Fear 3

Irish talks about fear. She fell, crushed half her face and lost her right eye. Of course she’s afraid of going back on the boat. No job and savings wiped out by divorce, she fears medical bills, as do many in much better shape. She fears for our relationship.

After losing her job, the day before she fell, she asked me if I “could still love an unemployed miscreant.”  Her question was not out of the blue. This isn’t the first time Irish and I had gotten together.

We had connected on a dating site years ago, and met for dinner. We talked and laughed for three hours and closed the restaurant, but I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere: she’s conservative and I’m liberal, she lived with two adult sons and three dogs in a rented house 150 miles away from where I lived, I was on my way out of the country for weeks or months … and I intended to buy a sailboat and head for adventure.

After our date, I hugged her goodnight. She seemed so tiny and frail in my arms. That was that, because I wanted to be a gentleman.

A month or two later, after I returned from my trip, we had plans for a second date. While I was gone, the country went on daylight savings but I had not reset the clock in my truck. She called.

“Where are you?”

“On my way, but still early.”

“Um, no, you’re late.”

“It’s only 2:30, we’re meeting at 3 …

“It’s 3:30.”

“Oh no!” I said, when I realized what happened. “Please wait for me. We’ll get everything on the appetizer menu, and anything you want for dinner, I’m not that far away … please?”

She found that endearing, she waited, and we had another wonderful, four-hour conversation. That’s when she told me about her Parkinson’s Disease, and her fibromyalgia, and migraines and spinal fusion after she fell and cracked vertebrae in her neck …

It was full disclosure.

But the person you tell these things needs to know what you’re talking about, and I didn’t really have a clue.

We didn’t kiss after that date, either. While I could see a wonderful friendship, I still didn’t think it would evolve into romance, and I was trying to be a gentleman.

We had a third date. We kissed, and discovered we had what she called “kiss compatibility.” I still remember the first time I felt her fingertips on my skin.

Then I bailed out.

As she was planning our fourth date, and talking about when I could meet her best friend, and her sons. I was reading about Parkinson’s Disease and fibromyalgia and brooding on “two adult sons at home, three dogs, part-time job, a disabling disease that at some point will require constant care and then kill her…”

Just how does all this fit onto a sailboat headed to Fiji? The sailboat dream had been my refuge for decades, had prevented me from making horrible life compromises that I was otherwise willing to make for all the wrong reasons, had “kept me afloat” in more ways than one.

I knew I was falling for her, but we did not have the same future lined up, and I thought it was better not to get too much farther down the road of romance or the damage would be awful.

Three dates and out, I thought was being a gentleman.

But I could not stop musing on the way she said simply, “Hey” when she texted or called me or answered the phone when I called. That was really weird. Just the simple, drama free, glad to hear from you, “Hey.” It took a while, but I checked back in, just saying “hey.”

Predictably and justifiably, Irish responded, “What the hell do you want?” or something like that. “You made me feel I was unlovable because of my Parkinson’s.”

“It was because I could fall in love with you that Parkinson’s scared me away,” I told her.

“We don’t know what and how the Parkinson’s will progress,” she told me. “Many things could happen.”

After a while, she agreed to fourth date. We’ve been together since. So, she’s not being unreasonable to fear for our relationship. I’ve had a few fears of my own.

After she fell, I spent the first night in the hospital pacing and waiting for her to come out of surgery. I spent the next night on the couch in her recovery room listening to hospital sounds and nurses who came in every two hours to administer pain meds and antibiotics, check her pulse, oxygen, etc.

I was far beyond tired by the next day after two nights without sleep and drinking far too many cups of coffee and cans of ginger ale. The caffeine and sugar were no longer keeping me alert, but had morphed into agitation.

“Can you love an unemployed miscreant, with only one eye?” Irish mumbled the question from her damaged mouth. She remembers being desperately afraid of my answer while knowing that then and there I could not answer “No.” I gave her a kiss, a squeeze. I don’t remember what I said.

“You told me something I needed to hear, that I hoped was true,” she said later.

But when I left the hospital to shower, and buy a sweatshirt and T-shirt to replace ones they cut off her in the emergency room, her fear burrowed into me and became mine: ugly, self-absorbed, anguish-ladened fear that seemed match, drop for drop, the cold, soaking, wind-driven rain that pounded the streets of Victoria.

I was once afraid of flying, so I bought an old plane and became a (mediocre) pilot. I love to travel to far-away places where English is rarely spoken with absolutely no clue what I’m going to do after the first night. I drive a race car at 160 mph through blind corners inches away from other cars.

At an age when many are looking forward to a lounge chair and afternoon of televised football (that I never cared much about before the Seahawks), I bought a sailboat. I’d never really sailed before, but the plan was to take it to Alaska for a shakedown this summer and then on to south, maybe even New Zealand.

I’m an adrenalin junkie. That’s not unusual for someone of my background. I’m also “a runner.” The closer I become to someone, the more I love them, the greater the danger I will fear my own vulnerability and run, sometimes for a pretext so flimsy it’s obvious I’m running from fear. It’s my inheritance.

Two days after Irish fell I set foot again on the boat and looked to see where she fell.The wood rail where she struck had no sign of the impact, but it was so much harder than her delicate cheek, nose, skull, and eye. There were spots of blood on the deck and I wondered which held fragments of her burst and missing cornea.

Sleepless, feeling helpless, I growled through clenched teeth at the boat.

“Why!? Why?!? You jealous bitch, why did you do this to her!?”

Cold and indifferent, the boat declined to answer.

I knew I was being foolish, that the boat had done nothing, the boat was an inanimate object, that the fall was an accident, a misstep, a bad decision in footwear, a breaking of Boating Rule #1 to always keep a hand for yourself, hold on to something when moving about.

But I was irrational, anger was setting in, even as I know better than most that all anger has its roots in fear. All the fears that chased me away from Irish the first time returned, with a vengeance for their exile. Almost as quickly as I had boarded the boat, I showered off the sleepless hospital night and headed out into rain pelting downtown Victoria and I walked, looking for something to look for so I did not have to go back to the hospital quite yet.

I blamed Parkinson’s for the fall, not the stupid heavy socks. I howled at myself for ignoring my earlier “knowledge” of the inevitability of Irish’s immobilization, I cried that that she would be helpless unless I helped her, that the sailboat was now gone, adventure a thing of memory, that I was about to become … be … immobilized, encased in my own fat and bound by chains of duty.

And then, St. Francis showed up in the form of a prayer I remembered vaguely from countless meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. It wasn’t like I didn’t bring my own host of disabilities to this relationship, after all.

“… Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!

That where there is hatred, I may bring love.

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.

That where there is error, I may bring truth.

That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.

That where there is despair, I may bring hope.

That where there are shadows, I may bring light.

That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.”

Why this prayer? Unlike Irish, I’m no Catholic and some would say I’m not even a Christian. That’s okay, I’ve long thought of myself as a Taoist and I’ve been known to debate the definition of God, wherever She may dwell.

But the prayer brought quick, deep relief. It seemed I saw through the words and into the meaning of how, and why, St. Francis sought to comfort than be comforted. Then I heard Irish speak.

“I don’t want anything from you that is not given with a glad heart,” she said to me. She had told me once that she taught her boys this lesson, and I heard it as plainly as if she were standing beside me, as if the narcotics that bound her to bed in the hospital had given her the gift of teleportation.

I didn’t know the future. I didn’t need to know. Two miles away lay a woman I loved in a hospital bed, terribly injured. I had not only the duty but a deep desire to be there with her, make sure that she had a ginger ale if she wanted a sip, pain medication if she was hurting, to comfort her if she was frightened, as she was sure to be.

The memory of the sound of her face hitting the coaming on the boat makes me shudder, and always will, but I wanted to be there. I still am.

We’re planning to take the boat to Alaska in June. It’s been about eight weeks since Irish fell on Foxy, our boat.  We are on the ferry now, on our way back to Victoria. In two hours we’ll be back on board, for the first time for Irish, after many misgivings for me.

But it’s time.

Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

Fear

by Jane Miller

Fear comes like the fog – “on little cat feet.” I had thought I was only afraid of dentists, but now I am faced with stomach-gripping anxiety and heart-skipping panic.

I’m afraid …

… we’re going up to the boat in less than two weeks.

… sometimes I almost remember the fall and the impact that took my right eye and crushed my face.

… the medical bills I’ve racked up over two countries seem insurmountable.

… I don’t have a job and given my list of physical injuries and diseases, I am not likely to find one.

… we’re planning on Alaska this summer – three months on the boat, sailing the Inside Passage.

… sometimes I still don’t know if I wouldn’t place second in Erik’s heart to the question of “Jane or the boat?”

Yep. Fear about a lot.

And then, the preternaturally cheerful part of my soul begins to break through the gloom, sunshine burning off the fog of a chill morning. Even though I do not have answers or a plan for almost anything, I am pretty sure it will all work out.

One. Learning to sail has been on my list for as long as I can remember. My Irish ancestors were ship captains and engineers who came over in the 1860s. My great-grandfather captained a clipper ship, the General Knox, out of Thomaston, Maine, down around the Cape, up to San Francisco, and back and forth to England.

My first time on the boat was magical. Our teacher said I was a natural, but that was before my fear about heeling and capsizing came to the fore. I have learned and continue to learn, though, about sailboat dynamics, lines and rigging, standing and balancing, navigation and currents.

In my heart I knew I was ready for sailing, but that was before the fall.

Two. The “fall.” So many people want to know if I remember it, and until recently the answer has been that I remember the fall (sort of) but not the impact. But just last night before sleep crept over the snow to my pillow, I remembered: my foot not quite making the landing, the sense of falling, my face as it hit the unforgiving fiberglass and mahogany.

I don’t know if it’s real, though. I don’t remember hitting the deck or being wedged between the seat and the binnacle. The only thing I remember for certain is being lifted, set down so gently, a towel pressed into my hands.

I don’t want to remember the rest. That bit of amnesia is what’s enabling me to even think about setting foot on the boat.

Three. I received excellent medical care in Canada and Oregon. Dr. James Taylor (yes, that’s his name) in Victoria, BC, tried hard to save my eye but knew it was a long shot all the way. The care I received at OHSU has been phenomenal. But the specialized surgeries, with appointments and follow-ups, tests and medications, along with the prosthesis, are beyond expensive. And in America, no job means no affordable healthcare.

So I’m buying insurance for the year at a price that will wipe out every cent I have saved. That leaves my household bills, car payment, insurance …

It’s no one’s burden but my own, but sometimes I wish the government would be able to provide help quickly and compassionately to people who can’t work anymore, instead of relying on the Social Security Administration to force people to apply and reapply, hire a lawyer, wait, and then – maybe – be granted disability.

Four. Alaska. Life on the boat, in port, costs almost the same as life in Sisters. It’s still just the two of us, we buy groceries, do laundry, work on maintenance … The list is pretty long, but when we are in Sisters we do the same thing.

Sailing to Alaska is different. With no real crew, it’d be just us. The boat was designed to be sailed by two people, but I’m pretty sure what they had in mind was NOT me. It’s going to be last summer’s trip to Desolation Sound multiplied by 12. On that trip, the fan belt broke and clogged the turbocharger, we broke a line clutch, and we jury-rigged a way to shift gears using two strings. I almost left completely in a fit of pique, and then we motored a marathon 22 hours over two days breathing diesel fumes from the poorly-running engine to reach Anacortes in time for me to go back to work.

It was also beautiful beyond words, more fun than I imagined it could be, and exciting and rewarding as I gained new skills and grew more comfortable on the water. We can do this! It just might take some additional help.

Five. Erik and I had a discussion one night earlier this week or last, once we reached the warmth and security of the treehouse. Concerns had been brewing, some new, some not, about my dedication to strength training, my fear of capsizing, his desire to keep the sailboat because of the time and money committed, about his need to spend his time doing, not lounging.

He was wrong about some, maybe right about a couple. When I am pushed to do something, I won’t. Simple. Stubborn. Irish. And sometimes childish. All the literature on Parkinson’s Disease lists the need for fitness, but I never suggested we Barco-lounge for hours watching football, although I do love the game.

However, I understand his concerns. I need to be stronger than I was and definitely than I am after five weeks of operations and recoveries from the injuries of my fall. When the boat heels, I range from mildly discomfited to panicked. I’m improving, but I don’t hide it well. I cannot spend my days on the boat scared we’ll capsize, which is virtually impossible in the kind of sailboat we have.

But as we talked just a couple of days ago, we want to be together, on the water, or in Sisters, or traveling. And that’s what matters.

I am still afraid. I will be until I step across the water from dock to boat. But I decided when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and I tell myself again and again … I am not going to be defined by my adversities. I am going anyway.

Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

Irish: Pain, and Fear

by Jane Miller

My world exploded on Thursday, but the fuse was ignited on Monday when I was fired from my job. I had more than half expected it, work was a toxic environment at best, but the finality of it was daunting.

Erik was determined to keep my spirits up though, and we set off on a walkabout. Being in Victoria with him, being on the boat with him, just being with him made me irrepressibly happy. I was afraid, though, what this change in employment and finances would bring to our relationship. My voice shook as I nervously asked him if he could still date an unemployed miscreant who couldn’t hold down a job. I had learned long ago that there were perils to asking a question to which one did not know the answer.

Four days later, I fell while stepping from one side of the boat to the other.

Erik remembers the sound, and for that I am sorry. His expression changes when he remembers.

I remember the pain. I lost myself as it enveloped me. I screamed and the pain was excruciating. “ERIK!” I begged him to make the pain go away, even as I knew he couldn’t. I begged God to make it stop. But it didn’t. I lost words and could only say “Oh” as I rocked back and forth, trying to comfort myself.

Erik described the logistics and the sequence of events. How the paramedics found the boat because of the flashing Christmas lights. What he did not know, though, was that when the paramedics went to work on me, asking questions, completing their triage, I heard one of them catch his breath and say, “Is that her cheekbone?”

One of them gently palpitated the back of my neck, and when I said that it hurt (such varying degrees and kinds of pain I was experiencing) I remembered my neck surgery – a discectomy and fusion at C4-5 and C5-6. The paramedics insisted on putting me in a cervical collar. It was made for someone larger than me, and threatened to choke me, but I was too close to unconsciousness to care.

I don’t remember how I left the boat. As I piece together the events, I realize I must have walked off with the help of the paramedics. There I was, with what ended up being a crushed nose, shattered cheek, my right orbit broken in pieces too numerous to count, a ruptured eye, and a depressive skull fracture … walking off the boat.

As I was put on the gurney, my only thought, though, was knowing where Erik was. As long as he was with me, as long as I could hear his voice, I knew I would live. Being essentially blind, I needed to hear his strength through the sound of his voice and the touch of his warm fingers. If I lost that, I was afraid that I would crawl inside myself and never be able to come out.

The pain had the power to drive me to ground, and Erik was the only anchor in a too-dark world.

I was triaged at one hospital, then transferred with lights and sirens to the Royal Jubilee hospital, which had an ophthalmological surgery unit. A new voice entered my world as Dr. Taylor explained the extent of damage and the low probability of either saving my eye or my sight. I finally had enough pain meds in my system so I could breathe, and I knew Erik was with me, but I clung to his voice as they wheeled me to the OR.

Call my family,” I asked Erik. “But after surgery.”

Surgery on my eye lasted three-and-a-half hours. It had basically exploded and was torn more than half way around. I’d lost the iris, and there was so much blood an ultrasound couldn’t locate any retina left. I spent the next three days in recovery. The surgeons didn’t try to repair my crushed face, leaving that for later.

Erik made appointments for me with the best doctors back in Oregon as soon as I could travel. He organized air travel so there would be wheelchairs waiting every step of the way. He rarely left my side, sleeping on the couch in my hospital room, waking with me every two hours when nurses came in to apply medication. On Sunday, the day before we left, he made me walk around the hospital ward.

Still, I was terrified by the question I had asked about whether he could love me when I had lost my job. Now, how could he love an unemployed miscreant with one blind eye? How would we do this? How could I sail? Erik was the first to point out that I became seasick in rough seas, that I was afraid when the boat heeled over too far. How would I be now? We had started to work on the deficits that came with Parkinson’s, but this …

This was a deficit I didn’t know we could overcome. Erik had had this dream for twenty years – sailing, Fiji, trans-Pacific crossings – but his dream had not included a partner with such failings. But I didn’t ask. I couldn’t ask.

We arrived in Oregon four days after my fall and saw a doctor at the Casey Eye Institute the next day. We set up appointments to have another ultrasound, made plans to repair the bones in my face, and began ultimate plans to try to save my eye. Little did we know it would all be for naught.

Two weeks after the fall we were sitting in the retinologist’s office, going over the ultrasound that had just been taken, being told of the poor prognosis of seeing even light and dark, the medical hazards involved in keeping a blind eye, and the recommendation of surgery to remove the eye completely. It was difficult to breathe.

We needed a break, we needed to eat, talk, hold hands. Decide what to do.

I was now an unemployed miscreant with one prosthetic eye. Good grief. How was this going to fit in with Fiji? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This time, though, we didn’t mention the boat. We didn’t mention sailing. We just talked about what would be best for my health and for us. I told him I loved him, which I do all the time. He told me he loved me, too.

Fear of Goodbye

Fear so often keeps us pinned inside lives we wish were different. So often, that fear is irrational, only an echo that sets wiring of brains vibrating, certain we will be set upon by wolves if we leave the ring of firelight.

How do we not fear pain? How do we not fear loss? How do we not fear being unloved, or not-now loved, by someone we love? How do we not fear that, back in the ring of firelight, they laugh and sing and did not notice we were gone?

Fear is hard-wired into the code of who we needed to become when we descended naked and defenseless from the trees. Fear is fed to us with mother’s milk, perhaps tainted by her abandonment, maybe spoiled by angry harsh words from her own father, or corrupted by neglect from the man she married. What’s to do with it now?

Sitting, watching a rising sun paint mountains pink then gold, I see goodbye for what it wants to be, an ogre too large when wrapped in a cloak of fear, instead of what really is, just a good bye. I miss you. That’s a good thing, not to be feared.

On hearing “no.”

In hearing “no,” I think we also succumb to “what if.”
What if he/she/they had said “yes?”
Then I would be rich/validated/happy.
And would not have to feel the pain of “no” anymore.

You’re right. Those very things often go through my head. Finding happiness ourselves is easier said than done…

Easier said than done, because we’ve been taught to look in the wrong places.

“This moment” is woven, on a loom of evolved wiring, from strands of bird song, thanking me for the seed, tragic news of a typhoon and a shooting, from the zing of this morning’s coffee and lull of last night’s chamomile, the slight pain of a sprain from yesterday’s run, echos of childhood loss, all etc.

Our brain does this weaving, always, but often with yarn that is too thin, of the wrong dye, sometimes of the wrong wool. But weave it does, constantly, because it is Weaver, and the cloth is “me.”

To protect us, Weaver learned to double the knots of fear and pain, to twice the count of hoped-for gain, even when loss is of something only imagined. So “NOs,” when they come, pack twice the wallop as the “Maybe?” pushed across the table by Weaver, with a shy smile.

The trick?  You’ve said it so many times: Be real, let go of the knots, be kind, breathe, do what you love and for the right reasons, be honest, have faith. Repeat. It’s not easy getting past Weaver to the barrels of yarn. In fact, it’s damn hard, because Weaver weaves even that effort into patterns it already knows. But, it can be done.

Acquire and Defend

Squirrels and rabbits below my treehouse fill a stash and then guard it. Sparrows chase hawks lurking near their nest. Observng my own bio-psychology, I feel different emotions attached to “gathering” and “protecting.”

Gathering gives a rush of pleasure. Senses are heightened, the “looking for and finding” sends a little endorphin pulse. Future behavior wants to replicate that little stroke.

Protecting follows a pulse of fear. Potential loss flairs as a form of anger, behavior aggressive. Successful protecting  may not reenforce this behavior, the fear impulse seems more primal. It takes a while to get over loss of love, wealth, or right to bear arms.

Science indicates we value something we are trying to protect twice as much as we value the same thing if we are trying to gather it.  See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Psychologists talk of “systems” of behavior.

These systems may originate in various regions of the brain, but are not like the pipes of a power plant. They are organizations of input and response, similar to what we used to consider “instinct,” though that implied not being changeable.

Though these systems seem to be inherited, so is our ability for language, and our ability to use words and images to trigger fear or pleasure nearly as real as the actual loss or gain.