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I Had a Cold

 

A couple of weeks ago, Mom came home from a day out in the city with a cold. It was brutal. The canine nurses and I worked around the clock to help her out of the sea of snot, and listened to an enormous amount of grumbling and whining (which is only fair, since Mom listens to a lot of grumbling from all of us on a daily basis). Of course, after Mom recovered, the cold passed on to me. I’d been dealing with allergies for weeks by then, so it took a while for me to recognize when it switched over, but when I found myself desperately searching for a new tissue box at four AM, I got the message.

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“Why are we awake?”

There’s something about a cold that, even as it wipes me out and makes me feel like I’m drowning and suffocating and clearly the most afflicted person on earth, I also feel like, but, it’s only a cold! I should still be getting stuff done!

This delusion could have something to do with years of hearing my brother say that it wasn’t fair that I got colds so often, and therefore got to stay home from school. One time he got Chicken Pox over winter break, and missed no school at all, and then, of course, little sister got sick the day we were supposed to go back to school. I heard a lot about how lazy I was, and how unfair it was that I got extra time with Mommy, and so many bowls of matzo ball soup.

So, deep into the cold, I started to obsess about what I should do if I finally get a job and then get a cold. Should I go to work anyway? At one of my internships we were told to never come in when we were sick; at the other internship, people came in to work with every imaginable germ and shared generously, on the assumption that it was more responsible to come in than to cancel appointments.

My brain went on and on, telling me how lazy I was for not running a marathon in the middle of the night, since I was up anyway, and created endless scenes of how one or another illness would get me fired from my imaginary job, and I would never be able to support myself, and I would suffer and struggle and fail for the rest of my days.

So, it was a few long, sleepless nights.

And then, as I started to recover from the cold, I found out that my friend’s son had pneumonia. It’s really hard to nurse a good case of self-pity for a cold when a little boy across the country has to deal with pneumonia. Though I still made the effort.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’ve been watching the dogs, in case either of them starts to have a drippy nose, or bad cough. I don’t even know if dogs can catch colds from humans. I’ve seen them eat tissues, but never sneeze into them.

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“What? It’s fiber.”

I’m not sure the dogs even noticed that I was sick, to be honest. It’s not like I’m a bundle of energy the rest of the time, and I still took them for walks (loading my pockets with tissues and sucking candies first, of course), and shared my food (I mean, it was chicken soup, how could I not share it?). They spent a lot of their time napping next to me and staring at me when I blew my nose (possibly because it woke them up). And they looked longingly at my Dayquil and Nyquil capsules, certain they were some new form of candy.

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“Candy?”

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“Chicken?”

I don’t know of any way to avoid getting colds if you spend time around other humans, so I’m going to have to accept that getting sick will be a regular obstacle in my working life, and I will have to come to grips with the fallout, whatever it may be. I think the deeper fear the cold set off is that I will spend the majority of my working life dealing with the same disabling health issues I’ve dealt with during school and all of my writing-at-home years. And it will suck.

My next priority will be to learn how to not catastrophize at the smallest bump in the road, but the dogs are no help. They believe that the world is ending each time their people leave the house for five minutes; just imagine the horror when they find out I plan to go to work? For hours at a time!!!!

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“What?!!!!!!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

My To-Do List

 

Every night, I write up a to-do list for the following day, to make sure I don’t forget important appointments or tasks that need to get done. There was a time when I had to put get dressed and brush teeth on the list, just to give me something to successfully check off, but my lists have grown since then, and most days I find that I’ve only gotten halfway through the list before the day is over. This has gotten worse since I finished graduate school, in December, and found myself with some “free” time before I’m allowed to take the social work licensing exam.

Without Schoolwork at the top of my to-do list, a lot of other projects have cropped up and they all seem equally important to me. Of course, studying for the licensing exam is on my list every day, as is read books which refers to my hefty pile of self-required reading that I mentioned in a previous post. I also put practice ukulele, freewrite and revise, and bike and shower on the list every day (the last refers to time spent on my stationary bike and the shower I have to force myself to take in the aftermath. I take showers every day, don’t worry, but some part of my brain needs to be given credit for making the effort).

I also add tasks that I need to do on a particular day, like researching for a new writing project, or making a food shopping list, or doing the laundry, or setting the DVR for the week, both because I know that I would forget otherwise, and because of the satisfaction I feel when I can cross off a task as finished.

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“Make sure our scratchy time is on the list.”

I almost never put language apps on my list, even though I end up spending at least an hour a day on Duolingo and Tinycards and Drops. I should be fluent in French, German, Spanish and Hebrew by now, given the amount of time I spend glued to that little screen, but alas, I am not. I also don’t put watch TV or check social media on my list, because it would be wrong to give myself credit for fueling my addictions. And napping. I can’t put napping on the list, because that would be cheating.

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“Napping is important work, Mommy.”

When I have to put go to work back on my to-do list, a lot of my other tasks will end up falling by the wayside, and that worries me. For the first time in three and a half years I feel like myself again, even with all of my random thoughts and interests pulling me in every different direction. It’s not the most productive way to live, but it feels more like me, and it allows more parts of me to get the attention they crave. But work will change things.

The dogs will always be priorities, and basic tasks of living (AKA showers), but music and reading lists, and multiple writing projects, I’m not sure they will get the attention they need when something as big as Work gets in the way. And I’m not sure how to prevent that from happening.

People pooh pooh it when I say I’m worried, and tell me that I’ll have plenty of time for everything I want to do, and of course work is the most important thing, and isn’t it cute that you write books as a hobby, and so on. But I know myself. Even if I’m only working part time, it will take most of my energy to make that happen. I will have “free” time, but I’ll need to spend it recovering and resting, not challenging myself with different projects that mean something to me. I want to have faith that work will add to my life, add to my satisfaction and my life experience and my confidence and give me more freedom (because: money). But I’m afraid it will take things away from me instead: autonomy, time, energy, hope.

And the dogs really don’t appreciate this idea of work as something to be done away from home. What will happen to their treats and extra walks and snuggle time? And the separation anxiety will exhaust all of us. But mostly me. In the meantime, I follow my to-do lists, and try to function the best I can, and wring as much as possible out of my day, and hope that there will always be room on my to-do list of the things I love.

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“We’re on the list, right?”

If you haven’t yet had a chance, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel like writing review of the book, on Amazon or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

yeshiva girl with dogs

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

My Favorite Word is No

For most of my life, I’ve used the word “No” as a staple; like the pasta, rice, and potatoes of my social diet. I threw in Yeses very carefully and intentionally, like salt and pepper, or a sprinkle of Parmesan, for flavor.

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“Did you say Parmesan?”

I have had to work very hard to add the word “Yes” into my vocabulary, because I tend to feel overwhelmed by the cascade caused by even one small yes. Saying yes to graduate school in social work has put me into an avalanche of situations and expectations that I can’t really say no to, because they were all included in that first yes.

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“Saying no is much more fun!”

I know people who are much more comfortable with yeses, maybe because they have more faith that the universe won’t give them more than they can handle (I strenuously disagree), or because they have faith in their own ability to adapt to whatever comes (I definitely don’t have that).

 

I think my willingness to say “Yes” to more opportunities was instigated by all of the No’s I received: all of the rejections for my writing, rejections of friendship or love, failures to make progress in directions that mattered to me. I had to start saying “Yes” to things that might genuinely come to pass, even if they were not what I had imagined for myself.

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Cricket hates when people say no to her.

I’ve said yes to going to doctors again, though that doesn’t feel great. I’ve said yes to dog-sitting and even bird-sitting, but not to adopting a new dog, not yet. I’ve said yes to all of the work I need to do for my master’s degree in social work, whether I like it or not, agree with it or not. I force myself to say “Yes” even when I desperately want to say no. And as a result, I feel less like myself, and less in touch with myself.

 

 

My instinct to say No was about retaining my independence, and my individuality. Saying “Yes” feels like an acceptance of the world as it is, and a loss of my hope that the world can be better. And yet, as I have learned to say “Yes” to more things, I have begun to feel more capable, and more likely to survive. I just hope that some of those yeses will transform into a life that I love. Someday.

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Cricket is dubious.

 

My Internship

 

My internship with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) patients, at an out-patient day program on Long Island, started recently. I get very anxious before and after my hours, but the adrenalin rush gets me through while I’m actually working there. One of my favorite activities they do there is chair yoga, though, because it gives me a chance to breathe again. I wish I could bring Butterfly with me, for my own sake but also for some of the clients, who could use some of her ambient joy. One of the guys used to have a dog, but he can’t have a pet at all now, because his aide has allergies. If he could just sit with Butterfly for a little while each day, and whisper in her ear and pet her back, it could really help him. I know that it does wonders for me.

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Butterfly, my therapy dog.

The purpose of the day program is multiple: one, just to give the families of our clients a respite; two, to get the patients out of their homes and into social situations, so they don’t feel isolated and lonely; three, to fight off boredom and depression in whatever ways we can; and four, to continue, on a more causal and social basis, the work of speech, movement, and cognitive therapy that they can’t do on their own.

I am most interested in that last part, if only because it holds the most potential for my active participation. But for the clients, I think the most essential part of the program is the socializing part. At the day program they can practice their speech and memory skills without being laughed at (for the most part), and their brain injuries are taken for granted; they don’t have to compete with “normal” people for attention, or be embarrassed or ashamed by what they can’t do.

The structure of our days at the program is a bit loosey goosey, but the clients’ favorite activities, over all, seem to be games: guessing games, Hangman, Pictionary, Jenga, Connect Four, Uno, etc. They’re laughing and testing their social skills and showing off. It reminds me of kindergarten, though, with games like Duck Duck Goose and Musical Chairs, which I found extremely stressful. Those games seemed to exaggerate the possibility of rejection for me, rather than mitigate it. But the other interns, and even more so our supervisor, are much more comfortable with this part of the work. They enjoy the games and know how to stay upbeat and playful, pushing back against the depression and stuckness that might otherwise prevail in the room.

I do well with the clients one on one, and in casual situations, because I’m genuinely curious about them, but I’m afraid of how I’ll manage running a workshop or exercise from the front of the room. I wish I could practice some of my group-running skills on the dogs, but, first of all, Cricket is not a joiner, and second, they can’t hold pens in their paws, or answer my questions in words, so a lot of the exercises would be lost on them.

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Cricket is not a joiner.

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Unfortunately, dogs can’t write.

My supervisor suggested that I use my writing background with the clients in some way: so I collected poems and song lyrics the clients might relate to; and I printed out a page of Cricket pictures so that they can identify the emotions on her face, and make up stories about what happened before the picture was taken (I’m hoping her faces will be a good instigator for discussions on anger and anxiety and joy and relief, all kinds of things they wouldn’t automatically discuss with each other out of the blue); and I made up a list of autobiographical questions for the clients to answer and turn into short essays; and then there’s a group exercise in storytelling; and then I did research on hand drumming and handclapping therapy; and I made up a quilting pattern exercise, using fabric and paper and glue. So, at least I’ve found an outlet for all of my nervous energy.

Early on, my supervisor warned me and my fellow interns that some of the clients can be manipulative, and we shouldn’t believe them when they say this or that, and they don’t want to be challenged, and they can do more than they’ll admit, and on and on. Even if all of those things are true, it’s never as simple as all that. Motivation plays a huge role in what people can and can’t do. That’s not being manipulative, it’s about genuinely needing a reason to take an action and not wanting to just do what someone tells you to do.

Depression also plays a big role. The brain trauma itself can cause depression, and so can some of the medications they need to take to control their symptoms, but there’s also the depression that comes from having your life plan obliterated, and your sense of your place in society taken away from you. It is much harder to figure out motivation when you know that you can’t meet your own goals, no matter how hard you try. You need to not only come up with a new set of goals, but you have to accept that those goals will be very modest compared to the people around you. There’s an expectation that these clients should feel grateful that they have a day program to go to, and people who will pay attention to them, but that kind of gratitude can be hard to come by when you feel like so much has been taken away from you.

I’ve learned a lot from Cricket about how to accept bad behavior that isn’t meant to be hurtful. Her short-circuited nervous system means that she has low frustration tolerance, so she will use whatever behaviors she can think of to relieve her anxiety. She doesn’t mean to be a hellion; she just wants to feel better.

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Cricket just wants to feel better.

I’m enjoying the work, but it’s exhausting. When I came home from my first long day at work (Nine AM to Three PM feels long to me), Butterfly was out of her mind with excitement. She’s not used to me being away for so long and it felt great to be getting such a greeting; those are usually reserved for Grandma after she’s been out gardening for five minutes. She ran around in circles and bumped into her sister, who was hopping and panting and trying to sniff my shoes herself. It’s nice to be celebrated every once in a while.

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“Mommy! You’re home!”

Puppy On Call


 

            Cricket needs a job. She has a lot of excess energy, and uses it for barking and biting, and I’d like to find more constructive ways for her to keep busy. Some ideas that have come up in the past are:

·        Fitness trainer. She could help anyone build upper body strength and cardio, by pulling like an ox on her leash for three or four miles at a time. She might have a lot of one time customers, though, after an hour with her, I’m not sure we’d get follow up visits.

"Streeeeeeettttch!"

“Streeeeeeettttch!”

·        Assistant dishwasher at a restaurant, pre-cleaning the dishes. Except that any dangerous foods would have to be picked out before she got there, like onions and raisins and chocolate…

Cricket is an expert dishwasher. At least, Butterfly thinks so.

Cricket is an expert dishwasher. At least, Butterfly thinks so.

·        Ball puppy at a tennis court. Though I wonder if anyone would really want the ball back after she’d been carrying it in her mouth.

·        Carnival barker? I don’t think they really mean her sort of barking.

Nothing seemed quite right, and then I started thinking about my brother, the doctor. What if Cricket could do something in his field? I don’t actually believe she could go to medical school (anti-puppy prejudice!), but a hospital would be a fascinating place to work.

Doctor Dog (found online)!

Doctor Dog (found online)!

            Children in the hospital can get very lonely, especially at night, when their visitors go home and the noise quiets down and they are supposed to be asleep. I know dogs have been invited in during the day, but I think they could be even more helpful at night. I can picture the puppies wearing blue scrubs, and beepers at her necks. Puppies could be called by the nurses when a child had a nightmare and couldn’t get back to sleep, or when parents had to leave at bedtime and knew that the child would be lonely.

The human handlers could bring the dogs in and leave a jar of treats by the child’s bedside table, with a bowl of water the dog could reach.

            The job of the human handler would be to be as unobtrusive as possible, but also to know when a child and puppy combination would not be a good match. If the child was angry, at being in the hospital and poked and prodded, and lashed out at the dog, the human handler could remove the dog from harm and prevent the dog from needing to fight back.

            The puppy-on-call room would have to have treadmills, and fake grass to pee on, and a water fountain to drink from, one for the big dogs and one for the little dogs. There could be a play circle filled with tennis balls and chew toys, and mats and beds to sleep on between jobs.

The dogs could do rounds earlier in the day, to meet the children currently in the hospital, and help the doctors with sniffing diagnostics, and then the dogs would be on call at night.

            But now that I think of it, I’m not sure this would be a great job for Cricket. She’s a bit more of a me-me-me dog, rather than an aching-to-be-of-service-to-others dog. Now Butterfly, she’s a whole other story. But her scrubs would have to be a light pink.

Butterfly is very patient.

Butterfly is very patient.

And very Zen.

And very Zen.

            Maybe Cricket could work for the police? Drug sniffing? Recapturing escaped prisoners? She’d be great at catching anyone resembling a leaf or a stick.

"Gotcha!"

Cricket always gets her leaf!