Author du mois

My recent interest in alcohol consumption (sparked by the concern voiced by clinical researchers regarding my own consumption) led me to a book called The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne. Equal parts travelogue, memoir, and cross-cultural study, it recounts the author’s adventures during two years of drinking in the Islamic world. At times the drinking is easy; at others he goes for days unable to get his 6:10 p.m. fix (which often lasts for many hours and sometimes starts much earlier in the day). Toward the end, during a sojourn in Cairo at the height of the Islamist revolution, he writes that “what one does in a bar” is “contemplate death and the inconsequential things that come just before it.”

Briefly fascinated (all my fascinations are brief) by Osborne, whom the author note described as leading “a nomadic life,” I sought out an earlier book of his, called American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome. Although the book was either poorly written or poorly edited (probably both), I found it somewhat interesting. Asperger’s and autism have become even more fashionable in the 15 years since the book was published. One thing that Osborne points out is that the boys Hans Asperger first identified as having the syndrome exhibited a “primitive spitefulness.” Today’s American Aspies have a gentler, sanitized version of the condition, or so they and their families and supporters would have us believe.

Having read as much as I care to in both these books, I will now return them to their respective libraries and wait for the next fascination to strike.

 

Not my sisters

Today’s reason for feeling particularly morose: my failure to participate in the worldwide protests against the new POTUS. I couldn’t muster the outrage, solidarity, or commitment to go out and march. The whole thing just seemed too unfocused and antagonistic, and it seemed to take Trumpery way more seriously than I think it deserves. Now, of course, I’m berating myself for being a bad woman—or bad human—for staying home.

In 20 years will I regret not joining the feisty, playful, caring, ideological throng? Probably no more than I regret wearing a skirt to high school on the day in 1969 when many girls wore pants to protest the restrictive dress code. As I recall, it turned out to be something of a non-event, with the administration pretty much shrugging and saying, “OK, you can wear pants.” If the Trump administration similarly capitulates, I will definitely regret not marching.

Now what?

Whom am I kidding? (Not English teachers.) Here I sit, full of ambition and excitement, all ready to launch my new career. What career is that? Well, it doesn’t matter, and it changes at least three times a week. Today, for example, I’m evaluating law schools and studying for the LSAT; a few days ago I took a typing test and almost applied for a job as a medical scribe; in between I’ve dreamed of being a lab technician, a singer-songwriter, a barn mucker-outer, a beer brewer. The point is that I’m rarin’ to go. Heck, I’m only 62. I have my whole life ahead of me.

But then I picture myself in the thick of the job, or the classroom, or the barn, or performing before an audience, or interviewing to do any of these things, and I realize that it ain’t gonna happen. Aside from crippling indecision as to which of these things to do, there’s really only one thing holding me back: an inability to take myself seriously as a competent, functioning human being.

In fact, the depths of my self-deprecation are matched only by the heights of my hubris. When I think I’m right about something, I don’t question it at all, and at least 40 percent of the time it turns out I was wrong. Yes, my lack of self-esteem is well supported by the evidence, which has included some rather embarrassing comeuppances.

For instance, there was the day circa 1985 when I was typesetting a brochure about jury selection and came across a clearly made-up word: “peremptory.” The first time I saw it, I figured it was a typo and instinctively changed it to “preemptory,” not realizing that my substituted word was in fact the imposter. When I saw this error about a dozen more times, I did not think, as any thoughtful human being would, “Hmm, maybe I was wrong about that. Better look it up.” Instead I thought, “Whoever wrote this brochure copy is just plain ignorant. I’ll do them a favor and correct the error.” In my defense: looking stuff up was a lot harder back then. You actually had to have a dictionary (which I’m sure we did, but maybe it didn’t include legal jargon).

The “corrected” copy made it all the way back to the client, because I convinced my boss or another employee that I, a law school dropout, knew more about jury selection than the attorney who wrote the brochure. Why I was not fired for this egregious display of arrogance cum ignorance remains a mystery.

I quit that job one day when my boss wouldn’t let me add an apostrophe to “rock ’n roll” in a client’s ad copy. (Of course I was absolutely correct in that case, right? Wasn’t I? Of course I was.) Then I returned to the job a few months later. I can’t remember if our punctuation tiff occurred before or after the brochure debacle, but the boss’s intsistence on apostrophizing only one of the missing letters suggests that he had learned not to trust my tinkering.

This was only one in a lifelong series of embarrassing gaffes, faux pas, and other missteps of French origin (some of them actually in French). Maybe I’ll start using the blog as a place to test the theory that if you share the shameful details of your life, they lose their shaming power. Extra points for transforming the shame into humor, a skill I definitely need to work on. Maybe if I work hard enough at it, humorous oversharing could be my new calling, for a few days anyway.

Predictably unpredictable

Today I wrote to both my state representatives about an issue. On the official form for sending email to legislators, you have to choose whether or not you want to receive a reply. “How is this up to me?” I wondered. I want to hear from them if they have something to say. If they have nothing to say, why would I want to hear from them?

Stymied, I decided to have it both ways. I told one legislator that no reply was needed, and on the other message I checked the Yes button. In a postscript to both messages I explained that of course I wanted to hear from them if they had something to say on the subject, but that otherwise no reply was necessary.

About 20 seconds after I submitted the no-reply-needed message, a staffer replied, telling me basically nothing and adding that “we do read all constituent messages and strive to respond to all in a timely manner.” I wrote back, suggesting that she ask to have that useless option removed from the email form. She did not answer.

I got no reply to my email requesting a reply.

Out here on my own

The appointment with Dr. C, the psychiatrist I saw more than three months ago, did not go well. I hadn’t realized that we would have only 37 minutes to talk. I barely managed to tell her how wrong she was about her previous diagnosis and to fill her in on my diagnostic and therapeutic adventures since our last meeting. When I finally asked if she could prescribe an antidepressant for me, she announced that there wasn’t time for that and that I should make another appointment.

So I got no prescription, no useful advice, and pretty much no respect. Leaving her office, I decided that it was time to give up on the mental-health establishment and seriously work on healing myself. I may be able to manage with just the levothyroxine that my PCP prescribed for me last week (as soon as it stops making me anxious and sleepless). Or maybe I’ll go back to taking escitalopram, perhaps at a higher dose than the one that left me suicidal.

Of course I would prefer to stay (relatively) drug-free. I hate making my fellow creatures ingest chemicals they never asked for. But I must face the fact that the best years of my life were the ones when I was artificially stabilized. Sorry, fish. Just be glad I no longer eat you (hmm, maybe if I did I could get the benefit of drugs without a prescription).

Bottomless

I’ve always felt mildly superior to people who have a worse case than mine of whatever is bothering me. Recently, for example, I wondered if “ear picking” was a common phenomenon, and one of the first hits I found for that phrase was a message board in which people confessed to torturing their ear canals to the point of bleeding and infection. “I’m not that bad (yet),” I thought, with mixed feelings of relief, compassion, schadenfreude, and superiority.

But maybe I would have a richer life if I were a little more extreme in some ways. Maybe my real problem is that I take moderation to the extreme. If I never hit bottom, how will I ever recover? And from what?

Everything new is old again

After a while one grows weary of constantly seeking novelty. You reach a point where what seems truly novel is the idea of returning to something that isn’t new at all. So I decided that instead of seeking yet another psychiatrist or therapist, I would return to ones I’d already seen. I now have an appointment for Wednesday with the psychiatrist who did such a lousy job of diagnosing me a couple of months ago. Not because I think she can help me, but because I think she should get a second chance to get it right. After all, she is pretty new to the field and has a lot to learn about diagnosis. I will generously give her some continuing education, and in exchange maybe she’ll give me the latest in psychopharmaceuticals.

I don’t know if I’ll be contacting a psychotherapist, new or old. Convinced now that Asperger’s is my underlying ailment, I wonder if therapy can be of any help. As my friend Amy told me a few years ago, I just need to accept the fact that I’m weird. Therapy is mostly about change, not acceptance of the status quo, but maybe it’s still useful if what needs to change is how accepting one is.

Plastic continued

We all have our obsessions. For Beth Terry it’s minimizing the plasticization of our world (especially the oceans). Though I’m not quite as obsessed, I try to follow most of her 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life. I generally draw the line at alternatives that are vastly inferior to the plastic version, but I may want to try this alternative to commercial mouth rinse, just because it looks like so much fun to make.

The U.S. government is perpetuating the plastic waste problem by disallowing all but the smallest containers of liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. While the TSA doesn’t require that one’s toiletries be in plastic bottles, that’s pretty much what everyone uses. And the airlines aren’t helping the situation: by charging so much for checked bags (solids and stripes too), they encourage people to buy more and more tiny plastic containers.

Then there are so-called “eyeglasses.” The first pair I got that was made of plastic felt ridiculously insubstantial on my face. Now I’m used to them, and you’d be hard-pressed to find plastic-free lenses, though apparently glass is making a comeback as a “luxury” item.

It’s weird how stuff that’s good for you, or for the planet, tends to cost extra. Another example: Chinese restaurants that charge extra for brown rice. Maybe if I could be put on ice for 100 years I would reawaken in a less stupid world. But I’d be more likely to find that humans had destroyed their habitat and each other, leaving the earth in the capable hands of cockroaches.

How can we keep from crying?

What surprises me is that everyone in the world isn’t depressed. How can people keep hearing about global warming, garbage patches, pollution, and the evils of plastic, and not be depressed when they see whole aisles of disposable diapers at the store? Am I the only one who feels utterly hopeless when buying dental floss, wine, and anything else that is going to contribute to the burden of waste, which is to say almost anything? Am I the only one who thinks the only way I can truly make a difference is by not existing and therefore not consuming and therefore not producing tons of waste?

Although the waste is particularly egregious in the facility where I spent the last week, the outside world is only marginally less discouraging. Do most people ever think about where their paper and plastic drink cups will go after they discard them (in the trash or on my lawn)? Why don’t more people give up their cars and use public transit? I can answer that one: Because they would get really depressed if they stopped driving. In fact, my latest bout of depression has lasted off and on for about 10 years, which is to say for about as long as it’s been since I gave up my car. Coincidence?

So maybe there’s a quick fix for my depression, but only if the car I buy is all-electric. After I sell my house, I’ll give it some serious thought. I couldn’t shoulder the responsibility of owning both a house and a car simultaneously.

NIHCC Day 7

After a week in stir, I didn’t wait very long to get a beer, unless you count the time spent perusing the menus at the many overpriced airport eateries, looking in vain for something vegan. (True to their overly cautious nature, the nursing staff had ordered me a cab that deposited me in the terminal three hours before my flight, so I had plenty of time for perusal.) I eventually settled on the one place that served some local beers. Once seated, I learned that the menu of “seasonal specials” included a veggie burger—a Christmas miracle! I guess people who want to give a gift to the planet go to Bar Symon at Dulles on Xmas Day and have a vegan meal.

Meanwhile, at Moe’s Bar & Grill, airport employees are apparently getting their holiday meal. A buffet table is laid out with all the typical foods, which people pile into throwaway containers. Some then have their pictures taken in groups. Must be nice to have a job.

My father once got stranded at an airport (JFK probably) waiting for a flight (to Japan possibly). During the hours of waiting, I think he sent at least three postcards to our mother. So apparently this business of writing at airports is in my blood.

My plan is to get full of food and beer, and possibly a Xanax, and then sleep for the whole six hours of plane time. [EDIT: Plan did not work well. I slept for maybe 90 minutes and spent the rest of the time listening to Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book and avoiding the cute little girl next to me watching Shrek.]

Last night, after watching School of Rock and My Cousin Vinny, patient H and I went for a walk around the deserted campus. It would certainly be a fascinating place to hang out for several weeks, with interesting talks by cutting-edge researchers. Sort of like living in Berkeley except that all the talks would have a biomedical angle and there would be no wine served before or after.

If only I could find a research protocol that doesn’t require locking me up and taking my crochet hooks, nail clippers, razor, plastic bags, and cords. Sadly, my husband just mailed me some kosher cords a few days ago (a set of earbuds and a short phone charger). Someone will need to return the packages. Maybe this happens all the time, just as the nurse practitioner reassured me that “all the time” people get discharged without getting into a protocol.

Last night the D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus visited the Clinical Center to sing to the patients and staff on every unit. Afterwards they were given cider and cookies (or “Saturn cookies” as my father once heard it spoken by a Tennessee-bred coworker). Today I wrote to the Freedom from Religion Foundation to complain about this egregious promotion of religion, plus the fact that the entire unit was festooned with Christmas trappings, including a large tree. I will also be writing to the NIHCC Patient Representative to voice my displeasure with several things about my stay, most of all the scheduling snafu that had them bring me to the center more than six weeks before there would be any protocol I could join. I wonder if airing my complaints will get me blacklisted as a potential patient.