Thursday, August 31, 2006

medical school update

Justin just called to say goodnight. He's on general surgery now at the VA and says he's been busy all night, though rumor had it this was the "easy" service and that he might get to sleep tonight. He jokingly says he's got a black cloud over his head--he's a magnet for disaster. Even one of the residents he worked with sometime a few weeks ago said the night they worked together he saw the most bad stuff all at once that he'd ever seen in 6 or so years of doing this work.

Anyway, Justin said, "No one's died yet, so that's good."
"This is the standard we're going by?"
"Yeah, well, not on my watch at least."

For the past three days he's been on general surgery at the VA; so far the most disgusting stories in my opinion, mostly involving the colon or things that are attached to the colon. yuck. And unfortunately, if I see Justin at all it's usually at dinner time and so those are the stories I get to hear.

Anyway, I promised Justin I'd keep track of his medical school experience because between his sleep deprivation and my short-term memory issues we're not quite sure how he'll know how to pick what he applies for when the residency thing finally happens.

So far he's been doing the surgery rotation. It's 12 weeks. I hate it. First he had....hmmm.... trauma?.... which he found exciting, something about holding an arm and putting it on ice or something (yeah, detached from the body). Then he had orthopedics, which he also liked--perhaps that's why I have the order mixed up; I can't remember when the arm thing happened. And then there was neurosurgery (which we thought he would like, because he likes neurology and because of his mom's brain cancer and all that), but he didn't. Yay! It's the first thing he hasn't loved in medical school, which meant we were finally narrowing things down.

One of the problems in figuring all this out though, is that part of what he likes or doesn't like includes the team he's working with, the hours he's keeping and the amount of actual work he does (holding a detached arm--fun, watching someone else mess with someone's brain--boring). So, I have to remind him that the teams will always be different and his involvement will increase with knowledge, so he has to really focus on the actual work.

In that case, he's leaning toward family practice (I told all of you that I'd be the one to marry a doctor who makes no money--he's pledged he'll still do the free clinic). He likes the contact with patients who actually walk through the door on their own power, he likes seeing repeat visitors and he 's realized he might not necessarily have to deal with HMO BS if he works in a big group. He does family practice once a week in the afternoon (whether or not he's been on call or about to be on call...) now and comes home happier than after a day of surgery.

He thought about ER for a while, but all the drunk/high people got annoying. Go figure. I still think it suits him best, and the hours are good. We've heard.

I just can't let him forget that he hated the surgery hours--he wakes up at 4 a.m. Last week, when we had a dinner together we realized that in the past 7 days we'd seen each other awake for 5 hours. One of his residents (?) said, "You know it's bad when your kid asks, 'Mommy, where does Daddy live?'"

Not to mention, he only has 1/2 of a left foot (thanks a lot Marine Corps. I'd gladly trade the handicapped parking placard for Justin to go a day without pain), so the hours spent standing in surgery just really don't work. I want his foot healthy, so we can take walks and hold hands. (doesn't go so well when he has to use his cane)

And that's med school so far. It's supposed to be that they only do 36 hours shifts, but it's lies, all lies.

Borrow Puppies and Borrow Kids Rock!

Take today, for instance. At The Espresso Garden, co-owner Darren brought his 10 week old chiuaua-Jack-Russell puppy to work, and a crying 19 year old stressed from job-hunting, 2 little kids, 1 older woman, and I all got such joy out of Teacup's little puppy loving. (Teacup, get it? The coffee shop mascot?) And Darren's married and straight, so it's OK that he has a tiny dog. ;)

And then, I got to read to three kids: 6 mo., 2 and 3 years, respectively. And since there were only two moms, I got to hold their little hands and help them up and down the tall chairs. They picked the books--The Foot Book, Good Night Moon, Brown Bear... (they took turns picking) and the Very Hungry Catepillar (extraordinary attention spans obviously still uncorrupted by technology--also, we went butterfly hunting and it didn't bother me that Teacup upstaged me on occasion). It was a great hit of baby love, and I didn't have to change anyone's diaper or try to put them down for their naps (which their mothers conceded they were ready for when they started running after each other in the oh-so-peaceful garden shrieking--and therein lies why I decided against teaching elementary school, though come to think of it, high school isn't that much different... at least the pitch of their voices is usually lower).

And (three good things in one day!) (wow!) I got to e-talk to two of my former students and they are both really amazing people, and so now I get to feel like I have worth and friends even though I'm not an official teacher right now. :)

Thanks lenders! :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"A Dip In Your Mood"

That's what she says. Which is ridiculous because it sounds like taking a dip in the pool--which is refreshing and fun, whereas a dip in my mood is horrifying and cruel. Stupid pscho-babble. Who do they think they're fooling with their euphemisms? *sigh* It was actually kind of funny, in our first session, she did that thing where she just sat their quietly smiling at me, waiting for me to say something. And I said, "See, the problem is I'm a teacher, and I can play that game too." But then I realized each minute of silence was costing me about a dollar and decided to come up with something to say.

Dying is not an option

And neither is going back into the hospital.

Despite all losses I have to move forward. I have to remember to count my blessings. I'd list them now, but I just used a cliche and I must to repent.

I just want people to understand that Major Depressive Disorder is not something to be ignored. It's a real disease, like diabetes or cancer, but it is stigmatized so no one talks about it. And then, when some honors student kills herself everyone is surprised and still doesn't talk about it. Also, it is a word that has morphed into everyday use--"I'm so depressed," could just mean a person's lost their favorite pen; they're not clinically depressed. We don't use words like cancer and heart disease this way and we can freely admit having those diseases--yet MDD kills more people than both of those diseases, annually in the United States. And having it is usually a secret.

MDD takes over a person's life and we are never the same. At least, I don't think I will ever be the same. Hopefully, when I'm not in a "low point in my mood", as my doctors say (I think; I wish my memory were not affected so badly), I will be a more understanding and accepting person. Hopefully, I will be useful to society. Hopefully, I will change someone's life in a positive way.

But, honestly, I don't know if anyone ever wins the battle with MDD. It's such a strong force. I picture that shirt that lists famous gay people and ends with "and me!", except I see it as "famous Depressed people... and me!" There were points today when I felt like I literally had to hold myself together, so I did: sitting in the fetal position, arms wrapped around my legs sobbing and barely able to breathe. There were points today when I felt like I was going to explode--I was driving, so no fetal position options--but I pictured an eggshell exploding the way a bulb does when it's hot and cold water hits it (kids, don't try this at home just to see!) and I pictured that as me. Shatter! I also thought, "When people use cliches like, 'I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams,' they really have no idea what they mean unless they've been through extraordinary grief and loss or MDD. (That English teacher picking at words again....)

Then I went to put gas in my car. It's amazing the distractions one can find. CNN at the pump. We don't have cable; I almost wanted to stay, just to find out about more this polygamist who's been caught. ooooooooo!

So, I'm still alive. I'd write that down as my accomplishment for today, but I also managed to run some errands and make dinner, so I'll just put it as the most important one.

Thanks everyone who shows me that they love me--if you didn't do that now and then I would really lose it for sure. There were also points today when I got hugs from my husband, and puppy kisses, and smiles from new friends, or I remembered the kids' visit last night and that helped me survive.


I'm uploading photos from yesterdays JOYful visit. Is this going to make my blog S L O W forever? If so, how do I fix it?

...I did it I did it! It seems all it takes to become a better computer geek is time on my hands, and for me, the inability to do a whole lot else. I can Flickr now. :) It's like being a butterfly, or do they flutter? flitter? flicking just sounds so yucky. I'd rather flutter. Or flatter. But not flatten. (stupid English teacher won't get out of me...)

woohoo! I'm off to yet another doctor's appointment..... :(

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"You look so happy!"

Olaina After School

That's because I was THRILLED! Joel, Sara, Joy, Lea, Heidi and Amy came to visit me today after school (Amy is still at TPHS, whereas the rest are off to college pretty soon.) They totally made my day and reminded me of how much fun we had together; how much fun we still have to have together; how much love there is in the world. Not a lot of people think teenagers are good examples of love in the world, but I know the truth--I know they ARE love and HOPE for the world.

And I know that because I was a high school teacher. And I will trumpet that to the world because the world needs hope, and so do I.

Thanks for visiting me ladies and gent--you gave me a taste of happiness that I really needed. :)


Olaina After School

You see, the important thing is that I have friends. Sure, they may make me laugh long distance via their sleepless, late-life blogging, but they're there. (See Oakley's Blog link in the sidebar.)

Plus I have four of five former students coming to visit me today and an outdoor coffee shop in which I am welcome to paint for hours at a time while they sell yummy beverages. (See The Espresso Garden.)

So, there should be no crying. There should be no sadness. There should be no feeling of abandonment or loneliness. There should be nothing but love.

"Can you feel the love tonight?" Why do these stupid songs keep coming into my head?

I'm going to vaccuum now. It's kind of like I used to clean the tables before class started--I'll vaccuum before the kids come over. (We have no couch, so there will be a lot of floor sitting if we spend more than a few minutes here....) Then we're going to the park and I'm going on the swings. Because you can't be sad when you're swinging or when you're hoola hooping. Which reminds me that I own a hoola hoop for this purpose exactly, so I'm going to sign off now. I have happy-making to do.

(God, MDD fighting is exhausting. It's a good thing we sold our couch ($100 seemed more appealing), otherwise I'd just lie there watching non-cable TV and feeling sorry for myself. This way I at least have no choice but to do something. (After a while the chairs get uncomfortable, and if I get in the bed in the day time I'm too scared I won't be able to sleep at night; plus I'd feel like a real loser. Nighttime is for sleeping. Daytime is for working.) My job is getting healthy. And if it takes a friend to accompany me to my doctor's appointments now and then, then so be it. (Thanks Justin, Amanda and Brian.))

Surviving the not-First Day of School

OK. I survived the first day of school by doing a lot of healthy distractions: blogging, e-mail, orthodontist appointment (what am I, 13?), sushi lunch (with no bells!), Dick Blick art store (brushes! canvas pad!), dinner with Amanda (the nicest friend in the whole wide world), and the photo class that didn't kick my butt nearly as much as usual, and which we got to leave early from (8 instead of 9 p.m.), so I got to see my MSIII husband too!

"I will survive, as long as I know I'm alive I know I will survive.." (who sings that ever so popular song?)

It is time to move on. Today I will do my best not to notice the time and what I "would be doing now if...." In fact, maybe we'll go clockless today. It's what I am doing at this moment--because I feel like it.


This forgetting about (not) being a teacher is going to be a lot of work, but it's worth it and I can do it. And if I do it, it will be easier tomorrow. And then maybe by the end of the week I won't even notice, "maybe I won't have to keep having to remind myself to breathe in and out again." (Tom Hanks line in "Sleepless in Seattle")

Sunday, August 27, 2006

gains v. losses

(Please God, let the gains column somehow be longer.)

This week has been sad for me. School starts for the kids tomorrow and I won't be there.

Even getting past that line has taken me a few moments, a breath being held and then sighed and the reminder to breathe evenly.

Losses: our dream child (miscarried), my real students, my colleagues, contact with some of my friends, my classroom, my newspaper advising positions (and responsibilities), my sense of identity that went with all of that work and being a teacher, closeness with some of my friends who just can't handle me with MDD (that hurts the most). Short term memory, recent memory, defenses, responsibilities at church, control over.... anything; most things.

I don't really want to wrack my brain to come up with stuff for the losses list.

Gains: a new neighborhood (we had to downsize when I lost my ability to be gainfully employed) that is WAY cooler than the suburbs we used to live in, neighbors we actually know and like, friends at The Espresso Garden (who like all new friends don't know the whole of my past or the depth of the well I dip into just to get the power to go out and "put on a smiling face," but who are really nice and seem genuine and who might learn more of me (and I of them) over time), an apartment that is sunlit, breezy and walking distance from everything important--the library, the grocer, the museums, The Espresso Garden... time and the ability to paint and take photographs... all of which can be very therapeutic. A deeper sense of honesty with and about myself--I can admit I am disabled, hurting, only able to do so much, and I understand that I need to put myself first (sometimes) and I'm (hopefully) learning how to do that well. An experience that hopefully will somehow someday become something more than just an awful period of my life. And, in my everlasting "position" as teacher, might be made useful to others so that they do not have to experience it themselves or can at least have the tools to survive through it.

I'm just going to count the gains column as heavier now and try to go back to sleep... writing brings me too close to the fire sometimes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Painting at The Espresso Garden


Not only is it inspirational (flowers, fountain, friends), it's a great marketing tool. People, I've found, are curious to see what I'm doing and one woman was so taken by the painting I was still working on that she claimed to want to buy it and want to take a business card from me. Now we'll have to see if she really does come back, but I'll try not to be jaded already.

Of course, I've been working on the piece basically since we had the conversation, discounting the time I spent cooking and eating dinner with Justin.

We calculated and realized that given that today is Wednesday, and that we didn't see each other awake yesterday or Monday (I had a PAG meeting and a photography class those evenings, respectively), and that we spent two hours together on Sunday (I woke him up after three hours of sleep post-call so that he would eat dinner with me), and that he was on call Saturday so I didn't see him at all, and that Friday the only time we spent together was at a concert where I was trying to sell my school supplies in tandem with The Espresso Garden guys, and that Thursday we may have had dinner together, unless that was Wednesday.... we've spent about 5 waking hours together in the last 6 or 7 days.

Woo hoo! Yay third year of medical school! grrr....

I'm so glad I have the refuge of The Espresso Garden, otherwise, the four walls of our apartment would swallow me whole. I don't know what I'd have done if we still lived in suburbia. Depression doesn't cure itself alone.


Olaina After School
I've been awake for three hours and all I wanted was breakfast. So I brushed my teeth. Then I went to get my thyriod medication, which I have to take 30 minutes before eating, but I noticed the plants needed watering. Then I noticed the dishes were in the sink. So I moved them, watered the plants, moved the plants around (watering...) remembered my medication. Did the dishes. Remembered my medication. Actually took it. Remembered there are three other medications I have to take, but that I got some of them yesterday from the pharmacy, so I searched for those. Found my laptop. Tried to work out some edits on my blog, but for some reason they aren't taking. Remembered the medication. Took the medication. Remembered the plants. Sat on the bed. Moved the plants. Returned to the frustrating blog situation. Decided to look to see if Alicia had posted any more entries at SF Chronicle--she hadn't. Checked on Anne Lamott at Salon, nothing new. Remembered I'm starving. Made oatmeal. Remembered I can block out the upstairs neighbor's piano practice if I turn the radio on loudly enough. Remembered I want to give some stuff to teachers, called someone. Remembered I want to watch Being Julia today. Wished we had a couch (sold ours for $100) instead of two chairs. Wondered how much we'd get for the chairs... Decided I'm too hungry to keep writing and should just eat now.

Had wanted to be out of the house by 8 but am still in my pajamas--at 8 I was sitting (still hungry) surrounded by sorted dirty laundry deciding which colors to wash, but that I should wait til Justin gets home so I can wash his dress shirt with the rest...

It's 10 now, and I'm going to eat this oatmeal. Is this major depression, medication side effects, or did I catch ADD from my students? ;)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

the keys to the kingdom

I turned them in today. I felt sick with nostalgia and wistfulness and change when I drove onto that campus and looked up at "my" window that isn't mine anymore, walked around the redecorated room looking for the one more box that was mine, signed the Falconer newspaper dispenser "kNOw greater love... always, Mrs. Anderson" and chatted with two colleagues. When I got to my car I cried, but then Justin called (he said it's fate that makes us work like that) and by the time I treated myself to TWO scoops of Jamocha Almond Fudge ice cream in a cup with a sugar cone and got to Amanda's school so we could drive to the Photo Arts Group meeting in Escondido I wasn't crying anymore.

Plus tomorrow I don't have to go to district meetings, so that's not a bad deal. Though I always liked those.... I liked the camraderie of the meetings. I was such a social butterfly. But now, with the depression, I didn't even want to drop off the keys during the day when I'd see people. I went in the evening on purpose so that I could hopefully avoid everyone I used to work with. Depression is such a strange disease--it really changes who you ARE. and HOW you are. And it is SO much work to control the symptoms.

Anyway, I should sleep now so that hopefully tomorrow will be a "good" day.

The first day of school... for teachers

Yesterday was the first day of school for teachers. I know it's silly, but I have always loved that first day--everyone coming together after a couple of months apart, the hugs, the anticipation of what's to come, the collective dread of the week of meetings with grown-ups and the final sleepless night before the kids' first day of school and the giddiness at finally seeing them come into our classrooms and the rush of getting to know 200ish new people.

But yesterday I didn't go to school. Yesterday I had a crisis of identity. I am still on disability, which began last year, during second semester. A miscarriage meant the loss of my child, and the complications meant the loss of my kids, which deepened the sadness to major depression and anxiety. I missed them so much. That high school was my life--I spent from 6:30ish a.m. to 6:30ish p.m. there most days, and then I came home only to go to a coffee shop to grade papers until 11:30ish p.m., then go home to sleep and start all over again at 5 a.m. Somedays I stayed past midnight--because the newspaper had to come out and they were still editing it.

No wonder, huh?

But there's something about teaching that is magical--getting to know so many people and getting to be a part of such an important part of their lives. Plus I got to be silly in front of a captive audience of 40 just to get them interested in prepositions (which I taught with a box and Tiger). And I could read children's books to teenagers and they responded nostalgicallly with "storytime" enthusiasm while being tricked into learning to identify themes--which is a skill they use later in the year when they read other texts, like Crime and Punishment or Anna Karenina.

And then there's the part that sucked the life out of me. Teaching is a 24/7 job. As an English teacher and a newspaper adviser, I was constantly grading, planning, seeing the world through, "I could use that in my classroom" eyes. My most creative writing (my previous destiny: writer) became college letters of recommendation, which I crafted with the love and attention of a mother telling a stranger about the best of her children--and the eye of a journalist writing a feature story.

Yes, I loved it.

And yes, I grew weary.

But yesterday, when I spent most of the day at various doctors' offices making appointments for various medical needs I was running as fast as I could trying not to think of what all my colleagues were doing with their day.

And today, as I get ready for a doctor appointment, I'm deciding whether I'll put some of those posters from my classroom up around my drafting table in my "studio" which has pushed the living room into a smaller corner of the first room of our smaller apartment (we downsized when I got down-paid--I was supposed to be the breadwinner of the family while my husband went through medical school. Now I have medical bills).

I paint now. And take photographs. And write. In cognitive behavioral therapy it's called "positve distractions." I use those skills that I shared with over 1000 teenagers over the past 7 years. I try to believe there is value in what I create, and in my interactions with strangers I find teachable moments. I still say I'm a high school teacher. I think I will always teach--it just won't always mean that I have hundreds of people (they all came with parents, you know, sometimes several sets) demanding my all.

But if I had a child, that's what I would want too--even though I was only pregnant for a little while, it was enough for me to know the love of mothering. I just wanted that baby to be safe and protected and loved by everyone s/he met. And when I could see those other babys through those eyes it helped me to be more patient with them. And when I see children hurt by their own parents it makes me want to save them somehow. I could do better.

But my job, and really the only thing I can do now, is take care of myself. I need to sleep more, eat more, exercise more (but I also had a lumpectomy on July 6--no breast cancer *whew*--so that therapy has been on hiatus), and love my Self as if I were that baby that never was. Take lots of naps. Accept my very limited endurance. Learn to smile. Take baby steps.

Then maybe soon I'll be strong enough to work again. In the meantime, the doctors have me continuing on disability and appointments galore.

Speaking of which... they get cranky when I'm late, so I'd better be on my way.

Saturday, August 05, 2006