Practicing What I Preach

Have you ever found yourself giving others the same advice to the point that there was a clear theme? That’s where I am. I have been telling my friends that, when their external situations are spinning out of control, the real long-term answers can only come from within. They want me to tell them what to do and I don’t have a clue.

Now I am taking my own advice. I feel like my own life is spinning out of control. I have zero control over Barry’s health, when the house sells, when the couple of new windows get installed, etc. I realized yesterday that I was getting seriously depressed again. I so hate this life I am living and pretending that I am okay with things as they are is simply not working. I felt how desperately unhappy I truly am. So I am meditating more and just listening (hard!) to what’s going on inside me. I don’t want to miss any intuitive guidance should I receive any.

I haven’t received any visions, but when I woke up this morning, something had shifted. I am now investing my time and energy, as much as possible, on my future. I am done investing my precious resources on a situation I have no interest in prolonging.

One thing I am doing is to not sit around and watch much TV with Barry. I always have abundant reading material and he needs to get accustomed to watching TV without me. I plan on working after the move. If Barry needs adult daycare, then every penny I make shall go towards that, but the point is clear: I will work and get a career going.

My life needs meaning beyond being someone’s long-term, never-ending, maritally-bound caretaker. Every time I start to think about when Barry will die, I do something that will prepare me and/or the house for the move. I am channeling my emotions towards something I actually have some modicum of control over.

Spending time getting behind my thoughts and just witnessing them has not granted me any life-altering visions. What it has done, however, is give me the emotional space to process what I am feeling and allow reality to transform my life, as opposed to me just acting like a good little victim, which is what I was raised to be.

I feel that I have little choice. When the outer world is chaotic, true direction can only be found by going within. This is true for everyone, including me.

Letting Life Take the Lead

More medical drama. Last week the doctor’s office called and said that Barry did have a nodule on his thyroid, but it didn’t look cancerous. Picking up on the disbelief in my voice, the person said, “This is good news.” I know that, without a biopsy, they simply cannot know for certain that the nodule is not cancerous. But…OK. I’ll take it.

Barry has told me that he would get a biopsy for me. Uh, no. That is not what I want. If he were 20 years younger and weighed 30 pounds more and the Huntington’s hadn’t started, I would probably insist on one. But there is no point now. If it is not cancerous, then I just made him have one for no reason. On the other hand, if it is cancerous, he would probably not treat anyhow, having gone through the whole surgery, chemo, and radiation regimen 7 years ago. I am only interested in keeping comfortable at this point.

The doctor’s office freed me from spending this fall feeling obligated to make Barry undergo tests he probably wouldn’t want to do anyhow. I can focus on doing household things. For example, this past Thursday, my mom and I did some serious digging and loping in the back yard.

I had let go and this is most likely the best outcome. I shall continue to do so.

I am learning to live in that space behind the thinking mind that just watches everything. Zen helps. I am learning to let go of anything disturbing. Answers don’t come when I feel crazy anyway.

Found an Answer

I didn’t know what to do about knowing Barry has nodules, not knowing if they are cancerous, him not wanting to know what’s going on, etc. I’ve decided to take zero initiative.

I was like, “OMG. What do I do? Do I call, write, or email the nurse practitioner to give some context? Do I push? Do I ignore things? What if they call? What if they don’t call?” I was going a little crazy.

I’ve decided that if the doctor’s office does not call us, I will not call them. I am allowing Barry and the medical providers to take the lead. I am taking Barry’s cue. I mention that I saw something on the ultrasound and he doesn’t even ask what I saw. Wow. There are two basic reasons people don’t ask questions: 1. They don’t want to know the answer, or 2. They already know the answer. I believe Barry is consciously acting on level 1 and subconsciously acting on level 2. I will allow things to progress on their own, whatever that means. It’s hard to just sit back and watch, but I don’t want to violate Barry’s free will.

No matter what the problem is, at least part of the solution seems to be letting go. Funny how that works. “Resistance is futile.”

Secret Knowledge

I don’t know what to do.

This past Wednesday, I took Barry to a thyroid sonography appointment. He was horizontal on the table and the sonographer was semi-over him taking pictures. I was sitting nearby (filling out forms) and could see the monitor of what was being scanned. The view was excellent and the image sharp.

What I saw: plenty of nodules on the thyroid. The sonographer would find a few and take multiple perspectives, sometimes adding color that I am sure represented something.

Does this mean they are cancerous (malignant)? Not necessarily. But Barry has some huge risk factors for cancer of the thyroid: he has had cancer previously and also major head-and-neck radiation to deal with said cancer. Barry is not a pre-menopausal woman with thyroid sluggishness. He is a 63 YO male with a history of cancer and a TSH level over 9. Something is wrong, even if it isn’t cancer.

I casually mentioned that I saw something on the sonogram. He did not inquire. Is he living in denial? Could anyone blame him?

What kills me is acting like everything is fine and routine. The last time he had questionable test results, they didn’t contact us until the following Monday afternoon. La-la-la-la-la.

I want a life where I don’t have to pretend. I am tired of acting like I don’t feel things I do feel, like I do feel things I don’t feel, like things are normal when they are anything but, like I believe or think things that I don’t anymore, like I don’t see the bigger picture when I do, like I don’t see the train coming even as I try to discreetly get myself off the tracks. I want to live a life of integrity. Is such a thing even possible?

 

Mudslides Putting Out Wildfires

Drama, drama, drama.

Barry had blood work done and his PSA and TSH were very high. I thought the cancer might have come back. We’re pretty sure the prostate doesn’t have cancer, but the thyroid we are unsure about.

A high TSH means the thyroid is not working, and this is likely due to the ridiculous amount of radiation he had when he had tonsil cancer. One of the signs of low thyroid is weight gain. Obviously, Barry is incapable of weight gain. For years, he was losing weight and it freaked me out. And then…the weight loss mysteriously stopped. Now we know why. The low thyroid may have saved his life for a few years.

Years ago, Johnny Carson once joked that the mudslides in California had put out the wildfires. He was such a smart ass that he made an excellent comedian. The point was painfully true. This problem over here could possibly solve that other issue over there. The low thyroid prevented the Huntington’s from causing weight loss. Tell me that’s not funny.

So now he’s on Flomax and Synthroid, for the high PSA and TSH, respectively. The Flomax can only help. The Synthroid…I’m not so sure about. What if his thyroid kicks back in and he starts losing weight again? I told him that if he starts feeling more energetic to eat more.

Doing lots of letting go. Of assumptions, expectations, plans, desires, etc. Life is insane. I can’t make plans because I have no idea what’s going on. This is not doable long-term. People want to know what my plans are. How would I know?

Even I Can Breathe Consciously

I am seeking a practical spirituality. It is much harder than I thought it would be.

Even watching a PBS special with Deepak Chopra, he said that a couple of the requirements for developing higher-level consciousness are lower stress levels and not being too busy. Well, duh! And I had such hope. It is definitely much easier to feel spiritual when not in the midst of trauma.

Yesterday, however, I bought the latest issue of Shambhala Sun. There is an article from Pema Chodron about conscious breathing. It helps to provide the emotional and spiritual space in which good decisions can be made. Now, that’s what I call practical spirituality!

I have to handle various situations that life presents to me—at life’s discretion and timing, not mine. My control level over the events in my life is minimal. Today, the window guy called and wanted a deposit. I don’t have checks, so I ran to the credit union and got a cashier’s check to pay him in full to replace our crappy living room and bedroom windows. What part of this situation do I have any control over? I was not in charge of when he called, when the credit union was open, or when he came to pick up his check. He will go to Menard’s and order the windows. Obviously, I am not in charge of the inventory at Menard’s. And then, finally, when the windows do arrive, I will be completely and utterly dependent on my parents to babysit Barry while the windows are installed (because the process is disruptive with people going in and out of the house, along with the noise and dust).

But I can consciously breathe. And it helped today. It helped me to literally “take a breather.” The weather has been amazing, upper 70s and lower 80s. There is a certain poignancy in late summer/early fall. I can maybe even enjoy parts of today and approach things with more equanimity. Who’d a’thunk it?

I really want to go on retreat, sesshin, or whatever. I need a break—desperately. It’s just not an option right now. But I can breathe consciously. Thank you, Pema.

Looking for Practical Spirituality

I am in a very practical phase of my life. I need help getting done the things that must get done.

Who has helped? My parents. They have given me a car (not new, but infinitely more reliable than my lemon). And my mother, in particular, is freakishly helpful. She can do an amazing and downright bizarre variety of home-related activities. She raised us kids while my dad drove truck. She was basically a married “single mother.” She has been invaluable lately. And, as near as I can tell, she has no spiritual foundation whatsoever.

This is my life contradiction: spirituality versus practicality.

I read spiritual books, meditate, all that good stuff. And I get so frustrated. Everything I read recommends solitude, silence, and even long-term retreats. I wish I had those options. I have a sick husband and a house to sell. I do not have the option to go on retreat. Period. No discussion.

I am suffering what is called “compassion fatigue.” I’ve seen it compared to PTSD. That’s because the demands are unrelenting. I don’t get a break. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

What is my concept of the “real world”? To me, the real world is filled with needs: food clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, etc. You don’t talk to someone who is hungry about meditation, for example.

The other, less discussed, aspect of the real world is the reality of impermanence. Humanity has a 100% mortality rate. We will all die. It is weird to talk to people who clearly believe they will last forever. Business leaders that do not create succession plans put their legacies in danger. Absolutely everything you own, when you die, will get divvied up amongst others. You are way better off giving stuff away while the control is still in your hands.

The closest thing I have found to a practical spirituality is minimalism. By being realistic as to what you can realistically use in your lifetime, you can be truly generous to others. A single adult needs almost nothing: a cup, a bowl, a spoon, a knife, a sauce pan, a skillet, a few clothes, some basic medicines, a phone, a bus pass, a roof over their head, and enough food to not starve. By knowing what is not necessary, one can give to others. Think about people like Bill Gates. Eventually he and his wife created a foundation and have given away a ton of money. After all, how many houses can one live in? How many cars can one drive? Oprah has given away a lot herself.

I try to be generous. Sometimes, I don’t have anything to give. No time. No energy. No sanity. No listening ear. Other times, I can give my friends rides to work when their cars are in the shop, protein while they are studying, that type of thing.

Giving has to be reality-based. What does the person really need right now? That means meeting them where they are, not where you think they should be. When people are traumatized, they may not respond in a way you approve of. A listening ear doesn’t pay the rent.

My parents are reality-based. They have given me real help. They don’t take basic needs and ask me if I have prayed about them. They don’t give me Precious Moments/Veggie Tales answers to excruciating questions. Sometimes, people with no religion at all are kinder and more generous than those folks that pat themselves on the back for how “holy” they are. That has been one of the more painful realizations I’ve had in the past few years.

I would love nothing more than to go on sesshin or to a retreat center. I would love to live in the silence. Solitude is a fantasy of mine. It will truly be a luxury when my life is actually about me. What a concept.

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