Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Statistics and Numbers

Statistics was one of the hardest college classes I ever took. I passed it the first time. I passed mostly because I met one-on-one with the professor before every class. She had the patience of a saint.

Are statistics even helpful? It’s always been true, but especially now we have to ask if the statistics are even accurate or truthful.

One of the mantras I’ve adopted is, “It’s possible, but not probable.” In other words, just about anything – especially your worst fears – are possible. However, that doesn’t mean it is probable.

When folks struggle with anxiety, we talk about this over and over again as needed. The example I usually give is the possibility of a home invasion occurring while I am in my office (which is off my garage) seeing my clients. Yes, it is actually possible it is happening. It is also not probable. If I focus on the possible, I will go insane and have to quit work.

Believe it or not, this seems to help a lot of people. Statistics can help relieve our fears.

When you face a medical illness or diagnosis, the statistics can give us the hope we need to keep our spirits up. Such and such percentage of people recover with this treatment. Such and such percentage of people never progress to this level. If the numbers are good, we have more energy to cooperate and comply.

And statistics can be meaningless if your experiences go the opposite way. Statistics can destroy you.

Let’s say someone you love is given a terminal diagnosis. That’s bad news. But then the next round of tests come around and you find out they have the most common form of the disease. In fact, 99% of people that get treatment will respond and survive. Ninety-nine percent! Odds don’t get much better than that. Phew!

And then the next round of tests come back.

Their body is in the 1% of people who don’t respond. Their body isn’t getting better.

My God. No one gets in the 1%. Except that 1%. You can’t even believe it. You can’t even wrap around it.

And then you find out the patient is a beautiful, eight-year-old child.

Try and wrap around that.


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Block Schedules

When you are a little (or a lot) OCD, you might like to live by lists. I have lists for everything. There is nothing more gratifying than deleting something off your list. I would say 95% of the time, I don’t finish the list, but I usually come close.

On spurts where I have too much on my plate, I know completing the list is hopeless. I don’t even set up the expectation in my head. I know a big chunk of the list is getting moved to the next day. The next day is already over-filled but it’s getting another chunk of stuff anyway.

This last spurt has lasted a while. Because I know I have a tendency to be a workaholic, I also build things into the list to balance my life. The problem has been that many of the things that recharge me are not practical during a pandemic. All things added together, it’s a sure-fire recipe for my “Treatment-Resistant Depression” to flare up.

Sigh.

Today I sat for a while just looking at the lists. You know you’re in trouble when you spend more time rearranging lists than doing anything on them. I didn’t do that today though, I just looked for themes. Ok, I did rearrange the lists, but that wasn’t my endgame.

So I’m trying block scheduling like they do in high schools now. I divided all the desired (and not-desired) tasks into categories. Then I’m giving each category a block of time. There are a bunch, but some of them are work (thus this blog finally being written), the house, the yard, and yes! Personal care. I’m figuring out even little things like having a cup of tea to somehow get my gas tank off of “E” where it has been hovering for far too long.

You know that feeling when your gas light goes on and you know you need to stop soon so you don’t end up stranded. If you’re like me, you hope you get to that one gas station you really like so you push the envelope a bit.

That’s the feeling I’ve had inside for over a month now. I’m on “E” and I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the station in time before the car dies. It’s an awful, anxious feeling.

There is a silent retreat weekend coming up for me. I don’t know when/where it will be, but I hope to set it up today. It’s on my “self-care” block. It will kill me to be alone and silent, but I think it’s the surgery I need.

So here’s to block scheduling. At least for the weekend. I’m hoping it has good results for this Type A, OCD, Workaholic, Treatment-Resistant Depression, worn out girl.

Isn’t it ironic that it’s Labor Day weekend?


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Masks

I’ve been feeling some of the weight of the pandemic quite heavily. I know some folks (especially introverts) aren’t finding it so problematic. Some even find it soothing. I actually have moments of that myself. A lot of the “noise” is lessened or gone.

I’ve been called a “tender heart” quite a few times in my life and I’m very aware why. When I go to a store and forget the 6 feet rule and get too close to the man in front of me, he refreshes my memory quickly. I get it. How long does this have to go on before I remember? But when I immediately step back and genuinely apologize, and I get back an unforgiving glare, that is when my heart sinks.

Of course, I do that thing where I tell myself that perhaps he is dealing with something extremely stressful which might make his demeanor understandable. While I know that might be true, I also know far too many people these days who are on hyper-alert and think anyone who is not is an irresponsible asshole.

We had an outdoor service at my church last night. I was so looking forward to it. They do on-line services every Sunday and from what I understand they have quite a substantial following. I don’t watch and I can’t even explain why. It just disturbs me rather than feed me.

I’ve had some intense weeks lately so I knew I needed the service. It was good to be there and felt nourishing to take communion and hear the message from my very gifted minister.

But there was also that underlying sadness. I hate when I don’t recognize someone because of the mask. I hate when someone doesn’t recognize me. I really, really hate that I can’t hug people I care about. I really, really, really hate that they can’t hug me.

Clearly, I am not the only one going through this. The universe is NOT picking on me. But I also know that just because we are all in this together, that doesn’t mean that each one of us doesn’t feel it intensely and personally.

And then there are the usual “joys” that come with life whether there is a pandemic or not.

The garage roof is leaking

The small kitchen fridge is making puddles of water inside and out of the fridge

The internet hasn’t been working for over two months. It has gotten so bad, it has hampered my ability to work, have Zoom meetings, etc.

I had to get a new used bike because the gears on TWO of ours were broken

Had a small fender bender with my car but big enough to require a trip or two to a body shop and/or mechanic

The tire on the riding lawn mower fell off

Algae stains in the pool; three weeks of treatment hasn’t quite fixed it yet

Heat rashes, earaches, a fall down the basement stairs (only the last 5), blah, blah, blah

And my clients are going through some of the most difficult, painful things a person can go through. They make anything I go through small potatoes. Seriously, their strength and resilience are impossible to describe. These are not situations you can close your work door behind you and separate yourself from.

After saying all that, I didn’t intend for this to be a downer blog. What I am trying to say, is that life can be incredibly challenging. And sometimes there is no end in sight.

But we get up every day and do it again. Sometimes there are moments of joy. Sometimes there just aren’t any. But we do it. We live. We do the best we can.

And that is not a downer!


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Are You a Lead Foot?

gray rock formation
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I hate to admit it, but I have fallen over the COVID cliff. I’m quite familiar with bouts of depression. I am quite familiar with severe bouts of depression. This is similar, but somehow there is another element to it that I can’t put my finger on.

Earlier this week, the only way I could describe it, was to say I felt like I had lead feet. That is ironic because I’ve had so many issues with my feet and surgeries. Then I realized that my whole body pretty much feels like that. I’m certain someone put a brick into my head when I wasn’t looking. My chest often feels the same.

Every step I made that day felt like I was dragging heavy metal with me. No matter what the task.

Paralleling that, it seems like my clients have similar diseases. Many come in and melt on the couch. They cry, look like they’ve aged, and say gut-wrenching things like, “Then I realized, why am I even here anymore?”

One inspiring ray of sunshine came in this week. A family that spans four generations and is spread across the USA have scheduled Zoom meetings every three weeks. It’s a book club. They are reading “White Supremacy” a few chapters at a time and then discussing it together.

Wow!

You can get your family to agree to that? And they actually read it? And get on the Zoom? And discuss things without yelling at each other?

This topic comes up quite often in my home and in my office. There are usually bitter disagreements, cutoffs, and plenty of anger. No matter what your position is, what could it hurt to read a book together? Even if you disagree with the opinions in it, to put the effort into reading and the dialogue afterward is still a unifying gesture.

I have to admit, a good share of my misery has to be sleep deprivation. I can’t seem to get to sleep at night. I find myself awake at 1 am… A few days later it is now 2 am. Last night, it was 4:45 am until I fell asleep. Getting three and a half hours of rest a night is just not enough. No wonder I have headaches and no motivation.

But I do eventually get up when I can garner the strength to move my heavy body (literally and figuratively). I see my clients and am present with them. I make phone calls, do computer work, deal with electricity going out, the internet going out, and being placed on hold for 1 hour and 52 minutes only to find out I have to start all over again the next day. (That is a literal, non-exaggerated number!)

And the usual gratitude reminders spurr me on. Literally every person in the world is going through this. Many folks have it much, much worse. Many deal with grief and loss, and mourn loved ones who died alone.

I guess we all keep hanging in there and figure out how to get through each day, even though none of us knows what the heck we are doing.

I will be there for you. I’m hoping you will reciprocate!


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You Put Your Right Foot In

It started the summer I stepped on a piece of wood with rusty nails. It looks like there are six nails in my foot, but only one actually pierced my skin. Still, my poor right foot. Topped off a few days later with one of those infection red lines up the back of my leg. Nice.

Next was the surgery for Plantar Fasciitis. In spite of an extremely successful surgery on my left foot, when it came to my right foot, it was a no go. Sixteen months later, I was still in pain and unable to walk much. I got used to motorized shopping carts and that wasn’t safe for anyone.

Topaz surgery came next. This was in hopes of helping it to start healing. Four months later, I had to admit I was much better. I have pain when I am on my feet too long, but so does everyone else. I credit my Physical Therapy Whisperer for this. She worked with my foot in a way no one else did. So much more effort and it paid off. I reluctantly got discharged from therapy. I was scared to stop going.

Two weeks after that, I am walking in a store. I hit my foot on the corner of two pieces of wood. Can you guess which foot? Yes, the right one. It felt like when you stub your toe, only it was the middle of the top of my foot, right where my sandals didn’t cover me. By the time I got home, it looked like this.

Completely swollen. A giant bump, right above, that’s right. The five small scars from my surgery. Like the word right because it’s my right foot.

Two days later, it looked like this.

This bizarre dark purple outline of my toes and another lovely shade of purple covering the rest of it. (Good thing purple is my favorite color.) It actually didn’t hurt except the third night when it hurt like hell. After that, not really. Freakin’ weird. My therapist told me to get an x-ray. The x-ray says no broken bones, just swollen soft tissue. I’ve had at least two medical people tell me the radiologist is nuts.

My poor right foot. I get embarrassed when someone asks what I did to it. I should make up some ginormous story. People would believe me because it looks hideous.

It is a tradition every summer that I end up in the emergency room or something similar at least once. I have it done already and it’s only the beginning the July so I’ve got that going for me.

Which is kinda nice.


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HIPPA

Privacy is great. Protecting our privacy is great. I may be missing something, but sometimes it seems to go too far. When HIPPA laws (designed to protect ME, I think) prevent me from my OWN information, that doesn’t make much sense to me.

It reminds me of the guys I know that got into a physical altercation and both ended up in the emergency room. What was the fight over? COVID restrictions and how to keep themselves safe. Ironic, right?

I’ve had my own two experiences this week. I somehow was able to get a desperately needed appointment for my client without having the four-month wait. My client knew about – and wanted- me to contact the doctor. I emailed him, which is the only way I could reach him. I knew a phone call was a pipe dream, especially because I only had 24 hours.

I called the office to make sure they asked the doctor to read it. Oh, we can’t accept any information by email. HIPPA. Can you fax it? No, I can’t fax it. I don’t have a fax machine anymore. Can I scan it for you and email it? No, nothing by email.

But the client says he is not only comfortable with the email but wants it sent. I believe it is HIS HIPPA rights that he wants to waive for a more important goal. I don’t get it.

The second incident was with me. I went to my foot doctor for post-surgery checkup. During therapy, I got an x-ray because one leg is slightly longer than another. My primary doctor had to order it because ordering a leg x-ray is out of the scope of a foot doctor. Now I thought that in and of itself was kind of dumb because my leg definitely affects my foot, but whatever.

I sent the results to my primary, to my foot doctor, and my physical therapist. (It was my therapist’s idea to begin with.) When I signed in for my appointment, I asked the receptionist for a copy of my report. Sure.

She comes back and says the printer isn’t working. Ask Kim when you go into the room. (Ok, but couldn’t you have done that? Customer service?)

I go into the room and ask Kim. Absolutely not. We didn’t order the test so we can’t give you the results. But it’s MY results. I have a right to my own records. Nope, you have to ask your primary because she ordered it. But I am the one that asked for the results to be sent to you. It’s MY HIPPA rights you are trying to protect. I am here, not at my primary’s office. She remains resolute.

I think you are wrong but ok.

I looked it up on my phone while I was waiting for the doctor. I’ll be damned. She is right. Unless my primary is DEAD, I have to get the results from her.

I’m sure I don’t know all the reasons the law is written that way. But as a consumer, it lacks common sense. Thanks for protecting me, but shouldn’t I have the final say about what I want protection from?

I don’t get it.


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Fun at Physical Therapy?

I’m not any different than anyone else during this pandemic. My only outings every week are to physical therapy. I’ve gotten into a routine now with two other patients. They space us out but there is a brief time we overlap together. At the end of my session, I usually beg Nancy to let me stay longer. Don’t send me home!

Nancy is a very talented therapist and we all know it. She also has a sense of humor so we can give her a hard time because we KNOW she is great.

One of the men obviously has more pain and a longer road to go down than I do. He is usually in a separate room but we crack jokes back and forth. He calls PT “premeditated torture” instead of physical therapy.

Nancy has this streetlight analogy she uses. It drives us crazy. A green level of pain is preferred because it means you are still ok. I did tell her that it’s not easy being green. She thought that was funny, but it turned into bigger laughter when it was quiet and I started playing Kermit singing that song on my phone.

This man has two canes to walk. I can hear and see when one of them falls. I yell out and ask if Nancy has knocked the cane out from underneath him again. He says of course she did. I told him he was lucky because she usually kicks me.

Today was out of control. We exchanged the usual banter and were really proud when a therapist who wasn’t usually there said she wanted to stay in our unit. We are much more fun than other therapy rooms.

I was balancing on the balls I’m supposed to walk on and I look across the room. It was the first time I had seen this guy on the bike. And it was the first time I realized that he had a prosthetic for a leg.

“Oh my God!” I yelled louder than usual. “Nancy, you’ve gone too far this time. The poor guy’s leg fell off!”

Raucaus laughter. I wondered if I had gone too far but he said he has loads of jokes. One time in a hospital he put his leg on backward to freak people out. His sister is making him a t-shirt that says, “Don’t pull my leg. Seriously.”

Later in the session, Nancy asked him how he was doing. “How the hell do you think he’s doing, Nancy? His leg fell off!”

Then it got really bad.

Two of us are laying on tables and our guy is still on the bike. Nancy yells over to him, “Do you need help getting off?”

I couldn’t stand it. I burst into laughter, which started everyone else. The other woman was telling me she had it under control until I had to go and laugh. Leg-guy says the same thing. Nancy says, “Was the only one who didn’t get it?” The three of us say yes in harmony.

Eventually, it was almost time for me to go. By now, Nancy really does have to help him off the bike. The two of them are standing together and she asks him if he needs help. “Getting up?” he says. And the raucaus laughter starts all over again.

Nancy says the redness in her face will probably last forever.

The woman next to me says we really need to get out more.

You said it sister.


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Confusion and COVID19

Perhaps many of you have already seen this, but take three minutes to review this or watch it for the first time.

I haven’t seen anything that reflects what I have been thinking about and experiencing as accurately as this video does. I am already not a news follower, but if ever there is a time to shut off the information, it is now. I find that the biggest and most relevant news out there I hear through conversations with people. I get what I need to know, but avoid the overwhelming amount of bad news. I also avoid banging my head on the wall because of trying to sort out the truth with all the conflicting information.

I think almost every statement in that video clip is something I have heard. But I’m not telling you anything new. My point is not to alert people to the fact that there is confusing information bombarding us.

My point is this:

With so much confusion, how can so many people feel like they know exactly the proper way to respond to this?

I have heard so many people speak with great authority about their opinions. They have lots to say about those that do not agree with their assessment. It has caused tension and has bruised relationships. The media never lies. The media always lies. I’m listening to the government. I’m listening to the Department of Health. I’m not making any changes. I am taking extreme precautions.

And every position between those polar opposites.

Could we be a little kinder to each other? We don’t have any research or data on the last three pandemics America has been through to offer the best practices to deal with this. The fact is, none of us know for certain how to best handle this. None of us. And the facts- the numbers- aren’t even facts. I can give you more than one frightening example of ways numbers have been skewed. Of course, that implies my sources know the truth. See what I mean? Why speak out when you can’t be certain of anything?

Let’s all just do the best we can. Make the most responsible decision for yourself and others based on your understanding of what needs to be done. Give it a real and honest effort. Don’t be lazy and don’t be selfish. But after that, don’t judge anyone else either.

Personally, I watch my clients who are nurses caring for COVID patients the most closely. I’ve known them for years and I’ve known their ethics and sense of personal responsibility. I also know they would cut off a limb or give their life for their children they think are the most precious gift of their lives. Whatever precautions they take to protect their own families is what I trust. That makes sense to me in my heart of hearts.

But that’s just me. You should do what you should do. And I respect that.


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What is There to Say in a Pandemic?

I saw a really cute graphic that had two cartoons side by side. One said “introvert” and it had a stick person sitting comfortably in front of a TV/computer thing. The other had “extrovert” and the stick person was screaming and beating their head on a wall.

Even though I am a writer, I am an extrovert. Well, that is an understatement. I am an extrovert times a hundred. Even a beautiful sunset means little to me until I share it with another human. For years I thought there was something wrong with me, but now I understand it is just how I breathe.

That is my biggest struggle with the situation we are living in. I do what I can to refuel but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. Thank God I am still able to do Physical Therapy. I get my temp taken and wear a mask. I’ve grown very fond of my therapist. She works me hard and gives me a lot of her time. She also has a sense of humor. When she asks me to walk backward and then forgets to tell me to stop and I run into a chair, she laughs with me. I asked another patient to tell me when to stop and she agreed. She said Nancy is clearly out to get me.

I also started going down my database (starting with “A” as a true OCD) and checking out accuracy on businesses and then connecting with friends, family, and clients. I hadn’t talked to my college pals in years. We are doing a Zoom reunion tomorrow night. More than one person called me a bright spot in the gloom so that felt great. I’m only on the letter “F” so we’ll see how far I’ll get before we are “released.”

But I have to admit, combined with the five weeks of almost-quarantine after surgery that occurred before COVID19, it is starting to get to me. I wake up with the Groundhog Day feeling so many others have. I find myself blocking video on Zoom business meetings because I start to tear up without warning. It’s not usually full out crying, but I do shed a drop or two. Or three.

Even when dealing with crisis/emergency clients, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that all the outside agencies have also changed their protocols. My normal feeling of competence and the accompanying confidence I’ve developed because of that is wavering on both counts.

And what makes me want to hit my head on the wall harder, is that I’m no worse off than anyone else. Everyone is hit with this. There is no one I can call who isn’t coping themselves. It is almost embarrassing to call anyone, no matter how much they love me, to vent. I don’t want to add to anyone’s already over-burdened lives.

It just occurred to me that even though writing is an introverted activity, it is also a source of venting and purging. So whoever reader you are, thanks for entertaining my feelings. And I think for today I will imagine there are lots of readers, even if there is not even one. I will let myself feel like I’ve connected to many and hope that puts a bit of substance back in my gas tank.

Thinking of all of you as you journey through this.


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Two Steps Forward

And then one step back. Literally. That is the nature of foot surgery/injury and the healing process. Each time I hit a new landmark I get excited, then get reminded that a new place means new adjustments for my body again. Instead of feeling better, it usually feels worse first.

First week was total bed rest. The original bandage stayed in place. I wore the aircast boot 24 hours a day, even when sleeping. Of course, no driving.

One week later, I was able to get up. I could take the boot off at night. During the day I used two crutches and the scooter when I could. My body was quite sore from both of those aids but I eventually got used to them.

Another week and I was able to take the bandages off for good. Then I had an ace bandage for another week. Then that came off.

Today I had my one month after surgery appointment. I was released to drive, thank goodness. And for the first time in four weeks, I could wear a sneaker. I bought a new pair online and saved them for today. The doc loved them and said they were really good for what I needed.

I’m still supposed to use the scooter whenever I can. I realized that I can actually wear a pair of jeans now. I’ve been wearing sweats for a month. So much I should feel better about.

Now I get to start physical therapy twice a week. And he did mention something about a possible six months more before we know if the surgery was even successful. Ouch.

But the biggest ouch is that my foot has hurt more today than it has in a while. That boot really protected my foot and kept it immobile. I’m sure it will take a few days for it to start to feel better while wearing the sneaker. Instead of celebrating, I’m going to take some Tylenol and then grab a long nap because I’m wiped out.

I have to say, some good life lessons come out of it. Patience for one. I’m also learning a bit about our society and how they treat folks with handicaps. Some people are so thoughtful and kind, others make sure they validate that you are indeed an annoyance with all the help you need from others. I hope I stay sensitive to the people around me once I am not the gimp I am today.

And hey, I am still supposed to avoid stairs when I can. That means no laundry duty for me!