Knock knock: depression calling!

Bing bong bing bong bong bong bing bong (Big Ben chimes doorbell)

Me: who is it?

Depression: oh an old friend!

Me: [excited because I’ve been isolated for seven months, opens door expectantly] Oh, no. It’s you. How did you get our new address?

Depression: I can find you anywhere at any time in anyplace so anyway I’d like to talk to your husband.

Me: [through a barely opened door crack] It seems you’ve already been talking to him behind my back!

Depression: Oh, he he, yeah that. Well, I’m always around…in the garage, the workshop, sitting in his office. He and I have a pact. If he’s laying down I come visit him and ruminate along with him, kind of like meditation.

Me: I was under the impression he is meditating, at least that’s what he’s been telling me.

Depression: HA! That’s funny. He tells you he’s meditating? Oh, good one. He’s finally learned, goodness he’s a stubborn one. He’s meditating alright. Rumination, meditation, what’s the difference?

Me: I’m very disappointed, let me come out there on the front porch, I’d prefer he not know you’re here. I love him and love is stronger than darkness and depression. [I try abc hold back my nearly audible angry tears…not again I say to myself.]

Depression: Well, I got news for ya toots, he’s been cheating on you with me.

[I slip out the front door and quietly shut it behind me careful not to let it see our new house.]

Now out in front of the house:

Depression: Oh very nice inside, I’ve already seen it, been around during those inexplicable arguments, when he tells you to “leave him alone” it’s because I’m there. I’m just good at hiding. You never do see me coming do you?

Me: Oh, I think you’re not as smart as you believe. That’s when I try my best to show him love and caring, make sure he knows I’m here for him. Love heals depression. Well…That and his psychiatrist and his medication.

Depression: Well, when was the last time he had his meds adjusted or saw his psychiatrist? And if you really believe love can beat me, you’re sorely mistaken.

Me: You don’t stand a chance in hell against me. Our trust will see us through. He knows you’re lying to him he just can’t always find the strength to remember sometimes and he pushes me away for a while, but I’m stronger than you. And I know all too well when you’re around.

Depression: Ha. Stupid woman. Drugs may have worked for a while, but I think you’re really overstating your importance. More like impotence aren’t you. I know your sex life goes down the tubes so to speak when I’m around, just like his hygiene. Haha haha. Stinks, doesn’t it?

Me: you’re an asshole. Is your partner anxiety with you?

Depression: Of course, didn’t you notice he was here last week. You were at your oncologist appointment and he knew you would be gone for enough time – didn’t his son push the right buttons while you, poor thing, were getting poked and prodded three hours away. Oh, we also have a contact at your oncologist’s office.

Me: Why can’t you just pick on someone else? No, let me take that back – no one deserves to feel this way. Why don’t you just piss off and die, both of you?

Depression: Oh we wouldn’t do that, and besides we are having a great time during Covid. Lots of new recruits to play with. I mean, we can’t seem to get through to you, but there’s thousands if not millions of people who have a really hard time with isolation and not seeing friends or the people they love. Covid has taken over the hardest part of our job!

Me: This won’t go on forever – you’ll have to go back to working twice as hard again. And by the way some of us are just not going to let you in, since we have no proclivity for being depressed.

Depression: Don’t worry we are not giving up. We will eventually get in your door too. Besides there are plenty better candidates than you for now. Lots more people with cancer who will relent to that negative self talk “why me?” “What did I do to deserve cancer?” “I’m such a loser I can’t even get better with chemotherapy.” “Where did all my friends go? Why am I so alone and afraid?” Oh those are my cues to put a dark veil over their minds, let them sleep all the time, and if the cancer doesn’t kill them…

Me: You’re a sick sick thing. Go away, he’s calling me and I don’t want him knowing you’re here. I’m going to hug him and put on some of his favorite music and get him out in the sunshine today.

Depression: [nearly invisible and hardly audible] Shit, no wonder we can’t get in, he’s a little stronger and you know what we are allergic to…but I’m always around…gasp…cough…I’ll see you soon…gasp…I promise you…wheeze cough…I…

Slipping inside I slam shut and lock the front door and go to wake up my crabby morning hubby. “Honey let’s get out today I’ll make us some lattes. Take a shower and shave so I can kiss your handsome face, and let’s sing and play guitar for a while. I’m gonna put on some music.”

Meanwhile the 70 degree temperature and bright blue sky along with the birds coming to bathe in the fountain in front of the house remind me that the world is full of memories not yet made and there’s much to be thankful for. I remember that love, patience, guidance and above all a commitment to my gratitude to having our happiness uninterrupted by this other disease that lives silently in the dark corners of our life isn’t going to visit us today and I hope not for a long time to come.

May you find peace and hope in these strange and difficult days.

Turning Isolation into a Gift of Giving

Neither extrovert nor introvert, but ambivert, staying home rather than going out’s never been an issue. Yet I love learning from all kinds of interesting and vastly different people than myself. And socializing face to face is something I enjoy. My friends range from a 67 year old ex Hell’s Angel who’s one of my BFFs, to a 20 year old Hodgkin lymphoma survivor married to a sweetheart of a woman who is currently serving in Afghanistan. Clearly I don’t discriminate when it comes to friends. Variety in life seeds knowledge and patience. Learning to ask questions and listen – not quite my strongest personality trait prior to cancer is something I’m still working on – but I was admittedly insecure for a variety of reasons.

Where do you want to go today?

How does a social animal such as myself make it easy to say “Home!”

Be us ever so humble, there really is no place like our wonderful home. The grass is much greener from fewer chemicals, the skies bluer from low air pollution, the people friendlier from less personal stressors.

But then there’s the house – you’re a citizen of your community but you’re the president of your home. The keys get you in but it’s up to you to make it a home not just a house.

Our timing, as always, couldn’t have been more serendipitous and with decisions easier for two who complement one another but fail to see the same decor as fabulous. Then add a sprinkling of dysthymic depression and case of metastatic cancer, add a pinch of a viral pandemic and you might hear the click of a shotgun at four a.m. coming from our bedroom. Or two clicks should we get that sick of one another. (I’m joking of course.)

Since February of 2020, and roughly the same date I began my current course of metastatic breast cancer treatment protocol, my resistance is low. And not just to wild color choices.

Why does anything that seemingly brings joy or comfort feel like a luxury since my metastatic cancer diagnosis? I’m truly not one to just let opportunities for fun and friendship go by and there’s no depression happening either chemically in my brain or circumstantially. No one could blame me for feeling depressed either. But it doesn’t describe how I’m truly feeling nor how all this is affecting my emotional well-being.

My physicians have all at some point handed me access to prescriptions for antidepressants, which I warn them, simply put me to sleep. I humor them and take one pill of a 30 day supply and 29 or 28 pills remain in six prescription bottles.

The blues are only of the azure clear skies in the countryside blockaded from pollution by the Sierra foothills and Lake Tahoe to our East and the American River and several dams of water control to our west. Immanently upon popping a little pill I’m sleeping as quickly as counting backward from 100 when the anesthesiologist begins prepping someone for an operation. In goes the SSRI and there better be some things off there to catch my fall when I fall asleep.

So I’m not depressed. Not exactly. I do believe that this whole COVID routine is getting old and boring. I’m definitely not and individual who likes to be individual I like to be around other people. So there is that part. There’s also the fact that I don’t get to go to estate sales, garage see, and antique shops. That’s where I make many make new friends and get to do the things that I like to do on a pretty regular basis. That’s if my shop brings in enough to budget those activities so it’s not often but I do miss that part of my life. Parlaying it to others has been a joy and is helping someone else for which I spend hours researching and learning. So those things of been gone from my life since February.

Other people who I really enjoy being around like old things as much as I do. I’ve spent a lot of my housebound time organizing my old things and selling them on my Etsy shop. (Should you want to check it out http://www.etsy.com/shop/YeuxDeux/). I started the profit sharing business with some friends were out of work because of the COVID19 situation.

But things actually got easier. Life at home became a luxury for us and thus the ease of deciding to stay home versus go out became a non-starter. We moved into the house, whose name La Villa Strangiatto (the Home of Odd People) also the name of Craig’s favorite Rush album and a song he can play beautifully on the guitar, reflect in things like our color choices. We dealt the bulk of the decorating decisions to me, due to my husband’s infamous analysis/ paralysis syndrome, with the exception of his office and outdoor lighting. Yet my sanity was called into question with regards to the color palette – a magenta burgundy and gold for our downstairs Moroccan-themed den and offices, light dove gray for the majority of the living spaces, and an auspicious robins egg blue for my kitchen. This may sound like a mad house or a set of brave choices depending on where you fall in terms of house colors. Then add an aubergine front door and you may immediately question what you’re about to walk into. But fun can be had when you’re truly engaged with any project -in the grand scheme of life no matter the size of the tasks involved, when you engage your mind, body, and spirit, wondrous, interesting, and even life-changing results can emerge.

So if we look at the situation as being “stuck,” that’s exactly how the days feel. One rolls into the next and Monday feels like Saturday. At the end of any day you become what your mindset dictates. If we enjoy the opportunities, whether conjured by imagination or something like gardening for rolling colors of white, purple, pink and red as the summer progresses then it tells of growth. Internal and natural.

Where’s everyone?

Somehow for me there’s the company of friends I miss most. Generally people are taken over by all the sparking rhinestones, strands of semiprecious stones on the wall by my desk, the views from our back deck. All promote interesting conversation. Craig’s natural ability to make a very difficult mathematical or technological concept easy to understand align well with his wicked sense of humor. I cook and he entertains with stories, music, his talents are relatively endless compared to most mortal humans.

But we’ve been together going on 14 years. I’ve heard it all. Yet what’s to come – all the plans we made this year wrecked by my lack of an immune system. When I return to normal society is unpredictable.

I don’t know about you, but I go to the store to grab things that don’t occur to him to pick up like toiletries. Once a month I allow myself 45 minutes at the close of Target to gather the missing razor blade refills, shampoo, etc. and I’ll be damned if they didn’t pick now to re-shuffle the merchandise. But instead of frustrating myself, I take a breath and am just grateful I can pay for my cartload. My heart tugs hard knowing others cannot afford a thing beyond basic necessities. So it’s not guilt that I feed my soul on.

I put my heart and m my mind to a find a solution. While three good friends are the beneficiaries – that’s 300% more than zero. And it benefits me and helps offload some of my medical Financial burden and gave me back some of the social FaceTimed I so crave.

Every problem has a solution.

Instead of having a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t possibly ever get in my online shop in this lifetime, I’m doling out categories of merchandise to a couple of friends who lost their jobs or lost the bulk of their revenue due to cancelled outdoor events they’ve don’t mess each year. They benefit and I have gotten my house near clutter free. How much I’ve wanted to do this but had no time nor any real place to give these curated beautiful items a worthwhile home without losing all the time and the money investment. So it’s not completely unselfish of me but certainly it makes me feel good to be able to do something beneficial for someone else. I think helping other people in times of need, times like these, is the kind of thing where we all can benefit – and we benefit by giving of ourselves in a sincere way. The end result of giving is so much nicer than the feeling of getting.

First I determined that I could easily share in my vintage and antique business. There are certain sub genres of antiques I don’t have the time to learn enough about and I have inventory to spare. It was things that I had planned to sell overtime but I know in my heart that I don’t have the lifetime in which to undertake these offerings. Honestly, not knowing how much longer I’ll live is a large part of it and that’s just reality.

So I’ve given one set of friends some of those categories to start a second shop online. Then my other friends currently and successfully sell my antique and vintage hats along with their other handmade leather goods that are absolutely outstanding and artistically creative and well made.

My friend models the hats; her husband takes the pictures. She is so beautiful Both inside and out that her soul really shines through in these photos. It was once said that a photograph stole your soul. I don’t think that’s true at all. And in this case the pictures didn’t steal her soul, but share it.

To give truly is divine.

And I was never very good at receiving gifts. I hate surprises. I always like to know what’s coming. And that’s really unfair to the gift giver but that’s my personality I can’t stand surprises. It’s a confessional that’s embarrassing but what can I say.

In essence over the past four months there’s been a rearrangement in my personality. It’s happened before. A huge amount of physical and mental adjustment to a life with cancer is ongoing and into five long years. If I’m lucky enough to get in another five years, my adjustments will focus on how to rearrange myself to accept my lack of energy, my fatigue, and the pain that I feel when I try and do life without doing more medication.

The third friend overlapped with my resistance to binge watching an entire series of television. That silly fear of indulgence had to fade to the background to return the gift of laughter. He’s allowed over to the house since he too is suffering from a life of pain and I watched him start to teeter into a full blown depression, and I had to grab hold of his hand before he fell over a cliff into a dark ravine. I watch mostly British comedy when I do watch anything besides documentaries. By the way, should you want to laugh really hard Netflix has the British comedy, Man Down, written by and starring Greg Davies. This was the second helping of the show for me, which I consumed along side my friend. I had no idea what damage a stroke can do to someone’s memory. And since he suffered through several strokes six years ago he finds it difficult to remember when and how to laugh. How sad would life be without the gift of laughter. There’s a yoga in fact that is a laughter yoga. So that tells you something doesn’t it?

And I suppose it’s a kind of indulgence, and one that has gotten me through some really shitty chapters in my life. Each night after dinner over the course of about a month, we laughed to the point of tears.

Giving someone I truly care about the remembrance of how to laugh what was one of the best things I could ever give anyone. It’s certainly worth more than money and the most gratifying activity in which I’ve actively participated. There’s a few more personal stories I can share but I think you get the point.

We can choose loneliness, anger, resentment and pain. Or we can turn ourselves inside out and find our hearts exactly where they’ve always been. Right in the middle of our chest still beating while we are still here. So taking loneliness and isolation and upturning that negativity by actively reaching out to those who needed me most when they are in a time of the most need. This is a time when we can all turn inside ourselves or we can turn ourselves outwards and be of love, spirit, and of heart. That is what I am most grateful for for this entire COVID19 situation.

Cancer is difficult mind you and it certainly has its downsides during this whole thing because we can’t go out very much especially if I immune system‘s are compromised by chemotherapy. However We can still give of our personal gifts. And that is the best gift we can give to ourselves.

Holiday Cancer Cheer

There’s no Cocktails that really make it onto my holiday menus since my cancer diagnosis. Those halcyon days of fine wine and creative concoctions are long gone. So the lack of drink kind of makes these dry holiday seasons well…dry. In light of that I thought I might share with you some of my anecdotes about how I handle all the stress and the isolation of cancer and the holidays. I’m taking a bit of a different twist on your usual cancer blog fare.

Perhaps you can take some key points away and infuse your own drinks with some of these interesting ways of handling things that are rather uncomfortable and can be somewhat depressing. I find the holidays carry as much weight as all of the past 12 years of being with my beloved and every stinking holiday season beginning about two weeks before thanksgiving and ending just after New Year’s Eve, when I can finally relax.

After 54 years alive and 1/4 of those with my husband and most of those 12 years with two adolescent growing to teen boys who expected incredibly nice, increasingly costly gifts, here’s some practical as well as some less pedantic, more spiritually-based techniques of handling the cancer holiday blahs.

  1. Learning to deal with bodily functions such as farting in public or knowing every clean bathroom in about a five mile radius from the house. Me: farts in line at the grocery checkout. Clerk: looks at me like this 😑 Me: Looking down, holding out my index finger, as if to scold a dog or a small child, and saying, “bad dog! Oh you know these support animals. I should cut down on his protein shouldn’t I?” Clerk: looks around sees no dog. Rolls eyes and elbows the teenager bagging my beets and ginger and tumeric. Me: Fart again, “bad boy!” looking around embarrassed and hoping silently I’m in range of a clean bathroom. I laugh to myself and muse as to why it has to happen so often at the grocery checkout. I stab the credit card machine with my chip up hoping it’s not declined heaping additional facial redness on top of that brought on by my intestinal eruption embarrassment. This year I am hoping for a few Silent Nights rather than personally sounding like I am playing a one -woman band version of the entire horn section of the college football show at halftime.
  2. Don’t wind up in the hospital. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the holidays or if it’s thinking about the people who haven’t called me or who might call me or who might not call me on the holidays and all the stress that goes along with that and what to say and what they’re going to ask. Perhaps that stress is all just coincidental to becoming ill enough to wind up hospitalized. However, every year this time of year I have been in the hospital for the past four years. I’m hoping that this year the hospital is not in my holiday plans instead of a nice trip elsewhere. I don’t consider the hospital a vacation. Nor that nurses are there to serve my needs and to wait on me hand and foot or to give me facials and massages. Although I wish they would instead of waking me from thin skinned sleep and asking me for my vitals over and over again.
  3. To decorate or not to decorate? Do I have the will to actually put the lights up get a tree haul it home put it up and hope that Craig will be there to help me. And then adorn it with all the decorations that I have collected over the past 12 years for family. I’m not sure that I’m going to do it this year though I did find a very cost effective retailer (Big Lots has 18 feet of white outdoor LED rope lights for $12!). I think I’d rather enjoy the beauty of nature all its own and use the stars as my decorations this year. First it’s a lot cheaper and second it’s a lot more beautiful and I appreciate them all the more every night that I’m out here and it’s not raining.
  4. Getting up before 1 pm to shop for gifts on time and with a bit of meaning for those who will get them. Probably late due to not getting out of the house in time to get to the stores or lack of personal financial resources. Wake up! I yell inside my mind, where no one can hear me but myself. As I reach for my magic rope, one I imagine falls from the ceiling above my bed, generalized bone pain and neuropathy in both arms, I’m prevented from reaching the frayed and knotted jute twisted above me. While the painful tingling in my hands caused by nearly five years of chemical therapies wakes me with a jolt I’ve no problem staying awake.
  5. Lose the guilt. Many days guilty feelings wash over me instead of a restorative shower. I feel guilty for lazing about and wonder if it’s even necessary to feel ashamed. People who count on me know I have morning challenges, or in some cases afternoon challenges. My schedule shifted later and later as we closed in on moving out of our house in San Jose. It’s amazing how much crap people accumulate over 11 years in one home. I realize too that 11 years is the longest span of time I’ve lived in one house. And now I start afresh without the guilt. I have new friends that don’t know me as I was before and therefore don’t have expectations of me as I wants was. They know me now and they like me as I am now. So I intend to drop the guilt this year and also if my friends who live in San Jose or back on the East Coast don’t understand well I suppose they’ll just have to live with that. I won’t live with the guilt anymore that’s for certain.
  6. Listen to more music. Music fills me with joy. I sing many songs I make up on the fly to my cat, Simon. Most of them are lullabies, as he seems to enjoy these most of all. I’m definitely guilty of singing loudly in the car and of course in the house. I also sing in the shower and pretty much everywhere I can. I’ll even sing to the music on the loudspeaker in the grocery store. Hopefully the same clerk who hears me fart does not hear me sing.One of the things that was absent from our lives for about five years while my husband was depressed was music. Music has refilled our house, filled spaces that were left void of sound and reverberates in our ears words and tunes that we both love to listen to. Right now we just listened to that one jimmy our Canadian trio Rush’s Fly by Night and it’s an awesome album. The title song is about leaving the past behind you with life leaving us “no time for hindsight” and that something I also intend to do which is not ditch the music from the past, but…
  7. Leave all of those past things that I can do nothing about behind me. Not making much ado about nothing. That’s something the cancer taught me to do, which is to leave the past where it belongs. In the past. That alleviates a whole lot of guilt (see above number 4) and it also brings me to my next point which is…
  8. Do not hold onto expectations of the future. With cancer you cannot have expectations of the future even if the future is tomorrow. Plans change ljconstantly. My health changes constantly and everything changes constantly around my health. It’s very hard to make plans and keep plans around something that is constantly changing. Life should be like that anyway: a little more spontaneous and a little less planned. But that’s hard to do around the holidays when people want to make plans. Further, when I was forced retirement I really didn’t have to plan my days anymore. I don’t have to live by calendar except to show up at the oncologist and get my chemo and make sure that I get my prescriptions on time. I also have a small business and I do need to ship my items on time but other than that I really don’t have to keep much of a diary. The only real diary I need to keep is a personal diary.
  9. Isolation can be good for writing not for the holidays. I wonder to myself if the reason I don’t hear from people is that they’re wondering if I’m dead or too ill to speak. Or maybe they think I’m in the hospital which I usually am this time of year. Or maybe they don’t want to give excuses for why they haven’t called or called back or texted or texted back. But it’s all OK it really doesn’t bother me all that much because honestly I’ve determined that if he will don’t want to call me I’m not going to pressure them to do so and I’m certainly not going to pressure myself into trying to call them. I don’t get very many cards anymore he used to get quite a lot. But now one or two trickle in maybe a half a dozen for the entire holiday season. Part of this has to do with my husband being depressed for the last five years and part of it has to do with me having cancer for the last five years. His depression comes and goes, stage 4 cancer just comes, and that’s about it.
  10. Live. Just live. And have a peaceful end of this year. I hold out hope. I’ll always have it for myself and for all of you. Go in peace. You deserve it.