Archive for the ‘lifestyle’ Category

Retreat results

The past year has been hard for me. Last year, after helping to care for my dying son, I came back to Charlestown in July in time to help care for two old friends as they died in the care center. Increasingly sick, I crashed in December and went into seclusion. I also began therapy. In April I finally got a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, from which I have suffered since 2009–undiagnosed by any of the several health care providers I consulted here and in Washington state. In May I had two scary manic episodes with a fall that could have killed me. Although I was seeing a psychiatrist, I decided to commit myself to Shepherd Pratt Psychiatric Hospital, where I spent 16 days.

There they got me on the right  medication and my symptoms ended. No longer manic and no longer sick, I felt listless and unmotivated. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like stitching. I didn’t want to go back to visiting in the care center. I didn’t want to practice the piano. I made myself swim and walk miles every day. I made myself kayak from my son’s home on Middle River, spending the night there so I could be out on the water at daybreak. Knowing mentally that I was doing something enjoyable, I was unable to feel joyful. That was pretty much my state of being when Gloria asked my in the locker room how I was doing.

So I went on the retreat with her. (See below.)

The first retreat exercise for individual work was to answer the question, “What would you like to be?” Well, that’s what I didn’t know, haven’t been able to know, for months. Conscientiously, I tried to answer and what I wrote was a list of roles, for example, hospice volunteer. I wrote with no conviction, no real desire for the roles I listed. Back home, I reviewed all the exercises I’d done over the weekend and realized that I had not answered what I wanted to be. I had answered with what I could do. So I set myself to think about how I wanted to be. Eventually words began popping into my mind–energetic, enthusiastic, extraverting, excited, exuberant, exhilarated. All feelings that have been missing from my life, and they all began with E. This was what I wanted to be and needed to be in order to ENJOY my life, another E word. And more came to me over time–elated, ecstatic, and so on. Now I am working with those words as I meditate and go about my day. I’m seeking to generate those feelings in myself.

Meanwhile, I have been taking action on the list of ideas I made for things to do. Already I’ve been to the care centers twice for visits with residents whom I knew. I have volunteered to be part of an organized visitation next week. I’m hoping to identify residents who really need a regular visitor. Yesterday I began training as a hospice volunteer. I have contacted Compassion and Choices to learn how I can become an end-of-life consultant. I continue to read about end-of-life issues, about death and dying, thinking about the possibility of getting such a conversation going here at Charlestown. I’ll see whether these activities awaken the E words in my inner self. I’m hoping the joy of stitching will return. I want to blog regularly again.

Since leaving the hospital on 20 mg Zyprexa per day, I’ve reduced the dosage to 2.5. Getting off that mania-suppressant drug may allow me to feel excited and enthusiastic again. Medication is obviously an important part of my recovery and my sense of being, but the retreat has also contributed. I don’t think I AM bipolar; I think I have had a nervous breakdown with symptoms of bipolar disorder. And people do recover from nervous breakdowns.

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As you know, the past year has not been very productive for me, at least, needlewise. Because of my state of being and events, it was almost impossible for me to use a needle.

It was January 2011 that Ernie moved to RGT (assisted living). During the week prior, I managed to make fabric cards for Ara and Ola and I danced at their party.

In April I collected myself enough to embellish grandson Josh’s jacket as a gift for his graduation.

In May I created Tangie’s bag.

In July I designed a needlebook cover and I pieced two crazy quilt blocks but I was unable to work on them during the process of moving to Vashon. I was too distraught, too overwhelmed–emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Finally, in October, after I’d gotten my new digs somewhat organized, I finished the needlebook cover.

In November I made a card case for DIL Carol.

And in December I finished embellishing one of the CQ blocks. Here are both of them on my portable design board at my makeshift work place.

I’m still working on the one on the left. Don’t yet know what I’ll do with them. Put them in a drawer with other studies? They were only intended as busy work. (The pattern is from Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting.)

Meanwhile, I signed up for two online challenges–TAST 2012 and the Crazy Quilt Journal Project. I was hoping they would help overcome the inertia or whatever it was that was keeping me from routinely stitching.

From a stack of white and off-white silk fabrics, I pieced the first block for CQJP, which I intended to use as a sampler or showcase for TAST stitches. Even though I was feeling rotten, I made myself work the first two stitches on the block, with this result.

I had done a trial of the nested fly stitches (on the middle seam) on an evenweave doodlecloth and thought that, if I marked the spaces between the diamonds, I could do the same pattern here. Not acceptable. The next day, I unstitched that seam and started over. Here are the seam treatments using TAST Weeks 1 and 2 stitches–fly stitch and buttonhole stitch.

Better. (But the camera is cruel.)

I worked buttonhole stitch over white sequins with silk buttonhole twist thread and added tiny beads. The fly stitches are in #8 pearl cotton and a fine wool yarn. The buttonhole and fly stitches on the lower seam are also in that fine wool.

So far, though it’s a struggle, I’m keeping up.

Now, back to the question, the larger, existential question, “What am I doing here?” I mean, why am I here? For what purpose?

I thought I was coming here so that I could fully recover and so that I could be helpful to my family. I came because son Geoff invited me, saying that I didn’t have to live out my life in misery at Charlestown. He would help and take care of me as needed if I were here. I knew daughter Nan felt the same way. Ernie also wanted me to be where I could live a satisfying, productive life.

I arrived expecting to feel instantly well. I plunged into the activities available to me here–joining Vashon Allied Arts and the athletic club, subscribing to concert and lecture series, going on tours, participating in family gatherings and just hanging out with them; and I felt worse and worse. As you know, I felt so bad that I was willing to try Chinese herbal medicine treatment.

By the end of December I knew that I had to put myself back into seclusion. It became clear to me that silence and solitude were what I needed to recover from the past two years, which have been traumatic. Instead of family and fun, I need rest and being alone.

At Charlestown I could not have solitude and silence. I was living in a community where I had to be out and about. I had to go be with Ernie at RGT every day. And my ADHD wouldn’t let me just stay at home quietly. Am I here so that I can have silence and solitude? It’s what I want and couldn’t have before I got here.

When I recovered in 2009, I regained functionality and lost contentment. I was no longer able to sit in meditation, read, and stitch–those aspects of my life that give me greatest satisfaction. Since I’ve been here, my ADHD and related symptoms have almost gone. I’ve read 14 books and, as you’ve just seen, I’ve been stitching. But being around people is another thing. I feel scared and nervous–like bad stage-fright. And I am not a fearful person. Being with people greatly exacerbates my insomnia. Only being in silence and solitude can I feel calm and well.

I don’t know how long this will last. I think I did not allow for the accumulated effect of the past months, the stress I’ve been under. Maybe I will soon be just fine anywhere. Or maybe I’m here so that I can live in silence and solitude.

I’ve come to the right place, here in the forest. And Nature piled on.

I’ve been snowed in since Sunday. Not going anywhere.

Yesterday at around 5:30 p.m. the power went out. I spent last evening in front of the little propane stove in the darkness,

resting, eating a hard-boiled egg sandwich, and occasionally reading by candlelight. Without power, it was utterly silent. I was alone and at peace.

Is that what I’m supposed to be doing here?

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“Do you feel 74?”

my 71-year-old brother asked me when he took me to lunch on my birthday.

“How should I know? I’ve never been 74 before.”

His question got me thinking. Do I feel 74? How is one supposed to feel at 74?

I’m as strong as I ever was. Last week, as you know, I moved, assembled, and put in place seven 50-lb. bookcases. I have moved myself, by myself, from a sheltered retirement community in Baltimore to an apartment in a barn on Vashon Island, from the East Coast to the West Coast, where I have to take my recyclables by car to the recycling center. No one picks them up at my door. I swim a mile three days a week. I walk two miles every day, rain or shine.  I’m healthy. I’m doing fine on my own.

To think of myself at 74, it’s interesting to compare myself twenty years ago (before ME/CFS) and now.

Well, I am different at 74 from 54–physically and spiritually/psychologically. At 54 I was 5’5″ tall and dissatisfied with my weight at 132 lbs., even though I wore size 8 or 10.

This shot of me at 54 is from a newspaper article in which I was featured. I was in my office. My hair started graying in my 30s and I liked that.

Now I’m 5’3″ and I weigh 112 lbs. My swimsuits from Lands’ End are size PS 4. That’s fine.

  • Every time I look into a mirror, I am reminded how old I am.
  • My back is becoming rounded—kyphosis, a natural curving of the spine, even though I try to hold my shoulders back.
  • Though I’m thin enough, I have a little belly that two years of working out has not made flat. But my always small breasts are flat.
  • I can’t rise from sitting on the floor as quickly as I once could.
  • I’m not as agile getting from the kayak up on to the dock as I once could have been.
  • On uneven surfaces and stairs, and in places like dark movie theaters, I am cautious and slower, paying attention.
  • My teeth are not as white.
  • I use pantiliners because  I can leak a drop or two on occasion.
  • I have hearing loss and wear sophisticated hearing aids. Even so, I don’t hear as well.

Mentally I’m different, too.

  • My memory for names and other nouns is unreliable. Often the word comes to mind eventually.
  • I think a lot about aging, death, and dying—subjects that I would not have been as interested in when younger.
  • I don’t have a smart phone and can’t think of any reason to want one. Though I love using technology, I hate having to learn how to do it and I struggle with it.

I’m different in other ways, as well; but I don’t know whether the difference is due to aging or to my experience of years in seclusion.

  • I’m certainly not as venturesome and fearless.
  • I try not to have opinions, and those I have, I’m skeptical of.  I hold my opinions lightly.
  • I resist giving advice.
  • I try not to offer information unless asked.
  • On current events, I have an historical perspective. Maybe that’s partly due to my years, partly due to my meditation practice, and partly due to my reading. I don’t get excited about current events in the world.
  • I don’t have any sense of status.  I’m no one. It doesn’t matter anymore.
  • I’m no longer ambitious. I don’t need to achieve any goals. Though I enjoy practicing the piano, developing needlework skills, studying, writing, and trying to do well whatever I’m doing, it’s for the sake of doing it, the pleasure of doing it. It’s not to achieve an objective.
  • Although I still wish I were more accomplished, I don’t feel competitive anymore. I  just think, oh well, I’m never going to be able to do that.
  • In my family, I feel more an observer than an active participant. That’s okay. They’re all very busy. I don’t want to be.
  • I used to love entertaining. Now I’m terrified of doing it.
  • I love being alone.

At 74 I’m quite content with my body and my stamina. I know this will change. I’ve seen plenty of the aging process in others. Unless I die first, I will become less and less functional, needing help. For now, I ‘m happy with my body–more so than I was at 54.

I’m happy that I’m no longer so achievement-oriented (except when it comes to getting my space organized!). What a relief! At 54 I had a management consulting practice. I was billing well into six figures annually, and I was constantly anxious about  maintaining that income. I was active in the community, chairing education committees of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. Ernie and I were going to business and fund-raising social events regularly.

I was actively involved with my family, especially with the grandchildren, who frequently stayed with us. That year I took grandsons Caleb (9) and Matt (6) to Ocean City with DIL Anne and her two kids (3 and 1) for three days. I stayed overnight to give weeks-old Josh his night feedings several times. Ernie and I hosted gatherings for family, friends, and my clients. I traveled for work and to visit children and grandchildren in other states. My life at 54 was full, rich, and satisfying–and stressful.

I would not want to be 54 again. I do not want to be any younger.

At 74, and finally done with the moving process, at least for now, I’m curious about what kind of life I will create. How will I spend my time? What will be my priorities? I am very drawn to solitude and silence. During my housebound years, I came to love solitude. Then, in recovery, my body would not let me sit still at home. But this week, I am mostly sitting still at home alone.

That means I’m feeling better. I’m very glad to be here on Vashon Island. (The view from my bed this morning.)

At this moment, that’s how it feels to be 74–glad to be who I am and where I am, and also very aware that my time of being physically and mentally active is limited. I am an elder. Maybe a few years from now I will be able to answer: How did it feel to be 74?

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