Sunday Lowdown #173

THIS WEEK IN REFLECTION

Sometimes, when I start to write my week in reflection, I realize what a long, long, long time one week can be. Here I sit, feeling fine but worn out after a day of hanging out with Biscuit and my brother’s four kids. Yesterday, I was quite proud of myself for being able to go out and volunteer for the first time this summer. I sat at the Friends of the Library book sale and tallied up how many books of each type customers had so they could give the total to the cash register people. I was out of the house. I dressed myself. I talked to people and was human-like to the best of my ability.

Wait, what’s all this? You see, it’s been one health thing after the next, and both my body and my mental groovy place are worn down. First, it was a doctor’s appointment in March where I learned I have high blood pressure, possibly caused by a medication I take. Okay, no more of that medicine. I needed to go to the dermatologist for a scan because I am an adult with busy skin. I had a biopsy done, which left an open wound the size of a dime on my back that proceeded to bleed through band-aids, bras, and t-shirts for a few weeks.

Also, the main concern for which I was there — little tiny white dots of skin on my face — turned out to be oil deposits that can happen as you age, so I need a face prescription. One that is very harsh, to which I must acclimate (put it on every 3 days until I can tolerate it, then every 2 days until I can tolerate it, etc.), that makes my face flake like a breakfast cereal. Thinking I was clever, I slathered on lotion in the morning only to discover that seriously flaking skin + lotion just looks like moist dead skin all over your face. This is a medicine that I am told I’ll likely need forever.

Then, I found out the biopsy was abnormal and so I scheduled a “surgery” thinking I would get a mole removed. Alright, no it’s a surgery that involved stitches and a cut about the size of your little finger. Biscuit said it looked like I had been stabbed by a sword. That meant two weeks of changing bandages, and ointments, and getting dressed with help from my spouse. Twice a day. Two weeks of not moving much or stretching, of not increasing my heart rate. I asked if I could walk because exercise helps lower blood pressure, but they said if I started breathing hard at all, to stop. So, no moving, no doing anything, no dressing myself, and my blood pressure, which I’m now checking ever day, goes up. Did you know that knowing your blood pressure is going up can make your blood pressure go up? My anxiety is very high, which sends signals to my brain to make me itchy. So I have rashes on my knees. Right. After two weeks we sent in a pre-requested photo of my surgery area only to learn I would need to continue with ointment and bandages for another week. At least then I could walk around but was not to stretch or do much with my arms. I finally finished all three weeks.

Then this Monday I woke with my left eye swollen shut. And I must say this nearly broke me in ways I’m not ready to talk about. Hours of Googling and comparing notes made me realize what likely happened is the combo of my immune system working hard plus stopping a medication (plus, I dunno, having fingers???) means I had a stye, which can go away with a warm compress applied 5x per day for about 15 minutes teach time. And looking like a jack-o-lantern someone forgot on their porch through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Have I mentioned I don’t like the term “mental health”? May is “Mental Health Awareness Month,” and I always start to see a couple of things buzzing around: a bunch self-care stuff about yoga and relaxing baths, and the suicide prevention hotline. I am not suicidal, and a stretch-n-scrub isn’t going to help with the fact that Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental illness. That’s what I call it: an illness.

Why? It sounds harsh, I know. But I am not one pedicure away from being calm. I cannot pet a dog until I feel like it’s cool that there’s a tomorrow — that tomorrow is not an infinitely scary, harrowing feeling in my heart. I go to bed each night thinking, “Holy shit, there is a tomorrow” and wake up thinking, “How am I going to accomplish whatever is on my calendar?” Even self-imposed calendar dates, like “study” or “online horror movie club.” I do each thing because I am brave. I do each thing because way down in my guts I want to. I do each thing quietly, and without complaint. I do each thing because when it is over I feel like Kirby from Nintendo absorbing power. I do each thing.

THIS WEEK’S BLOG POST

I would love to hear more thoughts about your thoughts on school systems after reading my review of Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen. There are two aspects of this book I keep thinking about 1) how a school’s entire curriculum shifted over the years and 2) that the students at the school reminded me so much of experiences I had or people I knew, from not knowing what to do after graduation to selling year book ads to being exciting about separating from parents and heading to a college in a different state.

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG POST

After I read the review that Sue @ Whispering Gums wrote, I added Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim to my TBR. This was one of those books I read to my spouse each night, and we were both excited to see how Vera shook out in comparison to Rebecca (by Daphne du Maurier, of course). Review of von Armin’s novella on Wednesday.

BOOKS ADDED TO THE TBR PILE

Owned Books on TBR at Beginning of Year: 202
Owned Books on TBR Last Week: 181
Owned Books on TBR Today: 180

Thanks to Biscuit and the folks at the Horror Fiction Book Club, hosted by Prince William Public Library, for their recommendations!

36 comments

  1. I’ve been away (from blogging, from home) working every day this past week, and you’ve been having a hard time. While I was away Milly had a day surgery too, and biopsies, in her mouth! Which she says feels like it is all stitches. But we went out for dinner last night anyway, very posh Chinese (though just soup for her).
    People in my family have mental illness, depression, bi-polar. Guys (like me) say “I’m not very good at dealing with it”. But you can’t fall back on that, so I listen and talk and we seem to get there. I’m family, perhaps they have to tolerate me.
    Good on you for finding a way through. And I’m sure having Biscuit and nieces and nephews helps.

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    • When we were making dinner Saturday night, I burst out, “I feel so loved!” My mom and Nick are so supportive and kind, and we even talked about how I haven’t always felt that due to some toxic people in our family who were quick to make me feel awful. You and I have emailed about what challenging work you’re doing with your family members, and I’m so proud of you. You are the change we all want to see.

      Poor Milly. Ugh, I wish she and I lived nearby. I always picture her being a lovely friend who is, perhaps, a little sassy, and justifiably so. Like, she doesn’t take shit. That’s how I picture Milly.

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  2. I’m sorry you’ve continued to have a hard time Melanie. Anxiety is such a tough thing I know from family and friends. I love that you are open about it and share with us. I hope it helps.

    Four nieces and nephews would keep you busy. What’s the age range?

    I look forward to your post on Vera of course.

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    • It was scary to share with you guys, even though I love all of you (and I do mean love!) so much. I even asked Nick what I should share, what seems appropriate, what is crossing a line, etc. Such difficult conversations.

      My brother has four children ages 13, 12, 6, and (almost) 5. They came in pairs! The little guy about runs everyone ragged because he’s always on the move. One time he was playing loudly and his mom said his name sternly. He replied, “Am I being annoying?” I could see he meant it genuinely, like he was gauging how he fit into the situation and wanted to match.

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      • Oh that’s amazing from the almost-5-year-old.

        And thanks for sharing, and for sharing how hard it is to share. You have to feel confident that it’s safe to do so, and it’s a credit to you, I think, to your honesty and warmth, that you do have a safe community to share to /with here.

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    • I just really want to get myself engaged in volunteer work and have a regular schedule during which I can practice my ASL. I get so mad because I feel like all I’m asking for are simple things. Thank you for reaching out, Kim. ❤

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  3. Oh Melanie, what a horrible time you’ve been having. One health issue is enough to deal with but one piled on top of another is really rough.

    I get very angry when I hear people refer to their “mental health” because far too often they’re using it as a label that they think is trendy. It masks the real issue and means people who are seriously struggling are not getting the attention they need. Great that we are no longer ignoring this and hiding it away but we need a serious discussion not platitudes about being kind to yourself and thinking positive.

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    • I get frustrated because it’s all lumped together. I do not think mental health, self-care, and mental illness are the same. Self-care is daily care that everyone should do. Mental health can often be temporary after a lot of stress and strain. Mental illness is chronic. I know these are my personal definitions, but they are ones I’ve developed based on what I see online (typically through Reddit, which shares information from a variety of social media) and in book titles (typically written by trendy, well-to-do twenty-somethings!).

      I once told a therapist how much I hated encouraging posters (like those Hang In There! cat posters) and she totally understood.

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      • Your definitions are excellent Melanie and yes, they do get used interchangeably and nonsensically. I found a Twitter message yesterday in which someone announced their brother had died “from mental health”. I’m pretty sure that is not considered a cause of death – contributing factor yes but not cause. As for those posters , I loathe them too

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  4. Oh Melanie, massive hugs to you! I don’t have any problems with my blood pressure except when I am at the doctor. I get so anxious it goes up and I know it goes up which makes me more anxious. I have a very good BP monitor at home that I check about 2xs a month and it’s always more than fine, but as soon as I cross the threshold of a dr’s office, up up it goes. And generally I am not an anxious person, it’s only drs that make me anxious, which might be the reason I rarely go to see one. I hope you find some space, peace and balance soon.

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    • They call that White Coat Syndrome — folks are so afraid of their doctors that their blood pressure goes up. That tells me a lot about medical care. I wonder if it feels the same way in other countries.

      I’m hoping next week to get more into volunteering and practicing ASL and move forward in a less abrasive fasion.

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  5. You’ve had such a rough time lately and you’re being very brave! Health stuff is the worst for causing anxiety to be worse. I really hope things improve for you. You’re a strong woman! Big hugs!

    That cover of Vera looks awesome. I have read one of her books but know nothing about that one.

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  6. I’m sorry you’ve been having a hard time. It really is a lot you’ve had to deal with. I appreciate your perspective on mental health and mental illness. I’ve watched family members deal with mental illness and I know it takes a lot more than a nap and a cup of tea to deal with. I think you’re incredibly brave.

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    • Thank you, Karissa. I do believe I’ve learned some of my bravery from you when you’ve written openly about miscarriages and fertility. Sometimes I feel like only you all, my dearest friends, will read my blog, but then I remember that anyone can. And what will they think of me? And if they know me, will they change how they think of me? For this Sunday Lowdown, I decided to just march out there on the stage.

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  7. I’m sorry you’ve been having such a difficult time, and I absolutely agree about buzzy “mental health awareness” activities. I think there’s a distinction between a short term mental health issue and a longer-term mental illness that has been completely lost. I see it in my students, who often go to the GP with “anxiety” when what they mean is that they are just very worried about exams and need to learn some coping strategies – but the GP is too busy to have that conversation, they get put on strong psychotropic drugs, and when the exams are over and the worries go away, they’re stuck on medication with really unpleasant side effects. I think it’s useful to identify that a short-term mental health problem is really difficult, but it’s not the same as a mental illness.

    I hope some of the complicating factors are resolved soon, so that you can have a smoother journey forward than you have been recently!

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    • Lou, I truly value that you’re willing to share your perspective as a medical practitioner. Sometimes I worry that I “use” you in some ways for your knowledge as a nurse and professor. I’m not sure if that makes sense. I guess I hope you know that I completely value and adore you far beyond your medical knowledge! I think I’m turning the corner toward something more normal for me. I hope you are well and good gravy, did you find the Kindle??

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  8. Melanie, reading your post today seemed to be a lovely coincidence, because it’s just what I needed right now! I’ve found myself in a bit of an anxiety spiral (hopefully temporary) because of some health issues I’ve been having – my gut problems have been terrible, and I’ve basically had the runs since the middle of March, so leaving the house makes me anxious because I always want to make sure a bathroom is close by. I’ve started seeing a therapist about this, because I realized my anxiety was making my stomach worse, and I needed to find some ways to cope in the meantime, while I try to figure this out with my dr. I know exactly what you mean when you say you force yourself to do these activities – we know that volunteering, socializing etc. is good for us, but it is a struggle to push ourselves to do it, so I see you, and hear you, and appreciate your post so much about this. I’m terrible at being optimistic when it comes to my own health, but I am forcing myself to believe this will pass – and I hope all your health issues are either solved, or take a back seat in the next little bit so you can enjoy yourself a bit more 🙂

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    • I’m also reading more books about disability because I know that a “normal” path isn’t always an option, and I ask myself how would I respond if I continued to have health issues. I don’t think I will; these health issues are pretty temporary, although the stuff with a dermatologist is now happening every 6 months. Whether they have to do a biopsy or surgery remains to be seen, but I still have to go. So, now that my swollen eye is coming down, now that the itchy knees are less itchy, I’m trying to really pay attention to what I’m feeling and be super honest about it. That itself is scary.

      Anne, I think you’ve been mentioning for years that you have stomach issues related to anxiety. You may have something more than temporary anxiety. The hard thing about Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that thinking about your anxiety gives you anxiety. It’s a feedback loop. I have an activity I do to keep me from having intestinal problems. Since this comment is already long, I’ll tell you the activity if you’re interested. Just let me know.

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  9. That’s a shitty time physically, not to mention mentally – I’m so sorry. Good for you for talking about how you feel in each of those sectors and thank you. It’s so important to talk. One of our cats has been ill here and I reacted with such panic to it, flashing back to when our old cat was sick for his last summer and I ended up having a breakdown over it. We had just had the conversation about getting the two of them rehomed and I then resolved to NOT let my anxiety and cPTSD make my life smaller and smaller until I can’t even cope with having pets, so I self-referred to an NHS mental health service I can access via my GP and I have an assessment appointment next week. Yay NHS, but in reality mental health is very underfunded and I am likely to just get online CBT or even an app of CBT but I think actually that should help a bit. Anyway, we all do our bit to help ourselves but it’s SO easy to get knocked off balance I know, and there’s no shame to that.

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    • Wow, thanks for sharing all that, Liz. Your system is so different from ours. Many years ago when I went to a therapist there was a $50 co-pay for every visit, and that was with insurance. And now, after the height of covid, you’re lucky to find anyone to take you at all.

      I’m sorry about your cat. I’m worried about our car. We’ve been in the same apartment for 9 years, and I do not think she’s going to react well to being moved, but it is what it is. We already got her some little tables to sit on so she can look out the window, and a new fluffy bed, etc. I wonder if you would be an excellent candidate for maybe not having pets at home, but pet sitting or volunteering at an animal shelter, something like that, to still have contact with animals.

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      • Thank you. Yes, you can pay for private therapy here and it’s £50 and upwards but the NHS does have a fairly limited offering and I think CBT might help this time as it’s immediate reactions I need to work on. It is very hard to get and very long waiting lists though. It is a different system although I have been paying for it through National Insurance all the years I’ve been working (and double myself since I’ve been self employed, as I pay employees’ and employers’ national insurance now): I’m never sure people realise it isn’t absolutely free although if you don’t work, you don’t pay NI and still get the service.

        And just to be clear we are not going to give the cats up, but it was a wake-up call to get better sorted out. I hope your puss does OK. I’ve moved several cats including the redoubtable Dot, who had to get used to stairs aged about 9 after a lifetime of flats!

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  10. I am sorry that you’ve had it so rough lately, friend. This year has not been kind. I finally get a new primary care doctor in July, and I think I’m going to talk to them about getting on something for anxiety/depression. I struggle to know if I really need it or not, but I suppose the doctor can help figure that out. July seems like a really long way away though.
    I fully agree. Petting dogs and doing yoga doesn’t make things just go away. If it did, I would feel half better because I can pet my dog. And I don’t feel better. Also, my dog is kind of being a dick so that doesn’t help.
    Sometimes all we can do is make it week by week. That’s a victory itself.

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    • Typically, when you start an anti-depression/anxiety medication, they ask that you also seek out a therapist, which brings on its own costs. When I first started medicine, I could go for free through my mom’s work, and I thought the counselor was an idiot. This sounds weird, but she liked me too much. It was a lot of “Oh, Melanie!” as if she couldn’t believe what was happening to me. Uh, lady, I’m here cuz I can’t believe it either. We’re not friends. Then years later I got a therapist, and with insurance it was $50 per visit, which is not inexpensive. I also noticed that my library system is doing a summer of mental health stuff, and some of it is self-care (yoga, Zumba, etc.) but some of it sounds pretty serious. I signed up for a few events to see what it’s all about. I do know that when Nick has been really down, it’s several life factors getting in the way, like back when he was underemployed and not valued/hated his job. That can make a huge difference and feels like something more pervasive if you’re stuck in a job (which I know is how you feel). Would your mental health improve with a meaningful, rewarding job? I never want to discourage people from seeking out medication, but I also know from experience that the medication journey for anxiety is a hard one. Changing doses, brands, types, and getting used to your brain chemistry being different (with some pills, if you miss a dose you get very drunk-like). Etc. If you want to talk about it more, I would be so happy to share my experiences with you (and Moth, if she’s interested). We could do a Zoom.

      Also, what sorts of dickish activities is your dog into?

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      • Oh, a big factor is that I definitely don’t like my job anymore and I used to LOVE it. A more rewarding job is what I’m keeping my eyes peeled for. Honestly, what I want to get into doesn’t pay a whole hell of a lot or usually have great insurance. I’ve wanted insurance for so long and now that I finally have it, I feel trapped in the job to keep the insurance. Is it weird to say that I don’t feel like I need a therapist? No judgements against it but my life is pretty good, and I don’t know what I would even talk about. I’ve just been very down since Ozzy died but sometimes an event like that triggers depression. I would definitely be down to talk about it!
        She’s doing this thing when I pet her while she’s laying on the couch, she gets up and walks away. So, when I’m sad about my super empathetic dog that passed, who was a cuddle master, I can’t even cuddle my current dog to feel better.

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        • Oh, Seamus! What a turd!

          When I went to therapy, I thought this person would never say anything that I hadn’t already thought of. I’m pretty smart, right? What happened is I found a good therapist who talked about things that I’d never even encountered, so It wasn’t on my radar. Something we did early on was take a personality test, which informed the therapist of how I relate specifically to family members and how often I would try to change to match them, making my personality test very confusing/inconclusive.

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    • Oh, Amanda, I am trying so very hard! We finally got into the new house this weekend, and I just got started volunteering. I still feel a bit “off,” but it’s getting better. How are you? I was thinking about you recently and wondering how your summer is going.

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