Self-Care in the US, July 2020


It is so hot today. The air is dense and wet. Sweat is dripping down my spine, making me feel achy and tired.

Paul and I decide in the mid-afternoon to give ourselves a break. We drive across town to our local state park, stopping in the nearly empty lot, leaving our glasses and our wallets in the car.

There are two families swimming in the tiny roped off “safe area” of the pond. The air smells of pine resin and wood smoke, drifting from the little campground across the pond.

I drop my towel on the gritty sand. I shed my shorts and sweaty tee-shirt. My glasses land on the pile. I draw in one deep resonant breath.

I am in the water, well past the ropes. I am on my back, my arms and legs loose and boneless around me. The water surrounds my face like the cowl of a nun.

With water in my ears, I can’t hear the world. I can’t hear the angry yells or the complaints or the demands. I am deaf to everything except the beating of my own heart. I listen to the silence. My body relaxes.

I lie with my vision limited to a circle right above me. Smooth blue sky. Silky blue. Two small puffed clouds. Nothing else. I let my eyes relax, I let them stop trying to focus.

I drift.

Afloat on the gentlest of currents, my arms are floating at my sides. The top of the water is warm. Liquid sunlight fills my palms. An inch lower, and that same current brings water so cold that my bone marrows thickens.

I swirl my hands and my arms through the green water of the pond. Warm, cold, sunlight and ice. I cannot hear the world, I cannot see the world.

But I feel the earth around me. I smell the trees and the mud and the tiny green frogs that jump out of the grass. A dragonfly lands on my forehead, decides that I am neither flower nor insect, and bursts away across the top of the water.

I float. The sun hits my skin.

I am carried by the water, and for the first time in weeks, I feel no pain. My joints are loose, my muscles free. No part of me catches or clutches or aches.

I float. The breeze brushes my lashes.

Here in this tiny pond, in this small American town, I am free. I am neither too much nor too little. I am none of the things that pull on my mind and my heart. I am not needed, or depended upon, or subject to anybody’s judgment.

Here in this cool/warm sunkissed water, I am only one more floating organism, drifting on the current, touched by the sky, held up by mother nature for no particular reason.

Here in this silken green water, I don’t have to think about the left or the right or the virus or the stock market. Here in the arms of this water spirit, I am not fighting or struggling or arguing or trying to change the world.

Right now, in this small pond, in this small town, I am only a woman taking a break from the heat and the worry and the world.

This is self care. This is how I can take care of me.

I hope that you have all found a similar way to turn off this human mess and embrace the real world around us.

I Got Back Out There


I have never thought of myself as an anxious person.

I mean, sure, I’m afraid of spiders. And of murder hornets (have you SEEN those things?) I don’t like to drive too fast or engage in dangerous sports (like snowtubing.)

But I’ve never been afraid of the world itself. I love to travel I always enjoy talking with new people, and having novel experiences.

I’ve always been relaxed about illness and contagion. I was a teacher for years. I didn’t worry about catching things.

In fact, I never understood germophobes. I used to feel superior to people who were constantly fixated on their helath. I have scoffed at hand sanitizers and those who carried them. I used to laugh in the face of the common cold.

Not. Any. More.

Since the great pandemic of 2020, I have developed a new and suffocating appreciation for agoraphobics.

My last grocery store trip was on March 7th. When I checked out and dumped the bags in the trunk, I assumed I’d be back in the veggie department within days. I barely gave it a thought as I left the parking lot.

Ha.

Since that completely unmemorable trip, I have not stepped foot inside of a single retail establishment. Not one.

Given my fixation on the news and the lack of anything else to do while stuck at home, I’ve become a walking encyclopedia of COVID facts. I know how many people are sick, how many are on ventilators and how many have died. I know about the tests and the promising treatments. I watch the experts on C-Span debating the likelihood of the virus mutating into something worse.

Naturally, the more I’ve learned the more focused I’ve become on staying safe. I have been absolutely determined to avoid any possible chance of catching the deadly plague and passing it on.

I am now the queen of handwashing and I have the hangnails and chapped knuckles to prove it. I disinfect my mailbox, my doorknobs, my phone, my purse and the bottoms of my shoes. When my husband goes out for supplies, I make him strip down in the doorway and run to the shower. I put on gloves and wash all of his clothes. We throw away the bags and packages, washing our hands while we do it. Then we put everything away with disinfecting wipes in our hands.

You will not be surprised when I tell you that in the past few days I’ve come to realize that I am now nuttier than any fruitcake.

Last week I offered to share some of my giant stockpile of food with a friend (I am not hoarding…I am buying in bulk. And sharing), but when it came time to drop the lentils off at Linda’s house, I was too scared to go.

And that scared me. I didn’t like the wimpy little chicken that I was becoming.

So I decided last weekend that it was time to get back out there. I made a plan to the grocery store on Wednesday of this week. I made a list. I put it in the order of the aisles, so I could move through the store as fast as possible. I got my mask ready.

By Tuesday, I was starting to fixate on the shopping trip. Would I accidentally touch a tiny spit speck and get the disease? What if I passed it on to my brand new grandson? Or to my daughter? Or my friend who delivers our mail?

“Maybe I shouldn’t shop,” I started to think. “We have enough food.” Sure, my sane self answered, if you want to live on lentils, rice and pasta.

I am sixty four years old. I have been married for almost 43 years, and in that time I don’t think I’ve ever missed a week of grocery shopping. And now here I was, living in fear of my local PriceChopper.

This was ridiculous.

On Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take charge of my paranoia. I knew that I waited until the next day, I’d be awake half the night worrying. So I grabbed my mask, and my list. I took a box of sanitizing wipes.

And off I went.

At first it was glorious. While I’d been safely quarantined in my own yard, the azaleas had bloomed! The magnolia blossoms were starting to appear! Life was still going on!

I got to the store, grabbed my disposable wipes and headed in.

It was horrible.

There were people without masks, walking RIGHT past me. They were BREATHING on me! My skin started to crawl. People were trying to stay apart, but when four of you want to pick out a bunch of bananas, it’s hard to stay 6 feet away from each other.

And the shelves were so bare.

This is where the toilet paper used to live.

The strangest items were missing. There was a huge amount of bread available, but absolutely no flour, baking soda, or cake mix. The meat department was fully stocked with everything in the world, but you couldn’t find a frozen pizza.

It was weird. It was scary. It felt like a very bad dream. In spite of the masks worn by every employee and most customers, I still felt those invisible microbes bouncing off of my skin.

In spite of the spacing at the register, and the way the cashier sanitized the area between each shopper, I still felt exposed. The giant plexiglass spit guard between me and the young cashier should have felt protective, but instead I just felt like I couldn’t breathe.

And the worst part of all for this chatty woman, was the lack of connection with the people around me. We couldn’t share smiles. We couldn’t casually read each other’s faces to see who was looking open and friendly.

Oddly enough, people barely made eye contact.

I didn’t chat with the bagger as I usually do. I didn’t offer to help him. I paid silently with my disinfected credit card. I practically ran out of the store and rushed back to the sanitized safety of my own little space.

I’m glad I pushed myself to get out there. I am.

I’m still scared. And creeped out. And sad.

But at least now I know I can do it, and that I have to do it more often.

Now as long as the murder hornets stay away, things might turn out ok.

How the Virus Has Altered My Soul


“Morning Light on the Books” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Here I sit, on Day 50 of my personal lockdown….quarantine….social isolation. It’s raining outside. Again. It’s nearly May, but it’s still very cold outside my window. The thermometer hasn’t touched 40 degrees yet.

I’m cooking.

I’ve been cooking for 50 days. Baking bread, desserts, bagels and high energy bars for my daughter, who is nursing a 10 pound newborn. Working on my vegetarian recipes in the face of some food shortages and in anticipation of more.

I’m OK. The initial feeling of terror has receded into the dull ache of constant worry. I’m not lonely because I’m with my husband of 43 years and I am able to see my daughter and her children who are part of my isolation crew. My children are healthy. My siblings and my Mom are OK at the moment.

It’s OK. Right now, its OK.

But I feel like someone other than the me I’ve known for 64 years. The sense of the surreal is no longer only about the world around me; now I feel surreal myself.

I can’t read.

I always been an avid reader. I love to read. I was the second grader who got into trouble for sneaking a book into the girl’s bathroom and forgetting to come back to class. I was the young woman who read every day on the subway, relying on an internal sense of time to help me recognize my stops. I was the woman who read a book while I was in labor, and read while I was nursing my kids. I have been known to read while making dinner, stirring the pasta, reading a paragraph, adding some salt, reading another paragraph.

I used to read National Geographic and professional journals while making middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.

I’m a reader.

So why can’t I read now?

I have started three different novels and have abandoned them all. When this all began, I was in the middle of a non-fiction book on American politics. I’ve barely turned a page since then. I have two magazines that I haven’t even opened.

It feels as if my mind has become a dragonfly. I drift across the surface of the lake, touching down briefly here and there, then flitting back into the air.

I can’t concentrate on the characters in my book, because my thoughts are flitting around too fast. Did I feed the dogs? I should start the marinade for the chicken. I hope my sons are holding up, working from home. Do they need anything? Is the baby sleeping better? And I can’t forget to turn the compost.

I’m also a writer. I process everything, usually, through writing. My many political rants, my deep feelings about my family, my days as an elementary school teacher. I write about it all, when the world is in its usual state.

But now that inner flitting dragonfly is keeping me from completing a thought. I have short stories started and set aside. I have articles on politics, history, food, family, all sitting silently in my Google Drive folder.

I don’t feel like me.

Some day, in a future that’s getting harder to imagine, life will feel normal again. We’ll go back to shopping, meeting friends for dinner, going to the beach and the mountains. When that happens, I hope that I can morph back into myself.

The woman who reads and writes and can hold an idea in her head for longer than a minute.

Until then, I think I’ll go online and make a bulk order for black beans and look up some Mexican food recipes.

Is Trump Having Panic Attacks?


Many people experience panic attacks at some point in their lives. The symptoms can include a racing heart, shortness of breath, dizziness and chest pain. People in the throes of a panic attack may feel like they are dying. Many end up rushing to the hospital, where serious physical issues can be ruled out.

Last week, President Donald Trump made a sudden, unplanned visit to Walter Reed Hospital, amid all kinds of speculation about what was wrong. Theories ranged from a heart attack to a fear that Trump had been poisoned.

The official White House explanation was that the President had a little extra time on his hands, so he “got a head start” on his annual physical. The physical that is not due until February.

Skepticism about this explanation was everywhere.

On CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported that Trump’s doctor accompanied him in the car to the hospital. He stated that having a doctor ride along beside the President is highly unusual, especially for “routine tests”.

Further, Dr. Gupta said that the tests reportedly done on the President during his two hour visit to the hospital could easily have been done at the White House. He also questioned why this visit, unlike past Presidential “check-ups” didn’t include an announcement to staff, the closure of local roads or the closure of key hospital wings.

The President was only at the hospital for about two hours, which means that there were no signs of serious physical health issues. They checked him out, then sent him home.

All of this made me wonder: Could President Trump have experienced a panic attack?

There is certainly enough pressure on the man to have caused one, with the ongoing Ukraine scandal and impeachment proceedings.

This theory seems plausible to me, although I am neither a doctor nor a mental health professional.

This morning I read that the President is doing less and less work in the Oval Office. Instead, he prefers to remain in the residence, where he is insulated from most staff.

Again, this leads me to wonder about the President’s state of mind. Why does he feel like he needs to isolate himself? Is he afraid of leaks? Of spies?

Or is he afraid of another major panic attack, like so many people who have suffered through one of these terrifying events?

I don’t know.

But I sure do wonder.

And I am more than a little worried. For all of us.

The Question of Mental Stability


Like approximately 99.99% of the people in the Northeastern United States, I have a wicked bad cold.

And like approximately 99.99% of Americans today, I am thinking about mental stability and the signs that a person is a little “off kilter.”

Oh, don’t worry. I’m not worried about that guy. I made up my mind about his mental state a long time ago.

Nope. Today I am fixated on the question of my own mental stability.

Did I mention that I’m sick?

I have a cold. A really bad cold. In fact, after two weeks of endless nose blowing, hacking, wheezing and general goop producing misery, I finally went to my doctor. I have bronchitis and a sinus infection. I came home with pills, cough syrup, inhalers and orders to “rest as much as possible.”

Now. Let me ask you this. What would a mentally stable person do in this situation? Probably take the medicine and go lie down, right?

Ha.

That’s what I tried to do. I came home, made some tea, took my various potions and puffs, wrapped myself in a blankie and put my feet up. Where my mucus clotted brain proceeded to have this conversation with itself.

“You aren’t really that sick.”

“Yes, I am! I have bronchitis! I can feel the crunches and crackles every time I breathe!”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like you have pneumonia. Some people are really sick. You slacker.”

“But the doctor told me to rest. This isn’t just a cold, I have a real sickness. I have prescriptions…”

“Probably got sick because you don’t exercise enough.”

“Nuh, uh. I caught it from the kids…I’ve been wiping noses and snot sucking every day…..”

“Probably because you don’t eat healthy enough.”

“But….I….”

“Chocolate eater.”

“I know, I’m sorry, I….”

“Alcohol drinker.”

“Well, yeah, but hot toddies…”

“Get up. Slacker.”

Could you keep yourself wrapped in a blankie after that?

Either could I.

So I decided to do a load of laundry. You know, real quick. Just do one load. Just to shut myself up. I grabbed an armful of dirty, sweaty sheets (from me FEVER the night before, just sayin’) and I wobbled my way down to the laundry. Tossed it in. Done.

Since I didn’t pass out or anything, I figured I should put away the dishes on the counter. Take that, snot brain.

At that point I was ready to hack up a lung so I wobbled back to the recliner and the blankie. With a fresh cup of ginger-lemon tea in hand.

And goopie brain started in again.

“See? I knew you weren’t really sick.”

“What?! Of course I am! You told me I was a slacker!”

“What, you like the word malingerer better? If you’re so sick, how come you’re able to do laundry and clean the kitchen, huh? Wimp.”

“Sputter…wheeze…whimper…”

I put my aching head in my hands and tried to make Goop Brain go away, but he hung around. Big green slimy jerk.

It’s always like this when I’m not feeling well. Truthfully, I’m hardly ever sick. I haven’t had a fever before this in about 10 years. For a flabby middle aged grandmother, I’m actually pretty robust.

But on the rare occasions when I do get sick, it’s always the same internal argument. It’s always the same guilt game.

I was raised Catholic. What can I say? Guilt is kind of our thing.

I’ve spent the past four days alternately pitying myself for how awful I feel and berating myself for not getting the hell over it already.

What a loser.

So I put the question to you. Do mentally stable people argue themselves out of getting better? Do they yell at themselves that if they weren’t such lazy slackers they wouldn’t be sick in the first place?

I didn’t think so.

sickie

I look awful, right? See?