Category Archives: Women’s Health

Major Engine Malfunctions – Personal and Vehicular

 

 

The irony of the flashing message on the dashboard of the car did not escape me.

We were about to leave the parking lot of the Massachusetts motel where we had spent the night to drive to Connecticut to see family on the way home from our Vermont vacation. My husband turned the car on and there it was in bold flashing blue letters –

Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now.”

I would have laughed, but couldn’t summon up even a slight smile. For the first time ever, my sense of humor had left me. Perhaps it went on a vacation of its own? Somewhere restful like the beautiful deep lake in Vermont where we spent a few days in mid-August. The peace of which I could not fully appreciate because I was also experiencing a ““Major Engine Malfunction” of my own. My aunt and uncle and cousins in Vermont were kind to me. They sensed I was operating with “Reduced Power.”

My long-time therapist labeled it Depression – which I have never before experienced.

Anxiety, yes, that is a familiar condition for me. Years of it. (SEE the title of this blog.) But Depression? That’s been something new this summer. Feeling flat. Low energy. Sad on the sunniest of days. Not enjoying spending time with my grandsons at the beach (my usual happy place.) Dull, no interest and little appetite.

And I couldn’t write. Not a word. For weeks. The space formerly occupied by my creative self was blank. Not so much a writer’s block, but a nothingness.

The Depression kind of crept up on me in June, then steamed full ahead in July and by early August my therapist decided I should try a new medication. Which I did. And experienced a full set of horrible side-effects (which luckily for you I will not enumerate.) Poor timing as they put me in distress during my longed-for few days in Vermont. The lovely lake, the green mountains, the quiet of the woods, the water rippling at the dock; none worked their usual magic on me.

My therapist agreed I could taper off the new medication but wow, its side effects were persistent. I was still feeling awful on that bright morning in my old college-town in mid-Massachusetts when the car’s error message of “Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now” eerily matched my own condition.

In the good news department: the car’s engine did not erupt as we slowly drove to Connecticut where the car got the service it needed.

My 94-year-old Dad always says that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed by money. Lucky for us the engine was still under warranty and we spent little to have it repaired.

If only our personal engine malfunctions could be so readily resolved.

I am working on mine with the help of a new med, my therapist, my patient husband, and understanding friends and family.

And as soon as the space formerly occupied by my creative self resumes functioning, I will get back to writing – and taking classes and volunteering and enjoying the sunshine.

Waiting also for my sense of humor to return from wherever it went on its own apparently needed vacation. I will keep you posted.

 

 

 

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Filed under grandchildren, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Travel, Women, Women's Health, Writing

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?

 

I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

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Last week I learned how to can.

Laugh, if you must, but my husband, JP, believes I am deficient in the skills of happy homemakers. If you were to go downstairs into the knotty-pine basement of his childhood home, you too would have marveled at the closet shelves where his mother stored her many jars of home-grown pickled peppers, vegetables and lots and lots of tomatoes.

JP’s mother not only worked full-time at a factory but she also did all of the cleaning, cooking and canning. And still does.

(You can read about my wonderful mother-in-law’s feats in the kitchen including making phyllo dough from scratch – yes, you read that right – here: )https://wittyworriedandwolf.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/the-nice-jewish-girl-and-the-macedonian-mother-in-law/

I have neither a knotty-pine basement nor did I, until recently, know how to preserve anything in cans or jars.

That is not to say I am not a good cook. I am, as was my mother, a good cook. I love reading about food, getting new cookbooks as a gifts and trying out new recipes.

But I am not a baker because that requires the careful following of directions which I do not do.

On a whim (and with JP’s strong encouragement), I signed up to take a morning class in canning taught by a lovely young woman in her home kitchen where I learned how to make up a batch of peach/rhubarb/ginger jam to put in clear glass jars.

I was one of four students chopping, peeling and stirring. Perhaps I was the youngest, me not quite Medicare-aged; the other women likely slightly beyond but hard to tell. And since it was a weekday morning and we all live in/near Washington DC, the inevitable question came up as we chatted around the center island of the sunny kitchen:

What do you do now that you are no longer employed?”

(when you are not learning to can, that is.)

Answers:

  • volunteer as a medical doctor in a clinic for indigent patients
  • write about foreign monetary policies
  • play tennis 3x a week
  • go birdwatching
  • hike Mt. Everest

Hike Mt. Everest?

That last one stopped me in my tracks

My own activities have significantly lower (no pun intended) expectations. Just before the morning canning class I was rather thrilled with myself that I managed to remember to:

(a) set my alarm the night before,

(b) take a shower and get dressed on time,

(c) arrive at the canning class only a little bit late.

My efforts to stay on daily task did not compare with a recent hike on Mt. Everest.

My classmate, the ardent hiker, told us about the many countries in which she regularly hikes. She was as warm and friendly as she could be. Yet obviously  far more active, energetic and outdoorsy than I have been or ever will be.

Our lack of knowledge about making jam was perhaps, the only thing we had in common.

Is it ridiculous to still find yourself in comparative mode? To wonder that you are not filling your days with enough productive activities? Not measuring up to the expectations of what post-career/second-stage/semi-retirement life has to offer?

I thought about this a bit after the class ended. It wasn’t jealousy I felt at her list of adventurous activities; it was awe.

My list of excuses for physical slothfulness is a long one. Look, I point, to the left-over from 2x open heart surgeries within 3 months. The weariness and some mild depression are the consequences I live with. And while there are many things I do – and some I even do well – I will not be climbing Mt. Everest soon. Or any other mountain. Ever.

And to those (few) who suggest I should set bigger goals for myself, create a ginormous “bucket” list of ambitious activities, I say “who are you to judge” or something more unprintable than that. To each her own.

But I can take great pleasure in meeting women who do accomplish amazing things in their semi-retirement. Like climbing Mt. Everest.

And also take great pleasure in making jam with them on a sunny weekday morning.

 

 

 

 

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“No Woman Is An Island” (Even When She Wants To Be)

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Twice last week I was reminded of the famous John Donne poem.

First, when I listened to President Obama use the phrase “No man is an island” while speaking before a U.K. audience alongside Prime Minister Cameron –  (and no matter what you or I may think about the foreign policy implications of “Brexit,” that word itself is fun to say.)

But I digress.

Second, when we read a stanza of the Donne poem in the Haggadah during our Passover Seder on Friday night. Friends put together a contemporary “Haggadah”  (the name for the Seder service telling the story of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.)  Modern versions of a Haggadah, like the one we read from last Friday, often include non-religious readings on the subjects of freedom and humanity.

Thus, we come to the British poet John Donne who in 1624 wrote, in part:

“No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent” – an ode to the connectedness of mankind (and womankind too.)

Yet sometimes connectedness can be over-rated  – as proved by my recent dreams about fleeing to a remote island where WiFi is unavailable .

Which is an odd thing, perhaps, to say for someone who is likely perceived by friends and family to be an “extrovert”, but lately I’ve had severe pangs of over-connection leading to fervent wishes to relocate to an island where no one can reach me.

(with the possible exceptions of weekly visits by my toddler and baby grandsons and the occasional conjugal visit from my husband.)

Or as Greta Garbo was to have said, “I want to be left alone.”

I think we all sometimes get to this stage – when we have given SO MUCH of ourselves to SO MANY PEOPLE that there is very little left and we just want to retreat and not hear, talk or write to anyone for a few days. Or maybe longer.

In my case it has been a confluence of the extraordinary neediness of a certain family member which has overwhelmed me, combined with having to deal with the many trivial “issues” that come up when trying to get a house ready to be sold. Too many demands, too long of a “to do” list and I long to cover my ears, hide my iPhone and escape.

Hence, the “island” metaphor. How good that looks to me at this moment.  Solo and selfish seems like a wonderful place to be.

And though we may want to run off with a small suitcase (for me, it would be very large, because I never have packed light and don’t intend to start soon) to a tropical island (or by a lake or near a mountain, you pick the scenery ) retreat where no one can:

  • irritate us with their ceaseless questions,
  • checks to be written,
  • deadlines to meet
  • calls to make
  • and responses to our emails that show us that they never bothered to read our initial email – for if they had read our first email with more care, they would not have responded with yet another dumb question…

(plea here: we have become a nation of skimmers. a bad thing! I urge you to read emails all the way through. with care. that will enhance our inter-personal communications. trust me on this.)

…we cannot really flee, because, yes, as Donne said, we are all inter-connected, on the same continent of life, and our personal relationships – even when they are mighty demanding – are what – in the end – hold us together and make us human.

So much for the island idea. I must comfort myself with the knowledge that we all go through these episodes of being overwhelmed by life’s demands.

Retreat isn’t the answer even if those tropical drinks with the little perky parasols (but who would be on the island to prepare and serve them to me?) do seem awfully appealing just about now.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Email, Family, friendship, Holidays, Husbands, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Over-Communicating, Reading, Relationships, Talking, Women, Women's Health, Writing

Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

stratton mtn

On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Words That Matter

“Woe to those who start a blog for their words may live forever.”

That’s a pretty snappy quote for one I just made up, don’t you think?

It came to me as I’ve been considering the wisdom – or the folly – of regularly putting my thoughts out there for all to read.

The other night my husband and I attended a memorial service for a relative of a friend who died too young.  The woman who died was in her 60’s, a highly regarded mental health professional, very active in her community and in her synagogue, known for her good deeds and exemplary behavior.

She received an unexpected diagnosis of a terminal illness and soon after started to blog which she kept up regularly until shortly before her death.

At her memorial service family members stood up at the front of the room, taking turns reading excerpts from her blog.  She wrote beautifully about coming to terms with her illness, making peace with her impending death and learning to accept the care she received from those she had previously cared for.

Her words were elegant, deeply felt and often profound. I’d never met her, but came to know her through what she wrote. I was struck by how she remained larger than life through her writing (a cliché somehow appropriate here) – finding meaning in her world as it narrowed as she grew sicker and sicker.

There I sat in on a folding chair in the living room of my friend’s house hearing words from someone else’s blog – and realizing their power.

After the service ended, my husband hugged me – and whispered in my ear – “Don’t worry, at your funeral, we won’t read from your blog.”

Was I supposed to be reassured?

I know he meant it kindly. He rightly guessed, that as I was listening to the speakers read the blog excerpts, I was thinking about what I write and how lighthearted it often is. How no one would confuse me with a deep thinker  – unlike the woman we were remembering at the memorial service.

Perhaps, if faced with the prospect of my own imminent death, my writing would take a turn towards the profound? More likely, however, I would be joking until the very end, putting off with humor what I would be afraid to face.

I am, as you may have guessed, the kind of person, who likes to laugh – loudly – at anything said at funerals that is remotely funny. I love it when family members and friends share humorous anecdotes about the person who died. Laughing breaks the tension, helps us cope with the loss.

And I come from a long line of funeral-laughers. At my paternal grandmother’s funeral – she of the sarcastic one-liner and critical eye – the rabbi lauded her as having a personality as sweet as the flower for which she was named – “Daisy”.  My father, knowing his mother far better than the rabbi did, turned to me and whispered – “the rabbi never met my mother. sweet she was not.” Yes, I laughed aloud at my grandmother’s funeral. (Perhaps a possible title for my yet-to-be-written-autobiography?”)

Maybe I should have cautioned the students in my Blogging 101 class that the words they will write in their blogs-to-be might have unexpected permanence?

I loved teaching this workshop and in true Sally Field fashion, was touched by the appreciative notes my students sent me last week after the final class. A dose of humor while leading a Blogging 101 class is appropriate. And if when the words flow, the humor naturally flows with it, that is appropriate too.

Yet I am still thinking about the words I heard at the memorial service. No humor there. Perhaps looking towards death took the humor right out of her system. Or perhaps the woman who died wasn’t a very funny person to start with. Instead of being semi-envious of her ability to create meaning from the most serious of circumstances, I should just accept that we all cope in different ways with tragedy.

Still I hope my husband is right. That no one thinks it is a good idea to read out loud from my blog at my funeral or memorial service. But if they do, please laugh, loud and often if you happen to be in attendance. Think of me, floating away on a cloud somewhere, chuckling along with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Faster, Faster. Slower, Slower: 60-Something.

Frozen Time

 

A few weeks ago, just before my Fabulous Fibula Fracture, I had started to draft a new blog post prompted by an interesting comment made by my friend, Liz.

She wants to freeze time. To stop the clock. Right now.

Liz and I are both in our early 60’s. As are many of our friends. And we are finding this to be an age – and a stage – (an inadvertent rhyme) – where we would like to freeze time. So we can enjoy life as it is for a while longer.

If only we could hit the “pause” button.

We are (mostly) healthy and happy. Our spouses/partners are also (mostly) healthy and happy. We are all working full or part-time or reinventing ourselves in semi-retirement. We are (mostly) empty nesters. Our adult kids, in their 20’s and early 30’s are finding their own ways  in the world – mirabile dictum.

We have reached a unique stage of life where – for the first time ever – we are not constantly pressing the “fast forward” button.

Think about this -> In every earlier stage we were always anticipating, waiting for the next phase to begin.

When we are young, we can’t wait to grow up.

When we are in college, we push to graduate.

First job, when’s my next vacation.

Engaged? Plan for the wedding.

Married, think ahead to a family.

Young working mom? Always tired, count the minutes till bedtime.

On the job, march on to the next project, await the end of each workday, hope the weekend comes quickly.

Empty Nest? We made it – and it is our turn. (wasn’t there a movie with that name?).

Finally – We arrive at a stage where we want time to stop – let’s hit the “pause” button!

Which is a wonderful thought, we should savor our current lives, have not a care in the world as to the unforeseeable future…

EXCEPT for that awful TV commercial that keeps replaying in my head. The one that translates to “we interrupt your normally scheduled programming to bring you a slice of unpleasant reality.”

Perhaps you have seen this ad for a financial planning firm? Where the people interviewed are able to recall that both good and bad things happened to them in their past – but somehow anticipate only good things will happen in their future.

Wrong! The announcer intones in a Dreadfully Serious Voice that it is likely as we enter our 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – yes, bad things WILL happen. And we should prepare for them by saving lots of $$.

Of course, we know this. We aren’t idiots. We read, watch the news, our heads aren’t buried in the sand. And $$ is likely, frankly, to be the least of our problems. You have it or you don’t have it, at least you have some control over it. Unlike good health where we have absolutely no control.

And no control over the “pause button” or the time clock either.

Which is too bad because I would really like to speed up the next six (more?) weeks of this fibulastic (made up word) healing process so I can set aside my skills at hopping. And then after I get back on both feet, to freeze time for awhile.

From my perch on the couch, I watch my husband delighting in grandparenthood as he plays with our visiting two-year-old grandson.

Faster, faster” our grandchild (actual toddler pronunciation = “wasta, wasta”)  tells my husband as he spins him around and around while seated on a desk chair on wheels. The little guy’s idea of an indoor amusement park ride.

The two-year-old wants to go faster, faster; I want to go slower, slower. And there we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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