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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lapses

Now that I am attempting to resume my interrupted life, I’m discovering a few things. Earlier in my life, I had many surgeries, mostly for having a reproductive system, but also cryosurgery to repair a torn retina and ACL replacement. After each of those surgeries, there was a period of time that I simply lost. Things were misplaced. Bills were not paid, or paid twice. Books were read and completely forgotten. Lyme brain fog is an entirely different animal. If I ever wanted to know what early Alzheimer’s, psychosis, deep depression or OCD were like, I’ve found out. Lyme mimicked all of those things at one time or another, sometimes at the same time. My brain was, quite literally, inflamed.

I’ve struggled to explain what an inflamed brain is like. At one point I felt as though I were on tranquilizers and paralytics while drunk. Other times I felt as though I were on a never ending acid trip while severely depressed. There were still other times that I felt like I was coming out from general anesthesia. None of it was pleasant. It also lasted for SEVEN MONTHS. Not every once in a while. Every. Single. Day. If you saw me during this time, count yourself as one of the few. I hid myself away as much as possible. I had hours of lucidity, the occasional rare day of partial sanity. That was almost worse, because I would realize what was happening.

These were the months of scribbling in my notebook, trying to keep track of what was happening to me. These were the months of letting Katie lead me around the grocery store, helping me make decisions and handling the payment and bags. These were the months of moving from my bed to the sofa back to bed, watching bad tv or listening to music or simply existing, like an eggplant or something.

I haven’t always lead with my brain. I don’t know why not, other than I took my brain for granted. I have never taken my looks for granted. Is there a difference in the way men and women are rewarded for having brains? Most certainly. Are some people threatened by other people’s intelligence? Definitely. What I didn’t realize is how much of my personal identity is tied up into being smart. It is probably the most valued asset I have (that, and my optimism). To lose what you perceive as your greatest strength is devastating. You can’t articulate what your fears are because your fears have come true: you’ve lost your marbles.

The nice thing about an inflamed brain is that you’re not quite aware how fried you really are. Things sort of melt away. Days drift along, one much like another, a wet, gray blanket of blankness. The minute you can think, depression and anxiety crowd out rational thought. For me, medical marijuana and bad television made the worst days if not tolerable, survivable.Schedules and goals, no matter how small, helped, too. Get up. MAKE THE BED. Make coffee (Decaf now <SIGH>). Eat something. CLEAN THE KITCHEN. Go back to bed. Sleep. Get up. Stare at the TV (it’s interesting that, like everything else from this time, I have the memory of watching but none of the details). Try to walk the dogs. I actually accomplished this almost every day, even if it was less than a quarter mile. The dogs have been stalwart companions through all of this, and  their companionship made my life immeasurably richer. Unconditional dog love is real, people!

My mental faculties are returning. I still have lapses. I talked to a patron at the pool this week. She asked me if I had read Eudora Welty. Of course I had, I knew this as a certainty. However, I could not recall one title, one plot line or character. Holes remain, and I don’t know if they will refill or simply disappear. Memory is a slippery creature at best, Most of us simply trust that what we remember is true, we don’t delve too deeply in the mechanics that make it so, nor do we give credit to memory as personality. After all, who are we if we don’t have memory and thought? I lost both temporarily, and it was like I had been erased.

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