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  1. Have You Ever Gone to the Hospital Wearing Your Own Pajamas, and Come Home Wearing Someone Else’s?

    December 7, 2014 by Diane

    Retro hospital

    Have you ever woken up at 2 a.m., your heart beating five million times faster than normal, and no amount of deep breathing, or walking back and forth, or reminding yourself that it’s highly unlikely that the human heart is capable of beating five million times faster than normal, calms it down? So you call 911. You’re alone, after all, with your wild thoughts and even wilder hair, and four paramedics show up. The best-looking four in the universe. One of them casually searches your room for empty pharmaceutical bottles and finds one on the night stand–not because you swallowed the pills, but because you ran out–and nods knowingly to his cohort, who then notices your shelves of medical tomes, the book of symptoms, the…well, you get the picture…and asks if you’re feeling anxious.

    Do you deny the possibility?

    Of course you do. You’ve lived through anxiety episodes before.

    So they load you onto a stretcher and unload you into an ambulance and you’re unwilling to let go of the hand of the tall paramedic who joked about politicians. It’s your last chance to back out, but too late–you’re sealed in, with a stranger, who presses a stethoscope to your naked breast. You’re sealed into that ambulance, your blood pressure climbing, and you’re willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you are feeling a tad bit nervous. Okay, anxious. You’re feeling anxious.

    Now, when you get to the hospital, is the staff having a party? Is it the one night when someone is retiring, and the cupcakes and the hot coffee are waiting?

    Yes, it’s that very night.

    And you are the one person who is interrupting the festivities.

    A nurse hooks you up to an IV while her sidekick hooks you up to a blood pressure monitor and then they both disappear because those cupcakes are calling. And when the IV bag is empty and your bladder is full and no one heeds your calls, do you rip out the IV and lumber down the hallway to the restroom in a daze (they slipped you two benzos, remember?), and then lumber back, and find the nurses stripping the bed because what was left in the IV has puddled onto the sheets? In the process, does anyone notice that they’ve scooped up your pajama top along with the sheets? Of course not. No one cares about what you were wearing when you arrived. No one gives a rat’s ass until it’s time for you to leave, after two doctors have discussed your situation thoroughly in the hallway, within earshot.

    “She’s having an anxiety episode.”

    “I don’t think so. I think we should run some tests.”

    “It’s anxiety.”

    And you pray for the tests because you have a feeling it isn’t anxiety that’s making your heart race, or those two Ativans would have cured it. In fact, you have the sneaking suspicion that the racing heart is a result of going off a beta blocker too quickly. But instead of a lab technician who shows up, it’s a psychiatrist, who pulls over a stool and asks you how you’re doing. “Have you had anything to eat?” he says. A cupcake would be nice. But he sends for scrambled eggs and milk instead. “You need protein.”

    And six hours later, does a male nurse show up, unhook the IV, roll the blood pressure monitor away, and sit on the edge of the bed to commiserate?

    “I get anxious at times too. Here’s a voucher for a taxi.”

    “Where’s my pajama top?”

    “I have no idea.”

    And does he search in the bio-hazard bin? Without gloves? (As if you’d wear anything that came out of the bio-hazard bin.) And then disappear, to reappear twenty minutes later with a pullover he dug up in the laundry, something that went missing when a previous patient checked into the hospital?

    I ask you: have you ever gone to the hospital wearing your own pajamas, and come home wearing someone else’s?

    Because it happened to me.

    I wonder who’s wearing mine now.


  2. How to Change the Rules in the Game of Anxiety

    August 6, 2017 by Diane

    This week, I played the game of anxiety in the circus of my mind.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the worst possible outcome for a future event and fixate on it, running the movie loop in your mind until your body reacts with sweaty palms and skipped heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure and a plethora of digestive issues, and then visualize the worst possible explanation for what’s happening with your body.

    This is considered round one.

    You may continue playing rounds, choosing different future events to obsessively worry about. You’ve won the game when you become a nervous wreck.

    I realized there’s a better game.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the best possible outcome of events and fixate on them, running the loop in your mind until your body reacts with a smile and a bounce to your stride and a wide-open grateful heart, and then fixate on how wonderful you feel.

    You might have noticed it’s the same game.

    It just has different playing pieces.

    Since anxiety is a game manufactured in the mind, it occurred to me: why not set the mind to visualizing happy tidings rather than worrisome thoughts?

    Oh, you can’t fool the mind?

    That’s what I thought. Until I caught on to the fact: my mind isn’t all that bright.

    I’m sorry, but my mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s nothing more than whatever squirrelly thought I’m feeding it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a test:

    Imagine eating a lemon. Can you see the juices squirting as you cut into it? Can you smell it as the two halves fall away? Now, suck on one half of the lemon.

    I’ll bet your taste buds are tingling like crazy right now.

    See? Your mind was duped into thinking you were really eating a lemon, and sent that message to your taste buds.

    Granted, it’s not my mind’s fault that it’s none too bright. After all, it’s buried under a lot of grey matter without eyes to see or ears to hear. It relies on me to give it the real McCoy.

    It’s my fault for feeding it a bunch of malarky.

    Dave had surgery this week. I volunteered to be nurse for the day.  Had someone else volunteered me for the task, I would have questioned their sanity. Sending a hypochondriac to be a Florence Nightingale is a sure sign of Squirrels in the Doohickey.

    But I love the guy, so I stepped up to the plate.

    Here’s how:

    I worried endlessly, peppering my thoughts with “what if?” scenarios. What if the surgery goes badly? What if he gets sick from the anesthesia? What if he starts bleeding? What if he gets an infection and I have to take him back to the hospital? What if the surgery goes badly, he gets sick, he gets an infection, his incisions bleed, and I keel over? That was my real concern; that I wouldn’t remain upright through the whole ordeal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever happened, and Dave would end up taking ME to the hospital.

    I worked myself into a proper anxiety attack. I fretted. I ruminated. I lost three pounds.

    I WON THE ANXIETY GAME!

    Then the moment arrived: the changing of the guard.

    Carolyn, who drove him to and from the hospital (definitely not a job for a hypochondriac), brought him home, and I showed up, ready to take over.

    I took a deep breath.

    I cautiously called his name, and stepped inside.

    Dave was peeling off his shirt. He turned toward me.

    I avoided looking at his gauze bandages. I wondered about all that rusty-colored stuff on his skin. Blood? Antiseptic? Please be antiseptic.

    “Warning!” he said.

    I braced myself. This is it.

    “I saved my gallstones,” he said. “They’re in a bottle on the kitchen floor. Wanna see?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I almost cried in relief.

    “Um…maybe another time. How are you?”

    “Good! I don’t feel any worse than I do on Monday mornings getting up for work.”

    I gave him a sponge bath, a shoulder massage, and some energy treatments, opened a package of Saltines for him to eat, and hung around until he got into bed. Then I watched over him from the Jesus Chair.

    I was able to do this because, well, the visualization I had conjured up was much worse than the reality.

    And before arriving, on the verge of panic, I grasped the epiphany that anxiety is a mind game. The true winner games the system.

    Since my mind does an ace job reacting to my fearful images, why not choose images that tap into feel-good chemicals, instead of all that adrenaline and cortisol? I told myself I can just as easily visualize lying on my sky blue blanket on a vast green lawn, a cool breeze wafting by, the faint sound of a bi-plane motoring overhead, someone mowing their lawn in the distance, a father, perhaps—nice, safe, comforting, neighborhood sounds.

    Then, instead of worrying about whether I would be okay, I could focus on making sure he was okay.

    Game over.

    Now, about those gallstones…

    I did take a peak. Then I left Dave with a small bag of cherry pits from my lunch, so he could show them to the guys at the office. “Look how big my stones were!

     


  3. Anxiety Wears a Black Duster

    July 19, 2015 by Diane

    Man walking into light

    In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley is the mentally disturbed neighbor who everyone views as The Boogeyman. What brilliance to include this character in a story about how people fear, or hate, or distrust a fellow human due to a judgment of skin color or class or…yes, mental illness.

    Anxiety is one of many mental challenges that remains a stigma in our society today. As Atticus points out in Mockingbird, you can’t understand another until you’ve walked in his shoes. So, for the sake of bridging the gap and giving voice to what many of us experience, I’m sharing my take on anxiety, written back when.

    * * *

    Anxiety wears a black duster that whips the air as he strides in tall black boots. Gaunt pale face, curved nose, laser-beam eyes, shocking red lips.

    A salvaged cigarette in the hands of a desperate smoker.

    In the hospital bed, my heart thumps warnings into my back that no one hears. In the hallway, a clipboard tucked under his arm, one doctor says to another, “It’s anxiety. It’s nothing.” Anxiety isn’t nothing, I want to shout, it’s a prison! It’s steel bars in a rundown tenement. It’s the child crouching under the stairs peering with mournful eyes behind spiderweb hair. It’s the last continent under a sky devoid of stars. It’s the tightness in the chest, the warning shot of adrenaline. It’s coffee all jacked up. What’s wrong with me? It’s that question, asked over and over and over again without an answer to soothe it to sleep.

    I ache for that soothing hand, that brush against my cheek, on my forehead, against the small of my back where numbness traces its canyon path. I want to un-crouch from inside, to fly, to be free and soar and run and giggle and pretend and create and believe and have faith again in my own healing power. Why couldn’t the doctor say, “It’s fine, you’re safe, all is well. Nothing to worry about, chum. I can’t explain why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, but I assure you it’s not physical. It’s your brain playing tricks.”

    Anxiety is the brain playing tricks. Thoughts gouging dry riverbeds in the mind.

    When I’m alone in my anxious brain, it’s a dangerous place to be. The brain is a trickster. It thinks it knows the truth, but the truth is only a guess. It takes the bits and pieces I feed it through my eyes, fingers, skin, taste buds, nose, ears, and it sorts them into bins and labels each bin.

    Very organized.

    Very tidy.

    The problem is with the labels.

    Don’t believe everything you think. It’s my mantra. Don’t believe everything you think.

    I hold on, knowing that one day I’ll rear up and grab hold of anxiety’s black duster and rip it off and reveal a bare, huddled creature underneath. Something cringing from the sudden light. And I’ll laugh again.

    Laugh! Again.

    Because the truth is: A shadow can’t survive the light.

    It disappears.