On assuming you know things and being happy and biking

I posted this wonderful article on Facebook last night by The DIY Couturier: 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed.

It was a direct response to one of those interminable articles by happy people on how to be happy just like them (quick sum-up: it’s not luck, stunningly easy access to the upper middle class, or the blessing of well-balanced brain chemistry! Happy people are happy because they are doing things right, and if you just followed their blithely oblivious rules you’d be happy, too) titled The 21 Habits of Happy People, which I will not link to because after reading a few of them my blood began to boil AND I began to die from boredom, which is a uniquely unpleasant sensation I do not wish upon my readers. Also the stock photography was aggressively banal.

Besides the fact that these 21 alternate rules are extremely helpful and well-written and make me feel less alone in this world, I share this article because I want to talk about biking. Yes.

When people hear that I am a year-round bicyclist, I get, mainly, one of three reactions:

  1. You’re crazy! (Often followed by stammered reasons for the person’s failure to bicycle. I am not a bike nut AT you, my dear fellow on this planet; I couldn’t care less if you bike. I do not exist solely to make you feel bad about yourself.)
  2. You’re so brave! (Often followed by even more panicked reasons for the person’s failure to bicycle. If a cripple can do it, she must judge me for not doing it!)
  3. You must have something to prove. (This being Minnesota, this judgment is nearly always couched in alternate but crystal clear language.)

Oh! People are saying. I know you. I know you are crazy. I know you are brave. I know you have something to prove.

And none of these things are true.

I bike year-round because it is fun. I also bike year-round because I am depressed, anxious, and I have an autoimmune disorder. If I do not bike nearly every day, I get sick, I have a flareup, or I become a heinous bitch. I have real and rather personal reasons for bicycling every day, and if I don’t share them with every random person who asks me about the bicycle helmet in my office that’s my prerogative. Speaking out in a chosen time and place (such as this blog) to de-stigmatize mental illness is one thing, but telling someone deeply personal health information who just stopped by to borrow a stapler and wants to get defensive about my reflective vest hanging on the doorknob is another.

When I got my concussion on glare ice this winter (after writing a commentary on the joys of winter biking, ironically), someone actually said to me: “Well, I hope you learned your lesson.”

I’m sure many, many more people thought it.

The only way in which this comment makes any sense is if you are assuming, incorrectly, that you know why I bike.

Well, if you’re reading this, you now know why I ride. I ride for the OPPOSITE reasons of crazy. If I were to ‘learn a lesson’ from this concussion, it would be: do not do things that make you happy and healthy; you might get hurt! Do not fly gloriously over the frozen tundra. Do not take dance classes that make you look silly. Do not try for that job that might be a stretch. Do not write a book that digs into your deepness. Do not ever, ever fall in love.

So, no — I have not learned my lesson, and I hope I never will. Yesterday, even with a very bad head cold, I biked to work for the first time. It was glorious. Even just 25 minutes of bicycling made me start to feel myself for the first time since I fell in early February. Today, I biked again, in the rain. It is now snowing out. If the puddles have not iced over, I’m riding home again.

I bike because it makes me feel solid, sane, and whole. I am working my own 21 Tips in my own way.

Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, as the famous quote misattributed to Plato goes. Be kind.

You work your own tips, and I’ll work mine.

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Sing each verse as if it were the whole song.

I do not believe that God has a plan for me. I do not believe in fate. I do not believe that I am some kind of special creature the universe is trying to teach a lesson. I think if there is a god she cares about and nurtures my potential as much as she cares about and nurtures a gnat’s potential.

But I can choose to take lessons from the patterns around me.

I am currently in EMDR therapy for PTSD. I have been very frustrated after my concussion with the fact that I could not continue the EMDR until I recovered some. “The whole schedule is off,” I’ve scolded. “I was supposed to be fixed by June.”

So, now that I’m healed and can do some EMDR, we worked, instead of on a particular memory, on the idea that I don’t have to see delaying of therapy as a failure of some sort, or even as a setback. I don’t have to be so damn goal oriented, constantly frustrated that I am not all fixed. I can take some pleasure in getting to know myself better, in experiencing self-care, in investigating what makes me tick as much as I would take pleasure in revising an essay, short story, or novel.

I LOVE revising. There’s no reason why I can’t enjoy revising the story of my life and the story of who I am, just for the sake of revising.

Right after the session, I and my boys went to a seder at a friend’s house, and this passage from the haggadah struck me like a gong — I actually felt myself vibrate with it; felt my eyes fill with tears of recognition:

What does this mean, “Dayenu — it would have been enough”? Surely if God had brought us out of Egypt but not divided the Red Sea for us or sustained us in the desert, it would not have been enough. Dayenu means to celebrate each step toward freedom as if it were enough, then to start out on the next step. Dayenu means that if we reject each
step because it is not the whole liberation, we will never be able to achieve the whole liberation. Dayenu means to sing each verse as if it were the whole song — and then sing the next verse!

While I got my own personal message about my experience in therapy, my friend who read it also was in tears. For her, it was the struggle for gay civil rights.

I don’t think God was trying to send either of us a message; I just think some ideas are so universal that we can all find the messages we need to hear inside of them.

Ill-suited

I do not think I am overstating when I say that I have handled having an inexplicable, wildly fluctuating, baffling and mysterious disabling disorder with a fair bit of levelheaded calm. Panache, even. Style. (My wheels and my crutches are sa-WEET.)

This is not how I’m handling my concussion. Not at all.

I wonder. Is it because this is Just One More Thing? Is it because I am a big whiny baby? Is it the constant pain? I am unaccustomed to constant pain.

It is almost funny that this small thing — this temporary thing — has left me bowled over and terrified that I will lose my job, my friendships, my vocation; whereas MS is no big deal.

Or it would be funny if I did not find myself in tears of self pity when I see bicyclists on the road. Self-pity is not a good color on me. It does not suit.

Treasures

photo(6)I have no idea what a non-autistic 10-year-old’s pockets are filled with on laundry day; here is the treasure I found last night in AJ’s pockets:

  1. Two pairs of earbuds, only one of them his
  2. Gorgeous origami paper, the back of which contained directions for making a dove
  3. Five watch batteries (?)
  4. This incredibly detailed drawing he felt so casually about that he folded it up tightly, shoved it in his pocket, and forgot about it

I would bet you seven thousand dollars that if this were a photo of the contents of someone else’s kid’s pockets I’d roll my eyes, yawn, and wonder about how much time other people seem to have.

I went to work for the first time in forever today. I lasted three and a half hours, and my eyeballs are throbbing and my skull hates me. I forgot to eat lunch. It turns out being queasy constantly makes you forget to eat lunch, a lot.

I have yoga tonight and I’m thinking of going, maybe. The yoga web sites assure me that yoga is great for post-concussion symptoms.

Other things yoga is great for:

  1. Everything
  2. that
  3. could
  4. possibly
  5. ail
  6. you.

Hmmm. That seems unbiased and dependable. I’m going!

A scream in the night

Blearily, I head up the stairs tonight to get the boys’ nighttime started. Jan has a thrown-out back and we are both out of it.

I make sure AJ is tucked into my bed with his Kindle (he reads there before bed while his little brother and I read in the other room).

“Bob*,” I call to his little brother waiting in his bedroom as I walk past my bed in my dimly lit room, “what are we reading tonight?”

And then a bony hand grips my ankle.

Now, I have a scream that is legendary. It is impossible for me to control. It is operatic. Horror-movie worthy. It is completely automatic; I have no control over it whatsoever. If you are unfortunate to startle me or be anywhere in the same house with me when I am startled, your ears are going to ring for at least half an hour when I am through with them.

This time, I am more than startled. I am scared.

I scream in horror. I shake.

I look down and poor Bob, who has been hoping for a triumph, looks like he’s wet himself.

“Haddayr?” Jan calls from downstairs.

I can’t breathe to respond, and neither can the boy.

Jan pounds up the stairs, back-be-damned, and sees Bob — still crouched and stricken, and me: frozen in place.

The adrenaline starts to leave my system and I tremble and cry. (One of my signs of concussion: increased emotionality! I KNOW. WHO KNEW THIS WAS POSSIBLE.)

“Bob, you can’t scare Mommy like that,” says Jan, rubbing my shoulders.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry!” he says.

“It’s okay,” I say. “I’m sorry I screamed.”

Jan heads downstairs; Bob and I go into his bedroom to read. I pull back his covers and he climbs in, still looking at me cautiously.

I open the book and take a breath before I begin.

“I forgot about your concussion,” he says.

This kid has been trying to jump out and startle me for years. YEARS. Long, complex scenarios and creeping across old floors that WOULD squeak at the worst moments. Lying in wait forever only to have his giggling or ragged breath give him away.

I put down the book and smile at him. “You got me good, didn’t ya?” I ask. “You got me fair and square.”

He quirks the corner of his mouth. “I did,” he says. “I’m sorry, but.” His grin grows wider. “I DID.”

*Bob is not his real name; it’s the name he, giggling, picked for my new blog and for stuff on MPR. He thinks it’s hilarious, so I have to, as well.

Concussed

I type this looking away from the screen, out the front window where it snows lushly and my neighbor has parked her truck and climbed up her icy, snow-covered steps into the apartment building across the street.

My neighbor is very glamorous; today she wears a pink scarf over her beautiful red hair.

The couch I sit on is shaking from the epic battle going on between Wolverine and The Hulk — a very noisy battle that manages to penetrate my earplugs with piercing sincerity. I have no idea what their quarrel is. Perhaps they simply needed to see who would win. They wanted the challenge.

I have been unable to do much more than sit around staring into space and stewing in my own juices for nearly two weeks now.

Shortly after I delivered my most recent in-air commentary about the joys of biking in winter, I fell on glare ice on my way to work after a freezing rain so suddenly and completely that I didn’t even realize I’d fallen until I heard the sound, like a shot, of my helmet hitting the ice.

Ha ha ha. Irony is funny.

I watched the sky whiz past me for a while, lying on my back and flying so fast down the on-ramp to the Greenway it felt I was a hovercraft. All I could think of were my beautiful, brand-new crutches, strapped to my back underneath me.

Please let them be okay please let them be okay, I thought.

My bicycle slid down the ramp with me, companionably.

After we stopped, I sat up. Whew! That could have been bad! I said aloud. I’ll be more careful. Now I know the ‘wet pavement’ is ice. My crutches weren’t even scratched, the ice had been so slick. All I felt was relief and a bruise starting on my hip.

The chain had jumped and jammed; I fiddled with it and got it back on. Rode shakily along the smooth, slick Greenway for one exit and then got on Lake Street where the motorists, if annoyed by my presence, had at least warmed the asphalt.

Got to work. Ran the beginning of the staff meeting. About an hour after the accident, began to feel very, very queasy. Uh oh, I thought. I’m getting that stomach flu that’s going around.

I was not; I had a concussion.

And I still do, two weeks later.

It’s my fourth or fifth one, and from what I’ve been able to read since then (admittedly I can’t read much), the more concussions I get, the easier they’ll be to get from relatively light blows to the head and the harder they’ll be to get over.

For now, I’ve been able to tolerate very small amounts of work from home, I’ve gone into work for a few very hours (which I immediately regretted). I cannot really look for long at a computer screen. I cannot multitask, which makes me feel like I’ve lost a limb. Loud noises and light hurt my head (the battle on the couch next to me rages on). I am slow. Stupid. Irritable. Unpleasant. Things which brought me joy (companionship, whiskey, reading, old episodes of Deep Space Nine) now overwhelm me and fill me with misery.

Pretty much all I’m good for is sorting laundry or sleeping. MAN I’ve gotten good at sleeping. I am a champ.

Often, when people have something fundamental to themselves taken away, they have some sort of spiritual awakening. Some sort of self-awareness. Some deeper connection to the world or to themselves, due to enforced solitude, stillness, and a break in the routine.

Here is what I have discovered: I AM INCREDIBLY BORING.

When I am not in relation to other people, there is just not really much going on in here, folks.

The battle on the couch has been decided; I believe it was a draw. My noisy children (how did I not realize how incredibly incredibly noisy they were before, I wonder) have been banished upstairs to clean their room.

I am left to sort laundry and contemplate the gorgeous snow. Light bad. Snow pretty.