Do you know what I’ve discovered? I’m a freakin’ mess! On the outside, I look like one of those people who have got it all together. But it’s all a ruse, and that’s the problem. The crazy part of it all is that I haven’t found anyone who completely knows what they’re doing when it comes to living. I’m a great people watcher, and I recognize that universal nervous tick in everyone I meet on the highway of life who is singing the same chorus: “How the hell did I end up here?”
I probably should see a therapist about my angst, but black people don’t do therapy! That’s just a fact. Black folks just call going crazy, life. That’s why my mother and aunt were crazy for years and no one knew it. They were the first bag ladies of Cleveland, fighting their Don Quixote crusades on the corner of 105th and Cedar Avenue, and nobody ever once suggested they go into therapy — even if that had been an option. Momma and Aunt Pauline would have thought their meddlers were crazy! Later on shock therapy would be forced upon them by the city denizens, but it certainly wasn’t Momma and Aunt Pauline’s choice nor did it do them any good.
“Mrs. Tomczyk, you’re a ball of stress and consequently you have high blood pressure — very high-blood pressure (like, you should-be-hospitalized-high-blood-pressure),” said my new-barely-out-of-med-school white doctor. I usually chew doctors up and spit them out if they try any nonsense with me, but my new doctor was a female and seemed to know her stuff even though she was so young.
“I want to put you on a couple of meds that work best for African-Americans and attack this thing from multiple directions,” said my eager young doctor.
“No Doc, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t take unnecessary meds. Besides, black people don’t have stress — we just get over. I just need to shed a few pounds, and I’m working on it,” I said as I tried to avoid the subject of adding pharmaceuticals to my life — which I hate.
“Everybody has stress, Mrs. Tomczyk! And you’re in the main group that has hereditary high blood pressure. Not all BP medications will work for you. It wouldn’t matter how thin you got; after a certain age, you’d still have to deal with elevated blood pressure because it’s in your genes.”
“So, I guess Slavery, the Jim Crow Era, growing up in the ghetto, and “The Man” have finally caught up with me, huh? Other than taking pills that I’ll have to stay on for the rest of my life, what else do you suggest I do — turn white and win the lottery?”
“Mrs. Tomczyk, you’re killin’ me here,” said my very patient doctor as she slammed her forehead with her clipboard. “I need you to not only take these BP pills I’m going to prescribe, but I need you to adopt a more meditative lifestyle — please slow down, please take time to smell the roses, please take a yoga class or two, and sign up for massage therapy — or you’re not going to have a very long life!“
Dear Diary: So on the advice of my doctor I’m trying to adopt a more Zen-like lifestyle. At first I didn’t take her seriously, but when I started having heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep because of them, I figured she might have a point. I’ll try the pills for a season, but I want to see if I can’t kick this thing with a few “natural” remedies as well.
Dear Diary: My first yoga class was today. I got a massive Charlie-horse in my ass, and I farted twice (rather loudly) while attempting the half-lotus position of which I got stuck in and fell over into the lap of the person sitting next to me. I don’t think yoga is for me and I’m sure the person behind me won’t mind if I don’t return. I can’t contort my body into all those outrageous positions, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to relax if all I can think about is trying not to break wind. Sigh.
Dear Diary: Tried meditating and praying — this used to work when I was younger. Why not now? I went to a lovely local garden to commune with God and nature, but I fell asleep within ten minutes of trying to mediate — woke up 30 minutes later due to a fog horn blaring in the distance. Realized the “fog horn” was me snoring when I saw the horror on the faces of the other meditators as they stared at me in sheer disbelief. Double sigh.
Dear Diary: I figured out that one of my major sources of stress is the news. I’m a news junky. Unlike Sarah Palin I do know what newspapers and magazines I read (9 to be exact), and although I’m well informed and could pass any Katie Couric interview, I’m a nervous wreck from everything I’ve learned from my daily informants. My heart is in shock over the starvation in Somalia, the long-forgotten earthquake in Japan, the even longer forgotten mess in Haiti, the brokenness of Detroit, the chaos in Europe, the horror in the Congo, the heartlessness of our current Congress, our traumatized soldiers, the unemployment and underemployment of family, friends, and neighbors, etc. Everything affects me and keeps me awake at night — even monumental news. The day Barack Obama became President, I stopped sleeping and started pacing the floor — worrying and praying for his success. I haven’t gotten more than five hours sleep since that day. Because you know if he fails, my peeps won’t get another shot at this brass ring for another century. (The second, fifth or tenth black president can fail, but, “Lord have mercy,” not the first!)
Dear Diary: Then there are my children — I was totally calm until I had children. First of all, I barely survived their teenage years. And nothing has frayed my nerves more than wondering what will befall them now that they are adults: will they be happy, and will they be able to “get over” in this life? No one told me that parenting (the worrying part) didn’t stop at age eighteen. The other day I read about a serial rapist in California, and I got up from my bed and sent my girls a few self-defense tips in case the mad rapist was on his way to the other side of the country where they live. Since we’re not a “guns” type of family, I passed along an assault tip that I’d read about that morning in one of my news sources: keep a can of hornets spray in your bedroom and aim for the eyes of any intruder. The hornets spray travels farther than pepper spray and temporarily blinds — allowing ample time to escape. (I then went out and bought myself eight cans of hornets spray — one for every room in my house.)
Dear Diary: Someone suggested I go hot-air ballooning to relieve my stress. Because the concept of being suspended in midair in a rickety wicker basket, under a hot gas flame that almost set fire to my wig every time the blast valve ignited would add to my calm — not! Or that the advertised romantic balloon/champagne ride for two would turn out to be a sardine-can trip for twelve with ten Japanese tourists taking a thousand pictures a minute — stress free, not! But nothing beats having a heart attack like the balloon blowing off-course while the shutter-bug tourists start to all get hysterical at once in a language I don’t understand, but that you can bet your sweet ass means: “We’re all going to die!” If I find the person who actually suggested this venture to me, I plan to bitch slap her into the middle of next week.
Dear Diary: I’ve been trying different types of massages at various places and I think I like some of them; I just can’t afford them on a regular basis. In order to utilize this form of holistic treatment for my high-blood pressure, I would need to have a massage at the end of every day and at the going rate of $75 – $150 a session, I’d end up homeless in six months. I’ve tried everything from Korean massages to frou-frou desert spa resorts. First of all, I’ve completely nixed the Korean massage. I don’t “do naked,” and they require one to take it all off. Naked is very overrated, and as far as I’m concerned one needs to preserve some form of mystery with a little drape here and a little drape there, especially in front of strangers who aren’t speaking English. Because you just know those ladies are going to talk about your fluffy, sorry ass and droopy boobs behind your back for days.
Menu for spa lunch at one hotel:
- Marigold vichyssoise glacée: Cold soup made out of marigolds grown in the spa’s garden (I discovered a marigold by any other name is still a flower and never, ever a soup – don’t let anybody fool you)
- Salad du jour: 4 string beans (2 yellow, 2 green), 4 black olives, 2 baby potatoes, 1 toast point, 1 sprig of thyme, and ½ ounce lime juice vinaigrette sprinkled sparingly on top
- Cactus Fruit du jour: 2 Cactus flowers, 4 grapes (2 red, 2 green), 2 melon balls, 1 lychee nut, and a lunch bill totaling $100
(God, I was starving, but I couldn’t admit it out loud. After the lunch, I stormed into Five Guys and got a double cheeseburger and bag of fries to chase down my blood pressure medicine, and I felt a hell of a lot better.)
Dear Diary: I finally found my groove with the massages: 80 minutes/Swedish massage/keep panties on, no matter what/no weird oils/no Brunhildas/no mud, sugar, lavender, or coffee scrubs! I just can’t fall asleep during a massage, because then I fart and have to find a new spa out of sheer mortification. So in reality I can’t completely rest, therefore, I need to keep looking for the solutions to my stress-ridden life. I have a sneaky suspicion that the answer might lie in “letting go” of a few things including accidentally passing gas in a yoga class. I have a feeling I’m not the only person this has ever happened to.
I’m discovering that life has never been easy on this planet, and “guaranteed” low blood pressure is not necessarily an option. My doc said that black folks have the highest blood pressure of any group of people in the United States. I wanted to say to her: “No shit Sherlock — have you read our history?” But I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, pink, green, brown, gay, straight, fat, or thin — living is just plain ol’ hard. There is always something or someone agitating the hell out of each and every one of us, and usually for no good reason at all except to be mean. (As humans, when are we going to get the memo that God don’t like ugly?) Until we do get that memo, the stress is going to constantly bombard us. So the way to not have a heart attack must be through getting our minds quiet enough so that we can find our islands of gratitude and grace no matter how desperate our lives are at any given time.
I am discovering through my own high-blood-pressure-third-rock-from-the-sun existence, that if I can find one flower growing in the midst of my personal holocaust, and learn to live in the moment of that discovery, then I can find enough hope and a modicum of peace to propel me forward. But living in the moment requires the courage to say “no” to a lot of people who will never understand why I’m doing it (every person who asks us something never really wants to hear us say “no”) and turning my back on a lot of activities and circumstances that elevate my blood pressure and steal my quiet moments. (I also need to take off some of the weight on my chubby little ass and quit reading nine bad-news sources!)
“It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.” K. T. Jong
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011
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