Tag: Coping

8Nov

Solar-Paneled

I relocate to the balcony but only for a few minutes; the pool of sunshine is colder than it looks. We’re on the jittery downswing after a summer of record-breaking heat, and I’m startled as I am each and every year by how abruptly clinging sweat is replaced by clinging sweaters. The high is in the mid ‘50s today—beach weather in Scotland, if I recall—but my Texas-born toes cower inside my slippers nonetheless. I just need time to acclimate. Come March, I’ll be toasting to 55° sunshine with flip-flops and a margarita cappuccino (just being honest here).

The thing is, “time to acclimate” is a diplomatic phrase, all polish and tact, meant to disguise the fact that long months of gray lie between now and the day when 55° will prompt celebration. A hundred days of wet woolen skies shade the upcoming calendar, and I might actually look forward to them—their rapport with chocolate chai and scarves, the color lamplight makes against their too-early evenings, and the cocoon they form around creative impulses—if not for this solar-paneled heart of mine.

Sunlight is the low-voltage hum through my veins, most noticeable when it’s gone. It’s maddening to have my motivation wired to a celestial dimmer switch, to view approaching clouds as enemy armadas, to pine for the tropical breezes and sparkling white Christmases I’ve never met in person. Besides, I hardly have grounds to complain, here, in the golden cup of the Mediterranean. But still, the gray of winter often passes through my corneas straight into my thoughts, and I know acclimating to the upcoming months will not be as simple as putting on extra layers.

I’m writing this now, on the cusp of cold, as a preemptive measure, a hopeful immunization against the dreariness of years past. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but at least I can store up an extra pool of sunshine today.

~~~ 

What do you look forward to about winter? And how do you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder?

2Jul

Heavyweight

Hello there, July. For the record, I do not condone summer’s refusal to wait for my go-ahead. I’m still wandering wobbly-kneed through the second week of June, and I really would have appreciated all the school closings and triple digit temperatures holding off until I could collect myself. About that last one—Did you know that we don’t have air conditioning? The Italian strategy for surviving summer involves 1) nudity, 2) napping, and 3) nude napping at the beach, and while each is worthy in its own right, circumstances occasionally dictate that I be dressed and/or conscious. Maybe the heat’s just getting to me more this summer because my head’s still back in strawberry season.

I’ve barely touched my computer over the last three weeks except for busy work, and I’ve felt this kind of sad, longing, tired push-pull every time I’ve walked by its closed lid. Between a string of emotional anvil drops and a rejection notice at the tail end of a heartwound publication process, my ability to string words together seemed to drain right out of me. One of the ways I traditionally deal with word-bereavement is rock solid stoicism. I decide our relationship was never meant to be and that it’s about time I embraced my true calling as a housecleaner. And then I cry into the mop water. And the dishwater. And the tonic water. I’m a real heavyweight.

But even in all the crumminess and confusion of the last few weeks, I never felt truly disconnected, and I want to thank you from the dregs of my heart for that. Your notes and prayers after our friend’s death sat with me at his funeral and shared the dinner table with his grieving family, and I’m a kind of grateful that can’t be articulated.  I’m also deeply thankful for your encouragement to be here, to value my own writerly heart enough to ditch the mop water (our seasonal infestation of ants thanks you too, btw) and rescue my blog from solitary confinement. Thankthankthank you.

It’s better to start summer late than never, right? Here’s to more connecting, less mopping, and nude napping on the beach.

~~~ 

How are you welcoming the summer?

9Jun

A Reality Without Undo

A family friend died of a heart attack this morning, and I stared in shock at the message on my husband’s phone, wondering why he didn’t just push the back button and undo what could only be a grave cosmic blunder.

When my grandmothers died in relatively quick succession a few years ago, I felt a certain insulation from their deaths. The wide buffer of ocean and age between us provided a tender finality, and while I mourned them, I didn’t begrudge their passing. But this… an artist who chose a lifestyle of backbreaking sacrifice to protect someone without the mental capabilities to understand, a husband and father who helped create one of the most loving family units we’ve ever seen, a generous soul who opened his home wide to us many times… this? We were laughing in his kitchen just a few months ago. I know how cliché this question will sound, but it’s the only one I can articulate right now—How can he possibly be gone?

Dan took the first train out once we heard the news, and in the mad dash to get him to the station on time, my shock crystalized into the clarity of action. I couldn’t stop thinking about our friends’ wife, a dear-hearted woman suddenly left with more than any one person could be expected to handle, and I was grateful that at the very least, I could send my husband to help ease her burden. I would have gotten on the train myself if not for Natalie’s last-day-of-school program tomorrow. Even so, I spent the entire afternoon baking, for her, mixing a helpless sense of compassion into the dough and hoping that on some metaphysical level, this weight on my heart is weight off of hers.

It’s late now, and my perspective has gone fuzzy again. I don’t know if I will be able to hand over the bread in person tomorrow, and if I do, what I could possibly say to steady a world flipped so unexpectedly on end. I don’t know how to break the news to my girls who loved our friend like an uncle. I don’t know how to pack for a funeral that I just want someone somewhere to undo. There is so much I don’t know about processing death, and I keep wishing to wake up safely back in our old reality where I didn’t have to come to grips with this. More than anything, I wish that our friend could wake up.

For a solid two minutes before I shot this video, he had the girls convinced a bird was loose in his living room. The girls have their own bird whistles now, and I know they’re remembering our friend (blue shirt, kind eyes) every time our house fills with warbles.

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

1Jun

Anti-Humanitarian Effort

Hello there, world.

So. These past two weeks of lifestyle reevaluation have not gone exactly according to plan. The Plan, you see, went something like this: I would wake up early, all self-imposed pressure having evaporated overnight. I would read an inspiring book over coffee and then journal my way to self-actualization. It would take two, three hours tops. After an invigorating run, I’d start the pasta water for lunch and, while waiting for it to boil, whip out a manifesto or two. That afternoon, I would make serious headway into some new, affirming, revelatory project—while having plenty of mental energy left over for my family of course—and I might not even need to sleep that night, so profound would be my invigoration. By dawn the next morning, I would have replied to all the emails I’ve been so delinquent about lately (sorry!), conquered the ironing pile, and come up with a portfolio of new business plans. Who knows? I might have even switched to decaf.

Reality, however, went more like this: Wake up. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Breakfast, with a side of ANXIETY. A lengthy meditation on panic followed by escalating stress. Sprained ankle. (For the record, I no longer recommend jumping up from your computer chair when your leg has fallen asleep. It may look funny, but… well, it is. But still.) No workout. No revelation. Foot turning purple; water-boiling is no longer on list of known abilities. ANXIETY. Can no longer locomote. Can no longer see beyond Cage of Failure. Will never be able to write anything again ever. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Repeat to varying degrees for several days. Ankle mends. Head cold descends. Life ends.

These haven’t been the best of weeks. I’ve been letting everything slide—my writing, my friendships, those five freaking kilometers I’ve worked so hard to be able to run—and I’m feeling the void keenly. I thought that by taking the pressure of my own expectations out of the equation, I would find instant peace and clarity, but it feels more like I accidentally removed myself from the equation. When I’m not nurturing the creative or communal parts of my life, I become a shell… and maybe that’s the real revelation I needed from these weeks of navel-gazing.

Or maybe it’s not so much of a revelation as it is a truth that I discover over and over in different ways. The negative and deprecating voices in my head have been doing a number on me lately, assuring me that I have nothing of value to offer the world, that the world would actually be a better place if I weren’t contributing to it, and that the only respectable course of action for the good of all mankind would be to slink into a quiet corner somewhere and try very, very hard not to be noticed. (Now you understand that my blog is at heart an anti-humanitarian effort.) Going through life as a shell of a person though… Nothing is worth that. Nothing.

I do have some other projects percolating now (should I thank the sprained ankle or the head cold for that?), and I’ve confirmed in the space between my heart and my fingertips that this blog is meant to be sanctuary, not money-maker. The ads are gone now, and coming back to the page now is like opening my front door after sending away guests who had long overstayed their welcome. The air is lighter, the ambiance softer. It feels like home again.

And now that you know I’m not here for you and am actually here in flagrant disregard for your wellbeing, how are you? What have you been up to these past two weeks? Any fellow sprained ankles enjoying their restored dignity?

18May

Meevaluation

The last couple of days were for holding my breath, playing the undercover researcher to my own life, and sometimes just hiding under the blankets for an hour or, um… four. Some days are just this way, and it’s probably due to a combination of late nights and early mornings and too much not enough coffee and hormones and the weather and any number of swiftly colliding circumstances, but in the murk of it, all I can reason is that I have finally, irrevocably failed at existence. (People who are not me would call it a bad day, shrug, and move on. To those people, I ask—Where is your commitment to suffering? I mean, really.)

The funk had been creeping up on me for a while—see here, here, here, aaaaand here—and my husband and I both agree that it’s time for some lifestyle reevaluation. The fact that we missed an episode of Sherlock to talk through this just goes to show how badly we need a change. More specifically, how badly I need a change. This year so far has looked nothing like I thought it would; my Ready, Set, Write! expectations were strangled by a months-long situation I couldn’t share about here, and I’ve been getting up each morning at the last possible minute without a glimmer of creative purpose.

Some mornings once the coffee is stirring my veins back to life, blog entries land decisively on my heart to be typed out in a heady glow. This compulsion to write is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s one of my favorite processes in all the world. But many other mornings, far too many, I stare at my computer screen trying to force sentences out of a thick silence and spiraling by the minute toward self-disgust. If I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a mere blog entry each day, how can I consider myself a blogger? And if I can’t hack it as a blogger, how can I even hope for the infinitely vaguer and cooler title of writer?

Here’s where the lifestyle reevaluation comes in. See, I have an idea of what is required of a successful blogger—a personal brand, dedicated networking, and frequent content that manages to be both familiar and engaging—and I chafe against all three points. I have no agenda for my blogging, and I honestly feel claustrophobic at the thought of limiting myself to one theme or niche. I’m just me, folks, and I write because I can’t not write, and I share that writing here because I can’t not share it. This blog is my community. However, I don’t think it was ever meant to be my career. All those mornings spent glaring at a blank “New Post” page should have clued me in long before now. This space here is a place for inspiration and outlet, an aviary for my thoughts, a personal lounge for kicking back and drinking in beauty. It’s not my nine to five.

Which means it’s high time I stop letting misdirected stress over branding and networking and commenting and posting schedules keep me from asking myself what projects I’m truly meant to pour my energy into for the second half of this year. Ergo, I’m going to be taking some much-needed time to figure myself out, starting in approximately eleven minutes when I hit the running trail and the horrible, agonizing pain of exercise stabs my stress level to death. I’m not abandoning this blog, never fear, but posting might be sparser than usual while I get reacquainted with me. Either that, or this space will soon be overrun with blurry snapshots of my navel and esoteric questions about the meaning of life. Either way, you’ve been warned.

~~~

How do you go about lifestyle reevaluations? Do you have any tips for ditching unnecessary stress and honing in on a direction that will bounce me out of bed with the sunrise? (Drink recommendations totally count.)

2May

Recovery Mode

May 1st is Labor Day here in Italy, and in order to fully celebrate its freedom to work, the nation exercised its freedom to take off from work starting last Thursday evening. Folks, we’re talking five full days of weekend. Five! Traditionally, one of my favorite things about any given weekend is the opportunity it affords me to catch up on unfinished projects, but this time, my body took a calculating look at the swath of free time ahead, mumbled “It’s about time,” and punched out. I don’t know how many hours I slept over the last few days, but they never seemed like quite enough. While the rest of the country picnicked, I passed out. They shopped, I snoozed. They went camping, I went comatose. You get the idea. At any rate, this morning, its gray light and calendar flip equally disorienting, is probably as good a time as any to accept that I’m in recovery mode.

To fully understand the issue that’s had me reeling lately, you’d have to peek among the pages of my childhood journals. The back story is all there, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time. You see, one of the most basic tenets of my family’s fundamentalist lifestyle was that children were inferior. Outwardly, our movement held up Bible verses labeling children as a gift, but more quietly and much more pervasively, it taught that children were little sin-bred decepticons with no intrinsic worth until they were broken in. A child’s mind was a thing to be shaped, not acknowledged. Growing up as a child of that movement, I had little right to my own opinions, and if my perspective ever differed from an adult’s, I was wrong, automatically and without question.

There was a personal element to it as well. Because I was the oldest child in our family and the one whose independent streak clashed most visibly against our movement’s ideals, I needed to be put down more decisively than most. Whereas other children in our lifestyle had at least the hierarchy of age in their favor, my words could be invalidated by those of younger siblings. I can vividly remember being forbidden to tell my side of a story because it wouldn’t count anyway. I was guilty until proven innocent, and my proof was often disqualified unheard.

It’s lingered with me long, that poisoned whisper from my past: Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway. Safely ensconced in adulthood, I see the lie for what it is, and I win another victory against it every day that I post an entry here or submit an article or talk honestly with a friend. However, some hurts are too powerful to simply keel over and die; instead, they lie dormant until a specific trigger jolts them back to life.

That trigger came a couple of weeks ago.

I had been asked for my help in a situation that quickly turned more complicated than anyone had expected. As weeks went by, the situation became increasingly unmanageable, and I finally went to the party that had initially asked for my help to ask them for help. Their response came hurtling out of left field. Where I’d anticipated a brainstorming session, I was met by a flurry of emotional outbursts and unfounded accusations that continued for an hour unabated. The only reason I stayed, tears welling with each insult, was that I hoped the situation could be salvaged once the other party calmed down enough to listen to me. Then the trigger—They refused to hear my side of the story. They let me know they wouldn’t believe me, that my words were automatically invalid to them. The conversation was closed.

Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway.

My panic attack was already gaining momentum by the time we said goodbye. An old current of pain jolted alive and coursed through my body like fire and ice, unbearably strong. The fresh pain of the other party’s words and the stress of the already-unmanageable situation crushed down on my head and lungs, and all oxygen vanished from the room at once. I don’t know how long it lasted before my sweet husband was able to calm my heart rate and restore feeling to my limbs; minutes turn into eternities when you can’t breathe, and I know we came close to an ER trip. I could no sooner control the panic than I could fly, but even in the worst of it, I understood how absurd it was to be having such an intense physical reaction to the evening’s conversation. As an adult, with both logic and a clear conscience on my side, I could have fought for myself or, even more easily, stepped away. No one had forced me to stay on the line, much less take the hurtful concepts to heart. Beyond that, I knew better than to believe the insidious lies used to control me as a child, so how could I be falling apart over them? How could I have let a few misguided words yank my stability out from under me?

I guess the truth of it is that I’m not fearless, nor am I immune. Some small part of my heart is willing to believe that the voices from my past are the right ones in a world of attractive deception and that no matter what sort of façade I build for myself, others will still be able to sense my worthlessness. This small part of my heart had found confirmation in the unkind things said to me in that trigger-quick conversation, and so even once my breath returned, I kept my mouth shut and my feelings on ice for the better part of a week. I felt like my voice had been stolen and only a ghost of a woman remained.

The feeling of bereavement didn’t last, of course, and as my confidence began to trickle back, I started drafting a letter that I hoped would bring some resolution. However, each version I wrote struck me as too confrontational, so I kept gentling it down until I had written a full letter of apology. From me. To the people who had hurt me. For the sole purpose of convincing them to have a better opinion of me in the future. I think I was hoping the apology would count toward me as turn-the-other-cheek karma, a sort of magic spell for reconciliation and happiness and divine brownie points all around, but reading back over those unctuous paragraphs in my own handwriting was like catching myself with tongue out, inches from a dirty boot. Sure, someone else may have triggered my emotional beast, but here I was keeping it alive, perpetuating the lies. Me.

Dear Lord. Was I still so willing to believe myself a cosmic mistake? Was I really so eager to discredit all the love and encouragement shown to me throughout the years in favor of the soul-killing ideologies I thought I’d escaped?

I didn’t send the letter. As much as I wanted to make peace with the situation, I recognized that I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by patronizing a lie, and I made myself promise that I would respond to my accusers face to face once the time was right, once my feet were planted firmly enough in grace to lavish it on all of us. And so I wait in recovery mode. This is such a passive process that the insistent, sleep-for-five-days bout of exhaustion caught me off guard, but I guess it’s not the easiest thing in the world to let go of an identity-lie.

This process has a lot in common with running, actually. I’ve started up again, and for as slowly as I move and as embarrassingly little endurance as I have, I’m proud of my breathing. It’s been my one athletic success so far, learning to fill my lungs to capacity and then release it all, step after step. My natural inclination is to hold myself in and conserve breath under an airtight diaphragm, but as I run taut against the wind and feel increasingly convinced I’m dying, panic clamps down on my lungs like a desperate hoarder and I finish the workout doubled over. Attractive, let me tell you.

I’m learning about letting go, though, about trusting that each new breath will be waiting within reach and that I’ll have the energy for each new step as it comes. Relaxing into the process doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m doing the clumsy beginner routine right now both in running and in living—inhale and exhale, acknowledge and release, listen and move on, grace and more grace. The rhythm doesn’t come easily yet, but time is kind, and at least I can rest assured that if my tongue sticks out these days, it’s only in concentration.

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