Anxiety, Self-Advocacy, and Word Choice
On Thursday last I woke at 2 a.m. and sat bolt upright in bed. A thought had started just before waking and I spoke it aloud, finishing the thought as I became fully awake. Beloved, I shouted at an empty bedroom, not loving! I was appalled at this grievous error in word choice.
Earlier that day, my sister and I had visited the local cemetery to purchase a grave and plaque for our mother who died a year ago. We’d been taking turns playing guardian of our mother’s ashes, alerting the other when we could no longer bear to enter the room where that dreaded blue box dwelt. It was time to stop punting mom over the fence like a football and lay her to rest.
After an hour of hunting for a shady, peaceful spot, we found a restful scene halfway to the west fence. The weather was perfect, I didn’t even mind stepping through the thick grass and over mole mounds; my MS was quiet, as though it’d decided to give me a break so I could accomplish this important task. Back at the mortuary office we chose the wording for the plaque, paid the manager, then departed from the dearly departed of Brookside Cemetery, confident that we had done our filial duty.
We’d decided on the words: Nancy Ann Dolce, loving mother of Bob, Kim, Dana, and Deidre. It seemed fine at the time. But here I was at 2:30 in the morning, sitting rigid in bed as though I’d been electrocuted. What was I thinking? Loving seemed to imply that she was still living. Beloved indicates our feelings for her. I texted my sister that morning in near panic. The proofs were to be finalized that afternoon.
As always, my sister made it all come clear. “I still feel loved by her like she was alive,” she texted. My anxiety ebbed away. Of course, how silly of me. I feel the same way. The voice that had whispered in my ear and startled me awake was only my nagging self-doubt. We had chosen the right word after all.
Fretting over trifles didn’t start with my mother’s epitaph. Nor did it start when I became a writer and made it my mission to choose the most precise, evocative words I could dig out of myself. I try to avoid using clichés whenever possible. Whenever I read the comments sections on social media, my astonishment over the fracturing of the English language is rivaled only by my envy of those people who possess not one ounce of self-consciousness in their written communications. They get it wrong and they don’t care. When I make an error, I am awash in shame and humiliation. It is not enough simply to correct the mistake. I’m ready to join a self-flagellant sect of religious that walk the streets while flogging themselves with razor-ended lashes.
The fretting started somewhere between the cradle and kindergarten. I can’t pinpoint the exact year and can’t refer to a diary as I couldn’t write yet. But it definitely has a connection with becoming socialized. Self-correction requires a great deal of introspection, humility, and self-awareness. Sporting this kind of temperament can either make managing a chronic illness a little easier or nudge the sufferer closer to the edge of obsessive compulsiveness.
On the upside, fretting over details makes me an ideal MS patient, especially at a doctor appointment. I rehearse my symptom log and commit it to memory, making written notes unnecessary most of the time, though I do prepare a crib sheet for back-up. All my doc has to do is listen and take notes. I’ve anticipated many of the questions she will probably have.
On the down side, I spend nearly every waking moment scanning and re-scanning my body functions and cognitive quality, which drains my mind of focus and concentration. And in a medical appointment, my metaphorical guns are always cocked and ready just in case I have to spring into bulldog self-advocacy mode. You never know when a professional will cut their eyes at you in doubt or contempt. It exhausts me to be this way. I do understand that being always on the alert gives me a false sense of control. But being well-prepared has become more of a requirement as the years go on and distractions overtake my already wandering mind. If I can’t speak up with clarity then I can’t be helped by these people.
So I rehearse my lines like a dedicated actor, polished and presentable for opening night and matinee performances every Wednesday and Saturday. You’ll easily spot me on the stage; I’m the one with crib notes written on my palms–just in case.