Of Heat Waves and Chest Pains


What do you do when life gets tough?  When you’re in the middle of a heat wave (at least three days with the temperature over 90 degrees) or having chest pains, what do you do?

If you called me up when I was on the support line, I would have asked if you had air conditioning, then recommended that you withdraw to the smallest space you could cool—shut off all the other rooms and hunker down in the cool spot.  Close the curtains to cut down on the amount of sun coming into your space.  Wear as little clothing as possible.  Reading or watching television are both good things to do—you can distract yourself with alternative realities while you wait for relief.  A cold drink helps.  Likewise, you can wring out a bath towel in cold water and then lay on it.  Stay inside the cool.  Go to an air conditioned movie.

For chest pains, trust in the Lord.  My grandma had a farm and a bad heart.  Sometimes she’d be out walking around the farm without her nitroglycerin when the angina pains would start.  “What do you do?” I gasped in horror.

She replied, “I sit down and pray.”  The Lord is with you always and he has a plan.  Get in touch with him and ask what he wants you to do.

For me, excessive heat causes disordered thinking and emotional despair, so I have acquired the skill of not thinking or feeling.  It’s a way of suspending thought and emotion during times that I know that neither my thoughts nor emotions are healthy or reliable responses to reality.  It is sort of a Hindu or Buddhist non-attachment.

The heat wave is what it is.  You cannot change it.  You can, however, wait patiently for it to be over.  Make no attempt to overcome the heat or to continue with your usual activities.  Acknowledge the changed reality and let it flow over you without fighting it.  When I was reading the Holy Koran, I came to a place where it addressed what you do when things are bad.  I braced myself for some words about what you must to do overcome, and how you must focus your attention on caring for others, or some other utterly impossible acts to engage in.

All the Koran said was ‘be patient and persevere.’  Or, as the Marine said, “Turn your chin into the wind and keep marching.”   Keep on keeping on.  Hard times come.  You cannot change them, only can ride them out.

A bit of an old poem, written by a father teaching his daughter to swim:  “When the world is too much with you, lie back and let the light sea hold you.”

Float, knowing the Lord is with you.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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