On the eve of election day I dreamed I was attending social work graduate school. I had trouble getting to my classes as my class roster didn’t have the location of my first class. I was supposed to be there at 8:30, but 8:30 came and went, and I never made it to my class. I was so frustrated; no one I approached was able to help me. I did make it to my second class, which was about the law. I found it engaging and stimulating and realized I wanted to be a lawyer. While dreaming, I mused about starting law school at sixty-one years of age, and thought, “Yes, I can do that.” Then I went on to dream about my former job. I was at the high school, and it had three floors. The building was on fire, and we needed to evacuate the most vulnerable students (non-verbal, likely using wheelchairs) from the third story. Without using the elevator. A co-worker and I went to help the teacher accomplish this. It was a tense and life-threatening scene.
When I awoke, I was amused that my dreaming-self was interested in becoming a lawyer, but my awake sixty-one-year-old self is not interested at all in the profession. My fascination is purely academic; I find it fascinating but did not enjoy working with lawyers and the court system while I worked in foster care services. I appreciated their passion in representing their clients; I did not appreciate their methods.
I recognize my second dream to be about the dearth of services in Kansas for our most vulnerable population. There are years-long waiting lists for home-based services, putting all of the person’s needs on the parents and relatives. It is a choice Kansas makes about which federal programs they utilize and how much money Kansas will use to match those funds. Those decisions impacted the students and families at the high school I used to work at. Part of my job was to help them transition to those services when they left school services. Sometimes there were no services to transition to. They had gaps in their needs being met because of the decisions made by Kansas lawmakers. It did often feel as urgent as helping them escape a burning building.
Ken and I decided to not vote early, as we both like the ritual of going to the poll station. This morning I approached it with no hope that the candidates I vote for will be elected. I have chosen to live in a state whose majority are Republicans. And I am not. I live in Lawrence whose majority do vote Democrat. But Lawrence rarely reflects the beliefs of the whole state.
My life approach is I want Love to be the guide that shapes my responses towards others. I also believe I need to take responsibility for my behavior, my thoughts, and my feelings. Knowing that feelings of hopelessness are not conducive to my mental and/or physical health, today I reached for a different place to land my thoughts and feelings. Here’s what I came up with: I chose to not get involved with the political process, except for voting. I have exercised my right to vote since I was eligible. But I haven’t pursued further political involvement. Except after the election of President Trump. At that time I made a couple of phone calls to legislators, went to one Women’s March and participated in a postcard campaign. And then quit. When I feel some hopelessness today, I realize my part in this is I made choices to not get involved. I voted this morning, and now I will accept the outcomes of the majority of Kansans. And see what I want to do next.
Ken and I do entertain the thoughts of moving to states where the majority is more aligned with our political philosophies. But we both love Lawrence, and I value living near family and the friendships I have had for over several decades. Ken has lived here for nine years and notes how kindly Kansans treat him. Most likely he’s being treated kindly by people who have vastly different views. But they are still being kind. What I know is for today, I will live in this state of Kansas. And since I operate from a state of love, I will not vilify the people who do not share my philosophies. To disagree with them is not to disdain, or hate them. I believe I understand their philosophies and I care about them. I am pretty sure my former student who needed to fly his Confederate flag on the truck he drove to school, to “honor his heritage”, did not vote for Democrats today. I still care about his well-being and hope he is finding happiness, even though I strongly disagree with him. Ken quotes Maude from an old movie “Harold and Maude”. In one scene, young Harold questions the elder, eccentric Maude’s kind treatment of someone who has not been kind to her. Maude simply replies “He’s my species.” I agree with Maude. I choose to love my species.
What do I do with my pre-election dreams? I recognize I still care about people who are more vulnerable than me. I believe they should have my access to a life of thriving. In my dream life, I took action. In my waking life, I am not taking action. I am seeing that being retired from being a social worker is not being retired from caring. I was content to indulge in passive caring, but am not sure about that now. I have no answers, no resolutions today. I will get back with you when I have those answers for myself!
It actually took a while to have the experts settle on the type of storm we had. They initially said we had straight-line winds, and later said it was a wet microburst. Our neighbors quickly named it a microburst, and they were spot on.
What also seemed to take a while was getting the house repaired. I have no idea what is typical, as I hadn’t experienced working with a homeowners insurance claim of this proportion. The tree was removed in less than a week and the insurance adjuster cut us a check to pay the tree service while sitting in his truck. That’s a nice use of technology! I didn’t know our mortgage company would also be involved in the repair process, but it made sense since they own it as well. It just added another layer to get the house repaired.
But the house repair was a seven-months-long process. Fortunately, after the tree was removed we were able to return to live in it.
Although the restoration of the house took over half a year, we have an improved house! Some repairs we were needing to attend to were swept up in the restoration. The tree falling onto our house left ripples in most of our ceilings in our house. Some of our ceilings had decades of patching, but are now ripple and patch free. Walls were impacted as well, so they are repaired and have new paint. It’s quite the facelift inside! We now have a new roof, half of the house has new siding and guttering, and two badly needed new windows. I quickly named our tree “The Giving Tree”.
Prior to the tree falling, I would comment to Ken I wanted a truckload of mulch for our yard. I asked the company who removed our tree to give us some mulch from our tree, and they delivered! I wondered if we could find a place for all of this, but that was not a problem. It did take us several weeks to disperse it, but it was fun! A year later I am ready for more mulch, but not ready for another storm.
We both are now “jumpy” when we have storms with high winds. About an hour prior to the storm I had taken a walk. There was thunder in the distance while I was walking, and I was aware a rainstorm was predicted. I don’t take walks when there’s thunder within my hearing. The strength of a storm is no longer theoretical to me.
Ironically, when this storm was beginning last year, I said how much I enjoyed the wind. In minutes, the wind was blowing so fast the leaves were flying past our front window. That was when we decided to move away from the windows. It has taken a while to not go to a fight, fight or freeze kind of place when having high winds now.
This incident gave me the opportunity to take stock about where my security lies. When the tree was resting on our house, being inside of it felt risky, and unsure if it was safe to be inside the house. When the tree was removed and the insurance adjuster said our house was safe to stay in again, we didn’t stay in our bedroom right away. It had a nonfunctioning chimney for a long-ago wood stove that was cracked when the tree hit our house, with mortar falling out in places. The plaster ceiling around it just fell off. We discovered the chimney on the roof was totally loosened and was easily dismantled. Subsequently, we had no idea if the chimney was stable and didn’t want to find out while sleeping. After a month of no movement of the chimney and internal repairs not happening soon, we returned to our bedroom. (When repairs did happen, we requested they remove the chimney. Our bedroom is small, and this gave us more space. The masons did a wonderful job of preserving the bricks so we now have bricks to use for other projects.)
I realized I had assumed our house was my safe haven. I have preferred to live in homes with a basement to have a safe(r) place to go for a tornado. But I didn’t have a plan for a tree uprooting and landing on the house. It made safety feel like an illusion, which indeed it is. My feeling of security really rests within me and my version of God. Ken and I were unscathed and in fact, benefited from the demise of our tree. But the potential the tree could have landed on us was not lost on us. Our wonderment and gratitude were, and are, vast. Now, when I find myself worrying about the small stuff (it’s all small stuff, in the end) I remind myself about the tree, what a great outcome we had and where my trust truly lies.
In February I posted this blog about playing the mobile game Pokémon Go. My point was that I played the game in a compulsive manner, concerned I was approaching an addictive place with it. I had abstained in January, to assess and basically get a grip on what was going on for me. I started playing again in February, with some detachment in place. I am now playing daily again.
So what’s changed about my playing? Several things:
The statement I made in February that I had times of playing while driving and this is distracted driving, stayed with me. I am aware now. I am surprised how a public statement has helped me change my own behavior. (I may keep this in mind when I am ready to change other unwanted behaviors!)
This is a fun game my husband and I enjoy playing together. I understand I can take this to an obsessive place. To monitor myself, I am pacing my playing more closely with my husband’s. This is working for me.
Here are some facets of the game that have increased the gaming fun:
1. My husband and I, in May, finally played a part of the game both of us had been avoiding. We played in raids which involved playing with other Pokémon Go players! It was quite accidental. We had been doing raids just the two of us could raid successfully. There are many more raids that take more than two players, so we were limiting our playing. One day while on our walk, we tried a raid at a park and were unsuccessful at winning that raid. A young couple drove up, asked if we were doing this raid, and we explained we had tried and been defeated. They offered to help. First, the woman looked at our particular set of Pokémon and told us which ones to use. This was a very helpful gesture and made us more informed players. They then helped us win a raid and invited us to another raid at another Pokémon Gym in town. We went with them and were able to join a raid for a type of Pokemon that we couldn’t duo, called a Legendary Pokémon. We had so much fun meeting people who were actively involved in enjoying all aspects of the game. We didn’t exchange contact information but saw this couple and many other players through a well-established gaming website called Discord. For the most part, people who post on this site use the name of their Pokémon trainer instead of their given names. As we have met up with people at raids, we are beginning to learn their names and a little more about them. We have raided with people in political offices, young adults I knew through my work, and a variety of folks from all walks of life. We are definitely some of the oldest people playing locally.
What is different for me is I am not obsessively going out and joining raids, as I might have in the past. I pace myself with my husband, as his interest waxes and wanes.
2. Pokémon Go has added new features that encourage meeting other trainers (people who play Pokémon Go). Since January, once a month there is an event called Community Day. For three hours, a specific Pokemon is released, with a shiny version of it as well. (Shiny Pokémon gained popularity in the card games and the Nintendo games. There are many Pokémon Go players who have played these, so shiny Pokémon has an established allure.)
It usually has a new move that it has not had before, which makes it an improved Pokémon. We learned the best place to participate in Community Day is at our wonderful downtown. It is dense in PokeStops, which means many Pokémon are spawning there as well. We have participated since February, and are now recognizing people and chat about how many shiny Pokemon we have caught. We also talk to people we don’t know because we can tell if they are playing Pokémon Go.
The local Pokémon Go Discord group organized a gathering for these Community Days. We get a ticket for a raffle for every canned good we bring for a local food pantry. Our local paper wrote a story about it.
Pokémon Go has offered monthly Raid Days this past summer, where a legendary Pokémon was the only raid option in all of the gyms for three hours. The local Pokémon Go community quickly organized this as well. At the beginning of the event, we gather at the South Park gazebo and split into teams. There have probably been around sixty people who show up. There are three teams in the game, and there are advantages to raid with team members. The groups can be as small as four, depending on the players’ trainer’s strength in the game. The last two times I have volunteered to be a leader of a group. It is an absolute riot to do this. We walk together to a gym site, like the county courthouse, do the raid which can take 5-10 minutes, then move to the next gym site. I help create a private raid group, make sure we are all ready, and then decide when to move as a group to the next raid site. I have my limits as a leader; some of the leaders are more savvy about techniques of raiding than I am. But it takes me back to my work days when I took students on field trips to local colleges. My work skills have come in handy!
There are players who want to raid quickly as their goal is to do as many raids as possible. We are not in that category. The last raid group I lead was comprised of family members and new players. I love being in raids with children who are so expressive about their thrill of catching their Pokémon. And seeing grandparents, parents and children playing together. It’s just adorable.
To an onlooker, we look, um, interesting, as we move in groups of around a dozen people, clump around a certain spot for a bit, tapping our mobile devices, then moving on. (We do need to work on our sharing-the-sidewalk skills.) What an onlooker may miss is the amount of interacting we are doing while tapping our phones. I have met people in these raid events, and have become friends in the Pokémon Go game. On our morning walk, Ken and I ran into one of the people we had met on a raid and got to know each other better. We found out he is a retired local police officer. How cool!
Non-players hanging out in downtown Lawrence are starting to figure us out. One time we walked past several panhandlers, who, when we said “Hi”, said, “You’re playing Pokémon Go, right?” They know the look too.
I was so excited about this opportunity, I asked the other EX Raid invitees if I could take a group picture. I am now friends with several of them, within the game.
Another feature is the EX Raid, that certain gyms in which we raid are eligible for the EX Raid pass. When we raid at these gyms, it can result in being invited to a raid for a legendary Pokémon only attainable through the EX Raid. These raids are at a set time, with no option to change that time. Which wasn’t too hard for my retired self, but more of a challenge for people with, you know, jobs. I managed to get invited six times, and attended four of them. I missed two of them as I was out of town for friend or family commitments.
Becoming friends is a new feature of the game. I am not sure “friends” is an accurate word for this, as I don’t have to know these people to become friends. We are given a “trainer code” and exchange each other’s codes. We build our “friendships” by interacting in a couple of ways in the game. If we interact daily, our friendship level can increase at a daily pace as well. They have extra perks for reaching the highest level of friendship; best friends. (Since I don’t have to know these people to become friends, I think it is wise that we do not have a direct messaging system, as this could lead to exploitation. Pokémon Go is intended to be a family game, so it should stay kid-friendly and kid-safe.)
3. When Pokémon Go first came out, it exploded worldwide with players. After several months, the number of players dramatically declined, although it still was stayed at the top of mobile games played. My adult children and extended family were in that mass exodus. With these new features, there has been renewed interest in the game, including my adult children and my extended family. We have now raided together, become friends in the game and talk about the latest news. I send them screenshots when I catch something interesting, and sometimes they send me something too. I pretty much love this added interaction with them.
I know I play Pokémon Go more often than some folks and not as much as others we have met these last few months. It is a fun activity for my husband and me. My parents square-danced together, Ken and I play Pokemon Go together. I’m going to continue to get out there and play. I just don’t need to “catch ’em all” anymore.
The next day I got my hearing aids. I kept a journal for in my initial days of wearing hearing aids, which is following. I have worn them for ten weeks now, and am committed to continuing to wearing them. They have improved my interactions with other people immensely. I am not straining to hear now. I didn’t realize I was straining, but I was. They give me some ease. And have diminished the tinnitus. I am grateful. I am also getting closer to a place of accepting this permanent condition of tinnitus. The despair is greatly lessened.
Day 1: Krysta [Dr. Green, audiologist] fitted me for hearing aids this morning. She somehow calibrated them to my hearing loss. Looked pretty complicated to me; she rattled off stuff to her intern about how she set it. She showed me how to take care of it. She gave me a pack of batteries; evidently, I will need to change the batteries every 7-10 days. Kinda surprised how quickly the batteries run out. I need to remember to open the hearing aids every evening, so the batteries are not working. The hearing aid case is kinda cute.
So, my brain will now get signals my cochlea has lost. With the amplification from the hearing aids, I will hear things I haven’t heard for a while from my mild hearing loss and will hear things my brain has learned to screen. My brain will evidently learn to screen them again, but until my brain learns this, I will hear a lot.
She calibrated both the same, but I asked her to turn up my left ear. Now I am wondering if I was right.
So, my first reaction to the hearing aids working is that it sounded like there’s a microphone inside my head. Kinda weird. That was this morning; it still sounds like that this evening.
When I scratch my head above my ear, or move my hair away from my ear, it sounds like amplified sandpaper scraping. That’s a bit intense.
When I sniffed, it’s like I am in a tin building, with the feedback, echoey sound of tin. That’s a bit much too.
When I drove home from the appointment, I heard the turn signals in a clear, amplified way. I kinda like how crisp they sounded. I turned on a CD in the car and really enjoyed the music. I think I wasn’t hearing the treble very well. In recent years I found myself really tuning in to the bass line of songs, which I had not done previously. I wonder now if I did that because I had lost hearing the upper notes. I used to comment to Ken that the stereo wasn’t balanced. Now I think it was my hearing loss that was contributing to that perceived imbalance.
I started the day as a cicada day. That has varied, but now, in the evening, the cicadas are back. A couple of times I felt like my ears were itching and wanted to take the hearing aids out. But I got through it. I am motivated to wear them so my brain will quit sending these signals, giving me the ringing in my ears.
I asked Krysta if the tinnitus would return when I took the hearing aids off at night. She said that varies for people.
After I left the fitting appointment today, I teared up, thinking there may be hope of not hearing the ringing in my ears anymore. I felt very grateful Krysta is serving people in need like this. She’s a very intelligent person and could do anything she wanted. I am glad she wants to help people with their hearing issues.
But, I am tired from this very new experience. Hearing aids and still having the tinnitus sounds. Tomorrow the repair of our house begins. He’s starting in the attic and there is no place in the house I won’t hear it. I may have to leave. When Ken was moving the furniture in the attic tonight, it sounded very loud. Hard to tolerate sounding loud.
Ken observed I had improved mood today. That there is hope is encouraging, I’m thinking.
Day 2: It is amazing that I hear more clearly. It does feel like the inside of my head becomes a microphone. Just kinda weird.
Woke up with cicadas. I’ve had my hearing aids on for forty-five minutes and the cicadas are greatly diminished. Cool.
I don’t have any running around scheduled today, and am attending to business: writing out a bill, making phone calls, etc. I think it’s cus I am less tired with the cicadas being in the distance.
Took a walk in the wind today. I was concerned I would hear wind against a microphone effect, but not at all! What a relief.
Didn’t have to leave with construction sounds. That was a relief. The hearing aids definitely amplify the sound, but it isn’t grating.
Day 3: When I woke up this morning the cicadas were active! I was very motivated to get my contacts in so I could put on my hearing aids. (my regular glasses’ bows are too fat with my hearing aids) I have had them on for an hour and a half and they are starting to diminish, but still present. C’mon, brain!
It’s 12:30 pm and the cicadas have not subsided so far. Bummed.
When I drove my car this afternoon, I didn’t have heat or the CD on, and I heard creaks and groans I hadn’t heard before. Krysta said she had a client who told her he arrived to his appointment with a Rolls Royce and left with a jalopy.
Evening: I have been discouraged, teary today with the cicadas not diminished. I am exhausted, which I get on the days I am discouraged. The backs of my ears hurt, where the glasses and the hearing aids meet. Ken suggested that I’ve worn the hearing aids three days, and two of the three days have been less tinnitus. A good point. If it was good before, it can be good again. Today is hard.
8:30 pm: I just checked my left hearing aid; the battery case was not closed all of the way. I don’t know if it was that way all day, or when I took them out at the dentist’s office. But it gives me hope this was the reason I had more cicadas today. Ken was super relieved to hear it too. I was so touched by his investment in these hearing aids and his concern about my despair with living with the tinnitus. I just so want to not have to live the sound 24/7.
Day 4: Started reading the hearing aid manual today. There’s dots on the inside of the battery red for right, blue for left. Good! I thought there should be a system.
Put on my hearing aids right away, to make up for yesterday’s “brain training loss”. I can still hear the cicadas, but it’s way in the background. Turning into the ringing sound, which is less.
I was with Becca and Teddy today. I felt free to lay on the floor and wiggle around with Teddy. I took my glasses off, but the hearing aids were fine.
Becca asked me if I can now handle the sound of crunching chips. I forgot I had said that, on day 1, when we ate at the Jimmy John’s by IKEA. Yes, I can. However, I am still choosing to eat applesauce instead of an apple. Odd.
Today I am hearing an airy sound in my left ear. I had Krysta turn up the left one more than the right. I am questioning that decision.
Ken and I went to Menards, Natural Grocers, and Sprouts. I am not getting too much sound in the stores. Besides Jimmy Johns, I haven’t been to a noisy restaurant yet. Will see how that goes.
In thinking about hearing the turn signal, I realize it’s a more crisp sound. I formerly heard the turn signal, just not all of the tones. I like how the hearing aids crisp up what I’m hearing. This mild hearing loss is so fascinating. I had no idea I had lost any hearing. Once I adjust to them, I anticipate enjoying hearing conversations better. Makes for an improved quality of life.
Day 5, 11 am: I went to sleep and woke up with the cicadas today. I was motivated to put my hearing aids on this morning. The cicadas haven’t gone away, but they are definitely in the background.
My full prescription glasses have big bows, and I haven’t found a comfortable way to wear them and my hearing aids. So, to put my hearing aids on, I need to put my contacts on first. (I wear glasses with my contacts, to correct my farsightedness.) I am starting to feel like a bionic woman: I have all kinds of devices for daily living: glasses, contacts, retainer to keep my teeth straight (spent money and pain getting them straight; not gonna do that again!), hearing aids, and my four crowns are imminent to increase to six crowns.
I am telling my brain it doesn’t need to search for sounds when I am going to sleep. It hasn’t got the message yet…..
9 pm: Cicadas most of the day. Was helpful when Sue and Lisa were here, cuz I didn’t think about it. And it wasn’t quiet.
Day 6: So yea, I was disappointed about the cicadas yesterday. Then I took off my hearing aids and realized the hearing aids helped them not be so loud. Cus they were VERY present without the hearing aids. I can say with confidence the hearing aids are lessening the tinnitus sound. Cool.
I did take a Benadryl to get to sleep last night. Two nights ago my VivoFit3 said I got a little over 3 hours of deep sleep. I stayed in bed until 8:30 am today and got over 6 hours of deep sleep. It seems a good night’s sleep aids in my ability to tolerate the tinnitus.
I feel like I have made progress today in coming to terms with my hearing loss/tinnitus. I don’t feel like resisting so much, as just leaning into it and even playing with it. Kind of a relief.
Day 7: I didn’t take a Benadryl last night. Took a little bit to get to sleep, but I had a good night’s sleep: over 6 hours of deep sleep again. This is such a mental feat; if I can approach bedtime with a positive outlook about the tinnitus, I can get to sleep. When I feel defeated, despair, the tinnitus is all-consuming. Here’s hoping I can continue to have a positive outlook!
11:30 am: Hearing the tinnitus this morning, but it’s background. So struck by the clean, crisp sounds I am getting with the hearing aids. The sound quality is improved.
Last night we were babysitting Teddy and after he was in bed we were sitting in the quiet living room. I heard a chirping sound that I thought was an electronic sound, from the kitchen area. But it was the chirping of an actual bird at twilight. Such a crisp sound!
Day 8: I took a Benadryl last night. The cicada noise was present and I was worried I wouldn’t fall asleep easily. I think a bigger factor in getting asleep is not using electronics right before going to bed.
BUT, this morning I woke up to only the faint, high-pitched ringing. If this is all the sound I would have from tinnitus, I probably would not have sought help. I put my hearing aids on right away, in case the reason for this lessened sound IS the hearing aid use. Don’t know, but am eager to test this theory.
6:30 pm: The left hearing aid needed a new battery today. Just changed it. Looked at the manual to be sure. Easy peasy.
The tinnitus sound is minimal today. Such a relief.
Ate in a restaurant today. Couldn’t hear Lisa any better, but it didn’t catch unwanted noise. I am thinking my hearing aids are not my grandparents’ hearing aids!
AND, the right hearing aid battery now needs to be changed.
At knitting group tonight, I shared my tinnitus, hearing loss, hearing aid tale. And gave 3 of Krysta’s business cards to three people. Cus we all know someone who has tinnitus or may have a hearing loss.
It’s after 10 pm, and I am hearing ringing. Not a bad day though. Fairly encouraging.
Day 8: Woke up to faint cicadas. Now just have the faint ringing. I think the reduction in tinnitus may be due to the hearing aids. How to know?
I had lunch with Kathy yesterday at a small, not-busy grill. I found when I was listening to her, I was watching her mouth (to lip-read). I told myself I may not need to watch her mouth and looked at her eyes instead. I was right! I could hear her just fine!
While we were there, Kathie from knitting group was there with her husband, who has tinnitus. I love to show people my hearing aids, cus I have to make an effort to do so. Since I have long hair, it really covers them up. But even if I had short hair, I think they would not be very noticeable. He said he would make an appointment after they returned from their travels. If I can usher folks with tinnitus to help, I will do it!
Day 9: Woke up to active cicadas this morning. It’s almost noon, and they are still present, but in the background. I want to make the connection with tinnitus and sinus issues (I have a sinus headache this morning) but neither the audiologist nor the literature supports this.
We are having a lovely Spring day and I have a positive attitude today. I am realizing I was low energy with the advent of the tinnitus and the diagnosis. A bit depressed. And it happened in winter when I don’t get outside as much. Probably not linked. I probably would have been sad to get this life-long condition any time of the year. Just thinking. Glad my mood is picked up today! Yard work is happening this afternoon!
Day 10: Last night I took a Benadryl. I told myself it would help with the poison ivy spots I have on my arms. But I was mainly motivated to have it help me be drowsy enough to fall asleep with the cicada sounds. It does work. But I would rather fall asleep without that drug; feeling psychologically dependent.
At the end of the day yesterday, I was aware of the hearing aids in my ears. I think I am always aware; haven’t tuned that out yet. And when I’m tired, anything is harder to deal with.
Here’s something that is happening: when I wake up, in the middle of the night, in the morning, I don’t hear the tinnitus as the very first thing. It is not my first thought anymore. Progress!
I was out of sorts late morning, early afternoon. Ken and I ate lunch at a restaurant as Arnold, who is repairing our house, was turning on a compressor to work on a ceiling. Arnold suggested we leave, and I was all for it. The amplification with my hearing aids makes an inside noise like that a challenge for me.
I told Ken at lunch I could hear the cicadas over the din of the restaurant. He said he didn’t hear them…
I am realizing it’s harder to tolerate music playing while I am listening to someone talk. I hope I get over that.
Day 11: I put my hearing aids in (is that the correct preposition, term?) the latest in the morning I have yet; 10 am. I heard the cicadas in the night, but this morning it was just the ringing sound. I put them on/in, before we meditated, as I figure they help screen out the tinnitus. I think it helped. We hadn’t meditated for several days. When that happens, it sometimes takes me a little while to get in the meditation groove. So I did intentional breathing. Which also distracted me from the tinnitus.
I went to a small party tonight. I did fine with hearing and conversing. I think these hearing aids are helping!
Day 12: I heard cicadas all day. I am getting used to it; doesn’t super bother me. But, took a Benadryl, to help me sleep through the cicadas and the poison ivy.
I tried on tops today at Kohls. I am impressed by how well the hearing aids stay in place.
We went to a Pokemon Go! community event. I thought later I might have been the only one playing Pokemon Go! wearing hearing aids. I could be wrong. Can’t see them, so don’t know!
It’s official: Ken is tired of me saying, “Did you hear that?” I’m not.
Day 14: Didn’t write anything yesterday. I think it’s an indication I am getting used to these hearing aids.
This morning I tipped the battery out of my hearing aid before I closed the compartment. After getting on the floor, using a flashlight, I did not locate the battery. They are so little!
I took a Benadryl last night. I am telling myself I will use them while I have the poison ivy. I woke up at 3 a.m. and had trouble falling asleep again. But it wasn’t due to the tinnitus.
Day 15: Yesterday, all I had was the faint, high-pitched ringing. It’s easier for me to ignore. I did NOT take a Benadryl and fell asleep just fine. Today I have had cicadas all day. So discouraging. I have been off-kilter emotionally, but I don’t think the two things are related.
I made up a new term of one of my hearing-aid-wearing issues. I call it ear canal fatigue. I think my sensory issues come into play. I just need them out of my ears sometimes. But I haven’t allowed myself to do that, as I want the most brain training I can get.
Going to call Krysta tomorrow, with these questions:
Anything I can do about this ear canal fatigue?
How long do I need to wear them each day for brain training?
How long does brain training take? Am I making too much of brain training?
How far in my ear should I be placing the probes?
They stink! Any suggestions?
Is it okay to use earbuds and take my hearing aids off?
Day 16: Had cicadas all day again. Maybe not as loud. My ears just ached, so I took the hearing aids off a little after 8 pm. I wore them for 12 hours today.
Day 17: Had some tinnitus sounds this morning, but I have not had much, or any, cicadas. Such a relief!
Day 18: What can I say? Active cicada sounds all day. I don’t get this. I’ll be okay, but it’s hard when one day it’s so minimal, then back.
Day 19: Started the day with loud cicadas. At Women’s Group, Jane said tinnitus worsens with stress. Great. Well, I guess it’s a great time to be retired and have less stress.
Day 20: Travelling, flying with hearing aids for the first time!! Made it through security; didn’t need to take the hearing aids off.
When my ears popped, I had a moment of panic that it would affect my hearing aids. Not so much. Nothing affects those things!
Cicadas all day. Ugh.
Day 31: Last week I had times of only the high-pitched noise, which is so far in the background I don’t notice. I have been using Benadryl more times than not using it, and don’t care for my dependence on it. Yesterday was a high-pitched day, not a cicada day. I took the hearing aid off an hour or so before bedtime and the cicadas returned. (Or did they return because I was tired? I don’t know.) I was tired, like I-had-already-taken-a-Benadryl tired, so I decided to not take it. And I fell asleep through the cicada noise just fine.
I think I have a new phenom happening: I think the hearing loss was screening out sounds (I first wrote noises, cus my audio sensory issues take sounds and make them noises.) so my sensory issues were less. I have had times when music is on and someone is talking, and I will have to turn off the music to be able to concentrate.
Day 33: Yesterday was another cicada day, for sure. I hadn’t slept my usual 9 hours and worked at ACT testing. The tinnitus was relentless. I still got to sleep. I am able to tell myself I can get to sleep through this, and then I do. I feel like the anxiousness about having this condition is lessening.
April 30th: Saw Krysta today and asked my questions. She thought my right ear canal had some redness and looked irritated. Her solution is smaller earpieces. So far I think they are a great improvement. I don’t feel the urge to itch my ear. Which isn’t easy, by the way.
I asked her to recalibrate the left hearing aid, so now both hearing aids are the same. My initial reaction is that it is helping tone down the sensitivity to sounds.
She said she didn’t think using the hearing aids would make the tinnitus go away, but definitely lessen it. And that is what I am experiencing. So nice to have relief. I am motivated to wear my hearing aids all of the time, to reduce the tinnitus and now also, to hear people better.
I have quit taking Benadryl and am getting to sleep just fine. I hear the tinnitus sounds, and tell myself they will be less in the morning when I wear my hearing aids. And I go to sleep.
I realize now I have had to work hard to hear what people have to say. What a relief, to put some ease in having conversations!
Last July I pulled a back muscle and was taking muscle relaxants. I thought the constant sounds of cicadas in my head was just one funky side effect of that unpleasant medicine. Because the cicadas in my head left before the ones in nature made their annual entrance, I didn’t think more about it.
This January I laid around when I was coaxing a nondescript virus to go away. And heard the cicadas again. I concluded this happened when I was sick, or sedentary. I mentioned it to the doctor and she volunteered to refer me to an ENT. We threw the term “tinnitus” around. I declined the ENT referral, deciding the cicadas were a part of being sick and would fade away. The virus did its eventual exit, but the cicadas remained. They weren’t always present; they traded off with a ringing sound that was softer. I realized I probably had tinnitus and told my children about it. My daughter has a friend from high school who is an audiologist. She suggested I contact her for an ENT recommendation. I texted her and she recommended I see an audiologist first. I made an appointment with her.
Prior to the appointment, I allowed myself one look on that bain of medical folks’ existence, the World Wide Web. I chose the Mayo Clinic’s site to read up on tinnitus. Here’s the Mayo Clinic site.
I know several men who have tinnitus and all of them said there is no treatment for it. They said they learn to tune it out. I felt some despair because I knew it was a permanent condition. I also thought people got it who were around loud machinery, shot firearms, and/or went to loud concerts. I did none of those activities. At first, I couldn’t imagine living with this ever-present sound. I love the quiet; my favorite conditions for sleeping are pitch dark and no sound. When I was growing up on the farm, we didn’t have air conditioning so we slept with the windows open. I remember having trouble sleeping when the irrigation pump ran at night. I could sleep through intermittent or pitch-varying sounds, but a consistent sound was a challenge. When I was a teen I stayed at my aunt’s house for a couple of weeks so my cousin and I could catch the early morning bus together to do corn detasseling. There were four people in the house, in four separate bedrooms and they all played different radio stations while they slept. I struggled to fall asleep the entire time I was there.
I came to understand I probably have sensory integration issues, with auditory being an impacted sense. When I briefly owned a Harley, one of the first things I requested was to remove the unique Harley pipes because I couldn’t tolerate the noise. I knew it was sacrilege, but that patented, loud sound was wearing to me. I learned to wear ear plugs when I took longer motorcycle rides.
I find white noise distracting instead of soothing. When I am home alone, I rarely have the TV or any music playing. I love quiet space.
So, to face the potential of permanently having sound INSIDE MY OWN HEAD that I couldn’t regulate/control was a sad prospect for me. I have noticed when I am busy, I don’t notice it so much. When I am tired, it is more noticeable, and in general, I get irritated more easily. When I have an active cicadas-in-the-head all day, I tire faster. The days of the ringing sound are less challenging. Always, in the evening, when winding down and tiring, the sound is ever-present. Some nights I have difficulty getting to sleep.
One statement in the Mayo Clinic’s explanation of tinnitus is that its onset often happens at age 60 and up. I am just now 61 years old and was shocked that I was getting an age-related condition. It occurred to me I may continue to face age-related conditions. I know, I am sixty-one; and yes, this had occurred to me before. But it was theoretical; this is getting real. When I felt fearful I coached myself, that I could make it at that moment, and could make it until I had my appointment with the audiologist.
Ken went with me, which the audiologist welcomed, to get his input as well. The first part of the appointment was the interview. The audiologist was clear the ringing in my ears is tinnitus, but the intent was to find out why I have it. I said I had read it could be anything from wax build up to a brain tumor. She asked the appropriate questions to rule out a medical referral. She confirmed that I already have audiological issues of auditory sensory integration and trouble with persistent sounds. Both of these have technical names, which I promptly forgot. I said I had had a hearing test with the school district’s audiologist around ten years ago, as my daughter encouraged it. I thought she mumbled; she thought I had difficulty with my hearing. At that test, I found out I experience hearing loss with ambient sounds: sixty percent loss of hearing in one ear and forty percent in the other. At that time I realized I read lips to compensate for hearing in noisy conditions.
The next portion of the appointment was an ear exam. I was disappointed to find out I did not have wax build up, as that would have been such an easy fix! After that, an intern did the actual hearing tests. She was in another room, speaking to me through a microphone, while I wore hearing devices of some sort. She was behind a double paned, tinted window so I could see her, though not clearly. For the first test, I was to indicate hearing a tone by pressing a clicker. We were clicking right along, at fairly regular intervals, then I heard no tone. A little bit of time would pass and I would finally hear a faint sound again. I would click, and the intern would write something down. I found myself leaning toward the direction of the sound, as though that would help me hear it. When I couldn’t hear the tone, I could hear the cicadas in my head and felt sure that was the cause of missing those soft tones. I knew I was missing tones, and I became sad and teared up. Most of the sadness was the realization I was not acing this test. I am chagrined to admit this, but it was not because I was missing sounds, but because I take pride in performing well on tests. At the end of this test, the intern asked if I was doing okay, and I lied and said I was. I immediately thought of the students I had worked with for a couple of decades who struggle with test-taking. It wasn’t a case of not knowing the material, but attempting to demonstrate their knowledge in the method given would run into their learning disabilities. They knew they should be able to answer the questions, that their classmates could, and they couldn’t. Their own kind of hell that they had to face in their whole school experience. I have been a fairly good test-taker and am not used to struggling. That day, I got a small taste of what they showed up for all of the time.
The next test was the intern saying a word at a time, and me repeating it back. As the volume diminished, so did my ability to repeat the word back to her. It was an illuminating process. I found myself guessing at some of the words, and quipped, “This is a great example of how miscommunication happens.” or “Could you say the word in context?” I finally gave up when I couldn’t make an intelligent guess at the word. I realized quickly though, there have been a lot of times I have strained to hear a word, or sentence, for a while now. And that I have been working pretty hard to hear people speaking.
The audiologist explained their findings: I have a mild hearing loss. This news did not hit me too hard; it was actually a valid explanation of my experience I had just had with the testing, and in recent times, trying to hear all of the words in conversations. She did tell me I have every right to advocate for people to talk to me face to face and explain I have a mild hearing loss. I also have permission to ask people to turn down the volume of TV’s, etc in restaurants. If not for me, she asked me to do this for all of the people who struggle with hearing and other unseen conditions. My husband recalled a time I had already asked a restaurant to turn off a TV, so he didn’t think I needed much encouragement to advocate for myself. I agree, but it is useful to know why I have felt the need for this. Having a mild hearing loss is much better than that I am persnickety.
I was most interested in the audiologist’s recommendation for the tinnitus. She said something like this: the tinnitus is my ears’ attempts to hear as they are aware they are missing sounds. Or something like that. I will have to ask her again, because I was absorbing a fair amount of information and emotions at the time, and didn’t get it all. She believes hearing aids could actually help this type of tinnitus. I am getting fitted for them, and am too scared to hope they will really work.
I told my siblings my results, finding out one of my sisters and one brother-in-law have this condition as well. They have not been offered any treatment options.
In the meantime, I recognize I am going through the stages of grief, in living with this new condition. The day after seeing the audiologist, I had coffee with two former co-workers, now co-retirees. One was sharing about the next step in her cancer treatments. She has a type of cancer that is challenging to treat and she was going to have an appointment the next day to find out if a tumor was responding to treatment. I asked how she was feeling about it and she said: “It is what it is.” Whatever she found out, she would then do what was indicated. I hesitantly told my friends my new-to-me condition. I acknowledged it wasn’t a huge medical challenge and a lot of people have it. My friend said, “Yes, you still have your ear.” She is so right! I have every confidence I will get to that matter-of-fact acceptance, but I am not there yet. I am experiencing all of the other stages of grief, in varying ways and in varying degrees. Sadness and shock are my most prevalent places right now. A success is when I haven’t thought about it for a period of time.
I have told myself I will face this with grace and dignity. Then I remembered who I was. Ha! I am not grace-ful OR dignified! No, I am facing this a day at a time, feeling whatever I am feeling at the moment, finding bits of humor here and there, stumbling along looking for a new equilibrium. It ain’t always pretty, but I am certain I will land on my feet once again. In the meantime, look at me when you’re talking to me, and have patience with me if I ask you to repeat yourself.
On December 31, 2017, I decided to quit playing a game called Pokémon Go .
A little about Pokémon: It has been around since February 1996, six months after Sam was born. It has been a part of my life around seventeen years, due to Sam’s interest as a young child. When he used the word “evolve” appropriately in a sentence at six years old, I was impressed at his use of such a sophisticated word. Then I found out the Pokémon characters evolve; he had learned the word from the cartoon! I bought him the cute Pokémon paraphernalia, attempted to watch the Pokémon cartoons with him, but kept a disinterested distance from it. His older sister Becca watched with him, and can still to this day sing the Jigglypuff Song.
Not that I recommend this, but as a parent of children in the technology/gaming age, I groused about this phenomenon, tried to keep it at bay, and hoped their dad would become the gaming/technology expert. When my sweet, gentle daughter of eight years old played a game on a friend’s Atari system she quickly became the aggressor, yelling “Kill, kill!” I was mortified. That was all I needed to know, I thought. That stuff breeds aggression and has no place in our home. I did learn in the Pokémon world the characters battle, but no one is killed. That helped me a little bit, and Sam played the Pokémon games on handheld devices. As the gaming world continued to evolve Sam showed a lot of interest and his older sister kept abreast of the world with her friends. She has astute eye-hand coordination and could beat the more-practiced friends of hers fairly quickly.
Seven years ago, I married Ken, who is a gamer. I saw his video game playing to not be all-consuming for him, and a hobby I could tolerate. Ken wanted to find a video game we could play together. I found I enjoyed Mario Kart, about twice a year, and sometimes played a game with him called Terraria. It was okay, but not compelling.
Sam was fourteen when Ken entered our lives and was interested in moving beyond his GameCube and into the X Box or PlayStation realm. I was still fairly uninformed, and wary. I let Ken guide our purchases for Sam, relieved to be with someone who could reasonably navigate this.
In July 2016 a different kind of Pokémon game came along called Pokémon Go. It is an Augmented Reality (AR) game played on smartphones. I describe AR as an animated GPS system, overlaying the whole game on the GPS map of where you are currently holding your phone. You can also switch to your phone’s camera, with the Pokémon in the picture.
The player can catch the Pokémon that appear, and collect the items needed to catch them with, from PokéStops . If you are not familiar with the game, or the concept, here’s a quick read on it: Pokemon Go explanation on Wikipedia
I had the same disinterested approach to Pokémon Go, for the first three weeks it was out. Everyone around me was playing it: my husband, children, son-in-law and local extended family. So much so when Becca offered to host a birthday party for Sam and his uncle, she used Pokémon Go as the theme. Because she is a skilled planner and delegator, she had all of us help make the decorations and party favors, which was a delightful extended family effort. Guests ranged in ages from two to sixty-four years old and she entertained them all. Becca created two scavenger hunts: one for the youngsters at the house, and another for the adults to walk or drive to places to collect Pokemon. Surrounded by a myriad of enthusiasts, at an absolutely enjoyable party, it finally peaked my interest. I installed Pokemon Go on my smartphone that evening.
Ken and I started exploring Lawrence through our Pokémon Go games. The game added incentives to play daily and I was on it! We had a lot of fun exploring the components of the game, but mainly the part of collecting the many Pokemon. It became a part of my daily life, always ensuring I had some way to play. The only time I didn’t play was three days in July of 2017 when we were at a family gathering in Colorado. Not because we were at a family gathering, but because we had no phone reception at the retreat center in the mountains. No phone data, no Pokémon to catch.
Sam quit playing after a few months as it is more fun to play with someone, and his friends quit playing. Becca and her husband continued to play until a few months ago. As a gamer, Ken found the game to be lacking in interesting, engaging play, or metagame, but would usually play when I asked. We didn’t play every aspect of the game, but I enjoyed the collecting aspect, spinning the PokéStops and doing gym battles. To do these activities took going to the places they were placed. Driving downtown Lawrence was rich with PokéStops, as they are attached to placards, murals, and statues.
Ken would drive the 20 mph speed limit, and I would spin PokéStops for both of us when he wanted. He wasn’t always interested. I was always interested.
When I was 25 years old, a couple of professionals told me they believed I was an alcoholic. I was very shocked, but took them seriously and have been in recovery since then. I immersed myself in what this meant and came to understand I may have an addictive reaction to things other folks don’t. I understood abstinence and finding alternative approaches to day-to-day living to be key in my continued recovery. I wanted to live a life free of addictions, so paid attention to my other addictive behaviors. I gave up cigarette smoking a year later as I had an exquisitely addictive response to cigarettes. At one time I drank a pot of coffee in the morning, then Diet Coke in the afternoon. This consumption created physical problems. I have had times of abstaining from all caffeine, but am now able to drink one cup of coffee a day, and a couple of cups of tea. I eventually gave up drinking diet soda, and have a soda as a treat about once or twice a year. Refined sugar is like mainlining. Okay, I have never mainlined, but I have an I MUST HAVE MORE! reaction to refined sugar. I love my sweets, so I have done a lot of experimenting with natural sugars to keep them in my life. I may be playing with fire; not willing to admit that yet.
I knew I had the capacity to be at least compulsive about playing games like solitaire and have allowed myself that indulgence. I have chosen to not gamble as I have heard from other folks who are addicts that gambling is very addictive. I just don’t want to find out for myself. I have found I enjoy my life without addictions being active. I like being aware, fully participating in my life, even in the challenging times.
Last December, I was able to observe a few things about my Pokémon Go playing I would describe as red flags for addiction:
-Playing daily was a priority; I felt an urgency to play.
-I hate to admit this, but I played while I was driving. Rarely when I was actually driving, but at every stop light. This is called distracted driving.
-We based our walks around my desire to play Pokémon Go. Ken was mostly cool about it, but sometimes it wasn’t an interest of his. One day, I was fussed at him as I perceived him to be a barrier to me playing Pokémon Go that day. To be clear, that’s not what I told him but I realized later that was the at heart of my fussedness.
-I would play Pokémon Go all of the time we were driving somewhere. Really. All of the time. Highway and Interstate driving doesn’t work by design, but rest stops have a lot Pokémon Go gaming to play.
This all may sound trivial, and over-analyzed. I don’t believe I need therapy, or a Pokémon Go Anonymous group. But my commitment to myself is to live my life free of addictive behaviors and being intentional and present in my life. Playing Pokémon Go was going down that slippery slope towards addictive behavior. It was certainly compulsive. It was clear it was affecting my primary relationship and impairing my driving. I am relieved I did not cause a car accident due to my distracted driving. So I decided to abstain for the month of January.
Here’s what I learned:
-I was actually seeing my surroundings through the Pokémon Go’s Augmented Reality screen, an alternate reality! When I first drove sans Pokémon Go, I realized I saw the sights of Lawrence as PokéStops . Whoa! In about a week’s time, my brain started seeing the regular sights of Lawrence.
-When Ken was driving, I would still pull out my phone and look at any amount of apps on my smartphone. Ken commented he appreciated having me back as a companion in the car, and I decided my phone stays in my purse while I am in the car, as a driver or a passenger.
-Ken also observed I would take a long time to get out of the car when we arrived at our destination as I was still playing Pokémon Go. “Gotta catch ‘em all!” I would say. I am now more attentive to what we are doing. Together. Like what I want to be. Being with the person I’m with.
-I started playing Pokémon Go on the cusp of my last year of working, prior to retiring. It was an innocuous distraction at the time. It served the function of distracting me from the huge change of being retired. But it became a disproportionate part of my life. I have far more interests than this game to pursue.
-This is a great outdoor game if you live in year-round mild climates where walking is reasonable. Playing this game in the winter in Kansas puts it into a driving game, not a walking game. Playing it daily was challenging, and sometimes foolish. Last year I drove in icy conditions to play the game. Not a reasonable decision.
-I now look at Ken’s game playing as more typical, and a model for me. I have been able to put Pokémon Go back in its proper perspective and decided I could play it in February. But I didn’t for several days. I am encouraged, as yesterday I went to a coffee shop to write on this blog. While driving there I remembered the shop has a mural, which means it is a PokéStop, and told myself I could play Pokémon Go there. I became so engrossed in writing this, I forgot to play! When I realized that, I was delighted as this is what I want. The game is an optional, light activity, not a priority.
-I think my experience of finding this game a compulsive activity, and Ken not being compulsive, is probably the case for other folks as well. It is an individual experience. In the past, I wanted to vilify gaming, but that is too sweeping. Kids and adults have varying reactions to games. What I know is I found this particular game was compulsive for me. Mario Kart isn’t. I don’t know why, and may not find out. Since I am an aware adult, I can take responsibility to regulate myself. Kids probably benefit with guidance from adults, and need different help, depending on the kid. Just speculating; I haven’t researched this angle.
Ken and I talked about playing Pokémon Go in the future at the Lawrence Arboretum, as it has great sidewalks and lots of PokéStops . (Our neighborhood sidewalks take a fair amount of attentiveness when traversing. Okay, our neighborhood sidewalks are crap.) The Arboretum is attached to a long walking trail so we can play Pokemon Go, then put our phones away and get our heart rates up. I have found endorphin’s are something healthy I crave, and will definitely continue to pursue those!
My husband and I found each other in our 50’s, and appreciate what a gift it is to be together. Between the two of us, we have a string of what society refers to as failed marriages and relationships. We see them as experiences that brought us where we are today, which is with each other. We do not regret our paths, indeed we can look on them with wonderment about how those bumps got us where we are today. One big aspect of our current relationship is we take responsibility for our own feelings; we don’t blame each other for what we feel. This saves a lot of time, energy and conversations and frees us up to enjoy each other. I have been familiar with this concept for decades but actually practice it now. The payoff for taking responsibility for myself is more time for unmitigated joy.
Ken and I take walks together every day the weather is agreeable to us. Shortly after the tree fell on our house last October, we were walking in our neighborhood. A neighbor saw us and ran over to introduce himself and inquire about our house and our welfare. We got to talking and at one point he commented he had seen us on our walks, and how cute we were.
When the weather isn’t agreeable, we sometimes mall walk. We don’t have a local mall, so we walk in box stores. While walking the perimeters of one, on our second lap we passed the same staff person stocking on a ladder and she smiled endearingly at us. My husband said, “She thinks we’re cute”. We talked about these two incidents. Both people were being complimentary, but it also felt dismissive, like we were being patted on the head, and not taken seriously.
I Googled “Cute Older Couples” and found a Pinterest category! Cute Older Couples It has pictures of couples who appear a decade or so older than Ken and me. I studied the pictures to see what qualified them for this cute category. Besides the fact they were noticeably elderly, they were visibly engaged with each other, either by touching, actively doing something together, or looking at each other. A lot of them were smiling. I decided I would rather categorize these pictures as “Loving Couples”. I am obviously wanting to be rid of the word “cute”. It occurred to me elderly loving couples may appear cute because they are an anomaly. I hope I am wrong. It seems, though, I see a fair amount of couples who are together but don’t seem to be engaged with each other. I think about the developmental stage used to describe toddlers who engage in parallel play. They are in proximity to each other, but playing separately. I know the busyness of life together can easily result in being in parallel play mode, and not engaged with each other. I think it’s a reason some couples dread retirement; they have forgotten why they played together in the first place. Maybe the elderly couples who look cute have kept that gift of enjoying each other.
My husband and I walk in the world, hand in hand and are smiled upon. It may be dismissive, but that will only last until they get to know us. Then they will find two people who have walked around the block several times, have fallen down, picked ourselves up, and learned that there is plenty in life to be happy about. They will learn we look cute because we are ridiculously happy, individually and as a couple. We relish our time together, and now that we are unfettered with jobs, we delight even more in our activities, recognizing this time together as the gift that it is.
I lost my mother’s wedding band. It was a Thursday night, and I was cleaning out my purse as I was preparing to attend an all-day conference on Friday when I realized I had lost it. The last time I had been aware of the ring was three weeks prior. That was the afternoon we had an unexpected mighty wind and rain storm. While sitting in the living room on that warm October day, we had a front-row view of the swirling rain, the leaves flying by, and our neighbor’s house across the street disappearing from view. We weren’t immediately aware the thud we heard and felt was the tree resting on our house.
Our neighbor called me, asking if we were okay. Because of the tree on our house. That’s when we knew. The storm was short-lived, and we went outside to see what our neighbor was talking about. It was a grand old tree,
living about six feet from our house. The wind uprooted it and it was on the edge of the roof, having made its own divot for its new resting place. The top of the tree draped most of our roof and extended over the opposite side of the house. When we went back inside, we saw we had cracked walls and ceilings in our bedrooms, and the ceiling in the attic now contoured to its new resident.
I was giddy with relief knowing the tree did not crush us. But we had no idea if it was stable, or if it could still fall further. We made calls: to our insurance, to the police, and to my daughter to say we were safe and could we spend the night? We started packing our bags. I wondered, what was in our house I would regret losing if the house was crushed? I thought about pictures, but suddenly they didn’t feel as important as being alive. I did realize the value of my mother’s rings. The stone portion is a custom setting holding my grandmother’s faux ruby engagement stone and my mother’s petite engagement diamond. After her mother died, my mother inherited the ring. My mother joined it with her engagement ring and kept the matching wedding band separate, to be able to wear it alone in the ordinary days.
The last picture of my mother wearing it was at our 2008 Christmas gathering. My niece orchestrated the photo, which was a hands-only picture of all of the women in my extended family. During the photo shoot, her youngest great-granddaughter, a toddler, was captured reaching her plump finger for that pretty ring on my mother’s hand. It’s a precious memory.
When my mother died my middle sister became the ring’s new keeper. My extended family gathered last summer and the women wanted to replicate the picture of our hands. We were aware of the absence of my mother in this picture and was a bittersweet occasion. The ring was now on my sister’s hand, and her toddler granddaughter reached for my ring on my hand. The tears welled up at the innocent repeat of this touching scene. After the photo, my sister asked if I would want to borrow the ring until we saw each other again, in nine months. I was touched by her gesture and accepted. The ring easily fit my finger, as opposed to my sister’s slender, honed piano-playing fingers.
My daughter and I had our hands’ picture taken, and I wore my newly entrusted, borrowed treasure. When our family saw the pictures back at our separate homes, there were comments that my hand was mistaken for my mother’s by several people.
It was fun to bring the ring home and show it to my women friends, but I only wore it on dressing up occasions. It hung on the trunk of my little porcelain elephant ring holder; also from my mother.
On that October afternoon, when the firefighters came to our house and said we should leave soon, as the house and the tree may not be stable, I grabbed my mother’s rings and put them in the pocket in my purse where I keep my keys. And didn’t give them much thought. When we returned to a home with no tree resting on it five days later, it did not occur to me to place my mother’s rings on the waiting elephant ring holder. And when I realized my mother’s wedding band was not in the purse anymore, three weeks had passed since I had hastily stuffed them in my purse.
After carefully searching the pockets and lining of the purse to no avail, I had many thoughts. One was of relief, of not losing the unique stone portion of the set. Another thought was one of wonderment, that even though I thought I had recovered from the recent uprooting of our lives, evidently I was not functioning at the level I needed. I didn’t realize keeping those precious rings in a pocket with my keys was a recipe for disaster. I thought of the times I quickly wrangled my keys out, in a race with my husband to use my remote door opener before he could. And of the times I was talking or laughing, in conversation with someone, at the same time, I was fishing for my keys. I strained for a memory of the sound of a ring falling on the floor or pavement but didn’t find one. I mostly thought about the fact I would need to tell my sister of my poor decision and that it now was her loss as well.
When I went to bed that night, I refused to go to the place of despair and shame to which I am a familiar traveler. I decided to be open to the gifts of this experience I had given myself, even when no gifts seemed apparent. I also decided those feelings were not productive and I wanted to sleep. I was impressed I was able to sleep. And do the next indicated thing, which was to attend the conference on Friday.
On Saturday, I started the morning feeling teary and sad. I made myself focus on looking for the ring. I made a list of all of the places I had frequented in the last three weeks, a total of twenty-three. I called my daughter first and was disheartened when she said the street sweeper had recently come through their neighborhood. We had parked on the street when we stayed there, and one of my theories was that I dropped the ring by the car door. If that was the case, the ring was gone.
My husband and I visited eight places that day, with no one having the ring. Sunday we visited several places, with no luck. I had little hope of finding it and was going to also check pawn shops, and talk to the police. But first, I intended to personally retrace my steps to all twenty-three places. Monday we set out again. By this time I had my spiel down pat, so when I went to the thirteenth place, the restaurant I had been to last Thursday, I recited my information about a lost gold wedding band. When the manager said, ”Yes, we found it in the booth and the other manager has it”, I was taken aback. I gasped and cried with relief. We were not immediately reunited, as the other manager had left it in her pocket and lived eighty miles away. But she would be back to the local restaurant on Wednesday; in two days, at five pm.
In the interim, I found I was still mentally in the search mode; I had difficulty turning it off. One of the places I was sure had a high potential of losing the ring was a local walking path we frequent. We had been parking on the edge of a gravel road. When we visited it again, I found myself thinking about going down the gravel road to look for the ring. I reminded myself the search was off; the ring was found. My husband shared that he too still thought of looking for the ring there. I continued to mentally compose the email I intended to send my sister, delivering the news of the lost ring with which she had entrusted me. I told myself I now had a different ending to report.
When I returned to the restaurant on Wednesday and was reunited with the ring, I was surprised how small it was. I knew it was wider than a typical woman’s wedding band, but it had expanded with my imagination and fears. The manager who had it was concerned I would be upset she had inadvertently taken it home. I wasn’t, but for penance, I made her listen to the story of the ring. She was sweet and indulged me.
With the ring back in my possession, I considered sending it back to my sister immediately so I wouldn’t have the chance to lose it again. I decided I wanted to trust myself and keep it as originally planned. The ring now has its own jewelry box and stays in the box or on my finger. I decided to wear it again because that’s why I have it.
I learned several things:
I would have saved some time if I had looked for the ring in the places I had been most recently. I lost it the day I noticed it was gone. I didn’t give myself credit for at least unconsciously noticing its continued presence in my purse those three weeks.
Losing the ring did not feel like disappointing my mother, or losing a connection to my mother. I have other things of my mother’s which I treasure, but they are not my connecting point to her. I am connected to her via my heart and soul, not her stuff. My sorrow was that I had lost something valuable to my sister. I so hated making a mistake that involved her. I had every confidence our relationship would stay intact; that she loves me. But I don’t easily let myself off the hook when I make a mistake that impacts others.
I remembered the phrase: I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake. It was tempting to go there, to feel like I was a mistake, but I didn’t allow myself this time.
I did lose some self-confidence. When a woman-friend lent me something, I almost cautioned her I might lose it. I stopped myself from saying it and did some self-talk about how few times I have actually lost anything of value. And that I can learn to trust myself again.
If I had not found the ring, I was confident there would still be blessings in this experience. Even though I was saddened, there could be cool things that could occur because of the loss. One nice thing that did happen was the kindness of the people when I inquired about the ring. They did what they could to locate it at their establishment. Some gave suggestions, such as checking pawn shops and calling the police. They all sent me off with “I hope you find it!”.
To have hope the seemingly impossible can be possible. Naw, let’s just go with there are miracles in our lives. I will continue to stay open to those miracles.
My observations of my first holiday in retirement.
I like love it!
I learned something about my thinking process. When I didn’t prepare a dish I wanted to have for the Thanksgiving feast, I found myself thinking it was because I didn’t have time. I realized that was a default thought, and of course, I had time! More accurately: I didn’t think of it in time, or I didn’t prioritize it. Which was also true before retirement. By stripping away the easy default of not having enough time, I am now realizing what was probably always the case: preparing that dish wasn’t a priority. No further explanation required.
I still procrastinated. Having more time at home didn’t change that. I found the gluten-free stuffing recipe I wanted to try this year, a week or so ahead of Thanksgiving. I did buy the ingredients earlier but didn’t think through the steps of the recipe until the day before. Which culminated in preparing stuffing at 10 pm on Thanksgiving Eve.
I was very animated and happy at the Thanksgiving gathering with family and friends (framily, as my very close friend, calls us). It could have been from that delicious latte I consumed, but the extrovert in me is so delighted to be around people now! I worked in a high school with over 1,700 students and around 100 staff. There was rarely alone time and always someone to talk to at that job. I now luxuriate in the quiet space, hanging out with my also-retired husband. I love it, but I also immensely enjoy when I hang out with other people.
The biggest change I noted was the post-Thanksgiving time. I didn’t rush into the Christmas season. Facebook posts were popping up of Christmas trees, trimmings, and baking occurring in other homes, but I felt no urgency. I had time the Monday after, the Tuesday after, every weekday after, to decorate, Christmas shop, or Christmas bake. Or not. A sweet outcome of my husband’s retirement is that he has completed our Christmas present shopping! He’s great at it and is not a procrastinator. The only shopping I need to do now is gifts for him. The Monday after Thanksgiving I just took a breath and had a leisurely lunch with a self-employed friend. I basked in the luxury of retirement and sent loving thoughts to all of the people in my life who returned to work that day.
(I’m writing this two weeks after Thanksgiving and still no Christmas decorations are up. Reference that earlier procrastination point.)
A colleague wondered aloud at an event we coordinate together, how they would carry on without me when I retire. I was baffled. I see these colleagues as very competent, and I have no worries.
Yesterday I worked with another colleague to create wording, policy really, for a service offered through a council on which I serve. This service had not been utilized for quite some time, and the people who originated it no longer are a part of our group. It occurred to me I could help with this, since I am now one of the few from our group who remember some of the details of this service. When we sat down to do this, the words flowed easily for us, and in forty-five minutes we had a credible draft.
I have always said I have the ability to B.S. in writing, but I make light of my skill by saying that. Here’s the thing: I am good at writing professionally. And I have other skills. in the last two weeks I have facilitated two types of meetings I had not done before. They were both successful in that the participants felt immediate benefit from our meeting together. This is just an example of something I know, that I am skilled at facilitating meetings.
The reason I am writing this is to remind myself of my proficiency. I appreciate that I continue to look at how I can improve my work, but I tend to minimize what I already do well. I hold myself to a higher, more critical standard than I expect of others. In the next months left of this job, I will continue to take note of what I do well. I can even let myself off of that old danged hook too.
Maybe my retiring will leave some holes. Maybe there will be times when my colleagues will need to regroup, and do it differently next year because I am not there anymore. I hope they come up with new ideas and new ways that work even better. I hope it’s what I would do.