More medical fun

I’ve been pre-occupied lately with more medical stuff. Some of it is the same old stuff with some new developments, and some of it is new.

First, the old stuff. I had to go back to the gynecologist for a check on all the shenanigans earlier this year. The timing was fortuitous, since after I had set the appointment I started bleeding again and could talk to her about that odd occurrence. With my levels of estrogen and progesterone being pretty much non-existent when tested in April this was unexpected, so now I get to have the endometrial biopsy. Hooray (not). At least this doctor believes in good drugs. I took some misoprostol last night to “prep the area,” and was instructed to take a hydrocodone before I arrive at the office. My neighbor and friend is driving me to the doctor’s office, so I won’t be a hazard to anyone on the road.

I don’t expect that there will be any problems found with the biopsy, but it’s recommended to make sure my bleeding isn’t caused by something bad. When I told the doc that I haven’t had any hot flashes in a couple of months, she said it was likely my ovaries produced some extra estrogen for a while, which is why this happened. Sadly, the hormonal pendulum seems to be swinging back the other direction because I’ve started having a few little hot flashes during the night and evenings. (I wonder why they happen so much more often in the evening? I’ll have to ask the doctor.)

The really shocking thing I’ve been working on absorbing is that I was diagnosed with a form of glaucoma called angle closure glaucoma. This all came about when I went in for what I thought would be a routine eye exam not quite two weeks ago. I had been experiencing some redness in my right eye, and had noticed that the eye was looking a little odd, but I didn’t imagine it was anything serious.

The optometrist told me that the intraocular pressure in my right eye was very high, that I needed to use some drops over the weekend to reduce the pressure, and to come back on Monday when another doc could evaluate me for glaucoma. I tried not to worry about it over the weekend and used the drops as prescribed. When I went back on Monday the second doctor repeated all the tests and referred me to an ophthalmologist, where I was seen later that day. Two doctors examined me there and that’s when I was given the diagnosis and told I needed laser surgery to correct it. The drops were working to reduce the intraocular pressure, so I needed to continue those for another week until the surgery could be scheduled.

Yesterday was the big day, and after a laser peripheral iridotomy, I now have an extra hole in my iris. It’s been amazing how quickly the procedure has worked to get my eye looking normal again. Due to the pressure, my pupil was distorted and the iris looked bigger in my right eye than my left. Within a few hours the pupil shape and iris were looking closer to normal again.

Unfortunately, I’ll never regain the vision I lost in the eye. The vision loss seems to be mostly peripheral, and I can’t say I really notice it very much. I’ve apparently had this angle closure issue for “a while” now, so the vision loss has happened slowly enough that it never triggered any alarms for me. After the laser procedure yesterday the doctor told me that the reason I have the angle closure issue is that I have plateau iris syndrome: the shape of my iris makes the drainage angles in my eyes very narrow and easily blocked. If the iridotomy alone doesn’t work, I’ll need another laser procedure to widen the angles. I’ll also need to get the left eye fixed, too, so I can minimize any vision loss in it.

I’ve been getting my eyes examined every year since I have a vision plan as part of my employer benefits. However, this issue of narrow angles is apparently only recognized when there is a special exam called a gonioscopy — which isn’t part of a standard eye exam — performed. I’m making a list of questions to ask the doctor during my follow-up visit, and I’ve also already let my sister know about this since plateau iris and glaucoma seem to run in families.

The lesson here is to get your eyes checked every year. And if you have any history of glaucoma in your family, you may even want to request a gonioscopy to confirm if you have narrow angles. If I had been diagnosed with the plateau iris condition sooner I could have had iridotomy years ago and perhaps saved more of my vision.

Go with your gut

I broke the stand-off with father and stepmother. I’m not sure if it was a good decision or not. On the one hand, I learned some stuff that is relevant, including some health history and more about how they want to interact with me. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can handle the latter.

It has to be clarified that father and stepmother are a unit and they are rarely if ever interacting separately with me or my sister. It became apparent shortly after they connected over 20 years ago that this was their preference — that every phone call and every visit took place with BOTH of them, and never with father only — and this position has been vehemently guarded ever since. There was even a reality TV-worthy altercation at the funeral of my paternal grandmother because the cousins wanted to place a small photo album in the casket and said album did not contain a photo of stepmother, yet did contain a photo of my real mother. The bickering at the wake and funeral, and the physical wrestling over this little album was intense. (Sister and I weren’t involved in these altercations at all; when asked by a cousin what I thought of the situation I mildly said I didn’t think it was worth fighting over and to leave the album out. I can’t recall what happened to it.) Both sister and I think my stepmother has a lot to do with my painful experiences over the past two months.

Over Labor Day weekend I felt like I was ready to deal with father and stepmother again. I finally got through to them on that Sunday while I was out walking the dog. There was a long conversation because they were imparting some family medical history they thought I should know, and there were several minutes where I did get a bit worked up because I was being questioned about the validity of information I was sharing. Stepmother was telling me I was wrong about what I knew about my maternal grandmother’s death, and I was insisting that wasn’t the case because I was there at the hospital and I talked to the doctors myself. When I realized I was getting argumentative I apologized and softened my tone. (But I wasn’t going to back down on the facts. I was in my 20s when my maternal grandmother died. I was very familiar with the health problems she had because I’d lived with her for several months after graduating undergrad. I wasn’t a child who was getting my information second-hand, which stepmother apparently thought was the case because she kept saying “Who told you that? Where did you get that information?” Ugh! I WAS THERE! I had to repeat that exact phrase about 10 times!!)

There were a few times during this conversation where father commented that they had been wanting to tell me this information, but that they were waiting for me to call them. So the last time this came up I acknowledged my lack of calling by saying that I had to take a break for a while.

The next day, I received an email from my dad. There was more documentation about the medical history, and also some other commentary that I’ve excerpted below.

Now on to another concern of mine: My feelings don’t seem to count or at least that was the way I felt when you said yesterday, “I needed to take a break from you.”  About a year and a half ago, since you are one of seven children involved with my life, [stepmother] and I asked you to take one of the seven days of the week to simply make a very brief call early in the day to check that all is well here.  Your response to me at that time was, “Well it goes both ways. You know my phone number, you can call me.” And when you were still in Chicago, I never heard from you on ‘your day.’ I only heard from you when you were upset with something.  You do not have to do the brief weekly phone call.  It is your choice to refuse.  When a child becomes an adult, roles change. Older parents cannot continue to solve the problems their adult children experience. There are not enough hours in the day!  I try as an older parent to not burden you with my minor day-to-day problems.

I thought this was worth responding to in a thoughtful and honest way, so I took my time to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Then I sent an email response about a week later. I’ve edited out some of the message because it’s not relevant.

Dear Dad,

I really appreciate the thoughtful email. Very often I find it easier to communicate in writing and prefer this form of dialog because it allows me to reflect before I react. Conversations aren’t as easy for me; I find my immediate emotions to what is being discussed sometimes get in the way.

There is a lot here to reflect back on.

[edited out…] as to my not adhering to a schedule to call you, all I can say is: it’s complicated. It sounds like you think of these weekly phone calls as a short check in, while I think of them as opportunities to talk and share updates. I wasn’t feeling that you were interested in sharing anything about yourself (your health or whatever was going on) with me for a short while there and I found it distressing. I am trying very hard to change parts of myself and to let go of negative feelings like anger, sadness, etc. It’s not an easy process for me. Sometimes I need to just turn inward to attend to it. That’s what I meant by taking a break. Then when I feel strong again, I can pick life back up and move forward.

The crux of the issue really is that I’ve felt for many, many, many years that I’m only acceptable and loved if I’m doing exactly what you tell me to do. That if I do something outside of what you find acceptable behavior, I’m bad and not worthy of your love and attention. Maybe that is not what you intend at all, just as I don’t intend my withdrawal periods to be slights on your feelings. I guess this is a pattern that is going to be a very stubborn one to break. I’m trying, though. I’m really, really trying.



I thought that my efforts to really open up here could be a step in the right direction. I thought that expressing my feelings would be appreciated. And I also thought I wrote in pretty clear English that didn’t require any subtle interpretations. Apparently, I was wrong.

The response to this message came into my email box Friday afternoon, but I chose not to read it right away. I thought I was ready to read it yesterday morning, but I’m sure not sure I can even think of a time when I would be ready to read this response. (Again, I edited out some details that were irrelevant.)

Dear Linda,

I was glad to get your response. Sorry I didn’t get back sooner, but we had dentist appointment [sic] on several days and lots of Church meetings…etc., all out of town.

[Edited out]

As to asking you to make a very brief call early in the day once a week to check that all is well here I did because you are my daughter and I thought that was not any kinda stressor [sic].  As I said in that email, you do not have to do the brief weekly phone call.  It is your choice to refuse.  But, still I don’t feel that expecting me to listen to all your ‘problems’ while you are walking the dog, is my responsibility either. Experiencing problems and solving them yourself is part and parcel of life.  As I said in that email, I try as an older parent to not burden you with my minor day-to-day problems.

You also said, “I wasn’t feeling that you were interested in sharing anything about yourself (your health or whatever was going on) with me for a short while there”, yet you totally cut me off when I tried to tell you of some of my experiences in the Redwoods in California.  We have been in California and up and down the West Coast quite a few times. We have had family living in California since 1988 and for ten years had a niece and her family in Napa. [I have no idea what any of this means as I have no recollection of a conversation where I was cutting off anything being discussed. This is all news to me.]

As far as health goes, I am able to make up my mind about what I want to do with my health concerns. Just because you were there when a doctor came in does not mean that you are making or have a say in my decision.  I have a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPA) to take care of that if I get incapacitated. And, several of those doctors are far from being competent about what I need in medical care. My Primary Physician disagreed with what you heard said while you were in the room. [This is a reference to my visit to him in the hospital back in late June. There were some doctors and specialists that came in while I was present so I couldn’t help hearing what they were saying. Again, it seems that by expressing any interest at all in his health I am making some sort of medical recommendation to him?]

[Edited out]

I’m sorry you feel that I tell you what to do and that you question whether you are loved when I make a suggestion.  Parents do things like that because they love their child and don’t want the child to experience some of the hurts and tribulations.  At this point in my life, I must tend to my own problems!  We all have to grow up and be responsible for our choices and actions. I certainly can’t spend my older adult years settling anybody else’s problems.  I need to focus on my aging process and looking after myself.  I love you and I always will!

Love, Dad

I was devastated by this email. I couldn’t believe the huge gap that existed in what I had thought I was clearly communicating and his (their?) interpretation of it. It hurt to read that my attempts at conversation were seen as burdensome sharing of my “problems.” (That really floors me because I think I’ve talked mainly about how happy I am here and how well I’ve been doing with making friends. I guess talking about the health issues I was experiencing earlier this year were the burdensome part?)

My scary (to me) admission that I felt I was only loved by doing exactly what I am told to do was interpreted as “you question whether you are loved when I make a suggestion.” The difference may be a bit subtle, but it is there. No, I don’t mind suggestions at all. What does make me feel unloved and uncomfortable is inflexible insistence that I must be the one to make regular contact. Plus I’ve had conflicts when I was younger (pre-stepmother) where I received rigid instructions and was punished and denigrated for not following them. (Like the time I called to ask for a few more minutes on my curfew since I was running late and was told that if I was late I was grounded, no matter what. So I stayed out until 3 AM. Father yelled at me in the morning, pounded on the table, and called me a slut.) That’s what I meant when I said this had been going on for many, many, many years. I thought that by opening up in that way I’d hear a “water under the bridge” type response and assurance that wasn’t the case at all.

I cried so hard reading that email that Hannah dog moved into her “comfort dog” position right next to me. I called my sister and I read her the messages.

Sister and I both have opinions on what is going on here. We suspect that much of what is written was edited or dictated by stepmother. We know that she is a controlling person and her identity as a highly intelligent, highly informed person is very important to her. She is intelligent, but she seems to feel threatened by other people’s intelligence, too. I suspect that she is still angry and threatened by the fact that I was not only present during the doctor/specialist visits during father’s recent hospitalization, but that I actually asked a follow-up question or two of her and in subsequent conversations with father where she wasn’t present. And the recent conversation we had where I was correcting her information about my maternal grandmother’s death probably irritates her, too.

While sister has suggested that I try to call and ask for a private conversation with father, I’m not ready to do that. For now I’ve decided that I have to go back to a father and stepmother hiatus again.

Living near the fire zone

One of my close friends from Chicago lived in Southern California for several years. She describes Southern California as having two seasons: Brown and On Fire.

Here in Northern California, I actually saw quite a bit of green over last winter, but the On Fire part has been very true this year. To this Midwestern gal, the idea of a “fire season” or “fire weather” is odd. Chicago summers are usually hot, humid and sticky. Here in California, summer means lots of dry, sunny weather, which is what I really wanted and expected. However, the extended drought has made the summers more dry, and the annual wildfire season has been more intense than usual, too. I’ve been within 50 miles of several wildfires this summer: the Rocky Fire, the Wragg Fire, and now the Valley Fire.

This Valley Fire is an amazing beast that spun up quickly and is doing a lot more damage to property than the other fires in the area. While I can’t see it directly, the communities it has affected are ones that I’ve visited, so I connect with the damage done to them more than the other fires.

The photos I saw of what happened to Harbin Hot Springs are horrible. My friend R and I spent Christmas Day there last year and in the photos I recognize the outlines of the paths we walked and the pools where we enjoyed ourselves. It was such a quiet, blissful place to visit, and it seemed so quintessentially Californian to me to go to a hot springs and sit outdoors on what is typically a cold and blustery day back in Chicago.

While the drought continued this year in California and across the southwest, my news feeds on Chicago weather kept showing rain, rain, rain throughout much of the summer. There was flooding in the Chicago area, and the summer was overall cooler and wetter than a typical year.

This is the face of climate change.

My social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor are full of posts about supplies needed for evacuees, volunteer opportunities, and lost and found animals. There are also some scary videos and photos taken by people evacuating from the Valley Fire or from news crews and fire fighters working in the area. Many evacuees (people and animals, such as dogs, goats, horses, cats, and chickens) are being housed in Napa County at the fair grounds, and in privately owned facilities, too. In addition to the Red Cross, there are a few local credit unions collecting funds to be used for disaster relief for the many displaced individuals.

I’ve reached out to a coordinator about volunteering to help prep and serve food to the evacuees and will be visiting a local credit union to make a cash donation, too. It’s the least I can do to help others in this community that has been so welcoming to me.

Back in June I had my 48th birthday. At the time, I didn’t have any big celebrations because there was a lot going on with work and travel and family. I wasn’t feeling 100% well, either, and was tired a lot. I did have Happy Birthday sung to me twice that day: once during a phone meeting by my colleagues halfway across the world in India, and a second time that evening at knitting group. It felt good that I had people who cared about me enough to sing to me.

Talking with friends and my sister about this year’s birthday I made the observation that while I couldn’t say I felt old, I definitely no longer felt young. My earlier illness, the hot flashes at night and during the day, and the chronic sleep deprivation from trying to work an east coast schedule while living on the west coast was taking its toll on me.

Around this time I found a Regina Spektor CD at the library and was reminded of the lyrics to On the Radio, which seemed to perfectly fit with my mood.

This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not

I listened to the song a lot as I kept pushing through an exhausting month. Then it was July and I got sick again. Luckily I was able to start putting some balance back into my life in July as I recovered. I spent more time reading and thinking, and reflecting on past events in my life and how I got to now.

Over a year ago it was suggested by a colleague that I get the Gallup Strengthsfinder book to get more insights into work that appealed to me. The results of the personality test were not surprising to me, and reinforced my understanding of how my mind works. My key themes are Input (I absorb information like a sponge), Context (learn from the past), Restorative (I love to find solutions to problems), Learner (I love to learn), and Intellection (I’m introspective and need time to think and reflect). So it’s probably no surprise that I was reflecting on the past, trying extract lessons from it, and thinking about problems in my life I wanted to solve.

I started asking myself if I was OK with not having romantic love in my life. Specifically I was asking myself “Is it enough to have the love of some close friends and family? Am I happy with that?” I never got to a more definitive answer than “maybe.”

You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t

I thought that the best way to address the cycle of loving and losing was to close up shop for a while. I had adopted that attitude after breaking it off with B. I had told myself that I would spend my first year here focusing on building my friend base and settling into small town life, so that’s what I had been doing.

All my thinking about past relationships had led me to think that I was just not good at the dating and relationship stuff. I was being introspective about my marriage, in particular, and feeling sad. But I wasn’t closing myself off completely from men because I was doing social things like hiking and going to other types of Meetup events. I was friendly but not flirty. I wasn’t trying to attract dates and made attempts not to let myself get drawn into conversations that could be considered risqué.

I had a couple of outings with one new male friend that I met through a Meetup group. I was anxious about doing any one on one outings with a man, but I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in dating, just making a friend and that seemed to go OK.

As I moved through the sadness I started reading some of the more spiritual books I kept from my move and continued to reflect. And I started thinking that maybe what I had been dealing with weren’t problems to be solved, but just experiences to live through.

Then it was August. On an evening after work I was hiking with my group when one of my fellow hikers mentioned that he had a two person kayak and asked if anyone wanted to go kayaking. I said I liked kayaking, and he suggested we should go that weekend. But I had to decline because I already had plans for my weekend, so the conversation moved on to other things.

I did want to go out kayaking with this guy, so I contacted him a couple of days later to set up plans for the next weekend and we ended up talking on the phone for a bit about logistics and talking about different places we could go. Before we closed the conversation, he mentioned that if I wanted to get together for something else, like a movie or a play that I should feel free to let him know.

So I thought some more, and I kept thinking about how appealing he was. All right, here’s the blunt statement: I thought he was sexy. Although he didn’t look at all like the type of person I usually am attracted to, he was really flipping my switches for some reason. I spent a few hours that afternoon working through my weekend chores and thinking about what I knew about him. I considered whether I could or should suggest that we do something that night. I recalled that he had been asking around for recommendations on where to get a massage during our hike. I made up my mind to take a risk and sent him a text suggesting that we do to little place in town that did chair massage that night. And he accepted.

You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh

We met at the chair massage place. We had our massages and after we walked out he asked if I wanted to get dinner. With no hesitations I said yes, so we went and had dinner and talked a lot. I was still a bit nervous, but eventually it got late enough that I just became tired and he took me home and that’s where it ended that night.

A few days later he texted me. I was having dinner my neighbor, a really cool older woman who likes to cook for me and others on a regular basis. I had been telling her about my recent outings with the opposite gender and how I was wanting to keep one strictly friendly, but another one maybe not just that. I showed her the text; he asked if I wanted to out to a movie that night. Neighbor lady suggested that I invite him to my house for a movie. So I did and he came over with wine and snacks.

And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

After that I spent a couple of weeks on a roller coaster of feelings. I really liked him. I wanted to see him more than just at hiking group and he seemed to want that, too. We got together a few times for dinner and saw each other at hiking group outings and I was liking him more each time.

I kept thinking about whether I should be doing this or not. I had thought to wait until I was here a year before I even thought about dating, and this was definitely dating. I was fighting with myself over it. And then this past week I went through a little mini-crisis in my head and decided to forgive myself for breaking this arbitrary rule I had set about when I should start dating. I decided to just go with it and see where things went. After spending a lot of time with him this weekend, I’ve decided that maybe there wasn’t anything “wrong” with what I had been doing in regards to romantic relationships. Maybe things just worked out the way they did because life changes on you.

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

And I also decided that somewhere along the line I had started playing it too safe. So here I am doing it all again. Maybe. I don’t know where this is leading, but I don’t care. Because now I’m trying to just enjoy today and not look to the past for clues or see my life as a problem to solve.

Highs and Lows

Fair warning: there’s some adult content here!

Stuff that makes me feel good:

  • I’ve been getting into a groove with exercising in the mornings. I found this fitness program that I really like on the local PBS station. It’s a sort of ballet/classical dance based program and each episode is only about 25 minutes long. I went looking for DVDs online and found that in addition to the DVDs you can subscribe to a bigger catalog of streaming programs, so I did that instead. With my employer fitness program subsidy it only costs me about $7 a month. In case anyone wants to try these classes they’re at essentrics.com. At the end of each session I say “Thank you, Miranda Esmonde-White!”
  • One of my close friends from Chicago contacted me a couple days ago and asked if it would work for her to visit me over Labor Day weekend. Yes!! She scored a super cheap flight. We’re going to have so much fun!!
  • I’ve been listening to the Against the Stream podcasts more often and thinking about how I can add meditation into my days. I’ve sat a couple of times for a whole 20 breaths.  Woo hoo!
  • In a totally different vein, I’ve also been amused by listening to the Guys we F****d podcasts (NSFW!), starting with the oldest ones first. I still have quite a few to catch up on, but am finding them intriguing. I admire that these young women are claiming their sexuality so boldly, and find some of their advice to be spot on, yet at the same time I think they still have some things to learn about relationships. But they are stand up comedians, so the podcast isn’t meant to be super serious. A few of the shows have been annoying, but I just skip past those. It will be interesting to see how the podcast continues to develop as I catch up with the current episodes.

Not so good stuff:

  • I cried during a conference call today. I think my colleagues (both women) knew what was happening. One sent me an email message tonight that was really nice. I’ve been working on a project that is really frustrating the hell out of me because I seem to be hitting all sorts of roadblocks. The project team keeps telling me I need to step up and make some progress, and that just is getting to be too much for me because besides this project I have like 5 billion other things I am supposed to be doing. I have 3,500 emails in my inbox. I’m waaaaayyyy behind on just about everything, and I keep getting more piled on. My new boss (yes, I have a new boss and a new organization I’m kinda sorta not quite fully integrated into) says things like “Just speak up when you need help,” so I do and the people he tells me to get help from are also already really busy and help just a tiny bit and then it just bounces right back to me. *sigh* Every Friday I am ECSTATIC that the weekend is nearly here. Every Monday I am hopeful. By Wednesday, I am frequently in the pit of despair. But I have a job, right? I am employed and able to pay my bills and all that. That’s good, right? Right?
  • I am currently in a stand-off with my father and stepmother. When I was back in Chicago for my mother’s 75th birthday my dad was unexpectedly hospitalized. I hadn’t been planning to add a visit to my dad that trip, but I had a rental car and some flexibility in my schedule so I drove out to see him in the hospital. He was released a few days later and has been doing OK, but I apparently made a couple critical errors around that whole event. I didn’t know that he and stepmother don’t want any references to them EVER posted on social media. I had made a reference on my Facebook account to going to the hospital to see him and what his condition was. Big error, apparently. A lurking relative contacted dad and stepmom about his “health scare” which is how they got tipped off. They let me know they did not like that I had posted something about them on Facebook, etc., etc. Fine, I took my lumps and said I wouldn’t ever reference them again on any social media [which I guess I’m sort of breaking right now], but apparently that wasn’t enough and they were still miffed about it. Also, the fact that I had expressed any interest at all in dad’s treatment by asking questions was seen as bad, too. When sister had a visit with dad and stepmom last month, stepmom apparently complained vehemently about how I had not only shared information about dad’s health with all sorts of people who didn’t need to know (and not just mentioning that he had been hospitalized on Facebook, but likely talking to my friends about it, horrors!!) but that I also had tried to give my dad medical advice. ????? I guess by asking questions, I was giving advice. So for the past three weeks I have been in a f*** them mood and refused to call them, and since they refuse to call any of their “kids” (we are expected to call them once a week…yes, EXPECTED, as they have made abundantly clear to me) we are in a stand off. They’re older than me and not in as good health as me, so I’m gonna bet they break first. We’ll see.

Not sure if good or bad:

  • Last weekend I did some social media “gardening” (such as removing some “friends,” etc.). One of the things I did was update my Google profile photo. I don’t use Google +, although I do have an account, but I use Gmail and comment on Blogspot blogs and had noticed that my photo was very old (like, at least 14 years old!). So I changed it out for a more recent one. Ever since then I’ve been getting notifications that men I do not know (they are all men) had added me to their circles. I have checked my G+ privacy settings and strangers should not be able to add me to their circles, so I’m very confused by this development. And a little creeped out by it, too. Is G+ now some sort of clandestine dating site where guys troll for women? WTH?!
  • I had a very odd, but very sexual dream about an old boyfriend last night. The boyfriend in my dream was someone I dated a very long time (like nearly 30 years) ago. I had ended the relationship because he had become very disrespectful of me (by cheating a couple times, and essentially raping me once) and then proceeded to creepily stalk me for a while afterwards. So it disturbs me that I had this dream about him and it involved sexual stuff. Certainly I’m feeling healthier these days because I’m having…ahem…cravings, but to dream about this particular guy in this particular way…ewww. Maybe I need to listen to less Guys we F****d podcasts.

In my last post I made a reference to my loneliness. Because of my recent dramatic move across the country, I think that my reference to loneliness conjured up images of me sitting alone and dejected day after day, night after night, but that is far from the truth. I actually have a fairly busy social calendar.

Just a couple of months ago, a friend emailed me and asked me “What are you doing to “find friends?” I wrote her a very long response and am copying it here. In my original email, I referenced a friend who I had helped move from Chicago to the South Bay Area a few years ago, and I also named my employer. Here I’ve disguised those names, but it is otherwise word for word the same.

“How does one find friends?” Well, working solo that becomes more challenging.

When my friend R moved to Santa Clara a few years ago to take a new job, the culture of the organization emphasized going to the office every day, so she did make some friends at work. I tried the “going to the office” route for just over a month and found that I was actually being encouraged by my boss and colleagues to just telecommute, so that approach wasn’t going to work for me. (Besides, the working model at my employer is different, and I wasn’t meeting many people in the office that were local to me or with whom I had many other interests.)
I tend to think of myself as being fairly introverted, but I do want to have friends in the area and I know I need to develop a local social and support network. As an independent woman, I’ve been saving for my old age, but social capital is just as important as monetary capital, and I have to build that social capital from scratch here.
I’m in a small town (population is under 80k here) which sort of works in my favor. One thing I did was make opportunities to meet my neighbors. I walked the dog twice a day and would smile and greet people whenever I could. I’d tell them I was new and ask them questions like “Is this typical weather?” or “What are you doing?” That last one was asked of a young woman I saw standing on a truck using an umbrella handle to pull down fruit from a tree. I learned about a new fruit, got a taste, and learned how to say it in Spanish (misperos) so I could look it up when I got home.
I dropped off jars of homemade sour cherry jam with my closest neighbors and chatted with them. I received a couple of dinner invitations that way and made sure I brought some good stuff to share with the meal. A woman around the corner from me is apparently the neighborhood fixture who keeps an eye on everything and “loves to feed,” as her adult daughter once told me. I’ve swapped more of my preserves and homegrown garlic (one of my last “crops” from my old Chicago garden) with her for Meyer lemons from her tree (which I used to make marmalade for future gifts!) and goodwill gifts she leaves me like her homemade pesto and frittata. She also now has a key to the house “just in case.”
Shortly after arriving I looked up the local knitting group on Ravelry, and I go to knit night almost every week. I joined Meetup.com (very big in this area) and joined a few groups devoted to hiking and/or social pursuits in my local area. I went to the local Unitarian Universalist church for services (UUs are open to every type of faith, and atheists/humanists, too, so they’re usually pretty cool), and met some nice people that way.
I talk to everybody: the postal workers, the grocery clerks, the people walking dogs past my house.
The way I think of it, I can get as much alone time as I want/need since I live alone and work remotely, but face time with people is much harder for me, so I make the extra effort. I now have swapped mobile numbers with a few of the neighbors and some of the people I hike with so we can reach out to each other outside of Meetup times.
Since I wrote that email, I’ve also added volunteering with a local animal rescue charity to my list of social activities. My weekly schedule is now pretty packed, and I find myself being more selective about my time commitments.
My schedule this week is a great example of how much social time I get:
  • Sunday — went to the beach with a new friend for a picnic and some walking and wading in the cool waters
  • Tuesday — knit night at a big public market
  • Wednesday — dinner with the neighbor
  • Thursday — hiking with a local Meetup group; dinner out after the hike
  • Saturday or Sunday — on one of these days I’ll be going kayaking with a friend, but haven’t confirmed which one yet

Last Saturday morning I volunteered with the animal rescue charity at the local farmers market, and I’ve committed to doing a volunteer activity with them once or twice a month on Saturdays.

So, my loneliness isn’t about missing social time with other people. My loneliness is felt because of this desire I have for a partner in my life and my sadness around having to end relationships with people that I thought would be that long term partner. Lately I’ve been thinking that I really didn’t get to the “feeling sad” part of the grief process around the end of my marriage. I think that’s where all this sadness comes from sometimes, and so maybe it is a good sign that I’m nearing the end of processing through most of that experience.

There’s no doubt that while I am building friendships, I do lack very close friends here. I’m regularly in touch with my closest friend back in the Chicago area, and my closest local friend (R, who I helped moved to Santa Clara) has been someone I regularly connect with, too. R will be moving up to Oregon, though, so I won’t be able to see her as often. Perhaps that’s another reason I’ve been feeling sad and teary at times.

It’s perhaps becoming more clear that I really am not yet completely in touch with what is going through my head a lot of the time. Maybe that’s not simply my experience, though. Maybe it’s fairly common for it to take months or years for the penny to drop and realization to dawn.

When I downsized before moving west I got rid of a lot of books, but there were a select few that I saved and brought with me. One of those keepers is Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. For such a slender book, it packs quite a punch for me, and while I first purchased it way back in 2009 after my divorce I still have yet to finish it.

The chapter on loneliness has pulled me back again and again, and I’ve written on it twice before, here and here. Since I’ve had some feelings of sadness and loneliness lately, I thought I’d pull out the book again and remind myself why the feeling of loneliness is not a horrible thing to be avoided but one to be embraced.

After some reviewing and underlining of passages, I moved to another chapter in the book, and — wham! — just like that, I have another set of resonating concepts to consider and process through. (This is why I like this book so much; I’m always finding something to which I relate and on which I can reflect.)

Chapter 11 on the four maras is my new work, I think. The first mara, devaputra mara, is when “we react with this tragically human habit of seeking pleasure and trying to avoid pain.” I’ve done my share of that over the years, but I think I’m doing well with recognizing this tendency in myself and accepting that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin.

Skanda mara “has to do with how we always try to re-create ourselves, to try to get some ground back, try to be who we think we are.” This one bears more thinking about. “Instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we can touch in to that mind of simply not knowing, which is basic wisdom mind.” This one isn’t coming to me easily, so it needs more reflection.

Klesha mara is about how we use our emotions.

We use them to to try to deny that in fact no one has ever known or will ever know what’s happening. We use them to try to make everything secure and predictable and real again, to fool ourselves about what is really true. We could just sit with the emotional energy and let it pass….Instead, we throw kerosene on the emotion so it will feel more real.

…By becoming aware of how we do this silly thing again and again because we don’t want to dwell in the uncertainty and awkwardness and pain of not knowing, we begin to develop true compassion for ourselves and everyone else, because we see what happens and how we react when things fall apart.

Oh, yes! Over the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of emotion and just letting it happen. It can be a challenge when the emotions surge during inconvenient times, like while I’m working or when I’m around other people who I still don’t know very well. It’s not looked upon well when you show a lot of emotion at work, especially if you’re a woman.

And then there is yama mara, which Pema describes as having to do with the fear of death.

The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens…From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice, smooth ride.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.

Yes, plenty to think about and plenty to process here. This is why it’s been taking me years to get through this book.


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