Saturday, March 9, 2013

The comprehension clusterfork

"The more I know, the less I understand, all the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again."

[Written March 7 in Florida but published today.]

I didn't walk on Tuesday. I got a massage instead. I didn't walk on Wednesday. I went to the library and then a hair appointment. I didn't make beads on Wednesday either. Today and tomorrow I'm in Florida with my mom. I'll get back to walking when I get home.

My mom was awake and alert all afternoon, a great departure from the relentless fatigue she's suffered since my dad died. Her memory is worse than imaginable. She does know me and she speaks about my brother but she no longer asks about my dad and of course I don't bring that up, nor do I tell her that her cousin Helen, who was more like a sister, is gone now too, at the age of almost 95. Mom's brother John is living in Chicago and in much the same state of dementia. He is 92. We could have a long way to go yet.

My mom's situation is truly tragic. She has macular degeneration so her eyesight is not good. I show her photos on my iPhone of her granddaughters and great grandson, but she can't really see them. I'm not sure if her hearing has seriously deteriorated, or if her difficulty hearing me and others is more a loss of comprehension. I ask her if she remembers Forest Hills, her home for 32 years, and she says, did you ask me about a sugar mill? She doesn't remember.

Between the vision and the hearing and the comprehension clusterfuck, she has little distraction. She can't read. She can't watch TV. So she lies in bed and stares into space and I imagine her gray matter literally is 50 shades of gray. She doesn't complain. She looks amazingly good all things considered, not at all like a woman who will be 90 in May. But then I look 39 myself. Or something like that. Her color is good and now that she isn't sleeping all day, she looks more like my mom again. I don't even know if that is a good or a bad thing.

Here is a picture of my mom and me. (It was a balmy 75 degrees but she was cold.)

When I parked at the airport this morning, a man was parking two spaces away and we both headed for the elevator with our rollaboards in tandem. He asked me if I was going somewhere fun and I said Florida. He said, you're on the Fort Lauderdale flight and I nodded and he said, I am too. We got separated going through the security checkpoint and it only occurred to me later that he was flirting with me. Or maybe just being friendly. Except for one time in my life, I've not been very good at the flirting game. Not that I'm in the game now anyway. But an ego boost now and then is good for the soul I think.

There have been times in my life when I thought my ego was out to kill me. I ricocheted between insecurity, compromised self-esteem, rejection-sensitivity and self-doubt, and a sort of narcissism, self-absorption, hubris, conceit and vanity. Bipolarity of the ego, that was me.

I'm not particularly proud of the fact that when I was getting unmarried I had an emotional affair. Although some people know bits and pieces of the story, I've never told anyone the truth, the whole truth, about Nick.

When I think about the end of my marriage, it is a very long stretch of growing unhappiness, punctured by some significant storms. Something changed for me in the final four months. I've written about how I can't remember the happiness, but in some ways I also can't remember the pain. I do know that for a long time there was no communication, respect or affection. We slept in the same bed in the last years, but not together.

There were times I sought to bridge the ever-broadening rift. Times I wished he'd just put his arms around me, even if it was just a gesture of camaraderie and not love or lust. It is very hard to live as an adult without any physical adult contact. I don't know how he felt about it, we never talked about it. It just sort of happened. We hit a rough patch and didn't connect for a while, and then months turned to years. He didn't ever seek a reconcilliation but I know it had to play into the anger and bitterness and resentment he demonstrated toward me.

Well into the fifteenth year of our failed union, I began to withdraw and isolate more and more. I could tolerate his company, barely, when at home, but found it insufferable when around others. So I stopped trying to be around others as a couple and then it spilled over into my own ability to connect socially, and I felt hopeless and alienated. Our family doctor who I'd been seeing since Chelsea was a year old, and who had heard all my complaints of tiredness and listlessness, suggested that I might benefit from a biochemical neurotransmitter boost.

I was rather shocked. I had one close long-time friend who suffered from severe OCD compounded by postpartum depression. I worried about the fact that she'd been an early and avid Prozac adopter, stemming from the time when there were all sorts of misconceptions and controversies about this class of drug. I was a little ignorant about and horrified by the idea of treating moods with medications. So when my doctor brought it up I had an immediate negative reaction. I stocked up on St. John's Wort and took it religiously (and worthlessly) for the next couple of months.

We reached the rock bottom of our marriage over Thanksgiving weekend that year. My parents visited and for some reason, whenever my parents were around, Jon treated me more rudely than usual. Or perhaps that was how he always treated me, and when my parents were there I was forced to look at it through their eyes. Jon was always gracious and hospitable to my mom and dad, and I used to wonder if he resented me for having kind and loving parents while his own were gone, leaving nothing but memories of dysfunctional violence, infidelity, alcoholism and racism.

One of the reasons I stayed with Jon was that my heart broke for the little boy who'd grown up in that atmosphere, for the boy whose aunt gave him money for bus fare from Texas to Indiana when she saw the way things were at home, for the tenth grader who packed a bag and got on a bus and didn't come home for 10 years. For the young man whose mother died, impoverished, falling down a flight of stairs, intoxicated and living on the charity of her sisters. For the man whose father remarried and was raising his new wife's granddaughter and doting on her with all the tenderness he never showed to his own children.

Nonetheless, that Thanksgiving our lows reached a new low. The following week I called my doctor and got a prescription. I told no one and suffered through 9 days of side effects including wooziness, headache, sleeplessness and depression that was 20 times worse. I bagged the experiment. I'd joined a depression support group on the Internet and while still in denial that I had an actual illness, my eyes had been opened to a whole subculture of people who took antidepressants and mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics and anxiety meds, suicide survivors and self-harmers, people living in their own personal levels of hell.

On New Year's Eve I wrote the following in a letter to my online support group.
I know I am lucky. I have my kids and my husband, even if our 15 year marriage is war weary. I changed, he stayed the same (I don't drink with him anymore). ... I am just so needy, I require constant reassurance, or I obsess and doubt myself.

But I must have some optimist deep inside me. I am willing to hope that 1998 is going to be better. I will hit my stride, develop charisma, find a best friend, fall in love, write something worthwhile, feel better. Off with the damn bell jar.
And two days later Nick joined the forum.

"There are people in your life who've come and gone
They let you down and hurt your pride
Better put it all behind you, life goes on
You keep carring that anger, it'll eat you inside

I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore."

(Don Henley)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz