a lot of times I'm just downright cranky and depressing.

I chalk it up to a severe, chronic, long-diagnosed mood disorder. Others chalk it up to incivility and general pissiness. I welcome you to think what you please.

But a friend studying positive psychology got me doing these daily gratitude lists. And in the midst of what was a fairly crappy day, I wanted to point out some pleasant, or fun, or thoughtful moments -- to show that I can do it, and to show *you* how to do it. Today was Day 67. I haven't missed a day since I finally decided to do them. (He'd been after me for awhile. :-)

Today I apparently was especially scatter-brained, and so I am especially thankful for:

-- The older lady who chased me through the Gonda Building subway (all the Mayo buildings are connected underground and indoors) to tell me I'd dropped a dollar.

I don't know what a dollar is going to buy me in this world, but hey. She didn't have to do that.

-- The charming young MD on his way to lunch who, as I was preparing to pull out of my parking space downtown, grateful that I didn't get ANOTHER parking ticket (fucking vultures in this town, they are) because of an expired meter, gently said "Ma'am? I think you're forgetting something" and handed me my checkbook off the top of the car. (All together now: DOH!) I thanked him profusely and he held up his iPhone and ruefully said, "One time I left this on the top of my car. It wasn't pretty."

-- The maybe-13-year-old kid who stopped me on *my* way to lunch and asked if I wanted a free paper. I didn't hear him say "free" and told him I subscribed, but I'd buy one off him anyway. He told me again it was free, I said far out, sure, and he looked me right in the eyes and gave me the most grateful, genuine smile I may have ever seen. It's "Rochesterfest" (as lame as it sounds), it's something like 902% humidity to go with the high temps, and I'm sure he'd rather be doing stuff with his friends (or at least hanging in the a/c) instead of taking on this job where he's likely to get tons of rejections.

-- 2nd Street Joey. Joey is going to get his own blog post one of these days. He's in his early 40s and has a variety of disabilities, mental and physical, and yet more days than not, he gets his ass out of his apt. and stands on the street corner by where he lives and waves at the cars that go by. It makes me cry, seriously, to think that people think he's a freak. I guess maybe us misfits have to stick together. Too, I know what it takes to make yourself get up when you don't want to -- not just the "ugh, I don't want to go to work today" variety of "don't want to," but "god, I never want to get out of bed again, I just want to lay here and hate myself and wish for death" variety. Joey deserves a lot of credit.

-- The laugh I got at the (very obviously) tourists who walked into Downtown Book and Video (despite the innocuous name, it's a porn store) -- right by the place I went for lunch.

Girlfriend: (Glare.)
3.25 seconds later, they walk out....and if he was getting yelled at, I couldn't hear. LOL

I dealt with nothing but bureaucrats all day, guaranteed to ruin your mood even if it isn't permanently disordered -- but as I keep saying in awe to the person who introduced me to this idea, if you look around and just notice what's going on, there's invariably something funny or weird or cool or just worth filing away for the next day that's excessively crappy.

When you're in the muck you can only see muck. If you somehow manage to float above it, you still see the muck but you see it from a different perspective. And you see other things too. That's the consolation of philosophy. -- David Cronenberg

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Anne Frank and Mom

Whoever is happy will make others happy too. -- Anne Frank

If she had not perished at the hands of evil, Anne Frank would have been 83 -- the same age as my mother -- today. It got me to thinking. One is absolutely miserable and does nothing but complain about not being dead yet and how much her circumstances suck. One had the most unsinkable spirit in human history, in the face of unimaginable horror. Who would I rather be?

I had to leave a lunch gathering early yesterday to meet with someone who wanted me to do some editing work for him. He handed me the most well put together document I've ever seen from someone who thought he needed work done :-), and a generous check.

Last night I had to go somewhere with the same group of people, largely, from lunch. One of them asked how my meeting that afternoon had gone. I told her, and she said "I know you're going to be all cynical about this somehow, but I really think your luck is changing. It's time you accept it."


I don't know if I'm willing to go that far just yet -- the other shoe can always, always drop in a heartbeat -- but maybe those gratitude lists are causing an attitude shift, incrementally, and the universal powers that be are sensing it. Who knows.

It's not "I get by with a LITTLE help from my friends," BTW -- I get by with a ton of it. I'm very fortunate that way, and that I am in fact aware of. So many have been so thoughtful or come through with practical help or even just hugs (never discount the power of hugs) during this time of transition for me. I'm not always as kind as I could be in return, and I do feel bad about that, but they put up with me anyway -- and I invite anyone to spend a couple weeks living in my brain and see how well they handle it. :-\ Bet you wouldn't be unfailingly pleasant after that experience, either.

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren't any other people living in the world. -- Anne Frank

Friday, June 8, 2012

so it's not November.

So sue me. And then (since you'll lose, as I have absolutely zero money) let me tell you about gratitude lists.

I have this friend, Dan. I met him when he started doing some work for this website I also work for. We have very similar senses of humor (though his tends to be more genuinely funny and less biting), he's the best storyteller I've ever met -- including myself -- he can make me laugh and cry at the same time and I adore him.

Dan is a psychologist. I have gone through phases in my life where I collected people from certain walks of life. At one point, no shit, it was priests, or wannabes. (I was chatting up this REALLY cute guy at a picnic and he said something about the road to Emmaus. I looked at him and went, "Wait. Don't tell me. Seminarian?" He said, "YEAH! How'd you know?!" Sigh. But really, for awhile there, that's all I met.)

And for awhile there, all I met was psychologists. I have another one I count among my very good friends, but that's a story for another time.

Dan contracted me to do some work on a book he was writing, and through that we got even closer, and yadda yadda.

In the last year and a bit, he's formally been studying positive psychology through a program at the University of Pennsylvania. Penn is where Martin Seligman, widely considered the founder of the field, teaches. In the midst of my reading and editing all his papers, etc, Dan spent for-frigging-ever trying to get me to do daily gratitude lists. The premise (which I tweaked) is that you sit down every morning when you wake up and write down what you're grateful for, and it'll color the rest of your day. I do mine at the end of the day instead, so I have something potentially positive to say, because I am NOT a morning person. ;-)

I resisted and resisted and thought it was a stupid idea. Then, for whatever reason, one day I did one. Dan's response was "THIS IS EXCELLENT! I can't wait to read tomorrow's ...."

I asked him why he thought there would be a Day 2, but there was.

Today, I believe, was Day 55.

Dan is well beyond tickled pink and I am, if not entirely converted, comprehending the value of doing this. As a journalist, I pride myself on noting details nobody else does. Most of the stuff that goes on my daily gratitude list isn't huge. It's just the little details of a day in the life, and when you get a bunch of them together, you see how they add up.

Here's one from a few days ago, for a sample:

Today I am grateful for:

-- Someone who took a gigantic chunk out of her last two workdays to bail my sorry ass out so I could get gas, a little food, and the one med I was about to run out of covered while I wait for the insurance company (which admitted it screwed up) to sort things out. It took me a long time to warm up to this chick, because I adored my previous therapist and really haven't ever gotten over him, but man -- this is devotion, and compassion, and a lot of work on my behalf. It's hard not to appreciate it.

-- Knowing someone with a decent vacuum cleaner. Damn black cat hair all over the carpet. ;-) She's good company, though, so she gets away with pretty much everything. :-)

-- Ice cream. Especially ice cream that is portion-controlled because it's on a stick ;-). I could do a gallon in a sitting without thinking too hard about it, especially if it's mint chocolate chip.

-- Homegrown strawberries. Nuff said.

-- Ray Bradbury. I read "Something Wicked This Way Comes" when I was in 7th grade and never got over it. Dude could write. 91's a good, long run, but it still sucks.

-- People who let me be me without feeling the need to browbeat me for it. It took me a LONG time to learn to stand up for myself. Don't like it? Totes not my problem. Could I be gentler? Sometimes, maybe. Am I going to swallow what I have to say in order to keep from pissing you off? That would be ..... no. I don't need the ulcer.

The funny thing (at least it amused me) at my disability hearing was that the psychologist serving as the medical expert told the judge she determined my social functioning to be "markedly impaired." It took everything I had not to laugh. I was like, really, lady? You could tell that from a 6-inch stack of paper without ever having met me or even having spoken to me? Huh. I think that makes my case. :-p

-- And yet somehow I have friends, including the one who told me today that he wouldn't take me out back and shoot me even if his aim *didn't* suck, because he likes having me around. Not sure how many other people feel that way, but at least I have one.

See what I mean? None of it's huge, but altogether, in the course of stuff that makes up a day, you find the day maybe wasn't really so bad.

Today I *jokingly* said someone should buy me an Eeyore phone case I saw online and a friend immediately went and bought it. Blew me away. Also put a gigantic smile on my face for the first time this week. That was the first thing on today's list. :-) I am definitely Eeyore, and ever will be, and Dan, god love him, will always be Tigger. But Tigger and Eeyore were good buddies. I hope the human versions stay that way too.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. -- Albert Schweitzer

Friday, June 1, 2012

a true Hall of Famer

A friend posted on Facebook the "30 most iconic sports photos of all time." Somewhere in there was Lou Gehrig crying as he spoke to fans at Yankee Stadium during his retirement ceremony. Underneath the photo they printed the text of his speech.

The only part you ever hear -- at least the only one I've ever heard -- is how he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. But it turns out there's a good deal more. The last line blew me away, and I wanted to share it with you in the context of the opening, too.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. ... I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.



Lou Gehrig had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It later came to bear his name. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, rapidly progressive muscle weakness, muscle atrophy and spasticity, and difficulty speaking. Eventually you can't walk, get out of bed on your own, or use your hands and arms. It's not a fabulous way to die, which you can expect to do three to five years after it begins.

If *you'd* been given a terminal diagnosis, could you be grateful for it? Be honest. I will: If a doctor tells me "you have this weird, rare disease we don't know WTF to do with and you're going to die, sorry," I am going to be the most depressed, pissed-off person on the planet.

Here's the thing: I have a weird, rare disease -- a genetic mutation which causes me to clot overmuch. It can in fact kill me via heart attack and stroke, as both those events are caused by blood clots.

In 2005, I damn near died from complete bone marrow failure, known as aplastic anemia -- also weird and rare, and which can yet return.

I promise you I will be furious if any medical type writes me off. They do that with my mental health all the time, but *that* I'm in control of, personally -- if I die from being desperately bipolar, it's going to be be at MY hands, on MY timetable, and fuck the doctors.

Wow. Kudos to Mr. Gehrig. Maybe he was the first positive psychologist. :-)

PS: A bit of trivia: Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS on June 19, 1939 -- his 36th birthday -- at the Mayo Clinic by Dr. Charles W. Mayo (son of one of the original founders).