I gave up and called a shrink this week, setting up an appointment for a week from tomorrow. We spoke briefly on the phone about the general whys and such. She mentioned that I will need to learn to stay, as much as possible, in the present. “Focusing on the future or the past will just make you nuttier,” she said. I found the -er in nuttier amusing; obviously I’m already nutty since I’m calling a shrink. I recognize that she is probably right, even as part of me suddenly feels protective of my anxiety and regret–a known devil and all that.
Today, as I do most weeks, I visited a friend who had brain surgery over a year ago and never really came back all the way. I try to visit for an hour most Sundays, mainly because it’s absolutely the only thing I can do about a situation that is tragic and destined for poor outcomes–those things I can’t do anything about, but maybe I can give my friend’s mom a 1-hour break, maybe my friend can enjoy visiting with someone to break up the monotony of sitting in the house all day, everyday, while her elderly parents try to raise her kids (one of whom is profoundly disabled) and take care of their daughter who will likely never be the same or fully independent again.
I’ve noticed that whatever bit of wiring was disrupted or bit of brain tissue scooped out seems to have created a state of being for her that is primarily present. She remembers everything about her life up until the period just before the surgery–with the notable exception that she doesn’t realize who she was in a way that allows her to differentiate what she is like now. She remembers nothing about the surgery, the stroke, the brain infection, the second surgery. Her short term memory is shot and she can’t keep current details in her mind. She’s always happy to see me, and always expresses that she “is never sure if you’re coming or not,” even though I always tell her and her mom that I’ll be back next week or that, on occasion, it will be two weeks before I return.
I have been very troubled that my friend is entirely unaware of her loss of self. She never says anything like, “I need to get better because I can’t live like this” or “I was an editor, I took care of my disabled child, look at me now!” She sometimes refers to “when I feel better” but never says anything like, “Remember when I could walk without a cane and my left hand worked?” She expresses no frustration or grief over this state she is in. Most of the time I think that’s awful–she’s in a permanent Groundhog Day, she’s unmoving as time and life move by her.
Today I wondered if that is what is meant by being in the present? I mean, not directly, I’m not an idiot; but is it good in some way that she can’t see that her commitment to heavy therapy for the disabled child has disappeared and her family is only able to do the bare minimum? Would it help if she were aware of her inability to do anything about that? I don’t know. It’s a train wreck either way; should I feel sorry for her that she can’t see it?
It’s like people who want to die in their sleep and people who find that idea horrifying because maybe they won’t “know” they’re dying. Typing that sentence makes me feel faint, by the way, but I am definitely not in the “in my sleep” camp. I fear loss of control, and more than that, I fear the loss of the illusion of control. I suspect that is what living “in the present” is going to mean. That sounds, to me, like a wild abandonment of all sense, the same way it bothers me that my friend has lost her life and inhabits it now as just a friendly ghost.
Also, there is the notion of acceptance. To me, acceptance is giving up. Acceptance is a state that makes things easier on everyone else because one stops raging and sobbing and surrenders, becoming a hell of a lot easier to live with and/or manage once they do. My friend is much easier to care for because she doesn’t seem angry or frustrated or sad. She doesn’t have the capacity to say that this is not acceptable; she is now in sort of state of acceptance by default. I’ve already told the new therapist that I am not expecting to achieve acceptance.
Obviously, there is middle ground, and no one can exist without thinking of the past or the future entirely. Obviously I am anxious about going to therapy and to some degree fairly certain that it won’t work, since it won’t make me stop having EDS, or chronic pain, or anxiety or insomnia or POTS and it won’t stop the deterioration of my joints. I could just as easily say that my friend is the opposite of being in the present, since she can’t ever remember what’s happening now even as she is happy to talk about being in middle school for as long I want to entertain the repetition. I could say that she is not in a place of acceptance because she is not conscious of there being something to actually accept. Do I fear becoming “easy” to care for, and therefore less of a person? Yes. Even as I find myself impossible and don’t want to be the awful person my family has to live with.
I hope I’ve picked a good therapist, because she’s not going to be able to coast through this one.