I just want you to be happy (so I can be happy)
Do you have hypochondriac tendencies? Has the pandemic changed this? I would guess they have intensified… but I am not you. For me they have. With M’s diagnosis and with Covid, literally, any ailment can become lethal in my mind in a matter of seconds. Two weeks ago, I convinced myself I was dying. Of something, I had been putting off for years: taking care of my kidneys.
There are parts of the body, or my able body, that I have just let slide with pain. Like I have been so lucky to have good experiences with healing—that it just needs time. That if you can ignore something long enough it will just go away. You must be thinking—this is contrary to logic. But if you think about it in the context of the logic of laziness, it really makes sense. With good fortune, you can just float down the river with minimal effort.
This was always a sort of disconnect between people who were sick—they just weren’t me. Sickness was always something that happened to other people. However, the odds are stacked against us. They say that 47% of people will experience a mental ailment in their lifetime. 100% of people will experience a physical ailment. I knew this. This is part of the human condition. But my personal data, from experience (perhaps just the invincibility of youth), gave me the illusion that I was different.
Does your family have any health issues (of course it does because all families do)? Do you feel like you are somehow immune to them? I did/do. I smoked in my 20s despite my grandfather dying of lung cancer. I ignored my kidney stones. I put off going to the doctor for fear of getting Covid and bringing it home to M. I would just wait. In the past when I had been hospitalized for the pain, all they could do was give out pain meds and say, make sure you drink lots of water. So I did that. I pumped up the pain meds and started drinking. When the pain didn’t pass, I just kept going. There was work to be done. People needed me. It would pass. Time heals.
In my mind, there was always a clear line between when time could heal things and when you need medical intervention. But this line seems increasingly nebulous. How do you know when to seek help? How do you know when you don’t have the answers when you don’t really understand what is going on?
Over a month since the pain began, we found ourselves in a heat spell in California, the kind that makes you acutely aware of the change in climate and sends fears of what is to come into your veins. It was during couples therapy when I was shivering in a hat and sweater our therapist said maybe I should see a doctor. So I called the advice nurse, who said, “You should go to urgent care.” I decided to go in the morning.
All night, my brain flipped from, “This is all just nothing. They are going to tell me I am imagining things,” to “you might want to start taping all the messages you want to tell M when you are no longer here.”
Josh said I had to go. So I went. I wore two N95s, because I wanted to be extra safe. I was told once, I don’t know if this is true or makes a difference, but M’s care team said we should go first thing in the morning to the doctor’s office. Then there will be fewer germs around. It is a safer bet that we won’t take something home with us. Also, we should shower when we get home. Always.
As I waited in the urgent care room, I daydreamed about having better art in the room. Does bad art exist? Or is it just art that you don’t like? I imagined who was the type of person who enjoyed this work? What did they get from it? If they were healed just by viewing it? Did the proximity to the sink give it enough space to breathe? Were the surrounding cabinets highlighting the warm tones in the painting in line with the intentions of the artist? Was the wall color considered? The details in healing spaces matter. I know that someone is thinking about this. However, despite their efforts, this space was not doing it for me.
When the doctor came in, I told her what was going on. She said I had a low fever and that my urine had blood and infection in it. I would need antibiotics and an x-ray. This was a relief and a disappointment at the same time. I went for the x-ray. Hoping both that it was nothing and that there was something (to validate my pain).
The two technicians were like, “Do you want to see your kidneys? They have polka dots…” Yes. Duh. The dots were charming. I went back to my room. I texted my dad and Josh to let them know that I would be home soon. And I texted work to say that I would be in later in the day. When the doctor returned, she said I was to go over to the emergency room for more tests. So I went.
In the ER, Fox news was on. An affiliate of Billy Graham was telling me that Jesus could save me. That no matter what I had done, salvation could be mine. I watched. There was no cell phone signal. No internet. Only the comforting/uncomfortable message of health, safety, and prosperity if only I believed. It is not my fault that God’s message has not resonated with me. I still want the same things. I still want love and health and kindness. I want everyone to find what makes them happy and just go with that. I know they want the same for me. And this is the way that works for them.
It is my birthday. I am turning 38. Wait, that is a lie. I am turning 39. And I am at this point when I am feeling like my basic needs are met. I don’t want to brag, but I am really lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I still want stuff. Like new running shoes, etc. But the ones I have work, and it is not like I actually run anyway.
Josh asked me what I wanted. I told him, “I want to introduce M to my family in Minnesota. And I want you to enjoy the time with my family.” Visiting Minnesota has been hard for him in the past. My family values flexibility and no-pressure situations, like you can show up when you can, dress how you are feeling, and be how you feel without shame. This is what, for me, the family offers. A sense of belonging looks like a freedom from the needs of schedules and time and societal pleasantries. For him, the lack of structure is stressful; he doesn’t know what to do with himself. For me, it is a relief. I can just go with whatever, relaxing into the moment and not always planning or hurrying to be somewhere or do something. And if plans change, we just go with it. If plans change for him, he doesn’t have time to mentally prepare for the change, and a certain type of anxious chaos erupts inside his mind.
This is a tall ask of someone. Asking someone to change their core being for you. It would be so much easier just to ask for the shoes. I mean, it is not like I am going to hold him to it. Asking someone to be happy when they are not just so you can be fully happy? There is something really fucked up about that.
But, it’s true. It is hard for me to be happy when others around me are upset. There is tension here. Perhaps an obvious one. I want Josh to be who he is. But I know that what that is is outside of my control. The more I think about it, the only thing I can do, is adjust my own expectations. And just enjoy my family.
With no internet signal, I waited. Like a person in pain (let’s assume that all people who ask for pain meds are in some sort of pain), I asked for pain meds. “Just something to take the edge off…” I begged. I am an upstanding citizen. I am not a drug addict. I could be. They don’t know me. Maybe I am? It is shockingly hard to assess one’s own mental state. Do you think you know how other people see you? I would seriously question your answer. Whatever it was.
After the test results came in and I had some more scans, they gave me the good news that none of the stones were obstructing the path from my kidney to my bladder. That they could just give me a heavy dose of IV antibiotics and send me home. That I wouldn’t have to stay the night. At that point, I was feeling the urge to either nap or run. But I needed to see a kidney doctor ASAP.
At home, I Googled my test results. For the ones that were outside the range of normal, I Googled the meaning. This is a slippery slope. They all pointed to Kidney Disease. Which runs in my family.
My sister, Casey, called me the other day. She is meeting us in MPLS for our birthdays. Her’s is super close to mine. I was always super jealous of her. Growing up she has this certain type of energy that just sucked people in. I wanted to hide in the shadows but still be noticed. She wanted to spread joy from all parts of her for no other reason than that was how she felt. There is not a time in my life when we are together that someone doesn’t stop her and compliment her on something. It has been this way all of our lives.
My friends in high school would say, “I can’t believe you are still envious of her.” My friends in college would say, “I can’t believe you are still envious of her. Do you think I could date her?” I was not always the nicest. The resentment for the outward appraisal that she received, and that I didn’t, cut deep.
Casey taught me about relativity. She still had hard times. And good times. She was a person, even tho I saw her as a goddess.
This week we are going to be unpacking family issues. What it means to be a family. The complexity of going home. I might ask her a few hard questions. Have her talk about how even tho she might look like she has everything, she is still having a hard time.
Right now, perhaps like you, she is trying to decide what she wants to do with her one and only precious life. Maybe you just quit your job, or want to try something new and don’t know what direction to go in, or want to become a pop star but don’t know how?
For me, listening to other people talk about going through the same things or similar things to you, can be super insightful. It makes me feel less alone in my struggles. And if it feels hard, or I don’t like it, that is also useful information. Oftentimes, I know what I want from what I don’t want.
I am going to try my best not to be envious, to use freudenfreude (taking joy in other people’s joy) to just enjoy Casey for who she is and baffle at how lucky I am to be related to her.
I just want her to be happy. And for her to be happy, I guess I should try to be happy. Just for a few days.