On Turning 47
Two years ago, I wrote about turning 45.
Last year, I didn’t have much to say about turning 46.
But this year, I have thoughts about turning 47.
I have a lot of thoughts.
Today I decided to look through my calendar to refresh my memory from the past year. What I saw was a whole lot of doctor’s appointments.
- Mine—I have a very bad back.
- And my husband’s—he has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
This has been a year of “coming to terms.”
I’m coming to terms with the fact that:
- I sit at work all day long.
- I answer emails and yack at people all day long.
- I can no longer write sitting at a desk but rather reclined in a comfy chair or in bed.
- I have trouble bending over to give the dog his peanut-butter pills.
- If I sit down on the floor, I have trouble getting back up.
- When I ride my bike, I almost can’t swing my leg up and over the seat (it’s a boy bike).
- I probably need a step-through bike.
- Eventually, I’m going to need a step-through bathtub or walk-in shower rather than the claw-foot tub we have now.
- I can’t sit for more than 30 minutes or so before I’m very very uncomfortable.
- I can’t sit for an hour or I’m in pain.
- I have bursitis (bursitis!) in my left hip.
- I’m going through menopause. Menopause!
- I now wear tri-focals. Tri-focals!
- I own an inversion table, a big rubber ball, an elliptical, and a yoga mat. They’re all in my home office, so that I can get up whenever I need to and stretch or hang or walk in place.
- When I go see movies, I often sit forward in my seat, elbows on my knees, like I’m intensely interested in the film. But the truth is I’m just taking pressure off my spine.
- I wake up about 10 times a night because of back pain.
- My pain—even at its worst—is nothing compared to my husband’s RA pain.
- His pain is harder for me than my own.
This has been a year of “losing my words.”
Searching for words to finish a sentence or explain a concept.
Not even difficult words.
My husband was going to the store.
“Be sure to buy some…” I paused. “Soap-a-ma-hooey.” I tried to turn it into a joke.
“What?” my husband asked.
“The stuff that makes our clothes clean.”
He laughed. “Laundry detergent?”
“Yes,” I said. Embarrassed.
After awhile, my husband said, “You know, this is happening a lot.”
- It was happening in meetings and while teaching and other stressful situations.
- It happened at home when I wasn’t stressed at all.
- It happened when I was writing—my novel, sure, but also simple emails.
- I told my doctor and she sent me for tests, and, sure enough, the tests confirmed that it was happening—but not why.
I’m a writer. I make my living writing words, saying words. All for an audience. Losing words is terrifying. Who am I if I don’t have the right words to express myself?
This is getting older.
In July, I bought a Jawbone UP because it tracks not just how many steps I take a day, but also my heart rate and my sleep.
My UP told me that I was getting practically no REM sleep or Deep Sleep, but mostly Light Sleep. I was also waking up a lot.
- So: was I losing words because of my shitty sleep?
- Or was it because I’m in menopause?
- Or was it because I was taking four Neurontin and four Ultrams a day for my back pain?
I cut down on Neurontin. But I still word search. I still sleep kind of shitty. And I still don’t know exactly why.
I know. I know. This is getting older. This is life.
The year my marriage changed
In May, my husband went out of town to visit a friend in Nashville. He was gone for three days. I’m embarrassed to admit that before he left, I had to have him show me how to start the dishwasher. I’d never used it.
See, when we moved to Muncie (the most affordable college town in the U.S.) from Pittsburgh in 2010, we realized that we could live on my salary alone. I’d work—teaching and writing—and he’d take care of everything else.
And that’s pretty much how it’s been.
Until this year.
My husband started taking biologics (intravenously) for the RA pain, which is great, except these drugs also suppress his immune system.
Everything was going fine until April, when we flew to my annual conference in Minneapolis, and his fever spiked to 105. We went to the Hennepin County ER. He had a very bad infection. He got antibiotics and fluids. He went back to our hotel room and slept and slept and sweated through an entire king-size bed before the whole thing was over.
Since then, he’s been sick pretty frequently, despite the fact that he’s on antibiotics almost all the time.
He’s sick right now, as a matter of fact. Clostridium infection in his G.I. tract. I can’t seem to get his fever below 100, and I just got back from taking his stool samples (stool samples!) to LabCorp.
This has been the year of The Yard
This summer, when I wasn’t worrying about my health or my husband’s health, I was either writing my novel (slowly but surely) or working in my garden.
In June, the city of Muncie cut down two trees in front of our house. It’s good that they did this—they were dead and threatening to fall on our house—but it changed our shady, hosta-filled front yard into a sunny yard. We hired a grad student of mine to help, and whenever my husband or I was feeling up to it, we re-landscaped the yard.
You can follow the whole saga here, if you like.
I paid absolutely no attention to gardens growing up—too typically female—but I love them now—how they change just a little every single day.
In my front yard, I planted my mother-in-law’s prize day lilies and my great-grandmother’s Kansas Gayfeathers and my mom’s Surprise Lilies and my massage therapist’s peonies and pachysandra, and my neighbor’s Echinacea.
But what to do with all the hostas? The only option was to dig up the English ivy that carpeted our side yard.
Every few days, I’d go out there with a shovel and some pruners and some music to keep me going.
You have to dig about a foot down to get all the English ivy roots and rhizomes out of the ground. It was brutal, back-breaking work, but I loved it—the unthinking monotony of it—and somehow, my back never went out.
This was the year I got stronger.
Actually, this summer, my back got stronger. I can feel it in my thighs, my stomach, my hips when I walk. I feel like I did when I started practicing yoga 15 years ago, this sense of being more solid and balanced—like a weak ankle shored up by an Ace bandage.
The reason I worked so hard on the garden is that my husband and I have realized that we’re going to have to sell our big, beautiful house.
- Eventually, going up and down the steps will be hard for him.
- Even now, we struggle to take care of it.
- When we bought the house in 2010, we’d just entered our 40’s, and my husband was so excited to be master of such a beautiful domain.
- But within a year, he was complaining of pain quite frequently, and things in and around the house started to slide.
- I realize now that it was the RA.
This was the year I lost “my wife.”
We also decided recently that my husband should go back to work full time. There are a lot of reasons for this.
- The work is very interesting to him.
- It takes his mind off the pain.
- He likes being someone in this town other than Cathy Day’s husband.
- The extra money will help us get the house ready to sell and help us figure out what comes next.
The first week that my husband started working full time, I sort of freaked out. It was me walking the dog and doing the laundry and the shopping and the cooking, etc.
The marriage I thought I’d have is changing into something that’s far harder than what I expected, and that scares me more than a little.
I know. I know. This is getting older. This is life.
My body and my mind are changing, and that’s scary, yes, and that, too, is life.
But you know what? I also feel myself getting stronger, more comfortable with the fact that I can only do so much to control all of this.
This was the year I blogged hardly at all.
If you’ve wondered why I haven’t blogged very much lately, this is why:
- I haven’t been thinking much about my teaching—to be perfectly honest.
- I’ve been so tired.
- I’ve been coming to terms.
- I couldn’t find the words.
But today (thank God! Praise the Lord! Holy shit!) I did.