Health worries

In most ways, health-wise, I’ve been very lucky. I get really sick, like the flu, about once a year at most. Aside from the odd minor cold, I don’t have much to complain about.

It hasn’t always been that way. When I was a teen, I had Graves’ disease, or hyperthyroidism. It puts a big strain on the body by jacking up all your hormones. I had my first panic attacks while I was sick with Graves’. I don’t know if I can truly trace my anxiety disorder and depression back to it (not sure I was ever the picture of mental health, even as a kid), but it’s possible. I also have a slightly-enlarged heart muscle that’s probably a result of it.

The upshot of it is that I have to take Synthroid every day to replace the thyroid hormone I no longer have. I also have to take meds for my anxiety and depression. And I have to worry about any other systems that might’ve been affected. All of this means I really should be getting regular health screenings.

I can’t. I don’t have insurance, and my job doesn’t pay well enough for me to buy it. I can’t get the health screenings I should. My last mammogram was in 2009. I had to borrow money to see a doctor to get my prescriptions renewed. I can’t get the ear that’s bothering me checked out. If I develop more serious symptoms, I either borrow money or hope it gets better. I’m doing what I can to stay healthy, but there are things I don’t have control over.

Problem is, if I can’t get health screenings, little problems could turn into big ones. My lack of insurance now could end up killing me. That’s a real fear of mine–that I have something, even now, that could end my life, and I don’t even know. Something that’s treatable now and won’t be later. Something that’ll end up costing my family money, because they’ll want to help.

I know universal health care isn’t popular among my set, but people like me need an alternative. What’s the right to life worth if you can’t protect it? I hear lots of noise about shiftless people and drags on society and entitlement, but that’s not me. It’s not a lot of people who are unemployed or underemployed. And it’s not a lot of people who have been utterly wiped out by medical bills.

So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. I don’t pretend to. I just know I’m scared, and I have every reason to be.

Interesting dream

I’ve been chewing over a dream I had a couple of nights ago.  I was back in the house where I grew up, and I was basically being held captive there. By whom, I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t allowed to leave the basement.

But I discovered one of the windows could be opened wide enough for me to get through. Our house was a split entry, so the basement was partially belowground. There were several windows right at ground level, and one of them could be slipped from its hinge. Which, by the way, was true, and we kids sometimes did crawl in and out of these windows. Dream-me, though, just discovered it, and I decided to get out. I packed up a bag, perhaps a backpack of some kind (interesting choice, given my life events), and prepared to leave at night.

I remember being concerned because I was running out of Synthroid, which I have to take every day, and I didn’t have much money. Those two things come from my real life–I just had to reorder my Synthroid, and I’m still not very far from broke–and I was just hoping both would hold out long enough for me to get . . . somewhere. I think I was trying to get to Oregon, because I knew my parents would help me if I could reach them. But I didn’t know how I’d get there. I just had to leave as quickly as I could. There was no doubt in my mind I had to leave right then, and not wake up my captors as I left. Because they’d come after me and try to take me back and pen me up again.

I think this dream was a manifestation of feeling stuck in my life again. Before I went to Japan, I was feeling trapped in that childhood home. My bedroom was in the basement I was trying to escape from in my dream. I think that’s why I never saw my captors. They weren’t important. It was just the feeling of being trapped, like I couldn’t leave. Kind of like now.

But there was a way out. It required daring. Courage. A certain disregard for practical obstacles. There was a way out.

I’m gonna have to think about that.

To expose a fear

Fear exists best in darkness. I feel I need to shine a light on one of mine that’s been preying on me recently.

As most of you know, I just went through an extended period of unemployment. I’ve finally found work (yay!) as a tutor at a learning center. It’s unfortunately only part-time, but at least it’s work, and it’s something I really enjoy.

My fear is, yet again, that I won’t be good enough. That I’ll mess up once too many times and get fired. I’m beating myself up over the slightest mistakes, overanalyzing everything I say to the director or assistant director and everything they say to me, trying so hard to be perfect that it’s inevitable I’ll slip up. It’s making me anxious, winding me up so tight I’m getting headaches.

I was talking it over with Mom and Dad, and Dad said something that nailed it: I feel vulnerable. It’s the truth. I’m just starting to get back on my feet, just starting to feel like a contributing member of society, just starting to be able to work with my own money instead of borrowing, and it all feels so fragile. It terrifies me that I’ll lose it. I’m so desperate not to screw this up that I’m sure that desperation shows.

And I’m exhausted.

Book recommendation: The Dresden Files

For today’s topic, instead of something heavy, let’s talk books. Specifically, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The series comprises 14 books so far, as well as numerous short stories, most of which have been collected in a volume titled Side Jobs. Start with Storm Front and go from there. Butcher’s style does nothing but improve through the series, and it was pretty great to begin with.

So, what’s so great about Harry? Well, to start with, he’s the only wizard in Chicago’s yellow pages. He works as a private investigator. As he puts it: “My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.” Yes, it’s modern fantasy fiction noir, and it’s just the best. Major players:

Harry Dresden: Wisecracking, pop-culture-quoting wizard with a thing for setting stuff on fire and a heaping helping of disdain for the White Council, which is the wizarding law-enforcing body. They don’t like him much, either.

Bob the Skull: A spirit of intellect who lives in a skull and acts as Harry’s all-purpose reference. Has no physical form but it obsessed with sex anyway. Go figure.

Karrin Murphy: A cop with the Chicago Police Department. She knows about the weird side of life and is Harry’s main contact on the force. She occasionally calls him in as a consultant when she suspects magic or creatures from the Nevernever are doing no good in town. Harry trusts her, which can be said about very few people.

Ebenezar McCoy: Harry’s mentor and the youngest and least powerful of the Senior Council of wizards. You still don’t want to mess with him. The only man Harry calls “sir”.

Morgan: Harry’s personal Warden courtesy of the White Council. That is, he’s assigned to lop Harry’s head off if he steps one foot out of line. Harry’s not crazy about him.

Susan Rodriguez: Reporter for the Midwest Arcane and Harry’s sometime girlfriend. Takes a level in badass as the series goes on.

Waldo Butters: A medical examiner and polka fanatic who becomes Harry’s personal physician. It’s a long story.

Thomas Raith: A White Court vampire who becomes Harry’s ally for his own reasons.

Michael Carpenter: The clues are in the name. Michael is a Knight of the Cross, wielder of a holy sword. Sometimes, he and Harry find themselves on the same business. Quite possibly the man Harry respects most in the world. Dedicated Catholic, husband and father of seven.

Charity Carpenter: Michael’s she-wolf of a wife. She and Harry have a strained relationship for a number of reasons, but he respects her. Mainly because she scares him, wizard or no wizard.

Molly Carpenter: Oldest child of the above, she becomes Harry’s apprentice.

Leanansidhe: Harry’s literal fairy godmother. This is not a good thing. One of the most powerful beings in the Winter Court of the Faerie.

Gentleman Johnny Marcone: Chicago’s biggest crime boss. Runs a tight ship. Harry doesn’t like him, but the two of them keep ending up on the same side.

Mab: Queen of the Winter Court and one of the most powerful beings in the Nevernever, period. Unfortunately, she takes an interest in Harry.

Lasciel: A fallen angel who takes an interest in Harry.

Uriel: An un-fallen angel who takes an interest in Harry.

Ivy, or the Archive: A young girl with all the knowledge of humankind in her mind. She likes cats. Fortunately, Harry has one.

Mister: Harry’s oversized cat.

Mouse: Harry’s oversized dog. Or, possibly, Harry is Mouse’s human. Mouse is a very unusual dog.

The Alphas: A group of young werewolves who ally themselves with Harry. Their leaders are Billy and Georgia, a size-mismatched couple still in college.

The Denarians: Some of the most dangerous creatures Harry’s ever faced, the mortal enemies of the Knights of the Cross. Each one is a human who’s joined with a fallen angel attached to the thirty denarii Judas received for betraying Jesus. Led by Nicodemus Archleone, who’s a couple of millennia old and one truly nasty customer.

The  Knights of the Cross: Michael is one. He wields Amoracchius, the Sword of Love. The other two are Shiro, a Japanese man who wields Fidelacchius, the Sword of Faith; and Sanya, a Russian who wields Esperacchius, the Sword of Hope. Shiro mentored the other two. Sanya is a former Denarian who willingly gave up his coin and now fights his former colleagues.

White Court Vampires: Psychic vampires who feed on human emotions. House Raith feeds on lust through sex. House Malvora feeds on fear, and House Skavis feeds on despair. House Raith rules the roost. The major players are the aforementioned Thomas, black sheep of his family; Lord Raith, oldest and most powerful of the White Court; and Lara Raith, Thomas’s eldest sister. Harry generally doesn’t like these guys.

Black Court Vampires: Your standard Nosferatu. They have all the standard vampire strengths and weaknesses. Led by Mavra, a sorceress. Harry can’t stand these guys.

Red Court Vampires: Wear glamorous flesh masks, but are in reality hideous, batlike demons. Extremely powerful and well-organized. Led by Kukulkan, as in the Mayan god. Harry really hates these guys.

There are loads and loads more characters, but the above are the ones you see again and again. The books contain a lot of violence, some sex and a good dollop of bad language. They also contain great plots, amazing characters, and a surprisingly redemptive theme. Michael’s faith, for instance, is treated seriously and with great respect. There aren’t an awful lot of fantasy authors who’ll do that.

Be warned, though: These books are addictive. I’m re-reading them because the latest book puts a whole new shine on a number of events in previous books. And I know I’m not the only one doing it.

The Terror of Applying

I have a job ahead of me that I’ve been putting off for months because it scares me to death. To wit, I need to apply to grad school. I want to get my MA in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) because it’ll open up a lot of doors for me. But the process of application itself is absolutely terrifying to me.

It’s partially why I had such a hard time finding a job, too. Applying is all kinds of awful. It opens you up to rejection. What if the people I list as references don’t actually like me that much? What if I look stupid on paper? What if I’m not good enough? Worse, what if I get the job, and it turns out I can’t do the job? That’s happened. It’s an order of magnitude worse than mere awfulness. Given that and the fact that I’d almost never hear from prospective employers, or that they’d drag me along a bit before giving the job to someone else, the effort-reward ratio for each application was badly unbalanced.

Same thing goes for this application. I know I need to do it, and that every day I delay makes things worse. I need to get moving if I don’t want to be living in Mom and Dad’s guest room for the next . . . ever. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fearful thing. If I don’t apply, I can’t be rejected. And what if grad school’s not the right thing for me, anyway? I can’t say I’m really looking forward to taking classes again. See, it’s all moot if I don’t apply.

I’ve got pieces of my application ready. I need to gather everything, though, and do stuff like write an essay and crap like that. It’s just that I don’t want to. It scares me.

And I think that’s exactly the reason I most need to. If it’s not the right thing, it’ll all come out in the wash eventually. I need to face my fear, the way I did with my job applications (which I still hate). If anyone’s in academia or is otherwise really good at this sort of stuff, I’d sorely appreciate some help and encouragement.

What’s so brave about exercise?

I mentioned in my first post that, for me, starting to exercise was an act of courage. For some, that’s no mystery, because exercise scares the hell out of you, too. For others, I’m sure this is all very confusing. I’ll attempt to explain.

It started, as these things will, with gym class when I was young. (Cue traumatic flashbacks for a certain segment of the population.) It wasn’t like I was terribly athletic as a kid, but gym class was fun . . . until about fourth grade. That was when I developed boobs, years ahead of my peers. It’s the sort of thing you can’t hide–though I did try, wearing baggy clothing and doing my best not to draw attention to myself–and gym class was the worst. Kids would watch me run just to see my boobs jiggle. I hated it, hated being watched. I’d fake injuries or illnesses to get out of activities.

It built in me a dislike for physical activity. I did what was necessary to pass my gym classes through junior high and high school. I even managed to enjoy a few of them–I’m still a force to be reckoned with in backyard badminton–but there was no love of activity and movement for me. It was poisoned by my early associations.

Small wonder, then, that I put on weight steadily through high school and college. After college, I went onWeight Watchers, and I made myself bicycle every day. I like a lot of things about bicycling, but the physical activity itself was hard, and I was only doing it to lose weight. And I did lose the weight. And then I stopped.

Cue putting on weight again. By the time I left Japan, I was at my heaviest, about 230 pounds. I felt awful. I looked in the mirror and saw someone who was sexless and matronly, which is not something a single gal seeking romance wants to see. My back hurt constantly, my feet and knees were a mess–basically, I was in terrible shape. And my dad was suffering from congestive heart failure.

I could see myself in him. There’s a chance I’ve inherited his heart condition, and it’ll manifest as I age. As I watched him suffer, I knew that if I didn’t get my weight down and my physical condition up, if it hit me, I’d be much worse off. Dad was in great shape when he was my age. That’s part of the reason he’s survived this long.

I started going to CrossFit with Mom and Elaine. The people there were insanely fit, and I was . . . not. The day after my introductory session, I could barely walk. I was scared of embarrassing myself, scared the other people there would judge me, scared of more pain, scared I wouldn’t be able to persevere.

Nonetheless, I went back. Jonas, my instructor, was patient and encouraging, even when I felt like I couldn’t do one more thing. The other people in the class were kind and nonjudgmental. Many were also in various stages of Squishy, so I stopped being self-conscious. As I continued, I started to actually enjoy the sensation of using my body in ways that made it stronger. I was getting in touch with my body again, and I realize how that sounds, so let’s just  let it go and move on, okay? Sure, I’d feel like I was going to die halfway through each workout (well, sometimes during the warmup), but I’d get through it, and I’d feel amazing.

Eventually, I was unable to pay for CrossFit anymore. I started going to the Sharc instead. They had a “boot camp” class that incorporated cardio and resistance, and I joined it. The instructor there, Danielle, is a lot like Jonas–very encouraging and understanding and able to push me in a way I respond positively to. I’ve stuck with her class three times a week and work out on my own on off-days.

The difference it’s made in my life has been nothing short of incredible. My moods are more stable, which is something I’ve desperately needed this past year. I love my added muscle. It makes me feel powerful. I can run now and actually enjoy it. My lower-back problems have all but disappeared. I now call planking my “miracle back cure”. I’ve also lost weight. In my first year, I only lost about 15 pounds, but that was without altering my eating habits. Mom asked me to do Weight Watchers with her, and that was when I found that all the exercise has changed my metabolism, and the weight has come peeling off. I’ve now lost some 40 pounds. I’m not at my lightest, but I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.

I honestly feel like this exercise is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. If that sounds a little evangelical, so be it. Get out there and move, people. Find something you love and do it. I love doing classes because of the cameraderie. And if you feel like you need to get in shape before you do a class? Don’t get caught in that trap. That’s fear talking. Observe a class, talk to the instructor, make sure it’s a good fit, and just do it.

Life without fear

Everyone has their personal demon, the thing that either holds them back or drives them so hard they wear themselves out. Mine, I’ve come to realize, is fear. Fear of people, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of failure. I’ve struggled with panic attacks and anxiety so bad they drove me into depression. Worse, fear has paralyzed me in my life. My dreams have crumbled because I’m too afraid to move. My youth is behind me, and I don’t have much to show for it.

It’s all down to fear. I failed as a teacher because I was too timid. I haven’t found love because I’ve been too afraid of rejection. I haven’t followed my dream of becoming an author because I’ve been too afraid of failure.

In my life, I can point to two things I’ve done that are truly brave. The first was going to Japan. It was a huge risk, a leap into the unknown, and I did it. Two of the best years of my life were spent in Japan. The second was a very mundane step I took when I came back from Japan: I started working out. It may not sound brave, but it was, for me. I was convinced I wasn’t strong enough, that it would hurt too much, that people would laugh at me. But I started, and I’ve held on, and I’m so much stronger for it.

Two brave things can become more. I’ve proven to myself that I can take huge risks, and that I can push myself and persevere. As I approach the end of my thirties, I’ve decided I need to start living my life without fear. This blog will be part of that journey. I’m going to expose part of my soul here. It may involve opinions others don’t like. It may involve language others don’t like. But I need to do it. I need to do one brave thing per day.

Come with me. Help me to be brave. Help me to change my life. And maybe I can give you a little courage, too.