Smoke and ashes

I’m OK. My house is OK. My dog is OK.

The wildfires that blazed through Napa County didn’t destroy any property within the city limits, although we had horrible air quality for many days. The smoke was so thick in the air at times that it was hard to see houses a block away. Schools closed. People were urged to stay indoors and to don N-97 masks when they absolutely must go out. On local social media sites like Nextdoor.com people provided updates on where one could buy masks and listen to the scanners to get real-time updates on the fire-fighting activity.

Cell towers were knocked out for most major carriers, and coverage was spotty or non-existent. With power out in some parts of the city of Napa, the only way people could get updates was to tune into the local radio station.

I never lost power, but I had no mobile coverage for several days. Since I stayed in the house, I was able to use wi-fi to make calls to worried friends and check on neighbors. Days and nights were punctuated by Nixle text alerts about road closures, mandatory and advisory evacuations, power outages, and the location of emergency shelters.

My car and everything in my yard was covered in ash. My little house is located at a low point, but friends with two-story houses or those at just on slight rises posted photos of the fires burning in the mountains at night.

Neighbors and strangers were helpful and kind to each other. When I asked about getting an N-97 mask on Nextdoor.com, a guy I had never met dropped two off for me for free. People volunteered at the shelters for people and pets. The local hotels offered stripped down prices to local residents who had to evacuate, yet had the means to pay something for a place to stay.

I was lucky to have friends in San Francisco and other areas outside the fire zone. When I found myself coughing even inside my closed up house, I took up a friend on his offer to stay at his house in San Francisco. I quickly packed Hannah dog and some necessities in the car and set off through the burned landscape. I returned home a few days later, after the winds had shifted to blow some smoke out of the valley.

The fires are mostly contained now, and there are signs all over town thanking the first responders. People see fire-fighters at local restaurants and stop to thank them personally. Many times the tab is paid, too. The fair grounds are still full of tents, trailers, and off duty fire trucks from other counties and states.

Schools are starting again on Monday, and the local visitors associations are urging tourists to come back. Locals are getting back to work, if they can.

The landscape will be very different for years to come. A favorite local hiking place only a few minutes from my house will be closed for months.

But so many people are not OK, and I’m grateful that I am.

 

 

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Chasing the white rabbit

About two months ago I started seeing a therapist. I found her through the in-network directory of my insurance company, and there frankly weren’t a lot of choices. While I didn’t exactly dislike her, it seemed that often our sessions were more like sitting around and shooting the breeze like you do with an acquaintance. I wasn’t feeling that she was helping me move through the funk into which I had fallen.

So, just before the Labor Day holiday I showed up at our scheduled session ready to “fire” her, but also wanting her help to move on, too. In thinking about how I wanted to end the therapeutic relationship with her, I had decided to say “This isn’t working and I need to do something else.” Then I thought the conversation would be productive and business-like as we worked out how to close things, while also getting some recommendations on who I could see to get some medication.

It didn’t exactly go that way. Instead she stepped up and helped me more than I expected.

I delivered my planned line right away, but when she asked what I thought I needed I just dissolved into weeping. When I was able to talk again I told her that I thought I needed some medication at this point. I felt I had gone past my limits of resilience with everything I’ve had to deal with in the past 2 1/2 years:

  • moving across the country and setting up a new life;
  • being transferred to a new team at work, with a new boss and leadership, and an entirely different work culture;
  • multiple bouts of diverticulitis;
  • getting diagnosed with an incurable eye disease;
  • a cancer scare and subsequent hysterectomy and oophorectomy;
  • surgical menopause;
  • another bout of diverticulitis;
  • a lower anterior bowel resection surgery;
  • long periods of exercise restrictions and gaining over 40 pounds;
  • an eye surgery that cost me nearly $6,000 out-of-pocket and failed to treat my condition;
  • and, finally, another eye surgery scheduled for the end of the month.

Of these major life changes, the only one I had chosen to make was the first one. Yet all of these things rank pretty high on the stress scale. I was done in. I recognized that I was pretty much at bottom and had been having trouble with daily obligations: personal care-taking, and being productive and reasonably successful at work.

I shared with her my aversion to antidepressants. I had used two different kinds in the past — Paxil for treating panic attacks 20 years ago, and Lexapro for depression about 11 years ago — and the side effects I had experienced were a big concern for me. She offered some hope by mentioning other antidepressants that may help instead of those. Then we talked about how I could get a prescription.

The therapist is a LCSW and couldn’t write prescriptions herself. She first recommended I go to my primary care physician for a script and offered to call him, if needed. But I really wanted to see a psychiatrist. In my experience, they’re the experts when it comes to understanding which medications to use for mental health issues. Luckily, she knew one (the only one in town, apparently) and made a call as soon as I left her office. Within two hours I had an appointment with the psychiatrist the next evening.

The psychiatrist listened to me relate my medical history — including a run down all of the above issues — as well as my experiences with antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. (Xanax and Klonopin are old, dear friends.) She made me feel comfortable with my discomfort, if that makes sense. She reassured me that I have been strong and brave, and that it is OK that I feel I have had enough at this point. But she surprised me by recommending that rather than an antidepressant, I should try an anti-anxiety medication: Buspar.

I started the Buspar just before Labor Day weekend. It was fortunate that I had the extended holiday, as it allowed me to work through the kinks of starting a new medication. My first week back at work was challenged first by extreme sleepiness, then by insomnia, but I feel that the Buspar is helping. I feel more focused; more on an even keel, and able to deal with the minor slings and arrows of a normal work day without getting distressed.

I had a follow-up visit with the psychiatrist this week and reported the side effects I’ve had and how I’ve been trying to cope with them. I had been resorting to taking Benadryl at night to sleep, which she said wasn’t good to do for very long. We both wanted me to be able to continue on the Buspar for now, so she gave me a prescription for Trazodone to use at night before bedtime.

I’ve been using the Trazodone for three nights now. The morning after I first used it I found it challenging to get up the next morning because I still felt sleepy, but it was also an extra early morning for me. When I took the first dose of Buspar that morning I also felt sort of dizzy, but that passed after about an hour and it hasn’t returned since. I’m still working out the best time to take the afternoon Buspar and how early I should take the Trazadone before going to bed so I can feel less dopey in the morning.

While I usually try not to rely on pharmaceuticals in my life, I feel like doing so now is the right choice for me. There are other ways I can address the anxiety and issues that I’ve been facing, and I intend to use them. But I was finding myself nearly non-functional. I was mentally dithering most of the time which wasn’t allowing me to do any personal work, much less professional work. Now I’m more focused and less reactionary to minor upsets. I’m starting to find the positives in my daily life and thinking about goals I can set for myself to increase my motivation. My sleep is still choppy and I’m restless through the night, but when I rouse I can go back to sleep quickly, at least.

I’ll still keep seeing the talk therapist and hopefully have more success now that I feel like I can focus and set goals. I can’t help this song playing through my head, though.

Dreams of my youth

My subconscious is so mysterious to me. I know there’s a lot of processing going on in it all the time. A few times a year, a rare gem emerges from it: insights into one of my behaviors/actions or that of a family member or close friend, for example. I find this both marvelous and frustrating, because I wish it didn’t take me so long to figure stuff out. It seems most other people are better at reading these tea leaves than me.

In the past few months I’ve had several nights full of vivid and highly memorable dreams featuring an old boyfriend. This was my first serious boyfriend and he entered my life at a time when I was still quite young (late teens). We kept up an on again/off again relationship over a long distance for many years.

I have regrets about how our relationship stopped being an exclusive one and became what it did instead. For many years, I felt that this change was all my fault for being so needy and fragile. (Of course I realize that narrative is wrong now.) I thought I wanted to marry him, and he didn’t seem keen on it. So I shut him out for a while and pursued another relationship that ended up being very bad.

When we reconnected years later a lot was different, but we were still attracted to each other and that there was a comfortable familiarity, too. He was going through a tough time. His mother was dying and he wanted me to visit him so badly that he paid for my plane ticket since I didn’t have the money to do it.

And so our odd long-distance relationship truly began. It was a FWB arrangement, at a time when that phrase hadn’t yet entered the general lexicon. We enjoyed each other’s company, felt comfort with each other, yet didn’t have to put in the real work of a relationship. He had moved since our exclusive days and now lived in a popular tourist destination, so there was always something fun to do during those long weekend visits.

For me, there was still the tug and desire for a more traditional LTR, though. Once or twice I’d get wrapped up with someone and wouldn’t see him for many months, or even a year or two. But when the relationship didn’t work out, I would get in touch and a visit would be arranged. To me and probably most people he seemed to be a dedicated bachelor.

Once he paid for another very expensive plane ticket to fly me halfway around the world with him to visit his father. We were together day and night for more than two weeks, and I realized how much of a challenge it would be for me to live with him every day. When I returned from that trip I started dating the man who I would marry just over a year later (and divorce 11 years after that). I recall talking to him about my choice to marry and receiving his best wishes.

After my divorce, I reached out to him again and arranged a visit with him. We had both changed a lot over the years, but he was still a bachelor. In just those few days it was clear we still hadn’t changed so much that our habits wouldn’t rub against each other in uncomfortable ways, though.

 

When I next contacted him a few months later he told me he was seeing someone and was thinking that they may get married. It was my turn to pass on best wishes to him and we haven’t interacted since then.

But in the past few months I’ve had these vivid dreams about him. In these dreams, he is usually in bed with me, mostly as a comforting presence, but sometimes there is physical contact. I wake from these dreams full of longing and wanting to sink back into that dream state where I have him next to me. Recalling our times together I remember how much he made me laugh, the meals we enjoyed, and conversations and adventures we had.

Years ago, I visited the city where we had lived together with a friend. After a few days of my nostalgic comments of how much I missed living there my friend questioned me “Do you really miss the city or do you miss being that young?”

I think that is what is going on in my head when I sleep. He has become a symbol of my youth and of simpler times. Of how connecting with another person could be fun and not require examination or emotional labor. I miss the time when my body seemed less of a burden and more of a joy, and when I had someone who I could turn to for physical, animal comfort: a cuddle, a kiss, a fuck.

Now that I’ve puzzled this out and written it down, I wonder if the dreams will stop. I’m not sure I want them to.

On to Plan B

I’ve been spending a lot of time hiding inside my house lately. I still get out for knitting group once a week, and I’ve had some local excursions with friends here and there, but mostly I’ve been rationing my energy for the big eye surgery late last month.

Everything happened as planned and/or advised. My insurance company rejected the claim for the surgery, so I paid all the fees out-of-pocket. The costs I had to pick up not only included the surgeon’s fee, anesthesiologist’s fee, and the cost of the device, but also the post-op eye drops at the pharmacy. Thanks for really sticking it to me, healthcare plan! I hold out hope that with the device manufacturer and surgeon’s office continuing to pursue this I will eventually get reimbursed. In the meantime, my savings account is nearly $6,000 lower, BUT I will get cash rewards on the costs ’cause I used a credit card with a 1.5% reward on all purchases. #silverlining

Sadly (the crying and sobbing type of sadly), the procedure did not work for me. There were promising signs at first. The initial post-op visit the day after was good. The doctor was pleased with the pressure drop and he thought everything looked great. One week later I returned for another check. Again, we were really happy with the progress. The pressure had gone up to 16, which is in the desired range, and seems pretty normal for me. (My left eye — the unaffected one — usually has a pressure around there.)

But…but…this week I returned for another post op check and the news was not so good. The pressure was back up to 36, which is way above my target of 20 or less, and about where it was when I was initially diagnosed two years ago. The doctor did something very uncomfortable to my eye with a needle right there in the office (the eye was numbed, but I was still freaked out and required some literal hand-holding by staff), but that didn’t help one bit.

Now I am back on the glaucoma eye drops to bring the pressure down as much as possible. The doc says that I’ve formed a cyst that is preventing the current device from working properly. I’m just too “young and healthy,” as he says.

What’s next? Plan B is to have another surgery so the surgeon can implant yet another drainage device in my eye and remove as much scar tissue as possible.

There are some small mercies this time around. 1) The insurance company should not put up a fuss about paying for this device since it is older tech that’s been around for several years. 2) The surgeon had a cancellation on his calendar, so I won’t have to wait quite as long as he projected. Instead of a surgery date in October or November, I snagged a spot at the end of September.

What if this doesn’t work? I don’t know. There is nothing that can be done about the ICE Syndrome that caused the glaucoma. I don’t think there is any way of predicting how long it will take the glaucoma to progress to the extent I lose all vision in that eye, but that is the inevitable outcome of the disease.

I had all these thoughts that once I had my eye issue taken care of I could focus on getting rid of all the weight I’ve gained from forced inactivity the past couple years. There are no physical reasons I can’t go the gym and start making my body smaller and stronger. But there are other reasons why this isn’t happening for me right now. I’m sad and depressed. I need gentle encouragement, and a partner/friend who is similarly matched would help a lot. I simply don’t have anyone like that in my life right now, and I just can’t muster much energy to tackle that issue.

I can manage to keep most of my work commitments, feed myself and my dog, keep the house clean, and take care of my personal hygiene. Those are the only expectations I can place on myself right now.

So for now, my restorative self-care is mainly allowing myself plenty of naps, short walks with my dog, playing games with my dog at home, knitting and watching streaming entertainment, and reading when it doesn’t tire my eyes too much.

Today I turn 50

It’s been an easy going day. My company has volunteer day today so there were no meetings. I decided since it’s my birthday it’s reasonable to take most of the day off work. (Plus, there were no open volunteer projects that involved getting away from a computer.) So I got to knock a few things off my work To Do list while still enjoying some relax time.

One of today’s highlights: my mom called me and sang Happy Birthday. I was shocked and surprised that she would even remember my birthday. With her dementia advancing, most of the time she can’t even remember what she had for lunch or when we last talked, but golly she remembered my birthday. 🙂

Sister asked me what I’d like to do for my birthday and I requested that we pack a picnic and head to the little park along the river for a concert. Tonight is the first of a series of free musical performances in downtown Napa and the main band is a local favorite for good reason.

Other updates:

  • I’ve been getting pelvic floor physical therapy. It’s been helping me feel more comfortable about getting appropriate exercise that will help me build my strength back and lose weight without feeling like I’m injuring myself. It was also a relief to have someone in the medical field acknowledge that I did, indeed, have some real basis for the pain and discomfort I had been feeling when doing certain exercises.
  • A friend came to visit me from Chicago and we had a blast together for a week. There are so many amazing things to do within an hour or two of here. I really love living here.
  • There’s been knitting progress. I finished the knitting on another sweater for myself, but there are some fiddly finishing things I need to do, so I can’t consider it entirely done yet. I’ll get to it eventually. In the meantime I started a new cowl knit with linen yarn.
  • I’ve also done a lot of reading, including not just fiction but some good non-fiction. I’m currently about halfway through Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’m highlighting many passages in this book, and plan to share a short post about it on our company internal social media network. My boss keeps prompting me to talk with leaders regularly and this has been making me anxious. Like most companies, leadership is very extroverted. Interacting with them wipes me out, but I have to figure out how to meet the expectation that I do this regularly. I’m studying the situation like a good introvert.

I’ve been getting lots of birthday wishes on Facebook, but despite a direct ask for birthday greetings on Twitter only one person has responded. Maybe it’s because yesterday was such a busy news day.

The progress loop trends downward

I’m in a bit of a dip again. I was doing really well until a few days ago. Last weekend I was knocking it out of the park: quigong at the gym on Friday, a long walk on Saturday morning with a new walking group (social time and exercise!), all the eye drops remembered, sensible eating and drinking, and adequate rest. I had a fun time visiting with a friend in San Francisco on Sunday, and felt some good restoration from a weekend of self-care.

As last week progressed I started to lose my grip. My work days weren’t going as planned (Ha, ha, ha! When do they ever?!) and I’m worried about missing some deadlines now. The House passed that stupid healthcare bill and since I’m a walking set of pre-existing conditions these days and have several people I care about who are, too, I started to panic inside. I went to quigong on Friday again, but was having trouble maintaining my focus. By afternoon I had ENOUGH when a random dude on a bike stopped me as I was rolling my trash bins into my driveway. He offered “help,” which apparently consisted of telling me the best way to do it myself. I let him ride away a few feet before commenting out loud that I didn’t need to be mansplained how to deal with my trash bins. Later, as I pulled in the parking lot of the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions (of yet more eye drops, of course), some other dude tried to pull out in front of me. When I tapped the horn to get his attention he stopped, but then yelled at me through his open window that I needed to “Slow down!” I completely lost it at that time and hurled foul words in his direction out my own open car window (many juicy F-bombs were dropped) and continued to grumble as I exited my car that I was TIRED OF MEN TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!

I coddled myself Friday night by eating leftovers, not turning on the news (or the TV at all, for that matter), and consuming a stiff vodka martini. But I did myself a disservice by poking around too much online. I had bad dreams that night, and the imagery was pulled from my browsing history. I roused myself at some early hour from a dream where I was in a small camper/tiny house that was inside another building or warehouse and was being ejected through the wall by a malevolent force. The only good thing about the night is I managed to wake up just enough to break through that dream cycle, but not enough that I was fully awake and unable to get back to sleep.

Still, I dragged myself out of bed with the sunrise and managed to make the walking group again. I visited the farmers market and got some yummies, but didn’t buy more than I can consume this week, and then hustled home to cook lunch. I met with a (very strong) potential short-term renter for this harvest season, and had a short rest to make up for my broken sleep.

Last night’s social event was spent with a friend I’ve made through my local knitting group (and also the local UU church when I decide to attend). We spent the evening enjoying some take out Indian food, a small amount of wine, and working on our knitting projects while we watched a movie. I had brought over Moonlight, which I’ve had on request from the library for (seemingly) ages. Wow. I struggled with understanding some of the dialog, but still. Wow. I couldn’t help crying at the end. This poor young man was so lonely, and I associated with it maybe too much.

I had such high hopes that when sister had moved here for good that we would friends and I’d have companionship. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Of course. Those expectations were unrealistic, yet I can’t seem to shut off the part of me that has them. Just today as we discussed a possible outing together she started using a nasty, impatient voice and then turned around and denied her annoyance when I mentioned it and blamed me for having an attitude. The outing never happened, needless to say.

Here’s another thing: I’ve been dealing with a “crush” the past month. It’s stupid, really, really stupid to have an attraction like this. I’m too embarrassed even to write more details about it, quite frankly, but it’s there and I am trying to shut it down really hard and failing. The person I am crushing on has no reason to know that I exist, and I wouldn’t even approach him and make him aware that I do since I feel so rotten about myself right now and I know I just could not stand any rejection.

So, I really identify with this aspect of the main character in Moonlight. That longing for connection and loneliness that’s not there. That had been there for a brief time, but was lost. I wish I could just shut down any romantic notions I have and make them go away permanently. I’m swearing off any romance novels for the near future, at least. I just can’t let my subconscious get any ideas that I’ll be encountering someone as I go about my life where there is a mutual attraction and a plausible chance of a relationship. I’m trying to sternly keep myself focused on strengthening friendships and taking care of myself. Those are realistic goals, at least.

Pulling myself up

I’ve made some progress in pulling myself out of my funk.

First, I found a local therapist. I’ve only been to see her three times; not enough to know if she’ll be the right “coach” for me to get through this malaise, but enough to know that I’m at least comfortable with her. At our first appointment I laid out some key facts about what’s been going on, and at the last session I talked about my goals. I see her again tomorrow after a break of about three weeks, so we’ll see if we can pick up the threads quickly or need another session to get back into a groove.

I also saw the glaucoma specialist and he confirmed that I will need to have surgery in the coming months. We don’t have an exact timetable yet, he’s just said “this summer.” He is strongly suggesting that we use a new device called the Xen Gel Stent that was only FDA approved last November instead of a standard glaucoma drainage device. Why? With the new stent the procedure will take around 20 minutes and the recovery period is just a couple of days. Implanting a legacy device involves about 2 hours in surgery and a recovery period of roughly two weeks. Since there’s no cure for this disease or way to turn the aberrant cells “off” I need to be prepared to have another surgery in about 10 years, so keeping the trauma to the tissues minimized is for the best all around.

I did ask him questions about anti-viral meds and cornea transplants to treat this, but like the local ophthalmologist he didn’t think either of those approaches worth pursuing. While it’s possible that the disease was caused by my body’s reaction to a virus, he said the virus would be gone and this is just an effect it left behind: mutated cells. For this same reason he said a corneal transplant isn’t much help now. The mutated cells have already attached to other structures in my eye like my iris and pupil and it simply isn’t possible to remove all the aberrant cells.

We also talked about my pupil distortion and inability to properly process light which leads to this “white blindness” effect. He said that it would be possible for him to stitch my pupil into a fixed position that made it less uncomfortable for me to be in bright(ish) light, but that I would then have problems in the dark. So essentially it’s a wash. I’m just going to have to keep dealing with that effect and learn to live with it.

If it weren’t for the fact that it is questionable if my insurance will cover the stent we’d be ready to go. But, since it is so new we’re not sure if they will pay for it. His next steps are to work with the insurance company on trying to get it approved. He also wants to put out a message on “the boards” to see if anyone else has used it in a patient with my particular eye disease. It’s very likely we would be the first since the device is so new and my disease is quite rare. He could get a nice conference paper and presentation out of this, and maybe I can somehow get it done for a reduced cost? Ha, ha, ha. Probably not.

The doc has warned me I should be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for the stent and that it would likely cost around $4,000. It’s a good thing I have a well stocked emergency fund. I’ll use as much of my FSA as possible, but since I’m only allowed to withhold $2,550 per IRS rules and have used some of that for co-pays and meds, most of the cost would have to come out of my post-tax savings. This is the sort of thing that’s worth the expense, though. I’m getting used to not taking vacations and spending all my typical vacay time and funds on medical procedures and surgeries. *sigh*

Speaking of surgeries, I had a little “ah ha!” moment recently about my difficulties getting exercise. When I first tried to get back into some sort of workout regime I was focusing on “easier” exercises like aqua aerobics and yoga. But I was having pain in my lower abdomen and feeling like I had to pee every hour. Once I stopped all exercise except for walking all the pain and problems went away. Walking isn’t enough to help me get the weight off, though, so I had a visit with the gynecologist (who is a fantastic doctor) and asked if there was some sort of physical therapy that would help and she said yes. I got a referral for “instability of the pelvic floor” and will start therapy in a couple of weeks. I wish it was sooner, but that’s the earliest appointment the local hospital/rehab facility could offer me.

The perpetually grey skies and daily rain have finally gone, too. We’re easing our way into warmer days and the sun is out most of the time now. This is also helping my mood. I’m happier when it’s sunny and dry.

There’s more to write, but I think I’ve done enough for today. If there are any readers left, I’d love to read your comment on how you’re doing.