Category Archives: Mental Health

Grief is a Rubber-band Ball

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I’m no stranger to major loss. As a teenager, I lost my beloved family home and other ties to childhood in the wake of huge financial losses for my parents.

Then came the death of my father after a five-year struggle with lymphoma. Later came the excruciatingly slow passing of my mother-in-law to Alzheimer’s, and my own mother’s declining memory. 

Then, the nearly unbearable abyss of divorce. A few years later, I’d only just started to approach feeling whole when a tiny tick transmitted the lyme that knocked me to my knees—and even further down.

The holidays, a touchstone to the past, intensify the grief. I feel it in every cell of my being.

Recently I said to my therapist, who is helping me get through the many stresses of chronic lyme, “A year ago, I thought I had a handle on the losses lyme has sent my way. And I sure thought I had processed all that grief from childhood, and all that terrible pain from the breakup of my family. Why am I so overwhelmed all over again?”

And she said, “Because grief is like a rubber-band ball.” Continue reading

No Whining

Well, maybe just a little.

Well, maybe just a little.

Today everyone at my office is getting ready for the holiday party. I can just see them all, arriving in the kitchen in a flurry to stuff the fridge with their pot-luck contributions for later this afternoon.

I talked to Sonya on the phone last night while she made bread pudding. Charlotte can always be counted on for a gourmet surprise. I, however, will not be there with my hot buffalo chicken dip complimented in years past. I’m into my third month of being unable to go to work.

I know I should avoid whining, but  I’m going to embrace it and indulge in a little pity party. Then I’ll get on with my day. I decided to follow this approach after seeing a cancer patient interviewed on a t.v. talk show (yes, I watch talk shows these days, another lyme-inspired low). Continue reading

Video: Negative Thinking Got You Down? “Stop It.”

I tend to call it “going around the mulberry bush.” My therapist calls it circular thinking. But the best analogy, the one that truly tells you how irritating repetitive negative thinking can be, is “like a broken record.”

To those of you too young to have heard a record skip, trust me. The grating sound sets you on edge just like this destructive thought process.

Negative thoughts start zooming around in your brain, one begets another, and pretty soon they are following each other in a maddening loop that keeps playing over and over. The loop invades your days, and it wakes you from slumber at 3 a.m.

“What if I never get better. What if I can’t get my life back. What if I can’t keep my job. What if I lose my house and savings because of out-of-pocket medical costs. What if my spouse/partner/friends abandon me? What if…”

I have two words for you from the great comedian and t.v. therapist Bob Newhart: Stop it. (Sure, this video is tongue-in-cheek and there’s certainly a time for professional therapy. But sometimes you can change the perambulations of your mind all by yourself. And humor definitely helps.)

Cultivate the mental discipline to cut those thoughts off with one swipe of a magic scythe. Because you don’t have room in your life for stress right now.

To recover fully, you need more than medication to kill the bacteria; you need a strong immune system. Do all you can to avoid stress. Start by watching this video. Hopefully you’ll enjoy a laugh.

Then, listen for Bob Newhart’s voice whenever you catch yourself pointlessly repeating worries.  And just stop it.

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Last winter, housebound and often in bed, I watched the video above many times every day. Who knows why it makes me laugh out loud—though I will admit, dogs and food rank as two of my favorite things.

At any rate, more than 123 million YouTube views say I am not alone. I am pretty sure I accounted for a healthy portion of that number.

Let me just say that it’s a downer struggling to recover from a disease that affects your mind, your body, your family life, your career, and your bank account. Sometimes you just have to look to humor to get by.

To my daily task list (swallow pills, infuse IV drugs, inject blood thinner, follow steps to detox, rest, exercise (baby steps), rest some more, and eat loads of vitamin-rich food), I have added: laugh.

Continue reading

The Train Not Taken (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Mom at 96, September 2012.

Mom at 96, September 2012.
Credit: Catherine Fox

 

I’m very sad today. My mother, 96, one of the most extraordinary, life-filled people I have every known, has entered hospice care in my sister’s home, where she has been lovingly cared for over the past several years.

Naturally, I wanted to travel there to see my mother and to support my sister. I know I don’t have the stamina to drive almost five hours, and when I am sickest my lack of concentration makes me a danger on the road so I don’t get behind the wheel.

I decided to try the train. All I have to do is sit there, right? Amazing how the voice of lyme denial tries to get me to do things I shouldn’t. 

My doctor told me that since we are adding meds this month for the next level of treatment, I should go now if I must, before the herxing increases.  Note the “if”; she understands that I want to go—that this is my mother—but I could hear the reservations in her voice.

Today is the day I’d planned to go. I made the decision last week when I felt better. I came to my senses two days ago. Continue reading

Lyme: Lessons Learned

Taking care of yourself isn’t, well, rocket science…
[Dr. Robert Goddard. Credit: NASA on Flickr/The Commons]

I’ve had the misfortune of getting re-infected just as I was pulling out of two-plus years during which I was largely sidelined by lyme and other tick-borne infections. There’s a bit of good news, however. I learned a few things the first time around, and I’m doing things differently.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned. Maybe you can benefit by taking them to heart now, instead of learning the hard way like I did over time and missing out on benefits you could have enjoyed much, much sooner. Continue reading

Reading Days

I always keep a pile at hand, in case a book doesn’t grab me.

I have fond memories of reading days in college before exams, when I holed up in the university library to immerse myself in my studies. My life is a bit like that now, with many lyme-imposed reading days spent in bed or on my red sofa.

And right now, I have an added challenge. I had a couple of good days, so I thought I was cured. Right. Will I never learn? I did ten leg lifts lying on my back—and blew out my lower back. I did too much too soon. Excruciating muscle pain on top of lyme symptoms mean I’m literally flat out today.

Fortunately, stepping up reading time is a pleasure for me. In grade school, when our public library limited check-outs to three at a time, my mother got special permission for me to get ten so she didn’t have to make the long drive into town from our farm quite so often.  On a lazy summer day, I could knock out a couple pretty easily.

For the past two decades, I’ve met monthly with not one but two book groups, reading and talking about everything from plays to fiction and nonfiction. In one group, we decide on a reading list by committee. In the other, the hostess of the month chooses a title. The latter gets me trying books I might not have voted for, and I’ve made some great discoveries.

Needless to say, I have missed most of the meetings over the past year—but I have read all of the books. I also have many book-loving friends who share recommendations. Yet sometimes it can be hard to find those books that draw me in, the writers who take me away from my world and fully into another. Continue reading

Shoe Shopping

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Today I ordered shoes online. Three-inch heels. A purple pair. And another, goldenrod yellow. Such extravagance.

I am not normally the sort of person that revels in retail. Usually, I give my spirits a boost by seeking nature, not Nordstrom’s: the sun on my skin, bird calls, an array of wildflowers or beautiful leaves.

But today, as I was surfing the internet in bed, a shoe store ad appeared in my inbox. I felt compelled to indulge. The effort and strain of going to a store does not appeal these days, but I felt great satisfaction clicking through the pages and hitting the “complete order” button.

You have to understand that shoes have not been fun lately. Ever since a tick bite a couple of years ago, I’ve had a stabbing pain in my left foot. It seemed to be a nerve inflamed by bunion pressure. But now I am not so sure, now that I know I have lyme. The foot pain flares when other lyme symptoms do; it is the one symptom that has remained constant as others ebbed and flowed, flared and faded.

The podiatrist gave me custom orthotics and told me to stay out of heels; I gave most of mine away and bought expensive, practical, unlovely sandals made by a running company. But improvement in my foot pain came only when I started antibiotics for lyme.

So today as I lie in my bed working on my computer, my cheerful thought is that the treatment will ultimately fix my poor foot along with the rest of me. So I can get out of flats and back to strappy, three-inch heels.

I place the order for pretty footwear, and I can see myself walking straight and tall instead of scrabbling along limping and hunched in pain. I can imagine walking easily down city sidewalks, feeling strong and independent again in sexy, feminine heels.

And for once, I don’t mind calling myself a material girl.