Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Price of Admission

The Price of Admission

I like JT’s post this morning.  She asked what made 2012 valuable and what surprised her readers.  I responded that it would take a long time to accomplish writing about this year, and I would need therapy at the end of it.  Since I am already in therapy, I guess that’s a moot point.  However, if I attempt to abbreviate matters, and I leave my sweetest of Apple Blossoms out of it as much as possible, I see value in the exercise.  So here goes, a month by month score-card, as it were.

January opened with blogging being the center of my universe.  I was communicating with folks all over the country, as though I had known them all my life.  The writing was effortless, and stimulating.  Then came the 24th, and the shocking murder of my former student and good friend, Jamal Andrews.  This propelled me onto an emotional roller coaster, during which time I made commitments that I was later unable to fulfill.  This tumultuous time made it obvious to those around me that I had a mood spectrum disorder, what old-schoolers would call being bipolar.

February began with my Apple Blossom deciding that my moods were too challenging for her to deal with, so she left me, out of sheer self-preservation.  When she returned, it was to try and gently transmit to me her concerns and those of my family, that I was ill.  I was (of course) clueless, but I read everything she sent my way, and found out by taking a simple quiz, that there was a great deal of truth in her assertion.  I had originally protested that the manic side of things was accurate, but not the depressive side.  Then I began to examine the last few years of my teaching career and concluded that those around me were accurate.

In March I began to see a psychiatrist over on the coast and was shocked when he prescribed Seraquel, an anti-psychotic drug, with side-effects described in the accompanying literature, that so terrified me that I never ingested a single capsule.  They remain in my bathroom cupboard, a mute testimony to my fear.  Though I benefited from the therapy, I never trusted the good doctor again, and eventually decided it was not a fit, and sought therapy elsewhere.

April precipitated a burst of creative writing, which saw me write more than fifty short pieces of fiction, which I had hoped to start publishing in cyber space, but have not been able to, because I cannot penetrate the technological wall of knowledge required to do so.  I was shocked that I could successfully write short stories, and disappointed that publishing them has remained unattainable.  My writing in this genre continued well into May.

May brought about a resurgence of my carpentry career, something that I thought would no longer be possible, because of the physical challenges incurred the previous fall, when I spent time up at Island Mountain, from which I spent the entire winter recovering.  I built a twenty by ten, two story addition to my workshop, a multi-purpose facility that has proven invaluable since it was completed.  It took all of the summer, being finished by the start of September.

June began with our making two trips over to the Central Valley in three days, to attend both the wedding of a nephew and the graduation of my youngest son from Cal Fire’s engineering school.  Both venues reinforced me with the knowledge that my lifetime of panic attack syndrome was over.  That is shocking all by itself.  June also saw me switch therapists to a man who works in Ukiah, and has proven to be a very good fit.  He was instrumental in helping me, individually, and later, in helping me and my Apple Blossom contend with the critically important challenges of trying to put our thirty-year marriage back on track. 

July remains the single month during which I can safely assert, I was almost normal.  I kept meticulous track of the ebb and flow of my illness, continued working, and thought I had the whole thing conquered.  July was the calm before the storm.

August began with a weekend excursion up to Eureka, which culminated with a precipitous journey from Eureka to Willits, because we thought my Apple Blossom was passing a kidney stone.  She was savagely attacked by pain and nausea, and it was eventually determined that she had a tumor the size of a softball, enveloping one of her kidneys.  Simply stated, she has cancer of the kidneys, and the infected one was subsequently removed.  Unable to contend with this adversity, despite my best of intentions, I was unable to provide support for her, so she once again left me, this time indefinitely, with no time-frame in place, a fact which left me reeling, emotionally and physically.  

September was crushing in its totality, with me inconsolably depressed and lonely.  I was not permitted in the arena where the surgery was performed, and not allowed to be in the same venue as my Apple Blossom.  September was as bleak a time-period in my life, such as I had not experienced since January of 1972, which marked the first month of my incarceration in the military.  My wife and my life took an apartment in Willits, an hour to the south, leaving me by myself on our mountain.  I was despondent, with no hope for the future, but I was also determined to keep her household afloat financially through my construction efforts.  Being so into time, I could not view life rationally, without any hope of reconciliation in the near future with my Apple Blossom, and the net result was one of the most shocking transformations in my life.

In no order of importance, I decided first to stop ingesting marijuana in any form.  Now, I had stopped for the first five years of my teaching career, and for up to as long a time as two years later on during that same time period, but now I was motivated by a different reason-the return of some semblance of normalcy.  I also stopped all alcohol consumption, though I have never been much of a drinker; I stopped all caffeine and cut out all processed sugar.  I also made an appointment at the veterans facility in Ukiah, with the resident psychiatrist, and began taking the medication she prescribed for mood spectrum disorder.  

I did all of these life-altering actions, without consulting my better half, in the hope that she would take note and reconsider her departure from my life.  It just proved that I never knew or appreciated what I had going for me, until I lost her.

October was an extension of September, with all of the changes in place, and I proceeded with a fierce determination to make an impression on my sweetest of Apple Blossoms.  I included time up at Island Mountain, just to prove that I was still willing to go to any lengths to provide income for two households.  The one bright ray of hope came when we started to see the therapist in Ukiah together, to try and work out some of the impediments to a resumption of our married lives together.  That, in and of itself, gave me some hope.  I also reinforced my personal philosophy that whining doesn’t solve anything.

November brought Veterans Day, and with it the glorious reconciliation for which I worked so hard.  Again, I must point out that I was not asked to quit the reefer and I was not asked to start taking the medication for mood spectrum disorder; I did these things on my own, and that was a big factor.  Though we still live apart for much of the time, never more than three days pass before I am able to be with my Apple Blossom.  I do not dwell on this because it makes her feel guilty.  I know she feels badly, and it stresses her out to have me complain, so I don’t.  She can no longer deal with the hardships of winter on the mountain, and I have responsibilities up here that I cannot shirk.  Thus, it remains what it is so I revel in the time we spend together and stay busy the rest of the time.

December brought with it a diminishing of my childlike fascination with the Christmas season, something that needed to happen forty years ago.  It’s just not the same thing when you spend much of your time by yourself.  However, December also brought about a thaw in the impasse between my number two son and myself.  We have managed to get past our differences, and I spent Christmas day with him and his awesome wife, enjoying a scintillating day of bridge and the company of family. 

Why anyone would care to read this entire passage is incomprehensible to me.  However, I have rarely written for others; almost all of my prattling is merely a way of expressing those thoughts which lodge within me.  That being said, if you made it this far, take a deep breath, and know that I am very happy-very content with life at the end of this tempestuous year.  I have learned much and remain committed to keeping my frame of mind open and uncluttered with the complications surrounding my illness.  

The price of admission for this topsy-turvy roller-coaster ride was nothing, but the result has been monumental.  Just know that I am madly and passionately in love and have acquired some valuable tools for helping me cope with my illness.  What could be sweeter than that?  After all, love is the greatest power.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No Business Like Snow Business

No Business Like Snow Business
That used to be my mantra, when I was younger.  Simply put, I thought snow was the epitome of all that is wonderful about Mother Nature.  Silly me.

Judging from the posts on FaceBook, I am in the minority.  However, to me, snow is the guest who overstays her visit.  Snow is beautiful; I will grant you that, the way it drifts down through the oak trees.  But when a person lives on a mountain, and the snow makes a grand entrance, it impinges on every aspect of one’s life.

I must keep both stoves going full-blast, simply to keep the house from freezing.  That involves bringing in vast, unlimited quantities of wood from-where else?-outside.  Back in the day, when I was teaching, I kept a four foot-wide, by four foot long, by four foot deep woodbox, which I then proceeded to pile up about six feet high with wood.  That was all well and good, until it came time to fill it.  Then it took about six wheelbarrows-filled-to replenish the wood.  

My reasoning was simple.  We left for school each morning, still in darkness, and we got back up on the mountain, while it was once again dark.  Therefore, that woodbox lasted all week long, and I could refill it on the weekend.  Now, to bring in that amount of fuel, is prodigiously difficult.  So I got rid of the woodbox, and replaced it with an iron ring, which holds, at most, two milk-crates of wood.  That just means that I must continuously bring in armloads of wood, all day long, in order to keep the home-fires burning.  It’s a pain, but infinitely better than the grueling task of loading up all of those wheelbarrows filled with oak.

The primary reason for being less than enamored with snow, is the simple fact that every outdoors experience is fraught with danger.  To let the chickens out, to start the generator (there is no solar power when the panels are covered with snow), or to venture outside for ANY reason, is to tempt fate.  Icy conditions for a sixty-year-old, pose a constant threat.  If this makes me sound curmudgeonly, I can only protest that it is self-preservation that motivates my line of reasoning.

After all, old bones are far more brittle than young bones, and I am not getting any younger.  A common occurrence is to see the snow pile up, and then have a warm front pass through.  If there is enough rain to melt the snow, all is good.  Unfortunately, what frequently occurs, is that the rain settles in, the storm passes, and the temperature plunges below the freezing point, and the snow turns to a deadly ice coating, making difficult walking even more treacherous.  Ach tung, Chucko.  Watch your step!

So when I hear people chortle with glee, or even worse, hear about people venturing up on a rooftop in sub-freezing weather, with a hose in tow, to spray water out onto the front yard, in order to create “snow,” I have to wonder about their mental state.  

As for me, I want to book passage on a warm bus to Anywhere, USA, as long as the word snow is associated with cones, and the available flavors are cherry, orange, or lemon-lime.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

'Tis the Season to Be...

‘Tis the Season to Be  ...
Christmas is coming-there can be no doubt about that.  Stores everywhere have their displays up, and two-thirds of the commercials on television feature yuletide messages.  What I have noticed about people’s responses is, you either love and embrace the season or...let’s see now.  I dislike using the word “hate”; it’s more that people disdain Christmas.

I am someone who cherishes this time of year for all of the usual reasons.  Growing up in a big family, it was one time of the year when one and all celebrated in harmony.  Of course, Mama required that we all pitch in and help clean the house from top to bottom, and that was not necessarily a lot of fun.  But we also knew that when the job was finished, the next step was to get the tree.  In our house the tree did not arrive until the twenty-second or the twenty-third, because Mama felt that the tree should stay up until the 6th of January, long past our return to school.

I can understand people who are overwhelmed by the additional requirements of contending with Christmas, while balancing the task of trying to cope with small children.  After all, an individual can only do so much before pure exhaustion takes over.  I think it is more that some people just get annoyed by the omnipresent trappings of the season, thinking to themselves that commercialism and the need to make a buck, force them to partake in a process that does not match what they would like to see.  I feel bad for these people, because they probably would participate on some level, but that to have it rammed down their gullets, leaves them shaking their heads in frustration.

As for the commercial aspects of Christmas, any given approach to gift-giving is based on the economics of each household’s capabilities.  For most there are given limitations to what can be done, but often those limitations are exceeded and the result is an economic burden.  That leads to additional resentment and I can understand that.  However, there are ways to get around this difficulty if one simply looks at the picture with an open perspective.  

Saving for Christmas over the course of the year is one option; toning down the extravagance of Christmas is another.  One additional strategy is to go with a home-made theme, instead of a commercial one, or using some combination of the above.  Baking cookies, or making candy that can be gift-wrapped and presented to others is a viable way of contending with gift-giving.  Even if the recipient is not into sweets, there is always the option of redirecting the goodies to someone else who is.  Receiving a portion of home-made fudge certainly floats my boat, even if I  only partake in a piece or two, before making it available to visitors or family.

As for Christmas music and films, I adore them.  Of course it ties back into my upbringing, but I have maintained the custom throughout my lifetime.  Last year I set a personal record by watching nine different versions of “A Christmas Carol,” and I will exceed that number this year, since Annie discovered Henry Winkler’s “An American Christmas Carol,” something she knew would turn me on.

I can already hear you saying, “Why would you want to watch the same story ten times?”  All I can say is that I do not watch them all in one day.  Rather, I spread them out during the entire season, and many I watch while working an assortment of jigsaw puzzles.  I have a half-dozen or so that I work each year, that have Holiday themes.  

So I guess there is a method to my madness.  I am hopelessly addicted to Christmas and all of the trimmings that accompany it.  Call me twisted-call me obsessed; just call me in time for Christmas dinner.  I will be ready with bells on. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tea for Me

Tea for Me

I have a cold.  I and probably half of America.  So what’s the big deal?  This is the first time in my life that I welcome said cold with open arms, if not open sinuses.  Why would that be, you might ask?  I welcome my cold because I caught it from Annie.

I knew she had a cold when she came up to visit over the Thanksgiving Holidays.  I openly consorted with her, even though she warned me that she had been experiencing a sore throat, and that it had turned into a full-blown cold.  Did I care?  Emphatically not.  

Just as I used to joke that I loved going to breakfast with her, because it implied that we had spent the night together, I joked last week that I hoped I would catch her cold.  If she and I were not together, there is a fairly good chance I could have escaped the ravages of this pesky business.  However, we are together, so to be unhappy at the resulting cold, would be to imply that I was unhappy with Annie, and that is never going to happen.

I know I am sort of a goofy guy, but that is the way my world works.  Love Annie-love her cold.  I have shouted-repeatedly-that I would do anything on the planet for her, and now I have the opportunity to prove it.  I woke up at 1:25 this morning, and immediately decided a cup-or two-of Gypsy Cold Care Tea was in order.  

Dozer the dog was most perturbed to be disturbed out of his snoring slumber, but I tried to convince him that he did not have to accompany me to the kitchen to make said tea.  Maybe it was the howling of the wind outside, signaling the approach of the series of November storms that have been forecast to hit NorCal, or maybe the banging of the screen door.  Suffice to say, he was happy when I returned to the bed with my tea, and turned on the light so I could continue to read The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Yes, I am reading again, after a hiatus of almost two years.

I guess it was one of the many lifestyle changes that I underwent, over the course of the time since I emerged from panic attack syndrome, in October of 2010.  Little did I know that I would then proceed to exhibit the full-blown tendencies of a bipolar-ll mood disorder.  Big sigh.  But that is ancient history.

Now I am well on the way to mastering this illness, with the help of the same medication that I was so unwilling to indulge in.  Silly me.  I should have realized that millions of Americans, who also take medication for this malady, could not all have been off-course.  

Now I am aggressively fighting this cold with tea, rest and vitamin C.  Ever since an esteemed colleague at school convinced me that over-the-counter medicine is nonproductive, or even detrimental to a cold, I have taken this stance.  In the past I have found this type of medication has done nothing more than give me a fat head, and very weird dreams.  The worst side effect of the tea is that I have to get up every half hour and stumble into the bathroom to use the facilities.

So when I say I have a cold, I am not whining, I am celebrating.  Call me goofy, call me naive, but just make sure you call me happy, because that is the way I feel.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Zinnia

The Zinnia

My sweetest of apple blossoms is a very private person.  I have agreed that I will not elaborate about her or our difficulties.  However, my heart is like a perfect round stone, skipping merrily over the surface of a pond, because I have my wife and my life back.  Therefore, if I speak only of myself, when it comes to illness, I think I am on solid ground

Annie is the smartest woman I have ever met when it comes to common sense and street smarts.  There is no way I could ever have effected the changes that I have made within myself, if Annie went about it in any other way, than to move down to Willits, an hour away, in order to get a handle on her illness.

I am up on our mountain, taking care of the critters, working construction when the weather permits, and trying to cut/split five to six cords of wood to get the household through what has started out to be a  harsh winter (regardless of the weather).  I am sixty years old and my body is protesting mightily, but that is neither here nor there, and has nothing whatsoever to do with anything.

When Masked Mom quoted Donovan Hohn in her “Random Quote Friday,” she wrote, “The past creates us and we are powerless to change it.  We can only-if we are very persistent and very lucky and usually not even then-change ourselves.”  

Though it has been very difficult because I have had to battle solitude and loneliness, I have made many changes, the need for which was caused-in part-by my diagnosis as being bipolar.  I prefer to refer to it by the more contemporary title of mood spectrum disorder.

I have been taking the medication for almost two months, and because of this, I have successfully managed to eradicate some of the other things in my life that may have contributed to the ups and downs of my moods.  I had already stopped alcohol consumption at the beginning of the summer, though I have never been much of a drinker; my drug of choice has always been reefer.

At the same time as I began the meds, I decided that I would stop all consumption of marijuana, because I figured I no longer need it to help stabilize my temperament.  The meds are supposed to do that.  It was ridiculously easy, because I knew that it would please Annie, and I was willing to do anything on the planet to win back her heart.  

I tossed in caffeine (another lifetime relationship) and sugar, for good measure, in an effort to eliminate ANYthing that would contribute to shifting my frame of mind, either up or down.

And that was only the beginning.  I learned that I needed to do three things: get a handle on my illness, learn to be independent and learn to be less self-centered.  In all reality, I could never have done these three things successfully, if there was no sense of urgency.  How better to effect these changes, than to remove herself from the arena?  Annie is one smart cookie.

I protested!  I squirmed!  I begged, but it was all to no avail.  I was told that there was no time framework in place, and that I needed to either go about the tasks required, or suffer the consequence of losing her.  So independence has been achieved, simply because it was either sink or swim.  After all, I am the guy who “hitchhiked”-in uniform-while in the military, from Seoul, Korea, to Osan Air Force Base, in Korea, to Osaka Air force Base, in Japan, to Travis Air Force Base, in California, to home.
That could be construed as independent.

Somewhere along the line, I lost that ability to function independently.  However, Annie could no longer keep me afloat, because she had far bigger worries than those which plagued me.  As my anxiety issues have become more pronounced over the years, she felt she had to disengage.

Now that I am taking the meds, and have soaked up every iota of information about my own illness, I feel-as does Annie-that I have a handle on my illness.  As for being self-centered, nothing pulled the rug out from beneath my feet, like Annie vacating the premises.  Suddenly, I was able to see clearly, that to which she referred.  If I wanted back into her life, I needed to recognize that I no longer came first.  I can only say that my vision is now twenty-twenty, and I know where my priorities are.

My priorities are with Annie.  If I ever forget that, I know, and not just in the back of my mind, what may result.  I would never risk that course of action; therefore, I will never put myself or my needs first again.

When I asked Annie what kind of flower she thought might best represent her, she said a zinnia, because they are so tough.  But Annie is also fragile, because her illness makes her so.  As oxymoronic as it may appear, my girl is the toughest, and yet most fragile flower, in the garden that is life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Out of the [Broom] Closet

Out of the [Broom] Closet

October 31st, having arrived after an eternity, I can finally come out of my [broom] closet and admit that I am not a fan.  When I was a kid, it was all good.  There were a whole bunch of us in my family, who would go out in home-made costumes,  tame by today’s standards, but go out we did.

However, upon returning to the house, the ritual required that we gather around the more than spacious kitchen table and empty our bags of treats out in one gigantic pile.  Then Mama would begin the classifying and sorting of the goodies, including a share for Papa, who had a yen for chocolate, and piles for the “little kids” who were still too small to trick-or-treat.

Though it may have  seemed an old-fashioned concept at the time, no one balked at seeing that the final portion that was received, was smaller than that which was brought back from the outing.  It’s just the we did things.

So what happened to dampen my enthusiasm?  Maybe it was the razor blades that started appearing in the apples, or the fact that anything that was “home-made” took on a slightly ominous note.  If it wasn’t store-wrapped, it was suspicious.

More likely, it has to do with a lifetime of anxiety when it come to scary films.  Having been terrified into any number of panic attacks by the “Twilight Zone,” or films such as “Tales from the Crypt” I am more than happy to ignore the whole day.

I think back to a time, a couple of years after I got out of the army, when I had a fine head of hair, and a flaming-red beard that went down to the middle of my chest.  It was enough to make people approaching me, side-step to the other side of the road.  I didn’t care, because those who knew me, still greeted me with a hug and a howdy.

However, when I was invited to a costume party at the home of a fellow employee of the auto-parts house, I decided to take the extreme step of shaving both my beard and my head.  I donned a conservative outfit, and went as a “reformed hippie.” 

Lo and behold, there were a lot of people at this party, only a dozen or so who knew me.  The net result was basically, “Hey, look at the goofy guy who did not dress up for the party.”  Big sigh.  The best laid plans of mice and men.

Later, as an educator, I, together with the man with whom I team-taught, hosted the annual Halloween party at the middle school.  My biggest problem then was the fact that the kids who chose to wear masks, had a certain element of anonymity, which, as you may guess, does not really work on a middle school campus, when the mood was already off the charts.

How does a teacher maintain a modicum of appropriate behavior, when he knows not, who the clown is who is running roughshod over the rest of the kids?

Living on a mountain, and not having had trick-or-treaters since the eighties, when my own small sons would invite local neighbors (all three of them) to stop by and trick-or-treat, I am relieved of this responsibility.  The time will come, I feel certain, when grandchildren will force me to further adjust my attitude, but for now, I am content to let the whole holiday slip past, while the inexorable march of time brings me closer to what I really consider a holiday: Thanksgiving and her big sister Christmas.

Yes, I saw a Christmas advertisement on the television the other night, but instead of groaning, I was grinning.  What can I say?  The only person in costume is Santa, and he evokes sweet dreams, not nightmares.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Am I Lonesome Tonight?

Am I Lonesome Tonight?

Of all the disheartening possibilities in life, loneliness is not the worst; many people suffer far more debilitating lifestyles than spending time by themselves.  However, acknowledging that illness or death in the family can be infinitely worse, does not remove the fact that for me, living by myself is by far the most unpleasant existence I have ever encountered.

The single time I have embarked on this course of action in my lifetime,was a four-week period back in 1979, when I took a living situation in an apartment in Milpitas, a small city down in the Bay Area.  My first marriage had come shockingly to an end, and I was uninterested in pursuing any kind of romantic connection.  I was distantly acquainted with an member of the firm that employed me, and learned that she was interested in a roommate, to help defray the cost of an apartment.

I only saw her once during that period, because she spent all of her time with her boyfriend.  The only clear memory of that month was the World Series between the victorious Pirates (“We Are Family”) and the Orioles.  The rest of the time I was mired in my own misery.

Why that would be the case, I do not know.  My two closest younger siblings both profess to revel in the feeling of solitude, finding that the time spent alone, allows for the creative juices to flow abundantly.  We all originated in a household that eventually contained eleven of us, nine kids and the parents.  Chaos reigned and harmony ensued.

That would certainly explain my siblings’ desire for solitude, but also accounts for my own reticence when it comes to being by my lonesome.  I hate the sound of silence, even if our English bulldog’s resounding snoring resonates in the immediacy of my bed.  It’s just not the same.

Companionship is what I seek and I am not ashamed to admit it.  I am a social creature and crave an environment which includes others.  Maybe social is misleading, because I am not particularly interested in going out, and pursuing the nightlife; I just mean that having people around makes the world proceed less chaotically for me.  Not even the pleasures of intimacy attract me as much as knowing that someone will be there at dinnertime, to share a meal.  I make a mean chicken cacciatore.

I must tread cautiously at this juncture in time, because I do not want to incur the wrath of my sweetest of Apple Blossoms, who has taken a course of action that does not include me.  I can only imagine what being diagnosed with cancer must be like, and then having surgery to remove a kidney.  The fact that Annie has chosen to relocate to Willits, an hour south of here, so as to be able to have more access to her doctors, really has nothing to do with me.

I can only sit back and accept her decision.  Well, that’s not completely true; I could alter my lifestyle and join the social set, and move on.  Obviously, that is not my intent.  So I will be lonesome tonight.

Monday, October 15, 2012

All That Matters

All That Matters

Technology being the wonderful tool that it is, I can now stop beating my head against a tree, because my friend Eric has put me back on track.  Blogger changed my format (though not of anyone else with whom I have communicated) and I have been stymied since September 19th, unable to access any aspect of my blog, except the writing itself.

I could not check my comments, stats or post a new piece of writing.  Eric stopped by to watch a football game, and I brought up the subject of my tech woes, hesitatingly, because I hate to bother people.  He spent a total of thirty seconds, before he said, “There, it looks different, but this should solve your problem.  Sure enough, it was all there.  When I asked what he had done, he said, “You were just off by one link.”

Oh.  Well if I was only off by one link, then everything must be OK.  What’s a link?  However, when all is said and done, I really don’t care, just so that I can occasionally record a few thoughts, for anyone who chooses to revisit my site.  I have undergone a few changes in the past month, the first of which was to shave my head of every vestige of covering that I could remove.

Why?  I think those mustache tails proved to be the bane of my existence.  It appears as though all of my issues seemed to emerge the longer those tails extended down past my chin.  At first I credited my mustache with the Giants’ success in 2010.  The winning of the World Series had to be due to the flowing nature of that ‘stache.  However, when the Giants faltered in 2011, that shot that theory down, and then things got macabre.

However, bipolarism isn’t a death sentence; it may be a “normal” life de-railer, but it is up to the engineer to put the train back on track.  So I have struggled.  I resisted the meds experience, with Annie’s support, and it is one of the of the only decisions of my life that I genuinely rue.  Why didn’t I accept the fact that millions of successful-at-life people have gone this route, and emerged as strong as ever?

Be that as it may, I am almost a month into that process and must assume that things will improve.  I have had only two side-effects of note: an inability to sleep more than a couple hours at any time (including total removal of my ability to nap during the day) and a severe loss of appetite.  I have dropped more than twenty pounds since September 21st.

Additionally, I have stopped an adult lifetime of indulgence in marijuana, with ridiculous ease.  For quite some time now, I have referred to reefer as my “mood stabilizer.”  Now that I have a legitimate, corporate-American-made mood stabilizer, I figured I didn’t need two.  Besides, reefer didn’t do anything to alleviate my bipolar issues, so that reinforced my decision.

And while I was at it, I also cut caffeine completely out of my life.  Again, a substance with which I got well-acquainted in high school, has vacated the premises.  Astonishing, actually, how easy it was.  Forever it seems, I have heard of the menacing headaches that are supposed to accompany this action, but experienced none of it.  To be honest, I had reduced my intake months ago to only one or two very small cups per morning, and that may have facilitated matters, but suffice to say, I am a happy camper.

Having eliminated alcohol (I have never been much of an imbiber) early this recent summer, I now feel that my mood-altering indulgences have slipped gently into the back current of my life.  I do not miss any of the three.  Has it made a difference in my bipolarism?  I can’t tell you, because I was never aware that my actions were anything different than they have been my whole life.  You would have to ask someone who lives with me.  That being impossible, because I live by myself, I will just have to wait.

I will leave matters at that, for the moment.  Know though, that I have three options: I can remain on this mountain in the state of the hermit; I can reenter the social world, or I can bide my time and pursue my relationship with Annie, whose time-frame on getting a handle on her own illness (she has taken a living situation in Willits, an hour away) has no timeline.  I have chosen to pursue my relationship with Annie, even though it means an undetermined amount of time, living by myself.  I hate every moment of every day, being by myself, but that is the price I pay.  If it gets too tough, then my direction will change.  

For now I mark time, every day on the calendar, with my Sharpie.  One x per day, marking both the consumption of one minute bit of medication, and the passage of one more day.

I love her and that’s all that matters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ready for Action-Ready for Danger

Ready for Action-Ready for Danger

Life is a mixed bag for me these days, a good news/bad news proposition, so to speak.  I am ecstatic that Annie is out of the hospital and back up here on the mountain, and on the way to recovery.  I am sad that she is recuperating elsewhere than here in our home, but I fully understand that it is necessary.

Annie needs to eat properly, and not just the occasional chicken cacciatore special. She needs to eat the kind of food that her daughters-in-law can prepare, and she needs the attention of others who can provide the emotional support that she needs, which I am unable to provide.

I mentioned in an earlier piece that I wanted to provide the support,  but in the end, I was not able to step outside my own disability, and rise to the occasion.  Therefore, I now must move graciously aside, while others conduct the business of helping Annie recuperate. 

Meanwhile, my own forward progress is going to elevate its game this Friday, as I once again meander down to Ukiah, for my visit to the Veterans Administration doctor, who will give me my first physical exam.  To him I am going to pitch my request for medication to help my mood spectrum disorder, after having steadfastly refused to go down this avenue, ever since the first visit to Dr. Garratt, last March.  My current psychologist, Dr. Cieri in Ukiah, has faxed a referral to Dr. Shepherd, the doctor I am going to see on Friday, to facilitate the prescription of this medication.

I have struggled to explain my hesitation to take on a mood-stabilizing drug; I think it is more out of fear than out of knowledge.  I wrote about the potentially lethal skin rash that has been known to accompany this medication, and I read about all of the other side-effects.  I never found the one that I was most terrified of, the one that would essentially take the real me, and replace it with a facsimile, who performed the same motions as me, but with a sugary coating over everything that indicated a false presence.  

I don’t even know what it is I am trying to articulate.  I was and remain very nervous, that the pills will remove from me, something that I am unaware is gone, but that will somehow mean that the passion and exuberance of life will be missing, in order to keep my illness at bay.

This thought has been creepy all along, and yet, here I am, ready to take the plunge.  Now it gets easy.  Why would I do something against my better judgment?  I would do it to prove to Annie that I now recognize that I am dealing with am illness that surpasses my own abilities to contend with it.  I even had Annie’s support to try and contend without medication, through sleep, exercise and diet.  None of that was remotely good enough to stave off the onset of MSD symptoms, in the days leading up to Annie’s surgery.  

Therefore, I now intend to prove that life with medication, no matter what the ramifications, is better than life without Annie.  In an effort to prove that I would do anything on earth to help her get better, I will begin my own version of recuperating from my illness, and see if I can keep pace.  

I need to progress from my current mental health level, to the next one, and that means taking medication.  It’s not my first choice, but it beats what’s been happening so far.  Wish me luck, and if you see me grinning vacuously on the street some day, you’ll know that the meds were a success, I guess, and we’ll all have a good time, because, well, you know, both the Giants and the 49ers are winning, and what better reason to grin?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Grinning [Like an Idiot]

Grinning [Like an Idiot]

Though the inexorable march of time has never failed to materialize,  it would appear to be traveling in baby steps these days, because it has been five days now since Annie had her kidney removed, and I am no closer to knowing how she is doing, than I was five days ago.

I have received the one phone call from San Francisco, last Monday, as Lito told me that the operation had been successfully completed and that Annie was in the recovery room.  Now this is Friday, and I know nothing more.  The original edict which came from Annie, said simply that she had to focus on getting well, and that I needed to give her that space before we got back together and assessed the damage.

As difficult as that is to do I have had no choice.  After experiencing three weeks of debilitating depression, which annoyed Annie no end, I am in the midst of a manic stretch, which began the minute she left ten days ago, that rivals the earlier depression very effectively.  Instead of sleeping twelve to fifteen hours a day, I sleep less than two.  Of course the amount of cleaning and the number of projects being addressed is truly impressive. If I survive the separation, I will certainly dazzle Annie with my industry during her absence.

What does a mood spectrum sufferer do, in order to try and retain some sense of normalcy, or rather, the sense of normalcy that would impress Annie, and make her think that I may actually have an idea of how to get a handle, once and for all, on my illness?

To begin I have respected Annie’s wish not to contact her, even though just to hear her voice would mean the world to me at this point in time.  Somehow, I do not think Annie would be impressed with that sentiment, so I’ll skip it.  Along with that, I have not attempted to deal with the frustration that was exhibited towards me, by those who had a peripheral role in relocating Annie.  As I mentioned the other day, for some people, others’ mental issues evoke annoyance and anger, rather than compassion and care.  It is what it is.

I have tried my hardest to get the required sleep, even if it has meant just lying, awake, for hours at a time, thoughts racing around my head, like the Indy 5000.  I know it’s supposed to be the Indy 500, but I have extended it for this occasion.

I have continued to walk the dogs, trying to do so both in the morning and the evening to keep up a regimen of vigorous exercise.  I have overcome my non-existent appetite, and returned to a routine that guarantees that I am eating adequately.  Proper nutrition, along with sleep and exercise, is one of the big three.  Annie just might even be impressed that I actually bought a steak at Geiger’s the other day, and made three meals out of it.  I am an avowed opponent to red meat, for the simple reason that I have difficulty digesting it, and that’s the point.  In an effort to eat properly, I am willing to undergo the discomfort of that choice. 

 I take my daily vitamin, my fish oil, and I drink vast, unlimited amounts of water.  I have eliminated all caffeine, except for that one morning mug of coffee, and I have eliminated all of the beverages that contain all sorts of mean and nasty components.  I drink only fruit juice, laced with water.  I avoid all alcohol, and take the Lorazepam only when there is a sleep issue.

I do so to show Annie that even though she is not here to observe and coach me, I am trying to assume this mantle on my own, so that she no longer has to worry about me-just herself.  Additionally, going down to Ukiah yesterday, by myself, to see Dr. Mark, is another indicator, that I understand what has to happen in the future, at least for a while, so that Annie can devote all of her attention to getting better.

I have vast, unlimited opportunities to demonstrate to Ann that I am ready to take the next step in my recovery, and I am beginning to think that means adjusting my stance on medication for MSD.  I have steadfastly (with Ann’s support) refused to consider taking either the atypical, antipsychotic meds, that Dr. Garratt originally prescribed, or the mood stabilizer, that seemed to be the best fit, except for that pesky, skin rash, that can kill you if you do not catch it quickly enough.

Now, however, in light of recent hard times, I am capitulating.  When I visit the Veterans Administration doctor, one week from today, I have decided to ask him to write a prescription for me for Lamictel (SP?), the mood stabilizer that may allow me an element of normalcy in my life.  

Normalcy, whatever that is destined to look like, has got to be better than what I’ve got going now, which is hideous.  I’d rather be a drooling idiot, than just an idiot, which is how I feel at this point in time, sitting around wondering whether my bridges are burnt and destroyed, or whether they still have enough infrastructure left, to incorporate a change in the program.

I have never been an advocate for change; therefore bring on the meds.  I will probably never even notice the old Mark as he white-waters his way into the cosmos, leaving me, the new Mark, floating, effortlessly in the middle of a still pond, grinning like-well-an idiot.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In the Darkness

In the Darkness

All things come to him or her who waits.  We waited interminably for the 6th of September to roll around so that the surgeon who will be operating on Annie, could be consulted.  I know precious few of the details, because I was not present for the discussion, and probably could not have assimilated the information successfully anyway, because MSD patients encounter difficulty taking in new information.  For me it is particularly hard if I am hearing information for the first time, as opposed to reading it.

I believe there is one tumor that the doctor thinks is confined to one kidney alone.  He feels that to remove the one infected kidney is the most effective way to stop forward progress, and will do so early this Monday morning.  I do not know whether the tumor is malignant; it does not seem to matter one way or the other at this moment-the kidney has to come out.  I do know that when I used to experience stress, say back when I was teaching, I had no idea what kind of stress, real life events could produce.

Now I am experiencing a degree of emotional upheaval, unparalleled in my life’s experiences.  I am also six months into therapy to obtain some control over my recently diagnosed mood spectrum disorder.  Unfortunately, my coach and mentor is Annie and she is occupied at the moment.  What happens to the MSD patient when his coach and mentor needs to be doing something else and cannot guide him?  I’m not sure what happens, but I do know the result is unpredictable.

I could not follow through on my determination to be the go-to guy for Annie; that became apparent three days into the process.  I could not do the things that I wanted to do, because my foundation and support was gone.  Therefore, I struggled, and in doing so, caused those around me to have to contend with my struggles.  In the end, it was deemed appropriate that I remain here on the mountain when the journey down to San Francisco was undertaken, to talk to the surgeon at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where the operation will be performed.

I am sorry that I cannot be there in person for Annie, but I do understand.  I am also heartily sorry that there are people who are exasperated with me. 

Mental illness is not a crime, but many patients receive a fair portion of negative response.  I did not mean to offend or annoy anyone while grappling with my aloneness.  When people do not understand the actions of a person with mental issues, the natural inclination is to get annoyed, if not downright angry.  I am paying the price for my illness big-time, right now, because I am unable to be with Annie.  For that I am grievously sorry, because she is and always has been the light in my world.  I am in the darkness without her.

I have a better understanding of my illness, but no better ability to control it when this kind of life issue comes along, than I ever would have, no matter how many sessions of therapy were involved.  I would give anything to be able to help Annie right now, and therefore I understand why I am up here on my mountain.  I just wish I weren’t. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Tilt-A-Whirl

The Tilt-A-Whirl
Once, long ago, when I was a small boy, a friend of mine and I were at a carnival and bought tickets for the Tilt-A-Whirl, being a little too meek for the Hammerhead but far too daring for the Ferris Wheel.  As enjoyable as the Tilt-A-Whirl had looked from our vantage point on the ground, when we got on the ride, my friend and I were terrified.  Purely as a defense mechanism, we shriveled ourselves into as small of passengers as possible, awaiting the end of the interminable ride.  Much to our astonishment, when the ride finally ended, the man who operated the Tilt-A-Whirl, had the unmitigated gall to yell at us for “sneaking an extra ride.”

Why was the Tilt-A-Whirl so scary?  I think it was because we were expecting one thing, and got something different.  I inherited this characteristic from my mother, this notion of having some sort of clear idea of what my expectations must always be.  If there is a mismatch, then it rocks my world.  So this particular ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl turned into a nightmare, complete with indignant ride operator.

Now I am back on a metaphorical Tilt-A-Whirl.  I am shriveled up on the inside, and compressed against the back of the ride, certainly at my darkest hour, just waiting for the operator to finally let up on the gear shift, so that we can glide to a halt, and get the hell off.  Only there is no getting off this ride called life, not legitimately, anyway.

My intent in writing anything, is always to spotlight what is going on in my head, and not to put the focus on others.  Any of you who have read anything at this site, know that I have ongoing, never-varying instructions about what I may not write about, and that is anything that violates others’ privacy.  I respect this edict with all of my power.  

Sixteen days have passed since we learned of the presence of the tumor on Annie’s kidney.  All we can do is wait until the Sixth of September arrives.  At least then, we will learn some new information and hopefully schedule the surgical procedure, that will begin the healing process.

Meanwhile, we are in a holding pattern.  We are not up in an airplane, holding, nor are we on a phone, holding.  We are in life, holding, because it takes time to arrange these kinds of logistics, cutting people open, to remove unwanted baggage.  One likes to have the best possible person doing the job, and there has been such a person recommended.

However, he is not available just yet, so we are holding.  How am I holding up?  Holding up implies I was up in the first place.  I meant to be... I promised I would be... I tried to be...I even was for the first two or three days, in an invisible and shadowy way.  But nothing happened, and any facade that might have suggested that I was keeping it together, collapsed with nary a hiss.

I wept a lot.  You know, not the dramatic sobs of the man who has been jilted from his lover, just the muted type of sobs, that you hear from a man, who fears that he is going to lose the one centering thing in his life for the past thirty-one years.  Those are the kind of sobs that seem to appear while sitting out under the pippin tree, hidden within the branches, no one there to see or hear anything amiss.

My gut tells me Annie has lived the healthiest lifestyle of anyone I know, and that she is going to take advantage of modern technology and beat this illness.  She has her three strong sons, and I know that I am going to help in any way that I can.  I also know that I will not be at the front of the charge, because I cannot be.  But lots of smaller jobs need to be done that get less glamour, and right now that’s probably better for me anyway.  No one notices someone sobbing while cleaning a toilet, or if she does, she just nods her head, and thanks her lucky stars it’s not her cleaning the bathroom this time.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Says So in the Manual

Says So in the Manual

In yesterday’s piece, I mentioned that my primary goal, when we found out that Annie is ill, was to be her number-one, go-to guy.  I figured this is my opportunity to repay her for all of the drama I have put her through this past winter, while we sorted out my own fragmented mood spectrum.

Nothing makes me want to reciprocate, more than the scales being already tipped in my favor.  I feel as though I have much to pay back, and yet, the very nature of my illness, prevents me from doing so.  Until now Annie has been my coach and mentor, while I sorted out the complexities of mood spectrum disorder.  Making reasonable progress, we have begun each day with a careful assessment of the state of Mark, and recorded the data on my mood chart.

By doing so, I have been able to compare each day’s emotional barometer, with that of the previous day, and the day before that, and draw some sort of haphazard conclusions.  Inherent in the whole process has been honesty.  How many hours of sleep did I actually get, compared to how many hours I put on the chart?  Prior to now, there was no reason to get creative with the answers.

Now, however, if the questions tend to make me admit things, that are not going to make it easier for Annie, then I might hold off.  She doesn’t need to know what my level of depression is, because it is not going to help her feel better.  She doesn’t need to know that the speed of the racing thoughts in my head, defies computation.  She doesn’t need to know that the agitation going on up there, would make an old-time washing machine, seem like a tranquil pool of serenity. That’s the dilemma that I am encountering.  If I am honest to a fault, someone is likely to get hurt.  

But Annie’s newly diagnosed illness is too heavy for me to just absorb, with my manly sense of dignity intact.  I want to say,  "Aw, hell, I can handle it-just try me..." until it involves the fragile nature of life, and its connection to the most important person in my life.  I’m not that manly and I don’t want to be.  I just want to retain my Annie, not my sense of dignity.

Yesterday, I formed the conclusion that I am not in a position to be Annie’s number one go-to guy, for the same reason that she can no longer function as my coach and mentor.  In order for me to be at top speed, I need my coach available to guide me; my coach has had to take time off to tend to personal problems, so I need to form a new plan.  She has also opted to shut down her quilting business, for the time being, because it is too draining. 

Temporarily, she will not be baking for market or making her tamales because it’s just too much.  She can bake some gluten-free bread for those who rely on it, she can prepare some miso soup, or she can read on the couch.  This is a very different existence for Annie, I can only guarantee you of that.

As for me, I am no longer in the early stages of my illness and have spent six months unraveling that ball of twine inside my head, so the need to have my coach present has diminished.  I have not mastered my therapy, but have at least instilled an ongoing, successful program, which allows me to be able to give that much more support to Annie.  Maybe not 100%, but much, none-the less.  

Fortunately, this is where the news brightens enormously.  I have mentioned additional support in the form of others who have stampeded to help.  Annie has had her spirits buoyed tremendously by the presence of our three strong, devoted sons and respective partners.  All three of these young men, were here in the kitchen yesterday, anxious to let Annie revel in their love, strength, generosity and confidence.  They are a formidable force in this most recent-and very unexpected-development.

Because Annie and I have functioned as a team for thirty-one years, there is no reason to let up at this late stage in the game, especially with our sons and their partners by our side.  

Tell you what, Annie.  I’ll make your tea, and get your Kindle, if you will take a look at this mood chart, and see if everything is in order.  I promise not to fudge on the data too much, if you promise to take your iron supplements, and let me carry that water for the chickens out to the coop.  You don’t need to be doing that strenuous of a task.  And together we’ll figure it out.  Says so in the manual, page twelve, paragraph 4, under sub-section L, for Love.