Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why I Hate Summer


It seems like everyone else in the known universe loves summer. Even on unknown exoplanets where the transition to summer means the seas of ammonia start boiling and the giant worms come out of hiding in their usual ice caves, the silicon-based creatures who live there probably say to each other, "Ah, summer...there's nothing like it." Well, I don't like it. Never have. As a kid, it meant school was out, and I LOVED school. Both my parents worked, so it meant I was consigned to daycare. My least favorite daycare was run by a woman who, God bless her, must have had some sort of adrenal or pituitary problem: she was maybe 5 feet tall, but I'd guess she weighed in at close to 350 pounds. She didn't really get up and interact with us much--just yelled at us from her Barcalounger, "You kids stop playin' grabass! It's time for snack." Snack being off-brand juiceboxes (though once in a while we did get Hi-C...anyone else remember 'Ectocooler,' that Ghostbusters-branded juice that was antifreeze-green and tasted, well, GREEN?) and stale Goldfish. Yum. Add to this the fact that I was the only person in my age group, and preferred reading in a corner to playing the aforementioned grabass, and, well, maybe you can imagine why Goldfish still taste, to me, of isolation and soul-crushing loneliness. And why I abhor summer.
Then there are the more practical reasons I disliked summer as a kid--ones not related to social isolation and boredom. Metal slides, unarguably the BEST playground equipment ever, were transformed by the blazing Missouri sun into huge George Foreman grills, which seared the backs of my thighs like chicken cutlets (and sometimes even burned my derriere through my shorts). During the summer it seemed that there were always squadrons of bees and wasps with nothing better to do than seek me out and sting the crap out of me. Poison ivy was lurking around every corner. Popsicles, while delicious, seemed specially designed to melt before actually making it to my mouth, covering my hands and clothes in a sticky syrup that attracted--surprise--more bees. My parents were thoughtful, cautious people, and every year my father delivered the Fourth of July lecture about how more fingers and eyes were lost during Fourth of July weekend than at any other time (except perhaps Sports Night at a leper colony). It wasn't until late elementary school that I got to go over to a friend's house for the Fourth, and having been robbed by dire threats of the childish joy of blowing shit up, contented myself with sparklers (and then only when I knew there was a bucket of water nearby). I'm still not a huge fan of the Fourth of July--all the red, white and blue crap, the mindless jingoism, the picnics and barbeques that aren't really over until someone vomits--either from alcohol poisoning or because of the unrefrigerated potato salad. I hate watermelon. I love sweet corn with butter but feel the need to floss between every few bites. I'm a vegetarian, so most of the joys of BBQ are beyond me, and beyond most of the people who organize communal cookouts to which I'm invited. I'll usually bring a box of Boca Burgers, but for the most part recognize that otherwise I'll be dining on potato chips and possibly a dessert of some description.

Of course, there's also the heat. A heat index over 100 degrees makes any activity--physical or mental--a struggle of epic proportions. Even with my trusty window unit cranked to 100%, thermal equilibrium is hard to find. It's too hot to actually pursue any meaningful activity, but lying still in bed only means sweating in silence. It's too hot to sleep with covers, but as everyone knows--or should--sleeping without covers leaves one dangerously vulnerable to attack by the monsters that live under the bed. With climate change, I can only expect the summers to get hotter and more objectionable. Maybe I'll move to Seattle, or Canada. I can see that happening--moving another 10 degrees north every decade or so, always chasing the cold, the winter where I am content.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Living With A Chronic Disease



Ask a fourth year medical student to name as many chronic diseases as she can think of, and you'd better have a cup of coffee and some doodling paper at hand to keep you occupied. She'll start with the ones she sees every day: hypertension, diabetes, lupus, chronic kidney disease (it even has chronic in the name!). Maybe she'll start getting creative, reaching out into the diseases that are more exotic--that she's only seen once, in a specialized clinic, or read about while preparing for the boards: myasthenia gravis, Friedrich's ataxia, scleroderma, Lennox-Gestaut syndrome. She'll ramble on, thinking back, remembering all the rotations she's been through. There's a good chance, however, that when she finally falters and stops, there will be some significant holes--diseases that are incredibly common, but often forgotten. Depression, which 25% of the population of the US will struggle with at one time or another, and which is often a chronic condition (though of course there are some lucky folk--lucky being a relative term--who have one depressive episode and never have to deal with it again). Schizophrenia is rarely a here-today, gone-tomorrow affliction. Eating disorders are notoriously chronic. Of course, the chronic mental illness nearest (and paradoxically dearest) to my heart is bipolar disorder.

I've been struggling with depression since elementary school. I had a hypomanic (not quite as extreme as a manic episode, but with boundless energy, little need for sleep, lack of usual inhibition, and a general feeling that EVERYTHING IS SO F*CKING GREAT!!!) episode in high school, and another in college--and one that veered into true mania this year, after getting off mood stabilizers. I'm now back on them.
The highs have always been few and far between. The lows come much more often, and are much more extreme; at times I've been catatonically depressed, though much more often it's a general malaise, an extreme fatigue, a bleak certainty that nothing is worth doing and that I will fail at anything I attempt in any case. I wonder myself, from time to time, how I managed to get through college (and medical school--though of course I'm not done yet). Yet I know that, like anyone with a chronic illness, I've learned to adapt. I "make hay while the sun shines"--during breaks in the bleakness, I do as much as I can in terms of studying, cleaning, laundry and shopping. On good days, or during good periods, I work ahead, making preparations I hope will carry me through the darker days that inevitably come. When the black curtain drops over my life again, I ration my energy, willing myself through the day--at times pushing myself through the everyday tasks of clerk-and-studenthood requires the iron will and stamina of a marathoner. I force myself through eight or ten or twelve hours at the hospital then come home and collapse into bed, perhaps managing to read a few pages before exhaustion takes me.
The past few weeks have been rough, physically and emotionally. It is one of those dark times, though thankfully not the blackest I've ever seen. I'm portioning out what little energy I have. Adaptation has brought me a long way--I've managed like this for more than a decade now. Yet there's always the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that someday this won't be enough. I guess I can only be thankful that it seems to be enough for now.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Why I Despise the Kindle

Someday I want to have a best-selling book, or two, or three. Critically acclaimed, National Book Award-winning...featured on Oprah. Damn, that's not an option any more. Just kidding, kids...that's a joke. I think my feelings on the Oprah Book Club have been addressed here previously. If not, take a guess--you'll probably be right.
I want to be able to lovingly stroke (and possibly more...how do you get to second base with a book?) the first copy that comes off the press. I want to smell that amazing new-book smell, a heady mixture of ink and grass and anticipation. I want to feel the stiffness of the uncracked spine and turn the gently textured pages. I want to be able to sign the front page--the one after the dedication, but before the table of contents--and give them away as the most narcissistic Christmas presents ever. I want to be able to heft a copy high in the air--on The Colbert Report, the morning news, on NPR (even though no one will be able to see it) and implore people to buy it. OK, maybe not all of these things.
However.
I have no desire to write a best selling text file.
I am not interested in something that could possibly electrocute me should I read it in the bathtub. I do a lot of my best reading in the bathtub. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much of my coursework for college--and for medical school, for that matter--was completed in the midst of a bevy of lavender-scented bubbles.
I saw an ad for a Kindle that said, "Easy to read in bright light!" I was momentarily stunned. Um, so are books...pretty much by definition. Bright light and the act of reading go together like peaches and cream, no? It's sort of like having an ad for applesauce that says, "You can eat it without grinding your teeth to painful nubs!" That is one of the benefits of applesauce--you can eat it when you're unable or unwilling to chew. Calling attention to this as a notable benefit of your product makes me...wary.
You don't need to 'power up' books. They just...are. I have NEVER had to change the battery in my copy of American Gods or The Sandman.
Libraries and bookstores are literally my favorite places to be. I feel safe there. Happy. Content. Anything that f*cks with that gets my dander up.
Not everything has to be made up of light and pixels these days (she wrote on her blog). There is something to be said for the concrete, the real, the physical.
All I'm saying is--give books a chance.