Preparing For the End of Winter

I would like to express my gratitude to all the responses I received from my last post “Struggling Through Winter”. All of your comments were so supportive and helpful. I have read through them more than once. It has eased the feeling of aloneness I felt this winter. It has reminded me, once again, that those of us who struggle with depression and sadness are not alone. I am forever grateful to all of you.

As the daylight hours lengthen I have found I have more energy and interest in the world around me. And, I am beginning to prepare…prepare to move back into my rig and begin the life of a nomad, once again.

I wasn’t sure what direction I was heading when I left the bay and ocean, in San Diego. I kept waiting it out, in hopes that a small “aha moment” would appear and I would have it figured out. I now know my first destination. I am going to driving across the southern United States and then cutting north to Ohio by the second week in March. I leave my rental on February 28th. I will spend a few days at a campground, just to adjust and then I am on my way.

For those who have been following my blog, you may be aware that my one and half year old great nephew, Ward, was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor right before Christmas. After successfully removing the tumor and kidney, he recovered and is now in the process of receiving chemotherapy for several months. His family is adjust to this unexpected time in their lives. This is not an easy adjustment and they certainly can use all the support they can get.

My sister, Grandma to Ward, has been in Ohio  since the tumor was discovered. She is in need of returning home. I am going to be helping my niece and her husband out for a while. I will now have time to meet and get to know my great nephew. I am looking forward to meeting this little one and loving my niece and her husband.

This is what family does for each other. We may not always agree, or get along but when any of us struggle, my family is there to support and love each other. It is my honor to actively support and love this lovely young family.

As February begins to wind down, I am getting busy with my Roadtrek. I am getting it cleaned up and completing  all my little and medium size projects in the rig. I am cleaning, making lists and starting to figure out what I want to take with me and what will return to my storage locker.

Miss Elsie the Cat is making her own checklist. She wants to make sure she has all her creature comforts with her. 

I am looking forward to being on the move. I am looking forward to spending time with my niece and her family. I am looking forward to exploring places I have not been before. I am looking forward to meeting people along the way and visiting with friends. I am looking forward to figuring out my spring and summer. I am looking forward. Looking forward means that depression is lessening and I am entering back into life. Oh I am so glad for this. It has been a long few months.

Next winter I might go to New Zealand so I can experience summer all year around. 🌞

Stay tuned—-Life is picking up.

 

 

 

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Struggling Through Winter

I have struggled, emotionally, this winter. I am not whining, I am not maudlin, I am not anything other than appearing normal on the outside. Inside my brain, my heart and my being has been in overdrive.

From the outside, everything looks fine. I exercise, I eat (well some), I talk nice to others and I feel compassionate and kind. Inside, I am confused, alone and worried that there might really be something wrong with me.

Three months before Jim died, my counselor strongly urged me to try antidepressants. After three and half years of the whirlwind of cancer for both Jim and myself, she and the psychiatrist who recommended the medicine felt that I was emotionally overloaded and depressed. Well, you think? I agreed to try an antidepressant to help get me through a difficult time. The dose started low but we had to adjust it upwards until I reached a dose that was acceptable for me. I come from a buck it up,  grin and bear it kind of family. Weakness is not in our thought process. It took a bit of encouragement to try the medicine.

Five years later I began to talk to the psychiatrist about coming off of the medicine. I mean how do I know that I really need it now that five years has gone by and I am much more together than right after Jim died? How do I know? Last June I began a slow weaning protocol. I did well until September and then I had to go back up on the dose a little. I remained there until I arrived back in San Diego.

Fall and winter are not my best times. I don’t like the shorter sunlit days, and I fight against coming inward and looking around in those quiet and sometimes shadow sides of myself. Winter is a classic time of being inward. I am glad I am at the beach because that has helped with this unguided annual review. Unguided means that I don’t actively seek out the coming within, it just seems to occur.

Did you know that depression is cyclical? I learned this from the psychiatrist. When people come off antidepressants, if a person is in an upswing they usually do well initially until depression once again raises it’s cyclical self. When I tried to take the final plunge to remove the medicine from my body I was in a more depressive cycle so I knew right away that this wasn’t good. My acupuncturist, Gayle, also relayed to me that she does not recommend for a person to come off these types of medicine as we roll into fall and winter.

So here I am, somewhat disappointed in myself that I could not take the final step to stop this medicine. I know it is not a sign of failure but it kind of feels that way, just a little bit.

Depression is nothing to take lightly. I have known others in my life who battle it in a way more severe form than what I am dealing with. It is easy to tell someone to get over it or deal with it or be positive, yet for those dealing with depression, these kinds of statements are painful and unsupportive. What would be a much better response, I think, is to say I am sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? Or even better call them once in a while just to talk. Or even better, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, guide them gently in a different direction. No one wants to be sad or lonely or depressed.

Day at the tidepools-4

My therapist has given me some assignments. So I am trying these while I wait for spring and the longer happier days of that time of the year.

  • Set up a phone date once a week with someone I love and know loves and supports me.
  • Read up on the “Stages of Life”. I guess when you reach my age it is not unusual to review all of your life thus far and try to figure out what comes next.
  • Take my passion and do something with it. I have already been working on this with my photography and creating my web site.
  • Each month pick one thing that brings happiness or contentment into my life. Last month I started a photo a day project. It not only fuels my artistic side but it also gets me outside. this month, I am attempting to finally sit in meditation for five minutes a day.
  • Look for groups that have common interest and join in.
  • The worse thing I can do is to hole up. Each day I try to get out to walk, bike-be in nature. I do it alone and with others.
  • I have also decided to start a journal and write one thing I am grateful for every day.

This is just a sample yet I believe you get the idea.

As I write this Miss Elsie the Cat and I are in Idyllwild, CA visiting a good friend, Mary. This has been the best thing I could have done. I have been able to casually visit with Mary over the past few days. I am out and away and in the mountains. Each day I have been here I have felt better, emotionally. Mary and I are embracing each other’s company, sharing our woes and all our good and interesting times since we last saw each other. It is a marvelous catharsis for us both.

It is hard to admit this type of stuff to yourself. It is hard to admit it to the broader world. I have sat on this post for over a week, wondering if I should reveal this much of myself to the rest of the unknown world. I reviewed some of my other posts and some of them have been just as raw and revealing. Why hesitate here. I believe that depression has a stigma that surrounds it. What if I admit that I am not strong. Well everyone is suppose to be strong all the time, right? Well guess what?  That is not true.

I see this as a continuing part of who I am and dealing with grief. This too shall pass. Maybe, just maybe by sharing this someone else may not feel alone or the odd person out. Well here is a fact so no one has to feel alone, over 350 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression.

I continue to embrace each day with as much fervor as I can muster. Some days that is easy and some days my embrace is just on a tinier scale.  And…I keep telling myself, spring is coming, it is just around the corner.

 

 

A Very Early Morning

Yesterday morning I woke at 4:45 A.M. After attempting to return to sleep, I gave up and laid in bed and listened to the quiet. On a Saturday morning it is so quiet that, even though the ocean is about a mile or two away, I could hear the breakers. What a peaceful and relaxing sound.

There are times I really don’t mind waking up in the wee hours. There is a peacefulness to those hours. It is  time to contemplate and maybe, just maybe, be.

I find that these times are when I feel the most relaxed and comfortable in myself. I am not fighting with thoughts or feelings. Most of my aches and pains (from current accidents) are absent and I can rest. Miss Elsie the cat comes and lays on my tummy. Mmmm, such a special moment with her.

I especially love to hear the ocean as it breaks on the shore. The waves sound giant although they are only 3-4 feet this morning. I imagine a big ocean with great swells, even though it is quiet and the break is good. I love the ocean at it’s wildest moments.

When I was in my OB/GYN rotation, in my nursing program – many, many years ago – I followed a woman through the end of her pregnancy and birth. My mother gave birth in the very early hours of the morning. I remember sitting outside the hospital in Providence, RI just before dawn, smoking a cigarette (yes I did do this) and feeling content, happy, exhilarated and pleased with the whole world around me. Pleased with my self, pleased for a happy mom and dad and content. I listened as the city came alive on another normal day that was magical for a few of us.

The early wakeful morning hours are when magic comes alive for me. I am grateful to be here, relatively in tact and know I have time to stretch into my day a little bit at a time. I have time to read, to play games on my tablet and sometimes just lay there and be content. I like the content part most of all.

I can then stretch into my day at leisure. If I am not too lazy I can get up and catch the sunrise. If I am too lazy I can slowly get the day together. Elsie gets her leash on and goes outside. I have time to contemplate what might be on my agenda for the day. And then the day begins.

Today I will try to remember my sleepless nights and be grateful for the gift it gives.

 

Learning Single

When I was in my early twenties I chose to be single for the rest of my life. I was comfortable with that. My life was one grand adventure and I was in the middle of it. It was a grand time of adventure and fun and learning. Many of my friends were single too, so I usually had at least one person to venture out with.

When I was thirty eight I met Jim. He had to follow me around for almost a year before I realized he was interested. Relationships were just not on my radar.

Jim and I were together for twenty one years before he died of cancer shortly after his sixtieth birthday. And, now I am single again. The adjustment has been interesting, hard and yet doable. Most days I am good and life carries on. Once in a while I get a small wake up nudge about what it means to be in my sixties and single.

  • Most of my friends are involved. They are married, in relationships or just involved in their own life. I am getting used to the fact that I have to make appointments to visit with my friends.
  • When I was part of a couple we were invited to do other “couple” things. Now that I am single, well, I am just not invited to all the things that Jim and I did as a couple. I am not whining, I recognize that this appears to be a societal norm. It makes me wonder if Jim and I did the same thing when we were a couple. I would like to hope not but I can’t say for sure. As a single person in a couples world I am the odd person out.
  • I have to pay more for a cruise or an organized vacation. Seriously, how fair is that?
  • I have to stretch more. Stretch to go beyond my comfort level to do things solo. Some days I am good at this and sometimes I am not.
  • I am not fond of being invisible. I don’t need to be in the limelight but there have been times where I feel invisible as a single person in the crowd. Is this age or self doubt?
  • I have to do all the important “stuff” on my own. Even without a house I have decisions to be made, bills to be paid, repairs that need to be done. If I don’t manage it, then it won’t get done. Often there is no one to confer with and I push forward and make the best decision I can. I have been learning a lot since I have been in my sixties and single.
  • Stumbling alone is not always as much fun as stumbling with someone else. Stumble I do and then I just pick myself up and move on.
  • I miss having someone to talk to, sharing my daily adventures and thoughts. Writing my thoughts and adventures down helps me not dominate the conversation when I do meet up with friends or strangers.
  • I am relearning how to go to dinner or the theater or wherever by myself. I never knew I would have to relearn this.
  • Nature is my best friend. When I feel uncomfortable in this new skin, being outside lets me feel whole and happy and content. I am now up to thirty mile bike rides.

I have come full circle. I wanted to be single in my 20’s and 30’s and now here I am returning to being single in my 60’s. Go figure. Most days I am enjoying my current lifestyle. It helps to have Miss Elsie the Cat. Other days I stumble, feeling humbled by this old and yet new way of being. I don’t always have choices in this life yet I do know that I can manage the choices I have so that I can experience the best of each day.

I believe it is time for a walk.

Last evening Elsie and I had a visitor. Well, I had the visitor, Elsie ran in fear for her life. Cats.

I was walking the beach at sunset when I happened upon an odd scene. There was a sandpiper kind of swimming and kind of drowning in the waves. I noticed that there was a bird of prey stalking it from the air. It would dive down and the piper would duck under the water. It was pretty drowned. I stood near it so whoever thought it might be his dinner would leave. But that bird was determined. It tried picking it up once and dropped it. When that happened I waded out into the cold Pacific and picked that poor drowned rat of a sandpiper up and took it onto the dry sand. I wrapped it in my extra shirt and sat with it for a while. Then I brought it home.

What does one do with a rescued bird? I researched the Project Wildlife web site. They said to wrap it and keep it dry and toasty with the room temperature between 70 and 80 degrees. It wasn’t quite that warm in my studio yet warmer than outside. Interestingly enough they also said not to give it water or food. I converted the bathroom into the nursery. I made sure it was warm and dry and bundled. I turned off the lights, checked on it when I used the bathroom and left it alone.

This morning I unwrapped the poor shell shocked bird. It was really cute. I put a towel down on the floor of the bathtub and decided it was time to check for injuries. That little bird stood up immediately, went to the bathroom and started walking around. I checked his wings and everything looked in tact.

Next stop was my enclosed patio. I unwrapped him. The sandpiper stood up, hopped to the edge of the box and flew. Bye Bye Birdie.

I have some issues regarding what I did. I mean, that hawk needed to eat too. My interference did not allow for the survival of the fittest. As a human being it is hard to stand by and see this whole scene play out. It is even harder when the food source for the hawk is struggling so hard to survive. it easily could have had internal injuries that I could not assess. Did I do the right thing? Maybe and then again maybe not. This morning, however, I felt good to see this little bird recovered and ready to meet another day.

Elsie

is

once again,

glad

to be a

solo pet.

PTSD and Life Experiences

In mid-December I had my annual checkup with my surgeon and oncologist.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My initial reaction to this news was anger, furious anger. I was mad about having my life interrupted by a tiny, small lump in my breast. I believe that the anger masked the fear that this diagnosis instantly creates in most people who receive this diagnosis.

The good news is, that I am now eight years out and going well and strong. Some things changed due to this diagnosis. I watch what I eat, I am not perfect but I manage to pay a bit more attention to my diet. I exercise regularly. And each day I am thankful for one more day on this planet.

Then Jim got diagnosed with cancer. It was different this time. I was not angry. I was strong. Yet when he got diagnosed with the metastasis from the original cancer, I had a different reaction. Even when he was well, I found I was enacting, in my head, how to live without him. It was at this point, feeling guilty for creating this alternate life, that I decided to go into therapy. I still see my counselor for a check up a few times a year. It is good to check in.

When I had my appointment with my surgeon in December, I told him that there are just some months I cannot do my self breast exam. It is fear that stops me. What if I find something? What do I do? How can I do this again? He was the first person to mention that I had a little bit of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). He also informed me that most people, after any major life altering situations, have a bit of PTSD. Wow, I had never heard this before. It makes sense. He told me that it is OK to miss months. It is OK.

It is OK to acknowledge that I am human. It is OK to have PTSD. Giving this unknown stress a name has been helpful for me. Ah, here comes my ally, “fear”. Now I understand a bit more about my ally. The more that I can learn about fear the less of hold it has on me. I refuse to allow fear to take over. I don’t have time for it. As I learn more about fear,  the less it surfaces in my life. Maybe this knowledge will let me be kinder to myself. Hopefully,  I can let go of the guilt when I miss that important exam. Now there is one less hold fear has on me.

I really like my team of doctors. That is important. I love that my surgeon comes in the exam room, sits down and talks with me as if we are old friends. We catch up. We share pictures and stories. He is professional and kind. My oncologist is also a delight. She is smart and wise and she understands that fear. Why? She has had cancer. All my visits end with a hug and I find myself relax and feel like I am being loved and supported. I am ready to face another year.

PTSD is a diagnosis. I have often thought we all are walking wounded. We are wounded from life experiences. It is normal, it is life. We have good wounds and bad wounds. I think the good ones way outnumber the bad ones. Hopefully this knowledge will help me be kinder to myself, and to others, a little more patient and forgiving.

 

A Winter in San Diego

Crystal Pier Sunset

A month passes fast. I have been in San Diego for just over a month. Elsie and I moved into a rental near the beach for three months. It is nice to be able to walk the two blocks to the bay and then in a few miles be at the Pacific Ocean. I have missed “Big Blue”. I walk or ride my bike every day, in between appointments.

 

One of the reasons I moved back to SD was to get “stuff” done. Important stuff but still stuff.

  • Dental appointments, galore -I am on the finishing side of my tooth implant. My close relationship with the periodontist is at an end. He is a nice man yet I will be glad to put this chapter behind me.
  • All my doctor appointments are complete (many appointments in December) and I am good to go for another year. I know this sounds light yet, this is just the sign of relief I feel after being anxious about these annual visits.  I begin to fuss  about two months in advance. After having breast cancer, the trauma does not seem to totally go away.
  • I completed by new web site. It went live about three weeks ago. Go check it out. I am proud of it and if you want to purchase any of my photos it is all on the web site. Your comments are always welcome jarnoldarts.com
  • My storage locker is still there. I am starting to acknowledge that it may be time to get rid of some of the things that are in the unit. I am discovering that absence really does not make the heart grow fonder. I am beginning to realize that many things I kept because of sentimental value. After a year and a half away, the sentiment is growing less with each passing day.
  • I spent several days cleaning and sorting and fixing my Roadtrek RV. I enjoy doing this.
  • My rig is at the RV hospital getting repairs done and getting her physical check-up.

I could go on but you get the idea. The first month has been very busy. I am now finding more days that have nothing on the calendar. I am glad to see that because it means it is time to visit more of my local friends. I will enjoy catching up with everyone.

Another reason I moved into a “sticks & bricks” studio was to test the waters. Is San Diego a contender on the potential list of places to live? I figured that maybe moving in and staying put for a few months might answer that question. The jury is still out.

I have a good core base of friends in San Diego. I now realize that peoples lives move on, even my friends. They are caught up in their own lives, as it should be. I knew this was a possibility when I chose this current lifestyle, yet I miss seeing some of them and being more involved in their lives. You could say the same thing about me. I have changed and grown too. We are all caught up in our own lives. I do know that I need to reach out more and contact my local friends.

I really enjoy everything a large metropolitan area has to offer. I don’t like the traffic. San Diego is huge, the 8th largest city in the United States. It is spread out and rush hour traffic is a major hassle. Try driving it in a larger vehicle. People are impatient, and I get honked at and sometimes the middle finger is raised in salute. I don’t particularly like the hurriedness of it all. Being at the beach has helped. It has a different vibe.

And then there is the cost of living. I have spent some time on the weekends strolling the neighborhoods and stopping into open houses. Wow, the price of homes is amazing, really amazing. There is one that sold across the street from my studio that sold for $1.3 million. Jaw dropping, to say the least. Rentals are not much better. It is a landlords market currently and they can ask whatever they want. Thank goodness for my little rig.

Another reason to even consider this area is the weather. Many of you are currently in a deep freeze. It has been in the high 60’s and low 70’s in San Diego. Every day I spend time outside. I walk, I bike ride and hike and more. I love being able to access the outdoors every day.

Walking the Beach

The diversity of nature here is really a plus. For being such a big city, there is so much to do outside. Yesterday I walked the beach. I can go to the desert and to the mountains and many environs in between. I love this diversity. There are over 52 microclimates in San Diego county. This lends to some great exploring.

So here I am still in the “what do I want to do with this next phase of my life” issue. Who knows, maybe I am already doing it. I love to travel, the RV is certainly a good way to travel in comfort. Yet, I do know in my heart of heart’s that I want to settle into one place again. I am still exploring the where.

And, the jury is still out.