Friday, November 02, 2007

Walhydra's year of becoming mortal

This one isn't at all easy to tell.

It's not that there's anything Walhydra is ashamed to reveal. Rather, she has wanted to write for several weeks, yet the source of the problem itself has prevented her.

Let's start it this way: last week Walhydra became part of a neurochemical experiment involving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (aka SSRI anti-depressants).

That was after she finally recognized just how much of her energy and concentration it was taking each day to tightrope walk with equanimity between anxiety and despair.

"Hell!" Walhydra says. "It's taking concentration just to make myself get out of bed in the morning...let alone do tai chi foundations, sitting meditation, bike riding, prayer, breakfast, or any of those other things which might nudge me toward wanting to do another day."

The crisis came two Mondays ago during the weekly LGBTQQFX bowling league, which Walhydra and hubby Jim usually enjoy so much.

"Well, I enjoy it now," Walhydra explains. "The first three years I hated it!"

Ever the self-critical Virgo, Walhydra used to get increasingly angry through each game, because she knew she could do better.

She pictures herself channeling her Swiss-German-Lutheran-pastor maternal grandfather, who used to utter a suppressed "Oh, pshaw!" whenever he bowled a bad frame. Except that Walhydra, not being a nineteenth century gentleman, utters things a bit less polite.

Finally, toward the end of last season, she realized she had to either quit bowling or stop caring so much. She started wearing a silly hat each week, joking with team mates instead of critiquing each ball she threw—and began to enjoy the company. And to bowl better!

The above seems like a digression, but the point is that Walhydra was having a fine evening that Monday, bowling high, laughing, feeling peaceful and relaxed, all through the first game.

Then, during the second game, hubby Jim mentioned that the thigh from which he had had a cancer removed about two decades ago, the thighbone which he subsequently broke about a decade ago, was aching.

A real-world cause for cautious concern, yes. But Walhydra literally felt her mood plunge from peak to pit and stay there. And stay there. And stay there.

"Alright," she said to Jim (with some difficulty, given her sudden sense of despair). "This is definitely brain chemistry out of whack."

Now, it might help the gentle reader to know that, as part of her current program of "becoming more mature," Walhydra has been amusing herself (ha ha) with the acknowledgement that she is of melancholic temperament.


Not that it's any news to her, but reading such an accurate (if unflattering) description of her character on a site quoting Rev. Conrad Hock about the ancient "theory of humors" actually made Walhydra feel better. To use her old social worker's jargon, describing her least favorite traits as just a part of her temperament normalized them.

"Like maybe I'm not hopelessly doomed by my utter moral failure in not being able to control my moods with reason? I'm just melancholic? Yeah, right!"

[Maybe it doesn't make Walhydra feel all that much better. The distance between irony and sarcasm is not very great.]

For Walhydra, a key passage from the website was this one:
[The melancholic] has a strong will coupled with talent and power, but no courage.... If difficulties in his undertakings are encountered..., even if they are only very insignificant, he feels discouraged and is tempted to give up the ship, instead of conquering the obstacle and repairing the ill success by increased effort.
Walhydra questioned the "no courage" part, but the rest is her at her worst. Fortunately, Swiss-German Virgo et ceteras are constitutionally averse to giving up the ship, so they keep hoping for some regimen of self-discipline which will bypass this trait.

Here were a few clues:
He should always, especially during attacks of melancholy, say to himself: "It is not so bad as I imagine. I see things too darkly...."

He must from the very beginning resist every feeling of aversion, diffidence, discouragement, or despondency, so that these evil impressions can take no root in the soul.
"Ah," said the rational part of Walhydra's mind. "Of, course. Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. Not quite my religion, but I can translate."

So Walhydra came up with a new version of her old "It isn't about me" mantra which went: "It's just temperament, not circumstance."

This worked for a little while.

Of course, Walhydra isn't dealing just with temperament but with deep down grief. Mortality.

In the past two years she has watched the deaths of Jim's father, several dear friends (the latest not three weeks ago), and the venerable family familiar whose passing inspired this blog, Miso the Cat.

Walhydra's eighty-something father, with whom she has gradually developed a loving adult friendship, is struggling with Parkinson's and other infirmities.

And, as the faithful reader knows, Walhydra's mother, Senior Witch, her closest friend and spiritual mentor, is declining into Alzheimer's.

This is not just temperament, or circumstance. This is Walhydra's own personal version of what every human being faces: death and the certainty of death.

It's enough to make one want to be beyond feeling.

And that, Walhydra now realizes, is what she has actually been working on in her haphazard morning rituals over the past year: trying to be "beyond feeling."

She hasn't been denying causes of grief or fear, yet she's been trying to avoid the slippery slope of melancholia. In the process, her brain has done what that organ knows how to do: suppress its own chemistry until Walhydra was deep in depression.

Ex-clinical counselor that she is, Walhydra started suspecting this a month or so ago. That Monday night's emotional plunge convinced her. The next morning she made appointments for a doctor and a counselor.

The doctor, a gently reassuring, semi-retired older man, commended Walhydra for still trusting her clinical judgment—and started her on a two-week SSRI trial.

The counselor, crew cut, jockish, maybe forty, was capable yet far less reassuring. Not through any fault of his own, but because he was from the newer, brief behavioral therapy school, rather than the "talk therapy" one for which Walhydra felt such a deep need.

"And he's too young. I know more than he does," Walhydra moaned to herself.

"Of course, dear," Goddess noted. "You're the elder here."

"But that's just the problem!" Walhydra insisted, annoyed at this divine interruption of her whining.

As self-reliant as she is, in periods of stuckness and despair Walhydra longs for someone older and wiser to turn to for comfort and guidance. Yet in her small circle, the "older and wiser" ones are her fading parents and her lost friends.

She has numbers of wise, supportive peers with whom she shares reciprocal friendships of encouragement and sympathy. But no intimate elders.

This is a new and distressing reality. The other title Walhydra had considered for this blog post was "Walhydra's orphan year."

So now here she sits again in her favorite coffeehouse on her Thursday off, eight days into the chemistry experiment.

In clinical terms, Walhydra knows that SSRIs take at least two weeks' dosing before they begin to reach an effective level. She also knows—now far too intimately—that their initial side effects can include a heightening of the very anxiety and depression they are meant to treat.

For most of the past week Walhydra has walked through generalized sadness, punctuated by long bouts with a hollow pang that grips her solar plexus.

"It's hunger, dear," Goddess suggests.

"No. Eating doesn't help."

"I mean hunger to get on with your life. You're feeling the feelings you were avoiding, magnified out of scale."

"My feelings are hurt and fear, damn it!"

"Yes."

"Yes what?"

"Just 'yes'." Goddess sighs. "You can't act and avoid at the same time, dear."

"But it drags me down so. I have to push myself through this chemical fog just to go through a day. I have to make myself eat, ride my bike, go to work. I have to keep myself busy every moment or I sink back into it."

"Yes."

Walhydra sags into her chair.

"There's no one to help me...except...." Walhydra feels a moment of lightness. "Except that Jim keeps hugging me and saying 'I love you'." She smiles slightly, despite herself.

"You see?"

"But he's gone all day. There's no one else."

"Ahem."

"Oh, yeah, well, there's you, I suppose."

"You suppose."

"I can't feel you. I know you're there...caring about me...but...."

Goddess ponders. "Go outside in the wind and touch that tree."

Without hesitating, Walhydra goes out into the bluster. As she steps off the pavement, the green of the damp grass shoots up almost through the crown of her head. She touches the rough bark of the tree and stands there. Still. The aching in her chest becomes quiet for a while. She goes back in to her table.

"It's gone again," she laments as the quavering seeps back in.

"Of course. That was only a reminder."

"Well...what good is that, it if doesn't stay with me the next moment?!"

"There is no magic, only belief."

"Oh! I hate it when you go all wise on me like that!"

"Duh!" Goddess giggles.

"I'm not getting important things done, damn it! I sat at the auto repair shop all morning, reading desperately to distract myself while I waited. I ate lunch. I took care of car insurance. I got the car washed and waxed. Now I'm here."

Walhydra glares at Goddess as if this explains everything.

"And...?"

"And I'm not getting Mom's business done. Legal work. Finances. Arranging in-home care for her Christmas visit. Finding assisted living in case she comes to need it. It's too scary. It hurts too much!"

Walhydra pauses.

"I feel like all I'm doing is plodding along and indulging my weakness."

"Nursing yourself."

"No. Well...."

"If you had a broken leg, instead of a broken heart?"

"Well...." Walhydra considers. "I'm afraid if I don't do this all well, that...."

Goddess holds Walhydra's gaze. "Everybody dies."

Silence.

"It keeps coming back to that, dear. However well you do, everybody dies."

More silence.

"You just do the finite amount you are able to do in a given moment. You don't measure yourself against anything else. Not even against your own history...or expectations. Just do what you can at the moment—even if it is only to breathe a bit more deeply."

Walhydra inhales slowly.

"See?"

Silence.

"Who do you think is going to punish you?"

"Huh?"

"You don't think 'God' will punish you for your finiteness, do you?"

"No! You know I don't believe that!"

"Then don't act like you do. Just go on."

"But...wait. Why do you bring 'Him' up? Aren't you both...?"

"Yes, yes. As you once said, I'm 'that same guy.' But you come to 'me' when you've let too much of that imaginary 'faux-christian boogeyman god' hide the real One's love for you."

She sits down beside Walhydra. "And when you want mothering."

"Yes."

Silence on both sides.

"So what do I do?" Walhydra asks at last.

Goddess gets a wicked grin. "Don't you read your own blog, dear? Just 'do the next thing'."

Walhydra frowns.

"Okay, try this then. Instead of your little intellectual mantra, try this one."

As Goddess stands up to leave, she peers into Walhydra's eyes—very deeply. Then she speaks softly.

"Joy and sorrow are weather, but the Spirit is the road."

And so it is.

Bless├Ęd Be.

Note: LGBTQQFX = Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Friends, and Xnyone-else-we-left-out.

1 comment:

Jim B said...

Even when we know, it hurts. Even when we are on the path, it is hard. Death. Can you remember your death? Dream it. I walk a similar path and your words, your pain, your joy, your story make my journey a little more familiar. Thanks for telling your story.

Jim