Life Insurance Woes

At the end of last year, Debra and I put on our adult pants and went to a financial advisor. Said advisor also sells life insurance policies which is how my extended family came into a relationship with him, rather than actually having money. Any constant reader could probably sum up my distaste for doctors in one or two bits of profanity, but for you folks new to the scene or perhaps just wearing those handy rose-colored glasses, I have a lifelong struggle with anxiety and medical practitioners. In fact, should that person even have access to a blood pressure cuff (acupuncturist and dentist, I’m looking at you), I have access to a panic attack which I’m only able to avoid most of the time.

The nurse came to the house and did a comprehensive medical questionnaire as well as gathering blood and urine, weighing us, etc. The questionnaire covered our physical and mental health and we provided every last piece of information, including all of the doctors’ contact information. For all the build up here, you won’t be surprised to learn Debra’s was approved several months ago and mine has needed extensive follow-up.

My PCP sent my records four times. The underwriters failed to for university hospital records. They sent me, by email, another extensive set of questions about my mental health, all of which I’d answered with the nurse. Frankly, I’d have been happy to do the whole thing via email but apparently that’s only not allowed the first time. Then they decided they’d need those records from the university. Now, six months later, they are complaining because the university is slow. I mean, yes, I’m sure their medical records department is slow. But I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the underwriters who lost records, didn’t read the ones they had, and delayed in making the records request.

It was so hard to go through with it the first time, to be confronted with my litany of medical failings. The brain surgery (not cancer), the suspicious breast lump (not cancer), the steel ankle rod (not cancer), the mental health suite of fun (not cancer though!), and the melanoma (actually cancer). I feel like I’m a wreck and every time I have to talk to the insurance company or the underwriters I get closer to breaking down in tears. I’m worried they’ll have to do the exam part again and I’m trying not to imagine what that will feel like. Honestly, if it were Debra, I’d be okay if she gave up at this point. But I don’t want to leave them without money to live on and the longer I wait, the more difficult this is going to get.

Being a grown-up is too hard some days.

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Mother’s Day Presents

In honor of Mother’s Day, I bring you these two tidbits. One is, most definitely, better than the other.

My mother needs lots of help as she prepares to move cross-country. Mind, the move isn’t until the end of July but, by golly, she is going to be packed and sitting on boxes by June 1st. I’m not sure why she thinks this is a good idea and my opinion doesn’t generally matter. Suffice to say, we’re doing a lot of drop by furniture moving, etc. We also have dinner with her every Sunday. Every. Sunday. I think that we have rescheduled three Sundays in the last four years and have only passed on one outright. So it’s reasonable for a reasonable person to expect that we’d have dinner again, and move boxes again, this Sunday. Which is how we got to this text:

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Is it unreasonable to hope that someday my suggestion of items to bring will not be met by a statement about mini ice cream but rather by a “Great! I have ranch dressing!” She constantly, in small ways like this, refuses to make any decisions at all. Rather than hold accountability for saying yes to bread and salad at the risk of forgetting something else, she doubles down on what she has. Every conversation goes like this. Reasonable questions met not with answers but by close-but-not-quite statements of sometimes totally unrelated fact. At least we were both talking about dinner. This time.

On the other hand, I picked up RR from school yesterday and she has Mother’s Day presents:

RR: Mama! I made you and mama presents for Mother’s Day!
Me: Oh you did! That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to see them.
RR: It’s a secret. A potholder for you and this picture for mama.
Me: Those sound like good secrets.
RR: That’s right. They will be a surprise, won’t they?

Yep.

Anxiety is the Worst

I wouldn’t say it’s crippling anxiety, but it’s definitely dragging one useless foot anxiety. I emailed the coaches for my daughter’s probably swim team today. I have some baggage with that, having started to swim early with what I recognize now as limping but not yet cane-worthy anxiety. I remember going into the building by myself at five, never really making friends, never being fast enough for the coaches but too fast to be well-liked, and knowing I just had to make it through or my mother would be disappointed and angry. Perhaps my five-year-old self has blown this out of proportion. Maybe anxiety didn’t start punching me in the gut until I was eight. Maybe I wasn’t an outsider right away. Maybe the coaches didn’t loom quite so large, didn’t criticize quite so much. It doesn’t matter, not really. That anxiety stayed with me right through high school and while I eventually had plenty of friends and became a team captain, an assistant coach, and a lifeguard, I still feel like I’ll throw up every time I see a lane line, block, or the black lines marking the path on the bottom of the pool.

On a smaller level, I’m gripped with sick fear each time I’m supposed to be some place where talking to a lot of other people about everyday things is expected. Can you believe I spent ten years attending parties with foreign dignitaries? No, I can’t either. I’m well-liked, I’m adept at small talk, I connect with others easily, I’m a strong public speaker. In other words, you wouldn’t know that inside I feel like I’m banging on the walls to get out trying to stay clear of the black whirlpool of panic whenever I’m supposed to be in a group with more than two others. Even one person, on an occasional basis, has the capacity to nearly paralyze me although I sometimes surprise myself with a glimpse of the me who used to attend group gatherings with only mild trepidation.

It doesn’t stop me from my professional obligations, mostly. I don’t usually attend “fun” gatherings because for me they are torture. I do go to conferences and meetings and trainings and workshops confidently with a smile because it’s the expectation and I’m particularly good at drowning out the screaming in order to be professional. Still, there are only so many times you can beg off because you aren’t feeling well or have a family requirement. And it does prevent me from doing things I might enjoy if only I could make it past myself.

I left a promising career.
I left a monthly gathering of friends and acquaintances.
I haven’t attended team building parties with my staff.
I’ve made excuses not to attend big work gatherings.
I’ve skipped live music, parades, block parties, and festivals.
I’ve put off visits with friends and family.
I didn’t take my daughter to swim team kick-off. I lied to my kid. She didn’t meet the coach. She didn’t buy a suit. She didn’t meet any other kids.

It’s this last one I’m ashamed of. Sure, she can register at anytime and she’ll get to do all of those things at practice. But I read the handbook and there is a series of “fun” events (not to mention volunteering at meets) throughout the summer. Add this to the “fun” events the girl scout troop has and I am sitting here typing and struggling to breathe. I don’t want my daughter to see this. I don’t want to pass it on in any way. But I don’t want to do this and I can’t ask my wife to do everything.

Yes, I could see someone. I could breathe deep and exercise and meditate. I’d rather have a pill to make it stop. I’d rather be a different person. But here I am and I have a few more decades to grit my teeth and endure.

There is no good last sentence here.

If I Grow Up

Last night, RR turned to me and said “If I grow up to be a chef, I will definitely not cook [things in squid ink].” I was charmed by her turn of phrase – if I grow up to be rather than when I grow up I’ll be. Really, this statement captures everything about her.

If I grow up to be. As if it’s pre-ordained. Or as if it could be anything, independent of her wishes or choices. Perhaps personhood will be bestowed on her at some point and she will become a fully-realized someone overnight. It’s a lottery, this growing up business.

I come from a when I grow up I’ll be world. I assure you that I sprang from the womb planning the next five steps to the current goal. So I think it’s curious that at almost eight she still hasn’t offered a when perspective, only an if. Perhaps this is why bike riding (and potty training previously) doesn’t inspire her. She expects that one day she’ll wake up and be able to ride, or not.

Judging by the way she handled speaking, walking, reading, and nearly everything else, she’s probably right.

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Technology, Man

Let me be upfront. I value the charm and convenience of technology more than I do the need to cautiously prevent my data from be sloppy all over the internet. Perhaps it’s a stint as a federal employee and knowing that my fingerprints and everything about me is in a file somewhere. At any rate, let’s all assume I know the dangers and woe and move ahead.

I love that I can keep up with my friends all over the world and that I can use facebook groups like Buy Nothing to keep things out of the landfill and meet my neighbors at the same time. I love that I can use Instagram to see pictures of food in Delhi and, right after it, your kid joyously conquering a new milestone. I love that I have exclusively online friends I’ve met here (yes, here!) and elsewhere who, on some days, are my closest friends who I happily text with regularly. I love that I have devices and apps to track my steps and tell me whether I’m getting a touch too lazy. I love that I barely need to check my email since I can use so many other more instant methods of communication. And I especially love Timehop which rolls out more than 13 years of “on this day” pictures. Just the other day there was this gem of my wife and I, three years ago:

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We look so young and so happy – it was a good reminder that we need to get away together more often and that our current states of neutral-unhappy shouldn’t be okay. There is a different standard.

And this sign from the same day, reminding me that my sister lived with us 13 years ago. On a day trip to a street fair she casually yodeled “hello prisoners” not truly believing the sign was still relevant. The voice on the loudspeaker scolding her has provided years of laughter.

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But my day died a year ago this Saturday and Timehop has been ruthless about pulling photos from shared google albums. Like today’s picture that my mother never should have shared of her propping my infant nephew on my father’s lap two days before he died. Maybe she thought the sentiment was important. My father looks worse than I remember. The tears got lodged so high up in my throat I haven’t made a sound in hours. I’m deleting the picture from my life.

I’m prepared for it to pull in the obit I shared to facebook with his smiling picture. I did a good job writing it and I think I captured him as well as anyone could. I’m prepared for pictures from the hospice waiting room of my sisters piecing together a puzzle. I was not prepared for that.

Facebook does something similar, recommending you reshare a picture you posted long ago. Many of my old friends are logging off for good and it’s bittersweet. I truly love knowing about their lives, when they have babies, where they are travelling, even when they die. But it’s true that I barely even glance at my newsfeed anymore, heading straight to the groups I belong to. I’m much more active on Instagram (that’s a hint, yes) and I appreciate the lack of “vaguebooking” and news infiltration. Also, it’s not going to remind me that one year ago I was falling apart at the seams and gently prods me to address that fact that I am not yet stitched back together.

It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? Now go forth and follow @meridith_ann so I can follow you back.

 

Grief Beauty

Today as I was drying my hair, I noticed how unsatisfying my arms looked. I mean yes, at that angle, very few of us at this age have lovely tight upper arms. However, a year ago I remember looking in that same mirror and thinking that they weren’t bad arms. Not as terrible as I thought they were growing up. Certainly not bad enough that they deserved to be obscured by a cardigan even on the hottest summer days. Now, though. Now there’s no cardigan negotiation. These are not arms I want to be dragging around town where everyone can see.

Completely related, a year ago I was at the gym 5 days a week. I was cardio-ing away the intense sadness of watching my father die. I cried on every treadmill in the gym. I walked miles with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lifted weights I can’t imagine lifting today. I was at the gym during his final days, making an exception to my no-texting-at-the-gym rule so that I could make sure I wasn’t missing the Big Goodbye. By the time fall arrived I had stopped going entirely. I’m not even sure the gym is still there.

My weight held steady until last month when it seemed like a dam broke on the scale. I can see the extra pounds on my arms and my stomach and I am not at all happy. In fact, I think the only things I’ve done for my appearance in a year are to dye my eyelashes and cut my hair. I got tired of wiping off mascara smears every time I cried. I cut my hair because half of it fell out and it made me feel better not to be reminded every time I pulled my hair back…to go to the gym.

So now I have more weight, short hair, and brown lashes which I probably won’t dye again. My summer clothes don’t exactly flatter. I am slowly coming around to the idea of going back to the gym. If only because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not be unhappy. That makes sense, right? Why is it so hard to actually do it? And why does it feel like it won’t make a difference if I do?

 

Gracefully Aging

Look, that title makes it seem like I’m going to write thoughtfully about mid-life and we’ll all nod sagely and think kindly about our own mortality and tell each other we love each other.

This is not that post.

Last week a mole that was new, or at least incognito, arrived on my neck, started to bleed, and subsided into a small scabby thing that wasn’t that much different than the spot that turned out to be melanoma. That spot relieved me of a couple of lymph nodes and a good part of my upper right arm. In exchange, I got a startling scar that looks more like the aftermath of a shark bite and less like surgical precision. At my last appointment, I received a scolding about ignoring another similar spot that faded into nothing so I went in for reassurance that it was some post-ingrown hair irritation.

There were all sorts of people in the waiting room and more than a couple with white bandages on their faces or ears. The kind that I associate with my mother and grandmother. I imagine you know where this is going. At least I walked out with a beige, smallish, bandage, a hole in my neck where the spot used to be, and a promise that they’d get back to me on Monday.

I grew up in the sunbelt. My heritage is so very fair. Skin cancer was a thing we had in my family. My mom would show up with a giant bandage on her nose. The next month my grandmother would have one spanning across her shoulder and up her neck. We mostly pretended not to notice. The bandages came as gradually but as certainly as the wrinkles and age spots did and I came to associate them with getting older. And now that’s me. I’m the person that my child will look at and see as unimaginably old, bandaged, and sacrificed to the sun.

I want to handle this with laugh lines (check) and good humor (eh). It’s not so easy. I can’t ignore the fact that the skin of my hands and the capillaries on my face look like my father’s. That I have a belly like my grandmother’s who I knew, intellectually, wasn’t pregnant but who was surely shaped like someone who was. That nothing on my body is smooth or silky and that my eyes are fading to a lighter blue every year. I want to handle this gracefully. Perhaps with sheer determination I’ll succeed.