Whose Mind Is This Anyway

I’m trying to swim on a Friday morning but intrusive thoughts are dampening the fun. Is it too much to ask to exercise and relax (to me this is one in the same), to pretend that this is an outdoor pool, that it is a warm and sunny day, and that the pool is all mine?

In reality it is full of lap swimmers and we’re all indoors and it is in the forties and cloudy outside, although it is supposed to warm up to fifty by noon.

Impossible, this imagined pretense about sun.  The list of things to do, for all intents and purposes, is full of unwanted, intrusive thoughts, and it expands with each splash. I am grateful that it is a list, not a conversation, that it isn't a script, one that will never be enacted, but probably should be, in vivo, a manifestation of conflict, that thing that keeps the analysts and Woody Allen in business.  

The to-do list, for us sandwich generationers, is endless.  It is only 9:05 but my day started at 5:15, almost four hours ago.  I dropped FD off someplace and am scouring the grocery store.  Thirty minutes pass and at the automatic checkout, things go well.  The system works, no need to call for a store manage for "unwanted items are on the belt." My self-esteem is much improved.

By eight o'clock two grandchildren are in my car, on their way to school. The angst of having no grandchildren in town has magically dissipated, as if it never was, since our daughter and her family moved from California to Chicago months ago. Change can be good, you know.

I drop the older boy off at the school his uncles attended at his age and wave from the car to  the principal at the curb.  The once young rabbi now sees me as old.

I sing Frere Jacques with the three-year old on our way to my apartment. We park and lug up the groceries in a cart at the service elevator (he pushes the up button).  Moments later he is mixing his second breakfast, baby pancakes. He doesn't start school until nine.  The pancakes go in a plastic bag because he won't eat a single one.  I test them.  They are excellent.  He will leave them in his schoolbag where his mother will notice them and toss them, maybe, late at night or perhaps the following day when she packs new lunches.  As in therapy, for a three-year old, life is all about the process, not the content.

In the parking lot at the nursery school he swipes his index finger on each and every car we pass, holding my hand with his other hand.  I tell him his finger will be dirty and it might end up in his mouth which isn't cool, eating dirt.  He stops drawing on dirty cars, seems to understand this word, cool.  

He marches merrily inside the community center where his teacher has all children wash their hands before breathing.  She tells me it is Picture Day.  Did his mother fill out the form?

I know what is in his backpack and there is no form for Picture Day, no check.  I only have a few dollars in my wallet, nothing else.  I text his parents:  Do you want pictures?  There is the matter of the form.  Yes!

The answer doesn't matter.  Clearly the other grandparents in this family will want them.  It occurs to put a reminder in my phone to revisit SnapFish or to look for some other service like it to print copies of good digital pictures.

My son-in-law chimes in from work, texts that he will give me a check, to stop by. He’s excited at the prospect of school pictures.  We arrange the pick-up.

Before leaving, Conference Day sign up catches my attention.  I scribble his parents in for a 6 pm, the latest time still available, hoping it will work for them.  The evening for this nursery school teacher is otherwise full. That there is a need for conferences about a 3-4 year old is interesting.  Don't these teachers work a long enough day?  And must my grandson progress?

It is time for me hit the pool, same building. Almost immediately, mid-first lap, intrusive thoughts attack, those things to do, that second shift stuff of life that is really first shift for me, discretionary time before office hours.  Details gather, no, pummel into my brain.  To control them I begin a mental post for this blog, this very post, thinking that by doing so, at least the verbiage is productive.

But surely most of it will be forgotten, my voice lost before hitting the showers.

Realizing that trying to control life while paddling in water is ridiculous, the brain's executive manager (we all have one, some are better than others) proceeds to the cognitive strategy that works best for her, a stopping technique.  When one is not doing backstroke, a good thought stoppage technique is to clap one's hands as loudly as possible.

The chosen intervention is word review, using new words in sentences, words and sentences direct from the Kaplan GRE Vocabulary I-phone ap.  You are never too old to learn words like abjure, abscond.  This works, stops the obsessive thinking.  The reason it will always work is that the brain cannot consciously parallel process, cannot comprehend two sentences at the very same time.  When you try to hear two people talking at the same time, no matter at cocktails or a business conference, you will fail to comprehend either.  

Starving, I go home and have breakfast, oatmeal that is now three hours old and doesn't taste good.  I bake some cookies because these will taste better, and we are expecting guests for the weekend.  By evening I will be too tired to do anything productive like this.  My machetainista (rhymes vaguely with bucket-rain-ist-uh, short for my daughter-in-law's mother) is a much better baker than I.  Hopefully having one of my cookies will boost her ego.

True cookie people all agree that once a cookie has cooled off it isn't as good anyway, perhaps isn't worth eating.  Take this as a health tip.

Also, one of my married sons will be visiting and he likes cookies.  He is coming to collect his collectibles, rooms full of them at my old house, the one his sister now occupies.  He finally has the space for his stuff, a real home of his own.  If you wait long enough, there is progress in life.  You may find a place for your stuff.

Or you may get rid of it.

The subtext to much of this is that I am worried, am becoming more than a little upset.  Six weeks ago the condo two floors directly above us flooded, something about a refrigerator hose, and each of the units below, all the way down to the first floor, suffered water damage.  I heard our bedroom wall crack, watched as water seeped in, kept seeping for days.  Management has known about this from the start, informed us that it isn’t safe to sleep in a potentially mildewed, moldy bedroom.  They moved some of our furniture into our guest room while we vacationed in a far-off land. 

But nothing was done to fix things.  I suggested to the building manager, at first gently, then a little more assertively, that this is not cool, the crack in our bedroom wall, losing a bedroom.  We are overcrowded and I wear a mask, try not to go inside that room, and I worry about my clothes.  Some of them are now in FD's closet in the guestroom. We are elbowing one another constantly, arguing over space under the bed.  Shoes have to go somewhere.

For weeks the response has been, We are waiting for insurance.  

This key word, insurance, makes me feel guilty.  There are people who lost their homes in a hurricane and here I am, worrying about a crack in a bedroom wall.

How can anyone make any kind of move in life without insurance?  Apparently it is impossible.

When I suggest that since the condo association must wait for insurance, they will also wait for rent, (we are test-case renters, an experiment) I get a new response: Next week for sure.  Monday!  But this must have been a dream.
Condo flood

Daily I visit her, the building manager, to remind her that this is not what I signed up for, moving into this place.  She gets that deer in the headlights look when there are any complaints from us, must always consult the board, has never had anyone rent here before.  Procedure is fuzzy.  I do not tell her that I am considering starting a blog to satirize condo living, Someone Was Seen...

Conflict is not my style, however, so I take some of my newly baked cookies, still warm, and put them on a paper plate, cordially bring them down to the building manager. 

“Is this a bribe?” she asks suspiciously. But she has something of a smile going.

“No!  Heaven forbid!  I remembered you like a good cookie, thought you might think of me as you chew. They aren’t my best, are a little too soft.  Rush job.  Lots to do today."

“You know,” she says, “butter is the answer to everything, makes cookies crunchy.”

I agree (would I argue?) but must go.  No time to talk ingredients.  Toodaloo.

The race is on.  In one hour, the following, erased:

1.  Pick up check for Picture Day from s-i-l.  Admire amazing new office.

2.  Shoot over to BBB (Bed Bath and Beyond) to get the canister for Soda Stream (device that makes carbonated water, favorite drink of old Jews).

3.  Drop in at Office Max to find carbon paper.  They still make it!

4.  Drop off the Picture Day check to the nursery school administrator.

5.  Take pic of Conference Day schedule on classroom door so daught can switch hers with someone if necessary.  Shoot it over to her.

6.  Pick up afghan from the cleaners that machetainista crocheted for us. Looks like new. (Add bring in down jacket to to-do list).

7.  Drop check off at auto mechanic, have the following conversation:
“Gary, you must hate me!”
“I love you,” he offers back.
“It’s so late!  I’ve had the check in my purse for weeks!”
“No problem!”  
He's smiling like he means it and the smile carries the morning.

8.  Back at the apartment, switch to biking clothes.

9.  Ride over to mother’s apartment.  She is going to a dinner tonight and needs help putting on jewelry.  This takes only ten minutes and she is unbelievably grateful but perseverates on the dangers of riding a bicycle to work.

10.  Ride to work.

11.  Ride home in the dark, scare a raccoon, maybe.

That night, picking up my mail at the house, my daughter shows me her Google calendar, how she has different colors that remind her of her many things to do.  My work calendar is about all I can take, adding things to it would probably mean someone gets double booked.  The Reminder Ap on the phone works best for me but means I am always, forever, tied to the phone, can't tell my left shoe from my right without it.  

Still, it is better to rely on this, to know that it is there, with an ever-changing list of things to do, than to give the never-ending list attention while swimming. If the errand isn't on the phone then it probably isn't very important. Lightning will not strike, either (cognitive-rational thinking) if something isn't done, is lost in the shuffle.

Now if only there were an ap to eliminate obsessive dialogue.


Post script: The maintenance engineers are working on the bedroom!  Eitherthis had to do with no rent, or maybe, just maybe, somebody is worried about the blog.  


Callie Me Home said…
I think it was more or less the cookie and constant reminders that did the trick ;)I'm an international student trying to get through school and now anxiety is killing me. I make lists but struggle to follow through. I think I'm afraid of loosing everything and feel as if I can't move. I keep telling myself "get over it. you have to get this done. one more year and you'll be free." As I've gotten older though, I've realized that it never ends. There is always some challenge ahead. There is always hardwork. My mind keeps saying "I want to play!".

Hope everything works out with the wall and the carpet! I'm sure it'll work out.
One big Oy.

FYI, vinyl, non-reinforced hoses for refrigerators are BAD BAD BAD. Flooded my own unit's carpet (and wall), but thankfully, not the neighbor's. Thankfully, the leak was caught early and everything dried out.

On the other hand, your daughter-in-law is lucky to have such a mother-in-law.
Miss Trixie said…
"Now if only there were an ap to eliminate obsessive dialogue."

Marcia said…
the self checkout lane is ALWAYS a traumatic experience for me!
porcini66 said…
Definitely the cookies....it's been awhile since I've visited, TD. Just too busy with my own lists lately...

As always, you restore my soul and bring me back to the important stuff. Have a terrific evening! :)
therapydoc said…
Right, Callie. We're never free. But one thing's for sure. School can be really stressful, on the top of the list for a lot of people.

Thanks Critically Observant! The whole idea of the domino effect (when it comes to one apartment damaging everyone below) has me a little spooked, have to admit.

Miss Trixie, you have them, too?

Marcia, it takes years of practice.

Thanks for stopping by, Porcini!
Mary LA said…
Days like this I know them well.

Love to taste those cookies, I'm an amateur baker I always tell people and have been an amateur baker for 20 years!
Callie Me Home said…
School is stressful. How do you know when its time to give up the ghost or when to dig your heels in and try even harder?
therapydoc said…
Tough call, and I would have a million questions for you to answer properly.

If it's compromising health, that's bad. We like health. And if an academic advisor is pushing it, you either get another one (which is sometimes the solution), or maybe listen.
Callie Me Home said…
No, its neither health nor an advisor. School has been very stressful to the point where I was waking up panicking about the amount of work that I had to complete at 2 in the morning. The panic attacks subsided but I dread going to school or doing the work, I've lost confidence and drive. I feel anxious about homework and other research work. I keep putting it off. I believe it's laziness and I dont want to take an antidepressant. I don't want to be dependent on drugs to make it through school. I've written lists and schedules but it feels as if I have to work 24/7. I've been doing it for the past 5 years. IDK, it is laziness and I do need to buckle down. Thanks.

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