“We had a look at your CT scan. Just to be on the safe, safe, safe side, we need to do a spinal tap,” he said.
“What? What did my CT scans show?” I was terrified beyond belief.
“Nothing. You’re fine. But the fact that you were without your medication for so long and the fact that your blood pressure was so high on admittance, we just want to rule out that you didn’t have a stroke.”
A stroke? Was I talking funny? Slurring my words? Was the side of my face drooping? What weren’t they telling me? It hit me that through my own stupidity, not only was I going to be permanently disabled or deformed, I was going to have to have a spinal tap. Those words – spinal tap – were right up there with “polio” and “iron lung” from when I was a kid. I also knew they were painful as hell and that the after-effects – which Google later confirmed for me in spades when I suffered from every single one of them – were even worse.
Nonetheless, almost twenty-four hours since entering the hospital believing I’d been the victim of an assassination attempt, I was released with a clean bill of health. Well, except for the next two weeks in hell, courtesy of my spinal tap and leaking fluid, but again, no need to go into detail.
So I returned to the job I hated. Our dog died and I did not, and then my daughter delivered the news that she was moving three thousand miles away to Los Angeles. My best and only female friend, my firstborn, would be reduced to someone I only saw once a year at best or via a blurry Skype screen.
My depression dipped to a whole new level.
This was what I did know. I did not want to die, but I hated my life. I felt powerless to change it. For the first time since our marriage, we didn’t have a dog or child in the house. Getting a puppy was out of the question since we both worked full-time and didn’t have any way to train it. I toyed around with the idea of adopting an older dog but after going through the trauma of losing Monty, I didn’t want to fall in love with an older dog only to have it die a few years later.
I wept that now that my daughter was moving so far away, if she ever married and had a baby, my grandchild would never know me. My son, too, was living with the woman he intended to marry and she was originally from California. In five years, they intended to relocate to San Francisco. So make that at least two grandchildren who would only know Grandma via Skype.
Add to this the ridiculous notion that I planned on staying young forever and never even saw myself as a grandmother until my children let me in on their plans. What I am trying to say is that I did not have a logical thought in my brain. I was a victim and didn’t know what I had done to deserve the blows being dealt. Nothing had prepared me for middle age. Nothing.
It was now May. Slowly but surely, thoughts of death began creeping back into my brain. I wasn’t overtly planning suicide—and having experienced the pain associated with not taking my medicine, I was not about to try the “holistic” approach to death again. Instead I became more or less a zombie. Life lost all of its enjoyment. My son would visit and my husband and I would sit and get stoned right in front of him. We wouldn’t talk; we’d have the television on. The house was a mess, and the only mystery was that my son continued to visit every Sunday for dinner.
Apparently, he loved us despite our shortcomings. He’d become increasingly involved in a Zen way of life. He took a course on Transcendental Meditation. I made fun of him, both behind his back and to his face, when he gently suggested I stop smoking pot and maybe clean the place up a little. He said that if I could not even do that for him, then maybe I should take the meditation course, too, because I clearly needed help.
There was no way I was going to sit and chant for anyone. My only mantra was “Stay stoned or die.”
But he persisted and at the same time, things got worse at work. One of the senior partners, twenty years younger than I, delighted in bullying me on a daily basis. My own boss was too non-confrontational to speak up in my defense. There were daily rumors of lay-offs; my nervous system was about to implode.
I did what any abnormal, stressed-out person would do in a time of crisis – ran up all of my credit cards with oddball purchases of totally unnecessary items.
I was completely broke and robbing Peter to pay Paul every month and headed for a total breakdown.
It was in this state that I finally said okay to my son and went with him to a meditation class.
I took to meditation the way a foodie takes to handmade pasta with roasted garlic: it was the missing link between insanity and my ultimate survival.
How do I describe the feeling of sitting quietly for twenty minutes each morning and evening in a darkened room, quietly saying my mantra to myself while stress slowly eased out of my body? I can’t. Will it work for everyone? I can’t imagine it failing if done properly, but I am the woman who was stunned when George W. Bush was elected President not once but twice. So let’s look at the hard facts. The Beatles meditated. Ringo has been meditating for forty years. Have you seen him lately? Seventy-three and looks forty-three. David Lynch started a foundation to support the sharing of Transcendental Meditation, and other well-known disciples include Howard Stern, Howard Stern’s mother, and Jerry Seinfeld. Oh yeah, and the Seattle Seahawks – you know, the team that just won the Super Bowl.
Somehow, we have all been saved and we’re all prospering. Take that, modern medicine.
But yeah, I still have to take the pills, too. The difference is that now it never occurs to me NOT to take them.