The Cold Heart

When you hit your 30’s, you enter a decade-long safe haven..  According to data, life’s third decade, along with child rearing and balding, includes a dip in mortality rates.  In this 10 year bubble, you can enjoy statistical safety.  Shy of 30 or just over the edge of 40, life reverts back to a high risk investment.  Whatever childhood illness, polio maybe, didn’t kill you, and your high blood pressure is just brewing.  Making it to 30 is its own achievement, and the vestiges of life’s prime are keeping you just within its warm membrane, outside of the cold.

I am 29, so I still have a few months before I can enjoy my statistic insurance.  When I was 25, I thought I’d probably die by 26 with the way things were going, which is to say, they were going fine and I wasn’t ill with anything beyond a pervasive sense of doom.  Unfortunately, “pervasive sense of doom” wasn’t good enough to earn one of those treasured diagnoses.  Sure, I have anxiety, stress, and heat exhaustion on my records now, but they haven’t gotten me much medical credit.

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The Stressed Heart

Boy, you know, stress is a killer.  I’m tellin ya, it’ll make you sick, sick, sick.  Like my friend Carol, she was stressed all the time, and she just died of cancer!  It was the stress that killed her, s’what I’m saying.  Not me, I’ve never been stressed, and good thing too, else I’d be dead just like Carol.

I was stressed when your Dad was unemployed, remember that?  For year he didn’t have a job, and no income for any of us!  We moved in with Carol for a while, remember that?  Talk about stress, my hair started to fall out!  Constipation, palpitations, diarrhea, rashes, you name it, I had it.  I shudder to think what my blood pressure was back then, it’s a good thing I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, or who knows?  Like there wasn’t enough to think about back then, without throwing blood pressure on the pile.

It’s a good thing too we got out of that situation, is all I’m saying.  Carol never got a hold of her stress after that, and look at her.  Dead from cancer.  Oh sure, she kept your dad when we moved out, and I laughed to myself, I said, “Fat lotta good that’ll do you!”

You know, I should thank her, she’s probably the reason I’m so healthy now, while she’s dead from cancer!  It’s that father of yours, he generates enough stress to kill a whole family of people.

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Your Panic Disorder on a Budget


Be Anxious, Not Broke

So you’re thinking about becoming anxious, borderline panic infested, but you aren’t exactly raking in the cash to support it….

Terror of the unknown doesn’t have to be expensive.  Does your hyperactive anxiety wreck your payday?  Is your crippling fear of mortality a drag on your dollar?  You may be a hypochondriac with a rotating list of fabricated health issues, like a self-diagnosed brain tumor or a misfiring heart valve.  Your anxiety has needs that, financially, can be a  burden.  Doctors bills, medication, emergency room visits, these things are all obstacles for you and your debilitating fixations!

For those wanting to foster a supportive environment for their overpowering neuroses or darkest fears, here are a few tips on how to do it without breaking the bank…

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The Hungry Heart

When I’m tired, when I’m the most melodramatic and lying on my bed in front of the swamp cooler while I radiate like a trash pile, I imagine the life experience in the image of a kinetic being dressed in purple clothes with a tiny fork in its hand.  I’m stretched on a table, unstrapped but forced to lie there, still, while purple life takes its long fingers and forks out morsels from my body over a process of decades.  When I was young, it was just dried skin mostly, and I barely noticed, but at some point in my twenties, the fork finally broke through the skin.  I noticed then.

At different points, life will be picking at a major organ, or at a patch of non-vital gristle.  I follow it in waves of dread and quiet.

The trick to coping with this peculiar situation is to try and enjoy it.  Breathing deeply, or drinking alcohol.  Podcasts are a terrific distraction from the little fork pricks.  I wouldn’t recommend looking down at your own body at any point.  Ignore what purple life is up to all together.  Create a rich internal atmosphere, or a loud external one.  There goes a disc, a kidney, a chunk of muscle.  Pretend there’s a warehouse somewhere of replacements for all the things purple life is eating.

The truest trick, however, is to embrace the slow dinner it’s making of your body.  Refuse to filter the sensory data coming in, and maybe you’ll become crazy enough to enjoy it.  This is, after all, the life experience, so what else are you going to do?

The Heart in Denial

I have to be careful about what public broadcasting I tune into.  New Mexico’s offbeat branch of NPR runs weekly campaigns on cardiac disease and the many signs of a heart attack, as told by survivors or the children of non-survivors.  On any day you can enjoy a visceral description of heart failure as told by an elderly Hispanic woman, with panels on what you should do when you have your heart attack.  It’s gotten to the point that I have to turn the station the moment I hear the word, “heart.”  Shortly thereafter, the odds are I’ll drive by a billboard with a handsome, white paramedic that reads, “Heart attack? Call 911.”  Albuquerque is a cardiac minefield.

I feel a violent discomfort with the idea of billboards reminding me about the ever-present heart attack, like little mortality postcards on the roadside just in case you were feeling relaxed, but I begrudge the billboard its funny setup.  It seems like a weird memo, from a business that needs no advertising, with a weirder setup, like the way to talk about a cardiac event is the same way to ask about car troubles. “Heart attack?”  If they put enough up, anyone drifting around having a heart attack in Albuquerque and wondering what they’re supposed to do now will get the snappy reminder, “Hey, you can call 911 for that.”

My anxiety is generalized enough that any podcast or radio feature on illness either repulses or enthralls me.  I especially like stories from the ill, first hand, about their coping strategies.  How did they feel when they were diagnosed?  Do they have any funny quips about disease?  But you’re OK right?  But you’ll die?  Find me any successful person with a serious illness who isn’t full-out dying, interview him or her, and send me every minute you have.  It will either embolden me or ignite a downward spiral of mental anguish.

I recently listened to a podcast in which the hosts were interviewing Michael Kinsley, creator of the magazine Slate, about his Parkinson’s.  It was one of the better illness interviews I’ve heard, full of whit and unconventional observations about death, many of which hadn’t yet occurred to me.  This in particular stood out to me: when it comes to bad mortal news, “there are only two strategies: denial or confrontation.”  Usually people say you can accept or deny your terminal illness, but acceptance, Michael says, is frankly not a choice a person can make.  It either comes to you, or it doesn’t, so you’re left with denial or confrontation.  In the latter, you attack your own illness via support groups and doctor’s consultations and juicing.  You feel like you’re accepting, but the method is more akin to stomping on an ant hill until all the ants inside are dead.  You are in reality fighting, which any white American who’s read a book on Zen Buddhism will tell you is a very different animal from acceptance.

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The Mistrusted Heart

we used to trust each other.

do you remember?

trust isn’t what they say it is.  something aware, this person you make a choice over, this precious stone you look at in your window, acknowledge, appreciate.  that’s not trust.

when you trusted me, you barely knew me.  we were practically brothers, closer even, so implicit was your trust, you never gave me a second thought.  hot, cold, dizzy, awake, easy, we never looked at each other.

we didn’t need to.

we used to trust each other like that.

you didn’t think, he might fail me.  i mean, you knew i would, in the way we know the sun will implode.  like i will, like all of us, the things you trust will implode on themselves.  still, we aren’t that bad.   you’ve just forgotten.

i can still take you places.  i took you to so many before you forgot.  you placed at state because of me, first in 200 meter backstroke.  you climbed a goddamn mountain because of me, how many fucking feet?  you fell in love, because i gave you the blood to do it.

you thought you were dying because of me.  you didn’t die, may i remind you, i got you through even that.  but am i appreciated?

we were lying down the other day like we used to.  you were giving off heat like an oven, and you almost put your hand on me, wanting to press against me, the first time you’ve touched me in how long.  i felt nervous with it hovering over me, like it might swat me, or reassure me, and i thought, maybe this time.  but you pulled away.  couldn’t touch me.

my work used to be taken for granted, in the best way.  now i’m a disappointment?  i feel you watch my every move, and doubt.  you’re terrified of me, like a hag in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk.  you think that’s not disappointing?

jesus, i’m not even that old.

did I miss a beat?  how can i know? i do a lot of them a day.  it’s a big job.  one misstep, things crumble.  do you realize how much worse others have it?  you want to know what real failure looks like?
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