Thursday, September 27, 2007

my father continued

My father was not a weak man in any sense despite his seeming willingness to give in to the despair that hastened his end. After years of illness, his ability to fight waned enough that, I’m guessing, death was a welcome relief. That is not to suggest that he was overtly suicidal, only that the fight was taken out of him and replaced by a complacency that abetted his despair. Toward the end, I think he had just had enough of the fight and gave in.

But my memories of my father are more than the bleak and dark times that defined the last few years of his life. The better memories are of a father who could make us laugh until our sides hurt and we were rolling on the floor in blissful agony from the laughter. Our family mealtimes were times of unfettered discussions and much silliness. My two older sisters were no more able to resist his clowning than I was.

He was the undisputed head of the house, even when he was doing Mom’s bidding. I learned from him that it is alright for a man to wash the dishes after dinner, that pushing a vacuum isn’t gender related, that hard work is its own reward. My father was a man in every sense of the word, physically strong and willing to do whatever needed to be done to provide for his family. I distinctly remember him working at three jobs at once for a while, driving truck for two different companies and working in his brother’s junkyard cutting up wrecked cars to provide for us. Yet he never complained or even suggested that he was having a tough time or that he couldn’t handle the pressure that must have been there.

He was imposing physically in his prime, standing 6’2” at 195 lbs of well-defined muscle. Those muscles were formed when he was a young man playing all the various sports that young men play. He even had a short stint as semi-pro football player. I have seen press clippings from that era that describe some of his exploits on the football field. What ever happened to those clippings, I don’t know, but I wish I had saved them. Yet one of my greatest regrets is that he never pushed me harder to play and possibly excel at sports. I don’t know why that is, but he never did. Sure, I played baseball and football and basketball, but only intramurally and in pick-up games and never particularly well. I don’t know if that was a disappointment to him or not because he never pushed me in that direction.

He was a man of few words when it came to expressing his feelings. I never once heard him say “I love you” to any of us—not to Mom or my sisters or to me. Yet there was no doubt in our minds that he did indeed love us. He just preferred to show it by the way he took care of us. Never once did he raise a hand to any of us in anger. But never once did he offer to hug or hold us close either. He and I never once had a deep or meaningful conversation, but that may be due to my own reticence as to his. Like father, like son, I guess.

So toward the end of his life we didn’t have the foundation for communication that would have allowed us to know each other better than we did. When he was struggling with his physical deterioration and allowing that to affect his emotional and mental health, he didn’t have the ability to talk about what he was feeling. So he turned to that bottle of brandy and gulped down pills and never said a word.

Now that I find myself in a similar situation to his—I have a chronic disease in PD and am struggling to cope mentally with all that goes with it—I am determined not to follow his example in this circumstance. He was 58 years old when he died; I am now 59. I learned from him how to be a father and a man, but I also learned from his mistakes in matters like the one that faces me now. I will talk about it. I will seek help in coping with it. I will not swallow fistfuls of pills or have a brandy bottle as a constant companion to combat the strain of dealing with my life as it is now. I am proud to be his son, but I will be my own man.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

not for me

In my recent discissions here about my struggle with depression, I realize that I have not made it known that drugs are a last resort, if any resort at all, for me. I have real tangible aversion to drugs dating back to my father's last few years of life.

For the last five or so years that he lived, my father was quite sick. What his illness was, I have no idea, only suspicions. He was just always in and out of the hospital with various ailments that were never fully explained to me. It's true that I wasn't paying a great deal of attention at the time, being newly married and in a struggle to make my way in the world. His movements in and out of the hospital became somewhat routine and therefore noted only in passing. On those occasions when I did visit my boyhood home, I would find him sitting at the kitchen table more often than not with a half empty bottle of cheap brandy at hand, a smoldering cigarette dying in the ashtray, and a small pile of pills ready to be washed down with a gulp of that brandy. That ever present pile of pills was replenished as necessary from the horde of medications stored in quart-size bottles that occupied the top shelf of the refrigerator.

He was never particularly communicative in the best of times, preferring to keep his thoughts to himself. So we were never able to discuss those little piles of pills or the ever present bottle of brandy. I never screwed up enough courage to confront him and ask him why he needed the brandy or what those pills were for. His suffering was personal and not something he wanted to talk about with his only son. And I accepted that. In retrospect, I realize now that he was going through the throes of depression, probalbly due to his struggles with those unnamed physical ailments. Now I wish I had been more insistant about having that discussion.

It's those bottles of pills that have left me with my aversion to taking too many different meds for every known or perceived ailment. They didn't really help him as far as I can tell. So I have little faith in modern pharmacology as the panacea for whatever ails you. I have promised myself that I will never have quart-sized bottles of pills in my refrigerator. At least not pills that are mind altering as a way of coping with my mild depression.

to be continued.........

Monday, September 24, 2007

enough

That's it. No more feeling sorry for myself. I refuse to be depressed any longer. I don't have it so bad. There are millions of people who have it a lot worse than I do. So I had a PD setback. So there are things I can't do as well now as I could before. Deal with it and move on.

Sounds easy. It's not. But I am working at it. The air in my life is too precious to be fouled by the pollution of depression. So I'm taking deeper breaths and savoring the sweetness of that air, before anymore pollution settles in. Thank you to those of you who have offered encouragement. Don't stop. I still need your help.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

still down

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning with clear skies, bright sunshine, and a gentle breeze. I’m sitting on the deck looking out into the backyard, watching that breeze tease the Pampas grass plumes that reach some eight feet high. I should be rejoicing in the simple beauty of that scene, content with my surroundings and glad to be here. But the fact is, I don’t give a shit.

For the past several days, after seeing the therapist for the first time last Wednesday, I’ve been trying mightily to stay upbeat and positive. I’ve forced myself into the workshop to work on the several projects I have started there. I got out and cut the grass yesterday; something I usually enjoy doing, but it was just a chore that had to be done. Jonathan stopped over Wednesday after work and stayed for dinner, which was a real pleasure, but that only underscored the fact that he has his own life to live and I am now just a small part of it. Mary has had a rough start to the new school year and I try to stay sympathetic and lend her the ear she needs and offer the encouragement she deserves, but it is very difficult when my mind is elsewhere mired down in my own miasma of depression.

I thought I was getting through this funk I’m in since I felt more energetic for a couple days, but that seems to have been a false illusion. Just writing this down is taking a huge amount of energy and concentration, energy and concentration that I feel is misspent since no one is reading this claptrap anyway. Normally on such a beautiful day I would be on the golf course. But right now I don’t care if I ever play golf again. The fact that my hands tremble too much when I try to hold a golf club may have something to do with it. This time of year is always exciting for a sports fan like me, but I find that I can’t muster the enthusiasm to cheer for the Brewers who are fighting for their division title for the first time in many years, can’t get riled up about the UW Badgers who are playing a primetime game on national tv tonight, can’t find it in myself to be concerned about the Packers and their game on Sunday. In other years at this time I would be glued to the tv, anxiously sweating out all those games. But now I just don’t care.

I need to get my mojo back, and soon. I don’t like the place I’m in right now and need to find the door that leads out of this place. I’m looking for it, but without too much commitment. I just can’t roust myself to try harder. I can’t seem to get on the right track. I just need someone to kick me in the ass and make me get up and do it. I don’t like where this is taking me. I hate feeling like this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

weekly highlights

You know you're in trouble when the highlights of your week are a visit to the dental hygienist and a visit to a shrink. Can it get any more exciting than that?

Something that has always bothered me about dental hygienists: why do they insist on talking and making comments that would normally ellicit a response when they know you can't respond or comment because they have their fingers in your mouth? So, added to the discomfort and, yes, sometimes real pain, is the frustration of being unable to get off that clever quip in response to something she said. Is that a ploy they are taught in dental hygienist school as a way of distracting the patient from noticing that his gums are bleeding and his nerve endings are screaming in agony? If it is, it ain't working.
I think all conversation should be banned when I am in the dentist chair so that I can concentrate on the torture at hand. I don't really want to hear about your dog chasing his tail or your husband riding his Harley without a helmet. Or was it your husband chasing tail and your dog riding on the Harley? Who gives a crap. Let me enjoy the agony quietly.

Then today I paid a visit to the staff psychologist at the neurolgist's office where I get treated for Parkinsons Disease. That was definitely a first for me. Never in my life did I consider the possibility of visiting a psychologist. That was for crazy people, not someone like me. But if you read my previous post here, you know that I have been depressed about life for a little while due mainly to the progression of PD. So for me, admitting that there was a problem to be dealt with was a big step. Then actually doing something about it was a major breakthrough for me. The time I spent with the psychologist this morning helped a great deal in my realizing that it is ok to be down and pissed off as long as I don't stay down and pissed off and get on with my life. We set some reachable goals for the next week that should help me out of this funk I'm in. I think I will be alright.

Friday, September 14, 2007

depression

Depression is an insidious invader. It creeps up on you on stealthy feet, muffled by the sounds of daily life. Before you know it, a shroud is thrown over your mind that allows less and less light to penetrate into your consciousness.

What triggers the onslaught? Where does it get its first foothold. Why can’t it be stopped as easily as it starts. What defenses can be thrown up to keep it at bay? Why am asking these questions?

For the past few weeks now I have been “out of sorts.” I have little ambition. I can’t get interested in anything. I don’t care if the daily chores get done. I just want to sleep the day away. I don’t care to work in my workshop. I don’t care if I get to play golf again. I haven’t wanted to write or contribute to this blog. The fact that my favorite teams have been winning their games lately doesn’t pique my interest. I just don’t care.

I find myself worrying endlessly about things I have no control over. And I worry even more about the things I do have some control over. I look ahead and the future scares me. I look back and have too many regrets.

Parkinsons Disease is a root cause of my current lapse from happiness. PD is relentless in its quest for control. It starts out slowly and then it just keeps getting more and more entrenched in your life, until one day you find that it has more control over you than you have over it. PD spreads its tendrils ever farther into your body until it gains enough presence to ensure that you can’t forget it’s there. It only gets worse; never better.

My PD symptoms have spread to the left side of my body now where before only the right side was affected. Now there is no respite from the shaking and tremors that afflict my hands and arms and legs. PD complicates everything I do and causes other physical problems as a result of trying to move normally. I get sore and pulled muscles easily. Sciatica has attacked my right leg so that I can’t sit for more than a few minutes without discomfort. My neck and shoulders are always stiff and sore enough that I can’t find the one position that will allow me to relax. Nighttimes are a series of tortuous turnings between short lapses into sleep.

With this ratcheting up of PD in my life comes the fear of the future and what it has in store for me. How will I cope with this new reality. What will I do if Mary can’t take care of me? What will I do if by something unthinkable happens to Mary and I have to take care of her? What will we do If I can no longer take care of our house. What will happen to me when I can no longer drive? I can’t bear the thought of leaving this house that we have lived in for all our married life, where we raised our children, where we call home. But I know that the time will come when we will have to leave here and that scares me. The uncertainty of the future has me nearly paralyzed with fear.

All those fears, irrational as they may be, are the allies of depression. Those fears cloud my senses and allow depression to work its way deeper and deeper into my brain. I realize what is happening, but I feel mostly helpless to fight it off. Why, if I know what’s going on, can’t I just stop it and say, “I refuse to be depressed.” Why do I allow those fears and worries to take over my consciousness? I’ve always felt I was a strong-willed person able to control my emotions and capable of handling any and all situations that life coould throw at me. But lately, my confidence has been shaken by the strength of the depression that has gained such a strong grip on me. I don’t like feeling this way.

I have been able to hide this depression for the most part from Mary. She is the champion worrier of all time and I don’t want to burden her unnecessarily. And I certainly don’t want my two dhildren to be concerned. They have enough to handle with their own lives without my becoming a problem for them as well. So I “suffer” mostly in silence, trying my best to cope with all this. Fortunately, I can still see that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel so I know there is some hope still there. I’m trying. I’m trying.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11

I don't want to remember. I know that all the articles and pundits say that we should take time today to remember the enormous tragedy of six years ago. Why? It doesn't help to come to grips with that infamy by remembering that awful day. I prefer to put it behind me and not think about it. It's still too depressing, too shocking, too real for me, so I choose to forget. I mean no disrespect to the many victims, both innocent and brave, who perished that day. I just can't figure out how dwelling on those cowardly attacks will help me cope. I want to forget. I want life to go on. I want move away from the horror and shock. I don't want to pretend it all didn't happen, I just want to push it all aside for awhile. I just want to forget for awhile. I just want it all to go away. I need to forget.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

dmv blues

Today I was faced with one of the most dreaded chores required of modern man: a trip to the DMV. Everyone has a horror story to tell about being at the DMV for a mostly routine reason and having to spend many hours trying to get it done.
My reason was the need to replace my handicap card which I stupidly left in our rental car in California a couple weeks ago. So I screwed up my courage and entered the abyss that is state government beaurocracy.

I was pleasantly surprised at first when it seemed I would only have to wait maybe fifteen minutes or so to be taken care of. I was only four numbers away from being called to the counter when I first arrived and checked in. Two of those numbers were called within the first five minutes I was waiting, so you can imagine how smug I was feeling. It looked like I was going to get out of there without sacrificing valuable hours to the gods of inefficiency. But those same gods were messing with me, leading me down the path of frustration.

I arrived there at 9:45 this morning. Bad timing. It seems that a fifteen minute break for the counter staff is mandated each morning at 10:00 and today they were right on schedule. So instead of my projected and hoped for fifteen minute wait, I had to wait for breaktime to be over before getting my turn at the counter. Still, I figured with only two more numbers to be called before my magic number came up, I still could be out of there in only 30 minutes.

Why is it that I get in the line that always moves the slowest. At the supermarket, the hardware store, the line at the mens' room, I always find the slowest moving line to get into. It is my fate to wait longer than anyone else no matter where I am or what I am doing. My number was 432. The guy with number 430 apparently had some kind of esoteric transaction that no one in the entire world, let alone the minions at the DMV, had ever encountered before. I swear the guy was at the counter, using my valuable time, causing unimaginable complications for the woman behind the counter, for at least 30 minutes. There was a growing murmuring tension among the people waiting with me that threatened to boil over into an ugly mob action if Mr Complication didn't resolve his problem soon.

There was an audible sigh of relief when he finally concluded his business and number 431 was called. Now I am only one number away and feeling some hope that the butt cramp I have from sitting too long on those uncomfortable institutional chairs that only seem to appear in government offices will be relieved when I finally get to move. Of course I was worried then that my muscles would fail to respond in a timely manner when my number came up or that I would fall on my face when I tried to walk to the counter since I had waited so long that I would forget how to walk and then I would lose my place in line and have to start from the back of the line once more and my wife and children would forget about me lost in the black hole I had been sucked into.

When my turn finally came, I somehow managed to summon the strength and determination to walk upright once again and shuffled my way to the counter. I was debating whether to make some scathing comment about the ordeal of waiting so long, but the woman behind the counter had such a pleasant smile and ingratiating manner when she asked how she could help me that I believed she meant it, and all thoughts of complaining vanished into the sunshine of her smile. How she managed to maintain such a cheerful disposition in the face of all those angry people is a matter of speculation. I'm going with the theory that her breaktime was used to ingest a fistfull of happy pills. No normally sane person could be that nice and pleasant in such a job without some medicinal help.

Luckily my business was concluded swiftly and efficiently so that the people behind me were not tempted to rip me limb from limb for delaying them unnecessarily. My elapsed time spent in the bowels of the beast was actually only an hour and twenty minutes, though I could swear I passed another birthday there while waiting. And best of all, now I can once again park legally in the handicap spots at the supermarket and hardware store. But please don't begrudge me that privilege, since you know I will still end up in the longest and slowest moving line at checkout time.