The Indulgent Chuckling of Father Time

I was taking the dog out the other morning when Fall came.

Before I leave for work Mags gives me the face. Dog owners know that face. It’s the face that says, “Pleeeeease can’t we go outside for just a little while? The ground is damp, and it’s perfect sniffing weather! Plus, there may be something new to roll in. You guys are going to be gone all day. You owe me this!”

Naturally, I caved.

We stepped out onto the front porch, which is currently festooned with an assortment of dew-dotted spider webs, dying tomato plants, and various containers of shriveled herbs in damp soil. Beyond lay the acorn-strewn sidewalk and the tiny stretch of yard we call ours, blanketed with the heavy August morning fog that is understood by almanac writers and old wives to predict a hard winter.

We picked our way along the sidewalk—I tiptoeing around the acorns, Maggie stopping to inspect several of them, eventually deciding on one to bring into the house on the return trip—and simultaneously I saw, heard, and felt:

  • Children across the street waiting for the bus, eyes half closed, kicking lunchboxes with their knees,
  • Crickets lingering and chatting to each other, probably about the coming winter, and
  • That slight chill in the air, faint and humid, which immediately and irrevocably sealed it…Fall is on its way.

Funny how I should think it’s the day Fall came. That chill in the air was the switch that alerted my awareness, but Fall had been on its way all along. Days have been getting shorter for two months now. Children are in their third week of a new grade. Local newscasts have already been speculating on the chances of each high school’s swift, scrappy, and spirited football lineups.

It’s a gradual progression that sneaks up on me. A yen to feel the soft, insulating bulk of a cardigan or hear the zip-zop of corduroys slowly emerges. I start noticing that regardless of what I wear, there’s a certain time of day when it’s inappropriate for the weather. Short sleeves in the morning are too chilly. Sweatshirts in the afternoon are too stifling.

I go online, and seemingly overnight, Pinteresters are eagerly pinning garish yet carefully arranged photos of apple cider recipes, Halloween crafts, and pumpkin spice…everything.

That morning the switch in my awareness tripped, sloughing away the minutiae of adulthood with which we occupy ourselves, allowing me to register the ancient, subtle, visceral reaction present in every one of us.

Into my mind flew visions of countless versions of myself, at various sizes and ages, hearing the crickets’ ancient song, lyrics as old as the Creation. Feeling the snap in the air at the elementary school bus stop, my kneecaps faintly knocking my Snoopy lunchbox as I fidget. Smelling the burnt dust from the furnace duct after months of icy air conditioning and corn pollen breezes.

Hearing the rhythmic creak of the rope supporting the tire swing and warming my arms on the old pickup tire which retained the heat of the day, staving off the chill from the evening breeze. Walking the nature trails with a bouncy blond mini-me, filling a baseball cap with acorns of every shape and size.

Smearing the car’s condensation from the night’s dampness on my school clothes as we crammed three middle schoolers, one tuba, two celli, and a 6’ 3” driver in a 1971 Super Beetle. Feeling the nubbly warmth of the basketball that keeps missing that hoop, dangit, in the driveway, while the muffled cheers of a football game waft across the yard and the sun slowly sinks to sleep.

Swishing, with high kicks and much giggling, through the knee-high leaves in the park, scattering gold, orange, and red like confetti, watching the dust motes dance in the rays that pierce my vision, fiercely asserting themselves between the branches.

Slowly, the penetrating heat of the day will be replaced by crisp breezes and the sweet, earthy smell of damp, decaying leaves. Fall has arrived, not with trumpet fanfare, but with a gentle, wafting insistence that sunk into my awareness until its presence could no longer be denied.

As I came back to the present version of myself, I could almost hear the indulgent chuckling of Father Time. It’s almost as if he said, “It caught you unawares, child, once again! Someday, when you’re older, you’ll learn to look for it more often, and the memories will carry you. Until then, listen to your dog more. She knows.”

I looked at my surroundings in wonder, and finally my eyes came to rest on Maggie, who glared at me as if to say, “Duh! Why do you think I wanted to come outside? Now walk me over here, human, because I’ve caught a whiff of something I might wanna roll in.”

Raynaud’s and Me: Singing (and Sporting) the Blues Year-Round

My feet are freezing.

Seriously.

CAM01481

It’s late August in the Midwest, and my feet are cold, despite the two pairs of socks and clunky leather shoes I’m wearing. Actually, I don’t really consider them clunky…I think they’re rather happenin’. I’ve always been a fan of Eastland shoes, and prefer them to the spindly flats other women seem more than happy to scoot around in.

My tendency towards stiff and sturdy footwear probably started when I was very small, when my mother would outfit my brother and me in Stride Rites that practically willed one’s feet to correct themselves. You 60’s and 70’s kids know what I mean!

il_570xN.416482107_gbtbil_570xN.497540770_4g8w

Come to think of it, I could use those tennis shoes some mornings…which is the right foot again?

The reason they’re freezin’ can be attributed to one thing…Raynaud’s Syndrome. It’s a condition that has left me with cold hands and feet (and nose, and ears) since I was 15 years old. Suddenly I had no circulation in my extremities, or so it seemed. Simple things like walking into an air-conditioned room or picking up a cold bottle of water can cause the blood vessels in my fingers to react like it’s 20 below zero outside, and sound the alarm to the rest of my body to shunt blood to my core to protect my innards. My ghostly, mottled skin and fingernails with their distinctive bluish tint often prompt coworkers to say, “Eww! Are you okay?” (Touch them and watch them jump about eight feet in the air and yelp!)

I have seen a doctor about it, who said that I could either wear layers to keep my core warm and get regular exercise, or I could take blood pressure medicine to open my blood vessels a little, improving flow. I decided on the former since he explained that people who take blood pressure medicine when they don’t have high blood pressure could cause them to pass out a lot. Instead I try to walk in the sunshine at least once a day and wear layers. I also began taking Vitamin D a couple of years ago, and for some reason that helps. (It apparently also helps to write the words “blood pressure” a lot; so much so that they cease to make sense to me after a while.)

Know what else helps? Not wearing shorts. Ever. For over a decade. Sandals, either. Just the thought makes me shiver–literally! Long pants and socks are the order of the day, year round.

ROUND_LOOM_SET_All_4_KNIFTY_KNITTER_PROVO_CRAFT_BOOKLET_KNIT_KNITTING_multiuse

Despite the extra layers (especially the two pairs of socks!) I still get cold. It starts with my feet and creeps up from there. Several years ago I started knitting legwarmers with a Knifty Knitter loom set and some acrylic yarn. Now, I’m not talking about those thin little fashionable legwarmers made out of t-shirt material—these are thick, chunky, slouchy legwarmers. The thicker the better!

It took some time to hammer out a tried-and-true pattern; the instruction booklet that came with the loom was written in no less than six languages, and for a while I couldn’t knit anything functional in any one of them! I added a couple of my own tricks and now have a pattern for a functional pair of legwarmers that takes me about 6 hours to finish.
Here are some of my past creations:

CAM00239CAM00238CAM00242CAM00244CAM00245IMG017

I have branched out into scarves in the past couple of years, and this summer I was able to crank out two of them in the five days we spent in Pennsylvania. I knit while I’m watching television so I don’t feel so guilty about mindless hours on the couch.

A person only has two legs to warm, so I’ve taken to selling my finished products on an Etsy page. It’s a nice little site (that’s not so little anymore!) that allows serious, I-do-this-for-a-living crafters as well as plodders like me a chance to make a few bucks on our creations. If you haven’t looked at Etsy before, I encourage you to do so; many of the pages there are maintained by some very talented individuals who take pride in their work.

Around here, where Necessity is the Mother of Invention (or, according to my guys, Mother is the Necessity of Invention), it takes a little thinking and a little handiwork to get around some of the things life throws at us. It’s just another tightwad, DIY, hooray-for-the-80s way to deal with what I call “The Blues.”

Finding the “For Real” in My Disastrous Self-Talk

There seems to be a lot picking at me lately, and I’m having trouble finding the good.

It’s coming from everywhere…

  •                I have a new boss now—actually, I have a new boss every year, given my role on campus—and I’m feeling wrong-footed and awkward and like I’ve forgotten how to do half my job.
  •                I just spent two months working a part-time job rather than not work at all for that time, and taking a week off during that time, while it’s not a problem for some people, has real consequences for us. I feel like it’s going to be a long time before we get out of the hole again—well, we won’t get out of the hole necessarily, but it’ll be a while before we quit juggling bills and paychecks and due dates quite so strenuously.
  •                Every time I turn on the news there’s nary a corner of the world that doesn’t have people doing something monumentally stupid—to put it nicely. This evening there was strong suspicion a reporter was beheaded on film. Countries who have probably long since forgotten why they hate each other continue to bomb each other to bits. We can all be sure, also, that there’s a Kardashian or a Bieber or someone else whom we have made a celebrity for no reason at all doing something monumentally stupid, and making money hand over fist all the while.
  •                People just can’t stop killing each other in our own country, for stupid reasons. They can’t stop killing themselves, either. “Riot” and “racism” and “Parkinson’s” and “suicide” produce a nearly visceral reaction in me this week. While I acknowledge that they all exist and we should all take them seriously, I’m weary. I just can’t think about it anymore.
  •                The university’s Provost mentioned in a meeting today that healthcare premiums and copays are going to go up again. The university employs well over 1,000 people, but it seems that a mere 300 of them ran up 70% of the healthcare costs over the last year. We already haven’t been going to the doctor because sometimes we just don’t have the $15 to go, and it will be going up to $25 next year. I hope those 300 really needed that healthcare.
  •                I watch people who should be actively working to help themselves drag their feet—perhaps because if they face things, it will be real. There’s a real pull within me to bail these people out like I always have, but they have to climb out of their own pile of manure just like I am. It’s the only way to grow up.
  •                I even feel like I failed as a gardener this year, because my freezer isn’t full of the fruits of what little labor it takes to keep a 12X12 garden going. It’s not a great deal of food, but it helps, and knowing I’m going to have to do without even that little cushion prompts a sense of failure.

These and a million other little teeny pinpricks of irritation, sadness, and apathy seem to pull at my senses and drag me down to a level of cynicism and wariness that’s hard to slog through.

Intellectually, I know it’s just a matter of time before things turn around, in my own mind before in front of my own two eyes, naturally. I used to tell my patients that all the time. I also used to tell them to focus on not only the happy, but the realistic.

The “For Reals” in this entry are:

  •                I do have a new boss this year, and it just so happens that this is his first year ever at it. I don’t know what his preferences are, but I am looking forward to working with an individual who seems to be a person of instant decision and even quicker desire to do what is right. I’m likely not the only one feeling wrong-footed here. Things are changing for everyone, and it will take a while to run at full speed again.
  •                Instead of giving up for two months, I DID work that part-time job and contributed to the household. We were short money, and I did take a week off for no pay in July, but it was for a good reason and it was good for me. I am back to full-time hours now and things will even out—sort of.
  •                There are always going to be people around the world doing things that are considered monumentally stupid by one group or another. Whether I give it more energy than it deserves is up to me.
  •                People are also doing extraordinary things FOR each other, not just TO each other. Unfortunately, we are a society of rubberneckers and reality television junkies, and the more shocking stuff is what makes headlines. If I’m to snap out of this, I need to bury my head in the sand, so to speak, and focus on what’s going on in my own head and my own home for a while.
  •                Healthcare premiums are always going to go up, sure as God made little fishes. There’s nothing I can do about any of that. What I can do is continue to work on taking the best care of myself that I can, and if I can’t, then I can’t. Those situations are what healthcare coverage is for. Additionally, those 300 people don’t have to answer to me. They have their own battles. To quote Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.”
  •                I can’t continue to bail people out, because it’s not fair to them. I’m doing them a disservice by taking on what they won’t. It’s also not fair to me. I shouldn’t expect myself to do things for others that I am expected to do for myself.
  •                This summer was weird, weather wise. Just because I had a good year for tomatoes last year doesn’t mean it will be good this year. My .0033 acre (I looked that up!) is just as vulnerable to weather and vermin as any other, and gardening takes some measure of luck as well as knowledge.

This is the point in the conversation where I tell my patients to “fake it ‘til they make it.”

Easy, right? Hardly, but it can be done. There are all kinds of ways to accomplish this.

One way I do that is to jam the headphones in my ears and turn on Pandora. I’m actually listening to it as I write this.

Another way is to make myself laugh. Here are some of my current favorite videos:

Soon I will feel lighter, smarter, and happier again. For now I’m still “faking it.”

Container Garden Successes and Flops, 2014

cropped-cropped-cam01125.jpg

This year, in addition to the usual tomatoes and onions in my garden, I decided to give some herbs a try, as well as miniature pumpkins and a couple of easy flowers. Sounds simple enough, right?

If I take nothing else away from this year’s experience, I will remember that pumpkins, miniature or no, have no place in a 12×12 porch—unless you harbor some bizarre fantasy of hacking through the vines on your way to walking the dog or especially like hearing, “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” whenever you step into your container garden. At any rate, you’re risking your life.

I planted two innocuous-looking seeds in my little newspaper planters and watched them sprout demurely, greeting the sun with palm-sized leaves, hopeful that I had found another productive crop for my humble little garden. Four weeks later, I couldn’t find the 2×6 foot table they were planted in for all the vines, leaves the size of platters, and fist-sized blooms I could almost see growing before my eyes!

Note to self: pumpkins make great, fast-growing house camouflage.

CAM01219

I also planted some herbs this year, mostly in the hope that the dastardly tomato piranha would stay away—I had read on several sites that the fragrance of dill in particular was something they didn’t like. Just to see how they would do in my containers, I also added parsley, spearmint, oregano, sage, and basil.

CAM01420CAM01431CAM01446

They thrived in my containers. So much so that a Black Swallowtail Butterfly decided my parsley and dill were the perfect home for its larvae. At one point I actually counted nine white, black, and yellow caterpillars munching away at my fragrant, lush herbs. At the time I write this, two are still munching away at my nearly skeletonized dill, two are still cocooned in my sage, and one has emerged and flown away. I’m sure there are others who remain hidden, preferring to gorge themselves away from an audience. It’s been fun to watch, actually.

I told my mother about our new critters, and she said something about how our garden attracts every wayward and weird creature imaginable…if you call “I had only seen maybe two tomato hornworms in my life, and you practically have a breeding ground for them over there, and now this!” any indication.

251847_2252571130847_665795409_n

Naturally, none of these measures so much as dented the enthusiasm of the tomato piranhas, who made straight for my beefsteaks and my grape tomatoes and chowed down with great energy. The infestation was not as bad as in previous years, when I found upwards of two dozen, but their presence in smaller numbers was still enough to ignite my ire. I got my revenge when I pulled them off the plant and tossed them under my neighbor’s heavily patronized bird feeder.

I wish I could say I did the same to the aphids. Sigh. Just can’t get rid of those buggers, either.

CAM01417CAM01412

Growing tomatoes from seed did work very well. The Patio Princess and Beefsteak varieties provided many tomatoes and fared well, despite the worms and aphids. A recent cold snap is currently preventing the remaining green fruits to ripen, and they linger, soaking up rain and hosting scads of aphids.

CAM01215CAM01305

The onions did very well this spring. I planted some 350 bulbs in my 2×6 table and ended up with enough fresh to last us for weeks, as well as a gallon bag of chopped and frozen to use in cooking this fall. I prefer using the ones I grow to those available in the store because they’re more flavorful and I get more bang for my buck, as it were.

We’re already thinking about next year…Bald Guy picked up some PVC at work that was being thrown away, and visions of new cold frames have been dancing in our heads ever since. I’ve been considering all kinds of designs, from the existing dowel-and-sliding-door-plastic to the 2-liter-bottle-wall to the clear-rigid-wall variety. Who knows? I’m looking forward to extending my growing season either way.

Heck, I’ll probably plant dill and parsley again next year, just for the butterflies. :)

 

Today’s High Cost of Living (with Myself at the End of the Day)

I am a forty-three year old wife and mom living in the Midwest. I currently work at a local university as a secretary. This ten-months-per-year position is the best-paying job I’ve had since 2007, before I obtained my B.S. degree.

I have an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from said university, which I obtained in 2010 after deciding five years before (when the automobile industry tanked) that the job at the factory I was working in twenty miles from home (which was dependent on said auto industry) was not worth the time, the headaches, the carpal tunnel, or listening to my brain rot.

I am now in debt to various student loan agencies by roughly $45,000. I’m in debt to my mother for another $25,000 in living expenses.

Despite the fact that there was a broken record in my head playing, “…you’re in debt…get to work…just take anything…” I stayed where I spent my internship and placement, a local hospital’s acute psychiatric unit—part time. Others in my cohort were working at other community mental health sites in the area, or in their hometown in another state—full-time. They’re all doing well, and enjoying what they do. I could have done what they were doing, and swallowed my misgivings and my pride and followed them into that game of Russian Roulette called “Find a Place to Work You Can Be Halfway Proud Of”, but I heard what happened in some of these community sites, usually firsthand accounts from patients at the hospital where I worked who were recommended to them for long-term outpatient treatment, and decided to stay where I was, in the hope that all the talk of hospital expansion would finally cease to be just talk and my place as a therapist in the community would be established. I liked the people I worked with, and I was proud to work among such dedicated professionals.

Naturally, all the talk was…just that.

I hung in there for what started out to be “just a little while…several months at the most…there are plans in the works.” Five years later I was working 16 hours a week at a wage that would have been livable if it were full-time. Instead I was making almost as much as someone working full-time for minimum wage.

I stayed because I didn’t want to lose my skills, but I quickly realized I had no place in the world of community mental health. I saw other area mental health centers tossing out PTSD and Bipolar Disorder diagnoses, like candy at a parade, to those who actually had personality disorders or a simple inflated sense of entitlement. I watched, dumbfounded, while practitioners with less education were assigned those who most desperately needed care—the actively psychotic, the poor, the criminal, the addicted—and through no fault of their own, ineptly meted out the prescribed “treatments” that look so good to administrators and paper-pushers but have no real effect on the lives of their recipients. That place in particular hosted several of my contemporaries as interns, and hearing recordings of sessions in class was nothing short of excruciating for me—rules there dictated that they type their notes while the client poured their heart out throughout the session. They are without a doubt among the rudest incidents I’d ever heard in my life.

Eventually my own workplace became unbearable. I documented lists of medications half a mile long prescribed by other area psychiatrists and general practitioners which kept patients too dopey to care about building their coping skills or working on relationships with family members. I listened, agog, while the only psychiatrist worth his salt in the entire five years I had been there spoke of an administration which complained that he wasn’t keeping patients on the unit for the seven-to-ten days they insisted they stay, regardless of diagnosis or their need to even be there. I sat in on a conversation with fellow staff as they related a story about a young woman in my cohort, with whom I had done my placement at the hospital, who actually called the unit from her current workplace and complained that our psychiatrist removed most of a nursing home resident’s medication in favor of outpatient therapy and building skills for living independently (as HIV is certainly no reason to be placed in a nursing home—and neither is a personality disorder). Within days, he was doped up again, and all hopes of independence were surely dashed. I talked with an elderly woman from Lafayette, Louisiana, who thanked us profusely for the care given to her manic brother, stating, “Most other places wouldn’t do what y’all are doing for him…if I didn’t know any better, I’d think y’all were Southern.” When did making sure he had shoes (her brother showed up without them) and a taxi to the Greyhound station become too much to expect?

The straws that broke the camel’s back came very quickly, one right after the other. My supervisor and mentor of five years was written up by the administration, ostensibly because he was short with the nurses and refused to help them when asked, but probably because we were the only psych unit in the hospital chain in our state which still had a full-time psychologist. Three guesses who that was? (Anyone who has worked with this man will tell you he drops everything to help out when needed, usually to his own detriment.) He decided to work with patients in an outpatient setting at a well-established practice among the best practitioners in the area, and was gone within a month. A licensed Social Worker was hired, part-time, to “help with weekends and other coverage” instead of bumping me up to full-time work. A psychiatrist who previously worked at the hospital was courted by administration and cajoled into coming back to run the unit, and the thought of again watching him cater to sociopaths after drugs and little old ladies with money and a taste for Valium sickened me. Finally, the MBA who ran the unit (into the ground, with the blessing of administration) took a PowerPoint presentation I had sent her to keep her in the loop regarding the family education group I volunteered to run and presented it to some corporate people as her own work.

By then I had been looking for another job for over a year. The day I found out about the PowerPoint, I began looking outside my intended career path. Not only had I received more than enough crystal clear messages that I didn’t belong in that career, I could no longer stand to perpetuate the machine. The last bastion of compassionate, intelligent acute community mental health treatment in my area was gone. The lighthouse had been snuffed.

I took the job I have now, stating I could start immediately. After getting over 1000 free internship hours out of me, every holiday except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and every weekend for three years straight, I left them to figure out how to cover weekend groups, individual therapy, intakes, discharges, and paperwork by themselves—just the way I had to do it.

I took a pay cut of well over five dollars an hour, yet still manage to bring home $500 more every month, as well as participate in the university’s pension program. My husband and I are able to build a savings, meager though it is. We are slowly catching up on bills we abandoned in favor of keeping a roof over our heads and utilities on, which was difficult enough at that time. The flareups of the joint condition I was diagnosed with (and could not afford to medicate, since finding the right med requires sick time and money to achieve) diminished immediately and considerably.

After only two weeks in my new job, my husband said he noticed I laugh more and sleep better.

After three weeks, a faculty member from the committee I type notes for examined my first effort documenting minutes of a recent meeting and told my supervisor I just freed him from two hours of editing.

After four weeks, my supervisor noticed I express myself well, especially in writing, and gave me opportunities to make extra cash by composing documents and PowerPoints for his use.

By summer, because my supervisor recommended me based on my writing and organizational skills, I had secured a part-time position for the summer gathering data for a college’s upcoming reaccreditation process. It wasn’t full-time work, but it kept me busy, and we had something coming in.

Five months after leaving my job at the hospital, I saw the MBA and her husband at the symphony performance where I was working my second job as a part-time usher. She came to me and brightly but awkwardly introduced me to her husband, who glared at me as if I just punched his wife in the face. She introduced me as her “tireless weekend worker,” and I managed to refrain from throwing back, “Well, you wore her out.” I am a professional, you know. I decided later on that being observed by her in my polyester blazer and ridiculous tie and escorting little old ladies off the elevator and telling them where the bathrooms are was not something to be ashamed of. I decided that she should be ashamed. A therapist from her unit would rather wear a ridiculous blazer and tie and make minimum wage holding the elevator for little old ladies than work for her. I hope that sunk in. I really do. I realize that I’m holding her accountable for an entire system rife with ineptitude, detachment, and outright greed, but like it or lump it, she is my personal icon for all that is wrong with the morass laughingly referred to as “community mental health care.”

We’re still in debt, and there are still areas of our lives which have been severely neglected for years—medical checkups, dental appointments, eye examinations, and home and car repairs come immediately to mind—but we’ve been neglecting a lot for a long time, and it will take time to catch up with it all.

The price I paid for remaining in that career for as long as I did was too high for me. I cast aside my own self-care for it. I missed out on time with family. I worked myself into the ground for a system that didn’t care as long as papers were pushed and ever-decreasing funds were distributed.

The cost of living with myself at the end of the day is greater than I can define. I will never be that professional I once aspired to be. In exchange, I will eventually have my home, water and electricity, my sanity, and my relationships. Heck, we may even be able to get along without needing my mother to buy our groceries twice a month! I won’t dream yet of obtaining other luxuries yet such as medical, dental, and eye care or even a simple weekend vacation…don’t want to lose myself in fantasies just yet.

Such is the life of the working poor.