Where I'm Writing From

This is a new writing spot in the same tiny winter condo I share with my newly retired husband, Al. Well, he retired January 1, 2020. Since then, it’s been a journey. We came almost immediately south to our winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since we bought this place, this is the longest Al has been here. Since we’ve been married, this is the longest time the two of us have been together all day every day.

At first, Al had lots of activities and so I was able to comfortably keep most of my beloved habits and routines. I could write in my notebook every morning, spend a good part of Monday writing a blog post, go to dance class, yoga class and writer’s group. Al golfed, went to the gym, and took up shuffleboard. He was thinking of joining a poker group that meets at the clubhouse. Those were good times.

You know what happened next. COVID-19. Al and I have been mostly at home without much interaction with others for one week. My mother back in Michigan has been isolated for two weeks. It took us a little longer to get the memo that staying home is what we should do. Al stopped golfing. The gym closed. All my activities here on the Bayou closed, as did Al’s shuffleboard. We’ve heard people are still using the pool, but I’ve never been one for pools. I prefer beaches.

All our 35 miles of lovely white sand beaches have closed. Our Michigan family has canceled a trip down. That was wise, the right thing to do. You want to be in your home state where your doctors are when a pandemic hits. Our doctors are in Michigan and we are just moving in the Medicare so we really hope we don’t have to visit any doctor here. Most people who get this evil disease won’t have to see a doctor. We are older, but we’re healthy, so we’re optimistic. Speaking of healthy, I taught Al yoga. I miss my yoga teacher, though. She was really, really good. I just do the basics, like the series of poses called Sun Salutation to “Here Comes the Sun.”

We had a dance party, just the two of us, one night, with the help of Alexa, our non-human helper. Mostly she plays songs for us and tells us the weather in Michigan. We used to feel smug about that…now we just ask so we won’t pack up the car and head north too soon. For one thing, my dad is here. I hope to talk him into coming home with us (not working so far). The other part is our house there is much bigger, although really I finally have Al where I’ve always secretly wanted him, close by my side all day every day. Except when I want to read or write.

We watched the new ZZ Top rock doc on Netflix (I’m not a fan of their music but I love a good story about creative people making their dreams come true and this one was excellent). Also on Netflix, we’re watching The Stranger. It’s good, too. I see that the new Emma is coming to video straight from the mostly-closed movie theaters. I’m torn. $14.95 seems way too much to pay. Maybe for my birthday. Until then, we’ll just go on as we have and hope the sky doesn’t fall.

Things are quiet. We see walkers and people playing tennis, but we prefer to keep our social distance. At first I didn’t even want to take walks, but since Al did yoga, I have to now. Other than walking along the bayou nature trail, we have been to the grocery store, and my dad visited last Tuesday. That’s the extent of our activities outside staying in this little condo together. Which is why I moved my desk into the bedroom. The bedroom has become my refuge for reading and writing as Al pretty much watches CNBC (or as I call it “the money channel”) from opening bell until close of market. It keeps him (mostly) calm and busy, so I’m not complaining.

We live in Pinellas County, where there are currently 38 known cases of coronavirus, the virus that causes the disease of COVID-19. That’s low and we’re lucky. Most people in Florida (70%) are retired and don’t work anymore. We’ve saved all our lives for a little slice of year-round sunshine. Our lives have been upended, sure, but we don’t have many of the problems the rest of the country struggle with. Not yet.

It’s those people here and elsewhere on the globe, who have been on my mind. I’m worried for small businesses, for the service industry, for the paycheck-to-paycheck folks. There’s a great tradition in St Pete for small businesses. Downtown is mostly run by entrepreneurs. We love that. I see I am speaking for Al now. It was bound to happen. I’m surprised at how good we get along in this small space. I’m surprised how little I watch the second television that everyone said was essential when a spouse retires. But then, I am a reader and a writer.

I am also about to turn 65, the magic number for people who want to get into grocery stores early, when everything is freshly sanitized and shelves are fully stocked. You can see how that really won’t matter to us here where almost everyone is 65 and older. It will be a mob scene, but at least a clean one.

I had big plans for my birthday. A new business in St Pete, Book + Bottle was supposed to open last week. They sell books and wine. I love the whole concept. So I was going there, dragging Dad and Al because it’s my birthday and I get to say where we go and what we do. I also planned on visiting Frida’s bakery and cafe, another wonderful local business, for my dinner out, because I never cook on my birthday. Also, they have flourless chocolate cake and great food. I went there with writer friends before the enemy virus hit, and thought Al and Dad would like it there, too.

Just like almost everywhere in America, those two places have mostly closed for business. I hope our local small businesses can keep it together until the crisis is over and we get back to normal. It feels sometimes like things will never be normal again. Or there will be a new normal. Both Book + Bottle and Frida’s have curbside service, so we may just hop in the car and go out to support those businesses from afar. I’ve never ordered a book or a bottle of wine as a carry-out before. Since it’s my birthday, I can insist!

It’s a whole new world out there. I hope you are doing well. Until next week…

Anxiety is Annoying

I read that “anxiety is annoying” in dismay a few weeks ago in a book about anxiety. My dismay was real. I am often anxious and so, what, then, people often find me annoying? What a bummer.

Cotton Exchange in Savannah

This weekend we went on a long-planned trip to Savannah, Georgia. It was planned for three couples and one couple, very good friends, opted out due to Covid-19 anxiety. I did not find them annoying. Before we left Friday, I saw the weekend as a time out from all the bad news. Later that same day Trump declared a national emergency. The next day, the governor of Georgia did the same.

Our group did not know that on March 17, St Patty’s Day, Savannah has a huge party. It was a weekend that worked for all of us, that was it. We’d planned an off/on trolley tour to see the entire city in a day. Which we did. As the day wore on, more and more drunk young people in green tutus and t-shirts partied in the squares. One lady in a Porche yelled at a bystander “Where can I get a shitload of beads?”

I saw some beads in Walgreens, but no hand sanitizer. As an anxious person, I always have my own. Downtown Savannah wasn’t a mad crush as it usually would be on this special weekend. The city was busy, the bars and restaurants were packed, and even the trolley was full or almost full. OTOH, there were no lines. For restaurants, in stores or for seats on the trolley.

My feet behaved with my new shoes and CBD balm for about five hours. We walked a lot. Still at the end of the day, I was happy to get in the car for the motel and some well-earned cocktails. That’s when it happened. I was triggered. Three times. By my husband, who stared down at his phone on an upward curve of freeway.

Our friends were in the back seat, so it probably didn’t look like a panic attack to them when I said “Al! Please watch the road and not your phone!” He did look at the road, still curving, still going up, for about two seconds. Then he looked down at his phone again.

I tried to make a joke out of it. Opened the center console and pulled out my mini bottles of emergency vodka and offered them one. They laughed. I did too, while I cracked one and emptied it into my throat. I got calmer, but I could tell, with my new knowledge, that my anxiety annoyed my friends. Also, it always annoys Al, even though he knows more than anyone I can’t do a damn thing to stop anxiety’s roll.

Good weekend, though. You would have never known there was a pandemic going on.

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Finance For Retired People

Al starts his morning by looking at the market. The stock market. You might have heard: today the news is not good. It has not been good for awhile. Al has been managing our financial portfolio, and since he retired, when there’s a bump and stocks go high for a day or an hour, he sells. We’re lucky. He’s sewn a cushion to blunt this blow for however long it lasts.

The television is on and we are watching the free fall. The market has closed! It’s going to open again in thirty seconds. I almost can’t write. I could go into the bedroom and write this post but I have a feeling I will keep watching the havoc on the television.

This is not a great time for retirees who have been keeping up with inflation by holding some of their funds in the stock market. The thing that caused it, COVID-19, is not good for us old people, either. At first I was sad, okay, we can’t take that Alaskan cruise. Then yesterday, we figured we probably shouldn’t stop in Dollywood on our way back to Michigan. In our car.

The television is talking about the government “saving the airlines” and I don’t understand it. Is this like the Wall Street bail out? And this morning, I wonder if COVID-19 will stop the kids from flying in for their scheduled visit in April. Mom was coming, too. Will my mother want to get on the plane at 81 years old? She’s not fond of planes in good times.

These are not good times.

Everything All At Once

In my peaceful yoga class, a phone rang. Twice. I was happy I’d remembered to turn mine off, until class was over and my friend showed me the two calls she’d gotten…from people trying to reach me. My father had been calling all over town looking for me, as he needed a ride to the doctor. Right that minute.

I managed to rush home to shower and get him to his appointment on time. He was in a bit of a panic, so I didn’t understand what he meant after I asked him why he hadn’t told me he had a doctor appointment. I’d seen him just the other day. We’d talked for hours! He said something like “they call me last minute.”

I didn’t get it, he’d said the other day he had a doctor’s appointment Friday and he’d arranged to have an open MRI. He’d been so relieved. But this was Thursday and he was going into a closed MRI machine (Dad is claustrophobic). He needed a ride because he’d be taking a larger dose of anti-anxiety medication than he was used to and wouldn’t be able to drive.

I didn’t want to ask him anything else because he was panicky. It’s hard to talk sensibly when you’re having an anxiety attack. I just said soothing things and acted like everything was normal. He kept saying I was going the wrong way, but I had my GPS on it said we were five minutes away. I knew exactly how my dad was feeling because I’ve been there many times. We share the claustrophobia gene.

We got to the doctor and three hours later he was done. How did it go? I asked him. “It was horrible! They put something over my face. I slept almost the entire time.” That didn’t make a lot of sense, but I didn’t press him. I could tell his meds had kicked in big time.

I was not clear on what he was getting an MRI for…I thought it was for his knee? So why would a neurologist be doing that MRI? Shouldn’t an ortho guy do that? And then the prescription we stopped to have filled. He’d shown me six new prescriptions (!) the other day. I asked the pharmacist what this new one was for and he said restless leg syndrome. I didn’t know my dad had that.

I am worried about my dad’s doctor visits, his prescription use, his health. I want to do more to help him, like sit in with him on doctor visits and ask questions, take notes. Check his medication and make sure he takes the right pills every day. But I fear his reaction. What if he thinks I’m invading his privacy? Or treating him as if he is incompetent? Still, I’m going to talk to him about all this tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I also need to mail in my absentee ballot plus sign up for Medicare and Social Security. I need to do laundry and shop for groceries. Friends are coming over on Tuesday and staying the night, so I’ll be making another frittata. I just made one when we had overnight friends a few days ago. Then next weekend we are going out of town for a night and in two weeks we’re meeting up with friends in Savannah, Georgia for a long weekend. I’m looking forward to all of it, okay maybe not signing up for Medicare.

Retirement is not what I imagined. In my mind, I thought it would be relaxed and easy. It is not. It is hectic. Maybe someday things will slow down, but not yet. I am so happy to have Al to help and to lean on. I don’t know how I ever did this without him. He golfs with my dad twice a week, something I for sure could not do.

Oh, and my prescription coverage changed today. I’ve only had the new one for retirees two months. But the government put me on the Medicare one. Because it’s my birthday this month. Which is why I have to immediately sign up for Medicare. Yesterday the drugstore wanted $130 to refill a prescription that used to be $3.

If all this sounds a little scattered and confused, it’s because that’s how I feel right now. Like I need a list. Or maybe three or four lists. But I am also happy to be in Florida, to see a lot more of my friends, and to have early dinners with my dad in the warm sunshine. It really is good to be alive.


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Xanax & Chill

Al’s retirement, sweet as it has been thus far, often triggers anxiety. I woke up from a nightmare in complete panic mode last night. Al said this morning that he heard a prolonged squeak from me, which I remembered was me trying to scream when a hand grabbed me in a dark room. The usual sleep paralysis didn’t allow me to move or scream out loud, but luckily I woke up. Not so lucky, I found myself in a full blown panic attack. This is not unusual, and I was able to control the panic with deep breathing instead of jumping out of bed and popping a Xanax. I fell back asleep without nightmares within minutes.

When I’m triggered by Al in the light of day, it’s different. I cope with his darker moods by taking .5 mg of Xanax. Before Al retired, my doctor and I talked about a likely increase in triggers. I would be traveling, and that’s a trigger. As much as I love travel, being a passenger makes me anxious. Then there was the unknown factor of how Al would behave in retirement. My doc suspected I’d have some bumps, because I’ve been in a smooth routine for so long.

I love my routines. What has not been a part of my routine for a long time is Al showing even a glimpse of annoyance or anger or talking for too long about taxes or insurance or the budget. He’s only human, and he does love finance. I promised I’d talk more about money with him when he retired. And I have been. I just need to pop a tiny dose of Xanax first.

For a few years now, I’ve been very gradually decreasing my Xanax dose from 4 mg a day to a current .5 mg with the goal of using Xanax only when necessary for panic attacks. So, in a way, Al’s retirement has been a bit of a setback. My doctor doesn’t want me to worry about it. She wrote a stronger script, knowing I’d need more like 1 mg a day, at least for awhile.

Anxiety is so stupid. But it’s real and I have to deal with it, because for me, anxiety is a precursor to panic. Anxiety almost always leads to panic if I don’t medicate. Or, have a martini.

I’d feel better about increasing my meds if there wasn’t a nasty side effect. Cognitive decline. Since increasing my medication I have noticed that oh boy do I forget things. My friends say stuff like “you mentioned that yesterday” and I can’t remember ever bringing “it” up. Al will say “we already talked about this” and I can’t remember. So, naturally, now I’m anxious about the cognitive decline. Which has been brought about by a really effective anxiety medication.

And so it goes. I hope to get a better handle on my mental health in the near future, but today I need to take a pill. We’re driving over a bridge across Tampa Bay to see friends. And bridges, especially over water, are always trouble for me. I feel sorry for Al, I really do. Neither one of us knew what he was taking on when we married. Which may be what’s making me anxious about his retirement. He will see a lot more of me, panic and all.