Dear Family, Friends, Coworkers, and Random Drivers Going 58 in the F*(#!&@ Fast Lane:
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my state of mind this past week.
You’ve noticed that I’ve been on edge. Stressed out. Tense. I’ve given curt, overly blunt responses to innocent, honest questions. My personal volume’s been elevated by at least two clicks, and if I had this ability, there’s be a ton of ashes to scatter right now:
I’ve been…prickly? No. More like…stabby. Yeah. Slightly stabby. And while you may be feeling a bit put out by my abrasiveness, all the $#!ts I give about that are right here in this basket I’m not holding:
After much analysis – you know, dissecting those feelings, sitting with ’em, letting the thoughts marinate while I take long-distance bike rides and rip the life out of unwelcome weeds in my garden – I’ve identified what’s going on.
So I’ve been working to understand WHY I’m feeling this way. Because if I have a REASON, I can FIX it, and subsequently feel better, right?
Generally, life has been good to me, I know. But there are a couple of things lately that are making me feel like a cat you’ve pet backwards from tail to head. And it’s not for things like Words with Friends disqualifying PERFECTLY LEGIT words (though admittedly, that’s mildly irritating):
No, there’s some marginally less superficial shiz going down here.
First, I was angry because we were at my in-laws last weekend. And while you should know that I love them dearly, visiting them is a challenge because of the massive amount of temptation everywhere. And by “temptation,” I mean FOOD. Cookies (three freshly-baked varieties) and rich desserts and meaty entrees. Nuts and chocolate in little jars on the table, out in the open for the taking at any time you just want a bite (yeah, right, one bite) of something salty or sweet. And, because the hubs and his entire family – his teenage boys and his mom and dad in their 70s – are tall and lean, they can all partake heartily in all of this delicious, glorious food, just because they want it.
And I was angry because EVERYONE GETS TO EAT ice cream cake and fried fish and buttered potatoes and I do not. And it’s HARD sometimes – especially when they have a ginormous meal at noon, WITH dessert portions that contain at least half my daily caloric allowance, and then have another plate FULL OF FREAKING RIBS for a SNACK (a snack!!) at 3:00 and I have to pretend to be happy with a bowl of watermelon.
I was mad. Angry mad. Because life is unfair when it comes to food, and I’m never, ever going to be the kind of person who can walk past an ice cream store, think “hmm, sounds good,” and eat a simple cone and have that be the end of it – no drama, judgement, or guilt. The scale is my probation officer who commands me to report in almost daily; dalliances are immediately evident and the punishment is severe. Best not to tick her off.
So why else?
I’m angry because the hubs has been somewhat distant this week. That’s partly because he’s trying to be respectful of me “needing my space,” and partly because my vibe this week’s been pretty much “touch me and die.”
But he’s also been working on writing me a letter.
What about? His quest to explore his spirituality. (Or lack thereof.) He’s been crafting a letter to me explaining how he feels about the Bible in general.
And I have zero – ZERO – interest in reading this.
Why? A number of reasons:
1. I already know how he feels about it. He’s made it abundantly clear – in his choice of T-shirts, his bumper stickers, his inability to refrain from rude comments….I get it. I know. You’re not on Team Jesus. Copy that, loud and clear, bro.
2. I’m not in a good place for this right now. WE’RE not in a good place for this. I still can’t hear your opinions on the subject without feeling personally attacked; you’re not in a headspace where you can communicate these issues without a ton of editorial emotion; and frankly, I’m still not over the whole Ashley Madison thing, so giving me more reason to feel like we can’t bond, to realize that we might not ever again be close….Let’s just say now is not the time. I still feel like I’m being emotionally waterboarded over here. I need time to breathe. Our relationship needs time for the glue to stabilize and set a bit before you start using this newly repaired vessel as a cocktail shaker.
3. It’s hella long. It just feels like…work. Like writing-your-Affirmative-Action-Plan work. Which is somewhere between <snoooooooooooore> and PLEASE SHOOT ME.
In other words, I just don’t have the energy to bring this festering lump to a head and clean up the mess when it ruptures and oozes all over the place.
Not right now.
Because I’m also angry that my Dad started hospice care last week.
We’ve known it was coming. He’s been slowly withering away for the last nineteen months, losing weight, eating less, getting out of bed less often. If you haven’t lived through something like this, you likely underestimate the stressful state of limbo this puts you in.
Every morning, you check your phone for news: Nope. Not dead yet. And you get on with your day. Eventually, you get accustomed to this as the status quo, and you work with it.
But once you call in hospice, you know you’re racing the final lap. No more pit stops; the checkered flag’s somewhere in front of you. But the road’s all wavy and bendy, like the heat mirage on the highway in July, and you really don’t know how much further you need to go before the path ends and it’s finally over. And every day you preface work, kid activities, and other commitments with “…unless something happens to Dad.” And people nod somberly, and they understand.
And your heart breaks a little more each day.
And the light of your soul just isn’t quite as bright.
And the steel of your armor rusts, bit by bit, until the things you’re shielding yourself from start to leak through.
Mom called hospice two weeks ago. Dad isn’t getting out of bed any more. And he isn’t eating, though he’s still taking fluids.
So it can’t be too much longer.
But, so far, it hasn’t been today.
Dad had a birthday on Friday. Since I live 1000 miles away, I had to mail a card. I already hate greeting cards, because most of them are either insipidly saccharine or blatantly insulting:
Syrupy Sentiment: Cards that rhyme make me want to shove lit cigarettes into my eyeballs – there’s a reason Dr. Seuss isn’t required reading past the first grade, people:
My love for you is like a song
In my ears, where you belong
My heart will sing it night and day
I hope to marry you someday
Ridiculously Ridiculing: Birthday cards no longer read “Let’s Celebrate” – they’re all about “ha ha, you’re old, and I find that funny.” Here comes the fire department to put out your cake, isn’t that hilarious? (No, but if you send me some shirtless firemen, I might forgive you, just a bit, especially if they bring cake.)
And just try to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t refer to beer, farting, or both. Unless it’s one from the cotton-candy sticky-sweet category, you won’t find it. (I’d insert some examples, but yuck.)
So finding a decent card is tough. Now find one for your Dad when he’s terminally ill. Remember, this is probably the last card that you will ever buy for him. So no pressure.
Dad likes funny pictures of animals, so I headed to that section first in an attempt to find something lighthearted that would make him smile.
Here was my first pick:
I put it back and picked up this one:
Seems appropriate – especially when I tell you that Dad had an orange tabby named Blondie before us kids were born. And every time he sees an orange tabby ANYWHERE, he says, “Looks like Blondie!” (Yeah…. Every. Single. Time.) So, hey, here’s Blondie in his fifteen minutes of fame, great card, let’s send it!
And then I opened it. And HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
<snort> I AM TERRIBLE.
Laugh or cry, right?
OK, highly inappropriate. If it were my mom, or ME, this might fly. But Dad’s more of a sentimental, emotional guy, so I settled on a fairly innocuous card with a smiling nun on it that simply said “Happy Birthday” inside. (Because, since he was raised Catholic, nuns are also funny. We get him the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar every year.)
And he lived long enough to get it. So there’s that.
So that’s why I’m angry.
Because I’m really…sad.
And I can’t control feelings like sadness. OK, full disclosure, I’m not really great with taming anger, either, but it feels more powerful to me.
And power means control.
And you know what I can control?
What I eat.
All this stress has been remarkably effective in helping me control my weight. Today, I stepped on the scale, and saw a number I haven’t seen since high school. A number lower than when I was unwell a few years ago and lost weight almost by accident.
Not much lower.
But the hubs actually noticed, as witnessed by this random text he sent this week:
I can’t control what happens to Dad. His itinerary is non-refundable; the only variable is the arrival time.
I can’t control how my spouse feels about things. I can’t make him more accepting of other viewpoints. I can’t force him into a mindset of “live and let live.” I can’t make him see that he’s destroying us, comment by comment, shirt by shirt, letter by letter. He’s asked what he can do…but I already told him, and he’s no longer DOING it. So what’s the point in adding to the bucket of unmet expectations? It’ll just glop out onto the linoleum and be another mess for me to mop up.
I can’t control the overwhelming sadness. This emotion is foreign to me; it feels like an unwelcome parasite, sapping my soul, draining my energy. It trips me up at random times during the day, jumping out from dark corners, startling me into spilling hot coffee onto my hands. It reminds me that it’s here. That I can’t get away from it.
I can’t escape, but I can hide. I can duck behind something I know. Something I can predict and control.
I’ve made myself a disguise: hunger.
Hunger I expect. Hunger I understand.
When you eat less, you feel hungry.
It’s black and white. Concrete. Reliable.
So I’ll wear the anger blanket instead of the sadness scarf. It goes much better with the hunger hat that I’ve invested so much of myself into buying.
It’s a classic; I’ve worn it for years. I don’t know what I’d look like if I had to replace it.
And when the temperature rises, and I’m no longer chilled by the icy emotions that threaten to overtake me – when they’ve been replaced by that gnawing, familiar, hollow, empty nothingness of hunger – I can take off the blanket for just a little while.
I can be a few pounds less angry.
I can remain in control.