Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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My Life is So Different Now

Three years ago this week I made the decision to retire from Yale and move to Texas to live with and care for my dad. I don’t regret the decision but my life is so totally different; sometimes I feel disconnected, because there is no one here who has any connection to the professional life I led for so many years. Married people, people with children, usually have at least someone who has shared those experiences with them. I don’t even have my cat anymore.

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Yale Law Library Reading Room

I worked on college campuses for almost 40 years and there is an energy there that keeps things hopping. I started working in general university libraries right after getting my M.L.S. and moved to law school libraries three years later, never looking back. My career was in Technical Services, which started out as cataloging and evolved into management of all of the specialties under the Tech Services banner: acquisitions, serials, binding, cataloging, electronic resources, integrated library systems. I worked long hours at challenging work – You want a book from Singapore that was published today? And you want it when?  Okay, let me see what I can do. I lived in Virginia, in Maine, in Boston, and Connecticut, sometimes moving without knowing anyone else in the state. Moving was hard but I did it – and by myself.

My organizations allowed me time to be active in my profession, going to national and specialty conference such as the Innovative Users Group for users of the system I worked with for almost 30 years. Of course, that meant working late and on weekends to get my regular work accomplished, but it was a good trade off for keeping my brain stretched and making wonderful contacts across the country and around the world.  I spent five years on the IUG Steering Committee, including being education chair for a national conference, followed immediately by three years on the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries. And three years later, I was education chair for the AALL conference, too. Exhilarating, challenging, hard, creative, fun.

I loved working out the bibliographic puzzles that went with my job. Figuring out what happened to serial publications that stopped coming or morphed into other titles without warning. Finding books requested by colleagues and faculty that came with incomplete or wrong titles. Resolving systems problems. Dreaming up new ways to explain old things to staff.

Ah, staff. I hated supervising. That was the only really hard thing about my job to me. I want to work in a collegial relationship with people who act like adults and pull their weight. Supervising people, and especially those in a tough union shop, made that difficult at times. And it was exhausting. I do not miss that one bit, though I do miss some of the people. Okay, not many of them, but some.

12108756_10208073611423764_1885628941810349569_n (1)I thoughtfully planned my departure from Yale, working to transition tasks and responsibilites to new people and writing endless documentation to explain how to do it. One week after I retired from Yale, I got in the car with the cat and my sister-in-law and drove to Texas. There was no time to process or grieve because new things were coming. I almost never hear from the people I worked with and it’s as though who I was and what I did there doesn’t matter to anyone except me. I’m forgotten and left behind. Which is appropriate; I don’t want them mourning me, either, but people I thought were friends apparently were just passing in the hallways instead. And that’s hard.

So I have a new life now. Instead of being an experienced, senior person, I’m a youngster in a retirement community. I work part-time as a church secretary, making bulletins, writing documentation, maintaining the website. I sing in the choir, play Mah Jongg, and have friends. I’m also primary caregiver for my 90 year old father, who is increasingly fragile and forgetful. Never having had children, I have one now in many ways, and it’s difficult. It’s hard to know how to take time away when I have to be at the church at 8:00 a.m. six days a week, plus care for my dad. I don’t regret being here but I haven’t adjusted.

I miss my friends and am grateful to Facebook, with all its problems, for helping me stay in touch with people who knew me in my other life. I miss my cat, who died last May. I need a hug.

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Surgery While Obese

Surgery involves medical, logistical, and emotional issues. The medical ones are obvious: what’s actually wrong with your body, what the surgeon and medical team do to repair/remove/replace that, and what the recovery will involve. There are alsoStressed logistical issues that most hospitals and surgeons address with you at least in general terms for what to expect when you get home: rearranging furniture to clear pathways, filling prescriptions in advance, fueling the car, stocking the fridge and pantry with prepared foods that are easy to heat/serve/eat, figuring out hygiene issues, finding help for household tasks like laundry.

And then there are emotional issues. All surgery is scary, even when they tell you it’s a simple procedure. You’re in a strange place with people you don’t know poking and prodding you, sticking needles in your arm, and cutting into your body while you’re asleep. Things can go wrong; consent forms tell you of the risks. Some surgery carries with it bad news about cancer or organ damage, and the emotional toll that takes is high, both for you and those who wait with and for you.

Obese Man and DoctorWe “people of size” AKA fatties (or I prefer the term “fluffy”) have other emotional concerns that generally remain locked deep inside:  Will I and my body be respected while I am under your care?  Will you think less of me and talk about me and take pictures of my fat rolls while I’m asleep? Will the hospital gown fit me or will my butt be left hanging?  Will the blood pressure cuff fit on my arm?  Will the boot for my post-op leg actually fit?  If you have to make a trip to get things to fit me, will it be obvious that you consider that an unwanted chore? Do you even know that I’m worried about these things?

These have happened to me more than once, and to everyone else I know who is obese. They hang over me when I go the hospital. They worry me and raise my blood pressure. They make it harder for me to listen to you even when you’re talking about important things. Sometimes they are more important to me than the reason I’m there for the surgery in the first place.

Yesterday I had gastroc recession surgery at a hospital outpatient surgical center. It was a simple procedure to lengthen my calf muscle, but I was still worried about all of the above other things. The admitting clerk was friendly and efficient – and she was my size. So after we finished signing me in, I asked her if this was safe place for someone of size. And she got it. Immediately. She told me that yes, she trusted all of the people there to respect every patient regardless of size, and that other attitudes and behaviors were not tolerated. It was reassuring.

earWhen I got into the little prep room and even before they took my blood pressure, a woman dressed in different colored scrubs appeared and said she needed privacy to talk with me.  The admitting clerk had gone to her senior administrator to tell her of my worries and she wanted to reassure me in person that I would be treated with the best care and respect that they afford every patient. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me she would not accept anything less. I believed her.

The gown already waiting for me was generously sized and fit me. The blood pressure cuff already in the room fit comfortably around my arm. The IV went in without a hitch the first time. When I woke up in recovery, my boot was sized to fit my foot and not my leg, with first velcro and then tape to hold it securely in place. The wheelchair that took me to the car was roomy.

Everyone treated me with respect and care. My worries were real, but I believe I would have been treated that way even had I not shared my fears.  But I’m also not sorry I spoke up because it calmed me to know that I was really heard. The clerk heard me and took action; the administrator heard her and took action. They took me seriously and immediately addressed the concerns, which raises their quality as an institution in my eyes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others and would go back again without those emotional worries.

Surgery involves more than just medical expertise. We expect that from our surgeons and the staff who work there. The human element that respects all patients regardless of shape, size, age, or physical disability, matters just as much, for more than just the body needs care. At least I do.


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Coming Back to Writing

TessieI haven’t written here in a full year. I’ve missed it and at the same time, I’ve been busy. But things are going on in my heart and head and it helps to articulate, even to myself.

My beloved cat Tessie crossed the Rainbow Bridge three weeks ago. She hadn’t been really herself for six months and was having increasing problems until the end, when I held her in my arms as she passed. She was my constant loving companion for 10 years, and it was just the two of us for most of them. I have a hole in my heart – and at the same time, I’m relieved not to have to worry about whether she’s eating or pooping or why she’s crying. Then I feel guilty to be relieved, because I miss her so.

She is my only experience of being a caregiver, and let’s face it, a cat is not a person. I have no practice taking care of a person, young or old, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve to take care of my dad. At age 89, his general health is good but his memory is getting spotty. He loops and retells stories that I’ve heard a million times, and every day we talk about what heaven is like and how wonderful Mom was and whether she will be there waiting for him.

I’ve not found a good balance to living with him. I care too much and do too much, and have lost myself in the process. I work part-time as a church secretary in the mornings and in the afternoons and evenings, mostly do nothing or do things with Dad. I know lots of people but haven’t taken advantage of things like line dancing classes or Pokeno nights because I don’t know how to do them and feel stupid, and because I felt like I needed to be there for Dad.

But really, the best way to take care of him is to take care of myself first. So after a brief meltdown the other night and the time that followed for thinking and prayer, I’ve decided a bunch of things:

  • Manage my food in healthy ways
  • Go to the gym for a fitness assessment and start going 2-3 times/week (I’ve been a member for 18 months but haven’t entered since I signed up)
  • Go out at least one day a week for a meal or activity with friends
  • Start planning a vacation and at least one monthly outing
  • Start working with a spiritual director

Things slow down here in the summer; with the high heat and humidity, lots of people go away for long stretches. So most of the social things will go by the wayside until fall. But that will give me time to feel better physically and get into a better more balanced routine. I do play Mah Jongg once a week and love the interaction with my friends there, even if I’m not winning much these days.

But it’s time for an attitude adjustment. No one can do it for me, I have to just do it for myself. I’m making decisions to be healthier physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I start today.


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Taking a Break from Caregiving

13256291_10209796703980001_3438453961952806348_nFortunately for me, I now live only 2 hours from my brother, rather than half way across the country. Visits no longer require advance planning, plane tickets, and scheduled vacation time away from the office. Instead, it’s just a short hop on a lot of 2-lane roads.

After 7 months of living with my dad, I was ready for a break. I lived alone for my entire professional life and it’s not always easy to have someone around all the time. I prepared food, wrote out menus, did laundry and took care of house things. Then I made our family coffee cake traditionally made for gatherings, loaded up Tessie (who was none too happy about it), and headed out for two days off.

My niece and her two small children were visiting from Colorado and won’t be back until Christmas, so this was a chance to see them. Children change so quickly and the little guy is already starting to pull himself up. His big sister is smart as a whip and I so enjoyed making cookies and playing with her.

But I also really needed the time alone out on the front porch in the quiet of a rainy day, watching deer out in the pasture and grateful for the solitude. It can be lonely, being on your own, but for me, it’s restorative. My brother and I had some good conversations about Dad’s health and future planning. He’s in good shape now but at 88, anything could happen at any time. I’m glad that my brother and I see eye to eye on next steps.

Coming home was difficult. Tessie meowed almost the whole way, which is seriously annoying. Dad’s first comment was, “How many phones do we have? I can only find 3.” Gee, nice to see you, too. I’ve been impatient and stressed, and yesterday ended up with a wicked full-blown cold/sinus problem and feel as though an elephant is sitting on my chest. Okay, maybe just a cat. But still.

I want more space than I can have here, emotional space. It’s clear to me that taking time off for myself, including having Dad spend time away so I can be alone, is imperative to my long-term health and sanity. I don’t regret my decision to move here but sometimes I’m just losing who I am.


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Sudden loss

One of my friends died suddenly yesterday, on the golf course in New Mexico while traveling with a group from our community. Although death is always a reality when you live in a place that has mostly 55+ residents, this one hit extra hard because it was so unexpected, because of where he was at the time, but mostly because he was so beloved by all. He had been a leader in the community and the church, but was also just a fun person who brought a smile to our faces.

We have a lot of memorial services here over the course of a year but most come after a lingering illness or simply from complications of age. This death was different and has made us stop in our tracks. Bob was a member of the choir and last night, instead of rehearsal, we spent time talking out the facts and reactions, and praying together.

It’s too soon to know anything else now. Logistics get complicated when a body needs to be moved across state lines and there are too many unknowns. What we do know is that we lost someone who mattered.


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Pity Party for One

Herons at Emerald BayMoving to Texas was my idea and I have no regrets about the decision. But I must confess that it’s hard to once again give up everything I know – even more than usual this time because there’s no new job at the other end. I found myself in tears yesterday, realizing that there’s no one coming with me who shares any memories of life and working days from Virginia to Connecticut with stops in Maine and Boston.

I’ve done this before. I’ve moved to places where I didn’t know anyone in the whole state. Certainly I’m not the only person who’s done this.

But I’m feeling vulnerable today, quiet and sad. And fat, but that’s not anything new. I have 10 work days left and three weeks from today we leave on the big road trip to Texas. Lots to do and think and plan – but I also need to give myself permission to feel and grieve and let go. I’ve been holding on by my fingernails in some ways and that’s not sustainable or healthy. Good thing I’m starting the day with a therapy appointment!


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Too Independent For My Own Good

I’m independent and proud of it, and it sure is necessary since I live alone.  Rather than whine about being too short to change lights, I got a taller step stool.  I sign legal documents, shovel out my car, meet deadlines, clean up the cat hairballs, pay the bills, and go “make the donuts” to pay for it all.

But one side effect of being so independent is that it’s very difficult to ask for help when it would make it easier or even possible.  At work I’m expected to run my own ship and consult with colleagues and staff, but even there I tend to take on more than my share and have trouble delegating some tasks even when it’s appropriate.

I hate asking people if they could take me somewhere, even the airport or the hospital.  In fact, I took myself to the hospital for all but one of my many surgeries (three knee ops, two carpal tunnels, two sinus, and the lapband) and except for getting a ride home, managed on my own at home because I’d done all the prep to make it work.

This time is different.  I’m taking myself to the surgical center a week from Wed. for plastic surgery.  The operation will take 4-5 hours (they’re doing a tummy tuck and tidying up my upper arms) and in some magic way, I’ll be transported from the outpatient surgery center to the university health infirmary, where I’ll stay for 3-4 nights.

I already asked a friend if she could come to see me that night and bring a small bag that I would bring to her house over the weekend, with some toiletries, a book, netbook, and chargers for the netbook and cell phone.  Although she’s a good friend, it felt like an imposition to ask.  I don’t want to put anyone out or have them go to any trouble for me.

But I need them to.  I need someone to bring me stuff, to take me home after my few days there.  I can’t lift anything heavier than 5 lbs for at least 4-6 weeks, plus I won’t be able to bend easily with my incision and compression binder on.  Which means I’ll need help with bagging and dumping trash, changing the litter box, clearing snow, stuff I don’t even know about yet.

It’s time to stop being so damned stubborn about it.  To let go of the tight hold on making sure everything is in place.  No matter what, there will be things left undone and help needed.  I’m hoping to be able to do with humility and grace, knowing that people are happy to help if asked and if the task is reasonable & achievable.

Just in case I haven’t said it lately – thank you for the help you all have already given me.  For your friendship and advice, listening ears, gentle nudges, recipes and food ideas, comfort when things are hard.  I’ll let you know how things go.