by Rene Allen
An entire colony of monsters lives underneath my bed. Last week one of them crawled out and bit me. In fact, it’s 3 AM right now, and I’m sitting at my computer writing because they were restless and woke me up.
These monsters give me anxiety and make me feel helpless although there are a few predictable, old ones I have learned how to handle. Money worries is one. I’ve learned I can toss that old beggar a scrap of serious and rational thinking: “Hey, I can budget you old bear. And if push comes to shove, I’ll use that twenty-five year old wheat I’ve got stored in the basement. I’m looking for something to do with it anyway. Now go back to sleep and leave me alone.”
Generally, though, until you train them like circus animals, the Monsters under your bed are unreasonable, illogical and persistent.
Such is the one that woke me up this morning. It had been snarling all night that I should tell my grown-up children what to do so I won’t worry so much about the things they decide to do themselves. This monster is particularly mean because it makes lists of really bad things that can happen if I don’t get involved, or even if I do but too late. It predicts dire things such as bankruptcy, death, and divorce and places no stock in their abilities to make decisions for themselves. Obviously, I am still training this particular monster because I’m not at this moment in bed asleep but sitting at my desk writing.
(BTW- writing is an excellent way to train monsters.)
Now, about the one that bit me last week: this is a new monster. He is shaggy, gray and particularly unrelenting and viscous. There is a collar around his hairy old neck with the words “Age and Inevitability” written on it. The old boy took up residence under my bed after I was in the ER with the flu and the doctor told me my EKG was abnormal. “Nothing acute,” he said. “Just some non-specific changes.”
“I am a doctor. What does that mean?”
“Well, you’ve got some Q-waves.”
“And . . .”
“And, I thought they would have come from a myocardial infarction. You haven’t had one have you?”
“Not that I know about,” I said and tried to sound both definite and defiant. How dare he even suggest it? I exercise. I watch my diet. For Pete’s sake, I even eat tofu and quinoa.
That exchange in the emergency room was the precise minute this new monster moved in. He’s so clever. He took the truth about my family history – yes, indeed, there is heart disease and diabetes, grabbed it with his yellow teeth, shook it to a pulp and gave me enormous anxiety.
That was why last week I found myself in the basement of University Medical Center, getting a shot of radioactive “whatchmacallit” and put under a scanner. I went upstairs to the fourth floor where Cardiology Diagnostics is and a nurse named Laurie hooked me up to a 12-lead EKG then injected adenosine which dilated my coronary arteries. Meanwhile, I ambled along on a treadmill with legs that felt so heavy I thought they might fall off. I also watched as a surge of anxiety-induced adrenalin from my own sympathetic nervous system rocked the monitor. My systolic blood pressure was 180 mm Hg! At home it is 125. That’s how I knew the monster bit me.
Well, I survived the test and will find out the answer next week. If I’m in serious jeopardy, I trust someone will call me. Meanwhile, its business as usual which includes the gym, except for this major pest under my bed who just won’t quit bothering me.
I’m working on a training program for the beast. The problem is, like it is with all monsters who give you middle of the night anxiety, he has a lot of truth. Aging does change you. Some things about life and about your life in particular, are inevitable. And much of these physical and mental changes come with unpleasantness such as nuclear pharmacological stress tests that make you wonder if your health and very existence are beyond your control.
One of my physicians, this one for a neck problem, said “Signs of wear and tear in the body mean you’ve been busy. Now, aging means its time for dignity and courage.” I believe I heard a choice. Choosing dignity and courage beat not choosing any day of the week.
Choice is the heart of any good training program for monsters who live underneath beds. Another key point, oddly, is acknowledging they are there. If you care about someone or something, you also have fear which is a normal response, and one that may move you to action when nothing else will. (It did get me to the heart lab which was a good thing.)
Aging and its inevitable changes in ones life are tough. I’m not ready for a wheelchair and mashed potatoes, however. The question becomes how do I traverse this time without so much anxiety until, who knows, I am ready? And can I accept that day with the same pragmatic attitude I’m looking for now? I want ideas. Dignity and courage . . . Choice . . . Making the most of what I can do today . . . Realizing joy in the life I have . . .They all sound good to me.