Good updates

I have a few good updates from yesterday but I’ll try not to make this too long (we’ll see if I succeed.)

First, I finally got approved to adopt a kitten. (The one I was supposed to get the other day fell through at the last minute—like the SIX other cats I tried to get before it.) The one I’m getting is the one that was meant to be ours, I’m now very sure.

He’s a “tripod” cat because one of his limbs was injured and had to be amputated. All the kids were in unanimous agreement in favor of it when I asked how they would feel about adopting such a kitty. He’s only 8 weeks old and apparently gets around extremely well, especially given his condition. He might even be a bit of a handful, which I think will be so much fun.

I had what ended up being a 1-hour call with the adoption coordinator of the kitten rescue group. Long story short, I found the group I’m going to foster with. They have five 8-week-old kittens who are all healthy and vaccinated and their foster mom is going out of town for a week. They asked me if I wanted to take them as respite care and as a way to get my feet wet with fostering. Yes!!!

Even better, this is a really close-knit group of mostly women who are all connected by their mutual love of saving cats. A couple of them even live in my subdivision!

I think I’m finally going to have the social network I have craved for so long. I remember the first therapist I saw here, who I just didn’t gel with, saying that I needed more social opportunities. But all the ideas she suggested were lame to me, like joining a book club or trying to cover local events as a freelancer. She wasn’t wrong about me needing more social outlets—it’s just that neither of us knew that the cat rescue community was a better fit.

Meanwhile, my stats keep steadily going up at Medium.

I know, it’s still nowhere where I want to be and nothing has gone viral yet. But I’m steadily gaining new followers and people are engaging with my articles, which feels really good.

I also had a good talk with my mom but I think that has to be a separate post.

The trust trap

I should have known that things were going too well with my mom. I wrote an article for Medium about why I don’t care if I ever have grandchildren and I shared it with her, as I do with most of my articles. All was going well until I brought up her reaction to when I first told her that I was pregnant.

My memory is sometimes faulty but I remember that day very clearly. I went over to their house and told them that I was pregnant; they knew that I’d been taking fertility treatment because my (stupid, ignorant) doctors had told me that I might not be able to get pregnant. To this day, I still have no idea why multiple doctors made such an unqualified guess about my fertility, since I went on to conceive 3 more children without any assistance. (I had a miscarriage right before my pregnancy with Adam.)

My parents’ reaction was decidedly very underwhelming and I was really hurt by it.

I also mentioned that I wondered why my dad later told my sister to take folic acid when she was newly pregnant, since he never said that to me with any of my pregnancies. I wondered if their underwhelming reaction to my pregnancy and concern that my sister take folic acid was any kind of commentary on what kind of mothers they thought we would be.

Where it all started to go wrong was that my mom first said that I didn’t even make sense because my sister and I weren’t pregnant at the same time. (Umm, obviously?)

Then she denied that her and my dad’s reaction to my pregnancy announcement was underwhelmed and just said that they were so shocked that I was pregnant. Okay…I guess I can buy that, even though their expressions were not ones I normally associate with being shocked.

Then, my mom pulled one of her famous old mindfucks: denying that my dad ever said to my sister that she should take folic acid. She actually said, “I didn’t suggest she take folic acid. I’m pretty sure Dad didn’t either. What makes you think he would have said that?”

Um, maybe because I was there and I heard it?

The closest I got to an apology was her repeating several times that she can’t go back and change the past. And just once, she said, “I’m sorry that you felt that way and still feel that way.”

That sounded like a very qualified non-apology. Not “I’m sorry I did that” but “I’m sorry you felt that way.”

Surely, it was too much to ask for her to admit that she screwed up and she was sorry that it’s affected me for so long.

Since we were already discussing the past, I also told her that I always felt like she gave preference to my sister’s kids. As the example I gave, I mentioned that she and my dad wouldn’t go to my kid’s birthday party that we held at Chuck E Cheese, but sure enough, my parents showed up for it when my nephew’s birthday party was held there right before I left for Texas.

I know I’ve mentioned this here before but it bothers me a lot and I can’t seem to let it go.

I mentioned that I always had to have a separate family party for them, which meant that I had to coordinate three different parties for the same week to appease them and that was really hard on me.

She said, “We’ve already talked about that several times.” (No, we haven’t; I mentioned at the time of my nephew’s party that I thought it was crappy that they wouldn’t come to my kid’s party there and she said, “Well, I regret that” and that is the extent to which we’ve ever discussed it.) And, “you are not remembering it entirely correctly.” And once again, she repeated that she can’t go back and change the past.

She’s right; she can’t. I talked about it with J and he asked something like what I hoped to gain from bringing up the past, when it was so long ago. And I don’t really know…I guess I just felt like she and I had reached a different point in our relationship, where we could discuss old issues of conflict and come to a different resolution. But obviously we can’t.

All I really wanted was a genuine, unqualified apology. I think that the fact that I still want one is a sign of where I am unhealed. The fact that she can’t give one is a sign of where she is on her own healing process.

But I don’t think she would actually describe herself as being on any kind of journey to heal and get better. And it’s obviously not a competitive process; it’s ideally supposed to be where two people help each other get better. I can’t make her want to get better, though.

More accurately, she’s still stuck in a place where she can’t admit (either to me or herself) that she’s really deeply hurt me sometimes. She still resorts to claiming that I didn’t really hear things that were actually said.

I just wish that for once she could own it. I apologize to my kids regularly when I do something to hurt them and it’s really not that scary. Similarly, I’ve made very heartfelt apologies to J for the ways that I have hurt him over the years. It actually makes me feel better to lift that burden and I think it has a positive effect on our relationships in the end, too.

But now, I no longer question my reality like I once did. It used to really throw me into a tailspin, questioning myself, when she would say that things didn’t really happen and I knew that they did.

Now, I just see it as sad.

I sent a response that was kind-of a cop out, telling her that I probably should have just discussed it with my therapist, since she was right that she couldn’t change the past. And I said that I was just emotional about my husband having a hard time on chemo (which is true) and that I know she doesn’t like for me to talk about that.

That subject in itself is still far past the limits of our relationship and may always be. I’ve had some hopeful thoughts in recent weeks that maybe I could talk to her about the fact that sometimes it’s really difficult and painful for me to accept that J’s going to die, but I think that hope was also premature. She’s never been open to discussing that, not even after I shared my first Medium article about the fact that he is likely to eventually lose his fight. She said that article brought tears to her eyes and that my relationship with J really is something rare and special, but that was the extent of our talk.

I need to get back to just accepting her where she is and not looking for more from her than she can really give. But that still sucks a lot and it’s so hard to put into action.

Fear

I can’t think of anything more interesting to title this entry. In short, it’s just where my brain is right now.

I’m worried about my husband. He left work early yesterday because the side effects of the chemo were kicking his ass hard. I predict (which will probably be pretty accurate) that the next few days are going to be very rough on him.

I’m also worried about the Delta variant of Covid, particularly because his protection from the vaccine is limited and the Delta variant is so much more transmissible. I’ve been wearing disposable masks in public but I think I’m going to start double-masking again.

I know that masking (or double-masking) can only do so much. If he gets it, we will just have to take the consequences as they lay. But I want to do everything possible to prevent at least being the one to give it to him.

But I was trying to get stuff ready for the kitten last night and J said the shallow litter pan that we have is in the attic. He was obviously in no condition to get it himself, so I asked my youngest to go up there and get it. He tried but didn’t feel like the ladder to the attic was stable enough, so he didn’t end up getting it. I ended up ordering one from Amazon that should be delivered before we get the kitten.

We’re supposed to be adopting a kitten tomorrow, which is normally very exciting. I actually had to get toddler-proofing supplies to keep my cat Roshi out of my office, where we’ll be sequestering the kitten at first. I am amused that my Roshi is so clever that he can figure out how to open the doors to my office. 😉

In that moment, though, I realized just how much we all depend on my husband and I just felt so helpless. Due to my balance issues, I can’t get up in the attic, either. And that’s just one tiny example of the many ways J helps all of us. I am in no way prepared for life without him.

I know that my husband is undergoing all the tortures of chemo in hopes that he’ll be around longer and that may indeed work. His last CT scans showed that his tumors were either stable or shrinking.

But at the same time, I’m also really aware that things could take a dramatic turn for the worse at any time, because that’s just what cancer does, and you can’t always see it coming.

Meanwhile, I really feel like I have no one to turn to for comfort. I talk with my mom a lot but on this subject, her “help” is completely worthless. She just tells me to keep thinking positive and to express the same optimism to J, which seems extraordinarily naive and dismissive of the fact that he has a terminal illness. No amount of positive thinking can erase that fact. I just want someone I can cry to about how grossly unfair this seems.

There’s a Counting Crows song from their first album that I’ve always loved called “Anna Begins”. I always interpreted the lyrics as being about losing someone to illness. I’ve since found out that that’s not what it’s about at all, but I still prefer my interpretation.

That song has been going through my head a lot lately. I feel like I’m slowly losing my grip on J and the life we’ve had together. As the song says at the end, oh Lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

Change

I did get the bonus for being one of the most-read writers at Medium last month. Of course, now I don’t know if I can do it again.

I just wrote an article there last night about how I feel about my kids growing up. To be honest, I don’t know if it will even be curated and selected for wider distribution like most of my pieces are.

But I just suddenly feel the weight of the fact that my youngest is leaving for college next month.

It’s funny in a way because I never expected to be the kind of parent who gave up everything for her kids. Yes, I gave up my career, though I wasn’t always good at giving up everything else.

By all accounts, they’ve all turned out to be really great kids. But the fact of them all reaching adulthood reminds me that my time to fix my mistakes is long gone.

It also reminds me that from here on out, I’ll only be a peripheral figure at best in their lives. That’s just the way life works.

But I also feel lonely. I’m acutely aware that my husband won’t always be around (probably because it’s another chemo weekend for him, which always makes me feel more unsettled.)

My future without kids at home looks much different than I used to think it did, just because my husband won’t be around to enjoy many decades of it with me.

I wish someone would give me a big hug and tell me everything is going to be okay.

Weaning

I had my first bad experience with UTSW today. I had scheduled an appointment with the psychiatry clinic, in which I was going to discuss how to get off my current meds. I logged on for the telehealth visit 45 minutes before it was supposed to start. At 45 minutes after my appointment time, with no word from the provider, I finally called them. They had me down as a “no show,” even though I was there the whole time.

I’ve had several telehealth appointments with other UTSW doctors and have never had a problem. But the person at the psych clinic said they just have that issue sometimes. Now my appointment is rescheduled for a month from now and I really don’t want to wait that long. So tomorrow I’m going to try to make an appointment with my family doctor.

I really only felt relief from my depression when I was taking 5mg Abilify plus my antidepressant. Taking 2mg Abilify every other day just to stave off the Obsessive Death Panic that I get when I try to quit it completely, plus my antidepressant, is doing absolutely nothing to help me.

The problem is that I know that it’s going to suck big-time to go off both. I thought maybe a psychiatrist would be better qualified to help than my family doctor who prescribed them. But my research shows that’s pretty unlikely anyway; most doctors don’t believe you can have discontinuation symptoms from weaning off of Abilify (and many don’t even believe that you can from antidepressants, even though it’s well-documented that you can, particularly with drugs in the SNRI class like the one I’ve been taking.)

So I think I’m most likely going to have to go it alone and I’m worried about it. I’ll do a really prolonged taper and hope that eventually I’ll be free and have my mind back. I also ordered some Sam-e supplements, which I remember used to work pretty well for me many years ago.

I can’t even say how trapped and broken I feel being physically dependent on these drugs. I’m not even 100 percent confident that I can stop taking them but dammit, I’m really going to try.

Rescuing kittens

So I’ve been approved as a foster for kittens through the Dallas Animal Shelter. It’s kinda funny because this is something I always thought I’d want to do later in life.

I’m not actually sure I’m ready to do it now. I would have to get a fair amount of supplies for the startup. Although one of the training videos I had to watch suggested having a “kitten shower,” in which people buy you the supplies you’ll need. Kind of like a baby shower, only for kittens! I think that idea is so stinking adorable and if someone I knew was having a kitten shower, I would definitely donate!

One of my initial concerns was how to keep the kittens separated from my cats. It turns out that that’s not really a concern because you have to keep them separated from your personal pets.

The other initial concern was that I wasn’t sure I’d want to let them go to adoptive homes. After watching the training videos, I’m honestly less concerned about that. I see my potential role as being about nurturing vulnerable kittens until they are safe to be adopted.

I’ve honestly always had a soft spot in my heart for animal rescue, especially cats. Anything that protects more vulnerable kittens until they’re of an age to be adoptable sounds like an important role to me.

The good news is that you can choose the age of kittens you want to foster. I probably wouldn’t want to foster kittens under four weeks old because you have to feed them every two hours around the clock and I don’t think that would be good for my health.

However, I am concerned about two things: vet bills and the threat of a disease called panleukopenia (feline parvovirus.) I’d have to have a good relationship with a vet so that kittens could get immediate care and that could get costly. (My own cat Roshi seems to have a stuck hairball or an obstruction right now and has to go to the vet tomorrow. I am very worried about him and I admit that I’m also a little worried about the cost, too.)

Kittens can survive panleukopenia with a lot of supportive care, but even with supportive care, they still might die anyway. Being honest with myself, I’m not sure I could handle that.

At the same time, I do really believe in the importance of the cause and I’m sure I’ll do it at some point. I’m just not sure that now is that time yet.

More adventures in writing

My stats at Medium have gone down somewhat. My article about “stop telling us we can all be millionaires” is by far my most popular so far.

But I wrote an article tonight about the negative aspects of gifted education and that represents a substantial victory for me. I first started thinking about that article when my oldest was a baby.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with my writing career from here and in fact, I’m just playing it by ear. But I’m really excited that I’m doing work that finally feels meaningful to me and I’m going to try hard to keep that going.

I also talked to my therapist today about wanting to get my spending under control and start saving more money. She had some helpful tips and suggestions, including that I try to think about what emotions I’m feeling when I want to shop. Right now, I really want a new purse, but I couldn’t identify my feelings about why so that made it easier to resist (for now.)

New beginnings and grieving

The interesting thing is that life goes on, even in the middle of grief.

I’m discovering that I am just now finally beginning to really come to terms with my husband’s diagnosis and accept that it’s real, with all that entails.

You might wonder (or at least I did) how he could have been diagnosed two years ago and I’m just now emotionally dealing with it. All I can say about that is that my power of denial is very, very strong (and so is my optimism, honestly.)

I don’t know why it was my friend’s husband’s recurrence and very shortened remaining lifespan that broke through to me. But it’s the only thing that has really made it real to me. So I’m now going through a lot of the despair that my husband already felt when he was first diagnosed. He tells me it lasted a couple of weeks for him. (Don’t worry; I don’t plan on writing about it much.)

But meanwhile, life goes on. My oldest daughter is planning on moving out in the next couple of months and she will be taking her cat Zoe with her. In an odd way, I’m more sad about Zoe moving out. My daughter is at a perfectly normal age to move out.

But we’ve all bonded really well with Zoe. I knew I’d have to adopt a kitten when Zoe leaves, because my other cat Roshi is so very social and our other cats are too old and grumpy to become friends with him (though he never stops trying, bless his heart.)

I didn’t expect to get another kitten before she moves out but it appears that one may have fallen in my lap. A friend of mine found a very young kitten and took it to the Dallas animal shelter before I could get it from her. But now I’m trying to get that kitten from the shelter.

Interestingly, because it’s so young, I’d have to be approved to foster kittens. That’s something I’ve thought about for a while (though my husband is probably right that I wouldn’t want to give up any of the cats I foster.) But apparently, the process to get approved to foster cats is much simpler than I thought.

This led to something else very interesting. I told J he could have 100% control of naming the kitten. I mostly joked that I was worried about the name he’d pick because he wanted to name Adam Andromeda if they had been born a girl.

I mentioned that to some people, all of whom said Andromeda was a beautiful name, which made me look at it in a different light.

I talked to Adam about it and suggested they revisit the name, giving the idea that they could go by Anna for short. And surprisingly, they actually really liked it, both because of it’s science-y connotations and because of the Greek mythology references.

And of course, there’s the fact that it’s the name J picked out. It’s interesting that if they do choose to use that name, both of my trans daughters will have chosen the names we would have given them had they been born female. I don’t think that’s very common but it feels like a sign of respect.

I don’t know yet if that’s the name they’ll stick with, but I actually kinda hope it is. It seems like it would be fitting.

So unsettled

I’m so unsettled that it’s overshadowing the fact that my reader stats are going up by 500+ every day lately at Medium. (In all seriousness, though, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to having something I wrote go viral and it really is super exciting. I’m actually starting to think it might really be possible to get the bonus for the top 2,000 writers this month.)

But here comes the downer: I am so unsettled and afraid about everything that I don’t know how to keep it together.

J has some questions that he has to ask HR very soon, because upon further inspection of the fine print (after learning about what happened to my friend’s husband), he might not be able to get short- or long-term disability when he gets sicker.

I always thought that either of those disability programs would protect us whenever things start taking a turn for the worse. They would cover (I think?) 60 percent of his income, which would be tight but we wouldn’t lose the roof over our heads. But if his disability policy is like my friend’s husband’s, they might not cover it because his cancer is a pre-existing condition.

If that’s the case, then our only hope would be that he could take FMLA—unpaid leave—so I could at least get the life insurance payout.

Today was the first time that I’ve felt like everything might not be okay—I mean, in addition to the fact that my husband is going to fucking die.

I see so many possible terrifying scenarios. He doesn’t get disability, he loses his job (so no life insurance), he goes on unpaid leave and I can’t afford to pay our rent on my own so we become homeless while he’s actively dying.

OMG, I’m practically hyperventilating just thinking about this. I know it’s not happening now but my brain isn’t soothed by that information at all.

I’ve just cried and cried, yesterday and now. I didn’t even take a micro dose, either. The fear was and is so close to the surface. The awareness that I really am going to lose him is so close to the surface. And I just want to mash my hand repeatedly on some giant cosmic “undo” button to make this not be happening anymore.

Assuming we can somehow get through that time without becoming homeless, what am I going to do afterwards? How am I supposed to want to go on?

I was looking more into some of the places I’ve thought about moving and they’re not going to work for several reasons. I won’t want to be further away from the people OR the culture I know (even if I hate it sometimes.) Maybe one of those places would be nice retirement spots if J would be with me. But he’s never going to be and that itself leaves me absolutely gutted.

I’m a city person through and through, so obviously I’m not likely to be happy in some remote village somewhere, whether it’s in Central America or Europe, even if it has a beach. I don’t really have that much of a sense of adventure to want to uproot my life and start over somewhere, especially not alone.

(Plus there are occasional bats in your toilet and scorpions in your shoes in Central America…no thank you. I had to rescue Dylan from a beetle last night and that was gross enough.)

I honestly don’t see right now how I’ll even be able to stay here, in this city. Moving back to Michigan feels like my only alternative and I was honestly miserable there.

We’re getting this beautiful sectional sofa delivered later this year and I don’t even see the point of having something so huge if I’m going to have to go down to living in a small apartment in a few years anyway.

There’s all J’s private student loan debts I’ll have to pay off, which I just figured I’d wipe out with the life insurance money. But now I don’t know if there’s even going to be any life insurance money. So then what? Try to pay them off on my limited income of disability and survivor benefits?

And worse than all this of course is that I’m going to lose my husband, my absolute best friend in the world. He is my world. The financial worries are real but they’re mere distractions from what is certainly going to be such a monumental loss that I don’t know how I’ll ever recover from it.

Undo, undo, undo. Damnit UNDO.

More random thoughts

My youngest asked me tonight if I thought he could be a freelance writer as a part-time job, especially while he’s in college. He definitely doesn’t want to make it his primary career (which I’m very glad about because it’s not the most stable) but he has writing talent, some things to say, and wants a way to earn some small money part-time.

I freelanced all during my own college education and I recommend it (although it can get pretty hairy when you have deadlines and school papers due at the same time.)

I have been exploding in popularity at Medium in the past couple of days. The numbers are still relatively small, of course; I’m not going viral. But I got about 150 page views a day when I first started writing there 2 months ago, and today I had almost 1600. That’s some impressive exponential growth, especially in that time frame.

Or to put it more visually, these are the trends of my stats:

I think my writing is getting progressively better as I write there more and my voice is getting stronger. It’s really exciting and it doesn’t seem like my initial success was just a fluke. The majority of articles I write there get curated and make it to the front page of whatever topic I’m writing about or picked up by a Medium-specific publication.

While that’s all very exciting, though, the rest of me is a ball of anxiety again. I know why, too. One of my online friends whom I’ve known for 20 years has a husband who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer around the same time J was diagnosed.

Like J, her husband had over a year with no evidence of disease, and also like J, her husband recently had a recurrence. His prognosis is far worse than J’s; his oncologist gives him less than a year even if he takes chemo. I encouraged her to get a second opinion, just because things like estimates of remaining lifespan tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. To make it worse, her husband tolerated chemo very poorly last time.

This has shaken me a lot because she and I have been our own little 2-person cancer wives’ club, and her husband’s sudden turn for the worse makes me feel so many things. Part of that is because I’m very empathetic and can put myself in her shoes far too easily.

Another part of it is that one of the things I’ve been reassured by is knowing that J has both short- and long-term disability to rely on whenever he reaches the end himself. But my friend’s husband also had the same type of disability coverage and she never got them to actually pay out.

That makes me think all kinds of things. Like that maybe we should cancel the living room furniture we ordered and keep that money in savings instead. And that I should both stop buying anything not strictly necessary and sell off some of my previous impulse buys ASAP (which I was already planning to do but keep getting sidetracked by work.)

There’s nothing suggesting it will be as imminent for J as it is for my friend’s husband. But at the same time, the nature of cancer is such that you’re doing fine until you’re not, and you can’t see it coming.

On an aside note, I was going to try taking a slightly larger micro-dose next time but now I’m definitely not, because I know I would have another sobbing breakdown. I know I feel better when I release those emotions but for now, it feels much safer to keep them locked away inside.

Maybe part of it is complicated by the fact that this is another chemo weekend for J and that just never becomes normal or routine to me. Every time, I feel such an acute awareness of the fact that he’s really going to die and I just so desperately don’t want it to happen.

But hey, I’ve also been looking up where to move in the future (my usual distraction technique.) Ecuador looks nice.