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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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.

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.

 

 

None of This Makes Sense

We all have limits. Mine, apparently, consists of clutter + unfinished projects + insects + cold weather. Once reached, everything is wrong and it feels impossible to get out from under. I’m getting dangerously close to my limit. I think you’d agree, that when the first thing you think of before your eyes are even open, every day, every single day, is the sheets on the futon waiting to be folded, that something is amiss. More than that sentence, I mean. In fact, lets look at that sentence. It’s exactly how I’m feeling all the time. Backwards, mixed up, still making sense but only if you look very closely.

I’m making an effort to write more frequently since I think that words sometimes clog my brain. Having fewer of them in there means I’m less likely to say the wrong ones. Which makes me worry I’m an unusual case of early onset dementia. People don’t usually correct me, but when they do I’m utterly embarrassed, I didn’t even know I’d said the wrong one. So I can’t even be sure it doesn’t happen that often, which is what I’d like to say, because often all I have to go on is an odd look flashing across someone’s face.

And what does that paragraph have to do with the first one? Only that I can’t fold those sheets because by the time I look at the basement door (that’s right, they aren’t even in my line of sight), I’ve realized there are six things that need to be done between me and it and when I go to ask for help the words that come out of my mouth are usually something like, “I better get another cookie.” It’s one giant run on sentence of mental obstacles manifesting in a larger pants size.

And you know what? I don’t even give a fuck that my spring work pants are going to be too tight. Because if I were to think about that, I’d think of the cookies which will remind me of crumbs, which will remind me that there are ants, which will make me grab the broom only to realize our linoleum is a lost cause, which will make me look at the dead tree in the backyard which is vying with the sagging fence for the next pocket of money, after the tax guy and the IRS, of course, because fuck tax brackets, and so I should just squeeze into the pants because I can’t redo my kitchen.

Bet you wish I’d write less. Anyway, since I can only do what I can do, I’ve been listening to the Couch to 80K episodes of the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. The host is charming, the writing exercises are (so far) short, and I’ve thought of new and interesting thing for the first time in months. And I’m not even trying hard. In ten minutes I’ve accomplished something that I haven’t really been able to do in two years. I probably won’t be paid for anything that comes from it but it might help clear a mental path, leaving room for me to get to the sheets, and the ants, and the clutter.

 

The Ants Go Marching

I realize there’s a theme to my thoughts lately. Life seems to be the same, day after day, with even the variations becoming routine. One day this week we’ll throw up our hands and order food. One day this week RR will go to bed ridiculously early. One night this week Debra will be out and I’ll watch something on TV that she wouldn’t bother with. One morning at work I’ll accomplish all the things, another none of the things. One night I’ll sleep so well I’ll never want to get up. One day we’ll go to the grocery store after school and RR will get one of the same 10 snacks she always gets.

I suppose I should be grateful that we don’t do the same thing each day at the same time. Tuesday for the grocery! Thursday for band! A schedule is comforting to an extent, I suppose, but it feels oppressive. I’m pretty sure this is another on the list of things we can blame on my childhood.

I’ve been halfway looking for a break in the clouds. Figuratively, of course. Except today there was a literal break in the clouds and I realized that this is probably the February/March doldrums talking and no indication anything is wrong. I mean to say – all the same things that were wrong are still wrong, or at least sitting on the slowly spinning lazy susan of the Wrong Buffet. But the Wrong Buffet is so meager that complaining seems unnecessary. For instance:

  • There are ants periodically invading our kitchen but they are coming up from the middle of the house. This probably isn’t good. Especially since we can’t find their trail anywhere.
  • The dog dug another hole in the yard. I suppose we’ll have to fill it up.
  • RR has left a banana peel or apple core on the table. Again. The ants apparently don’t care.
  • Our anniversary is next week. We don’t have plans and I don’t particularly need to have plans. Should I be deliriously happy? Can we settle for pleased?
  • The lining is falling off of the inside of the car but we have taxes to pay. Good thing they make glue, I guess.
  • The mattress has a lump.

And so you see, I am the very epitome of First World Problems. Having lived for several years in countries where ants would be welcome(er) because at least that meant you had food, I am as aware as you are that my life is exceptionally good. I’m not ungrateful. I do think February and March are soul-suckers and so it’s a good thing there are only 29 days of this bullshit left.