Hiding and hoping

I’ve been hiding again. I seem to be having a hard time processing the general life stuff, which results in me introverting extra hard. My hiding has even extended to my writing, and I hesitate to even hit the publish button on this post, but I’m going to make myself do it.

At the end of January, I had to travel to Chicago for business. I extended my stay to wrap over two weekends so I could squeeze in visits to both of my parents and spend some time with my friend A and her cousins. (I collectively refer to them as “my adopted family” because I used to spend so much time at their house, including holidays, when I was in high school.)

I had a ton of anxiety leading up to that trip. I was concerned about leaving Hannah dog for so long. I worried about seeing my parents. My mother’s health is just getting worse and worse, and in the past year my father has had additional health challenges, too. With the extra weight I’m carrying, I also had to figure out how to cobble together a week’s worth of professional clothing and outerwear that was suitable for a Chicago winter. I had some dresses I had purchased for my last business trip in April 2017 to Dallas, but they weren’t going to be warm enough, even with extra layers. So, I had to order pants and spend money I preferred not to.

The trip went better than I had thought it would, but it still exhausted me. It was hard to see my mother’s poor physical condition, and she was just as unresponsive in person as she was on the phone. In the weeks immediately following my return, I was glad to just hang around at home as much as possible and enjoy time with my dog.

I kept thinking about how to handle the situation with my sister. I had been avoiding her as much as possible: declining her calls and letting them go to voicemail; responding with spare texts, if necessary; declining an invitation to have dinner before I left town. At her direct question “Are we OK?” I responded “No,” and she agreed to not contact me for anything other than issues about mom.

My therapist suggested that I write a letter to my sister, even if I never sent it. I spent most of a weekend morning writing and editing it to the essentials. I decided to send it after all. Here is what I sent:

I’ve been limiting my exposure with you because I felt depressed and sad after the conversation we had about Mom’s Life Alert service. I’ve been thinking through why I was so upset by the conversation and what my next steps should be. I needed time for that reflection and not talking with you or seeing you helped me with my process.

We have a difference in how we view the situation of Mom’s Life Alert service: you recall that I committed to splitting the payment, and I recall that I did not. I think that is as far as we’re going to get with the situation, however during the conversation, I felt like I was bullied. This is not the first time I’ve felt that way after interacting with you, and I don’t want to experience it again.

I want to be treated with respect and allowed to be myself. I deserve kindness and acceptance.

In order to have a good relationship we need to both show respect for each other’s differences. From comments you’ve made to me in the past, I understand that my way of processing information and making decisions is annoying to you. I think it is probably best that when there are circumstances that call for me to do so — such as when I’m asked to contribute to Mom’s care — that there not be an expectation for me to answer immediately and that I be allowed to spend time thinking. Since our recollections can also vary, it’s best that we also confirm understanding via email.

I’m not sure whether we can or should resume social relations yet. At this point, I find myself wondering why you would want to spend time with me when I seem to irritate you so much. Maybe we can talk about that some day.

Sending it caused another round of emotional exhaustion. Finally, after several more weeks I contacted sister and suggested we meet for coffee. A week ago, over tea at her house, we gingerly explored the situation. It went OK. Not great, but OK. She was civil. I wanted to get her thoughts on my email, but she deftly turned the conversation back to me saying she wanted to listen to me. I felt like a wreck. I pretty much repeated what I had already written, stumbling over my words and literally wringing my hands the entire time. She asked what I wanted from her, and I told her that I wanted to have a good relationship based on respect. When the conversation turned more informal and chatty I was more comfortable, and then I headed home about an hour after my arrival.

But honestly, I really want more from her than just respect. I really want to feel loved. I just don’t see that happening, and it makes me sad all over again. Sister says she loves me, but I don’t think she’s comfortable showing me love the way I want and need it. She’s more into giving me things and guiding my life, when I’d just rather have her show enjoyment in being with me and give me hugs.

I’m still struggling to stay positive most days. I keep reminding myself that there are people who love me and that I have made good friends here. I think this as I sit at home feeling lonely and it’s not helping enough. I feel like I’m an endless black hole of longing. It feels like a mistake that anyone would want to spend time with me unless it was out of pity.

Two weeks ago a friend traveled up from San Francisco to spend the day with me. The weather was lovely and had some lovely talks as we drove up the valley to have lunch and back. It was a wonderful day.

Yesterday I drove just south of San Francisco to meet another friend for a visit and lunch at her place. I was anxious about the visit because she is a new friend and I was afraid I’d make a bad impression and she’d never invite me to see her again. But it didn’t seem to go that way at all, and I think there could be more visits in the future.

These encounters should make me feel more at ease about my likeability, right? Why am I still doubting it?

Physically, my body is full of pain these days. I keep getting numbness, tingling, and pain in my hands and arms (especially the right one), and the plantar fasciitis in my right foot is hurting nearly all the time. Despite my nightly doses of Trazadone, I keep waking up at night around 3 or 4 AM, and having trouble getting back to sleep because my mind is racing and my arms are numb. I’m trying different things to help me sleep through the night: breathing strips on my nose, a different pillow, and last night I put the heating pad under my neck and shoulders. I still didn’t sleep through the night.

I’m sure my emotional and physical issues are all connected somehow, and all I can do is just keep hoping and trying to work my way past this.

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Sister sucker punch

I intended to write another money topic this week. Then I had a conversation with my sister two days ago that knocked me back hard and I’m still reeling. It does have a money component, so I can still stay on theme, I guess.

On Tuesday, sister pinged me in the morning and asked if I could talk. I answered in the affirmative. She called me moments later and said she had a couple of things to ask me about, one of which was to check on how my dog was doing and how I was doing. From a previous call sister knew all about the expensive and stressful issues I’ve been facing with my dog, and I thought it very nice for her to call and check on us. I told her the dog was doing OK and so was I.

Then she got to the meat of the conversation: she wanted to tell me that she is holding me accountable for half the cost of a Life Alert service she ordered for our mom last year. I was shocked and outraged. I’m STILL shocked and outraged.

Sister had approached me with this idea last year, just before she moved to Napa from Chicago. She asked me if I would be willing to split the cost with her. I said no. She went ahead and ordered it anyway.

A few months ago, sister vented to me about how she had tried to cancel the service (mom wasn’t using it and not even remembering to wear the device) and was told she would still have to pay the contract in full. She had asked before signing the contract if there was a cancellation fee and been told no, so she thought she had been lied to. She brought the contract by my house and asked me to look at it, so I did. It was easy to find the part of the contract that stated the cost, and that by signing she was agreeing to pay that it in full no matter what. So, there was no “cancellation fee” and they weren’t lying about that. There was just the cost of the contract. Period. She was frustrated about this, but must have decided there was nothing she could do about it.

So when she called me two days ago and said I would have to pay her half the cost because I had agreed to it, I was upset. I told her I had not agreed to pay this cost. She said I had. She said I had even paid her some money in the past. I can’t find any record of that in my electronic payments, despite her claim. Besides, even if I did give her some money at some point, that doesn’t negate the fact that I objected to the contract and said I would not pay for it.

So here we are at an impasse. She says I agreed to the contract, and that I owe her money; I say I never agreed to it. She says she expects me to pay her the full $1,000 (half of the contract cost), and that the current tally of what I owe is around $300. I maintain that I should not owe anything towards the cost of this contract.

My relationship with my sister has always been rocky, but I perpetually hold out hope that one day we will treat each other with kindness and find enjoyment in each other’s company. I don’t know why I keep this fantasy alive. From the time we were small children, she has bullied me. When her adult daughter was visiting last year, she even asked me why I put up with the shit her mom does to me.

By not demanding money from me right now and simply putting me on notice, my sister seems to think she is being magnanimous. Whereas I have been struggling to keep myself out of the absolute pit of despair after this conversation. Do I pay up, or do I give up on having a relationship with my sister? I’m already at arm’s length with my mother and father; moving across the country introduced a safer, saner distance for me. I thought that sister and I could have a chance to build a better relationship if we lived close to each other. I settled in Napa, specifically, instead of some other town in the Bay Area for that reason. Did I fall into a trap, where I am her punching bag whenever she feels the need to let off some steam?

I saw my therapist yesterday and sobbed my way through the appointment. I have had some very dark times over the past few days. I confessed to my therapist that I’ve found myself asking “What’s the point?” Why am I bothering to trudge along anymore?

I keep myself together because I know that would be a really shitty thing to do to my friends. But this situation is not helping me stay in a positive place.

Money talk: finances as an older single woman

I’ve decided to write more about money this year, so let’s kick this off by setting the stage and outlining some key facts about me.

  • I’m 50 years old.
  • I’m single. I was married, but divorced nine years ago.
  • I have no children, and my only current dependents are a fish and an elderly dog.
  • I’m entirely self-supporting; I don’t receive or pay alimony, or have access to family money.
  • I’m not a financial planner, nor do I work in financial services. I’m not a “money expert.”

In the personal finance and money blogosphere, there aren’t many single women aged 40+ who are writing. I can think of only two: Donna Freedman at Surviving and Thriving, and Funny About Money.

While I don’t consider this a personal finance blog, money — making it and managing it — is something that I’m always trying to learn more about, and I find value reading the personal stories, opinions, and research that is shared via blogs. So, here I am perpetuating that approach with my own personal slant.

My money goals are as follows:

  • Generate enough income to pay for my basic expenses of housing, food, and personal care;
  • Maintain a generous emergency fund;
  • Save enough to support my future self during retirement, or when I’m no longer able to work full-time;
  • Support my animal dependents;
  • Have some extra funds for fun stuff and luxuries like vacations and fancy meals.

Those are just the basics for now. Off the top of my head, I’m planning to write posts about income generation, my savings and strategy, and lifestyle choices that impact my budget. I also occasionally add tweets to the #1GoodMoneyThing topic started by Revanche at A Gai Shan Life.

Are there other topics you think I should explore? Do you know of any other older single women writing about how they handle money (such as saving and investing, budgeting, etc.)? If so, please add to the comments.

Happy New Year!

Friends, family, and feelings

When I started writing this post yesterday it was a recounting of a friendship that is no more. It opened with details about how we became friends, some things we had done together, and then moved into my slowly dawning realization that the friendship was over. For whatever reasons, my former friend ended our relationship this year by ghosting me.

The loss of this friendship has been in my mind a lot lately for various reasons. I feel sad about it, and even shed some tears on Christmas Day. But I had to stop writing to get to an appointment, and when I returned home I had other things to do. Instead of writing, I thought more about the situation as I did my chores, and I’m glad I did.

Because as I reflected more on what I was feeling, I realized my sadness was about more than just losing one friend: it was about feeling rejected and unloved by other people, in general.

It was about how my mother never wants to spend more than two minutes on the phone with me.

It was about not being able to reach my father on the phone so I could wish him Merry Christmas.

It was about realizing that the attractive bartender that I had met a few weeks ago wasn’t interested in me, just being flirty because that was his way of relating.

It was about feeling unattractive and unlovable with my wonky eye and overweight body.

It was about feeling unwanted and unappreciated in my current work group.

It was about dealing with the slow decline of my beloved dog’s health and the fear that I would be losing her — my one constant companion who showers me with unconditional love — soon.

I’m glad that I didn’t finish the first version of this post and that I was able to figure out what was really going on in my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to the point where I don’t feel unlovable, but I try to remind myself that isn’t a sweeping generalization.

After all, I was welcomed to a warm and festive family dinner and gathering on Christmas Day with a former neighbor and friend. Last night I attended the annual Boxing Day party thrown by another former neighbor and friend. And tonight I will be visiting with yet another friend and enjoying a delicious meal in her home.

There are people who like me and value me, and I just need to focus on them and not dwell on loss and pain. I’m working on it, and that’s a good thing.

Staring down the inevitable?

For the past week my beloved dog, Hannah, has been very ill. The onset was sudden. Last Monday she had her acupuncture treatment and all seemed well. Very early Tuesday morning, I was awakened by the sound of her vomiting in the corner of the bedroom. From there, we have had trips to veterinarians nearly every day.

Her usual vet didn’t seem too concerned when I brought Hannah in on Tuesday afternoon. Hannah had been refusing food all day, yet took the small treat the vet gave her. “Let’s wait and see how she is tomorrow,” the vet suggested. That night, when Hannah started shivering, I couldn’t rest easy. I knew there was something going on with her, so I bundled her up and took her to the emergency clinic.

At the animal ER, her exam was unremarkable, but they did offer to take blood and run some tests, and I agreed. The results showed all her liver health values were much too high. Her ALT level, which we’ve been monitoring for about two years now, was over 4,000. (A normal level is under 100, and at her last check the previous week the value was 280). The ER vet told me that Hannah needed an ultrasound, and that I should check in with the regular vet the next day.

As soon as the clinic opened on Wednesday, I called and was connected with the vet right away. She told me that they did not have the correct personnel to do the ultrasound that day, and that it sounded like Hannah needed hospitalization with round the clock observation. I had two options to consider: taking her to UC Davis, or taking her to a pet emergency and acute care center in the opposite direction. The vet recommended the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin in San Rafael, so that’s where we went.

Traffic was light, so it only took 40 minutes to get to San Rafael from Napa. When we arrived they were ready for us, as my vet had phoned ahead and provided all the necessary information. I had to leave Hannah there so they could run new blood work, do the ultrasound, and give her IV fluids and antibiotics. The vet thought it safest to assume Hannah had an infection, and the hope was that she could be released the next day, on Thanksgiving.

I should have been working that Wednesday and preparing dessert for the Thanksgiving feast I was invited to the next day. But I couldn’t do either of those things. I stopped to talk and cry with a friend on my way back from San Rafael, I texted others, and I asked friends on social media for their good wishes.

Thanksgiving morning I got a call from PESCM that she was doing well. She had eaten some food, and they were going to try giving her antibiotics orally. They thought she could go home later that morning. It seemed fitting that on Thanksgiving — a day set aside for celebrating our blessings and bounty — I got to pick up my precious dog, my boon companion. Hannah was eager to be out of that place, too!

We had a pleasant ride home, and after we got inside the house she headed straight for her water bowl and drank quite a bit of it. I headed for the bathroom, and when I came out I saw that she had not held down much of the water she drank. I called PESCM back to report the problem, and the vet said that her nausea meds had probably worn off. She said that if I brought Hannah back she could get an injection of the nausea med, and they would give me some tablets to give her at home. I decided to wait a few more hours to see if the problem passed, and prepared to go to the Thanksgiving dinner with friends.

In the late afternoon, when Hannah was still refusing to eat or drink anything, I put her back in the car and made the round trip to San Rafael and back. She was given her nausea med via injection, and I also got the tablets to take home and give her orally.

We managed to get through Friday without a trip to the vet, even though it was clear that the nausea med wasn’t helping as long as it was supposed to. The med is supposed to work for 24 hours, but she was showing signs that all was not well after only 14 hours. I needed to give her antibiotics with food, so this was a problem. I gave her the nausea med early a few times so I could get her to keep some fluids and food in her system and give her the antibiotics. Then, first thing Saturday morning when her regular vet was open I called for a same day appointment.

Yesterday the vet we saw (not her regular one) prescribed yet another nausea med for her to take in addition to the other one. She loaded Hannah up with fluids, and told me to bring her back this morning (Sunday) for more fluids and an injection of nausea meds.

Today I’m cautiously optimistic that Hannah is on the mend. She managed to keep water and some food down over night and again this morning. She acted more normally last night by spending the night in her own bed instead of velcroing herself to me all night. (Not that I mind her being close to me; it’s just not her normal routine.) And while she has still been sleeping a lot and generally low energy, she doesn’t seem quite as lethargic as she was.

Throughout this entire experience, I’ve been worried that this is it: the end of our time together. She is nearly 15, which is more than 80 years old in human years. When I start thinking/saying, “I’m not ready to let her go,” I quickly correct myself because this decision shouldn’t be about *my* needs, but instead her comfort and quality of life.

I’m not sure if she will fully recover from this or not. For now, she seems comfortable enough and ready to keep chugging along. So despite how horribly expensive this has been (we’re roughly up to $2,300 in vet bills from the past week alone), I’m not going to give up yet. But I have to get myself comfortable with the fact that she is likely nearing the end of her time.

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.

 

 

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.