Almost three years ago I wrote a posting titled Musings- Life And Lemons. About a month ago, life served me a big lemon. I should be used to lemons by now, you’d think. I mean life is a big mixture of lemons and strawberries – or bananas, or mangos, or whatever other fruit is your current sweet-flavored favorite. But somehow, I guess, there’s a subconscious part of me that thinks I should be exempt from lemons, despite the fact that they keep appearing on my plate, and so they tend to side-swipe me when they happen.
So what’s the latest and greatest in the lemon orchard you’re wondering. It may or may not help to understand why I think this latest event on the road that is my life is a lemon, a big lemon. I’m sixty-eight years old. So, OK, technically I was only sixty-seven when this lemon appeared on my radar. But that’s another reason it was a big lemon – it messed up my birthday!!
On Friday 27 April, I headed down to Winter Park to participate in the last-but-one class of the second year of my Audire course. Ruth, my friend who has just completed her third and final year of Audire, drove us down in her truck/van/SUV (not sure which label fits her vehicle; suffice to say it’s big enough and strong enough to haul a good sized trailer). We always go down on the Friday night before class so we can get a good night’s sleep and avoid having to get on the road at o’dark thirty to be at San Pedro retreat center by 8.30am on Saturday morning.
As always, I met up with my dear friend Bickley to enjoy a superb dinner. The dinners with Bickley are always wonderful because we choose a different ethnic restaurant each month so that we can delight our palates. She and I are food aficionados and most of her other local friends are “plain-American-fare” eaters, so she doesn’t get to indulge her more exotic taste buds very often. We had a great Cuban meal that Friday evening and enjoyed even more wonderful friendship time as we caught up with each other since the previous month – which had actually been two months because of the strange class schedule we had this year.
After dinner, Bickley dropped me back to San Pedro and I settled in for the night. Before getting ready for bed, I called my husband, Richard, to tell him about my enjoyable evening with Bickley and to say goodnight. Everything normal so far; not even the hint of a lemon. I prepared myself for the night and got into bed and, out of nowhere, I started experiencing some serious abdominal pains. My immediate thought was “oh no, food poisoning!”. I got out of bed and made a mint tea (good for digestion) and made sure I had a large container of water beside the bed. The pains continued and I resigned myself to “waiting it out”, flushing my system with the tea and lots of water.
By midnight I was worried. The pain hadn’t eased up so I called Ruth who was in the room next to mine. I could tell that she had been deep in sleep. What I couldn’t know was this was the first night she had been able to get to sleep fairly early after two very stress-filled weeks and lots of disturbed nights. I explained what was going on and asked her if she thought I should “call someone”. Ruth sleepily agreed that it sounded like food poisoning and said that there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do and that I would just have to wait for it to “go through my system”. She did however suggest that I lie down quietly and gently massage my tummy and think happy thoughts.
At 3am I was a little mentally hysterical. It occurred to me that the pain hadn’t diminished and it had not even begun to “move through my system”. It was a steady low-burning pain in both my upper and lower abdomen and there wasn’t a single sign of a rumble, a gurgle, a grumble anywhere in my intestines. It was at this point that I made a decision to call 911 and get help. I called Ruth and let her know and she said to open my door so she and the paramedics could get in.
At this point I will make a long story short. A shot of morphine, a 4-mile ambulance drive, a three-hour ER stay, and one cat scan later, the ER doctor informed me that I had an acutely inflamed appendix. Now I ask you, isn’t appendicitis a “kid thing”? Or at very least, a “teen thing”? When was the last time you heard of a sixty-seven year old having acute appendicitis? So what was I to do? “That can’t be”, I firmly told the ER doctor. (Fortunately my husband hadn’t quite arrived at the hospital by then so was spared the embarrassment of that moment.) Hopefully the ER doctor made allowances for the fact that I was under the influence of morphine.
So at about 2pm on Saturday 28 April 2012, I was surgically separated from my appendix. As I waited for surgery, I remember feeling irritated that I was missing class, especially as it was a class that I had been particularly looking forward to. I also remember being frustrated because our next class was in just two weeks and I had to prepare an end-of-year integration paper as well as other homework and I wasn’t going to be in the best of shape for the next few weeks. I found myself thinking that it was my birthday in a few days and how was I supposed to celebrate if my head was still full of anesthetic and narcotic pain-killers, and my body was still weak from the whole surgery thing. This was a very bitter lemon indeed.
Thank God I got out of that kind of thinking pretty quickly! I cannot remember if I got there myself or if it was Richard who spoke it into reality, but I do remember at some point being grateful that the acute appendectomy was happening now and not closer to our trip to Italy at the end of June; even more grateful that it didn’t happen during that trip! I remember suddenly being grateful that I was being taken care of and receiving good medical attention (the staff at Memorial Hospital, Winter Park, FL were all wonderful!). And I remember also feeling grateful that I had decent medical insurance that covered this care. I got to making lemonade fairly quickly, especially once I got my pain meds!
I went home just a little over twenty four hours after being taken to OR, thanks to the wonders of laparoscopic surgery, and I experienced gratitude on a whole other level. I was truly grateful that Richard is retired now and is always at home (didn’t think I would be saying that so very sincerely!), and for the very intimate and personal care that he gave me as I made my recovery from this whole event. I was grateful for all the prayers and cards that friends sent my way and the telephone calls that showed how much they cared.
Another lesson in gratitude learned. Another lesson in being flexible and to expect the unexpected. I got my integration paper done in time despite having a befuddled brain for a few weeks (anesthetic can really mess you up mentally as well as take your knees out from under you physically), and I was well enough to attend my class two weeks later. My birthday celebration was low-key and a little delayed but it was still a celebration. In fact it was more of a celebration (internally at least) because I was still around to celebrate. So, even though I’m a slow learner, I am still teachable and I am learning to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
I have been “off the grid” for a couple of weeks. This does not mean I have not been writing. The fact of the matter is that I have been writing a lot, just not publicly. Normally, I am a very “open” person. Those of you who read my postings regularly know that I share quite freely about my emotions and the circumstances and events that take place in my life.
However, there are some things that come along that I need to deal with on a more private level. I have several networks of friends whom I can turn to on occasions such as these. I also have my intimate relationship with the God of my understanding and even when friends are not available, He is always ready to help me bear my burdens. And, of course, I have my best friend, my husband.
But, perhaps because of my deep connection to the written word, I also use the tool of writing to help me in such times. I find that journaling about a problem or an issue helps me to put things into perspective a little easier. And just the fact that words appear on paper is already a balm to my troubled spirit.
When I journal I always use pen and paper rather than the computer. I love the old-fashioned way of expressing my thoughts by manually writing them out. There’s something more personal, more intimate, about hand-writing. And, of course, it’s my handwriting, which brings the subject matter even closer to home.
So when I am heart-burdened, writing out the problem, the pain, the confusion, in long-hand is very therapeutic. I can sometimes find the courage to put some words down on paper that I might not be able to express verbally. And even though it’s subjective, there is also that sense of it being someone else’s problem. In fact, sometimes I write in the third person singular, as though I were writing about another person.
Journaling my sorrow allows me to get what’s inside, outside. It is yet another way to nurture myself. I refuse to be bogged down by pain, and I surely do not want the pain to fester into anything like resentment or anger!! Those are two cancers of the soul that I will not allow to hang around.
And so my pen travels across the pages of my journal, and as it leaves its inky trail my heart lightens and everything seems more bearable. I always have a handful of pretty journals on hand for such writing. Wrapping those dark feelings between two beautifully designed covers somehow lessens their hold on my heart and turns my journaling into another level of spiritual growth.
I’m never quite sure what happens to me when my normal routine is disrupted. All I know is that it seems to take me forever to re-find myself, to get back into my everyday patterns and the activities that I love doing. Sometimes the disruption is a “going away” thing; a trip, a vacation, a retreat. Sometimes the disruption is caused internally; an emotional hiccup, a hormonal hill, an unexpected trauma. The journey back is more difficult when the disruption is a “double-whammy” – a trip AND an internal shift.
Last weekend Richard and I took a trip. We mounted our much-loved Harley and hit the road. First stop was Orlando where we spent the night and participated in Night of Joy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (That experience will be a posting of its own.) We had a great ride and even though we encountered some of the usual backed-up traffic on I-4, we arrived safely.
On Saturday morning we slept in a little after our late night at the concerts and, after breakfast, we got back on Harley fully kitted out in our rain gear. There was a steady drizzle of rain which wasn’t too bad, but the closer we got to Tampa the harder it came down. We were glad to reach our destination – the lovely luxurious Westin on the Causeway – change into dry clothes, order up some room service, and just relax. Later in the evening we took a cab to Mass at Christ the King church, then crossed the road to eat at GrillSmith on South Dale Mabry Hwy. (Another separate posting on this experience!)
On Sunday morning we prepared for the other highlight of this trip: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Dallas Cowboys. Richard and I are die-hard Cowboys’ fans and this was a great game to be able to travel to. The weather was reasonable even though showers were promised. We had our rain ponchos and what’s a bit of water if you can get to see the “Boys”!! (The game will be another posting!)
We happily prepared for our trip home (the “Boys” won after an exciting game that could have gone in either direction until the fourth quarter). Apart from a short we-are-lost detour at the beginning of the trip (unfamiliar city roads and road construction!), and a small shower closer to home, we had another great ride and arrived home safely at about 10pm.
Now that was a fabulous weekend; no hiccups, no problems, and a very happy ending. It just carried a simple “disruption” tag to my usual routine. So why on earth did I wake up on Monday morning feeling like I was sliding down some treacherous slippery hill of grayness? I guess if I could answer that question, and especially if I could offer a solution, I could get very rich very easily!
Thank God that I have done a lot of personal growth and spiritual growth work over the last thirty years. At least this puts me in a position to be able to actually recognize that I was on this slippery slope. It allows me to know myself enough that I am aware that geographical and time disruptions to my routine affect me in ways that perhaps other people do not experience. I am also willing to put a name to that slippery slope, that most people avoid because they feel it carries too much stigma: depression.
I feel blessed that I have built a support system of incredible friends and that I know to reach out no matter how small the hiccup or hill may seem. I do not want my hills to grow into menacing mountains that I cannot surmount. I also feel blessed and grateful that the depression that I suffer from occasionally is not acute and does not require medication. I also recognize that if I did not have the self awareness that I have worked so hard to achieve, and if I were not willing to take action and ask for support and help, I could easily spiral into deeper depression.
Many people out there, especially those in the male category, refuse to even consider that they may be depressed. I think it is time to concede that as human beings, with all the in-built emotions and hormones (yes, you guys have crazy hormones too!!) and all the external stress that we deal with on a daily basis, it is normal for us to have “ups and downs”. In our “ups” we are high on happiness and excitement. In our “downs” our happiness is pushed down, de-pressed.
Sometimes it requires nothing spectacular to de-press our feelings. It can be something as simple as the end of a special occasion (a trip, a celebration) or even a split second thought or memory that triggers a series of other thoughts that take us down. And sometimes all or any of this can take place on such a subconscious level that we cannot put our finger on what is causing our “down”, our de-pression.
So on Monday my plan had been to get up and immediately hit the computer and share all the wonderful experiences of the weekend and whatever else the Muse presented. But somewhere on that slippery slope Muse had jumped off the wagon and I was left with “gray”. Plan of action: pray, call a friend, go meet with some people who didn’t think I was crazy and who understood exactly what I was going through.
And that is how I am very blessed. I have gathered around me people who are available to me, who care about me enough to give me their time and their invaluable friendship, who are willing to listen, to share their own experience in similar circumstances. With their help, it has taken me four days to fully come back up and feel normally enthusiastic about each day.
I have been patient and gentle with myself. I have not “self-bashed” myself because I haven’t written anything since Saturday. I have allowed myself to be “lazy” and focused on doing just the absolute essentials on my schedule. And lo! the Muse is back. More postings to follow!!!!