Shouldering My Shoulds

DSCF0623A few days ago as I was working on my memoir, I wrote, “Though he has broad shoulders, I should not lean on them as much as I do.”  Seeing the words “shoulder” and “should,” just one word apart from each other stopped me in my tracks. They are words with different meanings. Their spelling is alike, except for the “er” in shoulder.  And they are very much related, especially in the way we use them today.

I  looked up the meaning and origin of each word. According to the Merrriam-Webster Dictionary, the word should comes from “the middle English word, sholde and the Old English word sceolde.”  One of its many uses is “in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency.”

Shoulder on the other hand “in Middle English is sholder from Old English sculdor; akin to Old High German scultra.”  We of course know it to mean the part of the body between the neck and the tops of our arms. It can also mean to carry a burden or to push through.

I first heard the expression, “Don’t should on me,” years ago at one of the first Alanon meetings I went to.  Dealing with my mother’s alcoholism and another family member’s drug habits, I went to those meetings to find my way through the maze of how to live my own life while being a family member with concerns about my loved ones. My mother-in-law had also been an alcoholic when she was alive and I’d successfully made her into my worst enemy by telling her that if she really loved her son and her new grandson, she shouldn’t drink.

It was years before I learned that “should” doesn’t mean anything when it comes to addiction, whether it’s to alcohol, heroin, or food.  Addiction is a disease that is genetic and runs in families.  It is a biological urge that is difficult, if not impossible to overcome.

I have always been a “shoulder.” Should is a frequent part of my speech no matter who I’m talking to, and especially when it comes to myself. “I should go to the gym four times a week, I shouldn’t eat too much dessert, and I should be more patient,” are always on the tip of my tongue. It was a family pattern I grew up with. I was constantly being told I should or shouldn’t, as in “You shouldn’t be seeing that boy. You should be seeing someone closer to your own age.”

I’ve also been one big “shoulder.” I’ve carried a lot of stuff belonging to other people on my shoulders so that they would feel less pain. I’ve always hated watching people, especially my family and innocent creatures like dogs, cats, and horses suffer. So in order to keep those I love from painful predicaments I often try to carry their baggage for them. When it came to my parents, I was their go-between when they fought. I became the family “fixer” who knew just what to say to calm everyone else down, while I broke apart from the weight.

I’ve been known for taking the reins when someone falls off their horse and lies on the ground broken and in pain. I took my mother in during her last years, caring for her as best as I could, often at my own emotional expense. I know now that I shouldn’t be carrying anyone else’s baggage but my own. But it’s still a tendency and I’m working hard at being less prone to that way of life.  I’m being fairly successful, though now and then I find it particularly difficult to pass up taking in a stray dog or cat.

The pinched nerve in my neck/shoulder area is almost 100% better. I think it had something to do with a should.  The one in which I said I should have my first draft done by October first.  Well, it’s not going to happen and that’s fine by me. I’m learning to listen to my body when it tells me what I should and shouldn’t be doing.

Are you a “shoulder?”  If so, what makes you want to take on the weight of the world?

Not The End Of The World

DSCF0267It’s been one of those times ( you know them, I’m sure) when the unexpected happens and you’re left in the dust as the world moves forward and you’re left wondering how you’ll ever get back on your feet.  Emails and blogs I’m subscribed to are piling up and it seems like the only thing to do is hit erase and pretend I never got them.  And my writing?  Forget about it.

Two weeks ago I was hit with a pinched nerve in my left shoulder area.  The pain was sharp and intense in my neck, and shoulder. It ran all the way down my arm into my elbow and hand. The first two days I was here alone. Walking the dogs, getting a meal prepared for myself and driving were a nightmare. I went back to see my chiropractor, whom I’d seen just hours before the pain hit.  She readjusted me but nothing changed. The following day I had a two hour massage with one of the best world’s best. It felt better for a few minutes but went right back to feeling horrible. The day after that, a Sunday, Bill was home again. He drove me to Med-Express, one of those places that is open all the time with doctors who are available to help those who are ailing.  The funny doctor there took x-rays, noted that it wasn’t my rotator-cuff, four or five other things, and said, “Yeah, It’s probably a pinched nerve.” He called me “Poor Miss Joan,” and told me I’m not getting any younger but added that I look terrific for my age. He sent me to the pharmacy for a muscle relaxant and prednisone in a pack that you take for six days. Each day you take one less until they are gone.

Nothing much changed.  My stomach became a mess. I was bloated, had indigestion, and worse. I began to wonder if I had some fatal disease. I felt helpless and hopeless. I wanted to write but couldn’t bear the pain. I spent most days in bed. Moving around was just too painful.

I had silly, mini panic attacks. I worried the endometrial cancer I’ve been free of for three years was eating it’s way through my body, similar to the 17 year locusts that invaded the area this summer devouring oak leaves. They made love, laid eggs, and then died. Yikes! Being one with a wild imagination, I worried about what would happen if I did die. Would Bill feed the dogs on time and walk them as I always did the first thing each and every morning?  Would I be able to somehow finish the first draft of my book before I went, if I dictated it to a stenographer?  And would Bill know that I had taken several sweaters to the cleaners last week? And would he remember to pick them up?

If I wasn’t crying, I was trying to laugh.  Sort of.  Monday after seeing the doctor at Med-Express, I called to make an appointment with my own doctor.  She had a full schedule, couldn’t see me and was going out of town for the rest of the week. I made an appointment with her Nurse Practitioner for Wednesday. I called another doctor I’d seen over ten years ago for a rotator cuff problem and is considered the best in town.  He was booked ahead for months. But his associate could see me on the 28th of August.  I said, “No, if I wait tow weeks to see someone about this problem, I’ll probably be long gone to another world. “

On Wednesday with the pain worsening, I saw Nurse Practitioner, Alycia.  She is lovely and young. I felt like an old, worn out hag, getting ready to sit in my rocking chair for the next ten years, drooling and staring into space.   She told me the stomach problems were caused by the prednisone, that it is very unlikely that the cancer had spread to my shoulder, and no, I wasn’t dying.  She also told me that I had so much inflammation in my shoulder and arm that I needed to go back on the prednisone once I’d finished the pack I already had.  She also gave me a prescription for a stomach soother, told me to enhance the Prednisone with Naproxen, rest, and don’t do anything that hurts.

Well then, what could I do? Every time I moved it hurt. I’ve found that most things require arm motion of some kind.I decided I’d finish the two books I was in the middle of reading, watch something stupid on television, and take advantage of the time by having long afternoon naps. After a while the last two activities got boring.  I wanted to write, go for a walk, and stop hurting.

Very slowly, the pain is moving on.  Today I worked on the computer without my hand getting numb.  My shoulder and neck are still a bit tight, but hopefully that’s coming to an end. Yesterday, I baked banana bread and puttered around with laundry and all the stuff that sits undone as I spend my days not doing much.

Today, I’m reading the blogs I subscribe to, and emails, too. I still can’t go to Pilates, Yoga, run around the block, walk the dogs because they pull, or work in the garden.  But it’s coming. This whole little side-tracking adventure has given me something to cry, giggle and write about. I’ll start work again on my book tomorrow, if I haven’t burned out my arm and fingers writing this little jingle. And I’ll continue feeling grateful that my problems are no worse than they are.

As I send out love, healing light and prayers for my pain to go away, I also send them to all sentient beings every where. And especially to a friend who recently found out she has a brain tumor.

May you be well. May you be happy. May you live in peace.

Beautifully Blue

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

“This is the way I feel inside. Turmoil in twisted knots. Beautifully blue. And Black. And Purple. A bruise. But one that will heal to be more like the smaller, green outer pages,  Still somewhat chaotic but fresh and very much alive. Still breathing. “

I made this collage in my journal and wrote those words on July 18, 2002.  I was a year into taking care of my mother as her health declined. I invited her to come to live in my house. I thought I could help her through her final years. Bill thought it was a good idea, too.

On a day when Bill was leaving for a week in New York, Mom fell and broke her wrist. I was left alone with her to deal with her pain, her depression, and her growing neediness. It was not a life threatening situation. But it was an inconvenience. I felt overwhelmed and abandoned. I wasn’t ready to be a caretaker. I had no idea what I was doing. I had panic attacks, slept only a few hours each night, worrying about my mother.  I was angry about the disturbance in my life, about Bill being gone. I wanted Mom to go away. I didn’t think about what she was feeling.

It was the beginning of a steep learning curve that brought me to my knees on many occasions. I was constantly confused and wanted out. But at the same time I wanted to take care of her. There were moments when I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. And times when taking care of her meant the world to me.

In the car one day as I was driving Mom to see her doctor, she sighed and said, “If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”  I was deeply moved by what she said. She never talked about her emotional state during her last few years. I wasn’t ever sure that she was processing what was happening to her. But when she spoke those words, I knew that she was thinking about life and death and the passage of time. Later that evening I took her words and wrote the following poem.

 She Said

“If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”
And so we sat and listened.
She began to tell her own story
And when she was finished
The trees bowed to her in the wind.
The river never slowed its pace.

Looking back and rereading what I’ve written in my journals, I often feel guilt and heartbreak. But also very grateful. There is beauty in pain as well as healing.

Stop, Look and Listen

Iris, May 2013

Iris, May 2013

Up at 6:30 this morning.  We’ve had a mini-heat wave going on, but thankfully it’s  over.  This morning’s walk with the dogs went beyond tempting me to stay away from the computer to start work again on a chapter I’ve been having a particularly hard time with.

It was just too beautiful outside. Cool temperatures (around 60), a light breeze, sun sparkling through the canopy overhead, and bird song were all I need to keep me from whatever else I had planned.  After my breakfast of cottage cheese and locally grown strawberries, I took another walk, by myself this time, climbing up the huge hill one street over from my house and ventured down a side street I’d never explored before.  There were few people about. Only several runners and a man walking his two, gorgeous, blue-eyed huskies.  The University is on summer break and there are few students around. Though I enjoy my morning walks during the school year, sharing the neighborhood with young and energetic students from all over the globe, I also love my quiet summer walks, when instead of people watching, I am alone with my thoughts … a walking meditation that is sure to rub away any of the rough edges I wake up with.

On returning home and still not ready for the computer, I noticed the red bud out front needed pruning, and the spent irises needed to be a trimmed back.  When I was about done with plant surgery, a neighbor, Ruby, whom I haven’t seen in a month or so walked by with her little dog, Mystique.

I was especially taken with her when we first moved here three years ago. She’d walk her ancient poodle, Bridgette, propped up in a baby carriage past our house every morning.  The dog was quite elderly, could no longer walk and was a bit blind.  But she loved her Mama, and Ruby wasn’t about to part with her until she absolutely had to.  Bridgette crossed over about a year ago and the entire neighborhood was bereft. We missed Bridgette, but mostly worried about Ruby and whether she would make it without her faithful companion. But Ruby is back out on the street with a new furry friend now. It’s especially good to see her out and about, since her husband has Alzheimer’s and she is caring for him by herself at home.

She stopped to chat. She told me that she is 89 years old. She says it’s hard taking care of of her husband and that she’s been wondering whether or not to move to a smaller home.  Though she continuously laughs while she tells her story, I notice a slight quiver of her chin, as if she might cry.  She also tells me that the reason she can no longer drive is that she has macular degeneration, and how much the medicines cost that she and her husband need and sometimes think about doing without.

We spend about thirty minutes together. She apologizes for taking up so much of my time and thanks me profusely for listening. I tell her it isn’t a problem and that I’d love for her to come by anytime. She walks back down the driveway smiling, as I breathe in deeply taking in the gift of her unexpected visit.  I helped Ruby by listening deeply and truly seeing her.  But she, bless her heart, helped me as well.

I woke up this morning feeling a bit down, chattering to myself about my purpose in life and how to make the world a better place … thoughts that haunt me particularly when I’m having trouble writing and want to walk away from my project forever.

Being listened to and being seen as a human being with our own joys and sorrows is one of life’s necessities. Being with and listening to Ruby today, was just the medicine I needed. I heard her and she heard me.  We recognized each other as if we were looking into a mirror, seeing ourselves in the other.

In our daily lives as we rush about and climb up the ladder to the next rung, we forget to take the time to stop, look and listen to the dear souls who inhabit our planet. Witnessing another person is one of the best gifts you can give or receive.

Boston …

IMG_0677Yesterday was once again a day of terror and violence.  I took in the scenes on CNN of the attack on Boston and could only shrug my shoulders in disbelief. Today is the 6th anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, and every day it only seems to get worse. Will every day become the anniversary of a shooting or a bombing?

What has surprised me most is my own reaction.  Breaking news of the sort we received yesterday doesn’t seem to be news any more. I didn’t cry as I usually do for the victims of the other attacks. I thought, “It’s just what happens in our world.”  That scares me. It is not how I want to be.

I’ve lived seventy long years and was living a good life, the day JFK was assassinated … also when his brother, Bobby, was killed and let’s not forget Martin Luther King, Jr.

I cried for those who died at Kent State … young people simply protesting the actions of a President, who the day before launched a campaign on Cambodia, during a war that few supported.

There was Rodney King, in 1991 who asked, “Can’t we all just get along,”  after a horribly cruel beating by police officers who acted out of prejudice.

9/11 took us all by surprise. We never believed we’d see an attack of that magnitude on our homeland … home of free and land of the brave. But there have been other shootings, bombings, and wars all around the world, in places where people fear for their lives if they leave their homes, or go about their lives without noticing what is happening around them.  It’s just the way it is.  And I’m afraid there will be much more to come.

For me, the straw that finally broke my spirit altogether was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut.  It was a complete shock to my nervous system that even innocent children are not spared.  Now, I simply have no more tears. But I have the hope that the parents and spouses of those who were murdered that day, can lead this confused nation back to the reality before us and bring a stop to much of the violence. But they cannot do it alone.

All of us, who believe in peace at home and abroad must stand up to stop the violence. That includes our lawmakers, many of who are afraid of not being re-elected if they back the gun control laws they are now considering. The events in Newtown could bring us to a New Country, and maybe even a New World, where all people can live free without fear of going out in public.

If we do nothing, I fear we will become a complacent society barely noticing what is happening around us. We can’t let that happen. Please make your feeling known to those who can make new laws, and stand tall for peace.

Please note that I will be taking a blog break until April 27th, so that I can deal with the mess on my desk, write a few letters, and plant flowers in my garden. I wish you all a glorious spring through which we can hopefully bring our country back to a life without fear.