Introspection Sometimes Hurts

Yet another sort of long post, probably even longer than most because the last few days have caused me to become even more introspective than usual; the needle on the introspection gauge is way at the top about now.

After a military career, a business life and retirement, I was missing some direction, some thing in my life that would take up my time and my involvement. All our children were on their own, my wife, although she had been a semi-invalid since 1992, was a quiet solitary person and neither of us were very comfortable with group involvement. We enjoyed each others company and really needed no one else. We each had a couple of good friends and life was good.

Eventually I went back to photography, increased my skills to the point where I was actually good in my own estimation. I don’t mean ‘good’ on some ultimate scale where the world flocked to my door and people threw money in buckets through my window for one of my pictures but good in that I loved what I was able to do and was proud of my own work.

I was reading an article and a paragraph caught my attention. The author was talking about how poets were extremely critical of each others’ poetry. He opined that since poets are usually very close to their own work as reflective of their deepest thoughts and feelings, then the poetry of other people is somehow ‘wrong’ in a very visceral sense. Not that it isn’t beautiful or doesn’t scan or is factually incorrect, but as a reflection of inner thought, another person’s poetry doesn’t fit.

And that’s often the way I felt about other people’s photography that I would see in online photo communities or in my local camera club. Too often, it seemed wrong to me because I wouldn’t have done it that way, wouldn’t have framed or edited it that way. And I really didn’t understand how other people would say ‘nice shot’ or some equally banal blather. But, in order, to have acquaintance, I would just not say anything. This did require some control.

This diagnosis completely disrupted the normal rhythms of my life, taking away lots of freedoms, giving me responsibilities that I was not immediately equipped to handle and most painful of all, somehow sapping me of all energy to do photography – to practice as an artist as I considered myself.

Even with her prior health problems, my wife always functioned well within the home and over the course of adapting to her health problems, she saw the home as her rightful domain. As the PPA got worse, she found herself unable to cook, to make plans or shopping lists or even to read recipes.

So I took up the slack, now I planned meals, did the food lists and shopped. I farmed out most outside work and considered the money well spent. While my best and usual travel partner friend continued his traveling for taking photos and workshops, I just accepted that, for me, travel wasn’t possible for some time.

It was an odd coincidence that struck a painful blow. I had been a member of a local camera club for 6 or 7 years and the once a month meeting usually re-energized me about photography and spawned activities for the intervening weeks. Besides the activities, I liked going because I had this large group of friends – and that was comforting.

As my wife got worse, I looked for some needed peer support and, in a cruel twist, the only group that was at all feasible for me to attend was once a month on the very night as the camera club. It was like asking a marooned man to choose between water and food.

After telling my friends about my dilemma, I started going to the support group, expecting that the camera club friends would somehow still include me. You can guess how that turned. In the year since, only one of my supposed friends has made contact. I am lucky to retain two other long time, good friends and I keep up my ties with them; still, being dropped unanimously by those others hurt and challenged my own beliefs in how I measured friends.

So this has been two years of disappointments in people. All of the disappointments, added pressures and pain of looking down the ugly future have made changes in me, in how I behave. On the plus side, I have become more nurturing towards my wife, more willing to take the time to try to understand.

On the negative side, I have found myself almost totally unable to keep up the social face. The diagnosis has somehow stripped me of the control I had, the ability to not say what I though for social reasons.

While writing this, the doorbell rang and I went there to find two pleasant looking people. I opened the door and they started to talk. They were holding a bunch of leaflets and, without speaking, I held out my hand for one. It was the typical exhortations about a god, etc. and, I could feel myself on the very edge of losing control and yelling. So I just said, ‘no’ and closed the door.

I have backed away from online photo communities where I used to be active because I could not bear to say fake things to people as encouragement. I found myself almost saying exactly what I thought, not making a ‘sandwich’ of critique surrounded by layers of positive stuff to make it palatable because I couldn’t bear so often to make up the positive stuff.

I am unable to create that layer of niceness that makes social interactions plausible.

Closing off is comfortable, learning never to engage others is more comfortable, keeping from being disappointed. I speak to my biological children (who live far away) once a week just so I can look into a normal, happy life.

I don’t think about the future, I use up time by doing chores, by going to the supermarket every other day. Every day is the same. Reading or working on photos in the morning, chores or shopping in the afternoon, then reading until time to make supper. After supper we sit, my wife watches television; I next to her and read. Every so often when I see her become inattentive, I ask what is happening. She usually doesn’t understand so I rewind the show a bit, try to explain what she missed and then start it again.

Today she has started to do a jigsaw puzzle on a long table in the sunroom. She has stopped doing them a few weeks ago, upset that a visitor found it so easily and she had so much trouble. I find myself hoping she will be able to do the puzzle but afraid to say anything in case she quits.

I am lonely beyond belief.

Every day is the same.

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