Friday, January 9, 2009

Paxil®-addled Soccer-Mom Yoga: Practicing “Enchanted Mi(chigan)tten” Style

I am back in suburbia, Metro-Deetroit to be specific, in the little, almost entirely white, predominantly republican town I grew up in. There are manicured lawns, albeit under a thin crust of icy snow at the moment, a dearth of bike lanes, and SUV’s larger than beejeezus (this is the heart of the auto industry, for however long it lasts).

I have been doing yoga with soccer moms, at the very same studio our friend the Yoga Cop visited. Still, before we get to that, I should explain how I got here.

Mom has breast cancer. She, in her own words, “got off easy”- it hasn’t metastasized, and the worst-case scenario is that she will need a mastectomy. That said, it is a scary ordeal, being confronted with mortality, for both me, the son, and mom the….well, mom. On top of this, my high school friend’s mother has a mass in her abdomen, and the prognosis doesn’t look great. His father died of liver cancer only 18 months ago. On top of that the Zeeb- my counselor and friend, and my best friend’s counselor and friend- has undergone, in quick succession, a diagnosis of diabetes and a stroke. He rallied from these with incredible strength- regaining his language skills in less than a month- only to find a blockage in his colon two months later. When they opened him up, they found a mess of cancer all throughout his abdomen, a sticky spider web of malignant slime-mould permeating all of his internal organs. The doctors say he’s got 6-12 months.

I don’t mean to laundry list a sob story- I just need preamble how and why I am now doing yoga with Midwestern suburban wives of auto executives in a haze of anti-depressant medication.

What with residual pains from the shingles-which I mistook for a giant lung tumor- a smoking habit that I am having similar success kicking as our president-elect, and a propensity towards hypochondria when I get stressed out, I convinced myself that I, too, had cancer. I’d call up my high school buddy in the throes of a panic attack, detailing my symptoms, explaining exactly how and why I was going to die, researched thoroughly on the internet. He advised me to take care of it, get a doctors appointment, and, for fuck’s sake, go and see my mother. I was all for guidance at this point, incapable of thinking clearly for myself, so I booked a plane ticket, fully expecting that mom and I could at least occupy the same room in the oncology ward. Who says mothers and sons don’t do things together anymore?

So I came home. To support mom, of course, but also to clear up my issues. ‘Fess up, if you will. I hastily bought health insurance and set off on the plane, shooting pains and swollen lymph nodes all part and parcel.

Mom’s second surgery was still a few weeks away when I arrived, so I scheduled an appointment for myself, figuring that would give us both time to arrange our shared hospital room and perhaps decide on a television viewing schedule, as she favors programs featuring Welsh choirs while I go for crime dramas. I anticipated conflict over the remote.

Suffice to say I was being, if not melodramatic, than at least highly paranoid. I won’t elaborate too much, only say that I got chided by the doctor for poking my lymph nodes with enough fear and force and regularity that they became, duh, swollen. She took blood, poked me in what I assume was a medical way, and decided that I was freaking out. Because I was freaking out, she decided I was depressed and anxious, enough to prescribe Paxil®.

I can’t describe exactly what this drug feels like, although it is eerily similar to taking Threraflu, or any other haze-inducing cold medicine. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just…… zero. It is a curious detachment. Becoming anxious or panicked is simply not an option- whatever brain center was previously responsible for this has been completely deactivated. It can best described by my experience coping with driving in the snow.

I had borrowed dad’s car ( and make no mistake, living at my parents’ house means being 16 again, whether I like it or not) and the roads were terrible, bad enough to start fishtailing on a particularly precarious incline. It was a major road, the closest you can get to a freeway, and a collision would likely mean blood and death and spilled, lacerated organs. You’d figure, being as there were only stalwart aluminum railings that would, should you hit them, only serve to bounce you back into oncoming traffic like a billiard ball, that I would be concerned.

I wasn’t concerned. I wasn’t able. That curious, mandatory calmness didn’t let me.

I have to say it probably helped. I didn’t panic, just adjusted and regained control of the car. Still, I was alarmed at my detachment at the situation. OK, that’s not true. I didn’t feel alarmed at all. I had some sort of abstract perception that I SHOULD be alarmed, but …….nothing. Zero. I just thought

“Well, this sure seems dangerous. I suppose I should do something.”

Although there was no physical or emotional reaction whatsoever, I did recognize the fact that this should be scary, but only in the same way that reading a newspaper article about a homicide in an adjacent neighborhood is scary. I understood that there was danger, and that I could be subject to it, but it was not at all immediate, the type of bowel-twisting fear we are all wired to feel in such situations. Being unable to feel spookiness, it was again academic.

And so here I am. Mom’s surgery is in a few days, and I’m trying to fill time. Being as all my shooting pains disappeared after I stopped repeatedly fingering my lymph nodes, I decided it was time to step up and start being proactive about my health. I’ve signed up for a month at the local Yoga studio, and I’m taking Em’s advice, trying to make it every day, maybe twice a day, although this dependent upon when I can borrow the car. It’s odd, playing the role of a teenager again when I’m in my thirties, but there you go. Hopefully, I can use the time to reconcile all my issues with this little ugly hamlet I grew up in, maybe realize that everything I hated about this town was borne of adolescent angst, within me rather than rooted in some imaginary avarice of the residents. I’m crossing my fingers on this one, but only because read somewhere that this might bring me ‘luck’, something a Paxil patient can only understand on paper.

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