Rolling in the Deep

It’s a beautiful sunny day and it looks like spring has finally sprung, but I may be stuck back in the fall. I had an event back in October that brought on a severe and lengthy episode of anxiety and anguish and its affects are still lingering. It’s very hard to use self talk to pull yourself back when your brain knows perfectly well that “last time” your anxiety was not only 100% right and everything was true but that it was actually worse than you imagined.

These days, three or four mornings a week, within moments of waking up, a wave rolls over me that starts at my head and continues over my body down just past my hips. Wave is really the best word to describe it because it feels undulating, but not in a pleasant way. It’s hot, heavy, makes my heart race, and causes everything to tighten. Usually there is a perfunctory “reason” for the panic – have I awoken in time to get to that place, do I have enough time in the day to get X done, did I forget that really important thing I was supposed to do? Most of the time nothing is valid enough to cause anxiety and I usually can’t even remember what the trigger was by lunch.  But at the moment I wake, my body can do nothing other than tell me that something critical is in jeopardy. I start the “everything is alright” speech in my head to see if I can get it to calm down and as I fully wake up I can usually get a hold of it. Fortunately, I am not burdened by anxiety to an extent that I cannot eventually right myself. Even still, I am sitting here half an hour after getting up with my chest still tight, wondering what I can do to get this cycle to stop for good. The “bad thing” from autumn has passed. There are lingering issues sure, but the reason for actual dread has subsided. I am now just dealing with the legacy of having been affected so acutely by it.

Exercise, getting proper sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself are all good practices for managing mental health, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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I think I do a reasonable job at those things. There are others on that list that I could add like meditation, volunteering, or journalling but those things do not appeal to me in the least and I think part of their success is in the wanting to do it. I’m not sure I would reap the benefits of those tactics if I were only going through the motions. I have already talked about how volunteering does not make me a calmer, better person.  Meditation and journalling strike me as similarly futile pursuits to me. What I wonder is how one controls something that occurs (or at least starts to occur) before one is really even thinking about anything coherently. I feel like this is my subconscious’s last grab at me before the day starts. I’d really like it to stop because depending on how successful I am in my “everything is alright” mantra, waking like this can cast a pall over my day, or at least a portion of it depending on what is happening.

Part of the reason that happens is because I have a hard time letting go. I talked before about how I often just wait things out.  It does mean I can spend a lot of time suffering, but it’s not always all bad. Having a hard time letting go means I don’t give up easily either. On people or things. It also means things like I am not an early adopter of technology (I got my first smartphone only six months ago;) I still have 75% of the furniture I started out with in this house twenty four years ago; and recycle/reuse (or simply don’t replace until it is non-functional!) were practices for me before they were chic. It means I will be there for friends who need me or organizations that rely on me. It’s only through painstaking review do I ever decide to shed a relationship or responsibility.

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But, the flip side is that when misfortune swirls through my life’s path, that too sticks with me for longer than it should. I’ve always told people that I am not interested in horror movies/TV shows/books, or ones that are “disturbing” because pictures get stuck in my head and I just don’t need that. I know this happens and I do my best to avoid it. I saw a movie with a prison rape scene nearly 30 years ago that will still unsettle me occasionally. I am THE BEST at covering my eyes just at the right moment to avoid seeing something gruesome or distressing. You know when the Nazi’s face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Never seen it.

Spring leads to warmer, brighter days. There is some hope that this change in season will also lighten my load and my mornings will calm down. Until then, I have to trust that “everything is alright” and keep up with strategies that are known to help.

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Selfish is OK

Several years back during a time when introspection was greatly needed, I came to the notion that my fatal flaw was that I was selfish, but that I was OK with that and I was going to embrace it and work with it. It didn’t strike me as that horrible as fatal flaws go, but I took some shit for it when I told people. When I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t truly mean the same thing as the dictionary definition.  In fact a dear friend pointed out that I absolutely was NOT lacking in concern for others, and that I should reframe it as “being good at self-care”.  In addition to meeting pretty much all the needs of my still young at the time children, I was also quite capable of saying no, taking time for myself, pursuing interests that I enjoyed, and perhaps more often than others, putting my needs before the needs of others. There had to be a better way to express that.

SELF·ish /ˈsɛlfɪʃ/ adj. lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

A year ago today, I made a plea on Facebook for “a word (a simple word, not a phrase) that would mean much the same as selfish, but without the ‘complete disregard for others’ it connotes? ” I was looking for a word I could use to describe this feeling of taking care of my own needs in the face of conflicting needs from others. What I got was a deluge of negativity regarding my inquiry.

Egocentric? Narcissistic? Greedy? Self-centered? Self-absorbed? Inconsiderate? Inwardly focused? Self-indulgent? Jerk? Egocentric? Cavalier? Thoughtless?

I was shocked! Such hostility and rancor towards the subject. I hoped that people simply misunderstood my intent and that the entire world did not think that putting ones own needs and desires above others’ was inherently bad. So I clarified, ” OK. Clearly I was not as concise as I wanted to be. I wanted to TAKE OUT the negative element. Selfish, according to the definition, means to focus on one’s needs to the exclusion of others. I was looking for a word that would positively give a sense of focusing on one’s needs, perhaps not always acting the way others would want, while still being aware of them. “Self-focused” was the only one that got close to what I was really looking for. Now that I am clearer, any other options?” What followed was a little better, but not much.

Internally focused? Self-contained? Centered? Grounded? Autonomous? Individualistic? Self-directed? Empowered? Self-care? Boundaried? Authentic? Self-interested?

Still not great. More in line with what I was thinking, but not a simple adjective to be used in everyday life to concisely express what I was meaning. I think my sister got it right when she postulated, “… that could be part of the whole concept’s issue. Maybe it’s not a mode one ‘lives in’ but maybe a vital process one engages in to bridge to a more whole self?” The CONCEPT has an image problem. It’s not somewhere you are supposed to live. And I wonder why not?

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Someone suggested trying to make a new word – selfishless was their suggestion. To my ears, though, that sounded more like “to be without selfishness” which was again the opposite of what I was going for. I thought maybe “selfful” might work, like helpful, but for yourself. But someone characterized it as being “full of yourself”, which is a phrase that is distinctly negative in it’s connotation, an exaggerated sense of self-worth in a way that annoys other people.  A word won’t work if it “sounds bad” and that did.  So back to square one, no good, simple word to describe a maligned concept that needs a good PR firm to bolster its acceptance.

It’s sad to me that the people I polled immediately defaulted to thinking that this type of feeling was “not good” and that we don’t have a better word to describe the positive, necessary element of what I really mean. I bet the Germans do. They have great words for lots of things we can barely say in a sentence – schadenfreude anyone? Looking back, too, I realize that simply classifying my feelings of self-care as a “fatal flaw” had me falling into the same negative stereotype that I am now trying to dispel. It’s not a flaw, it’s a strength.  And I am going to try to respect it.

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The Kids Are Alright

I have a terrible confession. I don’t miss my kids when they are gone. Not now that they have been whisked away for a week with their father during Evan’s spring break, not in the past when they went to boy scout camp, not when I went away for a stint somewhere for something, not ever really. I actually wondered once just how long I would have to be separated from them before I would actually miss them. Clearly it’s not two weeks.
I have pondered as to whether an element of this was that, especially when they were young and needy, I spent *no* time away from them, as in no date nights with a babysitter, no weekends away, no vacations with family watching them.  I was always the primary parent and am still. Add homeschooling on top of that and you have a pretty intense parenting situation. It has definitely changed the tenor of my relationship with my kids (as well as the relationship they have with all adults, really) for the better, but it certainly was ALL KIDS ALL THE TIME.  That had to have affected me. In spite of my entrenched extrovertedness, when my kids were young, my Myers-Briggs actually swung ever so slightly into the “I” (introverted) side because I so desperately needed time alone that I wasn’t getting.
Perhaps, even still, time without them feels like a precious gift. I am all too aware that the time is fast approaching when one after the other they will leave my house and start lives of their own. I’ll miss them then I am sure. I can only hope that they will choose to live close enough that we will be able to visit each other like I am able to do so with my parents and sisters. But who knows, maybe I won’t miss them then either?
So what did I do when they left? Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the sun-drenched front room of a friend’s beach house, I’ve been eating fresh seafood for every meal, got a massage, and am headed out thrift shopping. I do pretty well in my own.
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Gorgeous sunny day with a perfect summer drink. Sometimes life is great.
As a side note, I hit up a liquor store too and discovered the drink of the summer – Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach.  So many possibilities, I’m drinking it with seltzer right now, but in champagne it would be divine!

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

Evolution of an Artist

I always thought of myself as creative, but not artistic. Crafts have always been in my life and I love doing them. But I always stuck with things that let me “put together” elements rather than have me create from scratch. I tried “real art” a few times, but it seemed that even proportional stick figures were a stretch for me.

I was a rubber stamper many moons ago. I did elaborate pieces with many wonderful elements. I had friends who were rubber stampers too; I belonged to a group that met monthly called Capitol Inkers Anonymous. It was a lot of fun to get together and see what everyone else was working on. Good heavens, we even had our own custom designed stamps – two of them because we couldn’t decide which one was best!

This was all years before I had children and plenty of disposable income. Since I got to spend it all on myself, you know what I did once? I took a trip to Santa Barbara, CA with members of this group to a rubber stamp store. Yes, just to go to the rubber stamp store. This was the early 90’s before EVERYTHING could be bought on the internet. They had stamps that were exclusively designed for their store and could be purchased no other way but in person.

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The scrapbook page (see artistic endeavor below) of the rubber stamp trip.

This adventure should come as no surprise to my music friends though. It sounds a lot like winging off to Austin, TX for my birthday to see Biffy, doesn’t it? Shades of things to come, I suppose. So I made stamp art on my own and with these people, we made mail art, exchanged art challenges, and entered contests. It was a fantastic community to belong to and I felt a little bit like an artist. But not really.

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No, this isn’t all of them, some are on a downstairs shelf…….

Then came scrapbooking. I have TWENTY scrapbooks, each a couple of inches thick. It was the height of the “scrapbooking craze” and there were stores, clubs, and events to feed my interest. I had several friends with whom I got to together at different houses for the sole purpose of scrapbooking together.  Writing this blog post prompted me to pull some of them off the shelf and page through them. I am so happy I made the effort to put these together.  Although some of the decoration and cropping of photos is rather dated and cutesy, I have years of my children’s lives neatly and beautifully commemorated. Man, they were cute kids! I seemed to have stopped shortly after my oldest hit eight years old, but that’s OK. That’s still a LOT of years I got done. It was a little like making art.  Kinda, but not really.

Then several years ago, I had an opportunity to clear out a lot of clutter in my house and in doing so I faced the mountain of “art supplies” I hadn’t used in years. I reached out to a friend in the spring of 2015 who was actively doing art and offered to let her go through my things and take anything she wanted. She took a lot, but not everything, I had hoped she would take it ALL and unburden me of the guilt at not doing anything remotely arty. But I still felt lighter and satisfied that my clutter was reduced. Then as often happens, I was inspired by this lighter, freer feeling. I found a free art journaling class online and thought “hey, I can do that” and sure enough I could. This led me to another class and another and soon I was drawing and painting like I never had before. I was drawing faces and trees and flowers. I could draw things that looked like THINGS. I was ecstatic. I even applied for and received a scholarship for a year-long online art class – many of you have seen the fruits of that labor on Facebook. I am currently into watercolors, although I still like to try my hand at mixed media, acrylics, and sketching.

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I have aspirations to try my hand at more assemblage art like this house-person.

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I am surprised and delighted by this new found skill and hope that I can continue to try new things and enjoy myself. Now, I feel like I can really say I am making art.  I know I should cut myself some slack and accept that the things I have done all along were forms of art, but I do feel like now I have arrived.  Now I get to call myself an artist.

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.

I’ll Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

I have a hard time asking for help. I am very good at accepting help, specific help, but I won’t ask for it. Simple example: It costs $120 in gas and tolls to get to my sister’s house and for a family gathering my dad handed me some money “for gas”. I happily took it even though I would never in a million years have let anyone know how badly that expense decimated my monthly gas budget. Another friend, knowing I was having a hard time, called me to get together to make sure I was doing OK. I gratefully accepted the “tea and sympathy.” And someone has graciously assisted me with the tangled mess that is my yard, it’s hard work that I don’t especially like and it overwhelms me. But again, these were all things offered to me, I didn’t go to anyone to request it.

About a decade ago, my closest friend at the time was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. I stepped up as the primary coordinator of all her “friend care” – you know the person who organizes and directs all the people who say “what can I do to help?” I had a website that listed all the things she needed help with, who was available to do it, when people were assigned to do what, etc. It worked well and I was astonished by how many friends she had who were available to help, it was over one hundred! Actually, I was a little shaken because I was pretty sure I didn’t have that many people around to pick up the slack for me should I fall hard. As I watched so many people pull together to provide the enormous amount of care that is needed when you have young children and two kinds of cancer, I became so scared that I would never be able to garner such support, I started to volunteer. I picked two different areas of my kids’ lives to volunteer my time so there would be more people who knew me that might be willing to help if I got sick. But I hated it. Think what you will of me, but I hated volunteering. It may have been that it wasn’t a good match for me, and it may have been because deep down I was doing it because I was pre-“asking for help” and that made me uncomfortable. I lasted two years and I am in contact with just one person from that time, but only loosely. And the cancer survivor friend I worked so hard for? She developed deep relationships with other cancer survivors and drifted away. I don’t blame her at all. Our lives went in completely different directions and I am happy knowing that I was there for her when she needed me. I ended up doing all that volunteer work and did not get out of it what I thought I would. I am sure there was something I got that was intangible, but what I really feel like I got was the understanding that I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. I figure maybe my contribution to society is that I raised the children of a completely service oriented man (my ex-husband – former volunteer firefighter, Marine, and federal law enforcement officer.) Yup, that was my duty.

I still wonder why it is I have such a hard time asking for help. When I was growing up, I could not even ask a salesperson in a store for help. In situations like that, I think it is because I don’t want to ask someone something that I think they’ll think I should already know. Even when it’s their job to tell me. Messed up right? Asking for more personal help? That hints at not wanting to impose, or bother someone, even if not only would I offer the same to them, they might have even suggested they were available to help. And of course the big one – why would anyone want to help me? I guess that goes back to “anxiety”.

In the decade since my friend got sick, I have had a cancer scare. It involved surgery that was thankfully minor and I did not require much help. Neither did I ask for it though. In general my health is actually better than it was back then, so maybe I will escape major health crises. I just hope that if I’m wrong about that, someone will be there if I need it. Without me having to ask.