Something to whine about

This past week I selfishly allowed myself to indulge in a pity party. It probably began last Sunday when I woke up in one of those funks that occasionally come on me (though mostly in the winter). I was mopey all day and had trouble motivating myself to do much of anything. I spent a majority of the day watching u2 concert footage on youtube (inspired by Saturday’s visit to see U23D at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame). I managed to drag myself away from the computer long enough to take a punishing bike ride in the Valley, climbing first Hines Hill, then Martin, and then Theiss. I even stopped at Szalay’s farm for two ears of roasted corn and a lemonade, which I hadn’t done all summer, in the hopes that I could break my mood. Unfortunately, not even the endorphin kick of climbing hills on my bike snapped me out of my mood. I just ended up tired and annoyed. I went home and back to the youtube videos.

I was telling myself to not make a big deal about the fact that yesterday (August 28th) was the eleventh anniversary of my wedding. But I made a big deal about it by not allowing myself to treat the day as any other day and then deal with stray emotions as they came up. I had determined a few weeks back that I was going to go to Kelleys Island (one of the many little islands on Lake Erie) for the day. It was one of the islands I’d never visited. I’ve been to Put-in-Bay multiple times, including on the first and only wedding anniversary Mike and I celebrated. We’d also gone to Middle Bass Island on that trip. I’ve been to Pelee Island, on the Canadian side of the lake, once. So I wanted to see what Kelley’s was like. I could have invited a friend or two. A friend from my cycling club offered to come. Almost invited himself, in fact. But I was having none of that. I wanted to be alone.

I thought it was going to be a meditative experience. I envisioned having some sort of spiritual awakening or insight about my life’s direction. I wanted to connect with Mike on some phantasmal plane. I know, it’s pretty stupid, right? A girl who is by all practical means and purposes an admitted agnostic and, probably, deep down in my heart where I don’t want to admit, a full-fledged atheist, and I’m trying to conjure a spiritual experience or the ghost of my dead husband. But I’m an apple on a tree that is just about to become ripe if the conditions are right. I best not speak too loud for I’m just the kind of person a Jehovah’s Witness or an evangelical Christian would just love to pounce on–the person with questions who’s searching so hard to become a part of something spiritual. Only, well, I’ve at least tried the Christianity spiel before and it doesn’t grab me. Well, not totally. Parts of it do, but that may be residue of my upbringing. We cling closely to that with which we are comfortable… I am someone who wants so badly to believe–heart and soul–in something. I want it to be true. I can only believe it if it were presented to me as truth. I need a burning bush or a voice cracking from the heavens. I need to see my husband’s ghost, feel his hand touch my shoulder or hear his voice. I need something I’m never going to get. The concept of faith is lost to me. But I will keep hoping for that moment of truth.

Instead of a great awakening, however, I slipped on the rocks of a stony shore, banging and cutting my chin, scraping my left elbow, and bruising various other parts of my body. And I’m not talking metaphor here. I was walking along a trail by the Kelleys Island State Park and there was a cut-off from the trail to a small clearing along the coast. I walked along the rocks, looking out to the water, when I got the brilliant idea to walk down towards the edge to see how warm the water was. Idiot that I am, I started to step–with my worn tennis shoes–onto some wet rocks on which green algae gleamed. The next thing I knew, I was falling. I must have sensed it coming because I really should have ended up falling backwards, hitting the back of my head. Instead, I ended up turned around, on my stomach, my chin against the jutted edge of a shelf of rock, my arms slayed in front of me. I’d caught some of the force of the fall. But there was a moment of shock. Was I okay?

The beach of my great insight. (Photo taken about five minutes before The Fall.)

I slowly pushed myself up. My jaw was hurting and I thankfully had not bitten my tongue. My head felt okay. My arms and legs were shaking. I pulled myself out of the water–it was warm, by the way–and walked on my hands to a dry spot just above where I’d fallen. As I sat up, I touched my chin and felt a bump. I pulled my hand away and saw blood. I’m not good with blood. I’m the type to faint at the sight of blood. I’ve had quite a big problem with this in my past and have been known to faint not only when experiencing my own injuries, but during bloody scenes in movies and, most embarrassingly, when someone is describing an accident in graphic detail.

I had nothing to wipe the blood with or to press to the cut to help stop the bleeding. I used the back of my hand and lay back on the flat rock floor of the beach. I could feel goosebumps rising on my skin as I picked up a chill. My heart was pounding in my ears; it was all I could hear as the steady throb of waves crashing on the shore began to fade into the muffled static I knew so well as preceding a loss of consciousness. My mantra began: Don’t faint. Don’t faint, don’t faint, don’t faint. Stay here. Breathe, breathe, breathebreathebreathe. And then, as my body continued to go through the motions of shock: No, no, no! Not here.

I was alone on the beach despite the passing boats, jet skis, and various other watercraft that passed, their occupants probably assuming I was enthusiastically sunbathing. If I fainted, then no one might notice or find me for awhile. The realization of that frightened me. I had to stay together. I concentrated on breathing–taking long inhales, exhaling deliberately. In, out; in, out. I tried to concentrate on the smell of the air–it was indeed fresh–and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I shifted my legs so that my knees were bent–wasn’t that supposed to make the blood flow back down to my head? I tried every trick that I knew, every wise tale I’d been told. It was a kind of meditation–not the kind I’d been hoping to have–to try to convince my body not to react as it so clearly wanted to do. Obviously, the physical reaction is a manifestation of a larger mental issue. Still, once my body starts down the course to fainting, it’s very hard to overcome the physical reaction.

Where did this problem come from? I believe I have a mental obsession with pain and injury. In the times I’ve fainted while someone was describing an injury, my mind gets stuck on the images I create, which are usually far more morose and graphic than even the person has described. Thanks to overactive imagination, which serves great me great for writing fiction, I get stuck on imagining the pain as though it were my own. And try as I might to focus on some other image–like puppies, kittens, or fresh baked bread–my brain keeps jumping back to the gory scene even long after the topic has been dropped. I have wondered if it’s an obsessive-compulsive reaction of a kind. I’ve always been a little grossed out by blood, but I can honestly say I only started fainting over someone’s description of an injury after Mike died. So I also wonder if perhaps there’s a little post-traumatic stress mixed in there. I’m sure my fear of blood and pain has been spurred on by a feeling of helplessness. Which is what I felt as I watched my husband turn blue before my eyes, having no knowledge of CPR or anything that could help him. (And, truthfully, I’m not sure I could take a first aid or CPR class at this point in my life due to the possibility of fainting during the course.)

I’m not saying that any of this is excusable behavior. I hate it. I want to fix it because it’s a huge weakness of mine. It makes me completely ineffective in an emergency. It even incapacitates me in situations in which I need to help myself. Such as the incident yesterday. Being alone on that beach, I knew that I was the only one who could help myself. I had to stop the fainting spell.

To be honest, I felt really stupid. But I also had no idea what the cut on my chin looked like. The blood was flowing pretty heavily. I worried that I might need stitches or that I’d hit an artery. I know that was ridiculous–I’m sure I’d be bleeding a lot more if I’d hit an artery. Still, weird things go through your mind when you’re in a bind like that. Because of the shock my body was going through, it was hard to access just how badly I’d been hurt. It’s hard to judge how bad a cut is from the blood alone.

Eventually, I could feel the panic attack was subsiding. I could open my eyes again without seeing black dots dancing in front of them. The chills subsided. I lay on the beach for a few more minutes, continuing to suck air in and out as though I were feeding off it. I was thirsty and shaky still. I didn’t have any water with me, nor was there any water on my bike back at the trail head since I’d taken off from the ferry docks in a furious enthusiasm to start exploring the island. I then sat up and, showing no signs of retreating back into a panic, I got to my feet. I climbed back up the cut-off path to the trail and began walking to what I assumed would lead me back to the trail head since it was a loop.

When I got back to my bike, the cut on my chin started to bleed again. I had nothing in my bike bag to wipe the wound with so I grabbed some leaves off a neighboring tree. My bike was tied to picnic table. I had to lie down again because I was starting to feel a little queasy. It took another fifteen or twenty minutes for me to start moving again. Meanwhile, people in golf carts, bicycles, motorcycles, and cars circled past in the looped parking lot. I suppose I could have asked one of them for a kleenex or band-aid, but I felt kind of embarrassed by this point.

I finally got back on my bike, deciding to head back towards town where I might find band-aids and something to clean my chin with. I actually kept the leaf pressed against the wound, held in place with the straps of my helmet. I stopped at a souvenir shop about halfway down the road before town where, fortunately, the proprietors had a first aid kit and a mirror. The injury looked kind of pussy and gross. I tried not to look at it too much as I cleaned it off with an antibiotic wet wipe, then applied two band-aids. The lady who had given me the supplies helped me clean and apply band-aids to the scrapes on my elbow which I hadn’t noticed so much in light of the greater concern for my chin. Fortunately, neither injury was as bad as the blood implied. Though I could tell my chin was going to be a little swollen for awhile.

Because I felt a little weak, I bought a pack of peanut butter sandwich cookies. I knew my blood sugar had dropped when I’d gone into shock so I needed to get something in my body to level myself off again. Patched up, I decided to head back into town to grab lunch. I’d only eaten breakfast around 9am, I’d arrived at the island around 2pm, and by the time I had my head back on from the fall, it was about 4pm.

Mars Girl ala bandaged chin.

The rest of my trip was kind of overshadowed by the fall. I continued to ride around the island after lunch and I even visited the island’s winery which had been one of my objectives. Much of my enthusiasm for exploring was gone, but I still made the best of it by riding as far as I could on Long Point (the end of it is private property with threatening Keep Off signs) and walking the path in the North Pond Nature Preserve. By the end of the day, I started to have a throbbing headache and my jaw hurt. I self-medicated with a rum and coke at the bar right next to the ferry dock. When I got home, the headache went away with three ibruphin and I seemed no worse for the wear this morning… I’m just feeling kind of… stupid…

Whether I want to ascribe it to karma, a higher power, or I want to simply take a lesson from a completely happen-chance bit of bad luck, my take-away message from this experience is: Quit your whining or I’ll give you something to whine about! In an act of melodramatic self-pity, I took off to Kelleys Island to, as I admitted to myself and friends even days before leaving, mope. Mope about a wedding that happened 11 years ago.  Mope about an anniversary trip that happened over 10 years ago. It’s gone now. I can’t take it back. Moping about it is not going to give me my husband back. I have no tears left to cry about it. My eyes were dry yesterday as they are dry today. If I’d felt compelled to cry, I would have done so freely. But I don’t need to reserve a certain day to cry for Mike. I cry for him every once in awhile on my own, when the spontaneity of it makes it real. When I do cry for him, it’s not because I was expecting it. It doesn’t happen when I planned to mope; it comes of it’s own free will in moments when a feeling or memory takes me by surprise. Genuine emotion about our wedding happens when I’m watching a friend’s wedding–on any date of the year, not just August 28–and the officiant mentions “until death do you part” or some like verbiage. Sometimes until death do us part is too frakking soon.

I suck in a shaky breath when the couple cuts the cake, the best man toasts, the couple dances their first dance. At tender moments when I catch them looking into each other’s eyes.  Those are moments when I can relate with the bride and groom. When I recall so easily what it felt like to be them.

You can’t force grieving. I was being completely ridiculous making a big deal over the day when I was going along just fine before I threw myself the pity party. I can’t help but feel I was trying to draw attention to myself. I even broke the Facebook silence I’d told myself I was going to keep that day to post two completely whiny statuses–one to my personal FB account and one to my Mars Girl on Two Wheels fan page. What’s my problem, anyway? Why do I have to try to rain on everyone else’s day with my histrionics? It’s far better for me to deal with my grief, especially at this late stage in the game, on my own and in silence. And it’s been ten frakking years. It’s forgivable, acceptable, naturally expected and even healthy in the first couple of years. But at this far away from the event, it’s pathetic. Perhaps I’m really more distressed because I miss being in a relationship, like the one I had with Mike, more than I grieve for Mike himself. I’m frustrated with certain parts of my life not working out. I don’t know.

Slipping on the rocks, while unfortunate, was kind of a wake up call. Suck it up and stop being a big cry baby. I could have gotten seriously injured, had I fallen backwards, and then where would I be? Cry when the crying needs to be done; grieve when you feel grief. But, geesh, don’t try to force it to happen because you think it should. And, for godsakes, don’t make such a blasted show of it.

I got the message loud and clear. Thanks.

(And, yes, Mom, I’ll be more careful about going off alone from now on. Okay?)

Post-script (added 8/31/2010): You know that leaf I used to stop the bleeding on my chin? Poison sumac. Yup. I’m really whining now! Good times.

5 thoughts on “Something to whine about

  1. Glad you weren’t hurt too badly! I know what you mean about not making grief happen. I actually felt bad the first time I didn’t cry on a significant day. Now it’s mostly sadness over the unrealized dreams than it is that sense of raw emotional grief I used to experience. But then, like you, that still hits me on occasion when I least expect it.

  2. I don’t think you are whining. That’s one thing I’ve learned from doing hospice work and just living life – there’s no timeframe that can be applied to what’s “normal” for grief. There is no normal… It takes as long as it takes. I love you.

  3. As I was reading this, I was hoping that leaf you grabbed was not poison ivy! Could not believe your post script!!!
    Hope it clears up soon.

  4. Oh, Heidi,
    This was a wonderful entry. I laughed out loud when I pictured the leaf under your chin strap…REALLY! Then your postscript just totally cracked me up!

    I was proud to read that you worked your way through the waves of nausea/fainting. That was amazing.

    Your writing is really getting good. The theme, the narrative, the courage to write what happened, without embellishment to make you look less uncool… I recognize myself, as we have all been in similar situations: perhaps not all the details, but the feelings. As you described in your blog about an artist and honesty, it does ring true.

    Love you,

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