Monday, June 23, 2014

The Ways of Worry, With a Side of Depression

A reposting from 17 March 2010. Why? Well, it's been hit on quite a lot by visitors to The Manor over the weekend. When I reread it, it also struck most of the chords being played in Marlinspike Hall today, right down to the major 13th chord that Fred conquered in the wee hours of this Monday morning.  Enjoy!

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Interesting times.

I continue to struggle with excesses of pain and disability, not always doing so in a way that is particularly laudable, but I do the best that I can.

Dealing with serious health problems without the benefits and protections of health insurance, I spend most of my time flying along the continuum between abject terror and irresponsible giddiness -- picture a nearly-out-of-control luge run down the streets of San Francisco. Woo hoo!

Any neat freak knows that when entropy works up a head of steam... cleaning, straightening, organizing, list-making (and all their anal adjuncts) become the logical and necessary response.

Yes, my world was much improved when I broke down the Sushi Maker Kit into its individual components. Storing my little jar of Wasabi powder with its spicy compatriots almost eliminated the need for my three antidepressants. Putting the Pickled Ginger in the fridge next to the Fish Sauce almost completed my brief, unmedicated happiness. That means that adding the Sushi Rice Vinegar and a very sexy dark Soy Sauce to our existing collection of vinegars and prepared sauces provided such an over-the-top sense of personal plenitude that my mouth risked being permanently puckered.

But then came the unexpected addition of stuff like two insulins (plus the prohibitive cost of those dumb little blood sugar test strips), expensive antibiotics, a trip to the emergency room, and the necessity of consulting certain specialists again. As I shelled out the big bucks for medications and health services over the course of the last month -- and I mean just those medications and attention that were absolutely necessary to life -- my insecurities continued to win out over any residual sense of well being.

There was nothing left to organize, and the only things available for tossing belonged to Bianca, Fred, or the various remnants of the Haddock clan.

Intolerant of my troubled need to eliminate all that is not essential, the ingrates keep hauling their possessions back from the county dump. Sometimes, they even scream and yell, calling down Iniquities from Heaven onto my Humble Head. I suppose I should be grateful not to have to deal with the cursing power of The Captain. His distant cousins seem only to be able to manage some stuttered denigrations.

I mean... think of what Captain Haddock might say, based just on the things he's said before:

Pachyrhizus-eses-eses! Parasites! Patagonians! Pestilential Pachyderms! Phylloxerae! Pickled herrings! Pirates! Pithecanthropic montebanks! Pithecanthropic pickpockets! Pithecanthropuses! Pockmarks! Politicans! Poltroons! Polygraphs! Polynesians! Profiteers! Psychopaths! Purple profiteering jellyfishes! Pyrographers! Pyromaniacs!

And that is just the letter P.

A brief aside in my otherwise tightly-knit narrative: {!lordy!::!lordy!} My Dearest Readers, allow me to share my discovery of a website that will help us all, from neophyte to habitués, in the conjuring of powerful and effective curses. I mean curses in their most witchy sense. This gem of a site has come in quite handy and I join hundreds, nay thousands, of people whose cursing abilities (and, by extension, quality of life) have been vastly improved by its use. Take the case of this poor person whose own curses were just too doggoned weak and downright pitiful to make people stop calling her names. Without busting a barnacle, The Captain could have reduced her to tears in under ten words. But, good news! She came away reassured that, by properly casting her circle and by healing any breaches in her perfect Sphere of Protection, she is "untouchable by such others, even invisible to low-life." Help is out there, folks, for most every problem humankind can come up with... **
When the physical symptoms of this runaway osteomyelitis decided to ramp up their influence on my general ill-being, it became even more difficult to clean, sort, organize, disinfect, and prioritize -- to rule over my environment.

So I decided to get deeply depressed.
Despite having already paid for those three antidepressants.

As if I had planned my Descent Into Neurotransmitter Hell, somewhere in that period of murky time, I stopped taking the one [very, very expensive] medication that really was helpful to my chronic blues and switched to one that was featured on the $4 Walmart Generic List. It has not YET proved a suitable replacement.

So there I was: unable to use my arms very much -- which put quite the crimp in my vacuuming and polishing routines -- and tormented by the CRPS demons that daily tempted me to perform Do-It-Yourself amputations with a rusty scalpel.

I thought a lot about suicide. Oh, hell, I always think about suicide. There was, though, a qualitative difference and [a whole bunch of deleted, très personal crapola that can be reduced over high heat and finished with a tablespoon of unsalted butter...].

Yes, I did just refuse to share something with You! (And aren't You glad?)

And yes, I did just find shelter within a well-crafted and delectable Cooking Analogy!

Because once I determined that my suicidal thoughts were pretty effing dangerous and did actually threaten my survival? The search for Comfort began in earnest and that included, obviously, Comfort Foods. In fact, I mean to submit for publication my written philosophical proof that the correct formulation is "eat to live." No, wait. That should be: "Live to eat." Hmm. Well, I *do* know that to NOT publish is to perish... and if I don't get insurance soon? Taking "live" out of the equation simplifies matters enormously.

Don't worry, I won't include my "permanent and total" uselessness as part of the argument. I won't ever let on that I miss, I need, I cherish, those university days of endless investigation, teaching, sharing, exploring. Ah, the rarefied air of pumpkin-carving, martini-guzzling, day-of-the-dead-ing academics. You won't read about *that* regret here, no sir!

And so it was that the denizens and mavens of Marlinspike Hall (as well as some of our closest starving neighbors) were treated to three different kinds of Rice Pudding, a sad reproduction of Lunchroom Tamale Pie, all sorts of composite salads, aromatic pans of roasted and caramelized root vegetables, various bhaji (onion remaining the favorite), paneer, and -- of course -- sushi.

Okay, so sushi is not traditional Comfort Food. But think Bento Box. A sushi roll, some tempura,and simple things like half a hard-boiled egg, raw baby veggies, some beloved furikake (we like a not-too-salty gomashio) over rice. I am a neophyte at pickling but have heard the call -- and witnessed chefs accomplishing it in the space of half an hour, making the process even more appealing.

I suppose what I am describing is more Comfort Cooking than Comfort Food, although we have indulged in several incarnations of childhood Macaroni and Cheese. Throwing myself into time-consuming processes is really just another variation of the classic advice given to people dealing with clinical depression: *do* something! Whereas once I might have played a few sets of tennis or taken a dip in The Moat, now I do "quick pickles"of onions and carrots, or stuff roasted poblano peppers with tiny cubes of eggplant. At least my compulsive needs and tendencies serve to nourish the bodies of the souls I love.

[O! How could I have forgotten SOUPS! It has gotten to the point where I can barely tolerate canned prepared soups -- all that salt and tired taste. There is something so very grounding about a successful soup. Building flavors and foundations, eliminating the superfluous, elevating the humble. Also, let's face it, I am the Queen of the One Pot Meal.]

Then, too, there's the resultant mess. I get to moan and groan but secretly delight in the cleaning up necessary to my continued culinary success. Yes, it is painful to wash dishes. Yes, it hurts like the bedeviled dickens to mop the kitchen floor. Still, when these tasks are moved from the "just because" category to the "must be done" rationale? Someone has to do it... Lately, I do hit the wall during meal preparations and even though I clean as I cook, I have had to turn the mess over to my compatriots. There is much less guilt involved, though, because I have, at least, fed them.

However, on certain days, even several days in a row, I cannot even get out of bed. Getting up to go to the bathroom reduces me to tears and invites that peculiar terror of falling.

How do I manage my Uninsured Anxiety then, when even more than usual my infected bones and burning legs take charge?

That is where I was yesterday. I tried napping, reading, watching the Idiot Box, playing bridge, poker, mahjong. Tweeting, emailing, and pontificating ensued. (There has to be severe melancholia for me to venture to Facebook.)

All to no avail.

The need to clean, fix, straighten, prepare, chop, serve, wash -- that need was not being met.

And so it was that I found the latest incarnation for my sublimation needs: old letters and cards. We all have them, stashed away somewhere. Through the years, I have gotten rid of some pieces of mail that probably should have been kept. Nonetheless, I have a small trove of keepsakes -- and in my depressed, anxious, uninsured state, gathering them together for storage in one suitable spot seemed The Thing To Do.

You probably know the punchline.

As I read through letters from my brother, from friends, I tried hard to stay suitably depressed, to lament times gone by, never to be recaptured. Instead, as you already know, giggles and hoots and even a few guffaws were the result.

I know some funny people.

Here, let me show you:

In my first year of college -- at a college I only attended for one year -- I met a wonderful woman, a Senior to my FreshPerson. She presided over the Poetry Club and over the hearts of two remarkable, diametrically opposed, men. The Poetry Club was her excuse for hanging out with one of those men, the one she would not go on to marry but whom she loved most. He was the son of an oil baron -- no, I am not kidding -- who flitted around the world in dissipated fashion when not attending Our Humble School. Very Lord Byron ("mad, bad and dangerous to know").

We will call the byronesque, filthy rich heir Bill because that is his name.
Her, we will call Kathleen, as that is her name.
We won't mention the very successful lawyer husband because he was, in many ways, irrelevant at the time of Kathleen's various missives. They went on to make beautiful children and achingly darling lives.

Oh hell. His name is Jim.

The summer before she married Jim, erudite lawyer-to-be and classic Good Guy, Kathleen experienced a massive amount of doubt. I learned to listen and not opine (especially as I was against the upcoming union). At the time, I was at a large public university earning an undergraduate degree at the speed of light. She was finishing a Master's in Anthropology at the better known school down the road.

It was a December day when I found this muted Paul Klee postcard from Kathleen in my mailbox. The writing is minuscule (I had forgotten her incredible handwriting!):

I haven't had any sleep in forever. Insomnia for two days followed immediately by four nights of sleeping in the living room of a trailer which then housed seven other people. My family drove to Pennsylvania to see relatives and Jim joined us for about 40 hours, 35 of which were spent either sleeping in separate rooms or in the company of a vast number of relatives. Still, everybody likes Jim and somehow he managed to impart to me a faith in our relationship's future which had recently been missing on my part. The paper I sweat blood to write is finished -- so finished it looks as if it must have been effortless to write. I'm fighting letdown, wondering if I really have the courage to hand it in only to have somebody say "So what?" And there is so much shit work to do to finish off the semester. I can't remember if I've written to you since you called, but even now, when I think about the little shit "Bob,"* I literally get blind for a minute because I'm so pissed off that somebody would do something like that to you. It's things like that that make me realize I'm very capable of violence. I love you, take care of yourself.

Postscript: A week or so ago, I read
The Portrait of a Lady. I understand better why Bill was so much against marriage for me. In fact, he once compared me to Isabel Archer. Speaking of Bill, Jim drew me a lovely portrait of Bill at Our Wedding: with a red cushion strapped to the top of his head (both rings on top), Bill will come leaping down the aisle (great graceful bounds) with his hair streaming in the breeze behind him and his beard leading to the fore, he will pirouette ethereally above the assembly in a pale green leotard. Breathtaking thought, hmm?

*The "Bob" of which she speaks is this one.

A week before she was finally and irrevocably betrothed, Kathleen canceled the wedding and called for my Incredible 1965 Baby Blue Cadillac to carry the both of us away to my family's beach cottage at Morehead City, on Atlantic Beach. We had a grand time: She got quite the sunburn; We drank a lot of wine. We talked, but barely mentioned boys or men.

We ate our weight in boiled shrimp, served on fresh newspaper, dipped in ketchup and garlic butter.

The wedding was put back on the schedule but we stayed at the beach until the day before... lost in the sun, sand, and water. We did not answer the phone. We were out of reach and touch, out of time.

As it worked out, Bill did not attend.

Struggling to remain upright on my stilt-like Fancy Sandals, I still saw Kathleen's eyes sweep the church, and knew who she was looking for. We both later received clever "cara mia" letters of explanation, Italy the postmark.

The Klee on the front of the postcard is titled Parcimonieusement garni de feuilles, 1934, but I also see a cold winter night in a small mountain town, on an even smaller college campus -- a center of sober rectitude -- Bill in an old pea coat and impressive boots, dashing from tree trunk to tree trunk as Kathleen and I stagger, laughing, through the snow. One of us, I'm sure, is reciting poetry. If you squint and tilt your head to the left, you can just make out my second floor dorm room, in Cannon Hall.

So, I am putting this little bit of Kathleen, Bill, Jim, and "Bob" in the accordion folder purchased just for such a project as this.

Next, Brother-Unit Grader Boob's 2001 Christmas card, "made for [me] by Adjuncts on Bicycles -- Impoverished Athletes Extraordinaire."

Odd, I don't feel quite so depressed, and while my legs remain a source of suffering, the suffering seems dim and far away. The fever, sweats, and shoulder pain from infected bone? Pshaw!

So, for anyone wondering, that's where I am at -- cleaning what is often not even dirty, cooking when often there is no one even hungry, and lost inside temporal dislocations of memories that I am pretending to sort and organize.


  1. After reading this yesterday, I had to go away and think of what I could possibly comment.
    I imagine people say this to you all the time,
    but you are such an amazing writer with such a keen brain, have you thought of pulling your painful/funny/wicked material into book form?
    I can see it opening with the scene near the Pont Neuf, and off we go...

    Anyway, the state of health insurance is truly criminal. I'm working on a project on the French & Indian War and seeing again what bloody-minded folks we were from the beginning.

  2. Wordlemeister! How in enfer are toi?

    The short answer is "no"; The longer answer, "nope"!

    "Bloody-minded" is apt... très apt.

    Why, I think I'm gonna mosey on over to Your Place -- get some fresh air and maybe a new perspective!


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