From “Just don’t die, stupid!” to “Just don’t die stupid.”

You’d think that making it through to vaccination would be cause for celebration–joy, even. A new lease on life, a new beginning, hope, happiness, the whole shebang.

And it felt like that for a week or so. And then a series of external events reached straight in and grabbed my brain by the OCD and shook me around like an apex predator with its prey jangling from its jaws. Suddenly everything good seemed menacing, from plants in my backyard to the aches and pains I get from overdoing gardening in my backyard.

After more than a year of focusing on staying alive, I thought vaccination would free me to concentrate on living–really living, with all those things I’ve been saying I aspire to–kindness, love, laughter–and fearlessness.

Instead I found myself figuratively curled into a little fetal ball of anxiety. My rational mind understands how to grasp the odds of bad things happening, but the scaredy cat part of my brain doesn’t give a damn about probabilities. Nope, this brain goes straight for the worst case scenarios. I used to joke that I could make a living coming up with examples of the worst thing that could happen, for disaster planners to, you know, plan for.

My Dad taught me to “use my bean” to solve problems. Observe, apply reason to what you see, experiment, and if necessary, improvise, to build, repair, or learn whatever you wanted. Works great, but it can go haywire when you’ve got a brain that absorbs and retains all kinds of obscure facts, and attaches far too much importance to the scariest, even if most unlikely, ones.

“Using my bean” to get myself safely and successfully through life and its foibles has served me well, but it came with baggage: I knew that the worst possible thing I could do is do something stupid when I knew better. If you’d ever been on the receiving end of one of my Dad’s silent, withering looks as he methodically went about cleaning up a mess you made doing something stupid when you knew better, you’d have the same profound fear of screwing up over something dumb that I do.

Which is why after a year of getting through one day at a time in survival mode, telling myself “just don’t die, stupid” I am now robustly afraid of dying stupid (OK, stupidly, for all you adverb fans). Meaning wouldn’t it be ridiculous if, after making it through to vaccination, I fell off a ladder and broke my hip and died of complications from that? Or if I screw up putting my new chain saw together and hack off an extremity and bleed to death? Or if accidentally splash myself with birdbath water and get some weird infection?

You see where I’m going with this? I seem to have developed my Mother’s exceptional ability to see the cloud in every silver lining. Way to go, Annie–that’s really living!

This has got to stop. I keep telling myself that nobody lives forever, you only live once, stop being so risk-averse, you are frittering away precious time with worry, etc. But I’ve still got so much work to do, getting things in order for what happens after my eventual (and far in the future, I hope) demise, that it’s imperative I don’t die until that’s settled, and I’d especially like to avoid dying stupid(ly).

There have been multiple articles in major newspapers about how weird it is to come out of pandemic survival mode, about how lasting the mental health impacts of the past year are likely to be, and about how there aren’t enough therapists to go around. May is mental health awareness month, and everyone on the planet has been deeply affected by the past 14 months, so let’s all just give each other a break as we take baby steps toward something resembling “normalcy.”

For me, the best baby step yet was hugs from my brother, the day after he was fully vaxxed.

I won’t stop scanning the news for any tidbits of improvement in the dire situation in India and elsewhere in the world, where vaccines aren’t getting into arms anywhere near fast enough. But I’ll try to be grateful for the baby steps I’m taking, even if my heart still starts pounding in the presence of the unmasked. I’m not ready to unmask myself yet in any indoor environment with people I don’t know, but I’ll get there.

If I don’t die stupidly in the meantime, that is.

Deciding to be proud of my gardening-related aches and pains, and to push away anxious thoughts about weird plants and birdbath water, I remain,

your emerging slowly after several weeks of figuratively cowering under the covers,

Ridiculouswoman

Featured image by beauQ from Pixabay

A Very Good Friday

I got my second Pfizer COVID-19 shot today. I hadn’t gotten an appointment for Angelic Daughter yet because, like an idiot, I didn’t start looking as soon as she was eligible. I was waiting to hear from our health care system about when they’d vaccinate us.

So I began checking our local pharmacy’s parent website hourly. Nothing. “No appointments available within 25 miles of your location for the next 5 days” it kept saying. Five days never ticked down 4 or 3 days.

So my elation at receiving my second shot was dampened by my concern about Angelic Daughter still waiting. I kept trying.

A notification on my phone distracted me, and I missed the turn of the hour, when appointments are supposed to refresh. At 8 minutes after 9 a.m., I tried again, expecting the red “no appointments available” banner–but I got the green “appointments available!” Hallelujah!

I tried to stay calm as I worked through the eligibility screening. I entered our zip code, and closed my eyes while I took a deep breath. When I opened them, I was looking at a screen filled with appointments for a day very soon next week.

Eureka!

Took the first available time slot that day, and received confirmation.

Then about a half an hour later, I got the email from our health system telling me Angelic Daughter was now eligible for an appointment. I checked, but they had none available. All advice is to take the first appointment you can get. OK, Annie. Tell your OCD brain to stop freaking out about the type of vaccine she’s getting. I will not let worry ruin this.

I was already worried about getting my second dose on Good Friday, because possible side effects could last several days. I love Easter, and have planned a good Easter Sunday dinner.

But even if I start to feel lousy, I’m still cooking a feast and enjoying the day with Angelic Daughter. We’ll attend church on Facebook, and sing my all time favorite hymn (“Christ the Lord is risen today-ay, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-lu-ee-ah!”) and use the Good China.

The pastor of the church where Mike and I were married once preached an Easter sermon where he fantasized about putting up a sign at the door that said, “no one gets in who wasn’t here on Friday.” He was musing about “Christmas and Easter” churchgoers. If they’re only in the pews twice a year, how do you get them to think deeply about the meaning and the magnitude of Good Friday? He didn’t want to let the crowd get away with glossing over the dark, agonizing aspects of the week that leads up to Easter morning. Jesus knew what was coming, and he rode into Jerusalem anyway.

I think about personal experiences of Christ’s presence in my life. Really personal. But I don’t proclaim a “personal relationship with Jesus,” because I struggle with a sense of unworthiness about having any such relationship at all.

And then there’s a day like this. Sunshine, spring flowers, my second shot, and an appointment for Angelic Daughter, who is the model of the person I struggle to be. She is compassionate, empathetic, resilient, cheerful, helpful, and capable of unconditional love for every human she meets. It’s easy for her.

It’s not easy for me, or for a lot of flawed, anxious, OCD types.

The New York Times ran an opinion column today about “The Unsettling Power of Easter.” It’s joyful, but scary.

Scary? Bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs?

Erm, that’s not the Easter we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about Maundy Thursday, when He washed the disciples’ feet, and said, ‘now go do the same for others.’

Right. That’s where I screw up. I have difficulty choosing “to be a source of God’s light and God’s love in this lifetime,” as the benediction that closes our church’s services always says.

For me, it’s more an exertion of discipline that I often forget to impose.

Angelic Daughter doesn’t have to choose to be a source of love. She just IS.

The last paragraph of Professor McCauly’s take on Easter in that NYT piece refers to the “weight of the work.” It’s stunning–paralyzing, even, to think what it will take to begin to heal this battered world once we emerge from the COVID cave.

But I have to believe that a million little kindnesses add up to something. A smile, a “thank you,” or even an apology–like the one I gave after I snapped at the nice lady who asked me to take off my double-mask ensemble to put the hospital’s mask on underneath–can add a little light and love to this world, before we discorporate and become beings of light and love in the next.

Fully vaccinated two weeks from today, I remain,

Your hoping-to-hang-around-a-few-more-decades-and-get-this-love-and-light-thing-right-in-this-world-before-it-gets-easier-in-the-next,

Ridiculouswoman

Just as I was finishing this post, a headline came through that one of two Capitol Police officers hit by a car that drove through a security fence has died. So did the suspect, who, according to the report, was shot when he got out of the car and came at police with a knife. Seems like “the weight of the work” gets weightier by the minute. I have to keep believing in the power of love, because what else can I do?

The Widow Rules

I make lists of arbitrary “rules,” for holidays, or for living as a middle-aged woman, or for taking fall excursions.

But haven’t made the obvious list for this blog: The Widow Rules.

Angelic Daughter and I are rounding the bases of the fifth set of holidays and anniversaries without Mike, the calendar shoving us toward August, and the fifth anniversary of his death. I’ve written about how I think ritualizing these milestones is probably unhealthy.

But five years feels significant. From the frantic activity of the first year, to the breakdown toward the end of the second, to the slow healing of the third, Angelic Daughter and I have been through a lot together.

Then in year 4, the pandemic hit. I’d go out only for groceries, prescriptions, or essential medical appointments. I’d watch helplessly as the isolation took its toll on my daughter. Crawling along, day by day, issuing the same reassurances, that it will end, it will be over, eventually.  We will get to see our friends and family again. Sometime.

But the dream of a life beyond grief and loneliness is fading. Retirement, travel, meeting new people, finding a new man, even wanting or desiring a new man at all, seem lost or unattainable to me now.

But losing hope is against the rules (that rule is implied by the others).

So here’s what I’ve got, for a nearly 5-years widow:

1. Clean it when you notice it.

Little tasks add up and aren’t overwhelming, like taking on an entire room. I don’t pressure myself to maintain a pristine household. I shoot for a reasonably healthy one. No one’s coming over now, anyway, and they may not, ever, even “when COVID is over.”

2. Enjoy what you see in the mirror.

I have naturally curly hair. Deal with it. I’m not blow-drying it for anyone, anymore. I gave Angelic Daughter and myself do-it-yourself haircuts when we couldn’t take the shagginess of nearly a year without a visit to the salon anymore. We turned out looking pretty good. Cute, even. But I don’t care if you don’t think so. I like it, and that’s what counts, now. Besides, the Bulgarian is the only man I have ever known, including male relatives and my late husband, who ever noticed a haircut of mine within 72 hours, if ever, anyway. And he was getting paid to work on the house, so being nice was in his best interest.

I’m still using my “skin care for the apocalypse,” exercising regularly, drinking more water daily, and cutting down (or completely abstaining, at least until two weeks after my next vaccine shot and I’m as immune as I’ll get) on certain liquid comforts (used for ‘medicinal purposes,’ as my Dad used to say, on his way back to the bar cart), which has done wonders for my skin. I’ve always enjoyed my face in the mirror, and I still do, when it’s rested, eye-creamed, made-up, and most importantly, lipsticked. But I do that for me. Nobody else ever notices anyway.

3. Forgive yourself.

I can’t change the past. All I can do is change how I think about it, or just let it go. I can try to create a better “past” for my future by reminding myself to live with compassion, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness. When I fail, as I regularly do, I try to forgive myself, and get right back on that horse.

4. Keep learning.

Since starting my job a year and a half ago, I’ve learned how to use about 7 new types of software, plus 4 online tools relevant to my work. I communicate in gifs with my colleagues, as they like to do. Learning new things keeps the mind nimble, it’s fun, and it makes me feel like life is still moving forward–not stuck in stop-time, COVID time, grief time, loneliness time.

5. After you’ve done what you must, do what you love.

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing what I thought was my duty: trying to please my parents, taking care of my husband and child, trying not to screw up. I still have important duties, like staying employed and covered by health insurance, and helping Angelic Daughter learn independent living skills, even if she is too stressed out by loss and isolation to even discuss an independent future. But I refuse to feel guilty about doing what I love, like writing, and, “when COVID is over,” singing, even if it drives my daughter nuts, once I’ve done what I must. Life is happening now, not after I finish the next chore.

I don’t know if these “rules” will help any other widows. I hope they do. Maybe have your own rules to share. Please do. Until then, I remain,

your one-day-at-a-time, enjoy-the-sun-while-it-shines, fail-and-get-up-again,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay