Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tools in my backpack


Remember in January when I wrote that I never wanted to write about anxiety on my blog again? I still hold to that, in that I don’t want to have post after post chronicling my day to day successes and missteps with anxiety. But in a different way, I want to still write about it if only to help me remember when times get tough again, and to maybe somewhere, somehow help someone else.

Last Friday, I spent all morning trying to write a post about podcasts. But all of the words that I had were about anxiety, not podcasts. After multiple attempts at writing, I thought I figured out what was missing. For months, I’ve been thinking about drawing a…map of sorts about my anxiety, but I couldn’t think of a way that it would work. I decided that I needed my map for the podcast post, and so I dove in to making the map. And then I had a super exciting creative breakthrough. My quandary was still how to illustrate the nuclear bomb that was my meltdown with what lead up to it and what came out of it. All the vaporous clouds and squiggly lines that were in my head didn’t make a very interesting or satisfying depiction of what I wanted to put on paper.

And then came my breakthrough. A comic strip!  I loved the idea of a comic strip because I could use all the pictures and words that I wanted. It didn’t have to be one concise depiction. It allowed me to tell the story that I wanted to tell using bits of words and, mostly importantly, memories of moments that are already like a comic strip in my head. And while I’m a stick-figure person with no natural art talent, I could still get across exactly what I wanted to. I mean, it’s not as if I will ever share it with the wide world. I just needed it for me. I eagerly grabbed my markers and sketchbook and dove in.

The journey I’ve been on in the past year has been interesting. I got a lot of answers at the end of 2016, but the answers weren’t enough. I had made resolutions, such as:

·         Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
·         Dropping the story line that constantly ran through my head
·         Not looking for the magic solution to my emotional states

Which are all great things to realize and want for oneself. However, I kept realizing in January and February that I had what equated to backpack (I’m going with backpack instead of purse, because, well, if you know me in real life, you know that purses aren’t my thing. But I’m currently carrying a backpack around, so it works!) with nothing in it that mattered. No wallet or keys or gum or hand lotion or chapstick or notebook or pen or half-read novel, all the things that make a backpack a helpful item.

One of the most important pictures in my comic strip is of my empty backpack. After the initial creative rush that I had on Friday morning (which was essentially an hour and a half of filling up 3 pages of my sketchbook with little boxes of words and stick pictures and one airplane that looked more like a UFO) I spent time on Saturday coloring in some of the pictures and finally working on the items I’ve discovered help me that go in my backpack. Because I can say finally, that I can spend whole days now in which I’m not terrified of remote but terrible things happening to me. I don’t have the electricity flashes that used travel through my body on a regular basis, resulting in my heart beating extra fast and my breath being hard to find. The vague underlying fear that I couldn’t put a finger on but made me withdrawn and stuck in my head and unhappy to the worst degree.

I will say it did not happen overnight. And just like a hammer can’t stand in for all of the other tools in a tool bag, there hasn’t been one figurative tool that could have gotten me here by itself (not for lack of trying - I looked high and low for that one magical tool for almost two years!) But I finally have multiple tools that can all work together to make it so that I can now get on the freeway without fear. And on the days that I do have fear, I can handle that fear. I didn’t think that would ever be possible.

I want to do a series of posts on my tools. Now that I’ve explained where they come from, I won’t feel like I have to go back to the beginning each time. I can now finish the podcasts post, write a post about playing the piano, and another about a book my husband and I read together, because I don’t have to start with anxiety. Which means that maybe it will stop being a major theme in my life.

I’m looking forward to those posts. Mostly because of the pleasure and healing that those things have brought to me. I couldn’t have gotten to them earlier – I had go through the hell of 2015 and 2016 to have them be so meaningful.

If you have tools that have built up your backpack, I’d love for you to share. I don’t think a person can have too many tools. And if you are searching for tools, come back and maybe some of mine can help you.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Women's History Month, Day 2

One of my favorite bloggers (and not just because she's my sister!) put together this 31 day list of topics for Women's History month. And, since I've been wanting to blog anyway for weeks and just haven't gotten around to it, I thought I'd do today's topic, even though I didn't do yesterdays. (Just an example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Look at me, who knew?)

The question is this: How did you get to be the woman you are today. And, since I like the format of the 8 minute memoir, I'm going to stick to 8 minutes. Here we go!

How did I get to be the woman I am today? When I read this question, I didn't want to answer it. It's much safer to talk about my earliest memory (waking up from a nap, I have no idea how old I was, maybe 3?) but I'm not going to do safe.

Until recently, I don't think I thought of myself as a woman. A girl, definitely. Female absolutely. Maybe even a lady, but not in a Scarlett O'Hara way; not lady-like, more like ladies, size large. But I've just recently decided to start thinking of myself as a woman.

But how did I get to here. I think of the influential women in my life. Strong women, like my mom and my grandma Elsie, who are independent and not afraid to take on the world. Kind women, like my grandma Florence, who I mostly remember being frail and big-hearted and loving. Scary women like my beam coach Sherrie, who scared me but also made me feel a little bit safe, because even though she was tough and made me do roundoff dismounts, I knew she loved me, and had some affection for me. I think of happy women, like my coach Dawn who was not afraid to sing along with teeny bopper music or stand up to grumpy bar coaches. These women all rubbed off on me.

But I also was very influence by my friends. My friends were a diverse set, but we had a core group of us who clung to one another because of our shared upbringing in the LDS church, from which all of us had strayed from. We were all trying to be grown up, and navigating friendship along with growing up. I missed out on some of their adventures after I got married; they never quite understood my drifting away from them and their singlehood; I still wanted the friendships, but I no longer had the time to invest in what had been a oneness, since I was creating a new oneness with my husband. Now they they are in committed relationships and having babies, they might feel a little more forgiving of me. I sometimes ache that they have so many years of trips and adventures and memories together without me, but I wouldn't trade the time I've spent making my life work with my husband and sons.

I don't know that one thing has made me the woman I am. But, I feel empowered and grown up and like Becky, at 41.

(I cheated, and took 11 minutes. Thanks, Amy, for your thoughtful list. I hope to do more of them, and think more about the idea of womanhood.)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Currently: Late January edition

Wearing: Copper Hills high cross country shirt, jeans, wool socks. (I can't think of a day in at least 2 months when I haven't worn wool socks. They complete me.)

Drinking: water, after dumping out a half-empty Coke.

In my belly: Apollo Burger. I'm slightly obsessed with it lately, but tonight wasn't as good as usual, so maybe we need a break. Like the break we are currently taking from Cafe Rio, after a 2 month binge. (Who knew the tacos were so good? I've spent years eating the salads without knowing the tacos are where it's at.)

Watching: Steelers vs Patriots. Things aren't looking so good in the 2nd half.

Enjoying: having a family room light again. The light part of the ceiling fan went out in December and so we sat in the dark for over a month. We finally got one yesterday. Let there be light!

Reading: nothing interesting. I bought a book last week - Midnight Witch - but it's not calling out to me yet after 2 chapters (too many details about houses and furnishings and the characters all have titles and such. I don't need all the fluff, just give me story, and good characters, dammit!) I just finished After You and A Man Called Ove, both of which were really enjoyable.

Just finished: The Crown, on Netlix, which is about Queen Elizabeth et all in the 1950s. It was sooo good. Highly recommend.

Waiting: for the next This is Us. This is my favorite new show. We also watch Timeless, but that is pretty unrealistic and the plot is all over the place. But, I can't remember having more than weekly show to enjoy in a long time; for years, we only had Modern Family.

Trying: to spend a lot less time on my phone.  I can get lost in checking and rechecking the same things. I love it when people I love and am close to post, but it seems like they don't often (not that I do much, either!) so spending time doing other things. Or trying to.

Trying: hot power yoga. I went for the first time last Thursday. I didn't love the teacher. I didn't think the studio was very friendly. I didn't love how slippery my mat got. And there was a 6 foot 5 hipster who breathed and sighed so much during the class he nearly drove me to distraction (Millennial hipster yogis may be the most annoying demographic in the world.)  But I felt really good aftewards; I drove home in a peaceful thoughtless stupor, which was nice (no really, it really was nice.) I also liked that I went sort of on a whim with a person at work who I don't know well at all.

Loving: that Shane and I went to dinner this week for our anniversary. It's strange to be able to just leave and go to dinner together, no babysitters to obtain or arrangements to make other than food and/or friends for the kids. We ate at Carino's which is Italian food. Or, American Italian food, I should say, since none of the food in Italy was ever as adulterated as the Italian here. But I'm probably snobbish about Italian now.

Running: on the treadmill. I haven't been outside since before Christmas. It's been ok, but it will be nice to get outside sometime soon.

Considering: getting a goldendoodle. Gasp. I've never wanted a dog; in fact, we have often congratulated ourselves at how much we don't want or need a dog. But the universe is sending us messages that one is in our future. Amy tells me I don't have to be a victim to the universe, but this will probably happen in a few months. I know. I KNOW.

Disbelieving: everything that is happening in current events with the person who is in the White House. It's unbelievable.

Planning: on walking over to the start of the Women's March tomorrow. I'm starting to pay more attention to what is happening, who the players are, and what my role can be in this world. I've stayed on the sidelines for too long, hoping that others would ensure that the world was ok. Not anymore.

Blessing: the beautiful snow. I want to go snowshoeing so very much! It's not been fun to drive in, but I love that we are having good storms this winter, which not only helps our drought, but keeps our air cleaner. Just say no to inversions!

What is current in your world?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Traveling: how not to do it

In October of 1985, my gymnastics group traveled to California to compete. My mom drove me and Amy, along with our older sister Suzette and a couple of other gymnasts. This was back in the day when people rolled their eyes at seat belts, so while you think we may have taken a giant Chevy Suburban or van, you'd be completely wrong. In fact, we took my mom's giant brown Cadillac car that she'd inherited from my grandpa.

Things were great on our trip for the first few hours. For some reason I can't recall, instead of driving straight down the I-15 corridor to LA, we took a detour through Delta, UT, and drove through through Nevada via the sexy towns of Ely and Tonopah in order to end up in Bakersfield, CA. This was all fine and good until we stopped for dinner at a casino in Tonopah. After we ate with the other people we were caravaning with, we somehow got separated from them as we left the casino. (It might have had something to do with the fact that one of the girls traveling with us took the cash sitting on a table in the casino, meant for a tip. She had no. idea. that it was a tip, and that she shouldn't pick it up and take it with her. My mom explained to her that people don't do that, and made her take it back to the waitress.)

I can clearly remember driving out out of the casino parking lot and my mom asking us if we saw any of the other drivers or cars. It was dark by this time, and it had started to snow. The rest of the party had left us. Undaunted, my mother soldiered on into the evening and eventual night with her carload of girls as she climbed into the Sierra Nevada. But after a few hours, the snow kept getting worse and she worried about going over the
mountain passes alone.

Finally, we stopped at a diner in the mountains. My mom went in and talked to the owner of the diner and the truckers who sat at the counter drinking coffee. They advised to stay put for the night. Not knowing what else to do, she paraded us all inside and told us to lay down on the benches and sleep. I'm pretty sure she sat at that counter all night, talking with this or that trucker, keeping us all safe.

The rest of the trip was uneventful in comparison. It's something that I will always remember, and after this weekend when I drove with Shane and my boys to a soccer tournament in Mesquite, NV, it's been on my mind. You see, we left for Mesquite at 11 on Thursday, knowing that Utah had had quite a storm the night before, but sure that we would be out of most of of it after we left Northern Utah. How wrong we were.

I think we left in the exact pocket that would ensure we had weather the entire way. The first leg of a southern trip for us usually has us stopping in Fillmore, UT, which is about 120 miles from home. Instead of the normal 2 hours, it took us close to 3.5. We ate lunch there and came out to 6 inches of new snow covering everything. We even had to wait 10 minutes to get on the freeway, as a trailer hauling steers had jackknifed at the bottom of the off ramp, while a long bed semi sat in in the middle of the on ramp.

I kept thinking it would get better, as we drove 30-50 miles an hour, but oh how wrong I was. You see, it was 17 degrees and snowing about as hard an fast as is possible. I'm not sure what did it, but the combination of freezing temperatures, blowing snow, hours on the road, and our defroster running at high for hours made our windshield wiper blades freeze over. We found ourselves going 15 miles an hour with a tiny inch of clearing for Shane to see out of, and a tiny clearing for me to see out of. I felt like I was driving as much as Shane as we just tried to follow the tail lights of the car in front of us as we crawled towards Cedar City, UT. There weren't any lanes, just snow and deeper snow where it hadn't been packed down. We stopped twice to clear our blades of ice and snow, which effectively ruined them.There is no way we would have made it if we hadn't have been going so slow.

We finally got into Cedar and bought new windshield wiper blades. By then it was after 6pm. After we got the blades, we went across the street to a delicious diner. The red booths were exactly like the booths that me and my sisters and friends had slept on so many years ago, so I told my kids the story. I realized again that at least when things don't go as planned, they at least make a memory and (hopefully, eventually!) a good story.

I wish that things magically got better once we got back into the car, fed and watered and newly bladed, but they didn't. It took us nearly 4 hours to go the 90 miles between Cedar City and Mesquite. At least one of those hours was spent at a dead stop. It didn't help to see the freeway on the other side also at a deadstop, multiple car crashes and pileups and even a jackknifed semi adorning the freeway going north. Once we got to St George, where the roads were finally, miraculously clear, even if they were wet, we were so gunshy that we traveled the Virgin River Gorge extra cautiously. And I've never been so relieved to be at a small town casino hotel in my life as I was when we finally arrived at 11pm.

It took us 12.5 hours to go 330 miles. I'm pretty sure my kids made a pretty interesting, if not fun, memory. They didn't get to sleep on the benches, but they will remember the snow and the hours in the car, me scraping the windshield with a plastic tray from out of my car console (because I didn't own a windshield scraper, wft!?), rolling down their windows to keep from melting from the heat as we tried to defrost the snow and holding their hands out the window in the freezing snow, the icy hills that we crawled down at 5 miles an hour. It was an adventure that we can all tell, especially now that we are home and safe and warm.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The 1970s green puffy coat

One of my surprises this year for Christmas was a new coat. Although I never would have asked for such a coat, I admit that I love it. It's a down-filled pink coat with a (swoon!) inside pocket. I'm a sucker for inside pockets that keep me from losing my keys. (which is another story that I really should, and will, blog about.)

A few days ago as Shane and I were driving around, I told him how much I liked my coat. And then I started thinking about how popular the nylon, down-filled coats these days and I remembered another coat, that was very similar but that I didn't love quite as much.

Sometime in the end of the 70s or early 80s, my parents got matching green nylon down-filled coats. I'm sure at the time, they were all the rage. But, when I entered the 4th grade and started noticing more, I realized how much I hated my mom's green coat. Not enough that I would ever say anything, but oh. When she would wear it, I cringed just a little. When my parents wore them together: gah, I can't even. Which is super strange, because my mom has really good style, and so why she endured wearing an ugly green (seriously, it was the color of 1970s kitchen appliances!) coat for the better part of a decade, I can't imagine.

I can totally remember my relief when she retired the puffy green coat. Its replacement, a pale pink wool number that tied and went to her mid-thigh, couldn't have been more welcome.

Which brings me to the thought I had as I traversed the tunnel today with my beverage: I can't be the only child on earth who hated something her parents wore. Which means my own children have probably hated something that I continue to wear, year after year, out of love or necessity. Maybe it's the Gap wool coat with the giant pockets and wooden buttons I've been sashaying about in for 7 or so years. Or maybe it was the $20 Old Navy puffy mcpufferton coat I had for a season (it was awful. And when I wore it with a long cardigan - well. I shouldn't have.) Hopefully it isn't my black Nike jacket, which serves not only as the perfect year-round jacket for any occasion, but also feels a bit like my security blanket.

I'm afraid to ask them.

What did your parents wear that you cringed a bit over? Please assure me I'm not the only one.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I remember...

(in response to an Instagram #8minutememoir prompt by andeecandy. I've been watching prompts for months but finally decided today to take the bait. Set a timer for 8 minutes and write as much as you can with the prompt in those minutes and see where it takes you.)

I remember a lot of my dreams. It's funny how prominent different people are in them, especially people who I have internal conflict or regret about.  One family member shows up in them quite frequently, which is strange, especially if I am punching her in said dream. Or random people from elementary school, especially one friend who was always competing with me as hard as I was competing with her. We were what you would call frenemies. Once we got to high school, friendship wasn't really possible anymore. I remember we had a dance class together and oh, how we competed in that class. 2 ex-gymnasts and friends, each trying to out leap the other. I'm sure it was entertaining for others to observe.

I dream a lot about gymnastics. Or my teeth. They might be falling out or loose or just too big for my mouth. Teeth dreams are a signal of anxiety, or so I've read. In my gymnastics dreams I'm rarely very able. I have a routine but I can't remember it. Or I'm at a meet and I've competed the day before, but now I can't remember how I did it and I've left my leotard in a far away locker room and I'm going to get in trouble when I leave to go find it. Or I'm trying to get the coaches to remember me, which most of the time they don't. I wish that I was able to do real gymnastics in my dreams, to feel the satisfaction of completing a perfect kip, or a cast to handstand. Or even a giant, but I couldn't do those even when I was awake. I was just too scared, and no one wanted to take the time to help me by the time I overcame my fear.

Me, circa 1987
I remember my dreams and I love to share them. Shane endures them as we drink our morning beverages together. It generally takes me a while to get to the point, because there are so many steps and scenes in the dreams that I want to give for background's sake. I'm a big believer in context and background, as is prominently evident in my writing and my speaking. Because background is everything. I have to explain where I've been, in order to show you where I'm at, or where I'm going.

(I cheated and added the last sentence.)

That was fun. It was interesting to see where I went. I had a lot of time to think about where I was going to start because I decided to eat breakfast before starting. I'd love to do these once or twice a week. I can find 8 minutes, maybe.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Thoughts on thoughts part two


I’m tired of writing posts like these. I’m ready to tell a different story – here, in my mind, in my writing, to other people. But I still have this story to tell, because every story needs an ending. And so I have this,  that if I get back to where I’ve been again, I can find my way out. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked up the escalator between the food court and my side of State Street, coke from Mcdonalds in hand, thinking about finishing this post. Thinking about how much better I’m getting at not…thinking.

It gets sorta meta. Ahem.

But that’s really what it’s come down to. In the summer time, I sort of set myself on a mission to figure out a way to “accept” my anxiety. It led me to do all sorts of things – drink lots of water, eat breakfast before work, take lots of snacks, change how I used my asthma inhaler, read books, do art projects, journal my food. All searching for the answer to why I still couldn’t get on the freeway in the morning without my heart racing. Or to finally figuring out the initial event almost a year previous. Like a key that would unlock the gate. Sigh
Exhausting. That’s what I discovered the most. Figuring out what causes anxiety is exhausting, and causes one to think about the anxiety on an almost obsessive level. Because I felt terror at feeling that feeling again, but nothing I did could keep me from feeling it. And coming up with scenarios to prevent it – yep, just more meta thinking.  It’s also a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Shrug.

In November, I found a website, I can’t even remember where it was. But it told me what I needed to hear – there is no answer. No key. Doesn’t matter what you eat. Or if you drink enough. I mean, those things can totally influence it. But they are correlations and not causations and where it really starts is in the story that I tell myself about the pounding heart. I can’t stop my initial reactions to certain stressors. As any anxiety book, website, professional, whoever, will tell you – it’s hard wired. Fight or flight. But the story I tell myself? That’s all me.

It sounds, well, corny and all that, but I watched this webinar about getting hooked on your thoughts right after I found the website that told me there wasn’t an answer to anxiety. Have you ever driven through Las Vegas at night time and saw the Luxor Hotel? How the top floor turns into a massive cone of light? It was sort of like that. A giant light that couldn’t be turned away went on and I looked back on my ruminating habits and and how they were making me more anxious and unhappy and how they always had and that they would keep doing so as long as I kept encouraging them.

 I went to yoga one day and the teacher started the class by telling us that we could turn out the outside world for an hour, that I was safe in the 4 corners of my pink yoga mat. I thought a lot about that during the hour. At some point I started saying this mantra: You are safe with yourself. The first time I said it, I wanted to shy away from it, because I hadn’t felt safe with myself for 1.5 years. Every time I got on the freeway by myself. Every time I felt short of breath. Every time I stood up and felt dizzy or light headed. Catastrophe was waiting. (I know, dramatic. Eye roll!)

So I’ve been telling myself a new story. That I’m safe with myself. And when I lose myself in a story that causes me stress, I try to remember to drop the story line and find myself in the moment I’m in. Not the moment that I imagine myself to be in, that probably won’t happen. I’ve started trying to believe that if something bad does happen – because shit happens – that I’ll deal with it at that time, I’ll fight like hell in whatever situation that is, because I can’t prepare myself for every scary event, and trying to is killing all the normal events that I’m actually living. 

It’s working. It isn’t foolproof, but I’m feeling so much more like myself. I feel off when big, emotional events happen, like Christmas Eve. We went snowshoeing. I was super anxious on the mountain (because we were on a hiking trail that was steep and I felt so vulnerable that my kids were there and it’s snowy and I imagined bad things happening, and then they act like the boys they are and I just panicked, hard, until I realized all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other up and then down and, again, fight like hell if something bad happened.) I didn’t drink as much water as I should have, and then I had a big dose of caffeine without any food. I went home and felt like the world was just out of reach, because on top of the exhaustion and caffeination and hunger, I was also worried about a family tradition that we weren’t doing that day, one that had endured a lot of drama and reconciliation followed by more drama, only to finally fall apart this year because we just couldn’t be the ones to do it anymore. So I did what I could to address the physical part and didn’t let the emotional part get to me as much. I said out loud what was bothering me and even though it didn’t change it, it didn’t have to roll around in my head anymore, creating more stories and imagined dialogues and angry feelings directed at me from imagined others. And eventually I felt real again and so I took a long shower, ate some clam dip, looked at some goldendoodles on the internet (omg, more on this later!), and enjoyed the real Christmas Eve happening around me.

If you have 45 minutes, click on the webinar above, or here. It’s been so helpful to me. But if it’s not to you, and you are searching, my heart goes out to you, and I hope and pray you find your Luxor cone of light one day.

If you want an excellent book, read Pema Chodron’s The Places that Scare Us. She’s a Buddhist nun and the source that the guy from the webinar mentions. I haven’t done everything she recommends, but her insight is powerful.

I didn’t think this would be so long. But I’m ready to leave it all here, in this post. It’s January 1, 2017, and I want a new story. I hope you never read another anxiety post from me. Not because I never feel anxiety again, that’s unrealistic, but because I don’t need to keep searching and finding and searching again when it’s not working. If I can live more real moments, this post will have been successful.

Here’s to 2017.