#604 – Been a While, Hasn’t It?

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So hey there, how are you doing? Been a while, hasn’t it? I have over two months to catch you up on, and that has been a hectic time. My apologies for disappearing, but there have been reasons.

The last time I wrote to you, I was just getting ready to start the spring semester with 14 credit hours and was preparing to move. There have been a lot of things going on, so I’m going to split this up into categories instead of trying to remember the last two months chronologically.

School: Fourteen credit hours is a lot to take on at once, and with two pre-requisites and two co-requisites on my schedule – and a target of applying to my program a year from now with at least a 3.5 GPA – performing well is very important. I’m taking anatomy and physiology I and applied physics (both pre-requisites) as well as English composition I and something called Effective Learning (both co-requisites), and none of these are really easy courses. I’ve been worried about my performance, especially since I’ve missed at least two class sessions in all four classes thanks to various illnesses, and my reading is falling further and further behind. However, here at roughly the halfway point of the semester I’ve got a high B, in A&P, and As everywhere else. That’s on target for my goal GPA – now if I can just maintain this for about eight more weeks, and hopefully bring that B up to an A, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Home: We’re moved! On moving day we’d not packed up even half the apartment when folks started coming around about 9:00 am, so we knew we were in for a long day. However, we had a lot of friends that came to help us, and by noon we had packed everything up and gotten the vast majority of our stuff down to the truck and assorted vehicles, ready to take it to our new apartment. By 4:00 pm everything we’d brought over in the first wave was either inside the apartment or on our patio. All the furniture was in place and my wonderful mother-in-law had almost completely unpacked our kitchen. That left only a few things to do on the second day we’d set aside for the move, and it seemed like in the blink of an eye our environment had transformed. We had moved from a 34-year-old 2/2 apartment in a less-than-ideal part of town to a ten-year-old gated community in one of the nicest places in town as well as a freshly renovated unit. We moved in about two months ago, and even though we’ve still got some stuff in boxes it still feels a little like us moving into a resort. And then the bills came in. We are estimating that our rent and water bills would be comparable between the two apartments – but our rent includes a surcharge for a reserved covered parking spot, something that wasn’t even offered at the old apartment, so, all in all, we’re paying less here than we would have been at the old place. Our water bill is half of what it was, as is our electric bill, and our internet bill is cheaper for service faster than we had by an order of magnitude. Even our car insurance has gone down. The only expense that’s gone up is our monthly fuel bill – my wife’s commute has doubled in length and four days out of five that trip is being taken twice to allow me to have the car for class.

Health: My anxiety has been doing very well given the added stress of a heavy course load, and only in recent weeks has my anxiety been really elevated. (More on that in a minute.) My blood sugar has been slowly rising, and this morning I recorded the highest glucose reading I’ve had since my diabetes has been controlled, so I’ll be going to the doctor soon to talk about that. Good thing too – my blood pressure has been on the rise as well, although part of that is likely due to school stress.

Family: I got a call from Mom one day a few weeks ago with her telling me that she was in Dallas strolling around the thousand acres that she’d just bought, and wanted to know what kind of cars we wanted her to buy for us, and took special care to point out that she had a private plane on call to whisk us from Austin to her property in about an hour and a half. Since that point, my dad has apparently taken over $2000 out of her account and changed her banking password and disappeared with her car. She figured he’s gone for good and is talking with a divorce lawyer about what she needs to do to file. Fortunately, her brother and sister-in-law have been visiting on the weekends and keeping her company. Here’s the problem: Mom is in a skilled nursing facility in North Carolina and has been unable to walk for well over a decade. My father passed away in 1995, and both her brother and sister-in-law are also deceased. There’s no property in Dallas, there’s no money for his and hers cars, there’s certainly no private plane. My thought is that she has a chronic infection that’s been causing hallucinations for weeks, and despite the facility supposedly treating it her symptoms have not abated. If she were living in the past, then I’d be more concerned about dementia setting in, but this is all new stuff that she’s telling us, so it seems to be more hallucinatory than memory loss. The good news is that the ball has finally started rolling to make me a secondary medical power of attorney for her, which means that the facility will now start calling me, her actual son, when they need to advise us of treatments and progress in her conditions, as well as the family friend who’s local to her and who has been taking care of her for years – and who is her primary medical power of attorney due to his proximity to Mom.

Community: This is where the elevated anxiety comes in. It is not internal. I live in Austin, which has until earlier this week been dealing with a domestic terrorist that planted seven bombs in town, six of which detonated with two fatalities and several more serious injuries. The suspect had started to change up his level of sophistication as well as his delivery method, with one bomb exploding in a FedEx facility south of town, which had the whole of Austin on edge. That fear was almost palpable in the 48 hours leading up to police catching up to their primary suspect, only to have him die in a self-triggered explosion early Wednesday morning. The whole thing hit home with me on several fronts. A friend of mine lives just a couple miles from the sites of multiple explosions and was seriously considering keeping her kids home from school until the perpetrator was caught. Another friend of mine was told by police to stay in her apartment while they investigated a suspicious package left at the high school next door to her. One of the explosions was just a few doors down from a fellow physics student and she was being told to stay indoors until the all-clear had been given – she’d gone so far as to write our professor and tell him she’d likely miss class that day.

So that’s pretty much been my last two months. My schedule has been hectic and a lot of things I used to do on a daily basis have fallen by the wayside since the semester started. I mentioned this to my therapist a couple days ago and she brought up the excellent point that the important things, the medical reasons that I started keeping a daily checklist in the first place, are all being done more or less without fail, so I shouldn’t worry so much about keeping up with everything. She’d also like me to write more often, so I’m going to try my best to get back to at least a couple times a week. On that note, I’ll be around again in a few days with a shorter post.

 

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Progress on Several Fronts

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I met with my therapist today.

We talked about the last two weeks – about the SCA event over the weekend, about how I managed to avoid much anxiety, how much fun I had, and how glad I was to be getting back into an area of the SCA that I used to enjoy very much. She was very pleased to hear about everything, and when I was quick to give credit to having the Zoloft on board she was just as quick to correct me. She said that most of what I did over the weekend was me, and not the medication. The Zoloft might have taken the edge off, but the complete lack of panic leading up to the event and the relative low amount of anxiety I felt during the event was because of my progress over several months and my own efforts were what kept the panic attack at the event at bay.

We also talked about school, and she mentioned that my classes over the weekend will go a ways toward preparing me for my classes in the fall. She was concerned that I was going to be doing four classes at once, but she was relieved to hear that I would be doing them sequentially. I told her that Austin Community College offers an associates degree in Health Information Technology that would expand on the learning that I would receive through the certificate program, and that the associates degree transfers to the Health Information Technology program at Texas State University for a bachelor’s degree. She asked if I could go back to Texas Workforce Commission and ask if they would greenlight the associates degree instead of the certificate program. It’s six semesters versus two, but it would open more doors for me at the end of my education, and presumably increase my asking salary. I told her that I have a new counselor at TWC and that I’d send something over to her tomorrow.

We also touched on my fear of dying. I mentioned that it had come up in the book that I’m reading on her recommendation, and that the entry wasn’t very helpful. The end result of that conversation was a little surprising. She wants me to do some soul searching to arrive at what I believe happens when we die. I’d never given it much thought beyond “if there is something, living a decent life on Earth is the best way to secure a happy afterlife, and if there isn’t something, living a decent life on Earth is its own reward.” But I suppose that over the next couple weeks I’ll be deep in thought about this so I can report back to her.

It was a good session today.

Unresolved

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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

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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

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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.

Apprehension Sets In

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Recently I’ve been discussing the projects that I have either already undertaken or am considering undertaking. And I realized where my uncertainty of late is coming from.

With regard to the project that I’ve already undertaken, I have a concrete plan of what I want to accomplish. There are a half dozen objectives that I’m working toward that I hope will improve the quality of events in my chosen hobby. The project that I’m researching has so many steps that all need to be taken in a precise order that I’m overwhelming myself having just started my research.

Keep in mind that it’s still a challenge for me to hit everything on my checklist on a daily basis. This involves taking my vitals and my medications throughout the day, personal hygiene morning and night, eating three meals a day, walking, writing, getting my to-do list done, yoga (or stretching, I might be in transition based on my body’s more pressing need to increase my range of motion), noting my good things throughout the day, leisure, and getting into bed before midnight. That’s not that big of a list, and yet I regularly fail to do at least two or three things on that list. Now, I’m taking my meds without fail, and I’m catching my vitals almost all the time. But the other stuff I have problems remembering, even eating sometimes.

And I’m looking at creating a volunteer office and a nonprofit organization out of nothing? How dare I presume I have the energy for this?

But I have to remember, that everything is done in tiny little chunks, and that one step leads to another. I can’t get bogged down by the overall scope of what I’m trying to accomplish; I just need to focus on the one part that’s in front of me right now.

When this is all said and done, I know that these two projects are going to be part of the legacy I leave behind. It’s important that I do them well. But as for today, I’m out of energy and I’m out of spoons and it’s time to do something mindless and fun, even though I haven’t hardly done anything at all today toward anything productive. (I’ve been tired and in pain a lot of the day.) My day’s big accomplishment is that I’ve been able to pull it together long enough to pack up the laptop and head out to a Starbucks. The question is how long I can stay here and be out and about before I completely freak out and we have to pack up and head home. The weather is starting to become a factor as well, so I’m trying to stick it out until we have to go home due to an incoming thunderstorm.

On the plus side, though, my head is doing better than my butt is. Starbucks should really think about some more comfortable barstools in their establishments.