MAGICAL THINKING

WHAT IS REAL?

I realized a big truth about myself. In dealing with physical problems, I think I can will them away by continuing whatever my behavior has been. It should be clear by now after 76 years, things do not just happen or disappear because of willing it away. Mind and body must be in some type of harmony, plus pains pop up just by the aging process alone.

If I think back, the first big event were stomach aches as a kid that came and went. At around age 16, with my father in a 30-day fancy rehab from drinking, my mother and I looked at apartments to move into since we both knew he was never going to let go of his bottle. We looked at dozens of apartments with no success. Doing this seemed to release something in both of us. For me, it was a need to be free of the stress of his presence that disrupted all our lives. For my mother, it was a fantasy that she was doing just for my benefit. Every four or five months, this ritual was repeated as Daddy once again pushed the boundaries of his alcoholic journeys. His brother, my Uncle King, rescued him by sending him into a 30-day separation from home, where he was given good meals, smaller drinks every so many hours, consultations on what to do when he finished this stage and was alcohol free. We in turn lived waiting for the shoe to drop when he was to return home as he always did. For 30 days, I enjoyed the quiet and peace of our home. My mother wanted things different, but she didn’t have the strength, fortitude or the money to just move away. So, I learned early if you want something, you must get it yourself. I also learned do not trust parents or doctors.

Now, when Daddy was to return home that night, my stomach that I had nursed all day long with a hot water bottle, was worse than ever. Around 7 pm, my mother called our doctor, who did house visits. He diagnosed a case of stomach flu. My feeling was if I had just a stomach flu, I could go bowling as I had planned with my friends. She agreed, but asked that we stop at the hospital which was one block away and have it looked over. I agreed and found myself admitted as a patient with an appendix due to burst at any moment. Surgery was performed at 1 pm that night. I had a week in the hospital out of the house.

In my 20s, I had constant problems with gums hurting or toothaches, but I ignored the pain, because dentists weren’t for me. I could grit my teeth and bare this if I had to and I wasn’t about to see a dentist. I spent a lot of my 20s in discomfort. At work, no time off for doctors was allowed at the insurance agency where I was employed. One Saturday, when my abscessed tooth was beyond painful, I had it extracted. It took a week before the swelling went down, but I missed no days. When I was married, I decided I needed a regular dentist. When I found one and he said I needed fillings for the many cavities I had, I decided I would do a few of them, but that’s it. After I had several of them filled, any pain from future cavities was treated with wax from candles. I simply made up my own fillings for that period.

In my 30s, I had been working at my law firm only about a year and the old toothache feeling came back. Nothing worked. I had to go on an emergency basis as always to a dentist. He told me I needed a root canal. I said I couldn’t get time off, but he had already called my boss, who said of course, I could have this done.

In my 40s, I began having lower back pain problems from too much running. The orthopedist said I had a herniated disc. Then I got into playing tennis and hurt my elbow. Joint pains were springing up all over the place. I wasn’t giving up running but I could give up tennis. Unfortunately, I had already hurt the bursa in my arm. For a year and a half, I suffered trying everything to avoid surgery. Finally, I had the bursa removed completely even though the doctor explained to me if I fell, I would have no protection at all on the elbow. When my house burned down in my mid-40s, and I was almost hysterical when I realized my dog had died, the pain in the other elbow started. Just like that. For a year and a half, I tried everything to relieve it including many cortisone shots (in those days, you were given full strength ones). Seven shots later, I had the surgery and had that bursa removed as well. He said the muscles had crunched up on each other because of the traumatic event of both the fire and my dog dying.

My 50s had me running again, but no long distance this time. I ran smaller events, and this worked for a while, until it didn’t. The body cannot be abused because the mind is fighting its own problems. No harmony inside of me. I had left a long-time relationship, moved out into a singles world I didn’t really like, and tried to pick up my life and just move forward. I was at a singles dance one Friday night sitting by myself and feeling down and out. Suddenly I had this feeling come over me. It was that whether I was alone or with someone, I was going to be okay. I learned later this deep sensation is called an epiphany. It was a tremendous feeling of joyfulness like I would be okay in my life.

In my 60s, I had discovered spinning classes which I loved. I had left running behind after 34 years because of my back issues. However, I did take up fast walking and did this most days at lunches. I ran up and down the steps at work as well for exercise. At age 68, in 2010, for two months I suffered all the classic symptoms of heart problems which I ignored. My father and his two siblings dropped dead from heart attacks at age 52 for Dad; his twin brother at 41; and my Aunt Mary at age 60. Since I never smoked, and my drinking was limited to a glass or two of wine occasionally, I couldn’t believe it when my doctor said I needed to go into the hospital for an angiogram. I was angry when he showed me the results of the stress tests. He said it looked to him like I had at least two clogged arteries and I needed to go set up an appointment immediately with Washington Hospital Center. He called the doctor for me to talk to him. I walked out of the office and never talked to anyone. Fortunately, my doctor called the doctor and made me the appointment the following Friday. I had reservations to visit my NC grandchildren that day and wanted to postpone this. My doctor called me and said do you want to die in front of them? My sister drove me there at 9:30 am that Friday. We sat and waited until 3 pm with many people going in and out. I was in a lot of discomfort at that time. Felt a bit like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I marched down the hall to the nurses’ station and said when were they taking me in because I was tired of waiting and my chest was bothering me. I knew it was only my esophagus problems but still I was doing what my doctor wanted. The nurse marched me right back onto a cot, sitting me down with oxygen shoved into my nose. It was heavenly. I said I couldn’t believe oxygen was the cure for all my esophagus problems. She said you are in the biggest denial of your life. Your heart is not hurting; it is like a plant needing water. It is dying. At that point, I was wheeled into the room where the angiogram was performed. It is a quick test, or it was that day. I thought it would be a waste of time and I would be going home. I was told I had four arteries blocked all in the 90 to 95% range although one artery was 99% blocked. I was in serious trouble, but I felt removed from it. Like this cannot be happening to me. I think this is the magical thinking aspect of myself. Maybe it is the way I protected myself from my father and his behavior and the abuse growing up. I don’t know. I do know I spent that weekend in the hospital walking up and down the heart ward which was large thinking why am I here? On Sunday night, my sister left and said she would be there before I went into surgery at 7:30. As she got on the elevator, I said I wish I were going with you. I felt tears behind my eyes, but I never allowed any out.

The next day and the days following were all tough, but I do well when life is tough. I try to get through and survive which I did. I do pay more attention to my heart and I am doing fine now.

This last couple of years has been tough as I learned I have an eye disease and will require new corneas, so I do not lose my sight. My surgery might be in the new year. None of this seems real to me but my eyesight is not the best. I will do what I must at my own pace. I have an excellent doctor at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I kept hoping it was all a mistake, but my symptoms fit the bill when I researched Fuchs Dystrophy.

Now I must deal with ignoring my teeth for years. My front tooth must be removed. It is fractured, and I have a gym infection that is extremely serious. I have let it go for nearly a year because I didn’t understand it wasn’t going away. It doesn’t hurt, but because I waited, I will have to have a denture put in for now and later an implant. Cannot keep ignoring my body in this way. It has served me well, for so many years and I seem to be abusive to it. I am not sure what this is about, but I am uncomfortable with the attention of bad health.

If I am uncomfortable with bad health, then why am I not pursuing good health? I lost weight over the last eight months by doing various things. My eating is limited, and I hate cooking. I tried to eat more salads, less junk food. I do have a sweet tooth that I struggle to discipline. I do not want to be ruled by sugar. I have lost almost 20 lbs. but much of it is through strenuous exercising.

My mother hid in her illnesses. She relished them, exploited them to some degree to get attention. My father hid in his alcohol abuse. What am I hiding in? Do I feel I need to control my body to do what I want because a lack of control shows weakness of some type? What steps do I need to take to figure out the direction necessary for myself? Who am I really? What do I have to give to myself and others? Is there other ways to learn that I haven’t sought out yet?

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