I’m a hardcore sugar addict. My addiction waxes and wanes, depending on the level of self-control I’m able to muster. When my addiction is under control, I’ll indulge in a sweet treat once every week or so, or not at all. But I don’t believe in deprivation. I have sugar in my morning coffee, and I employ what I call the two-bite rule. This rule allows me to eat two average-size bites of anything sweet. So if there’s a birthday cake at work, I’ll have two bites of it. Two bites don’t seem to trigger sugar cravings and I always feel as if I’ve indulged just a little. When I can implement the two-bite rule, it works well, and I don’t feel deprived. When I jettison the two-bite rule, I’m always striving to return to it.
My hearing is fine, but the way my brain processes sound is not. I have an auditory processing disorder. I clearly hear things that I shouldn’t, like the small beeping noise in the far corner of a room. Except I hear the beeping as if I’m wearing headphones with the volume on high. I call this my supersonic dog hearing.
Under certain other circumstances, I don’t hear things other people can hear well. I can’t hear anything but cacophony, for example, if two people are talking at once. When I don’t understand what’s being said, I try to figure out what the sounds I’m hearing are like. It’s as if I’m in a perpetual game of charades, but with indistinguishable vocals. Sometime this method works, and I can figure out what someone said. Other times I have to admit that because of the background noise or multiple speakers, I can’t hear, and I have to ask people to repeat themselves. I feel bad about doing this, but in order to live in the world, sometimes I have to request tolerance and kindness from others. This is simply life. I don’t like it, but I’ve accepted it.
My father wrote poetry most of his life. As his cognitive abilities declined, he didn’t give up poetry writing. Instead, he wrote haiku, a short form of Japanese verse. When he was placed in an assisted living facility, I found sheaves of haikus scattered all over his study. They were numbered, and he’d written one hundred of them. I thought Dad’s ability to adapt to his limitation without giving up a pastime he loved was inventive and admirable. It’s so easy to be upset and angry when our bodies fail us. I’d rather be like Dad and try to find creative solutions to those limitations.
I have a special fondness for the meanest dog in my apartment building. She’s a little gray thing and looks like a shaved Shih Tzu. However, she growls if I get near her. If I find myself on the elevator with this dog and her owners, I make a point to stand far away from them. At first her owners seemed embarrassed by her behavior. They assured me they were trying to socialize her. I’ve learned over time that this dog was found wandering alone in a canyon, starving. I’ve told her owners how much I admire them for adopting her. Dogs that snarl and growl are often euthanized in shelters because they’re considered unadoptable. I feel sad about the Growler’s previous life, but happy that two loving people took her in. It’s not her fault she was neglected and learned to fear people. I know, despite her growling, that she’s still a good dog.
In the 1970’s, California State Assemblywoman Marg Fong Eu ran a campaign against pay toilets in California. Her efforts succeeded, and now all public toilets in California are free. I have a medical condition, interstitial cystitis, which causes, among other things, urinary frequency. I use the bathroom more than any other person I know. As a citizen of California, I’m grateful to this trail-blazing politician for eliminating an obstacle to meeting my medical needs. Thank you so much, Marg Fong Eu! Your legacy is not forgotten.
When I lived in Boston in my thirties, I had a colleague who suffered from intermittent sinus infections. In warmer months, she would recover from these illnesses by going to Cape Cod and lying on a beach. She explained that she knew she wouldn’t be able to work and would need to spend her days resting. She told me she might as well rest in a beautiful place instead of at home, staring at her own four walls. She would sleep and read on the beach until she felt better. She was a social worker like me and seemed to be able to handle the expense of weeklong hotel stays. I thought this was a great idea, and I may someday try it myself.
I’m always on the alert for adaptive solutions people employ to meet their needs. Several have stood out over the years.
When my father began experiencing dementia, unable to remember directions, he could no longer take the bike rides he’d enjoyed for decades. Instead of giving up on exercise, he began taking yoga classes several times a week. I once asked Dad what he liked about yoga. He explained that he felt a sense of accomplishment when he mastered a pose. This mastery enhanced his sense of self-worth, in and out of the yoga studio, as he slowly lost his cognitive abilities. Dad replaced an exercise regimen he loved with another that made him feel good about himself. I thought this was one of the smartest things I’d ever heard. As my body changes, I will remember how Dad coped, try to be mindful of what I’m still able to accomplish, and focus on that.
It’s hard for me to imagine being as young and stupid as I was in college. But at least I had an older brother, Charlie, to help me with the profound as well as the mundane. I went to school in Olympia, Washington, a place well known for near constant drizzle. Before I began my freshman year, Charlie helped me buy a small umbrella. So when I opened his gift for my twentieth birthday, sophomore year, and saw he’d given me a huge red stadium umbrella, I was confused. I thought, doesn’t he remember I already have an umbrella? He was there when I bought it!
At the time, I didn’t understand that umbrellas are not usually possessions that last a lifetime. They wear out and break easily. Less than two years older than me, Charlie seemed to know this fact. I don’t remember what happened to either of my college umbrellas, but they’re long gone. Thank goodness for my smart big brother, who knew I’d need at least two to see me through my college years.
I’d eaten the same salad for lunch for years. Suddenly the thought of eating it made me gag. I loved its taste but hated the preparation. After some internal debate, I decided to abandon my super healthy, colon-friendly salad, at least for a while. I’ve switched to turkey sandwiches for lunch during the week and am enjoying my new lunch routine.
Sometimes things that worked stop working, either for medical, practical, or emotional reasons. Change is good if it won’t hurt our health. I now need to be mindful to eat enough vegetables, something I didn’t have to think about when I ate a lunchtime salad. But I needed a break from my routine, and this is an adjustment I can live with.