Peggy and I went for an easy (i.e. flat) six-mile hike last week, and my knees have been hurting so much ever since that I haven’t even been walking the dogs here in town. My left shoulder has also been giving me fits again, and I don’t even know what I did to bring the pain back. Yesterday, I was desperate to go to the woods for a walk, but I knew I shouldn’t go far, so I decided to use our outing to look for new places close to town (we hike abandoned logging roads, partly because they’re easier on my knees than trails, and partly because our blind dog, Bonnie, can navigate them without her leash).
I didn’t expect the area I chose to be so steep. I turned back after only 25 minutes, and Peggy and the dogs went on alone. While I waited for them, I sat in a lawn chair, and read from a geology book (geology and botany being two enduring interests of mine). I also fell into a funk over my physical problems.
Being in a funk makes everything hurt worse, so by the time we got home, I was miserable. I wanted to open a bottle of wine, but since I’m trying to lose weight so that my knee won’t bother me as much, I took a full dose of hydrocodone (a narcotic) plus two Benadryl (to alleviate the itching caused by the hydrocodone). A few hours later, I took a Neurontin for the fire in my shins that is caused by the cyst in my spinal cord (syringomyelia, it’s called), plus two more painkillers. After an hour spent lying awake in a murderous rage at the whole world but especially at my failing body, I also took a Dalmane (a strong sleeping pill). Even with all this, the pain still woke me up early, so I’m sleepy and in pain yet again, and thinking seriously of opening that bottle of wine.
I used to be wary of taking so many drugs, but I’m pretty much to the point that I don’t care anymore. If my liver or my kidneys fail, I will be extremely bummed, but death itself isn’t of much concern except for the fact that I would be leaving Peggy and the dogs.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how much more suffering and indignity I would endure. Sometimes, I feel myself slipping so deeply into depression that I wonder how I am able to bear it and still function. Sometimes, I really don’t know how much more I can take. Sometimes, my misery is so profound that I wonder how much deeper the bottom could be. That said, I know it could be a lot deeper—like if Peggy died—but I also know I probably wouldn’t survive if it were.
I try to think of thoughts with which to console myself, and there are many. I still have about 75% of my vision, most of my other senses, and 80% of my mental capacity. I’m ambulatory, financially comfortable, have a cozy home, a loving wife, adequate leisure, and two good dogs. What I don’t have is a body that will do what I want it to do, or freedom from significant pain, or friends whom I greatly value (well, maybe one or two), or the feeling that my life counts for anything, or the confidence that I’ve utilized my talents wisely. I’m 61, and the writing is on the wall that it might very well be downhill physically and mentally from here.
Peggy works 20 hours a week, and hopes to retire in five years. Then, we will travel. I used to like traveling. Whether I would still like traveling, I don’t know. When I ask myself where I would like to go, I can’t think of many places. I never tire of Oregon, and I wouldn’t mind an occasional trip to other parts of the American West, but I’ve no special interest in the rest of the world or even the rest of the country. The only person I would want to visit is my half sister. Peggy has her father and two sisters along with assorted nieces and nephews, but I’m not close enough to them to want to visit them—or to think they would consider me as anything but Peggy’s baggage.
The nearby woods, coast, and desert all bring me joy. Learning about nature brings me joy. Being with Peggy and the dogs brings me joy. Blogging brings me joy but also guilt because I never feel that I visit other people’s blogs enough. Hosting that atheist group last week brought me joy. But, clearly, I need more joy and less heartache. Even though the pain is better at times, it always comes screaming back really bad, and I’ll be damned if I know how to stay optimistic in the face of it. I have a cabinet full of liquor and a drawer full of narcotics and sleeping pills, yet I must go on living. It’s not easy, but I do have two great comforts. One is that I might get better after all. The second is that I don’t have that many years left anyway. I also have one great obligation—Peggy.