RomComs

I can always tell when I’m feeling better. First sign is a manic frenzy to get my life “back on track”. I play catch-up and start to think about the future. That instantly brings on depression, anxiety and panic, so I try to balance it out by watching romcoms. I like romantic comedies. A LOT. The smarter and funnier the better, but I’ll settle for a cheesy Hallmark Channel movie, too.

I’ve yet to see one where the chronically ill hero finds the love of their life. That’s a plot that could go wrong in so many ways. Meeting another chronically ill partner? Oh, great, two sick people shlubbing along together, finding happiness in spite of barely living. Or one person “saves” the other, making life worth living. Yechhh. Or maybe the sick one keeps their illness a secret, but when it finally comes out, the healthy one finds they love the person no matter what. Right. That’s a totally true story, happens all the time.

The problem with all these scenarios is the chronic illness. Like a third wheel, it’s there, along for the ride whether you want it or not. I don’t know what the dynamics are for stable couples when one finds out they have a chronic illness. I’m sure it’s the same as everything else: some partners bail, others rise to the occasion, but most probably grope along blindly, trying to figure out what to do as problems arise. I don’t have that right now. I have Katie and Dad, of course, but they are family, so far from a romantic partner that it’s no comparison.

Well-meaning people in my life worry that I’m not happy being single. Well, I’m not always happy, but that doesn’t have anything to do with not having a relationship. Maybe they can’t imagine being alone in their own lives, so they project their own fears of being alone onto single people, . In many ways, most ways, in fact, I’m much happier alone. For some people this is simply impossible to understand, especially people who know that I love men and flirting. It’s true, though. How much of this is due to Lyme and how much is due to personal evolution is difficult to discern.

Romcoms often bring up lots of emotions for me after the ‘high’ from the always happy ending, most of them cynical. I mean, at the heart of every romcom, regardless of how the writers frame the story, lies the fantasy that there is true love for everyone. That’s not true, it’s never been true. Is it a modern promise that can’t help but make most of us disappointed? Or is the modern standard so high that romcoms have to exist to keep the fantasy alive? Or maybe they exist in the same territory that fairy tales and romance novels; they satisfy our yearnings to be loved.

That’s the thing people pity single people for, isn’t it? “I just want you to be happy” is code for “I want someone to love you”.  “I don’t want you to be alone” really means “I want someone to want to be with you”. It doesn’t matter how fulfilled your life is in every other area, the message is  loud and clear: you can’t be satisfied until you have that person. In the most primitive terms, it’s biology at work, making sure we procreate and continue having little humans to populate the earth. I’m certainly long past that stage. I’m in the stage where I’m supposed to be enjoying my grandkids (I’m not sure I care about that, either. Katie has never wanted kids), and romantic love is a comforting memory or a real stroke of luck.

I think I like romcoms because they always have happy endings. They often start with one or both protagonists going through the worst time of their lives, followed by the soul-cleansing moral journey of discovering what is important in life, and finishing with the satisfying message that if you make the right choices and get your karma straight, you’ll be rewarded with true love. Just writing it down makes me realize how ridiculous the whole premise is. And yet I still come back for more.

The pay-off is catharsis, a feel good moment that cost me nothing. Since my Lyme disease isn’t going anywhere soon, I need an escape that doesn’t involve alcohol, physical exertion, money, brain power, or too much effort. I tend to go through phases of feeling like I want someone, but not so badly that I’m willing to, as they say in romcom vernacular, “put myself out there”. In truth, I don’t have the time or energy to put into anybody else but myself and I am a-ok with that.

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comfort

This blog was originally about losing my mind and being sad when I got well enough to realize I lost my mind for a good long while. There is little doubt (at least to me) that my brain is returning.  I kept veering off the subject of crazy, though. and into grief. I had no idea that I was and am grieving right now. Grieving is  different than depression. Grieving the loss of something partially returned is different than mourning the loss of a loved one. Nonetheless, grieving overtly implies loss, and only now can I see what I’ve lost in the last three years. Only now that I am returning to health that I have the energy for such an indulgence. Perhaps ‘indulgence’ not exactly right—it seems unavoidable—but why can’t I use my returning energy for something useful?

I haven’t had a huge amount of loss in my life. Three of my grandparents died before I was thirteen. My Nanny died when Katie was young. I mourned, but I didn’t know profound loss until my mom died. That period of bereavement morphed into an outpouring of grief for all the hurts in my life. What purpose does this serve for humans? It’s never fun, always difficult, and the end result is, what? A blank exhaustion, a feeling that there are simply no more tears to be shed. That particular part of the journey is different for everybody.

What I really want to know was why I spend so much energy on grief. There are four stages of ‘normal’ grieving: Numbness/disbelief, Separation/distress, Depression-mourning (are the two inseparable?), and Recovery. There is something called ‘complicated grief’ (wtf? is that different from ‘simple grief?) and ‘infinite loss’. I hate having my journey so neatly compartmentalized, so pedestrian. On the other hand, knowing this is normal is comforting.  I found myself feeling much better just reading about  ‘Perpetual complicated grief’, aka, constant sorrow.

I am not a woman of constant sorrow. There are times when an inertia settles over everything, and that’s unpleasant. The grief is like a low-grade fever, not incapacitating but definitely a factor in my everyday life. Grief from chronic illness is different from acute or terminal illness. Those illnesses have  a definite end, one either gets well or one dies. Chronic illness is a series of losses, unending, and multiple. These are known as infinite losses. Great. Constant sorrow over infinite losses. Sounds Sisyphean, and it is.

The most difficult aspect of chronic illness  and grief is girding up for the next round. As I write this, it (finally, DUH!)occurs to me this is why I am continually battling exhaustion. This is why I nap daily and sleep eight hours a night. Maybe grief serves as a reminder to my body: this isn’t over, you need to rest, don’t get too excited, now. As if I need a reminder.

Sometimes I wonder when this (Lyme and grieving) will be all over. More often, though, I remind myself that the weight of my illness and grief are the only things I get to determine. So I bumble on, wrestling with keeping both loads as weightless as I can, while still trying to live. I need to be smacked in the face to recognize what is often right in front of me. Putting a name on what I am experiencing is what I need to recalibrate. Which brings me to comfort. Anyone who has gone through this process understands the need for comfort. Respite might be the better term, but comfort through the process is elemental.

I have time-tested activities that provide comfort to me. Some are mundane, like cooking and cleaning. The results of both are deeply soothing because they are concrete reminders of my usefulness and skills. Movies. Cocooning in a dark theater and entering another world, no matter how grim, is essential. Music. Because singing loudly and badly with your favorite songs never gets old. Walking the dogs. No explanation needed. Playing pickle ball. I love the game and the people. I don’t want to brag, but I’m popular with the over-65 men. Writing. For some reason I love spilling my guts to everyone. After the first time, it gets easier. Lifeguarding. Any work is better than not working. Besides, I like lifeguarding. I think deep thoughts staring at the pool.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize whether I’m grieving or relapsing. A friend who has battled a chronic illness for years told me that when he’s having a good day, for whatever reason, he lets himself enjoy it. Does whatever he wants and doesn’t feel guilt AT ALL. I tell myself to do that, but it isn’t easy. I have trouble gauging how much I can handle, and tend to beat myself up when I do too much. Maybe when I get to the recovery stage I can relax and enjoy life fully.

Where does all this grieving and ruminating leave me? A little bit stuck, I guess. I am going to have to trust in myself (always dicey) and have faith that one day grieving and healing won’t be so hard. Meanwhile, I keep busy cleaning, resting, lifeguarding, writing, vegetating, playing pickle ball, walking the dogs, working from home, and above all, trying to get to that zen space of enjoying myself guilt free.

ps I started this blog before Las Vegas. The sense of grief over events in the world today is a daily battle. Comforting and being kind to yourself is more essential than ever.

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confinement

Being sick is boring. I used to joke that Lyme had transformed me into a swooning Victorian lady until shit got real. Then it wasn’t funny anymore. Seriously, think what it must have been like to be sick before, say, 1910. There would have been days, weeks, hell, months of confinement with little to do but lie there. Of course, if you were rich, there was a staff of servants to tend to your every comfort, but aside from talking to other people or watching the world outside your window or reading, there was nothing to do. Some people might argue this was the perfect time to contemplate one’s navel. I would argue they have never been really, really sick for a long time, so fuck them and their lofty goals.

This is where modern comforts become indispensable. It’s as though all of our advancements have been designed if not solely for long term illnesses, most certainly for our convenience. Hot, instant showers, check. Microwaves for easy cooking, check. Cell phones so you can stay connected, check. Television to pass the time, check, check, check.

TV is complicated. It can be used to enrich, enlighten, and entertain. That’s the good side. TV can also pacify, stratify (take a look at the differences in TV habits of America http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/26/upshot/duck-dynasty-vs-modern-family-television-maps.html if you don’t believe me), and nullify. That’s the bad side. I liked the bad side while I was sick. When I say bad, I mean mindless. I watched, in no particular order, Law and Order: SVU, Snapped, Property Brothers, Fixer Upper (okay, this one is not that bad), Chopped, House Hunters, Hoarders, Intervention, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Project Runway. Oh, and the Hallmark Channel (at some point I will dedicate a whole blog to Hallmark). What is it about these shows that tickled my brain when it was inflamed? I’ve thought about it a lot and I think these shows have some similarities that I needed. For one, each of these shows followed a strict pattern. They all had distinct noises/theme music that signaled each segment of the show. None of them require any thought (except maybe Law and Order), and all can be watched with half of your attention, which is good because while I was sick I had the attention span of a Retriever puppy. All these things combined made them perfect for entertainment while sick.

I’ve never been one of those people who had “my shows”. My nanny used to talk about her shows as if they were close friends with rigid schedules. Saturday night? Lawrence Welk. Sunday night, Ed Sullivan. She had her soaps. She LOVED Carol Burnett and Red Skelton. At the time, I thought these were signs of a deeply impoverished life. Now that I’ve spent over a year living a deeply impoverished life, I don’t judge. TV fills the void. You’re too sick to socialize, or do anything useful, but not sick enough to stay in bed all the time. TV brings life into your own life, people talking and doing things. For many shut-ins, TV becomes a lifeline to the outside world.

I did watch other things. I tried watching the news until the election coverage became so shrill and disturbing I had to turn to something else less contentious, like “Bad Girls Club” (If you haven’t seen it, you should, if only to see how low TV can go). I tried watching movies. The only ones I could follow were either children’s movies (“Up”, “Toy Story”, “The Incredibles”) or stoner movies.

With my brain returning, my TV time has sharply decreased. What I do watch is more cerebral and less filler. I’ve returned to Netflix to see shows like “Stranger Things”, or “Frankie and Grace”. I still can’t watch long convoluted dramas like “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones”. To be fair, I don’t like shows like that much anyway. What I’ve learned during this whole ordeal is sometimes TV, especially bad TV, has a place. I’m not recommending a steady diet (GIGA is real), but when getting through the day is your only goal, TV can be a lifesaver.

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