My Therapist Says

Last night my hips ached so bad that I lay in bed moaning. I couldn’t sleep for the longest time. Today I rallied the troops in order to go to therapy. When I told my therapist how hard the flu had hit me, she said, “Why didn’t you cancel today?” I said, “No. I need to be here. And it’s good for me to get out of the house.” My therapist said that the flu had hit epidemic levels, that her doctor clients haven’t seen anything like it. She said she had it several weeks ago and still wasn’t back to a hundred percent.

So that’s encouraging.

Before therapy I stopped by the office of the immunologist my internist referred me to, since it’s been five weeks and I haven’t heard anything. It took some time, but the nurse found my referral papers. She then said she needed to talk to the doctor but would call me tomorrow afternoon. I told my therapist about this and that I nearly cried while I was waiting in the doctor’s office. I’m just tired of feeling bad. I’m desperate for help. My therapist said things like this always move in phases–just like therapy. Nothing happens all at once. She said to focus on the progress that’s been made already–I had sinus surgery last year, I can breathe now (that’s something). The next step is this doctor, and if this doctor can’t fit me in, then I look for another.

One thing at a time.

I can’t tell you what a nice reminder this is, to just slow down and breathe. I really do get worked up about this sort of thing. It always feels as if I need to heal NOW, get my life together NOW. My therapist says it’s my all-or-nothing mentality, my need for perfection. Today she said, “You’re already perfect the way you are, Marcus, and you’re always going to have “something” to work on, some challenge facing you. I think your big hangup is that you’re so focused on what still needs to be done that you don’t take time to celebrate all the progress you’ve already made.”

I said, “Nailed it.”

Later I told my therapist that I felt like life had really kicked my ass lately. This last week there was the flu and my car needing some work. “You’ve been through a lot this year,” she said. “You had the car accident. It’s this funny thing the universe does–whenever you really work on yourself, it puts more obstacles in your way.”

“Who made up those rules?” I said.

“Right?” she said. “But don’t worry. It gets better.”

So that’s encouraging.

Now it’s almost midnight, and I’m at a friend’s, house sitting. It took all my energy to pack and get me here, but I’m all settled in amongst the couch pillows and fast internet. So that’s something. I’m thinking about the fact that I’m coming up on four solid years in therapy and that I really have made a lot of progress. Despite the fact that things don’t always happen as quickly as I’d like them to, they obviously do happen. And if life can take me from where I was to where I am, then surely it can take me to where I’m going.

So that’s encouraging.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Obviously, God's capable of a lot. Just look around."

Random Misfirings (Blog #325)

Today is day eight of the flu, and I feel like I’ve stepped into the eighth circle of hell. Not that things have gotten worse–they haven’t, thank god. But they haven’t gotten better either. Indeed, my symptoms continue to drag on, as I do, from one day to the next. My hips ache. I’m exhausted. I’m cranky. I’m generally not amused.

Last week the check-engine light in my car, Tom Collins, came on, so this afternoon I left the house for the first time in seven days to go to the auto parts store for a diagnosis. (They have a fancy diagnosis machine.) Y’all, I hate going to the auto parts store, since I don’t know shit about cars and am easily intimidated by men who have grease under their fingernails. Well, as if this weren’t enough, probably because of the flu, my brain wasn’t working today. As soon as I walked in the store, some burly dude asked me how I was doing, and I started looking around the entire store like I was on Candid Camera. “Uh–good,” I said. “How are YOU?”

It was worse than an awkward first date.

Next I started digging through my pockets for I-don’t-know-what and trying to explain my problem, but all I could manage was, “Car. Engine light.” Well, thank god, the guy figured it out. The next thing I knew he hooked up his handheld diagnostic machine to Tom Collins and had an official diagnosis–random misfiring. “What’s that mean?” I said.

“You probably need to change your spark plugs,” he said.

“What do I need to change my spark plugs?”

“New spark plugs. A wrench.”

“Sounds easy enough.”

Fifteen minutes later I was back home at my parents’ kitchen table with six shiny new spark plugs and a healthy dose of optimism, Googling what to do next. Well, the internet said changing spark plugs in a Hyundai Santa Fe is a teensy bit more complicated than the guy at the store indicated. Like, you have to take the engine apart. Like, one guy on YouTube spent an hour-and-a-half trying to disconnect a single hose. (One hose!) Like, most people go to the dealership and drop a few hundred bucks to have them do it.

Shit.

Thankfully, my father stepped in. Apparently he’s got “a guy” who works on cars, so he called him, and the guy’s supposed to take a look at Tom Collins tomorrow. I can’t tell you how much this overwhelms me. I really don’t handle things well when I’m sick. (Don’t let the calm exterior fool you. I’m basket case inside.) Of course, my parents know this about me. When my dad got off the phone with his car guy, he looked at me and said, “Don’t worry.”

After all of that excitement, I took a nap. Now I’m in the living room trying not to compare myself to the Olympic athletes on the television. Like, that’s a nice gold medal you’ve got there, buddy, but I live with my parents and do my own laundry. Mostly I’ve been thinking about the way an illness can sweep into your life and erase days off your calendar. All of a sudden you’re flat on your back–your life stops–and yet the rest of the world spins on. I suppose this happens to all of us, these random misfirings. One day everything is going your way, and the next you’re in need of a tune-up. As ever, I’m trying to be patient, ever hopeful that both Tom Collins and I will back on the road again soon.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"No one dances completely alone."

Somewhere In Between

Last night I slept for twelve hours straight. When I woke up I had beans, rice, and cornbread for breakfast, then went back to sleep for four additional hours. (I imagine this must be terribly interesting to read about.) I understand that I’m sick, but I’m not sure where all my energy has gone. After breakfast, before my nap, I read ten pages in a book, and it felt like running a marathon. Now I’m propped up in a chair in the living room, proud of myself for being semi-vertical. In terms of flu symptoms, my throat is significantly less sore today.

So that’s something.

Almost three months ago I started practicing chi kung every day, for anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes a day. When the flu hit, I think I was at eighty days in a row. In order to “not quit,” I’ve been doing a two-minute chi kung routine this week. It’s an actual thing, basically a “when all else fails” option. I’ve been thinking of it like a placeholder, like, Don’t worry–I’ll be back. Well, I’m pretty sure there was a day earlier this week when I didn’t do chi kung at all. This week is kind of a blur, but I’ve been practicing at night, and I think there was an evening when I simply passed out after dinner without practicing.

This may sound silly, and I realize nobody else gives a shit, but the missed routine was a letdown. Just like blogging every day, I’ve worked hard to do chi kung every day. I’ve been really dedicated. It means something to me. I plan to get back with it, but now there’s a certain enthusiasm that’s been lost. I’m sure it’s my all-or-nothing thinking, but I’m not quite as proud to say, “I do this ALMOST every day.”

When I forgot about chi kung a couple days ago, I thought, What if I forgot to blog too? That thought really scared me. Of all the habits and routines I’ve had in my life, this is the one to which I’m most faithful. At least until I get to the one-year mark (and I don’t know what I’ll do once I get there), I can’t imagine skipping. If I did, talk about a letdown. Why I’ve attached so much meaning and importance to this project, I can’t exactly say. It’s certainly not about money. More than likely, it has to do with character, with making a promise to myself and keeping it. That’s probably it. Almost to the one-year mark, I can tell you that something happens when you keep showing up for yourself day after day, even when you don’t feel well. It’s like you start to trust yourself in a different way. It’s like, no matter what, you know you’re going to be there for you.

I hope I don’t miss a day with the blog, but speaking from my experience with chi kung, I know there’s grace available if I do fall off the wagon. I can just get back on again. Plus I’m learning that there’s value in doing some things “almost” every day. Not everything in life has to be all-or-nothing. Most things, in fact, are somewhere in between. That does seem to be where I keep finding myself, somewhere in between all and nothing.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"There is a force, a momentum that dances with all of us, sometimes lifting us up in the air, sometimes bringing us back down in a great mystery of starts and stops."

 

We Don’t Get to Choose Our Winters

I’ve officially had enough. I’ve had the flu for six days, my parents have both had it longer, and everybody is over it. And yet, like the unwelcome houseguest that it is, it continues to linger. I’ve spent most of the last twenty-two hours sleeping. I fell asleep at nine-thirty last night after posting the blog and slept until after noon today, waking up only twice, once to eat and take some medication, once to use the restroom. Today I woke up for breakfast then immediately went back to bed. This is apparently my new routine–eat, sleep, eat, sleep some more.

When I am awake, I’m fully aware of my aching body–my aching hips, my aching throat, my aching eyeballs. I’m also fully aware that every body part I possess is capable of sweating, even my kneecaps. My bed sheets are beyond gross. Much like the t-shirt I wore for five days before I showered yesterday, they’re covered in sweat, snot, and dead skin. They look like a dandruff commercial. It’s disgusting.

Much like my physical state, my emotional one continues to drag. I’m irritable, short. I’m finding myself less than gracious. I’m ready to go back to sleep again, to wake up and find it springtime. When will this winter be over?

I’ve been thinking today about my strong tendency to fantasize a better future. I often imagine that “as soon as this winter is over, everything will be perfect.” I do this with my body too, imagine a time when I won’t have any problems. And yet each season has its challenges, just as each body does. My dad has benign essential tremors. Sometimes his hands shake so bad he can’t hold a cup of coffee. Grandpa had them too. (He doesn’t anymore because he’s dead.) I’ve noticed the last few years that sometimes my hands shake too. Not awful, but they do. I’ve been hyper focused on the tremors lately. I’d like them to go away. Still, they may be something I carry with me the rest of my life.

It seems we don’t get to choose our traveling companions, those illnesses and challenges that often shape us and make us who we are. We don’t get to choose our winters, or for that matter, how long they last. Rather, each day we have to choice to continue this journey, to set out once again on the unknown path regardless of whether the wind blows with us or against us, to put one foot in front of the other.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

" Beautiful isn’t something that comes in a particular package. Beautiful is simply being yourself."

Taking Good Care

Today marks day five of the flu for me. My eyeballs still hurt, and my throat is more sore than yesterday. When I eat, it’s like swallowing gravel. That being said, I “may” be getting better. I’m not nauseated. I have more energy than I did yesterday. I took out the trash this evening.

The big news, however, is that I washed myself. That’s right, I took a shower. I even shaved. I don’t mind saying it wasn’t easy and took all the effort I could muster. It felt like a competitive sport. As a matter of fact, since I ran out of hot water mid-shave, I should probably get a medal in the Winter Olympics.

Marcus Coker scores the bronze in bathing!

It’s amazing to me how quickly a person’s standards can change. Like, taking a shower really does feel like a big accomplishment to me. A week ago I wouldn’t have thought anything about it, but a week ago I wasn’t flat on my back with a five-day flu either.

Now I’m worn out. Exhausted. The internet is slow, and my patience is gone. (Way gone.) I feel like crying. Or screaming. So many other things in my world aren’t working, and now this. Sometimes life is too much. I probably need a nap.

When I told my therapist I wouldn’t be in this week because I had the flu, she said, “Take good care.” I appreciate the adjective, good. It reminds me to be especially careful with myself, to adjust to my moment-to-moment needs. To me this means that it’s okay that one day taking a shower isn’t a major undertaking and the next day it is. There’s no point in trying to impose yesterday’s standard upon today because they’re two different days, two different standards. As I see it, taking good care means doing the best you can right here, right now. And in this moment, taking good care for me means wrapping this up, taking a nap, and being more than okay with that.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Sickness and health come and go, just like everything else. It's just the way life is."

This Ship

I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours sleeping and breathing through my mouth. Now my lips are chapped, my tongue is raw, and my throat hurts. When I got up this afternoon to eat something, I became so nauseated, I made my way to the bathroom and collapsed on the floor beside the toilet, ready for anything. Now that part is better. Maybe it was the plague, maybe it was the medication, maybe I just needed to eat something. Regardless, my eyeballs still hurt. Who even knew that was possible? Hell hath no furry like the flu.

I’ve been thinking how grateful I am for central heat and air. And Ibuprofen. A hundred years ago this could have been much more miserable. Granted, they did have opiates, but I think I would have died back then. I can’t imagine living through The Grapes of Wrath, especially with “the influenza.” I’m just too delicate. I need indoor plumbing, a thermostat, and–while we’re at it–a microwave.

I guess it’s what you get used to. Earlier today I was thinking that having the flu has become my “new normal.” It’s tough for me to imagine things being any different, things improving. That’s how pervasive this is. I just feel so–deflated. I’m not trying to be dramatic. (I really don’t have to try.) The fact that I’ve been sick for the last four months, I’m sure, is the main reason why getting the flu has really let the wind out of my sails. As the saying goes, when it rains–it pours.

I’m trying to trust that one day this storm will come to an end. I know my body has successfully navigated difficult waters before, so surely it can do it again. Surely this ship wasn’t made for sinking.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"There's a wisdom underneath everything that moves us and even the planets at its own infallible pace. We forget that we too are like the planets, part of a larger universe that is always proceeding one step at time, never in the wrong place, everything always right where it belongs."

A Salchow Before Breakfast

The flu is disgusting. Coughing, sneezing, mucus everywhere. I don’t remember the last time I felt this gross. Well, yes I do. It was the last time I had the flu–a little over a year ago in New York City–on Christmas Day. Talk about miserable. And having to travel home when you’re sick–that’s the worst. The plane starts to descend, and your head feels like it’s going to pop. So at least now I’m not on a plane. That’s good. And last night my body didn’t do the hot/cold thing, which means I slept better. Still, everything hurts and I feel like my power cord’s been yanked from the wall.

As Grandma used to say, “I am not a well woman.”

I’ve been thinking that maybe a shower would help. I don’t remember the last time I took a shower. Or shaved. Still, showering and shaving sound awfully challenging at the moment. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Winter Olympics are on right now. Like, Adam Rippon can land a triple-axle-salchow-double-loop before breakfast, and this homo can barely pick up his toothbrush. This is why you should never compare yourself to others.

Yesterday all my friends on Facebook told me about their terrible experiences with Tamiflu. Despite these warnings, I started taking it. I spoke to my internist about it, and she said she thought it would help. It’s two pills a day for five days, and I’m currently three pills in. Thankfully, my insurance paid for all of it. So far I’m not nauseated, bleeding from my nose, hallucinating, or having nightmares. I don’t feel like killing myself or anyone else. But this could all change, of course, so watch out. But seriously, as I sit here now, my appetite is returning, so maybe the pills are doing some good. Tamiflu is supposed to be most effective when taken during the first two days of having the flu, and I started it pretty much within that window.

As always, I’ll let you know how it goes.

This is about all I have in me today, just under 400 words. I’ve been staring at the screen for the last thirty minutes trying to come up with a “life lesson,” but I got nothing. Some days I think it’s enough to simply be gross, to be sick, to not do a salchow before breakfast.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"You absolutely have to be vulnerable and state what you want."

Everything Stops

Shit, the flu.

Last night I took Mom and me to a walk-in clinic. We both have the flu. The doctor said I was probably “on the front end of it” and Mom was probably in the middle of it. Later Dad said he hoped that meant he was at the end of it, since he got it first. Anyway, we’re a fine crew around here. Mom and Dad are currently watching Days of Our Lives–hacking their way through every minute of it–and I’m laid up in bed.

Today is definitely worse than yesterday. I spent the night cold and hot, cold and hot, and now am starting to get congested. It hurts to stand up. It hurts to think. The doctor last night wrote me a prescription for Tamiflu, so I may pick that up shortly. Well, my aunt said she would. Either way, I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t always do well with pills and side effects. Then again, I clearly don’t do well with the flu either.

One upside to being sick is that I don’t have much of an appetite. In other words, I already feel skinnier! (Gay guys think about their waistlines constantly, Mom.) My therapist had the flu recently, and as she said, “I’m only two more viruses away from fitting into my favorite jeans.”

I’ve been thinking about how everything stops when you get sick like this. Yesterday I blogged but didn’t journal, something I’ve done every day for the last six months. Likewise, my chi kung session, which is normally thirty minutes, got cut to five minutes. Today I’d planned to do some marketing work, then get up early tomorrow to interview someone on the phone for a writing project. But all of that is coming to a halt for now. My body simply can’t. (Stop, stop, stop.) Instead, I’ll probably finish this blog and watch a movie, maybe try eating a piece of fruit, even though chewing feels like it should be an Olympic sport at the moment.

I’m not exactly sure how to wrap this up. My brain has stopped too.

Shit, the flu.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Sickness and health come and go, just like everything else. It's just the way life is."

For Anyone Who Suffers

Last night I drove to Fayetteville to have dinner with friends. I was running late, but that’s usual. They expect that. At least they tolerate it. Hold on, back up. I drove almost to Fayetteville. There was a wreck several miles outside of town. It was raining, and the temperature was below freezing. That must have been it. I didn’t see the wreck, but I heard later it was bad. Really bad. A multiple-car pile up.

For about an hour, I didn’t move an inch. After that, things were slow going. Eventually, I got to a point on the interstate where policemen usually hide and clock people’s speed. A policeman, standing in the rain, was directing everyone to turn around. “It’s completely blocked,” he said. “Go back to Winslow and take the business route.” So that’s what I started to do, but in less than a mile, my car, Tom Collins, hit a small patch of ice on a bridge. I was okay, but it was enough for me to get the message. I called my friends and said, “I just can’t make it tonight.”

Before much longer, the check-engine light on Tom Collins started blinking. I thought, Perfect. Stopping at the nearest gas station, I Googled the problem and found out it could be any number of things. One post said, “Don’t drive more than a few miles, and don’t drive at highway speeds.” Twelve miles from home and pulling back onto the highway, I once again thought, Perfect.

I made it home.

In an effort to stop worrying about potential car-repair costs, I buried my face in a book last night, then took to Netflix and watched a documentary called The Truth About Alcohol. Don’t watch it. They say alcohol is bad for you.

This morning I woke up sick. Bad sick. Like could be the big, bad f-word sick. Mom and Dad have been hacking the last few days, and Mom said her temperature was up last night. When I woke up at seven-thirty (five hours ago), I was freezing. When I woke up four hours later, hot. I’m not hacking, but I’m wiped out, super icky. Just before I started this post I sat on the bathroom floor and dry-heaved into the toilet.

I’m glad we can talk about these things.

Now I’m back in bed, vertical, and blogging from my phone, punching out one letter at a time with my thumbs. I’d intended to make this a three-word post (shit, the flu), but I couldn’t help myself. I hope I don’t come across as some sort of blogging martyr. This is how I process things.

That line above–I couldn’t help myself. That’s probably one of the most frustrating feelings in the whole world, to feel like you’ve done everything you can to get your life together but that everything, including you, keeps falling apart and all you can do about it is lie in bed and wait for the night to descend.

I’m telling myself I could have it worse. Way worse. Like those people in the pile up last night worse. I have friends who were stuck in that traffic for three hours, so it must have been ugly. I do think that perspective helps a little. At the same time, perspective has never taken my immediate pain away. Perspective doesn’t help me stand up without feeling woozy or help my head stop throbbing. Still, perhaps it does help me find compassion for both myself and others, for anyone who suffers.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Even if you can't be anything you want to be, you can absolutely be who you were meant to be. Don't let anyone else tell you differently."

Rod Stewart, Charlie Bucket, and My Sock Monkey

It’s two-thirty in the afternoon, and I’m listening to Rod Stewart. You know Rod–Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?–Stewart. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan. It’s not like I have his poster ticky-tacked to my bedroom wall. But on certain days there’s something comforting about his voice. Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you. Every time I hear that lyric, I feel like I’m slipping into crushed velvet or pulling into my driveway after a hard week on the road. I can’t say why exactly. I guess it makes me smile and let down my defenses at the same time. I guess it helps me let go.

I was just doing this, blogging, a mere twelve hours ago. After I posted last night, I watched a documentary about Deepak Chopra on Netflix, then fell asleep to the sounds of a guided imagery/positive affirmation program. (Sometimes I multitask.) Anyway, not much else has happened since the last time we spoke–er–since the last time I spoke to myself. When I woke up this afternoon, I made breakfast, wrote in my journal, did my meditation. Now I’m back here blogging because I’m going out to eat with friends tonight and don’t want the pressure of having to write hanging over my head.

Lately I’ve been mentally comparing my parents’ home to Charlie Bucket’s house in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You remember Charlie–he lived with his mom and both sets of grandparents, and all four grandparents were bedridden. In the same bed. Talk about a close-knit family. Anyway, they were all sick, at least until Charlie got his golden ticket and Grandpa Joe was miraculously healed. Well, around here, we’re all sick too. In addition to her clinical depression, Mom’s dealing with the effects of her cancer and its treatment. A couple days ago Dad started fighting a nasty cold or something. (He’s hacking a lot.) And I’m up-and-down with whatever it is I can’t get over–even though (God knows) I’m trying. Despite my best efforts and all that time in bed last night, I’m currently wiped out.

Cheer up, Charlie.

Earlier this week my mom’s doctor removed the “drain ports” that were put in a couple weeks ago during her mastectomy. Well, I don’t know if the ports were taken out too soon or if her bandages weren’t put on right, but yesterday when Mom came into the kitchen, I noticed a dark stain on the back of her nightgown. She didn’t realize it, but she’d been bleeding in bed. My aunts came to the house and helped Mom get cleaned up, but for Mom, the bleeding was the last straw. She broke down. “Why is it that when you think you can’t handle anything else, you’re given something else to handle?” she said.

Seriously.

The picture for today’s blog is of my sock monkey, Nick. I got Nick several years ago for a dance routine in which my dance partner Janie and I pretended to be kids and danced in footed pajamas. Nick was fastened to my outfit, and Janie’s sock monkey, Nora, was fastened to hers. Anyway, Nick was the only stuffed animal I kept when I had the estate sale and started over. I keep a Curious George button on Nick partly because–monkeys–and partly because it reminds me to stay open to whatever life brings me, to not get set in my ways.

A few nights ago I dreamed about Janie. We were watching a dance routine we’d performed, on someone’s phone. The video was eleven minutes long, which by anyone’s standard’s is a ridiculously long time for a dance routine. But it was a dream, so I guess anything goes. Toward the end of the routine, we did an aerial combination. In reality, the combination should have only taken a few seconds, but it went on and on in the dream because we were holding poses. First I held her upside down and above my head for a full minute, then I held her, somehow, behind my back for another. Had you been watching the routine, you would have thought what I was thinking while watching it in the dream–Impossible.

There’s no hurry to get there.

Yesterday, after reading one my blogs, a friend told me she thought I was brave. Y’all, I’ve never used that word to describe myself. For all the bullshit I’ve been through in life, I’ve never thought of myself as brave or strong. But as I’ve chewed on the dream this week, I’ve realized it was about seeing my inner strength and about recognizing the impossible things I’ve overcome. It was about all the times I thought I couldn’t handle anything else–and then did. In Maggie May, Rod Stewart says, “I’ll get on back home one of these days.” Maybe this lyric is why hearing this song feels like pulling into the driveway. It reminds me that not only am I on the right path–the path back to myself (my brave, stronger-than-I-realized self)–but also that there’s no hurry to get there.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"We may never be done, but that doesn't mean we'll never be complete. And surely we are complete right here, right now, and surely there is space enough for the full moon, for you and for me, and all our possibilities."