Unresolved

Standard

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have an irrational fear of dying. It’s not the being dead part that scares me; it’s the fear of the sickness and pain and suffering that’s associated with death that gets me. I talked about how the book I’m currently reading, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne PhD, has a section that covers the fear of death, and how I was looking forward to getting to that section to hopefully find some guidance in how to get over my fear.

Today is the day that I got to that section, and it is … lacking.

It explains that some of the most common types of thanatophobia (the official term for a fear of death) are a fear of nonexistence; a fear of the unknown; a fear of negative afterlife based on religious beliefs, such as hell or purgatory; my situation, the fear of the negative aspects of the process of dying; fear of the death of a loved one; fear of what will happen to loved ones after you die; and an outright fear of dead things.

The book goes into some detail about the fear of nonexistence. It talks briefly about the fears of death that center around religious beliefs. It has a couple of paragraphs on how some people respond favorably to literature on near-death experiences. It mentions a couple of therapeutic options for people whose fear of death began with a traumatic experience of watching a loved one die.

And this is what it says about dealing with the pain and suffering of the process of dying.

“The fear of pain and suffering associated with death may arise from a traumatic experience of witnessing a loved one go through a protracted process of dying. Often the death of a loved one may lead to an increased fear of one’s own death as well as a fear of sights and objects associated with death.”

That’s it. That’s all the book offers.

First off, I’ve had this fear for as long as I can remember. My mom’s dad passed before I was born. My dad’s dad passed very suddenly in a town three hours away. We lost dad’s mom after a protracted illness, but because of my age I wasn’t allowed in to see her throughout most of it, and Mom and Dad didn’t go into much detail about what she was going through. My first memory of a protracted illness in a loved one was my mom’s mom, who died when I was 25 after a years-long deterioration into dementia. A stroke finally took her in November 1994 after spending over a year living at a nursing facility that I never visited. My first hands-on experience with death was with my father, a year later. He suffered a heart attack and then a second one took him a week after that. I had that week with him in the hospital and woke up the morning of his death knowing that it would very well be his last day on earth. But my fear of death dates back long before my father and my grandmother. It wasn’t anything to do with a loved one dying.

Secondly, There’s absolutely no real help here at all. Just two sentences speculating about the origin of the fear, and another sentence later in the section that says that hypnotherapy or eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing could be helpful in instances where the fear of death originates with the death of a loved one.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating what turned out to be nothing useful.

I’m a little frustrated about this. I was really hoping to find something that would address the dreams that I have about dying, the ones where I wake up in a cold sweat. I was looking forward to getting some tips on how to combat the immediate sense of panic that I feel anytime the thought of my death crosses my mind. And instead I’ve got nothing concrete that I can use to alleviate that fear.

Well, no matter. It’s something that I can bring up with my therapist and we can work on it together.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Standard

As longtime readers of this blog may know, every day I try to read a section in a non-fiction, usually self-help book. Right now I’m reading The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD. It’s a bit of a slog, and it’s an incomplete read, because there are several exercises that take weeks to complete, not to mention some chapters and sections that aren’t relevant to my particular situation. Nevertheless, I’m reading the whole thing cover to cover, and then going back and doing the exercises recommended for me.

I’m currently on Chapter 11, called Ten Common Specific Phobias. It’s pretty much as advertised, a listing of ten phobias and some potential methods of overcoming each one. Most of these don’t pertain to me. The most common phobia, performance anxiety (public speaking and the like), is something that I only marginally deal with, others listed don’t bother me at all. The tenth one, however, is my single greatest fear. I’ve awoken in a cold sweat dreaming about it, and I can feel the panic rising in me even now just thinking about it, because it’s something that I WILL eventually have to face.

I have a tremendous fear of dying.

I’m not scared of being dead. That part doesn’t bother me. I’m not worried about my soul in the afterlife, and an endless, dreamless sleep if there’s nothing is just that. What bothers me, however, is the process of dying, the panicked gasping for breath that doesn’t come, the potential for a long, drawn out illness, the chance that it’s going to hurt very badly. That’s the part that I’m terrified of.

Fortunately, there appear to be some concrete things that the book suggests to help ease that fear. I only today discovered the section existed, and skipped ahead briefly to scan it. There appears to be more reading that I’m going to have to do after I finish my work with this book, but I’m okay with that. I just hope that it helps. I really wish I didn’t fear this so much, but the older I’m getting and the poorer my health becomes, the more I’m forced to face the fact that I likely don’t have as many years ahead of me as I do behind me. (Hopefully I’m wrong about that, and if I’m not, I hope I miss it by just a few years.) It’s a crippling feeling to know that I’m helpless to prevent it from happening.

I’ll have more on this in a few days when I get to the actual section itself.

Deathly Afraid

Standard

I’ve talked about my phobias on this blog before, although not really in depth. I’ve conquered most of them, but there’s still one that will wake me up in a cold sweat if I dream about it, and it will bring me to the edge of a panic attack if I even think about it, so this blog post is going to be difficult to write.

I am deathly afraid of dying. (Pun intended.)

It’s important to note that I am not afraid of death – that is, being dead. I figure that I’m either going to move on to the next big adventure or just go to sleep and never wake up, and being in that state does not scare me. But the process of dying absolutely terrifies me. The destination isn’t frightening, but the journey certainly is.

I know this isn’t an uncommon phobia. Many of us are afraid of dying. The term thanatophobia refers to both a fear of death and a fear of dying, so it is recognized that the two are separate things. But I can’t shake the fear that I’ll be leaving this life behind.

I’m not sure why that’s such a terrifying thing for me. I haven’t done much with this life, I’ve hardly ever accomplished anything I set out to try and accomplish in my life – but maybe that’s why I’m scared of dying. I’m afraid of what I’ve been missing out on being forever out of reach for me.

My solution up to this point has been to not think about it, but that’s not an effective or elegant answer to a problem that just comes into my head from time to time unbidden. Nor is just doing the things that I want to do an answer either. My other anxieties and lack of funds keep me from doing a lot that I may want to do. (Apparently Bucket List Me is an expensive date.)

Is there an answer to this fear out there somewhere? Surely there’s got to be something that can help me overcome this one. Exposure therapy isn’t really going to work for this one. (Write about dying until it no longer scares you. Now pretend that you’re dying until it no longer scares you. Then actually die until it no longer scares you … um …) So what other solutions are available?

Guess I’ll tack this onto the list of things to talk about in therapy.

On Bowie and Rickman; or, Callahan’s Law

Standard

My social media feeds have exploded with remembrances of David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

The parallels between them are notable: both beloved for their extensive bodies of work, both British, both dead at age 69 from cancer within days of one another.

The public was shocked by the news of David Bowie’s passing – no one I know even knew he was sick – and was still adjusting to a world without the Thin White Duke when news about Alan Rickman’s death came and opened that wound anew.

Social media is notorious for its signal-to-noise ratio. Meaningless and sometimes erroneous memes are distributed in a desperate attempt to chase one’s 15 minutes of fame. Clickbait is the new journalism. Don’t read the comments for anything, lest the madness be infectious.

But every once in a while, the Internet becomes an online version of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.

For those not familiar with this work, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a compilation of short stories that revolve around Mike Callahan, his bar, and its regulars. Written in the late 70s and early 80s by Spider Robinson, it tells magnificent science fiction tales full of empathy and acceptance. No one could really tell you where Callahan’s was, but if you needed to find the place, you would. Puns flew like darts (and both are relevant to the story, in their own way), but the overarcing principle of Callahan’s is the Law of Conservation of Pain and Joy, or more simply put, Callahan’s Law.

Callahan’s Law states that “shared pain is lessened shared joy, increased – thus do we refute entropy.” Alternately, it’s worded to say that “Just as there are Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, so there are in fact Laws of Conservation of Pain and Joy. Neither can ever be created or destroyed. But one can be converted into the other.”

Callahan’s is a wonderful, thought-provoking, hilarious read that I would recommend to you – that is, if you can stomach puns. The novel and its sequels are thick with them.

But I would propose that in times like these, whenever we mourn collectively, the Internet becomes our Callahan’s, with the Law firmly in effect.

As I stated earlier, my Facebook feed is almost completely comprised of remembrances of both Bowie and Rickman. There are a lot of my friends, myself included, that have been moved to tears by the two sudden losses. Their deaths are affecting many people that I know and millions that I don’t, and so we’re pausing the usual drivel of social media to make it a forum of substance.

In our stories about how each man touched our lives in their own special way, we are sharing our pain with the legions of followers many of us have on social media. And sharing that pain helps to lessen its impact on us. We’re remembering happy times where Bowie’s music was particularly meaningful or Rickman’s performances made us smile and even laugh. One story details something that triggers another story, and so on, and so the Internet collectively has become the world’s wake for these beloved men. In our sorrow, we remember what it was about them that made us happy, and we’re reminded of those times.

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased.

One more thing about the bar. Drinks carry two prices at Callahan’s. You can either drop a dollar in the cigar box on the bar and pull out two quarters’ change, and drink your drink as you normally would, or you can leave the whole dollar in the box to make a toast. To make a toast at Callahan’s, you need only step up to the line in front of the fireplace, and the whole crowd will quiet down to hear what you have to say. You make your toast, you down your drink, and then you throw the glass into the fireplace as hard as you can. It’s okay, the fireplace is hyperbolically designed to prevent shards from flying back out into the crowd. And often, that one glass is followed in short order from glasses flying into the fireplace from everywhere in the bar. Mike has to make a point of sweeping out the broken glass every night. He doesn’t mind, though, he gets a bulk discount on the glasses.

So, having left my dollar in the cigar box on the counter, I will walk to the line, raise my glass, and simply state in a clear, ringing voice: To Bowie! To Rickman!

And the sound of shattering glass from within this virtual Callahan’s shall be deafening.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Standard

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I haven’t written in almost two weeks. That’s been by design. Here’s what happened.

I finished my last post and realized that I needed a few days to process everything that had happened in therapy, so I took the rest of the week off. Then on Sunday, I made the conscious decision that I was going to take a week of from any obligations of any kind, save for meds and vitals. I thought it would be therapeutic to have nothing to do. I was wrong.

By Thursday I was going nuts with boredom. I would literally sit and stare off at the walls in an attempt to NOT do anything. I was expending more energy trying to accomplish nothing than I would have been trying to stick to my checklist. I promised myself that I would get back on track on Monday, and then I got the message.

A friend of mine passed away last week, and her husband asked me to be a pallbearer. There are some things that you just don’t say no to, and that’s one of them, so my wife and I started making plans for her to be out of work for the funeral on Monday (the funeral was three hours away).

Her death was unexpected. She spent the last two weeks of her life in the hospital battling a sudden illness that no one could have foreseen.

Normally we’re in bed around 1:00 or 1:30 am, but in order for us to make the service, we had to leave the house by 7:00 am, which meant waking at 6:00 am to get things packed and out the door. I was restless that night, and still awake at 2:30 am; my wife didn’t get much more sleep than I did.

Monday morning rolled around and off we went. As is typical, my wife did all the driving, and I only caught a few minutes of sleep on the road. The service started at 11:00 am and was lovely, and then we drove the hour to the cemetery for the gravesite service. We were back on the road by 2:30 pm.

When we got home, we put away our dress clothes, unpacked what we had packed for the trip, and laid down for a nap. That was at 5:30 pm Monday afternoon.

At 8:00 pm we woke up and ate a bowl of chili, then laid back down.

At 11:00 pm, I woke and took my evening medications and vitals, then laid back down.

At 9:00 am the next morning, I awoke again, long enough for meds, vitals, breakfast, and coffee, then laid back down.

At 11:30 am, my wife came to wake me up to see her off for work (she’s working four ten-hour shifts this week to make up for being out on Monday), then I laid back down again.

I finally rolled out of bed for good around 2:45 pm. I was out for about 19 of the previous 21 hours. This put rather a crimp in my plans to get back on track on Tuesday, and so today, Wednesday, is the first chance that I’ve had to try and get back to the usual and customary. It’s more likely that it’ll be tomorrow or Friday before I can really stick to it, but I’m making the effort today.

I’m going to miss my friend. She had a sharp wit and was a fierce protector of her son, as well as being a talented artisan. I didn’t see her a lot for the last ten years of our friendship, and now I never will again.

NaBloPoMo Day 18: Another Death in the Family

Standard

Back in June I told you about A Death in the Family, where I found out my aunt had died almost two months after the fact.

Last night I learned that her husband, my mother’s brother, passed away on August 1.

As you can tell, we really aren’t that close to that side of the family. I hadn’t personally spoken to him since my father’s memorial service twenty years ago.

As it was when my aunt passed, my feelings are more “oh” than “oh dear,” and it feels like I’m hearing about someone else’s family.

Neither of them ever seemed to approve of me. I always got the impression that I was a disappointment to them, long before I came of an age where I could really disappoint them. I feel a sense of loss, but it’s not sharp; it’s more of the ache of “what might have been.”

Maybe they were embarrassed about how far they’d fallen. Back in the 1970s and 1980s my uncle owned a chain of one-hour photo stores in the Atlanta area, and did a very brisk business. Then cameras became digital and photos were printed at home and my uncle didn’t keep up with the technology and lost his shirt. They were very prideful – well, my aunt was – of their elegant home in their affluent neighborhood, and it must have killed them to have to go to her brother and essentially beg for a place to stay, especially that late in life. I can’t really know what they went through – for 20 years, I never heard a word.

I had always missed not having a better relationship with them.

And now I miss them because now I never will.

Breaking Radio Silence

Standard

Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. I just haven’t had it in me. And with that, here goes a stream-of-consciousness barrage of words from the last little while.

Thursday morning, I learned a friend of mine who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer had passed away. I didn’t feel much like doing the truly optional parts of my checklist, and I was particularly sad because of the news, so I didn’t choose to write about it, though I should have.

By the time I’d recovered enough to start my day, it was time to make preparations for my radio show, which this time included something special.

The radio station that I deejay for was founded as a support community for one particular server on a superhero MMORPG called City of Heroes. We started playing the game to stay in touch with my wife’s best friend and eventually we joined the radio station community and, later, became DJs ourselves. I also found my most recent job through the contacts that I made at the station, so I’ve gotten a good deal of life experience out of that relationship.

The game itself shut down in late 2012 and the station went on to support two more games, later dropping one and picking up two more, and eventually becoming “game-agnostic,” meaning that the station doesn’t officially support one game over another – as long as the game has a social component, there’s a possibility that the station could have a show in the game. (In-game shows basically consist of character avatars gathering in one place and roleplaying a dance party, with game-related conversation going on amongst the participants and the DJs keeping the conversation going if and when there’s a lull.)

Our original game, City of Heroes, has a fiercely loyal fanbase. Many players that I know through the station have vowed never to give the game’s distribution company another dime on any future game, and many have never let go of the dream that one day, City would reopen.

Recently, it was announced that a third party had acquired enough of the game code to reopen the game environment of City of Heroes as an XMPP chat server. Roleplay could happen, but powers, even those designed solely for travel, weren’t present. Neither were enemies or NPCs (non-player characters, like mission contacts or random people on the street, for instance). But enough of the game environment was present to recreate a station show in our original format. The new product is called Paragon Chat, a take on the “City” portion of City of Heroes (heroes were all based in a fictional city called Paragon City).

Paragon Chat went live on Tuesday evening, and so I spent part of my Thursday setting up the chat client and preparing my avatar for hosting my show in the game’s nightclub, where the station hosted many of their shows.

The show itself was awash with nostalgia. Characters who haven’t seen one another for years were getting reacquainted, players were still trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. (The chat client’s functionality is being improved slowly over what appears to be a planned timetable, so while some costume pieces and game commands may not be available now, they could be in the future.) I had done special shows in conjunction with in-game events in between City’s sunset and Paragon Chat’s introduction in the other games that we supported, and the most I ever got at one show was seven players and maybe 30 listeners to the station’s livestream. Thursday night at one point I had 24 players at the show, and peaked at 45 listeners. It seemed our community was happy to come home, or as close to home as we could get.

At around 7:30 pm, or roughly halfway through my show, I checked my blood pressure, and it was significantly elevated, so I kept an eye on it every few minutes or so. At one point, it topped out at 200/118. I was determined to finish my show, and besides, my wife was at work and would be until 11:00 pm, so I stuck it out, keeping a careful eye on things and promising both my wife and the DJ that followed my show that I’d call 911 if things got as bad as that 200/118 reading again. (The DJ that takes over from me is local, which is a rare occurrence for our station. Our DJs broadcast from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Australia, so finding multiple DJs in one metropolitan area is rare. The only two cities that we have multiple DJs that aren’t romantically involved with one another are Austin and Chicago. I brought this up because my follow-up DJ was prepared to put the show on autopilot and drive me to the ER herself.) I made it through the show and when my wife got home, we went off to the ER again, for the second time in two days. Once again, I got a Clonidine and was discharged without much fanfare.

Friday morning I saw my doctor for my annual physical and to pick up the results of the bloodwork. And that’s where things get really cool.

A1C is a measurement of blood glucose over the previous three months. A normal A1C for someone without diabetes ranges from 4 to 6, with prediabetes diagnosed for anyone ranging from 5.7 to 6.4. An A1C reading of 6.5 or higher over two tests is indicative of diabetes. My most recent A1C (when I was diagnosed) was 10.4, well into the range of uncontrolled diabetes. The lab that took my reading considers a normal range to be 4.0 to 5.6.

My A1C was 5.7. But the news got better.

A person is considered to have high cholesterol if their reading is over 200. Mine has historically been anywhere from 230-250. Triglycerides should be under 150. My highest reading has been over 900. HDL cholesterol (the good kind) should be above 39, and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) should be below 100. Usually my HDL reading has been between 25 and 28, and my LDL has been over 150 at one point.

My cholesterol was 128. Triglycerides were 288, still not within normal range, but far better than they’ve ever been as long as I’ve been checking them. HDL was 33, still not normal, but headed in the right direction. My LDL was 37.

And to top everything off, I’d lost 16 pounds in six weeks.

So I rewarded myself yesterday with a day of not bothering with the checklist at all and just doing whatever was going to make me happy. And I still didn’t feel like writing, so I didn’t.

So that basically catches you up on the last couple of days. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but with far more good than bad. I just wanted to savor it in the moment, knowing I could report in with the good news when I got around to it.

And I just got around to it. How’ve you been?