Learning to Live with Who You Are

I’d like to think that now that I’m retired and have little to do in my life that I’ve managed to escape stress and its effects, but apparently I’d be wrong.

Lately I’ve been suffering from a rather painful case of
pompholyx, something I haven’t suffered from in nearly fifteen years.

I long suffered a mild case of pompholyx on my feet, an ailment aggravated by my fondness for long hikes. I simply learned to live with it, a small price to pay for how much I enjoyed the hikes.

It’s one thing to have heat blisters on your feet, it’s something quite different to have them on your hands. Having your hands break out in a rash can be nearly debilitating, making it nearly impossible to complete physical tasks.

Strangely, I vividly remember the first time I suffered an attack of pompholyx. It was a hot summer day and I was trying to tile a bathroom for the first time. I was having trouble getting numerous small tiles to line up with each other. In the middle of laying the floor I received a phone call from a union leader who told me that the superintendent of our school district was trying to fire a vice-principal who was a good friend of mine, the result of a long-term power struggle between administrators and teachers in the district.

After the phone call, I went back to tiling since there was little I could do right then to solve the problem, and, besides, the cement mix was rapidly setting up. When I finally finished the job hours later and peeled off the heavy duty rubber gloves, my hands were covered with a mass of small “heat blisters” that itched and oozed a clear liquid when I was foolish enough to scratch them. A few days later the skin over the blisters started peeling off, exposing a raw mass of nerves.

It took a cortisone shot and two weeks of treatment with a steroid cream before I was able to function semi-normally, and the rash reoccurred with a frightening regularity for many years afterward. I really don’t remember when the rash finally disappeared long enough that I could forget that I had ever suffered from it. I suspect it was a while after that superintendent had been dismissed, my ex-wife had moved to Bellevue, and my stress levels had fallen to those of a normal high school teacher.

Perhaps, then it’s not entirely coincidental that this rash should suddenly reappear in the middle of the summer while working on this house. I tend to be a “perfectionist” while still wanting things done quickly, not necessarily a good combination.

I’ve been living in this house a year now and as long as I wasn’t responsible for the way things looked, I’ve been able to live with the house as it is, barely. Once I started working on it, though, all the things I’ve disliked about it became painfully obvious.

When you know how things “should be done” and you want things to be done “the way they should be done,” it’s stressful when you realize how poorly they’ve been done even in a relatively “expensive” house. It’s frustrating when you realize contractors have cut corners to save a dollar here and a dollar there, only to end up costing you thousands of dollars later when you try to fix them after the fact.

The point, of course, isn’t that contractors are too often con-artists who use cheap, inferior products to give the appearance of quality, but, rather, how does one keep one’s expectations from causing unnecessary and debilitating stress? How can apparently positive characteristics that make others admire your work turn on you so easily and undermine your very health?

After all the years of reading and meditating, why is it so easy to give in to life-long traits that are so counter productive and are guaranteed to create greater problems than the problems that they confront?

14 thoughts on “Learning to Live with Who You Are”

  1. I’m not sure I shoulda read your post today. I noticed today my well-pump is leaking. I’ve fixed different places in the underground hose at least 4 times, but I don’t look forward to it. It’s been long enough since I fixed it last that I am in appreciably worse physical condition than then. My knees will not appreciate it, possibly can’t even get me back out of the hole I’ll have to dig. This’ll be another case of “fall” into the hole and then hope it’s possible for me to “flop” back out again. If I wouldn’t have to dig Such a large hole, I’d just pull the hole in after me and stay there. I wish my case was one of being stressed; I’m pretty good at not giving a damn.

  2. That pompholx sounds rather nasty, and if it’s aggravated by stress, this might be a good time to learn to give those things you can’t control less ownership of your mind.

    (Of course I don’t follow my own advice, and you can also likewise ignore it. )

    But hey! I want your bed!

    (Hmmm, that didn’t come out sounding right…let’s extricate oneself…)

    I meant your bed in the last post. Hand made? Hard to give something like that up. But I do agree with Leslie, in that when you share a bed, a King can be more restful, especially if one or both sleepers is a ‘tosser and turner’.

    Frivilous comments aside, I do understand, oh so very well, what you’re saying Loren. Unfortunately–or perhaps fortunately–we can’t deny those characteristics that are inherent in our personalities, even when they can cause us harm.

    For me, here I sit, wanting to write the most perfect comment to provide comfort to you, and realizing that there’s nothing I can say that will really help. I knew this when I started, and sit here frustrated and stressed, and wondering why I even started to write when I couldn’t provide _the_ answer.

    But you really don’t answers, as much as you’re writing to help yourself find your own path to the question at the end. No perfect answer is needed, so none could be found, even by the most eloquent among us.

    So I write just to say “Hi”, to take care, don’t hurt yourself, all the while hoping to write this entire long comment without _one typo_ and be satisfied that this, while not perfect, is good enough.

  3. I think I wrote this article to dispel any illusions that I am anywhere near being enlightened, as suggested by an earlier comment.

    It seems to me that one of the best arguments for moving to a small cabin in the mountains is that there would be less room for one’s personality traits to get in the way of meditation and the pursuit of enlightenment.

    And, yes, my Type A personality, the one that leads to most of the stress in my life, is probably the same personality that makes this site as interesting, for some, at least, as it is.

  4. Well, maybe it’s only indirectly a matter of stress. Maybe you have a pea under the mattress of your handmade bed? Maybe it’s the mattress and the bed that needs to be exorcised.

  5. It’d be nice to think so, Ron, but since I suffered this long before I made the bed I don’t think that could be the cause.

    Actually, it’s probably that damn Bush administration. Despite knowing better, I can’t stay away from the political news. And I’m madder than hell. As if it wasn’t already perfectly obvious.

    I’ve noticed that the higher your stress level goes the more apt you are to be stressed by things that would normally go unnoticed.

    Even the hyper dog has been getting to me lately. I’m tempted to leave him home when I go on a walk so that I can really totallly realax rather than getting upset when he goes crazy because another dog dares walk in “his” park.

  6. it’s true. in addition to the direct pain and suffering inflicted on people living in iraq, this administration is also creating a baseline level of anger and despair that’s affecting a lot of us mentally and physically in our daily lives. a constant strain and aggravation that never goes away and all the small irritations of daily life are amplified ten times. though, somehow this collective anger doesn’t yet seem to generate the kind of energy to change the political environment here. i don’t know why. i still hold out hope.

    i love process. i am endlessly obsessed with the means and wish i could throw all the ends away and live in the enriching beauty of the task. i don’t know what that makes me. perhaps most days, i speculate, lazy.

    finally, currently fighting off a particularly nasty poison ivy attack and also chronically afflicted with a stress related breakout that affects my face and eyes, i sympathize with you about pompholyx. the only thing that seems to help stress these days (after attempting relief with many artificial remedies) is deep breathing. i hope you’re feeling better soon.

  7. tanya, how nice to hear from you.

    After checking out consumptive the other day and learning that he was going to change his site, it made me wonder how you were doing since you closed tmaus down.

    Actually, I am feeling a little better, probably because we’re going through a cool, wet spell here in the Pacific Northwest and because we’ve finally finished painting the master bedroom and bathrooom.

    When I lived in California as a child I would get nearly debilitating cases of poison oak, so you have my deepest sympathy right now.

  8. Oh, Loren, I so sympathize. My poor brain’s last-ditch effort to get me to leave grad school was afflicting my hands with a damn-near crippling case of pompholyx. (Two of ’em, actually, before I finally got counseling and got out. Haven’t seen more than a blister or two since, for which I am profoundly grateful.)

    If you haven’t got the steroid creams, go to the doc and get ’em. My doc also recommended “Burrow’s solution,” which you should be able to find over-the-counter in a well-stocked pharmacy — it’s a powder to dissolve in water and soak your hands/feet in.

    Susceptibility to pompholyx appears to be genetic, but stress is an extremely common cause of outbreak, as is hot weather.

    Take it easy, and be well.

  9. Thanks for the advice, Dorothea, I went out and got the “Burrows’ solution” this morning. I’ll let you kknow how it works out.

    I dont’ have a doctor here, yet, so I’ll just stick with across-the-couner hydrocortisone for awhile.

  10. it is always great to come back here. i go/went back to your entries about stanley kunitz. i have a copy of encounters with stanley kunitz close at hand, and somehow it quiets my recurrent crises with creativity. he thinks deep, he isn’t ashamed, and he isn’t cynical.

    thanks very much for the enriching entries.

  11. Loren and Dorthea,

    Just read some of stuff you both wrote. I’ve been dx with pomphlox. All fingers and soles of feet. I’m also a nurse that wears gloves. Any miracles you have tried? I use ultravate and protopic cream everyday. Used Prednisone when I’m at my worst and cant use my hands(I know its awful to use so much) Doesn’t soaking in the burrows make it worse? mine get awful in water. I even use gloves to wash my hair(sound stupid I know) Any other great suggestions? I also have to wear cotton gloves under the vinyl ones.

  12. I found it strange to soak my hands in the burrows solution because I’m sensitive to water and have trouble in the shower. But for some reason it has helped me, perhaps because it helps to remove the layer above the blisters more quickly and helps to prevent the cracking between healthy skin and blistered skin.

    I, too, have to wear cotton gloves under rubber gloves. In fact, I’m convinced that the worst episodes I’ve ever had have been preceeded by instances where I’ve worn rubber gloves while it was quite hot.

    Vaseline and cotton gloves has helped as much as anything else so far, though I used to get immediate relief from a cortisone shot and steroid cream. I still suspect, though, that they skin that grew back so quickly was also more apt to crack and split.

  13. Thanks Loren for writing back. Everything you wrote makes sense. I’m going to give it a try.

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