Preparing for the Inevitable

I got a letter from the University telling me that I will soon be 65 (according to their records) and that they wanted me to sign up for Medicare Part A three months before the actual date.

I didn’t know what the heck they were talking about, but there was a number to call, so I did. I was on the phone 45 minutes being interviewed by a machine and two human beings all collecting information geared mostly towards determining, I think, whether I was the person I said I was. I said I was born in National City. They said I was born in San Diego. I didn’t quibble. Close enough. Also I couldn’t remember my mother’s maiden name. I kept saying Barret, but that was her mother’s maiden name. Finally I came up with Keller and that seemed to make my interlocutor happy.

Now I have an official Medicare contact person, Mary, who said I will receive a card in the mail indicating that I am now enrolled in Medicare Part A and that I don’t have to do any more paper work, but had I questions to call her and she gave me a number.

I suppose this is all for the good and means–Medicare Part A–that should I suffer some sudden relatively catastrophic ailment, like a heart attack, that part at least or maybe all ( I don’t know) expenses incurred in the course of the catastrophe will be covered by the government.

But the government doesn’t, as we know, cover everything.

So Carol, heroically, has been looking into getting us some sort of towards the end of life insurance to cover expenses for home care when the time comes when one needs home care.

I don’t want to think about that time of course. I have a hard enough time thinking too much about such things, and it was harder still having a person come to our home complete with laptop, pad, pencils, and assorted official documents to discuss diverse options such as how much might it cost to have home care start immediately upon being declared “disabled” or how much it might cost to have three years of home care covered as opposed to something called “forever” coverage.

This stuff is quite expensive, so at first I said I would opt for four years of care. I couldn’t imagine hanging around for much longer than that. And the insurance operative said I was pretty much right on with that number, and that the people who dabble in such things say the average length of care is from four to five years and that usually people start needing such care about 80.

But Carol got pretty upset about the four year thing. “You will lie there,” she said, “and worry about the money running out and think that you had better hurry up and die in four years.” Or something to that effect. She has come to know me pretty well over the years, and she is of course correct. I would lie there fretting about whether I was going to live longer than I was supposed to.

We don’t know what we are going to do yet. We are just applying.

The insurance operative said there are something like 8 criterion for determining whether one is disabled. Any combination of two means you are disabled. So if you can’t get out of bed and if you are peeing on yourself, well that’s disabled. Or if you can’t prepare your own food and you are peeing on yourself, well that’s disabled too.

I can’t remember all 8, but it was a damn depressing list.

But what is a body to do? We are trying to act like responsible adults.

It’s a bit difficult.

Nuff Said

This may be one of the longest breaks from the blog that I have taken since starting it.

I just haven’t had the energy to say anything or the energy really to think up something to say. My mind draws a blank.

The causes are various. Getting older doesn’t help. But I think primarily I have been under the influence of drug withdrawal.

Since the start of the summer I cut back completely on a morning dose of .25 milligrams of klonipin, and just about two weeks ago I took my last little bit (an 1/8 of a teaspoon) of something called Wellbutrin, supposedly for depression, though lord knows what that means. I am now on less medication than at any time since I started this business.

Unfortunately, while I think the direction I am taking towards withdrawal is the right direction, I am not in the least feeling up or any better. Sadly, the opposite (I guess it is the opposite) seems true.

I am fatigued and worn down to the nub. I used to rely on my brain as a source of entertainment. I would be driving or walking from point a) to point b) and I hardly noticed it because my brain was working on something. But now my brain is blank. It seems to take forever to drive to the drug store.

Even the days seem to take longer and longer. You’d think as one got older that having longer days (since one has fewer of them to go) would be a good thing. But that’s not the case. I just wait for the day to be over, to get done with whatever I have to get done with, and get on to the next in the hope that it might be a bit better than the previous one.

No wonder I haven’t written anything. This is depressing.

I came across a journal I kept in college. It was easy reading because I didn’t write anything. Just day after day, the date followed by something like: nothing happened, nothing today, further nothing, nada, too much to do about nothing, and so on. Day after day of nothing with some exceptions like, I feel sick. Or what is the meaning of this?

So apparently I have been in this shape for some time. Like 50 years. But when younger, I know I kept thinking there was still time. Things could change.

I don’t think that so much anymore. Maybe because the simple energy of youth and the expectation of things to come is on the wane.

Nuff said.


Nothing much to update

.According to the countdown calendar on my “homepage” I have 35 days left before the first day of classes for the academic year, 2010-11. So the summer is slipping away again. But today the temperature started to go up and the sun, mercifully, is out.

Carol went to a conference, Creativity and Madness, in Santa Fe. She said it looked like a good place and her presentation at the conference–which included a recently choreographed dance–went very well. She had a bit of a problem adjusting to the altitude, 7000 feet, the first day.

Speaking of altitude, Brother Dave and Sister-in-Law Teresa got back last week from hiking the John Muir trail. Wow! 150 miles, I think they walked it in about 14 days. They were at altitudes of 11,000 feet or better. I followed them on Google Maps; they checked in each day with a GPS device and a little flag would appear on the Google Map at the point they checked in. Way to go guys. Looked alike awesome country, the word “awesome” being warranted in this case. Don’t think I will be hiking that trail any time soon. Though Teresa said they met a really gnarly 62 year old woman who was hiking the trail and also a seven year old girl. But I am a long way from 7 and not so gnarly either.

Brother Dan and I have been meeting every Sunday to play guitar a little by way of practice for recording sessions. We record again this week. We may or may not be making a CD. It’s not a “for sure” yet.

It’s not a “for sure” either than I will retire July 2011, but it is looking that way.

I missed officially acknowledging the second anniversary of Brother Steve’s move to Clinton. He appears to have had a brutally hot summer.

Brother Dan turned 50. Damn. That’s crazy.

I am still enduring the pangs of withdrawal though I think I am leveling out a bit.

June Gloom and Beyond

I have the weather for Clinton, SC (where Brother Steve lives), on my home page, so I am pretty sure that the high for any given day over the last four weeks has not dropped below 90. And usually it has been in the mid-90’s and sometimes higher. And all of Russia appears on fire, the result at least in part of an intense and prolonged heat wave. Meanwhile, here in Santa Barbara, or more exactly here in Goleta…where I to Santa Barbara, we recorded, one day recently, according to a guy I overheard at the club, the lowest temperature in the mainland USA and appear to be having the coolest summer on record. The average temperature for August in SB is 79 degrees. But I don’t think we have hit seventy once this month and the high one day last week was 62.

I don’t know anything about possible deeper causes for this cooling trend, but we seem to be going through an extension of “June gloom.” June gloom occurs yearly and punctually, obviously, in June and seems to be the result of the “marine layer” that usually hovers offshore deciding to move onshore and park there for a while. This year it parked in late June and decided not to leave. So each morning I open the blinds to leaden skies.
gloom1.jpgBut that’s not the whole story. The forecast for later this week is “sunny” and that would be nice, but the temperatures as forecast remain unseasonably cool. Usually, each summer, for a month at least I can’t control the urge to start going barefoot and end hopping around on the hot pavement. This summer…zip…not once have I felt the barefoot urge.

I think possibly that the exact spot where we are located–about a mile and a half from the ocean–may well be cooler than for Santa Barbara proper. I know that when I head out to work out at about two in the afternoon, I have on my jean jacket, and that by the time I reach the work out place, a couple of miles further inland, I no longer need the jacket.

It’s strange is all. Certainly, far, far, far better than broiling in the heat, but still a little spooky–those leaden skies–they have gone on so long.

gloom2.jpgGoleta sky at eleven AM August 10

Klonipin: Withdrawal Cont’d 2

I have now…of this day…gone a full week without ingesting an iota of my morning dose of .25 milligrams of klonipin. I was hoping by this time to be feeling a bit more up. But so far no go. Indeed, I woke up Carol last night by talking or rather mumbling in my sleep. She said I was very restless, and today I feel it: restless.

But these meds penetrate every aspect of the mind/body self (up to and including one’s dreams). I was alarmed to learn, for example, that not only is the med fat soluble (meaning it will remain in my system for however long it takes to completely recycle the fat) but, how to say, it is also “bone soluble.” I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I had assumed bone material was static and unchanging, but apparently it too goes though cycles of rebuilding and as part of that the med get also incorporated into bone. Lord knows how long it takes bone to recycle itself, or, even if, at my age, it is capable of a complete recycling and cleansing. So, who knows, it might remain in my system for my short “forever.”

But that is distant. More immediate is the way the med withdrawal influences mood. Well, I don’t know if it’s more exactly, more like the psychology of affect. Whatever I am feeling–depending on the time of day (I am especially paranoid at night)–becomes–I don’t know–amplified or taken up a notch. This is very subtle. It catches up with me before I am able to recognize it, or let’s say I am only able to recognize it when it becomes extreme. I read for example that the unemployment rate in some cities near the Bay Area is at 20% and without really noticing the process I become bleak, and anxious, and below that: afraid.

At these moments some times I am able to draw back and not infrequently into my mind pops a line from Hamlet that I paraphrase as follows “What is Hecuba to me or I to Hecuba.” Actually, remarking on how an actor appears to have gotten himself all worked up over the fictional character Hecuba, Hamlet says speaking of the actor, “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba/That he should weep for her…”


Klonipin: Withdrawal Cont’d

As noted in the previous entry, I have been engaged some time now in withdrawing from klonipin. I had no idea when I started that this would be a full time occupation. But that’s what it amounts to. I have not been able to do much of anything but feel miserable and try to accommodate myself to that. OK–it is as if–you are sick so act like it. Lie down and be quiet, because if I don’t do that I start feeling really miserable because I don’t have the energy or the concentration to do what I have set out to do, at least when it comes to brain work. So I end up compounding the biochemical misery with the psychological misery of feeling that I have failed to do what I set out to accomplish.

My old shrink used to talk about exercising loving empathy towards yourself, suggesting that since my parents were failures as parents I had to be my own parent and parent myself as it were. This is stupid and strictly impossible. Still lately I have talked to myself in my head saying such things as hey kid, it’s alright. You may think you are dying of cancer, but at this moment, at this very moment, you have no evidence of that. So it’s OK. Right. So you are feeling miserable. What can we do about that? What about a walk? Since brain work is not working. Or maybe go wash the car.

Yeah, go wash the car. I did that. Doing physical stuff does help. I washed the floor. I took out the garbage. Right in the middle of washing the car, I get this dark feeling–like what is the point of washing this damn car, exactly. I can’t answer that question. Better not to ask it.

And I exercise every day. But I am 64 years old. I can exercise only so long without completely wiping myself out. I used to exercise an hour a day. Now I am down to 30 minutes. Damn.

I have to say I feel lucky. If I had to work a nine to five job in an office doing brain work, I would be going nuts. Honestly, I don’t know how people doing that kind of work could ever get off a drug like klonipin. Because I couldn’t do it. Instead, being a teacher, I have the opportunity completely to ruin my summer by deciding to withdraw from a drug. So far I have taken good advantage of the opportunity and have pretty much shot this summer so far all to hell and back.

But, hey kid, chill out…

Anxiety–Klonipin withdrawal

As I noted here a while back–June 21 to be exact–I embarked on a campaign to withdraw from the .25 milligrams of klonipin I take each morning. I have been employing the tablespoon withdrawal method. Dissolve the .25 in a cup of water and every fourth day go down a tablespoon. At that time, June 21, I was taking out 4 tablespoons and now, July 26, I am taking out 16 tablespoons each morning. Unfortunately I still have about 1.5 tablespoons to go perhaps because the cup I am using is imperfect. But we live in an imperfect world. As Plato noted it’s hard to draw a perfect triangle. The concept–cup–seems only incidentally to match the reality.

But going down 16 tablespoons is probably in part responsible for the recent compulsive thoughts about the death and dying stuff. The anxiety is back. That’s what klonipin is for–anxiety reduction, or at least that is one of its uses. They use it on the TV show “House” each time somebody has a seizure (about every other show); “Five milligrams clonazepam,” you can hear them shout.

Whatever its uses, the anxiety is back. Not awful. But when I wake up I feel edgy and restless: it gets a bit worse as the morning goes on. Not pleasant. And another telltale sign. I do this thing of rubbing my fingers, thumb against the other four digits, rather unconsciously most of the time when anxiety is on the rise. The last two or three days I have caught myself doing that frequently.

Finger rubbing. In the olden days, I would be smoking more.

Also I have had odd dreams. This morning I woke at 6 and then went back to sleep for about an hour, during which time I had a kaleidoscope of unpleasant dreams. I can’t remember all. But in one I was in an apartment, with other people, and it was raining and the rain started to drip in at the bottom of the walls. Then I noticed the ceiling was sagging, presumably from the rain, though actually no ceiling could sag like that without bursting. I stuck a pole there to hold up the roof. And then we were hungry and found a DIY restaurant (I didn’t know such things existed except for Kramer’s make your own pizza place) and I cooked up some little black looking hamburgers, and went some where and came back and was told that W.B. wanted something too. This upset me too since I didn’t know W.B. was there. Or wanted something.

When the walls starting leaking, and the roof starts sagging, and I can’t find food, and I fail to do what W.B. wants…well, these are anxiety dreams.

So the anxiety is back. I will see how that goes. Six days left and then no more of the .25 morning klonipin. Then we will really see whaz…up.

Bright Red Luggage

Carol will be going soon to Santa Fe to participate in a conference called Madness and Creativity. Yesterday she was out and about and decided to buy some new luggage for the trip. Our stuff for travel is pretty old, ripped, torn and on the verge of falling apart. So she got this bright red, very light, state of the art luggage, and at one point in the evening she said I bet it will last twenty years.

She was thinking of how we tend to use something until it falls apart. I thought of something else and felt a little cold, stab in my heart.

In twenty years, I could easily be dead or in terrible shape in some “home.”

I have been pretty good lately at keeping the death stuff at arm’s length, but at that moment I was taken by surprise at the idea of luggage–bright red luggage–that could outlive me (in terms at least of its usefulness).

The LA Times runs an occasional feature in which a financial consultant looks at somebody’s finances and gives recommendations. Today I glanced at it and then read the whole article because the couple (they appear to have no children) roughly parallel in their financial situation Carol and me. The wife of the couple is 68, the husband, who looked slightly overweight in the picture, is 64, and the consultant’s advice was direct, unequivocal, and clear: RETIRE. And, oh, they should put less of their money in stocks and more in money market and bonds. But mostly it was RETIRE because you have the money to do it without worry and because you only have so much life and if you wait too long you may lose the health, the relative physical well-being, that will allow you to enjoy your “golden years.”

OK, so given our financial situation, I guess my thinking about retiring July of next year is sort of rational.

I know the financial consultant is right. I have enough experience at this point to know that, while one might have ten thousand interesting and enlivening things to do, if one doesn’t have the energy to do one damn thing these ten thousand things might as well not be at all.

So RETIRE while you still have the energy left–while your big outing of the week is NOT going to see the doctor–and use the money you have to enjoy yourself.

But the financial consultant didn’t have much advice about what to do to enjoy yourself. Travel, he said, and, oh, take up multiple hobbies.

Fine, I guess, but I don’t like thinking about this stuff. It feels odd to be making such a big decision based mostly on the fact you will be dead in 20 years.

Offloading Memory

Louis Black does a funny bit about the elderly and “senior moments.” The elderly don’t talk, he says, they engage in verbal charades. Something like:

“Hey, you remember that guy, you know, in that movie?”

“What guy?”

“You know he was in a movie with that other guy.”

“What other guy?”

“The one who was in that movie with that woman.”

“What damn woman?”

“The one with lots of hair.”

“Lots of hair?”

“Yeah, she was like famous for all that hair.”

And so on, as the elderly attempt in vain to remember who the hell that guy was with the other guy who was in another movie with the woman who had lots of hair.

But, nowadays, what with the internet and with just a little bit more than “that guy” to type in, one can google it and eventually, and usually pretty quickly, come up with the name of “that guy.” I went through something like that–I can’t remember though what exactly–recently and I was able to google up the name of “that guy.” I remarked to somebody, “It’s like we our outsourcing our memory to the web.” He said, “Maybe that’s better.”

I don’t know, but apparently the elderly are not the only ones outsourcing their memories. According to the L.A. Times, Chinese young people in their twenties, previously drilled for hours and hours in the memorization of the approximately 3,000 characters necessary to communicate intelligently in Chinese are forgetting how to do it. Not because of the web, precisely but because of the new communication technologies.

According to the Times:

The more gadgets people own — cellphones, smart phones, computers — the less often they go through the elaborate sequence of strokes that make up Chinese characters. Whether on their computers or texting on phones, most Chinese use a system where they type out the sound of the word in Pinyin,the most commonly used Romanization system — and presto, they are given a choice of characters to use.

As a result of their reliance on these gadgets, younger Chinese people no longer write out long hand as it were their characters and as a consequence forget them. No problem, though, says one young Chinese person, who believes she has forgotten about 20% of the characters she once knew, “If I don’t know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”

OK. I don’t know what this means. But it means something.

chinese tree.gifThe character for “tree.”

The Very Thought

I have been making use of this blog lately a) as a way of remembering what I have been trying to read and b) in the pure act of doing it as a way to convince myself, though the production of organized words, that my brain has not been paralyzed by the longueurs of withdrawal, or, as if, adrift in a windless Sargasso Sea. Water! Water! Everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

I think that for me at least the blows of age to my brain will be worse than the limitations it imposes on the body. Well, maybe that’s a toss up, and it’s a toss up too, in any case, as to whether or not the withdrawal has beaten my brain down to nothing (aside from these self imposed moments of making an appointment with it).

Yesterday I was trying to read something and found myself on the verge of tears at not being able to make heads or tails of it. I would look at the chain of words, try to concentrate, and then I would lose it. But I was reading words like this:

To bind education to its own unthought, to make a case for the idea that something within education resists thinking, that there is something about education that one knows nothing about, may seem counter intuitive to the project of education since ostensibly education is a deliberation, a judgment, and oddly a result of itself. Yet as both experience and institution, as training ground and as learning life, and as natality and its repression, people who are undergoing education as they are directing others in their learning rarely think the thought of education. (Britzman, The Very Thought of Education)

Maybe something as prolix as this is reason enough to be on the verge of tears both for what I don’t and do understand of it.

Is Busy Dying