The One About the MRI

Months ago, I was in so much pain that I rushed myself to Urgent Care, crying and shaking because my shoulder hurt so bad. I was told to follow up with my doctor because I needed an MRI to see whether it was just a strain or something more serious- a tear, which requires surgical intervention. I didn’t, because I was prescribed a course of narcotics, and by the time I was finished with it and only needed Aleve sporadically, it seemed “unpossible” that it was bad enough for a follow-up. My range of motion was back to normal, and I went back to ignoring it, because I thought I could…. the pain went away on its own.

I should have been more vigilant, because I’ve dealt with this sort of pain for years, not realizing it was my rotator cuff and getting massages to “work out the knots.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is what happens when you’re a doctor’s kid. You make uneducated guesses because you think you’ve picked up actual medical knowledge by osmosis. I know exactly how it started. Working in a medical office is fast and furious at times, and every time I left a patient room, I was carrying the chart in my right hand and closing the door with my left. The way I exited, the door ended up being behind me, and it was an awkward reach, but faster than closing the door like a normal person. Later on, the pain came back, because I was cooking professionally all the time and reaching for heavy pots and pans that would invariably put pressure on the already sensitive areas.

Now I’m back in excruciating pain, and decided that seeing a real MD was better than my own less-than-perfect education.Ralph Wiggum I can’t just do occasional courses of narcotics forever, and it should have set off alarm bells that I needed Aleve and Tylenol so often. I have now come to believe that Ralph Wiggum would have made better decisions than me. As Ralph would say, “I’m bembarassed for you!”

Just because I worked in my stepmom’s office for a while doesn’t mean much. I learned a ton, but it’s just not the same. Duh, Leslie. The stupid, it burns…. I feel like the moral equivalent of this picture. Even Ralph went to the doctor, who told him he “wouldn’t have so many nosebleeds if he didn’t keep his finger up there.” Now that’s some sound medical advice.

I went to the doctor on Monday, and he wrote me a referral to imaging. The next available appointment wasn’t until today. Dr. Akoto said he wanted to see me back in a week, but I think I’m going to call him and reschedule for next Wednesday, because imaging told me that the radiology report probably wouldn’t be back by Monday since my appointment with them isn’t until 2:15.

If I’m honest, I’ve put this off because even though fixing a rotator cuff tear is quick and easy, the recovery is, in a word, not. I know the Nassers will be great about helping me. They’ve become my adopted family and we’d do anything for each other. But even though I know this logically, I have been at a loss emotionally. I feel alone, even though I am certainly not. I am in a very small place, whimpering for my mommy as consistently as I did when I was five.

I had to come to a place of peace regarding it, because it’s not a problem that will ever be fixed. Today has been about saying “get over it” to myself. Just because I can’t complain to my mother doesn’t mean I don’t need to put on the gangsta rap and get it handled. Longing for a dead person does me about as much good as sticking my head in the sand and hoping my problems will go away on their own.

I have, in effect, created my own multitude of problems, and am now digging myself out. There is, I suppose, something to be proud of in that. Self reliance can be a beautiful thing, although sometimes I feel like I rely on myself too much without letting other people in.

Luckily, I realized this and talked to Dan on the phone (look at me! I called someone!). She thanked me for being vulnerable and reaching out, which felt like a hug from Jesus. She’s not as physically close as the Nassers (she lives in Virginia), but her “just checking in” texts mean so much.

It also helps that I don’t drive, and that public transportation is excellent…. because nothing would be worse than being tempted to drive with one arm. Generally, one accident leads to another because even though you’re just doing normal things, you’re already off-balance.

And lastly, I can’t help but feel that my mental health has allowed my physical health to go by the wayside, because I am just not on the ball with following up. I’m not too depressed to do so, I’m so ADHD that keeping up with my to-do list is often overwhelming to an enormous degree.

Today, I’m on top of it. I will schlep myself over to imaging even though it’s snowing and I’m cold AF. I will schlep myself to the doctor next week because it’s an A-list priority. I used to be a Franklin Covey disciple, but that fell by the wayside when I stopped using pen and paper. I am sure there’s a ton of software to replace it, but I’ve settled for Google Tasks. It is very good in terms of remembering things, but there’s really no way to add priorities as well. The best I can do is add due dates, and I am way too good at the snooze button.

Speaking of the snooze button, now it’s really time to stop writing and get ready. I may be a little afraid of the results, but it’s better than not knowing. I wish I had realized this long ago, but “better nate than lever.”

Please send me as much good karma as you can muster. I could use the boost, because even if you don’t tell me you sent it, I can feel it in spades.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

Slinging and Hash

My coworkers are so young that I was sitting at the bar after my shift a few months ago, having a beer. The man next to me told me his name and that he was a sound editor at NPR. He asked me what I did, and I told him that I “sling hash here.” The bartender, young enough to be my son, said, “I thought you were a cook. You’re a drug dealer?” The sound editor nearly fell off his bar stool laughing and said, “I think that’s old diner slang.”

But today’s entry is about a different kind of sling. My left shoulder has been bothering me for a few weeks, but the pain has been fully manageable with Aleve and Tylenol… that is, until yesterday morning. I woke up in so much pain that I couldn’t stop crying, and didn’t until I got to Urgent Care.

I couldn’t possibly see how I was going to cook and wash dishes, so I gave Chef a heads up as to what was going on, and could he possibly find someone to work for me? To his absolute credit, for which I will thank him publicly, he told me to get to Urgent Care and let him know what they said. He’d find a way to work it out, even though there was no one to take my place. It created a tiger mom loyalty in me, and by the time I got to Urgent Care, as the tears flowed, I said, “there is no possible way that I can miss work tonight. If there’s any way you could treat this as a sports injury and just shoot it up with something, let’s do it.” If chef was willing to work a man down that night just so I was taken care of, the least I could do was try my hardest, exhausting all possible options, before staying home. I knew that I was going to either be miserable at work or miserable at home, so why not at least try to be miserable and make money at the same time?

The Urgent Care that I went to is incredibly risk-averse, the doctor told me, so he wasn’t allowed to put steroids directly into my shoulder, even though he thought it was the best course of treatment for what I needed in the moment (doesn’t work long-term). Instead, he did a long and thorough physical examination, determining that I had strained my rotator cuff, and that I should get it imaged with an Ortho to confirm it was just a strain and not an actual tear. If it’s just a strain, his recommendation is physical therapy. A tear requires surgery that, from what I hear, is relatively quick and easy, but the recovery is hell on wheels. One of my mom friends said that her son tore his, and just like the friends my age, had a difficult time with it. So I am definitely praying for a positive outcome, and if you’ll pray with me, send good vibes, use black magic, whatever, I’m game. Anything that taps into the power of the universe is fine with me. I know all of my readers can’t possibly believe in God, but even if you’re an atheist, believing in doctors is my first choice as well. Faith doesn’t come without shoe leather, and their work is as close to God’s as I’ve seen on this earth (there’s a reason I donate to MSF every chance I get).

As for the treatment I got yesterday, I chose a clinic that was close enough to walk to work from there, so after an IM injection of Toradol and oral Vicodin 5/325, I actually made it to my shift 30 minutes early, where I briefed Chef on all that had happened, and he thanked me profusely for coming in anyway, especially since my arm was in a sling to take pressure off my shoulder. I don’t wear it while working or typing, but other than that, I don’t take it off. I also realized that 325mg of Tylenol was probably not adequate, so I took an additional one. The doctor said that by the time I got home from work, the Toradol will have worn off, so I took two Aleve as well. Anything to relieve the inflammation, especially since I probably added to it last night. Even with Vicodin on board, everything still hurt like hell, especially after cleaning the kitchen, particularly sweeping & mopping. It was at that moment I thought, “maybe a desk job is for me,” and then I remembered that I was in just as much pain there, because the repetitive strain injuries never stopped, as well as more often than not, having a bad chair that always, always caused sciatica, as well as agitating the arthritis in my back. I absolutely understand that not all offices can afford Aerons, but so far, those have been the only chairs that don’t cause me pain. Even the knock-offs work, as long as they’re good ones and not the cheapest available.

I promise, I’m not snobby about it. Just worried for my own health. Even though osteoarthritis isn’t nearly as bad as rheumatoid, it’s no joke. It makes you feel like a very old person, no matter how young you are. Going from the kitchen to a desk job is just trading one type of pain for the other, equally severe in their own ways.

I definitely need to follow up with physical therapy, because with my level of activity, I’m likely to tear the rotator cuff up real good (if you’e going to do something, do it right).

And on that note, it’s time for a nap, provided I can find a comfortable position.

Four and a Half Brownies

I’ve been playing on my computer since I woke up, failing to realize that the clock was ticking on taking my next dose of medication. My head started to hurt in that old familiar way, and I thought, “I should write about this…. just a stream-of-consciousness entry as chemicals flood my bloodstream.”

I generally need to eat before I take any meds, particularly Lamictal. I look in the fridge and the only thing I’ve got left is four and a half brownies. I get out a paper towel and take all of them upstairs, where I proceed to inhale them like an angry Dustbuster.

I open my blog post editor and get out my pill bottles, which brings us to the present. I have just taken Lamictal, Lexapro, and Klonopin. That means, at this very moment, I feel as if I am capable of tearing out my hair. I will not, and wouldn’t even if I hadn’t taken my meds. The feeling, though, echoes from a scene in one of my favorite movies:

Distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Works every time.

Well, actually….. there’s nothing that can distract me enough from this kind of pain to just let it go. A corner of my mind will be stuck there, wondering if I am about to cry or vomit, or better yet, cry and vomit. It seems physically impossible, but I have done it on multiple occasions. The best way I’ve found to explain the type of physical pain I feel during withdrawal from my psych meds comes from the eighties. Remember those tests of the emergency broadcast system that would come on your TV, and for what seemed like eight hours but was only in reality about 20 seconds the most annoying sound on earth blared loud enough to clear your sinuses? Now, imagine this sound coming from you internally so you can’t lower the volume:

The longer I go without medication, the louder the sound gets, and the louder the sound gets, the more violent my physical reaction. When the medication kicks in, everything becomes blessedly quiet. I am grateful that it is not just a dimmer switch and I don’t have to live like this all the time. Withdrawal creates the worst physical symptoms of my mental illness, because when I remember to take everything on time, I am generally very happy and healthy. All the highs and lows are gone, so I can get on with my day and not think about being sick anymore.

But that’s not where we are right now. I haven’t even begun to feel a twinge of relief. The good news is that I don’t have to take any additional medication. My brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I don’t need a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory on top of it. Sometimes I do think of Tylenol and ibuprofen as my “dessert,” you know, just to put a cherry on top of the sundae, but it doesn’t matter. My psych meds aren’t going to kick in any faster because I took something for the headache, and because the headache is psychiatric in nature, the painkiller won’t do much. I know this because when I’ve been truly up shit creek because I’ve left the house without medication and taken painkillers and anti-inflammatories on their own, I would have had equal luck getting rid of the pain by throwing five dollars against a wall.

I swallowed the pills this time before I started shaking, so I got that goin’ for me. It’s involuntary when I’m in this much pain. My brain feels like it’s trying to pull itself apart, and my body reacts by trying to “get away from the noise.” Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

Q: Why do bagpipers walk when they play?
A: To get away from the noise.

or…

A. Moving targets are harder to hit.

I can tell that I’m not depressed because wit can still make an appearance. It’s just withdrawal, and that’s a relief. Managing Bipolar II is hard enough without having to deal with mood swings…. and by that, I mean it’s hard enough staving them off. I don’t have to be in depression or hypomania for Bipolar II to be a total pain in the ass.

It’s not unlike a physical disease, though. Diabetics have complicated lives without symptoms, just maintenance alone is enough. I know myself well enough that I would much rather deal with the inconvenience of maintenance than the full-blown effects of going untreated.

The way my college psychiatrist figured out I was on the bipolar rather than unipolar spectrum was that I was getting way, way, way too much sleep, and then for about three or four days a month, not able to sleep at all. My productivity level was through the floor, and on the days I couldn’t sleep, would shoot through the roof, where I would try to fit in as much activity as I could before the next wave of depression hit.

Before my Bipolar II diagnosis, I couldn’t understand why I was taking depression medication and never getting any better. My behavior changed dramatically when a mood stabilizer was added to what I was already taking. I was able to sleep normally, and the world looked quite different. It was in color all the time, instead of when the color channel decided to flip on after a series of black and white shows… but never fun ones, like I Love Lucy. Every day was akin to the worst Perry Mason rerun on repeat.

It’s been 10-15 minutes, so any time now, I will be back to my regularly scheduled program. I’m not feeling as much better by now as I thought I would, so perhaps it’s time for a hot shower.

I have brownie crumbs in my lap.