Post-Birthday Thoughts

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Yesterday I celebrated my birthday. I was nervous about the whole affair since my wife had plans for me that she wasn’t telling me about. Throughout the week I was guessing little details here and there – what we were having for dinner and dessert, what we were going to be doing – the only thing that I didn’t know was who was going to be at the apartment to celebrate.

We have a small two-bedroom apartment. Our dining room table usually seats two, but can expand to seat six in a pinch. Trick is, we only have four chairs, the two that come with the dining room table and the two office chairs, so sitting six around the table is a little tricky. We also have the two mobile desks and a footstool that could be used as a chair in a pinch.

Visitors started arriving at around 7:00 pm. My first visitor stopped by for just a few minutes as she had a prior engagement during the evening, but it was great to see her. After she arrived, we had two more join us (they arrived at the same time), then two more (a married couple), and finally a friend who moved into the apartment complex a few months ago. So between the five visitors and the two of us, we had seven people in the apartment.

We extended the table and I was sat at the head of the table. One of our guests took my usual spot on the couch with my desk, and we had three more at the table in chairs and one who sat on the end of the chaise. My wife took the footstool and her desk, as it was closest to the kitchen.

It was pretty close quarters trying to maneuver around the table and chairs to do much of anything, but we managed to get everyone served. My wife made lasagna, her family recipe straight from southern Italy, and one of our guests brought a warm German potato salad. The married couple brought an expansive veggie tray and our friend and neighbor came down with a fruit tray and dip that we noshed on once we were done with dinner. Everyone was quite satisfied with the meal, I thought.

We settled for a little while and then had dessert, strawberries and bananas Romanoff served over angel food cake cups – one of my favorite desserts. My wife did her best Marilyn Monroe impression as she sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Everyone cheered and she was surprised to find her performance posted to Facebook not long afterward.

Once dessert was done, the two that arrived at the same time also left at the same time, and so the five of us that were left cleared the table, had a round of coffee, and settled in to play a game of Munchkin Legends.

Munchkin is a card game from Steve Jackson Games that initially poked fun at the fantasy/Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying genre. With monster and treasure cards that are full of fantastic puns, it’s a great game for most ages (younger kids may not get the puns, but they will appreciate the cartoony pictures on each card). There are now almost two dozen core games dealing with genres ranging from superheroes to zombies to westerns to sci-fi to steampunk, including several branded versions (Adventure Time, Axe Cop, Marvel, the Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.) and a half-dozen deluxe editions that include game boards and player tokens to track each player’s progress through the game. (Munchkin Legends, the version we were playing, deals with world mythology.) If this sounds interesting to you, you can learn more about Munchkin at its website.

Our neighbor had never played any version of Munchkin before, so we got to explain the game as we went along (something that’s easy to do, as many of the cards have their own rules that apply to them). At the end of the game – it was our neighbor who was victorious in her first game, continuing a long-standing household tradition that the rookie player somehow manages to win the game.

We put up the cards and conversations turned towards the mutual hobby that we all share, and finally at around 1:00 am the party broke up.

It’s the most socializing that I had done since my friend’s baby shower about three weeks ago. I had a great time and I handled the small crowd very well.

While I thanked my guests on Facebook by name, I also want to thank them again here for stopping by. It meant the world to me and it helped me to boot. I’d love to do more of these sorts of game nights in the future, since they help me to socialize where I wouldn’t otherwise do so.

I went to bed tired, but satisfied. It was a good birthday.

Backed Into a Corner

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On May 11, my doctor asked me to start logging my blood pressure three times daily, which I’ve mostly done since then. Yesterday, my blood pressure escalated throughout the day to the point that the reading at around 10:15 pm was 205/119.

So off to the ER we went.

It’s back down now (relatively speaking) but still quite high, something like 162/109 at last reading about an hour and fifteen minutes ago.

But I’m in a quandary.

I know that exercise is going to be vital to getting my blood pressure lower, but with it being as high as it is, I’m scared to go walk just in case something happens while I’m out there alone.

At this point, I really don’t know what to do and I won’t have a doctor on board to advise me until the end of June. Walking in the evenings is going to be difficult due to the limited amount of time my wife and I have then to get everything done that we need to do at night, though that’s going to be rectified soon enough when her work schedule changes in a couple weeks. I’m just scared to wait until then; I feel that it’s a matter of extreme urgency that I start to lose weight and get my blood pressure down to manageable levels.

Anyone have any advice on what I should do?

Today I Give Thanks

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I’ve already put this on Facebook separately, but here, I want to go into more detail on the things that I am thankful for this holiday season.

I am thankful for having a gorgeous, talented, patient, loving wife that I fall more and more in love with every single day. Our symptoms struggle for dominance often, and that means there are shouting matches. More than I really wish to admit. Those fights are one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason I want to get better. Outside of our bouts of mutual irrationality, I can count on one hand the number of actual, rational disagreements we’ve had in almost 15 years together. I am profoundly happy with my marriage and become more and more so with each passing year.

I am thankful that my frighteningly intelligent, absolutely beautiful, insanely talented, totally awesome daughter is a part of my life again. She’s exceptionally busy with making a life for herself, and so I don’t get a chance to check in with her as often as I would like, but I am inordinately proud of her every accomplishment and will tell anyone that stands still long enough how much I love her.

I am thankful that my mother is relatively healthy and that our relationship is in a good place right now. It has not always been so, and I miss my mom. She’s starting to be scared of aging – she’s going to turn 83 next year – and I’m scared for her. With every word she can’t think of, with every time she repeats herself, she becomes terrified of the possibility of early onset Alzheimer’s. (Her assisted living facility has a memory unit, and she volunteers there, reading to her fellow residents. She sees what the disease is capable of on a frequent basis, and it is her biggest fear by far.) I tell her that I’m experiencing the same thing, but I withhold that I don’t lose words or repeat myself as often as she is starting to. I wish I could tell her that I’m scared for her, but I have to be strong and reassuring. When I’m having an off day, I can’t deal with how difficult she can be. But I’m thankful that, with my newfound confidence and ability to cope, we are able to talk and enjoy one another’s company again.

I am thankful that a certain black and white kitten helped herself to our apartment one Sunday morning. My life has been better and decidedly less boring because of it. She’s grown into an affectionate, loving, playful cat and she has absolutely helped with my symptoms and calming them down. When you’re having a rough day, and a ball of soft fur climbs onto your leg and rubs against your elbow hoping to get pettings, it’s the most awesome feeling in the world. She makes the best faces when I scritch the top of her head, with her mouth hanging slightly open, like what I’m doing is the best thing ever. She can be a handful sometimes, but she’s learned the meaning of “no ma’am” and “time out.” She came into my life at just the right moment and she’s been an invaluable piece of my therapy and recovery.

I am thankful for experiencing a resurgence in my physical and mental health, and actually enjoying the experience. I look forward to being physically active, to eating healthier, and to applying the things that I’m learning about my new diagnosis. I don’t remember a time that I was this mindful about my physical, emotional, and mental states. When I was a teenager and actively running 10Ks and backpacking parts of the Appalachian Trail, I didn’t think about the health benefits; it was just fun. Then other things became fun, and I stopped being so active. I’m learning that it’s a kind of fun that I miss and have done so for years and years. Getting back in shape is going to take a lot of time, but the journey will definitely be worth it. And enjoyable. Even when my calves are screaming at me to park it on the couch.

I am thankful for having a roof over my head, and food in my larder, and clean water to drink. In many parts of the world, these things alone would make me one of the “haves.” So often in the Western world, we take these things for granted. Today especially, I want to give thanks to those people that take care of our apartment and the rest of the complex, the millions of people involved in our food chain, and everyone that works to make sure that our water is safe to drink and plentiful. If I could make one wish this holiday, it is that everyone were able to have access to these fundamental basics.

I am thankful that we have a political system that allows each of us to have a voice in our government. I am hopeful that one day, it will work as intended.

I am thankful for the many talents that I have, and especially thankful that today, I can see them clearly. Today, I am aware that I am a very good cook, that I am a capable singer and performer, that I am a proficient writer, that I am compassionate and kind and loving of my fellow man, and that these things are only part of what make me unique and worthy. May I remember these things tomorrow and every day after that, and may I continue to discover new talents and develop new skills as I grow older.

I am thankful for my friends, most of whom I consider chosen family, who are so accepting, encouraging, and supportive of me. Every single one of them. Even the ones that my struggles have pushed away for now. Without you, I cannot imagine how lonely, boring, and difficult every day would be. Knowing how dark my days have been in the past, I’d prefer not to imagine the potential outcome of a world without my friends.

And once again, I want to reiterate just how much I love and appreciate my wife, my best friend, and my soulmate Stacy. More than there are stars, and until they all fade out.

Family Reunion

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This weekend, as reported, I went camping with some friends of mine to participate in a historical recreation event. Since my symptoms have been getting very bad over the bulk of 2014, I haven’t been very active this year and so this is something like the fifth event that I’ve attended out of dozens available throughout the year.

The first of those events was the day after a suicide scare. I tried to reach out to the live chat at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline’s website and – no joke – was told that all available counselors were assisting other clients and that if I wanted a more expedient response to call the Hotline itself. I found the situation so hysterically funny that I completely forgot about reaching out for help. The next day I went to the event against my will and it took nearly an hour to get me to leave the car. That was the first time I took to Facebook to just be blunt about my situation, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

Most of the people that follow me on Facebook are members of that organization, and so have seen the struggles that I’ve gone through and continue to experience. They have been exceedingly supportive and understanding as I wrestle with my demons, sometimes on an hourly basis. But it’s different seeing someone’s words on the screen and looking into their eyes when you feel like, despite the nice words, you’ve irreparably disappointed and distanced them from your life.

At all five events that I have attended, I have been met with an outpouring of support and encouragement and pure happiness that I’m out and about. This weekend, I literally lost count of the people who, at all levels of involvement and every step of the award structure and organizational hierarchy came to me and told me how wonderful it was to see me. I was hugged, I was kissed, I was told just how happy I made people just by being around. I met new friends who told me they’d heard of me through a mutual acquaintance and that it was such a pleasure to finally put a face to a name.

It felt like what I imagine a family reunion feels like. My family at birth consisted of three of my four grandparents, my mother and father, my half-brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. At this time, my family consists of my wife, my mother, and my daughter. All four grandparents, my father, and my half-brother are deceased; my uncle’s side of the family has disowned my mother and I; and I haven’t spoken with my niece since she was seven, much less met her husband and kids. There was never much of a family to reunite, and so I’ve never been to one.

My wife’s family, however, is tremendous. Her parents are divorced, and between the children of the remarriages there are 23 nieces and nephews. Anniversaries ending in zero and five regularly bring in hundreds of extended family members for a weekend. I’ve still never been to a family reunion.

But sitting under a large pavilion in a heavy downpour, dressed as a Viking, amidst the simulated combat (no one dies, but there are a lot of sore bodies the next day), the arts and sciences (someone made a working copy of Newton’s telescope!), and the merchants selling their wares, living a sort of year-round traveling Renaissance festival and skills demonstration, I’ve found my family. And every time I’m around them, it’s just like we’re all reuniting again.

I’ve seen babies born and grown to near adulthood. Kids that were less than ten when I first met them are married with kids of their own now. I’ve also marked the passing of more of my friends than I care to. With such a big chosen family, eventually you’ll realize that you’ve lost a lot of them to illnesses, old age, and tragic accidents. I miss every one of them and wish for just one more day with them to tell them how important they are to me, and how much I love them.

To those of them who read this blog, this post is for you. Thank you for the kindnesses you show me, your words of encouragement, and for bringing me into your family. We make a show of fighting with rattan and blunted fencing swords, of lords and ladies dressed in their court finest, of raucous parties with free-flowing alcohol and even more raucous tales of one another’s exploits. Sometimes we exchange heated words, and those wounds run deep because we do care about one another so much. But in the end, we’re one big family.

I chose every one of you. Thank you for making it a mutual choice. I’m honestly not sure I’d still be here today if it weren’t for you.