Tales From the Infusion Clinic, Special Edition: The Sound of Fury, Part 3 of 4

CONTENT NOTE: Essentially, all the warnings and alerts for readers, especially those who feel they are in a precarious emotional and/or mental state. Bookmark this for later. Or never. Whenever is best for you. In this multi-part post I address various forms of domestic violence and reference other forms of violence. I get personal. I do not write about any abuses in graphic detail, but oftentimes the muted, even mundane details can be the most triggering. And I write about some lasting effects, including mental health/illness crises and self-harm. Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading.

Part III. When Barry Met Sally

Somewhere in all this, the titanium-hipped hubster and I binged the latest/third season of Barry on HBO. ⚠️ENTIRELY RELEVANT SPOILERS AHEAD. ⚠️Also, FAIR WARNING TO FAMILY: I’ll be talking about You Know Who. Continuation of Part II. Dis Closure

Barry started as a dark comedy. The title character is a charming if not too bright antihero, a veteran (with PTSD, it seems, maybe) turned assassin for hire hiding in plain sight. He’s in a relationship with Sally, a survivor of domestic violence. In season 3 Sally is helming her own TV show about domestic violence. She seems to enjoy being busy and in charge. She’s often sincere and caring. She’s also dismissive and manipulative with staff/friends, Barry. She’s all over the map emotionally and clearly in denial about her progress regarding her past — and her present relationship with Barry. It’s a brilliant portrayal of a survivor of abuse grappling with success and failure and other people’s perceptions of the realities and marketability of victimhood.

The Emmy goes to …

It’s a short season of half-hour episodes, but they pack a wallop (pun originally not intended and then I decided to let it stand), so abuse survivors beware. That Barry is a violent man and not the safe haven Sally chooses to believe and present to others is revealed to her workmates in a heart-pounding scene of verbal ferocity. In the scene Barry does not hit Sally or anyone else. He does not produce a weapon. He does not throw objects. He arrives at Sally’s work unexpectedly, wanting a favor from Sally. He will not take no for an answer. He will not leave. He does not care that he is interrupting her meeting and stalling the entire production. He gets angrier and angrier, his verbal assault reaching a terrifying apex with Sally against a wall, Barry towering over her, his face spewing invective just centimeters from hers. It’s a wire-walking feat of cinematic accuracy in portraying a type of violence and intimidation that leaves no visible mark, but feels as if it should.

The Emmy goes to …

Hard as it was for me to watch, I deeply appreciate this spot-on portrayal of a violent man perpetrating a type of abuse that so many of us experience and do not know how to name or document. Barry finally storms out and Sally goes to her meeting, newly clothed in denial. The three witnesses bounce around the unseen devastation left in their wake. That was bad, right? We should report it. But … Denial, dismissal, and fear compete with naming the abuse, honoring feelings, taking action. They default to inaction and disperse, traumatized and confused.

(Hopefully welcome spoiler alert: One of the witnesses does eventually confront Sally with the truth.)

Just take all the Emmys already!

Sunflower with large drone bee taking up much of center and smaller, lighter colored bee to left, seemingly looking for a pollen filled spot
This sunflower is not big enough for the two of them!

So many times my father was that screaming assaulter. Although he would go off on service personnel when he felt slighted, his favorite victims were family, especially, in my limited childhood experience, my mother, his mother, me, and my sister (all but me long deceased). (Not to minimize the harm he inflicted on his siblings and others which I did not often witness.)

None of us ever knew when my father’s tirades would erupt or end. Or when he would lash out physically: slamming a door, throwing a paperweight, pressing a fork into flesh just to see the imprint fade away. One good, hard slap. Or sometimes two. An occasional reminder that he could back up those incessant threats whenever he so chose. We knew he was capable of much worse.

But according to him, never. Never ever. He was a very good father. A great father to me under the circumstances, really. He did nothing wrong. All blame lies solely with my mother, the witch who divorced him and took me away. He was blameless.

He was the victim.

Ornate box turtle faces off with garden snail
When it rains here in Burque, our turtles dine on their very favorite: escargot! Photo by Jeff Hartzer @abqonscene

Admittedly, he sounds much more like real-life Johnny Depp than fictional Barry. (Sounded, that is. 7th anniversary of his passing coming up in January/Tevet.)* Unlike my father and Depp, Barry is aware he’s done bad things. Criminal acts. But he’s not all that self-aware or all that smart, which is part of his antihero charm. Barry’s a contemporary, land-lubber Jack Sparrow without the stench of rum and dead pirates.

This spoiler-laden article sums up the momentous shift in this latest season of Barry, “Season 3 rebuffs this audience instinct [to roo t for Barry despite his mounting body count]. Barry descended from a bumbling anti-hero to full-fledged villain by threatening the two people he claims to love.” According to the article, the show also demonstrates how Barry “equat[es] violent acts with love” and is “driven by animalistic fear for his life and what might come next—not true remorse or a desire to actually earn forgiveness.”

Why would someone like Barry or my father or Johnny Depp need to seek forgiveness when in their minds they’ve done nothing wrong? When — from their perspective — just the accusation is yet one more insulting campaign against their entitlements, which have been ridiculously threatened and denied repeatedly, instead of honored with gratitude?

[Digression number (oh, I don’t rightly know at this point) … This may well remind some or all of you of a certain plate- and invective-hurling American political figure, who I choose not to name here and now. And wouldn’t you know it, those who vociferously defend That Guy, are all-in Depp supporters — and were from the very start.]

And hereabouts is where I’ve been stuck. I was going to cite some of Depp’s tirades, which include threats, insults, absolutist demands, with violent gestures, such as slamming cabinet doors,** and consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. But you, my dear readers, don’t need to read his ugliness here. How the jury believed this man was only defending himself, was not really violent; you know, not like that — not abusive! Well, I have ideas I’ll address in Part 4.

Instead I’ll posit that angry, violent people create a pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation around themselves. Without effective intervention they do not tend to be pull back on their own and look inside. Those whose language is replete with self-aggrandizement and control are not naturally given to introspection.

Sunflowers with small yellow and dark gray bird hanging upside down, well camouflaged. Blue arrow points to bird and blue letters read “lesser goldfinch”
September brings lesser goldfinches hanging upside down as they feed on our sunflowers. Distinctive song. Hard to photograph. Love them!

I do feel very sad for Depp’s children, who apparently testified that Depp was a terrific father whose years of significant substance abuse and multiple trips to rehab did not adversely affect them. Depp asserted the only person who suffered because of his substance abuse was him and a number of witnesses appeared to corroborate.

While I’m not a big fan of Alcoholics Anonymous for reasons well articulated in this 2015 Atlantic article, that organization along with most if not all others would find Depp’s idea laughable. Whether or not alcoholism/addiction is a progressive disease, it generally fits the model of a serious, ongoing disease, and thus necessarily affects those in the user’s milieu, like ripples expanding outward from a pebble tossed in a still pond. The closer to the center, the greater the impact. Not all substance abusers are angry and/or violent, of course. Some when using are morose or reckless or hypersexual or suicidal or … But one thing they are not is present. Under the influence, they are unavailable as engaged parents, partners, friends, or colleagues — as they might otherwise be when clean and sober. Not that they don’t want to be. Many a person with an addiction wants nothing less than to hurt anyone. (Except maybe themselves.) But it’s just not possible; it’s a big part of what it means to be “impaired.”

2000 miles away from my father, I lived most of my childhood with my mother, Aunt Lore, and Uncle Tom. They were remarkable people with traumatic pasts and admirable resiliency. Among other things, the sisters had both depression and alcoholism in common. Neither ever found or could commit to appropriate, effective treatment for either disease. There were times when I resented each for not trying harder. But I know, too, that medicine and society did them no favors.

Some time in the future I will write about the trio who raised me. Suffice it to say, being adversely affected by a loved one’s substance abuse does not preclude loving that person. Denial of the problem is not a winning strategy — except in the case of this trial, it seems. I guess, I hope Johnny Depp’s kids are getting paid very well for their “good father” testimony instead of … something more controlling.

Coming up … Part IV. Backlash and The Antihero Fantasy

Clusterduck creation with rabbit head and
Yes, this is what I do with my time! @Clusterduck

*Yup, took me this long after his death to get here. Even so, my heart is pounding hard in my chest as I write honestly about him for a public site. Sometimes, I feel dread is physically embedded in my tissues, comparable to how toxins are in the cells of those living near Superfund sites.

**At one point in the trial Depp was shown in a drunken rage slamming kitchen cabinet doors. He bemusedly admitted to “assaulting a couple cabinets” and the audience/jury/courtroom murmgured in delight. But this was not an inconsequential display. Depp was not alone; he was railing at his then-wife Heard. Had the jury considered Amber Heard’s point of view, they might have sensed the intimidation. I’ve slammed a door in anger a couple times and instantly regretted each. Because I saw the fright in others. Which was not my intent. Or was it? Scheiße! Was definitely not my primary goal, but, yeah, there was a little of that desire to intimidate, to reflexively reassert my perceived loss of status. Damn! Gotta bring that up in therapy!

Tales From the Infusion Clinic: Out of Context

Part 3 of Sound of Fury is in the final stages. Meanwhile, here’s this.

“So you said, ‘Sorry, but I’m not licking anyone!’”

Their giggles grew into laughter as the receptionist on the phone and the colleague to her right saw my bemused self on the other side of the plexiglas. For 3 years I’ve checked in at the Rheumatology side of this elongated desk* once a month for Infusion with J, the receptionist who just spoke that fabulous line above through her headset. For the last 2.5 years we’ve only seen each other masked. I feel familiar with her voice, eyes, hairstyles, humor.

“Right! I don’t blame you!”

J motioned that she’d be right with me and would explain everything as she said into her headset,

“I mean, sometimes tragedy just can’t be avoided.”

Then she looked at me, then at her colleague, smiled, listened, and … burst out laughing. I enjoyed seeing J in high spirits. She’s always been an honest and efficient part of my team at Rheumatology and I look forward to seeing her. There have been times I’ve approached the desk just after someone has been discourteous to J, if not also disrespectful, and I sense it’s probably for something beyond her control and she’ll wave it off with a Well, I don’t know what he thought I could do about that? or Some people just — or {sigh} and then greets me with a smile.

Sometimes we patients are justified in our anxieties and rages. (That’s no excuse for abuse!**) Sometimes receptionists can not only not be part of the solution, but also contribute to the problem. Especially for a sick person in crisis. These receptionists feel they are gatekeepers for their bosses, the docs, rather more than they are part of the team that serves the patients. A great receptionist like J knows how to balance the two interests with aplomb. In most cases. Can’t please everybody, of course.

Surreal image of hot air balloons, miniaturized, seemingly floating in a giant glass of water with a droplet flowing up against gravity.
Falling Up by DÅL|é

Change is afoot! I had high hopes for this anti-lupus drug I’ve been infusing monthly for 3 years now. I’ve had high hopes for treatments in the 4 years before that. But … We gave it time. More than we planned, should it fail to elicit the desired results. Next up, while also a biologic, is a considerable step up in immune system wrangling, designed to aggressively address all 3 of my autoimmune diseases. Sort of. Close enough for government work! as my Uncle Tom used to say.

My rheumatologist, Dr. K, and I were first thwarted by covid19. Then by organ damage/cancer scares. (Benign!)*** Then Dr. K got sick.

Soon after the start of 2022, I heard Dr. K had just gone on indefinite medical leave. Rumors and dates of her return came and went. Finally, in late July, I saw Dr. T, who joined the practice a year ago, I think. He’s “young” and exuberant and pretty excited about my rare disease and somewhat unusual autoimmune disease profile. I like the geeks, as long as they’re caring as well, which he seems to be. Good thing, as Dr. T told me he is now my rheumatologist, as Dr. K is officially not coming back.

So, it’s serious. I truly wish the best for Dr. K. I’ve missed seeing her these last several months. I so hope this decision and what follows work out in the best possible way for her!

“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side.” Maya Angelou
From Word Porn

Dr. T also claimed he read through my chart prior to my appointment (Wow!) and that he was going to start work on getting insurance to approve the biologic no. 2, the one Dr. K and I discussed. Promising. Scary. With a very different infusion schedule.

I was already scheduled to receive my monthly infusion the following week. Good thing, too, considering my insurance took a full month to give the ok. It appears my memorable check-in with J marks my last infusion of my first biologic!

Speaking of which … J explained that the person on the line had rescued two tiny kittens. Despite rescuer’s best efforts, one kitten died. Rescuer was relaying to J info/advice received from Humane Society expert, who pointed out (more than once, apparently) that mama cats lick the anuses of their young to stimulate bowel movement and keep it all clean down there. Thus, prompting the protestation against licking anyone. And the wholehearted agreement of same sentiment by our lovely J.

I’m right there with them! Maybe a warm towelette?

I’m so grateful that I’ve had these years with Dr. K! After that last infusion I cried about not being able to take this next step with her, as planned. I’m truly thankful I can take it now with a new doctor and the same support team I’ve come to know and trust. Even though they’re not licking anyone! Not even to save a fragile life!

Spotlight on mutant cartoon duck: spiky mohawk, piercings, dog collar, metal plating wing, snake head on tail. “Likes to chew on pencils during meetings. Can walk through walls.”
One of my many very fine ducks, courtesy of ClusterDuck!!

September has become a difficult month for me, with occasions to dwell on the passing of a few loved ones. But this has been the second extraordinary August in a row! Last year’s was all about the most stressful business property sale we could have never imagined, intermixed with adopting a marvelous puppy (Roo!) with a nasty parasitic infection after a beloved dog (Duke!) died at the end of July.

Today, 25 August 2022, is the first anniversary of closing. Out of business, we are. Have been.

This month began with a week of migraines. One day I bent at the waist to get a bottle of water out of the fridge and was overcome with excruciating pain. For the next two weeks I was in varying degrees of debilitating and immobilizing pain and muscle spasms. Then I returned to my normal level of chronic pain, fatigue, etc. I can move! Cook dinner! Think! (With caveats you understand.) Halle-freaking-Berry-lu-jah!

And now the migraines are back, because —? But second biologic approved/authorized and now awaiting scheduling and then maybe wait a few months to make effectiveness known …

Meanwhile, don’t expect my team at rheumatology to lick anyone. They’re very good and professional. They have their limits. Good to maintain boundaries!

Small black and white puppy has nose mere millimeter from backside of slightly taller small adult black dog. Caption reads, “Learning to cue … Back it up, mate!”
Our little Roogele at ≈ 8-9 weeks of age. (Plus Draymond’s backside!)

*Rheumatology shares a long reception desk area with the Pain and Spine Clinic, which makes sense, or would, if they actually coordinated care, but they don’t. The receptionists make good use of their shared space, though.

**😇🐮! That rhymes! But also, prednisone can be an excuse for abuse. Another in my growing list of topics I mean to write about here sometime in the future. But when? I ain’t got no idea!

***I would not make you hunt for benign v malignant cancer determination in the footnotes! Who do you think I am? I will make you wait through much of 2021 and 2022 while I go through the whole process without telling anyone a thing about it, though. Yes, that I will do.